FOUR The Nature of Mind CONFINED IN THE DARK, narrow cage of our own making which we take for the whole universe, very few of us can even begin to imagine another dimension of reality. Patrul Rinpoche tells the story of an old frog who had lived all his life in a dank well. One day a frog from the sea paid him a visit. "Where do you come from?" asked the frog in the well. "From the great ocean," he replied. "How big is your ocean?" "It's gigantic." "You mean about a quarter of the size of my well here?" "Bigger." "Bigger? You mean half as big?" "No, even bigger." "Is it... as big as this well?" "There's no comparison." "That's impossible! I've got to see this for myself." They set off together. When the frog from the well saw the ocean, it was such a shock that his head just exploded into pieces. Most of my childhood memories of Tibet have faded, but two moments will always stay with me. They were when my master Jamyang Khyentse introduced me to the essential, original, and innermost nature of my mind. At first I felt reticent about revealing these personal experiences, as in Tibet this is never done; but my students and friends were convinced that a description of these experiences would help others, and they pleaded with me and kept on insisting that I write about them. The first of these moments occurred when I was six or 42
THE NATURE OF MIND 43 seven years old. It took place in that special room in which Jamyang Khyentse lived, in front of a large portrait statue of his previous incarnation, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. This was a solemn, awe-inspiring figure, made more so when the flame of the butter-lamp in front of it would flicker and light up its face. Before I knew what was happening, my master did something most unusual. He suddenly hugged me and lifted me up off my feet. Then he gave me a huge kiss on the side of my face. For a long moment my mind fell away completely and I was enveloped by a tremendous tenderness, warmth, confidence, and power. The next occasion was more formal, and it happened at Lhodrak Kharchu, in a cave in which the great saint and father ofTibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava, had meditated. We had stopped there on our pilgrimage through southern Tibet. I was about nine at the time. My master sent for me and told me to sit in front of him. We were alone. He said, "Now I'm going to introduce you to the essential 'nature of mind.'" Picking up his bell and small hand-drum, he chanted the invocation of all the masters of the lineage, from the Primordial Buddha down to his own master. Then he did the introduction. Suddenly he sprung on me a question with no answer: "What is mind?" and gazed intently deep into my eyes. I was taken totally by surprise. My mind shattered. No words, no names, no thought remained—no mind, in fact, at all. What happened in that astounding moment? Past thoughts had died away, the future had not yet arisen; the stream of my thoughts was cut right through. In that pure shock a gap opened, and in that gap was laid bare a sheer, immediate awareness of the present, one that was free of any clinging. It was simple, naked, and fundamental. And yet that naked simplicity was also radiant with the warmth of an immense compassion. How many things I could say about that moment! My master, apparendy, was asking a question; yet I knew he did not expect an answer. And before I could hunt for an answer, I knew there was none to find. I sat thunderstruck in wonder, and yet a deep and glowing certainty I had never known before was welling up within me. My master had asked: "What is mind?" and at that instant I felt that it was almost as if everyone knew there was no such thing as mind, and I was the last to find out. How ridiculous it seemed then even to look for mind.