Immovable Mind

by Yung-ming Yen-shou

English version by John C.H. Wu
Original Language Chinese

You wish to know the spirit of Yung-ming Zen?
Look at the lake in front of the gate.
When the sun shines, it radiates light and brightness,
When the wind comes, there arise ripples and waves.

-- from The Golden Age of Zen: Zen Masters of the T'ang Dynasty, by John C.H. Wu

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Let's contemplate this image Yung-ming has given us: What does a lake have to do with Zen practice and the nature of mind?

When the sun shines, it radiates light and brightness,
When the wind comes, there arise ripples and waves.


Like the mind, the lake naturally reflects its environment. When the sun is out, the lake/mind automatically "radiates light and brightness." But when wind arises, the lake/mind's surface is disturbed and disjointed.

Let's carry this image a little further into the question of duality and unity. When the sun shines, the lake reflects that singular brightness. Witnessed from the right angle, you won't see anything else but the shining radiance, all other detail consumed in the light.

Now let's picture a blustery night. Even if the sky is clear enough to show us the moon, the choppy surface of the lake reflects not one moon, but a thousand moons, each jostling and crashing into the others.

This is how the perception of duality emerges in the mind. The surface of the mind becomes agitated. Rather than a single calm surface, a multiplicity of ripples and waves appear, move about, collide, and disappear again. And each wave has it's own incomplete reflective face, each with its own fragmented snapshot of reality, in conflict with the thousand other slightly different images.

But are there truly a thousand moons in the night sky? Of course not, just the one. But the only way to discover this is to bring the lake's surface to quiet stillness again. It doesn't even require any effort. The mind's "water" naturally returns to a still, placid state. All we must do is cease to agitate the surface.

Only then do we discover the one moon at night. Only then do we properly radiate the sun's brightness.

One last thing I'd like to point out: Even during the most violent storm, no matter how much the surface of the lake churns and crashes, in its depths the lake remains still and at peace.



Recommended Books: Yung-ming Yen-shou

Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series The Golden Age of Zen: Zen Masters of the T'ang Dynasty





Immovable Mind