Faith in Mind by 3rd Patriarch of Zen

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This topic contains 19 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Kevin 5 years, 6 months ago.

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    @Salina D

    I found that quite helpful. Language is tricky, it’s good to be precise. Skillful/Unskillful is an excellent choice of words.

    Thank you for that.



    @Peter W
    I’m glad you like the terms skillful/unskillful as suggest by Salina. I also use those when talking with groups and was also going to suggest them. Hopefully you may see your understandable reaction to wholesome / unwholesome decline over time.

    Regarding Faith in Mind and TMI. This is an interesting and potentially tricky topic, which is why I’m glad you replied. Thank you.

    Looking at the beginning we can see where misunderstanding might occur:
    “The Great Way is not difficult; just avoid picking and choosing!
    Only when you neither love nor hate does it clearly reveal itself.”

    On the surface this seems to contradict some of TMI, especially the early stages. For example, we are encouraged to gain skill with certain techniques to minimize mind wandering. It may seem we are encouraged to pick a calm mind over a wandering mind. We may notice this tendency in our meditation when we feel successful when a calm mind appears and unsuccessful with our mind wanders.

    This isn’t really correct. If we step back from pick and choosing, loving and hating, we see that a calm mind may be a more skillful mind but it isn’t a superior mind. In the early TMI stages, I see Faith in Mind reminding us to be skillful – to build skill without desire for a particular outcome (to avoid picking and choosing / to neither love nor hate). As TMI teaches, we cannot not directly control unconscious subminds and conscious brute force doesn’t work. However, we can hold intention to skillfully practice. At least this is how I see it. For me, the 3rd Patriarch reminds us to practice without picking or choosing an outcome – to just practice, but to practice skillfully. As we cultivate our meditation practice more thoroughly the instruction of the 3rd Patriarch becomes more direct. This is truly a beautiful, poetic instruction.

    David S (DT Teacher in Training)

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  David.



    In your salutary role as web administrator, I notice that you occasionally have to respond to stray scrawlings on the wall and referee the various comments derived therefrom. Please, Allow me a technical comment for your future reference.

    Nearly all of the known described and documented meditation methods are “concentrated object” meditation methods, including Shamatha. However, Zen/ Chan poems such as “Faith In Mind” and “Cultivating The Empty Field” arise from the tiny specialized class of “ObjectLESS” meditation methods and are completely irrelevant and useless to the Shamatha meditator. An aspiring dancer may admire the skill and performance of a good singer, but this is not relevant to his own practice, and he should be politely disabused of such a notion. This Ain’t Yer Dharma. No, It’s Not All One, not from where you are standing. Get back to your own practice…

    Objectless meditative methods are predicated on assumptions of one’s own mind being unconditionally quiescent, or even nonexistent. Such operating principles are somewhat related to the highest levels of Shamatha insight, and thus only suitable for advanced meditators. These methods cannot really be taught, but only mentioned, as the functions are nonverbal and subconscious, there being no objects or concepts in the subconscious.

    Besides, what makes these poems sound so cool is not due to their revelations of inherent wisdom, but due to the highly skillful scholars’ imaginative translations of archaic Chinese. Obviously, the translation can only be as good as the translator’s imagination. The translations that sound coolest are not the same as those translations that are of most technical interest.



    Wiley Fox,
    Blake hasn’t responded as of yet, and I thought I’d give my thoughts, although your message was addressed to Blake. I hope that is fine by you.

    I agree with some of what you wrote, although I wouldn’t have worded it in the same manner, especially stating that these “meditation methods and are completely irrelevant and useless to the Shamatha meditator”. There is almost always something to be learnt.

    As an example, if one looks at the first part of Faith in Mind, which I focused on, the instructions are quite concrete and accessible for most meditators. If one looks for what is beneficial and can with good-will assist a practitioner in early to mid-stage TMI, this was the place to direct their attention. At least that was my feeling. You may disagree and feel to even study this sutra is irrelevant and useless to a shamatha meditator. My view is the sutra is posted, so let’s work with it as skillfully as we can.

    I agree that Cultivating the Empty Field is very much pointing rather than telling, which is why I used the word “instruction” for the part of Faith in Mind I referenced but wouldn’t use that for let’s say, the beautiful “The Cloud’s Fascination and the Moon’s Cherishing” from the Empty Field.

    I differ from your view in that I think both these approaches can assist each other. Last week I used the TMI model of the conscious and unconscious minds to set a mood and give instructions for non-meditators prior to reading “The Cloud’s Fascination and the Moon’s Cherishing”. I felt that these minds, unburdened by technique and concepts, might be more open to letting the unconscious subminds open, to use TMI terminology. There followed by a short talk and reading it once again. A deeply practiced meditator attended the talk as my guest. Did the audience “understand” what was being read? I doubt it. But did many of them get a small moment of being pointed towards…? I do think so, and so did my guest. I doubt any of them raced out and registered in a mediation course. Maybe a few years from now, or in a next life, that talk will add onto everything else and spark them into practice. One just never knows. Which why in my view, it never hurts to try.

    My best wishes.

    David S.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  David.
    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  David.
    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  David.


    Peter: Thanks for posting “Faith in Mind”. I wasn’t familiar with that poem and I don’t think I would have had the pleasure of reading it but for your contribution. Being relatively new to TMI and the Dharma, I find the input, suggestions and conversations in forums such as this one to be very helpful in focusing my practice and bringing both efficiency and richness to my dharma study.

    Regarding the Thervadan emphasis on wholesome and unwholesome, right and wrong, etc as a contradiction to “Faith in Mind”, I wonder if another way to look at it might be that the more one is imbued with Right View, Right Speech, etc, and thus one is progressively more deeply imbued with wholesomeness, then perhaps one will become more progressively imbued with the pure essence of the poem, i.e. one will be better able to transcend an intellectual understanding/appreciation of the poem and to actually realize/experience of the essence of the poem on the cushion and in daily life.

    I’ve recently been engaged in my first sincere study of the 4 Noble Truths and the 8 Fold Noble Path, and I have to admit that I am beginning to really see/appreciate how beneficial a deep acceptance and understanding of these teachings can be to my practice. For me, before Dharma, thought and analysis was my primary mindspace, so I’m only now really learning/realizing for the first time that there is really a whole new world beyond just intellectually knowing something (like a sutra/poem etc). In other words, I’m only just beginning to sense and discover the discernment that Salina and David S are talking about. So far it’s pretty freakin exciting.

    What I love about poems like this, now that I’m practicing, is starting to see/feel that poems like this, that once seemed merely cool paradoxical tidbits, are are windows to an actual, deeper truth of life itself.

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