by Rev. Jon Turner.
As human beings, we are of two minds. The first mind can be thought of as the small mind. This is the mind that judges and filters all of our experiences as good or bad. It narrates our lives. Just like in a movie trailer, in a very deep voice: “In a world, where Reverend Jon Turner is a super hero, he struggles fiercely to make things right.” However, this small mind cannot really be trusted.
There are many examples of this in popular culture. I have three favorites. First is the film The Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis. I can usually guess the plot of most films but not with this one. I never saw the ending coming. I was completely surprised. The reason for this was that I trusted the reality presented by Bruce Willis’ character. I accepted his narration throughout the film without question. But he was deluded. I should have trusted the little boy who could see dead people. There were obvious clues throughout, but I had chosen to ignore them.
Second is the film A Beautiful Mind with Russell Crowe. Again I was seeing reality through the eyes of mathematician John Nash but he was having an emotional breakdown. In the 1950’s, there really weren’t any Russian nuclear weapons buried throughout the United States as he had imagined. However, I assumed that I must have missed this in my high school history classes. Again I was completely surprised by the ending of this film. I never saw it coming.
Third is the book The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, arguably the most famous contemporary example of the deluded narrator. Holden Caulfield gives narration throughout and we see everything through his eyes. Again I assumed that all of it was a valid and truthful depiction of reality. This also leads to an ending that is not expected.
This style of storytelling is extremely effective at creating suspense. We see reality one way only to find out later that we were mistaken. This can be very surprising, even unsettling. Sometimes the audience can even feel a bit betrayed – even angry.
It is through these three stories that I came to realize that I had never questioned the narrator in my head. This is why I was so easily fooled. I began to question the ending of my life. Would it be as shocking as The Sixth Sense, A Beautiful Mind or The Catcher in the Rye? What will happen if I continue to rely only on my small mind – without question?
The second mind is the big mind. It is where we can experience reality just as it is – without any inner narration. This mind can be experienced whenever we encounter something so overwhelming that there is no room for narration. For example, when we look at the Grand Canyon our small mind is silenced. The view is so vast and infinite that there are no words to describe it. The narrator is unable to speak – not by the force of our will but because there is no longer any room for distraction.
This can also be called the True Mind. There are two approaches to knowing this mind. The first approach is to silence the narrator through very difficult practices. This appears to be the main focus of American Buddhism. We meditate and attend monastic retreats in order to manually silence the voice in our head every time it begins to speak. This is a noble goal but it can be problematic. It is very difficult to continue this practice in everyday life. And I have found that the narrator gets much louder and persistent whenever it comes under attack. It is like poking a sleeping bear with a stick. In my opinion, this is not a fight we want to have.
Another approach is to find something that overwhelms the small mind, something that only the True Mind can recognize. Perhaps you are driving to work in the rain, trying to stay calm and compassionate as the traffic and pressure builds. You are able to avoid road rage but it is still close at hand. It can be quite frustrating to learn that the peace at the retreat is difficult to find on the 405. But suddenly, the sky clears and a rainbow appears. You become immersed in the rainbow and then there is silence. You are now flowing with the 405, not against it. This occurs automatically.
I think this is analogous to Pure Land Buddhist practices. We do not try to conquer the small mind through direct practices. Instead we find something so overwhelming that the focus of our both our mind and our lives is fundamentally altered. We have silenced the small mind by replacing it rather than defeating it.
This is called devotional Buddhism. It is not a devotion to a heavenly being but instead to something overwhelming in our everyday lives, like the Grand Canyon - beyond words – both infinite and vast. We begin to stare in awe at the infinite causes and conditions in our lives. We call this Amida Buddha. When we listen to the teachings, chant the sutras, say Namuamidabutsu and bow – there is no room for the narrator to speak. Suddenly there is just silence.
Rev. Jon Turner