Nothing to Grasp

Nothing to Grasp


This week Roshi set out to wrap up Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses by focusing on the last five lines.  He noted the density of this work and commented that he could give a full semester course on each individual verse.  


Before beginning the last five verses, Roshi provided us with a recap of what we have covered so far.  In essence, Vasubandhu is teaching us that the “self” and all external events are really metaphors.  Everything we perceive as reality is nothing more than the transformation of our consciousness.  Vasubandhu then uses the middle verses to explain the different aspects of consciousness.  He also mentions that consciousness is built up from our “Karmic Storage” and that this storage is foundational to who we are.   It is interesting to note that karma covers everything since the beginning of time and space.  It is not just what happened to “you” but to your parents, your country, all humanity, the big bang, before the big bang and so on through the kalpas of existence.


Roshi notes that Vasubandhu builds the architecture of the mind and consciousness in the Thirty Verses.  It is a very concrete architecture and quite detailed and even “scientific.”  We say it scientific because the premises to conclusions can be consistently tested and the results map to what we actually experience.


Roshi’s last comment in our recap was about how Vasubandhu states that everything which we perceive is imaginative.  This could be taken to be quite negative and nihilistic.  However, this is not true.  Roshi reminded us that the imagination is very important.  It is what brought us to practice.  Imagination is the root of all faith.  We came to practice because we imagined the benefits it would confer to us.  If we lacked this imagination, we would never have begun and sustained the hard work of practice.


At this point, Roshi stated our exploration of the last five verses.  Line 25 states that the ultimate truth of all events is ‘suchness’ since all events are simply a projection in our mind.  Here Roshi mentioned that the term ‘Tathagata’ (one name of the Buddha) means becoming a presence which comes and goes.  Isn’t it true that we are all Tathagata as we are here one moment and the then we are not in the next moment?     


The next line states that if consciousness is not centered in mind only (another translation “only appearance”) the ‘residue’ of dualism will never go away.  Roshi noted here that it is not enough to smugly say that everything we experience is a ‘lie.’  To believe that is simply grasping at some other “thing.”  Vasibandhu is saying that his entire philosophy is simply an apparition and it is wrong to grasp onto it for some deeper answer.  There is no place to grasp on the path of practice!


Vasubandhu makes this warning clearly in line 27.  Even that idea that ‘everything is a projection’ is another conception.  It does not penetrate into ‘just this’ or ‘suchness’.  Roshi noted that practice does not provide simple rote answers.  Suchness needs to be penetrated deeply.  It cannot be arrived at with reason – it cannot be learned from a book.  Here Roshi provided an example to show that the thoughts and experiences in the mind are not real.  He asked us if we would remember the thoughts which distracted a meditation session two months ago?  Even if you remembered them – could you do anything with these thoughts – could you sweeten your coffee with it?  The thoughts and things which are eating up our life are simply projections.  As we realize this, those things fall away.  However, as you go farther, even the realization of that thoughts are projections is recognized as yet another projection and that falls away.  There is nothing to grasp to in suchness.  Our practice is simply working through the layers and shedding it all until there is nothing left.


In line 28 Vasubandhu states that once we have dropped away all of our grasping, we realize that everything is in the mind.  When there is nothing to clutch and hold tight to anymore there is no reason to try and we are finally free.  This is the point of our practice.  However, the ego projection will fight this.  This is where duality comes from.  It is hard work not to see ourselves.  In line 29 Vasubandhu reinforces this exact point.  No mind, no apprehending – it is awareness beyond worlds where the two afflictions cease.  Finally, in line 30 Vasubandhu reminds us that this all leads to the final freedom from suffering.


Here Roshi took a pause and reinforced the message so far.  If you believe that the day-to-day events in life as the only truth, then you are mired in afflictions and delusions.  However, through practice, we begin to realize that this is only ‘a’ truth, but not ‘the’ truth.  None of it is truly real.  We begin to exist in this other state of “mind only” – but that is also not truly real.  Again, there is no place for us to grasp onto here.  Practice is letting go.  Can you release your deeply held truths?


So, what does it really mean to exist in “suchness?”  Again, try not to grasp at a fantasy.  There are no lightning bolts or singing angels.  There is nothing outside of Zen.  Suchness is everything.  Roshi told a story about his teacher.  There is an old Japanese expression that realization is simply washing your underwear!  What is more mundane that that!  This is your reality – this is your suchness!  This is Vasubandhu’s message!


Finally, the following verse seemed appropriate here…


The mind is like an artist;

The mind makes the aggregates.

All these worlds that there are

In the universe are painted by mind.


–from the Avataṃsaka Sutra