Case 30 Baso's "This Very Mind Is the Buddha"
Daibai asked Baso, "What is the Buddha?"
Baso answered, "This very mind is the Buddha."
If you directly grasp Baso's meaning, you wear the Buddha's clothes, eat the Buddha's food, speak the Buddha's words, do the Buddha's deeds—that is, you are a Buddha himself.
However, alas! Daibai misled not a few people into taking the mark on the balance for the weight itself.
How could he realize that even mentioning the word "Buddha" should make us rinse out our mouths for three days?
If a man of understanding hears anyone say, "This very mind is the Buddha," he will cover his ears and rush away.
The blue sky and bright day,
No more searching around!
"What is the Buddha?" you ask:
With loot in your pocket, you declare yourself innocent.
Years ago (early 1980's) I did a series of sesshins with Joshu Sasaki Roshi. He was a Rinzai master who taught with koans that he often made up. He would often take traditional koans and put them in a language that was easier to grasp, and usually involved the word Buddha such as, "How do you experience Buddha through sound?" He also would often ask a new student what his or her profession was and then if the student answered for example carpenter he would then give the student the koan, "How do you experience Buddha through Carpentry?" One might think these koans are easier then the traditional koans like those in this collection and yes maybe that is somewhat true because there is less obscurity in the language but I would argue that in essence they are just as difficult. They are still asking the student to have the same experiences and understanding. You can not pass one of Sasaki's koans without understanding the word Buddha and here we are at koan 30 in the Mumonkan and it is also asking you to understand that same word, Buddha.
Twenty Five years after practicing with Sasaki Roshi I was doing sesshins with Shodo Harada Roshi. Even though he is also a Rinzai teacher we did not do koans. We were working on ways to deepen samadhi. For quite a while I worked on a simple breathing technique called Sokusan which once mastered allows one to quickly enter deep samadhi. Once I mastered that skill then he would just ask me at the beginning of each sesshin to do something like die with every breath or to become the Universe with every breath. This went on for a number of sesshins. Then one Sesshin he asks me the question, "How big is your mind?" Without hesitation I respond, "It fills the whole Universe." The next interview I had with Harada he told me that I was done with my training.
Some people think that you gain magical powers through years of intense meditation and that experience we call Enlightenment. Some people are attracted to a magical view of life where some how they can control reality through their thinking. And some people have misread the Mind Only philosophy of Buddhism or this koan as telling them that some how they can control the larger world with their mind. This is just more confusion.
Again if one really wants to understand this statement, "This very Mind is Buddha" then you must understand it from the perspective of deep meditative experience where the world is not seen through the lens of our normal conceptual thinking. Words can take on whole different meanings through the perspective of this experience. But be aware the public expression of such understanding can easily become weeds. Maybe I shouldn't but I will give a hint: Non-Duality.