Maezumi Roshi entrusted his successors with a great challenge and responsibility. Having seen himself as a bridge, a stepping stone, for bringing the Buddhadharma from the East to the West, he asked us, his Dharma heirs, to help Zen take root in the West by making it accessible to Westerners and by enriching it with the important insights that Western culture could contribute to those of the East.
My entire career as a teacher has been dedicated to fulfilling this request, and I think the Big Mind process which I discovered and have been developing for ten years does this as a Upaya, a skillful means, to nurture both spiritual growth and psychological health. As you may know, the Big Mind process uses the format and some of the techniques of Voice Dialogue, a therapy developed by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone, to address and speak from different aspects, or voices, of the self. While Big Mind is not a form of psychotherapy, since one of its goals is to make us aware of the very insubstantiality of the self, it does have the beneficial effect of allowing aspects of the self to become more conscious, to emerge from the shadows, to be owned and thereby to realize the transcendent wisdom inherent in each and every voice.
Reality can be broken up into three aspects: relative reality which is the apparent reality that we take for real. This is the reality where we see our self as an entity or being, separate from others and from the world. This is a very essential view, because it allows us to survive as a species. However, there is another reality, called the absolute reality, which in Zen Buddhism we would refer to as the Real reality. This is the reality of oneness or non-duality. This is what we could call pure being, where we are in the present, the here and now, with no separation between self and other, the world and oneself. In this reality there is no fear, no suffering, and no one to suffer. This has been referred to as the awakened state of mind, or enlightened mind. There is still a third aspect, the non-duality of these two, the relative and absolute reality, for they are in reality one. It is the inseparability of absolute and relative, form and emptiness. In this article, I use a triangle as a metaphor to emphasize my point. If we look at the left hand base corner as relative reality, the right hand base corner as the absolute reality, the apex of our triangle is the identity of relative and absolute, which I sometimes refer to as the integrated free-functioning human being, where the human is the relative reality and the being is the absolute reality.
In the hands of a facilitator who is skilled in the nuances of the Big Mind process and at the same time deeply grounded in Zen, the process can have remarkably profound and sudden effects on individual participants – even individuals in large groups – enabling them to experience deep insights and even realizations or kensho experiences that are both psychological and spiritual. Of course, as I always remind audiences, these insights need to be integrated and stabilized by meditation or zazen and conscious practice, but the openings are real and life-changing.
Interested readers can find many examples of Big Mind facilitation in action on our website, www.bigmind.org and elsewhere on the internet. What I would like to offer here is an example of how the Big Mind process can be used to evoke the voices of Sanity and Insanity, and then the Apex of the triangle which both includes and transcends these two voices. In the process of this dialogue, I also speak to the voices of both Sanity and Insanity at various stages, for example when they are disowned, or manifesting covertly, and when they are fully owned and embodied, mature, healthy and integrated.
Here is how such a dialogue could go:
Genpo Roshi: May I now speak to the Mind of Sanity that has been disowned please?
Mind of Sanity that has been disowned: Yes I am the Mind of Sanity that has been disowned. What would you like from me?
Genpo Roshi: I wish to know more about you and who you are.
Mind of Sanity that has been disowned: I have been disowned so I really don’t know who I am. I am looking to find out who and what I am. I am supposed to be sane but I don’t know what that means. I have never known what that is. He, the self, is looking for so-called sanity but he also has no clue about me. He likes to think that he is sane but he isn’t really. People think that he is but he has most of them fooled. Some see through his disguise of being sane, but he works hard and it is exhausting to keep others fooled. He is a fraud because he doesn’t want people to see that he has disowned me.
Genpo Roshi: How do you come out in a covert or unhealthy way?
Mind of Sanity that has been disowned: I come out as immature behavior and not taking responsibility for his actions and reactions. Because I am so disowned he acts crazy and as if he were a self-centered asshole. It is always all about him, as if the world actually revolved around him. I can even do insane and perverted things because I have been disowned. I am not healthy for him or others, especially loved ones and close friends and family.
Genpo Roshi: What would it look like if you were owned and embodied, honored and respected?
Mind of Sanity that has been disowned: He would be and act in a more sane and appropriate way. He would take responsibility for his actions and reactions. His choices would be wise and well thought out. He wouldn’t act so immaturely and unhealthily. His actions would be appropriate to the situation like a hand and a glove or a box and its lid. I wouldn’t have to manifest in bizarre behavior any longer or look for release through alcohol and drugs or all kinds of addictions. His anger and rage would either cease or at least be appropriate to the situation.
Genpo Roshi: May I please speak to Sanity owned and embodied, honored and respected?
The Mind of Sanity: Yes I am the mind of Sanity. I take responsibility not as a big burden but more as responding to the situation appropriately. I see things as they truly are and respond to them without a gap. My behavior is dignified and respectful towards others. My actions are healthy and mature and yet I am not old and stuffy. My mind is resilient and open, aware and attentive. Because he has owned and embodied me I no longer come out in all those immature and unhealthy ways as I did before.
Genpo Roshi: I would now like to please speak to the voice of Insanity Disowned.
Insanity Disowned: I am Insanity Disowned what do you want from me?
Genpo Roshi: I want to know who really are and why you have been disowned and by whom?
Insanity Disowned: I don’t really know who or what I am, I guess because I have been disowned. I have been disowned by him, the self, that guy. He is quite afraid of me, very afraid of me, downright terrified of me. He keeps me under lock and key. He doesn’t let me out of the dungeon at all even for a moment. Well that isn’t exactly correct. I do get out on a rare occasion, when he gets drunk or does some drug, or gets really angry and violent. When he loses control I get out. He only knows me on those bizarre occasions. That is why he is so afraid of me. He thinks the very worst of me. He thinks that I could do some terrible things, maybe even kill someone. He fears and hates me. He will do just about anything to keep anyone from seeing me, including himself.
Because I am disowned I come out in bizarre ways that are very immature and perverted, very unhealthy ways. In fact I cause him to do things that are considered crazy by most people’s standards. I am behind a lot of his bad decisions and self-destructive behavior when I am not owned and acknowledged. He over-controls everything and everyone because he won’t honor me and let me out of the basement. He looks like a control freak because he won’t embody me. He lives in fear that he is going to lose his mind. He holds on so tight that he is always uptight and scared. Then he over-thinks everything and isn’t able to be really free. He therefore seeks freedom and wants to let go but can’t. He knows that he needs to let go but is too afraid to, so he clings even harder to everything, even when it causes him tremendous pain and suffering. His face gets wrinkles and lines in it. He looks older than he is because of this uptightness. If only he wouldn’t be so afraid of me he could let go and relax. I am really not insane but complete chaos. I am an unfettered mind that is absolutely free.
Genpo Roshi: How do you manifest in a covert way because you are disowned?
Mind of Insanity Disowned: I am not free and therefore he is not free or liberated. He is not happy or joyful because he doesn’t acknowledge me in a healthy way. If he owned and embodied me he would be completely liberated and happy. He would stop trying to control everything and everyone. His life would be his life, not trying to live up to others’ standards and attitudes. He would be enlightened or at least awakened. I could offer him himself. He would no longer be busy comparing himself with others or judging himself in relation to others. The comparisons would stop.
Genpo Roshi: Would you please let me speak to Insanity Owned and Embodied
Insanity Owned and Embodied: I am Insanity Owned and Embodied, honored and respected by the self. I am just me. I can just be myself and don’t have to put on an act any longer. I am insane and I know it and acknowledge it. I can be real now for the first time in my life. The facade is dropped. I am what I am. You are who you are and I am at peace with that. I am completely free and liberated. I am pure chaos and that is not a problem. I am unpredictable but not irresponsible. Every moment is new and fresh, like seeing things for the first time ever. My mind is creative and open, no longer closed and stuck.
Genpo Roshi: I would like now to speak to the Apex that which includes and transcends sanity and insanity, Beyond Sanity and Madness.
Beyond Sanity and Madness: I am the voice that is Beyond Sanity and Madness: I embrace both my sanity and my insanity. I am neither just sane nor insane, and yet free to be whatever. I am completely free and still absolutely functional in the world, able to be with and to identify with anyone from any walk of life.
Sometimes I appear to be very focused and thoughtful and at times very carefree and unattached to things and even people. My heart is open without limits or boundaries and yet I can maintain a protective mandala (boundary) around me. Some may even think I am mad, and at other times completely sane. Sometimes I am what is called the Crazy Wisdom of a Sage. I return to the marketplace with gift-bestowing hands, awakening all human beings who wish to be awakened. I have consciously owned the many aspects of the marketplace mind that can appear to be competitive, self-promoting and even greedy to others. I have owned my dark side as well as my light side. From here I bridge all the seeming opposites and extremes in life. When it is time to appear in robes I put on my robes, when it is appropriate to be in a business suit I put on a suit. In Maui I wear shorts and in the mountains I put on my down jacket. I sit by the stream in deep silence for hours at my cabin and facilitate and empower very large groups of people in workshops. Some call me Roshi or Zen Master and others Genpo. Some even call me Dennis.
Zen Master Genpo Roshi founded the Kanzeon Sangha, an international Zen community in 1984, with groups and centers throughout Europe and the U.S., and is abbot of Big Mind Zen Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, which he founded in 1993. He discovered the Big Mind process in 1999. His newest book is Big Mind Big Heart: Finding Your Way.