Ordinary Mind

love and prayer
November 15, 2012

I often talk about ordinary mind. Ordinary mind is karmically bound, limited mind.

It drives us to rationalize and make decisions based on attachments to dependence or so-called independence, on what we’ve always done, what we believe is impossible for us to do, whether something is hard or easy, scary or safe-feeling, convenient or inconvenient, pleasurable or unpleasurable, what we imagine other people will think, how much ordinary stuff we stand to gain or lose, politics, cultural and economic norms, social standing, and socially acceptable lying, cheating, emotional manipulation, seduction, and stealing.

Ordinary mind is what we are using when we forget that our sole purpose is to remember our continuity with all life and embody that.

Ordinary mind always causes us to act selfishly and unconsciously toward other people. Even if ordinary mind is driving us to do good, the good will be limited because ordinary mind is fundamentally based on our conviction that we are separate individuals. Ordinary mind’s job is to act in the defense of the phantasm of the individual.

When we are accessing enlightened mind, we are making choices based on clarity about our deepest longing and motivation: to know our real nature. If our clarity shows itself in only a brief flash, we can still find the courage to follow that beacon even while ordinary mind tries to distract us with reasonable-sounding arguments and threats. We are not misrecognizing some temporary solution or momentary pleasure for what we really want.

Enlightened mind is ordinary mind set free from its karmic tensions. Because of this continuity between ordinary and enlightened mind, we can have at least a little access to wisdom even if we are largely still bound by karma.

Many students of the dharma compartmentalize their lives. They decide what portion of their activities will be guided by “spiritual” considerations and what part by ordinary mind. But careers, relationships and countries are fleeting, experiential phenomena arising and subsiding like waves in an unbroken ocean of consciousness and energy. There is no other basis for life but this ocean; there are no compartments.

In the best circumstance, one’s activities will always be guided by the longing to wake up and discover this. You will try not to act out of defensiveness and aggression, but out of the recognition of our continuity with each other.

If we have a relationship to a teacher with some greater realization, we can follow the advice of the teacher and relax our own karma. The teacher gives us more access to the View from the ocean.

This is the deeper meaning of surrender. We recognize our own potential for realization through the medium of the teacher. We have the understanding that the teacher’s clarity is our own clarity, temporarily externalized. In deciding to follow the teacher, we are changing our karmic momentum and moving toward the discovery that the essence of the teacher and our own essence are the same.