Last night, reverend SHI Yongxin 释永信法师, abbot of the Shaolin Monastery少林寺 in China, made a show with the Tonight Talk今夜有话要说 program on KTSF channel 26, a local TV station featuring Chinese and other Asian programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Throughout the half hour show, the reverend generally remained clam, stern and responsive. His responses and narrations provided a snapshot of the history and reality of the monastery as well as himself. Many viewers in USA would find his words useful and helpful in some way given he is both a congressman and vice chair of the Chinese Association of Buddhism. However, no direct question-and-answer service over the phone was provided toward the end of the show.
One of the many questions anchor lady ZHU Sheng 祝笙asked the reverend was to this effect: How do you keep balance between a meditative life style and traveling around the world? The reverend’s response was prompt and concise: 动身不动心 (I move physically but my mind remains unmoved). This reminds Chinese people and anyone familiar with Chinese culture of the household term 平常心 (Ordinary Mind). Not every one knows, however, that the notion and practice of the Ordinary Mind actually originated from Chan Buddhism 禅宗. Mazu Daoyi 马祖道一 in the mid Tang China proclaimed 平常心是道(the Ordinary Mind is the Way). Mazu defined the Ordinary Mind as, “freedom from pretentious performance, from duality of yes and no, taking and giving, discontinuity and permanence, temporal and sacred” (大正藏Taisho Vol. 51, p. 440a). Nanquan 南泉, disciple of Mazu, said something similar to the former’s own disciple Zhaozhou 赵州, who probably drove home the practice of the Ordinary Mind in all aspects of a routine life.
The psychological impact of the practice of the Ordinary Mind is just beginning to get attention. The non-discriminative ontological unified Ordinary Mind can certainly be a realm for followers to aspire for spiritual fulfillment and realization. Such a state, if overly pursued, attached to and internalized, however, might result in some psychological issues particularly in social adjustment and interpersonal relationship. Flat affect表情贫乏 is just one of these symptomatic signs. The apparent lack of facial (emotional) expression, common to many Buddhist monastics including reverend Shi Yongxin could leave audience a somewhat chilling impression that they may not be speaking from their heart. Indeed the reverend has crystallized it: He does not involve his heart while performing myriad tasks-- the heart/mind remains unmoved (动身不动心 )! Hence no facial expression, or very little and largely controlled if any.
So, here is the dilemma: Do Buddhist monastics in general want to stay in the unmoving disembodied Ordinary Mind for spiritual realization? Or do they want to connect with audience at human level in the era where humanistic Buddhism has been advocated?
A further question is: Can the Ordinary Mind as such be maintained while performing daily tasks in personal, social and occupational life? Neuro-psychological researches are getting ready to shed light on this. I am anticipating an acceptance of a noticeable and healthy shift, in notion and practice, from the non-discriminative disembodied Ordinary Mind to the functioning and embodying ordinary mind. One can be grounded and calm while still embodying warm human expressions like smiles. This said, I assume that out of some 250 orthodox precepts for a fully ordained Buddhist monk there is no one stipulating “no smiling”.
The Dalai Lama said he trained himself to smile. He might have overachieved on that end. Thich Nhat Hanh 一行禅师has been a loud voice for mindfulness practice but seems largely unmoved too in facial expression in the public. Where is your observation and thoughts? Where are you on this practice and inquiry?