Notes to Poem:
Mind: Questing or Resting?

Peter Y. Chou

Commentary on Poem "Mind: Questing or Resting?":

Kay's email message / "Thanks for another look / into your questing mind"

Kay Ryan, U.S. Poet Laureate (2008-2010) taught Stanford Poetry Workshops (English 192V) during the Winter Semester (January 5-March 9, 2010). I was fortunate she allowed me to be in her class. While we didn't have our poems critiqued, Kay's essay assignments made me reflect more inwardly that many poems flowed out. I was typing Kay's poems from her Stanford Poetry Reading (2-23-2010) at Stanford Green Library when I learned she had won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (4-18-2011). I wrote a haiku— "Kay Ryan's The Best of It / won this year's Pulitzer— / O how wonderful!" However I didn't send a congratulatory email until July 2 along with my "Michelangelo's Bow" poem with Notes. On July 8, she wrote "Hi Peter, Thanks for another look into your questing mind. Warm wishes to you. Kay." Despite her short message, I'm always happy to have Kay respond to my emails. It amazes me that many who ask for my poems and lecture notes don't acknowledge them, while busy people like Robert Thurman, Coleman Barks, Joyce Carol Oates, and Kay Ryan find time to respond promptly. It dawned on me that these four had enlightened experiences. (Image: Kay Ryan,

made me meditate— / Should my mind / be questing or resting?

Phrenology Head (1883)
"Questing Mind"
Kay's short message made me meditate whether my mind should be questing or resting? Phrenology Head (1883) with many mansions of activities exemplifies a questing mind of busyness. I'm always collecting inspiring news and quotes in books, newspapers, and on the web that uplift us to enlightenment. Sleeping Muse I (1909) by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) seems to represent a resting mind (sleep). Brancusi's worldview valued "differentiating the essential from the ephemeral," with Plato, Lao-Tzu, and Milarepa as influences. He was a saint-like idealist and near ascetic, turning his workshop into a place where visitors noted the deep spiritual atmosphere. (Images: Phrenology Head,; Brancusi's Sleeping Muse I, Hirshhorn Museum,
Brancusi's Sleeping Muse (1909)
"Resting Mind"

Buddhists say the mind / is a restless monkey / swinging from tree to tree

Monkey mind from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin'en ["heart-/mind-monkey"], is a Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable". The "Monkey King" Sun Wukong in the classical Chinese epic novel Journey to the West (1590) personifies the mind-monkey. In the novel, he is a monkey born from a stone who acquires supernatural powers through Taoist practices. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha, he later accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India. Weimojie suoshuo jing (406 AD) was Kumarajiva's groundbreaking Chinese translation of the Vimalakirti Sutra. It introduced "mind-monkey" in the simile xin ru yuanhou "heart/mind like a monkey/ape". "Since the mind of one difficult to convert is like an ape, govern his mind by using certain methods and it can then be broken in". In Raja Yoga, Vivekananda writes "the human mind is like a restless monkey."
[Image: Using Photoshop & Monkey Swinging ( to create Monkey Mind,]

so we need to quieten it / to experience Emptiness / (Sunyata) and Nirvana

Erik van Hannen: About Emptiness
Sunyata is the Sanskrit word for "emptiness" or "void" and the core basis of Buddhist philosophy. It is a misconception to equate emptiness with nihilism. Nirvana is the state of being free from suffering. In Hindu philosophy, it is union with the Supreme being through moksha. Nirvana literally means "blowing out"— extinguishing the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion. The sky is a Tibetan metaphor for emptiness offering clouds for our perception. Ramana Maharshi compares our true Self to a cinema screen. Never wet or hot when the scene is rainy or on fire. Joy and sorrow in the characters don't affect the screen's composure. The empty screen resembles a clear mirror projecting whatever comes before it— accepting all, rejecting none, always peaceful and calm. Hakuin's minimalist Zen painting Bridge of Mama calms our mind more than an empty canvas. (Image: About Emptiness by Erik van Hannen, photographed on 2-24-2008, Bunnik, Utrecht, Netherlands,

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras / begins: "Yoga is ceasing / the flow of thoughts"

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
Yoga is the traditional physical and mental disciplines that began in India. The Sanskrit word yoga means "to yoke". Yoga Sutras (circa 200 AD) is divided into 4 chapters or books (Sanskrit pada), containing in all 196 aphorisms— Samadhi Pada (51 sutras): Samadhi refers to a blissful state where the yogi is absorbed into the One. Patanjali describes yoga and then the nature and means to attaining samadhi. This chapter contains the famous definitional verse: "Yogas citta-vritti-nirodhah" "Yoga is cessation of the flow of thoughts". Sadhana Pada (55 sutras): Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for "practice" or "discipline". Here the author outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga (Action Yoga) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold Yoga). Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras): Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for "power". 'Supra-normal powers' (Sanskrit: siddhi) are acquired by the practice of yoga. The temptation of these powers (telepathy, clairvoyance, prophecy, levitation) should be avoided if one wishes to attain enlightenment. Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras): Kaivalya means emancipation or moksha (liberation), the goal of Yoga. Kaivalya Pada describes the nature of liberation and the reality of the transcendental self. (Image: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,

but a sage gives me / this wise advice— / "Yoga is skill in action."

Jean-Claude Killy won Gold Medal in
Giant Slalom at 1968 Winter Olympics

Martha Graham dancing Emily Dickinson's
Poem #441: Letter to the World (1940)
Anthony Damiani used Paul Brunton's The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga in his free bookshop's seminars (1968-70) on epistemology. New York Times Magazine reported that in the 1968 Winter Olympics, Jean-Claude Killy sat in the hotel visualizing mentally skiing downhill instead of practicing the runs physically ("Skiing the Inner Limits", Vegetarian Times, Issue #54, February 1982, p. 70). He won three Olympics Gold Medals for the Downhill, Slalom, and Giant Slalom, a feat never duplicated since. After watching Martha Graham dance Acrobats of God at Cornell (1966), she autographed my program and told me her love of Greek philosophy and Oriental meditation ("How I Learned to Dance" Poem). In This I Believe, "God's Athlete" (1954), Martha Graham writes "I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God." (More dance quotes: 1, 2). When I met Paul Brunton in Montreux, Switzerland (August 1972), he asked me to define yoga, and I quoted Patanjali's Yoga Sutras "Yoga is cessation of the flow of thoughts". But PB reminded me that "Yoga is skill in action" (Bhagavad Gita 2.50). I also like Juan Mascaró's translation: "Yoga is wisdom in work." PB writes in The Wisdom of the Overself (1943): "He is not on earth for yoga's sake. Yoga is here for his sake. He is here to live. Yes, action also is an essential part of this quest of the Overself... Because man is a threefold being, a working trinity of thinking, feeling and doing... Knowledge, meditation, and selfless work constitute the holy trinity which can lead him to enlightenment." (p. 265) After meeting PB, I made my lab at Brandeis a garden of meditation, deciphering protein structures as nature's language of amino acids without computer calculations. As with Emily's Poem #441 "This is my letter to the World", Nature told me her simple message with tender majesty. This led to the Chou-Fasman method of protein structural predictions that received the most citations in Science Citation Index.
(Images: Jean-Claude Killy,; Barbara Morgan's Martha Graham,

Ramana cites Psalm 46:10— / "Be still, and know / that I am God."
Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) was a sage from South India introduced to the West in Paul Brunton's book A Search in Secret India (1934). It was April 5, 1968 when I met Anthony Damiani, the proprietor of American Brahman Bookshop in downtown Ithaca. He was so much in love with philosophy and the perennial wisdom traditions that he offered free Wednesday seminars on the subject at his bookshop. Along with a dozen students and two Cornell math professors, we participated in these discourses on wisdom of enlightenment. Anthony recommended the books of Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi, two sages who had experienced cosmic consciousness. However, I was only interested in learning from the original source— words from Buddha himself. When I came across Wei Wu Wei's Open Secret in the Cornell stacks, I came across the quote "There is neither creation nor destruction, / Neither destiny nor free will, / Neither path nor achievement; / This is the final truth." — Ramana Maharshi. I was so shocked that I rushed to Anthony's bookshop and bought Arthur Osborne's book on Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge as well as Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (1968), and have read them often. Here are Ramana's citations of Psalms 46.1029th September, 1935 (p. 79)— The Master [Ramana], while referring to the Bible for "Be still and know that I am God" Psalms 46.10, found in the Ecclesiastes 4.8 "There is one alone, and there is not a second." 20th February, 1937Disciple: How is one to know the Self? Why does it gives us trouble? Ramana: "Knowing the Self" means "Being the Self"... God is said to emanate as the mind, the senses and the body and to play. Who are you to say that this play is a trouble to you? Who are you to question the doings of God? Your duty is to be: and not to be this or that. "I AM that I AM" [Exodus 3.14] sums up the whole truth. The method is summed up in "BE STILL" [Psalms 46.10]. What does "stillness" mean? It means "destroy yourself". Because any form or shape is the cause of trouble. Give up the notion that "I am so and so." Our sastras say: ahamit sphurati (it shines as 'I'). (Aham, aham) 'I' — 'I' is the Self; (Aham, idam) "I am this" or "I and this" is the ego. Shining is there always. The ego is transitory: When the 'I' is kept up as 'I' alone it is the Self; when it flies at a tangent and says "this" it is the ego. The Self is God. "I AM" is God. "I am the Self!" This question arises because you are holding the ego self. This will not arise if you hold the True Self. For the Real Self will not and cannot ask anything. (Images: Ramana Maharshi & Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi,

I marvel at Hui-neng's / awakening at Guangzhou / after hearing just one line

Liang K'ai
(early 13th century)
Sixth Patriarch Chopping Bamboo
Hui-neng (638-713) was the 6th Zen Patriarch and considered the greatest Zen Master. Hung-jen, 5th Zen Patriarch, told his monks to write a verse showing their understanding of the original nature of Mind. Whoever writes the best verse will receive the robe and become the 6th Patriarch. The head monk, Shen-hsiu wrote on the wall of the south corridor: The body is the Bodhi tree, / The mind is like a clear mirror. / We must polish it at all times, / And not let the dust gather. Hui-neng, the rice-pounder, when told about this verse, knew it was not the true meaning of Zen. Being illiterate, he asked the cook to write his version: Bodhi originally has no tree, / The mirror also has no stand. / Buddha nature is always clear, / Where can the dust gather? The 5th Patriarch told Hui-neng that he understood the essence of Zen and transmitted to him the Dharma and gave him the robe. Hui-neng advocated a direct approach to Buddhist practice, and is considered the founder of the "Sudden Enlightenment" southern Ch'an school. Hui-neng's father died when he was three, and he sold firewood in the market to support his mother and himself. One day he heard a monk reciting Diamond Sutra, and his mind became awakened. (Philip B. Yampolsky, Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, 1967, pp. 126-127).
Hui-neng (638-713)
6th Zen Patriarch
33rd Buddhist
Grand Master
(Image: Sixth Patriarch Chopping Bamboo,; Hui-Neng, 6th Zen Patriarch,

from the Diamond Sutra— / "Abiding nowhere, / let the mind work on."
The Buddhist text Diamond Sutra is believed to be the oldest surviving printed book in the world. Made in 868 AD and written in Chinese, it contains a significant dialogue on perception, and is one of the most important sacred works of Mahayana Buddhism. Diamond Sutra, like many Buddhist sutras, begins with the famous phrase "Thus have I heard". In the sutra, Buddha has finished his daily walk with monks to gather offerings of food, and he sits down to rest. Elder Subhuti comes forth and asks the Buddha a question. What follows is a dialogue regarding the nature of perception. Buddha often uses paradoxical phrases such as, "What is called the highest teaching is not the highest teaching". Buddha is trying to help Subhuti unlearn his preconceived, limited notions of the nature of reality and enlightenment. Some vivid metaphors for impermanence appears at the sutra's end: "All conditioned phenomena / Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows; / Like drops of dew, or flashes of lightning; / Thusly should they be contemplated." Hui-neng's enlightenment came when he heard the Diamond Sutra passage: "Must produce a mind which stays in no place" (Philip B. Yampolsky, Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, 1967, p. 94). If the mind is not attached to any notions or prejudices, then this uncluttered or empty mind will be efficient and excellent in action and creative work. (Image: Buddha's Diamond Sutra,

So I let my mind rest / when I sleep and quest / when I wake...

Resting Mind

Tensho Shubun (1414-1463)
Oxherding Pictures #8
Emptiness: Man & Ox Gone
In Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (p. 236), the Hindu sage contrasts Sleep and Wakefulness with the following table:
No worldWorld
No attachmentAttachment
The SelfThe Self
Ramana says "Sleep is not ignorance; it is your pure state. Wakefulness is not knowledge; it is ignorance. There is full awareness in sleep; there is total ignorance in waking. Your real nature covers both, and extends beyond. The Self is beyond knowledge and ignorance. Sleep, dream, and waking are only modes passing before the Self... Deep sleep is nothing but the experience of pure being... Turiya is only another name for the Self. Aware of the waking, dream, and sleep states, we remain unaware of our own Self... it is the only Reality." [Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (1-2-1937), p. 274; (1-28-1939), p. 580; (2-8-1937), p. 320]. Mandukya Upanishad (circa 500 B.C.) delineates the four states of consciousness: waking, dream, sleep, turiya. This "fourth state" turiya or Pure Consciousness, symbolized by OM or AUM, is the essence or substratum of the waking, dream, and deep sleep states. It is unchanging & timeless like water or H2O, the real essence of ice, liquid, and vapor. Vedantic sages say that which is most subtle is closer to reality and that which is dense is illusion (maya). So deep dreamless sleep is more real than the waking or dream states. That which is real is unchanging.

Questing Mind

Tensho Shubun (1414-1463)
Oxherding Pictures #10
Sage Returns to Town
I visited the Zen Painting & Calligraphy Exhibit at Boston Museum of Fine Arts (November 5-December 20, 1970) and bought the catalogue. Shubun's ten round paintings mounted in one handscroll The Ten Oxherding Pictures attracted my attention. When Zen Master Kakuan (12th century) saw the final stage of enlightenment depicted as an empty circle in the "Oxherd Drawings", he added two more scenes— "Returning to the Source" (oneness with Nature) and "The Sage Enters the Market Place" (oneness with humanity). He felt that the sage should not enjoy his bliss in solitude, but be actively engaged in helping others to realize their true nature. "The Impossible Dream (The Quest)" is a popular song composed by Mitch Leigh, with lyrics written by Joe Darion. It was written for the 1965 musical Man of La Mancha— "This is my quest, to follow that star... No matter how hopeless, no matter how far." Paul Brunton writes in Quest of the Overself (1937): "The man who follows this quest is like the ray which is returning to its source. When he follows the 'I AM' in him to its hidden root,... he will enter a condition of impersonal freedom and utter peace." Thanks to my spiritual mentors Anthony Damiani and Paul Brunton, wonderful blessings have come my way while questing and resting which I try to share at (Images: Resting Mind & Questing Mind,; Oxherding Pictures #8 & Oxherding Pictures #10,

Notes: On the Sage's Awareness in Deep Sleep
Here's an interesting passage from Day by Day with Bhagavan (11-21-1945), pp. 45-6, 48-49—
Dr. Srinivasa Rao asked Bhagavan, "What is the meaning of being in sleepless sleep?"
Ramana: "It is the jnani's state. In sleep our ego is submerged and the sense organs are not active. The jnani's ego has been killed and he does not indulge in any sense activities of his own accord or with the notion that he is the doer. So he is in sleep. At the same time he is not unconscious as in sleep, but fully awake in the Self; so his state is sleepless. This sleepless sleep, wakeful sleep, or whatever it may be called, is the turiya state of the Self, on which as the screen all the three avasthas, the waking, dream and sleep, pass, leaving the screen unaffected." Ramana said that instead of holding on to that which exists, we are looking for that which does not. We bother about the past and the future, not realizing the truth of the present... "The jnani sees he is the Self and it is on that Self a the screen that the various cinema pictures of what is called the world pass. He remains unaffected by the shadows which play on the surface of that screen. See with the physical eye, and you see the world. See with the eye of realization, everything appears as the Self... To see the sun, there is no need of any other light... Our intellect or buddhi is of no use to realize the Self... To see the Self, the mind has simply to be turned inside and there is no need of the reflected light." (Image: Illuminated Mind,

Notes: On the Contemplative Life (Aristotle, Christ, Mundaka Upanishad)

"Vita Contemplativa"
Chartres Cathedral
North Transept (1194)
"But that perfect happiness is a contemplative activity... Therefore the activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be contemplative; and of human activities, the highest virtue is contemplation."Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, X.8 "Superiority of the Contemplative Life"
"But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, does thou not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."Luke, X.40-42 (Christ on Martha & Mary, Active & Contemplative Life)
"Two birds, united always, cling closely to the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit while the other looks on without eating." Mundaka Upanishad, III.i.1 (revised from translation by Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads: Katha, Isa, Kena, & Mundaka, Volume I, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1949, p. 179 & p. 297)

Two Birds in Flowered Tree
by Anna Weber (1814-1888)
Mundaka Upanishad, III.i.1
Notes: Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) in Nicomachean Ethics extols the virtue of contemplation which became a consummate activity during the Middle Ages. On Prayer and the Contemplative Life by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) gives nine reasons why Christ preferred Mary (contemplative) to Martha (active life) with additional support from Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory (Question CLXXXII). Even earlier, the active & contemplative life is contrasted in the Mundaka Upanishad (circa 500 BC). The bird eating is the body (jiva or Active Life) while the bird watching without eating is the Spirit (Pure Consciousness or Contemplative Life). When I asked Paul Bruntion (PB) in 1972 at his home in Montreux why he had tankas of four Chinese sages (Lao Tzu, Confucius, Chou Tun-yi, Wang Yang Ming) on his walls but not a single Hindu sage, he told me that the Hindu mystics were too speculative, being absorbed in their inner visions. The Chinese sages were more practical and engaged in the world of everyday life. That's why he admired them more. (See Kakuan's Ten Bulls: "The Sage in the Marketplace"). In The Wisdom of the Overself, PB quotes the 9th century Tibetan sage Tilopa: "Don't meditate. Keep your mind in its natural state." and continues "Such negative counsel does not represent unexpected revolt but rather natural advance. It is not given to unfledged neophytes because it would be inappropriate and indeed harmful to them, but it is given to experienced proficients." (p. 264) Perhaps, this is why when I cited Patanjali's "Yoga is the cessation of thought flow", PB added "Yoga is skill in action". While the Middle Ages was preoccupied with the contemplative life, the Renaissance emphasized more the active life. Surely the creative artists Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, and Michelangelo have left us with artworks that excelled those of previous generations. Likewise, Marsilio Ficino enlightened many through his translations of Plato and Plotinus while teaching at the Platonic Academy in Florence. So PB valued more the sage's activity in the marketplace sharing wisdom with students than the mystic contemplating alone in a cave.
(Image: Vita Contemplativa, Chartres Cathedral,; Anna Weber: "Two Birds in Flower Tree",

                                                                                Peter Y. Chou
                                                                                Mountain View, 7-27-2011

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