‘The novice monk Dayi Daoxin asked “I entreat the master, with your compassion, to teach me the truth-gate that provides release and liberation.”
The master Jianzhi Sengcan said, “Who has bound you?”
The novice said, “Nobody bound me.”
The master said, “Then why are you seeking liberation?”
Daoxin, hearing these words, experienced a great awakening.’ (from The Record of Transmitting the Light)
I thought of this exchange when I was reading an article on ‘near-death experiences’ the other day. I have long been fascinated by the stories involved, as I imagine most of us are. These days, when I read people saying things like “How do you describe a state of timelessness, where there’s nothing progressing from one point to another, where it’s just all there, and you’re totally immersed in it?” or “I can’t put it into words. There’s no way to express this,” or “I’ve spoken to people who were policemen, or career military officers, who couldn’t go back to their jobs, couldn’t stand the idea of violence. The idea of hurting someone becomes abhorrent to them,” I think of how people try to describe the experience of enlightenment and how they live afterwards.
I would not claim to understand this, or be able to explain it, but it seems to me that such an experience – that is, a near-death experience or an enlightenment experience – is an unbinding of the mind. I think it is the case the our minds severely filter the amount of incoming sense information, and limit the amount of processing power it uses to make sense of what it does receive (because thinking does use up a lot of calories), so a filter bypass might look like the mind presenting what it is actually capable of, if all the barriers, including the many we add consciously or unconsciously ourselves, were suddenly unbound.