Mingjue (in Chinese 明觉) comes from Buddhist books. Before we talk about what mingjue is, let me share one story about a great Buddhist teacher, monk and philosopher, Nagarjuna (150 CE – 250 CE):
He was a naked fakir, but he was loved by all real seekers. A queen was also deeply in love with Nagarjuna. She asked him one day to come to the palace, to be a guest in the palace. Nagarjuna went. The queen asked him a favour.
Nagarjuna said, “What do you want?”
The queen said, “I want your begging bowl.”
Nagarjuna gave it — that was the only thing he had — his begging bowl. And the queen brought a golden begging bowl, studded with diamonds and gave it to Nagarjuna. She said, “Now you keep this. I will worship the begging bowl that you have carried for years — it has some of your vibe. It will become my temple. And a man like you should not carry an ordinary wooden begging bowl — keep this golden one. I have had it made specially for you.”
It was really precious. If Nagarjuna had been an ordinary Buddhist he would have said, “I cannot touch it. I have renounced the world.” But for him it was all the same, so he took the bowl.
When he left the palace, a thief saw him. He could not believe his eyes: “A naked man with such a precious thing! How long can he protect it?” So the thief followed….
Nagarjuna was staying outside the town in a ruined ancient temple — no doors, no windows. It was just a ruin. The thief was very happy: “Soon Nagarjuna will have to go to sleep and there will be no difficulty — I will get the bowl.”
The thief was hiding behind a wall just outside the door — Nagarjuna threw the bowl outside the door. The thief could not believe what had happened. Nagarjuna threw it because he had watched the thief coming behind him, and he knew perfectly well that he was not coming for him — he was coming for the bowl, “So why unnecessarily let him wait? Be finished with it so he can go, and I can also rest.”
“Such a precious thing! And Nagarjuna has thrown it so easily.” The thief could not go without thanking him. He knew perfectly well that it had been thrown for him. He peeked in and he said, “Sir, accept my thanks. But you are a rare being — I cannot believe my eyes. And a great desire has arisen in me. I am wasting my life by being a thief — and there are people like you too? Can I come in and touch your feet?”
Nagarjuna laughed and he said, “Yes, that’s why I threw the bowl outside — so that you could come inside.”
The thief was trapped. The thief came in, touched the feet… and at that moment the thief was very open because he had seen that this man was no ordinary man. He was very vulnerable, open, receptive, grateful, mystified, stunned. When he touched the feet, for the first time in his life he felt the presence of the divine.
He asked Nagarjuna, “How many lives will it take for me to become like you?”
Nagarjuna said, “How many lives? — it can happen today, it can happen now!”
The thief said, “You must be kidding. How can it happen now? I am a thief, a well-known thief The whole town knows me, although they have not yet been able to catch hold of me. Even the king is afraid of me, because thrice I have entered and stolen from the treasury. They know it, but they have no proof. I am a master thief — you may not know about me because you are a stranger in these parts. How can I be transformed right now?”
And Nagarjuna said, “If in an old house for centuries there has been darkness and you bring a candle, can the darkness say, ‘For centuries and centuries I have been here — I cannot go out just because you have brought a candle in. I have lived so long’? Can the darkness give resistance? Will it make any difference whether the darkness is one day old or millions of years old.
The thief could see the point: darkness cannot resist light; when light comes, darkness disappears. Nagarjuna said, You may have been in darkness for millions of lives — that doesn’t matter — but I can give you a secret, you can light a candle in your being.”
And the thief said, “What about my profession? Have I to leave it?”
Nagarjuna said, “That is for you to decide. I am not concerned with you and your profession I can only give you the secret of how to kindle a light within your being, and then it is up to you.”
(It’s the first half of the story.)
What is mingjue?
Mingjue is a state where we see things as they are. In mingjue state, we form no concept, no judgement, no idea, no thought when our six senses have in contact with anything, everything, ourselves included. To mingjue, there’s no difference between things and there’s no difference between people.
To Nagarjuna, an ordinary bowl or a jeweled bowl, the same. To own it or not to own it, the same. So he could accept either one without any hesitation. He could give it away also with zero second of doubt; To Nagarjuna, a thief or a saint, there is no difference. A thief can become a saint the moment he decided to light the candle.
We thought that we could be non judgmental, if we decide to. But the reality is, in our whole life we never stop judging, putting on a meaning whenever we “look” (not necessarily look) at things or people. Take that jeweled bowl for example, everyone sees it a treasure without having to think about it. The moment we name it “treasure”, we make a judgement.
As ordinary people, if we ever reached a state which might be closest to mingjue, was when we were babies. When babies observe the world, they can see it as it is. New born babies are so innocent that they don’t or can’t think of anything or anyone being beautiful or ugly, smart or dumb, peaceful or chaotic, priceless or worthless. To them, everything is the same.
Our mind is like that old house at darkness state for the whole life. When we reach a mingjue state, our mind becomes clear and bright so that we will be able to see everything stored and every movement in our mind house.
Mindfulness, Awareness, Consciousness
Mingjue is considered a Chinese interpretation of the word “consciousness” in Buddhism or Yogic spiritual practice terminology, which is totally different from western psychology term or understanding.
Lots of people misunderstand consciousness as awareness or mindfulness. Awareness or mindfulness or juezhi (觉知) in Chinese, is the prerequisite for consciousness, not consciousness itself. Let’s look at the definition of mindfulness first.
What is mindfulness
Mindfulness is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Mindfulness is more of a consciousness awareness, which is not mingjue/consciousness itself. However it is a way to help us find our mingjue/consciousness.
Mindfulness is that candle which illuminate the house. Mindfulness is the tool. In the past, we didn’t even realize that we can simply use the candle, mindfulness to illuminate our mind. The process of grabbing the candle and light it is mindfulness practice. Some people might call it consciousness practice or mingjue practice. But you have to be aware that consciousness or mingjue cannot be practiced.
Now some people get to know about mindfulness, and then they see it as their purpose of life. It’s like when they learn about the candle, they start to talk and study the candle all the time since. They forget or not realize that our real subject to study is not that lighted candle (mindfulness), not the way we lit the candle (mindfulness practice), not the light in the house (awareness) either. The real purpose is to study that house- our mind and what makes it exist (consciousness).
However that mind is not the logical mind, conscious mind or subconscious mind that psychologists know about. Once we reach a mingjue/consciousness state, we will be able to experience our true existence and then to set it free (enlightenment state).
Mingjue is a super clear, bright, no-different state of our mind. In English it is called consciousness. When we reach that mingjue/consciousness state, we will have access to our true existence. Mindfulness practice is the way to reach that mingjue/consciousness state. To awaken mingjue/consciousness is not the ultimate goal, it is just the beginning of a true practice/meditation.
How shall we practice mingjue? What is the right meditation or non-meditation way to practice mingjue? What’s the difference between mingjue practice and qigong practice? I shall explain in the future articles.
Please comment below and let me know your understanding of mingjue and mindfulness.