American Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein says1 that in order to cut through identification with consciousness, or the knowing mind, that Zen traditions say that in looking for the mind, there is nothing to find.

He gives the following Zen dialogue to further this point:

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.” To which Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.” Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.” Bodhidharma then said, “There, I have pacified your mind.”

I do not have faith in that saying, and in Buddhism, faith comes from clearly seeing, not blind belief. Can someone give a logical argument for why this Zen saying must be valid?

And, if the body can be found, do we identify with it?

1 in his book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

  • Old saying: "Mind is not Buddha. Knowledge is not the Way."
    – user2341
    Mar 20, 2018 at 0:41
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    Could you please update your link behind the word "says" in your first sentence with a reference accessible for us all? ;-) It currently refers to a file on your local host.
    – mle
    Mar 20, 2018 at 20:51
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    @mle Thanks for noticing. I replace the hyperlink with a citation, because I guess the book in question is copyright and not freely available.
    – ChrisW
    Mar 20, 2018 at 21:39

6 Answers 6


Zen traditions say that in looking for the mind, there is nothing to find.

It's not just Zen traditions. Tibetan Buddhism have the same exercise, usually placed at beginner-to-intermediate level, right after the teaching on six realms and karma and before "real" meditation.

The idea is that most beginners have this unexamined idea that "I" or "mind" is some thing inside our heads. Trying to examine that thing, locate it in space, and describe its shape and characteristics is the first attempt at introspection that the student takes on. Eventually, the student is supposed to realize that what they call "I think" are just thoughts automatically coming from memory in response to a stimulus, and learn to disidentify from the thoughts.

And, if the body can be found, do we identify with it?

I appreciate your sarcasm. It's not that "not finding" makes it easier to disidentify, it's seeing that mind is not "one thing" and that "I" is just something we literally imagine.

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.” To which Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.” Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.” Bodhidharma then said, “There, I have pacified your mind.”

The Huike story, although seemingly about the same topic, is actually a reference to another principle of Buddhism, the principle of "immediacy".

The problem with most students is that their minds focus on Buddhist theory while ignoring their immediate state of mind, with its deep-lying conflict. Even the quest for Nirvana is a state of conflict, as we identify "this" as "wrong" and Nirvana as right. No amount of theory helps until the student admits this conflict in their own mind. So turning the student's mind to the present moment, to help it see its own conflict is THE core principle of Zen. This is why Zen is called "the school of direct pointing, beyond theory" (or something like that)

That's why Bodhidharma says, "There, I have pacified your mind." - this last phrase is the "pointing directly at mind". At that moment Huike must have turned his attention to his own mind, and saw how grasping (the frustrating and hopeless act of trying to pinpoint the mind) was the very act that created his suffering, and how letting go of that grasping was letting go of that specific instance of suffering -- which was the stream-entry moment for him.

The same principle is at work behind koans, when the act of letting go of the impossible problem leads to realization of the Third Noble Truth.

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    I think you're still talking from theory, while Zen is talking from direct experience... Not finding is not finding in any specific location, impossible to describe.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Apr 14, 2018 at 9:40
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    You are correct. I am trying my best to understand no self through dry insight, an intellectual understanding, as I have not been able to see no self through direct experience (i.e. meditation).
    – user8619
    Apr 15, 2018 at 1:21
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    It probably varies wildly, it really depends on intensity of one's efforts. One person may spend entire summer doing nothing but reading and introspection - and another person may have a job and family to support... I would imagine 3-5 years of practice and meditation should be enough to get some direct insights...
    – Andriy Volkov
    Apr 23, 2018 at 5:57
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    We are talking about localizing the experience and shape of mind. Brain exists in the conceptual space of one's education, not in the space of one's direct subjective experience. If you shake your head you may feel something moving inside your skull, conceptually you know that's your brain, and you were taught that's where mind comes from - but all these are things you remembered from someone else's words. What about your direct experience? That "thing" that we're used to be calling "I", the innermost subject of all experience, where is it? What is its size and color?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Apr 25, 2018 at 1:26
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    The subject is imagined. There's no subject apart from object. But traditionally the question speaks about mind, not I nor subject.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Apr 27, 2018 at 1:58

The purpose of Buddhism might be described as "cessation of suffering", but another summary is "purification of mind" -- so, ending defilements and hindrances.

Anxiety, and being conscious of anxiety, is an example (of an afflictive emotion).

I read the story you quoted as a bit of a joke.

Imagine if you were talking about physical pain, for example:

  • I feel pain.
  • Show me the pain.
  • Now I can't find it.
  • Problem solved, then!

It's partly an example of how ephemeral consciousness is. Imagine you can see into the water of a pond. If a frog jumps in then the water is disturbed, the surface is broken, and you can no longer see what's in the pond (you can only see the disturbed surface). Similarly I think the question ("Show me your mind") was a surprise, and a new mental object of consciousness, which disturbed or replaced the previous object of consciousness (anxiety). It's nothing permanent.

Continuing the analogy, if the water in the pond is still and undisturbed, you don't see the water itself -- what you see is what is in the water.

Similarly perhaps1 you can't find the mind, you can only find what's in the mind (e.g. whatever the mind is conscious of) -- e.g. you simply see "a mountain", or "weeds in the pond", etc.

I think that Zen describes the consciousness of a mind without defilements as "seeing a mountain as a mountain".

I suppose that's the intent of this poem about a mirror -- i.e. keep it clean or undefiled so that it shows things as they are.

Then I think the next poem ("originally there is not a single thing") must be about fabrications.

1 I wrote "perhaps" because people do try to distinguish between, for example, "mind" and "consciousness"

And, if the body can be found, do we identify with it?

No: because I think we're warned that identifying with things, e.g. identifying with the aggregates, or holding to a view-of-self, is a cause of suffering.


I am not sure whether I got your question completely. But finding means you are anxious, aren't you. You keep looking when you find something. But when you focus on right now.. live in the moment.. you stop finding and you will no longer have that anxiety. You are at peace and you let the finding find you. Everything comes to you at the perfect time and you keep calm and accept rather than chasing things...


It was never about blind belief. It is about faith in the direction of the path. By the time you reach the path's end, faith is not required, because you already know.

Without faith or belief, you would be on your foot, forever questioning about your own belief, without taking one step for eternity.


Find the mind! mind is the creator of every thing. even "mind" is a creation of mind. what ever you precept using mind with the help of other facilities like eye, ear, nose, skin and tongue. mind is a phenomena of nature which you can't find it's true nature. Only you can do is watch the brain scan how mind behaves and functions inside brain or monitor how neurons fire to maintain "mind stream".


What about your eyes?

You can use it to see all kinds of things in the world, like chairs, trees, houses, birds, clouds etc.

But can you see your own eyes? No.

You might say that you can use a mirror or a lake to see your own eyes, but still "No", because that's only the reflection of your eyes that you're seeing, and not your eyes directly.

Similarly, your mind can comprehend a concept of itself, but it cannot find itself.

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