Mountains are mountains

Thirty years ago, before I began the study of Zen, I said, ‘Mountains are mountains, waters are waters.’ After I got an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, I said, ‘Mountains are not mountains, waters are not waters.’ But after having attained the abode of final rest [that is, Awakening], I say, ‘Mountains are really mountains, waters are really waters.’

And then he asks, ‘Do you think these three understandings are the same or different?

Abe Masao, Zen and Western Thought

First, mountains are mountains. We experience the world as most do, as physical, as made up of separate beings and things, as existing in itself and we just happen to perceive it. 

Then, mountains are not mountains. The illusion is revealed. We may realize all as consciousness. As One. As the divine. We may realize that an overlay of thought creates the experience of separation and of physicality. It’s all the divine locally and teporarily taking itself as a separate being through holding certain thoughts as true. We are like Neo seeing the Matrix as a matrix and created by code. 

At this point, when we are relatively new to it, several things can go a bit haywire for us. We may feel we are going crazy, or we may blame and judge others for not seeing it, or we may go into nihilism and tell ourselves nothing matter and we can do what we want since it’s all illusion anyway. We can fall into some common pitfalls. We can contract some baby Buddha diseases. There is often some arrogance in this phase. (For me, it was that I could deal with anything. I got into and stayed in a bad situation because I told me I could deal with anything.) 

Then, mountains are mountains again. We have matured a bit in our realization. We have lived out some of our youthful follies in the awakening and embodiment process. Our lives now often seem very ordinary and ordinarily human, although also lived from wisdom and kindness. We are happy to follow convention apart from in the few situations where our heart, guidance, wisdom, and kindness says otherwise. 

We know our actions have consequences and may pay more attention to our actions and life in the world than ever before. If we have gone through some type of dark night, we have been more deeply and thoroughly humanized. All the while realizing even more clearly it’s all the divine and the play of the divine. 

2 thoughts to “Mountains are mountains”

  1. “For me, it was that I could deal with anything. I got into and stayed in a bad situation because I told me I could deal with anything.”
    This is a good example of that middle phase – when I deny the mountains are mountains I deny responsibility or that the problem was my negative perspective not the situation/mountain. The “mountains are not mountains” phase is confused thinking. The transformation in the next phase is seeing that the situation was never the problem only the belief in the possibility of a “bad situation”. The mountains are mountains again and I see how my perspective hid that truth from me. Good post.

  2. Yes. Also, in the second phase I denied my natural impulse to take care of myself and follow my guidance, and I instead believed the “I can deal with anything” thought and stayed in a situation that was not good for anyone. In the third phase, I allow myself to be more ordinary human again and take care of my own needs, also because I know that’s best for everyone.

    And, of course, it’s not that simple or straightforward, and life doesn’t really fit into a model like this. It’s more just a general trend.

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