“The no-mind not-thinks no-thoughts about no-things.”

Someone asked me about this rather Zen-ish saying yesterday, which has been ascribed to the Buddha in several books going back to the 1980s, as well as more recently in the usual social media channels.

This seems to be an adaptation of something written by Aldous Huxley, and found in his “Complete Essays: 1939-1956,” page 206.

In Zen the virgin consciousness was called Wu-nien or Wuh-sin—nomind or no-thought. “Taking hold of the not-thought which lies in thought,” says Hakuin in his Song of Meditation, “they (the men of insight) hear in every act they perform the voice of truth.” No-thought not-thinks about the world in terms of no-things. “Seeing into no-thingness,” says Shen-hui, “this is true seeing and eternal seeing.” Words and notions are convenient, are indeed indispensable; for our humanity depends upon their use. The virgin not-thinker makes use of words and notions; but he is careful not to take them too seriously, he never permits them to re-create the world of immediate experience in their drearily human image, he is on his guard…

As you can see, the words are not presented as a quotation, let alone attributed to the Buddha. Huxley’s version is rather simpler: “No-thought not-thinks about the world in terms of no-things.” It seems that somewhere along the line someone thought that this wasn’t obscure enough, and converted the expression to “The no-mind not-thinks no-thoughts about no-things.”

This kind of statement is very Zen. In fact in the Platform Sutra, we read something that may have been the prototype of Huxley’s statement:

Good friends, in this teaching of mine, from ancient times up to the present, all have set up no-thought [munen] as the main doctrine, non-form [musō] as the substance, and non-abiding [mujū] as the basis. Non-form is to be separated from form even when associated with form. No-thought is not to think even when involved in thought. Non-abiding is the original nature of man.

Despite being called a “sutra,” The Platform Sutra doesn’t claim to be the word of the Buddha, but is the work of Hui Neng, the Sixth Zen Patriarch.

4 thoughts on ““The no-mind not-thinks no-thoughts about no-things.””

  1. The Chinese Buddhist cannon runs some 80,000 pages, or so I have read. Someone should have told the priests to stop thinking.

    1. they didn’t need to stop thinking. thinking is a natural function and no one can stop thinking. the problem is a belief in a separate someone who identifies with the thought.

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