“Whatever thoughts come along, don’t believe them. One thought of doubt, and instantly the demon Mara enters your head.”

~ The Record of Linji, Chapter XVI

One of Linji’s great skills was to illuminate the workings of the human mind from a Zen point of view. He pointed out that our thoughts create and shape our world, but that those thoughts in themselves are fundamentally without substance. So why believe them? Maybe all the world is a dream. Even ice cream.

Last week we had a new visitor to our San Mateo group. She came in late, but was a good sport, sat in a chair and following our simple routine. I gave a short talk on expectations, giving a twist to Chang-sha’s “I went pursuing scented grasses, and I returned chasing the falling blossoms.” Maybe we don’t find the scented grasses, become disappointed and pay no attention to the beauty of the falling blossoms, feeling like we have struck out twice. The new person nodded. When discussion came, I asked her: “What are you thinking?”

She said, “Well, as I sit here, I know it is a dream. That nothing is real.” Surprised at her directness and sincerely, I asked if she could add a bit more, and she said, “Well, I am a dream, we all are dreams. The whole world is a dream.” By way of example, she said, “At one time I hated Donald Trump, but now I realize that he is not real. I no longer see him as a problem.” I asked how and where she had come to see the world as a dream, and she told a story of feeling very unsettled in her life and recently going to an ashram in India and meeting a guru there who made an impression on her. At some point, her world view had changed. And she no longer felt unsettled.

When I came home, it being a hot summer night, I went to the freezer and gave myself a scoop of Dad’s Cardamom, by Three Twins, my favorite ice cream. Looking at my bowl of ice cream, I realized if I don’t believe my thoughts, then I need not believe my ice cream, either. I synchronized two bites with my breathing. Yes, not necessary to believe. Nor did I believe the calories.