“The (Chinese) term ‘hsin’… is used in a way.. synonymous with the Tao. Hsin means the totality of our psychic functioning…. To both Taoism and Zen, the center of the mind’s activity is not in the conscious thinking process, not in the ego.” – Alan Watts – The Way of Zen
In Buddhism, the concept of bringing your whole-mind to life experience is very important and little understood. As Watts points out, in Zen, the point is not to find mind and our sense of self in thinking (the ego), but in the integrated totality of our being-in-the-world.
We in the West, identifying mind with the thought structures of the ego, approach life in a manner that is really quite superficial and programmed. We pay just enough attention to notice a situation falling into some recognizable mental set we have dealt with before and go into a stimulus-response thought-emotion-behavior pattern.
We bring only enough of our mind to the situation to engage our thoughts which then activate our emotions and behavior. We play out these pre-set patterns over and over again as we go through our lives. These patterns constitute our personality, our habitual interactive manner. They might be effective and they might not be. We mistakenly confuse these patterns for who we are, and they are often significantly neurotic, that is, not exactly appropriate, healthy and helpful. From a Buddhist perspective, we are asleep, if not insane. Buddhism seeks to awaken a much deeper, totally sane mind.
Upon occasion, we are caused, by the context, novelty or importance of the situation, to bring full attention to what we are doing or experiencing and respond with all the faculties of our mind. In such moments, we become nuanced, artful, creative, appropriate and skillful in ways that are exceptional. Such moments would be our most psychologically healthy, in which we flow effortlessly with the moment.
They are moments in which we accidentally fulfill the requirements for “hsin”. Importantly, Buddhism teaches us that such moments are reflective of our true, enlightened self, our true mind, and do not have to be accidents, but rather can be cultivated. Meditation, and its life-interactive correlate, mindfulness, are exercises in the development of this capacity leading to an integrated, skillful, intelligent, compassionate, wise and spontaneous sense of self-in-the-world.
For a Westerner, it can be helpful to find understanding in what is meant by whole-mind from a Jungian perspective. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (d. 1961) noted that the mind has four “functions”: thinking, feeling (emotions), sensation and intuition. He further noted that a psychologically balanced and healthy person operates with relatively equal distribution and facility in all four functions. He also noted two directions of mental energy: introversion – the taking into and consideration of experience in the mind, and extraversion – the projection of the contents of the mind into the world. Here too, he described a healthy person as equally and fully capable in both directions.
He finally notes that it is within the transcendent function of awareness or consciousness, as the integrating phenomenon, that these psychic functions harmonize. It is this harmonization that leads to the experience of “hsin” in which the sense of self becomes the experience of mind and the moment integrated. Whole-mind is the “totality of psychic functioning” non-dualistically linked with the moment.
To bring the whole-mind into the world begins with the senses, with a heightened, focused and subtle experience of the world we experience as outside brought to our internal world through introversion. We then must hold the experience in a spacious awareness, without thought, allowing intuition, the wisdom-bearing mysterious ego-transcendent connection to the unconscious inherent in every person, to guide us in bringing the experience into mental form through thought and resonant emotion. In this transcendent state, outside and inside dissolve. There is only the moment in awareness.
With all four of these mental capacities present and interacting, we can bring our experience of the moment into wiser, intelligent, feeling, skillful understanding and action. We can extravert this whole-mind into the world. This would be called mindfulness. Likewise, the whole-mind can be brought to the field of mind itself. This would be meditation. This cultivation of “hsin” is “The Way” that Taoism and Zen refer to that brings liberation from the clumsiness and craziness of ego, restoring our natural true self-in-the-world with whole-mind. We enter “the gateless gate” of Zen previously barred by ego. We can, “Break through the impassable barrier and get to know the opening beyond.” (Fo-hsing T’ai)