A. The answer to this question follows on from the last. ‘Dharma Mind’ is the mind that no longer is goal-orientated or fuelled by self-interest (worldly mind). To come to this point requires swimming against the current of self-interest, which cannot be done by an act of will. Instead we embark upon Dharma practice, which can be stated simply as going for refuge and pursuing the middle way (eightfold path). Through time and commitment we are no longer possessed by self-interest, but rather live life spontaneously (selflessly) responding to what is in front of us. Or put another way, when the ‘Dharma Mind’ is fulfilled, we awaken to our intrinsic pure awareness.

As for the second part of your question, the most common way to cultivate the path through developing understanding is via the eight steps of the eightfold path, generally reduced to three main components – ethics, concentration and wisdom. These are nurtured in various ways, depending on the tradition and specific practices. It is the deliberate use of these steps (often in specific stages) that allows the unfolding of insight and the seeing of things as ‘they really are’.

We are taught in Buddhism that in order to go beyond suffering the crucial focus must be on the fourth noble truth and the cultivation of understanding through the eight steps or three components. But actually it is not the eightfold path that is at the heart of the fourth noble truth. The middle way is at the heart. For only by walking the middle way is it possible to go beyond eternal suffering. The Buddha ‘teased’ out the middle way and systematised it into eight steps to make it possible for most of us to understand this ambiguous concept, to make it possible for us to begin work on ourselves, to fulfil the promise of the fourth noble truth.

For those that are of the mind and inclination, however, it is possible to aspire to the fourth noble truth (and the middle way) in a direct way, without going down the developmental route of using the stages and the many conceptual practices required to walk the path in that way. Two traditions that don’t concern themselves with the ‘bits and pieces’ of the path are Zen and Dzogchen. Zen, for example , rather than walk through stages on the path, positions itself at the end of the path (so to speak) where all concepts and developmental stages have dropped away. Zen nurtures a fundamental spirit of openness and completeness from the beginning (sometimes called ‘beginner’s mind’). This I have chosen to call ‘Dharma Mind’. It is like aspiring to the awakened mind right from the beginning of training, the awakened mind free from concepts, ambition and dualities, which abides in the present moment with complete openness and courage.