THE POWER AND NATURE OF THE MIND, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF AWARENESS FOR ALL OUR ACTIONS IN EVERYDAY LIFE
The mind is the universal basis of all experience; it is the creator of happiness and the creator of suffering. The mind shapes and leads every single thing we do, as well as all that we perceive around us. In turn, the body and speech follow its commands. So, if we learn to recognize the true nature of our mind, and train our minds with mindfulness practice, we are on the way to revolutionizing our lives in the most positive whichever way as possible. With an understanding of what the “mind” really is, and the development of mastery over the mind, body and speech naturally follow suit, and our own and others’ suffering will come to an end.
For the most part, we travel through life in a trance-like fog, unaware of what our mind actually is and how it really operates, oblivious to our ever-shifting states of mind and the role that the mind plays in our perception of the world. It is because we believe so strongly in the reality of the tangible, physical world, the world of the senses, that we develop such strong attractions and aversions. Once we see that this is how we have been living, we can begin to step back a little and watch the process of how our ordinary mind rules us like a cruel dictator until we awaken, and how it actually keeps us from the sustained happiness which lies within each and every one of us.
We all want to be happy and avoid suffering, from the tiniest of ants to the largest of elephants. In fact, all of our actions are geared toward this goal, toward what we perceive to be happiness and away from what we view as suffering – and yet, we have no real understanding of how to achieve that. By developing awareness of how things really are, by recognizing the impermanent and interdependent nature of all conditioned phenomena, including our very minds and thoughts, we learn to free ourselves. The prison door has been opened, we just need to walk through. It is like the story of the swarm of flies that were encased for a very long time in a covered glass jar. Eventually, someone came along and removed the lid. The flies, however, continued to swarm around in the same pattern within the jar, not realizing they were free.
Cultivating mindfulness practice can be the very basis, the cure, for all our negative emotions and suffering. We can begin by looking at what we usually think of as our “mind.” Typically, what we call the mind often really is our thoughts, emotions and reactions – we do not even stop long enough to ponder what the mind actually is. Mind has many aspects, only one of which is the ordinary mind. The ordinary mind functions largely in relation to projections and falsely perceived external reference points. It is the mind that is clouded by delusions and dualistic notions, clinging or rejecting whatever crosses it path. It is the mind that constantly buffets us about, tossing like waves in a turbulent ocean, as we subject ourselves to fluctuating external influences and habitual tendencies.
Ordinary mind is the mind which uses energy by searching and looking outward all the time. It can be clever and devious, and yet also dull and heavy. It is fickle and restless as a monkey, swinging from tree to tree without pause. This is the mind that society and our conditioning generally acknowledges, supports and reinforces – intellect, not true wisdom.
Underneath all the noise, confusion and distractions of the ordinary mind, however, is a hidden jewel – our true mind, whose nature and essence is pure, radiant and unchanging. This mind is within the reach of us all, and no matter what is happening, its pure nature is always there, always stable – open, free. When we begin to seek the truth on the inside, rather than outside ourselves, when we decide to no longer be habitually distracted or asleep, we begin to see into the true nature of our mind, and subsequently, into the true nature of everything. Mindfulness in our everyday lives helps to bring us to this place.
It can be a huge lesson just to begin to see the extent to which we are usually completely unaware of our state of mind. We may use any ordinary, everyday situation to observe this. For example, we may be watching television and a thought may sneak into your mind about something a friend may have said recently that upset us. The next thing we would know is, this thought has led to another, and another. The mind starts to race, completely forgetting the television and now immersed in raging thoughts that seem to have taken over. Agitation, anger, and hatred may arise. These thoughts, like everything else in life, seem so real to us – they feel strangely concrete and alive.
Once we realize that we do this, there enters an opportunity – the chance to see that we are not our thoughts, we are not our mind, we are not our feelings (even though it may strongly appear that way to us.) All these things which seem to have form and substance are only a temporary confluence of causes and conditions, coming and going, arising and disappearing. Everything changes, all the time. Given the chance, sadness eventually turns into sorrow, and sorrow into happiness, if we do not solidify these things.
One basic way to begin experimenting with being mindful in everyday activities is to try simply eating a meal in mindfulness. When we first attempt to do this, we may be startled to see how difficult it is to even take a bite or two without our mind wandering all around like a wild animal. The good news is, we are taking a first step toward seeing how our ordinary mind operates. It can be quite a revelation, even shocking, but at the same time, we know that the beginning of any change in consciousness begins with awareness and acknowledgment. Do not worry – it is very natural that such restless thoughts arise. We all do this. Be glad – for now we are on our way to changing our entire outlook on life.
It is important to realize that when we refer to the mind, we are referencing something intangible, not a specific entity or object. The mind has the components of consciousness, or cognizance, and mental factors, or reactions, yet it has neither shape nor color, and cannot be measured in pure physical terms. What we usually call the mind is really a succession of momentary occurrences, the mind stream – more similar to the ocean as a formation of billions of accumulated drops of water rather than a solid object.
And, it is the same with our thoughts. They, too, do not have properties such as color or shape—they leave no traces, like the flight path of birds in the sky. If we try to hold on to them, or find them, we cannot. Past ones are already gone and future ones not yet arrived even present thoughts are gone as soon as we notice them. Ask yourself where do thoughts come from? Where do they go? If we allow ourselves to become entangled in our thoughts, one leads to another, and another. In this way, they gather strength and build into a rigid “chain of delusion” over time.
Try to use the image of thoughts as endlessly drifting clouds, ever moving and ever changing. Once we try to chase them or grab on to them, we are engaging in a futile and frustrating exercise. It is important to learn instead to just watch them pass by, and from there, we begin to view everything like this – as a dream, a movie, a mirage. We come to learn that the incessant thoughts which we take as intrinsically real, are not; they are only appearances to the mind, like a magician’s trick.
It is not possible to stop our thoughts, or will them away, but it is possible to free them. Simply let them come and go, without attaching more thoughts to them. We will come to see that when the movement of thoughts is not fed, they actually start to dissolve on their own. “Trying” to get rid of them does not work, but “allowing” them to disappear, does.
It makes no sense to try to hold on to thoughts, or anything in life for that matter, if they simply do not exist as we think they do. The way things appear to us is merely a function of the mind, of what we perceive. Things appear to us as good or bad, pure or impure, attractive or repugnant, only because of how our mind perceives them. This is relative, not absolute, truth. To a celibate holy man, a beautiful woman appears as a temptation to be avoided, to a man looking for a partner, she appears as an object of potential happiness, and to a lion prowling in the jungle, she looks like a tasty meal.
Once we start to witness the ceaseless activities of our mind, body and thoughts, we come to realize that all external phenomena, the “outside world,” is in continual flux as well. Nothing remains static, even for an instant. Even a stone wall, that looks so solid and imposing, is undergoing constant change as its atoms race in never-ending motion. And, long before it was a wall, the materials which eventually became stone underwent years of evolution. When the wall finally crumbles, it will decay into dust. Seeing that all phenomena, both subjective experience and external objects, come into existence as a result of causes and conditions, it begins to become evident that there is nothing really solid to hold on to in this life. In this recognition of utter groundlessness, is a clue to our eventual release from suffering.
It is interesting to note that, it is in this uncertainty, in what we are so instinctively afraid of at first and in what we have resisted and fought with all of our might for so long, that we are actually lead to sustained happiness. When we can simply abide and rest in the present moment, the here and now, we release habitual patterns, perceptions, delusions and disturbing emotions. In the tiny, yet infinite, gap where thoughts of the past have vanished and ones of the future have not yet arisen, there is a clear and immediate awareness of only the present, free of delusion and clinging. Only pure clarity, pristine awareness exists. It is in this moment that our true nature may be reached, if we can achieve the necessary stillness and resist our compulsive urges to be anywhere but in the present.
If we are very fortunate, we may someday even be able to see what is the primordial, natural state, the “clear light” of our mind. What you can do now is to develop and cultivate a sincere longing, devotion and confidence that you can eventually reach this state of mind, which is the ultimate teacher and guide. With such a realization, all accumulated negative tendencies and propensities and mental obscurations are erased. We are now free.
As we have already noted, it is the mind which initiates our actions, with speech and body following. The conduct of our body, speech and mind in the past and up until this very moment is the impetus for our current experience, and it also determines our state of being in the future. Through increasing mindfulness, we witness how thoughts and emotions arise in the mind, then are stoked by the tendencies with which we have become intimately familiar.
With mindfulness, initially one starts to change the way one looks at the world, and then changes in behavior automatically follow. Like all other practices, the process is one of slow unfolding. The importance of being mindful every single day, in all of our activities, cannot be over-emphasized. It keeps us from wallowing in the ignorance which accompanies our every perception — the ignorance of our real selves and our continual grasping at a false self. Mastery over the mind is only achieved by vigilant, constant awareness of all your thoughts and actions — they must be checked and rechecked at all times.
Everything begins to be seen more and more simply as it is, free from the confines of judgment and misperception, free from the extremes of agitation and dullness. Feelings of being disappointed or disillusioned dissipate, because such feelings only arise when there is a discrepancy between the way a situation appears to us, and the way it actually is.
With growing awareness, we come to see the true nature of all things, and we create only the positive and eliminate the negative. We instigate not only the immediate cause of happiness but also the future cause of happiness as well, by planting and nourishing the seed of positive potential.
With this in consideration, it is now appropriate to discuss the various levels of mind, particularly as they relate to the body, to what we call “habits” and to future events.
Levels of mind, or consciousness, relate, or correspond, to various physical states and also to the energies that flow within the body. These levels are typically described as gross, or subtle, with the subtle states classified and broken down into increasingly subtle stages. What is usually termed human consciousness is the gross consciousness that uses the human body and its sense organs as a support, or base. Often, this consciousness is associated with, but not limited to, the brain and its chemical processes. Gross mind relates to the sense consciousness of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching.
Next, is the subtle consciousness, which is mental and relies on ordinary, conceptual thinking. This is the part of our consciousness which weaves stories, has opinions and elaborates continually on the perceptions of the sense organs – “ I love chewing gum, I always have loved it since I was a child and my father to get me when ever he go out to the storel.” Here, subjectivity rules, as we respond to external stimuli as attractive or repulsive to us although such objects have no such inherent qualities arising from their side. Here is where we give inordinate power to such outside objects and events, as we have forgotten that the real power lies within us.
Going deeper still, we reach the very subtlest level of mind, our “root mind”, which is pure and free from concepts and obscurations.
As our gross physical body is the foundation, or basis, for the gross mind, the subtle body is the basis for the subtle consciousness. This is the energy body of the inner channels and chakras. Then, we reach the very subtlest of our energy, which is the support for the most subtle consciousness. It can be described like a current of electricity, an extremely subtle energy and mind, which combines to carry our life force at the heart.
The various consciousness function at different cognitive stages as well. Both gross and subtle are operating while we are awake, dream consciousness is more subtle, and sleeping without dreaming is subtler still. Then, as we go through the death process, our gross mind and body separate first, with increasingly subtle activity following until only the most subtle consciousness remains – this is the component that continues from one moment to the next, and into tomorrow’s lives.
It is only this continuum that moves forward with us — it is the continuity of the most subtle consciousness and the energy which supports it that goes on into tomorrow’s lives. Even this is not static or solid, however, it is constantly changing from one moment to the next, as do all other forms of consciousness and everything else. It is very different, however, in that it is the only thing that transmigrates into future lives.
The positive energy, or merit, that we have built up is carried along with this subtlest life force energy. This imprint is placed, and when the necessary conditions arise, it comes out of its latent state. Then, we often remark that there is a “habit” or “instinct” found in a certain person. Even these habits are not concrete and solid, however. A series of similar events may occur over and over, such as drinking tea every afternoon, and we label this a habit. There is a pattern that has repeated and is likely to continue to repeat, but calling it a habit is just a manner of speaking, of labeling. Therefore we need to be mindful of our any actions because we are putting the seeds of those action- when I say actions it means our behavior cause and effect. Because this seeds will grow and grow and one day we will be dictated by them and then we are in the mercy of them.
The tendency to be kind once does create a tendency to be kind the next day, and the next, but it is not something concrete. Therefore, even the very most subtle level of consciousness’ and energy is just a continuum of individual moments. Nothing, absolutely nothing, exists as we believe it does. When we realize the nature of our mind, we see that there really is nothing to hold on to in this world, and that all is merely a creation of our mind. “The mind is an artist” and all appearances are only a magical display of the mind. The practice of mindfulness is essential to help us to begin to realize this. As everything arises and passes, just let it be and do not cling – just watch.