Waking Up - The Mind as a Gateway to Perfection
The Mind as a Gateway to Perfection
All of our happiness and all of our suffering depends on our mind. Therefore, if we wish to avoid suffering and find true happiness, it is essential to understand how the mind works, to be able to watch it as it is working, and to use our understanding to bring our minds under control.
We all experience different life situations, but we share in common a range of difficulties, from basic discontent all the way up to miserable suffering. Circumstances may vary, but what we perceive of as problems or difficulties will inevitably arise — it is the nature of things in this world. Typically, we become upset or frustrated because either we do not get what we want, we encounter what we do not want, or we have what we want but are afraid of losing it. Our will, our strong desire for things to be other than what they are, stands right in the way of our happiness. It stands to reason, therefore, that if we can change our mind-set, our attitude towards life, we can begin to get a taste of inner freedom. We do this by changing our mind.
Whenever we have to tolerate something that we would rather avoid, our uncontrolled mind reacts by feeling unhappy, immediately. These uncomfortable feelings can easily turn into rage, depression, and similar negative emotions, as we become progressively more disturbed.
Our perceptions of problems stem from a response to feelings which arise when we meet with undesirable circumstances. We allow our reactions to take hold; no matter how hard we try, we spin out of control. Negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, greed, pride, etc. are very quick to rise to the surface of our mind. If we allow ourselves to be provoked, a chain reaction is set into motion. Before we even realize what is happening, the mind turns to judgment, reaction, justification, condemnation. Like a fire’s flames being fed with oxygen, we become more and more immersed in these feelings, and soon, they are controlling and consuming us.
Our habit of reacting in this way has been reinforced again and again. What we must do is stop, and recognize that it is our thoughts that are creating our reality; creating our world, both literally and psychologically. As all actions ultimately stem from the mind, our external world is a mere reflection of our inner state. If one works on inner reality, it follows that outer reality, the world as we perceive it, will be affected.
Unfortunately, we often take the opposite approach – looking at, and judging what is going on “out there,” rather than focusing on the true nature of reality. It is like gazing into a mirror and noticing something strange about the image, or a problem in what is being reflected to us. Then, instead of addressing the real issue, we try to alter the reflection or repair the mirror. It is like looking at the moon reflected in a tranquil pond at night, and believing we are actually seeing the moon. Our misguided efforts will only be futile, no matter how hard we try.
The world we inhabit is based on our karma. Karma refers to our action, and our actions arise from our thoughts. Our minds, therefore, have the power to create the world of our choice – a pure and beautiful world is the result of pure actions and thoughts, and an impure world is the opposite. The choice of the type of world we wish to create is right within our hands; we only need to wake up and realize that this power exists within us.
Our minds are extremely powerful, they can be the foundation of all our problems or they can be the solution to our problems – it is our choice. We create everything with our mind, there is no other creator. The mind can be thought of as an artist, and all beings having a mind are seduced by the pictures drawn by their thought processes. If we are under the control of our mind, we become its servant. However, if we learn to control our mind rather than the other way around, we gain a formidable ally to assist us in the process of waking up. Lord Buddha himself said “we are our own protectors and our own enemies.” We must learn to use our mind, rather than let it use us. It can become the very gateway to perfection, if we know this and begin to act accordingly.
The seed of perfection, our innate goodness and peaceful state, is available for all of us. It just needs to be uncovered. Mindfulness, stillness, and an understanding of the mechanics of the mind can help us to find our natural state of mind. This lies beyond what we traditionally think of as ordinary mind, or intellect. The true nature of our mind is wide open, expansive and limitless. It is like the sky in that respect, but yet a little different in that the mind also cognizes, unlike the sky.
Our countless delusions and negative emotions obscure the natural clarity of our mind, like dark thunderclouds. Fortunately, like the existence of thunderclouds, this is not a permanent situation. In time, and with much practice, one may come to realize this clarity, this perfection. No matter what appears to be occurring on the surface of our mind, there is peace and beauty always present in its most subtle realm. We must learn to access this place.
Most of us move through life without seeing this, without really examining and understanding the nature and function of the mind. Initially, we can familiarize ourselves with our minds through the process of observation. Watch how the mind habitually reacts, labeling everything it comes across, and sitting in constant judgment. By learning to simply watch the workings of the mind, we become aware of patterns of resistance and negativity, and can then decide to move through them consciously. As the pure nature of our mind becomes discovered, it is like the sun emerging from behind persistent dark clouds.
Without such awareness, the mind holds us as an unwitting prisoner, or puppet, subject to is whims and distortions. We think, say, and do things as though on automatic pilot, rather than commanding the controls ourselves. We react to things out of stale habit, calling something beautiful or ugly without really looking at it, without seeing it with freshness. We totally miss the essence of things.
Being mindful, conscious, aware and present is essential. Thoughts and emotions need to be watched, but not judged, continually. And, very importantly, we must learn to observe our reactions. It is our reaction to various circumstances that is more important than the circumstances themselves. Recognizing this can be difficult, as we are habituated into abdicating responsibility to things “beyond our control,” and using external events as crutches or scapegoats for our pain and suffering.
Once a mind pattern, emotion or reaction is observed, merely watch it in acceptance. The moment any sign of unhappiness arises – catch it. See it and let it go without feeding it. Like all phenomena, what we give our attention to, grows. Thoughts are no different, and once we allow them to take root and grow, the next precarious step is ego identification with the story represented by that particular thought or way of thinking. In that case, we are no longer in control and the thought pattern is ruling us. Our deep-seated, longstanding, inherited collective mind patterns are a primary cause of our bondage to suffering. We must clearly understand this in order to be able to break free.
It is also important to realize that our ordinary mind is simply making too much noise. We are so accustomed to this constant stream of chatter that we do not even notice it; we do not stop to think that there may be a different way to be. It is only when one successfully quiets the mind, that we can find the natural, relaxed state. A lovely sense of oneness, rather than separation, prevails.
We become able to move beyond name and form, labels and preconceptions, and able to embrace everything simply as it is. There is no room for discrimination and judgment, or even justification. Rather than seeing ourselves, and everything, as isolated fragments, we see our own wholeness and the interconnectedness of all things.
Otherwise, we remain caught in an illusion of separateness, ardently misidentifying with our bodies and our minds. It is from this place of delusion that our negative emotions and suffering arise. We believe in a self and a world that doesn’t exist as we think they do, and this egoic viewpoint is continually reinforced and substantiated by societal and cultural conditioning and programming.
As ordinary beings, we have very strong tendencies to label and identify with our minds, our bodies and all phenomena as real and solid. Sleepily, we do not see what is actually going on – we spend all our time caught up in what is not real and we dismiss what is actually real. Weighed down by delusions, negative emotions, tendencies and imprints, our minds are not allowed to be free and fresh, they remain distorted and confused. Our long-standing patterns, habits and preconceptions shape our view of the world, and we live from that point of reference.
A sense of unease and insecurity is ever-present while we are in such a state, and then we grasp tighter and tighter onto what we feel provides us an identity, something safe and familiar. We don’t begin to realize that we are actually building a sophisticated trap for ourselves, a space with no breathing room, a confined and limited world where an imaginary “me” keeps us imprisoned. We live in a dream world without even knowing it, and then we spend all our time stubbornly protecting and defending this fantasy.
To make matters worse, we add layer upon layer to our misperception of reality. Like zombies, we sedate ourselves further with various distractions, substances and behaviors such as drugs, sex, alcohol, work, and even sometimes, spiritual pursuits. There is no end to the methods and techniques we employ to try to cover up the basic dread and unease that simmers below the surface of our lives. Even behaviors and substances that may not be harmful on their own can take on an addictive or compulsive quality if they are used under the influence of delusion. We should be especially alert to the presence of the feeling of an addictive charge or rush. This can signal that we are out of control and at the mercy of our delusions. We cannot remain in this place or indulge in such behavior if we wish to be free, if we wish to know the true nature of things which lies beneath the distortions.
Satisfying our countless desires is impossible. Even when we achieve a moment of relief, all that is really happening is that the desire is being fed, not abated. Any short term pleasure will be eclipsed by long term dissatisfaction, until we put an end to this tired, worn-out game.
Every pleasure contains within itself the seed of unhappiness, of new suffering, in time. After an initial period of elation, we rapidly become caught in protecting or defending the object of our desire so that we do not lose it, or we tire of it and turn our interest to something else.
It is vitally important to stay as present, conscious, and aware as possible. We can even visualize guardians watching over our mind, ever-vigilant to catch deluded thoughts the moment they attempt to gain entry. Whatever is occurring, try to accept it as it is. Whenever we move into a place of defending, protecting, justifying, etc., it is the handiwork of our reactive patterns, the mind operating in its habitual survival mode. The more we identify with whatever happens to be going on at the moment, the more it grows, but the more we merely observe it, the energy lessens. We minimize the tendency to “become” the emotion or
the feeling. Watch what you are experiencing, notice your feelings, but do not let them turn into thinking.
When our mind is under the influence of delusion, we may notice anger, resentment, guilt, fear, self-pity and similar negative emotions. It is crucial to remember that they are merely states of mind; they come and go, arise and pass, and have no solidity. Despite their illusory nature, these delusions keep us in their grip. Then, their effects can be compounded by imprints from long-standing delusions as well.
Every single thing that we say, think or do leaves behind a trace, or imprint, in our consciousness. So, every pain that we suffer or inflict or experience is stored in our mind, ready to resurface when conditions are ripe. Similar imprints merge with each other, and as more difficult or painful traces pile one on top of the other, their combined force exponentially increases. Even when apparently dormant, the right conditions and causes can trigger negative effects and reactions. Old patterns may be activated, both in obvious ways or as a result of more subtle, casual causes.
It is not only negativity triggered by the past that causes us to suffer – speculation and fretting about the future can bring discontent and misery as well. The only peace and freedom we have is right now, being completely in the present. Everything else involves mere daydreams or fantasies. The only place where true inner peace can flourish is in a space not dependent upon external conditions or limited or constricted in any way, such as by perceptions of time.
Ironically, “right now” is the last place we usually look to find contentment. In fact, most of us do all that we can to avoid that place, yet it is the moment which contains all the beauty of the universe. It is strange that this place frightens us so deeply, that our ancient habituated patterns keep us from the very source of real happiness.
We are stuck, resisting and rehashing things that occurred in the past or fretting over a thousand “what ifs” about the future. We “bottle ourselves up,” letting negative thoughts and emotions build and build. In order to overcome this, we must remember that the past and the future have no reality, no existence of their own; we just create them as real with our deluded and confused minds. Past and future are like echoes – merely reflections, and not real.
Thinking along these lines, learn to understand and embrace the profound teaching that “all phenomena are like dreams.” Just as everything experienced in a dream is a mere appearance to the mind, all phenomena in our waking world are also mere appearances to the mind. We just ordinarily do not think about this in this way.
When we fall asleep, where are all the things which existed in our waking state? They cease to exist for us at that point, because the mind to which they appeared does not exist at that point. When we are asleep, only dream objects appear to us, yet when we wake up these objects cease to exist because the dream-mind to which they appeared does not exist either.
In our sleep, we may dream of our home, and our relatives or friends, as if they were actually present, and an expected strong feeling may arise. Although this place and these people are actually not present and we have not even left our beds, we experience them with the same vividness and intensity as in the waking state. Each and every experience of the senses in our lives is an experience just like the previous night’s dream. In the same way that we label, objectify and cling to dream entities as substantial, our mind in the waking state does the same thing. Exactly like dreams have no substance, appearances to the mind are the same way. They do not exist as we believe they do.
The nature of mind is like space, and all experience, therefore, is like space.
When you look for the mind and cannot find it (where is its shape, form, color?) such “ failure” is a total success. The nature of mind in its purity is like a stainless crystal ball. Its very essence is emptiness, its nature is clarity, and its responsiveness is a continuum.
With careful consideration of these concepts, you many begin to get a glimpse of how all phenomena in life are like the objects in a dream – mere appearances to the mind. That understanding holds the key to understanding the true nature of reality. From there, we may start to recognize the power of the mind as the gateway to perfection. Then, we face a simple, yet highly radical choice – do we wish to continue misunderstanding the workings of the mind, and the world reflected back to us from that mind, or do we wish to create a world free from the suffering of deluded thoughts? Once we have gained this understanding, we can access this place of peace from only one place — this exact moment.
Perhaps it is time to begin. This can be done by acknowledging, fully and honestly, if there are any problems stirring in our mind. Once we identify the actual cause of whatever problems we are experiencing, merely see them as they are. In realizing that allowing them to grow will only create more suffering, a conscious decision to respond more constructively can then be made. When we learn to do this skillfully, it will prevent problems from arising in our minds at all. We recognize that most of our difficulties originate from a failure to accept things as they are.
Patient and graceful acceptance, rather than trying to change external circumstances, is the solution. By acceptance, we are not referring to simple passivity or resignation, but to proceeding in a spirit of tolerance, without blame festering in your heart. See things as they are, do not blame yourself or others, and move forward in a clear and constructive manner from that point. This is how we begin to heal ourselves and others, to stop the feeding and momentum of pain and suffering.
When we learn to stop creating pain for ourselves, then we create no more pain for others or the world. The natural clarity and beauty of our inner space begins to shine through, and the world mirrors this back to us and the collective. This state becomes our reality, perceptions of separation dissolve automatically, and only oneness remains.