Thursday, June 17, 2010
Looking into the Nature of Mind by H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
By Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
To look into the nature of the mind we must understand how all its ordinary thoughts about anything and everything imaginable are just empty and insubstantial. Until now, we have been the slave of what we call ‘mind,’ forced to wander helplessly through samsaric existence. Now we must reverse the situation, and take control of our own mind. It will be easy to do this if we have some real understanding of how the mind is empty, but just entertaining some vague notion of mind’s emptiness, by thinking, “Well, this is what the masters say,” or “This is what it says in the texts,” will not help us to recognize the insubstantiality of our own deluded perception.
Turn your attention within then, and allow your mind to relax. You will notice not just one thought or idea, but many. For example, if you think of your mother, that is one thought, but then it in turn evokes all kinds of other thoughts, such as memories of the kindness she showed you. If she is still alive, you might think about going to visit her, and if not, you might feel sad. These are thoughts of attachment. If you think about your enemies, reflecting on the ways they have hurt you in the past, how they are sure to do so again in the future, and how you must find some way to be rid of them, these are thoughts of aversion. You might wonder where this attachment and aversion come from. In fact, they come from the deluded belief in the existence of what we call “I.”
Where is such an “I” to be found? Is it in the body or the mind? If you really look into the body, examining each of its parts—flesh, blood, bones and skin—you can not find anything at all called ‘body,’ so how could this be the location of the “I”? The mind, on the other hand, is insubstantial, so how could the “I” abide within it? In fact, the “I” is merely a concept or a thought. There is no location within a thought, and nothing could remain there, but still the power of one thought, such as the thought of our mother, causes us to think another thought, about her kindness to us, and that in turn inspires the thought of wishing to see her.
If we look into this process in more detail, we can see that while we are thinking about our mother’s kindness, the initial thought of our mother is no longer there—it has already gone. And the thought that we must visit her has not yet occurred—it is still in the future. As soon as we look into it, the present thought of our mother’s kindness is no longer there; it has already turned into the future thought of wanting to visit her. This means that the thoughts of the past, present and future can not exist at the same time, and we only use these terms for the sake of communication. The past is gone, like a person who has died, and the future (or ‘that which is yet to come’) does not exist at all. In fact, there is no such thing as a ‘present thought’ existing somehow independently of past and future. Before we thought of our mother that ‘present thought’ was still in the future. Then, as we thought of her, it was present. Finally, as we brought to mind her kindness, it was already in the past.
For one thought to pass through these three phases of time is a sign of its impermanence, and whatever is impermanent is empty. It is because a thing is empty that it can change over the course of the past, present and future.
Consider the surface of a mirror: because it is empty [and not fixed in a particular way], reflections can appear within it. When a person’s likeness appears in a mirror, the reflection resembles the real person, but the person’s face has neither entered the mirror nor been transferred to its surface. The image of the face appears because of certain causes and conditions, including the clarity of the mirror and the presence of the person’s face before it. The reflection of the face and the face itself are not the same. The reflection is inanimate, and when the reflection disappears the real face does not. A face can be burned if it is touched by fire, but you can not burn a reflection. Nevertheless, the reflection and the face are not completely different either, because the reflection can not appear in the absence of the person’s face, and if the person adopts a particular expression, such as a smile or a look of anger, the reflection also appears that way.
For these reasons, thoughts and reflections appear to be real only when we fail to examine them or look into them in any detail. If we do pause to consider them, we find that although they appear, they do not really exist. And this is true not just of these phenomena. It applies to all the appearances of our deluded samsaric experience: they seem real enough as long as we do not examine them too deeply, but when we do, we find that they are not real. This is why we refer to them as “unexamined, seeming reality.”
If the understanding of this point develops and takes hold, so that it becomes self-sustaining, that is what we call ‘experience.’ When we become more and more familiar with this, so that the mind is no longer swayed by thoughts of aversion or attachment, that is what we call ‘realization.’
When we examine thoughts again and again in this way, we come to see that although they have no real existence, still they appear, and although they appear, they are insubstantial. At the same time, we understand how the thoughts of the past, present and future exist only as mere names or labels, and have no more reality than that.
If we have this understanding, then whenever we think of our mother and remember all the kindness she showed us, we need not succumb to thoughts of attachment. We will think, “Even if I were to go and see my mother, what good would that do? She has managed to provide food and clothing for herself, and even to provide for my material needs as well. If I were to take on this role, I would need to find work in some trade or business, and that would provoke all kinds of attachment and aversion and produce lots of distractions, which would only come in the way of my Dharma practice. Instead, I should put my energy into practising the Dharma, straightaway as much as I can, then dedicate all my sources of merit to my mother, to help relieve her sufferings of birth, death and the bardo states. It would be better for me to forget about ordinary worldly feelings of attachment to my mother. She has other children who can take care of her material needs, but there is no one but me to offer her spiritual assistance.” If we think this way, it will prevent us getting caught in the ordinary patterns of thought which can come up whenever we recall our mother.
This also gives us some clues as to how we can give up our thoughts of aversion towards our enemies. At first it might be a little difficult to overcome our attachment and aversion, but by practising again and again, it will become easier.
If you can overcome attachment and aversion, you will no longer accumulate karma. Morevoer, if you look into the unaltered state of mind that follows whenever feelings of attachment or aversion have subsided, you will find the nature of mind. As long as there are not too many thoughts arising, look undistractedly into the mind itself. Whenever there are lots of thoughts, examine them in the way I just described. If you become really familiar with this by training in it again and again, recognition of the nature of mind will occur naturally and spontaneously. The mind will no longer be caught up in thoughts, and even if thoughts do arise, they will not have any real strength and there will be no need to analyze or examine them. It will be sufficient simply to maintain an unaltered state of mind.
If ever you can not counteract a thought of attachment or aversion, repeat the process of investigation. When you have thoughts, don’t react with anxiety, thinking, “I shouldn’t have thoughts during meditation! Now lots of thoughts are going to come.” Simply look straight into the nature of any thought—be it positive or negative—and it will lose its strength and disappear. Without letting go of the state which follows, look gently into the nature of mind, and thoughts will vanish by themselves. When thoughts no longer occur one after another in swift succession you will gradually be able to liberate them.
When looking into the nature of mind, don’t expect to gain some exceptionally high or profound realization, or to see anything new. Nor should you hesitate or doubt your ability to meditate. Just trust that the nature of mind is simply the mind itself left in an unaltered state, and do all that you can to sustain this, without distraction, at all times, during and between the meditation sessions. Don’t expect to gain realization in just a few months, or even years. Whether you develop any of the qualities that come from the practice or not, remain steadfastly determined and resolve to continue the practice with diligence, day and night, throughout this life, future lives and the bardo state.
Understand this: it is more important to take to heart the key instructions than to receive a great many teachings.
In general, you should look at the instruction manual Words of My Perfect Teacher, and check whether or not your practice accords with what it says there. If you notice something that does not correspond, change it; and if there is something that is only partially in agreement, see whether or not it can be improved.
Aspire to practise the Dharma authentically, and never do anything that might upset your Dharma brothers and sisters.
In short, devote yourself to the Dharma as much as you possibly can, with body, speech and mind.
I will certainly come and visit you, and I will always remember to pray and practise for your protection, so that all your wishes in accordance with the Dharma will be accomplished.
May all beings receiving this note also receive happiness and the causes of happiness;
May they all be free of suffering, and the causes of suffering;
May they not be seperated from the bliss that is without suffering;
May they dwell in equanimity, free from attachment, hate, and aversion.
Any merit accumulated from this note is instantly dedicated to all sentient beings liberation.