His Holiness Sakya Trizin - The Nature of the Mind

His Holiness Sakya TrizinOne of the main teachings of the Buddha is the law of karma, the teaching that our lives are not without cause, that they are not created by other beings or by coincidence, but by our own actions. All the positive things we enjoy, such as loving relationships, long life, good health, prosperity, and so forth are also not given by anybody else. It is through our own positive actions in the past that we enjoy all these good things today. Similarly, all the undesirable things we encounter, such as short life, sickness, poverty, and so on, are not created by any outsider, but by our own actions, the negative deeds we committed in the past.

If we really wish to be free from suffering and experience happiness, it is important to work on the causes. Without working on the causes, we cannot expect to yield any results. Each and every thing must have its own complete cause; things do not appear from nowhere, from the wrong cause, or from an incomplete cause. So the source of all our suffering is our own negative deeds. Negative deeds result from not knowing reality, not knowing the true nature of the mind. Instead of seeing the true nature of the mind, we cling to a self for no logical reason. All of us have a natural tendency to cling to a self because we are so used to it. It is a kind of habit we have formed since beginningless time. However, if we carefully examine and investigate, we cannot find the self. If there is a self, it has to be either name, body, or mind. First, the name by itself is empty; any name can be given to anybody.

So too is the body. We say, "my body" just as we say, "my house, my car, my home, my country," and so forth, as if the body and "I" were separate. But if we examine every part of the body, we cannot find anyplace or anything called "I" or self. It is just many things together that form what we cling to as the body or the self. If we look at ourselves carefully from head to toe, we cannot find a thing called self. The body is not a self, because the body has many different parts. People can remain alive without certain parts of the body, so the body is not the self.

Neither is the mind. We think that the mind may be the self, but it actually changes from moment to moment. The mind is constantly changing, and the past mind is already extinct, already gone. Something that is already gone cannot be called the self. The future mind is yet to arise, and something that is yet to arise cannot be the self. Even the present mind is changing all the time, every moment. The mind of a baby and the mind of an adult are very different; these different minds do not occur at the same time. The mind is constantly changing; at every moment it is changing. Something that is constantly changing cannot be the self.

So apart from name, body, or mind, there is no such thing as the self, but due to long-held habits, we all have a strong tendency to cling to it. Instead of seeing the true nature of the mind, we cling to a self for no logical reason. As long as we do this, it is as if we are mistaking a colourful rope for a snake. Until we realise that it is not a snake but only a rope, we will have fear and anxiety. As long as we cling to a self, we will have suffering. Clinging to a self is the root of all suffering. Not knowing reality, not knowing the true nature of the mind, we cling to a self.

When you have a "self," naturally there are "others." The distinction between self and others depends on positing a self. Just like right and left, if there is a right, there has to be a left. Likewise, if there is a self, there must be others. When we have a self and others, attachment arises to our own side, to our friends and relatives, and so forth, and hatred arises toward others with whom we disagree, toward people who have different views and different ideas than ours. Three main poisons keep us in this net of illusion, or samsara: the ignorance of not knowing and clinging to a self, attachment or desire, and hatred. From these three arise other impurities, such as jealousy, pride, and so forth. When we have these poisons and impurities, we create karma, and when we create karma, it is like planting a seed in fertile ground, which will yield results in due course. We create karma constantly and are caught up in the realms of existence. To be completely free from samsara, we need the wisdom that can cut out its root, the wisdom that realises selflessness. Such wisdom also depends on method.

Without the accumulation of method, wisdom cannot arise, and without wisdom, we cannot have the right method. Just as a bird needs two wings to fly, we need both method and wisdom to attain enlightenment. The most important and effective method is based on loving-kindness, universal love, and compassion. From this arises bodhicitta, or the thought of enlightenment, which is the sincere wish to attain perfect enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. When we have this thought, then we naturally acquire all virtuous deeds.

However, we also need the wisdom that realises the true nature of all phenomena, particularly of the mind, because the root of samsara and nirvana, indeed the root of everything is the mind. The Lord Buddha said, "One should not indulge in negative deeds; one should try to practice virtuous deeds; and one should tame the mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha." The fault lies in our wild mind; because of which we are caught up in samsara, or the cycle of existence. The purpose of the eighty-four thousand teachings of the Buddha is to tame our mind. After all, everything is the min, it is the mind that suffers, that experiences happiness, that is caught up in samsara, and that attains liberation or enlightenment. So when the true nature of the mind is realised, all other outer and inner things are naturally realised.
So what is the mind? If we try to investigate where the mind is, we cannot find it anywhere. We cannot pinpoint any part of the body and say, "This is my mind." So it is not inside the body, not outside the body, and not in between the body. If something exists, it has to be of a specific shape or colour, but we cannot find the mind in any shape or colour.

So the nature of the mind is emptiness. But when we say that everything is emptiness and doesn't exist, it does not mean that it does not exist conventionally. After all, it is the mind that does all the wrong things; it is the mind that does all the right things; it is the mind that experiences suffering; and so forth. Therefore, of course, there is a mind, we are not dead or unconscious; we are conscious living beings, and there is a continuous stream of consciousness. Just like the candlelight that glows, the clarity of the mind constantly shines forth. The characteristic of the mind is clarity. We cannot find it in any form or in any colour or in any place, yet there is a clarity that continues unceasingly. This is the character of the mind. Its two aspects, clarity and emptiness, are inseparable, just as fire and its heat are inseparable. The inseparability of the clarity and the emptiness is the un-fabricated essence of the mind.

To experience such a state, it is important to go through the preliminary practices first. Through these practices, we accumulate merit. It is best to meditate on insight wisdom. For that, we need to prepare the present mind, that is, our ordinary mind that is constantly distracted by streams of thoughts. Such a busy and agitated mind will not be a base for insight wisdom. So first we have to build a base with concentration, using the right method. Through concentration, we try to bring the mind to a stable state, and on stable clarity and single-pointedness, we then meditate on insight wisdom. Through this, we realise the true nature of the mind. To reach this realisation, we require a tremendous amount of merit, and the most effective way of acquiring merit is to cultivate bodhicitta.

So with method and wisdom together, we can realise the true nature of the mind. On the basis of that realisation and increasing wisdom, we will eventually reach full realisation and attain enlightenment.

Quote of the Day

“From one point of view we can say that we have human bodies and are practicing the Buddha's teachings and are thus much better than insects. But we can also say that insects are innocent and free from guile, where as we often lie and misrepresent ourselves in devious ways in order to achieve our ends or better ourselves. From this perspective, we are much worse than insects. ”
The Dalai Lama