By Sogyal Rinpoche
Understanding the mind is a complex process and controlling it a mammoth task. However, there are many who attempt this, maybe not to attain enlightenment but simply to gain control over their basic nature, handle their lives better or to understand the purpose of life. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche illustrates beautifully how our mind and thoughts make us what we are. Here is an extract from the book:
The purpose of meditation
The purpose of meditation is to awaken the sky-like nature of mind, and to introduce that which we really are, our unchanging pure awareness
Neither follow thoughts nor invite them; be like the ocean looking at its own waves, or the sky gazing down on the clouds that pass through it
Mind is revealed as the universal basis of experience—the creator of happiness and the creator of suffering, the creator of what we call life and what we call death.
There are many aspects of mind, but two stand out. The first is the ordinary mind called by the Tibetans seem. One Master defines it: “That which possesses discriminating awareness, that which possesses a sense of duality which grasps or rejects something external—that is mind. Fundamentally, it is that which can associate with an ‘other’—with any ‘something’, that is perceived as different from the perceiver.” Sem is the discursive, dualistic, thinking mind, which can only function in relation to a projected and falsely perceived external referral point.
So sem is the mind that thinks, plots, desires, manipulates, that flares up in anger, that creates and indulges in waves of negative emotions and thought, that has to go on and on asserting, validating and confirming its existence by fragmenting, conceptualising and solidifying experience. The ordinary mind is the ceaselessly shifting and shiftless prey of external influences, habitual tendencies and conditioning. The masters liken seem to a candle flame in an open doorway, vulnerable to all the winds of circumstances. It is within the experience of this chaotic, confused, undisciplined, and repetitive seem that, again and again, we undergo change and death.
Then there is the very nature of mind, its innermost essence, which is absolutely and always untouched by change or death. At present it is hidden within our own mind, our seem, enveloped and obscured by the mental scurry of our thoughts and emotions. Just as clouds can be shifted by a strong gust of wind to reveal the shining sun and wide-open sky, so, under certain special circumstances, some inspiration may uncover for us glimpses of this nature of mind. These glimpses have many depths and degrees, but each of them will bring some light of understanding, meaning, and freedom. This is because the nature of mind is the very root itself of understanding.
For even though we have the same inner nature as Buddha, we have not recognised it because it is so enclosed in our individual, ordinary minds. Imagine an empty vase. The space inside is exactly the same as the space outside. Only the fragile walls of the vase separate one from the other. Our Buddha mind is enclosed within the walls of our ordinary mind. But when we become enlightened, it is as if the vase shatters to pieces. The space inside merges instantly into the space outside. They become one: There and then we realise they were never separate or different.
Bringing the Mind Home
The Buddha sat in serene and humble dignity on the ground, with the sky above him and around him, as if to show us that in meditation you sit with an open, sky-like attitude of mind, yet remain present, earthed and grounded. The sky is our absolute nature, which has no barriers and is boundless, and the ground is our reality, our relative, ordinary condition.
The posture we take when we meditate signifies that we are linking absolute and relative, sky and ground, heaven and earth, like two wings of a bird, integrating the sky-like deathless nature of mind and the ground of our transient nature.
The purpose of meditation is to awaken the sky- like nature of mind, and to introduce our unchanging pure awareness.
Meditation is bringing the mind home. When I teach meditation, I often begin by saying: “Bring your mind home. And release. And relax.”
To bring your mind home means to bring the mind into the state of ‘calm abiding’ through the practice of mindfulness. In its deepest sense, to bring the mind home is to turn your mind inwards and to rest in the nature of mind.
To release means to release the mind from its prison of grasping. All pain, fear and distress arise from the cravings of the grasping mind. On a deeper level, the realisation that arises from your growing understanding enables you to release all the grasping from your heart, letting it free itself, to melt away in inspiration of meditation.
To relax means to be spacious and to relax the mind of its tensions. You relax into the true nature of mind. It is like pouring a handful of sand onto a flat surface; each grain settles of its accord.
Above all, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible. Think of your ordinary, emotional, thought-ridden self as a block of ice left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation. Let peace enable you to gather your scattered mind into the mindfulness of ‘calm abiding’, and awaken in you the awareness and insight of ‘clear seeing’. And you will find all your negativity disarmed, your aggression dissolved, and your confusion evaporating, slowly, like mist into the vast and stainless sky of your absolute nature.
Thoughts and Emotions
When people begin to meditate, they often say that their thoughts are running riot, and have become wilder than ever before. But I reassure them and say that this is a good sign. Far from meaning that your thoughts have become wilder, it shows that you have become quieter, and you are finally aware of just how noisy your thoughts have always been. Don’t be disheartened or give up.
In the ancient meditation instructions, it is said that at the beginning thoughts will arrive one on top of another, uninterrupted, like a steep mountain waterfall. Gradually, as you perfect meditation, thoughts become like the water in a deep, narrow gorge, then a great river slowly winding its way down to sea, and finally the mind becomes like a still ocean.
Sometimes people think that when they meditate there should be no thoughts and emotions at all; and when thoughts and emotions do arise, they think they have failed. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a Tibetan saying: “It is a tall order to ask for meat without bones, and tea without leaves.” So long as you have a mind, there will be thoughts and emotions.
Neither follow thoughts nor invite them; be like the ocean looking at its own waves, or the sky gazing down on the clouds that pass through it.
The Mind in Meditation
What, then, should we ‘do’ with the mind in meditation? Nothing at all. Just leave it, simply, as it is. One master described meditation as: “Mind, suspended in space, nowhere.”
There is a famous saying: “If the mind is not contrived, it is spontaneously blissful, just as water, when not agitated, is by nature transparent and clear.” I often compare the mind in meditation to a jar of muddy water—the more we leave the water without interfering or stirring it, the more the particles of dirt will sink to the bottom, letting the natural clarity of the water shine through.
So take care not to impose anything on the mind. When you meditate there should be no effort to control, to be peaceful. Think of yourself as the sky, holding the whole universe.
As you continue your practice, you may have all kinds of experiences, both good and bad. Just as a room with many doors and windows allows air to enter from many directions, in the same way, when your mind becomes open, it is natural that all kinds of experiences can come into it. You might experience a state of bliss, clarity or absence of thoughts. In one way these are sign of progress in meditation. For when you experience bliss, it is a sign that desire has temporarily dissolved. When you experience clarity, it is a sign that aggression has temporarily ceased. When you experience a state of absence of thought, it is sign that your ignorance has temporarily died. By themselves they are good experiences, but if you get attached to them they become obstacles.
Experiences are not realisations, but if we remain unattached to them, they become what they really are, materials for realisations.
The real glory of meditation lies not in any methods but in its continual living experience of presence, in its bliss, clarity, peace, and complete absence of grasping. And the more you experience this freedom, the clearer the sign that the ego and the hopes and fears that keep it alive are dissolving, and the closer you will come to the infinitely generous ‘wisdom of egolessness’. When you live in the wisdom home, you will no longer find a barrier between ‘I’ and ‘you’, ‘this’ and ‘that’, ‘inside’ and ‘outside’; you will have come finally to your true home, the state of non-duality.
Sogyal Rinpoche was born in Tibet and is a renowned exponent of Buddhist teachings. He is the founder and spiritual director of Rigpa, which teaches and propagates the Buddhist path. Extract from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche published by Rider. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited.
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