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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 27 |spring 2008 The whole reason for studying the dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha, is to search for a way to transcend suffering and attain peace and happiness. Whether we study physical or mental phenomena, the mind or its psychologi- cal factors, it’s only when we make liberation from suffering our ultimate goal that we’re on the right path. Suffering has a cause, a condition, for its existence. Please clearly understand that when the mind is still, it’s in its natural, normal state. As soon as the mind moves, it becomes conditioned. When the mind is attracted to something, it becomes conditioned. When aversion arises, it becomes conditioned. The desire to move here and there arises from conditioning. If our awareness doesn’t keep pace with these mental proliferations as they occur, the mind will chase after them and be condi- tioned by them. And whenever the mind moves, at that moment, it becomes a conventional reality. The Buddha taught that whenever the mind moves, it becomes unstable and impermanent (anicca), unsatisfactory (dukkha), and cannot be taken as a self (anatta). These are the three univer- sal characteristics of all conditioned phenomena. The Buddha taught us to observe and contemplate these movements of the mind. It’s likewise with the teaching of dependent origination: ignorance is the cause and condition for the arising of volitional kammic formations, which is the cause and condition for the arising of consciousness, and so on. The Buddha separated each link of the chain to make it easier to study. But though this is an accurate description of reality, when this process actually occurs in real life, the scholars aren’t able to keep up with what’s happen- ing. It’s like falling from the top of a tree—we have no idea how many branches we’ve passed on the way down. What we do know is that we’ve hit the ground with a thud and it hurts! Similarly, when the mind is suddenly hit by a mental impression, if it delights in it, then it flies off into a good mood. It considers it good without being aware of the chain of conditions that led there. There’s nothing that announces, “This is delusion. These are volitional kammic formations, and that is consciousness.” So scholarship alone can’t keep pace with the reality. That’s why the Buddha taught that we should cultivate clear knowing for ourselves. What- ever arises, arises in this knowing. When that which knows, knows in accordance with the truth, then the mind and its psychological factors are recog- nized as not ours. Ultimately, all these phenomena are to be discarded and thrown away as if they were rubbish. We shouldn’t cling to them or give them any meaning. Knowing the Mind This mind has already been conditioned. It’s been trained and conditioned to turn away and spin out from a state of pure awareness. As it spins, it creates conditioned phenomena that further influ- ence the mind, and the proliferation carries on. The process gives birth to the good, the evil, and everything else under the sun. The Buddha taught that we should abandon it all. Initially, however, you have to familiarize yourself with the theory so that you’ll be able to abandon it all at the later stage. This is a natural process. The mind is just this way; psychological factors are just this way. The Buddha taught that the mind has no substance; it isn’t anything. The mind isn’t born belonging to anyone, and it doesn’t die belonging to anyone. The mind is free, radiant, and unentangled with any problems or issues. The reason problems arise is because the mind is deluded by conditioned things, deluded by this misperception of self. So the Buddha taught us to observe this mind. In the beginning, what is there? There is truly nothing there. It doesn’t arise with conditioned things, and it doesn’t die with them. When the mind encoun- ters something good, it doesn’t change to become good. When the mind encounters something bad, it doesn’t become bad. That’s how it is when there is clear insight into one’s nature: there is the under- standing that this is essentially a substanceless state of affairs. We have to look deeply into our own hearts if we want to experience the fruits of this prac- tice. Attempting to describe the psychology of the mind in terms of the numerous separate moments of consciousness and their different characteris- tics is, in my opinion, not taking the practice far enough. There is still a lot more to it. If we are going to study these things, then we must know them absolutely, with clarity and penetrative understanding. The laTe ajahn Chah (1918–1992) was a renowned mediTaTion masTer in The Thai ForesT TradiTion. This arTiCle is adapTed From a new book oF his TeaChings TiTled Meditation: a ColleCtion of talks on Cultivat- ing the Mind, published by The buddhisT publiCaTion soCieTy in kandy, sri lanka.