2022-03-08 Satipaṭṭhāna (39) Knowing the Mind Without Carry On Luggage
4:08AM Mar 8, 2022
We are continuing with the talks on the third foundation for awareness, which is mindfulness of the mind. We are building our capacity to be aware by knowing what is happening in the mind – recognizing the mind state. The mind is important, because whatever the mind is (our inner mental state) or whatever the heart is (our intellectual and emotional center) – this is the location for our primary experiences of suffering and of happiness.
We can have physical pain and physical pleasure. But the mind is the location for that which is existentially much deeper and more impactful and important for us. It is the location where suffering occurs. Whether you call that place the mind, or the heart, or some other name, the mind is that inner mental, emotional landscape. You can define it for yourself. What you are experiencing is more important than some Buddhist idea what the mind is.
The mind is also where we can feel deep abiding happiness and deep peace. Even the experience of freedom belongs to the mind – citta.
So our task, as it is described in the text, is simply to know the state of the mind in the way that it is. There is nothing in the text about judging it, making a commentary about it, wishing it would be otherwise, being aversive to it, trying to fix it, or trying to make it into something else. The task is simply to recognize it as it is.
As I have said, that simple recognition does begin to change it. It tends to change the mind in a wholesome direction, because the clear mindfulness of the mind is no longer feeding the unhealthy and unwholesome mind states. If we are not really mindful, our mental energy can go into the stories, the ideas, the resentments and all those things that support unwholesome states of mind.
Instead, the energy of the mind goes into being mindful – into a kind of clear knowing: "Oh, 'this' is what's happening. Now I see. I see – the mind is desirous, the mind is full of wanting something strongly: "This is what is going on in the mind." It is almost as if you can have that conversation with yourself. 'This' what it is like.
Or the mind is full of aversion, or resentment, or hostdility, or irritation. 'This' is what the mind is like. Right now the mind is like this. Whether it is confused, agitated, full of doubt, or full of delusion, to know: this is what it is like. This is delusion – the deluded mind: the mind that is spinning stories and fantasies. Simply to know it.
This knowing is the center of this exercise in the third foundation – how simply can you know the mind state? It makes a huge difference to do this. Because chances are, if we are not just simply knowing the mind – if the mind is caught up in desires, or aversions, or confusion, or delusion – these come along as baggage or carry-on luggage as we do the mindfulness practice. Then the mindfulness itself – awareness itself – will be somehow colored by that desire. It will be leaning forward with grasping and wanting. Or colored by the aversion of pushing away, or being hostile or looking meanly at it. Or maybe the mind will just be confused. The awareness itself is not very centered, or clear, or calm because it is agitated and confused, not knowing which way to go.
The more we can just let the knowing be very, very simple, the less carry-on baggage comes along with it. Then the practice becomes lighter, and easier and easier.
The Buddha words these instructions as follows: "When the mind (or the citta) is with desire, one knows the mind is with desire. When the mind is without desire, one knows the mind is without desire."
Sometimes translators have translated this as: "One knows that the 'state of mind' is desirous" – a desiring state of mind – or a aversive state of mind. But the Pali text literally says, "a mind 'with' desire," or "'with' aversion."
This is a very significant distinction. Because as mindfulness and clear awareness become stronger, the mind recognizes something clearly for itself – the desire and aversion are not the whole mind. They do not color or shape or define the whole mind. The clear awareness begins to expand the domain of the mind, so that it is no longer wrapped into desire and aversion. So with clear mindfulness, desire is not the whole mind. It is just a part of it. It comes along with the mind, but it does not define the whole mind.
This is why this practice of mindfulness of the mind is so powerful. Mindfulness can see that all this is 'in' the mind. In one place, the Buddha talks about the mind having visitors – the visitors that confuse it, the visitors that defile it, the visitors that obstruct the mind.
It is a lovely idea that greed, hatred, delusion, and the hindrances are visitors to the mind – not inherent to the mind. When mindfulness becomes strong enough, then we start prying ourselves loose from these difficult mind states. We start seeing there is more going on.
But the Buddha also talks about not only seeing a mind with desire, but also seeing a mind that is without desire. This means seeing positive states of mind. Generosity is a state without desire, without greed, for example. We also see positive states of mind. Here we are asked to notice when there is desire in the mind, and when there is not – when the mind is colored and shaped by desire, and when it is not. Of course, it is a part of the mind that sees this.
There are three roots or fundamental forces of the mind that underlie all unhealthy states of mind, according to the Buddha: greed, hatred and delusion. One knows a mind with greed – with greedy desire – as such. One knows a mind without greed, as such. One knows a mind with aversion, or hatred, or hostility, as such. One knows a mind without it, as such. One knows a deluded or a confused mind, as such. One knows a mind without that as such.
We become more and more familiar with these states. Then we become familiar with what they are like. So it is not just about knowing them, but also knowing the felt sense – the experience of them. There is clear recognition: "Oh, when the mind is full of desire, it is leaning forward – it is searching. When the mind has aversion, it is stabbing, or attacking, or blaming, or pulling away.
Or the mind gets narrower and more contracted. Or it gets restless. It may have a frenetic energy, if restlessness goes on in the mind. Maybe the mind is more up in the head, rather than in the heart, or in the body.
The location of the mind shifts and changes depending on what the mind is caught up in at the moment. When it is caught in greed, hate, or delusion, chances are there is some kind of locus or center of the mind, where we feel it is located. That location might be different when the mind is filled with compassion, love, peace, and wisdom.
To look around and explore: What does it feel like in the body? What does it feel like in the mind itself? What impact do these different states of mind have on our clarity of mind – and our ability to stay focused and balanced?
We begin familiarizing ourselves with all this. But this is the third foundation of mindfulness. If we tried to do this right away at the beginning, we could get more confused by it, or wrapped up in it, or reactive to it, or it could lend itself to a lot more thinking.
Rather, we can think of the third foundation of mindfulness as having the first two foundations as a support. The mind is already able to get somewhat calm, present, and stable in the present moment. The mind is starting to become strong in its mindfulness.
With the ability to be calm, centered, and not easily distracted, we know something about nonreactive awareness. The mind just knows very simply. When that is all in place, this is a good time to start becoming aware of the mind state. If that is not in place, then it is good to go back to the beginning – back to just breathing. Back to the beginning of the whole Satipaṭṭhāna, until the mind settles in again. Then we can begin opening to the mind state.
The mind state can color mindfulness, as I have said. It can color how we are mindful. It is like carry-on luggage we bring with us. As the mind state becomes clearer and clearer, we have less and less of this luggage, and the mind becomes clearer, brighter, and more free in a certain way.
In a couple of days, we are going to look at the second half of the third foundation, which looks at how the mind can grow and develop when it is no longer in the grip of greed, hate and delusion – or fear, agitation, or contraction. What we will see then is that the discussion goes from talking about what the mind is 'with', to talking about the state of the mind itself.
When the beautiful states arise, they can coexist with mindfulness – with awareness. It is almost as if they 'are' awareness. But that is for a couple of days from now.
In the next 24 hours or so, if you have a chance while going about your daily life, you might start doing an inventory of the state of your mind. Is it a mind that's with desire? Is it a mind with hostility, hatred, ill will, or aversion? Is it a mind that is confused or deluded?
Just notice. These states will probably float through and arise and pass in different circumstances. When you are hungry for dinner, you might feel the desire mind is predominant. When you have eaten too much, an aversive mind is predominant. When you wonder how to do the dishes – when the dishwashing machine is completely packed – you might notice the confused mind. Just notice that the mind state comes and goes like a kaleidoscope, in subtle and big ways.
Start tracking all this. When there is no desire, notice what that is like. No ill will – notice what that is like. Just explore, and get to know and become familiar with the texture, the smell, and the feel of these mind states. See what happens when you recognize them more and more.
I look forward to introducing the next talk. Thank you.