2022-03-07 Satipaṭṭhāna (38) Mindful of the State of Mind
3:26AM Mar 8, 2022
With this talk, I am going to introduce the third foundation for awareness – the third foundation upon which to cultivate and grow our capacity to be aware and mindful. With the third foundation, there is a real turning point in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta that began at the end of the second foundation. The focus turns from awareness mostly of the body in various ways, to the mind.
Along the way, in the second foundation we are aware of the feeling tones that are pleasant and unpleasant and that have to do with sense contact – that which reacts and responds to whatever contact there is.
We also can become aware of a pleasure and delight or well-being – and also sometimes what is unpleasant – that does not belong to any world of sense contact. It is like a welling-up inside. In a sense, our inner life responds to some kind of deeper wellspring that does not have to do with the thoughts we think, the memories we have, what is happening around us, or circumstances in the world. This pleasure is pointing to the spiritual – that which is not of the flesh. It is the dharma pleasure that can come with practice.
This sets the stage for the third foundation, where we are not looking at the body, nor at whether things are pleasant or unpleasant. We are looking at the state of the mind. The word for "mind" is citta. This word is referred to a lot by the Buddha. But he never defines exactly what it is. Citta comes from the Pali word for "thinking," and so it is related to the world of thinking – the world of mentality. But exactly what the inner life of the mind is, is not defined, because it is not meant to be reified. It is not meant to be made into something.
The mind is some general, broad sense we have that is very personal. You can't pinpoint exactly what the mind is. But maybe it is a gestalt of our mental functionings, and the impression, feeling or the sense we have of how that gestalt – that whole – is. The definition of that whole varies from day to day, and from person to person, perhaps. It is not as important to know exactly what it is, as to know what it is for you. Maybe what you associate with the mind changes over time. But it is an inner reference point for something to be mindful of – to be aware of. What is the quality, the characteristics of what you call "your mind" or "your state of mind?"
The state of mind is maybe a little more enduring than sensations of the body, although sometimes sensations of the body can be more enduring than some of the flickering of the mind. But the general state or mood of the mind – the inner mental life – what is it like for you?
Whatever the mind is, it is colored or shaped by the activities of the mind. So it gets colored one way if there is a lot of intense desire or greed. The mind gets shaped or colored by desire, so one is looking at the world through a filter of desire – searching for or wanting something.
The mind can also be colored by aversion – not-wanting, pushing away, resistance. It can be colored by confusion. It can be colored by generosity, and by a sense of openness. It can be colored by love and by compassion. It can be colored by wisdom.
The mind itself is not a thing, but it is influenced very much by what we are doing. One of the ways that the shape of it, or the feeling, or the sense of it changes, is when we are preoccupied with some kind of thoughts or problems and really focused on them. Then the mind might seem very small and contracted. But when we are really relaxed and at ease, the mind might feel very spacious and open. So the size of the mind – the feeling of the mind as open or closed – might vary depending on how preoccupied or un-preoccupied we are.
In the third foundation, we are starting to become aware of the quality and the characteristics of this mind that we have. Becoming familiar with the mind gives us a foundation for the fourth foundation of mindfulness. We learn about the operations of the mind and the colors and shapes of the mind. We get a sense of something that I would like to refer to as the quality of our inner life.
As we get to know the quality of our inner life – the quality of our mind – then we can have some role in shaping it or seeing how it changes, through simply knowing it. The power of knowing – of mindfulness and of being present for something – is not a non-influential act. It is an act that, without trying to change anything, allows things to shift a little, through being fully present for them. If we are fully present for a mind that is agitated with desires and wanting, when the knowing is clear enough, there is space to hold it.
Then we see that the mind is not only desirous. There is also the mindfulness, which is independent, wider, separate, and distinct – and which knows the quality of desire in the mind. The same way with aversion, and with delusion. The mind can know itself. And in the knowing, if the knowing is clear enough, then the mind is more than whatever desire or aversion or confusion it might have.
The knowing of our mind state creates space and a sense of openness or some breathing room for how the mind is, and then we find we are not so contracted by it or caught in it. Then we can see that it is a quality of the mind, but we do not have to identify or say, "this is who I am". Some people have a vague idea or feeling of "I am" – the "I-am-ness"– who I am, or the fact that I am, I exist. For some people, that sense is closely connected to the mind.
Buddhism does not emphasize that there is a self, or the sense of "I am". But whatever that is for you, if you have that, this sense fits under the category of mindfulness of the mind, where it is possible to bring attention and awareness, and hold that quality. To be aware of the texture and the feeling tone of it, and experience the sense of "am-ness" – the sense of just-beingness that resides someplace within. For me, this fits into the category of mindfulness of the mind.
We start getting familiar with how the mind changes and morphs, and it is different at different times. Over time, especially for meditators, we learn that the mind is flexible, fluid, and changeable. We learn that stopping and being present and knowing – not just barreling ahead with our concerns and preoccupation, but pausing and taking a good look to recognize what is there – begins to have a wonderful influence on the contracted mind or the agitated mind.
Something begins to shift and change in that regard. We start becoming familiar with what it is like when the mind is not preoccupied – when it is not desirous or angry or afraid. When the mind is more open and generous and loving. We can start feeling some other wonderful ways the mind can be.
In the Buddhist tradition, the wonderfulness of the mind is sometimes referred referred to as the beauty of the mind. The mind can be experienced as something amazingly beautiful. I have been to many beautiful places in the world and seen beautiful art – all kinds of wonderful things. I would say the most beautiful thing I have ever seen is the purified mind – the bright, clear mind. We can start getting a glimpse of the beauty of the mind. It is not beautiful necessarily because we have done wonderful things in the world, or because everyone loves us. Rather, it is a beautiful mind in and of itself, independent of what is happening in the world around us.
We are cultivating this beautiful mind by discovering how not to get caught by the unwholesome mind – the mind that is challenged by desire, greed, fear, agitation, restlessness, dismay, sadness, and grief – all those things that catch the mind. Of course, those things are there, and we are not denying them.
The practice of the third foundation is to know: "This is how the mind is. This is what's going on in the mind." Just know it. It can be hard with the mind, but this is a radical – I would say revolutionary – kind of movement of the mind. Whatever state it is in, to discover how to simply know it: "This is how it is." In that simple knowing – this is how it is – to not be wedded to it, not be caught in it, not be reactive to it.
It is as if we step back a couple of steps, and turn around and look to see what the mind has been up to. We see we have been enmeshed in the mind, and we pause, and we breathe. We take those backward steps, and then we look back, and we see it in a whole new way.
Then we have some spaciousness around it – some openness. That spaciousness becomes part of the quality of the mind's beauty. Some of the beauty of the mind has to do with the clarity of the mind. That clarity of the mind sometimes becomes a feeling of brightness in the mind. The mind becomes bright and luminous. The mind is no longer defined by the particular thoughts, concerns and attitudes we have. As a resultof that clarity, it becomes as if the fog has cleared. There is brightness and clarity in the mind, which can be beautiful.
So this is the topic for this week – the third foundation for awareness – cultivating awareness and developing the aware mind. What is kind of poignant about this is that, as the awareness of the mind develops, at some point the awareness and the mind do not seem so separate. Awareness kind of becomes the mind, or the mind becomes mostly a field of awareness. That is not entirely what it is.
At first, we might feel like we are aware of the mind. Then the mind almost becomes the awareness – and shifts. We will see how that happens, by the end of the week. I look forward to this time and we will continue tomorrow. Thank you.