2021-02-23 Mindfulness of Breathing (39) Luminous Mind
6:20PM Feb 23, 2021
I find that one of the inspiring topics in the teachings of the Buddha is the teaching around 'citta.' It's often translated into English as 'mind,' sometimes – depending on context – as 'state of mind.' Maybe there's no difference between 'mind' and 'state of mind.' The mind here, as I said yesterday, is not a thing. It's not as if we can see the mind in some clear way – use a microscope in the brain to discover where the mind is.
The mind is more a Gestalt. It's the sum total of our mentality – how the mind works. It's not a thing. Because of that, perhaps, the Buddha never talks about letting go of the mind. He talks about letting go of form, feelings, perceptions, and mental activities.
He also talks about letting go of something that we've come to understand in the West as 'consciousness.' The Pali word is 'viññāṇa.' It's possible that 'viññāṇa' should not be translated as 'consciousness.' There's a history, of about three to four hundred years or so, of the Western use of the word 'consciousness.' It's been coined in relatively recent times. It has entered our language – both the word 'consciousness' and the idea of it in a deeper way – in the last one hundred years or so.
We take it now, many of us, as second nature. It's obvious what it is. It's often held up in religious, spiritual, and meditation circles as something ultimate. There are ideas of cosmic consciousness, ultimate consciousness, different states of consciousness, and altered consciousness.
The word 'consciousness,' gets a lot of associations, power, and projections. There are a of expectations and hopes around this word. Many people feel that a broad state of consciousness is, somehow ultimate and profound. I certainly don't want to diminish the ultimate feeling of it – the profundity of states of consciousness, states of awareness.
But what's fascinating is that, for the Buddha, whatever that is, if it's 'viññāṇa' – the word we translate as 'consciousness,' – he says: "Let go of that. Let go of that." Sometimes he even treats it as a problem. It's clearly problematic, this 'viññāṇa,' which we translate it as consciousness. But he never says that about 'citta,' about 'mind.' Maybe 'mind' should be translated as 'consciousness.' But 'consciousness' also has a sense of something that knows.
For the state of the mind – I'm not sure if it's something that knows, but it's a broad tone, mood or feeling – a sense of the mind. Sometimes that state of mind can feel fragile, sluggish, agitated, or contracted. Certainly, sometimes our state of mind doesn't feel good. In fact, some of the suffering – the 'dukkha' that Buddhist practice is meant to alleviate – is experienced as a vise-like grip of the mind or the heart. It's really tight and irritated. The mind is like rough sandpaper, perhaps. Or the mind just feels so miserable and oppressed. Sometimes the mind can feel that way.
But the mind can also feel the opposite of that in experience. And the word 'citta' is a fascinating word that's translated as 'mind.' The word has many other meanings or homonyms – same-sounding words that we spell the same way.
The dictionary also uses the word 'brightness' as a definition of 'citta.' It also uses 'wondrous' or 'wonderful.' There may be an idea that the mind is something – not exactly in itself, but related to something wondrous and bright. Sometimes the mind is called 'luminous' in the teachings of the Buddha, or 'clear,' or 'clean.' The mind becomes clean.
Not that the mind is, inherently, any of these things. The mind is not a thing that can be inherent in anything. Maybe it's more like a hologram – something that doesn't quite exist by itself. You could put your hand right through the mind, if you ever see it. It's not quite there. But it's still a mood, a feeling, a sense, that can be very powerful and significant for us. So significant that, as I've often said, when the mind is suffering, it's really oppressive. When the mind is happy, peaceful, or clear, it feels quite wondrous, bright, and open.
Much of the Buddhist path of practice is done in terms of the mind, instead of personal terms. Instead of saying: "I'm training myself" – it's, "We're training the mind." We're developing the mind. And we're liberating the mind. I find it fascinating that the Buddha doesn't say that a person gets liberated, but rather that the mind gets liberated.
Some of you might find it a bit disappointing that you'll never get liberated! That's not the name of the game. But your mind will get liberated. Your job – whatever you are, whatever the 'you' is – is to help the mind experience liberation, to be free. Bring it to some kind of beauty. This idea that the mind has the potential for beauty, luminosity, brightness, cleanliness, I find phenomenally inspiring.
But what's even more inspiring, is that the mind is not a thing. Because it's not a thing, it's malleable, shapeable. We're never stuck with our mind. We might be stuck with our brain, and whatever way the brain works. But we're not stuck with the mind. It's the field within which our practice has its effect, its influence.
As we develop more concentration, mindfulness, letting go, equanimity, wisdom, strength in the practice and in the mind, then whatever we call the mind starts to have a wondrous feeling, a wonderful sense that we can experience.
One of the things I also find wonderful about the word 'citta' – the way it seems to be used in the 'suttas' – is that the experience of it is very personal. So, don't go looking at a Buddhist text or listening to a Buddhist teacher like myself, for a definitive definition or description of how the mind is experienced. Don't then try to make sure that you have that experience too, or feel bad because you don't have it the way it's described.
You are shaping your mind. You're being constantly morphed, changed, and shifted. That's something that's arising within you, with all the causes and conditions of how your inner life and attention work – what you focus on, and how you're thinking or conceiving.
It's a dynamic thing, so it's a very personal. It's a discovery of how you experience it. You don't have to be concerned about discovering the right way to experience the mind, what the right mind is, or how the mind's supposed to be.
But you 'can,' as we feel the mind, become aware of a mind that has an 'Ouch' to it, and a mind that has an 'Ahhh.' These very technical terms (Gil language) – 'Ouch' and 'Ahhh' – are meant to give us lots of room to not get caught up in the details, or try to be right or wrong. It's very simple: "That's an 'Ouch.' The state of the mind doesn't feel good." Or, "This feels good."
The direction of Buddhist practice is in the direction of the 'Ahhh.' The direction of a beautiful mind, in whatever way that you define, experience, or receive beauty – luminous mind, clear mind, clean mind, spacious mind, peaceful mind.
It takes a while. You don't have to be in a hurry to experience some of the wondrous ways the mind can be experienced. But as 'ānāpānasati' develops, we become calmer and more settled, going through the steps – especially after step eight, where we relax mental activity.
As mental activity relaxes, it means we're not so fixated on the "what's" – what we're thinking about and wanting. We're beginning to rest back into the easy chair of the mind – resting back, allowing, feeling, and sensing the overall state of the mind, and breathing with that.
Breathing in, experiencing the mind. Breathing out, experiencing the mind.
So, thank you, and we'll continue tomorrow.