Taming the 'mischievous mind'

by Danai Chanchaochai, Bangkok Post, May 6, 2005

The practice of meditation provides a method to truly begin experiencing life and reality

Bangkok, Thailand -- This week, our Vipassana lecture series by Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo looks at how to familiarise ourselves with the mind - how it actually works, that is. The purpose of doing this is knowing, and being acutely aware of, everything that is around us and within us.

On the most basic level, for instance, this means knowing that we are inhaling or exhaling when we are indeed inhaling or exhaling. It also means knowing the movements and sensations of the body and knowing the happiness of the mind.

When our Vipassana practice is "right" and the mind is at ease, we can simply watch the different states that arise and consider their nature. We have no need to challenge anything - to do so causes only unease and restlessness. Whatever emotion arises it will be in the domain of our awareness, and we need only to observe. We observe that emotions come and go, as is their nature.

Understanding this process is an important step to knowing, in the Buddhist sense of the word. And as we take that insightful step, we experience the joy of tranquillity and peace.

From the Buddhist perspective, knowing doesn't mean knowing everything about everything, but knowing impermanence, knowing suffering, knowing selflessness. The reason we get caught up in seeing things as other than the way they really are is our lack of wisdom. With wisdom we know how to let go; to let go of craving, let go of clinging, let go of beliefs. We let go of the tendency to always see things in relation to a self.

What we call "Me" is merely a convention; we were born without names. Then somebody gave us a name and after being called it for some time, we begin to think that a thing called "me and mine" actually exists. Then we feel we have to spend our lives looking after it. The wisdom of the Buddha knows how to let go of this "self" and all that pertains to it: possessions, attitudes, views and opinions. It means letting go of the opportunity for suffering to arise. It means a willingness to see the true nature of things.

The Eightfold Path the Buddha gave us the means to develop what we might call "right knowing", and through the practice of discipline, tranquillity and following the middle path to Dhamma wisdom we can live in harmony. This path functions by opening the "Eye of Dhamma" - giving rise to insight, giving rise to peace, giving rise to knowing accurately and fully, and finally, to realising perfect freedom. This is the complete path that Buddhism teaches. It is a path that, when cultivated, opens the eye that sees the Dhamma, knows the Dhamma, and becomes the Dhamma. This is the eye that sees that any condition that arises also ceases.

In talking about Insight Meditation (Vipassana) we constantly refer to the "mind." What exactly do we mean? Are we referring to the place from which our thoughts and emotions arise? How do we describe the essence of the mind?

The essence of mind is not a view, opinion, belief or thought. The essence of mind is bright and empty; it is the knowing mind, the Buddha mind - that which sees, observes and knows.

This may well seem very abstract in the beginning, because when we talk about knowing the mind, training the mind, and liberating the mind, we will not grasp the true concept of "mind" unless we take time to stop, question and enquire.

This is why meditation is very important. The practice of meditation provides a way to start breaking through the concept of not just thinking about life, but beginning to actually experience life, and experience reality. As we train the mind through the practice of meditation, we begin to understand what the mind does, what the mind is, and what it is doing all the time. We then begin to appreciate what the "Monkey Mind" really is. Mr Mischievous Monkey Mind is always jumping from one thing to another. He's constantly conceiving and thinking, living in concepts and continually reacting with desire and aversion to the experiences that we encounter.

So, we begin to notice the mind - what it does, how it reacts, and the contents of the mind.

This is the first step in training the mind. Then, we begin to discipline the mind, and instead of letting it run about and jump from one thing to another in a continuous stream of blind activity, we begin to say, "Stop!" Let's just see if we can stay in the here and now without consciously thinking about it.

As the mind becomes more peaceful, clear and tranquil through repeated training, we can begin to reflect. What does it mean to reflect? It means to look closely. If we want to understand the nature of the world and existence, where can we possibly look other than in this very mind. The Buddha said that the Dhamma is to be seen in this body and mind with its perceptions and feelings.

The mind is that which knows; the body can offer only our sense faculties. Where is the world in which we live? It is in the mind. It is the mind that knows the world through the senses, and there is no other way that we can do so. Therefore, if we want to understand the world, and if we want to understand the nature of existence, we must look at the nature of the mind. We must observe and enquire into the mind; we must dwell within and observe with a clear mind. One of the very best ways to do this is through the technique advocated by the Buddha himself, and what we now call Vipassana meditation.

Practising insight meditation can be of great benefit, because it is a way to resolve all duality and all conflicts. When we begin to look deeply and observe the mind we can begin to stop living in the world of concepts, the world of just believing. We can begin to actually experience the truth of Dhamma for ourselves

Dhamma is the truth of the way things are, and through meditation we move toward knowing through the mind that which is peaceful and clear, that which comes from following the middle path. We begin to reflect and have a new perspective on ourselves and the experience of life. As we do so, we discover that we have finally tamed that source of major distraction - Mr Mischievous Monkey Mind.

The teachings of Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo are transcribed and translated for Dhamma Moments by Nashara Siamwalla.