The Nature of Mind

“The Mind is Buddha; Buddha is the Mind. Which is infinite void, without boundaries, without name and form.”

~ Huang Po ~

“There is no difference between buddhas and sentient beings other than their scope of mind. What is called mind, consciousness, or awareness, is of a single identity. The mind of a sentient being is limited. The mind of a buddha is all-pervasive. So develop a scope of mind that is like the sky, which has no limit to the east, west, north, or south.”

~ Shri Singha ~

“Free from complexity, this luminous clarity is beyond the mind of conceptual ideas. It is merely the immaculate looking naturally at itself.”

~ Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche ~

Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying, has interpreted ‘The Nature of Mind’ in elaborate detail:

“The revolutionary insight of Buddhism is that life and death are in the mind, and nowhere else. Mind is revealed as the universal basis of experience – the creator of happiness and the creator of suffering, the creator of what we call life and what we call death.

There are many aspects to the mind, but two stand out. The first is the ordinary mind, called by the Tibetans sem. One master defines it: ‘The ordinary mind is that which possesses discriminating awareness, that which possesses a sense of duality – which grasps or rejects something external.’

Fundamentally, sem is that which can associate with an ‘other’ – with any ‘something‘ that is perceived as different from the perceiver.

This ordinary mind is the discursive, dualistic, thinking mind, which can only function in relation to a projected and falsely perceived external reference point. It is the mind that thinks, plots, desires, manipulates, that flares up in anger, that creates and indulges in waves of negative emotions and thoughts, that has to go on and on asserting, validating, and confirming its ‘existence’ by fragmenting, conceptualizing, and solidifying experience.

This ordinary mind is the ceaselessly shifting and shiftless prey of external influences, habitual tendencies, and conditioning. The masters liken it to a candle flame in an open doorway, vulnerable to all the winds of circumstance.

Seen from one angle, sem is flickering, unstable, grasping, and endlessly minding others’ business; its energy consumed by projecting outwards. I think of it sometimes as a Mexican jumping bean, or as a monkey hopping restlessly from branch to branch on a tree. Yet seen in another way, the ordinary mind has a false, dull stability; a smug and self-protective inertia, a stone-like calm of ingrained habits.

And sem is as cunning as a crooked politician, skeptical, distrustful, expert at trickery and guile, ‘ingenious,’ Jamyang Khyentse wrote, ‘in the games of deception.’ It is within the experience of this chaotic, confused, undisciplined, and repetitive sem, this ordinary mind, that, again and again, we undergo change and death.

Then there is the very nature of mind, its innermost essence, which is absolutely and always untouched by change or death. At present it is hidden within our ordinary mind, our sem, enveloped and obscured by the mental scurry of our thoughts and emotions. Just as clouds can be shifted by a strong gust of wind to reveal the shining sun and wide-open sky, so, under certain special circumstances, some inspiration may uncover for us glimpses of this nature of mind. These glimpses have many depths and degrees, but each of them will bring some light of understanding, meaning, and freedom. This is because the nature of mind is the very root itself of understanding. In Tibetan we call it Rigpa, a primordial, pure, pristine awareness that is at once intelligent, cognizant, radiant, and always awake. It could be said to be the knowledge of knowledge itself.

Even though we have this innermost nature of mind, we have not recognized it because it is so enclosed and wrapped up in our individual ordinary minds. Imagine an empty vase. The space inside is exactly the same as the space outside. Only the fragile walls of the vase separate one from the other. Our buddha mind is enclosed within the walls of our ordinary mind. But when we become enlightened, it is as if that vase shatters into pieces. The space ‘inside’ merges instantly into the space ‘outside.’ They become one: There and then we realize they were never separate or different; they were always the same.

Do not make the mistake of imagining that the nature of mind is exclusive to our mind only. It is in fact the nature of everything. It can never be said too often that to realize the nature of mind is to realize the nature of all things.

Saints and mystics throughout history have adorned their realizations with different names and given them different faces and interpretations, but what they are all fundamentally experiencing is the essential nature of the mind. Christians and Jews call it ‘God’; Hindus call it ‘the Self,’ ‘Shiva,’ ‘Brahman,’ and ‘Vishnu’; Sufi mystics name it ‘the Hidden Essence’; and Buddhists call it ‘buddha nature.’ At the heart of all religions is the certainty that there is a fundamental truth, and that this life is a sacred opportunity to evolve and realize it.”

~ An excerpt from The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying (by Sogyal Rinpoche), worthy of revisiting every once in a while …

“When you know the truth, you don’t have to think much, you just live with wisdom. If you don’t know, you have more thinking than wisdom or no wisdom at all. A lot of thinking without wisdom is extreme suffering.”

~ Ajahn Chah ~