About this mind—in truth there is nothing really wrong with it. It is intrinsically pure. Within itself it’s already peaceful. If the mind is not peaceful these days, it’s because it follows moods. The real mind doesn’t have anything to it; it is simply an aspect of nature. It becomes peaceful or agitated because moods deceive it.
The untrained mind is stupid. Sense impressions come and trick it into happiness, suffering, gladness, and sorrow, but the mind’s true nature is none of those things. That gladness or sadness is not the mind, but only a mood coming to deceive us. The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things; it forgets itself. Then we think that it is we who are upset or at ease or whatever.
But really this mind of ours is already unmoving and peaceful—really peaceful! Just like a leaf which remains still so long as the wind doesn’t blow. If a wind comes up, the leaf flutters. The fluttering is due to the wind—the fluttering of the mind is due to those sense impressions; the mind follows them. If it doesn’t follow them, it doesn’t flutter. If we know fully the true nature of sense impressions, we will be unmoved.
Our practice is simply to see the “Original Mind.” We must train the mind to know those sense impressions and not get lost in them, to make it peaceful. Just this is the aim of all this difficult practice we put ourselves through.
Training in samadhi (concentration) makes the mind firm and steady. This brings about peacefulness of mind. Usually our untrained minds are moving and restless, hard to control and manage. Such a mind follows sense distractions wildly, just like water flowing this way and that, seeking the lowest level.
Agriculturalists and engineers know how to control water so that it is of great use to human society; they dam rivers, construct large reservoirs and canals—all of this merely to channel water and make it more usable. The stored water becomes a source of electrical power and light—a further benefit of controlling its flow so that it doesn’t run wild or flood lowlands, its usefulness wasted.
So, too, the mind that is dammed and controlled, trained constantly, will be of immeasurable benefit. The Buddha himself taught, “The mind that has been controlled brings true happiness, so train your minds well for the highest of benefits.” Similarly, the animals we see around us—elephants, horses, cattle, buffalo—must be trained before they can be useful for work. Only then will their strength benefit us.
The trained mind will bring many more blessings than an untrained mind. The Buddha and his noble disciples all started out the same as we did—with untrained minds. But they later became objects of reverence for us all, and we have gained much benefit from their teachings.
Consider how much the entire world has benefited from these beings who have trained their minds and reached the freedom beyond. The mind controlled and trained is better equipped to help us in all professions, in all situations. The disciplined mind will keep our lives balanced, make our work easier, and develop and nurture reason to govern our actions. In the end our happiness will increase accordingly.
The training of the mind can be done in many ways, with many different methods. The most useful method, one that can be practiced by all types of people, is mindfulness of breathing. It is the developing of mindfulness of the in-breath and the out-breath.
In this monastery we concentrate our attention on the tip of the nose and develop awareness of the in-and out-breaths with the mantra Bud-dho. If the meditator wishes to use another word, or simply be mindful of the breath moving in and out, this is also fine. Adjust the practice to suit yourself.
The essential factor in the meditation is that the noting or awareness of the breath should be kept up in the present moment so that one is mindful of each in-breath and each out-breath as it occurs. While doing walking meditation we try to be constantly mindful of the sensation of the feet touching the ground.
To bear fruit, the practice of meditation must be pursued as continuously as possible. Don’t meditate for a short time one day and then, after a week or two, or even a month, meditate again. This will not yield good results.
The Buddha taught us to practice often and to practice diligently, that is, to be as continuous as we can in the practice of mental training. To practice effectively we should find a suitably quiet place, free from distractions. Suitable environments are a garden, in the shade of a tree in our backyard, or anywhere we can be alone. If we are monks or nuns, we should find a hut, a quiet forest, or a cave. The mountains offer exceptionally suitable places for practice.
In any case, wherever we are, we must make an effort to be continuously mindful of breathing in and breathing out. If the attention wanders, pull it back to the object of concentration. Try to put away all other thoughts and cares.
Don’t think about anything—just watch the breath. If we are mindful of thoughts as soon as they arise, and keep diligently returning to the meditation subject, the mind will become quieter and quieter. When the mind is peaceful and concentrated, release it from the breath as the object of concentration.
Now begin to examine the body and mind composed of the five khandas (Pali for groups of existence comprising body and mind; in Sanskrit, skandhas): material form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Examine these five khandas as they come and go of their own: there is no “self” that is running things but only nature moving according to cause and effect.
All things in the world have the characteristics of instability, unsatisfactoriness and the absence of a permanent ego or soul. If you see all of existence in this light, attachment and clinging to the khandas will gradually be reduced. This is because you see the true characteristics of the world. We call this the arising of wisdom.
Ajahn Chah (1918-1992)
Excerpted from Food for the Heart – The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah 2002
“The real mind doesn't have anything to it; it is simply an aspect of nature. It becomes peaceful or agitated because moods deceive it.”
Simplicity and clarity are to be valued in any teacher….The instructions given for watching the breath couldn't be more simple, and the freedom to adapt the practice leaves us no excuse for not practicing. Anyplace and every interaction is an opportunity to return to watching the breath.
Since many of us are outside more at this time of year, a quiet spot in a park or in the shade of a tree in your own yard affords a beautiful “retreat.”
May your way be clear
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen