Mindfulness of the mind (citta-anupassanä)
The third foundation of right mindfulness is about being aware of our state of mind, our mood, emotions, attitude.
It is a wonder that the human mind is able to look at itself and know its state at all. That it is able to both observe itself and act at the same time. In Buddhism there are six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind. The sixth sense is called the mind sense because it is able to look at itself. The mind can be detached from the five senses of the body, but it cannot be detached from itself.
Consciousness happens in distinct and discrete moments, but happens so fast that it gives the impression those separate moments are happening at the same time. And perhaps what is happening when the mind is watching itself, is there is a discrete moment of consciousness, followed closely by another where the mind is noting that moment of consciousness, like the mind playing a game of tennis with itself.
These mind moments are always changing, and the feeling of there being a permanent observer watching the mind is just an illusion, the observer is not really there, it is just a transitory conscious moment in a sequence of discrete causal events. A stream of conscious moments with no substantial self behind it. Not me, not mine, not self.
Thankfully the Buddha keeps the task of watching the mind simple and advises us to keep track of just eight states of mind and their opposites. He teaches us to note whether the mind is:
- greedy or not,
- hateful or not,
- deluded or not,
- collected or scattered,
- developed or undeveloped,
- surpassable (easily overcome) or unsurpassable (invincible),
- in lucid stillness (samhadi) or not,
- liberated or not.
The Buddha purposely says greedy or not, hateful or not, deluded or not, because there are many wholesome emotional states that are not greedy, hateful, or deluded. So one can replace the word 'not' with any of those.
The Buddha advises one to note the manifestation, arising and passing away of these states of mind, as well as to contemplate these states of mind internally and externally. I think when he says internally and externally he means to contemplate and understand the state of mind of other beings as well as one's own.
However one should remember that just mere awareness and noting states of mind is not all there is to this practise. Noting can be helpful in the beginning to help one become aware of these states of mind and get skilled at spotting them quickly. But ultimately one is training to remove these negative states of mind altogether and bring into being wholesome ones to replace them, such as the seven factors of enlightenment which is covered in the fourth foundation of mindfulness.
Much of our suffering comes from these negative states of mind. In fact the cause of suffering is greed, hatred, and delusion. And the end of suffering, nibbana is when these three poisons have been permanently removed from the mind. When the mind is no longer harrassed by greed, hate, and delusion it is luminous and shines like the moon that comes out from behind the clouds.
To free the mind is no small task though. It is challenging, as these tendencies of the mind are strong, and they will resist your efforts to remove them, so one has to do this gradually and pace oneself. Avoid straining the mind by exerting too much effort, as this is counterproductive and will lead to more harm, more suffering. This path is not a quick fix, it takes time and patience, and perseverence. So be gentle with yourself, be compassionate and kind. There has to be some effort, else nothing will change, but too much effort will cause burnout and psychological distress. So one needs to tune the effort so it doesn't strain the mind nor make one lazy and unmotivated. Those negative states will keep coming back over and over, and often one's progress and development comes from making mistakes, from one's failures. So don't be hard on oneself for not being perfect and not knowing everything, just keep persevering and being patient. Learn from mistakes and try try try again. As one makes progress and gets more developed, one gets faster at removing and replacing these negative states, until it becomes like second nature, and then a new habit structure of the mind is formed and then one becomes unsurpassable.
The Buddha said that anger is a great stain on the personality but fairly easy to get rid of. Greed is a lesser stain on the personality and hard to get rid of. Delusion is both a great stain on the personality and very hard to get rid of.
Anger is painful, so it is easier to motivate oneself to get rid of anger, it is always accompanied by an unpleasant feeling. Anger can arise from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and ideas in the world around one. And the world can try to make one angry on purpose. It will say you should be angry about this, angry about that, why aren't you angry? If you are not then there must be something wrong with you. Everyone else is angry about it, you should be too. There can be pressure sometimes socially to be angry. But one does not have to follow the rest of the world. You do not have to reflect the world or other people's anger. The Buddhist path is all about how you feel, are you suffering or not? To feel anger and hatred is suffering. There's enough anger and hatred, enough suffering in the world, why add to it. One is actually doing a service to the world when in the midst of all the craziness, anger, and hatred, one remains serene, at ease, and filled with loving-kindness and compassion.
Greed is hard to remove and is also a bit trickier to spot as it is a mix of pain and pleasure. Greed here is a general term that also covers lust and craving for intoxicants.There is pain in wanting something and not getting it, but there is also gratification when one does get what one wants, even though that gratification is transient, it is still not easy to motivate the mind to get rid of greed. Again the world will be advertising, pushing the buttons of craving, telling you that you need this or that, that your life is not complete without something it is trying to sell you. But again one does not have to be greedy, does not have to want these things, can find contentment without them. Even if the rest of society thinks you are strange for not wanting those things. One has to look at the drawbacks of greed, how hard one has to work for worldly-pleasures, how expensive they are, how the material things you accumulate can be taken away from you by others, how they are impermanent, can break and don't last, how they do not lead to lasting happiness, how it all leads to misery in the end, all that is beloved and pleasing to us will become otherwise, one is fated to become separated from all one loves and holds dear. If one is serious about ending suffering, one has to decide: do you want money, sex, and intoxicants? Or do you want enlightenment?
Delusion is the root of both anger and greed. And delusion comes from ignorance. In Buddhism it is knowledge of the four noble truths and the deep understanding of them which brings wisdom and deliverance from ignorance.
Samhadi or lucid stillness, is a state of mind where greed, hatred, and delusion is temporarily suspended, it is not permanent and the negative mind states will return, but in samhadi one gets a taste of what the mind is like when it is not being harrassed by these psychic irritants. Right samhadi is a composed state of mind, serene, wholehearted, lucid and still. A mind collected and unified, the connection to big mind and divine consciousness, and the next factor of the noble eightfold path. Right mindfulness takes you to the doorstep of right samhadi and also stays throughout the experience of it.
I will stop here as I am feeling a bit tired and think perhaps I have written enough for a brief summary of what I am learning. Mindfulness of the mind should always be practised in the context of the noble eightfold path and not separate from it. All factors of the path must be practised together to reach the destination. If any of the factors are left out, the vehicle to nibanna won't work.
May you feel safe, well, happy, and peaceful.