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The Mind

by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche

Without the mind, nothing can have any meaning for us. Our mind does not create and direct everything in existence, but we can only make sense of the world through the mind and the mind is all we have to work with. There is nothing else. We need to train our mind because it is the mind which makes us suffer.

From the Buddhist point of view our suffering originates from the limitations of our ordinary, unenlightened mind. Firstly, we are unaware of the basic truths of existence. Through ignorance, we have misunderstood our true nature and the nature of reality. Secondly, confused and easily agitated, we are unable to control our mind. We do not understand ourselves or our emotions.

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche

Lojong helps us to bring our mind under control. This is needed because we are so dominated by our illusions and mental conditioning. We know that we should not get angry or jealous or depressed. No one who feels these emotions enjoys them but we allow them to overwhelm us. We want to be positive and kind but we are in no position to feel like that if our mind is not under our own control. The ordinary mind is also very limited and insecure. Our awareness is restricted and we are inhibited from going beyond the narrow, familiar world we are used to. Anything new or out of the ordinary is treated with suspicion. These limitations are self-imposed. A different state of mind is possible.

We have created the illusion of a unique and unchanging self, an individual “I” that we believe remains fixed somewhere within us all the time as feelings and thoughts come and go. In Buddhism the term we use to describe this is “ego.” Our assumed identity leads to discrimination and splits the natural oneness of our mind into two. It imposes a dualistic relationship between our ego-self and the object, dividing experience into sight and the seer, feeling and the feeler, or thought and the thinker. This is the basis for our grasping. “Wanting this” and “not wanting that,” we project the attachment and aversion of the ego onto the external world. In fact, there is no “I” beyond our basic consciousness, no “I” different from the experience. The experience is everything. We do not have any ownership over it. If we do not recognise this and subdue these projections, we will continue to suffer.


We can begin to explore the mind by engaging with it and seeing if our ideas about it can be confirmed. People have speculated about the mind for thousands of years but that does not help us in our research. We can only become aware of the nature of our consciousness by carefully examining it. There are many theories about the mind, we refer to it and discuss it but can we actually find it anywhere? What is the mind? Where is it? Is the mind a part of our body? Is it located in the heart or in the head or somewhere else? We take for granted that mind exists, but if it does, it must have certain qualities which can be identified. What do we know about it? What size is it? Big or small? What is its shape and colour? How are we going to recognise it? No matter where we look, there is no answer to these questions because what we have called “mind” does not really exist. There is no structure or substance, no colour, shape, or form to the mind.

The mind is not a separate, individual consciousness in contact with the external world. It is a momentary transient awareness, activated when an object outside us attracts one of our senses. This creates a stimulus or an association. The eye senses a form and sight consciousness follows. A sound strikes the ear and our hearing consciousness emerges. It takes all these different elements to create our experience. We mistake this continual mental interaction and activity for the mind but it is actually a stream of temporary states of mind changing from one instant to the next — a collection of endless thoughts.

Our pure, enlightened mind is limitless. It has the potential to be anything, anywhere, anytime. Nothing can hold it back. The Tibetan word for Buddha is Sangye and this word is very evocative. It means “awakened and blossoming.” What awakens and grows within us is not a new or different intelligence. It is not something that we have never known before. It is the realisation of what we already know, our true nature. Our mind is identical to the Buddha’s enlightened mind. We are no different. He and many others after him escaped from ignorance and suffering. Their example provides the strength, perfect training, and blessings we need for our spiritual journey.

Image: garywonghc

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