When we watch the mind correctly, we will see whatever arises as it really is. We will see the true nature of body and mind. We will see that they are not us. We will keep seeing the truth of body and mind until we become dispassionate to their constant flux, their insubstantially, their suffering nature. We will release attachment to them, be liberated and know that liberation has taken place. What will we be liberated from? We will be liberated from attachment to this body and this mind. We will be liberated from suffering, because suffering resides in this body and this mind. Can you see that these are the only two places where suffering can be found? Upon liberation, suffering will be gone and we will be fully aware, awakened and blissful without any effort or maintenance necessary.
…There is no end to worldly knowledge. The world fabricates new things incessantly and there is always more to learn. Regarding Dhamma, once there is enlightenment and the mind is liberated, it is no longer fabricating, no longer creating fictions. We are free from suffering. Our Dhamma studies are completed.
The three aspects to watching the mind effectively
There are three aspects to watching the mind, three tendencies to remember to avoid if we are to practice effectively.
The first is to avoid intending to know in advance. We just need to know the feelings that temporarily arise in the mind after they do. Let the feeling occur naturally first and then know that it has. If anger arises, know that it has. If greed arises, then know that it has. If the mind has wandered off, know that this has happened. Why must we know after the fact? This is because many of the feelings that arise are defilements of mind (i.e. anger, desire; see glossary for more). Only one mind arises at a time, so a defiled mind cannot arise at the same time as a non-defiled mind. For example, anger cannot exist in the mind at the same moment that the mindfulness (see glossary) notices the anger. e de led angry mind drops o and is replaced by a non-defiled mind – the one that is mindful of what just happened.
the right approach is to not intend, and instead, to know what arises after the fact
It is important to not watch intently and wait for what will arise next. Let a feeling arise first and then know that it has. A good way to demonstrate this is to imagine a rabid dog suddenly darting at us. We feel terrified. We then should know that fear has arisen. We didn’t intend for this occurrence beforehand.
Of course we should still get out of the way of the dog! We do not proceed to let the dog bite us and see what happens after that. Anyone who says they will just leave it up to their karma, is making new karma – stupidity! We do what is appropriate so that we are not harmed. If we are with a friend, we just need to run a little faster than our friend and we’ll be fine (laughter). Or we can practice the art of sacrifice and run slower than our friend. But that is another topic altogether. As I am speaking here, many people here have their minds wandering out. Some are wandering to me, some are wandering in thought, and some have wandered home already!
Back to the lesson, we should not intend to watch the mind. Many people have too much intention; they wait for the gong to be struck to begin the meditation session and say, “Ok, when the session begins I’m really going to watch my mind well.” To their surprise, little happens. This is because they focused in beforehand, and made their minds still. When we hold our attention somewhere, there won’t be much movement to notice. The mind will be immobilized. Instead, we should practice in the most natural way. Each time the mind thinks or the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, or body make contact with the outside world, a feeling is likely to appear. Be aware of what does. If we hear a song and like it, we should know that liking has arisen. If someone is shouting, wanting may arise. We may want to know what this person is ranting and raving about. Know that wanting to know has arisen. Then we listen for a while and realize it is us that he is going on about! Wanting to know will have disappeared, and anger crops up. Our job is to know that anger has arisen. Know after the fact, again and again, as much as possible. Watching the mind is not about focusing in advance. It is about knowing what has arisen.
Ok, now I want all of you to start watching the mind right now. Watch it! Can you see that you are starting to freeze up, to get still? This is because you intended to watch. It is the wrong approach. Ok, now I would like you to stop watching the mind and I’ll tell you an old story. Can you feel that you are starting to relax again? When something easy and amusing is about to happen our mind loosens up and relaxes. Know that it has relaxed. is is the right approach. Intending to watch will stiffen us up, and thus things will not arise naturally.
It is about knowing things as they really are. If there is force, there is stress, which is always a sign that there is something wrong. So we don’t force it, we just know it when the mind slips down into something.
So the right approach is to not intend, and instead, to know what arises after the fact. This is the first of three aspects to teach regarding watching the mind. I should mention, however, that when we know, we need to know quickly. We can’t be angry today and realize it tomorrow. When anger arises, we need to recognize that there is anger while the anger is still there. If it has already dropped away, and we wake up to it an hour later, it is too late. We should recognize the anger while it is there. We will notice, “Just a moment ago I was angry, and now I am knowing.” We will see that when we are mindful of the anger, the anger is not there in that moment of knowing. Know subsequent to their arising of phenomena, but as close to their arising as possible without prior intention. Once we are able to recognize many different states in this way, mindfulness will come automatically and the path to the wisdom that will liberate us from suffering will begin.
Now I’ll tell you about the second aspect of watching the mind correctly: the mind should not slip down into any of the mental phenomena or feelings of which you have become mindful. Normally, when we want to know something, our minds will move out to the place of interest. Try it now. Let’s have a look at our arm see how many birthmarks there are. Can you see that your mind went out to look at the arm? I’m not interested in how many marks there are; I want us to notice that the mind goes out. The mind is not stable, not rooted in awareness. It is slipping down into what it is knowing. We can easily see this happen when we read something a bit far away, like a poster on our wall, or a street sign. The mind runs out to see it, and then it goes into thinking, internally repeating the words it is reading.
When we watch the mind, we should know what has arisen from a distance, as if we are not involved in what is going on. Don’t move towards the feeling or mental state once it has been acknowledged. If anger, for example, arises in the mind, see it as if it is someone else who has just become angry. The mind is just the watcher; there is a distance between the mind and the anger. Don’t focus in on the anger. The tendency of meditators is to go in and focus on what has come up, just like when zeroing in on the television when our favorite show is on. The mind goes out to the TV and gets lost in it. From now on, whenever the mind goes out to watch something, know that this is happening. When we see this happen, the mind will become stable on its own. We should not try to force it to be stable in awareness.
Vipassana practice has no force in it whatsoever. It is about knowing things as they really are. If there is force, there is stress, which is always a sign that there is something wrong. So we don’t force it, we just know it when the mind slips down into something. If we think of a friend, our mind will slip into the world of thought and completely lose awareness of our body and mind. We need to know that this has happened, and the mind will become rooted on its own.
At any given moment whatever state the mind is in, know that it is in that state.
When we watch football, we don’t watch it from the field. We are in the stands, watching from a distance. The players are running around, but we are stable; there is a space between us and the game. Similarly, at a concert, we watch the band from our seats. We do not take the stage. There is a distance between us and the performance. We are merely the watcher. This is how we should watch our feelings – from a distance. We should not slip down and cling to the feelings. When we do, we should know this, as soon as we can, and the mind will loosen its grip on what has arisen and become the watcher for that moment.
The third aspect of watching the mind applies after we know what has arisen. We don’t interfere in any way with the feeling or mental phenomenon that we have recognized. It absolutely doesn’t matter what it is that arises, we let it be. If anger arises, we do not try to make it go away. Our job with regards to the anger is just to know that the mind is angry. We do our best to be just the watcher and not get in the way. We are not trying to get rid of suffering if it arises; we are to just recognize that it is there. If happiness arises, we don’t try to make it last long. If a virtuous state arises, we don’t try to keep it. We are just to know with equanimity: without maintaining, denying or resisting what comes up. Formally put, the third aspect of watching the mind is to know what arises with a mind that is equanimous. This means the mind is impartial or neutral to whatever phenomena appear. Equanimity is accomplished by seeing the mind either liking or disliking what it has just recognized. Equanimity is not accomplished by forcing the mind to be neutral. Force causes stress. In Vipassana, there is no controlling, denying, resisting – we mustn’t really do anything at all! At any given moment whatever state the mind is in, know that it is in that state.
If we see a beautiful woman walk by and craving appears in the mind, we don’t look for a way to get rid of the craving. We don’t try to get rid of the woman either. Just quickly acknowledge that the mind has craving. If the mind doesn’t like the craving, then it is no longer impartial. It has aversion to the craving and wants it to go away. We are to know that this aversion or hatred has arisen. We are to know the mind is not equanimous. If happiness arises, and we like the happiness, the mind is not neutral. Know the mind is liking. Whenever a mental state arises and the mind likes it or doesn’t like it, we should recognize it. If we keep doing this, equanimity will gradually result. We will know all mental phenomena with an equanimous mind. is is the third aspect of how to correctly and effectively watch the mind.
If we add in a fourth aspect it would be to watch the mind in this way with great frequency. If we follow one through four, then nibbāna (Nirvana; enlightenment) is certain to be realized one day. This is because we will have cultivated all the appropriate causes for this realization. The mind will incur a major shift, and suffering will drop off in great quantities at each stage of enlightenment.
keep seeing the truth of body and mind until we become dispassionate to their constant flux, their insubstantiality, their suffering nature. We will release attachment to them, be liberated and know that liberation has taken place
In summary, we practice the Dhamma so that one day no more suffering will arise in the mind. The way that we accomplish this is by the practice of knowing our minds. Each time that suffering sneaks up in the mind, see it, and eventually it will drop off on its own. There is no need to chase it away. Remember the three aspects, or the three rules for watching the mind. Firstly, don’t go looking for phenomena to know. Don’t be presumptuous or wait in anticipation. Let one show itself first, and then recognize it. Secondly, watch from a distance. Let’s not move our attention towards a phenomenon when it appears. Be an outsider. If we focus in, then we are practicing Samatha, calmness meditation, not Vipassana, the path of wisdom. And thirdly, subsequent to the arising of a mental phenomenon, notice when liking or disliking appears. Do this often and the mind will of its own accord become equanimous to whatever arises.
When we watch the mind in this way, we will see whatever arises as it really is. We will see the true nature of body and mind. We will see that body and mind are not us. We will keep seeing the truth of body and mind until we become dispassionate to their constant flux, their insubstantiality, their suffering nature. We will release attachment to them, be liberated and know that liberation has taken place. What will we be liberated from? We will be liberated from attachment to this body and this mind. We will be liberated from suffering, because suffering resides in this body and this mind. Can you see that these are the only two places where suffering can be found? Upon liberation, suffering will be gone and we become fully aware, awakened and blissful without any effort or maintenance necessary.
I’m sure you have heard an age old saying, something to the tune of “Learning is a life-long process,” “Life is a school,” or “We learn until the day we die.” This is because there is no end to worldly knowledge. The world fabricates new things incessantly and there is always more to learn. Regarding Dhamma, once there is enlightenment and mind is liberated from suffering, it is no longer fabricating, no longer creating fictions. Once we are free from suffering, there is nothing more to learn in this regard. Our Dhamma studies are completed.