Half-Moon Day: Training the Mind

April 28, 2008

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Training the Mind

With our meditation and mindfulness practice we are training to develop a mind that remains firmly in the present moment. It is in this present moment that the work is done and it is in this present moment that we will emerge victorious over our suffering.

The results of this practice creep up on you. One of the small ways in which I notice this in myself is when people who have been staying here at the Hermitage leave. Sometimes they may have been here for two days, sometimes for two years. But no matter how long they have been staying for, as soon as that person has gone it is as though they were never here. (Ultimately speaking of course, they never were.) This reduction in attachment has become more noticeable over time.

Now you may put this down to a terrible memory, or you may put it down to the training. When we are continually establishing our mind in the present then the past and future lose their weight. Training in mindfulness and concentration also means that we do not give meaning to our our experiences; we begin to see them as they are: void and insubstantial, “just as a mirage”, in the words of the Buddha. By living in this way non-attachment naturally becomes established in the mind.

With our concentration we must be trying to continually rein the mind in. With our mindfulness in every day activity we must also be continually reining the mind in. By doing this we are developing a crucial foundation stone on which we can begin to really start doing the work of the Dhamma.

When we meditate it’s like we are training to walk a stray dog. When you walk a dog you use the command: “HEEL”. This indicates that the dog should stay by your side as you walk – by your heel. Say you are walking the unruly dog in a field and he is by your side. Soon he starts to creep forward and before you know it he’s run off and he’s chasing a rabbit. “HEEEEL!” you shout. The dog looks around and returns to your side. Then you continue to walk saying: “Heel, heel…” and the dog remains by your side. But then he starts to creep forward and again he’s off! This time charging after a deer! “HEEEEL!!!”. Ooops, he really got away that time. But eventually he hears your yelling and returns. “Good boy” you say.

And so this process continues. He runs off, you shout. Sometimes he disappears for hours on end and returns just at the end of the walk! But soon enough, after being persistent in training him, each time he returns to you he stays by your side for a little longer than the previous time. Your training is having an effect. He also doesn’t run off so far when he does go. Eventually he becomes a truly obedient dog and rarely even creeps forwards. If he does then you just gently say “heel”. But what’s really special is that when a deer or a rabbit appears in front of him now, he stays fixed to your side and dispassionately observes the wild animal pass in front of him.

Our minds are just like this dog. When we begin to meditate the mind may run off and chase a thought or a memory. As with the dog it may run off for most of the sitting! But we keep training it; we keep patiently and persistently reining it in and re-focussing it on the breath, or whatever our meditation object is. “Heel” we say to the mind. And just as with the dog it sooner or later begins to run off less and less. And when it does run off it doesn’t go very far. When it becomes exceptionally trained, the mind, as with the dog and the wild animals, dispassionately observes the thoughts and the feelings that previously would have taken its attention.

Our everyday practice of mindfulness is the same. We must establish the vehicle of mindfulness that will carry us through our activities. This is usually the body. Train your mind to keep coming back to your body. Just as with the dog your mind will run off, possibly for long periods. You’re doing the washing up and you realise your mind has legged it after a memory or some thought. As soon as you realise, shout at it: “GET HERE YOU!” “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN YOU NAUGHTY MIND!” When a dog runs off it sometimes goes and rolls in horse muck and comes back stinking! So when the mind has run off it may go and roll in some negative thoughts and emotions and come back stinking of suffering. Don’t let it do that! You keep a careful eye on the mind, making sure it doesn’t run off. You keep your attention on the simple process of washing up. You are aware as you stretch, as you bend, as you turn, and so on. You develop this unbroken awareness of the body’s activity; mindfulness flowing from one action to another. The mind connects with each and every action. If the mind starts wandering again you say “HEEL!”, and it comes back. And so it goes on.

Now doing all of this takes patience; but it is very important that we do it. It will mean an awful lot later on. Remember that this is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It’s true that conducting ourselves in this way transforms our experience of life beyond recognition, but it is where it will eventually take us that is the most important thing.

The mind that is firmly established in the present is capable of developing wisdom. The present moment is where we will solve every single problem that we have. The mind that is on this point will not have any problems. Remember what happened when the well trained dog saw the deer and the rabbit? It was unmoved and it simply watched them go by. This is what happens in our minds when they are well trained. The mind stays firmly and obediently in the present and remains undisturbed as thoughts and feelings arise. It simply watches them come into being and pass away; it observes the rise and fall of all phenomena in the mind.

We must resolutely develop this present moment awareness! Don’t look anywhere else! Every problem and every experience of suffering arises in the mind. When we are established in the present then we are right there when that state arises. We then have a chance to stop the suffering.

When you firmly and unwaveringly establish mindfulness in the present moment then nothing else can gain a footing in the mind. A bad mood arises and ‘bop’ – mindfulness hits it on the head. A worry about the future arises and immediately – ‘bop’ – mindfulness knocks it down. You are there when happiness arises and you are there when suffering arises, right at the point where they come up. You know them and you don’t allow the mind to be swept away by them.

 

By developing in this way we will come to clearly know every state, whether good or bad, that arises in the mind. Eventually we will come to see the rise and fall of these things and the mind will remain in its natural and sublimely peaceful state. Now this type of awareness may not be far away, we just need to train our present moment awareness – our mindfulness.

Sometimes we cannot help but get caught in a really bad mood though. But don’t despair. Don’t get angry. Just get to know that mood. Don’t be afraid of it. Look at it and examine it. Keep looking at everything that arises in the mind: good, bad and indifferent. If it’s a blurry, slurry, hazy state of mind – know it as a blurry, slurry, hazy state of mind. Get to know every movement of your mind. If you find that you can’t sometimes, don’t worry, just keep trying. You will be developing your awareness without realising it.

And so by degrees we develop this present moment knowing. Without the practice we just suffer and we have no perspective on our minds. As we develop, the suffering reduces as we become progressively more aware of the things that arise in the mind. As we become more aware we begin to see the rise and fall of these phenomena. We keep developing the knowing and the razor sharp present moment awareness and we get closer and closer to the point where those states arise. With this razor sharp mindfulness we stay at that point and simply observe everything arising and passing away right there.

By diligently practising in this way, with the mind rooted in virtue and concentration, we will eventually come to observe the rise and fall of all conditioned things and the mind will experience the bliss of Nibbana.

So, keep training the mind to be in the present. There’s nothing else to do!

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Note: This is just as much a teaching to myself as it is to you.

 

 

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The next teaching in Dhamma Diary will be on:

The New-Moon Day, Sunday, 4th May

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One Response to “Half-Moon Day: Training the Mind”

  1. tim hurst said

    Hello Tahn Manapo

    It is clear to see in your teaching that you are developing real insight. It is wonderful to read. So refreshing! Feels like a bowl of cold water to the face! Long may your teaching continue.

    Deserves to be in hardback.

    Metta

    Tim

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