MIndfulness of Mind: Mind and Consciousness

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.105-112)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 101-109) 

The Buddha was explaining to his bhikkhus what he had done to overcome unwholesome thoughts that arose in his mind while he was still an unenlightened bodhisattva.

“It occurred to me,” the Buddha said, “suppose I divide my thoughts into two classes. On one side, I set thoughts of sensual desire, ill will, and cruelty. On the other side, I set thoughts of renunciation, loving-friendliness, and compassion.

“As I abided thus, diligent, ardent, and resolute, a thought of sensual desire arose in me. When I considered that this thought leads to my own affliction and the affliction of others, it subsided in me. When I considered that this thought obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties, and leads away from nibbana, it subsided in me. Thus I abandoned it, did away with it, removed it.…

“Whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. If he ponders renunciation, if he has abandoned the thought of sensual desire to cultivate the thought of renunciation, then his mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation.” MN 19 Dvedhavitakka Sutta: Two Sorts of Thinking

The Mind and Consciousness

In the second foundation of mindfulness, mindfulness of feelings, we observed in the sense objects, the quality of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.  In the third foundation, we observe the presence or absence of the mind states which can include the unwholesome ones of lust (sensual pleasure), anger, and delusion.

What is the mind?  Bhante G. defines the mind as a non-physical phenomenon that perceives, thinks, recognizes, experiences and reacts.  Consciousness arises when one of the six sense bases (eye, ear, tongue, nose,  mind) makes contact with a sense object (visual objects, sound, taste, smell, tangible objects, thoughts).

We can only know the mind or consciousness by its contents.  We cannot know the mind or consciousness without an object.  Consciousness and mind are pure but our awareness is of the object which may or may not be pure (wholesome).  That is why is it important to avoid thoughts, words, and deeds motivated by sensual desire, anger, cruelty and others motivated by greed, hatred and delusion.  Instead we turn our consciousness and mind to renunciation, compassion, and loving kindness.

The Untamed Mind

Whatever thoughts we cultivate frequently become a mental habit.  Reflect on your experience with this.  If the mind is frequently occupied with sensual seeking thoughts, clinging and craving for these pleasures are bound to arise.  In similar fashion, thoughts of generosity, loving kindness and compassion can become habitual with practice.  When we are unaware, our mind can become untamed just like a wild animal.  Training the mind through concentration and mindfulness will lead to more peace, joy, and balance.

It is important to observe the mind without judgement. As Goldstein notes, “For many people, it is an easy step from recognizing a particular mind state like greed or hatred as being unwholesome to the feeling that you’re a bad person for having it, or that somehow it’s wrong for the mind state to even arise. This pattern of reaction simply leads to more self-judgment, more aversion, and more suffering. It’s not a helpful cycle.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (p. 85.

Goldstein goes on to note that our suffering comes from unwholesome mind states being acted out.  “As a simple experiment in meditation, when you’re sitting, you might ask the question, “What’s the attitude in the mind right now?” This question often illuminates whether the mind is holding on in some way or wanting some other state to occur, and is a direct application of mindfulness of mind.  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (p. 86).

Practicing Mindfulness of the Mind

The practice of concentration and insight (mindfulness) can help to redirect our thoughts to beneficial ones.  Simple observation is all that is needed.  “Watching an unwholesome state of mind without involvement in this way will deprive it of its fuel so that it will gradually lost its power.”  Analayo  p 176

A first step in meditation is to observe what is experienced by the absence of unwholesome mind states.  “As an experiment, pay attention to the next time you experience a strong wanting in the mind. Stay as mindful as possible of how it manifests in the mind and body. And then notice as the wanting disappears, either in a moment or gradually over time. Instead of rushing back to the breath or some other object of meditation, pay attention to the mind free of wanting, experiencing the coolness and peace of that state. A clear recognition of what is what— this is lust, this is its absence  —   then becomes the frame for the deeper direct experience of the mind state itself, free of any words or concepts.” Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 86-87

The next step is cultivating beneficial mind states.  “Worrying over or dwelling upon harmful actions we have done in the past is a waste of time and energy. Instead, we should put our efforts into cultivating beneficial thoughts to overcome and replace harmful ones.  In fact, we must cultivate thoughts of generosity, compassion, loving-friendliness, and equanimity again and again in order to weaken and destroy harmful inclinations and create beneficial ones

We do this most effectively by practicing mindfulness meditation.  As I have mentioned, our practice consists of two types of meditation: concentration meditation or samatha and insight meditation or vipassana. Concentration meditation suppresses the hindrances and makes the mind calm, peaceful, and luminous. Hindrances are negative tendencies that obstruct our spiritual progress and interfere with our ability to concentrate. I explain more about the hindrances in chapter 10.  Insight meditation, which we have been calling mindfulness, eradicates the hindrances and all other negative tendencies. It helps us to overcome ignorance so that we can be liberated from samsara, the cycle of repeated births and deaths.”

“When you pay attention, the clouds of delusion slowly fade away and the clear blue sky-like mind appears again. You see that consciousness is always changing. Thoughts arise and disappear. They are impermanent. When delusion arises you pay attention to it, knowing that it is a delusion. Then it slowly fades away. Then you know mind as clear, aware, luminous.”  Gunaratana, Henepola. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English (p. 110-112). 


·        Reread this talk and reflect on it.

·        Check on your mind state frequently without judgement.  Can you identify the states of unwholesome, absence of unwholesome, and wholesome? 


·        Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on states of mind.

Next: Mindfulness of Mind: Mental States
Previous: Mindfulness of Feelings II