The Nature of Mind by The Dalai Lama

I have in the past explained to some of my friends that ‘mind’ is only one word, but in the Buddhist practice many different states of consciousness or minds are realised. In science, people analyse matter; they study particles and understand the nature of what they study. Then they carry out experiments. As a result, the matter which benefits us is kept, and that which is harmful and unbeneficial is simply neglected or deliberately eliminated.

Zhou Maoshu (1017–1073) Admiring Lotuses © Metropolitan Museum of Art

In a similar way, it is worth making a thorough analysis of our inner nature here, the mind. There are a lot of different minds, hundreds of thousands of different minds. Certain minds are very useful, very helpful; we should take these minds and try to improve upon them, try to develop them — further. Alternatively, when we analyse thoughts and find they are negative and realise that these bring us suffering, then we should take these minds, these thoughts, and try to find some remedy for them as would a scientist — that is worth while.

So you see, the Buddhist technique, the practice of the Buddhadharma, can be likened to opening up the skull and carrying out experiments on these small selves — finding out which selves bring happiness and which bring disturbance and then giving some remedy if necessary. Why? Because we want happiness! We do not want disturbances, we do not want embarrassment, we do not want mental restlessness.

Shantideva mentioned these inner enemies. So long as these inner enemies remain, comfortably, then it is very dangerous. Shantideva goes on to say that even if all the people around were to stand up against us, as long as we have control of our own minds, they will not be able to disturb our peace. However, a single moment of delusion within our minds would have the power to disturb it. And then Shantideva talks about the difference between an ordinary enemy and delusion. If we relate to an ordinary enemy favourably, with understanding on our part, we will be able to change that enemy into a friend. But if we try to relate to delusion and make friends with it, it will do us harm. And the more we try to make friends with delusion, the more harm it will do us.

In my experience, training can change the harmful mind. In Tibet there is a saying, ‘People who come from Amdo are short-tempered.’ Losing one’s temper, therefore, is equivalent to saying one is showing signs of being an Amdo. And, you see, I come from that part of the world! Since being fifteen or twenty, my mood or mental function has obviously undergone some change. These days hardly any irritation comes, very little. Even if it does sometimes come, it quickly disappears. And that is due to my own effort and training. The result is a marvellous benefit — I’m always happy. I lost my country. As a human being, I rely on friends, but I have lost my mother and my tutors. I have some new tutors now, some new gurus. However, most of my old tutors are gone. Old faces disappear; new faces come. Yet I am always happy, without problems, because I can see the way life is.

Finial for a Buddhist staff (khatvanga), early 15th century, China © Metropolitan Museum of Art As long as we are under the domination of ignorance, there is no permanent happiness; that’s natural. If we are really disturbed by the way life is, then our responsibility is to look for salvation, nirvana. Suppose a monk says our direction is towards nirvana, and that if we can, we should implement those methods that bring us towards nirvana. In my case there’s not a lot of time, so it is difficult. And another thing is my laziness! Lazy Dalai Lama! Lazy Tenzin Gyatso!

But thinking about these teachings or these advisors as much as possible, we can see that disturbances take the form of superficial phenomena. Things come like ripples on the water — something comes and then it passes, and then another trouble starts — comes, goes, comes, goes, comes, goes. Consciousness is beginningless and endless. And phenomena never change that basic nature. We should realise this and take it easy, and this will give us some peace; we shall get some peace. That is ‘Bishop’ Tenzin Gyatso’s way of thinking! My own experience is that the mind can be trained, can be changed — that is definite.

Shantideva explains in the text here [Bodhisattvacharyavatara| that, in order to over- come ordinary enemies, you need strength and weapons and so on, whereas in order to overcome the enemy. within, delusion, you need to develop wisdom and realise the nature of phenomena; then you don’t need any other weapon. or strength. This is very true. Actually, when I received the teaching, the oral transmission, from Khunu Lama Rinpoche, I remarked that the Bodhisattyacharyavatara says that delusion is humble and weak, ‘But,’ I said, ‘this is not true because it’s very forceful and strong.’ And Khunu Lama Rinpoche immediately responded by saying that we don’t need an atom bomb in order to overcome delusion. And that is the meaning here: in order to destroy the inner enemy, we don’t need weapons. We simply need to develop firm determination and wisdom, some realisation of the nature of mind, the nature of negative thought, the nature of phenomena.

Once we realise the nature of mind and concentrate on it, and once that knowledge, that wisdom, becomes part of us, then it works. So, in a way, it’s easy and very cheap! Unless you are a millionaire or billionaire, you can’t buy external weapons, can you? Shantideva spoke in this way.

Shantideva brought out another point, another advantage, in his comparisons between the external and internal enemy. Even when you destroy the external enemy, that may not be the real enemy; the real enemy may try on another occasion to fight again. But now, once you realise the nature of the inner enemy and destroy it, then it will never come back, so it is a permanent solution.

[Excerpt from a talk given in London in 1988. Published by kind permission of The Office of Tibet, 1 Culworth St, St John’s Wood, London NW8 7AF 020 7722 5378]

Published in the June 1989 edition of Buddhism Now.


Top: Zhou Maoshu (1017–1073) Admiring Lotuses © Metropolitan Museum of Art

Artist Kaihō Yūshō : After the death of his father, Kaihō Yūshō (1533–1615), operated a shop selling readymade pictures under the name “Chūzaemon.” Later, he received patronage of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun, and reverted to using the family name Kaihō.

Left:  Finial for a Buddhist staff (khatvanga), early 15th century, China © Metropolitan Museum of Art

Used in Tibetan Buddhism, which was practiced at the Chinese court throughout the fifteenth century, this finial would have capped a long staff used in rituals to quell demons that are symbolic of obstacles that must be overcome to reach enlightenment. Depicted on this implement are an overflowing vase—an Indic symbol of abundance—and three heads—one human, one decaying, and one skeletal—representing the inevitability of change and death.

Categories: Dalai Lama, Mahayana, Tibetan Buddhism

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4 replies

  1. Thank you just what I needed

  2. would this finial be ivory? And was it common material in Buddhist carvings?


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