An Encomium to the Life of the Mind | SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

To cultivate the soul and mind by study; to sharpen all of the gifts of intellect by the observation and consideration of useful things; to increase our faculty of understanding every day; to know ancient things and, once known, to emend and amplify them; to discover new things by thought and to inquire after the causes of things; to examine the origin and progress of things; to explain the present through the past; to make obscure and intricate things easier; to separate true from false; to refute, knock down, and drag away trifling and absurd things and, in short, to see the truth – this at last is worthy of the human intellect and reason; this is the food of the mind; this, finally, is what it means to live and have the full profit of one’s soul!

Source: C.G. Cobet, An Encomium to the Life of the Mind | SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE



Millions of items of outward order are presented to my senses which never properly enter my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience would be utter chaos. – William James, Principles of Psychology


If we have constancy in our practice, when we are praised, then it’s simply praise; if we are blamed, it’s just blame. We don’t get high or low over it, we stay right here. Why? Because we see the danger in all those things, we see their results. We are constantly aware of the danger in both praise and blame. Normally, if we have a good mood the mind is good also, we see them as the same thing; if we have a bad mood the mind goes bad as well, we don’t like it. This is the way it is, this is uneven practice.

If we have constancy just to the extent of knowing our moods, and knowing we’re clinging to them, this is better already. That is, we have awareness, we know what’s going on, but we still can’t let go. We see ourselves clinging to good and bad, and we know it. We cling to good and know it’s still not right practice, but we still can’t let go. This is 50 percent or 70 percent of the practice already. There still isn’t release but we know that if we could let go that would be the way to peace. We keep seeing the equally harmful consequences of all our likes and dislikes, of praise and blame continuously. Whatever the conditions may be, the mind is constant in this way. — Ajahn Chah, “No Abiding”

What is the right attitude for meditation?

The most important thing when you are meditating is to have the right attitude.

  1. When meditating, don’t control. Don’t try to create something. Don’t force or restrict yourself.
  2. Don’t try to create anything, but don’t reject what is happening. But as things happen or stop happening, don’t forget. Be aware of them.
  3. Trying to create something is lobha (greed). Rejecting what is happening is dosa (aversion). Not knowing if something is happening or has stopped happening is moha (delusion).
  4. Only when the observing mind has no lobha, dosa, nor soka (worry/anxiety) inside it, then the meditating mind will arise.
  5. You have to double check to see what attitude you are meditating with.
  6. You have to accept and watch both good and bad experiences.
  7. You only want good experiences. You don’t want even the tiniest unpleasant experience. Is this fair? Is this the way of the Dhamma?
  8. Don’t have any expectations. Don’t want anything. Don’t be anxious. Because if these attitudes are in your mind, it becomes difficult to meditate.
  9. Why are you focusing so hard when you meditate? You want something to happen? You want something to stop happening? It is likely that one of these attitudes is there.
  10. If the mind is getting tired something is wrong with the way you are practicing.
  11. You cannot practice when the mind is tense.
  12. If the mind and body are getting tired, it is time to check the way you are meditating.
  13. Meditating is waiting and watching–with awareness and comprehension, understanding, not thinking, not reflecting, not judging.
  14. Don’t practice with a mind that wants something or wants something to happen. The only result will be that you will tire yourself.
  15. The meditating mind should be relaxed and at peace.
  16. Both the mind and the body should be comfortable.
  17. A light and free mind enables you to meditate well. Do you have the right attitude?
  18. Meditating is whatever happens, good or bad, accepting, relaxing and watching it.
  19. What is the mind doing? Thinking? Or being aware?
  20. Where is the mind now?Inside? Or outside (of oneself)?
  21. Is the watching/observing mind properly aware? Or only superficially aware?
  22. You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want it to happen, you are trying to know what is happening as it is.
  23. Don’t feel disturbed by the thinking mind. You are not practicing to prevent thinking. To recognize and acknowledge thinking whenever it arises is what you are practicing.
  24. You are not supposed to reject the object (phenomena/things that are happening/being known). You are to know (and thus note/observe) the defilements that arise because of the object and thus remove them (the defilement’s).
  25. Only when there is Saddha (faith), Viriya (energy) will arise. Only when there is Viriya, Sati (mindfulness) will become continuous. Only when Sati is continuous, Samadhi will become established. Only when Samadhi is established, then you will know things as they really are. Saddha then increases further.
  26. Just pay attention to what is exactly in the present moment. Don’t go to the past! Don’t plan for the future!
  27. The object is not important.The mind that is working in the background–working to be aware, i.e. the observing mind, is more important. If the observing (mind) is done with the right attitude the object will be the right object.

–U Tejaniya

For more on U Tejaniya, listen to Gil Fronsdal’s dhamma talk.

Getting off the mind-train

Riding your mind-train has become an automatic process. You believe the thoughts that your mind presents to you. Getting the train going in the first place happened innocently enough: you learned language; you learned how to speak, reason, and solve problems. Once you did that, your mind-train became a presence in your life. Now, there is no way that you will stop thinking and generating thoughts–your mind train will keep on running, in part, because language is so useful in so many areas. But just because the train keeps running all the time doesn’t mean you have to stay on it every moment.

On a real train, you’re allowed to ride as long as you follow the rules. You play an active part on the trip. You’ve got to cooperate with the rules by showing your ticket when you’re asked for it, sitting in your assigned seat and staying seated, and not raising a ruckus when you miss your stop or you find out the train’s taking you in a direction you don’t want to go.

The rules and conditions our minds lay down for us are simple but powerful: act on the basis of belief and disbelief. They say that you must react to your mind either by agreeing with it or arguing with it. Unfortunately, both reactions are based on taking your thoughts literally. Rather than seeing your thoughts merely as an ongoing process of relating, they are reacted to based on what they relate to. They are “factually” correct or incorrect.

When you take your thoughts literally, you are “riding the mind-train.” That is, you are responding to the thoughts your mind presents to you purely in terms of the facts they are about. Agreeing and disagreeing are both within the rules, so neither response get you off the train. However, if you break the rules, you will find yourself off the mind-train–and isn’t this one train you’d like to get off now and then? — Steven C. Hayes, Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life

The Natural State

The point is that really this mind of ours is naturally peaceful. It’s still and calm like a leaf that is not being blown about by the wind. But if the wind blows then it flutters. It does that because of the wind. And so with the mind it’s because of these moods — getting caught up with thoughts. If the mind didn’t get lost in these moods it wouldn’t flutter about. If it understood the nature of thoughts it would just stay still. This is called the natural state of the mind…

The mind is naturally peaceful. It’s in order to understand just this much that we have come together to do this difficult practice of meditation. — Ajahn Chah, “Training this Mind”

The Rock

The teaching that people least understand and which conflicts the most with their own opinions, is this teaching of “letting go” or “working with an empty mind”. This way of talking is called “Dhamma language”. When we conceive this in worldly terms, we become confused and think that we can do anything we want. It can be interpreted this way, but its real meaning is closer to this: It’s as if we are carrying a heavy rock. After a while we begin to feel its weight but we don’t know how to let it go. So we endure this heavy burden all the time. If someone tells us to throw it away, we say, “If I throw it away, I won’t have anything left!” If told of all the benets to be gained from throwing it away, we wouldn’t believe them but would keep thinking, “If I throw it away, I will have nothing!” So we keep on carrying this heavy rock until we become so weak and exhausted that we can no longer endure, then we drop it.

Having dropped it, we suddenly experience the benefits of letting go. We immediately feel better and lighter and we know for ourselves how much of a burden carrying a rock can be. Before we let go of the rock, we couldn’t possibly know the benefits of letting go. So if someone tells us to let go, an unenlightened man wouldn’t see the purpose of it. He would just blindly clutch at the rock and refuse to let go until it became so unbearably heavy that he just had to let go. Then he can feel for himself the lightness and relief and thus know for himself the benefits of letting go. Later on we may start carrying burdens again, but now we know what the results will be, so we can now let go more easily. This understanding that it’s useless to carry burdens around and that letting go brings ease and lightness is an example of knowing ourselves.

Our pride, our sense of self that we depend on, is the same as that heavy rock. Like that rock, if we think about letting go of self-conceit, we are afraid that without it, there would be nothing left. But when we can finally let it go, we realize for ourselves the ease and comfort of not clinging. — Ajahn Chah

The Cobra

So we say that mental activity is like the deadly poisonous cobra. If we don’t interfere with a cobra, it simply goes its own way. Even though it may be extremely poisonous, we are not affected by it; we don’t go near it or take hold of it, and it doesn’t bite us. The cobra does what is natural for a cobra to do. That’s the way it is. If you are clever you’ll leave it alone. And so you let be that which is good. You also let be that which is not good–let it be according to its own nature. Let be your liking and your disliking, the same way as you don’t interfere with the cobra. — Ajahn Chah, “Living with the Cobra”

Off topic, but this reminds me of a story told by Jack Kornfield. When he first arrived in Thailand he was warned, “There are 100 species of snakes in Thailand. Ninety-nine of them are poisonous. And the other one will strangle you.”

A Quiet Mind

A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly, once your mind is quiet. As the sun on rising makes the world active, so does self-awareness affect changes in the mind. In the light of calm and steady self-awareness, inner energies wake up and work miracles without any effort on your part. — Sri Nisargadatta