Understanding the Nature of the Mind

When the mind looks at itself, what can it learn about its own nature?

The first thing that becomes apparent is that countless thoughts prompted by our feelings, our memories, and our imagination constantly rush through our mind, almost without our knowledge.

But is there not also a basic consciousness, always present behind this movement, even in the absence of thoughts, a presence that could be called the fundamental ability of the mind to know or to be conscious?

As thoughts arise, if we look at them closely, can we pin down any characteristic, or attribute, any real existence to them? Where are they located? Do they have a color or a shape?

However hard you look, you will not find anything else in the end but the bare faculty of knowing that we have just mentioned.

You will find nothing intrinsically real.

It is in this sense that Buddhism says that the mind is “empty of independent existence.”

How can we make use of this notion of the “emptiness” of thoughts?

When a thought or an emotion such as anger arises in our mind, what usually happens?

We let ourselves be overwhelmed by it. The thoughts grow and give rise to many other thoughts that disturb us, blind us, and encourage us to say and do certain things, which may be violent, which may hurt others, and which we will probably come to regret.

Now it is possible to examine the thoughts before they proliferate, instead of letting this chain reaction occur.

Then we will realize that those thoughts and emotions do not have the solid reality that we had imagined, and it will be possible to break free from their grip.

If we can see that thoughts arise from pure awareness, the nature of mind, then dissolve back into it, like waves rising from and falling back into the ocean, it will be a big step toward inner peace because thoughts will have lost much of their power to harm.

Source: Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2013.