The Matter of Mind
An Explorer’s Guide to the Labyrinth of the Mind
Master Djwhal Kuhl through Kathlyn Kingdon
Chapter 7: Working with the Mind
One of the most important elements in dealing with ego mind is to see how it will use the issues of the world around to reveal issues from past experiences. For example, if you are living in a time when there is war going on, the ego mind takes the cue from the outer experience and internally follows suit, you might say. In a manner reflective of the outer fighting, ego mind will likely present personal issues in such a way that one feels he or she must fight the issues that arise. If one gives in to the urge to fight, what must arise is an internal conflict pitting self against self. Clearly, generating a point of split in the psyche is not likely to master the area or issue that has risen to consciousness. Even though it is more difficult to relax into openness when the energy of struggling, fighting and polarization is outwardly present in society, still, the trick is to go soft rather than fighting with ego mind.
When you consider your points of inner struggle, it is wise to consider them in the context of your time. Careful observation will reveal the degree to which your ego models on the collective expression of the particular time in which you experience. This is one of the ways in which the ego anchors itself into what you experience as the flow of time. Because you are experiencing in parallel “realities” that may not share the same interpretation of time, the ego uses the collective expression of a given time or age to create context for working out the issues that are triggered by that collective expression.
The Naming of Samsara
Know, however, that the conventional reality is always deceptive. Indeed it cannot be otherwise, for it is based on the deceptive premise that whatever appears is real. What appears is samsara (the realm of chaotic confusion, suffering and repetitive patterns) and, if accepted as real, it can only replicate itself in more suffering and chaotic cyclic existence. When one cuts through appearances, however, one discovers nirvana (or the so-called pure land), which is nothing more than essence meeting essence and the recognition of the divine residing in everything.
Because the conventional reality is deceptive, it cannot function but in support of suffering. Thus individuals suffer, families suffer, nations suffer—even the world as a whole suffers. This is the way of samsara. The problem for the evolving psyche, however, is that the ego mind accepts samsara as a viable definition for what it is to be human. Indeed, samsara is really experienced because it appears again and again to the ego mind. The powerful appearance of samsara has been the primary affliction of the human realm for millennia, even before the Hindu and Buddhist masters named the deceptive conventional reality. Every person existing in the world today should be tremendously grateful that these masters arose and that their wisdom was sufficient, not only see beyond samsara, but to name it as well.
By naming an experiential state, one has the opportunity to free oneself from the confines of that state. For example, imagine for a moment that you are conversing with a young adolescent who shows a great deal of hostility but is unaware of the name of the mental state from which his experiences are drawn. The youngster’s experience is likely to be one of internal discomfort but, without recognizing just what it is that is being expressed, all the youngster has is his discomfort. Taking him aside, perhaps you explain that the behavior he is expressing appears to be pretty hostile and you give specific examples of behaviors that demonstrate the presence of hostility. As he understands the concept of hostility, he is given the opportunity to choose whether or not he wants to continue with the hostile behavior. Naming empowers the one who names—not only conceptually, but creatively as well. As the experiential box is named, the first real transformational potential arises.
The First Energetic Field: Altruistic Thought
A few hundred years ago, a Buddhist master by the name of Nagarjuna offered his students profound wisdom teachings. He told them that if they wished to attain unsurpassable enlightenment, there were three fields of energy they must learn to generate in their consciousness. What he meant by this “unsurpassable enlightenment” was the attainment of Buddhahood. At this particular time, it had been discovered that one could become enlightened without necessarily becoming a Buddha. Nagarjuna was talking about the “full boat,” not just seeing emptiness. The highest of all ways, taught Nagarjuna, is to seek enlightenment, not for oneself, but for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The first energetic field he talked about was that of altruistic thought—which, he said, should be as firm and as stable as a mountain. What Nagarjuna was addressing is the state of being void of the dualistic notion of separation between self and other. To attain this state, one must confront the ego mind since it roots itself in the opposite notion—that self is separate from everything else. Because the physical sense organs generate perceptions in a linear manner, separating the experience of one moment from that of another, the conventional realm gives rise to the notion that self is separate from everything else. Another name for the cultivation of altruistic thought, which may be familiar from reading Buddhist texts, is “generating bodhichitta,” or generating the desire to dedicate the efforts of one’s own enlightenment to the enlightenment of everyone else.
It is interesting to notice just how pronounced the designation of “self and other” is in the West. Numbers of Americans who went to Afghanistan on missions of relief and peace at the beginning of the “Operation Liberation” were surprised that the people of Afghanistan opened their arms and their homes to the Americans. In reflecting upon the situation, most of the relief workers felt that the same might not be true in reverse—that Americans at home might not open their arms to relief workers from a country that was also waging war on American soil. Unfortunately, many Americans can only feel patriotic by marking a strong dividing line between “our side” and “their side,” which could completely prevent embracing another culture.
The American relief workers were quite surprised by the Afghanis—who, although they may have lacked formal education, were able to see beyond the political distortion of war. The general outlook of the Afghani people communicated to the Americans something like, “Wars are what governments do. We are not the government; we are people, just like you.” Again the Americans could not help but reflect on the attitude most had experienced back home—that all who live in Afghanistan must be terrorists, or at least proponents of terrorism.
If you look at the conventional reality in which Jesus came, the picture is not so different in some ways than the conventional reality of today. War was ugly and the domination theme was abundant. The conquering hero was allowed to drag the body of the enemy’s ruler behind his horse through the streets, parading the grisly image of war before all the townspeople. The ruling notion of the day was “might makes right” and most feared the rulers of even their own towns and provinces. It was into this social milieu that Jesus came and, in his most well-known discourse, he stated, “Blessed are the meek.” The people of his time literally did not know what to do with this kind of teaching. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.” Such a statement flew in the face of the elite and the powerful of the day, for they thought they would inherit the Earth. Indeed, if the meek ran the Earth, it would be a vastly different place. The notion that the Earth belongs to the conqueror is but a product of linear ego mind. Essence mind, however, is tied neither to the linear nor the logical. The vast possibilities that essence mind holds cannot be confined to such finite constructs.
Perhaps the greatest impediment to altruistic thought is the perception of threat. If one feels threatened by the presence of the perceived “other” (or “enemy”), one is confined to linear ego mind, imprisoned in the “I” paradigm. Yet since it is from this very state that one seeks liberation, it becomes clear that this is the state from which it is most important to generate altruistic thought. From the most “en-darkened” corner within the threatened psyche, one can earnestly seek to create an enlightened world for the benefit of all beings at all levels of awareness. Such is precisely what Nagarjuna had in mind. It is something like children giving away marbles. It is easy to give a marble to a friend who has none when one’s own pockets are full of marbles. However, it is quite another thing to give a marble when in one’s pocket there is only one marble.
The Second Energy Field: All-Embracing Compassion
The second energetic field about which Nagarjuna taught was all-embracing compassion. If truly embodied, all-embracing compassion would allow others to have their experiences, even if ego mind perceives that you are the target of another’s learning experience. Holding the field of all-embracing compassion means that you can see the suffering the other is experiencing before noticing your own suffering.
Unfortunately, most people are out of touch with their own suffering, rendering them unable to be fully sensitive to the suffering of others. Were you to ask people to speak to suffering, they might say. “Well, I don’t suffer that much. Life is pretty good for me.” Of course, they speak inaccurately. All suffer, whether from the flu, perhaps a broken bone, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, failed dreams of one kind or another, or even on what is called a “bad hair day.” Most are quite skilled at denying their pain unless it arises from what is considered a big event. The denial is but an avoidant coping strategy, used to get them through the moment of suffering.
All-embracing compassion is of course an experiential field that is carried with an individual at all times. This means that the compassion is not directional (from self to another) but it is a state of consciousness that extends equally to all beings, including oneself. As such, its presence affords solid moral conduct, which is continually subject to deeper and deeper investigation.
For example, most spiritual traditions teach against killing. At the more basic application of the moral code against killing, some would believe it merely means not killing other people. But if compassion is truly all-embracing, one’s personal investigation might take one to the more subtle levels of killing, asking, “Have I ever killed someone else’s joy?” Remembering what it may have felt like to have had the experience of another killing your joy, you can readily see such as a viable example of killing, although no person or animal loses its life. To move even more deeply, one might ask, “Have I killed myself in some small way by demeaning myself in a moment of intensity?” Or, “Have I killed another’s good name or reputation in a moment of defensiveness or anger?”
All-embracing compassion excludes all killing—even if what is being killed is fairly ephemeral, such as joy or time. The compassion which Nagarjuna addressed is so pervasive as to soften everything, even the perception of failure regarding one’s own goodness. The notion of loving oneself can be fraught with complication since people often confuse self-love with self-indulgence. Perhaps to counter discouragement or depression, an individual will engage in what has been called retail therapy, or buying things for oneself in an effort to bribe the ego out of its dark emotional state. If this strategy works at all, the results can only be short-lived, for the ego’s nature is to be demanding; and it can never, in fact, be satisfied.
The real tragedy here, however, lies in the fact that while the person feels he or she is generating an act of love, such is only an act of self-indulgence. What gets indulged is the part of the ego that imparts the notion that the self is not good enough, or not smart enough, or not something enough. When clarity dawns, one can see that such egoic manipulation is simply an avoidance strategy wherein one self-indulges rather than sitting with the pain and going soft around the feeling of that pain.
All-embracing compassion will not allow this confusion of self-love and self-indulgence, but it will afford one to be present and compassionate for the moments wherein she falls from being her best self. The higher the level of compassion, the more it asks of the individual. Of course, this is similar to being in the presence of a highly evolved teacher. A Buddha, for example, does not shake a finger at someone saying, “Shame on you!” Rather a Buddha simply surrounds the person with wisdom and love, which is palpable to the recipient, and generally causes him to want to be his very best self. In fact the compassion about which Nagarjuna was speaking is the antidote to judging mind because, when the field is vast enough, it simply embraces the judgment in such a way that it must dissolve into something else.
In times of war, for example, people carry much more tightness and tension in their bodies than in times of peace. This is true even if one is not actually in the war zone. Just from hearing about the war on a news program or printed media, a tension arises in the body that often finds its way into relationships of one kind or another. The tension is so uncomfortable that one feels a tremendous need to release it, and often such happens in the relationships that are the closest. As the tension moves, it may take many forms, ranging from out-and-out anger to a kind of overwhelmed stupor. Either way effective relationships become difficult, often stimulating interactions of conflict.
The great masters of the East taught their disciples to see negative mental states as personal afflictions. In such case, one has no need to justify or defend them. Rather one should do as would be appropriate for a physical affliction—such as go to one who can help you heal from the condition. As you likely know, the ego is not inclined to ask for help, for to do such is to give up some of its perceived control. However, since the patterns that cause the suffering in the first place are often energy aberrations carried from many lifetimes, how is it the ego convinces you that you can heal the affliction all on your own?
For many Westerners, confronting ego mind can be so threatening that they will leave a spiritual path prematurely and seek out another path. When the work becomes challenging to the ego, the tendency is to lose heart in the path and divert to a path that appears easier. “Oh, they dance over there; I’ll change to that path.” True, dancing can be a powerful spiritual vehicle but, all too often, the persons dance until they know all the steps and, if such didn’t provide the breakthrough sought, they move to another spiritual path because, “They have visions over there!”
When the path becomes confrontative to the ego, rather than reacting to a perceived threat, the better application is to summon compassion for the whole process. Confronting ego mind may not be fun but it is necessary to discover essence mind. Have compassion for yourself. Have compassion for the levels of resistance that arise, for doubting mind (should it arise) and for the part of the ego mind that wants to deny there is a problem. In so doing, be careful not to confuse compassion with self-pity—another state of ego mind that must be transcended.
Transcendent Wisdom: the Third Energetic Field
The third energetic field that Nagarjuna taught his students to generate was the field of transcendent wisdom. By the term “transcendent” Nagarjuna was speaking of wisdom so discerning as to be utterly free of the notion of duality. For most, cutting through the notion that self is separate from everything else is a rigorous task. Before the collapse of the bicameral mind and the rise of self-consciousness, people experienced themselves as part of a greater unit rather than an individuated self. The identity was placed on the clan or tribe and one could not be whole without the rest of the tribe.
To some extent, the vestiges of this way of seeing can still be found in indigenous people around the world. Some of the great athletes who come to the West from African villages demonstrate this phenomenon in a striking way. Perhaps a young man is very good at basketball and comes to America to play the sport, hoping to earn much-needed money to send back home to the village. However, it is not long before the strangeness of the new country creates within him a deep loneliness, for he experiences no community, no sense of “we,” except perhaps on the basketball court. To make good in his new land, he must learn to be an “I,” a concept that might not have much meaning for him. True, he finds people with whom he can share moments but none with whom he can share personal identity. Learning to sleep in a room by himself can be an excruciating test, for he wonders how anybody could go to sleep without hearing the comforting sound of others breathing in the night.
The same can be seen for the aboriginal people, as applies to their being “liberated,” “acculturated” and “gentrified.” To these individuals who still retain identity in the clan, entering the Western world feels very cold and isolated, not to mention unnatural. In truth, the “I” awareness—pushed, that is, to the extremes seen in the West—is a fairly recent newcomer to the human experience. Because it is rooted in ego mind and arises from mental projection, the notion is of course void of any ultimate reality.
Another example can be found in the Celtic social order, with its deep connection to nature, the turn of the seasons, and the path of the Sun and stars as related to Earth. The field of experiencing involved a much larger scheme than most twenty-first century Westerners can hold. Living in nature, they saw themselves as a part of nature, not separate from it. Sitting under the stars at night, they taught their children (who were seen as children of the clan) of their relationship to the Sun, the Moon and the seasons. Today, these relationships are not only unacknowledged, they are for the most part seen as “other.” Yet in truth, you are so intimately related to the Sun, it literally cannot be “other.” Every time you eat something from a plant source, you are eating stored sunshine. Your connection to the Sun is direct and uniquely intimate. How is it that such a profound and obvious truth got lost in the rise of civilization?
Nagarjuna’s transcendent wisdom is not only rooted in emptiness (the true nature of everything), it is the profound realization of emptiness. From Nagarjuna’s perspective, ignorance (the inability to know the true nature of all things) is but the unawareness of emptiness that creates and perpetuates the illusion of duality. Even such things as your arising thoughts and feelings cannot really be said to be “yours.” They do appear to be yours but they simply cannot be since most arise as projections from your past.
When projecting mind is dissolved, where will all your thoughts and feelings be? Vast awareness will be available to you but it will not arise in such a way as to feel like “you” are thinking and/or feeling. You may remember the instance where the Buddha cautioned his students not to confuse the Moon with the finger pointing to the Moon. Although it is obvious that the Moon and the finger that points to it are not the same thing, when there is a fixation on “I,” the attention can go to the “I” who is pointing rather than just experiencing the Moon.
If you continue to investigate the mind, little by little, you come to have experiences that in fact demonstrate that your experiential “reality” is not real at all. Clearly you do experience it at a conventional level but you also see that the conventionally agreed-upon reality is a deception, or an illusion. You find yourself experiencing in a conventional reality fraught with predicaments that perhaps make you feel very small by comparison. Ego mind convinces you that you are not up to the work before you and perhaps you collapse in a moment of despair.
When you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of samsara, it is good to return to the basics, for they ground you in a way that is productive to solid spiritual growth. Recall that everyone suffers—everyone! They do so because ego mind is attached to certain outcomes that often do not appear to manifest. Perhaps they are attached to certain other people and they lose connection through death or separation. The other side of the attachment coin is aversion—which although it may feel different than desire, is no less attached to outcome. The events to which one has aversion manage to happen anyway, giving more cause for suffering.
In the face of all the suffering ego mind creates, it is beneficial to recall that there is also an end to suffering. As ego mind is transcended, it no longer holds the karmic seeds that generate suffering. Of course the path the Eastern masters taught to end suffering was training the mind through meditation and the conscious cultivation of wisdom and compassion.
Practice Generating These Energies
Although this may sound very basic, the judicious application of these avenues turn out to be the proper vehicles for grounding oneself solidly enough to do the work of cutting through the illusion of duality. The basic tenets of unsurpassed enlightenment are but three things, altruistic thought, all-embracing compassion and transcendent wisdom.
In truth, if you simply begin thinking about these, you will generate the energy fields about which Nagarjuna taught. But more importantly, you begin to change. You begin to break through the obvious level of conventional notions and you find deeper and deeper levels of what it may mean, say, to refrain from killing.
You also come to realize the preciousness of such things as the literal terrestrial space you require (and perhaps take for granted), as well as the resources you consume. Likely, you will choose to live your life in such a way as to be worthy of both. You will realize that in being human, you require physical, emotional and mental space and, as you study the mystery and precious nature of each of these spaces, you will awaken to a supreme desire to fill all with altruistic thought, all-embracing compassion and transcendent wisdom.
As you learn to cultivate these qualities, they become an intimate part of you—much like your breath. Then, should you have a day when for whatever reason, you are unable to touch altruistic thought, you will literally feel sick because you recognize that such thought is the original state for what you now call “mind.”
Any of these three attributes is capable of turning your inner world upside down because each, by its very frequency, presents a challenge to ego mind.
All-embracing compassion will reveal to you the damaging results of experiencing a moment of ill toward another, or the precious but wasted energy expended on idle or useless talk, or the fracturing of relationship caused by harsh words. All-embracing compassion dissolves ego states that have the potential to reinforce karmic projections.
A good way to practice these energies is to begin dedicating your personal efforts each day to one of them. Perhaps you arise on a Monday and dedicate that day to altruistic thought. Keep your dedication before you all day, reminding yourself often that such is what you are cultivating today. Watch your mind carefully, noticing each thought. Should a thought pass through your awareness that does not support the qualities of altruistic thought, immediately exchange it for one that does. Is it a good idea to carry a little notebook wherein you can jot down some notes when your thoughts surprise you in a positive way. Also note any areas that repeatedly arise where ego mind resists altruistic thoughts. In this way, you bring to consciousness the more hidden levels of ego mind.
Then, on the following day, dedicate Tuesday to all-embracing compassion. Repeat the process of keeping the dedication before you the entire day. Again, study the thoughts that arise in your mind, noticing those that are compassionate and those that miss the mark. Assume an internal stance that is curious, not judgmental. “Why is it that I was able to move toward one situation with compassion and found it difficult to do the same in another situation?” Keep your notebook with you, so you can jot down both the areas where compassion arose easily, seemingly on its own, and the areas where you had to ask it to arise, perhaps replacing some other kind of thought.
On Wednesday, make your dedication to transcendent wisdom. You will note that the work of the third day is a bit different than that of the two preceding days. Today, you watch the thoughts as they arise, paying particular attention to any that pique an emotional response of any kind, positive or negative. Then you ask within, “How is the situation (that seemed to cause this emotion to arise) empty?”
It is important to record your reflections for over time they will prove very instructive. Should you note an event where you have a desire for a certain outcome, ask, “How is the outcome I desire empty?”
With this type of questioning, you may notice that an answer is not always forthcoming. However, you will soon discover that the answer is less important than whether or not you remembered to ask the question.
On the fourth day, return to a dedication to practice altruistic thought. Continue rotating your focus through these three days and begin to observe the changes you see and feel in your life. If you are like most people, at first it is difficult to watch all your thoughts as you go through your normal day. With time and practice, however, you will discover that you can “turn on” the observer in essence mind and sustain both the focus needed for your normal activities as well as ongoing and immediate access to all your thoughts. Try this for the space of a month and be amazed at what happens for you. You will discover that ego mind quite naturally takes a back seat and essence mind comes forward with remarkable possibilities that you may never have dreamed possible in so short a time frame.
Giving your full consciousness to the object of your work is critically important. All too often aspirants forget that the spiritual work must be done every day. This work is most productive if it can be done during your normal focus in the world as well as in your meditation time. Such demonstrates that you are not torn between identities (i.e., the spiritual person and the secular person) but that you fully understand the importance of integrating your true self into all aspects of your life. Above all, resolve not to struggle with the work. Be open and curious to the levels that are easy for you as well as those that require more mindfulness. Your journey is precious, celebrate it well!