It may sound counterintuitive, but a free mind is a controlled mind. Having no control over our own mind is the same as having no choice in our thoughts. If we cannot choose what to think at any given moment, we automatically default to our habits and react with thoughts that we don’t even like half the time, such as attachment, envy, aversion, bitter disappointment, non-faith, unkindness, impatience, or whatever.
Freedom is the ability to choose any thought we want whenever we want it, regardless of what or who is going on around us.
Thoughts are just that — thoughts. They don’t have arms or legs. They are not physical. They only exert dominion over us because we have always let them. It is like the sky letting the clouds run the show, not realizing its own vast and profound power.
We all want to be happy, and we all have the limitless potential for happiness and even bliss – so why is it so darned hard to stay happy?! For example, when people first start to meditate, they often complain that they cannot even get their mind to stay still and peaceful for a few seconds, for three rounds of breathing meditation, let alone for an hour, a day, a week, a month, a lifetime. If we simply cannot stay happy, even when external conditions are going our way, does this not mean, effectively, that we don’t have enough control over our mind?
So, our usual response is to try to bypass this by controlling our world and other people rather than trying to control our thoughts, and look where that gets us.
Wild elephant mind
Buddha described our mind as a rampaging wild elephant, stomping around creating havoc much of the time. As mentioned in this article, Buddha called unpeaceful and uncontrolled minds delusions. I remember first hearing a teaching on the so-called six causes of delusions at Madhyamaka Centre and how much I appreciated having this very practical, seemingly fool-proof way of making headway in taming and overcoming my uncontrolled and unpeaceful states of mind. I realized I could start to think the thoughts I wanted to think whenever I wanted to think them. I could choose to be kind, loving, blissful, faithful, contented, cool, and wise whenever I wanted once I had control over my own mind. No one could stop me doing this, regardless of what they do, or say, or think!
In fact, the more obstacles put in our way, the more of an enjoyable challenge it can become to react in the way we WANT to as opposed to the usual, boring, choiceless, instinctive, negative way we’ve always responded in the past. To me, that is real freedom, and I want it more than anything else.
The first three causes of delusion are the main causes—if we have these three, we automatically have a delusion arising in our mind. The last three are conditions that make it easy for the causes to come together. Our temporary states of mind are like clouds in the sky — if the right causes and conditions come together clouds manifest, otherwise they don’t. Knowing these causes and conditions means knowing the techniques for controlling our mind.
(1) The seed of delusion
The seed of a delusion is the potentiality for that delusion to arise; it is the substantial cause of the delusion. ~ Understanding the Mind
We have at the moment potentials for irritation, attachment, ignorance, and so on. According to Buddhism, these are like seeds in our formless mental continuum, which we’ve had since beginningless time. For example, I have the seed of anger within my mind even right now, while I’m feeling peaceful, but it won’t arise without other conditions, such as an annoying object and inappropriate attention. We also have potentials for almost unimaginable bliss, goodness, love, compassion, wisdom, and so on – also like seeds. Which ones are sprouting in our mind right now depends on other factors, but right now we have the potentials for the dark side and the good side.
The result of spiritual practice is to dig out the seeds for delusions once and for all from our mental continuum. So-called Foe Destroyers have done this and as a result cannot develop delusions regardless of what is going on in their lives. We can imagine what it’d be like to be permanently freed from anger, attachment, ignorance, pride, selfishness, and so on – just imagining it feels like a relief, and starts bringing it on.
Interestingly and luckily enough, we can never destroy the seeds of our positive minds because they’re part of our Buddha nature, whom we really are, and are also based on a realistic, unexaggerated view of the world, not on inappropriate attention.
Ignorant, not evil
All ordinary beings have these potentialities in their mind, and they can be eradicated only by attaining the wisdom directly realizing emptiness and meditating on this for a long time. ~ Understanding the Mind
Our root delusion, from which all the others grow, is ignorance. Living beings are not evil — we engage in evil actions, we can have evil states of mind, but we ourselves are not evil. We suffer from an inner sickness or inner poison – our delusions — and all these are rooted not in evil, but in ignorance. We just do not know how things exist, and we think that things exist in a way that they don’t exist, in fact contradictory to how they exist — namely independent of the mind, having nothing to do with our perceiving consciousness, solid, real, inherently existent, “out there”, existing from their own side. There seems to be a gap between us and everyone else, between our mind and our world, whereas the truth is that everything depends entirely upon our mind, just like objects in a dream.
In a dream everything feels real and vivid, it seems to exist out there, independent of our mind. Yet when we wake up, we realize it was made up by our mind. “Ah! I made this up! It’s just a dream! I projected the whole thing, it’s gone! It just came from my mind and then I thought it was out there, and I got really het up about all these things, and hmm, what was all that about?”
We’ve been doing this for years and years already, just in this life, every time we fall asleep at night. We still haven’t got it, have we?! We wake up every morning, “Ah, that was just a dream!” We fall asleep again at night, “Hey, what’s going on here?” Panic. Falling in love with people. Running away from other people. We wake up, “Oh, it’s just a dream.”
We’ve done this thousands of times, and still it hasn’t alerted us to the fact that, every time we dream, everything that appears to us is a projection of our mind that we are grasping at as real.
When I have a problem that seems intractable I imagine having it in a dream. I was talking to a good friend the other day who has just been through divorce. Not un-understandably, he felt disappointed and let down, like a victim, like it had nothing to do with him. This made him feel helpless and angry, with no clear way forward. He has a good understanding of Buddhism so I asked him: “If you had divorced in a dream, who would have been responsible for that?” If we understand that everything is a mere projection of our own mind, like a dream, we can see how we are responsible for what appears to our mind, for what happens to us. Knowing this always gives us a way to move forward, by changing our mind rather than bashing our head against an intractable brick wall. And when we change our mind, the situation itself changes – the brick wall does come down. He didn’t become undivorced, but the situation no longer appeared dire, and he got his mojo back.