Where were you before you were born?

We are travelers. Here’s a Buddhist meditation we can do to help us gain a feel for this.

stonesWe can begin by simply sitting comfortably, back straight, shoulders level, hands resting in our lap, right hand on top of left, palms upward, thumbs slightly raised and touching. (If you’re used to putting your hands in a different position to meditate, that’s fine also.)  Our head is tilted slightly forward, mouth closed, tongue on our upper palate, breathing through our nose. Our eyes are also lightly closed or ever so slightly open. We can take a few deeper breaths than normal as we settle into this position, focus on how we’re sitting, and forget about everything else.

The world around us in all directions melts into light and disappears. Everything before this moment evaporates, like last night’s dream. Everything after this moment also melts into light and disappears. We are in the present moment, the here and the now. There is no other place or time to be.

We feel all the weight and tension of our body fall away, every muscle relaxes, and our body melts into a light like a hologram. We could pass our hand through it without obstruction.

We encourage ourselves to concentrate on this meditation, thinking:

“Through meditating on my own mind I can come to understand who I am. If I understand who I am, I can change who I am. This understanding will expand my horizons, open me up to extraordinary spiritual possibilities. For this reason I will focus on this meditation happily, not following distractions.”

To help us overcome mental distractions directed outward, and to rest and relax the mind, we can spend a couple of minutes focusing just on our breath as it enters and leaves our nostrils. We let all other thoughts go. (We can also feel our subtle inner energy winds that “carry” our minds change direction from going out to coming in.)

As our mind is settling, a natural feeling of peace, space, and contentment arises in our heart. We feel that we are centered in our heart, the center of our chest, our so-called “heart chakra” where our root mind is located. We drop from our head into our heart. We absorb inward.HUM

From within this space we can now spend a couple of minutes watching our thoughts or awarenesses (sense or mental) arise and dissolve away. We don’t follow our thoughts or think them – just observe them as they appear and disappear again. Whatever ideas, daydreams, awarenesses of sounds, memories, etc. that appear to the mind, we allow these to arise in the present moment and subside, without reacting to or intruding on them.

After a little while we can ask:

“What is this thought? Where is it? Where does each thought come from? Where does each thought go? What is that space between the ending of one thought and the rising of the next?”

Each thought is clarity, is formless. Each thought arises from the deep inner clarity of our root mind at our heart and dissolves back into it. We now let all our thoughts dissolve into a clarity at our heart, a boundless clear awareness, like an inner empty space.

This is my mind. My mind is clarity, which is formless, empty of shape, empty of size. It has no color, no touch, no taste, no smell, no physical properties whatsoever. We meditate on this clarity which is empty of form.

The function of my mind is to cognize, to know, to experience, to be aware. My mind also has the power to create everything — everything comes from our mind, with our thoughts we create our world.

If it helps, you can think of your mind like a boundless clear ocean and any distracting thoughts that arise are like bubbles – bubbles have nowhere to go, disregard them and they will dissolve back into the clarity of your mind at your heart.

Everything has dissolved into a crystal clear and peaceful or even blissful awareness at our heart — all thoughts and their objects have dissolved.

This awareness is impermanent, constantly changing moment by moment, always clarity, always cognizing, but never staying the same. We get a sense now of how our mind is a becoming, a moment by moment transformation, a mental continuum. This moment arose naturally from the previous moment of mind in an unbroken continuum, and the mind of this moment will transform into the mind of the next moment, a never ending flow.

time is empty 3And where did today’s mind come from? We can trace it back to the mind of last night’s dream. And that came from the mind of yesterday, which came from the mind of the day before, and so on. If we had good mindfulness or memory we would be able to trace back our mind to the moment of our birth. And where did that mind come from? It came from the mind of the baby in the womb. Where did our mind as a baby in the womb come from? Mind is caused by mind, not by physical objects. The mind in the womb came from the mind of our previous life.

Death is the permanent separation of body and mind. This meaty body skids to a halt, but formless mind continues in an unbroken continuum. When the body perishes, what will happen to the last moment of the mind of this life? It will be the cause of the first moment of the mind in the bardo, or intermediate state. And that mind in turn will transform seamlessly into the mind of our next life.

As Buddha Shakyamuni explained, our root mind is beginningless and endless and, when fully purified and transformed, will become the mind of a fully enlightened being, a Buddha. This is who we are, this is who we can be.

Whatever understanding we have gleaned of the nature, function, and continuum of our mind from our own experience, we now focus on it single-pointedly.

(See also pages 26-7 of Meaningful to Behold for more on this meditation and subject.)

What are the implications of all this?! Part 3 is here.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

12 thoughts on “Where were you before you were born?”

  1. Thank you posting this most valuable article, which I see was written in 2014, I missed these articles then, or my mind did not have the karma to even understand it, wow my wisdom has increased this past 2 years, my mind is opening up and I am fortunate to now understand and want to practice more and more these wonderful teachings, so encouraging! Thank you to the Sangha who participate with comments, it is so helpful in becoming familiar with the dharma and helpful in applying it in our every day lives. Like the Supermarket ! My teacher is always telling us there is so much opportunity to practice the dharma in the supermarket and the rows of magazines sold is all full of Dharma ☺☺

  2. Hey Luna,

    Pages 26-27 in Meaningful to Behold talk of benefits of Bodhichitta. It was very useful to read these pages but it doesn’t seem to be what you are referring to. I’m looking at the 2008 edition. Please clarify.

    And thank you for your remarkable clarity, perceptive details and compassionate simplification of these teachings. You make is so much easier to assimilate even for my clunky mind. Thank you!

  3. The problem with “moment by moment transformations” or a “mental continuum” is their sequential nature and thus their relationship with the concept of time, which is of course an exclusively human construct.

    In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle asks simply…do animals know time? A cow? A dog? And says that if they could speak, surely they would say that there is only one “time” – now.

    Isn’t this why some aspects of Zen want to divide our now-ness into smaller and smaller slices, to access directly our own personal truth? Yes mind does exhibit ever-shifting sands, but only when viewed from the outside looking in.

    It seems to me that what really needs to be explored here is exactly how time relates with mind and precisely how mind communicates with the body. In this latter respect there are only two possibilities: a physical method or a non-physical one. But, both present difficulties. I gather the one we are taught in Buddhism is the latter (“energy winds”) yet what exactly does that mean? If the suggestion is that these winds somehow communicate with the brain, then exactly which part of the brain receives such signals, and how are they then processed?

  4. What gets transformed? What gets purified? If it can be purified then it is not the nature of mind which is awareness itself. Not the appearances on awareness but awaring, here, now. Awareness it is already perfect so what needs to be done?

    1. The obstructions to liberation (delusions and their seeds) and obstructions to omniscience (imprints of delusions) are progressively destroyed by the wisdom realizing emptiness. The conventional nature of the mind becomes the Truth Body, omniscient wisdom, and its emptiness is the final true cessation, the Nature Body.

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