Mind Seeing Itself
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 31st July 1971
In order to understand the question of disciplines, we must see quite clearly what is the key meaning of discipline in the religious context particularly. The word discipline means learning. In the ordinary context of a particular subject of study or the acquisition of a particular skill, one learns from another who already knows, one conforms to what is already known, to what is already laid down and one acquires that skill and obtains certain results, which mark the person’s progress. That is in the ordinary worldly context which includes the acquisition of knowledge, as much knowledge as you like or are interested in. But in the context of religion, which deals with the flowering out of our own mind and awareness in such a manner that we become the unresisting nexus for the inflow and outflow of Transcendence itself, the Infinite, the Unknown, in that context it is not a case of acquisition, it is not a case of conforming, it is case of growing from within. So you see, learning in this context, disciplining, learning, means growing from within. And growing from within does not take place by conforming to that which is already known and laid down.
The objection will be raised, quite naturally, that there are those who have gone before us who have realized Transcendence, have found fulfilment, grown into their perfect manhood, and they have said such and such is the way. Surely then one would say quite logically that if one followed their footsteps one would also realize. This is not true in the religious context. One certainly can study what they laid down, and profitably study it, one can conform within limits to what has been laid down, but what has been laid down is only a pointer, it is intended only as a stimulus to make us wake up from within and, even more, to come alive from within. It is this coming alive from within which is the absolutely original aspect of the whole business of living the religious life and realizing fulfilment. Not that you or I realizes that fulfilment. It is the Truth, the indefinable Truth, the One Total Reality which comes to fruition through you, the individual. It is like a tree which puts forth a flower. In that flower, in that fruit, the whole tree has come to fruition. This is how it is where the religious context is concerned. So you see, we have to become free of the limitations imposed upon us by our ordinary concepts of the nature of learning and of discipline where the religious life is concerned. You will appreciate that there is no suggestion that one should destroy or unintelligently discard the Ways, as they have been called, which the great religions have taught. They are all valid, but if we do not see this profounder, inner reality and activity which is involved in the following of the Ways, so to say, the treading of the Way, if we don’t see that, we will remain just where we are.
We always say, “Well, I practised meditation for 236 years and this is where I am, nothing’s happened.” And as a matter of fact if I practised it for the next 2,360 years I would be just where I am, just as confused, perhaps just a little bit sillier in fact, with the passage of time, unless I can wake up from within and grow from within, because this is a question of living. It is the spiritual life we are concerned with, not a spiritual mechanism. This is not a mysterious spiritual buggy for riding on the planes of the spirit! We do not sufficiently appreciate this and really understand it.
I want to say very little only today because I believe it is of some importance. We all talk about Mindfulness in connection with our treading the Way, with our disciplines as we call them. We have already dealt with the meaning of the word discipline in the religious context, this waking up from within and growing from within, coming to life from within, as far as the discipline goes. Now in this process we do know that Mindfulness is the golden key. Numberless people say, “I practise Mindfulness, I am aware of the external situation, the stimuli and so forth which come to me, I keep watch upon the reactions which arise in my own mind and, having done that, nothing happens. When the situation alters, once again I am frightened or I am confused or I am in sorrow or I am angry, feel violent, feel possessive, feel jealous and all the rest of it, and one questions, why doesn’t it work? The great teachers have said that it ought to work and it doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work?” Where perhaps does the crucial difficulty come?
Now let us just carefully consider what happens in the process of being mindful, paying attention to what we commonly call the without and the within. By the within I mean just the process of thought and feeling which springs up as a reaction to the stimulus from outside, or sometimes as a reaction to the stimulus from inside ourselves in terms of memory, desire and anticipation. What happens in the brain whilst I am being attentive to the without and the within? Is there or is there not a stream of words which describes that which is without and that which springs up within, a continuous stream of words? This stream of words is what we ordinarily call thought. What does the word represent? It represents a limited, finite, particular thing, situation, person, event and so forth. But the important point is that the word represents something which is particular, finite, limited. It represents that which comes into being, proceeds for a while, and passes away. Nouns represent objects, persons, they are names, verbs represent actions and relationships between things and persons sometimes, and so forth. This is what we know. With respect to every and any word we know its dictionary meaning — that is to say, we think, we imagine, that we know the meaning of the word. When we say that we know the meaning of a word we have other words or phrases or even whole sentences which we substitute for the particular word. Now the actual mental content which that word represents for me myself is dependent upon my conditioning, my mental capacity, and the way in which my own senses function and my brain works in association with that sense functioning. Is that quite clear?
When I am looking within myself, being mindful, truly mindful, just observing, as I say, what am I doing? I say to myself, “Ah, I am frightened,” or “I am angry.” I am deceived into believing that I am looking at fear or anger itself. What I am actually doing is that I am looking at the word and the verbal meaning of that word. This is the crucial point. Do get hold of this and you will solve innumerable problems in the whole process of Mindfulness. I am looking at the word. I say, “This is fear”, and I am looking at the word fear with my verbal meanings with which are tied up all my own conditioning, my limitations, my short-sightedness, my incapacity, and so forth. In actual fact when I am afraid or angry, as I say, the mind itself is in a certain state, let us just for convenience call it the ill state. But I am not looking at the mind, I am not looking at the ill state of the mind, I am looking at the word which I use to describe it. Do get hold of this. If you get hold of this today it will transform your life and your power to change. When you look at that word, as the word with all its associations and so forth, there comes up a reaction inside you saying, “I must get rid of fear, I must get rid of anger, it is bad, it is not good.” I am taking sides with the defined good against the defined bad, and, as we saw last time, there is endless conflict, there is no getting out of that conflict. All conflict and all conquest inevitably and invariably without exception breeds further conflict. So actually I am looking at the word.
Let us take a little analogy here, which may be helpful. Supposing I am sharpening my pencil and in the process I cut my finger and it bleeds. Where the physical realm is concerned, where this physical body is concerned, I know how to deal with that thing. I can actually deal with the bleeding finger, do the needful, stop the bleeding and allow the finger to heal completely. Why is that? Because I can deal, and I do deal, with the actual finger, with the actual wound. Supposing I look at this bleeding finger and say, “There is my bleeding finger,” and I try to deal with the description, the words “my bleeding finger”. I cannot do anything about my bleeding finger. I am trying to deal with the words which are descriptive only of the actual reality. They are the nameplate on the door of the house in which I, the living person, lives. That nameplate is not me! It is a bit of brass or wood or whatever it is! In this process of Mindfulness, this is what happens. I think I am carrying out the instructions of the Lord, the Buddha or whoever it was, who laid down the discipline, who taught the Way. I think I am doing what he suggested but I am not in actual fact. I am looking at these words only. I am unable to see that wounded mind itself and to catch hold of it and deal with it. (I am using physical analogical terms just to drive it home.) This is the crucial point. Now you see why, if I take sides with the good against the bad, I am only taking sides with a crowd of unreal, insubstantial ghosts of my imagination carrying the label good, against a similar lot of unreal insubstantial ghosts carrying the label bad. It just gets nowhere. It is like seeing a cinema show, a conjuring performance, all very entertaining and amusing, terrifying, horrifying if you like, but nothing real has happened.
Unfortunately there is one unhappy thing which has happened to us in that process. We have only perpetuated the state of conflict between good and bad, the defined good and bad, the verbal good against the verbal bad. In that process I have failed to learn out of the living experience which I call good or bad, which I name good or bad. The living experience itself has slipped past me, I have failed. It is the same with what I call good, I get no value, no benefit out of it, nothing real has happened. There is no actual awakening of consciousness, of awareness from within, there is no coming to life of the whole psyche from within. You see the point?
The key to the situation is not to discard, to run away from, to try to overcome, to dissipate, disrupt what is called bad, or to run after, chase, seek what is called good. But stay with whatsoever is actually present and with intensity of attention watch the process of the disentanglement from all the words and the pictures which are associated with the reality present, the words and the pictures raised up by my own mind. You will find that if you watch with sufficient intensity the words will drop away, in other words the process of discursive thinking and the process of looking at the picture instead of the reality, will undergo complete change, and that will just vanish away. You will see the mind itself. This is where language fails completely. I say, “You will see the mind itself.” Well of course the word see is associated with eyes which are physical things. Let me put it another way. You will become aware of mind in itself, in its own selfness, in its own nature, not in the description of its nature, but the actual stuff of the mind. It is that seeing which is the thing that heals because that which I call the good needs healing, what I call the bad needs healing. This may sound funny but look into it very carefully. What I call the good and call the bad is only a divisive way of looking at what is One Total Reality.
We use our senses. The sight, the touch, the smell which is pleasant, attractive, we like. The sight, the touch, the smell which is unattractive we dislike. See how easily we get deceived. A man looks at a woman or a woman looks at a man. The man says, “What a beautiful woman”, and the woman says, “What a handsome man.” Touch and smell what is inside that skin, what is inside the bowels, in the bladder. How do you like it? But it is all part of that same person, in his wholeness, in her wholeness. Can I go into the shop which is labelled Mankind and say, “I’ll have this which is nice, but I don’t want that, you can keep that.” You can’t! You take all of me or nothing!
So you see, this cultivation of what I call the good, this verbal good, this pictorial good, this rejection and fighting against what I call the bad, the pictorial bad, they are all mistakes. This is not discipline. The act of paying complete attention to the Totality is the whole thing, the whole process. This is the whole discipline, getting disentangled from the net of words, arguments and so forth. Then the mind really begins to mind what is happening, to mind what is going on. It is this freedom from the naming process. When I get free from naming my state and saying, “I am afraid or angry”, or even the deeper stage of saying, “This is fear” or “This is anger”, when I get free of that, then fear and anger in itself, which is what I commonly call my mind is really seen and uncovered. When I uncover in that way what have I uncovered? All the thought-coverings are out and the inner light, the emptiness, the void, the transparency, the Transcendence itself, the undefinable, incomprehensible, unseizable, the indestructible is there. You cannot destroy or get hold of space.
So you see what has happened. You have awakened to the whole reality and you have grown from within, you have acquired nothing, you have achieved nothing, you have attained nothing. But this nothing which you have neither acquired nor attained nor achieved is the Infinite No-Thing, the fount of all plenitude and creative power.
What will happen then in everyday life? If I can do that I will cease to run away from anything, to escape from anything, to avoid anything. I will have ceased also to run after, to seek, to grasp at anything. Why? Because I am awake and alive from within, living in this infinite plenitude. The external pleasures and pains to the body as well as to the feelings will inevitably come. But this profounder reality, the thing that can never be touched or hurt or pleased, can never be increased or decreased, this will be there everlastingly shining. This is God, this is Truth in the religious context.
At a previous meeting we considered this matter, of looking at life from the inside which is One and Only, instead of looking at life from the innumerable outsides. Looking at life from the inside becomes a fact in our lives when we are free of this domination of the word. It is perfectly easy for me to deceive myself and say, “I am looking at life from the standpoint of the Infinite, of the Void, of God, of Eternity.” Lovely grand-sounding words, like so many drums, big or small! “I’m a bigger drum!”, and as empty as anything else (that is to say, empty in the wrong sense). It is easy to do that. In this looking from the inside it happens when I am aware, when I am really intensely aware that what I am actually doing is looking at the word and its meanings, layers of brown paper one under the other. If I can get free of the whole lot of them, then finally out will come the diamond. Go through the layers, don’t run away from them, don’t try to destroy them, but just look at them because they will all be instructive, continuously instructive. This is religious learning, the discovery of what is actually present here and what I myself actually am, and the process I go through.
Om Mani Padme Hūm — the Lotus, and inside this Lotus is a Jewel, a wonderful Jewel. But you do not tear apart the petals of this Lotus in order to seize that Jewel. It is the unseizable Jewel. It is the eternal Jewel, it has no shape, no size, no dimension, no description, no possibility of recognition by mind which uses words and shapes and forms. But it is there. When one has transcended, got free of all the clever little wrappings of thought, of belief, of doctrine and dogma and so forth, that Thing operates and you know that it operates, and that is all you know. It does not bring any desired result. If there is the obstruction of desiring the result, in Hell do I remain, the Hell of frustration, of unfulfilment, of not obtaining the desired result. You see what it means to be religious. It means to be so totally unselfed that the one and only Self, if we may use that word Self still, is operating. If the one and only Self operates, there is no process of knowing, of acquiring, of possessing, of rejecting, of assuaging, of hurting or anything like that.
Please do not feel that this is just a set of words. The set of words can flow out quite easily once something has happened inside. You see what Mindfulness really is. It begins as a conditioned Mindfulness, just having a happy little trot around the garden smelling the flowers, a conditioned Mindfulness, it starts like that. But it flowers in its fruition and fulfilment into Transcendent awareness which is free of the limitations and bonds of mere cognition in the sense of a seeing subject, a limited, separate subject seeing limited, separate objects in the distance. You are utterly free of that. This awareness just fills you, that’s all.
Again, one can approach it from the standpoint of understanding the nature of space. As I have said before again and again, here is this object, as we say, in space. If I move the object away, has the space which I say this object occupied come rushing back to its original locality? Not a bit. This is the mystery of space. Such is the mystery of Transcendence too. So there is no cognition involved in it. It is an awakening beyond all cognition. The discipline, the process of learning has the indispensable foundation of the simple, pure life, pure in thought, and word and deed. Zarathustrianism summed up all mortality in the most wonderful way, the Vohu Mano, the good mind, the pure mind, the pure word and the pure deed, purity, complete and utter purity.
This which is the starting point which we talk of as a fundamental basis is not something which the mind can perceive as an object of perception and say, “I will achieve this and attain it.” Just be mindful, watchful, awake, and that which is pure will naturally come into being. Why? Because it is the process of growth, it is the process of the emergence of the healthy, living mind. That’s what it is. If you are a parent and you have a little infant, you do not start twisting it about and cutting off little bits here and there because you do not like the shape of that, and so forth. That would be the end of the baby in double-quick time! You let it grow, you just give it your loving care, your knowledge, your service, your patience. And what happens? The little thing grows and you are filled with bliss. So too with the mind. This is discipline, this is learning, not a forcible conforming, either because somebody else has imposed the discipline or because I say to myself, “I am sure this is the right discipline, I’ll make myself do it.” All I do that way in the real sense is that I make ugly faces, go through the postures of piety and endurance and pain and solemnity and all the rest of it, and keep my ears wide open to hear somebody say, “Ah, there goes the holy man”! The way of discipline in the religious sense is the way of happiness, not pleasure. Pleasure and pain are both involved in happiness. When there is no attachment to pleasure, when there is no aversion from pain, then one remains poised and balanced. There is the balance of the opposing tensions within the mind and that is the healthy mind, the strong mind, and that is the happy mind, just as the healthy body is the happy body. When the body is healthy and happy you are not conscious of it, you do not bother to be conscious of it, you know it is so, you jump, you dance, you sing, go about your work and that’s that.
Have we really got hold of this central point that in the process of Mindfulness we stick at the point of looking at the word, and therefore the mind cannot become aware of itself? Physically I can look at my hand and know that this is my hand, this is my knee, and so forth, but I do not look at the mind that way. When I look at my knee, I look at the actual knee, when I touch my knee, I touch the actual knee and deal with it as required. I do not just say knee and deal with the word knee. Have you really got this? It is so simple, isn’t it? When you are awake to the fact that I am looking at the word fear or anger when I am looking inside myself (or maybe what I commonly call good, generosity or loving kindness), but I am only looking at the word and not the fact. The fact is the stuff of the mind itself. (I have to use this absurd phrase “stuff of the mind”, but there we are.) When I am fully awake to the fact that I am looking at the word, somehow that covering vanishes and then you are looking at what actually is, the mind in itself.
What are you going to do now, having heard this? Get a nice happy sensation and go to sleep again? You know how they say that the Yogi never goes to sleep. All the dear folk in the world think, “Oh, isn’t he marvellous, he never goes to sleep!”, thinking that physically he never goes to sleep! That awakened state is the perpetually awakened state, it never goes to sleep. The awakened state is not a state of mere cognition of passing events. As Mahāyāna Buddhism would put it, the dharmas arise and pass away, the events of sensory and mental experience. These are the dharmas, the word in the plural, not in the singular, dharma, which means the teaching. They come and go, the passing cognitions. You have gone right beyond all cognition. So, whether the body is sleeping soundly and snoring away or whether the body is awake, that awakened state knows and includes all its passing cognitions. When I say knows its cognitions, it is an awareness which is indescribable, because the meaning of the word know in our ordinary everyday life is in terms of the subject who is paying attention and is conscious of a particular object. This is a Transcendent knowing. If somehow you sense this, you wake up to it, you will see the profounder meanings involved in the teaching “Do not grasp at anything, be free of all greed.” This is ungraspable. If you want to prove for yourself beyond refutation that this is true, spend a week grasping at space! When you are really convinced, satisfied, “Yes, I can’t do it, it cannot be done,” then you have awakened to the truth of that.
It is in the practice that the importance lies, in the continual practice. Do not do it solemnly, do not be over-earnest about it because that means we are grasping after results. “Oh, I have got the word from the man himself, I am jolly well going to do this now, and, lo and behold, I shall awaken into the Transcendent awareness!” I shall never awake, I merely cognise and not cognise, I am asleep and awake and all the rest of it. That is the I, the limited, particular, little, perishing I. But there is an awakening. That is why the Heart Sutra ends, “Oh, what an awakening,” not “I have awakened.” We are the vehicles, we are the tools of Transcendence and as such each one of us is indispensable to Transcendence, to God, use what word you like, and equally dispensable. If what we call ourself was only indispensable, then this self would be a permanent reality, and it would stay put as such. There would be no possibility of any inclusiveness in it. Or, if this self were always totally dispensable it would be a permanence itself also. You work that out, it is quite an interesting intellectual exercise. But it is indispensable and it is also completely dispensable. You see the marvel of that? Then we don’t measure ourselves against anybody else, nor do we measure any other person against some standard which is set up. And if I do not measure you against another, then there is complete love and understanding possible towards each person, the reality of love and understanding. Otherwise it is only the word. You see what happens when we practise meditation in what is commonly called the positive way, say on the Brahmavihāras, and we keep muttering to ourselves mettā, mettā, mettā, or karuṇā, karuṇā, karuṇā. As Krishnamurti says, you might as well say Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola for all the effectiveness of it! I am enamoured of the word, it produces a certain sensation in me, and I stop short at the sensation. By all means use the word, experience the sensation, but don’t stop there, get free of that cocoon.
I wish you joy of this practice of Mindfulness. Remember this very carefully, not to get stuck with the word and mistake it for the fact of the state of the mind, the state in which the mind itself is.
Use this analogy — I have cut my finger whilst I was sharpening the pencil. I do not immediately deal with the words bleeding finger, but with the actual bleeding finger in order to heal it.
Wow! An excellent clear talk. Thank you.
Tom M., 19th January 2019