YOUTH IN FOCUS: I know meditation is resting our mind in its natural unaltered state. How do I firstly recognize that state? How can I make sure what I consider the mind’s natural state is not mistaken?
Well, maybe I’m not the best person to respond to this question as I am a typical samsaric-being lost in thick clouds of discursive thought.
Anyway, since you took the time to ask the question, I’ll try my best to answer it. In reality, my reply consists merely of borrowed words, but I hope that they will at least spark some curiosity and encourage you to find a wise teacher to help you progress with your practice.
Basically, when we rest in the nature of mind, we simply relax and are aware of whatever arises in the mind. We are not trying to change anything – it is not our aim to make something bad into good, but to just rest in the nature of it. In this respect, we neither follow nor reject thoughts, but like waves on the ocean we simply allow them to rise and fall.
Furthermore, when we experience our mind-essence, it is not seen as something fixed and solid, nor is it experienced as just emptiness. It is empty, but there is also a clarity. In this respect, it is not just blank nothingness, but a union of clarity and emptiness. This is what we actually experience.
Merely recognizing the mind-essence, however, is not enough. Over time, we need to familiarize ourselves with that realization. This is what we called gom. In addition, we should slowly integrate the experience into our daily life.
In contrast, when we are distracted in meditation, we have many different thoughts that prevent us from knowing the mind-essence. Although these thoughts do not tarnish the essence any more than clouds stain the sky, they are an aspect of confusion. And, without proper guidance, we can easily mistake this confusion for awareness. Moreover, it is common to mistakenly practice a form of objectless shamatha (shinay), believing it to be resting in the nature of mind.
In order to avoid these errors, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having an authentic teacher to give you precise instructions and to guide you along the path. The lineage and teacher are absolutely essential. Everything is interdependent, and so we need many causes and conditions to bring our practice to fruition. In this respect, we must rely on the power of interdependence. Trying to accomplish practice without a teacher and without accumulating merit and wisdom or developing bodhicitta is like a flower struggling to blossom without the conditions of nutrition, moisture and warmth. It won’t succeed.
As a final note, it might be helpful for you to think of the mind-essence and confusion as similar to a diamond coated in mud. No matter how thick the mud, it never tarnishes the diamond and so once the gem has been washed, it automatically appears in its natural, pristine state. Now, if the mud could somehow penetrate the diamond and permanently contaminate it, then no amount of washing would remove the dirt, but this is not the case. The mud is impermanent and not part of the diamond; that is why it can be removed. It is the same with our mind-essence. No matter how thick our confusion, it does not stain or contaminate it. As a result, confusion can be cleaned away and the mind-essence revealed. In the same way that the quality of the diamond coated in mud does not differ from the quality of the diamond that has been cleaned, so our mind-essence is the same when it is lost in confusion as it is after the confusion has been removed. Put in another way, the cleansing did not improve its quality, but merely allowed its original and unblemished nature to shine through.
As there are many ways to clean and polish a gem stone, so there are numerous expedient methods to help us uncover our original nature. Directly resting in the nature of mind is one such method.
Realizing the relationship between mind-essence and confusion is not only an essential insight for people who practice meditation, however, but is also an important understanding for every human being. As an example, think of a man who considers people who have committed crimes or become drug addicts as fundamentally flawed. Due to his mistaken belief, he will naturally conclude that these people can never change and so he is very likely to abandon them. In contrast, a person who has a correct understanding – that every being is pure in essence and that harmful action is committed under the influence of temporary confusion and ignorance – will never give up on others. Of course, people who are a danger to society may need to be detained for periods of time. Still, we never give up on them, but instead understand that given the right conditions they can become good human beings.
If we are in doubt about this explanation, then we can consider negative traits, such as anger or jealously. If these emotions were intrinsic to the mind, then a person would be born angry and jealous and exhibit these feelings at every moment of their life, but this is not the case. Even the angriest person will have moments of peace and a person who is considered jealous will have times of mental stability. Therefore, we can conclude that these traits are not permanent features of the mind and, consequently, they can be removed. This insight can change the dynamics of how a community or family deals with its ‘lost’ members. Rather than hopelessness and rejection defining responses, perseverance and reconciliation are adopted.
Anyway, as I said above, when we undertake any Buddhist practice it is essential to have an authentic teacher to teach and guide us. Without this connection, our practice will amount to nothing. This is the most important point.
Finally, I will leave you with verse composed by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche:
Rest in natural great peace this exhausted mind,
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thoughts
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace.