Understanding the Mind

The Nature and Power of the Mind

By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

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Fundamental to the entire Buddhist way of life is the teaching that everything depends upon the mind.

The world we experience is the result of our karma, or actions, and all our actions of body, speech, and mind originate in the mind.

To change our world we have to start by changing our mind, and this depends upon first gaining an thorough understanding of the mind and how it works.

In Understanding the Mind, Geshe Kelsang provides a comprehensive explanation of the different types of mind and functions of mind.

Though dealing with a profound and complex subject, this book is immensely practical, at every turn offering clear advice on how we can use our understanding of the mind to improve the quality of our lives and eventually to attain the true mental freedom of enlightenment.

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Concentration Makes the Mind Peaceful

The main function of virtuous concentration is to make the mind peaceful. In Precious Garland Nagarjuna says:

From giving comes wealth,
From discipline comes happiness,
From patience come attractive forms,
From effort comes the fulfilment of wishes,
From concentration comes peace,
And from wisdom comes freedom from obstructions.

When our mind is free from the turbulence of distracting conceptions it becomes calm and smooth. When we are enjoying internal peace and happiness our craving for external sources of pleasure naturally declines and it is easy to remain content.

Pure concentration also helps to make our body and mind comfortable, flexible, and easy to use in the practice of Dharma. This serviceability of the mind, which is called ‘suppleness’, is one of the main benefits that come from concentration.

Although at present we have a certain degree of concentration when we meditate, it is relatively weak and short-lived, and so the suppleness it produces is subtle and difficult to recognize; but as our concentration becomes stronger and more stable our suppleness will also improve.

It is not just the intensity of suppleness that is important, for suppleness must also be firm and long-lasting. If we have suppleness that lasts for twenty-four hours a day we shall always find it easy to engage in virtuous actions because we shall never become physically or mentally tired; and we shall always be delighted to listen to, contemplate, and meditate on Dharma teachings.

With this joy in Dharma practice we shall find no difficulty in accomplishing the five paths, the ten grounds, and the realizations of the two stages of Tantra.

Suppleness is the real opponent of laziness. According to Dharma, laziness is not just attachment to sleep and physical ease – it is any mind that is disinclined to engage in virtuous activities. There is no more important spiritual task than to eliminate laziness. With suppleness, virtuous activities such as contemplation or meditation become a pleasure and there is no reluctance to engage in them. The attainment of suppleness depends upon concentration, concentration depends upon effort, effort depends upon aspiration, and aspiration depends upon recognizing the benefits of concentration.

Ordinary people regard samsaric enjoyments, possessions, and money as beneficial and so they put all their effort into acquiring these; but Dharma practitioners see the great benefits of concentration and strive earnestly to attain it.

Concentration gives us the freedom to accomplish whatever we wish for. Without concentration our mind has no freedom but is forced to go wherever it is led by attachment, hatred, or other delusions. A person who has good, virtuous concentration has control over his mind, and his mind does what he wants it to do, like a well-trained horse that obeys its rider.

By improving our concentration we can attain tranquil abiding, superior seeing, clairvoyance, and miracle powers, and eventually complete all the paths to enlightenment; but if we lack concentration we shall not be able to make any progress on the paths and grounds of the Mahayana, and so we shall not be able to attain Buddhahood. Therefore, all mundane and supramundane attainments depend upon concentration.

We need concentration not only during formal meditation but also when we are listening to teachings or reading Dharma books. For example, if we read a book with a distracted mind we shall not understand the meaning clearly. We may think that the fault lies in the book but in reality it lies in our distracted mind.

© Geshe Kelsang Gyatso & New Kadampa Tradition