Understanding the Mind: An Explanation of the Nature and Functions of the
Mind by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (Tharpa Publications)
A unique combination of profound philosophical exploration and practical
psychology that is part of the teacher training program founded by Geshe
The explanation of the mind is based on the works of the classic Indian
Buddhist scholars Dharmakirti and Dignaga, presented in two parts. The first
part explains the nature and function of the different types of mind, and how to
develop and increase knowledge and understanding. First, each type of mind is
clearly defined so that it can be correctly identified, and then the different
varieties of each type of mind are enumerated and illustrated by examples. Then
there follows an explanation of how each type of mind is generated, and finally
there is advice on how to apply our understanding of each type of mind to Dharma
practice and meditation. These explanations show how to develop and increase
valid knowledge and Dharma realizations.
The second part of
Understanding the Mind explains primary minds and mental factors. Here
the emphasis is on distinguishing virtuous states of mind from non-virtuous
states of mind so that one can cultivate the former and abandon the latter.
First there is an explanation of the six primary minds and their relationship to
their accompanying mental factors. Then there follows an explanation of the
definitions, divisions, and functions of each of the fifty-one mental factors.
These explanations help us to control our deluded minds and attain permanent
freedom from suffering. Throughout the book Geshe Kelsang
shows how we can apply this understanding of the mind to our daily meditation
practice and everyday life.
Kadampa Buddhism is a Mahayana Buddhist school founded by
the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982-1054). His followers are known
as 'Kadampas'. 'Ka' means 'word' and refers to Buddha's teachings, and 'dam'
refers to Atisha's special Lamrim instructions known as 'the stages of the path
to enlightenment'. By integrating their knowledge of all Buddha's teachings into
their practice of Lamrim, and by integrating this into their everyday lives,
Kadampa Buddhists are encouraged to use Buddha's teachings as practical methods
for transforming daily activities into the path to enlightenment. The great
Kadampa Teachers are famous not only for being great scholars, but also for
being spiritual practitioners of immense purity and sincerity.
The lineage of these teachings, both their oral
transmission and blessings, was then passed from Teacher to disciple, spreading
throughout much of Asia, and now to many countries throughout the Western
world. Buddha's teachings, which are known as 'Dharma', are likened to a wheel
that moves from country to country in accordance with changing conditions and
people's karmic inclinations. The external forms of presenting Buddhism may
change as it meets with different cultures and societies, but its essential
authenticity is ensured through the continuation of an unbroken lineage of
Kadampa Buddhism was first introduced into the West in 1977
by the renowned Buddhist Master, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Since that
time, he has worked tirelessly to spread Kadampa Buddhism throughout the world
by giving extensive teachings, writing many profound texts on Kadampa Buddhism,
and founding the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), which now has nearly four hundred
Kadampa Buddhist Centres worldwide. Each Centre offers study programmes on
Buddhist psychology, philosophy, and meditation instruction, as well as retreats
for all levels of practitioner. The emphasis is on integrating Buddha's
teachings into daily life to solve our human problems and to spread lasting
peace and happiness throughout the world.
The Kadampa Buddhism of the NKT is an entirely independent
Buddhist tradition and has no political affiliations. It is an association of
Buddhist Centres and practitioners that derive their inspiration and
guidance from the example of the ancient Kadampa Buddhist
Masters and their teachings, as presented by Geshe Kelsang.
There are three reasons why we need to study and practise
the teachings of Buddha: to develop our wisdom, to cultivate a good heart, and
to maintain a peaceful state of mind. If we do not strive to develop our wisdom,
we will always remain ignorant of ultimate truth - the true nature of reality.
Although we wish for happiness, our ignorance leads us to engage in non-virtuous
actions, which are the main cause of all our suffering. If we do not cultivate a
good heart, our selfish motivation destroys harmony and good relationships with
others. We have no peace, and no chance to gain pure happiness. Without inner
peace, outer peace is impossible. If we do not maintain a peaceful state of
mind, we are not happy even if we have ideal conditions. On the other hand, when
our mind is peaceful, we are happy, even if our external conditions are
unpleasant. Therefore, the development of these qualities is of utmost
importance for our daily happiness.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, or 'Geshe-la' as he is affectionately
called by his students, has designed three special spiritual programmes for the
systematic study and practice of Kadampa Buddhism that are especially suited to
the modern world - the General Programme (GP), the Foundation Programme (FP),
and the Teacher Training Programme (TTP).
The General Programme provides a basic introduction to
Buddhist view, meditation, and practice that is suitable for beginners. It also
includes advanced teachings and practice from both Sutra and Tantra.
The Foundation Programme provides an opportunity to deepen
our understanding and experience of Buddhism through a systematic study of five
Joyful Path of Good Fortune - a commentary to Atisha's Lamrim
instructions, the stages of the path to enlightenment.
Universal Compassion- a commentary to Bodhisattva Chekhawa's Training
the Mind in Seven Points.
Heart of Wisdom - a commentary to the Heart Sutra.
Meaningful to Behold - a commentary to Venerable Shantideva's Guide
to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life.
Understanding the Mind- a detailed explanation of the mind, based on the
works of the Buddhist scholars Dharmakirti and Dignaga.
The benefits of studying and practising these texts are as
Joyful Path of Good Fortune - we gain the ability to put all Buddha's
teachings of both Sutra and Tantra into practice. We can easily make progress
on, and complete, the stages of the path to the supreme happiness of
enlightenment. From a practical point of view, Lamrim is the main body of
Buddha's teachings, and the other teachings are like its limbs.
Universal Compassion - we gain the ability to integrate Buddha's
teachings into our daily life and solve all our human problems.
Heart of Wisdom- we gain a realization of the ultimate nature of
reality. By gaining this realization, we can eliminate the ignorance of
self-grasping, which is the root of all our suffering.
Meaningful to Behold - we transform our daily activities into the
Bodhisattva's way of life, thereby making every moment of our human life
Understanding the Mind- we understand the relationship between our mind
and its external objects. If we understand that objects depend upon the
subjective mind, we can change the way objects appear to us by changing our own
mind. Gradually, we will gain the ability to control our mind and in this way
solve all our problems.
In recent years our understanding and control of the
external world have increased considerably and as a result we have witnessed
remarkable material progress; but there has not been a corresponding increase in
human happiness. There is no less suffering in the world today, and there are no
fewer problems. Indeed, it might be said that there are now more problems and
greater unhappiness than ever before. This shows that the cause of happiness and
the solution to our problems do not lie in knowledge or control of the external
world. Happiness and suffering are states of mind and so their main causes are
not to be found outside the mind. If we want to be truly happy and free from
suffering we must improve our understanding of the mind.
When things go wrong in our life and we encounter
difficult situations we tend to regard the situation itself as the problem, but
in reality whatever problems we experience come from the side of the mind. If we
were to respond to difficult situations with a positive or peaceful mind they
would not be problems for us; indeed we may even come to regard them as
challenges or opportunities for growth and development. Problems arise only if
we respond to difficulties with a negative state of mind. Therefore, if we want
to be free from problems we must learn to control our mind.
Buddha taught that the mind has the power to create all
pleasant and unpleasant objects. This is a view held in common by all four
Buddhist schools: the two Hinayana schools - the Vaibashikas and the
Sautrantikas - and the two Mahayana schools - the Chittamatrins and the
Madhyamikas. According to this view the world is the result of the karma, or
actions, of the beings who inhabit it. A pure world is the result of pure
actions and an impure world is the result of impure actions. Since all actions
are created by mind, ultimately everything, including the world itself, is
created by mind. There is no creator other than mind. Buddhists believe this
because they rely upon the explanations given by Buddha.
Normally we say 'I created such and such', or 'He or she
created such and such', but the actual creator of everything is the mind. We are
like servants helping our mind, which is the actual creator. Whenever our mind
wants to do something we have to do it without any choice. Since beginningless
time until now we have been under the control of our mind, without any freedom;
but if we now practise Dharma sincerely we can reverse this situation and gain
control over our mind. Only then shall we have real freedom.
Within the four Buddhist schools, the Chittamatrins in
particular believe that all phenomena, including the world itself, are the same
nature as the mind that apprehends them and have no existence outside the mind.
They say that if we dream of a mountain, for example, that mountain is the same
nature as the dream mind and has no existence outside the mind. If it existed
outside the mind we would have to say that a huge mountain existed in our small
bedroom, which is clearly absurd. They say that just as it is with dream
objects, so it is with all phenomena - they are all the same nature as the mind,
like a dream mountain.
The highest of the four Buddhist schools, the
Madhyamika-Prasangika school, says that all phenomena are merely imputed by mind
and have no existence from their own side.
The essential point in all these views is that liberation
from suffering cannot be found outside the mind. Permanent liberation can be
found only by purifying the mind. Therefore, if we want to become free from
problems and attain lasting peace and happiness we need to increase our
knowledge and understanding of the mind.
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