As a practitioner of meditation and Vajrayana, I am constantly dealing with some aspect of mind. As I mentioned before, I did not start my journey in Buddhist practice specifically, I started with the whole idea of mindfulness and meditation as a way to reduce stress and come to terms with the world around me.
After reading Full Catastrophe Living by John Kabat-Zinn and practicing the lessons in the associated course, I gained some insight into mindfulness and the role of meditation in maintaining a healthy perspective on stress and stress reduction. The course, and the associated readings, taught me a lot about how to look at my mind; how to recognize thoughts and feelings as they rose and to avoid grasping those thoughts and emotions to be aware of my experience in the moment. Specifically, to understand that thoughts and emotions are fleeting mental experiences.
As I look back on the course and my work in Vajrayana and Ngondro, I realize that mindfulness and the whole concept of mindfulness is its own distraction. Since about 1979, mindfulness has become an industry filled with books on meditation and stress reduction, ways to deal with pain, anxiety, emotional issues, and all of those thoughts and feelings that rise and fall in our minds each and every second of the day. (For more information, check out this article on mindfulness.)
Mindfulness, however, only gets you to the place of observation and basic awareness. The practice as taught does not “cut to the root of mind” as so many scholars and practitioners have stated. Mindfulness meditation does help with stress reduction and pain management, certainly, and by definition keeps us in that state of being in which we have a dualistic mind; object and observer. Specifically, the object is always thought and emotion. Always. The observer, our rational, conceptual mind, can be tuned to reveal concepts as they arise and can observe their passing. At the same time, as long as thoughts and emotions are at the center of experience then our minds are full of those same thoughts and emotions. We can be mindful while still bound by the thoughts and feelings we have.
Meditation, then, becomes a practice to simply manage those concepts rather than getting to their source. The challenge for mindfulness practice is to transition away from a dualistic mind. As far as I know, the answers for practitioners are in the faith traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and other approaches to mind training. Without a focus on enlightenment (or unification between atman and brahman or unifying mind with path), mindfulness meditation remains in stasis. Of course, there is nothing wrong with meditation as a practice, and meditation is not an end in itself. As I understand it, to achieve a state of being that is beyond dualism requires the dissolution of the observer or the end of dualism.
That end to dualism, for me, was revealed as I studied Ngondro and awakened to the whole idea that removing self-cherishing, in fact not focusing on self at all, was the way to understand our true nature. As Dzongar Jamyang Khentsye has said, seeking for our true nature reveals that there is no there, there. Unlike Hinduism or Christianity, we cannot search for an atman or soul. Such a thing does not exist. For many, that thought might be unsettling. It certainly was for me when I first understood it. I always believed that there was a soul or some core self buried in the depths of my mind; something that was eternal, permanent. The Hindu idea of unity with Brahman or unity with god was compelling. That some piece of you is a part of god. Fascinating.
What I found in Vajrayana thought, however, was something quite different: that there was no me, I, or other. Our true nature is expansive, all encompassing and clear like the sky.
Years of study and practice brought me to this understanding and this moment right now. Through the guidance of Sogyal Rinpoche, the writings of Dzongar Jamyang Khentsye and Dilgo Khentsye Rinpoche, I came to the realization of the non-dualistic nature of mind.
For some insight into the nature of mind, check out this video: