Buddha’s Inner Science of Mind and The Joy of Awakening
By Lama Surya Das
For “Science of Mind” mag., March 2004
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of al things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description…. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”
When one does not know the mystery of the mind
Which is the most important thing in the world to understand,
He is hopelessly lost and will never attain happiness and the end of suffering.
Therefore, I advise you to take hold of and guard your own mind.”
Shantideva, “The Bodhisattva Path”
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
(FROM “The Dhammapada”, The Original Sayings of the Buddha)
My late guru, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, used to introduce his disciples to the intrinsic nature of mind by holding up a radiant crystal, and with one large finger pointing to it, suddenly exclaiming in a loud voice: “What is mind?” This traditional mind-to-mind, heart to heart, mouth to ear oral tradition of our Dzogchen lineage by such an august Tibetan master shouting a short, shocking question amidst an elaborate tantric ritual often provoked a breakthrough, a spiritual epiphany in us, his students–beyond mind and body, beyond the dualisms of self and other, master and disciple. For background, or afterward in explanation, the master often discussed the clear, radiant/transparent, lucid and sparkling nature of crystal as representing or symbolizing the magic mirror of mind and its many facets/potentials–empty of color itself, yet capable of seeming to take on the color of whatever is held behind it; transparent, yet luminously cognizant/aware and radiating outward all kinds of colorful projections.
This is traditionally called “direct introduction to the nature of mind–one’s true (Buddha) nature,” or “recognition of our primordial nature”. It is the first vital point of Dzogchen (Natural Great Perfection) and Mahamudra (Ultimate Awareness), the nondual teachings of advanced Tibetan Buddhism.
Another master used to pound on a table or clap his hands loudly, and ask: “Who is hearing and experiencing?” The first time he did that, I realized that his mind and my mind were not two, and are inseparable with Buddha Mind, Dharmakaya, ultimate reality.
My first Dzogchen master, Kangyur Rinpoche, used to ask students to look directly, in the immediate moment, into what color and shape and size was their mind, and in what location their heart mind was to be found; this inquiry often brought them to a nonconceptual realization of the nature of primordial identity, of self and selflessness, sunyata (luminous emptiness). Dharma masters have their own ways and skillful means to awaken beings to reality, as we can see in the many zen stories about sudden enlightenment experiences (satori).
Buddhism is all about the wisdom of enlightenment. Wisdom in Buddhism means seeing things as they are, not as we would like them to be. In the traditional teachings of the Eightfold Path, the wisdom section includes two aspects: Impeccable Vision and Impeccable Intentions. Impeccable vision means clear seeing, clear cognition: it is the first step on Buddha’s Noble Eight-fold Path.
In Mahayana Buddhism, wisdom has two faces, aspects or levels: the wisdom knowing how things really are, in the light of infinite voidness (sunyata), which is the absolute or ultimate level of truth and reality; and the wisdom of knowing how things function and appear, through karmic concatenation and skillful means—this is the relative or conventional level of truth, leading to compassion and selfless service. These two truths or wisdoms are like the two indispensable wings of the bird-like Bodhisattva winging their way to enlightenment.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, five wisdoms are delineated: Mirror-like Wisdom, Discriminating Wisdom, Equalizing Wisdom, All-Accomplishing Wisdom, and Ultimate Reality Wisdom. According to the mandala principle which elucidates the timeless truth of “As above, so below”; in the microcosm we find the macrocosm, with our five limbs and five senses and five skandhas (aggregates of individuality) corresponding to the five natural elements, the five directions of space, and to the five wisdoms. (Lama Govinda’s seminal “Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism explains this in detail.) In short: All wisdom can be found within us. What we seek, we are. It is all within.
Tibetan Buddhist commentaries generally teach that there are three kinds of wisdom: listening, reflecting and meditating. I lovingly call them The Three Kinds of Higher Education: Learning, Reflection; and Meditation. These form the heart of our spiritual education on the evolutionary path of enlightenment. Through taking in knowledge and experience from others—Learning– we then have the opportunity and responsibility of analyzing, digesting and checking it out for ourselves—Reflection– which ultimately leads to integrating and realizing the truth of what we have learned– Meditation. These are the three wisdoms in actual application. Meditation here does not just mean closing our eyes, crossing our legs and fingers and hoping to awaken from dream-like illusion and confusion. It includes getting used to what we have learned and reflected upon, and maturing our inner experience of those experienced verities.
Lest these three forms of wisdom seem merely mental, higher learning of this kind could can include cultivating all kinds of various types of intelligence, besides just I Q. There’s also EQ (emotional intelligence), somatic intelligence, relational intelligence, musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, energetic intelligence, environmental intelligence, existential intelligence, spiritual intelligence, and so forth. Learning, Reflection and Meditation regarding these other lines of development can be accomplished– besides book learning and lecture-style auditing—through many avenues, including listening as well as via yoga, chant, exercise, conscious eating, dance, sacred music, creative arts, journaling, relationships, our vocation, and numerous disciplines which further the mind and heart, body and soul.
Enlightenment means awakening from the dream of illusion and confusion, which is riddled with pain and suffering. Buddha’s First Truth or fact of life is that unenlightened life is difficult and full of suffering; his Second Truth is that there is another way, another life. Enlightenment means enlightened, luminous, or fully blossomed innate wakefulness, pristine awareness, the realization of Dharmakaya here and now; not any special state of temporary consciousness, mystical experience, supernatural powers, other-worldly vision or ectstatic transport.
The way is eightfold.
There are four truths.
All virtue lies in detachment.
The master has an open eye.
This is the only way,
The only way to the opening of the eye.
Follow it to the end of sorrow.
When I pulled out sorrow’s shaft
I showed you the way.
It is you who must make the effort.
The masters only point the way.
But if you meditate
And follow the dharma
You will free yourself from desire.
“Everything arises and passes away.”
When you see this, you are above sorrow.
This is the shining way.
“Existence is sorrow.”
Understand, and go beyond sorrow.
This is the way of brightness.
“Existence is illusion.”
Understand, and go beyond.
This is the way of clarity.
(from “The Dhammapada”, The Sayings of Buddha)
Awakening is the sole subject of the inner science of Buddhism. That is the literal meaning of the word Buddha: the Awakened One. All the many schools and lineages throughout the various Buddhist countries hold awakened enlightenment as the goal and sole purpose of this spiritual path. Awakening means to realize who and what we truly are, to see through delusion and find truth for oneself. This has been the Buddha’s way, for millennia.
Wakefulness is the way to life.
The fool sleeps
As if he were already dead,
But the master is awake
And he lives forever.
He is clear.
How happy he is!
For he sees that wakefulness is life.
How happy he is,
Following the path of the awakened.
With great perseverance
He meditates, seeking
Freedom and happiness.
So awake, reflect, watch.
Work with care and attention.
Live in the way
And the light will grow in you.
By watching and working
The master makes for himself an island
Which the flood cannot overwhelm.
The fool is careless.
But the master guards his watching.
It is his most precious treasure.
He never gives in to desire.
And in the strength of his resolve
He discovers true happiness.
Find friends who love the truth.
Live in serenity and joy.
The wise man delights in the truth
And follows the law of the awakened.
( from “The Dhammapada”)
Tibetan masters say that we are all Buddhas by nature; we only have to recognize and realize that fact. To recognize who and what we truly are and can be. This is the meaning of awakening, satori, spiritual breakthrough, enlightenment. There is nothing else to become enlightened or wise about, in the ultimate analysis, although there are certainly plenty of relative realizations and insights to be gleaned along the way and the wisdom of experience to be gained over decades of schlepping to enlightenment. Still, every step of the way is the Great Way; this should not be overlooked.
Tibetan teachers say that it is too close, so we overlook it. It is too clear and ever-present, so we see right through it and don’t usually notice it. It is not outside ourselves, so we can’t grasp or obtain it. It seems too good to be true, so we can’t believe it.
Realization of the true nature of heart-mind answers the question who am I and what is real, and all other questions about God, the soul, the afterlife, material reality, and the purpose and meaning of life. This has been Buddha’s inmost teaching since the beginning. I myself have found it to be true.
Meditating yogis since the time of the Vedas and the Upanishads have taught that the restless mind and its wayward thoughts keep us from God, oneness, inner peace and harmony; while samadhi–concentrated meditation and contemplation—centers us, brings inner strength, refines and develops our inner spirit, and purifies mind and heart, eventually unifying us with the ultimate. Buddha said that the mind is the source of heaven and hell: that all unhappiness comes from an untrained mind, all happiness comes from a well tamed mind.
The Indian mahasiddha Saraha, a tantric yoga adept and author of the famous enlightenment poem “Royal Song of Saraha, was a fletcher by trade. One day he sang: “As a fletcher straightens his arrows and perfects his aim, the meditator straightens his concentrated attention and perfects his mind.”
My friend Professor Robert Thurman says: “Buddha founded and greatly furthered the tradition of Inner, or Mind, science (adhyatmavidya). It is called ‘science’, because it is an organized discipline for seeking knowledge of the mind in an exact manner, with a view to freeing individuals from its negative potentials and enabling them to realize its positive potentials.” Mind is the doer of all things, as it says in the ancient “Soveriegn of All” tantra (scripture). “He who masters the mind is master of himself and all worlds. He who knows his mind knows others and knows the whole world.” As modern scientists and astronauts have started to plumb the depths of space and time, meditation masters and yogis are like psychonauts who have plumbed the profound depths and timeless dimensions of inner space.
Buddhist spiritual teachings present a genuine science of mind, an inner technology or technology of enlightenment that allows one to undertake the inner journey of awareness, the exploration of who and what we are, and to uncover the ultimate inner reality: the nature of the mind and the phenomena that our heart-mind experiences. When we say that Buddhism is a “science,” we do not mean the dry science of analyzing material things but something deeper. We are talking about going into the depths of the reality of our inner world, the most profound and powerful world, and understanding the fundamental creative principle.
Buddhism is as much an inner science, an ethical philosophy and a way of awakening as it is a religion– at least according to most western ideas of what constitutes religion: a creator, faith and beliefs, a creed and dogma that must be subscribed to, conversion ceremonies, etc.
“Do what is wholesome;
Avoid what is unwholesome;
Purify your heart and mind:
This is the way of the Buddhas/enlightenment.”
For millennia, this has been the Buddhist creed. Notice that it does not include anything about beliefs, ritual, cosmology, rebirth, etc. in this basic prescription for the enlightened life, which also forms the core instruction for the path of enlightenment. The Dalai Lama, who is a trained philosopher and also appreciates and studies modern science, has called Buddhism a religion of reason. Contemporary scholars such as Bob Thurman and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche have called it an inner science and a humanistic science that works with the basic nature of our mind. Buddhism is pragmatic and practice-oriented, a healthy and wholesome way of life and a way to learn to love this all of life, including this body and this gritty world and well as all its inhabitants, human and otherwise.
Buddhism is a way of seeing and being: a new way of seeing things as they are, and a new way of being authentic and spontaneous, centered, in harmony, balanced, open, wise and awake. It is focused on discovering and developing behavior conducive to lasting happiness and fulfillment, for both self and others: appropriate attitudes, internal alignment, wise behavior and compassionate actions that need to be cultivated, in tune with inner and outer realities. This kind of happiness and fulfillment can be learned and experienced. This practice path involves more is just the power of positive thinking.
Better than a thousand hollow words
Is one word that brings peace.
Better than a thousand hollow verses
Is one verse that brings peace.
Better than a hundred hollow lines
Is one line of the dharma, bringing peace.
It is better to conquer yourself
Than to win a thousand battles.
Then the victory is yours.
It cannot be taken from you,
Not by angels or by demons,
Heaven or hell.
Better than a hundred years of worship,
Better than a thousand offerings,
Better than giving up a thousand worldly ways
In order to win merit,
Better even than tending in the forest
A sacred flame for a hundred years –
Is one moment’s reverence
For the man who has conquered himself.
Buddhism is a joyous, uplifting, intelligent science of the mind and heart, which makes consciousness its main study—not god, not the afterlife, but consciousness itself in all its infinite varieties and evolution, human and otherwise, visible and invisible. It is life affirming, optimistic, positivistic, positing that all beings can attain the ultimate state of nirvana, enlightenment just as Buddha did, and that life is precious and sacred, to be protected and furthered, for the betterment of all. I think of Buddhism as quite scientific in a modern way: Buddha made an experiment with consciousness and spirit, with life and death and reality, and attained perfect enlightenment. His thesis is that anyone who replicates that same experiment can duplicate his results, just as the scientific method requires.
Buddha was the world’s first great psychologist and therapist, and his followers the first great codifiers of a sophisticated and systematic mind training, attitude transformation, and liberating theology. Combining elements of the Vedic (Hindu) yogic system and world view with Buddha’s own discovery of the Eight-fold Path to enlightenment; Buddhist ethical self-discipline, meditative practice, and wisdom and love in action—the Three Liberating Trainings of classical BuddhaDharma– result in a higher or deeper, transcendental science that can demonstrably bring us to the utmost freedom and deliverance of heart and mind, body and soul—a total purification and transformation of the heart, mind and spirit. Buddhist training is like true higher education, which brings out—educes—the best in us, for the benefit of one and all. Tibetan Buddhism’s further emphasis on Mind Training and Attitude Transformation (lojong) as the essence of spiritual refinement contributes a great deal to our theory and practice of mental development directed towards spiritual realization.
Love yourself and watch –
Today, tomorrow, always.
First establish yourself in the way,
And so defeat sorrow.
To straighten the crooked
You must first do a harder thing –
You are your only master.
And discover your master.
As the fletcher whittles
And makes straight his arrows,
So the master directs
His straying thoughts.
Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver,
For how can they shake off desire?
They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their own will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.
But how subtle they are,
The task is to quieten them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.
The master quells his thoughts.
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.
How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.
An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.
Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.
The ancient traditional Buddhist canon of over one hundred volumes– known as the Tripitaka, (lit.: Three Baskets)– is divided into three sections or collections. Fully one third of this classical Buddhist canon is the Abhidharma collection, which is Buddhist psychology and epistemology. This is our inner science, and the world’s first developed well-developed system of psychology, including both theory and practice applications. It closely examines how we know what we know, what is consciousness, and so forth. As Claudio Naranjo says “… sophisticated bodies of knowledge most appropriately called ‘transpersonal psychology’ have existed as part of Asian traditions long before the advent of western psychology.” Yogis Hindu and Buddhist have delved deeply into consciousness for millennia.
In the early 1900’s, while lecturing at Harvard, William James offered his lectern to a visiting Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka he spied sitting in the audience, saying: “Take my chair. You are better equipped to lecture on psychology than I. This is the psychology everyone will be studying twenty five years from now.” Buddhist psychology has become extremely important and influential today among western professionals in the field.
Both psychoanalysis and Buddhism take a threefold approach to salutary self-transformation. First the problem of human suffering is recognized, then it and its causes are diagnosed, and finally remedies are offered. A cogent analyses of suffering it causes, its end, and how to achieve that end is the original emphasis of Buddha’s teachings, codified as the Four Noble Truths.
If Sigmund Freud was serious when he famously stated that the purpose of psychoanalysis is to turn excessive misery into ordinary human suffering, the Buddha over two thousand years earlier took it several steps further and deeper. His message also included all beings and the environment too, not just human beings, and not just in this single lifetime. Moreover, the sage known as Gautama Buddha taught that enlightenment—nirvana: deathless bliss, ease and inner freedom—was possible for anyone who followed a path similar to his—not by believing in him as a savior or prophet, but by following his advice, not unlike intelligent patients who follow a skilled doctor’s expert advice and become healed through taking appropriate medication.
Predating Mesmer, Freud and the analysts, psychologists and therapists and eventual neuroscientists by over two thousand years; twenty five hundred years ago, Buddha and his lineage heirs studied how to recognize, understand and skillfully develop consciousness and its various states and stages of evolution, through meditative mindfulness, concentration and awareness techniques, will power and self-inquiry learning to genuine self-knowledge. Buddha and other sages sought in vain for a permanent, unchanging, independently existing soul or essence, while investigating the nature of identity and the matrix of body, energy, spirit and psyche, as well as thought, awareness, rational and intuitive modes of knowing through an incisive form of Buddhist logic and epistemology. They worked philosophically, ontologically and also therapeutically with detailed analytical investigation and first-hand personal scrutiny into causation and conditioning, motivation, intention and impulses, perception and cognition, the six senses, the eight forms of consciousness, the ego and nature of self and selfishness; dreams, visions, psychic powers and out-of-the-body-experiences; energy and healing; delineating fifty two mental factors and half a dozen afflictive emotions—ignorance, desire, aversion, pride, jealousy and delusion—that condition our consciousness moment to moment and which are at the heart of all of our conditioning, producing through interconnectedness the karma which determines our character, our fate, our destiny. 2500 years ago, Buddha taught about the virtues of ethical morality, nonviolence, altruism, and the incredible healing and spiritually liberating powers of the mind—wise lessons no less applicable today than so many years ago.
In short, Buddha provided many of man’s earliest personal development and behavior modification tools and techniques, and a wealth of insights into cause and effect. Many centuries ago, Buddhism discovered and continued to develop dream work—Tibetan Dream yoga and lucid dreaming—conscious death and dying, Tibetan energy yoga, breathing techniques, revitalization and longevity practices, creative imagery and visualization practices, and numerous other forms of contemplative practice with implications on many different levels of our individual and collective, outer and inner, lives. Until today it is hard to find a better explanation of our mind and our experience of reality, and where lasting happiness lies and how to attain it.
Senior Buddhist monk Banta Gunaratana writes, in his fine book “Mindfulness in Plain English”:
“You can’t ever get everything you want. It is impossible. Luckily, there is another option: You can learn to control your mind, to step outside of this endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn not to want what you want, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them.”
The Dalai Lama of Tibet says: “If we can reorient our thoughts and emotions, and reorder our behavior, not only can we learn to cope with suffering more easily, but we can prevent a great deal of it from starting in the first place.”
Buddha said that if you wish to protect your feet from painful thorns and stones along the path, you cannot cover the entire world with leather but you can cover your own feet (ie., with shoes). This has been the raison d’etre for mind training and mental development since the beginning.
Buddhist psychology sees human beings a fundamentally good, and—like all sentient beings– endowed with the luminous and incorruptible Buddha nature or bodhicitta, the “spirit of enlightenment” or the “awakening/evolving heart-mind”. It is the task of the therapist or teacher to help bring the patient, client or student back to the fundamental wholeness, humanness and spiritual health that is their natural state and true original nature. How to do that and how that actually happens is of course the central concern. Both Buddhism and psychology seek to facilitate growth, insight and meaningful connection with others as well as freedom from suffering. I personally like to remember that Freud said, in a letter to Carl Jung: “Psychoanalysis is essentially a cure through love.” This is where heart and mind, psyche and spirit come together, I think, as Buddhism has been elucidating for millennia.
Jung was interested in Tibetan mandalas and mantras, and analyzed them extensively in terms of his own theory of universal symbols and archetypes; Erich Fromme investigated Zen Buddhist ideas in his early work. In later life, Karen Horney attempted to fit Buddhist notions into her ego-analytic scheme. My friend Mark Epstein has recently written about how Freud’s theory of personality relates to Buddhist conceptions of the mind, and the nature of identity, in “Thoughts Without a Thinker” and other works. Transpersonal psychologists such as Ken Wilber, J. Kornfield, R. Walsh, F. Vaughan and others have examined the spiritual basis of Buddhism and other religions in relation to psychological constructs. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering work in bringing mindfulness into the fields of stress management and chronic pain reduction therapy has forged a significant bridge between eastern and western science and praxis, popular in hospitals and healing centers today. Other contemporary psychologists have applied Buddhist insights in the form of Acceptance Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Meditation Therapy, and other forms of treatment stemming from Buddhist practices.
My old friend Ram Dass says: “Pain is an inevitable part of life. Spiritual practice teaches us to open to pain, to accept it as a part of life. Our suffering comes from not accepting what’s happening in the moment, be it pain or pleasure or peace of mind–from trying to avoid the reality of life.
Through his research in the inner laboratory of his own mind, via meditation and self inquiry, Buddha tells us of five distorted views which we need to recognize and avoid if we would reduce the suffering in ourselves and our world. These are empirical mistakes which can be easily verified by ordinary observations within the reach of everyone.
Seeking for permanence and reliability in that which is impermanent;
Seeking for lasting fulfillment, satisfaction and ease in that which is inherently riddled with pain and suffering;
Seeking for lasting selfhood or independent identity/entityness/soul in that which is selfless, unowned, and without lasting essence;
Seeking delight in and being attracted to that which is decaying;
Seeking reality in that which is unreliable, empty, and unreal in being mere conceptual imputation.
Death overtakes the man
Who gathers flowers
When with distracted mind and thirsty senses
He searches vainly for happiness
In the pleasures of the world.
Death fetches him away
As a flood carries off a sleeping village.
Death overcomes him
When with distracted mind and thirsty senses
He gathers flowers.
He will never have his fill
Of the pleasures of the world.
Do not live in the world,
In distraction and false dreams,
Outside the dharma.
Arise and watch.
Follow the way joyfully
Through this world and beyond.
Follow the way of virtue.
Follow the way joyfully
Through this world and on beyond!
For consider the world –
A bubble, a mirage.
See the world as it is,
And death shall overlook you.
He is awake.
The victory is his.
He has conquered the world.
How can he lose the way
Who is beyond the way?
His eye is open
His foot is free.
Who can follow after him?
The world cannot reclaim him
Or lead him astray,
Buddha said: “Death is my guru. The spectre of death and mortality drove me to seek freedom beyond birth and death. Always keep in mind the fact of mortality and impermanence; that is the greatest meditation.” Buddhism has since that time made a thorough study of the arts and practices of death, dying and the afterlife, and the intermediate stages (bardo) associated with those transitions between states of existence, including the dreamlike bardos of sleep and dream, extraordinary states of consciousness, out of the body experiences and so forth. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that the most important aspect of the mind, the intuitive or ‘very subtle’ mind, is non-physical and is reborn after this life. Tibetans call it the mental body or “light body”, a subtle form of clear-light consciousness which underlies who we think we are and our personality, and which continues from life to life in a deeper ecology of being. The ancient, timeless Tibetan Book of Liberating Guidance Through the Intermediate Stages (Bardo Thodol) is the Buddhist classic on the universal question of death and the afterlife, conscious dying, dreams, visions, and the inner clear light of Dharmakaya (reality). Contemporary teacher Sogyal Rinpoche’s “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” is a helpful modern commentary on this subject.
Lama Anagarika Govinda, a German-born monk and scholar, wrote: “Both religion and science strive after truth, but this does not mean that they can be amalgamated, as they differ in their methods….Science is the human endeavor to grow beyond nature, that is, outwardly. Religion is the human endeavor to grow inwardly beyond ourselves. Science is the means to an end. Religion carries meaning in itself.” (“Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness”, 1976)
Modern science and Buddhism are the world’s two most powerful traditions for understanding the nature of reality and investigating the mind. In September of 2003, at MIT, the Dalai Lama took part in a weekend “Mind and Life” conference, along with other Buddhist monks and scholars and noted neuroscientists and brain researchers, and philosophers of consciousness studies. In a search for common ground in their pursuit of understanding
of the mysteries of the human mind, they were asked to discuss and report on questions such as: Can concentration be controlled? Can attention be practiced and perfected? What is the relation between brain, mind, consciousness, and spirit? These are questions that are of increasing interest today to scientists, but which Buddhist monks have been exploring for thousands of years.
Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School has demonstrated, over the years and using with ordinary Americans as subjects, the verifiable effects of easily-learned meditative techniques, and written extensively about the now famous “relaxation response” and its numerous healthy and otherwise beneficial effects. Venerable Matthieu Ricard, a French learned French monk and translator who is also a scientist, has been hooked up to scientific monitors and demonstrated different kinds of meditation and consciousness intentionally produced through the inner powers of mind developed through his long decades of monastery and retreat training. He also provided a quick summary of the Buddhist approach to mind: the pure, luminous nature of mind; the distortions of the destructive emotions and delusions, and the potential to eliminate them.
One difference in approach ancient and modern is that science teaches that genetic makeup, environment, and external experiences influence the brain, which in turn creates emotions and leads to thoughts. From the Buddhist view, thoughts influence emotions, which in turn affect behavior and brain functions. My own teacher once told me, in no uncertain terms: “Mind is sheer lucency. This is Buddha.”
In recent years, western psychologists and neuroscientists have become interested in meditation, a central component of Buddhist life and practice, and in what it says about
the limits of an individual’s control over the mind and body, and its benefits for health, longevity and wellbeing as well as its more spiritual purposes. Panelists in the conference suggested that scientists are starting to see that expert meditators may be useful not only as guinea pigs, but in shaping understanding. The scientists wanted to pick the minds of the Buddhist scholars about how best to use technology such as brain imaging to study consciousness, and have been conducting experiments on trained monks, nuns and meditators, using brain imaging technology, to establish empirical bases for claims made by meditators throughout the centuries about how the mind’s consciousness as well as the body physical and energetic systems can be cultivated, developed, transformed, and freed, and how positive outcomes can be deliberately produced through this inner science of meditation.
This inner work on ourselves helps us how to learn to love and accept ourselves and the world. Transforming ourselves transforms the world, from inside out. Today, when we are all so obviously interconnected, this has to be the spiritual way.
There is no fire like passion.
There are no chains like hate.
Illusion is a net,
Desire is a rushing river.
How easy it is to see your brother’s faults,
How hard it is to face your own.
You winnow his in the wind like chaff,
But yours you hide,
Like a cheat covering up an unlucky throw.
Dwelling on your brother’s faults
Multiplies your own.
You are far from the end of your journey.
The way is not in the sky.
The way is in the heart.
See how you love
Whatever keeps you from your journey.
But the tathagathas,
“They who have gone beyond,”
Have conquered the world.
They are free.
The way is not in the sky.
The way is in the heart.
All things arise and pass away.
But the awakened awake forever.
My thanks to Thomas Byron’s versions of the ancient Buddhist sayings of The Dhammapada, and to Dr. Robert Thurman for his pioneering Buddhist thought about inner science and higher education.