So What Is Mind?

Excerpted from Gelek Rimpoche’s teaching on Essence of Tibetan Buddhism, 9/8/2013

Mind is something that governs our activities. With everything we do, we follow our thoughts. I develop thoughts, thinking, “I’d like to get up”, so following that thought I get up. My thought will say, “I should walk” and then I walk. A thought will say, “Sit” and I sit. A thought will say, “Hit” and I will hit. A thought will say, “Eat” and I will eat. We are not robots, however, look at all our activities and we see it is thought that pushes us. Even the subject we study and analyze, even when we analyze the brain, our thoughts will direct us in that. Our thoughts are directing us. That’s why thoughts are really important. You cannot deny that.

Now the question is whether there is something called thoughts completely separate from the brain cells, neurons or whatever. That I don’t know. But there definitely are thoughts. Not only that, but for me, there is mind – and that is also gross mind and subtle mind. And there is a very subtle mind too. When I talk about gross and subtle mind, you will have some idea. So I am thinking of something even much more subtle. When I use “subtle mind”, it is the mind that continuously remains within us – from a previous life to the in-between life to the present life to the in-between life to the future lives.

You may think, “Hey, it must be permanent”. But no, it is impermanent. An earlier Tibetan master in America, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche used the terminology: Continuation of Discontinuity. Some people will describe it like a mala and the mala’s thread. Some people talk about it like ice cubes touching each other while melting and stuck to each other.

Subtle mind is so subtle. It has no idea and no knowledge of right or wrong. It has no idea or knowledge of light or dark. It is so subtle, just capable of growing. It is the continuation of capability; nothing physical, right from the beginning. It is sort of a capability, to be able to grow. So this is like expansion and contraction, and expansion and contraction, and so forth. Like that, it has the capability of growing in detail and functioning. It is capable of reducing and withdrawing to such a subtle level that you are not even sure it is there. It is a very, very subtle thing.

There was a Buddhist school called “Mind Only”. Whether they are right or wrong is a different subject, but mind is that important. And that is where we are. Whether we are going up or down, whether we will succeed in our life and the life after or not, all depends on this mind.

So the mental work is the most important contemplative work. The mental work is the most important spiritual work, because it makes a huge difference. So that’s what I will talk about with you.

What I want you to keep in mind – see I said “mind” again, because I presume you have a mind – is the mind as a basis and how it is and what it is. It accepts suggestions. It perceives ideas. It picks them up like photo print. And it keeps it, it becomes part of it. That’s why many people say, “Think about the positive and you will become positive. Don’t think of the negative, otherwise you will become negative.” This is important.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become action. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think we become.” That’s what Mrs. Thatcher said [in the movie “Iron Lady”]. All of you who are watching and listening are liberal-minded. So Mrs. Thatcher was a little conservative and even she thought that there are thoughts and that they make things different!

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