Do You Know Your Own Mind?


Human beings continue to develop science and technology while advancing material civilization by leaps and bounds. At the same time, their understanding of the spiritual world is unfortunately becoming progressively inadequate. Generally, when psychologists, for instance, give themselves a task of investigating the “mind”, they focus on analyzing the minds of other people, but not on their own. And they tend to limit themselves within the confines of the consciousness of “delusion”, ignoring the nature of the human mind that is supra-consciousness and detached from phenomena. How, then, could such an approach properly explore the profound significance of the true mind?

Modern people tend to value the enjoyment of material life, and follow the rule of guarding individual interests. Thus, most people attend more to appearance and ignore the virtue of spirituality. In fact, this mental entity is the inherent Buddha nature of all sentient beings and the source of all things in the universe. Direct Words from the True Mind says, “What all the Buddhas of the past, present and future attain is this mind. What all the scriptures expound and promulgate is the manifestation of this mind. What deludes all sentient beings is this mind. And what all practitioners are enlightened to when they are is this mind. Those reaching this mind recognize and see everything. Those deluded by it turn everything upside down and think nothing but illusion.”

All those who practice Buddhism must know their own mind in order to pinpoint what to work at. Otherwise, they will not only toil in vain, but go astray. Therefore, getting to know one’s own mind is Lesson 101 in a Buddhist’s practice.

What is one’s own mind? Well, beginners need to know that there is a difference between a deluded mind and one’s own true mind. A deluded mind is the root of life and death, while the true mind is the foundation for Nirvana. Delusion belongs to ignorance, but truth belongs to enlightenment. The two, delusion and truth, differ fundamentally and are utterly incompatible. Nevertheless, being incompatible as they are, neither of them is separable from the one mind.

For example, when a mirror, which is true, shows an image, which is illusory, the image cannot be separated from the mirror because both are of the one entity. On the other hand, however, since truth and delusion are inseparable from the one mind, why do we say the two are incompatible? This is because although the image is revealed by the mirror, if you cling to the image as something real, then when the image disappears, will the mirror disappear as well?! If a fool who does not understand the mirror as an entity mistakes an image coming from it as the mirror itself, he is using his mind the wrong way. We must understand our deluded mind and our own true mind. That is what is called practicing the Buddha’s teaching.

What then is a deluded mind? It is your non-stop, never-ending mental activity from one moment to another. Since before the beginning, this mental awareness has existed in the universe inseparably from you. You have been deceived by it to do evil, which leads to evil consequence and brings you an abundance of suffering. Conversely, it has taught you to do good, produced good reward, and enabled you to experience plenty of joy. All that you encounter in the past, present and future, whether favourable or adverse, is driven by a deluded mind.

A deluded mind is something non-existent but is misconceived. This means that it is illusory. Because of their ignorance, sentient beings are confused about truth and suffer delusion. Thus, being illusory, they create karma and receive consequence accordingly, to cycle themselves through transmigration involving death and rebirth. Such karma has three markings: good, evil, and unmarked (see Note 1). Under the law of causality, those with the most evil karma are reborn into hell. Those with lesser evil are reborn as hungry ghosts and animals. Similarly, those with the most benevolent karma are reborn into the heavenly realm of existence, and those with lesser benevolence are reborn into humans and asuras. This is the so-called six realms of reincarnation.

A deluded mind comes from the six senses, which in turn arise from the six sense faculties contaminated by the six types of dust (see Note 2). In other words, separated from dust, a deluded mind has no entity (see Note 3), and thus it is impermanent, and is bound by germination and termination. And as such, it can be eliminated through diligent practice with perseverance. Once delusion is extinguished, the joy of Nirvana will manifest itself. Hence, Maha Parinirvana Sutra states, “The impermanence of all form is the law of germination and termination. After germination and termination comes the bliss of Nirvana”.

When you understand that your deluded mind is the root of life and death, you will try to subdue it by first curbing it from causing evil, and then doing good whenever and wherever possible. This is indeed the most important first step in your cultivation.

Next, as we carry on, think what the true meaning of human life is. Why are humans born into this world? Why do they have to go through all kinds of vicissitudes of circumstance, including the suffering from birth, ageing, sickness and death? Buddha, as a matter of fact, says that when you attain your permanent true mind, all the pain and klesa of human life will be completely eliminated.

This permanent true mind resides deep within your own mind (see Note 4), what Buddhist scriptures variously call Buddha nature, reality prajna, bodhi, Dharma realm, reality, void, dharani, dharmakaya, such suchness, Tathagatagarbha and true suchness. No matter which term, it refers to nothing but your true mind.

Because of the erroneous use of mental awareness in the law of germination and termination, from their true mind human beings produce a deluded mind, thus creating karma, reaping consequence and rotating through the seas of life and death over the six realms of reincarnation. Surangama Sutra points out, “All sentient beings are in a continuation of dying and rebirth, not knowing their permanent true mind. While their nature is pure and their entity clear, they use them in deluded ideations. Since their delusion is no truth, they have transmigration.”

It has been said above that a deluded mind, when it leaves dust, has no entity, and therefore, it does not possess a permanent existence but involves germination and termination. On the contrary, the true mind, when it leaves dust, does have an entity, and therefore, with a permanent existence it does not involve germination or termination. Even in delusion, the true mind, although dusted over, still has an entity. Because its self-nature is the same as the amazing true suchness in Tathagatagarbha, like a bright mirror, the true mind does not lose its inherent albedo even when it is covered in dust.

Indeed, the true mind requires no deliberate pursuit. As soon as delusion is subdued, truth will be restored. In this connection, Inscription of Faith maintains, “Do not seek truth, for all it takes is extinguishing perception”. And Treatise on Generating Faith reminds us, “All objects appear from a deluded mind. If the mind does not arise, all objects cease to exist. Then, being the only one true mind, it is omnipresent.”

Why is there no need to seek the true mind? Because “gain nothing” is a Buddha’s realm of achievement. But what is gain nothing? To answer, Bodhi’s self-nature is inherently pure. And since it is pure, it is separated from all form. Thus, how could it gain anything when having to do with form? For if it were to gain anything, it might be capable of gaining wisdom, but it could actually end up gaining objects. And in that case, it would be completely falling off into the realm of the uninitiated. Even Bodhisattvas have “no wisdom, no gain”, let alone in a Buddha’s realm? For this reason, to attain the unattainable status of a Buddha, one must first understand that they have had this true mind involving neither germination nor termination since the very beginning. And thus, all their practice must collaborate with this true mind.

Some lay practitioner may wonder, “When my mind deals with externalities, how do I tell whether this particular mental ideation is of the true mind or of a deluded mind?”

When one’s own mind suffers greed and anger in the face of favourable or adverse objects, and becomes illusory in the face of mediocre objects, one knows that it is a deluded mind. A deluded mind clings to being and nothingness, and knows nothing about the middle way. It clings on and rejects objects it faces, and that is why there are the duality of sacredness and mundaneness, purity and contamination, permanence and obliteration, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, motion and stillness, coming and going, principle and matter, and germination and termination. On the other hand, when one’s mind does not generate love or hate in the face of favourable and adverse objects, and is not illusory but lucid in the face of middle-state objects, one knows that it is the true mind. The true mind resides with being and nothingness but does not cling to either, and staying in the middle way, none of its ideation makes a difference between acceptance and rejection. Thus, so says Inscription of Faith, “There is no difficulty with the supreme way, except that it has no preference. With neither love nor hate, one clearly sees through”.

The above is no more than a crude attempt to interpret the true mind. In fact, only Buddha fully understands its profound significance, for otherwise how could this ultimate and perfect truth, which is beyond the conceptual thinking of sentient beings, be expressed through language or speech?

On another score, beginners in the Buddhists’ practise must beware of the fact that a deluded mind belongs to motion, whereas the true mind belongs to stillness.

A deluded mind of sentient beings is entirely in motion. In terms of the perceptive human body, from the circulation of all energy and blood to the metabolism of cells, and to the sensory function of nerves, everything is constantly on the move. In terms of inanimate objects, from as far as the galaxy of the solar system, to as close as mountains and rivers on earth, everything is under momentary change. Therefore, all things operate under the causal law of formation, continuation, decay and emptiness. To seek true happiness, one must experience and attain it from within the true mind. According to the Great Treasures Collection Sutra, “There are three places of happiness. The first is heavenly happiness, where Buddhists practise the ten wholesome behaviour, are reborn into the heavenly realm of existence and receive wonderful and amazing joy. The second is the happiness of Chan, where Buddhists obtain samadhi, eliminate all mental trouble and gain the joy of serenity. The third is the happiness of Nirvana, where Buddhists leave the suffering of life and death, attain the status of Nirvana and gain ultimate bliss.” Among these three types of happiness, only heavenly happiness is seeking stillness in motion, while the other two both remain in stillness.

In scientific theory, there are two fundamental aspects of phenomena in nature: dynamic and static. The former is a function of electrons, and the latter the nature of aether, and yet both contain measureless energy. These two aspects receive and contain each other, with each serving as a base for the other, and together they form the two major systems of the universe. Nowadays, the scientific community is concentrating its research more on electrons of the dynamic side, and has not yet delved deep into the true meaning of aether on the static side. But a static state does have incredible magical power, as The Complete Enlightenment Sutra says, “Like the Bodhisattvas, take nothing but extreme serenity. With its static energy, forever eliminate mental trouble to consummate ultimate accomplishment”. As well, The Flower Adornment Sutra points out, “All the lotus storehouse worlds in the seas of avatamsaka storehouse arise out of quietness and wisdom”. It can be seen then that the static side in fact corresponds with the true mind.

Furthermore, from this one infers that the true mind manifests only in tranquility. We must thus retreat sometimes into this state, to seek true wisdom within our mind through sitting in quiet or meditating, and to understand the relationship between our own lesser self and the greater self of the entire universe. Only in such calm solitude could one receive incredible peace and wisdom. Buddhists call this approach of practice Chan.

The Chan Master Yongming Zhijue (904-976) says in his Samadhi and Prajna are Inter-enhancing: A Song, “There is no other way in the three realms except for the one mind working. Since one believes in the one mind, one must quietly match it with Chan samadhi. As the scriptures say, compared with teaching the sentient beings of the trichiliocosm to practise the ten wholesome behaviour, it is better to stay in peace even for the short while as a meal takes, and with one mind, meditate into the universal mind beyond differentiation. If one understands their own mind and match it with concentration and wisdom, one will be able to become enlightened without putting to work their own sensory faculties relating to dust.”

This field of Chan has unlimited potential and contains infinite merit. Indeed, if practitioners do work hard in their exploratory pursuit, they will someday come to great enlightenment, return to truth from delusion and transcend the cycle of transmigration to attain Nirvana.


Note 1: Unmarked karma means a middle-way mindset that is neither good nor evil.

Note 2: The six sense faculties refer to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The six types of dust refer to the six external realms corresponding to the six sense faculties: form, sound, fragrance, taste, touch, and dharmas. And the six senses refer to the six types of perceptual awareness produced by the six sense faculties relative to the six types of dust: eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness and mind consciousness. The six sense faculties, six types of dust and six types of awareness are collectively called the Eighteen Dhatus, which are the totality of the spiritual world of all sentient beings.

Note 3: Dust here means external objects. Although a deluded mind arises from dust, when it leaves the dust, it has no entity. On the other hand, the true mind, when it leaves the dust, does possess an entity, which is the true suchness, or the changeless true reality of all dharmas, in Tathagatagarbha. To further explore this aspect, please refer to Volumes One and Two of Surangama Sutra.

Note 4: In fact, the true mind is beyond time and space, and does not arise nor cease. Thus, how could it have a place to reside in? Here, when we say that it resides deep down inside one’s mind, it is for the sake of convenience to help beginners understand.


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