Buddhist Philosophy

Mind: The First Mantra

Mind: The First Mantra

“Mind” is the word we should recollect repeatedly and contemplate. The word “mantra” has one general meaning as an instrument of thought. In Buddhist practice, we use mantras in many ways. Practitioners use mantras to both calm the mind and to encourage contemplation and insight.

In this teaching from August 2017, in Cooperstown, NY, Phakchok Rinpoche suggests that the first mantra we should use is “mind.” We can repeat to ourselves, “mind, mind, mind.” Then, just follow that pattern for a few minutes. Don’t make it too complicated or engage in too many things. Again, throughout our day, we take some moments to just say “mind.”

Experiencing Pristine Mind

Our mind is naturally clean, it is naturally pristine. Talking about it, however, cannot solve our problems all the time. Instead, we need to experience it. Just say, “mind, mind, mind” — and follow your mind! Follow the consciousness. What is mind? That which is clear and pristine. When we experience that, we automatically relax.

Sometimes, when we are caught up in emotions and excessive thinking, this purity does not seem so clear. Then, at that time, we simply focus our mind on our breath. As we do this, we can think, “I am connected to the world.” We need to understand that investigating mind is not about being unconnected. But right now, we usually are not connected to ourselves. That’s why it is best to just say “mind.”

Mantra Reminds Us of the Main Point

We all can benefit from taking some time to contemplate our minds. And that is true regardless of whether we are beginners on the path or advanced. Sometimes, we read books and commentaries and we get confused. Those texts divide mind up into categories. Then we learn many subdivisions: we investigate about the essence, qualities, mind consciousness. Yet, a potential danger lies in this clever analysis because commentaries may actually take us far away from the main point. And that main point is “mind.” Although the whole intention may be to investigate the mind, we may find that we are moving further away from that goal.

Keeping it Simple

Seeing the mind is really the most simple thing. We can follow these instructions about reciting “mind” as a mantra. And we don’t need to corrupt the exercise by thinking too much. We may think this is basic. But actually, if you can recognize the mind, then seeing that first moment of clarity is already advanced. Rinpoche has asked many practitioners who say, “I practice recognizing the nature of the mind,” the question of, “Really?” He asks them, “what is the mind?” and they immediately start thinking about the mind. They try to recall what they read about the mind in some book. Really they should speak from their own experience. 

The Mind’s Job

Every single thing we do, the mind is clear. When we are angry — clear. When we are upset — clear. The mind is always clear. That is its job: being clear. Rinpoche would like to see us not using any fancy Dharma words, when someone asks us what we learned. Don’t use any big words such as “nature of mind” or whatever. Just say: “I saw my mind.”

Say, “I saw my mind.” What is it? Clear. That’s it! We live with that mind all the time, right? We practice with that mind and we sleep, complain, and cry. And we learn to meditate with that same pristine mind. 

Practice exercise

This week, take some time to recognize your mind’s importance.  Begin each day by recalling the mantra, “mind, mind, mind”.  Say it aloud–it may feel strange at first, but vocalizing helps make something stick!

And make the resolve to return to that mantra throughout your day.  How many times before you leave your house can you remember to be aware of mind?  And during your commute or your morning chores?  At your lunch hour, can you pause before taking a bite and think, “mind, mind, mind”?  Keep working with a few minutes here and there throughout the day.

After a few days of practicing in this way, you may find that you spontaneously seem to repeat the mantra.  And what does this do?  Do you see any difference in the way you react to people or situations?  Is your mind steadier, calmer, or happier–or is it more agitated?  Don’t judge–but be honest and experiment with the process.  Can you begin to see flashes of pristine, clear mind? How joyful!

More teaching on mind training

In Samye’s on-line support program, Training the Mind, an Introduction, Phakchok Rinpoche introduces more techniques for understanding our minds.  He introduces us to the concept of “active mind” and explains how we can work with it more skillfully.

1 responses on "Mind: The First Mantra"

  1. very very interesting. Similar to the practice of the Chan Tradition (Chinese Zen), when one is instructed to recite a kind of paradoxical question such as “who is reciting the Buddha’s name” and then look into his/her own mind to see where the question is arising from and also see how is the mind before the question arises. Another aspect of this practice is what the Chan Masters calls “the great doubt”, means they develop an existential doubt in their discursive thought process in order the smash it and breakthrough to see directly their self-nature/original face, the empty mind-ground.

    Thank you again Rinpoche for the great Teachings.

    Upasaka Shlomo Shantiparamita

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.