Luminous Mind, Cloudy Mind
The following quote came to mind this week as I was working on a talk about bringing mindfulness to consciousness, which is the simple quality of knowing associated with a sensory object. The Buddha said:
Luminous is this mind, brightly shining, but it is colored by the attachments that visit it.
Then I remembered first noticing this luminous quality of mind. I often find that going for a walk is one of the best times for listening to the mind and one of the times when insights most naturally arise. When I used to walk down the street, I would be caught up in stories about my life. There were stories about things that needed to be done, or issues I had with other people, or regrets about the past, or hopes for the future. My attention was largely absorbed in these stories, only superficially noticing the world I was walking through. Then, one day, after years of practice, I was struck by the silence in the mind. It had become quiet and it wasn't getting caught in thoughts, sensations or emotions. When I walked down the street, there were just the sensations of walking, the sights of houses, cars, and trees and the sounds of birds and children and traffic. In the beginning, the silence of the mind was a little eerie.
Now it is just the opposite. The silence of the mind is commonplace and comfortable. It is a mind of contentment. What stands out now is when the mind does get caught up in the things that visit it and the mind becomes disturbed. For example, recently I received some news that I found quite unpleasant. It felt like I had been personally attacked and the mind moved into defense-and-attack mode. So I said something harsh in response and, of course, once it was said I realized that it didn't help the situation at all. Saying it didn't even bring peace to the mind. What was most apparent, though, was how painful it is when the mind is caught up like this and is disturbed, agitated and obsessed. It is quite a painful state of mind and body. Yet that is the mind that most of us live with all the time, often without even being aware of it. It is the mind that keeps us searching for that next pleasant experience, whether from food or drink or sex or shopping, all in an effort to avoid the unpleasantness.
No wonder one of the Buddha's early followers, Sariputta I think, described the mind freed from greed, hatred and the view of an enduring and substantial self or essence as the highest form of happiness.
"Luminous is this mind…": The Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya I.vi.1, translated by Jack Kornfield and Gil Fronsdal in Teachings of the Buddha, Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1996, p. 2