The Brightened Mind
A Simple Guide to Buddhist Meditation
By Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu
Theosophical Publishing House Copyright © 2011 Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu
All rights reserved.
The Two Levels of Consciousness
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Most of us assume the existence of just one level of consciousness, based on the only level we know and operate from. But the truth is that consciousness has two distinct modes: the ordinary and the extraordinary. The first mode is the mundane and superficial way we see and act in the world most of the time. The second mode is a concept beyond the realm of our ordinary comprehension that cannot be adequately described. Rather, we can know it for ourselves simply through direct experience. We might say that this second state is "that which is."
We will look into both these modes of consciousness so that we may become proficient in how they operate and, ultimately, learn how to use this knowledge to enhance the quality of our life.
First, we should understand that the mundane mind, under the authority of the "I-ego," is driven mainly by its desire for survival and comfort. It is, therefore, constantly mounted by fear—the fear of losing its dominant influence over our thinking process. In order to preserve and secure its position more firmly, it invents self-serving scenarios designed to entice our senses into buying its agenda. This ordinary mind cleverly uses materials drawn mainly from attractive memories of the past. It conjures up a fantasy future built out of stale emotions and expired events.
When we function from this mode of mind dominated by the "I-ego," we are out of sync with the integrity of the universal perspective and are working outside the realm of truth. We are then operating in a world of delusion founded on assumptions and projections of hopes that have no bearing whatsoever on our present reality. We could compare this abnormal situation to our computer screen saver. The idealized image with which we choose to decorate our monitor seems to have all the elements of reality, but it is not really connected anywhere "live." It is just a lifelike façade. Yet we are continually being fooled into believing it is real.
One of life's ironies is that the more time we spend becoming "educated," be it in a university or vocational school, the more we forget that we are all extraordinarily intelligent beings to begin with. The conditioning to which we have been, and continue to be, subjected by our social environment (including our parents, relatives, mentors, politicians, celebrities, and so forth) simply reinforces the myth that mental prowess is Nature's unique gift to its favored few. So we go through the motions of this lifetime totally oblivious to our innate brilliance and without confidence and trust in our natural abilities. It is not surprising, then, that we often feel so overwhelmed at the challenges we face, thinking that they are simply beyond the reach of our capabilities. If we are looking to improve our present circumstances, we need to keep in mind that as "part owners" of that infinite reservoir of wisdom-knowing we have the means to accomplish much more than we ever dreamed of. This connection to the divine realm is our birthright as human beings. Just pause and reflect on the profoundness of this thought for a moment.
Each one of us has as much access as anyone else does to the Mother-source, or what might aptly be called the "Universal Mind." Looking around us and seeing the disparity among people's predicaments may lead us to doubt this concept. We might ask ourselves how an unfortunate beggar living in a makeshift, cardboard tent in a back alley can be even remotely connected to you or to me, much less to someone like Bill Gates. But the saying that "we are all one" is not merely an esoteric aphorism. It is a simple fact by virtue of our common connection to the Universal Mind. Having access to the Universal Mind doesn't depend on anything we do. It is not as if the more material success we have gained, the bigger our share of that infinite power source will be. The divine connection I'm talking about is inherent in each of us, without exception, as soon as we assume humanity at birth.
Imagine our response if we were to receive the news that we had just inherited a considerable amount of money from a rich relative. I'm sure that this new state of financial freedom would give us confidence, ease of mind, and a more enthusiastic attitude toward life. Similarly, our connection to divine consciousness is like having an unlimited source of wealth in our bank account! As incredible as it may sound, we only need to access that wealth, at any time we choose, to improve our lives. How could the news be any better? We have to keep reminding ourselves of our tremendous legacy. We have infinite abundance simply waiting to be utilized. How to unlock the vault of this unimaginable wealth is what this book intends to show.
But first we need to understand our relationship with this Universal Mind. I would like to present some descriptive images and terminology to give you as close an idea as possible of the profound mind and its nature—what we might call the mind-behind-the-mind, the "other" mind, the source consciousness, or the Mother-mind.
However, at this point I must put in a caveat regarding the possibility of describing the mind and its contents. Here we encounter the problem of defining an indefinable idea. But for now, we have to resort to our limited human vocabulary, since conventional words are the only tools available to us. We therefore must take into careful account that words such as corner, above, or any other descriptive terms denoting physical dimensions are not intended to point to a physical reality. The mind is not of a physical nature.
Trying to describe the Universal Mind is similar to asking the eye to describe itself. There is an inherent difficulty because there is nothing behind this mind that could observe it from any distance. It is unobservable because it is the observer itself. It is simultaneously both everything and nothing. In the end, all we can say is that the profound Universal Mind is stateless, as it contains and incorporates all possible states. It is the fountainhead of life, the source of reality.
But even though we cannot accurately express in words the nature of this concept, we can do one better by being it. We can engage this state directly by overriding the mundane mind. We can access it by being present, right here, right now.
It is only in this expanded mentality that we can be fully in our lives and so be poised and capable of facing the enormous environmental challenges that stare us in the face. Already we see frightening and complex problems—the current wars, the economy, the state of health care, global warming—begging for creative and just solutions. Many more will come as the twenty-first century steams along. Our small, mundane mind is utterly inadequate and helpless in dealing with these challenges. For us to try to solve such immense problems from our own narrow perspective is similar to an ant trying to survey an elephant. The effort is an exercise in futility and will inevitably lead to frustration, confusion, chaos, and failure. Our confined, self-interested mind is overwhelmed by the scope of so many problems. It cannot see how the events in our lives are interrelated with the events in our world, and its instinctive reaction is to withdraw from issues that appear to be beyond our ability to resolve.
When we are able to access the Universal Mind, though, we enter a realm that vastly magnifies our active and accessible consciousness. It is only in this mode that we can have the unbiased perspective needed to deal with complex problems and challenges.
The Universal Mind is much more expansive than the ordinary mind, which is limited in forming ideas and making associations to the memory of personal experiences. This expansiveness is just one of the Universal Mind's many impressive qualities—qualities that manifest as they do because, here, we are at the source of our world, our life. When we open ourselves to the universal panorama of our higher level of consciousness, we are able to see that, while our ordinary mind is still occupied with the events of our everyday grind, at the same time we are out of and above it all.
In some enigmatic way, the Universal Mind encompasses the ordinary mind and is able to wrap around it as well. While these mind modes have always been linked together, the Universal Mind has remained largely undiscovered because of our distractions, preoccupations, and apathy. Our everyday world is fragmented and time bound, whereas the Universal Mind is free from the bondage of time, from self-consciousness, and from any specific location. More importantly, this dimension of the mind is free from fear. To live a life without fear is without a doubt an amazing achievement.
The exercises in this book of exploring the mind modes will greatly help us deepen our understanding of our human situation. Once we become familiar with the techniques for opening our mind beyond the ordinary and for expanding our awareness beyond the external world, we will develop the insight that defines the value of life. Only then will wisdom begin to unfold automatically. The more we cultivate wisdom, the smarter beings we will become.
Along with this development comes a noble and selfless spirit of compassion, a facet of wisdom manifesting. As this spirit enriches and nurtures our heart, we begin to live in a more loving and harmless manner, intuitively making the appropriate and humane choices vital to the survival of our ecosystem and the human race itself. This skillful use of our profound intelligence will allow us to enjoy and appreciate all that this life span offers us. If we take a few quiet moments to contemplate this thought, we will realize that in order to progress and prosper in peace, we must respond to the challenges of our times, not from a state of fear and anxiety, but from a state of circumspection—from a brightened mind.
The Universal Mind
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Let us begin by acknowledging and examining human intelligence and recognizing what a truly awesome experience it is to be conscious and to possess intelligence. We have become so accustomed to the faculty of intelligence that we no longer see it for what it is, just as we have become accustomed to breathing and no longer appreciate that breath is life itself. We can count on it without any conscious effort to keep it going. Overfamiliarity with anything, regardless of its value, tends to diminish the focus of our attention on that subject, because we feel secure of its predictable presence in our life. This phenomenon causes us to overlook the remarkable assets we have as human beings. Let us try to understand this observation better.
Our mind has the genius to allocate many levels of priorities according to its own unique classification system within a field of infinite variables. It prioritizes subjects according to the degree of urgency they pose to our survival or security. It rearranges things into levels of acknowledgment so that the lowest priorities are set aside, relegated to the most remote sector of consciousness furthest from the present moment of awareness. The mind is always constantly prepared to respond to any crisis or emergency—it's always on the edge and ready for action, so to speak. If whatever it perceives does not fall into the top-priority category of "threat," the mind will automatically classify it under "future consideration," which in turn is further subdivided into several categories of priorities.
Using breath again as an example, when we catch a cold, our breathing becomes impaired, and air does not flow as easily as it normally does. This condition will instantly demand our attention. Within a split second, the mind will recognize the impairment as a potential threat to our survival and immediately reclassify breathing from a low to the top priority. It will then direct the rest of the human system to respond to the urgent task of unblocking the nasal passages so that life-giving oxygen can circulate more efficiently throughout the body. This process occurs continuously in our body at any given time throughout the course of our life.
Another amazing phenomenon is how our awareness can penetrate into our mind and perceive the marvelous, infinite variations that constitute it. When we go beyond ordinary consciousness, we can psychologically turn around and observe the state of that smaller mind. This is yet another unique attribute of the human consciousness—the ability to be reflective. It enables us to think and to experience mental, emotional, and physical experiences and, at the same time and from a higher level, to be aware that something is happening apart from this awareness. That is to say, we are cognizant of an overriding awareness that encompasses a smaller field of awareness. What's more, we are conscious of this consciousness.
This reflective attribute of the Universal Mind is unique to the human species. Its nature is to be that which stands apart, allowing it the perspective of being reflective. As the ultimate observer, it is detached and uninvolved in its subject of observation. It is this "stand-apart" quality or objectivity that distinguishes the supremacy of human intelligence over animals. Without this attribute we can only react in the most basic way, devoid of deep spiritual experiences. Imagine not being able to feel the expansive joy of generosity, compassion, wisdom, gratitude, and all other finer, subtler experiences. It is this reflective ability we tap into when faced with problems that are intrinsic to social interaction among fellow humans, at work, at school, or in the classroom of our life—challenges such as boredom, frustration, dullness, disappointment, laziness, and the tendency to make mistakes. All these can be investigated, processed, and resolved by the reflective mind. In fact, it is only in this way that we can grow and mature.
Every now and then we instinctively go beyond the everyday, mundane mind to retrieve information. This is what occurs each time some inexplicable insight or out-of-the-blue gut feeling arises. We call such insight intuition. The ordinary mind doesn't know where it comes from, because, whatever it is, it isn't constructed from material stored in our memory warehouse. And intuition is not rational, so it doesn't conform to human logic.
In fact, though, intuitive flashes come to us from the all-encompassing invisible energy field of the Universal Mind. These occurrences can give us an inkling of what we will encounter when we finally break through our ordinary way of thinking. A brightened mind is like being in a state of a sustained, intuitive flash.
In the practical context of day-to-day activities, the Universal Mind is the wellspring from which spontaneous recall arises. We've all experienced this connection with it at one time or another. It is familiar to us as that "ah-ha!" moment, when things we've been trying to sort out finally fall into perfect place with a satisfying click.
The Universal Mind is a veritable unending source of energy. It has the vitality to respond to life's issues however they unfold. It has the flexibility and virtue to recognize errors (that is, anything that violates universal laws) and to correct them. It has the fearless courage to turn things around—even upside down—in order to see things as they really are. The Universal Mind is accountable to no one and nothing but the highest truth.
Without a doubt, the link we have to this resource is our primary asset as human beings. Yet very few people truly appreciate the significance of this awesome, evolutionary legacy. Recognizing this gift is critical to our lives because, if we don't use all our intelligence in accordance with its natural design and purpose, life will be a constant, painful struggle. If we are not aware of possessing this great asset, we won't comprehend the means we have to help others. We will miss out on the joy of giving, and, instead, we will live with a sense of regret and guilt. More importantly, we will not be capable of right understanding, of seeing things as they really are, and of using this insight to alleviate our own suffering.
The Need for Spiritual Education
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The word education is derived from the Latin verb educare, meaning "to pull upward" or "to lead out." It has to do with pulling the mind out of the darkness of ignorance and into the light of knowing and understanding. Learning or "pulling ourselves upward" can be a lifelong and mind-expanding journey that can bring meaning to all we do. However, if all we are pursuing is academic or rote learning, we will end up shortchanging ourselves, for that mode of learning is empty of spirit. It does not teach us the values that will help us handle the daily challenges that we will all encounter in the course of our life.
It is for this reason that so many people are urging radical changes to the current educational system. Parents, sophisticated teachers, and the more evolved administrators are protesting the loss of a sense of sacredness in education. Here in Thailand, parents are eager for their sons to ordain as monks in their neighborhood wat (or "temple"), even if only for a few months. It is their hope that the time spent under the monks' guidance will provide a spiritual foundation in their children's lives and pave the way to a happy future for them. They are astute enough to recognize that spiritual values are essential in the development of their children into more refined, worthier human beings. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Brightened Mind by Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu. Copyright © 2011 Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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