A critical task, more so as we near the end of life, is to understand the nature of our own mind.
Understanding the Nature of the Mind
“When the mind looks at itself, what can it learn about its own nature?
The first thing that becomes apparent is that countless thoughts prompted by our feelings, our memories, and our imagination constantly rush through our mind, almost without our knowledge.
But is there not also a basic consciousness, always present behind this movement, even in the absence of thoughts, a presence that could be called the fundamental ability of the mind to know or to be conscious?
As thoughts arise, if we look at them closely, can we pin down any characteristic, or attribute, any real existence to them? Where are they located? Do they have a color or a shape? However hard you look, you will not find anything else in the end but the bare faculty of knowing that we have just mentioned. You will find nothing intrinsically real.
It is in this sense that Buddhism says that the mind is “empty of independent existence.” How can we make use of this notion of the “emptiness” of thoughts?
When a thought or an emotion such as anger arises in our mind, what usually happens?
We let ourselves be overwhelmed by it. The thoughts grow and give rise to many other thoughts that disturb us, blind us, and encourage us to say and do certain things, which may be violent, which may hurt others, and which we will probably come to regret.
Now it is possible to examine the thoughts before they proliferate, instead of letting this chain reaction occur. Then we will realize that those thoughts and emotions do not have the solid reality that we had imagined, and it will be possible to break free from their grip.
If we can see that thoughts arise from pure awareness, the nature of mind, then dissolve back into it, like waves rising from and falling back into the ocean, it will be a big step toward inner peace because thoughts will have lost much of their power to harm.”
Source: Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters (pp. 159-160). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.
Continuity of Consciousness
There is a “fundamental continuity of mind through all states of existence.
From this perspective, what we call “life” and “death” are simply concepts—relative designations that are attributed to a continuous state of being, an indestructible awareness that is birthless and deathless.
While impermanence—the constant ebb and flow of appearance and dissolution—characterizes all phenomena that we can see, hear, taste, touch, or mentally conceive, this pure, primordial mind endures all transitions and transcends all boundaries created by dualistic thought.
Although we may cling to this life and fear its end, beyond death there is mind; and where there is mind, there is uninterrupted display: spacious, radiant, and continually manifesting.
However, whether this understanding remains merely a comforting idea or becomes a key to accessing deeper levels of knowledge and ultimate freedom depends on us.
Relatively speaking, we are not free, so long as we do not recognize the true nature of our mind. That nature is empty, luminous wisdom; it is primordially pure awareness; it is the state of wakefulness that transcends duality.
Although we are never separate from this nature, we do not see it.
Instead, we see who we think we are, who we believe ourselves to be. We see a self that is fabricated by thought and thus we see a fabricated world, similar to the state of dream.
However, through the practice of methods that cultivate mindfulness and awareness, we develop insight, or prajna, that directly sees this nature of mind.”
Source: Ponlop, Dzogchen. Mind Beyond Death. Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
Advice on Recognizing the Nature of Mind
“What we call mind is that which thinks endlessly of everything under the sun.
When investigating its essence to determine the true nature, we examine each momentary thought that originates, remains and departs.
We inquire where the arising might be and look into the place or source of origination.
We investigate the place of remaining and nature of what remains, and, for the departure, the nature of what ceases and its place of cessation.
Each time we ask what these are like in essence. And through this, we realize that they lack even so much as an atom’s worth of true reality.
Yet in spite of this unreality, there is still something which knows, or is aware of, good and bad, and which is present unceasingly.
By allowing this to settle by itself, without altering it or fabricating it in any way through inviting or following thoughts, we can naturally experience a state that is beyond all expression and is the inseparability of clarity, awareness and emptiness. To sustain the continuity of this is what we call looking into the essence of mind.”
Source: Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. “Advice on Recognizing the Nature of Mind”. Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2020. https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/jamyang-khyentse-chokyi-lodro/recognizing-nature-of-mind