Q&A: Mind Unification
What are the processes that are taking part in the deep mind?
Student: Was interested in one of the other talks that you gave about these processes that are taking place in the deep mind. Would you say something about that?
Culadasa: Well, this is what our mind is, is a whole collection of different processes. And each process has one particular function to fulfill and it does so automatically. They're all connected to each other, and they're arranged sort of hierarchically. You have the process of eating which gets turned on when certain things happen in the body that create hunger, and that initiates other processes that lead you to look for food. Once you found it, to started eating it, and then something else happens to turn it off. It's just a process.
The way that you can get a handle on this, maybe, is if you understand reflexes. If you tap the tendon at the knee, it sends a signal to the spinal cord, which sends a signal to the muscle, which causes contraction. It's a completely automatic, right? What you might not know, is that there's a complex arrangement of things in your spinal cord that uses that one particular reflex arc in combination with another, a bunch of others, that allows you to walk. So that your brain sends a message to your spinal cord and says, "turn on the walking mechanism", and that simple reflex that makes your leg go out when you strike the tendon is actually a part of the walking mechanism, because one part of the walking movement stretches the same tendon and that sends a message back to the spinal cord, which causes another muscle to contract. And the leg extends. And the entire process of walking is made up of these simple reflexes. And so walking is something that happens completely automatically at the spinal cord level. And that's one of the things that I encourage people to discover when they do walking meditation. Walk slow, walk fast. Walking slow, you're controlling it all front up here, and it's really awkward and it's very unnatural and it's not very skilled and smooth and you trip and stumble easily. But you let go of all this trying to control it from up here, and walk normally, and all of a sudden it happens wonderfully. "Wow"! And that's because it's happening at this lower level.
Well, you work your way up and you'll find that all the things you do, even moral and ethical decisions, even the way that you relate to other people, they're all driven by different mental processes that are essentially no different than these reflexes for walking. The more complex ones are made up of a lot of simpler ones. And so this is what our mind is, is all of these different processes. Now, one thing that doesn't happen, you might imagine that you've got all these simple processes, and that's then some more complicated ones, and then a smaller layer of still more complicated ones, and then smaller, and you might think up at the top, like the cherry on the banana split is one that you could say, "oh, that's the self". But, it doesn't work that way. That's not really the way it is. I mean it could have been that way, I suppose, I don't know why it didn't turn out to be that way. But when you look in your mind, as soon as you sit down to meditate and you say, okay, I'm going to sit here and observe my breath. You discover that that "I", that voice, that's only one of those higher mental processes. And, as soon as it generates that intention, it's only a matter of time before some of the other mental processes at the same, or not too far from that same level in the hierarchy, say "enough of this, we'll do something else!" *Laughter*
And, in the process, you'll notice that it's like inside your head, there's this little top hat with a big letter 'I' on it, and it gets passed around. Now when you sat down, one mental processor is wearing a hat that said, 'I', but 10 minutes later, the other one that wants to go have a nap says, and what you find going on your mind is, "oh, I'd really like to go have a nap"; I would really like to go have a nap. But, I said I was going to meditate, but the 'I' that wants to have a nap is now the one wearing the hat. Not the one that said "I've always said I was going to learn to meditate, and today was the day I was going to start". You see? So whether you've noticed or not is one thing, but you will notice, as soon as you start to pay attention to what's going on in your mind, is that about as close as you come to the "I" that would be the cherry on the top of the banana split is more like a board of directors. Or a Senate, with a lot of different members. And they don't always show up to vote on any particular decision. Sometimes they arrive late and they say, "whoa, I don't like anything that's going on here", and they want to change it all. But if you think that you are your mind, then you're going to have to recognize that your mind is many different things. with different agendas going on simultaneously. And so, even if you are an I, you're not a singular I, you're a whole multiple of I's.
Student: So then what does meditation do with that?
Culadasa: Meditation makes you aware of that, and that's what's really important; that you become aware of that. Because you see, meditation... this whole mess of mental processes has been merrily going along, as it does in everyone that you see in the world. And it kind of works, but not that well. And the collective finds itself experiencing a lot of suffering. What you really need to understand, when you start looking into this, is what is suffering and where does it comes from? We started out saying "I suffer, and it's the world's fault!" *Laughter* Because I can clearly see that if the world was different I wouldn't suffer anymore". And we often see if we can go change the world, so we won't have to suffer anymore.
But the truth is that suffering is just an emotion, a feeling, that's created by the same mind that's experiencing the suffering. And one of those mental processes that makes you up, its whole job is to flood the collective with suffering under certain kinds of circumstances. So it looks at what's going on and it says, "hey, this is no good"; turns on the suffering. And everybody says "oh, we're suffering. What are we going to do about it? Let's get busy changing things". So you see, meditation, when it allows you to see what's going on, then you can start to change the way this whole thing works. The one wonderful thing that we have is our conscious awareness, and the fact that we can learn to focus that conscious awareness. That light of consciousness can be brought to bear on what's actually going on, and all these mental processes, which have been operating in the dark, have a chance to see what's going on. And then they can see what the result of their activities are.
You have a mental process; you started off born with something which predisposed you in this direction, but then through your life, you've reinforced it. It's a mental process that makes you disposed to anger. Just like you have another mental process that makes you predisposed to to desire. And throughout your life different situations have arisen, and this mental process that is the anger-generating process, has flooded the whole system with feelings of anger, and then they lead to certain kinds of behaviors. Now this exists because it serves a kind of primitive function. But, what we're doing through meditation, and through cultivating mindfulness, is we're bringing ourself to a point where instead of this going along automatically, now when anger arises, first of all, we can see it in that way. We used to see it as, "oh, I am angry", which was the first mistake. And then the next thought that would come is "I'm angry because of her or him, or this or that", right? That's the second thought. And then come the thought, "so I'm going to do this about it".
When we're little we strike out or scream. And then as we get older, we find more sophisticated ways of responding out of that. All we're doing different is focusing the light of mindful awareness on that. And if we can learn to remember, first of all, that if we discovered and accepted and become, at least to some degree, convinced the maybe there's some truth in this idea that "I" am not the owner and the experiencer of the emotion that arises, then we can look at anger rising and say, "oh, there is anger rising". And so, in the next step... remember, first of all we said, "I am angry and its his fault". Now we can say, "oh, there is anger rising", and that's because I've conditioned myself to become angry in these circumstances in the past. And then, instead of getting lost in the action of what you're going to do about, or to, that source of your anger, is that you see that, "oh, being angry feels terrible! It doesn't feel good in my body. It doesn't feel good in my mind. It makes me do things that are not beneficial to myself or to others. It does not lead me closer to awakening and to liberation".
And you don't need to get into a lot of analysis of it, because if you are mindful, those things are obvious. They are just dead certain, unmistakable, "wow, how could I have never really noticed that before" kind of obvious. And because these facts are being illuminated by conscious awareness, that part of your mind that has been flipping on the anger switch, all of these years picks up on that. It's got a new piece of information. It doesn't mean that it won't turn on the anger switch in the future, but if every time you do it, it's exposed to this mindful awareness, it's going to change the way that it functions. There's something very similar that happens when mindful awareness is present and the mind stops making its projections and you have an experience of the reality that lies behind appearances. Because that same conscious awareness of ultimate truth registers on the mind, and where it registers very particularly, is in those mental functions that have always created the sense of "I" and created the sense of "other" as being real.
And the difference is that, after that, its just not the same. There's still a sense of "I", but it doesn't fool you in the same way. And there is still a sense of there being a world of others, but you're not fooled by it in the same way anymore. Mindful awareness is working in the same way, producing the same kind of change, from the very first time you start to apply it to your experience in your life, as it does when you have that experience of stopping the mind's fabricating activity long enough to experience the reality that lies behind that. So it works in exactly the same way. It's not some new kind of magical thing that never was before. It's the same old stuff, but it's happening and in a new way and producing a completely different kind of result. And this is how the very same mind that is responsible for your illusions can become a mind that is possessed of wisdom. And then instead of acting out of compulsion, driven by craving, it becomes a mind that acts out of compassion and wisdom.
Student: But is there any one part of all of those different processes that wants to put it all together and make it all work together, so that you don't have all these...?
Culadasa: Well, that is what the concentration part of meditation is about, and that's something I think a lot of people have failed to understand. When we do concentration meditation, it develops through stages and we find our concentration deepens more and more. And you could, naively, using the same kind of illusory projections, say something like "I get to the point where I can keep my mind from wandering", but what's actually happening is that your mind, as this collection of processes, is becoming trained and condition in a different way.
You get to a point in your practice where you're very good at staying at the meditation object. With the meditation object. But, if your vigilance lapses, it's gone. Now, the only reason that can happen is that there are still mental processes active that want to be doing something else. They want to be thinking about something else, or want to be having a nap, or want to just sit here and feel good. They want to do something other than maintain continuous, mindful awareness of this same old meditation object.
So the way that you move from that stage, and if you have seen this, if you're familiar with the seven stages of development of Samantha, that I passed out to people, it's the seventh stage, you have single-pointed concentration, but you've got to stay on top of it, because it won't stay. Your concentration is great. You sit there and... there's almost nothing else in your mind. Very occasional thought comes and goes, and very occasional sensation will manage to penetrate into your awareness, but you are just so focused and so steady, and you can say to yourself, "I can't imagine how anybody's concentration could be any better than this". And actually, that's pretty much true. I mean, there are refinements, but that's pretty much true. But, in the seventh stage, you have to stay on top of it, because if you slack, your mind's gone; either into dullness or into some distraction. And that's because your mind is not yet unified. So when you get to what happens next, which is called effortless concentration, you no longer have to be vigilant. You no longer have to be constantly on top of it, you can just relax and be stable in your awareness. That change, that effortlessness, is due to the fact that all of these different things that make up your mind are now, they're now on target with the same project. They're not trying to make something different happen. That's why concentration becomes effortless. And another marvelous thing that happens in association with this unification of the mind, is that a powerful sense of joy and happiness and even physical pleasure arises in association with it.
Unification of mind, by eliminating the inner tension, produces a state of joy. And this is not just some thing that happens in meditation. People experience it when they become totally involved in some kind of activity. They are joyfully engaged, and every part of their mind is into that same thing. That's called a state of flow in modern psychological terms. There are books about it and there is one particular psychologist called Csikszentmihalyi who's done a lot of research on the flow state. And the descriptions of the flow state are exactly... you know, you take them out of context, take the description out of context, and you show it to somebody and they say, "oh, I recognize that! The person's describing piti in Samatha practice." No; they're describing what happens to them when they're doing brain surgery, or when they're playing golf, or when they're doing something else that happens to put them in the state.
That's what happens when the mind unifies. Concentration becomes effortless because now there aren't different parts of the mind trying to go different places. But it's still many different processes. You haven't changed the ultimate reality. You haven't created a self out of all these different parts. They're still different parts, but they're all functioning in harmony now. They're all in sync. They're all cooperating rather, than each one struggling for "I want to things to go my way, this is more important than this silly sitting there looking at the breath. Let's do this more important thing". What's happened is that they've all gotten on to the same project and say, "okay, I guess this is what we're doing, so this is what we're doing".
But when you have that kind of mind, though, when you have a unified mind, if you think about how well you can understand when you focus your un-unified mind on things, imagine how well you can see and understand things when you focus a unified mind on things. The other thing about a unified mind is it doesn't need to focus. The wonderful thing about reaching this particular stage in Samatha, which you achieved through practicing on a single object called single-pointed attention. But once you got there, you don't need to be single-pointed anymore. Now you can just expand the awareness, because, by letting go of an object, your mind is not going to go 16 different directions at once and be trying to multitask.
You can just open up the awareness and all the different mental processes at once have all got their arms over each other's shoulders and they're saying, "yeah, let's watch what's happens". And that's wonderful. That's the basis for the Mahamudra practice, when you have an open, space-like attention, and then you can just let whatever arises arise and the whole collective of consciousness observes it, and it observes it with the power of the unified mind. And it sees "oh, yep, there's that arising, and oh, there's that arising and passing away..." and "Oh, and look at what it's like in between one thing arising and passing away and another thing arising and passing away". And it all starts to become clear.
And in that particular meditation, you see a lot of the nature of the mind, the emptiness of appearances becomes really obvious, because now you see that each of these appearances is like a wave rising on the surface of the ocean and disappearing back into it. And you've become really aware of the ocean, because before all you saw was the waves. So the unification of mind is a very important part of this practice and how we get to where we need to be and where we want to be.
Student: Thank you.
Culadasa: You're welcome.
|Added at||Sept. 26, 2020|
|Original file name||mindunification20sep09.mp3|