Control your mind

In Vipassana circuits today it is taught that you should observe, and not control. But keeping the observing mind, mindfulness, is a form of control. It is maintaining a sense of presence. Yes, you are not controlling with force of will, trying to channel thinking in a particular direction, but nonetheless you are controlling. throughout the suttas in fact we find this idea of control, or more usually, restraint.

This takes effort – hence the continual exhortation to ‘exert’, ‘strive’, to be ‘ardent’ with ‘unremitting mindfulness’. How to do that, without controlling?

Here is Ledi Sayadaw, a particularly direct Burmese master of recent times:

In this world, a mad man who has no control over his mind is of no use either in work for his own benefit or for the benefit of others. Even when eating, he is liable to upset his plate and walk away. It is impossible for him to concentrate on work for the benefit of others. When this mad person is properly treated he becomes sane and mentally stable enough to perform work both for his own benefit as well as for the benefit of others, just like normal people.

Similarly, ordinary sane people resemble the mad man who has no control over his mind when they undertake the subtle work of tranquillity and insight. For example, when paying homage to the Buddha, the minds of normal people do not remain steadfastly and continuously concentrated on the noble and incomparable qualities of the Buddha. Even when repeating the stanza “Itipiso…” their minds wander. If they were obliged to start again from the beginning whenever their attention strayed, their task of repeating the stanza would never be successfully completed. It is only because they have committed the stanza to memory that they are able to repeat it to the end. The same happens in all the exercises for mental training and development. This is how ordinary sane people are just like mad persons when it comes to developing concentration and insight.

Let all take heed! In the case of such persons who have no control over their minds, far from being able to achieve the path (magga) its fruition (phala), and nibbāna, their rebirth in one of the fortunate realms (sugatī) after death is uncertain. In this world, people who have no control over their legs cannot successsfully perform work that must be done with the legs. People who have no control over their hands cannot successfully perform work that must be done with the hands. People who have no control over their speech cannot successfully perform work that must be done with speech. People who have no control over their minds cannot successfully perform work that must be done with the mind. The work of meditation must be performed solely with the mind. Hence it is that worldlings, both laity and Saṅgha, who have no control over their minds cannot successfully practise meditation. Their efforts are mere imitations.

Clicking here you can link to the full text of Ledi Sayadaw in ‘A Manual of Respiration’

2 replies on “Control your mind”

  1. Who is it that controls the mind? When I was able to see that controlling (pushing/forcing/trying) was just another painful process, preceded and succeeded immediately by another painful process (holding/clinging/thinking..whatever), there was continuity to the mindfulness, and the insights started. The determination to keep watching is there and unnoticed for a while, until it is noticed as one of the things that arises and falls, and then mindfulness happens by itself – no one is doing it anymore. Initially, lack of satisfaction (dukkha) did the controlling; so the same program that was the problem was trying to fix the program – impossible. And all the while, the temple of emptiness is here, unnoticed, not jaded by dukkha, and unaffected by a person fighting to achieve it. We can’t fix ourselves to enlightenment, only to better births and better fortune.
    Thanks to the author for the inspiration to write my first comment. May the above article and this comment help in your practice and not cause more confusion. I never achieve much by thinking about my practice; thinking is never-ending, always making more puzzles. We can do a disservice by stimulating more thought. I’ll stop writing now if you stop reading, and we’ll both go practice immediately! 🙂

  2. I agree absolutely regarding the conundrum of using the mind to let go of the mind. The trick of letting go of the mind, at least as I’m learning it through a very intense Qigong practice, is to use the mind as a tool, not a weapon. In Qigong I use my mind to see/understand a highly nuanced arm movement or a broad notion like “relax.” Then, trusting in the mind ‘s ability to grasp concepts, I try to relinquish control of my mind and allow the body, breath and energy to do their stuff.

    The more I “think” about what I’m trying to do, the less I can do it. However once I have an idea where I’m heading with a movement and can relax into it, awareness, mindfulness and even power arise.

    As in meditation, performing a Qigong movement or entire form acceptably on one occasion means nothing. Conditions, awareness and mindfulness are constant only in their inconstancy. At the next session I’m often back to square one. Yet each time my understanding grows and, in infinitesimal increments, I release the mind that controls out of fear and habit instead of from understanding and peacefulness.

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