When I was a young(er) man my main character was one driven by depression. I was an unhappy kid. Home was oppressive, and the alternative was to ‘go out’. Having lots of friends, but none close, I’d do the rounds, finding different groups of people to hang out with each night. But what I really wanted was to be alone.

I would go down to the local river, where I knew pretty much every bush, each dip of every stream. A place to be alone! But when I got there, I’d be too restless. I’d look for a fantasy to dive into. I would have to keep moving. Some time later I read about Barry Crump (if you don’t know who that is, you Β don’t need to!) who was told he knew nothing about literature, because was too uneducated. So he pulled all the classics out of the library, drove his van into the desert, and read them all.

This appealed and I tried to do the same, but it doesn’t really work in a Mini in Manchester. Again, I longed to be alone, but did not know how to.

Later I read some Ajahn Chah and he described a dog with mange, that runs from place to place, but always itches. This really hit home. All this time, it was not lack of a suitable surrounding that stopped me finding somewhere to be alone, but the mind. Buddhism says you can train the mind. Then the mind will be less like a monkey, and more like a bull which, despite it’s bulk can be led by the ring in its nose.

To train the mind, you first need to know it. In fact, in Vipassana, you really don’t need to train the mind at all, because once you know it, then it will already be trained. The effort is in observation. There’s no need to let the ego come along and decide how to fix everything. Just to know what is going on is enough. You will know naturally what needs to be done after that.

The best way I was taught of knowing the mind, is to ask the question: What is my state of mind right now?

Then you just stop and look.

It is well worth training yourself to ask the question to yourself verbally. Don’t just figure you understand the practise, and leave it there, as I did for many years. All the teachings in Buddhism are tools with which you work on yourself. There are no philosophies that will enlighten you, but there are lots of reflective tools which if you use them in a practical way, will bring about a change that your ‘self’ or ego could never have thought of.

If you ask the question a lot, and are satisfied with just that much – just seeing, then your state of mind becomes more clear to you all the time. And often you find that the mind is not how you thought it was. One time I was struggling with sleepiness, and I asked the question, what is my actual state of mind? And then I knew, the state of mind was one of struggling to attain something, and not really of sleepiness at all.

This practise starts to break down your preceonceptions, because when you thought you were annoyed, you find you were really quite ok. When you believe that you want to do something, you find the mind is in a state of not really being so enthusiastic.

But again, talking about the results of this practise, distract from the actual doing of it. Sooner or later you have to stop figuring stuff out. Stop looking for inspiration or force-fitting teachings you have heard on to your own experience, and just do it.

There isn’t any downside to getting to know your own state of mind better.

For myself, now I know how to be alone or with other people, without my mind ruining it for me.


Note: citta can be understood as ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ or even ‘heart’

The way the Buddha put it is as usual quite sharp and to the point:

And how does a monk remain focused on the mind in the mind? There is the case where a monk, when the mind has passion, discerns that the mind has passion. When the mind is without passion, he discerns that the mind is without passion. When the mind has aversion, he discerns that the mind has aversion. When the mind is without aversion, he discerns that the mind is without aversion. When the mind has delusion, he discerns that the mind has delusion. When the mind is without delusion, he discerns that the mind is without delusion.

When the mind is constricted, he discerns that the mind is constricted. When the mind is scattered, he discerns that the mind is scattered. When the mind is enlarged, he discerns that the mind is enlarged. When the mind is not enlarged, he discerns that the mind is not enlarged. When the mind is surpassed, he discerns that the mind is surpassed. When the mind is unsurpassed, he discerns that the mind is unsurpassed. When the mind is concentrated, he discerns that the mind is concentrated. When the mind is not concentrated, he discerns that the mind is not concentrated. When the mind is released, he discerns that the mind is released. When the mind is not released, he discerns that the mind is not released.

In this way he remains focused internally on the mind in the mind, or externally on the mind in the mind or both internally & externally on the mind in the mind. Or he remains focused on the phenomenon of arising with regard to the mind, on the phenomenon of vanishing with regard to the mind, or on the phenomenon arising and vanishing with regard to the mind. Or his mindfulness that ‘There is a mind‘ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & mindfulness. And he remains independent, not clinging to anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on the mind in the mind.


Jeff Oliver will be leading a one day workshop on this topic on Sunday 18th August. Book yourself in here.

11 replies on “Watching the Mind”

  1. Reading the blog I assumed it was one of the yogis. I thought, ah this is someone who has really been focused on practice, glad to be in the group with this person. Wonder who it is? When I finished I realized it was you Pandit.

    Just found out Ajahn Jayasaro will be in here in Northern California in Oct. attending the Kathina at Abhayagiri. Look forward to spending time with him. Have it in mind that as I write this email you and the group will be on your way to Pak Chong in a few hours. If the talk is recorded it would be wonderful it have it online

  2. I share and fully understand many of your experiences when you were a younger man. I battled with many similar things you mentioned. I have just recently written a book about it. By doing this it put all my bottled-up emotions and anger out for all to read and has kind of help me move on to what and where I am now and may go next. I have had praise from many, except mother, who controlled my life for many years until I broke free just over three years ago

  3. Thank you for this blog entry. I’ve read it a few times. I’m about to do today’s puja and will watch my mind. Also really looking forward to the workshop on the 18th.

  4. Great to hear a practioner not advocating drugs for the common and widespread state of depression Pandit. I know who Barry Crump is but there are no deserts in kiwiland!

  5. When I started reading the blog, I was wondering how you could know so much about my own story πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for the words about the citta, it is inspiring for our practice and – sure – will help me trying to figure out my “current state of mind”

  6. Great Sunday morning read. As always your natural candor brings to light the reality of the human struggle. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Hi . .really enjoyed reading this πŸ™‚ it is so much more inspirational when reading about personal experiences ..
    I loved the way the Buddha puts it … so very true πŸ™‚
    Thanks again
    see u soon πŸ™‚

  8. Dear Bhante,
    I have been thinking about this. Could you explain quickly what “range/sort” of state of mind are there? Once I heard about watching and labelling them as “greed, hatred, delusion”. I found it very easy to follow and very useful. Can I still use it?
    I ask this because the excerpt you put there has “constricted, scattered, surpassed.. etc”, wondering if those are the correct set that we have to stick to.

  9. I think depression should be talked about. People have blamed me actually, saying ‘why would he tell that?’, but it needs to be in the open. One 25 year old I knew became depressed, and friends/family and his Westerm Monk (not me) friend all laughed it off, because they a) were afraid b0) didn’t know what to do c) Couldn’t read the signs.
    Within 2 months he had shot himself and died.
    The list of ‘sorts’ of mind in the original sutta are given above. It can be useful if contemplating a particular teaching to use labels such as greed/hate/delusion etc.. But mostly, if you ask the question, the mind tends to stop. You don’t need to think anything or analyse it – the mind is as it is, and you are with it right there.

    1. 100% agree depression should be talked about, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, or to avoid. I was depressed for a period of time, it even translated into physical pain. Oh how busy and cluttered my mind was that time! Right now I have a young friend 26 years old who I think is depressed without knowing it, he always thinks everyone is disgusted of him, he’s too afraid to go out and try anything. He said a few years ago he even raised hands to his parents but now he is better, still he is at home doing nothing but playing games and watching anime. Nothing I can do but to keep him company by chatting from far.

      Actually when I heard about labelling the thoughts, the monk who taught us said the point of that exercise was to stop the thoughts — and yes, it works wonderfully. But apparently it’s a different exercise / purpose from what you describe here, Bhante. Sorry, I just realised I mixed it up.

    2. This ‘the mind just seems to stop’ and then thinking ‘strange… where is my mind… where is my mind… wheeeeeere… hmm, is my mind the feeling in my solar plexus, is it the tension in the forehead or the shoulders, the tingling under my left foot, and what, then, do they signify?’ is what I found too – but as described by the following thoughts, it threw me off somehow, I thought the fact that I was not finding a specific mind state meant I was just very ignorant and not discerning enough (which is probably true, as I’ve experienced moments/periods of greater mindfulness and know that discernment can be greatly improved from baseline), but still, it’s nice to know that my practice was not just complete fumbling in the dark.

      I also agree depression needs to be talked about. Why should it not? There is a chance somebody can be helped, and what could be more important? If one’s aspiration is to be compassionate to others, then surely sharing one’s experiences, including difficulties (and if one has found them, any solutions) is the right thing to do. Full support from me.

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