25 centuries ago in northern India, a man decided to investigate the problem of human suffering. After years of searching outside, he found that the answer was much closer than thought. It was in the within. It is in each one of us. He discovered a way to gain insight into the reality of his own nature and that led him to experience true liberation, true peace, true freedom from all suffering. Having reached “Nibanna” or the ultimate human liberation there is, he thought of adding to this treasure by spreading his learnings.
He was a prince who lived the life of a recluse, he was a man on a search, he was a man who dedicated his whole life for humanity, he was Siddharth Gotama, he was who we call The Buddha. Buddha is not a name, it is a quality. It means the enlightened one, though he never claimed to be anything but a man. Whatever mind-bending discoveries he made, were pre-eminently human qualities that he had brought to perfection. Therefore, whatever he achieved is within the grasp of any human being who works for it. That means you and I can be a Buddha too.
We shall discuss Gotama’s incredible life and many stories with learnings in our upcoming articles. What follows now is The Starting point of what enlightened him sitting under that tree.
The first epiphany:
As he sat under that tree, going deeper into his own being, The Buddha realized that all beings are made up of 5 processes. Our Mind constitutes of 4 of the 5 of these processes. The fifth one is the obvious physical aspect of us- Matter. It is everything right from the big organs to the subtlest particles of our body. Even this most obvious aspect our being has many activities beyond our control or acknowledgment. Can you feel the subtler parts of your body like the cells that arise and pass frequently? A body that we refer to as “myself” that we know so little of. That is why in Vipassana, this is the first place we start from. From scanning every part of our body. We shall explain the technique in an exclusive article soon. Let’s move on to our Mind doors now:
Our mind is always active. We can’t see it or touch it, but it shows its presence even when we are asleep, isn’t it? You can see from your eyes, but this information in your eyes is worth nothing if there is no mind to process it. If I ask you today to quite your mind for one day, isn’t it quite a task? Control of your conscious mind itself is hard enough, trying to control the unconscious seems even beyond our reach.
As the Buddha examined his mind, with an awakened consciousness he noticed the four processes/doors of our mind — consciousness, perception, sensation, and reaction.
Door 1- Consciousness:
This is the first door where information falls on. This is what we call cognizing, or simply- registering of an occurrence, reception of an input. This input could be physical or mental. Say, your eyes saw a lake, you haven’t judged whether it is a beautiful or a dirty lake. Consciousness just saw the lake as it is, no value is attached to the lake. Just- You saw a lake. That’s it. That’s consciousness.
Door 2- Perception:
This is the act of recognition. This is where the mind identifies the input registered by the cognition. This is where you figure out the lake is big or small, beautiful or dirty, near or far. This is where labels are added to the input. Notice how this is where it will vary from person-to-person. A little kid might think the lake is huge, whereas an adult who has seen many lakes, might think the lake is small.
Notice how this is where many times we have the choice to look at things differently so they have a different effect on us. For example, I could sit here with this life and point out everything is wrong or I could do that and add everything I learned from everything that is wrong. Same thing, different perception.
Door 3- Sensation:
This door opens along with the first one. As soon as there is input, a sensation arises and we register it. This sensation is neutral. Then we perceive this input and add value to it. So, the input has entered the perception door and our neutral sensation has now taken a “side”. It is either a pleasant sensation or an unpleasant one, depending upon the evaluation of our perception. Notice how with a shift of perception, we have the power to change how we experience this sensation.
Door 4- Reaction:
This is important — If the sensation is pleasant, we desire to prolong the experience. If it is an unpleasant one, the desire is to get rid of it, push it away as further as possible. So the reaction is liking or disliking. You saw the lake. It was an act of consciousness. A sensation is set in motion as soon as you saw the lake. Now perception told you whether you like the lake or not. This caused a sensation of like/dislike. If you like it, you want more of it causing attachment. If you did not like it, you want to get away from it. Now, this is an example of just a lake. The reaction may not be so intense. Extrapolate it to something like your loved one hurling insults at you? Can you imagine the intensity of your reaction now?
These four processes, of course, occur for all kinds of inputs-vision, hearing, touch, feel, etc. And all of these 4 steps happen in a fleeting fraction of a second, right? In a regular day, notice how quickly and effortlessly we label things and react to things. So, how much of this external input is in our control? A fraction of it. How much of it affects us? All of it.
“What comes to your door is not up to you, but what you let in is.”
How to use these 4 doors for your benefit?
Between cognition to the reaction, the process occurs at a rapid lightning-like speed, so rapid that one cannot possibly tell that it is happening. At every step after cognition though, there is a choice. When we start living and thinking passively, we actually start reacting to things instead of responding to them. So much so that before we know it, these reactions become ingrained and become patterns or habits. The most important faculty of human life, mind, is out of control. Churning on external thoughts, perceptions, reactions after reactions without consciously making choices. As if we are living passively, as if we are on the passenger seat of our own life, letting random external thoughts living in our mind run our lives.
So how do you take the wheel of your own life?
I have 7 words for you — Cognise, perceive, sense but DO NOT react. The key is to Cognize, perceive, sense and respond with equanimity. What is Equanimity? It is the calm, composed, well-balanced state of mind. How are you going to be balanced when your sensation is extreme? With the knowledge of Impermanence. This impermanence is a great foundation to keep realizing how change is the only constant and whatever sensation has been caused, good or bad, will pass too.
Let’s do an activity for one day. I’m naming it the Bird’s-eye View. It is actually what it sounds like. I couldn’t come up with something fancy :p
The Bird’s-eye View:
Do you also feel that when you are giving advice to someone else, it is much easier to have a clear and healthy perspective than when you yourself are in that position? Well, that’s because we have a third person outlook or the bird’s-eye view for others, where there is a distance between “I” and the occurrence. But in our own cases, our attachment to the “I” causes unwholesome reactions. So, let’s take a Bird’s-eye view on everything that happens to you from here on out today. Won’t harm trying something new for one day now, will it?
Goal: Mind control and liberation from suffering
Tool: Bird’s-eye view, patience, and conscious effort
Challenge: Employing this tool is the challenge. To stay mindful, calm and self-aware even when our circumstance forces us in the other direction is the challenge. Remind yourself each time about Impermanence and Equanimity will surface on its own. You’d be surprised when this starts to manifest on its own after some time. In that state, if someone gave you the world, you will have joy and then equanimity. If someone takes that world away from you, you will have sadness and still have equanimity. An equanimous mind is the mind of peace and harmony.
Sample: Say, someone you love said hurtful things to you in anger. What will you do now?
-Your ears heard it(Cognize)
-You did not expect them to say it. It was unpleasant(Perception)
-You felt hurt(sense)
Stop right there. This is where you consciously remind yourself to not react. It could go in many ways- you could get angry, hurt, shocked, sad, and such. Before you dislike the sensation so much that you intensely run away from it causing suffering/anger, take a step back and recognize how temporary it is(bird’s-eye view employed). Remember the Law of Impermanence? Become aware of it with every mindful moment- Impermanence, impermanence, impermanence- remind this to yourself every mindful moment. Know that this too shall pass and you will have an equanimous mind. This is where you are consciously forging a new habit, towards a happier life. Instead of reacting, you are now responding.
Remember this doesn’t mean that your life is cold now. That is absolutely not what meditation is! You must understand by now that controlling our senses is as possible as controlling our kidney, heart or lungs. Can I purposefully stop my kidney from functioning? No. Just as I cannot tell my mind to not feel or sense. I am definitely going to feel what comes naturally. It is what we do with this feeling is what decides whether it causes suffering or not. When you feel exuberant, happy, ecstatic, and such “good” feelings, they don’t really make you want to seek peace, do they? It’s only when the harder emotions strike, which they will in the real world, is when you need a perspective on life or art of living.
Using Law of Impermanence as a foundation for an Equanimous mind:
These two steps have actually helped me get through some of the toughest times of my life. Just the technique of distancing away from the mind and consciously reminding myself of the impermanence in things has influenced my life in incomprehensive ways. But how to make this mind process natural? Consistency in meditation made it easier day-by-day until now when I no more have to consciously remind myself of these. 10 honest days into conscious meditation and effort in real life, and it started manifesting on its own. Even if you don’t meditate, it is still possible to set this in motion. It might need conscious effort in the beginning, but it will definitely start manifesting within days. Our mind is conditioned already, right? De-conditioning it can’t be expected within a day. With some patience and conscious effort, you will be surprised when it starts manifesting on its own. Even if we achieved this 10 minutes a day, it is powerful enough.
You know, when I entered meditation I thought meditation will be about being able to control my mind. Funny and ironic as it sounds, mind control actually was in letting go of all control. The control we unconsciously think we have over every external aspect of our lives. After I was done with the retreat, nothing was different in my life but everything had changed… :)