Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.
- Our mind is like a garden where we want good plants to grow
- Without mindfulness and introspective awareness we forget what we are trying to cultivate
- Destructive actions of body, speech, and mind occur when we are not mindful
Gems of Wisdom: Verse 51 (download)
“What is the one weed that destroys the garden of happiness?”
Okay, so we got one of them right. Knapweed definitely destroys the garden of happiness. Okay. What the analogy is, to knapweed: “Mindlessness that guards not against negative karma of the three doors.”
What is the one weed that destroys the garden of happiness?
Mindlessness that guards not against negative karma of the three doors.
The opposite of mindfulness. Mindlessness, or forgetfulness, that does not guard against the destructive karma of our body, speech, and mind.
There’s an analogy with creating a garden where the land is our mind and we have to water it and fertilize it and take out the rocks and bubblegum wrappers and herbicides and all that kind of stuff. So taking out the nasty stuff is like purification. Water and fertilizer is like accumulating merit. Planting the seeds is listening to the Dharma. And then the seeds have to be cultivated for the plants to grow into a garden. Okay? So, the other aiding factors that are going to help the seeds of the teachings grow into realizations in our minds—one of the principal ones here is mindfulness.
The popular way society is now using the word mindfulness is not exactly how the Buddha used it. Actually, the term smṛti is related to memory, it also means to remember. So mindfulness isn’t just watching what is going on in your mind. In the context of ethical conduct, mindfulness is remembering your precepts. In the context of meditation, it’s remembering your object of meditation so you can focus on it and concentrate on it without getting distracted. So mindfulness is the mental factor that holds in your mind what you’re wanting to focus on.
Clearly, if we don’t have mindfulness—for example, of our precepts—then we won’t remember our precepts and we’ll act any old way. If we don’t have mindfulness when we’re doing concentration meditation we’ll forget the object of meditation. If we don’t have mindfulness when we’re cultivating wisdom we won’t be able to track the stages in the refutation that we’re doing. So mindfulness is really, really important in the three higher trainings, also in cultivating bodhicitta.
When we don’t have mindfulness—in other words, when we forget what we’re supposed to be doing, or we forget our object of meditation, when we’re spaced out—then that’s when the destructive actions of body, speech, and mind come in. Okay? Because without remembering what we want to do, then the mind, afflictions just pop up like weeds. You know? Uninvited. And, as we know with knapweed, they come again and again and again, and you pull it out and you turn around to pull another one out and you come back and something’s regrown already. The stuff is really noxious. And so it is with our afflictions, too, and why we really need the mindfulness to prevent the weed-like afflictions from growing in the garden of our minds.
We cultivate mindfulness by paying attention and by remembering. As we go through the day, remember our precepts; when we’re meditating, remember our object of meditation.
Here’s where another mental factor comes in very handy, it’s called introspective awareness. Sometimes it’s translated as introspective alertness, vigilance, clear comprehension, clear knowing. There are many different translations for samprajanya. This is the one that surveys the landscape in the mind and sees: Am I concentrating on what I need to be concentrating on? Do I have my precepts in mind? Do I have the object of meditation in mind? Or have I gotten spaced out? Whenever mindfulness is taught introspective awareness is taught as well because they really function together as a couple, one keeping you on the object and the other one surveying the situation and ringing the burglar alarm if you’ve gotten off the object. One remembering the situation, the other surveying and seeing, “Am I remembering my precepts and am I acting according to them. Or am I acting in any kind of which way, crazy way.” In which case [alarm bells], and it lets us know, hey, we need to renew our mindfulness and focus again on what we’re doing.
So, to grow the garden of happiness we need mindfulness and introspective awareness, and not the weeds of mindlessness, forgetfulness, and non-introspective awareness.
[In response to audience] So would the introspective awareness develop kind of automatically when you’re having mindfulness on your ethical conduct?
I think, actually, in both cases you kind of need to remind yourself to use your introspective awareness. It’s like, oh, I need to survey the situation. When your mindfulness really gets strong then I think the introspective awareness becomes strong automatically. But at the beginning it just seems to me that we really need to deliberately bring the introspective awareness up.