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Mindfulness of the mind and phenomena

Mindfulness of the mind and phenomena

A series of teachings on the four establishments of mindfulness given at Kunsanger North retreat center near Moscow, Russia, May 5-8, 2016. The teachings are in English with Russian translation.

  • Explanation of the recitations continued
    • The last six branches of the seven limb prayer
  • Seeing the three types of feelings as unsatisfactory helps us aim for a better grade of happiness
  • Mindfulness of the mind
  • Meditating on the clarity and cognizance of the mind
  • Mindfulness of phenomena
  • The importance of identifying the virtuous and afflictive mental factors

The four establishments of mindfulness retreat 06 (download)

This is our last day together. I really enjoyed being here with you. I’ve been very impressed with your questions, they’re very thoughtful questions. It shows that you’re thinking about the material, and that’s very important. Asking questions is very important.

Nagarjuna, in Precious Garland, says that one way to create the cause to be born intelligent in the Dharma is to ask questions of the wise. I’m not the wise, but from your side it’s good you ask questions. Because if we don’t think about the teachings and ask questions, then we basically wind up being dumb in this life and future lives. So, it’s very important that you think about the teachings, and as you think about them you make them your own. They get integrated in your mind; instead of being like oil on top of water, it becomes like water in water; your mind becomes the teachings.

Somebody at the public talk raised the question that we know all these things up here, but somehow when we’re in the actual situation, it’s out the window, and we follow our old habits. Yes, that’s a problem all of us have, you’re not the only one. The way to overcome that is simply by familiarization, thinking about the teachings, applying them again and again. It’s called “practice the Dharma” because practice implies repetition. It’s not called “wake up in the morning with the light bulb and you’ve got it.”

As usual, I’m not going to get through everything. This happens to be my bad habit. But my teacher does the same thing, so I don’t feel too bad. In his case it’s a good habit, because he talks about what’s important to the people even if you don’t get through the whole text.

Seven-limb prayer continued

I want to talk a little bit more about the prayers, because I think they’re important, the verses we say. Like I said the other day, you could spend a long time on each of the lines of those verses, really thinking about them. They’re quite profound. Even though we say them rather quickly before we do our meditation, when you’re at home alone you can spend more time with them. They’re very rich.

Making offerings

Yesterday we talked about making prostrations and how that counteracts arrogance and makes us receptive to receiving the teachings. Then the second branch is offerings—make every kind of offering, those actually done… I can never remember it when I have to say it alone.

Translator: And those mentally transformed.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Yes. So, this branch purifies stinginess and miserliness, and it creates merit. Usually, when we have something nice, who gets it? Me! So here, we’re practicing going beyond, “I want what I want when I want it.” In this case, we’re making offerings to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

It’s nice to have an altar in your home. How many of you have an altar? Oh, that’s very good, very good. Because I think it’s quite helpful. I know it’s helpful for my mind to walk by and see the Buddha sitting so peaceful, especially when my mind is all, “nyaaa!” It just reminds me, “Okay, calm down, Chodron.” Making offerings first thing in the morning is also a very nice habit to get into. I even do it before I have my cup of tea. What a great sacrifice. People in the Tibetan tradition drink a lot of tea, so…

There’s offering of the water bowls, offering fruit, flowers, light—whatever you consider beautiful, you can offer. If we had more time I would show you how to do the water bowls. But we don’t have much time, so I think you can learn here.

The idea is that even though we’re offering some rather limited physical, material things, to imagine the whole sky filled with offerings that are even more beautiful and purer than the actual things we’re offering. When you offer flowers it symbolizes offering an understanding of impermanence, because the flowers wilt. Incense represents ethical conduct, because they say that people who keep very good ethical conduct have a very sweet scent. Light represents wisdom, and food represents concentration, because when you have very deep states of concentration, you’re nourished by the concentration, you don’t need so much physical food. Again, you just imagine beautiful things in the sky and offer them. Anything you happen to be attached to that day, offer it.

You can offer it in your mind when you do the offerings on the altar, you can also do it when you do the mandala offering. But if, for example, you’re dreaming about a new car you want to get, offer it to the Buddha. It’s interesting when you do this, because you need to make the offering better than it ordinarily is, like a car that doesn’t get into crashes, that doesn’t break, that doesn’t get scratched. In the process of doing that, you begin to realize that the car that you’re craving is not so hot. Or you offer food, and you think of fruit without pesticides, without peels, without pits, and offer something very pure, and nourishing. Then we see that what we’re eating is really nothing to be so attached to.

The question came up yesterday about how to work with attachment to people. I also put them in the mandala when I offer. Because when you think about it, isn’t the person you’re attached to better off being under the care of the Buddha who will guide them to awakening, rather than under the care of us with our afflictive mind of attachment?

In the inner offering, we say we offer our friend, enemy, and stranger. Definitely our enemy will be better off being guided by the Buddha; so will our friend; so will strangers. It helps us to realize that as long as we have an afflicted mind with ignorance, anger, attachment, belligerence, jealousy, etc., how are we going to benefit anybody? We might love them very much, but what can we offer them? “I offer you my jealousy in eternal love. I love you so much, I offer you my jealousy.” Do you think they want your jealousy? Are they going to be happy under your jealousy?

It’s better we offer the person to the Buddha, then we give up attachment to them, and that really helps our mind. Because as we’ve seen, the more we’re attached to people, the more we have unrealistic expectations of them, the more troubles we have. We’ll talk about this some more this afternoon in the talk about the four immeasurables. But just think about it.


Then the third branch of the seven-limb prayer is confession. Repentance may be a better word because repentance applies confessing and making amends. We do this by means of the four opponent powers. Doing confession helps us to be free of the mind of denial, the mind that doesn’t like to own our negative actions. It helps us cultivate honesty and purify.

The first of the four opponent powers is to have regret. That means feeling like, “I’m sorry I did that.” Regret and guilt are very different. A lot of us have been taught to feel guilty when we make mistakes and to feel shame, as if the more we criticized ourself, the more we would atone for what we did. Then we get into, “I’m such a terrible person, look what I did, this is horrible, it’s unforgivable, I’m really the lowest of the low.” How many of you suffer from guilt? Guilt is just another defilement that we have to leave behind, it’s not a virtuous mental factor to cultivate.

Guilt is exaggerated, and it’s filled with self-importance. What’s the self-importance? “I am so horrible; I can make everything go bad.” Isn’t that a bit exaggerated? “The marriage broke up just because of me. The company lost the account just because of me. Because I have this special ability to make everything go wrong.” That’s the mind of guilt and shame, isn’t it? “I’m the lowest of the low.” It’s total rubbish. I’m very sorry to tell you that you really are not so important that you can make everything go wrong. I know that deflates your feeling of self-importance, but it’s true. What we need to have instead is just regret – “I did this, I’m sorry I did it, it hurt somebody else, and karmically it brings bad results on me, so I’m sorry that I did this.”

Then we don’t just regret it, we must make amends. The second opponent power is making amends towards whoever we created the negativity in relationship to. If we created it in relationship to our spiritual masters or to the Three Jewels, then we take refuge in them. If we generated our negativities towards other sentient beings, then we generate bodhicitta, which is the aspiration to be able to benefit them most effectively. This step is very important, because sometimes when there’s been a conflict with somebody else – they created negativity, we created negativity – then we hold onto a grudge very strongly, with a lot of anger and antipathy towards the other person. Here, what we’re doing is completely changing our attitude towards them. So, you can see how that’s going to have a purifying effect on your mind and a healing effect on your mind so that you’re actually able to forgive others and to apologize to them.

I think this ability to forgive and apologize is very crucial in order to have a happy life. Conflict with sentient beings is natural. If we don’t resolve the conflict in our mind by transforming our attitude towards people, then all this bitterness, anger, resentment, and hatred builds up, builds up, builds up, and then you become a very bitter, unhappy, old person. Do any of you have grandparents or parents who are very bitter and angry and carry around so much emotional baggage with them? Do we want to grow up and become like that? I don’t know about you, but I don’t. So, this branch of transforming our attitude towards those we’ve harmed is very important.

Then, the third of the four opponent powers is to make some determination to avoid the action again in the future. There are some things we’ve done that we feel so, like, “Uck! Definitely, forever, I am not going to do that one again.” There are other things, like, “I criticized somebody behind their back,” that if we said we’re never going to do it again that would almost be lying. Don’t we sort of criticize people behind their back almost daily? Or maybe I’m just talking about myself here. There’s a few of you that have this bad habit, too? To counteract it, we can’t say, “I’m never going to do that.” So, then we say, “Okay, for the next three days, I’m going to be really attentive, and I’m not going to criticize anybody behind their back.” Then, after three days, you say, “Oh, I didn’t criticize anyone. Let’s do it one more day.” Then you can slowly increase it.

The fourth opponent power is doing some kind of remedial behavior. This could be, for example, making prostrations to the thirty-five buddhas, doing the Vajrasattva practice, making offerings to the Three Jewels, meditating on bodhicitta, meditating on emptiness, meditating in general, doing volunteer work for a charity, or doing volunteer work for the Dharma center. Any kind of action that is a virtuous action can be this remedial behavior. That’s the third branch of seven.


The fourth one is rejoicing. Here, we rejoice at our own and others’ virtues, which means that it’s very important for us to appreciate our own virtue and to appreciate our own good qualities. But appreciating them doesn’t mean we get conceited about them. Rather, when we do something virtuous, we just feel a sense of self-fulfillment. We don’t need to go, “Oh, I didn’t create anything virtuous because I’m such a bad person.” We also don’t go, “I am so virtuous, I did this!” Got to get your nose up in the air.

Rejoicing: [also] rejoicing at other’s virtue, at their abilities, their opportunities, which is the antidote to jealousy. But of course, when you’re jealous, it’s the last thing you want to do, like when your old boyfriend/girlfriend who you broke up with is now with somebody else. But you turn it around—“It’s so good, they’re happy together, let them be. If they find happiness together, that’s good. Anyway, that person that I was so madly in love with has some bad qualities, so now the other person has to deal with them.”

When I lived in France, there was one woman who came to the center, she was maybe in her fifties, and her husband had run off with some younger woman, and she was really dismayed. I said, “Claudine, that’s no problem. Now she gets to pick up his dirty socks.” She eventually healed from the breakup and later she ordained, and then she didn’t have to pick up anybody’s socks but her own. She was very happy as a nun. Okay so, that’s the fourth.

Request for teachings and our teacher’s long life

Now the fifth. The fifth and the sixth branches are sometimes reversed. In this short version, the fifth one is requesting the Buddha to appear in the world and our teachers to live long. The sixth one is requesting them to turn the Dharma wheel. But sometimes the order of those two are reversed. I think these two are quite important, especially the one of requesting teachings. We often tend to take the presence of our spiritual mentors for granted and take the teachings for granted. For example, the Dharma group meets every Tuesday night – “Oh, today, I don’t feel like going. I’ll go next week.” “Oh, there’s a retreat this weekend, but I want to go to the movies instead. I’ll go to a retreat another time.” True, isn’t it? We take it all for granted, as if the teacher is there just to fulfill our wishes when we feel like it. We have this very consumer-like mind, and it’s like, “Okay, I’ll check it out. Hm, yeah, that teacher looks okay. Okay, then he can come work for me and teach me. Oh, but this other teacher, nya, I’m too good for them. Anyway, the Dharma classes should be at the day and time I want them to be, the teacher should talk about the topic I’m interested in, they should answer all my questions, and I’ll just sit there and relax.”

They talk about how in ancient times and actually still in modern times that if you want teachings you have to go and ask three times. The first two times, the teacher just says, “Hm, I’ll think about it.” Because they want to see if you’re really serious about this. So, it’s incredibly important for us to request teachings because it’s an expression of our seeing how important the Dharma is in our lives. It’s incredibly important to ask our teachers to live long so that we can be guided by them for a long time. Because basically, without having wise, qualified, teachers, we’re sunk. What are we going to do? Invent our own path to awakening? As if we know the path better than the Buddha? We’re going to lead ourselves to awakening? “I’ll take a little bit from Sufi, a little bit from Hinduism, a little bit from the Orthodox church, a little bit from Buddhism, maybe something about crystals, and a little tai chi, and I’ll mix them all together so that it’s a perfect path which suits my ego. Maybe I’ll go to some fortunetellers too because they’re wise people. Dharma teachers don’t know much, but fortunetellers…”

One time there was a New Age event in the city near the Abbey, and we were asked to have a booth. We brought some Dharma books and sat there. On both sides of us were psychics who were fortunetellers. Somebody would walk along, stop at the first psychic, and pay a whole lot of money for the psychic to tell them about their life. The person would sit there, completely entranced because the psychic is talking all about “me.” They were like, “The psychic is talking about me.” Then, they’d come to our booth, look at a book, go very quickly onto the next psychic, and repeat the whole thing.

Now, if the psychic says, “Oh, next year you’re going to get sick. You’d better do some purification.” Then we go, “Oh, yes, I’d better do some purification, I’m going to get sick next year. The psychic told me this is very serious.” Well, you know what? I’m not a psychic and I can tell you next year you’re going to get sick, because we all get sick at least once every year, don’t we? Don’t you get a cold or the flu once a year at least? But if I tell you, “Meh.” And if the Buddha says, “Oh, you’ve created some negativity, you’d better do some purification.” We go, “Oh, what’s the Buddha know? Buddha’s just trying to make me afraid so that I become a good Buddhist, that’s all. I’m going back to the fortuneteller.” Do you see how stupid we are sometimes? When we act like this, we’re not going to create the cause to meet a fully qualified Mahayana Vajrayana teacher; we’re creating the cause to meet Charlatananda. You know Charlatananda? There’s lots of Charlatanandas to choose from. But finding good teachers is difficult. So, it’s very important that we request for teachings, that we request that the Buddha and our teachers live long and not just take these things for granted.


The last of the seven is dedicating the merit. That’s really important. It’s also a practice of generosity, because instead of keeping all the merit for ourself, we dedicate it for the welfare, the enlightenment, of living beings.

When I first went to Singapore there was a man who wanted to learn meditation, so he came over and I taught him some meditation. At the end, I said, “Now, we’re going to dedicate the merit. We’re going to imagine all the good energy, the merit we’ve created, being sent out into the universe and bearing good results for other living beings.” He looked at me and said, “But Venerable, I have so little merit, I don’t want to give it away.” It was sweet because he had a lot of faith in merit and in karma, that part was good. But he didn’t understand it correctly, because he didn’t realize that when you make generosity of your merit and virtue, it actually increases it and enhances it, not diminishes it. So, when you dedicate the merit, have a real sense of wealth like, “Wow, here’s all this merit, we’re amplifying it, we’re sending it out to sentient beings.” Have a real sense of richness.

Let’s do the prayers and some silent meditation now. [Prayers and meditation.]


Let’s cultivate our motivation. Contemplate our fortune at not only having a precious human life but having met teachers, having met the teachings, having the opportunity to study and practice them. Think about what your life would be like if you had not met the Dharma or if you had not encountered good teachers. What would your life be like? Have some faith and confidence in your life and your ability to use these resources wisely, the resources of your precious life—the teachers, the opportunity. The best way to do that is to have the aspiration to become a fully awakened being so we can have all the qualities from our side that are necessary to most effectively guide others.

Four establishments of mindfulness

Very briefly we’re going to do the last two of the four mindfulnesses. Let me finish one thing about feelings. Remember we were contemplating that feelings are unsatisfactory by nature. When looking at the various feelings you have, seeing painful feelings as unsatisfactory, no problem with that, we all know that that’s true. Even animals don’t like painful feelings.

Seeing pleasant feelings as unsatisfactory by nature only happens when we’ve reflected more on the nature of the happy feelings. I think this is understood by spiritual practitioners of most traditions. They all agree to some extent that too much consumerism, too much materialism, too much attachment to happiness, brings many problems. These pleasant feelings are impermanent, they don’t last long. So, they’re unsatisfactory, aren’t they? We’ve all experienced tons of pleasure in the past. If it were true happiness, why are we here today? We would still be enjoying that. But all that happiness is “come, come, go, go.”

Neutral feelings are also unsatisfactory because when we have them, they can turn into painful feelings at a moment’s notice. Again, we know this from our experience. You could be riding in your car, your body pretty much has neutral feelings, then you get in an accident, and boom! Painful. So, neutral feelings are not anything to be satisfied with because they’re not stable – there is a slight change of condition, and we experience pain and suffering. This understanding makes us ask – Is there another way of being where we’re not subject to these three kinds of feelings? Or at least the three kinds of feelings that are contaminated by ignorance. Then we see that cessation is that kind of state. In other words, liberation or full awakening, where we have a stable sense of well-being, fulfillment, and satisfaction that does not depend on external people and objects, because those things are changing all the time.

In all this talk about how our present condition is unsatisfactory, the purpose is not to make us depressed and discouraged – “Oh, there’s nothing but dukkha in my life. No permanent happiness. My boyfriend/girlfriend can’t do it, the chocolate cake can’t do it, my career can’t do it, everything is suffering and unsatisfactory.” The purpose of thinking about this is not to make us depressed. We can get depressed all by ourselves, the Buddha doesn’t need to teach us how. The purpose, why the Buddha taught us, is to make us aware so that we can seek a better kind of happiness than what we have now. Right now, the grade of happiness we have is DD, the lowest. You know how they grade eggs? Do you have graded eggs here—AAA, AA, A? You don’t have graded eggs here? Okay so, like the lowest grade. Or maybe cars, the cheapest, lowest car.

The purpose is not to make us depressed because all we can get is that low grade. The purpose is to make us see that there’s something else that we can aim for. Maybe you can get a Mercedes, so why be satisfied with a lesser car? It’s not such a nice example, but I think you get the point.

Mindfulness of the mind

Now on to mindfulness of the mind. The mind is very important because the mind is what controls the body and speech, except for reflex actions, like hitting your knee. All the movement of our body, all the communication and movement of our mouth is governed by our mind. So, we must take care of what’s going on in our mind. Also, our mind, by nature, the definition of mind, is clarity and cognizance. This means it’s clear, it lacks form, it’s not material in nature. It has the ability to reflect objects. It’s cognizant in that it can know and engage with objects.

We have six primary consciousnesses: the five sense consciousnesses—visual, audio, olfactory, gustatory, tactile—and we have the one mental consciousness. These consciousnesses come into being when there’s an object, then the sense power. Like, with the eye sense power connecting with the object, then the visual consciousness that sees yellow is generated.

With the mental consciousness, the sense power is usually a previous sense consciousness. We start thinking about something that we’ve seen, heard, tasted, or touched. Our consciousnesses right now are especially governed by sense organs, sense powers. Our consciousnesses are geared outwards towards the external world, and we are often totally out of touch with our own mind and our own internal workings. The mindfulness of feelings is getting us in touch with our internal feelings; mindfulness of mind is getting us in touch with the workings of the mind; mindfulness of phenomena is getting us in touch with the different mental factors that affect the state of mind. When meditating on these three, we’re doing something that we haven’t paid much attention to before.

One way to meditate on the mindfulness of the mind is to try and observe this clarity and cognizance – it’s not something physical, it doesn’t have a color, it doesn’t have a shape, and you can’t pin it down to a specific location. It’s very interesting, when you’re sitting quietly, and like, “What is the consciousness? Does it have color, shape, is it located somewhere?” Then we really begin to see how different consciousness or mind is from physical objects.

That opens a whole new world to us. Let’s explore this mind, especially since the mind is the basis of our existing in samsara or our existing in nirvana. Our body is not the basis upon which we exist in samsara or nirvana, it’s the state of our mind. So, what is this mind? Quite interesting to explore.

When we start watching the mind, we see that the mind is changing in every moment. It changes in that we are cognizing different objects moment by moment, having different feelings moment by moment, thinking different thoughts moment by moment. The mind is nothing fixed. It’s nothing that you can say, “Okay, here it is, I got it, it’s permanent, now I’m going to look at it.” All we can find is one moment of mind producing another moment of mind, producing another moment of mind. All these moments of mind are different.

We come to see that the mind is a continuity. It’s not one solid thing; it’s a continuity of moments of clarity and cognizance. An awareness of the mind as a continuity can be very helpful to subdue fear of death, because one thing that can happen at the time of death is fear that we will discontinue, meaning the mind will discontinue. At the time of death, we’re separating from our body, we’re separating from the external world that has acted as a basis of so much of our ego identity. So sometimes there can be a feeling of, “I’m disappearing. What am I if these things disappear?” When we’re familiar with the mind as a continuity, then at the time of death we realize that we’re not going to disappear, because the I, the person, is dependent on the mind, and the mind continues to exist one moment by one moment by one moment.

With mindfulness of the mind, we can also begin to see that the mind is not defiled by nature, that it’s pure by nature. The analogy is often given of water with dirt in it. When the water is all stirred up, the dirt is everywhere, the water looks dirty. But the dirt is not the nature of the water. It can be separated from the water. In a similar way, our defilements, our afflictions, our disturbing emotions can be separated from the pure nature of the mind because they’re not the nature of the mind. Just as when you let the dirt settle, it sinks to the bottom and you still have the pure water, when we let the mind settle, the afflictions vanish and we just have the pure clarity and cognizance of the mind. That gives us a lot of confidence that we can become buddhas – that our anger, our resentment, our grudges, our bad feelings, these are not inherently part of us. They depend on ignorance, and because ignorance is a wrong consciousness, it can be eliminated by wisdom, which sees things as they are.

When we get rid of the fundamental ignorance and its wrong conceptions, then the attachment, anger, and other afflictions naturally disappear because they’re based on ignorance. We begin to get some feeling that attaining true cessations is possible. Remembering this can be very effective when your mind is full of confusion. You know how we get sometimes? We’re so confused, or we’re so upset, and we can’t make sense of anything. It’s very good at that time to try and just focus on clarity and cognizance, and contemplate this example of all the dirt settling to the bottom, knowing that all our confused emotions can settle, and then we just have that clarity and cognizance of the mind that remains.

This gives us confidence that we have the buddha potential. Knowing that we have the buddha potential is a stable base for having self-confidence. If we build our self-confidence on our intelligence, on our athletic ability, on our good looks, all those things are transient, they don’t last all the time. So, if they go, then our self-confidence goes. Whereas the buddha nature is part of our mind, it cannot be eliminated, so we can guild a good kind of self-confidence based on that.

Mindfulness of phenomena

Then, mindfulness of phenomena. Here, the mental factors are most important. The main thing to do is identify the afflictive mental factors and the virtuous mental factors. In our own experience, by observing our own mind, we identify when attachment has arisen in our mind or when anger is there in our mind, or when arrogance is there, when jealousy is there, when confusion is there. Then examine those mental states with those particular mental factors, see how they lead to suffering and misery, and have the wish to counteract them.

If we had more time, I’d go into the different antidotes for the different mental factors. But I heard that Alan Wallace is coming here to teach the thought training, and the thought training texts contain a lot of those antidotes. Also, the course that’s starting on the Easy Path, that text also contains many of the antidotes to the afflictions.

So, we identify the virtuous mental factors, such as love, compassion, wisdom, a sense of personal integrity, an unwillingness to be of damage to others, non-violence, confidence; there are many kinds of virtuous mental factors. We want to be able to identify those and also know how to enhance them in our mindstream. In that way, by contemplating the mental factors, we become acquainted with the True Path. We begin to understand how generating the purified mental factors can help us counteract the afflictive ones and specifically, how generating the wisdom realizing emptiness can help us counteract the ignorance. So, I think that’s it.

Maybe some Q&A, comments?

Audience: So, are merits just habits of the mind, or are they something more?

VTC: The merit depends on habits of the mind, but the merit is virtuous karma, and that leaves imprints on the mind, karmic seeds. Then the karmic seeds ripen in terms of our experiences. So, it really refers to those seeds of virtuous karma.

Audience: Would it be correct to say that karma is just tendencies in the mind, or habits on the mind? And in this way, deduce that karma is just a habit—is that correct reasoning?

VTC: The word karma means action. So, when we do an action repeatedly, that sets up a habit or a tendency. Habits and tendencies are more considered the result of the actions. It might be good, next time, to do a whole thing on karma, merit, and everything involved with that. It’s a very important topic, and you’ve brought it up, I appreciate that.

Audience: Can you repeat once again what are abstract composites and what are unconditioned phenomena?

VTC: Abstract composites and unconditioned phenomena. Okay, let me back up a minute. When we talk about things that are existent, there are two branches of existent. One is permanent phenomena that are unconditioned. The other is impermanent phenomena that are conditioned things. The unconditioned, permanent phenomena do not arise due to causes and conditions. They’re things like emptiness, the space that’s the absence of obstruction.

Impermanent phenomena have three types. The first one is form, and that refers to physical things. The second is consciousness, or mind, and that refers to the kind of consciousnesses we have and the mental factors. The third branch is the abstract composites, and these are not formed, they’re not physical, and they’re not consciousness, but they’re still impermanent. Impermanent means they change moment by moment.

The person is an example of an abstract composite. Karmic seeds are another example. There are many different examples of these kinds of things.

Audience: We’ve talked about guilt, but what to do about guilt that might arise when we see somebody close to us undergoing some trouble and we know that we are unable to help? So then, guilt catches up with us. Might one of the antidotes be compassion?

VTC: To feel guilty because we’re unable to help somebody, I think it’s quite a distorted way of thinking because that’s based on thinking that we should be able to control the world and change the circumstances of somebody else’s life. That’s totally impossible.

If thinking about somebody else’s suffering and we feel helpless or frustrated because we can’t stop it, that’s no reason to feel guilty, because who in the world can stop it? It’s a case of our taking responsibility for something that’s not our responsibility. We didn’t cause their suffering; we can’t stop their suffering. We may be able to influence them so their suffering decreases, but again, we shouldn’t make ourselves all-powerful thinking that we can make somebody else’s suffering stop.

Of course, if we’re deliberately doing something that’s causing somebody’s suffering, we need to stop our own harmful actions. So, what I’m saying is not an excuse to torment somebody else. We’re responsible for our actions, but we can’t be responsible for other’s emotions. In the same way, we’ve got to be responsible for our emotions, we can’t blame our emotions on somebody else, saying, “You made me mad.” As if my anger is somebody else’s fault.

If I’m angry, my anger is my responsibility to take care of. I can’t go through life saying, “Well, I’m angry because you do this, and you do that.”

Audience: A question about meditation on the feelings. When we did it this morning, it seemed like I’m at the same time experiencing something pleasant, something unpleasant, and even something neutral. But I’ve heard explanations that in one moment of the mind, there can only be one of the three. In one moment of the mind, it can only be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. So, is it just my mind switching objects at a very high speed so that I don’t notice it, or am I doing something wrong?

VTC: We can only have one type of each consciousness manifest at a particular moment. But at a particular moment, our visual consciousness can be functioning, our auditory, all six consciousnesses can be functioning at a moment, but only one – so we can’t have two eye consciousnesses at a moment, or two mental consciousnesses at a moment. So, we may be having a pleasant feeling from a visual consciousness and an unpleasant one from our auditory consciousness. In spite of this, we may only be aware of one of those feelings.

Audience: So, it means the mind is switching?

VTC: If you’re going back and forth between pleasant visual and painful auditory, yes, then you’re having different consciousnesses that are the main one that you’re aware of at that moment. If you’re going between, let’s say with your auditory consciousness, pleasant and unpleasant feelings in your auditory consciousness, then you’re having two different auditory consciousnesses at different moments going back and forth between them.

Audience: Are there any specific suggestions on working with sluggishness in meditation, feeling sleepy? Because I felt during some of our meditations that I was falling asleep.

VTC: Yes, the book has some things. It’s important not to be too warm, so take off your sweater, be a little bit cool, put cold water on your face beforehand, imagine light coming into your body, these can all help. There are other antidotes, too.

Audience: I’ve heard that after having done the action, we have four hours to fix the karmic imprint, and if we do it, then it doesn’t stain the mind. Is it true, or is it a Charlatananda kind of thing?

VTC: They say that about breaking our tantric vows. But I’ve never heard it in relationship to all of our negative actions. Basically, in general, once the action is completed, it’s completed. Of course, if you regret it immediately afterward, that’s very good, it’s going to lighten the karma.

Okay so, I think we have to end now. So, let’s dedicate. Then we’ll take a short break and come back for concluding things.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.