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Lions Roar : September 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2010 40 But as rare as such changes might be, some people do change, which shows that change is possible. The point is that our negative character traits tend to persist if we do nothing at all to change the status quo. no change occurs if we just let our habitual tendencies and automatic patterns of thought perpetuate and even reinforce themselves, thought after thought, day after day, year after year. But those tendencies and patterns can be challenged. aggression, greed, jealousy, and the other mental poisons are unquestionably part of us, but are they an intrinsic, inalienable part? not necessarily. For example, a glass of water might contain cyanide that could kill us on the spot. But the same water could instead be mixed with healing medicine. In either case, h2o, the chemical formula of the water itself, remains unchanged; in itself, it was never either poisonous or medicinal. The different states of the water are temporary and dependent on changing circumstanc- es. In a similar way, our emotions, moods, and bad character traits are just temporary and circumstantial elements of our nature. a FundaMenTal asPeCT oF ConsCIousness This temporary and circumstantial quality becomes clear to us when we realize that the primary quality of consciousness is simply knowing. like the water in the above example, knowing or awareness is neither good nor bad in itself. If we look behind the turbulent stream of transient thoughts and emotions that pass through our minds day and night, this fundamental aspect of con- sciousness is always there. awareness makes it possible for us to perceive phenomena of every kind. Buddhism describes this basic cognitive quality of the mind as luminous because it illuminates both the external world through perceptions and the inner world of sensation, emotion, reasoning, memory, hope, and fear. although this cognitive faculty underlies every mental event, it is not itself affected by any of these events. a ray of light may shine on a face disfigured by hatred or on a smiling face; it may shine on a jewel or on a garbage heap; but the light itself is nei- ther mean nor loving, neither dirty nor clean. understanding that the essential nature of consciousness is neutral shows us that it is possible to change our mental universe. We can transform the content of our thoughts and experiences. The neutral and luminous background of our consciousness provides us with the space we need to observe mental events rather than being at their mercy. We then also have the space we need to create the condi- tions necessary to transform these mental events. WIshIng Is noT enough We have no choice about what we already are, but we can wish to change ourselves. such an aspiration gives the mind a sense of direction. But just wishing is not enough. We have to find a way of putting that wish into action. We don’t find anything strange about spending years learning to walk, read and write, or acquire professional skills. We spend hours doing physical exercises to get our bodies into shape. sometimes we expend tremendous physical energy pedaling a stationary bike. To sustain such tasks requires a minimum of interest or enthusiasm. This interest comes from believing that these efforts are going to benefit us in the long run. Working with the mind follows the same logic. how could it be subject to change without the least effort, just from wishing alone? That makes no more sense than expecting to learn to play a Mozart sonata by just occasionally doodling around on the piano. We expend a lot of effort to improve the external conditions of our lives, but in the end it is always the mind that creates our experience of the world and translates this experience into either well-being or suffering. If we transform our way of perceiving things, we transform the quality of our lives. It is this kind of transformation that is brought about by the form of mind training known as meditation. WhaT Is MedITaTIon? Meditation is a practice that makes it possible to cultivate and develop certain basic positive human qualities in the same way as other forms of training make it possible to play a musical instru- ment or acquire any other skill. among several asian words that translate as “meditation” in english are bhavana from sanskrit, which means “to cultivate,” and its Tibetan equivalent, gom, meaning “to become familiar with.” Meditation helps us to familiarize ourselves with a clear and accurate way of seeing things and to cultivate wholesome qualities that remain dormant within us unless we make an effort to draw them out. so let us begin by asking ourselves, “What do I really want Matthieu RicaRd is a Buddhist monk, author, and photo- grapher based at Shechen Monastery in Nepal. his books include The art of Meditation and The Monk and the Philosopher, a dialogue with his father, the French philosopher Jean- Francois Revel. this article is adapted from his new book, Why Meditate?: Working with Thoughts and emo- tions, from hay house. PhoToByjIllgoCher