Nyanaponika Thera: The Mind-doctrine, the Heart of the Buddha's Message

An extract from the book The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. A handbook of mental training based on the Buddha´s way of mindfulness. Kandy, BPS 1996. Particularly does the culmination of human wisdom, the Teaching of the Buddha, deal not with something foreign, far, or antiquated but with that which is common to all humanity, which is ever young, and, nearer to us than hands and feet - the human mind.
In the Buddhist doctrine, mind is the starting point, the focal point, and also, as the liberated and purified mind of the Saint, the culminating point.It is a significant fact and worth pondering upon, that the Bible commences with the words: `In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. . .', while the Dhammapada, one of the most beautiful and popular books of the Buddhist scriptures, opens with the words `Mind precedes things, dominates them, creates them' (translation by Bhikkhu Kassapa). These momentous words are the quiet and uncontending, but unshakable reply of the Buddha to that biblical belief. Here the roads of these two religions part: the one leads far away into an imaginary Beyond, the other leads straight home, into man's very heart.Mind is the very nearest to us, because through mind alone are we aware of the so-called external world including our own body. `If mind is comprehended, all things are comprehended', says a text of Maháyána Buddhism (Ratnamegha Sútra).Mind is the fount of all the good and evil that arises within and befalls us from without. This is declared precisely in the first two verses of the `Dhammapada', and, among many other instances, in the following words of the Buddha:`Whatsoever there is of evil, connected with evil, belonging to evil - all issues from mind.
Whatsoever there is of good, connected with good, belonging to good - all issues from mind.'
Anguttara Nikáya I.Hence the resolute turning away from disastrous paths, the turning that might save the world in its present crisis, must neces­sarily be a turning inward, into the recesses of man's own mind. Only through a change within will there be a change without. Even if it is sometimes slow in following, it will never fail to arrive. If there is a strong and well-ordered inner centre in our mind, any confusion at the periphery will gradually be dissolved, and the peripheral forces will spontaneously group themselves around the focal point, sharing its clarity and strength. Order or confusion of society corresponds to, and follows, the order or confusion of indi­vidual minds. This does not mean that suffering humanity will have to wait till the dawn of a Golden Age `when all men are good'. Experience and history show us that often just a very small number of truly noble men possessed of determination and insight, is required for forming `focal points of the Good' around which will rally those who have not the courage to take the lead, but are willing to follow. However, as man's recent history shows, the same, and even greater, attraction may be exerted by the powers of Evil. But it is one of the few consolations in this not entirely disconsolate world, that not only Evil, but the Good also may have a strong infectious power that will show itself increasingly if only we have the courage to put it to the test.`Thus it is our own mind that should be established in all the Roots of the Good; it is our own mind that should be soaked by the rain of truth; it is our own mind that should be purified from all obstructive qualities; it is our own mind that should be made vigorous by energy.' Gandavyuttha Sútra.Hence the message of the Buddha consists just in the help it gives to the mind. None, save he, the Exalted One, has given that help in such a perfect, thorough and effective way. This is main­tained here with all due appreciation of the great curative and
theoretical results achieved by modern analytical psychology which, in many of its representatives, particularly in the great personality of C. G. Jung, has taken a definite turn towards recognizing the importance of the religious element and towards appreciating Eastern wisdom. The modern science of the mind may well supplement, in many practical and theoretical details, the mind-doctrine of the Buddha; it may translate the latter into the conceptual language of the modern age; it may facilitate its curative and theoretical application to the particular individual and social problems of our time. But the decisive fundamentals of the Buddhist mind-doctrine have retained their full validity and potency; they are unimpaired by any change of time and of scientific theories. This is so because the main situations of human existence repeat themselves endlessly,' and the main facts of man's physical and mental make-up will remain essentially unaltered for a long time to come. These two relatively stable factors - the typical events in human life, and the typical physical and mental constitution of man - must always form the starting point for any science of the human mind and for any attempt to guide it. The Buddha's mind-doctrine is based on an exceptionally clear grasp of these two factors, and this bestows on it its `timeless' character, i.e. its undiminished `modernity' and validity.The Buddha-Message, as a Doctrine of the Mind, teaches three things:to know the mind, - that is so near to us, and yet is so un­known;
to shape the mind, - that is so unwieldy and obstinate, and yet may turn so pliant;
to free the mind, - that is in bondage all over, and yet may win freedom here and now.What may be called the theoretical aspect of the Buddha's mind-doctrine would come under the first of the above three headings, and will here be dealt with only as far as it is required for the pre-eminently practical purpose of these pages.