Bodhi and the unconscious mind


full stream of light

As we have seen, we can cultivate Bodhi mind, tranquil though thoroughly awakened mind, through purifying with rituals and meditation, which may consist of reflection or tranquil abiding, or both. (Meditation will be the topic of the next set of articles.  This is a complex subject as different traditions practice meditation in varying ways). So, we aspire to become enlightened, to purify ourselves until all cravings and productions of the ordinary mind are without ego, until we come face to face with reality instead of a set of projections of the ordinary mind.

In western thinking there are simply two levels to the mind: the conscious and the unconscious. It’s much more complex in ancient Indian thinking, in Asia and the East, and this is not the place to delve into that enormous topic. We have a fair amount of control over the conscious mind, which we could call the human or mundane mind. This is the place we do all our conscious thinking and learning, our positive and negative thinking and speculating, etc. It is often called the knowing mind, the aware mind. If we lose consciousness, then we cease to be aware of, we cease to know, our surroundings.

If we are lucky enough to have a qualified guru or spiritual guide, then our conscious mind can be addressed, can be brought to our conscious attention. This is so reassuring as well as purifying. Dreams and clairvoyance can also look into the iceberg below the tip. Most of us are never or rarely able to know our unconscious mind, unless we are reborn as a spiritual medium or are a realized being. It is said that when we elevate, we become able to see past, present and future karma.

To have indications from your spiritual guide is an incredible privilege. Such opportunities to address our shortcomings and interferences with the conscious mind should not be passed by. You may be told that you still have pride, or a tendency to analyse too closely, or that you are blaming others unconsciously. This is something you can begin to look out for during your interactions with others. It’s as if an extra dimension has been added to your view of the world. But of course, the real changes can be made in collaboration with the Dharma Protectors who arrange all the conditions meticulously for our effective practice.

When such things are indicated, we must first accept them with humility and willingness to change for the sake of all living beings. Then, we will start to become aware, represented by a few flickerings of the element of the light bulb. And one day, the intermittent flashes become the steady bright light of wisdom. Add to this regular rituals and reverence and a moderate life style, and soon you and others will recognize the change in you, and your life will have transformed into pure joy and the emptiness of the divine.

We take so much into the unconscious mind, which is stored there forever until it is retrieved. A good example of how this works is when we learn a language. If we are living in the country or region of the language we are learning, then in addition to consciously learning the elements of the language, we also absorb so much more into the unconscious mind. So, if we plan to change ourselves consciously, change is limited to the conscious mind. But if we invest our interest in changing at the unconscious level, then our changes have no limit.  We can become anything we want because our power increases, the self-installed prison doors are flung open and we are free. Ordinary mind is a useful tool, but unconscious or Bodhi mind is the complete tool box. By clearing away our negative karma and becoming aware of our shortcomings, we can realize total and enduring happiness. This happiness has a quality which never appears when the ordinary mind is so-called happy. It is Bodhicitta, the aspiration to enlightenment for all sentient beings.

The bus driver may drive badly or well, but he or she doesn’t know how the passengers feel behind them. This is like the conscious and unconscious minds. The driver is the conscious mind, the passengers behind are the unconscious. How can the driver know the effect of his driving on the passengers who depend on him to get where they are going. With practice and insight we can be both passenger and driver.

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