POSTCARD#459: Bangkok: Editor’s note, continuing with our text “Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond” by Ajahn Brahm. This section is the study of the Four Foundations Of Mindfulness, which Ajahn refers to as the Four Focuses of Mindfulness.
This third focus of mindfulness, observing the citta or mind consciousness, is one of the most difficult to practice. Most people’s meditation is not developed sufficiently to even see mind consciousness. Mind consciousness is like an emperor covered from head to toe in five thick garments: his boots go up to his knees; his trousers go from his waist to his calves; a tunic stretches from his neck to his thighs and along his arms to his wrists; gloves cover his hands and forearms; and a helmet covers all of his head. Being so completely covered, the emperor cannot be seen. In the same way, mind consciousness is so completely clothed by the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch that you cannot see it underneath.
To see the emperor, you have to remove his clothes. In the same way, to see the citta, you have to remove the five external senses. It is the task of the jhāna to remove the five senses and reveal the citta. Thus you cannot even start to practice this third focus of mindfulness until you have experienced a jhāna. For how can you contemplate citta when you haven’t really experienced it? It would be like contemplating the emperor when all you can see are his (or her?) clothes.
Investigating the nature of citta is also like investigating the nature of gold. Before chemists even begin to test the material, they must ensure that the sample of gold is purified of all other elements and that what they have is 100 percent pure gold. Similarly before you begin to investigate the nature of citta you have to ensure that this mind consciousness if purified from all other types of consciousness, i.e., that the five external sense-consciousnesses have been abandoned. Again, this can only be done after emerging from a jhāna. Then superpower mindfulness takes the jhāna experience just past, a sustained experience of the citta set apart from the five sense, as its object of investigation. Only in this way will the truth be seen, that the citta is anatta, that mind consciousness is subject to arising and passing, that is it “me’, or “mine”, nor a self, that it is neither God nor cosmic-consciousness – that is just citta, a flame burning because of fuel.
Where the Citta Goes After Enlightenment
A flame depends on fuel. The word for “fuel” in Pali is upādāna. A candle flame depends on heat, wax, and a wick. If any one of those three “fuels” disappears, then the flame ceases. If a wind takes away the heat, the flame ceases. And if the wax is used up, the flame ceases. Once the flame ceases, it doesn’t go anywhere. There is no heaven where all good flames go to flicker for eternity. Nor does the flame merge with a comic transcendent Flame. It just ceases, that’s all. In Pali the word for a flame “going out” is nibbāna.
The citta too depends on fuel. The suttas say that citta depends on nama-rupa (body and objects of mind) and when nāma-rūpa ceases, the citta completely ceases (SN 47.42). It goes out. It “nibbānas”. It doesn’t go anywhere, it just cease to exist. Interestingly, the two famous bhikkhunīs Kisāgotamī and Pațācārā became fully enlightened when they saw the flame of a lamp go out (Dhp 275; Thig116).
The Nature of Citta
When you sustain superpower mindfulness on the pure citta, the nature of all types of consciousness reveals itself. You see consciousness not as a smoothly flowing process, but as a series of discrete, isolated events. Consciousness may be compared to a stretch of sand on a beach. Superficially, the sand looks continuous over several hundred metres. But after you investigate it closely, you discover it is made up of discrete, isolated particles of silicate. There are empty spaces between each particle of sand, with no essential sandiness flowing in the gap between any two particles. In the same way, that which we take to be the flow of consciousness is clearly seen to be a series of discrete events with nothing flowing in between.
Another analogy is the fruit salad analogy. Suppose on a plate there is an apple. You clearly see this apple completely disappear and in its place appears a coconut. Then the coconut vanishes and in its place appears another apple. Then the second apple vanishes and another coconut is there. That vanishes and a banana appears, only to vanish when another coconut manifests on the plate, then another banana, coconut, apple, coconut mango, coconut, lemon, coconut and so on. As soon as one fruit vanishes then a moment later a completely new fruit appears. They are all fruits but completely different varieties, with no two fruits the same. Moreover, no connecting fruit-essence flows from one fruit to the next. In this analogy the apple stands for an event in eye-consciousness, the banana for an incident of nose-consciousness, the mango for taste consciousness, the lemon for body consciousness, and the coconut for mind consciousness. Each moment of consciousness is discrete, with nothing flowing from one moment to the next.
Mind consciousness, the “coconut,” appears after every other species of consciousness and thereby gives the illusion of sameness to every conscious experience. To the average person, there is a quality in seeing that is also found in hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. We can call that quality “knowing.” However, with superpower mindfulness, you will discern that this knowing is not part of seeing, hearing, and so on, but arises a moment after each type of sense consciousness. Moreover, this knowing has vanished when, for example, eye consciousness is occurring. And eye consciousness has vanished when knowing (mind consciousness) is occurring. In the simile of the fruit salad, there can’t be an apple and a coconut on the plate at the same time.
That Which Knows Is Not Self
Contemplating consciousness in this way—seeing it as a series of discrete, isolated events with no thing continuing from one moment to the next—undermines the illusion that there is a knower, constantly present, which is always there to receive the experience of the world. You are unravelling the last refuge of the illusion of a self. Previously, it may have seemed so obvious to you that “I am the one who knows.” But what seems obvious is often wrong. Now you see it as just a “knowing,” as mind consciousness, like the coconut that is sometimes there and sometimes not. Citta is just a natural phenomenon, subject to ceasing. It cannot be me, mine, or a self. That which knows, citta, is finally understood as anattā.
Satipaṭṭhāna, as noted above, is practiced for the purpose of realizing anattā—no-self. The two last resorts of the illusion of a self or soul are the knower and the doer. If you identify with anything as the essential “you,” it will be one or both of these. You assume that you are that which does or that which knows. These two deep-seated, long-held delusions are what stand between you and enlightenment. See through these illusions once, and you are a stream winner. See through these illusions every time, and you are an arahant.
Continued next week 25 February 2022 with “Mind Object contemplation”