If we wish to elevate our mind we must merge it with the practice of virtue by steadily applying the power of mindfulness. This is the very heart of meditation.
Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche
Mindfulness in and out of meditation
Delusions are mental factors that arise from inappropriate attention and that function to make the mind unpeaceful and uncontrolled. They are the source of all our suffering and problems.
If we wish to avoid falling under the influence of delusion, we must guard our mind and keep it from wandering. We cannot follow our moral discipline purely if we have an unguarded mind. If we can learn how to protect our mind from delusion and yoke it to the practice of virtue, our moral discipline will grow in strength and eventually be perfected. If we neglect to guard our mind, however, many faults will arise.
If we let a wild elephant loose in a populated area it will cause massive destruction, but the uncontrolled wild mind can cause much more harm than such a crazed beast. If the deluded, wild elephant of our mind is not subdued, it will create much suffering for us in this life and will cause us to experience the sufferings of the deepest hell in the future. In fact, if we investigate we can see that the creator of all the sufferings of this and future lives is nothing but our unsubdued mind. To subdue this wild beast is much more important than bringing a jungle elephant under our control.
Many benefits follow from taming our mind. If we take the rope of mindfulness and tie our elephant mind securely to the post of virtue, all of our fears will swiftly come to an end. All positive and wholesome attainments will fall into the palm of our hand. If we wish to elevate our mind we must merge it with the practice of virtue by steadily applying the power of mindfulness. This is the very heart of meditation.
If we do not develop mindfulness our meditations will be hollow and empty. There will be nothing to keep our wild elephant mind from running back and forth in its customary, uncontrolled manner between objects of attachment, anger, jealousy and so forth. While we are sitting on our meditation cushion our mind may be miles away, wandering through distant cities or visiting our family and friends. Just as a potter needs two hands to shape his wares, so do we need mindfulness and alertness if we are to meditate properly and gain realizations along the spiritual path.
Where do the terms come from?
The terms ‘mindfulness’, ‘alertness’ and ‘conscientiousness’ were used by Buddha when he taught how to understand and control the mind. Later great scholars such as Vasubandhu and Asanga in India and Je Tsongkhapa in Tibet wrote commentaries to Buddha’s teachings, clarifying the precise meaning of these terms.
The term ‘mindfulness’ is a translation of the Tibetan word ‘drenpa’ (དྲན་པ) which can also be translated as ‘remembering’ or ‘recollecting’
The term ‘alertness’ is a translation of the Tibetan word ‘she shin’ (ཤེས་བཞིན)
Conscientiousness is a translation of the Tibetan word ‘pag yod’ (བག་ཡོད), which can also be translated as ‘concern’ or ‘caution’ or ‘carefulness’.
For more information please see How to Understand the Mind, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and Meaningful to Behold.