I have just returned from a four-day residential Buddhist retreat. While having been on various retreats over the past 24 years, this was my first ‘Buddhist’ themed meditation retreat and it focused on ‘the nature of mind’. There were many highlights (including the crisp Egyptian cotton bed linen and the marvellous vegan fig cake in the café) but what caught my curiosity the most was the Buddhist perspective on the mind.
The nun teacher who led the event elaborated on the mind as follows:
-the mind is both the cause of suffering and source of happiness in our lives
-the essence of the mind does not exist in the head but is located (literally) in the heart
-there are different layers to the mind and through meditation we access these different layers: from the gross to the highly subtle
-our mind is ‘karmic’ – that is, the mind and how it perceives things reflects previous lives and conditioning
-there is no ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ in Buddhist teaching; the heart of the mind is equivalent of what we often consider is ‘spirit’ or a ‘soul’
-meditation is the process to connect to a calm, untroubled mind
Hmm. As an ongoing and ever passionate student of classical Yoga, I was interested how this Buddhist perspective differs to the yogic philosophical view of the mind. My understanding of classical Yoga teaching is that it says:
-we have a body, a mind and a spirit
-the body and mind affect each other, but the spirit is whole and transcends body and mind
-one of the main purposes of yoga is to remove the filters to and calm the fluctuations of the mind so that the truth of things can be observed and felt
-in yoga, the mind or ‘mana’ encompasses not just thoughts and thinking but also emotions and feeling
-some schools of yoga say the purpose of yoga is to unite to individual spirit and the universal spirit that connects us to each other
-the physical practice of yoga as well as the mental practice of yoga, or meditation, contribute to finding inner peace
And that’s not all.
Some of you will know that in recent years I have trained in and become a big advocate of Mindfulness. In my training and studies we are told that modern day secular Mindfulness comes from and is rooted in Buddhism. And yet, the practice of Mindfulness – now having attended a Buddhist retreat all about the mind – seems to me remarkable in some key differences to the Buddhist approach to the mind and meditation. Yes, there are still commonalities and a shared vision in developing a compassionate relationship to self and the world, but the differences are worth noting. For a start, modern day Mindfulness does not instruct or hold a specific world view. Instead, it invites us to:
-recognise both external and internal factors contribute to lack of peace / the feeling of peace
-compassion for past and present challenges helps us find ease in life
-the mind is not something to conquer or change intentionally; but to be befriended and understood
-there is no speaking of soul, spirit or some such, but neither is there the teaching or instruction to view ourselves in any particular model
-the body and our relationship to the body cannot be separated from the mind
-meeting and working with mental obstacles is the mindful way, rather than trying to transcend them and the way we meditate influences the way we approach obstacles
I appreciate what I write and share here is reductive of three huge mental and life practices (aka Buddhism, Yoga, Mindfulness) but I also think it’s really interesting laying the cards out on the table and note their different takes on the mind and challenges to finding peace.
Not only are the tools different, but so are the intentions.
Having come back from the Buddhist retreat which I thoroughly enjoyed, I personally feel (still) affinity to the Yoga view of us having a mind, body and spirit.
And in terms of meditation, I’m a Mindfulness girl all the way!
Where does that leave you? Well go to what and wherever you feel truly drawn, practice wise and philosphy-wise. Through your own experience and investigation you can then discover what view of the mind feels most natural to you.