The Good Mind

boddhisattva-of-compassion

According to Tibetan Buddhism we each have two minds – the good mind and the bad one. As simplistic as this may sound, this turns out to be a far more helpful psychological model than anything we in the West have come up with. It is ‘helpful’ in the sense that the thorough understanding of the principle actually makes us happy! Whatever else Western psychology may do for us, it certainly doesn’t ever do this. Whatever else we as a culture might be experts in, we are most definitely not ‘experts’ in being happy…

 

The good mind is so-called because its use creates happiness, whilst the bad mind is called ‘bad’ because it unfailingly creates suffering – both for ourselves and others. If we use one mind we move in the direction of becoming happier and more peaceful; if we use the other then we head inexorably (like a self-guiding homing device) into a world of ever-increasing misery. The key thing to grasp therefore is what constitutes the ‘good mind’ and how is it different from the bad mind? The answer given by Tibetan Buddhism is that when we think about how we can benefit other beings this is ‘the good mind’ and when we are concerned with how we can benefit ourselves then this is ‘the bad mind’.

 

This is not a question of morality however, no matter how it may sound. It tends to sound – to our Western ears – like “You should be unselfish rather than selfish” or “You should try to be better people” which is the stale old message that we in the Western world have been receiving for the last two thousand years. The basic Christian message – as it was very unambiguously preached from the pulpit in times past – was that if we are good we will go to heaven and if we are bad we will go to the other place, the place where things are not so much fun, the place where the devil will be sticking a red-hot pitch-fork up your ass. The Christian mystics didn’t say this, but the rank and file clergy most certainly did, and it was the clergy we listened to. This message sound very similar to what we have just said about the good mind leading us to happiness and the bad mind leading us straight into a morass of unendurable misery but it is not the same thing at all. One is a ‘moral message’, the other simply an observation…

 

The point is (the point that we so easily miss) is that it is only ‘the bad mind’ that wants to be good and go to heaven! Of course it is the bad mind that wants to be good and go to heaven because it is the bad mind that is all concerned with benefitting oneself. This is what this mind does the whole time, after all! Whenever I say “I should do this” or “I should do that” this is always about the mind that is trying to benefit itself. It is always this mind that is behind such statements. If I do what I ‘should’ do then this will bring benefit to myself and – on the other hand – I fail to do what I ought to do then this failure will be very much to my detriment. This type of crude ‘carrot and stick’ business is the stock in trade of the bad mind, the self-cherishing mind. Clearly this type of motivation is based upon self-interest – I am greedy for the prize and scared of the lash, and this is therefore all about me. We could also say that this type of motivation is all about fear, which means that the ‘bad mind’ is the mind that is secretly ruled by fear. It is the fearful mind that cannot admit the reality of its own fear to itself.

 

Compassion (or loving-kindness) has nothing to do with ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ however. How can we say “You should be compassionate” – that sounds wrong as soon as we say it. It sounds wrong as soon as we say it because it’s a non-compassionate statement! Essentially, I’m blaming myself (or the other person) for not being compassionate and blaming is the bad mind in action… As far as compassion is concerned, ‘should’ doesn’t come into it – if it does come into it then this jinxes everything, it effectively prevents compassion from arising. We have started off on the wrong foot and so it’s all going to be down-hill from this point onwards. The self-centred mind can’t tap into the compassionate mind to further its own ends – that’s just not the way things work. Compassion happens all by itself if it is given the space to do so – it doesn’t need to be egged on or cajoled by the moralistic self-centred mind…

 

This is our basic problem in the West – in our culture everything comes out of thinking and anything that doesn’t come out of thinking gets very quickly assimilated by the rational mind. We don’t really believe in anything in the West unless it can be checked up and verified by the thinking mind, unless the thinking mind is satisfied as to its credentials. When we talk about compassion we do so in an intellectual way; we’re using the well-oiled rational mind to say cogent things about it, to explain what it is and how it works. Compassion isn’t something we think about, or write academic articles about – it’s something we do. It has to do with the way we actually are. It goes beyond any logical framework.

 

There is no logical reason for compassion or ‘other-centeredness’ – it as we have said not something that can come out of a rational agenda. On the contrary, it is something that arises all by itself just as soon as we shake ourselves free from the small, self-contained world of the thinking mind. Life itself arises all by itself once rationality withdraws from centre stage – if this were not so then we could have ‘an agenda to live’ and what could be more ridiculous than this? Having an agenda to live life is the very thing that stands in the way of life; having an agenda to live life blocks everything because life can’t come out of thinking. We can live and then think – which is to say, thought can follow in the footsteps of life but it can’t precede it. Life is always bigger than what we think about it, in other words.

 

The point is that we can’t ‘make it happen’ just because we want it to, just because we think it would be a good thing for it to. As Jung says, we can’t control the psyche – we can’t switch it on or off to suit us. This is however very much at odds with our Western way of looking at things – we are forever talking about managing emotions, managing anxiety or anger or self-destructive behaviour but there is no managing the psyche. That’s putting the cart before the horse, that’s the tail wagging the dog! If we push the problem down in one place it’s simply going to pop up somewhere else, and we can go on playing this game forever. “Management” is completely the wrong approach, completely the wrong way to be looking at things…

 

Management is control and control is aggression and all of these terms are ways of talking about the ‘bad mind’, the mind which creates suffering just like the internal combustion engine creates exhaust fumes. The ‘bad mind’ is the conservative mind – the mind which is at all times wholly and completely dedicated to preserving and promoting the existing structure, the existing system. This is the mind that is forever fixated upon the task of protecting its core assumptions – the core assumptions that its very existence is based on – which comes down to stating them and re-stating them in lots of different way, but never questioning them. James Carse calls this ‘playing the finite game’, i.e. ‘playing so cleverly that one will never be taken by surprise’. The whole ethos of control is conservative – control is about protecting our core position, our core beliefs. If the bottom line of everything we do wasn’t about protecting our core position at any cost then we would be interacting with the world (and other people) in a totally different way. We would in this case be genuinely interested in the world, genuinely interested in other people, rather than only being interested in how we may best exploit it / them. These two approaches (the ‘explorative’ and the ‘conservative’ approaches) are mutually incompatible for the simple reason that if we become genuinely interested in the world or other people then we run the risk of jeopardizing the thing that we are trying to conserve. This is not a risk that the conservative mind ever wishes to take!

 

When we talk – as we always do talk – in terms of ‘management’, in terms of ‘tools’ and ‘skills’, in terms of ‘methods’ and ‘techniques’, we are always talking about being aggressive. This aggression is inherent in the nature of the conservative mind. Finite game playing is inherently aggressive…. Compassion – or ‘other-directedness’ – isn’t a tool, isn’t a skill, isn’t a strategy or management technique. It isn’t yet another form of ‘hanging on to what we already have (or rather, what we mistakenly believe ourselves to already have). Rather, it is the expression of our true nature. Compassion is the spontaneous expression of who we really are, which is something that our rational way of living has distanced us from, disconnected us from. Disconnected from who we really are, how are we ever going to be happy or at peace?  The very reason we placed all our trust in control and manipulation, in strategies and methods, is because we are disconnected from who we really are, and are trying in an unconscious way to ‘get ourselves back’. We don’t know that this is what we are doing, we don’t know that this is the reason for all our striving, all our driven ‘grasping-type’ behaviour, but it is. As Rumi says,

All the hopes, desires, loves, and affections that people have for different things – fathers, mothers, friends, heavens, the earth, palaces, sciences, works, food, drink – the saint knows that these are desires for God and that these things are veils. When men leave this world and see the King without these veils, then they will know that all were veils and coverings, that the object of their desire was in reality that One Thing… They will see all things face to face.

When we think about other people, concern ourselves with other people, act for the genuine benefit of other people (instead of what the conservative mind says is for their benefit) then we are tapping into our true nature. Otherwise we’re not. To be genuinely interested in others is the same thing as being compassionate – it’s only when our outlook is closed, when we are guarding our beliefs, that we cannot be compassionate. In this case we cannot afford to be compassionate. That door is closed. The door to our true self is closed and what this means is that we are buying into the ‘suffering-producing mind’, which Philip K Dick calls ‘service in error’. Chapter 35 in the Dao De Ching says,

He who holds the great sign
Attracts a great following.
He who helps the followers avoid harm
Enjoys great peace.
Music and good food can stop passers-by on their way.
The Dao, on the contrary, offers only a bland taste.
It can hardly be seen or heard.
Yet if one uses it, it is inexhaustible.

The Dao (or ‘the Way’) is of course another way of talking about our essential nature – how could our essential nature not be the way? And by the same token, how could what is not our true nature be any sort of a ‘way’ at all? When we draw upon our essential nature (which cannot be presented and re-presented as an image can be, or talked about as a concept can be talked about) our strength in inexhaustible. There is nothing we can’t do – the Dao is the source of all energy, all intelligence, all strength in the universe. When we call upon our true nature then we don’t need to be clever, to be conniving, to be an expert in the ways of manipulating the world or other people. We don’t need to be aggressive or controlling – we only need that bag of tricks when we don’t know who we are, which is when we are identified with the false, mind-created self, which has no strength or genuine intelligence in it at all. All it has is its ‘trickiness,’ its reflex-type cunning….

 

Once we see this then we can see straight way that we have gone wrong in the West with all our psychological techniques, skills at ‘self-soothing or self-calming’, our so-called ‘evidence-based’ methods of getting the result we want, the standardized result we are told we should want. Our approach is exclusively directed towards ‘saving the mind-created self’, rescuing the conservative or ‘finite game-playing’ self from the consequences of its activities. This is always the agenda of official psychotherapy. As a culture we’re caught up in playing what we might call ‘an infinite delaying game’ – we putting off the inevitable consequences of following what in Tibetan Buddhism is called the ‘bad mind’ for as long as possible. We’re pretending to ourselves that the path we’re on isn’t going to end in disaster – both collectively and individually. Essentially – in our blindness – we are trying to ‘have our cake and eat it’. We want to carry on playing our games and yet somehow be free from the suffering that comes about as a result of doing this. Or as Anthony de Mello puts it,

Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys. “Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.” This is what they want; they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

The whole of society, our whole way of life, exists for the benefit of the mind-created self (or ‘I-concept’) – it is all is geared towards the development, elaboration and consolidation of this particular suffering-producing illusion. Nothing we do has anything to do with happiness, therefore. Happiness is not an option when our primary (if unacknowledged!) aim is to preserve our core assumptions at any cost. Our over-riding concern is with the creation and maintenance of a two-dimensional image of ourselves, a generic concept of ourselves, an idea of ‘who we are’ that doesn’t actually exist. If we wanted to know (which we don’t!) what the whole show is about, what all this ceaseless frenetic aggressive busy-ness is about, then this is it! All of our ‘education’, all of our knowledge, all of our expertise, all of our technology – our entire way of life in fact – is geared towards promoting and perpetuating this suffering producing fiction of ‘who the rational mind says we are’.

 

Happiness is of no interest to us at all therefore, no matter what we might say, no matter what we might claim. How could it be when in order to be happy we would have to let go of the mind-created, fear-driven self and its sterile, narcissistic games?

 

 

 

 

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