Two Metaphors for the Trained Mind

In earlier posts (here and here) I quoted some metaphors meditation masters use to describe the normally distracted and afflicted condition of our untrained monkey minds. Well, then, how to describe that other, more unusual, experience of a trained mind?

There are thousands of descriptions, of course, but here I’ll quote two that B. Alan Wallace provides in his very fine book, Buddhism with an Attitude: The Tibetan Seven-Point Mind-Training.

Observe whatever arises. Observe the nature of each of the phenomena—emotions, imagery, memories, thoughts—without grasping onto their referents. Attend fully to the very nature of the mental phenomena without giving any effort to creating, sustaining, or stopping these events. Let them be, arising, playing themselves out, and dissolving of their own accord…The crucial point is to perceive the mental events without grasping or identifying with them any more than space identifies with the birds and insects that fly through it. Let your awareness be completely at rest even when your mind is in motion.

Here’s a metaphor Tibetans use for bringing home this ability of awareness to be at rest, as space is, while observing the mental phenomena flying through it. The mind is

an unhurried grandpa at a park watching other people’s children play. The mothers hover over the kids. The grandpa watches closely but does not intervene. Not intervening while observing vigilantly is the crux of practice.

There’s richness and depth in this apparently simple and homey metaphor, not least in the contrast between the way mothers relate to their “children” and the way grandpa relates other people’s “children.” The untrained mind is like a mother, attached to and grasping after, its children. As for the variety of reasons why a grandpa is a fitting metaphor for the trained mind, I’ll leave that for the curious reader to pursue.

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