2.B.3 A Manual for Meditating on the Nature of Mind, presented by José I. Cabezón


What follows is a selection from The Wish Fulfilling Jewel of the Oral Tradition by the Tibetan scholar-saint Khonton Peljor Lhundrub (1561-1637). The translation of the entire text can be found in The Dalai Lama, Khöntön Peljor Khundrub, and Jose I. Cabezon, Meditation on the Nature of Mind (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2012). For the sake of brevity, I have deleted all notes and citations in this excerpt.

The Ordinary Preliminaries

This includes:

  • Relying on the master, the root of all spiritual accomplishments
  • Contemplating how this life, filled with leisure and opportunity, is difficult to find and is therefore extremely meaningful
  • Contemplating how [this human life] is easily lost and how the time of death is uncertain
  • Contemplating the suffering of the lower realms and how to go for refuge
  • Contemplating the results of good and bad karma, making a resolve to act virtuously and to avoid evil
  • Contemplating the problems with cyclic existence and overturning attachment [to higher rebirths, e.g., as gods]
  • Contemplating the way in which all sentient beings have been one’s mothers and fathers, training in love, compassion, and the altruistic mind of enlightenment (bodhichitta)
  • Contemplating the qualities of a buddha, training in the practices of bodhisattvas so as to attain that state [of enlightenment for the sake of others]

The Actual Meditation

Make sure that your practice of the preliminaries is not just from the mouth—in other words, that it is not mere words—but that it actually transforms your mental continuum. [383] Melding [the lama’s] mind into union with your own through the practice of the yoga of the spiritual master, relax and then settle into a state of primordial devotion. Find the still point of the mind—that is, accustom yourself to this for a short time.

Once you have done this, ask yourself: “Who is the agent responsible for the fact that the buddhas of all three times have been liberated, and who is the agent responsible for the fact that the rest of us experience various kinds of suffering? Is the responsible party God? Is a permanent soul responsible? Of my body, speech, and mind, which is responsible [for the fact that buddhas do not suffer but that we do]? Where do phenomena come from? What brings them into existence?”

The root of every phenomenon is your very own mind. As Saraha puts it:

Every phenomenon is your own mind.

Apart from the mind there is no other phenomenon, not even the slightest.

And also:

The mind alone is the seed of everything;

existence and nirvana are projected out of [mind].

I bow down to [the mind] that, like a wish-fulfilling jewel,

brings me to my desired goal.

Now analyze the foundation of that mind [that is the source of everything] by asking yourself whence it arose, where it abides, and where it goes. First, what is its source? Is its source the outer, inanimate world? Does mind arise from earth and stones? From mountains and caves? From plants, trees, and forests? And howdoes it arise? Does it arise from an animate [cause], from your own body or from the bodies of your parents? Do a thorough analysis, relying on questions such as these, and meditate.

Next, do a detailed analysis of this thing called “my own mind”: “You, thinker of wild thoughts, flying out to cognize everything you can, from where do you originally come? What is your nature? What function do you perform? Where in regard to the body—inside or outside it, above or below it—are you residing right now? And howdo you abide? In the end, where do you go? If you are, in fact, just an empty thing that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere, how can you be the cause of error and of my wandering in the six realms?” Engage in such a detailed analysis.

If your interrogation is not very clear, you should resort to special instructions given by the Lord [Atisha], who taught that:

When an afflicted misconception arises,

Pursue it like a falcon pursues a sparrow:

Start circling it as your object, and isolating it, swoop in.

Once you have it in your talons, crush it!

An individual in whom [the negative emotion of] desire predominates searches for the mind using a beautiful object. [384] Meditate again and again on that beautiful thing, [visualizing] the object of your desire in front of you. When it is so clear that it is as if you were actually looking at it, and attachment for the object has arisen in you, then look to see whether the object actually exists in the way it appears to your desire. Then examine the desire itself: what shape and color does it have, what is its nature and function? Look to see where that [desiring] mind comes from in the first place and where it is right now. Is it abiding inside or outside the body?

The type of person for whom anger is the predominant emotion should search for the mind using an enemy [as his or her object]… A person attached to other people looks for the mind with respect to his or her relations… A merchant searches for the mind with respect to the amount of profit [he or she might make]. A person who is hungry and thirsty searches for the mind with respect to food and drink. A proud person searches for the mind with respect to [the source of] his or her pride, and so forth. The object you choose is based on your personality…

When, from time to time, clarity increases, stop conceptualizing and focus on the nature of the object and of the mind itself. Ceasing other forms of thinking, naturally settle into the natural state. Search [for the nature of mind] alternating between [active conceptual questioning and nonconceptual settling of the mind into the natural state]. It is necessary to repeatedly use this method of refined analysis of the mind even after you have identified the mind’s nature…

By engaging in the type of analysis [just explained], one ascertains that nothing has a real, objective foundation — that all things are groundless, primordially pure emptiness, lacking true existence. When this is ascertained, because, in the first instance, they arise from nowhere, the mind’s own nature lacks any intrinsic arising… When the conceptual thought “all phenomena are empty” occurs to you, look at the nature of the mind [that is thinking that thought]. Understanding that [that mind] too lacks any intrinsic existence, settle into that state, a lucidly clear, nonconceptual state in which there is no apprehension even of the ultimate nonexistence of anything at all by any mind whatsoever…

When conceptual thoughts suddenly arise, remain naturally relaxed and rest just so. By doing this again and again, you will come to nakedly witness the clear-light nature of mind so that during the moment between one conceptual thought and the next, the mind rests for a little while in its own nature. You then sustain [this relaxed attention] on the nature [of the mind] without becoming distracted by thought, and by so doing, the unrelenting waves of gross conceptual thoughts are pacified as a matter of course…

At this point, no matter what thoughts may arise when the mind is scattered from its true nature, you remain firm without being distracted. And you do this until such time as anything that appears arises vividly as groundless and lacking in any foundation. This brings about insight into the nature of the primordial state… Marpa puts it this way:

Realization is by nature instantaneous.

Once it suddenly happens, there is nothing to add or subtract from it.

This is self-liberation, the great bliss of the primordial state.

Being free of hopes and worries is the result.

Once you have rid yourself of mental dullness and excitation by practicing in this way, your mind becomes wholly immersed in its object. Nonetheless, subtleconceptualizations still move [through the mind]. When they do, do not resort to modifying [your meditation] by using antidotes. Do not even look upon those conceptual thoughts as faults but rather just allow the conceptual thoughts to settle in a relaxed way into their natural state. By so doing there arises starkly the uncontrived nature of the primordial state—the clear light devoid of [dualisms like] “meditation object” and “meditating agent.” This insight is called “seeing the nature of mind.” It is also called “the recognition of the primordial state, the innate gnosis” as well as “the experience of the Buddha’s Dharma body, the basic clear light.” As Tilopa states:

This is the gnosis of self-awareness.

It is beyond speech and is not an object of thought.

I, Tilopa, have nothing else to teach.

And the Lord Götsangpa states:

Simply by virtue of being human, our consciousness

exists as the Buddha’s Dharma body.

Although the master may point to it, this is not necessary,

for it is [already present] in your own mind.

The Lord [Milarepa] also states:

In between one conceptual thought and the next,

gnosis continuously arises. Go taste it!

[Longchenpa’s] Treasury of Reality states:

No matter how [the mind] fluctuates, settle naturally into the natural state.

The meaning of reality becomes clear within the very movement and scattering of thought.


The passage I have chosen is taken from an early 17th century meditation manual that introduces students to one of the most popular forms of meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the meditation on the nature of mind. This is a practice text, the type of work meant to guide adepts in a daily meditation regimen.

Note that the author does not simply launch into the actual meditation. Instead, he first outlines a series of preliminary practices that prepare the student for the meditation that is to follow. These preliminaries — a series of contemplations on the need for a spiritual teacher, the preciousness of human life, the reality of suffering, generating compassion for living beings, etc. — are said to purify the mind and lead to the accumulation “merit.” Purification and merit-making (known in Tibetan assagjang) are considered indispensable for the success of contemplative practice. Sometimes Tibetan Buddhist practioners spend years engaged in these preliminary practices before embarking on the actual path of formal meditation. The importance of sagjang to the day-to-day lives of Tibetan contemplatives cannot be underestimated.

That being said, the focus of this text is the meditation on the nature of mind. Mind is at the very center of Buddhist doctrine and contemplative practice. The Buddhist classic The Dhammapada begins:

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If, with an impure mind, a person speaks or acts, Suffering follows her, Like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox…

If, with a pure mind, a person speaks or acts,

Happiness follows her like her ever-present shadow.

At least according to the elite tradition, every form of Buddhist practice in the end boils down to mind-training. While Buddhists throughout the centuries developed hundreds of techniques for training and transforming the mind, in late Indian and Tibetan Buddhism we find forms of contemplation in which the mind itself becomes the object of meditation. Using introspection and analysis, at least in the early stages, adepts are led through a series of questions to the understanding (a) that everything arises out of mind, and (b) that the mind itself is empty, groundless, and lacking any real foundation. In the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel, Khöntönpa prods the meditator to search for something that is not “mind-wrought.” That search will be futile. He then urges his readers to ask where the mind comes from, where it abides, and where it goes. When the meditator sees that thought comes from nowhere, abides nowhere, and goes nowhere, mind itself comes to be experienced as empty.

If this realization could be sustained, then the path would be finished. There would be nothign else to do. But sustaining such an insight is not easy. Thoughts — first gross conceptual thoughts, and then successively more subtle ones — intrude into the meditation. What should the meditator do when such thoughts arise? One tradition of contemplative practice prescribes antidotes for dealing with such intrusive thoughts. But the form of meditation being advocated by Khöntönpa here is of a different kind. Because thoughts are intrinsically empty, when they arise, if left alone, they will naturally vanish into the “self-liberated state,” the groundless reality that is their source and their true nature. By repeatedly engaging in this practice — the preliminaries, the initial analysis, and the cultivation of the mind’s natural state — all thought is eventually pacified, and the mind comes to rest naturally in its own nature. At this point there is no difference between meditation and non-meditation, and everything comes to be seen as the expression of innately pure, primordial reality.