Excerpt from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh
In the Sutra of Mindfulness, Buddha always uses the phrasing “mindfulness of feeling in
feeling, mindfulness of mind in mind.” Some have said that the Buddha used this phrasing
in order to put emphasis on such words as feeling and mind, but I don’t think they have
fully grasped the Buddha’s intention.
Mindfulness of feeling in feeling is mindfulness of feeling directly while experiencing feeling, and certainly not contemplation of some image of feeling which one creates to give feeling some objective, separate existence of its own outside of oneself. Descriptive words make it sound like a riddle or paradox or tongue twister: mindfulness of feeling in feeling is the mind experiencing mindfulness of the mind in the mind. The objectivity of an outside observer to examine something is the method of science, but it is not the method of meditation.
When I mentioned the guard at the emperor’s gate, perhaps you imagined a front corridor with two doors, one entrance and one exit, with your mind as the guard. Whatever
feeling or thought enters, you are aware of its entrance, and when it leaves, you are aware of its exit. But the image has a shortcoming: it suggests that those who enter and exit the corridor are different from the guard. In fact our thoughts and feelings are us. They are a part of ourselves. There is a temptation to look upon them, or at least some of them, as an enemy force which is trying to disturb the concentration and understanding of your mind.
But, in fact, when we are angry, we ourselves are anger. When we are happy, we ourselves are happiness. When we have certain thoughts, we are those thoughts. We are both the guard and the visitor at the same time. We are both the mind and the observer of the mind. Therefore, chasing away or dwelling on any thought isn’t the important
thing. The important thing is to be aware of the thought. This observation is not an objectification of the mind: it does not establish distinction between subject and object.
Mind does not grab on to mind; mind does not push mind away. Mind can only observe itself. This observation isn’t an observation of some object outside and independent of the observer. Thus the image of the guard and the visitor fails to illustrate adequately the mindful observation of mind.
The mind is like a monkey swinging from branch to branch through a forest, says the Sutra. In order not to lose sight of the monkey by some sudden movement, we must watch the monkey constantly and even to be one with it. Mind contemplating mind is like an object and its shadow-the object cannot shake the shadow off. The two are one. Wherever the mind goes, it still lies in the harness of the mind. The Sutra sometimes uses the expression “Bind the monkey” to refer to taking hold of the mind. But the monkey image is only a means of expression.
Once the mind is directly and continually aware of itself, it is no longer like a monkey. There are not two minds, one which swings from branch to branch and another which follows after to bind it with a piece of rope. The person who practices meditation
usually hopes to see into his or her own nature in order to obtain awakening. But if you are
just beginning, don’t wait to “see into your own nature.” Better yet, don’t wait for anything.
Especially don’t wait to see the Buddha or any version of “ultimate reality” while you’re sitting.
In the first six months, try only to build up your power of concentration, to create an inner
calmness and serene joy. You will shake off anxiety, enjoy total rest, and quiet your mind. You will be refreshed and gain a broader, clearer view of things, and deepen and strengthen the love in yourself. And you will be able to respond more helpfully to all around you.
Sitting in meditation is nourishment for your spirit and nourishment for your body, as
well. Through sitting, our bodies obtain harmony, feel lighter, and are more at peace. The
path from the observation of your mind to seeing into your own nature won’t be too rough. Once you are able to quiet your mind, once your feelings and thoughts no longer disturb you, at that point your mind will begin to dwell in mind. Your mind will take hold of mind in a direct and wondrous way which no longer differentiates between subject and object.
Drinking a cup of tea, the seeming distinction between the one who drinks and the tea being drunk evaporates. Drinking a cup of tea becomes a direct and wondrous experience in which the distinction between subject and object no longer exists.