Among people interested in Buddhism these days, there is an increasing desire to receive instructions that point out the nature of the mind. People may have read about such an introduction in books or on the internet. In any case, there’s a lot of talk about pointing out or introduction, but often people don’t really know what that means. When people visit me in my monastery in Nepal, they sometimes ask, “Please introduce me to the nature of my mind! My plane leaves tomorrow morning, so I’m in a bit of a hurry!” It almost sounds as if they think the nature of mind is a special thing, a bit like a tourist attraction, which they have to see before they’re off to the airport. On other occasions, people talk to me as if I were a gardener and the nature of mind were a rare flower that they want to see and smell.
The Buddha’s teachings are one continuous introduction to the way things really are. So far, we have been introduced to impermanence and suffering: Nothing is reliable. Nothing lasts. Everything is fragile. Everything changes. The reason we spend so much time talking about impermanence and suffering is that our approach to life needs to change. This change happens naturally when we feel that we have encountered the truth. And it is true that there is nothing to rely on. The truth is that everything changes from moment to moment—fame, wealth, power, and privilege, as well as our health and friendships. The tides turn. The winds of fortune shift. Everything changes, always. Whenever we take a moment to pause, we realize that we already know this fact of life. That’s a sign that the introduction to impermanence has hit home. Now we know. That is a powerful and crucial recognition.
So, let’s not spend our lives fantasizing about a magic moment when our teacher introduces us to the nature of mind and we live happily ever after. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that the introduction to the nature of mind isn’t important. It most certainly is important. In fact, it’s crucial! But because it’s so important, we should ask ourselves if we have truly understood the significance of impermanence and suffering. Do we actually get this profound message, and do we take its implications to heart? If not, then we’re not going to benefit from teachings on the nature of mind, because we’re simply not ready.
Often, when I hear people talking about receiving the introduction to the nature of mind, they make it sound like something unbelievably amazing, something magical. There is a tendency to believe that if only we can be introduced to the nature of mind, then we won’t need anything else at all. And in a way, of course, it’s true. When an authentic master introduces a qualified student to the nature of mind, nothing else is needed. Sometimes the mere meeting of master and disciple is enough for the student not only to recognize the nature of mind but also to gain stability in that recognition—even if the student has no prior knowledge of the Dharma. But such cases are more rare than stars in the midday sky.
That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for people like us to recognize the nature of mind, because that’s definitely possible. But a bit of honest self-appraisal would serve us well. We may seek out one master after another so that we can listen to some poetic, well-chosen words about the nature of mind, and it may also be that those words somehow strike a chord in us. But does that mean that we have actually experienced and recognized the nature of mind? Or was it simply an idea, a thought, or a mood that came over us? Things must be absolutely clear to both the master and student. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves, and that won’t get us anywhere.
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