Mindfulness of Mind (Citta)

by | Jan 23, 2024 | Buddhism for All

“Can you teach my stepmother mindfulness? She is not using the mirror for self-examination.”

(Context: How to Establish Right Mindfulness)

Mindfulness of mind refers to awareness of the general state and level of consciousness, which is determined by its mental factors such as lust, hate, and delusion.  For that reason, the instruction for mindfulness of mind is about paying attention to mental factors.  Specifically, the meditator understands if the mind is affected or unaffected by lust, hate and delusion, and whether or not it is concentrated or liberated.[1]

The main purpose of mindfulness of mind is clear, honest and objective self-examination.  In a separate discourse, the Buddha calls it “being skilled in the ways of your own mind” and compares it to a young person, desiring beauty for himself or herself, looking at his or her own reflection in a clean bright mirror, examining the reflection for any dust or blemishes.[2]  For that young person, looking at the mirror is helpful to increasing his or her own beauty.  In the same way, self-examination is very helpful for a practitioner to grow in wholesome qualities.

The shift from mindfulness of the body, to mindfulness of sensations, and then to mindfulness of mind, represents a gradual shift towards increasingly subtler objects of meditation.  According to Bhikkhu Anālayo, there is another shift that happens at mindfulness of mind: going from what is experienced to how it is being experienced.  For example, in mindfulness of sensations, you are aware of a particularly pleasant sensation (the “what”), but in mindfulness of mind, you are aware of your state of mind while experiencing that pleasant sensation, for example, whether the mind is experiencing it with or without lust (the “how”).  Another way to look at it: your state of mind is the underlying current of your experience at this moment, and mindfulness of mind brings attention to this underlying current.  That is the most useful aspect of mindfulness of mind.  It is what makes it such a good mirror for self-examination.



[1] There is a list of 16 mental states, but there is no consensus among modern teachers on what most of them mean. The 16 are: (1-2) affected or unaffected by lust, (3-4) affected or unaffected by hate, (5-6) affected or unaffected by delusion, (7) contracted, (8) distracted, (9) exalted, (10) unexalted, (11) surpassed, (12) unsurpassed, (13) concentrated, (14) unconcentrated, (15) liberated, (16) unliberated.

[2] Aṅguttara Nikāya 10.51

Artwork by Colin Goh.

Chade-Meng Tan

Meng is an award-winning engineer, international bestselling author, movie producer and philanthropist. His work has been nominated eight times for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read Meng's story)

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