Mind Consciousness and Free Will - Buddha Mind, Buddha Body by Thich Nhat Hanh

Offered by Cole Mannella on February 25, 2021

When mind consciousness operates alone it can be in concentration or in dispersion. Dispersion is when you allow yourself to be carried away by emotions. When we feel out of control of our lives, as if we don’t have any sovereignty, that’s mind consciousness in dispersion. You think and speak and do things that you cannot control. We don’t want to be full of hate and anger and discrimination, but sometimes the habit energy feels so strong we don’t know how to change it. There’s no loving kindness, understanding, or compassion in your thinking, because you are less than your better self. You say and do things that you wouldn’t say or do if you were concentrated. You lose your sovereignty.

When we look deeply, we can already imagine ourselves in a situation in which we control ourselves better and we are not just the victims of our habit energies. Concentration gives us more freedom to make the choices we wish to make: it gives us the possibility of some free will.

When our habit energy is dispersed we are angered easily, we may know, intellectually, that our anger doesn’t help us, but we don’t feel able to stop it. Thus the question of free will is not just an intellectual one. Sometimes people think that our feelings are only a matter of the chemicals that are released in our brain. You get angry, you get violent just because of some chemical substance released in your brain. But our ways of thinking and acting produce these chemicals. And the way they are released, over-released, or under-released depends very much on our way of life.

If we know how to eat in mindfulness, how to eat properly, how to drink properly, how to think properly, how to live our daily life in a balanced way, the release of these chemicals will only bring well-being. If we live a life that is disturbed by anger, fear, and hatred, then we know that at the base of our cognition the neurons and the chemicals they release will be affected, and there will be imbalance in the brain and in our consciousness. We can use our wisdom, our deep looking to determine how these elements function. You can’t say these elements are not mind; they are our mind.

In Buddhism we say this body is your consciousness. We use the Sanskrit expression, namarupa. “Nama” means mind. “Rupa” means body. They are not two separate entities, but a double manifestation of the same substance.

We know that all of us have negative habit energies that push us to think, to say, and to do things that intellectually we know will bring damage. And yet we do them anyway. We say them anyway. We think them anyway. That is habit energy. When habit energy comes up, and is about to push you to think, to feel, to say, and to do, you have the opportunity to practice mindfulness. “Hello there, my habit energy, I know you are coming up.” That can already make a difference. You know that you don’t want to be victim to your habit energy and the intervention of mindfulness can change the landscape.

The second thing mind consciousness can do is to learn positive habits. You can train yourself so that every time you hear a bell, you stop. You stop your thinking, you stop doing things, and you are supported by other members of the community to do that. In a few weeks it becomes a habit. When you hear the bell, naturally you stop thinking and you enjoy breathing in and out. That is a positive habit. The fact that we can create and cultivate a positive habit energy proves that free will is possible. Sovereignty over oneself is possible to some extent. Store consciousness and the habit energy in it are the ground for your daily thoughts, actions, and speech. You think, you speak, and you do things with store consciousness behind you dictating your behavior. The quality of the seeds within store consciousness is very important for that. You have some amount of wisdom, of compassion in you, and you still have an amount of anger, an amount of discrimination in you. Together with our education, with our practice, we can recognize that there is a mechanism existing on the unconscious level that causes you to walk, to sit down, to stand up, to think, to say things, and to act.

When mind consciousness begins to operate, the energy of mindfulness can be generated, and suddenly you are capable of being aware of what is going on. The intention to walk, the intention to make a step, may originate on the metabolic level. But it is possible to be aware of that intention. “Breathing in, I know that I have the intention to breathe in,” even before you do it. Yet with the intervention of mindfulness, the landscape changes. Once intention has begun, mindfulness can still alter the course, and not by fighting. Mindfulness makes it possible for other seeds in us, positive seeds, to manifest. We have allies down in our store consciousness.

Mindfulness is the inviter. Mindfulness is the gardener who believes in the capacity of the soil to provide flowers and fruits. Sometimes mindfulness can play the role of the initiator. Suppose you are mindful that your friend is sitting in front of you. Breathing in, I know that my friend is sitting in front of me. And I notice something important. My friend is alive. My friend is present in front of me. It would be good if I say something nice to them, because tomorrow I may not be there to say it. And then you look at them, and you say, “I know you are there, and I am so happy.” So, mindfulness can act as an agent and initiate some thought, or some speech, or some action. That is why we can say that mindfulness may come later, or mindfulness sometimes, if we want can be the initiator of some thought, some speech, or some action. Understanding this process, we know there is a chance for us to be free. And great freedom begins with these little tiny freedoms that we bring about with our mindfulness.

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