top of page

 Looking at the Mind in Movement- Chapter 6

Pointing Out the Dharmakaya Teachings on the Ninth Karmapa’s Text

byKhenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

Previously we looked at looking at the mind within stillness, which means looking at the nature of the mind within the experience of the stability of shamatha, and also at pointing out or identifying the nature of the mind in the context of stillness.

Normally, we think that the mind exists, that our disturbing emotions exist, and that our thoughts exist. We are correct to think so, if we consider them merely as appearances. Actually, when we aren’t looking directly at the mind’s nature, we only experience the appearance of an existent mind, the appearance of existent thoughts and disturbing emotions. Because when we look directly at the mind to see where it is, what it is, and what its characteristics are, we discover that it has no substantial existence.


This is true not only when the mind is at rest, or in a state of stillness, but also when the mind is in a state of movement and thoughts are arising. In either case, the mind is devoid of substantial characteristics such as shape and color.

As you practice the meditation of looking directly at the mind, at some point you will have a recognition of the basic nature of mind. This could hap- pen immediately, or it could happen after some time of gradually overcoming your previous habit of not looking at the mind. In any case, that experience will be the recognition of the mind in the context of stillness, with the mind at rest. The second technique presented in the discussion on vipashyana is looking at the mind within movement or occurrence. Occurrence here refers to the arising of thought, so this technique consists of look- ing at the nature of thoughts as they arise. When you meditate, sometimes your mind is at rest, without any thoughts passing through it, but some- times movement occurs. Just as it is possible to recognize the mind’s nature in the context of stillness, it is equally possible to recognize it in the context of occurrence.

A distinction needs to be made between the nature of how things are, and appearances, which is how things appear. The nature of how things actually are, is experienced by an unconfused mind, and appearances, how things appear to be, is experienced by a confused mind or a confused cognition. Sometimes these are also referred to as absolute truth and relative truth, respectively. Through the confusion that generates the appearances or the projections of confusion, we come to suffer and to experience impediments and upheavals of all kinds. Because all of this suffering, these upheavals, and so forth, result from confusion, and therefore result from a mistaken view of how things are, all of these things can be removed. They are removed by coming to correctly recognize how things are or by coming to recognize the nature of all things, and it is for this reason that we devote ourselves to look- ing at the nature of our mind.

The reason why there are these two techniques—looking at the mind within stillness and looking at the mind within occurrence — is that, from the point of view of how things appear, stillness and occurrence are quite distinct. The one, stillness, is a state where there are no thoughts arising in the mind, and the other, occurrence, is one in which there are thoughts, possibly very coarse and disturbing thoughts, arising in the mind; but from the point of view of the nature of things, these two states are not different at all. When you look at the mind within stillness you do not find anything substantial whatsoever. And when you look at the mind within occurrence, no matter how coarse or vivid the thoughts may be, when you look at the nature of those thoughts, their nature seems to be without any substance or substantiality and to be that same emptiness that was the nature of the mind in stillness. It is in order to make this clear to us that we practice both of these as separate techniques.

The Six Consciousnesses

In general, when Buddhists classify various aspects of mind, we tend to talk either about six consciousnesses or about eight consciousnesses. If we look at the six-fold classification, these six consciousnesses are all classified as unstable consciousnesses. The first is the visual consciousness. Normally, we tend to think that it is our eyes that see things. However, because the eye itself is organic matter, and in itself cannot see, it serves as the organic support for vision. In fact, what is occurring in a moment of seeing is that the eye consciousness, which is what actually sees, is generated on the basis of the organic support of the eye contacting the objective support, which is a visually perceivable form. In other words, vision is the generation of a visual conscious- ness on the basis of the contact between the eye and its object.

The second consciousness is the auditory consciousness based on the organic support of the ear, and the objective basis is sounds of all types. With the organic support of the ear and the objective sounds, an auditory consciousness is generated.

The third consciousness is called the olfactory consciousness. Its organic support is the nose, and its objective basis is the various smells that we can smell. The fourth is the taste consciousness. Its organic support is the tongue, and the objective bases are the various tastes which we can experience with the support of the tongue, such as sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

The fifth consciousness is called the body consciousness. This is the consciousness of tactile sensations, so it can also be called the tactile conscious- ness. Its organic support is distinct from the others.


The other four sense organs — the eyes, the ears, the nose, and the tongue — are called particular sense organs, as they are in particular places within the body. The organic support for the tactile consciousness, however, is called the pervasive organ, because everywhere in the body is able to experience tactile sensations. Therefore, the organic support for this consciousness is your entire body. The objective bases are the various tactile sensations that you can experience, such as smooth, rough, hot, cold, and so on.

These five sensory consciousnesses, because they are functioning on the basis of the five sense organs, are called the consciousnesses of the five gates. A further characteristic of these five consciousnesses is that they all experience information directly. The eye consciousness sees directly, the ear conscious- ness hears directly, the nose consciousness smells directly, the tongue consciousness tastes directly, and the tactile consciousness feels directly. Moreover, these five sensory consciousnesses are non-conceptual, which means that they can only replicate the appearance that they experience. For example, when your eye consciousness sees something, it sees what is there, but it is incapable of identifying the object or evaluating it in any sense, such as judging it as good or bad.

The sixth consciousness is the mental consciousness, and it is quite different from these first five. It has no particular organic support, but it follows the production of the first five sensory consciousnesses. So a mental consciousness can be generated on the basis of an eye consciousness of form, an ear consciousness of sound, a nose consciousness of smell, a tongue con- sciousness of taste, or a tactile consciousness of a tactile sensation. Following the initial sense consciousness, a mental consciousness will be generated, which develops further. It can also arise on its own, independent of any sense experience.

The object of the sixth consciousness includes forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and so on.


Whereas the first five consciousnesses experience their individual objects directly, the sixth consciousness does not. For example, the eye consciousness actually sees something, but the mental consciousness will generate a similitude of what the eye saw as a mental impression, which is referred to in the texts as an approximation. And the approximation is further adulterated by the process of evaluation, which is a function of the mental consciousness. For example, when your eye consciousness sees a cup, it just replicates the sense impression of what it sees. Then, when it enters the mental consciousness, a mental image, which is a vague impression of whatever the eye consciousness saw, is retained. This is combined with, and becomes a basis for, subsequent appraisal: first of all, the concept “cup,” then good cup or bad cup, and then comparing it to other cups.

The eye consciousness is incapable of generating a concept, such as “cup.” Therefore, it does not appraise or recognize as such. The sixth conscious- ness, however, is conceptual, and therefore it confuses the actual sensory experience and the name that we affix to that sense experience. It will also confuse a previous sense experience and a present one. For example, when you see a cup and generate a mental consciousness of that image, you will recognize it as the cup that you think you saw yesterday, and therefore you will have the concept of it being the same cup. All these sorts of mental manipulations are the functions of the mental consciousness.

The sixth consciousness, like the first five, is called an unstable con- sciousness, which means that none of these six consciousnesses are always there. They are generated through the coming together of the conditions which generate them. For example, a given sense consciousness is generated upon the contact between that sense organ and an appropriate object.

For meditation we need to examine the sixth consciousness because it is the sixth mental consciousness that performs the meditation. It is the sixth consciousness that is the subject of the meditation. To understand this, consider the technique of looking at mind within occurrence. In this technique, while you are in a state of stillness, you allow a thought to arise. The thought arises in the sixth consciousness and it is this sixth consciousness that thinks.

Looking at Occurrence

According to the commentaries, one begins the practice of looking at the mind within occurrence by cultivating a state of shamatha, as in the previous technique. You allow your mind to rest relaxed in the stillness of shamatha and then, having experienced that stillness, one of two things will happen: either a thought will arise suddenly of itself without your intention- ally generating it, in which case, that thought could be any kind of thought —a thought of pleasure or of misery, a virtuous thought, a non-virtuous thought, and so on. In any case, a thought will arise, or if a thought does not arise by itself, you can intentionally generate a thought. In either case you now have a thought as the focus or support for the meditation, the nature of which thought you will look at. While the focus of this technique is different from the focus of the previous one — in that here you are looking at the nature of a thought that has arisen, whereas in the previous one you were looking at the nature of that mind which experiences stillness — the mode of meditation is exactly the same. Here, looking at the thought, you look to see where it is, where it came from, what its substance or nature is, what it is that has generated the thought, what it is or who it is that is thinking, and so forth.

When a thought arises in your mind in that way, then of course you are aware that the thought has arisen and you cannot argue with the fact that there is the appearance of a thought having arisen. A thought did arise or has arisen in your mind. The thought could have any of a vast number of forms. It could be a pleasant or an unpleasant thought, a virtuous or a non-virtu- ous thought, and so on. In any case, this appearance of a thought arising in your mind is a relative truth, or kundzop, it is how things appear.33 Having recognized that the thought has arisen, then simply look directly at it. Look directly at its essence or its nature, at how things are, through looking at the thought.


This does not involve searching for anything particularly difficult to find or anything particularly subtle, for that matter. And it is different from following the thought, or, allowing that thought (which could be, for example, a thought of anger toward someone you view as an enemy) to produce a further thought; it is also different from analyzing the thought by examining its content and reflecting upon the thought. From this point of view, the content of the thought is irrelevant. Whether the thought is a good thought or a bad thought really doesn’t matter. In either case, it’s an appro- priate subject for the meditation. Don’t try and figure out why you had that particular thought. Simply look directly at the thought itself, rather than at the content of the thought. And that’s what’s meant by looking at the nature of the thought.

You simply look directly at the thought to observe its nature. For example, does this thought that is present in your mind have a shape? Does it have a color? If it has a shape or a color, what shape or what color? As you look you will find that you do not discover a shape, you do not discover a color. Well, if it does not have a shape or color, then what substantial char- acteristics does it possess? If it truly exists it must possess some kind of observable characteristic. As in the previous technique, you need to look at the thought directly, which is to say that you look at the thought of the present

with the mind of the present.


You do not look at the thought of the past with the mind of the present. In other words, you look at the thought of the first instant with the mind of the first instant, and the thought of the second instant with the mind of the second instant. You do not look at the thought of the first instant with the mind of the second instant, and so on. In any case, as you look at the thought which definitely has arisen, while you are aware that the thought is present, there is nothing that you can see or detect directly.


The Nine Questions for Looking at the Mind within Occurrence

In particular, as with the previous techniques, there are several specific ways to look at the object, which, in the case of this technique, is the thought that has arisen. In the way things appear, there is the appearance of a thought arising, abiding, and ceasing.


There are nine questions in this section. Again, not all of them are, strictly speaking, questions.


The first question, or part of the technique, the first way to look at the thought, is to look at these three aspects of the thought’s presence. With regard to its arising, how does it arise? How does the thought come into experience or come into being? From where does it arise? Then with regard to its abiding, how does it abide? What does it actually mean that a thought is present or is abiding, and where exactly does it abide? And then with regard to its cessation, how does it cease? How does the thought cease to be present and where does it go? Where does it end up when it ceases? This is the first part of looking at thought.

The second part of the technique is working with a variety or succession of thoughts, rather than one thought, allowing or causing a series of thoughts to arise, and looking at their nature in sequence. This part of the technique is especially used to work with the kleshas. You can use any of the three pre- dominant kleshas — thoughts that are primarily characterized by ignorance, attachment, or aggression—and you can use whatever arises; or, if necessary, you can intentionally generate a klesha. The way of looking at kleshas here is quite distinct and particular. Normally, for example, when we want to deal with the klesha of anger, then we distance ourselves from it, and we look at it as though it were an object separate from ourselves, and we say, “This anger has arisen in me, I am now angry. The object of my anger is so and so, whom I regard as my enemy,” and so forth. We distance ourselves from the thought of anger, and also, we concern ourselves primarily with how the thought appears, with the contents of the anger. Here, when you look at the klesha, you look at it in a very different way. You look at it directly, as is said in the texts, “nakedly,” without anything in between you and it, so that you look to try to find the anger itself, the very essence of this thought, rather than merely the contents or form of the thought. You look to see exactly, where is this anger that appears to be present and what exactly is it? What substantial characteristics does it truly have? Through looking for the anger in that way, you come to see that its nature is emptiness. This does not mean that then anger vanishes; the anger is still present, but once its nature has been seen, it is without any kind of fixated apprehension. Then you can apply the same technique to other kleshas, to various thoughts of pleasure and pain, and virtuous thoughts, such as love, compassion, and so on. And you will discover in the same way, that all of these thoughts have emptiness as their basic nature. The Buddha taught that all thoughts are empty, and he never said that something that was not empty was empty.

Next comes the third way of looking at thoughts. The idea of having so many different techniques is that if one does not help, then the next one will, and also, that each of them will generate a slightly different experience of looking at the nature of thought. This third technique is concerned with the distinction between the thought itself and the object of that thought — for example, a thought of pleasure or pain, or a thought of a specific klesha and the object that appears to be the basis for the arising of that specific thought. This does not mean that you investigate the thought to try and determine when that thought has arisen; it is not a question of thinking about the thought, like determining, “I am angry at so and so, because of such and such.” It means to actually look in order to try to find the presence of that object in your mind. The reason for this is that when, for example, you become angry, part of becoming angry is the arising of an image of the object of your anger as a focus for that in your mind. Here, rather than look- ing at the anger itself, you look at the image of the object of focus and try to see where it is, this image or concept: where is it in your mind? How does it arise, and from where does it arise, and so on? Also in connection with this third technique, try to detect the difference between thoughts when their nature has been looked at, and thoughts when their nature has not been looked at.

These first three ways of looking at thought are actually distinct techniques, or distinct ways, to view the nature of thought.

The next set of techniques are more descriptions of experiences you might have while looking at the thoughts. The fourth is as follows: sometimes when people look at the nature of thought, they have the experience that there is nothing whatsoever to be apprehended in a fixated way, that the thoughts have emptiness beyond elaboration as their nature. In particular, when looking for a place of origin, a place of abiding, and a place of cessation or disappearance for the thought, they find nothing whatsoever. You should regard your experience, or view your experience, to see if this is what you are experiencing. Another experience (the 5th) that might occur is that you become aware of the thought’s arising, and then you look at the thought and, through looking at its nature, the thought disappears.

The next experience (6th) is when, from the moment of the thought’s arising, there is nothing whatsoever in it to be apprehended, and in that way the thought is self-liberated—in the sense that simultaneous with its arising is its absence of substantiality, which is clearly experienced by the meditator. The distinction between the foregoing one, the fifth one, and this, the sixth one, is that in the fifth one the thought appears to be somewhat substantial as it arises, but disappears upon being looked at. In this one, from the moment of its arising it seemed to be insubstantial.

Following the sixth experience (7th), where the thought is experienced to be insubstantial or nothing whatsoever from the moment of its inception, comes the description of the seventh. If you have had the sixth experience, then you should look at the difference between the experience of insubstantiality or emptiness in stillness, and the experience of it within thought or occurrence. You should look to see, is there any difference between what is experienced when you look at the mind within stillness, and what is experienced when you look at the mind in occurrence, when you look at the thoughts that arise. From a conceptual point of view, of course, we would say there is a difference, because these two states are distinct. In one state, stillness, no thoughts are present, in the other state, occurrence, thoughts, possibly coarse or vivid thoughts, are evident in the mind. But this is a difference in how things appear, this does not necessarily mean there is a difference in how they are. If you look at these two states and compare them, you will discover that, just as when looking at the mind within stillness, you do not discover any place of stillness in which the mind is at rest or any resting mind; then, in the same way, when you look at the mind within occurrence, you do not discover any place where this movement—this arising, dwelling, and ceasing — of thoughts is occurring. Nor do you discover any substantial thought that is arising and ceasing, and so forth.


Next described is the eighth experience, which occurs when some conceptual effort is made to apprehend the thought’s arising and, as a result, you tend to label the thought, based on some concept about its nature. So you affix the labels of emptiness, cognitive lucidity, and so forth, to the thought, which is distinct from actually seeing its nature without any kind of conceptual overlay.

The ninth type of experience described is when the thought arises as though of itself, and its arising is recognized without effort and without any kind of conceptual overlay. And from the moment of its arising the thought is without any kind of effort on your part to see it in this way, and is experienced as liberated simply through having arisen — [experienced] as being in its nature the expression or embodiment of the emptiness which is its nature. You should look to see if this kind of experience arises as well.

With regard to the use of the seven questions in the previous section and the nine questions in this section, various experiences will arise for you as you practice, and there are various possibilities of what can occur. Don’t misuse these questions to influence, limit, or prejudice your experience; don’t corrupt your experience with your understanding. Just leave room for a direct experience of your own mind, without prejudice or influence by what you know or understand.

Sometimes when we begin to practice this type of meditation, we hope for an elegant and lucid meditative state. While it is our basic intention to look without prejudice at our mind we become disappointed with what we experience, so we try to crank it up a little bit, to fix it or improve it. Don’t do that. Just look at your mind as it is. Don’t feel that you have to improve it or influence it in any way. Simply rest in a direct and unprejudiced experience of your mind as it is, and don’t hope for something better than whatever you actually experience.

bottom of page