By LIBBY DUNN
As Fred covered basic concepts from the detailed framework of Yogacara in the recent four-week study group, he encouraged us to approach it from the perspective of our practice, instead of approaching it as a philosophy.
By helping us to imagine the mind as an ever-evolving process, Yogacara provides a powerful source of motivation and encouragement that can support us when we become frustrated by challenges and setbacks along the way.
We first learned that every physical and mental phenomenon -- every “thing” -- has three simultaneous natures: conceptual, interdependent, and empty.
It helped me to understand that at the conceptual level, we interact with projections of our own (often mistaken) ideas! Instead, it’s better to focus on the interdependent nature of phenomena. When I’m thinking about people with whom I feel conflict, if I can reflect on how their actions -- like mine -- flow from many prior causes and conditions, it helps calm my unwholesome feelings and loosen my grip on strongly held ideas.
One practice I followed to help absorb this teaching on the three natures was to select a physical or mental “thing” several times during the day, then identify and reflect on each of its three natures. This simple reflection also helped remind me of relative and ultimate truth. The importance of asking “Am I sure?” became obvious when we learned about the three subjective transformations taking place continuously within our minds.
Yogacara understands the mind as having eight levels, with six sense consciousnesses operating at the surface, and a much larger part, called the alaya, operating below the surface. Manas also operates at this deeper level, taking its inputs from both alaya and the six senses. Manas transforms the raw data to create a distorted version of reality that prioritizes a sense of self, guided by manas’ deep inclination toward self-delusion, self-view, self-conceit, and self-love. These details about manas’ functions and inclinations have helped me understand how my mind works behind the scenes to actively distort my very perception of reality.
For me, one of the most powerful teachings from Yogacara is its description of the deeper mind as an ever-evolving process. If we relate this to Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings about the mind as a garden, it can motivate us to become much more attentive gardeners.
If we want greater spaciousness and ease in our minds, then we have no choice but to get busy as our minds’ gardeners to cultivate more wholesome seeds and/or fewer unwholesome seeds. Thay calls this process “transformation at the base” and he teaches us that the “goal of our meditation is to make a change at the root of manas and the store consciousness. (Understanding Our Mind, p. 106)."
This gives me an optimistic view of my own agency and capacity for transformation and healing. It motivates me to stay on the well-lit path of practice, do my best to follow the precious instructions, and trust that the practices we’re following are designed to propel us forward.
The teaching on the ever-evolving mind also encourages me. While we were studying Yogacara, I participated in the FCM-wide emphasis on aspirations and vows. I tried to set explicit aspirations and send some of them in daily text messages to my aspiration buddy.
When the aspiration practices helped me identify where I was having difficulties following through on my aspirations, the Yogacara teaching encouraged me not to become disheartened. Instead, I took refuge in the knowledge that my mind is an evolving process and that I can take steps today that will make it easier for me to fulfill my aspirations in the future.
Instead of wasting time in self-doubt and discouragement, I can take a moment to recall some of the positive changes I’ve experienced since first entering this path and then get back to tending my garden.
Libby Dunn has been an FCM member for five years. She lives in Gainesville with her husband and two dogs, while her two adult children live in Tampa.