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Doing What Has to Be Done

Insight wisdom provides the power of mind to see and understand that all things are impermanent.

The development of insight wisdom is a gradual awakening process in which, over time and through persistent practice, we gradually begin to see arising phenomena—one mind-object after another. We come to see how all perceptual phenomena are insubstantial and not as real or as solid they seem or appear to be.

This is true not only of big things but also of small things, such as subtle mental-sense impressions as they impinge upon our minds. They tingle our perceptions, making them seem as we wish them to be or do not wish them to be─especially when we are foolhardy enough to allow ourselves to go grasping after whatever we vainly think will be satisfying in the fleeting-nebulous illusions of sense perception.

Further, we need insight to develop the clear, incisive knowledge and wisdom necessary to see through the clever, sly, subtle tricks of the sense aggregates as being nothing more than biased, bursting energy bundles. They try to fool the mind, to deceive it into perceiving arising phenomena in the way that the aggregates want to be seen, so that they can get their greedy hooks into resultant, arising feeling levels of delusive sense awareness. 

Because of the power of these sly tricks of the sense aggregates, we urgently need to develop and depend on keen alertness and active mindfulness to constantly guard the doors of the six senses to the city of the mind. This city is teeming and swarming with hoards of deceptive appearances and phantasms after which the untrained mind will, consciously or unconsciously, want to chase and grasp in order to devour and enjoy or crush and kill.

Indeed, we crucially need to develop and depend on the combined defensive forces of sila, sati, and nana (right conduct, awareness, and insight knowledge), all working together to secure the citadel of the mind. Working to stand as mental forces and serve as guards against approaching deceptive apparitions, which have the potential during incautious mental lapses to penetrate security, when the mind is unconsciously relaxed and unguarded and then slips back into old habits.

We must note, also, that the normal worldly mind can become defensive and aggressive when it is compulsively grasping after tempting illusions and sensations. It aggressively dislikes being curbed or hindered. It wants what it wants, and it does not easily tolerate anything getting in its way. This is why it becomes agitated, aggravated, and sometimes even out of control when things don’t turn out the way the unruly mind desires them to be. It may even act with defiance and violence against anything trying to control and train it to change its ways.

So how do we become trainers of the mind?

The untrained mind is much like a monkey or a child that grasps at things, following the momentary impulses of the eye. It sees and wants, even though, in reality, such impulses to grasp and clutch onto everything in sight are just momentary, empty sense perceptions and phantasms that bring no ultimate satisfaction. 

The Buddha made the ingenious analogy that although the normal mind is naughty and greedy and uncontrolled, it can be compared to a wild elephant or stallion, which resists being controlled. However, the wild elephant or stallion has the potential to be calmed and tamed and eventually trained to become a beneficial and useful friend. We may come to see ourselves as similar to such an elephant or stallion, and when we do, we will know what to do, without anyone telling us how. The decision becomes ours alone.

When we are beginning to try to develop the mind, it is not easy. At first, we are very unskilled and have little success in controlling our impulsive, stubborn, grasping tendencies. But then, as we slowly begin to understand the ever-recurring dangers that impulsiveness and compulsiveness inevitably cause, we begin and continue to develop the capacity for judgment (discernment) through direct observation and experience of what is a beneficial action and what is not, and what the result will be. 

To reiterate, cultivating insight knowledge means slowly developing wisdom through the experience of knowing what is beneficial and what is not beneficial. What brings fulfillment and happiness and what brings a lack of fulfillment and unhappiness. This invariably leaves a person who is accustomed to worldly grasping with a sense of let down expectations and disappointment will inevitably follow in its train.

To pinpoint the source of delusion more precisely, the mind watching the mind eventually recognizes that the illusion of what we, at first, falsely considered to be “our mind” or “our thoughts” or “our self” is actually nothing more than another impermanent, accumulating aggregate of illusive sensations; impressions, impulses, and desires arising and ceasing. 

The detached mind watching the mind eventually comes to realize that what we have always considered to be “our mind”─working away in a worldly way─is just another impermanent accumulation or bundle of interacting perceptual phenomena, lacking any actual abiding reality. 

The point is succinct, yet it is not so easy to see.

When the mind watching the mind sees that there is no “our self,” no “our mind,” no “our thoughts” as an independent entity, then, with time and discernment, the mind gradually comes to realize that there are only the flashing instants of mind watching mind. It becomes clear through insight that the mind is, in fact, only a tool to be used in a process of observation and analysis, and then to be laid down and set aside once its task of locating and sorting and dissolving the delusions of phenomenal existence has been accomplished. 

When we are young, our minds are untrained and we are unwise and unskillful and follow every whim. But as we become older and wiser, we keep learning from our mistakes and become more skillful in directing our choices and actions. 

As we become older and more experienced, some of us who have learned about the powers of mindfulness begin practicing insight meditation as a way to be more watchful, to learn to mend and to mind our ways. And, as we become more skillful in discernment, we begin to know how to choose which actions will be constructive and which will not. 

Some of us who are disposed thereto will seek a teacher who can guide us in following the Buddha’s instructions, as outlined in the Pali Canon. We will then go on to do what we need to do; to seek a way through the tangle of the tangle. To clear the path of self-made obstacles and hindrances within the the jungle of the wild, untamed mind. To try to unravel the seemingly hopelessly entangled networks of insecurities and anxieties related thereto.


Viriyang, Luang Phor. 1999. Meditation Instructor Course. Bangkok: Willpower Institute (private printing of internal handout).

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