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Guarding the Doors of the Citadel: Dwelling in Awareness

The disciple dwells in contemplation of the mind-objects, namely of the six “Subjective-Objective Sense-Bases.” He knows the eye and visual objects, ear and sounds, nose and odors, tongue and tastes, body and bodily impressions, mind and mind-objects; and the fetter that arises in dependence on them, he also knows. He knows how the fetter comes to arise, knows how the fetter is overcome, and how the abandoned fetter does not rise again in future. (Nyanatiloka 67, 1967)

Just as a mental exercise—in place of unskillful, restless thinking during the day—try to think of instances in which consciousness arising through eye contact could become a mental hindrance leading you, at least temporarily, off of the path to realization. Then think of consciousness arising through the ear and how it could be detrimental for you. Or consciousness arising through the sense of smell, consciousness arising through a craving for tastes, or consciousness arising and developing through imagined mental conditions and intellectually desired states, which might even be able to bring you to the point of ecstasy.

If you do not take the time to observe and analyze the consciousness process of your mind, it is both capable of and likely to fall victim to the insatiable dragon of the mind—the dragon of six-sense consciousness. If you are able to, you should search for, find, isolate, and bring these potential conscious arisings of imagined mental cravings out into the bright light of day, and examine, observe, and analyze just what it is about them that so attracts or repels you. 

You should develop the power of analysis to discern the actual root causes of why you want what you want or don’t want, and ask if the short-term result of fulfilling your volitions would be good for you in the long run. And if you know they will not be good for you, you need to decide exactly what you should do about it. Since no one else can get into your mind but you, you should become familiar with its leanings and tendencies. You should know what to do when such tendencies try to catch you by surprise and gain control over you. 

If you can learn to control your mind, you can learn how to avoid letting hordes of unwholesome tendencies (figuratively, Mara’s armies) gain power over you. But to do this successfully, you must first learn to be a successful sentinel guarding and watching the doors of the citadel of the mind. You should learn to examine your mental life so there is nothing that can sneak in or leak out (prior to a surprise attack) that will bring harm on you. 

Impulses are usually just fleeting phenomena of the moment that bring no lasting pleasure and have no lasting value. If you can learn to control such impulses or simply let them go as momentarily passing flashes, if you can learn not to grasp after such empty phenomenal images, you will be better off in the long run.

Once you feel you are benefitting from the above exercise of the mind watching the mind, you can also analyze the relationship in your consciousness between the six sense doors, and anger, hate, and envy. 

Learn to live an examined life so that you will be prepared and better in control of the mind. Such potentially arising states try to hit you when you are not looking, right between the eyes, and momentarily blind you—perhaps even making it possible for you to strike out at someone on impulse—thereby provoking an action which could harm you in a way that you would regret for the rest of your life or for many lives to come. Think of the story of the son who killed his beloved mother in an impulsive moment because she was late bringing his lunchbox out to the field. Could this be you?

Learn to live a self-examined life so that you will be careful about the consequences of everything you do in any momentary act of your life, until, one day, you suddenly have the insight to see that reacting to such psycho-physical impulses is merely energy exploding wastefully and harmfully. Learn to remain independent and detached from any such potential action arising, standing back with the mind watching the mind, watching, dispassionately, with equanimity. 

The key to understanding the dangers of the sense doors lies in maintaining detachment and equanimity as a continuing mental exercise in going against the stream. You should learn to avoid potential situations that could arouse anger, hate, or envy in you in a harmful way, and that would potentially result in a backlash on you. 

Another way of examining arising consciousness is instead of thinking about what you do not like about others, ask what is wrong with yourself. Examine how, why, and where you have the latent potential to lash out in anger, to react with intense hate, or to be so envious of another that you want to perpetrate harm upon him. 

Once you get to know the potential of the mind for both harm and good, you can practice feeling compassion for yourself for the potential harm you might do. You can also practice loving-kindness and sympathetic joy arising out of knowing the good you can do as a result of avoiding unwholesome states and replacing them with wholesome states in which you radiate goodness toward others, whom you might have potentially hated had you reacted harmfully. 

Once you learn to feel compassion for yourself, in your own sorry state, you will not continue to hate. You will begin to feel compassion for others who are sorrowfully sunk in the same state as you.

If you want to see what is wrong with the world, observe and analyze the roots of your own unmindful actions, and then ask yourself how the world would be if everyone felt and acted like you. And if you don’t want the world to be like that, the place to start changing the world is by starting on changing yourself. 

If you can start to set yourself straight because you see the potential for suffering that the uncontrolled impulses of consciousness can bring to others, it is possible that there are a few or even many individuals like you in the world, who have compassion and pity for others, and who do not want others to suffer in the way that you and they have had to do during your lives.

If you can practice controlling the six senses, and this starts working for you, and if you can keep countering the Five Hindrances, while simultaneously practicing the Four Sublime States, this form of practice will be very beneficial for you and for others.


Nyanatiloka Mahathera. 1967. The Word of the Buddha. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.

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