Observing Citta (Mind)

Discussion Facilitator: Bruce Cantwell. July 27, 2019

We're making major progress on the Satipatthana Sutta, which is the root teaching for mindfulness or insight meditation. We've finished the first two areas of observation: the body and feelings. Today we're going to look at the mind.

Daniel M. Ingram: "Since I just used this dangerous term “mind”, I should quickly mention that it cannot be located. I’m certainly not talking about the brain, which we have never experienced, since the standard for insight practices is what we can directly experience. As an old Zen monk once said to a group of us in his extremely thick Japanese accent, “Some people say there is mind. I say there is no mind, but never mind! Heh, heh, heh!”[1]

Observation of Mind

I changed these instructions to direct address to remove references to monks and male pronouns. I also cut some repetitious phrases.

Understand properly a mind with lust as a mind with lust, and a mind free from lust as a mind free from lust.

A mind with hatred or free from hatred.

A mind with delusion or free from delusion.

A mind contracted or not contracted.

Distracted or not distracted.

Developed or undeveloped.

Surpassable or unsurpassable.

Concentrated or unconcentrated.

Understand properly a freed mind or unfree mind.

Observe mind states internally, or externally, or both internally and externally.

Contemplate the experience of arising of mind states, and passing away of mind states,

or arising and passing away of mind states.

Establish insight: "This is mind!"

Develop mindfulness to such an extent that there is mere understanding along with mere awareness.

In this way dwell detached, without clinging towards anything in the world [of mind and matter].

This is how to dwell observing mind states.[2]

Guided Meditation

To observe whatever it is we're observing, let's start with a short guided meditation. We'll use whatever happens during this meditation as the basis for our discussion.

As you find a comfortable posture, close your eyes if you wish, notice how you're doing in this moment. Be curious about your body and mind. Take some breaths. Try to maintain an attitude of kindness, of settling into your own sense of being. It's right here for you, in every moment–this human capacity to be aware.

Bring your attention to your meditation anchor–that which you always return to. Your anchor can be sounds. You can listen to the sounds come and go around you. Listen to them without getting lost in stories about the sounds. No need to analyze or reject a sound; just listen.

(Period of silence.)

Now, when a new object (such as emotions or sensation) becomes very obvious, calling out to you, let go of your anchor and turn most of your attention to whatever this new object is. Feel the emotion or sensation in your body. Notice what happens to it as you pay attention to it. Stay with this new aspect of experience until it no longer holds your attention, until it stops, or until something else grabs your attention. Can you notice the changing nature of the object that pulls you away?

Ultimately, return to your anchor, to listening.[3]


1. We just observed our internal mind state, now we'll begin to observe it externally.

Who thought about something that they like or want?

Who thought about something that they dislike or wish to avoid?

Did anyone alternate between likes and dislikes?

Whose mind felt collected or stable?

Whose mind feel scattered?

Was anyone concentrating the whole time?

Was anyone free from likes and dislikes, getting things or pushing things away the whole time or part of it?

2. What do you think is the purpose of simply observing when a mind state is present and when it is not present?

3. Here's a quote from Ajahn Cha: "About this mind... In truth there is nothing really wrong with it. It is intrinsically pure. Within itself it’s already peaceful. That the mind is not peaceful these days is because it follows moods. The real mind doesn’t have anything to it; is simply (an aspect of) Nature. It becomes peaceful or agitated because moods deceive it. The untrained mind is stupid. Sense impressions come and trick it into happiness, suffering, gladness, and sorrow, but the mind’s true nature is none of those things. That gladness or sadness is not the mind, but only a mood coming to deceive us. The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things; it forgets itself. Then we think that it is we who are upset or at ease or whatever.[4]"

What is Ajahn Cha getting at with this quote?

4. Can simply paying close attention to our changing mind states teach us which states lead to happiness and which lead to suffering for ourselves and other people?

[1] Ingram, Daniel M. Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: an Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book. Aeon Books, 2018.

[2] “MahāsatipaṭṭhānaSutta.” Mahasatipatthana Sutta - The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness, www.tipitaka.org/stp-pali-eng-parallel.shtml#24.

[3] Winston, Diana. The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness. Sounds True, 2019.

[4] Cha, Ajahn. “About This Mind...” A Taste of Freedom, 5th ed., Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., 1991, p. 9.

Bruce Cantwell