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Understanding the Mind: An Explanation of the Nature and Functions of the Mind by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (Tharpa Publications) A unique combination of profound philosophical exploration and practical psychology that is part of the teacher training program founded by Geshe Kelsang. The explanation of the mind is based on the works of the classic Indian Buddhist scholars Dharmakirti and Dignaga, presented in two parts. The first part explains the nature and function of the different types of mind, and how to develop and increase knowledge and understanding. First, each type of mind is clearly defined so that it can be correctly identified, and then the different varieties of each type of mind are enumerated and illustrated by examples. Then there follows an explanation of how each type of mind is generated, and finally there is advice on how to apply our understanding of each type of mind to Dharma practice and meditation. These explanations show how to develop and increase valid knowledge and Dharma realizations.

The second part of Understanding the Mind explains primary minds and mental factors. Here the emphasis is on distinguishing vir­tuous states of mind from non-virtuous states of mind so that one can cultivate the former and abandon the latter. First there is an explanation of the six primary minds and their relationship to their accompanying mental factors. Then there follows an explanation of the definitions, divisions, and func­tions of each of the fifty-one mental factors. These explanations help us to control our deluded minds and attain permanent freedom from suffering. Throughout the book Geshe Kelsang shows how we can apply this understanding of the mind to our daily meditation practice and everyday life.


Kadampa Buddhism is a Mahayana Buddhist school founded by the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982-1054). His followers are known as 'Kadampas'. 'Ka' means 'word' and refers to Buddha's teach­ings, and 'dam' refers to Atisha's special Lamrim instructions known as 'the stages of the path to enlightenment'. By integrating their knowledge of all Buddha's teachings into their practice of Lamrim, and by inte­grating this into their everyday lives, Kadampa Buddhists are encour­aged to use Buddha's teachings as practical methods for transforming daily activities into the path to enlightenment. The great Kadampa Teachers are famous not only for being great scholars, but also for being spiritual practitioners of immense purity and sincerity.

The lineage of these teachings, both their oral transmission and blessings, was then passed from Teacher to disciple, spreading through­out much of Asia, and now to many countries throughout the Western world. Buddha's teachings, which are known as 'Dharma', are likened to a wheel that moves from country to country in accordance with changing conditions and people's karmic inclinations. The external forms of presenting Buddhism may change as it meets with different cultures and societies, but its essential authenticity is ensured through the continuation of an unbroken lineage of realized practitioners.

Kadampa Buddhism was first introduced into the West in 1977 by the renowned Buddhist Master, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Since that time, he has worked tirelessly to spread Kadampa Buddhism throughout the world by giving extensive teachings, writing many pro­found texts on Kadampa Buddhism, and founding the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), which now has nearly four hundred Kadampa Buddhist Centres worldwide. Each Centre offers study programmes on Buddhist psychology, philosophy, and meditation instruction, as well as retreats for all levels of practitioner. The emphasis is on integrating Buddha's teachings into daily life to solve our human problems and to spread lasting peace and happiness throughout the world.

The Kadampa Buddhism of the NKT is an entirely independent Buddhist tradition and has no political affiliations. It is an association of Buddhist Centres and practitioners that derive their inspiration and

guidance from the example of the ancient Kadampa Buddhist Masters and their teachings, as presented by Geshe Kelsang.

There are three reasons why we need to study and practise the teachings of Buddha: to develop our wisdom, to cultivate a good heart, and to maintain a peaceful state of mind. If we do not strive to develop our wisdom, we will always remain ignorant of ultimate truth - the true nature of reality. Although we wish for happiness, our ignorance leads us to engage in non-virtuous actions, which are the main cause of all our suffering. If we do not cultivate a good heart, our selfish motivation destroys harmony and good relationships with others. We have no peace, and no chance to gain pure happiness. Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. If we do not maintain a peaceful state of mind, we are not happy even if we have ideal conditions. On the other hand, when our mind is peaceful, we are happy, even if our external conditions are unpleasant. Therefore, the development of these qualities is of utmost importance for our daily happiness.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, or 'Geshe-la' as he is affectionately called by his students, has designed three special spiritual programmes for the systematic study and practice of Kadampa Buddhism that are especially suited to the modern world - the General Programme (GP), the Foundation Programme (FP), and the Teacher Training Programme (TTP).


The General Programme provides a basic introduction to Buddhist view, meditation, and practice that is suitable for beginners. It also includes advanced teachings and practice from both Sutra and Tantra.


The Foundation Programme provides an opportunity to deepen our understanding and experience of Buddhism through a systematic study of five texts:

1 Joyful Path of Good Fortune - a commentary to Atisha's Lamrim instructions, the stages of the path to enlightenment.

2 Universal Compassion- a commentary to Bodhisattva Chekhawa's Training the Mind in Seven Points.

3 Heart of Wisdom - a commentary to the Heart Sutra.

4 Meaningful to Behold - a commentary to Venerable Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life.

5 Understanding the Mind- a detailed explanation of the mind, based on the works of the Buddhist scholars Dharmakirti and Dignaga.

The benefits of studying and practising these texts are as follows:

(1) Joyful Path of Good Fortune - we gain the ability to put all Buddha's teachings of both Sutra and Tantra into practice. We can easily make pro­gress on, and complete, the stages of the path to the supreme happiness of enlightenment. From a practical point of view, Lamrim is the main body of Buddha's teachings, and the other teachings are like its limbs.

(2) Universal Compassion - we gain the ability to integrate Buddha's teachings into our daily life and solve all our human problems.

(3) Heart of Wisdom- we gain a realization of the ultimate nature of reality. By gaining this realization, we can eliminate the ignorance of self-grasping, which is the root of all our suffering.

(4) Meaningful to Behold - we transform our daily activities into the Bodhisattva's way of life, thereby making every moment of our human life meaningful.

(5) Understanding the Mind- we understand the relationship between our mind and its external objects. If we understand that objects depend upon the subjective mind, we can change the way objects appear to us by changing our own mind. Gradually, we will gain the ability to control our mind and in this way solve all our problems.


In recent years our understanding and control of the exter­nal world have increased considerably and as a result we have witnessed remarkable material progress; but there has not been a corresponding increase in human happiness. There is no less suffering in the world today, and there are no fewer problems. Indeed, it might be said that there are now more problems and greater unhappiness than ever before. This shows that the cause of happiness and the solution to our problems do not lie in knowledge or control of the external world. Happiness and suffering are states of mind and so their main causes are not to be found outside the mind. If we want to be truly happy and free from suffering we must improve our understanding of the mind.

When things go wrong in our life and we encounter diffi­cult situations we tend to regard the situation itself as the problem, but in reality whatever problems we experience come from the side of the mind. If we were to respond to difficult situations with a positive or peaceful mind they would not be problems for us; indeed we may even come to regard them as challenges or opportunities for growth and development. Problems arise only if we respond to difficult­ies with a negative state of mind. Therefore, if we want to be free from problems we must learn to control our mind.

Buddha taught that the mind has the power to create all pleasant and unpleasant objects. This is a view held in com­mon by all four Buddhist schools: the two Hinayana schools - the Vaibashikas and the Sautrantikas - and the two Maha­yana schools - the Chittamatrins and the Madhyamikas. According to this view the world is the result of the karma, or actions, of the beings who inhabit it. A pure world is the result of pure actions and an impure world is the result of impure actions. Since all actions are created by mind, ulti­mately everything, including the world itself, is created by mind. There is no creator other than mind. Buddhists believe this because they rely upon the explanations given by Buddha.

Normally we say 'I created such and such', or 'He or she created such and such', but the actual creator of everything is the mind. We are like servants helping our mind, which is the actual creator. Whenever our mind wants to do some­thing we have to do it without any choice. Since beginning­less time until now we have been under the control of our mind, without any freedom; but if we now practise Dharma sincerely we can reverse this situation and gain control over our mind. Only then shall we have real freedom.

Within the four Buddhist schools, the Chittamatrins in particular believe that all phenomena, including the world itself, are the same nature as the mind that apprehends them and have no existence outside the mind. They say that if we dream of a mountain, for example, that mountain is the same nature as the dream mind and has no existence outside the mind. If it existed outside the mind we would have to say that a huge mountain existed in our small bedroom, which is clearly absurd. They say that just as it is with dream objects, so it is with all phenomena - they are all the same nature as the mind, like a dream mountain.

The highest of the four Buddhist schools, the Madhyamika-Prasangika school, says that all phenomena are merely imputed by mind and have no existence from their own side.

The essential point in all these views is that liberation from suffering cannot be found outside the mind. Permanent lib­eration can be found only by purifying the mind. Therefore, if we want to become free from problems and attain lasting peace and happiness we need to increase our knowledge and understanding of the mind.

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