The Threefold Process of Mind Analysis
Mind is the source of all happiness and afflictions. Once you realize the nature of mind you will be free from the bondage of both happiness and suffering and experience only blissful peace. Tantric teachings offer many direct instructions in realizing the nature of mind, one of which is to observe it’s arising, abiding and ceasing. It is called the threefold process of mind analysis and is a powerful tool for eradicating the root of grasping and attachment.
There are two ways to realize the nature of the mind: analytical meditation and calm-abiding meditation. Here, for analytical meditation, in his Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Nagarjuna analyzes the essence of the mind: if the mind exists inherently, there is no need for it to arise; if it doesn’t exist inherently, it can never arise. So Nagarjuna says:
Since it exists, it is unborn;
Since it is non-existent, it is never born.
In addition, there are many methods such as this to examine the mind. Moreover, in Tibetan Buddhism, debate and reasoning is also one way to understand what this mind actually is. For example, if the affliction of desire, hatred or ignorance arises in your mind, then you immediately seek to identify what the intrinsic nature of this emotion is.
Some people may argue that the mind does exist: “The conceptual thought that emerges right now is the mind.” But, from the ultimate view it doesn’t truly exist. Why not? Because the conceptual thought itself right at this moment cannot be established as intrinsically existent. In Tantrayana, there is the threefold process—a profound instruction of observing the arising, abiding and ceasing of the mind. However, given that you have not received empowerment and completed the preliminary practices, I’m not allowed to explain it on that level. But I can touch on it simply.
Where does the mind arise? Whether you check inside or outside of your body, you cannot find it. Through detailed examination, you can find that it resides nowhere. When the conceptual thought arises, does it exist in your head, in your heart or in your mouth? Where is it exactly? When it ceases, does it fly into the sky or disappear within the body? Such is the approach of analysis of collapsing this false cave of the mind. Thus by going through the threefold process, where the mind comes from, stays and goes, you will realize that primordially the so-called mind has never existed. As The Diamond Sutra says:
It’s impossible to retain the past mind,
Impossible to hold onto the present mind
And impossible to grasp the future mind.
The mind of the past cannot be held onto, because it’s already gone. The present mind cannot be identified, because the “present” is just a fabricated conception of a fleeting moment; even if you prolong the “present” to one minute, you cannot keep this duration either. The future mind hasn’t been established yet, so it cannot be found either.
Thus before observation, one firmly believes that one has a mind. But after introspection into one’s own mind, using one’s mind to observe the mind itself, to try to see what it is, it actually becomes extremely ineffable.