The Buddha once asked that very question and the answer he came with is very interesting to those who want to raise their consciousness or understand their own mind. Mindfulness, whether you believe it’s a quick-cash-cow or a serious spiritual business (a contradiction in terms!) is,on the whole, pretty effective. It’s also widely misunderstood as a proxy for meditation. Sometimes meditation is the opposite – it is the very mindLESSness of it that has the impact. Of course these are all metaphors anyway and the reality is a lot more complex than that. If you really want me to write a post about transient hypofrontality theory then please do ask….
Tied up with meditation and mindfulness and the mind as friend or enemy is the idea of freedom. Freedom to behave and act in a way that isn’t a slave to our fears and desires. I wrote a story to help explain what I mean and would like to share it with you.
The Prisoner and the Jailer
Master, I have been ill at ease all my life. Since my youngest years I have fretted and worried and been trapped by my own fear and desire. I discovered Buddhism and thought I could find a master that would free my mind from worry and attachment.
My first master said that if I give him half of my wage, he will bestow the grace I need to free my mind. He did not.
My second master said that if I devote my time to listening to him, I will learn the secrets I need to free my mind. I did not.
My third master said that if I fight against logic that I will drop the attachments that will let me free my mind.
And yet still I feel no peace. You, master, are my last hope and I fear I can’t and will never let go of my fear and desire.
That is because my son you are making the mistake of trying to free your mind.
Master? Is that not the purpose of Buddhism?
Your mind is not the prisoner; your mind is the prison. With its logic, its rules, its attachments and its understandings it prevents the true freedom that comes with being without it.
I still don’t understand master.
Once there was a man who was startled by a bee. He quickly took a cup and slammed it over the angry creature but could still hear its buzz and feel its frantic bash against the side. Fearing that the wrath of the bee could lift the cup, freeing it to sting him, the man clasped it tight to the table. He had trapped the bee and was safe. Minutes passed, then hours, then a day had gone by and he could still feel the fury of the insect beneath the cup. It was then that he realised that he wasn’t the jailer after all. He was the prisoner.
So what did he do?
Well with nothing else to do but stare into space the thought quickly arrived. He knew that either the bee must let of go the desire to sting him or he himself had to let go of fear of the sting.
How would he know of the bee’s desire? How could he face up to the fear of not knowing either way?
He had to trust that he and bee would let go at the same time. If fear and desire disappeared at once there would be no prison; there would be no jailer.
My mind is the bee? Or the man?
The bee is your desire, the man your fear – how could each know the other? They seem totally at odds! No, your mind is the cup, at first the thing that seems to keep you safe, but really the attachment to fear and desire that prevent you from
being free. Let go of the cup. The masters that you have been to all have their ways to enlightenment and all of them take a long time and may anger the bee or increase the fear in the man. Letting go of the cup takes moments – you can do it right now.
And he did.
The Buddha, incidentally, said that the mind was both your greatest enemy and your most attentive friend. What do you think?