Deepen Your Practice: Awareness of Objects of Mind


In the last three months, we have given tips on establishing mindfulness of your body, feelings, and mind, practices in the Plum Village tradition designed to provide clarity and stability in your life. This month, we share tips on being mindful of the objects of your mind.

In Transformation and Healing, Thay explains that the objects of mind (also called dharmas) include the six sense organs, the six sense objects, and the six sense consciousnesses.The six sense organs are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind.The six sense objects are form and color, sound, smell, taste, tactile objects, and mind-objects (every concept and every thing that belongs to the sphere of memory and mental experience). The sense six consciousnesses are: eye-consciousness (or sight), ear-consciousness (or hearing), nose-consciousness (or smelling), taste-consciousness (or tasting), body-consciousness (or touching), and mind-consciousness.

The basic characteristic of all dharmas is interdependent origination. No single dharma can arise by itself, endure by itself, and fade away by itself. The coming-to-be of one dharma is dependent on the coming-to-be, endurance, and destruction of other dharmas, in fact, of all other dharmas. 

In our daily life, we’re inclined to perceive things as real and independent of each other. Take, for example, a leaf we see on the branch in front of us. We may think that this leaf exists independently of all the other leaves, independently of the branch, the trunk, and the roots of the tree; independently of the clouds, the water, the earth, and the sky. In truth, this leaf could not be here without the presence of all the other things that we see as different from it. This leaf is one with the other leaves, the branch, the trunk, and the roots of the tree; with the clouds, the river, the earth, the sky, and the sunlight. If any one of these things were not present, the leaf could not be. If we look deeply into the leaf, we can see the presence of all these things. 

Through careful discriminative investigation, we will be able to see the interdependent nature of all dharmas and realize their essential birthlessness and deathlessness, and so transcend the fear of birth and death.

Deepen Your Mindfulness Practice Today

Throughout the day, concentrate your mind on the object of your observations—sometimes physical phenomena, sometimes psychological—and look deeply into those objects in order to discover their source and nature. Observe the source of your feelings. Observe the interdependence of the body and all that is in the universe: earth, water, air, and fire. 

See the objects of your mind in terms of the six sense organs, the six sense objects, and the six sense consciousnesses. See whether they are in the realm of form, feeling, perception, mental formation, or consciousness. By “form,” we mean all physiological and physical phenomena. “Feelings” means pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings. “Perceptions” means basic conceptualizations and naming. “Mental formations” means psychological states that arise and manifest in us. “Consciousness” is the function of maintaining, cognizing, comparing, storing, and remembering all the seeds.

For example, reflect as follows:

  • When one of the five senses is present (taste, smell, sight, touch, or hearing), I am aware it is present and which sense I am experiencing.
  • When one of the five senses is present, I am aware of its object (such as when the object of hearing is a bird or the rustle of leaves).
  • When one of the five senses is present, I am aware if it is pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.
  • When judgments like pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant begin to arise, I am aware they are arising.
  • When these judgments arise, I ponder:
    • “These eyes are not me. I am not caught in these eyes.”
    • “These ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind are not me.” 
    • “I am not caught by forms, sounds, smells, tastes, contacts, or the thoughts that I have.” 
  • When these judgments have arisen and been abandoned, I am aware of it.

You may also practice being aware of the objects of your craving, such as money, power, and sex, and of letting go of these cravings. Awareness of the objects of your mind will help you to release and transform your suffering and the suffering of those around you.

(The above was adapted by Sue Mazingo from the instructions of Thich Nhat Hanh in the book Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.)

For gathas on other objects of mind, such as sensual desire, see the Sutra, Discourse on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness or the Dharma talk, Introducing the Four Objects of Mindfulness by Thay. To read The Treatise on the Objects of Cognition, see Thay’s Dharma talk, Mindfulness as Electricity starting at the 24-minute mark.

Stay in Touch

Provide your email & you’ll receive a notification each time we publish a post.

Discover more from Deer Park Monastery

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading