Mind, the most important part of man, is a complex compound of fleeting mental states, namely: feeling, perception mental concomitants and consciousness. These states constantly change, not remaining for two consecutive moments the same.
We worldlings, veiled by the net of illusion, mistake this apparent continuity as being something eternal, an unchanging soul, an atta, the supposed doer and receptacle of all actions. The Buddha himself uses the term atta, but only to indicate the collection of the khandhas, or aggregates. Buddhism does not totally deny the existence of a personality in an empirical sense, but it does show that it does not exist in the ultimate sense.
Mind flows on like the current of a river, which although in a continuous state of change maintains one constant form, one seeming identity; however, not a single particle of water at any one point remains where it was a moment ago. As the great philosopher, Heraclitus, says, “You cannot step twice into the same river, for fresh waters are ever flowing in on you.”
The mind works through the six sense-doors, and is therefore always busy. Without proper control it drifts around in any direction, and we do not know what we are thinking about from moment to moment. We therefore need to practice awareness, so that we know where the mind is, watch to know where we are, what we are thinking. Knowledge of this sort is essential if we are to avoid wrong action, and to succeed in improving ourselves.
Mind may be said to be like pure transparent water which can be mixed with anything. When water is mixed with mud, it becomes thick and you cannot see through it. In the case of the mind, which by nature is clear, bright and transparent, it, too, becomes dirty, defiled and poisonous by ill-use. The same mind, however, when developed and trained for good purposes, can perform wonders.
In order to understand the working of the mind it is necessary to acquire some idea of the process of consciousness according to Abhidhamma, the third Pitaka of the Buddhist scriptures. Abhidhamma teaching explains the process of consciousness in detail, and records in an analytical way how the subject, consciousness, receives objects from without and within. Only by learning about the nature of our mental make-up can we sift the dross from the gold, and thus, with practice and patience, achieve that purity of mind defined by the Buddha for the attaining of release from all suffering in any form.
Our task is to keep our minds pure, clear and bright, so that our minds will become powerful instruments for the service of humanity at large. We must cultivate our minds to become great by culture and mental training, by service, selflessness and understanding.