Tharpa publications - Books on buddhism and meditation

Tharpa South Africa

Shipping throughout Africa
       Select language and region:

Understanding the Mind

The Nature and Power of the Mind

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0948006781
Detail: 320 pages, First published 1993 - Reprinted 2004
Price: R 150.00  
Formats available
Paperback | Hardback

This comprehensive explanation, based on Buddha’s teachings and the experiences of accomplished meditators, offers a deep insight into the nature and functions of the mind.

The first part describes different types of mind in detail, revealing the depth and profundity of Buddhist understanding of human psychology, and how this can be used to improve our lives.

The second part is a practical guide to devbeloping and maintaining a light, positive mind – showing how to recognize and abandon states of mind that harm us, and to replace them with peaceful and beneficial ones. The inspiring discovery we make from this is that we can attain a lasting state of joy, independent of external conditions.

Excerpt from this book:

The mental factor discrimination


The definition of discrimination is a mental factor that functions to apprehend the uncommon sign of an object.

Every object has features that distinguish it from other objects and enable us to recognize it. The function of the mental factor discrimination is to apprehend these uncommon features. When we look at a tree, for example, our eye consciousness knows the tree because it discerns, or discriminates, the uncommon signs of the tree. If our eye consciousness lacked the mental factor discrimination it would not be able to distinguish the tree from other objects, and so it would not be able to recognize it. To recognize an object we need to understand what are its uncommon signs, or defining characteristics. For example, a newborn baby does not understand the uncommon signs of a wristwatch, and so it cannot recognize a watch as such.


The function of discrimination is to distinguish an object from other objects and to identify the object as `this' and not `that'. Discrimination associated with conceptual minds also functions to impute, label, or name objects. There are two ways of imputing: imputing by sound and imputing by thought. The former is the same as naming and the latter is the same as conceiving.

The defining characteristics of an object do not exist from the side of the object but are merely imputed by the mind that apprehends them. We can understand this by considering how different people view one object. For example, observing a particular person called John, one person may identify an enemy while another identifies a friend. If the characteristics of enemy and friend existed from the side of the person there would be a contradiction here, but since these characteristics are merely imputed onto the person by different minds there is no contradiction. From his own side John does not have a fixed set of defining characteristics waiting to be discovered by various minds; what he is depends solely upon how he is identified by the minds that apprehend him. We can choose how we discriminate objects. As Dharma practitioners we should choose to discriminate only in constructive ways, in ways that are conducive to virtue.


There are three ways of dividing discrimination. First, from the point of view of uncommon dominant condition there are six types of discrimination:

1 Discriminations associated with eye consciousness

2 Discriminations associated with ear consciousness

3 Discriminations associated with nose consciousness

4 Discriminations associated with tongue consciousness

5 Discriminations associated with body consciousness

6 Discriminations associated with mental consciousness

If any of the six consciousnesses lacked the mental factor discrimination it would not be able to understand its object. Discrimination associated with eye consciousness is eye awareness but not eye consciousness, because consciousness is synonymous with primary mind.

There is also a twofold division of discrimination:

1 Mistaken discriminations

2 Non-mistaken discriminations
All wrong awarenesses have mistaken discrimination, and all unskilful actions of body, speech, and mind result from mistaken discrimination. We act destructively because we are under the influence of delusions, and all delusions are based upon mistaken discrimination. Anger, for example, has a discrimination of its object as inherently unpleasant, while attachment has a discrimination of its object as inherently attractive. In both cases the discrimination is mistaken because attractiveness and unattractiveness depend upon the mind and do not exist from the side of the object.

If the mental factor discrimination is mistaken, the primary mind and all the other mental factors that it accompanies are wrong awarenesses. It is precisely because self-grasping and wrong views have mistaken discrimination that they apprehend wrong objects. The sixteen wrong thoughts explained in the Lamrim teachings and listed on pages 27-8 are all based on mistaken discriminations. For example, the second of these, not wishing to take the essence of our precious human life, involves the mistaken discrimination that the only meaning of this life is worldly pleasure. Dharma practitioners should make prayers to be free from all these mistaken discriminations because they severely hinder our attainment of the realizations of the stages of the path. Lamrim realizations are attained by eliminating these mistaken discriminations and developing the opposite, non-mistaken discriminations.

There are many causes of mistaken discriminations, such as previous imprints, familiarity, listening to wrong teachings or advice, and contemplating wrong reasons. We all have the seeds of mistaken discriminations but whether or not they ripen and influence our life depends to a large extent upon our lifestyle. If we lead a negative, or non-virtuous, life we shall tend to develop wrong thoughts as a way of justifying our behaviour; but if we lead a positive, or virtuous, life we shall be much more likely to adopt correct thoughts.

The imprints of ignorance cause mistaken discriminations that apprehend an inherently existent self, even though such a self does not exist. Moreover, because of our familiarity with delusions we discriminate some people as our friends, some as enemies, and some as strangers; but all these discriminations are mistaken discriminations because in reality all sentient beings are our mothers.
There is another twofold division of discrimination:
1 Clear discriminations
2 Unclear discriminations
If our discrimination is clear we shall be able to learn easily and quickly. Clear and correct discrimination is a basis for improving our understanding, and it helps us to avoid unskilful actions of body, speech, and mind.

As we fall asleep our discrimination becomes unclear, and so we are liable to make mistakes. To begin with, our senses are still working so that, for example, we can still hear sounds such as others talking, but we cannot clearly understand the meaning of what they are saying. People on their deathbed also have unclear discrimination and so it is difficult for them to understand instructions quickly, which is why they make many mistakes. Mental handicap is also often caused by unclear discrimination.

Sometimes when we listen to teachings or read Dharma books we find them confusing and feel that they are not presented very clearly, but in reality it is our discrimination that is unclear. If our discrimination were completely clear we could understand teachings just through hand gestures!

Realizing that our feelings and discriminations stimulate delusions, some practitioners try to abandon feelings and discriminations completely by withdrawing their mind inwards through the force of concentration and thereby becoming absorbed in a subtle state where disturbing mental activity is no longer manifest. This state is known as the `absorption without discrimination'. It is a state in which the mind is single-pointedly absorbed in nothingness, with no gross feelings or discriminations. When these practitioners die they may be reborn as non-discrimination gods of the form realm, commonly known as the `long-life gods', where they remain in absorption without discrimination for very long periods of time.

By preventing discrimination of gross objects these meditators make it impossible for gross delusions to manifest. However, they do not actually eradicate delusions in this way and so they do not attain liberation from samsara. Although it is possible to suppress gross feelings and discriminations associated with gross levels of consciousness, and thereby temporarily to avoid all the problems that they create, it is not possible to abandon the subtle feelings and discriminations associated with the subtle mind. When we fall into a deep sleep all the mental activity of which we are normally aware ceases and it seems as if we have become mindless, like an inanimate object, but what has actually happened is that our mind has become very subtle. Some practitioners attain a similar effect through the force of meditation and mistake it for liberation. In reality, however, they are merely temporarily absorbed in a state that resembles a long, deep, sleep. Eventually, when their karma to remain in that state ends, their gross mental activity will resume and they will `wake up'.

At the time of the third Buddha, Buddha Kashyapa, two Hinayana meditators entered into absorption without discrimination, and through the power of their concentration remained in that state for millions of years without dying. It was not until after the fourth Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni, had passed into paranirvana that these meditators were discovered beneath the ground near Varanasi. As they rose from their subtle level of consciousness and developed gross feelings and discriminations again, they asked where Buddha Kashyapa was, and Buddha Shakyamuni's disciples had to explain that Buddha Kashyapa was no longer in this world, and that even Buddha Shakyamuni had appeared and passed away! After hearing this, both meditators died. Through the force of their concentration they had managed to isolate themselves for a long time from the problems of samsara, but they had not had any opportunity to make progress in their Dharma realizations while they were absorbed. Thus, when they finally rose from meditation they had received no benefit from their prolonged absorption.

Instead of trying to stop all discriminations it is more useful to try to develop correct discriminations. If we wish to overcome delusions completely, instead of just withdrawing our mind from the objects of delusion we should clearly identify the object of self-grasping, refute it with logical reasoning, and then meditate on actual emptiness. We also need to cultivate many correct discriminations with respect to the method side of spiritual practice.

As followers of the Mahayana we should not become too interested in meditation on the absorption of feelings and discriminations because it has no long-term benefit. It does not help us to develop renunciation, compassion, bodhichitta, the correct view of emptiness, or the realizations of the two Tantric stages. Sometimes it may be helpful to practise this absorption for a short time when our mind is very disturbed or anxious, but we should not regard it as our principal meditation.