I’d like to share a few ideas about how our thoughts may shape our world. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha teaches us that: 

“All things have the nature of mind. Mind is the chief and takes the lead. If the mind is clear, whatever you do or say will bring happiness that will follow you like a shadow… If the mind is polluted, whatever you do or say leads to suffering which will follow you as a cart trails a horse.”

The core part of this quote is this phrase: “All things have the nature of mind.” This can mean very different things in different contexts or different vehicles of Buddhism, but here I believe this is really referring to all things being influenced by the mind, that all things are shaped by our minds.

In Buddhism, the mind is something distinct from the brain. The brain is involved in the mind, meaning the brain is a muscle that helps to bring our human experience forward. Our brain helps us to process thoughts, colors, perceptions, etc. But the mind in Buddhism is something nonphysical, and the mind doesn’t have a specific location. Just as you can focus on the big toe of your right foot, you’re bringing your mind there, you’re bringing awareness there, you’re bringing attention there.

The mind has these components: It can think, it can know, it has awareness, and it has clarity. But this is not the clarity of thinking; it’s the backdrop of mind, the potential of mind to perceive. This is what we would call the relative nature of mind.

Now, let’s reflect on how our thoughts might shape our world. I want you to reflect on a recent activity—maybe the last trip you took out of your house to get groceries, to meet a friend, or go to work. There’s a physical reality to that, but how was that physical reality shaped? How was your impression of that shaped by your thinking mind?

Another way to think of this is how when I’m in a bad mood and I leave the house, everybody looks like they’re in a bad mood. Similarly, if I’m in a really good mood, everyone appears to feel kind of bright and happy. Have you ever noticed that? These are some things to pay attention to. I don’t want to give too many conclusions here, just some reflections on how our thoughts shape our world.

What we want to see is that our minds are projecting all the time.

Are your thoughts shaping your world? That’s an open question. Reflect on these aspects of how your thoughts might be shaping the world. Reflect on how some of your opinions and beliefs over the course of your life have changed. How did you relate to yourself and others five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago? What kinds of identities were you associating with as yourself? What kinds of identities were you projecting onto others and the environment around you?

Don’t do this with a sense of judgment that there’s wrong or right here, just reflect. What we want to see is that our minds are projecting all the time. Be curious: How much is there an objective reality versus how much is the mind’s projections?

It’s not that we’re somehow doing something bad or wrong when we notice the mind projecting. That’s not the point. The point is to start to recognize that there’s more flexibility and fluidity in your perception of your life. I recommend that you reflect on yourself at different periods in your life and think about what kinds of identities you clung to at different points, what kinds of states of mind or thoughts you were holding on to, because we all inevitably change throughout the course of our lives.

This excerpt was adapted from an article that originally appeared on Scott Tusa’s blog

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