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A Rainbow Hiding in the Clouds: Cultivating the Mind of Enlightenment by Peter Morrell

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A Rainbow Hiding in the Clouds: Cultivating the Mind of Enlightenment
by Peter Morrell

Cultivating the mind of enlightenment [ bodhicitta ] can in many ways be regarded as the main aim of Buddhism. Yet few realise what it is and what it entails. It means viewing yourself, life and the world with the best mind you can muster, which is the mind of a Buddha. What are the qualities of this mind? The best mind we have is one of tranquillity, happiness and great joy; it is a kind, gentle and loving mind. This is the mind we most often have as children and when in the best of moods and often when waking. To a large extent this is also the world of meditation.

Meditation does resemble a world described by Auden:

Returning each morning from a timeless world,
The senses open upon a world of time [Auden, 282]
In a coma of waiting, just breathing
In a darkness of tribulation and death
While blizzards havoc the garden and the old
Folly becomes unsafe, the mill-wheels
Rust, and the weirs fall slowly to pieces [Auden, 283]

This verse is also suggestive of that awareness of impermanence and decay process that meditation so often also brings with it.

The inner and outer worlds do contrast so sharply with each other:

Around them boomed the rhetoric of time
The smells and furniture of the known world [Auden, 305]

At one's calmest, most contented and most joyous, we see people, self and the world as blended boundlessly and indistinguishably with the glow of compassion, love, empathy and peace. To this mind, self, world and others are not seen as separated from each other, but as fused into one selfless and egoless field of experience. This is quite specifically and uniquely a Buddha mind.

The seamless continuum
Of supple and coherent stuff,
Whose form is truth, whose content love,
Its pluralist interstices
The homes of happiness and peace [Auden, 240]

By contrast, viewing self, others, life and the world as separate things with a mundane mind often breeds disappointment, misery, separateness, disillusionment, despondency, unhappiness and many other nagtive and restrictive attributes. It is a view full of depressing barriers.

Compelling all to the admission,
Aloneness is man’s real condition,
That each must travel forth alone
In search of the Essential Stone. [Auden, New Year Letter, 1940, 238]

Meditation also explores this sense of aloneness but deepens our familiarity with it through engagement with the inner world of reflection and by exploring our connectedness with all things.

"The true man, the authentic man, the inherent cultivated aristocrat, who unites the greatest sensitivity in daily life to the greatest richness of a greater life, is he who most desires the happiness of the world, he who seeks his own happiness in the universal happiness, he who succeeds by means of a clear concept of the whole life of the world, in best occupying, using, and enjoying his space and time." [Juan Ramon Jimenez]
Housman was perfectly right
Our world rapidly worsens:
Nothing now is so horrid
Or silly it can’t occur [Auden, 865]

It is from getting excessively bogged down in these doom-laden events that one can so easily become very pessimistic about life and humanity and the seeming utter worthlessness of life. As Auden says, then the mind can become:

...the mind
A quagmire of disquiet [Auden, 866]
  • Thinking and reflecting on recent tragic events -- such as the 9/11 attacks, the Bali bombing, the Madrid bomb attacks and the tragic Beslan school siege -- one is forced to reflect upon and examine the nature of one's own life and to really consider whether there is a God or any spiritual principle we should live by to guide our lives and how we can give ourselves comfort and solace in such a wicked world.
Dismayed by a wilderness
Of hostile thoughts [Auden, 800]
Thoughts of his own death,
Like the distant roll
Of thunder at a picnic [Auden, 800]

Death and misery become the predominant thoughts when we are oppressed by worldliness, when we lack the spirit of truly enlightened thinking.

  • these are the essential, the core problems that any decent human being must address...or run away from. Suffering and tragedy can happen to any one of us and will come one day forsure. Our problem then is what to do about this? How should we view it and how can we best prepare ourselves for that sad day when it is our turn to die or suffer tragic loss?

...the heart

As Zola said, must always start
The day by swallowing its toad
Of failure and disgust. Our road
Gets worse... [Auden, 241]

Each day we must confront or run away from the myriad frustrations and disappointments that our lives inevitably contain. All lives contain them. This is our 'toad of failure and disgust.' In a sense, meditation, like therapy, places us face to face with them all.

The subatomic gulfs confront our lives

With the cold stare of their eternal silence [Auden, 309]

  • in our own muddled way we avoid these issues...preferring not to think of them or to pray that they don't come soon and to lend our own tears to those of the close relatives of tragic events. We feel this somehow protects us and contributes something towards their healing. Maybe we kid ourselves...

What Auden calls "the broken ladder of our lives," [Auden, 309] is a ladder leading where? Probably nowhere but to the grave. That is a chilling thought.

And we must pray for
A good death, whatever
World we are destined
To look on last. [Auden, 762]

* the Buddhist view is that all comes from karma and so if we purify ourselves, our hearts, our words and our actions, then we can be confident of future happy lives.

If we are honest with ourselves, then we can see that our lives are littered and filled with unacknowledged frustrations and disappointments about unattained targets and unachieved ambitions, about self, about certain other people and even about the world at large. This is the nature of samsara and although from a Buddhist view they are all trivial, to us at times they seem overwhelmingly important.

The mundane mind is a mind of such ordinariness and not a special or supramundane mind at all. Therefore, as is clearly apparent, viewing the world and our attitude towards self, others and life, and what qualities of the mind we use to look at it with very much determines how we see we see ourselves and others. "Life is beautiful, if you look at it in a beautiful way." [Shahrdar] A positive, calm and joyous mind primarily sees, the beauty and joy in others as primary and the world's suffering so fleeting and evanescent [[[Wikipedia:ephemeral|ephemeral]]]. A mind heavy with aversion and desire and negative attributes cannot view things so because it is so weighed down with suffering and misery. In the case of someone focused in politics, then again they tend to see a world awash with misery and very little joy is seen in the world. A mind of desire and aversion tends to swing wildly between pleasure and pain, neither of which lead to much peace or lasting joy.

The world therefore is both mundane and horrible as well as magical, fantastic and wonderful. Both are true--but which do we want to follow, believe or adhere to as a primary 'map and compass' for our own lives? The

choice is for each one of us to make. "Life is beautiful, if you look at it in a beautiful way." [Shahrdar] and such a sentiment shows that we see mostly what we choose and wish to see. By choosing to see it ugly, so it becomes ugly. The choice is ours.

Focus on the beauty and the wonderful and allow for the horrible too, but focus primarily upon love and beauty and the inherent niceness in people as primary and the badness as a necessary and secondary intermittent

defilement, but an adventitious and curable defilement nevertheless...a transient feature upon a firmer bedrock of niceness. This may sound trite, but surely is a preferable view to its vile opposite? It gives us hope. We want to live on the basis of one, in the hope of the other, or on the basis of one, while looking out for the other as an occasional invasive possibility.

The darkness blotting out hope, the gale
Prophesying your downfall [Auden, 617]

Meditation on the Buddha mind (bodhicitta) gives us the chance to come to know for real what prayer and purification are: prayer based on non-self and true healing of others' woes. It also offers us the chance to realize the meditation experience as the core of Buddha's enlightenment.

Meditation on the bodhicitta therefore aims to enable us to dissociate ourselves from the myriad, trivial and mundane frustrations of our lives and to cultivate the higher view of ourselves as represented by universal compassion, love and a focus upon the positive aspects of life that can improve it both for ourselves and for all living beings. This is the true bodhisattva motivation that lies behind the bodhicitta concept. Meditation on bodhicitta enables us to transcend the fleeting and transient--the ephemeral--and the badness and to focus on the great and good, the bedrock of 'permanent things,' which are things of a sacred and compassionate nature: "Life is beautiful, if you look at it in a beautiful way." [Shahrdar]

Meditation means "one must be passive to conceive the truth." [Auden, 308] It also means we strive to seek the truth in a form of stillness that sees "the shadows cast by language upon truth." [Auden, 308] It sees beyond the duality of language. As Auden rightly says:

What we have not named
Or beheld as a symbol
Escapes our notice [Auden, 840]

Language and giving names to things conspire to dull our bright senses and lead us away from the simple facts of our existence that meditation always attempts to refresh and revitalise.

...a world

Antecedent to our knowing, where flowers think
Theirs concretely in scent-colours and beasts... [Auden, 801]

"The apple tree that cannot measure time," [Auden, 306] like a dog that cannot speak, loves us dearly but cannot tell us this; it is a mystery and an enigma but arguably is infinitely preferable to the fools whose lives are embedded in wrong views.

For as the poet says,

All real perception it would seem,
Has shifting contours like a dream,
[Auden, New Year Letter, 1940, 210]

Obviously in the case of Zen, the 'mind of enlightenment' is an empty mind that takes all things at face value, questions nothing, judges nothing and detaches itself by enjoying every moment living in the now and thus finding a rainbow hidden among the clouds...the finding of nirvana within the sad wreckage that samsara is.


  • W H Auden, Collected Poems, Edited by Edward Mendelson, London: Faber, 1994
  • Dr Ardavan Shahrdar, MD, DIHom, President of Iranian Homeopathic Association


By Peter Morrell