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Food for Thought - Food For The Mind
 
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Food For The Mind

July, 1958; August 10, 1957

There are two kinds of food for the mind: the kind that gives it strength and the kind that saps its strength. What this refers to is (1) the food of sensory contact — the contact that takes place at the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and intellect. There are six mouthfuls of this kind of food. (2) The food of consciousness, i.e., the consciousness of contact that takes place at each of the six senses. There are six mouthfuls of this kind, too. (3) The food of intention or mental concomitants, i.e., the thoughts that are formed in the heart, leading it to think of the past or future and to know if things are good or bad, pleasant or painful. Once we know that our body and mind depend on these kinds of food, we should use our discernment to reflect on them and evaluate them carefully.

Discernment is what forms the teeth of the mind. When children are small, they need to depend on others to mince or strain their food; but when they grow up, they have their own teeth and don't need to depend on anyone else. If people are really discerning, they don't need to chew coarse food at all. For example, an intelligent hunter, once he's killed an animal, will remove the feathers and wings or cut off the antlers and hooves and take home just the useful part. Then he cuts the meat off in pieces so that it can serve as food. In other words, if he's intelligent, he throws away the inedible parts piece by piece.

In the same way, intelligent people who want the inner quality of dispassion have to take the discernment that comes from concentration and use it to evaluate sights, sounds, smells, tastes, etc., so that these things can serve a purpose and not do them any harm. Whoever eats an entire fish — bones, scales, fins, feces, and all — is sure to choke to death on the bones. For this reason, we have to find a knife and chopping block — in other words, use mindfulness to focus on, say, a visual object, and discernment to consider what kind of object it is. Is it something we should get involved with or not? What kind of benefits or harm will it cause for the mind? If it's a visual object that will cause harm to the mind, you shouldn't get involved with it. If it's a good-looking object, look for its bad side as well. Be a person with two eyes. Sometimes an object looks good, but we don't look for its bad side. Sometimes it looks bad, but we don't look for its good side. If something looks beautiful, you have to focus on its bad side as well. If it looks bad, you have to focus on its good side, too.

If you aren't selective in what you eat, you can ruin your health. Pleasing objects are like sugar and honey: They're sure to attract all sorts of ants and flies. Disagreeable objects are like filth: In addition to carrying germs, they're sure to attract all sorts of other bad things, too, because they're crawling with flies and worms. If we aren't discerning, we'll gobble down the filth together with the worms and smelly parts, and the sugar together with the ants and flies. Your heart is already in poor health, and yet you go gobbling down things that are toxic. When this happens, no one can cure you but you yourself.

For this reason, you have to keep the heart neutral, on the middle path. Don't be pleased by the objects you think are pleasing; don't hate the objects you think are disagreeable. Don't be a person with only one eye or one ear. When you can do this, you're equipped with discernment. You can spit visual objects, sounds, smells, tastes, etc., out of the heart. Once you can see that "good" has "bad" hiding behind it, and "bad" has "good" hiding behind it — in the same way that the body has both a front and a back — you shouldn't let yourself fall for sights, sounds, smells, etc. You have to consider them carefully.

The mind has two basic sorts of food: good mental states and bad mental states. If you think in ways that are good, you'll give strength to the mind. If you're discerning, you'll get to eat fine food. If you aren't, you'll have to eat crude food — e.g., you'll get a crab and you'll eat the whole thing raw, without knowing how to boil it and peel away the shell and the claws. The effort of meditation is like a fire; concentration is like a pot; mindfulness, like a chopping block; and discernment, a knife. Intelligent people will use these things to prepare their food so that its nourishment — the nourishment of the Dhamma — will permeate into the heart to give it five kinds of strength:

(1) The strength of conviction.

(2) The strength of persistence: The heart, when we're persistent, is like the wheels of an automobile that keep turning and propelling it toward its goal, enabling us to see the gains that come from our persistence.

(3) The strength of mindfulness: Having mindfulness is like knowing when to open and when to close your windows and doors.

(4) The strength of concentration: Concentration will be firmly established in the mind whether we're sitting, standing, walking, lying down, speaking, or listening. We can listen without getting stuck on what's said, and speak without getting stuck on what we say.

(5) The strength of discernment: We'll gain wisdom and understanding with regard to all things, so that eventually we'll attain purity of mind — by letting go of all thoughts of past and future, and not being pleased or displeased by any sights, sounds, smells, tastes, etc., at all.


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