The Middle Length Discourses: MN 19 Two Kinds of Thoughts (Dvedhavitakka Sutta)
Pages 207 – 210
To be read out-loud: Sections 1 – 8 and Sections 25 – 27
“Practitioners, whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of the mind…”
In this short discourse, the Buddha shares how he practiced prior to his awakening. In simple terms the Buddha came to understand that certain qualities of mental activity lead to harm and certain qualities of mental activity lead to freedom. Seeing this led him to naturally be vigilant when the harmful mental qualities were present in the mind.
He gives the example of a cowherd needing to keep the cows out of the crops before they were harvested, but would not need to be concerned after the crops were harvested. So when unwholesome thoughts are present one “Would guard one’s cows by constantly tapping and poking them on this side and that with a stick to check and curb them…”.
When wholesome states were present, the Buddha found it appropriate to practice in a more relaxed way, “A cowherd would guard his cows while staying at the root of a tree or out in the open, since he needs only to be mindful that the cows are there…”.
This month, we can observe the appropriate heightened quality of vigilance when the mind is overrun with unwholesome states. Notice that it can be skillful to reflect on the probable negative outcomes if the mind continues to obsess in this way. The energy of the wholesome concern that arises can be directed toward the “Tapping and poking” in order to keep the mind directed in wholesome directions. Remember, being mindful of unwholesome states is wholesome and leads to the decrease and abandonment of the unwholesome qualities that are present. The “Tapping and poking” is the effort to keep recognizing, “Craving is present in the mind, this is how it is now, craving is being known.”
We can also notice how it is appropriate to allow the mind to relax when wholesome states are present. The mind is aware that wholesome states are present in the mind, but there is no need for “Tapping and poking”. One’s job is to be mindful enough to know that these wholesome states are there.