the simile of the taxi, and “right mindfulness”

Mind is the first and foremost in all things. 
Mind is their maker and their leader. 
If, with a corrupted mind, one should either speak or act, 
Suffering follows by this cause
Like the cartwheel that follows the ox.
Dhp: 1:1

The taxi of body and mind

To find oneself and know oneself, first we have to know what is ‘oneself’.

When we refer to oneself, we refer to a body and mind, both of these together make what is called our self.

As an example to understand what the body and mind is and what is the purpose of each, we can think of a taxi, and how it works.

A taxi has three things that allow it to do its job and fulfil its purpose of being a taxi. First of all, it has to involve a car. However, the car alone will not go anywhere; it needs a taxi driver. The taxi driver tells the car where to move, where to go, he directs it, stops at red lights, manipulates the car, and yet the taxi driver doesn’t decide where he goes.

It is the passenger who pays him, and whatever passenger gets in his taxi, it is this passenger who dictates where the taxi will go. If the passenger is a drunkard, he will tell the taxi to go the bar. If the passenger is religious, he will tell the taxi to go to the church. The taxi and the taxi driver are both neutral, merely operating the taxi; but it is the passenger that directs the taxi and gives the taxi its ‘meaning.’ 

The body is like the car, and the mind is like the taxi driver. The mind tells the body to do everything, tells it to move, to speak or stay silent, to get up, lie down, reach out to steal something, or reach out to help up someone who has fallen.

Yet who directs it, who tells it where to go? Who is the passenger?

You might want to say that the passenger is ‘me, myself.’ But wait – don’t be so hasty. A taxi has many passengers, not just one. If it were only one, it would not be a taxi. Likewise, our mind has many passengers that guide it. Some are good, some bad.

Did you ever think that the mind is not you?

If the passenger that drives were ‘you, yourself’ then why does it bring you so many problems? Being a human being, you have surely at least once done something that you horribly regretted later – which, long after it was done, could be seen clearly and easily as being the wrong decision, the wrong thing to do, something that caused pain to yourself, or to others, or even more often, to both.

What causes you to do something harmful and to regret it later?

At one moment, for example, sitting in the car as I pull out of the driveway, in my mind there is ‘no need for a seatbelt, I’m only going just around the corner.” If I turn the corner and see a police car waiting right there, asking me to pull over, now this sight immediately sets off a tirade of abuse inside: You stupid idiot, why didn’t you just put on your seatbelt?!  Now I will get a ticket, a point on my license, and I will have to live with the regret of having not taken just a few extra seconds to put on the seatbelt. My mind will replay the scenario again and again, with the desire to go back and do it again differently.

Who is the passenger that gives the direction to not put on the seatbelt, – who is the passenger later on that nags and complains and beats me up for that very action? If there were only one passenger in my mind, (Me, myself), why should “my own” actions and thoughts cause such suffering to myself?

If we suffer from anxiety, fear, agitation, insecurity, negative and nagging thoughts that persist in racing round our minds even if we know they are unhelpful – who is the passenger that directs our mind to work in this way? The one who causes me pain is by definition an enemy; my very worst enemy. How can it be myself?

Is it not a great enemy that makes us suffer in this way?

Enemies and friends in the practice of higher morality

If we keep the rules of the five precepts, but our mind is often impatient, harsh, fearful, selfish, or sensual, can we really call ourselves moral?

Morality is about more than just following a set of rules that have been laid down, for it is always the “passenger” that directs our actions, and if the passenger is an enemy, the actions that follow will always be wrong. Only if the mind is driven by good qualities on the side of wisdom and selflessness can our thoughts, words and physical actions truly be moral.

The enemies are called “kilesa” a word that has no direct translation in English. It means all emotions and impurities inside us that cause problems and suffering, and that keeps us on the path of suffering, rather than the path to go out of suffering.

If the passenger in our mind is fear, or laziness, or jealousy, for example; and these kilesa are what drive our actions, they will never, ever, give rise to well-calculated and wise actions that bring good results. It is impossible; because the thing that creates the action from the very beginning is not good – it has no goodness, morality or wisdom in it. If the cause is not good, the effect is not good; if the root of the tree is rotten, unhealthy; the entire tree together with its branches and leaves will be unhealthy.

Yet, although our mind is so very often unknowingly run by enemies, we have access to friends too: generosity, compassion, effort, honesty, patience, renunciation, on the side of goodness and wisdom. When we wish to practice a higher morality beyond simply not killing or stealing, we need to aim to grow these qualities in ourselves and train our mind to be guided only by them, rather than being guided by the enemies.

We cannot even keep the five precepts purely and properly if our mind is driven by kilesa, by enemies. If we are jealous or resentful towards somebody, our thought is neither moral nor just, it is only selfish – even if we don’t physically hurt and harm them.

When our mind is nagging and self-pitying, or full of fear of what people will think of us, there is nothing good, nothing lovely or kind in us. We may not kill or steal, but we hurt and harm ourselves and we are not helping anyone, as long our mind is busy in these kinds of negative emotions, unpleasant subjects.

 Do we want to remain like that or do we want to change?

In meditation, we are learning to see our enemies, to know who out enemies are, and who our friends are. All the enemies have been the rulers of our mind for a very, very long time, but now we want to throw them all out one by one. It is an uprising – a rebellion, though not the usual kind of rebellion, because it is not against anyone outside. It is an inner rebellion.

We cannot fight or kill an enemy that we cannot see. How do we learn to see our enemies and look at them in the face? Usually we only see them in hindsight, when it is too late, realising too late that our action was wrong, and suffering regret. Our weapon, our greatest weapon in the rebellion against those enemies that have been the rulers of our mind for so long, is meditation. We cannot practice not just any meditation, however; we will need the right meditation for this purpose. 

What is the right meditation?

What is meditation? Meditation as it is generally understood is really nothing more or less than attention focused on one object only. It doesn’t matter what the object is. Here’s a quote from an article by a respected Theravada Buddhist monk on one of the most popular websites of Tipitika translations and teachings in English:

‘Actually, if the mind is firmly set on the meditation word you’re repeating, then no matter what the word, it’s sure to work — because you repeat the word simply to make the mind steady and firm, that’s all. As for any results apart from that, they all depend on each person’s individual potential and capabilities.’

Seen like this, there are literally billions of different meditations one can do, all depending on what purpose you have. As many objects on which one can put one’s attention, there is a meditation. Any word, any object will do, whether you say ”Pepsi-cola, pepsi-cola, pepsi-cola’ or ‘buddho, buddho, buddho’ it is the same.

Thus, the musician who has all his attention entirely focused his instrument and the music he is playing is meditating just as legitimately as the monk who is sitting in lotus position with his attention on a mantra. Their aims are different. The musician’s purpose is to master the piece of music he wishes to play.

What is the purpose of the monk, and is it in line with the purpose of the Buddha’s teachings?

The purpose of meditation in the teaching of the Buddha is to give us eyes to see our enemies in the present moment, when we can remove them before they lead us to do actions that we will later regret, before they grow into big emotions that trouble our mind. Our mind will not change merely by us willing it to do so. It has been ruled by enemies for so long, it is habituated and trained in this way. If you are always anxious, the mind will still constantly want to follow its habit of anxiety. We have to train it to work differently.

To do this, our mind has to be razor-sharp. Before we speak, we should realise whether is, for example, hypocrisy – the desire to please the other – that drives us to speak, so we can drop it and decide what to say based only on truth. Before we move, every movement, every action, we should know what makes us move and what is our intention, what passenger inside is directing us. Good or bad, moral or immoral? Enemy or friend?

If we focus all our attention only on a mantra repeated again and again until the words have no meaning, or on the sensation of the stomach rising and falling, or the soles of the feet as we walk, will this meditation show us our enemies and friends?

In fact, the mind is simply kept busy for a certain time with whatever subject we have, whether a part of the body, a sensation, a word. Chanting words in a language we do not understand has a similar effect to singing a song in any musical genre; both make us feel happy and peaceful temporarily while the music continues, and leave a temporary pleasant feeling of well-being afterwards.

But as soon as a problem arises and somebody speaks harshly to us, or we have money problems, or an employee messed up the job we gave him to do – what use is our chanting, yoga or breathing meditation to us at that very moment? Can we go away and do some yoga until we calm down? What if we happen to be in a crowded train station?

Do these meditations enable us to see how our mind is reacting and enable us to change its nature, as fast as snapping our fingers, in the space between the sound of harsh words meets our ears, and opening our mouth to retaliate?

It cannot – it is impossible. If we practice a meditation that is not suited for the purpose of correcting our mind from inside, at the place where everything begins, then not only will we still have our mind full of enemies that we have not thrown out, but we will not see them. When the mind is busy with one subject such as a part of our body or one word, the enemies that are the passengers guiding our mind stay hidden. It is as if we want to do a scan to make a diagnosis of lung cancer, but we use a machine that makes a scan of the heart. Yes, we get to see the tissues up close, but the scan has shown us nothing of what we needed to see. It was the wrong instrument for the purpose.

If we do not know what is in our mind or how right and wrong are born there, we assume we are acting righteously because we follow a set of rules or because we practice chanting or pray, and for this very reason we do not see how good and evil arise within ourselves, how at each and every moment we have either an enemy or friend guiding our thoughts, our speech, and all of our actions. 

If we truly wish to practice higher morality, we need a meditation that trains us to catch our mind in the present moment, to throw out the enemy and bring the friend in its place.

To let go of wrongdoing and kilesa is in itself an act of righteousness and goodness – the moment we throw out the enemy, kick him out of the taxi; we already have a friend in his place. Letting go of laziness is to put effort in its place. To let go of impatience and irritation, is patience in itself.

In every present moment; at every sight, sound, taste, smell, sensation or idea – there is the possibility for either good or evil, friend or enemy, to be born inside us. Yet, our mind has so long been trained to be under the power of the enemies, and they enter our mind automatically so very quickly, that it is almost impossible to catch them – unless we train ourselves to watch constantly, only watching at the place where they are born.

Mind is the first and foremost in all things; 
Mind is their maker and their leader. 
If, with a pure and blameless mind, 
one should either speak or act 
Happiness follows by this cause: 
the ever-present shadow that follows us. 
Dhp: 1:2

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