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Thich Nhat Hanh on... / The Mind as a Gardener

In this extract from Understanding Our Mind, Thich Nhat Hanh explains how our “Mind Conciousness” acts as a gardener to cultivate postive or negatives states of mind.

Mind consciousness is the root of all actions of body and speech.
Its nature is to manifest mental formations, but its existence is not continuous.
Mind consciousness gives rise to actions that lead to ripening.
It plays the role of the gardener, sowing all the seeds.

THERE ARE THREE KINDS OF ACTION (karma)—actions of body, of speech, and of mind. Mind consciousness is the base of all three types of action. Mind consciousness directs the body to act. Whatever we say arises from mind consciousness. And it is the source of thinking, measuring, cognizing, and judging.

Like manas,Manas is the energy of ignorance, thirst, and craving. It arises from the store consciousness and turns back to grasp a part of store consciousness.mind consciousness is an evolving consciousness. However, while manas is continuous, mind consciousness is not. Sometimes mind consciousness stops operating. For example, when we sleep without dreaming, our mind consciousness stops completely. When we are in a faint, our mind consciousness may not be operating. And in the state of meditation called “no-mind,” mind consciousness is also at rest. Mind consciousness is not continuous, and the same is true of the other five sense consciousnesses of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. In this way, mind consciousness and the sense consciousnesses differ from the store consciousness and manas, which are continuous.”

Mind consciousness gives rise to two kinds of action. One is “leading action,” which draws us in one direction or another. Too often, “Mara (delusion) provides the road, and the hungry ghosts show us the direction.” But when the Buddha provides the road and the Sangha shows the way, it is beneficial for us. The second kind of action is called “ripening action.” Our actions bring about the ripening of either wholesome or unwholesome seeds in our store consciousness. Mind consciousness makes both kinds of action possible—actions that propel us in a certain direction, whether for good or bad, and actions that mature the fruit of the seeds that are already present in us.

Because mind consciousness can initiate an action that leads to the ripening of seeds in our store consciousness, it is important that we learn about, train, and transform our mind consciousness. We act and speak on the basis of our thinking, our cognition. Any action of body, speech, and mind that we take based on mind consciousness, waters either positive or negative seeds within us. If we water negative seeds, the result will be suffering. If we know how to water positive seeds, there will be more understanding, love, and happiness. If mind consciousness learns to see in terms of impermanence, nonself, and interbeing, it will help the seed of enlightenment to grow and bloom like a flower.

Gardening at Les Patates Douces (“Sweet Potatoes”) near Paris in the 1970s.

The store consciousness is often described as the earth—the garden where the seeds that give rise to flowers and fruits are sown. The mind consciousness is the gardener, the one who sows, waters, and takes care of the earth. That is why the verse says that mind consciousness gives rise to actions leading to ripening, or maturation—the maturation of our seeds. Mind consciousness can submerge us in the hell realms or lead us to liberation, because both hell and liberation are the result of the ripening of their respective seeds. Mind consciousness does the work of initiating, and it also does the work of ripening. If it sows wheat seeds, we grow wheat.

The gardener—mind consciousness—has to trust the earth, because it is the earth that brings forth the fruit of understanding and compassion. The gardener also has to recognize and identify the positive seeds in the store consciousness, and practice day and night to water those seeds and help them grow. The garden, the store consciousness, nourishes and brings about the result. The flower of awakening, understanding, and love is a gift from the garden. The gardener only has to take good care of the garden in order for the flower to have a chance to grow.

Because the mind is the base of all actions, that is why it is so important to be mindful. Mindfulness is the best state of being for the mind. With mindfulness, our thinking and our bodily and verbal actions will go in the direction of healing and transforming. The Sangha is a great help in our practice of mindfulness. Surrounded by others who are practicing mindful speaking, mindful listening, and mindful action, we are motivated to do the same. Eventually, mindfulness becomes a habit. And with mindfulness, transformation and healing will be possible.


Understanding Our Mind is available from Parallax Press.

You can discover more about Buddhists teachings on the mind at our upcoming online retreat, Touching Reality.


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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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