The third domain of looking deeply, the third object of looking deeply is the "mind". It's your mind. The practitioner looks into his mind. His mind is the object of meditation. The scientists, they like to look at the nature. The mind here is a kind of a river. And as a river is made of drops of water, so the mind is something that is made of the so-called mental formations. And in my tradition, we speak of 51 mental formations. And as a novice, I had to memorize the 51 mental formations. And when the mental formations arise, I should be able to recognize it and call it by the true name. Whether it is anger or fear, when anger comes up, I have to say, "This is anger".
Breathing in, I know the mental formation called anger is there.
Breathing out, I'm going to take good care of the mental formation called anger.
So, you have to memorize the names. You have recognized each mental formation as it arises. So, to meditate is to sit on the bank of a river, the mind and to recognize every mental formation that arises. That is because the mind is the succession of mental formations. Formation is a technical term in Buddhism. Every compounded thing is a formation like a flower. A flower is a formation. A flower is made only of non-flower elements; the sunshine, the clouds, the earth and so on. So, many things come together in order for a flower to manifest. So, the flower is a formation. It is a physical formation. My hand is a formation that is a physiological (biological) formation. And your anger is a mental formation.
So, to meditate on the mind means that you sit on the bank of a river and observe the arising and the going away of each mental formation. First of all, this is a simple practice, or simple recognition. You should not try to grasp the mental formation, or you should not try to get away from the mental formation. You stay neutral and your work is to just recognize it and call it by its true name.
So, there are wholesome mental formations like lovingkindness, compassion, equanimity, non-discrimination, joy and so on. And there are unwholesome mental formations like fear, anger hate, despair. And if one mental formation arises, the meditator should be able to recognize it and if it is needed, and then you will look deeply into it and try to take good care of it. And later on, we shall be able to transform it the way we want.
(9. aware of M.F.)
And in The Sutra on Mindful Breathing, the Buddha proposed four exercises only. And the first exercise, the exercise number turn: 9, is to be aware of the mental formations that just arise. When fear arises, we should be there to recognize it and call it by its true name. And if it is needed, and then we should know how to handle our fear. Not trying to escape. Not trying to cover up. So, you are aware of all mental formations when every time they show up.
The 9th exercise is to be aware of mental formations to take good care of them. The difference between the 7th and 8th exercises (feelings: one of 51 mental formations) and 9th/10th/11th/12th (49 mental formations except for feelings and perceptions) is the root. The root of feelings is body. Meanwhile, the roots of 49 mental formations are perceptions (series of notions in the head). That's why the Buddha divided 51 mental formations into 3 parts, namely feelings, perceptions and the rest of 49 mental formations.
The methods to handle are also different between these two. The Buddha taught that when we recognize the feeling, we should just embrace it and relieve it. But the Buddha taught that when we recognize the 49 mental formations, in addition to embracing and relieving it, we should look deeply into it and take good care of it if it is needed. Concrete methods to take good care is that by deep looking through loving speech and deep listening, we should understand the root cause and transform the mental formation by the energy of compassion. The energy of compassion is generated when we understand the root cause of the mental formation.
Thích Nhất Hạnh