We’ve been considering the five natural “laws” of karma, and we now come to the law of mind (citta-niyāma). We might think that we control our thoughts, but as any meditator knows, the mind goes where it wants to, when it wants to, and sometimes with alarming speed. This karmic “law” points to human psychological patterns: associative thought, habits of thought, the fluidity of thought, influencers of thought, the whole psychological panoply.
If we hear someone disparage a person we respect or care for, or worse, ourselves, there’s an instant reaction of resentment (at least). The desire to counter such comments can be irresistible; we don’t choose whether this response will happen or not. But we do have a choice, to react or to keep calm, i.e., not “free will”, but “free won’t”.
When some of us walk past a pastry shop, an invisible magnet draws our attention to the display window, betraying our underlying tendency to greed. We can choose to act or not act on this brief impulse, but the only way to uproot the tendency, to disable the magnet, is to develop our capacity for insight.
When a person suffers trauma, whether it involves human cruelty or random bad luck, if the trauma is severe, it alters the victim’s psychological framework for life. Such experiences can be mitigated, but cannot be erased.
On the bright side, if we are fortunate enough to meet a person whose greed, hatred, and delusion are substantially worn away, that person can make a lasting impression on us and change our trajectory dramatically.
When we are very young, we don’t recognize how our minds work. Our likes and dislikes, our needs and wants, our agitation or calm — it’s all right on the surface with no mediating forces. As we get older, we become better acquainted with our normal range of emotions: fear, love, curiosity, aversion, lust, compulsion, and all the conditions that regularly visit our minds. With even a small application of mindfulness, we can see these mind states rising and falling; we can see when we become stuck in one or the other; we can sometimes recognize when we are in a balanced or neutral state. In this way we can protect ourselves from the wanton destruction that an untrained mind can bring. Instead of being driven by every thought that passes through our minds, we can learn to pause and consider what’s happening when a particularly strong mental state becomes apparent. We can learn to appreciate it when a pleasant, wholesome state of mind (e.g., generosity or kindness) is present. We can’t easily change the basic functioning of our minds, but we can influence our responses to mental states.
This “law of psychology” is part of our universe, just as the laws of chemistry, physics, biology, and karma are. We work and play and learn and grow within their confines. This doesn’t mean we are helpless victims of fate; it means that our scope for making choices is limited by our circumstances. We can use this information to view the world realistically and avoid blaming ourselves or other individuals for experiences we don’t like, and avoid taking credit for our good luck.