The meditation on the nature of our own mind has many benefits, the first being that it pacifies distractions. If we understand what we are meditating on, we’ll see how that works. For perfect instructions, please consult Geshe Kelsang’s beautiful new book, The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.
The nature and function of the mind
In Geshe Kelsang’s various books and oral teachings, he has used a one-word description to point out the object of meditation, the mind itself: “Clarity”. We meditate on clarity, and the implications of that term. In particular, two things are being implied:
- The mind is clear in that it has no form. It always lacks form. It is a formless awareness. A formless continuum. It has no physical properties whatsoever, it is not molecularly constituted. It has no shape, no size, no location. It has no color. You cannot touch it or squeeze it or look at it, and you cannot hear it. There’s already a lot there to contemplate. What does it mean for something to be not physical? We are looking for a non-physical thing. Or an inner empty space, as Venerable Geshe-la sometimes puts it.
- The second implication of clarity is that it possesses power – the power to perceive, to know, to remember, to imagine, to create. The mind is like an inner empty space that is aware. It is awareness itself.
In 2000, Geshe-la said:
Mind is empty of physical form. It always lacks form. It has no color, no shape, nor any other kind of form. Yet it has so many powers. It has the power to recognize objects, to perceive objects, to understand objects, to remember objects, to perform actions. In fact everything – the world, beings, objects – is created by mind. There is no creator other than mind.
The location of the root mind
That is the pointing out instruction for this meditation. And we can also consider the location, at the heart. (This means our spiritual heart, our heart chakra, not our meaty beating heart.) This is because we are meditating on our root mind, and we experience this in our heart chakra, right in the center of our chest, halfway between the left and the right sides of our body, nearer our back than our front.
If our mind is formless, you may wonder, how can it have a location? In a way our mind is nowhere (and everywhere); but it is connected to certain energies or subtle winds in the body, and in particular our very subtle mind or root mind is connected unbreakably to the very subtle wind at the heart. (Check out Clear Light of Bliss if you want to know more.)
This is why it can be helpful at the beginning of the meditation to drop from our head into our heart, or to do some breathing meditation to draw our awareness down into our heart, to feel we are meditating here. If we drop from our thinky head into our expansive, spacious heart, we will find it much easier already to overcome distractions; so it is good to try and do all our meditations here. It can take a bit of practice to get from the head into the heart because we are so used to being in our head — we are kind of disconnected from our hearts a lot of the time in our modern society, in exile from our hearts. This may be because we think way too much, heady stuff! But, and this is important, we mustn’t push it – we let our mind settle in the heart naturally instead.
When we hit that sweet spot, everything becomes vastly more spacious and open, less crunchy. And when we say the root mind is located in the heart, this does not mean that it is a tiny little thing in our heart. We feel we are in our heart meditating on our mind, but our mind is vast, dimensionless.
Using the example of light
Normally we latch onto objects, fixing all our attention on the objects of which we’re aware, for example the objects in this room or the objects of our thoughts. Rarely, if ever, do we concern ourselves with, “What am I aware with?”
Here is a useful analogy. When we’re walking around, we see a lot of things because of light. When the sun isn’t shining, we don’t see anything. That light is all pervasive, everywhere. It is illuminating everything. But we don’t focus on it — what we focus on are the things being illuminated. “Oh, look at the light!” we say sometimes, eg, when walking through the dappled woods. But most of the time we don’t, we only notice it relative to things eg, shining on the leaves, or brightening clouds.
This is similar to the mind. Mind is all pervasive, but we don’t focus on the mind itself, we focus on the things our mind is illuminating, the various things that our mind is perceiving, or appearing. It’s worth noting here that Geshe Kelsang uses “to appear” as an active word, with the same meaning as “to perceive.” Our mind perceives or “appears” things. Things appear from the mind from the inside out, as opposed to appearing to the mind from the outside in, as it were.
The point being that, normally, just as we are not aware of the light itself, just the things illuminated, so we are not aware of the mind itself, just the things we are aware of. In this meditation, we want to become aware of the mind.
What is it that is aware?
In brief, one way to gain insight into the nature of the mind is just to focus on clarity, not worrying whether or not it is crystal clear; and, when distracted, to keep asking, “What’s aware?”, seeing in our own experience that it is also clarity. We are not in any rush to gain some experience – we are just hanging out, checking it out.
By the way, when we meditate on the mind, and indeed whenever we meditate on anything, it is good to do so gently without expectation. We are not pushing for a result or a deep insight. “I forced myself to have an insight into clarity, to see that vast vivid inner empty space I’ve heard so much about. I put myself in a headlock, twisted my arm… waterboarding myself might help next time.”
Dealing with distractions
To begin with when we are meditating we are going to be hearing all sorts of sounds and having all sorts of thoughts and sooner or later our knee is going to hurt. If we are practicing with a combative attitude, then when someone coughs, our thought is, “I wish they’d shut up.” Or “Oh no, that episode is replaying itself in my mind.” Or, “I wonder what so and so is doing today? darn, wish I didn’t have to keep thinking about them.” And so forth. But rather than pushing away or rejecting these appearances, we can just ask: “What is it that is aware of these things?” And we’ll see that that awareness is also clarity, is also mind. Just as we can use the leaves to help us see the light, so, when focusing on our mind, if a distraction arises we can use it to bounce us right back into the mind by asking ourselves, “What is it that is aware?” Appearances remind us of the mind.
That’s why this meditation helps us to pacify distractions The appearances that pop up would normally distract us away from our object, eg the breath, but now it doesn’t matter, in fact they remind us of our meditation object – for example, we can enjoy the quality of the light even though there are all sorts of leaves around.
Or, to use another example, it’s like we’re enjoying the blue sky and then some clouds appear. We don’t think, “Well, that’s it then, I can’t enjoy the blue sky any more — that cloud is freaking me out!” The clouds will eventually disperse back into the clear sky, they have nowhere else to go. If we simply hang out enjoying the clarity, gradually the distractions will disperse into the clarity as they are themselves clarity; and we’ll absorb deeper.
Hopefully, these examples are showing how we can pacify distractions without fighting. If you like, you can try the short meditation outlined in this earlier article to see if it works.
Thank you, LK! 🙂
I have been doing the clarity meditation from the Tharpa Clear Mind CD for the last year and this commentary has been illuminating. The metaphor of the light in the forest as being like the mind is great too!
I believe I may have heard another teacher say recently we could use this clarity mediation as our object for training in tranquil abiding too – is this something you can confirm? That would be great as I really enjoy it.
Happy new year!
Tom (Melbourne, Aus)
Yes, absolutely, that is Venerable Geshe-la’s advice, and the advice of all our Mahamudra lineage Gurus. Check out The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra for more.
I tend to be very visual in my meditations and so find clarity challenging as an object. The analogy to light is fantastic. I’m going to try it in meditation right now. Thank you!
I often think that clarity is like the silence through which and in which sound is heard. This space around sound is clarity. It is not just the absence of sound but the very nature of it, which sounds contradictory but without the no-sound around the sound and within it, it would not exist. I have perhaps not expressed that clearly enough but it helps me understand clarity.
Your wonderful blogs have helped to give me confidence to teach this meditation at a recent half day course. I am convinced that if we just make a connection with the true nature of our mind it gives us the confidence to know that no matter what is going on on for us or how difficult life seems, we have a totally peaceful and beautiful place to abide in , which in turn gives us the strength and confidence to face our daily challenges . I think it was well received lol . Once again many thanks, really inspiring. X😀
It’s so clear now… That it’s not our meaty beating heart ♥ this part was for my mind for sure… Thank you 😊 Obrigado… Luna 💕
Thank you, very helpful!
This is just KEY for me, & I love to read it over & over. Only in our heart-mind can we find ultimate truth. I shall always remember your words at the Festival, “Just stay in the mandala; there’s only suffering outside.” So true. Thank you L.
I think it’s true 🙂
The mind is like a shed storing the tools for our own inner garden to grow 😊 we have the seeds the light and the tools right there all we need is the 💙 of love and faith in our spiritual guide to flourish
It helps 😀
Excellent. Using distractions to instigate the question ‘what is aware’ brings us back to ‘seeking’ the object. Once we find the mind and abide in it, distractions eventually become less labeled and more like movements within stillness, and these movements push us back to abiding without the use of words or thoughts. Utilizing the question method is very helpful initially for sure! Eventually, sensing the slightest undulation within clarity causes a slightly tighter grip, then a slight relaxation of that grip so that abiding is not lost at all….from your simple question comes a wonderful thing!
Geshe-la once described clarity as ‘mind is clear enough for objects to appear within it’, and from it like you say. I love that! The mind, without center or circumference, totally pervasive, crisp, serene, and luminous without labels, appears things. It is always present in and out of formal meditation, so we can maintain the continuum of awareness of clarity while engaging activities of the meditation break – Ah the ‘unions’ beckon! How wonderful the Guru is to us! Thank you for sharing your wisdom here, very inspiring writings.