Right now, reading this, what is the consciousness you are having of your screen, or the room around you? That consciousness is not physical. You cannot see it with your eyes or with any physical instrument, however subtle. You cannot touch it, you cannot sit on it, you cannot photograph it, you cannot reproduce it, you cannot measure it, etc.
(I’m carrying on from this article.)
Try this brief experiment if you like: close your eyes and generate the wish, “How wonderful it would be if everyone was happy and had the causes of happiness!” Hold that thought.
Got that? Now ask, still with your eyes closed: “What is that wish? Where is it? Is it physical or is it non-physical? Is it in my body? My brain? Or does it feel like a different entity, a different dimension?”
That was universal love. (Nice job! Shows it is possible for us to develop that precious wish if we just put our mind to it and, through training, deepen and expand it.)
And for the purposes of this meditation, we can observe clearly that this love was not physical – it had no shape, color, size, location … It was clear awareness, a different entity to the body, and somehow both nowhere and everywhere.
Another good way to get to the clarity of the mind is just to observe our thoughts for a while and then ask: “What is that thought? Where is it?” Or “What is that perception of the sound? Where is it?” We are not going to find it anywhere in the physical world, are we? We meditate on that awareness itself, which is clarity.
We let that clarity dissolve into the clarity of the root mind where it came from, and come to feel that we are meditating on the root mind at the heart.
If, while meditating on our root mind, we hear the sound of a car, we can ask ourselves: “Is that sound of the car inside my mind or outside my mind?” Up until now, if we find we get distracted in our meditations, it could be because of our instant assumption that it’s out there, and I either like it or don’t like it. There’s an instant narrative based on duality and separation: “I have time to go out shopping in my own car later. Which reminds me, I am out of ketchup. Oh, and darn, my Florida driving license has expired!” Or, “It’s so noisy here! How am I ever supposed to get good at meditating?” etc. Or the person next to us shuffles around and it takes us outwards instantly to the time they annoyed us earlier, and reminds us that, oh yes, this person is proving to be a cause of irritation in my life, and now would be a good time to plot a way to get rid of them. We spend most of our life caught up in these narratives. “Elaborations” is the word Buddha used.
I used to do this clarity of mind meditation a lot on the beach when I lived in Florida. To begin with, I’d hear a crunch and my mind would immediately be after it, going out to the sound and creating a narrative, so, so fast. How big is that dog? Where is he? What’s he up to? Is he coming over here? I wonder what he looks like.” Sometimes I’d make myself so curious that I’d open my eyes to peep, and every time the appearance was completely different to my distracted imaginings.
This was illuminating as I realized that I was doing that all the time with everything. Living in an hallucination that is appearing as if outside my mind, and as if it’s really happening; but I created it and now I’m stuck in it. I’m craving certain bits and rejecting others, and getting depressed, then excited, then depressed again. There’s a lot of inappropriate attention. But it’s a dream. And once we realize it’s a dream we’re free. We’re free to create our dream, the dream of enlightenment.
In the meditation, once we feel we are in our heart, we recognize simply that we are experiencing our own mind, clarity: an inner empty space that always lacks form and is the basis for perceiving objects. We abide with it. Then when we get distracted, we ask “What is it that is aware?” Don’t run after the object, don’t go out. Let your thoughts dissolve inwards. We let the wave-like or bubble-like thoughts dissolve back into their own clarity, with no fighting. It is so relaxing, such a relief.
Don’t be perfectionist
I beseech you, when doing this meditation on clarity, please do not be perfectionist. “I’ve tried this already, I know what’s coming, I’m going to fail. I am a failure. Thanks a lot!” One of the biggest obstacles to any meditation is perfectionism. This basically means grasping at results — having an idea of what we SHOULD be experiencing and then being unhappy with what we ARE experiencing.
In this meditation we have to be in the moment, very present, moment by moment; and within that, stop having the idea that I should be experiencing an inner empty space devoid of thoughts and appearances, vast, peaceful, spacious, joyful etc., but instead I am experiencing a mass of confusion! It’s all grey! I can’t do this meditation! That’s like saying I should just be experiencing light but all I’m experiencing is a bunch of trees with light on them. See the point?
We can use analogies both to get a feel for our mind and to stop us struggling with our distractions, eg, a crystal clear sky or a boundless ocean. Then we are not pushing thoughts out of our head but just letting them dissolve – we are not bothered after all by clouds drifting across an empty sky or water bubbling up in a blissful clear ocean. We know there is nowhere else for these to go, so we let them be, pay them no heed, and let them dissipate or pop themselves. We don’t push in this meditation — we just let thoughts go. We drop them. Pay them no attention and they naturally dissolve back. If we are not thinking them, thoughts disappear.
With our thoughts we create our world
Our mind creates everything – we come to see this in the meditation. Normally we are so busy focusing on objects rather than thoughts that we don’t realize how creative our thoughts actually are! We are so conditioned to assuming that the world we created with our thoughts has nothing to do with us — it is just there and we bump into it. Shifting our focus from the perceived to the perceiver, from the object of consciousness to consciousness itself, really gives us a feeling for how our mind is the creator of everything, including the mind itself.
If we understand the power of our mind, we can see how we need to exert control over it as it can and does take us in any direction, including to immense suffering. Examples of the destructive power of uncontrolled minds, anger for example, can be seen every day, eg, in the 254 mass shootings there have been in this country just this year alone. There is crazy stuff going on all over the world, all the time.
Instead of continually changing externals, we have to understand that we need to change the mind and then help everyone else do the same – otherwise, this world will remain an out of control reflection of out of control minds.
That power of the mind is the most powerful force there is. The deeper we go into this meditation, the more we understand through our own experience that everything is created by the mind. Everything is the nature of the mind, which means there is nothing outside the mind. We cannot find anything outside the mind. This is why one of the benefits of this meditation is to set us up for the experience of emptiness — not just of the mind, but also in general.
If you are in any doubt about the creative power of your mind, just consider what you did last night. In your dream, you created a whole world. You didn’t even realize you were doing it at the time — in fact you assumed the dream world was outside your mind and reacted accordingly. But it was always projected by your own mind. In the same way, if you were to look now, you could not find anything outside of your experience of your world, for example your own experience of sitting here reading this blog.
The other day in the Denver Botanical Gardens I was looking at reflections in a lake (pictured) and asking myself: “Where is that reflection of the sky? Inside the lake or outside?” It seemed that the sky reflected was not other than the clarity of the lake reflecting it.
From the lake’s perspective, the sky is already there – so there is no need to go out to it.
Is the object we hanker after inside our mind or outside? And after all, who else even has exactly the same reflection in their lake-like mind, and therefore the exact same hankerings? Seeing everything as the nature of the mind is an effective way to reduce attachment (see what Geshe Kelsang says about the Chittamatrins in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.) We already have what we need inside the mind so there is no need to go chasing it somewhere else where it isn’t. We can, if we are skillful, even use our worldly pleasures to stimulate bliss, which was already and always will be inside the mind, not outside.
If we think we can find the object of attachment outside the mind, we can always go looking for it, as in the meditation on emptiness, more coming later.
What’s the point of rearranging the screen?
This meditation helps us understand the futility of putting all our energy into externals when the world is not outside our mind. The world is a projection of our conceptual thoughts, mere imputation – putting all our efforts into changing it outside is a bit like getting up during a movie and trying to rearrange the actors on the screen. To clean up our world, we need finally to clean up the projector of our mind, change the movie reel. Of course we can still DO things – the definition of a person is to create actions and experience their effects, and our actions are mental, verbal, and physical. But what is going on in our mind is key.
Next installment here.
Can see how thoughts are same nature as mind i.e. clarity ( formless).
But what about physical objects of mind such as a blue book on my shrine ? That has form. So how is it the same nature as mind if my mind is formLESS ? Or is the book the “same ENTITY” as mind ( ie appearing together ).Seems “same nature” can have 2 DIFFERENT meanings. ie “same substance” or “same entity”. Hope you can clarify this for me. I’m a bit uncertain. Thanks.
Excellent article. Thank you. Also, have you looked at you botanical garden picture upside down? “An object can be reflected clearly when there aren’t any obstructions…”
Meant “your” not you…
Beatiful post. I like the analogy with the reflexion of the sky in the lake, and get a small insight contemplating this particular sentence “It seemed that the sky reflected was not other than the clarity of the lake reflecting it”.
I find this to be such a good reminder also when walking around near water; glad you like it.
This was a very intriguing post
Intriguing in a good way, i hope!
Of course. It was a concept that i never thought of. I spent over an hour reading your posts
🙂 Thank you.
Thanks for your thoughtful reflections. I appreciate the questions specifically about location, weight, and physical properties of thoughts, love, and so on.
I sometimes debate my brother and he argues “There is no proof formless things exist!” He defines proof or evidence as that which is perceived by the five senses. Therefore I like to ask “Can a certain thought be explained simply in terms of the five senses?” I try to explain a thought or inner experience simply using them and come to the discovery–there is clearly more value or meaning present, thus demonstrating ‘what exists’ cannot be simply explained as ‘what is perceived by five senses’, thus opening up a necessity for formless things. Like with your example of “love”–explain it just using five senses and there is so much more explanation still necessary!
very well put, thank you.