Do you ever feel as if your mind is crammed full of thoughts you’d rather not be having? Or stuck in painful places, as if your thoughts are thinking you rather than the other way around? Dragging you around with them wherever the heck they feel like it, even when you’d rather be somewhere else? And seemingly fixed and intractable even when you’ve been trying your darndest to change them?
I don’t want to spoil the plot so soon into this article, but I think I have to … your mind is empty! And by that I mean not that it is empty of thoughts, as it probably isn’t very often. What I mean is that your mind doesn’t exist from its own side, it is not real — it is mere imputation or projection or appearance of mind.
This means that we can, and one day will, totally break free. As soon as we realize the ultimate nature of our mind, its emptiness, we will be able to do whatever we want with our mind.
In Geshe Kelsang’s 23 books, I would say that there are more actual pages devoted to the emptiness of the self, the body, and other phenomena; but he has touched on the emptiness of the mind in various places, giving us more than enough food for thought. So I have been wanting for some time to share some ideas because it is — perhaps literally — such a mind-blowing topic. And I find it incredibly helpful personally.
My plan is to talk some about the mind, then about emptiness, and then about the emptiness of the mind. I have no idea at this stage how long this will take or whether I will ever get to the end of it, but here goes …
- Good idea, maybe, to start with a little meditation to get us into the mood for reflection. For this is a PROFOUND topic 🙂
- Get into a relaxed position and simply enjoy that you are here doing this, whatever “this” ends up being. Breathe out whatever is on your mind, letting it go, clearing out the mind with each gentle exhalation. Allow your mind to quieten, become more still.
- Then experience your inhalation as radiant, clear light that has the nature of peace, breathing it right into your heart chakra. You can mix your mind with this breath, allowing your awareness to be drawn down into the heart with it.
- Feel that you are now centered in your heart, not your head. Gradually shift your focus so that you are simply enjoying a peaceful experience at your heart.
- Within that space, we’ll do a thought experiment. Allow a thought of your mom to arise.
- Ask yourself: “Where is this thought or awareness of my mother? What is it? Can I find it anywhere in the physical world? Does it take up space?” Sit with the answers that are appearing.
- Let this thought dissolve into an empty like space, an inner clarity, in your heart. This has no shape, color, or physical properties whatsoever. And it is awareness, knowing or cognizing moment by moment. Abide with this sense of peaceful clarity for as long as you want or can.
From that brief thought experiment, what sense did you get of the awareness of your mother? Could you find it anywhere in the physical world? Or was it formless, immaterial, sort of a different dimension?
We subjectively know already that our consciousness is non-physical. How? Because we are using it day and night and can turn inward to observe it in our own experience, as in this brief experiment. All our thoughts are formless, they don’t take up space, we cannot find them in the material world.
The ghost in the machine?
Which begs the question, how do we not fall into Descartes’ mind-body dualism in which there are two distinct realities, that of mind and that of matter? Since Descartes’ time, Western psychology has been talking about the “problem of consciousness,” for formless subjective awareness cannot exist, it must be an optical illusion of the neurons or something, for if it did exist how on earth would it interact with matter?
This apparent problem of the impossible or unproven “ghost in the machine” has led generations of Western psychologists and philosophers to feel the need to reduce things to the material and come up with explanations of how the mind must arise from matter, or form, most notably the brain. If we cannot observe it with the five senses or equipment used by the five senses, it doesn’t exist.
This intellectually-formed reductionist or materialist view of reality has caused no end of trouble if you ask my opinion, not least fixating people on the life of this body alone; yet is based on an unnecessary assumption. No accident that phrases like “It doesn’t matter” and “It’s immaterial” or even “Never mind” have been coined; they are reflections of this dismal dismissal of formless awareness. However, immaterial awareness matters a very great deal, and in fact creates our entire reality. If anything, form arises from mind, rather than the other way around.
According to Buddhism there is no problem with positing two primary realities, material form and formless mind, and these can easily interrelate, interface. In fact, they already do, for they exist in a state of mutual dependence. There is no need to fear a ghost bumping about in a machine.
There is no duality or separation between our mind and the world. Why? Because our mind and our world arise together.
What this means is that our world arises as an appearance to our consciousness. We cannot find a material world outside of the mind. The world does not exist inherently or objectively, in the way that it appears to us at the moment. “Emptiness” in Buddhism means that the world, we ourselves, mountains, books — none of this exists from its own side, objectively, or, if you like, outside the mind.
And it also means that the mind exists in dependence upon its objects, the world it is perceiving. Which means, as I said back at the beginning, that the mind is also empty of independent, or inherent, existence. Which means you can learn to do whatever you want with it. (More on this later).
There is always a dependent-relationship between our mind and the world, the world and our mind. We are drawing a line between me and my consciousness over here and the world over there and, through this ignorance, we have duality. We experience an always moreorless disconcerting gap or separation between ourselves and our worlds.
But this is an imaginary line because matter and consciousness arise together — you cannot have one without the other. There are not two “distinct” realities, as in inherently existent realities — there are two realities that are mutually dependent. Understand this, and the whole problem of dualism goes out the window, leaving us with the possibility of a blissful, non-dual experience of reality.
I’ll attempt to share some practical examples in the next article on this subject. Meanwhile, your observations are most welcome.