Your mind is empty (even if it doesn’t feel like it) …

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 Emptiness of the mind 1are 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 …

Sunset Hill 4First, some chillin’!
  • 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?

ghost in the machineThis 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.world creates mind

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.

Imaginary line

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.

mind matter dualityBut 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.

 

There is no depth other than emptiness

don't believe 2It’s really helpful when contemplating emptiness to do it with a blissful, spacious mind, to allow the mind to rest naturally, releasing thoughts without clinging. You can use the time-honored Yogis’ favorite meditation on the clarity of the mind, for example; and if you want to experience the natural bliss of your mind and use that to meditate, you can start with a quick meditation on transforming enjoyments.

For coming to understand our own mind experientially in this way enables us to observe how our thoughts create our world, which is the other side of the coin from the world not existing from its own side. Apart from our own deluded conceptions, which we grasp at as true, there is nothing outside the mind that obstructs our peace and happiness. We remain bound by our own delusions, bewildered in suffering as if strangled by a tortoise-hair noose.

So is the dress white and gold or blue and black?!

dress(I am carrying on from this article, The Non-Thingyness of Things.) So, we are continually grasping at real things, at inherently existent things, and this is where the problem lies. Modern Buddhism says (p.104):

We naturally believe that the things we see around us, such as tables, chairs, and houses, are truly existent because we believe that they exist exactly in the way that they appear.

They appear real, so in our ignorance we believe they are real.

Even whether a dress is white and gold, or blue and black, the subject of a video that is going viral, depends entirely on the mind!

But we always believe that what we see is what is really going on. Of course it was white and gold! Everyone who saw it as otherwise was basically wrong! Or, as this article says:

Everyone, it seems, had an opinion. And everyone was convinced that he, or she, was right.

Harmless in this instance, perhaps, and some of the Tweets on the subject made me chuckle; but this rigid belief in our own perceptions also causes all the aversion, disputes, polarization, and so on in this world.

None of us is right!

However, the way things appear to our senses is deceptive and completely contradictory to the way they actually exist. Things appear to exist from their own side, without depending on our own mind. This book that appears to our mind, for example, seems to have its own independent, objective existence. ~Modern Buddhism p. 104

Do you feel that your mind was involved in any way in bringing your body just sitting here, for example, into existence? Your world? Is that how it appears? Or does it feel more like, “Enter stage left, bump into a life full of things – objects, bodies, people, some nice, some not – and exit stage right?” Like we come along and say, “Ooohh, look at that!”, hang out a bit in the world, and then check out? We enter a world that is independent of our mind, and we die in a world that is independent of our mind?earth look

This is a massive hallucination. This world and absolutely everything in it is a projection of our own mind with no existence from its own side in the least. This means that everything without exception – including our friends, our dog, our job, our self — depends upon our mind entirely and completely. There is nothing that can exist out there independent of our mind.

Anything that appears to be more than just appearance to our mind, to exist over and above a dream-like appearance, is what we are grasping at with ignorance. Anything that appears to exist in any way from its own side, objectively, is an inherently existent thing; and grasping at this is causing all our suffering.

Never the twain shall meet

As it says in Modern Buddhism:

[This book] seems to be “outside” while our mind seems to be “inside”.

There’s a gap, isn’t there? We talk about “dualistic appearance” in Buddhism because the mind seems to exist from its own side, over “here”, and the object seems to exist from its own side, somehow over “there”, and there is a gap between us. But that gap does not really exist.

It is due to that gap that we find it hard to cherish others. We also grasp at a real self (somehow over here) and a real other (over there), and as a result it’s hard to bridge that gap and feel in transcendent communion or union with others. In truth, we are totally interconnected with other living beings. There is no independent self or independent other. I am not the real me so cherishing my own happiness and working only for my own happiness is a fool’s game. This gap is responsible for our inability to open our hearts, love others, have compassion, and so on.

There is nothing there to grasp at

Everything is deceptiveWe feel that the coffee cup we are holding can exist without our mind, don’t we? A moment ago it was in the kitchen cabinet and now it’s here – all I did was carry it. The cup was just floating around somewhere in this big old real world, and has nothing to do with my mind. It can exist without my mind, it can go back in the cabinet, it can do what it wants. We do not feel that our mind is in any way involved in bringing this cup into existence. It’s like this cup has a power from its own side to exist.  There just IS a cup there. There is a REAL cup behind the thought “cup”.

Buddha said everything is mere name. Mere name, mere label, mere imputation of mind. We, with our grasping, think there’s got to be something behind that label. We feel this cup is very concrete, we fix things with our ignorance. We reify, make everything solid and real. Ignorance makes us live in a concrete world where everything is solid and real, and we keep bumping up against things and people, or else trying to get away from them.

With wisdom, we get a completely different experience of reality — a non-dual experience of our mind and its objects. Try to compare this experience with the crunchiness of ignorance and we can’t, it is incomparably blissful.

More in a future article. Meantime, your comments are welcome!