“Watch your mind, how it comes into being, how it operates. As you watch your mind, you discover your self as the watcher. When you stand motionless, only watching, you discover your self as the light behind the watcher. The source of light is dark, unknown is the source of knowledge. That source alone is. Go back to that source and abide there. It is not in the sky nor in the all-pervading ether. God is all that is great and wonderful; I am nothing, have nothing, can do nothing. Yet all comes out of me — the source is me; the root, the origin is me.”
For those who have not experienced themselves as the silence behind the mind (their own original nature), they may get confused when they hear about concepts like “silent mind”, and assume it means having no thoughts — a flatline between the ears. If that were true, then rocks and logs would be sages!
Thoughts are not really the problem. It’s only in our habitual tendency to attach an enduring reality to our thoughts, to fixate on them to the point of identification and even obsession, that the internal conflict is spawned and reinforced. Such conflict is a kind of falling off balance against a background of perfect balance, the perfect balance of awareness.
Awareness itself is the silence behind the mind, which has also been described as the light that illumines all creation. It is not an attainment, nor can it come and go depending on causes and conditions. It is the fundamental basis. All arises and dissolves within it, and yet it cannot be characterized as either existent or non-existent, since it transcends dualities. It has nothing to do with thinking or not thinking. Thought energy itself is mere brain phenomena — arbitrary, transient, and of no lasting significance except as modifications of consciousness.
In order to recognize that, an instruction such as this, from the Dzogchen teacher Tulku Pema Rigtsal, is typically given: “Do not pay any attention to thoughts or to whatever arises in the mind, but instead examine where the thought or the image comes from, where it abides, and where it goes. If we do this for long enough, we will discover that all thought forms are empty and that there is nothing substantial in the mind. Keep the mind in its own place, unmodified and without distraction, at ease in its state of clear naked emptiness. Do not attempt to stop the mind and do not follow it. In this way, we are freed of all the suffering of emotional affliction, and we go in peace. The happiness engendered is a deep calm, and we call it serenity.”
From the vantage point of the silence or light behind the mind – pure awareness — one can realize the insubstantiality of one’s transient self-images. When they are seen through and recognized for what they are – cases of mistaken identity that do not actually implicate who and what we are — they tend to become obsolete, and what remains is a love that has no boundary or self-limitation.
Such love is our natural state, prior to the charades of conflicted incarnation. It is our primordial essence, and ever-present, though usually hidden beneath the conditional layers of neurotic personality that we consider “normal” in this time and place. Aligning with this perspective both inspires and makes possible true transformation in the way we live and act in the human world, and frees us from the heavy burden of fear and doubt that clouds the usual vision. The fist at the heart opens and life breathes.
When this true nature, or essence, is first recognized in moments of genuine awakening, there is typically an enormous sense of ecstatic emotional relief. As the sage Dudjom Lingpa wrote: “Unlike nebulous, obscure meditations and intellectual fabrications, with the eye of wisdom you directly see the precious, spontaneously present absolute nature, the reality-itself of the expanse of clear light.”
Indeed, the difference is unmistakable — like night and day — and one’s view of self and world will never quite be the same again. It might be said that the light of awareness awakens to know itself as the light. Before, it was as if one was on a treasure hunt, seeking high and low through all the possibilities of thought and experience for the “pearl of great price”.
Now, one realizes to their surprise that they themselves have always and already been that which was being sought — they were looking everywhere but right where they are!
How could it have been any other way? By eschewing the allure of any conceptual identification and turning attention back on itself, in that ensuing silence, the light becomes magnified, until the recognition is undeniable: you are the whole thing, empty and marvelous, and the world itself is your own dream creation! As Nisargadatta noted: “Only in silence and in darkness can it be heard and seen.”
Nevertheless, most aspirants are soon drawn back to one degree or another into lingering conflicted egoic states by the weight of accumulated habit energy. Still, this glimpse creates the space and faith for further liberating cultivation to proceed, and thus begins the process of real transformation of the mind, character, and will.
The process called “cultivation” generally involves systematically seeing through and discarding all within one’s own being that is not in congruence with the original recognition, such as hatred, greed, envy, pride, and ignorance. It’s a process of embodiment, or full integration, of the initial penetrating insight.
Terms such as “integration” can be misleading, however, because there is in reality nothing to be integrated – nothing needs to be added, subtracted, or modified — and there is no substantial “person” to whom any embodiment could even apply. As Ramana Maharshi famously remarked: “When you wake up from a dream, do you go about searching for the characters in that dream, to awaken them?” Such is part of the paradox of awakening.
In any case, by attending to the task with sincere persistence, humor, and creativity, a genuine concern for others gradually replaces the selfish motive that previously characterized the individual, and true compassion becomes possible, as one’s natural state of unconditional love more and more shines through.
If we are truly keen on authentic human progress, we need to start with our own self-absorbed craziness, our defensive reactivity, the knot at our own hearts, rather than indulging hazy New Age idealism, day-dreaming about global transformation or “Ascension” into the next dimension. For most, such schemes turn out to be mere fantasies and conceptual distractions from the real work at hand.
Ultimately, it must be seen that effective transformation (whether on the micro or macro scale) can only be built on a foundation of real compassion, which is what true love is all about, and why we have appeared in this or any realm in the first place — to be an expression, each in their own unique way, of Love’s unfolding Grace.
“You were never born, nor will you ever die. It is the idea that was born and shall die, not you. By identifying yourself with it you became mortal. Just like in a cinema all is light, so does consciousness become the vast world. Look closely, and you will see that all names and forms are but transitory waves on the ocean of consciousness, that only consciousness can be said to be, not its transformations.
In the immensity of consciousness a light appears, a tiny point that moves rapidly and traces shapes, thoughts and feelings, concepts and ideas, like the pen writing on paper. And the ink that leaves a trace is memory. You are that tiny point and by your movement the world is ever re-created. Stop moving, and there will be no world. Look within and you will find that the point of light is the reflection of the immensity of light in the body, as the sense ‘I am’. There is only light, all else appears.
To the mind it appears as darkness. It can be known only through its reflections. All is seen in daylight — except daylight.”