The Silence Behind the Mind and True Transformation

“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.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

Head Trip

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.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj



See also:


About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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25 Responses to The Silence Behind the Mind and True Transformation

  1. Loved this Bob 🙂

  2. Candace says:

    I keep finding more and more of your essays that I have not previously seen. What a pleasant surprise! This one is particularly relevant to the silent retreats we are hosting here in Honolulu. Thank you dear Brother!

    Love & Blessings!

  3. Bob OHearn says:

    “Only in silence and in darkness can it be heard and seen.”
    ~Sri Nisargadatta

    “Nothing that knowledge can grasp or desire can want, is God. Where knowledge and desire end, there is darkness, and there God shines.”

    ~ Meister Eckhart

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    Q: How can I bring it [Reality] about?

    Nisargadatta Maharaj: You can do nothing to bring it about, but you can avoid creating obstacles. 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.

    When reality explodes in you, you may call it experience of God. Or, rather, it is God experiencing you. God knows you when you know yourself.

    Reality is not the result of a process; it is an explosion.

    It is definitely beyond the mind, but all you can do is to know your mind well. Not that the mind will help you, but by knowing your mind you may avoid your mind disabling you. You have to be very alert, or else your mind will play false with you.

    It is like watching a thief — not that you expect anything from a thief, but you do not want to be robbed. In the same way you give a lot of attention to the mind without expecting anything from it . . .

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    The Great Light has no color, yet it is all colors. It transcends past, present and future. It existed before the universe appeared and it will exist after the universe is gone. And although this Great Light can be talked about for eons, it cannot be explained in words. Nor can it be seen with the most precise microscope or the most powerful telescope. It is simply magnificent beyond description, and it can be seen only with Wisdom’s Eye. Our basic nature is clearer than the sky and is no different from Buddha. But to manifest that nature we must rid ourselves of false knowledge and learning.

    ~Tong Songchol

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “I noticed this, I noticed that I had missed the most significant thing about stillness. And I notice that most people that I meet also miss the most significant thing about stillness. The most significant thing about stillness isn’t that there’s just the experience, kinesthetic, psychological sense of stillness. The most amazing thing about stillness is you lose your whole self. Your whole identity is only in thought. Your world view is just thought. All the ways we define each other, it’s just thought. And thought can stop for five seconds. And those five seconds all that disappears. And if you see it, you sense it. You can start to sense that all that can disappear, and yet, what ever you are still remains.

    So clearly, thought can stop and you remain, then you can’t be a thought. So you can’t be what you think about yourself. The world can’t be what you think about it. Isn’t that amazing? I’m always surprised how people are terrified by this. The world can not, by the very nature of how reality works, the world can not be what you think about it. (laughs) If you really feel that it’s unimaginably liberating. If you’re thinking about it, it’s terrible. ‘Oh God, the world isn’t what I think about it?’ Of course not, it couldn’t be, those are just thoughts. ‘Oh what if I switch thoughts?’ It couldn’t be that, right?

    It’s like switching religions you know, you go from a Buddhist to Jewish and Christian and Hindu and dabble in this, and you know. You can become all of these things, but they’re never what you are. They never were what you are. They couldn’t be what you are.

    It amazes me, sometimes people will hear that I have a Buddhist background and they will say, ‘He’s a Buddhist.’ (laughs) And I think, how’s it possible? How’s it possible for anybody to believe that? How is it possible for a human being to believe they are a Buddhist or a Christian or a … How do we get away with that without laughing ourselves absolutely silly? How is it possible that we fall for a concept so easily? How is it that we limit ourselves down so narrowly? How is it we then do the religion such a grave disservice? Because it is a grave dis-service to identify with them. Then we can’t use them. Then we’re just used by them. Then we’ve just become another phony identity with a spiritual name. Then we haven’t even used them well.

    So this significance of being still. Of seeing that you are not anything that you think yourself to be. And yet the question can still be there, ‘What am I?’ But you can’t be anything you can think yourself to be. ‘Well, what can I be? ‘If anything I think about is just another thought, then what could I be?’ Good question, eh. Find the answer to that and we call you awakened. But this awakening is the most simple thing, cause anybody who awakens, one of the first things that they realize is that they were, all the time, the very reality they were chasing. Anybody who’s ever awoken, that’s what they know, that they are exactly what they were seeking. No wonder they couldn’t find themselves, because they were looking everywhere else.”

    ~ Adyashanti

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    “In the experience of awareness, you do not just get hold of one chunk of mindfulness and stick with it, but you experience the mindfulness and its shadow, the environment around it. There is a tremendous appreciation of life and of how to conduct one’s life. So awareness practice is not just formal sitting practice or meditation-in-action alone. It is a unique training practice in how to behave as an inspired human being, or an inspired sentient being. That is what is meant by being an artist.”

    ~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

  8. Bob OHearn says:

    Look into the awakened mind of your own awareness! It has neither form nor color, neither center nor edge. At first, it has no origin but is empty. Next, it has no dwelling place but is empty. At the end, it has no destination but is empty. This emptiness is not made of anything and is clear and cognizant. When you see this and recognize it, you know your natural face. You understand the nature of things. You have then seen the nature of mind, resolved the basic state of reality and cut through doubts about topics of knowledge.

    This awakened mind of awareness is not made out of any material substance; it is self-existing and inherent in yourself. This is the nature of things that is easy to realize because it is not to be sought for elsewhere. This is the nature of mind that does not consist of a concrete perceiver and something perceived to fixate on. It defies the limitations of permanence and annihilation. In it there is no thing to awaken; the awakened state of enlightenment is your own awareness that is naturally awake. In it there is no thing that goes to the hells; awareness is naturally pure. In it there is no practice to carry out; its nature is naturally cognizant. This great view of the natural state is present in yourself: resolve that it is not to be sought for elsewhere.

    ~ Guru Rinpoche

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    “In the tenth chapter of the book Panchadasi, gives as example the light that is kept on the stage of a theatre. When a drama is being played, the light is there, which illuminates, without any distinction, all the actors, whether they be kings or servants or dancers, and also all the audience. That light will be there before the drama begins, during the performance and also after the performance is over. Similarly, the light within, that is, the Self, gives light to the ego, the intellect, the memory and the mind without itself being subject to processes of growth and decay. Although during deep sleep and other states there is no feeling of the ego, that Self remains attributeless, and continues to shine of itself.

    Actually the idea of the Self being the witness is only in the mind; it is not the absolute truth of the Self. Witnessing is relative to objects witnessed. Both the witness and his object are mental creations.”

    ~Ramana Maharshi

  10. Bob OHearn says:

    “The key is to identify your own persona within your consciousness and learn that it is not a requirement for your pervading existence. If you lose persona, if you let go of the need to be an individual definable identity, you will not cease to exist, as some currently fear. The ability to let go of your life story at will greatly dissolves active thought processes to the point that you simply become an aware observer. It is this state which has great reward for reintegrating back and forth into the spirit world, without the barriers of accumulated attitude.

    You are a human being existing in an ocean of energies and influences bombarding your every thought and pore. The idea that you can sustain any singular state of mind or state of consciousness indefinitely is not realistic. In this knowledge one should never reprimand themselves for not being able to achieve complete perfection and infinite peace.

    The most spiritual being is not one void of all thought, but one who has learnt to master their relationship to thought and use it effectively as they would any other tool available.

    There are times and circumstances where mind benefits greatly from the absence of thought. Such as during certain types of meditation. It is for you to decide when mind and thought is a useful tool, and when it should be moved away from to achieve other desirable experiences.”


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