“A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly, once your mind is quiet. As the sun on rising makes the world active, so does self-awareness effect changes in the mind. In the light of calm and steady self-awareness inner energies wake up and work miracles without effort on your part.”
Simply put, “ego-mind” is the activity of craving and aversion that gives rise to the sense of a separate self, which in turn demands one’s full attention in the form of caring, feeding, defending, and preserving. The process commences when perception is translated into an interior stream of interpretations, images, concepts, memories, beliefs, projections, judgments, narratives and commentaries, which mind then weaves into a vivid and perpetual story – the story of “me”.
In that fanciful narrative, the fictional character we typically imagine ourselves to be is taken as an actual independent and enduring person, entangled in dilemma, and relentlessly driven by attraction and fear to seek an elusive happiness through the exploitation of experience in this dreamy realm of transitory forms and appearances.
Should it pursue its ongoing adventures in the arena of “spiritual effort”, ego-mind will diligently follow all the rules, rites, and rituals, even congratulating itself on how well it’s doing transcending ego-mind.
It will be right up there at the front line, earnestly battling itself via all manner of borrowed strategies and prescribed remedies – artifacts of the search — which in the end only serve to fatten it and prolong the internal struggle. The reason it is so successful in prolonging the charade is mostly due to the convincing nature of the illusion it weaves, starting with the assertion that we are the body — a separate subject seeking to survive and thrive in a world of “others”.
Furthermore, ego-mind can co-opt even our most profound realizations, taking the credit for how well it’s seeing through and “hacking” itself. In fact, the very movement and impulse to dispel delusion is prompted by delusion itself. Mind cannot be used to grasp mind.
In that regard, using the mind to look for reality is futile, because the mind that wants to free itself from all conditioning programs is itself a program, just as that which wants to eliminate the disease of the mind is itself a symptom of that very disease. That’s how it confirms its existence and survives so well — by ensuring that a perpetual state of war exists (not unlike certain governments).
The last thing it wants is to become obsolete through lack of attention. The last sound it ever wants to hear is the sound of silence. When the movement of attention falls into the inherent and prior silence of its own source, it is not interesting to the ego-mind, which thrives on the noise of conflict. Consequently, if one would be free, sages and shamans recommend cultivating the discipline of inner silence.
“Whatever happens in consciousness is purely imaginary, a hallucination. Therefore keep in mind the knowledge that it is consciousness in which everything is happening. With that knowledge, be still, do not pursue any other thoughts which arise in consciousness.”
“The grand trick of those sorcerers of ancient times was to burden the flyers’ mind with discipline. Sorcerers found out that if they taxed the flyers’ mind with inner silence, the foreign installation would flee, and give any one of the practitioners involved in this maneuver the total certainty of the mind’s foreign origin. [It] comes back, I assure you, but not as strong; and a process begins in which the fleeing of the flyers’ mind becomes routine until one day it flees permanently.”
~Don Juan Matus, “The Active Side of Infinity”, by Carlos Castenada
The quotes above, though from two very different traditions and from opposite ends of the world, coincide in describing a prime vehicle of liberation – the Way of Silence — but it is not a path most will undertake, because of the tremendous discipline and subtlety involved. In the “Bhagavad Gita”, Krishna told Arjuna that, out of millions, only a few will aspire to the truth, and out of those who do, only a few will realize it.
Even given these slim odds, however, what is the alternative? To be a slave to our own outrageous thought theater? If one is earnest enough in their desire for freedom, we will do what it takes, even unto death. In fact, it’s precisely that death — the end of the search to confirm and validate ego-mind’s existence — that mystics and realizers throughout the centuries have spoken of as the price of admission to real freedom: dying to the restless mind of craving and aversion, and all the passing parade of vanities and self-positions to which we subject ourselves in our ignorance.
Question: “It is said that the Self is beyond the mind and yet the realisation is with the mind. The mind cannot think it. It cannot be thought of by the mind and the mind alone can realise it. How are these contradictions to be reconciled?”
Ramana Maharshi: “Self is realised with mrita manas (dead mind), that is, mind devoid of thoughts and turned inward. Then the mind sees its own source and becomes that.”
Nevertheless, to attempt to force attention into silence by an act of will is merely engaging in yet another variation on the theme of seeking, because willing and seeking are complementary. In this case, the exercise of the will equates with the idealism of seeking to have things be different than they are, even if that change is to a state of non-seeking. This is why Seng-T’san, Third Patriarch of Zen, wrote:
“When you try to stop activity to achieve peace, your very effort fills you with activity.”
Consequently, while an adept such as Ramana might advise, “Make no effort … your effort is the bondage….all that is required is to be still”, such instructions are almost impossible for ordinary untrained folk to carry out, for the simple reason that the sense of separate identity is a subconscious projection, and not readily accessible to the intellect’s willfulness or idealism.
The activity of separation is programmed into the very foundations of our delusion, in which consciousness is conditioned to assume the ego-mind’s cravings and aversions as its own, and so fixates on a resulting self-sense, in turn projecting that “me” story of desire and dissatisfaction into the mechanics of the search, and then re-affirming it in an endless loop.
Ironically, it is the vicious cycle of that very seeking which keeps the mind agitated and prolongs the delusion by reinforcing identification with the story over and over again, prompting efforts to change environments and circumstances, which only result in the mere modification of mind, rather than its liberation. This is why the great Dzogchen adept Longchenpa noted,
“In the meditation which is great natural self-perfection, there is no need of modifications and transformations: whatever arises is the Great Perfection. If you reside in the groundless state through detachment from mind you will accomplish, spontaneously and changelessly, the inconceivable sovereignty.”
As long as other options born of craving and aversion appear inviting, silence will remain patiently in the background. It is what persists when thought has lost its magical ability to distract attention. Once that happens, attention may begin to rest in the space between thoughts. At first it may be for small moments, but these moments can be repeated many times, while the shift from distraction to clarity proceeds, and the awake spaciousness becomes more and more the present experience.
True silence is not an acquisition, a prized object to be gained after some long struggle. Rather, it is what is already true of us — our own native state — prior to the superimposition of the incessant internal narrative. It is our identification with that personal narrative, fueled by the alternating cycle of hope and fear, craving and aversion, which obscures our peace. Thus, we can see that silence is not an addition to consciousness — something new. Rather, it is the actual ground or basis of consciousness itself (“Dharmakaya”, in Buddhist parlance).
It is our own pristine knowingness, the natural space of awake awareness, in which all the various mental states and conditions appear and disappear. By simply being that which we already always are, without resort to any special scheme or strategy of transformation or modification, we simply relax and rest. When all else falls away, or becomes obsolete from lack of attention, this transparent stillness alone remains, this pure and simple silence.
By first recognizing, and then releasing, the chronic contraction which spawns mind’s neurotic activity, we can “fall into” the prior silence of our true nature, our natural “default position”. It is always a matter of clear seeing, or being aware of being aware, and then relaxing into this primordial nature: letting go, relinquishing the struggle, surrender.
The clench at the heart is habitually being reinforced by clinging and attachment. Attachment to what? Attachment to the personal story of “me and mine”. That is the noisy narrative which so occupies our attention, like a constant parade of clouds which obscures the spaciousness of the blue sky. This is why we turn attention around to its root, or source, in silence.
By disengaging from that stream of thoughts, images, interpretations, memories, and projections which constitute “the story”, attention comes to rest in silence, and it is only in such silence, freed from all distractions, all mental and emotional obscurations, all futile seeking and stressful striving, that our true nature can reveal itself as the pure simplicity of open awake awareness that it is.
“The radiance of consciousness-bliss, in the form of one awareness shining equally within and without, is the supreme and blissful primal reality. Its form is silence and it is declared by Jnanis (Self-realised) to be the final and unobstructable state of true knowledge (jnana).”