When the mortal mind appears, buddhahood disappears. When the mortal mind disappears, buddhahood appears. When the mind appears, reality disappears. When the mind disappears, reality appears.”
Mind cannot be used to grasp mind. Still, for the sake of the following consideration, here is a view: Mind is thought-energy, limitlessly potent. Awareness is mind without objects. Consciousness is mind with objects. What appears to the human perception as physical matter is the dense outer layer of consciousness, the end result of a series of energy interactions occurring in unseen dimensions. This interdependently originating continuum of energy creates and sustains the entire multidimensional multiverse in an exquisite choreography beyond human comprehension.
In reality, nothing is what it seems to the limited mortal perceptive capacity. Not a single thought, conception, sensation, or experience, high or low, is anything but a modification of dreams, a kind of hallucination. It is all a conjunction of wave patterns in vibratory frequencies, typically appearing very elusive to perception in the denser realms of the ordinary senses, where thought-energy (intent) rigidifies momentarily into seemingly solid objects. Nevertheless, there are no enduringly solid objects. This so-called world is a phenomenon of luminous interweaving energetic interactions — a radiant play of light — and yet apart from thought, there is no independent world, play, or self.
It is always an event in Consciousness, in the vastness of which everything that appears is simply a modification. In the first verse of the Dhammapada (quotations from the Buddha) it states: “All things are preceded by the mind, led by the mind, created by the mind.” However, when mind attaches to or fixates on any of these endlessly arising objects, conditions, or their effects, then those objects, states, or conditions are mistaken as “real” by the process of identification and differentiation. In other words, we grant them an enduring substantiality apart from ourselves, and thus create a stressful internal division based on this erroneous interpretation on perception. This why the old masters, such as Dogen Zenji, advise sincere aspirants: “Your only concern should be, as thought follows thought, to avoid clinging to any of them.”
Through clear seeing inspired by true inquiry, that perceptual presumption of duality — of self vs other — can be recognized as the activity of separation and delusion itself, and thereby can begin to be undermined by refusal to continue granting such mental fabrications any substantial reality. In the process, these billion upon billion appearances once more become non-binding, fluid, and transparent as mere conceptual designations, with no inherent solidity. The whole adventure they imply – in whatever realm, heaven and earth or hell and high water — is thus recognized as an empty expression of the dream, having no defining or ultimate significance, but only as the play of Mystery in the vastness of the Unknown Itself.
As the late great adept Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche noted: “If you believe there is a thing called mind, it is just a thought. If you believe there is no thing called mind, it’s just another thought. Your natural state, free of any kind of thought about it—that is buddhanature. Mind is similar to space, in that it is insubstantial, not material. Isn’t it quite amazing that something that is insubstantial is also able to experience?”
Another Master, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, elaborated on the usual mind this way: “What we normally call the mind is the deluded mind, a turbulent vortex of thoughts whipped up by attachment, anger, and ignorance. This mind is always being carried away by one delusion after another. Yet, however strong these thoughts may seem, they are just thoughts and will eventually dissolve back into emptiness. Once you recognize the intrinsic nature of the mind, these thoughts that seem to appear and disappear all the time can no longer fool you. Just as clouds form, last for a while, and then dissolve back into the empty sky, so deluded thoughts arise, remain for a while, and then vanish into the voidness of mind; in reality nothing at all has happened. All thoughts in their infinite variety – devotion, compassion, harmfulness, desire – are utterly without substance. There is no thought that is something other than voidness; if you recognize the void nature of thoughts at the very moment they arise, they will dissolve. Attachment and hatred will never be able to disturb the mind. Deluded emotions will collapse by themselves. No negative actions will be accumulated, so no suffering will follow.”
The human mind thinks up all sorts of stuff to entertain and astonish itself. It is really quite amazing in that regard! It would like to confirm its existence, but never quite can, so back we go to more thought stuff, even though fundamentally we do not know what any appearance is!
Certainly, we can construct and then expound all sorts of notions about phenomena, yet still not know what a single thing actually is. We literally cannot differentiate ourselves from a single thing, any more than wetness can separate itself from water. There is no definitive explanation for any of it, nor is there really any need for one, except to the discursive mind born of false dilemma.
This is not a matter of belief or speculation. It can be directly verified when one stops and simply contemplates the mystery of one’s own appearance here. In effect, there is the awareness that we Are, but “What” is aware is always unknowable, since it can never be an object to itself. The eye cannot see itself. Whatever is, simply is. Is. We can only be that.
What we know of dreams can serve to illuminate our “position” in the so-called waking state. In either, we are in exactly the same situation – we appear to create our environment in both conditions, as well as our sense of being an independent “I”. We can describe it as a play of thought energies, or a coordinated firing of neural synapses modifying sensory impressions to fabricate a view, but all we can really be sure of is that we Are. There is awareness. Everything else is subject to interpretation, but the simple fact of Awareness is our irreducible inheritance.
By allowing attention to rest as this Awareness itself, rather than dwelling and fixating on the objects and events that appear and disappear in the absorbing play of thought-energy, something quite interesting is revealed. Clearly the dream is a creation, an imaginary product of our own consciousness — who makes this dream but us? And yet we don’t know what we ourselves Are, except for the fact that we Are.
Even those philosophies that claim we are not an entified self, but rather a mindstream or stream of being which repeatedly incarnates, are only pointing to a more subtle form of identification, and hence limitation. In fact, the mindstream is not our identity, but our display — a creative projection of consciousness into the virtual reality playground of space-time. Radiant emptiness momentarily reflects itself as the “me-experience”, in the same way our subconscious manifests dream characters.
The mindstream is not who we are, any more than last night’s dream characters. There is an awake aware (knowing) space in which the stream of being appears, transforms, and disappears. It is the same with thoughts, emotions, memories, sensations, and perceptions. None of it is who or what we are, any more than the blood traveling through the veins, or the neural impulses flitting about in the cerebellum. All of that is what changes, but what we truly are does not change. Awareness itself is motionless, timeless.
The American teacher Adyashanti made a relevant point in this regard when he noted: “Within this consciousness, within this space of stillness, many thoughts can and do appear. Many emotions can and do appear . . . but really, it’s all imagination. How do we know it’s all imagination? Because when we stop imagining, it disappears. When we stop naming ourselves, who we think we are disappears until we begin to name ourselves again. But when we stop and we look, what’s obvious is that there’s just the looking, an open space of awareness, and nothing more, because the next thing is simply the next thought.”
When we let this realization in, our experience is freed from the confines of conceptuality and conflicted movement, with no judgment or measure of inside/outside, better or worse, higher or lower. Rather, there is an open transparency, like space, in which no separation between the experiencer, the experiencing, and the experience can be found, except as an imaginary, or conceptual, designation.
On the other hand, though dreaming arises in consciousness and dissolves “there” just the same, can we even call it “our own”? When we awaken, we realize the dream has no concrete substantiality, except what we might attribute to it by virtue of conceptual designation. This activity of superimposing fantasies of interpretation on perception is itself a kind of humorous pretense that is nevertheless still taken quite seriously. So seriously, in fact, that when differing dream states (i.e. interpretations, or beliefs) clash, further confusions, contentions, and even wars follow. Who would imagine that both personal as well as global conflicts find their origin in dreaming?
Just so, this waking realm can be seen, not as a place or world, but as an indefinite dimension that is not concrete or independent like any apparent object, but fluidly manifesting as a play of infinitely inter-connected and dependently-originating possibility. As such, all conditional viewpoints and positions can be submitted to a conscious process of recognition and grateful release – recognition of our true nature, and release of all limitations the mind of grasping and aversion would seek to superimpose on our own native innocence.
Such a process in turn can inspire a truly heart-felt relationship to the wonder of this mystery, without the terrible burden of loveless alienation and persistent sense of dilemma, or even any humorless concern about the implications of the dream world itself. Once liberated from the deluding influences of greed, envy, hatred, and ignorance of one’s true nature and condition, the energy and attention that constitute our mental and emotional functioning are naturally transmuted, becoming more and more characterized by spontaneity, wisdom, clarity, and above all, compassion.
As this liberating process proceeds, we can become consciously responsible for our divisive tendencies and contractive fixations, which are the real creators of every circumstance of the dream, and the source of our chronic sense of stress and dis-ease. When the sages urge us to let go of the mind, it is that mind to which they are pointing – the dreaming mind of fixation and separation, addicted to fantasies of control and self-confirmation.
Moreover, the dream itself does not have to be accepted or rejected in terms of any of its content. It resists definition. Where do we dream? Where is a “place”? When we realize that there is, at last, nothing to grasp at, cling to, or flee, we can forgive the dream and relax into the “Unknown”. After all, it is our own habitual activity, born of ignorance, which has been separating, contracting, seeking, suffering, imagining, and thereby investing the illusory with a sense of substantiality. Upon awakening, we realize that we have been pinching ourselves in our sleep.
When this complex mechanism of suffering is thoroughly recognized as our own creation, seen through as the error in judgment and appreciation which it is, and fully released, then our inherent happiness and fluidity, so long obscured, eventually shines through as the ordinary and natural state of being-ness. Nothing ever needed to be added to that — we simply needed to stop granting reality to the unreal.
“The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And the habit into character.
So, watch the thought and its ways with care
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all Beings.
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.”
~ Dhammapada Sutra