Essence of Mind

What appears to be a curse may actually turn out to be a blessing. Of course, it can sometimes also be the other way around. Really, things are neither blessings nor curses. It is only our conditioned imagination which makes anything seem to be this or that. Phenomena (things) arise in dependence on causes and conditions, and hence possess no more than a relative reality. Some philosophies may even go so far as to question the actual existence of things, but the real issue is not whether anything truly exists, but rather, how it comes to exist in the first place.

Just so, if we want to get to the root of things, we must first discover for ourselves the fundamental basis, or essence of mind. Why? Because whatever appears is not other than mind itself. Without directly recognizing mind’s essence, we can know everything yet understand nothing. However, if we are able to understand that one thing, then everything else becomes clear and obvious.

The human intellect has a limited capacity, and yet we tend to rely on it in order to comprehend things. As long as we attempt to make life and phenomena fit within the confines of that intellect, our understanding will consequently be quite limited, and we will never be able to go beyond an extremely partial view of our nature and experience. We will always be confused, like looking in a mirror but only seeing a stranger.

In our examination, we eventually come to the realization that the essence of mind itself is not graspable by the intellect, regardless of how brilliant that intellect may seem in terms of solving logical problems and manipulating complex concepts. Thus, a totally different approach is required, if our aim is to get to the root of this mind.

One thing we can do to get started is to pay attention to our thoughts. That might seem redundant, but we’d be surprised at how often we just go around on a kind of automatic pilot, with a constantly vibrating stream of thoughts about anything and everything noisily parading down the neural boulevards. When we step back from immediate participation in the parade and start paying attention, however, we can notice how we are ruled by various thoughts that seem to arise out of nowhere, linger for a moment, and then disappear, followed immediately by more.

We can notice for example how we tend to identify with the current thought, and how we typically let it push us around. We are kind of like Igor being ordered around by Victor Frankenstein. “Igor, clean the laboratory; Igor, light the lamps and throw the switches; Igor, go out and fetch some dead bodies.” We usually comply, rarely questioning who this Dr. Frankenstein really is. However, if we investigate a little, we discover that there is no actual Herr Doktor. There is just a series of commands, directions, memories, impulses, notions, and sensations that apparently come from nowhere in particular, but seem to have cumulatively amount to a solid and enduring person, a self, or “me”. Indeed, we take it for granted that is the way things really are and always have been.

Now though, upon inspection, we are not so sure anymore. The fact that there is no real or lasting continuity to this assemblage should provide us with a clue as to its transient nature. Consciousness works its magic, and a virtual world, along with a virtual self and its destiny, have somehow appeared. Momentarily, it all dissolves. Amazing!

Nevertheless, if we stay right with this mind and keep paying attention, we will discover that the person we were imagining ourselves to be in the morning is not the same as the one in the afternoon, nor is that one the same at night, while we sleep and dream. Indeed, just as each thought flickers by from moment to moment, so too does our sense of self. The whole body-mind-self mechanism is perpetually morphing, like a bubbling stream, and there is no place or time where we can freeze it and say: “This is it!”

On the other hand, now that we have been paying attention to this complex production for a while, we can recognize that something has been present the whole time. Actually, it is not a thing, not an object that can be pinned down or held in one’s hand, nor is it another projection of mind. Perhaps we now realize that it has always been here in the background, regardless of whatever the thought machine has been up to, regardless of the body’s big adventures, and regardless of whomever or whatever we might momentarily take ourselves to be.

It is empty of any conceptual designation, such as an inherent self-nature, so in that sense it is transparent, but it also has this pristine quality of knowingness about it, and so in that sense it is also “cognizant”. It is not qualified by any form of identification, so it is sometimes called “nameless”. What is that essence of mind? It is just this present awareness. Everything that has ever materialized has done so within the space of that, just as everything that vanishes does so within that same aware spaciousness. One can regard all appearances simply as superimpositions on this primordial awareness. Some compare this present wakefulness to the sky, in which clouds come and go, but which remains essentially the same in its vast emptiness.

It is prior to the arising of the intellect, prior to any sense of name or form, any fixed identity or storyline, any sound or vision. It is prior to the engaging play of self and other, prior to dualistic notions such as bondage and liberation, prior to consciousness itself. Obviously, it could never be something to become, attain, or manipulate, but if we really pay attention, we might recognize that it is the natural essence of who and what we truly are. Unborn and undying, without beginning or end, motionless and ever serene, indivisible, already always perfect – these are mere verbal designations for a reality beyond the intellect’s capacity to apprehend.

Awakened in such recognition, we are more and more released from the habitual fearful clinging, craving, and aversion which have previously characterized our existence in this realm. We begin to learn intuitively how to act in life and relationship, rather than persisting robotically as programed sleepwalkers. When stable recognition is embodied in compassionate action, genuine appreciation of our fundamental nature arises spontaneously as a living current of heart nectar. Such appreciation is another name for joy, joy which transcends both hope and fear, joy which freely expands to infinity!


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 several other sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Poetry and Prosetry: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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11 Responses to Essence of Mind

  1. Jeremiah weser says:

    Thank you! Great perfection always!

  2. Bob OHearn says:

    A Letter to a Dying Man

    Bassui wrote the following letter to one of his disciples who was
    about to die:

    “The essence of your mind is not born, so it will never die. It is
    not an existence, which is perishable. It is not an emptiness, which
    is a mere void. It has neither color nor form. It enjoys no pleasures
    and suffers no pains.

    I know you are very ill. Like a good Zen student, you are facing that
    sickness squarely. You may not know who exactly is suffering, but
    question yourself: What is the essence of this mind? Think only of
    this. You will need no more. Covet nothing. Your end which is endless
    is as a snowflake dissolving in the pure air.”

  3. marcelvuijst says:

    Wonderful Brother, clear introduction of depended arising and the emptiness of all phenomena, awakening to what is the light “behind” the mind (or nature) instead of getting stuck in empiness you show how to integrate awakening into daily life, your post is very helpful straight from the horses mouth we can reap its benefits by paying attention and applying it with our practise. Thank you.

    • Bob OHearn says:

      So happy to share these ramblings with you, may whatever merit ensues serve to relieve a little of the stress of compounded confusion that often accompanies birth in this realm.

      • marcelvuijst says:

        Compounded confusion that is a nice way of putting it Sir. The human vehicle can use all the merit it receives, in human, divine, or “liberation” matters. We are so confused that we even thank the divine for human food on the table 😉

        In any case I’m thankful for conditions to be so favourible that I’m able to read your words in this mutable and illusive dream we call the universe, but perhaps saying superimpositions on primordial awareness is the compassionate thing to say for characters in this funhouse of totality.

      • Bob OHearn says:

        It is an important step in clarity to realize how mind weaves fantasies of interpretation onto perception. From that recognition alone, a lot of false or unhelpful views can be seen through and discarded, opening the space for a deepening appreciation of one’s essential nature.

  4. marcelvuijst says:

    The false has many layers indeed, and seem to arise endlessly.
    Thank you Brother.

  5. Steve says:

    “Without directly recognizing mind’s essence, we can know everything yet understand nothing. However, if we are able to understand that one thing, then everything else becomes clear and obvious.” Very well described Mr OHearn! Your insights and essays are a joy! Much appreciate you publishing them!

  6. Philip Kamau says:

    This is true enlightenment.

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