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 amounted in our fantasy of interpretation on perception 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 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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26 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.

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    Stillness, Movement, and Awareness According to the Quintessential Instructions of Mahamuda
    If you are simply able to practice stillness, movement, and awareness according to the quintessential instructions of Mahamudra you will come to see the truth of the dharmata, the mind’s nature, the Buddha nature. Such is the potential of these instructions.
    Having understood that the root of everything is mind, seek out its nature. Having unlocked its secret you will have realized selflessness and become learned in all dharmas.
    Here I am teaching the quintessential instructions of the realized ones, where an over-emphasis on logic and analysis is done away with. When you direct yourself inward and look at your mind, you may notice a state devoid of thought, this is what is referred to as stillness; when thought occurs it is movement; and when your mind is aware of either of these two it is known as awareness.
    If you are able to sustain this awareness you will come to discern this vital point: all experience, whether pleasant or sad, arises from and dissolves back into your own mind. When you have fully understood this you will come to recognize all as the personal experience of your mind. Subsequently, by looking directly into the essence of your mind, regardless of whether it is moving or still, you will come to know that the myriad thoughts that beset you are all empty and without autonomy. This emptiness is not a space-like vacuity, but is rather an emptiness adorned with the supreme of all aspects – meaning it is devoid of self-nature yet has an unceasing luminosity – fully cognizant, fully conscious.
    When you realize this secret of mind, an intrinsic radiance that is the experience of the natural state – mind itself – within which there is no separation between watcher and watched, you will have recognized awareness; this is what is introduced in Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Sustain this and it will be as Saraha said: If you continually stare into the primordially pure nature of space, seeing will cease. And as the Mother, The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, reads: Mind is devoid of mind, its nature is luminous.
    There is nothing easier than this, but it must be practiced.
    Written by Mipam. Mangalam Translated by Sean Price and copyright

  8. Bob OHearn says:


    Thoughts manifest themselves within emptiness and are reabsorbed into it like a face appears and disappears in a mirror; the face has never been in the mirror, and when it ceases to be reflected in it, it has not really ceased to exist. The mirror itself has never changed.

    So, before departing on the spiritual path, we remain in the so-called “impure” state of samsara, which is, in appearance, governed by ignorance. When we commit ourselves to that path, we cross a state where ignorance and wisdom are mixed.

    At the end, at the moment of Enlightenment, only pure wisdom exists. But all the way along this spiritual journey, although there is an appearance of transformation, the nature of the mind has never changed: it was not corrupted on entry onto the path, and it was not improved at the time of realization.

    ~Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    “The method for taking all situations as the path is to rest within the essence of the mind. Within our minds, there are three aspects: the way things appear, how they are confused, and the way they actually are. We do not take our difficulties as the path in relation to how things appear or are confused, but in relation to how they actually are. We rest naturally within their nature — the clear and empty nature of the mind that is sometimes called the union of clarity and emptiness or the union of wisdom and the expanse. We rest within this, recognizing it. When we take sickness as the path, we look at the essence of the sickness without altering it in any way and just rest naturally within that. When we take the afflictions as the path, we just look at the essence of the greed, aversion, or delusion that has occurred. We do not follow the affliction or block it. We do not try to stop our thoughts. Instead, we look at those thoughts and at the afflictions that occur, and we rest naturally within their inherently empty essence.”

    ~VIVID AWARENESS: The Mind Instructions of Khenpo Gangshar

  10. Bob OHearn says:

    So being a guru means collecting people? 😉

  11. Bob OHearn says:

    The formal gurucentric paradigm is on its last legs, imo.

  12. Bob OHearn says:

    We are currently in-between the end of the old and the dawning of the new era, when the guru will not so much be embodied as an individual, but as the collective itself. In other words, truth itself will be the teacher as life and love, without need for a formal mediator agent between self and supreme.

  13. Erik Papik says:

    This is a very stimulating reading. If the essence of the mind is this vast emptiness, would that mean that upon the firm establishment in the vast essential emptiness of the mind (in some cases decades of aspiration), the mind stops “wandering” altogether? Would that mean that there are no “random” thoughts in that firm establishment?

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Stabilizing in the default position, there is no longer neurotic identification with the thought stream. The angle of vision has changed from that habitual activity. To verify, please test it yourself. 😉

      • Erik Papik says:

        I will test it myself — thank you for directing me to my own experience! There is probably a lot of useless overthinking this dream character Erik is engaged in!

      • Bob OHearn says:

        “The training in recognising mind essence is this: short moments repeated many times. There is no other way. A short duration guarantees it is actually the authentic mind essence, by itself. Repeating this recognition many times ensures that we will get used to it.”

        ~Tulku Urgyen

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