Emptiness or Voidness of Mind

What we normally call the mind is the deluded mind – a turbulent vortex of thoughts whipped up by attachment, anger, and ignorance.

This mind, unlike enlightened awareness, is always being carried away by one delusion after another. Thoughts of hatred or attachment suddenly arise without warning, triggered by such circumstances as an unexpected meeting with an enemy or a friend, and unless they are immediately overpowered with the proper antidote, they quickly take root and proliferate, reinforcing the habitual predominance of hatred or attachment in the mind and adding more and more karmic patterns.

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 in the voidness of mind; in reality nothing at all has happened.

When sunlight falls on a crystal, lights of all colors of the rainbow appear; yet they have no substance that you can grasp.

Likewise, 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.

Stillness and Movement

The mind has, in general, two aspects, stillness and movement.

Sometimes the mind is quiet and free from thoughts, like a calm pool; this is stillness.

Eventually, thoughts are bound to arise in it; this is movement.

In truth, however, although in a sense there is a movement of thoughts within the stillness, there is actually no difference between these two states – just as the nature of stillness is voidness, the nature of movement is also voidness.

Stillness and movement are merely two names for the one mind.

Most of the time we are unaware of our state of mind and pay no attention to whether the mind is still or moving.

While you are meditating, a thought might arise in your mind – the idea of going shopping, for instance. If you are aware of the thought and just let it dissolve by itself, then that is the end of it.

But if you remain unaware of what is happening and let that thought grow and develop, it will lead on to a second thought, the thought of having a break from your practice, and in no time at all you will find yourself actually getting up and going out to the market. Soon many more thoughts and ideas will arise – how you are going to buy this, sell that, and so forth. By this point you will be a very long way away from your meditation.

It is completely natural that thoughts keep on arising. The point is not to try to stop them, which would be impossible anyway, but to liberate them.

This is done by remaining in a state of simplicity, which lets thoughts arise and vanish again without stringing onto them any further thoughts.

When you no longer perpetuate the movement of thoughts, they dissolve by themselves without leaving any trace. When you no longer spoil the state of stillness with mental fabrications, you can maintain the natural serenity of mind without any effort.

Sometimes, let your thoughts flow, and watch the unchanging nature behind them.

Sometimes, abruptly cutting the flow of thoughts, look at naked awareness.

Innumerable thoughts and memories, stirred up by the tendencies to which we have become habituated, arise in the mind.

One after the other, each thought seems to vanish into the past, only to be replaced as the next, in its turn, becomes fleetingly present to the mind before itself giving way to future thoughts.

Each thought tends to pick up the momentum of the one before it, so that the influence of a string of thoughts grows as time passes; this is called “the chain of delusion.”

Just as what we call a rosary is in fact a string of single beads, so also what we usually call the mind is really a succession of momentary thoughts; a trickle of thoughts makes the stream of consciousness, the mind-stream, and the mind-stream leads on to the ocean of existence. Our belief that the mind is a real entity is a conclusion based on insufficient investigation.

We believe a river we see today to be the same river we saw yesterday, but in reality a river never stays the same even for a second – the water that made up yesterday’s river will surely be part of the ocean by now.

The same is true for the countless thoughts that run through our “mind” from morning to evening. Our mind-stream is just a succession of instantaneous thoughts; there is no separate entity that you can point out as being a mind.

Now, if we analyze the thought process carefully, it becomes evident that past thoughts are already dead, like a corpse. Future thoughts have not yet been born. As for present thoughts, they cannot be said to have any properties such as location, color, or shape. They leave no traces, and indeed they are nowhere to be found.

In fact, there could be no possible point of contact between past, present, and future thoughts. If there were any real continuity between, for instance, a past thought and a present thought, that would necessarily mean either that the past thought is present or that the present thought is past. If the past really could extend to the present in this way, it would also follow that the future must already be present.

But nevertheless, ignorant of the true nature of thoughts, we maintain the habit of seeing them as being continuously linked, one after another.

This is the root of delusion, and this is what allows us to be more and more dominated by our thoughts and emotions, until total confusion reigns.

It is of vital importance to be aware of the arising of thoughts and to still the waves of thoughts that assail you.

Anger, for instance, is an extremely destructive tendency which spoils all the good qualities you may otherwise have. No one enjoys the company of an angry person. There is nothing inherently very frightening about the appearance of snakes, but because they are generally very aggressive, the mere sight of them inspires fear and loathing. Whether in a human or a snake, such a preponderance of anger is nothing more than the outcome of an unchecked accumulation of negative thoughts.

If at the very moment an angry thought arises, you recognize it for what it is and understand how negative it is, your anger will calm down of its own accord, and you will always be able to stay on good terms with everyone.

On the other hand, if you let that first angry thought give rise to a second angry thought, in no time at all, your anger will be completely out of control, and you will be ready even to risk your life to destroy your adversary.

Source: Taken and lightly adapted from Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters (p. 160-163). Shambhala. Kindle Edition. This quotation is from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.