Enlightenment is not a silent mind,
but one that is unmoving
There is a widespread myth in some corners of spiritual philosophy, that all that is needed to become awakened or enlightened, is a “silent mind.” Usually, silent mind is not defined, therefore one assumes that “silent” implies there is no evidence of internal “voices” or self-talk.
Other interpretations include having a mind that is void of any cognitive activity at all, including imaging, hearing, thinking, planning, speculating, analyzing, etc., but such a definition would not differentiate between someone who is dead or asleep.
In fact, well-practiced meditators easily develop access to what I call the void, or repeated experiences of complete emptiness, which is the cessation of all active or passive mentation, which is experienced as a wide-open expanse inside the head extending outward into the physical body and surrounding environment. In this state there is no cognition we usually associate with the brain at all, such as dreaming, thinking, analysis, etc. The center of consciousness appears to drop from the brain area downwards into the body or more specifically the gut or heart level.
This state which may be called a silent mind, is characterized by what I would call an ultra-clarity of consciousness wherein the senses seem to be performing at a heightened level but without the distraction of any thoughts or cognitive ability that separates the meditator from the phenomena being perceived. That is, it appears the meditator, although he cannot say anything while this process is happening, that there is no longer any separation between the meditator as subject, and what is experienced as phenomena or objects. There is no longer an external objective world. There is just one consciousness with no “inner” and no “outer” world. There is just unity consciousness. But this thought would never cross the mind of someone in that state. There is no room for words or summarization of what the state means while one is in that state. It is only afterwards that you can speak about the experience.
This is what I assume that Zen master Seung Sahn means by keeping a clear mind, a mind with no thoughts, and by being dumb as a rock, because in this state I speak of, thought processes are not possible, so in a sense, you are very dumb, unable to formulate thoughts or deductions.
But this is a mistake. This type of silent mind is temporary, and when ended, and the mind returns, the mind has just as much hold over you as it had before you entered the special state. The state of crystal clear mind, of emptiness, of the great void, is always temporary, and when the mind returns, one has not changed at all. The personality has not changed, ways of thinking have not changed, the only thing that seems to happen is become addicted to having that crystal-clear silent mind.
I think a state described by several ancient Zen Masters by the two words “Unmoving Mind” is closer to what these Zen masters and many other spiritual teachers mean by awakening or enlightenment.
This state is characterized by a total indifference to what the mind is doing or saying. That is, the individual goes about the tasks of everyday life or whatever concerns him or her in what could be called a mindless way. By that I mean the activities of the mind do not “catch” the person’s attention. The mind keeps talking, planning, speculating, stating its wants, needs, but the individual pays no attention to the internal passing show of words, images, and even emotions. To him or her, they are meaningless distractions, while the ordinary person is entirely captured by the mind’s mentations.
Contrary to what many spiritual people think, emotions are more fundamental to the individual than is thinking. Some spiritual teachers say that all emotions are caused by thinking, by thoughts, such as judgments or are triggered by memories. This is not my experience. My experience is that emotions, or the experience of emotions, are centered deeper in the body and thoughts which are almost universally perceived as being somewhere near the head or inside the head. Emotions when carefully perceived are found to be centered in the area of the heart.
When one is in a state of the Unmoving Mind, even emotions can come and go without catching the individual’s attention, and can pass easily as a thought out of the mind and one’s experience of their bodies. However, it is my experience that becoming unattached to emotions is harder to come by than becoming detached from thoughts and imaging.
In this Unmoving Mind, one is certainly not dead but totally alive and pretty well focused on whatever tasks the person is doing without the distraction of dozens or hundreds of thoughts or emotions. It is not like the crystal-clear state of the silent mind, but has some of the same qualities of emptiness to it, in the sense that one’s consciousness is more global and also not distracted by thoughts one could say it does not move under the influence of thoughts or emotions, yet one is not dull or slow minded at all. It is just that one’s awareness is more expansive and not razor focused on what the mind or heart is saying from moment to moment. The individual, whoever that central executive may be, whether called soul, Atman, Brahman, or I, if no longer considers the spinning mind or emotions to be important enough to take note of. But that unknown self can still actively use the mind and feel emotions when they become important to any given task at hand. One can go from no minded nailing two boards together, to a very thoughtful and careful reading of blueprints followed by careful calculations as to what is to be done with the materials at hand to fulfill the blueprint.
It is this Unmoving Mind that I believe is king, not the silent mind of crystal clarity that is temporary. The Unmoving Mind eventually becomes permanent after one sees through the futility of paying attention to it. The endless self-talk judgments, the daydreaming, and all the other kind of random mentation that takes place constantly, is seen to have no import, and that mentation should only be used or followed when necessary to complete a task or function.
This Unmoving Mind is not obtained as a result of meditation at all, but rather by “seeing through” the meaningless fantasy process of random mentation to the point that it is ignored. In this sense, the Unmoving Mind is a result of wisdom, not of meditation, concentration or focusing.
It comes through a process by which you see that the mind is useless, generating stories about what may be, what should be, or may have been. These are all wild and random speculations we are always doing to no avail because usually they are totally without merit or accuracy. The mind spins and we think what it is saying is important. But it is not. The central executive, Atman, realizes that speculations about the external world or one’s own place in that world is utter fantasy, utterly useless, just a playing in the sandbox while the real world goes by. That real world is the experience of the world and ourselves that is constantly taking place underneath the realm of thought and mentation.
Yet for centuries we see people trying to meditate and encountering difficulties of quieting or stilling the mind. They struggle with the mind to silence it. They feel frustrated and angry because they cannot seem to still the mind, when stilling the mind only leads to that special clear mind state, but not to the Unmoving Mind, which results from understanding that most of the mind’s activities are merely a secondary useless game which the mind takes seriously.