Living Meditation, Living Insight
by Dr Thynn Thynn
J: I still don’t understand how we can make the mind silent.
Thynn: You must realise that you cannot make the mind silent. The more you try to silence the mind purposefully, the more you tie yourself up in knots. The more you try to quiet your mind, the more you propel it into activity. If you try to vanquish your mind, you’ll find that the action of subduing is itself disquieting. You see, a mind that is already unquiet cannot deal with a nonquiet mind. This vicious cycle perpetuates a continuous state of frenzy.
M: What do you mean by silent mind? If there is no action in the mind, aren’t we paralysed? How can we function?
A silent mind is not a dead or static mind. A mind is dead or static when it is dulled with ignorance of oneself. In Buddhism, this ignorance is called avijja. Self-conceit, anger, greed and confusion cloud the mind. The mind may be active with greed, hatred and anger, but that mind is dead to the world and to others. Totally wrapped up in its own confusions, that mind is insensitive to the needs of others. This is a true paralysis of the mind, which renders it unable to open up to others. A truly silent mind, on the other hand, is alert and sensitive to its surroundings. This is because a silent mind is devoid of judging, clinging or rejecting. The silent mind is free from hatred, anger, jealousy, confusion and conflict.
J: It sounds so beautiful! How can we achieve this silent mind?
The mind is silent when it transcends the duality of liking and disliking. Generally we perceive the world through a conceptual framework based on a dualistic way of thinking. As soon as we perceive something, we judge it. Let’s say we judge that it is good. As soon as we judge something as being good, then anything opposing it automatically becomes bad. We constantly divide our conceptual world in this polarised manner; we set up good and evil, beauty and ugliness, right and wrong, according to our own standards.
M: But we have to discriminate in order to function in everyday life. I’m not going to eat a rotten apple. It would make me sick. I have to judge this apple rotten, that one ripe and good to eat.
Of course you need to make judgments to function in this world. You need to recognise a good apple from a bad one. This is rational, not emotional, judgment. But usually we don’t stop at making rational judgments. We go on to impose our emotional judgment of likes and dislikes onto our perceptions. We dislike a rotten apple, don’t we? Therefore, we cling to our dislike of it.
Suppose someone offers you a rotten apple. How would you feel?
M: I would be annoyed.
Yes. And if they gave you a big beautiful apple?
M: I’d be delighted.
Do you see how your emotions are built up around your own likes and dislikes? When you find something that appeals to you — an idea, a person or a thing – then you want to cling to it, to possess that idea, person or thing. You become caught up in the duality of beauty versus ugliness, good versus evil, on and on.
Let’s go back to your big, beautiful apple. Suppose someone snatches your beautiful apple away?
M: I’d be very annoyed.
There you see. Where’s the problem?
M: Oh, you mean the apple is not the problem, but we are?
Exactly. Apple is just apple, good or rotten. You can take it or leave it. You can make a rational judgment about it. But our problem is that we make emotional judgments instead. This is what we need to be clear about.
When we make emotional judgments, we set up ripples in our minds. These ripples cause larger ripples and soon a storm is brewing. This storm disturbs the mind. In all this we lose touch with the silence in the mind, the peace within. It is only when we can calm these ripples that the mind can reside in its own silence, its own equanimous state. When the mind can rest in its own stillness it can see things as they are. I call this silent mind, “peace-mind.”
If we don’t allow the mind to be silent, we make emotional judgments and the we get into trouble. Here is where the battle starts, within ourselves and outside of ourselves.
J: Oh, I see. We cling to what we judge to be good, right or beautiful, and reject its opposite.
Yes, you’ve got it.
J: But how do we break out of this duality?
Remember, duality is a creation of our conceptual minds. We love to cling to what we have created. The duality we create becomes a personal possession. “I” want to hold onto “my” idea of right, “my” idea of beauty, “my” idea of good. Our minds become rigid, and we end up looking at the world through narrow blinders.
J: How can we free ourselves from this fixation?
By being mindful. When you are mindful of yourself judging in that moment, the judging will stop. Once you stop judging, “seeing things as they are” will follow naturally. Eventually, you will become more equanimous; your mind will stop and look instead of running around in circles. When the mind is busy judging, clinging and rejecting, it has no space for anything else. Only when you stop discriminating can you see things as they are, and not as you think they are or want them to be. This is the only way to transcend the duality of likes and dislikes.
Once we transcend duality, once we break through the boundaries of our own conceptual framework, then the world appears expanded. It’s no longer limited by our tunnel vision. When the bondage is broken, then whatever has been dammed up within us all these years has a chance to emerge. Love – and along with it, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity – come forth and bring sensitivity to others.
In the past, our energy was sapped by conflict, frustration, anger, rejection, etc. This conflict was exhausting. Now free from conflict, we can redirect ourselves toward harmonious living and meaningful relationships with others. Only then does life become worth living, because now we can experience fully each moment in its freshness. We can also see our relationships with others in a totally new light. Now we can truly live in harmony.