Hey everybody, I’m going to try to be succinct and cover a lot of information today. Basically, I want to talk about the silence of mind. It is an important thing. Actually, Ramana Maharshi would often point to stillness and silence. He said that self-inquiry brings you to silence, and then you abide in silence, and that’s where realization occurs. In the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, it starts by saying, “Now yoga is explained. Yoga is the cessation of the revolutions of the mind.” Many teachers talk about silence of mind and stillness of mind as something important. Is it possible? Yes, from my experience, it is.
After awakening in 2005, I found that my thoughts generally died down to very, very little. A lot of the self-reflexive self-critiquing, the various commentaries, the voice in my head, ceased. There was much more stillness. And when I want to abide in stillness, it becomes even more still. For example, I went on a silent and solitary retreat in the fall for a few days. Admittedly, on the first day, with absolutely no distractions, no reading, no TV, no radio, no human contact, not seeing anyone, no spoken language, not talking, the total lack of stimuli did send my mind into more thinking for the first 24 hours. But after that first day, it died down to pretty much nothing, and there was just deep silence for two days straight.
In saying this, I’ll caution against the whole all-or-nothing approach. Don’t try to be absolutist and say there should never be a thought that comes up. As soon as you try to make a rule like that or resist thought in that way, it will cause more thoughts to arise. You cannot resist or fight thought; it just makes it worse.
To a certain extent, there have been a lot of pointers to try to bring people to stillness of mind. In Zen, they talk about how if you’re trying to corral a cow or a wild horse, if you bring them into a small area and try to confine and control them, they buck more and try to break loose. But if you fence in a large pasture and they have all this space, they find no reason to roam or try to escape. In that way, you need to allow yourself. If a thought arises, it arises. Don’t resist it, don’t deny it. It’s kind of like Alan Watts once said, “If you find yourself stuck, you have to allow yourself to be stuck or unstuck.” And then you find you’re unstuck. Thought is kind of like that. If you allow thought or no thought, it allows for the possibility of no thought. But if you don’t allow for thought, if you try to resist it, it will bring more thought.
There have been many practices. Ramana Maharshi pointed to self-inquiry as a way to bring silence and stillness. For me, I found that just being present, feeling the sensations of the body, very kinesthetic, there’s no reason to involve the mind. Thought is always about the past or the future, a moment ago or a moment to come. That’s as close as it can get to now. Thought can never be about now. Only sensation can be about now because that’s what you feel now. Then the commentary happens afterwards about the sensation. So, if you’re just totally in the now, fully one hundred percent devoted to the experience of now, sensually, these sensations, the feelings, I find thought dies down for me. It’s kind of a backdoor, both self-inquiry and being present, a backdoor way of quieting the mind because if you try to actively quiet the mind, it gets in the way.
So, why do this? Why is it important? Because, well, if you’re trying to realize reality, what is, it’s not going to be in the mind, it’s not going to be in thought. What is is what we’re experiencing now, and so it’s in the here and now. What is is in the here now, not anywhere else. So, any thought is actually pulling your attention away from what is going on right now, from reality. Also, in that silence of mind, it is possible for new revelations or realizations to occur because thought is a major distraction. I’m not trying to label it or demonize thought, saying you should get rid of thought, because in the destruction, you have to admit it is a noise. When you’re trying to again, if you’re just trying to feel the now and experience it now and pay attention to the now, thought is a distraction because thought isn’t about now. It’s trying to commentate about now. That’s the way thought can be a distraction. If you’re letting go of thought and just saying, “I don’t care about thought, I’m not going to pay the mind any mind. I am just going to feel the now or follow the “I” thought to its source,” however you want to do it, when you get to a silence of mind, in that uncluttered, still, silent place, it is possible to see things and realize things that could not otherwise be realized when all this thought is going on.