The Peaceful Stillness of the Silent Mind

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Melbourne and Sydney Australia 1975 (Archive #329)

The six teachings contained herein come from Lama Yeshe’s 1975 visit to Australia. They are all filled with love, insight, wisdom and compassion, and the question-and-answer sessions Lama loved so much are as dynamic and informative as ever.

Chapter Five: An Introduction to Meditation

From the beginning of human evolution on this planet, people have tried their best to be happy and enjoy life. During this time, they have developed an incredible number of different methods in pursuit of these goals. Among these methods we find different interests, different jobs, different technologies and different religions. From the manufacture of the tiniest piece of candy to the most sophisticated spaceship, the underlying motivation is to find happiness. People don’t do these things for nothing. Anyway, we’re all familiar with the course of human history; beneath it all is the constant pursuit of happiness.

However—and Buddhist philosophy is extremely clear on this—no matter how much progress you make in material development, you’ll never find lasting happiness and satisfaction; it’s impossible. Lord Buddha stated this quite categorically. It’s impossible to find happiness and satisfaction through material means alone.

When Lord Buddha made this statement, he wasn’t just putting out some kind of theory as an intellectual skeptic. He had learned this through his own experience. He tried it all: “Maybe this will make me happy; maybe that will make me happy; maybe this other thing will make me happy.” He tried it all, came to a conclusion and then outlined his philosophy. None of his teachings are dry, intellectual theories.

Of course, we know that modern technological advances can solve physical problems, like broken bones and bodily pain. Lord Buddha would never say these methods are ridiculous, that we don’t need doctors or medicine. He was never extreme in that way.

However, any sensation that we feel, painful or pleasurable, is extremely transitory. We know this through our own experience; it’s not just theory. We’ve been experiencing the ups and downs of physical existence ever since we were born. Sometimes we’re weak; sometimes we’re strong. It always changes. But while modern medicine can definitely help alleviate physical ailments, it will never be able to cure the dissatisfied, undisciplined mind. No medicine known can bring satisfaction.

Physical matter is impermanent in nature. It’s transitory; it never lasts. Therefore, trying to feed desire and satisfy the dissatisfied mind with something that’s constantly changing is hopeless, impossible. There’s no way to satisfy the uncontrolled, undisciplined mind through material means.

In order to do this, we need meditation. Meditation is the right medicine for the uncontrolled, undisciplined mind. Meditation is the way to perfect satisfaction. The uncontrolled mind is by nature sick; dissatisfaction is a form of mental illness. What’s the right antidote to that? It’s knowledge-wisdom; understanding the nature of psychological phenomena; knowing how the internal world functions. Many people understand how machinery operates but they have no idea about the mind; very few people understand how their psychological world works. Knowledge-wisdom is the medicine that brings that understanding.

Every religion promotes the morality of not stealing, not telling lies and so forth. Fundamentally, most religions try to lead their followers to lasting satisfaction. What is the Buddhist approach to stopping this kind of uncontrolled behavior? Buddhism doesn’t just tell you that engaging in negative actions is bad; Buddhism explains how and why it’s bad for you to do such things. Just telling you something’s bad doesn’t stop you from doing it. It’s still just an idea. You have to put those ideas into action.

How do you put religious ideas into action? If there were no method for putting ideas into action, no understanding of how the mind works, you might think, “It’s bad to do these things; I’m a bad person,” but you still wouldn’t be able to control yourself; you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from doing negative actions. You can’t control your mind simply by saying, “I want to control my mind.” That’s impossible. But there is a psychologically effective method for actualizing ideas. It’s meditation.

The most important thing about religion is not the theory, the good ideas. They don’t bring much change into your life. What you need to know is how to relate those ideas to your life, how to put them into action. The key to this is knowledge-wisdom. With knowledge-wisdom, change comes naturally; you don’t have to squeeze, push or pump yourself. The undisciplined, uncontrolled mind comes naturally; therefore, so should its antidote, control.

As I said, if you live in an industrialized society, you know how mechanical things operate. But if you try to apply that knowledge to your spiritual practice and make radical changes to your mind and behavior, you’ll get into trouble. You can’t change your mind as quickly as you can material things.

When you meditate, you make a penetrative investigation into the nature of your own psyche to understand the phenomena of your internal world. By gradually developing your meditation technique, you become more and more familiar with how your mind works, the nature of dissatisfaction and so forth and begin to be able to solve your own problems.

For example, just to keep your house neat and tidy, you need to discipline your actions to a certain extent. Similarly, since the dissatisfied mind is by nature disorderly, you need a certain degree of understanding and discipline to straighten it out. This is where meditation comes in. It helps you understand your mind and put it in order.

But meditation doesn’t mean just sitting in some corner doing nothing. There are two types of meditation, analytical and concentrative. The first entails psychological self-observation, the second developing single-pointed concentration.

Perhaps you’re going to say, “Concentration? I don’t have any concentration,” but that’s not true. Without concentration, you couldn’t survive for even a day; you couldn’t even drive a car. Every human mind has at least a superficial degree of concentration. But developing that to its infinite potential takes meditation—a great deal of meditation. Therefore, we all have to work on the concentration we already have.

Of course, when you lose control of your mind, when you get angry or overwhelmed by some other emotion, you lose even the little concentration that you do have, but still, single-pointed concentration is not something that does not exist within you. It is not impossible to attain, beyond reach, way up in the sky with no connection to you. You don’t have to approach concentration from a long way off. It’s not like that. You already have some concentration; it just needs to be developed. Then you can straighten out your disorderly, dualistic mind. The dualistic mind is not integrated. As long as it remains that way, it remains dissatisfied by nature, and even though you think you are physically and mentally healthy, you’re mentally ill.

We tend to interpret dissatisfaction extremely superficially. We say, glibly, “I’m never satisfied” but we don’t really understand what dissatisfaction is or how deep it runs. Someone suggests, “You’re dissatisfied because you didn’t get enough milk from your mother,” and we think, “Oh, yes, that’s probably why.” This kind of explanation of mental problems is totally off the mark; a complete misconception. Also, dissatisfaction does not come from only inborn, internal sources. It can also come from philosophy or doctrine.

Wherever it comes from, dissatisfaction is a deep psychological problem and not necessarily something that you’re consciously aware of. You think you’re healthy, but then why can a small change in your conditions cause you to totally freak out? It’s because the seed of problems lies deep in your subconscious. You’re not free of problems; you’re just unaware of what’s in your mind. This is a very dangerous situation to be in.

Analytical meditation, checking your own mind, is not something that demands strong faith. You don’t need to believe in anything. Just put it into practice and experience it with your own mind. It is an extremely scientific process. Lord Buddha taught that it’s possible for all people to reach the same level of view—not materially but internally, in terms of spiritual realization. Through meditation, we can all attain the same goal by realizing the ultimate nature of our mind.

We often find that people fear those from different countries or religions; they’re suspicious, insecure: “I’m not sure about him.” This happens because we don’t understand each other. If we really understood and communicated with each other, our fears would disappear. Our understanding of what other religions teach and how they affect human development is very limited; therefore, we feel insecure when interacting with their followers.

We don’t think anything of a big restaurant having an extensive menu. Different people like different kinds of food in order to enjoy their lives and feel satisfied. It’s the same thing with religion. Different paths are necessary for different people’s minds. If you understand this, you won’t feel uncomfortable with practitioners of other religions; you’ll accept them as they are.

Our problem is that we don’t accept ourselves as we are and we don’t accept others as they are. We want things to be other than they are because we don’t understand the nature of reality. Our superficial view, fixed ideas and wrong conceptions prevent us from seeing the reality of what we are and how we exist.

Through meditation, you can discover how even actions of body and speech are uncontrollably psychologically motivated. This discovery leads you to natural control of all your actions. An understanding of your psychological impulses is all you need to become your own psychologist. Then you don’t need to run to others like a baby, “Am I all right? Do you think I’m OK?” It’s babyish to always be asking somebody else if you’re OK. It makes your whole life baby-like and you always feel insecure. Having to rely on somebody else to tell you you’re OK only makes your life more difficult. Anyway, half the time you’re not going to believe what the other person says, so why bother? It all becomes a ridiculous joke.

You should know every aspect your own life. Your life will be more integrated and you’ll see things more clearly. A partial view of life can only make you insecure.

There are many types of psychological impulse driving you to do what you do. Some of these are positive, others negative. Instead of simply doing whatever your impulses dictate, it’s better to step back and ask, “Why?”

For example, when you have a headache, instead of asking yourself, “What is this headache?” ask, “Why do I have a headache? Where has it come from?” Investigating the source of the headache is more interesting than simply trying to find out what it is. Sometimes just understanding its source can make it go away. Just wondering what it is can never lead to understanding. All you see is the superficial feeling, not its background or deep root.

Sometimes people think, “I’m getting older every day. How is it possible to develop the mind?” If you think that your mind ages and degenerates the way your body does, you’re wrong. The way the mind and body function and develop is different.

Meditation isn’t necessarily some kind of holy activity; when you meditate, you don’t have to imagine holy things up there in the sky. Simply examining your life from the time you were born up till now—looking at the kind of trip you’ve been on and what sort of psychological impulses have been propelling you—is meditation. Observing your mind is much more interesting than watching TV. Once you’ve seen your mind, you’ll find television boring. Checking in detail what you’ve been doing from the time you were born—not so much your physical actions but the psychological impulses driving you to do them—is extremely interesting and is how to become familiar with the way your internal world functions.

Analyzing your own mind with your own knowledge-wisdom makes you mentally healthy. It’s how you discover that your enjoyment does not depend on chocolate; you can be happy and satisfied without chocolate. Normally you tend to believe, “As long as I have chocolate, I’ll be happy. I can’t be happy without it.” You make your own philosophy of life with this kind of determination, which comes from attachment. Then, when the chocolate disappears, you get nervous: “Oh, now I’m unhappy.” But it’s not the absence of chocolate that’s making you unhappy; it’s your fixed ideas. It’s the way your mind tricks you into believing that your happiness depends on external objects. It’s your psychological impulses that make you mentally ill. People get homesick, don’t they? Well, here’s a new type of illness: choc-sick. I hope you get what I’m saying.

Of course, this is just one example of how our mind gets fixed ideas. In our lifetime, we fixate on thousands of ideas in this way: “If I have this, I’ll be happy; if I have that, I’ll be happy. I can’t be happy if I don’t have this; I can’t be happy if I don’t have that.” We fixate on this, we fixate on that, but life is constantly changing, running like an automatic watch. You can see impermanence simply through observation.

Fixed ideas shake us; they make our mind uncomfortable, agitated and split. According to Lord Buddha, putting strong faith in material objects, thinking, “only this will make me happy,” is a total fantasy.

When you understand your relationship with chocolate, you know it’s impermanent. Chocolate comes; chocolate goes; chocolate disappears. That’s natural. When you understand it’s natural, you have no fear. Otherwise, your clinging to chocolate is a rejection of the natural order. How can you reject the world? “I want to remain sixteen forever.” No matter how much you wish for things to stay the same, you’re asking the impossible. It’s a complete misconception. From the Buddhist point of view, you’re dreaming. Irrespective of whether you have faith in religion or reject it, you’re dreaming.

If you have the psychological tendency to reify ideas, you’re a believer. Even though you say, proudly, “I’m a skeptic; I don’t believe anything,” it’s not true. Check up: you’re a believer. Just two or three questions will prove that. Do you think some things are good? Do you think some things are bad? Of course you do. Those are beliefs. Otherwise, what is belief?

A belief is something you create with your own logic— irrespective of whether it’s right or wrong. Everybody has some reason for thinking, “This is good; that is bad.” Even if it’s completely illogical, it’s reason enough for some people to conclude, “Wow! I like that.” Because of this, because of that, they think, “Yes.” That’s the fixed idea; that’s the belief.

I’m not just being cynical. This is my own experience. I have met many skeptical Westerners and checked. Intellectually, they say, “I don’t believe anything,” but ask them a couple of questions and you’ll immediately expose many beliefs within them. This is living experience, not some abstract philosophy.

However, the function of meditation is to reintegrate the split mind; to make the fragmented mind whole. Meditation brings satisfaction to the dissatisfied mind and explodes the idea, or belief, that happiness depends on circumstances alone.

It is important to know this. Weak people can’t face problems. Meditation is a way of helping you become strong enough to face your problems instead of running away from them. It allows you to face and deal with your problems skillfully.

According to Lord Buddha’s philosophy and the experience of generations of Buddhist practitioners, you can’t stop problems simply because somebody says, “You have this problem because of this, that or the other.” Somebody interprets something for you, says a few words, and all of a sudden you see the light, “Oh, yes, thank you; my problem’s solved.” That’s impossible. The root of problems is much too deep for something like that to work. That’s too superficial an approach to eradicate problems.

The root of problems is not intellectual. If it were, if problems came simply from ideas, then perhaps somebody’s suggesting to you that if you changed your way of thinking all your problems would be solved could work. However, to overcome the dissatisfied, undisciplined mind and put an end to psychological problems, you need to become the psychologist. In other words, you need to become knowledge-wisdom.

To liberate yourself, you must know yourself, and getting to know yourself is a fantastic achievement. Then, no matter where you go—up in the sky, under the earth—you will carry the solution to your problems with you.

Chocolate, on the other hand, cannot always be with you. Anyway, you know from your own experience that no matter where you go, as long as you bring your dissatisfied mind along with you, you’re always unhappy. The place is not the problem. It’s your mind. Even if you go to the moon, you can’t escape your problems. Your dissatisfied mind is still there. What, then, is the point of going to the moon if you bring your dissatisfied mind along? We think, “Wow! The moon! Fantastic!” It’s not fantastic; it’s just another trip.

If you check more deeply, you’ll find that whatever you normally think of as fantastic—sense pleasures and so forth—is not at all fantastic. You’re just running around in circles; it’s the same old trip, over and over again. Your mind changes, you think, “I’m happy,” you get bored, you change again, and so it goes, and the little happiness that you do experience never lasts. To experience everlasting satisfaction, freedom and enjoyment, you must bring your own wisdom into play and try to be totally conscious and aware of your own behavior and the impulses that drive you to act, your motivation for doing what you do.

If you do that, you’ll make your powerful, precious human life really worthwhile. If you don’t, well, it’s uncertain whether your life will be worthwhile or not.

Isn’t this simple? How difficult is it to check your mind? You don’t have to go to a temple; you don’t have to go to church. Anyway, your mind is your temple; your mind is your church. This is where you integrate your mind through your own knowledge-wisdom. It’s very simple. And you can’t reject what I’m saying: “I don’t need to understand my own psychological impulses.” You can’t say that. It’s your own mind we’re talking about. You have to know your own psychological phenomena. They’re part of you; you have to know who you are, your own nature. Lord Buddha never stressed, “You have to know Buddha.” His emphasis was, “You have to know yourself.”

Usually we understand observing our own behavior to mean watching what we do physically, but psychological impulses do not necessarily translate into overt action. To observe those impulses that do not manifest externally and are therefore obscured from view, we need to meditate. When we meditate deeply, we integrate, or unify, our mind, thereby automatically controlling the agitation that normally arises from the dualistic view projected by our sense perception. In other words, we are able to transcend our sense perception. We can all reach this level.

Therefore, check your own potential to understand your psychological impulses and develop everlasting satisfaction and joy. By checking, you can reach conclusions; without checking, you never reach any conclusion and your whole life becomes wishy-washy, uncertain and insecure.

Why are we not at peace? Because we’re not satisfied. From the Buddhist point of view, the dissatisfied mind is the culprit; the real problem. The nature of dissatisfaction is agitation; it functions to disturb our peace of mind.

By analyzing material things in great detail, people discover where they come from and what they’re made of. If you put this kind of effort into investigating your internal world, you’ll be able to find true satisfaction.

Perhaps that’s enough, and since you don’t have any questions, I’ll simply say good night and thank you very much.

Anzac House, Sydney, 8 April 1975