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.

Lama Yeshe teaching in 1975 at Lake Arrowhead, California during the first American course by the Lamas. Photos by Carol Royce-Wilder.
Chapter Three: Experiencing Silent Wisdom

When your sense perception contacts sense objects and you experience physical pleasure, enjoy that feeling as much as you can. But if the experience of your sense perception’s contact with the sense world ties you, if the more you look at the sense world the more difficult it becomes, instead of getting anxious—“I can’t control this”—it’s better to close your senses off and silently observe the sense perception itself.

[Meditation]

Similarly, if you’re bound by the problems that ideas create, instead of trying to stop those problems by grasping at some other idea, which is impossible, silently investigate how ideas cause you trouble.

[Meditation]

At certain times, a silent mind is very important, but “silent” does not mean closed. The silent mind is an alert, awakened mind; a mind seeking the nature of reality. When problems in the sense world bother you, the difficulty comes from your sense perception, not from the external objects you perceive. And when concepts bother you, that also does not come from outside but from your mind’s grasping at concepts. Therefore, instead of trying to stop problems emotionally by grasping at new material objects or ideas, check up silently to see what’s happening in your mind.

No matter what sort of mental problem you experience, instead of getting nervous and fearful, sit back, relax, and be as silent as possible. In this way you will automatically be able to see reality and understand the root of the problem.

[Meditation]

When we experience problems, either internal or external, our narrow, unskillful mind only makes them worse. When someone with an itchy skin condition scratches it, he feels some temporary relief and thinks his scratching has made it better. In fact, his scratching has made it worse. We’re like that; we do the same thing, every day of our lives. Instead of trying to stop problems like this, we should relax and rely on our skillful, silent mind. But silent does not mean dark, non-functioning, sluggish or sleepy.

[Meditation]

So now, just close your eyes for five or ten minutes and take a close look at whatever you consider your biggest problem to be. Shut down your sense perception as much as you possible can, remain completely silent and with introspective knowledge-wisdom, thoroughly investigate your mind.

[Meditation]

Where do you hold the idea of “my problem”?

[Meditation]

Is it in your brain? In your mouth? Your heart? Your stomach? Where is that idea?

[Meditation]

If you can’t find the thought of “problem,” don’t intellectualize; simply relax. If miserable thoughts or bad ideas arise in your mind, just watch how they come, how they go.

[Meditation]

Don’t react emotionally.

[Meditation]

Practicing in this way, you can see how the weak, unskillful mind cannot face problems. But your silent mind of skillful wisdom can face any problem bravely, conquer it and control all your emotional and agitated states of mind.

[Meditation]

Don’t think that what I’m saying is a Buddhist idea, some Tibetan lama’s idea. It can become the actual experience of all living beings throughout the universe.

I could give you many words, many ideas in my lecture tonight, but I think it’s more important to share with you the silent experience. That’s more realistic than any number of words.

[Meditation]

When you investigate your mind thoroughly, you can see clearly that both miserable and ecstatic thoughts come and go. Moreover, when you investigate penetratingly, they disappear altogether. When you are preoccupied with an experience, you think, “I’ll never forget this experience,” but when you check up skillfully, it automatically disappears. That is the silent wisdom experience. It’s very simple, but don’t just believe me—experience it for yourself.

[Meditation]

In my experience, a silent lecture is worth more than one with many words and no experience. In the silent mind, you find peace, joy and satisfaction.

[Meditation]

Silent inner joy is much more lasting than the enjoyment of eating chocolate and cake. That enjoyment is also just a conception. 

[Meditation]

When you close off your superficial sense perception and investigate your inner nature, you begin to awaken. Why? Because superficial sense perception prevents you from seeing the reality of how discursive thought comes and goes. When you shut down your senses, your mind becomes more conscious and functions better. When your superficial senses are busy, your mind is kind of dark; it’s totally preoccupied by the way your senses are interpreting things. Thus, you can’t see reality. Therefore, when you are tied by ideas and the sense world, instead of stressing out, stop your sense perception and silently watch your mind. Try to be totally awake instead of obsessed with just one atom. Feel totality instead of particulars.

[Meditation]

You can’t determine for yourself the way things should be. Things change by their very nature. How can you tie down any idea? You can see that you can’t.

[Meditation]

When you investigate the way you think—“Why do I say this is good? Why do I say this is bad?”—you start to get real answers as to how your mind really works. You can see how most of your ideas are silly but how your mind makes them important. If you check up properly you can see that these ideas are really nothing. By checking like this, you end up with nothingness in your mind. Let your mind dwell in that state of nothingness. It is so peaceful; so joyful. If you can sit every morning with a silent mind for just ten or twenty minutes, you will enjoy it very much. You’ll be able to observe the moment-to-moment movement of your emotions without getting sad.

[Meditation]

You will also see the outside world and other people differently; you will never see them as hindrances to your life and they will never make you feel insecure.

[Meditation]

Therefore, beauty comes from the mind.

[Meditation]

So, that was the experience of silence. But if you have some questions, let’s have a question-answer session. You can discuss what I’ve been saying through your own experience. Observing and investigating your mind is so simple; very simple. Constantly, wherever you go, at any time, you can experience this energy. It’s always with you. But chocolate isn’t always with you—when you want it, it’s not there and when you don’t feel like it, there it is in front of you.

The joy of the silent experience comes from your own mind. Therefore, joy is always with you. Whenever you need it, it’s always there.

Still, if you have questions, please ask, although an answer from the silent mind is always better than too many words. There are so many views and philosophies; instead of helping, they sometimes cause more confusion. Some English words can mean more than twenty things.

Q. What’s the best way to attain enlightenment oneself? Where does one find enlightenment?

Lama. By dealing with your own mind. By knowing your own mind’s nature. That’s the best thing. Otherwise, you just collect ideas; too many ideas—“This idea; this religion; this religious idea.” All you do is collect ideas, but you have no understanding of how they relate to your own mind. Thus, you end up with nothingness. The best thing, the real solution to your own problems, is to face them; to try to understand their nature. If you can do that, problems disappear by themselves. You can discover this through your own personal experience. If you read books containing fantastic ideas, religions and philosophies but don’t know how to put those ideas into action, if you don’t have the key, the ideas themselves become problems. The best thing you can do is to try to understand your own nature. That’s better than trying to find out more about me, for example: “What is this lama?” It’s impossible to stop problems that way. But by constantly observing your own everyday life—how your mind interprets your family and friends, how your mind interprets what you feel—by always checking, you will realize that what makes life complicated is your own misconceptions. You will understand that your problems come from you. Now you are starting to learn. The more you understand, the more progress you make, the closer you get to liberation. There’s no progress without understanding. That’s why Lord Buddha said, all you have to do is understand; then you’ll progress along the path. If you have no understanding, even if you learn countless intellectual ideas, they’re just ideas; you’re wasting your life.

Q. It seems that to achieve the desired result from meditation, you need a certain kind of environment. What are the implications of this fact for those of us who live in a concrete, noisy, nine-to-five world with little or no contact with others interested in the spiritual path. Do you believe that psychedelics like LSD can be important or useful for people like this?

Lama. Well, it’s hard to say. I’ve never taken anything like that. But Buddhist teachings do talk about how material substances affect the human nervous system and the relationship between the nervous system and the mind. We study this kind of thing in Buddhist philosophy. From what I’ve learned, I would say that taking drugs goes against what Buddhism recommends. However, my own point of view is that people who are completely preoccupied with the sense world, who have no idea of the possibilities of mental development, can possibly benefit from the drug experience. How? If people whose reality is limited to the meat and bone of this human body have this experience, perhaps they’ll think, “Wow! I thought this physical world was all there is, but now I can see that it’s possible for my mind to develop beyond the constraints of my flesh and blood body.” In some cases the drug experience can open up a person’s mind to the possibility of mental development. But once you’ve had that experience, it’s wrong to keep taking hallucinogens because the drug experience is not real understanding; it’s not a proper realization. The mind is still limited because matter itself is so limited; it’s up and down, up and down. Also, if you take too many drugs you can damage your brain. So, that’s just my personal point of view.

Q. Do I need anything?

Lama. I hope you need something. No, you definitely need something. But it’s for you to check up what you need. Your needs come from within you, not from without. Still, many times we say, “I need this, I need that,” and throughout our lives accumulate so much stuff. But when we really check up the why and the how of our needs, we can finish up finding that we need almost nothing.

Q. Are you saying that Western education is a waste of time?

Lama. No, that’s not what I’m saying. It depends on the individual; it depends on how you learn, not the education itself. How you learn is what’s important.

Q. Could you explain again how we find answers from within ourselves.

Lama. Let your obsessed sense perception rest for a while and allow your silent mind to surface. Then ask your question. You will find that the answer to your question will appear spontaneously from within the peaceful stillness of your silent mind.

Q. Are you saying that we have to enlighten ourselves?

Lama. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Q. Then why do we need to follow a teacher?

Lama. We need somebody to teach us how to find the answers from within ourselves; how to put our energy into the right channel so that the right answers appear. Most of the time, the answer is here but we’re looking for it over there, in completely the opposite direction.

Q. What does Tibetan Buddhism have that other branches of Buddhism do not?

Lama. First, I would say that all branches of Buddhism are teaching fundamentally the same thing—an approach to developing the human mind. But individually, we think, “I’m Christian, I’m Jewish, I’m this religion, I’m that,” but we actually have no idea of how to put our religion into action; we don’t know the method. However, that is completely up to the individual. Also, Tibetan Buddhism doesn’t contradict the other schools—Zen, Hinayana and so forth. Basically, they are all the same. Of course, we see things from only the outside, so our judgments are very superficial. We ask someone, “What’s your religion?” He says, “I’m this….” Then we check to see if the person’s happy or not. If we think he’s unhappy, we go, “Oh, he’s unhappy; that religion must be horrible.” Our value judgments are so limited. We should be careful not to do this. For example, tonight I have spoken about many things. If tomorrow someone asks you, “What do you really feel about what Lama said last night?” be careful not to reply as if yours is the definitive view. Everybody here will have a different opinion. We interpret things through our limited point of view, so it can be dangerous to say categorically, “This religion is that; that religion is this.”

Q. Well, how do you know whether what you’re thinking is right or not?

Lama. Observe carefully. Don’t be satisfied with the way your superficial perception interprets things. That’s what I keep saying. You have a thousand minds functioning within you. Every minute, every day, they’re telling you, “This is good; no, try this; no, maybe this is good….” Many different minds arise: “I want this”; a minute later, “No, I want that.” You get so confused. Observe, instead of immediately grasping at whatever your mind fancies the moment it fancies it. Your schizophrenic mind changes its opinion every minute; different ideas keep rushing into your mind; each one generates so much excitement that you grasp at it immediately. That’s what gets you into trouble. Therefore, instead of saying, “Oh, fantastic,” the moment an idea arises, step back; observe. Check up the why and the how of that idea.

Q. How do you check?

Lama. Deeply; with wisdom. Checking ideas is not like an airport customs inspection. That is so superficial. The checking mind is the penetrative wisdom that sees through to the very heart of all phenomena. Wisdom sees a lot more than just shape and color.

Q. Do you think just by checking within you can find a solution to any problem?

Lama. Sure; if you have enough wisdom. But when you do, you have to make sure that the solution you have found fits the problem. This depends on the nature of the problem, not only on the solution itself. Even if the method is correct, you have to wait for the right time to put it into effect. Timing is veryimportant. If you get emotional—“Oh, there are so many people, so many problems”—and rush about in your car trying to help everybody, you’ll finish up creating more problems and having a nervous breakdown.

Q. How is Buddha consciousness lost?

Lama. Buddha hasn’t lost his consciousness. Where would it be lost? How could Buddha’s consciousness get lost? Buddha hasn’t lost anything.

Q. But aren’t we in the situation of having lost the enlightenment we once had?

Lama. No, that’s a misconception. Once you achieve buddhahood there’s no coming down. You remain completely in everlasting satisfaction. It’s not like the up and down of the drug experience. When the drug’s energy has dissipated, you come down. Enlightenment is not like that; it’s completely indestructible, everlasting joy.

Q. With work and family obligations, I find it difficult to maintain my spiritual practice.

Lama. Many people do. The conditions make it difficult. Our baby minds are very susceptible to the environment. An agitated atmosphere agitates our mind. You can observe for yourself the effect different situations have on your mind. But when we attain liberation, or inner freedom, we transcend conditions. When we have reached beyond the conditioned mind, no matter where we are, the external conditions cannot affect us. We’re completely in control because we understand the reality of our minds and the environment. Until we do, the conditions are more powerful than our minds and we are easily controlled by the environment.

Q. If one believes that one already has a satisfactory solution to problems, what benefit is there in meditation?

Lama. If someone believes that he has a solution to his problems without meditation—perhaps he’s hallucinating. I’m joking. Your question is very important. You have to know what meditation means. Meditation is not just sitting in some corner doing nothing. Meditation means using the wisdom of your intellect and not being satisfied with mere superficial perception. Meditation means seeing beyond the superficial view. That is what we call meditation. Therefore, if one hasn’t attained the penetrative wisdom that understands the nature of reality and his entire perception is a hallucination, it’s impossible to really solve any problem. He might think he has a solution, but he’s dreaming.

Q. Does life start at conception?

Lama. Yes, at conception. Before you come out of your mother’s womb—even when you’re only a few cells in size—your consciousness is already there. Of course, it’s difficult for us to remember this because our minds are so limited, but it’s true that our minds and our bodies have been connected from the time of our conception.

Q. What is the best way to control emotions?

Lama. As I’ve been saying—with the silent mind. When you feel strong emotions arising, instead of getting busy, busy, busy, instead of nervously doing something, relax; try to be silent. There are many ways of doing this. Instead of letting your emotions run wild with your mind, unable to forget whatever it is that’s bothering you, sit down, relax, and focus your mind on the flow of your breath—watch exactly how your breath flows into your nervous system on inhalation and out of it on exhalation. This is very simple. When you concentrate on your breath, you automatically calm down. This is living experience; it has nothing to do with religious belief. You’re observing your own nature. As long as you’re alive, you’re breathing. So, just focus your full attention on the coming and going of your breath and the way you feel. If you can do this, your emotions will automatically settle down and your fixations disappear. It’s very simple and very practical. I can guarantee that if you watch your breath for just twenty-one cycles, your nervous emotions will vanish. I’m not making this up or exaggerating. It’s people’s experience. And to enjoy the benefits of this technique yourself, you don’t have to identify with any religious group.

Q. What happens during an initiation?

Lama. Ideally, the mind of the guru and the mind of the disciple merge at the same level. Also, receiving an initiation does not necessitate meeting the guru physically. If you are able to bring your mind up to a certain level, you can initiate yourself. That’s possible.

And if there are no further questions, we can stop here. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

Prince Phillip Theatre, Melbourne University, 6 April 1975