The mind-only teachings have been around since the beginning, in the Pali Canon it was called the All.
It’s an important teaching because it can help us cling and crave less. It’s also a gateway to grokking emptiness in a firsthand, direct, way—which is the point.
So, what is the mind? If we’re asking from an empirical perspective, there’s no such thing as mind. We’re not going to find the mind if we look for it as an object. It’s not in the brain, we’re just gonna find neurons there. We’re not gonna find it anywhere in the body or outside it. That means we’ve gotta abandon materialism and objectivity to answer that question.
From a subjective perspective, the mind is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting touching, thinking, feeling, perceiving, willing, intending, remembering, deciding, and desiring. It’s attention and awareness.
That’s the subject, the self, the doer. The things we see, hear, want, think, etc. are objects, they’re “the other.”
Mind-only means that really there is no other, that everything you’re experiencing is in the mind. It’s easy to prove this.
If something you’re experiencing right now, like these words, was outside of your mind, then you wouldn’t be able to experience it. The mind is what turns this dead matter sitting before you into a meaningful, living experience. If you could see these words without your mind, they wouldn’t be words anymore. They’d be incoherent patterns in streams of photons.
If the things you’re hearing right now, including silence, were outside your mind, they wouldn’t exist to you. It’d be like noise outside a heavily sound proofed room.
And when you go to sleep at night, everything disappears, including yourself. And if you get drunk, smoke some pot or drop a tab of acid, your whole world changes. When I ate some shrooms back in the day, my keyboard became a flowing rainbow of sound and color. The desk lamp grew into a fractal flower. If the things we’re experiencing were outside the mind, all of this would be impossible. You could be in a deep sleep and still aware of the room around you, you could trip balls but not experience an altered perception.
This brings us to a, “So what?” moment. “OK, everything I experience is in my mind, what does that matter?”
Arriving at it through logic isn’t the practice, but seeing it clearly and viscerally for oneself. That’s what causes a, “Whoa,” moment, aka insight. The things we chase after, run from, push away and grasp at aren’t outside of us. There are as many worlds as there are minds, and these worlds interact with each other. Whenever two people speak, touch, or look at one another, that’s two parallel worlds coming into contact, influencing each other.
Also, remember that there’s no mind. No mind. This is all happening in our minds, but there’s no objective thing we can point to and say, “That’s my mind.”
So what in the flying fuck is going on around here?
And you’re in your mind too. So am I, the version of me that exists in your world anyway. That version of me doesn’t exist anywhere else, and it certainly doesn’t exist to me.
Without the mind there’s no perception of self or other. There’s no perception of anything. You’re aware of yourself, that means you’re in your own mind. If you weren’t in the mind, you’d be unaware of yourself.
This means it’s delusional for us to say, “My mind,” to view the mind as our possession. That’d be like sunlight saying, “That’s my sun,” or a cloud pridefully musing, “That’s my sky.” We arise from the mind, exist within it, and only experience it. It’s the entirety of our lives and who we are. And intentional thoughts, words, and actions change the skyscape, making it clear or cloudy.
It’s like if a tree said, “I’m a tree, I exist unto myself. I own this ground.” That makes for a tumultuous life, a life of constantly feeling attacked by impermanence. So the tree defends itself and starts dropping bitter fruit. But if it saw itself as an expression of the ground, as dependent on it, it’d be able to loosen up a bit. “I’m just a tree, I’m rooted in the earth, never apart from it.”
But all of this still begs the question: what is the mind? Where is it? We know that everything we experience is the mind, but if that’s all the mind is then awareness would come and go along with whatever it’s aware of. When a cloud dissolved, the sky would dissolve with it. If we’re concentrated on the breath, then there’s be no awareness of the space between breaths.
To see the Mind, the objective mind that we dissed at the beginning, we have to see it without ourselves, without any sense of ownership. Because the Mind is like space: immovable, universal, bright and clear. In order for a cloud to see the clear sky, it has to see it without itself because if that little cloud is still there the sky isn’t clear.
It’s not something that a person or an identity can experience, the same way that we can’t see our faces without reflections or captured images. The Dharma asks us to do just that, though, for the flashlight to illuminate itself. This is the practice.