Less Thought, More Light

The teachings on meditation point out the benefits of having a quiet mind. This doesn’t mean a dull mind or an uninformed mind. It means we have the power to create peace and tranquillity in our own mind whenever we wish to do so.

This instruction in tranquil self-control is common to all wisdom traditions. For example, it underpins the ‘practice of the presence’ of the Reality taught by the 17th century Christian teacher known as Brother Lawrence, when he warns us that ‘useless thoughts spoil all’, and that we ought to reject them as soon as we become aware of them. The Islamic sage, Jalaluddin Rumi, concludes one of his parables with the words: ‘Thought is gone, and we have gained light’, while the following lines by the Chinese poet-sage, Han Shan, are a typical Taoist expression of the same principle:

In my house there is a cave,
And in the cave is nothing at all.
Pure and wonderfully empty,
Resplendent, with a light like the sun….

The value of creating peace and tranquillity in our own mind cannot be overstated. This because our calmness will produce in us a refined self-awareness. In this self-awareness we will become sensitive to something in our own being—our I am— that is superior to our known powers and faculties. It is superior because it brings a new satisfaction.

In fact such an experience imparts a new meaning to the word ‘satisfaction’. This meaning is conveyed by the English word ‘bliss’. Bliss suggests an intensity of satisfaction which goes beyond experiences that are pleasurable. And yet the bliss revealed in the quiet mind is a tranquil bliss, without forceful outer expression or exuberance.

The important thing about this satisfaction or joy is that it springs from our own innermost being. It is self-bliss or self -joy, because it is the true nature of our I am. The foremost philosopher of non-duality, Shri Shankara, commenting on an ancient text, writes that those sages who have realised their ultimate nature are seen to be as happy as those people who have the means to great happiness in the world, even though they (the sages) may own nothing, make no efforts, and cherish no desires. There can be only one source for their happiness, and that is their self-knowledge.

So the teachings, practical and theoretical, tell us of a new possibility in life. It is the possibility of finding lasting satisfaction through the recognition of our innermost nature, what we call our true Self—our I am. But it is our I am in its pure form, free from all associations as expressed in such phrases as: I think, I said, I did this. It is a return to something subtle, yet constant, natural and basic to human experience.

Our mind, at the start of our enquiry, seems to be a stranger to this self-bliss. But the way of practice and study of these teachings will gradually change how we think and feel, so that the inner peace and joy will be revealed.

It is true that a study of what are basically philosophical teachings can sound painfully serious. You may know the saying: ‘I tried to be a philosopher; but cheerfulness kept breaking in.’ The idea here is that philosophy is such a solemn matter that joy and laughter have no place in it. But as regards the non-dual teachings, the opposite is true. The teachings are a recipe for restoring us to the innate joy of our higher being. The closer our mind is brought to our Self, and the more deeply it soaks itself in teachings on the Self as bliss, the deeper will be our happiness, and the more stable will be our cheerfulness.

Then the question is: How can we bring about this transition from our routine mental states, with their ups and downs, to a living communion with the bliss and peace of our higher nature?

Some inner application is necessary. If we haven’t yet turned in this direction, namely within, our course will resemble a major undertaking, like a new education. But there is a contrast between our normal way of education and our pursuit of the inner enlightenment. Normally we have to spend many years learning things we do not already know, and developing skills we do not already possess. We have to add these things to our mind to make it fit to deal with life.

But the way of enlightenment and lasting satisfaction is not through adding knowledge to our mind, but uncovering and making clear the eternal wisdom that is the true nature of our innermost being. Our way of advance is ultimately a return home. We are already the blissful self, established in complete knowledge. Somehow this truth has become eclipsed, covered over by the profusion and ceaseless production of our uncontrolled thoughts. So the area we have to focus on is our present way of thinking.

It is through making adjustments to our way of thinking that something more than thinking is revealed within us. To make these adjustments, we need help in finding ways of controlling our thoughts and being open and alert to the pointers to the higher self-knowledge that we find, for example, in our studies.

This inner alertness is nothing new. Charles Darwin commented in the opening pages of his book, The Descent of Man:

The highest possible stage of moral conduct is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts.

And as for being receptive to new influences, we find that Jesus told his disciples, when they were being hardfaced and self-righteous, that they would do better if they appreciated the openness and innocence of small children.

What then do we need in order to explore this possibility? Initially what is needed is a strong mind, a peaceful mind, a lit mind. A strong mind is one that can throw off fatigue and resistence—that can say to any thought current: ‘Enough! No more!’ It is a manifestation of our true and innate strength. There is no need to convince ourselves that we are weak and needy, craving for sympathy and attention. The teachings remind us that we are the owner of the mind, and we have the authority to subdue unhelpful thoughts or make the most of any creative or positive impulse we are aware of.

A strong mind must be in partnership with a peaceful mind. The mind unfolds its secrets in peace; in peace, sufferings are forgotten. Everyone has the power to lead their own mind in the way of serenity. A tranquillised mind will become a lit mind. The light comes from within—it doesn’t need to be installed, but as we said before, it has to be uncovered. The covering is our mind filled with thoughts, together with our assumption that we are identified with this mind. But our study will help us to grasp the point that our mind is not the same as our Self, which is the pure light of awareness that is higher than the mind and is infinite.

The way to uncover the inner light is to quieten the thoughts, and introduce thoughts related to our inner light, and our realisation that, fundamentally, we are identified with That. One such thought, found throughout the non-dual classics, is the teaching that one great reality underlies and makes possible the entire universe, and that this reality is one with our innermost Self. Everything that is, from the nebulae to the human mind, has That as its support and sustainer. This is the true being of all, appearing in billions of forms, each distinguished by various qualities, but which philosophical analysis exposes as ever-changing, appearances superimposed phenomenally on that reality.

Thus, compared with pure being, the qualities that can be named and have some kind of form, are regarded as superficial, phenomenal, transient and therefore not completely real, when compared with the underlying reality, although they are real enough in relation to each other.

To reflect on the passing nature of all aspects of our experience, and not least on the fact that ‘those we hold dear will one day perish’, makes us all philosophers from time to time. Yet generally our mind remains filled with the range of our worldly interests, so that we have become habituated to an unceasing stream of thoughts and feelings almost entirely concerned with our outer life.

So we can see how transforming the mind cannot be an easy undertaking, chiefly because of the density of our thoughts and their complexity. We also find that our thoughts seem to have an energy and momentum of their own, which defies interference. As Arjuna says in the Bhagavad-Gita (using an image of some topicality!): ‘It easier to control the wind than to control the mind.’

To make things even more challenging, we know how there is much more to the mind than its surface activity. Much of our past experience, from very early times in our life, is impressed on our memory to form a reservoir of impressions and tendencies. We may call this deeper aspect of the mind the unconscious, or the subconscious, and we are told that our conscious life is partly determined by this store. We only become aware of these psychological surprises when they resurface, sparked off by some association or other. We usually remember things that have had some emotional significance for us. This is certainly the case when some event gave us cause for grievance, however petty. A person might say: ‘I love the music of choppin.’ And he or she may be told: ‘It is not pronounced like that. You must say: ‘Chopin’ (like ‘show pan’) This corrective comment seems harmless enough, but we know how this sort of thing can niggle within us for decades, because we feel it offended our self esteem. So we can see that wisdom is to influence the mind’s depths, as well as its surface expression.

When we first come to this enquiry, and for a long time after, we assume that our self is identified with our mind. The idea that our ‘I am’ is somehow independent and infinite, seems to be unusual and improbable. So part of our work is to loosen our sense of selfhood from its apparent identity with the mind, and to view our mind objectively, observing its mutations and qualities, but not feeling entangled or enmeshed in them.

Another way of seeing our situation, is to consider that the ‘I am’ consciousness is nearest to us—more than near. It is what is immediate and direct in our experience. And our task is to extricate or to withdraw our sense of identity from our mind, with its fluctuations and stresses, to the freedom, infinitude, peace, power and light of the Self, the I am as it is, without boundaries or qualities.

On the other hand, we are aware of the density and complexity of our thinking processes, and of the limited control we seem to have over them. So we can’t in practice re-identify with the self because, so to say, our mind is in the way. In a certain sense we could say that our mind is too thick to see through.

But there is a strategy to overcome this practical problem. This strategy is to get our mind into a better state for self-realisation. This means feeding it with qualities, in a targeted and selective way, and thereby introducing new trends which reduce its density and its complexity, and render it, at least in part, docile to our commands and instructions.

The greatest thoughts we can feed our mind, or plant in the mind, are affirmations of the reality itself, as if the I am were fully revealed to us right now. Such an affirmation is:

I am the inner light which prompts the mind.
I am the sun that lights the whole universe.

We can call these statements ‘compatibles’—because they are totally compatible with what we truly are at the ground of our being. You know that if you have a home printer, you are warned: only use genuine supplies from the manufacturer. These alone are totally compatible for your machine. The meditation texts are, if you like, supplies and accessories from the greatest manufacturer of all—the supreme reality, tailored for our use by the illumined sages who themselves have direct experience of that reality. It is in this sense that the texts are wholly compatible with the reality.

Another key point is that these affirmations and other teachings about the self, have a purity and power that influences our mind in a wonderful way. For these words of depth and insight, when held in the mind, radiate inwards. They thin the density of thoughts. They allow the formation of apertures or openings, through which the original radiance and being of the Self, the I am, may be intimated, or can shine through. In this way, we are using thought material that is wholly compatible with our goal of self-knowledge.

In the Chandogya Upanishad, a verse states: ‘In the beginning all this was Being alone, one only without a second.’ The commentator, Shri Shankara, explains that the ‘beginning’ is always with us, and even now what really exists is Being alone, one only without a second. As for the world of name and form, that is now seen in its true perspective, an illusory appearance in the pure Being which is infinite and transcends all limitations.


This article is from the Autumn 2023 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.