The mind has neither color nor form

by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

English version by Matthieu Ricard
Original Language Tibetan

The mind has neither color nor form.
Search for it: it is nowhere.

-- from Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar, Translated by Matthieu Ricard

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/ Image by Venu Gopal /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

[Fair warning: I ramble on a bit here...]

Something in human instinct recoils from statements like this: "The mind is... nowhere." It's a reflex of psychic self-preservation. Consciously or unconsciously we assume that we are the mind. So to say that the mind is nowhere and to speak of emptiness feels like we are marching headlong into our own negation.

It's especially fascinating to watch earnest seekers become mental contortionists, trying in such creative ways to integrate this notion into their worldview, while still rejecting it in their gut. The mind can perform some amazing acrobatics while trying to comprehend its own non-existence!

This gets down to fundamental ground in the process of spiritual awakening. Trying to accept this because a respected teacher or text has told you it is so will only carry you so far. You must investigate yourself.

Here's one way to understand this: The mind must begin the search, but it cannot complete it. At a certain point the mind -- well, aspects of the mind -- are recognized as being a hindrance to full, clear perception. Then there is usually a long process of trying to figure out how to sidestep the mind. This leads only to limited success; we begin to conceive that we are not the mind, but we have no real idea how to get around this uncertain thing we call the mind.

Eventually we begin to wonder, What is the mind anyway? We begin to watch it, observe it's thoughts and images and feelings. We question: Is that me? That thought, this collection of thoughts, are they somehow what I am? What part of me feels that feeling? That image hovering at the back of my awareness, did I conjure it? I see a thing and then I form a mental image of the thing and then I think about the mental image I've formed; do I ever really see a thing as it is? This constant flow of intangibles that endlessly occupies my awareness and populates the world I perceive, what is it all really, and what is my relationship to it?

This is not some heady, intellectual process. We don't necessarily even formulate these questions into words. We just watch. Through watching, we grow quiet Through watching, we learn to see.

A curious thing begins to happen: We become more stable, while the mind dissipates. It's not even really that the mind fades; its reality fades. We begin to see that the mind is not a sustained thing at all. It has no existence in and of itself. It is found to be like ripples upon the surface of a running stream, simply the result of movement. When the movement stops, the water remains, but the ripples are gone.

Awareness remains. You remain. You are, in truth, more yourself. But what you always thought you were is gone -- nowhere. Imagine what that means; you stand there finally witnessing yourself and everything, but without the intervening disruption of your thoughts about your thoughts about your thoughts. Rather than a universe filled with an endless catalogue of objects and experiences, there is seen to be a single radiance. Because this deep level is free from "things," we might call it Emptiness. But the life, and the presence, and the beauty we find is so immense that you'd never make the mistake of describing it as a negation; it is a summation.

So that impish mind, search for it. Laugh at its escapes and evasions. You'll find you can't find the mind. And you'll find so much more.

Recommended Books: Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat

The mind has