Jul 21 2017

Shabkar – The mind has neither color nor form

Published by at 7:36 am under Poetry

The mind has neither color nor form
by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

English version by Matthieu Ricard

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

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


/ Image by Venu Gopal /

[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)

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


Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol), Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol) poetry, Buddhist poetry Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

Tibet (1781 – 1851) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol, often referred to simply as Shabkar (sometimes transliterated as Shapkar), was born in the Amdo province of northeastern Tibet.

He entered monastic studies at the age of eight. As a youth, he resisted pressure from his family to marry and devoted himself fully to spiritual practice, taking full ordination at age 21. While still a young man, he became respected for his scholarship. When Shabkar was 25, he took up the life of a wandering pilgrim and hermit, traveling for the next thirty years to sacred sites and pilgrimage destinations. His life as a wandering ascetic and his songs of spiritual insight became widely known, earning him comparisons with the great wandering Buddhist yogi-poet Milarepa.

Shabkar was a renowned teacher and lineage holder of the Dzogchen tradition.

He was also a nature mystic, conversing with sky and mountain and tree, seeing in them embodiments of teachers and fundamental truths. Like St. Francis of Assisi, he is particularly famous for his love of animals. One of his most widely read works is a treatise on vegetarianism.

More poetry by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Shabkar – The mind has neither color nor form”

  1. Joseph Jastrabon 21 Jul 2017 at 8:35 am

    Brilliant “rambling” Ivan, thank you. I respect your ability to use the mind’s language to evoke the stillness, emptiness and peace of no mind.

  2. Amardeep Singhon 21 Jul 2017 at 8:39 am

    Brilliant commentary, Ivan. “Rambling” much appreciated.

  3. Bharation 21 Jul 2017 at 9:32 am

    Grateful for a ripple called Ivan and another called chaikhana. Or are they the same. Or are they the stillness. The silence. The end of the search?

  4. Brenda Pikeon 21 Jul 2017 at 10:42 am

    Brilliant Ivan, thank you. Deeper and more nourishing ,your ramblings and explanations
    than I have ever found in the Spiritual Classics ancient and modern.
    You are remembered every day.

  5. Stuart Williamsonon 21 Jul 2017 at 3:42 pm

    I understand…
    The knower of the knower
    The observer of the observer
    The doer of the doer

  6. Carolon 23 Jul 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Thank You Ivan. I did laugh at first reading of this poem. So appreciated your
    rambling commentary and surely did understand better after reading that. Will
    keep looking for that ‘single radiance.’ Carol

  7. Annaon 24 Jul 2017 at 9:16 am

    emptiness-
    full of shimmering galaxies
    the veil drops off…

    Greetings, Ivan

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply