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Quiet Mind
January 14th, 2014

The “Quiet Mind” is another name for ‘Peace’, which is another name for the actualisation of ‘Nirvāṇa’, which is another name for cessation of lust, aversion and ignorance… which is… which is… which is…

I quite like the expression though because I think it describes better than ‘Peace’ the actual experience (at least better for the ordinary mind, to who ‘Peace’ might sound a bit generic and unreal): there is still an ‘awareness’, which is a lot more responsive than in the “neither-perception-nor-non-perception” jhāna but its responsiveness does not come at the cost of agitation, worry, scheming, etc.

As soon as one knows the connection with Nirvāṇa though, one might think it's virtually impossible to experience the Quiet Mind. And then one does not meditate regularly because it is assumed there's no real point in doing so: the goal of holy life is assumed to be unreachable. So here is how meditation helps cultivating the Quiet Mind!

As you probably know, there are two categories of meditation used in Buddhism: “single-pointed concentration”, and ‘insight’ (or ‘mindfulness’). They're the last two spokes mentioned in the Eightfold Path; so you could consider a quarter of your practice should be meditation. This is obviously an abusive projection, but it should make clear that Buddhism without any meditation at all is not Buddhism.
Of course, some forms of Buddhism might label ‘meditation’ differently, for example ‘chanting’: the nembutsu of Pure Land Buddhism covers both concentration (when one chants at the temple) and mindfulness (when one chants during all activities). Don't fall fool of mere labels.

Single-pointed concentration

Single-pointed concentration is the training to “let go” of mental proliferations. One learns to ‘drop’ thoughts as they arise. This is not conflictual; there's no suppressing the thoughts, there's no ensuring they don't arise, no “preemptive strike”. The practice is to drop thoughts as they get noticed.

There are multiple aspects to this: one facet is to dissociate your imaginary ‘self’ from thoughts (‘they’ are not ‘you’), one is to see thoughts as they are (imperfect models of the world), one is to avoid the illusion that one thought was the only possible consequence of the previous thought, that there was no other way, no other possible consideration, no other possible perspective, i.e. no other ‘truth’.

Dropping thoughts is done simply by refocusing on the pre-chosen object of concentration (e.g. the breath), without storing the ‘thought’ for later: just like you can un-grasp a cup and let it smash on the floor rather than delicately putting it on a table, you can let go of thoughts without storing them, without tying yourself down to them, without binding yourself in a big knot of accumulated, saved-for-later views of your world.

The more you ‘train’, the faster you become aware of losing your object of concentration and of drifting into mental proliferations. At some point, you become able to let go of a thought as soon as it arose, without letting it driving you to another thought. Later, it even becomes possible to drop a thought as it arises… In Western terms, this means dropping the thought before it reaches ‘verbalisation’, or dropping ‘subconscious’ thoughts.


Female Asian teenager doing meditation against white, © 

This freedom from the “chains of thoughts” leads towards the Quiet Mind: you may ‘plan’, if you choose to, but thoughts have lost the power to force you to plan, to force you to respond to them. You can develop the thoughts that are helpful, while letting go of those not so helpful… You can use appropriate thoughts, while letting go of those biased… You can habituate yourself to wholesome thoughts, while letting go of those unwholesome.

Fear becomes an information, only to take into account like any other; you're free from the emotional over-prioritisation (which is a classic sign of mental proliferation, by elaborating from consequences “in the world” to consequences “in relation to me”): you've developed fearlessness, what was ‘fear’ is now mere ‘information’ by simply avoiding mental loops.


Mindfulness is further training into disassociating from your thoughts, into realising selflessness and impermanence and understanding how dissatisfaction arises.

This is mostly achieved by observing how your ‘own’ mind works, although there are various practices to help you observe it in ways more conducive to insights than others: the observer stance (or “mental noting”) is a classic, but one may also pay attention to ‘roles’ projected by each story the mind makes, or one might also include all-day-long fusing into koan / hwadu / chanting…

Seeing how thoughts co-dependently arise with a context (i.e. are empty of intrinsic essence or truth) leads towards the Quiet Mind by making your mind less and less interested by the stories, the narratives it runs all day with.

Computer simulation of a star being shredded by the gravity of a massive black hole © NASA, S. Gezari (Johns Hopkins University) and J. Guillochon (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Truth becomes an information, only to take into account like any other; you're free from the emotional clinging to “I'm right, you're wrong”: you've developed a sense of humour about life, what was ‘truth’ is now mere ‘perspective’ not to take so seriously.

By letting go of the confusion between perspective and truth, by stepping beyond duality and oneness, by realising emptiness without losing form, by realising form without losing emptiness, the mind loses its agitation because there's nothing to lose. Fear simply falls away, you can relativise its ‘information’ content… Experiencing doesn't stop: that's the realisation of deathlessness.

Combining the two

The Eightfold path includes six spokes to create supportive conditions and two spokes to cover meditation. The two meditative spokes both tackle the practical cultivation of the Quiet Mind, by allowing to drop mental loops (i.e. challenging the associated sense of inevitability, both in running thoughts in general, and in transitioning from one thought to another in particular) and by challenging the very content of these loops.

One becomes able to follow thoughts by choice rather than automatically, and one loses interest in over-blown narratives pretending to be truths when they're just co-dependently arising based on a rather-limited set of conditions and circumstances.

By combining the two spokes, one tends to elect not to give in to mental loops, unless there's a clear benefit in ‘planning’, ‘thinking’, ‘modelling’ for a particular wholesome purpose at hand; this is to say one tends to elect to experience a Quiet Mind… an ‘awareness’ which is a lot more responsive than in the “neither-perception-nor-non-perception” jhāna but the responsiveness of which does not come at the cost of agitation, worry, scheming…

No secret

There's no esoteric secret here. One needs to practise cultivation! There are many possible forms and ways to do so, but cultivation itself is not optional. No secret: this is life, it is unsatisfactory, results require efforts, there's no free lunch.
Because there are many forms of practice, it is most likely that one form is adapted to your life. “Worst case” scenario: you only need to wake up (or go to bed) 10 minutes earlier (resp. later) to practise formal seated meditation every day. Who cannot swap 10 minutes of sleep for the cessation of struggle?