Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dharma Talk 008: Thought-ism and Thought-aholics

In Dzogchen, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism, it is said that the great perfection is non-conceptual awareness.  That's a really good pointer.

By nature of language, symbolic communication, education, and civilization itself, we have become prejudiced towards thought.  We overdo thought.  We have become thought-ists, thought-aholics, spending our days excessively absorbed in dreams of the future and rehashings of the past.

The original mind, say the mind of a newborn baby, does not have thoughts, at least not like we do.  It cannot have discursive thoughts because it lacks the building blocks of language and symbols for conceptual thought.  In the original mind there is just the bare sensory experience.

The remedy to thought-ism is a combination of things.  On the one hand, we need to stop being thought-ists.  We need to stop indulging and feeding the thought machine when possible.  When you are aware of an attachment to thoughts, could you simply let it drop?  We don't want to resist thought or push it away, but to simply stop at the first noticing of craving or desire for thought.  Let it fall, without worrying about it or experiencing aversion towards thought.

The other side of the coin is to simultaneously develop a kind of affirmative action towards non-thought as an antidote to thought-ism.  In terms of Mahasi style noting, we want to be emphasizing the sense doors of seeing, hearing, and feeling.  We create a new super-preference for all the basic sensory experiential stuff.  In a sense, we are returning the organism back to factory specifications, back to the original default settings.  This is enlightenment.

I once came up with a metaphor of the mind as something like an untrained dog on a leash, always pulling the owner around.  With meditation, we can not only train that dog to be much more calm, but we can also learn to drop the leash.  With a well trained dog and no leash, who cares what the dog does?

The dropping of the leash represents a certain detachment, a distance from the thoughts that are merely happening "over there."  Extending the metaphor a bit, I am reminded of the Dog Whisperer and his teachings about calm, assertive leadership.  The pack leader is unconcerned about a new dog walking into their territory.  The pack leader is king, the king doesn't bow down to some newcomer, doesn't even glance at the new dog.  The pack leader just keeps on doing whatever they were doing.

Similarly, thoughts are like that.  It's just a new dog walking into your territory.  You notice it in your peripheral vision.  That's it, done.  No need to investigate the content of thought or wonder about where it came from or whatever.  Just back to what you were doing.  Just this.

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