Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
Considering the following insights by radically divergent thinkers will reveal why a profound paradigm shift remains beyond the grasp of most of humanity. “We have free will, but our free will lies in our choice of thought. This is in essence what Jesus taught. It is the underlying message of the whole Bible.” What again is the essence of what Jesus taught? Some would say it is “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Some would say, as Emmet Fox does above, that it is that we create our own reality through the instrumentation of our thought. In this article we must weave the two seemingly disparate threads, compassion and thinking, into one tapestry to really grasp the beauty of the transcendent Now.
Buddhists, many of whom have a deep understanding of suffering, trace its origins to our “thinking” as Sakyong Rinpoche does in this paragraph. “Complaint, on the other hand, is frustrating and painful. We are believing our thoughts, taking them to be real. Our attachment to the concept of how we want things to be is stressful because that concept is always disintegrating. What we want to happen is not happening. We think complaining is going to get the world back on our track, but really it results in our being deaf, dumb and blind to the present moment. Nobody wants to be around somebody who is constantly complaining. Why? Because when we complain, we are looking only for our own comfort.”
Westerners are not without hope, however, especially if they study eastern wisdom as Huston Smith did. “On their negative side, however, words [and thinking] can build up a kind of substitute world that dilutes the intensity of direct experience, a world that is warmed over when not downright fraudulent. A man can say the right things about a painting without having the slightest trace of an aesthetic experience. A nation can assume that the addition of the words ‘under God’ to its pledge of allegiance gives evidence that its citizens actually believe in God whereas all it really proves is that they believe in believing in God. With all they contribute, words have three limitations. At worst, they build up a false world in which other people are reduced to stereotypes and our actual feelings are camouflaged in honorific titles. Second, even when their description of experience is in the main accurate it is never adequate; they always dilute the intensity of immediate experience even when they do not distort it. Finally and most important the highest modes of experience transcend the reach of words entirely.”
Simple Reality promises that a healthy worldview is “simple” and something that the human mind can easily grasp such as Huston Smith’s description above of the perils of thinking. Read the following found in Venerable Guanaratana’s book Mindfulness in Plain English, which also promises accessibility to the eastern mind and see if you don’t agree that profound needn’t be complex. “There is a difference between being aware of a thought and thinking a thought. That difference is very subtle. It is primarily a matter of feeling [emphasis added] or texture. A thought you are simply aware of with bare attention feels light in texture; there is a sense of distance between that thought and the awareness viewing it. It arises like a bubble, and it passes away without necessarily giving rise to the next thought in that chain. Normal conscious thought is much heavier in texture. It is ponderous, commanding, and compulsive. It sucks you in and grabs control of consciousness. By its very nature it is obsessional, and it leads straight to the next thought in the chain, with apparently no gap between them.”
“The Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions [e.g. earth changes, reincarnation, apocalypse, revelations, psi, past lives] which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems. He considered them as a ‘wilderness of opinions.’” But the mind loves this stuff and can get compulsive about them as Gunaratana emphasized and as the following parable also makes clear.
“Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and relatives bring him to a surgeon. Suppose the man should then say: “I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know who shot me; whether he is a Ksatriya (of the warrior caste) or a Brahmana (of the priestly caste) or a Vaisya (of the trading and agricultural caste) or a Sudra (of the low caste); what his name and family may be; whether he is tall, short, or of medium stature; whether his complexion is black or brown, or golden; from which village, town or city he comes. I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know the kind of bow with which I was shot; the kind of bowstring used; the type of arrow; what sort of feather was used on the arrow and with what kind of material the point of the arrow was made.”
“Then the Buddha explains to Malunkyaputta that the holy life does not depend on these views [answers to the above questions]. Whatever opinion one may have about these problems, there is birth, old age, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress, ‘Cessation of which (i.e. Nirvana) I declare in this very life.’”
Karen Armstrong realized that Buddha was warning about both the compulsive nature of thinking but also its severe limitations. “The Buddha was trying to show that language was not equipped to deal with a reality that lay beyond concepts and reason. Again, he did not deny reason but insisted on the importance of clear and accurate thinking and use of language.”
To attain clear and accurate thinking requires a discipline like that provided by the Point of Power Practice. When the mind begins reacting the calming intervention of a response prevents the creation of suffering. “By not reflecting on things that should not be reflected on, and by reflecting on things that should be reflected on, the defilements that have not yet arisen do not arise, and (in addition), the defilements that have already arisen in him disappear. Then he reflects wisely: This is Dukkha (suffering). He reflects wisely: This is the arising (cause) of Dukkha. He reflects wisely: This is Cessation of Dukkha [response]. When he reflects wisely in this manner, the three Fetters—the false idea of self, skeptical doubt, attachment to observances and rites—fall away from him. Bhikkus [students/monks], these are called the troubles (defilements, fetters) that should be got rid of by insight [feeling in the present moment]. This was Walpola Rahula’s translation of Buddha’s teaching on the dangers of thinking found in his book What the Buddha Taught.
All words are like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.
Rahula realized that “Language is created and used by masses of human beings to express things and ideas experienced by their sense organs and their mind.” What are the remedies of this alliance among our language, our senses and the reaction of our thinking? Zen Buddhists use koans which are “carefully devised nonsensical riddles which are meant to make the student of Zen realize the limitations of logic and reasoning in the most dramatic way. The irrational wording and paradoxical content of these riddles makes it impossible to solve them by thinking. They are designed precisely to stop the thought process and thus to make the student ready for the nonverbal experience of reality.”
Martin Buber, in the sometimes limited context of religion, nevertheless realized the dangers of unconscious thinking and the need for simplicity. “Faith is a very strong thing, and if a man has faith and a simplicity that does not rationalize [allow the mind to dwell in the past or future], he will be found worthy of reaching the rung of grace [present moment] which is even higher than that of holy wisdom.”
Vivekenanda, also in the context of religion, cautions about the need for self-reliance and experience beyond thinking. “Obey the Scriptures until you are strong enough to do without them, then go beyond them. Books are not an end-all. Verification is the only proof of religious truth. Each must verify for himself; and no teacher who says ‘I have seen, but you cannot’ is to be trusted, only that one who says ‘you can see too.’ All scriptures, all truths are Vedas, in all times, in all countries; because these truths are to be seen and any one may discover them.”
The moth becomes
A sacrifice to fire,
And the fish to the baited hook;
Yet we, though blessed with intellect,
Still yield to fleshly cravings.
Alas, how inscrutable is this world’s delusion.
Not noted for brevity, Ken Wilber makes a terse insight into how thinking morphs into suffering: “a paleomammal may feel rage, but only humans conceptually elaborate that into anger and then hatred, a long slow burn maintained conceptually.”
Buddha, also prone to wordiness, proved he could be pithy in warning about the power of thinking in creating our experience when he said, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”
Evelyn Blau, in her biography of Krishnamurti reveals that he too was keenly aware of the problem with thinking. “It’s rather unusual, this emphasis on the mind, on thinking itself as an obstacle.”
We generally regard thinking as problem solving but Krishnamurti warns of a trap that may be lurking in this approach to life. “The mere desire to resolve a problem is an escape from the problem, is it not? I haven’t gone into the problem, I haven’t studied it, explored it. I don’t know the beauty or the ugliness or the depth of the problem; my only concern is to resolve it, put it away. This urge to resolve a problem without having understood it is an escape from the problem—and therefore it becomes another problem. Every escape breeds further problems.”
Handbook to Higher Consciousness author, Ken Keyes, distinguishes thinking and problem solving from wisdom. “As you work toward the higher levels of consciousness, you will find that ‘thinking’ (juggling words, hypotheses, and ideas centering around a problem) is usually not the way to find the optimal solution to your problems. A free, undominated awareness [intuition] that is highly attuned here and now to the people and situations around you will best enable you to benefit by the wisdom that is waiting to be tapped in your biocomputer. Your problem is to get at the wisdom that you already have—but which is now inaccessible due to your security, sensation, and power-dominated consciousness.”
Samsara [suffering] is merely thought, so freedom from thought is liberation.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche
Why is Simple Reality such a hard-sell? For thousands of years mystics have advocated a game-changing paradigm to little avail. Humanity continues to insist on the trajectory of its nightmarish descent into darkness. We can tell by our behavior that, admit it or not, our anxiety is increasing because our behaviors are becoming ever more self-destructive. How much longer will we remain in denial, rejecting a healthy narrative choosing slavery over freedom?
The barriers to awakening are many. We have in this article focused on one, namely, thinking. Thinking acts as barrier to a sustainable human community. We must be kidding right? Thinking is at the heart of human progress isn’t it? It’s how we got to where we are now. It’s how we have created civilization itself. It’s how we have evolved from hunter-gatherers to post-modern comforts and life styles. Precisely!
But where do we find ourselves after centuries of so-called progress? Are we experiencing more peace of mind, happiness, joy, compassion and freedom? Take freedom, for example. We remain, in the 21st century enslaved, laboring under the supervision of our false self as an overseer, whip in hand driving us to work harder and harder. Most of us will continue to choose life as slaves on this plantation. It’s what we’re used to. Nevertheless, there will always be rescuers like Harriet Tubman, with heartfelt compassion, squatting beside us and in animated conversation, trying to convince us that liberation awaits us after a low risk journey under the cover of darkness. Only those of us with the courage to let go of our attachment to an unconscious life of habit will consent to trust our “helpers” and choose to embark on the journey which is the essence of life itself.
The words that are emphasized in the following paragraphs connect the narrative of our metaphorical story to Simple Reality. Most of us, as our history makes clear, will fail to find the courage to leave behind the security (food, clothing and shelter), delusional pleasures (such as the sensation caused by drinking poisonous moonshine) and the power of passive resistance.
Our plantation system (P-B), is based on thinking, believe it or not. However, if we undertake to change our identity, shifting it away from the thinker/slave, our nightmarish story will begin to fade into the light of the rising sun like the mist floating slowly up over a southern swamp.
It is time to defend our outrageous contention that thinking is a major source of human suffering and a barrier to creating a sustainable global community. We start with Buddha’s brilliant insight (the Second Noble Truth) that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. Buddhist teachers often use the word “clinging” for craving. “Ego clinging is simply a thought. Clinging to the notion of self is a thought. Clinging to the notion of other is also a thought. Clinging to duality is a thought. The concept of good is a thought, and the concept of evil is a thought.”
Many of us can grasp that a response is a behavioral expression that avoids suffering and leads to compassion. Conversely, resistance to life, which involves the mind creating a story (thinking) and reacting to that story ends in suffering. “When there is thinking, there are the acts of accepting and rejecting, of pleasure and of pain.”
An emotional reaction has its origin in our conditioning and happens unconsciously and spontaneously. However, in order for the reaction to continue it must be sustained by the energy that it derives from the context created by the mind. No story—no reaction—no thinking—no story.
If we breathe and shut down the story, depriving the “monkey mind” of its “thinking” energy, we relax into a thoughtless response. We have entered the present moment. The Point of Power Practice has liberated us from life on the plantation. We have followed the shimmering “drinking gourd” in the darkness of the quiet night, heading north, trusting in our own wisdom beyond the need to allow our mind to obsess about what is obvious to our heart.
A self-reliant slave, trusting in his own intuition, who found the courage to flee the plantation in the dark moonless night, perhaps hearing the barking bloodhounds in the distance, had to want freedom very badly. We must all strive for that strong intention.
When we finally cross the river and stand on “free soil” our old (P-B) life will seem like an unreal nightmare. “As perceived by a Buddha, however, all the experiences that samsaric [enslaved] beings are no more substantial than a dream.”
Mystics recognize, as did Buddha, that the plantation was an imagined paradigm existing only in the thinking of the slaves. Our natural state involves recognizing the context of Oneness, what Buddha called Right View or what some call today simply “the view” (P-A). This Great Insight, experiencing Simple Reality paradoxically is surrendering to pure heartfelt experience without thought and “at the moment of not being involved in thought, you spontaneously have arrived at the true view automatically.”
Choosing response over reaction is the simplest way to escape from the slave territory and to experience emancipation.
References and notes are available for this article.
Also find a much more in-depth discussion of Simple Reality
on this blog and in published books by Roy Charles Henry.