Sayaday U Tejaniya, in [url=http://www.shambhala.com/when-awareness-becomes-natural.html]When Awareness Becomes Natural[/url], wrote:
The Thinking Mind
Another definition of the mind is "the mind that thinks," because that is what it does. You cannot make the mind not think. If you are trying to stop the mind from thinking, you are trying to do the impossible. That is when you start using a lot of energy. Most people use a lot of energy because they are afraid of their thought. When we get lost in our thoughts, we get sucked in; then if we pay too much attention or concentrate too much, we use far too much energy and become like zombies. We shouldn't immediately assume the mind is agitated when we see thoughts. There is awareness because the mind has a degree of calmness. Only when there is no awareness can we say the mind is not calm. So long as the mind is aware of thinking, we can say there is some stability there.
We need to practice with the thinking mind. How? Whenever the mind is thinking, we notice. Try to be aware of thinking again and again, and then slowly the mind will come to know the meaning of object
. When the thinking mind becomes an object, then you cannot be involved in the thinking. Thinking comes and goes, but awareness is already there; awareness is present. But whenever you are involved in thinking, awareness disappears. If we are not skillful enough at recognizing thinking, then we can go back to body sensations, back and forth, back and forth. Later, when we recognize thinking, then we will also recognize awareness arises, because the mind understands that thinking is an object. We begin to understand that the mind is not involved in the thinking process, it is separate. So, to practice with the thinking mind, be aware of the thinking and be aware of the physical object, back and forth repeatedly.
In the beginning, maintaining knowledge of the thinking mind can be difficult to put into practice. It is difficult because we only know the thinking. Thinking is concept because thinking appears as images, sentences, or sounds in the mind. But when we practice and begin to repeatedly notice that thinking happens, then we also notice that beyond thinking is the nature of the mind. This is due to wisdom; it understands that beyond the concept there is the nature of the mind—it thinks. When we can see the separation between the object and the knowing mind—that this is object and this is mind—then the mind has wisdom/understanding. If there is no understanding, then the object and mind appear as one.
As long as there is no understanding, then whenever we have a wrong thought, it will burn the mind and the heart and we will suffer, because there is no separation between the mind and the object. You will notice that some thoughts cause an immediate explosion in the mind, and you will feel hot and angry, embarrassed, upset, or whatever. If we can bring a little awareness and wisdom to this (not the story), then we can investigate and think about it in a sensible way. When we are caught in defilements and have some awareness of this mind process, then we can use the thinking mind to work with it. We can ask the question, "What can I do about this?" This investigating aspect of our mind helps us to disengage from the defilement. This can then calm the mind, allowing us to better observe the defilements and give wisdom an opportunity to develop further. Which is better: to have less thinking or a lot of thinking? Thinking is thinking; defilement is defilement; wholesome mind is wholesome mind, just objects, just nature. When we have this attitude toward thinking, we have right view.
When we make ourselves very busy by concentrating on things, we can artificially block our thoughts—this is not the goal of meditation. So don't be afraid of the thinking mind; know there is a thinking mind. When you recognize it, remind yourself that every moment of recognition is a moment of recognizing awareness. I'm not asking you to look at the story. I simply want you to recognize the mind is thinking. The story is concept, about things out there. What is actually happening is the mind is thinking. We want to be aware of the actual experience, the nature of what's happening. This is the mind meeting the world through the experience of the six senses. So it is the mind that we are experiencing, the mind that is arising, and the mind that is thinking. That is why we want to know and not attach to the story of our thoughts. We want to look at how the mind is generating thoughts, look at how the defilements feed thoughts. This is the work.
Initially you may find this difficult to achieve. The mind's habit is to know the story, so when you try to recognize the mind is thinking, the mind will automatically go to the story, and then you are lost in it. To prevent the mind from getting lost in the story, you become aware that you are lost, and you recognize thinking; just wait a few moments, and in a calm and gentle way, bring your attention to something more grounding, perhaps a sensation that is obvious in the body, and then give attention to the thought again—"the mind is thinking"—then go back to the body. The more you practice this, the easier it becomes to recognize thinking. This is not being busy; this is practicing. Try to relax through the process.
We want to understand the thinking mind, so we need to investigate it. How? One way is to look at the correlation between thoughts and feelings. You can look at how thoughts create feelings and feelings feedback into creating more thoughts. Behind every thinking process there is an underlying nature, the motivation for the thought. This could be a defilement or it could be wisdom. For example, a thought is a thought; it may be an angry thought, but anger is anger and the thought is the thought. They are different natures, but one is feeding the other. It is useful to investigate in this way: look at the entire thought process and the relationship between the thoughts, feelings, and sensations. See them all at once and know how they are interacting with each other; the cause-and-effect relationships within the process can then be seen clearly. When we take the opportunity to bring in right view, we see the thinking mind as a process that is continually feeding itself.
I don't want you to focus too much or concentrate too hard because I want you to notice your thoughts. Take the thinking mind as an object. We want to learn about its nature. You will notice how the mind works when it thinks. When we are not meditating, we often don't know we are thinking. When we sit to meditate, suddenly the mind is full of thought. That is a good sign; it means you are aware. Remember that everything you experience is fine. Nothing is actually wrong; nothing is a disturbance. Everything we experience is there to help us be aware, to help us be steady and grow our wisdom—that is, if you have the right attitude. Objects need never hinder the overall scheme of the practice; the are always just a means for us to practice.
Awareness always needs to be aware of something. If there were no objects to be aware of, we would be living in a very strange world. We are relying on the objects to develop our awareness; we need to capitalize on them and build the habit of awareness. We need to observe the experience and take out of it what is going to benefit us, and then hold on to this for all we are worth. When we practice vipassanā, we are practicing being aware of many objects; each object has the potential for a seed of wisdom that can be realized from it. So with an open awareness of multiple objects, there is the potential to build bountiful wisdom. We take out of the object what is useful and then let it be. It can be compared to panning for gold: take out the specks of gold and then discard the rubble. We can only do this if we have right view.
If we don't have right view, we will be upset by the experience. It doesn't have to be like this. We will be angry if there is noise; we will be upset if there are thoughts; we will be upset if there is pain. If we don't have the right attitude, then it will be like this. It is difficult to develop samādhi—steadiness of mind—if your attitude is off. You might have built up a lot of samādhi during the morning; then one little irritation and it is gone. That's how strong the defilement is; no matter how much samādhi we build up, once they come in—poof, gone. Ten days of retreat and then we go home, get irritated with somebody, and then samādhi is gone. So how are you going to use this mindfulness when you don't know how to handle the defilements (which also means you don't know how to maintain steadiness of mind)?
Mindfulness meditation is not about stopping a process that is happening; it is about understanding the reality or truth of that process. When yogis notice there are a lot of concepts in the mind, their tendency is to cut them off. Wisdom cannot arise that way. Wisdom can only come in when there is a clear seeing of mental functions doing their own work and lobha
are not following close behind. Remember that it doesn't matter how many times the mind thinks, wanders off, or gets annoyed about something; it is OK, just as long as you can become aware of this. With practice you will begin to see the objects and follow them: see how the mind feels, how it reacts, and how it functions.
When you are starting out in practice, you may alternately recognize objects and then mind, then objects and then mind, and so forth. The way you meditate has to change from grade to grade; the practice is dynamic, ongoing. Are you going to be doing the same math at university that you did in primary school? Likewise the way you meditate will progress to match the level of wisdom in the mind. Now that you have progressed, there is no need to go around noting each object; rather, you notice each object and leave it at that. I see yogis who come to retreat for the first time and begin with one object. The next time they come to retreat, they are back to one object. Is there a need to go back to this level when you can see the object, the knowing mind, and the feeling mind all working together? Why is it that you can't see this? Because there is no continuity of practice, you are not taking it outside the retreat center. Every time you come back to retreat, you have to start afresh. There is no momentum. You are going to need continuity of practice and momentum if you want to do the work of purifying your mind.
There are many subtle levels of thinking; even when we are in a state of very sharp awareness, we can be thinking on a very subtle level. "Am I aware? Yes, I am aware." We are commenting about the experience. The difference with this subtle level of thinking is that there is no story. The thinking mind is the object, not the story. This subtle level of thinking is purely functional, not a gross level of thinking. Gross-level thinking is something that comes up quite randomly and strongly; you can become aware of it, and if it is not important, it just stops; if it is interesting and grabs your attention, it will continue while you maintain a light awareness or often no awareness at all. When we observe the thinking mind, we want to learn about the nature of it. Is it skillful or unskillful? Necessary or not necessary? In understanding it in this way, there is a level of wisdom. We want to understand the thinking mind as an object, nature. Thinking is mind.