The Thinking Mind

‘Looking at the mind which is contemplated by any mind is giving up discursive thought. When we observe the world and give up discursive thought, we are looking at the mind which is contemplated by any mind. If you look at the floor or listen to a sound without thinking about it, you are actually looking at the mind that is observed by all minds. When you have given up any discursive activity that tells you what it is, then the floor is the mind. By doing this, you have actually turned your light around and shined it back on the mind that is observed by all minds.’  (Reb Anderson – The Third Turning of the Wheel)

I know when I was reading this, and in the flow of the argument, it seemed a lot clearer than it does in isolation. It is a commentary on some phrases of the Buddha in the Samdinirmocana Sutra about how to practice samatha or tranquility meditation.

About the same time that I was reading this book, I read an article in the New Yorker which was also about dealing with the mind, and a philosopher, Andy Clark, who has made a career out of it:

‘Cognitive science addresses philosophical questions—What is a mind? What is the mind’s relationship to the body? How do we perceive and make sense of the outside world?—but through empirical research rather than through reasoning alone. Clark was drawn to it because he’s not the sort of philosopher who just stays in his office and contemplates; he likes to visit labs and think about experiments. He doesn’t conduct experiments himself; he sees his role as gathering ideas from different places and coming up with a larger theoretical framework in which they all fit together….

Most people, he realizes, tend to identify their selves with their conscious minds. That’s reasonable enough; after all, that is the self they know about…

[His partner] meditates regularly and goes on meditation retreats. Clark has tried meditation a couple of times, but he finds that he just sits there and doesn’t get much out of it.’

Much of it triggered my impatience at how much of Western philosophy has been a kind of blundering around in mental processes in a way that was neatly dissected by Buddha two and a half thousand years ago, with an understanding that promotes ease and happiness more effectively than anything I have read in the Western canon. Perhaps the sentence after the paragraph I quoted from Reb above explains way better than I can:

‘In a way, we are addicted to discursive thought in the same way an alcoholic is addicted to drinking.’

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