February 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
In her Jan. 5th talk at Florida Atlantic University, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo emphasized the significance of reaching a mental state where thoughts can just be observed without our being swayed or coming under their influence. Of course, instructions on meditation begin by saying thought should not lead us away from our chosen object of meditation (usually the breath). Yet few realize that this seemingly simple directive underlies all meditation and, if followed to its conclusion, will lead to the state Tenzin Palmo speaks of, as well as those that lay beyond.
Beginning and even seasoned meditators find that remaining focused on the chosen object of meditation is not a simple task. If it’s breathing, within a couple of breaths the attention drifts to some physical discomfort or distracting noise. After a bit, thoughts of the day’s schedule are being followed or one becomes lost in some pleasant memory. Time after time the attention wanders. Time after time it is returned to the breath. This is what the beginner sees as following thought but this interpretation only scratches the surface of its actual meaning.
At times following thought is shown in the addict who habitually becomes agitated or combative as a prelude to taking his or her first drink. Arguments between spouses or between parents and children may begin with a dance that follows specific steps into the row. On an emotional level we may find ourselves continually feeling guilt out of a belief that others will not punish us if they see we are already feeling bad. As human beings we have many tricks to prolong our suffering that all involve “following thought”.
It needs saying that there is nothing wrong with thinking. Thinking is a natural byproduct of the conceptual mind. When advanced and rigorous it may even develop the type of focused attention that opens the door to higher consciousness. But such thinking is rare in this world with the majority spending their days in habitual thought. In meditation, it is primarily our habitual thinking that we are to stop following.
The most followed and habitual thought is the ego thought. Even when the attention is deeply concentrated on the breath, if there is a sense of an “I” that is concentrating one is still following thought. In respect to this, note that the various levels of Samadhi may be described as a relative absence of the “I” thought in which only the object of meditation remains.
The ego is essentially just a thought that has been followed throughout the course of your life. Some call it a story and that is as good a description as any. It is the story of your life that contains dramas, comedy, love and all your memories, hopes and dreams. It is to this story that you cling out of the mistaken belief that it is the real you. Eventually, however, this story must end and the ego thought must fall away just as it once arose. This happens when the body dies but the Buddhist seeks to release the story before then. By meditation and mindfulness the Buddhist seeks to end his or her identification with the ego.
Not following thought is both the beginner’s and the adept’s practice. Through it both come to a state of just observing thought that then blends seamlessly into mindfulness. Both eventually drop the ego and leave the world of dream illusion behind. Then simple awareness turns upon itself and all sense of duality vanishes. Thought is no longer followed and the raft is left behind.