Nikolay wrote:I often encounter the advice that while practising shamatha one shouldn't try to stop the flow of thoughts, but should just sort of register them impassively. I found it basically impossible to do.
Thought arises from consciousness. To be conscious without thought does not mean that the thoughts are gone, or obliterated, or anything (outside of samadhi anyway). It simply means that thoughts are not engaged.
Nikolay wrote:When the thought arises, I notice it and sort of think "Here is a thought."
And this is the question - is it a thought before the notion that it is a thought arises? What is it before it is a thought? Is it anything at all prior to the labeling? The simple answer is no. Without naming it, it isn't anything at all. Nameless.
So, as consciousness flows like a stream, thoughts arise like fish jumping out of the stream. But, they are not actually recognized until you say, "This is a fish!" Do not try to stop the fish from leaping up out of the stream. Instead, let them leap, and if you happen to catch one, let it go, and don't try to keep it.
Nikolay wrote:Then it vanishes, and while my attention is on my mind, I can't help but feel that I am somehow making an effort to stop thoughts from arising. How does one "concentrate on the present moment" without stopping thoughts? Or maybe I am overthinking it?
You concentrate on the present moment by not catching the fish, or if you happen to catch one, not holding onto it, not putting it into the "fish bucket". And then, you get to the question of, "What is catching the fish? What is trying to hold onto them?" And therein lies the doctrine of Śūnyatā.
Keep in mind also that the thinker and the thought are not two things, but one. The subject and object are not two things, but one. The thinker attempting to think about the thought is the thought itself, trying to analyze itself, using the only instrument at its disposal, which is thought. And the analysis is always about thought
, but not thought itself
. Thought cannot take thought apart, and view it objectively from outside of thought and say, "This is thought." Thus, it is one movement, and this is the movement that catches the senses. This is the movement that links the skandhas. The constant recognition of change, with the keyword being recognition, ie. catching the fish.