stopping thought completely

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

stopping thought completely

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:02 pm

Can you do this?

I often hear people talk about states of clarity with no thought...I have never done this.

My thoughts are always going, I can view them, kind of makes them go "poof" by analyzing their qualities, I can detach from them and just watch them, sometimes it seems like I can move "far away" from them to a kind of stillness, but they are always there in one form or another, even if it's just self-referencing thoughts of knowing I am doing meditation - even if I try to not actively meditate, and just sit this is there most of the time. Sometimes I do try to just sit with no thought of what i'm doing, this is the closest i've gotten.. I can keep a state like this for a couple minutes, but eventually concentration starts to slowly wain.

Also, if one does succeed in not having thought at all, how does one know the difference between simple thought-free clarity or just obliviousness?
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby kirtu » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:25 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Can you do this?


Well meditation isn't about stopping thought or sitting in blankness.

However if you put attention on awareness along without distraction then thoughts will temporarily subside. How temporarily? It depends. But as HE Jamgon Kongtrul III notes in Cloudless Sky, thoughts will start up again.

Sometimes I do try to just sit with no thought of what i'm doing, this is the closest i've gotten.. I can keep a state like this for a couple minutes, but eventually concentration starts to slowly wain.


Or you can become hypnotized in effect by a subtle object of meditation/attention like breath (happens in Zen meditation a lot).

Also, if one does succeed in not having thought at all, how does one know the difference between simple thought-free clarity or just obliviousness?


Blankness or obliviousness has an ignorant, possibly sleepy quality. Clarity is fresh, constantly fresh and constantly attentive. It's like asking what's the difference between lifting weights and being lazy?

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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:37 pm

Well I do object-focused Shamatha regularly, including breath. When I do this I become more aware of thoughts, and it's certainly easier to simply calmly let them pass by, or to eventually examine them, but I never notice them "going" with the object focus, the only time I notice them going, maybe - "receding from view" is an accurate way of putting it - is if I focus on no object, like just sitting, even then i'm not so sure.

I get what you are saying of course, but how can you really measure "freshness", clarity, or attentiveness without something (i.e. a thought of one form or another) to test the clarity on? It seems like it would be easy to misinterpret a fairly dull state as being "clear" if there is no object. I'm sure i'm just overthinking it though..so to speak ;)
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby tomamundsen » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:41 pm

kirtu wrote:However if you put attention on awareness along without distraction then thoughts will temporarily subside. How temporarily? It depends. But as HE Jamgon Kongtrul III notes in Cloudless Sky, thoughts will start up again.

Is this true for Buddhas as well, or just sentient beings? I was somewhat under the impression that Buddhas somehow operate on a completely non-conceptual level.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Ayu » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:46 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Can you do this?
I often hear people talk about states of clarity with no thought...I have never done this. ...

I had it two times. But i can not do it. I laid down after a full inspiring day, tired, but fresh in mind and then the mind became like a cloudless sky, thoughtless. It was like a bliss.
Now i know it, but still cannot do it.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby kirtu » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:56 pm

tomamundsen wrote:
kirtu wrote:However if you put attention on awareness along without distraction then thoughts will temporarily subside. How temporarily? It depends. But as HE Jamgon Kongtrul III notes in Cloudless Sky, thoughts will start up again.

Is this true for Buddhas as well, or just sentient beings? I was somewhat under the impression that Buddhas somehow operate on a completely non-conceptual level.


I don't know. But their minds are purified and perfected so they would be able to do anything they wanted as far as that goes. There is disagreement in various schools as to limitations on Buddhas. The Sakya school asserts that Buddha's can't see suffering for example. But the mind of a Buddha isn't blank or caught in blankness. Similarly they could be said to be thoughtless per se because thoughts ride on the winds in our bodies and the mind of a Buddha is just wisdom and they no longer have winds anyway (except maybe Nirmanakayas [real Nirmanakayas not just tulkus or even very high tulkus] who need to have a mental aspect in order to teach, etc.).

Actually this is studied in texts, I just don't know which ones. So it's back to Kongtrul to see what he might say. And Malcolm addressed this sometime back, maybe here.

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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby kirtu » Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:03 pm

Ayu wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:Can you do this?
I often hear people talk about states of clarity with no thought...I have never done this. ...

I had it two times. But i can not do it. I laid down after a full inspiring day, tired, but fresh in mind and then the mind became like a cloudless sky, thoughtless. It was like a bliss.
Now i know it, but still cannot do it.


Jamgon Kongtrul details his first conscious experience of this in "Gem of Many Colors" when he was on a pilgrimage as a teenager and a monk or very good layman pointed this out and they both just rested their minds. Other's have described this as a kind of foretaste of nirvana both from the Southern and Northern Schools. *But*, afterwards you still have problems, have to finish work, do the laundry, etc. Does it even actively purify the mind? Probably so and you can use it to cut through issues and it is an accumulation of wisdom as long as you don't fall into blankness.


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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby PorkChop » Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:05 pm

tomamundsen wrote:
kirtu wrote:However if you put attention on awareness along without distraction then thoughts will temporarily subside. How temporarily? It depends. But as HE Jamgon Kongtrul III notes in Cloudless Sky, thoughts will start up again.

Is this true for Buddhas as well, or just sentient beings? I was somewhat under the impression that Buddhas somehow operate on a completely non-conceptual level.


I've been listening to a lot of Lam Rim & Lam Rim Chen Mo talks in the car.
Apparently this was a point of discussion for Lama TsongKhapa and led him to seek council from Manjushri on at least one occasion.
I'd go check out the LRCM if you're interested in hearing his take on it, as I doubt I could do it justice.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby tomamundsen » Tue Dec 18, 2012 8:20 pm

PorkChop wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:
kirtu wrote:However if you put attention on awareness along without distraction then thoughts will temporarily subside. How temporarily? It depends. But as HE Jamgon Kongtrul III notes in Cloudless Sky, thoughts will start up again.

Is this true for Buddhas as well, or just sentient beings? I was somewhat under the impression that Buddhas somehow operate on a completely non-conceptual level.


I've been listening to a lot of Lam Rim & Lam Rim Chen Mo talks in the car.
Apparently this was a point of discussion for Lama TsongKhapa and led him to seek council from Manjushri on at least one occasion.
I'd go check out the LRCM if you're interested in hearing his take on it, as I doubt I could do it justice.

Thanks for the reference. :anjali: Another reason for me to study the Lam Rim Chen Mo :)
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Queequeg » Tue Dec 18, 2012 8:38 pm

I think there is a question of what you mean by "thought" - do you mean discursive thought? Do you mean cutting off even awareness?

In my practice, I have hit on remarkable states where discursive thought completely ended, and what I could only describe as some unconditioned awareness arose. It was only for what seemed like a few moments - almost as soon as I realized what was happening, I came out of it due to the excitement and joy I felt at having achieved it. I have not had the time to cultivate that state since, so I don't know what it was really. The only thing I could hypothesize was that it was one of the lower formless realms.

I feel like I had banged up against the state before, but In those instances I had tried to force crossing the threshold. I think I "slipped" in on that one occasion because I had calmed the mind enough and didn't have the slightest volition to do anything. I was just letting my discursive thought fade and become increasingly subtle until it just stopped. But rather than yielding nothingness, quieting the thought revealed something else that in retrospect seems like it was obscured by discursive thought all along. This may sound strange, but if I stop for a moment, I can sense that consciousness I stumbled on operative at all times. I can't really dwell in it, but I can sense it, like some faint presence under the thoughts.

At the highest end of the Formless Realms, there is a state described as "neither thought nor no thought" - supposedly, beyond that is Nirvana.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Azidonis » Tue Dec 18, 2012 11:26 pm

The thinker/thought combo goes - they are absorbed into each other.

The result is not really a result. It's a complete absence of anything at all. No thinker, no thoughts, no anything at all. It is the "clear sky", but there is no sky, and therefore no clarity of sky.

Eventually, the thinker/thought process starts up again, but since the thinker/thought was not "there", then it is really impossible to call the event either an event or an experience.

Some call it samadhi.

A former guru once described it as, "All the lights go off at once." After it happening to me, I have to concur.

Once it happens the first time, there is an impetus to try it again, while focusing on something else. Then again, and again. Sometimes it occurs, sometimes it doesn't, and just results in a very intense Dhyana.

The realization occurs that one could verily "make samadhi" on anything at all. Such a realization can bring one to the meaning of emptiness, impermanence, and the stability within change.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby viniketa » Tue Dec 18, 2012 11:49 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Also, if one does succeed in not having thought at all, how does one know the difference between simple thought-free clarity or just obliviousness?


Many seem to think the word "thought" implies proliferating conceptual thought (prapañca). It can be useful to make a distinction between "all thought" and "conceptual thought".

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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:04 am

Well yes I mean discursive thought..but even when one is comparatively free of what I think of as "the rotating wheel of thoughts", eventually the thought "i am free of thought" or "I am meditating and am free of thought" arises, which means I either have to detach from this thought and attempt return to non-thought, or a chain of things from these thoughts will continue on..which is fraught with it's own problems.

Alot of times I feel like calm abiding is disturbed by thoughts about non-thought, or self-referencing thoughts about mediation..if that makes any sense. I guess I need to just relax a bit.

I'm not actively trying to do one thing or another, just interested in other people's experiences and views, and of course I know the purpose is not to be free of thought or anything.

For the sake of argument, how would you classify non-conceptual thought?
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Azidonis » Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:38 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Well yes I mean discursive thought..but even when one is comparatively free of what I think of as "the rotating wheel of thoughts", eventually the thought "i am free of thought" or "I am meditating and am free of thought" arises, which means I either have to detach from this thought and attempt return to non-thought, or a chain of things from these thoughts will continue on..which is fraught with it's own problems.

Alot of times I feel like calm abiding is disturbed by thoughts about non-thought, or self-referencing thoughts about mediation..if that makes any sense. I guess I need to just relax a bit.


Yep. They are both "breaks" in the practice.

The actual silence is a complete and total gap. The moment you "recognize" the gap, the gap itself is lost (as if something was actually there). Just keep going.

The thought of no-thought too is a break.

Without knowing more details I would say you are "on the right track". Recognizing the breaks is essential. Then again, when you get to the point of any thought soever being a break from silence, it kind of changes the ballgame, doesn't it? :)
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:02 am

In my experience, the mind is always doing something. What has come about through meditation is a certain ability not to get to taken in by it. There is a certain distance or space that has opened up, in which mind and thinking, even though remaining active, don't have nearly the same compelling quality about them.

Mind starts to wander off after something, then awareness notices it.

'Oh, you again'.

It's like that.

I have read accounts of awakened sages who are in states of intense inner quietude. The impression I get is that it is very natural for them and never comes about because of any particular effort on their part. They are so completely attentive to every moment, they are in a state of rapt concentration in which there is a complete absence of thought and of the sense of oneself being apart from, or experiencing, anything. That is the meaning of 'absorption'.

I have never had that experience - besides, if I did, I wouldn't necessarily be conscious of it - but I have read about it, mainly in Krishnamurti's Notebook. Krishnamurti was not Buddhist but seemed to realize very high states of spiritual awareness.

As one sat in the aeroplane amidst all the noise, smoking and loud talking, most unexpectedly, the sense of immensity and that extraordinary benediction which was felt atil L., that imminent feeling of sacredness, began to take place. The body was nervously tense because of the crowd, noise, etc. but in spite of all this, it was there. The pressure and the strain were intense and there was acute pain at the back of the head. There was only this state and there was no observer. The whole body was wholly in it and the feeling of sacredness was so intense that a groan escaped from the body and passengers were sitting in the next seats. It went on for several hours, late into the night. It was as though one was looking, not with eyes only but with a thousand centuries; it was altogether a strange occurrence. The brain was completely empty, all reaction had stopped; during all those hours, one was not aware of this emptiness but only in writing it is the thing known, but this knowledge is only descriptive and not real. That the brain could empty itself is an odd phenomenon. As the eyes were closed, the body, the brain seemed to plunge into unfathomable depths, into states of incredible sensitivity and beauty. The passenger in the next seat began to ask something and having replied, this intensity was there; there was no continuity but only being. And dawn was coming leisurely and the clear sky was filling with light. – As this is being written late in the day, with sleepless fatigue, that sacredness is there. The pressure and the strain too.


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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Jinzang » Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:16 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Also, if one does succeed in not having thought at all, how does one know the difference between simple thought-free clarity or just obliviousness?


As you get better at practice thoughts get fewer and further apart. There are gaps between your thoughts. It's easy for someone who craves this to fall into a subtle dullness which is thought free but lacks the clarity that meditation is supposed to have. The remedy is to keep a balance between concentration and alertness, something which is learned through practice. This is explained in the standard texts on shamatha meditation. Which is the only reason I know this, as my own meditation practice is very poor.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Azidonis » Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:17 am

jeeprs wrote:In my experience, the mind is always doing something. What has come about through meditation is a certain ability not to get to taken in by it. There is a certain distance or space that has opened up, in which mind and thinking, even though remaining active, don't have nearly the same compelling quality about them.

Mind starts to wander off after something, then awareness notices it.

'Oh, you again'.

It's like that.


This sounds like a state of passive watching. Not necessarily watching for anything in particular, but just calm and chill, possibly a sense of serenity.

jeeprs wrote:I have read accounts of awakened sages who are in states of intense inner quietude. The impression I get is that it is very natural for them and never comes about because of any particular effort on their part. They are so completely attentive to every moment, they are in a state of rapt concentration in which there is a complete absence of thought and of the sense of oneself being apart from, or experiencing, anything. That is the meaning of 'absorption'.


Yes. In its initial stages, it comes and goes.

For me, sometimes "I" am completely out of the equation of consciousness, and so are thoughts. In waking, everyday consciousness, it's not as much of a "staring blankly" or "daydreaming", as it is just dropping the personal identification, along with with other identifications. It's hard to explain.

I imagine that, somewhere along the line, the identification process itself will cease completely, to arise only when it is necessary. I'd had glimpses of it, but the full ensamble remains to be seen.

jeeprs wrote:I have never had that experience - besides, if I did, I wouldn't necessarily be conscious of it - but I have read about it, mainly in Krishnamurti's Notebook. Krishnamurti was not Buddhist but seemed to realize very high states of spiritual awareness.


Well, that's the thing. J. Krishnamutri went so far as to try and pin down many of these states. I'm not so sure its as easily done as he makes it out to be at times.

For instance, if I am standing outside. There is an "I" (thinker), and various thoughts (tree, leafs, bird, etc.). But then, completely stopping both of those doesn't drop me dead or anything. It seems like it just removes a barrier. When the birds sing, I don't think "those are birds, singing". If any thoughts arise at all, it is only a recognition of change, at a base level. Then, of course, the recognition of the change brings in the thought of a change, and along with it a thinker who is thinking the thoughts, and its back to duality all over again.

During meditation, everything can completely go silent for long periods of time. I'm not sure how long. Sometimes its probably longer than others. The only way to know is if I had a clock that measured exactly when it all went out, and when it all came back on. But such a measurement doesn't happen, and is ultimately useless. To think "Okay, it's going to happen this time," only leaves one sitting there waiting for something to happen, and then of course it doesn't.

It's more like a passive surrender that allows it to happen at all, and even then it's not guaranteed.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby viniketa » Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:47 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:For the sake of argument, how would you classify non-conceptual thought?


Azidonis wrote:The moment you "recognize" the gap, the gap itself is lost (as if something was actually there).


I'm not interested in argument, but Azidonis has a point. I'm not sure I can give a good answer, I don't even try to keep in memory all the names of the stages of meditation anymore. This does not mean I'm an "advanced" meditator, just that I've become lazy.

We can "differentiate" thought discursively in conversation for the sake of communication, but the moment one "differentiates" during meditation, the conceptualization has already begun. For example, if one is doing one-pointed meditation on an "object", and one is differentiating between the "object" and "everything else", one is still in conceptual thinking. There is no conceptualization when all is one.

Hope this helps.

:namaste:

P.S.: I do recall that there is instruction that one can "become consumed by" the "gap" in thought. However, that is not where one wishes to be. These "gaps" are really infinitesimal and do not represent non-discursive thought. They are simply minute lags in "processing time", so to speak. There is nothing in this void. This is not emptiness, as is were.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby Azidonis » Wed Dec 19, 2012 4:07 am

viniketa wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:For the sake of argument, how would you classify non-conceptual thought?


Azidonis wrote:The moment you "recognize" the gap, the gap itself is lost (as if something was actually there).


I'm not interested in argument, but Azidonis has a point. I'm not sure I can give a good answer, I don't even try to keep in memory all the names of the stages of meditation anymore. This does not mean I'm an "advanced" meditator, just that I've become lazy.

We can "differentiate" thought discursively in conversation for the sake of communication, but the moment one "differentiates" during meditation, the conceptualization has already begun. For example, if one is doing one-pointed meditation on an "object", and one is differentiating between the "object" and "everything else", one is still in conceptual thinking. There is no conceptualization when all is one.

Hope this helps.

:namaste:

P.S.: I do recall that there is instruction that one can "become consumed by" the "gap" in thought. However, that is not where one wishes to be. These "gaps" are really infinitesimal and do not represent non-discursive thought. They are simply minute lags in "processing time", so to speak. There is nothing in this void. This is not emptiness, as is were.


I would be interesting in seeing that instruction.

As I understand it, when the subject and object (observer/observed, thinker/thought) unite and dissolve, everything goes bye-bye. Then it comes back.

When it first happened to me, the subject and object became each other for an instant, and then there was no awareness at all, period. Then, some time later (I have no idea how long), everything came back gradually. Awareness was much different for a time, until the experience "wore off".

That's what I mean by gap. As an analogy, I'm not talking about actively holding your breath and recognizing that there is a stoppage between breaths. I'm talking about the complete absence of breath, breathing, and anything at all really.
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Re: stopping thought completely

Postby viniketa » Wed Dec 19, 2012 4:32 am

Azidonis wrote:I would be interesting in seeing that instruction.


It could be some time before I can retrieve it, if I can retrieve it.

Azidonis wrote:As I understand it, when the subject and object (observer/observed, thinker/thought) unite and dissolve, everything goes bye-bye. Then it comes back.

When it first happened to me, the subject and object became each other for an instant, and then there was no awareness at all, period. Then, some time later (I have no idea how long), everything came back gradually. Awareness was much different for a time, until the experience "wore off".


Yes, this "gap" can become consuming. It may or may not be accompanied by this "subject and object became each other" recollection. There is no awareness. The "different awareness", afterward, is what some term "meditative equipoise" which they try to "stretch" into daily life.

My teacher taught this is not the high samādhi - not the dharmamegha - and one should avoid becoming trapped there. If there is no awareness, there is no compassion, no bliss, no nothing.

I apologize for not having references ready at hand.

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