Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Laurens
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Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 12:57 am

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan

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Guy
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Guy » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:38 am

Hi Laurens,

Good question. Here's my thoughts on the issue:

1) Generally speaking: No, I would not agree that Buddhism is anti-thinking. Is Buddhism against attachment to thinking? I would say yes. But Buddhism is about going beyond attachment to everything, not just thinking.

Right View (or at least, "Right Conceptualization"...if there is such a thing) requires us to hear the Dhamma, to remember it, to consider it for ourselves, to apply what we have learnt and to reflect on our experience. Concepts such as "Four Noble Truths", "Noble Eightfold Path", "Three Characteristics", etc. are to be seen directly...but before we can see these things directly it is probably going to be very helpful to think about them at least a little bit. Even if we are a so-called "Faith-Follower" we still have to know what exactly we have faith in. How can we practice the Noble Eightfold Path if we have no conceptual framework to know what it is we are trying to do?

2) Regarding Ajahn Brahm's advice: I cannot speak for Ajahn Brahm and I don't intend to put words in his mouth but I am reasonably familiar with the way he teaches meditation and have been on some of his retreats so I will speak about the way I understand his meditation method. Ajahn Brahm talks a lot about inner-silence because of it is conducive to stillness. The Jhanas, according to Ajahn Brahm, are deep states of stillness which cannot be reached by thought and no thinking can take place within Jhana. So, if this definition of Jhana is accurate, it makes sense that the way leading to such states is (partly) a result of stilling the mind. Ajahn Brahm does teach people to use some thoughts (e.g. counting the breath, mantras) in the early stages of meditation if they are useful in pointing the mind in the direction of stillness. But he teaches that such thoughts are limited in their usefulness and eventually when the mind becomes peaceful enough you can let them go.

3) Regarding my own experience: I am a habitual thinker and, as a result, this can be a hindrance when I meditate. I have only been meditating for about 2 years and I realize that calming the mind and re-training the mind is a gradual process. People who habitually think too much are going to have to learn how to let go if they want to meditate. Thinking too much is just one obstacle, there are many others as well.

Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm

Kenshou
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Kenshou » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:43 am

I agree with your last paragraph for the most part, Laurens. I do not think it is freedom from thought that matters, but having the discipline to control thought and use it well. To know what kind of thoughts and beneficial, how to improve these, and what aren't beneficial, and how to curb those. And additionally, to keep the mind even and "tuned" so that we can be mindful, undistracted, and make progress with our contemplation or meditation. I think that training for a silent unthinking mind is only beneficial insofar as it is helpful in learning to get a handle on the mind.

And then, "thought" is somewhat vague. It seems to me that there is a tendency to equate "thought" with what we might more specifically call verbalized thought, the internal monologue. But logic and intellect can still operate without the "speaking mind", and that too might be called thought. "Discernment" might be a good word, which certainly isn't void of intellect, and I think it would be hard to argue that Buddhist realization doesn't involve some discernment, of the 4 noble truths at the very least. I imagine that controlled thought isn't incompatible with that.

Criticisms like the one you've quoted I think are partially motivated by the author's own aversion to giving up aspects of their identity, in addition to being based on a shallow understanding of what Buddhist practice is about. That is, not self-lobotomy or becoming a Borg but training to understand our own minds and use them to root out the causes of dukkha, which mental calm and control are a part of doing. But blankness itself ain't liberational.

But I do also think that mental silence is somewhat fetishized sometimes, in addition to "being in the present" and other such little nuggets.

To sum it up, I think that it can only be said that Buddhism is anti-intellectual or anti-thought if you're talking about thought and intellectualization that isn't conductive to the path towards the end of dukkha.

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Alex123
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Alex123 » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:46 am

"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:50 am

"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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bodom
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby bodom » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:16 am

Papanaca, the directionless wandering, daydreaming and proliferation of thoughts and ideas connected with greed, hatred and delusion are what need to be abandoned. Thoughts of generosity, compassion and harmlessness are to be cultivated and developed.

:anjali:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5


https://www.dhammatalks.org/index.html
http://www.ajahnchah.org/

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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby alan » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:48 am

Hitchens is a halfway smart guy, by the standards we have now for public intellectuals. But he obviously is no authority on Buddhism. I see no reason to consider his arguments.

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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby BlackBird » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:52 am

"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." -

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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:54 am

"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Dan74
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Dan74 » Sun Nov 07, 2010 4:06 am

Zen sometimes gets the bad rap for being anti-thinking but what some Zen teachers have actually taught was to put aside discursive reasoning on the cushion and experience what is prior to naming and conceptualization.

This is not because naming and conceptualisation are bad, but because by recognizing the moment before they happen we are not caught up in their usual dynamics anymore. In other words we recognize the moment in which the happening is just what it is before it is recognized as such-and-such, categorised as "good" or "bad', "pleasant" or "unpleasant" etc.

So thinking is not bad but like the others have said, getting caught up in certain patterns of thinking (and action) can be very unfortunate.
Last edited by Dan74 on Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
_/|\_

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Prasadachitta
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Nov 07, 2010 4:15 am

Thank you for bringing up this topic Laurens. I think it is a very good subject for us to think about. ;)
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Laurens
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:21 am

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan

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Goofaholix
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Goofaholix » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:50 am

Firstly it's obvious from your quote that Christopher Hitchens doesn't know much about Buddhism, he appears to be responding to a very cliche view of it.

As for Ajahn Brahms quote if you re-read it you'll note he is only talking about one aspect of thinking, the inner commentary, wheras your discussion seems to assume he is talking about all thinking.

The inner commentary is just the constant barrage of commentary going through the mind on what we are experiencing, or have experienced in the past or hope to experience in the future. It has nothing to do with the kind of thinking by which we solve problems, make plans, come to an understanding of our world. The former causes suffering because it's a constant distraction and a waste of energy, the latter is useful and not a waste of energy because it betters our lives.

Buddhism doesn't teach us to avoid suffering but rather to fully experience it, to learn to not create further suffering by our reactions to it, to fully embrace it and thereby gain freedom from it. So to say that one aspect of thinking is a cause of suffering is not anti thinking at all but rather to look into how that works and how that suffering arises out of that one aspect of thinking.

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Guy
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Guy » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:59 am

Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm

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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Sanghamitta » Sun Nov 07, 2010 9:26 am

I think there are recent signs of a kind of anti-intellectual reaction within Buddhism over the last decade or so.
I think the reasons are partly social. As higher education to degree level has become more common in the west that undoubtedly good thing has engendered scepticism about the benefit of education ...because it can be readily seen that education may have all sorts pf benefits, but that in itself it does not reduce Dukkha,
It has therefore in some quarters become a baby to throw out with the bath water..in some quarters we see an embracing of the anti intellectual and ant rational. We see it in the arts, in the turning to "alternative" medicine, in anti science, in political stances which align with levelling by associating with the irrational.
It is not surprising that we see the anti rational appearing in the ranks of Buddhism too. It attracts sometimes for the wrong reason which leads to disillusionment later on. a proportion of people who see Buddhism as the "religious" wing of the anti rational revolt.
This is in fact as distorted a view as the previous generations espousal of Buddhism as the religious wing of scientism.
Another variant is the western educated person who has been shaped by a literal kind of Christianity or totalitarian political system , and who brings that mindset to Buddhism...rigid and literalist. They have swapped a literal view of the book of Deuteronomy or Das Kapital for a literalist belief in the Suttas.
In actuality the Buddhadhamma has always advocated a balanced view of what constitutes human functioning, and has always seen that eventual enlightenment is aided by a programme of development which values each factor of that functioning...the intellect and the intuitive..the cerebral and the sensory. That in fact Enlightenment is the Enlightenment of the whole person.
In short, I think Hitchens is reacting accurately to an untypical, but very real phenomenon, within western Buddhism.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Laurens
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:35 am

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan

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Spiny O'Norman
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sun Nov 07, 2010 2:40 pm


Individual
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Individual » Sun Nov 07, 2010 4:04 pm

The best things in life aren't things.


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clw_uk
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby clw_uk » Sun Nov 07, 2010 9:04 pm

Wouldn't "Anti-thinking" be aversion?



I do read a lot of Hitchens work and watch a few of his debates. However his section on Buddhism in that book was a bit disappointing. At one stage he addresses the Mahayana concept of Buddha-nature, claims its an unverified concept (similar to a soul I suppose he means).

My problem was really that he didn't look at the Four Noble Truths or Theravada, just Zen, as if all Buddhism was Zen Buddhism


Ive noticed that with Hitchens and Dawkins they can only really criticize the Abarahamic religions and their understanding of the eastern traditions, particularly Buddhism seems to be very limited.
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

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Laurens
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 9:10 pm

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan


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