No-Thought

by Dennis Bradford

in spiritual well-being

Since it is required for compassion and genuine love, no-thought is a necessary condition for living well.  Why?  What is it?

It’s the cure for most of the normal state of human consciousness that Roshi Philip Kapleau calls “thoughting.” The contrast is between genuine thinking, which is a valuable skill for problem solving, and suffering from repetitious, useless thoughts such as those involved in racing mind insomnia.

Sages tell us that about 80% [Eckhart Tolle] or 90% [Charlotte Joko Beck] of our thoughts are recycled.

Thoughts are judgments (conceptualizations, propositions, statements or questions). They are mental, not physical, and, so, are not actually loud or noisy. However, they are nevertheless like physical noise.

A very effective torture is simply subjecting someone to loud, uncontrollable noise. Unnecessary thoughts are mental noise. They are instruments of torture.

Notice how ordinary people often desperately seek relief from thoughting.

For example, although alcoholic drinks can taste good, enjoying their taste is not often the reason that, say, undergraduates engage in binge drinking. Although it’s a dead end and can create more problems than it solves, regularly getting drunk does give temporary relief from thoughting.

For example, doesn’t opiate addiction to such drugs as cocaine and morphine begin as a quest to find relief from thoughting? The pleasure of “downers” chiefly comes from the temporary release from the mental torture of thoughting.

For example, aren’t extreme sports like bridge jumping attractive to many because they enable practitioners to feel more alive because, for a short while, they force attention away from being stuck thoughting?

For example, aren’t pick-up artists so relentlessly focused on bedding their quarries because it’s a distraction from the ordinary curse of thoughting?

For example, aren’t television addicts trying to use their idiot boxes to dull nearly incessant thoughting?

For example, aren’t physicists who are intent upon the attempt to obtain a theory of everything physical at least partly motivated by the belief that focusing on such interesting and productive thoughts is a way to break free of their otherwise quite ordinary thoughting?

No-thought is the cure for thoughting.

Intellectuals, who are often very bright, tend to suffer from the peculiar delusion that they are going to free themselves from thoughting by more and better thinking. That’s insane. There’s no doubt that they often engage in more and better thinking. However, if it’s a way to quell thoughting, it must fail.

In his well-known chant in praise of zazen, Master Hakuin mentions awakening as going past thinking to uncover our True-Nature and finding “Our thought now being no-thought.” [Rochester Zen Center translation]

For Master Hakuin, the key is to “go beyond ego and past clever words.” In other words, no-thought is letting go of the mind-made conception of self and dropping all conceptualizations.

According to the Third Zen Patriarch in the oldest extant zen document, awakening past the bondage of conceptualizations in the fecund “true world of Emptiness” involves the discovery that “both self and other are no more.” [Rochester Zen Center translation.] This is what allows genuine love, which requires nonseparation of lover and beloved.

No-thought is dropping the self/other distinction – as well as all other distinctions. Sengcan is quite explicit about this: “Distinctions such as large and small / have relevance for you no more.” Since to conceptualize is to separate (divide, classify, sort), all distinctions are like separating objects into large and small (not-large)!

No-thought is freedom from thoughting, freedom from mental torture. It is inconceivable freedom, liberation, release; it is “beyond all space, all time.”

Charlotte Joko Beck: “Attachment is thought.” So no-thought, releasing thoughts, is detachment, which is required for compassion and genuine love.

No-thought is beyond past, present, and future, which are concepts. Problems require time! No-thought is a release from all problems; it’s problem free.

No-thought is freedom from addiction to unnecessary, incessant thinking.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? If so, how is no-thought achieved?

Notice that it is not achieved as a goal. Why? A goal is a concept that sorts objects into goals and not-goals. Again, Sengcan is quite explicit: “The wise do not strive after goals / the foolish put themselves in bonds.”

He’s not saying that it’s always wrong to have goals. If you want to become successful at some task, making that success a goal is appropriate.

Charlotte Joko Beck: “Having goals is part of being human. It’s the way we do it that creates the trouble . . . promote the goal by accomplishing it in the present . . . the real goal is always the life of this moment.”

Success only ever occurs in the present moment.

Put another way, thinking in terms of being successful in the future is just using another concept, namely, the concept of success. Since everything that happens happens now, there is never any future success.

Put another way, while being successful in the usual sense is important, it is not ultimately important. What is ultimately important is living in the realization of our True Nature.

You may reply: I prefer to think in terms of achieving goals and working towards success.

Sengcan would reply to you: drop your preferences! Attachment to preferences is just more mental torture. The way to wisdom is to stop picking and choosing. Egocentric preferences are nothing but creations of the mind; to accept them is to identify with thoughts rather than with your True Nature.

If so, stop thinking of no-thought as a goal. Well, if it’s not a goal to be achieved, how is it attained?

You already are no-thought. You don’t need to gain anything to live well. You are a concrete manifestation of Being. If you focus on the Being part of your nature rather than on the human form part of your nature and let go of thinking, you’ll realize that you are already everything you need to be.

Humans who live life from that perspective are humans who are wise, humans who live well.

So no-thought is not a goal to be someday achieved or gained; it’s already you.  Just stop all the striving and preferring and thinking and you’ll realize that.

How? What can help letting go?

For some suggestions, go to the related post recommended below.

Won’t realizing it block effective everyday functioning?

No. In fact, it will free you for truly effective everyday functioning! It’s not letting go of the distinctive human ability to conceptualize abstractly; it’s letting go of useless, repetitive thoughts. Wouldn’t you be better off without them?

Why not find out for yourself?

As always, if you know someone who might benefit from this, please pass it along.

Recommended post: Addiction to Thinking.

Recommended resource:  Eckhart Tolle’s “Even the Sun Will Die” (2 CD set), Philip Kapleau’s books, and Charlotte Joko Beck’s books.

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