• SC

Thinking (Part 1)

Updated: May 25

Practice and QA. Cont' 4

Works Bro James and Sis Shymiin were working on before his passing.



“It's not possible to have no thinking, they keep arising”, meditators commented.


Indeed, ordinarily it’s not possible to have no thinking. Sometimes, thinking makes us suffer more than anyone else can (without realising or knowing it). But no, not all thinking hurts. Thinking is not always ‘bad’, unskilful or unprofitable. And, there are some exceptions to the comment. Before explaining further, the context must be set out.



What is thinking?


It’s the rationalising, fantasising (including hallucinating), justifying, ideating, conceptualising, day-dreaming, planning and, the making sense of things. It’s the stories, reasons or whatever narratives, logic, concepts, conventions, ideas, plans, hopes, dreams, etc. In short, thinking is mind-making, mind-fabricating or mind-constructing.


Thinking is mind-made ~ mental constructs, mental fabrication, mental creation. They are also referred to as conventional realities or concepts.


Thinking creates your realities (conventional). But, conventional realities, don’t exist in the ultimate sense. They are mind-made.


Thinking is part of mental formation.


What is Mental Formation?


Very simply, it is the coming together of mind+object (Nama+Rupa). This phenomenon is call Mental Formation or Sankhara in Pali. This phenomenon (of formation) is a reality in the ultimate sense. Together with this mind+object formation, thinking is also, simultaneously formed.


There is a distinction between Mental Formation, which is a reality and thinking, which is mind-made. One is an ultimate (conditioned) reality, an aggregate which to be mindful of and looked at deeply. The other is mind-made, which does not lead to realisation of Nibbana (total freedom of suffering).


We shall refer to 'thinking' as both, verb (the act of thinking meaning, mind-making, mind-fabricating/constructing, mind-conceptualising) and noun (concept, conventional realities, stories, narratives, ideas, and etc.). And, we shall use mental formation to refer to the reality-phenomenon of mental formation.



Now, we shall clarify the meditator's comment mentioned above and answer some frequently asked questions about thinking and practice.


There's always going to be mental formations in this world, which is a world of objects, world of senses (world of concepts). The only exception to this is Nirodhasamapatti, during which, all mental formations are temporarily suspended, though still alive in this world. This special phenomenon is within the ability of the Anagamis (third saints), Arahants (full-fledged saints) and Buddhas (fully self-enlightened one) only.


The function of mental formation is to form (including forming concepts). Consequently, there will always be thinking.


This is indeed oppressive, hence they are called, Sankhara Dukkha.



“Monks, there are these three kinds of suffering. What three? Suffering caused by pain, suffering caused by formations, and suffering due to change. It’s for the full comprehension, clear understanding, ending and abandonment of these three forms of suffering that the Noble Eightfold path is to be cultivated.


Dukkhata Sutta SN 45.165



However, not all formations, arises with concept-thinking.


For instance, when the mind is continuously anchored to the ultimate (conditioned) realities in Satipatthana Meditation, for example, rising falling, hardness softness, etc. there is no concept but direct experience of realities.


This kind of mental formation is without thinking (concept). Just mindfulness (being aware) with reality-object. Bare, unfiltered and direct.




“So, thinking can stop!?”


Thinking can slow down as concentration is developed with its meditation object. The mind will feel calm (Samadhi) and clear. Thinking slows down even more as the calmness deepens and completely stops when the mind is fully absorbed in perfect concentration with its meditation object.


This truly rests the mind. Meditators do feel rested, refreshed and rejuvenated, even with a little calmness, without going as far as absorption. During these times, there is still mental formations, just without the unwholesome thinking and is considered, pure. These are a kind of wholesome mental formation.



In Satipatthana Meditation practice, Mindfulness, Detachment and Knowing are the leading mental states in the practice and is constantly directed to higher realities (ultimate conditioned realities), which are beyond concept-thinking. When the mind is directed to the higher realities, thinking is let go. As mindfulness becomes more and more continuous, thinking slows down.


When mind is lifted up and fully anchored to the ultimate (conditioned) realities for some time (Access Concentration), concept-thinking doesn't arise. During this time, the arising of insights-Wisdom through direct experience becomes possible.

In Satipatthana Meditation practice, concept-thinking is like a filter or a tinted lens. It hides realities. More importantly, it disconnects direct experience and direct knowing of realities and its Nature. Detach, let go by abandoning whatever the thinking is about. With this knowing, choose to direct, apply the mind to higher realities (ultimate conditioned realities), just like making a U-Turn.

Related to this, there are 3 kinds of Knowing:


(1) Knowing from theory, listening and analysing. This knowing is sometimes called intellectual knowing. It’s a conceptual knowing and is considered a kind of thinking;

(2) Knowing through practice and application (direct experience); and

(3) Knowing from penetrative realisation.


The (2)nd Knowing is stronger than the (1)st type of intellectual knowing. Knowing of the (3)rd type, is the strongest and takes root deeply. Insights-wisdom, the realisation of Annica, Dukkha and Anatta (Nature), is of the (3)rd type.


Intellectual/conceptual knowing (1st type) is necessary to inspire and point to the direction in practice and that’s its limits. Practice ~ direct experience of realities leads to realisation Knowing.



Here, I'd to add what Bro James often advised ~ when you get confused and conflicted by theory knowing (1st type), put it aside and get into the practice. Know how to practise. Don't get into hair splitting analysis or try to argue with anyone about who and what is right or wrong. You'd just be going round and round with theory because it is not the real thing (realities). It is like arguing about the finger that is pointing to the moon, which is not the moon. Verify with practice, and practise sincerely and wholeheartedly. Establish direct experience of the realities.






“Is thinking a bad thing?”


No, thinking is neither good nor bad, only when they are connected with unwholesome roots, they become unskilful, unprofitable, harmful and painful or leads to pain. Unwholesome thinking can disturb the mind greatly.