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A state of no thought.

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A state of no thought.
Answer
9/25/09 2:10 AM
I had a great time reading Daniel's book and in particular I enjoyed his critique of the enlightenment models. He gave some really good attention to thought models, especially in his response to the engineer's email, pg 297-299.

I can defintely say that I agree 100% that "no thought" need not be considered a goal on anyone's path, and as far as I can tell (as Daniel aptly points out) a state of no thought has nothing whatsoever to do with enlightenment. Thought itself is a natual occurance and as far as I know when it comes into being, thought is subject to the 3 C's the same as any other phenomena. No problem.

This having been said however, I do make a claim, similar to the engineer in the email, of being able to attain a state of "no thought"

I have been wondering for the past year how this state comes to be, how it works, and what it is based on. And since Daniel questioned it, I want to try and express what I have come up with:

I recently bumped into the 18 Dhatus model, whereby in order to experience something three "things" are required: 1) a sense organ, 2) an object to perceve, and 3) consciousness. The model states that if any one of those three elements is removed from the equasion there is no posibility of perception.

For example: if you have your eyes closed you can not visually perceive an apple right in front of you, this is because the sense organ is absent. If you put the apple behind your back you can not perceive it even if your eyes are open, this is because the object is absent. And finally, if you are in a state of deep dreamless sleep or a formless Jnana, even if your eyes were propped open and the apple was right in front of you, you can not perceive it; this is because consciousness is absent.

As odd as it sounds, I feel that the state of "no thought" is a yogic attainment which takes place when consciousness is withdrawn from the thinking mind but yet is still active in the other five senses. It might seem impossible that a practioner could learn to selectively remove consciousness from only one of the six sense organs, but after looking at this closely for a year this is the conclusion that I have come to.

Perhaps it might not seem so far fetched if it's considered that there are other instances (such as hysterical blindness) where a similar occurance seems to happen: an inability to perceive an object even when a fully functioning sense organ and the physical object are both in evidence.

Daniel Ingram, in his critique of thought models asks the very obvious question "how can you function, drive a car, send an email, etc, without thinking?"

That's a fair question. I look at it this way: if thought is just one of the six senses, as it appears to be; I don't feel that acting and interacting without thought is any more mysterious than someone who is visually impaired acting and interacting without the benifit of their eye sight. -If you asked a visually impaired person "how can you function and interact without the benifit of your eye sight?" what answer would you expect, other than for them to wonder why you are asking the question as if their doing so is an impossiblity.

So the bottom line is that I consider "no thought" to be a yogic attainment of some kind. When I am in the state I can still function more or less normally. Things just happen automatically even in complex situations, but nonetheless there is no conceptual thought involved. The thinking mind is still. -Just as the resultant byproduct of restricting sight is darkness, the resultant byproduct of restricting thought is stillness.

EDIT: It just occured to me that the deep stillness which is the resultant byproduct of no thought has a rather dazzeling quality to it. I guess this is the exact reason why this state is both so heralded and so misinturperated. I was certainly guilty of misinturperating it until I came to understand that it's result was just an impermanent state, albeit a very clear one.

RE: A state of no thought.
Answer
9/25/09 9:58 AM as a reply to Mike John D.
Sup Mike, more of the same goodness from you! Glad you're posting a lot.

I offer this as food for thought. You may want to consider that "thought" in the way it is being used here, in Dan's critiques, etc are actually just the imagination's mimic of the brain's actual thought processes and the EXTREMELY SUBTLE thought sense itself. As such, stilling one's imagination/attention so that the conscious reflections of thoughts do not arise would not be an issue, because the brain continues to think and sense through the organs all of it's own accord. In the sense that "thought" is being used here, I do not think much these days, and yet I function more efficiently & effectively as ever in both the terms of my corporate job, my relationships and my other projects. The brain is quite amazing, especially when nothing gets in its way.

And so, in relation to your , it can be quite permanent if one knows the path that cultivates such a thing. And yes, it is quite dazzling and mind blowing in many other ways. If you're interested in such things, you may want to dig into two posts on the "actual freedom" section of the DhO. The thread "a definition of imagination" speaks about this specific topic, and the thread I wrote on the practical practices is a good place to start if one were so inclined to permanently realize such a lovely condition.

Trent

RE: A state of no thought.
Answer
9/25/09 12:06 PM as a reply to Mike John D.
Hello,

There's a link a couple of people have posted before of a neuroscience lecture: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5474604744218568426#
In it he talks about the difference between conscious thinking and silent thinking.

I find the less I identify with thought, the less 'loud' thinking there is (thank god) but there's still very light, very subtle thought which is almost invisible unless you really look for it. Also, if you get into a very high intensity, highly-concentrated vipassana session you may start to hear a symphony of crazy, extremely fast thoughts which you couldn't see before.

- Martin

RE: A state of no thought.
Answer
9/25/09 7:30 PM as a reply to Martin Potter.
I will again assert that, while the ordinary linear, "vocal" thought stream can be made to become extremely quiet or very subtle, the notion of cutting off all thought, meaning all mental processes or the 6th sense door, doesn't happen while the mind is awake in the ordinary sense or in dreams, which are pure thought from that point of view.

Thought includes all intentions, includes all memory, includes all the impressions we can later remember (mental echoes or "consciousness" in translated Buddhist parlance), meaning: if you can remember it, there were mental impressions, meaning thought, as this is how the mind works.
If you are holding attention on something, that involves thought.
If you are noticing that there is no thought, that involves thought.
If you are aware of attention as a quality at all, that involves thought.
Any inclination to anything involves thought. Any response to anything involves thought. Any language inherently involves thought. Any driving involves thought and a whole lot of intentions and processing.
If there was any awareness of the passage of time, that involves mental processes: memory being one of them, which is thought.

Thus, while the standard "vocal" thought stream can be profoundly quieted, the notion that you were doing something, conscious or anything like that without thought simply requires more investigation, more clarity, as the layers of subtle mental activity that can be brought to light are many and fascinating to those whose interest lies in that direction, and ideals such as "no thought" can seduce people to fail to investigate deeply and with subtlety and thus rationalize absurdities.

RE: A state of no mental chatter.
Answer
9/26/09 3:58 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel;

I have no dispute with anything you've said in your kind response + it will likely prompt me to eradicate the term "no thought" from my vocabulary. In the future perhaps I'll call it as a state of "no mental chatter" or some such.

Certainly though, I am refering to the state of no "vocal" thought. I didn't mean to imply that when I am in this state that my brain isn't fulfilling it's other infinite variety of functions. By your understandably strict definition; unless I was in a dreamless sleep, a coma, or a formless Jnana, technically a state of "no thought" would not be possible.

I still consider this state to be a yogic attainment of some kind, but rather than trying to fill in the blanks I'll just keep looking at it. As I mentioned previously of all things that take place in this state I am most interested in the stillness which always abounds. Not to make assumptions, but it seems like the stillness becomes manifest as a result of something; either that, or the stillness is revealed as a result of the absence of something.

I have encountered the odd situation where I am in a state of "no mental chatter" and all of a sudden an unexpected vocal thought arrises with normal intensity. It feels like I have been sitting in a quiet room and someone strikes a gong when I'm not prepaired, and usually shocks the hell out of me. Interestingly though, I have observed that the thoughts which run the gauntlet are usually thoughts of a curious nature. I am not sure why this is, but curious thoughts seem to be the lightest in my case. -If they prompt me to look deeper or look closer, such thoughts are most welcome.

..

Thanks to Martin, and Trent for the responses also.

RE: A state of no mental chatter.
Answer
9/30/09 2:32 PM as a reply to Mike John D.
Just out of curiosity, what types of practices are you usually doing when you have these experiences of being jolted by a verbal thought? I've had states of very mild verbal thought and even of no verbal thought at all, but I don't recall ever being shocked by the return of an inner language thought. Sounds like you must have been deep in whatever you were in! Also, is it associated with any particular insight stage, or is insight not really relevant to this?

RE: A state of no mental chatter.
Answer
9/30/09 3:35 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
Thanks for the question. Initially I was/am an untrained practioner; after a few years I started to listen to zen koans and random lectures on my ipod, but I have no clue about the particulars of insight meditation practices. So, when I have been in these states in the past I had no relation to insight stages or anything like that. Accordingly, I'm not sure how to answer. As a matter of fact, I'm not even 100% sure what insight stage I am in now, hehe. ;) But hey, I am in a place where I am not overly fascinated with these states any longer, so I guess that's a good thing.

As per the question: I have had prominent vocal thoughts pop into a still my mind a few times, but the one time I remember most significantly is when I was sitting on a lake shore and looking out at the water. I hadn't had any vocal thought in a considerable length of time, just a still mind. I was just looking out at the water and the vocal thought "THERE'S NOTHING TO KNOW" jumped into the picture loud and clear. -As I mentioned, it had the overall feeling of a gong being struck when I wasn't expecting it.

Interestingly althought some sensations associated with the shock did arrise, I didn't have any follow up vocal thoughts after that one. So a thought stream didn't arrise about what a profound thought it was or anything like that. Just:

. . .stillness - GONG - stillness. . .

At the time I took "there's nothing to know" to be an insight of sorts, but at the time I also took the state I was in to be an enlightenment of sorts; so I guess things are easy to misinterpret if they are not examined closely enough.

RE: A state of no mental chatter.
Answer
10/7/09 7:37 PM as a reply to Mike John D.
I think there are two issues brought up in this thread. One, that Daniel is trying to define is: what constitutes mental activity and are there states where there is no mental activity within the context of that definition? The second is: There are these states that are being termed 'no thought' (regardless of whether there is or is not mental activity) and are they useful?

As for the first issue, I think what ever definition we use we would first need to all be on the same page for a meaningful discussion. Personally, I feel we need to break the definition of 'thought' down into some smaller pieces (like discursive thinking, evaluation, reflection, directed thought, etc). We could then look at different states and what types of mental activity are or are not there. We could also look at what types of mental activity are stressful, etc.

On the second issue, I think it is fruitful to look at and investigate this 'no thought' state. In my experience, it can be quite useful. Our sense of a small self in a big world requires a steady stream of thought to support it. If the mind inclines toward stillness, you can use that experience to investigate stress on a more subtle level. You can even start looking at just exactly 'who' is having 'no thought'.

You cannot thoroughly investigate mental activity without investigating the body and changing conditions as well. If you feel that you have reached a state of 'no thought' – drop down into the body and see what sensations are present. Start investigating the mind/body relationships. Similarly, if one is experiencing thoughts, try relaxing any tension in the body. What is happening in the body when a thought does arise?

In my experience, if you want to try to create a 'no thought' state, to force one you have to apply more mental effort than the thoughts you are trying to suppress – which just makes a bigger mess of things. The trick is to find something for the mind to rest with – something very comfortable for it to incline towards.

RE: A state of no mental chatter.
Answer
10/8/09 2:41 AM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
My experience with no-chatter has been that if the body is sufficiently relaxed then it becomes easy for the mind to notice the empty spots in between thoughts. Then by focusing on those silent moments, they become longer. With a small application of "energy" or "persistence" or "effort" the thoughts can be made to get smaller and less significant in between the silent times. Pretty quickly, even for those with piss-poor concentration such as myself, the mind can become almost completely chatterless, and there is an awareness that accompanies the chattering verbal thoughts that do break through, which allows the thoughts to go away. I guess it's kind of like the descriptions of Cause and Effect. You can note the silence, and it gets bigger. You can also note the thoughts (nonverbally) with an inclination towards their disappearance, and it happens. It's also preceded by a Mind-and-Body-like state of peacefulness because of the attention paid in the muscle relaxation (discussed in the next paragraph) to the relationship between the mind and the muscles of the body.

A wonderful technique for getting the body to relax, and thus allow the mind to perceive relaxation and calm down, is mindful progressive muscle relaxation. Anyone can do muscle relaxation, but adding a big healthy dose of mindfulness turns it into a pre-meditative warmup for the mind. When the mind is used to contract and relax muscle groups in sequence, it has become surprisingly concentrated and calmed by the end of the relaxation practice. Then you can begin exploring the no-chatter space between thoughts as described above. This post comes from my experience with a little-known book about meditation called Meditation Pure & Simple by Ian Gawler. It's a wonderful little book, though it doesn't talk about insight or the concentration states. It just teaches how to rest the body by doing muscle relaxation, then rest the mind in the peaceful state of no-chatter. It won't give you any mind-blowing insight or body-drenching bliss, but it sure is nice, and it's easy for even a beginner to do.

RE: A state of no mental chatter.
Answer
10/8/09 7:05 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
J Adam G:
It's a wonderful little book, though it doesn't talk about insight or the concentration states. It just teaches how to rest the body by doing muscle relaxation, then rest the mind in the peaceful state of no-chatter. It won't give you any mind-blowing insight or body-drenching bliss, but it sure is nice, and it's easy for even a beginner to do.


Great post. As for insight and concentration states, the way these are generally approached at DhO is from a Visuddhimagga perspective. In the Suttas you find that jhana is used in several ways to develop awakening (For example: AN 4.41). The insight approach is just one of those. Another method commonly taught is where the mind just pays attention to where there is stress and then releases that. In this approach concentration is often seen as 'tranquility' and insight as 'clear seeing' or seeing what is and is not stressful – not as two separate practices but rather as qualities of the experience. The seeing in this sense is very experiential – more like recognition or observation. The mind develops dispassion and relinquishment towards what is stressful (See AN 9.42, MN 121).

As for your method not delivering “mind-blowing insight or body-drenching bliss” - don't count on it :-)

One thing you could try is when you get into those states, just incline the mind toward awareness of the most peasant aspects of your experience. Cultivate the pleasantness along with your breathing– breath in and fill the body with that pleasantness - however you experience it and see where that goes.

RE: A state of no mental chatter.
Answer
10/9/09 1:32 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Mike John D:
Some questions I have though: on one level thought is necessary, without a doubt, but is thought ultimately necessarly in the arisings of the other senses? Or to take it a step further, is thought even present in the combination of arrisings that seem to accumulate in our actions?


Daniel cuts right to the chase in his post in the Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness thread:
“No, just the reverse: that there is ... The universe happens causally by itself, and is known by nothing separate from that manifestation.”

The only thing that I would add to that is that this includes time and space and to point out that the last statement 'The universe....' leaves a gap big enough to drive through a bus full of Tibetan Lamas - if you catch my meaning [edit: it occurs to me that my meaning may not at all be clear so what I mean is that I have great respect for the Vajrayana teachings and view them as pointing to a deeper truth of our experience - end edit]. The first step is to disentangle awareness (illusory or not) from its identification with phenomena as constituting a separate self.

Try as you will – the mind is not going to wrap itself around this one. You have to see through this experientially to get it – thus the importance of practice. There are many effective practices out there for doing this. The noting practice is just one of them.

“I find that the state is entirely born from letting go rather than striving.”
Absolutely. You might find this talk very helpful for you in pursuing that avenue of investigation - it can take you all the way.

-Chuck