The action of thinking

This essay is based on a discourse from Luang Por Boontham, translated from Thai to English.

It is necessary to concentrate the mind at only one point and not have it divided in all directions. Focus it either at the ear, the nose – only one of the sense doors, if we wish to concentrate well at first. The eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the body cannot function without that which senses at each of them. And what about the mind?

Where should we focus our attention to guard the sense-door of the mind, and to observe how the mind functions?

The mind we have is due to old kamma. So how to pay attention, how to think?)

We should realise that ‘thinking’ is not the mind in and of itself. We need to see what directs the thinking. In regard to mind-consciousness, we have to concentrate on the fact that thinking is an intention. Yet, the ‘knower’ is within the thinking as well.

To start with, we can use thoughts. For example, think of a word.

In fact, the word itself is not the object. When we form our thoughts using words, we have to focus on the action of thinking, how it is formed – not the content, not what the thought is about, not the words.

There are three ways of thinking wrongly: there is thinking with moha, thinking with craving and thinking with anger. (Moha we leave untranslated for the moment, because it is a difficult word to translate precisely to one English word. It is very close in meaning to avijja, ignorance.)

It is possible to think with only moha. When thinking is directed by moha, it is undirected – there is no aim, no purpose, we are just lost in thought without knowing. When we are thinking words of many useless, aimless subjects, rolling in useless thought without considering, we can see very easily that we are drowning in thinking, and of course we are ignorant in this moment – of course we are in moha. This unaware, un-knowing mind, is the first thing, and happiness or unhappiness is added to it.

For example, thinking about a fun subject that the mind enjoys playing with, a pleasant daydream of sensuality, rolling in a nostalgic childhood memory, relishing the details of a favourite film – playing with words and formulating jokes – that’s both moha and craving. Craving is what causes us to play with the thought, to desire it and enjoy it. And the fact that you don’t even realise whether you are thinking or not, whether the thoughts are useful or useless, beneficial or detrimental, is moha. Moha mixes with craving.

On the other hand, anger is born from the seed of unhappiness, dislike, when thinking follows such unhappiness, looking for rude or harsh words in order to hurt. When anger drives the mind, we try to find rude or harsh words to speak. But it is not the words that matter, because there are many different words that can be used for all kinds of purposes. We have to find the thought, first, and the thing that directs the thinking: the intention.

When thinking or speaking, the focus is normally always on the subject, such as the story the mind is telling itself. We should ignore this, and focus directly on the act of thinking. Good and bad intentions arise when we think. If it is good, then it is directed with observation and self-discipline. If it is bad, then there is no self-discipline. It is what directs the thinking and speaking that is good or bad; the talking itself, or the words we form as we think to ourselves, is the actor. Right and wrong actions start from the base of right or wrong intention.

Where can we find right intention? It is when we are mindful and aware of our own mind. This is the condition for thinking to be useful, to know the benefit. Otherwise, if it is not useful, and if we are not clearly aware that it is useful, it is not wholesome. Further immoral actions of speech and body can be born from this unwholesome mind, which cause us to deeply regret afterwards. We have to be very careful about this, because without perfect morality, we cannot progress in the practice, it is essential; and on the other hand, birth in states of great suffering is caused by the lack of morality. 

While speaking, we are usually totally unaware; mindlessly speaking. We speak right away with no observation or self-discipline before doing so. Mindlessly talking in this way is, in itself, without morality. If talking is to be truly moral and wholesome, there must be mindfulness (sati) at the mind, to check the mind when forming words to speak. There must be consideration of how to use the proper words, whether it is beneficial, or not. If it is true, useful and beneficial, then it is right. So without having a strong sense of morality when we speak, as well as a certain amount of wisdom, we cannot truly benefit or help anyone. There are many words, but we do not think to consider whether they are useful or useless.

Considering whether these words that we wish to speak are beneficial or not, this is also an act of thinking, which must be done with awareness and attention, in order to be properly moral. If not, if we do not see these things and experience them, it means that we are in moha: unaware, and finding whatever words just to say something, vomiting the words. And so we have to be very careful, starting with our mind, for if we correct our morality here, are mindful and disciplined here, then all the rest will follow in line; if not, it will be out of line. It is not easy to be mindful of how we select what words to say and to see whether they are of benefit or not. If you are careful, you won’t dare to speak easily.

The one who continues to be aware and to have mindfulness constantly of his own mind, has right view, right thought, right effort, right mindfulness all at once. Why is it so? It is because he keeps on observing to understand the mind, and right view arises with the understanding of the mind –  seeing the reality of the mind is right seeing. It means seeing what is wrong as wrong, and seeing what is right as right.

This is the way to search for reality. Our wisdom can only arise when we clearly see reality for ourselves. Follow and keep to whatever is reality. Observe saccadhamma, the truth. Seeing, seeing with the eye now, this is also saccadhamma. Seeing is also suffering. Hearing is also suffering. Smelling, tasting, touching are all in suffering, but knowing is the ultimate truth that overcomes suffering. To begin, we have to recognise the one within us that knows, so that we can understand the suffering of this knower. Searching for the knower keeps us observing in order to gain knowledge and understand what we are doing. This in itself is the way to develop the path.

The eye-consciousness is one site of the truth of suffering. One who sees “self” is experiencing wrong view. In fact, the eye-consciousness is the one who sees. But the one who has wrong view believes that it is “I” who sees, and this right here is the cause of suffering, the truth of the cause.

Suffering is whatever is changing, anicca. It gets old, it gets sick and it dies. All the knowers are similar. Knowing through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching must also age and die; this is called body and mind. Suffering is everywhere because nothing can remain the same, everything must die. That is why it is called suffering. Consciousness, memory, thought is suffering also. There are five kinds of sufferings, four from the mind: vedana (feeling) , sanna (perception, memory, identification), sankhara (thoughts and intentions) and vinnana (knowing at the six senses). The body itself is suffering and in addition to that the mind is also suffering. This is the highest truth.

The wrong view takes the whole thing as the self, takes the suffering as self! The wrong view thinks that the self sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and thinks independently, that it is the self that feels hot or cold, comfortable, or suffers. The self takes it that “I am” suffering. This is a wrong view according to the truth. This wrong view develops endless five aggregates.

As long as the five aggregates are still considered as self in this way, it is possible to be born as a living being in hell, a hungry ghost or an animal. As a human or asura, all are subject to suffering. In order to get out of suffering you need to get the eye of wisdom to see through to the truth. You need to clearly understand. So the points to focus on are the sense-doors of the eyes, the ears, nose, tongue, and body. Then how to observe the exact point of the knower of thoughts and stories? This arises from the mind. Observe within. “This is the thing that sees, this is the thing that hears” – just continue to watch and observe. You have to stay alone and keep observing, otherwise you will remain stupid for the rest of your life.

One thought on “The action of thinking

Leave a Reply