What Do We Do With Thoughts?

by Jason
(Hamilton, ON, Canada)


Hello Adam, 

I study many different approaches to being present, including Eckhart Tolle and Western approaches to mindfulness (Jon Kabat-Zinn, etc). 

Eckhart recently recited what Nisargadatta Maharaj said was meditation:

"Meditation is the radical refusal to harbour thoughts."

Eckhart then summarized Zen as: "Don't think"

However, this seems like a less organic way to be present. I mean, in the Western view of mindfulness (Jon Kabat-Zinn and others), there is a more light and curious approach to the thoughts. The thoughts are viewed something like soap bubbles (temporary and disappearing by themselves soon after they arise), and that we can be mindful when a thought arises and give it the awareness (space) to just let it be and pass on its own.

So it seems like these are two opposing views: one view says to radically reject thinking entirely, and the other says to allow thoughts to flow freely (to arise and pass away) and just watch them with nonjudgment and give them space to pass (through awareness).

So, what would you say we do? Do we consciously, effort-fully try to be present all the time so to evade thinking (which seems impossible), or do we have a mixture of both (don't jump on trains of association - don't fuel thoughts, but also if a thought arises then just watch it with nonjudgment and objectivity and allow it to pass)?



Yes, more like the last thing you said. I would say both approaches that you mentioned are actually the same thing. Nisargadatta saying don’t harbour thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean that no thoughts arise. It just means there is no interest in them, no clinging to them, no importance given to them. And Eckhart saying “don’t think,” also does not necessarily mean that no thought arises. I take it as more no engagement, no activity of “thinking”, no “doing” of mental activity, not even labelling what we call a thought as “a thought”.

I feel that if there is a near curiosity to thoughts, then that might make the thought-stream seem more of a big deal than it really is. I would lean more towards the first approach, but it is not a strenuous or suppressive effort. It is more a shift from trusting the continuous commentary/thought stream, into the emptiness that it arises in.

But both are only initial guidelines. Whatever feels good for you, just go with that. They are really the same. If you are not harbouring thoughts, then they have complete space, but no one is analysing them. No one is keeping them or trying to stop them.

It might be easy to interpret the first approach as a resistance to thinking, to actively dislike or label as "bad" the thinking process. But it is not that at all. Thought inevitably arises, and without resistance to it or to the world, it can be far more fresh and creative when it is required.

Hope that can help,