Once a person has familiarised themselves with a reasonable selection of literature related to Zen Buddhism they often find that there is a lot of seemingly conflicting advice. Some writers advocate “letting go” of thoughts and mental processes while others recommend getting thoughts under control and stabilising the mind. Sometimes this conflicting advice
can become paralysing; it sows confusion and doubt and a person can be at a loss as to which road to take.
In reality, both “letting go” and “control” are required. To let go, to genuinely let go, requires a degree of control. If a person simply allows thoughts to occur and makes no effort to grasp at or to engage with thoughts, then there is in that process a considerable amount of control required. A person must constantly remain alert to the grasping process and resist the temptation to engage with thoughts. This requires control because the ego wants to constantly engage with itself. The greater the degree to which the person lets go of thought, the greater the vigilance required. A person must develop a “diamond” like control whilst simultaneously letting thought go.
Lets consider the Buddhist exhortation to “set the attention on nothing”. To set the attention on nothing requires at once a profound inner relaxation and a profound degree of control. The mind must be “released” and allowed to “expand” outwards until the attention is fixed on nothing and an impression of “darkness” prevails, but the process of releasing requires effort. Indeed if the degree of release is large it will tend to induce a discomfort in the psyche precisely because the psyches normal mode of operation is to grasp. To stop the grasping process requires effort and will induce pain. When the exhortation to “set the attention on nothing” is put into action thoroughly, the person experiences two things; a profound sensation of letting go as the mind “expands” outwards and a diamond like solidity in their psyche. They are “like a diamond”, as “solid as a rock”, but free. The mind does as it likes with no constraint, whilst a diamond like solidity and attention keeps grasping under control. Once the mind is freed in this way it naturally tends towards thoughtlessness and intuition.
The person who can put this in to action to a very high degree will also develop a psyche that is thoroughly “unconcerned” with the world. Because the mind of such an individual is freed from the grasping process and is set on “nothing” there are effectively no external objects for contemplation. It is psychologically as if the world did not exist, as if the person were asleep. This being so what is there to disturb the mind? At the same time however, this person is thoroughly wide awake, possessing a level of attention and solidity that is beyond the comprehension of the average person. Their mind is truly “immoveable”, truly “like a diamond”. When someone insults them, not a flicker emerges. When they see something abhorrent, not the slightest reaction occurs. The attention never wavers from that blissful, diamond like state.
This is not to say however that such a person is in a state of non-cognition. On the contrary, they cognise everything but their mind remains still and solid. They naturally partake of no-thought and non-action. Or as Buddhists often say they partake of “real thinking”. Their thoughts are not after thoughts that pop in to their heads, indeed they are not thoughts at all, they are non-voiced intuitions. They “think without thinking”. We can see then that a person who reaches this state is very different from the average person. They do not exist in a state that is similar to that of the average person but simply free of thought as if they were having a particularly relaxing day, they exist in a state of absolute solidity, absolute unconcern and absolute freedom. They are “unconscious”, they perceive “oneness”, they are “thoughtless”. They are also free of neurosis, self doubt and all the other negative social problems that people face. This is simply because with an attention thoroughly set on nothing and an unmoveable mind there is no activity in their mind except that of cognising. Hence there can be no negative thoughts arising, indeed no thoughts at all arising. When they look somebody in the eye there is complete solidity. They observe with intelligence but no thoughts cross their mind. They are free of judgement but they perceive evil and wrong doing.
The person who enters in to this state becomes like the person in my previous post “To Be Awake Be Asleep“. They psychologically become completely non-reactive. It is not that they choose not to react, it is that there is no reaction. It is very difficult to understand this mode of being because it is so different to that of the average person. The person who can reach this state of non-reaction becomes naturally enlightened. Odd as it may seem, the unenlightened person is really grasping at their own mind; they are attempting to control their own mind. It is a neurosis of which they are unaware. This is why their opinions are of such importance to them; opinionation represents control. Without opinionation they fear loss of control and of course the stronger their belief system the stronger their opinionation and consequently they attempt to impose their belief system on others as a form of control. They want to win, in fact ultimately they’d like to win against the ultimate opponent; the grim reaper, death himself. “Take that death” they say, “my rightness will save me, I’m more right than you will ever be” ! Until they have to meet him and die screaming. At that point they realise their opinions count for nought and wonder why they didn’t shut up years ago. “What a fool I have been” they say. It is therefore beneficial to wake up to this control aspect of opinionation. Once it is seen as such it becomes distasteful and a person can move away from it.
Maybe the following will be useful:
Recognise that opinion is an attempt to control your own mind and the external world because you fear death; get over it, you’re going to die and no number of opinions will save you
Realising this let go of your mind and set your attention on nothing ; let your mind be, don’t interfere, be brave
With the attention set on nothing, bring thoughts and grasping under control and develop an immoveable mind ; be “like a diamond”
What you are aiming at is an outward going attention set upon nothing that “frees” the mind and an inner solidity. It is both letting go and controlling at the same time.