My Spiritual Journey — 31 — To Think or Not to Think
And so I’m back. Even though I thought my 30th article would be my last, it seems this more philosophical and esoteric series is not over yet.
The topic of this article is to discuss the usefulness to « think » about things, to use the mind to understand things, to « conceptualize » things. Here is a quote taken from « The Karmapa’s Middle Way: Feast for the Fortunate » which Paul posted as a comment to one of my articles :
« The Middle Way lies between the two extremes of existence and nonexistence, eternalism and nihilism. Furthermore, when we use our discriminating intelligence to analyze the nature of any phenomenon, we discover that, once we transcend the two conceptual extremes, there is no “middle” or “center” left over. There is no final resting place for the conceptual mind to dwell. The end result of our analysis is to allow reifying thoughts to dissolve into the peace that is free of all contrivance. »
The main message from this quote, is that by transcending the extremes of existence and nonexistence, eternalism and nihilism, order and chaos, perfect symmetry and perfect asymmetry (I might add), then there is no Middle Way left and especially, « no final resting place for the conceptual mind to dwell ». It is a quote which is very « non dualistic » in nature, where there is no more « Ying and Yang », just a blend of the two so seamless that they disappear altogether and you are left with nothing to « think » about, just « be » I guess in a sort of « peace », which is « free of all contrivance ».
As much as I agree with the contents of the quote and the truth that it contains, I feel it is as useful as a plan to put together an Ikea furniture to a Rhino. That is to say, there are certain « truths » which are of such a high form or nature, that they are not « temporally » relevant to us at this point in our evolutionary journey. To put it in other words, it’s like giving a chimpanzee somewhere in the past, information about Newton’s law about gravity. At the chimp’s evolutionary stage, the relevant information or intuition to « toy » around with was how to pick up a branch on fire on the ground and see if the chimp can « master » it.
I would even go further than this. If you pick this quote apart, notice the paradox inherent in the quote itself : it talks about the transcendence of conceptual extremes and a dissolution of the « middle way », then a peace beyond conceptual thinking… using concepts to express that very idea. That is the ultimate paradox of any form of quote that tries to go « beyond » conceptual thinking : the fact that ultimately, you conceptualize the idea of « non conceptualization » using concepts. Another paradox inherent to the quote, is that in order to transcend conceptualization of the mind, there has to be a conceptualization in the first place. In other words, conceptualization is a necessary process and by no means something that is « bad » or worthless. It is an integral part of a process.
But there is one form of « hidden » truth inside this quote in my mind. It is that this « middle way » has always been there from the beginning. We are the middle way. Thus to me, the deeper meaning behind this quote is that it is pointless to try to « find » something which is already there. To give you an idea : it is like thinking that conceptualizing the fact of « breathing » and trying to « control » it helps in any way shape or form. In the end, breathing was there before you conceptualized it, you never needed to think about it, it just « happened » naturally, and the fact of actively « thinking » about it may actually prevent it from happening as it should since you try to control it with your « mind » when it is best left alone by letting it « be », letting it « happen ».
In other words, we have always been the middle way. We don’t need to « think » about it or struggle to get « there ». We have always been there. If you have followed my entire Spiritual Journey series, you will have found that in perfect symmetry or perfect order, nothing can exist since everything is instantly reunited with it’s opposite and cancelled out of existence. In perfect asymmetry or perfect chaos, everything exists, but as a non-sensical stew of randomness without meaning. Our world, the very substance of it, is the Middle Way. It is already a form of « transcendence » of the extremes. The quote to me expresses the way that everything around us « works » except for humans. Plants don’t « think » or don’t make any kind of mental effort to grow, they grow. And the same for animals, minerals, they just follow « who they are », the Middle Way, they are in the « flow » of Life and move along it seamlessly. We, on the other hand, are busy labelling it all, when in fact we are part of the same natural « flow » of things, we are part of this « field of perfection » of this « Middle Way » which is all around us and is us. As the clairvoyant Franck Lopvet liked to put it, humans believe they are so « elevated » and so « evolved » that they are outside of the field of perfection of Nature. The way plants grow ? It’s perfect. The way animals and ecosystems balance themselves ? Perfect. The way Planets orbit their Suns ? Perfect. But us humans, we need to struggle, to think, to make huge efforts and to toil tirelessly in order to reach that same « perfection ». As if we were outside of the grander scheme of things, outside of the Flow of Life itself. In other words, after you have done away with all the « conceptualization » process, you end up exactly where you started, similar to the Zen story of the Ox.
But at the same time, perhaps this is our own way of « riding » Life’s River : by conceptualizing things.
Transcendence can only happen if you have something to transcend. And transcendence does not mean getting « rid » of something, it just means moving beyond something, as if whatever you are moving beyond is now so integrated that it becomes a seamless substrate of your reality and no longer something that your mind dwells on.
Perhaps at a certain point in time, the act of breathing was something that was actively « thought » about. Perhaps the very intellectual efforts we are making right now in conceptualizing ideas is just a mirror of the physical effort that very early biological creatures were making in ensuring their biological survival. And thanks to the fact that these early biological creatures thought so hard and concentrated so hard on the act of breathing allowed them to transcend this and relegate it to the « subconscious » or automated functions which do not require conceptualization or thought. In other words, it is pointless to talk about non dualism without a dualism to transcend in the first place ! It is pointless to talk about a world beyond conceptualization where there is « peace of mind » without a conceptualization to go beyond in the first place. And this is exactly what many thinkers, myself included, are busy doing : conceptualizing things to be transcended so that the quote above can be actualized. The mere fact that we are not there yet (at a collective level), that we are still busy conceptualizing things instead of just « being » and freeing our minds, is because things have not yet been conceptualized to a point where they can be transcended. Of course, certain individuals may have moved beyond conceptualization : the Buddha, Jesus, « Ascended Masters »… But what made this possible was precisely conceptualizing things until a point where it was not necessary, where conceptualization had become part of their DNA, part of their natural functioning which they no longer needed to « think » about. It never disappeared, it was just so thoroughly integrated into their very being that it was no longer something that their minds needed to concentrate or dwell on.
Any experienced driver has been through the same process. If you remember how it was when you first learned how to drive, then you will remember that your mind was 100% focused on every single micro action involved in the process : shifting gears, turning the steering wheel, watching out for cars in all directions… And then every driver will remember a time or another where, alone in the car, lost in his/her own thoughts, they suddenly found themselves at their point of destination with no idea how they managed to get there, as if it was « automatic ». This is a « micro » example of how the Universe evolves. It gradually « integrates » things that it needed to « think » very deeply about once they could be transcended. Atoms don’t « think » how they should behave or act, their time reflecting or introspecting on « who they are » and « what they should do » is over. They know. We, on the other hand, are very much still unconscious about our true nature, how we should act, and therefore to call for a transcendence of dualism and conceptualization is way too early. It is like telling a kid in primary school about his graduation after college or even, telling him about his funeral. It might be the « ultimate » destination, but it’s no use talking about it. It’s best to steadily grow into and towards it. Transcendence of dualisms it is the ultimate destination, but there will be many steps along the way. And this article is one of them.