*Notes from a talk by Michael Stone at Centre of Gravity on July 15, 2012 on day seven of a twelve-day intensive, as transcribed by Mike Hoolboom.
Thoughts Without a Thinker
If someone comes to you with spiritual teachings that lie beyond the six sense doors and they have a shaved head and they’re a man, best be careful.
You can hear the Buddha’s earthiness in this teaching. And see how typical this was for his approach:
What does it mean to taste food?
I tried this out on my eight-year old son, Arlyn, at lunch hour today but he wasn’t impressed.
What does it mean to taste food?
You need a tongue, you need saliva or moisture, you need food and a knowing around what taste is.
Oh, that’s taste. If you take away any one of these conditions there is no taste. If there is no food there is no taste. If there is no tongue, there is no taste. It only arrives in conditions. There’s nothing eternally tasty that’s waiting behind these conditions.
A student asked Shunryu Suzuki: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one hears it, has it fallen?” He replied, “It doesn’t matter.”
In meditation you can see that thoughts come and go but you don’t create them. You contribute to the thought field, call it brain gas. And while sitting in meditation, you can watch the gas come and blow away.
But you are not the thinker. You can have thoughts without the thinker.
Similarly, the sense organs can have sense consciousness, can come into contact with a colour or a smell but there’s nothing behind that colour or smell. Though the mind has a tendency to make patterns, to make the colour and smell into something that happens “to me.”
But consciousness is conditioned, it occurs in conditions, not to some eternal, everlasting “me” that lies outside of conditions.
This is the big difference between what the Buddha taught and previous Indian philosophies. The “me” that the mind tries to impose that is “behind experience,” or that the experience is supposedly happening to, is just another mental formation.
There is no personality behind your personality that is going to gain something.
We might think that behind our senses there’s someone whose yoga practice is getting better or who is becoming more spiritual, gaining spiritual air miles. I listen to this dharma talk and it’s like getting my spiritual air miles card swiped. Every month, I get an email from God telling me how many spiritual air miles I have.
The sense organs are often called sense doors. Imagine a house with six windows. There’s an ear window, a nose window, a tongue window…in one second you run 64 times around the house. In mindfulness practice, you slow this process down and try to stay at a single window, you stay with your experience of taste, for example.
And then, you understand that you can have an experience of taste before it becomes your taste. You can have an experience of pain in the knee before it becomes your pain in your knee.
The only way not to take things so personally is to know yourself.
To open to the feeling that the sensations flowing through us is the whole world manifesting in this moment. We become more generous and accepting if we don’t recreate/re-form experience so that it fits into some idea of myself.
The Heart Sutra is saying: it’s not your fault. Give yourself a break. Even when things are hard, there can be some ease.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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