Author Topic: Mental proliferation (papanca)  (Read 3795 times)


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Mental proliferation (papanca)
« on: September 19, 2011, 11:58:30 AM »
What is it and why is it worth knowing about it?

Mental proliferation refers to unskillful habits of the mind when you are not mindful. If unguarded, the mind picks up random concepts and constantly rolls with them in all directions, much like a pinball machine ball; this process in turn creates a vicious cycle of mental conflict and distraction from the pure experience of the present moment. To be mindful is to break this cycle. When we start meditating we get to see that pinball machine ball in action and are able to slow it down as we progress, but if we limit the practice of meditation to 30 or 60 minutes and spend the rest of the day without being mindful, mental proliferation has much breeding ground and our progress is slowed.

This has been said many times in one form or another on this forum, but it`s easy to find out and agree about something, and not as easy to see it clearly. Mindfulness practice is the key to seeing.

A few resources on the subject

Dependent on intellect & ideas, intellect-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition, there is feeling. What one feels, one perceives (labels in the mind). What one perceives, one thinks about. What one thinks about, one objectifies. Based on what a person objectifies, the perceptions & categories of objectification assail him/her with regard to past, present, & future ideas cognizable via the intellect.
Madhupindika Sutta: The Ball of Honey

A cancer is generally defined as "uninhibited proliferation of cells". As we all know this can cause all sorts of problems in the body. Similarly in the mind too uninhibited mental proliferation of thoughts can cause all sorts of problems in the mind. Thoughts about the past such as "I should not have done this or that..." may lead someone to depression. In the same way uncontrollable proliferation of thoughts about the future such "what if this happens..." may take someone to anxiety states. This the cause of our unhappy states of mind.
Wisdom through Mindfulness

The proliferation in and of itself it fascinating to watch, but it would be nothing more than relatively harmless static except that we believe all this stuff! There is a great story that illustrates this:

A woman wants some potatoes for the meal she is cooking, so she sends her husband to the marketplace to buy potatoes. As he walks out the door, she calls after him "be sure and get a good price." So all the way to the marketplace, the man is thinking about potatoes and what he'll have to pay. If he buys the very best potatoes, he knows he'll have to pay more than if he buys lesser quality potatoes. On the other hand the lesser quality potatoes are just that - not so good. In fact he knows he'll have to be very careful in buying other than top price potatoes because the seller might try to stick him with a bad potato, even a rotten potato. When he thinks of some one cheating him by giving him a rotten potato, he gets really mad. "Why do people have to be so greedy as to stick me with a rotten potato?" Just at this point he reaches the stall of the potato seller and screams at him "You can keep your rotten potatoes!" and walks off.

Left unexamined, the mind will run off into the strangest places. And because it was "me" that had this strange thought, it must be real, it must represent the truth. These concepts that arise from our perception of the thoughts that proliferate unbidden are the concepts that get us into so much trouble.
Leigh Brasington on Papanca

Mindful among the mindless,
Awake while others dream,
Swift as the race horse
He outstrips the field.
By watching
Indra became king of the gods.
How wonderful it is to watch.
How foolish to sleep.
The beggar who guards his mind
And fears the waywardness of his thoughts
Burns through every bond
With the fire of his vigilance.
The beggar who guards his mind
And fears his own confusion
Cannot fall.
He has found his way to peace.
The summer river:
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water.


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