Author Topic: The Role of the Rational Mind  (Read 3062 times)

Hulk Hoagie

The Role of the Rational Mind
« on: April 27, 2009, 05:13:19 PM »
I have heard different accounts of the rational mind's role in progressing along the path. It seems the Zen school nearly disowns it. On the other hand, I had a conversation with someone who I consider a bit more advanced than myself who recommends rationalizing and philosophizing as key components to reaching enlightenment. (i.e. what is this consciousness I'm experiencing? well, it does that so it must not be this, but on the other hand it is likely not that either ...) On one side, I can see the value of really understanding what consciousness is, but on the other it really seems like this may be feeding the rational mind in a very unhealthy way and just lead to more chatter and roads leading to nowhere. Interested in people's thoughts on the matter.

pamojjam

Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2009, 07:22:03 PM »

Hi Hulk,

in Vipassana meditation there is a strong case for balancing the following 5 faculities to the effect of having them developed to full strength:
Confidence, Effort, Stilling, Mindfulness, and Wisdom (Saddha, Viriya, Samadhi, Sati + Panna).

Then there are the 7 factors of enlightenment (Sambojjhanga) which tent to a mutually inclusive development too:
Mindfulness (sati-sambojjhanga), Investigation of phenomena (dhamma-vicaya-sambojjhanga), Energy (viriya-sambojjhanga), Rapture (piti-sambojjhanga), Tranquility (passaddhi-sambojjhanga), Concentration (Samma-ditthi-sambojjhanga), Equanimity (upekkha-sambojjhanga).

Quote from: Gopakamoggallana Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 118:
On whatever occasion the monk remains focused on the body in & of itself - ardent, alert, & mindful - putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world, on that occasion his mindfulness is steady & without lapse. When his mindfulness is steady & without lapse, then mindfulness as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.

- 'Remaining mindful in this way, he examines, analyzes, & comes to a comprehension of that quality with discernment. When he remains mindful in this way, examining, analyzing, & coming to a comprehension of that quality with discernment, then analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.

- 'In one who examines, analyzes, & comes to a comprehension of that quality with discernment, unflagging persistence is aroused. When unflagging persistence is aroused in one who examines, analyzes, & comes to a comprehension of that quality with discernment, then persistence as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.

- 'In one whose persistence is aroused, a rapture not-of-the-flesh arises. When a rapture not-of-the-flesh arises in one whose persistence is aroused, then rapture as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.

- 'For one who is enraptured, the body grows calm and the mind grows calm. When the body & mind of an enraptured monk grow calm, then serenity as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.

- 'For one who is at ease - his body calmed - the mind becomes concentrated. When the mind of one who is at ease - his body calmed - becomes concentrated, then concentration as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.

- 'He oversees the mind thus concentrated with equanimity. When he oversees the mind thus concentrated with equanimity, equanimity as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.'

Further there is the talk of Vipassanupakkilesas - Perversions of Insight:

Quote from: Nyanatiloka's Buddhist Dictionary:
... during Insight practice may arise the 10 imperfections (or Defilements) of Insight: effulgence of light (obhasa), knowledge (nana), rapture (piti), tranquility (passaddhi), happiness (sukha), determination (adhimokkha), energy (paggaha), awareness (upatthana), equanimity (upekkha), delight (nikanti). - See Vis. XX, 105f.- (pp.)

- Excepting the last one, 'delight', they are not imperfections or defilements in themselves, but may become a basis for them through the arising of pride or delight or by a wrong conclusion that one of the holy Paths has been attained.
He, however, who is watchful and experienced in Insight practice, will know that these states of mind do not indicate attainment of the true Path, but are only symptoms or concomitants of Insight meditation.

All of these facettes of a rational mind - wisdom,  investigation of phenomena and knowledge - have to be in balance with other faculties, that has to be clearly understood.

And there's a huge difference of such a penetrating ultimately non-conceptual quiet mind - to the hindrances of restlessness, worry and doubt.

But beside this there are also the 4 bases to spiritual power (Iddipada):

Canda: determination
Citta: concentration
Viriya: effort
Muncita: strong analytical understanding

Of which it is said that each yogi naturally brings his/her own inclination to one of them, though all of them have to be present to some extent again. But the one most pronounced will become the base to spiritual power of a yogi.

kind regards..

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
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Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2009, 08:51:28 PM »
Hulk,

Before you can use the rational mind to the fullest extent you must master stilling the mind completely in Shamatha. Using the rational mind in achieving the best practice is useful ...

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Hulk Hoagie

Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2009, 09:51:12 PM »
thank you both very much. so ... what then is to be investigated. when i investigate my consciousness rationally i just come up with fairly obvious and non-helpful answers. i.e. 'what is a thought? it is an electric impulse in my brain which has been encoded into words. what is consciousness? it is my brain's awareness of existence (including my own) which ultimately boils down to more electric impulses'

and so i concentrate on dwelling in awareness and quieting these thoughts down which is beautiful. but ... i was already doing that before all of this analysis. i must be doing something completely wrong


pamojjam

Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #4 on: April 27, 2009, 11:28:05 PM »

Hi Hulk,

so ... what then is to be investigated.

Body, feelings, mind and mental states. Gradually, by starting with bodily felt sensations alone, untill some proficiency is gained. That's clearly not the case with you yet.

i.e. 'what is a thought? it is an electric impulse in my brain which has been encoded into words. what is consciousness? it is my brain's awareness of existence (including my own) which ultimately boils down to more electric impulses'

The examples how you understand inquiry shows that you use analysis without balancing it with any other meditative faculty. This way nothing else than a hindrance comes out of it.

i must be doing something completely wrong

You didn't start practicing meditation with the guidance of a teacher?

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
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  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2009, 08:36:40 AM »
thank you both very much. so ... what then is to be investigated. when i investigate my consciousness rationally i just come up with fairly obvious and non-helpful answers. i.e. 'what is a thought? it is an electric impulse in my brain which has been encoded into words. what is consciousness? it is my brain's awareness of existence (including my own) which ultimately boils down to more electric impulses'

and so i concentrate on dwelling in awareness and quieting these thoughts down which is beautiful. but ... i was already doing that before all of this analysis. i must be doing something completely wrong



All of the above type of investigation you are describing is rational thinking. You need to sit on the cushion and fabricate nothing. No rational thinking. Just watch the breath and when you find yourself thinking, without criticising yourself (more fabrication) just return your attention to the breath.

Just be careful you are not using too much force and dulling your mind. The process is one of increasing open and wakeful awareness, and letting the habitual thought patterns die from boredom. A lot of these habits of thought have to go because they contain many unhelpful assumptions about life that unknowingly influence your rationality away from being rational.

You like the electric thinking metaphor: Imagine a computer which has been scrambled by an EMP weapon. Life is the EMP weapon against the human brain. Meditation is the cure.

Matthew
« Last Edit: April 28, 2009, 08:39:17 AM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Hulk Hoagie

Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2009, 10:21:36 AM »


All of the above type of investigation you are describing is rational thinking. You need to sit on the cushion and fabricate nothing. No rational thinking. Just watch the breath and when you find yourself thinking, without criticising yourself (more fabrication) just return your attention to the breath.

Matthew
[/quote]

yep. this + just dwelling in (ideally) thoughtless awareness is pretty much what i do a lot of. started the thread wondering if rational investigation has its place as well

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Member
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2009, 11:20:00 PM »
Yes it does if your Shamatha practice is very stable. If you count breaths how many do you get to before there is a thought? 10? 100? 1000?

When you can count endless breaths with no other thought you have endless concentration. Of course you start to use rational thought before this stage, indeed you are already doing so. However, I would propose that you drop rationalising about the meditation and keep letting the practice do it's work. It is not a quick fix.

Have you read Mindfulness in Plain English yet? This will help you better understand the transition from the calming (Shamatha) aspect of meditation into the insight aspect (Vipassana). Even when you are not sitting you will use your rational and intuitive minds differently as a result of meditation practice.

Best,

Matthew
« Last Edit: April 28, 2009, 11:27:09 PM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Hulk Hoagie

Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2009, 12:55:35 AM »
good question regarding the breaths. depends on how a 'thought' is defined. i rarely make it to 10 without a thought starting to form. often i will catch it right there at its root before it becomes a full blown thought if that makes sense. even so, i would say i normally don't get even as high as 40 or so before i realize a thought has eclipsed an entire breath.

of course, in the first few minutes of a given session, i will have a few total bloopers where i don't get past 2. i'm sure that leaves me in the beginner stage of all this but progress is fairly rapid.

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Member
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: The Role of the Rational Mind
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2009, 01:12:31 PM »
Progress is rapid for those who practice well yes.

One thing struck me ... "i rarely make it to 10 without a thought starting to form. often i will catch it right there at its root before it becomes a full blown thought if that makes sense"

This sounds as though you are forcefully cutting thoughts and supressing them. I could be wrong. If this is what you are doing then realise that it too is a form of mental fabrication !

Based on the thought you should not be thinking.

The art of meditation is a little more subtle. Let the thought form. Just do not think you are the thought or it is your thought - don't identify. Watch. Let thoughts form and float around and disappear. Just do not engage the habitual mind's habit of having a chat with itself ... the thought "I wonder what is for dinner" ... can be allowed to form and fade away or it can be suppressed or it can be indulged - "Oh yes, what is for dinner .. I hope it's cheese .. oh we have no cheese ... etc" this is the kind of thinking one is aiming to stop, not thoughts altogether. Thoughts need to form and be let free and eventually will bore themselves with repeated sitting practice.

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

 

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