New Delhi: It’s the middle of the night, it’s cold, I’m in bed and covered with a mountain of bedcovers. Can’t sleep, just lying here thinking about things in the darkness. All the stories of my life come and go, click the channel-changer and there’s another one. I remember this, yes… so, he said that… and I said this… and then what happened? Click the channel-changer again and I’m somewhere else. It’s the thinking thing, continually pondering over this and that and when I ask myself how to stop thinking the mind starts to look for a solution, drawing conclusions from known facts ad infinitum and I’m thinking again. It’s my Western cultural inheritance – separate from God, we are created by Him – studying the ‘object’ and logical, applied, deductive reasoning. Here in the Eastern context it’s more like a gradually accumulating lake of inductive reasoning; the ‘whole’ is a pre-existing pattern composed of its parts. I can ‘feel’ my way into it and see where that takes me.
So I stop thinking. There’s an awareness of the cold air on my face, sensory response vedanā; the mind engaged with the other senses tuned to reception from the outer world like satellite dishes search for a signal. When there’s no thinking, there’s an empty space where the thoughts used to be. I’m aware of the desire to be actively thinking, I see the invitation to be engaged with thinking – same as other forms of ‘wanting’ and mindfulness kicks in. But it occurs to me this is the Buddha’s teaching about the origination of the world: ‘Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact….’ (phassa) and I’m back into thinking again.
There’s something obvious about this, the mind is one of the six senses and functions like a receptor in the same way as the others do, except that it also has the purpose of ‘guarding’ the entry point; sense object activates the chain of events and mind has an intuitive, cognitive function; it is capable of discerning the object, like a security system. The exact nature of the cognitive mind holds my attention. I experience the absolutely empty space of no-thinking and either there’s not any sensory input the mind needs to be engaged with, or the apparent emptiness is caused by the mind’s awareness of being aware. There’s more of this empty space. Thoughts come in and go out again and the mind is watching the whole process. Sometimes I’m here as an observer, watching from behind the curtain. Other times the observer disappears, and it seems like only the mind itself is left there. That disappears too and in its place, a sequence of momentary mental events, each one linking with the next as if it were electronic activity. It’s like a small fireworks display, arising and falling away. Some time later sleep comes and the world disappears.