Caution! Thinking may be dangerous to your health!
Here’s a rider which may save you a worry or two. Not all thinking but rather it is uncontrolled, unconscious habitual thinking which can chase even the best of men into an early grave.
Shakespeare observed in his play Julius Caesar: “He has a lean and hungry look! He thinks too much! Such men are dangerous…”
Like every other human faculty and trait, thinking has its place, and its uses. But when it is misused, it can destroy the soul.
To understand the “thinking” mechanism is the duty of every conscious man. What is one thinking at any given time? How is one thinking? Is what one thinks, truthful or a faulty perception. Do we know what we are thinking?
Knowing from bottom to top, from start to finish, the mechanism of thinking is part of Yogic Sadhana. To study thoughts as they rise and their consequent impact on the life is a fascinating spiritual activity. To test one’s thoughts constantly against the external material phenomena is highly engaging. To realize one may have false perceptions, misconceptions and make mistakes in thinking is a necessary skill in Sadhana. To reach a state when one “Thinks at will and with skill” about a chosen topic, to bind the thinking mechanism to that point of concentration or contemplation as one would tie a wild, ferocious bull to a pole is a worthy goal.
This requires a disciplined Sadhana. In Sanskrit, the act is called Dharana or “fixing the mind to one place to prevent it from wandering”. Of course there is the mundane use of the “thinking mechanism” to “figure out “the use of an external object how to perform much more physical action like archery, judo, taekwondo, basketball, etc, One must “use the mundane mind” skilfully to pilot a plane, tune an instrument, build a house etc. In these works, the power of the mind is focused outward to create an external effect on the environment. In this type of use, one undergoes a “training” of some sort under a master who has already developed the skill. This use of mind is very beneficial. It is like using the muscles of the body to move efficiently in a pre-determined pattern.
It is this “use” of the thinking mechanism which has enabled men to fly to the moon, build bridges and railways or to discover electricity and the printing press, to paint great pictures, to dance elaborate ballet.
This aspect of thinking has freed man from the shackles imposed upon him during his life in jungles and created a civilization in which a certain security of survival assured. But that same fire which creates can also burn, that same “power of thought” when it focuses inwardly on emotional tangles, mental confusions and philosophical and religious conundrums can disturb and distract humanity’s progress.
Man is using mind for purposes it was never intended! The Mind cannot understand anything beyond man’s material existence. This is the “original error” of western philosophy. Mind evolved out of its experiences with the matter. Hence it can manipulate matter but cannot penetrate its essence. Paradoxically these things” continually torture the spirit of man with this thought!
Is this all there is?
The thinking mind sees birth, growth, and death and asks: “Is this all there is?” And thought mechanism faces a solid wall – I don’t know! And if the mind stops at that wall, it sinks into despair, the dark night of the soul, the existential angst experienced so commonly by great men of western civilization.
Somehow the eastern seekers broke through that wall and asked, “To know that by which we shall know all, what can one do? But how? One must transcend that thinking process. How to transcend the mind?” Pat came the answer: to quiet the mind, to stop the thinking process. When that mental movement ceases something else comes from somewhere of its own accord. That step in evolution is called Dhyana. If that stillness, that silence can be maintained long enough, Samadhi, Moksha, Freedom, Kalvalya occurs. This cannot be obtained by thinking, but rather by transcending thought.
The Hindus discovered a natural process by which one may obtain this state. They called it Yoga. Maharishi Patanjali codified this discipline calling it Ashtanga Yoga and gave it eight steps: Yama, Niyama (restraints and observances-vows); Asana (stillness of body); Pranayama (perfect silence of breath); Pratyahara (perfect silence of senses); Dharana (perfect silence of mind); Dhyana (perfect silence and transcendence of mind).
The Buddhists have formulated a very interesting idea. It is outlined in this famous passage from the Ariguttara Nikaya (IV, 77).
Monks, there are four unthinkables, not to be pondered upon, which if pondered upon, would lead to insanity and distress. What are these four? The range of a Buddha, O monk, is an unthinkable, not to be pondered upon, which if pondered upon, would lead to insanity and distress. The range of meditative absorptions… the results of karma, speculations about the world are unthinkables, not to be pondered upon, which if pounded upon, would lead one to insanity and distress.
Certain things are “unthinkable”. When one sees clearly that one can never discover the true meaning of anything by trying to think about it, one stops trying and the mind automatically shuts down.
Again to quote Shakespeare as he says in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and hell than are dreamt of in thy philosophy, Horatio!”
We may never know why our parents didn’t love us; why we lost our job; why we failed our exam; why our friends turned against us. These occurrences will be the result of a huge number of thoughts, words, actions, which eventually converge upon a point, and break through into an event, pleasant or unpleasant! We can never discover all those forces by virtue of thinking about them. Things happen! Our work is not to “think” about them, asking “why?” but perhaps act in a manner which may restore balance and harmony.
The Upanishad asks these philosophical questions: “Who created the heaven! Who set the moon in the sky? Who makes the sun to rise? Why is man made to walk upon the earth?” The Rishi exclaims: “Only God knows!” and the wise seer concludes “and even God knows not!
At a certain point, the mind must stop and realize, “This is unthinkable! So, I won’t think about it! In that quiet decision, something else rises which is beyond thought. The Soul rather to create a positive attitude towards then and to consciously can their shout joyously, “It was this that I sought and what I sought could not be found by seeking!”