On Eliminating Thoughts

We’ve all been there before. We are living life with peace of mind, life is good, sometimes we get minor road bumps but we manage. Then on a random day, when we least expect it BOOM! a tragedy occurs. It could be bad news, an accident, an illness, family affairs… anything you can think of that has the potential to challenge your life style is an adequate candidate.

There’s a lot that can be said about this topic. For this piece I will concentrate on a common fallacy that all of us fall into when facing a tragedy; obsessive thinking.

It is difficult to stop thinking about something. Whenever we try to suppress a thought in our mind we are actually re-enforcing this thought. Think, for example, when you are giving attention to a baby. The fact that you are giving the baby your attention indirectly means one thing. That the baby is important and that it is worth caring about. In the same way, when we try to get rid of a thought that we want OUT of our head, we are indirectly saying : “This thought is important, it is worth my attention.”

In Zen and Buddhism, this obsessive thinking is described as a fixation of the mind. It is even classified as a sickness. In order to give ourselves a chance to deal with obsessive thinking we the proper tools. A plumber needs a wrench. A surgeon needs his scalpel. You need your tools!

The following text is taken from Soul of the Samurai, which was translated by Thomas Cleary[1]. It will provide you with the tools you need to face a fixation of the mind.

Eliminating Sickness: Elementary and Advanced Levels

Elementary Level

“Free from thought having gotten into thought, free from fixation having gotten fixated.” The meaning of this is that the intention to get rid of thought is a thought. To intend to eliminate sickness in the mind is getting into thought.

Now then, the expression “sickness” also means obsessive thought. To think of getting rid of sickness is also thought. Thus you use thought to get rid of thought. When rid of thoughts, you’re free from thought, so this is called being free from thought having gotten into thought.

When you take thought to get rid of the sickness that remains in thought, after that the thought of removal and the thoughts to be removed both disappear. This is what is known as using a wedge to extract a wedge.

When you can’t get a wedge out, if you drive in another wedge to ease the pressure, then the first wedge comes out. Once the stuck wedge comes out, the wedge driven in after isn’t left there. When sickness is gone, the thought of getting rid of sickness is no longer there, so this is called being free from thought having gotten into thought.

To think of getting rid of sickness is fixation on sickness, but if you use that fixation to get rid of sickness, the fixation will not remain. So this is called being free from fixation having gotten fixated.

Advanced Level

To think of riddance is itself sickness. Letting sickness be while living in the midst of sickness is to be rid of sickness.

This might be hard to grasp at first, but once it clicks it can feel liberating. So whenever you feel like you are having having obsessive thoughts, think about the obsession as it’s own thing, before you know it, the thoughts will dissipate and you can resume your day.

[1] Soul of the Samurai, page 46–47, Tuttle Editions. Used for educational purposes.

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