Thoughts cannot help realization?

 

It is worth noticing that what you think one way or another is not a help for realization…. Realization does not depend on thoughts, but comes forth from beyond them; realization is helped only by the power of realization itself.
-Dogen

Thoughts cannot help or hinder realization. That is a common pointer by teachers, and one I have been curious about since I first heard it.

It seems true in several ways.

Everything happens on its own and in its own time. We can set the stage for and invite in realization, but whether it happens or not is outside of the control of what there is identification with or as, such as images of this human self, a doer or observer, etc. 

Also, in shikantaza (choiceless awareness), the content of deliberate discursive thoughts cannot help or hinder the process. Although identification with them can. And that is exactly what this pointer points out. Don’t pay attention to the content of the stories that come and go. Allow identification with them to soften or release, and the center of gravity to shift into that which all experience already happens within and as.

And thoughts cannot help or hurt what we are, that which all experience happens within and as.

And yet, it seems obviously not true in another way. Dogen’s statement conflicts with an essential part of practice: Using thoughts and images to guide attention. In that sense, thoughts are essential for allowing realization in daily life and in practice, including shikantaza. They can’t guarantee it. They can’t make it happen. They won’t determine a point of time when it happens. But images are essential for guiding attention, which in turn thins the veil. It can create more fertile ground for realization.

In a more general, and ordinary, conventional, and sane sense, it is also obviously not true that thoughts cannot help or harm. Thoughts guide attention, choices, and actions, and this has large consequences for me (this human self) and others in the world. Identification with this me comes from confusion, and this me is nothing more than awareness appearing to itself, and yet sanity means to take care of this me and other beings in the world.

All of this is just another reminder that any teaching is a pointer, a question for own exploration in immediacy.

And also that any teaching has its time and place and is aimed at a particular audience. In this case, if you are doing – for instance – shikantaza practice, it may be very helpful to be reminded that ordinary discursive thoughts cannot help or harm you, and cannot help or harm realization. In other circumstances, and for another audience, emphasizing another aspect of this may be more appropriate. It may be helpful to notice that thoughts guide attention, which is very helpful in most practices. And also that thoughts, of course, guide choices and actions in the world, which has consequences for ourselves and others in a conventional sense.

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  • thoughts cannot help realization?
    • ….

It is worth noticing that what you think one way or another is not a help for realization…. Realization does not depend on thoughts, but comes forth from beyond them; realization is helped only by the power of realization itself.
-Dogen

……………

  • thought cannot harm or help you
    • common pointer (in mediation)
    • a guideline, pointer, question, koan
    • cannot harm or help
      • cannot harm/help what we are
      • can notice this
    • can harm or help
      • can harm/help what we are
      • as a pointer, guideline etc.
        • in meditation
        • in life in general
    • so….
      • a helpful pointer in some situations, especially in some types of meditation (especially allowing)
      • and there is obviously validity in its reversals
      • mainly, it is a pointer, something to try out, and a question, something to explore for oneself

………..

Hm…. What about thoughts as guide for attention. Isn’t that one way thoughts help (set the stage for/invite) realization?

……..

It has limited validity. It may be helpful in some circumstances and not other. And there is also validity in its reversals.

…………..
…………..
…………..

Thoughts cannot help or hinder realization. That is a common pointer by teachers, and one I have been curious about since I first heard it.

It seems true in several ways.

Everything happens on its own and in its own time. We can set the stage for and invite in realization, but whether it happens or not is outside of the control of what is identified with or as (this human self, the images of a doer or observer etc.)

Also, in shikantaza (choiceless awareness), the content of deliberate discursive thoughts cannot help or hinder the process. Although identification with them can. And that is exactly what this pointer points out. Don’t pay attention to the content of the stories that come and go. Allow identification with them to soften or release, and the center of gravity to shift into that which all experience already happens within and as.

And thoughts cannot help or hurt what we are, that which all experience happens within and as.

And yet, it seems obviously not true in another way. Dogen’s statement conflicts with an essential part of practice: Using thoughts and images to guide attention. In that sense, thoughts are essential for allowing realization in daily life and in practice, including shikantaza. They can’t guarantee it. They can’t make it happen. They won’t determine a point of time when it happens. But images are essential for guiding attention, which in turn thins the veil. It can create more fertile ground for realization.

In a more general, and ordinary, conventional, and sane sense, it is also obviously not true that thoughts cannot help or harm. Thoughts guide attention, choices, and actions, and this has large consequences for me (this human self) and others in the world. Identification with this me comes from confusion, and this me is nothing more than awareness appearing to itself, and yet sanity means to take care of this me and other beings in the world.

All of this is just another reminder that any teaching is a pointer, a question for own exploration in immediacy.

And also that any teaching has its time and place and is aimed at a particular audience. In this case, if you are doing – for instance – shikantaza practice, it may be very helpful to be reminded that ordinary discursive thoughts cannot help or harm you, and cannot help or harm realization. In other circumstances, and for another audience, emphasizing another aspect of this may be more appropriate. It may be helpful to notice that thoughts guide attention, which is very helpful in most practices. And also that thoughts, of course, guide choices and actions in the world, which has consequences for ourselves and others in a conventional sense.

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