Thought and Attention (and Oxfords!)

First: If you are from Oxford, England and you were writing to me about doing a talk or event there, please write me again because I have lost all of the emails relating to this. Thanks!

***

Secondly, if you’re in the country of Europe and want to see me talk to you please come to one of my gigs. They’re all listed at hardcorezen.info/events. I’ll be in Malaga, Spain; Frankfurt (and Frankfurt again) and Berlin, Germany; Glasgow, Scotland; and Manchester and London, England. I may also be in Birmingham and possibly in Oxford if those Oxford guys ever write me again.

***

I just finished a three day retreat with the folks from Kajo Zendo in Finland. Kajo Zendo is in Helsinki but the retreat was held in the wild land of Läyliäinen. Don’t ask me to pronounce it. 25 people signed up, 20 of them actually came. It snowed. There was a sauna out back but you had to run naked through the snow from the changing room to the sauna itself. Then some of the guys, after the sauna, went and swam in the frozen lake. Finnish people are kind of crazy.

Mika, the guy whose apartment I’m staying at, said he liked the thing I said at the retreat about thought and attention not being the same thing. I’ve been saying that at a lot of my talks over the past few years. It’s something that’s sort of obvious when you start to notice it. But it wasn’t obvious to me when I began my practice. When teachers would say, “Don’t pay attention to your thoughts,” it just sounded insane. How can you possibly not pay attention to your thoughts? But gradually I learned that you can. After a while thoughts just feel like background noise.

One guy said he’d heard that, for an experienced meditator, thoughts are just like clouds floating in a clear blue sky. But, he said, to him thoughts were like a mist. You don’t even realize the mist is there sometimes but pretty soon you’re totally soaked.

I agree. And it’s much harder to not pay attention to a mist than it is to not pay attention to a cloud. I guess, if you wanted to extend the metaphor much too far, you learn to just deal with the fact that you’re soaking in thought without really dwelling on it. Or something like that.

Lots of meditation techniques are very concerned with how to reduce or eliminate thought or how to channel thought in a particular direction. Zen is different. The fact that you’re thinking isn’t a bad thing. You ought not dwell on your thoughts. But you don’t need to worry too much that you’re thinking. The brain is just doing its job of processing information and experience. Leave it alone to do its thing. You don’t need to dwell on it any more than you need to dwell on what your liver or your pancreas are doing. Just let them get on with it.

***

Or you can dwell on sending donations to support this page.

40 Responses

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  1. Khru
    Khru October 28, 2012 at 11:13 am | |

    Yes, absolutely.

    No.

    I don’t know.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous October 28, 2012 at 11:16 am | |

    I guess I’ve been absolutely saturated by this idea of not giving my thoughts any attention for so long that this post seems really obvious. I’m not making the comment that it’s obvious so much as I’m commenting that long-term saturation of such an idea makes the idea seem obvious.

    Just pay me no attention.

  3. deluded
    deluded October 28, 2012 at 11:43 am | |

    “pay no attention to thought” is impermanent, then, sometimes, Brad gives attention to thought.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous October 28, 2012 at 11:51 am | |

    He was just making a comment, Deluded. It happens.

    This idea that Brad is discussing is a great antidote for those of us who have, in the past, get caught up in a vortex of thoughts. It’s not a specific antidote or treatment per se. It just happens to have that impact.

  5. deluded
    deluded October 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm | |

    Also “pay attention to thought” is impermanent, then, sometimes, you will not pay attention to thought. You don’t need zen to make impermanence work.

  6. Mackal
    Mackal October 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm | |

    Thanks for this perspective. Sometimes I wonder when am I ever going to get to this samadhi place I keep hearing about, when my thought continue to churn in the background…

  7. mr.Lou
    mr.Lou October 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm | |

    I really enjoyed that you extended the metaphor here by saying ” just deal with the fact that you’re soaking in thought without really dwelling on it.”

  8. Alizrin
    Alizrin October 28, 2012 at 6:30 pm | |

    I am trying to talk my daughter into attending your talk in Berlin. I wish I could take her myself! But alas, we are on separate sides of the Atlantic.

  9. JoannaM
    JoannaM October 29, 2012 at 8:14 am | |

    Europe is a continent, not a country. Perhaps jetlag? I’m from England but will miss your talks as I am now living in Nashville, TN. Hope you’ll make it here soon. Enjoy Europe!

  10. deluded
    deluded October 29, 2012 at 10:32 am | |

    I wanted to make you see that zen-buddhism is useless, because impermanence doesn’t depend on anything.
    However my effort is useless.
    Yesterday you didn’t believe in zen. Today you believe. Tomorrow you will not believe.
    Impermanence doesn’t need me, and soon or later I will be different about this.
    Soon or later we will not exist anymore…

  11. Fred
    Fred October 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm | |

    Au contraire.

    Joseph S. O’Leary
    on Hee-Jin Kim
    on Gogen:

    “Kim insists that ‘one attains enlightenment only in and through delusion’ (p. 1). The enlightened person is living in time, here and now, and so is always involved with delusion. It is not a matter of being in the world of delusion but not of it, or of having serenely transcended delusion by seeing through it. Rather, there is a creative tension between enlightenment and delusion, lived out from moment to moment. ‘Delusion and enlightenment… are both temporal, coextensive and coeternal as ongoing salvific processes’ (p. 4). As one grows more enlightened, one also grows more aware of one’s enmeshment in ‘the vast and giddy karmic consciousness’ (gosshiki bôbô; bôbô gosshiki) and of one’s condition of being ‘nevertheless deluded’ as Dôgen puts it, which can be taken to mean ‘ever deluded’, ‘originally deluded’ (p. 5). ‘A proper understanding of the insidiousness of delusion and the ambiguity of enlightenment thus constitutes the pivot of practice’”

  12. Fred
    Fred October 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm | |

    Hee-Jin Kim says that this balancing between delusion and insight is a scale
    hanging from emptiness.

    It’s not so much as believing in Zen as it is seeing what is. It is your enlightenment.

  13. King Kong
    King Kong October 29, 2012 at 7:36 pm | |

    WELL NOW THAT IT IS SORTED OUT, WHAT”S NEXT ??

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 29, 2012 at 10:05 pm | |

    Somedays I think I’m the king of the world. Other days I’m the open sore of existence.

    I like the sermon where the Gautamid said that the alternative path to mindfulness was to focus on some pleasant object of thought, after which mindfulness would likely appear automatically.

    Says in the books that he returned after lectures to that characteristic of concentration in which he ever constantly abided, presumably single-pointedness of mind (that one can lay hold of by making self-surrender the object of thought).

    Bela Lugosi waking up as the sun goes down, falling asleep as the sun rises, got nothing on this.

  15. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel October 30, 2012 at 2:41 am | |

    Oxford, ?????

  16. SatisfactionJacksom
    SatisfactionJacksom October 30, 2012 at 3:26 am | |

    This blog entry is much better than the kind of fundamantalistic last one

  17. deluded
    deluded October 30, 2012 at 5:44 am | |

    Many other religions born and died before buddhism.
    One day the world didn’t knew buddhism.
    One day buddhism was born.
    One day Buddhism will die.
    Thanks, Buddha, for remind us that everything is impermanent.

  18. Andy
    Andy October 30, 2012 at 6:55 am | |

    @Fred

    “It’s not so much as believing in Zen as it is seeing what is. It is your enlightenment.”

    Kim goes further…

    “It is axiomatic in Zen Buddhism that delusion and enlightenment constitute a nondual unity (meigo ichinyo). For the sake of argument, let me formulate this dictum: Enlightenment is construed as seeing things as they really are rather than as they appear; it is a direct insight into, and discernment of, the nature of reality that is apprehended only by wisdom, which transcends and is prior to the activity of discriminative thought. In this view, delusion is defined as all that is opposed to enlightenment.

    The problem with this reading is manifold: (1) There is an inherent tendency to bifurcate between “things as they really are” and “things as they appear to be”; (2) its corollary is that there is an unbridgeable chasm between insight/discernment and discrimination; (3) “seeing” is conceived predominantly in epistemological, intuitive, and mystical terms; (4) the pre- or extradiscriminative state of mind is privileged in such a way that creative tensions between delusion and enlightenment are all but lost; (5) nonduality in the unity is virtually the neutralization of all discriminations and thus has little or nothing to encourage and nurture duality as such that is, discriminative thinking, intellect, language, and reason in the scheme of Zen’s soteriological realization; and (6) the implications for Zen discourse and practice, especially ethics, are seriously damaging. What we see here is a formulaic understanding and misunderstanding at that of the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment.

    On the other hand, the ultimate paradox of Zen liberation is said to lie in the fact that one attains enlightenment only in and through delusion itself, never apart from it. Strange as that may sound, enlightenment has no exit from delusion any more than delusion has an exit from enlightenment. The two notions need, are bound by, and interact with one another. That said, the interface of delusion and enlightenment in their dynamic, nondual unity is extremely complex, elusive, and ambiguous. Since they are the two foci’ of realization, we might ask how they interplay with one another.

    (Hee-Jin Ki, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking (1-2))

    “The emphasis in Dogen’s Zen thus deepens the meaning of “seeing things as they are” by construing it as “changing/making things as they are.” This is precisely the point highlighted by “expounding a dream (or dream making) within a dream,” in terms of the dynamic dialectics of equilibration and equilibrium in the steelyard analogy. (3) The deconstructive use of emptiness, however potent it may be, is alone not enough. The reconstructive use must be incorporated into it so as to make emptiness soteriologically full-fledged. How can emptiness be serene while constantly challenged by the turmoil of worldly truth… From Dogen’s standpoint, even the “emptiness of emptiness” should be examined in the deconstructive and reconstructive contexts through perpetually ongoing critical scrutiny.

    (Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking (52-53))

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence October 30, 2012 at 8:21 am | |

      GAH!! That was almost unreadable. What’s wrong with saying, “Zazen is Buddha, Buddha is everything; this is enlightenment?” You can save a lot of time and useless effort that way. And then go drink some tea…

      1. Keith
        Keith October 30, 2012 at 10:04 am | |

        sri_barence, Does it have to be tea? Tea is okay. But could it not be coffee, a cold beer, or a nice merlot?

        1. sri_barence
          sri_barence October 30, 2012 at 10:17 am | |

          I like a good single-malt scotch!

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 30, 2012 at 8:26 am | |

    Andy and Fred, thanks very much, I enjoyed that.

    This is the bugaboo in Zen, the “Boo” in Buddha, the Kong in King Kong: the dreamer makes the dream. The Giants win the pennant. The Republicans fondle the creative imagination of close-to-a-majority of Americans, if not a majority, and they have yet to be arrested for it.

    Well, actually, the dreamer that has never existed makes the dream that has never existed, that shapes the storms through the global warming that some people say has never existed.

    I’m all for Zen, don’t get me wrong; just that in the last exchange, I kinda lost track of how many things are involved in where I am right now; ya gotta ask yerself, does Clint Eastwood have anything more to say? Well, does he?

  20. Andy
    Andy October 30, 2012 at 10:25 am | |

    I forgot to add all the quotation marks. Just to make sure, everything below “Kim goes further” are extracts from Hee-Jin Kim’s book.

    @sri-barence

    Kim’s work can be a taxing read at times, for sure (I copied and pasted from another source rather than type it all out so there might be some unhelpful typos too).

    But then as the two books I’ve read (Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist/ Dogen on Meditation And Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen) deal with the incredibly challenging work of Dogen, that’s to be expected. For my part, the effort was certainly not a waste of time. And although I can’t claim to have understood everything, I found both books extremely useful and inspiring.

  21. Andy
    Andy October 30, 2012 at 10:39 am | |

    “Dogen provided us with profound insight into the nature of philosophizing activity. To him what mattered most was not the relative significance of theoretical formulations, but how and what we did with the ideas and values inherited from our past—in other words, the authenticity of our philosophic activity. The issue was not so much whether or not to philosophize as it was how to philosophize—in total freedom with body-mind cast off. The philosophic enterprise was as much the practice of the bodhisattva way as was zazen. And significantly enough, this view implied that philosophic activity itself was a koan realized in life.”

    (Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen Kigen: Mystical Realist)

  22. sheelamonster
    sheelamonster October 30, 2012 at 3:43 pm | |

    Saturday mornings after the dharma talk at SFZC, the Ino stands up and makes various announcements, invariably ending with a request for donations. They clearly struggle to come up with new ways to phrase/ deliver this request.

    Brad’s blog is starting to remind me of Saturdays at ZC.

  23. mvinca
    mvinca October 31, 2012 at 4:02 am | |

    I’m appreciating how you are describing things, Brad, in your books and in your blog. I was part of The Work (Gurdjieff) for a while and although it was clear to me my teachers were on to something (that’s the best way I can describe what it was like to be in the presence of them), the way everything was discussed felt very esoteric. I always left meetings feeling like I was SO FAR from experiencing the kind of oneness or unity or whatever I had longed for. In reading this blog and your books, I’m much encouraged by starting now with where I am and not worrying or wanting or expecting, but just dealing with now again and again.

  24. deluded
    deluded November 1, 2012 at 8:44 am | |

    Zazen is the utmost vivacity of useless rolling a stone in the desert

    Many other religions born and died before buddhism.

    One day the world didn’t knew buddhism.

    One day buddhism was born.

    One day Buddhism will die.

    Many other religions will born and die after buddhism.

    Thanks, Buddha, for remind us that everything is impermanent.

    We make uselles effort to live more, because we are dying inevitably.

    If we don’t lie, we admit that we live a life without meaning.

    Stay in the desert of meaningless is the authentic zazen.

    To continue living in this desert is the authentic vivacity of zen life.

    Thanks Albert Camus to the “Mith of Sisiphus”.

    This incredible meaningless life is the utmost vivacity we can experience.

    Thanks “Buddha Camus”.

    Let stay in the desert, if we want some vivacity.

  25. deluded
    deluded November 1, 2012 at 10:02 am | |

    Zazen is the utmost vivacity ofw useless rolling a stone in the desert

    Many other religions born and died before buddhism.

    One day the world didn’t knew buddhism.

    One day buddhism was born.

    One day Buddhism will die.

    Many other religions will born and die after buddhism.

    Thanks, Buddha, for remind us that everything is impermanent.

    We make uselles effort to live more, because we are dying inevitably.

    If we don’t lie, we admit that we live a life without meaning.

    Staying in the desert of meaningless is the authentic zazen (remember that we will die at any moment).

    To continue living in this desert is the authentic vivacity of zen life. Because of impermance, soon we will be deluded with some hope.

    Thanks Albert Camus to the “Mith of Sisyphus”.

    This incredible meaningless life is the utmost vivacity we can experience.

    Thanks “Buddha Camus”.

    In this impermanent desert of meaningless, we enjoy vivacity.

  26. deluded
    deluded November 2, 2012 at 6:54 am | |

    Impermanent version 1.1

    Zazen is the utmost vivacity of useless rolling a stone in the desert

    Many other religions born and died before buddhism.

    One day the world didn’t knew buddhism.

    One day buddhism was born.

    One day Buddhism will die.

    Many other religions will born and die after buddhism.

    Thanks, Buddha, for remind us that everything is impermanent.

    We make useless effort to live more time, because we are dying inevitably.

    If we don’t lie, we admit that we live a life without meaning.

    Staying in the desert of meaningless is the authentic zazen (remember that we will die at any moment).

    To continue living in this desert is the authentic vivacity of zen life. Because of impermance, soon we will be deluded with some hope.

    Thanks Albert Camus to the “Myth of Sisyphus”.

    This incredible meaningless life is the utmost vivacity we can experience.

    Thanks “Buddha Camus”.

    In this impermanent desert of meaningless, we enjoy vivacity.

  27. Fred
    Fred November 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm | |

    “Staying in the desert of meaningless is the authentic zazen ”

    Zazen is the open, empty state. It is neither meaningfull nor meaningless.

    Suchness has poignant thusness. Meaning is a crutch for a conditioned machine.

    1. deluded
      deluded November 3, 2012 at 8:08 pm | |

      “Zazen is the open, empty state. It is neither meaningfull nor meaningless.”

      Camus doesn’t say that there’s no meaning. He says that our efforts are useless, we won’t achieve meaning.
      What’s the meaning of life? Camus would reply: “I can’t know”.

  28. deluded
    deluded November 3, 2012 at 8:31 pm | |

    Impermanent version 1.2

    Zazen is the utmost vivacity of useless rolling a stone in the desert

    Many other religions born and died before buddhism.

    One day the world didn’t knew buddhism.

    One day buddhism was born.

    One day Buddhism will die.

    Many other religions will born and die after buddhism.

    Thanks, Buddha, for remind us that everything is impermanent.

    We make useless effort to live more time, because we are dying inevitably.

    If we don’t lie, we admit that we live a life without meaning.

    Staying in the desert of meaningless is the authentic zazen (remember that we will die at any moment).

    Camus doesn’t say that there’s no meaning. He says that our efforts are useless, we won’t know or perceive meaning.
    What’s the meaning of life? Camus would reply: “I can’t know”.

    To continue living in this desert is the authentic vivacity of zen life. Because of impermance, soon we will be deluded with some hope.

    Thanks Albert Camus to the “Myth of Sisyphus”.

    This incredible meaningless life is the utmost vivacity we can experience.

    Thanks “Buddha Camus”.

    In this impermanent desert of meaningless, we enjoy vivacity.

  29. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel November 4, 2012 at 1:51 am | |

    It looks like we have a “deluded” troll in action…

    1. deluded
      deluded November 4, 2012 at 2:00 am | |

      Trolling is an impermanent action. It lasts up to our death.

  30. deluded
    deluded November 4, 2012 at 2:31 am | |

    Some troll delusion:
    Admit that you are not ethic.
    That is the only ethics possible.

  31. deluded
    deluded November 4, 2012 at 2:35 am | |

    Some impermanent troll delusion:
    Admit that you are not ethic. This is the only possible ethical attitude.

  32. 29renee
    29renee November 5, 2012 at 5:15 am | |

    Coming from someone with an ADHD diagnosis I completely understand the difference between thoughts and paying attention to thoughts, I think…

    Apparently, people who have brains similar to mine absorb more stimuli than the average person. It’s weird, it’s not actually an attention ‘deficit’, but more of an over & unregulated stimulation thing. So basically, most people are better able to selectively narrow which stimuli they take information from, where I have to take what ever my mind is attracted to, wether I want to or not.

    So one of the things that I had to learn to do in order to compensate for this, is to consciously acknowledge every thing that catches my attention (wow these walls are blue, I wonder if I can count all of the cats on that guy’s screen saver, man the egg totally came before the chicken….evolution blah blah blah, I wonder if I can remember all of the words to semi-charmed life, when I get home I’m gonna start a blog!), and then jump right back to what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing. It’s exhausting.

    My point is, I guess, that I don’t have the choice to think about the things that I do, but I have super sensitive focus, which I guess I can use to my benefit- I remember all kinds of random details and have a very, very broad view of things because of it. And as long as things are quiet, and there’s nothing external distracting me, meditating is actually REALLY fun, so that’s a bonus :)

    It’s like the difference between a regular point-and-shoot camera and a fancy new DSLR; Most people capture relevant information efficiently with less effort, but I have to practice adjusting all of the crazy features and potentially be some kind of artist or something- but not likely.

    Does that make sense?

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