Do you want to learn to control your mind, and avoid wars in the process? Check this out. It will teach you how to become less attached to things and to people who seem to have more control over your mind than you yourself.
There are 4 ways of thinking (conceiving)
Buddhists believe that thinking (conceiving) is always distortional thinking because the objects of perception can never be apprehended as they are, that our senses and cognitive process can only give us an ‘idea’ or approximation of the real thing.
Cognition is the process of thinking, something few of us pay attention to for more than a few seconds, or minutes at the most. If we were more mindful of that process, many of our personal and social problems would be ameliorated in our life time.
The Buddha taught how to be less prone to harmful emotional reactions in our interactions with people, and less controlled by temptations to consume things we don’t need. The key is to understand and control your cognitive process.
Your comments are very much bien venidos.
Process of cognition
In this teaching, the first sutra in the Pali Canon, the visual sense and earth (as the object of perception) are used as examples. One is supposed to apply the technique to each of the six senses (mind is considered a sense), the auditory, olfactory, etc.
Bare perception and Contact
The first step in the process is bare perception, expressed as “he perceives earth as earth”. It goes like this:
The object of perception (earth) and the visual organ (eye) meet: this is bare perception, no judgments of any kind are made at that specific moment of contact; the object is just a shape, so to speak. We distinguish features or qualities in the object only if it impresses some interest on our senses, otherwise, we ignore it. Think of all the things around you while you walk around your block but only a few of them call your attention, the rest is like not there.
From that contact of the eye with the object, the person makes a mental assertion, mostly at subconscious level, if the object stuck with the senses: ‘He perceives earth as earth‘, and right there the illusion or distortion starts.
Me and my Object
Earth is a word, a conventional form in English to designate something which actually can have different names, such as dirt, soil, mud, etc. Not only it has different names, ‘earth’ is not one thing in itself. No matter which name you apply to it, earth is composed of a mixture of things: of minerals, organic matter, gases, liquids, and the countless living organisms that inhabit ‘earth’ but which we don’t see by bare sight. Language is key in our process of cognition; keep it in mind, because me mostly forget that fact.
But now that the object has been perceived, it has to be dealt with.
Establishing a relationship with the object: Perversion of Perception
That’s what existence in this planet is all about, a relation with everything at different levels. It could be at the immediate human level or at the micro or macro levels of existence. We relate to pets, government, react with emotions to the weather, relate to our books at home (we love them so much we collect them), we have trinkets on our dresser which we can’t throw away, even though we don’t need them, because we area emotionally attached to them, etc. As long as we are alive and conscious, we are constantly engaged in emotional relationships with objects around us (people are ‘objects’ too, in a way) and with mind-objects (mental representation of objects, ideas, past memories, etc.).
That relation is the conceiving in our cognitive process. The Buddha called it ‘perversion of perception’ because in that process the person gives to the object qualities and significance not contained in the object itself: what is impermanent (everything) becomes permanent, what is not self becomes a receptacle for the ‘self’, and what produces pain and instability becomes pleasurable and stable. It’s the subjective thinking. In that process, once we put the self in the object (project it to the object), we relate to it based on our preferences, not on the object as it is, as discussed below.
These are the four ways of thinking, the ways we relate to the object, at a subconscious level, of course. The point is to bring it to the conscious more often. I give examples with the impact each type of thinking on us and society to stimulate you to bring your own examples.
- direct identification with the object = he conceives himself as ‘earth’.
2. inherence (in the object) = he conceives himself in earth.
3. contrast or derivation = himself apart or from earth.
4. appropriation = conceives earth to be ‘mine‘.
The Buddha said that to avoid suffering in our daily interactions with people and things, we must remember this: it is not me, it is not mine, I’m not it, it is not permanent. Don’t get attached mindlessly. Be aware of the emotion you are putting on the object.
For example, somebody intended to offend another person by calling him a ‘pig’. The person then processes mentally the ‘you are a pig’ as ‘I heard the word pig being used to describe me‘. That guy is successful in his intent to hurt you only if you give value and credence to his judgment or verbal aggression. If you do, then you allowed your hearing sense, the one that made contact with the word ‘pig’ verbalized by the guy, to control your reaction to the object, ‘word pig‘, with intense ‘apart’; your ego-image is hurt and now you feel (as a reaction to contact) aversion and hate or shame. You want to distance yourself from the pain, but you think that the only way to do it is by attacking physically or verbally the guy who used it against you; or by going home feeling humiliated and offended and depressed.
I am not it, I am clearly not a pig. I’m reacting to the intent of the other person. Don’t let him manipulate your feelings. Ignore him, walk away with a smile; nothing infuriates more than being ignored. Don’t engage the person, don’t get attached to his words emotionally. Think which of the four ways of thinking you are using and walk away.
Try catching yourself mentally as you relate to objects and people during the day in any of these four types of relationships. You may discover something interesting about yourself.
The level of mind control you can develop by practicing this teaching will surprise you. You can develop your mind on your own, no need for ‘updating’ or ‘upgrading’ your mind with computer parts as these futurists of ‘mind uploading science’ would have you.
Imagine that: we all develop this mental power and wars would disappear because we would not let others manipulate our emotions as if we were puppets. Instead of reacting with anger and resort to bombing everybody in a nation, we would remain calm and find solutions that don’t require changing our personality into a warmongering uncompassionate being. It would save money too.
Our political leaders are considering using the A bomb in Iran. More than ever we need to learn to control our emotions and thinking process, or we’ll see Hiroshima all over again, or even worse. This time we may not get away with it unscathed. Yes, we are being attacked, but we won’t get out of it by engaging in an endless war of bombing each other to oblivion.
Somebody has to get these politicians to sit and find political/diplomatic solutions. We must press them, but we can’t if we are entangled in the emotional responses. THINK!
The name of this sutra is The Root of All Things. I highly recommend this 109 pages discussion in PDF by Bhikkhu Bodhi.