After a long hiatus from these Minutes, I want to extend a warm greeting to you all. A lot of new and exciting endeavors have been bubbling in my life, squeezing me of my precious writing time. In any event, I will now continue with some contemplations on the khandas, or aggregates – the elements of experience that the sense of self clings to for identity and security.
This week, I’ll encourage you to bring mindulness to the domain of experience called sankhara.Sankhara often translates as “thoughts”, or “mental fabrications”, or “volitional formations”. This category of experience includes thoughts AND emotions. By bringing our steady gaze of attention on these elements, we inevitably see their evanscent, insubstantial nature.
In his wonderful little book, A Heart Full of Peace, Joseph Goldstein writes:
“Have you ever stopped to consider what a thought is – not the content but the very nature of thought itself? Few people really explore the question “What is a thought?” What is this phenomenon that occurs so many times a day, to which we pay so little attention?
Not being aware of thoughts that arise in our minds, nor of the very nature of thought, itself, allows thoughts to then dominate our lives. Telling us to do this, say that, go here, go there, thoughts often drive us like slaves.”
The Buddha compares the power of thought to the trunk of a banana tree. From the surface, it might seem strong and secure, but upon investigation, a hollow center is revealed:
“Suppose, bhikkhus, that a man needing heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood, would take a sharp axe and enter a forest. There he would see the trunk of a large banana tree, straight, fresh, without a fruit-bud core. He would cut it down at the root, cut off the crown, and unroll the coil. As he unrolls the coil, he would not find even softwood, let alone heartwood. A man with good sight would inspect it, ponder it, and carefully investigate it, adn it would appear to him void, hollow, insubstantial.”(SN 22:95; III 140-142, translation Bhikkhu Bodhi)
In practice, really try to get a feel for the affective difference between being identified with a thought and being the Witness of thought. The latter almost always contains a feeling of cool attentiveness, whilst the former possesses a feeling of contraction and imprisonment. See what you notice.
Originally published on April 12, 2012