The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter—beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace—arise from beyond the mind. – Eckhart Tolle
Without a desire, would you have a thought? – Lester Levenson (1993, “Karma”)
Karma is nothing but the accumulated past habits of thought that are going on subconsciously. – Lester Levenson (1993, “Karma”)
The only things preventing you from being your Self are your mental habits called tendencies or predispositions. – Lester Levenson (1993, “The Self”)
Thoughts are usually not the result of conscious deliberation, but arise according to patterns established over many lifetimes. The Pali canon (i.e. https://suttacentral.net/an7.12/en/thanissaro) calls thought patterns anusaya, translated as tendencies or obsessions. As thoughts arise, identify the tendency that gave rise to each thought; this is an effective way to remain detached from thoughts.
There are seven tendencies, ordered from lowest to highest:
1. attachment to the sense realm (kama-raga, hence kama raganusaya)
2. aversion (patigha, hence patighanusaya)
3. views (ditthi)
4. doubt (vicikiccha)
5. conceit (mana)
6. craving for existence (bhava-raga)
7. ignorance (avijja)
— Access to Insight: A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms
Buddhaghosa (Visuddhimagga) also made a classification of thought patterns, but instead of tendencies, he calls them samyojana–fetters. The transcending of each group of fetters corresponds to ascending states of meditative attainment. Because attainment can transcend this realm, Buddhaghosa identifies ‘attachment to the form realm’ and ‘attachment to the formless realm’, and these replace the Pali tendency of ‘craving for existence’. Thus the three additional fetters identified by Buddhaghosa are ‘identification with the self’, ‘restlessness’, and the division of ‘craving for existence’ into attachment to the two higher realms.
The first five samyojana are called ‘lower fetters’, as they correspond to the desire realm; the last five are called ‘higher fetters’, as they correspond to the form and the formless realms.
One who is free from the first three is called a Stream-winner (Sotapanna). One who has overcome four and five is called a Once-returner (Sakadagami).
One who is fully freed from the first five fetters is called a Non-returner (Anagami). A Non-returner who does not attain liberation in this life will be reborn in a higher realm.
One who is freed from all ten fetters is called an Arahat, a completely enlightened one. (Wisdom Library)
Buddhaghosa’s ten fetters:
- identification with the self (sakkaya-ditthi)
- doubt (vicikiccha)
- clinging to precepts and practices (silabbata paramasa; S. upadana) [replaces the anusaya of views]
- attachment to the sense realm (kama-raga)
- aversion (vyapada) [patigha is a feeling and vyapada is the resulting action of avoiding or resisting]
- attachment to the form realm (rupa-raga)
- attachment to the formless realm (arupa-raga)
- conceit (mana)
- restlessness (uddhacca) (the inability to concentrate on any object steadfastly. Being distracted, one’s mind wanders from one object to another)
- ignorance (avijja)
“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit” – King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 1).
The Pali canon contains several definitions of conceit, but they all fall into the following categories:
• The conceit that I am or shall be something
• The conceit that I possess
• The conceit that I do
The first conceit, that the self has a self-nature (that the ego has an ego), is attempted to be affirmed by way of comparison to others:
If one regards himself superior or equal or inferior by reason of the body that is impermanent, painful and subject to change, what else is it than not seeing reality? Or if one regards himself superior or equal or inferior by reason of feelings, perceptions, expectations (samskara) or consciousness, what else is it than not seeing reality? If one does not regard himself superior or equal or inferior by reason of the body, the feelings, perceptions, volition or consciousness, what else is it than seeing reality? (Samyutta Nikaya 22.49)
The Mahaniddesa (Nidd. i.80) takes the definition of conceit further by including the feeling of shame:
The eightfold conceit is pride engendered by gains, shame generated by losses, pride engendered by fame, shame engendered by ill repute, pride engendered by praise, shame engendered by blame, pride engendered by pleasure, and shame engendered by pain.
The reason why the shame of loss and failure is just as much a conceit as the pride of gain and success is that shame affirms the existence of a self which has lost, a self which has failed. In the same way a child will choose to be punished rather than allowing its parents to ignore it, the self will always choose shame over not existing.
With regard to action, Lester Levenson said one must maintain an attitude of, “It is not I, but the Father who works through me” (John 14: “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does the works”). The apparent success or failure of any apparent action depends entirely the operation of karma: it is beyond the control of the self.
Freeing yourself from your mind
Look at your mind. That in itself is a good practice. It sets you apart from it; you are looking at it. Watch your thoughts: it’s a wonderful practice. If you thoroughly examine the mind, you will discover that it isn’t, that it’s an illusion. Let it go it’s way. Just watch the mind. The ultimate witness is the Self. It’s a tremendous thing to watch the mind: not only does it quiet it, it makes the mind not you. If you trace the source of the mind, you find it is nothingness. This whole world is a dream, illusion, which means that it isn’t. – Lester Levenson (1993, Session 1, The Basic Goal)
The good news is that you can free yourself from your mind. This is the only true liberation. You can take the first step right now.
Start listening to the voice in your head
Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old audio recordings that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. This is what I mean by “Watching the thinker,” which is another way of saying: Listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence.
When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door. You’ll soon realize: There is the voice, and here I am listening to it, observing it. This I am realization, this sense of your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind. So, when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. An new dimension of consciousness has come in.
As you listen to the thought you feel a conscious presence—your deeper self—behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.
When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the mental stream—a gap of “no-mind.” At first, the gaps will be short, a few seconds perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of your natural state of felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind. With practice, the sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within: the joy of Being.
Instead of watching the thinker, you can also create a gap in the mind stream simply by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. (1999)
You discover that the whole world is nothing but you, that there never was anything but you all along, because there’s only One and you are it! But that isn’t the final state. You come out of it and there’s still a certain amount of mind left. So you go back into the meditative quest until there is no more mind controlling you. When you’ve eliminated all the habits of thought, all the tendencies of mind, you are free. Then you can use your mind and you are the master and director of it. It no longer determines you—you determine it. (1993, “Session 11: Meditation With a Quest”)
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Tolle, Eckhart (1999). Practicing the Power of Now: Essential Teachings, Meditations, and Exercises From The Power of Now. Novato, California: New World Library.
Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. ISBN 0-915721-03-1 (download)
Wisdom Library: https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/samyojana