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
The only things preventing you from being your Self are your mental habits called tendencies or predispositions. – Lester Levenson (1993, “The Self”)
Thoughts, O monks, are not Self. If thoughts were Self, then thoughts would not lead to passions and one would be able to will: May my thoughts be thus, may my thoughts not be thus. And indeed, O monks, since thoughts are not Self, therefore, thoughts lead to passions, and one is not able to will: May my thoughts be thus, may my thoughts not be thus. – Anatta Lakkhana Sutta
Whatever confronts you, don’t let it get the better of you. Learn to put a stop to thoughts. Whenever an object appears, shine your light on it. – Lin-chi (17)
Where do thoughts and feelings come from?
Without a desire, would you ever have a thought? – Lester Levenson
Thoughts are a problem-solving process that revolve around satisfying desires. Desires arise from two cravings: the craving for becoming (existing in this world) and the craving for not becoming (to get out of this world).
One problem that occupies our thoughts is to figure out what would make us happy. Another problem is to figure out how to get that thing that we think will make us happy. Because desires are never satisfied, the problems they give us are endless, and thinking is endless. This endless desiring and thinking about desires doesn’t begin with birth or end with death. Rather, we are born with the desires we had in previous lives. In fact, we are born (we become) because of the desires we had in previous lives. Buddhism calls the thoughts that condition our rebirth karma abhisamskara—literally expectations conditioned by karma.
(If you conclude that we end up in the particular world that we expect to end up in, you are right. Are there teachers who can help us ordinary souls in-between? Absolutely. But if you are Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, George HW Bush, or the queen or England and her consort, if you derive pleasure from inflicting pain, you expect to go to a prison-planet. And you will.)
The Seven Tendencies of Primitive Buddhism
In the Pali cannon, the earliest Buddhist scriptures, the patterns of thoughts and feelings we carry from one life to the next are called anusaya, or tendencies. Seven are identified, and these are ordered from those that characterize the lowest spiritual states to those that characterize the higher states. Spiritual growth is achieved by dropping your thought-patterns.
- attachment to the sense-realm (kama-raga – lit. craving for the sensual)
- aversion (patigha)
- views (ditthi)
- self-doubt (vicikiccha)
- conceit (mana – lit. measurement: comparing oneself to others)
- attachment to existence (bhava-raga)
- ignorance (avijja)
(Access to Insight: A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms)
The lowest tendency is attachment to the sense-realm. A craving for sensual pleasures conditions the becoming, or birth, of beings who have a long way to go. This is followed by aversion, because beings at the bottom of the spiritual ladder live their lives consumed by fear of death.
Views are third. To live in delusion is to believe in the reality of persons and things and to discriminate among them, regarding some as good and desirable and regarding others as bad and undesirable. Although we must correctly discriminate between right and wrong, this knowledge is to be applied to our own behavior—it is a big mistake to judge the behavior of others. The right way of thinking liberates you, and the wrong way of thinking keeps you in bondage.
Fifth is conceit. There are several definitions of conceit in the Pali canon, but they seem to 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 conceit that I am or shall be something is when I measure my social status by my position. The conceit that I possess is when I measure my social status by what I have. The conceit that I do is when I measure my social status by my accomplishments.
Because conceit is the assertion of an ego-self by way of comparison to others, the way to release conceit is to let go of the craving for approval and the fear of disapproval, or self-doubt.
The sixth tendency reminds us that rebirth in a higher realm is not our goal. If there is rebirth there is a self, and if there is a self there is avidya—ignorance of what we really are. There is also suffering. Lester Levenson said that if we don’t go all the way from this realm, we can get stuck in higher realms for millions of years. (See Get Off The Rollercoaster)
Yogananda yearned not for liberation (moksha), but to rejoin his guru, Yukteswar, who had gone to a realm called Illumed Astral Planet to teach. (In Buddhism, a realm created by a master for his disciples is called a buddha-realm. It seems to be a kind of cosmic monastery.) Even though he got what he wanted, rebirth in a higher realm, he was still not liberated.
Monks, with the abandonment and destruction of the seven tendencies, the holy life is fulfilled. Which seven? The tendency of craving for the sensual, the tendency of aversion, the tendency of views, the tendency of self-doubt, the tendency of conceit, the tendency of craving for becoming, the tendency of ignorance. With the abandonment and destruction of these seven tendencies, the holy life is fulfilled. (https://suttacentral.net/an7.12/en/thanissaro)
The Ten Fetters of Mahayana Buddhism
In the fifth century, Buddhaghosa also classified tendencies, but he called them samyojana—fetters. To the original seven tendencies Buddhaghosa added four more: identification with the self, restlessness, attachment to the form realm, and attachment to the formless realm.
The original tendencies included attachment to the sense realm (1) and attachment to existence (6), which refers to existence in the higher realms, where desire has been eliminated (see Higher States of Being for a discussion of the three types of realms). Buddhaghosa replaced attachment to existence (6) with attachment to the form and formless realms (6 and 7), bringing his fetters into line with the triple-world of Mahayana doctrine. It doesn’t change anything, but the primitive Buddhists liked the number seven and Buddhaghosa liked the number ten.
Buddhaghosa’s ten fetters:
- identification with the self (sakkaya-ditthi)
- doubt (vicikiccha)
- clinging to precepts and practices (silabbata paramasa)
- attachment to the sense realm (kama-raga)
- aversion (vyapada) (patigha, above, is the feeling of aversion, and vyapada is the action of avoidance or resistance)
- attachment to the form realm (rupa-raga)
- attachment to the formless realm (arupa-raga)
- conceit (mana – measurement)
- restlessness (uddhacca—The opposite of one-pointedness. “The excitement of mind which is disturbance, agitation of the heart, turmoil of mind.” – Dhammasangani 429)
- ignorance (avijja)
The first five fetters are called lower fetters, as they correspond to the desire-realm (sense-realm). The last five are called higher fetters, as they correspond to the form realm and the formless realm. 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 is reborn in a higher realm. One who is freed from all ten fetters is called an Arahant, a completely enlightened one, for whom there is no more rebirth. (Wisdom Library)
I put these lists here to help you identify the feelings you want to release. If you know that you feel angry because of conceit, or you feel sad because of attachment to the sense-realm, you can see that the feeling isn’t doing you any good and it will easier to decide to let it go.
Regarding the third fetter, Clinging to precepts and practices, this is the same thing as the third tendency from the Pali list: Holding on to views. Clinging to precepts is self-righteousness, and clinging to views is a way of saying, “I’m right.” They are both conceits.
Zen Master Guizong Zhichang once sacrificed a snake, in violation of the precept against taking life, to demonstrate for a student how he was conceited about his virtuous conduct (sila paramita).
A student of the sutras once visited Guizong Zhichang while he was working the soil in the garden with a hoe. Just as the student drew near, he saw Guizong use the hoe to cut a snake in half, in violation of the Buddhist precept not to take any form of life.
“I’d heard that Guizong was a crude and ill-mannered man, but I didn’t believe it until now,” the student remarked.
“Which one of us is crude, and which is refined?” Guizong asked.
“What do you mean by crude?” the student asked.
Guizong held the hoe upright.
“And in that case, what do you mean by refined?” the student asked.
Guizong made a motion as if cutting a snake in half.
“And yet,” the student said, “if you had allowed it, it would have gone away on its own.”
“If I’d allowed it to go away on its own, how would you have seen me chop the snake in two?” https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/GuizongZhichang.html
How to let go of tendencies
The reason why we’re not going free, we’re not reaching the ultimate, is we’re not quieting the mind. And for hundreds of thousands of years they’ve been telling us what to do. They tell you: Quiet the mind. But they have not given us the how-to, which is so simple. – Lester Levenson
Lester has left us a very effective method for letting go of tendencies, which he called releasing. He explains the reasoning behind it as follows:
Your mind is active twenty-four hours a day, on guard, in order that you can survive. All those programs, called apathy, grief, fear, lust, anger, pride—every one of them is a survival program.
The mind will never, ever give you the answer, and you’re looking for it via the mind. You must start quieting that mind. And the thing that quiets the mind is no thoughts. And what motivates all thinking? Feelings. And all superficial feelings [arise from] two, called approval and control, which [arise from] one, called survival or security.
Every thought has a certain amount of limitation to it, and covers over the unlimited being that we are. So, we need a method that will pull out the motivation of all thinking, which are feelings, and that will quiet the mind. (Keep it Simple)
Noting that aversions are harder to identify than attachments, Lester advised his students to set personal goals in order to bring up fears and self-doubt for releasing.
The aversions to the world are difficult to see. Your attachments are obvious, and you’re chasing them all the time, but the aversions you push out of the way. So when you go for a goal, up come the anti’s—“Oh, I’m afraid,” “I can’t,” and all that stuff. So, it’s a gimmick for getting up the aversions to the world, getting them up into sight so you can let them go. If you don’t get a thing into consciousness, you cannot see it or handle it. (The most effective way of releasing)
The craving for approval
The craving to be loved and accepted arises from a fear of rejection. We instinctively fear rejection because in many species, separation from one’s mother or from the group can mean death.
Even though human beings don’t have to belong to a group to survive, the fear of rejection is still there. We can also fear the disapproval of people with some real or imagined power over us. The compulsion to be productive or useful arises from this fear.
To release a craving, identify the corresponding fear. The craving for approval comes from a fear of disapproval.
• Use an ‘I” thought such as “I am unwanted” or “I am worthless” to bring up the feeling of fear or sadness.
• Relax any tension there is in the body and exhale.
• Remaining relaxed, focus only on the feeling until it passes away. Who is this ‘I’ that feels afraid or sad?
• Again use your ‘I’ thought to bring up the feeling, and stay with the feeling until it passes away
The craving for control
The craving for control comes up when people threaten us with rejection. The desire to make others see things my way and the desire to be vindicated is my craving to control others.
To release the craving for control, we release the corresponding fear of having no control over others.
• Use an ‘I’ thought such as “I hate them!” to bring up the feeling of anger or frustration.
• Relax any tension there is in the body and exhale.
• Remaining relaxed, focus only on the feeling until it passes away. Who is this ‘I’ that feels angry or frustrated?
• Again use the ‘I’ thought to bring up the feeling, and stay with the feeling until it passes away.
Letting go of self-doubt
Self-doubt is a fear of failure; it is the feeling, “I can’t.” However, we only fear failure because we crave approval and control. After all, you are only a failure in comparison to a successful person. You can’t fail if you are the only person in the world. Identify the person or group whose approval you crave.
• Use an ‘I’ thought such as “I’m a failure” or “I can’t” to bring up the feeling. It may be a feeling of anxiety or shame.
• Relax any tension there is in the body and exhale.
• Remaining relaxed, focus only on the feeling until it passes away. Who is this ‘I’ that feels anxious or ashamed?
• Again use the ‘I” thought to bring up the feeling, and stay with the feeling until it passes away.
Letting go of the craving for existence (becoming)
The fear of dying is behind every anxiety, so don’t push anxiety away with positive thinking or distractions. A thing doesn’t have to be life-threatening to remind us of our mortality. If running out of beer makes you think you’re going to die, release your fear of running out of beer.
Lester discusses releasing the fear of dying:
The number-one hindrance is wanting to survive as a body, which comes out as the fear of dying. Out of that evolves every other feeling. If I get everyone’s approval, I’m safe; I’ll survive. If I can’t get their approval, I want to make them approve of me so I’ll be safe and survive, and that’s control. But because you’re so fearful of allowing the fear of dying to come up, you need to work with approval and control first. And when you release that appreciably, naturally up comes the bottom fear of dying for you to release.
That first little release will allow you to move up to the place where you’ll realize that the fear of dying is only a feeling. And that right now you are equating it with actual death, and that’s why you don’t allow it up. If you didn’t equate the fear of dying with death itself, you would let it right up and you would go free in a matter of a week or two. And it is pushing hard to get up and get out; it’s the most suppressed feeling we have. And you’re doing a beautiful job of suppressing it and holding it down.
But I think you’re ready to allow up the feelings of the fear of dying and allow them to go out. Did you hear that word, allow? That’s just the way it happens. Instead of holding it down, you allow it up and out, because it’s trying to push up and out all the time—every suppressed feeling is. So when you do it, it’s easy. It comes up in waves and goes out, until the waves stop and you’re finished. (https://youtu.be/WpgNTmjQgO0)
Letting go of the craving for non-becoming
The craving for non-becoming is an understandable desire to leave this realm and never come back. When releasing, you should unburden yourself of your feelings by telling God how you feel. The following are possible ‘I’ thoughts you can use to bring up feelings for release.
“I don’t belong here.”
“Everyone here is stupid, evil or cowardly, and I am none of those things.”
“I am completely alone.”
“I hate being trapped in this body.”
“I’m afraid I might have to stay here.”
Keep your attention focused on you. If you would do only this for weeks or months, you would get full Self-realization. – Lester Levenson (“Letting go of ego”)
Freeing yourself from your mind
Whose voice is narrating my life? (Stranger Than Fiction, 2006)
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.
We are at peace when we are established in witness consciousness. – Deepak Chopra
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)
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. The ultimate witness is the Self. If you trace the source of the mind, you find it is nothingness. This whole world is a dream, an illusion, which means that it isn’t. – Lester Levenson (1993, Session 1, The Basic Goal)
No one is an effect of the unconscious mind, the unconscious habits and tendencies, unless he chooses to be. You are the cause of the unconscious mind: you set it up, you’re choosing to follow it. The day you decide not to, that day you’re through with it. (1993, “Take Full Responsibility”)
When we first see this infinite being that we are, the job isn’t finished yet; we still have the remaining habits of thought to do away with. Then, when there’s no more remaining thought, subconscious and conscious—and the subconscious thoughts are the difficult ones to let go of—when there are no more thoughts, that’s the end of playing limited. Then ‘we are totally free, forever. (1993, “Happiness”)
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. (1993, “Meditation With a Quest”)
You actually do lose your mind, and then you reestablish it so that you can communicate. It’s far more difficult to reestablish the mind than it was originally to let go of it because the mind itself was such a clamping down of you, you don’t want to come back to it. But you will; you’ll start thinking again. The only difference in the before- and after-picture is that now your thinking is unfree, determined by subconscious, compulsive thoughts, but in the after-picture there are no more subconscious, compulsive thoughts. Every thought is totally free and without any conditioning by your tendencies and predispositions. (1993, “Why Not Go All the Way?”)
We all start by undoing single things at first. Then we master our tendencies or predispositions. This undoes all the numerous multitudes of thoughts that made up that tendency or predisposition. You should not keep undoing these single things piecemeal. That was all right for the beginning, [but] you don’t need it anymore. Drop a tendency or predisposition and you drop the millions of subconscious thoughts underlying it. (1993, “Why Not Go All the Way?”)
Lester Levenson: (1993)
No matter what the methods are, they all must end up doing the very same thing: freeing us of our concepts of limitation. The methodology must quiet our mind, must do away with thoughts. Every thought is a concept of limitation. When thoughts are undone, what’s left over is the infinite Being that we are. . . .
The methods, to be effective, must be in a direction of first quieting our thoughts, and then actually getting rid of our thoughts. Make a conscious effort to bring up subconscious thoughts, and when they are brought to the conscious plane, drop them. When they do come up, because they are very limiting and very negative as a whole, you want to drop them and you do.
After you have dropped an appreciable number of thoughts, then you can drop them in large amounts. . . . Later you reach a point where you can drop all the remaining thoughts at once, because having infinite power, you will have reached the point where you can see that you have this infinite power and you then can use it to wipe out the rest of the mind. That is why it is sometimes said that Self-realization is instantaneous. When you get that far that you can see that the power is yours, you wipe out all the remaining thoughts at once. Then you are totally free; you’ve gone all the way.
Q: Is just seeing the subconscious thought or motivation enough?
Lester: Just looking at it is not enough. You must consciously drop the thought or consciously cast out the tendency or motivation. I’m assuming you’ll want to let go of these thoughts because they’re all limiting and negative. One reason why we don’t like to dig them up is that we don’t like to see how awful we are. But there’s nothing good or bad; there’s just moving in the right direction or the wrong direction. When we move in the wrong direction, we move toward more limitation, and that’s really [all that] so-called bad [is]. But everything is experiencing, and when we don’t judge ourselves we move much faster.
Q: When we don’t judge ourselves?
Lester: Right. When we don’t judge ourselves. Whatever comes up, say, “So what?” To get this far in your limitations, you have [already] run the gamut of everything bad. (“Realization Through Dropping the Unconscious“, p. 312)
The Capala Sutra
There is the case, Moggallana, where a monk has heard: All dharmas are unworthy of attachment. Having heard that all dharmas are unworthy of attachment, he has direct knowledge of every dharma. Directly knowing every dharma, he comprehends every dharma. Comprehending every dharma, whatever feeling he experiences—pleasurable, painful, neither pleasurable nor painful—he remains focused on its impermanence, focused on dispassion, focused on the cessation of craving, focused on letting go of that feeling. As he remains focused on impermanence, focused on dispassion, focused on the cessation of craving, focused on letting go of that feeling, he is not dependent on anything in the world. Independent, he is unperturbed. Unperturbed, he is completely liberated right within. He discerns: Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.
* * *
Cannon, Dolores (1992). Jesus and the Essenes: Fresh Insights into Christ’s Ministry and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Bath: Gateway Books.
Cannon, Dolores (1996). Between Death and Life: Conversations with a Spirit. Bath: Gateway Books.
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)
Levenson, Lester (2003). No Attachments, No Aversions: The Autobiography of a Master. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises.
Wisdom Library: https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/samyojana