Letting go of the mind

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 it should obtain regarding thoughts: “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 it does not obtain regarding thoughts: “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 (Lin-chi 17)


Where do thoughts and feelings come from?

The reason why we’re not going free, we’re not reaching the ultimate, is we’re not quieting the mind. And for hundreds and 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

In the Pali cannon, the earliest Buddhist scriptures, thoughts and feelings are called anusaya, or tendencies. There are seven tendencies, ordered from lowest to highest:

1. attachment to the sense-realm  (kama-raga – lit. craving for the sensual)
2. aversion  (patigha)
3. views  (ditthi)
4. doubt  (vicikiccha)
5. conceit  (mana)
6. attachment to existence  (bhava-raga)
7. ignorance  (avijja)
(Access to Insight: A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms)

“Monks, with the abandoning 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 abandoning and destruction of these seven tendencies, the holy life is fulfilled.” (https://suttacentral.net/an7.12/en/thanissaro)

You may imagine that attachment to the sense-realm and attachment to existence are the same thing; however, the sense-realm is only the lowest of a vast number of realms (or “heavens”). When rebirth on Earth is no longer appropriate (when one has eliminated fear and achieved some control over energy), beings who are still attached to existence, or becoming, are reborn in a higher realm.

In the fifth century, Buddhaghosa also classified thoughts and feelings, but he called them samyojana—fetters.  To the first list of tendencies Buddhaghosa added three: “identification with the self,” “restlessness,” and “attachment to the form and formless realms”—this last one replacing “attachment to existence.”

Buddhaghosa’s ten fetters:

  1. identification with the self (sakkaya-ditthi)
  2. doubt (vicikiccha)
  3. clinging to precepts and practices (silabbata paramasa)
  4. attachment to the sense realm (kama-raga)
  5. aversion (vyapada) (patigha is the feeling of aversion, and vyapada is avoidance or resistance)
  6. attachment to the form realm (rupa-raga)
  7. attachment to the formless realm (arupa-raga)
  8. conceit (mana)
  9. restlessness (uddhacca—The inability to concentrate on any object steadfastly; being distracted, one’s mind wanders from one object to another.)
  10. ignorance (avijja)

Regarding number three, “clinging to precepts and practices,” this is the same thing as holding on to views. It is all too easy to make a vice of virtue; holding on to views and precepts is a way of saying, “Look at how virtuous I am.” Master Guizong Zhichang once sacrificed a snake, in violation of a precept, to teach this important lesson:

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.
“Is it you or I who’s crude or 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

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 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, for whom there is no more rebirth. (Wisdom Library)

How to let go of tendencies

In Sermon Fifty Seven Meister Eckhart named three obstacles to enlightenment:

There are three things that prevent us from hearing the eternal Word. The first is corporeality, the second is multiplicity, the third is temporality. If a man transcended these three things, he would dwell in eternity . . .

What Eckhart is saying is that we have to transcend our deeply rooted patterns of thoughts and feelings—which is what religion is really all about. But he doesn’t tell us how to do it. The priceless gift that Lester has left us is his simple, practical method for letting go of tendencies. He explains his method as follows:

The reason why we’re not going free, we’re not reaching the ultimate, is we’re not quieting the mind. And for hundreds and 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.

Now, your mind is active twenty-four hours a day, on guard, in order that you survive. All those programs, called apathy, grief, fear, lust, anger, pride—every one of them is a survival program. So you’re constantly on guard, twenty-four hours a day, with hundreds of thoughts, which you have very foolishly relegated to the background. And you don’t look at them, and you say that they’re unconscious, taking no responsibility for them even though you’ve piled them up back there. You’ve locked them into a closet called the unconscious, disclaiming responsibility for it. Take responsibility for all this accumulated AGFLAP in your subconscious mind; then you can start doing away with it.

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 culminate into the heavier feelings that we call AGFLAP. The AGFLAP culminates into two, called approval and control, which culminate into one, called survival, or security.

When we rid ourselves of wanting approval or wanting control, we rid ourselves of all the AGFLAP and hundreds of other feelings. They’re out of the subconscious and the mind is quiet. And there we are coming from our infinite beingness, working intuitively, which is simply saying we’re coming from our omniscience—that’s all that intuition is. All this intellectual knowledge that we work through our mind is coming through ignorance—ignorance of the fact that just behind the mind is omniscience, ignorance of the fact that everything we do via the mind is limited, and hurts.

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 is called feelings, and that will quiet the mind. (Keep it Simple)

When we release any tendency we are letting go of one thing: ego, which is the assertion of the existence of a separate self with all of its fears and limitations. What follows are a few suggestions for releasing.

The desire for approval

Lester and Alfred Adler believed that all feelings, including the craving to be loved, come out of a craving for survival. This means that no matter how much love our parents give us, we will always crave more, because no amount of love and approval can give us immortality.

To let go of desires, we release the corresponding aversion. The desire for approval arises from an aversion to being unwanted, unloved and alone.

• Use the thought, “I am unloved” or “I am unwanted” to bring the feeling up into your awareness. This feeling may have elements of grief, anger or shame.
• Relax any tension there is in the body and exhale.
• Remaining relaxed, focus on the feeling only until it passes away.
• Use the thought, “I am unwanted,” to bring up the feeling again, and keep it in your awareness until it passes away.

Your memories are like books: you can open them and re-experience an event whenever you need to; so use your memories of past events to release present feelings.


Self-doubt is an aversion to failure; it is the feeling, “I can’t.” However, the aversion to failure may be covering up a desire for approval, or pride of self.

• Bring the thought of failure up into your awareness. If this is about something you want to accomplish the feeling may be anxiety; if it is about a past failure, it may be shame, regret or unhappiness.
• Relax any tension there is in the body and exhale.
• Remaining relaxed, focus on the feeling only until it passes away.
• Use the thought of failure to bring up the feeling again, and keep it in your awareness until it passes away.


The desire to defend views—wanting people to see things the way we see them—is another expression of the desire for approval. It arises from an aversion to not being recognized or acknowledged. We are also expressing a desire to control others. As the post, “Letting Go of the Ego” explains, the only reason we crave control is that we are frustrated by our inability to make our parents give us more attention.

• Use the thought, “I am not acknowledged” or “Nobody listens to me” to bring the feeling up into your awareness. The feeling may be anger or frustration.
• Relax any tension there is in the body and exhale.
• Remaining relaxed, focus on the feeling only until it passes away.
• Use the thought, “I am not acknowledged” or “Nobody listens to me” to bring up the feeling again, and keep it in your awareness until it passes away.

Attachment to existence

Underlying our attachment to existence is an aversion to extinction. Most of us have a deeply rooted fear of death, which must be released.

Besides trying to cheat death through exercise, healthy eating, etc., we may also seek immortality through having children. Therefore, we must let go of all desires related to reproduction. Instead of trying to ignore these desires and mentally push them away, acknowledge them until they are gone. (This may take time, but be patient.) We must forever renounce sex and having children, not only in this life but in any future lives.


“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).

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 first conceit, that the self exists on its own, means that one has placed oneself on the same level as God. We assert our self-existence by means 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 is this but not seeing reality? Or if one regards himself superior or equal or inferior by reason of feelings, knowledge of differences, expectations (samskara) or consciousness, what is this but not seeing reality? If one does not regard himself superior or equal or inferior by reason of the body, feelings, relative knowledge, expectations or consciousness, what is this but seeing reality? (Samyutta Nikaya 22.49)

The Mahaniddesa (Nidd. i.80) covers the second conceit of “I possess.” Four possessions are named here: wealth, fame, the approval of others and good fortune (pleasure):

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 shame is just as much a conceit as pride is because shame affirms the existence of a self which has lost, a self which has failed. The ego must always assert its existence, even if to do so is painful. For example, people often prefer to be publicly disgraced or humiliated rather than to be unknown; people often prefer abuse to being ignored.

When you find you are comparing yourself to others, acknowledge the thought, “I am superior,” and release the feeling of pride; or acknowledge the thought, “I am inferior,” and release the feeling of shame.


Freeing yourself from your mind

Eckhart Tolle:

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)

Lester Levenson:

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; 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; you don’t need it any more. 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)

* * *

Sedona Training Associates (2005). The Insider’s Guide to the Sedona Method. http://www.sedona.com. (The-Sedona-Method)

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


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