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Thread: Some confusion about thoughts and free will

  1. #1
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    Some confusion about thoughts and free will

    Hello guys!

    So I'm kinda stuck with these meta-thoughts (thoughts about thoughts). According to buddhism in general, thoughts arise spontaniously, right? It's like, im born in Sweden, and I can change that just as much as I can change the thoughts that arise in my mind?

    But even so, budda stated:

    "We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world"

    Does this mean that I shall say to my mind, no, no, when certain thoughts arises, and try to welcome other thoughts? Maybe my problem lies at the free will question, did buddha say that we had the free will do pick our thoughts and actions or was he deterministic about this? Middle way? But how?

    It's like this big contradiction in my mind right now, and maybe I'm just stuck in a non logic or stone-agish thinking pattern. But it feels like such a big contradiction.

    It's like when i listen to Sam Harris talk about free will (or read his book). It feels like the same as buddha. First they say that thoughts arises at random and that you shall just let it go. Then they tell you that you are responsible for your actions (and that is indirect your thought). How can we be morally responsible for something like this? When they first stated that we cant help your thoughts.

    I'm sure this was a long and boring post but, I really need to get some new ideas/angels to look view this now, I'm stuck.

    Thank you..
    Last edited by Neo; 09-16-2013 at 02:52 AM.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Neo View Post

    So I'm kinda stuck with these meta-thoughts (thoughts about thoughts).
    I'm betting you know this is circular and pointless, but it is a habit. I'm also betting you know the thing to do is sit and drop it. What now?

    Gassho Daizan
    大山

  3. #3
    I am tempted to toss out the old Zen Teacher escape hatch ... JUST SIT!

    ... but I won't.

    Yes, you live in Sweden, not in France, and your name is Neo. That is a fact. You like chocolate and hate strawberry. That is a fact.

    Now, try to sit beyond artificlal human drawn borders like "Sweden" or "France" or "Neo" or "chocolate" or "strawberry ... transcending categories and judgments like "like" or "dislike".

    Human beings have many thoughts, categories, judgments. That is a fact. We can also encounter free of thoughts, categories, judgments. Sit Shikantaza ... where sometimes we have thoughts ... where some-timeless one is clear and open between thoughts (even the thought of ticking time) ... where some timeless-times we encounter that thoughts and clarity where never two.

    JUST SIT! Shikantaza!

    Gassho, J

    PS - I do not think that Buddha ever said that thinking ever arises "at random" or "not at random". Just let such wild goose chases go. Thoughts arise ... do not grab on in Shikantaza.

    My teacher used to say, on the question of free will, that we live on the timeless "razor's edge" of past and future. Here is what he wrote ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...ll=1#post48792

    PPS - Neo, have you watched our "Always Beginners" series on Shikantaza? Are you sitting Shikantaza each day, just letting thoughts go without grabbing on?

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/forum...-FOR-NEW-FOLKS

    May I also ask you to introduce yourself here ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...28September%29

    ... and also sign a name and post a picture of a face to go with it?

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...Sangha-Members

    Thank you.
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-16-2013 at 05:50 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
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    I've got a special place in my apartment for sitting in zazen. But I'm not doing it every day now. Just as I'm not doing many things that I know I should be doing to live a better life for my self and everyone around me. Instead I dwell in dark thought's like this one, where it makes no sense, and if it makes no sense, I have a hard time dedicating to it. But I'm very sure that things will 'make more sense' in the future. But I'm stuck not accept that 'your thoughts shape your world' with just letting thoughts go. How can those two harmonize.

    But of course, I will take your advice. Who am I to judge anyone older (I'm 31, guess you are older) and more wiser than me! I will start doing zazen now on a daily basis again and in time maybe this problem of not understanding will fade away, or be irrelevant. I really wish they had a sangha in my town, I really could use a teacher. Im so glad there is places like this though!

    I will post a picture and I think I've looked into some of your beginner materials some time ago. But the intellectual side is well fed, I've read alot of books about buddhism/zen/soto/dogen. I think I shouldnt read more right now. I guess I just have to sit. But I hate having the illusion "I just have to understand it, then i'll be fine". I guess that's the spirit that many westerns are raised with today.

    thanks alot.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Clark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neo View Post
    But even so, budda stated:

    "We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world"

    Does this mean that I shall say to my mind, no, no, when certain thoughts arises, and try to welcome other thoughts? Maybe my problem lies at the free will question, did buddha say that we had the free will do pick our thoughts and actions or was he deterministic about this? Middle way? But how?

    It's like this big contradiction in my mind right now, and maybe I'm just stuck in a non logic or stone-agish thinking pattern. But it feels like such a big contradiction.
    Hi IF you are referring to thoughts about which when you are doing Zazen, then I agree with all of what Jundo just suggested. If you are talking about what your mind does on a day to day basis, then YES, I think you SHOULD say no when certain thoughts arise and try to welcome other thoughts. Just as we do in nurturing seeds practice. ( SEE the thread on Ango practices). I am no expert on any of this, and someone correct me if I am in error here, but we do have thoughts arising "spontaneously", however much if this is learned behavior that is not even us. We think we ARE these thoughts. The whole point is to try to discover the you who is NOT these thoughts. Naturally some of these random thoughts create duality, suffering, dukkha, but even though we experience them are they US? When we sit in Zazen we drop ALL thoughts. Taking a break from better, worse, thoughts about thoughts. In doing so the self ( which is not the self) emerges.

    Hopefully something in there made some zense

    Gassho
    C

  6. #6
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    I meant of course my thoughts when I'm not doing zazen. I'm not that newbish trying to think about thoughts during zazen. I was thinking in more general terms about building some decent life for one self and others around.

    Thanks. I've also read just now a very good post about buddhism - free will or determinism. And even in this question the middle path between these poles is taken.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Clark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neo View Post
    But I'm stuck not accept that 'your thoughts shape your world' with just letting thoughts go. How can those two harmonize.

    Let's say you take anything in your "world". Can be anything, let's say a stick. Is it a good stick, a bad stick, does it remind you of someone you once loved who used to use sticks, does it remind you of being beaten with a stick, does it look like a stick made from superior wood, does this stick make you think of the plight of the rain-forests? So you see your thoughts shape your world for that stick isn't a stick ,it is all those other things you bring into it, or you can drop all thoughts and just experience the stick, and not even call it "stick".

    Drop all thoughts of anything but what you experience. Don't even just see it as a stick, see it as THAT stick then there right at that moment.

    I am pretty sure you won't disappear if you drop all thoughts of this "world", but you might experience it in altogether different way.

    Gassho
    C

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Neo View Post
    ... But I'm very sure that things will 'make more sense' in the future. But I'm stuck not accept that 'your thoughts shape your world' with just letting thoughts go. How can those two harmonize.
    Some problems arise because we think there is a problem.

    If you came to me and said "I am wondering if an elephant with a periscope would be a submarine" ... I would advise you to simply stop thinking about the problem and, poof, problem de-solved. So with many other questions.

    Yes, we believe that thoughts shape the world. Although there is you and me and beautiful and ugly ... when we drop our divisive labels and human imposed measures, what then? Who then? Boundless Clear Whole... even as this sometimes light sometimes dark world. A certain Beautiful even amid and -AS- "beautiful" or "ugly".

    I agree with Clark that, off the cushion, we do practice replacing thoughts of greed, anger, division, jealousy and the like with other ways of thinking about life. That is nurturing seeds ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...Seeds-PRACTICE

    There is some face of this world to be encountered when we drop all divisions of me vs. not me, beautiful, ugly, future and past, elephants and submarines.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-16-2013 at 05:51 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Hi Neo,

    just a few thoughts . I don't want to dismiss the thorny issue of free will versus determinism as this is central to what you're saying.

    As a human being one thing is determined - our minds secrete thoughts - and if this wasn't so we would not have consciousness. So yes - we need to accept that this is what minds do, and 99% of the time it's pretty random - and if we're honest a bit of a pain. But thoughts and actions are two different categories - if we acted on our thoughts all of the time we'd have chaos. So there is a big measure of free will.

    We learn a valuable lesson in zazen - by not attaching to thoughts it becomes clearer in our everyday life that it is possible to live more at ease with our inner world, to not be consumed by anger, hate, greed etc and to free up a mental space for kindness and compassion. In this way zazen translates into an ethical act - we operate more compassionately in the external world.

    I think it's not a case of labelling thoughts as good or bad - but finding a sense of harmony between your inner world and outer world and accepting that this is not an easy thing to do. But it is a possibility - at least some of the time.

    I do believe that this sense of harmony lies at the centre of zazen and is a grounding principle that once experienced is always realized as simply 'there' . We are never really apart from this truth and at its centre we drop all worries of free will/determinism - good thought/bad thoughts, etc.

    I would not have grasped this without the teachers/teaching here and the emphasis on sitting - and I still struggle from time to time - but that's Ok as well.

    Gassho

    Willow
    Last edited by willow; 09-16-2013 at 10:24 AM.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Neo View Post
    I meant of course my thoughts when I'm not doing zazen.
    Is there a difference? Awareness of thinking is 24/7. On the cushion I don't actively think about things, there is the free flow of thought without getting tangled up, and even getting tangled flows along. This changes the aspect of thought off the cushion as well. Trying to grasp the world with thought loses its habitual power. A wordless understanding comes forward when compulsively trying to figure out the world eases off.

    gassho Daizan
    大山

  11. #11
    Hi Neo,

    Imagine yourself at a wedding. You are sitting at a table while watching the dance floor. Partners swing around the floor with ease. And you sit, watching this unfold, unmoved.

    I like to think of the dancers as our thoughts. The mind creates thoughts, and you learn to observe but not grasp nor cling to them. With sitting, these thoughts appear and they go. And you remain unaffected.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by sittingzen View Post
    Hi Neo,

    Imagine yourself at a wedding. You are sitting at a table while watching the dance floor. Partners swing around the floor with ease. And you sit, watching this unfold, unmoved.

    I like to think of the dancers as our thoughts. The mind creates thoughts, and you learn to observe but not grasp nor cling to them. With sitting, these thoughts appear and they go. And you remain unaffected.
    Love the metaphor!

    Gassho

  13. #13
    Neo, you can't think yuor way out of this mess.

    Sent from my RM-860_nam_usa_100 using Tapatalk
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by sittingzen View Post
    Hi Neo,

    Imagine yourself at a wedding. You are sitting at a table while watching the dance floor. Partners swing around the floor with ease. And you sit, watching this unfold, unmoved.

    I like to think of the dancers as our thoughts. The mind creates thoughts, and you learn to observe but not grasp nor cling to them. With sitting, these thoughts appear and they go. And you remain unaffected.
    Yes.

    And then we can rise from our seat, join the dancing, and realize that sitting and waltzing ... stillness and motion, silence and music ... were never two. Unmoving, as one's heart is moved in joy or sadness. Tripping or graceful, there is no place to fall ... yet we seek to stay upright as best we can (not always succeeding).

    Swinging with our partner and all the room, trying not to have two left feet or to step on others ... yet partner, floor and all the room just who we are, beyond right or left, near or far, all directions. Who is dancing whom?

    In fact, sitting and standing or flying through the air, free will or will free, there is just reality's beautiful Music (Big "M") holding all perceived harmonies and disharmonies of life ... each unmoving-step flowing (Big "D") Dancing-Dance-Dancing.

    Twirling is always the still-silent pivot point brought to life.

    Cha-Cha-Cha, Twist, Twerk and Tango.**

    Gasssho, J

    ** I'm no better poet than I am a ballroom dancer, but I hope the point is clear.
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-17-2013 at 01:51 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  15. #15
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Helping our thoughts to become not-so-chaotic takes a lot of practice. I have seen some benefit and it's been almost four years since I began to practice. It takes time, and we must be easy on ourselves. Of course, there will always be thoughts jumping around, but not as noisy or intrusive, and perhaps more positive, with time.

    Sometimes it helps me to just see my thoughts and emotions for what they are. Instead of, "My boyfriend is looking at that girl! What's wrong with him? What's wrong with me?" just, "Jealousy." Or, "I just got cut off in the lane. I could have made the green light!" is much more heavy than simply, "Frustration." When it becomes simple, there is no need to hang on. It's like the first half of the nurturing seeds practice.

    Also, don't worry about what you should be doing or not doing to live "a good life" or a good, "Buddhist" life. Each decision to be made moment to moment is all that needs to be dealt with. Sometimes, there is simply no time to sit. The trouble comes when there is time to sit and we choose not to.

    And I know it's a pain the in the ass, but it all does get a bit easier to understand with time, and sitting! Reading doesn't make sitting!
    迎 Geika

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Yes.

    And then we can rise from our seat, join the dancing, and realize that sitting and waltzing ... stillness and motion, silence and music ... were never two. Unmoving, as one's heart is moved in joy or sadness. Tripping or graceful, there is no place to fall ... yet we seek to stay upright as best we can (not always succeeding).

    Swinging with our partner and all the room, trying not to have two left feet or to step on others ... yet partner, floor and all the room just who we are, beyond right or left, near or far, all directions. Who is dancing whom?

    In fact, sitting and standing or flying through the air, free will or will free, there is just reality's beautiful Music (Big "M") holding all perceived harmonies and disharmonies of life ... each unmoving-step flowing (Big "D") Dancing-Dance-Dancing.

    Twirling is always the still-silent pivot point brought to life.

    Cha-Cha-Cha, Twist, Twerk and Tango.**

    Gasssho, J

    ** I'm no better poet than I am a ballroom dancer, but I hope the point is clear.
    Jundo,

    You actually gave me that example 3 years ago. It was quite some time before I was able to actually internalize and experience what you were referring to

    And as you say with the sitting/dancing references; it is never two, but always one. And in that one is all the glory (and sometimes sadness)!

    Perhaps we'll see a waltzing Jundo at Jukai?

  17. #17
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    Thanks for your answers everyone, I think I'm not that focused on the free will question anymore right now. Thanks Jundo also for the cultivating seeds link. By the way, from what book did you pick that up by Thich Nhat Hanh? I got a sudden "free will?!" interest of reading that one. ;-)

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Neo View Post
    By the way, from what book did you pick that up by Thich Nhat Hanh? I got a sudden "free will?!" interest of reading that one. ;-)
    Hi,

    My impression (perhaps someone can correct me) is that it is scattered through his writings, not just one particular book.

    It is actually an ancient Buddhist notion for thousands of years, based on the view that our words, thoughts and acts based on greed, anger and ignorance (or generosity, peace and Wisdom) plant Karmic seeds stored within our minds that, in turn, give birth to more of the same on and on ... and that we need to plant good seeds and avoid harming seeds.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-18-2013 at 01:49 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  19. #19
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    Thank you.


    Gassho,
    Edward
    Practice with humility, respect all beings, avoid attachments, give rise to prajña from your own awareness, put an end to delusions - Hui-neng

  20. #20
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    Thank you.

    Gassho,

    Glow

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Neo View Post
    Hello guys!

    So I'm kinda stuck with these meta-thoughts (thoughts about thoughts). According to buddhism in general, thoughts arise spontaniously, right? It's like, im born in Sweden, and I can change that just as much as I can change the thoughts that arise in my mind?

    But even so, budda stated:

    "We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world"

    Does this mean that I shall say to my mind, no, no, when certain thoughts arises, and try to welcome other thoughts? Maybe my problem lies at the free will question, did buddha say that we had the free will do pick our thoughts and actions or was he deterministic about this? Middle way? But how?

    It's like this big contradiction in my mind right now, and maybe I'm just stuck in a non logic or stone-agish thinking pattern. But it feels like such a big contradiction.

    It's like when i listen to Sam Harris talk about free will (or read his book). It feels like the same as buddha. First they say that thoughts arises at random and that you shall just let it go. Then they tell you that you are responsible for your actions (and that is indirect your thought). How can we be morally responsible for something like this? When they first stated that we cant help your thoughts.

    I'm sure this was a long and boring post but, I really need to get some new ideas/angels to look view this now, I'm stuck.

    Thank you..

    Hello Neo! Here is my contribution hope you find it useful:

    1. Do and put the test what Judo says.
    2. You can try also this: See your mind as a movie theater with a screen. Your mind will produce thoughts all the time, even during Zazen, and those toughts arise and the come to the screen of the theater, your attention (inner and outer) is the screen, you can hold one thought on the screen and let it roll its full movie or just let it go and let the next thought come to the screen.

    Eventually, with eough practice and shikantaza you will be able to see that thoughts have a tiny tiny space between them, like the frames of a movie, the more aware of that space the easier to manage the thoughts that make it to the screen.

    Sorry for my broken english .

    Gassho

    kb
    Dancing between stillness and motion I find peace.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by kidbuda View Post
    Eventually, with eough practice and shikantaza you will be able to see that thoughts have a tiny tiny space between them, like the frames of a movie, the more aware of that space the easier to manage the thoughts that make it to the screen.

    Sorry for my broken english .

    Gassho

    kb
    So zen buddhists are pretty spaced out
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Rich View Post
    So zen buddhists are pretty spaced out
    Exactly! jajajjaa.
    Dancing between stillness and motion I find peace.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by kidbuda View Post
    Hello Neo! Here is my contribution hope you find it useful:

    1. Do and put the test what Judo says.
    2. You can try also this: See your mind as a movie theater with a screen. Your mind will produce thoughts all the time, even during Zazen, and those toughts arise and the come to the screen of the theater, your attention (inner and outer) is the screen, you can hold one thought on the screen and let it roll its full movie or just let it go and let the next thought come to the screen.

    Eventually, with eough practice and shikantaza you will be able to see that thoughts have a tiny tiny space between them, like the frames of a movie, the more aware of that space the easier to manage the thoughts that make it to the screen.

    Sorry for my broken english .

    Gassho

    kb
    thanks, though I cant really understand what this has to do with my "free will" issue :-) But I'm more clear now that buddha said that the middle path is the way to go with the free will, and I've decided to not give that question a whole lot of energy from now on.

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