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Thread: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

  1. #1

    watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    There is a part of Zen teachers (Joko Beck, Bayda e.t.c.)that emphasize the need of labelling thoughts during Zazen practice.
    By labelling I mean that when you realize that you're thinking, you actually repeat the very same thought within.its like having a parrot on your shoulder that repeats what you think. The idea is that labelling enables us to clarify more efficiently the fabrications of our minds better than just merely notice the fact that we are thinking and return to awareness. It seems a bit mechanical and mental reproach.
    If you like to share some opinions about it with me .

    Gassho George.

  2. #2

    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    Hi George,

    I am sure Jundo will have a lot to say about this...
    In my limited knowledge, labelling is practiced a lot in tibetan meditation schools such as Kagyu, or in certain vippasana traditions, it is also very much developped by modern Western teachers.

    As we sit, thoughts come. We notice them. We don't push them or pull them, we don't label them. As we come back home, why should we go through the door twice? Further more, as we are always home, we might just leave this thoughts alone and eventually see that they are part of the vast and free scenery of the original face. And one step further, the thing to drop is the label maker, the illusionary belief in somebody that says yes and no, right and wrong.
    That is forgetting the self.

    A cloud unfolding itself in the sky is nothing but a cloud. Do we need to point at it and say in a loud voice: cloud!? A sky cannot be without a cloud, the joy is to allow this sky-like reality we are and live in.

    When thoughts are noticed, we just return gently to our spine or mudra ( effortless attention to the palm of your hand).


    gassho


    Taigu

  3. #3

    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    I understand how it can help. If we just see thoughts and then let them go to and return to the awareness, that too can become mechanical because we are never aware of what the thought was. Many times we may sit, have a thought, and return to the breath or the hara, without any awareness of doing so.

    So, yes as a practice it seems ok, but it is not something I would stick with for a longtime. Because zazen is not only what happens in our head, it is about what happens within the whole universe. At some point the whole idea of watching, labeling etc should be dropped itself and then you 'just are' When you 'just are' there is no room anymore for watching or labeling, because by doing that you are not allowing yourself to 'just be' you are instead still thinking.

    just some ideas...

    Gassho

    Seiryu

  4. #4
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    _()_

  5. #5

    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    Hi George,
    I not cam across the procedure of labeling though, but something similar,
    which I found quite useful: Labeling emotion. I guess the idea behind it
    is the same, becoming more aware of what goes on in (and around) us.
    For example, when i get angry, I labeled it "getting angry", which for
    a long time (maybe 2 years) made a big difference to me, it was
    kind of changing the perspective and deepen the awareness, and as
    a result, I often can overcome this being angry, sometimes even laughing
    about what I got angry about.
    I planed to read Joko Beck sometime this year, so I'll maybe learn more
    about this, and I would also be interested in your experience with it.

    I fully agree with Taigu about Shikantaza being our practice, but I could
    image this is some step towards it (like counting breath, watching breath,
    something that I used to do).

    _()_
    Peter

  6. #6

    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    Hi,

    I believe that "thought labeling", and becoming able to identify the tricks of the "mind theatre" between our ears, is a vital part of Buddhist practice in almost all schools. However, here we just do not engage in that practice --during-- Shikantaza Zazen itself, for that is a special practice with the flavor Taigu described (and which I discuss a little more in the link at the end of this post). However, in daily life, we should practice such "insight" practices, and become aware of the "Mind Theatre" as it acts up in various life situations. Let me explain a bit more ...

    I have sometimes written about how Buddhist practice moves on twin wings ...

    Buddhist Practice is usually described as flying upon the twin wings of ?amatha (calming thoughts and emotions, illuminating and dropping body-mind) and awareness and understanding of vipa?yan? (insight and awareness primarily into the nature and workings of 'self' and mental functions). That is true in Zen practice no less than most other forms of Buddhist practice.

    In a nutshell, Vipa?yan? might be described as insights and awareness, based on Buddhist psychology, as to how the mind works and plays it games. It is an understanding of the Skandhas (form, sensation, perception, mental formation, consciousness ... those words always sung in the Heart Sutra), how our thoughts and emotional reactions arise, how we label and divide the world. We should also understand the Buddha's ideas about how suffering arises within us, which is intimately tied to all that.

    However, unlike some schools of Buddhism, in Shikantaza we do not pursue any particular practices --during-- Zazen itself in order to cultivate such vipa?yan? insight ... and much insight naturally arises from Zazen as "Zazen does its thing". Perhaps we might say that, just in "just sitting" Shikantaza ... dropping thoughts of this and that, thus quieting the mind's "mind games" ... we develop a natural sensitivity and understanding of the mind's "mind games" (much like one first comes to really appreciate what "urban noise" is when one first drives out of the city to the middle of the desert or some other truly quiet place).

    Apart from "on the Zafu" sitting times, however, in the rest of our Buddhist studies and practice, it is good to contemplate and develop such insight, and come to identify the workings of the Skandhas and such within us day to day.

    For example, if you feel an angry or jealous thought arising within you during your day, it is very helpful to identify that as a "bit of temporary mind theatre" and "just the self judging and conflicting with another perceived self". That gives us some distance from the passing emotion, and we no longer see the emotion as quite as inevitable and "true" as we might have before.

    For example, in the case of anger ... We need to develop a sensitivity to how anger arises within us, the triggers which tend to set it off, the first feeling of it starting to arise and the cycle it follows until vanishing. We need to catch ourself more and develop the ability to say, "I am feeling the emotion of anger now, but it is only the mind created theater which is present in this moment ... it need not be so." We need to see it as a story the self writes for itself, "catch it" and thus not be "sucked in" and fooled as much. (Most people who feel anger do not realize it is just a mind created bit of theater which can be replaced by something else ... it is not the way things "have to be". E.g., most people think, when they become upset, that they have "reason to be upset, and it is true and justified", not an optional response to the circumstances). That realization and understanding of how our inner theater works is a step to developing the ability to "rewrite and change the story" at will.

    So, yes, "samatha/vipassana" are both important.
    This is all closely connected to the "Nurturing Seeds" Practice too ...

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1730

    However, the primary reason we do not incorporate such practices into Zazen itself is the nature of Shikantaza as a radical non-gaining, no ulterior motives practice ... which leads thus to gaining great Treasure ...

    viewtopic.php?f=23&t=2816

    Gassho, Jundo


    PS - I had a chat a few years ago with someone from Joko Beck's lineage on this (maybe Ezra) and yes, as a psychologist, she does incorporate certain "insight mediation" practices into Zazen sometimes. However, we do not here.

  7. #7

    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    A cloud unfolding itself in the sky is nothing but a cloud. Do we need to point at it and say in a loud voice: cloud!? A sky cannot be without a cloud, the joy is to allow this sky-like reality we are and live in.
    Sorry ... just a needless post to insist on this sentence... :roll:
    By the way, thank you Jundo for remembering us of the "two wings bird with no wings at all"... precious and much needed, really!!

    gassho,
    Jinyu
    ps: this place a fresh spring... being in a moment when i can't be here whenever i want, I realize more and more the chance we have... thank you everyone!

  8. #8
    Senior Member Nindo's Avatar
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    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    Just to clarify, the way I understand "thought labelling" is not repeating the thought itself like a parrot, but to put a general sticker on it with a category that makes sense to you and helps you gain insight into your inner workings. For example, some of the labels that I use are "story", "planning", "rehearsing a speech". Also as Peter mentioned, emotion labels are helpful - "bored", "frustrated" etc.

    Joko put special emphasis on BELIEFS, and I think this is a wonderful door to gain insight. Embedded in the thoughts that you repeat over and over are your beliefs about yourself and the world, and labelling helps you bring them to light more clearly. "Believing I'm no good at sitting", "Believing that when I'm tired I cannot sit", "believing that my neighbour hates me", "believing that I always get the slow lane in the supermarket". This can get really interesting if you manage to do it with some self humour and metta towards yourself.

  9. #9

    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    There is a part of Zen teachers (Joko Beck, Bayda e.t.c.)that emphasize the need of labelling thoughts during Zazen practice.
    By labelling I mean that when you realize that you're thinking, you actually repeat the very same thought within.its like having a parrot on your shoulder that repeats what you think. The idea is that labelling enables us to clarify more efficiently the fabrications of our minds better than just merely notice the fact that we are thinking and return to awareness. It seems a bit mechanical and mental reproach.
    If you like to share some opinions about it with me .

    Might have already been said.

    A big part of practice is studying the self. I have followed these lines from Dogen's Genjo Koan for many times. Study the self, forget/Drop the self, open. Not his exact words maybe, but you get the idea.

    Labeling thoughts might help someone who is very caught up in thought. The thing is to recognize the thought and come back to openess, or let the thought pass. I kind of agree that it seems useless, and even maybe a bit backwards, but it might be helpful to get a grasp of what's going on in order to further your practice. (Study the self


    _/_

  10. #10

    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?

    The only labelling thoughts I have come accross is the starter meditation 'counting the breaths'. But remember that the last stage of this practise is to let go of the counting, and even the watching, and basically just sit.

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