Thoughts, themselves, are very difficult for people to “pass up”. In the CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) sense, long term beliefs. Thoughts that we have that pertain to these beliefs, even for a person who is “enlightened” in many ways, it’s very difficult for them to “pass them up”. Certain thoughts reel them into their belief system again. This is conditioning!
As Adyashanti puts it, these thoughts are often ones that make a person feel ashamed or small (so, self defaming thoughts, or thoughts that make a person angry or accusatory). We have different levels, then, within each individual, in regards to where on the path of spiritual enlightenment we are … between being someone who is completely reactionary (like an animal, instinctually reactionary), and somebody who is very, very enlightened (almost shed off the cloak of being drawn in by beliefs).
So on the one end, somebody still acting like an animal (acting instinctually to everything around them), including thoughts (falling back into thought patterns instinctually and quickly). Then, on the other end, an individual who can easily see thought patterns popping up; very resistant to being tricked into going back in. They can unhook themselves.
A little bit to the left on that continuum, however, you have people – many people who ARE enlightened people (spent much of their life learning spiritual teachings, absorbing them); and they still get caught, because they still have hard set beliefs. And they still do have a personality (as we all do, regardless where on the spectrum we are). So, then, it’s wrong to think of a very enlightened person as having “no personality”. They clearly do! The Buddha had one, so did Bodhidharma (founder of Zen), so did many of the great philosophers (Plato). They had pet peaves … etc. Maybe Budei (fat Buddha) … really HATED sardines?
In fact, it’s very important for us all to admit we DO have personalities … and to know them well. Along with it, a belief system that has a conditioned set of thoughts and beliefs. If we step away from this fact, we make ourselves infinitely more vulnerable to being a total reactionary – to regressing spiritually. Nobody is a “non-entity”; nobody is living somewhere in the Himalayas having discarded their personality … if they think thus, they’re deluded. The Buddha himself pointed this out.
So, our personality … it’s existed forever (in the sense of our own life). Our personality developed, our conditioning ball developed from a young age then crystallized in adulthood, and beginning the process of undoing its conclusions is itself the process of spiritual advancement.
The easiest analogy for me is the fish with the hook. At the Nan Tien Temple in Wollongong that I visit, there’s the big statue of the fish … mouth agape. This is the symbolism (a simple one) of the fish being “taken in” by the bait. The further along we are in our development spiritually, the easier it is to gently unhook ourselves. In this analogy, what’s the bait? If we’re the fish, and it’s swimming around blissfully in the water, what’s the bait (aside from fish food, obviously)?
It’s easiest for me to understand it in terms of Albert Ellis and CBT. The bait is, simply, a thought that elicits a judgment. A judgment provokes a belief. Beliefs are the most powerful eliciters of conditioning that exist for ANY human being. Beliefs range in intensity, but they’re our own personal doctrine. The closest and most intimate thing to our own personality. And, therefore, the most sensitive to being baited.
An example would be the belief: This act is unjust! Someone did something to me that’s unjust!
So, for a person who’s not completely enlightened … to see an injustice (a social or personal one) … someone we care about, says something to us … that hurts us … it’s hard to just pass by an opportunity like that to pass judgment. The judgment is, “NO, this is wrong. This is bad. What you’ve done is bad.” The belief is activated. When the belief is activated, we’re back caught in the web of conditioning.
For a relatively enlightened person, it’s still hard to detach ourselves. Even as you read this you might resist the idea that something that’s overtly unjust should be “passed by”. Or, that it’s wrong to pass by something (a personal injustice) without reaction. It’s not damning on us to do this – it’s natural! It’s a sign we’re not “complete” in our spiritual awakening yet. We still have stirring in our spiritual conditioning, we still have beliefs, a personality, and the thoughts that surround them. So, when this or that thought arises … it creates the bait. It’s hard to pass up the bait! It’s good, though, to acknowledge the bait exists … then we can learn to unhook ourselves … over and over and over again. The process of eternal un-baiting is the process of eternal maturation. It’s painful, humiliating and aggravating (we may have learned, listened to guru’s, become quite enlightened in a sense) but we can get back to that point over and over again like a cruel joke. But we DO progress though, and we can find evidence in those people who HAVE progressed.
This hearkens back to the idea of diligence. As the Buddha said in his final remarks, he reminded us that the thought we have, they’re illusionary – that we ought to remain diligent. Diligent of what? Diligent of becoming trapped in a dream. And if we do (and we will, and I will today), take solace in the fact that there are many of us on this path as well, stumbling; being mindful, constantly unhooking and improving a bit.
A useful strategy to use in disengaging from these thoughts and beliefs it the process of self-enquiry.
This is what I’ll write about next time.