The most important thing we could ever do in our lives – the only ‘important’ thing we could ever do, in fact – is to learn to see the difference between consciousness and the thinking mind. This is the ‘supreme task’, so to speak, although ‘task’ isn’t quite the right word to use here since it tends to imply that there is some kind of ‘known procedure’ that needs to be properly followed and that there is some kind of ‘known outcome’ at the end, and this isn’t the case at all. In one way this ‘task’ is beautifully simple, but another way is very tricky indeed. It’s tricky because what almost always happens is that the thinking mind itself takes over the job and this is a guaranteed recipe for utter disaster!
When thought takes over then the true nature of the endeavour is instantly lost. It is ‘instantly lost’ because thought doesn’t recognise any other principle other than itself. Thought only recognises itself and that aspect of the world which it can understand according to its own rules and ‘the aspect of the world which can be understood’ is the thinking mind’s projection. Thought is always a tautology in other words, although this is not of course to say that it can’t be useful within its proper domain. Thought is always a closed system (it wouldn’t be thought otherwise) and pragmatically closed systems (or rule-based systems) exist in the natural world which thought can legitimately find purchase on. When it comes to investigating open systems however thinking mind is absolutely ‘the wrong man for the job’ since it can’t help collapsing everything into closed systems like itself. The thinking mind fundamentally can’t ‘believe’ in openness – if it ever did acknowledge openness then (as we have just said) it could no longer operate as thought.
Thought can only recognises own categories and there is no way that anyone can ever argue that this isn’t the case. Suppose – just for the sake of the argument – we were to try to say that thought could recognise something other than its own categories. How would this work? In order to recognise anything thought has to refer to some standard (or template) – that’s the only way it can recognise anything because it’s a mechanical process. We all know that thinking is a mechanical process – no one will say that it isn’t, but if thought is a mechanical or rule-based process then this necessarily means it can’t recognise anything outside of its own categories. If thoughts were to encounter something new then, as far as it is concerned, it’s not actually encountering anything. Contrary to popular belief, thought is blind. Or as Krishnamurti says, ‘thought is always old.’
We shouldn’t really need to spell this out in this way but we do all the same because this happens to be something we most definitely don’t want to face. It’s not hard to see why we don’t want to face this aspect of thought because if we truly took it on board that thought is blind then we have to do also see that we are blind too since we rely on the thinking process for everything we know about the world. If we open up our eyes to the fact that ‘thought is always old’ then we have to admit that we are old too because thought determines so much about us. This is not really something we can allow ourselves to see unless we are willing at the same time to have our view of things totally shattered, and we are generally not willing.
Not to beat about the bush too much, we can say that there are only two things – the old and the new – and out of these two things only the new is real, only the new exists. We know this – we only have to look around us to see that everything is new. How could it not be? Life is always new – it’s only our thoughts about it that old, only our habitual beliefs about it that are old. Although I might see something that I’ve seen ten thousand times before, it’s only my seeing that gets old, not anything else. If, then, there are only these two things, the new and the old, and if – out of these two possibilities – only the new is real, then to go about our lives seeing everything through ‘old eyes’, always interpreting new in terms of the old. This is a tremendously absurd and also deeply tragic kind of thing.
We don’t want to see that our way of living life is tremendously absurd and deeply tragic – it’s not like learning that we made this mistake or that mistake, and can then take the information on board so as not to repeat it, it’s seeing that our whole way of living is exclusively based on the principle of ‘automatically validating our ungrounded assumptions’ (which is – as we have said – the only way that thought can work, it being ‘that type of thing’) and that this comes down to consistently not seeing the truth, in favour of our own version of this truth. The key point here is that no one does have their own version of the truth; my own ‘version of the truth’ is actually a lie! My own ‘version of reality’ is by definition not real – I’m not supposed to have ‘my own version of it’, that’s not how ‘the truth’ works…
‘The waking have one world in common; sleepers have each a private world of his own’ says Heraclitus. He also says, ‘if you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; it is hard to be sought out and difficult.‘ ‘The unexpected’ – in terms of finding out that what we took to be true is not true, that what we took to be real is not real – is something that we most definitely don’t want to encounter! If you were to go up to someone on the street, or talk to someone you know, and suggest that their entire way of understanding reality is ‘wrong’ or ‘back-to-front’ or ‘massively deluded’ (or whatever other way you might wish to put it) then you can be absolutely sure (or almost absolutely sure) that what you are saying will not be entertained for a millisecond. Your suggestion will not warrant a sensible reply, it will be discounted out of hand, but this ‘rejection’ does not come out of anything other than our utter incapacity to take on news of this magnitude. It doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not, we just can’t countenance such a big change to the status quo! Such a big change simply can’t be allowed, can’t be permitted.
To say that we ‘don’t expect the unexpected’ is an understatement, therefore. We absolutely don’t expect it – nothing could be further from us, nothing could be more remote from our understanding of ‘what is possible’ – but, more than this, at the same time we also absolutely don’t want to ever have to have any encounter with it either. This may not seem to make much sense since if we have absolutely no clue at all that the ‘radically unexpected’ exists, then how could we at the same time be so averse, so resistance, to discovering that it does? Surely can’t have it both ways? The truth is however that the reason we have expunged every last trace of awareness that we might have regarding the possibility of the ‘radically unexpected’ (and who could ever meaningfully deny that there is such a possibility?) is because we are mortally afraid of it, and so what’s actually going on here is that familiar old thing called denial. When what we have successfully denied suddenly pops up in front of us, then not only are we going to be ‘completely taken by surprise’, but we are also going to be maximally averse to this surprise, and heavily defended against it! The two go together – that’s the way denial always works.
We are ‘very committed to our position’ in other words, and this is putting it mildly. We are very committed to our ‘own private world’ and yet this private world of ours is something of a ‘failed experiment’, if we may put it like this. This position of ours, to which we cleave so determinedly, like a limpet to its rock, is ultimately untenable and so everything we do becomes part of an ongoing attempt to delay the inevitable’, the inevitable’ being the dawning of awareness in relation to the hopelessness of our situation. Our situation is like someone who is on a boat that is taking on water faster than we can bail it out, and who does not want to face this fact. We are therefore constantly running around bailing out the water and patching up leaks, but at the same time as doing this we have to deny the true meaning of what we doing, we have to represent it to ourselves in a positive way, as if we actually do have a chance of reversing the flow of water, as if this doomed position of ours actually does have a future. We can’t deny the ‘radically unexpected’ forever, but we are in denial of this truth.
We can compare this situation to what Schumacher says about chestnuts in his book A Guide for the Perplexed, where he says that we are like a society made up of chestnuts who both collectively and individually celebrate ‘the Greatness of Being a Chestnut’, without ever realising then the only possible meaning of ‘being a chestnut’ is to one utterly relinquish this mode of existence (which has no future in itself) so as to pave the way to the tree that is to follow it. A chestnut cannot envisage any reality other than itself, to be sure, but this does not mean that by letting go of itself it cannot open the way for the ‘inconceivable reality’ of the tree to come into being. A chestnut that hangs onto ‘the idea itself’ on the other hand (by claiming that it has a viable future in its own right, as it mistakenly understands itself to be) is denying the only value that it actually has! We can apply this metaphor to thought, and the way thought always denies the reality that it supposedly represents, and we can say that it is a characteristic of thought that it cannot help ‘holding on to itself’. Thought’s secret allegiance is always to the image (or ‘model’), not the reality, but it is constitutionally unable to perceive this truth about itself… We have foolishly let the genie which is thought tell us who we are, and then we have forgotten that this is only a mind-created label….
Thought when ‘left to its own devices’ will always deny the only value that we actually have, therefore; it will ‘separate us’ from this value. Thought can be relied upon to do this – it can never see beyond itself, and – what’s more – it doesn’t actually want to see beyond itself either! It not only has ‘absolutely no interest’ in seeing beyond itself, it is actually opposed in principle to this possibility. This being the case, if we place ourselves in the care of the thinking mind then we are very effectively denying our own reality. We are very effectively denying our own reality because the only reality we have is the reality which is new, the reality which is unprogrammed, the reality which has not been created by the activities of the thinking mind. Thought – as we have said – is a system that is made up of ‘the old’; the only way anything can ever be accepted by thought is if it is old, as we have said. Thought can only recognise or acknowledge its own categories, and its categories are as ‘old’ as it gets.
Just as long as we ‘let the thinking mind run the show’ we will be content to accept its derisory representation of us as being ‘who we really are are,’ and this means that we will spend our entire lives in orbit around this conception that we have of ourselves, as if it were ‘an end in itself’, and not just ‘an image’. That’s what the mind-created self is – it’s ‘an image that is taken to be an end in itself’. But when we make this ghostly, shadow-like construct of the runaway thinking mind into ‘an end in itself’ we deny our true nature, which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any of the mind’s constructs, which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any of this mind’s ever-proliferating categories.