Meditation to question the self

The way we know every piece of knowledge we have, is through thinking. All the knowledge and understanding of science, everything we can say about ourselves and our world comes through thinking and comes as thinking.

And yet, a little reflection will reveal that we cannot trust thoughts to be true. Science depends upon this: its method is to propose a hypothesis and attempt to disprove it, leading to a better hypothesis – or otherwise to a theory which is taken to be the truth upon which other hypotheses can depend. In our own lives we can easily find things we thought were true which we subsequently think not to be true. We can “change our mind” about something. In fact, when we have a thought, we necessarily take it as true: it would take another thought to counteract it.

So our pursuit of the truth about self can not depend upon thinking. We already know that we think we are a self, even if we are not sure exactly what we mean by that. Our ways of thinking are based upon this assumption of a self, leading to elaborations such as:-

– that this self experiences all our experience,

– that some sensations are classed as self and are different from sensations belonging to ‘other’,
– that this self creates its thoughts, and thus can be an agent which controls its actions.

And if we investigate – even using logic, which easily becomes frustrated in the process – whatever answer we get appears as… a thought. We are looking in the realm of ‘what we know’ – i.e. the realm of thoughts, and so any answer appears within that realm, and is untrustworthy.

We need another way of knowing, one more direct than our thinking. Here is the next switch. It seems that all we know exists in thinking, this is the only way we know anything, and yet we need to turn our backs on this for an answer, and depend upon something else. But what else is there? We have our senses – sight, hearing, body sensations, taste and smell, but without the addition of thought, these seem most unpromising. How could they tell us anything meaningful, let alone be the route to ultimate knowledge and freedom?

Worse still, so little of our attention rests in these spheres that we need to develop some skills before we can even enter this arena. We need meditation. Specifically we need shamata, a peaceful undistracted state of mind which allows focus upon the experience of the senses.

We need a perspective on thinking, one we cannot find from within thinking. We need enough peace from thinking to see what thinking is. (We won’t come up with a conceptual answer to that, of course, but we will “see” it, directly.) This is why we need to meditate, to obtain this peace, and from that peace to gain insight into our experience.