We begin meditating because we feel some pull which Buddhism and meditation seems to accord with, or have the potential to answer. Taking that as our intention we do some meditation, following the instructions, motivated by our wish to have a more peaceful mind. For some time it seems that we do this meditation practice, we sit and we do whatever the instructions say.
If some peaceful times come, perhaps we prompt ourselves with questions about our experience, as suggested for vipashyana (insight) meditation. Maybe our view of how we are changes as a result of this. Now we seem to be able to do what brings shamatha (calm focus), and sometimes we do vipashyana.
One of the views we may become curious about is how much this process and its result depends upon our doing. After all, we cannot do insight, in fact even with shamatha we may feel we are only creating the right conditions. We may entertain the idea that it is simply happening under these circumstances – in fact we may find it hard to tell if we are doing something or if the whole thing is doing itself.
We notice that we cannot predict what thoughts will come next – if we could, that itself would be a thought. Our view of thoughts as being the voice-of-me starts to crack. What’s more, when we look for what it is that is knowing, or hearing, these un-sourceable thoughts, we find nothing, just the thought itself. We may say it is mind but we cannot experience a thing which answers to that name, a subject to which thoughts are the object.
Our relationship to thoughts – if we can even put it that way – has changed. Our way of thinking about thoughts has been undermined, yet not replaced with another explanation or thought-model. Now the “doing”, which we previously took as our responsibility, our action in meditating, this doing has lost its validity. We have no confidence in our model of a doer, an action, something done, and yet meditation continues.
Shamatha happens more readily, there was some complication we were having to overcome, a hurdle of our own making, which is no longer there. We may find a new problem though, that we now do not know what to “do”, we cannot help still trying sometimes! Nevertheless the idea that vipashyana is the teachings doing themselves becomes just as good a way of thinking as our previous self-based view. Just as possible, though more practical as a counter to the ingrained habits of thinking we started with.
If we should wonder about the notion of Guru Principle*, we may find it appropriate to see the whole journey of our meditation as the Guru, with an “internal” aspect we took as me, and an “external” one of the Dharma, the teachings, the Lineage, communicating through adhisthana*. Or maybe internal and external become more a question than an answer.
* see The Guru Principle by Lama Shenpen Hookham, Shambhala 2021
* adhisthana: the power of connection with the Mandala of Awakening