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Noble Eightfold Path - Questions and Answers with Study Leaders 1985

by Sangharakshita

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... or reflection that can lead to the development of Insight
without very much experience, say, of the dhyanas, almost as an independent practice, almost
as a practice in its own right. But it this way: the more usual procedure is that you, say, go
through the dhyanas, or at least you have some experience of the dhyanas. That brings your
whole being, all your energies, very much together; so any thinking process that starts up after
you have had some dhyana experience will be very unified, very integrated, concentrated. So
you will be in a better position to develop Insight. But there are some people whose interest
in, as it were, intellectual matters, intellectual problems, is so intense that it is as though the
thinking process carries concentration along with it, rather than concentration providing a
base for the thinking process. Do you see what I am getting at? Some people have a very
intense interest in intellectual problems, let us say, whereas others find it very difficult to
work up much enthusiasm for them, or to think about them very intensely or very deeply.
They need the support of concentration, i.e. the dhyanas, first. But, as I said, other people are
not like that; they are so interested in intellectual problems that they become concentrated
quite easily and naturally, and don't, perhaps, need to have a prior experience of the dhyanas
to the same extent or possibly, on certain occasions or in certain cases, not at all.
Kulamitra: If we are talking about thinking which brings one to Insight, is it that, at the point
of Insight, that goes beyond what we usually consider the thinking process? I am thinking of,
say, in the Zen tradition you would have a koan, and that would bring you to a sort of crisis
mentally; is it that, by pursuing an issue in sufficient depth and intensity, you sort of come to
a crisis of your own limitation and then go beyond that?
S: That is certainly one way in which it can happen; but, on the other hand, you can also have
an intellectual process, a thinking process, which is going deeper and deeper and becoming
more and more refined. A koan is a special kind of intellectual problem, one may say. You
can pursue a train of thought and arrive at a conclusion which you find deeply satisfying. On
the other hand, you can pursue a train of thought to such an extent, especially in connection
with a koan, that the thinking process is completely transcended in the end.
Kulamitra: I suppose what I am thinking is that it is usually said that the direct experience of
Reality cannot be adequately translated into speech or concepts. So if that is the case, how
could your thinking, as thinking, be an Insight? I don't quite understand.
S: Well, of course, that raises the question: what is Insight? You distinguish Insight, say, from
meditative experience, so in what way can you distinguish it from meditative experience
except by ascribing a thought content to it? It is as though the subtle and directed thought
process becomes a basis for the development of Insight. One cannot say that Insight is exactly
non conceptual, because when it comes to expressing it you have to express it in conceptual
terms. If you say that it is completely non conceptual, what difference is there then between
samatha and vipassana? On the other hand, it certainly isn't thinking in the ordinary sense. It
is a vipassana, a clear vision. Perhaps it is best to think of it in terms of thinking, but a
thinking greatly subtlized, and a thinking which it is quite difficult to reduce to words.
Kulamitra: I know sometimes, just in the course of ordinary thought, what Ratnaprabha called
sub vocalization provides a structure whereby you can keep a grasp of something. You may
suddenly see something, but unless you can form it into some structure you lose it very
quickly. Is it that kind of process?
S: It is not that you capture it, but there is a basis for it. In a sense you capture it, but you don't
sort of pin it down. Maybe it is best to speak in terms of it providing you a basis. But it does
seem as though the Insight doesn't manifest, or isn't experienced, apart from that basis in
sustained and concentrated thinking.
Kulamitra: So if you are this type of person anyway, thought for you is a door through to the
S: Yes, though again that is only a figure of speech. It is not that one, in a sense, leaves
behind the thinking in the way that you pass through the door.
Kuladeva: Going back to visualization practices, is that sub vocalization, as he called it, a
desirable thing in the context of visualization practice?
S: Ah, well, if you are trying to do the visualization simply as a, say, samatha practice, then it
is not; it is to be eliminated. But if you are using the visualization as a basis for the
development of Insight, then of course it needs to be cultivated. So I think one might say,
broadly speaking, that initially you need to be able to visualize without any sub vocalization,
or with as little sub vocalization as you can possibly manage, because that will ensure that the
concentration is intense and that the visualized image is seen very clearly; but a further stage
would be reflecting on the, so to speak, deeper significance of that visualized image.
Kuladeva: So it is on the deeper significance rather than thinking, 'I am actually visualizing,
say, the blue sky or the lotus,' and thinking that
S: Yes, thinking: 'Oh, I am visualizing the blue sky, and now this is the lotus ' That is the sort
of involuntary almost sub vocalization that you need to eliminate as much as possible.
Kuladeva: So that sort of sub vocalization [should] be eliminated, and thinking of the
significance of the visualization is eventually to be cultivated? Is that right?
S: Yes, in the sense that you reflect, for instance, that that visualized form has been conjured
up, therefore it depends upon certain causes and conditions. Therefore, essentially, it is void.
Those sort of reflections would correspond to Insight, but are to be developed only on the
basis of a quite firm and clear visualization of that particular form, not prematurely.
Ratnaprabha: So the other pole, the samatha pole, of experience when one has got beyond the
first dhyana, does this mean that the complete absence of any kind of discursive thought
means that if you have, for example, an as it were visual experience during meditation, there
will be no labelling at all going on? You won't, at the time you have the experience, be aware
of it as, say, a flower or the colour blue or anything like that? You will simply be purely
aware of it, and only later, on reflection, will you call it blue or a flower?
S: You can perceive blue (as) blue and not red without sub-vocalizing the word 'blue'. So it is
not that you will not know that it is blue; you will know that it is blue, but not know it in the
sense of forming a thought which is associated with a particular word, but by having a direct
experience of blue.
Ratnaprabha: So what exactly is it that you know?
S: In the sense that I have defined it, 'knowing' is inappropriate here. If by 'knowing' you
mean perception, yes, you perceive, you know in that sense; but you do not know in the sense
of forming concepts which are associated with words.
Ratnaprabha: But in that kind of state, it would not be possible to gain Insight is it correct to
say that? for the very reason that there are no concepts associated with it?
S: Yes; in order to develop Insight, you would have to associate concepts with your
experience, whatever it was, and develop sustained and directed thinking, using those
concepts in a concentrated way; which you would be more easily able to do by virtue of the
previous experience.
Tejananda: The third question is from Dhammaloka, on intellectual intuition and thinking
one's way to Reality.
Dhammaloka: It is very much a continuation of Kulamitra's well, not really a continuation;
partly it is the same question and maybe other aspects too. In the lecture you mention the
possibility of Perfect Vision arising as a result of deep, prolonged and logical thought, and
you refer to some people as actually 'thinking their way through to Reality'. From one of the
seminar extracts, I understand that on both the mundane and the Transcendental levels of the
Noble Eightfold Path an element of intuition, directness and immediateness is implied equally
in 'Right View' to which you there refer as 'intellectual intuition' (with small initial letters)
and in 'Perfect Vision', to which you refer as 'Intuitive Insight' (capital letters). Does this
suggest that there is a sort of hiatus a gap, perhaps a break in the thinking process leaving
room, so to speak, for intuition to come in? If so, is it to be compared with the way in which
some scientific discoveries have been reported to come about (that is, after thinking, suddenly
a solution appeared)? In what sense do the terms 'Vision' and 'seeing Reality' really apply to
this way of 'thinking through to Reality'?
S: In some ways, one can regard the expression 'seeing' as metaphor, but on the other hand
one does, at least sometimes, have that sort of experience, and one does actually see and that
is the only way in which one can put it; even though one doesn't see any sight, in the ordinary
sense, one doesn't perceive any form, none the less 'seeing' is appropriate. For instance, you
explain something to someone and he says: 'Oh, yes, I ...

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