Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thought Cubed Equals Awareness


Where T=thought, p=to the power of, Tp3=thought cubed, and A=awareness.

I wanted to add a small footnote regarding the equations given so far. The next one I wish to propose is that "thought cubed equals awareness". When I have shared about meditation, I found that the key shift is from "thinking about awareness" to "being aware of thought". These two states are very different from each other. But the equation above shows how to shift from one to the other and explains in a simple manner some of the more complex and paradoxical sayings of many meditation teachers.

Ordinary thought is conditioning and reaction. Ta>Tb>Tc means that thought-a causes thought-b causes thought-c. This is also called associative thinking. This is where we think about something just because that something was near something else and therefore associated with it. Many politicians will associate themselves with some ideal merely by repeating the ideal over and over again in their speeches, even though the intellectual content may not really align with the ideal or their behaviors may not really align with the ideal. An argument between two people is really a mechanical or conditioned event where something someone says triggers a reaction in another person who then says something which triggers a reaction in another person. It becomes like nuclear fission, a chain reaction happens, critical mass is reached, and a karmaic explosion happens.

Philosophers contemplate thought with thought. This is thought squared. There is a small amount of awareness that is already arising here. This is because you have to be aware of what another person is saying, notice what words they are using, to contemplate their thoughts. One still is reacting to the thoughts with thoughts, but there is already some self reflection happening. It is not merely the addition of thoughts or thoughts stimulating thoughts as in conditioning and conditioned reactions. Thought by itself is associative and cumulative. It is based on memory and recall through associative triggers.

When thought gets cubed, then thought intention brings in changes in the present moment. You reflect on thought (thought squared) and change in real time from what you feel and are sensitive to. This is the fifth precept of the Buddha, which is gentle correction, where you constantly notice when your thoughts and deeds are not aligned with the dharma and gently shift them into alignment. If you find an angry thought, you notice it, and let it go. You label it "this is an angry thought" (thought reflecting on thought) and then let it go (thought intention, the third element of thought cubed).

You can also get the feeling from this. Thought is conditioned and does not really know. It can comprehend literal meanings of the words and use them properly and grammatically, but this is internal to the system of associations, and may not even refer to anything real in the outside world. Thought squared, thought contemplating thought, can understand this, and thought cubed can intend to see the outside world and be aware of it. By thought contemplating thought, I can come to "the concept of a tree is not a tree" and by intending to see, I can direct my attention to a real tree and look at it. This "looking at the tree" is not the thought of the tree and it is not merely understanding that the thought of the tree is not the tree, but it is actually looking at the tree. This is thought cubed and it is awareness.

Tp1=thought conditioning
Tp2=thought contemplating thought
Tp3=thought intention
(p=to the power of, Tp2=thought squared, Tp3=thought cubed, and Tp1=just thought)

When Krishnamurti gave his lectures, he would do a lot of Tp2. He would talk about how thought is conditioned, how it is based on fear, desire, and memory, how it is attached to outside authority, and how it is always trying to change itself by talking in shoulds. This is thought contemplating thought. Then he introduced Tp3 when he asked, "Can all this come to an end?" This question is the intention and interacts with thought contemplating thought, and does bring it to an end, right here, right now. This shift is like thinking about looking at a tree to actually looking at a tree. One can think about a tree for a long time, wonder about looking at a tree, plan to look at a tree, take workshops in the art of tree looking, read about trees, and still not shift to actually looking at a tree. Tp3 completes and ends the contemplation about looking at a tree by actually looking at the tree. Another time Krishnamurti talked about how, if people really listen, they could leave the lecture hall completely enlightened. Tp3 would be the intention and actuality of listening. This would be different than having words react to words inside us. Words reacting to words is conditioning (Tp1). Noticing how thoughts react to thoughts is Tp2. Ending the reaction is Tp3.

There is a small amount of awareness already appearing when thought contemplates thought (Tp2). If we are actually noticing the patterns of thought with thought, then some awareness of thought is present. It is a kind of half awareness or passive awareness. It is not yet crisp, vital, and alive. When it is intentional, then it has this energy. At Tp2, it is not always there, too, sometimes there is a noticing of what thought is doing and some times there is deduction about what is going on from a belief. We assume reality works a certain way, because of how we conceptualize reality. The assumptions sometimes replace actual looking in the moment. We then really interact one step removed from a direct experience of the world, we interact through a field of interpretative thoughts that have labelled everything. If something is not yet labelled, we find it hard to experience it or even notice it. For instance, racial prejudice can color how we see a person. We can even imagine that the person is many things that they are not, because we have already assumed that they fit our label and that therefore they are a certain way because of this label. We will filter out things that teach us otherwise. Sometimes those labels get contradicted enough so that we eventually revise them. Racial prejudice, or any system of thought, is Tp1. When it becomes Tp2, then data can sometimes shift things. And in Tp3, we can put aside the label and look without it.

The equation we started with forms a learning bridge from thought to awareness. It simplifies some of the more complex teachings about the subject. For instance, teachers will say that thought is not awareness. It is true that Tp1 does not equal A. But Tp3 does equal A. Krishnamurti talked about when thought is useful and when thought limits. Teachers talk about ending thought yet that we still need it. Distinguishing between Tp1, Tp2, and Tp3 can help to clarify what the issues are. It creates a more precise language to discuss these things.

In this small writing, I can only lightly touch upon this equation, its implied alchemy, and the distinctions it makes. It may be immediately usable as a kind of lens to process what many meditation teachers have said and to use it to notice when one is "running pattern" (Tp1), contemplating the pattern (Tp2), and ending the pattern (Tp3). From Tp3, since it is awareness, if you notice it is awareness, this awareness noticing awareness is the beginnings of rigpa, calm abiding in the primordial state.


  1. Thanks a lot Will for the extraordinary post ,i absolutely enjoyed it.

    Yesterday i was reading the Gurdjieff's book 'Meeting with a remarkable man' and while reading it i saw the pattern of my thought when the words hit me. It was nice to do that ... watching the behavior of thought and how they shift / move depending upon the past memory and the labels we have for them. But i was amazed the way you have put this thing into the mathematical equation and have explained it. I could related it to my experiment/experience.

    Very nice !! :-)

  2. Dear Attila, I felt the equation was very relevant. It simplified something for me and has allowed a tighter focus when I am doing healing work or process oriented hypnosis with people I work with. Glad you enjoyed the discovery also. Blessings, Will