The difference between consciousness and the thinking mind is that in consciousness there is no resistance to ‘what is’, whilst the thinking mind is nothing but resistance.
It’s worth pointing out this difference because no one ever does. There is a world of difference between consciousness and the thinking mind and yet most of us would probably say that they’re close enough, perhaps even ‘two ways of talking about the same thing’. The chances are that we haven’t looked into it too much, but nevertheless we would probably be happy enough to conflate the two.
The difference we talking about here isn’t academic, it’s profoundly significant (in the most practical way possible) – it is practically significant because there are two roads that we can go down in life – one is where we identify with the thinking mind and assume that ‘this is who we are’, whilst the other is where we very slowly and painfully become aware of our essential independence from thought, and realise that it and its activities have nothing whatsoever to do with who we really are!
The first road we could call ‘the path of becoming completely deluded’, whilst the second road – we might say – is ‘the journey of discovering our true nature’. One road is a dead end, the other isn’t! The first process that we have mentioned, the process of identifying with thought, is the ‘default’ for way for things to go – if we just go along with all our psychological biases, and fit in unquestioningly with everyone else around us (who are also going along with their biases and fitting in with society unquestioningly,) then we will end up with no way of knowing, or even suspecting, that our true nature is not what thought tells it us it is.
If on the other hand we do question the way things are, the way our biases operate and the way society works, then inevitably a type of dissonance will arise. Something about the set up will fail to ring true. The external appearance of things begins to look deceptive, the official narrative no longer convinces; there is in other words conflict between ‘the way things are said to be’ and ‘the way we ourselves perceive them to be’. We have learned that the appearance of things, which is what the thinking mind provides us with, actually conceals the true nature of things. A highly complex and subtle view of the world arises, in place of the simplistic black-and-white picture that thought paints for us.
Thought shows us the definite picture of things, it provides us with ‘the definitive story’ – the story we can’t look beyond. Thought provides us with the ‘final word’ on the matter. In some ways this can be a good thing – there are times when we want to know what the black-and-white conclusive answer. Should I run or not run? Was the snake that bit me poisonous or not? Are the traffic lights red or green? It is the nature of the world that we live in that definite answers are sometimes needed, and the proper role of the thinking mind is to help us out in these cases. Where things go wrong is when everything has to have a black-and-white answer, a definitive unquestionable resolution one way or another.
For thought to work as a tool which has a specific applicability in certain situations is one thing, for it to have the job of ‘resolving reality itself’, or ‘putting a final judgement on what reality is’ (or on ‘who we are’) is another thing altogether. When thought acts as a tool this is useful; when it tells us, in its literal fashion, what reality is and what life is all about then this is the very opposite of useful! When the thinking mind tells us what reality is, or who we are, then it is doing something way beyond the limits of what it is capable of doing. It’s actually not telling us anything in this case; it’s preventing us from knowing about something – it’s preventing us from knowing what’s really true. When thought goes beyond its proper role as a tool it inevitably ends up deceiving us, in other words.
Thought isn’t a philosophical kind of a thing – it can’t relate us to the bigger picture. It’s a ‘blunt instrument’. Only consciousness can relate us to the bigger picture; consciousness can do this because it doesn’t resist anything, because it doesn’t impose its ideas or assumptions on anything. Thought, on the other hand, can’t do anything other than ‘project’ – it projects its assumptions, it projects its assumed framework out onto the world and then it relates everything it encounters to this assumed context, producing in this way a ‘digital universe’ made up of definite yes and no facts.
What we ‘see’ when we see the world through the thinking mind is nothing more than our own assumptions reflected back at us therefore. We don’t recognise this world is being made up of our assumptions however – we believe ourselves to be relating to something that’s really there, something that exists independently in out there in reality. We hold up a measuring stick and wave it at the world and we end up with the world that is made up of nothing more than our own measurements, our own concepts; we end up with a world that is nothing more than a reflection of our own instrument, our own ‘device.’ This ‘reflection of the thinking mind’ is the world of facts and figures. The instrument of thought remakes the world in its own image because that’s all it knows how to do. What else could it do? Thought remakes us in its own image – it tells us who we are, just as the group-mind known as society (which as David Bohm says is simply the externalization of thought) tells us who we are.
This is a curious thing because we don’t know what ‘our basic assumptions’ are in the first place in producing this ‘so-called reality’ – we don’t know what our assumptions are and we also don’t know that we have even made any. We are completely naïve’ in this regard. Living in a pseudo-reality that is a reflection of our own unconscious assumptions is a very frightening thing to consider – it’s actually a totally terrifying thing! Do we have the wit to be afraid of it however? One has to be wise to fear Samsara, as the great Tibetan Sage Milarepa says, but wisdom never came out of the thinking mind. Only dry measurements, only ‘facts and figures’ ever came out of the thinking mind.
So here we have the difference between the thinking mind and consciousness in a nutshell. The thinking mind – as we started out by saying – operates on the basis of resistance. ‘Resistance’ means that it imposes its own special form of order upon the world. It imposes its own ‘patented form of order’ on the world without ever acknowledging that this is what it is doing! Basically, thought puts everything into boxes – boxes that don’t actually exist but which we assume to. This is how thought works and this is how thought is supposed to work; as we keep saying, there’s no other way in which it could work! Consciousness, on the other hand, – resists nothing. It has no agenda, in other words – it has no theory that it wishes to project out onto the world. It has no axe to grind. It comes with no game-plan. It has no expectations, no biases. It wouldn’t rather see one thing as ‘being true’ than another. Whatever is there, it will see it. In this consciousness is like water – as Bruce Lee says,
If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.
Water doesn’t decide what reality should be, it just honestly and faithfully accommodates whatever is there, with no distortion. It doesn’t make things be what it thinks they should be! Just as water (or consciousness) is formless in its nature, so too is the essence of reality itself, according to Laotse:
There is something blurred and indistinct
Antedating Heaven and Earth.
How Indistinct! How Blurred!
Yet within it are forms.
How dim! How confused!
Quiet, though ever functioning.
It does nothing, yet through it all things are done.
To its accomplishment it lays no credit.
It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.
I do not know its name,
I call it the Tao.
From our rationale/Western POV being able to ‘say what things are’, in a definitive way, sounds splendid. It sounds like a great achievement to be able to do this; it actually sounds like the ultimate achievement. That’s just the thinking mind imposing its own brand of order on the world however – it is aggression pure and simple! It’s only ‘control’, which is not a very subtle or interesting type of thing. Consciousness, on the other hand, doesn’t mind what is said to be or what is said not to be – it’s equally clear equally at home both ways, just as it is equally at home with nothing at all being said on the matter! As Richard Bach says, ‘reality is divinely indifferent’; reality is divinely indifferent to our games and we can say the same thing about consciousness – consciousness is divinely indifferent to our assertions. It’s unbiased, it’s not invested in the game.
We assume that reality has to be something positive – which is to say, something stated, something defined. This is utterly ridiculous though – it’s like saying that space has to be something defined, or that the ocean is something that has a specific shape. The whole point about space is that it isn’t defined. If water had a specific shape then it couldn’t be water. The ocean can facilitate any type of wave going, but that doesn’t mean that it is a wave! Reality isn’t a positive kind of the thing, but rather it is negative – it can facilitate any form, any shape, but it isn’t a form, it isn’t a shape. It has no features, no characteristics, as it can give rise to all features, all characteristics. It comes with no beliefs, but it gives rise to all beliefs.
We can see therefore that whilst the thinking mind is – or can be – a very useful tool, it has no parity with consciousness, no equivalence with consciousness. When it is granted the position of ‘supreme arbiter of what is real and not real’ then thought ceases to be a useful tool and becomes instead a cruel, heartless tyrant. It becomes a disaster, it becomes a catastrophe. It becomes a calamity beyond compare. This is an old, old idea and there are many variations on it. We might for example think of the motif of the ‘false steward’ – who is supposed to rule justly on behalf of the true King, when the true King is for whatever reason unavailable to rule. Greedy for power and a glory that does not belong to him, the false steward abuses his role, and perverts its function. We can think of the sheriff of Nottingham, and his brutal, tyrannical behaviour whilst Richard the Lionheart, the true King, is away fighting on the Crusades. The sheriff of Nottingham claims to be working as a humble steward, on behalf of a Greater Power, but really – as we all know – he’s working for himself.
The overvalued rational mind is the sheriff of Nottingham! Instead of being impartial, free of all bias, he is bias personified! The thinking mind pays lip-service to the truth but cares nothing for it – it is only interested in its own ways of organizing or classifying reality. Another example of the principle of ‘the powerful servant who turns against us’ is the type of story where a Demon or Jinn is summoned by the inexperienced apprentice and cannot be banished again once. The Master Sorcerer can send the Jinn back in a trice, but the poor apprentice cannot, and all hell breaks loose. The overvalued rational mind is that Jinn, is that Demon, whilst the Master Sorcerer himself is nowhere to be found. We are all ‘the poor apprentices’!
As a result of our foolishness in releasing the powerful Genie out of his bottle pestilence and war have broken out throughout the land and we are powerless to do anything about it. We so intoxicated by the power of thinking that we cannot even see what the problem is! A calamity has descended upon the world and we haven’t the faintest idea what to do. And the root cause of all this trouble – we might say – is simply that we don’t understand the difference between consciousness and the thinking mind.