The Art Of Positive Thinking: How To Think (1)

Published: 14.12.2009
Updated: 30.07.2015

Rene Descartes, the famous French philosopher said, "I think, therefore I am. That 'I Think' proves that 'I exist' - I exist because I think."

If I were to put it in dialectical terms, I would say, "I exist, and since I possess a developed brain, therefore I think."

Thinking does not characterise the brain; it is only a function and hence cannot be a characteristic feature. Our existence and consciousness transcend thought. Thinking is merely a spark of light, not the entire flame. Freedom from thought is total illumination.

Through the practice of meditation (dhyana) we attain a higher level of consciousness, which transcends thought and where direct experience begins. In the presence of direct experience, thought loses its raison d'etre and spontaneously comes to an end. Everything then becomes crystal clear because there is direct cognition. We see things as they are. There is no necessity for thought whatsoever. Where there is direct cognition, there is no thinking and where thought intrudes, there can be no perception.

There are three ways of experiencing - to know, to see and to think. Someone asked: "Has your servant performed the task entrusted to him?" The master said, "I don't know. I shall find out and let you know." Thinking is irrelevant when an event concerns another person.

To another query, "Have you got such and such article in your house?“ the master said, "I don't know. I'll see if it is there." Here, too, there is no room for thought. The first question elicited the answer. “I’ll find out”, the second drew forth, “I’ll see.” To know (to find out) and to see require no thinking. The necessity for thinking arises only when ‘knowing’ and ‘seeing’ are not possible. Whatever is hidden, not evident, about which it is not possible to say anything with certainty, necessitates thought.

Thinking is a function of the cerebral consciousness. It is thus a mere ray of light, not total illumination. When, in the clarity of perception, one attains a direct vision, all thought stands transcended.

The objective of dhyana-sadhna (training in meditation) is to help the sadhak (spiritual practitioner) achieve direct experience. When there is direct experience, thinking comes to an end and knowledge in its wholeness is born. However, as long as the individual is bound to his body, as long as he is tied to cerebral consciousness which preoccupies him wholly, and until transcendental consciousness is awakened in him, thought has its utility, and it is not possible to do away with it altogether.

Two kinds of people are free from thinking. One who has attained direct perception, does not resort to thinking; nor does an idiot. The enlightened one does not have to think because he clearly perceives what is. The idiot or the foolish person does not know how to think; he is simply incapable of thought.

The master said to the servant, "Here are two tins of vegetable oil. Hide this oil somewhere in the garden." The servant took away the tins and returned after some time to say, "Master, I have hidden the oil in the garden; now where shall I keep the empty tins?" The master exclaimed, "What are you talking about? How and where did you hide the oil?" "Master!" said the servant, "I dug a pit near a tree and poured the oil into the pit and covered it with the earth. It is perfectly concealed; no stranger would be able to discover it. Now, what am I to do with the tins?"

The man who does not know how to think, one who is totally devoid of the faculty of thought, is a perfect idiot - he can pour the oñ into a pit, but he can never utilize it. He can hide the oil but does not know where to hide the tins.

Thus two kinds of men enjoy freedom from thinking - the enlightened one and the ignoramus. What juxtaposition! And yet such remarkable juxtapositions do occur. Only two kinds of persons remain unmoved by honour or disgrace; the entirely wise (who has freed himself from all passions) and the perfectly foolish. One wonders how the two can have anything in common. In a person freed from all passions, all disparities cease; his whole disposition undergoes a transformation. On the other hand, an idiot has no capacity to discriminate between honour and disgrace; he just cannot distinguish between the two. Therefore he, like the wise one but for a different reason, remains unaffected. What an irony! What a remarkable coincidence!

Thinking is an important factor in life. On the one hand we recognize the importance of thought; on the other we practise meditation for the attainment of a condition, which is free from thought. Are we thus not caught in a paradox, an illogicality? However, we must not lose sight of the fact that though our ultimate objective is to achieve complete freedom from thought, such an achievement is not possible at the moment. It is a great illusion to think that a man can enter the transcendental state beyond thought the moment he starts practising meditation. If anything, during meditation the flow of thoughts becomes all the more powerful. Even thoughts, which ordinarily never enter the mind, surface up during meditation. The moment a person assumes the posture of meditation or that of kayotsarga (relaxation with self-awareness), remote thoughts that never troubled him before flock to the mind. At that time the memory of things long forgotten comes to the fore and the spiritual practitioner finds himself assailed by all kinds of thoughts which bewilder him to such an extent that he even considers abandoning meditation altogether. However, the increased flow of thoughts is inevitable at that time, because the state of meditation furnishes an excellent opportunity for them to arise. When a man is in a state of tension, everyone is loath to approach him, thoughts being no exception. But when a man is in the state of kayotsarg, when he sits relaxed, when all tensions dissolve, thoughts say to themselves, "Now, here is a wonderful opportunity. There is no danger." So they unhesitatingly enter the mind. As long as the state of relaxation continues, they come without fear.

Meditation is a process, which brings about a general loosening up of a person's attachments. There is an equal scope for ingress as well as egress. A spiritual practitioner welcomes all, the comers and the goers. Those not well versed in meditation bind themselves to certain notions, which they never can let go as long as they live. Such attachment results in much pain.

The moment a man starts practising meditation, he finds himself assailed by various thoughts. Let not the spiritual practitioner be disturbed by this thought-flow. Let him instead watch it and know it, i.e., let him observe the incoming thoughts without any interference. As his perception matures, the flow of thoughts would be weakened by itself. Similarly, with the awakening of consciousness, his capacity for direct experience would ripen and the thought-flow would grow more and more feeble. To expect thought to suddenly come to an end, to cease altogether on the very first day, would be unrealistic. It is, therefore, imperative that every spiritual practitioner should learn how to think rightly. He who, adopting the thorny path of spiritual practice, is yet desirous of leading his life without the least friction, without being embroiled with or in anv way bruised by the prickly thorns, must learn how to think properly. He must at all costs master this art.

The vital question is, how does a man think?

Thinking is an art. Rarely does one come across a true thinker. But the man who knows how to think, finds his way greatly smoothened.

A mendicant, in the course of a discussion, said, "I've certainly learnt something from every kind of person." Someone asked, "What have you learnt from the thief?" The fakir said, "Once I sojourned into the house of a thief. At night, the thief would go out for stealing. On his return I would ask, could you get anything? He would say, nothing, I've come back empty-handed. But tomorrow might be fruitful. On the second day, and again on the third, I put the same question and he returned the same answer, 'I could get nothing today, have come back empty-handed, but I hope to get something tomorrow. Thus a whole month passed. For the entire month, the thief could procure nothing. I said to myself, The thief goes out for work every night. He spends 7 to 8 hours on it. He loses his sweet sleep, and yet gets nothing for his pains. For a whole month, he has not been able to procure anything. And yet, he has not lost hope. He always says, 'If not today, I'll get something tomorrow'. I said to myself, the thief has displayed exemplary patience. Even on returning home empty-handed, he never gave way to despair.' So from the thief, I learnt never to despair in the way of devotion. While engaged in a good work, one must never abandon hope."

But how strange and incomprehensible is man's disposition. A person engaged in good work is too soon disappointed, while the evil-doer never abandons hope. The thieves, the plunderers and the dacoits never despair.

This is a fact. After a great deal of thought I have arrived at the conclusion that the evil commands faith much more than the good. To have faith in goodness, one must have greater devotion. It is the absence of faith that spells despair. Faith and evil seem to be so bound together that a man takes to evil and his faith therein is strengthened by itself. Not much effort is required in that direction. But for the strengthening of faith in the path of goodness, a tremendous effort is called for.

What is right thinking and how are we to think rightly? It is essential to know this because a man with a negative approach would reject even the factual truth, while a man endowed with positive thinking accedes to truth and is thereby able to find a solution to his problems.

There are two ways of thinking - negative and positive. Much too often a man indulges in negative thinking; he does not think positively. The negative approach invariably results in despair, loss of enthusiasm, sentimentality, disdain of action, and deviation from duty. In short negative thinking means the beginning of failure in life.

The key to success lies in constructive, positive thinking. And only that man is capable of constructive thinking, who has understood the significance of meditation, who has learnt how to keep his heart pure, whose mind is capable of concentration, and who is free from attachment.

Both constructive and negative thinking have certain criteria by which we know them.

We must first of all determine whether one's vision is partial or whole, whether it is integrated or distorted, because a man endowed with a holistic, comprehensive vision can think constructively, but the thinking of a man afflicted with a partial vision is ever distorted.

In the absence of a total view of any given situation or incident, thinking based upon a partial view remains partial and therefore inadequate. A holistic vision is a must for right and balanced thinking. Confronted with a positive or comprehensive viewpoint, many a conflict is resolved, whereas a perplexed vision gives rise to prejudice and many unnecessary problems come to the fore.

Some travellers halted for rest under the cool shade of a mango tree. They fell to talking. One of them said, "As I came along, I saw a red lizard on a tree." Immediately, another countered, "You seem to be labouring under some illusion, because I too saw the lizard; its colour was green." The first wayfarer said, "You must have seen some other creature on another tree. For I saw it with my own eyes and I can vouch for it that it was a red lizard." The other protested, Tm not telling a lie. It is you who are mistaken. It was a green creature that nestled on the tree." Accusation and counter-accusation went on till, gradually, they worked themselves up to a high pitch of excitement and came to blows. An intelligent companion intervened, "Why are you quarrelling for nothing? I too have followed the same route after you. Both of you are right. That creature on the tree was red as well as green. A total view involves no contradiction. It is only a partial, one-sided, perverted approach that spells mischief. That creature you saw was a chameleon. When the first traveller passed, it had assumed a red hue; when the second passed, it changed into green. You know a chameleon is continually changing its colour. Both of you reported right."

The world we live in is like a chameleon. Everything here changes from moment to moment and man is no exception. How many different faces does a man assume in the course of a single day? It appears that man is sin image of God that manifests himself in a million ways. The person one saw in the morning as a model of tranquillity and dispassion shows himself by midday so excited and agitated, as if he were a ruthless monster. In the course of a day a man assumes a thousand different forms. He presents himself in myriad different shapes. Only once during the day and again once during the night, does the sea display its tides. But the ocean of man's thought displays a thousand tides in the course of a single day. There is a continual rise and fall. No constancy or stability; only fickleness born of perversion. The situation calls for deep research, which means an enquiry into the meaning of the past and that of the present. Unless the two meanings coalesce, it will not be possible to know man fully.

To know and experience reality, it is necessary to investigate the essential significance of the past and the present. This in itself constitutes a holistic approach, a detached point of view in distinction with the perverted point of view based upon the perception of a part alone. There is little room for controversy in the holistic approach, but an impressionistic approach, based upon one-sided view, vitiated by prejudice, inevitably gives rise to contention and conflict.

The healthy approach to thinking is the constructive, positive approach, the holistic point of view.

Emperor Shrenik's queen Chelna was sleeping. It was wintertime, terribly cold. As she lay asleep, the following words escaped her lips, "I wonder what he will be doing now!" The emperor was awake. He heard these words, which inflamed his whole being. He was proud of his queen's character. Now he thought, "The queen whom I put my greatest trust, is muttering in sleep, ‘I wonder what he will be doing now.' Who is she talking about? Has she a secret lover? O God!" His mind was in utter turmoil. He conceived distrust of his own queen and instantly developed an extreme hatred for her.

The morning found the emperor desolate and angry. He called his Prime Minister Abhay Kumar who was also his son and said, "Burn this palace without delay! I'm going out to see Lord Mahavira.”

Abhay Kumar was stunned at the emperor's command, thought, "To burn the palace, to reduce Queen Chelna to ashes without any prior intimation - what sort of command is that!" On the one hand, there was his father's command, on the other, the most heinous crime of burning his own mother alive! He knew very well what consequences his disregard of the kin order would lead to. He found himself in a dilemma.

Emperor Shrenik reached the meeting place of Mahavir, a paid his obeisance. In his discourse, Lord Mahavir discussed the topic of 'chaste and loyal women.' Incidentally Mahavir said, "Queen Chelna is the foremost among chaste and faithful women. She is very pious and dedicated to truth." The emperor could not believe his ears. He said to Mahavir, "Respected Sir, how is that? You say Queen Chelna is the most virtuous lady. But only last night the words escaped her lips in sleep, 'I wonder what he will be doing now!’ Do these words symbolise her virtue or quite the contrary?"

Lord Mahavir said, "You know not the real meaning of the words. Queen Chelna came here yesterday to pay her obeisance. Afterwards on her way to the palace she came across a Jain ascetic who stood meditating under a tree. He was without any clothes. It was terribly cold. The queen did not stop there. Making her bow, she went on her way. While she slept at night, one of her hands lay outside the blanket. Because of extreme cold, her hand was benumbed, got so inert as if there were no life in it. The queen wanted to lift her hand, but could not. Whereupon the queen exclaimed, "O, the hand was exposed to the cold for a little while, and see what has become of it! It has become almost dead, completely paralysed. Homage to the ascetic who meditates in the open without any clothes! I wonder what he will be doing now!"

The Emperor was stupefied to hear it. He immediately took his leave. He thought, "If the palace has been burnt in accordance with my orders, a great injustice has been done." He walked briskly. On the way he met Abhay Kumar and anxiously enquired, "Did you carry out my order?" "Yes, Sir. How could I be negligent about any command of yours?"

The emperor said, "Abhay Kumar, a great injustice has been done."

Abhay Kumar said, "What do you mean?" The Emperor related the whole story.

Abhay Kumar said, "Sir! Don't you kindly worry. I've kindled the fire, as per your command, but it would take a whole day for the fire to reach the palace."

The emperor heaved a sigh of relief.

It would be apparent from this story how, because of perverted thinking, a terrible calamity could occur and how a man could commit a great injustice. God knows how many communal, national, tribal and social conflagrations arise from a perverted point of view. The wife says something. The husband does not pay full attention. And because of misunderstanding, a crisis develops in the family, sometimes leading to dreadful consequences. The husband protests he heard it with his own ears. But his ears are not foolproof. He says he saw it with his own eyes. But his eyes are not the eyes of God. A great many of us have experienced for ourselves how a man is deceived by his eyes and ears. What stupidities does not a man indulge in on the basis of a partial view? Because of impatience and impulsiveness a great many injustices are perpetrated.

For correct and balanced thinking, for a constructive and positive vision, the first requirement is the development of a holistic point of view. No individual should allow himself to be swayed by a perverted vision, and he must never take a decision in any matter without first obtaining full information.

Once in China, compulsory enrolment of recruits was in progress. Someone came to Mao Tse-Tung, and said, "It is good that you have broken your leg. This saves you from conscription." Mao Tse-Tung replied, "You have said it, but I can't say so, because I don't have before me the whole picture without which it is not possible to determine whether it is good or bad."

Only when the whole picture is before one, one may determine whether a particular happening is good or bad. Such a conclusion cannot be reached on the basis of a partial view. When a man takes a decision on the basis of a partial view, half-baked alternatives and immature feelings, it invariably gives rise to conflict and war. A man must therefore develop a holistic point of view.

The positive and constructive point of view needs to be expounded at length. Its first principle, however, is the development of a holistic approach. When this principle gets activated in life, the constructive point of view starts maturing itself.

Title: The Art Of Positive Thinking
B. Jain Publishers (P) Ltd.
Reprint Edition:
R.K. Seth

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Body
  2. Brain
  3. Concentration
  4. Consciousness
  5. Descartes
  6. Dhyana
  7. Fear
  8. Kayotsarg
  9. Kayotsarga
  10. Mahavir
  11. Mahavira
  12. Meditation
  13. Sadhak
  14. Shrenik
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