THOUGHT FORMS IN SPACE
Space and the freedom it offers are available at the center of present experience, just as it is. If we do not discover space in our experience, it is because this space availability has been covered over. To recover space 'presence', we must clarify the operation of the thinking mind, whose active naming and identifying structure a world in which space has disappeared.
Although thoughts often come and go as a kind of reflex, passing so quickly that they go unnoticed, if we take the time to focus on the stream of mental events, we soon observe that we are almost always thinking. We might well wonder why this should be so. After all, in terms of their content thoughts tend to be trivial and repetitive. They recycle the same themes and images, call up the same memories, dwell on the same concerns. They react to whatever stimuli present themselves, leading nowhere in particular. As we go about our day, thoughts cycle through our minds like the background hum of a household appliance or a nervous gesture that we repeat almost unconsciously.
The purpose of all this activity seems linked to the role of thoughts as the 'carriers' or 'vehicles' for the interpretive structures that give experience continuity. In thinking, we affirm certain connections and identities that allow us to make sense of what is happening. Apart from its specific content, a thought considered as an action aims to conserve and pass on the order given by the interacting presentations of the field communique. Just as breath sustains the body, so thinking sustains the world that we inhabit.
Before thoughts can carry and deliver experience, they must 'box' and 'label' it. To do this, they make use of the materials at hand - the customary and accepted, the world as it has been known in advance. As each thought arises, its content is located or assigned in terms of past experience and future concerns. Grounded in a well-known history and heading toward a presupposed future, emerging properties are immediately referred to the certainties of identity, disclosing features similar to what has gone before.
In this world of substance and identity, there is no possibility of gaps. Each known thing has its appropriate place, and each new experience arrives ready to be situated within this presupposed order. Even when our mind wanders idly, even when we resist or rebel against our circumstances, the thoughts that guide us confirm the situation in which we find ourselves. Though new patterns emerge and there may even be breakthroughs of various kinds, in each successive moment the 'outcome is the same: Everything once again 'falls into place'. If a gap does arise, it is like a tear in the fabric of reality. We speak of such events in terms of madness or nervous breakdowns, of identity crises or - perhaps - of genius.
Thoughts structure experience by 'building up' reality. Together with their content, they communicate the substantiality of that content - a sense of persistent qualities and independent 'presence': a special kind of 'mass' that exerts its own gravitational pull. This gravitational force in turn shapes what appears 'to' and 'through' the mind in ways that structure the whole, conforming to the established order.
For thoughts to confer substance, must they possess substance? If substance arises only with the act of identification, this seems impossible, for there could never be an ultimate substantializing thought: Each thought in turn would have to be given substance by another thought. Experience confirms the insubstantiality of thoughts, which most often seem to flash into the mind from nowhere at all. Even when the content of one thought traces to the immediately preceding thought, there seems to be no clearly defined mechanism through which the first thought gives rise to the second: no way in which substance can be transmitted.
Yet the power of thoughts to establish substance and the unfounded nature of what is thought about apart from the act of thinking - is accepted unthinkingly. We can trace this 'unthinking' acceptance to our previous commitment to the communique. Thoughts may arise like bubbles in a stream of water, but we are intent on
entering the thought's 'bubble world'. From within that world we can no longer ask where the bubble comes from or goes to, nor can we challenge the substantiality of what appears within the bubble. The pronounced content of the thought refers to and affirms other related content understood as being situated 'elsewhere': the content of the previous thought, the existents present in the preceding moment, the preceding moment itself; in fact, the whole lineage of the present arising. Patterns of
engaged images yield familiar projections, which are pronounced into daily life.
This projected and measurable familiarity confirms as known what is not known at all. What has been pronounced as real has its source in an arising that remains mysterious. We encounter this mystery in the wide range of questions we seem incapable of answering: "How does appearance originate?" "Why was I born in these circumstances?" "How does time move from one moment to the next?"
Ordinarily, we have no way of inquiring into these mysteries. Bound to the communique that thoughts communicate forward and the specific order they project, we live in a world of fixed boundaries. It would be different if we could question thought itself, but this does not seem possible. In presenting their content, thoughts refer their own identity to this content. In the act of establishing, they withdraw.
Like the space that allows for physical objects, thought apart from its content presents itself as wholly lacking in substance - a blank availability. But just as
with physical space, this 'no thing' is in fact the opposite pole of 'something': the indispensable prerequisite for substance to arise. Starting from the 'zero point' of thought, points take form as solid, and zeroless space disappears into the dichotomy of substance/nothingness. Gravity is activated and order imposed; substance proliferates, and the transitional constructions of multidimensional appearance give way to a reality that has already been established.
It might seem that we could cut through these complications by going\ to direct experience, prior to all thoughts. But is this alternative really available? We do seem to experience and act non-conceptually; for example, when we perform a habitual action such as walking without having to think about each step along the way. Yet even if such everyday 'no-thought experiences' are in one sense undeniable, they are also inaccessible. As soon as we focus on such an experience, we make it an object of thought and thus lose the experience itself. If we claim we can rely on the experience without describing it, this claim is again the product of thought.
We are caught in a dilemma: If affirmation of the 'no-thought' realm comes through the medium of thinking, the 'translation' from one realm to another risks losing or corrupting the original experience in ways that are undetectable. Though there may be awareness without thoughts, it is not clear how this awareness can be transmitted forward into the next moment in order to be known without thereby making it the object of the thinking mind.
There is another difficulty. To rely on the immediacy of 'no thoughts' separates experience as it is thought from the 'no-thought experience'. Making this distinction actually hardens the substantiality that thought has set in place. Moreover, as a marked-out realm distinct from thought constructs, the 'no-thought' realm has again been identified and designated. Seen as a goal to arrive at, the realm of no thoughts is itself a thought.
Freedom Without Foundation
Whether we choose to affirm what thoughts pronounce or attempt to bypass thought entirely, we seem to arrive at impenetrable barriers. Suppose instead that we simply paused to notice thoughts as thoughts - the simple phenomenon of thinking. One moment we are watching a bird fly by or enjoying a cup of tea, and the next there is a thought. How does this happen? At one level there may be explanations; at another, it is just so. Thoughts simply 'pop up': sheer appearance, sourceless.
In its initial arising, its popping up, thought appears to be dimensionless. Even if a transition to dimensionality follows at once, there must still be an instant when the arising thought is not yet committed to its content; when it remains free to take virtually any form at all.
We have grown accustomed to thoughts that establish a world and are themselves established, defined exclusively in terms of their content. But in this initial moment, the thought is unestablished, and the world is unestablished with it. Could we stay with the freedom of this being unestablished, savoring its flavor? Without
rejecting the content that appears 'through' thought, could we simply leave it as unestablished? Could we unknow the knowing of the known to know anew?
We saw before that when thoughts affirm their content, they affirm themselves as the absence of content: as zero. But this is a false affirmation, for zero in its nature cannot be affirmed. When zero appears (for example, when we draw its outline on paper), it does so only symbolically. Although we point, there is no place and no property to point to. The 'zero point' is pointless, and zero itself is 'zeroless'.
For thoughts, this 'pointlessness' of zero is just the point. Thought presents its content without establishing what is presented. Nothing arises, yet this non-arising appears. There is no need for this to be so, but this is how it is. And since it is so, it is vitally important to 'point out' that it is not so at all.
This way of talking is not a trick meant to establish a particular point or point of view. There is nothing to
be established, for to establish we would have to proceed point by point, and then we would miss the point. Previously a claim to have established was pronounced; now it calls forth a response. We could say it is pointless to continue making pronouncements, but making this claim means we have already continued. In fact, we cannot help but continue.
Then how can we respond more appropriately? By activating appearance as symbolic: appearance as zero and zero as zeroless. In this modality, thoughts become the symbols of their own arising.
Freed from the responsibility for constructing a seamless whole, thoughts can become the agents of zeroless space. The dimensionalized structure they proclaim is flattened in a quite specific sense: What appears and the operations to which we attribute its appearance arise side by side, together with the dynamics of their interaction. We see that established dimensionality simply 'pops up' together with each arising thought. In such a flattened realm, where each point is 'pointless', thoughts no longer exert a gravitational pull capable of shaping appearance into substance.
When we abide in unestablished thought, we enter a space from which knowledge has not been foreclosed. No longer inhabiting conventional space, we have nowhere to go and no path to follow. Without departing from the known, we are free to be any way at all. We discover an inner ease that nourishes us and awakens unexpected capacities. Relaxing into a reality available on its own terms, we can recover a knowledgeability that has been foreclosed since before the beginning of time.
Zeroless thinking offers the prospect of freedom and beauty. Instead of thrusting toward the substantial, thoughts could reveal a zeroless world: appearance without substance and presence without source. Naturally joined to awareness and insight, they could evoke the remarkable power of appearance to assume virtually any form. Emerging out of the zeroless truth of their own non-arising, they could become the agents of a boundless space creativity.
Dynamics of Time and Space