December 21, 2006

I recently heard Wes Nisker, vipassana meditation teacher and coeditor of Inquiring Mind, describe how certain ancient cultures interpreted the voices in their heads that we call “thoughts” as the voices of the gods—something we would identify as a symptom of psychosis. But is it any less crazy to call these voices “ours”? In the view put forth by the Buddha, there are six senses that comprise human perception: The traditional five plus a sixth—thought. From this perspective, the way that the mind perceives thought is no different from the way it perceives the information coming through the other senses. Thoughts simply arise in our awareness, as though of their own accord, out of the empty space of the mind, and the perceptions that arise in our “inside” world are no more “ours” than those of the “outside” world are. This apparent self that floats like a membrane between the worlds of inner and outer is like a partition in a single room. Our thoughts belong to us no more-nor less—than the sounds of a songbird.

– Sean Murphy

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