Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rami's Reply to Mike's May 31 Post

So much to talk about!

I am intrigued by your suggestion that the Ten Commandments is a spiritual discipline leading to the most difficult command of all: You shall not covet. As I think I mentioned months ago, I am taken with Jeam–Yves LeLoup’s reading of the commandments as “you can” rather than “you shall.” Torah may be saying, “You can, with the proper discipline, live without coveting.” But can we?

I agree with you, Mike, that there is no real need to distinguish between thoughts and feelings. Both are activities of the mind largely beyond our control. While I can choose to think about something in particular for a while, most of the time I just notice what my mind is already thinking about. As elusive as thoughts are, feelings are even more so.

Yet when it comes to coveting, however, there may be some nuanced difference between thoughts and feelings that does matters. Coveting begins as a feeling, a desire: “I want.” But it only becomes true coveting when that feeling shifts into a thought: “And this is how I am going to get it.” The feeling I suspect is primary. Without the desire, thoughts on how to achieve that desire would fade away.

Can I discipline my mind to put an end to coveting? I doubt I can stop the feeling from arising, since that seems to happen just below my consciousness. I only know I am desirous of something after the feeling is full blown. But I can, once thoughts begin to coalesce around the feeling, shut them down. Or at least shift my thinking to something else. But even this might still be a subtle way of feeding desire.

What if, rather than discipline the mind and its endless effervescence of thoughts and feelings, we simply observed the process itself? This is what the Buddhists call mindfulness, and we Jews call hitbonenut, contemplation or, more literally, self–observation. It is possible to watch the madness of desire without being moved to act against it at all. By simply noting the activity of the mind you can allow the feelings to arise of their own accord and without moral import. By not judging or reacting to them in any way, they lack the necessary mental energy to become complex thoughts of coveting; indeed without added energy they just dissipate.

The Tibetan Buddhists call this sky mind. You are the sky and the clouds that form are the thoughts and feelings. They may be pleasant or stormy, but they are never the sky. As long as you identify with the sky rather than the clouds you need not control the weather, you need simply allow it to pass.

I’m going to stop here to invite your response, and offer a separate post to comment on your insight into Paul.

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