Contemplation and meditation and thinking
By: Shane Wilson
Often times I hear people say “I have a problem and I am going to have to meditate on it to find an answer”. Whenever I hear this I immediately remark to myself “that is not meditation, that is thinking”.
In actuality what they should be saying is “I have a problem and I will have to isolate it, repeatedly look at it and closely observe it to find an answer” this is contemplation, one of the qualities of meditation.
It can be of great value for one to clearly understand the difference between contemplation, meditation and thinking. These terms often find their way in the same sentences within teachings and explanations about the practice of meditation and often with complete disregard to what the true meaning and purposes of these activities really are.
“Contemplation deals with the adding of content of the mind through observation, as meditation deals with the process of the mind where as thinking is an uncontrolled connection of thoughts”.
Contemplation is the mental exploration of a subject or topic, for example if you were handed a document with a written sentences on it and told to contemplate on one of the sentences, the process you would use is a mental one using thought and concentration. You would mentally examine the words and interrupt the meaning and how they relate to your situation in a controlled manor.
If one were to ask an experienced meditator to meditate on the sentence written upon the document, the meditator would likely see the sentence as well as the document itself as being impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self, a process of the mind as opposed the content of the conditioned and thinking mind.
If one were asked to think something over, the process would most likely be a series of uncontrolled thoughts one after another with little organization or concentration involved.
Contemplation can be used in the meditative process, it is contemplation that is described by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Suta or "the four foundations of mindfulness" contemplation can be used in mindfulness meditation and involves using bare attention, meaning that once we learn to still and concentrate the mind, we than allow thoughts to freely but slowly show them selves, we then use an investigative quality that is bare of judgment, criticism or decision. This allows one to view their thoughts in the present without reviewing the past or planning for the future. The thoughts we use for this process are very controlled, by doing this we can eventually gain the insight to see all things as they truly are, temporary and impermanent, this can be very liberating in that it takes the edge off of the need for us to cling on to anything. It is as if we become freed from a bad addiction and realize that we now have a new lease on life.
Meditation can involve the use of contemplation and investigation but the moment we begin to follow our thoughts to the point that we are simply thinking, we are no longer meditating. Thoughts are a natural part of the mind and with the exception of some types of concentration practices we should not attempt to push the thoughts away but, if we allow these thoughts to evolve into a story we again, are no longer meditating but instead we find we are planing for the future or thinking about the past or lost in a day dream. The mind is very comfortable doing these thinking activities because that is what it knows and does the best but, we meditate to learn mastery over the conceptual untrained mind and owe it to our selves to work with the mind through contemplation and meditation.
We use contemplation and meditation to investigate the body, our feelings as they relate to our senses, the various mind states and emotions that we experience, and the Dhammas, particularly the impermanent, unsatisfactory and selfless nature of all phenomena.
We also use meditation to develop concentration and to hold our attention on an object.
We use thinking to make plans and recall the past as well as to entertain our selves with fantasy, all of which are not present reality
Proper use of contemplation with meditation allows us to see the true present reality of life.