Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom
Excerpts about Concepts
Awareness is the Experience of Presence Without Concepts
The dimension of pure awareness is a vastness, an empty, spacious ground where everything is a manifestation of this transparent clarity. Because it is nonconceptual, there are no memories or associations. Our experience is not patterned by our usual, constructed sense of self, so reality sears with newness and freshness. It seems as if everything is always new, as if everything is experienced for the first time, as if every perception is occurring immediately now. Experiencing this dimension when it first arose, we understood that awareness is a more refined way of recognizing presence. Awareness is the experience of presence without concepts, which allows the capacity for pure perception, for pure noncognitive experiencing.
Runaway Realization, pg. 190
Concepts are Needed for Remembering
In the process of conceptualizing and naming the world, we forget that these elements didn’t exist for us until we differentiated from them, separated them, isolated them, and named them. We don’t remember what happened before that, because there wasn’t enough conceptual capacity to remember things before that. What we remember is the notions we have developed. We cannot remember things that had no concepts associated with them.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 232
Concepts are the Building Blocks of Our Reactions, Knowledge and Cognition
We are concerned here with the most basic, fundamental conditioning—the automatism of the mind. This conditioning is beyond your personal patterns and issues. Reacting to reality through concepts underlies all your personal patterns and issues and history. Concepts are the building blocks of our reactions, our knowledge, and our cognition. But it happens so automatically that most of the time we think we’re seeing reality. We aren’t aware of that split second of interpretation. The input comes in and we perceive a word or an idea. Otherwise you couldn’t say “This is a chair, this is a person.” Without these ideas pure perception is just colors and sounds. When we perceive through concepts, it’s hard to know how a thing might actually look when the perception is fresh. What is it like? Tarthang Tulku calls it the “open dynamic of the living moment.” The openness of the living moment is dynamic and fresh. But we have lost that freshness because we don’t experience the pure perception in the moment. It’s not as if it’s not available; it’s happening all the time. Perception has to happen for us to have any experience. But our mind instantaneously responds and we instantaneously react. And this response and reaction is completely governed by inherited concepts. To go beyond the mind means simply to perceive without conceptual or cognitive response. It means to put your mind “on hold,” to put that automatic neuro-linguistic response “on hold.” Then you can see what’s actually there. Then what we see becomes a source of creativity so that even our words begin to express that creativity. When we perceive without concepts, our concepts can change. They become more alive; they are closer to the immediate experience, rather than thirty years old.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 282
Concepts Cut Us off from Reality
We work with psychodynamic issues not because working through these issues will ultimately bring us to reality or complete freedom, but because we are cut off from reality by so many entrenched concepts. We believe in the ideas and memories that have conditioned us so completely that we have to focus on some of them and their associations to lighten them up, before we can even entertain the possibility of approaching them as concepts. With all the memories and feelings you have about your mother, it is very difficult to start seeing that mother is a concept. You see? We have to deal with all the psychodynamic issues to get a little space from them before you can come to a place where you can truly see that mother is a concept, and doesn’t really exist in the manner you normally believe. The other reason psychodynamic work is important is that many of the concepts, especially the main concepts that we believe in, are unconscious. We have unquestioned belief in concepts that we don’t even know about. This is why we need to make the unconscious conscious. We have to be aware of the notions that control our experience before we can make them more transparent. But at some point we have to come to the question of concepts themselves. We need to see how we view ourselves and our reality conceptually. Otherwise, psychodynamic issues will persist forever. There are millions of them. We have to penetrate to a place beyond concepts to really penetrate into reality, because this penetration into nonconceptual reality will expose our conceptualizations.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 274
Concepts Evoke Emotional Associations
Our experience of what is happening is not of what is actually happening. Actually when you perceive, the impressions, sounds, sights, or sensations are new – they’re one hundred percent new as they happen. But we don’t see them in their newness, we see them through our concepts about the various kinds of impressions. Not only do we see them through those concepts, those concepts automatically evoke emotional associations and feeling tones. So our experience is not a pure perception, but the thoughts, feelings, and memories that our concepts bring in. We have an experience only in the present moment, but that experience is not really an experience of the moment. Your experience is already your own interpretation of the moment. This happens every second. We never, or rarely, allow ourselves simply to perceive.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 281
Concepts That Condition How We View Ourselves and Our World
According to the customs of our culture, we were taught the proper way to categorize, use, and think about everything in our experience. Gradually, many associations began to accumulate around concepts. They could touch memories and evoke complex reactions. We could, by uttering the word ‘home’, evoke a wealth of feelings and associations that gave this concept a special meaning to us. Perhaps many words took on a deep private significance, just as certain sights, fragrances, sounds, and sensations sometimes seemed to resonate with rich, unexplainable meaning. But whatever had significance to us personally had to be expressed within the concepts available in our language. We had to accept the meanings we were given, and leave unspoken the meanings and feelings we could not communicate. The concepts we learned reflected back to us, and we began to think with the words of our language. The words that now form so spontaneously in our minds are all concepts transmitted to us by others. These concepts now condition how we view ourselves and our world, how we think, and how we respond to what happens around us. They create our everyday reality, and we use them to interpret all our experience.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 278
Needing to be Free of Conceptual Boxes
In doing our work it is important that we do not develop some kind of religion or belief system. We want to be free from all conceptual boxes. Ultimately, the point is not to become a Buddhist, a Christian, or a Jew but to be a true human being, to realize the truth, whatever the truth is. When we start on the path we do not know what we will realize. Our work emphasizes love of the truth, wherever that may lead. I do not say we are trying to find enlightenment, or God, or a true self. These terms are sometimes useful to illustrate certain points, but the love of the truth is what fuels the work. If there is God you will find out, if there is enlightenment you will find out, if there is a true self you will find out.
Diamond Heart Book Five, pg. 67
Our Usual Sense of Self is a Concept of Self
We begin to see that what we take ourselves to be is composed of constructed images and concepts that are remembered and organized. Over time, these accumulated constructs become lenses through which we view ourselves and reality. When we see through and understand these constructs, we recognize that they are not true and not real. We become empty of them and also can recognize their inherent emptiness. In other words, as we become free from the accumulated constructs, they reveal their emptiness; they reveal that they are empty of reality. Taken far enough, the emptiness of other begins to reveal the emptiness of self—that we are empty not only of the contents of self but also of what we have taken to be the very nature of self. As we recognize that our usual sense of self is an image that we are holding on to, we see that it doesn’t exist in a real way. Our usual sense of self is an ephemeral memory, an illusory concept of self. Seeing through our various images of self often reveals the spaciousness and emptiness of true nature. The spaciousness that arises as we investigate the self has many degrees and many kinds, including ones that are clear and light and others that are deep and black.
Runaway Realization, pg. 142
Response at the Moment of Perception
At the moment of perception our minds grasp and interpret sensory information, and supply us with prepackaged concepts that have specific associations and emotional tones based on past experience.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 281
The Limit of Living and Knowing Through Established Concepts
Thinking itself is not necessarily uncreative. But thinking is uncreative when it is a matter of recollecting concepts from the past, or a matter of logically stringing together concepts. This kind of mental activity is basically computer-like. A computer does not invent anything new. What it can create is already there in the concepts. When we live and know through our established concepts, we don’t have anything new in our lives. True creativity disappears, and everything we might think we’re creating is only new combinations of what we already know. Thinking can be creative when we allow ourselves to be open to what is beyond concepts. Then even words, even thinking can express that reality, can creatively unfold like a fountain of insights coming from explosive perceptions of nonconceptual reality. Thinking can be spontaneous, original, and creative when it directly expresses the experience of the moment. This is true communication. But usually we use our words to relate things about the past, to relate old concepts and memories. So our expression, our thinking, is dead. I’m saying this to emphasize that conceptualizing on its own is not necessarily bad. Thinking can be a creative process when we are in touch with the nowness of experience, and that nowness is the source of our thinking.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 280
The Main Barrier to Penetrating to What Is
Reified concepts are the main barrier to penetrating to what is, and the basic concepts that form our experience are physical. You are more convinced, for instance, in the existence of your body than in the existence of inner freedom, because while your body is a physical thing, freedom is not a physical thing. It is particularly these physical concepts that we have to penetrate in order to perceive what is. The ground of the personal mind is constituted by physical concepts. Our perception of relationships between things are based on that ground of personal mind. We perceive that this object is round and this one is square; this object is distant from that one, and this object is near that one. This object is free from that one, this object likes that one and doesn’t like this other one. These relationships develop as a superstructure on a fundamental ground which consists of physical concepts, the concepts of what we call physical objects.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 307
There are Patterns and Forms in Reality that are not Determined by Personal Conceptual Constructs
Sharing many other spiritual and philosophical perspectives, we are aware that there are patterns and forms in Reality—including, for example, forms in the physical world—that are not determined by personal conceptual constructs. Even certain feelings, states, and senses of meaning can hardly be said to be completely determined by conceptual constructs, even though in the course of coming closer to the ground of direct experience we become increasingly clear about how these are affected by ordinary knowledge, history, and so on. One category of inherent forms that are seen not to be constructed, for instance, is what we call noetic forms, including what Plato called Ideas. This question of to what extent the knowledge of the soul is determined by constructions will be discussed further in chapter 18. Traditional spiritual and philosophical teachings describe the process of realization as waking up to Reality. One sees frequently the simile of seeing through the veils of our ordinary experience being like seeing a rope and thinking that it is a snake, then waking up to the fact that it is indeed a rope. Many practitioners with certain kinds of experience assume and believe, and many teachers write or speak as if, when we are in touch with the pure ground of consciousness there will be no snake but also no rope! There will be simply consciousness. Our observation here is that the form of the rope is definitely still there when we are not in the thrall of constructed concepts; we are able to see, and perhaps to recognize, the form, but our perception is not veiled by construction. Even if we have ordinary or constructed knowledge about the rope and what a rope is, the more we are close to basic knowledge, the more the perception is fresh, direct, immediate, and objective.
The Inner Journey Home, pg. 54
When Old Concepts Inhibit Transformation
No matter how much psychological insight we have, how many inner spiritual experiences we have, how many times we see angels or talk with God, if our experience occurs still within the old concepts, no actual transformation of ourselves and our world will happen.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 239
You Do Not Know What You are Looking At
We need to see that fact in a very deep and fundamental way. You need to see that when you look at the table you do not know what you are looking at. What you know is a word, the concept of the table. You do not know what you are looking at. And the moment you really see through the word, you see that the reality that you are seeing around you is a mystery; that we live in complete, pure mystery; that the world around us that is old, drab, and normal is actually a wonder, a mystery. It is a mystery that defies our minds that defies our best efforts.