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Conceptualizing

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Conceptualizing

The Knowing of any Affect or Sensation or Spiritual State Requires Concepts

Many people, when they consider their immediate experience or their feelings and sensations, think that those experiences are nonconceptual because they are not merely concepts in the mind. Although some traditions refer to feelings, sensations, and direct immediate experience as nonconceptual, in our work, we don’t call that nonconceptual experience. For us, those experiences are still conceptual because they are recognizable and knowable. As long as there is recognition and knowing, there is conceptualizing. We can’t know without concepts. The knowing of any affect or sensation or spiritual state requires concepts. So, as long as there is any discernible experience, there are bound to be concepts. For example, in the immediate experience of “this is spaciousness,” there is a knowing of spaciousness that relies on a concept of what spaciousness is. Even though it is direct knowledge and is actual spaciousness—not an idea about spaciousness, not a memory about spaciousness, not an association about
spaciousness—it is still conceptual.

The Most Fundamental Conceptualization is the Duality Between Existence and Nonexistence

Our perspective today reveals how our subtle conceptualizations create beliefs that cause us to suffer. The most fundamental conceptualization is the duality between existence and nonexistence. Within that fundamental conceptualization we make further differentiations: pleasure and pain, individual and cosmic, past and future, space and time. We differentiate still further: love and hate, happiness and misery, physical and spiritual, mental and physical, and so on. The final outcome of all these differentiations is what we call our mind, our personality. The resolution of suffering is to eliminate false ideas, to abandon the belief in those differentiations. Some traditions teach that we need to free ourselves of the discriminating mind and go to the state of no-mind. The state of no-mind means no discrimination. The moment there is discrimination, the moment there are two things, the possibility of preference arises. The moment there is preference, there is attachment. The moment there is attachment, there is suffering.

Conceptualization of Identity

Conceptualizing yourself means that you use all your experiences, good and bad, to crystallize a certain picture. And this picture is mostly based on a rejection of something you don’t want, something you experience as negative or painful. One of the main purposes of the creation of identity is to resist. The conceptualization of identity is simply the crystallization of that activity into an image of a person. But the core of that image is the frustration, which I call the state or affect of negative merging. Instead of harmony, there is a jagged flow through the nervous system. This is experienced as frustration, which is suffering. Psychic suffering, mental suffering is that actual contraction, that feeling of harshness, dryness, stuckness. Whenever we are reacting to or rejecting anything, we are identifying with that core of frustration. Of course, this core of cyclic reactivity and frustration is covered with something softer, so that usually we don’t feel it. We dull it with all kinds of beliefs and ideas. So we see that the personality is constructed of a continuous cyclic movement of reactivity. It continuously produces more of itself, more frustration and suffering. Understanding this enables us to understand the processes of disidentification, letting go, surrender, and acceptance.

Conceptualizing Makes Thinking and Speaking Possible

The conceptualizing process is a process in basic knowledge, for all events are basic knowledge, but it creates something that is understood but does not appear in the way ordinary objects appear in perception. The word referring to a particular concept is in basic knowledge, but the concept itself is not. The concept is an understanding, a comprehension, an idea based on observing percepts in basic knowledge and categorizing them. This requires comparison and recognition.
The ability to conceptualize, combined with the labels we give to objects and concepts, makes it possible for us to think and to speak. Thinking is the relating of various concepts and images to each other to arrive at new concepts, which is new knowledge. This knowledge—composed of mental impressions or memories of primitive concepts, images, formal concepts, their relationships, and the resulting concepts of further discrimination and relating of various concepts—is what we have called ordinary knowledge.

Increasing Transparency of Mental Concepts

This unfoldment need not involve a rejection of the capacity for conceptualizing; it can simply allow an increasing transparency of mental concepts as the appreciation of our nature as essential presence reduces our identification with self-representations.

Mind Automatically Crystallizes Around Concepts

When you say that there is a mountain and there is flat land and they are different, your mind automatically, naturally, becomes crystallized around the concept of a mountain as reality and flat land as reality. This crystallization prevents you from seeing that they are one thing. You do not see the reality that is beyond the distinctions, because you are looking at the distinctions, at the differentiated concepts. Because you think that reality is composed of those differentiated concepts, you don’t see the unity beyond the concepts. And if you don’t see the unity beyond the concepts you don’t see reality, you only see concepts.

Putting Boundaries Around Parts of Reality

Conceptualizing is nothing but putting a boundary around part of reality and imagining that boundary actually creates something. It is the same thing with feelings and emotions. We put boundaries around them, and then we make those boundaries define things we take to be real. Then there is anger and grief and pain and all that. These things are nothing but boundaries. If we go beyond the name there is just an awareness of something. There will be a sensation, and sensations take forms, and we give these forms names. If you go beyond the names and differentiations, there is an awareness of Presence, of something. That’s what we call consciousness. Ultimately all sensations are nothing but consciousness. There is consciousness of consciousness, right? Pure consciousness, then, without any differentiation.

The Mind is Incapable of Conceptualizing Absolute Reality

Student: By absolute reality, I assume you mean the truth. And how can one know the ultimate truth?
Almaas: That’s what I have been saying—you can’t know it.
Student: If you can’t know it, how can you ever get there?
Almaas: Well, when I say you can’t know it, that doesn’t mean you cannot be it. You can know it as not-knowing. See, we think of knowing only in terms of concepts. That’s why I say you cannot know it, because you can’t conceptualize it. You can’t know it in the sense that you cannot identify or name it. Your mind cannot look at it, but your mind knows it’s there by the mere fact that when it approaches the absolute reality, the mind disappears. When you experience absolute reality directly, your mind doesn’t know what happened. In fact, the mind is incapable of conceptualizing absolute reality at all, the mind can’t even recall the experience. After you encounter absolute reality directly, after a while your mind will ask, “What happened? I don’t remember what happened!” And you won’t end up with any conceptual knowledge. Why? Because absolute reality is the experience of unity. The moment the mind looks at absolute reality, it becomes that reality. The separation implicit in one thing looking at another dissolves.

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