Sunday, September 22, 2002

One Thought at a Time

According to the Buddha, you can only have one thought at a time, even though each thought-moment is fleetingly fast- fast enough to trick you into thinking you are capable of having two thoughts simltaneously. This can be verified through watching the rising and falling of your thoughts in Vipassana (insight) meditation. The speed of thought is about 76 times faster than the speed of light! The Buddha never taught two, or three-pointedness meditation; He only taught one-pointedness meditation. We can only concentrate at one point at a time effectively- just as a magnifying glass can only focus sunlight to a single point. If we can have two thoughts at a time, the significance of the Pureland teaching of chanting single-mindedly with an unscattered mind becomes meaningless. It would mean we can entertain thoughts of attachment while chanting Amituofo and yet still be reborn in Pureland! What practice do we need then? Chanting, like meditation, should be a practice to concentrate the mind, so as to sharpen it to be penetrative enough to see the reality of the Three Universal Characteristics.

It is not efficient in terms of time and effort to "multi-task", to chant and work or listen at the same time. For example, while you think that you are simultaneously chanting-listening to someone speak in each moment, what's happening is that you are chanting in one moment and listening in the next. You are dividing your concentration by half for each task! This does not do "justice" to the chanting or listening- as each task is only performed half-heartedly. Just when you think you are being hardworking, you are actually lowering your efficiency by more than half for each task- as there will be losses of concentration due to straying off of the mind!

Then is multi-tasking really possible? Yes- but not in the sense of having two thoughts at the same time. Think of a hand holding a ball as a task. This is one task. Think of another hand holding another one too. This is task two. Some tasks such as these can be done together without the need to concentrate with much effort. Not fantastic enough as an example of multi-tasking? Someone throws in the third ball... and you begin juggling. This is still one thought at a time at work. Juggling is a series of hand-eye coordination steps, and the mind functions one thought at a time to ensure the balls are kept in the air such that one ball can only be held at a time in any one hand.

At this point, you might ask- if such a complicated action as juggling can be done, why can't we practise chanting and something else at the same time? The answer has already been given- spiritual practice should be done nothing less than wholeheartedly. This is the true meaning of Right Effort, and in terms of meditation and chanting, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration too. Unless we are doing something mechanical, such as walking in an "auto-pilot mode", chanting should not be coupled with tasks such as listening- since listening should be an active process of receiving, processing and returning information! ((It is okay to listen to one's own chanting during chanting, but not so to something else.) reply

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