Thought is Homeless

The Dalai Lama holds some of the International Network of Street Papers he will star in their July 2012 issue.

I read that the Dalai Lama is helping to raise funds for homeless people around the world by agreeing to appear on the cover of more than 40 street publications. These are independent newspapers and magazines that provide employment opportunities for people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and are part of the International Network of Street Papers.

The Dalai Lama says, “On some level, I am also homeless.”

He’s referring to the fact that he is in exile from his home in Tibet, but that statement can be interpreted another way, for on some level, we are all homeless.

We may have a home, perhaps own one, but when we leave the world, we leave our home behind. Someone else will have it. Our “ownership” is only temporary, just as we temporarily own our body and our “self,” or anything else.

Homelessness was an important concept in early Buddhism. The Buddha and his original followers were part of the Indian tradition of Parivrajakas, or “homeless ones,” men who had “gone forth” from householder life. To use an old expression, they had “dropped out” of society, rejecting not only homes, but kinship, class, and even clothes, for they cast aside the garments they normally wore for old clothes and rags.

The bhikkhu’s homelessness was symbolic of the greater homelessness of life itself. As everything in this world will eventfully decay and disappear, there is no true home for anything, certainly no permanent home. Even our thoughts are homeless.

Thought, Kasyapa, is formless, unseen, not solid, unknowable, unstable, homeless. Thought, Kasyapa, was never seen by any of the Buddhas. They do not see it, they will not see it; and what has never been seen by the Buddhas, what they do not see and will never see, what kind of a process can that have, unless things exist by a false conception? Thought, Kasyapa, is like illusion, and by forming what is not, comprehends all sorts of events. . . .

Crown of Jewels Sutra

Wandering through realms of consciousness like a refugee, thought looks for a home. Thought thinks that perhaps by clinging to this or to that, it can find a home. In this way, thought forms attachments with names and forms, with concepts such as “is” and “is not,” “self” and “other,” “me” and “mine,” and with emotions like envy, pride, and desire. It is the mission of thought to form these attachments in hopes of finding a home. Thought wants to own its own home.

But having things can be a burden. As George Carlin used to say, a home is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. He said, “Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.” Yes, after a while the stuff we own, owns us.

Moreover, since none of our stuff, nor our attachments to them, can last, ownership is an illusion, because it’s always temporary. We never actually “own” anything, we just have things and use them for a rather brief period of time. It is our mission to free thought from the burdens of attachment and ownership, from illusion.

To put an end to thought’s endless search for attachments, we train our mind. We train our thoughts to think differently. This is the primary value of meditation, the tool we use to stop the mind from searching for this illusion of a home, even from searching for itself.

During his meditation, a [practitioner] will find that not even one of the thoughts arising in the mind stays for an instant . . . [He or she] will find that the past mind has gone, the present mind does not stay, and the future mind has not yet come. [The practitioner] will discover that it cannot be found anywhere after an exhaustive search of it in the three times. As it cannot be found, it follows that it is non-existent and that all things (dharma) are so as well.

Chih-i, Stopping and Seeing for Beginners

This corresponds to the concept of wu-hsin or “no-mind,” meaning that there is “no deliberate mind of one’s own.” Of course, it doesn’t mean there is no actual mind. It simply means abiding in a mind that is without attachments.

The phenomenon of wu-hsin, or “no-mindedness,” is not a blank mind that shuts out all thoughts and emotions; nor is it simply calmness and quietness of mind. Although quietude and calmness are necessary, it is the “non-graspingness” of thoughts that mainly constitutes the principle of no mind.

Bruce Lee, On Wu-hsin (No-Mindedness)

We, and our thoughts, are homeless because we are searching for a home that doesn’t exist, forming attachments, clinging to things we can never own. We think in this way we will find security and contentment. It’s a search that will remain frustrating and elusive as long as we continue to seize and grasp. It’s not necessary that we emulate the actual homelessness of the Buddha and his followers. It’s all in the mind, and when we let go of the mind that is constantly seeking to form attachments, when thought is comfortable in its homelessness, we can abide in the home of no-home.

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4 thoughts on “Thought is Homeless

  1. An interesting post on the the homeless nature of thought. It expresses something really well that I’d not been able to focus on properly before. Now I see it in the context of aniccan, constant restlessness, ‘we, and our thoughts, are homeless because we are searching for a home that doesn’t exist.’ Thanks for that. And the “non-graspingness” of thoughts means ‘we can abide in the home of no-home.’ It’s so good to see it like this. I’ve been on the road for years and it’s bothered me a lot.
    One other thing, I was intending to contact you before about the Tagore quote in your About section: ‘… the spiritual journey has no real destination, there is only the journey itself.’ It contributed to the concept of my blog which is only just now up and running: http://dhammafootsteps.wordpress.com/
    Thanks again

  2. Blimey David, you got up on a roll today! That was beautifully written my friend, it explains so clearly something I often fail to articulate to my (or, I fear, my corespondent’s) satisfaction 🙂 I shall now have to investigate wu-hsin!

    This illusion of home, as you say, is one of my greatest challenges, personally.

    Thank you.

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