The Buddha spoke about the powerful ability of our thoughts to shape the people we become. Yet unlike meditation or mindfulness, reflection is not widely put forward as an essential Buddhist practice.
Ratnaguna writes, “Reading some books, you’d think that Buddhists aren’t supposed to think at all, as if thinking somehow contaminates the mind. Of course, if we’re honest, we have to admit that a lot of what we think about does contaminate our minds, but that doesn’t mean that all thinking is bad. We shouldn’t stop thinking, we just need to be careful what we think and how we think about it.”
In The Art of Reflection, Ratnaguna suggests ways in which we can direct, develop and deepen our thoughts. Here are a few of his suggestions:
“When a thought occurs to you, try to choose whether or not to follow it. Most of the time we’re at the mercy of whatever subject happens to present itself to us: we’re not so much thinking as being thought. We have to learn to make choices.”
“We need to try to keep our thinking as close as we can to what we know through direct experience.”
“The mind has a natural tendency to wander, and although wandering can be fun, and we can sometimes find ourselves in some interesting places on our travels, we need to learn to stay put sometimes. Much of our wandering is motivated by boredom, by the need to find something new, different, novel, exciting. It’s easy to give in to the temptation to move on to something new, but if we do that all the time we’ll never get to know a subject well. We’ll know a little about many things, but we won’t know anything very deeply. We need to learn to dwell in one place for a while, to see things that we didn’t notice at first, to enter some of the buildings we’ve only seen from the outside.”