A spiritual insight is never the result of thinking about something. An insight is “food for thought.” That is, it conditions your thoughts, changing their direction perhaps, or clarifying their subject, or — in the best of cases — completely changing how you think about something.

Even a good dictionary can tell you that insights never come from thinking. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “insight” as: “immediate and clear understanding (as seeing the solution to a problem or the means to reaching a goal) that takes place without recourse to overt trial-and-error behavior.” Thinking, of course, in the sense that it is a kind of behavior, is very trial-and-error in its approach.

No, insight is immediate and never vague, so it’s not at all like how thinking proceeds. And in fact, its most frequent characterization is that it is a clear perception of something — a recognition of something — so it cannot arise directly from an analysis of conceptual ideas, nor can it be communicated through words, such as spoken instruction, whether while being taught something, or listening to someone talking, or reading books. Insights can only arise from deep absorption in meditative imperience, which is the deeply felt presence of that which we perceive, think, emote, embody, remember, and intuit — and presence is different than meaning, or character, or even identification, which is to say, meditative imperiences can only arise while you are not lost in thought about what it is, or who it is, or how it is.

Which is not to say, however, that you can’t be deeply absorbed in watching your thoughts arise and pass away, and suddenly have an insight. The point here is that insights just appear — literally popping into your head — in the clearing that occurs when thoughts are absent; neither in the process of arising, nor as they pass away; but only after they have passed and before the next thought stirs. In that space that is just clear cognizance.

Another word that is often used for an insight is “intuition”. Though technically, an insight is what intuition provides you. The insight being what comes, and intuition being how it arrives; but we often use “intuition” when we mean “insight.” Intuition is defined by the same dictionary as “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” So, as I said, an insight is never the result of thinking about something.

Where this can get murky is when we are absorbed in watching thoughts arise and pass away and realize that they too just show up. This also involves intuition because reasoning about something requires the presence of intuition to carry the train of thought forward in sometimes surprising ways.

The alternative, which we steadfastly assume to be the case, is an impossible process that entails our thinking thoughts before we think them. How, after all, would you think a thought? It’s not like you know what you want to think and then think it, so where do these thoughts come from? They are intuited, as I have already explained in “What is Intuition? in this book.

If they weren’t intuited then the necessary state of affairs would be that we form the thought before we actually think it — and we can’t escape this logical impossibility even by asserting that we are creating our own thoughts via “sub-conscious” processes. As I earlier showed, pushing the process down into an unknowable “sub-conscious” process doesn’t succeed in explaining how it overcomes the impossibility of our creating our own thoughts before we have them — it just hides the problem so that we can ignore it.

It is only after the insight, once it is recognized, is apperceived,⁠ that an understanding is gained. Apperception is the mental process by which a person makes sense of an insight by coherently assimilating it to the body of ideas he or she already possesses. It is then, and only then, that an explanation can be given — but by the very nature of these insights, only someone with keen discernment, as well as skill in clearly communicating with language can do so — but even then these insights do not lend themselves to being described because of the limitations of our language:

Having the habit of sitting for long periods, abiding, with hardly a thought, focused on the reverberations of the manifestation of my form arising as characteristic inner spontaneous sounds, colors, and lights, I was amazed one day when something unusual happened.
Suddenly, I realized where I was. It arrived as a flash of recognition, not as a thought, for this was different — it was not so much something added to what was happening, as something suddenly no longer there. It was that bare perspective that normally abided, a characterless perspective which didn’t so much disappear, as it did reverse, no longer lost immanently within the sounds, colors and light, but present clearly. And that clearing was remarkably familiar.
That bare perspective, that had been abiding as the audible and luminous naturing, suddenly paused, unmoving, unabiding, unhitched, just there, clearly present, holding all that was arising as a mother holds her newborn child — still attached, lovingly, while the naturing continued, not separate in any way, as if stillness and motion were not different. And this is when I realized “I” was the Now — the pure, unchanging, unmoving presence immanent in the naturing. This clear Now is the “ing” of all possible descriptions of what is happen-ing. The quality that all the words I tried to use to name it, ending in “-ness,” were always after.
And I realized that this was definitive. This was the pure truth, at least as much as would ever show its face on this side of the Event Horizon. This was now! The Now which was no thing at all but in which all things appeared.
And it later dawned on me, that this is how Science and Spirituality would find their common ground. We discriminate, distinguish, dichotomize, and vivisect so many things out of the vast array of the appearances that we experience, naming them as we go, so much so, we can’t see the ground because of the forest we have created with our thoughts and words.
This is that ground. And it is ever-present in every moment of experience. We just don’t see it. We can’t break through all these cuts and bruises we have inflicted on the Truth. Now, this bare perspective that is the ground, the place, the venue, for everything that arises, is covered over and hidden by the myriad entities that we automatically carve reality up into in every moment of experience. Found in everything by our discerning mind, not realizing that all that there is, all that appears, and all that we experience, are not many things, and are not different in nature, we take this commonality to be a pervasive container of it all. Yet, the source and the ground for all that is, is truly indistinguishable from it. We confuse ourselves, and call it Time.
The Now is not a time, nor is it Time itself. It is Presencing — the presence that is this naturing that arises as all that appears. It is that which sites all times, allowing the possibilities to present. It is the venue of all experience, all consciousness, all awareness, all being, and imbues it all with the character of duration.
How can anything endure if there is no perspective? Finding it awkward, we make the perspective a view from nowhere, but there is nowhere else. The Now is the clearing that is that perspective. Whatever arises does so Now. Whatever passes away does so Now. Whatever is held to endure does so Now — this bare, clear perspective of Now, is characterized by limitless names, all pointing at abstractions of the Truth. But this is not a perspective from nowhere. This is the perspective for the very being of “to be,” the naturing of nature, the knowing of the known, the wakefulness of the awake, and the cognition of the cognizable.
It is this perspective that we grasp hold of, uncomprehendingly, and announce “I am.” And it is this misunderstanding that is the foundation for all dualistic grasping. Yet it is also the basis of all scientific knowledge because it makes it seem like time is passing and things are happening, each according to its nature. This passing of time is the conceptual time that we cognize as the fundamental dimension of all studied things, and of all practical knowledge. Call this perspective awareness (or any of the myriad of names deployed for it) and you clarify nothing, but call it Now and all becomes clear.
Phenomena continuously arise and seem to endure for a while, yet I’ve directly seen that nothing has such a single, permanent, independent, truly existing self, so how could they endure? Even so, in the experience of enduring for a while, I’ve directly seen that phenomena are evanescent, so that though there has to be a time for each to exist, a time unique to each and every phenomenon, these times cannot be real themselves for there is no entity called Time.
So time must be something about phenomena, not something that phenomena exist in — and this is called its duration.
And I’ve seen how each phenomenon has a formal appearance, so that this essence is the playing out of their form. But when would those times be and how would they become? What other is there?
Thought is useless to see the answer. Instead, I realized that Now, when it clears, is the only “when” that makes these forms of time appear. And this was the perspective that I saw barely as “me,” as I held tightly to what appeared to be. But Now is the real presence here, so I see the Real evidenced by all that comes to be and passes, and all that does, exists. But what exists is not other, so the Real encompasses it all, all of this activity, in this clear presence I know now.
It happens now and then as I abide, that the clouds of appearances part and this clearing, and all that it upends, cuts through it all. I remember this in every passing moment, greeting each as an old friend in new clothing, as I continue along my way.
We will have to clarify our way of speaking about all of this.

An insight does not arrive via concepts — thus the need for discernment and skillful use of language in order to communicate it as accurately as possible. Without those skills you would probably find yourself saying something like: “How do I know this? I just do.” Or else, you mangle the sense of the insight into something familiar that you already know: “Well, it’s like this…”

Insights arise intuitively, that is, spontaneously and without a cause. Yet, the possibility for gaining insights can be conditioned via making a heartfelt aspiration to achieve insights, and following a meditative practice with dedication. These intentions do not cause an insight to arise, nor does our failure to set an intention cause insights not to arise — in other words, our heartfelt intentions help to create the conditions for insights to arise, but insights always arise spontaneously when they do.

While discursive thinking does not exist in the more advanced meditative states, so one might ask how insights can arise, it is important to keep making the point that authentic insights never arise from discursive thinking! In addition, when discursive thinking is present, we can confuse ourselves by imagining that a sudden thought that has “come” to us — as they all do — is the result of having intuited an important insight. Such ‘insights’ as these are not authenticate and are not apperceived into one’s understanding, and thus will lead to false conclusions for ourselves and miscommunication if shared with others. They especially mislead the holder of such an imagined ‘insight’, regardless of how much bliss or joy having it might bring them. Only an understanding that arises from the process of apperceiving intuitively delivered non-verbal insights during absorbed meditative states are true spiritual insights.

Why is this? Because insights derived from discursive thinking can only be about conceptual knowledge which is based upon the error of believing that different phenomena are independently real as a result of having an inherent self-nature. This does not mean that such insights are of no practical value. It means that they can only be insights about conceptual knowledge and not about the nature of reality.

Even discursive thinking about insights gained during meditation can lead to completely false and misleading conclusions for the reason I mentioned above about the difficulty of even speaking of them — and discursive thoughts are always conceptual in structure.

Remember, an insight is a recognition of some truth — not a string of words and references to conceptual ideas. An imperience of recognition must either come directly from within a state of deep absorption in the naturing of what appears, or be confirmed by it, if it is to be relied upon as a true insight.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
Share this post