I've continued to make my way through Rob Burbea's excellent book about Buddhist teachings, Seeing That Frees: Meditations on Emptiness and Dependent Arising.
As noted before, Burbea goes into considerable detail about his subject, sometimes more than I'm capable of appreciating -- since I'm a fan of Buddhism but don't consider myself a Buddhist.
Then I come across some passages that truly do resonate with me. Here's a sampling.
This discussion of concepts impressed me because it fits so well with the modern neuroscientific theory of predictive processing by the brain. Basically this says that the brain is constantly making predictions based on prior experiences and sensory inputs.
So models and concepts are a basic part of human cognition. Burbea writes along very similar lines from his Buddhist point of view. He holds out more hope than I do that concepts can be mostly or entirely eliminated from consciousness, while correctly asserting that normally they are integral to experience.
Some conceptual constructs are so subtle too, and so unconsciously woven into the fabric of perception, that without a corresponding subtlety of discriminating awareness they will escape unnoticed and will continue to operate unchallenged.
Conceptuality of all kinds wields its power even when the thinking mind is quiet. To drop thought, then, is definitely not, necessarily, to drop conceiving: thought and conception cannot simply be equated.
Indeed, unlike thought, conception is actually a part of our normal and basic experiencing of anything, as we shall later discuss. And since all of our normal conceiving actually involves, implies, and is supported by, the intuitive conceiving of inherent existence, deep and full relinquishment of concepts is not possible without insight into emptiness.
This insight into emptiness, in turn, requires at least some meditative handling of concepts... Essential to the approach that looks at fabrication is an understanding of the implications of what one sees happening in meditation -- an active inquiry into the dependently arisen nature of transformations of perception.
Here's some passages along a similar line regarding how perception is experience.
Let us stress again though that 'perception' here means more than the act of verbally labelling an object in the mind. Animals do not have vocabulary. Yet still they perceive and discriminate. And at times they feel fear and suffer in relation to what they perceive.
We have a perception of an object even when we have no word for it, or when the mind is free of thought. Perception is experience. And the act of perceiving is the forming of experiences.
Language certainly may be a part of this process of fabricating experiences. Indeed this fabricating role of words may also be explored in practice: with mindfulness it is sometimes possible to separate the labelling of an experience from the experience itself.
For instance one may see the mental labelling 'pain' as separate from the sensations. Or see the labelling 'fear' as separate from the bodily experience of the emotion. Doing this, sometimes the unpleasantness of the sensations is reduced. Or what was interpreted and felt as 'fear' becomes 'excitement', for example.
It is evident then how the labelling consolidated and intensified the experiences. But such verbal labelling is only one ingredient in the fabrication of experience, one ingredient of what is involved in perception and then only sometimes.
As we have stated several times, perception is experience, or appearance; and we have uncovered much more fundamental ways that it is fabricated, empty, "a mirage".
For we have seen that the appearance of an object depends on the way of looking. A pain can be perceived as a pain, as flickering atoms of sensation, as an impression in awareness, as nothing, or as unfindable, dependent on how it is fabricated by the view.
Pure awareness, Burbea says, is a fantasy. Citta, our state of mind, always requires an object.
And having seen and contemplated the fading of phenomena, we might now question the whole notion of 'just being' even more cogently. For we can ask: would any such experience of 'just being' really be an experience of non-doing?
Something has to give me the sense of experiencing being. To experience being, I have to experience something. To 'be' is to 'see'. But as practice reveals, to 'see', or experience, something -- any thing, 'inner' or 'outer' -- a degree of clinging is needed.
And as has been made clear, even the subtlest clinging is a doing. A sense of being requires some perception, some experience; and any experience involves the doing of clinging. To be is to see; and to see is to do.
Thus although it might at first seem compelling, on deeper investigation the apparent dichotomy between being and doing is in fact illusory. Being is not any more fundamental than doing, because being is doing.
Very similarly, from all that we have discovered and discussed so far, it is obvious that various related notions -- such as 'Pure Awareness', 'basic mindfulness', 'The Natural State', or 'Presence' (as something basic, pure, and 'non-interfering') -- are simply no longer tenable. They cannot be ultimately true.
Whenever anything is perceived that perceiving involves fabricating through clinging and avijja. And what is perceived is always coloured and shaped by the citta in some way or other; there is no state of the citta even conceivably able to reveal an objective, independently existing, reality of things as they are in themselves.