The Thinker Is Only A Thought

Nick Williams
5 min readOct 29, 2022
Image — wallpapercrafter.com

Only thought says what things are — we assume things to be what they are defined as being but this just isn’t true. All we know are our labels for things and it is the thinking mind that provides us with these convenient labels. Take away the labels and we will find that we don’t actually know anything. This is why Plato (following Socrates) famously stated ‘I know that I know nothing’. This is why Socrates was said to be ‘the wisest person in Athens’.

The difference between the Known World and ‘the World-As-It-Is-In-Itself’ is huge — the two things couldn’t be further apart. The difference is so profound that it isn’t possible to infer anything at all about actual reality from the world of our concepts, from the world of our judgements. There is an actual discontinuity between the two. If we could only remember this then we would feel a great deal last trapped in our lives then we sometimes do.

It is the dead weight of our ‘knowing’ that hems us in, not anything else. As has been so often said, the rational mind is supposed to be an instrument that exists to serve us, but it turns instead into an abusive tyrant which keeps us prisoner. The literally-understood world that thought creates for us is a prison, our automatic judgments are a prison, our ideas about what’s going on are a prison. The thought-created world as a whole is a prison, it’s a prison because we are unable to question it.

When our thoughts tell us something favourable about our situation then we feel good, and when they tell us unfavourable news then we feel terrible, we feel bad — that’s how much power the thinking process has over us. Only thought says what things are (or who we are) and when we can’t tell the difference between our thoughts and the world that these thoughts are supposed to represent then we’re pretty much at the mercy of our thinking. Our thinking can do what it wants with us then, it can bully as from morning till night if that’s the way it wants to play it. It can very easily make our lives into pure undiluted hell.

Only thought says what things are, and we just happen — at this point in our history — to have placed thought on a very tall pedestal. We have exalted thought over all else. We refuse to question it, being addicted as we are to the pursuit of ontological security. There is a price to be paid for our addiction to ontological security however and that price comes in the form of neurotic suffering — we’re hemmed in by our concepts to the point of immobility, even though we are incapable of directly seeing this. What’s more, thought is always going to be setting us impossible tasks (setting impossible standards for us) and then, when we don’t get it right, when we don’t meet the required standards, then thought criticises and condemns us.

We will say that we are being ‘self-critical’, that we are engaging in ‘negative self-talk’, but it’s not us that’s doing it, is the machinery of thought that we have passively identified with (just as a kidnapped person might end up identifying with their kidnapper). If we let the machine which is thought operate us — which is what we do every day of our lives — then it will operate us as a machine, and there’s no joy in being a machine! Machines exist purely in order to fulfil their allotted function, purely in order to carry out the tasks that have been given to them; after the task has been completed then they immediately start on the next task, and then the next one after that, and so on and so forth. The repetition of meaningless tasks is what mechanical existence is all about. It is what our ‘rational / technological culture’ is all about.

This is the only future that ever exists for a machine. It’s not that it will ever be rewarded for its faithful service — a machine will simply be worked and worked and worked until the day comes when it is no longer able to function properly, at which point it will be unceremoniously thrown out (with all the other broken machines) onto the scrap heap. That is exactly what will happen to us when we let the thinking mind operate us as machines — nothing more, nothing less. We will be run into the ground by a master who cares nothing for us.

If we carry out the task that has been given to us then we will simply be given another, and if we can’t manage to carry it out (or achieve the required standards in our work), then we will be condemned, we will be punished — although our perception will be that it is us ourselves who are being ‘hard on ourselves’. What’s really happening is that we are ‘identifying with the mechanical thinking process’ so that we firmly believe we are our thoughts (or as we could also say, we firmly believe that ‘we are the thinker’). We go around firmly believing that ‘we are the thinker’, but actually this is just another thought. As Krishnamurti keeps saying, there is no thinker outside of thought (i.e., there is no thinker that exists independently of the thinking process itself). The thinker is only a thought.

This observation is common to all meditative traditions. This is what Eckhart Tolle calls ‘the realisation that you are not the thinker’. Meditation is nothing other than that process of separation that occurs as we gradually cease identifying with our thoughts. Identifying with our thoughts means two things it means [1] that we believe we are the thinker, and [2] it means that we believe our thoughts to be true, we perceive our thoughts to carry the weight of ‘absolute authority’. When this happens then thought can do what it wants with us, as we said earlier. We are at the thinking mind’s mercy, and it has no mercy!

Machines never have any mercy. What happens when we hand over our power to thought is that it will compel us to fit in with its concrete or literal picture of the world, and it will roundly abuse us and viciously criticise us if we’re not able to ‘fit in,’ as it mechanically demands we should. We will feel utterly worthless then, we will feel like ‘a truly awful human being’. Thought will also get us to believe that we can escape this dismal mechanical situation if we perform well enough at our allotted tasks, if we fit in to the system well enough. This isn’t true though — a slave cannot become free as a result of being obedient. What is needed is not ‘abject conformity to the prison rules’, but absolute unconditional rebellion…

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