Why do Buddhists seem to take such a strong anti-thought bias? All I could find regarding this issue is this blog post:

Thought is Bad? Enlightenment Means Not Thinking?

He provides great examples of this anti-thought bias, and has an attitude that is similar to my own towards it.

This is something that has disturbed me for a while, and is leading me away from Buddhism. Although direct/pure awareness allows freedom from compulsive thought, why should I not choose to conceptualize? Is there no place for abstraction nor ideas? What about language and cultivation of the intellect? Creativity?


5 Answers 5


The Buddha himself did not cease having thoughts, although he was fully enlightened. Please see this question for details.

In this answer, there is a quote from the Ayacana Sutta, where it says:

Then, while he (the Buddha) was alone and in seclusion, this line of thinking arose in his awareness: "This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. ....."

In the Vitakkasanthana Sutta, we find that unskillful thoughts "imbued with desire, aversion, or delusion" have to be removed.

In the Vina Sutta:

"Monks, in whatever monk or nun there arises desire, passion, aversion, delusion, or mental resistance with regard to forms cognizable via the eye, he/she should hold the mind in check. [Thinking,] 'It's dangerous & dubious, that path, thorny & overgrown, a miserable path, a devious path, impenetrable. It's a path followed by people of no integrity, not a path followed by people of integrity. It's not worthy of you,' he/she should hold the mind in check with regard to forms cognizable via the eye.

And the same applies to the other senses.

You can find a similar discussion in the Aparihani Sutta where it talks about removing "evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress".

There is a slightly different message in the Sacitta Sutta, but also teaching us to remove unskillful thoughts:

"If, on examination, a monk knows, 'I usually remain covetous, with thoughts of ill will, overcome by sloth & drowsiness, restless, uncertain, angry, with soiled thoughts, with my body aroused, lazy, or unconcentrated,' then he should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities.

Hence the recommendation here is to remove unskillful thoughts, but not stop thinking altogether.

Of course, if one is meditating and trying to achieve the state of jhana, then in that situation, he has to concentrate his mind and cease thinking. Even this is only for the second jhana and beyond. In the first jhana, there is still directed thought and evaluation. From the Maha-satipatthana Sutta:

"And what is right concentration? There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.

So, it is inaccurate to say that the Buddha taught to stop thinking altogether (when you're not meditating). He only taught to remove unskillful thoughts.

Constantly ensuring that you don't have unskillful thoughts, is considered a practice of heedfulness (or appamada). Please see this question for details.


The very point of Buddhism is liberation from automatic thinking and achieving agency of thinking. Dukkha, or unhappiness, is a product of attachment to ideas that mismatch reality, causing the inner conflict with its emotional and psychosomatic aftermath.

To this goal, all explanations only go as far as to help one attain mastery over one's thinking and use that to remove the inner conflict -- with behavioral discipline, introspection, and study of theory as supporting practices.

There are plenty of other issues that are half-covered in Buddhism or not covered at all, because they are either secondary, or completely unrelated, to the main objective - liberation from unhappiness through mastery over one's thinking.

Buddhism does not deny reason and thinking - it cautions against being a victim of it. In fact, many schools of Buddhism use very rigorous analytical and logical methods to achieve insight into principles of thinking required for liberation.


Nyom Ethan,

As Upasaka Rubens allready pointed out well, it totally the opposite as mostly taught, especially by secular tending teacher and uninformed lay teacher, but also by monks who like to do a favor and teach for a lifelyhood and that falls under the group Upasaka Savath created: "Art of living" but in a wrong way, since this developing of what the Buddha called "Housholder-Equanimity", often presented as "Emtiness" is very dangerous and possible cuts one of of the path for a long, long time or leads one to conduct a lot of unskillfull things. There was less the Buddha could not just let it be, but coming across people teaching non-action, he used all his skill and "weapons" because it harm deep and many.

As Upasaka Ruben pointed out in his answer: It's all about entangle thinking and right thinking, the path and any action on it is about.

There are two Gifts my person likes to share to give maybe a good addition to the good answers:

The Thinking Cure, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2015; 3pp./6KB) PDF audio Bhante Thanissaro explains not only that the way to peace is not archived by stopping thinging but also gives some useful ways to change ways of it for a good. A eveningtalk given on 18. September 2006 at Wat Metta

And from the usefull Book:"Beyond All Directions: Essays on the Buddhist Path":

The Arrows of Thinking-Papañca & the path to end conflict When discussing the sources of conflict—inner and outer—the Buddha pointed to a type of thinking he called papañca. This term is often translated as “conceptual proliferation,” but a survey of how it’s discussed in the Pali Canon shows that it has less to do with the amount of thinking and more with the way thinking is framed. This is an extract from daylong course, given in the IMC of the Mid-Peninsula, California, USA on 28. April 2012 which focus on understanding what papañca is, how it happens, when it has its uses, and how the need for it can eventually be overcome. A audio file of the full talk is avaliable on audiodhamma.org

The secound category that Upasaka Sawath created, e.g. the Dhamma beyound world, and at its cream real emptiness requires the right time, done practice and nessesary achivements. When we look for example on the vows of Boddhisattva in later traditions, they have been so wise to see the danger and it is a strong misdeed to teach somebody emptiness if not ready for it.

So it's good to listen or readfrom those who actually know the path and to think wisely about it, and

Cutting New Paths in the Mind Here the author explains that we mostly think in rut ways and the only protection so, that we do not endanger ourselves constantly and finally stab ourselves in our ways, is to take on new habits of thinking. One means to counteract is Right Effort and this would help us to walk aside of our usual tendencies in objectification.

Many also think that thinking stops when meditating. That is also a missbelieve, only if on high Jhanas such might be the case and will be otherwise always there. And it's not the way to gain inside, to ignore thinking, but here on that level to see how in appears and decays to understand on the source, that thoughts are impermanent, therefore dukkha and without sense. Something that can not be just gained by developing thought to ignore it, but in looking at the right place in the right condition, how it actually is. The skill and the way to come there is to be developed and gone by skillfull thought till the end. And even after the highest gain, you'll be one that thinks: total right and wisely.


(Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for any commercial purpose or other wordily gain)

  • Venerable's Thanissaro Beyond All Directions is mindblowing!
    – user4878
    Aug 21, 2017 at 21:12
  • So is it, Nyom Ursula ( @UrsulRosu ) , so is it. And one has all reason to feel much graditude at least in regard of ones past merits, that one had met such and was able to take. Mudita. Aug 22, 2017 at 0:26

What about language and cultivation of the intellect? Creativity?

There is two aspect of Buddhism. The art of living and art of crossing. When you come to learning Buddhism, intellect, and creativity you should have thoughts. Because it is necessary for living. When you come to art of crossing (enlightenment) any perception and feeling including thoughts are considered stressful (Dukkha) When you develop your meditation your are inclined to subtle mental states. Perception, feeling, and thoughts are the hindrance to a higher level of experience.


Conceptualising puts you one remove away from reality. Buddhism is about being in and harmonising with reality, not a private side-show that's going on in your head.

Buddhism is not against thought per se, just thought that increases your sense of separateness from reality.

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