Is the goal of meditation to turn off thinking and achieve an inner silence or no-mind state? Some teachers would answer yes, and some would answer definitely not. Very confusing to the beginning student of meditation!

Compounding the confusion is fear. Does meditation make one into a mindless zombie, subject to others' control, perhaps even vulnerable to demonic influence? Some ill-informed religious teachers go so far as to discourage meditation, forgetting what the Bible itself says: "Be still and know that I am the Lord."

The issue is not so much the presence or absence of thought activity during meditation; rather, it is the degree to which one's thought activity is driven, unconscious, and fixated.

Do the Thoughts Ever Stop?

A Buddhist monk says yes and explains how slowing the internal chatter can bring genuine peace. By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Most of us are literally addicted to thinking. Even the most addicted substance abuser can go a few hours between "fixes," but most human beings cannot abide even a few seconds without some sort of "thought fix." If there's nothing significant to think about, we fill the void with fantasy and trivia.

Simply stated, meditation breaks the addiction to thinking. One is then in a highly desirable situation. When you want to have a complete experience of hearing and feeling (for example, as you listen to music), you can do so without being pulled compulsively into thoughts that are not relevant to the music. When you want to have a complete experience of tasting and feeling, as when enjoying a bite of food, you can do that too.

On the other hand, when it is appropriate to think, you find that your thinking abilities are vastly improved. Breaking the compulsion to think simply means that the thinking process is no longer scattered by distracting forces. So when you turn your mind to some topic, you can penetrate that topic with great clarity and vigor. When thinking is no longer at the mercy of scattering forces, it becomes like a penetrating beam of coherent laser light. I'm quite convinced that this aspect of meditation makes a person a better student and problem solver and may actually raise one's IQ.

To illustrate a second, more subtle way that meditation improves thinking abilities, another metaphor may be helpful. When a person works through a compulsive eating problem, they certainly don't stop eating. In fact, they are able to taste and appreciate their food in an entirely new way. Similarly, when a person works through the compulsive need to have answers, the answers begin to come in an entirely new way. The thinking process becomes spontaneous and intuitive. Personal and spiritual insights well up effortlessly.

Breaking the compulsion to think simply means that the thinking process is no longer scattered by distracting forces.

At this point, there is no need to stop the thought process in order to be in a state of meditation because the thought process itself has returned to being part of the effortless flow of nature. Because this mode of thinking is so dramatically different from ordinary thought, each of the major spiritual traditions has a technical term for it. In Christianity it is called sophia; in Judaism, chochma; and in Buddhism, prajña.

Meditation offers two basic strategies for breaking our addiction to thought. The first is to let go constantly of distracting thoughts and return to one's focus--for example, the breath or a mantra. The second is to allow the thought to "do its thing" but to carefully observe it with detachment.