Thought Forms and Green Tara


In Buddhism, the characterisation of harmful acts which we repent and resolve to avoid, includes harmful acts of the mind. There is the idea that thoughts can actually cause harm per se, rather than just being a precursor to the possibility of physical harmful acts. Such harmful acts – whether of the mind or otherwise – are characterised as stemming from ignorance, but are “evil” nevertheless.

The idea of acts of the mind being harmful is actually widespread in the world. In the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and parts of Africa, protection is required against the “evil eye”. This refers to jealousy which is seen as exerting a harmful force.

In the West, there is much interest in psychic phenomena. The College of Psychic Studies in London, and other institutions, offer courses in energy healing, developing psychic intuition, mediumship, etc. Among the “psychic community”, there is also the idea of harmful acts of the mind, referred to as “psychic attack”. Through intentions to heal, we can affect healing in people, and conversely, through negative thoughts or intentions, we can connect with and produce negative energy which may be harmful not only towards the person such thoughts are directed towards, but may also cause collateral damage in adversely affecting those physically or psychically close to the target. Harm may occur even if the negative thoughts are unconscious and if harm is not specifically intended.

In Buddhism, the purpose of meditation is primarily to avoid the main “evil” and source of suffering – that of clinging. We aim to train our minds to recognize that we are thinking, and then to let go of the thought, no matter whether it is a positive or negative thought. The idea is not to push thoughts away if they are negative, or to hold on to them if they are positive, since by doing either, we are practising attachment, and feeding the thought. By trying to resist an unwanted thought…. perhaps a traumatic or disturbing memory – for example –  we are actually giving it energy. If we cling to a positive thought, it will cause some degree of suffering when this thought ends, and we are practising and strengthening our habit of clinging.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is the idea that when we feed thoughts they solidify. By allowing thoughts to pass like clouds through the sky, we do not allow them to become solid and to exert a force over our minds.

So all these factors relate to the potential of thought to become solid; to exert a force; to take a shape. “Thought forms” – a term which comes up often in psychic literature. Eckhart Tolle, in the Power of Now and his other books, refers to “pain bodies”. These are, essentially, solidified energetic entities created by our own negative thoughts and pain, which we may constantly tap into, tune into, connect with, and feed with further pain, and which seem to exert a life of their own!  They may, it seems, commune with “pain bodies” generated by other people’s minds.

French sociologist Durkheim refers in his work to the “collective consciousness” – which appears to refer to a giant thought form which may engulf a collectivity of people, from a family, to an entire society.  This would consist in a collection of values, ideas, prejudices.  There is the implication that while one person or group of people may be predominant in generating and solidifying the cluster of thoughts and ideas which make up the form,  each person is tapping into, contributing to and strengthening this “cloud” of thought.  (Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa come to mind as among the most extreme malevolent examples.)  For those who get a feeling that this “collective consciousness” conflicts with their true individual consciousness, it must take a great deal of strength of mind to break out.  This notion of the “collective consciousness” implies the impact of external forces on the individual mind.

A psychiatrist once told me that there is a view in the field of psychiatry of the healthy mind being “sealed”. That if people feel that their minds are being controlled, or invaded, or permeated from external sources, this is a measure of mental illness. That a healthy mind is an impermeable one, essentially.  One can imagine someone in Nazi Germany going to a psychiatrist, complaining of a conspiracy by the Reich to act on his mind and control his actions…. and being diagnosed as having a mental illness for reporting such experiences!

Much of the world in fact operates on the basis of the permeability of the mind: the advertising industry; the brainwashing of commercialism – to name a couple of the more benign (although often far from benign) examples.

Then there is toxic exploitation of the belief in the permeability of the mind. There are voodoo practitioners who – if they are unethical – may employ ritual procedures to solidify thought forms to harm their targets. A Western couple who lived in Ghana related how they witnessed for themselves a schoolteacher being the target of voodoo (or juju as it is called there) and instantly becoming mad from that point on.  I’ve heard it said a number of times that voodoo cannot work on someone who does not believe in it. It is fear that lets it in. Similar ideas exist among the “psychic community” – through fear, one becomes more open and susceptible to psychic attack. But this does not explain why a psychic or voodoo attack might also fall onto those who are physically or psychically close to the victim – who may have no knowledge of the attack, and no fear.

To continue on the subject of the problem with proposing the impermeability of the human mind, those who rape the minds of entire generations of entire nations to the purpose of evil seem to know differently, and it has been demonstrated to work. At the Institute of Propaganda Studies in Israel, we were shown techniques used to brainwash the German people before and during WWII into believing the Jews and other races were subhuman; techniques which were first honed in relation to the Namibian peoples – the first victims of genocide perpetrated by Germany in the 20th Century. Then there is Hamas and Isis – infiltrating the minds of their human instruments of mass murder – “grooming” them for this task from infancy.

A summary internet search offers many techniques designed to get rid of negative thought forms and the harm they may exert on people.

Tibetan Buddhism offers a very powerful antidote. For while there is an emphasis on letting go of thoughts, there is, at the same time, the ritualised solidifying of thoughts in a controlled way in order to cultivate such qualities as fearlessness, compassion. In the Green Tara Practice, for example, we visualise this deity, who has formidable superhuman qualities: she is very swift, appearing in an instant to anyone who calls upon her; her face is like 100 full moons in a Tibetan autumn. If just one full moon can light up a night sky, think how bright the night would be with 100 full moons! Her body is like a multitude of stars. Well – taking the sun as one star, a multitude would be blindingly bright! With her frown, she can destroy all adverse machinations. She whirls around surrounded by a garland of blazing fire. And these are just a few of her attributes! During the practice, we invite Green Tara into the space before us; then in an instant we are in her body, and finally, the visualisation melts into light and merges with us.

Ultimately, when we are ready to transcend notions of dualism, we see that there is no real separation between Tara and ourselves.

A practice that takes much time and commitment, but perhaps it can be a lifesaver!

Dewa Che – Tara Mantra

What is(n’t) this thing called love?

Residents of Holy Isle - 2 wild foals
Residents of Holy Isle – 2 wild foals

“You don’t know what love is

Til you’ve learned the meaning of the blues….”

I recently went on a retreat on the Holy Isle, off the Isle of Arran, with Tibetan Lama Rimpoche Yeshe.  On a couple of evenings, volunteers on the island held a “discussion meeting” – a topic for discussion was decided upon, and we were to discuss the nature of the subject, from the heart, while remaining in the present!

On one of these occasions, the subjects decided upon – since a number were thrown up – were love, and false perception or delusion.  Being “in love”, for example, is an example of false perception or delusion:  the object of love can do no wrong.  (Although can we ever truly perceive a person?  Or anything?  Is perception always distortion stemming from the perceiving mind?)  Being “in love” may consist of attachment rather than love, and may incorporate obsession, dependency, and other unhealthy mind-states.  From a Buddhist viewpoint, attachment or clinging is one of the most harmful states of mind:  harmful to oneself, and harmful to the person to whom one is clinging.  However, most unenlightened human beings do not seem to know how to love without attachment.

This can manifest in an infinite variety of ways – some relatively imperceptible, others more extreme:  parents clinging to their (even grown-up) children – not allowing them to live their own lives… breaking up relationships.  Closet gay people can cling to their straight marriages – forcing their spouses to unknowingly live a lie.  (Thus, the consequences of homophobia can harm straight as well as gay people, as any phobia harms the phobic.  And that is not to say that only straight people are capable of homophobia, by any means!  But I digress……)

Someone had proclaimed, earlier, when Lama Yeshe was leaving the Island, “I love you, Lama Yeshe”, so the question arose whether this was love, or gratitude, or love mixed in with gratitude.

Someone posed the question as to whether love and compassion were the same thing.  I suggested that it would help to discover this by looking at whether the love we feel for living beings is the same as love we may have for inanimate objects.  Somebody reacted strongly to this. “Why do we need to know?”” she demanded.  I pointed out that this could help us to know whether love and compassion are the same.  “Why do we need to know?” she reiterated.  Because we are examining the nature of love.  And therefore we need to look at what isn’t love.  “Why?”  (In her place, at her age, I might have pointed out helpfully that bananas are not love!  Donkeys are not love!)  Because we are trying to find the essence of love. “Why?”  She couldn’t relate to what I was saying, she explained later.

Perhaps I was not discussing from the heart, but was entrenched in the old habit of academic debate.  And assuming that we were all engaged in the pursuit – probably also academic – of the essence of a concept, and the meaning of a word. Of what practical use is it to know the difference between love and compassion?  How does it affect our lives to know the difference.  Do we indeed need to know?  And another interesting question:  can love exist without compassion, and can there be compassion without love?  I can anticipate what the young challenger at the discussion meeting would have responded with:  “Why do we need to know?”!

I can think of at least one practical application:  I love my guitars, for example.  (Which is in fact attachment – or maybe something a little more complicated.  It is not just that I can produce music with them, sing with them – as I could do that with other guitars which might have a more beautiful sound.  It is that I have imbued them with value because of their link with my personal history and personal relationships – but that is also not all it is, since I may not have imbued other objects linked with my history and relationships with the same value.  And here, I seem to be closer to an analytical enquiry, rather than an enquiry from the heart!)  But if I felt compassion for my guitars, I think that might give cause for concern!  This, I think, is one reason why it might be important to know the difference between love and compassion!  I think compassion is something that arises in the face of suffering, and inanimate objects can’t suffer.

Science fiction, however, is crossing this boundary:  we are presented with robots modeled perfectly on the human form (externally), which are capable of loving, and which have feelings which can be hurt.  And the result is that the consumer’s compassion is aroused by a convincing portrayal of such emotions.  Is the consumer then projecting her/his emotions on the inanimate object?  Or is it that humans can create objects which then take on lives of their own, developing in their own way, beyond the control of their manufacturers?  So far, this is confined within the realms of science fiction.

It is also problematic to use the word “inanimate” in relation to robots which mimic life, or even in relation to guitars, which can respond so beautifully to a musician’s fingers, which have individual quirkiness, and which “die” if they remain unplayed for too long.

Holy Isle - looking onto Isle of Arran
The Holy Isle – looking onto the Isle of Arran