Julius Evola on Meditation: Four Techniques for Controlling the Thoughts

Julius Evola’s guide to Theravāda Buddhism, The Doctrine of Awakening, is divided into two sections. The first part covers the theories and doctrines of primitive Buddhism, and the second half delves into practical techniques for the disciple. (See my review of The Doctrine of Awakening.)

These practical techniques give the modern-day disciple a detailed guide from a trusted source, for Evola relies solely on the teachings of the Buddha and his disciples (unlike modern-day Buddhist guides for the layman, which tend to ignore certain ideas).

This post highlights Evola’s instructions for the “four instruments” that can help control the thought. Mental control must be the first urgent concern of a disciple, for “in its fluid, changeable, and inconsistent character, normal thought reflects, moreover, the general law of samsāric consciousness” (pg. 109).

According to Buddhist doctrine, thought is located in the “cavern of the heart,” meaning that it isn’t merely a mental or psychological process. Thus, the entire body must be engaged in its control. Rather than “forcing” oneself into a false mental control, Evola says one must:

simultaneously, proceed to an act of conversion of the will and of the spirit; interior calm must be created, and one must be pervaded by intimate, sincere earnestness. (pg. 109)

Based on this description, it can be suggested that the disciple contact a metaphysical energy to help manifest the will and spirit in order to better control the thoughts and other aspects of samsāric existence.

The result of mental control is a state called appamada, which means “conscientious” or “concern.” This is the state of consciousness in which one is master of oneself, by virtue of being centered in oneself. Rather than letting your thoughts control you or run wild, it is the “first form of entry into oneself, of an earnestness and of a fervid, austere concentration” (pg. 110). According the Max Muller, appamada forms the base of every virtue. The being who possesses appamada is said to not die, while those who let their thoughts run wild are as if already dead:

From his heights of wisdom he will look down on vain and agitated beings, as one who lives on a mountaintop looks down on those who live in the plains. (pg. 110)

All of this requires an incredible strength of will. Control of the thoughts should be the first step in developing the will and control required for the path of awakening. Here are the four techniques (“instruments”) that can be used to control the thoughts:

The First Instrument: Substitution

This technique should be used when harmful and unworthy thoughts arise–those that are manifestations of the asava, that is, thought-images of craving, aversion, or blindness. When these thoughts arise, one should replace them with a beneficial idea. This beneficial thought will dissolve the harmful one and in the process, “the intimate spirit will be fortified, will become calm, unified, and strong.”

There are several characteristics of an unworthy thought. Basically, any thought that encourages desires, cravings, errors in thinking (i.e., thoughts not in keeping with the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path), and thoughts that serve to bind the thinker to the world could all be said to be unworthy. Here is a description:

That, whereby fresh mania of desire sprouts and the old mania is reinforced; fresh mania of existence sprouts and the old mania is reinforced; fresh mania of error sprouts and the old mania is reinforced.

Part of this first technique involves creating a “chain of beneficial thoughts.” When a thought of “ill will or cruelty” arises, here is what one should think:

It leads to my own harm, it leads to others’ harm, it leads to the harm of both, it uproots wisdom, it brings vexation, it does not lead to extinction, it leads to self-limitation.

If this process of thought-replacement is performed with sufficient sincerity and intensity, then the harmful thought will dissolve.

The Second Instrument: ‘Expulsion Through Horror or Contempt’

This practice involves getting rid of harmful thoughts by associating them with things that fill you with disgust and loathing. Evola cites a simile for the technique from a Buddhist text:

‘Just as a woman or a man, young, flourishing and charming, round whose neck were tied the carcass of a snake, or the carcass of a dog, or a human carcass, would be filled with fear, horror, and loathing,’ so, the perception of the unworthy character of those images or thoughts should produce an immediate and instinctive act of expulsion, from which their dispersion or neutralizing would follow. Whenever an affective chord is touched, then by making an effort one must be able to feel contempt, shame, and disgust for the enjoyment or dislike that has arisen. (pg. 111)

Evola is adament that this repulsion should not be an act of struggling, but should arise naturally from a sense of superiority over states of mind that are unworthy. One should be filled with an “earnestly lived sense of the ‘indignity’ and irrationality of the images and inclinations that appear” (113).

The Third Instrument: Dissociation

The third technique for controlling thoughts is to not become attached to them–simply ignore them. Evola recounts a simile for this technique as well:

As a man with good sight, who does not wish to observe what comes into his field of view at a particular moment can close his eyes or look elsewhere. When attention is resolutely withheld, the images or the tendencies are again restrained. (pg. 112-113)

Evola cautions that the practitioner should be careful to not merely “chase away” a thought–doing so could have the opposite effect of causing the thought to come back even stronger. One must instead have the strength of will to not even see or acknowledge the thought.

This practice is especially useful for a normal but active state of mind (rather than when obsessed with a particular thought). This is the “monkey mind” referred to by Buddhists, in which a man is merely a passive participant of the images, emotional states, and thoughts that overtake him. Evola says these “psychoaffective aggregates of fear, desire, hope, despair, and so on, fascinate or hypnotize [the] mind, subtly tying it, they ‘manipulate’ it by their influence and feed on its energies like vampires” (pg. 113).

The Fourth Instrument: Gradual Dismemberment

The fourth technique is the practice of making the thoughts vanish, one after the next. It is a means of stopping desire by analyzing it down to its roots, so that it disappears. By examining the reasons behind every thought, behavior, and desire, a person can effectively halt any obsession.The simile is:

Just as a man walking in haste might think: ‘Why am I walking in haste? Let me go more slowly’ and, walking more slowly, might think: ‘But why am I walking at all? I wish to stand still’ and, standing still, might think: ‘For what reason am I standing up? I will sit down’ and, sitting down, might think: ‘Why must I only sit? I wish to lie down’ and might lie down; just so if harmful and unworthy thoughts, images of craving, of aversion and of blindness, again arise in an ascetic in spite of his contempt and rejection of them, he must make these thoughts successively vanish one after another.’ . . . [this way considers] them with a calm and objective eye one after another. (pg. 113)

This practice is based on what Buddhists texts call “the conditioned nature of desire.” This refers how a chain of thoughts is created, such as an obsession that feeds itself, but that can be broken if the conditions it depends and feeds upon are broken.

Direct Action (The ‘Fifth’ Instrument)

This technique is advised if none of the four instruments will work. The method is to clench the teeth and press the tongue hardly against the roof of the mouth (the palate) and, with your will, “crush, compel, beat down the mind.” The simile is:

As a strong man, seizing another weaker man by the head or by the shoulders, compels him, crushes him, throws him down. (pg. 114)

The same precaution applies for this technique as the others: It must not be performed from a place of weakness, but from a place of superiority. Evola says the practitioner must be able to call on the illumination and energy that exists outside of the samsāric current. Only then, he writes, “is there no danger that the victory will be merely exterior and apparent, and that the enemy, instead of being destroyed, has disengaged and entrenched himself in the subconscious” (pg. 114).

*  *  *

For more on the four instruments, see Evola’s Doctrine of Awakening. For a general background on the Buddhist theories behind these instruments, see my review of The Doctrine of Awakening. And for more posts on radical traditionalism and Julius Evola, please visit the archives here.