Clear awareness of sense data is very important. Learning must begin at the first moment of awareness – cognizing in order to learn, not in order to indulge in like or dislike, or to feed sense desires. Although science may not openly speak about or emphasize this method, it is essential if the aim is to perceive the truth.
The second factor in attaining knowledge is right thinking. This means thinking that is structured, reasoned and in harmony with causes and conditions. In Buddhist scriptures many ways of thinking, collectively known as yoniso-manasikara, or intelligent reflection, are mentioned. Intelligent reflection is an important factor in the development of Right View, understanding in accordance with reality. It is to see things according to their causes and conditions, or to understand the principle of causes and conditions. Some of the ways of intelligent reflection mentioned in the texts are:
Searching for causes and conditions: This kind of thinking was of prime importance in the Buddha’s own enlightenment. For example, when the Buddha investigated the experience of pleasure and pain, he asked himself, “On what do these feelings of pleasure and pain depend? By what are they conditioned?” He saw that sense contact is the condition for feeling. Then, asking himself, “By what is sense contact conditioned?” the Buddha saw that the six sense bases are the condition for sense contact, and so on. This is an example of thinking according to causes and conditions.
Thinking by way of analysis: Life as a human organism can be analyzed into two main constituents, body and mind. Body and mind can both be further analyzed. Mind, for example, can be analyzed into vedana (feeling), sañña (perception), sankhara (volitional activities), and viññana (consciousness),[**] and each of these categories can be further divided into even smaller constituents. Feeling, for example, can be divided into three kinds, five kinds, six kinds and more. Thinking in this way is called “thinking by way of analysis,” which is a way of breaking up the overall picture or system so that the causes and conditions involved can be more easily seen.
Thinking in terms of benefit and harm: This is to look at the quality of things, both their benefit and their harm, rather than looking exclusively at their benefit or their harm. Most people tend to see only the benefits of things that they like, and only the faults of the things they don’t like, but Buddhism encourages us to look at things from all perspectives, to see both the benefit and the harm in them.
These different kinds of thinking (altogether, ten are mentioned in the scriptures) are known as yoniso-manasikara, a very important part of the Buddhist way to truth. In its broadest sense, thinking also includes the way we perceive things, and so it also includes the level of first awareness, and, like those forms of awareness, can also be divided into two main groups – that is, thinking in order to see the truth, and thinking in a way that is beneficial.