What do scriptures recommend? What should one choose? A thoughtless (who does not think, without thoughts or nearly thoughtless) mind or mind filled with the thoughts of 'God'?
A mind becomes thoughtless during SamAdhi in the true sense. Because at that time everything is merged into one. So, what is there then to fix your mind upon?
So, then, how can scriptures straightaway recommend in having a thoughtless mind? When it has to come at the very last stage of SAdhana?
For spiritual aspirant who is practicing meditation, two methods are basically prescribed.
Sthula DhyAna- Where mind is fixed upon God, who's endowed with bodily features (like face, eyes, hands, legs etc).
Sukshma DhyAna- Where mind is to be fixed upon subtle Mantrik manifestation of the Deity. In this case, nothing gross we have to fix our minds upon.
In Shakti YAmala, Lord Shiva describes these two meditative techniques to Mother Goddess as follows:
Sthulasukshma vibhedena dhyAnantu dvividam bhavet |
Suksham mantrapurgyAnam sthulam vigraha chintanam ||
KarapAdodarAsyAdi rupam yat sthula vigraham |
Sukshmacha prakrite rupam param gyAnamayam smritam ||
Sukshma dhyAnam maheshAni kadachinna hi jAyate |
Sthula dhyAnam maheshAni kritvA mokshamavApnuyAt ||
According to subtle and gross, meditation are of two kinds. Meditating on the subtle Mantrik representation of the deity is Sukshma DhyAna. And, fixing the mind upon the gross body of the deity is Sthula DhyAna. The form which is endowed with hands, feet, torso and face is the gross form. And the illuminating (GyAnmaya) form, that's beyond TrigunAtmaka Prakriti, is known as the Sukshma form. Hey MaheshAni, [without Sthula DhyAna] Sukshma DhyAna can never be accomplished. [The aspirant] gets [SAlokya etc] liberation by performing Sthula DhyAna.
Having a thoughtless mind from the start, while meditating, is never thus recommended. First, we do Sthula and then after mastering it, we do Sukshma. And, finally it leads to the stage of Nirvikalpa, which is the true state of thoughtlessness. And, one can not just achieve that stage from the start.
Or in other words, for achieving the true state of thoughtlessness, we have to do thoughtful meditation first. Even, most scriptures, do not recommend the Sukshma DhyAna from the start. For, example, Garuda PurAna states one should always contemplate on a definite form of God. This advice is given taking into account a man's inability to straightaway fix his mind on the formless (Amurtya).
Amurtashchet sthiro na swAt tato murtim vichintayet -- A mind can not be fixed upon the formless, that's why always think of a form of God.
It is very difficult to practice thoughtless meditation. How to proceed in meditation should only be done under the guidance of your guru. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa said that one removes one thorn stuck in you with another thorn, after removing the first thorn you throw both away. Meditation is the same. You first remove all thoughts with one thought. Then you can throw the one remaining away. Swami Vivekananda says (Complete Works, V6, pp 486-488; available here under Volume 6, Conversation and Dialogues, VII - http://www.advaitaashrama.org/cw/content.php):
Swami Shuddhananda asked, "What is the real nature of meditation, sir?"
Swamiji: Meditation is the focusing of the mind on some object. If the mind acquires concentration on one object, it can be so concentrated on any object whatsoever.
Disciple: Mention is made in the scriptures of two kinds of meditation — one having some object and the other objectless. What is meant by all that, and which of the two is the higher one?
Swamiji: First, the practice of meditation has to proceed with some one object before the mind. Once I used to concentrate my mind on some black point. Ultimately, during those days, I could not see the point any more, nor notice that the point was before me at all — the mind used to be no more — no wave of functioning would rise, as if it were all an ocean without any breath of air. In that state I used to experience glimpses of supersensuous truth. So I think, the practice of meditation even with some trifling external object leads to mental concentration. But it is true that the mind very easily attains calmness when one practices meditation with anything on which one's mind is most apt to settle down. This is the reason why we have in this country so much worship of the images of gods and goddesses. And what wonderful art developed from such worship! But no more of that now. The fact, however, is that the objects of meditation can never be the same in the case of all men. People have proclaimed and preached to others only those external objects to which they held on to become perfected in meditation. Oblivious of the fact, later on, that these objects are aids to the attainment of perfect mental calmness, men have extolled them beyond everything else. They have wholly concerned themselves with the means, getting comparatively unmindful of the end. The real aim is to make the mind functionless, but this cannot be got at unless one becomes absorbed in some object.
Disciple: But if the mind becomes completely engrossed and identified with some object, how can it give us the consciousness of Brahman?
Swamiji: Yes, though the mind at first assumes the form of the object, yet later on the consciousness of that object vanishes. Then only the experience of pure "isness" remains.
Disciple: Well, sir, how is it that desires rise even after mental concentration is acquired?
Swamiji: Those are the outcome of previous Samskâras (deep-rooted impressions or tendencies). When Buddha was on the point of merging in Samadhi (superconsciousness), Mâra made his appearance. There was really no Mara extraneous to the mind; it was only the external reflection of the mind's previous Samskaras.
Disciple: But one hears of various fearful experiences prior to the attainment of perfection. Are they all mental projections?
Swamiji: What else but that? The aspiring soul, of course, does not make out at that time that all these are external manifestations of his own mind. But all the same, there is nothing outside of it. Even what you see as this world does not exist outside. It is all a mental projection. When the mind becomes functionless, it reflects the Brahman-consciousness. Then the vision of all spheres of existence may supervene, " — Whatsoever sphere one may call up in mind" (Mundaka, III. i. 10). Whatsoever is resolved on becomes realised at once. He who, even on attaining this state of unfalsified self-determination, preserves his watchfulness and is free from the bondage of desire, verily attains to the knowledge of Brahman. But he who loses his balance after reaching this state gets the manifold powers, but falls off from the Supreme goal.
So saying, Swamiji began to repeat "Shiva, Shiva", and then continued: There is no way, none whatsoever, to the solution of the profound mystery of this life except through renunciation. Renunciation, renunciation and renunciation — let this be the one motto of your lives. " — For men, all things on earth are infected with fear, Vairâgya (renunciation) alone constitutes fearlessness" (Vairâgya-Shatakam).
In Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms, Dharana (steady concentration) is followed by Dhyana (meditation) and then Samadhi. Vivekananda's translation of the Yoga Aphorisms is in Volume 1 of his Complete Works (same link).
"Thoughtlessness", which is equivalent to "nothingness" -- is the truest form of the supreme one.
BG 6.2 — O PAndava, what is said as "SannyAsa", know it to be Yoga; Anyone without retiring from thoughts (or vows) doesn't become Yogi.
However, since we have senses along with mind, it's difficult to practice this state directly.
"Thoughts of God", ultimately is chained to "thoughtlessness", because of implicit surrender-ship. This approach is easier and that's the reason, why majority of the cultures have some or the other form of idol-worshipping. Idol can be a picture or sculpture or Guru or parents or book or place or any entity. It has to be concentrated.
Hence, instead of having no thought, it's recommended to have singular thought. Both have the same result (something like, 0! = 1!). What we consider God, is upto our nature. For a mathematician, maths is god; for a gambler, gambling is god and so on...
BG 12.1 - Arjuna said: [Among] the devotees,
- thus continuously engaged in your devotion (i.e. thoughtful) &
- those again [engaged] in your indestructible, unmanifested form; (i.e. thoughtless)
Who experiences the union (yoga) better?
In above verse "you" has to be interpreted as all the endless number of forms described in chapter-10. Similarly in the below verse "Me" has to be interpreted as, those chapter-10 forms only.
BG 12.2 - The Blessed Lord said, those who fix their mind on 'Me' by engaging in continuous devotion with endowed in supreme faith, are more perfect in yoga
Now the lord says that, those attempting to attach their mind in the formless (unthinkable), have greater struggle & the way is painful:
BG 12.5 - For them who have mind attached to the Unmanifested the struggle is greater; For embodied [beings], the destination to unmanifested is painful.
From below interesting thread, here is what Shri Ramana Maharshi says:
What liberation technique taught by Shree Ramana Maharshi?
By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’. The thought ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.
One should obviously choose thoughtless mind over 'GOD' invariably (whatever the word in double quotes mean) because 'GOD' is a thing of mind or it is an idea/thought. Since thought is never sacred, so the idea of 'GOD' brought about by mind is never sacred. You don't need to go very far, just see the statics of slaughtering or killings it is mostly done in the name of 'GOD'. Whereas, even for few moments if one achieves thoughtless mind or nearly thoughtless mind, one is closer to something which is not of the mind or idea or thought. It has been pointed out by Vijnabhairava tantra
Unswerving buddhi without any image or support constitutes meditation. Concentration on an imaginative representation of the divine with a body, eyes, mouth, hands, etc is not meditation. verse 146
And the very next verse implies continues to revolutionise together with encouraging to breaking away from notion of the self.
Worship does not mean offering of flowers, etc. It rather consists in setting one's heart on that highest ether of consciousness which is above all thought-constructs!. It really means dissolution of self with perfect ardour.
Did you see? Lemme reiterate,
...It really means dissolution of self with perfect ardour...
So, dissolution doesn't take place with romanticing with the word "GOD", the thought of 'GOD' is another material idea or thought which is more or less than any other thought. This has been expressed by Jiddu Krishnamurthy beautifully,
A man who believes in God can never find God. If you are open to reality, there can be no belief in reality. If you are open to the unknown, there can be no belief in it. After all, belief is a form of self-protection, and only a petty mind can believe in God. Look at the belief of the aviators during the war who said God was their companion as they were dropping bombs! So you believe in God when you kill, when you are exploiting people. You worship God and go on ruthlessly extorting money, supporting the army—yet you say you believe in mercy, compassion, kindliness. ...As long as belief exists, there can never be the unknown; you cannot think about the unknown, thought cannot measure it. The mind is the product of the past, it is the result of yesterday, and can such a mind be open to the unknown? It can only project an image, but that projection is not real; so your god is not God—it is an image of your own making, an image of your own gratification. There can be reality only when the mind understands the total process of itself and comes to an end. When the mind is completely empty—only then is it capable of receiving the unknown. The mind is not purged until it understands the content of relationship—its relationship with property, with people—until it has established the right relationship with everything. Until it understands the whole process of conflict in relationship, the mind cannot be free. Only when the mind is wholly silent, completely inactive, not projecting, when it is not seeking and is utterly still—only then that which is eternal and timeless comes into being.
So, in Summary - the knowing of 'what is' without any prejudices, without any thought, is any day better than romance with the idea of 'GOD' because the 'GOD' is another thought better to shun.