Sometimes, I notice the tendency of the mind to take things personally when things go wrong. Quite amusing really, how the mind assumes everything is about itself. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I sometimes hear people cursing the weather, as if it is a person. Or thanking the universe. This human tendency we have to personalise things.
Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object. -Oxford Language Dictionary
The other animals do something similar I’ve discovered but coming from their perspective. For example, our pets don’t see us as human they attribute feline or canine characteristics to us.
Identifying with things and taking them personally can cause us a lot of suffering. A lot of psychic energy is bound up in the story ‘I am’. When that psychic energy is released. It becomes unbound, limitless. No longer restricted by the rigid boundaries of an identity. Freed from those constraints. It becomes boundless.
A state of mind difficult to define and put into words. To define it is to attach conditions to it, and it is the unconditioned. Words cannot go there. They can only point to it.
We may not be able to change the universe, but we do have the capacity to change ourselves. We can direct our thoughts and actions. Which means we can make informed choices. And if the choices we make are based on the right view of things, which is that there are some actions that lead to good outcomes, and other actions that lead to bad outcomes. Then that becomes a condition that can bring about the end of suffering.
In a nutshell, greed, hate, and delusion are what lead to bad outcomes; and generosity, kindness, and clarity are what lead to good outcomes.
When we become more aware, we start to wise up and notice the recurring patterns and cycles that lead to unhappiness. We become more aware of our triggers and how we respond to things; aware of how our reaction can either lead to more suffering or can lead to peace. We can then choose (intend) to react differently to our circumstances, guided by wisdom and discernment.
Unfortunately, the world is dependent on conditions, it is uncertain and changing. We can’t do much about that. But we can change the way we react to it. Choose to be kind, and not let the darkness take away our light. Then our peace remains unshaken by things outside our control. We don’t have to go along with the stream of the world and do what others do. We can choose to be different. This is where our power lies.
A Zen teacher told a story about a lady on a checkout who went out of her way to help a customer. He was in the queue watching her kindness, and it touched him deeply. It moved him enough to talk about it in a dharma talk, which I and many others attended. And now I am writing about it here in this article. The person who performed that act of kindness created ripples that she is completely unaware of. This is why the results of any act of genuine kindness are incalculable. Who can predict where they will lead, what changes they can make, and who they may affect? By changing ourselves, we can change the world without trying to change the world.
It’s been a weird few days, man, not being feeling quite myself. Got a bit of a low-grade fever and no medicine. Practising the way of managing painful feelings without taking them personally or getting caught up in the longing, irritability, and delusion about them. Just letting that which is sensed be that which is sensed without adding more to it than what’s already there.
I think making a livelihood out of writing is going to be difficult, a long uphill journey, but I will persevere. One day, it will mature and bear fruit, I am sure.
Sometimes people can be a bit offish with me, and I don’t know why. Sometimes Christian friends get a bit weird with me, I guess, because they feel mistrust because I am a Buddhist. The thing is, Buddhism is just a path that leads to the end of sorrow and suffering, to the end of greed, hate, and delusion. Whether you are theist or atheist, you can walk this path. Indeed, there are many Christian Buddhists out there.
Whatever helps you to row your boat up the stream (-:
I used to be a Christian long ago. But I lost faith in that religion. I disagree that one has to put all their hope into a saviour. People then become less inclined to put in the effort needed to become a Christ themselves. Believing some supreme being will do the work for them. But doesn’t the word ‘Christian’ imply they are to be like Christ on Earth?
I don’t think depending on another being to be your saviour is how this universe works. I think God helps those who help themselves. In Buddhism, one very much has to pull oneself up by their bootstraps and make effort, noone else can do that for you. You can be a theist or an atheist and still be a Buddhist. A belief in a supreme being is not part of the path. You learn to become your own saviour.
MIndfulness of dhamma categories
This is the fourth foundation of mindfulness. There are five categories here to be mindful of: the five hindrances; the five aggregates of clinging; the six external and six internal sense bases; the seven factors of awakening; and the four noble truths.
What follows is my current understanding of the fourth foundation of mindfulness:
The five hindrances
These are: greed, aversion, stagnation, restlessness, and doubt.
They are called hindrances, because they are what stop us from reaching the deep states of meditation and prevent us from seeing things clearly, they distort our perception of reality.
Greed/lust is like being in debt, one feels a sense of lack and does not feel happy until one gets what one wants, this longing, this wishing is unpleasant and creates a feeling of disatisfaction and dis -ease in the mind. Like when coloured dye is added to water, the water looks attractive but it distorts things and makes them unclear.
Aversion is like being afflicted by a sickness. Anger/hatred is painful, it literally poisons the body with harmful toxins, like a burning coal that one picks up and throws, which burns oneself as well as where it is thrown. It is like boiling water that distorts the surface so one cannot see clearly.
Stagnation is like being in prison. One feels stuck and unable to escape the dullness and drowsiness, the fatigue. Like a stagnant pond with slime and algae growing over the surface, one cannot see the water clearly.
Restlessness is like being a slave to a control freak of a boss, who never leaves you alone, is always making demands on your time and pushing you. It is like the wind blowing ripples and waves across the surface of water making it difficult to see it clearly.
Doubt is like being at a crossroads and not knowing which way to go. If the wrong choice is made it could be disastrous. One cannot stay choosing for long as that is also dangerous because their are bandits about. So one has to make a choice and hope they pick the right direction. Doubt is like muddy water, where one cannot see clearly into the depths.
Mindfulness is being trained to notice a hindrance when it is present in the mind, note what caused it to arise, learn what makes it tick, and how to remove it from the mind and prevent it from arising again in the future. The instructions on how to deal with the five hindrances are in right effort, the sixth factor of the noble eightfold path. Mindfulness is to carry out the instructions of right effort and become the sentinel of consciousness.
One way to observe the hindrances is through watching one's thoughts. Interrupting them if they manifest any of the hindrances, then replacing them with thoughts which are the opposite.This is hard work, but eventually with persistence and determined effort, the mind when freed from the hindrances will be full of happy peaceful thoughts. It then becomes easier to settle into meditation and the thoughts will naturally calm and grow quiet. Continually bringing one's attention back to the meditation object is also a way to seclude the mind from the hindrances.
The five aggregates of clinging
These are the five streams that come together to make up a living being: The body, feelings, perceptions, mental volitions, and consciousness.
They are called the five khandas in Pali, and the five skandhas in Sanskrit.
They are streams because they are always changing with nothing lasting or substantial behind them. Just like one never sees the same stream twice. A stream can give the illusion of looking the same as it flows past, but the water molecules one is observing are different each moment.
The five aggregates are just processes rising, flowing, fading outside of our control. The body ages, changes, gets sick and dies whether we like or not. Feelings come from sense impressions which happen because of the environment around us. Perceptions change.Thoughts and emotions change. Consciousness just reflects all this, constantly changing from moment to moment. Non of it is the self. Not me, not mine.The five aggregates arise because of causes and conditions. When one looks closely with a mind that is serene and lucid, one cannot find a substantial self in any of them, it is all just process flowing and changing from one moment to the next.
It can be helpful to become aware of how we cling to these streams and identify with them. And how this clinging causes us suffering.
This lack of substance applies to other beings as well. Our connections with others are also insubstantial. Everyone is changing. When we get attached to and cling to other beings, this causes us suffering, because when the inevitable happens and we eventually become separated from them it can cause us great emotional pain and distress when they are no longer around; or when they change and are no longer the same person they were.
Every being we meet leaves an impression on the mind. Their voices and energies make their home there in some fashion. Our heads becoming a mix of all the different beings we meet. The traces they leave on us shaping who we are, and who we become.
The mind is always needing to cling to something. I think because of the uncertainty impermanence creates. Meditation is a form of clinging. It creates a state of mind that does not last, but it is a useful illusion of stability, one that secludes one from the five hindrances to help one see things clearly and decrease one's suffering.
This huge web of interdependence, a complex weave of cause and effect, constantly changing, with nothing substantial behind any of it.
Who am I? Who are you? What is the self?
The six external and six internal sense bases
These are the six senses, both the contact and the impression that contact makes on the mind. The six senses are: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and the mind sense (called the mind sense because it is able to look at itself and get a snapshot of one's mood, emotions, one's state of mind).
The Buddha gives a simile of six animals all pulling in diferent directions at the same time on ropes that are tied to a common knot in the centre. The six animals represent the six senses, the ropes tied together is a metaphor of how they are all connected together and pull the mind in different directions.
There is a meditation one can practise here, where one can place one's awareness in the body and use that feeling of embodiment as an anchor. To stake and peg the communal knot to the ground.
The six animals continue tugging on the ropes but are no longer pulling you off in different directions. You keep grounded in the body and remain still and calm, allowing those sensations and feelings to just be without creating a story out of them anymore.
Eventually the six senses start to settle down and stop pulling. They go quiet and things get very still and pleasant. This can bring a feeling of liberation and a reduction to suffering.
With much practise it starts to feel like a super power, especially in this modern world. The ability to become still and content while the world goes on around one, no longer feeling the need to get involved with it. Not always easy to do, it takes patience and perseverance, and playing the long game, but in time it can become a supernormal power that brings with it a freedom from clinging to the world of the senses.
The seven factors of awakening
These are the support beams that hold up the awakened mind. One is to cultivate and develop these till they become second nature. One becomes mindful of their presence in the mind, and how to keep them going continuously in a constant cycle. Which is the second set of instructions in Right effort.
The seven factors of enlightenment are: mindfulness, wonder, energy, joy, serenity, samhadi, and equanimity.
Mindfulness is the first factor of awakening, and also stays present throughout the whole cycle. The whole process of awakening starts with remembering, being mindful.
Wonder is the second factor of awakening. Often translated as investigation of dhamma, or investigation of phenomena, but I find these translations remind me too much of the dryness of school,which doesn't really enthuse me all that much. I prefer wonder because the word brings back to me the feeling of being a child and looking at the sky and the clouds, the wonder of life, of earth, the water, the feeling of air on my skin, seeing its invisible presence as it moves through the plants and trees, the wonder of fire, of light and colour, and the warm energy of the sun. The wonder that there is even such a thing as sky, water, earth, air, life, the sun, and stars in the night sky. Wonder brings interest which gathers the mind together into a state of absorption and brings into being the next factor of awakening...
Energy. When one is interested in something one feels energised and enthused. It is the opposite of boredom which creates dullness and a lack of energy. Energy in this factor is also the momentum built up by repeated effort, and the drive and motivation to succeed at something. Energy is closely linked to the next factor of awakening...
Joy. Energy and joy go together. Which is where the word enjoyment comes from. Joy is an important component of the enlightened mind, if one skips this step, it can lead to drowsiness and one may fall asleep before they reach the later factors. For many this is one of the hardest factors to bring into being. But if done right, wonder, interest and energy should naturally bring some joy to the mind. And one starts to enjoy oneself.
Serenity is the fifth factor of awakening. The excitement and rapturous energy of joy naturally starts to calm and grow quiet, leading to a feeling of tranquility and calm. This is a very pleasant feeling, like relaxing on the porch at the end of an exciting day, it can feel satisfying to chill out when the excitment of joy has settled down. Which takes one to the doorstep of the next factor of awakening...
Samhadi. Samhadi is a difficult word to translate from Pali. It is a combination of meditation, composure, centredness, collectedness, wholeheartedness, flow, stillness, unification of mind, serenity and lucidity. It is also an emotional experience of beautiful states of mind, an experience of the deep, of the divine, of the higher states of consciousness. In the Buddha's teachings there are four stages to samhadi, called the four jhanas, which are covered in the eighth factor of the noble eightfold path so I won't go into them here. A rough translation of the word jhana is meditation. The four jhanas (meditations) naturally lead to the seventh factor of awakening...
Equanimity. This is where all the energies of the mind that pull us this way and that are perfectly tuned and in balance, in sync and pacified. It is where mindfulness becomes purified by a state of perfect equipose. It is from this state of mind that one can see things clearly and penetrate the truth of them without the distortion caused by disunity of mind.
Then the whole cycle of the seven factors of enlightenment begins again. As one gets better at cultivating this, one starts to develop the wisdom faculty. Where one wonders about and investigates the three characteristics of phenomena which are: change/impermanence (both in the short term and long term), that there is no substantial self, and how clinging to this changing phenomena brings us suffering. Which gradually leads to the insight and the wisdom that changes one permanently and begins the irreversible process of awakening.
The four noble truths
1. Knowledge of suffering. (Which is to be understood.)
Understanding how the mind is always wanting to cling to something. And how clinging to things that change, is suffering.
2. Knowledge of the cause of suffering. (Which is to be abandoned.)
Understanding that the cause of suffering is greed, hatred, and delusion. Which correspond to the three kinds of craving: craving for things we think will make us happy (grasping); craving for something unpleasant to be otherwise (pushing away); and craving for becoming, for continued existence, the delusional story of self.
The three are tangled up with one other, and feed off one another, creating a momentum that strengthens and reinforces one another. Greed and hatred both spring from delusion (also known as ignorance). One weakens greed and aversion first, which then makes it easier to get to the root of the problem, delusion.
By abandoning greed, hatred, and delusion we abandon the cause of suffering in the mind. As craving is the cause of clinging. When we become less ignorant of this, and remind ourselves of it over and over again, using the three characteristics as a tool to help one develop dispassion and disenchantment towards the changing things of the world, one begins to start naturally letting go.
Which leads to the third noble truth.
3. Knowledge of the end of suffering. (Which is to be realised.)
As one lets go of the clinging to the world, one starts to experience greater and greater states of liberation, till eventually there is no more clinging at all, and no more suffering. Just a mind perpetually at ease, at peace, cycling through the seven factors of awakening, not clinging to anything in the world.
Realisation of this truth is a complete and permanent end to suffering. And one experiences nibbana, which is the mind freed from greed, hate, and delusion. The goal of the path. A mind no longer shaken, disturbed or unsettled by the changing nature of phenomena. A mind that does not suffer anymore.
4. Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering. (Which is to be developed.)
However in the meantime you need to cling to something to get to nibbana: the raft that gets you across the river: the noble eightfold path. This is what trains and conditions the mind to become an instrument capable of penetrating and understanding the four noble truths and fully letting go and realising the third noble truth.
The eightfold path both works together as a cohesive whole, each factor supporting the others. As well as cycling through each factor in a linear fashion over and over. The wisdom, understanding and development of the mind growing deeper and more profound with each cycle till it is fully liberated.
But until the mind is fully liberated one clings to the path and doesn't let go till the end. The raft is a bundle of sticks one holds onto while in the water. The sticks symbolise the teachings contained in the eightfold path. The paddling that gets you across the river is right effort. If one lets go of the raft before one reaches the other shore, then one will be carried and swept away by the current of greed, hate, and delusion.
It is only when one reaches the other shore, that one can put down the raft. Then one can let go of the path and chill out on the shores of nibbana knowing that what needed to be done is done, that there is nothing further to do, freed permanently from clinging and suffering. .
How long this takes varies from person to person, their inclination and motivation, and how much dust is in their eyes. It might take lifetimes, years, months, weeks, days, a night, a dhamma talk, or the time it takes to shave one’s head. The current world record holder for full enlightenment is recorded in the suttas about a twelve year old boy who became fully enlightened in the time it took to shave his head (-:
And of course like the Buddha, out of compassion, one can then choose to share the teachings with others and guide them to the end of suffering, but only if they ask and want to know, Buddhism is not a proselytising religion.
If one would like to learn more about right mindfulness I recommend this series of talks by Ajahn Sona recorded during a virtual mindfulness retreat that took place during the pandemic:
May you find peace of mind and freedom from suffering.
To greatly weaken the mind’s tendency to aversion is wonderful. But nothing magical, it is just training the mind. If anyone with enough determination puts in the right causes and condtions, they will get the results.
I still have much work to do to go further on the path. I must now weaken sensuality, the next guardian at the gate. And there seems to be a strong resistance to do this in my mind. It is quite attached to sense pleasures. The Buddha said that sense-desire is a lesser stain on the personality than aversion. But comes with a trade-off in that it is harder to remove. And he is right, it is proving tricky to go beyond this guardian at the gate.
But I can see a strategy for overcoming sense desire. It will involve a great deal of patience and playing the long game, it will involve the four right efforts, right mindfulness, and the eighth factor of the noble path: Right Samhadi (right concentration). Right Samhadi is defined by the Buddha as the four jhanas. And jhana is described as a delicious state of consciousness by meditators who have learnt how to get into them.
Once one has learnt how to get in and out of jhana quickly, and can sustain these states of mind indefinitely, as well as come out of them at will. They discover a bliss they can generate all by themselves within, something that is described as being a greater bliss than anything external or that the world can offer. Then one can naturally let go of sense desire. A person at this stage of enlightenment who has completely cut off the two fetters of: greed(sense-desire) and aversion is known as an anagami (non-returner). They are never again born into this world. And in their next life they are reincarnated in the higher heavens, living very long lives there (aeons). They are born there because of their attachment to jhana. But this is absolutely fine, because what happens is they just carry on practising and make it to the fourth stage of enlightenment, realise nibanna and become fully liberated in the higher heavens - like celestial Buddhas (-:
There are some teachers of Buddhism who have been misguided about the jhanas, and some who even say they are not necessary. Whilst it is true that the jhanas aren’t necessary to reach the first and second stages of enlightenment (stream-enterer and once-returner), if one wants to go further, beyond the second stage of enlightenment, one needs to learn and get good at jhana (right samhadi). At least that’s my understanding, and some will disagree, but intuitively what I am thinking here feels right to me (on my journey anyway).
To learn jhana though one needs to be very determined and seclude themselves from sensuality (at least for a set time). The first verse goes: ‘Quite secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind. One enters and abides in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, and has the rapture and pleasure born from seclusion from the world and letting go.’
The way I practise this is when I meditate I go outside somewhere quiet away from everyone. Which secludes me from other people’s energies and also from all the technological devices in my room, and the kettle (cups of tea lol). Doing this forces me to concentrate wholeheartedly on the meditation with nothing around me to tempt or distract me. This is what it means to become quite secluded from sense pleasures.
Secluded from unwholesome states of mind, means to let go of the five hindrances (worldy-desire, aversion, stagnation (or lack of motivation), agitation, doubt); and also means to let go of all the stress of the day and problems we encounter in the world and the kamma of having a body. Put that heavy suitcase down for a moment and feel the relief. Refuse to pick up or inspect the contents of the suitcase, just leave it be. No harm will come if you let go of it for a time. We let go of our worries and thoughts every night when we go to sleep, nothing bad happens when we do. Give yourself permission to let go. Then when the body feels relaxed and at ease it naturally starts to feel some joy and pleasure. When this happens meditation becomes more enjoyable, an indulgence, a way to quieten down the thought energies and refresh one’s mind in the jhanic consciousnesses of right samhadi.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all. If one becomes attached to jhana, that also is fine, it won’t stop one getting enlightened, in fact it is actually the way to enlightenment, or at least to full enlightenment anyway. One who is attached to jhana is in the third stage of enlightenment and close to the end of the path. So enjoy jhana fully and keep asking the mind for more joy and pleasure, keep asking until you couldn't ask for more. Don’t feel guilty or be told you shouldn’t get attached to the pleasure of jhana. The Buddha said that jhana was not a pleasure to be feared. He also recalls in MN 36: “… when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana where there was rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation, and wondered, could that be the path to Awakening?’ Then following on from that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to Awakening.”
The four jhanas take you on a tour of (mind-generated) pleasure which can be safely explored without fear. When the mind has had its fill and feels content and satisfied, it naturally inclines itself more and more to calming and refining the pleasure bit by bit, till it reaches complete stillness and equanimity in the fourth jhana, which has neither pain nor pleasure. When one has sufficiently mastered the fourth jhana, and calmed the energies of aversion and sensuality to a hush, one’s vision is no longer clouded by them and one can clearly see the root of the problem: delusion, which comes from ignorance. Then one can unlock the door to full enlightenment using a key with three teeth that fits perfectly into the lock: knowledge of suffering, knowledge of change/impermanence, knowledge of no-self. These three knowledges are interlinked, and hence part of the same key. They are the key to freeing oneself from delusion.
That’s the plan anyway. I haven’t got that far yet, and I am only just starting to get what jhana is, and sustaining one is challenging, quite tiring actually. But I know if I keep at it for long enough, and keep putting in the right causes and conditions, it is only a matter of time (-:
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