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The Buddha noted that dependent co-arising and the causes of suffering are like a tangled skein.

scan of an abstract painting

Painted in acrylic. Prints available from here.

© Asoka Richie 2023 (all rights reserved)



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Asoka

Dark night IV

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 3 Aug 2023, 21:00


I felt a sea of sorrows today.
The kilesas hit me hard.

Every dark desire within this mind.
Came out in force to attack me.
The demon armies of Mara.
Defeated my resolve.
Pummelled me to dust.
I fell hard,
broken-hearted.
Shattered.
Ripped to shreds.
Torn.
Almost dying from the intense struggle.
It was fierce.
They were strong.

Compassion failed me.
Love felt impossible.
Chaos reigned.

The hate was like poison in my veins.
An all-consuming fire.
Burning me as it burned the world.

With thoughts tangled up in the net of craving.
Consciousness spiralled into darkness.
Visions of Hellish worlds unfolded.
Countless suffering beings.
I felt overwhelmed.

My heart withdrew.
But there was no escape from the torment.
No relief.

'This practise isn't easy.' I said out loud. "I give up. I can't do this anymore. It is too much. I'm done."

Then the rain fell outside the window.
Washed the Hells to tranquility.
I heard the green of the leaves
As the water trickled down them.

Brahma devas smiled 
Golden coloured clouds.

'Asoka' they said.

And I remembered.
I let it go.
Released it.

No longer clinging
to its fuel.
The fire went cool.

There was an upwelling of relief.
The heart rising like a phoenix
from the ashes.
...



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Asoka

Abandoning Tanha

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Something I find helpful as I go about my day. Is to just suddenly stop and notice how I am feeling. The mind, the emotions, the body. Whatever it feels like in this moment.

It feels like this.

It can be helpful to stop sometimes and do that. It creates a bit of space. A pause in the story. The thoughts are still present but I am not absorbed in them anymore. I am centred in emptiness. Sounds strange, and difficult to put into words. The emptiness is not a negative thing, it feels freeing and expansive. It contains everything that is happening in the moment, yet it isn't the things it contains. It is not a dry, detached emptiness. It just feels safe. If that makes any sense...

I have been reflecting a lot on the four noble truths, thinking about craving (tanha).

Craving for sense pleasure (kāma-tanhā);
Craving for existence (bhava-tanhā),
and craving for non-existence (vibhava-tanhā).

The second noble truth says that craving is the cause of suffering and gives the instruction for it to be abandoned. But that sounds a bit harsh, so I am trying to find a better word than 'abandonment'.

One way I do it is. When I notice my mood is a bit off and there is a lack of peace. I stop and inquire. I notice craving in its three aspects. Note how the craving creates a feeling of unease in the mind, a restless anxiety, fear, discomfort, yearning, and discontent. Craving is stressful.

Thoughts to do with longing, resentment and conceit are unpleasant. They don't feel good. They feel toxic and make the mind an unhappy place. I notice how craving creates tension in the mind. How it creates a feeling of lack and dissatisfaction. A feeling of compulsion. How it divides the mind against itself. How all the wanting becomes delusion. The mind gets absorbed in the stories it tells itself about the world and the things it wants, and the things it doesn't want, takes it all personally. The self-centred dream.

I notice this and stop following it. I don't judge it, or identify with it. I feel compassion for it, understand it for what it is. let it be there, and notice how it all feels without the story. How the body feels in this moment. How the mood feels. How this present moment feels. Accept it all for what it is, as it is. And just breathe in, breathe out.

Not pushing anything away, nor chasing after it. Not seeing anything as self or other. Just breathing through it. The whole body absorbed in the feeling of the cool air going into the nostrils and the warm air going out. Like when one steps out onto a balcony and breathes the fresh air, and it feels soothing. That feeling of invigoration. The body still, calm, open, and at ease. The breath energy filling every part of it. Uplifting the mind, freeing it from concerns, bringing relief.

The craving settles. The involuntary movements of the mind cease and there is peace for a time.

Then the craving comes back again.

Rinse and repeat.

But do the work gently, with good humour. With kindness. Don't take it all too seriously. Joy is part of the path too.

***

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Asoka

The second arrow

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 17 Apr 2023, 18:18

Working with fatigue and a sore back at the moment. It isn't my preference, but I am going to see what I can learn from this. Life as it is, my teacher, my sāsana (spiritual practise). The good and the bad. 

Meditation was challenging today. It was not easy sitting with a bad back. And going for a walk was unpleasant, almost every step was painful. I have a disc in my lower back which is pressing on a root nerve, and sometimes when I take a step it feels like when you bash your elbow on the funny bone, only in the lower back and it goes up the spine, and definitely not funny.

How do I make that which is unwelcome, welcome?

I observed how the pain and fatigue kept pulling my attention away from being centred, away from the mindfulness of loving-kindness and the breath. So I decided to explore why this is. Noticing how it was affecting my mood, my thoughts, how it made me feel restless and stressed. This is suffering.

I investigated and saw how the three aspects of craving where present. The desire for the pain and fatigue to cease, to change, to not be there, to not exist. The desire for pleasant feelings, for happy feelings, for some intoxicants to ease the pain. And there was also the desire to be a good spiritual practitioner. To handle this pain and fatigue like an enlightened being would. To become a Buddha. 

So I was watching all this, how it proliferates into stories, and how one keeps adding more to it. How the mind creates imaginary scenarios about it, how it worries, how memory can also come into play... and before I knew it I had created these complex delusions just from the discomfort I was feeling. These stories were not helpful, and they were distorting reality and making things worse. I was adding mental suffering on top of the physical. And it's tiring, all this wishing, this worrying, this disliking, this longing, this identifying, this clinging - it is tiring.

So I observed what happens if I switch all that off. If I stop talking to myself about the pain and fatigue. If I stop thinking about it. If I ignore the perception this is painful, I am tired. It all became sensations then arising and passing away in the here and now, just feelings, movements of changing energy, rising, flowing, fading. Nothing personal.

I am not the sights that enter these eyes. I am not the sounds that hit these eardrums. I am not the smells, the tastes, the tactile sensations. Nor am I the thoughts and ideas that enter this mind from the world.

What happens if I stop holding onto the six senses, if I stop identifying with them, stop trying to change them? If I just rest in awareness and knowing, without the story. Allow things to arise and cease but without any of it taking root in the mind? Who am I then?

This line of inquiry and investigation did bring some relief. The physical pain is still there, the fatigue is still there, but mentally one can be okay with it.

Is this what the Buddha means in his metaphor of the second arrow?

...




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Breathing through it

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 30 Dec 2022, 10:14

 Present to the here and now, embodied, anchored, centred with the breath. 

Attention not too forceful or too lax. 

Not a laser beam type focus, not a  contracted awareness. But with an open and expansive awareness, a holistic awareness that includes it all, everything that is happening in the here and now, not grasping for or pushing anything away. Remaining composed and still, with the breath and the whole body at the centre. An anchor for attention. The breath energy like the changing waves of the ocean. 

Allowing it all to happen, whatever is present in the here and now, the sense impressions, the thoughts, feelings, pleasant or unpleasant. Letting things arise and cease without trying to change them or make them otherwise; but also not going along with them, not being drawn in and pulled in different directions by them. 

Not getting involved and tangled up by desire in its three forms, not following the passion, aversion, or selfing. Not making it into a story. Not trying to change the world, not judging anything, not pushing anything away, not clinging to it, and not adding anything to it.

 Just anchored in the body, composed and still. Present to the present moment and letting things be as they are, life as it is, the good, the bad, and breathing through it.


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Extinguishing craving

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 30 Dec 2022, 22:30

The four noble truths

1. Knowledge of suffering. (Which is to be understood).

What does it feel like to suffer? To feel stressed? To feel dissastisfaction? To feel discontent? How does that feel?  No need to give it a perfect label, sometimes it is hard to put it into words. Just say, suffering feels like this. Most of us know from our own direct experience of life what it is to suffer.

2. Knowledge of the cause of suffering. (Which is to be abandoned).

Knowing that whenever there is suffering, desire is also present in its three forms:

1. Wanting something. (greed)
2. Wanting something unpleasant to end. (aversion, pushing away)
3. The desire for becoming. (Our aspirations. The mind's tendency to identify with things, to take things personally. The story of self. The selfing. ' I want to become this, I want to become that. I don't want to become this. I don't want to become that. I am this, I am that. This is mine, I own this, I own that. I want this, I want that.'  To counteract this tendency of the mind, it is good to recite often: 'Not me, not mine, not self'. 

The desire for becoming can be used skillfully to realise the end of suffering. As desire is what drives us.

 Desire comes from feelings, which are either pleasant or unpleasant. And feelings come from sense impressions: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and ideas/ thoughts. 

We cling to what we want more of; and push away that which we don't want. We want the pleasant feelings to continue and experience suffering when we don't get what we want, and then feel aversion, bitterness, resentment, and take it personally. But everything is changing and uncertain, the world is outside our control. We cling to phantoms of moments. Chasing after the delights of the six senses like a dog chasing after its tail. Sense gratification is much like an itch, there is only gratification as long as one keeps scratching. 

One cannot do much about sense impressions. They happen because we have a body. One also cannot do much about feelings (pleasant, neutral or unpleasant,) they arise because of sense-impressions. Desire may also be something we can't do much about, as it happens automatically because of feelings. But there may be a way to deal with it by slowly and gradually starving it of fuel till it goes out altogether. 

One can expand awareness and make it like infinite space, so it shares the same quality. Space can contain many objects, but is not the objects it contains, and is not conditioned by them. One can make awareness like this, and then allow desire (in its three forms) to arise and cease at the sensory level of awareness, before it becomes a story. One can let it be there without judging it. But also not going along with it, not following it, not getting involved. Letting it arise and cease in an expansive space-like awareness without getting tangled up in it.This gets easier to do as one wises up and becomes less ignorant of where desire leads, becomes less ignorant of the link between desire and suffering, usually after bitter experience, where one remembers and decides not to follow it anymore.

3. Knowledge of the end of suffering. (Which is to be realised).

How does the mind feel when it isn't suffering?

Notice when the desire ceases and is no longer present, the relief this brings to the mind. To no longer have that nagging feeling of lack when one doesn't get what they want.

It feels good when the mind is free from greed, aversion, and delusion. It is helpful to spend some time noticing this.To appreciate it and pay special attention to how it feels when there is no anger, no irritation, no resentment, no taking things personally, no lust, no grasping, no chasing, or acquiring. How does that feel to be free of that? 

There is a sense of freedom when one realises they no longer have to go along with their desires, their  impulses, the urges. No longer have to be a slave to passion, pulled in different directions by the six senses. The relief of no longer being driven around by them. When the mind  no longer feels harrassed by greed, hate and delusion,  joy and serenity naturally rises. An unharrassed mind is a happy mind. 

4. Knowledge of the path that leads to the end of suffering (Which is to be developed).

Knowing that the practise and development of the noble eightfold path is what trains the mind to become an instrument capable of understanding, seeing and realising the wisdom contained in the four noble truths.The noble eightfold path is the skillset needed to extinguish craving. 

One can apply the four noble truths like a template to one's own direct experience of life as it is. One can practise it with the mild irritations, the mild forms of greed in daily life, and this works like a vaccine, like homeopathic medicine, through that experience we find that when the more unsettling things happen in life, the deep upsets, that we can manage those better because of practising with the lesser upsets. 

We grow and awaken through the understanding of our own suffering, what causes it, how it ceases, and how the wisdom to do this develops. Then as one's suffering decreases, it can become easier to include others, to expand awareness to include the whole world, the whole galaxy if you like, to show boundless compassion to all beings. As one understands that others suffer the same way we do, that suffering is an experience shared across all the myriad species of life on this Earth. Empathy develops. 

The four noble truths is an ingenious memory device, an easy to remember template for decreasing suffering in our lives. Like fractals, the four noble truths contain the noble eightfold path, and the noble eightfold path contains the four noble truths.

Most of us will have to keep reminding ourselves of this a thousand times a day for perhaps a thousand days or more. The length of time decreases as minfulness grows stronger. And it is normal to forget, to get caught up in the world again and tangled up in desire. Sometimes this forgetting happens for short periods of time, and sometimes for lengthy periods of time, and for some it can be as long as lifetimes. But then remembering happens again and one resumes the practise, puts in a more sincere effort than before, usually after a painful experience caused from being tangled up in desire. And each time one remembers and practises it weakens that link in the chain of dependent origination between craving and clinging. Keeps weakening it till eventually it breaks altogether and suffering comes to a complete stop and then there are no more states of becoming, no more states of woe.



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Asoka

Worldly winds

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Time
Memory
Flows
Now gone
The second hand ticking.

Self-streams
A narrative 
Clarative
Breathing.

Notice
the wanting.

Pulled by the eight wordly winds:

'Pain and pleasure;
Wealth and misfortune;
Success and failure;
Fame and disrepute.'

These are the eight worldly winds.
That pull one's craving
This way and that
That way and this

Freedom from desire is bliss.

To learn to gently let go of the clinging.
And be kind to each moment
Making peace.

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