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.
' In the seen there is only the seen,
When, Bahiya, there is no 'you' there.
This is a succint and concise summary of the noble eightfold path as I currently understand it (-:
Birth, ageing, and death is hard to bear. Loss and separation from what we love is also hard to bear. Associating with what is disliked is unpleasant. Being apart from what is liked is unpleasant. Not getting what one wants is unpleasant. Identifying with the five aggregates of clinging (body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations (thoughts), sense-consciousness) is also dissatisfying, because they are always changing. The aggregates (khandas) are insubstantial, impermanent, uncertain and empty of self. This is what needs to be understood.
The cause of suffering is craving. The Pali word tanha (thirst) is used for this. And it is important to note that there is such a thing as chanda (right desire). Not all desire is to be abandoned. Chanda is the word used to describe right desire (desire that helps to put an end to suffering); and tanha is used to describe wrong desire, that which causes suffering.
The fading away and cessation of craving is what ends suffering. With wisdom one stops following the craving, and clinging to that which is insubstantial. The involuntary movements of the mind stop and there is an unshakeable peace. One is no longer harrassed and driven by craving and the worldly winds, which brings relief and freedom to the mind.
The Buddha listed the three right intentions above as being thoughts that he did not regret having, these intentions do not lead to unwholesome actions, they lead to good kamma and to nibanna.
The Buddha before his enlightenment divided his thoughts up to those that he regretted having (unwholesome thoughts); and those that he did not regret having (wholesome thoughts). He worked to abandon the unwholesome thoughts, dismissing them until they no longer arose. And he encouraged and cultivated the wholesome thoughts till they happened naturally, automatically without him needing to apply any more effort. He said the experiment worked and eventually his mind was filled with thoughts he didn't regret having. This made it easier then to settle into meditation.
To make a living that does not cause harm to oneself or others.
Needs to be tuned so it is neither too tight, nor too loose. I.e. don't burn yourself out, but also don't get lazy.
The four right efforts are:
1. prevention of unwholesome states of mind from arising. (By avoiding unwise attention to the fault; and unwise attention to the beautiful.)
2. abandonment of unwholesome states of mind should they arise.
3. generating wholesome states of mind.
4. sustaining those wholesome states of mind.
Unwholesome states of mind are the five hindrances: greed, aversion, sloth, restlessness, doubt.
Wholesome states of mind are the seven factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, investigation of phenomena (dhamma), energy (effort), joy, calmness, samhadi, equanimity (balance).
This is the four foundations of mindfulness.
Mindfulness of the body.
Mindfulness of feelings. (pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant).
Mindfulness of mental states.
Mindfulness of dhammas (teachings).
The body is in the mind.
A meditation object is used to calm and centre the mind, gather it together and bring it into unity and balance. Common meditation objects used are the breath, natural elements, primary colours, perception of light, or the emotion of goodwill (metta).
The Buddha classifies right samhadi as the four jhanas.
'Having gone somewhere quiet, away from distractions. Having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world, setting mindfulness before one.
The continuous practise of jhana gradually weakens the hold of greed and hatred on the mind until eventually those defilements fall away for good and never return. When this happens one becomes a non-returner, (the third stage of enlightenment) and is never again born into this world.
Full enlightenment (fourth and final stage) is the realisation of nibanna, and the complete end of the conceit 'I am' and delusion.
Today I got angry when a memory was aroused and I paid unwise attention to it. I caught myself being judgemental, and it was an unpleasant mood, vile like poison, and I got sick with it, it took over, overrun the city of consciousness and the mind became unhappy and restless. A metaphor from the bible came to mind, about Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt for looking back at the cities of sodom and Gomorrah.
I reflect on how unskilful anger can be and how it leads to regret afterwards. No matter how justified I think it is at the time, thoughts of anger always lead to regret. And I think to myself why get angry in the first place when you know you will regret it later? And I noticed how bossy and cruel the mind can be at times, it encourages me to become angry about something; and then punishes me afterwards for not being a better Buddhist.
What an absolute arse the mind can be. The inner critic. The inner tyrant.
Then I realised ha! This is aversion in another hat. Trying to disguise its presence and sneak past the guard at the gate with the jedi mind-trick of self-judgement.
I paused and experienced the unpleasantness of aversion, really felt it, took time to know it. Thought, this is anger, this is resentment, this is how it feels, it is like a sickness, an affliction, it is a poison, toxic - this is suffering.
Then I became aware of how craving in its three forms was also present in the mind, The craving to acquire something, the craving to change feelings one doesn't like, and the craving for becoming (self-centredness). I keep finding whenever there is suffering, without fail, these three are also present. Greed, hatred, and delusion; or longing, aversion, and ignorance, is another way of describing them.
In dependent origination, craving leads to attachment, to clinging, clinging is basically identifying with things, and this leads to becoming. Which is where the idea of letting go comes from. Letting go of the clinging. It sounds simple, and sometimes letting go can feel almost effortless, but other times it can be hard to let go, it involves a bit of work, and right effort is needed to detach oneself. Sometimes I find I am too absorbed in my thoughts to be able to let go of what I am thinking about. It is hard to just suddenly become detached from it. My awareness has become too contracted and uncomfortable, tense, boxed in, like a prison.
One strategy the Buddha suggests when one is absorbed in difficult thoughts, is to bring oneself out of it gradually. He uses this metaphor which is a bit like a cartoon. A man is running, and says to himself, why am I running when I could be walking? So he stops running and walks. Then he says to himself, why am I walking when I could be standing? So he stands. Then he says, why am I standing when I could be sitting? So he sits down, and then says to himself why am I sitting when I could be lying down?
When the mind is running full pelt with a wild and difficult mood you can't just snap yourself out of it, if you try to, it will just run over you. It has to be slowed down gradually and skillfully. When we are boxed in our thoughts, and absorbed in whatever it is we are thinking about, we are not seeing the whole picture, not seeing things clearly. Awareness when it is contracted and shut in is ignorant of what is really going on, it becomes error prone and delusional.
One thing that helps me, is to let the thoughts just be, don't argue with them, don't try to fight them or replace them. Just focus on the fact I am thinking those thoughts, and notice how I am also paying attention to them. I then open up and expand awareness gradually, to bring some space and help draw attention away from the thoughts. Sometimes background sounds help bring some spaciousness to the mind, and other times the feeling of the body works. Such as the lower belly, the feet and legs, the hands. There is something earthy about it, that helps to ground me. Centre me. The body doesn't think, it just feels. And those parts of the body often feel far enough away from the thought processes to be a more tranquil place to move my attention. Enough to hush the thinking down a bit, then I will expand awareness a bit more, feel the whole belly, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, face, head, scalp. The inside of the body and the outside of it. I do this as well as I can, I am not trying to experience every single sensation in the body, just enough to help settle the mind and engage attention with something more peaceful and calming.
I remember something I read about how the iron in our bodies makes the red blood cells that carry the oxygen to our cells. How this iron comes from the Earth, comes from the ground below us. It is a nice way to remember how intimately connected we are with mother Earth. She flows in our very blood, is in every heartbeat.
Iron also is made by stars, it comes from an exploded sun. We are all stardust. We are all connected to the universe, not separate from it.
As the body grows more still and composed. I become aware of the air element around me, and then I notice the breath. Feel the cool air in the nostrils and it helps to cool down the thought processes, chill things out.
The body starts to feel pleasant and I notice how comfortable my legs feel, and how snug my hands are. The air feels cool and refreshing on the scalp, the face and neck, the touch of clothing is pleasant. I feel the breath energy inside the body. The inner winds. The whole body breathing together as one, each inhalation and exhalation massaging the peace and happiness throughout the whole of my being.
The anger subsides and I notice how I am now feeling happier and more peaceful. More content. I notice how much nicer the mind feels when aversion is absent. How good it feels when the mind isn't angry, isn't harrassing itself anymore, isn't longing for anything, isn't identifying with things or taking things personally. I feel relief and gladness that the mood has passed and there is even some joy arising.
I contemplate cessation, the third noble truth, knowledge of the end of suffering. Then reflect on the fourth noble truth, on how the different factors of the noble eightfold path work together in harmony to bring about that cessation.
What a wonderful memory device the four noble truths are, within that succinct teaching there is so much to work with and practise with in both meditation and daily life.
1. Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood).
2. Knowledge of the cause of suffering (which is to be abandoned).
3. Knowledge of the end of suffering (which is to be realised).
4. Knowledge of the path that leads to the end of suffering (which is to be developed) .
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