The Buddha taught there are five aggregates that make up a being.
- Physical form (the body).
- feelings (sense impressions and the mental tone of pleasant or unpleasant that accompanies them),
- perceptions (our memory).
- mental formations (thoughts, ideas, personality, emotions, moods).
- and consciousness (which arises because of and is shaped by the other four aggregates.)
These five aggregates are interwoven and affect one another, and they are what we identify with as the self. But when we slow down and compose our minds through meditative practises, enough to be able to look at the five aggregates closely, we can see that they are always changing and arise and cease due to causes and conditions.
We cling to them because we identify with them, and this attachment to the impersonal changing phenomena in ourselves and in others causes us suffering. It also leads to rebirth, and further becoming.
Why is rebirth a problem? Because of ageing, sickness, death and loss. Even the glorious devas age and die. Even if one gets a good rebirth and lives a long life in the heavenly realms, that life will one day come to an end, when the karma that brought it into being ceases. Then a being can fall from the heavens and return to the Earth, or worse can fall into the Hell realms where the suffering is intense and long lasting. And all of us if we do not uproot greed, hate, and delusion from the mind can go through this cyclic process over and over, this is Samsara. And because of change and impermanence, for the majority of the time the experience is not pleasant, our time in Samsara is mostly an experience of pain, loss, grief, sorrow and suffering. The happiness is brief compared to the unhappiness.
The thought of reincarnation and rebirth can be challenging for us modern humans with our scientific minds; but it is part of right view in the noble eightfold path. Right view isn't just looking at the life one is living now, it is also looking at the possibility of future lives, of rebirth and how that depends on the karma we generate now, i.e. the tendencies of the mind we grasp and cultivate in this life, which grow in momentum and eventually transform into another being.
Things change, we change, even space which we think of as empty is full of quantom particles in a state of flux, the void is not empty, and even then we are never in the same patch of space twice, because the Earth is spinning, and going round and round the sun, which is itself going round and round the centre of the galaxy, we never experience the same patch of space twice, each moment the space we are in is different, even space itself is change.
The mind always wants to cling to something. Perhaps because of the transient nature of things and the uncertainty this brings. But the clinging causes us suffering, it is not pleasant, because the things we cling and become attached to change, and we can't stop them changing, nothing remains the same, nothing lasts, everything is in a state of entropy and impermanent.
There may be momentary sensory gratification in this life from sense pleasures, but they don't last, and sooner or later one experiences the opposite, because one cannot experience pleasure and gain, without also experiencing pain and loss. The eight worldly winds (pain and pleasure, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame) blow in both directions and can change suddenly. One cannot experience one without also experiencing the other. That which arises also ceases. Which can be a comforting truth when one is in pain, but an uncomfortable truth when one is experiencing pleasure. We want the pleasant experiences to last, but alas they don't. They change, and it can be cruel, because even if you manage to get what you want, and can maintain that sensory pleasure, the mind gets bored after a time, the senses become jaded and one starts to crave for something different, everything changes.
The concept of not-self is a tricky one to grasp. Of course there is a self you may say, I mean who is sitting here and typing these words, who is it that practises the noble eightfold path, if not the self? In fact when the Buddha was asked one time if there was a self or not, he point blank refused to answer the question. I think what he was trying to teach us, is the self is not what we think it is. It is not the things that we identify with and call the self. There is no permanent fixed soul that travels through existence like a marble on a marble run. There is no marble. There is just flow with nothing substantial behind it. Just changing streams of energy, of processes that arise and cease due to causes and conditions.
But it is also not true to say that nothing exists. Because there is energy, energy is real, in physics, we are taught that energy is neither created nor destroyed, only converted from one form of energy to another. So where did that energy come from originally and what happens to it at death?
The Buddha said no matter how far back in time he looked, he could not find a beginning to this mysterious flow of energy we call life. And when someone asked him what happens to a fully enlightened being (an arahant) after death, he didn't give an answer, he said such questions are unknowables, at least to those of us who are not arahants. He taught that pondering such things can be a waste of time, and can't be put in words satisfactorily. These unknowables can get in the way of practising what is important. Which is what is in front of us in the here and now. Our lives are brief, and the only really important question is am I suffering or not? The goal of the Buddhist path is to realise complete lasting freedom from suffering. The third noble truth. This is the greatest supernormal power, the greatest knowledge of all.
Still, in an attempt to satisfy my curiosity. I tend to think of it like this. Imagine the energy we call self is like a glass of water. And nibanna, the deathless, the unconditioned element, is like a peaceful ocean that is not affected by weather, currents, change or any other phenomena. What happens to the water in the glass when it is poured into that ocean? Where does it go and what does it become?
Peace and light
I am enjoying meditating on the breath energy at the moment and moving it throughout the body. It helps me maintain interest and curiosity in the breath as a meditation object, and it feels enjoyable and invigorating.
I place my attention on the cool air going into the nasal cavity and the warm air going out, like the waves of the sea going into a cave, breathing in, breathing out. I become aware of the whole body at once, feel the breath energy travel deep into the body, into the lower belly and down into my feet and toes, making them tingle with happiness. I feel it in my hands also as I breathe in and out. The energy permeating the whole body, like the ocean filling inner coves. It feels cool, soothing, and refreshing. The spine tingles, and the scalp and back of the neck lights up with pleasure. The feeling of air and the touch of clothing on skin feels pleasant, and the body is comfortable and at ease. The cool air all around me enters the pores of my skin with each inhalation, nourishing every fibre of my being. It feels wonderful.
After a while of doing this, the energy becomes more settled and serene, and then it feels good to stop moving the energy round the body, and just let it be, resting quietly in the awareness of the inner body. The energy bubbles and flows gently on its own, and the mind settles into a peaceful state, composed, content and lucid. Not wanting to be anywhere else. The body and mind feels satisfied and becomes very still, no longer harrassing itself, tranquilised and at peace (-:
It doesn't matter if this is supported by science, meditation is not about objective reality. Meditation is about the subjective reality. It is about the inner world, the inner body, inner being. In meditation, the chakras, the breath energy, magic can all be real, and it can heal.
I read an article recently about the power of the placebo effect, and I wonder if that is an indication of the magic potential of the mind when it comes to the subjective experience (-:
I wonder if that was the meaning behind the movie: 'Life of Pi'. If that film was about the importance and value of the subjective experience, because that is where we live.
I am starting to realise that many of our problems are not really problems, they are just mental constructs and imaginary fears that don't need to be resolved at all. They just need to be dissolved by tranquility. Then whatever's left is easier to work with and understand.
I doubt there has ever lived a human being who has not made mistakes. We've all thought, said, and done things we regret. There are things in our past we wish we'd done different. We have all hurt other beings either intentionally or unintentionally through our thoughts, words, and actions.
A beautiful truth is how forgiveness emancipates the heart. Frees one of the sickness of hate and resentment. Opens up the prison of regret and remorse. And reconnects us to the divine.
Saying the following phrase regularly really has helped me through some dark nights and helped me connect with the energy of metta (friendliness, loving-kindness).
' I ask the forgiveness of all beings I have wronged either intentionally or unintentionally. I am truly sorry. I offer to share the merit of my spiritual practise with you. May you be safe, well, happy, and peaceful. Serene and boundless. Happy and contented. Comforted and blessed, free from sorrow.
I also forgive all those who have wronged me either intentionally or unintentionally. I offer to share the merit of my spiritual practise with you. May you be safe, well, happy, and peaceful. Serene and boundless. Happy and contented. Comforted and blessed, free from sorrow.
This is my wish for all beings everywhere, all around me, within me, above me, below me, in all directions of time and space, in all worlds, in all dimensions. I offer to share the merit of my spiritual practise with you. May you be safe, well, happy, and peaceful. Serene and boundless. Happy and contented. Comforted and blessed, free from sorrow.
May all beings be at peace.
Metta is a beautiful energy, it really can heal the heart and mind and bring the light back.
Didn't want to get up today. Felt very fatigued. I lay there, persevering with the desire to make effort to move. Then remembered I had to be up in time for a video call with a friend, which helped me reach for that extra bit of energy tipping the balance in favour of wading through the waves of treacle-like resistance in the mind, to once again awaken to another day of life as a human being.
Made and drank some coffee.
Then sat and meditated for an hour, had a peaceful meditation, first time in a while where I was actually very content to just sit there and watch the breath without wanting to be any place else. Felt awareness naturally want to be centred there, and the composure and stillness grew into a peaceful happy sense of the inner body. The physical outer body like the walls of a cave, weathering the worldly winds and myriad sense impressions like rain on a rock shelter; but the inner body felt safe, warm, comfortable and at ease, like being in a bath of warm contented energy.
Knock on the door.
I reluctantly leave my inner cave.
And serenely collect the post.
Then make effort to generate the desire to eat. Some days it feels like a chore to eat food. I try to eat one meal a day, not for special religous reasons, but because I have noticed that eating just one meal a day (between 11am - 3pm) seems to be better for my health. I don't always succeed at this though.
The sixth factor of the noble eightfold path, and the beginning of the meditator's journey to right samhadi. Right effort contains a set of instructions to be carried out by right mindfulness. The idea is to seclude the mind from the five psychic harrassments: greed, aversion, dullness/drowsiness, restlessness, and doubt.
These are known as the five hindrances in Buddhism, and they are what stops our mind seeing things clearly, they distort our picture of reality. Their influence stirs up the mind like a pool of water so one cannot see clearly into the depths of it, only seeing the distorted surface. This means one is not getting an accurate picture of reality. And when one looks into it they cannot see their reflection properly.
The job of right effort is to prevent these five hindrances from arising in the mind, and to abandon them if they do arise. It works in conjunction with right mindfulness, the next factor of the eightfold path. Right mindfulness is the guard at the gate of consciousness, whose job is to prevent the five harrassments from entering - stopping trouble before it starts. However, if a hindrance gets passed the guard at the gate, then its job is to spot the presence of the hindrance in the mind and remove it, so it is no longer distorting one's ability to see things clearly.
The Buddha's teachings here run contrary to popular modern thinking about mindfulness. The job of mindfulness is not just to simply watch things arise and pass away and do nothing. No, it is to be a sentry that performs the duty of preventing and removing the five hindrances. Right mindfulness follows the instructions of right effort.
So how does one prevent unwholesome states arising? One way is to continually remind oneself to avoid unwise attention to the fault and to avoid unwise attention to the attractive. It does not mean walking around in sensory deprivation, as that's impractical in this world, you will always encounter agreeable and disagreeable sense impressions. What it means is to be at the sensory level and nip things in the bud before a pleasant or unpleasant sensation/feeling becomes the stories/delusions we tell ourselves about the feeling at the conceptual level, these stories are what cause the hindrances to arise and gather momentum in the mind.
It takes a great deal of practise and time to master this, so one will have to be patient as one trains the mind. One also needs to be kind to oneself, as one will make many mistakes while practising this, learn what you can from failures and let go, there is nothing to be gained by being hard on oneself, it does not lead to enlightenment. You are allowed to let it go, it is the past and there's no use crying over spilt milk, that won't solve anything.
One keeps reminding oneself upon waking and throughout the day. 'I will avoid the folly of the fault-finding mind; and I will avoid the folly of the lustful greedy mind.' Remembering that what we pay attention to leaves traces in the mind and grows stronger the more we pay attention to it; and what we repeatedly think about becomes the inclination of the mind.
If the hindrances get past the guard at the gate, then one turns to five strategies for removing them from the mind. Briefly these are:
1. Replacing the unwholesome state of mind with its opposite, there can be many opposites. For example some possible opposites of greed are generosity, contentment, remembering impermanence, or renunciation, and some possible opposites of anger are serenity practises, compassion, or loving-kindness. One does not wait for something external outside oneself to generate the opposite of the hindrance, one deliberately brings the replacement into being by being an emoter. There's a saying: 'Fake it till you make it.' It might well feel fake and inauthentic at first, but with repeated practise it does start to feel genuine and more natural. And the more one practises something, the more the psychic momentum builds up and the stronger it gets.
2. Feeling a sense of shame, imagining what a person you respect and admire might think if they saw you in the unwholesome state of mind. One reminds oneself it is reprehensible, has drawbacks, and is not conducive to enlightenment. This can be enough to drive the unwholesome state of mind away.
3. Distracting oneself from the unwholesome state of mind. Or just simply ignoring it as you would when closing your eyes to block out a sight you don't want to see. By not paying attention to the hindrance it starves it of energy and it grows weak and eventually disappears. Don't feed the monsters!
4. One turns to face the hindrance, confronts it. Sometimes just doing this can be enough to make it fade away like a whisp of a cloud or a phantom. But if this isn't enough, one can sit with it, investigate it, and gradually talk oneself out of the unwholesome state of mind till it dissolves away.
5. This is the last resort, and only to be used if the preceding four strategies fail. The fifth strategy is to suppress the unwholesome state of mind and not allow it to express itself. The Buddha here uses the simile of a stronger man holding down a weaker man. One suppresses the unwholesome state of mind until it calms down enough for one to then use any of the four preceding strategies to remove it if necessary.
Right effort also carries the instructions to bring into being seven positive wholesome states of mind and to develop them and keep them going continuously. These wholesome states of mind are known as the seven factors of enlightenment which are: mindfulness, investigation, energy/effort, joy, serenity, samhadi, equanimity. One can also include wholesome states of mind such as loving-kindness, compassion, joy in another's happiness. These also can be part of the enlightened mind, but are optional because not everyone is able to practise loving-kindness. For them having the intention of non-illwill and non-violence is enough.
Right effort can be practised in the course of daily life by noticing the hindrances when they arise in the mind, how do they feel? Do they feel pleasant or unpleasant? How do they manifest in the body? One watches and learns about them, how they manifest, how they arise, what triggers them, how to stop them arising, and how to remove them from the mind when they do. As one becomes less ignorant of the five hindrances, one's ability to prevent and remove them becomes easier and faster. The Buddha says one who has mastered this becomes so adept at it, that if an unwholesome state of mind arises it is removed as quickly as a chance drop of water on a red hot frying pan.
One way to practise this is through sitting meditation. Here one gradually gathers the whole mind together and secludes it from the five hindrances, by repeatedly bringing the attention back to a single topic, such as a meditation object and keeping it there, doing this every time the mind wanders. This brings into being the wholesome factor of mindfulness. Then to collect the mind together and unify it around the meditation object one generates interest in it, investigates it, this brings into being the wholesome factor of investigation. The repeated effort of doing this builds up a momentum of energy (the third factor), but interest and curiosity also brings energy to the mind. This leads to enjoyment. En-Joy, i.e the combination of energy and joy. Think about how one can become absorbed in a book or a movie, or a physical activity, a hobby, a game, and how one doesn't notice the body or passage of time or the noises around one when absorbed in an activity that one finds interesting. This is because one is enjoying themselves. So the idea is to try to do the same with meditation and become absorbed in that. The excitement of joy (the fourth factor) eventually cools and calms down and settles into a state of sweet serenity the fifth factor of enlightenment, which then takes one to the doorstep of the divine consciousness that is samhadi. Samhadi is a unification of mind, an exquisite stillness and lucidity, which in turn blossoms into equanimity (the seventh factor). This is how the act of meditation can bring into being the seven factors of awakening (-:
This all carries over beyond sitting meditation into every day life, because there is an after-effect which can remain for a while after meditation. When the afterglow wears off, one can top it up again by meditating. The seven factors of enlightenment get stronger with repeated practise, till eventually the whole thing becomes effortless. Then the enlightenment factors are present throughout the day whatever you are doing, wherever you are. When they are well established, whatever happens in this changing world, will not cause you to go into a negative state of mind or lose your composure. Your consciousness remains at peace and unperturbed as it continually cycles through the seven factors of enlightenment, being in any one of them at any time during the day or night.
Another important teaching that comes under right effort is about tuning the energy. If the mind feels strained and stressed at all during meditation or while practising in the midst of daily life, it means you are putting forth too much effort and need to relax it a bit, you are pushing yourself too hard, be gentle. If you feel dull and drowsy it can mean you are not putting forth enough effort which will lead to laziness and lack of motivation for practise. Mindfulness of death (maranasati) is a good way to energize one when feeling lazy. You want to tune the energy of effort so that it neither strains the mind nor makes it lazy. The Buddha describes it as being like tuning the string of a lute. If it is too tight it doesn't sound right, if it is too loose it also doesn't sound right, but when it's tuned correctly it is ready to play some music.
There are five spiritual faculties that can help with right effort, they are called the five spiritual powers, these are faith, energy, mindfulness, samhadi, and wisdom. Sometimes you can't know all the answers about something and you need to take a leap of faith and try things out, otherwise you can be locked in sceptical indecision which is not a pleasant state of mind, one becomes a prisoner of their doubts and this leads to stagnation and inaction. However, one also doesn't want to have blind faith either, some doubt is healthy to stop one being led down the garden path, so wisdom helps balance out faith. Energy and Samhadi also balance each other out. Too much energy leads to restlessness, and too little energy leads to dullness and laziness. Mindfulness is present throughout ensuring the five spiritual faculties are tuned correctly, keeping them in balance.
Despite its length, this has been a succinct piece of writing on right effort. Indeed one could write an essay or a book on this factor of the path. If one would like to learn more about right effort I highly recommend these videos by Ajahn Sona, where he goes into it in great detail.
In the words of the Buddha:
The four right efforts
'One generates the desire for the prevention of unwholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
One generates the desire for the abandonment of unwholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and development of wholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering. '
” This is your life.
This is on offer.
Give it all, give it all.
This is your hope.
This is your heaven.
Give it all, give it all.
Live like the sun, live like the sun.
Radiant and burning, burning.
Live like the sun, like the sun.
Radiant and burning.
Give it all, give it all. “
Still not done anything on this assignment. I just can't find the will or inclination to work right now. Decided to go for an epic walk in the chill December evening. The pavements frosted with the fractal patterns of ice flakes. The half moon was bright, shone right into my heart. The sea was still and quiet. One house I walked past had so many Christmas lights up in their garden and they had made like a huge hammock-like string of lightbulbs between one palm tree and another.
These old Victorian houses look magical at this time of year. I feel the spirits of the ancestors coming from them, greeting me with a lovely energy that is hard to put into words, but you can feel it, sense it in the body, in the heart mostly I think, although also everywhere else, even my toes (if that last sentence even makes sense).
It was very quiet, not another person in sight, just lit windows, and I imagined all the different people living their lives and wished them well. Some energy feels really old, serene and wise, and others young like the Spring. Yet there is something that connects us all, whoever we are, an energy I cannot for the life of me find adequate words for. But I imagine you have also felt it too dear reader, and may well be nodding in agreement, because we have all felt it I believe. Something larger than ourselves, something sublime that when you try to pin it down makes it disappear, although it is still there. Perhaps it is the way the mind likes to separate and dissect things, but actually the truth is we are all one, all beings, all matter, we are all a part of it.
This freaky mind-blowing experience of being.
I completely fail sometimes, like yesterday, I got triggered into an unhelpful emotional state. The key then I am learning is to try to become aware of what is happening and then work at abandoning the negative state of mind. This can be tricky, especially with feelings of guilt or regret, or the feeling of loneliness. One must remember they are not alone. Our connections are always with us wherever we are. Our ancestors are also with us. I am with you dear reader, and I certainly don't judge you. I will be your friend at the gate if you need one. You are not alone.
Drop any guilt or regret about the past, learn what wisdom you can from the experience and let it go. Try again, persevere. That's how you honour it.
These struggles are like the guardians at the gate, they were put there to keep one out of the sacred space. The guardians are not bad energy and can become useful allies, but first one must enter the sacred space, and to do that one must tame and go beyond the five guardians at the gate:
(AKA the five hindrances.)
One should remember that one does not have to face the guardians alone. We can do it with friends by our side. We are energetically connected, even over great physical distances, we are still with one another on some level, and can share energy - step through these dharma gates together.
Listening with the body while others speak. I feel tingles and energy flows. Discover that I can be paying attention to my feet and still understand the words being said and perfectly follow the conversation; but without the thoughts about the inner story getting in the way. This feels like a whole new dimension of being, to listen with the body.
Loneliness if left untreated becomes anger at separation and disconnection. But does a Buddha ever feel lonely? Or is a Buddha as happy by themselves as they are with others?
Mind empty, there are thoughts but they are not the mind. There are sensations and feelings, but are these the mind? There is this body that ages, gets sick and dies, is this the mind? Where is my mind? What is mind?
When the inner critic surfaces and begins its judgement I discovered moving one's attention away from the head to the heart area or the belly seems to counteract its energy a bit and help bring into being better intentions.
It feels good when one can place attention where one wants and keep it there. Listening with the body, one can be with any part of the body and stay with it as long as one likes, thoughts just like any other sensation just continue in the background, but one does not have to pay attention to them.
Sometimes my attention likes to be a bit out from the body, aware of the space around it. This feels comfortable and peaceful and after meditation there is a luminous visual affect, like a glow which seems to cover the entire body and at times one sees this luminous quality in other beings, like an ethereal glow.
In my heart centre there is a luminous warmth that spreads throughout the entire body, saturating it with bliss. In the belly the warmth feels more solid and grounding. In the neck and spine, lots of tingles, head feels luminous and at times trippy and otherworldly. Rushes and tingles in the scalp and temples, and then a warm flush in my face and neck.
Pleasant energies circulate throughout the body. It seems to me that these energies are good for one's health. It feels rejuvenating to saturate one's body with them. Are they a mind-generated phenomena? I'm not sure, but then isn't everything we see, hear, smell, taste and touch just a mind-generated phenomena? The world we encounter out there is built by our mind. When you see something, where are you seeing it? Where is that sight taking place? Out there? Or in your head? Or both? How do you know?
Whilst meditating in the garden, I reached a place of lucid stillness and became just a bunch of energetic processes happening moment to moment, and I forgot completely who I was and I didn't care. There was this otherworldly peace, and time slowed a bit and my awareness was perfectly in sync with everything happening around me. The boundary between external and internal seemed to dissolve for a moment and the world and me changed into this complex interwoven dance of energies. My inner story about who I think I am and what will make me happy, was meaningless - and I really just didn't care about it anymore. It felt good, it was a nice state of mind to be in.
These nice states of mind are hard to keep going however. Not long after this I found myself getting stressed about something and I realised I was once again caught up by the things of the world and reacting to the push and pull of wanting, clinging, and aversion. But I did notice this time I no longer felt so attached to the inner story, like its hold on me had weakened somewhat and it is getting easier to drop it, (when I remember to practise).
Metta and equanimity
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