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Right mindfulness (part four)

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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:

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCXN1GlAupG0D2tTYFGurLptbA4pTB4k6

With Metta. 

May you find peace of mind and freedom from suffering.


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Sour times

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 8 Dec 2021, 16:40

It is a horrible experience being alive. One is just born in a body with whatever genes one is given, and this body just grows by itself and life gets increasingly more complicated and one is stuck with whatever personality and DNA they are born with and expected to just get on with living in a cold and often cruel world. Noone gets to choose who they will be, what they will be good at, what kind of body they will get. No-one can help being who they are; and yet we get judged for it and made to feel guilty if we aren't up to the task of fitting into this bloody difficult world. Being a human sucks. Being any being on this planet sucks. Being alive sucks.

 I can only seem to meditate when I feel good. Meditation when depressed is not helpful at all. It just makes me feel worse. I am trying my best, but I keep failing catastrophically. I can't generate any joy at the moment, I am trying but it is like an engine that has run out of fuel and won't kickstart. 

I am also feeling broken hearted as well. Particularly for the local wildlife. So much life has disappeared at the local beach. Tangled up in the seaweed are the bones of seabirds that have starved to death from lack of food. The beach here used to be teeming with life of all different kinds, it was magical, but now it is like a watery graveyard, an oceanic desert. The sea here is dying and nobody else seems to notice or care. I read that now one in four species of bird in the UK are on the endangered list, and insects have been steadily disappearing, every summer there's fewer and fewer.

 Then there's refugees drowning at sea escaping all kinds of different horrors in the world caused by the greed, hatred, and delusion of the West; while the super rich just compete to be the first to reach outer-space so they can colonise dead planets, their rockets like penis extensions, ignorant of the poverty and environmental destruction their greed has caused. 

And the government is determined to vaccinate everyone, is obsessed with it; but if they really cared about saving people's lives why don't they help those who are now homeless in the freezing cold of Winter after been kicked out of their houses by banks who repossessed their homes after lockdowns destroyed their incomes. And why don't the government help the old people abandoned and dying alone in care homes and hospitals? I thought all this pandemic and vaxxing was to save their lives, but it seems to be more about destroying them.

I am sorry for the rant dear reader. I feel so unhappy just now, sometimes writing it out of my system is the only relief I get. (Albeit temporary.) I wish I could feel hope and write something uplifting, but I feel there is something terribly wrong with the world just now.

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New blog post

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 12 Sep 2021, 17:20

Of course I don't have a problem with Jesus, he seemed like a noble person, telling people to love one another is good advice, how much less suffering and better karma there would be in the world if people did this. I don't believe that there is an eternity in Hell for not being a Christian though. That way of thinking is like an unhappy prison for the mind, and the sooner people get out of the delusion of superstition and dogma the better. The name of the Hebrew God is: 'I am'  Perhaps there's a clue right there. When we search the depth of our being and ask ourselves who we are, the answer is usually 'I just am. ' Perhaps that is the omnipresent God that is in everything. We all have an 'I am'. Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said I and the father are one. Who knows? I certainly don't know. It may be one of those questions that can never have a satisfactory answer. One thing I do know is supreme being or not, people don't get sent to Hell because they practise critical thinking. People shouldn't be afraid to ask questions about anything. The only way to learn is to ask questions and do your own research, find out what is true from your own practise. Experience is the ultimate teacher. Others that have walked the path can help as guides, but you still must walk the path yourself. Don't believe something blindly just  because someone says it is so, test it as thoroughly as you need, be scientific and discover the truth for yourself. Be your own guru. Your own master. Don't let another tell you what to think or  believe.

 

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From jellyfish to skygazer

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 30 Sep 2021, 22:17

Been listening to a lot of 'In our time' podcasts about religion. They have been educational about the origins and beliefs of many of the religions in the world today. I am not a religous person myself, I do not know if there is such a thing as God or creator. I tend to be more atheistic in my belief, but not completely. I am open to changes in perception, I try not to keep my brain stuck in a filter bubble of creed/opinion. There is a mystical element to my psyche that no matter how logical I become, still exists, a part some label the 'God-shaped hole'. I find myself drawn to the mysterious, like a hungry leaf turning towards the sun. I wonder if sometimes it is a yearning for hope in a dark and troubled human world and a feeling of powerlessness to change anything.

I am aware everything I see and experience is relative to me. Nothing is set in stone, each of us experiences this world in our own way and thus form our opinions of it based on those experiences. That is all any one can do; and so noone can ever know everything or what it is truly like to be another. We are organic islands interacting through brief expressions of matter, rotating at 465 metres a second on a planet orbiting a star in a universe of countless, possibly infinite stars and big bangs.

Makes all the life on this planet all the more precious I think, and we should be doing everything we can to preserve it and if that involves changing ourselves to become a more altruistic species then so be it.

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