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Grasping karma seeds

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When the right causes and conditions arise a dormant karma seed (tendency) can be activated in the mind. Usually triggered through sensing something agreeable or disagreeable. Such as a sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, thought, idea, memory.

One feels like or dislike for what is sensed, and an identification with it. Followed by a grasping of that kammic seed, which leads to attachment. It is this attachment (clinging) that makes it grow, get stronger and in time bear fruit according to its kind, which will be either wholesome or unwholesome. 

If one can become aware of these karmic seeds and discern whether a seed (tendency of the mind) is wholesome or unwholesome. One can choose with wisdom to not grasp the kammic seeds that lead to greed, hatred, and delusion. As those are the ones that cause suffering.

Craving is not something that can be suppressed though. It arises naturally from pleasant or unpleasant feelings, which in turn arise from sense impressions (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch, thoughts, memories and ideas).

But the grasping, the clinging is something we can interfere with, and it doesn't have to be done in a macho warrior way, it can be done in a gentle way. When craving arises in the mind, one doesn't have to fight it or judge it or try to make it stop. One can simply allow it to be there in awareness, give it space, let it be; but leave it alone, choose not to grasp or follow it, not to identify with it, not to add any more to it. Allow it to just simply arise, and then cease on its own.

This is where meditation practise is helpful. it is easier to do this whilst one is anchored with a meditation object such as the breath, the body, the elements: earth, water, fire, air, space, the four primary colours, or beautiful emotions like loving-kindness. There are a number of different meditation objects one can use to anchor attention and bring composure and stillness to the mind. Meditation trains the invaluable skill of serene undistractability, which leads to steady composure and equanimity, enabling one to be able to place attention where one wants to and keep it there contentedly. Centred like this, one can allow things to arise and cease in awareness without being pulled away or disturbed by them.

Starved of attention and without the grasping/clinging, the kammic seed won't be able to take root in the mind and will wither and die. Then one experiences cessation, non-attachment and all that is left is peace.

But not grasping is difficult to do. It happens so fast and we do it on autopilot, we don't even know we are doing it much of the time. We are ignorant of the process, and we have lifetimes of conditioning, of deeply ingrained habits and tendencies to contend with. This is where the noble eightfold path comes in, a gradual training, that teaches one the skillset and lucid serenity needed to become a master of not grasping (-:

 

 


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Time is change

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 23 Jan 2023, 22:21

The mind is a mix of positive and negative tendencies. Some of which can remain dormant for long periods of time until the right causes and conditions in life occur to activate them. The potential for both good and bad lies dormant in us like karmic seeds. I think from what little I know about biology, DNA works in a similar fashion. We all have strands of inactive DNA which remain dormant until the environment around us changes in such a way that the conditions are ripe to activate it.

When a tadpole becomes a frog. During the different stages of mutation in the biological flow, what is it that transfers from one moment to the next?
What is left of the caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly?

This mysterious flow of life has no discernible beginning, even the Buddha said he could not see the beginning of Samsara, no matter how far back in time he looked he found no beginning to it. We have been entangled in this cycle of birth and death for an incalculable amount of time, becoming different beings over the course of our endless rebirths, playing different roles in this neverending story of self.

The Buddha said that the problematic behaviour that keeps us bound to Samsara springs up from three unwholesome roots: greed, hatred, and delusion. But because we are ignorant of their presence in the mind, these three poisons keep creating problems for us. And until we have properly uprooted them we are a mixed bag of karmic seeds, some of which can lie dormant in us for a considerable length of time, some for as long as lifetimes, waiting for the right conditions to sprout. A moral person can become immoral; and a bad person can become good. Beings can turn, sometimes quite suddenly. Angels can become devils, and devils can become angels.

There's a story in the Buddhist suttas which is a dramatic example of the way people can change suddenly when dormant karma becomes activated. (The story can be read here: Angulimala: A murderer's road to sainthood ) Angulimala went from a peace-loving model student, to a serial killer who tried to make the Buddha his 1000th victim, but after his encounter with the Buddha he became his disciple, and after a period of training Angulimala became a fully enlightened being that wouldn't harm a fly.

This story shows the fluidity of self, that nothing is set in stone, things arise and cease due to the causes and conditions that shape them. This knowledge can bring hope, because it means that we are not completely powerless, we can put in the right conditions to activate the wholesome tendencies of the mind and use those to put a stop to the unwholesome tendencies for good. When the mind is no longer clouded by greed, hatred, and delusion, it naturally becomes light and free, luminous like the moon coming out from behind the clouds.

The self is not what we think, whatever we identify with, that is not the self. The self is not a static entity. It is changing. Each mind moment a new moment of becoming. What went before has gone. We try to make the nice moments last, relive them, preserve them, but looking at a photograph is not the same, there's a kind of sadness with photographs, you see something that has passed, has changed, a moment that no longer exists. If you were to stitch photographs of your life together you would see the way we change from one self to another. We are a flow of energy. What we identify with changes. Our passions change. Everything changes. Even if you preserve a moment, and keep trying to relive the pleasant feelings associated with it, eventually it becomes tiring, one gets bored, this can happen with music, movies, books, video games, relationships, drugs. Our senses grow jaded, and our interests and personalities change, and what once excited us we no longer find interesting. This too is change.

I am a different person than I was when I first sat down to write this, and that moment has now gone, it no longer exists.

We die in every moment. Each tick of the clock is a new self.

Time is change.

There's something exhilarating about knowing that, it feels freeing when one can flow from one moment to the next without clinging to anything. In our day to day life, we do not realise how the sense of self with its identifying, its cares, woes, wants, and resentments weighs us down, we carry this stuff around with us like a concrete block that just gets heavier and heavier to carry, the story of self is tiring and burdensome; but when one lets go of the story. One feels lighter, freer and happier. Time feels different then.

 


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Pearl of regret

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 8 Jan 2023, 12:54

Agitation bubbling, a feeling of discontent. Why? What is this restless feeling?

I feel regret for past mistakes, for selfish behaviour which has led to a restless sorrow. A melancholy agitation of the mind. This mood is unpleasant, at one point it felt like my consciousness had descended into the Hell of a thousand spears, them piercing my body from all directions, with several spearings a minute. A painful mood, unhappy, alone, broken by my own arrogant stupidity. Suffering feels like this.

I need to disentangle a bit from the story I am absorbed in, the one generated in my head about a reality not based on clear-seeing, i.e. an error prone delusion born of ignorance.

I become aware of the negative mood I am in. Notice my thoughts punishing themselves for past actions I now have no power to change. The mind is good at harrassing itself. An expert at it.

I gently interupt the thought stream, (without judging it), and remind it that the past is gone, and for all the will in the world nothing can change that. What has happened can't unhappen. No use crying over spilt milk as they say, (whoever 'they' are).

I remember something I heard from a wise teacher. The first thing one learns in judo is to learn how to fall. If you want to become free from suffering, to become enlightened, you need to be prepared for failure, and to learn how to fail well. Because you will fall many times on the journey to enlightenment, and the five hindrances to meditation: (longing, aversion, sloth, agitation, doubt) will beat you up over and over. They will come at you fast and hard, and you won't know what hit you. So learn how to fall, to take a beating, how to roll with the punches and then how to get up again. Your own negative conditioning will work against you and defeat you time and time again. It can be a frustrating experience, and one will feel like giving up at times. It takes time to practise and develop the forms and strategies, the skillset of the noble eightfold path, the internal kungfu needed to keep those five hindrances at bay. But once your consciousness is no longer harrassed by them, it becomes peaceful enough to experience joy and serenity and to then reach those deeper states of meditation and equanimity.

I can make this painful experience into a pearl of wisdom. Like how oysters go through pain to create pearls. That is one way to make amends. I can learn from this, I can use this pain as fertilizer to help me grow and develop into a kinder, less self-centred person. I can choose to let go of the story and see this suffering for what it is, understand why it happened, what caused it. Perhaps even feel some gratitude for it, because as unpleasant as it is, it has revealed a negative conditioning that I was ignorant of before. It has pointed out a blindspot in my awareness. And now I see it, it means I can do something about it.

It will take time and effort but it can be done. I won't notice the results straight away, but keeping in mind compassion and concern for the wellbeing of who I will become, my future self, and for those who are affected by this negative cycle. remembering the drawbacks of allowing it to continue, and the benefits of changing it to something more positive. Talking to myself like this helps to generate the desire to make effort to change.

The mind is run by desire, and there are many desires in there all vying for attention. The mind is composed of many different consciousnesses, some we aren't always aware of, but we can notice their energy when it manifests as desire, as intention. The mind is like a committee. And tends to go along with whatever desire is the strongest. And the one that gets the most votes dominates consciousness. The strongest desire will override the others. So to overcome these negative cycles, I will have to generate a stronger desire to change these habits. Which means putting in the effort to train this mind. The results may not be immediate and there may be no gratification straight away, it can be hard going, a bit dry at times, and there will most likely be more dark nights up ahead. There is a lonely desert to cross to get there, to get to the end of sorrow. Training the mind takes patience and perseverance.

I feel like I have done enough thinking for now and move my attention away from thoughts and anchor it in the body. I become aware of the hurricane of swirling feeling circulating in the heart area. It is tense and unpleasant. I put my hand there and wish it well, the feeling of the palm is soothing and the body responds well to this contact and I feel it settle.

I wish myself peace, and then start wishing all beings I have wronged to feel peace, I wish for them to be well and free from sorrow. I ask for their forgiveness. And I in turn forgive all beings who have wronged me, I wish them well and for them to be at peace and free from sorrow. Then as the well-wishing grows, I radiate that warmth in the heart to all beings in all directions, of all kinds, in all dimensions. Wish them all well, wish for them to be at peace, to be sorrowless. I offer to share the merit of my spiritual practise with them.

The heart then feels lighter and freer and now there's a quiet joy rising in the mind. And I become aware of the breath. I feel a sense of relief. The appearance of the breath in awareness like when one has been in a stuffy room and steps outside to get some fresh air and there's an invigorating sigh as one breathes in that cool refreshing air. The mind settles into a still and composed state, it feels lighter, grows quieter, and now I am just a lucid passenger, contentedly flowing with things as they are. The breath energy moves throughout the body, like the waves of the sea, it has a calming effect, and the body feels comfortable, at ease, the mind steady and at peace.

And I notice how when the mind stops harrassing itself, joy and serenity naturally arises. 


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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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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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Right mindfulness part three

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 3 Nov 2022, 23:54

Mindfulness of the mind (citta-anupassanä)

The third foundation of right mindfulness is about being aware of our state of mind, our mood, emotions, attitude. 

It is a wonder that the human mind is able to look at itself and know its state at all. That it is able to both observe itself and act at the same time. In Buddhism there are six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind. The sixth sense is called the mind sense because it is able to look at itself. The mind can be detached from the five senses of the body, but it cannot be detached from itself. 

Consciousness happens in distinct and discrete moments, but happens so fast that it gives the impression those separate moments are happening at the same time. And perhaps what is happening when the mind is watching itself, is there is a discrete moment of consciousness, followed closely by another where the mind is noting that moment of consciousness, like the mind playing a game of tennis with itself. 

These mind moments are always changing, and the feeling of there being a permanent observer watching the mind is just an illusion, the observer is not really there, it is just a transitory conscious moment in a sequence of discrete causal events. A  stream of conscious moments with no substantial self behind it. Not me, not mine, not self.  

Thankfully the Buddha keeps the task of watching the mind simple and advises us to keep track of just eight states of mind and their opposites. He teaches us to note whether the mind is:

  • greedy or not,
  • hateful or not,
  • deluded or not,
  • collected or scattered,
  • developed or undeveloped,
  • surpassable (easily overcome) or unsurpassable (invincible),
  • in lucid stillness (samhadi) or not,
  • liberated or not.

The Buddha purposely says greedy or not, hateful or not, deluded or not, because there are many wholesome emotional states that are not greedy, hateful, or deluded. So one can replace the word 'not' with any of those.

The Buddha advises one to note the manifestation, arising and passing away of these states of mind, as well as to contemplate these states of mind internally and externally. I think when he says internally and externally he means to contemplate and understand the state of mind of other beings as well as one's own. 

However one should remember that just mere awareness and noting states of mind is not all there is to this practise. Noting can be helpful in the beginning to help one become aware of these states of mind and get skilled at spotting them quickly. But ultimately one is training to remove these negative states of mind altogether and bring into being wholesome ones to replace them, such as the seven factors of enlightenment which is covered in the fourth foundation of mindfulness.  

Much of our suffering comes from these negative states of mind. In fact the cause of suffering is greed, hatred, and delusion. And the end of suffering, nibbana is when these three poisons have been permanently removed from the mind. When the mind is no longer harrassed by greed, hate, and delusion it is luminous and shines like the moon that comes out from behind the clouds.

To free the mind is no small task though. It is challenging, as these tendencies of the mind are strong, and they will resist your efforts to remove them, so one has to do this gradually and pace oneself. Avoid straining the mind by exerting too much effort, as this is counterproductive and will lead to more harm, more suffering. This path is not a quick fix, it takes time and patience, and perseverence. So be gentle with yourself, be compassionate and kind. There has to be some effort, else nothing will change, but too much effort will cause burnout and psychological distress. So one needs to tune the effort so it doesn't strain the mind nor make one lazy and unmotivated. Those negative states will keep coming back over and over, and often one's progress and development comes from making mistakes, from one's failures. So don't be hard on oneself for not being perfect and not knowing everything, just keep persevering and being patient. Learn from mistakes and try try try again. As one makes progress and gets more developed, one gets faster at removing and replacing these negative states, until it becomes like second nature, and then a new habit structure of the mind is formed and then one becomes unsurpassable. 

The Buddha said that anger is a great stain on the personality but fairly easy to get rid of. Greed is a lesser stain on the personality and hard to get rid of. Delusion is both a great stain on the personality and very hard to get rid of. 

Anger is painful, so it is easier to motivate oneself to get rid of anger, it is always accompanied by an unpleasant feeling. Anger can arise from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and ideas in the world around one. And the world can try to make one angry on purpose. It will say you should be angry about this, angry about that, why aren't you angry? If you are not then there must be something wrong with you. Everyone else is angry about it, you should be too. There can be pressure sometimes socially to be angry. But one does not have to follow the rest of the world. You do not have to reflect the world or other people's anger. The Buddhist path is all about how you feel, are you suffering or not? To feel anger and hatred is suffering. There's enough anger and hatred, enough suffering in the world, why add to it. One is actually doing a service to the world when in the midst of all the craziness, anger, and hatred, one remains serene, at ease, and filled with loving-kindness and compassion. 

Greed is hard to remove and is also a bit trickier to spot as it is a mix of pain and pleasure. Greed here is a general term that also covers lust and craving for intoxicants.There is pain in wanting something and not getting it, but there is also gratification when one does get what one wants, even though that gratification is transient, it is still not easy to motivate the mind to get rid of greed. Again the world will be advertising, pushing the buttons of craving, telling you that you need this or that, that your life is not complete without something it is trying to sell you. But again one does not have to be greedy, does not have to want these things, can find contentment without them. Even if the rest of society thinks you are strange for not wanting those things. One has to look at the drawbacks of greed, how hard one has to work for worldly-pleasures, how expensive they are, how the material things you accumulate can be taken away from you by others, how they are impermanent, can break and don't last, how they do not lead to lasting happiness, how it all leads to misery in the end, all that is beloved and pleasing to us will become otherwise, one is fated to become separated from all one loves and holds dear. If one is serious about ending suffering, one has to decide: do you want money, sex, and intoxicants? Or do you want enlightenment? 

Delusion is the root of both anger and greed. And delusion comes from ignorance. In Buddhism it is knowledge of the four noble truths and the deep understanding of them which brings wisdom and deliverance from ignorance.

Samhadi or lucid stillness, is a state of mind where greed, hatred, and delusion is temporarily suspended, it is not permanent and the negative mind states will return, but in samhadi one gets a taste of what the mind is like when it is not being harrassed by these psychic irritants. Right samhadi is a composed state of mind, serene, wholehearted, lucid and still. A mind collected and unified, the connection to big mind and divine consciousness, and the next factor of the noble eightfold path. Right mindfulness takes you to the doorstep of right samhadi and also stays throughout the experience of it. 

I will stop here as I am feeling a bit tired and think perhaps I have written enough for a brief summary of what I am learning. Mindfulness of the mind should always be practised in the context of the noble eightfold path and not separate from it. All factors of the path must be practised together to reach the destination. If any of the factors are left out, the vehicle to nibanna won't work. 

May you feel safe, well, happy, and peaceful. 


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Right mindfulness (part two)

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Mindfulness of feelings

The second foundation in the four foundations of mindfulness is about sense impressions and the mental feeling of pleasure or displeasure that accompanies them. Sense impressions generate feelings, and feelings generate craving. 

There are two ways to look at feelings. The first is to look at there being just two kinds of feelings: pleasant or unpleasant. The second way is to look at there being three kinds of feelings: pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. The Buddha said both ways of looking at feelings is correct. And he also said there is in fact a total of 108 feelings, but one doesn't need to know about them to get liberated, and working with just a set of two or three is enough.

An important thing to grasp here is that a neutral feeling after a painful feeling feels pleasant; and a neutral feeling after a pleasant feeling feels unpleasant. Which makes one wonder if there really is a neutral feeling? Imagine there's a scale with pleasure at the top and pain at the bottom. Feelings get more pleasurable as they go up the scale and more unpleasant as they go down it. So when a hit of pleasure wears off, if the feeling that comes after that is below it in the scale it will feel unpleasant, even if it is a feeling one would normally class as pleasant. This also works vice versa, when one is in pain, any feeling above that in the scale will feel pleasant in comparison, even if it is something that would normally be called unpleasant. 

One notices feelings that come from the five senses: eye, ear, smell, taste, touch. As well as feelings that come from the sixth sense: the mind, which is the psychological world of thoughts and ideas. Noting which ones are pleasant and which ones are unpleasant, or which ones are neither pleasant nor unpleasant (neutral). 

One also notices what are called worldly feelings.The eight worldly winds can be a helpful tool to simplify this.The eight worldly winds are: pain and pleasure, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame. They can blow in either direction and can change at any moment, so one cannot experience one wind without also experiencing it's opposite. For example, perhaps one day you are being praised by a friend for something you did, this feels very pleasant and you feel encouraged and happy. Then a week later you might do something daft and are then belng blamed by that same friend, which feels unpleasant and you feel discouraged and dejected. Blame is particularly unpleasant when it comes after an experience of praise, and vice versa, praise feels very pleasant after an experience of blame. There may also be dry neutral moments when the winds are quiet and you are not getting much praise or blame, but those neutral moments will feel pleasant if they come after being blamed and unpleasant and disatisfying after praise.   

There are also pleasant and unpleasant unworldly (spiritual) feelings. The pleasant feelings are the fruits of the path, such as the relief from letting go of the attachment to worldly things, the pleasure of samhadi (deep states of meditation), friendship. Unpleasant spirtual feelings are those that come from still having to live with an unliberated mind still afflicted by the three poisons of: greed, hatred and delusion. This pain can be used in a positive way to spur one forward in the practise of developing the higher mind. There is also the unpleasant feelings that happen when one's meditation practise feels dry. 

One notices feelings as they arise, flow and fade away. Noting if they are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. And one notes whether they come from the five senses, the mind sense, or if they are worldly, or unworldly feelings. 

Feelings change a lot and so do our moods in response to them. But they are not actually who you are, there is no substantial self behind feelings. It is just streams of sensory data and your mental response to it of like or dislike, which creates craving for more pleasant feelings and aversion towards the unpleasant ones. But feelings are 'not me, not mine.' They arise because of the six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mind and the world of ideas. 

The Buddha coined a great simile called 'the second arrow.' Where he talks about a man who has been shot with an arrow, and immediately takes out his bow and shoots himself with a second arrow. This simile is about how there are things that happen in life which are painful and unpleasant, and outside our control. This on its own is bad enough, but then we go and create more pain and misery for ourselves by getting angry and depressed about it. 'Why me? Why does the universe hate me so? I hate my life... and so on'  We've all done it! But this part is optional. Something that helped me understand this, is seeing that anger and hate never feels good, anger is always accompanied by an unpleasant feeling, which is why a neutral feeling after anger feels pleasant. Anger is unpleasant and causes suffering. When you see this you realise that anger is unnecessary and doesn't solve anything, it just makes things worse, just adds more suffering. If one is not angry it reduces suffering hugely. It is a life-changing revelation to see that one does not have to be angry about anything, one can choose non-anger instead and feel better and more serene in spite of it all.  

 There is something interesting to note here. When one is watching feelings arise and pass away. You can be detached from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, but the mind cannot be detached from anger. Anger and non-anger are mutually exclusive, only one or the other can exist in the mind at any time. For example, joy cannot be present in the mind if there is anger, loving-kindness cannot be present if there is anger, serenity cannot be present if there is anger. It is either one or the other. This is an important thing to remember, and something that is often misunderstood. 

Another thing that is often misunderstood is that one should be detached from pleasant spiritual feelings when they arise. This is incorrect, pleasant spiritual feelings come from the fruits of the path and are the rewards of the spiritual life and are to be cultivated and enjoyed, even when one becomes a fully enlightened being. The Buddha would often ask not to be disturbed, so he could sit in his hut and enjoy the bliss of meditation. He also said that the only time he didn't have backache was when he was practising samhadi.

Mindfulness of feelings is a huge topic and I haven't covered everything. There's more to feelings, such as how feelings of love can act as pain-relief, there's even been scientific research to explore this effect of love on the mind.

There's also other beings feelings to consider. Knowing that other beings also dislike pain and enjoy pleasure just as much as you do, this can help with the development of empathy and compassion. How feelings all have one thing in common in that they are impermanent and change. How this impermanence causes craving and suffering. How it leads to addictions and dissatisfaction when the senses start to become jaded. For example when you listen to a piece of good music over and over, and after a time you start feeling bored of it and long to have that sensory hit again, but can't get the same effect from it, so one searches for another song to fill the void. How a good book or movie can feel very pleasurable, but when you get to the end there's a sadness that it is over and a feeling of dissatisfaction. These are all things to explore in the practise of mindfulness of feelings. But I will stop here as I am trying really hard to make this succinct. 

In the next part of right mindfulness, I will write about the next foundation: mindfulness of the mind, which covers moods, emotions, state of mind. But I am tired now and going to bed. Nighty night. Peace and love everyone (-:

To be continued...

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Right mindfulness (part one)

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 26 Oct 2022, 21:32


The word mindfulness means to keep something in mind. To remember.

In Buddhism there are four foundations to Right mindfulness, these are:

1. The body, 

2. Feelings (In Buddhism feelings are a mix of sense impressions and the mental tone of like/dislike that accompanies them, they are not emotions, emotions come under the third foundation of mindfulness.)

3. Mind (emotions, mood, state of mind).

4. Dhamma categories (the teachings on how to use mindfulness to reach nibbana and the end of suffering.)

This is not something that one goes over in one go like a piece of music, this is more a collection of meditation objects, some reflective/contemplative, others for entering states of lucid stillness (samhadi). One does not have to do everything on this list every time they meditate, one just simply chooses a topic that fits well for the situation or mood one is in. A bit like a swiss army knife of helpful tools for different occasions. 

Mindfulness of the body

This starts with awareness of the four postures: walking, standing, sitting or lying down. When one is sitting, one knows they are sitting, when standing, one knows they are standing... and so on... This helps train us to become more aware of the body.The feeling of embodiment can be a pleasurable experience, as it can feel grounding and stops the head floating off like a helium balloon.

Next is mindfulness of breathing. This is something many of us will already be familiar with, so I won't write much, other than one important thing to note is that mindfulness of the breath is not meant to be a dry experience. One should develop interest in it, a sense of wonder about the air element, as this makes the meditation more enjoyable and easier to practise. In time it becomes an indulgence, an opportunity to have a break from your worldly concerns, a tonic that you can take with you anywhere, and the freedom to disengage from the thought processes for a time. 

 Next is mindfulness of the present moment. This is about being aware of where one is, one's surroundings, what one is doing, one's behaviour, of that which is appropriate, and that which is non-delusion. A lucid awakeness during the course of daily life. Here one maintains a sense of composure and dignity, whilst respecting the space and peace of others as you go about your day. 

Next is a list of 32 parts of the body, listed by the Buddha as: head hair, body hair, skin, nails, teeth, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, spleen, diaphragm, lungs, intestines, mesentery, contents of stomach, faeces, bile, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, mucus, oil of joints, fat, and urine.

This exercise is mainly for monks and nuns to help them deal with lust. But it can be helpful for lay people too, as our world is caught up in attachment to the body, which generates much misery and leads to desire, obsession, body dysphoria, mental illness, and the stress of trying to live up to social expectations on how the body should look and perform.To be free of all that worry is a real blessing.

The first five parts in the Buddha's list are easy to remember, and these are also the body parts we tend to find attractive in ourselves and others: head hair, body hair, skin, nails and teeth. It is interesting to note that these are also the dead parts of the body.The living parts, which are hidden under the layer of skin, we find repulsive and are slightly afraid of. It is odd really. What is attraction?

 The most beautiful hair in the world becomes otherwise if it lands in one's soup. A pile of discarded nails is not particularly appealing, nor a set of teeth in a glass.The skin is actually a dead leaky covering, not alive at all, and not even particularly nutritious it seems, as maggots when they eat a corpse, they don't eat the skin. They look for wounds, and openings so they can eat the flesh inside. Once all the flesh is eaten, the skin just flops over bones like a discarded leathery covering. 

It is important to note here, that these reflections are not meant to depress one. They are meant to be used as tools to help change one's perception of the body and free oneself from attachment to it. Which is a wise chess move. Because the body grows and ages outside of our control, it gets sick, disabled, and struggles to perform consistently. It doesn't always look the same, and that which is beautiful, handsome or strong will one day become otherwise. Time comes for all. This body is full of different beings, bacteria, cells, viruses, fungi, parasites, and they all call this body their home, they travel up and down the highways of our veins and arteries. Our being is composed of many different consciousnesses, we are an organic dance of interdependence. It is also important to note that one does not feel hostility towards the body, one feels compassion for it, takes care of it, and looks after it as well as one can, but without clinging. The body is borrowed for a brief time, it is 'not me not mine,' and one day will return to the elements.  

Next is mindfulness of the four elements: earth, water, fire, air. This is one of my favourite topics in mindfulness of the body, I practise mindfulness of the elements a lot. But I won't write much here, as this is a succinct summary of right mindfulness. Other than one contemplates how the body is made up of the four elements. Gets the feeling and sense of each element. Earth is about grounding, weight, solidity. Water is cohesion, fluidity, solubility. Fire is temperature, warmth and light. Air is movement, vibration, change. One becomes aware of the four elements within the body and also outside the body. These four elements can also be used as meditation objects to reach deep states of samhadi (meditative absorption). And it is said they can also be used for the development of psychic powers. 

The last category in mindfulness of the body is marana-sati, mindfulness of death. In the Buddha's time monks and nuns would visit what was called a charnal ground, a field where people used to dump dead bodies and leave them there to rot and be eaten by animals. The monks and nuns would spend time there meditating, looking at the corpses littered about in the various states of decomposition and remind themselves that they too are made of the same elements as the corpses, that one day their bodies will also die and decay, that they are not excempt from that fate. 

This meditation is helpful for overcoming the fear of death as well as attachment to the body. It is also good for helping motivate oneself out of laziness, as it reminds us that our time on this Earth is brief and death could come at any moment, which helps energize us to want to make best use of our precious time here - as life is short. 

Mindfulness of death is a strong medicine and may not be appropriate for everyone. One should know themselves and know if this will make them go a bit dark. This is not meant to produce depression in the mind, but liberation. In the West we are very sheltered from the sight of death, we see dead animals, but seldom dead humans, and if we do, they are usually a corpse of a relative in a coffin that has been stuffed with preservatives to slow the decay. But one can still do this meditation without needing an actual corpse, as one can use their imagination or look at photos of rotting corpses. It is important to remember that mindfulness of death is meant to be done with serenity and calm lucidity. If it doesn't bring peace to the mind it is not being done correctly. Only do this if you feel you are able to face it, this practise is not about traumatising oneself, it is about freeing oneself. Know your own mind and where you are at in your development and what you are comfortable with. Meditating on the four elements might suit you better.

That's enough for today, I will carry on writing about the other three foundations of mindfulness in another post. 


To be continued...

 

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The boomerang effect

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I have been spending time alone lately, keeping myself to myself, withdrawing from the things of the world. It was hard going at first but is getting easier now, and I am quite enjoying the solitude.

I had some trouble with negativity in the mind for a while, but remembered every time we become angry we literally poison ourselves, as it releases toxic chemicals into our body which can lead to health problems. I noticed how angry I can become with others when I expect them to behave in a certain way and they don’t. This way of thinking causes so much suffering and is futile, the behaviour of others and the world is outside my control. It also creates suffering when I apply it to myself, and become angry and unforgiving of myself for the foolish things I have done in the past. But this doesn’t help solve anything, it just makes things worse, leading to more negative tendencies of the mind.

I am learning it is better to make amends for past errors by cultivating wholesome mental states, that's how you put things right, so there’s no more room for negativity, as it is the negativity which is the problem. There’s no need to hold onto anger because it always makes things worse and clouds one’s vision of the way things are. Just as a single match can start a fire and burn down an entire forest. So too can a moment of anger destroy one’s composure, peace of mind and a lifetime of merit.

I notice each time I get angry it boomerangs back and creates the tendency for me to become angry again in the future, reinforcing that cycle and making it more likely to return. It is the same with greed. Greed begets more greed, and anger begets more anger. But it also works for the opposite emotions, and just one moment of friendliness and loving-kindness, of good-naturedness can create the tendency in me to become loving again in the future, as kindness begets more kindness.

I think that’s how kamma works and why intention is the generator of it.


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New blog post

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“They abused me, they hit me! They beat me, they robbed me!” For those who bear such a grudge, hatred never ends.

“They abused me, they hit me! They beat me, they robbed me!” For those who bear no such grudge, hatred has an end.

For never is hatred settled by hate, it’s only settled by love: this is an eternal truth.

....

If you find an alert companion, a wise and virtuous friend, then, overcoming all adversities, wander with them, joyful and mindful.

If you find no alert companion, no wise and virtuous friend, then, like a king who flees his conquered realm, wander alone like a tusker in the wilds.

It’s better to wander alone, than have  fellowship with fools. Wander alone and do no wrong, at ease like a tusker in the wilds.”

[MN128] 

https://suttacentral.net/mn128

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Right effort

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 6 Oct 2022, 07:32

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.

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCXN1GlAupG0LqKS3nNCkGv24r94LW5VV

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.
'

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Right Action

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This is the fourth factor of the noble eightfold path, and it is about our behaviour and conduct on this earth. Our morality. Our ethics. How we treat other beings. Morality is an important part of any spiritual practise, without it one will find it difficult to settle into meditation and be at peace.

We want to aspire to pass through this world of myriad beings and cause as little harm as we can. As doing so creates less stress and negative consequences for ourselves and others. It can be summed up quite nicely by the phrase ‘Ahimsa’ which means non-violence.

The three right actions of the noble eightfold path are:

  • To refrain from taking the life of any living creature.
  • To refrain from taking that which is not given.
  • To refrain from sexual misconduct.

All beings value their lives. And all are trying to survive in this world. And most would rather live in peace and friendship with us than be our enemy. No being likes being wronged or hurt, just as much as oneself doesn’t like it.

Watch any insect as you approach and how it runs away afraid. How it tries to hide from you. That being values its life. Imagine how you’d feel if an advanced alien race came and started chasing you, you’d be just like that insect.

The idea that some beings are more important than others is at the root of much of our world’s problems.

Living in peace and friendship with other beings. One’s mind becomes less troubled and averse; more happy; more content. And when the mind is not harrassed by regret, remorse, or fear of retribution. It will find it easier to settle into the deeper states of meditation known as right samhadi (the eighth factor of the noble eightfold path). It is from the lucid stillness of right samhadi that wisdom naturally arises. Because within us all, there is a deeper wiser part of the mind that wants to talk to us, but we often don’t hear it because we are too busy chatting to ourselves about nonsense.


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Prevention

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There is longing
Craving
A desire for something
That creates
Attraction or aversion
Draws and sustains attention.
And with the contact of the senses
and their myriad sense impressions
Feelings arise…

But with well-instructed mindfulness acting as the sentinel of consciousness.
Supported by lucid serenity and unification of mind.
With wisdom as chief.
One nips it in the bud right there.
Prunes away unwholesome states of mind
Before they become the self-centred story of greed, hate and delusion.

With perfected practise
and complete mastery of the mind
With equipose
and dignity.
Liberated to the core
With no more clinging remaining.
One abides in the deathless state
Nibbāna
Unperturbed by the changing phenomena of the world.
Knowing and understanding that all things are anicca (impermanent)
Always changing
rising
flowing
fading.

One remains serene and is not suprised by anything.


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Right speech

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 9 Jun 2022, 14:57

Speech is not something to take lightly. We humans are social creatures who have developed a complex form of verbal communication, our language and the use of it is very important. Wrong speech can create great harm for ourselves and others. It creates social divisions, leads to violence, and can start wars.

However, right speech can heal, encourage, bring liberating knowledge, wisdom, comfort and peace.

Speech happens fast. Too fast for one to be able to plan their speech ahead. One must also be aware of timing and whether something is appropriate to say. As a general guide, is what one is about to say true, beneficial, and kind?

***

The four right speeches:

I will refrain from false speech,

I will refrain from malicious and divisive speech,

I will refrain from harsh unkind speech,

I will refrain from idle pointless chatter.

***

‘I will refrain from false speech...’

It is very important to be truthful. Telling lies, even white ones, are bad for one’s psyche. If you tell a lie for long enough you start to believe it, and this leads to dangerous delusions about reality and creates an awful split in the mind. If one wants to progress on the spiritual path, one needs to be able to see reality for what it is, and if one is telling lies one is not getting an accurate account of reality. The spiritual path is all about seeking the truth, and to do that one has to be honest with oneself, about one’s experience and what is really happening. To become lucid requires complete truthfulness. When one thinks it is okay to lie, one’s spiritual achievement is meaningless.

‘I will refrain from malicious and divisive speech…’

Malicious and divisive speech causes harm, splits communities and creates disharmony. Even what might be considered harmless gossip is not conducive to beneficial outcomes. Everything we intend, say and do leads to consequences, both for ourselves and others. Gossip divides communities, friends and families.

Why do we become so quick to judge others? To virtue signal, to want to criticise, to shame, to blame. What is that all about? Does that lead to peace of mind? To meaningful social connections? To harmony?

‘I will refrain from harsh unkind speech…’

Harsh words even if they are true can harm the one they are directed at. Sometimes it is better to remain silent than speak the truth. One does not have to answer a question if speaking the truth may cause harm to oneself or another. Harsh unkind words never really help, especially if they are not beneficial for the person hearing them.

We should also try to remember not to be so quick to judge others. No-one has ever got where they are without making mistakes. There’s a saying that I like which goes:

A thorn of experience, is worth more than a wilderness of warnings.’

We have all had our less-than-graceful moments. There’s another saying I like which goes: ‘One should not judge another until they have walked the trail of life in their shoes.’

It is true that sometimes people need to hear things they may not want to hear. These difficult conversations happen better when coming from the heart and done with loving-friendliness, from a heart that genuinely wants the best for that person. If one comes from the heart one’s speech will be gentle, peaceful and not cause harm.

‘I will refrain from idle pointless chatter.’

Idle pointless speech is tiring to listen to. It can drain one’s energy, and put one in a dull fatigued state of mind. Time is precious. So don’t waste it with frivolous speech.

Sometimes there’s the urge to fill the air with words because one feels uncomfortable with silence. But instead one should learn to appreciate the silence, there is something deeper and more subtle in the silence. If one wants to get into deep states of meditation, one needs to learn to appreciate silence. There’s a place one’s consciousness can go to that is much deeper and more profound than words can convey.

Everything on the eightfold path is informed by right view

If one notices their speech is unskilful, then one should check their intentions. And if one’s intentions are wrong, then that means one is holding to a wrong view. So always check if speech is coming from greed, hatred, or delusion. If so, try to come from a place of generosity, kindness, and clarity instead, and remember the four noble truths.

As a rule of thumb. If one is coming from the heart, from a place of loving-kindness. Then one’s speech will be right. As it will not cause harm and will want only the best for the other person.

Right speech also applies to the way we talk to ourselves.

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Free online meditation retreat starting tomorrow

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 7 Jun 2022, 14:19

There is a free virtual online meditation retreat happening on Wednesday the 8th June (tomorrow) till 13th June 2022.

The theme will be on the elements: wind, fire, water, earth and the primary colours found in nature, and how these can be used to help bring stillness and clarity to the mind as meditation subjects. The Buddha called them kasinas.

Retreat info available here: https://birken.ca/elements/

Open to everyone! Can be taken from home and fitted round your household schedule. The talks will also be recorded, so you can catch up later if you miss anything live or because of timezone differences.

A PDF of the schedule is available here:

N.b. the times listed in the schedule are PDT (Pacific Standard time). We are 8 hours ahead in the UK.

You can use this tool to convert times to your local time:

https://dateful.com/time-zone-converter 

The events will be available to watch at the times in the schedule here: https://www.youtube.com/AjahnSona

Anyway, putting the info out there for anyone who might be interested.

Keep it real and
Be well, peaceful, and happy (-:

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The Very Short Sutra on the Meeting of the Buddha and the Goddess

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 25 May 2022, 18:07



" This I have made up:

       Once the Buddha was walking along the

forest path in the Oak Grove at Ojai, walking without

arriving anywhere

or having any thought of arriving or not arriving

and lotuses shining with the morning dew

miraculously appeared under each step

soft as silk under the toes of the Buddha

When suddenly, out of the turquoise sky,

dancing in front of his half-shut inward-looking

eyes, shimmering like a rainbow

or a spider's web

transparent as the dew on a lotus flower

--the Goddess appeared quivering

like a hummingbird in the air before him

She, for she was surely a she

as the Buddha could clearly see

with his eye of discriminating awareness wisdom,

was mostly red in color

though when the light shifted

she flashed like a rainbow

She was naked except

for the usual flower ornaments

Goddesses wear.

Her long hair

was deep blue, her two eyes fathomless pits of space

and her third eye a bloodshot

ring of fire.

The Buddha folded his hands together

and greeted the Goddess thus:

"O Goddess, why are you blocking my path.

Before I saw you I was happily going nowhere.

Now I'm not sure where I want to go."

"You can go around me."

said the Goddess, twirling on her heels like a bird

darting away, "or you can come after me.

This is my forest too,

you can't pretend that I'm not here."

With that the Buddha sat

    supple as a snake

    solid as a rock

beneath a Bo tree

    that had sprang full-leaved

    to shade him.

"Perhaps we should have a chat,"

he said.

    After years of arduous practice

at the time of the morning star

I penetrated reality, and now..."

"Not so fast, Buddha.

I am reality."

The Earth stood still,

the oceans paused,

the wind itself listened

--a thousand arhats, bodhisattva, and dakinis

magically appeared to hear

what would happen in the conversation.

"I know I take my life in my hands,"

said the Buddha.

"But I am known as the Fearless One

--so here goes."

And he and the Goddess

without further words

exchanged glances.

Light rays like sunbeams

shot forth

so bright that even

Sariputra, the All-Seeing One,

had to turn away.

And then they exchanged thoughts

and the illumination was as bright as a diamond candle.

And then they changed mind

And then there was a great silence as vast as the universe

that contains everything.

And then they exchanged bodies

And clothes

And the Buddha arose

as the Goddess

and the Goddess arose as the Buddha

and so on back and forth

for a hundred thousand hundred thousand kalpas.

If you meet the Buddha

you meet the Goddess,

the Goddess is the Buddha.

And not only that.  This:

The Buddha is the Goddess,

the Goddess is the Buddha.

And not only that:This:

The Buddha is emptiness

The Goddess is bliss,

the Goddess is emptiness

the Buddha is bliss.

And that is what

and what-not you are

it's true.

So here comes the mantra of the Goddess and the Buddha, the unsurpassed non-dual mantra, just to say this mantra, just to hear this mantra once, just to hear one word of this mantra once makes everything the way it truly is:  OK.

So here it is:

    Earth-walker/sky-walker

        Hey, silent one, Hey, great talker

    Not two/not one

        Not separate/Not apart

    That is the heart

        Bliss is emptiness

        Emptiness is bliss.

    Be your breath, Ah

    Smile, Hey

   And relax, Ho

And remember this:  You can't miss. "

- Rick Fields, Dharma Gaia, pp.3-7


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Tranquil wisdom meditation

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 9 May 2022, 17:38

Here is a link to a free book that explains much better what I was trying to describe in my previous article. I have found it helpful to practise this and it has brought me results. I am making great progress with weakening both aversion and sensuality, it's great! 

This technique also makes mind wandering a more interesting part of meditation practise. 

In a nutshell: 

1. Recognise the mind has wandered.
2. Let go of the distraction.
3. Become aware of the body.
4. Relax any tension in the body.
5. Smile and gladden the mind.
6. Reflect on the four noble truths. I.e. noticing the craving, letting go of the craving, experiencing the mind free from craving, and the development of the eightfold path
7. Return to meditation object.
8. Rinse and repeat if mind wanders. 

I find when I re-engage with the meditation object after this process it is much easier to stay with it and more enjoyable. You only need to do this when the mind has wandered for some time and the meditation object has been forgotten, for short distractions just go back to the meditation object. This process gets faster and more intuitive the more you practise.

 While meditating you want to keep that feeling of bodily ease and pleasure going. Eventually it feels natural to let go of applied and sustained attention to the meditation object and to allow awareness to become more expansive. The joy and pleasure gradually gets more and more refined, changing to tranquillity and stillness, until it reaches equanimity. Equanimity is how the mind feels when all the different energies that pull us this way or that are perfectly balanced. Like everything is tuned just right and in harmony. There is an exquisite stillness and clarity of mind that is hard to put into words but you will have felt it in your own practise at times I am sure, and will know what I am talking about.

I don't know if any of this is helpful to you, don't worry if it isn't, I won't be offended lol. I just send it in case it is helpful to others. I don't like keeping things to myself. And I could die at any moment so would be a shame not to share this with others.

I am not a normal person lol. I spend an unnatural amount of time researching and practising this stuff. I have never really been that into the material world to be honest, it doesn't do much for me, nothing lasts in this world and death comes for all. I have always found the inner spiritual life more interesting. 

Although I don't judge anyone else for not being the same and I am not trying to proselytise anyone, that's the nice thing about Buddhism one is under no obligation to share the dhamma with others or change the world in any way, there is none of that stressful evangelical stuff trying to convert others - thank goodness. I think this is just my way of giving, or trying to be generous with what I know because I don't have much else to offer really.

And I can say with certainty now that this stuff really works, I have definitely changed. I have not got angry about anything for a good while now and the craving for sense pleasure is also not as powerful a force as it once was and seems to be getting weaker each day.

 It feels great! The mind just becomes more peaceful, lucid and freer.

Be well anyway and sending you good wishes and energy for you own journey to nibanna.


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Serenity practise

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 7 May 2022, 22:52

This is something I have been practising during my own meditation and it has been very helpful and I quite like it.

When the mind becomes distracted in meditation and loses awareness of the meditation object, follow this simple algorithm below:

1. Notice with friendliness towards the mind, without any judgement or shame towards oneself, (always be gentle, be a friend to the mind and it will be a friend back) just become aware that the mind has wandered from the meditation object. Then...

2. Let go of whatever the distraction was, it doesn't matter what it was, the details are irrelevant, there's no need to tie up any lose ends or tidy up the thoughts. Just let go of the distraction and become aware of the body.

3. Relax any tension you feel in the body, remembering also to relax the face and head, as thoughts can bring tension to those areas. Spend some time doing this, take as long as feels natural. One is purposefully calming the body, and bringing into awareness a sense of bodily ease and pleasure.

4. Gladden the mind, like the zesty zingy feeling of a refreshing spring breeze. Kindle some joy in the mind. Smile inwardly, smile with your heart, and turn the corners of your mouth up, even if it's just a little, teeny slight barely-noticeable smile. That'll do! It doesn't matter if at first it feels fake, smiling releases endorphins and the mind will catch on and the smile will eventually become genuine. Then let that warm pleasant energy spread throughout the whole body. Saturate the entire body with it.

5. Then reflect for a moment on how the mind feels when it is lucid, serene and free from craving.

There are two sides to craving: craving for sense pleasure, and craving for circumstances to be different. They are both two sides of the same coin.

These are the four noble truths:

Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood).

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

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

Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering (which is to be developed). 

Can you see the four noble truths in your meditation practise: noticing the craving, letting go of the craving, experiencing freedom from the craving, and the cultivation of the noble eightfold path that leads to the end of craving. 

6. Return to focusing on the meditation object.

7. Rinse and repeat every time the mind wanders.

Samma Samhadi (Right Concentration) can be translated as lucid serenity. Unfortunately, Right Concentration can create the wrong impression of meditation practise. Samma Samhadi is not a hard tunnel-vision focus. One is not concentrating so hard that it blocks out everything else from conscious awareness, that just creates tension in the mind and the body. No, Samma Samhadi is a still, calm, lucid, relaxed, expansive and serene awareness. Anchored in the body, so the mind does not float off like a helium balloon. One meditates with awareness of the body in the background. This is what is meant by one pointed attention, it means wholehearted attention grounded in the body, it is an embodied attention. A unification of mind, all of the mind collected and gathered together, attending to the meditation object together as one. The four jhanas which the Buddha defined as Samma Samhadi are known as the rupa jhanas because they are embodied, i.e. awareness of the body is present throughout. 

Samhadi (lucid serenity) and vipassana (insight) are actually one and the same, they are not two distinct separate practises. They are part of the same meditation. They are like two wings of a bird that take you to nibanna. Nibanna in a nutshell means irreversible freedom from suffering. I.e. there's no comedown from it, the freedom is permanent. And nibanna can be experienced here and now in this very life if one practises ardently enough. Different stages of enlightenment bring progressively greater freedom from suffering. 

In Buddhist practise there's nothing magical happening, although it can certainly feel like that at times, (encounters with the unconscious parts of the mind can often feel magical,)  one is just simply training the mind. If one puts in the right causes and conditions, one gets the results. In the case of Buddhist training, the final result is irreversible freedom from suffering. 

Right input equals right output. Bad input equals bad output.

Having a good teacher helps immensely, but the training is doable on one's own if one is  determined enough, but honestly find a teacher and some good spiritual friends, it will save you a lot of time and make the practise much richer and joyful. There are many Buddhist teachers and groups available online and one does not need to travel great distances to find one anymore, one can now train virtually via the Internet for free from one's home without having to travel anywhere or go on a lengthy retreat. All my teachers and spiritual friends are online.

The noble eightfold path is the training one undertakes to become a Buddha. The Buddha famously once said: 'One who sees the dhamma sees me. And one who sees me sees the dhamma.'  The dhamma is the mind of the Buddha, and one who has mastered the dhamma, becomes a Buddha. 

Not a clone though, one still has whatever personality traits one had before, but now freed from greed, hatred, and delusion. A bit like how there is a recipe to bake bread, but there can be different kinds of bread, they all however follow the same basic recipe and use the same core ingredients. The loaves of bread can look different when they come out of the oven, but despite their difference in appearance, one can still see and know it is bread. 

Peace and metta!

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A good home

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 23 Apr 2022, 13:10

Was ruminating just now over feelings of regret and longing. These can pop up and disrupt the flow of peace at times. How to deal with those?

 I have been practising telling myself each time that I can't change the past. What has happened has happened, there's no super-power I have that can turn back the clock and make me do things different. And even if I could, would I want to?  

Past mistakes were done by a younger self that didn't know any better. But now you do know better, and it is because of your younger self that you know better. So stop punishing yourself, take a bow to your younger self and resolve to honour the mistake by being wiser from now on. And remembering your less-than-graceful moments can help one to be humble, which is helpful for overcoming conceit. But the guilt, longing, aversion, anxiety and remorse is not helpful, that can be let go of.

Your younger self is not who you are now. And it is who you are now that's important. Who you are now is what's generating the kamma for your future self.

Putting oneself down and feeling guilt, shame and anxiety will become a habit when repeated over a lengthy period of time, and it is a habit that is no good for the mind. It depresses it, and a depressed mind is no fun to be in at all. Our mind is our home, and so we should make it the kind of home that is warm, friendly, welcoming, wise, peaceful, and a refuge even when times are shit.

Unfortunately pain, sickness, fatigue, loss and separation is inevitable in this world. That is the kamma of having a body. Noone escapes this, not even enlightened beings. The Buddha aged, got sick, had back problems, had a toxic cousin intent on murdering him, and he died. 

It is the fate of all living beings.

What is the most important thing to have with us when we die? 

 Our time here is short and one could die at any moment, old age is not guaranteed, people die at different ages and that's normal; across the many species of life on Earth both young and old die. Noone knows how much time they have here.

And it isn't these things that are the problem. They are inevitable, they are outside our control, that's the way it is in a changing universe of interdependence and entropy. 

The problem is how we feel about these things. It is the hostility in the mind towards them that is the problem. Aversion is an unpleasant emotion, it comes with unpleasant sensations, unpleasant feelings and thoughts. It makes one's consciousness feel toxic and unhappy. To the point where one would do anything to get rid of it. And it brings us negative consequences - one's kamma, setting us up for more misery in the future. And yet we can't see that it is this hostility in the mind, this craving for things to be different that causes the suffering.

The good news is that aversion is not necessary and can be removed from the mind. And why wouldn't one want to remove it from the mind? It is not helpful, and one can live perfectly well without it. 

Aversion is generated by the mind. And because it is generated by the mind, it is possible to train one's mind to let go of it, and feel the relief of a mind that is not hostile. A serene happy mind filled with unconditional love instead of fear. It is easier to feel love for others when the mind is less hostile, when you realise all beings value their lives. That all beings want to feel safe, loved, and at peace. Just like you do.

Our mind is our true home. It is what we take with us when we die.

It might take time, a lot of practise, perseverance and a huge helping of patience. But continue putting in the right causes and conditions even when it feels like a desert and a trudge, and eventually the garden will flower and fruit all by itself. But remember to be gentle with the mind, a friend to it, take regular breaks and rest from the work. Impatience and overdoing it won't make anything grow faster.


 


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Right intention

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 22 Apr 2022, 17:28

What is intention?

Does intention come before thought, like a wordless impulse?

For me it feels like that, but thankfully one does not need to understand what it is to any great depth. Basically what we need to remember is: intention is the generator of kamma. Our intentions lead to actions, and repeated actions become habits. From intention comes speech and action -- our behaviour. What we think about reflects our intentions, and we can change our intentions by changing our thoughts.

Changing our thoughts can also alter our perceptions. For example, Ajahn Sona in a talk during a mindfulness retreat (available both as a podcast and on YouTube), talked about how as a monk one of the first things they are taught is to break the body up into the five parts we are most attracted to and memorise them. This becomes a mental tool one can use to help free the mind of lust and attachment to one's body. These five parts are: head hair, body hair, nails, skin, and teeth. When you separate them by themselves, they are not that attractive or appealing really. Our perception of them changes. There's something else interesting about them as well, they are also the dead parts of the body. And isn't it odd how we are not attracted to the live parts of the human body? The squishy inners underneath the skin, we find the living parts of the body repulsive and horrifying. One never praises one's romantic love's kidneys or the shape of their pancreas, or finds the real beating lump of their heart that appealing. When you break it down the whole thing about attraction can be turned on its head and one's perception can be altered.

During the talk Ajahn Sona likens skin to being like a leaky spandex suit. And I carried out a thought experiment with this whilst I was watching a movie with my family, and as I looked at the Hollywood actors and actresses on the screen I kept thinking: 'Leaky spandex suit', and you know what it worked! My perception was altered and the human body suddenly became quite repulsive to me, I even excitedly shared this with my family, who looked at me strangely lol. Alas they do not share my enthusiasm for the spiritual life.

Anyway to return back to topic, right intention is the second factor of the noble eight-fold path and is guided by right view. These two folds of the path are known as the wisdom faculties. They come at the beginning for a reason, because they act like a compass to steer one in the right direction. They are also at the end of the path after right samhadi and grow deeper and wiser as one's practise of the noble eightfold path develops. The noble eight-fold path cycles, and one's understanding of it grows deeper on each iteration. The eight path factors also support each other outside of the numbered order. I.e. the work of right intention is supported by the four right efforts, which in turn instruct right mindfulness.

Luckily the Buddha simplifies what one needs to remember to just three right intentions. These are: the intention of renunciation (letting go), the intention of non-illwill, and the intention of harmlessness. These are the three directions one should steer the herd of thoughts towards.

It doesn't have to be a stressful exercise, and one does not need to be an enemy or control freak with oneself. I sort of imagine it as a sailing boat following a course bearing. And at times I might go off course, but once I am aware I am going in the wrong direction, I simpy correct course and bring the herd of thoughts back in line with the three right intentions.

I don't judge myself for going in the wrong direction, I don't punish myself, or feel I have to tie up any loose thoughts I was having. I just simply interrupt the thought processes, let go of whatever it was, and simply steer the herd back in the right direction without an iota of judgement for having those thoughts. The Buddha is kind in that he gives us a 'get out of jail free' card which lets us out of the dungeon of guilt and shame. We are allowed to not ruminate over our mistakes. Gleam what wisdom one can from them and let them go. They were done by a younger self and are not who you are now. So let go of aversion towards oneself. Try to be a friend to the mind instead, don't fight it, train it gently with kindness, and it will be a friend back to you. It will become your best friend (-:

In fact metta practice (metta means friendship and loving-kindness) can help weaken the mind's tendency towards aversion, which is helpful for bringing into being the three right intentions. So metta can be part of the practise of right intention also.

It can help also to think of right intention as being like guiding a herd of cattle, when one notices the thoughts are going off course, one imagines oneself to be like a cowherd steering them back in the right direction. This metaphor comes from the Buddha in the Dvedhavitakka sutta - Two sorts of thinking (MN19).

The Buddha also mentions in the sutta that excessive thinking, even about good things, can be tiring after a while. And encourages one to quieten down the thought energies when one is tired and rest in Samhadi. This lucid stillness refreshes the mind and brings relief to the body, which helps with the work of right intention, so the eighth factor: right samhadi is also supporting it.

Calming thoughts down is not always easy though, the habit of thinking can be a hard one to shake, especially for us modern humans. We are conditioned by this industrial world to live constantly in our heads, and the constant thinking becomes a torture. Which is why it feels such a relief when one can let go of the thought processes for a bit and just dwell in another consciousness outside of speech. It feels freeing, refreshing.

To be able to stop thinking when I want, and to only think what I want, when I want. To train and master the thought processes. That is the noble aspiration here with right intention.

The Buddha says that training one's thoughts to follow the three right intentions will lead one to helpful kamma that is conducive to reaching the goal of realising nibanna. Whilst allowing them to wander about untrained in the opposite directions of: craving, hostility, and harmfulness will lead one to unhelpful kamma. 

The three right intentions:

Intention of renunciation.
Intention of non-hostility.
Intention of not causing harm.

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Streams

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 19 Apr 2022, 19:43

I become someone new
each and every moment.
Who am I?
What am I?
Just streams,
always changing,
rearranging.
Insubstantial.
Interdependent.
Energy.
Flows.

for decorative purposes: A scan of my painting called: 'Streams'

A free download of painting as 300dpi scan is available here from my website for personal, non-commercial use.

May you be filled with serenity, peace and infinite wellbeing.


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The key to enlightenment

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 15 Apr 2022, 22:18

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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Mindfulness of breathing (practising the anapana sati sutta)

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 20 Apr 2022, 11:39

There is a teaching passed down from the Buddha that is known in all the different Buddhist traditions. It is a complete self-contained training that can take you all the way to the end of suffering. It is called the 'Anapana sati sutta' (teaching on mindfulness of breathing). There are also many different interpretations from different teachers on how to practise this sutta. So it is good to shop around and try out different techniques and see what works well for you.

I have found a way of practising that suits me and I feel comfortable with. I set myself a length of time, and cycle through the sequence over and over till the alarm goes off. If I am just doing a short meditation I will cycle through it once.

For the first cycle I do each step for three complete breaths, as I want to go over it all, as it is a training exercise. This also helps me memorise the sequence and helps with the modern day human deficit of having a short attention span at times.

For the second cycle I slow down a bit and increase the amount of time to about 5 – 10 breaths for each step. Then for subsequent cycles I don’t count the breaths anymore, I just stay with each step for as long as feels good, taking my time and naturally moving on when it feels right to do so. Sometimes I am not even worrying about the sequence, it just all seems to happen naturally like a flow.

 But when first starting to learn I found it helpful to practise 3 breaths per step, as going through the sequence like this can easily be fitted into a ten minute break. Then when one has memorised the sequence and knows it well enough and has the luxury of time, one can let go of the counting and just enjoy going through it at whatever pace feels good, I find sometimes I do it rapidly and other times I really go over it slowly and get deeply absorbed in it.

Learning this sutta is a bit like learning to play a piece of music. It has four tetrads. First you’re learning to calm and bring ease to the body.

Then you are working with feelings (in Buddhism feelings are bodily sensations and a mental feeling tone that accompanies them which can be either: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). In this tetrad one is deliberately and shamelessly bringing into being feelings of joy, bodily pleasure, and bliss.

Then one becomes sensitive to thoughts, watching them and calming them to a hush. (Thoughts are seen as sensations in Buddhism, they come from the mind sense.)

The third tetrad is about the emotions, our moods, our state of mind, noticing it and then satisfying and gladdening it.

 Then one steadies the mind, and releases it - setting it free.

The fourth tetrad is where it gets deep and one focuses on change, both change here and now in the short term, how we are currently riding on the energy of the big bang, all these energies arising and passing in the moment, impossible to hold on to as they keep changing; and how things change in the long term: time, day and night, seasons, ageing, death, entropy, impermanence, how things fade away and decay, both in the short term and long term. And seeing that nothing lasts, one invokes dispassion for the senses, for the world, samsara, and the story of self.

One then focuses on cessation of suffering and the knowledge that there is a much greater happiness to be found within. What does the mind feel like when it is not craving?

And the last step is about letting go of the grasping. Moments are phantoms, there's nothing to cling to, they are insubstantial because they are always changing. My body changes, my sensations change, feelings change, perceptions change, thoughts change, emotions change, consciousness changes, and one day I will die and this body will rot, and whatever I leave behind will also in time fade away, nothing lasts, nothing is eternal. Everything I hold dear and everyone I love will become separated from me due to the nature of change. Understanding this, one lets go of the attachment to samsara, lets go of attachment to the world, lets go of aversion, of delight in the senses, of delusion. And instead learns the secret of how to cultivate a profound lasting bliss that does not rely on anything outside oneself. A state of mind that doesn’t suffer, that exists in a perpetual state of emotional well-being in spite of everything. Nibanna.

It is a training, you are training the skills in this meditation to induce these states of mind, and it’s okay to use one’s imagination and memory to help invoke them. Find ways of talking yourself into these states of mind. It is a lot about the stories we tell ourselves. It isn’t easy at first, there’s a desert one must cross as one learns it, and it can take many hours of practise. But one day the Buddha promises it will yield great fruit, and be of great benefit.

As with anything we learn in life, with practise and perseverance it will become automatic, like second nature. And when one knows it off by heart, one can really get absorbed in it, and carried away in it’s melodies and increasing depth to beautiful states of higher mind, all conjured and brought into being by the meditator.

A concise summary of the steps taught in the anapana sati sutta:

First tetrad (body)

1. Breathing in long, one knows they are breathing in long. Breathing out long one knows they are breathing out long.

2. Breathing in short, one knows they are breathing in short. Breathing out short one knows they are breathing out short.

(Just simply notice if your breath is long or short, you are gently gathering the mind in.)

3. One trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in sensitive to the body and breath; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to the body and breath.’ (The sense of the body is in background awareness whilst central focus is on the breath, this is known as one-pointed attention. It is not a narrow tunnel-vision focus. It is a whole-hearted attention involving the whole of one’s being. An embodied attention. )

4. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in calming the body; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out calming the body.’

Second tetrad (sensations and feelings)

5. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in sensitive to rapture (joy); one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to rapture (joy) .’

6. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in sensitive to pleasure ; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to pleasure.’

7. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in sensitive to thoughts; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to thoughts.’

8. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in calming thoughts; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out calming thoughts.’

Third tetrad Mind (Heart, emotions, mood, state of mind)

9. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in senstive to the mind; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to the mind.’

10. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in gladdening and satisfying the mind; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out gladdening and satisfying the mind.’

11. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in steadying the mind; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out steadying the mind.’

12. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in releasing the mind; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out releasing the mind.’

Fourth tetrad (Dhamma, insight, knowledge, wisdom)

13. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in focusing on change; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out focusing on change.’

14. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in focusing on dispassion (because everything fades away); one trains: ‘I shall breathe out focusing on dispassion.’

15. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in focusing on cessation (of suffering); one trains: ‘I shall breathe out focusing on cessation.’

16. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in focusing on letting go (of the clinging); one trains: ‘I shall breathe out focusing on letting go.’

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Sublime abiding

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 5 Apr 2022, 13:42


Chest beat a surging flame of worry
I sit and meditate to chill me down
Breath centres open wide
Odd mix of pleasant unpleasant
I calm the energies to a hush and
Let go of the spiky aversion
Greet with love instead
Love does not ask for anything in return
It is its own reward
For it makes one's mind and home
A pleasure to be in
even when
The dark side approaches.


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