This world doesn't last
Youth and beauty
Fade so fast
that go off in the night.
Beautiful for a moment
But soon out of sight.
Even our memories change
In the long descend.
Is it all worth it, in the end?
This world doesn't last
Youth and beauty
Fade so fast
that go off in the night.
Beautiful for a moment
But soon out of sight.
Even our memories change
In the long descend.
Is it all worth it, in the end?
Sensations can feel dull in the morning
But a cup of tea helps
I meditate on the perception of light
To brighten the dullness and drowsiness.
Then go for a walk
Sun is shining
The sea choppy
Splashing over the sea wall
I went into a brief trance watching
The constant state of flux
Always changing, rearranging, never the same.
Later in the day
The weather changed
The wind settled
and the sea was calm
The serene surface reflecting
The sky above with seagull wings
Like a translucent jewel
A massive opal.
But there was movement on the water still
A more refined change
The air quietly whispering gentle patterns on the water's surface.
A happy looking seagull paddles past
Leaving a hypnotic trail of ripples in his wake
They emanate from his being
Across the liquid surface
I sit and meditate on a hill overlooking the bay.
On some dry grass beneath a yew tree in a disused park
Feels like I am sitting in some ancient ruins.
I sit upright and still
Imagine I am the Buddha
Till my foot goes to sleep
And then I laugh at the delusion.
Day turns to night
On this spinning orb in space
That seems perfectly still when you sit on it.
But it is spinning round a huge fiery orb
Which itself is spinning round a black hole.
Like an intergalactic game of snooker.
Is everything spinning?
Am I spinning?
What is everything made of?
I become very still.
The breath stops.
And there's what feels like white noise.
Pixels constantly popping in and out of reality.
But where they pop in and out from is like a blank canvas.
An emptiness I can't see beyond.
Every part of the body is like this.
This background noise
This cosmic vibration
this mysterious white noise
What is it?
Another handy tool I am using a lot more lately is single-pointed attention, for when the energies of the mind start to get a bit intense throughout the day. It is a handy tool, and it does help to calm down frenetic thought energies. Moments of single-pointed attention can help slow the mind down, and then it is easier to replace negative thoughts with ones of love and equanimity instead.
At the moment I like practising staying with the breath, either at the nostrils, or the whole body breathing as one. I really like the air element (-: Whatever comes up that isn't the breath, I just set it aside like its useless rubbish and return to the breath and go deep into the mind with it like I am uncovering a precious jewel beneath all the rubbish.
Sometimes I label the intrusive thoughts as greed, hate, or delusion, or just say: 'I see you Mara.' Using the term 'Mara' as a catch-all for the defilements in the mind. And then I just stop following them, and centre attention back with the breath.
Sometimes if I get it right, I can find a peaceful empty place deep in the centre of the mind, like a cave, and it feels safe to go there, the energies of the mind become like the rain falling outside, and I am not affected by them. Or it feels like I am sitting on the ocean floor and way above me is the surface of the water, like the surface level of the mind, constantly moving as it ripples and changes, but I am far below it, perfectly still and at ease like a contented rock.
Another technique I learnt at a retreat recently, is to use the word 'mind' to watch the mind. You just keep repeating the word 'mind' over and over in the mind (-: I know it sounds like a tongue twister. One uses the word 'mind' as a reminder that one is watching the mind.
One keeps centring one's attention with the word 'mind' and as one does this, one watches the process of thought making. Any distracting thoughts that arise just push them aside using the thought 'mind'.
As one repeatedly says the word 'mind', one uses it as a tool to get to the source of thoughts, how they are generated, where they come from. Keep pushing away the distracting thoughts that arise like water sprouting out of a fountain and go deep and look for the source of the water in the fountain. What is it that keeps generating these thoughts? Keep intending to go deeper, and keep looking for the source.
It feels hidden at first, like an inpenetrable blackness that thoughts just mysteriously bubble out of. But after a while and lengthy practise, you start to see the intentions behind the thoughts, and if you go deeper still there is craving. One can watch the less intrusive thoughts that bubble up in peripheral awareness, and as one does, one can start to see that they are sankharas, mental formations created from repeated intentions in the past, that have now developed their own momentum and energy, and become habits. And as you go deeper, it is like going back in time, and more of what was hidden previously starts to become visible and one's awareness of the mind grows.
If saying the word 'mind' over and over gets tiring, which it can. Just have a rest and practise breath meditation, till one feels settled and calm enough to start watching the mind again.
Eventually one can let go of repeatedly thinking the word 'mind' and no longer need to use an anchor to watch the mind. Like someone sitting serenely under a tree watching a stream flow by in front of them. The stream in this metaphor is the contents of the mind, and one remains at ease, and still, anchored in deep composure, watching the contents of the mind as they flow and change. Not clinging to any of it, just watching without reacting to it or getting involved in it. And as one does this, one starts to see that the mind is always changing, that it is inconstant, impermanent.
This is a kind of samhadi, not as deep as jhana, but it is a pleasant and empowering state of mind and insightful. Occasionally one gets distracted by the contents of the mind, and without realising it, one has waded into the stream and started identifying with it all again and is getting swept away by the currents of longing and aversion. Don't stress, it happens, depending on how long one has been caught up in the contents of the mind, one may need to go back to the breath or repeating the word 'mind' to bring some stillness and composure back.
'This is the direct path for the purification of beings. For the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation. The disappearance of pain and grief. And the realisation of nibanna.
Namely the four foundations of mindfulness.' - the Buddha
Foundation number one: Mindfulness of the body
Foundation number two: Mindfulness of feelings
1. Mindfulness of pleasant feelings, mindfulness of neutral feelings, mindfulness of unpleasant feelings. Awareness of them both within oneself and within others.
2. Mindfulness of pleasant wordly feelings, neutral worldly feelings, unpleasant wordly feelings. Both within oneself and within others. I find contemplation of the eight worldly winds can be helpful here:
pain and pleasure,
gain and loss,
success and failure,
praise and blame.
3. Mindfulness of pleasant spiritual feelings, neutral spiritual feelings, and unpleasant spiritual feelings. Both within oneself and others. This is to do with the spiritual path and its fruits.
Awareness of the rising, flowing, and fading away of feelings.
Foundation number three: Mindfulness of the mind
Knowing when the mind is:
Greedy or not
Lustful or not
Angry or not
Hateful or not
Conceited or not
Selfish or not
Deluded or not
Confused or clear
Collected or scattered
Expansive or contracted
Developed or undeveloped
Meditating or not
In samhadi or not
Liberated or not
Awareness of the rising, flowing, and disappearance of these states of mind.
Foundation number four: Mindfulness of dhammas
1. The five hindrances to samhadi:
1. Longing, 2. aversion, 3. stagnation, 4. agitation, 5. doubt.
Awareness of the manifestation, origination, and disappearance of the five hindrances.
'And when one knows that these five hindrances have left the mind. Gladness arises, and from gladness comes delight, from delight one's body becomes tranquil, and with a tranquil body one feels happy.
And with happiness one's mind easily enters samhadi. And being thus detached from unwholesome states of mind one enters and remains in the first jhana...' - the Buddha (D. 2:75)
2. The five aggregates of clinging:
Identifying with the body.
Identifying with feelings.
Identifying with perceptions and memory.
Identifying with mental formations.
Identifying with consciousness.
Awareness of the manifestation, arising, and dissolution of the five aggregates of clinging.
3. The six external and six internal sense bases:
1. Eye and visual objects.
2. Ear and sounds.
3. Nose and smells.
4. Tongue and tastes.
5. Body and tangible objects.
6. Mind and mental objects.
Knowledge of them, of their arising, and the letting go of them. And through not clinging to them, the future non-arising of the fetters that originate dependent on both.
4. The seven factors of enlightenment:
Mindfulness -> Investigation of dhammas -> Energy (right effort) -> Joy -> Calm (serenity) -> Samhadi (deep stillness) -> Equanimity.
Knowledge of their presence, their arising, and their development.
5. The four noble truths
1. Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood)
Old age, sickness and death is suffering.
Separation from those we love is suffering.
Identifying with the body, feelings, perceptions, memories, thoughts, ideas, moods/emotions, and consciousness is suffering.
Feeling regret and remorse for past actions is suffering.
Not getting what one wants is suffering.
Depression and fatigue is suffering.
Taking things personally is suffering.
and so on...
In short, clinging to and identifying with changing (impermanent) phenomena that is outside our control, is suffering. We are all fated to become separated from what we love and hold dear. None of us have the power to stop that. Everything is transient.
2. Knowledge of the cause of suffering (which is to be abandoned)
The three aspects of craving are the cause of suffering. The Buddha describes them as:
1. craving for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha), which feeds the defilement of greed.
2. craving for non-existence (vibhava-tanha), wishing for things to be different, wishing for something not to be, not to exist. This feeds the defilement of hate or aversion.
3. craving for existence (bhava-tanha). Feeds the defilement of delusion.
(N.b. Tanha is a Pali word often translated as either craving, thirst or desire.)
(N.b. II - The five links at the centre of dependent origination can be helpful to keep in mind here: .. sense impressions -> feelings -> craving -> clinging/identifying -> becoming ...)
When one has seen the sign of anicca (change and impermanence) at a deep level. It is hard to un-see it. It has a profound change on one. Wherever one looks, one sees the transient nature of things, and starts to naturally become disillusioned with materiality; and not as caught up by the things of the world anymore. One sees through it. Sometimes from bitter painful experience, by making poor choices and having to live with the results, which is part of learning too. Don't beat yourself up for that, we all do it. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we learn our greatest lessons from failure.
As one gets less ignorant and wises up, one stops clinging to things, realising it is changing phenomena that is outside one's control. And then the craving starts to fade.
And with non-attachment, letting things be, letting them go, cessation occurs.
3. Knowledge of the end of suffering (which is to be realised)
Lasting peace of mind and contentment. Freedom from suffering. The realisation of nibanna, the deathless. The happiness of no longer being driven around and harassed by the defilements: greed, aversion, and delusion. This stopping, this ceasing of tanha brings relief, and frees the mind of stress and sorrow.
The mind in its un-harassed original state is luminous, radiant like the sun coming out from the behind the clouds. (The clouds in this metaphor being greed, hate, and delusion.)
4. Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering (Which is to be developed)
This is the noble eightfold path. The way that leads to the cessation of suffering. All the path factors are important. Leaving any of them out is like leaving out an important component of a motor vehicle, it won't start or be able to reach its destination if any are missing. All these parts need to work together in harmony.
1. Right view: in brief, mundane right view is knowing that good karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of giving, kindness, and clear-seeing.
And bad karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of greed, hate, and delusion.
Supra-mundane right view is the four noble truths. It's called supramundane because it is what leads to the four classical stages of enlightenment.
2. Right intention: Non ill-will, non-greed, non-cruelty. (The practise and cultivation of the brahma-viharas (The sublime abidings) is helpful here.)
3. Right speech: to speak truthfully, to avoid malicious and divisive speech, to refrain from harsh unkind speech, and to refrain from idle pointless speech.
4. Right action: To refrain from taking the life of any living creature. To refrain from taking that which is not given. To refrain from sexual misconduct.
5. Right livelihood: Having abandoned wrong livelihood. One continues to make one's living with right livelihood. This is an occupation or lifestyle that does not cause harm to one self or others.
6. Right effort:
In the words of the Buddha:
1. One generates the desire for the prevention of unwholesome states of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.
2. One generates the desire for the abandonment of unwholesome states of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.
3. One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.
4. One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and full development of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and striving.
Right effort is also about tuning the energy of effort and attention so it is niether too tight, nor too loose. One has to experiment and find a sweet spot that works just right. It is like tuning a musical instrument, when you get it in tune it makes sweet music and there is progress and flow.
7. Right mindfulness:
This is the four foundations of mindfulness.
Having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world.
1. One abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, clearly-comprehending (knowing), and mindful.
2. One abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, clearly-comprehending, and mindful.
3. One abides contemplating mind, as mind, ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
4. One abides contemplating dhammas as dhammas. Ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
8. Right samhadi:
This is defined by the Buddha as the four jhanas. Four deep states of meditative absorption. The joy and pleasure described in the verses is a whole body experience. It is the feeling of the inner body.
1. First jhana: Quite secluded from the world, secluded from unwholesome states of mind (the five hindrances). One enters and remains in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought (or attention). And has the joy and pleasure born of seclusion (from the five hindrances).
(There is a bit of a wobble in the first jhana, as one keeps applying and sustaining attention to the meditation object. But after a time there comes a point when the attention becomes stable and centred with the object, then it becomes effortless. One can let go of the applied and sustained attention then, take off the stabilizers and just flow with the momentum as a mindful passenger. Mindfulness is what leads to the jhanas and remains present throughout them all.)
2. Second jhana: With the subsiding of applied and sustained thought. One enters and abides in the second jhana. Which is accompanied by self-confidence and unification of mind (deep composure). Is without applied and sustained thought and has the joy and pleasure born of samhadi.
3. Third jhana: With the fading away of joy. One abides in equanimity. And mindful, clearly-comprehending, still feeling pleasure in the body. One enters and abides in the third jhana. On account of which the nobles one say: 'One has a pleasant abiding, who has equanimity and is mindful.
4. Fourth jhana: With the dissolving of pain and pleasure, and the previous disappearance of sadness and joy. One enters and abides in the fourth jhana. Which has neither pleasure nor pain. And has mindfulness purified and born of equanimity.
Hopefully I haven't got any of that wrong. I am going from memory. This is something I chant to myself every now and then to remember the practise, it is an evolving chant, that changes and grows as I learn more.
But I find it helpful to go over what I have learnt like this. It can also help bring some faith, courage, energy and determination when I feel disheartened, or lack the motivation to practise.
After some lengthy chanting like this, it can feel easier to settle into meditation. It is a bit like sweeping the floor of the mind to make it more inclined towards samhadi.
Prints of this painting are available from here.
May all beings be safe, well, peaceful and happy (-:
There are four beautiful emotional states that can be cultivated and used as meditation objects in Buddhism, they are called the Brahma viharas (the sublime abidings). These are:
Metta (loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence).
Karuna (concern and a wish to help those who are suffering).
Mudita (joy when other beings are happy).
Karuna is often translated as compassion. But the word 'compassion' means 'to suffer with' which is not the right way to look at karuna. Karuna does not suffer with others. It tries to help others, shows love, kindness and concern for beings who are suffering, but does not become sorrowful. To suffer with others is like seeing someone sinking in quicksand and then immediately jumping in next to them, it doesn't help either person and both end up being pulled under. It can be tricky, to find the right balance, to be able to feel empathy for others without suffering oneself.
Mudita is to feel joy when other beings are happy. Happiness is such a rare event in this life for many of us. If you see a being who is happy, then smile and enjoy their happiness too, however brief it may be. In this world happiness can be hard to find and doesn't last, so rejoice when you see it.
Equanimity is to be calm among those who are not calm. To accept the way things are without being pulled under by them. To not allow the suffering of the world to drag one down into sadness and depression, as that is no help to oneself or others. It is to keep one's composure and balance of mind even amidst the suffering in the world. This is where contemplation of the changing nature of things, of impermanence, of not-self can be helpful. There are tragic things that happen in this world, and sometimes there is nothing anyone can do to help, or put things right. One wishes those beings well, and that is a noble wish, but if one becomes depressed because of it, that is not much help to the world. There's enough sadness and sorrow, if you can become someone who keeps their head while others are losing theirs it can be a real blessing for others in difficult circumstances, and help bring peace, calm and balance to another's mind.
Feel love for all beings, help those that you can, rejoice with those experiencing happiness, and feel equanimity for the difficult things in life one cannot change, for those beings who can't be helped. Metta and equanimity is like a knife and fork, they complement each other perfectly and bring balance to the mind. The warm heart of metta and the cool head of equanimity.
Sometimes I like to give peanuts to some crows when I go out for a walk. The crows will fly down to greet me and I feel metta well up in my heart for them. I know they are hungry so I feel karuna for them. I give them some peanuts. This makes them happy, and then I feel joy seeing how happy they are to get the peanuts. Unfortunately I don't have enough peanuts to feed all the birds and there are some birds perched nearby who didn't get any, but I have nothing left to give them. I wish them metta, but accept that I can't feed all the hungry birds in the world, as much as I wish I could. Equanimity is also how I feel when I see the crows are satisfied and not hungry anymore, and I then drift into a contented serenity. This brings a composure that leads to stillness and the other side to equanimity which is when one is in a state of equipose and all the different energies of the mind feel balanced and tuned just right. Like being in the zone. Centred. Composed and still, while everything around you is in a state of flux. Walking feels like stilness in motion.
In the beginning, one can cultivate these emotions by saying phrases that invoke it in the mind. Such as may all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be safe and at ease. One can use whatever phrases one likes to help generate the feeling of unconditional love within.
If it feels difficult it is often because one needs to practise metta for oneself first.
Traditionally one is taught to first practise metta for oneself before radiating it to other beings. This is not wrong and it is not selfish, it is an act of kindness to oneself and others. It is much easier to make friends with other beings if one has become a friend to oneself first. So one can start the practice by saying metta phrases for oneself, may I be well, may I be happy, may I feel safe and at ease, and when the body feels satisfied, one can then radiate that energy out to the world, to all beings everywhere.
Sometimes the feeling of metta can be brought up from seeing something in nature, wildlife, flowers, trees, the sea, colours, the sky, clouds, beautiful sunrises or sunsets, the snow, the sound of rain.
It can also be brought on by memories of kind things one has done in the past, or kind things others have done. It can be generated by thinking of inspiring saintly figures, and characters in stories who radiate the beautiful qualities of the heart.
It can be thinking about angels, devas, ancestors, heavenly realms. Something imaginary, or real. Sometimes I imagine the world at peace with no more violence and war, no more stinginess or cruelty. Just this golden place where all beings live in friendship and peace with one another. It doesn't matter if it isn't how the world actually is, it is the wish for the world to be like that which can bring the feeling of metta up inside. It can also be one's children, one's parents, one's family, one's friends, a beloved pet,. One can recite chants about metta that help bring up the feeling of metta also.
Karuna is basically metta for beings who are suffering. And Mudita is metta for beings who are happy.
There are many ways to find one's way into the sublime abidings. Once there you want to try and keep the momentum going till it becomes strong enough to not need any more input. When the feeling of metta saturates the whole body, one can take the hand off the steering wheel of effort and stop the doing, thoughts will settle into a contented warmth and one can just rest in that feeling and enjoy it, becoming a lucid passenger, depending on the momentum consciousness will just cruise into a state of peaceful stillness that has a healing effect on the body and the mind. This can connect one to deeper mind and the wisdom it contains. There is a deeper wiser part of the mind that wants to talk to us, but we are often too caught up in the self-centred dream to hear what it is saying to us. When we get very still and quiet and are content, not wishing to be any place else, when the mind and body is at ease, and the energies of the mind become balanced, when one is no longer being pulled this way or that by the senses, truth reveals itself and one can see things clearly, then wisdom develops and one can direct that lucid mind state towards anything and understand it better, because one is less deluded and pulled by greed and aversion, one is able to see things better, like having a clean lens.
Not always easy to do though. It takes practise, like anything we learn in this life, repetitive practise, but it is worth it. Over time as one keeps up the practise it starts to develop a momentum of its own going one day to the next, and this momentum grows stronger, builds up an energy of its own. When it gets strong enough, you may not need to say the phrases anymore, you can just connect instantly with the feeling and bring the energy up at will without using thought or words.
The practise of the Brahma viharas has a lot of benefits for oneself and others.
But there can be days I find it hard to practise them. I don't judge myself any more for that (I used to), but now it is okay if that happens. I just try to flow with where I'm at and work with what's in front of me and investigate that. There are other emotional states one can practise, such as mindfulness, investigation of the here and now, reflection, contemplation, studying, serenity, meditation, the stillness and composure of samhadi, the balance of equanimity, and others that don't spring to mind, but the palette of positive emotions is quite varied and wide, which is a good thing to know. My moods change quite rapidly, and I have found it helpful to have many strategies to hand.
Sometimes unfortunate events happen to us in life. Shit happens. The Buddha's metaphor of the second arrow can be helpful to remember here. An archer gets shot, then does a strange thing, he takes out his bow and shoots himself with a second arrow. The first arrow he couldn't do anything about, but the second arrow he didn't need to shoot, this is the mental suffering we create for ourselves after the event, such as the craving for things to be different, the way we might take it personally. All this just adds extra suffering to what is already an unfortunate event. The first arrow we couldn't do anything about; but the second arrow we can train ourselves not to shoot, and not add more pain to what is already there.
Not easy, at least not for many of us. There are some rare lucky folks who become fully enlightened straight away. But for most, it is a gradual process, that happens in stages, and it can go on for lifetimes. The concept of not clinging is easy enough to comprehend but difficult to practise, which is where the noble eightfold path comes in, that is the training that gets you there.
Beings who get enlightened quickly may be beings who have encountered this before in previous lives, who were already pretty far along in their development, so it didn't take much to bring that final liberating insight that permanently set them free from clinging.
Enough waffle from me anyway. I am not trying to convert anyone to Buddhism, or change anything. I do care about the Earth though and the suffering of this current age, brought about by greed, hatred, and delusion. The mass extinction event and endless violence now happening across the planet, which threatens many different species of life, including our species: homo sapiens.
It is a shame we can't make peace with one another, war is so horrific and unnecessary, causes so much misery and destruction. Why do we still have war? It is now 2023, and we seem to be more war-like than ever, with truly horrific weapons of mass destruction, of cruelty and violence. Why can't we transcend this? Why is it so hard for us to be kind to one another, to live in friendship and harmony with one another and all the other beings we share this planet with.
Why can't we share resources with one another, so we all live comfortably and in harmony? It is a shame that out of all the animals here on this planet, humans have become the most violent and cruel of them all. We think ourselves better than animals because we have all this technology; but the way we behave, we come across as lesser beings, as dangerous and not to be trusted. No other being on this planet behaves the way we do and causes so much destruction. Future generations will look back on this time and wonder why it got like this, why we couldn't change ourselves and put a stop to this madness.
We can be better than this. That is why I am training the mind, why I follow the noble eightfold path. It is because of greed, hatred, and selfishness that this world is so dark. If humans can free themselves of these three psychic poisons, imagine what a world we could build together, what a world future generations could inherit. The world doesn't have to be this way. Things can change for the better, if we have the inclination to, if enough of us choose to.
Still, I have hope that all is not yet lost. I think in the end there will be enough of us that care, who will make the changes necessary to create a better world. One that is in harmony with the other beings we share this planet with, one where there is no more inequality or poverty. One where the other species of life on this planet are treated with respect and friendliness, left to live their lives in peace and dignity. Without a thriving eco-system we won't survive.
I am not particularly gifted at anything, not very good at communication, I don't have much money, and I am not a leader; but I will do the best I can with what I've got, which isn't a lot, but I will try anyway. We all have different talents, and this is great, it wouldn't work if we were all exactly the same, our differences mean we work well as a team.
Anyway getting a bit side-tracked here. I am not trying to convert anyone to Buddhism, I am not proselytising, nor am I telling anyone how to live their lives. I have given up trying to change the world. What another being does with their life is their karma, and what I do is mine. I am not the greatest writer in the world, but maybe some of what I write may be helpful to others, both here and now, and perhaps in the future. I have struggled most of my life with mental health problems, and Buddhism has really helped me, and if any of what I share is helpful to others, even just one person, it makes it all worth it.
Take care everyone, peace and metta. May we all realise the end of greed, hate, and delusion. May we all experience the lasting peace and happiness that comes from an unhindered mind.
The Buddha taught there are five aggregates that make up a being.
These five aggregates are interwoven and affect one another, and they are what we identify with as the self. But when we slow down and compose our minds through meditative practises, enough to be able to look at the five aggregates closely, we can see that they are always changing and arise and cease due to causes and conditions.
We cling to them because we identify with them, and this attachment to the impersonal changing phenomena in ourselves and in others causes us suffering. It also leads to rebirth, and further becoming.
Why is rebirth a problem? Because of ageing, sickness, death and loss. Even the glorious devas age and die. Even if one gets a good rebirth and lives a long life in the heavenly realms, that life will one day come to an end, when the karma that brought it into being ceases. Then a being can fall from the heavens and return to the Earth, or worse can fall into the Hell realms where the suffering is intense and long lasting. And all of us if we do not uproot greed, hate, and delusion from the mind can go through this cyclic process over and over, this is Samsara. And because of change and impermanence, for the majority of the time the experience is not pleasant, our time in Samsara is mostly an experience of pain, loss, grief, sorrow and suffering. The happiness is brief compared to the unhappiness.
The thought of reincarnation and rebirth can be challenging for us modern humans with our scientific minds; but it is part of right view in the noble eightfold path. Right view isn't just looking at the life one is living now, it is also looking at the possibility of future lives, of rebirth and how that depends on the karma we generate now, i.e. the tendencies of the mind we grasp and cultivate in this life, which grow in momentum and eventually transform into another being.
Things change, we change, even space which we think of as empty is full of quantom particles in a state of flux, the void is not empty, and even then we are never in the same patch of space twice, because the Earth is spinning, and going round and round the sun, which is itself going round and round the centre of the galaxy, we never experience the same patch of space twice, each moment the space we are in is different, even space itself is change.
The mind always wants to cling to something. Perhaps because of the transient nature of things and the uncertainty this brings. But the clinging causes us suffering, it is not pleasant, because the things we cling and become attached to change, and we can't stop them changing, nothing remains the same, nothing lasts, everything is in a state of entropy and impermanent.
There may be momentary sensory gratification in this life from sense pleasures, but they don't last, and sooner or later one experiences the opposite, because one cannot experience pleasure and gain, without also experiencing pain and loss. The eight worldly winds (pain and pleasure, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame) blow in both directions and can change suddenly. One cannot experience one without also experiencing the other. That which arises also ceases. Which can be a comforting truth when one is in pain, but an uncomfortable truth when one is experiencing pleasure. We want the pleasant experiences to last, but alas they don't. They change, and it can be cruel, because even if you manage to get what you want, and can maintain that sensory pleasure, the mind gets bored after a time, the senses become jaded and one starts to crave for something different, everything changes.
The concept of not-self is a tricky one to grasp. Of course there is a self you may say, I mean who is sitting here and typing these words, who is it that practises the noble eightfold path, if not the self? In fact when the Buddha was asked one time if there was a self or not, he point blank refused to answer the question. I think what he was trying to teach us, is the self is not what we think it is. It is not the things that we identify with and call the self. There is no permanent fixed soul that travels through existence like a marble on a marble run. There is no marble. There is just flow with nothing substantial behind it. Just changing streams of energy, of processes that arise and cease due to causes and conditions.
But it is also not true to say that nothing exists. Because there is energy, energy is real, in physics, we are taught that energy is neither created nor destroyed, only converted from one form of energy to another. So where did that energy come from originally and what happens to it at death?
The Buddha said no matter how far back in time he looked, he could not find a beginning to this mysterious flow of energy we call life. And when someone asked him what happens to a fully enlightened being (an arahant) after death, he didn't give an answer, he said such questions are unknowables, at least to those of us who are not arahants. He taught that pondering such things can be a waste of time, and can't be put in words satisfactorily. These unknowables can get in the way of practising what is important. Which is what is in front of us in the here and now. Our lives are brief, and the only really important question is am I suffering or not? The goal of the Buddhist path is to realise complete lasting freedom from suffering. The third noble truth. This is the greatest supernormal power, the greatest knowledge of all.
Still, in an attempt to satisfy my curiosity. I tend to think of it like this. Imagine the energy we call self is like a glass of water. And nibanna, the deathless, the unconditioned element, is like a peaceful ocean that is not affected by weather, currents, change or any other phenomena. What happens to the water in the glass when it is poured into that ocean? Where does it go and what does it become?
Peace and light
I woke up in a strange mood today. Like a dark cloud over the top of my head raining down negative thoughts. There was agitation too, like a knotted twisty wind within.
My automatic reaction was to judge the mind for generating this. I wanted to push it away, make it otherwise. But then remembered that judging and fighting it just reinforces the negative tendency. This is how karma works, each time we grasp a tendency of the mind, it adds more to it and it grows stronger.
I did a bit of thought replacing, knocking the negative ones out like a hammer knocking out a peg, and replacing them with something wholesome. Of course not long after, the new peg gets knocked out, and the negative thought comes back again. Strange how the mind works against itself. Still it is a useful exercise, I make a game out of it. I practise getting quicker at noticing when the new peg has been knocked out and immediately replace it again without entering into any dialogue with the negativity, without seeing it as me, mine, or self. Just an impersonal process that I can change to something more beneficial for myself and others.
When this practise became too tiring, I stopped and practised anchoring the mind on a meditation object instead, being centred with the feeling of the body.
I become aware of the unpleasant feelings and the aversion inside, churning away like a vat of discontent. I experience them fully, remind myself this is suffering, suffering feels like this. This is the first noble truth. Knowledge of suffering.
Why is there suffering?
Because of the second noble truth.
Craving in its three aspects.
I notice the longing, aversion, and selfishness. Notice how unpleasant this feels, this is suffering. It is unpleasant, it is an affliction, it is like a sickness. I feel dispassion towards the craving. Which helps me detach from it.
I open up my awareness and create a feeling of spaciousness within. I let the resentment, longing, and selfishness be there, but choose not to judge, follow it, or identify with it, Just let it be. Give it the space to arise and cease without getting involved with it, without adding anything more to it. Don't shoot the second arrow.
I turn my eye towards the deathless, towards nibanna. The third noble truth. And I remind myself of nirodha, cessation, non-attachment. I become aware of the mind when longing, aversion, and selfishness is no longer present, feel the relief when the mind stops harrassing itself. How much more peaceful, clearer and happier the mind feels when it isn't feeling resentment, isn't clinging to something, isn't identifying with it, taking it personally. Isn't longing for anything, isn't trying to change anything, At peace and content, not wanting to be any place else. 'Nibanna is right here Richie' I remember a wise teacher telling me.
I notice the sound of the seagulls outside the open window, feel a breeze and reconnect with the air element, feel the cool air all around me and within me, it feels invigorating. My attention becomes centred with the air element.
The thoughts continue in the background like white noise, and I notice how similar they are to ringing in the ears, they constantly change. And I feel grateful for the freedom to be able to disengage from them, to stop identifying with them, to stop seeing them as self and be able to absorb my attention into something else instead, something more tranquil.
I keep the body still and upright, enjoying the solidity, the weight, the feeling of the Earth element grounding me, helping to steady the mind and bring some composure.
Mind follows body, and body follows mind. When the body is still with awareness anchored there. The senses start to settle down, the mind grows quiet, more collected, more centred, and the stillness grows deeper, and it feels exquisite just to rest there in that feeling of stillness.
'That which arises, also ceases.'
I have become quite fond of standing and watching puddles in the rain. There is something oddly fascinating about them, they are like the visual equivalent of white noise. I can get into a state of serene composure just standing and watching the shapes and ripples the rain makes on the surface.
The waves of the sea feel magic as I walk along. My peripheral vision changing as I move in sync with the ocean next to me, the waves changing shape all the time, a liquid reminder of anicca (impermanence). The air all around reveals its invisible presence in the dancing movement of the numerous plant beings, under the wings of birds, in sounds, and the tactile sense of it on my skin and within each breath.
I notice my mood, and how I am in a different state of mind than I was at the beginning of my walk and how this too keeps changing.
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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The air element
Beauty of sky
That childlike wonder
Fills the Body with ease.
I am connected to the air
With every breath
But its presence is felt
I watch as it moves through the trees,
Sweeps up leaves
Creates ripples on the water
And makes everything dance.
Unless you're dead or a mannequin,
in any way that you're managing
in a way that is challenging.
Just start moving,
It's on you
things start happening
When stuck in the labyrinth.
It's highly hazardous.
But start moving
It's on you
things start happening
Though these are dark days
I feel something good coming
The wind changing
Bringing an end to greed, hate, and delusion
Emancipation from ignorance and confusion.
Though the heat is on
And the planet burns
We will sing our song.
Skint and emaciated
Struggling to make ends meet
As the waters come flooding
And the suffering comes spinning
We will go on singing.
A song of genorosity, kindness, and clear-seeing.
About the path of peace that leads to the end of suffering.
About profound friendship and harmony with all beings.
We will go on singing.
Till the day is done
Till extinction's won
And all things fade away
Like a Bubble in a stream
A dream within a dream.
Where is the self?
A sad-but-peaceful mood today. Like flowers that are starting to drop their petals after their brief song of colour. I noticed the mind's tendency to move towards sadness as I went about my day and watched the mind's machinery whir and the cogs turn as it began telling itself imaginative stories that altered my perception and intensified and darkened the mood. I interrupted the thought processes, reminding them that all it was generating was just pure conjecture, and I steered the herd of thoughts away from the fields of delusion and gently back towards the three right intentions of: non-ill-will, letting go, and harmlessness.
I kept telling myself: 'Ah mind! Do not worry, everything is okay. It isn't sadness that's the problem it's the aversion towards it that's the problem.' The mind in whole-hearted agreement understood and let the aversion go, and then it just felt peaceful and tranquil like the rain, and I noticed there is an odd beauty to sadness that is hard to capture with words.
And I felt okay, held onto the sign of peace.
Changing brain chemistry, fatigue and bodily aches is just the kamma of having a body. And sometimes I feel vulnerable and need to be in a quiet place, alone, away from the frenetic energies of others. So I can calm down the thought processes and rest in the womb of becoming, be the caterpillar once more, patient and content knowing it will become the butterfly again in due time. Not pushing away or craving for the butterfly. It is just an ancient tide, these changing seasons of the mind. And they don't have to be a problem. I can feel at peace with it all and live like a Buddha, serene, content, with dignity and a heart full of love.
I do not have the power to change what other beings do. Their kamma is their kamma. I only have the power to change what I do; how I choose to act in each moment. So I decide to not feel aversion towards anything. Because the mind is a much nicer place without any hostility, and that's what matters in the end, the mind is one's true home. So I will choose to radiate dhamma and peace of mind. Perhaps that is the best way I can help this suffering world.
I felt a centred whole-hearted calmness come over me and I sitting down, became quiet and still, perfectly in tune with the rain as it fell. Gently cooling the senses and the mind into a state of sweet equanimity.
Contemplating becoming a monk one day. I am not there yet however. I still have a number of things I need to work through to reach that level, but it is something I am aspiring to now. The lifestyle of a Buddhist monk has suddenly becoming very appealing to me. Strange because if you had asked me a month ago, I would not have felt the same. A lot of things seem to have changed in me, things I thought never would change. At first it felt quite disturbing and seemed to upset me at a deep level, I became afraid of the changes, but now it is settling, I am quite happy about it actually. I can't explain, very difficult to put into words what has happened; but suddenly the world just doesn't feel like it has such a pull on me anymore. All the things I thought I wanted suddenly I don't particularly want as much. My main aspiration now is to develop in meditation and grow stronger in the way of dhamma.
But I am not there yet. It may be a while before I get there. When I ask the Buddha about it, (yes I know he is in para-nibanna and will never again incarnate anywhere or teach devas or humans, but sometimes I swear he talks to me.) anyway, it could be a higher aspect of my mind being helpful by taking on the role of the Buddha, he just tells me not to run before I can walk, and not to walk before I can stand, and not stand before I can sit. He advises that a gradual training will suit my particular personality. Escaping the household life by riding off on horseback in the middle of the night as the heroic Bodhisattva may not work out so well for me, we are all a bit different after all and I am certainly not Gautama. So I should get the hang of being an Upasaka first. After that there's the intermediate stage between Upasaka and a monk where one deepens their Upasaka commitment and permanently takes the 8 precepts instead of five, then once one has got the hang of that stage, one can look into ordaining as a novice monk.
Anyway I feel quite happy thinking that one day I could become a monk, it feels possible and I can see a clear path towards accomplishing that goal.
It is interesting how we all rub off on each other, every person we connect with changes us in some way. We truly are all the people we meet.
What self is there?
Our bodies are changing, slowly ageing.
Sensations are changing all the time; like a white-noise of continuous data we either feel as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
Our perception of life's myriad objects changes.
Our thoughts, memories, emotions, and the story of self we narrate, about who we are, and our life, is always changing. I am not even the same person I was five minutes ago when I sat down to write this.
All these events change our consciousness like light-reflecting ripples on the surface of a pond. Consciousness too is always changing.
This is what I think Buddhism means by emptiness, by no-self. It is saying there is no fixed unchanging entity or soul, just a fluid dynamic process, a flowing stream that's different from one moment to the next.
I find this time of year a bit challenging. I feel depressed just now. Am a bit sick as well, no idea if it is covid, couldn't give a shit if it is. I am isolating myself just in case though as do not want to pass it on to anyone else, so just talking to family on zoom. It is a very mild illness, although my glands are swollen to Hell and I am a bit light-headed and weak on my feet. Some part of me doesn't care though. I honestly don't mind if I live or die, if I die now I will just see it as a mercy and try to feel equanimity instead of a negative state of mind. Mindstate is important at death as that is the seed that becomes your next life.
It is getting harder and harder to survive in this world anyway. I am struggling to get anywhere with right livelihood and I can't work full-time due to my health problems and mood swings, it is tough to stay afloat and tiring trying to. I am not the only one, there are many of us who are feeling this way all around the world. It is a tough world just now and not getting any easier. Many are struggling to make ends meet at the moment, the cost of living has sky-rocketed. Food is twice as expensive as it was this time last year, and so are the utility bills, and the money coming in hasn't changed for many of us. And it is hard to feel much joy living like that. Anyway who wants to live and watch the world go to shit and more animals go extinct. I don't want to see all that. Although I promise I won't take my life, I have made a vow not to do that and will honour it. If I survive and live I will try my best to be a light in this darkening world, and show kindness and compassion to other beings that are suffering where I can. It isn't always easy to do this though. Sometimes my energy is too low, and fatigue gets the better of me, I feel like a weak battery that is unable to hold its charge at the moment.
I think those who go on about how important it is to feel joy on the spiritual path and try to enourage everyone to feel the same aren't struggling with their finances, if they were I imagine they too would be finding it challenging to feel much joy. But nonetheless it is true what they say, joy is important and it is one of the seven factors of enlightenment, albeit for me the most challenging one.
I read an article that said the world economic output has reached $100 trillion for the first time in human history. What it didn't mention is how much of this belongs to the super rich and that most of us won't see any of that, it is being hoarded by humans whose minds are possessed by greed, hatred and delusion. The super rich continue to invest in their rocket-sized penis extensions, with the 'my rocket is better than yours' mentality; trying to be the first to colonise cold dead space, while they leave this rare miracle of a planet behind to die a bleak unhappy death in the aftermath of their greed and madness of mass industrial consumerism. Instead of using all that wealth and power to help this living planet; they dream instead of colonising a much colder smaller dead planet far far away. Strange logic, but delusion does that. The more greedy one becomes, the more deluded one becomes to justify hoarding such large amounts of wealth, and the more they hate others who criticise them and try to get them to share it with others. Greed, hatred and delusion, the three psychic poisons.
I was wondering today why do some young men kick the shit out of homeless people. I guess they are looking for someone to hate, to blame for their crap miserable lives. Homeless people are easy targets. I remember when I was homeless (many years ago now) and I met another homeless guy who had been beaten badly by the police of all people. I gave him all the money I had made busking and flagged him a taxi and asked the driver to take him to the hospital so he could get stitched up by the A&E as he had a large gaping bleeding wound on his head. Why do people beat up those who are homeless? Is it because they are vulnerable and don't stand a chance of being able to fight back against the attackers? Perhaps there is fear also, the knowledge that many of us are close to homelessness ourselves, some maybe only a paycheck away, and that fear becomes hate. I don't know. What horrible times we live in where this happens. Are we really civilised? It makes me sad. There seems to be so little love and compassion in the world at the moment. But I know not everyone is like this, there are still many good people out there, I just have to try to remember that, no matter how alone and depressed I feel.
I am trying to see my depression as a state of becoming, with the understanding that it is better to retreat from the world when I am like this, as I often will say things I later regret, and if I am alone, that is less likely to happen. It is hard to do that at this time of year though, as everyone expects one to be sociable and happy. It was difficult doing a zoom call with family yesterday as my mood was low and it was hard pretending not to be, and everyone I spoke to was happy, festive, and enjoying their day, but I felt miserable. I felt like a failure after the zoom call that I couldn't enjoy Christmas day like everyone else or feel happy.
So I am currently retreating from the world. I look at the depressed cycle now as being like a caterpillar in a cocoon becoming a butterfly, it is an unpleasant painful experience, a complete destruction of the self, like entering the womb again, and birth is painful, but when it is over one emerges as something new, a different person each time and hopefully someone who has grown deeper in wisdom and more developed spiritually. And when one feels renewed strength and energy then one can act and go out to meet the world again. In the meantime, I just have to be patient and try really hard not to believe the dark thoughts about myself or others. Try hard not to react to other people's energy in a negative way. And avoid what the Buddha calls unwise attention to the fault. That automatic critic that pops up iin the mind and judges others, perhaps because it doesn't like the way someone dresses or looks, the sound of their voice, the way they behave and so on. That's unwise attention to the fault. There's also unwise attention to the beautiful, such as desiring the happiness others are feeling, seeing pretty displays in a shop window, or desirable objects online, or lusting after someone you feel attracted to. That is unwise attention to the beautiful. And both unwise attention to the fault or the beautiful can upset the balance of the mind and stop it being centred.
One must also remember as well not to be hard on oneself when these things arise in the mind, none of us can help it, we all do it, it is automatic and outside our control, it happens so fast and much of it is due to DNA, evolution and past conditioning of the mind. One thing we can do though, is to try to let go of it as soon as we notice it and try to bring into being a more wholesome way of thinking, such as loving-kindness, compassion, joy-in-another's-happiness, or equanimity. Try instead to wish other beings well without wanting anything in return. It is hard, but we can persevere and keep trying.
Depression for me is very difficult at times, and feeling any joy or pleasure is a challenge. But abiding in equanimity whilst retreating from the world can be helpful. I quite like focusing on change and impermanence at the moment, noticing how everything keeps changing. Some changes are immediately apparent, such as the constant information coming from the five senses of: vision, sound, smell, taste, touch. But thoughts are also always changing, and so is the time. Then there are the longer changes that one can contemplate, such as the body as it ages and eventually dies, the sense of self, the world, civilisations that rise and fall, the weather, the seasons, the sky, friends and romantic relationships, day and night, the tide, the moon, even this patch of space is constantly changing as the Earth spins around the sun. Understanding that everything changes can help with developing equanimity and with letting go and being patient.
'Everything I hold dear and everyone I love will become separated from me due to the nature of change.'
There is not much else the ego can do, much of the process of awakening/enlightenment happens unconsciously in the deeper mind outside of one's awareness, and it can feel unpleasant as the rest of the mind processes the insights one gains through spiritual practise and rewires itself based on the new information it has received. One just has to sit tight and accept this state of becoming and try not to react. Be patient with it, let the process unfold in its own way, its own time, it cannot be rushed.
Walking in the rain
heart twisting pain
No more beat within
Is that the price of sin?
Ah but there is no soul
It doesn't exist
Just a changing process
That never stays still
From one moment to the next
Who are you?
And caught up in the things of the world.
Hands up, it was me.
I lost my equanimity.
But feel closer now,
closer to the other shore,
Knock knock knocking on heaven's door.
Everything is insubstantial, empty,
just like you and me.
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