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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 21 Sept 2023, 08:35


Dhamma isn't that popular, the vast majority of people don't want to get enlightened, there are a few that do, but most don't. I have little passion for writing about much else though, the world just doesn't interest me anymore. The elephant in the room when it comes to worldly success is: Death.

One works hard for what? In the end all that one has achieved gets taken away. Sometimes quite suddenly, people can die unexpectedly both young and old. For me, death, is the most pressing concern. It renders everything else meaningless.

The world also changes quite rapidly and things one worked hard to learn years ago, are no longer relevant now, automation makes learning skills feel pointless. The ups and downs of the economy mean banks and countries can go bankrupt. Placing all your hopes in a career or finance is a risky bet, and in the end the house always wins, Mara (death) takes all. Even our memories get taken away from us, or change.

The only thing that I really like to write about is dhamma, and connection. But even friendships don't last, these too are impermanent, friends come and go. People change, relationships break. Placing all one's hopes in connection is also a risky bet.

The only thing that feels like it is worth making effort for is the dhamma. That's why I work so hard at practising it. For me it is the only thing that matters now. Life is uncertain. But if I can get enlightened then I will have found something secure, something that can't be taken away by Mara.

Death comes for all, and when it comes for me, I will take refuge in the dhamma.

 

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Asoka

Iluminating wisdom

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 18 Sept 2023, 22:06


I am learning to become more aware of the mental dispositions that cause sorrow and suffering. With repetive practice, not giving up, being knocked down and getting up again repeatedly. My awareness is getting stronger, and I am becoming less ignorant of these tendencies of the mind. I think as I become less ignorant, I will wise up to them more, and as I wise up to them, I will feel less inclined to go along with them, which will make it is easier to let go of them.

I have encountered a few situations today that would normally make me angry, but I was mindful and even though I felt the anger arise in me, I saw how it would lead to suffering in the end and chose not to go along with it, to just drop it. The same can be done with longing and conceit. 

Not saying it is easy. I think it is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. It takes many hours of practise to fully uproot ignorance. It can be done in one lifetime, but it can also take many of them. There will also be many failures on the way. 

Another thing I am learning is it is very easy to have a profound meditation experience and think you are enlightened afterwards. Sadly, this wears off, and then when a difficult life event happens, one soon discovers just how unenlightened they are. 

It is a very humbling experience when this happens, but it can also be a great teacher. Never punish yourself for making mistakes. We all do it. There isn’t a single human on Earth who hasn’t made them. Even the Buddha himself made some daft mistakes on his journey to enlightenment. 

The difference is, as awareness grows (with practise), one learns to look at mistakes differently and develop from them, making them part of the path. One learns how to turn something bad into something good. Our failures then become the fertiliser that ripens the fruit. So don't despair. We can learn from it all. 

 Dōgen defined a Buddha as someone who has great realisation of delusion.

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Asoka

The Revolutionary

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 15 Sept 2023, 11:33


This world is not easy. Poverty is hard. It is so challenging to make ends meet these days. The cost of living is high, and finding a way to generate an income feels impossible. Every door I open seems to get slammed in my face. Especially when suffering with health problems, it is hard to put in the hours needed to survive. The gig economy is a joke, working for peanuts, and the competition is fierce.

Many who do find work are exploited and dehumanised. Society is broken. Greed has destroyed it.

And then there’s the heartbreak of watching the natural world go extinct. I have watched it here. The decline of insects. Species of wildlife have disappeared. The sea here, just over a decade ago, was full of life. Now it is like a watery desert.

Then there’s war, refugees fleeing the horror of it, only to be greeted by coldness and hostility at the places they seek sanctuary, the places where many of the weapons that destroyed their countries are manufactured. Many dying on their arduous journey to get there.

What a Hellish world we’ve created. Economics is a joke. It is no longer fit for purpose. The wealthy don’t understand what it is like for those in poverty. They patronise us and tell us to work hard. Clueless as to how hard people are working to keep them seated on their perches while they shit on us.

I long to escape this madness. Is one of the things that drives me to seek enlightenment. I never want to come back to this world again. It is a slaughterhouse. A horrible place full of cruelty.

Sorry to be so negative and to rant. The problem with this world is greed, hatred, and delusion. That is the destructive force behind it all. And it doesn’t come from outside ourselves, it comes from within us.

The goal of Buddhist practise is the uprooting of greed, hate, and delusion from the mind. This the Buddha said is the end of suffering, the end of sorrow, the end of stress, grief, and emotional pain. Nibbana/nirvana, the deathless, lasting happiness, perfect peace, and Buddhist enlightenment is what is left behind when the mind is liberated from greed, hate, and delusion.

To strive for this is a noble act, especially nowadays when there’s so much poverty and inequality, when much life on this planet is going extinct. It is a compassionate thing to do for ourselves and others, including the myriad beings we share this planet with. And perhaps the most compassionate thing we can do for future generations who will inherit this Hell we’re creating.

We are not completely powerless. We may not be able to change the greed, hatred, and delusion out there in the world. But we can change it in ourselves. This is where our power lies.

And as each of us changes ourselves, we gradually change the world around us. It becomes a domino effect. For the evil currently destroying our world is dependent on causes and conditions.

This is what gives me hope. All conditioned phenomena are interdependent. Including our economic system that is causing so much harm not just to society but to the many other beings we share this planet with. If enough people choose to overcome the greed, hatred, and delusion within themselves, the world will change for the better, this is the real revolution.

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Music video by Tracey Chapman "Talkin' About A Revolution"



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Asoka

Mind Storms

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 12 Sept 2023, 22:37


It has been a dark few days within this fathom length body.

This morning I was once again pummelled by the dark forces of the kilesas (greed, hate, conceit, and delusion). They have become my relentless teachers these days. They hit me with everything they got today. Brought me to tears if I am honest.

Revealing to me just how much work there is still left to do on this mind.

I attended a dharma inquiry this evening that really seemed to hit the nail on the head of how I was feeling. I left seeing things more clearly.

I now understand this Buddhist practise is not just about the intellect, it is as much about the heart. Both work together. Complement one another.

Cool head, warm heart.

Friendship is important, as challenging as it can feel at times to relate to others, it teaches me things I miss when practising alone. I think I am a mix of classical Buddhism and Zen, although not the authoritarian kind of Zen. The friendly Zen (-:

I am not really into the Bodhisattva vow, though I respect it. I just feel uncertain about vowing. 

I have decided I want to go for full enlightenment, and if I reach that, it will be impossible to help all beings then; but that does not mean I don't feel love for them, I feel compassion, and when wise enough I will try to keep the true dhamma alive for future generations, if I live that long. I want to help as many beings as I can. But not proselytising,  not conceited, just living from the heart, and out of compassion teaching those who ask, and only when asked.

But I am getting ahead of myself, I still have much to learn before I realise that lofty aspiration.

I have a three hour exam tomorrow on the topic of cyber security. I am not looking forward to it. Wish me luck!

May all be safe, well, peaceful, and 😊




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Asoka

The four roads to psychic power

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 11 Sept 2023, 22:39



Four Bases of Psychic Power (satara iddhipada)

Desire or zeal (chanda)

Effort (viriya)

Mind (citta)

Investigation (vimamsa)


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Asoka

The Buddha's teaching to Vaccha

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 10 Sept 2023, 18:07


Vaccha, “speculative view” is something that the Tathāgata has put away. 

For the Tathāgata, Vaccha, has seen this:

 “Such is material form, such its origin, such its disappearance.
Such is feeling, such its origin, such its disappearance.
Such is perception, such its origin, such its disappearance.
Such are mental formations, such their origin, such their disappearance.
Such is consciousness, such its origin, such its disappearance.”

 Therefore, I say, with the destruction, fading away, cessation, giving up, and relinquishing of all conceivings, all musings, all I-making, mine-making, and the underlying tendency to conceit, the Tathāgata is liberated through not clinging.

~ M 72.15 (Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi trans. With the word 'excogitations' changed to 'musings' by Upasaka Asoka.)






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Asoka

Crossing the flood

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The onus is very much on oneself to do the work, no one else can do it for us. None but ourselves can free our mind. One must make effort.

Bear in mind it is said there are 84 0000 dhamma doors that lead to nibbana. The Buddha taught many paths and skilful means over his 45-year teaching career. We are all different, with different interests and dispositions, and so we must make our own raft out of the huge amount of teachings passed down to us over the ages, find the ones that suit us. There isn't one size that fits all. 

In the metaphor of the raft, it isn't a fancy raft that gets us to the other shore. It is just a bundle of sticks placed under the arms to keep us afloat while we paddle across the flood using the four limbs of right effort.

We don't have to know it all. Just grab a bundle of teachings from the huge pile handed down to us, those that resonate with you and make those into your raft. 

And gently paddle, pace yourself, tune, and balance the energy of right effort:

 Thus, have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. Then, when the night had advanced, a certain devatā of stunning beauty, illuminating the entire Jeta’s Grove, approached the Blessed One. Having approached, he paid homage to the Blessed One, stood to one side, and said to him:

“How, dear sir, did you cross the flood?”

“By not halting, friend, and by not straining I crossed the flood.”

“But how is it, dear sir, that by not halting and by not straining you crossed the flood?”

“When I came to a standstill, friend, then I sank; but when I struggled, then I got swept away. It is in this way, friend, that by not halting and by not straining I crossed the flood.”

~ S 1.1 (Bhikkhu Bodhi trans.)

 


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Asoka

What remains

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 8 Sept 2023, 23:11


The body
Sensations
Feelings
Perceptions
Thoughts
Sense consciousness.

It all comes from what is sensed in the world around.

The world of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, words and ideas.
 
But I am not any of these things.
They are not me or mine.

Am I the objects in the world?
Am I sense-impressions and words?

Dependently originated they do not last.
As conditions change so do they.

This body is not mine. It grew by itself.
A biological process I have no control over.
It changes whether I like it or not.
It ages, gets sick, will one day die.
If it was mine, I would be able to tell it to stop ageing, to not die.
To be handsome, not ugly.
But it changes regardless of what I say.

If I was to chop off a body part and lay it on the ground.
Is that body part the self?

Where is the self in these five streams?
These five aggregates of clinging:
body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, sense-consciousness.

When one lets go of identifying with them
Filters out all that is not self.

What remains?

A boundless emptiness not dependent on conditions
A state that isn’t born and doesn’t die
The unconditioned
Peace
Liberation
Relief from the pain of wanting.

Hard to put into words.
But I will keep trying.



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Asoka

The five right exertions

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 7 Sept 2023, 19:37


In the Noble eightfold path, the sixth factor is Right Effort. It has five aspects to it. 

 These are the four right exertions, or four right efforts, and the tuning of energy so that it is neither too lax, nor too tight. One learns to tune the energy of effort so that one doesn't become too lazy in their practise, whilst also avoiding the other extreme of over-exertion, overdoing it, and straining the mind. Both extremes are to be avoided. A bit like tuning a guitar string, so that it sounds just right. You want to tune effort so that you don't stagnate in your practise, but you also don't burn out either. If you try too hard you will end up feeling aversion towards meditation practise and dhamma, and if you don't make effort, you will not develop or make progress.

The four right efforts are:

1. Preventing unwholesome states of mind arising

This involves talking to oneself in the morning when you get up to start the day. You prep the mind and tell yourself: 'I will avoid the folly of the fault-finding mind; and I will avoid the folly of the greedy/lustful mind."

 As one goes about the day one aspires to hold on to the sign of peace and keep one's consciousness secluded from anger/hate and lust/greed. This is done by avoiding unwise attention to the fault (both in oneself and in others); and by avoiding unwise attention to the beautiful. 

 One cannot avoid sensing things in the world, we can't walk around with our eyes closed etc, we will be bombarded by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, words, and ideas. It isn't about shutting off the senses, it is about practising wise attention to them, so they don't lead us to greed, hate and delusion. One senses what is sensed without adding any more to it.

I find the teaching the Buddha gave to Bahiya helpful here: 

'In the seen, there is only the seen.
In the heard, there is only the heard.
In the sensed, there is only the sensed.
In the cognized, there is only the cognized.
This Bahiya is how you should train yourself.

 When for you Bahiya there is:

 In the seen, only the seen.
In the heard, only the heard.
In the sensed, only the sensed.
In the cognized, only the cognized.

Then there is no you in connection to that.
And when there is no you in connection to that.
There is no you there.
And when there is no you there.
You are neither here nor there, nor in between the two.
This, just this, is the end of suffering.'

2. Removal of unwholesome states of mind should they arise

The second right effort is used when the first right effort: prevention, fails. This is about removing (letting go of, abandoning) greed, aversion, and delusion, (aka the five hindrances: longing, aversion, sloth, restlessness/worry, and doubt) should they arise in the mind. The Buddha suggests five strategies for doing this.

The first is dismissal and replacement, i.e. replacing the unwholesome state of mind with its opposite. Such as replacing anger with calmness or loving-kindness (metta). Like a carpenter knocking out a peg by replacing it with another.

 If that fails then one uses a healthy sense of shame, reflecting on how for example, anger is a great stain on the personality, how it is ignoble and leads to painful states of mind for oneself and others. This sense of shame can help one let go of it. The Buddha likens it to a person about to go out to meet some people they respect and admire. They look at themselves in a mirror and see the corpse of a snake hanging round their neck, and feeling repulsed by it they immediately remove it, as that is not how one wants to appear in front of people one respects and admires. 

If that fails then one is to ignore the unwholesome state of mind, not pay attention to it, as if turning away from a sight one does not wish to see. A Nun described it during a retreat I attended, as being like walking down the street and seeing some dogshit on the pavement, one is careful not to step into it. One can also use distraction as well, find something that distracts the mind from the unwholesome feelings, till they cease.

If that fails one turns to face it, looks directly at it. And then brings oneself of it gradually in stages. The Buddha uses a cartoon metaphor of a man running, who says to himself, why am I running when I could be walking? Then he says to himself, why am I walking when I could be standing? Then why am I standing when I could be sitting? Why am I sitting when I could be lying down? At each stage one reviews if it is working, noticing if the unwholesome state of mind is weakening, if it is that means you are going in the right direction and should keep doing what you are doing, eventually it will cease.

If that strategy fails then the Buddha suggests as a last resort one suppresses the unwholesome state of mind. He uses the metaphor of a strong man pinning down a weaker man. He makes it clear one must not allow that unwholesome state to express itself as it can lead to suffering for both oneself and others.

There are other strategies for abandoning unwholesome states of mind. One must experiment and find what is helpful for you. Investigate in your own life, see what works. We are all unique and conditioned differently. The way I do things, may not necessarily work for everyone else. We must know ourselves and find our own way. It doesn't matter what strategy you use. The main thing is to be mindful, investigate and make effort. Find ways of bringing yourself out of destructive states of mind before they cause harm to oneself and others, before they cause suffering, that's the main reason. It is not a commandment; it isn't about judging anyone or being authoritarian. What other people do is up to them, it's their business. The reason one abandons greed, hate, and delusion is because they cause us suffering, and the noble eightfold path is about putting an end to suffering.

3. Generating wholesome states of mind

Wholesome states of mind are the seven factors of enlightenment: 1. mindfulness, 2. investigation, 3.effort (energy), 4.joy, 5. calmness, 6. samadhi (aka collectedness, concentration, composure, unification of mind, stillness), and 7. equanimity (Balance). 

The Brahma viharas are also wholesome states of mind, these are: loving-kindness/friendliness/goodwill (metta), compassion (karuna), joy in the happiness of others (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). In fact, practising the brahma viharas fulfils much of the eightfold path and can take you to the doorstep of nibbana. The brahma viharas fulfils, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (concentration). When one has perfected the brahma viharas, one then needs to look again at right view and penetrate and understand the four noble truths,

1. Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood)
2. Knowledge of the cause of suffering (which is to be abandoned)
3. Knowledge of the end of suffering (which is to be realised)
4. Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering (which is to be developed)  

One can unlock the door to nibbana with a key that has three teeth which fit the lock. The three teeth that fit the lock are the understanding of: anicca (impermanence, change), dukkha (stress, sorrow, unsatisfactoriness, grief, suffering), and anatta (not-self). One investigates conditioned phenomena, investigates the five aggregates (body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, sense-consciousness), and observes the three characteristics in them. And when with wisdom and insight, with direct knowing and experience in one's own life, (not just an intellectual understanding). The mind stops clinging to conditioned phenomena, and what remains then is the deathless, the unconditioned, nibbana. Which is an experience, it is not annihilation. It goes beyond concepts of existence and non-existence. Beyond all views. I think in the Mahayana tradition it is known as Buddha nature, or the original mind. And from there without the ego getting in the way and attaching conditions to things, no longer caught in the self-centred dream, unlimited, immeasurable, boundless compassion for all beings can flow. 

4. Sustaining wholesome states of mind

The fourth right effort is about keeping the wholesome states of mind going continuously, throughout the day. On and off the cushion.

In the words of the Buddha:

'One generates the desire for the prevention of unwholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
One generates the desire for the abandonment of unwholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
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 persevering.
 '

Hope this helps others out there. I have found the teaching on right effort to be very helpful and empowering for me. If one keeps practising, the effort builds up a momentum and energy of its own and it then gets easier, becomes more automatic. It is just building habits really.

 I still have much work to do, but I can testify that this works. It is powerful stuff, and the Buddha's teachings on right effort are not often taught in the West, which is a shame, because they are so important. Right effort is the third factor in the seven factors of enlightenment, aka energy, and the Buddha mentions this factor more times than any other factor, even more so than mindfulness. It is very important, and one won't make much progress without making effort.

This isn't me teaching or anything. I am not a teacher, and I am not telling others what to do with their lives. It is just my perspective and what I practise with in my own life that I have found helpful. It may or may not be helpful to others. And I honestly won't take it personally if it isn't anyone else’s cup of tea. 

I find it is useful for keeping the precepts, as well as developing the other aspects of the path, or any other skill in life you want to learn actually. 

Take care.

May we all be safe, well, peaceful and happy.

...



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Asoka

Teaching given to Bahiya

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 16 Aug 2023, 17:41


The Buddha to Bahiya:
 
' In the seen there is only the seen,
in the heard, there is only the heard,
in the sensed there is only the sensed,
in the cognized there is only the cognized:
This, Bahiya, is how you should train yourself.

When, Bahiya, there is for you
in the seen only the seen,
in the heard only the heard,
in the sensed only the sensed,
in the cognized only the cognized,
then, Bahiya, there is no 'you'
in connection with that.

When, Bahiya, there is no 'you' in connection with that,
there is no 'you' there,
When, Bahiya, there is no 'you' there.
then, Bahiya, you are neither here
nor there
nor in between the two.
This, just this, is the end of suffering. '

--- Ud 1.10

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Asoka

Understanding suffering

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 19 July 2023, 11:45


Grief seems to have returned. Lots of tears at the moment. Still processing things it seems.

So many unwanted events happening at once just now, coming into a convergence. I feel this longing to escape from it all, to be free from this world. Is that the thirst for non-existence (vibhava-tanhā)?

Have been reflecting on the first noble truth, the knowledge of suffering.
The instruction given for this truth, is that it needs to be understood.
How does one understand suffering?

' The noble truth of suffering (dukkha) is this: birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, pain, loss, grief, and despair are suffering; association with what is disliked is suffering; separation from what is liked is suffering; not getting what one wants is suffering. In brief, the five aggregates of attachment are suffering. '

— DHAMMACAKKAPPAVATTANA SUTTA

Understanding comes from investigation of the four noble truths in one's own life, in one's own experience. That's how true knowing develops.

A definition of the word 'Buddha' is 'One who knows'.

Some intellectual knowledge is needed. There has to be the capacity for wise reflection, and for critical thinking. You also need a map, a description, some guidance to point you in the right direction. So you know where you are heading with all this. Understand what needs to be accomplished, what the work is. The task at hand.

Then one sets the intention. Resolves to do the work. Consulting the map when one gets stuck. The true knowledge and wisdom is learnt from experience. From the present moment, life as it is, this is our dhamma teacher. With patience, gradually, over the course of many hours of repetitive practise. By being our own refuge. Experimenting, tweaking things, tuning them, one develops the eight factors of the noble eightfold path.

The five aggregates of attachment are: 1. The physical body 2. Feelings 3. Perceptions (memory) 4. Mental formations (such as thoughts), and 5. Consciousness (which arises due to contact with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and mental objects).

The five aggregates are always changing. Like a flowing stream. One never sees the same stream twice, even though it looks like the same stream. The water molecules you where looking at a moment ago are no longer there.

In a similar way, the five aggregates are a complex process, a flowing stream of events, of cause and effect. Everything conditioned is interdependent. When the right conditions are present something will arise; And when those conditions are no longer present, that something will cease.

For example, fire is dependent on conditions such as dryness, wood, oxygen, tinder, and a spark. Take away any of those conditons and the fire won't start.

The five aggregates (the khandhas/skandhas) are fragile and uncertain, dependent on changing conditions that are largely outside our control. Which is why clinging to them, and identifying with them causes us suffering. There's nothing there to cling to. They are impermanent, insubstantial. Empty.

The things we are attached to the most, are the things that cause us the most suffering.

The twelve links of dependent origination, (ultra-concise version):

These are a representation of the links in the chain of dependent origination (causation) which lead to suffering and rebirth.

Ignorance --> Mental dispositions and volitional actions --> Conditioned consciousness --> Mind and body (aka name and form) --> The six senses --> Sense impressions --> feelings (of like or dislike) --> craving --> clinging/identifying --> becoming --> birth --> death.

It is a continous circle, so death circles back round to ignorance and the circuit begins again...

i.e., becoming --> birth --> death --> Ignorance --> mental dispositions and volitional actions ... and so on -- the cycle continuously goes round and round in a circle.

Need a better way to describe 'mental dispositions and volitional actions.' It is about how our mental dispositions, our intentions become mental and physical actions which condition our consciousness (form habits).

The links are all points where the circuit can be broken. Much of the links are outside our control. But we can work on ignorance, on our intentions, on our volitional actions. Use wisdom and knowledge to weaken the tendency to cling and identify with things. Till eventually one realises a state of non-clinging and stops grasping the seeds of greed, hate and delusion. Then the fuel line to craving is cut off and suffering stops.

Physical pain can still happen, that is the kamma of having a body, of living in an uncertain world full of threats and danger that come in all shapes and sizes. But mentally, emotionally, one can feel okay, can feel free, at ease. Secure, safe, not clinging to anything in the world. Then whatever happens in the body and the outer world, one's peace remains unshakeable. There is no more mental suffering.

It can sound a bit dry and serious, it is serious, but not dry. It is important not to take it all too seriously. Find a middle way through it, a balance. I think a gentle sense of humour can be helpful, especially towards oneself. As well as goodwill towards other beings, of all kinds, in all worlds. This brings joy and wellbeing, gladdens the mind, makes it fearless and golden. The beautiful emotions are part of the path too. Kindness, generosity, goodwill, friendship, compassion, joy, calmness, clarity, equanimity... and so on, non-greed, non-hate, non-conceit. These states strengthen the tendencies of the mind that help with the realisation of nibanna, generate good kamma and make everyone feel better. You don't have to save the world or do anything dramatic. If you can't help; at least cause no harm. That's good enough. The huge problems facing the world just now can feel overwhelming. So much suffering everywhere. But in the darkness, the beautiful emotions are like a light to ourselves and those around us. They make us feel well, like nourishment for the heart and mind.

One definition of the third noble truth, is it is realised when greed, hatred, and delusion are no longer able to take root in the mind. In the space left behind is an unshakeable peace. The psychic energy bound up in greed, hate, and delusion, becomes unbound, freed, limitless. Descriptions of nibanna in the suttas say: 'It is the highest state of happiness. The supreme state of bliss.'

Sounds good to me. I could do with some of that.

During the Buddha's time people from all walks of life and age groups where getting enlightened (by the boat load). Most of them couldn't read or write.

It is a practical path. I think that's why I like it.

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I take up the way of cultivating a clear mind

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 10 June 2023, 20:27


I find myself in tears every so often. I just let them fall without trying to resist them.

It is hard to think I will never see Dad again. I talk to him on my walks in the quiet of the woods. Some part of him lives on inside me.

It is a kindness to myself to give the grief space. To hold it all without judging it, or adding any more to it, or taking any of it personally. Just flowing with it, letting it be.

 Life as it is, the only teacher.

I am learning it is okay to not know what to say at times. Sometimes being a silent presence is enough. 

I centre with the breath, and let everything happening around me be as it is. I breathe through it, flood my whole field of awareness with the breath, so it feels like the whole cosmos is breathing with me. 

When the mind is more serene I fill my awareness with love, with compassion, with peace, or equanimity. 

When not in sitting meditation. I take refuge in what is known as sati sampajanna, mindfulness of the present moment. Knowing where I am, what I'm doing. Whatever activity I am engaged in, I try to stay centred with it and with the feeling of embodiment. 

 When I notice I am getting absorbed in thoughts to do with greed, aversion, or conceit. I label them as such and then brush them aside like useless rubbish. Nonsense. Not worth investing in, or wasting psychic energy on. I let them be in the background, but I stop engaging with them, and keep centering the mind with some aspect of mindfulness instead, that feels calming.

It isn't easy. Sometimes I can dismiss thoughts quickly. Other times I have to talk myself into a better state of mind. And sometimes I have to do it gently in stages. 

Mindfulness, effort, samhadi they work together. Both in sitting meditation and in daily life.

It is difficult. But worth it in the end I am assured. Although not liberated yet, I am noticing benefits to dhamma practise, which keep growing steadily. Benefits in terms of increased peace of mind. So I am slowly but surely developing, and seem to be going in the right direction.

 The problem can be narrowed down to just greed, anger, and conceit. These are what harrass the mind. And when those three psychic irritants are absent, there is a feeling of great relief. The mind stops harrassing itself and there is peace.

 It just takes time to get there, perseverance, patience, sometimes endurance. But one day our future selves will be glad we took the time to train the mind - when it all bears fruit.

 What we practise now grows stronger and is who we become.

It is exhausting being someone, being a person. Maintaining an identity. It is a heavy suitcase we carry around. Our moods change, as does the world. And one's ego inevitably falls apart. A fragile house of cards swept up by the worldly winds.

A lot of psychic energy is bound up in the story 'I am'. 

When that psychic energy is released. It becomes unbound, limitless. Free. 

Deathless.

An energy no longer subject to conditions. Something difficult to define and put into words. To define it is to attach conditions to it. 

Anyway that's all I've got just now, and what I am currently working with in my practise.

Here's a poem attributed to the Buddha I have going through my head at the moment:

' Let not a person revive the past   
Or on the future build one's hopes, 
For the past has been left behind 
And the future has not been reached.
Instead with insight let one see 
Each presently arisen state; 
Let one know that and be sure of it, Invincibly, unshakably. 
Today the effort must be made; Tomorrow Death may come, who knows? 
No bargain with Mortality 
Can keep him and his hoards away. 
But one who dwells thus ardently, Relentlessly, by day, by night 
It is those, the Peaceful Sage has said, Who have had one excellent night. '

- the Buddha.

...


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Renunciation

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 7 May 2023, 15:13

The world, our attachments, our needs and desires, our pain and resentments come from the self. To get caught up in the things of the world is to get caught up in the delusion of self. All our problems come from this. It is the origin of suffering.

Pain and pleasure, success and failure, gain and loss, praise and blame. These are the eight worldly winds that can never bring happiness, because they change, sometimes quite suddenly. They bring doubt, uncertainty, confusion and instability. They are treacherous, and hard to navigate. They will betray you. The winds will blow in one direction only to suddenly change and blow in the other direction. One cannot find stability, certainty or any lasting peace and happiness if one relies on the worldly winds.

At their source is the conceit I am.

The ignorance, I am this. I am that. I want this. I don't want that. I want to become this. I do not want to become that. I want this to exist. But I do not want that to exist. I want things to be this way, but not that way.

This 'I' is the problem.

It is oneself that is the root of suffering. The craving, the greed, hate, and delusion spring from the self. They take root and grow in it.

What is true renunciation?

It is not so much renunciation of the outer world, although this can make the work of freeing the mind much easier. To be homeless, or a monastic, to live simply, this frees one from the burdens of the household life so one can focus wholeheartedly on the work of liberating the mind.

But true renunciation comes from the heart. It is the inner world bound up in the delusion of self that must be renounced, this is what leads to the end of suffering. Renunciation of the self.

When the self is fully seen through, then so is the world. All the problems in the world have at their root the conceit I am. When the truth of self is fully revealed, fully understood. All things become known then, nothing is hidden. One stops clinging, identifying, judging. Doesn't take things personally. Resentments and longing subside. The truth sets one free. The fetters fall away. The story of self ceases. The involuntary movements of the mind stop. And what is left is peace.

The worldly winds may blow then, but one is unshaken, unperturbed by them. Like the story of the three pigs and the wolf. As much as Mara may huff and puff and try to blow your house down, it does not fall. Unwholesome desires should they arise, will instantly cease. For there is nowhere left in the mind for them to take root. The soil of the ego is not there any more.

One becomes a tathagatha then 'thus gone' no longer to be found anywhere, in any of the worlds.

Gone beyond it all, freed, unbound, no longer a subject of Mara. And wherever Mara looks he will not be able to locate the consciousness of one who has seen through the conceit I am.

...
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Vesak day

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I am planning on meditating all night tonight, by myself under a beautiful old tree in some ancient woodland. In honour of the Buddha, and to celebrate Vesak day which happens to be on my birthday this year because of the full moon. So it feels like an auspicious night. Fifth day of the week, on the fifth day of the month, on the fifth month of the year.

 A wee bit afraid because the woods can feel a bit spooky in the dark when you are by yourself, also I haven't spent all night in meditation before. I will practise metta (loving-kindness meditation) to start to help bring good energy to the area around me. It is a lovely quiet spot with a good vibe, no sound of cars, no people, lots of pleasant breezes, no biting insects, or dangerous animals. I feel very fortunate to live near such a tranquil place.

It feels like a golden opportunity, and is just one evening of my life. Losing out on some sleep is worth it I think. Many Buddhists in different parts of the world will be celebrating tonight, remembering when the Buddha himself sat under a tree in May on a full moon and got enlightened over 2500 years ago. So I imagine there will be good energy from that. I will sit in honour of his memory, and make a real effort to practise samhadi this evening. And dedicate the practise to all beings everywhere, with the wish for all of us to be free from suffering, free from sorrow, to know peace of mind, serenity and wellbeing wherever we are.

I also feel inspired by stories I've read of others in the past who spent all night meditating under a tree and gained liberation from suffering. I will think of them all to help keep me going. And I will think of my friends, and imagine their energy like a protective loving circle around me, keeping me safe.

I have no expectations, and I'm not attached to any outcomes. But I will have a go, give it my best shot, without straining the mind. 

Whatever happens tonight, I think it will be a good learning experience for me. 

May all beings be safe, well, happy, and peaceful.

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Meditation and enlightenment

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 28 Apr 2023, 17:20

There's a breath meditation I have been practising lately which I enjoy. It seems to have some health benefits as well, and is effective at flushing out the five hindrances (worldly-desire, ill-will, stagnation, restlessness, and doubt). When those unpleasant states of mind are no longer present, it brings a feeling of relief, and the body feels lighter, freer, and clearer. Joy naturally arises from an unhindered mind and this leads to samhadi. 

I practise this either sitting or standing in a comfortable upright position.

And, to quote the suttas, I: 'Put aside longing and dejection in regard to the world.' I give myself permission to put down that heavy suitcase for a moment. Disengage from the story of self with its longing and angst.

I become mindful of the feeling of the feet on the ground, the Earth below, feel the connection to the Earth, feel it as boundless in all directions. Centre with the perception of Earth. It's stability, strength and solidity. I feel it ground me, and absorb the uncomfortable excess energies of the mind, balancing them out. Earthing myself. I imagine roots going out of my feet into the ground below.

On the in-breath I draw energy up through my feet, legs, the torso, up the length of my spine. The energy illuminating the sensations of the body as it makes its way upwards. When it reaches the top of the head. I feel the connection to boundless sky above, and the air element all around. Then on the out-breath I release that energy and let it fall like rain, like a sprinkler or a fountain down across and through the entire body, all the way back to the feet and down into the Earth again. Lighting up the sensations of the body as it does.

On the next in-breath I rinse and repeat the instructions in the paragraph above.

I do this for as long as feels good. Then when it feels natural to do so, I stop moving the energy up and down the body and feel all the sensations in the body together at once. Feel them get more vivid and stronger with each breath.

The body at this point feels very comfortable and at ease, pleasant, and easy to centre with. The breath starts to slow, and can get very shallow, until it seems like the breath stops altogether and then there is a profound stillness that is hard to put into words, where the sense of self disappears. It is like being in a deep refuge within, a safe inner cave, where the energies of life continue around one, but one is unconcerned by them, there's a feeling of deep contentment and peace and a feeling of not wanting to be anywhere else. The mind feels unified, together, whole, but awareness is still present, one is lucid, it is not a hypnotic trance.

It wears off after a time, and then to get back there one repeats the steps above to build the momentum up again. I find I don't need to spend as long building up the momentum the second time round, and can get back easier to the stillness on subsequent goes. Each time the experience of the inner body becomes deeper and more and more exquisite.

If you get it right, you will come out of it and feel on top of the world, and you'll have a great day. Everything will feel like it's in sync. There is an after glow that can last a while, depending on how long you have spent meditating.

The after glow does wear off as the day goes on, and the hindrances return. One notices when they do, as it feels unpleasant. The hard part then is convincing yourself to meditate again.

One can keep the afterglow going for longer by practising mindfulness in everyday activity. Known as sati-sampajanna, mindfulness and clear comprehension (knowing). Where one is aware of what one is doing, the body, what sensations are present, how one feels, anchored in the inner experience of the body. But also aware of what is happening around one in the present moment with one's peripheral awareness.

We have two brain hemispheres. One hemisphere likes to focus on something in detail, and the other hemisphere is more holistic and provides context to the detail, it looks at the bigger picture, and what is happening in the background. It probably evolved this way, so that one didn't get eaten by a predator whilst focused on a task such as gathering food. One side of the brain is focused on the food, and the other side of the brain is watching for danger. Like a deer eating grass.

One can find a refuge in this mindfulness during the day, and even go into a light state of absorption and flow with it. It can be helpful to notice and play around with these two different kinds of awareness. Tweaking them so that they have a good balance that feels pleasant to work with.

There can sometimes be resistance in the mind to meditate. Some part of the mind may even try to convince you that you don't deserve to feel serenity or joy. It will insist on going over your faults and past mistakes, make you feel worthless and ashamed. Don't let that bossy part of the mind bully you. You don't have to keep listening to that voice. You are allowed to ignore the inner critic. After all it is you!

The less attention you pay to that voice the weaker it gets.

There is something called a healthy sense of shame though, that one can use as a tool to help dismiss negative thoughts if they arise, and not hold onto them. Such as imagining what a person you respect and admire might think if they saw you in an unwholesome state of mind. That can help generate the desire to abandon it and generate something more wholesome instead. No need to judge and punish yourself for having those thoughts though, that's overly excessive. Once the healthy sense of shame has done its work, stop, put the tool down and focus on the good stuff.

If you get caught up in that quagmire of negativity. And if it is strongly present in the mind, and hard to ignore. Try to bring yourself out of it gradually in stages. But don't spend too long doing it, don't engage in lengthy debates with the hindrances. Don't spend any longer dealing with them than you need to. It is like putting out the trash, you don't want to hold onto the trash for any longer than necessary, just get it done with so you can get back to the good stuff, back to the peace and serenity, to the love.

Love and serenity makes everyone feel better, it heals the world. It is actually the best thing you can do to help yourself and others. It is easier to deal with the world in a serene state of consciousness, as things won't seem so overwhelming. It is hard to deal with anything when in a negative state of mind. So it is a good thing to take some time out and retreat from the world to meditate, it isn't selfish.

In fact I am starting to think that meditation is the key to going beyond the first stage of enlightenment. Apparently people can get stuck at the first stage of enlightenment for a long time, as long as seven more lifetimes.

I think this is because the next fetters to go are greed and aversion. And these are hard to let go of. The second stage of enlightenment is all about weakening those. Greed in particular is very hard to overcome, but it is a lesser stain on the personality than aversion is.

Greed here refers not just to the extreme of billionaires, but also its milder forms, such as eating more than one intended to, craving for entertainment, sex, intoxicants, fame, fortune, luxuries and so on. The attachment to worldy-pleasures is hard to let go of, and doesn't go completely till one reaches the third stage of enlightenment. The mind won't want to let go of wordly pleasure unless it has something better to take its place. When the mind finds something better then it naturally lets go. And when greed goes, so does aversion. Greed and aversion are interlinked, they both feed into one another. They are like two dogs, one barks and it sets the other one off. There is always going to be aversion present when there is longing. Such as impatience and irritability when there are delays in getting what one wants. 

I think what weakens greed and aversion is the practise of meditation, and the development of samhadi. When meditation becomes pleasurable, enjoyable and a richer experience than anything the world can offer. The two fetters of greed and aversion will get weaker, and keep getting weaker until eventually they fall away altogether. I think the second stage of enlightenment is all about mastering samhadi.

Once one reaches the third stage of enlightenment there is no going back to greed or aversion ever again, those two fetters are gone for good and they will never arise again. At the third stage one then works to lose attachment to the bliss of samhadi, which paradoxically is needed to reach this stage. So one should not be afraid of becoming attached to the pleasure of deep meditation in earlier stages, thinking they should avoid that fetter. It is a golden chain, but a necessary one, as one cannot completely overcome greed and aversion without it. The Buddha said it was a pleasure not to be feared.

If one dies whilst at this stage, in the next life they will be reborn in the higher heavens and gain full enlightenment there, and are never again born into this world. They live extremely long lives and many of them become protectors of Buddhism, like celestial Buddhas. They are very powerful beings, and are able to visit any of the lower worlds at will and can take on many different forms. Many are compassionate beings and help those in the lower worlds who are on the path to enlightenment, including the Buddha himself on his journey. It was a deva that had reached the third stage of enlightenment under a previous Buddha who appeared before Gotama Buddha after his enlightenment to encourage him to teach the dhamma out of compassion for the world.

I think these devas/spirits work in very subtle ways though, one may not even realise they are being helped by them. They don't directly interfere, and cannot make anyone become enlightened; but they can leave subtle hints, and gently guide one's intuition, set up helpful encounters, to steer us in the right direction. And if one looks back on one's life, there are moments that are hard to explain, and one wonders if a deva perhaps helped in some way. Who knows, I like to think so.

To reach the fourth and final stage of enlightenment, the attachment to blissful states of meditation is let go of, when one sees that these states are also subject to change, do not last, and are not self, the last remnants of the conceit I am disappears. The idea of a separate self is seen through completely, and when that happens the restless involuntary movements of the mind stop altogether and they never arise again, and there is perfect peace.

The very last fetter to go is ignorance, (or delusion). When one fully realises delusion, one becomes the one who knows, no part of the mind is hidden then. One is lucid and serene, completely free from suffering, dwelling in a state of lasting emotional well-being. They still partake in the pleasure of meditation though, as often as they wish to, whenever they wish to, as it is one of the fruits of the path, one of the seven factors of enlightenment, and available to them any time they want, the Buddha continued to practise meditation and samhadi throughout his life.

A fully enlightened being also naturally shines with love and compassion for all beings. And although not everyone is able to teach, those that can teach, and have capacity for it, in the spirit of the Buddha, do teach others and it is not a chore for them to do so, it is a joy. An unharrassed mind naturally feels empathy and compassion for other beings. It is a sorrowless empathy, one that shows love to those that are suffering, but does not suffer with them. The peace of a fully enlightened being is undisturbed by anything that happens in the world. They do not cling to anything in the world. This doesn't mean they won't do things to help the world out of compassion for others, just they are not attached to outcomes, and do not suffer when things don't go to plan.

Knowing about the four stages of enlightenment can be a helpful guide to where one is at, and what work needs to be done to develop further on the path. One can look at the mind and see which fetters are still present, and what one needs to do to progress.



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Travelling through the darkness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 21 Apr 2023, 17:35

The darkness has lifted a bit today. I've been through quite a few 'dark nights' lately, they are not at all pleasant, but I seem to be getting a bit better at managing them now. The 'dark night of the soul' is apparently a common occurrence with spiritual practice, especially in the modern age.

The advice given to me by a good teacher (which works for me). Is to avoid thinking during the dark night. Don't pay attention to thoughts, disengage from them. Get away from words and language. The dark night is not something you can think your way out of. It is a time to practise stillness and samhadi. This stillness can be a refuge for the mind during dark times, and also if one enters samhadi it acts as protection against Mara.

I like the simile of the dark night being a bit like withdrawing into the inner cave. Going back into the womb, or entering a cocoon. One is going through a process of metamorphosis, of becoming, rebirth, and transformation.

The mind is changing at a deep level, and it can feel uncomfortable and unsettling. It is a process that for some of us needs to be endured. The deeper mind is rewiring itself with important new information it has learned, and the process can't be hurried. The length of time this can take is different for each of us. So one has to be patient.

At this stage in the spiritual journey the mind doesn't need to think or reflect on anything. It's best to keep thoughts herded in and centred with a meditation object. The breath is a good choice as it doesn't need words to pay attention to it. Experience the sense of the body from within. Whatever that subjective experience is for you. For me it feels like an inner ocean contained within a bag of skin, bones a coral reef, the breath like waves. The sea growing calmer as the mind gets stiller. Till the breath seems to stop altogether.

Any thoughts not to do with the meditation object should be brushed aside like useless rubbish, don't get involved with them, no matter how persuasive they seem to be. Stay centred with the body and the breath.

This is a process of purification. Not an intellectual matter.

I like the Buddha's simile of a broken gong that doesn't ring when struck. Sense impressions, thoughts and feelings hit the sense bases, but they don't reverberate in the mind. Everything stops at the point of sense contact before it becomes a story.

It may take multiple sittings to get some serenity and composure back. Don't be discouraged by this. After each sitting notice if the mind at least feels a bit better than it did before, if it does then feel encouraged that you are on the right track and are making progress. Keep the momentum going. It will grow stronger.

Eventually, when it is finished, the mind will emerge from the cocoon and will feel freer than it did before, and the skills one has been developing will seem sharper. Things that confused one will make more sense. And one becomes more aware of the inner workings of the mind; as some of what was previously hidden will now be illuminated. 

...

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The four trainings of mindfulness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 25 Mar 2023, 17:53


'
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

  • Awareness of the four postures: walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.
    ..
  • Mindfulness of breathing. (anapana-sati)
    ..
  • Sati-sampajanna. Awareness of the present moment. Knowing where one is. What one is doing. One's behaviour, of that which is appropriate, that which is non-delusion.
    ..
  • Reflection on the 32 parts of the body:
    Head hair, Body hair, Nails, Teeth, Skin
    Flesh, Sinews, Bones, Bone Marrow, Kidneys
    Heart, Liver, Diaphragm, Spleen, Lungs
    Large Intestines, Small Intestines, Stomach, Faeces, Brain
    Bile, Phlegm, Pus, Blood, Sweat, Fat
    Tears, Grease, Saliva, Mucus, Oil of the Joints, Urine
    ..
  • Analysis of the four elements: earth, water, fire, air. (Both within the body and outside the body.)
    ..
  • The cemetery contemplations and marana-sati (mindfulness of death).

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.


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Samatha and vipassana

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 22 Mar 2023, 14:54

Learning that meditation is a mix of samhadi and insight, they are not really separate practises, but part of the same practise. Two sides of the same coin. A lucid serenity.

Sometimes the mind is in the deep stillness and peace of samhadi, and sometimes it is investigating, learning, knowing, clearly-seeing, comprehending. They work together to purify the mind. 

I remember hearing in a dhamma talk that the Buddha said samatha (serenity) and vipassana (clear-seeing) are the two trusted messengers to admit into the city of consciousness. But there are also five trouble-makers to keep out of the city. These are: greed, ill-will, stagnation, agitation, and doubt. If those get into consciousness, it will become disturbed.

So one keeps out the five hindrances. And welcomes in the two trusted messengers.

Who is the guard at the gate? It is mindfulness.

I heard in another dhamma talk that a fully enlightened being may still experience longing and aversion in the mind, but the difference between them and someone who isn't enlightened, is that although greed and anger may occasionally arise for them, there is nowhere in the mind for it to land and take root. So nothing becomes of it.

There are sensations: sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch, ideas and thoughts. And they feel either pleasant or unpleasant. We like the pleasant feelings, and dislike the unpleasant ones. This leads to craving for more of what we like and less of what we dislike. But if we can let go of it before it becomes the stories we tell ourselves about this and that. Before we identify with it and cling to it, before it becomes a sankhara. Perhaps that is the non-grasping or non-clinging part. 

Eventually the art of non-clinging or letting go gathers a momentum of its own, becomes a powerful sankhara, continually weakening the hold of the defilements: greed, hate, and delusion on the mind. Till eventually the fetters are broken for good, and then there is cessation, freedom from suffering.






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Meditation is a noble act

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 13 Mar 2023, 21:19

Meditation is not a waste of time. It is a wise use of one's time. It is the highest form of spiritual practice, and it fulfils the noble eightfold path. When one is meditating, one is not causing harm to others. One is cultivating the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, and right samhadi. Meditation trains one to seclude the mind from the five hindrances, and bring into being the seven factors of awakening.

Meditation purifies the mind, and the heart. It burns away the defilements, weakens the chains that bind us to the realm of Mara. Eventually, it breaks those chains altogether. Leading to lasting inner peace and freedom that can't be taken away by anyone or anything. It takes you to a place where Mara can no longer find you. Bringing a deep contentment and joy that does not rely on the world or others to sustain it.

I know in the world, there is darkness just now, and much need. It can feel heavy and oppressive at times. I keep thinking what can I do to help? I don't have any money, I struggle with health problems, I am unable to volunteer or be an activist. I am also not smart enough to think up solutions that could solve the world's many different problems. I don't have the gift of the gab either. I am a pretty useless human really. At least according to the inner critic (Mara), who often gives me a hard time about this, especially when I am about to meditate.

But Mara is wrong, I see this clearly now.

After much thinking and pondering, I realise the best help I can be to others is to meditate, is to become an enlightened being here and now, in this age, in this time. I should make good use of this opportunity to meditate, and not waste it. Work to remove the defilements of greed, hate, and delusion, so that they never again take root in this mind. Then I will see clearly and be of greater service to the earth and to others. Perhaps just my presence will be enough to show that enlightenment is real, and that it is possible in this age, in this time. Perhaps I can be a light in that way, maybe bring hope to others; because if a useless dork like me can get enlightened, then anyone with enough determination and inclination can do it.

I also don't need society or anyone's permission or approval to become enlightened. It is up to me, not anyone else. I am allowed to become an enlightened being if I want. What others think is their business, and what I think is mine.

It doesn't matter who you are. Rich or poor. Good or evil. There are people who did really bad things in the Buddhist scriptures, but they still got enlightened, they made amends by fulfilling the noble eightfold path, and broke free of Mara and Samsara.

It is not up to others to decide whether you can be an enlightened being or not. Whether you are worthy or not. It is up to you. You are the one who makes that choice, who puts in the causes and conditions, who makes effort. However long it takes, keep going. What you practise now builds up momentum, and is who you will become in the future.

Those who purify their minds are doing the Earth a great service. It is a noble thing to do. So never feel inadequate and guilty for sitting in meditation and training the mind. It is a noble quest that few take up in this world. And it leads to the greatest karma and freedom of all. The more beings that choose to take this noble journey within, the more things will change for the better. When we change ourselves, we change the world around us.

One should never underestimate the power and great merit that comes from the practise of right meditation.


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A.I. Writing and Enlightenment

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 1 Mar 2023, 10:30


I don't use A.I. to write for me. I prefer my own style of writing, and doing things my way even if it isn't as tidy as a machine. I also don't feel comfortable with the idea of a machine doing my writing for me, it feels like an empty experience to do it that way. Also the way a machine writes is just not the same as a human, there's something missing. After many conversations with A.I. I am starting to be able to spot machine-generated writing on the Internet. But I am not judging anyone who does use it for writing, what people do is their business, their karma, I am not responsible for the actions of others. Although I will say using A.I. to cheat for assignments, is a poor use of A.I. because as much as anything the person who does cheat is actually cheating themselves in the end; they are not properly learning and absorbing the knowledge if they don't articulate a concept by putting it in their own words.

So I prefer to do my writing, my way, on my own without A.I. But I have found A.I. very helpful for providing writing prompts and useful questions that get me thinking about connections between topics I hadn't thought about before, as well as for discussing ideas, brainstorming, helping with research and planning. Seeing  different angles and ways of looking at things I wouldn't have seen by myself. A.I. is helpful as a collaborator, but I won't be using it to write or paint. I prefer to do this alone.

I was brainstorming an idea for an app with Bing yesterday, and I had a go at following the instructions Bing recommended, but not sure I can implement it because I found the tool it recommended for building the app tiring and frustrating to use. I gave up trying to build anything with it in the end. So have decided I am going to learn about design as part of this degree, because I keep coming across badly designed websites and apps that I just can't use. It seems some developers forget how important design is.

I am meditating less at the moment, mainly because I am back into the swing of studying again, but I do make myself sit at least once a day. I reflect on the four noble truths often, and study dhamma when I can. But I am not sure I will make it to full enlightenment in this lifetime, as that would involve becoming a Buddhist monk I think, and when I look at the lifestyle of a monk it just doesn't appeal to me anymore. It did at one time, but now I want to remain as a lay follower. Mainly because the world feels very dark at the moment and I think I can be more help to it as a Buddhist lay follower. There are advantages and disadvantages to both lay and monastic life.

Don't get me wrong, I think the monastics are great, and we need monks and nuns. I have learnt a lot from them and hold them in the highest regard. I have some friends who are monks and nuns, and I respect and admire them, but I don't think I could live like that. It would be too difficult for me, especially with all the rules, and lack of sleep, and the energy needed to live that lifestyle and look after a monastery and other tasks they do, the fatigue I suffer would just make it unbearable. I am just not energetic enough to be a monastic.

I don't have to be a monastic though. One can get all the way to the third stage of enlightenment as a lay follower. The third stage of enlightenment is a very advanced state. It is when greed and aversion have been completely removed from the mind, and will never return or take root there again - but delusion still remains. This delusion is often labelled as the fetter of conceit, which doesn't mean arrogance or pride, it means the conceit: I am. Because there's still a trace of self there, like an after-taste, which brings with it a restlessness in the mind, not the intense restlessness of worldly anxiety or agitation, more a subtle movement of the mind still caught up with the craving for becoming and existence, although it is a refined unworldly state of existence that one craves for. Not the same kind of restless craving as someone worldly who is not enlightened.

The conceit I am does not fully go away until the final stage of enlightenment: arahant. To reach that stage, the Buddhist texts seem to suggest that one has to leave household life, and either become a monk or a reclusive hermit. There's pros and cons to both ways of living. But there are strong advantages to being part of a monastic community and the support that one gets there, which one wouldn't have as a hermit.

The third stage of enlightenment is considered very advanced. And if one reaches it in this lifetime, one will be reborn in the higher heavens in the next life and become a fully enlightened being there, like a celestial Buddha/arahant. These beings live very long lives, some as long as several universes arising and passing away, and they never again return to this world, which is why they are called non-returners (anagami).



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The sublime abidings

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 15 Feb 2023, 14:52

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).
Upekkha (equanimity).

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.

 

 

 


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Don't look back in anger

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 12 Feb 2023, 21:27

Today I got angry when a memory was aroused and I paid unwise attention to it. I caught myself being judgemental, and it was an unpleasant mood, vile like poison, and I got sick with it, it took over, overrun the city of consciousness and the mind became unhappy and restless. A metaphor from the bible came to mind, about Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt for looking back at the cities of sodom and Gomorrah.

I reflect on how unskilful anger can be and how it leads to regret afterwards. No matter how justified I think it is at the time, thoughts of anger always lead to regret. And I think to myself why get angry in the first place when you know you will regret it later? And I noticed how bossy and cruel the mind can be at times, it encourages me to become angry about something; and then punishes me afterwards for not being a better Buddhist.

What an absolute arse the mind can be. The inner critic. The inner tyrant.

Then I realised ha! This is aversion in another hat. Trying to disguise its presence and sneak past the guard at the gate with the jedi mind-trick of self-judgement.

I paused and experienced the unpleasantness of aversion, really felt it, took time to know it. Thought, this is anger, this is resentment, this is how it feels, it is like a sickness, an affliction, it is a poison, toxic - this is suffering.

Then I became aware of how craving in its three forms was also present in the mind, The craving to acquire something, the craving to change feelings one doesn't like, and the craving for becoming (self-centredness). I keep finding whenever there is suffering, without fail, these three are also present. Greed, hatred, and delusion; or longing, aversion, and ignorance, is another way of describing them.

In dependent origination, craving leads to attachment, to clinging, clinging is basically identifying with things, and this leads to becoming. Which is where the idea of letting go comes from. Letting go of the clinging. It sounds simple, and sometimes letting go can feel almost effortless, but other times it can be hard to let go, it involves a bit of work, and right effort is needed to detach oneself. Sometimes I find I am too absorbed in my thoughts to be able to let go of what I am thinking about. It is hard to just suddenly become detached from it. My awareness has become too contracted and uncomfortable, tense, boxed in, like a prison.

One strategy the Buddha suggests when one is absorbed in difficult thoughts, is to bring oneself out of it gradually. He uses this metaphor which is a bit like a cartoon. A man is running, and says to himself, why am I running when I could be walking? So he stops running and walks. Then he says to himself, why am I walking when I could be standing? So he stands. Then he says, why am I standing when I could be sitting? So he sits down, and then says to himself why am I sitting when I could be lying down?

When the mind is running full pelt with a wild and difficult mood you can't just snap yourself out of it, if you try to, it will just run over you. It has to be slowed down gradually and skillfully. When we are boxed in our thoughts, and absorbed in whatever it is we are thinking about, we are not seeing the whole picture, not seeing things clearly. Awareness when it is contracted and shut in is ignorant of what is really going on, it becomes error prone and delusional.

One thing that helps me, is to let the thoughts just be, don't argue with them, don't try to fight them or replace them. Just focus on the fact I am thinking those thoughts, and notice how I am also paying attention to them. I then open up and expand awareness gradually, to bring some space and help draw attention away from the thoughts. Sometimes background sounds help bring some spaciousness to the mind, and other times the feeling of the body works. Such as the lower belly, the feet and legs, the hands. There is something earthy about it, that helps to ground me. Centre me. The body doesn't think, it just feels. And those parts of the body often feel far enough away from the thought processes to be a more tranquil place to move my attention. Enough to hush the thinking down a bit, then I will expand awareness a bit more, feel the whole belly, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, face, head, scalp. The inside of the body and the outside of it. I do this as well as I can, I am not trying to experience every single sensation in the body, just enough to help settle the mind and engage attention with something more peaceful and calming.

I remember something I read about how the iron in our bodies makes the red blood cells that carry the oxygen to our cells. How this iron comes from the Earth, comes from the ground below us. It is a nice way to remember how intimately connected we are with mother Earth. She flows in our very blood, is in every heartbeat.

Iron also is made by stars, it comes from an exploded sun. We are all stardust. We are all connected to the universe, not separate from it.

As the body grows more still and composed. I become aware of the air element around me, and then I notice the breath. Feel the cool air in the nostrils and it helps to cool down the thought processes, chill things out.

The body starts to feel pleasant and I notice how comfortable my legs feel, and how snug my hands are. The air feels cool and refreshing on the scalp, the face and neck, the touch of clothing is pleasant. I feel the breath energy inside the body. The inner winds. The whole body breathing together as one, each inhalation and exhalation massaging the peace and happiness throughout the whole of my being.

The anger subsides and I notice how I am now feeling happier and more peaceful. More content. I notice how much nicer the mind feels when aversion is absent. How good it feels when the mind isn't angry, isn't harrassing itself anymore, isn't longing for anything, isn't identifying with things or taking things personally. I feel relief and gladness that the mood has passed and there is even some joy arising.

I contemplate cessation, the third noble truth, knowledge of the end of suffering. Then reflect on the fourth noble truth, on how the different factors of the noble eightfold path work together in harmony to bring about that cessation.

What a wonderful memory device the four noble truths are, within that succinct teaching there is so much to work with and practise with in both meditation and daily life.

1. Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood).

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

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

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

 

 

 


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Shephard of thoughts

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 3 Feb 2023, 14:42

I am learning how to notice my moods better, and if my state of mind is unwholesome, I will look at what my thoughts are doing. And like a shepherd guarding his sheep, I try to steer them back in the right direction, towards the wholesome. Towards non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion.

I use the word 'non' because there are many wholesome mind states that are not greed, hate, or delusion.  And it is helpful to have many wholesome states to choose from. It can be tiring to feel kind, loving, or joyful all the time, and that's alright, because there are other wholesome states one can cultivate and use instead. It is good to have a wide palette to choose from and experiment with.

If my thoughts have strayed into the territory of greed, hate, and delusion, depending on the mood I am in, steering them away from those fields, can be as simple as interrupting the herd of thoughts with a gentle nudge, whereupon they will immediately stop what they are doing and happily go back in the right direction.

Other times it can involve the need to talk the thoughts into wanting to go back in the right direction, which means learning ways of talking to myself that helps to change the state of mind I am in, this sometimes results in me giving myself a dhamma talk, or writing an article like this. Or if I am not feeling I can do anything like that, I will use the voice of another, ( i.e. listen to a dhamma talk, a podcast, read an article or book) and use their voice to talk me into a better state of mind. 

But there are times when my thoughts can be racing and chaotic. And then it is like trying to shepherd a stampeding herd of buffalo. On those occasions I will practise something I dub the megaphone technique.

Named after scenes in movies where there's a crowd of people all talking loudly and at once. Perhaps they are excited about something, or argueing over this and that, perhaps they're panicking. Someone then walks into the middle of the group with a megaphone and makes it squeek loudly and everyone suddenly stops talking and turns to face the person with the megaphone.

My megaphone is to attempt to become aware of all the bodily sensations happening at once in the present moment, and flood the mind with these sense impressions, and keep bringing my attention back to this experience, so that I am constantly interrupting the thought processes with this sensory overload. It can work, and help bring some relief and composure back to the mind.

There are other megaphones that also work, some are gentle, such as surrounding myself with the colour red, yellow, or blue, like an aura. Some soothing like paying attention to the air element, or water element, the solidity of earth, the warmth and energy of the body, or just being aware of my feet, hands, or any part of the body that feels better than being in the head. 

It's basically just something to distract the mind and help it settle into a more tranquil state and regain some composure. Tranquility is a wholesome state of mind. One can be creative with this. These examples are just things that work for me, everyone should experiment and find what helps them. It is our subjective experience that matters here, forget about trying to make it fit in with any scientific theory, this exercise isn't about that. It is about taking what comes naturally to us, and making it into something supernatural.

Sometimes the thoughts don't respond well to anything, so I will let them continue in the background, but choose not to let them bother me, I become unattached to them. I choose not to judge them, not to follow them or identify with them. Just let them be, like background noise, and choose to place my attention on something else that is happening in awareness, something in the present moment that helps bring some peace and composure back to the mind, and then I can focus on a task at hand better without feeling harrassed by the thought processes.

The ability to choose where we place our attention is something we can all learn. And it is an aspect of the mind we can have some control over. It is also useful to learn how to tune the energy of attention so it is neither too forceful, nor too lax. Like cupping a little bird in your hand, if you cup it too tightly it will hurt the bird; but if you cup it too loosely it will fly away. How do you make attention comfortable and stable. How do you get into a flow? How do you keep the mind interested in something so that attention wants to stay there willingly and not want to be anywhere else? That's the questions we have to ask ourselves if we want to train the mind. 

It is challenging, so remember to cut yourself some slack. Try not to compare yourself with others, be okay with where you're at in your practise. Don't judge others or yourself when failure happens, which it will. And if another judges you, just remember that other people's practise is their practise. Some people have been at this a while and are advanced. Others are just starting out. We are all at different levels, and that's okay, let others be where they're at, and concentrate on your own practice. Go at your own pace. Be comfortable with where you're at. That is where you come from and meet the world. Development is a gradual process, and that's okay, it isn't a race, nobody gets extra brownie points for getting there before anyone else, the prize at the end, nibanna, is exactly the same experience for everyone. If you persevere in a way that doesn't stress or break the mind, you will get there, in your own time, in a way that works for you. It is important not to strain the mind, to take care of it, rest it, nurture it, to be gentle, be kind to it, a friend, it is not your enemy, it is where you live. If you are making progress you are making progress. Whether that progress is fast or slow doesn't matter. Enlightenment is not a race or a competition. It is a gift that you give to yourself, and noone else can give it to you. Others can guide you, share their wisdom, but the onus is on you to do the work, noone else can.

 


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The subjective experience

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 1 Feb 2023, 12:17

Seem to be getting back into writing again, not really feeling the painting at the moment.

I think I have some deva (spirit) friends who hang around with me which is comforting. I can't see them, although there have been times in deep states of meditation where I have seen them in my mind's eye. I tend to sense their presence, and feel their energy around me, and sometimes within me. Some are people I have known in this life who have passed away now. One is my Gran who I was very strongly bonded to as a child. She is a being of light now, like an angel. In her human life she was very kind to animals and to me. A person who was very in sync with nature, which led to her generating good kamma and she was reborn as a deva. She regularly comes to encourage me when I feel stressed and alone.

There are other spirits too, and they often reassure me when I feel weak and afraid. They fill me with peaceful fearless energy, and they tell me all sorts of things. Such as where a being who has recently died has gone. And how I can best help others who are suffering. They teach me about meditation and how to manage my failures. They recently said to me very clearly not to worry about money or finances when I became very stressed about the cost of living and the possibility of future poverty. They said they would take care of me and ensure I always got what I needed to survive if things got desperate. I often feel their gentle encouragement to keep practising the noble eightfold path and develop meditation further, to develop wisdom and emancipate the heart, so I can be a light in this world.

I have helped some spirits too. One's who experienced something tragic when they died, or ended up in darkness and became suffering angry ghosts. Upon encountering them, I felt compassion and I offered to share the merit of my spiritual practise with them, and it worked! It did help them find the light again and they sometimes come to visit me and support me with their jovial good energy, especially when I feel downhearted, or unwell.

There are beings who were wild animals in this life who I helped and prayed over when they were dying who are devas now, and I feel happy for them and glad they are doing well. 

The devas sometimes reveal things to me I can't know with my limited human senses which has been helpful in my practise. I doubt I would have got this far without their help, and I am really grateful for their support. It makes me realise that the sangha is truly great, composed of many different kinds of beings, and taking refuge in the sangha goes beyond just the human realm.

None of us are ever really alone, there are beings of all kinds around us (-:

This may sound crazy to those who hold the annihilist view that there is no existence beyond death of the physical body, but my experience is different. I have no way of proving that spirits exist, nor do I want to. But I have a strong conviction that reincarnation and rebirth is real. And the seeds of karma, the mental tendencies we nurture in this life are what we carry over into the next and they will sprout and grow into a new being.

This may well be my subjective experience. But it is our subjective experience that matters, as that is where we live. We do not live in the objective experience. For example if you are trying to lose weight and you step on the scales, some days you may feel lighter like you have lost weight, even if the scales, (the objectice experience,) tell you your weight is the same. The subjective experience is different, and it is this subjective experience that feels real, as that is where we live, that is where we come from.

There are a lot of stories in the Buddhist suttas about psychic powers and miracles performed by the Buddha and his disciples. Such as flying through the air and teleportation. And there are two ways one can look at these, and both ways of looking at it are correct. The first is that these miracles really did happen, and after experiencing some profound states of mind, I now believe such things are possible. The other way of looking at them is they are describing the subjective experience of being enlightened. The sense of freedom from suffering can make you feel like you are flying through the air, even though objective reality is telling you your feet are on the ground. Time also feels different for an enlightened being, so the subjective experience of moving from A to B may feel like hardly any time has passed at all, as if you have stretched out your hand and instantly gone from one geographical location to another. That is how the passage of time can feel subjectively for an enlightened being.

Another example, is sometimes after practising loving-kindness meditation (metta) it can feel like everyone and everything is my friend, even inanimate objects feel friendly and warm towards me. And when I stand next to the sea, it feels like it is happy to see me, each wave coming towards me like a friendly greeting. That is my subjective experience and there is nothing wrong with this, it can be a very beneficial and heart opening experience.

Part of right Samhadi, the eighth factor of the noble eightfold path is about playing around with our subjective experience of reality, and making it into something beautiful. We all have these beautiful spaces within us that can enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. But some of the circuits that activate these spaces are located deep within the mind, and meditation can teach one how to connect with and activate them. How to become still enough to reach the divine states of consciousness.

We modern humans spend a lot of time stuck in the pre-frontal cortex, it is a useful and important part of the brain, but it is only a small part of it. And it can feel unpleasant and limiting being stuck there all the time. This is why I think humans enjoy intoxicants so much. Intoxicants relax the executive functioning and inhibitions, and allow us to go beyond the boundaries of the prefrontal cortex and connect with the rest of the mind. This can bring a sense of relief and freedom. And it can feel very rewarding and enriching to connect with the deeper parts of the mind. It can refresh our view of things, help broaden our perspective, and see things differently, see everything in a new light, help with problem solving and creativity. The experience of connecting with the rest of the mind and body can bring a feeling of wholeness, of joy, of purpose, peace and oneness.

It is our subjective experience of reality that matters, it is how we feel that is important. If you feel like you are walking on air then you are (-: 

In Buddhism the question is how do I feel? Am I suffering or not? The goal of the Buddhist path is to realise the end of suffering, and this is a subjective experience. The objective experience is not important, it is how you feel within that matters. If you feel lost then you are lost. If you feel free, then you are free. The way to tell if you are making progress in Buddhism is to notice whether the practise is bringing a decrease in suffering. If it is then you are on the right track (-:


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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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