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Five strategies for mastering the pathways of thought

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 9 Aug 2023, 17:22


' Just as a skilled physician has different medicines for different ailments, so the Buddha has different antidotes for the different hindrances, some equally applicable to all, some geared to a particular hindrance.

(N.b. The five hindrances are: 1. craving, 2. ill will, 3. dullness and drowsiness, 4. restlessness and worry/remorse, 5. doubt.)

In an important discourse the Buddha explains five techniques for expelling distracting thoughts.

1. The first is to expel the defiled thought with a wholesome thought which is its exact opposite, analogous to the way a carpenter might use a new peg to drive out an old one. For each of the five hindrances there is a specific remedy, a line of meditation designed expressly to deflate it and destroy it. This remedy can be applied intermittently, when a hindrance springs up and disrupts meditation on the primary subject; or it can be taken as a primary subject itself, used to counter a defilement repeatedly seen to be a persistent obstacle to one’s practice.

For craving a remedy of general application is the meditation on impermanence, which knocks away the underlying prop of clinging, the implicit assumption that the objects clung to are stable and durable.

For craving in the specific form of sensual lust the most potent antidote is the contemplation of the unattractive nature of the body.

Ill will meets its proper remedy in the meditation on loving-kindness (metta), which banishes all traces of hatred and anger through the methodical radiation of the altruistic wish that all beings be well and happy.

The dispelling of dullness and drowsiness calls for a special effort to arouse energy, for which several methods are suggested: the visualization of a brilliant ball of light, getting up and doing a period of brisk walking meditation, reflection on death, or simply making a firm determination to continue striving.

Restlessness and worry are most effectively countered by turning the mind to a simple object that tends to calm it down; the method usually recommended is mindfulness of breathing, attention to the in-and-out flow of the breath.

In the case of doubt the special remedy is investigation: to make inquiries, ask questions, and study the teachings until the obscure points become clear.

Whereas this first of the five methods for expelling the hindrances involves a one-to-one alignment between a hindrance and its remedy, the other four utilize general approaches.

2. The second marshals the forces of shame (hiri) and moral dread (ottappa) to abandon the unwanted thought: one reflects on the thought as vile and ignoble or considers its undesirable consequences until an inner revulsion sets in which drives the thought away.

3. The third method involves a deliberate diversion of attention. When an unwholesome thought arises and clamours to be noticed, instead of indulging it one simply shuts it out by redirecting one’s attention elsewhere, as if closing one’s eyes or looking away to avoid an unpleasant sight.

4. The fourth method uses the opposite approach. Instead of turning away from the unwanted thought, one confronts it directly as an object, scrutinizes its features, and investigates its source. When this is done the thought quiets down and eventually disappears. For an unwholesome thought is like a thief: it only creates trouble when its operation is concealed, but put under observation it becomes tame.

5. The fifth method, to be used only as a last resort, is suppression — vigorously restraining the unwholesome thought with the power of the will in the way a strong man might throw a weaker man to the ground and keep him pinned there with his weight.

By applying these five methods with skill and discretion, the Buddha says, one becomes a master of all the pathways of thought. One is no longer the subject of the mind but its master. Whatever thought one wants to think, that one will think. Whatever thought one does not want to think, that one will not think. Even if unwholesome thoughts occasionally arise, one can dispel them immediately, just as quickly as a red-hot pan will turn to steam a few chance drops of water. '

- by Bhikkhu Bodhi (from, The noble eightfold path: the way to the end of suffering ) available for free at: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html

'Herein the disciple rouses his will to overcome the evil, unwholesome states that have arisen and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives. He does not retain any thought of craving, ill will, or harmfulness, or any other evil and unwholesome states that may have arisen; he abandons them, dispels them, destroys them, causes them to disappear.' - The Buddha

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Asoka

The five hindrances in brief

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 7 Aug 2023, 15:17


'The obstructions to samhadi (meditative absorption) are usually presented in a five-fold stack called the 'five hindrances'. 

These are: Sensual desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt. 

They are called the hindrances because they block the path to liberation. They cloud the mind, preventing it being calm and developing insight. 

The first two hindrances, sensual desire and ill-will, are the strongest of the set, and are the most formidable barriers to meditative growth, representing respectively, the unwholesome roots of greed and aversion. The other three hindrances, less toxic but still obstructive, are offshoots of delusion.

Sensual desire is interpreted in two ways. Sometimes in the narrow sense as lust for the five strands of sense pleasure: agreeable sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches; and sometimes a broader interpretation is given, by which the term becomes inclusive of craving in all its modes, whether for sense pleasures, wealth, power, position, fame, or anything else it can settle upon. 

The second hindrance ill will, is a synonym for aversion. It comprises hatred, anger, resentment, repulsion of every shade, whether directed towards other people, towards oneself, towards objects, or towards situations.

The third hindrance, dullness and drowsiness, is a compound of two factors linked together by their common feature of mental unwieldiness. One is dullness, manifest as mental inertia; the other is drowsiness, seen as mental sinking, heaviness of mind, or excessive inclination to sleep. 

At the opposite extreme is the fourth hindrance, restlessness and worry. This also is a compound with its two members linked by their common feature of disquietude. Restlessness is agitation or excitement, which drives the mind from thought to thought with speed and frenzy; worry is remorse over past mistakes and anxiety about their possible undesired consequences.

The fifth hindrance, doubt, signifies a chronic indecisiveness and lack of resolution. This is not the probing of critical intelligence (i.e. critical thinking), which is an attitude that was encouraged by the Buddha, but a persistent inability to commit oneself to the course of spiritual training due to lingering doubts concerning the Buddha, his doctrine, and his path. '

From: 'The Noble Eightfold Path, the way to the end of suffering.' by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Available at: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html

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Asoka

Five and Seven

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 25 Aug 2023, 20:19


Craving
Ill-will
Sloth
Agitation
Doubt

These are the five hindrances. The enemies of rapture.
When these five are dissolved, there is an upwelling of relief. 
This relief produces joy and pleasure in the mind.

The Buddha then advises one to spread that joy and pleasure throughout the entire body. Till it is saturated with it.

But this is hard to do when the hindrances are present. So one needs the seven enlightenment factors: 

Mindfulness --> Investigation --> Energy (aka effort) --> Joy --> Calmness --> Samhadi --> Equanimity.

These seven are the nemesis of the five, working together to seclude the mind from their influence.

The five hindrances and the seven factors of enlightenment are mutually exclusive. 
Only one of them can occupy a single mind moment at a time. 

We don't actually multi-task, we just have very fast discrete moments of consciousness. 

Each mind moment is a bit like an old fashioned movie projector, that reads one slide at a time, but goes so fast as to seem like it is all happening at once. 

Each slide of the movie projecter is like a single mind moment. A mind state.

With perseverance and effort, one keeps bringing mindfulness back to the meditation object and sustaining attention to it. This recreates the same mind moments over and over. Which steadies the mind and creates a perception of stillness. This isolates consciousness from the five hindrances. Which brings relief from the emotional stress that comes from those states of mind. 

Joy is an important ally, it uplifts us. Joy brings good energy which can help stop one getting drowsy in meditation. 

We naturally generate joy when we become interested in something. When we find something interesting, we get absorbed in it. How does one generate interest in something as simple as the breath, so that the mind wants to stay with it contentedly and doesn't wander off anyplace else?

Joy naturally leads to serenity (calmness), which is still joy but a calmer more refined joy. The excitement has settled but everything still feels very pleasant. 

Samhadi is when the mind becomes unified, all of it gathered together, collected, composed, centred. It is whole-hearted. All of you is present. The mind is happy to be meditating, and doesn't want to be anywhere else. 

The unification of samhadi naturally leads to the different energies of the mind becoming balanced in a state of equanimity. Which is an exquisite expansive state of mind. A wonderful coolness, spaciousness, emptiness, freedom, clarity. It is not dull and unemotional, far from it, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful states of mind one can experience in this life. Hard to get to though, which is a shame, because it is so useful for us. It is the mind tuned into beautiful harmony, no longer clinging. Non-attachment feels like freedom.

This state of equanimity persists for a time after meditation. Whereupon one can direct the mind towards anything and the mind will see it all clearly. 

One simile the Buddha uses is of someone looking at their reflection in a pool of water. The water symbolises the mind. Desire is like dye on the water which distorts the reflection; ill-will is like boiling water; sloth is like stagnant water; restlessness is like water agitated by the wind; and doubt is like water that is clouded with mud making it hard to see anything. Each of these stop the person being able to see their face clearly in the water. When the five hindrances are no longer present, the water becomes clear and still, and then the person is able to see themselves clearly. 

One thing I have found helpful to do sometimes after meditation, or sometimes before is to listen to a dhamma talk.This can bring insight and also rouse up the desire to practise when the inclination isn't there.

Meditation for me is a mix of walking, sitting, standing, and lying down. It is good to remember that one can meditate in any of those four postures, because it can become uncomfortable to stay in the same posture for too long. Changing postures is helpful.


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Asoka

Watching ourselves and others

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 15 Apr 2023, 14:08


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Asoka

Stilling my way out of this

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 8 Mar 2023, 15:38

A lot of my problems seem to come from mental fabrications. I.e. too much thinking. 

I keep reminding myself of this when things get dark during the unpleasant process of purification. This is not an intellectual matter. I cannot think my way out of this. I still my way out of this. 

What's needed now is to stop paying attention to thoughts, to the mood, and practise single pointed attention on a meditation object instead. Not too tight a focus and not too loose, a gentle focus that can comfortably stay centred with the object of meditation without straining the mind.

At first one has to endure the taints, the greed, aversion, dullness, restlessness, scepticism (aka the five hindrances). Through it all, sit as upright and still as possible, like the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. Without judging anything that is happening, just mindful and bringing attention back to the meditation object and keeping it there, doing this over and over, calming the body, steadying the mind. 

I use different meditation objects at different times, sometimes its the breath, other times space, other times the body, the life energy (kundalini), the emotion of metta, the perception of light, warmth, cold, a primary colour, a sound, a mantra, one of the four primary elements, there's many different meditation objects, whatever meditation object feels like a good fit at the time and holds my interest. 

After a time, the composure deepens and the senses start to settle and calm down, the thoughts fade, dissolve,and the mind becomes more and more centred, more composed and unified around the meditation object, and then secluded from the five hindrances one drops into a pleasant serenity, and this connects one with a deeper part of being, a safe place below the surface level of thoughts. Like an inner refuge. 

 It involves patience at first. One has to endure the five hindrances, endure the taints, the impurities of the mind, the longing, aversion, and delusion, the crazy thoughts, let them be, and just sit as still as possible, anchoring attention with the meditation object. It can take more than one sitting sometimes before it reaches serenity. 

I did have a powerful meditation experience though which encouraged me to keep at this. Where I reached such a state of stillness and composure that afterwards the darkness was gone, and I was in a completely different mood, like I was glowing. It showed me that this is indeed the way out of the dark night. Stillness, samhadi and equanimity. 


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Asoka

Pearl of regret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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