Samhadi is difficult to practise but it is another helpful friend during dark nights, There are days I wake up feeling anxious and restless. I feel uncomfortable being around the energies of others, and metta (loving-kindness) practise feels harder to get into. It is an unpleasant edgy state of mind.
I find sometimes awareness of the breath and the body can be helpful then, using the breath energy to soften the tense areas throughout the body, becoming aware of the cool air going into my nostrils, feel it go right up to my third eye chakra, permeate my brain, cool down the thought processes, dissolve them into tranquility, and this can help bring a sense of relief, but it can be difficult to maintain.
It can be enough though, to help me pause and reflect for a moment: Why am I feeling anxious? Today I am feeling anxious because I have written a lot lately. My inner critic is giving me a hard time for sharing my writing with others. I reflect on what I have written. I do not feel I have written anything wrong or untrue. Then I sense the anxiety that others may not like it or approve of it. That's okay, they don't have to read what I write, I am not writing to please anyone, or proselytize. What other's think is up to them, I am not responsible for their thoughts, only my own. I like writing sometimes. Writing helps me to articulate my understanding of things, and it can be a useful tool.
Okay so why am I posting it online? It is true that it isn't going to be of interest to the vast majority of beings out there, it isn't what most people want to know about, which is fine; but if some of what I write helps me, then there's a chance that it might help someone else too. It may trigger thoughts in someone and lead them to draw conclusions of their own that might be helpful to them. Others may leave comments that are wise and wouldn't have occurred if I had not posted my writing; this can also be helpful, and add more to what was written.
I also could die at any moment, and it would be a shame to keep it all to myself. And although I have not yet realised a complete end to suffering in this lifetime, some of what I have learnt may help others either now, or perhaps one day in the future.
And after that thought, the inner critic relaxed and became silent and it was easier to meditate.
Samhadi is difficult to practise but it is another helpful friend during dark nights, There are days I wake up feeling anxious and restless. I feel uncomfortable being around the energies of others, and metta (loving-kindness) practise feels harder to get into. It is an unpleasant edgy state of mind.
I like the metaphor of the mind being like a garden.
In the beginning, gardening involves effort. One has to choose the seeds carefully, prepare the soil, ensure the conditions are right for those seeds. Plant them, water them, nuture the seedlings that sprout, protect them from predators, and keep the young plants safe until they are big and strong enough to take care of themselves. These are the seeds of non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion.
At the same time there are many dormant seeds in the soil from a previous garden, a previous existence. And when these sprout, these are the weeds that have to be removed from the garden; because if nothing is done about them, they will eventually take over, become difficult to manage, and create a canopy of leaves that shade the garden and starve the plants you are trying to cultivate of light, water and nutriment. These weeds are greed, hatred, and delusion. And they sprout from the seeds of longing, aversion, and ignorance.
In the beginning one has to put in the right causes and conditions for the garden to grow and flourish. This involves a sense of self, the ego. The ego is the gardener, and one uses that sense of self, that craving for becoming to do the gardening project.
If the work is not fully done in time for the ending of the seasons and the death of winter. Whatever seeds are in the soil at the end, will sprout to become the next garden, our new life in the Spring.
If we have cultivated non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion, even if a few seeds of greed, hate, and delusion remain and manage to sprout in the next garden. The weeding will be easier and less onerous than before; and the seeds of non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion will be present in the soil in larger quantities, and they will also sprout to greet us on the other side, and be hardier and easier to cultivate, much stronger and better at defending themselves and holding their own.
It can be a gradual process that may take many seasons. But eventually there will come a point when enough effort has been made. The garden has flowered and born fruit. and from that point the garden will be able to take care of itself; then the gardener will no longer be needed and the ego can step aside. Greed, hate, and delusion will never take root in the mind again. And what is left is peace and the end of suffering. Nibanna.
I quite like looking at it like that (-:
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.
There's a phenomenon where you might hear something on the radio or video, in a song, a podcast, in an article, perhaps in a conversation with someone. Where something that is said, a phrase, a word really sticks out for you, and seems to speak directly to you, as it resonates with what you are going through at that time, and it feels like it is a message for you specifically from the universe. And it is! Your mind is homing in on that because it is something you need to hear. It is one of the ways the deeper mind tries to help us, tries to communicate with us, by bringing something important to our attention that we are ignorant of, we are often so caught up in our heads we are not listening to the deeper mind. So it will sometimes do something like that, to stop us in our tracks, and bring us a eureka moment, an insight.
When I was practising meditating on the colour red, afterwards wherever I went I would notice the colour red pop out everywhere. It felt magical like I had a special connection with the colour red and it was protecting me. And it was protecting me, that was my subjective experience, as its presence helped me feel calmer, more alive and at ease wherever I went, so it was helping me. This also happened when practising the air kasina, I would notice even the slightest whisper of air in a room, and it would make my scalp and spine light up and tingle with excitement, filling me with a feeling of light. This was all my subjective experience, but it was helpful, it helped me feel better emotionally, and inside it felt more real than what was going on objectively. This is how the mind works, this is what magic is.
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 (-:
When the right causes and conditions arise a dormant karma seed (tendency) can be activated in the mind. Usually triggered through sensing something agreeable or disagreeable. Such as a sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, thought, idea, memory.
One feels like or dislike for what is sensed, and an identification with it. Followed by a grasping of that kammic seed, which leads to attachment. It is this attachment (clinging) that makes it grow, get stronger and in time bear fruit according to its kind, which will be either wholesome or unwholesome.
If one can become aware of these karmic seeds and discern whether a seed (tendency of the mind) is wholesome or unwholesome. One can choose with wisdom to not grasp the kammic seeds that lead to greed, hatred, and delusion. As those are the ones that cause suffering.
Craving is not something that can be suppressed though. It arises naturally from pleasant or unpleasant feelings, which in turn arise from sense impressions (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch, thoughts, memories and ideas).
But the grasping, the clinging is something we can interfere with, and it doesn't have to be done in a macho warrior way, it can be done in a gentle way. When craving arises in the mind, one doesn't have to fight it or judge it or try to make it stop. One can simply allow it to be there in awareness, give it space, let it be; but leave it alone, choose not to grasp or follow it, not to identify with it, not to add any more to it. Allow it to just simply arise, and then cease on its own.
This is where meditation practise is helpful. it is easier to do this whilst one is anchored with a meditation object such as the breath, the body, the elements: earth, water, fire, air, space, the four primary colours, or beautiful emotions like loving-kindness. There are a number of different meditation objects one can use to anchor attention and bring composure and stillness to the mind. Meditation trains the invaluable skill of serene undistractability, which leads to steady composure and equanimity, enabling one to be able to place attention where one wants to and keep it there contentedly. Centred like this, one can allow things to arise and cease in awareness without being pulled away or disturbed by them.
Starved of attention and without the grasping/clinging, the kammic seed won't be able to take root in the mind and will wither and die. Then one experiences cessation, non-attachment and all that is left is peace.
But not grasping is difficult to do. It happens so fast and we do it on autopilot, we don't even know we are doing it much of the time. We are ignorant of the process, and we have lifetimes of conditioning, of deeply ingrained habits and tendencies to contend with. This is where the noble eightfold path comes in, a gradual training, that teaches one the skillset and lucid serenity needed to become a master of not grasping (-:
Didn't want to get up today. Felt very fatigued. I lay there, persevering with the desire to make effort to move. Then remembered I had to be up in time for a video call with a friend, which helped me reach for that extra bit of energy tipping the balance in favour of wading through the waves of treacle-like resistance in the mind, to once again awaken to another day of life as a human being.
Made and drank some coffee.
Then sat and meditated for an hour, had a peaceful meditation, first time in a while where I was actually very content to just sit there and watch the breath without wanting to be any place else. Felt awareness naturally want to be centred there, and the composure and stillness grew into a peaceful happy sense of the inner body. The physical outer body like the walls of a cave, weathering the worldly winds and myriad sense impressions like rain on a rock shelter; but the inner body felt safe, warm, comfortable and at ease, like being in a bath of warm contented energy.
Knock on the door.
I reluctantly leave my inner cave.
And serenely collect the post.
Then make effort to generate the desire to eat. Some days it feels like a chore to eat food. I try to eat one meal a day, not for special religous reasons, but because I have noticed that eating just one meal a day (between 11am - 3pm) seems to be better for my health. I don't always succeed at this though.
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.
Mindfulness of the mind (citta-anupassanä)
The third foundation of right mindfulness is about being aware of our state of mind, our mood, emotions, attitude.
It is a wonder that the human mind is able to look at itself and know its state at all. That it is able to both observe itself and act at the same time. In Buddhism there are six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind. The sixth sense is called the mind sense because it is able to look at itself. The mind can be detached from the five senses of the body, but it cannot be detached from itself.
Consciousness happens in distinct and discrete moments, but happens so fast that it gives the impression those separate moments are happening at the same time. And perhaps what is happening when the mind is watching itself, is there is a discrete moment of consciousness, followed closely by another where the mind is noting that moment of consciousness, like the mind playing a game of tennis with itself.
These mind moments are always changing, and the feeling of there being a permanent observer watching the mind is just an illusion, the observer is not really there, it is just a transitory conscious moment in a sequence of discrete causal events. A stream of conscious moments with no substantial self behind it. Not me, not mine, not self.
Thankfully the Buddha keeps the task of watching the mind simple and advises us to keep track of just eight states of mind and their opposites. He teaches us to note whether the mind is:
- greedy or not,
- hateful or not,
- deluded or not,
- collected or scattered,
- developed or undeveloped,
- surpassable (easily overcome) or unsurpassable (invincible),
- in lucid stillness (samhadi) or not,
- liberated or not.
The Buddha purposely says greedy or not, hateful or not, deluded or not, because there are many wholesome emotional states that are not greedy, hateful, or deluded. So one can replace the word 'not' with any of those.
The Buddha advises one to note the manifestation, arising and passing away of these states of mind, as well as to contemplate these states of mind internally and externally. I think when he says internally and externally he means to contemplate and understand the state of mind of other beings as well as one's own.
However one should remember that just mere awareness and noting states of mind is not all there is to this practise. Noting can be helpful in the beginning to help one become aware of these states of mind and get skilled at spotting them quickly. But ultimately one is training to remove these negative states of mind altogether and bring into being wholesome ones to replace them, such as the seven factors of enlightenment which is covered in the fourth foundation of mindfulness.
Much of our suffering comes from these negative states of mind. In fact the cause of suffering is greed, hatred, and delusion. And the end of suffering, nibbana is when these three poisons have been permanently removed from the mind. When the mind is no longer harrassed by greed, hate, and delusion it is luminous and shines like the moon that comes out from behind the clouds.
To free the mind is no small task though. It is challenging, as these tendencies of the mind are strong, and they will resist your efforts to remove them, so one has to do this gradually and pace oneself. Avoid straining the mind by exerting too much effort, as this is counterproductive and will lead to more harm, more suffering. This path is not a quick fix, it takes time and patience, and perseverence. So be gentle with yourself, be compassionate and kind. There has to be some effort, else nothing will change, but too much effort will cause burnout and psychological distress. So one needs to tune the effort so it doesn't strain the mind nor make one lazy and unmotivated. Those negative states will keep coming back over and over, and often one's progress and development comes from making mistakes, from one's failures. So don't be hard on oneself for not being perfect and not knowing everything, just keep persevering and being patient. Learn from mistakes and try try try again. As one makes progress and gets more developed, one gets faster at removing and replacing these negative states, until it becomes like second nature, and then a new habit structure of the mind is formed and then one becomes unsurpassable.
The Buddha said that anger is a great stain on the personality but fairly easy to get rid of. Greed is a lesser stain on the personality and hard to get rid of. Delusion is both a great stain on the personality and very hard to get rid of.
Anger is painful, so it is easier to motivate oneself to get rid of anger, it is always accompanied by an unpleasant feeling. Anger can arise from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and ideas in the world around one. And the world can try to make one angry on purpose. It will say you should be angry about this, angry about that, why aren't you angry? If you are not then there must be something wrong with you. Everyone else is angry about it, you should be too. There can be pressure sometimes socially to be angry. But one does not have to follow the rest of the world. You do not have to reflect the world or other people's anger. The Buddhist path is all about how you feel, are you suffering or not? To feel anger and hatred is suffering. There's enough anger and hatred, enough suffering in the world, why add to it. One is actually doing a service to the world when in the midst of all the craziness, anger, and hatred, one remains serene, at ease, and filled with loving-kindness and compassion.
Greed is hard to remove and is also a bit trickier to spot as it is a mix of pain and pleasure. Greed here is a general term that also covers lust and craving for intoxicants.There is pain in wanting something and not getting it, but there is also gratification when one does get what one wants, even though that gratification is transient, it is still not easy to motivate the mind to get rid of greed. Again the world will be advertising, pushing the buttons of craving, telling you that you need this or that, that your life is not complete without something it is trying to sell you. But again one does not have to be greedy, does not have to want these things, can find contentment without them. Even if the rest of society thinks you are strange for not wanting those things. One has to look at the drawbacks of greed, how hard one has to work for worldly-pleasures, how expensive they are, how the material things you accumulate can be taken away from you by others, how they are impermanent, can break and don't last, how they do not lead to lasting happiness, how it all leads to misery in the end, all that is beloved and pleasing to us will become otherwise, one is fated to become separated from all one loves and holds dear. If one is serious about ending suffering, one has to decide: do you want money, sex, and intoxicants? Or do you want enlightenment?
Delusion is the root of both anger and greed. And delusion comes from ignorance. In Buddhism it is knowledge of the four noble truths and the deep understanding of them which brings wisdom and deliverance from ignorance.
Samhadi or lucid stillness, is a state of mind where greed, hatred, and delusion is temporarily suspended, it is not permanent and the negative mind states will return, but in samhadi one gets a taste of what the mind is like when it is not being harrassed by these psychic irritants. Right samhadi is a composed state of mind, serene, wholehearted, lucid and still. A mind collected and unified, the connection to big mind and divine consciousness, and the next factor of the noble eightfold path. Right mindfulness takes you to the doorstep of right samhadi and also stays throughout the experience of it.
I will stop here as I am feeling a bit tired and think perhaps I have written enough for a brief summary of what I am learning. Mindfulness of the mind should always be practised in the context of the noble eightfold path and not separate from it. All factors of the path must be practised together to reach the destination. If any of the factors are left out, the vehicle to nibanna won't work.
May you feel safe, well, happy, and peaceful.
Mindfulness of feelings
The second foundation in the four foundations of mindfulness is about sense impressions and the mental feeling of pleasure or displeasure that accompanies them. Sense impressions generate feelings, and feelings generate craving.
There are two ways to look at feelings. The first is to look at there being just two kinds of feelings: pleasant or unpleasant. The second way is to look at there being three kinds of feelings: pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. The Buddha said both ways of looking at feelings is correct. And he also said there is in fact a total of 108 feelings, but one doesn't need to know about them to get liberated, and working with just a set of two or three is enough.
An important thing to grasp here is that a neutral feeling after a painful feeling feels pleasant; and a neutral feeling after a pleasant feeling feels unpleasant. Which makes one wonder if there really is a neutral feeling? Imagine there's a scale with pleasure at the top and pain at the bottom. Feelings get more pleasurable as they go up the scale and more unpleasant as they go down it. So when a hit of pleasure wears off, if the feeling that comes after that is below it in the scale it will feel unpleasant, even if it is a feeling one would normally class as pleasant. This also works vice versa, when one is in pain, any feeling above that in the scale will feel pleasant in comparison, even if it is something that would normally be called unpleasant.
One notices feelings that come from the five senses: eye, ear, smell, taste, touch. As well as feelings that come from the sixth sense: the mind, which is the psychological world of thoughts and ideas. Noting which ones are pleasant and which ones are unpleasant, or which ones are neither pleasant nor unpleasant (neutral).
One also notices what are called worldly feelings.The eight worldly winds can be a helpful tool to simplify this.The eight worldly winds are: pain and pleasure, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame. They can blow in either direction and can change at any moment, so one cannot experience one wind without also experiencing it's opposite. For example, perhaps one day you are being praised by a friend for something you did, this feels very pleasant and you feel encouraged and happy. Then a week later you might do something daft and are then belng blamed by that same friend, which feels unpleasant and you feel discouraged and dejected. Blame is particularly unpleasant when it comes after an experience of praise, and vice versa, praise feels very pleasant after an experience of blame. There may also be dry neutral moments when the winds are quiet and you are not getting much praise or blame, but those neutral moments will feel pleasant if they come after being blamed and unpleasant and disatisfying after praise.
There are also pleasant and unpleasant unworldly (spiritual) feelings. The pleasant feelings are the fruits of the path, such as the relief from letting go of the attachment to worldly things, the pleasure of samhadi (deep states of meditation), friendship. Unpleasant spirtual feelings are those that come from still having to live with an unliberated mind still afflicted by the three poisons of: greed, hatred and delusion. This pain can be used in a positive way to spur one forward in the practise of developing the higher mind. There is also the unpleasant feelings that happen when one's meditation practise feels dry.
One notices feelings as they arise, flow and fade away. Noting if they are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. And one notes whether they come from the five senses, the mind sense, or if they are worldly, or unworldly feelings.
Feelings change a lot and so do our moods in response to them. But they are not actually who you are, there is no substantial self behind feelings. It is just streams of sensory data and your mental response to it of like or dislike, which creates craving for more pleasant feelings and aversion towards the unpleasant ones. But feelings are 'not me, not mine.' They arise because of the six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mind and the world of ideas.
The Buddha coined a great simile called 'the second arrow.' Where he talks about a man who has been shot with an arrow, and immediately takes out his bow and shoots himself with a second arrow. This simile is about how there are things that happen in life which are painful and unpleasant, and outside our control. This on its own is bad enough, but then we go and create more pain and misery for ourselves by getting angry and depressed about it. 'Why me? Why does the universe hate me so? I hate my life... and so on' We've all done it! But this part is optional. Something that helped me understand this, is seeing that anger and hate never feels good, anger is always accompanied by an unpleasant feeling, which is why a neutral feeling after anger feels pleasant. Anger is unpleasant and causes suffering. When you see this you realise that anger is unnecessary and doesn't solve anything, it just makes things worse, just adds more suffering. If one is not angry it reduces suffering hugely. It is a life-changing revelation to see that one does not have to be angry about anything, one can choose non-anger instead and feel better and more serene in spite of it all.
There is something interesting to note here. When one is watching feelings arise and pass away. You can be detached from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, but the mind cannot be detached from anger. Anger and non-anger are mutually exclusive, only one or the other can exist in the mind at any time. For example, joy cannot be present in the mind if there is anger, loving-kindness cannot be present if there is anger, serenity cannot be present if there is anger. It is either one or the other. This is an important thing to remember, and something that is often misunderstood.
Another thing that is often misunderstood is that one should be detached from pleasant spiritual feelings when they arise. This is incorrect, pleasant spiritual feelings come from the fruits of the path and are the rewards of the spiritual life and are to be cultivated and enjoyed, even when one becomes a fully enlightened being. The Buddha would often ask not to be disturbed, so he could sit in his hut and enjoy the bliss of meditation. He also said that the only time he didn't have backache was when he was practising samhadi.
Mindfulness of feelings is a huge topic and I haven't covered everything. There's more to feelings, such as how feelings of love can act as pain-relief, there's even been scientific research to explore this effect of love on the mind.
There's also other beings feelings to consider. Knowing that other beings also dislike pain and enjoy pleasure just as much as you do, this can help with the development of empathy and compassion. How feelings all have one thing in common in that they are impermanent and change. How this impermanence causes craving and suffering. How it leads to addictions and dissatisfaction when the senses start to become jaded. For example when you listen to a piece of good music over and over, and after a time you start feeling bored of it and long to have that sensory hit again, but can't get the same effect from it, so one searches for another song to fill the void. How a good book or movie can feel very pleasurable, but when you get to the end there's a sadness that it is over and a feeling of dissatisfaction. These are all things to explore in the practise of mindfulness of feelings. But I will stop here as I am trying really hard to make this succinct.
In the next part of right mindfulness, I will write about the next foundation: mindfulness of the mind, which covers moods, emotions, state of mind. But I am tired now and going to bed. Nighty night. Peace and love everyone (-:
To be continued...
The word mindfulness means to keep something in mind. To remember.
In Buddhism there are four foundations to Right mindfulness, these are:
1. The body,
2. Feelings (In Buddhism feelings are a mix of sense impressions and the mental tone of like/dislike that accompanies them, they are not emotions, emotions come under the third foundation of mindfulness.)
3. Mind (emotions, mood, state of mind).
4. Dhamma categories (the teachings on how to use mindfulness to reach nibbana and the end of suffering.)
This is not something that one goes over in one go like a piece of music, this is more a collection of meditation objects, some reflective/contemplative, others for entering states of lucid stillness (samhadi). One does not have to do everything on this list every time they meditate, one just simply chooses a topic that fits well for the situation or mood one is in. A bit like a swiss army knife of helpful tools for different occasions.
Mindfulness of the body
This starts with awareness of the four postures: walking, standing, sitting or lying down. When one is sitting, one knows they are sitting, when standing, one knows they are standing... and so on... This helps train us to become more aware of the body.The feeling of embodiment can be a pleasurable experience, as it can feel grounding and stops the head floating off like a helium balloon.
Next is mindfulness of breathing. This is something many of us will already be familiar with, so I won't write much, other than one important thing to note is that mindfulness of the breath is not meant to be a dry experience. One should develop interest in it, a sense of wonder about the air element, as this makes the meditation more enjoyable and easier to practise. In time it becomes an indulgence, an opportunity to have a break from your worldly concerns, a tonic that you can take with you anywhere, and the freedom to disengage from the thought processes for a time.
Next is mindfulness of the present moment. This is about being aware of where one is, one's surroundings, what one is doing, one's behaviour, of that which is appropriate, and that which is non-delusion. A lucid awakeness during the course of daily life. Here one maintains a sense of composure and dignity, whilst respecting the space and peace of others as you go about your day.
Next is a list of 32 parts of the body, listed by the Buddha as: head hair, body hair, skin, nails, teeth, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, spleen, diaphragm, lungs, intestines, mesentery, contents of stomach, faeces, bile, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, mucus, oil of joints, fat, and urine.
This exercise is mainly for monks and nuns to help them deal with lust. But it can be helpful for lay people too, as our world is caught up in attachment to the body, which generates much misery and leads to desire, obsession, body dysphoria, mental illness, and the stress of trying to live up to social expectations on how the body should look and perform.To be free of all that worry is a real blessing.
The first five parts in the Buddha's list are easy to remember, and these are also the body parts we tend to find attractive in ourselves and others: head hair, body hair, skin, nails and teeth. It is interesting to note that these are also the dead parts of the body.The living parts, which are hidden under the layer of skin, we find repulsive and are slightly afraid of. It is odd really. What is attraction?
The most beautiful hair in the world becomes otherwise if it lands in one's soup. A pile of discarded nails is not particularly appealing, nor a set of teeth in a glass.The skin is actually a dead leaky covering, not alive at all, and not even particularly nutritious it seems, as maggots when they eat a corpse, they don't eat the skin. They look for wounds, and openings so they can eat the flesh inside. Once all the flesh is eaten, the skin just flops over bones like a discarded leathery covering.
It is important to note here, that these reflections are not meant to depress one. They are meant to be used as tools to help change one's perception of the body and free oneself from attachment to it. Which is a wise chess move. Because the body grows and ages outside of our control, it gets sick, disabled, and struggles to perform consistently. It doesn't always look the same, and that which is beautiful, handsome or strong will one day become otherwise. Time comes for all. This body is full of different beings, bacteria, cells, viruses, fungi, parasites, and they all call this body their home, they travel up and down the highways of our veins and arteries. Our being is composed of many different consciousnesses, we are an organic dance of interdependence. It is also important to note that one does not feel hostility towards the body, one feels compassion for it, takes care of it, and looks after it as well as one can, but without clinging. The body is borrowed for a brief time, it is 'not me not mine,' and one day will return to the elements.
Next is mindfulness of the four elements: earth, water, fire, air. This is one of my favourite topics in mindfulness of the body, I practise mindfulness of the elements a lot. But I won't write much here, as this is a succinct summary of right mindfulness. Other than one contemplates how the body is made up of the four elements. Gets the feeling and sense of each element. Earth is about grounding, weight, solidity. Water is cohesion, fluidity, solubility. Fire is temperature, warmth and light. Air is movement, vibration, change. One becomes aware of the four elements within the body and also outside the body. These four elements can also be used as meditation objects to reach deep states of samhadi (meditative absorption). And it is said they can also be used for the development of psychic powers.
The last category in mindfulness of the body is marana-sati, mindfulness of death. In the Buddha's time monks and nuns would visit what was called a charnal ground, a field where people used to dump dead bodies and leave them there to rot and be eaten by animals. The monks and nuns would spend time there meditating, looking at the corpses littered about in the various states of decomposition and remind themselves that they too are made of the same elements as the corpses, that one day their bodies will also die and decay, that they are not excempt from that fate.
This meditation is helpful for overcoming the fear of death as well as attachment to the body. It is also good for helping motivate oneself out of laziness, as it reminds us that our time on this Earth is brief and death could come at any moment, which helps energize us to want to make best use of our precious time here - as life is short.
Mindfulness of death is a strong medicine and may not be appropriate for everyone. One should know themselves and know if this will make them go a bit dark. This is not meant to produce depression in the mind, but liberation. In the West we are very sheltered from the sight of death, we see dead animals, but seldom dead humans, and if we do, they are usually a corpse of a relative in a coffin that has been stuffed with preservatives to slow the decay. But one can still do this meditation without needing an actual corpse, as one can use their imagination or look at photos of rotting corpses. It is important to remember that mindfulness of death is meant to be done with serenity and calm lucidity. If it doesn't bring peace to the mind it is not being done correctly. Only do this if you feel you are able to face it, this practise is not about traumatising oneself, it is about freeing oneself. Know your own mind and where you are at in your development and what you are comfortable with. Meditating on the four elements might suit you better.
That's enough for today, I will carry on writing about the other three foundations of mindfulness in another post.
To be continued...
Praise and blame. Fame and disrepute. These winds blow back and forth. Sometimes the wind is in your sails and you feel invincible; and other times it's blowing against you, making a mockery of your umbrella. Don't worry too much about what others think, or what the world thinks, because that changes like the wind.Only have concern for how you think and the opinion of the wise.
Keep striving to steer the herd of thoughts in the direction of non-hate, non-greed, and harmlessness. As these are thoughts one doesn't regret having and they lead to better outcomes and peace of mind (-:
It is challenging, but giving oneself a hard time for not being perfect is ill-will towards oneself. Self hatred is still hatred and doesn't lead anywhere except to more misery. We are allowed to give ourselves the permission to let go of the past, to let go of regrets, to move on and be kinder to ourselves. Everyone makes mistakes. And all any of us can do is try to learn what we can from them in a non-hostile way. We make amends for the past by cultivating wholesome states of mind here and now, till there's no more room for negativity.
The sixth factor of the noble eightfold path, and the beginning of the meditator's journey to right samhadi. Right effort contains a set of instructions to be carried out by right mindfulness. The idea is to seclude the mind from the five psychic harrassments: greed, aversion, dullness/drowsiness, restlessness, and doubt.
These are known as the five hindrances in Buddhism, and they are what stops our mind seeing things clearly, they distort our picture of reality. Their influence stirs up the mind like a pool of water so one cannot see clearly into the depths of it, only seeing the distorted surface. This means one is not getting an accurate picture of reality. And when one looks into it they cannot see their reflection properly.
The job of right effort is to prevent these five hindrances from arising in the mind, and to abandon them if they do arise. It works in conjunction with right mindfulness, the next factor of the eightfold path. Right mindfulness is the guard at the gate of consciousness, whose job is to prevent the five harrassments from entering - stopping trouble before it starts. However, if a hindrance gets passed the guard at the gate, then its job is to spot the presence of the hindrance in the mind and remove it, so it is no longer distorting one's ability to see things clearly.
The Buddha's teachings here run contrary to popular modern thinking about mindfulness. The job of mindfulness is not just to simply watch things arise and pass away and do nothing. No, it is to be a sentry that performs the duty of preventing and removing the five hindrances. Right mindfulness follows the instructions of right effort.
So how does one prevent unwholesome states arising? One way is to continually remind oneself to avoid unwise attention to the fault and to avoid unwise attention to the attractive. It does not mean walking around in sensory deprivation, as that's impractical in this world, you will always encounter agreeable and disagreeable sense impressions. What it means is to be at the sensory level and nip things in the bud before a pleasant or unpleasant sensation/feeling becomes the stories/delusions we tell ourselves about the feeling at the conceptual level, these stories are what cause the hindrances to arise and gather momentum in the mind.
It takes a great deal of practise and time to master this, so one will have to be patient as one trains the mind. One also needs to be kind to oneself, as one will make many mistakes while practising this, learn what you can from failures and let go, there is nothing to be gained by being hard on oneself, it does not lead to enlightenment. You are allowed to let it go, it is the past and there's no use crying over spilt milk, that won't solve anything.
One keeps reminding oneself upon waking and throughout the day. 'I will avoid the folly of the fault-finding mind; and I will avoid the folly of the lustful greedy mind.' Remembering that what we pay attention to leaves traces in the mind and grows stronger the more we pay attention to it; and what we repeatedly think about becomes the inclination of the mind.
If the hindrances get past the guard at the gate, then one turns to five strategies for removing them from the mind. Briefly these are:
1. Replacing the unwholesome state of mind with its opposite, there can be many opposites. For example some possible opposites of greed are generosity, contentment, remembering impermanence, or renunciation, and some possible opposites of anger are serenity practises, compassion, or loving-kindness. One does not wait for something external outside oneself to generate the opposite of the hindrance, one deliberately brings the replacement into being by being an emoter. There's a saying: 'Fake it till you make it.' It might well feel fake and inauthentic at first, but with repeated practise it does start to feel genuine and more natural. And the more one practises something, the more the psychic momentum builds up and the stronger it gets.
2. Feeling a sense of shame, imagining what a person you respect and admire might think if they saw you in the unwholesome state of mind. One reminds oneself it is reprehensible, has drawbacks, and is not conducive to enlightenment. This can be enough to drive the unwholesome state of mind away.
3. Distracting oneself from the unwholesome state of mind. Or just simply ignoring it as you would when closing your eyes to block out a sight you don't want to see. By not paying attention to the hindrance it starves it of energy and it grows weak and eventually disappears. Don't feed the monsters!
4. One turns to face the hindrance, confronts it. Sometimes just doing this can be enough to make it fade away like a whisp of a cloud or a phantom. But if this isn't enough, one can sit with it, investigate it, and gradually talk oneself out of the unwholesome state of mind till it dissolves away.
5. This is the last resort, and only to be used if the preceding four strategies fail. The fifth strategy is to suppress the unwholesome state of mind and not allow it to express itself. The Buddha here uses the simile of a stronger man holding down a weaker man. One suppresses the unwholesome state of mind until it calms down enough for one to then use any of the four preceding strategies to remove it if necessary.
Right effort also carries the instructions to bring into being seven positive wholesome states of mind and to develop them and keep them going continuously. These wholesome states of mind are known as the seven factors of enlightenment which are: mindfulness, investigation, energy/effort, joy, serenity, samhadi, equanimity. One can also include wholesome states of mind such as loving-kindness, compassion, joy in another's happiness. These also can be part of the enlightened mind, but are optional because not everyone is able to practise loving-kindness. For them having the intention of non-illwill and non-violence is enough.
Right effort can be practised in the course of daily life by noticing the hindrances when they arise in the mind, how do they feel? Do they feel pleasant or unpleasant? How do they manifest in the body? One watches and learns about them, how they manifest, how they arise, what triggers them, how to stop them arising, and how to remove them from the mind when they do. As one becomes less ignorant of the five hindrances, one's ability to prevent and remove them becomes easier and faster. The Buddha says one who has mastered this becomes so adept at it, that if an unwholesome state of mind arises it is removed as quickly as a chance drop of water on a red hot frying pan.
One way to practise this is through sitting meditation. Here one gradually gathers the whole mind together and secludes it from the five hindrances, by repeatedly bringing the attention back to a single topic, such as a meditation object and keeping it there, doing this every time the mind wanders. This brings into being the wholesome factor of mindfulness. Then to collect the mind together and unify it around the meditation object one generates interest in it, investigates it, this brings into being the wholesome factor of investigation. The repeated effort of doing this builds up a momentum of energy (the third factor), but interest and curiosity also brings energy to the mind. This leads to enjoyment. En-Joy, i.e the combination of energy and joy. Think about how one can become absorbed in a book or a movie, or a physical activity, a hobby, a game, and how one doesn't notice the body or passage of time or the noises around one when absorbed in an activity that one finds interesting. This is because one is enjoying themselves. So the idea is to try to do the same with meditation and become absorbed in that. The excitement of joy (the fourth factor) eventually cools and calms down and settles into a state of sweet serenity the fifth factor of enlightenment, which then takes one to the doorstep of the divine consciousness that is samhadi. Samhadi is a unification of mind, an exquisite stillness and lucidity, which in turn blossoms into equanimity (the seventh factor). This is how the act of meditation can bring into being the seven factors of awakening (-:
This all carries over beyond sitting meditation into every day life, because there is an after-effect which can remain for a while after meditation. When the afterglow wears off, one can top it up again by meditating. The seven factors of enlightenment get stronger with repeated practise, till eventually the whole thing becomes effortless. Then the enlightenment factors are present throughout the day whatever you are doing, wherever you are. When they are well established, whatever happens in this changing world, will not cause you to go into a negative state of mind or lose your composure. Your consciousness remains at peace and unperturbed as it continually cycles through the seven factors of enlightenment, being in any one of them at any time during the day or night.
Another important teaching that comes under right effort is about tuning the energy. If the mind feels strained and stressed at all during meditation or while practising in the midst of daily life, it means you are putting forth too much effort and need to relax it a bit, you are pushing yourself too hard, be gentle. If you feel dull and drowsy it can mean you are not putting forth enough effort which will lead to laziness and lack of motivation for practise. Mindfulness of death (maranasati) is a good way to energize one when feeling lazy. You want to tune the energy of effort so that it neither strains the mind nor makes it lazy. The Buddha describes it as being like tuning the string of a lute. If it is too tight it doesn't sound right, if it is too loose it also doesn't sound right, but when it's tuned correctly it is ready to play some music.
There are five spiritual faculties that can help with right effort, they are called the five spiritual powers, these are faith, energy, mindfulness, samhadi, and wisdom. Sometimes you can't know all the answers about something and you need to take a leap of faith and try things out, otherwise you can be locked in sceptical indecision which is not a pleasant state of mind, one becomes a prisoner of their doubts and this leads to stagnation and inaction. However, one also doesn't want to have blind faith either, some doubt is healthy to stop one being led down the garden path, so wisdom helps balance out faith. Energy and Samhadi also balance each other out. Too much energy leads to restlessness, and too little energy leads to dullness and laziness. Mindfulness is present throughout ensuring the five spiritual faculties are tuned correctly, keeping them in balance.
Despite its length, this has been a succinct piece of writing on right effort. Indeed one could write an essay or a book on this factor of the path. If one would like to learn more about right effort I highly recommend these videos by Ajahn Sona, where he goes into it in great detail.
In the words of the Buddha:
The four right efforts
'One generates the desire for the prevention of unwholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
One generates the desire for the abandonment of unwholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.
One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and development of wholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering. '
‘Having abandoned wrong livelihood, one continues to make one’s living with right livelihood.’
This is the fifth factor of the noble eightfold path. It is about how we make an income or get food and shelter in this world. Our career.
In the context of the noble eightfold path we aspire towards a livelihood that causes as little harm as possible to ourselves and other beings.
Becoming a Buddhist monk or nun is one way to practise right livelihood. Remembering that the Buddha left the household life, turned his back on being a wealthy prince, shaved his head and beard and went forth into homelessness, begging, wearing rags for robes. He was dependent on the generosity of others to get his food. This way of living goes against the grain of the world, but the spiritual life is unworldly. And showing generosity to one who is on the spiritual path or at any stage of enlightenment creates good kamma (beneficial consequences) for the giver. Which will return to bless them both in this present life and future ones.
But there is nothing wrong with being a lay follower either, the monk’s life is not for everyone, and one can still reach advanced stages of enlightenment as a householder.
When it comes to work and how we conduct our business in the world. We must try to cause as little harm as possible to other beings, and to ourselves. So careers that deal in weapons, poisons, violence, deceit, stealing, polluting, killing, misinformation, exploiting other beings and harming them, are bad career choices.
Always remember as well that you are a being and you matter too, just as much as any other being does. So one should be kind to oneself, and take care not to strain the mind by working long hours. One should not be taken advantage of by an employer, one does not have to be treated like a factory farmed human. One is not a slave to money, to the economy, to a nation, or to any being.
Our time is valuable and we should spend it wisely. We should be calm, dignified, and composed in our dealings with the world whether we are rich or poor, and not allow ourselves to be mistreated by anyone; and in turn we should not mistreat other beings.
In our world of work we should show kindness and friendship to others, but that does not make us a door mat, we assert our boundaries, in a non-hostile way, coming from a place of peace and friendliness. One does not cut short on morals or the spiritual life to please a boss or work colleagues.
We should make time for the other aspects of our life, especially when it comes to the practise of meditation and the development of the spiritual path. There will at times be the need for solitude, to seclude oneself from the world and the energies of others, to retreat and focus on one’s own emotional and spiritual development, which should be prioritised above all else. Above our career. A career is transient and will one day end, but our spiritual development remains and carries over into old age and our next existence.
Right livelihood can also be thought of as right lifestyle. As some people may be retired and out of work for different reasons. In this instance, one should make good use of the time one has and focus on one’s inner development and spiritual progress. Aspiring to live a peaceful lifestyle that causes as little harm as possible to oneself and other beings.
To accomplish this it helps to reflect on the reality of death frequently, to practise the remembrance of it as often as possible. Because death helps energise and motivate us to practise the noble eightfold path and the spiritual life. It reminds us of what is important. Death is universal and comes for all beings, even enlightened ones, and it can come at any moment. We don’t know when it will pay us a visit. Beings in this world die both young and old, across all species of life, and it is normal. The body is fated to one day become a decomposing corpse, (or ashes if cremated,) and the Earth will reclaim it. The body does not belong to us, it is on loan, and will be returned to the elements one day. We borrow these bodies for a brief time, so we should use them wisely.
It is good to remember this, not out of morbidity or in a depressed way. Not out of fear. But in a calm lucid serene way. Making peace with the fact.
Losing attachment to the body now is like making a wise chess move in anticipation of the future. Because whether any of us likes it or not the body does change, it ages, gets sick, loses strength and abilities, gets weak, and eventually dies. Even if you are the most beautiful and talented being in the world, that beauty will not last, that talent will fade, abilities become disabilities. You have no control over any of it. The body came into being and grows and ages all by itself, and so do other people’s bodies.
By losing attachment to the body now, you save yourself a whole bunch of suffering in the future when the inevitable happens. It also saves you a whole bunch of suffering now, because much of our world is caught up in the body. What it looks like, how strong and healthy it is, how smart it is. It causes us so much anxiety, lust, misery, delusion and mental illness. To no longer be caught up in all that is a relief to the mind.
It doesn’t mean one doesn’t take care of the body though. One looks after the body, feels compassion for it and sees to its needs as well as one can. One tries to keep it alive as long as possible, it is our vehicle to enlightenment after all. It is through the body we can realise the end of suffering, stress, and craving, and liberate the mind permanently from the defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion. But one does so without clinging to the body, knowing it is transient and fated to die.
Death will separate us from all that we hold dear. All that is beloved and pleasing to us will become otherwise. We cannot take our body, any of our friends, family, or material possessions with us when we die. It is a journey to a far place we must take alone. The only thing we take with us are our acts of generosity, kindness, and clarity. These are the friends that greet us on the other side and help us both in this life and in the next one to come; in whatever world that may be, there are so many different worlds.
Mindfulness of death (Maraṇasati) helps us remember what is important in life, that the clock is ticking and to use our time wisely.
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.
There is longing
A desire for something
Attraction or aversion
Draws and sustains attention.
And with the contact of the senses
and their myriad sense impressions
But with well-instructed mindfulness acting as the sentinel of consciousness.
Supported by lucid serenity and unification of mind.
With wisdom as chief.
One nips it in the bud right there.
Prunes away unwholesome states of mind
Before they become the self-centred story of greed, hate and delusion.
With perfected practise
and complete mastery of the mind
Liberated to the core
With no more clinging remaining.
One abides in the deathless state
Unperturbed by the changing phenomena of the world.
Knowing and understanding that all things are anicca (impermanent)
One remains serene and is not suprised by anything.
There are moments and days when I feel flat, and wobble about in weakness and vulnerability. To rouse energy for meditation takes a lot of effort.
You can use this tool to convert times to your local time:
Here is a link to a free book that explains much better what I was trying to describe in my previous article. I have found it helpful to practise this and it has brought me results. I am making great progress with weakening both aversion and sensuality, it's great!
This is something I have been practising during my own meditation and it has been very helpful and I quite like it.
When the mind becomes distracted in meditation and loses awareness of the meditation object, follow this simple algorithm below:
1. Notice with friendliness towards the mind, without any judgement or shame towards oneself, (always be gentle, be a friend to the mind and it will be a friend back) just become aware that the mind has wandered from the meditation object. Then...
2. Let go of whatever the distraction was, it doesn't matter what it was, the details are irrelevant, there's no need to tie up any lose ends or tidy up the thoughts. Just let go of the distraction and become aware of the body.
3. Relax any tension you feel in the body, remembering also to relax the face and head, as thoughts can bring tension to those areas. Spend some time doing this, take as long as feels natural. One is purposefully calming the body, and bringing into awareness a sense of bodily ease and pleasure.
4. Gladden the mind, like the zesty zingy feeling of a refreshing spring breeze. Kindle some joy in the mind. Smile inwardly, smile with your heart, and turn the corners of your mouth up, even if it's just a little, teeny slight barely-noticeable smile. That'll do! It doesn't matter if at first it feels fake, smiling releases endorphins and the mind will catch on and the smile will eventually become genuine. Then let that warm pleasant energy spread throughout the whole body. Saturate the entire body with it.
5. Then reflect for a moment on how the mind feels when it is lucid, serene and free from craving.
There are two sides to craving: craving for sense pleasure, and craving for circumstances to be different. They are both two sides of the same coin.
These are the four noble truths:
Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood).
Knowledge of the cause of suffering (which is to be abandoned).
Knowledge of the end of suffering (which is to be realised).
Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering (which is to be developed).
Can you see the four noble truths in your meditation practise: noticing the craving, letting go of the craving, experiencing freedom from the craving, and the cultivation of the noble eightfold path that leads to the end of craving.
6. Return to focusing on the meditation object.
7. Rinse and repeat every time the mind wanders.
Samma Samhadi (Right Concentration) can be translated as lucid serenity. Unfortunately, Right Concentration can create the wrong impression of meditation practise. Samma Samhadi is not a hard tunnel-vision focus. One is not concentrating so hard that it blocks out everything else from conscious awareness, that just creates tension in the mind and the body. No, Samma Samhadi is a still, calm, lucid, relaxed, expansive and serene awareness. Anchored in the body, so the mind does not float off like a helium balloon. One meditates with awareness of the body in the background. This is what is meant by one pointed attention, it means wholehearted attention grounded in the body, it is an embodied attention. A unification of mind, all of the mind collected and gathered together, attending to the meditation object together as one. The four jhanas which the Buddha defined as Samma Samhadi are known as the rupa jhanas because they are embodied, i.e. awareness of the body is present throughout.
Samhadi (lucid serenity) and vipassana (insight) are actually one and the same, they are not two distinct separate practises. They are part of the same meditation. They are like two wings of a bird that take you to nibanna. Nibanna in a nutshell means irreversible freedom from suffering. I.e. there's no comedown from it, the freedom is permanent. And nibanna can be experienced here and now in this very life if one practises ardently enough. Different stages of enlightenment bring progressively greater freedom from suffering.
In Buddhist practise there's nothing magical happening, although it can certainly feel like that at times, (encounters with the unconscious parts of the mind can often feel magical,) one is just simply training the mind. If one puts in the right causes and conditions, one gets the results. In the case of Buddhist training, the final result is irreversible freedom from suffering.
Right input equals right output. Bad input equals bad output.
Having a good teacher helps immensely, but the training is doable on one's own if one is determined enough, but honestly find a teacher and some good spiritual friends, it will save you a lot of time and make the practise much richer and joyful. There are many Buddhist teachers and groups available online and one does not need to travel great distances to find one anymore, one can now train virtually via the Internet for free from one's home without having to travel anywhere or go on a lengthy retreat. All my teachers and spiritual friends are online.
The noble eightfold path is the training one undertakes to become a Buddha. The Buddha famously once said: 'One who sees the dhamma sees me. And one who sees me sees the dhamma.' The dhamma is the mind of the Buddha, and one who has mastered the dhamma, becomes a Buddha.
Not a clone though, one still has whatever personality traits one had before, but now freed from greed, hatred, and delusion. A bit like how there is a recipe to bake bread, but there can be different kinds of bread, they all however follow the same basic recipe and use the same core ingredients. The loaves of bread can look different when they come out of the oven, but despite their difference in appearance, one can still see and know it is bread.
Peace and metta!
Walking inner streets
Alive with techno beats
Expanded heart and mind
Explore a deeper world within
The elements echo
An ancient feeling
Something altogether unworldly
A golden peace.
I become someone new
each and every moment.
Who am I?
What am I?
A free download of painting as 300dpi scan is available here from my website for personal, non-commercial use.
May you be filled with serenity, peace and infinite wellbeing.
To greatly weaken the mind’s tendency to aversion is wonderful. But nothing magical, it is just training the mind. If anyone with enough determination puts in the right causes and condtions, they will get the results.
I still have much work to do to go further on the path. I must now weaken sensuality, the next guardian at the gate. And there seems to be a strong resistance to do this in my mind. It is quite attached to sense pleasures. The Buddha said that sense-desire is a lesser stain on the personality than aversion. But comes with a trade-off in that it is harder to remove. And he is right, it is proving tricky to go beyond this guardian at the gate.
But I can see a strategy for overcoming sense desire. It will involve a great deal of patience and playing the long game, it will involve the four right efforts, right mindfulness, and the eighth factor of the noble path: Right Samhadi (right concentration). Right Samhadi is defined by the Buddha as the four jhanas. And jhana is described as a delicious state of consciousness by meditators who have learnt how to get into them.
Once one has learnt how to get in and out of jhana quickly, and can sustain these states of mind indefinitely, as well as come out of them at will. They discover a bliss they can generate all by themselves within, something that is described as being a greater bliss than anything external or that the world can offer. Then one can naturally let go of sense desire. A person at this stage of enlightenment who has completely cut off the two fetters of: greed(sense-desire) and aversion is known as an anagami (non-returner). They are never again born into this world. And in their next life they are reincarnated in the higher heavens, living very long lives there (aeons). They are born there because of their attachment to jhana. But this is absolutely fine, because what happens is they just carry on practising and make it to the fourth stage of enlightenment, realise nibanna and become fully liberated in the higher heavens - like celestial Buddhas (-:
There are some teachers of Buddhism who have been misguided about the jhanas, and some who even say they are not necessary. Whilst it is true that the jhanas aren’t necessary to reach the first and second stages of enlightenment (stream-enterer and once-returner), if one wants to go further, beyond the second stage of enlightenment, one needs to learn and get good at jhana (right samhadi). At least that’s my understanding, and some will disagree, but intuitively what I am thinking here feels right to me (on my journey anyway).
To learn jhana though one needs to be very determined and seclude themselves from sensuality (at least for a set time). The first verse goes: ‘Quite secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind. One enters and abides in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, and has the rapture and pleasure born from seclusion from the world and letting go.’
The way I practise this is when I meditate I go outside somewhere quiet away from everyone. Which secludes me from other people’s energies and also from all the technological devices in my room, and the kettle (cups of tea lol). Doing this forces me to concentrate wholeheartedly on the meditation with nothing around me to tempt or distract me. This is what it means to become quite secluded from sense pleasures.
Secluded from unwholesome states of mind, means to let go of the five hindrances (worldy-desire, aversion, stagnation (or lack of motivation), agitation, doubt); and also means to let go of all the stress of the day and problems we encounter in the world and the kamma of having a body. Put that heavy suitcase down for a moment and feel the relief. Refuse to pick up or inspect the contents of the suitcase, just leave it be. No harm will come if you let go of it for a time. We let go of our worries and thoughts every night when we go to sleep, nothing bad happens when we do. Give yourself permission to let go. Then when the body feels relaxed and at ease it naturally starts to feel some joy and pleasure. When this happens meditation becomes more enjoyable, an indulgence, a way to quieten down the thought energies and refresh one’s mind in the jhanic consciousnesses of right samhadi.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all. If one becomes attached to jhana, that also is fine, it won’t stop one getting enlightened, in fact it is actually the way to enlightenment, or at least to full enlightenment anyway. One who is attached to jhana is in the third stage of enlightenment and close to the end of the path. So enjoy jhana fully and keep asking the mind for more joy and pleasure, keep asking until you couldn't ask for more. Don’t feel guilty or be told you shouldn’t get attached to the pleasure of jhana. The Buddha said that jhana was not a pleasure to be feared. He also recalls in MN 36: “… when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana where there was rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation, and wondered, could that be the path to Awakening?’ Then following on from that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to Awakening.”
The four jhanas take you on a tour of (mind-generated) pleasure which can be safely explored without fear. When the mind has had its fill and feels content and satisfied, it naturally inclines itself more and more to calming and refining the pleasure bit by bit, till it reaches complete stillness and equanimity in the fourth jhana, which has neither pain nor pleasure. When one has sufficiently mastered the fourth jhana, and calmed the energies of aversion and sensuality to a hush, one’s vision is no longer clouded by them and one can clearly see the root of the problem: delusion, which comes from ignorance. Then one can unlock the door to full enlightenment using a key with three teeth that fits perfectly into the lock: knowledge of suffering, knowledge of change/impermanence, knowledge of no-self. These three knowledges are interlinked, and hence part of the same key. They are the key to freeing oneself from delusion.
That’s the plan anyway. I haven’t got that far yet, and I am only just starting to get what jhana is, and sustaining one is challenging, quite tiring actually. But I know if I keep at it for long enough, and keep putting in the right causes and conditions, it is only a matter of time (-:
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