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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

Unworldly feelings

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 14 Apr 2023, 16:59

Feel much better today, although fatigue is still prominent and if I overdo things it is like being hit by a wall of tiredness and I have to lie down. But my health is definitely much better now.

Kundalini feels like an energy that has a mind of its own, she speaks to me in tingles along my spine, or other areas of the body. The scalp and neck can be quite active at times, it is a very tactile experience for me. She feels intimately connected, but very kind. Sometimes she makes me laugh. If I start getting a bit conceited and arrogant, or if I become the opposite and become overly down on myself, she makes my scalp tingle in a mildly burning unpleasant way, enough to make me stop and become aware of what my state of mind is, and then I will stop holding onto it and try to generate something more wholesome in its place. When I think nice thoughts about myself and others, such as friendship and loving-kindness, wanting the best for all beings, she makes my scalp tingle in a very pleasant way, like a hint I'm going in the right direction.

Reader be aware this is my subjective experience. I promise I am not going through a psychosis.

But aye, people should be careful when it comes to meditation. If it is not done in the context of the spiritual path, such as the Buddhist noble eightfold path, it can blow up in your face and send you into a psychosis. Sooner or later Mara, the shadow self, the dark side, whatever you want to call it, will arise, and you will have to face it. And many spiritual traditions will have practises and supports in place that help to deal with this. 

As a rule of thumb, the practice of loving-kindness (metta) can protect one from the darkness. If you come from a place of unconditional love for all beings. It is an effective way to navigate the spiritual path.

Not always easy to feel like that though, it takes many hours of repetitive practice to develop a mind of loving-kindness; but if you can do it, it will keep you safe and also be of benefit to those around you. Just the silent presence of a being filled with loving-kindness or serenity can help raise the vibrations in the world around one. It is also possible to go into deep states of samhadi through the practise of loving-kindness, and the cultivation of metta (loving-kindness) can take you right to the doorstep of nibanna. All you need then is the key that unlocks that door, the realisation of the wisdom contained in the four noble truths.

Many of the ancient meditation techniques are designed to get you enlightened, they have been carefully tweaked and adapted through thousands of years of experience and practise from one generation to the next, and designed deliberately to be effective tools for spiritual awakening, they are not designed for material purposes. They lead you in the opposite direction of worldly things. And if one is practising them for material gain or to do better in the world, then problems will arise, as they were never created for that purpose.

Getting a solid grounding in the noble eightfold path under the mentorship of an experienced teaching monk and having a community of friends who I regularly sit with online has helped me stay sane. All the members of my sangha are online.

Unfortunately, I don't have spiritual friends here where I live in the physical world around me, so I am quite alone in that sense. But I do sit regularly with spiritual friends from all around the world on Zoom, both in discussion groups and meditation sessions.

It is good to be part of a spiritual community, online or offline, because inevitably unwelcome problems can arise in the human psyche during the spiritual journey, and it can lead to odd behaviour if one isn't mindful. Good spiritual friends can help point these things out, and help you stay centred and not lose your bearings. They can also be supportive when you are going through a dark night or a trying time in the purification process, and make these challenges feel easier and less lonely. 

Like someone wise once said about the spiritual life: 'We are all friends walking each other home.'



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Asoka

The yellow kasina and the body

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 13 Apr 2023, 22:22
Feeling a tad unwell again, but keep reminding myself it is just the body. I am learning that it is true that although there is suffering in the body, the mind doesn't have to suffer with it.

The body can also feel comfortable even though there's aches and pains. Meditation can be practised while lying down. Samhadi connects one with the inner body, the mind-made body, and one can rest in the comfort and ease of the inner body, even when the physical body is in pain. 

Anyway I do the best I can to take of this body, and show kindness to it. Without clinging to it. I cannot stop it from ageing, getting sick, and dying. this is the karma of having a body, there's no escape from that.

I don't mean to sound negative and gloomy when I say that. Knowing this is actually quite freeing, and oddly one can get into a state of profound joy and serenity contemplating the impermanence of the body and death. I think it is because it helps me stop clinging to something I have no control over. Which brings relief when one lets go of stressing about it and accepts it for what it is. Youth fades, beauty fades, health fades, strength fades, intelligence fades, none of it lasts, the body changes whether we like it or not, and we cannot keep it the same way all the time. It is vulnerable in an uncertain world, and death can come at any moment for any one of us.

The body doesn't belong to me. It comes from the Earth. It is borrowed for a time, but will one day have to be returned. The body is something other, a world within a world, a composite of many different beings working together in symbiosis. I do have some choice in directing what to do with that energy, but the processes are mostly outside my control. The body is earth, water, fire, air, space, consciousness, and interdependence. These are the seven elements that make up a biological being.

Have been meditating a lot on the yellow kasina lately. Another meditation technique I am finding helpful just now. This is a yellow disc about the size of a dinner plate in the middle of a black square. I set it somewhere in front of me that is easy to look at, and stare at the yellow disc saying silently in the mind: 'yellow', 'yellow', 'yellow'.... and maintain focus on the colour yellow, not too tight a focus, but not so loose as to become blurry.

I notice how the colour yellow makes me feel.Then when the yellow feels bright and strong in my awareness and I can stay centred easily with it, and the body feels comfortable, at ease. I close my eyes and wait for the initial retina burn to fade away, then silently say the word 'yellow', 'yellow', repeatedly in my mind. On the first day nothing happened, but today, the second day of practising this, a beautiful yellow field appeared behind closed eyelids. An internal mind-generated colour that filled all of my awareness, including the body. The body felt like it was full of golden light. It was a delightful experience, like being sat in a field of yellow. It faded and I opened my eyes and focused on the yellow disc again, then closed my eyes and said 'yellow' silently in the mind, and it appeared as if by magic. I didn't try to make it happen, I just suggested it mentally, and the deeper mind did the rest. It is an interesting meditation, and I am enjoying it.

There's also a nice side-effect that happens sometimes, as I look at the yellow disc the room around it starts to become gold coloured, as if illuminated by a heavenly light, and it feels like the whole world is filled with the colour, it feels very peaceful.

...
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Asoka

The inner cave

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 13 Apr 2023, 10:49


I am a bit fatigued at the moment, and recovering from an illness I had earlier in the week, which is getting better now. The dark night has returned somewhat. But this time it is less painful than before. Mainly because I am understanding the process a bit better now and am more aware of what is going on with the mind, less ignorant. Normally I would be depressed during this difficult mind state, but this time despite a heavy fatigue there is a distinct absence of sadness and sorrow. When it arises, the mind is quick to dismiss it and it doesn't take root. The inner critic pops up occasionally, but the mind is quick to dismiss that too. I think I am understanding now at a deep level that negativity doesn't help the situation, and I seem to be shooting myself less with the second arrow. I.e. not adding mental suffering on top of the physical suffering.


This is almost certainly because I am getting better at becoming still and centred, which I can do now even when I am experiencing bodily and mental fatigue. Without the thinking and stories we tell ourselves about our experience, the suffering decreases. One can also play around with perceptions by changing the way one talks to oneself about things. But mostly practising samhadi has the effect of calming down excess thought energies, allowing me to go below the surface level of consciousness and go deep within, take refuge in the core of my being. My inner cave. 

The inner cave I am learning is the place to go when things feel dark and one feels vulnerable and weak. It renews one, it is almost like going into the womb again, you stay there for as long as you need and when you emerge from it, it is like a rebirth. Like a cocoon. A place where the self dissolves and the energies of the world continues outside but you are still and unaffected by it all, at peace in the centre of your being. When you emerge you are different. I wonder if this is because deep mind needs to process information at times, and there isn't much for one to do in those moments except be still, and be patient while the mind rewires itself based on the new information and insights into the nature of reality it has seen. There's a time for effort, a time for doing, and a time to be still.

I have also been learning about kundalini yoga from a book I got. I have always been drawn to this, although know very little about it, have more intuitively practised it. Kundalini feels like an old friend. She keeps me safe and feels like my protector at times, she often helps me out when I am struggling or feeling lonely. She encourages me on the spiritual path; but also gently reminds me to be humble if I am getting conceited (-: She also reminds me of love, and the beautiful emotions.

I am not so into the Hindu aspects of kundalini yoga. I tend to filter those bits out and just take what I find helpful from the practice, as I do with any teachings I learn - be my own refuge.

Lately I am finding at the beginning of a meditation session, it feels good to focus on the chakras, on the life force energy, and move that energy around the body. It is intimately connected to the breath I find. For me, this practice is very helpful, it gives the mind something to do at the start of a meditation session when it might be a bit restless. And it is something challenging and engaging enough to generate interest, curiosity and wonder in meditation, which draws the attention away from the thoughts and into the body. It feels enjoyable, and healing and invigorating. In fact, I am sure it was me practising this while lying in bed feeling sick that helped me recover quicker than normal from my illness.

There comes a point when the mind naturally stops moving the energy about the body, and it feels satisfied, balanced, and at ease. The body feels very pleasant and comfortable. And one feels very together and lucid, and content to just rest in whole body awareness and become very still and serene.

The chakras and kundalini has always felt real to me, and when the chakras feel cleared out, the energy of the body really does feel much better, cleaner and brighter, much less weighed down, lighter, more ethereal. When walking outside afterwards it almost feels like the air element passes right through me, like the matter of this body has become less dense. It is hard to put into words.

I think holding onto negative energies makes the body feel coarser, heavier. As many of our stresses and woes, our angst and longing gets stored there. The good news is we don't have to hold onto the negativity. We are allowed to let go of it, and nothing bad happens when we do. Yes, the process of purification can be painful and unpleasant at times, it is not fun to face the shadow self and all the myriad contradictory selves; but it is worth it when you come through the other side and you are no longer being weighed down by it all.

Nobody can do it for us. We have to give ourselves permission to stop holding on to the cause of our suffering. Much of which comes from longing, resentment, and identifying with things.

It is easier to do this when coming from the place of lucid serenity that samhadi brings. Stillness really is a great help when going through the dark night.


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Asoka

The Natural Elements in Meditation

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 5 Apr 2023, 14:44


Have been listening to these talks given by the venerable Ajahn Sona today. He is a great teacher, and the one who gave me the dhamma name Asoka, which means sorrowless. Asoka is a succinct teaching for me, as someone who has experienced much sorrow in life and struggled with depression, this name inspires me to become the opposite (-:

These five talks go into detail about how to practise meditation on the four elements: Earth, water, fire, air  and also how to practise the four colour kasinas: red, blue, yellow, white.

I took part in this retreat last spring, and it is good to go over it again to refresh the memory. It is interesting how when one listens to a talk again one picks up something that they missed the first time they listened to it. I think it is because the mind takes what it needs at different times. The mind changes, and as one develops on the path, the mind looks out for new pieces of information to help with its current understanding, and perhaps that's why different things stand out on subsequent listenings to dhamma talks.

Anyway, I wanted to post these talks for anyone else out there who might find this topic interesting.


Here is the link to the talks on YouTube: 

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCXN1GlAupG1RoN3z1NN7jzwapA6OKbF5


May this practise be as much a blessing for you, as it has been for me.

Peace and metta


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Asoka

Air kasina

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 31 Mar 2023, 15:39

The breezes at this time of year are very pleasant.  And the blackbirds and song thrushes are singing all around and it is beautiful. I enjoy having my window open or sitting outside, and being absorbed in it all, lifts up my heart.

The air kasina is great to practise at this time of year, in the Northen hemisphere at least. We have lots of breezes at the moment. Air kasina is basically breath meditation, but there's a component to it which isn't often taught. Which is to focus on the sensation and feeling of the air element as it touches the skin, and notice how that affects the mind. Apparently in ancient times a monk wanting to learn the air kasina would find a cave high in a mountain where there was a breeze and practise there. In modern times, one can practise this in any location with a plug in fan (-:

The fresh air can feel invigorating, and this feeling of invigoration is a breath nimitta. A tactile nimitta, some people get a visual nimitta, but for me the nimitta is always a tactile feeling. In Pali, nimitta means sign. And in this context it is the sign of the air element in the mind; or the effect that the air element has on the mind. It is a mind-generated phenomena, an internal feeling created in response to the air element.

If you stay centred with the nimitta it grows stronger and will expand and fill the whole body, which feels very pleasant and healing. One then keeps intending to stay with it, sustain it, soak the entire body with the tranquility and happiness. This can be challenging to do at first, but it gains momentum over the long term. With consistent practise the nimitta and the feeling of joy and pleasure grows, snowballs, and becomes more effortless and automatic. This is how the mind works, how we create sankharas. Samhadi begets more samhadi, i.e. what we practise grows stronger and becomes a habit, which then carries a momentum and energy of its own that continues and grows deeper.

After many hours of practise, one will be able to bring the air nimitta up at will, without needing a breeze. One can just incline the mind towards it and it will appear. Even the slightest zephyr of air movement in a room will bring it up. Sometimes one can go into absorption just watching the air blowing through the leaves of the trees and plants, or from the ripples it makes on the surface of water. It feels like magic, but it is just how the mind works. The same thing can happen when meditating on any other element, a colour, or on love. One will start to notice it more and more in the world around them and find this will bring up the samhadi associated with it. 

A teacher told me that for those brief moments when people take a break from being in a stuffy room and stand outside and enjoy the feeling of the breeze on their faces. For those brief moments those people have been practising breath meditation. He added that when it comes to samhadi, the Buddha says, use the low-hanging fruit. Find that which comes natural and then make it into something supernatural (-:

 


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Asoka

The perception of stagnation

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 30 Mar 2023, 21:29


Working with the hindrance of stagnation today. Its other name is 'sloth and torpor' or dullness and drowsiness.

I seem to be getting very little sleep at the moment. And it is hard getting through a day when I feel so tired, my skin feels weird and everything has this surreal achey haze to it, every conversation, every step, every thought and deed. I tried to get some sleep during the day, but just couldn't.

Still, there was a point where I suddenly became enthused to do some studying and managed to get a fair bit done, almost caught up, and hopefully will be back in sync with the timetable after tomorrow. 

With fatigue perception matters. If I keep reminding myself of how tired I feel and how unbearable it all is, it definitely makes it worse. Perception seems to be the bridge between physical pain and mental pain.

Thinking can be so tiring. If I can, it is nice to flow with life without the constant internal dialogue about it all. 

My main practise edge at the moment is learning ways to stop thinking. How to switch off the thought processes when I want to and have a rest from them. There are times when thinking isn't helpful at all and it just makes things worse. If I can get into a flow where thinking stops, and there's no story, just awareness centred with the body, watching the sensations and feelings as they arise and cease in the moment without getting involved with them, it can bring a bit of peace and space from it all which can ease the suffering a bit.

The hard part is forgetting and getting caught up in the internal dialogue again, then one remembers the original intention not to get caught up in the story, and it can feel quite tiring making this constant effort of bringing awareness back to the body. But this is how new habits are made, how new sankharas are formed. Eventually in time the new sankhara will develop a momentum of its own and become effortless, and grow stronger deeper; maybe then I will find a refuge from thinking when I need it (-:


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Asoka

Mind watching

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 27 Mar 2023, 21:11

Another handy tool I am using a lot more lately is single-pointed attention, for when the energies of the mind start to get a bit intense throughout the day. It is a handy tool, and it does help to calm down frenetic thought energies. Moments of single-pointed attention can help slow the mind down, and then it is easier to replace negative thoughts with ones of love and equanimity instead. 

At the moment I like practising staying with the breath, either at the nostrils, or the whole body breathing as one. I really like the air element (-: Whatever comes up that isn't the breath, I just set it aside like its useless rubbish and return to the breath and go deep into the mind with it like I am uncovering a precious jewel beneath all the rubbish.

Sometimes I label the intrusive thoughts as greed, hate, or delusion, or just say: 'I see you Mara.' Using the term 'Mara' as a catch-all for the defilements in the mind. And then I just stop following them, and centre attention back with the breath. 

Sometimes if I get it right, I can find a peaceful empty place deep in the centre of the mind, like a cave, and it feels safe to go there, the energies of the mind become like the rain falling outside, and I am not affected by them. Or it feels like I am sitting on the ocean floor and way above me is the surface of the water, like the surface level of the mind, constantly moving as it ripples and changes, but I am far below it, perfectly still and at ease like a contented rock.

Another technique I learnt at a retreat recently, is to use the word 'mind' to watch the mind. You just keep repeating the word 'mind' over and over in the mind (-: I know it sounds like a tongue twister. One uses the word 'mind' as a reminder that one is watching the mind. 

One keeps centring one's attention with the word 'mind' and as one does this, one watches the process of thought making. Any distracting thoughts that arise just push them aside using the thought 'mind'. 

As one repeatedly says the word 'mind', one uses it as a tool to get to the source of thoughts, how they are generated, where they come from. Keep pushing away the distracting thoughts that arise like water sprouting out of a fountain and go deep and look for the source of the water in the fountain. What is it that keeps generating these thoughts? Keep intending to go deeper, and keep looking for the source.

 It feels hidden at first, like an inpenetrable blackness that thoughts just mysteriously bubble out of. But after a while and lengthy practise, you start to see the intentions behind the thoughts, and if you go deeper still there is craving. One can watch the less intrusive thoughts that bubble up in peripheral awareness, and as one does, one can start to see that they are sankharas, mental formations created from repeated intentions in the past, that have now developed their own momentum and energy, and become habits. And as you go deeper, it is like going back in time, and more of what was hidden previously starts to become visible and one's awareness of the mind grows.

 If saying the word 'mind' over and over gets tiring, which it can. Just have a rest and practise breath meditation, till one feels settled and calm enough to start watching the mind again.

Eventually one can let go of repeatedly thinking the word 'mind' and no longer need to use an anchor to watch the mind. Like someone sitting serenely under a tree watching a stream flow by in front of them. The stream in this metaphor is the contents of the mind, and one remains at ease, and still, anchored in deep composure, watching the contents of the mind as they flow and change. Not clinging to any of it, just watching without reacting to it or getting involved in it. And as one does this, one starts to see that the mind is always changing, that it is inconstant, impermanent.

 This is a kind of samhadi, not as deep as jhana, but it is a pleasant and empowering state of mind and insightful. Occasionally one gets distracted by the contents of the mind, and without realising it, one has waded into the stream and started identifying with it all again and is getting swept away by the currents of longing and aversion. Don't stress, it happens, depending on how long one has been caught up in the contents of the mind, one may need to go back to the breath or repeating the word 'mind' to bring some stillness and composure back. 


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Asoka

The four trainings of mindfulness

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


'
This is the direct path for the purification of beings. For the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation. The disappearance of pain and grief. And the realisation of nibanna.

Namely the four foundations of mindfulness.' - the Buddha

Foundation number one: Mindfulness of the body

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

Foundation number two: Mindfulness of feelings

1. Mindfulness of pleasant feelings, mindfulness of neutral feelings, mindfulness of unpleasant feelings. Awareness of them both within oneself and within others.

2. Mindfulness of pleasant wordly feelings, neutral worldly feelings, unpleasant wordly feelings. Both within oneself and within others. I find contemplation of the eight worldly winds can be helpful here:

pain and pleasure,
gain and loss,
success and failure,
praise and blame.

3. Mindfulness of pleasant spiritual feelings, neutral spiritual feelings, and unpleasant spiritual feelings. Both within oneself and others. This is to do with the spiritual path and its fruits.

Awareness of the rising, flowing, and fading away of feelings.

Foundation number three: Mindfulness of the mind

Knowing when the mind is:

Greedy or not
Lustful or not
Angry or not
Hateful or not
Conceited or not
Selfish or not
Deluded or not
Confused or clear
Collected or scattered
Expansive or contracted
Developed or undeveloped
Meditating or not
In samhadi or not
Liberated or not

Awareness of the rising, flowing, and disappearance of these states of mind.

Foundation number four: Mindfulness of dhammas

1. The five hindrances to samhadi:

1. Longing, 2. aversion, 3. stagnation, 4. agitation, 5. doubt.

Awareness of the manifestation, origination, and disappearance of the five hindrances.

'And when one knows that these five hindrances have left the mind. Gladness arises, and from gladness comes delight, from delight one's body becomes tranquil, and with a tranquil body one feels happy.

And with happiness one's mind easily enters samhadi. And being thus detached from unwholesome states of mind one enters and remains in the first jhana...' - the Buddha (D. 2:75)

2. The five aggregates of clinging:

Identifying with the body.
Identifying with feelings.
Identifying with perceptions and memory.
Identifying with mental formations.
Identifying with consciousness.

Awareness of the manifestation, arising, and dissolution of the five aggregates of clinging.

3. The six external and six internal sense bases:

1. Eye and visual objects.
2. Ear and sounds.
3. Nose and smells.
4. Tongue and tastes.
5. Body and tangible objects.
6. Mind and mental objects.

Knowledge of them, of their arising, and the letting go of them. And through not clinging to them, the future non-arising of the fetters that originate dependent on both.

4. The seven factors of enlightenment:

Mindfulness -> Investigation of dhammas -> Energy (right effort) -> Joy -> Calm (serenity) -> Samhadi (deep stillness) -> Equanimity.

Knowledge of their presence, their arising, and their development.

5. The four noble truths

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

Old age, sickness and death is suffering.
Separation from those we love is suffering.
Identifying with the body, feelings, perceptions, memories, thoughts, ideas, moods/emotions, and consciousness is suffering.
Feeling regret and remorse for past actions is suffering.
Not getting what one wants is suffering.
Depression and fatigue is suffering.
Taking things personally is suffering.
and so on... 

In short, clinging to and identifying with changing (impermanent) phenomena that is outside our control, is suffering. We are all fated to become separated from what we love and hold dear. None of us have the power to stop that. Everything is transient.

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

The three aspects of craving are the cause of suffering. The Buddha describes them as:

1. craving for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha), which feeds the defilement of greed.
2. craving for non-existence (vibhava-tanha), wishing for things to be different, wishing for something not to be, not to exist. This feeds the defilement of hate or aversion.
3. craving for existence (bhava-tanha). Feeds the defilement of delusion.

(N.b. Tanha is a Pali word often translated as either craving, thirst or desire.)

(N.b. II - The five links at the centre of dependent origination can be helpful to keep in mind here: ..  sense impressions -> feelings -> craving -> clinging/identifying -> becoming ...)

When one has seen the sign of anicca (change and impermanence) at a deep level. It is hard to un-see it. It has a profound change on one. Wherever one looks, one sees the transient nature of things, and starts to naturally become disillusioned with materiality; and not as caught up by the things of the world anymore. One sees through it. Sometimes from bitter painful experience, by making poor choices and having to live with the results, which is part of learning too. Don't beat yourself up for that, we all do it. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we learn our greatest lessons from failure. 

As one gets less ignorant and wises up, one stops clinging to things, realising it is changing phenomena that is outside one's control. And then the craving starts to fade.

And with non-attachment, letting things be, letting them go, cessation occurs.

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

Lasting peace of mind and contentment. Freedom from suffering. The realisation of nibanna, the deathless. The happiness of no longer being driven around and harassed by the defilements: greed, aversion, and delusion. This stopping, this ceasing of tanha brings relief, and frees the mind of stress and sorrow.  

The mind in its un-harassed original state is luminous, radiant like the sun coming out from the behind the clouds. (The clouds in this metaphor being greed, hate, and delusion.)

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

This is the noble eightfold path. The way that leads to the cessation of suffering. All the path factors are important. Leaving any of them out is like leaving out an important component of a motor vehicle, it won't start or be able to reach its destination if any are missing. All these parts need to work together in harmony.

1. Right view: in brief, mundane right view is knowing that good karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of giving, kindness, and clear-seeing.
And bad karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of greed, hate, and delusion.

Supra-mundane right view is the four noble truths. It's called supramundane because it is what leads to the four classical stages of enlightenment.

2. Right intention: Non ill-will, non-greed, non-cruelty. (The practise and cultivation of the brahma-viharas (The sublime abidings) is helpful here.)

3. Right speech: to speak truthfully, to avoid malicious and divisive speech, to refrain from harsh unkind speech, and to refrain from idle pointless speech.

4. Right action: To refrain from taking the life of any living creature. To refrain from taking that which is not given. To refrain from sexual misconduct.

5. Right livelihood: Having abandoned wrong livelihood. One continues to make one's living with right livelihood. This is an occupation or lifestyle that does not cause harm to one self or others.

6. Right effort:

In the words of the Buddha:

1. One generates the desire for the prevention of unwholesome states of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.

2. One generates the desire for the abandonment of unwholesome states of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.

3. One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.

4. One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and full development of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and striving.

Right effort is also about tuning the energy of effort and attention so it is niether too tight, nor too loose. One has to experiment and find a sweet spot that works just right. It is like tuning a musical instrument, when you get it in tune it makes sweet music and there is progress and flow.

7. Right mindfulness:

This is the four foundations of mindfulness.

Having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world.

1. One abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, clearly-comprehending (knowing), and mindful.
2. One abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, clearly-comprehending, and mindful.
3. One abides contemplating mind, as mind, ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
4. One abides contemplating dhammas as dhammas. Ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.

8. Right samhadi:

This is defined by the Buddha as the four jhanas. Four deep states of meditative absorption. The joy and pleasure described in the verses is a whole body experience. It is the feeling of the inner body.

1. First jhana: Quite secluded from the world, secluded from unwholesome states of mind (the five hindrances). One enters and remains in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought (or attention). And has the joy and pleasure born of seclusion (from the five hindrances).

(There is a bit of a wobble in the first jhana, as one keeps applying and sustaining attention to the meditation object. But after a time there comes a point when the attention becomes stable and centred with the object, then it becomes effortless. One can let go of the applied and sustained attention then, take off the stabilizers and just flow with the momentum as a mindful passenger. Mindfulness is what leads to the jhanas and remains present throughout them all.)

2. Second jhana: With the subsiding of applied and sustained thought. One enters and abides in the second jhana. Which is accompanied by self-confidence and unification of mind (deep composure). Is without applied and sustained thought and has the joy and pleasure born of samhadi.

3. Third jhana: With the fading away of joy. One abides in equanimity. And mindful, clearly-comprehending, still feeling pleasure in the body. One enters and abides in the third jhana. On account of which the nobles one say: 'One has a pleasant abiding, who has equanimity and is mindful.

4. Fourth jhana: With the dissolving of pain and pleasure, and the previous disappearance of sadness and joy. One enters and abides in the fourth jhana. Which has neither pleasure nor pain. And has mindfulness purified and born of equanimity.

Hopefully I haven't got any of that wrong. I am going from memory. This is something I chant to myself every now and then to remember the practise, it is an evolving chant, that changes and grows as I learn more.

But I find it helpful to go over what I have learnt like this. It can also help bring some faith, courage, energy and determination when I feel disheartened, or lack the motivation to practise.

After some lengthy chanting like this, it can feel easier to settle into meditation. It is a bit like sweeping the floor of the mind to make it more inclined towards samhadi.


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Tiredness and Mara

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 24 Mar 2023, 21:21

Quite tired today. Couldn't sleep much last night. Went for a walk this morning in a surreal haze of uncomfortable brain fog; barely managed to put one footstep in front of the other. Felt like an extra for a zombie movie. 

When I became mindful, I remembered to stop paying attention to the feeling of being tired and dull, as it intensifies the experience and makes it much worse, adding unbearable mental suffering on top of the physical suffering. So when I became mindful of it I would intentionally move my attention to something different in awareness, away from the unpleasant feeling of tiredness and the thoughts. And just kept doing that when I remembered to.

The breeze felt pleasant, so I focused on that. It was lovely. I stopped and stared at the water for a while. Watched the ripples in amazement, chasing each other across the surface like excited air spirits. I felt a synchronicity between me and the water. And again noticed how it keeps changing, how everything around me keeps changing.

The defilements in the mind are much worse when I am tired. And Mara tends to pop up then with the inner critic hat on. As always he is keen to point out all my faults, like a long rolling list that drops to the floor. I try not to pay attention to him. So he then gets right into the pit of my stomach and starts twisting and knotting my energies this way and that. I focus on the air element, and then I feel a lush breeze come along and it passes right through my being and blows Mara away.

 He really does not like it that I am trying to purify my mind.

I remember hearing in a dhamma talk that samhadi (aka jhana) is a protection against Mara. Mara is very good at manipulating thoughts, he's a rascal. But the stillness of samhadi can protect you from that. It calms down the thought energies. It is challenging to learn, but well worth the effort, as it becomes a very useful part of one's mental toolkit.

Mara frequently appears in the Buddhist suttas trying to tempt, frighten or discourage those on the spiritual path. 

On the night of his awakening the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree and for the first part of the night, his mind became dark as Mara threw everything he could at him, tried to pummel him with negative thoughts and aversion. But the Buddha sat there and endured.

Next Mara tried to seduce him with his daughters. Again the Buddha remained still and did not follow the lust. 

Then Mara tried to appeal to his sense of honour and compassion. Saying that if he didn't go back and be a prince, there would be noone wise enough to rule the kingdom after his father died and the kingdom would fall apart. But the Buddha reasoned back there would come a point as a ruler, when he would have to make a decision about taking another being's life, and as he now practised non-violence, he would be unable to defend the kingdom from an opposing army. He also reasoned that it would not solve anything anyway. Because he too would die eventually and then the kingdom would be vulnerable to falling apart again after his death. However, if he became a Buddha, it would be of greater benefit to other beings than becoming a king; and his teachings would survive longer than any kingdom and thus be able to help future generations. This was 2600 years ago. 







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Samatha and vipassana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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Breathe the free air

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 14 Mar 2023, 20:54

I woke up in a strange mood today. I tried to study and just couldn't get into it. Decided in the end to have a break from studying and just focus on meditation. I think I was getting tired of all the reading and note-taking. There's some practical activities sprinkled here and there in the module, which feels like relief, but it is mostly reading, researching, note-taking and writing, and it gets a bit tiring, and I find my mind does not willingly incline towards it.

There's a famous Buddhist text called the 'anapanasati' sutta which is translated as 'mindfulness of breathing'. There's actually quite a few ancient Buddhist texts that talk about anapansati. So it is a teaching that must have been popular back in the Buddha's day, and still is now.

I have been practising this meditation a fair bit lately. It is a complete training for the mind. It fulfils all the factors of the noble eightfold path; secludes consciousness from the five hindrances, fulfils the four foundations of mindfulness, and brings into being the seven factors of enlightenment and can lead to deep samhadi and liberating insight. It is a neat, practical and thorough training for the mind, that can be easily remembered and become part of your daily routine, carried with you wherever you go.


It doesn't cost anything. You don't need to travel to the other side of the world to learn it from a master or a guru; you don't have to pay a premium on a meditation app; join an expensive course; go on retreat; or doing anything other than sit in your room, on a balcony, in the garden, or outside in nature somewhere. And just breathe the free air (-:

Anyway, I found that practising this for a while, cleared my head and then I managed to get some studying done. 

Brief summary of anapansati meditation

Sitting down, with body straight, one establishes mindfulness in the here and now.

Mindful, one breathes in. Mindful, one breathes out.

(Mindfulness of the body)
If the in-breath is long, one knows the in-breath is long. 
If the out-breath is long, one knows the out-breath is long. 
If the in-breath is short one knows the in-breath is short.
If the out-breath is short one knows the out-breath is short.

One trains thus, I will breathe in and out sensitive to the whole body. 
One trains thus, I will breathe in and out calming the body. 

(Mindfulness of feelings)
One trains, I breathe in and out sensitive to joy. 
One trains, I breathe in and out sensitive to pleasure. 
One trains, I breathe in and out sensitive to thoughts. 
One trains, I breathe in and out calming thoughts. 

(Mindfulness of mind)
One trains, I breathe in and out sensitive to state of mind.
One trains, I breathe in and out satisfying the mind.
One trains, I breathe in and out steadying the mind.
One trains, I breathe in and out releasing the mind.

(Mindfulness of dhamma)
One trains, I breathe in and out contemplating change.
One trains, I breathe in and out contemplating fading away (of craving).
One trains, I breathe in and out contemplating cessation (of suffering).
One trains, I breathe in and out contemplating letting go (of clinging).

'Samhadi due to mindfulness of breathing when developed and cultivated, fulfills the four kinds of mindfulness. And the four kinds of mindfulness, when developed and cultivated, fulfill the seven awakening factors. And the seven awakening factors, when developed and cultivated, fulfill knowledge and freedom.' - The Buddha [SN 54.15]

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

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Meditation is a noble act

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

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

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

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

But Mara is wrong, I see this clearly now.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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Artificial hallucinations, propaganda, and flow

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 27 Feb 2023, 13:00

An AI hallucination is when an artificial intelligence behaves in a way that deviates from what would be considered normal or expected based on the input it receives.
 
Machine learning can hallucinate when the data it is trained on is noisy, incomplete, or biased. It can also hallucinate when it encounters something different from what it has learnt about before.
 
AI hallucinations can be dangerous, they can lead to erroneous decisions being made, inaccurate predictions, and can even lead to dangerous situations, like for example an hallucinating self-driving vehicle; or the spread of misinformation via the media, such as an AI generating realistic images of people or events that never occurred.
 
This last example highlights the potential for A.I. to be deliberately misused in order to spread disinformation and manipulate public opinion. So the time is coming where people will have to be extra mindful, extra vigilant and practise critical thinking when consuming media. Fact check everything and be careful not to jump to erroneous conclusions based on anything you read, see, or hear on a digital device.
 
It might be wise to find time in the day to withdraw from digital devices and the media, and look after our mental health. Do something creative instead. Meditate, find ways to get into a flow state. Learn how to calm down the thought energies, and have a rest from it all.
 
Flow states are beneficial and can help bring some lucidity and calm to the mind, which can help us think better and see things more clearly. It is important to do this now more than ever I think, to learn how to get calm and centred. To have moments where we withdraw from the world and develop some serenity, composure and clear seeing.
 
Hopefully then it will be harder to be misled and deceived by those who may not have our best interests at heart; and also perhaps a way to flow peacefully with what is now a surreal and rapidly changing world.
 

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Thought withdrawal

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 23 Feb 2023, 09:09

Withdrawing from the thought processes does help with the 'dark night', although it is not always easy to do. I used to feel guilty about not thinking, perhaps due to previous programming from other spiritual traditions that value insight and wisdom above samhadi. But I am learning one thinks better and can see things clearer, when the mood is calmer, and the mind becomes still. So it is okay to give oneself permission to not have to think about anything at all. To not have to worry about knowing everything and understanding it all. It is okay to enjoy the silence and stillness without feeling any pressure or guilt for that. To just put it all down for a while. Nothing bad happens.

My practise at the moment is focusing solely on ways to disengage from the thought processes. When I notice myself thinking throughout the day, I note 'thinking', then become aware of the present moment, and without judging the contents of the mind, I try to practise single-pointed attention on whatever task I am doing in the moment. This can help bring some relief, albeit temporary, as before I know it the attention is back with the thought processes again.

At the moment I am studying cyber security which involves a lot of sitting. So have been exploring ways of practising light samhadi whilst in movement. Not sure if it is possible to get into deep states of samhadi in motion, but can sometimes get quite still with standing meditation. 

Sitting meditation is essential though, as I notice afterwards that the ability to remain undistracted on a task greatly improves, even after just a short sit. 

A lot of my problems seem to come from thinking too much, or paying too much attention to thoughts. So the practise of samhadi and quieting the inner chatter has become my main focus now. 


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Menthol meditation

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 22 Feb 2023, 14:22

One trick Buddhist monks apparently have for helping them learn breath meditation is to put some menthol under their nostrils (-:

I accidently did this today when doing an olbas oil inhalation to help with my sinuses. I accidently got some under my nostrils, and can confirm it does make breath meditation more interesting, and also seemed to help a little bit with the brain fog.

I am not sure olbas oil is the best thing to put under the nose though, must research some skin-friendly alternatives (-:



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Night

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Window open just a crack,
Cool air on face and neck.
Warm body under blankets
Breath like the ocean waves.
Sound of traffic slices shapes through the air.
A plane passes overhead like a crackly Thunderbird.
Voices talk in the background and
I imagine I am another animal, and the vocalisations become like the mysterious utterances of another species.
I listen detached.
Breath at the centre of it all.
Even at the very centre of my being.
Which is hollow and empty like an inner cave.



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Managing difficult moods

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 21 Feb 2023, 15:25

I woke up today and the 'dark night' had returned. So strange, because I was sure it had gone away yesterday. But I was in a really difficult mood this morning. Once again my attempts at right effort were mocked and overridden by unpleasant and distracting thoughts.

 When there is a difficult mood present in the mind, the thoughts are coloured by this mood, and thinking actually makes things worse. There are moods that one cannot intellectually think their way out of.

Thought in itself is not evil, it can be a useful tool, and the ability to reflect and contemplate is important in studying and development. But when it is always going on constantly, it can be tiring and become a source of suffering. The thoughts are closely tied to whatever mood you are in, they are shaped by it, and there are some moods that are not helped by thinking.

There might be a little voice that says: 'you must think about this, this needs to be looked at, this is important.' And it makes you feel restless and agitated. It's almost like thoughts are tyrants made out of word formations. They don't stop making demands, and they never give you a moment to rest and be still; but that is exactly what one needs to be doing when the mood is like this. 

For me personally, I have to give myself permission to withdraw from the thought processes, and from the world also, and not feel guilty for doing this. Give myself the permission to not have to think about anything at all and just become still. Nothing bad happens when we stop thinking about stuff. If anything it is a relief. We do it every night when we go to sleep.

But just sitting somewhere quietly may not bring stillness straight away, especially if the mind is agitated and restless, so one also has to be patient with the difficult mood. This is where a bit of endurance is needed. It can sometimes take a while for one to drop into serenity and composure. And the mood might not go away fully after just one sitting. When this happens, one can at least notice if the negativity is reduced somewhat after the sitting, and if it is, then one knows they are going in the right direction, and it is working. The mood may have to be calmed down in stages, gradually, and it may take more than one sitting to get there.

Find somewhere quiet, away from the world and others, sit as still as you can with an upright dignified posture. And be in the body as it is, experiencing the sensations as they arise and cease in the here and now, let the thoughts continue, but don't pay attention to them, let them be like background noise, and just stay with the peace and quiet of the body and breath. If the attention goes back to the thoughts, try not to get stressed, it happens to us all, just gently bring the attention back to the body and breath, to the here and now. In time, the thoughts start to become less sticky, and the attention is not easily distracted by them, and then the energies start to calm down, the mind settles and composure returns.

One can find stillness in walking meditation too, especially if one has been sitting down for a long while, such as a livelihood that involves sitting at a desk. Practising walking or standing meditation can bring relief from that. Being present with the feeling of the feet on the ground, the feeling of the legs, the arms, the hands, the body as a whole standing, walking. The feeling of air currents on the skin, in the nostrils, feeling the breath energy go deep down into the belly. Notice the different parts of the body, the sensations happening in the here and now. Go somewhere private away from the energies of other humans, so you can spend some time alone, by yourself away from the hustle and bustle of the world and digital devices, someplace where you don't have to do any talking, and you can just be still. 

Sometimes others may make demands on our time, and the world can be stressful and there are things that need to be attended to. But when you are in a difficult mood, it is better to withdraw from whatever you are doing, withdraw from the world, withdraw from the thinking, and seek stillness instead.

Sometimes you may have to tell others that you are unable to deal with their request just now. That you need some solitude to look after your mental health; it does feel rude, like one is being selfish, and some people do take it personally and they can get resentful, and this is unpleasant; but, if one doesn't, one can end up saying and doing things they regret, because when one's mood is off, one is not in the best state of mind to deal with things. So one should give oneself permission to be assertive about the need for stillness and quiet, and not feel guilty about it. It is essential.

In Ajahn Sona’s YouTube Q&A livestream on Sunday evening, he answered a question about the “dark night” and advice on how to manage difficult moods.

Here is the link, for anyone who is interested:

 https://www.youtube.com/live/BPZzPm-cxbo?feature=share&t=380  (it is about 6:20 into the broadcast,link opens in new window/tab).

 There may be others out there who find his answer helpful. 

Peace and metta to everyone.





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The Deathless

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 20 Feb 2023, 21:19

Went out for a walk in the rain. Felt like there was a horse race of thoughts going on in my head. I watched them patiently, and noticed how I felt as well, how the thoughts affect the body; and vice versa how the body affects the thoughts. I felt restless and agitated, anxiety was present in the mind, and I noted how unpleasant these feelings are. Suffering feels like this.

I observed that the cause of it was once again thoughts to do with greed, hatred, and delusion. I reflected on what is meant by delusion, and there was this Aha! moment and I suddenly saw that the root of all delusion is the conceit: I am. 

I noticed then that whenever I felt suffering present in the mind, thoughts about the self were also present. This mental construct we carry around with us like a heavy suitcase: the self. It is unpleasant, it is stressful, bossy as well, has all these wants and needs, and resentments, it is tiring having a self... and... how nice it feels when one puts it down like a heavy bag one has been carrying without realising. How pleasant it feels to stop identifying with things, to stop taking things personally, to stop longing, to stop feeling angry. How happy it is to forget the self. I think the happiest moments in my life are when I have forgotten the self. 

I then reflect there never actually was a self, it was all a mental construct, an illusion, when one looks closely at it, it can't stand up to the light of day. But the sense of self is still needed to function in the world, so I must use it like a tool to survive; but how nice it feels to not cling to it, to not identify with it anymore (-:

I think that's the reason for the dark night, to see the self for what it is which can be hard to see; but then it is liberating, when one sees how it is this clinging to this delusion of self that causes us suffering, and the realisation that one doesn't have to hold onto it, it is perfectly okay to let go of it, because it was never there in the first place. 

Nibanna (Nirvana) is an element that is always here, it always has been here, and always will be. Another name for it is 'the deathless' because unlike conditioned phenomena it is permanent, it never ceases, and it is unaffected by change. Another name for it is the unconditioned.

 The noble eightfold path is the training that frees the mind from greed, hatred, and delusion. Which then enables one to experience the deathless, nibanna.

The knowledge of nibanna disappears and gets forgotten in time though, and it can remain unknown for very long stretches of time. And then apparently it takes a Buddha, a Tathagatha to re-discover it and teach other beings how to experience it again.


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The sublime abidings

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

There are four beautiful emotional states that can be cultivated and used as meditation objects in Buddhism, they are called the Brahma viharas (the sublime abidings). These are:

Metta (loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence).
Karuna (concern and a wish to help those who are suffering).
Mudita (joy when other beings are happy).
Upekkha (equanimity).

Karuna is often translated as compassion. But the word 'compassion' means 'to suffer with' which is not the right way to look at karuna. Karuna does not suffer with others. It tries to help others, shows love, kindness and concern for beings who are suffering, but does not become sorrowful. To suffer with others is like seeing someone sinking in quicksand and then immediately jumping in next to them, it doesn't help either person and both end up being pulled under. It can be tricky, to find the right balance, to be able to feel empathy for others without suffering oneself.

Mudita is to feel joy when other beings are happy. Happiness is such a rare event in this life for many of us. If you see a being who is happy, then smile and enjoy their happiness too, however brief it may be. In this world happiness can be hard to find and doesn't last, so rejoice when you see it.

Equanimity is to be calm among those who are not calm. To accept the way things are without being pulled under by them. To not allow the suffering of the world to drag one down into sadness and depression, as that is no help to oneself or others. It is to keep one's composure and balance of mind even amidst the suffering in the world. This is where contemplation of the changing nature of things, of impermanence, of not-self can be helpful. There are tragic things that happen in this world, and sometimes there is nothing anyone can do to help, or put things right. One wishes those beings well, and that is a noble wish, but if one becomes depressed because of it, that is not much help to the world. There's enough sadness and sorrow, if you can become someone who keeps their head while others are losing theirs it can be a real blessing for others in difficult circumstances, and help bring peace, calm and balance to another's mind.

Feel love for all beings, help those that you can, rejoice with those experiencing happiness, and feel equanimity for the difficult things in life one cannot change, for those beings who can't be helped. Metta and equanimity is like a knife and fork, they complement each other perfectly and bring balance to the mind. The warm heart of metta and the cool head of equanimity.

Sometimes I like to give peanuts to some crows when I go out for a walk. The crows will fly down to greet me and I feel metta well up in my heart for them. I know they are hungry so I feel karuna for them. I give them some peanuts. This makes them happy, and then I feel joy seeing how happy they are to get the peanuts. Unfortunately I don't have enough peanuts to feed all the birds and there are some birds perched nearby who didn't get any, but I have nothing left to give them. I wish them metta, but accept that I can't feed all the hungry birds in the world, as much as I wish I could. Equanimity is also how I feel when I see the crows are satisfied and not hungry anymore, and I then drift into a contented serenity. This brings a composure that leads to stillness and the other side to equanimity which is when one is in a state of equipose and all the different energies of the mind feel balanced and tuned just right. Like being in the zone. Centred. Composed and still, while everything around you is in a state of flux. Walking feels like stilness in motion.

In the beginning, one can cultivate these emotions by saying phrases that invoke it in the mind. Such as may all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be safe and at ease. One can use whatever phrases one likes to help generate the feeling of unconditional love within.

If it feels difficult it is often because one needs to practise metta for oneself first.
Traditionally one is taught to first practise metta for oneself before radiating it to other beings. This is not wrong and it is not selfish, it is an act of kindness to oneself and others. It is much easier to make friends with other beings if one has become a friend to oneself first. So one can start the practice by saying metta phrases for oneself, may I be well, may I be happy, may I feel safe and at ease, and when the body feels satisfied, one can then radiate that energy out to the world, to all beings everywhere.

Sometimes the feeling of metta can be brought up from seeing something in nature, wildlife, flowers, trees, the sea, colours, the sky, clouds, beautiful sunrises or sunsets, the snow, the sound of rain.

It can also be brought on by memories of kind things one has done in the past, or kind things others have done. It can be generated by thinking of inspiring saintly figures, and characters in stories who radiate the beautiful qualities of the heart.

It can be thinking about angels, devas, ancestors, heavenly realms. Something imaginary, or real. Sometimes I imagine the world at peace with no more violence and war, no more stinginess or cruelty. Just this golden place where all beings live in friendship and peace with one another. It doesn't matter if it isn't how the world actually is, it is the wish for the world to be like that which can bring the feeling of metta up inside. It can also be one's children, one's parents, one's family, one's friends, a beloved pet,. One can recite chants about metta that help bring up the feeling of metta also.

Karuna is basically metta for beings who are suffering. And Mudita is metta for beings who are happy.

There are many ways to find one's way into the sublime abidings. Once there you want to try and keep the momentum going till it becomes strong enough to not need any more input. When the feeling of metta saturates the whole body, one can take the hand off the steering wheel of effort and stop the doing, thoughts will settle into a contented warmth and one can just rest in that feeling and enjoy it, becoming a lucid passenger, depending on the momentum consciousness will just cruise into a state of peaceful stillness that has a healing effect on the body and the mind. This can connect one to deeper mind and the wisdom it contains. There is a deeper wiser part of the mind that wants to talk to us, but we are often too caught up in the self-centred dream to hear what it is saying to us. When we get very still and quiet and are content, not wishing to be any place else, when the mind and body is at ease, and the energies of the mind become balanced, when one is no longer being pulled this way or that by the senses, truth reveals itself and one can see things clearly, then wisdom develops and one can direct that lucid mind state towards anything and understand it better, because one is less deluded and pulled by greed and aversion, one is able to see things better, like having a clean lens.

Not always easy to do though. It takes practise, like anything we learn in this life, repetitive practise, but it is worth it. Over time as one keeps up the practise it starts to develop a momentum of its own going one day to the next, and this momentum grows stronger, builds up an energy of its own. When it gets strong enough, you may not  need to say the phrases anymore, you can just connect instantly with the feeling and bring the energy up at will without using thought or words.

The practise of the Brahma viharas has a lot of benefits for oneself and others.

But there can be days I find it hard to practise them. I don't judge myself any more for that (I used to), but now it is okay if that happens. I just try to flow with where I'm at and work with what's in front of me and investigate that. There are other emotional states one can practise, such as mindfulness, investigation of the here and now, reflection, contemplation, studying, serenity, meditation, the stillness and composure of samhadi, the balance of equanimity, and others that don't spring to mind, but the palette of positive emotions is quite varied and wide, which is a good thing to know. My moods change quite rapidly, and I have found it helpful to have many strategies to hand.

Sometimes unfortunate events happen to us in life. Shit happens. The Buddha's metaphor of the second arrow can be helpful to remember here. An archer gets shot, then does a strange thing, he takes out his bow and shoots himself with a second arrow. The first arrow he couldn't do anything about, but the second arrow he didn't need to shoot, this is the mental suffering we create for ourselves after the event, such as the craving for things to be different, the way we might take it personally. All this just adds extra suffering to what is already an unfortunate event. The first arrow we couldn't do anything about; but the second arrow we can train ourselves not to shoot, and not add more pain to what is already there.

Not easy, at least not for many of us. There are some rare lucky folks who become fully enlightened straight away. But for most, it is a gradual process, that happens in stages, and it can go on for lifetimes. The concept of not clinging is easy enough to comprehend but difficult to practise, which is where the noble eightfold path comes in, that is the training that gets you there.

Beings who get enlightened quickly may be beings who have encountered this before in previous lives, who were already pretty far along in their development, so it didn't take much to bring that final liberating insight that permanently set them free from clinging.

Enough waffle from me anyway. I am not trying to convert anyone to Buddhism, or change anything. I do care about the Earth though and the suffering of this current age, brought about by greed, hatred, and delusion. The mass extinction event and endless violence now happening across the planet, which threatens many different species of life, including our species: homo sapiens.

It is a shame we can't make peace with one another, war is so horrific and unnecessary, causes so much misery and destruction. Why do we still have war? It is now 2023, and we seem to be more war-like than ever, with truly horrific weapons of mass destruction, of cruelty and violence. Why can't we transcend this? Why is it so hard for us to be kind to one another, to live in friendship and harmony with one another and all the other beings we share this planet with.

Why can't we share resources with one another, so we all live comfortably and in harmony? It is a shame that out of all the animals here on this planet, humans have become the most violent and cruel of them all. We think ourselves better than animals because we have all this technology; but the way we behave, we come across as lesser beings, as dangerous and not to be trusted. No other being on this planet behaves the way we do and causes so much destruction. Future generations will look back on this time and wonder why it got like this, why we couldn't change ourselves and put a stop to this madness.

We can be better than this. That is why I am training the mind, why I follow the noble eightfold path. It is because of greed, hatred, and selfishness that this world is so dark. If humans can free themselves of these three psychic poisons, imagine what a world we could build together, what a world future generations could inherit. The world doesn't have to be this way. Things can change for the better, if we have the inclination to, if enough of us choose to.

Still, I have hope that all is not yet lost. I think in the end there will be enough of us that care, who will make the changes necessary to create a better world. One that is in harmony with the other beings we share this planet with, one where there is no more inequality or poverty. One where the other species of life on this planet are treated with respect and friendliness, left to live their lives in peace and dignity. Without a thriving eco-system we won't survive.

I am not particularly gifted at anything, not very good at communication, I don't have much money, and I am not a leader; but I will do the best I can with what I've got, which isn't a lot, but I will try anyway. We all have different talents, and this is great, it wouldn't work if we were all exactly the same, our differences mean we work well as a team.

Anyway getting a bit side-tracked here. I am not trying to convert anyone to Buddhism, I am not proselytising, nor am I telling anyone how to live their lives. I have given up trying to change the world. What another being does with their life is their karma, and what I do is mine. I am not the greatest writer in the world, but maybe some of what I write may be helpful to others, both here and now, and perhaps in the future. I have struggled most of my life with mental health problems, and Buddhism has really helped me, and if any of what I share is helpful to others, even just one person, it makes it all worth it.

Take care everyone, peace and metta. May we all realise the end of greed, hate, and delusion. May we all experience the lasting peace and happiness that comes from an unhindered mind.

 

 

 


Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 16 Feb 2023, 11:51)
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Metta

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Love one another, and we can make it all right.
If we're friends with one another, then we all live right.
Metta changes darkness to a boundless golden light.
And with hearts full of friendship, we all shine bright.

Metta is a Pali word often translated as loving-kindness, benevolence, or friendliness. It is derived from the Sanskrit word 'maitri', (which has the same meaning). And this is derived from the word 'mitra', which means 'friend'.

Metta can be used effectively as a meditation object, which can lead to a blissful samhadi and sublime states of mind. It can also be cultivated in everyday life as we go about our business in the world, wherever we are. It brings many benefits and good karma to the one who practises it, and it can change the atmosphere around one.

It is a powerful blameless magic, and one can be imaginative and creative with how one cultivates and works with this energy. It has the power to transform the mind and make it more divine, happy, friendly, golden and peaceful. When the mind is full of happy peaceful thoughts it makes it easier to settle into meditation.

 Metta works as an effective antidote to greed and hatred, and its cultivation can lead to fortunate events in this life, as well as a fortunate rebirth in the next one.

Metta can have a healing effect on the body, as well as a healing effect on others when we send metta to them.

It is also protective and can make one fearless.
Friendliness towards other beings enriches one's life.
Brings good energy wherever one goes,
So that one never feels alone.

May all beings be friends.


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Don't look back in anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 


Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 14 Feb 2023, 15:39)
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The five aggregates of clinging

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The Buddha taught there are five aggregates that make up a being.

  1. Physical form (the body).
  2. feelings (sense impressions and the mental tone of pleasant or unpleasant that accompanies them),
  3. perceptions (our memory).
  4. mental formations (thoughts, ideas, personality, emotions, moods).
  5. and consciousness (which arises because of and is shaped by the other four aggregates.)

These five aggregates are interwoven and affect one another, and they are what we identify with as the self. But when we slow down and compose our minds through meditative practises, enough to be able to look at the five aggregates closely, we can see that they are always changing and arise and cease due to causes and conditions.

We cling to them because we identify with them, and this attachment to the impersonal changing phenomena in ourselves and in others causes us suffering. It also leads to rebirth, and further becoming.

Why is rebirth a problem? Because of ageing, sickness, death and loss. Even the glorious devas age and die. Even if one gets a good rebirth and lives a long life in the heavenly realms, that life will one day come to an end, when the karma that brought it into being ceases. Then a being can fall from the heavens and return to the Earth, or worse can fall into the Hell realms where the suffering is intense and long lasting. And all of us if we do not uproot greed, hate, and delusion from the mind can go through this cyclic process over and over, this is Samsara. And because of change and impermanence, for the majority of the time the experience is not pleasant, our time in Samsara is mostly an experience of pain, loss, grief, sorrow and suffering. The happiness is brief compared to the unhappiness.

The thought of reincarnation and rebirth can be challenging for us modern humans with our scientific minds; but it is part of right view in the noble eightfold path. Right view isn't just looking at the life one is living now, it is also looking at the possibility of future lives, of rebirth and how that depends on the karma we generate now, i.e. the tendencies of the mind we grasp and cultivate in this life, which grow in momentum and eventually transform into another being.

Things change, we change, even space which we think of as empty is full of quantom particles in a state of flux, the void is not empty, and even then we are never in the same patch of space twice, because the Earth is spinning, and going round and round the sun, which is itself going round and round the centre of the galaxy, we never experience the same patch of space twice, each moment the space we are in is different, even space itself is change.

The mind always wants to cling to something. Perhaps because of the transient nature of things and the uncertainty this brings. But the clinging causes us suffering, it is not pleasant, because the things we cling and become attached to change, and we can't stop them changing, nothing remains the same, nothing lasts, everything is in a state of entropy and impermanent.

There may be momentary sensory gratification in this life from sense pleasures, but they don't last, and sooner or later one experiences the opposite, because one cannot experience pleasure and gain, without also experiencing pain and loss. The eight worldly winds (pain and pleasure, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame) blow in both directions and can change suddenly. One cannot experience one without also experiencing the other. That which arises also ceases. Which can be a comforting truth when one is in pain, but an uncomfortable truth when one is experiencing pleasure. We want the pleasant experiences to last, but alas they don't. They change, and it can be cruel, because even if you manage to get what you want, and can maintain that sensory pleasure, the mind gets bored after a time, the senses become jaded and one starts to crave for something different, everything changes.

The concept of not-self is a tricky one to grasp. Of course there is a self you may say, I mean who is sitting here and typing these words, who is it that practises the noble eightfold path, if not the self? In fact when the Buddha was asked one time if there was a self or not, he point blank refused to answer the question. I think what he was trying to teach us, is the self is not what we think it is. It is not the things that we identify with and call the self. There is no permanent fixed soul that travels through existence like a marble on a marble run. There is no marble. There is just flow with nothing substantial behind it. Just changing streams of energy, of processes that arise and cease due to causes and conditions.

But it is also not true to say that nothing exists. Because there is energy, energy is real, in physics, we are taught that energy is neither created nor destroyed, only converted from one form of energy to another. So where did that energy come from originally and what happens to it at death?

The Buddha said no matter how far back in time he looked, he could not find a beginning to this mysterious flow of energy we call life. And when someone asked him what happens to a fully enlightened being (an arahant) after death, he didn't give an answer, he said such questions are unknowables, at least to those of us who are not arahants. He taught that pondering such things can be a waste of time, and can't be put in words satisfactorily. These unknowables can get in the way of practising what is important. Which is what is in front of us in the here and now. Our lives are brief, and the only really important question is am I suffering or not? The goal of the Buddhist path is to realise complete lasting freedom from suffering. The third noble truth. This is the greatest supernormal power, the greatest knowledge of all.

Still, in an attempt to satisfy my curiosity. I tend to think of it like this. Imagine the energy we call self is like a glass of water. And nibanna, the deathless, the unconditioned element, is like a peaceful ocean that is not affected by weather, currents, change or any other phenomena. What happens to the water in the glass when it is poured into that ocean? Where does it go and what does it become?

Peace and light 


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Dissolving problems

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I am enjoying meditating on the breath energy at the moment and moving it throughout the body. It helps me maintain interest and curiosity in the breath as a meditation object, and it feels enjoyable and invigorating.

I place my attention on the cool air going into the nasal cavity and the warm air going out, like the waves of the sea going into a cave, breathing in, breathing out. I become aware of the whole body at once, feel the breath energy travel deep into the body, into the lower belly and down into my feet and toes, making them tingle with happiness. I feel it in my hands also as I breathe in and out. The energy permeating the whole body, like the ocean filling inner coves. It feels cool, soothing, and refreshing. The spine tingles, and the scalp and back of the neck lights up with pleasure. The feeling of air and the touch of clothing on skin feels pleasant, and the body is comfortable and at ease. The cool air all around me enters the pores of my skin with each inhalation, nourishing every fibre of my being. It feels wonderful.

After a while of doing this, the energy becomes more settled and serene, and then it feels good to stop moving the energy round the body, and just let it be, resting quietly in the awareness of the inner body. The energy bubbles and flows gently on its own, and the mind settles into a peaceful state, composed, content and lucid. Not wanting to be anywhere else. The body and mind feels satisfied and becomes very still, no longer harrassing itself, tranquilised and at peace (-:

It doesn't matter if this is supported by science, meditation is not about objective reality. Meditation is about the subjective reality. It is about the inner world, the inner body, inner being. In meditation, the chakras, the breath energy, magic can all be real, and it can heal.

I read an article recently about the power of the placebo effect, and I wonder if that is an indication of the magic potential of the mind when it comes to the subjective experience (-:

I wonder if that was the meaning behind the movie: 'Life of Pi'. If that film was about the importance and value of the subjective experience, because that is where we live.

I am starting to realise that many of our problems are not really problems, they are just mental constructs and imaginary fears that don't need to be resolved at all. They just need to be dissolved by tranquility. Then whatever's left is easier to work with and understand.


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