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Mindfulness of breathing (practising the anapana sati sutta)

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 20 Apr 2022, 11:39

There is a teaching passed down from the Buddha that is known in all the different Buddhist traditions. It is a complete self-contained training that can take you all the way to the end of suffering. It is called the 'Anapana sati sutta' (teaching on mindfulness of breathing). There are also many different interpretations from different teachers on how to practise this sutta. So it is good to shop around and try out different techniques and see what works well for you.

I have found a way of practising that suits me and I feel comfortable with. I set myself a length of time, and cycle through the sequence over and over till the alarm goes off. If I am just doing a short meditation I will cycle through it once.

For the first cycle I do each step for three complete breaths, as I want to go over it all, as it is a training exercise. This also helps me memorise the sequence and helps with the modern day human deficit of having a short attention span at times.

For the second cycle I slow down a bit and increase the amount of time to about 5 – 10 breaths for each step. Then for subsequent cycles I don’t count the breaths anymore, I just stay with each step for as long as feels good, taking my time and naturally moving on when it feels right to do so. Sometimes I am not even worrying about the sequence, it just all seems to happen naturally like a flow.

 But when first starting to learn I found it helpful to practise 3 breaths per step, as going through the sequence like this can easily be fitted into a ten minute break. Then when one has memorised the sequence and knows it well enough and has the luxury of time, one can let go of the counting and just enjoy going through it at whatever pace feels good, I find sometimes I do it rapidly and other times I really go over it slowly and get deeply absorbed in it.

Learning this sutta is a bit like learning to play a piece of music. It has four tetrads. First you’re learning to calm and bring ease to the body.

Then you are working with feelings (in Buddhism feelings are bodily sensations and a mental feeling tone that accompanies them which can be either: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). In this tetrad one is deliberately and shamelessly bringing into being feelings of joy, bodily pleasure, and bliss.

Then one becomes sensitive to thoughts, watching them and calming them to a hush. (Thoughts are seen as sensations in Buddhism, they come from the mind sense.)

The third tetrad is about the emotions, our moods, our state of mind, noticing it and then satisfying and gladdening it.

 Then one steadies the mind, and releases it - setting it free.

The fourth tetrad is where it gets deep and one focuses on change, both change here and now in the short term, how we are currently riding on the energy of the big bang, all these energies arising and passing in the moment, impossible to hold on to as they keep changing; and how things change in the long term: time, day and night, seasons, ageing, death, entropy, impermanence, how things fade away and decay, both in the short term and long term. And seeing that nothing lasts, one invokes dispassion for the senses, for the world, samsara, and the story of self.

One then focuses on cessation of suffering and the knowledge that there is a much greater happiness to be found within. What does the mind feel like when it is not craving?

And the last step is about letting go of the grasping. Moments are phantoms, there's nothing to cling to, they are insubstantial because they are always changing. My body changes, my sensations change, feelings change, perceptions change, thoughts change, emotions change, consciousness changes, and one day I will die and this body will rot, and whatever I leave behind will also in time fade away, nothing lasts, nothing is eternal. Everything I hold dear and everyone I love will become separated from me due to the nature of change. Understanding this, one lets go of the attachment to samsara, lets go of attachment to the world, lets go of aversion, of delight in the senses, of delusion. And instead learns the secret of how to cultivate a profound lasting bliss that does not rely on anything outside oneself. A state of mind that doesn’t suffer, that exists in a perpetual state of emotional well-being in spite of everything. Nibanna.

It is a training, you are training the skills in this meditation to induce these states of mind, and it’s okay to use one’s imagination and memory to help invoke them. Find ways of talking yourself into these states of mind. It is a lot about the stories we tell ourselves. It isn’t easy at first, there’s a desert one must cross as one learns it, and it can take many hours of practise. But one day the Buddha promises it will yield great fruit, and be of great benefit.

As with anything we learn in life, with practise and perseverance it will become automatic, like second nature. And when one knows it off by heart, one can really get absorbed in it, and carried away in it’s melodies and increasing depth to beautiful states of higher mind, all conjured and brought into being by the meditator.

A concise summary of the steps taught in the anapana sati sutta:

First tetrad (body)

1. Breathing in long, one knows they are breathing in long. Breathing out long one knows they are breathing out long.

2. Breathing in short, one knows they are breathing in short. Breathing out short one knows they are breathing out short.

(Just simply notice if your breath is long or short, you are gently gathering the mind in.)

3. One trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in sensitive to the body and breath; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to the body and breath.’ (The sense of the body is in background awareness whilst central focus is on the breath, this is known as one-pointed attention. It is not a narrow tunnel-vision focus. It is a whole-hearted attention involving the whole of one’s being. An embodied attention. )

4. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in calming the body; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out calming the body.’

Second tetrad (sensations and feelings)

5. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in sensitive to rapture (joy); one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to rapture (joy) .’

6. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in sensitive to pleasure ; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to pleasure.’

7. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in sensitive to thoughts; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to thoughts.’

8. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in calming thoughts; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out calming thoughts.’

Third tetrad Mind (Heart, emotions, mood, state of mind)

9. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in senstive to the mind; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out sensitive to the mind.’

10. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in gladdening and satisfying the mind; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out gladdening and satisfying the mind.’

11. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in steadying the mind; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out steadying the mind.’

12. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in releasing the mind; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out releasing the mind.’

Fourth tetrad (Dhamma, insight, knowledge, wisdom)

13. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in focusing on change; one trains: ‘I shall breathe out focusing on change.’

14. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in focusing on dispassion (because everything fades away); one trains: ‘I shall breathe out focusing on dispassion.’

15. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in focusing on cessation (of suffering); one trains: ‘I shall breathe out focusing on cessation.’

16. One trains: ‘I shall breathe in focusing on letting go (of the clinging); one trains: ‘I shall breathe out focusing on letting go.’

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Asoka

Emancipation of the heart

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Thinking even happy thoughts,
Gets tiring.... 
and I rest in footsteps,
Crossing over streams,
Nothing's what it seems.

Perception shifts to absorption
Unified awareness streaming on and on
it goes...
Flows... into a lucid state of mind
this river of consciousness refined
refreshed by samhadi
profound serenity
Hearing
as if for the first time
Colours and tactile sensations rhyme
with ethereal perceptions
beautified by luminosity
and a loved up bliss
cooled by equanimity.


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Asoka

Sublime abiding

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 5 Apr 2022, 13:42


Chest beat a surging flame of worry
I sit and meditate to chill me down
Breath centres open wide
Odd mix of pleasant unpleasant
I calm the energies to a hush and
Let go of the spiky aversion
Greet with love instead
Love does not ask for anything in return
It is its own reward
For it makes one's mind and home
A pleasure to be in
even when
The dark side approaches.


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Asoka

Life as it is

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Feeling unwell again today, and that's alright, sickness is part of life. It isn't sickness or fatigue that's the problem. It's my aversion to it that's the problem. Let go of the aversion and one can make peace with anything.

The five wise reflections

' I am of the nature to become sick, I have not gone beyond ill health.

I am of the nature to age, I have not gone beyond growing old.

I am of the nature to die, I have not gone beyond death.

Everything I hold dear and everyone I love will become separated from me due to the nature of change.

I am the heir of my kamma, the owner of my kamma, born of my kamma, related to my kamma. Therefore I should try to remember whatever I do good or bad, becomes the kamma I inherit.' - [attributed to the Buddha]


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Asoka

Patience

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There's a bit of a conflict going on with what I am learning in Buddhism and popular psychology where one is encouraged to think that all emotions are okay. In Buddhism we are taught in right effort that unwholesome emotions are not okay and should be prevented or abandoned. Then one should work at bringing into being wholesome emotions and sustaining those. 

In one sutta the Buddha talks about how before he was enlightened he spent some time dividing up his thoughts into either wholesome or unwholesome. He watched his thoughts carefully and reflected on them and saw that those which where to do with sense-desire, ill-will or harmfulness led to harm for himself and others, they obstructed wisdom and did not lead to nibbana, so he placed them in the unwholesome pile and expelled them from his mind bringing them to an end.

And when he observed thoughts of letting go (renunciation), goodwill, and harmlessness, he saw they were beneficial, and where conducive to gaining wisdom, and attaining nibbana. So he nurtured those thoughts, strengthened them and brought them to completion. And at the end of this experiment he said it worked!

How long he spent doing that I don't know, he spent much time prepping his mind before he sat under the Bodhi tree to get enlightened it seems. So one should not get too disheartened at not being able to change one's head straight away lol.

I read something Ajahn Brahm wrote in his book 'mindfulness, bliss and beyond, a meditator's handbook' about how he loathed the all night sits he had to do in Thailand as a monk. He would feel ill-will towards the sits feeling they were stupid and unnecessary. He was also suffering from malnutrition and sleep deprivation at the time. He wrote it took him a couple of years to realise it was his aversion that was the problem, and when saw that he stopped fighting it and then found peace. Reflecting on that I realise I have the same problem sometimes. 

Anyway he's a great monk now, and I find it reassuring when monks and Buddhist teachers talk about how they also struggled on the path in the past and how they overcame it. As it gives me hope that I can do this, and helps me cut myself some slack for not getting it right away, it can take years of training. I guess we have all had years of training the mind in the wrong way and become masters at unwholesome states of mind. One isn't going to change that course in a single night (-:

Patience seems to be my teaching this year. I am having to learn a great deal about being patient. As the mind is a lot like a garden, that grows, flowers and fruits in its own time. Impatience will not make anything grow faster.

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Sign of peace

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A bit depressed at the moment. It is a difficult state of mind to shake off as it feels physical as well as mental, and very much accompanied by a distinct lack of energy, making it hard to find the strength to practise at times. I feel quite weak and vulnerable just now. I am trying to abandon this unwholesome state of mind however. I am much better these days at letting go of the thinking processes and resting my attention instead in the feeling of embodiment. But I find it hard being around other people's energies when I am like this, and I prefer solitude. Conversation can be challenging. I try to invoke loving-kindness, but it is hard to generate it consistently, even when using the voice of another (listening to a dhamma talk), I just struggle. So I have resolved to just feel non-ill-will instead, which is the bare minimum I think. I wonder if it might be that I find repeating words and phrases becomes tiring after a short while and yearn to just let go of them, so experimenting with invoking loving-kindness without using words, just going straight to the feeling.

The enlightenment factor of joy is also difficult to generate, so letting go of that one for now.

I feel very much like I need to retreat from the world and go into my coccoon, rest in the deep centre of my being and be still, so I can expend as little energy as possible and just let the world continue around me while I remain in my inner cave, taking refuge in the deepest part of my being. Unfortunately being still like this is not always practical, and feels unpleasant when it is disturbed by external forces, as I don't want to come out of the cave, and do so reluctantly.

So I am exploring other wholesome states of mind I can conjure instead. Equanimity works if I can conjure it, and so does serenity. I am getting much better at conjuring up serenity, and the sign of it can appear even when I am fatigued and depressed. It is a beautiful place that feels boundless, timeless, and can often spontaneously appear without me even trying to conjure it up, whatever mood I am in, it feels like home. I call it serenity, but in fact I think it borders on the edge of samhadi, or perhaps something else entirely, I am not sure, it is so hard to describe what it feels like to go there, but it is a very pleasant place and I often don't want to leave, it is so peaceful and balanced, it is different state of consciousness that transcends this world and the thinking processes. It is wordless, maybe that's why it feels so good. Is much easier to conjure with meditation, but can also be conjured outside of meditation in daily life sometimes.

One can still function whilst in that state of mind, but one feels unhurried, unconcerned and unstressed by things. It is like I am in another dimension whilst simultaneously interacting in this one. It sometimes feels like a secret place I go to, and nobody knows I have gone there. But I haven't perfected it yet and it can be challenging to maintain, especially when other people's energies forcefully intrude and take me out of that tranquil head space and back to this crazy modern world. Which is why I guess there is wisdom at times in seeking solitude. But this isn't always a luxury I can afford.

Still I am making progress with it, as when I first experienced this state of mind it only lasted a few seconds and poof it was gone, and try as I might I couldn't recreate it. But mysteriously it would often appear again when I wasn't expecting it to, then mysteriously disappear if I got too excited at finding it again. And I would try to figure out what I was doing prior to it appearing. But it was frustrating as it seemed to have a will of its own and try as I might it wouldn't play ball. Then after a lengthy time of absence it came back more regularly and stayed for longer, sometimes for minutes at a time. It is what I imagined the kingdom of heaven might feel like when I was a child, it is a beautiful peaceful state of mind that goes beyond time and space, almost dreamlike, but in a good way. Once its gone though a strange emotional amnesia appears and it is hard to remember what it was like to be there.


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Enjoyment training

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 24 Mar 2022, 21:51

Today has been challenging. Energy factor low at the moment. But I am calm at least, which is the fifth factor of enlightenment. There's also a bit of equanimity there too (the seventh factor), and there must be some mindfulness (first factor) because I am aware of these states of mind. These three are considered wholesome states of mind to be cultivated and sustained, because they are part of the seven factors of awakening (1. mindfulness -> 2. interest and investigation -> 3. energy and determination -> 4. rapture/joy -> 5. calmness/serentiy -> 6. Samhadi (exquisite stillness) -> 7. equanimity ).

I think out of all the factors generating joy is perhaps the most challenging part of the path for me. Weirdly I can sometimes generate pleasure in the body without joy, but not always. If I can get pleasure going though, it tends to help with invoking joy, and then that joy increases the pleasure, which increases the joy, with them both feeding each other. I think it is because feeling some pleasure makes meditation more enjoyable. Otherwise it is a very dry dull practise that sends one to sleep. I very much dislike the dry insight practises, I did try those one time and it sent me into a long depression, I think the Buddha tells one to generate joy and pleasure when cultivation meditation for a good reason. A gladdened contented mind is much more cooperative and prone to exploring equanimity and insight.

There are days when I can be really joyful, and full of loving-kindness, but maintaining it is hard, because I can sometimes wake up a completely different person, even if I go to bed feeling very well and full of love, get enough sleep, I can wake up the next morning feeling fatigued and struggle to get out of bed and do anything, it is very hard to generate joy and loving-kindness when I am like that. It is hard to just rest and flow with it, due to the demands of the world and the need to build a livelihood to support myself. Especially with the doom coming from the news about how we are heading for a massive food shortage in the world, but I can disengage from that and accept the way things are, but still when I am fatigued, joy and loving-kindness is hard to invoke. I have tried using the voice of another to generate it, i.e. listen to dhamma talks, this can work sometimes, but other times I just can't get anything to generate it. At least that state of mind is impermanent, as joy and loving-kindess does eventually come back again. Very odd.

But I am determined to learn how to generate joy without needing anything external to do so, whatever state of mind I am in, I will learn how to generate it at will. The enlightened mind is about being in a perpetual state of emotional wellbeing. And the practise of meditation, and especially the anapana sati sutta (mindfulness of breathing teaching) is a lot like learning how to play a piece of music, the Buddha uses the word train, it is a training, one is learning how to bring the wholesome states of mind into being and sustain them. In a sense you are learning how to play the emotional structure of the mind, to free yourself from suffering. One is learning to create exquisite beautiful states of mind that cycle and once they have become well-established and like second nature, become who you are, and at that point there is no more going back to the negative states of woe, one has done the work and now abides in a constant state of emotional wellbeing that never fades away - nibanna.

That is what I keep reminding myself, that this is a gradual training. There's nothing magical happening, it is just practise and perseverance. The same way we learn any skill or craft in life, dedication and patient determination. If one keeps putting in the right causes and conditions (the noble eight-fold path), in time once fully developed, enlightenment naturally follows.

Some days it is a trudge, and others like hang-gliding (-:

But through it all one just keeps putting in the causes and conditions and develops and completes the training. The same way we learn anything in life, Buddhism is no different.

It does help to have guidance from an experienced teacher, and to have the right teacher as well. Even in Buddhism there are differing views and not all of Buddhism teaches the same thing, they are not all singing from the same hymn sheet. And some teachings have drifted away from what the Buddha actually taught and make the dhamma confusing and hard to understand.

Once I have properly developed, understood and mastered the eight-fold path, I would like to teach it one day to others and pass on what I have learnt. I have decided there needs to be people who preserve the orighinal teachings (or as close to as possible with what we have passed down to us) of the Buddha. Not that I am criticising other flavours of Buddhism, but I feel strongly that there needs to be people who do keep those core teachings of the Tathagatha (Buddha) alive for future generations, and my heart wants to be one of those.


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The spiritual life

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 5 Mar 2022, 21:34


Contemplating becoming a monk one day. I am not there yet however. I still have a number of things I need to work through to reach that level, but it is something I am aspiring to now. The lifestyle of a Buddhist monk has suddenly becoming very appealing to me. Strange because if you had asked me a month ago, I would not have felt the same. A lot of things seem to have changed in me, things I thought never would change. At first it felt quite disturbing and seemed to upset me at a deep level, I became afraid of the changes, but now it is settling, I am quite happy about it actually. I can't explain, very difficult to put into words what has happened; but suddenly the world just doesn't feel like it has such a pull on me anymore. All the things I thought I wanted suddenly I don't particularly want as much. My main aspiration now is to develop in meditation and grow stronger in the way of dhamma.

 But I am not there yet. It may be a while before I get there. When I ask the Buddha about it, (yes I know he is in para-nibanna and will never again incarnate anywhere or teach devas or humans, but sometimes I swear he talks to me.) anyway, it could be a higher aspect of my mind being helpful by taking on the role of the Buddha, he just tells me not to run before I can walk, and not to walk before I can stand, and not stand before I can sit. He advises that a gradual training will suit my particular personality. Escaping the household life by riding off on horseback in the middle of the night as the heroic Bodhisattva may not work out so well for me, we are all a bit different after all and I am certainly not Gautama. So I should get the hang of being an Upasaka first. After that there's the intermediate stage between Upasaka and a monk where one deepens their Upasaka commitment and permanently takes the 8 precepts instead of five, then once one has got the hang of that stage, one can look into ordaining as a novice monk. 

Anyway I feel quite happy thinking that one day I could become a monk, it feels possible and I can see a clear path towards accomplishing that goal. 



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Asoka

Kingdom of Samhadi

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 3 Mar 2022, 22:49


Are there other worlds existing alongside this one?
Irradiant kingdoms and castles in the sky.
With strange and fantastic beings 
living beyond our locked up cognition,
our dry empty material condition.
Of money, concrete blocks and consumer dreams.
Our TV eyes blinking;
but nothing is what it seems.

Blinded by dark arts of finance and
drab clinical reality of so cold science.
Industrial noise, greed, sorrow and disease.
Beings factory farmed by dead machines.
The wheel of consumerism keeps on churning
crushing and breaking everything in its path.

Yet sitting still in serenity
I hear celestial music play.
See strange beings traverse the air,
Their otherworldly kingdom moved 
by the rhythmic push and pull of my nostrils.



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Shape of self

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 17 Feb 2022, 17:23

It is interesting how we all rub off on each other, every person we connect with changes us in some way. We truly are all the people we meet. 

What self is there?

Our bodies are changing, slowly ageing.
Sensations are changing all the time; like a white-noise of continuous data we either feel as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
Our perception of life's myriad objects changes.
Our thoughts, memories, emotions, and the story of self we narrate, about who we are, and our life, is always changing. I am not even the same person I was five minutes ago when I sat down to write this. 
All these events change our consciousness like light-reflecting ripples on the surface of a pond. Consciousness too is always changing. 

This is what I think Buddhism means by emptiness, by no-self.  It is saying there is no fixed unchanging entity or soul, just a fluid dynamic process, a flowing stream that's different from one moment to the next. 


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Asoka

Sun notification

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This music reminds me of what I sometimes feel when I become serene, still and lucid in meditation. It feels like an otherworldly place I visit that's safe and warm. Like a golden boundless heaven that exists simultaneously with this world, only you have to slow your consciousness down and tune it in like a radio to get there, and just like a radio it suddenly pops into awareness and then ah there it is! A soothing expansive bliss, a profound feeling of contentment and ease, a feeling of security, of love, peacefulness and pleasant breezes. Something timeless, enigmatic, and a feeling of home, filled with radiant beauty and consciousness untainted by the material world. Like when the rain is falling, but you are sheltered from it and enjoying the sound of the raindrops. So hard to put into words, but I find that sometimes music and paintings will take me there via the language of colour and sound, and this is a song that reminds me a bit of that state of mind.



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Dispassion

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Working with a negative cycle of the mind just now. But practising not getting entangled and caught up in the story about it all. It is hard work, the bad mood can be sticky like superglue and hard to shake off. But one has to persevere.

The breath can help, feeling the cool air going in, the warm air going out. Bad moods have unpleasant sensations, so focusing on something neutral can bring some relief. Especially if one is unable to feel or generate any pleasure, a neutral feeling can feel pleasant after a negative mood.

Paying attention to the breath can help with abandoning unwholesome states of mind; but more often than not you will need to talk your monkey mind into a more chilled out zone of thinking before it will even settle with the breath. So one has to reason with the mind, I sometimes do this out loud (when I am alone of course). I have a conversation with myself like a crazy person. Hey don’t judge me, it works!

This evening I was experiencing intense agitation, anger, sadness and mental pain. I went for a walk and as I walked I thought about what this unwholesome state of mind was: just sensations, feelings, thoughts, memories, emotions, so what? Why am I so bothered about them? Why do I need to tell myself these stories about it? I know nothing lasts in this world, everything is always changing, other people, me, the weather, society, time, day, night, seasons, this body is ageing and dying. Everything is impermanent, and loss and separation is fated for all, which makes it all feel a bit disatisfying and stressful. Which is the first noble truth: ‘there is suffering.’

The second noble truth is about the origin of suffering. I reflected on our attachment to things, things that are always changing, we chase and want what we think will make us happy, only to find when we grasp for them that there’s nothing but phantom air, just an insubstantial moment that is gone. Our mind comes into contact with something external, which triggers a sensation and a mental feeling, which triggers a perception of like or dislike, which triggers craving or aversion, which then becomes grasping for, or pushing away; and the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves about the world and who we are, which becomes our consciousness.

When one looks deep into one’s being for a permanent soul, there is nothing there. We are just a process that’s always changing. The jewel at the heart of the lotus:l is emptiness. Because everything is changing there’s no substantial self.

I thought about the third noble truth: ‘there is an end to suffering;’ but I find that one difficult to reflect on as I have not yet experienced the end of suffering. So I tend to reflect on that one with faith – faith that there is an end to suffering. That it is possible to be free. There are many others who have achieved this throughout history, and they all say it is possible to put an end to suffering, so that gives me hope and faith.

Which leads nicely to the fourth noble truth: the path that leads to the end of suffering: the noble eightfold path. Which has led many people throughout history to enlightenment and the end of suffering.

And there you have it, talked myself into feeling a bit calmer about it all. I focused on dispassion. Dispassion for my senses, my feelings, dispassion for my emotions, dispassion for this body, this life, the dramas, the ups and downs, the beautiful and the ugly, dispassion for this world and the things of it. Every time a thought popped up in my head and before I got entangled in the stories I just said the word: ‘dispassion’ to silence them. It became like a mantra and did help to quiet the mind. When I got home I even wrote ‘dispassion’ in big letters and hung it on my wall. And you know what it worked! At least sufficiently enough to weaken the unwholesome state of mind so I could then move onto invoking a more wholesome state of mind in its place. Equanimity felt natural at that point, so I worked with that, brought it into being, and cultivated it, equanimity is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. I kept saying the word like a mantra, filling my mind with equanimity, until it all felt a bit like water off a duck’s back and I finally let go, settled into a meditation posture and enjoyed the breath.



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Rapture, serenity, a blackbird, and the mountain of awareness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 24 Jan 2022, 11:20

I have found a nice spot in the Winter gardens which provides adequate shelter from the rain. And I have made friends with a blackbird that hangs out there. It came to say hello as I was meditating, and perched on a stump directly in front of me, watching me in its intent birdish way, at one point it did this cute cartoon-like yawn that opened my heart right up, and then there it was, a great whoosh and rush of something that swept and carried me off in the strength of its current and for a moment took me away from it all, leading to a free-floating spacious rapturous serenity which was a very pleasant state of mind.

 I think an elusive feeling I have been trying to pin down for a good year or so now in meditation, is in fact rapture, which for me at least is a better description of what one is trying to invoke in meditation than joy. Rapture is much more ecstatic, it carries one away in its intensity. With plenty of rushes, tingles and otherworldy feelings, there is a slowing of time that makes sensations exquisite with pleasant trails and echoes as they rise and fade away like the tide of the sea. Rapture feels like a connection to the divine, to the heavenly realms.

I reflected on what one-pointed attention is. Remembering what I heard in a dharma talk that it means an embodied awareness, a wholeheartness involving the whole of one's being paying attention. One should be aware of the whole body, of one's presence while paying attention to the breath. Using the metaphor of attention being like the peak of a mountain. When one is looking at a mountain, it isn't just the peak one sees hovering above an invisible land-mass, one sees the whole of the mountain. This understanding of what one-pointed attention means, and my encounter with the blackbird brought a genuine feeling of rapture which lead to serenity and a happiness that felt otherwordly and freer than anything I have encountered before in the material world.

I left an offering of sunflowers seeds on a nearby stone for the blackbird. Nature has often been a teacher on my journey to enlightenment.

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Serenity, a change of career path, and big mind

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 22 Jan 2022, 18:00

I went for a walk and sat down and meditated for a short time on a sheltered bench in the Winter gardens here. And I managed to steady the mind enough and reach a point where I felt quite serene, then feeling better from my anxiety and worries I went home. And suddenly ping! The idea came that I should get on with building a website, and I could use WordPress to quickly get a free one up and running, that way it doesn't matter that I don't have any capitol to invest in it just now. Once I got a wordpress site ready I can then use my knowledge of web design to tweak it to how I want it to look and feel, then upload my paintings on there, and try to sell them through that, as well as offer free downloads of my paintings that people can print for free on their own printers at A4 size (which is the original size of the paintings). And if anyone wants to have a bigger or more professionally done print, I will put a link to some sites that will print larger sizes for them and also offer the paintings on other products. And I will earn a small amount of income each time a print is sold there. I think it is roughly 15 - 20% or something like that, maybe less, but if there's enough sales it could add up. Anyway I will try to think of other ways to make money with a free wordpress website. Trying to think of multiple streams of income. I have a (payme) paypal link I could use so that visitors can both buy the paintings or make donations towards the free downloads of the paintings I will offer, but no obligation, just if they can afford to, with no judgement for anyone who can't. 

Anyway enough of the boring waffle about my sudden flash of insight into what I could try to improve my financial situation and create a livelihood to support myself. The magic thing about it was as I was sitting there in front of my computer working out the design for the site, I felt this serene feeling and warmth in my heart, I have felt it before when I was doing web design during one of the assignments in a previous module. And got a strong feeling that perhaps this is what I should be doing, that I am better suited to web development. I think the serenity and warm heart was like big mind confirming this to me, that I should give this a go. So I have decided I am going to change my career path to web development instead of software.

 I can do a little bit of coding, enough for website design anyway; but the maths and kind of complex coding I am learning to do at the moment is too difficult for me and my mind doesn't feel good about it, I do not enjoy it or understand it very well. It does not give me the happy serene vibe I feel when it comes to website design. 

Anyway it seems that meditating and getting nice and serene taps into the deeper mind, the unconscious, or big mind; which gives it the opportunity to talk to small monkey mind and this produces insights, but only if monkey mind is still enough, quiet and steady enough to be able to listen to what big mind is saying (-:

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Metta moon

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 19 Jan 2022, 22:22

There was a truly majestic moon earlier this evening. It was large full and coloured with a reddish yellow glow that shone across the ocean in a line towards me - its tranquil light reflected in the rippling water. I had to stop for a moment, almost hypnotised by wonder and just look at it and send it metta - beautiful moon (-:

Very sleepy meditations today, I seem to be struggling with drowsiness just now in my sitting practise. Exploring, when I remember, the treacle-like surrealness that lies on the edge of sleep and the effort involved in staying lucid in that state of mind. Sometimes giving in to the songs of drowsiness only to wake suddenly with a start and feeling disappointed to see that not much time has passed on the clock with still many minutes to go. Then training myself not to feel disappointment whilst simultaneaously being kind to myself. This challenge is teaching me about the sleepy mind at least.

I am enjoying walking meditation a lot just now, there are moments when I get into a nice flow of footsteps, embodiment and breath that feels invigorating, and freeing when for those moments one realises that one has not been thinking. It is lovely to be able to just drop thought like that, to be fully in the body, in sync and flowing with the present moment, not clinging to any of the senses or caught up in the head. It is a bit like riding a bike, once the balance is right it feels effortless and enjoyable. However, once a thought does arise, one's balance starts to wobble a bit and if more thoughts appear the flow state suddenly pops like a bubble and it can feel a bit uncomfortable and unpleasant when this happens, the thoughts feel like torture and an unwelcome interruption to the experience and I then have to be careful not to get tangled up and involved in the stories or react to them. Instead just gently drop them without feeling guilt for not thinking about whatever it is; or that I need to tidy up whatever I am thinking about before I can get back into the pleasant flow state. It takes effort and a bit of will, and some kindness as well, without judging myself; but with practise and getting the balance right, I can just let the thoughts go  and return to the body and breath, the sensation of movement and the feeling of the outside air on the skin. Be with the feet and get back into the beat (-: 

Walking is a kindness to the mind, a rest from the incessant thinking and sedentary lifestyle that many of us lead in the modern world. So when walking one should set aside all the internal dialogue and busyness of study and work, and just enjoy the feeling of embodiment. It is possible to train oneself to do this, I have done it, and the monkey mind does become steadier and wanders less. It does get easier with practise - and then it feels wonderful, like one has gone beyond it all and connected to something much deeper and more real. 


   

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What is time?

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 19 Jan 2022, 10:16

I am practising regular meditation at the moment. And currently doing three sittings a day, one in the morning, one at noon, and one in the evening. Just for 30 minutes each time, although I am contemplating the idea of doing a 2 hour long sit on a Sunday afternoon, as I want to experiment with sitting for longer to see if it will help me settle into deeper states of serenity. Out of the three daily sittings, the morning one is the hardest, I often battle with drowsiness in the first sitting (even with coffee) and I was experimenting this morning with trying to remain lucid during the drowsy surreal states of mind that arise when one is on the edge of sleep. I sometimes experience what are known as hypnagogic hallucinations just as I am about to doze off which alters my perception a bit and things can get quite weird, so I practise staying still and being mindful during those experiences, which can generate some interest in what is happening and help me stay awake.

The easiest of the three meditations is the evening one I find, I seem to feel a much stronger connection between mind and body and a greater depth of stillness and can feel energy that at times feels otherwordly but profoundly peaceful, with some interesting visual effects behind closed eyelids. The evening meditation also seems to go by the fastest, and I am often suprised by how quickly the time seems to go in the evening sitting. The morning meditation however seems to drag on, one minute can feel like ten and it can be very challenging to stay sat there. 

It is interesting how one's perception of time changes, and how the mind seems to be able to alter how slow or quickly the passage of time goes by, but only relative to one's mind, everyone else's perception of time is not effected by ours. I am reminded of how Einstein said that time is relative, that time can be a unique experience to us all. This goes quite deep when you think about other species of life. Plants for example have a completely different sense of time to us humans. Their world seems very slow to us, but to them it is normal. Birds apparently experience time seven times faster than we do, and insects even more so, to insects we appear to move very slowly. And there are apparently bacteria that live deep under the ocean floor that are as old as 100 million years and reproduce once every 10 000 years.Yet despite our differences in speed, to each species of life their experience of time feels normal.

An interesting thing that I experimented with one time in music was slowing down bird song, and when I did this it sounded like a human singing, and vice versa when I sped up the human voice it sounded like a bird singing. I saw one time on a documentary that when humans are sped up seven times faster than normal on camera their movement looks similar to the movement of birds.

Perception of time is an interesting phenomenon, time really is relative. But one thing we can all be sure of, is whatever species of life - time comes for all.



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The metta path

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 24 Dec 2021, 22:09

Metta means: loving-kindness,friendliness, joviality, benevolence, altruism, goodwill.

Traditionally you start training by practising it for yourself. By becoming your own best friend and being kind and compassionate toward yourself. Which is not easy. Once you have got the hang of practising metta for yourself, you start practicing it for others, usually in this order: someone you love, then a neutral person, then an enemy, and then all beings everywhere, radiating the energy outwards in all directions. It is an energetic practise, the first of the four Brahma viharas.

There are lots of tricks one can use to get metta going. Sometimes the sea brings it up in me or the singing of a songbird, even fresh air and a nice breeze can do it. One can also use imagination to invoke the feeling, such as imagining a famous spiritual figure like Jesus, Avalokitishvara, Maitreya, a saint, or the Buddha.

The idea is to invoke the feeling of metta within and then keep it going. Cultivate it, strengthen and increase it.

Saying phrases can help, such as "May I be happy. May I be safe and well. May I be serene and boundless. May I be relieved of suffering. May I be at peace." (Obviously just replace the word 'I' for the name of a person or 'all beings' when practising metta for others). Make your own words and phrases up that help you generate it. In time you won't need words to invoke it, it becomes a warm sensation in the heart area that radiates outwards. 

Sometimes praying for those you love can invoke it. When I ask angels and devas to help with stuff, that can invoke it. Memory can invoke it, most of us have experienced metta at some point in our life, popping an ecstasy pill (MDMA) at a rave and feeling pure empathy and love for everyone is a memory that helps me invoke it at times. Metta (once it builds up momentum and gets going) can feel a bit like that in the first jhana (first stage of meditative absorption). And gradually settles, becoming more tranquil, serene and still, till it reaches equanimity.

The four Brahma viharas are: Metta (loving-kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (joy in another's happiness), Upekka (equanimity).

Karuna and Mudita both come from Metta. Karuna is loving-kindness for one who is suffering. And Mudita is loving-kindness towards one who is happy.

For example, today I saw my crow friends when out walking, this brought up metta within me, I felt compassion for them so gave them some peanuts 🥜 this made them happy and I felt mudita as I watched them enjoy eating them. Then I continued my walk and feeling satisfied and content in the crow's happiness I settled into equanimity.

Metta and equanimity compliment each other like a knife and fork.

Metta, Karuna, and Mudita can take one up to the third jhana (third stage of meditative absorption). The fourth jhana is always equanimity regardless of the meditation object used, so it is said that metta, compassion, mudita can only take you to the third jhana, but to reach the fourth jhana you have to let go of them, as the fourth is pure equanimity. Well technically speaking it is mindfulness purified and born of equanimity. Equanimity actually begins in the third jhana, and the fourth is where it is refined and isolated by itself. In the fourth jhana there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fourth jhana is said to be the ideal state of mind to gain the liberating insight which leads to nibanna. But one does not have to wish for insight, apparrently from that lucid state of mind insights naturally arise. Then once one has fully realised nibanna there is no turning back and the liberation cannot be reversed and one never incarnates ever again in any world. Yet the mind still exists, it is like what fire becomes when it is no longer held captive by its fuel. The fuel being (greed, hatred, and delusion). 

Greed covers lots of stuff such as lust, craving for intoxicants, eating a little more than you needed to, to the extremes of hoarding wealth and stealing - there's many different levels to it.

Hatred also covers many things such as boredom for example which is aversion to the present moment, or aversion from lack of stimulation. Hatred also covers conceit, being boastful, as well as the more obvious extremes such as arguing, fighting and murder.

Delusion can also mean ignorance. It is a lot about the stories we tell ourselves about reality. The excuses we make to justify different behaviour. Or just believing in misinformation, disinformation or acting out of ignorance due to lack of information. The mind is a delusion generator. And delusion is the hardest of all to remove. Greed and hatred sprout from delusion. They also feed delusion. The four Brahma viharas can be helpful at weakening the power of greed and hatred, enough at least to be able to get to the root of the problem which is delusion.

When one has fully uprooted greed, hatred and delusion from the mind that is the state of mind known as nibbana and one becomes a Buddha (fully enlightened being).

 I chant the metta sutta sometimes to help me invoke Metta.

You can be creative with Metta, it is like a craft; and yes it can be a magical practise. For example, when walking along the street I will get focused while walking and invoke the feeling of metta and then think of Maitreya (Bodhisattva of metta and the next Tathagata) and as I do I become a channel and imagine multiple copies of Maitreya coming out of my heart in all directions, holding a bell shaped object that when shaken fills all those around with loving-kindness. I have a weird imagination lol.

But I am sure you can think of your own ways of radiating metta. Sometimes I imagine it as energy waves radiating outwards, and sometimes I don't need to imagine at all it just radiates out if I set the intention to radiate it to all beings and it happens. Different moments require different methods, you have to learn to be spontaneous and do what naturally feels right in each given moment. 

I have different mood cycles. And sometimes during the negative cycles there are days when I can't invoke Metta at all, I feel nothing. It isn't easy and equanimity and patience can help here, although they can be hard to generate too. Patience can be invoked sometimes by imagining the depressed cycle as me retreating from the world and being in a womb of sorts. In a state of becoming. Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a nymph becoming a dragonfly. It can be very painful and challenging. And it may take a while and fill me with doubt and stagnation. Then when the cycle changes and I feel better energy arise and feel well again I am able to practise metta once more, but I find this time it has mysteriously grown deeper, like some part of the unconscious during the gestation period has been working things out and changing things, rearranging them, almost like the mind is rewiring itself. It is unpleasant and can really test one's endurance, shake you to the core, demolish your beliefs and perceptions. But afterwards one gains a new found clarity and freedom, and develops in the eight-fold path. This conscious part of me, let's call it the ego mind has very little to do in the process of becoming, you just have to be patient. Most of the growth happens outside of one's awareness in the deeper hidden mind. Another way of looking at it, is as being like pearls of wisdom. 

Also it seems from my experience that there is a malevolent outside agency that will try its utmost to deter you from the path, so be prepared for a bit of a fight. The sceptic can think of it as a trickster part of the mind. But my experience is there is both an internal and external enemy that will do what it can to make you lose your way. This energy is very tricky, and it can be oppressive as well as seductive. In the suttas this being is known as Mara. 

So don't despair if you can't do this right away, it takes years of practice, perhaps lifetimes for some. You have to persevere, pick yourself up after every failure, brush yourself down and try again. If you do this you will get a bit stronger each time and eventually get there. But don't burn yourself out, try to find a balance between laziness and over-doing it; look for a nice middle setting that works for you, and be prepared to be in it for the long game. 

Also remember to take refuge in the Buddha. The dharma. And the Sangha whenever you need to. These three are known as the triple gem and it is a powerful jewel. And  don't dismiss the power of doing this. There is lots of grace out there I am discovering. And I find whenever I take refuge in any one of these, (again depending on the moment and what feels right), helpful energy and support will come to my aid. I think there are spirits and other beings seen and unseen who are devoted to this practise, and like angels, will help when you struggle. The sangha also includes all Buddhists everywhere, and those who practise Buddhism in the deva worlds as well.

Metta itself is also protection if you can generate it suffiently enough, the good energy will protect you and make you fearless.

I am not enlightened yet, see my previous blog posts and rants for proof of this. But I will keep trying. 

This is the spiritual path I have set for myself, even if it takes me lifetimes to accomplish I will get there one day, although I am aiming to do it in this very life if at all possible.

Peace, metta and good luck on your own journey to nibanna.

The Metta Sutta

Alternative translation of metta sutta

The eleven benefits of practising metta 

Here's a great collection of talks and Q&As done by Ajahn Sona on the topic of Metta:

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLodJ_OuDCKlexVt5B4exeYkiyM7sE8u5e


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Sacred herb

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Life is hard. I try my best, I really fricking do. It might not seem like it to others. To most I guess I am pathetic and weak-minded. I am always getting critisized, judged and misunderstood. But none of those people are living inside my head, they don't know what I am going through, what it feels like to be Richie. They just look at the world from their limited perspective and expect everyone to be able to see what they see, and cope as well as they do. But we aint all the same, and I am honestly fricking trying.

 I honestly don't know how other people do it, how they keep their head together in this world. I seem to be completely incapable. The only thing that really helps me consistently is smoking weed (a strain with a ratio of moderate THC levels and high CBD), it is medicine for me. It calms me down, helps me concentrate better, helps me meditate, helps me work and get things done, helps me see things different, helps me exercise, helps me sleep. Without it everything is unbearable, and I am not joking. I really cannot handle being straight,  I just fall apart. I don't know what normal everyday consciousness feels like for everyone else, but it is suffering for me, I can't stand it. It is full of unpleasant feelings and horrible thoughts that are hard to ignore, and I have been practising meditation for over two years now, and I still have trouble with my thoughts and emotions. Constant thoughts about suicide, pretty much every day at the moment (don't worry I won't act on them, but they are tiring nonetheless). I feel constant agitation, and anxiety. I can't think straight, my head is always scattered, even with all this Zen training and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour therapy) I still struggle. It is a mission to get anything done at the moment, to function, as this agitation is the wrong kind of energy, not a helpful energy at all. I can't sleep well, I'm lucky if I get a couple of hours a night at the moment. This mood I am in is really unpleasant, my brain seems to be constantly stuck on this setting at the moment. It is unbearable. I think this is why I constantly write on here as otherwise I am just pacing around my room, getting irritable at the slightest thing, with noises put me on edge, I can't think straight or think rationally, I can't get any work done, and  desperately looking to find some relief, but not getting any. I have been in this state of mind for weeks now and it won't ease up, the prescription meds don't help and I am tired of seeing doctors and trying different pharmaceuticals. I wish they would just prescribe me cannabis, I know that works and I would be fine then. 

It is hard to get enlightened when one's own brain is like this. Meditation feels impossible at the moment, and spiritual practise is a real battle. If I get some weed I know I will be able to meditate, and practise the eight-fold path. But without it I struggle, I seem to be incapable of practising with this agitation. The stuff I read in the suttas or have learnt from Buddhist teachers about dealing with agitation doesn't work, and the four right efforts are not working for me, they work for others, but I guess it is much harder to practise if one has a mood disorder unfortunatley. Although I miraculously find it all much easier when I have some cannabis, the whole path seems doable then, is strange I know. 

But then if I got enlightened whilst using weed, would it be real? Or would my mood deteriorate again once I went without the cannabis, and then it wouldn't really be enlightenment. Is it possible to get to nibanna when one is so dependant on a herbal medicine. I don't know. Buddhists do tell people to take medicine if necessary and not to suffer needlessly, and for me it is definitely a medicine I need to function. I do know that cannabis would have been freely available at the time of the Buddha. It would have grown everywhere, and would have been used as medicine for sure, possibly even by the monks and nuns at the time, although there's nothing written in the suttas about it as far as I am aware. So I don't know. Would the Buddha have been okay with me using cannabis? Did the Buddha use cannabis? Who knows. I know the sages who created kundalini yoga were all on cannabis, it was an essential part of the practise. And I do know it is bloody difficult for me to function without it, but the stigma in society about it is no help. A stigma created by this modern world and its ridiculous hypocritical war on psychedelics. Anyway I know I can never be a Buddhist monk as they would never approve of me using cannabis. Most Buddhist groups have the five precepts, and the fifth one is: no intoxicants, and I imagine most would class cannabis as an intoxicant. However I will be studying with a different Buddhist group next year and they have changed the wording of the fifth precept slightly to: I will refrain from using intoxicants that make one heedless. Which I feel does give me some wriggle room, as cannabis definitely does not make me heedless, if anything it makes me more mindful, calms my thoughts down, and I can meditate much better on it. For me it is meritous. It is medicine, and I am sick of hiding that out of shame and fear of persecution in an ignorant brainwashed society. I think it is a miraculous plant, a real wonder. It saved my life, it really did. I wouldn't be doing this degree if it wasn't for cannabis helping me get my head together. And I also wouldn't have even started practising Buddhism if wasn't for cannabis. So giving credit where it's due for this sacred herb.

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Wisdom of the sangha

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021, 18:28

This is a tough module I am studying (M269). Spent hours trying to understand and answer a question on the TMA. I tried so hard, but had to quit in the end and submit the assignment, leaving the last parts of the question unanswered, I will lose a lot of marks, but I did try my best. I am honestly wondering if I am going to pass this module, it may be that I'll have to resit it again next year if I don't. 

After submitting the assignment, I sat in Zazen over Zoom. I was feeling stressed about a lot of things during the meditation. And felt quite dark in mood while sat there. I was worrying about the assignment; but also anxious about the state of the world and all the crazy stuff happening just now. Sad and mad about seeing species go extinct, something I am witnessing with my own eyes. 

 Then there's the homelessness crisis, in part due to banks kicking people out of their homes due to missing their mortgage payments, not their fault either, these familes lost their income because of the lockdowns. The government is so keen to save lives by treble-vaxxing everyone, yet I can't help but feel if they really were trying to save lives, why don't they help these poor folks trying to survive on the streets in the middle of winter? Why don't they help the old and vulnerable dying in care homes due to staff shortages or dying in NHS hospitals because relatives can no longer afford to pay for their care. I feel afraid of the huge poverty that is coming from the fallout of this pandemic. Why are they doing nothing to help these people who are at risk of death from extreme poverty?

 I also feel so sorry for the refugees. it was horrifying to hear on the news about that large fishing boat that purposely put itself in the way of drowning refugees and the lifeboats trying to save them. How could they be so heartless and cruel. I cannot understand why people can become like that. 

And I am sick to death of all the happy clappy fake plastic smiley corporate advertisements. Sick of all the celebrity bullshit, blah blah blah so what. All this being broadcast while the Earth is in a major crisis right now. I wish the governments of the world would show more enthusiasm, effort and coordination over reversing the sixth mass extinction event than this mass-vaccination campaign. If they can put so many resources, logistics, academics and energy into vaccinating everyone, surely they could do the same for turning this terrifying mass extinction event around, and also help all those suffering from poverty and homelessness. The governments are so fake, them and the media.

I spoke of all my concerns with the Zen group today (one can stay and have a discussion with the group after meditation). They were all very kind and said a lot of helpful things to cheer me up and help me feel better. Reminding me there are lots of good people out there. And although it all seems futile at times, whatever small way we can help others means something to those we help. That one needs to fight back with compassion. They advised me to read about someone called Joanna Macy, saying she was someone who may be a kindred spirit for me in these dark times, and might help me feel some hope and rekindle love and compassion in my heart.

 I also stated to my friends in the sangha that I had made a vow to never take my life no matter how hard things get. After confessing to them that I had felt like doing so. Mainly because I couldn't bare the thought of seeing any more species go extinct, or witness any more refugees drowning at sea, any more war, poverty or suffering, I didn't want to live in the Orwellian, dystopian world we seem to be heading towards. They were happy to hear that I have made a vow to never commit suicide. I feel publicly making this vow and the painting I made to seal it is a kind of protection for me. Because the thoughts do constantly whirl around my head at times, but seeing my painting and remembering my words can help me stay alive I think.  

One bit of advice that stuck out for me was to try and see my negative mood cycles as like being in a womb, a state of becoming. A time to retreat, nurture and take care, not get too overwhelmed with the sorrow of the world, but care for it with a tenderness like one would a growing baby, and all that sorrow can give birth to something beautiful if one is patient and gentle with it. It can become love and compassion instead of anger and hate. The bodhisattva of compassion Avalokiteshivra has many many hands and eyes, and those who have taken the bodhissatva vow are her many eyes and hands in this world.

I was so glad that I sat with them today and that I stayed to chat at the end. I nearly didn't, my mood was so negative I didn't want to bring it into the online zendo, but at the last minute I decided I would sit with them. And it did help, not just me, but the other people there were grateful for the discussion we had at the end, as the words of wisdom shared by the different members of the group seemed to help everyone. 


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The four foundations of mindfulness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 25 Dec 2021, 15:08


Here is a summary of the four foundations of mindfulness that I chant every day to help me remember the Satipatthana Sutta (The Buddha's famous teachings on mindfulness).

I find chanting to be a powerful tool for instructing mindfulness on what it needs to be paying attention to. After practising a while you will find that sati (mindfulness) works on its own volition like a trusted guard at the gate, a powerful ally, working independently of the narrator mind. I find the phrases I regularly chant  will often pop up out of the blue during the day to remind me of important teachings.

It is important to also bear in mind that simply being aware of these four foundations isn't all there is to the practise. One does so in combination with Right effort. Which in a nutshell is about four practise principles 1. Preventing unwholesome states of mind arising. 2. If prevention doesn't work, one abandons unwholesome states of mind as soon as one notices they have arison. 3. One generates and brings into being wholesome states of mind. 4. One cultivates those wholesome states of mind so that they grow and develop and become continuous, i.e. one's default behaviour. 

I have borrowed heavily from the Birken forest monastery chant book. And changed it in places, adding some extra bits that I find helpful in my own spiritual practise. Particularly in mindfulness of the body, where I have added an extra three elements (space, consciousness, and interdependence) to the traditional four primary elements of earth, water, fire, and air. I also simultaneously practise awareness of the seven chakras that correspond with the seven elements found in kundalini yoga. Which is not what the Buddha taught, but is something I find helpful in my own practise.

 I have also changed the part on cemetary contemplations, to the five remembrances, as in the West we don't have charnel grounds to visit where we can observe a rotting corpse and reflect on death. But I have added a bit extra to the chant to help with the contemplation of death. 

I have also added the eight worldy winds and the brahma viharas to mindfulness of feelings.

Be aware this is very much a chant I have tailored to help me on my spiritual journey, and it may not be right for others, so please bear in mind that some of it has deviated from the original sutta in places. So I would advise the reader to check out the original sutta if they find it interesting. Or read the summary in the Birken forest monastery chant book. 

The four foundations of mindfulness

The Buddha addressing the sangha:

'This is the direct path for the purification of beings. For the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation; the disappearance of pain and grief. The true attainment of the way and the realisation of nibbana. Namely the four foundations of mindfulness: '

Foundation one - mindfulness of the body

  • Mindfulness of the four postures: walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.
  • Mindfulness of the breath.
  • Mindfulness of the present moment.
  • Reflection on the different parts of the body. Hair, nails, teeth, eyeballs, skin, muscles, blood vessels, mucous, nerves, internal organs: brain, heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, liver,  gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, intestines, bones, bone marrow. 
  • Contemplation of the seven elements:
    Earth element both inside the body and outside the body.
    Water element both inside the body and outside the body.
    Fire element both inside the body and outside the body.
    Air element both inside the body and outside the body.
    Space element both inside the body and outside the body.
    Consciousness both inside the body and outside the body.
    Interdependence both inside the body and outside the body.
  • The five reflections:
    I am of the nature to grow old, I have not gone beyond ageing.
    I am of the nature to become sick, I have not gone beyond ill health.
    I am of the nature to die, I have not gone beyond death.
    I could die at any moment, and that is normal; people die at all different ages. And when I die I will become a rotting corpse and return to the four primary elements (earth, water, fire, air), this is a natural process and the fate of all living beings. Every body has an expiry date. I should not fear death.
    Everything I hold dear and everyone that I love will become separated from me due to the nature of change and impermanence.
    I am the owner of my karma, the heir of my karma, born of my karma, related to my karma, abide supported by my karma. Therefore should I frequently recollect that whatever actions I do for good or for bad - that is the karma I will inherit.

Foundation two - mindfulness of feelings 

(n.b. in Buddhism feelings also means physical sensations as well as mental ones.)

  • Mindfulness of pleasant feelings.
  • Mindfulness of unpleasant feelings.
  • Mindfuness of neutral feelings (something that you are neither grasping for nor pushing away).
  • Mindfulness of worldly feelings. The eight wordly winds: pain and pleasure; wealth and misfortune; success and failure; praise and blame.
  • Mindfulness of unworldly feelings: metta (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy in another's happiness), upekka (equanimity), samhadi (deep state of stillness, focus, absorption), jhana (profound state of samhadi), nibbana (liberation of mind that cannot be reversed).­­­­­

Awareness of the manifestation, arising and disappearance of feelings.

Foundation three - mindfulness of the mind

Understanding the mind as:

  • Greedy or not.
  • Hateful or not.
  • Deluded or not.
  • Vulnerable or not.
  • Conceited or not.
  • Collected or scattered.
  • Developed or not.
  • Focused or not.
  • Liberated or not.

Awareness of the manifestation, arising and disappearance of these states of mind.

Foundation four - mindfulness of dharma categories

­­­­­­The five psychic irritants:

  1. Wordly desire
  2. Aversion
  3. Dullness and fatigue
  4. Agitation and worry
  5. Doubt (lack of confidence)

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

The five aggregates of clinging:

Clinging to:

  1. Material form
  2. Feelings
  3. Perceptions
  4. Thoughts, memories and emotions
  5. Consciousness

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

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 of their abandonment (letting go); and the future non-arising of the fetters that originate dependent on both.

The seven factors of enlightenment/awakening:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Investigation of dharma
  3. Energy and perseverance
  4. Joy
  5. Tranquility
  6. Samhadi
  7. Equanimity

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

The four noble truths:

  1. Knowledge of suffering
  2. Of its origination
  3. Its cessation
  4. And the path that leads to the end of suffering (the noble eight-fold path)

The noble eight-fold path

  1. Right view: Use the four noble truths and the other dharma categories as a guide/tool to help one spot, prevent, abandon and uproot the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion from the mind.
  2. Right intention: The intention of letting go (renunciation); the intention of non-illwill; the intention of harmlessness (non-cruelty).
  3. Right speech: I will refrain from false speech; I will refrain from malicious/divisive speech; I will refrain from harsh speech; I will refrain from pointless/frivolous speech.
  4. Right action: I will abstain from killing any being (including myself); I will abstain from taking what is not given; I will abstain from sexual misconduct.
  5. Right livelihood: Having abandoned wrong livelihood, one continues to make one's living with right livelihood. A livelihood that does not cause harm to oneself or others.
  6. Right effort: One generates the desire for the prevention of unwholesome states of mind, by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering.
    One generates the desire for the abandonment of unwholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering.
    One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind, by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering.
    One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and full-development of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering.
  7. Right mindfulness: Having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world.
    One abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
    One abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
    One abides contemplating mind as mind, ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
    One abides contemplating dharma as dharma, ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
  8. Right samhadi: Quite secluded from worldly pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind. One lets go of the story of self and enters and abides in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, and has the rapture and happiness born from seclusion from the world and letting go.
    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. Is without applied and sustained thought, and has the rapture and happiness born of concentration (samhadi).
    With the fading away as well of rapture, one abides in equanimity. And mindful, clearly-comprehending, still feeling pleasure with the body. One enters and abides in the third jhana. On account of which the noble ones annouce: 'One has a pleasant abiding who has equanimity and is mindful.'
    With the letting go 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.

The Buddha addressing the sangha: ' If one were to properly practise the four foundations of mindfulness for seven years; or in some cases just seven days. One of two results can be expected for that person. Either one gains final liberating knowledge here and now in this very life. Or if there is a trace of clinging remaining, in the next life one is reborn in the higher heavens and gains final liberating knowledge there. In both instances, one is never again born into this world. '


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Asoka

The five remembrances and the nature of change

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A bit under the weather today. Woke up with a touch of sickness this morning. Didn't feel comfortable lying in bed as had sweated a lot in the night. So I got up and had a bath. Then sat in meditation with a Zen group I sit with regularly. Felt quite unwell whilst I sat, and have an annoying cough which kept interrupting the flow of meditation and stopped me getting into a deep state of concentration. At first I wondered why on Earth I was sitting meditating with others on Zoom when I just wasn't feeling it. But I remembered a story about a monk who got sick with malaria, and he carried on sitting and meditating with the sangha every evening, and even though he felt like he was on death's door, and felt gravely ill, he kept meditating and it was hardwork, he struggled; but he also persevered and eventually managed to reach a flow state known as samhadi (A profound deep stillness, lucidity and unification of mind) and from then on his sickness turned around and he got better. I have heard other stories like this, so I think there is something to it. There's something powerful and healing about getting into a state of samhadi. I didn't manage to do that today, after 30 minutes I felt like I had had enough and left the sitting to lie down for a bit. 

But it was not a wasted effort, there was merit there. I think just sitting with the sickness and learning how to flow with it and be kind to myself was a helpful experience. I tried to remain aware and mindful throughout and learn what I could about the mind and how to be okay with ill health and pain; not reacting, accepting things as they are, letting them be, without the suffering. 

 I can't seem to generate the energy of metta (loving-kindness, goodwill, friendliness) today, feel a bit weak and fatigued, athough I will persevere with that as I have found doing metta practise for the bacteria/viruses causing sickness in my body has powerfully turned things around for me in the past. I can't seem to bring up that feeling just now though, so am spending a lot of time in equanimity. I may listen to a playlist of dharma talks on metta later, as using the voice of another can help to generate the feeling of metta when I am struggling to be able to.

Remembering the five wise reflections oddly brings me comfort, and seems to help the mind to accept the way things are. It reminds me that the first four reflections: ageing, sickness, death, and separation  are natural, and happen to all living beings. The last reflection reminds me to show kindness to myself and others, and develop a generous heart and try to give in whatever form I can, even if that is just silently practising metta for myself and others, it still helps. As these are actions that can bring one good karma. 

The Five wise reflections

I am of the nature to age; I have not gone beyond old age.
I am of the nature to get sick; I have not gone beyond ill health.
I am of the nature to die; I have not gone beyond dying.
Everything I hold dear and everyone that I love,
Will become separated from me due to the nature of change (of impermanence).

I am the owner of my karma, heir of my karma, 
Born of my karma, related to my karma.
My karma is the ground on which I stand.
Therefore should I frequently remember:
Whatever actions I do for good or for ill,
Become the karma I inherit.



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Ode to joy

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 26 Oct 2021, 14:14

I regularly sit in Zazen with a Zen group via Zoom. And there is a chant we do at the beginning of the sitting called the verse of the robe. And I have a pet jackdaw, and she has recently started chanting along with me and the group, and it made me laugh today whilst I was chanting. But in hindsight I hope it didn't upset or offend anyone. Obviously we are muted, so it was my Zoom self laughing away on the screen whilst we were chanting, which may have looked inappropriate and odd to anyone looking who couldn't see the context of my situation. Still, it did help me to generate some joy and gladness in meditation today. Something I feel is an important and necessary step in training the mind. Joy can help one work better and stop becoming too dry, dark and grim in thought.

 In my experience whatever the mind focuses on tends to snowball. 

There is the middle way where one is neither excessively happy or sad, but I am not someone who likes to be dead-centre in my emotions. I imagine equanimity as being like a dial, and for me the ideal spot is where the needle is a bit off-centre to the right towards joy and pleasure, but not completely all the way, because if that gets too excessive that is not helpful either. But I find without any joy or pleasure I feel a bit like a stone Buddha, so for me a bit of joy and joviality brings the mind to life I find. 

Ah well enough of my crap, back to my studying. M269 has been the most challenging module I have studied yet, but is stretching my brain in good ways I think. Very chewy module, so have to study in bit-size chunks and have regular breaks.

Anyway have a good day wherever you are, at whatever point in time and space you are reading this.

May all beings know profound peace and wellbeing.


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Asoka

Mind and matter

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Listening with the body while others speak. I feel tingles and energy flows. Discover that I can be paying attention to my feet and still understand the words being said and perfectly follow the conversation; but without the thoughts about the inner story getting in the way. This feels like a whole new dimension of being, to listen with the body.

Loneliness if left untreated becomes anger at separation and disconnection. But does a Buddha ever feel lonely? Or is a Buddha as happy by themselves as they are with others?

Mind empty, there are thoughts but they are not the mind. There are sensations and feelings, but are these the mind? There is this body that ages, gets sick and dies, is this the mind? Where is my mind? What is mind?

When the inner critic surfaces and begins its judgement I discovered moving one's attention away from the head to the heart area or the belly seems to  counteract its energy a bit and help bring into being better intentions.

It feels good when one can place attention where one wants and keep it there. Listening with the body, one can be with any part of the body and stay with it as long as one likes, thoughts just like any other sensation just continue in the background, but one does not have to pay attention to them.

Sometimes my attention likes to be a bit out from the body, aware of the space around it. This feels comfortable and peaceful and after meditation there is a luminous visual affect, like a glow which seems to cover the entire body and at times one sees this luminous quality in other beings, like an ethereal glow.

In my heart centre there is a luminous warmth that spreads throughout the entire body, saturating it with bliss. In the belly the warmth feels more solid and grounding. In the neck and spine, lots of tingles, head feels luminous and at times trippy and otherworldly. Rushes and tingles in the scalp and temples, and then a warm flush in my face and neck.

 Pleasant energies circulate throughout the body. It seems to me that these energies are good for one's health. It feels rejuvenating to saturate one's body with them. Are they a mind-generated phenomena? I'm not sure, but then isn't everything we see, hear, smell, taste and touch just a mind-generated phenomena? The world we encounter out there is built by our mind. When you see something, where are you seeing it? Where is that sight taking place? Out there? Or in your head? Or both? How do you know?

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Asoka

Metta bee

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 24 Dec 2021, 22:15

Found a bumble-bee struggling on the road earlier today, wasn't moving and seemed barely alive. I put my open hand next to it on the ground, and to my amazement it clambered on, and I carried it home.

 I was taking part in a meditation and writing retreat with a Zen group via Zoom. So I sat in Zazen meditation with it cupped in my upright hand. Where it just rested and warmed up, and over the course of the meditation it perked up and started cleaning itself and stretching. Then began crawling from one hand to the other, seeming to become more and more alive, its feet tickling my palms. At the end of the meditation (30 mins), the group leader on Zoom rang the bell, and the bee started buzzing excitedly and I got the sense it was ready to leave me. So I went back outside and stood on my doorstep, felt it vibrating as it buzzed on my palm. And from my open outstretched hand it took off perfectly, and flew away, seeming to be in good health and happy. I wished it well. 

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A wish for all beings

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 20 Jan 2022, 21:17

There is a place on the edge of consciousness where angels fly, where devas meditate and dance.
 Where my feet make complex interweaving patterns on the floor.
The ground and colourful shapes pulsing with each footstep like a graffiti beat on the street.
Within my heart is a luminous orb, with many swirling  moving rings circling it, going round and round,
each one containing a neverending chain of orbs, like fractals.
I imagine those swirling rings expanding  beyond my body,
swirling off in all directions,
through all dimensions and time and space,
with the wish that all beings be free, happy and peaceful.


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