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Asoka

Pea Souper

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 12 June 2023, 22:02


I am a tired one today.
High humidity and
brain foggier than pea soup.
Energy is a distant memory.
Body aches and grumbles.
The mind struggles to converge.
Would rather lay in the netherworld of sleep.
Can't face the world, let me be.
But there are things to do,
And effort must be made.
Albeit reluctantly...

Three weeks behind in my studies and it is hard to get back into them. Keep staring out of the window. Remembering things from my childhood. My father's face. 

It feels like he has had a peaceful transition at last. When I was in the woods the other day I felt this incredible peace like something had changed, and it felt like he was saying he is alright.

Later that day, an old message he sent me popped up unexpectedly when I logged into a social media account. The message from my Dad contained just one word: 'Thankyou'. 

It felt like a message from the other side. There was a warmth in my heart, and the tears fell. 

Bless him.

My shoulder hurts. I have been carrying about 5 litres of water each day into the woods to help some tadpoles struggling in the drought, but alas they are all dead now. The water evaporated faster than I could keep up with.

Part of me feels relief that I no longer have to carry the water. Another part feels guilty for feeling that way. And another part encourages me by saying at least my heart was in the right place.

How complex the mind is, all these different selves, where do they come from?

It is like a committee sometimes, these different minds within minds. Like fractals. 

How to gather them together and unify the monkey mind.

Meditation... 
Bhāvanā

.. keep putting one foot in front of the other.
That's how we walk the path to freedom.





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I take up the way of cultivating a clear mind

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


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

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

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

 Life as it is, the only teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deathless.

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

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

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

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

- the Buddha.

...


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Asoka

Calm mind

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 24 May 2023, 20:44


" What is commonly referred to as a ‘calm mind’ or a ‘mind integrated in samādhi’ is a state of inner stability that is no longer associated with the meditation object, which merely prepared the mind by holding it steady. Once the mind has entered into samādhi, there exists enough momentum for the mind to remain in this state of calm, independent of the preparatory object, whose function is temporarily discontinued while the mind rests peacefully.

Later on, when the mind withdraws from samādhi, one can focus attention on a dhamma theme (Buddhist teachings). When this is practiced consistently with dedication and sustained effort, a mind long steeped in dukkha (stress, suffering, dissatisfaction) will gradually awaken to its own potential and abandon its unskillful ways. The struggle to tame the mind, which one experiences in the beginning stages of training, will be replaced by a keen interest in the task at hand. "

- Ajaan Maha Boowa Ñanasampanno (Acariya Mun - A spiritual biography)


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Nothing personal

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Pummelled by negative thoughts.
Sickness often makes them worse.
Creaky joints and muscle aches.
A clumsy fatigue,
And the humidity bakes.
But it's nothing personal.

This body
Where did it come from?
It just grew by itself.
From a sperm and an egg.

I didn't make it.

Am I the body?
This bag of flesh.
Fated to age and one day die.
And when it becomes a corpse,
Is there still an 'I'?
What is it that animates it so?
When the body dies where do 'I' go?

I watch the myriad sense impressions.
Detached
Choosing not to
like or dislike,
but still feeling love.
Metta for the body (-:
May it be well.

These changing sensations.
Not who I am.
Nothing personal.

I brush the delusional thinking aside
The inner critic.
Just rubbish
Nonsense
I know that now.
I don't have to pay attention to it anymore.
Not self, not me, not I.
Just conditioned loops from the past.
Sankharas
They don't last,
They arise, persist for a time, and cease.

I don't have to listen to these negative thoughts.
They're not me
Not self.
So I just let them be,
While I centre with root energy.
The sensations in my feet
As I walk down the street.
Each step a beautiful connection with Mother Earth.
The ancient witness of every birth.

Where does perception come from?
Our memory and
Recollection.
Recognition and
Association.
An interpretation
Of the past.

The mind gives it all meaning
And falls for its own interpretations.
Believes them to be true.
Becoming our opinions.
And the stories we weave in our heads.

We conceptualise our perceptions
Elaborate on them
Identify with them
Make assumptions about them
Assign significance to them.
But their nothing personal.

And consciousness where does it come from?
Is it a product of the brain?
It contains everything.
Yet I don't know how it works
It keeps changing.
Sometimes it isn't even there
When I'm asleep and not aware.
Does it still exist when there's no sensations?
No perceptions?
No thoughts?
No memory?

Who is this 'I' anyway?
This person I cannot find.
Is it just a construct of the mind?

All of this
Where is it happening?
The world.
Life.
The universe.
The mind.
What is it?

Nothing personal.

...


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Asoka

Renunciation

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

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

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

At their source is the conceit I am.

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

This 'I' is the problem.

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

What is true renunciation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

...
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Asoka

Vesak day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Asoka

Earth kasina

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 2 May 2023, 21:21


I feel a strong connection to the earth element at the moment. The feeling of it under my feet when standing or walking, or sitting in a chair, is reassuring. I feel its depth and stability. Its boundlessness in all directions beneath. It absorbs the unwanted energies of the mind without me asking it to, neutralises them, grounds me, earths me. Calms me, cools down the senses. Its ancient solidity making me feel safe, at ease, comfortable, peaceful. Like it is holding me, centring me. I become still like a mountain, unperturbed, unshaken, serene, dignified, composed.

And the breath appears in my awareness and it feels nice to centre with that whilst simultaneously resting in the stillness of the earth element, with the experience of the body from within. A teacher at a dharma talk I listened to tonight, reminded us while we sat in meditation, that the breath is always with us, wherever we are. (At least while we are alive anyway.)

The world goes on around, but I remain almost unnaturally still. Like I am made of rock, the outside of the body like the walls of a cave, my consciousness all snug and warm at the centre of my being. Serenely aware of everything happening around me and within me, holding it all without effort, and not bothered by any of it, the sensations and different energies flicker like white noise, and through it all there is the breath, which is like a tide of air going in and out of the body, entering all the different crevices as it does, filling them up with life energy. 

Sometimes the breath slows and even stops, and it isn't a problem, sometimes the body doesn't seem to need to breathe as much, perhaps because it has become so still, it needs less oxygen, I am not sure why it happens. But I am not the only one who experiences the breath stopping sometimes in meditation, it is quite a common phenomena and I have been reassured by many different meditation teachers that it is nothing to worry about. Just enjoy the stillness, the body will breathe again when it needs to. The body knows what to do.

For a time today I sat on the beach, feeling strongly connected to the Earth. I sat still like a mountain, rock steady, feeling the ground below me and within me, keeping me steady. The cool touch of the air felt pleasant in the nasal cavity and on the skin, constantly changing. The fresh air felt invigorating and refreshing, and the experience of the inner body felt exquisite. I was content to be there and nowhere else. The involuntary movements of the mind ceased and I went into an altered state of consciousness that was very pleasant and different from anything I have experienced before in meditation. I could not seem to move for a while, indeed I wondered at one point if I should move, because I could hear people walking a dog nearby, but I couldn't move at all, I was deeply absorbed. I didn't mind though. I was not bothered about anything. I was in a beautiful tranquil state of mind that wasn't a trance, but very different, hard to define, definitely an altered state of consciousness, there was no doubt about that.

The sense of self was gone. I was one with everything, the Earth, the sky, the people and animals nearby, the universe. Not separate from anything, not apart from it, there was a feeling of wholeness. I felt a great relief from all that had been troubling me before, the anxiety was gone, and I wondered why it had all been such a problem before. 

It felt like a taste of freedom. 

I am learning more and more how important the subjective experience of the inner body is. One can centre with that anywhere, live there all the time. Make it your home, inner peace.


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Allow yourself to be misunderstood

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 1 May 2023, 16:44


Humans are social creatures and I think that is why we worry so much about how we appear in front of others. We try to maintain an image that pleases those around us. But it is a maze that one can never get out of. It does not lead to the end of suffering, just leads to more suffering, to stress and anxiety. Nobody has control over the opinions of others. If you worry too much about those you will never get free.
 
People will always judge and compare, it's human nature, and worrying too much about one's image, about pleasing others, will make one an unhappy prisoner of the worldly winds: praise and blame, gain and loss, success and failure, pain and pleasure. These winds are outside of our control. They blow one direction, only to then suddenly change and blow in the other direction. You will never find a secure happiness if it depends on the worldly winds.
 
I have made it part of my sāsana (spiritual practise) to deliberately fail at times. And then I watch what the mind does when I fail. Watch the ego machinery whirring away. The inner critic. See how it works, what it does. What makes it tick. The conditioning. Use failure as a way to learn how to be okay when things go wrong, to not be attached to outcomes. Find that centred feeling within that doesn't depend on anything outside myself. A place where I can shrug my shoulders and let things be. Develop equanimity.
 
I will allow myself to be misunderstood by others, without feeling the need to correct them if they get me wrong. And not take anything personally. After all, there isn't a person there to take things personally, and there never was (-:
 
If others get me wrong, I know the truth, and that's what counts. My spirit friends also know the truth, and so does Mother Earth. She is my witness. She has seen the things I do, the beings I have helped during my life here. She knows what is in my heart. If I remember this, another's misunderstanding about me is no big deal really. My virtue remains intact.
 
Obviously, I will behave appropriately and do no wrong, live a moral life, show kindness and generosity where I can. But I can't please everyone, and it is tiring trying to. I don't need validation from others to feel inner peace. That is a gift I give to myself, and no one else can give it to me.
 
...
 

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Kingdom of heaven

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 30 Apr 2023, 22:22


I will live filling this whole field of experience with feelings of love, empathy, and goodwill.
Above, below, all around, without limit – I will suffuse this entire field of awareness with beauty.
May it uplift myself and all beings everywhere, in all directions and dimensions, across all of time and space.
I will abide in this dwelling, make it my home:
A kindness that is abundant, exalted, immeasurable.
A blessing that is without hostility or greed.

I will abide filling this entire field of awareness with equanimity.
Above, below, all around – pervading it with a bigger view.
Hold it without clinging, without suffering or preference.
With clarity, wisdom, balance and composure.
May it bring calm to myself and all beings everywhere.
I will abide in this dwelling, I will make it my home:
An equanimity that is abundant, exalted, immeasurable.
A blessing without resistance to what is outside my control.


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Meditation and enlightenment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Travelling through the darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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Watching ourselves and others

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


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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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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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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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I see you Mara

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 27 Mar 2023, 15:45

Woke up today in a foul mood. The mind was full of darkness and negative thoughts about myself and others, seething with resentment, it was horrible. For a good few hours I was tormented by this unwholesome state of mind. Not a clue where it came from, it was like it sprung up to ambush me as soon I woke up. I felt overwhelmed by feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing, and the craving for non-existence.

It went on for some time, then I remembered there are stories in the Buddhist Suttas of disciples experiencing the exact same doubts and negativity I was experiencing this morning. Including the Buddha himself on the night of his enlightenment, where in the first part of the night, his mind was pummelled by dark thoughts and energies in an attempt to put him off his quest for awakening. Described in the sutta as the armies of Mara.

Mara could be a metaphor for the defilements in the mind that we all have to face when walking the spiritual path to freedom. But Mara could also well be a real force out there. Something I won't discount, as sometimes I feel like he takes over the minds of other beings to get at me.

He doesn't like people leaving Samsara, and will do whatever he can to keep one's consciousness bound up in it. Whether he keeps you bound up with hatred or greed he does not care, either way he has you snared.

'I see you Mara' or 'I know you Mara' is the stock phrase in all the suttas that a noble disciple uses to put an end to his tricks. Apparently that's how you deal with him. With awareness. His power is in our ignorance of him. He works in the dark places of the mind, the parts that are not visible to us, there he hides and manipulates our thoughts and energies.

'I see you Mara.' I say out loud. And it seems to work. The dark thoughts stop.

Then I notice in their place there are thoughts of wanting to get high, and a strong craving for intoxicants, the wish to indulge in sense-pleasures. 'I see you Mara.' I say again. And the craving fades.

Then he did his classic but now all-too-familiar unpleasant twisting knotting trick in the pit of my stomach. 'I see you Mara.' I say again, ' come out of my belly, and leave this body alone,' and the twisting stopped. 

Then I start feeling pleased with myself for getting rid of Mara, for sweeping him out of my mind with the broom of my awareness. 'My mindfulness is getting pretty sharp' I thought to myself. And I felt a swell of pride. Then an 'Aha!' moment when I realised, once again I am being caught out by his clever tricks. This is the craving for becoming, bound up with the conceit I am.

'I see you Mara.'

Feeling less oppressed I went for a walk, and as I walked along, thoughts of what others think about me plagued the mind. 'Nobody likes you. They all think you're a twat. You have nothing to offer this world. You will never become a Buddha, you don't have what it takes. You'll never amount to anything. You will die all sad and alone with no friends. Give up. You're useless, a failure. Everyone thinks so, everyone hates you. You're pathetic and will always be lonely. You will never change anything in this world or do anything worthwhile. Why don't you just top yourself.'

'I see you Mara.' 

He's a crafty bugger, he can be tireless in his attacks on the mind, one has to keep on their toes, he's a master of slipping past the guard at the gate. 

I reasoned back, that even the Buddha himself with all his supernormal powers couldn't save the world. Wars still happened, people still did wicked things to one another, natural disasters still happened, ageing, sickness, death, and loss still happened. I can't stop that. Nobody can. I can't save the world, I can't save anybody. We each have to save ourselves, that's the only way it happens. Nobody saves anyone. There are guides and teachers who can show us the way, tell us how they did it. But ultimately, we are the ones who have to put in the work to free our minds. We each have to be our own refuge. Learn how to be our own teacher.

So what if others judge me. I am not perfect. We all make mistakes. Nobody can honestly put their hand up and say they have never done anything wrong. 

At least I am trying to change, to learn from my mistakes, and grow. Sometimes it happens slowly, sometimes quickly. Sometimes I have to endure and be patient. Old habits can take time to fade, and new habits take time to grow. But I am making progress, because I am failing a bit better each time. And I am noticing more and more that the negativity has less power over me than it once did. And one day I won't fail anymore, and then I will be free.

Who cares what others think about me? It doesn't matter. That's just the worldly winds of praise and blame. Honey and bee-stings. 

I won't wish anyone ill. I will practise goodwill, and choose to dwell in a mind of love, in spite of how others may feel about me. It is my choice, so I choose love. I am my own refuge. My own teacher. And I got my own way. My own style.

 I am an old soul and I am tired now. I can see the exit and I am heading towards it. I don't need anyone's approval or permission to reach the end of sorrow.

For too long have I let sorrow exist in this mind. And it does no good. It does not bring liberation from suffering, or make anything better. It doesn't benefit me or other beings. It is a destructive and dangerous energy. And I am determined to uproot it from my mind for good. However long it takes.



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The four trainings of mindfulness

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


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

Namely the four foundations of mindfulness.' - the Buddha

Foundation number one: Mindfulness of the body

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

Foundation number two: Mindfulness of feelings

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation number three: Mindfulness of the mind

Knowing when the mind is:

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

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

Foundation number four: Mindfulness of dhammas

1. The five hindrances to samhadi:

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

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

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

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

2. The five aggregates of clinging:

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

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

3. The six external and six internal sense bases:

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

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

4. The seven factors of enlightenment:

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

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

5. The four noble truths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Right effort:

In the words of the Buddha:

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

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

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

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

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

7. Right mindfulness:

This is the four foundations of mindfulness.

Having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world.

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

8. Right samhadi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Samatha and vipassana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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I take up the way of speaking truthfully

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I take up the training to be truthful.
And to speak from a deep place within.
To listen from there as well.

May I always receive others with a warm presence.
So they feel comfortable speaking their truth.

Truth is the antidote to delusion.
If there is no honesty when looking at the mind,
not much progress can be made on the spiritual path.

May I transform all these feelings of regret
for lies I've told in the past.
Into wisdom, that informs my discernment here and now.

Let me only speak the truth if it is kind, beneficial, and appropriate;
Otherwise let me wholeheartedly practise noble silence.

May I have the mindfulness and discernment
to know the right time to speak;
and the right time to remain silent.

The power of a truth can heal. There are stories in the suttas where the Buddha's disciples spoke or chanted a truth to people who were sick, (one time this included the Buddha himself when he was sick) and the power of that truth healed them.

The power of a spiritual truth can have a healing effect on the mind and body.

How does one know such a truth?
Because it resonates deep within,
Rings your entire being like a bell.

When a person hears a truth like this it can heal them.
 


 
 


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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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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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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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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.

 

 

 


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