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Like a tusker in the wild

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I am going through another dark night. I feel this oppressive vibe crushing down on my mind. I am trying not to take it personally. It felt like some people were being a bit off with me today, but I am determined not to let other’s moods affect mine.

If other people judge me, well that’s their problem. I know I have been far from perfect in the past, but that is the past. It is not who I am now, I am not the same person I was back then.

I have done my best to learn from past mistakes but reliving them over and over is not going to help anyone. The best thing I can do is resolve never to make those same mistakes again and move on, keep persevering on the noble eightfold path. Turn something bad into something good. That’s how I make amends and put right the bad kamma from the past. But I won’t punish myself anymore for mistakes I made when I was younger. I was ignorant and didn’t know any better. It is cruel to punish oneself for the past. Noone can go back and change it. What good does it do to continually relive it. I am not that person anymore. I’ve changed.

I will just allow myself to be misunderstood by others without worrying about correcting them. I know what’s in my heart and where I am in my spiritual development, as do my deva friends. What others think of me is their business. I don’t have to take on board anyone else’s negativity. I am not responsible for what others think. I am only responsible for what I think. And I don’t want to think negative thoughts or feel ill will.

I remember something a Buddhist teacher said once, that when difficulties like this arise, remember it is just the Buddha testing you, to see how far gone you are (-:

I have been here before, and the dark night usually happens just before I am about to make a sudden transition and make progress. It often feels darkest just before the light returns and becomes brighter still.

The dark night can be a sign one is making progress on the spiritual journey. I am getting familiar with this pattern. What I must do is try very hard not to react to it. No matter how uncomfortable and agitated I feel. I must not say or do anything I will regret later. Try to find some stillness and equanimity.

The truth is that I am the cause of my suffering, no one else is. It is the craving within me that causes my problems. The greed, hate, delusion, ignorance, and conceit. It isn’t something outside the mind, it is something within it. And that means I have the power to change it.

 If I react to the dark night, it will only increase the tendency of the mind to react negatively to it again in the future. But by choosing not to react, to patiently endure the unpleasant feelings and practise the four right efforts. That negative tendency of the mind gets weaker, and the power of right effort and mindfulness gets stronger.

This world can make you feel ashamed to be alone. But it is okay to be alone. I can be my own best friend. My own teacher, my own refuge. There’s great power in seeing that.

The noble eightfold path goes against the stream of this modern world, and the further one gets on the path, the lonelier it can feel.

 It has always been that way though, only the minority of people search for the higher paths and fruits. The majority just want the world and are content to spend their days chasing after sense-impressions and never going beyond that. But I no longer find excitement in the world. The things I used to enjoy; I have lost interest in now. I hunger for higher things. For nibbana, for liberation from craving, relief from the pain of wanting.

And this spiritual hunger is not a bad thing. Some people criticise me for having the desire to liberate the mind. But the Buddha encouraged it, he talked about right desire, he called it chanda. If one does not aspire to realise nibbana, one will never make effort, and if one never makes effort, one will never realise the paths and fruits of enlightenment. Effort is fuelled by desire. It’s what keeps you walking. It is only when the work has been done, that one lets go of the desire for liberation.

Do not be afraid to be alone. Sometimes solitude is the wisest course of action to take when the world is on fire with greed, hate and delusion. Sometimes solitude is the only way to make progress on the path.

In the words of the Buddha:

If you find an alert companion, a wise and virtuous friend, then, overcoming all adversities, wander with them, joyful and mindful.

If you find no alert companion, no wise and virtuous friend, then, like a king who flees his conquered realm, wander alone like a tusker in the wilds.

It’s better to wander alone, than have fellowship with fools. Wander alone and do no wrong, at ease like a tusker in the wilds.

[MN128] 

https://suttacentral.net/mn128








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Asoka

Crossing the flood

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The onus is very much on oneself to do the work, no one else can do it for us. None but ourselves can free our mind. One must make effort.

Bear in mind it is said there are 84 0000 dhamma doors that lead to nibbana. The Buddha taught many paths and skilful means over his 45-year teaching career. We are all different, with different interests and dispositions, and so we must make our own raft out of the huge amount of teachings passed down to us over the ages, find the ones that suit us. There isn't one size that fits all. 

In the metaphor of the raft, it isn't a fancy raft that gets us to the other shore. It is just a bundle of sticks placed under the arms to keep us afloat while we paddle across the flood using the four limbs of right effort.

We don't have to know it all. Just grab a bundle of teachings from the huge pile handed down to us, those that resonate with you and make those into your raft. 

And gently paddle, pace yourself, tune, and balance the energy of right effort:

 Thus, have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. Then, when the night had advanced, a certain devatā of stunning beauty, illuminating the entire Jeta’s Grove, approached the Blessed One. Having approached, he paid homage to the Blessed One, stood to one side, and said to him:

“How, dear sir, did you cross the flood?”

“By not halting, friend, and by not straining I crossed the flood.”

“But how is it, dear sir, that by not halting and by not straining you crossed the flood?”

“When I came to a standstill, friend, then I sank; but when I struggled, then I got swept away. It is in this way, friend, that by not halting and by not straining I crossed the flood.”

~ S 1.1 (Bhikkhu Bodhi trans.)

 


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The five right exertions

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 7 Sep 2023, 19:37


In the Noble eightfold path, the sixth factor is Right Effort. It has five aspects to it. 

 These are the four right exertions, or four right efforts, and the tuning of energy so that it is neither too lax, nor too tight. One learns to tune the energy of effort so that one doesn't become too lazy in their practise, whilst also avoiding the other extreme of over-exertion, overdoing it, and straining the mind. Both extremes are to be avoided. A bit like tuning a guitar string, so that it sounds just right. You want to tune effort so that you don't stagnate in your practise, but you also don't burn out either. If you try too hard you will end up feeling aversion towards meditation practise and dhamma, and if you don't make effort, you will not develop or make progress.

The four right efforts are:

1. Preventing unwholesome states of mind arising

This involves talking to oneself in the morning when you get up to start the day. You prep the mind and tell yourself: 'I will avoid the folly of the fault-finding mind; and I will avoid the folly of the greedy/lustful mind."

 As one goes about the day one aspires to hold on to the sign of peace and keep one's consciousness secluded from anger/hate and lust/greed. This is done by avoiding unwise attention to the fault (both in oneself and in others); and by avoiding unwise attention to the beautiful. 

 One cannot avoid sensing things in the world, we can't walk around with our eyes closed etc, we will be bombarded by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, words, and ideas. It isn't about shutting off the senses, it is about practising wise attention to them, so they don't lead us to greed, hate and delusion. One senses what is sensed without adding any more to it.

I find the teaching the Buddha gave to Bahiya helpful here: 

'In the seen, there is only the seen.
In the heard, there is only the heard.
In the sensed, there is only the sensed.
In the cognized, there is only the cognized.
This Bahiya is how you should train yourself.

 When for you Bahiya there is:

 In the seen, only the seen.
In the heard, only the heard.
In the sensed, only the sensed.
In the cognized, only the cognized.

Then there is no you in connection to that.
And when there is no you in connection to that.
There is no you there.
And when there is no you there.
You are neither here nor there, nor in between the two.
This, just this, is the end of suffering.'

2. Removal of unwholesome states of mind should they arise

The second right effort is used when the first right effort: prevention, fails. This is about removing (letting go of, abandoning) greed, aversion, and delusion, (aka the five hindrances: longing, aversion, sloth, restlessness/worry, and doubt) should they arise in the mind. The Buddha suggests five strategies for doing this.

The first is dismissal and replacement, i.e. replacing the unwholesome state of mind with its opposite. Such as replacing anger with calmness or loving-kindness (metta). Like a carpenter knocking out a peg by replacing it with another.

 If that fails then one uses a healthy sense of shame, reflecting on how for example, anger is a great stain on the personality, how it is ignoble and leads to painful states of mind for oneself and others. This sense of shame can help one let go of it. The Buddha likens it to a person about to go out to meet some people they respect and admire. They look at themselves in a mirror and see the corpse of a snake hanging round their neck, and feeling repulsed by it they immediately remove it, as that is not how one wants to appear in front of people one respects and admires. 

If that fails then one is to ignore the unwholesome state of mind, not pay attention to it, as if turning away from a sight one does not wish to see. A Nun described it during a retreat I attended, as being like walking down the street and seeing some dogshit on the pavement, one is careful not to step into it. One can also use distraction as well, find something that distracts the mind from the unwholesome feelings, till they cease.

If that fails one turns to face it, looks directly at it. And then brings oneself of it gradually in stages. The Buddha uses a cartoon metaphor of a man running, who says to himself, why am I running when I could be walking? Then he says to himself, why am I walking when I could be standing? Then why am I standing when I could be sitting? Why am I sitting when I could be lying down? At each stage one reviews if it is working, noticing if the unwholesome state of mind is weakening, if it is that means you are going in the right direction and should keep doing what you are doing, eventually it will cease.

If that strategy fails then the Buddha suggests as a last resort one suppresses the unwholesome state of mind. He uses the metaphor of a strong man pinning down a weaker man. He makes it clear one must not allow that unwholesome state to express itself as it can lead to suffering for both oneself and others.

There are other strategies for abandoning unwholesome states of mind. One must experiment and find what is helpful for you. Investigate in your own life, see what works. We are all unique and conditioned differently. The way I do things, may not necessarily work for everyone else. We must know ourselves and find our own way. It doesn't matter what strategy you use. The main thing is to be mindful, investigate and make effort. Find ways of bringing yourself out of destructive states of mind before they cause harm to oneself and others, before they cause suffering, that's the main reason. It is not a commandment; it isn't about judging anyone or being authoritarian. What other people do is up to them, it's their business. The reason one abandons greed, hate, and delusion is because they cause us suffering, and the noble eightfold path is about putting an end to suffering.

3. Generating wholesome states of mind

Wholesome states of mind are the seven factors of enlightenment: 1. mindfulness, 2. investigation, 3.effort (energy), 4.joy, 5. calmness, 6. samadhi (aka collectedness, concentration, composure, unification of mind, stillness), and 7. equanimity (Balance). 

The Brahma viharas are also wholesome states of mind, these are: loving-kindness/friendliness/goodwill (metta), compassion (karuna), joy in the happiness of others (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). In fact, practising the brahma viharas fulfils much of the eightfold path and can take you to the doorstep of nibbana. The brahma viharas fulfils, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (concentration). When one has perfected the brahma viharas, one then needs to look again at right view and penetrate and understand the four noble truths,

1. Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood)
2. Knowledge of the cause of suffering (which is to be abandoned)
3. Knowledge of the end of suffering (which is to be realised)
4. Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering (which is to be developed)  

One can unlock the door to nibbana with a key that has three teeth which fit the lock. The three teeth that fit the lock are the understanding of: anicca (impermanence, change), dukkha (stress, sorrow, unsatisfactoriness, grief, suffering), and anatta (not-self). One investigates conditioned phenomena, investigates the five aggregates (body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, sense-consciousness), and observes the three characteristics in them. And when with wisdom and insight, with direct knowing and experience in one's own life, (not just an intellectual understanding). The mind stops clinging to conditioned phenomena, and what remains then is the deathless, the unconditioned, nibbana. Which is an experience, it is not annihilation. It goes beyond concepts of existence and non-existence. Beyond all views. I think in the Mahayana tradition it is known as Buddha nature, or the original mind. And from there without the ego getting in the way and attaching conditions to things, no longer caught in the self-centred dream, unlimited, immeasurable, boundless compassion for all beings can flow. 

4. Sustaining wholesome states of mind

The fourth right effort is about keeping the wholesome states of mind going continuously, throughout the day. On and off the cushion.

In the words of the Buddha:

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

Hope this helps others out there. I have found the teaching on right effort to be very helpful and empowering for me. If one keeps practising, the effort builds up a momentum and energy of its own and it then gets easier, becomes more automatic. It is just building habits really.

 I still have much work to do, but I can testify that this works. It is powerful stuff, and the Buddha's teachings on right effort are not often taught in the West, which is a shame, because they are so important. Right effort is the third factor in the seven factors of enlightenment, aka energy, and the Buddha mentions this factor more times than any other factor, even more so than mindfulness. It is very important, and one won't make much progress without making effort.

This isn't me teaching or anything. I am not a teacher, and I am not telling others what to do with their lives. It is just my perspective and what I practise with in my own life that I have found helpful. It may or may not be helpful to others. And I honestly won't take it personally if it isn't anyone else’s cup of tea. 

I find it is useful for keeping the precepts, as well as developing the other aspects of the path, or any other skill in life you want to learn actually. 

Take care.

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

...



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Asoka

Satta bojjhanga (The seven factors of awakening)

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 15 Aug 2023, 10:44


'Herein the disciple rouses his will to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen; and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives.' - The Buddha

Simultaneously with the removal of the defilements (craving, ill-will, dullness/drowsiness, restlessness/worry, doubt). Right effort also has the task of cultivating wholesome states of mind. This involves two divisions: the arousing of wholesome states not yet arisen and the maturation of wholesome states already arisen.

Though the wholesome states to be developed can be grouped in various ways --- serenity and insight, the four foundations of mindfulness, the eight factors of the path, etc. --- the Buddha lays special stress on a set called the seven factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, investigation of phenomena, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration (samadhi), and equanimity.

The seven states are grouped together as 'enlightenment factors' both because they lead to enlightenment and because they constitute enlightenment. In the preliminary stages of the path they prepare the way for the great realization; in the end they remain as its components. The experience of enlightenment, perfect and complete understanding, is just these seven components working in unison to break all shackles and bring final release from sorrow.

The way to enlightenment starts with mindfulness. Mindfulness clears the ground for insight into the nature of things by bringing to light phenomena in the now, the present moment, stripped of all subjective commentary, interpretations, and projections.

Then, when mindfulness has brought the bare phenomena into focus, the factor of investigation steps in to search out their characteristics, conditions, and consequences. Whereas mindfulness is basically receptive, investigation is an active factor which unflinchingly probes, analyzes, and dissects phenomena to uncover their fundamental structures.

The work of investigation requires energy, the third factor of enlightenment, which mounts in three stages. The first inceptive energy, shakes off lethargy and arouses intitial enthusiasm. As the work of contemplation advances, energy gathers momentum and enters the second stage, perseverance, wherein it propels the practise without slackening. Finally, at the peak, energy reaches the third stage, invincibility, where it drives contemplation forward leaving the hindrances powerless to stop it.

As energy increases, the fourth factor of enlightenment is quickened. This is rapture, a pleasurable interest in the object. Rapture gradually builds up, ascending to ecstatic heights: waves of bliss run through the body, the mind glows with joy, fervor and confidence intensify. But these experiences, as encouraging as they are, still contain a flaw: they create an excitation verging on restlessness. 

With further practice, however, rapture subsides and a tone of quietness sets in signalling the rise of the fifth factor, tranquility. Rapture remains present, but it is now subdued, and the work of contemplation proceeds with self-possessed serenity.

Tranquility brings to ripeness samadhi (concentration), the sixth factor, one-pointed unification of mind. Then, with the deepening of samadhi, the last enlightenment factor comes into dominance. 

This is equanimity, inward poise and balance free from the two defects of excitement and inertia. When dullness prevails, energy must be aroused; when excitement prevails, it is necessary to exercise restraint. But when both these defects have been vanquished the practice can unfold evenly without need for concern. The mind of equanimity is compared to the driver of a chariot when the horses are moving at a steady pace: he neither has to urge them forward nor hold them back, but can just sit comfortably and watch the scenery go by. Equanimity has the same "on-looking" quality.

When the other factors are balanced the mind remains poised watching the play of phenomena.

Maintain Arisen Wholesom States

Herein the disciple rouses his will to maintain the wholesome things that have already arisen, and not to allow them to disappear, but to bring them to growth, to maturity, and to the full perfection of development; and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives.  
- The Buddha

This last of the four right efforts aims at maintaining the arisen wholesome factors and bringing them to maturity. Called the "endeavour to maintain", it is explained as the effort to "keep firmly in mind a favorable object of concentration that has arisen." The work of guarding the object causes the seven enlightenment factors to gain stability and gradually increase in strength until they issue in the liberating realization. This marks the culmination of right effort, the goal in which the countless individual acts of exertion finally reach fulfilment. "

By Bhikkhu Bodhi (Excerpt from the book, The Noble eightfold path: the way to the end of suffering)

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Five strategies for mastering the pathways of thought

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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Asoka

Dark night III

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 23 Jun 2023, 12:03


Just seem to be coming out of another dark night of a very unpleasant state of mind. I was fine most of yesterday, my mood seemed to be great. Then in the evening I got triggered by something completely meaningless and suddenly went into an irrational rage. It was like my nervous system was on fire, and I didn't know how to put it out. My skin was crawling with agitation, and no matter what I did I couldn't soothe it or find any relief. It was Hell. I couldn't meditate, couldn't sit still, couldn't lie still, couldn't even bear walking. No posture felt comfortable. I honestly at that point wanted my life to end, I had had enough. Thoughts of self-harm and suicide raced through my mind. And it was hard to endure. I have been trying so hard to keep my moods balanced and stay composed, and I seemed to be doing well. But suddenly this mood came upon me out of seemingly nowhere and I felt powerless.

The three poisons greed, hate, and delusion were making their presence felt and gave me a kicking last night.

It lasted all night, and was still there this morning. It is only now that it seems to be finally subsiding. I am not joking when I say the mood nearly killed me. It was unbearable. I feel ashamed. No matter what I did, what I tried, the strategies of right effort, the reasoning, the wisdom, the bringing it down in stages, mindfulness, samhadi - it all failed. 

I am writing this to try and help myself understand what happened. What can I do to prevent that mood arising in the first place? What triggered it? Prevention is all about avoiding unwise attention to the fault, and avoiding unwise attention to the beautiful. What is wise attention?

I now have this self-loathing that hangs over me like a fault-finding shadow. A cloud of midges constantly reminding me of what a crappy useless human being I am. 

Despite this, I will keep practising, but I feel afraid. Not afraid of people, or the world. I am afraid of the three poisons within me: greed, hate, and delusion. This spiritual path is not to be taken too lightly, be careful, especially if practising alone. Those three poisons, the kilesas/kleshas are real, they're no joke, and they don't want to be purified. They will resist you, and sometimes when your mindfulness is weak, they will make you do stupid stuff, say things you regret, lock you in a Hell of your own making. They will kill you if they get a chance, they are not your friends. They would rather you died than got enlightened, if that's what it takes to keep you in Samsara. 

The crazy thing is, they are empty, empty of self, just like everything else. But still they put up a fight and it isn't pretty, and sometimes on the spiritual path one must be prepared to fall, and sometimes fall hard, get up all cut up and bruised. It happens. For me right effort at the moment seems to be about acknowledging my failure, picking myself back up, brushing myself off. Trying to learn what I can from the painful experience. Then the hard part, let go of it. Because if I don't let go of it, if I keep holding onto it, replaying it over and over in my mind. I will struggle to move on and become stuck in the quagmire of regret and remorse.

Next time that mood comes. I will try very hard not to speak, not to talk at all, to endure it in silence, and practise the parami of patience. Wait for that which arises to also cease. Isolate myself somewhere quiet away from the world and the energy of others and try very hard to be still. Will that work? I don't know. It sounds reasonable now that the mood has passed, but when I am in the grip of it, I often find these plausible-sounding strategies don't work. I can't bring myself out of the mood, it is really hard. 

Anyway all I can do is try. And if I fail again. I will do another review, adjust the strategy, keep tweaking it until it works. If I get knocked down, I'll get back up again. Get knocked down, rinse and repeat.




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Finding the sweet spot

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 22 Jun 2023, 13:54


There's a sweet spot I experience sometimes, where there is a convergence of the mind and it becomes unified and still. It feels like bliss when it happens, but it is not always easy to get into that state and maintain it. My practise edge just now is learning how to bring my mind into that state of convergence and maintain it for longer and longer.

But without straining the mind or taking it all too seriously. Finding a middle way with the effort.

It is hard some days to keep trudging. The dark side of the mind, the kilesas (greed, hatred, and conceit), have been fighting back. They do not want to be transformed into generosity, kindness and clarity, and within my heart there is a conflict. Sometimes the whirlwind within feels like it will kill me. But there is grace I am finding. A kind being always comes to my aid from either the human or the deva realm and their loving energy keeps me steady and brings some warmth and joy to the heart which encourages me to keep going onward on this spiritual journey. The refuge of the sangha.

Buddhist cosmology describes many different worlds, and all of these can be mapped to states of consciousness. Apparently a skilled meditator is able to visit any of these different worlds, i.e. experience these different states of consciousness.  

Awareness can become a refuge from invasive thoughts. When the unpleasant involuntary thoughts appear. I turn my attention away from them and anchor it with some other aspect of awareness. Can be different parts at different times. Sometimes it's my feet, my lower belly, my heart area, my neck, my scalp, my spine, my legs, my hands, the touch of clothing on the skin or the atmosphere, a breeze, a sound, a sight, the breath, the feeling of the whole body together as one, the sense of being embodied. Fluidity, warmth, solidity. The feeling of presence. I can be aware of any of these, whatever feels good at that time. The hard part is keeping the attention anchored there, as it wants to wander and is so easily distracted; before I know it I am back in the head again.

But I know it just takes time and patience, this is the work, and if I keep practising, eventually the mind will be trained to stay centred with the body in the present moment and not get carried off by the thought processes. Then I can think when I want to think, and stop thinking when I want to stop thinking.

Sometimes there are moments when the centre of my attention becomes empty and my consciousness is content to be anchored in that emptiness while everything else continues around me, but I am not making a story about any of it, just watching the arising and ceasing of the present moment. This can happen sometimes when I am in the midst of an activity. I am still aware of the activity, but I am centred in stillness and emptiness. Flowing, while anchored in the inner cave.

Sometimes I will have an inner mind-generated sound, perhaps some musical notes that I can make clearer, and stronger by focusing on them, and this can help to pacify the thought energies. The sound grows louder than them.

Sometimes chanting a poem or a teaching that I have memorised can quieten down the thought energies and bring them into a state of composure.

When the mind is chilled out and calm, it becomes easier to think more about kindness and generosity, and to see things clearly.

Sometimes the mind finds it hard to detach from thoughts. So I have to make effort and practise bursts of single-pointed attention to compose the mind. When it becomes calmer I then reflect on the four noble truths. And insight can arise from this, which brings some joy and gladness to the mind, which in turn makes it easier to settle into meditation. 

Sometimes I have to settle the mood down in stages, gently, gradually, and review each stage, make adjustments if need be. If I am feeling even just a little bit better at each stage, then it is working and I am making progress. One has to be patient and kind to oneself on this journey, and avoid unwise attention to the fault-finding mind. Endure, keep putting in the causes and conditions.

It is a gradual training, it is hard work, can take a while, and it is not always pleasant. Some days it feels impossible. But I know if I keep making effort, keep up the momentum, practise consistently, eventually it will click and the mind will re-wire itself. Old conditioning will fall away, and what I have practised often will become my new automated behaviour and conditioning, then it will get easier. This is something I know from experience, it is true when learning any skill in life.

...





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Mind web

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Sunday, 18 Jun 2023, 21:40


Some cool air and rain at last. The breeze feels good.

It is pleasant converging the mind on the air around me and the feeling of it going through me. The whole body becoming filled with its cooling energy from head to toe.

The breath has become my favourite meditation object now. I practise breathing with any part of the body. Sometimes I will breathe through the feet, the hands, the spine, the lower belly, the back of the neck, the nostrils, the scalp. it doesn't matter. Whichever area of the body feels good at the time becomes my initial focal point and from there I then spread the breath energy throughout the body, going over each part in turn, till the entire body feels light and at ease. Then there is a feeling of relief, where joy and pleasure seems to naturally arise.

The focal point for the breath is a bit like a spider on a web. The spider is at the centre and sensitive to everything else happening on the web. The body and awareness of the present moment being like the web.

Every time I notice thoughts of longing, anger, or conceit. I immediately label and drop those thoughts and centre with the breath. I label the thoughts, because labelling them as either longing, anger, or conceit helps to put some space between me and them, and also trains the mind to spot them faster, which helps it get better at recognising and knowing when those states are present. 

It is getting easier to abandon unwholesome thoughts now, I can do it quite quickly. Which is amazing when I remember what I used to be like. I struggled so much with my thoughts. I got so absorbed in them and imprisoned by them, they used to cause me so much suffering. It is empowering to be able to just drop them now as soon as I notice them and not be so in the head anymore.

The challenge at the moment is keeping the wholesome states of mind going. It is like a game. I quickly swipe away the longing, aversion, and conceit. And re-converge with the breath. If I am feeling thoughtful and reflective I will incline the mind towards thoughts of love and equanimity, or contemplate the dharma. But if I don't want to think, (sometimes thinking feels tiring and unpleasant). I remain focused on the breath, and the feeling of embodiment, or on the natural elements (earth, water, fire, air, space).

It is a relief to switch thinking off sometimes and to just experience feelings as they arise and cease in the present moment without the internal dialogue about them.

I am trying to train myself to only think when I want to think. And to only use my thought processes when they are at their best. There's no point in thinking otherwise. As thinking when I am mentally fatigued, anxious or stressed is counter-productive and just makes things worse. Thinking isn't necessary to solve every problem. The heart doesn't need to think.

My main practice edge at the moment is maintaining applied and sustained attention to the meditation object for as long as I can. I make a relaxed light-hearted game out of it to keep the mind interested and engaged. Try to see if I can beat my own personal best before the mind wanders off again and starts daydreaming, then the game is how quickly can I notice the mind has wandered and bring it back to the meditation object. It can feel good to get a flow going, and it feels like it is really good for the mind to do this. I notice the difference on days when I don't meditate. Meditation really does help.

A meditation object is used to calm and centre the mind. Once one has got good at converging the mind round a meditation object and can keep it there indefinitely. The next stage is to let go of applied and sustained attention to the meditation object, and remain in the serene state of composure without needing the meditation object. From there one becomes stiller and goes deeper into samhadi. The meditation object is like a key that is needed to unlock and open the door to samhadi, but once inside one can put the key down.

Have been seeing my Dad's face a lot today in my mind's eye. Perhaps because it is Father's day. I keep sending him metta as often as I can, and sharing merit with him. I am fairly sure he is no longer in the ghost realm, which is good to know. I feel certain that he has moved on now. I also have a feeling he hasn't taken a human rebirth and may possibly be a deva now, but I am not sure. I think he might be a deva because it feels like he has gone to a good destination, but I still feel his presence from time to time, and when he visits it feels different than before. He doesn't feel like a ghost anymore, he feels like he is full of light, clear, his presence surrounded by good energy and there is peace.

In any case, my Dad was not someone who liked to procrastinate, he liked to be busy. He would not want to remain stuck in the greyhound station between lifetimes (the ghost realm). He would have been keen to move on to whatever comes next. I think once he saw where the exit was, and after perhaps a farewell to us all, he would have moved on. Bless him.

I miss my Dad. 

May he be safe, well, happy and peaceful. 






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I take up the way of cultivating a clear mind

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Saturday, 10 Jun 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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Right effort

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 6 Oct 2022, 07:32

The sixth factor of the noble eightfold path, and the beginning of the meditator's journey to right samhadi. Right effort contains a set of instructions to be carried out by right mindfulness. The idea is to seclude the mind from the five psychic harrassments: greed, aversion, dullness/drowsiness, restlessness, and doubt.

These are known as the five hindrances in Buddhism, and they are what stops our mind seeing things clearly, they distort our picture of reality. Their influence stirs up the mind like a pool of water so one cannot see clearly into the depths of it, only seeing the distorted surface. This means one is not getting an accurate picture of reality. And when one looks into it they cannot see their reflection properly.

The job of right effort is to prevent these five hindrances from arising in the mind, and to abandon them if they do arise. It works in conjunction with right mindfulness, the next factor of the eightfold path. Right mindfulness is the guard at the gate of consciousness, whose job is to prevent the five harrassments from entering - stopping trouble before it starts. However, if a hindrance gets passed the guard at the gate, then its job is to spot the presence of the hindrance in the mind and remove it, so it is no longer distorting one's ability to see things clearly.

The Buddha's teachings here run contrary to popular modern thinking about mindfulness. The job of mindfulness is not just to simply watch things arise and pass away and do nothing. No, it is to be a sentry that performs the duty of preventing and removing the five hindrances. Right mindfulness follows the instructions of right effort.

So how does one prevent unwholesome states arising? One way is to continually remind oneself to avoid unwise attention to the fault and to avoid unwise attention to the attractive. It does not mean walking around in sensory deprivation, as that's impractical in this world, you will always encounter agreeable and disagreeable sense impressions. What it means is to be at the sensory level and nip things in the bud before a pleasant or unpleasant sensation/feeling becomes the stories/delusions we tell ourselves about the feeling at the conceptual level, these stories are what cause the hindrances to arise and gather momentum in the mind.

It takes a great deal of practise and time to master this, so one will have to be patient as one trains the mind. One also needs to be kind to oneself, as one will make many mistakes while practising this, learn what you can from failures and let go, there is nothing to be gained by being hard on oneself, it does not lead to enlightenment. You are allowed to let it go, it is the past and there's no use crying over spilt milk, that won't solve anything.

One keeps reminding oneself upon waking and throughout the day. 'I will avoid the folly of the fault-finding mind; and I will avoid the folly of the lustful greedy mind.' Remembering that what we pay attention to leaves traces in the mind and grows stronger the more we pay attention to it; and what we repeatedly think about becomes the inclination of the mind.

If the hindrances get past the guard at the gate, then one turns to five strategies for removing them from the mind. Briefly these are:

1. Replacing the unwholesome state of mind with its opposite, there can be many opposites. For example some possible opposites of greed are generosity, contentment, remembering impermanence, or renunciation, and some possible opposites of anger are serenity practises, compassion, or loving-kindness. One does not wait for something external outside oneself to generate the opposite of the hindrance, one deliberately brings the replacement into being by being an emoter. There's a saying: 'Fake it till you make it.' It might well feel fake and inauthentic at first, but with repeated practise it does start to feel genuine and more natural. And the more one practises something, the more the psychic momentum builds up and the stronger it gets.

2. Feeling a sense of shame, imagining what a person you respect and admire might think if they saw you in the unwholesome state of mind. One reminds oneself it is reprehensible, has drawbacks, and is not conducive to enlightenment. This can be enough to drive the unwholesome state of mind away.

3. Distracting oneself from the unwholesome state of mind. Or just simply ignoring it as you would when closing your eyes to block out a sight you don't want to see. By not paying attention to the hindrance it starves it of energy and it grows weak and eventually disappears. Don't feed the monsters!

4. One turns to face the hindrance, confronts it. Sometimes just doing this can be enough to make it fade away like a whisp of a cloud or a phantom. But if this isn't enough, one can sit with it, investigate it, and gradually talk oneself out of the unwholesome state of mind till it dissolves away.

5. This is the last resort, and only to be used if the preceding four strategies fail. The fifth strategy is to suppress the unwholesome state of mind and not allow it to express itself. The Buddha here uses the simile of a stronger man holding down a weaker man. One suppresses the unwholesome state of mind until it calms down enough for one to then use any of the four preceding strategies to remove it if necessary.

Right effort also carries the instructions to bring into being seven positive wholesome states of mind and to develop them and keep them going continuously. These wholesome states of mind are known as the seven factors of enlightenment which are: mindfulness, investigation, energy/effort, joy, serenity, samhadi, equanimity. One can also include wholesome states of mind such as loving-kindness, compassion, joy in another's happiness. These also can be part of the enlightened mind, but are optional because not everyone is able to practise loving-kindness. For them having the intention of non-illwill and non-violence is enough.

Right effort can be practised in the course of daily life by noticing the hindrances when they arise in the mind, how do they feel? Do they feel pleasant or unpleasant? How do they manifest in the body? One watches and learns about them, how they manifest, how they arise, what triggers them, how to stop them arising, and how to remove them from the mind when they do. As one becomes less ignorant of the five hindrances, one's ability to prevent and remove them becomes easier and faster. The Buddha says one who has mastered this becomes so adept at it, that if an unwholesome state of mind arises it is removed as quickly as a chance drop of water on a red hot frying pan.

One way to practise this is through sitting meditation. Here one gradually gathers the whole mind together and secludes it from the five hindrances, by repeatedly bringing the attention back to a single topic, such as a meditation object and keeping it there, doing this every time the mind wanders. This brings into being the wholesome factor of mindfulness. Then to collect the mind together and unify it around the meditation object one generates interest in it, investigates it, this brings into being the wholesome factor of investigation. The repeated effort of doing this builds up a momentum of energy (the third factor), but interest and curiosity also brings energy to the mind. This leads to enjoyment. En-Joy, i.e the combination of energy and joy. Think about how one can become absorbed in a book or a movie, or a physical activity, a hobby, a game, and how one doesn't notice the body or passage of time or the noises around one when absorbed in an activity that one finds interesting. This is because one is enjoying themselves. So the idea is to try to do the same with meditation and become absorbed in that. The excitement of joy (the fourth factor) eventually cools and calms down and settles into a state of sweet serenity the fifth factor of enlightenment, which then takes one to the doorstep of the divine consciousness that is samhadi. Samhadi is a unification of mind, an exquisite stillness and lucidity, which in turn blossoms into equanimity (the seventh factor). This is how the act of meditation can bring into being the seven factors of awakening (-:

This all carries over beyond sitting meditation into every day life, because there is an after-effect which can remain for a while after meditation. When the afterglow wears off, one can top it up again by meditating. The seven factors of enlightenment get stronger with repeated practise, till eventually the whole thing becomes effortless. Then the enlightenment factors are present throughout the day whatever you are doing, wherever you are. When they are well established, whatever happens in this changing world, will not cause you to go into a negative state of mind or lose your composure. Your consciousness remains at peace and unperturbed as it continually cycles through the seven factors of enlightenment, being in any one of them at any time during the day or night.

Another important teaching that comes under right effort is about tuning the energy. If the mind feels strained and stressed at all during meditation or while practising in the midst of daily life, it means you are putting forth too much effort and need to relax it a bit, you are pushing yourself too hard, be gentle. If you feel dull and drowsy it can mean you are not putting forth enough effort which will lead to laziness and lack of motivation for practise. Mindfulness of death (maranasati) is a good way to energize one when feeling lazy. You want to tune the energy of effort so that it neither strains the mind nor makes it lazy. The Buddha describes it as being like tuning the string of a lute. If it is too tight it doesn't sound right, if it is too loose it also doesn't sound right, but when it's tuned correctly it is ready to play some music.

There are five spiritual faculties that can help with right effort, they are called the five spiritual powers, these are faith, energy, mindfulness, samhadi, and wisdom. Sometimes you can't know all the answers about something and you need to take a leap of faith and try things out, otherwise you can be locked in sceptical indecision which is not a pleasant state of mind, one becomes a prisoner of their doubts and this leads to stagnation and inaction. However, one also doesn't want to have blind faith either, some doubt is healthy to stop one being led down the garden path, so wisdom helps balance out faith. Energy and Samhadi also balance each other out. Too much energy leads to restlessness, and too little energy leads to dullness and laziness. Mindfulness is present throughout ensuring the five spiritual faculties are tuned correctly, keeping them in balance.

Despite its length, this has been a succinct piece of writing on right effort. Indeed one could write an essay or a book on this factor of the path. If one would like to learn more about right effort I highly recommend these videos by Ajahn Sona, where he goes into it in great detail.

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCXN1GlAupG0LqKS3nNCkGv24r94LW5VV

In the words of the Buddha:

The four right efforts

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

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

One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind, and persevering.

One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and development of wholesome states of mind, by making effort, arousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering.
'

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The conscious frying pan

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022, 17:30

I find writing can be helpful for clarifying my thoughts and reaching insights about things, things perhaps I wouldn't have seen by trying to think through or verbalise out loud.

Sometimes though I find it helpful talking out loud to myself. Giving myself a pep talk in preparation for upcoming challenges I see coming over the horizon, those dragons heading my way about to test me. There's no escape from those unfortunately, such is the kamma of having a body, of existence itself, an existence that is interdependent. It is simply the nature of an ever-changing universe in a state of entropy.

Anyway, talking oneself out of a negative state of mind is the Buddha's fourth strategy for abandoning unwholesome states of mind.  

The five strategies recommended by the Buddha for abandoning negative mental states are:

1. Replacement, replace the negative state with its opposite, e.g. sense-desire with contentment or equanimity, ill-will with serenity and goodwill, and so on...

  If that doesn't work move to step two.

2. Concern for the opinion of the wise. Imagine what someone noble and wise would advise if they saw you in that state of mind; or imagine that you are about to go out to dinner with people you really respect and admire and want to abandon that state of mind post haste as you want to make a good impression and not ruin the evening or feel regret later.

  If that fails move on to step three.

3. Distract yourself from the mood until it either goes away on its own and is replaced by calm and peace, or until it becomes weak enough to apply one of the strategies in the steps above.

 If this fails move to step four.

4. Talk yourself out of it. Try to be gentle, kind, and encouraging if you can. But if you need to be fierce with yourself, be so in a loving way, without feeling emnity towards yourself, treat yourself with compassion, like you would treat a noble friend you were correcting. 

 If this doesn't work, then the next step is considered a last resort, it goes against what is advised in popular psychology, but must be applied nevertheless, as one simply cannot allow that negativity to continue, to do so will cause harm both to oneself and others.

5. Suppress the mood, do not allow it to express itself. The Buddha describes it as: 'When a stronger man pins down a weaker man.' One must hold that mood down and not allow it to dominate the mind or express itself in any way. One must do this until it is sufficiently weak enough to then apply one of the strategies above to safely remove it. 

I ten to use the fourth strategy a lot. I will often use that strategy as a tool to weaken the mood sufficiently so that earlier strategies become more effective. For example I will talk myself into using distraction (third strategy).

With the third strategy it is good to have some activity you like doing that you can distract yourself with, so your attention is not focused so much on the negative mood, and absorbed instead by something else. Preferably the distraction is a wholesome activity. Our intentions and everything we do leave ripples and traces in the mind, when we do something once, we increase the likelihood we will do it again at some point, and then again and again, and the traces and ripples grow larger, leaving deeper and deeper grooves in the mind, which in time become new habits. 

 What we focus on grows stronger, so don't feed the monsters in your head, starve them of attention. What goes on in the mind is a lot to do with what we pay attention to. What we continually pay attention to dominates our conscious awareness, and the unconscious mind (trying to be helpful) will generate more of the same, actively filtering out things from awareness it considers unimportant and bringing us more of the same, reinforcing it. Not too disimilar to how the algorithm on YouTube works I guess, only more complex.The narrator part of mind puts this all together into a story. Which become the stories we tell ourselves about reality, about others, about ourselves. These in turn become our opinions, our delusions. Delusions come from a lack of information (not seeing the whole picture), misinformation and disinformation. Ignorance basically.

The first of the right efforts: prevention, is all about where one places their attention. One trains the mind to let go of unwise attention to the fault in ourselves, the world and others; and to let go of unwise attention to the attractive in ourselves, the world and others. What we pay attention to grows stronger. Unwholesome behaviours grow stronger in the mind, they take root and become harder to shake, so you want to become addicted to the wholesome if you can. Your future self will thank you for it.

The Buddha says with patience and perseverance one will eventually become super fast at removing negative states of mind. He likens consciousness in this instance to being like a red hot frying pan, with unwholesome states of mind like water droplets that upon landing on the pan go psssst and evaporate out of existence, leaving no trace. That's how quick one wants to aspire to be at removing unwholesome states of mind.


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Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The desert of effort

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 29 Mar 2022, 14:41

Woke up with a right shitty mood today. Agitated depression with a large helping of anger, oh and fatigue, yes agitated fatigue, if that contradiction makes any sense.

 The first right effort of preventing negative moods from arising had clearly failed at some point in the night, and my brain had put me back together in a rather haphazard way. So I tried to practise the second right effort of abandoning this unwholesome state of mind. But the fatigue made it challenging to rouse the energy to abandon it, it was like trying to shake off something stuck with superglue.

 To be honest the four right efforts felt like a joke. I felt like a failure for being unable to practise them. Started feeling doubt that the Buddha's teachings really do work. I think I even nearly swore at the Buddha at one point, which was shameful of me. This made the anger and depression worse. 

And I couldn't get much done, no energy or inclination to study or paint, and couldn't get no sleep, no escape, just stuck in this horrible state of mind. Loving-kindness felt impossible to generate. So I tried equanimity, but maintaining that state of mind wasn't easy, especially as I felt so foggy-headed and physically beat. I felt like giving up. But I can't really, there's nothing to go back to in the world. I have seen through it, and I have no desire to be a worldling again. Once one has seen impermanence and how everything changes and that the self is insubstantial. One just feels dispassion for it all, for material things, for the self. Nothing lasts, everything fades away, we all die, we're all fated to become separated from everything we love and those we hold dear. Our material achievements are meaningless in the end.

I am watching the mind though, and what it does, looking for a chink in its armour and a way I can abandon this negative state of mind and bring a more positive one into being. Mindfulness is considered a wholesome state of mind, but the lack of energy makes it challenging to sustain. Monks apparently are deliberately sleep deprived to learn how to manage fatigue and not suffer. In fact the more I learn about the austerity Buddhist monks practise, the less appealing that lifestyle becomes to me. I don't think I could live like that, I am not into austerity, and very much dislike sleep-deprivation. 

I can't give up though. I have to keep on pushing through this desert of the mind and hope that the Buddha really did know what he was talking about and that there really is a way out of suffering. Many people throughout history have got enlightened, so it must possible. I can't go back now, I have come too far, I have to keep trudging forward. There's still some determination in me I guess, and perseverance is classed as a wholesome state of mind. I willl keep on keeping, even though training this mind feels like walking the wrong way on an escalator sometimes - I've had it with Samsara.

'Row row row your boat gently up the stream,
Merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream.
Row row row your boat gently up the stream,
If you see a crocodile try to stay serene.'


 

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Balance

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 26 Jan 2022, 17:52

Have been listening to dharma talks a lot lately. Especially when out walking with my headphones on. I wear headphones in the town as I find the constant sound of traffic and construction wears my awareness down into a dull grey fatigue. I am practising though, sometimes I don't wear my headphones, and I suspect my aversion to industrial noise is to do with what the Buddha called: 'unwise attention to the fault.' (N.b. there is also 'unwise attention to the beautiful.' The gate swings both ways. ) 

In the first of the four Right Efforts of Buddhism, one works at preventing negative states of mind from arising. This is done by becoming aware of unwise attention to either the ugly or the beautiful and changing it to wise attention. As it is what we attend to in our consciousness that becomes the stories we tell ourselves about the world, which in turn generates either craving or aversion, which then entangles us in unhealthy unhappy states of mind. 

If one fails to prevent negative states of mind arising, then this is where the second right effort comes in, which is to abandon negative states of mind when one becomes aware of them. There are different ways of eliminating them. Some suggestions by the Buddha are to try to invoke the opposite, i.e. wanting and desire comes from a feeling of lack, so the opposite of lack is to cultivate a feeling of contentment. One can also reflect on impermanence, observing how everything is always changing, this can help with developing some equanimity towards it all and dampen the craving a bit. The Buddha also advises one to see the negative mood as a great stain on one's personality, and to imagine it being like having a dead snake around your neck that you want to remove post-haste as you are about to go to dinner with some people you respect and admire. Other techniques are: to distract oneself till the mood has passed; talking oneself out of it; or the last resort, suppress the mood until it is weakened enough to allow one to use some of the other elimination strategies.  

The third right effort is bringing into being wholesome states of mind. And the fourth right effort is cultivating those wholesome states of mind so they thrive and become continuous and fully-developed. 

The hope I get from this is that no-one has to be a prisoner of who they are. We can change ourselves if we want to. Transformation of one's consciousness and emotions is possible; but we are the ones who have to put in the right causes and conditions to make this happen. And do so with equanimity, with the right balance of energy - the middle way. One should not push oneself so hard as to burn out and become unwell; nor just sit on the couch and do nothing. One needs to find a sweet spot, which maybe means something a bit different to each one of us, it doesn't have to be perfectly in the middle. I imagine it as a dial with a section in green that I try to keep the needle steady in by making necessary adjustments; and with two red areas at the extremes of the polarity which I am trying to keep the needle out of. I know its a daft metaphor, it occurred to me while I was adjusting the water pressure for our boiler, but visualising it like that seems to work okay for me.


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