Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 5 Apr 2023, 14:44
Have been listening to these talks given by the venerable Ajahn Sona today. He is a great teacher, and the one who gave me the dhamma name Asoka, which means sorrowless. Asoka is a succinct teaching for me, as someone who has experienced much sorrow in life and struggled with depression, this name inspires me to become the opposite (-:
These five talks go into detail about how to practise meditation on the four elements: Earth, water, fire, air and also how to practise the four colour kasinas: red, blue, yellow, white.
I took part in this retreat last spring, and it is good to go over it again to refresh the memory. It is interesting how when one listens to a talk again one picks up something that they missed the first time they listened to it. I think it is because the mind takes what it needs at different times. The mind changes, and as one develops on the path, the mind looks out for new pieces of information to help with its current understanding, and perhaps that's why different things stand out on subsequent listenings to dhamma talks.
Anyway, I wanted to post these talks for anyone else out there who might find this topic interesting.
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.
Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021, 18:28
This is a tough module I am studying (M269). Spent hours trying to understand and answer a question on the TMA. I tried so hard, but had to quit in the end and submit the assignment, leaving the last parts of the question unanswered, I will lose a lot of marks, but I did try my best. I am honestly wondering if I am going to pass this module, it may be that I'll have to resit it again next year if I don't.
After submitting the assignment, I sat in Zazen over Zoom. I was feeling stressed about a lot of things during the meditation. And felt quite dark in mood while sat there. I was worrying about the assignment; but also anxious about the state of the world and all the crazy stuff happening just now. Sad and mad about seeing species go extinct, something I am witnessing with my own eyes.
Then there's the homelessness crisis, in part due to banks kicking people out of their homes due to missing their mortgage payments, not their fault either, these familes lost their income because of the lockdowns. The government is so keen to save lives by treble-vaxxing everyone, yet I can't help but feel if they really were trying to save lives, why don't they help these poor folks trying to survive on the streets in the middle of winter? Why don't they help the old and vulnerable dying in care homes due to staff shortages or dying in NHS hospitals because relatives can no longer afford to pay for their care. I feel afraid of the huge poverty that is coming from the fallout of this pandemic. Why are they doing nothing to help these people who are at risk of death from extreme poverty?
I also feel so sorry for the refugees. it was horrifying to hear on the news about that large fishing boat that purposely put itself in the way of drowning refugees and the lifeboats trying to save them. How could they be so heartless and cruel. I cannot understand why people can become like that.
And I am sick to death of all the happy clappy fake plastic smiley corporate advertisements. Sick of all the celebrity bullshit, blah blah blah so what. All this being broadcast while the Earth is in a major crisis right now. I wish the governments of the world would show more enthusiasm, effort and coordination over reversing the sixth mass extinction event than this mass-vaccination campaign. If they can put so many resources, logistics, academics and energy into vaccinating everyone, surely they could do the same for turning this terrifying mass extinction event around, and also help all those suffering from poverty and homelessness. The governments are so fake, them and the media.
I spoke of all my concerns with the Zen group today (one can stay and have a discussion with the group after meditation). They were all very kind and said a lot of helpful things to cheer me up and help me feel better. Reminding me there are lots of good people out there. And although it all seems futile at times, whatever small way we can help others means something to those we help. That one needs to fight back with compassion. They advised me to read about someone called Joanna Macy, saying she was someone who may be a kindred spirit for me in these dark times, and might help me feel some hope and rekindle love and compassion in my heart.
I also stated to my friends in the sangha that I had made a vow to never take my life no matter how hard things get. After confessing to them that I had felt like doing so. Mainly because I couldn't bare the thought of seeing any more species go extinct, or witness any more refugees drowning at sea, any more war, poverty or suffering, I didn't want to live in the Orwellian, dystopian world we seem to be heading towards. They were happy to hear that I have made a vow to never commit suicide. I feel publicly making this vow and the painting I made to seal it is a kind of protection for me. Because the thoughts do constantly whirl around my head at times, but seeing my painting and remembering my words can help me stay alive I think.
One bit of advice that stuck out for me was to try and see my negative mood cycles as like being in a womb, a state of becoming. A time to retreat, nurture and take care, not get too overwhelmed with the sorrow of the world, but care for it with a tenderness like one would a growing baby, and all that sorrow can give birth to something beautiful if one is patient and gentle with it. It can become love and compassion instead of anger and hate. The bodhisattva of compassion Avalokiteshivra has many many hands and eyes, and those who have taken the bodhissatva vow are her many eyes and hands in this world.
I was so glad that I sat with them today and that I stayed to chat at the end. I nearly didn't, my mood was so negative I didn't want to bring it into the online zendo, but at the last minute I decided I would sit with them. And it did help, not just me, but the other people there were grateful for the discussion we had at the end, as the words of wisdom shared by the different members of the group seemed to help everyone.
Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 24 Dec 2021, 21:48
Is there a way to generate joy that doesn't depend on anything outside oneself?
Without it I feel like a bird with a broken wing, who longs to fly but can't take off. Held down by the gravity of a crap reality. The pain of separation, of living in a world that doesn't give damn. A dream within a dream within a dream.