Tuesday Reading Material

steady heart + mind | 3 . 19 . 19

Om_Mandala

 

Click here to access PDF: SteadyHeartMind_3_19_19

 

The Heart of the Matter

– Thich Nhat Hahn

 

My desire for achievement has led to much suffering. No matter what I do, it never feels like it’s enough. How can I make peace with myself? The quality of your action depends on the quality of your being. Suppose you’re eager to offer happiness, to make someone happy. That’s a good thing to do. But if you’re not happy, then you can’t do that. In order to make another person happy, you have to be happy yourself. So there’s a link between doing and being. If you don’t succeed in being, you can’t succeed in doing. If you don’t feel that you’re on the right path, happiness isn’t possible. This is true for everyone; if you don’t know where you’re going, you suffer. It’s very important to realize your path and see your true way.

Happiness means feeling you are on the right path every moment. You don’t need to arrive at the end of the path in order to be happy. The right path refers to the very concrete ways you live your life in every moment. In Buddhism, we speak of the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. It’s possible for us to live the Noble Eightfold Path every moment of our daily lives. That not only makes us happy, it makes people around us happy. If you practice the path, you become very pleasant, very fresh, and very compassionate.

I am busy from early in the morning until late at night. I am rarely alone. Where can I find a time and place to contemplate in silence? Silence is something that comes from your heart, not from outside. Silence doesn’t mean not talking and not doing things; it means that you are not disturbed inside. If you’re truly silent, then no matter what situation you find yourself in you can enjoy the silence. There are moments when you think you’re silent and all around is silent, but talking is going on all the time inside your head. That’s not silence. The practice is how to find silence in all the activities you do.

Let us change our way of thinking and our way of looking. We have to realize that silence comes from our heart and not from the absence of talk. Sitting down to eat your lunch may be an opportunity for you to enjoy silence; though others may be speaking, it’s possible for you to be very silent inside. The Buddha was surrounded by thousands of monks. Although he walked, sat, and ate among the monks and the nuns, he always dwelled in his silence. The Buddha made it very clear that to be alone, to be quiet, does not mean you have to go into the forest. You can live in the sangha, you can be in the marketplace, yet you still enjoy the silence and the solitude. Being alone does not mean there is no one around you.

Being alone means you are established firmly in the here and the now and you become aware of what is happening in the present moment. You use your mindfulness to become aware of every feeling, every perception you have. You’re aware of what’s happening around you in the sangha, but you’re always with yourself, you don’t lose yourself. That’s the Buddha’s definition of the ideal practice of solitude: not to be caught in the past or carried away by the future, but always to be here, body and mind united, aware of what is happening in the present moment. That is real solitude.

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Making Friends with Ourselves

– Pema Chodron

Whenever we practice meditation, it is important to try to refrain from criticizing ourselves about how we practice and what comes up in our practice. This would only be training in being hard on ourselves! I want to emphasize the importance of maintaining an atmosphere of unconditional friendliness when you practice and as you take your practice out into the world. We can practice for a lot of years—I know many people who have practiced for countless years, decades even—and somewhere along into their umpteenth year, it dawns on them that they haven’t been using that practice to develop lovingkindness for themselves. Rather, it’s been somewhat aggressive meditation toward themselves, perhaps very goal-oriented. As someone said, “I meditated all those years because I wanted people to think I was a good Buddhist.” Or, “I meditated all those years out of a feeling of I should do this, it would be good for me.” And so naturally we come to meditation with the same attitudes with which we come to everything. I’ve seen this with students time and time again, and it is very human.

Rather than letting this be something to feel bad about, you can discover who you are at your wisest and who you are at your most confused. You get to know yourself in all your aspects: at times completely sane and openhearted and at other times completely messed up and bewildered. We are all at times a basket case. Meditation gives you the opportunity to get to know yourself in all those aspects. Judging ourselves for how our practice is going or what might be coming up for us during meditation is a kind of subtle aggression toward ourselves.

The steadfastness we develop in meditation is a willingness to stay. It may seem silly, but meditation actually isn’t too unlike training a dog! We learn to stay. When you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch, you “stay.” When you’re worried about what’s going to happen on Monday, you “stay.” It’s a very lighthearted, compassionate instruction. It is like training the dog in the sense that you can train the dog with harshness and the dog will learn to stay, but if you train it by beating it and yelling at it, it will stay and it will be able to follow that command, but it will be extremely neurotic and scared. As long as you give a very clear command in the way that the dog was trained, it will be able to follow it. But add in any kind of unpredictability or uncertainty, and the poor animal just becomes confused and neurotic.

Or you can train the dog with gentleness. You can train the dog with gentleness and kindness, and it produces a dog that can also stay and heel and roll over and sit up and all of these things—but the dog is flexible and playful and can roll with the punches, so to speak. Personally, I prefer to be the second kind of dog. This staying, this perseverance, this loyalty that comes with meditation—it’s all very gentle or compassionate in its motivation. This gentle approach to yourself in meditation is called maitri. This is translated as “lovingkindness,” or just “love.” In terms of meditation, we learn to be kind, loving, and compassionate toward ourselves.

I teach about maitri a lot, and it is often misunderstood as some kind of self-indulgence, as if it is just about feeling good and being self-concerned. People will often think that that’s what I mean by maitri. But it’s somewhat subtle what maitri is and what it isn’t. For example, you might say that taking a bubble bath or getting a workout at the gym is maitri. But on the other hand, maybe it isn’t, because maybe it’s some kind of avoidance; maybe you are working out to punish yourself. On the other hand, maybe going to the gym is just what you need to relax enough to go on with your life with some kind of lightheartedness. Or it might be one of your 65 daily tactics to avoid reality. You’re the only one who knows.

So it’s important to be clear about what maitri means and not to come away with a misunderstanding of maitri as some kind of indulgence, which actually weakens us and makes us less able to keep our heart and mind open to ourselves and the difficulties of our life. I often use this definition: maitri strengthens us. One of the qualities of maitri is steadfastness, and that’s developed through meditation. So through boredom, through aches, through indigestion, through all kinds of disturbing memories, to edgy energy, to peaceful meditation, to sleepiness, it’s steadfastness. You sit with yourself, you move closer to yourself, no matter what’s going on. You don’t try to get rid of anything—you can still be sad or frustrated or angry. You recognize your humanity and the wide gamut of emotions you might be feeling.

When we cultivate maitri toward ourselves, we are also generating equanimity. Equanimity means we are able to be with ourselves and our world without getting caught in “for” and “against,” without judging things as “right” or “wrong,” without getting caught up in opinions and beliefs and solidly held views about ourselves and our world. Unconditional friendliness is training in being able to settle down with ourselves, just as we are, without labeling our experience as “good” or “bad.” We don’t need to become too dramatic or despairing about what we see in ourselves.

thinking + breath | 2 . 26 . 19

BreathLight

 

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Thinking

-Thanissaro Bhikhu

 

The Buddha once said that he got started on the right path of practice when he learned to observe his thinking, noticing which kinds of thoughts were skillful, which kinds were unskillful. In other words which kinds of thinking lead to harm, which kinds of thinking didn’t lead to harm. Notice that: He didn’t say he got on the path when he learned to stop thinking. He got on the path when he learned to observe his thinking and to see it as part of a causal process. This is important, because a lot of meditation has to do with thinking. There’s a popular misconception that meditation means not thinking at all. But if you look at all the descriptions of the noble eightfold path, you see that they all start with right view. Then they continue with right resolve. In other words they start with thinking: learning how to think in the right way.

In psychotherapy they have talking cures. And they note how amazing it is: Sometimes simply talking over a neurosis—getting it out in the open, learning to be very clear about the presuppositions behind it—can disband it. It loses its power. In a similar vein, meditation is learning how to watch our thoughts, to be very clear about how the mind thinks. Learn how to bring up its assumptions—the unexpressed assumptions or the ones just barely expressed—so that you can see them in the light of day. Then you can see what kinds of thinking you really do live with, what kinds of thinking are absent. Often you’ll find that things that have been having the most power over the mind are the ones that, if you really look at them, don’t really make any sense at all.

So it’s important as you meditate that you have a sense of the role and power of thinking in the meditation. As the Buddha said, every state of concentration depends on a perception, a mental label you create, a little message you can carry from one moment to the next, one that you can remember, that you can be mindful of. For example the object of mindfulness is: “breath.”

As a meditator you’ve got to realize there are different ways of relating to the breath energy in the body. In fact, the only way you can really get in touch with the breath is to reconceive the way you relate to the body. The best way to deal with the breath is simply to think “allow”. You don’t push it. You allow it. What you can do is just think: open up, open up. Keep your wrists relaxed, keep your ankles relaxed. All your joints: Keep them relaxed. Think of allowing the opening up t,of he passages by which the breath can flow. You can’t make the breath flow. It’s something it’s going to do on its own once you’ve opened the channels.

So you maintain the allowing thought of just “breath.” This is part of getting a new view of the breath—and you need a new view of yourself as well, of what can be done. You can relate to the breath and body in a different way from the way you’ve been doing it. You can relate to the thinking in a different way as well.

As the Buddha once said, if it weren’t possible for people to change their ways from unskillful to skillful, he wouldn’t have taught the practice of developing skill. It wouldn’t have served any purpose. But it is possible. When you’ve been doing something unskillful, you can change. You realize that there is another way of doing things and that you’re capable of doing it.

This requires a certain amount of imagination. That’s the beginning of any change in your behavior: allowing yourself to imagine that you can change the way you behave. This applies to all aspects of the practice. You start with generosity. When you make up your mind to give a gift, you’re imagining yourself as someone with something to spare. Up to that point, you may have been thinking that you’re hungry and lacking, and all you could think about was gaining, gaining, gaining, getting, getting, getting. But when you allow yourself to think that you have more than enough, you can give. And you begin to realize that this has very little to do with how much you may have materially. Poor people can often be more generous than rich people because they have a different idea of

“enough.” When you make this simple change in your thinking, you put yourself in a new place: a place with more dignity, a place of more inner worth.

The gift of forgiveness is the same sort of thing. Someone else has harmed you. If all you can think about is how much you’re a victim, you make yourself a smaller person. But if you think of yourself as large-hearted enough to forgive, you suddenly become a larger person. That gives the mind more space to move around.

And so on down the line. You learn that you can observe the precepts. You learn that you can meditate, simply by changing the way you think about yourself and your capabilities.

So remember that this is the observing and focusing the “thinking” part of practice. There do come parts of the practice where you will not think, but you have your skillful reasons for not thinking. You’re doing it with specific aims in mind, so be clear about your aims and where your aims come from. What are the values that lie behind them? What’s your understanding of suffering and the end of suffering that lies behind how you do things? Make sure to straighten out your thoughts. Once you straighten out your thoughts, realizing how suffering comes about and how you can put an end to it, you’ve got everything you need to put an end to it. It’s simply a matter of allowing yourself to think in those ways.

Notice that the emphasis is on allowing. You don’t have to force yourself. You allow something better than what has been happening… to happen.

Ajaan Fuang once said that if we could force our way into nirvana, everybody would have arrived there a long time ago. But it’s not something you can do by force. You ultimately get there only through discernment. And discernment starts with learning how to think in the right way. It doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t require a lot of energy: just allowing yourself to think in skillful ways. That can turn you around right there, and head you in the right direction. So before you stop thinking, learn how to think in ways that are really helpful, allow yourself to think in ways that are really helpful, and it will make all the difference in your practice.

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Breath

– Ajaan Lee

 

Jhana means to be absorbed or focused in a single object, as when we deal with the breath.

The first jhana has five factors: (1) Directed thought: Think of the breath until you can recognize it clearly without getting distracted. (2) Singleness of object: Keep the mind with the breath. Don’t let it stray after other objects. Watch over your thoughts so that they deal only with the breath until the breath becomes comfortable. (The mind becomes one, at rest with the breath.) (3) Evaluation: Let this comfortable breath sensation spread and coordinate with the other breath sensations in the body. Let these breath sensations spread until they all flow together. Once the body has been soothed by the breath, feelings of pain will grow calm. The body will be filled with good breath energy. These three qualities must be brought to bear on the same stream of breathing for the first jhana to arise. This stream of breathing can then take you all the way to the fourth jhana. Directed thought, singleness of object, and evaluation act as the causes. When the causes are ripe, results will appear. (4) Rapture: a compelling sense of fullness and refreshment for body and mind, going straight to the heart, independent of all else. (5) Pleasure: physical ease arising from the body’s being still and unperturbed; mental contentment arising from the mind’s being at ease on its own, unperturbed, serene, and exultant. Rapture and pleasure are the results.

Breaking Down Suffering | 2 . 19 . 19

Geometry

 

 

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Discernment

– Thanisarro Bhihku

If you ever had to tackle a large or overwhelming job, we all learn the basic principle that if you want to get anywhere with it, you have to break it down into little jobs, into manageable pieces…

…then you tackle the pieces bit by bit by bit, and after a while you find the job gets done. You need the large overview so that you know how to break it down into manageable pieces, but when you actually do the work, you focus on the little bits and pieces.

This job we have here of tackling suffering is the same sort of thing. It seems overwhelming. You can think of it as this huge big mass, and the Buddha sometimes talks about it as a mass of suffering—because that’s how most of us experience it, especially when it gets really big, when it really weighs down on the mind.

But the whole purpose of discernment is to be able to break it down into little pieces so that you can see how it’s constructed and how it doesn’t have to be constructed. This is what the Buddha’s teachings on the five aggregates, the six sense spheres, the four or the six properties, dependent co-arising, are for. They’re all designed to take suffering and to break it down into manageable pieces. The reason we call this discernment is just that—its ability to see subtle distinctions—because the pieces are subtle and the distinctions between them are subtle.

This is why we have to practice concentration as a basis for this kind of discernment. If your mind isn’t really still, if your awareness isn’t really sharp and quick, you’re going to miss all the subtleties. Everything gets glommed together. It’s all right here, but if you don’t see the distinctions, everything is going to stay just as a big lump right here, a big mass right here in the present moment.
Say, for instance, that you’re feeling a sense of depression, a sense of sadness. There’s a physical side to it and there’s the mental side. The mental side is made up of lots of little thoughts that are all glommed together. So the Buddha recommends that you take it apart in terms of the khandhas, in terms of the aggregates. Look for the feeling, and then look for the perception. An important perception is saying, “This is my suffering, this is happening to me,” which may be true but you don’t have to think it. It’s an optional thought. You could simply say, “This is suffering,” and leave it at that. That would adequately describe the situation and would also be more helpful. The thing is, you have to catch the mind in the act of applying that particular perception. It will do it repeatedly again and again and again. That’s what clinging is. It’s holding onto a particular thought and just repeating it over and over again.

When you can see that happening, you realize that you’ve got the choice to drop it. You don’t have to keep hitting yourself over the head. This is the same principle that applies to right speech. As the Buddha said, there are things that may be true but if they’re not useful, if this is not the right time for them, we don’t say them. Take that principle and apply it to the mind, to your inner conversation. There may be perceptions that in one way or other are true enough, but they’re not useful and this is not the right time for them. They’re actually causing you suffering, so why bring them in?

If physical side of the suffering is what seems oppressive, take things apart in terms of the properties: earth, water, wind, and fire. Suppose there’s a pain in your knee. The sensations you’ve got around that pain in the knee: Which ones are just physical sensations and which ones are feeling? In other words, which ones are rupa, or form, and which ones are feeling? Any sense of heat is form, any sense of movement is form; coolness, solidity: these things are all form. But then there’s the feeling of pain that sort of flickers among them. It’s something different. It’s a different aggregate. This is where the aggregates and the elements can get together, and this is where we can distinguish among them. But one way of distinguishing between feeling and form is just that: try to see which sensations in that sensation of pain are simply the aggregates of form, the properties of the body, and which are the actual feeling. Try to tease these things out. This is the work of discernment. It discerns distinctions, it sees things clearly.

This is why it’s called discernment. So we’re not here trying to gain the wisdom that lets us simply accept things. Sometimes people think that that’s the ultimate wisdom of Buddhism: learning to be equanimous, patient, accepting of everything. Suffering comes, and you tell yourself that that’s just the nature of experience, that’s the way it is. Craving comes, well, just accept the craving, that’s the way it is.

Now that is the beginning part of discernment, the ability to admit what’s going on. But then as the Buddha said in his first sermon, discernment is not just knowing the truth, that this is the way things are. There is equaly important— a task to do with each of these truths.

When there’s suffering, you try to comprehend it. And comprehending it doesn’t mean simply accepting it. It means ferreting out the bits and pieces from which it’s constructed. What are the raw materials of suffering? It is just these things: form, feeling, perception, fabrication, consciousness. If you look at the suffering in those terms, takes a lot of the sting out. Because as you see the perception that it’s “my” suffering or that “I’m” suffering is just that: it’s a momentary event in the mind. But it brings a big sting with it. So you have the choice not to say that to yourself, not to think in terms of those perceptions. Then you find that as you take the events apart, tease them apart this way, there’s less and less and less suffering. That big mass of suffering gets broken down into little bits. And as in the image in the Canon, finally it gets winnowed into a high wind and blown away, because you realize that you were the one who’s been gluing all these pieces together, and then weighing yourself down with them.

The primary ingredient in this glue is the sense that “I am the one who is suffering, this is my suffering, this is happening to me, I’m in the midst of the suffering, or I am the suffering, or the suffering is in me.” The Buddha has you take this sensation of suffering and tease it apart in terms of the aggregates and then ask of each of these aggregates: “Is this something in me or am I in it? Is this mine? Is this me?” And as you’re able to look at these things—and it’s not going to be a little block that you could sit there and watch. It’s going to be a very quick event in the mind, especially the mental khandhas. But if you learn simply to observe that, “There is this, there is this, that’s all,” you see that as you encounter difficult situations—pain in the body, anything difficult, anything that would make you suffer—you have the choice to think in ways that would make you suffer or not, because you can see these events happening simply as events. That’s all.
That’s what discernment is all about. Ferreting these things out, realizing that they’re individual events in the mind and you don’t have to glue them together in the old way. You can look at them from a different standpoint.

This is what the Dhamma does. It gives us a new frame from which to look at things. This is why Dhamma talks are not just here for information. They’re here to help you look at things in a whole new way, applying the four noble truths to your experience. That’s the framework the Buddha gives you.

It’s not only the framework for his teachings, but also the framework he’d like you to apply to your experience. It’s hard to shift frameworks. We’re used to our old frameworks, so we tend just to bring the four noble truths in as new information. If that’s all they are, just a piece of news you’ve heard, they really don’t make that much difference. But if you make up your mind that you’re going to look at everything from this perspective, and keep at it, keep at it, you find that it’s really useful. It not only points out the way things are, but also shows what you can do so that you don’t have to suffer from the way things are.
So try to get the mind still enough to allow your discernment to get more and more refined, more and more subtle. It works in stages. The more still the mind can be, the more refined your discernment can be, the more subtleties you can see—and the more you can put an end to your suffering. Ajaan Fuang used to say that the discernment that comes from concentration is special. It goes deeper into the mind than discernment not based on concentration. When you’ve heard the topics of discernment—four noble truths, five aggregates, six sense spheres, the properties, dependent co-arising—you can hear them, you can think about them, you can talk about them, but if you don’t actually see these things in action, they don’t go to your heart. The whole purpose of concentration is so you can see them in action. They are very quick, they are very subtle so you have to be very, very still. But if you see them in the stillness, the understanding goes straight to the heart. That’s where it really can make a difference.

Collectedness | 2 . 12 . 19

HandsHoldingFlower

 

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Informing the Whole Committee

– Thanissaro Bhikhu

One of the strangest things about the mind is that it talks to itself. You’d think that if the mind were a single thing, it wouldn’t have to talk to itself. Everything it knows, it would know, without having to communicate. But the fact is there are a lot of different power centers or knowing centers here in the mind. It’s like a committee, and the different members have to send messages to one another. They have to inform one another of what’s going on. Sometimes one part of the mind will know something, and another part won’t know. Part of the reason for this is that we actually build walls inside the mind. In some cases the walls are necessary in order to function. When you’re paying attention to a particular task, you have to blot out everything not related to that task.
Sometimes the walls are very, very impenetrable, sometimes they’re not. They’re more permeable. In other words, you’re working on a task but there’s the possibility that if some emergency comes up, you can get a message through so that you can drop the task and turn to whatever else is more pressing. Say you’re focused on reading a book, but there’s a sudden sharp pain in your stomach. Okay, the message can get through so that you can stop reading and focus attention on the pain. Which means that there’s part of the mind that’s still surveying the body to make sure nothing really painful or horrible is happening, while another part of the mind focuses on reading the book.
But the walls can also be problematic. This is one of the reasons why we have our problems with the mind. It’s not thoroughly informed. You can make up your mind to stick with the meditation. You can make up your mind to do something that’s really truly going to lead to true happiness. But soon afterwards, you find yourself off wandering looking at something else. So this multiplicity of the mind can be a real problem.
Still, it’s also part of the solution. In fact, it’s what makes the solution to the problem possible. If the mind were a totally monolithic thing, if your sense of self were monolithic, you’d play right into the hands of that question of “How is it possible for something that’s so unskillful and so ignorant to gain knowledge?” If the mind were a single thing, if your sense of self were a single thing, it couldn’t change itself. That’s the basic premise of the old issue of self power versus other power. The idea being that if the self is so screwed up, if your ego is so screwed up, you need some help from outside. It’s only through surrendering yourself to some outside power that you’ll be able to find true happiness, or to save yourself from yourself.
This is the basic premise in a lot of the Mahayana, in the Pure Land schools. You need the saving grace of Amitabha or some Buddha outside to come and save you, because your ego is so corrupt that it can’t possibly abandon its corruption. Any of the forms of religion that require you to focus on an outside power to come in to save you have as their premise the idea that your self is a single solid thing that’s corrupt and can’t possibly save itself. That’s where the question of self power and other power gets born. 
But the fact is that your self, your mind, your ego, is not a single thing. There are lots of different selves, lots of different minds, lots of different egos going on here. This committee going on here: It’s because it’s a committee that you can change yourself. One member of the committee can look at another member of the committee and say, “Your policy isn’t working, your strategy isn’t working. You’ve got to change.” Because there is no one, overarching sense of self, the different members of the committee have learned that they’ve got to listen to one another. The people in whom the different members of the committee don’t listen to each other—they get schizoid. The normally functioning human being has different parts of the mind and they listen to one another, and they know they have to listen to one another in order to function. This is what makes the practice possible. The difficulty simply is in taking the side of the mind that wants to practice, that wants to meditate, that wants to stay focused on the breath, and giving that member of the committee strength so it starts having influence over other members of the committee, so they all can sit down together. 
So when someone asks me what kind of Buddhism I am practicing here, is it the “other power” kind or the “self power” kind, the answer is, “Neither.” It’s the “committee power” kind. You can apply this point immediately as you focus on the breath. There will be part of the mind that’s intent on actually doing the work, focusing on the breath. And you notice there is another part of the mind that’s watching, that can be alert both to the breath and to the conscious effort to stay focused. So learn to make use of that observer. That’s the observer that allows for alertness, get all these different parts working together, the intention to stay with the breath, the ability to remember that intention, then the part of the mind that watches. 
Once you’ve got those three parts working together, then there is going to be progress. They help one another along. And the more they learn to cooperate, then the more they are going to be able to get other parts of the mind in this together. So more and more members of the committee sit down and participate. You notice when the Buddha describes the process of meditation, it’s not one quality acting alone that’s going to make all the difference. He never said all you need is mindfulness, or all you need is concentration. It’s always clusters of factors. It’s in the clustering that we gain strength in the practice. 
So don’t be surprised when you find that there are lots of different voices in the mind, or there’s parts of the mind that know, and other parts that don’t know what’s going on. That’s to be taken for granted. And he said that’s part of the problem, but it’s also part of the solution. Once you understand what the actual problem is, then you can work on gathering more and more members of the mind. The part that wants immediate gratification, well, you give a little something to that by making the breath comfortable. The part that gets easily bored, you give something to that by asking yourself questions about the breath, exploring this whole issue of the breath energy in the body. The part that wants to talk, well, you give something to talk about, talk about the breath. If you’re skillful, you can give all these different voices, all these different urges some form of gratification so they’re willing to pitch in with the effort. And as with any task, the more people you have working on the task, the quicker it gets done. 
So think of this as a group effort. You keep surveying to see which parts of the mind are not getting in on the effort. You can see what you can do to get their cooperation. Because it is this way, bit by bit by bit, we get more skillful in this whole issue of trying to find a way out of suffering. We catch ourselves in different ways of creating suffering, and learn to convert the various tendencies of the mind to this one goal so that when there is a state of oneness in the mind, it’s one in a good way, it’s one on the path. And then when it’s one, you can really teach it. This is why concentration comes before discernment. And there is an element of discernment that is needed for the concentration itself. But the discernment that’s actually going to break through the mind’s misunderstandings has to be based on getting as many members of the mind in on the message. I mean you can read a book and learn all about the basic teachings. And then as you put the book down, you find that you forget about them. Or even if you remember them, you start acting in other ways. You go back to your old habits. It’s because not all the mind was there.
You want to bring your full attention to the breath. You want to bring your full attention to this issue of getting the mind gathered in a comfortable place. And the more the different factions, the more the different committee members are there, then when the message comes and they’re all in a mood to listen, that’s when it has a very pervasive effect on the mind. In many cases the insights that really make a difference in the mind are not anything new, nothing you’ve never heard before. It’s simply that not everybody was there to listen, not everybody was there to see the truth of that particular insight. Once you’ve got the whole mind gathered together, then one single message can seep through everything. 
This is why as we are meditating, it’s not just a matter of getting the mind focused, the body’s got to be involved as well. That image in the Canon of taking the sense of ease and pleasure that come from the concentration, that come from a comfortable breath and allowing it to permeate throughout the body, working it, kneading it throughout the body, so that every part has a sense of belonging to the concentration, that’s really important. Without that the messages don’t get thoroughly transmitted. Some parts of the mind will hold back. But when everyone’s working together, when everyone’s feeling a sense of ease, gratification and fullness, then they all hear the lesson. They are all happy to hear the lesson because they can see how true it is. This particular insight that you gain really does make a difference, really does cut through ignorance, really does cut through this problem of random members of the committee causing problems. 
Try to get everybody involved, try to get everybody to cooperate, so that the committee as a whole gets free from suffering.

Mind Like Calm Water | 2 . 5 . 19

DewDropReflection

 

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The shimmering reflections of consciousness

-Andrew OlendzkiWinter 2010

Andrew Olendzki is the senior scholar at the Integrated Dharma Institute and is a visiting assistant professor of religion at Wesleyan University.

“The mind is luminous, but is polluted by the toxins that are dumped into it.” This is a translation, updated for our times, of a well-known passage found in the early discourses of the Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya 1.49). It has been interpreted by some people to suggest a transpersonal consciousness—a consciouness that is outside the consciousness arising each moment in a person’s experience—somehow outside the experience of sense object impinging upon a sense organ. But that is not the sense in the early Buddhist literature. Rather we find the image of a pool of water that, when still, can clearly reflect the nature of whatever impinges upon it. Consciousness is not a force larger than ourselves but a process taking place within ourselves. This process has no individualizing characteristics beyond the basic function of “knowing” an object. Mind is thus neither the source of light, like a shining sun, nor the reflected light of something greater, like the moon. Mind is instead a shimmering pool of contingent potential, capable of reflecting sun, moon, and any other object that happens to dance upon its surface. Its function is more important than its essence. The mind is influenced significantly by the qualities of what gets stirred into its naturally pristine waters.

The diversity of experience comes not from consciousness itself but from the other four aggregates (form, feeling, percepton, volition) in the mix. There is an apparently infinite array of physical and mental objects; the interpretation of these by means of the symbolic language of perception; their texturing with varying shades of pleasant and unpleasant feeling tones; and both the active intentions and passive dispositions that respond each moment to the impingement of these objects with the enactment of karma. In this sense, consciousness itself is like a mirror whose only function is to reflect whatever it encounters—the content of experience is provided by other mental processes. In particular it is the karma formations of the sankhara aggregate that color the experience of an object with mental states and emotional responses. Whenever we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or think of an object, we do so with a particular attitude or emotion that gets stirred in like an additive to consciousness. These can be either wholesome or unwholesome— healthy or toxic—and can thus either clarify or contaminate the mind’s ability to know itself and its environment.

The image of polluted water is elaborated upon in the Numerical Discourses (Anguttara Nikaya 5.193). “Suppose there is a bowl of water,” says the sutta, going on to describe the water as impinged upon in some way by an external factor that pollutes its depths or agitates its surface. Under such circumstances, “If a man with good sight were to examine his own facial reflection in it, he would neither know nor see it as it really is.” The text goes through a list of mental states called the five hindrances, showing how each one of them can be seen to obscure the natural luminosity and reflective ability of the mind.

Sense desire, the subtle inclination of the mind toward alluring objects, is said to be like a bowl of water “mixed with lac, turmeric, blue or crimson dye.” The pellucid quality of the mind is ruined by dumping such distorting and obscuring substances into its clear waters.

Ill will, the equally subtle inclination of the mind away from all disturbing or unpleasing objects, is said to be like “water being heated over a fire, bubbling and boiling.” Even in English we refer to this sense of anger and hatred as fires that heat the mind up with destructive emotions. Boiling furiously, the mirroring potential of the mind is lost.

Sloth and torpor, those mental factors contributing to sluggishness, sleepiness, or laziness of mind, are likened to “water covered over with water plants and algae.” Such growths take root in indolence and a lack of diligence, and so encumber the mind that its surface becomes obscured.

Restlessness and remorse, their opposite qualities, are identified with “water stirred by the wind, rippling, swirling, churned into wavelets.” When the mind is agitated by gales of anxiety, hyperactivity, multitasking, or incessant internal chattering, it is no longer capable of seeing things as they are.

Doubt is the hindrance that causes us to lack confidence, questioning ourselves, our actions, our teachers, and almost everything else. It is said to be similar to “water that is turbid, unsettled, muddy, or placed in the dark.” Here too, the conditions for the mind’s natural reflectivity are hampered so much that it can no longer function.

Such a model of the mind encourages us always to take on the dual projects of tranquilization and purification. Meditation can be understood as an enterprise of quieting the mind, in order to allow its surface to settle into a reflective plane. But the quality of the water itself also needs attention. This involves, among other things, examining its depths for the presence of toxins, neutralizing these contaminants at every opportunity, and developing diligent moral habits to ensure that new pollutants are dumped into the mind as little as possible. Fortunately, the texts also offer a set of antidotes for each of these poisons, so pouring in such dispersants as non-attachment, lovingkindness, energy, tranquility, and confidence, is sure to have a wholesome, purifying effect.

It can be exceedingly difficult to entirely shut off the source of toxic influxes into the mind, especially those that flow in from the deepest reaches of the psyche. This is finally accomplished only by an arahant or a buddha. Yet there are plenty of ways in which we can stem the flow, working each moment to calm the waters, siphon out the debris, and catch glimpses of what the world looks like when the mind is able to let it all come and go without attachment, appropriation, or interference. Everything becomes clear and luminous when we settle the waters.
_____________________________________

35. Dharmapada

– Buddha

Wonderful indeed it is to tame the mind.
A challenge to subdue—ever swift, seizing whatever it desires.
A tamed mind brings happiness.

Grounding in Wellbeing | 1 . 29 . 19

roots

 

 

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Anchored by Skillful Roots

by Thanissaro Bhikhu (adpated)

 

From all accounts, the world is going to go through a bad period: war, economic problems, insecurity of all kinds. Of course we’ve never really been all that secure. But apparently our insecurity is going to become much more obvious. It’s like a big storm coming through. When you know a storm is coming through, you’ve got to do what you can to hunker down, to withstand it, so that you don’t get blown away and the things around you don’t come crashing down on top of you. In a similar way, when life doesn’t go as you like, it’s like a storm coming onto the mind, and you need to develop your powers of resilience. If you compare your mind to a tree, you want to have deep roots, widespread roots, healthy roots, the kinds of roots that will keep the tree from getting blown over and killed.

Traditionally, the Buddha talked about roots for the mind. There are unskillful roots and skillful roots. The unskillful roots are greed, anger, and delusion. The skillful ones are lack of greed, lack of anger, lack of delusion. Unskillful roots are like rotten roots. They don’t hold your tree up and they don’t give you much nourishment. So those are not the roots you want to depend on. The roots you want to send out are roots based on non-greed, of non-anger, non-delusion. To cultivate skillful roots and starve unskillful roots we can practice this way:

generosity nourishes the roots of non-greed,

precepts (virtue) nourish the roots of non-anger,

meditation nourishes the roots of non-delusion.

These are the activities that we have to engage in order to prepare, in order to withstand the storm—not just before the storm hits, but all the way throughout the storm. Being generous, observing the precepts, and meditating keep us strong, keep us from getting blown away. If your survival is accomplished without generosity, without virtue, without meditation, it’s not worth much. It’s not the sort of survival that keeps you healthy and well-nourished. It’s by nourishing the skillful roots that the health of the mind survives. It is nourished with its inner sense of well-being, truthfulness, self-honesty. You look at your behavior and there’s nothing you have to hide from yourself.

Generosity

Practicing generosity is like sending good roots out, spreading abroad in all directions, so that you’re survival is not just for your own sake, but it helps other people well.

Virtue

The same with the precepts (virtue): If you’re very selective about who you’ll treat kindly and who you won’t treat kindly, or there are circumstances under which you’re going to hold by the precepts, and other circumstances under which you’re not going to hold by the precepts, your roots cover a very limited range. But if you decide that under no circumstances are you going to break the five precepts, the Buddha says that you’re giving unlimited safety to unlimited numbers of beings. In return you get a share in that unlimited safety as well. So again your survival is not just a selfish thing. It’s not based on the kind of roots that are going to rot or dry out, or get pulled up easily, get blown away. These are healthy roots that spread out and keep you secure in the storm.

Meditation

As for the deepest roots you need, those come from meditation. These are the roots that grow deep down in the mind. It’s through the meditation that you realize how your true well-being doesn’t have to depend on situations outside because you’ve found a source inside. Your tap root has gotten down that far. It’s tapped into something unconditioned.

When you’ve got a taproot that goes way down into the mind—in terms of concentration, in terms of discernment—you find a source inside that’s constant and nourishing. That’s the source that can sustain your well-being so that it doesn’t have to depend on anything else. In other words, your goodness doesn’t have to depend on outside conditions.

When in meditation and the mind finally settles down, you find that it’s like an onion: There are layers and layers and layers to its concentration. You peal them away, one by one. You don’t have to be in a great hurry to do this. Be gentle and spacious.

As you settle, the superficial layers of the onion begin to fall away. You get to deeper ones, and deeper ones, not because you’re jumping from one spot to another, but because you’re really staying right here, getting more and more solid right here. Then, after a while, there comes a point where the activities of observing the breath can be put aside because the breath has gotten as good as it can be. From there you work deeper and deeper, just by staying here, and settling in with more and more solidly. The whole body is saturated with the breath energy and is still. Your brain is using less and less oxygen all the time, so the need to keep pumping things in and out gets less and less. That way you eventually get to the point where the breath can seem to stop.

When this happens, you can see the mind clearly, because the movements of the mind become more obvious. You can start peeling away layers here as well. You get deeper and deeper inside, until ultimately you find, after the final peeling away—of the peeler—that’s when things open up to a new dimension.

The tap root has hit something that’s totally different from anything else it has nourished by before. But even if you don’t get that far, the sense of ease that comes from a concentrated mind, if you tend to it well, can give you the nourishment and well-being needed to sustain you. So if the wind blows outside, when the rain falls, when storms come, you’ve got something deep and solid that is the basis for the goodness of the mind, the well-being of the mind, the deep internal sense of calm you can depend on.

Through generosity, virtue and meditation your roots are deep, your roots are spread wide, and they’re healthy roots, nourishing roots. Those are the roots that enable you to weather the storm, because the worst thing that can get blown away is your goodness of mind, the well-being of the mind.

So have a very clear sense of where your true roots are, the roots that are going to keep you firmly anchored. The roots that are going to continue to nourish you no matter what the windstorms are. The roots that make it worthwhile to survive, to keep going. Survival in the sense of the goodness of the mind: That’s your primary survival.

So when you have a clear sense of what it means to survive in the true sense, and what the roots are that are going to sustain you, then you can access the resolve to face adversity. We always talk about the practice as one of letting go, letting go. Well, you do let go of the unskillful roots. But you hold on to your skillful roots, because they keep the vital connection to your inner unconditioned well-being alive.

_______________________________________

Nourishing the Roots

– Buddha

For one who is virtuous, endowed with virtue, no deliberate volition need be exerted: “Let freedom from remorse arise in me.” This is the natural law, that freedom from remorse arises in one who is virtuous, endowed with virtue.

For one who is free from remorse, no deliberate volition need be exerted: “Let gladness arise in me.” This is the natural law…

For one who is gladdened, no deliberate volition need be exerted: “Let rapture arise in me.” This is the natural law…

For one filled with rapture, no deliberate volition need be exerted: “Let my body become tranquil.” This is the natural law…

For one tranquil in body, no deliberate volition need be exerted: “May I experience bliss.” This is the natural law, bhikkhus, that one tranquil in body experiences bliss.

For one who is blissful, no deliberate volition need be exerted: “Let my mind become concentrated.” This is the natural law…

For one who is concentrated, no deliberate volition need be exerted: “May I know and see things as they really are.” This is the natural law…

For one knowing and seeing things as they really are, no deliberate volition need be exerted: “May I become disenchanted.This is the natural law…

For one who has become disenchanted no deliberate volition need be exerted: “May I realize the knowledge and vision of deliverance.” This is the natural law…

Thus, one stage flows into the succeeding stage, one stage comes to fulfillment in the succeeding stage, for crossing over from the hither shore to the beyond.

Limitless Thoughts of Wellbeing | 1. 22 . 19

radiatinglove

 

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Adapted from: Limitless Thoughts

by Thanissaro Bhikhu

 

During loving kindness meditation, we radiate goodwill: goodwill for ourselves, goodwill for the people around us. And we can take this further. We can try to develop a contunal attitude that arises from the loving kindness meditation. Keeping in mind the wish for your own true happiness and wishing for the true happiness of the people around us. Loving Kindness is one of those thoughts that doesn’t need to have a limit. However much true happiness you gain, you’re not taking anything else away from anyone else. However much they gain, they’re not taking anything away from you. It’s good to be able to put the mind in an unlimited state by thinking of unlimited things like that.

The Buddha talks about greed, anger, and delusion as things that make a limit. As long as we allow greed, anger, and delusion to hold sway over our minds, we’re limiting ourselves. Then there’s a whole question of self identification: That too is a limit. The Buddha says that whatever you identify as your self, that’s a limit on you. We counteract these limited contactions with limitless thoughts of inclusion and loving kindness. In other words, while your mind is dwelling on the idea of goodwill for yourself, goodwill for other people, You are creating a wholesome state. You’re not creating any opening for the limitations of greed or anger to come in to the mind. That way you help to open things up, open up the windows in your head, let the air come in. That puts you in the right frame of mind for meditation, focusing on your object of meditation.

One may forget that what determines the pain and pleasure in the mind, the stress and ease in the mind, the sorrow and happiness in the mind, comes from our perceptions and interpretations. It doesn’t come from things. So as we’re meditating, we’re learning how to focus on our minds to see what we’re doing, to see where there are slips in our awareness, lapses in our mindfulness that allow us to do things that are not in our best interest. This is why meditation focuses so much on developing continual mindfulness and alertness. These are the two most helpful qualities in the mind. Mindfulness simply means keeping something in mind. Alertness means noticing what you’re doing, and what’s happening around you. We already have these qualities to a certain extent, but we’ve never fully developed them to see how far they can take us. So as we’re meditating, that’s what we’re doing: developing these two most helpful qualities in our mind. Keep the object of meditation in mind. And watch the minds movement. Alert sensitivity requires being fully present, and also being very open to noticing what’s coming in through your senses.

When you’re not really paying that much attention to the present moment, there are lots of distractions arising, and they fragment your attention. But the more fully you can immerse yourself in the object of meditation, the less room there is for unwholesome states to arise. The mind becomes more fully here so that you can observe it, so that you begin to watch it in action.

The Buddha’s approach to dealing with the untamed and distracted mind is not so much tracing things back to what you did as a child, as is done in psychotherapy. BUddha tells you to focus more on looking at your habitual patterns as they arise, as they keep coming back again and again and again. You don’t have to ask, “What happened when I was a child, why did this happen?” You just have to look at what you’re doing, to see the unnecessary suffering you’re causing yourself. Or you can keep an eye out for any lack of openness and honesty in the mind: What’s that doing to the mind? Do you want to do that? Do you continue wanting to do that as you see the stress that it’s causing?

Sometimes this may seem threatening, opening up these unwholesome patterns of behavior, but as meditating, staying with the object of meditation, making it very comfortable, you’re also developing an attitude of gentleness, being gentle, not forcing it too much, just allowing yourself to feel really good and uplifted. The gentler you are inmeditation, the more collected the mind gets. The more collected the mind is, the more you can really look into what’s going on, with a gentleness that doesn’t scare these things away, and a clarity that doesn’t get swayed by distraction. That way you don’t have to be afraid of the things that get come up. You don’t have to rejectl. You can acknowledge, yes, there is that the mind.

The world tells us that things that are happening and other people are on the other side of the world are the most important thing going on. But you don’t have to believe that, because your world is being shaped by your what you pay attention to right now. You want to understand this process of attention and intentions. What does it mean for the mind to act? What’s the difference between a simple event in the mind, the appearance of a feeling, and an action, the intention? How are intentions formed? What goes into that process? What kind of perceptions, what kind of questions do you ask yourself? What kind of connection in the mind and the body drives your decisions? Often you’ll catch yourself doing something, and you’ll say, “Wait a minute, what did that come from?” The decision seemed to be made by itself, and little tiny things triggered it. That’s what you’ve got to look into, so that you can be more sensitive and actually see the trigger. Often the trigger, on closer inspection, will seem have to produced an over sized response. Why on earth did that trigger spark that intention,
spark that action?

This is probably one of the scariest things about our own minds: Our minds are shaping our lives, and yet we don’t know how and why they’re doing it. As meditators, we’re putting ourselves in a better position to see the how and the why, and gain more insight about and more control over those actions. But before you can see the movements of the mind, you have to be very still.

Cultivating this stillness in meditation is a very immediate way of showing goodwill to yourself and other—because it is both a wholesome and nurturing state to abide in and a way of developing skillful means to spread loving kindness in your daily life.

Dhammapada

– Buddha

 

1. Mind precedes all mental states.
Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows one like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

2. Mind precedes all mental states.
Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows one like his never-departing shadow.

3. “He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.”
Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

4. “He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.”
Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world.
By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.
This is a law eternal.