adhitthāna, resolve, the eighth pāramī

POSTCARD#416: Bangkok: For most of us, the only time we encounter the word ‘resolve’ is at the start of a new year and we make new year resolutions or we hear of other people and their new year resolutions. I’ve never managed to keep these kinds of resolutions but I stopped smoking about 20 years ago and stopped drinking some time before that. Stopped all kinds of other thing too when the realization came there was only this nameless hunger that arises from the feeling that there has to be something better than this. I discovered the Buddhist perspective on Suffering, dukkha nirodho ariya sacca. It was this application of the Buddha’s teachings, following the Eightfold Path, that led to the understanding of this word resolve and a structural change in my life. These are continued excerpts from Pāramī – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods – Ajahn Sucitto pdf.

Ajahn continues with his analysis of Resolve, the eighth pāramī:

The word adhitthāna has come to mean resolve or determination. When it’s conjoined with the other Perfections we have read so far, adhitthāna serves to underline and strengthen them. So one determines to be generous 1); to refrain from doing harm 2); to let go of what needs to be relinquished 3); to discern and investigate 4); and to bring energy 5), patience 6) and truthfulness 7) to one’s practice.

This pāramī is then a foundation: intentions are pretty weak if one has no resolve to carry them out. You have to make the resolve to practise if you are to follow any path at all. But that resolve requires the wisdom to sense that a course of action is worth following through, and to moderate and supervise one’s resolve.

The Need for Commitment

Resolve isn’t a small matter: if you’re looking for the best results or the deepest changes, you have to do that with the understanding that this will most likely mean working at it and overcoming some resistance. And it will require the faith that you can at least try. Otherwise you aren’t going to grow.

For example, when you begin to meditate, you might start with ten minutes and check out how that was. If you get interested you go on to fifteen minutes, or half an hour or more. When you read a book, you don’t start off thinking that you will read all day and all night, but rather you pick up a book and then look into it for ten minutes; then if it’s worthwhile, you continue. So wise resolve supports strengthening according to feedback, interest and capacity. It’s not blind doggedness.

It does, however, mean that you put aside the alternatives and stay with your central aim. It means getting over the first hurdle: the idea that lasting personal development can occur quickly with little effort. Resolve comes late on the list of perfections, because to make a wise resolution requires a mind that has sampled, practised and received the benefits of generosity, virtue and the rest. Then you know what a useful commitment, and its results, feel like.

Without this ongoing reflection you may find yourself with commitments that you never clearly looked into and resolved upon. Sometimes relationships can be like that. Or it may be that you have the commitment to go to a job every day, but you don’t feel that interested in it. To you it is just a way of making money and getting by. And yet in this society there can be very high expectations of commitment to your job: you’re expected to believe in it.

If commitment is expected with regards to aims and concerns that we don’t find worthy, we can’t find the willingness of heart (chanda) to make the effort. Instead we want to break out of the drudgery or the insane pressures; we want to kick back and be free. The idea of being boundless and free is attractive, and we can assume this comes around through not having any commitments or aims. People may think, ‘Don’t tie me down, I’m a Buddhist. I want to be completely open. I want to feel free to follow my intuitions.’ We are criticized for having these petty rules and restrictions – rather than being free, boundless and cosmic, we’re stuck in our narrow little Theravada ways.

This is why our times are sometimes called the Dhamma-ending age, because it’s hard to get some of these teachings across in a society that has turned the precious qualities of motivation, respect and resolve towards material ends and towards beliefs that don’t go that far. Then it’s quite understandable to feel: ‘I’ve had enough of being controlled and driven. Freedom is the opposite from obeying rules and making effort.’ Until you wake up one day with a hangover and the realization that: ‘This way of life is going nowhere. I’d better shape up and get my act together.’

Small Enlightenments

The Buddhist emphasis is on knowing through one’s direct experience. It offers an opportunity, a way to explore the mind and step back from the samsāra of its turmoil through the simple expedient of picking up a reasonable intention – like focusing on breathing – and witnessing how the mind skids and wobbles around that intention with its transient likes and dislikes. In the early months of my practice the mind bounced backwards and forwards, ricocheting between feelings and fantasies, grudges and self-judgment. However, even acknowledging that this was happening deepened my understanding. I’d always associated freedom with the ability to move around. Instead, it now felt like freedom was in the still watchfulness. It seemed to be here, but I couldn’t locate it; it had no motive and no opinions; it was free of all that. But it seemed dependent on making a resolve. For this reason I got very keen on making resolutions: firstly to sit for an hour, then longer, then meditate all night. Of course, every day the mind wanders; one loses or gets caught in obsessions, which could mean that every day you fail. But I found that if the mind could move through a wave of turmoil, it entered a place of peace, and that was worth aiming for…

(Continued next week 23 April 2021)

truthfulness, the seventh parami part 2

POSTCARD#415: Bangkok: I remember when I seriously started to look into Buddhism, one of the monks in Wat Pah Nanachat said I was wandering through my life without a map! I was simply reacting according to “an inheritance of Kamma and the furtherance of habits and biases”, as Ajahn Sucitto might say. Join us again as Ajahn explores the depths of the Sacca Parami, Truth, providing a ‘mind map’ to help us find our Way

The Inheritance of Kamma

What keeps it all going? Is there something beyond this passing show? These are the kinds of questions that arouse people in the search for spiritual truth. And at the heart of such a quest is the need to acknowledge and put aside assumptions generated by the floods of sensuality, becoming, views and ignorance. It means paying attention in an appropriate, enquiring and in-depth way. This is the intention based on truthfulness – not to become something, but to come out of false assumptions.

A basic assumption is that things have a fixed or predictable nature. Even though rationally we know that isn’t true, our emotional reflexes get confused and upset by changes in the weather or our health, by delays in transport and by changes in other people. The reflex assumption is that sense objects provide a true and lasting feeling – that the impression of a taste, sound or sight as either pleasant or unpleasant is true. And that sets up ‘must have’ or ‘can’t stand it.’ The feeling depends as much on our state of mind as on the sense object itself. Intention, or inclination of the mind, has changed how we experience the food.

Maybe I don’t notice how it tasted because I was talking to a friend. In that case the change has occurred through a shift of attention. Or maybe we feel that the unpleasant taste of the food ruined the whole evening. In this instance the issue is one of contact; that is, the impression ‘unpleasant’ has coated the mind. The unpleasantness is transferred so everything we experience during the evening is perceived through the filter of that contact impression. Contact impressions and transference are dependent on changeable factors, and therefore they are unreliable.

For instance, person A is in a bad mood because of being stuck in a traffic jam and late for an appointment. Feeling irritable, he or she finds human contact irritating. So he/she speaks dismissively to person B, who then feels that person A doesn’t like them, or that they’ve done something wrong, and so person B feels confused. That’s how suffering gets transferred.

If I believe he or she always is, or always should be, a certain way, I fix a sensitive, changing, affective mind into a stereotyped object called a person. Through such views we project irritation, adoration or neediness and make others into the heroes and villains of our lives. These projections may have some truth in them, for example, ‘He’s an idiot’ might mean something like, ‘I notice that his way of chairing the meeting yesterday didn’t bring the results I’d wish for.’ The falsehood is that ‘He’s an idiot’, that piece of behaviour has been made into a three dimensional person and cast in stone. This is what ‘becoming’ does: it stretches an event into an entity. I participate in the creation of these caricatures, demons and angels, and that limits my responsiveness and our freedom.

This mental activity is kamma: as your mind acts, assumes and projects, so you create an inheritance; stuck in a world of ‘them and me’ with its fixed opinions, disappointment and confusion. Kamma means action; it’s based on intention, attention and contact. It has results, and this is what’s running your life. In this respect, the first step towards abiding in truth is to be clear about good and bad kamma: to recognize and refrain from the bad, and to pick up the good. So it’s better to know that one feels irritation, admiration, or jealousy and look into that, rather than keep making our emotional responses into ‘other people’ who then control your life.

When we look at things in terms of truth, we can acknowledge contact impressions in terms of pleasant and unpleasant feelings: perhaps as familiar, poignant or uncomfortable perceptions and impressions. We can witness skilful, unskilful, compassionate or confused psychological intentions and states of mind, and we can sense whether attention is weak, bright or obsessive. Contact, intention and attention, and all of this kammic stuff are changeable. There are no fixed things, entities or people. But there is an inheritance and potential furtherance of habits and biases. As we see that our world is dependent on contact, intention and attention, we start to take steps to generate bright impressions, based on kindness, compassion and wise understanding. And as we develop those intentions, and all the intentions that the pāramī represent, our attention gets clear and well focused.

(continued next week 16 April 2021)

truthfulness, the seventh parami

POSTCARD#414: Bangkok: This pāramī highlights the capacity to be truthful, a quality that can be understood in two ways: truthfulness, as an aspect of morality and truthfulness as it refers to perception, the ability to see or know things in an undistorted way. To free the mind from distortion, tunnel vision or blind spots takes more than a moral sense. For this we need to examine the nature of our thoughts, attitudes and biases through introspection and meditation.

When we can find a stable abiding place in awareness, we begin to feel the pressure our preferences and expectations create – and how to get free of that. We can witness moods, feelings and impulses changing. That is their truth; and that is the truth of all conditions. We are not in their grip. They’re not me, not mine, not self. They arise and pass in awareness, and are what they are. We can act upon them or let them pass, with a clear understanding of consequences. So through being filled with the truth of awareness, one acts in terms of truthful behaviour. This full truthfulness, its brightness and peace, is what is meant by terms like ‘realization,’ ‘seeing things as they are,’ and ‘Awakening.’

Clear Awareness is Deep Honesty

Truthfulness as behaviour, and truthfulness as understanding and realization, are related. But so are dishonesty and confusion. We may find ourselves being dishonest simply because it’s more convenient that way, unaware of how our words and deeds affect others. So we adopt assumptions, in line with our preceding assumptions. Even if the assumptions are not based on truth, it seems as if they will fend off results that we fear. But what if there’s nothing to fear and you find that being straightforward and truthful gives you a quiet strength; and, that most people will respect and sympathize with your honesty?

As long as we don’t use truth, we let ignorance make us insecure and fearful. But there is the realization that the agent of events, of virtue and vice, is intention (or impulse) and perception, not self. And we can be aware of and investigate the feel of attraction, repulsion, defensiveness, and see they’re not fundamental states – they’re not self; they are as they are, and there’s no one behind them to defend or approve of.

So the real issue is not one of being affected, but of proliferating tendencies and assumptions of fear, irritation, lust or guilt; latent tendencies in how the programmed mind forms our experience. That voice in the brain or that surge in the heart is so familiar and habitual that it may seem like the real me. But what is it that witnesses it? Which is the ‘real me,’ the thought or the watchfulness? Maybe neither. No thought or mind state is there all the time, so how can any of them be a permanent aspect or possession? And if none of these can be possessed or under one’s control, what kind of possessor or controller lives in our mind? In truth, there’s not some self in charge of all this; nor do we seem to be able to be apart from this changing show. It all arises dependent on causes and conditions.

(continued next week 09 April 2021)

patience the sixth perfection part 3

POSTCARD#413: Bangkok: Join Ajahn Sucitto as he walks us through the various mind states arising from the application of Patience, the Sixth Perfection. Cultivating Patience “Encourages us to see that the unskilful or grasping energies the mind adopts can be borne with and released. And because we can let go of these impulses, we know there is an awareness that can come through the heat and pressure.”

The full text I have summarized here can be obtained from Amaravati Publications as a free download in PDF, Epub, or Mobi – a little over 200 pages. Also a print version can be sent to your address, also free of charge. Click on the link to get through to the book page: Pāramī Ways to Cross Life’s Floods

Building Patience Around One Point

At the core of our suffering is the place where we don’t want emotional pain. Our resistance leads to doubt and the feeling that we are useless. The mind creates either a self who is the victim or a self who is to blame. We blame others, we blame ourselves – we search for scapegoats to carry the pain. All this is caused by the mind resisting that painful feeling. And in this process, the mind loses the strength and clarity that would enable it to bear with and even let go of the feeling.

On the other hand, if we can find a place at the source of our suffering, where we can work and assemble our skills around this pain (rather than trying to find a way away from it), we can sense that the feeling has no intention; it has no aim to hurt us, it’s just doing what feeling does. Feeling feels. It’s not self; it has no aim, and belongs to no one. Why not let it go and keep the heart free from it? If we do that, even if the physical feeling remains, the mind can be serene. That which is painful, embarrassing or tedious can be used as a tool to purify and strengthen the mind.

To be patient one has to apply energy, the Fifth Perfection (viriya) – it’s not a passive response. Patience requires a courageous and full-hearted willingness to experience one’s mind and its reflexes. Resolve (adhitthāna) the Eighth Perfection strengthens the support structure – we need to be held by commitments. But as you may have noticed, things start out being attractive, interesting or inspiring, but eventually the wish will arise to change direction and get out of that commitment. But if you bear through the tides of feeling to get to a deeper source of wisdom, you begin to cross over your world.

When we cultivate patience within the floods, it encourages us to see that the unskilful or grasping energies, the desires that the mind adopts, can be borne with and released. And because we can let go of these impulses, we know that they aren’t the mind in and of itself; we know that there is an awareness that can come through the heat and pressure. But this realization depends on the patient fortitude to keep holding the mind steady so that it doesn’t adopt craving or aversion, fear or despair as a true thing. Which, even after a degree of realization, it will do. More patience! The reality of Dhamma practice is that, as much as we would like to be pure and free, we have to learn to develop patience with our attachments and passions, and our views and opinions about them. Then out of the crucible of these pāramī, deep compassion flows, and the mind broadens and opens so that its wisdom can penetrate.

Recognizing Patience Teachers

Living with other people, in families, relationships and communities, can be an occasion for developing patience. This is certainly the case in monastic communities: you’ve left your own space and following a discipline that operates independent of your wishes and moods; sometimes you’re in a foreign country, and living with people whose personalities you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to live with.

During the yearly summer retreat period in the monastery, which we call the Rains Retreat, it’s customary for the samanas (monastics) to take on resolutions. One year, I decided to not allow my mind to complain about anyone or anything. So with this resolution, I had to develop patience: patience with what my mind could do noticing all kinds of inner struggles. ‘You can’t complain!’ said the voice of resolution in my mind. So instead I had to watch the irritation.

Just putting up with it didn’t really take me across the floods. I could put up with things and become a patronizing old grump who puts up with things. But instead, as the practice of patience deepened, it took me to that point in the mind where I could feel the chafing, the tension, the disappointment – and the wanting to get away from it. At that point, where there was no excuse and no alternative, there was also no condemnation. After all, no one likes suffering. And we’re all in this together – wanting peace and harmony, but disappointing and irritating each other nonetheless.

And from there, my mind began to open into love and compassion for all of us. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is – and we have to support each other. I could realize, ‘There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re my patience teachers; they’re helping me to cross over the flood by getting me to jettison my demands, impatience and narrow-mindedness.’

(continued next week 02 April 2021)

patience the sixth perfection 2

The World and Its Winds

Some of the chief sources of emotional pain are called the ‘worldly winds’: the gusts of Praise and Blame, Gain and Loss, Fame and Ignominy, Happiness and Unhappiness. These impressions trigger demand, anxiety and despair wherein we never feel good enough where and how we are. And like winds, they can blow through the heart at gale force and throw us completely off balance.

Take for example how powerful the experience of Praise and Blame can be! We can hunger for praise… even a little crumb of approval now and then. Then you feel jealous if somebody else is getting huge amounts of praise, and you are standing by the door, hardly noticed. As for blame, how we wriggle and contort to try to avoid it! We aspire to being liked, and we work at it, but still somebody doesn’t like us. Or maybe we blame ourselves.

The Buddha made a very helpful summary of blame: ‘They blame one who remains silent, they blame one who speaks much, they blame one who speaks in moderation. There is no one in this world who is not blamed’ (Dhp. 227). That applied to him, too, for the Buddha was blamed many times. So when we know it’s inevitable we can just focus on doing our best, all the time keeping our wisdom-ear cocked for the mind’s yearning for approval and its dread of disapproval.

Once the mind starts to even anticipate being blamed, a flurry enters into it. And when the blaming begins … our mind may try to come up with a rational explanation for whatever it was we’re being blamed for, rather than simply feeling where the blame is digging in and then drawing a line around it: ‘This is painful mental feeling.’ It’s a trigger, so we need to be extremely patient with that feeling.

Patience has to be learned by focusing on that painful feeling and not reacting. It’s a humbling lesson: to feel the pain, be patient with it and learn something about letting it pass through. Feel the impression in the heart and don’t shrug it off, don’t fight back, don’t go under. An impression is an impression. Don’t rely on it, don’t adopt it, don’t try to avoid it. Instead, understand it for what it is.

Then you can see the truth about someone blaming you. You made a mistake? Is there something you can learn from this? And you can see the truth about someone praising you. How much good will praise do for you? Doesn’t it deprive you of privacy? And that surge that you feel from gain… doesn’t it make you vulnerable to loss? These winds are there to teach you patience. Focus on how patience feels and value it. Then you can acknowledge specific mistakes you’ve made without taking on the sense of being a failure. And you can experience others’ gratitude or praise with a sense of gladness that they have received something of benefit. You don’t have to own it.

Learning the True Response

For an achievement that will provide long-lasting nourishment, we have to develop a response to unsatisfactoriness, dukkha. The Buddha’s encouragement was that dukkha must be understood. The unsatisfactory, inconclusive, never-quite-fitting, things going- wrong, unstable quality has to be understood in order to realize the place where it ceases. And in order to understand, we have to ‘stand under’ that unsatisfactoriness. We don’t pole-vault over it to the nice bit on the other shore. Instead, we stand under it as it cascades over us. When there is a complete standing-under, we feel the quality of that flood. You look to where things touch you, where things are felt.

You look at physical pain and see what that does to you. First of all you wriggle a bit to find a way to soften it; then you begin to get a little annoyed by it; then you get very annoyed by it. You think, ‘It’s not fair this is happening to me.’ Then you think, ‘Oh, I give up.’ But still it hasn’t gone. It didn’t go because you haven’t really given up; you were waiting for it to end, so you’ve only given up ninety percent. Eventually, it pushes you into a corner, and the only thing you can do is accept its presence and work on your reactions.

In that full allowing of conditions to be what they are, we stabilize our hearts and find peace. It’s like putting a boat into water. We make an ark of truth: ‘Conditions are like this,’ and in that truth, we don’t adopt the conditions as our own. This is important: you can’t drain the sea, but you don’t have to drown.

Why we feel overwhelmed, as if we’re drowning, is because the heart is ‘leaky.’ When it isn’t secure, perceptions and feelings flood in and cause it to sink. But even then it’s just mind-stuff — no sights, sounds, physical pains or harsh words, just the impressions of those. It is these impressions that mount up to a sense of overwhelm and alienation. And the heart can recycle them for years, even when their apparent external source has long disappeared.

These perceptions, moods and reactions arise dependent on the mind’s expectations, fragility or aims. We have to learn deeply that the approval of others, the success in our career, and the presence of what we love are not to be taken as given, not to be adopted as mine. This adopting of conditions is what knocks holes in our boat. But when these conditions can be held in the truth of their nature, the mind lets go and senses a freedom that doesn’t depend on supports. Gain, loss, praise, blame — you don’t have to go under. You can wear out the reflex of hanging on to the world. But for this you have to be very patient.

(The ten perfections, continued next week 26 march 2021)

patience [khanti], the sixth perfection

POSTCARD#411: Bangkok: Ajahn Sucitto continues with an analysis of Khanti [patience], number six in the Ten Perfections, and draws attention to some interesting aspects of our everyday lives that may have gone unnoticed. Looking as well, at the strategies that are needed to find a way out of Suffering [Dukkha]  through Patience [Khanti].

The Buddha spoke of the restraint of holding the heart still in the presence of its suffering until it lets go of the ways in which it creates that suffering. That is, the mind/heart (citta) habitually creates suffering and stress through reacting to, holding onto or getting caught up with what life throws at us. All the perfections contribute to the lessening or dismantling of that Dukkha, but the specific quality of Khanti is to carry the heart through the turbulence of existence so that it no longer shakes, sinks or lashes out.

So when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, anxious for resolution to a crisis or beset with a migraine, it’s good to remember that the Buddha was here too and found a way through.

Acceptance Without Expectation

Patience has the gut-knowledge that recognizes that a problem or a pain is not something to run away from, get flustered by or be self-pitying about. It has the wisdom to know that we have to prioritize the steps through which we can resolve suffering. There may be any number of ways to arrive at the destination, but the first thing to do is to not react – to not rage, despair or get caught in mental proliferation.

Draw a line around the suffering, take a step back and know ‘that’s that.’ Recollect that we can be free of the suffering: that we can let go; we don’t have to take suffering in and adopt it as final, real and solid. Patience holds us present with the suffering in a spacious way, encouraging the mind to open. In its perfection, patience means giving up any kind of deadline, so the mind is serene and equanimous. But if the patience isn’t pure yet (and it takes time to develop patience!), the mind still feels pushy or defensive. Impure patience is the attitude: ‘Just hold on and eventually things will get better; I’ll get my own way in the end if I’m patient enough.’ This approach can temporarily block or blunt the edge of suffering, but it doesn’t deal with the resistance or the desire that is suffering’s root.

Pure patience is the kind of acceptance that acknowledges the presence of something without adding anything to it or covering it up. It is supported by the insight that when one’s mind stops fidgeting, whining and blaming, then suffering can be understood. Reactivity isn’t the truth of the mind; it’s a conditioned reflex, and it’s not self. Because of that, suffering can be undone, and when it is, the mind is free.

Therefore, all conditioned reflexes have to be understood as unreliable and dependent on causes and conditions. They’re not to be adopted as real and solid. Yet they do happen: holding on, expecting things to be satisfying or feeling cheated are immature responses. In order to undo these attitudes we must first be patient with them. The practice does urge us to stay with it and this requires us to grow stronger and broader rather than hide or run away. The process of bearing with the suffering is not a punishment but a voyage of growth.

The suffering that can be relinquished arises dependent on causes and conditions: on attitudes and assumptions that things should go our way, that life should be comfortable, and that society should be fair and peaceful. We look for conditioned phenomena to be satisfying, conclusive, reasonable, productive and so on. But taken as a whole over a period of time, they aren’t. So we cause ourselves and others suffering when we expect them to be so.

We can organize and create supportive conditions such as health and education and laws, but those conditions have to be constructed and maintained, they’re not a given norm. And suffering doesn’t abate: anxiety and depression are now the number one disease of the developed world. Here we find the widespread pain of being driven to attain material goals that are never fulfilled or fulfilling, and the anxiety of competitive pressure and loneliness.

(Continued 19 march 2021)


 

energy, the fifth perfection 3

POSTCARD#410: Bangkok: Continuing with Ajahn Sucitto’s teachings on the Ten Perfections – described in Buddhist commentaries as noble character qualities generally associated with Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings.

The more you can value and live the path of clear thought, speech and action, the more you escape from worldly value judgments. The more you value and energize qualities of compassion and kindness, the more peace the pāramī will bring. Do we act with generosity or not? Do we care for other people? We can energize these qualities by putting attention into them, bringing them to mind in recollection and dwelling on them. Again: what we attend to, we energize; what is energized, governs our world.

Directing Energy to the Knowing

A traditional way of getting in touch with good energy is pūja, the act of honouring. Establish a shrine, image or devotional object, make offerings to it, and chant or bring forth your heart in faith. The image is there to generate a sense of offering, faith, trust, confidence and giving of yourself. Pūjā is done with the most genuine sense of trust, love and appreciation for what the image represents – the pure, the compassionate, the joyful, the wise.

The energy of doing things – the energy of arousing and gladdening oneself on the one hand, and disciplining, restraining and investigating on the other is aimed at emotional stability and fullness of heart. Apply mindfulness to the process of how you are aware. How much of knowing is additional interpretations and assumptions? Can there be a release from those?

For example, I recently had a cold; there was the feeling that my head was under pressure, with strong sensations around the brain and the eyes. The mind busy with: ‘How can I fix it? When is it going to go away? How can I get somewhere where the pain isn’t happening? Why does it have to be here?’ Then the thought arose: ‘Why do you bring the pain here? Why not leave the unpleasant sensation there? Then you can say the pain is ‘over there’, while all the mental responses, the knowing of the discomfort is ‘here’.

By being fully present and mindfully aware of unpleasantness, we can start to get a sense of it being over there and leaving it there. Then we have an area within which to abide peacefully, neither blocking nor making a big thing of a feeling. If we always attach to feeling as ‘here’, as ‘mine’ and ‘what I am’, then all our energy is used up in an activity that is pointless.

One learns to practise with the physical discomforts first, then it is easier to avoid getting caught in the mind stuff. It’s possible to step back from the thoughts, and find balance by being aware of them. And over time, you can do the same with your programs of habit. Awareness is the key, and as you touch into and say ‘yes’ to that awareness, it will bring you into balance with no further effort. The more you attend to this knowing, the more energy goes towards that knowing – away from mental patterns, physical sensation, mental feeling or emotion, and into a steady awareness of them.

Sometimes practice is about just holding a place, a point in your body, or a point in your mind, and not taking it any further than that. Just hold it carefully with dispassion so the body is held in awareness energy, and the mind settles into it. There is a healing faculty to energy that occurs when you stop ‘doing it’ and instead allow the energy to accumulate and enrich you.

This is the province of samādhi, concentration, or unification, which is a state of stable energy, wherein the body, heart and intellectual energies merge and are at rest. It has the energy of an enjoyment that isn’t based on the senses or the intellect, and it allows a resting in awareness.

Energy as a Factor of Awakening

If you are physically not very strong, you make your boundary fit that condition. Say ‘yes’ to fewer physical activities and ‘no’ to many more. Similarly, if you are not feeling emotionally robust, form a boundary for your aspirations that enables you to stay focused and mindful with ample energy.

It’s destructive to think, ‘I’m not as good as’ or ‘I’m better than,’ because if you do that, your mind doesn’t stay on its own ground but starts to pick and compare, to fault-find and to slight yourself or others. Instead, realize the

potential to end suffering! If your lifestyle can fit a set of aspirations, then say ‘yes’ to them and the boundary they represent, and give them all your energy!

In conclusion, there is an energy associated with establishing, with doing and with being, which leads towards attachment to a self-image and the burden that image represents. However we can arouse and nurture an energy beyond any image if we open up into the silence of the mind. In this place we are not monks or nuns, men or women, there is only a beautiful stable energy that supports letting go of burdens. This is why energy is one of the primary factors of Awakening.


 

energy, the fifth perfection (2)

POSTCARD#409: Bangkok: Continuing with Ajahn Sucitto’s teachings on the Ten Perfections – perfections of character necessary to achieve enlightenment – based on careful analyses of the smallest details of conscious experience.

We bring mindfulness to bear on the idea or impression that arouses our interest, and on the energy we put into following up on that interest. Wherever your attention gets established then that’s where your energy goes. And that energy and focus becomes your world. Whatever your central interests are, your heart takes on the concerns, values and energy that go along with that.

With mindfulness we can zoom in on what’s driving us. Then we can get a more tuned in understanding of ourselves than through the opinions of other people, or our own fault-finding attitudes. Does your energy come from interest and aspiration, from willingness of heart? Or is it caught up with trying to climb the wrong mountain?

We have to examine any unquestioned assumptions, bringing mindfulness to bear on the idea or impression that arouses our interest, and on the intentions and actions with which we follow up that interest. We can never arrive at the imagined perception, but we always experience the results of our intentions.  Therefore, examine, clarify and stay in touch with your intentions – not the imagined goals.

In the process of staying in touch with intentions, the thinking mind, with its obsessive energy, isn’t the problem. It’s what lies underneath thought that requires attention; the energy of mental perceptions and images of self. Look for the dominant emotional theme of thought – excitement, worry or doubt, and focus on that. Listen carefully to what comes up. Bring mindfulness and full awareness to bear and stay with the emotional theme. Where the energy of applying this action meets the energy of the emotion; here we find we are not struggling any more to focus our attention on it because something has clicked. Our awareness comes out of it by being bigger than the program1.

We tend to judge ourselves based on how others relate to us. Often this is because the boundaries we have placed around what we want and don’t want to pursue haven’t been developed with mindfulness. We’ve more or less gone along with assumptions rather than checking things out and consciously deciding yes or no. Those assumptions and the consequences of our actions then govern the mind and form who we are.

If we don’t have clarity over these impressions a lot of our actions take us to the wrong place. If you find it’s taking you to suffering and stress, investigate. If it has a true basis, then see what you need to develop or put aside. Maybe a sense of personal value has been challenged, and we keep looking to others to tell us that we’re OK. And, even though they say we are OK, if the boundary is damaged we still don’t know it deeply for ourselves. With that loss of deep knowing, the program rules and it will absorb all the energy you can give it. Your sense of your own worth, of who you are, has been established on the basis of an incoherent supposition. What’s needed is mindfulness based insight into what makes us tick.

When you want to determine where you want to apply energy, establish the ‘yes’ boundary around that which you truly want to pursue with aspiration. Clean out any pride or egotism and maintain it with investigation and recollection. The most far-reaching results come when we back up our aspirations and actions with mindful investigation. Offering service in a selfless way gives rise to confidence in oneself, once we know this, we don’t lose it; we have it as a refuge.

The initial element in this process is faith. Faith is the intuitive sense that there is meaning in our world, there are aims and energies that are worthwhile. There is willingness (chanda), you give of yourself freely and not because of what somebody else wants, says or does. There is beauty in the mind. Aspiration, the healthy willingness to do, ‘beautiful in the beginning.’ At that moment, you are not thinking, ‘What do other people think? Will I succeed? Am I capable of it?’ Make a leap of faith based on intentions, rather than perceptions of self and other. Give a ‘yes’ to the faith and a ‘no’ to the wavering speculation.

Note the difference between faith and belief. With faith, the energy is an opening of the heart. With belief, energy closes the mind by locking it onto an idea or theory. When you place faith in someone or something, it means you’ll take what they say seriously and give them clear attention. The Buddha emphasizes such faith has to be backed up by investigating the truth, and working with confidence through to realization.

programs1 : proliferating tendencies (anusaya) that are embedded in the mind’s awareness.

Image: A relief depicting Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva in Plaosan temple, 9th century Central Java, Indonesia

(continued 5 March 2021)


 

energy, the fifth perfection

Excerpts from: Pāramī – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods by Ajahn Sucitto

POSTCARD#408: Bangkok: Energy (viriya) is an unseen force usually, I notice it in the heat of the city, the density and flow of traffic. For a very long time I was unaware of energy in the body – only the lack of it. Other times I’d accumulate energy until I was bursting at the seams and embark on a great number of projects which I was never able to complete. I later learned from the Teachings, the wisdom of bringing energy (or energies) into balance in the body and taking the time to begin to be aware of how this works.

The mind is drawn to attraction, aversion or confusion… things I like, things I dislike, and everything in between that I don’t understand. These forces capture energy and overwhelm the mind. I find I’m totally engrossed with something that ends up being just not worth it – a kind of driven thing.

Mindfulness is able to direct energy to where we want to be (and to get away from where we don’t want to be). Energy is the wisely applied resource that resists the push of habits (sankhāra). Some of these psychological habits build up into programs – such as perfectionism, dependence on others, obsessive self-criticism and addictions.

When a program wells up, it floods attention, and our intentions tend to follow the push of the flood. These programs cripple our actions and well-being. In theory, being aware of the situation should lift us out of its grasp. But it often doesn’t because there is a block that stops awareness penetrating the programs. We even defend them: to the workaholic, their efforts are necessary to keep things going; to the alcoholic, liquor becomes a way of finding a fit in the world. These programs offer the security of an identity through a set of habits that kick in by default.

So, when the wave of insecurity or loneliness or passion hits awareness, it doesn’t face the risk and the discomfort of challenging the self-view and the world view that these programs present for us. Instead, awareness jumps on board. the reflex habit, with denial, distraction, blame, etc.

Energy is needed to resist that flood and direct awareness to firm ground. It’s about sustaining wise endeavor. Its chief function is to keep awareness alert at the places where we are likely to drift into automatic. Then the steady vitality of energy can replace the ‘drive and crash’ programs of habit.

We can use energy to investigate the nature of doubt, and suffering in general. Use  energy to enquire into ourselves with investigation and perseverance in order that we can put aside the causes that trigger harmful programs. This is how energy, applied to calm and insight, can free the mind from stress and suffering. Consider what channels our energy towards that which is supportive and nourishing. The most obvious area that we should consider is our ethical standards, what leads to harmful results and should be left aside. This reflection aims for a boundary between intentions and action. Then we can check before we cross that boundary.

We can bear in mind the reflection: ‘Is this for my welfare, the welfare of others, and does it lead out of suffering and towards peace?’ If the answer is: ‘No, this is doing me no good.’ Then there is a definite ‘no’ to that boundary. Make it firm, give it some energy, and it will look after you.

Practise some restraint. The mind works better if you don’t load it with unnecessary things to look at, buy, have or worry about. The mind can get swamped by useless input if we don’t establish that boundary. It can take a lot of careful and repeated ‘no’s,’ as well as the back-up of alternative ways to channel energy; actions of generosity, kindness. Remember too calming meditation to bring healing to the heart that’s been abused by any harmful pursuits.

On the other hand there has to be a ‘yes.’ For example: ‘I’ve made a commitment; I’m going to see this through.’ Establish that with care and give it some energy. And even if you fail from time to time, look into how the boundaries caved in or where they were too tight. Don’t say ‘yes’ to too many things. Establish a boundary around intellectual activity, because it can become a vast dimension that floods the mind with restless energy.

So, we can say energy has a fourfold application: first, to put aside what you feel is unhelpful, and secondly to keep guarding the mind against such unskilful influences; thirdly to establish what you sense is good, and lastly to support and encourage those skilful influences. And it requires wise discernment, advice from experienced people and trial and error to know what’s appropriate in a given situation.


(Continued 26 Feb 2021)

meditation with mindfulness

POSTCARD#407: Bangkok: I’ve been a Buddhist for more than thirty years – married to Jiab, a Thai Buddhist for that same length of time. Jiab, like most Thais, is a Theravādin Buddhist, she is active both in the English language and Thai meditation groups in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. We went to an International Buddhist temple in the North East, Wat Pah Nanachat, 1987 and there I met the monks who changed my life.

Years went by, We became part of the Kalyanamitra in Switzerland, I became part of the editorial team in publishing books on the Buddha’s Teachings, while looking at the whole thing with deepening understanding, and all of it evolving over and over.

Five years ago the headache arrived, I lost the starting point in meditation, then found it again somewhere else. Sadly, it wasn’t a priority in my life any more; the visits to the Neurologists, the meds to treat the pain, and coping with the side effects. This changed everything. I lost the sure-footedness I had acquired over the years. At the beginning of the headache days there was only the pain, the urgency and the medicine ‘blur’ overload. Things fell apart so often, I’d be picking up the pieces and realise I had forgotten completely the simplest of things.

Thus I seem to have lost so much in these crises, and the confusion in recovery then starting over, but I’m sure of one thing; if I hadn’t had the headache condition, I wouldn’t have been as motivated as I am to look for the way out of suffering (Dhukka, the first Noble Truth), and begin to uncover the mystery – I am still looking.

Things are more stable now, I’ve learned how to balance the meds with the headache. I go on (more slowly) with the study of Theravada meditation – I  never looked into Mahayana, and now there’s not enough lifetime left! It’s a pity because in recent years I discovered Advaita and Non-duality… a sense of the ancient.

I can sit on the cushion, with or without headache or meds and focus as best I can, on an object in the mind… see where that gets me (samatha). Or I can focus on the in-breath and out-breath (vipassanā) or a combination of both. You might have the impression that I know a lot about meditation but I’m just an ordinary practitioner of meditation with mindfulness – following the three steps: sīla (moral conduct), samādhi (concentration), and paññā (wisdom).

I depend on the wisdom of Buddhist monks such as Ajahn Sucitto for guidance, inspiration, insight and these moments of understanding. Here are some excerpts from “Parami – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”. The section on Wisdom: Innate Clarity, Pannā Pāramī the Fourth Parami, beginning page 73.

“You might find it helpful to begin your meditation period by reflecting on the following four themes: goodwill; mortality; the good that you have done or that has been done to you; and the example of the Buddha or your immediate spiritual teacher. These will help to bring your mind into a balance of head and heart. As that effect is felt, select a meditation topic that your mind is now willing to be guided by.”

The following sections are on page 77

Wisdom Needs Meditation

“Meditation in the Buddhist sense means the cultivation of calm and insight (samatha-vipassanā), and the development of mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samādhi) to bring those about. Mindfulness is the faculty that bears a feeling, idea, process or sensation in mind…”

It helps me to understand Ajahn’s words when I can identify and focus on a few words – possible discussion points if there are any kind readers out there who’d like to comment (or help me with a better understanding). Please get in touch.

I understand samatha as tranquility meditation, meditating on an object, with the intention to reach those calm states. What we are looking at here is the combination of samatha (calm focus on one thing) and vipassana (insight) observing thoughts without attachment as they come and go. Also the clarity of Mindfulness (sati)… an inner watchfulness, on-the-spot awareness of the functioning of the mind, and interaction with the sensory world.

Samatha and Vipassana as well as Sati means there is the momentum to bring about samadhi, the pleasing calm mind state leaning towards Wisdom.

“Sustained, (mindfulness) counteracts scattered attention and impulsiveness. Concentration is the deepening into the steadiness that mindfulness brings, a deepening that becomes pleasurable. These two support calm. And when the mind is calm we can look into it and bring wisdom to bear on the roots of mental action. This penetrative inward looking, or insight, is needed because it’s often the case that we don’t really know or aren’t clear about the causes, motivations and effects of what we’re doing. The basis of action gets buried beneath the sheer quantity of action our minds get involved with.”

[The following section is on page 89] “Notice that when you acknowledge and focus on your thoughts and emotions, the mind enters the experience of being aware of them rather than being them. Notice that a blend of clear attention and emotional spaciousness supports this kind of awareness; and that the results of it are that one is calmer and wiser with regard to the mind.”

(Continued 19 Feb 2021)


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