holistic kindness: mettā, the ninth pāramī

POSTCARD#420: Bangkok: Excerpts from Pāramī, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods” by Ajahn Sucitto. Click on the above link to download the file as pdf mobi or epub. Print copy also available by post.

Click on this link for the Karaniya Metta Sutta

Ajahn begins with mettā as loving-kindness that includes releasing others from being the objects of our projections, lust and idealism – self and other. Mettā allows others to not be the way I want them to be for me. Mettā means ‘recognizing otherness’. We don’t have to make people the same as ourselves or judge ourselves, based on what we think about other people.

It’s valuable to bring to mind that each of us has at some time been on the receiving end of freely given goodwill. So when you’re feeling bitter, anxious or lonely – remember this: at some time you have been seen with a loving and sympathetic eye.

The Mind of Self and Other

Mettā is an extension of the affective and responsive mind or heart. How crucial its alignment is! On the one hand, the mind can get trapped by fear, greed, hatred and delusion, and on the other hand it can extend in generosity and other perfections. The main issue for the mind is how it relates to what happens. Relationship is fundamental, because we are actually never a stand-alone being, but always a ‘being with’ or a ‘being in,’ or even a ‘being with the sense of being without.’

Consciousness is just this awareness of ‘being with’ in the various fields of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and thinking. And in that process of being with, consciousness automatically establishes the sense of a subject and an object: a seer who sees a visible object, a hearer who hears an audible object, etc. Out of that duality, the sense of self and other arises. That’s the program of consciousness.

Notice that self and other are relative positions that depend on each other. You can’t have an experience of self without an other (animate or inanimate) that is in contrast to it. However for each mind, the emphasis is on the self; the ‘me, mine’ part is the crucial aspect in a world of changing others. Even in your own mind, there appears the self (the subject) as a watcher and the other (the object) as thoughts and emotions. Or the self is how you conceive yourself as being, and other is what you should be, might be, or were.

This is self-view, and it’s the norm for unawakened beings. Self-view rests on the assumption that these dependently-arisen polarities are actually separate and autonomous. It infers a self, despite the inability of that self to own or control the body or mind that it adopts as its own; despite its genetic and psychological inheritance from others; and despite its inability to rest unsupported by sights, sounds, affection and purposeful activity – all of which are outside its dominion. Self-view is blind to interdependency. Consequently, its flooding ignorance sweeps us into a sense of separation and alienation, whilst all the time asserting that this is our empire.

Accepting Otherness

In the practice of kindness, we look into the mind as it is happening, a moment at a time, with the intention to gentle it out of the hold of aversion, depression and anxiety. To support this, the teaching is that, although the sense of self-other happens by default, we can have some say over its emotional and energetic flavouring. Our current intention doesn’t need to be tense, inadequate and critical; it can be uplifted and uncramped. The sense of self-other can catalyse and give occasion for an intention to offer support. This intention is essential for a happy life, because if we don’t use the relational experience in a kind and generous way, then defensiveness, anxiety, fault-finding and grudges are going to haunt our lives and impair the lives of others.

Mettā is non-aversion, but it’s also non-fascination and non-projection. It releases others from being the objects of our projections, lust and idealism. It allows others to not be the way I want them to be for me. True love for another means that you don’t appropriate someone or project your unfulfilled wishes or needs onto them. Instead, mettā means recognizing otherness, and feeling that it’s OK. We don’t have to make people the same as ourselves or judge ourselves, based on what we think about other people. We don’t have to feel we have to win them over, or feel that they should satisfy our emotional hunger. And when mettā is fully developed it can allow us to be with the irritating and the unfair and the messy, so that such perceptions no longer even take hold.

It’s the same for ourselves: when we hold ourselves with the mind of goodwill, we don’t have to feel intimidated and compelled to prove ourselves. We have all been small, weak and stupid. We have all been totally irresponsible infants, awkward adolescents, made a mess of things, lied, cheated and maybe even killed. Yet we changed. These were all visitors and forces that occupied the mind. Now there’s no denying the responsibility for allowing one’s mind to be so occupied, but our current responsibility is one of cultivating virtue, discernment and kindness, not of obsessing and sustaining the burden of guilt and denial. And one of the major healing tools for this process is mettā. With this we take on samsāra with non-aversion and non-projection. We can accept the presence of the petty-mindedness, the guilt and anxiety as visitors conditioned into the mind, and work with them. Then there is nothing to hide from or dread anymore. This is a more useful approach than going through another round of anguish, self-hatred and defensiveness. By stilling these reactions, mettā enables us to penetrate to, and remove, the root cause of ill-will – often towards ourselves – underneath the complexes.

Start with Empathy

If you can regard this mind as it really is, you become compassionate. People’s minds are conditioned and formed around circumstances. You realize that people may not know much about kindness simply because they haven’t received much of it. Hurtful, abusive things may have been done or said to them; appreciation and warmth may have been in short supply. Consequently, such minds can have sour flavourings which attach to their sense of self and others, and which engender aversive or mistrustful responses. The default then is a distorted relational sense in which pleasure and personal security come from besting others, even through making fun of or scapegoating them. A boundary has been created which blocks empathy. And it doesn’t even feel bad at first: getting more than another, putting others down or taking revenge has the same sweet burst to it as a drug. That’s why it takes over.

But it doesn’t have to, all that’s needed is for someone to tell the truth about suffering and the note of empathy is struck: ‘You mean you feel like that too!’  Suddenly the conflict, the ‘you’re so different from me,’ falls away. No one has changed anything except the self-other line up, but in that moment of empathy there is a mutual deepening. The way out of ill-will is not through judging who’s right, but through finding common ground. Kindness, or non-aversion, begins with empathy, the sense that we’re all in this same samsāric ocean together, struggling in the floods.

(Continued next week 21 May 2021 with Holistic Kindness, the Mettā Pāramī) Part 2)

resolve, the eighth pāramī, part 4

Ajahn Sucitto

POSTCARD#419: Bangkok: This is the final part of Resolve adhitthāna, the 8th Parami from “Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods” by Ajahn Sucitto. In this part of the text Ajahn describes how, for a three month period, he resolved to take on an entirely meaningless task in order to free a compulsive mind.

There was a time when I was responsible for a lot of duties around the monastery and this was making me busy and intense. I’d be sitting in meditation, thinking and planning details about the work, figuring out this and that. So I decided to occupy this busy mind with something meaningless, but devotional. We have a memorial stupa in the monastery, and every morning I’d get up at  about 3:30 a.m. and go to the stupa to circumambulate it and bow to each of its four shrines. I decided to do that every day during one Rains Retreat, no matter what. So as soon as I woke up, before I could even think about it, I’d get up, get dressed and go. This may sound like a good idea in July, but in Britain in late October …

Rain and cold and dark. Inner muttering and lethargy. But whatever was in the mind at the time, I would put that mind state on one of the shrines on the stupa, and bow to it. I’d think: ‘Very good, I honour you.’ Then the mind would say, ‘What’s the point in doing this?’ and I’d reply, ‘I bow to you, I honour you.’ On another day, the mind would say, ‘This is pointless,’ and I’d focus on that mind state and bow to it. I developed a sense of opening to and supporting the mind, rather than trying to pull it into shape or make it have lovely thoughts. After a while, the mind would say, ‘I understand what you’re doing. I’ve got the point now, so now you can relax.’ And I’d think, ‘I bow to that mind state. I honour, love and respect you.’ Then the mind would say, ‘But it’s raining this morning.’ So I’d bow to that. The mind would say, ‘What are you trying to prove anyway? Who do you think you are?’ And I’d respond by bowing to and honouring that thought.

Crazy? A little — but it got me to see through the compulsive and insatiable nature of needing to be doing important things. That habit was getting me stuck on goodness, on putting myself in a repair shop to try to make samsāra work. And with this I wasn’t attuning to the invaluable lightness and joy that makes it possible to both live in and see through the world at the same time. This is where, when duty stales us, wise devotion can further us.

Devotion is not a matter of superstition or blind ritual. Directly experienced, it has a light, uplifting energy. The heart-activity of praising the good has an energy that lifts the mind. This energy can move us beyond the horizon of the functioning, managing mind with its self-importance, its need to be busy and its demand for results.

With devotion we can work without making a solid thing or person out of whatever great or small deeds we undertake. In such self emptying, the mind inclines towards the Nibbāna that is the basis for the serene compassion of the Buddha.

Over time, my resolve energy has simplified and calmed to one of sustaining the attitude, ‘May this action or thought be for my welfare, the welfare of others and lead to peace.’ Compared with the more extreme practices, such a resolve doesn’t make the headlines. But it acts as a life commitment and a basis for external action, enquiry and insight.

This resolve doesn’t make a self out of intention or results; it just holds experience carefully and lets it pass through and dissolve. This is beautiful, and selfless: the self doesn’t do it, pāramī does. In this way, when resolve widens through compassion and wisdom into self-surrender, we can liberate all the beings that arise in consciousness. Whether they arise from an internal or external source, we work to free them from aversion, indulgence, indifference and identification. (Continued next week 14 May 2021 with Holistic Kindness, the Mettā Pāramī)

Image details: Reclining Buddha, Gal Viharaya, Polonnawura, Sri Lanka 12th Century.

resolve, the eighth pāramī, part 3

Extracts from Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods by Ajahn Sucitto. Ajahn continues with his studies of the Resolve Parami, a close analysis of the smallest mind moments in order to find the way leading to Nibbana.

POSTCARD#418: Bangkok: In monastic life, there is the Rains Retreat, a three-month period every year for more intense practice, and taking on a resolution is a customary part of that. Three months of keeping a resolution is a good effort because what sounds like an inspiring resolution on day one gets to be a tedious burden by day sixty. Therefore you have to bear with it, and this strengthens the power of witnessing the changes of mood and inclination.

During my first Rains Retreat in England, I considered that I was very fond of ideas and I always wanted to have bright and interesting things in my mind. So I determined a few things to work against that trend. Firstly I resolved not to read anything, because I was aware of how much time I’d spend casually reading stuff just to fill the holes in the day and keep the mind stimulated. When I put that habit aside, the hours began to yawn open. This was even more the case, as for this three-month period, I was refraining from conversation. On top of these, the other resolution was the ‘sitter’s practice,’ wherein one resolves not to lie down at any time during the three months. So there were many hours where there was nothing whatsoever to feed the mind, and no oblivion to sink into to get away from its poverty.

Also, because refraining from lying down lessens the amount of sleep you can get — which makes the mind dull and dreamy — a lot of the time I just had to sit and be with inconsequential ramblings of thought and weird daydreams and give up the attachment to bright mind states. I had to learn to hold and work with, and not shy away from, the inconclusive, dribbling, dreary mind. This meant staying with it and attending to it as if it were worthy of attention. This practice was very good for developing compassion.

Compassion is a wonderful idea when you read about it in a book. But meeting one’s personal dreary, muttering mind with an unflinching and tender heart is more demanding than experiencing compassion for the starving people of the world. When one thinks of the starving millions, that readily inspires compassion. But when you take away the worthy cause, you see that the nature of the mind is to need something to engage with. Then you feel what it’s like if there’s nothing interesting or worthwhile to do. The mind gets moody, bored and lifeless. And you have to learn to simply hold it, as you would a baby — holding it, rocking it, bearing with it, listening to it. This is great for strengthening and broadening the heart, building up tolerance, and letting go of conceit.

Of course one can also develop resolve with the wrong motivation — such as trying to prove oneself, or just to get through the tedium of a monastic day. I could sense that to develop the resolve to be with the raggedness, chaos and disorderliness of samsāra without conceit or irritation is in itself conducive to Nibbāna. To open to the woundedness and wackiness of my own kamma as well as that of other people – and to experience compassion rather than judgment – this was the opportunity to further the practice.

Resolve has to be developed wisely. It first strengthens the individual will and integrity, but then if you sustain that in relationship to others, resolve opens the mind into a broad field of wisdom and compassion. It penetrates the isolation of the watchful meditator and reveals what the watchfulness can cover: the rawness that says, ‘I want to be unmoved and not have to get involved.’ The watcher can be affected by the wish to not be here, which can provide a basis for self-view and bias. So although stillness is useful, it too is not to be clung to. Unless stillness furthers letting go, it doesn’t lead to final freedom — the freedom from the biases and standpoints of self-view.

Opening to Compassion

This understanding can really broaden our perspectives. We all want to be happy, and yet normally we get disappointed. This is because we imagine happiness to be a colorful emotion of gratification, but this is not as deeply meaningful and steady as compassion. Compassion is something we can all share, at any time, no matter whether we are up or down, or whether everybody else is up or down. We can all share in it. The happiness that derives from pleasure isn’t something we are designed for as human beings. We can experience little bits of it, maybe, but it’s sporadic. The uplifted attitude of compassion is more our measure. Compassion is the only way to hold the world.

It’s not that compassion is always about doing something. Rather, it’s the intention to replace the contraction and agitation we experience around pain with openness. Sometimes there are things we can do, sometimes there aren’t. But when we’re identified with action and responsibility, there’s a stress in the heart, and the sense of having to make things work. When we get it right in a holistic way — with regard to self and others, and towards Nibbāna — we can avoid the pitfall of getting stuck in trying to be good and dutiful.

In my own case, identifying with covering a lot of duties around the monastery makes me get functional, busy and intense. And that isn’t what people want from a Buddhist monk. (Continued next week 07 May 2021)

Image details: Seated Buddha, Gal Viharaya, Polonnawura, Sri Lanka 12th Century. Photo by Bernard Gagnon

resolve, the eighth pāramī, part 2

POSTCARD#417: Bangkok: Continuing our series of texts on the Parami Ways to Cross Life’s Floods, Ajahn Sucitto  describes the role Resolution plays in monastic life – the renunciate, living as a mendicant (dependent on other’s offerings). The Resolve required in having only one meal per day before noon. Resolve that carries the practitioner through the vortex of feelings to that emptying out of desire where there is stillness and peace.

Resolve, when it’s aligned to other perfections, helps us look at daily scenarios and mundane tasks in a more Enlightened way. For example, cleaning the floor doesn’t seem interesting, but taking on a task for the welfare of the situation as a whole helps to widen attention. And it activates giving, energy and patience. In general, Enlightenment begins as a shift of focus to a more ‘nonself’ view, and to long-term results rather than short-term moods.

Another example: in the monastery, when we refrain from eating in the evenings, we can reflect on this restraint as being for limiting our own appetite and also out of global concern. If one simply thinks, ‘I can’t have anything to eat tonight,’ then it becomes a problem. Yet when one considers the number of people who are starving or hungry, who don’t have enough to eat, one feels, ‘People are giving me enough food for a day, so yes, I can go without an evening meal,’ because one’s heart is touched.

The focus shifts as you consider, through resolve and wise reflection, the amount of food that is wasted by people eating more than they need; or all the animals that are needlessly slaughtered; or the land that is being ravaged. Then making a determination to limit that instinct feels appropriate. The resolve of renunciation serves to check the instinct in the mind that says, ‘I want this. It’s my right to have it, and I want it now.’ After all, in a shared world, where is that attitude going to take us?

There are also resolves to pick up and encourage a course of action. In my case, when I first came to the West from Thailand, I saw that the bhikkhu training in terms of renunciation, honesty, harmlessness and modesty was a good thing to have going in this confused world. It felt good to look at living in a way that would be for the welfare of others and how one could be part of a scenario that offered calm, attention and a quiet grace for whoever could benefit from them.

Resolutions align themselves to how one can intend for the welfare of other beings: this renunciate life is of value; it brings forth tenderness, strength and trust. And to be part of that is both an honour and a way to shift out of personal obsessiveness. It’s a small Enlightenment, a lightening of the burden of self importance, not some personal statement about how great and wise I am.

Applying Wisdom to Resolve

Mendicant life, in which one has little say over what material resources will come one’s way, automatically provides opportunities for meeting difficulties with resolution. For example, when I arrived here, I only had light-weight tropical robes and a pair of open-toed sandals. Soon it was wintertime, and it began snowing. Lay people gave boots to some of the monks, but not to me. I determined just to bear with the difficulties and not to ask for anything. I resolved to make it a principle not to seek out requisites, because I noticed how the mind whinged and complained, and I wanted to stand firm against that petty voice. It wasn’t my concern; giving was their business; mine was to receive what was offered and give up jealousy and complaining. So I made it a practice to be content with what was offered, with the resolve: ‘If it’s not offered then it is not needed.’

Arguably, to walk three miles on alms round through the snow, one did ‘need’ boots. But I didn’t have any, and so … I could use the opportunity to be here with that, witness what came up and let it all pass — and it wouldn’t kill me. Then the resolve would take me through the vortex of feelings to that emptying out of desire where there was stillness and peace. That felt really good and worthwhile. It was actually more useful than having the boots — because to find the way to the still point was what I was dedicated to, not to warm dry feet. Moreover, learning contentment made life easier and richer. After that, any room, any place to live, and any food was OK. I realized that the body and mind are adaptable, and that we can adapt. And that gave richness to ordinary life. It encourages one to look for opportunities for resolution. One can get over-zealous. I have determined some extreme practices in my life as a bhikkhu, but the most useful ones came through wise reflection on where my attachments lay.

(Continued next week 30 April 2021)

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)