Evenness of Mind: Upekkhā Pāramī 2

There was the story of the Buddha-to-be sitting under the Bodhi tree and meeting, then repelling, the demons of Mara through calling the Earth to witness the vast store of perfections he had accumulated over past lives. Another description illustrates the part equanimity played in that. In this account (M. 36), the Buddha describes having three successive realizations:

1. His previous lives;

2. The nature of good, evil, and their consequences;

3. The ending of the biases and floods that cause suffering.

1. So first of all, with his mind ‘concentrated and attained to imperturbability,’ his focus widened to include a panorama of his many lives. How can we understand this? Imagine the one life that you can remember and contemplate the twists and turns of its drama: now exciting, now struggling, now a waste of time, now persevering, making  choices, feeling bad with a stroke of misfortune, and then feeling good with a lucky break … and so on. Can you do that without reacting, flinching or getting nostalgic? Can you stop the analyses and pondering, and get past being the victim or the star of the show? If you can keep going and witness all of it with equanimity, can you say this life is good or bad? Or isn’t it just what it is – and isn’t it a learning experience? That’s the first stage of wise equanimity. With that absence of final judgment the mind remains open, and the learning deepens.

2. The second realization of the Buddha-to-be was through the contemplation of all beings going through the ups and downs of their lives as he had done, and reaping the results of their actions. This was the realization of kamma – that any action, even mental, has consequences. This is the law of cause and effect. It is impersonal, and doesn’t apportion blame. The law of kamma says that acts, thoughts and speech lift you up to a bright state or drag you down to a dark state dependent on the ethical quality of the intention that initiates them. Intention chooses heaven, hell or somewhere in between – one moment at a time. And if you get past the reactions and the explanations, you get in touch with the mind’s intention. Then you can investigate and set the right course.

So the intention of equanimity creates an unbiased strength which gives you the chance to see more clearly. And to offer this strength to yourself or others is a precious gift. One time a friend of mine was cheating on his medical prescription and acquiring addictive drugs under false pretences. His wife knew of this and naturally was deeply concerned. But instead of criticising him, she just bided her time, and at the right moment coolly and caringly pointed out to him that what he was doing was going to bring him into deep trouble, in terms of a loss of self-respect, psychological wellbeing, and in terms of the law. But she made clear that the choice of action was up to him. Her unhurried tone and absence of drama and blame penetrated deeply, so with this encouragement to carefully consider cause and effect, he promptly changed his ways.

Equanimity then isn’t about being passive and not assessing actions. Instead, applied equanimity makes us feel less guilty, defensive and reactive. A natural sense of conscience can arise to guide us to what, in our heart of hearts, we know is right and makes sense. A heavy-handed approach merely closes the mind in defence, or sets off a counter reaction. On the other hand a passive approach, in which everything is okay and we suppress wise counsel and feedback, leaves us prey to our impulses and blind habits. The Buddha’s middle way takes in the knowledge of cause and effect while making intention, rather than self, the owner of action. So the Buddha’s teaching offers us calm and clear guidelines that respect our innate moral sense, rather than righteous rants that render us as infants with irredeemable corruptions.

3. However, it takes an unflinching and steady attention of ongoing equanimity to bear witness to all of our actions. So it’s a matter of unconditional self-acceptance: this is what you’ve been, and what you’ve done for good or for bad. No censoring, no justifications – just stay tuned in. Then the mind can operate outside of the continual enactments and parades of self-view. It deepens to see that what each of us experiences as ‘myself’ is actually the current of cause and effect, for good or bad. It is kamma, not blind destiny or a flawed self, that carries the mind along and creates a ‘personal’ history. The Buddha-to-be didn’t rest with that realization, but penetrated deeper. Giving up sorrow or elation about what he had now understood, his mind deepened to review the assumptions that support kamma: the seeking for happiness through gaining and getting rid of; the questing for security through acquiring a philosophical or religious view; the grip that holds the mind as an unchanging self; and the denial of not owning up to the day after day unsatisfactoriness of doing all this. As we have seen, these are the floods of sensuality, views, becoming and ignorance. As he penetrated past these biases, through seeing them for what they are, his mind released from all suffering and stress. This was the third realization.

Calling a fully-released person anything is a potentially confusing business, so he referred to himself as ‘Tathāgata’ (Gone Thus), although we generally use the easier word ‘Buddha’ (Awake; Fully-Knowing) as a designation. Not that he personally needed a title to take a stand on. He was pretty cool about  all that. For example, in the Brahmajāla Sutta (D.1) he advised the monks on how to respond when they hear others either disparaging the Buddha, or praising him. His comment was that whether the monks felt angry and displeased in the case of disparagement, or elated in the case of praise – ‘That would only be a hindrance for you.’ The correct response was simply to refer to the disparagement or the praise as either incorrect or well-grounded. There’s no need to defend or affirm a person; such an effort encourages views, identification and conflict. But it’s not as if there’s no assessment, and that it’s all the same; there definitely is assessment and a response. But the response comes from a mind that is equanimous around identity and allows discernment to speak clearly of actions and behaviour, not personality. Things are seen as ‘thus,’ ‘just so’; the ‘Gone Thus’ sees even truth as ‘thus’ without attachment. So equanimity is a deep humility that allows the mind to step out of adopting any identity, any view, any judgment. With evenness of mind the intentions of wisdom and relinquishment make the choice to abandon the cause of suffering, and kindness and compassion encourage others to do the same.

holistic kindness, metta part 4

POSTCARD#423: Bangkok: Excerpts from “Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floodsby Ajahn Sucitto. Click on the link for Wiki Bio Ajahn Sucitto

Ajahn helps us discover and overcome difficulties in confronting negative self-views when clearing the ways that lead to holistic kindness. Also called loving-kindness, it is mettā in Pali, maitrī in Sanskrit; and synonyms for benevolence, friendliness, amity, good will. With the support of other pāramī; Generosity, Morality, Renunciation, Patience, Truthfulness we can emerge from the negative overwhelm of self-view and experience this sense of grace, of receiving compassion that is greater and more boundless than any of one’s personal attributes or efforts – the divine (or sublime) abiding (brahmavihāra).

The ability to generate mettā depends on both willingness and capacity. These may be in short supply. Those who have experienced sustained abuse can find it very difficult to experience kindness for themselves or for others; those who have not had the secure presence of goodwill can be subject to the insecurity that leads to attachment to views and becoming. Our capacity can also be limited by how we’re being affected in the present. Although conditions are always changing, when the mind is affected by visitors such as fear, worry, guilt and passion, it easily becomes fixed in that state. If the visitor is anger, then the mind becomes bristling and volcanic. If the visitor is remorse or guilt, the mind becomes an eddy that chases itself and sinks down. So we need to develop strengths and skills to stop being overwhelmed by these fixating forces.

Hence there’s a requirement to develop pāramī. Generosity and morality are foundations for fellow-feeling. And with renunciation, we practise letting go of the sense of covetousness and selfishness, the ‘me, me, me’ attitude. That, too, is a basis for kindness. With renunciation, we start to let go of the need to be successful or the need for status, and look into the props we use to support our self-image and emotional well-being, which include material things, stimulation, busyness, status and praise. When we start to let go of some of those props, then we notice the blank patches in the mind, where there’s a raw need to be stimulated, and we notice the consequent restlessness. These blank patches

indicate where we must begin filling our emotional body with well-being. The first three perfections — generosity, morality and renunciation — make well-being possible because when one is generous and virtuous, there is self-respect. Because of that good kamma, we have emotional brightness in which the mind can extend itself to other beings in empathic rather than grasping ways. Hence we get fuller and richer in ourselves and can let go of a few more props. As the fear and the need disappear, discernment gets clearer, and we can see where we need to work. This means we begin to recognize where fearful, self-defensive boundaries occur in our lives. Beyond these boundaries we collapse or get incoherent, and in maintaining them we contract or get volcanic. But with the pāramī, we see what affects us at the edge of our sense of self, and then we find the energy to work into that sensitive place.

Extending the mind into sensitive places takes us into the turbulence that the boundary has been created to contain. Often there are emotions and energies that have been pushed aside or repressed, and they lie dormant in the field of  consciousness, for as long as we keep busy or can control what’s going on. But outside of that — when things go wrong, or somebody or something pushes our buttons, or when we meditate — old senses of being intruded on or pushed around or rejected can get activated. Then what arises are generally forms of fear, grief or rage. Somebody has invaded our space; we have been denied or pushed out of warmth. There are of course personal versions of these stories, but those are the basic messages of the turbulence out of which need and depression, anxiety and resentment boil up. And with these, the first intention is of patience, then truthfulness, plus the resolve of kindness. Hold the centre, soften, widen, include it all. Sustaining these intentions — no matter what — leads to the settling and crossing over.

Patience is essential because sometimes it can take a long time staying at the edges before things shift. Truthfulness is required to acknowledge: ‘This turbulence, this sense of intimidation is not him, her, them or me. It’s actually that affect and response.’ So it is: often in our lives we find ourselves going through the same emotional scenarios and the same wounded, ‘dumped on’ experiences — just with different characters doing the dumping or irritating. First you assume, ‘It’s him or her.’ Then you might think ‘It’s me, it’s my weakness.’ But is this really true? You can spend ages attributing causes anywhere you choose along the self-other boundary, but that doesn’t release the pain. Instead you need the resolve to stay with it, to get to the truth behind the self-view. As

you let go of all the discriminations and positions, your mind widens to include it all. This is where the latent tendency that is holding the self-other boundary gets released.

Great Heart

As a Dhamma practice, we sustain and deepen the intent of kindness, irrespective of the various identities and shadow forms that arise in awareness. That’s enough. We establish clear awareness and sustain kindness in the moment where impressions occur and where responses arise. It’s not about conjuring up any great feelings of emotional warmth, but a process of staying in touch, of not blaming oneself or others, and of not going into the past to rehash old issues. The ‘staying at’ that point of the hurt, ill will and pain then begins to carry the awareness across to compassion (karunā) and transpersonal wisdom. Karunā is the kindly eye on the helplessness of our suffering. When we experience this without blame or defence or struggle, compassion arises. And it arises irrespective of the identity or value of the wounded being. Compassion sweeps over judgments of others or ourselves. It knows how terrible it is for anything – even a mass murderer, tyrant, or poisonous snake – to be trapped in pain. When entering into this sphere of compassion, it is not a matter of doing anything, blaming or feeling sad about it, or wishing it were different. Instead, it is about entering that place where one touches the pain directly. Then, through staying in the hurt where the mind can’t do anything, has no remedies, ideas or

philosophies, it comes out of the position of ‘me.’ The small, localized state of mind opens out of the default self-and-other sense into the Great Heart. The non-doing of such a heart has powerful effects. Instead of trying to conjure it up (and feeling frustrated if ‘it doesn’t work,’ or ‘I’m not good enough’), we let the healing happen by itself. Then there is a sense of grace, of receiving compassion that is greater and more boundless than any of one’s personal attributes or efforts. Truly this is called a divine (or sublime) abiding (brahmavihāra). And through contemplating the selfless nature of

this abiding, the mind lets go — not only of ill-will, but also of the push of becoming and self-view. This is the shore of the Beyond.

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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the word ‘nothing’

POSTCARD#406: Bangkok: Eyes looking out for anyone I know in a world full of face-masks. This displaced familiarity… we’re all strangers here but it seems like we’re friends. We’re all together in our locked-in state, thinking in quiet colors, blues and shades of gray. I’m seeing it in slow motion today due to my old friend, the pain in the head – triggered by wearing a mask too small for me – the elastic bands around the ears pulled tight, squeezing on the nerve.

Awareness of the headache as it peaks and breaks through like a Chinese Firecracker, the holding-on becomes the letting-go; hold-on, let-go, hold-on, let-go…

Suddenly mindfulness facilitates the disappearance of ‘self’… there’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening. There’s no ‘self’ suffering from head pain, there is only pain… detached, seen as a quivering of the air held for a moment then gone.

There is no You, no I. No He, She, or It. See the third person singular, sitting there, an object in objective reality. No worries, no We, You, They. Personification and the lack of it, is a shared thing. It happens to all of us.

There is no permanent unyielding ‘self’ in a kind of mind-made algorithm that gets it to make sense and the knowing of it too. Self is a construct, language is a construct, everything is advisedly devised, contrived, improvised – perfect disguise. Cross my heart and hope to die: “this is who I am!”

The gypsy glancing glass-eyed gaze, searching through a sea of face masks for that sudden déjà vu, a hidden identity revealed: the prodigal son re-found, taken home embraced by long large arms of an extended family, comforting and warm.

Words strain and stretch to carry meaning. No sudden movement, no end, no beginning, leave everything in the continuous form of the present moment. No past and no future except for the placing of things in the right order.

Finding my way through a lifetime of sensory input remains the indefatigable task. Living with and looking after the mind/body organism and the world that is part of it; all this continues, quietly and with care – becoming an ongoing open-ended, analysis of the observed world and the observer of it, together as a oneness. Everything is integrated, nothing exists outside of this – really nothing, not even the word ‘nothing’.

“…we do not experience a succession of nows. This present now is the only now there is. The now in which the body was born is the very same now in which these words are appearing. It is the only now there ever truly is. [Rupert Spira]


Note: Not able to concentrate enough this week to publish the latest installment of the Ten Paramis. Look out, it’ll be there ASAP.

the ten parami

POSTCARD#405: Bangkok: Peace. It is necessary to give some thought to what peace feels like in these times of vengeful obstructionism, and a Presidential Election where the loser goes into denial and does some crazy things. Leave these thoughts behind and consider the ten perfections. We started this last week, this is part two in a series.

Generosity (dana) is the first of the ten parami, or qualities of character, that we practice as followers of the Buddha. This kind of generosity is much more than offering gifts at Christmas and birthdays. The Buddha’s encouragement is to develop generosity on a daily basis. There are all kinds of Generosity – a small favor, a kind thought, a meal, or funds to help sustain a meditation teacher. Generosity lifts the mind out of its isolation and establishes goodwill.

We are not just an isolated point that is only relevant for the moment. We are in a field of present awareness that absorbs and carries the consequences of what we’ve done in our life or had happen to us. Giving a friendly gesture or a helping hand, offering service, or giving attention are offerings that may in some situations be more important than giving material things. It’s the act of  letting-go, giving it all away, relinquishment.

Virtue (sila) is the second of the ten parami. With Virtue, the fundamental principle is: I don’t do to you what I wouldn’t want you to do to me. I don’t steal things and I don’t lie to you, because I know I wouldn’t want those things to happen to me. Sīla also involves wisdom. Its ethical sensitivity asks us to consider more carefully what is harmful, and to exercise discrimination. Is it better to steal an advantage over someone else, or to live with a mind that is free from manipulativeness and mistrust?

The third Parami, Renunciation we discussed last week but an important feature of it is craving (Taṇhā). Craving is the enemy of Renunciation. Craving is about something we don’t have. We can’t crave something we have, so the fact of not having it sets up a target for unresolved passion. Therefore it isn’t the object (food, drink) that starts up craving, it’s the sense of ‘not having.’ There’s nothing wrong with sight and sound, taste, smell, touch and the sensory world; it’s the fantasy that craving makes of them.

Knowing the flood of sensuality for what it is, takes the whole thing to pieces. Quietening the craving is not just about removing sense objects, but investigating the mind and resolving passion. In its ‘not having’ state the mind can conceive of many desirables, and of course, the great powers of the consumer industry are very aware of how susceptible the mind is to impressions of comfort, excitement, attractiveness, being popular and all the rest of the things that buying an ice cream, a gadget or an item of clothing promises you. So to go through a shopping mall bearing in mind what you really need is a very relevant practice of renunciation!

Wisdom, paññā, the fourth Parami is a discriminative faculty that operates through discernment or clarity, rather than a learned store of knowledge. ‘wisdom is the faculty that makes distinctions — between pain and pleasure, safe and threatening, black and white. For the lower forms of animal life, this faculty is programmed solely around sense contact. For humans the possible development of wisdom is to be clear about the mind. Wherever there is consciousness there is wisdom, but for humans the job is for ‘wisdom to be developed, and consciousness is to be fully understood’’ (M. 43.6).

The human mind is a mixed blessing. We can witness our instincts and responses and discern what is good/appropriate/skillful from its opposite; but we can also get so lost in the viewpoints that we’ve adopted to measure our responses, that we get confused and stressed. Thus we are thrown around by what we think we should be and what we fear we might be, as well as the ways we wish other people would be, and so we lose the balance of clarity. So it is imperative to develop the wisdom faculty in the right way. This entails balancing the need for ideas, aims and procedures with the understanding of how all this mental stuff affects us.

Without balance we get top-heavy and contrived. So it’s essential to develop the wisdom that oversees mind consciousness with its dogmatic biases, its compassion and depression. This transcending wisdom, or deep clarity, is the perfection that accompanies every other pāramī and is brought to full development, use and effect by them.  (to be continued)

Excerpts from: ‘Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods’ by Ajahn Sucitto