Thursday, August 27, 2015

Desire, Craving, Clinging & Suffering

     "Our minds are governed by a cycle of craving what we don't have, finding it, using it up or losing it, and then being driven by loss, need, desire, or insecurity to crave it all the more. This cycle is at the root of all addictions: addictions to drugs, drink, cigarettes, sex, love, soap operas, wealth, and wisdom itself. But why should this be so? Why are we so driven, often at great cost to ourselves?"
       Marc Lewis. "Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs." Anchor Canada, 2012.

     In 500BCE, the Buddha, through meditative contemplation, learned and taught what neuroscientists are starting to discover: the basic cause of human suffering is the "self" that "clings", craves, desires, etc. See:

     "If you get something that is quite nice, you simply want to keep it, or repeat it, or get something similar to it. Like being in debt, we must continually work to satisfy our desire for sensual pleasures, our wanting. There is no fulfillment to be found by obtaining what you want. Okay, you get some fulfillment for a bit, but no ultimate fulfillment. We usually assume that when we want something and we get it and that feels great, that feeling is due to the fact that we got what we wanted. But have you ever stopped to consider that it might be due to the fact that you stopped wanting? The relief from the wanting produces quite a bit of pleasure. So perhaps a more effective strategy would be to let go of the wanting."
       Leigh Brasington

     "Many people are not aware of this, but strictly speaking, the statues we see of the Buddha, as well as other Buddhist art objects, serve as representations of states of mind rather than of a divinity." 
       Jon Kabat-Zinn. "Mindfulness for Beginners. Reclaiming the Present Moment - and Your Life." Sounds True, 2012.

Dale Johnson

Friday, August 21, 2015

Stress Reduction & Complete Liberation

     Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), when taught by well-trained facilitators who maintain a regular sincere meditation practice, is an excellent entry point for many who seek relief from a wide range of suffering for which Western health-care has little to offer. MBSR is a very approachable, secular, abbreviated adaptation of profound Buddhist psychology (Dharma). See:
     Somewhat like Freud's psychoanalysis, MBSR can help people improve their life experience from frank suffering to being able to function better. Freud called this humble therapeutic goal "ordinary unhappiness" - less than ideal, but far better than incapacitating neurosis. 
     Some Dharma teachers, like Titmuss below, criticize MBSR for being "watered-down" (eviscerated?) Dharma. From my perspective, MBSR is an excellent entry point, even for the very few who may wish to go much deeper after their immediate suffering has abated. MBSR training can serve as an entry point, not necessarily only into a deeper engagement with Buddhism, but any religious or philosophical tradition. Suffering is what tends to bring people to not just to MBSR, but to Zen, other major religions, psychiatry & psychology as well. And after one of these has provided some relief from acute suffering, very few commit to the entire journey. Their particular life stage is filled with other priorities. Most people are not ready to undergo a radical transformation of heart-mind-body. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle ..."

     “It is not unusual for profound teachings to get watered down to popularize them. There are a few sins in teaching the Dharma and one of them must surely be reducing the teachings to the overcoming of stress. A life dedicated to the Dharma embraces more than meditation and mindful exercises for coping calmly with daily life. … calmness and clarity of mind … can never serve as a substitute for liberation.
     In essence, liberation is the realization of the end of suffering, the full emancipation of the human spirit and the joyful understanding of the nature of things. Cessation of suffering removes the struggle born of greed, hate and self-delusion. It eradicates that compelling need to pursue or gain things as an ultimately satisfying way of life. The emptiness of the ego, of any substance to I and my, is obvious.”

        Christopher Titmuss. "Light on Enlightenment. Revolutionary Teachings on the Inner Life." Shambhala, Boston, 1999. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

My Identity? Really?

"Melancholy is the happiness of being sad."         Victor Hugo

     What? How could sadness possibly bring about happiness? Why would an abused person remain with their abuser? Why do people continue self-destructive behaviours over long periods of time, or for life?
     Lack of imagination? Lack of initiative? Yes, probably both. But the key reason might be that they IDENTIFY with their role - "the sad one" or "the abused one" or "the self-destructive one"? They fear change, so they pretend that at least one thing in the world doesn't change - their "self"! So they cling to this pretense like a drowning person clings to a piece of flimsy driftwood.
     Yet, even here they appear to have missed the boat. Identity, from certainly a Buddhist, but also increasingly from Western secular perspectives, is ephemeral, shifting, constantly changing, like all phenomena. And clinging to any phenomena, particularly to "the self", is considered the chief cause of suffering. To the extent that our identity is fused with self-concept ie "I am my self-concept", we suffer.
       Leary MR, Guadagno J. "The role of hypo-egoic self-processes in optimal functioning and subjective well-being." (Chapter 9) in: Sheldon KM, Kashdan TB, Steger MF. eds. "Designing positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward." Oxford University Press, NY, 2011.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Life is Suffering" ???

     "'Life is suffering' ... never appears in the volumes of teachings attributed to the Buddha. ... 
     The Buddha states that the Second Noble Truth (which is the cause of suffering) arises when the conditions are there for it to arise. Suffering cannot arise when the conditions are not there for its dependent arising. He urges us to give attention to this, to meditate and reflect on it for direct insight into the way things are. His view is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. He would consider it crude to proclaim such a grossly generalized statement as 'Life is suffering.'"

       Christopher Titmuss. "Light on Enlightenment. Revolutionary Teachings on the Inner Life." Shambhala, Boston, 1999.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Impeccability OR Half-heartedness?

     “A man or woman of knowledge is impeccable. There are some people who are very careful about the nature of their acts. Their happiness is to act with the full knowledge that they don’t have time. Therefore their acts have a peculiar power. Acts have power, especially when the person acting knows that those acts are their last battle. There’s a strange, consuming happiness in acting with the full knowledge that whatever one is doing, may very well be one’s last act on earth. What matters to a warrior is that they become impeccable - that every act counts.
     This is also the quality of mindfulness or awareness. It’s the quality of learning to live completely in each day, in each hour, in each action, in each communion or touching of another person.
     For Don Juan it means taking Death as an advisor – ‘Death over your left shoulder’. Realizing that [this year] may be it! That may be it for this particular dance for you - or even for the whole world. We don’t really know. And somehow to realize the shortness and the preciousness of it. And with that say – ‘How do I want to live?’

     The opposite of impeccability is half-heartedness. Think about it. Think of how many things in our lives we’ve done half-heartedly. We went to school half-heartedly some of us; or do our work, or some relationships which we ‘kind-of do’, or various other things. Those are the big ones. And then the little ones: of going for a walk in the woods and being so caught-up in a thought or worry or memory, we don’t smell the pine trees or see the ice as it glistens on the branches. It’s like it goes by and we’re on automatic pilot. Think again, for yourself, of the times you’ve lived most fully in your life.
     Those times when you’re really whole-hearted and you did something with all your energy, all your attention, all your body and spirit – all together. It doesn’t even matter how it comes out, when you live in that fashion. Just the quality of living and doing it completely itself is fulfilling. Think about the things you really put yourself into, and how they taste to you – they have a certain taste of sweetness from that fullness.
     This is the central quality of a spiritual warrior, of a man or woman of knowledge, is awakening this capacity to be full or impeccable or careful in relationship to the body, to breath, to movement, to all the physical elements, in relation to our emotions, to be aware and present with our desires, our actions. 
     And we can practice it in all kinds of ways. You can come to a retreat and be silent, and sit and walk, and sit and walk, and sit and walk, and sit and walk, and gradually, you know, very slowly, in it’s way, it gets nourished. And you find that on the fifth day of the retreat you’re reaching to take a cup of tea, and for a moment it becomes like the Japanese Tea Ceremony. And you’re just there taking a cup of tea. And it’s the only thing in the world, and you’re really there. It makes all those five miserable days worth it just even to have a moment like that. At least I think so. But it can be trained in all kinds of other ways – it’s not just through sitting."

Jack Kornfield. “Awakening is Real. A Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of the Inner Journey.” Sounds True (Podcast #2 The Way of the Warrior), 2012. 


Sunday, August 16, 2015

THIS, this IS, this is IT!

     “This – the immediate, everyday, and present experience – is IT, 
     the entire and ultimate point for the existence of a universe.”                Alan Watts

       David Chadwick. "Alan Watts at 100." Shambhala Sun, September 2015.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Meditation - Jack Kornfield's Beautiful Summary

      “ ‘Taking the one seat in the center of the world’ Ajahn Chah said, ‘and not getting up.’ Letting the joys, and sorrows, and praise, and blame, and fear, and love, and all of the stuff of life show itself. And you sit with your eyes open and your heart open, and say ‘I will sit like the Buddha on this seat, and find the space of freedom, or love, or understanding in the midst of it all.

        Jack Kornfield. “Awakening is Real. A Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of the Inner Journey.” Sounds True (Podcast #1 The Sacred Journey), 2012. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Transcending "Ordinary Unhappiness"

      “… all of a sudden a vision of life that you hadn’t known opens. But more often, one undertakes a practice, a training, a discipline to open the small sense of self, the ‘body of fear’ it’s called, this limited identity, and begin to sense something else that’s possible. And it can be as simple as beginning to sit in meditation and beginning to see the insanity of your own thought stream.”

        Jack Kornfield. “Awakening is Real. A Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of the Inner Journey.” Sounds True (Podcast #1 The Sacred Journey), 2012. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Meditative Awareness

     "Meditative awareness is more akin to hearing well than seeing clearly. When looking intently at a visual object, we tend to aim a narrow beam of attention onto something outside of ourselves. But when we listen mindfully, we open our awareness in all directions in order to receive the sounds that pour in. Just as one develops a meditative ability to discern ever subtler tones and harmonies in this polyphony, so one can refine an empathic ability to detect ever finer nuances in the other's plea. As the deafening chatter of self-centeredness subsides, one recovers that silence wherein one hears more sharply the cries of the world."

     Stephen Batchelor. "Living with the Devil. A meditation on good and evil." Riverhead Books, NY, 2004.