Category Archives: mindfulness/meditation

Upekkha: Cherishing wisdom

A really clear post from Bodhipaksa yesterday about Upekkha, cherishing wisdom and insight – especially investigating the three “marks” (lakkhanas). These are impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and non-self (anatta).

Upekkha, or cherishing wisdom, is lovingkindness imbued with, if not insight itself, then at least an awareness of insight. We don’t have to be enlightened to cultivate this divine abiding, but because we’re wishing that beings develop insight, we do need to have some understanding of what insight is, and why it’s necessary as a basis for lasting peace and joy. So that’s where we’ll start.

In a way this can be quite simple. We hear that people have had this experience that they call awakening, that they’ve had the experience of insight arising, and that they’ve said it was a deeply rewarding experience, and that they’re happier as a result — happier than they’ve ever been. And to the extent we trust our experience of this, we can think, “Yeah, I’d like that to happen to me too. And I’d like it to happen to others.” So our upekkha can be based on something as simple as this — faith founded on experience. But at some stage we need to understand at a deeper level how insight arises, because it’s something to be done, not merely something to admire.

So, first, why is insight necessary? The later Mahayana schools of Buddhism divided the path of practice into two sections: merit (punya) and wisdom (prajna). The Theravadi categories of samatha (calming) and vipassana (insight) are more or less synonymous with these. Merit is when we train the mind to be more mindful and positive. We practice mindfulness on the cushion and in daily life, and we do likewise with lovingkindness. This changes us, and our habits of craving and ill will become weaker. We become happier and more at peace.

Mostly we start practicing because we want to develop merit. We want to be happier, less stressed, inflict less pain and distress on others, etc. But developing merit can only take us so far. As a result of our practice we become more positive and more mindful, but unless we can remove certain root delusions that lead to craving and ill will, our unskillful qualities will continue to manifest in our lives, and to cause us and others to suffer. Removing delusions is the task of insight meditation, which helps us to develop wisdom (prajna).

Wisdom goes deeper than merit. It radically restructures how we perceive things. It changes the very way we see ourselves, our world, and the relation between the two. Insight meditation could be defined as any meditation that investigates what are known as the three “marks” (lakkhanas). These are impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and non-self (anatta). These three marks contradict deeply held views that we have.

We believe that there is permanence. One of the things that we think is permanent is our selves. We know that we age and that we die, but we assume that on some level there is some part of us that is fixed and unchanging. In insight meditation we consciously focus on the ever-changing nature of our experience. Anything you care to focus on is continually changing. Every experience is on the way to being another experience.

We believe that it’s possible to arrange the things we experience so that we can have lasting peace and happiness. This is what craving and aversion are trying to do for us — manipulate our world so that it’s the way we like it, with all the “bad” stuff removed and all the “good” stuff maximized. But the world is too complex for us to manage this task. Everything we experience has arisen as a result of countless conditions, and to have things just the way we like them would mean controlling the whole universe. Good luck with that! In insight meditation we notice that every experience that arises is incapable of giving us lasting peace and joy. This isn’t surprising, since we’ve already been noticing that our experiences don’t last. We come to see that it’s relating to our experiences with evenhandedness — allowing them to come and go without craving their arising, resisting them, or mourning their passing — that allows us to be truly at peace.

And lastly, we believe that we have this “thing” called a self. We believe that it’s separate, that it has some kind of permanent essence, and that it’s in control of us. In insight practice we challenge this assumption that there is a self. We look at our experience, and notice how everything that constitutes us arises from something that is not us and that we exist in an interconnected reality. We leave no room for the notion of a separate self. We notice how everything that constitutes us is impermanent. But we also notice that that which is experiencing is also constantly changing, and thus impermanent. In that way we leave no room for the notion of a permanent self. And we notice that we’re not in charge of our experience. If we look closely, we can see that we don’t create our thoughts, our feelings, even our actions. This may sound puzzling, or even nonsensical, but these things are observable. It’s only our entrenched delusions that prevent us from seeing them.

Breaking free of our delusions is profoundly liberating. It brings a profound peace that, we’re told, is far more satisfying than anything we’ve experienced before. “Nibbana (awakening) is the foremost happiness,” the Buddha said (Dhammapada, verse 204). And it’s that state of peace that we’re wishing in the upekkha bhavana, where we’re cherishing wisdom for ourselves and others.

May all beings accept the arising and passing of things. May all beings know the joy of awakening. May all beings abide in equanimity, free from attachment or aversion. May all beings dwell in peace.

A compassionate approach to dealing with hurt, on the other hand, is to drop both these forms of aversion: let go of the thoughts of anger the moment we become aware of their presence, and turn toward the hurt, with compassion. We train ourselves to “drop down” below the level of emotion and thought, down to the level of raw feeling — that ache, that bruise, that sense of having been “punched in the gut.” When we embrace our own hurt with a mind of compassion — when we wish it well, as we would with a dear friend who was in pain — there is no need for anger. Our anger becomes redundant, because its purpose is to deal with our hurt, and our hurt is now being dealt with much more effectively. And having empathized with our own pain, we can then feel empathy for the other person and have compassion for them. From turning toward our pain in this way to experiencing compassion for the other person often takes seconds.

From Wildmind

100 days of lovingkindness – Day 41: 12 Ways to Deal With Resentment

By Bodhipaksa

Resentment is seductive. We assume on some level that it’s going to help us, but it doesn’t. It just causes us pain. This is something that we all need help with.1600 years ago, a compiler and commenter of Buddhist texts called Buddhaghosa put together an extraordinary “tool kit” of ways to deal with resentment. I was recently looking at this guidance, which is part of Buddhaghosa’s encyclopedic work on meditation, The Visuddhimagga, or Path of Purity, and thought it was so fresh, well thought-out, and relevant that it was worth restating some of what he had to say.So here are twelve techniques for getting rid of resentment

1. Lovingkindness practice This one’s obvious. You can simply call to mind the person you’re resentful of, and cultivate good will toward them. It often does work. When I first started practicing meditation I had a lot of problems with resentment, and I was often surprised by how quickly my anger toward someone would just vanish.

2. Reflect that resentment is never justified  Buddhaghosa suggests that we “reflect upon the saw.” This one needs a bit of unpacking. There’s a “Simile of the Saw” in the early Buddhist scriptures, where the Buddha says that even if bandits brutally sawed a person limb from limb, “he who entertained hate in his heart would not be one that carried out my teaching.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what the provocation is, hatred is never justified. The mind can go “but … but …” as much as it likes, but hatred remains a negative emotion that destroys our happiness, causes suffering for others, and prevents us from experiencing peace.However, we all carry around the idea that there’s such a thing as “righteous resentment,” and we assume that hatred is justified. We tell ourselves stories about how bad the other person is, and this seems to make it natural for us to hate them. But it’s these very stories that give rise to our ill will. We cause our own hate.Don’t take the parable of the saw literally. The point of the parable is not to say that “true Buddhists” are superhuman and can avoid ill will even under extreme provocation, but to make the point that there is nothing in the Buddha’s teaching that justifies the idea of “righteous resentment.”

3. Win the real battle Hot on the heels of the advice to reflect on the parable of the saw is an admonition to reflect that in developing hatred you’re actually giving a person who hates you what they want. This is assuming that the other person hates you, which isn’t always the case.What does a person who hates you want for you? Bad stuff, that’s what. Buddhaghosa points out that hatred makes you ugly, causes you pain, destroys your good fortune, causes you to lose your wealth (or not to create any), detracts from your reputation, loses you friends, and leads to a bad rebirth. Someone who really hated you might wish all these things on you, and here you are doing them to yourself! You’re handing your hater victory and doing him or her a favor. And by getting angry at an angry person, Buddhaghosa says, you become worse than them, and “do not win the battle hard to win,” which is of course the battle with yourself, to remain happy and unruffled.So basically, we reflect here that true victory can’t come from getting angry at an angry person. That’s defeat. Victory comes from remaining calm, loving, and equanimous.

4. “Accentuate the positive” Buddhaghosa suggests that we think about something positive in the other person, so that you can “remove irritation.”This works, too. Resentment doesn’t like complexity. When you bear in mind someone’s good points — even things (dammit!) that we admire — it’s harder to keep the resentment going.

5. Develop compassion  But if you can’t think of anything positive about the other person, or if they truly don’t have any positive qualities (although that’s almost impossible) then you should develop compassion toward them. In Buddhaghosa’s world view, a person with no redeeming qualities is bound for the torments of the hell realms, and is therefore worthy of our compassion. I should stress that in Buddhism the hells are not permanent and are not punishments — they are simply places where we are reborn for a while as a result of our actions. Buddhist hells are a kind of “fat farm” where we burn off our bad karma.

6. Notice how you’re causing yourself suffering  Resentment hurts us. Buddhaghosa offers many reflections along those lines:If another person has hurt us, why should we then hurt ourselves? In your life you’ve had to give up many things that brought you happiness, so why not walk away from resentment, which makes you miserable? If another person has done something you disapprove of, then why do something (like getting angry) that you would also disapprove of? If someone wants you to get angry, why give them the satisfaction? You may make the other person suffer with your anger. Then again you may not. But you’ll definitely hurt yourself. The thing you got angry about is impermanent and in the past. So why are you angry now?He’s kind of unrelenting, that Buddhaghos.

7. Reflect that all beings are the owners of their karma This is a common reflection in Buddhism: all beings create their own actions (kamma) and inherit the consequences of those actions. The other person may have done things that are unskillful, and those actions will cause them suffering. So what’s the point of you doing exactly the same thing, by acting out of the unskillful state of resentment? It’s like picking up a hot coal to throw at the other person. You may hurt them, but you’re definitely going to hurt yourself.The other person, if they are angry with you, is causing themselves pain. It’s like, Buddhaghosa says, them throwing a handful of dust into the wind. They may be aiming at you, but it’s their eyes that will end up smarting.Reflecting in this way we can untangle our respective lives. The other person’s faults, real or imagined, are no longer an occasion for us to exercise our own faults.

8. Reflect on exemplars of patience Buddhaghosa goes a bit over the top with this one, devoting almost as much time on this method of dispelling resentment as he does on all the others put together. His approach is to remind us of various past lives of the Buddha, or jataka tales, as they’re called. These are mythological stories about the Buddha’s previous lives, as he developed the qualities of compassion and wisdom that led to his awakening.I’ve found that being in the presence of someone who is very patient causes me to let go of my resentments. I had a good friend in Scotland who I never — not once — heard say an unkind word about anyone. Sometimes I’d be moaning about someone else, and my friend would just come in with some wise and kind word about the other person’s life that would put everything in perspective and leave me feeling a bit petty. Even now, just calling that friend to mind helps me evoke a sense of patience.

9. Reflect that all beings have been your dearest friends and relations in a previous life I’m not big on past lives, or in belief in rebirth generally, but if you do take that kind of thing seriously, then Buddhaghosa’s advice is to remember that because of the beginninglessness of time, every being — including those you get most pissed off with — have been your mother, father, brother, sister, son, and daughter. When that person was your mother, they carried you in their womb, suckled you, wiped away your snot and shit, and generally lavished you with love. And we can reflect, Buddhaghosa says, thus: “So, it is unbecoming for me to harbor hate for him [or her] in my mind.”Being of a scientific bent, and not putting much stock in reflections that hinge upon a belief in rebirth, I find myself approaching this advice in a different way. Let’s take rebirth as a metaphor: change is happening all the time, and so we’re each reborn in every moment. Each moment we die and are reborn.Each momentary contact with the world is part of this process of death and rebirth. In fact, each perception is a kind of birth. It’s the birth of a new experience, and thus of a new “us.” Each time we see someone, hear someone, touch someone, even think or someone, a new experience arises and we change; in a sense, we are reborn. So in this way, all beings that we have contact with are our mothers. Each being we have contact with in this moment helps give birth to ourselves as we are now. And since, in our immensely complex world, the unfolding, never-ending death-and-rebirth of each being is ultimately connected with the never-ending death-and-rebirth of each other being, all beings are our mothers.

10. Reflect on the benefits of lovingkindness You can reflect on the benefits of lovingkindness, and how you’ll deny yourself those benefits by indulging in resentment. What are the benefits? Well, it’s worth reflecting on that through examining your own experience, but here’s Buddhaghosa’s list, which comes from the scriptures: You’ll sleep in comfort, wake in comfort, and dream no evil dreams. You’ll be dear to human beings and to non-human beings. Deities will guard you. Fire and poison and weapons won’t harm you (although that seems unlikely, to say the least). More plausibly, your mind will be easily concentrated. You’ll be reborn in a pleasant realm (or at the very least the future you that arises will have more a pleasant existence than the being that would have arisen had lovingkindness not been a part of its previous existence).Some of these are plausible. There is scientific research showing that there are health benefits, and mental health benefits, from practicing lovingkindness meditation. Friendly people generally seem to have a more pleasant experience of the world, with less conflict and more fulfilling experience of others. You’ll deny yourself these benefits if you indulge in resentment. Resentment is the saturated fat of emotions, clogging the arteries of our happiness.

11. Break the other person into tiny pieces We can dissolve (mentally!) the object of our resentment into various elements, asking ourselves what exactly we’re angry with. Is it the head hairs, the body hairs, the nails, the teeth, etc? Is it the solid matter making up that person, the liquid, the gas, the energy?This might seem a little silly. In fact it seemed silly to me, right up to the moment that I tried it. There had been resistance to the idea, because I thought, “Well, of course I’m not angry with any of those things, I’m angry with them — with the person as a whole. But setting that resistance aside, and just reflecting on the bits that make up a person takes you away from the thought of them “as a whole” and you temporarily can’t be angry with them!As Buddhaghosa says, “When he tries the resolution into elements, his anger finds no foothold, like a mustard seed on the point of a needle.”He’s right. Give it a go.

12. Give a gift

This one’s delightfully straightforward and earthy. If you give the other person a gift — especially something you value — then you break the dynamic of your resentment. You shake things up within yourself. You have to think of the other person as a human being with needs. You have to deal with their gratitude. You have to think about what they might like. You stop your complaining thoughts from going around and around in the same old mental ruts. You have to let go of your pride. You have to take a risk. You have to make yourself vulnerable.So giving to the other person changes the dynamic of the relationship. If there’s mutual resentment, then the act of giving may shock the other person into seeing you differently.Buddhaghosa points out that giving naturally leads to kind speech:

Through giving gifts they do unbend
And condescend to kindly speech.

Of course you may be thinking something along the lines of, “Wait! I hate this person; why on earth would I give them something?”But that just brings up another question. Do you want to end your resentment? Well, do you?

via Wildmind

100 days of lovingkindness. Day 39: Everything Terrifying is Deep Down a Helpless Thing

By Bodhipaksa

“Perhaps everything terrifying is deep down a helpless thing that needs our help,” Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to a friend and protégé, encouraging him to make peace with his inner demons.

It’s an interesting phrase, “inner demons.” We think of the demonic as being that which is evil, that which aims at our destruction. But I don’t believe in the concept of self-sabotage.

Yes, I know, you sometimes act in ways that keep you from doing what you want to do, even when what you want to do is likely to bring your happiness. And I know, you sometimes act in ways that limit you and keep you bound to suffering, even though you want to be free from suffering. But these actions are only self-sabotage from the point of view of the wiser, more aware, more conscious and thoughtful part of you. From the point of view of the more habitual and unconscious parts of you that give rise to these behaviors, these decisions are not acts of self-destruction, but of self-preservation.

One of the biggest delusions we can have about ourselves is that the self is unitary. That we are one thing. That we have one mind. In fact, each of us is a composite of many minds, resulting from the modular, hit-or-miss, cobbled-together evolution of the mind. Engineers call this form of “design” a “kludge.” A kludge is a workaround: a clumsy, inelegant, yet quick and “effective-enough” solution to a problem.

Our brains are kludges. They were not designed from the ground up. Existing, basic, designs were altered. New components were bolted on to an existing structure. Layer was added upon layer. And this happened over and over, creating a rambling, shambling mess, that more or less works, but at the cost of a lot of inner conflict.

Older parts of the brain (or mind) have primitive programming that bases their actions on selfishness: greedily grasping after benefits, hurting others when we need to, running from threats. More recently evolved parts of the brain are more considered: they are able to reflect on the consequences of our decisions, to recall the past and to draw lessons from it, to run simulations of the future and to imagine how decisions we make now might affect our future well-being, to imagine new ways of acting, to consider abandoning unhelpful habits.

And the old brain and the new brain are often in conflict. We might know that we need to change something in our lives (a job, a habit, a relationship) and yet some ancient part of the brain floods the body with chemicals that induce a sense of fear. We might know we need to say something to another person that might be taken critically, and yet we’re paralyzed with anxiety; what if we’re rejected, end up friendless, alone forever? And so we limp along the same old familiar but painful pathways of life, battling with ourselves as we do so. Our self-struggles simply add another layer of pain to our lives. And it can seem that things can never change.

But this isn’t self-sabotage. This is, from the point of view of our ancient impulses, self-preservation. This is us avoiding rejection. This is us not risking making a jump from the frying pan into the fire.

Our demons are not trying to destroy us. They’re trying to keep us safe. It just so happens that make a lousy job of doing so, but isn’t it good to realize that your demons aren’t actually destructive at all? That they simply want to find peace and happiness, and to avoid suffering — just the same as every other part of you?

These demons need our help. They are, to a certain extent, helpless. They are more than half blind. They are incapable of learning on their own. They need to be regulated and their circuits need to be reprogrammed.

And this is where practice comes in. Practice is where you train the mind. The word “training” is very traditional (it’s sikkhā in Pali or śikśā in Sanskrit), and the Buddha often compared training the mind to training a wild animal.

“Excellent are tamed mules, tamed thoroughbreds, tamed horses from Sindh. Excellent, tamed tuskers, great elephants. But even more excellent are those self-tamed. For not by these mounts could you go to the land unreached, as the tamed one goes by taming, well-taming, himself.” – The Buddha

This animal-training analogy is very appropriate, given the primitive, animal-like perspective that some parts of the brain have. So that part of us that’s most aware, that has the longest-term perspective on our lives, the most accurate perception of the connection between actions and consequences, has to help the rest of the brain have a wiser perspective on life.

First, the wiser and more recently evolved parts of us have to stand back from and become aware of the demons within, which of course aren’t really demonic, and are more like badly house-trained animals. This “standing back” is mindfulness, and it gives us more wiggle-room in which to maneuver.

Mindfulness is vital, but it’s not enough. We have to get on the cushion, and to spend some serious time training the brain. We need to strengthen our habits of mindfulness, and to develop our habits of kindness. As long as we relate to ourselves and others in terms of hatred and fear, we’ll keep feeding our wild animals, and they’ll keep directing our lives. The Buddha said that meditating was like tethering a wild animal to a stake. If it’s just a rope, with us on one end and a wild animal on the other, we’re in trouble. We’ll be mauled, or dragged along behind the animal, or caught up in an endless tug-of-war. We need to stand our ground in meditation and to have a fixed point (the object of the meditation) to which we keep returning.

We need to reflect, and to develop wisdom. We need to strengthen our habit of looking at past experience and seeing where it led us. We need to look at what we’re doing now and see where it might take us.

In doing all this, the more recently evolved parts of your brain are getting stronger. In neurological terms we’re learning to regulate our emotions. In poetic terms the wild animals within are becoming less wild, and less fearsome. They’re being tamed and trained.

And it’s strongly advised that we don’t try to do all this alone. The task of the mind training the mind is too hard for most of us to do it unaided. Associating with other self-trainers is enormously helpful. It gives us role-models. It allows us to see others facing their inner wildness. It helps us become more aware of our blind spots. It gives us a source of support and encouragement. And it gives us, ultimately, a chance to be of benefit to others as they turn toward their own terrifying things, and find that they are no more than helpless parts of themselves, helpless parts that need help.

via Wildmind