Form is Empty of Essence

The human psyche uses Form as an environment for survival. The psyche thinks that it “exists” and seeks to preserve “itself” within the data of any and every particular Form that it merges with. Much of our existence is carried out in the repetitious merging with Forms, that the psyche uses to prove and live out its’ self-creating existence. It chooses which particular Forms will present it with the “proper” expected environment to suit its’ needs of comfort, satisfaction, and growth for the sake of uninterrupted continuance.

The problem with this type of action, is that it cuts the person off from having access to the areas of life necessary to maintain wholeness. The psyche will find only forms that keep the persons attention staid upon emotions that it deems useful, or harmonious with its wishes. This damages the wholeness of the individual as they have essentially banished whole parts of their emotional being in the process.

For myself, the first thing that allows this damaging process to continue is the consumption of coffee. Caffeine allows my psyche an extra amount of energy and openness, that it then uses to acquire more and more inauthentic forms of experience. My mind’s favorite Forms are Movies, TV shows, Social Media, a criticizing view, a sarcastic verbal mode, defensiveness when uncomfortable, and self-centered thinking.

These forms have provided a refuge for the self-preserving psyche throughout the years, in a very cyclical pattern.

Some things trigger this. Recently I had strep throat, that left me with little sleep at night. This disrupted my meditation times and practice, as I had a very hard time with mindfulness, while my mind was beyond fatigued. When the reign of mindfulness waned, I could see my habitual patterns emerge in comfort to fill in the time.

After a week of being sick, I was also sick of not feeling connected to the full awareness that I have become accustomed to. Distraction had its use, but it left me very empty and disconnected from my full range of emotions.

Since then I have taken the time and energy to re-engage with full awareness through meditation. I have used a small phrase for contemplation, “Form is Empty of Essence” to soften the crusty connections my psyche had built with Form. This allowed my mind to once again gain connection with the infinite awareness which is not particular attention.

All is good again!!

Peace to You


Loren

Dealing with the Raw Truth of what One Sees in Contemplation

tree-of-death-photomanipulation

My wife and I talk often about the systems that help maintain the status quo in the world. For me it allows opportunity to contemplate on the causal relationships of things, providing motivation and context for the exertion of effort towards awakening. Sometimes I am concerned though as these same conversations, may provide a weight of existential anxiety in others that have not adopted a proper relationship to facts and phenomenon.

Here is an essay by Thanissaro Bhikkhu explaining how these insights that are less than desirable may be used properly.

 

Affirming the Truths of the Heart: The Buddhist Teachings on Samvega & Pasada

A life-affirming Buddhism that teaches us to find happiness by opening to the richness of our everyday lives.

These are all things that we and our society desperately need. As we look into the Buddha’s teachings to see what they offer to the mainstream of our modern life, we should remember that one source of Buddhism’s strength is its ability to keep one foot out of the mainstream, and that the traditional metaphor for the practice is that it crosses over the stream to the further shore.

We rarely think of Buddhism as an emotional religion. Early Buddhism in particular is often depicted as centered more in the upper left quadrant of the head than in the heart. But if you look closely at the tradition, you’ll find that from the very beginning it has been fueled by a deeply felt emotional core.

Think back for a moment on the story of the young Prince Siddhartha and his first encounters with aging, illness, death, and a wandering forest contemplative. It’s one of the most accessible chapters in the Buddhist tradition, largely because of the direct, true-to-the-heart quality of the young prince’s emotions. He saw aging, illness, and death as an absolute terror, and pinned all his hopes on the contemplative forest life as his only escape.

As Asvaghosa, the great Buddhist poet, depicts the story, the young prince had no lack of friends and family members to try to talk him out of those perceptions, and Asvaghosa was wise enough to show their life-affirming advice in a very appealing light. Still, the prince realized that if he were to give in to their advice, he would be betraying his heart. Only by remaining true to his honest emotions was he able to embark on the path that led away from the ordinary values of his society and toward an Awakening into what lay beyond the limitations of life and death.

This is hardly a life-affirming story in the ordinary sense of the term, but it does affirm something more important than living: the truth of the heart when it aspires to a happiness that’s absolutely pure. The power of this aspiration depends on two emotions, called in Pali samvega and pasada. Very few of us have heard of them, but they’re the emotions most basic to the Buddhist tradition. Not only did they inspire the young prince in his quest for Awakening, but even after he became the Buddha he advised his followers to cultivate them on a daily basis. In fact, the way he handled these emotions is so distinctive that it may be one of the most important contributions his teachings have to offer to our culture today.

Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It’s a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range—at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that comes with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complicity, complacency, and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.

This is a cluster of feelings that we’ve all experienced at one time or 5 another in the process of growing up, but I don’t know of a single English term that adequately covers all three. Such a term would be useful to have, and maybe that’s reason enough for simply adopting the word samvega into our language. But more than providing a useful term, Buddhism also offers an effective strategy for dealing with the feelings behind it—feelings that modern culture finds threatening and handles very poorly. Ours, of course, is not the only culture threatened by feelings of samvega.

In the Siddhartha story, the father’s reaction to the young prince’s discovery stands for the way most cultures try to deal with these feelings: He tried to convince the prince that his standards for happiness were impossibly high, at the same time trying to distract him with relationships and every sensual pleasure imaginable. Not only did he arrange an ideal marriage for the prince, but he also built him a palace for every season of the year, bought him only the best clothes and toiletries, sponsored a constant round of entertainments, and kept the servants well paid so that they could put at least a semblance of joy into their job of satisfying the prince’s every whim.

To put it simply, the father’s strategy was to get the prince to lower his aims and to find satisfaction in a happiness that was less than absolute and far from pure. If the young prince were alive today, the father would have other tools for dealing with the prince’s dissatisfaction—including psychotherapy and religious counseling—but the basic strategy would be the same: to distract the prince and dull his sensitivity so that he could settle down and become a well-adjusted, productive member of society.

Fortunately, the prince was too eagle-eyed and lion-hearted to submit to such a strategy. And, again fortunately, he was born into a society that offered him the opportunity to find a solution to the problem of samvega that did justice to the truths of his heart.

The first step in that solution is symbolized in the Siddhartha story by the prince’s reaction to the fourth person he saw on his travels outside of the palace: the wandering forest contemplative. Compared to what he called the confining, dusty path of the householder’s life, the prince saw the freedom of the contemplative’s life as the open air. Such a path of freedom, he felt, would allow him the opportunity to find the answers to his life-and-death questions, and to live a life in line with his highest ideals, “as pure as a polished shell.”

The emotion he felt at this point is termed pasada. Like samvega, pasada covers a complex set of feelings. It’s usually translated as “clarity and serene confidence”—mental states that keep samvega from turning into despair. In the prince’s case, he gained a clear sense of his predicament, together with confidence that he had found the way out.

As the early Buddhist teachings freely admit, the predicament is that the cycle of birth, aging, and death is meaningless. They don’t try to deny this fact and so don’t ask us to be dishonest with ourselves or to close our eyes to reality. As one teacher has put it, the Buddhist recognition of the reality of suffering—so important that suffering is honored as the first noble truth—is a gift. It confirms  our most sensitive and direct experience of things, an experience that many other traditions try to deny.

From there, the early teachings ask us to become even more sensitive, until we see that the true cause of suffering is not out there—in society or some outside being—but in here, in the craving present in each individual mind. They then confirm that there is an end to suffering, a release from the cycle. And they show the way to that release, through developing noble qualities already latent in the mind to the point where they cast craving aside and open onto Deathlessness.

Thus the predicament has a practical solution, a solution within the powers of every human being. It’s also a solution open to critical scrutiny and testing—an indication of the Buddha’s own confidence in his handling of the problem of samvega.

This is one of the aspects of authentic Buddhism that most attracts people who are tired being told that they should try to deny the insights that inspired their sense of samvega in the first place. In fact, Buddhism is not only confident that it can handle feelings of samvega but it’s one of the few religions that actively cultivates them in a thorough-going way. Its solution to the problems of life demands so much dedicated effort that only strong samvega will keep the practicing Buddhist from slipping back into his or her old ways. Hence the recommendation that all men and women, lay or ordained, should reflect daily on the facts of aging, illness, separation, and death—to develop feelings of samvega—and on the power of one’s own actions, to take samvega one step further, to pasada.

For people whose sense of samvega is so strong that they want to abandon any social ties that interfere with the path to the end of suffering, Buddhism offers both a long-proven body of wisdom to draw on, as well as a safety net: the monastic sangha, an institution that enables them to leave lay society without having to waste time worrying about basic survival.

For those who can’t leave their social ties, Buddhism offers a way to live in the world without being overcome by the world, following a life of generosity, virtue, and meditation to strengthen the noble qualities of the mind that will lead to the end of suffering. The close, symbiotic relationship maintained between these two branches of the Buddhist parisa, or following, guarantees that the monastics don’t turn into misfits and misanthropes, and that the laity don’t lose touch with the values that will keep their practice alive.

So the Buddhist attitude toward life cultivates samvega—a strong sense of the meaninglessness of the cycle of birth, aging, and death—and develops it into pasada: a confident path to the Deathless. That path includes not only timeproven guidance, but also a social institution that nurtures and keeps it alive.

 

This essay is from a free publication of his, called Noble Strategy. You can access this book by clicking on the title.

May these words guide you toward Right View as they have me and my family,

Peace,

Loren

The Usefulness of Jhana

Photo by Rudolf Helmis

Photo by Rudolf Helmis

After meditation today, I found myself continuing to contemplate the usefulness of Jhana. As I have described many times before, the journey to Jhana is one of skillful use of the dynamics of concentration to solidify a state of peaceful abiding. What makes this process difficult is that it is twofold. On the one hand there is the task of release of all things sensual. This release is active and requires serious discipline in the process of identifying more and more subtle aspects of the activities of the mind, and then easing into a gradual release of these phenomenon. On the other hand, One is actively using the qualities of Concentration, Mindfulness and Ardency to literally become present within the breath. Neither one of these activities, which are done simultaneously, is passive. They demand a lot from the practitioner.

The Beauty of this process is also twofold. Firstly, any success that one makes toward either of the two aforementioned processes is presently rewarded by the arising of the individual qualities of what will eventually become in their totality, Jahna. The individual qualities that arise one after another are Rapture, Pleasure, Tranquility, and Equanimity. The practitioner can use the immediate feedback to gauge his or her mastery of the qualities needed to attain Jhana. As these “fruits” of meditation arise they also give the mind greater and greater incentive to release from grasping at the world of the senses, from which the whole of our experience of suffering arises. In other words, the experiential rewards of any success are also the incentives for greater success.

Secondly, once the practitioner’s blended qualities of Concentration, Mindfulness, Ardency, Tranquility, and Equanimity mature by use of breath as an object of concentration, there arises this natural quality of solidified union within the breath. This union is recognized by an immediate awareness of decreased need for the heightened amount of one’s Ardency in the form that got you to this point. One feels “stuck” or “fastened” in the experience of undivided awareness. This state of Jhana is described as release from Sensual Pleasure, Bliss that is free from Suffering.

From this state of Unified awareness, one can finally begin the process of viewing the arising and ceasing of every phenomenon that presents itself as an opportunity for the mind to Cling to. By viewing these phenomenon without clinging, the practitioner becomes fully aware of the foundational qualities of all phenomenon; Impermanence, Unsatisfactory, and Not-Self. Things that one would normally become enraptured in the drama and pleasure of, become clearly seen for BOTH the fleeting pleasurable form and the unattractive stress-full form.

This clear vision would frighten one into delusion if it was not fostered by the environment of Jhana. the Buddha knew this, and so he prescribed Jhana at every opportunity.

Jhana is not the destination of the Path, it IS all but the last stage of the Path. Eventually one will find even the Bliss of Jhana to be undesirable, and will find his or her way into final Release. I do not pretend to have entered that Final Release as of yet, but all other aspects of Jhana and the EightFold Path I practice, experience, and cultivate every day.

May your every endeavor bear much fruit.

Peace

Loren

Seeing the Aggregates

The Aggregates

A few nights ago, I was practicing Samatha meditation with my eyes open. I decided that I would use directed attention at first toward the function of sight, I went through the usual relaxing process from toe to head. As my mind began to settle, I noticed that the actual configuration of the angles of my eyes would naturally change along with the level of calm and stillness. As the angle changed the external information being received began to fall out of focus and my true focal point grew closer and closer.  Soon my mind had calmed and entered into Jhana, and then the next Jhana ( the relevant material is found under the heading “The Four Jhanas”), as my directed thoughts turned to a more unified awareness. The “focal point” continued to reach inward but at a much slower rate. In actuality, it had become pointed toward the Third eye area within the location of the head.

In this process there is always the subtle tensions of minutely small static that can be perceived by the muscular control of the eyes as I continue to let go of more and more form on the subtlest of levels. And then stabilization brings that unifying imperturbable calm. At this point consciousness seems to be releasing control of the physical optical processes altogether in order to maintain this state of calm.

I found that every discrepancy in release would be accompanied by a physical movement of the eye as if to draw attention to some aspect of the 5 Aggregates; Form, Feeling, Perception, Fabrication, and Consciousness. I found that I could not cling to any phenomenon without subtle control of the optic process, nor could any movement of the same process occur without signifying a brief or almost undetectable form of attachment to a phenomenon.

This process brought about great clarity of what is meant and useful about the teachings on the 5 aggregates. This experience allowed access to the depth of what is meant by Form, and the levels of relevance and irrelevance of this Aggregate. I could see how Form is used by the mind as a marker that the mind can fill with potentials that justify the rise and fall of both skillful and unskillful states. It becomes easy to see how Form is abused by the mind when put into the perspective of how it even comes into being. Essentially it ends up being the scapegoat for every experience the mind has conjured up through craving, with or without an object to crave.

These insights have been invaluable in allowing access to the reality of how the mind constructs “reality”. Without knowing how the mind is using these aggregates, we have no real understanding of depth of our “self” induced sufferings. The challenge continues to grow, but so does the view of the Path that leads to the end of suffering. This particular insight has changed the way in which I interact with Form altogether, adding a new layer of understanding to its emptiness.

My mind will no longer be able to manipulate me into maintaining the many strongholds of delusion, that place accountability for my experience anywhere but within.

In sorting out this experience, I have found a small book by Thanissarro Bhikkhu, called “A Burden Off the Mind: A Study Guide on the Five Aggregates” to be a tremendous help. It takes the teachings on the aggregates and places them into the greater context of the Path to the ending of suffering. The link provided offers a free collection of some of the best teachings on meditation and Buddhism that one can find.  Without having a physical teacher, Thanissarro Bhikkhu’s writings have been the next best thing.

May your journey continue to bear lots of fruit!

Peace

Loren

Becoming the Earth

Image

The Buddha once taught his son about the consistency of mind that brought about permanent peace and True happiness. He said that one should make their mind just like the earth. That no matter what was spilled on it the earth did not mind, nor move because of the disturbance.

“Rahula, develop the meditation in tune with earth. For when you are developing the meditation in tune with earth, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind. Just as when people throw what is clean or unclean on the earth — feces, urine, saliva, pus, or blood — the earth is not horrified, humiliated, or disgusted by it; in the same way, when you are developing the meditation in tune with earth, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind.” -MN62

This is such a profound teaching, as we live our busy disturbed lives reacting to every input as if there were no possibility or value to stability. As we spend our lives grasping for “things” both material and emotional, it is as if we have bought the delusion that our strength lies within our constant instability.

Through meditation, I have become acutely aware that all personal suffering has come through the instability of my mind’s response to any and all phenomenon that present themselves to my senses. This Instability has tailored the way in which I guard myself emotionally and experientially from the world. In the past I have incorrectly labeled this way of negotiating the dynamics of life, as “my personality”. Make no mistake it is nothing more than a highly developed and self-deceptive way of maintaining a feel of stability without actually having stability.

Meditation has pushed me into the territory of calm and peace that cannot be accessed without right effort and right intention toward this experience. There is the journey of mastery of the mind that is necessary for one to reach any plain of this land. Once you have stepped foot into this territory though, all other forms of accepted experience are starkly disappointing.

The challenge of the last year or so has been to slowly and methodically bring the experience of peace and stability to the onslaught of my senses that plays out in everyday experiences. In the practice of doing so, the prejudice of this “personality of sensitivity” to certain experiences has been revealed in every challenge and failure along the way.

In seeking to help my wife with her burdens of compassion that come so naturally to her, I have had a chance to explore the depths of the practice of compassion through both Metta meditation and Tonglen meditation as well. both of these practices have begun to erode the “self” made lines of delineation between “self/others”, and the “inner/outer” world experiences.

What I have learned is that what we conceptualize as vulnerability is really an opening to the resources that provide vitality to the whole of existence. When my mind becomes stable, I can interact with “horrible things” without suffering harm at all. This is contrary to the hardwired framework of my “self”. The “self” has sought to avoid all phenomenon that it labels as negative by any means necessary, which ironically has limited my access to the connection with all things.

Tonglen has served as a direct existential exercise of taking in the “bad” while not only being unharmed, but giving peace and healing toward these things with the act of breathing. In essence, it is becoming the earth that is not harmed by what is spilled on it.

This particular aspect of the Journey has broadened the possibilities of WHAT I experience, as well as HOW I experience things. This is the true meaning of redeeming Karma.

 

Peace to You,

Loren

The Experience of Contraction

7334606504_4fcfcc0d68_z

As of late, my household has gone through a period of  what I would call material contraction. This contraction plays out externally as the end of things that were a part of life for a long time. We have had to put down our ailing 15 year old dog. Our car became unreliable for weeks, as the mechanic kept “fixing” things with nothing changing. These repairs consumed a large portion of our monthly income, putting the squeeze on all other avenues of daily life.

Internally, this shift in momentum from the norms of progress produced much stress. There was much arisen anxiety over the lack of control in these situations, that would easily color our entire emotional and psychological experience. These circumstances could easily multiply the latent and previously manageable stress of doing everything possible to teach and raise our 8 year old daughter with Autism.

Training in the inherent obligations of the Four Noble Truths compelled me to quickly observe “This is Stress and Suffering”, and to focus heavily on the Mindfulness that holds together Right View, Right Action, and Right Speech as it relates to this overarching experience.

“The well-instructed noble disciple… discerns what ideas are fit for attention, and what ideas are unfit for attention. This being so, he does not attend to ideas unfit for attention, and attends [instead] to ideas fit for attention… And what are the ideas fit for attention that he attends to? Whatever ideas such that, when he attends to them, the unarisen effluent of sensuality does not arise, and the arisen effluent of sensuality is abandoned; the unarisen effluent of becoming… the unarisen effluent of ignorance does not arise, and the arisen effluent of ignorance is abandoned… He attends appropriately, This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity-view, doubt, and grasping at habits & practices. These are called the effluents that are to be abandoned by seeing.”  -MN 2 -

The fact that this Contraction was all encompassing of our daily lives, allowed me to make distinctions between what was in my control and what was not. With this encompassment came a consistent and abiding opportunity to see the path come to life. When I was not consistent in concentration I would literally feel the rushing in of the anxieties attached to this external situation. When concentration was strong and consistent I could abide in peace, and have access to creativity toward addressing any of the subtle causes of this outward drama.

This struggle became an opportunity for growth in compassion towards “myself” and my family. I am tied to their welfare and peace, and every thought, word, and action has influence into the growth or diminishing of their personal suffering as well. It has led to many conversations where Wisdom and Compassion were medicine for my wife’s experience as well.

As we continue to train our minds, the concept of right attention demands the center stage. We are undoubtedly meditating on something all day, it is much better to meditate on those things that give rise to peace than to cultivate a mind of defilement. It is those moment by moment choices that produce a consistent success or a miserable failure. Stay Mindful.

Peace and True Happiness to you

Loren

The Four Frames of Reference: A Reductionist Method

Image

As I have written in previous posts, one of the main benefits of meditation is the ability to observe the processes of the mind free from the bewildering experience of complex interactions with the “outer-world”. When we take the opportunity to isolate the senses, we can observe clearly how the mind associates with the conditions of reality in ways that cause suffering. We can clearly make out the factors of ignorance-fabrications-consciousness-form-the senses-contact-feeling-craving-clinging and becoming that play out over and over again throughout our waking hours.

It is incredible to see for the first time the intricate way in which our mind latches onto an object and what is produced by the bond. It takes some growing maturity and insight to see the depths of the harm this process is causing both ourselves and the world. It is because of direct knowledge of these processes that the Buddha taught that the “Path of Practice” must use these same processes of the mind to ferret out the unskillful qualities that  continue to color our experience and reproduce this suffering. The particular methods incorporated are designed to bring balance to  our heavily skewed perceptions that have ultimately solidified into erroneous views of identity.

The  practice of penetrating reality beyond the gross levels of hideously inaccurate symbology that we  access our world through, allows us to deal with the minutia that make up the human experience. By gaining a perceptual foundation in these Frames of Reference we do not allow the  bewilderment of complexity to overcome our awareness. In essence we begin to see things through a microscope of controlled perception that focuses only on the root or innermost layer of our existential journey.

The Buddha describes it like this, “This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of Unbinding—in other words, the four frames of reference. Which four?

There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself— ardent, alert, & mindful—putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings… mind… mental qualities in & of themselves—ardent, alert, & mindful—putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world.” -Samyutta Nikaya 47:40

In other words, instead of our focus being trained on our “external” circumstances through the environment of our mental processes, we can practice focusing on the mental processes themselves actively registering all phenomena as they appear and disappear. We should focus on the Body, the Feelings, the Mind, and the Mental Qualities that arise and fall away within every moment. When this form of training and strengthening the qualities of the mind is done within the scope of the Four Noble Truths it is perfectly effective in cultivating every condition necessary for the Unbinding of the mind that eradicates suffering and the conditions that produce it.

For more detailed instruction on the practice of the Four Frames of Reference, you can visit Access to Insight’s presentation here:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/wings/part2.html#part2-b

This detailing is in the book “The “Wings to Awakening”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

May these words bless your house as they have mine.

Peace

Loren