Monday, July 8, 2019

What Enlightenment is Not


Many people have a misunderstanding of what Buddhist awakening is. They think an awakened person is always nice, is always ethical, is always moral, is always happy, is always perfect, is never afraid or angry or jealous, loves everyone unconditionally, etc. etc. Actually, awakening does not necessarily make a person any of those things.

On a discussion forum I tried to point out that Buddhist awakening does not necessarily make someone a nice person and I expanded on that point:

A lot of personality is deeply ingrained in the brain: word selection, tone of voice, personal habits, sensitivity to others etc etc. Noticing something about how the mind works can change your perception of your "self", but it doesn't completely rewire the brain you have been training all your life to the extent that it erases your personality. If you were hard to get along with before awakening, you will be hard to get along with after awakening.

I would go further and say Buddhist awakening doesn't make you a nice person and it is not about happiness.

It is about eliminating a certain subset of unpleasant emotions.

Some emotions are caused by purely physiological factors for example some forms of anxiety and depression. Buddhist awakening does not address those emotions in cases where they are caused by purely biochemical factors.

Some emotions are caused by thinking. These are what Buddhist awakening addresses. Unpleasant emotions caused by thoughts disappear when the thoughts disappear. They are illusions produced by the mind. By quieting the mind with meditation and observing the activity of the mind one learns the truth of this and learns to see through the illusions. This is really the main point. There is another side issue which gets a lot of attention because it sounds mystical. That is when the mind is quiet, one may notice that in the absence of much of the usual mental activity, the feeling of self may disappear too. (The feeling of self is actually produced by mental chatter.) This experience has the advantage of making it easier to let go of some types of emotions that are based on ego like pride or status or selfishness. If you don't feel like you have a self it is easier to let go of egotistical attachments and aversions.

But the patterns of thinking one engages in over a long period of time become habitual and ingrained, probably wired into the brain. It takes a lot of work to unlearn long practiced modes of thinking. So Buddhist awakening is divided into stages. That is why you often hear that after an enlightenment experience, a person has to learn to integrate the insight into daily life. It means they recognized how their thinking is causing a problem but they can't just think differently, they have to learn to think differently and undo all the damage a lifetime's worth of delusions have done to their thought patterns.

So Buddhist awakening doesn't even rid you of unpleasant emotions it only helps understand how your thinking is causing them which allows you to begin to change your thinking - still a long and laborious process.

Many people have a misunderstanding of what Buddhist awakening is, They think an awakened person is always nice, is always ethical, is always moral, is always happy, is always perfect, is never afraid or angry or jealous etc. etc. Actually, awakening does not make a person any of those things. Unfortunately almost no one has any interest in addressing this misunderstanding and it leads people to trust spiritual teachers in ways they should not be trusted.


Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


The Ultimate Reward from Meditation


When the mind is focused in a relaxed way so that you have very few thoughts about liking and disliking, winning or losing, good and bad, you are not suffering. If you can experience this, you have a great way to practice. You get positive feedback (lack of "suffering") from doing the right thing (focusing the mind).

Quoting myself...

In the morning I was walking home with a heavy pack, the sun was up already and it was hot. I tried to meditate as I walked. I noticed that when I thought, "It's hot", or "My pack is heavy", or "How much further?" or "This sucks" I was suffering. But when I concentrated in meditation, as I tried to relax my whole body with each inhalation and exhalation, as I observed with a pleasant open attitude the pleasant feeling of relaxation in my body as I inhaled and exhaled, my mind was occupied with all of this so I didn't think, "It's hot, or "My pack is heavy", or "How much further?", or "This sucks." and I didn't suffer. Even though it was hot and my pack was heavy, and I had a long way to go, it didn't suck. I had a situation where I could really see the source of suffering is the mind and I had a system where I received positive feedback, less suffering, for doing the right thing with my mind. So I think that is a good principle for effective practice. When you can clearly see the purpose of the practice (keep the mind focused), the principle that it is based on (suffering is caused by the mind), and you get positive feedback (less suffering) for doing the right thing. And I can practice this way in daily life, as I have various thoughts I can see how they cause suffering and that keeping my mind focused on some type of mindfulness practice will prevent suffering.

That is the ultimate reward from meditation: Seeing that it is the mind that creates suffering, and that by calming the mind, suffering ceases, then understanding that suffering was never anything but an illusion created by the mind.


Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Friday, June 28, 2019

No One to be Offended


When the mind is made quiet by meditation and the internal dialog is greatly diminished, thoughts of "I want this ..." or "I don't like that ..." are greatly diminished too.

And when the body is very relaxed, there is very little tension or tensing in response to unpleasant thoughts or to the emotions they produce.

And when you sit watching the mind, waiting for the next thought or emotion to arise, you see there are hardly any thoughts or emotions arising.

You feel the absence of these thoughts and emotions, something is missing, it feels like an emptiness. At first it might be just a faint glimmer of a feeling, but in time, with attention and repetition, you become more aware of the feeling. It's like someone is away. If another person said something unpleasant, there would be no one in that emptiness to take offense.

At first this feeling might be uncomfortable because it is strange. But in time, through repetition, as you become more and more aware of this feeling, it becomes stronger as it fills your sense of existence more and more. It becomes familiar and you notice it is associated with the absence of unpleasant thoughts and emotions so you see that it is pleasant and you meditate to deepen and enhance this new state of consciousness.

When people try to explain this feeling, they can only do it with words. Using words makes it sound like they are using logic to explain an objective fact. But it is not a logical proposition that is true or false. It is just a feeling.


Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Books, TV, Movies, News Media and Social Media Could be Making You Depressed


A constant barrage of unpleasant emotions such as anger, disappointment, and fear produced by entertainment, news, and social media can make you depressed.

When you read a novel where the characters experience adversity, you feel emotions such as anger, disappointment, and fear. A little bit of this can spoil a good mood, and a lot of it can cause depression.

But it is not just novels. Other types of books, TV programs, movies, the news media, and social media that manipulate your emotions can do it to you too. What they all have in common is that the more they manipulate your emotions, the more you become addicted to their products, and the more money they make.

If you read a little, watch a bit of TV, see a movie, follow the news, and use social media, you might not be getting a large dose from any one source, but in combination, you might be getting a large enough dose to have a harmful effect on your psychological well-being.

The effect can be subtle, people might not realize the harm they are experiencing. This harm has become obvious to me because I use meditation to generate a very pleasant, happy mood in myself and I have made a habit of trying to notice what disrupts this good mood. From making those observations in myself, I have become concerned about what is happening in the rest of society where people don't realize they could be exposed to multiple factors in their environment that might combine to cause psychological harm.

Not all media are harmful. Subjects such as nature, travel, spirituality, and others can be relaxing rather than depressing and can be beneficial. Try to notice how media make you feel. Do you notice them producing unpleasant emotions like anger, outrage, fear, hate, disappointment? Or do they make you feel content and relaxed?


Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Monday, February 25, 2019

The goal of meditation is not to stop the mind, it is to see that experience is an illusion produced by the mind.


WARNING this article is for advanced meditators. Please read The Dangers of Meditation before you read this article. The meditation practice in this article can cause mental illness and can be harmful to those who are suffering from mental illness or other psychological difficulties. If you are a beginner it would be better to meditate according to the technique explained in Serenity Meditation.

The purpose of some forms of meditation is to help the practitioner learn to see that much of his mental experience is an illusion. When the mind is in a pleasant quiet state during meditation and you notice a thought arise and produce an emotion, you may also notice that after the thought passes the emotion passes and you return to the pleasant quiet state. If you observe this enough times and are paying attention, you begin to see that thoughts and emotions and other kinds of feelings, sensations, and perceptions are just illusions produced by the mind. (You see they are elusive, uninvited, and sometimes unpleasant.) The point is not to control (stop, let go of) these emotions and feelings, the point is to see they are illusions (which naturally leads to letting go).

The result of observing this is not nihilism, the result is compassion and good will which arise naturally as your own attachments and selfishness diminish. It doesn't mean you no longer enjoy pleasant feelings, it means you are not attached to pleasant feelings.

While you are meditating, you may consider certain thoughts and feelings and inwardly remind yourself they are illusions produced by the mind. As you think of a feeling, notice the feeling arise and pass as the thought arises and passes. This observation is necessary to deeply understand from your own experience the illusory nature of these feelings. You must observe that these feelings are illusions because they arise and pass away and have no permanent existence. During daily life, when you feel emotions you can also remind yourself they are illusions produced by the mind.

While noticing the feelings that are produced by thoughts, also notice how the thoughts arise. They arise seemingly by themselves, unasked for, uninvited. Where do they come from? Why do we feel like they are ours when they appear without our seeking them, and without our feeling like we are intentionally constructing them?

Notice that the pleasant quiet state produced by meditation acts like a background, like a movie screen that is constant, while different thoughts and feelings appear and disappear like a movie, which is not real, which is just pictures of things not real things themselves.

Some strong emotions might not pass away quickly. In that case, work with lesser emotions. Also meditating more can help to weaken strong emotions by putting you in a pleasant quiet state of mind. Also, some emotions are produced by biochemical factors rather than thoughts. For example sometimes anxiety or depression is not caused by thoughts but by biochemistry. In these cases, the feelings will not pass when a thought passes because they are not produced by a thought. In this situation, one should just be aware that the feeling of dislike for depression or anxiety is an illusion produced by the mind.

Try not to become attached to doing this perfectly, or to always maintaining a pleasant quiet state in meditation, or to always completely letting go of feelings. These attachments themselves are feelings you should notice just like any other feeling.

Here are some feelings (and also sensations, which are treated as feelings) you may want to consider:

  • The feeling, "I like this thing," is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "I don't like this thing," is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "I want this thing," is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "I don't want this thing," is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • A feeling, if it unpleasant or painful, is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • A feeling, if it pleasant, is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of anguish is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of happiness is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of anger is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of hate is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of envy is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of jealousy is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of winning is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of losing is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being a winner is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being a loser is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being inferior in status is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being superior in status is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being better at something or in some way is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being worse at something or in some way is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of pride is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of guilt is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The quality of color, which cannot be explained to someone who is color blind, is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • Sound, which cannot be explained to someone who is deaf is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • Seeing, which cannot be explained to someone who is blind is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • Hearing, which cannot be explained to someone who is deaf is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of warmth or heat is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of coolness or cold is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The sensation of taste is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The sensation of smell is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • Sensations perceived through the senses are illusions produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being smart is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being stupid is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being right is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of being wrong is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "my body is me" is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "my body is mine" is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "my thoughts are me" is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "my thoughts are mine" is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "my emotions are me" is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling, "my emotions are mine" is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of self is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of not wanting to have unpleasant feelings is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of wanting to be perfect is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of wanting to maintain perfect equanimity is an illusion produce by the mind.
  • The feeling of wanting to get enlightenment is an illusion produced by the mind.
  • The feeling of wanting to be enlightened is an illusion produced by the mind.

The word "feeling" is used repeatedly for a distinct purpose. It is to help you keep in mind that you should be considering feelings. For example, anger can be thought of as a feeling, but it can also be thought of as a behavior. The feeling of anger is the aspect one should notice in this practice.

As you practice this way, you may begin to see that all feelings are produced by the mind and thus illusions. For example, the feelings of warmth and coolness do not exist as part of the physical universe. Those feelings only exist in the mind of a conscious being. Those feelings are produced by the mind, they are illusions like a movie on a screen. This is true of everything you can perceive. Colors, sounds, textures, everything. Even the feeling of self is also an illusion.

Perceptions such as vision are illusions. With vision, the images produced are generated by the mind (the brain). What we see is not an objective representation of the physical world around us. It is only a representation produced by reflected, emitted or transmitted light. The limits of our eyes to detect certain wavelengths of light, to focus light, to perceive small amounts of light, and to function under excessive light, all constrain what we perceive. What we see is no more real than a photograph. Analogous situations exist for all the senses. All of the reality we perceive inside and outside us is an illusion produced by the mind.

As I wrote above, the result of observing this is not nihilism, the result is compassion and good will which arise naturally as your own attachments and selfishness (attachment to self) diminish. It doesn't mean you no longer enjoy pleasant feelings, it means you are not attached to pleasant feelings. Also, learning to notice and be aware of your feelings and to consciously name them can help you improve your understanding of our own psychology and can help you let go of previously suppressed emotions.


Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Solutions to Spiritual Problems


It is very common for people to have spiritual problems that they can't seem to find satisfying answers to. For example, someone who is afraid of death may want to know what the evidence for the afterlife is. Other common problems are, "What is the purpose of life?" and "Why is there so much suffering in the world?" There are very good answers to these questions but this article is about a different aspect to these problems.

These questions are often verbal expressions that are caused by feelings. When a person has a feeling and tries to put it into words, it can seem like something that needs to be solved through reason and information. However, when the question is really an expression of a feeling, reason and information may not influence the feeling and so the person is perpetually unsatisfied with whatever answer he may encounter.

This is because feelings are sometimes caused by the levels of various chemicals in the brain. Information may not alter the levels of these chemicals and so information may not change the feeling and therefore no answer is ever found satisfactory.

However, it may be possible to eliminate the feeling by changing the chemistry in the brain through some combination of diet, meditation, and exercise. When that happens the question disappears and in that way the problem is solved. I have written another post about methods that may be used to change brain chemistry in my article: A System for Spiritual Development: Hacking Your Brain Chemistry Without Drugs.

Altering your brain chemistry can help you understand many spiritual truths that you might have read about. This is because many spiritual truths are feelings put into words. They have to be felt to be understood.


Copyright © 2018 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Relaxation and Enlightenment



Contents

Introduction
How I Practice Buddhism
Further Reading
Try it Yourself


Introduction

On an internet forum I participate in, someone asked "Can Enlightenment be taught?". My thoughts on this subject are influenced by my understanding of Buddhism and my own experiences meditating. In Buddhism, the term in the language of the sutras is better translated as "awakening" than enlightenment. There are stages of awakening and the final goal of spiritual practice is to end suffering for the practitioner. (In Buddhism, pain is considered different from suffering. Pain is a physical sensation, suffering is mental anguish. When I write about suffering here I am referring to mental anguish, ie unpleasant emotions.)

My own meditation practice has evolved over time and it has become something very different from what is typically taught by Buddhist teachers. So much so that I posted on the Dharma Overground, a forum for Buddhist practitioners, and asked if what I was doing was even Buddhism. I found out that what I was doing is Buddhism but Buddhist practice is not typically explained in the way I did. It seems to me that my approach is easier to learn and to practice than the traditional methods of teaching. It doesn't involve any abstruse philosophical concepts, the practices are easy to do, they don't require intense concentration, and there are a huge variety that you can choose from.

Buddhist practice centers around learning to let go of attachments and aversion because these mental constructs are the source of mental anguish which constitutes suffering. The key question of Buddhist practice is: How does one learn to let go of attachments and aversions? Different schools offer different solutions. They are based on traditional methods and often involve abstruse philosophical concepts.

Back to Contents


How I Practice Buddhism

My answer to the question uses modern knowledge of how the nervous system works. To understand this, consider what it would be like to not experience suffering. Nothing could cause you mental anguish. Anything could happen, and you would be serene and relaxed.

The term for "suffering" in the language of the sutras is "dukkha" and if you google "dukkha = stress", you will find that stress is sometimes used as a translation for dukkha. So one way to understand Buddhism is that the end result of the practice is to end stress. If you look carefully within when you experience any type of unpleasant emotion you will see that it is a form of stress. If you can relax deeply, the emotion, the mental anguish, will dissipate. Maybe you have noticed that sometimes when you wake up from sleep you feel good and it takes a few seconds to remember a big problem you are in the middle of and then you feel unhappy or stressed again? That is because deep relaxation causes unpleasant emotions to dissipate. When you are having a big problem do you ever just want to lie down in bed? That is because when you are deeply relaxed, on the edge of sleep, you don't feel unpleasant emotions as strongly.

So if you could understand how the body switches from "stress" to "relaxation" and learn how to control that switch, you could develop a system where you could cultivate your ability to turn the switch to "relaxation" and keep it there even when you are in normal waking consciousness.

Because of this, I would say that yes, enlightenment can be taught, because people can learn to control the neurological switch between stress and relaxation. In modern society people experience a lot of stress. The nervous system becomes better at what it does more often, so people become unbalanced, they become stressed very easily and find it hard to relax. This process can be reversed. By practicing meditation and other relaxation techniques, a person can learn to relax very easily and over time become more and more resistant to stress.

However, I don't really think the terms "enlightenment" or "awakening" are useful or helpful. I use these words here because other people use them and if I want to communicate I have to use the terms they do. But in Buddhism, the end goal is the end of suffering (nirvana), awakening is a description of some of the states that precede it. My opinion is that recognizing enlightenment in a system of development is counterproductive because people become distracted by and it interferes with the practice. So I don't use the term in my own system of practice. Each person can tell if they are stressed or suffering and they understand their own ability to relax and stay relaxed.

The advantage of looking at Buddhist practice from the perspective of relaxation is that it is easy to understand. There are no complicated philosophical concepts like non-self, dependent origination, non-symbolic consciousness, or Buddha nature. And it is easy to measure your progress, you know at anytime if you are feeling stress. You can tell if a practice is helping you immediately. You don't have to hope that something mystical will happen years in the future. And you can use many different relaxation techniques developed by other traditions or modern doctors and scientists. You can use the techniques that work best for you.

(It is also important to understand that sometimes emotions are produced by biological processes. For example, in some cases depression or anxiety is caused by abnormal brain chemistry and a purely mental technique will not cure it. However, any secondary emotional reactions like anger at being depressed, can be helped by relaxation.)

Back to Contents


Further Reading

I have several articles on my blog and web site that describe the practices I have found to be helpful:

Back to Contents

Try it Yourself

If you want to try this type of practice, start meditating or doing relaxation exercises. The articles above offer many techniques to choose from. Find the ones that work best for you. Some may work best when you are highly stressed, other may be best when you are only slightly stressed.

The key to this practice is to experience how relaxing makes you feel better. Notice your emotional state after you do the relaxation exercises. Once you see that relaxing reduces unpleasant emotions and makes you feel better, you will naturally turn to relaxation when you are suffering. It doesn't take will power any more than taking aspirin for a headache does. You do it because you know from experience that it offers relief.

Develop the habit of meditating or doing some type of relaxation exercise every day. It doesn't have to be the same technique every time. Just lean how to relax, get to know what it feels like to be relaxed, see if you can stay relaxed. Noticing what causes you to stop being relaxed will help you learn how to stay relaxed. In time your ability to relax and stay relaxed will improve. You will experience fewer unpleasant emotions, less mental anguish, and less suffering.

Back to Contents


Copyright © 2018 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Focusing the Mind Can Help You Relax


There is an article at artofmanliness.com which describes a method they claim will allow you to fall asleep in 2 minutes or less. I can't verify that it works in 2 minutes or less, but it is very similar to a technique I use to help myself get to sleep. What is interesting about this technique is that it can also be used to help you reach deeper states of relaxation during meditation. By practicing the technique as you are going to sleep, you can learn to recognize how it helps you reach deep states of relaxation and experiencing how that works can help you do something similar during meditation.

Here is an excerpt from the article which explains the technique:

The course also aimed to teach “combat aviators to be able to go to sleep in two minutes any time, day or night, under any and all conditions”; instruction in this skill was included to ensure that pilots got adequate sleep, and could sneak in extra shuteye whenever possible.

To accomplish the first goal, Winter taught the men how to physically relax. To accomplish the second, he taught them how to mentally relax. In fact, he essentially defined sleep as the state of being both physically and mentally relaxed.

...

The key to falling asleep quick is thus to stop the train of thoughts that is usually rumbling through your head. You have to stop ruminating on the regrets, worries, and problems of the day.

...

So, when you’re looking to nod off, you just want to fill your head with the stillest, calmest of contemplations. Winter suggests three good ones to use, though you don’t have to use all three; just pick one, and if it doesn’t work, try another:

“First, we want you to fantasize that it is a warm spring day and you are lying in the bottom of a canoe on a very serene lake. You are looking up at a blue sky with lazy, floating clouds. Do not allow any other thought to creep in. Just concentrate on this picture and keep foreign thoughts out, particularly thoughts with any movement or motion involved. Hold this picture and enjoy it for ten seconds.

...

In the second sleep-producing fantasy, imagine that you are in a big, black, velvet hammock and everywhere you look is black. You must also hold this picture for ten seconds.

...

The third trick is to say the words ‘don’t think . . . don’t think . . . don’t think,’ etc. Hold this, blanking out other thoughts for at least ten seconds.”

The article gives more details of the technique and references a book that explains it even more fully. I haven't read the book so I can't verify if the claims of "two minutes or less" and "ten seconds" are true. But when you are going to sleep it can be very instructive if you try meditate by counting the breath and notice that if you focus your mind on thinking the numbers, you will find yourself becoming more and more relaxed, but if your mind wanders onto the problems of the day, you don't. If you can notice that phenomenon as you are falling asleep, try to achieve a similar effect as you meditate to get to a relaxed state in meditation. When you notice that maintaining concentration during meditation helps you relax, you have a system of feedback that will help you to learn to relax more effectively during meditation.


Copyright © 2018 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.