Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Present Moment

If you want increased freedom from dukkha, increased freedom from the fetters, you have to stop wanting things to be different from the way they are now.

That means you have to accept the present moment as it is, embrace it, abide in it, relax into it. Including the dukkha and the fetters. "Everything's perfect just as it is".

When you meditate on see, hear, feel, you learn to observe dukkha thinking, fetter thinking, to accept it, and to gently extract your mind from it, to gently let go, and you train your mind to abide in the present moment instead.

In time you become intimately familiar with the difference in the two modes of consciousness and you can feel how dwelling in the present moment is liberating.


Copyright © 2021 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

A Path, Part II

(You can read Part I either before or after you read this article.)

The Buddha taught that samatha and vipassana should be developed together.

The following is a way to practice both that has worked well for me.

Samatha

  • Prepare for meditation with relaxation exercises.

    Relaxation = letting go = equanimity.

    You should experience great benefit each day from this practice alone.

  • Do a form of relaxing meditation to make the mind quiet and peaceful.

    Again, just practicing this way should provide great benefits to your well being each day you practice by increasing serenity and equanimity.

    The relaxed mind/body is in a condition where you can use it to study itself. You can be mindful without getting carried away by thoughts, emotions, impulses, and sensations and without being drawn into them so you forget to be an observer.

When you do the following forms of vipassana practice while meditating and in daily life, don't forget to maintain the pleasant relaxed state of mind produced by samatha practice. That state of pleasant abiding is the platform from which you should practice vipassana.

Vipassana

  • While meditating, and most importantly in daily life, observe the activity of the mind. Notice thoughts, emotions, impulses, sensations coming into awareness and fading out of awareness. Observe the mind as suffering (unpleasant emotions, emotional anguish, stress) arises and fades away. Notice the physical sensations in your body that accompany emotions.

    You will see that thoughts, emotions, impulses and sensations arise from unconscious processes. You don't create them, they are not you or yours. Every time you notice your mind wandering during meditation you are reminded that you don't control your mind. You are not your mind.

    You may seem to be just an observer of the activity in your mind and of events in your environment.

  • Try to observe the observer. You will see that this observer, the self, the concept of self, is just like everything else in the mind. It arises from unconscious processes. It is not you or yours. The self is a mirage.

  • Keep observing the observer,

    Observing the activity of the mind and observing the observer, produces a detachment toward thoughts, emotions, impulses, sensations, and to things, events, and to the self.

    This detachment can help you learn to surrender - to learn to stop resisting cognitive dissonance, to accept thoughts you don't want to think and emotions you don't want to feel. Often these thoughts and emotions are about the self. Surrender produces more detachment. You begin to give up attitudes, poses, prejudices, aspects of your personality (including pride, vanity, arrogance) that are extra, that you took on in an attempt to create a satisfactory self.

  • Sense of self - When you see from the point of view of a detached observer, that the activity of the mind, including the sense of self, arises from unconscious processes and they are not you or yours, you realize that it is this lack of detached observation that led you to develop your sense of self. It is getting carried away by thoughts and emotions, being a participant rather than an observer, that allowed that sense of self to arise.

  • Separation - You also can see that craving and disliking led you develop a sense of separation between self and not-self. You considered things you like to be you and yours (your body, your mind, your thoughts, your family, your favorite sport team, your car). And you considered things you don't like to not be you and yours. This is what caused you to make a separation between self and non-self. As your equanimity and detachment develop, you will find that craving and disliking diminish and the feeling of separation fades.

  • Keep observing the observer to work this understanding into your world view, into those unconscious processes that produce thoughts emotions impulses and thoughts of self.

Additional Comments

The type of non-attachment this path produces does not cause you to ignore problems or make you callous. It allows you to act with reason and compassion and prevents out-of-control emotions and impulses from influencing your judgement.

Some people go through this process gradually without experiencing a big sudden change at any point in time. Other people do feel they experience a big sudden change at certain points. This has created a lot of confusion. So understand that a "big sudden change" is not necessary, does not occur for everybody, and expecting it can be unhelpful for some people. Just relax, quiet the mind with meditation, observe the activity of the mind: thoughts emotions, impulses, and sensations. Notice suffering arising and ending. Observe the observer. Surrender. Notice how observing the activity of the mind undermines the sense of self, and how detachment reduces liking and disliking and that undermines the sense of separation.

The Buddha likened consciousness to a magicians trick.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.095.than.html

"Now suppose that a magician or magician's apprentice were to display a magic trick at a major intersection, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a magic trick? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any consciousness that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in consciousness?

"Seeing thus, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he grows dispassionate.


Copyright © 2021 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Path

Someone on an internet discussion forum asked about the best path. I replied with something like this:

In my opinion the purpose of meditation is not to achieve a breakthrough, it is to prepare the mind for investigating the origin of dukkha and the cessation of dukkha in daily life.  Understanding the origin and cessation of dukkha in your own mind is what causes change.
  • Relax - Deactivate the sympathetic nervous system. Activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

  • Stay Lucid - Observe thoughts and emotions without getting carried away by them. Be in the moment. Engage your mind in something that does not involve letting your mind wander or problem solving (See Hear Feel Deactivate the default mode network in the brain.). Do not suppress thoughts and emotions, let them come and go, notice the feelings in your body that may accompany them. In this way you will learn how dukkha arises and ceases.

  • Surrender - Relax and stop resisting reality, stop mentally fighting against the way things really are, against things you don't like. This doesn't mean you ignore problems, it means you work for solutions in a compassionate rational way rather than letting unpleasant emotions cloud your judgement.

Do this as a formal practice but also develop the habit of doing this in daily life when possible. When you practice in daily life you train your mind to be awakened (not to attain awakening). Practicing in daily life does not mean you don't engage your mind in other things. You can allocate time to solve problems, think about your emotions, plan for the future etc. these activities are not "bad", but you don't have to let them take over your mind.

How does this produce awakening?

As you learn how dukkha arises and ceases, you will become better at not producing it and letting go of it if you do produce it. If meditation elevates your mood, it makes you more open to accepting that dukkha is produced by the mind and not by circumstances or events.

Awakening = The process of letting go of attachments and aversions (including attachments to self, attachments to awakening, and attachments to pleasant feelings produced by meditation) = Ending dukkha. Awakening is not something that arises instantaneously in a perfected state. It is something that develops over a lifetime.

Attachments and aversions express themselves as unpleasant emotions such as disliking and craving.

When you are relaxed, you are not experiencing any unpleasant emotion ie. you are not experiencing dukkha. You can develop the ability to relax as a skill that you can become better at with practice. This is equivalent to learning to let go. Upekkha, letting go or equanimity, is the seventh of the seven factors of awakening.

One reason it is important not to suppress thoughts and emotions during meditation is because many attachments and aversions exist in the mind as faint mental impressions that have large effects on our emotions and actions.  In order to let go of them you must be aware of them. Surrender. Observe thoughts and emotions as they arise but also don't let them take over your mind. Stay lucid. When your mind is not wandering, it is not getting carried away by attachments and aversions and not producing dukkha. Dukkha requires some type of cognition to arise in the mind.

(This does not apply to emotions due to purely organic causes such as some types of anxiety and depression but it could apply to a person's attitudes toward having to live with anxiety and depression.)


Copyright © 2021 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Willoughby Britton

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Willoughby Britton. Dr. Britton is a psychologist who studies the effects of meditation on mental health. In the interview she describes how intensive meditation retreats can cause serious mental illnesses. I am an advocate of meditation but I believe too much can be harmful and beginners should be informed of that and other risks involved. I have written about this aspect of meditation on my web site.

The excerpt was originally found on buddhistgeeks.com but it is no longer there.

http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/09/bg-232-the-dark-night-project

However it can be found on the internet archive:

http://web.archive.org/web/20160213012433/http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/09/bg-232-the-dark-night-project/

Here is the interview excerpt:

There tends to be an, I would say, increased sampling rate of reality. So your ability to notice things has increased.

And that might be pretty fun on retreat but when people get off retreat they still have so much information coming into their systems that it can feel very overwhelming, like stimulus overload. And along those same lines a lot of increase in sensory clarity and sensory threshold. So meaning that you can hear much softer sounds which also means that louder sounds sound louder and you might even feel them in a different sense.

Like a truck might feel like it’s actually driving through your whole body rather than just hearing it and that goes with every sound. So that’s the sort of cognitive effect. They tend to be very just overwhelming and disorienting. I would say one of the most, besides sort of sensory overload, one of the most common central features–it’s not everyone but its pretty close, which is a change in the way people experience their sense of self.

And this can be an attenuation in self or it can be a complete dropping away. And even though you can read about this and think that this might be the goal of the contemplative path. For a lot of people it’s very very scary when that happens. And so when I mean dropping the sense of self, it can be a lack of a feeling like there’s anybody controlling. So one word are coming out of the mouth like who would be speaking them. When you move your arms and legs and walk it’s not really sure who decided that. When somebody ask you a question there’s almost a panic feeling because you don’t know who’s going to answer the question. There’s a sort of temporal disintegration. So the sense of time can fall apart, along with that your sense of a narrative self over time. Part of the sense of self is about being able to have continuity over time. And if you just don’t have that kind of sense of past and future and you only have a sense of now, your sense of self just by not having a past and a future and being able to imagine that can be sort of truncated and attenuated.

And then temporal disintegration can kind of go even further beyond that where people almost like they’re waking up in a new reality every several minutes. And they don’t really have any way of describing the reality that came before that and it can be very disorienting. You can wake up and really have to study your environment to figure out who you’re talking to and what the conversation is about. You can learn to get good at that, but it’s pretty disorienting for a while. And then I don’t know if this go in order but I think that the most common symptom, it’s hard to say but again these are all really common, but one of the most common symptoms is fear. And the lost of the sense of self I think is very tied in with this fear. And people can have really phenomenal levels of fear. I mean really just existential primal fear.

And what’s interesting about this fear and what I think seems to differentiate it from a lot of other kinds of fears is that it doesn’t seem to have any reference point. It just comes out of nowhere. It can be very debilitating. And then along with fear spectrum you also anxiety and agitation and panic and paranoia. Those are pretty common. Then there’s a sort of affective dimension. Affective is emotional. And the affective dimension seems to go in both directions. There can be a massive lability.

Your emotions can get really high in both direction both manic manifestations, euphoria, sometimes grandiosity and also the worst depression, meaninglessness, nihilism the other end of things can also happen. In addition to that, people can also just lose all affect all together. They don’t feel anything. Things become numb. So it’s a pretty wide range of changes. But I don’t think anyone has gone through, anyone that we’ve interviewed hasn’t had some kind change in their emotional life.

And usually it’s sort of an eruption of emotional material. So that comes to the next level which is a de-repression of the psychological material. Very often it can be traumatic material but it can also just be whatever can be traumatic in our lives. It doesn’t necessarily have to be memories of death or abuse or something that would sort of classify as classic trauma. It can just be whatever our particular psychological knots are. They seemed to come up with practice in a way that doesn’t necessarily seem to be contained to the cushion. It’s almost like you tear something open and then it’s just open. That’s the sort of affective dimension. And then the last dimension is physiological. So there seems to be a lot of physiological changes which are really surprising to a lot of people.

So things like general musculoskeletal body pain, headaches, and very strange sensations. Because we told people not to use the word energy so we got a lot of metaphors. So things like being plugged into a wall, like having a thousand volts running through you. There are a lot of electricity type metaphors. And then finally we gave up because people just kept using the word energy. So it’s not really a scientific word but it seems to measure something so some kind of movement sensation in the body. Vibrations a lot of different kinds of vibration. Changes in temperature. People are having really hot flashes and burning sensations. And then the one that I am really fascinated by because everything that we’ve been talking about up until this point has been subjective, like you can’t really see it on somebody. But the last category is involuntary movements. They look like convulsions. People twitch. They report feeling like a lightning bolt going through them but you can actually see it. This is something that you could actually take a video of. Their arms flap. Grimacing; different kinds of facial ticks and contortions. That’s kind of the laundry list. Oh yeah, I forgot one whole category, which is perceptional changes. And perceptional changes along with this faster sampling rate there also seems to be I don’t know if I would call them hallucinations but experiences in every sensory modality especially visual lights.

So that would be a perceptional change. So the lights again are particularly interesting to me because they tend to differentiate a spiritual experience from a potentially psychiatric situation. But seeing pinpoints of light, people call them Christmas lights, they might be different colors or lightning of the visual field in general. I should say that all of these symptoms or sorry, experiences, these are not just things that are happening on the cushion during meditation. These are things that are happening off the cushion which is where this starts to become difficult. They’re fine when they’re on the cushion. But you need to go to work and these are happening. People are having involuntary movements at their desk at work and you know eruption of emotions that’s where it becomes difficult is when it comes into your daily life. And the other thing that was very surprising to me was the duration of symptoms.

So I asked people how long did this last and how did this affect your life to a point where it was really difficult for you to work or take care of children. So we call that clinical impairment. So far in our sample the average amount of time that somebody is impaired so this is not just how long this experiences last but how long they are to the point of interfering with daily functioning. The average amount of time was 3.4 years. It’s actually quite a long time and there’s a huge range in that duration. And so sort of the next wave of research is trying to figure out what determines that duration. So people seemed to go through these experiences fairly quickly like under a year and other people can last a decade. So we’re trying to figure out what are some of the factors that might predict that.

An article on pennlive.com describes how a meditation retreat caused a woman to kill herself:

https://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/06/york_county_suicide_megan_vogt.html

She had heard about the benefits of meditation from friends on the West Coast and wanted to try it, with the hopes it could illuminate her future.

...

Vogt wasn't the first to die by suicide after a meditation retreat, according to experts who are aware of other cases. And she wasn't the first to go into psychosis or experience serious mental issues after taking a grueling course, which can involve 10 hours a day of strict meditation.

...

While Megan had anxiety and was taking medication for it, she was never previously suicidal, her parents said.


Copyright © 2021 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Bhante Vimalaramsi

Here is an excerpt about Bhante Vimalaramsi. It discusses his belief that the standard way vipassana mediation is taught does not lead to the effects described by the Buddha.

It was originally found on his web site but it is no longer there:

https://www.dhammasukha.org/ven-bhante-vimalaramsi.html

However, it can be found on the internet archive:

http://web.archive.org/web/20190630055409/https://www.dhammasukha.org/ven-bhante-vimalaramsi.html

Bhante Vimalaramsi is an American monk who was ordained in Northern Thailand in 1986 at the age of 40. He left the USA to seek awakening through meditation in the early 80's and decided to let go of all of his material possessions. Before this starting in 1974 he engaged in Vipassana courses in California and even lived and worked at a meditation center in San Jose, California to 1977.

Bhante Vimalaramsi has studied with many famous teachers in Asia. Among them are Venerable U Pandita, U Lakkhana, U Silananda, U Janaka, U Dhammananda, U Dhammapia and he met Mahasi Sayadaw. He further studied with The Mingun Sayadaw, who had memorized the entire Tripitaka and Sayadaw U Thatilla. Other teachers he spent longer periods of time with were the late Most Ven K Sri Dhammananda, Venerable Punnaji, Ajahn Yanitra, Ajahn Buddhadasa, Ajahn Cha Lee, and Ajahn Santititho.

Bhante practiced Vipassana very intensely his first 20 years under an American teacher and in Burma, under U Pandita and U Janaka. Finally around 1990 he was told that he had achieved the endpoint of the practice, as it was taught by the Sayadaws, and now he should go teach. He didn't feel comfortable that he had really found the end of suffering. He felt he did not have the true personality change that awakening should bring, even after going through the 16 levels of Insight or knowledges, as outlined by Mahasi Sayadaw in Progress of Insight.

Changing Direction

From 1991 to 2000 he dedicated himself to "direct experience through study of the suttas and meditation practice". At first he stayed with K. Sri Dhammananda in Malaysia and taught Metta meditation. Then he had a real change in direction with his meeting of a Sri Lankan senior monk, Bhante Punnaji, also in Malaysia. His advice was to ‘study the suttas directly and to let go of relying on commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga'. Specifically he said, ‘Read only the suttas, then practice'. This was very significant because the commentaries were influencing how he was seeing the entirety of the Dhamma, at the time. It was suggested to put them aside while he studied the suttas as a standalone system. Nanavira in the early sixties, suggested this and then Stephen Batchelor also talked about just using only the suttas in his book "A Buddhist Atheist".

When Bhante began to do this, he discovered first hand, the interwoven nature of the Teachings. In each sutta he found the elements of the 4 Noble Truths, the 8-Fold Path, and the impersonal process of Dependent Origination. Dependent Origination or Paticcasamupada is the core of the Buddha's teachings. He realized that the word sutta literally meant "thread" and that the threads together, created a finely woven cloth, whereas, one single thread does not equal a cloth! Through his own objective first hand experience, the 8-Fold Path began to come alive. When he realized the secret of the teachings was on his doorstep he took the Majjhima Nikaya to a cave in Thailand and spent 3 months, living with a cobra as company, reading and then practicing just what the suttas said. In very little time, he said, he had gone deeper in his meditation, than ever before. What started as two weeks to study suttas turned into three months of deep practice. Out of this was born TWIM or Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation completely based on the suttas in the Majjhima Nikaya. He found the Jhanas had an entirely different explanation and experience. Nibbana was possible!


Copyright © 2021 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

No-self is not Nihilistic

Someone in a discussion forum commented that the doctrine of no-self made them depressed. I think they might have been reacting to this article which I posted to the forum before blogging it here.

I replied that "no-self" doesn't give me that feeling at all. I wrote:

Buddha never said there is no self, he just said that none of the things we form attachments to should be considered self because they are impermanent and not completely under our control. And being attached to them inevitably leads to suffering so that we will be happier if we give up those attachments.

It is a recipe for happiness not an argument for nihilism.

To me it means I don't have to suffer from attachments to self - which is the cause of all mental anguish. Imagine that, no more mental anguish. To me that is wonderful. Like on the same level as "Jesus Saves" is to Christians.

(I am a Spiritualist and I believe in an afterlife. Buddha also believed in an afterlife. Where is there room for nihilism in that?)

Here is one way to understand no self:

  • Close your eyes notice the feeling of your body, your thoughts, your emotions, they create a sense of you being in your body, a sense of you as the entity having a body, having thoughts and having emotions. (When I do this I get a sense that I am observing a person in my body who has a mood (whatever my mood is at the time) and that person is me - someone else might experience it differently.)

  • Now open your eyes and look around you and notice what you see. Now you are aware of only what you see, you are not thinking of your body, or your thoughts, or your emotions, and those things are not producing a feeling of you being in your body.

Is that so bad? If you have physical discomfort or emotional pain, focusing outside yourself will ease the emotional anguish more or less depending on your level of concentration. That's good isn't it?

Actually this is an interesting way to practice to understand how the mind produces the sense of self, repeatedly alternating between focusing inward and focusing outward, focusing on feeling self, focusing on not feeling self.

Noting (a type of vipassana or insight meditation) has a similar effect. When you are noting, the same phenomena that otherwise contribute to your sense of self: awareness of body, thoughts, emotions etc., are experienced as a series of separate disconnected moments of awareness, so they do not produce the feeling of being a self.

When you suffer, it is because the self-thinking arises, the less you engage in "identity view" the less you suffer. How you use your mind, thinking about the environment outside your body, or observing the phenomenon of consciousness, doesn't change anything about reality. It doesn't prove or disprove anything such as the existence of a soul.  It is simply a different way of looking at the same things - one that greatly diminishes suffering.

This kind of "no-self" is not thinking "I don't exist", it is simply thinking about something other than "myself". Maybe there is a self maybe there isn't, but empirically we know that thinking "myself" results in suffering, so why think of it? Some people might choose to, but others who want to reduce suffering might decide they prefer to train themselves to stop thinking of "myself" all the time.

If you think about it as deactivating the default mode network in the brain and activating the experiential network, you are simply using a natural ability you've always had and been using from time to time all your life.

Or think of it this way: instead of seeing everything filtered through your ego, you can remove the ego filter and see things as they really are:

What it is, is the ability to see without any interruption of the ego, without any filtering of the ego. And since we are all walking around seeing things through our ego filter almost all the time, to suddenly be able to see without that filter is a surprise. But it is nothing that we have ever not had.

They say that the mind of a baby is something that we can compare this to. A baby isn’t seeing things from an egoistic place. It is seeing directly and clear. It is the exact same kind of thing when we are seeing without the ego filter.

- Shodo Harada Roshi

"But it is nothing that we have ever not had."

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Metta Meditation

Metta meditation is a type of meditation that produces feelings of goodwill or love.

Someone on a discussion forum was having trouble with the form of metta meditation they were trying. It wasn't working, and they were asking for help. They didn't like working from a script which reminded them of unpleasant memories of ritual prayer. I suggested the following technique which the person reported worked for them right away.

  • Think of someone you love. Visualize them. Observe the feeling of love you feel for them. It could also be an animal or a spiritual figure. That's all. No script. Just observe the feeling of love you feel for one other being. You don't have to do this during your meditation session, you can try it when you are lying in bed going to sleep.

  • It might not work every time you try it, there are all sorts of things that can interfere with your brain chemistry that can affect it, (diet, stress, etc). If it isn't working on a particular day, don't worry about it just stop and try again on another day. But if it works sometimes, then keep trying every day.

  • After a number of sessions if this works with one being, you can add another being. Over the course of a number of sessions add more people, add people you are not as close to - gradually widening to groups of people and eventually to all beings.

  • Later on, if you want to add a script to help you remember everyone and all the groups, make one up yourself, something that means something to you. But also visualize and observe your feelings. If you feel love at the beginning of a session but the feeling stops before you get to everyone on your list, then stop. Don't push it if you don't feel it. Stick to what you can sincerely feel love for. If that means you stick with one person that's okay. Metta is metta.

  • If you have trouble feeling metta for even one being: Think of yourself, visualize yourself, think of compassion for yourself for all the difficulties you've had in life. Then try to feel love for yourself. If that works, move on to one other being etc. as above. (You can do this for yourself even if you are able to feel love for another being). Again, no script, just visualize and observe  your feelings.

  • If you have trouble finding a being to love, it can be anyone from your past, they don't have to be alive, it can be someone from a novel or movie you feel compassion for, you can even make up a fictional person. The point is to find something that triggers the feeling of love when you think about them. You can even try an object to start with, like maybe your first car. Some people believe all matter is conscious, and everything that exists or existed in the physical plane also exists eternally in the spiritual plane. So whatever you love most can work to get the process started.
If you want to try a more traditional form of metta meditation I recommend the one on this web page:

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

A Quick Guide to Producing Bliss with Meditation

Here is a quick guide to producing bliss with meditation. For more complete instructions and information see my page on meditation on my web site. And please read this section on the dangers of meditation before you try the instructions below.

  • Sit comfortably the way you normally do.

  • Breath in a relaxing way, somewhat deeper and slower than normal. Relax and notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale.

  • The feeling of relaxation is pleasant and if it makes you want to smile, go ahead and continue breathing with a half-smile. That's important because the nervous system is organized into networks of interconnected neurons that work together. Because they are interconnected, when some neurons in a network are activated, the other neurons in the same network become activated too. In this way, smiling triggers the "happy network". 

  • Be patient, let the feeling of wanting to smile come naturally from the pleasant feeling of relaxation, and let the bliss come naturally from the even more pleasant feeling that comes from relaxing and smiling. Be patient. Don't force it. If you feel the pleasant feeling of relaxation, that in itself is the seed of bliss and in a sense you already have bliss, so just let it grow naturally.

  • I find relaxation is more important than concentration. I think in terms of "access relaxation" not "access concentration". So doing relaxation exercises first is very helpful. I usually find bliss is immediately accessible using the above technique when I do these relaxation exercises first: http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2020/08/preparing-for-meditation-with.html

  • There are many things that can influence brain chemistry: stress, diet, etc. so if it doesn't work one day it might on another. Try it a few times and if it works sometimes don't be discouraged if it doesn't work every time.

  • One of the biggest obstacles is wanting to experience it too much, or trying too hard. So if you are sitting and feeling grumpy, stressed, or craving because it is not working, it is definitely not going to work under those conditions. Just meditate to relax, let go of your intention, desire, expectations. Tell yourself, "okay it's not working today I will just meditate and relax". If you feel the bad mood lift after that, it is a good sign, keep at it for a while longer. Once you have experience with this you know when you are doing it right and even if you don't feel bliss you know you are doing it right from the feel which is a big help in dispelling craving and attachment.

A few of other suggestions: 

  • Try this when you are naturally happy. Meditate on the feeling of happiness. That should produce the feedback loop that produces intense bliss. Once you experience that, you understand what is involved and the rest will be easier. I don't think it is that good to routinely push the bliss to intense levels. I prefer to keep it at a constant low level - too much of anything, even bliss is tedious and might not be good for you.

  • Try after a meal because sometimes eating elevates your mood.

  • If you haven't eaten in a long time there is something called a "fasting high", where your mood is elevated from not eating. that can also help give you a boost.

  • Sleep deprivation can make you feel silly, that can give you a boost too (I am not  recommending intentional sleep deprivation).

  • Thinking of something you like can help make you want to smile.

  • Noticing the sensations in different parts of the body can also trigger bliss. Noticing the sensations in your lips might help. Or try turning your palms upward and imagining "energy" coming down into them from above.

  • Metta meditation is similar to the technique for producing bliss. Try thinking of someone you love and meditate on the feeling of love. If that feels nice, let yourself smile and focus on the feeling of pleasure and that can trigger bliss. Be patient.

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Five Aggregates of Clinging

Someone on a discussion forum asked about the five aggregates of clinging. The person asked about their meanings and how to practice with them. I also have a lot of trouble understanding the meanings of the Pali words. There is a good reason for this. The Buddha used the term "aggregates" (piles or heaps) instead of "categories" because they are collections of dissimilar things. That is why they are hard to understand and also hard to remember. We want nice simple easily defined categories that we can understand and remember in one word - but the complexity of reality does not conform to our desires.

Shinzen Young gives a good analogy to explain the aggregates. He says if a TV screen is displaying something white and you look closely at it with a magnifying glass you will not see anything white, you will only see red green and blue pixels.

If you look at self closely you will only see aggregates.

Look closely at self (everything you consider "me" and "mine"). What do you see?

Work out your own aggregates. They don't have to match the orthodox definitions of aggregates because they are aggregates (collections of dissimilar things) not categories. This is good to do because it will make it personal and more meaningful and easier for you to remember. 

This is in part what I see when I look at everything that is "me" or "mine". You might come up with different elements:

  • Body
    • Brain
  • Possessions, other people my friends family etc, my groups I like (sports teams etc), groups I am a member of (ie Americans)
  • Mind:
    • Mental activity: thoughts, emotions, impulses etc
    • Sensory input: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, vibration, rough/smooth, hard/soft, temperature, body sensations including body sensations that accompany emotions.
    • Concepts: I am an entity, a person, an owner (my car), a haver (my friends), a doer, a controller, a thinker, feeler, (just examples: a student a teacher, and employee a boss, a spouse, parent etc etc)

(You can study the orthodox definitions if you want to make sure you have everything covered.)

Look closely at your self and understand everything you consider "me" and "mine".

The next time you experience a egoistic reaction, ask yourself where in those aggregates is the entity that is offended, insulted, threatened, losing, wrong, inferior, rejected, etc?

Is a thought an entity? Is an emotion an entity? Is a brain cell an entity? Is a concept an entity?

Everything that can be considered self, if looked at closely, is made up of things that are clearly not any type of being or entity.

The full term is not "the five aggregates" the full term is "the five aggregates of clinging".

All those things that make up self (things that are "me" or "mine") are the things that we cling to that cause us suffering.

But what is the use in clinging to the aggregates if there is no entity or being in them?

Can you let go of all those things?

Ouch!

The pain of letting go is really the pain of not wanting to let go, and it is similar to the pain of actual loss.

Just contemplating letting go is hard. It produces a distinct feeling.

When you examine this feeling, you see it is the same as the common factor found all forms of dukkha. "I don't like this.", "I don't want this.", and more or less fear.

By recognizing this feeling in unpleasant emotions that arise during the day you recognize it as the feeling of letting go, or a reminder that you should let go.

Letting go.

My advice on how to learn to let go has multiple features.

  • Observe the emotional pain and be conscious of the cause.

  • Try to see how emotional pain is caused by attachment to "self", and how unnecessary that is because there is no "entity" in any of the components that combine to form your sense of self.

  • At the same time use some type of relaxation, meditation, or mindfulness technique to ease the emotional pain and reduce the stress response, but not to suppress thoughts or emotions.

  • Shinzen Young describes a similar process he calls purification. He says it is an acquired taste like the taste for spicy food. Spiciness is caused because the spice molecules bind directly to pain receptors. Spiciness is pure pain. But just like you can learn to like spicy food, you can learn to like letting go. It is a change in attitude. Instead of looking at emotional pain as something to avoid, if you look at it as the path to freedom, everything changes and you start to appreciate it rather than run away from it. Shinzen advises that equanimity can be maintained by not pushing away thoughts and emotions while at the same time not getting carried away by them, and not judging people, yourself, or your thoughts and emotions.

I will discuss the process of letting go in greater detail below, but it is helpful to have an understanding of how the process works before getting into the details. The following overview should provide that understanding.

Overview of letting go:

  • Let yourself feel unpleasant emotions, don't push them away.

  • But don't let them go uncontrolled or let your stress reaction go uncontrolled.

  • Be a detached observer not a participant.

  • Don't judge.

  • Soothe unpleasant emotions with meditation and other techniques.

  • Mentally review the situation and any sensations that caused the emotion.

  • Dig deeper for layers of emotions covering other emotions.

  • Understand that feeling emotional pain is needed to let go of it and that letting go leads to freedom.

  • Try to see how emotional pain is caused by attachment to "self", and how unnecessary that is because there is no "entity" in any of the components that combine to form your sense of self (bodily tissues, individual thoughts, individual emotions, etc.).

  • Accepting the pain is preferable to resisting it.

  • There is a great reward for putting aside your ego. Surrender is smart.

The goal of letting go is to be able to think of or experience a situation with much less emotional pain.

It can be difficult to recognize when you are paying too much attention to unpleasant emotions or not paying enough attention to them. Too much of either is not good. Each person has to work this out for themself. Here are some things to consider when letting go of attachments that cause unpleasant emotions.

  • Try to be relaxed.

  • Notice the emotion. "Notice the emotion" means you let yourself feel the emotion, but it doesn't mean you let it get out of control or that you let your stress levels get out of control. At the same time you are feeling the emotion, try to soothe it, or calm it by breathing in a relaxed way or using some similar technique. But don't push it away or suppress it.

  • Notice the sensations in your body that accompany the emotion. If you notice any tension in your body try to relax it.

  • Try keep an attitude of being a detached observer rather than getting caught up in the emotion as if you were watching a move and forgot where you were and were so caught up in the movie you thought it was real. Remember you are observing your emotions. They arise from the unconscious unasked for uninvited. You don't have to believe they are reality.

  • Don't judge other people, yourself, sensations, thoughts or emotions.

  • Notice that common factor in all dukkha - it makes unpleasant emotions easier to bear because it is familiar.

  • Remind yourself, "This emotion is showing me an attachment, I should let go. Letting go leads to freedom."

  • Try to see how emotional pain is caused by attachment to "self", and how unnecessary that is because there is no "entity" in any of the components that combine to form your sense of self (bodily tissues, individual thoughts, individual emotions, etc., which are all governed by unconscious processes). Notice that emotional pain is caused when something that produces the sense of self is threatened. Why do you have these painful attachments when there is no actual entity in any of those things that are threatened? Ask yourself, what you are protecting, the atoms that make up your body? A thought or emotion that arises by unconscious processes unasked for and uninvited?

  • While trying to stay relaxed, review in your mind the situation that the emotion is about, any physical sensations that are involved such as unpleasant sounds, smells, physical pain, emotional sensations, the feeling of "I don't like this" etc. Relax any tensions that arise. Doing this reduces the force of the emotion. It conditions you to think about it without reacting with an unpleasant emotions. This is what "letting go" means. Letting go is not forgetting. It is not suppressing. Letting go is being able to think about something without emotional pain.

  • Ask yourself why you feel the emotion and repeat the question to dig through layers of answers. Repeat the above review process for the answers you find.

  • Surrender - Acknowledge the truth of the situation, admit those things about the situation or yourself that you don't really want to admit, and accept them.

  • There are various techniques that will elevate your mood, lessen the intensity of emotions, and/or reduce the stress response. They can be used in two ways: easing the pain of emotions can reduce them to the point where they don't bother you at all, or reducing them to the point where it is easier to review them and let go. Each person has to figure out for themself which use is appropriate at a given time. These techniques involve:

This is how you let go of emotions, noticing them calmly while you are relaxing and easing their effect, allowing yourself to feel them, and understanding their source.

Letting go will set you free.

Awakening is the process of letting go of attachments to self.

Practicing this way in daily life with dukkha as it arises is more important than understanding the orthodox definitions of the aggregates. If you want to find everything that belongs in the aggregates, you can work backward from your emotions to see what you are clinging to.

The Buddha understood the pain of letting go. That is why he taught meditation and mindfulness techniques that help to us to bear the pain of unpleasant emotions.

Samatha meditation produces tranquility and gladdens the mind. Jhanas produce bliss. Metta is really a lot like jhana. Mindfulness greatly reduces the intensity of emotions.

  • Samatha meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system which turns off stress.

  • Mindfulness deactivates the default mode network in the brain which has the effect of greatly reducing unpleasant emotions.

  • Jhana and Metta meditation cause the brain to produce neurotransmitters and endorphins, and lower levels of stress hormones.

Practicing this way can produce a gradual awakening without the need for mystical "enlightenment experiences" or "realizations".


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