Entries in practical dharma (21)


An Early Practical Dharma

This book by Champat Rai Jain was published in 1929.  The translated title is The Practical Dharma.  My bookmark is on Chapter IX: Dharma in Practice.  This is the second edition of the book, the orginal went by the title Practial Path.  Unfortunately, you will not be able to buy this book. 

Today I am cleaning up my office.  I moved many of my books upstairs to the attic.  I have a Kindle and think one day, I may be able to release my attachment to books (ha! they'll just be hidden in cyberspace, my attachment will be the same).  At least my office space will look neater.  First we moved our music into digital space and soon I think "writings" (books) will go the same way.  Perhaps using the Kindle is "shaping up my behavior".  By using an eReader, I am letting go of some of my attachment to books.

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I remembered why hearing the Buddhadharma alone is not enough...

no matter how fortunate a person's environment may be.

I have been thinking about the question I posed (to myself!) in a recent post. My question was, "why aren't more people enlightened?" From my observations of the state of the world, it appears not many are; even though we have millions of people in the West, who live in what would have to be considered a "high birth". These people live a life in which all of their material needs are met in abundance. In addition, there are tons of great resources out there to provide excellent insight into the dharma. If you are reading this you have probably seen lots of these. For example, go to Daily Buddhism, you can see the information is always spot on. Yet from the questions asked on that site, it is clear many people are still struggling.

It is plainly not about how fortunate one's circumstances appear to be. Is my situation more favorable because I have ten thousand times more than what I need? I think not; it is probably true that having many times more stuff than I actually need is a barrier to enlightenment.  (Wow, how did I forget this!)  I still argue that we have abundant affordances to make enlightenment available to many more people in the West than seem to be benefiting from these resources. These are the same things I mentioned in a previous post, such as access to education, the Internet, teachers, etc.

The answer to "why aren't more people enlightened" is that it takes a lot of meditation to create the circumstances that allow the dharma to fall on fertile ground. 

Since I recognized the fundamental truth of the Four Noble Truths and other aspects of the Dharma, my life is mostly without suffering.  Before I had moments of release from suffering, now I have moments of suffering interspersed with mostly time with peace of mind.  Even for these moments of suffering, I typically wake up after only a few minutes to realize what I need to do to return to peace of mind.

My life was a natural experiment in the benefits of meditation.  (I think there may be others who have a similar situation.)  I first started meditating in 1972 using the Transcendental Meditation (TM) method.  I have meditated regularly since that time, my practice has changed over time especially in the past 8 years as I developed more understanding of philosophical Buddhism.  I did OK during the time I was "just" meditating, but not following the Buddhist dharma.  I married, had great kids, got my PhD in psychology, worked as a therapist in many different settings, and I think helped many people.

Prior to about 2000, I had read Buddhist literature and spoken to Buddhist practitioners, but too often  I encountered faulty information such as silly ideas about reincarnation, karma, deities, etc.  But sometime around 2000, I found Stephen Batchelor's book Buddhism Without Beliefs (1997, ISBN 1-57322-656-4)  It was then that I realized, there was a philosophical Buddhism that was true.  At that time, I had been meditating for 28 years.  You might say that insight fell on fertile ground.

I have only been studying the Buddhist Dharma with an open mind since 2000, so it seems to me that I got a rather immediate benefit from the first moment I "heard the Buddhadharma", but now that I think about my situation, I had been preparing my mind for 28 years prior to my first hearing with things like, a well developed meditation practice, continuous study of psychology, and compassion work "in the field".  The past 8 years have been a time of rapid release from suffering.  This has especially been true for me in the past 3 or so years during which I have had even more release from suffering and even a few moments of clarity ;)

If you are looking for peace of mind, you are doing the right thing to seek out the Buddhadarma, the community of Buddhist followers, and right minded teachers; and you will need to develop your meditation practice to cultivate fertile ground in which your peace can grow.

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The Allegory of a Higher Rebirth

I came to an another moment of appreciation for the fortunate circumstances of my birth and life while reading The Middle Way: Faith grounded in reason (2009) by The Dali Lama.  The particular quote is rather long and occurs on page 26.

Now, the goals in Buddhism are the immediate aim of attaining higher rebirth as a human being or as a god and the ultimate aim of achieving definite goodness.  The teachings on the means of attaining higher rebirth are based on cultivating "the right worldly view."  What is the right worldly view?  It is the right view of the law of karma and its effects based on conviction in the principle of dependent origination.  The goal sought and attained on the basis of such a view is higher rebirth.

I guess it was also hearing the story of a friend who just returned from a tourist trip to Rome, in which she described the problem of seeing so many beggars.  (We see just as many in all the big cities.  Washington, DC is such a disappointment in this regard, but this is another topic.)  In the moments following my reading the passage and hearing of the pitiful situation of those "beggars", I realized (again) that I was given a very high birth (whether it is a higher rebirth, I can not say.)

I assume those of you who are reading this also are the beneficiaries of a very fortunate birth.  Mine is so fortunate, I must admit that I live like a god.  In this moment, I can not think of anything I need that I do not already have in full abundance.

Please consider doing this exercise:  In this moment, what do you need that you do not already have.  (Not in some future time or in some past temporary situation, but right now!)  Even if I try by projecting into the past or future, I still must confess; I have always and expect to continue living like a god.

I cannot explain why I have been so blessed.  (Some may speculate on the operation of karma, rebirth, etc., but I judge that is not relevant or necessary.)  But for all of us living in this opportune time and having heard the Buddharma, we are poised on the verge of enlightenment.  What better circumstances could be made available?

If you are reading this, I suspect you have been blessed already with everything you need to achieve definite goodness.  I hope you (and I) will remember this in each moment and especially at the time of our last breath.

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Lojong 47) Use resentments as a reminder, not an obstacle.

7. Guidelines (37-57)

47) Use resentments as a reminder, not an obstacle.

(Meditate on that which provokes resentment.)

In a previous version of this Lojong saying, I had these two statements reversed. I liked the shock and paradox of the second statement, but without some additional explanation, I think it could be misunderstood (and if so, possibly cause harm), especially as a Twitter message. The first statement captures the essence of the saying, but does not give much hint as to how this can be done.

Resentments are typically based on judgments

(Skip this unless you like pedantic over analysis). Internal psychological events can take several forms; two that are frequently recognized are thoughts and feelings. Thoughts can be categorized lots of different ways. We all deal with several different sorts each day. I believe some of my thoughts are an attempt on my part to merely describe an accurate representation of my past, current, or possible future context. If these thoughts are an approximation to an accurate representation, they probably consist of simple and straight descriptions of environmental factors and contingencies. To the extent that these thoughts get complicated, they are probably slipping into inaccurate cognitive fusions and other distortions. Resentments are a distortion that I usually class as a judgment. Judgments are distorted thoughts in which I typically over-generalize to create an interrelated set of characterizations about another person, organization, or similar system, so that I make statements about or treat the other based on these characterizations rather than on an accurate representation.

I have some judgments that serve an adaptive strategy. In fact, we all form judgments because it is a quick way to inform decisions that need to be made in a hurry. These we often call “snap judgments”. Judgments are not necessarily a bad thing. If you are successful at developing accurate representations of your environment(s), you will form better judgments.

The key to dealing with judgments is to become aware of them when they are occurring, perhaps using the technique described in Lojong #42. As I am able to become aware of the arising of these thoughts, I can recognize them for what they are. When I can recognize that a thought is a judgment then I can “own” it. By “own it”, I mean that I recognize it is not a simple representation of reality; it is a judgment.. Then I can meditate on it to understand where it comes from, why I developed this judgment, and perhaps rationally decide what I should do about it.

I prefer my meditation practice when I simply settle into pure awareness, but it is possible to meditate on thoughts and feelings. I can become mindful of these to recognize when they arise and choose to contemplate them or let them fall away. If I contemplate a thought, (judgment) or feeling, I maintain the detached position characterized by “stepping back” “to look at” it. Perhaps I will use techniques from Focusing by Eugene Gendlin, PhD. As I contemplate, I may ask, “Have I experienced this before?” “What was that situation?” “Can I describe this feeling with a word or words?” , etc.

When I become aware I am holding a resentment (or a negative judgment), this is a great opportunity to discover areas of my own distorted thinking. If you are “thinking” that most of your judgments are valid, and you have had experiences that justify your resentments; you have a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. I hope you will have success in meditations on these that allow you to release them, so you will have more opportunity to settle in pure awareness and in mindfulness in daily life.

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Lojong 45) Keep the 3 Inseparable.

7. Guidelines (37-57)

45) Keep the 3 Inseparable.

(Integrate Practice in Mind, Speech, & Body.)

At the simplest level this Lojong is about being thorough in practice.  The best results occur when you are consistent in what you think, what you say, and what you do.  This surface level of recommendation is common sense, and few would object to it.

A deeper analysis requires us to look at what constitutes the Mind and the origin of thoughts. Like many others, I hold the belief that “I am not my thoughts”.  This position is described in several philosophies, including most of the Buddhist Dharmas.  One of the most succinct formulations of this concept can be found in Eckhart Tolle’s, The Power of Now (2004).

A well-developed meditation practice helps me see that thoughts arise, but can be released, to return to a state of “pure being” or “pure consciousness”.  These are terms I first encountered in Transcendental Meditation, and they aptly describe the state in which the “incessant internal jabbering” stops.  (I attribute this term to Fritz Perls from Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1977).  Some have called a state of racing and confusing thought, “Monkey Mind”.)

This understanding of the nature of thought is also developed in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is based on Relational Frame Theory (RFT).  This well researched area of Behavior Analysis, argues that our capacity for language is based on the human ability to place abstract things into conceptual categories, and then to respond based on the relationship between the categories rather than simply respond to the concrete properties of a stimulus.  Animals other than humans only have the capacity to respond to concrete properties, and most often this means biological mechanisms or the previous reinforcement history.  Humans are able to respond to “abstract properties and relationships among these” which for simplicity sake, we call language.

Our thoughts are language; and unfortunately, many thoughts connect abstract stimulus classes that do not warrant the connections we attribute to them.  For example, one of these erroneous connections is “I am my thoughts”.  When I think something, I tend to give it special credence, merit, or believability.  Other examples, "I am anxious", "Why else would he say that ....", "This always happens",  "I have PTSD",  etc.

The key to Right Thought is to have a clear understanding of the true nature of reality.  The Lojong sayings, the Suttras, books on the Dharma, scientific psychology, and all the other Teachings are helpful in developing Right Thought.  Don’t be discouraged if developing Right Thought takes a long time of meditation and study. 

I have heard a version of the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment in which he related his insight to the group of seekers he had previously studied with.  In this version of the story, some heard the Four Noble Truths, but did not understand; and some who heard where immediately enlightened.  I think this is possible, for those who have devoted time to proper study, experience, and contemplation (which could include, Books, Workshops, Retreats, Meditation, 12 Step Meetings, Seminary, University, Back Wards, Community Service, etc. Of course, some experiences are more conducive to Right Understanding than others.)

Begin with Right Thought, which is very complicated.  It is not merely thinking righteous thoughts, but involves being able to see reality clearly.

The next step is to make your speech consistent with Right Thought.  Right Speech is not merely being polite or not saying “bad words”.  It supports both Right Thought and Right Action in a continuous feedback system.  We are better able to sustain Right Thought to the extent we do not fall into thinking patterns prompted by speech that sets the occasion for distortions like Cognitive Fusion.

This is not to say common language shortcuts of speech are the problem.  (In fact, I am using these throughout this essay.)  My point is that we should be careful when using these shortcuts because these can confuse our understanding of reality.  It is merely easier to say, “I am anxious” than to say, “I am experiencing these particular physiological sensations …, in this particular context …, and I am thinking these particular unsettling thoughts….”  I would argue, however, that understanding the reality of the latter statement assists me in not becoming confused about who I am.  While the use of the former statement, sets the occasion for my confusion and prompts distorted thinking.

When I understand who I am and the reality of my experiences, I have more options to engage in behaviors that are consistent with my Values.  For example, I may experience anxious sensations and thoughts, yet still choose to engage in a Valued behavior. (Lojong #41 Observe 2 precepts even at the risk of life.) What are your highest Values?  I hope one of them is Compassion.

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