Tag Archives: Buddhism

Meditation: Setting an Intention

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This isn’t a meditation in and of itself, but should be a process that you go through every single time you sit down on the meditation cushion. Setting an intention isn’t just one of the most important parts of meditation practice, it’s also one of the most important parts of living a successful and meaningful life. Before you embark on any endeavor, you should examine your motivation and set an intention that you believe truly accords with this motivation. If you aren’t satisfied with your motivation, then make a conscious effort to change it so that you can direct your energies towards your goal as directly as possible.

Setting a proper motivation before practicing meditation is important because otherwise you’re just playing a mind game with yourself. Actual meditation requires a tremendous amount of focus and discipline to keep from wandering into the comfort of dullness, so setting a sufficiently strong motivation that truly accords with your inner motivation is necessary to engage with your practice as fully as possible. Otherwise, it’s easy to allow yourself to be led off into distractions. Your motivation should form the heart and soul of your practice, giving you that energy to persevere through difficult sessions and keeping you constantly striving towards deeper levels of insight.

Most importantly, be honest with yourself about your motivation. This is not as simple as it sounds. As with all things, there is very rarely a single motivation for engaging in meditation, but rather a complex web of reasons that bring you to the cushion. In psychological terms, this is called the principle of multiple determination. Spend some time analyzing exactly what it is you’re hoping to accomplish through practicing meditation and why this is the case. Who are you meditating for? Before any of my meditation sessions with Tibetan Buddhists, they always encourage the group to set the motivation to strive to achieve wisdom for the sake of helping lead all sentient beings to enlightenment. This is a beautiful intention for serous practitioners, but it is often unrealistic for the average layperson. It’s easy to tell yourself that this is your motivation, but unless you really embody that feeling in your practice, it’s an empty intention. There’s no shame in setting your intention a bit lower. Again, be honest with yourself! If you try and fool yourself into thinking that you’re motivated by something loftier than you truly are, it will hardly add any weight to your practice. In fact, if you set a motivation that is too high and then become aware that you aren’t actually energized by it, you might fall into a state of guilt, which is entirely unproductive for practice.

That being said, not all motivations are good. It is possible to have an unhealthy motivation for meditation. Below, I list 10 forms of unhealthy intention that are often problematic for Western practitioners, though they are hardly limited to those in the West and there are many more forms of unhealthy motivation than I list here.

1) Quest for perfection and invulnerability. This is not what meditation is for. This type of motivation is most often guided by a feeling of narcissism, a desire to be self-sufficient, and to rise above ‘worldly concerns.’
2) Fear of individuation. This form of unhealthy motivation is guided by a fear of taking responsibility for one’s own life in the belief that this can be avoided by a defensive pursuit of ‘egolessness.’
3) Avoidance of responsibility and accountability. Freedom from ‘egocentric needs’ can rationalize avoidance of anxiety-producing situations (i.e. taking charge of life), causing one to retreat into meditation.
4) Fear of intimacy and closeness. Retreat into the idea of ‘no-self’ can appear to provide a way of neutralizing hurt by avoiding close relationships.
5) A substitute for grief and mourning. Similar to #4, the idea of ‘no-self’ can provide a refuge from painful emotions if misinterpreted.
6) Avoidance of feelings. This type of unhealthy motivation is guided by the belief that the goal of meditation is to reach a state of non-feeling, rather than becoming better attuned to our feelings.
7) Passivity and dependence. ‘Egolessness’ can masquerade as a way of causing one to suppress their feelings of anger and self-assertion, as well as to disguise codependency as compassionate service to a loved one
8) Self-punitive guilt. This entails using the idea of ‘non-attachment’ to act out underlying feelings of unworthiness and guilt (“Feelings are bad and therefore I’m bad for having them.”)
9) Devaluing reason and intellect. Belief in the idea that meditation solely promotes experience over rational thinking can reinforce avoidance of thinking as a way of blocking self-understanding.
10) Escape from intrapsychic experience. Similar to #4 and #5, this involves attempting to ‘let go of the ego’ as justification for repressing anything that produces anxiety or insecurity.

Notice that in many of the examples above, I place Buddhist terms in quotation marks. This is to highlight the fact that they refer not to the true Buddhist concept, but a misconception of it twisted to fit the psychological needs of the individual. All of these forms of unhealthy motivation reveal a misunderstanding of what meditation is designed to accomplish and, as such, cause the practitioner to engage in practice for the wrong reasons. It is important to examine our reasons for practicing so that we don’t fall into any of the pitfalls listed above. If your practice has previously been guided by one of these motivations, that’s okay. In order to change your motivation to something more healthy, you first need to recognize that your previous intention was misguided and not giving all the strength to meditate that you’re truly capable of mustering.

As time goes on, it’s inevitable that your meditations will change. Even day to day, your meditation is likely to be guided by different intentions. What is most important is to be aware of these various motivations and, whenever possible, to set an intention that you can truly believe in. It is only through setting a healthy motivation that you can fully get behind that you can dive as deeply as possible into practice and your own mind.

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Letting Go of Our Sad Stories

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For most of us, freedom feels not only unfamiliar, but distinctly unpleasant. That’s because we’re used to our chains. They might chafe, they might make us bleed, but at least they’re familiar.
-Mingyur Rinpoche

Have you ever sat around with friends to show off scars and compare stories about broken bones? (Maybe this is a guy thing. If not, sorry for being gender normative.) I don’t think it’s uncommon for kids to pass the time by boasting about how they received this or that injury. In most cases, the grizzlier the injury, the better the story. Although the experience of acquiring the injury may be quite painful, sharing the story of that experience is often quite the opposite. For many, it’s a point of pride, something to brag about and show off. It’s a way of showing some of the difficulties we’ve been through and conquered.
I only have 2 substantial scars, neither of them coming from injuries that were especially serious (though they’re still badass.) But I love my scars. I love my sad stories. In a weird way, I love my suffering. And, in the words of Rinpoche-la, I also love my chains.
This might sound totally paradoxical. Surely we all want to be happy, to be satisfied, to be free from suffering. So why do we often take so much pride in the experiences that were the exact opposite?

The greatest danger to self-realization is self-doubt. If we’re actively working to undermine ourselves, the battle is already lost regardless of external factors. Self-doubt seizes on all of our sad stories, all of our problems, all of our sufferings, all of our excuses for not changing. Because changing is hard. Holding onto our sob stories and perceived shortcomings is easy. It’s extremely comfortable to take refuge in our sufferings  We have invested so much in our sad stories and self-pity that the idea of letting them go is extraordinarily painful. Even just thinking about letting go automatically raises serious resistance. These things define us. Think about why many people are so proud of their scars. They are physical evidence of hardships that we have had to endure. They are an outward manifestation of an experience that we believe has contributed to our character. In many ways, we are our scars and our sad stories. How could we possibly let them go?

Holding onto them, on the other hand, requires no work whatsoever and, in many cases, it even garners support from others in the form of pity. People will often support this kind of self-doubting, self-pitying behavior if it doesn’t go too far, encouraging each other to just ‘let it out’ or even go so far as to applauding someone for being brave enough to address their personal issues.

Taking refuge in suffering also feels strangely productive. It only requires a small amount of courage to look at what makes us suffer. Maybe we don’t penetrate down to the deepest causes of suffering, but it usually isn’t so difficult to get a glimpse at what causes us pain. It can often be extremely satisfying to look at what makes us suffer and be able to identify the causes.

Trouble is that this doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Just identifying the things that make us suffer very rarely causes them to just disappear. But because this task of identification can feel so immediately rewarding it also lures us into a false sense of complacency: because I know what’s wrong, I can figure out how to fix it. But knowing how to fix something doesn’t amount to actually taking the effort to fix it.

This is symptomatic of a deeper issue that I personally struggle with, and, based on conversations I’ve had with other practitioners, I believe it’s fairly common, not only to people practicing meditation, but as a general human issue. In Freudian terms, the issue is repetition compulsion: we want to change but simultaneously exert tremendous amounts of energy to keep everything exactly the same. Identifying our own psychological problems without actually doing anything about them fits perfectly into this framework. By recognizing our issues, it can appear that we are taking a big step towards changing ourselves, but, in reality, it isn’t actually moving in any direction at all. It feels like we’re changing but without exerting hardly any effort, which is why it’s so seductive and such an easy place to get caught up.

During the early stages of practicing meditation it’s common for practitioners to notice that they have a far deeper and clearer awareness of their thoughts and feelings. On the one hand, this can be somewhat terrifying. Early on, spiritual experience may actually exacerbate psychological and functional difficulties by bringing things to light that we aren’t immediately prepared to deal with.
On the other hand, this deeper insight into ourselves is incredibly exciting. By seeing our mental states so much more clearly it feels as if we’re making some sort of serious progress in remedying our issues. This is such a convincing view that it becomes very easy to get caught up at this stage of meditation without even realizing that we’ve gotten stuck.

The issue lies in becoming concerned with the content of our minds when we should be examining the processes. It’s an issue that I find myself facing very regularly when I sit down on my cushion. As Westerners, we’ve been habituated to the idea that there is something inherently beautiful about the sense of individuality that we each possess, and our thoughts and feelings are intimately related to this sense of individuality. It is easy to be lured in by the prospect of becoming more intimate with ourselves through meditation, though this is really just a diversion from the traditionally established stages of practice.

Additionally, over the past couple hundred years, especially since Freud, there has been a strong trend in Western society of using therapy centered around addressing and working through our psychological concerns. For many Western practitioners, this need to address and analyze the various components of our psyche as used by psychology has merely been given new clothing in the form of meditation. Rather than using meditation as a tool for analyzing the processes of the mind, it has become a method of analyzing the specific content. However, this is a complete misuse of the attentiveness developed through practice. As we become more familiar with our internal states, it can be very easy to grasp onto them and feel like we’re doing some sort of important inner work when, in reality, all we’re doing is hunkering down deeper into our sense of independence, individuality, and selfhood.

Psychological therapy is designed to help us live more comfortably with the various facets of ourselves by increasing the flexibility and realism of our self-representations; meditation seeks to annihilate the idea that our selves have any true existence, ultimately doing away with the true reality of self-representations entirely. This is because self-representations can be dangerous, no matter how helpful they may seem to be. There is a certain functional utility to them, but they prevent us from seeing reality as it really is by filtering all experience of ourselves through subtle, fixed lenses. Psychology aims to help us change our self-representations. Buddhism helps us to stop identifying with them at all. In this sense, getting rid of the idea of a true self entails giving up automatic, reactive, inflexible identification with and attachment to our self-representations.

There is a strong argument to be made that the idea of a true self cannot be rid of until the conventional self is well adjusted and functional. Reducing emotional problems in the short term can lead to clearer, more productive meditative practice in the long run. However, there are 2 serious problems with this approach. One, while psychological issues may arise during time spent on the meditation cushion, it is unlikely that that is the best place to deal with them if one is serious about actually meditating. Two, actively shifting the focus of meditation to dealing with emotional difficulties increases the likelihood that the greater, transcendent goal of self-realization will be completely abandoned. However, this is a far larger topic than I’m attempting to address here. I’m merely trying to point out that meditation is very frequently being assimilated into classical Western schemas to the disadvantage of both the practice and the practitioner. Rather than using meditation as it was practiced in India, Tibet, China, etc. for thousands of years, it has become warped into a tool to meet our perceived psychological needs.

Returning to the idea of loving our sad stories, it is very commonly the case that we use these tragic narratives to define who we are as a person. We may profess to hate them, to wish we could be rid of them forever, but, at the end of the day, many of us still cling to them because they help us understand who we are and there are few things more enticing than self-knowledge. After all, that’s why many people pick up meditation in the first place.

The issue with this is that our sad stories aren’t who we truly are. Again, this notion is a product of getting caught up in the content of what arises during meditation, rather than the processes that bring these things to the surface. If we’re able to look pass the content, we can see that the content is actually always changing. Over the course of a 15-minute meditation session it’s possible to experience dozens of emotions, yet it’s all happening entirely within our own heads. None of it is stable. None of it is inherently existent. It’s all a matter of perspective, but if that perspective hinges itself on our sob stories then it’s almost impossible to move forward.

Turning to my own personal experience, I’ve found that I often run into the following issue while meditating. A negative thought will arise. I’ll let it drift by. I’ll find myself sinking into a deeper state of clarity about what’s going on in my mind, which makes me feel good. Then, as a sort of test to myself, I’ll actively recall the negative thought to see how I receive it now that I’ve reached a more settled state and to see if I can work with it. I like to tell myself this is productive but, if I really look at what I’m doing, I’m simply fixating on my sad story by actively pulling it back into my mental field when I’ve already let it go. Even once these negative states of mind have come and gone, I feel the need to grasp out for them again and bring them back. This comes back to the problem of misusing meditation as a tool of conducting auto-therapy rather than letting the practice simply be what it is. Recalling and delving into negative emotions once they’ve already passed isn’t really a way of testing myself; it’s an attempt to transform them into something else rather than letting them exist comfortably as what they are.

In my next post I’ll provide a meditative practice for specifically dealing with these kinds of issues. Stay tuned!

Adventure Time!!!

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I feel somewhat dishonest using ‘Adventure Time’ as the title for this post since I don’t really know if what I’m posting about qualifies as an adventure. However, considering that I spend 95% of my time circling between the same 3 small towns scattered across the mountains, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that going anyplace else is a pretty substantial adventure these days. It’s also another one of those posts where I don’t actually really have anything to say, but took a handful of pretty cool pictures so I thought a bit of text would be nice to balance it out.

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Yesterday I went to Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, which is about 2 hours outside of Dharamsala. It was beautifully sunny on the drive out, which consisted almost entirely of cruising through the countryside. After having spent so much time up in the mountains constantly shrouded in the clouds, getting out into Kangra Valley was wonderful. So much green, and everything smelled like earth, growth, and sunshine. Hands down 3 of the greatest smells ever.

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When we got to the nunnery it was a complete ghost town. There were a handful of Indian laborers around doing some construction work since the whole facility is relatively new, but I didn’t see a single nun. All of the buildings, including the gompa (meditation hall) were locked, which was a bummer considering that we’d come so far to take a peek inside. I’d heard that Tenzin Palmo was supposed to be in residence at the moment, but apparently she’s currently in Taiwan. Before coming to Dharamsala this summer I had never heard of Tenzin Palmo, but she has a pretty remarkable story, which is told in the biography of her life Cave in the Snow (which I’m planning on picking up soon.) She was one of the first Western women to become ordained as a member of the Tibetan Buddhist monastic order and made a strong commitment to achieving enlightenment in the female form regardless of how long/how many lifetimes that might take. She spent 12 years living in a cave pursuing freedom from cyclical existence, practicing incredibly arduous forms of self-discipline, growing her own food and sitting in a meditative pose while she slept (for only 3 hours a night!) After she came off retreat she took up the cause of securing equal rights for nuns and, in 2000, took substantial steps towards achieving this goal by founding the Dongu Gatsal Ling Nunnery. I’d heard some pretty incredible things about it so making the trip felt necessary, especially considering how comfortable I’ve become with my routine here. The idea of breaking up my ordinary schedule was pretty enticing.

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It was a bit concerning that nobody was around, but we ventured into the ‘no entry’ area where all the nuns live so we could beg someone to open the gompa for us. I was incredibly thankful to have made the trip with a woman since it was pretty clear that none of the nuns were interested in talking to me. We were lucky enough to make it inside the gompa and….wow. It was relatively small and only one room, but it was certainly one of the most remarkable temples I’ve ever seen.

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The gompa had only been finished in 2012 so all of the paintings were in as perfect condition as possible. Although the art was very clearly in the style of every other Tibetan Buddhist temple, there was somewhat of a different flair to it, especially in the way the backgrounds were done. There are fairly strict guidelines for how bodhisattvas and arhats (the equivalent of saints) should be depicted iconographically, so artists don’t have much leeway in that regard. However, the backgrounds are where the artists can really let their creativity shine and it was definitely clear that the painters of this gompa were remarkably talented.

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However, the most remarkable thing about the gompa was that nearly every figure painted on the walls was a female. There were images of Shakyamuni (“the Buddha”), Padmasambhava (the great teacher/mystic that brought Buddhism to Tibet), Milarepa (a legendary figure that achieved enlightenment in a single lifetime), and Marpa (Milarepa’s guru and a great master in his own right), but aside from those 4 figures, every single other image was female. Dozens of female arhats, bodhisattvas, yoginis, and protector deities lined the walls. There were also two astoundingly beautiful stained glass windows, which I’d never seen in a Buddhist temple or monastery before.

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I was explicitly told not to take photos, and I usually abide by that protocol since I think it’s disrespectful to take photos inside of a space that’s considered to be sacred. Additionally, there’s definitely something to be said for needing to capture an experience as fully as possible in a single moment without photos as a future aid to recollection. However, desire got the better of me and I had to get a few quick snaps. I undoubtedly picked up some bad karma by directly going against a nun’s wishes (even if she didn’t see me) and taking photos inside the gompa, but maybe someone will see one of these photos and be sparked to enlightenment, which theoretically balances the whole thing out.

Sunshine Doe!!!!

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The past couple days have been terribly exciting, whatever that means relative to how I usually spend my time these days. It was completely clear for almost 24 straight hours, meaning I got wonderfully blue and sunny skies during the day, as well as the waning moon, endless stars, and the Milky Way at night. After so much rain the good weather definitely invigorated me to get out and do something.

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Yesterday I went to Norbulinka, the Tibetan center for the arts in lower Dharamsala. It was started in order to preserve Tibetan arts in exile. I don’t have all that much to say about it but really just wanted an opportunity to put up some of the pictures I took there. It was awesome to get to see the thanka painters at all different phases in their work. After spending so much time reading about how intense thanka painting was in feudal Tibet it was amusing to see a bunch of Tibetans in their early 20’s listening to their ipods and wearing backwards hats while painting these incredible pieces of religious art. I also found a way to get on the roof of the gompa just as it got clear so I had a perfect view of the snow on the mountains. Then I hopped around to a bunch of places between Bhagsu and Dharamkot for the rest of the night and ended up on my roof looking at the stars while a jam session was going on next door with solos from all sorts of Indian instruments.

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Today I went to get registered to go see the Dalai Lama speak on Monday and Tuesday. It was kinda a pain because I couldn’t find the place for the longest time and it turned out I needed some things I didn’t have. It was so nice out today that I was happy to walk up and down the hill a bunch of times. In the end it only cost 20 cents to go see the Dalai Lama so my trouble was probably worth it.

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This afternoon I finally succeeded in finding the best Malai Kofta in the area. I had to have tried it at a least a dozen other places but today I finally had one that was by far the best food I’ve had since I’ve been here. I posted up there for awhile reading Heart of Darkness and the Wizard of Oz.

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I started going to a yoga class too, which I plan on doing on a daily basis until I leave here. It’s in the late afternoon so it’s a nice way to segway from reading for most of the day into my evenings (since I’ve really been raging a lot here,) and it’s only $2 for 2 hours so it’s hard for me to justify not going.

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Having so much time to read has been killer. Over the past 4 days I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Heart of Darkness, and 2 of the Oz books. Going over past visions of a dystopian future has been really interesting. One of the most standout commonalities across all 3 visions is the necessity of eliminating anything that encapsulates the ethos of the past. In 1984 this is taken the furthest by falsifying data on a daily basis in order to keep the past perfectly in line with what the government dictates is happening in the present. But even in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 the government takes the destruction of books as seriously of possible. Knowledge found in books makes people feel inferior in relation to their more well-read peers, confuses them with their foreign concepts and ideologies, and, worst of all, prevents the gradual shrinking of language in order to limit the capacity for critical thinking. As Orwell puts it, “he who controls the past controls the present. He who controls the present controls the future.”

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I find Huxley’s view the most convincing, though I generally hold a high opinion of Huxley so I’m biased. The society he envisions is guided by two fundamental concepts drawn from Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud: mass-production and the equalizing of the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Through mastering mass production of people by cloning and accelerating their growth process and conditioning them through hyponopedia (teaching people while they sleep) the government creates a remarkably efficient and stable caste system. Carnal desires are no longer stigmatized and monogamy breaks down, eliminating any possible discontent from repressed sexuality. And if a basic sensory need isn’t being meet, one can simply take some soma to go on a reality-disassociating psychedelic trip. If all basic sensory pleasures are no longer restricted in any way by society, and if people are naturally conditioned towards certain psychological dispositions, it’s very hard for anyone to ever become unhappy.

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This stands in opposition to Orwell’s vision of a society built by restricting any and every form of pleasure. 1984 is a society built almost exclusively on control by punishment and the fear of punishment. Furthermore, society is permanently at war, functioning both as a way of dumping all of society’s labor into an endeavor that doesn’t improve standard of living, as well as a method of justifying authoritarian behavior since permanent crisis can be said to justify permanent control of everybody and everything by the government. I can understand how Orwell might have conjured up this vision for the future based on the behavior of Hitler and Stalin’s governments, though Huxley’s portrayal strikes me as more in line with our present day situation. I actually was reminded a lot of my experience in China while reading Brave New World. At the end of the day, even if the government is infringing on what I (as an American) would consider ‘basic liberties’, if standard of living is high enough and sensory demands are being sufficiently met, it’s very hard to imagine people rebelling. Obviously this is a vast oversimplification of the situation and far more could be written on the topic, but, frankly, I’m enjoying a Kingfisher right now and don’t feel like writing any more right now.

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The Sad Tale of Slug

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I just spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get the Internet working so I could post this. Every day at this place they change the wi-fi so you can’t come mooch if you aren’t buying anything (though I’ve been here enough times already I can get away with it.) I was told today’s password was ‘sugar’ but it just wasn’t working. Finally, I tried ‘suger’ and it worked. Wonderful.

The worst thing that’s happened to me today was that I accidently stepped on a slug this morning. I was walking downhill to get some masala chai before breakfast and was looking at my phone so I didn’t see the slug, but I could feel it squelch the instant I put my foot down. I felt awful. I’d actually gotten into the habit of actively moving slugs off the path if it was somewhere that somebody might step on it.
So, considering that was the worst part of my day, it’s been a pretty okay.

I thought it would be nice to include photos in my posts but I’m afraid there isn’t much to be taking pictures of. I think tis beautiful here but it doesn’t really come across in photos as anything more than standard mountains and sky. The moon has been astonishingly bright, even as early as 6, but my iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice. I’ll bring my real camera up to Triund for the supermoon but that’s not much better than my iPhone. Oh well. All I can do is encourage everyone else to get to as high a point as possible to see it.

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Woke up around 7, did some meditation and set motivations for the day, and then rushed out to try and find someplace to watch a stream of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. That was obviously a ridiculously unrealistic expectation, so I contented myself with constantly refreshing the ESPN homepage until the Internet crashed. I headed off to meditation, getting updates on the game via text the whole way, but had to start meditation with 30 seconds still left in the game. There was a split second when I debated bailing on meditation so I could find out the result, but I realized how absurd that was so I went in.

I’m glad I did since it was a really good session. Over 45 minutes we worked on dissolving each of the elements in the body in turn (earth, water, fire, wind, space) until nothing remains but consciousness, basking in the clear light of its own awareness. Despite a mentally scattered morning I found focus and clarity quite easily today. Even if clear light isn’t actually experienced by anyone but the advanced meditators and individuals at the moment of death and orgasm, sufficient concentration and imagination definitely produced an incredibly clear, alert, and blissful feeling. I actually totally forgot about the basketball game until I was out of meditation and turned my phone on again. I’ve also realized that I can now sit for 45 minutes straight with nearly no pain in my lower back or knees, which was unthinkable even 2 weeks ago. I’m sure it’s the type of thing that will disappear if I don’t keep up it so it’s a strong incentive to maintain a daily practice.

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I had been planning on going to the Tushita library to do some research on mandalas after meditation but the hours were changed today so I ended up getting breakfast with a handful of people from my retreat that are still in the area and have been coming to morning meditation. It was the first time in 4 days that I’ve had a face-to-face conversation with someone for more than 30 seconds so it was incredibly enjoyable. That being said, I’m finding it remarkable how absent any feelings of loneliness have been. Before coming to Dharamsala I was anticipating enduring a couple weeks of existential crises as I adjusted to living by myself without any regular contact with the people around me. I think the retreat helped me become a lot more comfortable in my own body and accepting of the idea of living contentedly with myself, so it accelerated the whole process and crunched it into a week and a half long period. The more time I spend around people at cafes and restaurants the more I become with not really engaging with them. It’s usually a group of people sitting around smoking chillum, talking about nothing in particular. I certainly met a lot of fascinating people the first few nights I was here but I think a lot of that was through my group from retreat, so it was a rather particular crowd. A lot of the people hanging around here just wanted to kill some time someplace relaxed and cheap for the summer, so Dharamsala is pretty ideal. Having a particular purpose here has been nice, though, and all of my projects have essentially been collapsing into one.

After breakfast I went to my usual lunch spot and posted up there for a few hours with a book on the dialogue between psychotherapy and Buddhism. It rained for about 4 hours so I didn’t have anything to do besides hang out and read, which was pretty great. The book hones in on two of the areas I’m most interested in, so reading detailed analyses of crossover between the them was fascinating, though I ended up taking so many notes that I barely finished 40 pages over the course of the whole afternoon. Still, it’s not like I had anything else to do or anywhere to go so it’s hard to complain. This is really the first time in my life when I don’t feel any need to rush through reading. It’s nice to be able to take as long as I want to digest something. As I found out with Siddhartha, reading like that drastically increases the amount of enjoyment to be found in any reading endeavor. Even in the past when I’ve been reading for fun I’ve felt the need to rush through to get onto another book, for no real reason besides to say that I’d read it and catalogue it in my mind. It’s a pretty useless way to read and it’s shocking how little I end up digesting unless I’m responsibility for the material for school so it’s been a nice change in practice. Reading mindfully I guess.

When I got back to my room I found some 25 lb dumbbells lying in the courtyard of the guesthouse and was told I could hold onto them while I’m here if I want. I don’t plan on developing a particularly extensive workout plan while I’m here but I’m finding with all the time I spend sitting around reading and writing it would be nice to get some exercise in addition to my self-guided yoga sessions. No matter how much clarity and peacefulness come about through meditation, there’s something immensely pleasurable about the satisfaction and soreness that can only come from a good workout. Plus, it would be nice to be completely flabby by the time I get back to school in the fall. My ego isn’t so transparent at this point that I’m entirely indifferent to my physical appearance, though my beard is coming in nicely. I brought a bunch of razors but I like the idea of growing a beard for 2 months or so. It’s not quite worth the work of maintaining any sort of special facial hair when I interact with others so infrequently and the bathroom mirror is so tiny I can’t barely see myself in it.

A enourmous wasp just fell into my drink and is struggling and I don’t know what to do. I’m cringing washing it but am certain if I pluck it out it’ll sting my hand, and I can’t just pour out my drink onto the floor. It’s a shade of orange and I’ve never seen a wasp so big, so I’m wary of getting stung. I wonder if this is bad karma. I guess I’m intentionally allowing another being to die because I’m overly concerned with my well-being. On 2nd thought, it’s definitely bad karma.

Probably to make matters worse, I didn’t take any precepts today so I’m seriously looking forward to getting a big dinner and a Kingfisher later. After the rain lets up the night is usually pretty clear so I’m hoping I can get a good view of the moon as I eat. Last night it was so bright that I was able to read outside by nothing more than the moonlight. Counting the days until supermoon!

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On an unrelated note, I’ve been enjoying reading 1984 again and have nothing in particular to say about it at the moment but wanted to keep hold onto this quote and this seemed as good a place as any to put it:
“By 2050-earlier, probably-all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Bryon-they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like, ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

Meditation: Proper Posture

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For my first post regarding formal sitting meditation practice I thought the best place to start would be with proper sitting posture. Most people choose to sit cross-legged on the ground, though if this is uncomfortable then there’s nothing wrong with using a chair or even lying down (though beware of sleepiness.) Much of the instructions will be the same regardless of how you choose to position yourself.

(I would have liked to include pictures but my Internet wasn’t quite up to the task. Hopefully this is relatively self-explanatory, though I’ll attempt to put pictures up at a later date.)

Proper posture for seated meditation is absolutely imperative. Having a relaxed body facilitates having a relaxed mind, which makes it easier to get into subtle feelings, both physical and mental. It’s also closely related to how the energy (prana or rlung depending on which tradition coming from) moves throughout your body. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is said that rlung (wind) is what carries the mind, so leaving your energy channels as open as possible to facilitate the movement of rlung is extremely important.

Lets start with the lower body. It often helps to sit on a cushion so that your hips are elevated above your knees. Feel free to use however many cushions you need when you’re getting started. It’s better to build down than to struggle with too few for a long time. Cushions aren’t always necessary but adopting this position helps relieve some pressure from your lower back, which is often one of the first places that tension crops up. There’s no reason to sit half or full lotus if it isn’t comfortable for you, especially early on in practice. Only when you can sit like that for at least 30 minutes is it okay to adopt complicated postures with your legs. If you do choose to sit in half or full lotus be sure that you aren’t blocking the flow of blood to your legs as they will fall asleep and become a distraction to your practice. The primary goal for your lower body is to establish a solid base to support the rest of your body. Be comfortable and be relaxed.

Pay close attention to your hips. As you rotate your hips back and forward, notice how this effects the position of your back. Avoid putting yourself in a position in which you’re arching or caving your spine too much.

Turning next to the abdomen and torso, lets focus on the back. The back should be as straight as possible, but without holding any tension. Allow your back to be soft straight. If this puts a slight curve in it, so be it. It often helps to imagine a string attached to the top of your head, which is gradually drawn up, pulling your back erect. It can also be helpful to lift yourself up on the in-breath and relax the muscles in your shoulders and back on the out-breath. It should feel as if your muscles are draped over your skeleton, holding as little tension as possible. This allows you to sink into the present moment, easing off all resistance to being in this moment right now.

In regards to the arms, it isn’t particularly important where you place your hands. Many people choose to put their hands on their knees, either cupping their knees, or resting with the palms facing upward. It is also common to place one’s hands in the lap, with the right resting gently in the left, connecting the thumbs at the top. This creates two circles in the body: one in the hands and the other formed by the arms. As a teacher once said to me, with the hands in this position it is like the Self resting in the Universe. Alternatively, the left hand of wisdom lies in the lap, while the right hand of compassion sits on top, thumbs coming together in union. Be sure to keep some space between the upper body and the arms so that heat can escape. If you are too warm while sitting it is likely that you will start to become sleepy and drift away from your object of concentration.

Keep your head upright in line with the spine. If the head comes down, it is easy to grow drowsy. If the head is tilted too far up, too much energy is likely to come up and flood your mind with thoughts. Think of your head like that of a swan, with the chin tucked slightly back. This opens the flow in the neck, allowing energy to move freely up and down the 2 central channels of the body.

The eyes are very essential. Many people believe that it is best to meditate with your eyes closed but this leaves you prone to sleepiness and daydreaming. Too wide open, however, and it is easier to become pulled in by distractions. It is best to leave the eyes just slightly open so that everything is darkened but shapes and colors are still visible. Initially, this will feel quite uncomfortable and the eyes will often flutter, opening and closing to resist relaxation. But if you keep at it and allow your eyes to relax, soon it will become very natural. This is very helpful in the long run to keep the mind sharp and focused. When you meditate you don’t use earplugs or stick things in your nose to prevent senses from entering those organs, so why attempt to block out all sensations to the eyes?

Place the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper teeth and pressed up against the roof of your mouth. This serves the double function of diminishing the amount of saliva that collects in your mouth so that you don’t need to swallow so much, as well as activating an acupressure point in the palette that increases blood flow to the pineal gland, which is located where mystics often cite the 3rd eye to be.

So that’s the body. Again, the main goal here is to be comfortable, remaining relaxed while simultaneously erect. Early on, it’s common for pain to develop in the knees and lower back, but this will lessen over time with regular practice.

In my next post on meditation I’ll get into the basics of shamatha, including the importance of setting a motivation each time before you sit, what you should be doing with your breath, and how to deal with painful sensations in the body. However, don’t forget, if the pain becomes too much and prevents you from focusing on your practice, feel free to move and readjust your body so that you’re comfortable. Don’t get carried away by moving with every minor ache, though, or you will never be able to settle in calmly.

Enjoy your practice.

Low-Key Livin’

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Another fantastic day today. I always feel like I’m not actually doing anything here but when I look at how I spend my time it turns out I’m doing a pretty decent amount of activities. I guess I don’t have any of the stress that often motivates my efficiency back home so it’s easier to feel like I’m doing nothing when I’m really doing something. Funny thing about stress. Not as necessary of a motivator as I often give it the credit for.

I woke up at 7 and sat for 20 minutes, followed by taking the 8 Mahayana Precepts. Ideally, I should be waking up before dawn if I intend on taking the precepts that day but I don’t quite have it in me at this point. In any case, I don’t currently have the full directions for taking the precepts so I’ve been going about it by setting an intention for the day and then committing myself to maintain the precepts until sunrise of the following day. It isn’t official but, given where I’m at in my practice, I feel good about what I’m doing. Taking the precepts consists of abstaining from:
Killing
Stealing
Wrong speech (lying, gossip, idle chatter)
Sexual activity (including thoughts and with yourself)
Intoxicants
Wearing perfume, ornaments or jewelry
Singing, dancing, or playing music
Eating after noon

All in all, it’s a pretty easy set of guidelines to abide by when I’m spending most of my time by myself. I’m generally disinclined towards killing and stealing, and it’s hard to engage in wrong speech or sexual activity when my interactions with other people are so minimal. Still, I definitely need to keep an eye on myself to make sure that my mind doesn’t wander off into the gutter when I’m out on a walk. The two biggest difficulties for me have been avoiding playing music and eating after noon. Having lunch as my last meal of the day is actually pretty freeing, though, since it means I don’t need to plan my evening around dinner (but I’ve hardly been doing that anyways.) I’ve also been doing a lot of hiking so hopefully cutting back on meals will help balance out the fact that all I eat are carbs. Plus, it saves me money, though my meals usually only add up to $6-$8 a day anyways so I’m not especially concerned about that. In general I find taking the precepts to be a good practice to constantly keep me aware of what I’m thinking about and cutting non-virtuous thoughts off at the source before they carry me away.

The view from my usual reading spot

The view from my usual reading spot

After taking the precepts I had a couple croissants and a cup of masala chai for breakfast and then headed off to morning meditation at Tushita. Today’s meditation was on the 6 senses, which I really liked, though admittedly I had some other things on my mind that kept coming up. It’s a very simple, yet powerful meditation, so I intend on posting it as one of the first entries in my ongoing series on meditation.

After meditation I went down to McLeod Ganj with my backpack filled with all the stuff I don’t need here in India. Getting it shipped was quite an ordeal. I had to get it wrapped up in cloth (which was a seriously impressive process to watch), then hand over a few photocopies of my passport, and fill out some custom forms. It ended up coming out to $80, which could have been my rent for the next 2 months. Still, it feels great to have been able to unload half of my things. I’m not moving around a whole lot but I know I will be in the future so it’s nice to know that I can keep all of my possessions in a bag on my back and that the bag isn’t even full. I have very little faith that the stuff I shipped actually makes it back to the States but, hey, it will be a nice surprise if it does.

Getting a bag sewn to ship my backpack in

Getting a bag sewn to ship my backpack in

After shipping my bag off I got some lunch and caught up with some people back home. I took advantage of having such good Internet and did some research on applying for a Fulbright. I’ve decided I’d like to be an English teaching assistant in Mongolia. The more I learn about the country the more parallels I see to the situation that Tibet is in so I think it would be interesting to explore how two different peoples have worked to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity under the oppression of alien forces (China.) I also exchanged my copy of Siddhartha for 1984, which is another book I read in high school but likely had only a fraction of the appreciation for that it deserves. Then I went back to my room and washed my hair, which would have been quite nice if the hot water hadn’t run out after 20 seconds. I also think I fried my blow dryer even though I could have sworn I was using the right converter, so it looks like I’m air drying from here on out. Oh well. Just being able to submerge my head in a bucket of cold water was seriously refreshing.

Stitching my bag up

Stitching my bag up

I also decided that I’m going to hike up to Triund on Sunday night to get the best possible view of the supermoon. There’s someone at the top that rents out tents so I’ll hike up there with just a small backpack and pray for clear skies. I’ve found that I’ve been spending a lot of time in a very small circle going between Bhagsu, Tushita, Dharamkot, and McLeod Ganj, so I think a long hike and a night camping higher up in the mountains will be a nice change of pace for me. Plus, gotta work on getting my legs in hiking form for Machu Picchu (Machu Pikachu?)

And sealing it up with wax

And sealing it up with wax

All in all, life is very low-key and very wonderful. I’m tremendously enjoying having to do so much walking to get everywhere I go and having so much time to read and write. Today I was trying to think about all the things I miss from back home and I only needed the fingers on one hand to get through the whole list:
Friends
Family (which includes my dog)
Potable tap water
Adventure Time
NBA Playoffs
The fact that 40% of what I miss is related to TV might be a sign that some material desires still need to be curbed but I’d like to think that every time I watch Adventure Time I’m becoming just a little bit wiser.

See you in Boston! (maybe)

See you in Boston! (maybe)

The Life of a Happiness Junkie

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What’s your addiction? Is it money? Is it girls? Is it weed? I’ve been afflicted with not one, not two, but all three. Why’s everything that’s supposed to be bad make me feel so good? Everything they told me not to is exactly what I would. Now I tried to stop, man, I tried the best I could but you make me smile with my heart.
-Kanye West

Diamonds are forever. For real doe?

Let me begin with a story about something that happened when I was 15 years old. I had just gotten a new video game and was so stoked on it that I planned on staying up all night to play it. It must have been a weekend night if I could afford to stay up all night but clearly beating this game was far more important than doing something social. Anyways, I brought all my blankets and pillows into the den because I knew I would be there all night and I wanted to be comfortable. As soon as I finished dinner I rushed off to the den and got holed up there for the long haul.
Sometime around midnight I started to get hungry (because I’d barely eaten anything at dinner so I could start playing as early as possible) so I went into the kitchen and looked in the pantry. There were two big boxes, each one filled with 10 small packets of these low-carb, bite-sized wafers. One of them was flavored like Oreos and the other was Chips Ahoy. I’m pretty sure that there were real cookies in the pantry but for one reason or another I decided I wanted to go low-carb. Clearly my 15-year-old self was extremely health conscious. I knew I’d be up for a long time and I needed sustenance if I was going to keep focused on playing my game all night so I brought all 20 packets into the den with me.
Over the next 4 or 5 hours I proceeded to eat every single one of the wafers. They were absolutely delicious. I have no idea how I did it, but somehow I finished every last one. I must have eaten at least 200 of these little cookies. Then, of course, I got incredible sick and threw up. Now I can’t even look at that snack without cringing.

What makes you happy? A fancy new watch? A 6-pack of good beer? Is it money? Is it girls? Is it weed? Or maybe just some low-carb, bite sized, Oreo flavored cookies? Maybe you’ve moved beyond the material ish and find your happiness in something else. How about long weekends? A beautiful day at the beach? Spending time with a loved one? Obviously these are some pretty great things, the stuff that happiness is surely made of.
But are any of these things actually true sources of happiness? What would it even look like for something to be a true cause of happiness? For something to deserve this label I believe that it would have to fulfill two conditions:

1)   It would always make you happy.
2)   The more you have of it the greater your happiness.

So think back to those things that make you happy. Do they meet those two conditions? Are they still making you happy right now? Would you keep getting happier with more and more of those things and experiences? Although it’s a simple example, I certainly learned that cookies were not a true source of happiness for me.

Because here’s the crux of the issue: what we view as happiness is actually in the nature of suffering. This is not to say that it is suffering, but that within every happy experience the seeds of suffering are already sown. As soon as a source of happiness arises so too does a new potential source of suffering. Buddhism labels this as the suffering of change, but an example might help.

Let’s say that you agreed that long weekends make you happy. Great, it’s 5 pm on Friday and you’ve got 3 full days of freedom ahead of you. But what starts to happen on Monday as it creeps up on you that you have to go back to work tomorrow? Suddenly the happiness of a long weekend starts to feel a lot like suffering.

Here’s another example. You’ve spent the whole day walking around and your body is exhausted. Sounds like suffering. You finally come to a chair and sit down. What a relief! But as soon as you’re sitting you’ve already created a new opportunity for suffering. As you sit for a longer and longer time your body starts to become uncomfortable until you finally stand up. What a relief! And yet soon the suffering of standing will set in yet again. And so the process goes on and on. There’s no relief.

Think about any experience you’ve ever had that has made you happy. Is it still making you happy right now at this very moment? Or did it come to an end? Even if the external conditions continued, do they still make you as happy as they once did? Don’t just take me at my word. Examine your own experiences. See how real the suffering that is inherent to happiness is.

Siddhartha saw merchants trading, princes hunting, mourners wailing for their dead, whores offering themselves, physicians trying to help the sick, priests determining the most suitable day for seeding, lovers loving, mothers nursing their children-and all of this was not worthy of one look from his eye. It all lied, it all stank, it all stank of lies, it all pretended to be meaningful and joyful and beautiful, and it all was just concealed putrefaction. The world tasted bitter. Life was torture.
-Herman Hesse

I understand that this may sound incredible pessimistic, but it is merely a realistic assessment of the way that our happiness works. Because it is common for us to grasp at things that make us happy, it is inevitable that we will experience dissatisfaction once the source of happiness comes to an end, as all things must.

Objects that we designate as sources of happiness are not pleasurable in and of themselves. They only seem to be because of the way that our minds perceive them. As I talked about in my meditation on the ‘I,’ once we label things as being agreeable to the ‘I’ we tend to grasp at them. This is not to say that happiness is inherently bad, but that it must be coupled with equanimity in order to avoid the suffering of change that grasping brings about. The mind that grasps is a mind that is always wanting more, always wanting better, constantly searching for its next fix of happiness.The mind that grasps is a mind that suffers. This doesn’t apply merely to material things, but to any sort of sensory-derived experience. So long as we want, we will never be satisfied.

Consider the 8 Worldly Dharmas. We all want to be happy and to avoid suffering. We all want profit and to avoid loss. We all want praise and to avoid criticism. We all want respect and to avoid disrespect. So long as we fall into this pattern of grasping and aversion we’re bound to remain dissatisfied. We must cultivate the mind of equanimity.

Just look at the impact of living in a society that runs on desire. It’s virtually impossible to maintain a steady level of happiness when we’re always in search of our happiness high. And each of these highs must be accompanied with a low. Such is the life of a happiness junkie.

Thoughts on Siddhartha

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It ended up being quite a wonderful day. I went back to my room and did some yoga, which helped circulate my blood a bit more and ease the tingling in my legs.
I have a recording of all the guided meditations from retreat so I’ve been going through one each day. Today’s happened to be on subtle impermanence, which was wonderful because it really brought me into my body and ended up completely getting rid of the nettles sensation. Remarkable really. It went away after only 6 or so hours.

I brought a book over to a rooftop restaurant from where I could see out into the valley. Even as early as 4 o’clock I could see the moon crystal clear in the sky. It rained almost constantly for the first 10 days that I was in Dharamsala and since then it’s been beautiful. Clouds and haze blow in frequently but it’s generally remarkably clear, especially higher up in the sky above the valley. The shadows on the moon are looking far more distinct than they usually are. A couple nights ago I had a dream that I was looking at the moon but after a long time I realized that I was actually looking at the Earth. The way the lines on the moon are standing out they look like continents and I had a strongly odd déjà vu back to my dream.

I ended up staying on the roof for a couple hours and getting dinner there, as well as finishing Siddhartha, which I’d just picked up yesterday. I remember reading it when I was a junior in high school. I actually have a very distinct memory of sitting on a bus on the way to a tennis match. Sam Clark was sitting in front of me signing Hotel California. Cam Roberts threw his racket over 3 courts after dropping a set. I played 6th singles. However, despite remembering those details, I had entirely forgotten what the book was about. I had it in my mind that it roughly followed the Buddha’s life story, which I suppose it does but not how I had believed. It’s a beautiful interpretation, drawing elements from a a bunch of Indian religious philosophies rather than just Buddhism. In order to finish it Hesse actually entered a life of seclusion in order to study Indian and Buddhist scriptures in reach a deeper understanding of the state that his novel’s protagonist strives to achieve.

I also don’t recall the writing to be so captivating. It’s not the same translation as the one I’d initially read, which certainly makes a difference. There are a handful of typos, the font varies from page to page, and some of the passages are actually skewed to the side. It was published by an Indian company so I assume it was translated from German into English by an Indian, in which case they would likely have a more solid cultural foundation for many of the concepts expressed by Hesse. It’s also written with British spelling for a lot of words, so that strengthens the case.

Additionally, I also think I have a lot more awareness of and appreciation for the ideas that the book conveys. Clearly it hadn’t made much of an impact when I read it 4 years ago since I couldn’t even correctly recall what it was about.
I really enjoyed the thread of Siddhartha constantly comparing himself to the childlike people, the one’s who are trapped in samsara unaware of their condition, seemingly arbitrarily placing value and meaning on their mundane activities. He ultimately comes to the conclusion that he was separated from them by the inability to lose himself in love to another person. He becomes childlike in many other ways when he enters the world of materiality, but he still never finds himself able to devote himself to love until he meets his son. He decides that, in the end, love, and the simultaneously suffering and bliss that it creates, is a part of samsara too, keeping one forever bound in the suffering in the world. He finally releases his love and looks into his wound, waiting it “to become a blossom and it had to shine.” In his last throes of samsaric suffering, he is able to see himself most fully in the childlike people around him, filled with understanding and compassion.

“Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realization, the knowledge, what wisdom actually was, what the goal of his long search was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, an ability, a secret art, to think every moment, while living his life, the thought of oneness, to be able to feel and inhale the oneness. Slowly this blossomed in him, was shining back at him from Vasudeva’s old, childlike face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, oneness…The image of his father, his own image, the image of his son merged, Kamala’s image also appeared and was dispersed, and the image of Govinda, and other images, and they merged with each other, turned all into the river, headed all, being the river, for the goal, longing, desiring, suffering, and the river’s voice sounded full of yearning, full of burning woe, full of unsatisfiable desire. For the goal, the river was heading, Siddhartha saw it hurrying, the river, which consisted of him and his loved ones and of all people he had ever seen, towards goals, many goals, the waterfall, the lake, the rapids, the sea, and all goals were reached, and every goal was followed by a new one, and the water turned into vapor, and rose to the sky, turned into a source, a stream, a river, headed forward once again, flowed on once again…When Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection.”

“When someone is searching, then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for, that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind, because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed by the goal. Searching means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
The idea of teachers is also very common in Siddhartha’s reflections. I’ve recently been thinking quite a bit about the idea of messengers, which is similar though carries a bit more apparent of a lesson. In the end, though, the apparentness of the lesson of a teacher or a messenger is really related to how willing you are to learn it.It’s truly a blessing to be fully aware when a messenger comes into your life and you’re ready to receive it.
There’s a saying that the enemy is more precious than a jewel that can grant any wish. Although the jewel may satisfy any worldly need, it is only from the enemy that you can learn to practice patience and to look for teachings in every obstacle that you encounter. Nothing is in the way. Nobody is in the way. They are the way.

“The opposite of every truth is just as true! It’s like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided. Everything is one-sided which can be thought wit thoughts and said with words, it’s all one-sided, all just one half, all lacks completeness, roundness, oneness. When the exalted Gotama spoke in his teachings of the world, he had to divide it into Samsara and Nirvana, into deception and truth, into suffering and salvation. IT cannot be done differently, there is no other way for him who wants to teach. But the world itself, what exists around us and inside of us, is never one-sided. Let the things be illusion or not, after all I would then also be an illusion, and thus they are always like me. This is what makes them so dear and worthy of veneration for me: they are like me. Therefore, I can love them And this is now a teaching you will laugh about: love, O Govinda, seems to me to be the most important thing of all. To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, t despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I’m only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me, and all beings with love and admiration and great respect.”
It all resonates strongly with the beauty of the Heart Sutra.

So for $1.50 I’d say it wasn’t a bad read.

Having so much time to myself has been wonderful. So has going to sleep at 10 and waking up at 7. I’m gradually working to shift everything earlier because it’s so wonderful here in the daylight and I like the idea of going to yoga before getting breakfast. I have so much time and there are so many interesting things to read and meditations to practice. I’m becoming increasingly less inclined towards going out and interacting with people beyond the ones I see at meditation group in the morning. I like the idea of continuing in a more free form silent retreat, having some forms of contact with people but going about things at my discretion and with as much purpose as I can muster.

To Be or Not to Be: The Dangers of the ‘I’

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Let’s play a game. It’s in the same vein as yesterday’s “Find the Computer” but today’s game might get a bit more personal. It’s called “Find the ‘I’.”

Seems easy enough, right? ‘I’ am right here. Well my body is. So ‘I’ am sitting. ‘I’ am my body. I won! But ‘I’ am also thinking, analyzing, and writing. My body doesn’t do any of those things, the mind does. So ‘I’ am my mind.

But wait. ‘I’ am my body and ‘I’ am also my mind. How can ‘I’ be both? Wouldn’t that mean there are 2 ‘I’s? Maybe ‘I’ am the combination of my mind and my body. But if ‘I’ consist of multiple parts then there’s no single, locatable permanent ‘I.’ Just like the computer, ‘I’ am entirely dependent on my parts, as well as the existence of minds (mine and those of the people around me) to impute any sort of true existence of ‘I’ onto my collection of parts. ‘I’ don’t really exist. ‘I’ am a projection. ‘I’ am a hallucination. ‘I’ am a mirage. ‘I’ am empty.

However, in the conventional reality in which ‘I’ live ‘I’ don’t see that ‘I’ don’t actually exist. ‘I’ go to school. ‘I’ do work. ‘I’ have friends. And it can go on and on, essentially forever. As we go about our daily lives we constantly identify with things around us that become incorporated into our sense of having an ‘I’, thus making this identity increasingly complicated and dense and, consequently, increasingly ‘real.’

Because we don’t see that we are projecting an ‘I’ where it does not actually exist, the self-cherishing attitude emerges. This is the aspect of our mind that only cares about satisfying the needs of the ‘I.’ Because it views ‘I’ as stable and permanent, the self-cherishing attitude makes its main priority satisfying the needs of the ‘I’. Everything that is agreeable to the ‘I’ is labeled as ‘good’ and grasped at. Everything that is disagreeable is ‘bad’ and we display aversion.

Let’s take a look at each of these reactions in turn.

We’ll start with anger. There are actually only 2 reasons that people ever get angry. The first is because somebody does something you don’t want him or her to do. The second is because somebody doesn’t do something that you want him or her to do. All cases of anger can be boiled down to one of those two scenarios, whether or not you are consciously aware of it.
The negative aspects of these two scenarios (“don’t want him or her to do” and “doesn’t do something”) arise from a hallucination in regard to the object of our anger. We either exaggerate the negative aspects of a person, object or situation, or we project negative aspects that aren’t even there to begin with. And this is all done in relationship to the ‘I.’ If something is disagreeable to the ‘I’ then it is likely that the self-cherishing attitude will engage in the projection and exaggeration of negative aspects.

Next we’ll turn to attachment. It can be a bit harder to see why this is a bad thing. After all, we are all attached to many things that appear to make us very happy and be good for us. I’ll return to this idea in a future post on the concept of all of us being happiness junkies.
Attachment works in the opposite way of anger: it causes us to exaggerate the positive qualities that something has or project such qualities that aren’t there. Once we perceive something as positive, we then develop this feeling of attachment towards it, causing us to further grasp at it in the expectation that it will give rise to greater pleasure.We label it as ‘good’, don’t even realize we’ve labeled it, and believe that that that thing inherently has the quality of goodness.
But that’s the thing about attachment: it’s never enough. No matter how much of the object of attachment we get, we always want more because that’s the way the self-cherishing mind works. It is absolutely insatiable. And because we don’t realize it’s constantly at work in our thoughts, words, and actions, we don’t even see that this is an issue. But in reality attachment is anything that keeps you from being happy. Think about it. Whenever you become unhappy, take a moment to reflect on where that comes from. It may be a long circuitous route to get there but at the end of the day attachment to an idea, person, object, place, etc. is the root cause of your unhappiness.

But surely in romantic relationships you need attachment, right?
Actually, attachment is perhaps the most dangerous killer of relationships. Attachment by itself is not necessarily bad, but it’s incredible unstable. Because attachment is based solely on what is considered agreeable to the ‘I’, as soon as the object of attachment becomes disagreeable all bets are off. Once the self-cherishing mind is no longer pleased it can immediately turn on that which it clung so dearly to before. And even when the person is still agreeable he or she can never be enough to satisfy so long as one is attached. It can lead to feelings of dependency and possessiveness, which then may ultimately turn into fear of rejection and loss. As we go through these emotional minds it is very easy to identify the ‘I’ with them and thus ‘I’ become my delusions.
In many cases when someone professes to love another it is really just a case of strong attachment. It has become very easy to confuse attachment and love and, when both exist in a relationship, it is often attachment that predominates. Attachment is conditional, constantly expecting something back (“I only want you to be happy if I’m involved.”) Love, on the other hand, is purely unconditional. It is a genuinely heartfelt emotion that expects nothing back. It causes one to wish the object of love to be happy without any conditions whatsoever. From this, it should be clear that attachment actually prevents genuine stable love because love runs directly against the needs and desires of the self-cherishing mind.

This goes beyond romantic relationships to cover any and every sort of interpersonal relationship. When we enter a relationship with someone asking only what can ‘I’ get out of it, we immediately taint the entire thing. We allow the self-cherishing mind to take control, going completely against reason. After all, just think about it for one second. What is more important: the happiness of 1 ‘I’ or the happiness of the 6+ billion other ‘I’’s in the world? What contributes more to the grand sum of happiness? After all, when you and your self-cherishing mind die all of your happiness goes with you anyways. But if you spread happiness to those around you then it continues to grow and grow.

At the end of the day, this all comes down to ignorance of the essentially nature of absolute reality. Everything is empty of inherent existence, ‘I’ included. The ‘I’ exists on the conventional level but this is relatively insignificant when compared to absolute reality. The goal would be to go about one’s life making use of the conditional ‘I’ to accomplish daily tasks without getting caught up in the idea that it exists as anything more than what our mind makes it to be. The problems really only arise when we treat ‘I’ as something more than that and allow the self-cherishing attitude to dominate our lives, causing anger and attachment to run amok.

I’ll be carrying on with this topic in the future (probably tomorrow) in a consideration of the idea of being a happiness junkie. Be on the look out!