Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/19/2018

The Meditative Development of Unselfish Joy

Excerpted from The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga).

One who begins the development of unselfish joy should not start with dearly beloved person, a neutral person or hostile person. For it is not the mere fact that a person is dearly beloved, which makes him an immediate cause of developing unselfish joy, and still less so neutral or hostile person. Persons of the opposite sex and those who are dead are not suitable subjects for this meditation.

A very close friend, however, can be a suitable subject. One who is called in the commentaries an affectionate companion; for he is always in a joyous mood: he laughs first and speaks afterwards. He should be the first to be pervaded with unselfish joy. Or on seeing or hearing about a dear person being happy, cheerful, and joyous, unselfish joy can be aroused thus: “This being, verily, is happy! How good, how excellent!” For this is what is referred to in the Vibhanga: “And how does a bhikkhu dwell pervading one direction with his heart imbued with unselfish joy? Just as he would be joyful on seeing a dear and beloved person, so he pervades all being with unselfish joy” (Vibhanga 274).

But if his affectionate friend or the dear person was happy in the past but is now unlucky and unfortunate, then unselfish joy can still be aroused by remembering his past happiness; or by anticipating that he will be happy and successful again in the future.

Having thus aroused unselfish joy with respect to a dear person, the meditator can then direct it towards a neutral one, and after that towards a hostile one.

But if resentment towards the hostile one arises in him, he should make it subside in the same way as described under the exposition of loving-kindness.

He should then break down the barriers by means of impartiality towards the four, that is, towards these three and himself. And by cultivating the sign (or after-image, obtained in concentration), developing and repeatedly practicing it, he should increase the absorption to triple or (according to the Abhidhamma division) quadruple jhana.

Next, the versatility (in this meditation) should be understood in the same way as stated under loving-kindness. It consists in:

(a) Unspecified pervasion in these five ways:
“May all beings… all breathing things… all creatures… all persons… all those who have a personality be free from enmity, affliction, and anxiety, and live happily!”
(b) Specified pervasion in these seven ways:
“May all women… all men… all Noble Ones… all not Noble Ones… all deities… all human beings… all in states of misery (in lower worlds) be free from enmity, etc.”
(c) Directional pervasion in these ten ways:
“May all beings (all breathing things, etc.; all women, etc.) in the eastern direction… in the western direction… northern… southern direction… in the intermediate eastern, western, northern, and southern direction… in the downward direction… in the upward direction be free from enmity, etc.”

This versatility is successful only in one whose mind has reached absorption (jhana).

When this meditator develops the mind-deliverance of unselfish joy through any of these kinds of absorption he obtains these eleven advantages: he sleeps in comfort, wakes in comfort, and dreams no evil dreams, he is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings, deities guard him, fire and poison and weapons do not affect him, his mind is easily concentrated, the expression of his face is serene, he dies unconfused, if he penetrates no higher he will be reborn in the Brahma World (A v 342).

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/17/2018

More Bad News – Happy Uposatha

When isn’t samsara full of bad news? I read yesterday that insect populations are plummeting worldwide and no one knows why. This only matters if beings want to eat. In other words, we’re possibly on the verge of ecological breakdown and global famine.

My first reaction to all of this was pure terror but it has morphed into an acceptance now. What can I do about it? Who can I blame and what good would it do anyway? Clearly we’re all going to die although it may happen on a larger scale and sooner than we had imagined.

My next reaction was to formulate a resolve to help. To do whatever I can to alleviate the suffering that will come to my family, strangers and friends. Right now that looks like practicing the Dhamma and developing the brahmaviharas. After failing to see results by focusing on the breath and buddho I’m going to change my focus back to the 4 Immeasurables while still keeping anapana as a secondary practice. To me it’s obvious that the hell on earth we may experience will require love and compassion as well as unshakable equanimity and these are things I have only ever come close to developing in daily life through appamaññā vihara practice.

May I not abandon those who are suffering until there is no longer the view of myself.

May I have the courage to practice for the good of all beings.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/16/2018

Negative Visualization

“If you wish to live a life free from sorrow, think of what is going to happen as if it had already happened.” – Epictetus

So much of my time is spent planning how to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain and, truthfully, who could be surprised by that? All beings want happiness and fear suffering. The problem arises when we don’t know how to achieve these ends.

When I review the things I have done I see that my pursuit of pleasure and attempts to escape pain are rarely neutral affairs. No, almost invariably I end up causing harm to others as I frantically try to arrange circumstances to fit my idea of what will bring happiness.

The Dhammic solution is the Eightfold Path of course. Right View, Right Effort and Right Mindfulness would do a lot to extricate one from unskillful compulsions undertaken out of blind and desperate ignorance. And, perhaps the advice of Epictetus to imagine the worst scenario has a role here. I recall the story of a Dhammaduta bhikkhu at the time of the Lord Buddha who was advised that the people in the land he was to visit were cruel and uncouth. Each time a new nightmarish possibility was mentioned he retorted with that there was yet something to be appreciated. If they were to beat him with sticks he replied that at least he wouldn’t be dismembered with swords or something to that effect.

In a similar way, by accepting as true the worst case scenario I may be able to find contentment in every lesser iteration of a situation. The key to this is equanimity of course which brings me back to the 8FP but anything that doesn’t wouldn’t be worth doing anyhow.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/15/2018

Practic

I don’t know why it is but even when I’m able to do 45 minutes of formal meditation in the morning I feel lately like it hasn’t left an imprint on my mind. Maybe it’s because I’ve been following Ajahn Martin’s advice and starting meditation as soon as possible after waking. Whatever the case may be though, one thing in particular needs to be asked: is it a problem that I don’t feel as though I’ve meditated?

Taking a moment to look at the question it’s not immediately apparent to me what it even means to say I’ve meditated. I think I mean that I feel at peace and clean but, on days when I don’t keep my brahmacariya pure it’s hard to tell what is causing this disturbance (like today). Another thing is that this feeling may actually be a good thing if it spurs me on towards further, more intense practice. In other words, is this something I should be attempting to change or is it simply something to be observed?

My instinct is to make my morning routine more formal in terms of refuges, Precepts and practice commitments regardless of whether it makes the practice seem more real. I have been putting off editing my booklet but I’ll do that today and observe the changes (if any) tomorrow.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/12/2018

Ahamkara

I’ve been reading a book on Abhidhamma lately and it has both given me a feeling of depth which is sometimes lacking while simultaneously making me feel as though even the illusory, skilful self I am building is nothing but a tower of sea foam. And, of course it is but what I’m feeling and what DOES NOT follow is that it’s a futile exercise.

I think this ties in with a general feeling of malaise and detection resulting from my lack of discipline and other failings. Why though, if I can see so clearly how ephemeral the good me is am I so incapable of seeing the insubstantiality of the worse version? I hope to someday understand this process of ahamkara but until then I’ll try to keep practicing Right Effort.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/10/2018

Impurity

Intoxicated by the promises of pleasure I started a fire in my heart that almost burned everything to the ground. And so, today, I begin again.

244. Easy is life for the shameless one who is impudent as a crow, is backbiting and forward, arrogant and corrupt.

245. Difficult is life for the modest one who always seeks purity, is detached and unassuming, clean in life, and discerning.

246-247. One who destroys life, utters lies, takes what is not given, goes to another man’s wife, and is addicted to intoxicating drinks — such a man digs up his own root even in this world.

248. Know this, O good man: evil things are difficult to control. Let not greed and wickedness drag you to protracted misery.

249. People give according to their faith or regard. If one becomes discontented with the food and drink given by others, one does not attain meditative absorption, either by day or by night.

250. But he in who this (discontent) is fully destroyed, uprooted and extinct, he attains absorption, both by day and by night.

251. There is no fire like lust; there is no grip like hatred; there is no net like delusion; there is no river like craving.

Dhp XVIII – Malavagga: Impurity

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/08/2018

Marathon Practice

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/08/2018

No Choice

It can feel stifling at times. In the heat of the moment I can be overwhelmed by anger and resentment and find it difficult, if not impossible, to hold my tongue. And, yet, despite these very real difficulties, I know that this is the way. I know, at least, that the path of domination and revenge is nothing less than the path to perdition. So, what’s the alternative?

In the past, especially before I found the Dhamma, my go-to alternative was to bury my head in the sand. I yet believed that ignorance was bliss. Even after I began to have faith, I have made countless excuses for myself: it’s not possible to do X while still a householder; or, the Lord Buddha didn’t expressly forbid Y so I can do it and get away with it. But, somewhere I knew these were cop outs.

No matter how difficult it may seem, anything less than my total commitment to overcoming my defilements is a betrayal of my deepest desire and highest principles. Yes, it has felt like my wife is trying to sadistically punish me and to make me abandon my children so that she will somehow be vindicated. Yes, it is exceedingly hard not to fall prey to the snares of hurt and resentment but it can be done. It must be done.

I know that the highest good to come from all of this would be to go forth and that may very well happen in this lifetime but never as an escape nor with a heart full of coals. I am grateful to her for showing me the limits of romantic love and attraction and how it can so easily be shaped into a barbed hook. I am thankful for the difficulties that have turned me away from the illusion of erotic love and towards the Dhamma. I am grateful to be able to make use of this otherwise nightmarish situation to progress along the path rather than be cast headlong into the abyss by my kilesas.

May my wife find true peace, happiness and contentment. May she meet with every success and quickly find freedom from suffering.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/07/2018

Palpable

The feeling of contempt and disgust I feel radiating from my wife (a term that hardly feels right when applied to the person with whom I now share the house) is palpable and reminds me of the tendrils of condensing water vapor one sees around a block of dry ice. It is quite literally one of the strangest and most uncomfortable developments I have ever experienced. And, despite my best efforts, I have not been nearly strong enough to keep my mouth shut resulting in even more issues.

I’m not really clear how we got to a place where she can mock me for being a bad Buddhist and in the same breath wish me to walk in front of a car but it’s completely insane. I have to keep reminding myself to let go of this resentment and to recenter myself in order to weather the unrelenting hailstorm of contempt.

May I never marry again. May I find true refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. May my children grow up safe, secure and protected. May they practice the Dhamma and progress towards liberation.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/05/2018

Putting It Down

It occurred to me this morning that my preoccupation with ordering my life to maximize comfort and minimize anxiety is just one more burden I’ve taken up. Things tend to change so quickly and never play out quite the way we imagined and yet I’m constantly trying to second guess reality. Why twist myself into knots over things that may never come pass?

But, these are just words. The moment that it became real for me happened this morning when I felt, if only briefly, that this worry was almost a physical weight on my chest. My mind’s eye also briefly sketch a gray brown, double-handled burlap sack that must have been the sign of worry. Why carry this around and make myself less ready to confront the inevitable difficulties of life?

If I can only take the sage advice and stop adding on heaping helpings of worry it’s quite conceivable that I could halve my daily dukkha! Yet, any of us who have spent even a little time trying to train oneself in any discipline will know that it’s never a simple proposition when the mind is involved. Wish me luck.

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