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What Is your Newest Book About?

9 Jun

Since I first posted about the publication of my newest Book- The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations, I have had numerous inquirers asking about the content of the book. I thought the quickest look at the book contents would be to list the Table of Contents. Good reading!

The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations

Contents

Preface…xi

Chapter 1 Introduction 1

Chapter 2 Self/No-Self 7

Chapter 3 Self as Construction 23

Chapter 4 The Human Being as a Collective, Unified Unit 35

Chapter 5 Awakening and Enlightenment: Psychological Transformation and Transcendence 61

Chapter 6 Enlightenment: Reality, Actuality and Transcendence 73

Chapter 7 Knowing and Not Knowing – What is Possible? 81

Chapter 8 The General Doctrine of the Law of Dependent Co-arising 99

Chapter 9 Kamma 109

Chapter 10 Sense of Agency 119

Chapter 11 Agency Labelled as Self 129

Chapter 12 Dividing Existence – Duality 143

Chapter 13 Language Construction of Duality 163

Chapter 14 Identification 181

Chapter 15 The Buddha’s Compassion 197

Chapter 16 Memory 207

Chapter 17 The Unconscious 227

Chapter 18 Habits 243

Chapter 19 Cognitive Biases 253

Chapter 20 Meta-cognition and Mindfulness 267

Chapter 21 Automatic Influences on our Actions and Perceptions 277

Chapter 22 Organisms as Coherent Embedded Systems 299

Chapter 23 Happiness 379

Chapter 24 The World without a ‘Self’ 391

Chapter 25 Closing Thoughts 405

Appendix A Explanation of the effects of stress on the different systems of the human body 411

Appendix B Special experiences 415

About the Author

Rodger R. Ricketts, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher. He has been studying Buddhism for over thirty years, both as part of his own personal quest and also in the application its principles as a therapeutic tool in psychotherapy. He has written three books exploring the foundation of the Buddha’s Teaching in psychology. Rodger has given numerous presentations at wellness and professional psychological conferences on the topics of cognitive psychology, mindfulness and wellbeing. Rodger continues his study of both science and Buddhism, and maintains a regular meditation practice.

Newest Book Now on Amazon- Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations

11 May

The Buddha’s teachings are, at heart, a way of life based on a revolutionary psychology which emphasises the cultivation of wisdom and compassion. Through an exploration of significant, recent findings and thought in psychology, neuroscience, biology, physics, linguistics, ecology and culture, this book shows how the Buddha’s teachings are at the cutting edge of the new direction that psychology must take to reflect and apply the latest trends in science.

Now available on Amazon – a great read!

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Interesting and Surprising Facts about the Buddha and his Teachings

12 Mar

The Buddha was the first thinker in known history to teach the doctrine of human equality and social freedom amongst all humans. Society should be open to all, regardless of caste, color, or class. No caste, class, or race privileges existed among his lay followers or in the Order of the Sangha that he founded. Instead, social classes and castes are nothing but functional divisions of society, man-made, subject to change and resulting from social and historical factors. Any social doctrine based on the alleged superiority of a caste, class, or race, and advocating to keep it dominant by the use of force, will lead to the perpetuation of social tensions and conflict, and never bring about harmony and equality. The Buddha’s doctrine of equality means each person should be treated equally with dignity, and given an equal chance to develop their inherent potentials of economic, moral and spiritual progress, and of human perfection. Also, the Buddha was the first who attempted to abolish slavery, which included the traffic in, and the sale of, females for commercial purposes. In fact, this is a prohibited trade for his followers.

A man named Dighajanu once visited the Buddha and said, ‘Venerable Sir, we are ordinary laymen, leading a family life with wife and children. Would the Blessed One teach us some doctrines which will be conducive to our happiness in this world and hereafter?’ In a large number of his discourses, the Buddha has given practical guidance for the lay life and sound advice to cope with life’s difficulties. The Buddha identified four traits conducive to lay happiness (Pali: sukha) in this life: hard-working (uṭṭhāna-sampadā), being skilled and diligent in one’s livelihood; vigilance (ārakkha-sampadā), protecting one’s wealth from theft and disaster; virtuous friendship (kalyāṇa-mittatā), associating with and emulating those who are learned, generous, virtuous, wise, who will help one along the right path away; and, balanced living (sama-jīvikatā), abstaining from drunkenness, gambling and unwholesome friendships and behaviors.While accepting material comforts, Buddhism always lays great stress on the development of the moral and spiritual character for a happy, peaceful and contented life as well as society.

Buddhism teaches ‘The Middle Way’ because it avoids the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification.
For six years the, to be, Buddha fervently followed a path of self-mortification, yet it led, not to higher wisdom and enlightenment, but only to physical weakness and the deterioration of his mental faculties. Ascetic Gotama then thought of another path to enlightenment, one which balanced proper care of the body with sustained contemplation and deep investigation. He would later call this path “the Middle Way”. He had experienced both extremes, the former as a prince and the latter as an ascetic, and he knew they were ultimately dead ends. To follow the middle way, however, he realized he would first have to regain his strength. Thus, he gave up his practice of austerities and resumed taking nutritious food. Later, He became Awakened and The Noble Buddha.

The name bhikkhuni refers to a fully ordained Buddhist nun i.e. a woman who has taken higher ordination (upasampada) in the Buddhist monastic community. Bhikkhunis live a simple life, equal to that of a bhikkhu or monk. In fact, all the monks and nuns are equal as the disciples of the Buddha. The order of nuns was established lastly, after the Bhikkhu Sangha, and the communities of laymen and laywomen. Ananda asked the Buddha, “Lord Buddha, can women attain enlightenment?” The Buddha said to him, “Ananda, yes of course they can.” He said, “If they can, why don’t you allow them to join the Sangha, learning and practicing directly?’ Because of practical considerations, it took some time and persuasion for the Bhikkhuni Sangha to be established by the Buddha, but thanks to Maha Pajapati-Gotami and Ananda’s support it came to be.

In Buddhism, actions are not termed ‘sinful’ but unskilful or unwholesome. Buddhists do regard humans as sinful or ‘evil’ by nature but the wicked person is ignorant, foolish and immature. They need instruction most of all, more than punishment and condemnation. The Buddha has encouraged us to develop and use our highest understandings through responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Our suffering is not handed down by the Gods, instead, it is created by our not understanding the great principles of life: Life is impermanent, continuously changing and interrelated; there is No-Self and there is Suffering in life. As our Enlightened teacher, The Buddha advised us on how to lead a pure life and achieve the attainment of nibbana.

The Buddha did not encourage the use of magic, charms or fortune telling to improve our lives. They have no spiritual significance or value. It is only through our Right Understanding, Right Effort and Right Practice that we advance.

In the Kalamas Sutta, the Buddha said, ‘Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.’  Many honest seekers today, like the Kalamas, of the Truth become confused and worried by the many conflicting and inconsistent sects and theologies that are pronounced daily by so many people calling themselves the ‘light to follow’. The Buddha provided a simple and direct test to guide us to know the truth of his teaching: trust yourself, your own experience, and through your experience of the correct teachings which you have found to be reliable and insightful – follow and use. Those people who are “the wise” will teach with the plan that you will see the benefit for yourself through your experience and transformation and not through blind faith and, therefore, you don’t become a slave to their wisdom, instead, you use your reason, your common sense, and your own experience as the ultimate guide and confirmation. So you develop insights for yourself ultimately. While you can benefit from reading books and listening to teachers, etc, your true reliance is upon your real understanding created through the real work that must ultimately be done in transforming and purifying our individual mind. In the end you know for yourself the confirmation of the Buddha’s teachings – there is suffering and the ending of suffering- and this is the only authority needed or desirable.

The Buddha spoke of “beginningless time” and how there is no beginning. The Buddha said that “there is no first beginning, no first beginning is knowable.” (Samyutta Nikaya 15.1-2) This implies that certainly at even the most basic level of existence, everything is made of the same atoms and cosmic ‘stuff’ and we see exclusion and separation only made by our minds.

The Buddha gave to all a practical method (Eighfold Path) for the development of the mind and heart for the shaping of our lives to eventually achieve Awakening or Enlightenment. He did not teach theology or doctrinal orthodoxy. The Buddha understood that all religious doctrines and theology are human inventions built up by the particular authors out of their own mentalities and foisted on people’s minds from the outside. Instead, The Buddha was the teacher who gave the lessons and, if we so want, we are the ones who practice sincerely what he taught and thereby develop our own insights and knowledge of especially the primary Three Universal Truths of Impermanence, No-Self and the existence of Suffering. In Buddhism this is entirely a matter that each individual has to settle for him/herself. But if one makes the effort sincerely- the benefits appear immediately.

Emperor Asoka (304–232 BCE) was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent  from c. 268 to 232 BCE. He [propagated the relatively new doctrine of Buddhism to new heights, as far as ancient Rome and Egypt. He made Buddhism his state religion around 260 BC. He built thousands of Stupas and Viharas for Buddhist followers. The Stupas of Sanchi are world famous and the Stupa named Sanchi Stupa was built by Emperor Ashoka. During the remaining portion of Ashoka’s reign, he pursued an official policy of nonviolence (Ahimsa). Even the unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of Animals was immediately abolished. Everyone became protected by the king’s law against sport Hunting and branding. Limited Hunting was permitted for consumption reasons but Ashoka also promoted the concept of vegetarianism. Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day of the year. He attempted to raise the professional ambition of the common man by building universities for study, and water transit and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics and Caste. The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily overthrown, were instead made to be well-respected allies. He is acclaimed for constructing hospitals for Animals and renovating major roads throughout India. After this transformation, Ashoka came to be known as Dhammashoka (Sanskrit), meaning Ashoka, the follower of Dharma. Ashoka defined the main principles of Dharma (Dhamma) as nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for the Brahmans and other religious teachers and priests, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and Generosity towards all.

Buddhism teaches that the two qualities-wisdom with compassion—are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, where there is true wisdom there is compassion, where there is true compassion there is wisdom. This teaching develops positive cooperative relationships among all people and with sentient beings. It is a teaching for a peaceful, fruitful world and enlightened personal mentality.

Buddhism is concerned with how anyone, male or female, can follow a definite path of mental culture and development to have that same realization. In his own lifetime, The Buddha saw many of his followers realize Enlightenment. After his death, and down through the centuries, thousands have experienced the awakened state – and not only monks. Buddhism is a teaching that explains how realization can be acquired in one’s life – here and now.

The Greeks had a story of a handsome young man named Narcissus who went to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image or illusion. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, later he fell in the water and drowned. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance.
The Buddha, before the Greeks, warned of the suffering caused by a belief and love of the illusion of a self. The Greek story is a nice exposition on this ignorance and the dire consequences of it. The Buddha taught the doctrine of Anatta or no-self.

Sometime between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, the first representations of the physical Buddha were developed. These were absent from earlier Buddhist art, which preferred to represent the Buddha with symbols such as the stupa, the Bodhi tree, the empty seat, the wheel, or the footprints. The Buddha never encouraged statues or artistic representations of himself when he was living. The physical Buddha image like the standing Buddha in the photo was inspired by the sculptural styles of Hellenistic Greek influence.

When some people hear Buddhists say that ‘The World is an Illusion’ they think that means everything in the world is unreal, an illusion. This is a misunderstanding. The Buddha taught that the external environment is ‘real’ but our understanding of it is filtered through our senses, expectations, identities, and memories so our mental construction of the world is an illusion in that we believe that to be the ‘real’ reality but it isn’t – it is like a magic show. To be Awakened is to see beyond the tricks of the magician.

The Doctrine of Karma or Kamma is not a mystical force and does not entail fatalism. Instead, it is a natural phenomenon, like gravity. Our thoughts create consequences inside our mind which we then act on. The doctrine refers to our intentional mental actions- our volitions. What we are now is determined by our thoughts and actions in the past and what we do next, in the future, is determined by our thoughts and actions in the present. Therefore, our kamma has the potential to continuously change depending on our development of our thoughts and actions. The Buddha was very clear in teaching the Noble Eightfold Path that we can definitely transform the quality of our mind and action for the better and ultimately achieve Enlightenment. So Karma does not mean that we have a fixed destiny across lifetimes that we must passively accept or that bad or good things happen only because of our past actions.

Thoughts about The Buddha’s Teaching: Seeing Without Illusion

18 Jan

 

The Buddha placed primary importance on our thinking and volition. In fact our difficulties arise when our thinking is unwholesome, in the past and in the present. Our citta or heart/mind is our kingdom, or our own mentality. It is our private place where the swirl of thoughts continually pass across our mind. No one but yourself can know what truly goes on there. There is both privacy and the possible control to think the thoughts you want. You can choose which thoughts to accept or refuse. Which ever thoughts you allow will shortly be expressed through your volition in the outer environment. Once you think the thoughts, you can not take them back. Your choice lies in thinking or not thinking them in the first place. The more you think unwholesome thoughts, it is like taking a substance that will sicken you both physically and mentally. What your mind dwells on will sooner or later become your ‘world’ and you will attract those energies to you. To entertain and encourage thoughts and feelings of anger, jealousy, resentment, greed, etc., is certain to not only damage your health in some way but also cause a lot of trouble and suffering in your life. So the Buddha taught you to be Mindful or aware every moment onwards, to watch even your habitual thinking with utmost care and nurture and promote only wholesome and skillful thinking. May All Beings be Well and Happy.

The Buddha emphatically declared that the first beginning of existence is something inconceivable.“When this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When
this does not exist, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases, namely: dependent on ignorance, arise volitional formations … and so on … Thus is the ending of this whole
mass of suffering.”There is a flux of
psychological and physiological changes, a conflux of mind and body (nāma-rūpa).Anamatagga Saṃyutta, S II 179
And even now in physics, they say that ‘Now’ is not something that moves forward but it is the empirically-always-present field of change which is the domain in which events are created. Therefore, the future is always indeterminate and creating new possibilities opening for genuine free will. Ruth E. Kastner

The young man said to the Buddha, ‘I will take up the Eightfold Path when I am older, but first I want to enjoy myself and have fun.’ Many people have this idea that by following the Eightfold Path they will be giving up things like intense sense pleasures and self-importance as well as riches and beautiful objects that they will regret not having experienced later. Instead this misses the big picture which is that what one truly comes to sacrifice by personal development through the Buddha’s teachings is selfishness, fear, alienation, insecurity, physical malady, unwholesome pleasures, pride, vanity, doubt, jealousy, self-pity, cravings, anger, hatred, etc. and, instead, what one gains through the Bhavana training includes immeasurably more happiness, peace, joy, compassion, bliss,serenity and vastly improved relationships with all sentient beings as well as oneself. So only giving up things that are not truly worth having and instead gaining that which is, is the final ample compensation for proceeding diligently on the Eightfold Path until achieving Enlightenment.

The Buddha gave to all a practical method (Eighfold Path) for the development of the mind and heart for the shaping of our lives to eventually achieve Awakening or Enlightenment. He did not teach theology or doctrinal orthodoxy. The Buddha understood that all religious doctrines and theology are human inventions built up by the particular authors out of their own mentalities and foisted on people’s minds from the outside. Instead, The Buddha was the teacher who gave the lessons and, if we so want, we are the ones who practice sincerely what he taught and thereby develop our own insights and knowledge of especially the primary Three Universal Truths of Impermanence, No-Self and the existence of Suffering. In Buddhism this is entirely a matter that each individual has to settle for him/herself. But if one makes the effort sincerely- the benefits appear immediately.

A wonderful and powerful practise is with especially people we have difficulty with but also all people- when you see or interact with that difficult person imagine seeing their living Buddha Nature and then you will see the layers and type of ignorance with which you are interacting. This practice is good for not only maintaining our own composure but also helps in our judgement of the difficulty of the situation. With metta.

The Realms or Worlds from ‘hell’ to ‘heaven’ are commonly described as extra human realms but they are also instructive to us when viewed as all of our ranges of mental experience created by our conscious as well as non-conscious mental or cognitive processes.

 

Whatever we give our attention to, is what governs our life – mentally and physically. We have a freedom in our ability to choose what we direct and maintain our attention on. What we consistently pay attention to becomes our ‘world’ and habitually dominates it. If we constantly direct our attention on the ever-changing, impermanent outer world we suffer anxiety and uncertainty; if we direct our attention on nothing in particular then nothing in particular is expressed in our life with uncertainty and boredom. If we direct our attention to the four divine internal states and eventually arrive at Emptiness we experience happiness/bliss, good health, compassion, wisdom and certainty in the Truth of the Four Noble Truths.

Metta (loving-kindness) is defined as follows: Loving-kindness has the mode of friendliness for its characteristic. Its natural function is to promote friendliness. It is manifested as the disappearance of ill-will. Its footing is seeing with kindness. When it succeeds it eliminates ill-will. When it fails it degenerates into selfish affectionate desire. Eventually, one can begin to practice loving-kindness towards a dearly beloved companion, and then towards a neutral person as very dear, or towards an enemy as neutral. It is when dealing with an enemy that anger can arise, and all means must be tried in order to get rid of it. As soon as this has succeeded, one will be able to regard an enemy without resentment and with loving-kindness in the same way as one does the admired person, the dearly loved friend, and the neutral person. Then with repeated practice, jhana absorption should be attained in all cases. Loving-kindness can now be effectively maintained in being towards all beings.Ñanamoli Thera

However, those who believe in a soul only too often override the limits set by experience and concern themselves with “something completely unknowable,” as Bertrand Russell says. Moving along these wrong tracks of thought, they readily admit that all cognizable and experiential constituents of the “personality” are subject to constant change, to an unceasing rise and fall; and for that reason they, of course, cannot be considered as an abiding ego. But it is, so they believe, just from behind or beyond the cognizable and experiential components of the personality that the true eternal self or soul appears which, naturally, must be beyond cognition and experience. What is wrong in such a position and in these conclusions, has chiefly to be attributed to the fact that an empty concept has been raised to the dignity of man’s true essence or core—a concept obtained by mere abstract ratiocination, having nothing in common with observation and experience. The futility of such a play with words has been shown by Kant. For him a way of thinking that transgresses the limits drawn by experience is a playing with ideas, and the alleged vision of something imperceptible is “a poetic fiction transcending everything imaginable, a mere whim.”The Buddha and his monks, however, are no dreamers chasing after metaphysical phantoms. They are sober realists who will not admit such groundless speculations even to the range of their considerations or refutations. Dr. Anton Kropatsch, Vienna

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From up and down and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all -Joni Mitchell

This is the true question that the Buddha’s teachings really address – ‘Do I Really Know Life At All?’ And in investigating the question, the answer becomes quite clear- for the uninvestigated mind, No…I don’t. All existence is much too complex, interrelated and deep for us prideful humans to truly comprehend and indeed mystery is the result. But this is not a defeat but an affirmation of our embeddness and interrelatedness with All of other existence. Not the folly, alienation and separateness of the conceit of humans being the supreme being of the universe or even earth but the authentic identification of the true ecological, co-arising nature of all things. You will hear people say, ‘I am trying to find myself.’ But if you want to find your-self, then transcend your-self. When we transcend our-self, we truly find each other and our interconnection with all. We are not alone! Just look around you, there are creatures of life everywhere. If we feel alone, that is our blindness to life all around us, our suffering of alienation created by the illusion of separateness and ‘I’.

The Buddha understood how humans create “conceptual proliferation”- thinking, a representational and abstracting process that they believe and attach to. This is another way to speak about that:
When the animals evolved the talent to produce a virtual presence, they acquired a soul.
Then there was a God to be adored.
And an Adam was created.
As production of virtual presences increases, man’s tie to the Real decreases. Soon, he praises innovation and inhuman courage. He invents thrills and excitements. He relies on myths and mysteries. He downgrades Nature with a reckless chisel. Life becomes the Grand Illusion. With a facility in the manipulation of the virtual presences, the primal Superman was born. With perfection in the art, a second Devil took charge. It was then that man came to defy the God. The interminable conflict thrusting the virtual presences against the real intensifies. R. G. H. Siu

Upon Awakening the Buddha realized emptiness and the illusion of duality and a substantial Self- the consequences of the ignorance of dualistic thinking is expressed well in the following quote by Professor l. k. Tong-‘And so you opted for the substantialist’s art of self making, Cutting off all umbilical cords to the Mother of Field-Being. You first dignify yourself in the kingly robes of an independent entity, enthroning yourself in the lonely kingdom of ego-substance. Then with the projective magic of your subjective substantiality, you objectify everything on your way to Godlike rigidity. And with the pointing of the substantializing wand, a bond was broken; a shade of mutuality has withered and waned. Now everything becomes merely external and separate from everything else. External is your objective world, you objectified a God, and your objectified self. Anything you cannot safely possess and control you relegate to the dark side of the Other, the Hell, the objective pole, And condemned it as ugly, or evil. Oh, in carrying your Godlike rigidity to all eternity (as if you were in fact rigidly eternal), you, a virtuoso in dualization, have created the most unhappy situation.’

In the Kalamas Sutta, the Buddha said, ‘Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.’ 
Many honest seekers today of the Truth, like the Kalamas, become confused and worried by the many conflicting and inconsistent sects and theologies that are pronounced daily by so many people calling themselves the ‘light to follow’. The Buddha provided a simple and direct test to guide us to know the truth of his teaching: trust yourself, your own experience, and through your experience of the correct teachings which you have found to be reliable and insightful – follow and use. Those people who are “the wise” will teach with the plan that you will see the benefit for yourself through your experience and transformation and not through blind faith and, therefore, you don’t become a slave to their wisdom, instead, you use your reason, your common sense, and your own experience as the ultimate guide and confirmation. So you develop insights for yourself ultimately. While you can benefit from reading books and listening to teachers, etc, your true reliance is upon your real understanding created through the real work that must ultimately be done in transforming and purifying our individual mind. In the end you know for yourself the confirmation of the Buddha’s teachings – there is suffering and the ending of suffering- and this is the only authority needed or desirable.

‘To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one’s mind—this is the teaching of the Buddhas.’ (Dhammapada 183.) Throughout human history, innumerable plans and schemes and doctrines have been invented to make people happy, serene and compassionate by making changes in human’s external conditions while leaving the quality of the mentality untouched and the result has over and over again been the same- failure. The Buddha taught that this failure is so because the very nature of our external existence is only changed by the purification of our conscious awareness. The difficulty for human history and never finding the key to happiness and compassion is that purification of one’s mind takes effort, diligence and devoted practise to be successful. We must have constant unceasing vigilance and mindfulness to break the old unwholesome mental habits which are so troublesome. The Buddha understood this but also understood the benefits that arise when we do the Eightfold Path with the result of Nibbana. ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Nibbana.’— AN 3.32

To purify our mind as the Buddha taught, we need to release any anger or resentments toward others or our self. When we experience hurt, disappointment, deception, etc, from other people, these feelings sink into our memory and cause inflamed and festering emotional/psychological wounds of anger, resentment and possibly revenge. To purify our mind, we need to forgive. Forgiveness is a conscious, willing decision to release any feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness is difficult and it does not mean condoning or excusing offenses nor does it does obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from accountability. Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger and resentment. Forgiveness involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings but also maintaining a feeling of at least neutral good will toward everyone who may have injured you in any way. In that way, you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal. By forgiveness, you set yourself free from the attachment to the link that you maintain even mentally to the past and the negativity. Setting yourself free from the attachment, releases you.This includes forgiveness of oneself for actions you did that you now understand were unwholesome and unskillful. Through purification and letting go of the guilt or resentment, happiness and peace will follow as well as increased wisdom and equanimity.

The Importance of Personal Refinement

14 Dec
  • This blog is about the topic of refinement in a personal sense.

I have read in different sources the difference between people who have developed a “refined” behavior, comportment vs. others who haven’t. For example, recently, I read a book on Haiku and there was a passage about Matsuo Bashò – the famous Japanese poet – in which he had expressed his thoughts on the nature of refinement and the nature of high art. He had written “Through the waka of Saigyò, the renga of Sògi, the painting of Sesshù and the tea of Rikyù, one thing flows. People of such refinement submit to nature and befriend the four seasons. Where they look is nothing but flowers, what they think is nothing but the moon. Perceiving shapes other than flowers amounts to being a barbarian. Holding thoughts other than the moon is akin to being a beast. Come out from barbarians, depart from beasts. Submit to nature, return to nature.”

I must admit that for some reason, when I was growing up, I had not learned well the importance and self-efficacious nature of refinement. I had approached the topic with suspicion and trepidation. I had associated it with pompousness, exaggerated ego and elitism. It appeared to be a behavior of the upper class not necessary or desirable for the working middle class. It was a bother like music lessons. Now I see this erroneous attitude of mine had to do with an understanding/approach to myself.

Growing up in the USA, a perspective I had learned was that I should be simple, plain, and not self aware to any great extent, not taking pleasure in the appreciation of my own development needed in personal refinement. Much of my distaste for personal refinement was a psychological attitude toward myself fostered by a Protestant ethic of simplicity, sameness and plainness. While I certainly was taught good manners and etiquette in my family as well as encouraged to appreciate art and music, etc, my mental block toward fostering personal refinement was the attitude toward the self. Simplicity was equated with simplicity of self as from a Protestant perspective. Now I see that as an American, the cultural linage from the Quakers, Amish, Baptists and other moral but stern Christian people have been a pervasive cultural baggage that significantly influenced my psychological development.

Max Weber had written extensively on the Protestant ethic and the following quote exemplifies this ethic’s approach to the Fine Arts. “But the situation is quite different when one looks at non-scientific literature and especially the fine arts. Here asceticism descended like a frost on the life of “Merrie old England.” And not only worldly merriment felt its effect. The Puritan’s ferocious hatred of everything which smacked of superstition, of all survivals of magical or sacramental salvation, applied to the Christmas festivities and the May Pole and all spontaneous religious art. That there was room in Holland for a great, often uncouthly realistic art proves only how far from completely the authoritarian moral discipline of that country was able to counteract the influence of the court and the regents (a class of rentiers), and also the joy in life of the parvenu bourgeoisie, after the short supremacy of the Calvinistic theocracy had been transformed into a moderate national Church, and with it Calvinism had perceptibly lost in its power of ascetic influence.

The theatre was obnoxious to the Puritans, and with the strict exclusion of the erotic and of nudity from the realm of toleration, a radical view of either literature or art could not exist. The conceptions of idle talk, of superfluities, and of vain ostentation, all designations of an irrational attitude without objective purpose, thus not ascetic, and especially not serving the glory of God, but of man, were always at hand to serve in deciding in favour of sober utility as against any artistic tendencies. This was especially true in the case of decoration of the person, for instance clothing. That powerful tendency toward uniformity of life, which today so immensely aids the capitalistic interest in the standardization of production, had its ideal foundations in the repudiation of all idolatry of the flesh.”

Also as David Kelley wrote, perhaps my coming of age in the ‘60’s had important consequences to my attitude toward the self discipline needed to refine one’s mental culture and behavior. “Rousseau hated the cosmopolitanism and refinement of Enlightenment life and vehemently criticized inequality, which he thought was an inescapable consequence of civilization. He offered an idealized image of primitive man not yet corrupted by civilization and of life in a nature not yet polluted by cities or machines. The source of those primitivist views was Rousseau’s antipathy to reason. He felt that emotion and instinct should be our guides to action. In this respect, he was the father of the 19th-century Romantic poets and of the counterculture of the 1960s, with its demand for sexual liberation, its contempt for “bourgeois morality,” its emphasis on self-expression rather than self-discipline. The Age of Aquarius sought release from the constraints of reason through drugs and New Age religions. Like Rousseau, it rejected the cosmopolitan modernism of the Enlightenment and praised the authenticity of primitive modes of life.”

Whatever the influences, it wasn’t until I started to explore other cultural points of view that I began to experiment with new ways of approaching myself. A significant influence for me became, and continues to this day, Buddhism with its emphasis on mental culture and etiquette as a means of better comprehending and relating to one’s self and the world. Etiquette became for me a practice which, in general, is concerned with the refinement of human behavior in its relationship with other human beings. Instead of being a system of self approval and haughtiness/superiority- ‘my etiquette is better than yours’-, it is a method of self refinement done in humility.

With my study and practice of Buddhism, I slowly began to approach my thoughts and behaviors in a manner that fostered refinement with humility. The results were satisfying which continued to encourage my practice. The use of meditation, esp. mindfulness, opened a new experience. As Robert Bogoda wrote, “The particularly important method of experiential verification necessitates consistent Buddhist practice—usually contemplation and meditation-as this refines the ability of a person to trust his or her senses through the cultivation of awareness and the implementation of mindfulness in everyday life. Buddhists posit that cultivated awareness is a requisite for trusting the information gathered from the senses, so that emotions and prejudices do not cloud one’s judgments. The refinement of one’s ability to accurately perceive the world and thus trust his or her senses is a primary reason why meditation is central to Buddhist practice.

Sati or bare attention is an important aspect of mindfulness. Sati is the objective seeing of things stripped bare of likes and dislikes, bias and prejudice. It is viewing things and events as they really are — the naked facts. The ability to do this is a sign of true Buddhist maturity. The principle of bare attention should be applied vigorously to everyday thinking. The results will be: clearer thinking and saner living, a marked reduction in the pernicious influence of mass media propaganda and advertisements, and an improvement in our inter-personal relationships. “

The Buddhist approach teaches that progress along the path does not follow a simple linear trajectory. Rather, development of each aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path encourages the refinement and strengthening of the others, leading the practitioner ever forward in an upward spiral of spiritual maturity that culminates in Awakening. Put briefly, it states that action is real, effective, and the result of one’s own choice. If one chooses to act skillfully and works to develop that skill, one’s actions can lead to happiness.

Now I think that refinement corresponds to sensitivity and comprehension. An increased sensitivity which of course also means an alteration in the self. The self is ‘entangled’ – (I borrow a term from quantum physics which means, ‘a system (relationship) containing two or more objects, where the objects that make up the system are linked in a way that one cannot adequately describe the state of a constituent of the system without full mention of its counterparts, even if the individual objects are spatially separated with the other.’ The division of self/object is absent and both are one interacting experience. It is a sense based experience.

 

From another perspective David L. Barnhill wrote, “Phenomenological hermeneutics focuses on experience, seeing it not as a subjective being experiencing an objective reality but rather a mutual implication of subject and object. That is, subject and object are not separate entities but part of a single field of experience, like poles of a continuum. What the author (for example Bashō) experienced was his particular being-in-the-world, not some objective reality. The text arises out of that experience and is itself a presentation of a mode of experience.”

Several examples of this experience are the following translations of a haiku written by Bashò:

Thinking to gaze at them, I drew extremely close to the cherry blossoms, making the parting ever so painful. trans. James Brandon

Gazing at them, these blossoms have grown so much a part of me, to part with them when they fall seems bitter indeed! trans. Burton Watson

“Detached” observer Of blossoms finds himself in time Intimate with them– So, when they separate from the branch, It’s he who falls…deeply into grief. trans. William R. LaFleur

So to conclude, I now understand better and value highly what Bashò wrote  regarding refinement, however, I would not be so strong in my characterization of people who haven’t yet come to understand the significance and transformative nature of personal refinement –“barbarian”. I like better the terms skillful vs. unskillful.

 O’ GREAT SPIRIT help me always to speak the truth quietly, to listen with an open mind when others speak, and to remember the peace that may be found in silence. Cherokee Prayer

Meditation Retreat

4 Dec

My weekend retreat began similar to others I had attended at the Buddhadharma Center, in a pleasant suburban setting about 30 miles outside Chicago, Illinois. I arrived by car on a sunny, summer Friday afternoon with my sleeping bag, meditation pillow, mat and a small bag of clothes and toothbrush/shampoo and towel. I was grateful to again have an opportunity to practice a few days of Mindfulness meditation in a supportive and relaxed atmosphere.

As I walked into the renovated small church, now temple, I was greeted by the friendly smiling faces of volunteers who were going to provide us visitors with delicious Thai vegetarian meals as well as evening tea and cookies. One of the helpers showed me to the large room where the male meditators would be sleeping and, looking around the sparsely furnished room, I found a spot where there wasn’t an open sleeping bag on the floor and, firstly, I put my mat down and then on top of it, my sleeping bag. Next to my sleeping bag I set down my clothes bag.  No one else was in the room.

Shortly after setting up my ‘bedroom’ I heard a bell ringing which meant for all participants to go to the main Temple room. Leaving the ‘bedroom’, I put my shoes back on and walked up stairs where there were already about thirty people, men and women, young and older, sitting. I again took my shoes off and went into the Temple room, which, in the front, on a small stage, had a large gold painted statue of the Buddha, beautiful flowers on both sides and three monks in light brown robes were sitting quietly in front of the Buddha statue. With my meditation pillow in hand I found a comfortable spot, sat down on my pillow and quietly focused on my breathing and centering myself in this new situation after a three hour drive.

Everyone sat quietly. I heard birds chirping in the field outside. There was a pleasant smell of incense and the light whirling sound of the three ceiling fans. My meditation weekend had begun. After about ten minutes, one of the monks went to the microphone and greeted everyone and then gave a short talk on the five precepts, which is the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers, that we were expected to observe during the retreat. He said that the precepts were meant to provide a harmonious situation for the best practice of meditation and cooperation among all the participants. The five precepts are

  1. Not to harm living beings

  2. Not to steal

  3. Not to participate in sexually harmful behavior

  4. Not to lie

  5. Not to take alcohol or other intoxicating drugs

After this short introductory talk and ‘Taking the Precepts’, we all participated, for an hour, in first chanting and then sitting meditation. After that we had individual time during which I went to the Temple’s small bookshop where I browsed through the titles. With the again ringing of the bell, we were informed that lunch was ready for us so everyone went to the auditorium area where tables had been set up and we chose our lunch of Thai cooking, buffet style. Sitting at tables with our food, we all ate silently and mindfully. After lunch, the program had a pause and I went outside behind the temple where there was an acre of lawn with neat rows of different fruit trees. Sitting in the warm sun, I enjoyed my contentment of the moment.

So that day and the next two included the following: mindfully meditating on loving kindness, walking, sitting, yoga, chanting; Dhamma instruction by the monks followed by Q&A; individual time to read, write, think, rest, and eating nourishing and tasty vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch and refreshments in the evenings. All activities were done in silence to help keep our focus on the here and now and to quiet the mind and body. As in previous retreats, I noticed a gradual transformation of my mind/body condition. With the meditation practices, the instructive Dhamma talks and peaceful environment, my mind/body began to shed the stress and tension of everyday life and I began to melt into a deeper state of present awareness and mindful absorption.

On the last day, in the late morning, during walking meditation, I chose to walk outside among the trees. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. I began my walking meditation by finding a place where I could walk unhampered for about ten yards. I started walking slowly, mindful of each step, keeping my gaze forward, right foot rises and falls, left foot rises and falls. Arriving at the end, stop, stand and turn, begin walking again. And so it went for about twenty minutes. Then, intuitively, I shifted to a standing meditation by just standing and gazing out without a particular concentration. At this moment I had a wonderful, profound transformative experience. I stood without thinking, without a subject/object split. I experienced a state of profound freedom and deep happiness and relief. I was ‘one’ with existence. I realized that my ‘happiness’ was dependent not on the external but on my internal state. I experienced a sense of timelessness. Without attempting to keep ‘creating’ my experience but only to continue to allow it, my ‘pure experience’ continued for possibly fifteen minutes until I felt the need to return to the schedule of the retreat. After that, my continued meditation and ‘mundane’ activities had a continued profound peacefulness and ‘selflessness’. When I ate, I just ate, when I walked, I just walked. I had a sensitive awareness of everything/everybody. Even in the rolling up of my sleeping bag, my experience was as the Japanese philosopher Nishida wrote, “In pure experience there is no prior or posterior, no inner or outer; no experience precedes or generates experience” and (there is) “not the slightest interval between the intention and the act.”. There was only the rolling up of the bag, an oneness of action.

After having had this lovely transformative experience, later the retreat ended, I drove home and went back to work the next day. However, my transformed understanding of ‘myself’, happiness and the ‘oneness’ of life has remained deep for me and has continued to be a spiritual inspiration, guide and direction in my life as well as has my continued meditation and Dhamma study. Practically, I have continued to explore how to relieve myself from the burdens of the ‘virtual’ self and the accumulation of objects which, in the past, was a vain and destructive attempt to find happiness in ‘things’. I now understand how to better resist the obsessions that our modern mass consumption society attempts to create in our minds. Also, I have since adopted a voluntary simplicity to my life both for ethical and environmental concerns as well as for my own happiness. I try to create environments –both physically and emotionally – which nurture kindness and wisdom. Last, but not least, I continue to try to be mindful, accepting, compassionate and sensitive to my own being and to other living beings.

Reflecting back on my meditation experience, I understand that there was nothing ‘special’ about its creation, indeed, only the correct conditions caused what took place. A deep, spiritual, life altering transformation is available to anyone who is willing to devote time to study and practice, have a “beginner’s mind” and finds wise teachers.

With metta

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The Buddha’s teachings are merely helpful means, ways of looking at sensory experience that helps us to understand it. They are not commandments, they are not religious dogmas that we have to accept or believe in. They are merely guides to point to the way things are. So we are using the Buddha’s teachings to grasp them as an end in themselves, but only to remind ourselves to be awake, alert, and aware that all that arises passes away. This is a continuous, constant observation and reflection on the sensory world, because the sensory world has a powerfully strong influence. Having a body like this with the society we live in, the pressures on all of us are fantastic. Everything moves so quickly – television and the technology of the age, the cars – everything tends to move at a very fast pace. It is all very attractive, exciting and interesting, and it all pulls your senses out. Just notice when you go to London how all adverts pull your attention out to whiskey bottles and cigarettes! Your attention is pulled into things you can buy, always going towards rebirth into sensory experience. The materialistic society tries to arouse greed so you will spend your money, and yet never be contented with what you have. There is always something better, something newer, something more delicious than what was the most delicious yesterday… it goes on and on and on, pulling you out into objects of the senses like that. Using wisdom by watching the impulses, and understanding them. That which observes greed is not greed: greed cannot observe itself, but that which is not greed can observe it. This observing is what we call ‘Buddha’ or ‘Buddha wisdom’- awareness of the way things are.  Ajahn Sumedho

In agreement with Ajahn Sumedho, I would just add that since he wrote the above passage in 1987, modern society has become even faster, more hectic and stimuli bound with the continual evasiveness of technology in everyone’s life. Of course, the newer technology includes mobile phones, computers, electronic games, computer social networking, TV screens everywhere, MP3 players, bigger, brighter high definition TV, DVDs, CDs, 3D movies, etc., etc.. The adverts and sensory impingements are becoming more sophisticated in their intensity and appeal as well as it’s availability. So his critique of not only the powerful impact of the growing hyper sensory world is very relevant but also his observation on the greed factor because adverts and the drive behind most of the technology is create desire and to sell, sell, sell. Rodger
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To continue this line of thought is a piece from Alan Watt’s book, “The Wisdom of Insecurity” while published in 1951 his observation is just as valid: “Thus the ‘brainy’ economy designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse – providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve cells with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions. The perfect ‘subject’ for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ear with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. (Of course, now update to smartphone) His eyes flit without rest from the television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity – shock treatments- as ‘ human interest’ shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire.”

Psychology and Mindfulness

4 Dec

There have been several attempts to integrate psychology theory with the Buddha’s teachings. For example, the collaboration of Erich Fromm, Zen Buddhist teacher and author D. T. Suzuki and Richard De Martino led to the publication of Zen and Psychoanalysis in 1960. This work represents one of the first serious attempts to effectively blend Buddhist teachings with Psychoanalytic thought. Alan Watts (1961) was also a key figure in some of the more popular efforts at mixing Western forms of psychology and psychotherapy with Buddhist and Daoist approaches. For some contemporary Psychoanalysts, Zen Buddhist meditation remains an acceptable way to explore the unconscious and to bring hitherto unknown or unacknowledged (repressed) desires and material into consciousness awareness (Cooper 2004). Also, clinicians and writers such as Carl Jung, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Fritz Perls and Mark Epstein have attempted to bridge and integrate psychology and Buddhism.

With the recent rise of influence of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in psychology, there has been a fruitful yet limited integration between certain aspects of ‘Buddhist psychology’ and certain parallel areas of psychology. For example, for the control of unwanted, intrusive cognitions, which particularly hinder one’s meditative efforts and can therefore be a major problem, several strategies are recommended; to reflect on an object which is associated with thoughts which are the opposite of the unwanted thought; ponder on harmful consequences or the perils and disadvantages of the thought; one strives not to ignore and distract the unwanted cognition; to reflect on the removal or stopping of the causes of the target thought. Interventions similar to these meditation strategies and techniques are also used for related problems in cognitive-behavior therapy. Thought-stopping, thought-switching, distraction and covert sensitization are all foreshadowed in the meditation techniques.

Another aspect of Buddhist psychology for modern therapeutic purposes lies in the area of prophylaxis. Several Buddhist techniques can have a role to play in the prevention of certain kinds of psychological disorders. For example, training in meditation, leading to greater ability to achieve calmness and tranquility, can help enhance one’s tolerance of the numerous inevitable stresses in modern life. With meditation one can achieve a degree of

immunity against the psychological effects of stress and frustration. The facility and skill in self-monitoring one can acquire with the aid of mindfulness meditation can provide a valuable means of self-control. The role of self-monitoring is well-documented in the self-regulation of behavior. The overall self-development that Buddhism encourages and recommends also has something to offer for prevention purposes. Some of the meditation exercises and other personal development behaviors found in

Buddhism can potentially enable a person to develop a positive outlook on life and patterns of response, which, in turn, will help cope with the problem of living; by enabling greater calmness and assurance, and with reduced vulnerability to common psychological disorders. A positive modern wellness program can easily incorporate many of the practices of the Eightfold Path.

Recently, another Buddhist meditation practice called Mindfulness has grown in usage and popularity in both the medical and psychological fields. Now there are many programs offering Mindfulness training to the general public with assertions that Mindfulness can help reduce negative thinking and habits and increase positive experiences and thinking – to name a few. Mindfulness has become a treatment for depression, anxiety and reducing stress and relapses (Williams, Teasdale, Segal, Kabat-Zinn 2007). However, these adaptations of mindfulness are being used to reduce our stress, to make us less depressed, more fulfilled and happy but are rarely requiring us to make the necessary life changes that the accompanying practices of the Eightfold Path require. Remember in Buddhism meditation is not a standalone practice but is closely intertwined with the wisdom and ethical practices. As a consequence, Buddhism has mistakenly become part of a secular quest for happiness even though the Buddha‘s understanding of happiness was radically different. The Buddha’s teachings addressed suffering and cessation of suffering. He consistently taught that the pursuit of happiness based upon our erroneous and pre-awakened understanding of the world with our craving for sensory delights and distractions was at the heart of our problems. The Buddha taught that in the eyes of the awakened the very things we consider to be the sources of our happiness are actually the very sources of our misery. Not surprisingly the aspects of Buddhism which appear to be most popular in the West have little or nothing to do with renunciation and more to do with ‘enhancing’ life and seeking personal fulfillment. As a consequence the Buddha’s teachings become ignored by our sense of entitlement to happiness often irrespective of our moral conduct.

Indeed, examples of this entitlement to happiness are easily found on Mindfulness websites by psychotherapists and psychologists on the application of mindfulness to psychotherapy: “The practice of meditation and mindfulness will clear away the dullness of being on autopilot and free you to live more fully than you ever have before.”; “LIBERATE your true Self and discover inner balance, wellbeing and happiness as well as RESPOND to life and relationships with greater intelligence, creativity, intuition and compassion.” and “The more we increase mindfulness, the more we increase happiness.” Also we are often reminded that mindfulness was originated by the Buddha, -“Mindfulness meditation, as it is called, is rooted in the teachings of a fifth-century B.C. Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha” – and all cite meditation ( ‘non-judgmental awareness of the now’) as the sole technique to be used. Quite different from the Buddha’s original teachings, these psychotherapeutic/wellness adaptations of mindfulness are usually presented independent of any ethical/moral requirements and instead emphasize an amoral immediacy of being. While, in fact, Buddhist meditation is supported by the factors of ethical training as taught in the Noble Eightfold Path. The eight factors complement each other and are an integrated practice. Therefore, if psychotherapists and researchers want to clearly apply the use of meditation as in Buddhist practice, with its accompanying positive results, they need to look at how all factors of the Eightfold Path are involved and how this complete package would have a positive effect on wider diagnostic categories of clients of psychotherapy being now treated with the intervention of mindfulness.

Mindfulness in popular western psychology has now only become yet another coping mechanism for dealing with the stresses of modern life. While the central teachings of the Buddha and the original purpose of cultivating mindfulness was to reach full and complete awakening; to completely overcome ignorance, hatred and craving and to put an end to suffering. While, as in the similarity of meditative techniques and other cognitive-behavioral techniques, there is a complementary aspect which can enhance each other, another problem with the current popular psychologizing of mindfulness is the name of the meditation that the Buddha originated is being converted and misrepresented into something very different. This is harmful as the Buddha’s message of Awakening is lost as it becomes represented as the rush for happiness and self-fulfillment.

The Buddha was not a psychologist and there is a real risk that the psychologizing of the Buddha’s teachings does a great disservice to, and distorts, the original purpose of them and, specifically, reduces the practice of mindfulness to a self-centered pursuit more concerned with allowing us to have more productive and intense experiences than the original purpose which was for us to reach awakening, to overcome ignorance, hatred and craving and to put an end to our suffering and re-birth. Psychologizing the Buddha’s teachings can twist and subvert them into a mental health gimmick, and thereby prevent them from introducing the sharply alternative vision of life they are capable of bringing us. In fact, beyond some positive interaction and influence that Buddhist psychology can have on modern psychology, as mentioned above, it is neither feasible or desirable to assume that the two systems in their entirety can ever be integrated because the highest goal of psychology/psychotherapy is limited to various forms of psychological adjustment, higher functioning or promoting self-actualization and individual fulfillment and these are simply not what the Buddha wanted us to understand. In fact, those goals are merely band aids for the deeper problem which is our suffering due to the ignorance of our pre-enlightened existence.