These days meditation is becoming associated more and more with a passive, accepting state. We just watch the mind and accept whatever happens. This can be a great way to relax but does not integrate very well into active daily life. So we become two people almost – the active person and the passive one. However, if a mind develops calm through meditation, we can discover that we do not need to continue to be passive in order to relax. The calm, patient mind can remain calm in activity. Then, moreover, we begin to realise that the calm mind sees differently and we can feel differently about our activities – even to the point where this changes our priorities. We begin to enjoy more peaceful leisure pursuits or we look for a more peaceful way to make a living. We move out into the countryside, perhaps. Gradually we find ourselves becoming one person and the endless inner conflicts and dialogues begin to disappear to leave the mind clear, whole, unified.
I offer this for your reflection
respect at my father's table
love on my mother's knee
here before and after
and here before and after me
When we have the conditions to dedicate ourselves to meditation and study, we can do well developing our practice. If, however, we cannot learn to protect our mindfulness our path will be a manic one of gain and loss. A healthier practice is to develop our mindfulness in good conditions and then seek to protect and maintain it through challenging situations. This, in addition to the solitary practise, is the second way to strengthen our minds.
As we develop our practise further, toward samādhi, more refined states can give us the impression of being somehow concrete and stable in and of themselves (as being an 'energy' or 'our true nature') but this is not the case. In this sense the brightness and space of samādhi can be deluding. These states are a manifestation of emptiness – not something but an absence of something. We can need to think like this, talk about our experience like this, to change our perception of the results of our practice, or we will be heading in the wrong direction, towards spiritual materialism and not toward freedom.
Ultimately all our states of mind, without exception, arise and are sustained by a perception. So it is wisdom, stable, liberating perception, that protects the mind.
When, over time, we discover the vulnerable nature of refined states, instead of looking to stabilise them with wisdom we can try to do so in other (dysfunctional) ways. Typically we can shut ourselves away and just end up worrying about the next time we have to go out! There are also many more subtle dysfunctional ways arising from a lack of understanding of the mind. For example we can find ourselves defending the brightness of the mind against the darkness of others. The brightness of our mind is effected by our own dark side but not directly by that of others. When we start to see the darkness of the impure mind, we can falsely see that we are directly effected by the impure thoughts of others, we can take this darkness to be poisoning us without the other person saying a word. The darkness of others' minds is not a threat, it cannot effect us directly but only if we share or are affected by the unwholesome perceptions that are at its source, not through some mysterious dark energy. All states of mind arise from perception. If we see the suffering of such darkness we will be moved to compassion. Compassion is not poison.
What we will also discover is that not all negative thoughts are dark. Some wise thoughts are negative but take the mind even brighter as it lets go of attachment. The distinction we have to make is between wholesome and unwholesome, skilful or unskilful rather than between positive or negative. Wholesome or skilful thoughts are that which lead to a more peaceful happy mind – the happiness of peace being the happiest happiness of all. A mind that is reliant on being positive to be happy is a mind that is relying on the world. If we have an inner happiness we can see both the positive and negative things of the world equally.
This distinction of wholesome or unwholesome will be made for us once we start to be able to see the brightness or darkness of the heart or 'citta' directly. There are very many surprises here for the practitioner discovering what is truly a spiritual path and what is not. It is important to realise that we then have a different value system. Sexual desire for example darkens the mind. It is not that we think that there is something wrong with sex but that we come to enjoy and value the bright mind more highly. Until we can see like this for ourselves (this is quite late on in the path) we are reliant on faith and the guidance of others further on in the path.
I offer this for your reflection
A Tribute to Ajahn Kalyano's mother.
Vocals by: Bee Price
Music and editing by: Gordon Oaks
Yoga and ch’i kung and other associated body work or therapies are examples of bodily practices that were originally spiritual in nature and purpose. Both however have become materialised, or 'physicalised' in their move to the West. Because there was no cultural understanding of the phenomenon of samādhi – the phenomenon of chakras or of ch’i – the brightness within the body was taken to be some kind of energy rather than a manifestation of emptiness. This is a natural enough mistake to make when we associate physical exercise with the generation of energy of some kind. It is a mistake that will be reinforced over and over if the people coming to learn these skills are looking for energy.
This mistake can end up leading us in completely the wrong direction. It is not that we do not find energy through our practice, but that this is a phenomenon of mind rather than a physical energy. Instead of trying to find this emptiness and to keep the emptiness empty we try to create something. We do not see that the emptiness is filled by, obstructed by, our desire – even this desire to create energy. Or usually we do not see the emptiness at all but associate spiritual energy with more mundane feelings that are, after all, experienced in the body too.
The same mistake is thankfully true of dark, negative energy as well. Interestingly people can see that this is associated with a negative state of mind (perhaps what is obviously negative is clearer than that which is truly positive) but again it is 'physicalised' so that people become afraid of being effected by the negative thoughts of others. The darkness of others' minds is not a threat, it cannot effect us directly but only if we share the unwholesome ideas or perceptions that are at its source. Yet on this basis people are excluded from meditation retreats if they are not vegan or eat garlic and on it goes to the point where anyone with a problem could find themselves excluded until they can sort themselves out. So much for compassion. Where this leads us internally is no less scary. We can be led into a never-ending effort to purify ourselves of something that is not really there – through a deep confusion between the physical purity of diet or exercise and the purity of the mind.
People also run away from all this to seek spiritual seclusion, but this is supposed to be aimed at getting us away from our desires and calming the mind toward Nibbāna; it is not a way to get away from everything we don't like, away from bad old saṃsāra. This is just following our desire in the opposite direction. This is wrongly blaming the world for the suffering that comes ultimately from our own desire and craving.
Let us consider also the example of sexual, tantric practice. Here there can be a confusion between the rapture of orgasm which arises out of the body and the rapture of samādhi. It is tempting to say that this confusion has been exploited by gurus since time immemorial. These kinds of rapture are, however, of a completely different nature. The rapture of samādhi is an explosive opening, a feeling that opens the mind free of attachment and desire. But they are both rapturous so again an easy mistake to make and yet again a mistake that, this time so very obviously, takes us in a completely different direction. It is true also that the heart chakra is the most powerful of all, but this is not associated with our romantic feelings of love but with a higher kind of love, an unconditional love in which we let go of our attachment to one individual and love all beings the same – and it is the letting go of the first that gains us the second form of love.
Moreover, sexual exploitation is not the only kind of exploitation in quasi-spiritual circles. In modern consumer spirituality a lot of money can be made from making people's relatively ordinary experiences seem more special. In this way there is no need to do all the hard work of the spiritual life but just to do the nice exercises and then form a nice and spiritual view of ourselves. The reality is that nobody gets samādhi easily, but also that this experience is far more marvellous than anyone can imagine. So spiritual life above all is the one that requires the most dedication in order to break through, otherwise it will not be so special, yet people with real faith can be prepared to practice for life-times, through all kind of hardships, to finally get there. One tiny glimpse of samādhi sets a seed so deep that it is enough for someone never to look back. However, someone who has not experienced this should be careful to criticise lesser pleasures or they risk just entering into a dry idealism; so many monks and nuns do this and become gradually more and more miserable. The clever ones make do with a walk on the beach.
A further mistake of the same we can make is to think that highly spiritual beings have limitless physical energy or resources, they can even mistakenly think this themselves or that their selflessness can end up taking them beyond their physical limits. We should not be disappointed by our limits. If we had no such limit as spiritual practitioners would we not eventually find ourselves with an indestructible mind in a worn out body unable to escape? Doesn't sound good. The Buddha himself relinquished his old body when it wore out.
But lets not fall into seeing such considerations as negative. All of this kind of thinking is neither placing some kind of limit on our spiritual endeavour. Nor is such discrimination just a dry intellectual exercise. It is rather wrong understanding that limits us. Confining ourselves to an energy or bodily feeling is what is limiting us in time or space.
Perhaps we can need to recognise how our spiritual practise can become tainted by the desire for power or to be something special in the world. Or maybe our hope is for a physical healing beyond the limits of our minds. In contrast if we can humbly bow and let go then we can have found something real that we can come to realise is everlasting. Something within the world that is also beyond the world. We have found freedom and true spirituality, not just another kind of slavery in spiritual materialism and it will not be hard to let go of a lesser happiness for a far greater one.
I offer this for your reflection
Just as it is possible for hedonism to lead us out and away from the spiritual path, it is possible to get lost in a kind of intellectual craving. At its height such a craving can turn in a spiritual direction. We can imagine, for example, that there was once a perfect idea and ideal, an all powerful, universal principle that has been lost but shall be found again and become the source of a new utopia. This makes the mind entangled in its own creation – to look for the great truth and building our ivory towers, when the truth is very simple and right in front of our eyes for the heart that is peaceful enough, big enough to accept it.
I offer this for your reflection