Archive for February, 2011

I am about to go on retreat, the usual preparations are happening in my head (What am I hoping to get out of this? What do I want to explore and bring to my practice Is it going to be better than the last one? etc.), and I was struck by a memory of my last retreat at IMS (which was my first real retreat). The Comparing Mind is a concept that is very common in Buddhist teachings and a usual struggle for me in my practice, I seem wired to compare myself to others. I always find this to be true when I am on retreat, everyone seems to be meditating peacefully and here I am sitting on the cushion wrestling with my mind on the cushion, feelings of bitterness come up which make it even harder for me to focus on the breath and find calm. I am sure that we have all had moments like this, it is funny how we can get so obsessed with how we think that it should be going and seeing as it is not exactly that way then we are failing. Thoughts of judgment start to take over our mind and we are caught in a cycle of thoughts that criticizes us and our abilities, we then begin questioning why we are doing this seeing as how we are just going to fail etc. I find that the Comparing Mind is a strong foe in meditation practice and something that can be really fruitful for us to work with.

As humans, we have a natural tendency to compare the various objects in our lives and there is nothing inherently wrong with the Comparing Mind. We can pick up an object and look at it on its own, then we are able to see it as it really is. If we hold it up next to a bigger plan we then start to compare it, it can seem small, ugly, not colorful enough, etc. This size, beauty, and color is only in relation to other things. The object is not inherently small or not colorful, if we are talking about inanimate objects, comparing things isn’t so bad. It can help us say things like ” I thought that object was very pretty” or “give me a bigger marker to write on the board with”. Not really a big deal if you look at it.

It is completely different with people. When we start to think that something inside of us is worse than another person, it sets off a chain reaction which is hard to stop. A common thought is our impression that we are uglier than others, our brain is amazingly reactive, this thought also seems to propel much faster and sticks around the longest. Once that thought gets started, the neurons in our brains start “gossiping” and talking it up until we’re positive that we’re not only hideous but that everyone around us knows it and talks about us behind our backs. This is how the comparing mind works, you may have a jogging routine with scheduled day of rest. When you are on your day of rest and walking around the neighbourhood and see a jogger pass by you start to feel lazy and worthless, because this jogger obviously did not take a day off. What we don’t seem to realize is that we don’t know the other person’s running schedule and that it is completely healthy and reasonable to run 3-5 times a week, and that these days off are necessary to avoid burnout and injuries.  If we don’t become aware of the Comparing Mind the thoughts will zoom by in our head and end up with the idea that the other person is a more dedicated runner.

It is also not good to think that we are better than someone, you can think that you are the smartest and most competant person in the office and that it is you that deserves all the important projects. If you then get a project that is a little over your head and someone else gets it instead you just can’t believe it. I mean, come on, you’re smarter than them! You’re the one that deserves that project! When we are caught in that cycle of thoughts we may not realize that the other person might be perfect for the project, but you are caught in thoughts about how you are better and smarter than that person and that you deserved all the projects. Plus, you get yourself all bent out of shape and depressed when really it would be a lot less painful to just admit that different people are better at different things and move on happy that you don’t have to do the difficult work.

The bottom line is that it’s best to just let go of Comparing Mind as it relates to how we perceive ourselves and others. It can only lead to clinging and to suffering and it’s not worth it. This has been a very difficult practice for me. We must admit that it is somewhat gratifying to indulge in those thoughts about how we are better than others, it may not be the case as much with our thoughts that others are better than us, but still, self-pity can be very comforting for some. To believe that we are always the victim and that the world has dealt us a shitty hand no matter how hard we try can give us an opportunity to push our responsibility to another. It is much easier to admit that it is not our fault that we are not advancing in the world, it is hard sometimes to reflect and realize that we are responsible for our actions and how we progress in the world. It is never our fault and always someone else’s fault, so much easier to come to terms with, but it is rarely the case. Our neurons are so used to gossiping about how “other” people are better or worse that they don’t even bother to let us know they’re doing it. We often only see it when we lose our cool entirely and break down into either sadness or anger or even reticule towards another. It usually takes an explosion for us to even realize that the reaction had been going on at all. For the next week I challenge you all to take some time with the Comparing Mind, to take up this practice, to observe when we find ourselves falling into old comparative/competitive habits and we can then noticed that it can be very helpful to be on the look out for these sorts of reactions before they occur. Just to see if that subtle comparison with others is causing suffering.

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We are a week in the Commit to Sit challenge, if you have been following the Satipatthana Sutta you have been contemplating the body and moving on to the feeling tones. I have always found the feeling tones to be the most difficult and also the most rewarding, taking the time to examine our relationships to what is pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral can teach us so much. I would like to talk about something else this week, hope that no one minds, but I actually had a really interesting moment this week and would really like to share with all of you. This week has brought about a really important lesson for me, it is something that I have read in many different texts or heard in many dharma talks, but it really hit home this week. I have been reading texts on Achaan Chaa, who is blowing my mind as usual with his profound and simple teachings. This week I was able to really examine the idea of letting go and bare attention, a teaching that is taught in the northern Thai tradition and that really spoke to me personally this week. I am going on retreat in a couple of weeks and I have started my usual reflection, what do I want to get out of this time of dedicated practice etc are the type of questions that are spinning in my head. Last night also when I was getting ready to sit I became disappointed in the fact that the person that said she would meditate with me was not feeling up to it, we had decided together to do the Commit to Sit together and I became engulfed with feeling of disappointment and judgement. This made me think of something that I had read in the book Living Dharma where Achaan Chaa talks about letting go of our expectations of meditation practice. Here is the passage I am referring to:

Question: I’m trying very hard in my practice but I don’t see to be getting anywhere.

Answer: This is very important. Don’t try to get anywhere in the practice. The very desire to be free or to be enlightened will be the desire that prevents your freedom. You can try as hard as you wish, practice ardently night and day, but if it is still with the desire to achieve in mind you will never find peace. The energy from this desire will be the cause for doubt and restlessness. No matter how long or hard you practice, wisdom will not arise from desire. So simply let go. Watch the mind and body mindfully but don’t try to achieve anything. Don’t cling to the practice or to enlightenment.

Achaan Chaa gives a simple instruction, which I find to be very profound at the same time, it can be summed up as “hold on to nothing”. I realized this last night when I was sitting on the cushion, letting judgements take over and getting annoyed by the sounds of the television. I was stewing in feelings that were unjustified when I actually started to let go of my expectations of others and of the quality of my sit. I spent a long time in my life being resentful and bitter because of how people would deceive me if they did not measure up to my expectations, I have realized that I have suffered a lot because of this and guess what, people have not changed or measured up to my sometimes unrealistic standards, I also suffer a lot less when I learn to let go and observe my mind and its attachments to these standards. Letting go I think is one of the most valuable lessons that I have gotten out of my practice, this also made me think of a dharma talk that I heard last week by Pascal Auclair (for those of you in Montreal, check this guy out, he is a great teacher with a great style, and he is a student of Jack Kornfield, I am sure that you will love him!), he talked about the Bahiya Ovada Sutta. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the lesson that I get out of this is bare attention (this is what we are training in our sitting practice, to be aware of everything in our day-to-day lives, non-discriminate awareness), this was mentioned during a talk about the fourth foundation of mindfulness – the little dharmas. Here is the sutta:

Bāhiya Sutta

1 ThushaveIheard.
At one time, the Blessed One was staying in Anātha,piṇḍika’s park in Jeta’s grove near Sāvatthī.
2 At that time, Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya [the Bark-robed] was living on the sea-shore at Suppāraka, being
respected,revered, esteemed, worshipped, honoured,being a recipient of robe, alms food, lodging, and
medicinal requisites and support for the sick.
3 Then while Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya was in the privacy of his solitary retreat, this thought arose in his
“Whoever are arhats or have attained to the arhat path, I am one of them.”
Bāhiya hears of the Buddha
4 Then a devata who had been a former blood-relative of Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya, out of compassion
for him, desiring his welfare, upon knowing with his mind the thought in Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya’s mind, went
up to him and saidthis:
“You, Bāhiya, are certainly no arhat, nor even one who has attained the arhat-path; nor is this practice
of yours one by which you could become an arhat, or one who would attain the arhat-path.”
5 “Then, who now in this world,Odevata, are arhats or those who have attained the arhat-path?”
“There is, Bāhiya, in the northern countries a city named Sāvatthī. Therein now dwells the Blessed
One, the arhat, the fully self-awakened one. That Blessed One, Bāhiya, is indeed not only an arhat, but
also teaches the Dharma for the sake of arhathood.”

Bāhiya meets the Buddha
6 Then, Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya, moved by religious urgency [samvega] on account of the devata, imme-
diately left Suppāraka and, taking but one night for the journey arrive at Anātha,piṇḍika’s park in Jeta’s
grove near Sāvatthī.
7 Now at that time, a number of monks were pacing up and down in the open.
Then, Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya approached the monks and said this to them:
“Where now, bhante, does the Blessed One, the arhat, the fully self-awakened one, dwell?”
8 “The Blessed One, Bāhiya, has entered amongst the houses on alms-round.”
Bāhiya requests for a teaching
9 Then, Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya, hurriedly left Jeta’s grove. On entering Sāvatthī, he saw the Blessed
One walking on alms-round, pleasant,inspiring,calm of faculty, calm of mind, endowed with supreme
taming and calmness like a noble elephant whose faculties are tamed and guarded.
10 Upon seeing him, he went up to the Blessed One.Having bowed his head at the Blessed One’s
feet, he said this to him:
“Teach me the Dharma, bhante!Teach me the Dharma, Sugata[well-gone]!For my good and happiness for a long time!”
11 When this was said, the Blessed One said this to Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya:
“This is not the time, Bāhiya, I have entered amongst houses on alms-round.”
12 For the second time, Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya said this to the Blessed One:
“But, bhante, it is hard to know the dangers to the Blessed One’s life or to my life! Teach me the
Dharma, bhante!Teach me the Dharma, Sugata[well-gone]!For my good and happiness for a long time!”
13 For the second time, the Blessed One said this to Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya:
“This is not the time, Bāhiya, I have entered amongst houses on alms-round.”
14 For the third time, Bāhiya Dāri,cīriya said this to the Blessed One:
“But, bhante, it is hard to know the dangers to the Blessed One’s life or to my life!Teach me the
Dharma, bhante!Teach me the Dharma, Sugata[well-gone]!For my good and happiness for a long time!”
The Bāhiya teaching
15 “In that case, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus:
16 In the seen there will only be the seen;
in the heard there will only be the heard;
in the sensed there will only be the sensed;
in the cognized there will only be the cognized.

Thus, Bāhiya, you should train yourself.
17 When, for you, Bāhiya,
in the seen there will only be the seen;
in the heard there will only be the heard;
in the sensed there will only be the sensed;
in the cognized there will only be the cognized,
then you, Bāhiya, are “not by that.”
When you, Bāhiya, are  “not by that,”
then, you,Bāhiya, are “not be there in.”
When you, Bāhiya, are  “not there in,”
thenyou, Bāhiya, are “neither here nor beyond
nor in between the two.”
This is itself the ending of suffering.
18 Then, Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya, on account of this brief advice given by the Blessed One, was at once
liberated from the influxes.
19 Then, theBlessedOne, having given Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya this brief advice, left.
20 But, not long after the Blessed One had left, Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya was gored by a cow with a young
calf, depriving him of his life.
21 Then, theBlessedOne, having entered Sāvatthī for alms,having returned from his alms round and
finished his meal of alms food, left the city with a number of monks. They saw that Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya
had died.
22 Seeing this, he said to the monks:
“Bhikshus, take Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya’s remains, and put it on a couch. Then carry it away to be cremated. Then construct a stupa for him, a fellow brahma chari, bhikshus, whose time is done.”
23 “Yes, bhante,”the monks answered in reply to the Blessed One.
They took Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya’s remains, put in on a couch, carried it away and cremated it. Then,
having constructed a stupa for him, they went up to the Blessed One, saluted him, and sat down at one side.
24 Sitting thus at one side, the monks said this to the Blessed One:
“Bhante, Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya’s remains have been cremated and a stupa has been built for him. What
is his destiny? What is his future state?”
25 “Wise, bhikshus, was Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya. He practised the Dharma in accordance with the Dharma, and he did not vex me on account of theDharma. Bhikshus,Bāhiya Dāru,cīriya has attained
final nirvana.”

26 Then, the Blessed One, knowing the significance of the occasion, uttered this udana[inspired utterance]:
27 Where neither water nor earth,
nor fire nor wind find a footing,
there no starts shine,
nor the sun blazes,
there the moon shines not,
nor is there darkness.
28 And who knows this for himself,
through sagehood, a sage, a brahmin,
then from form and formless
freed is he, from joy and pain, too.

in the seen there will only be the seen;
in the heard there will only be the heard;
in the sensed there will only be the sensed;
in the cognized there will only be the cognized.

This passage is sometimes used by some modern teachers to refer to the practice of “bare attention,”that is, simply(without comment)noting phenomena as they arise and fall away. In other words, this is a practical summary of how to train our attention so that distraction and suffering does not arise. The first paragraph exhorts us to simply observe our sense-experiences as is (as“as are”), without any comment, to just let them come and let them go. After a while, with consistent mindful practice, we begin to have a better understanding of how our minds work and what experience really is. The more we let go of our concepts and expectations for our practice, the more we are able to be present. This is what we should be striving for all the time, in a way, the point of practice is to be able to observe all phenomena as it is, and to not get boggled on what it is meant to represent or mean. I find that this sutta brings a great teaching, if we can look at all phenomena in this way we will suffer a lot less.

On a completely unrelated note, I have noticed that this blog is becoming more and more a blog about Buddhism and meditation practice. When I first started this I wanted to talked about social movements that create positive change in society. I was looking at the title “Spirit of Rebellion” and still find it to be relevant. I have to agree with my teacher on this and say that the revolution must occur in our hearts and minds before we are to take this out onto the streets. I continue on my spiritual revolution and hope that all of you are still doing the same, this revolution of wisdom and compassion is gaining speed and is definitely creating change in society one person at a time! Long live this revolution!

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