Thursday, July 31, 2014

Right Thought II

There are two types of thought in Buddhism:
1.     Initial thought – first thought
2.     Developed thought- elaboration on first thought, which leads us into fantasy and belief in our constructed stories.

This is similar to the four layers of concept and language which is how our thoughts construct what we think is reality.
1.     Naming – we name something.
2.     Elaboration- we layer onto the name, our stories, interpretations and evaluations
3.     Clinging – we become attached to our stories
4.     Opinion/or belief – our stories become “right” and solid.
And I add:
5.     War, fighting to defend your opinion or belief.

This developed thought is how we can stay stuck in our heads, thinking and thinking.  This is the monkey mind which just goes round and round.  Sometimes I think, most Americans live from the neck up.

The construction of reality in our heads is what Buddhism calls “Delusion”.  Our practice leads us to enter into the experience of the moment without naming and constructing concepts.  This doesn’t mean – we annihilate “thinking”.  But it’s importance to understand the real use or truth of language, concepts and stories.  We know that the “name” is not the thing.  We know that “Judith” is a sign for me, but it, the name “Judith”, doesn’t tell you anything about me really, about my sensibilities, my body, my history, my energy or my truth.  It’s just a name, important for communication, but not the thing itself.  In Zen, we often say that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.  Entering into the direct reality, dwelling in the present moment, can bring us great Joy and settle our whole being down into the truth of the moment.

There are many practices that can help us learn to work with our elaborated thoughts.

My favorite practice is Pema Chodron’s instructions:
·      Drop the storyline
·      Stay with the underlying energy of the moment.

This is the ability to return to right here, right now, and not let your thoughts carry you away.  In order to do this we have to cultivate our ability to hold the underlying energy of the moment.  This is very hard to do.  Mostly, we want to do anything but feel what’s happening energetically and our usually escape mechanism is to go up into our heads.  I often have said - we have to increase our capacity to hold our emotions without reacting.
As Pema Chodron adds on to the teaching:
·      Don’t repress
·      Don’t act out
·      Stay with the energy of the moment.

These are very powerful instructions.  They help us become aware of our habit energy and gives us the strength to interrupt our negative habits of thinking and acting.  In order to do this, we make friends with and intervene on our negative karmic habit patterns. We have to develop a mind of love and compassion that can uphold our emotions with gentleness from underneath the storyline.  This mind of love can always be the place to go when we are tossed away by our stories and when we notice our habit patterns. 

Becoming diligent with noticing our thinking patterns and cultivating our mind of love will help us “change the peg” of unwholesome thinking to wholesome thoughts. The guardians at the gates of our mind can help our awareness.  Then, we can enter into the direct experience of our lives and not just think about our life.  What did Buddha say,  “Reading the prescription is not taking the medicine.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Right Thought

In my last Sunday talk, I worked with the 8-fold path and the limb of Right Thought.  The Buddha had many suggestions about how to work with our thoughts. 

One of the practices I use is “Guarding of the Mind.”  This practice creates an image of a protective guardian at the entrance to the mind and its stream of thoughts.  That Guardian I often visualize like one of the Protective Gargoyle-type statues - ferocious and threatening.  That Guard energetically reminds me to decide:  “Is this thought helpful or hurtful?”  The Guard sorts our thoughts into two buckets – wholesome and unwholesome, and further give us the strength and mindfulness to let go of the unwholesome thoughts.

From The Removal of Distracting Thoughts Sutta in “In the Buddha’s Words; An anthology of discourses from the Pali Canon” edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

8.  Monks, When a monk is giving attention to some sign (form, name, thought, appearance, phenomena), and owing to that sign there arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, then when he gives attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome, any such evil unwholesome thoughts are abandoned in him and subside, and with their abandoning his mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.

When he examines the danger in those thoughts…. Her mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.

When he tries to forget those thoughts and does not give attention to them….his mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.

When she gives attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts…her mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.

When, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, he beats down, constrains, and crushes mind with mind, any such evil unwholesome thoughts are abandoned in him and subside, and with their abandoning, his mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.

This monk is then called a master of the courses of thought.  She will think whatever thought she wishes to think and she will not think any thought that she does not wish to think.  She has severed craving, flung off the fetters, and with the complete penetration of conceit she has made an end of suffering.”

Buddha has called this “changing the peg”.  This means that you take out an unwholesome thought and “change the peg” by replacing it with a wholesome thought.

Just this week I used this practice.  To my surprise, I actually remembered to use it.  I had a circumstance arise where I completely lost my composure.  I thought that, through certain circumstances, I was not going to be able to go on my annual vacation upnorth in a cabin with my family.  Somehow that disappointment opened a floodgate of feelings of several losses I’m experiencing at the moment.  I started to sob and couldn’t stop.  I sobbed until I went to bed and then I sobbed when I first opened my eyes.  Not only was there crying but there was a stream of thoughts about blame, anger, unfairness, why-me-ness, that accompanied my tears.  About two hours later, I was driving in the car, and I remembered my lecture.  I said to myself, “Judith, what thoughts are helping you and what thoughts are harming you?”  I could quickly sort out my self-involved, aversive, ungrateful thoughts.  Because I have been practicing the metta phrases, I quickly picked out a few of them that matched my circumstance and two phrase in particular calmed my mind down. 

May I have grace in the midst of disappointment.
May I accept things as they are.

And in a moment, my mind pivoted and became steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.

It seemed much simpler with a quieted mind, to spend the rest of my day in radical acceptance and peace.  Repeating the phrases and letting go.

Later in the day, I received a text saying we could go up on our vacation the second week of august but in a different cabin and I just had to smile.