Reflections on “Small Boat, Great Mountain” , Amaro Bhikku – Part II

This part II discusses the whole issue of living and managing it effectively as per Theravada Buddhism.

“Ultimate and conventional reality – I was completely bewildered.  No matter how much I tried to be free and unhindered by conventions, forms and structures mostly by defining these things there always seemed to be another layer, another layer and another layer. I kept meeting up with limits and as a result I was constantly feeling frustrated. I was suffering and had no idea why. Not to be inhibited by the rules of society, dictates of my personality, conditions of the body, appeared free on the outside but on the inside I was a prisoner of my beliefs and behavior.”

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Life

Life is habitually experienced as ignorance. We don’t feel unremitting bliss all the time. But ultimate reality is pure, perfect and blissful. Perfection and purity is our nature and we do not experience it all the time due to ignorance, laziness and wavering.

Exit point from the cycle

Day in and day out every moment we get caught in things we love, we hate, we have opinions about in feeling about ourselves, about others, liking, disliking, hoping, fearing. It goes on and on. The good news is there are several places where we can catch this cycle and ultimately free the heart.

Dependent origination cycle

When something painful has happened, worst has happened, we experience anguish, sorrow. How did we get ourselves in this mess. This is life but we do not need to feel like a victim or fly into why me tantrum. Experience of suffering can go into two directions. One it can compound misery and confusion. To it can ripen in search. When everything has gone wrong, we have a choice. Do we just wallow or do we say why is it like this. What am I doing to make this a problem? The search kicks in to find where we are clinging and why we are looking for happiness where it cannot be found.

Even at the birth, aging, sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair end of the cycle we can use that pain as the cause to help us wake up. Feeling is a world of innocence. We can have an intensely blissful existence and pleasant feeling. We can have a fuzzy neutral feeling through the body or mind. Feeling by itself is utterly innocent. There is no intrinsic posture or negative quality to it. If there is awareness then all mental and sense phenomena and the pleasant, painful or neutral feelings associated with them can be known without clinging as appearance. When ignorance enters opinions gets formed. When we are open we can cut the cycle.

In the beginning – ignorance, conditions, formations

Ignorance complicates everything. What does this mean. In broad term, that which is compounded is karmic formations, concoctions, fabrications, volitional formations, subject-object duality. When there is ignorance duality gets started, form and sprout. This and that, here and there. Me and the world.

Conscious conditions the mind. Mind and body conditions the six senses. The six senses conditions feeling, craving and so on. By the time we get down to six senses there is the body here and there is the world out there and we experience them as apparently solid realities.

As soon as there is a slippage of mindfulness or the faintest coloration or distortion that awareness duality kicks in. that is the seed of the whole thing. If it is seen at that point and not followed, then that seen primal movement will not grow further. It will cease right there. If it is not seen the vortex will build and build at until there is me in here and the world out there. And then I want it. I can’t stand it. I have got to have it. How marvelous. How wonderful. I am going places. Sorrow lamentations, pain, grief and despair and so on kicks in.

Later end of the cycle – endless hunger leading to addiction

What happens at the end of the cycle? When sorrow has not ripened in search for truth and we have let our missing get compounded we feel incomplete. There is me feeling unhappy, miserable, insecure, incomplete, alienated. Then as soon as there an idea or feeling or an emotion or a sense object that might possible make us complete again we jump on it. Well that looks interesting. Perhaps this will do the trick. There is a feeling of hunger, a lack or a longing that comes from the experience of suffering. If we are not awake to what is going on, we think that what we lack is something. The new job, new car, new partner, or we lack perfect health etc. we go after any kind of external object or internal program to find the missing piece. This is the cycle of addiction.

To encourage this familiarization and relinquishment it is important to experience and acknowledge the disadvantages of cyclical existence. Above all it hurts. Just as thrill is real so is the pain. We don’t get thrill without pain. Where the pain comes we see that it is empty. When the thrill comes we experiences it as absolutely real. As the pleasure is raising we feel really, really happy. As the pleasant feelings diminish we try to see the pain and disappointment it is all empty. Empty. Empty.

The fact is, things in life don’t match. You can’t align all the loose ends. But you can go to the place where they come from.

  • Excerpts from – “Small Boat, Great Mountain” – Theravadan Reflections on The Natural Great Perfection, “Amaro Bhikku”

Reflections on “Small Boat, Great Mountain” , Amaro Bhikku – Part I

Small Boat, Great Mountain

  • By Amaro Bhikku

This book “Small Boat, Great Mountain” by Amaro Bhikku reflects on philosophy espoused by Theravada sect of Buddhism.  The book has three distinct sections. Section one discuses nature of reality, section two on the whole issue of living and managing it effectively and section three on some exercise and Buddhist chants relevant to the above two sections. This Part I  discusses Buddhist view  on nature of reality and living.

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“I was suffering and had no idea why”

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What is a living being?

We are conditioned to believe that there is such a thing as a real living being. We see ourselves in forms of the limitations of the body, personality and we define we are within these bound. We assume then that other beings are also limited in little pockets of beingness that float around in the cosmos.

Where are we

If one takes out physical element of what you are and just looks at in terms of mind, you will find that whole quality of boundary breaks up and as does the idea of “where I am”, “where other people are” and you will see that the body and its locations and three dimensional space apply only to material form. In fact, inside, outside here and there, space and spatial relations only apply to form. They do not apply to mind. Mind does not exist in space. The material form is giving us clue to separateness. We create illusion of separateness and individuality through our belief in the sense world.

Let go

Am I feeling sorrow. Is there a feeling of alienation or difficulty? If there is it means, we are clinging and hanging on to something. We need to see that the heart is attached to somewhere and then make gestures to loosen up. To let go.

Non-abiding

Non abiding is that timeless, selfless quality that is independent of location. Non abiding draws us to the fact that the whole concept of and construct of whereness, the act of conceiving ourselves as this individual entity living at this spot in space and time is a presumption.

Non abiding was the essence of path, as basis of peace and a door way into the world of freedom. The principle of non-abiding is exceedingly frustrating to the conceptual thinking mind because that mind has built up such an edifice out of me and you, out of here and there, out of past and future and out of this and that. In the abandonment of self, time and place all questions are resolved.

Where does not apply

The seen is merely seen. There is nothing there. There are forms, shapes, colors so forth but there is nothing there. There is no real substance, no solidity, no self-existent reality. All there is the quality of experience. No more no less. There is just seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, cognizing, and the mind naming it all is just another experience.

Quantum physics

The sea of potential, primordial level of physical reality exists and from that all particles and energy crystalizes and into which subsequently dissolves. The principle of non-locality means the places where something happens cannot be truly defined and that a single event can have exactly simultaneous effect in widely separated place.

Who and what do not apply. Where does not apply. Birth and death does depend on time. Something apparently born in the past living now will die in the future. If we let go of time, if we also let go of thing then no being or dying.

Nature of Mind

The nature of mind is still and yet flowing. Mind is still, spacious, silent and all objects of sights, sounds, smell, taste, touch, thoughts and emotions flow through it.  It has no movement; it is not related to all that arises and ceases. It is silent and spacious. Problems arise because the clarity of the mind gets entangled with sense impressions. The untrained heart chases the delightful, runs away from the painful, and as a result, finds itself struggling, alienated, and miserable. By contemplating our own experience, we can make a clear distinction between the mind that knows and the sense impressions that flow through it. By refusing to get entangled with any sense impressions, we find refuge in that quality of stillness, silence, and spaciousness, which is the mind’s own nature. This policy of noninterference allows everything and is disturbed by nothing.

Body and mind

The body is in mind rather than mind in body. What do we know about our body? We can see it. We can hear it. We can smell it. Touch it. Where does all these things happen – in mind. Everything that we know about the body now and at any other time has been through agency of our mind. What we have known about out body the world has happened in our mind. So where is our body. Physical world is there but experienced in mind.

Cessation and consciousness

Your persistent energy, sharpest mindfulness, physical calm, one pointedness of mind have to do with restlessness. Unsupported consciousness wherever there is something that is intended, something that is acted upon or something that lies dormant then that becomes the basis for consciousness to lead. And where consciousness lands then is the cause for confusion, attachment, becoming, rebirth and so on. And having no basis to land on consciousness is released. Since consciousness is released mind is firm. Owing to staying firm the heart is contended. Owing to contented mind it is not agitated. One then realizes complete bliss within themselves.

When heart is released from clinging to four nutriments- physical food, sense contact – of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, intention and consciousness then consciousness does not land anywhere. That state is without sorrow, affliction or despair.

World is within our mind

It is pointless to try to find peace through nullifying or erasing the sense world. Peace only comes through skillful handling of the world’s abrasions. Peace only comes through not giving that world more substantiality or more reality than it actually possesses.

Relaxation

Even though we might have this enlightened free space internally it needs to be interfaced with the phenomenal world.  Who are you. Observe coming and going of feelings, thoughts and perceptions and so on.

The balance comes when we stop creating each other and allow ourselves to relax into pure quality of knowing. In not fabricating the world ourselves or our stories there is gentle relaxation and we find ourselves more attuned to life than ever

  • excerpts from – “Small Boat, Great Mountain” – Theravadan Reflections on The Natural Great Perfection, “Amaro Bhikku”

Series in Living III – A Note on “Who will feed the Mice” – Ajahn Amaro

A Note on “Who will feed the Mice” – Ajahn Amaro

Here is a Buddhist view on life. Ajahn Amaro, The Buddhist monk reminisces his relationship with his mother after her demise in a discourse which is published as a booklet. This is my notes from the booklet “Who will feed the mice”.

“Parents are of great help to their children, they bring them up, feed them and show them the world.”
Anguttara Nikaya

“For a child, the parents are a kind of substitute for the Dhamma, that basis upon which everything rests and around which everything revolves.”

The roles parents play in one’s life are important. They provide stable family situations, reliability and resultant sense of security. They keep one level headed. They also teach us the importance of orderliness, regularity or predictability and its importance in life. If one’s family is not able to provide it, then one has to find it later in life in other ways.

“All sankharas (formations, things put together, ‘volitional formations’) are impermanent, mother is just a formation in nature like any other, and it’s no big deal.” There’s a mysterious twining here of both the realization of ultimate truth and the recognition of the unique quality of that personal connection on the material plane. It’s almost as if the mother is the primordial symbol of the source of reality, as she is the source of life on the physical plane.”

One of the ways that the Buddha spoke about stream entry—the irreversible breakthrough to realization of the Dharma—was as a “change of lineage” which is the idea that “I am a personality; this is me, this is mine, this is what I am.” This belief is called “personality view.” And as long as “I am the body,” then are my parents. But if the body is not-self, and perceptions are not-self, feelings are not-self, the personality is not self. What does that mean? If this body is not-self, then the lineage of the body can’t be the whole story.”

There are relationship which are of karmic flow. But the lineage of our true reality is rooted in the Dharma. That’s the source, the origin, the basis. Rather than thinking of one’s physical parents as the origin, the clear realization that it’s the Uncreated, the Unformed, the Unborn, the Unconditioned that’s the genuine source, the genuine origin, the basis, the ground of reality.

There’s nothing to get heated about, nothing to get carried away by; it’s just life doing its dance. The heart can remain serene, stable, clear, and bright. Which, of course, is what makes it possible for us to be of benefit to others, whether they be our parents, our children, our teachers, our students, . . . or the mice.”

  • Based on a talk by “Ajahn Amaro”

Series in Living II – Saying Yes to Life – Philosophy of Viktor E Frankl

Saying Yes to Life

Viktor Frankl (1905 to 1997) is one of the greatest psychologist of 20th century from Europe. His philosophy of life has developed out of his experience in the concentration camp. Despite being no stranger to suffering, war, all round apathy and tough circumstances, his zeal to live and living and face life boldly are commendable. His philosophy towards life and living is simple – Life has meaning in all conditions. Saying yes to life in spite of all sufferings and facing it boldly, believing in future is the key to success and achievement in life.……

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The human being is an entity consisting of body, mind and spirit and each individual is unique. He has choice and has to be responsible for making something of himself. He has a finite freedom in the sense he cannot be free from biological, social or psychological conditioning but has ultimate freedom to take stand to react despite the conditions. One cannot change the situation but can change one’s attitude towards it. Suffering without meaning leads one to despair but if we can find a meaning under suffering and then he can translate it into success and achievement. “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” could be the guiding motto for all. The man who could not see any sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on is soon lost.

We had to learn ourselves and teach to the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer is not talk or meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

Therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Hence it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. Life is man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.

When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his. Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the suffering by ignoring them or harboring false illusions and entertaining artificial optimism. Suffering in it has hidden opportunities for achievement. It was necessary to face up to the full amount of suffering, trying to keep moments of weakness and furtive tears to a minimum. But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.

This uniqueness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. Health, family, happiness, professional abilities, fortune, position in society – all these were things that could be achieved. Whatever we had gone through could still be an asset to us in the future.

Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death. One has to face up to the seriousness of one’s position. They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning.

Man needs “something” for the sake of which to live. First goal was “finding a purpose and meaning to my life.”

Man as he developed has lost his animal instinct and established tradition. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).

The existential vacuum thus created manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. This is in line with Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom. In actual fact, boredom is now causing, and certainly bringing to psychiatrists, more problems to solve than distress. And these problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.

Man has to be fully aware of his own responsibility; and has to decide therefore, for what, to what, or to whom he is to be responsible. Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering. And what happens if one’s groping for a meaning has been in vain? This may well result in a fatal condition. Meaning orientation had subsided, and consequently the seeking of immediate pleasure had taken over

As logotherapy teaches, there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love. The third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.

Life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. An optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action. Third aspect of the tragic triad concerns death. But it concerns life as well, for at any time each of the moments of which life consists is dying, and that moment will never recur. And yet is not this transitoriness a reminder that challenges us to make the best possible use of each moment of our lives? It certainly is, and hence Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment

By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. Therefore, we can predict his future only within the large framework of a statistical survey referring to a whole group; the individual personality, however, remains essentially unpredictable. Yet one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary. Things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment – he has made out of himself.

Saying yes to life in spite of everything  and Man’s search for meaning have the power to transform his Lives.

  • “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor E. Frankl

Series in Living

Introduction

There is an ever present question in the minds of human being. Who am I. Why am I here. Is there a purpose to life? If I am role playing what is my role in life. What do I need to know to lead a fulfilling life? Am I on my own or is my destiny linked to others? What are my duties?

There are many theories on life and living. This coming series explores some of the theories by known philosophic schools and philosophers.

Series in Living I – Way of Life as in Hinduism

Hinduism takes a holistic view of living. It has four goals and stages of human life; – “Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha,” –  namely learning of rules (ways) of life, Acquisition of wealth, fulfillment of desires and liberation from worldly attachment are the four “purushartha” or purpose of human life. Similarly, – “Brahmacharya, Grahasthashra, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa” – Student hood, householder, retired and renunciate are the four stages of life.

Dharma – Law, Duty

Dharma is the righteous way of living, is akin  to do your duty and follow the law. It is the rule book pertaining to various aspects of life.  It enunciates the principles, ethical and moral values of living, essentially guides the ways in which other three goals of life – of acquiring financial wealth, fulfillment of desires and how to exit the life from these two stages can be fulfilled with least resistance. Virtuous and proper and productive living is the construct here and educating one of the duties and  rules of the game called life is the goal.

Artha – Wealth

The dictionary meaning of Artha is meaning, purpose, money, worldly prosperity, wealth. Artha is the material potential that includes all means of material needed for livelihood and security of livelihood. The survival and the thriving of humans requires wealth – that is, economic activity, wealth and its creation, worldly success, profit, political success and all that that is necessary for human existence. Wealth and prosperity is closely linked with all the other goals and is essential to fulfill them and absence of it means difficulties in goal fulfillment.

Kama – Desire

Kama refers to the principles of desire, drives, pleasure, enjoyment,  wish, emotional fulfillment, sensuality and sexuality. Artistic desires such as art, music, material possessions such as jewelry, cloth, fine house and gourmet food, sport and sex fulfillment are the instances of desire and fulfillment of these is encouraged in the righteous manner.

Moksha – Liberation

The goal of moksha is self-realization, self-knowledge, and liberation from worldly aspirations. Freedom and spiritual aspirations are the goals of this space.

Stages of life vs principles of life

Stages of life are aligned with goals of life. In the first stage of studentship educations is the goal, where in, one learns the rules of life including what is life is all about and how to acquire things that are needed to make it successful and righteous way of living. Discipline in cultivation of knowledge, control of ones thoughts, actions and deeds with respect to desires and enjoyment, staying away from entertainment and forces that distract one in his studies, and focus in studies are the goals of this stage.  Equipping one self, learning and knowledge and skill building are the primary focus in this stage ,   Having learnt the rules of life, earning and living he sets forth to lay the foundation of what is called family life

In the second stage which is of householder, one is married, and duties include maintaining a home, raising a family, caring for the children, parents, and society around. Acquiring wealth and fulfillment of one’s desires are the purpose of this stage and is considered to be the happiest stage in one’s life. Here all the desires and physical, emotional and social needs of person are to be fulfilled. The necessary means for it to be acquired. Wealth, security, pleasure and sexual needs fulfillment, and family are the main focus in this stage of life. One is encouraged to fulfill ones legitimate needs and desires be it physical, emotional, familial, financial and societal in this stage of life.

In the third stage of retirement, the person slowly starts disengaging oneself from the family responsibilities and starts handing over the responsibility to the next generation taking an advisory role. Here he is to prepare oneself for the attainment of spiritual liberation.it is one of detachment and being useful to the society serving as judge, teacher, counselor and wayfarer that marks this stage.

The fourth and final stage is that of ascetic, is marked by renunciation of material desires and prejudices, represented by a state of disinterest and detachment from material life, and has the purpose of spending one’s life in peaceful and spiritual way.

One is prepared and encouraged to face and lead the life according to the time and stages one finds oneself. One is expected to age and evolve naturally and gracefully. Each of the above stages equip one for the stage he is in and prepares him for the successive stage in life. The stages of student, family man, advisor and ascetic are applicable in that order for majority of the human being with a few exception, where a person can skip family stage and become a monk. For a successful living the learner stage is the foundation and how each one has lived in the previous stage decides the current stage the man is in.

Hindu way of life is simple living and high thinking. Poverty is not glorified and wealth by rightful means is encouraged. Moderation is encouraged and excess is abhorred. It is based on logic, reasoning and experience. However somewhere along the way these principles have got corrupted and sadly, Hinduism has got solely associated with rituals and dogmas and nihilism.

Hinduism stresses the importance of education in student hood, pursuit of wealth and happiness for householders, advisory role and preliminary detachment during retirement stage and liberation and spirituality in the final stages of life.  Adhering to these principles paves way for happy and fulfilled life and good society.