A couple of years ago my mother passed away and a separation also led to me being apart from my son for what seemed like unbearable periods of time. I have practiced Vipassana and Anapana for quite a while but even so I could not work with the pain I experienced and had no equanimity.
As a surfer I began to remember the pain associated with being held down by a large wave, the feeling of needing to breath but not being able to. I felt relief in my body that I could breath freely, without restiriction. From there I began to see that, though I was living in my van, I had shelter from the harsh weather. I began to recall that I had food that day and was not starving.
This practice of gratitude eventually brought me back to my breath, which brought me back to observing bodily sensations. It may be this practice of gratitude that saved my life.
This is a good reflection that is attempting to restore balance to a topic that is moslty based upon a belief system, one that has not been directly realized by the person practicing, thereby creating an internal fallacy where thoughts and actions are in conflict.
Though the author is pointing out another perspective I see that there is a balance in terms of understanding what we are actually able to work with. Who and what we are, here and now, vs. conforming to any real ideology.
I agree that the concept of non-self has become dogmatic and misintrepreted but I also think there is more depth than the author is able to realize or communicate. There is a self (created or not who cares?) that we firmly identify with yet there is also a place where we are able to simply observe this collection of body, mind, and personality as an entity that is void of any real substance. Just a flowing mass of expressions and manifiestations. It is our identification, or lack there of, that may effect our peace of mind and understanding. And I personally shift from observation to identification with frequency wishing I could maintain observation as it provides much more understandind and persepctive then being caught in identification.
Still, identification has to be accepted and worked with in order to increase our skill in life. Knowing we are caught is a key part to an awareness that can lead to freedom and allow us to work with where and who we are in any given state.
Self or not, if we just begin to understand what we are observing, feeling, being, expressing. This balanced observation will lead to deeper understandind and happiness. If we just believe without further investigation we are lost from the start.
I think we have to be clear that "dropping out" in these terms is actually applying strong effort to move in an alternate direction, a direction that would infer an alternative approach to the one we are habitually take.
We can "drop out" anytime we are approached with adverse conditions (even as mental thoughts and feelings approach) and see out habitual fears, anxiety, stress, and anger arise. We can "drop out" by stopping instead of reacting and coming back to our breath, a neutral and therefor calming element. We have to become very aware in order to do this and be clear how the current conditions are affecting out body and mind. From this clarity, this understanding, this discernment, and this awareness we then have an option because we are aware and not caught. We can now disengage in whatever way we can in order to come back to our immediate needs and begin the process of balancing ourselves.
Far from "dropping out" however, this is actively engaging and looking adversity and suffering right in the "eye". Standing up, not backing down, being strong and not turning your back in fear or habitual reactivity.
We have to be very carful and though the author is attempting to assist us in seeing a different view. There is a huge play on the ego that should not be ignored. The ego giving us yet another form of ignorance to attach to. The idea that we are somehow different (and especially superior) is a fallacy (and one that I am still suck in mind you). If we find ourself in this type of conversation we have moved into a material and fabricated "spirituality" and are now developing our ego further.
"Spiritual" growth has humility as it's best friend, a humility that sees everyone and thing as a teacher to learn from to discern but not to judge, condemn, or differentiate. Step back and take a bow to all that is in front of you, dwell in gratitude and take another step in the direction of healing.
Stage or no stage we have to continue to apply skillful effort.
This is very timely and I have shared it with our staff here at Pioneer Elementary School. Yesterday we got news that a 5th grader was seriously contemplating suicide. I see in our schools we are not creating the space for healing, expression, or even acceptance. We're trudging on with the same mentality that we had 30 years ago. The childrens dynamics are changing and we need to step up to keep up. Thank you for this.
It is an interesting idea and philosophy of the how the sun exists, yet we actually really don't know....sorry to pull away from the intentions of the writer. But I love how these small, and often limited, beings (called humans), can attempt to express understanding of something so much grander and something that may be incomprehensible.
A well written piece and a common theme to remember.
We do need to take the advice above, but remember that the main issues are the ways mind is relating to various objects.
The barter system is now seen as a more pure form of trade (than money) and engagement. But due to scarcity and greed it evolved from the basics, the essence, of giving. The US money system, once backed by gold, is another further step away from pure giving. Yet it is here and it will not go away as long as greed and scarcity prevail (both mindsets). We can't just do away with them, just as we can't do away with hatred and greed. Even in our own minds we have not this capacity, so how do we wish it upon others?
We need to dig in, and get to work on the very factors that have created these issues. Namely our own greed, ignorance, etc. and stop blaming systems that are generated by the very qualities we posses. Understanding that if greed itself were eradicated then whatever was left would function more purely be it political systems or money.
So enough talking a reading and playing these intellectual games. Sit still, focus on your breath, observe the chaos of your own body and mind until equanimity develops. Once this is solid then with a balanced mind change the world as a firm example.
Hello and thank you for the questions: To have "finally dealt with suffering" is a statement that is so far off for me that I cannot relate to it. I hear many people use terms, and have stories about "their darkest hour" etc. Suffering is suffering and developing a skillful effort around it is a process, a training, a commitment.
A vast majority of us have not had this "finally dealt with". Though perhaps intellectually it sounds nice. Finally, in this case (to me at least) means complete liberation and having transcended the painful reactions associated with conditional suffering.
In terms of consuming into ourselves, this can be very tricky and I would not recommend putting any more on us than is necessary. Suffering is suffering and if you see suffering as grace then you see suffering as grace, but suffering is suffering, it is not grace otherwise the word suffering would instead be defined as grace. I feel when we learn more about this suffering we are not afraid to call it what it is. It is suffering and there is nothing wrong with it. It is a normal part of this human existence and we need not rename it.
Many stories can be shared, but every time suffering arises I go back to my practice of Anapana/Vipassana and come to see the transient nature of this suffering. It is not grace. it is work, and it works. It is skillful effort and the results are bound to come. But I don't know about grace other than to relate it to suffering, It comes and it goes.
When we are able to see the changing nature of things then our mind stops playing these silly games of attachment, aversion, etc. This is a type of death to the habitual tendencies of the mind, the personality. But were we really ever living, having been slave to this? I think not. So we learn how to live, how to become alive.
Clear and effective communication is so important. Knowing where people are at and how to assist them in leading themselves. Many teachers miss this most important aspect of expression, because sometimes they have lost the ability to relate to others.
A professional musician, for instance may or may not be a good teacher. He has to be able to relate to a five year old who has never picked up an instrument. This is what separates many, and many can talk the talk, this is easy, but to assist others, actually assist them. Very few can do this, and they certainly are not "Masters", they are people like us who've worked a little longer.
Keep well and in good health.
This is an enjoyable reflection especially in relation to what is called "spiritual materialism". This was a lesson learned the hard way by myself in my "seeking". And yet my view may be contrary to what is mentioned above seeking seems to me to be very necessary. Without some desire we cannot even direct our mind towards what is skillful, indeed without a search, that of the samana, we cannot get to a place of stillness of mind or body. Though our failed attempts at happiness we eventually have to settle, to stop, to be still, and to look at what we already have, but even this is initiated by some motivation. We have to direct effort skillfully, in skillness, even in very subtle states we are still directing effort towards understanding.
If we wish not for freedom we remain bound. Unknowingly relaxing as the enemy approaches, we get battered once again. To be vigilant is to engage in continuity, in understanding the enemy so that eventually he is known as he is, once known he is no longer a danger.
1. Once, when the Buddha was dwelling near Savatthi at Jeta Grove, in Anathapindika’s park, the householder Anathapindika visited him, and after greeting him politely sat down at one side.
2. The Exalted One addressed Anathapindika: “Are alms given in your house, householder?”
3. “Yes, Lord, alms are given by my family, but they only consist of broken rice and sour gruel.”
4. “Householder, whether one gives coarse or choice alms, if one gives them without respect, without thought, not by one’s own hand, gives only leftovers, and without belief in the result of actions, then wherever he is reborn as a result of his having given these alms, his mind will not turn to the enjoyment of fine food and clothing, fine vehicles or the fine objects of the five senses. His children, wife, servants, and labourers will not obey him, and neither listen nor pay attention to him. And why is that so? Because this is the result of actions done without respect.
5. “But whether one gives coarse or choice alms, if one gives them with respect, thoughtfully, by one’s own hand, gives things that are not leftovers, and with belief in the result of actions, then wherever he is reborn as a result of his having given these alms, his mind will turn to the enjoyment of fine food, clothes and vehicles, and of the finer objects of the five senses. His children, wife, servants, and labourers will obey him, listen and pay attention to him. And why is this? Because this is the result of actions done with respect.
6. “Long ago, householder, there lived a brahman called Velama. He gave very valuable gifts such as these: He gave eighty-four thousand golden bowls filled with silver; he gave eighty-four thousand silver bowls filled with gold; he gave eighty-four thousand copper bowls filled with jewels; he gave eighty-four thousand horses with trappings, banners and nets of gold; he gave eighty-four thousand carriages spread with lion skins, tiger skins and leopard skins, with saffron-coloured blankets, with golden trappings, banners and nets; he gave eighty-four thousand milk-giving cows with fine jute ropes and silver milk pails; he gave eighty-four thousand bejewelled maidens; he gave beds with covers of fleece, white blankets, embroidered coverlets, covered with antelope skins, with awnings, and with crimson cushions at the ends; he gave eighty-four thousand lengths of cloth of the best flax, silk, wool, and cotton. And who could describe all the food both hard and soft kinds, sweets and syrups that he gave? They flowed like rivers.
7. “Perhaps, householder, you think that the brahman Velama who made that very valuable gift was someone else. Do not think that; it was I who was Velama the brahman who made that very valuable gift.
8. “But when those alms were given, householder, there were no recipients worthy of the gift. Although the brahman Velama gave such a valuable gift, if he had fed one person of right view, the fruit of the latter deed would have been greater.
9. “Though he gave that very rich gift, or though he fed a hundred people of right view, the fruit of feeding a Once-returner would have been greater.
10. “Though he gave that very valuable gift, or though he fed a hundred Once-returners, the fruit of feeding one Non-returner would have been greater.
11. “… though he fed a hundred Non-returners, the fruit of feeding one Arahat would have been greater.
12. “… though he fed a hundred Arahats, the fruit of feeding one Non-Teaching Buddha would have been greater.
13. “… though he fed a hundred Non-Teaching Buddhas, the fruit of feeding one Perfect One, a Teaching Buddha, would have been greater.
14. “. . . though he fed one Perfect One, a Teaching Buddha, the fruit of feeding the Order of monks (Sangha) with the Buddha at its head would have been greater. 
15. “… though he fed the Order of monks with the Buddha at its head, the fruit of building a monastery for the use of the monks of the Order of the surrounding country would have been greater.
16. “… though he built a monastery for the Order, the fruit of sincerely taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha would have been greater.
17. “… though he sincerely took refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, the fruit of sincerely undertaking to keep the moral precepts, abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxicants causing sloth, would have been greater.
18. “… though he sincerely undertook those precepts, the fruit of developing [concentration on radiating universal] loving kindness [metta] even just to the extent of a whiff of scent, would have been greater.
19. “… though he developed loving kindness to the extent of a whiff of scent, the fruit of cultivating the thought of impermanence, even for the moment of a finger snap, would have been greater.”
the Velama Sutta
I hope you enjoyed :)
Offered in metta - Paul
Thank you very much for sharing this.
I so much appreciate Ajahn Geoffe's reflections. I also feel the questions for reflection above are quite important in order for us to take the advice above and move it to a practical application in our daily lives.
One of the questions above is related to keeping awareness of "the goal". This "goal" being stability and stillness of the mind. I have a different opinion in relatin to "goal" and I feel that we need to be very careful and skillful here. (Forgive me for not responding to Tan Ajahn's reflection, but I feel nothing needs to be added to his reflection.)
What is a "goal" ? Is it something that we are striving to attain? How does this "goal" actually exist according to our actual experience and understanding? If we look carefully we may see that this goal exists for us as a concept, a view, an ideal, perhaps a feeling or something that we are drawn towards. If we look we may have to face the fact that we don't really know much about our goal at all. So the question for me is not; 'how do we keep our awareness on the "goal", even if that goal seems to be beneficial such as stability and stillness. The question, for me, is much more simple; What is happineing right now? that being, what is my relationship with the present conditions, what is my present experience?
Whether I have stability or stillness it will be my awarness and investigation that will lead me to the peace of understanding. Stability and stillness can be good (or bad if we become addicted to them) but I am more concerned with an immediate practice that relates to the actuality of my life 'here and now'. So, perhaps, nothing is stable or still - do I seek out a "goal" and strive for something "other" than what is?, something that is not actually present for me 'here and now', or do I simply begin the process of deveoping an increasing sensitivity, an awareness, and an investigation, of seeing how I am relating to a mind that is unstalble and unstill?
A chaotic mind is part of this human condition, but it is our relationship to these conditions that will bring us peace or suffering, insight or confusion. Our actual practice has to be in the present with whatever conditions we are presently facing. If we have a goal that we have not attained then we may err in putting our attention towards something that does not actually exist, some future event, but if we become 'here', present with this reality unfolding right now, then this "goal" unfolds in our prestent awareness.
In love and sincerity may you be ever-well.
-Samata:)[Hide Full Comment]
On May 16, 2023 Samata wrote on Shape Of Silence, by Kent Nerburn: