Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Thoughts vs Reality

"The constant agitation of our thinking minds, which we encounter so vividly in the meditation practice, is actually fed and compounded by our diet of television, radio, newspapers, and movies. We are constantly shoveling into our minds more things to react to; to think, worry, and obsess about; and to remember, as if our own daily lives did not produce enough." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p 415-416.
"Mind is [unconscious] like trees or stones. It is as if there were someone who painted dragons and tigers with his own hand, and yet, upon looking at them, became frightened. Deluded people are also like this. The brush of thought and consciousnesses paints Razor Mountains and Sword Forests, and yet it is thought and the consciousnesses that fear them. [...] Some, by discriminations of their own mind, draw tigers, wolves, lions, poisonous dragons, evil spirits, the generals of the five paths of rebirth, King Yama, the ox-headed guards of hell, and the Hell of the Sound of Cold. These things are discriminated by their own minds, but they are then controlled by these things, and so they undergo various sufferings. Realize that whatever mind discriminates is merely forms. [...] Forms are not forms. They are constructed in the manner of an illusion by your own mind. If you merely realize that they are not real, then you will attain liberation.”" - Bodhidharma, Text no. 5: Record I, The Bodhidharma Anthology: The earliest records of zen, (Jeffrey L. Broughton, 1999), p20-21
"Imagine a child sleeping next to its parents and dreaming it is being beaten or is painfully sick. The parents cannot help the child no matter how much it suffers, for no one can enter the dreaming mind of another, if the child could awaken itself, it could be freed of this suffering automatically." - Bassui's SermonThe Three Pillars of Zen (1970), Philip Kapleau, p161.
Becoming aware of the way thoughts manifest and affect one's body and perceptions seems to be a key property of maintaining a daily mindfulness meditation discipline. This post will present some teachers' quotes and comments on the topic with the help of the following graphic:

Thoughts which can often engage one during meditation.

1. Unable to accept the necessary pains of life - old age, sickness, and death, to name but a few. This means that one is often hit by the 'second arrow' which amplifies pain. This situation is explained clearly in Mindfulness for Dummies (2010), p50:
"By fighting the pain, you still feel the pain, but on top of that, you feel the emotional hurt and struggle with the pain itself. Buddha called this the ‘second arrow’. If a warrior is injured by an arrow and unleashes a series of thoughts like ‘why did this happen to me’ or ‘what if I can never walk again’, that’s a ‘second arrow’. You may inflict this on yourself each time you feel some form of pain or even just a bit of discomfort, rather than accepting what has happened and taking the next step."
2. The habitual reaction to solving a difficult problem is to think, and yet the body solves many problems without needing to think. The problem of filtering toxins from our blood is constantly solved and orchestrated by our liver without the need for thought. The body can also filter toxins from the mind if it is trusted to do so in the same manner as one trusts one's liver. The founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, speaks of the excellent and difficult job the body does in controlling the liver without our conscious control in the following clip from his talk at Spaulding Auditorium, Dartmouth College (April 7, 2011), titled The Healing Power of Mindfulness:

3. Positive judgements creating clinging and attachment - a 'toxic' resistance to impermanence. When the positive situation changes, negative judgements appear. Dropping all judgement allows one to accept situations for what they are without clinging. The Faith in Mind (Xìnxīn míng; 信心銘) - a poem attributed to the Third Chinese Zen Patriarch Sēngcàn 僧璨 (5th Century AD) presents this teaching as follows (translated by D.T.Suzuki):
"The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise"
4. Negative judgements creating aversion - tension builds and the 'toxic' adrenaline response can easily become triggered causing one to act irrationally. Trying to avoid something considered negative keeps that negative thing close, as one constantly breathes life into it every time one negates it. Hypnotist Derren Brown refers to this fact in this video clip from his popular TV series:

In this review of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Mind-Body Tool Kit, the power of one's own thoughts on one's body is illustrated as follows:
"You close your eyes and imagine a lemon. You imagine every aspect of this lemon, the color, smell, feel of it as you cut into it. Then imagine bringing a slice of it to your mouth and sinking your teeth into it. ... chances are, simply imagining that you are eating the lemon will make you start to salivate. [...] this exercise shows us how our thoughts affect our bodies. If you can make your mouth water simply by thinking about eating a lemon, imagine what is going on in your body when you’re thinking you’d like to drive right over the car in front of you”
Text No.3: First Letter of the anthology attributed to the first Patriarch of Zen, Bodhidharma, contains the following statement regarding the practice of "Thusness" - accepting what is for what it is; without judgement, in The Bodhidharma Anthology: The earliest records of zen, (Jeffrey L. Broughton, 1999), p12-14:
"I had been cultivating false thought for such a long time that my feelings led me to continue to see characteristics. I came to the point where I wanted to probe the difficulties inherent in these illusionary transformations. In the end I clearly apprehended the Dharma Nature and engaged in a coarse practice of Thusness. For the first time I realized that within the square inch of my own mind there is nothing that does not exist. The bright pearl comprehends clearly and darkly penetrates the deep tendency of things. From the Buddhas above to the wriggling insects below there is nothing that is not another name for false thought. They are the calculations of thought. And so I have given written expression to my dark musings. Moreover, I will reveal the Verses on Devices for Entering the Path [Ju-tao fang-pien chi], to be used as an admonition to those who have the conditions for the same type of awakening. If you have time, unroll and read it:

Through cross-legged sitting dhyana, in the end you will necessarily see the Original Nature.
Inevitably you will fuse and purify mind.
If for a split second [thought] arises, [you will be in the conditioned realm of] arising and extinguishing.
In the midst [of birth and death], to remember thoughts is [like a Buddhist aspirant] engaging in an improper means of livelihood.
You may search for Dharma and surmise various things, but your karma will not be changed.
Given revolving and increasing defilement, mind finds it difficult to reach the ultimate.
The wise one, upon suddenly hearing the eight characters, awakens to principle.
He realizes for the first time that his six years of ascetic activity were in vain.
All over the world, everywhere, are the people of the Evil One
Who clamor in vain and engage in meaningless arguments.
Making false explanations, they teach sentient beings.
Talking about remedies, they cure not one disease.
Things have always been in a state of quiescence and there has never existed a perceiving subject.
How could there be good and evil, false and correct?
Even arising is no-arising; even extinguishing is no-extinguishing.
Moving is no-moving; concentration is no-concentration."
These days, with the amount of media constantly demanding one's attention, it can be very easy to absorb a version of reality that is filtered by overarching political agendas or just plain fiction. This skewed reality can bubble up during meditation as if it is one's own shocking creation. As Kabat-Zinn states in Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p 415-416:
"Keep your radio on for a while on any day and it is likely that you will hear graphic details of rape and murder. We consume this diet daily. You can't help but wonder what kind of effects it has on us, individually and collectively, to have such graphic and up-to-the-minute knowledge of all these disturbing problems but with virtually no power to influence them. One likely effect is that we might gradually become insensitive to what happens to other people. The fate of others may become just another part of the sea of background violence within which we live. Unless it is particularly gruesome, we may not even notice it at all.
But it does go inside us, just as all the advertisements we are exposed to are taken in. You notice this when you meditate. You begin to Sf:e that your mind is full of all sorts of things that have crept into it from the news or from advertisements. In fact, advertising people are paid very high salaries to figure out effective ways of getting their message inside your head so that you will be more likely to want and choose what they are selling.
Television and movies also figure as a large part of our standard diet nowadays, even more so with the advent of cable TV and VCRs. In the average American household, the television is on for seven hours per day according to some studies, and many children watch four to seven hours per day, more time than they spend doing anything else in their lives except sleeping. They are exposed to staggering amounts of information, images, and sounds, much of it frenetic, violent, cruel, and anxiety-producing, and all of it artificial two-dimensional, not related to actual experiences in their lives other than TV watching itself.
Children are also exposed to images of extreme violence and sadism in popular horror movies. Grotesque and graphic simulations of reality involving killing, raping, maiming and dismemberment have become extremely popular among the young. These vivid simulations have now become part of the diet of young minds, minds that have few defenses against this kind of reality distortion. These images have enormous power to disturb and distort the development of a balanced mind, particularly if there is nothing of equal strength in the child's life to counterbalance them. For many children, real life pales in comparison to the excitement of the movies, and it becomes harder and harder, even for the moviemakers, to maintain their viewers' interest unless they make the images more graphic and more violent with each new release."
Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh echoes this sentiment when he writes, in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (2008), p32-33:
"When we drive through a city, our eyes see so many billboards, and these images enter our consciousness. When we pick up a magazine, the articles and advertisements are food for our consciousness. Advertisements that stimulate our craving for possessions, sex, and food can be toxic. If after reading the newspaper, hearing the news, or being in a conversation, we feel anxious or worn out, we know we have been in contact with toxins."
As we work with our inner tensions, we can manage our sensory diet so that we feed our practice rather than our unhealthy habits. This will break the cycle of negative thoughts and uncomfortable reactions, and thoughts will no longer be of concern.

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