Saturday, 27 August 2011

How And Why Do We Become Aware Of Our Views And Subconscious Tendencies?

This morning in meditation I think I realised the central principle of my talk (I found meditation quite useful for writing my talk!) It seemed quite obvious but surprising and it even got the thumbs up from Santideva, it is; any of the stages of the Spiral Path are conditioned by any of the five Niyamas, not just the Karmic (because it isn’t causality it’s conditionality), I’ve had both the – ‘no that’s wrong’ and ‘of course it is’ – response to this when I’ve mentioned it.
My talk got so long I had to cut out the jokes – which might be a good thing – actually I had to cut out most of the talk! My talk is called ‘How and why do we become aware of our views and subconscious tendencies?’, and it is a response to a talk by Dharmachari Dharmadeepa called ‘Dhyana and Prajna’ in Padmaloka recently where he said ‘become aware of your views’ and I wondered how we do that? In the study group afterwards we came up with a few ways which turned out to match the five things the Buddha taught to Meghiya. Since that historical time we have found a few new ways as well. I will come back to that in a few minutes. I will approach the topic firstly with a definition, secondly I’ll say something about why we should do it, thirdly what views are, fourthly what it means to become aware of them and fifthly how we become aware of them (what methods we have) and I’d like to go into a few reflections that came out of this.
Firstly a definition; My interest in this topic is more in exploring what our hard to get hold of subtle views are, rather than the conscious ones, and I have reflected that in the term ‘Subconscious Tendencies’ which I got from Vajradaka.  I’m afraid Dr. Johnson can’t help us here since he didn’t know about the subconscious so it’s not in his dictionary! The concise Oxford Dictonary says of view; an opinion, mental attitude, manner of considering a thing, and of tendency; a leaning or inclination, of subconscious; of or concerning the part of the mind which is not fully conscious but influences actions.
Views are rooted in desires which are often hard to see unless reflected in or displaced by something rather like starlight distorted by Dark Matter.  Some views are consciously held, and for me ‘view’ has a more discursive feel than tendencies, but Sangharakshita describes Wrong View (the topsy-turvies) as not an intellectual conviction but an unconscious assumption, examples include the most trivial seeming views; doing the washing up on Sunday I realised I had the view that I didn’t like doing the washing up, I tried swapping that with a view that I did and I started to enjoy it, this shows that the view’s not based on reality. Another example is in Puja thinking about renouncing my bowl of muesli I like to have afterwards and getting the immediate reaction ‘I won’t be happy without my bowl of muesli’ which is laughable in hindsight. 
So secondly, why?
Subuti tells us ‘Make sure your view of your views is correct’ because they effect what we do. If our view is that we are going to make life comfortable then we will never go on the Great Quest into the unknown; we will have no reason to Go Forth and we will only go for refuge to the mundane prison of the limited self! So it is of primary importance to become aware of our views.
Another reason to become aware of our views and subconscious tendencies comes from Kulananda; ‘we can’t transform what we have not already made contact with, otherwise we are making transformations of delusion. We tend to see things/beings as arising, staying for a while and then falling prey to impermanence, the truth however is that they stay for no amount of time at all, they come and pass away in that very moment; we find only the flux – which is Sunya. Only when we stay in the present moment (which could be seen as the top of a fountain of water – ungraspable) and get in contact with what’s there can we work with it (we might be having a painful time so we tend to live for some future pleasure, or we only perceive people as they behaved in the past not seeing that they have changed). We are impotent to the extent that we are meeting and functioning away from how things are in the present. Mindfulness brings us into the present. The extremes of wilful alienation and Tathagatagarbha based delusion, that no effort is needed, are also examples of this. And Bhante also says Wrong Views are the product of unskilful mental states and while not abandoned will reinforce them causing a double obstruction to Enlightenment.
Subhuti says never in human history have so many views been available to so many; Religious, Political, Scientific, Psychological, Philosophical, alternative and cultural, through mass media, education and the internet. Refining our views will be a spiral upwards to limitless horizons and infinite possibilities. There is no ceiling to confine our own efforts, and there is no fault in conditionality – we will be able to see things as they really are. Our wrong views will be replaced by perfect vision and we can then start to place that vision onto a world that needs it. At this time of disintegration of common values, materialism, confusion and despair the amount we can do is enormous, even in simple things this is too easily underestimated.
Thirdly, what are they?
This is harder to answer than I anticipated. I would like first to give my personal overview and then give you what Subhuti says on it in ‘The Buddhist Vision’. I find it interesting to look at how views might arise; here are some of my musings on it so far.
From the starting point of Avidya; which arises with the imputing of self into Reality we have an experience of three dimensional space – which is things (selves) separated off from each other, then time - which is things changing and then attachment and suffering – which is our emotional/feeling response. These are our delusion of inherent self conditioning the temporal, spatial and emotional dimensions of our existence or rather the temporal, spatial and emotional dimensions of our existence are what we see of Reality through the filter of our delusion of inherent selfhood. So we could say our experience of space is only ‘things’ separated off from each other, our experience of time arises because there are ‘things’ which create changes in space (time is only our experience of ‘things’ changing or the change in how ‘things’ relate to each other - as we see from Relativity time itself is no fixed entity but is relative to the perceiver of the speed of change in things and changes in the speeds of the perceivers) and our experience of craving and aversion is us separated off from Reality as it is. So seeing Reality we see through time, space and suffering – they are transcended. The subconscious assumption of permanence in the temporal, real selfhood in the spatial and complete satisfaction in the emotional, dimension is the basic foundation contained in every wrong view. These are three of the four Vipayasas, the forth is seeing beauty where there is none.
The delusion of inherent self is the root wrong view splitting Reality for us into space, time and the experience of suffering, from these come every other wrong view. On the ‘Twelve Links’ Samskaras arise in dependence upon Avidya, and after Vijnana with the psychophysical organism; the former representing the past life - the later representing the present life. I also imagine Samskaras to be views and subconscious tendencies.
Wrong view can be Sahaja (innate view) or Parikalpa (constructed view), they can also be boiled down to being either Nilihistic or Eternalistic. In the Brahmajala Sutta we find the sixty two wrong views; eighteen relating to the past and forty four to the future. It also says they are based on a feeling of satisfaction (views are rooted in desires) and all wrong views are contained here.
Wrong View in Pali is Micca-ditthi; 1. False way of seeing things and 2. As expressed cognitively in the form of a doctrine.  What makes it false is it’s foundation in the three poisons; greed, hatred, and delusion – their cognitive counterpart. Only Samyak-drsti (perfect view) uncontaminated by these is an expression of the Enlightened mind, it is no-view. It has no sense of clinging. Some of these are wrong views the Buddha mentions to Cunda; ‘There is no gift, no offering, no sacrifice, there is no fruit or ripening of deeds well done or ill, the world is not, the world beyond is not, there is no mother, father, no beings supernaturally born, no recluses or Brahmins in the world who have rightly gone, who fare rightly, men who by their own comprehension have realised this world and the world beyond and thus declare.’ Some other wrong views are; there’s no difference between good and evil, no higher values, man is the highest being, and there is only relative truth. The effect of these is to render the Spiritual life impossible, and ethics is made irrelevant as it is in Physics for example.
So another look at what views are, back to Subhuti – ‘often almost entirely unconscious unthinking assumptions and views govern the direction of our lives. Because we are so closely identified with them we may never see them for what they are or give them articulate expression; we are our views – self contradictory and deluded. All systems of values are founded upon some view about the purpose of life (i.e. the survival of the fittest). The basis is emotional. They are more myths than concepts, like the myth of Aryan supremacy they give form to our desires. They are Archetypal patterning of the psyche that shape reason and emotion into a whole driving force. Inherited unconsciously, or generated, the former from a need to conform and the latter often as rationalisations for following our desires.’ Views may have good or bad consequences for us.
I think views are our total experience (which makes me think of the vertical lines of green figures on the computer monitor in ‘The Matrix’). Without views our experience would be Sunya. Here are some examples of wrong views from Dharmadeepa’s talk;
‘If I solve this one issue my life will be perfect’
‘When the house is decorated I’ll be happy’
‘All humans are evil by nature’
‘Negativity is real – being friendly is inauthentic’
‘Actions don’t have consequences if no one sees’
‘I’m surrounded by incompetents’
‘Familiarity’, which is said to bread contempt, is a kind of false view. We can realise that we don’t really know someone – and this liberates us.
Views are projections onto Reality (our experience of suffering, time and space are just projections we give up at the point of Insight) - we impute self onto reality. Perhaps it is also what defines humanity; that it’s how we humans connect, we try to project humanity onto everything possible; other people, our pets, even funny shaped bits of rock. Likewise we project anger onto people who frown. So without at least this ability to project our humanity is lost (a good example is in the film ‘It’s a beautiful life’). Likewise it can only be a true nature of things in reality which resonates with the true nature of things in us (so called Buddhanature) – is the projection onto people/things a reflection in a mundane form of Reality trying to manifest itself? We can’t speak of being ever separate from the true nature of things or it not already being our deepest nature. Is Humanity the constant attempt to project itself onto everything around it? A similar process in both cases perhaps? But we know that with the arising of Insight Reality doesn’t change, ‘topsy-turvy’ means our views just flip over – we didn’t have to go to another place, the Pureland was here all the time.
Fourthly; what does it mean to be aware of our views and subconscious tendencies?
I’ve got a lot here out of Subhuti’s first chapter of ‘A Buddhist Vision’ where he says first we have to make sure our view of our views is accurate. It means testing our views based on reason, intuition and experience and knowing ourselves more fully which means integrating our subconscious so that there are no more hidden drives – we become aware of how our views liberate or confine us (their ethical nature) and how they motivate us.
I think Bahiya was a good example of this. Thinking he was an Arahant when he was told by a friendly Devata that he wasn’t and wasn’t on the path to becoming one, but that there was a Buddha who could teach him, Bahiya was shocked into action. He then became aware of his own unawareness, he’d been comfortable in his delusion before and so he wasn’t striving for the answers. This wakeup call had a huge effect on Bahiya. Before Bahiya heard this wake-up call he couldn’t go on the great journey, the Going Forth and he suddenly went off walking the huge distance to the northern city of Savathi to find the Buddha. To Go Forth we need a reason, we need to be unlocked from the view that we are going to make life comfortable and that everything’s fine. This can happen when a tragedy strikes and the true nature of reality strikes at our deluded views – we then become aware of our views, we become aware that we were wasting time in a fantasy world, actually a self made prison, where everything was going to revolve around us and we wake up to the reality that we too are trapped in a world of aging, illness and inevitable death. This is the first stage of the Spiral Path, which can be described as ‘Awareness of Dukkha’. ‘Dukkha’ is not that life is just suffering – since we know that there is also happiness in life, ‘Dukkha’ is the realisation that we are not or can’t be completely satisfied since there is always something else we want or always something niggling us; the literal translation of Dukkha means the ill fitting wheel, it makes the sound ‘dukkha’ each time it goes round. It’s not a big enough problem for us to bother fixing, we try to ignore it but it remains there in the background. By staying with and responding to the stage of Dukkha the second stage Shraddha (faith) arises and we never leave these two stages behind during the rest of the path. Becoming aware of our views and subconscious tendencies means making the first two steps forward away from the Wheel of re-becoming. Only when we sit with and value our sense of dissatisfaction, rather than escaping from it, can we respond to its wake up call. We can’t skip these stages.
Bahiya went straight for the Buddha for the answer to the great question, stopping for no longer than a night; he didn’t waste any time. This is the effect our views have on us; one moment we think we know everything the next we are going on the great quest, like Scott and Shackleton we become one of the great explorers driven by the desire to explore the unknown, risking everything for the goal. But first we have to know that we don’t already know. We are freed up if we take the Devata’s advice. But will we take the red pill or the blue pill? Do we want to actually know the truth? Do we have Bahiya’s sense of urgency? Or are we comfortable with life and planning to make it work for us?
For me this is the big one. I had a first intense year full of dhyana and insight. I’d got there, I got the T-shirt, and then I had twelve years of plateau, unfortunately not on a beautiful plateau in the Himalayas but one frustratingly close to Benidorm. For Bahiya the time from meeting the Buddha to his liberation seemed to take about two minutes. Only when our motivation is unlocked from its wrong views and tendencies can the vital stages of Dukkha and Shraddha can fully arise.
The change of orientation from the known to the unknown is the fundamental Buddhist act. Bahiya’s action equals a complete acceptance of the four reminders and the laksanas, like him we can unlock our hold on the delusions stopping us from going forth and we can only do this by becoming aware of our submerged views and subconscious tendencies.
When we finally break through wrong view it means we have entered the stream; a Stream Enterer can no longer break the precept of abstention from wrong view and has broken the first three fetters, the first being ‘the belief in a fixed inherent self’.
Fifthly; how do we become aware of them?
In taking responsibility for our views we see what emotions underlie them and where they tend to lead us. This means first clearing away confusion – we must turn to the help of others. I’ve heard it said many times how vain was a person’s attempt to practise the Dharma away from a Sangha. 
We develop an emotional feel for right and wrong views – ones that move us towards liberation and ones that move us towards alienation from others and suffering. 
I found little direct mention in my research on this subject of how to become aware of our views, in  the ‘Ten Pillars’ Bhante mentions how to abandon them (by practising the four right efforts, for example, and study) In fact it is a vast subject, encompassing our whole spiritual life. Here is what I’ve made of it so far.
Firstly in principle; we can become aware of our views directly in meditation with our own mind by developing more subtlety of mind, and indirectly; for example when they are contrasted by our differing reactions to our repeated daily practises, reflected by our spiritual friends, obstructed when we face challenges, manifested – although we might only know this after the event, embodied when we feel them in emotional and physical experiences in the body, vocalised – it might not hit us until it just comes out in an argument or confession, exposed – when made obsolete by newer views or contact with reality, aroused – by conditions which encourage them, or just pointed out – if we are lucky, by friendly Devatas in a form we can accept.
In the ‘Jewel Ornament’ one simile says – just as someone attacked by Plague does not feel the slightest pain or heat until they are in recovery, Stream entrants experience the misery of conditioned existence after having started to withdraw. Before this we didn’t even know we were in pain and ill. The world doesn’t know it is mad.
So in practise, some of the main ways we can approach our views are in ritual and repetition, ethics and confession, spiritual friendship, dharma talk and study, through insight from the wise, when facing challenges (which can include Team Based Right Livelihood,  when disasters happen, in relationships, in internationality as a practise) and also in meditation.
In ritual and repetition we become aware of our views when we come up against them using the sustained declaration of our higher self. I found it wonderful how they would pop up during the prostration practise (for example ‘I should be in Nero’s enjoying a coffee and reading the paper now! – should I?)
In ethical practise we use the precepts to shed light upon our deeper nature and start to see ‘in the trivial things’ powerful undercurrents which we can then let go of. By refining our subtle awareness of it we can bring to light more and more subtle unethical tendencies.
In confession we can experience the gradual recognition of our Samskaras. Taking on a vow illuminates our tendencies, when they come up, through contrast with it. Through Appatrapiya our tendencies are contrasted with those we respect.
We find in spiritual friendship that our friends may know our deeper views long before we do, so it’s good to actually ask them! In the movement we have an atmosphere of getting to know ourselves as a shared spiritual practise; normally you might only be told you smell by someone who doesn’t like you! Don’t make the mistake of thinking they don’t like you when spiritual friends point something out. Spiritual friendship and taking offence don’t go together, often liking and spiritual friendship don’t need to, which we probably already know.  I think an increase in shared Metta means a proportionate decrease in what we can’t say to each other. Here spiritual friendship is a path to opening up our subconscious darker areas and liberating our communication.
Escaping or escapism?
The Spiritual Life - from the starting point of the first stage on the Spiral Path - will be a battle between our tendency to escape Dukkha and to Escapism. On the Wheel there is only escapism. Only at the point of Enlightenment do we finally give up escapism completely; we finally make the transition then from escapism to really escaping.  We could really escape Samsara at any time but we know it’s not that easy, and where there is greed, hatred and delusion there is escapism. Our Escaping and escapism are both driven by our experience of suffering. They correlate with the Spiral and the Cyclic modes of conditionality; from the Vedana of suffering we either choose to follow the Spiral or carry on round the wheel of life, all through the Spiritual life we never abandon this action – to get real or to carry on in our fantasy. When we meditate are we really facing our experience or do we rush on into overlaying a meditation technique on to our experience of ourself? The true insight is to connect with what’s really there rather than to get somewhere else and the goal is so simple we miss it; but when we suddenly get it we laugh and realise we were never really unenlightened –  we realise nothing’s changed when we transcend our delusional view of time and space.
Like most I was propelled into the Dharma to escape from suffering. I was very aware of my suffering and it fuelled my practise. I really just dived in to meditation. One mistake I made was to use meditation to push away or run from those painful aspects of my physical/emotional experience. Using technique and a sharp forceful mind, along with some helpful Karma Vipaka, I did this very well. The problem was that eventually those painful repressed aspects of me started nagging and I stopped wanting to meditate so much – this happened after a year or so. Using the power of concentration to suppress something can create problems not easily resolved since they may be buried quite deeply, causing energy blockages.
It is just as much a mistake to overlay the techniques of meditation on top of oneself and just use willpower (Since the Spiritual life is conditioned all five Niyamas not merely the Karma Niyama) at one extreme as to go the other way and approach meditation as all about feelings (Vipaka, or even the physical or biological mode of conditionality) rather than actions (Karma). Both extremes are transformations of delusion. Often what can hinder an active interest to explore and integrate all of our experience is the very thing which motivated us so strongly in the first place however we are not so keen on exploring our awareness of Dukkha.
Going on a solitary meditation retreat helps us to untangle our views and tendencies from those of others. Reflection clarifies what our views are.
The horizontal integration of dhyana stimulates the process of vertical integration and this is another way in which we become aware of deeper tendencies, the release of holdings in the deeper self causes rapture and bliss – it’s a letting go of our normal view of our self for a while into a superconscious state which opens us up and triggers a rising up from the subconscious of deeper ‘stuff’ which can cause our next meditation to be turbulent when we begin to integrate this new ‘stuff’- these are repeating cycles which can take hours or decades to complete. Some of us bring more baggage to be integrated than others. Some seem to be able to maintain a kind of alienated ‘dhyana’ for many years, but there may also be a reaction or terrible consequence, and some types of meditation have been the cause of mental illness.
Study and Dharma talk can reveal much cherished unclear or wishful thinking. To become aware of your views make sure you are thinking clearly for yourself and with sincerity, a good disciple is one who does both of these. Wrong views come to us from many sources as woolly thinking so be on guard and understand the meaning of words.
In the teachings of the wise like the ‘Bodhichariyavatara’ and the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ Layered Contrast helps us up from a lower to a higher level of perception and helps us break out of our limited view.
Using Pramodya as an indicator.
Formulas here can be very useful; Bhante tells us in ‘A system of meditation’ page 32, ‘Absorbtion is what arises naturally when we are perfectly happy; to the extent we are happy, to that extent we are concentrated’. We can’t perfect the stage of meditation before we have perfected the stage of ethics; ethics makes us happy, it gives us that sense of ease – our conscience is clear.  Bhante tells us ‘Joy one could say is the hallmark of a true Buddhist’.
But since any of the stages of the Spiral Path are conditioned by any of the five Niyamas, not just the Karmic, we should not only look to our ethical actions when our meditation is not going well. Our meditation is conditioned by all five Niyamas. If it is being disturbed by something happening in the Physical Organic (we are ill for example) or in the physical inorganic (when our seat is slipping) this will be quite obvious. It can be less obvious when it’s being affected by the citta-niyama (the mental or psychological order of conditionality). Our own Pramodya can be blocked by psychological problems; ones which may not be resolvable merely by ethical practise but only by directed therapy. On the other hand it is said that a problem on the Karma order might not be resolvable through therapy but by the exhaustion or countering of the Karma.
Ethics affects our attainment of Samadhi through Pramodya, which is an intervening link on the Spiral Path– (it’s important to know that we don’t just jump from Shradha, or ethics, to Samadhi on the Spiral Path. Other orders of conditionality can affect our level of happiness or joy, and it can be very hard to know which of them it is). We can grasp at many different stories when trying to make sense of such an experience; ‘We have become institutionalised in the spiritual life and need to more fully experience the world again’ or ‘we need to free up our inhibitions and go to parties or meet a partner’. However the joy we need is the ‘joy’ of the Spiral Path– a skilful joy which is the stage of Pramodya. However, going to the other extreme of self mortification (thinking it’s just ethics and we need to push it to the extreme) will be as unhelpful, yet less likely a mistake for us to make in the West.
If we were constantly told as a child ‘You shouldn’t be happy’ because you were naughty, that conditioning might be affecting us now without us being aware of it and we might not think we can be happy – this is the psychological Niyama affecting our Pramodya/meditation, we won’t be able to develop Samadhi if we have this block to feeling happy. Bhante tells us ‘In the West we only too often suffer from irrational feelings of guilt, such feelings must be resolved otherwise there is no real possibility of spiritual progress.’
We can get to know our ‘dark’ views by what they block out or through the influence of them upon what we can see. ‘To the extent we are happy, to that extent we are concentrated’ is an indicator to what’s going on deeper down because we can use one to indicate the nature of the other, and Pramodya is conditioned by all five Niyamas so we have a bit of exploring to do. Do we have an ethical hindrance? Is there a view hindering our Shraddha? Do we really have no feeling of Shraddha because we think we are making life alright? Or is the block just psychological? If we have unresolved grief we may not be able to feel happy, since it can get in the way. 
The Rubber Band Simile.
The rubber band simile is mainly applicable to young men. It says you can only stretch one stage past its preceding stage on the spiral, using willpower, for only so long before you get pulled back down to earth, have a reaction, burn out, resort to the comfortable life or suffer madness, and I’m speaking from experience. There seems to have been lots of rubber band experience in the movement which could be due to misunderstanding in the area of Pramodya and the five niyamas or too much wilfulness without enough Pramodya.
Asking the mind.
Sometimes we can stop and look – we can listen and gently tease it out. Vajradaka recently described his experience of being unable to find any Metta for a good friend of his who’d emigrated and stopped replying to his letters no matter how hard he tried until in a very gentle way he just asked his mind, he kind of glanced back there and asked why, and a voice said ‘he’s not worth it because he didn’t write’, and he realised how childish a reaction that was, but he couldn’t let go of that subtle driver until he’d met it. You need a subtle, gentle mind to make contact with subtle subconscious tendencies. It reminds me of the Osho idea of the ‘watcher on the hill’ – you have to watch and wait for what’s there to gradually arise.
A four-fold path.
It might be good for us in the West to use a four-fold path of Sila - Pramodya - Samadhi – Prajna, to stop us from forgetting about Pramodya. And sometimes to go forward we have to first go back and look at what’s hindering our Pramodya - which is not just conditioned by what we do in the Karma Niyama – in the ethical niyama, we might cautiously need to do something which seems a bit course or even unskilful; for us this might include getting in touch with our anger and other psychological therapies. This is a similar insight to that which the Buddha had at the time he abandoned the extreme way of asceticism, when he recollected his Dhyana experience as a boy; that his skilful experience pleasure shouldn’t be abandoned, he discovered the middle way which transcended the two extremes. But the primary factor affecting our meditation will usually be Karmic action, and it is that which we should always sure up first; are we developing our ethics? If our ethical practise is not strong then our meditation will just be our ethics and will be at a low level. To be an ascetic like Gotama in his early years was to push away and deny the physical organic mode of conditionality in the path to freedom and this included the experience of pleasure in the body, it was to use will power alone against the body. The Buddha realised that he needed to include all modes of conditionality in his quest, will power alone would not work, and he rejected that extreme. The turning point for him was when he realised the importance of including the skilful pleasures which he taught using the symbol of the Spiral path; a path which includes all five modes of conditionality like (the necessity of physical pleasure called Priti and the emotional pleasure of bliss for example), not just karmic effort alone.
Nero’s Effect.
I am now typing this up in Nero’s. I often wondered why I can quite easily experience qualities of absorption while in Nero’s when it’s not too busy, but not in the shrineroom, and I think it’s because there is less to hinder my feeling of Pramodya; I’m pretty happy in a basic way and can turn this to the Dharma by reading a bit of the Bodhicariyavatara – being an armchair Buddhist is not always a bad thing, apart from for your posture. Perhaps this is related in some way to Bhante’s emphasis on the arts, others might get it from being in nature or travelling. Then we can try to take this mood into the shrineroom.
Posture and our subconscious tendencies.
Our posture might be literally holding us back.  In the correct posture whilst sitting, the lower back should be curved and concave so that the pelvis is tilted forward and our weight is taken by the sitting bones, whilst standing the reverse is true. This comes from qigong theory. The following are some points of mine about posture in meditation. The complete removal of physical tension results in effortless balance and improved alignment on the skeleton. The mind is primary; so freedom from emotional tension (dhyana) is primary, complete freedom from physical tension is secondary and effortless balance is tertiary. This is why when we are in dhyana the body automatically balances us into as correct a posture as it can; the holdings have gone. This means if we have tension and are over using muscles to hold up an incorrect posture this may cause a hindrance to dhyana. It’s no good trying to fully relax into an incorrect posture, better to sit in a reclining position in an arm chair or semi-supine where you can fully relax. But working to maintain a correct posture may show us what we are avoiding as when we try to straighten up our posture the holding comes into awareness and gets highlighted (this is one source of discomfort in meditation which we will notice goes away as soon as we ‘flop out’ and break the correct posture) – it may feel like we are ‘burning off’ Karma. We can then put our awareness into areas of pain and tension – as in Ray’s new book ‘Touching Enlightenment’. This can be one way we become aware of subconscious tendencies, but it can be hard to maintain a sense of happiness through all this!
Ray’s path seemed to lead to depression and out the other end. I wondered if he had neglected the development of positivity in his book a bit – of course you need both the carrot and the stick; the soil for the plant to grow from but also the sunlight for it to grow towards. You can’t get far with kindness but no awareness or awareness but no kindness. Just dwelling on the pain may not work very well.  You need not just awareness but kind awareness, or positive awareness, without which we just spiral downwards – causing some to give up meditation altogether. Perhaps Ray is overlooking his decades of slogging away at developing positivity and its effect when he came upon his new method?
We can alternate meditating in a reclining and then in a correct posture until comfort in a correct posture can be maintained for longer periods to avoid undue pain, tension, wilfulness or resentment. I was told that the sitting bones lose their soreness after a while but you have to feel them and use them to obtain a correct posture. It’s not a sin to be comfortable – it’s essential for meditation to deepen and for Pramodya to flourish.
In the end I think dhyana is the most powerful tool we have to stimulate vertical integration and make contact with our deeper self.
Energy work/therapies.
There is a huge amount of professional therapies available to us. Perhaps some problems we have uncovering and working with our psychology need professional outside help, and we have to pay for that.
The qigong I practise daily (called Zhineng Qigong) seems to involves pushing the body past the point where it can continue the exercise and maintain physical tension, this is why it’s said to be a fast route to relaxation. Deep relaxation and improved physical efficiency is a by-product of this. This process frees up energy blockages which may have been holdings caused by disturbing emotion, for example traumas and unacknowledged painful experience locked in the body, and I’ve experienced this myself doing qigong. It seems similar to what happens while maintaining a correct posture in sitting meditation and uncomfortable for the same reason. Doing qigong it becomes obvious what my emotions are – negative emotions hinder because you need all of your energies to achieve the balance and relaxation required. When we succeed in qigong all our energies are unlocked, I’ve experienced something of this during intense training when an explosion of dhyanic energy arises and suddenly pain is replaced by rapture and my heavy arms start moving effortlessly as light as feathers and electricity seems to crackle around me.
The five hindrances apply to qigong as they do to meditation, they are misapplications of energy – as are wrong views and subconscious tendencies which disturb the mind. I’ve experienced the sudden change when transcending discursive thought in meditation when a huge amount of energy becomes available. The five hindrances can be seen as wrong views; Bhante has described dhyana as a way we choose to experience ourselves, there are views which lock or unlock our energies.
Facing challenges.
Engaging in Internationality as a practise, which Subhuti has written about, we are forced to face our conditioning. We experience the contrast of our cultural conditioning with that of others and we will have to function above the level of our superficial cultural references, this will highlight our own views when they conflict with those of others, views which we may not have been aware of and in surprising ways we see all our accustomed habits through fresh eyes.
An enemy will show us where we are at spiritually and our views emerge in reaction. I’ve heard it said once that someone wanted to ‘leave the sofa of the FWBO’ (Triratna Buddhist Community) to get real challenge, but this can backfire or be a rationalisation. The movement should be like a washing machine with stones in that takes off all the sharp edges. This is a process of getting to know ourselves and the sharp edges are our problematic views which cause us to do things which create suffering. In the ‘real world’ not many people use their experience to get to know themselves on a deeper level or encourage you to do it, how real is that? But the shock of how life can be outside of a friendly, encouraging spiritual movement might wake us up and show us we are taking it for granted and have lost touch with the first two stages of the Spiral Path– after this we can quickly return to the Sangha.
In Relationships we can practise becoming aware of our views and tendencies which only come up in relation them. We also become very aware of our views when we lose our relationship which we thought we weren’t too attached to, in fact when we lose something in general our deeper views are highlighted suddenly. For example when facing disaster or when any of the Eight Worldly Winds strongly affect us we are thrown against our real views.  It is a common cause of insight or the life changing turn we make away from the worldly life when a disaster directly affects us; perhaps it is the death of a relative or friend. We can suddenly see though the Vipayasas which we were lost in before. This is what happened in the Buddha’s early life when confronted with the four sights (Sickness, old age, death and the renunciate) which cleared the way for his Going Forth.  We can provide the vital fourth sight which is missing for many people in the West.
In Team Based Right livelihood, working in the Sangha, we become more deeply aware of ourselves under the stress of deadlines and responsibilities while maintaining mindfulness. Do we face our responsibilities under work stress or just loose it with our spiritual friends?  Often called the Tantric Guru for this reason it may be the optimum method the movement can provide for getting to know oneself more deeply. I think it may be one of our movement’s main contributions and methods of integrating deeper tendencies and views - sadly little taken up by Order Members at the moment. It is a radical and important method and perhaps a major modern development for Buddhism, helping it to enter and survive in the modern world.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A New Expansion: Triratna Groups

I have been very excited recently about how we might be able to make use of a Soka Gakkai/NKT Style of approach in order to create a new expansion, or even a new wing, to our movement. Sanghadeva and I have enthused over this idea during Vidyaruci’s Dharma training course and he has encouraged me to have a go at pushing the idea and writing this up. I think the movement needs this now and I’d love to see it happen.

The vision is about giving people the encouragement to have their own group and feel they are taking responsibility for the Triratna project themselves, with a support network of Kalyana Mitrata. Anyone can start a group by utilising Free Buddhist Audio where they can download a lead meditation and dharma talks. The group can be in their front room where they would play a lead meditation from FBA, have a cup of tea then play part of a talk from FBA which can be part of a series over a few weeks and have a discussion. They could also come up with questions together to put online onto a Triratna Groups website and get answers back. When the group expands to eight or more people they could split into two groups in order to continue expanding wherever there is a demand, for example in the next town or village. The group organiser can also encourage people in their group who might want to start their own group where they’re from.  Each group would have a contact person who would visit every so often and be a mentor. Each mentor could also be mentored. Every month or two the groups in the area could meet for a day or weekend retreat and perhaps invite their mentors to lead this. 

This makes people feel that they are responsible for the project of Triratna and especially that they are part of the project. Triratna is not something they come to consume with a take it or leave it attitude but something for them to get stuck into because they know the movement needs them. There’s a job to do – it hasn’t been done already. We are then encouraging responsibility and saying to people you can be part of our movement rather than on the sidelines. The need is huge; our voice hasn’t reached most parts of the world. In the East Buddhism is dying for want of a modern interpretation like ours and they have even asked for our help. Everywhere they have the internet they could have Triratna Groups. Especially at times like this our world will benefit from a movement like ours, the need is imminent and never before has the Dharma had technology to piggyback onto. We are only just seeing the beginning of technology and how it will affect communication (we use it or lose it!). When for example will we have lead meditation/puja perpetually Skyped in successive timezones where tens of thousands make an imaginative and real-time connection via the web?

I think the main first step is to adopt an approach where we just tell people that they can start their own group in their area and give encouragement, the resources are all out there in FBA; in many parts of the world FBA is all they might have. Then we would need to set up a support network which might consist of: A central website including; a place for putting up questions (like twitter perhaps), a start-up pack, groups organisation/contact info, maps, Triratna groups news, Triratna groups retreats, online forum, FBA link/content.  Also Mentors for the group/area (Postulant Mitras or Going for Refuge groups, could also be mentors as part of their Ordination Training and be mentored). Area/young person’s co-ordinators and overall organiser. Paper start-up packs. A code/principles for the groups to follow (which makes them Triratna groups) (Sanghadeva suggested something similar to the five precepts but more like a vision statement – something accessible like the happiness project, to spread happiness) 

Ideally the process would kick off, in Hull for example, with a six/eight week outreach Dharma course, run by the mentors, where part of the course would include preparing people to run their own group if they were keen. Then these people would carry on with their groups after the course. They could move the group around each other’s homes perhaps, when someone rings up about Triratna activities in or around their home town of Hull (which must have happened already, anyone know somebody in Hull?) we can direct them to the nearest Triratna Group, perhaps the nearest several groups. We will encourage the development of as many groups as possible so that everyone could have a group near them.

In that light it strikes me that all over the world people have FBA. It tells you all about Triratna Buddhism - every idea is in there, but it doesn’t seem to suggest you can be part of it. ‘The Get Involved’ page just talks about getting involved by giving money/etc, not by becoming part of the Triratna Buddhist Community and even starting your own group? When you click on ‘community’ you find it only talks about ‘user community’. FBA is one of the main faces of Triratna Buddhism but it doesn’t encourage this at the moment. Perhaps it could have a page with a start up pack showing you how to form your own local Triratna Group including how to run the group and suggestions of lead meditations to download and play, and talks to use. I’m not sure I would consider FBA as mainly for non Triratna use. 

I think the next expansion of the Triratna Community must use the accessibility of the group format and our new technologies which will overcome the obstacle of physical distance. Let’s hope our technological development continues; we see its downsides but imagine what would happen if we lost it now, we should pray that never happens and defend the freedom technology gives us.