Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The evening on mindfulness meditation.....brought back so many memories...

Many years ago I studied Buddhism with a group in London. For weeks we pored over the complex text called 'The Seven Works of Vasubhandu' by Stefan Anacker. This is a book of the Abhidarma which was written after the Buddha died and goes into great detail about the components of suffering which the Buddha identified. What I refer to as 'not me' or that which seems to us to be permanent and unchanging is simply the interplay of heaps or what is called in Buddhism skandhas. These are form, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness. When all of these are interacting together the illusion is that of a permanent unchanging self. It is this fixed view that human beings have that these heaps are the truth of who we are that is at the root of all suffering.

This mistaken perception is similar to the phenomena of flashing neon lights. What appears to be happening is that there is a continuous flow of lights. What is happening in reality is that one light is going on and off in quick succession followed by another...and then another..and then another. However the appearance is that of flowing lights which create the illusion of permanence and flow. It is exactly the same principle with these heaps or skandhas. The truth is that it is only one of these skandhas that are active at any one time but the speed with which they interact makes it appear like it is all happening at the same time. I remember poring over the texts for hours on a Sunday evening in Camden trying to understand this on an intellectual level which was never going to happen. One evening I was sitting there and suddenly my mind just gave up trying and what was immediately there was clear intuitive understanding which I am now doing my best to put into very clumsily written words.

The evening on mindfulness meditation was very powerful for me because Lotus read from the sutra where the Buddha spoke directly about this. He said words to the effect of 'do not take form, feelings, perceptions, volition and consciousness' to be the truth of who you are. Upon hearing these words I once again returned to the little room in Camden where so many years I pored over these same words trying desperately to understand them on a rational level. Now so many years later, here they are again and there is no learning, just immediate intuitive understanding. It is strange how I once again find myself back at Buddhism. Granted it is the Buddhism of the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn but it is based on the fundamental Buddhist beliefs that there is suffering but there is also an end to that suffering. Lotus is very clever and the readings she picks for the evenings are deep and profound. I was struck by how much was about owning and being responsible for how we are to ourselves and each other, to commit to becoming aware of this and to resolve to practice the teachings. Every school of transformation or enlightenment seems to follow the same model. A kind of purging and accepting responsibility, and then once the old is cleaned out, a resolve and creating of the new.

Speaking of clearing out the old. For a couple of days I have had the nagging thought that I had promised to keep in touch with my old boss when I left my job almost a year ago and I hadn't done that. I also recognise that because I was so unhappy with the work I didn't have very much integrity. The spiritual path is all about being authentic and cleaning up where we didn't keep our I knew that I had to make this phone call to my ex boss and I really didn't want to. I loved the people where I last worked, each and everyone was so kind and obliging no matter what I needed and I just left and only kept in not so frequent touch with a couple of people. I am far enough on this path to know that when I get an inner prompting to act on it no matter how my head feels about it. So...I picked up the phone to call my ex-boss and as I was dialling the number I was saying to myself 'please don't be there'. Sure enough it went to answer phone and I left a message to the effect of 'acknowledging that I said I would keep in touch and I haven't and that I was sorry for this' I left my number and said to call if he wanted. I then promptly forgot about the call. Two hours later my ex-boss called me and we had a great conversation. I even told him about my lack of integrity towards the end of my job but then rambled on quickly to something else. He was great about me not having been in touch and invited me to go to lunch the next time I was around there and said he would tell the others that I had been in touch. I left down the phone feeling so happy, relieved and pleased that I had cleaned up that I had made a promise and not delivered. This is the path of spiritual awakening and it is not easy because as human beings we resist like anything cleaning up when we have given our word to something and not honoured it.

But I understand that by doing that energy has been freed up and I think that is why the evening on mindfulness meditation was so powerful and brought me back again to the fundamental Buddhist teaching of the suffering caused when we hold the skandhas to be the truth of who we are. What I have learned from this is that years can be spent on understanding but it is only taking action that produces results and shifts. Intellectual naval gazing while quite entertaining shifts nothing which is why we have moved so little on the spiritual dimension. What has been doing the navel gazing is the realm of thoughts and feelings i.e. the mind. Actions take the mind out of the game which creates results....

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