A State of Mindfulness

(from Mindfulness in Plain English, H.Gunaratana, Chapter 15, Meditation In Everyday Life)

A state of mindfulness is a state of mental readiness. The mind is not burdened with preoccupations or bound in worries. Whatever comes up can be dealt with instantly. When you are truly mindful, your nervous system has a freshness and resiliency which fosters insight. A problem arises and you simply deal with it, quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of fuss. You don't stand there in a dither, and you don't run off to a quiet corner so you can sit down and meditate about it. You simply deal with it. And in those rare circumstances when no solution seems possible, you don't worry about that. You just go on to the next thing that needs your attention. Your intuition becomes a very practical faculty.

Mindfulness as Purposeful Awareness

Can conceptual distinctions help our practice?

I believe they can, as long as we don't take them as fixed truths but as guidelines to clarify and sharpen aspects of the practice.

Today I found this article which seems to me useful:

First of all, mindfulness involves paying attention "on purpose". Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes (me included) talk about "mindfulness" and "awareness" as if they were interchangeable terms, but that's not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I'm irritable, but that wouldn't mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.

Let's take that example of eating and look at it a bit further. When we are purposefully aware of eating, we are consciously being aware of the process of eating. We're deliberately noticing the sensations and our responses to those sensations. We're noticing our mind wandering, and when it does wander we purposefully bring our attention back. When we're eating unmindfully we may in theory be aware of what we're doing, but we're probably thinking about a hundred and one other things at the same time, and we may also be watching TV, talking, or reading -- or even all three! So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.

Because we're only dimly aware of our thoughts, they wander in an unrestricted way. There's no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to our eating. There's no purposefulness.

This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that's the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind. Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts -- including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer. By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards some "anchor" we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.

The Life of the Buddha

A BBC/Discovery Channel co-production, this docunarrative film describes the life of Siddharta Gautama, the process by which he arrived at the fundamentals of Buddhism, the archeological findings confirming the traditional account of his life and gives a glimpse of Buddhism today, featuring among others the Dalai Lama.

50 minutes long. Enjoy it!

Meditation in Daily Life

(from Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh)

How can we bring meditation out of the meditation hall and into the kitchen and the office? How can the sitting influence the non-sitting time? If a doctor gives you an injection, not only your arm but your whole body benefits from it. If you practice one hour of sitting a day, that hour should benefit all twenty-four hours. One smile, one breath, should benefit the whole day.

Do you practice breathing between phone calls? Do you practice smiling while cutting carrots? Do you practice relaxation after hours of hard work? These questions are very practical. If you know how to apply Buddhism to dinner time, leisure time, sleeping time, I think Buddhism will become engaged in your daily life.

On Love

Maitri [metta] is translated as loving kindness, the first element of true love. You love, not because that person is your son, your daughter or your wife. You love, not because he is of the same religious belief as you. You love because that person needs to be loved. That's all. You love without conditions whatsoever. It means unconditional love. You love in order to bring relief to that person, to transform the suffering in that person, to offer joy to her, to offer happiness to her because she needs that. You don't ask for anything in return. You love him because he needs your love. That's all.

1. There is only one important time and that is now. The present moment is the only time in which we have power.
2. The most important person is always the person you are with, who is next to you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future?
3. The most important thing to do is to make the person at your side happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.

We talk about social service, service to humanity, helping to bring peace to the world, but often we forget that, first of all, it is the people around us that we must live for. First, help your wife or husband, your child, your parent, your co-worker, your sangha member, your neighbor. Can you make them happy?

Dealing with Anger

(from Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh)

In Buddhism, we do not consider anger, hatred, greed as enemies we have to fight. If we fight anger, we fight ourselves. Dealing with anger in that way would be like transforming yourself into a battlefield; doing violence to yourself. If you cannot be compassionate to yourself, you will not be able to be compassionate to others. We cannot destroy the energy; we can only convert it into more constructive energies, such as forgiveness and understanding. That is the work of meditation.

Look into your headache

After seeing Thay's video from yesterday, the mechanism underlying this technique to deal with physical pain, taken from the Orange Book by Osho, can be immediately grasped.

Next time you have a headache try a small meditative technique, just experimentally - then you can go on to bigger diseases and bigger symptoms.

...Sit silently and watch it, look into it - not as if you are looking at an enemy, no. If you are looking at it as your enemy, you will not be able to look rightly. You will avoid - nobody looks at the enemy directly; one avoids, one tends to avoid. Look at it as your friend. It is your friend; it is in your service. It is saying, "Something is wrong - look into it." Just sit silently and look into the headache with no idea of stopping it, with no desire that it should disappear, no conflict, no fight, no antagonism. Just look into it, into what it is.

Watch, so if there is some inner message, the headache can give it to you. It has a coded message. And if you look silently you will be surprised. If you look silently three things will happen. First: the more you look into it, the more severe it will become. And then you will be a little puzzled: "How is it going to help if it is becoming more severe?" It is becoming more severe because you have been avoiding it. It was there but you were avoiding it; you were already repressing it. When you look into it, repression disappears. The headache will come to its natural severity. Then you are hearing it with unplugged ears, no wool around your ears.

First thing: it will become severe. If it is becoming severe, you can be satisfied that you are looking rightly. If it does not become severe, then you are not looking yet; you are still avoiding. Look into it - it becomes severe. That is the first indication that, yes, it is in your vision.

The second thing will be that it will become more pin-pointed, it will not be spread over a bigger space. First you were thinking, "It is my whole head aching." Now you will see it is not the whole head, it is just a small spot. That is also an indication that you are gazing more deeply into it. The spread feeling of the ache is a trick - that is a way to avoid it. If it is in one point then it will be more severe. So you create an illusion that it is the whole head which is aching. Spread all over the head, then it is not so intense at any point. These are tricks that we go on playing.

Look into it and the second step will be that it comes to be smaller and smaller and smaller. And a moment comes when it is just the very point of a needle - very sharp, immensely sharp, very painful. You have never seen such a pain in the head. But very much confined to a small spot. Go on looking into it.

And then the third and more important thing happens. If you go on looking at this point when it is very severe and confined and concentrated at one point, you will see many times that it disappears. When your gaze is perfect it will disappear. And when it disappears you will have the glimpse of where it is coming from - what the cause is. When the effect disappears you will see the cause. It will happen many times. Again it will be there. Your gaze is no more that alert, that concentrated, that attentive - it will come back. Whenever your gaze is really there, it will disappear; and when it disappears, hidden behind it is the cause. And you will be surprised: your mind is ready to reveal what the cause is.

And there can be a thousand and one causes. The same alarm is given because the alarm system is simple. There are not many alarm systems in your body. For different causes the same alarm is given. You may have been angry lately and you have not expressed it. Suddenly, like a revelation, it will be standing there. You will see all your anger that you have been carrying, carrying... like pus inside you. Now this is too much, and that anger wants to be released. It needs a catharsis. Cathart! - and immediately you will see the heachache has disappeared. And there was no need for the aspro, no need for any treatment.

Mindfulness, Well Being and Social Change - a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh

Social changes at the base - March 27, 2004

In this video Thich Nhat Hanh explains, graphically and very clearly, the psychological mechanism by which we can ventilate and gradually weaken negative feelings and mental formations in our store consciousness, strengthening hand in hand the seeds of mindfulness and well being. These in turn will help to bring joy and solidity to action for social change.

The video is 90 minutes long and it is worth every one of them. It has been kindly uploaded to Google Video by Deer Park Monastery.

Buddha, Dharma, Sangha

(from Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh)

In Buddhism, there are three gems: Buddha, the awakened one; Dharma, the way of understanding and loving; and Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness. If we look closely, the Three Gems are actually one. In each of them, the other two are already there.

The root-word "buddh" means to wake up, to know, to understand; and he or she who wakes up and understands is called a Buddha. It is as simple as that. The capacity to wake up, to understand, and to love is called Buddha nature. Someone who is awake, who knows, who understands, is called a Buddha.

Buddha is in every one of us. We can become awake, understanding, and also loving.

The second gem is Dharma. Dharma is what the Buddha taught. It is the way of understanding and love -- how to understand, how to love, how to make understanding and love into real things.

"Dharmakaya" means the teaching of the Buddha, the way to realize understanding and love. Anything that can help you wake up has Buddha nature. People who are awake see the manifestation of the Dharma in everything. A pebble, a bamboo tree, the cry of a baby, anything can be the voice of the Dharma calling.
One aspect of Dharmakaya is not talking, not teaching - just being. Therefore, the oak tree is preaching the Dharma.

The Sangha is the community that lives in harmony and awareness. When you are with your family and you practice smiling, breathing, recognizing the Buddha body in yourself and your children, then your family becomes a Sangha.

A friend, our own children, our own brother and sister, our house, the trees in our backyard, all of them can be part of our Sangha.