07 Sep 2012
Shamatha should serve as a baseline or a base camp. However, people have different affinities for the various shamatha practices. Focus on the space of the mind as backdrop and note the thoughts, images, and feelings which flare up. What are the feelings triggered by? Paul Ekman speaks of emotions, moods, and temperaments. Alan asks us to explore grasping as a possible cause for moods.
Meditation: choice of mindfulness of breathing or settling the mind. If your mind wanders, stabilize by counting breaths. Apply mindfulness to feelings that arise.
Q1. Introspective silence has led to social anxiety and awkwardness when dealing with others.
Q2. Settling the mind is easy to practice during sessions, but how to embody the practice—e.g., in social interactions with others?
Q3. The Prasangika Madhyamaka rejects the alaya vijnana as posited in the Cittamatra. Is this the alaya vijnana you’ve been talking about?
Q4. In settling the mind, I notice many thoughts driven by grasping. Why can I do about them?
Q5. You’ve quoted a stanza on habituation from the 6th chapter of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. For our practices, how can we keep a fresh beginner’s mind rather than having them become routine?
Meditation starts at: 11:10
So we return to the close application of mindfulness to mental feelings. And as always, shamatha is something like a baseline, like a base camp, a place you can rest, a place you can have — kind of a comfort zone, a place to come back to, something that’s constant. So, I’ve introduced the settling the mind in its natural state as your baseline for attending to feelings arising in the mind. But bear in mind, when the Buddha was teaching his great discourse on the four applications of mindfulness, he made no reference to settling the mind in its natural state. He taught just one shamatha method and that’s mindfulness of breathing. So I know, having met with all of you now at one point or another individually, you are all of course, unique. And some of you just naturally are more inclined to and maybe feel a bit more comfortable or more adept at mindfulness of breathing and others just naturally take to settling the mind and really enjoy it and you know, you can succeed in it. So what I’d like to do for this coming session is for me to give fewer words [and] give you a bit more freedom to find your own niche, your own approach. And so, I won’t give much this time. But what I would suggest is, in terms of your shamatha, just go with whatever just feels most effective for you (whether it’s mindfulness of breathing or settling the mind) and then you have that as your base. And if you’re settling the mind, what I would suggest is that your base [is] something that is kind of fairly constant, is that field, that space of the mind — so there it is at least as a backdrop (as in the conversation with [UNKNOWN] earlier), at least that space is always there. And then for most of us there are bound to be some thoughts, images arising at least periodically and they’re not that hard to attend to, to ascertain.
(2:28) So there you are. So as you are attending to that space and when they come up and you tend to you notice the thoughts, images and so forth arising there is kind of your constant, your focus in that or relative to that, then of course take note of feelings arising especially psychological but that whole interface, that intertwining of feelings in the body as well as feelings in the mind. But, is that clear then?
(2:45) Kind of have your base within the shamatha, attending to the space of the mind, its contents and with that . . . and then, now and again you’ll be especially noting a feeling coming up, maybe triggered and this is where we go into vipashyana. Triggered by what? Well (as in the conversation with Steph yesterday or earlier), sometimes you may not be able to tell, just the feelings coming up. But other times you can. It’s a memory that was happy or disturbing, it was maybe a sound, maybe it’s . . . you know there’s construction noise there’s buzz saws, chainsaws over there and so that can trigger some “Oh when are they going to stop?” You know, a little bit of unpleasant feeling could arise in the mind triggered by sound. It could be triggered by sensations in the body. So look at the cooperative conditions, the sound doesn’t turn into a feeling, the tactile sensations don’t, thoughts don’t turn into feelings. Right? But those can all act as cooperative conditions to catalyze or trigger pleasant, unpleasant or for that matter, neutral feelings.
(4:16) So watch the process of origination and then how they are present (your core vipashyana questions: impermanent, nature of dukkha [suffering], anatman (non-self)). And then how they dissolve, because feelings don’t just linger on forever. And one other point there, I think of interest. I know from my long friendship now — it’s a 12-year friendship with Paul Ekman . . .
(4:20) And he makes a distinction (I’ll give very briefly, the overall distinction) [between] emotions (and of course that includes happy/sad – but it’s broader than that) — as by nature and by definition, being fairly brief — that’s how psychologists use the word “emotions”, fairly brief (“That situation made be really unhappy but I got over it”) and then a mood (so emotions maybe seconds or minutes). Moods can be many minutes or even hours (“All afternoon I felt kind of in a bad mood or I was just feeling really euphoric all afternoon or whatever.”) But it lingers, it lingers, lingers . . . So we have emotions – quite transient. Moods can really last for hours on end. And then we have, temperament. And, have you ever met a gloomy person? I’ve met a cheerful person and I don’t mind saying what her name is. Her name is Thubten Chodron. I’ve known her since we were like 13 years old. It’s very unusual. From the same town. And she went off and became a nun. And in the late 1970s we connected again (“Oh, fancy that . . .”) So we’ve known each other for decades. Well back then (and now I’m going to reveal one of her secrets) . . . Her name is Cheryl Green and she went by the name of “Cherry.” So “take that” Thubten Chodron! I knew her through middle school and through high school. And she was just one of those people who’s cheerful. Just, that was her nature. She was just a cheerful person. And what can you do with a name like “Cherry?” You know like [adopts morose voice] “my name’s Cherry how are you?” It really wouldn’t work. So you kind of have to rise to the occasion. Like a girl named “Peaches.” It doesn’t happen often, but how could you be a sour pus? In any case, she’s one of the people I’ve known that just by temperament is just very cheerful and I’ve met her over the decades since then. She is. Just a very cheerful disposition. And that was before practicing dharma. In other words, she practiced dharma in the last life. So there it is. So we have a wide variety of temperaments. Now let’s cut back to it. But we see emotions: minutes. Moods: maybe hours. Temperament can be decades.
Open question for the psychologist: whether temperament can be changed? To my mind, it’s “open and shut” I already know and the answer I’m convinced is true. Temperament can be changed. But of course it takes a lot of work or a life-transforming event. That can do it too. Something really big can come into your life and just set you on a whole new course. So, you can imagine that. A person is cheerful until a dear loved one dies or your only child dies or some other tragedy. And then gloomy for the rest of a life. That can happen, for sure. And if it can go down – there’s always a symmetry here – then why not up?
(7:33) Well, what I’m getting at here is that as we’re attending now to simple emotions of happy and sad, emotions arising and you may be able to see the cooperative conditions that catalyze it here and trigger it there. But if you see a mood setting in – and that could happen over the next (by the way we only have six weeks left) that you slip into a mood. It could happen (certainly you’ll have emotions). But you may have a mood as well.
Now Paul Ekman says, (a very savvy affective psychologist),“I would be happy never to have a mood again. I’d like to continue to have a rich array of emotions (part of being human), but I could do without moods, I would really happy to have no moods because they get you stuck in a cognitive bias.” And that — refractory periods and all of that — he said: “I would be happy . . . (of course you can’t just choose not to have moods). But it’s an interesting perspective.
(8:29) What I’m getting to is this – and then we’ll go back to the meditation – and that is when you see a mood sets in. Just by the very nature of it, the fact that it’s lingering for may be hours on end, suggests that the trigger is nothing something that’s happening momentarily, momentarily from the environment because the environment is changing, probably not. If a mood sets in, that which is perpetuating it (here’s a hypothesis), is almost certainly grasping. Because bear in mind when we superimpose upon experience, my impression of another person, my impression of Thanyapura Mind Center, my impression of the Republican party whatever it maybe, our impressions, our ideas tend to be static, relatively static.
(9:14) Mine hasn’t changed much since at least throughout the Bush era. Republicans are . . . . you know, they’re just ice men, they’re just frozen in blocks of ice. In my mind, I mean, especially the right wing. They’re frozen. Are they really [frozen]? No, but in my mind they’re just locked in, like Neanderthals. “Tax cut, tax cut” it’s always the same thing, I mean it is like a broken record. And I am telling you my own delusional mentality of just locked into a frozen attitude that I superimpose upon millions of people which is probably not very realistic. Or it might be (plenty of laughing in the room).
(10:00) But the point is, whether it’s a political party, a country or a government, a person, a place and so forth that which we superimpose and sense tends to be static. And by clinging to that idea, that attitude and so forth, by clinging to it. Now when we say “clinging to it” we know we are dealing with something real, has causal efficacy, by clinging to it in that kind of holding pattern, some static pattern. That’s I suspect is what sustains an emotion and it goes into the holding pattern of a mood, held with grasping, held with the superimposition of something relatively static that is superimposed upon actual reality which is always fizzing, always effervescent, always in flux.
(10:45) So if you’ve gotten locked into a mood you might want to see who is doing it? It’s probably not anybody else doing it to you. It’s probably self-generated. This is my hypothesis and it’s not a metaphysical one it’s one you can test. See if you get caught in a mood whether it’s not because you have superimposed on reality something relatively static and then holding onto that, fusing that with reality and thereby perpetuating a certain emotion and having it bleed over into a mood and very possibly not to your benefit, not to your advantage. Ok? So I’ve given a fairly long preamble.
So now there will be relatively few words in the meditation itself, just a few punctuation marks here and there. So either mindfulness of breathing as your base (your shamatha base), settling the mind as your base, so there’s something constant. And then within that look for these fluctuations from the base. And that is these uprisings almost like solar flares, a flaring up, an emergence of some feeling, somatic or psychological, either one, watch them arise up, watch the factors of origination, what triggers them and so forth. Watch how they are present. Watch how they dissolve. Ok? Twenty-four minutes.
(13:20) Settle your body, speech and mind in its natural state and at any time throughout the session if you find yourself just wandering or getting a bit sloppy you always come back and just count a few breathes, maybe count ten breathes, stabilize, get yourself grounded again and venture back into the practice of either shamatha or on the basis of shamatha, vipashyana.
(17:20) Continuing in either the mindfulness of breathing or the settling the mind in its natural state, find your meditative object and then practice as explained earlier in that ongoing flow of experience, take special note of or closely apply mindfulness to the emergence of emotions as well as the flow of just a neutral emotion or feeling.
Let’s continue now practicing in silence.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Aaron Morrison
Final Edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti