Everfresh in the Changing

Month: August 2015 Page 1 of 4

Where the King of Death Won’t See You

A very committed seeker called Mogharāja addressed the Nikāya Buddha:

“So, because of your insight into excellence, I have come to ask you about this. What is the best way for a person to regard the world so that the King of Death won’t see him?”

The Master replied:

“If you are always aware, Mogharāja, you will look at the world and see its emptiness. If you give up looking at yourself as a soul [as a fixed and special identity], then you will have given yourself a way to go beyond death. Look at the world like this and the King of Death will not see you.”

– Saddhatissa, H. (Trans): The Sutta-Nipāta: A New Translation from the Pali Canon, verses 1118-19, (p. 129).

I have been curious lately, about the power of mindfulness in relation to death. While the energy-centre meditations, and visualisations, and the dissolution of the elements meditation are inherited from later streams of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is nothing like this in the early teachings. Indications are that the historical Buddha taught much a much simpler method of defeating Mara, the king of death. In the above passage from the Sutta-Nipāta, it is mindfulness and insight into emptiness that enable one to bring about the death of death, in this very life. Here are a few more passages from Saddhatissa’s translation of The Sutta-Nipāta. It’s a fiercely simple path:

“Look at beings who are facing death, who are living out the results of their previous deeds; people are terrified when they see that they are trapped by death.”

– verse 587.

“Therefore, the monk, realizing this, should not grasp at anything, being mindful. He should see the beings that are creatures of attachment as tied to the power of death.”

verse 1104.

“An absence of wanting — questions and doubts disappear in knowledge and he plunges into the absence of death; this is what “brahmin” means.”

– verse 635.

“There is an island, an island which you cannot go beyond. It is a place of nothingness, a place of non-possession and of non-attachment. It is the total end of death and decay, and this is why I call it Nibbāna [the extinguished, the cool].

“There are people who, in mindfulness, have realized this and are completely cooled here and now. They do not become slaves working for Māra, for Death; they cannot fall into his power.

verses 1094-1095.

The Oberver is the Observed

When there is a division between the observer and the observed there is conflict but when the observer is the observed there is no control, no suppression. The self comes to an end. Duality comes to an end. Conflict comes to an end.

This is the greatest meditation to come upon this extraordinary thing for the mind to discover for itself: the observer is the observed.

– Jiddu Krishnamurti, 2nd Public Dialogue, Brockwood Park, England, 6th Sept. 1973

We are talking, presently, about the very core of the ego-system, the false core self (attan). Another way to talk about our disconnection from healthy aloneness (and, so, from the thought and experience of death and dying) is to think of the role of the ‘bystander’ or ‘observer’ self.

Because we take a position of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ on our five sentient processes – basically acquiring them for the agendas of the fictional versions of a person – then we lose our vitality, and an access to a life in which death is an integrated part. The Bystander plays a role in this.

(Here, in the use of the word ‘bystander,’ I’m not talking about the same phrase in present-day psychology, used when discussing the ‘bystander effect.’ That describes the apathetic response of urban people, when a stranger is being attacked, or in some other trouble.) I’m speaking, here, of an idea that was floated by Tarthang Tulku in his book, Love of Knowledge, published in 1987. I think, though, if researchers were to consider what Tarthang Tulku says about the ‘bystander’ in our process, they’d have a valuable perspective on the ‘bystander effect.’  We are, instead, speaking of the sense that there is an observer of your inner life, a monitor, who stands back and sees from an indefinable region in yourself.)

It is saṅkhāra (the fashioning tendency) which creates the ‘second,’ the inner-companion self. As I see it, when we create ‘the second,’ the sense of an inner companion to whom we are talking, in here, we have a bystander self. With it, there arises the subject-object split. With it, there arises the sense of being a locatable knower (a self who knows, who is at the centre). The bystander self remains thirsty for self-knowledge, of course, because it can’t see itself. The seeking is consciousness (viññāṇa). This craves to know itself, and every other person appears to it as an opportunity to know itself.

It appears to each of us, in the default conventional consciousness of our culture, that the knower is somewhere inside us, ‘over here’ at a metaphysical distance from the objects of knowledge ‘over there.’ Even thought itself appears as an object perceived as separate from the knowing bystander self.

“Positions and conditions are the outcome of the model that assigns knowing to a self. In this model, knowledge results from the projection of a knowing capacity out into an unknown world. The self appears as separate from the events it knows – a ‘bystander’ that extracts knowledge from experience without becoming directly ‘involved’ in experience. The personas of the self as ‘perceiver’, ‘owner’, and ‘narrator’… can all be understood as aspects of this ‘bystander-self’. The term ‘bystander’ emphasizes the element of ‘positioning’ that is inherent in the activity of knowing that the ‘bystander’ carries out.

The ‘bystander’ protects its own territory and position. It stands back, not embracing or embodying what time presents, asserting its independence from the world that is known. In its knowing of experience, it remains opposed to what it knows, even though it also claims ownership over it.

– Tarthang Tulku, Love of Knowledge

In the Buddhist text called the Itivuttaka, there is a sutta called the Fetter of Thirst Sutta (Tanhāsamyojana). In it, the Nikāya Buddha says (my translation):

“Practitioners, I don’t perceive any single fetter by which beings are so bound and [which keeps them] running on and and on in samsāra for so long a time, other than the fetter of craving. It is certainly through the fetter of craving that beings are tied to, and wander in, the rounds of samsāra for a long time.”

A person with craving for a companion (Taṇhādutiyo puriso)
wanders on the long journey of samsāra;
And, they cannot go beyond it,
in this realm, or any other.

Having understood this danger –
that craving gives rise to dukkha –
It’ would be best a practitioner goes about mindfully,
free from craving, without grasping.

(Iti 1.15)

The most difficult craving to see is the craving to know ourselves by having ourselves reflected by the lives others. All the relationship drama seems, to the bystander (the inner observer), so truly genuine and necessary. Because of this, not being understood (seen) by the others can bring about the most volatile, hurt or angry states. The bystander maintains these patterns of expectation. The ‘bystander’ self doesn’t include itself in its observations, of course. It believes itself to be outside of the flow of time. It owns the flow. You can get how hidden this must remain, and why it is not unearthed easily. If, through mindfulness, one sees that this bystander is actually a part of the flow of what it observes, such seeing brings a revolution. And, it brings value beyond measure.

Better than one hundred years of living and not seeing the deathless dimension
is one day of living and seeing the deathless dimension.

Dhammapada, verse 114. Translated Christopher J. Ash

In Such a Manner that…

For self is the protector of self;
self is the guide of self.
Hence, restrain yourself,
like a trader controls a fine horse.

Dhammapada, verse 380. Translated Christopher J. Ash

So, to give a little perspective on what I’m exploring… I could be writing about ensuring one’s will is taken care of; or, about the powers of attorney that might be needed (in case you won’t be in your best mind at the end, because someone who is compus mentus may need to give permission to turn off your life support.) I could be writing about planning your funeral, if you so wish – choosing your music, or writing your own message to those who gather. And, this is helpful.

However, Practising a Year to Live means, to me, living in such a manner that: firstly, I really am here on planet earth, in the flow of how it is; and that I’m not just a bystander. Secondly, that my death would be in harmony with the planet’s unique beauty.  Thirdly, if I die today, I am as ready as can be to open to that particular experience. And, fourth, that my life be of some benefit to others. So, the topics I am exploring have to do, from where I see it, with going more deeply into being conscious – in living and loving. And, that naturally includes understanding how selfishness works. Hence a lot of the exploration lately has been in how we set up the fictional self, which, when unexamined, seems to dominate our relationship to death.

Here’s a story that I enjoy, about U.S. naturalist, author, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who died of tuberculosis at the early age of forty-four. He has a great spirit. The story comes from Joseph Goldstein’s ‘Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.‘ A friend of Thoreau reported of his last days:

“Henry was never affected, never reached by [his illness]. . . .

Very often I heard him tell his visitors that he enjoyed existence as well as ever. He remarked to me that there was as much comfort in perfect disease as in perfect health, the mind always conforming to the condition of the body. The thought of death, he said, could not begin to trouble him. . . .       

During his long illness, I never heard a murmur escape him, or the slightest wish expressed to remain with us; his perfect contentment was truly wonderful. . . .       

Some of his more orthodox friends and relatives tried to prepare him for death, but with little satisfaction to themselves. . . .

[W]hen his Aunt Louisa asked him if he had made his peace with God, he answered, “I did not know we had ever quarreled, Aunt.”

– In Joseph Goldstein’s footnotes, the story is attributed to Walter Harding, The Days of Henry David Thoreau (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 464– 465.

What stands out for you in that quote? For me, it’s “the mind always conforming to the condition of the body.

Thoughts People this Little World

Sitting alone, resting alone, walking alone,
Untiring and alone,
Whoever has tamed oneself
Will find delight in the forest.

Dhammapada, verse 305. Translated Gil Fronsdal

In the forest, at a rock concert, on a beach, in a prison, in a hospital bed, or in a royal court. This is a serious problem. Why aren’t we making it national policy to teach citizens to be alone in their own minds?

I woke up today a little muddy, and it took me a little while to get warmed to the day. The first thing that I did was invoke R.A.I.N. After the recognition, I accepted that I was muddy. And then I committed to being present anyhow. This freshened my attention at least. I naturally investigated what was happening in myself, and what I found was a feeling of being alone. This investigation quickly dropped below the surface and I noticed that I was with ‘a second.’ That is, that I was muttering to myself as though I was my own company. Sadutiyavihāri, means ‘dwelling with a second.’ That’s a way of avoiding feeling lonely which exacerbates loneliness.

I remember how moved I was when young, by a phrase Krishnamurti used: to be utterly psychologically alone. ‘Alone,’ etymologically, means ‘all one.’ A sense of unity, with no companion. I can’t remember where K. said that, but here’s a passage by him on the topic:

We are never alone; we are surrounded by people and by our own thoughts. Even when the people are distant, we see things through the screen of our thoughts. There is no moment, or it is very rare, when thought is not. We do not know what it is to be alone, to be free of all association, of all continuity, of all word and image. We are lonely, but we do not know what it is to be alone. The ache of loneliness fills our hearts, and the mind covers it with fear. Loneliness, that deep isolation, is the dark shadow of our life. We do everything we can to run away from it, we plunge down every avenue of escape we know, but it pursues us and we are never without it. Isolation is the way of our life; we rarely fuse with another, for in ourselves we are broken, torn and unhealed. In ourselves we are not whole complete, and the fusion with another is possible only when there is integration within. We are afraid of solitude, for it opens the door to our insufficiency, the poverty of our own being; but it is solitude that heals the deepening wound of loneliness. To walk alone, unimpeded by thought, by the trail of our desires, is to go beyond the reaches of the mind. It is the mind that isolates, separates and cuts off communion. The mind cannot be made whole; it cannot make itself complete, for that very effort is a process of isolation, it is part of the loneliness that nothing can cover. The mind is the product of the many, and what is put together can never be alone. Aloneness is not the result of thought. Only when thought is utterly still is there the flight of the alone to the alone.

– Jiddu Krishnamurit, Commentaries On Living, Series II Chapter 20

We don’t dwell alone. We not only habitually seek outer company, but when ‘alone’ we fill our minds with ‘a second self’ and people our inner world with others, constantly. 

In the Nikāyas, there’s a phrase: “saddhā dutiyā purisassa hoti”; which means that there is faith in ‘a second self.’ An inner companion made from desire. There’s a shorter expression, too: Sadutiyo, which is (literally) “with a second.” Elsewhere the reference is to taṇhā-dutiyā, which is both “connected with thirst (craving),” and “having thirst (craving) as one’s companion.” This is the root of all the sub-personality suffering. This is the work of saṅkhāra – fashioning tendencies.

In Shakespeare’s Richard II, in the fallen king’s soliloquy in Pembroke Prison, we have a good example of this, and a great expression, too, of the conflict-dukkha involved. I take the beginning and the ending of the passage:

Like Richard II:

I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world:
And for because the world is populous
And here is not a creature but myself,
I cannot do it; yet I’ll hammer it out.
My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father; and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts,
And these same thoughts people this little world,
In humours* like the people of this world,  [* dispositions]
For no thought is contented. The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine, are intermix’d
With scruples and do set the word itself
Against the word….

Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented: sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am: then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king’d again: and by and by
Think that I am unking’d by Bolingbroke,
And straight am nothing: but whate’er I be,
Nor I nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased
With being nothing.

We so rarely let our minds be still, silent, un-locatable and alone, because we are afraid to become nothing. However, the nothing we become is no more than the nothing we have always been, so it’s not so bad. And, it doesn’t take sitting on a cushion, in meditation to appreciate the still mind. With training, we can do it frequently while in activities throughout the day.

Remembering the conversation between the Nikāya Buddha and Sakka, here’s how that Buddha describes a person who unhooks from the mental habit of peopling his or her inner world, in the Migajāla Sutta (Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation.) It starts “Now, there are forms cognizable via the eye…”

“There are sounds cognizable via the ear… aromas cognizable via the nose… flavors cognizable via the tongue… tactile sensations cognizable via the body… ideas cognizable via the intellect — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing — and a monk does not relish them, welcome them, or remain fastened to them. As he doesn’t relish them, welcome them, or remain fastened to them, delight ceases. There being no delight, he is not impassioned. Being not impassioned, he is not fettered. A monk disjoined from the fetter of delight is said to be a person living alone.

“A person living in this way — even if he lives near a village, associating with monks & nuns, with male & female lay followers, with kings & royal ministers, with sectarians & their disciples — is still said to be living alone. A person living alone is said to be a monk. Why is that? Because the craving that was his companion has been abandoned by him. Thus he is said to be a person living alone.”

Thoughts don’t only people this world, they make it a little world. Mindfulness expands our world to infinity. This is what the Nikāya Buddha means in another passage, from the Bhaddekaratta Sutta. (MN131). This version is translated from the Pali by Thich Nhat Hanh:

We must be diligent today.
To wait till tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly.
How can we bargain with it?
The sage calls a person who
dwells in mindfulness
night and day
‘the one who knows
the better way to live alone.’

– From Our Appointment with Life: Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone.

Post-script: After writing this, I read a poem by Gary Snyder, pertinent to the theme of being truly present at all times, and of the expected scariness of such a naked state of mind:

The Earth’s Wild Places

Your eyes, your mouth and hands,
the public highways.
Hands, like truck stops,
semis rumbling in the corners.
Eyes like the bank clerk’s window
foreign exchange.
I love all the parts of your body
friends hug your suburbs
farmlands are given a nod
but I know the path to your wilderness.
It’s not that I like it best,
but we’re almost always
alone there, and it’s scary
but also calm.

– Snyder, Gary This Present Moment: New Poems

The Guest House Part 2

Kent: He doesn’t want to be alone. Being alone is really scary. If someone wants him, then he doesn’t feel all alone.

[Here we spent some time receiving the feelings and beliefs of the ‘child’ pattern. Uppermost were the feelings of abandonment, and of having no value. This, again, is an example of an erroneous concept; that is, that Kent’s well-being is dependent on how a childhood pattern (an ‘inner child’) versions him. Most people are victims of their unawareness of the power of such versions of themselves.

Then his inquiry shifted to a more existential level; that is, the child’s belief was that if he had ‘someone else’ – or even just had a longing for someone else – that would make him feel like he is a separate someone, “in here looking out.” (Delight, self-bias and dualistic perception.) Again, staying with his changes with kind, curious acceptance meant that the longing was able to move in him, and to change.

Notice that we can cling to the experience of having a longing. We cling for what such a desire can do for our ego functioning. That we are longing can feel pleasant, . This way, the longing plays a role in keeping ego structures in place. During inquiry, such longings can play the part of fending off the feeling of dying, which comes with one’s ego structures dissolving.

Now, in Kent’s session, a shift happened that was dramatic.]

Kent: He doesn’t want to be alone.

Christopher: He’s scared and alone.

Kent: Right. (Suddenly he draws a deep breath). Ooh! Holy cow! Oh, my God, that’s scary.

Christopher: Yes?

Kent: He feels he’s going to disappear!

[Definitely an erroneous concept, when it’s applied to the person, Kent. The person easily thinks that he’s going to disappear, at this point, if he is identified with the child.]

Christopher: Oh, I see. Interesting. Can you say more?

Kent: Well, if mum’s not there… then, who is he here, in here? (He has a intake of breath, and looks a little like he’s rising up the back of his chair.)

[Notice the strength, now, of the wilfulness, the desiring, and the wish to move away from unpleasant experiences (like and disliking); putting the person in conflict with himself and others.]

Christopher: So, to me, he looks like he’s moving away from something?

Kent: Yes, away from an engulfing emptiness; but the trouble is, the emptiness seems to be everywhere.

Christopher: So, ask him: “What’s so bad about the emptiness?”

Kent: Annihilation. He’ll disappear altogether.

Christopher: Oh, no wonder he is frightened, if that’s what he thinks. Let him know you can hear what he says.

(Wait for that step to happen.) Do you have a feel for which part of the body resonates with this feeling of empty everywhere?

[I invite him to bring his body into awareness – keeping him com-bodied (old term: embodied), so that mindfulness can happen. In this section we have a few examples of dichotomous thinking, of dualistic perception. For example, when Kent identified with the child processes, he is thinking about his life in terms of ‘I exist now’ and ‘I won’t exist in the next moment.’ This is a primary dualistic category: exist/not-exist. There is ‘something’ and ‘nothing,’ and these appear to the non-investigating mind to be irreconcilable. That’s because this emptiness is deficient emptiness (a term Almaas uses). When true emptiness is recognised, it is liberating because it exceeds opposites.

The next moves require courage of Kent’s part, which he has developed through his mindfulness and meditation practice, over the preceding couple of years.]

Kent: Actually, it feels like it’s right down the central channel.

[A yogi’s term, roughly equivalent of down the core of his body.]

Christopher: Great. Can you be aware of your legs, your hands, and your breathing, and include that sense of an emptiness down the centre of you?

Kent: (Silent, while he does what I suggest.) Yes, it’s weird… I know I’m here, but I don’t feel like I exist.

Christopher: Sounds like there’s a lot of space.

Kent: (He looks surprised by the suggestion and takes time to investigate.) Nothing but space! That’s it!

Christopher: Again, you’re okay about being a person, here, right? Breathing in and out. There is this body?

Kent: Yes. That’s okay. And I can feel the power in the centre. But, where is my self?

Christopher: There’s you the person, Kent, sitting in the chair. And you’re experiencing a lot of spacious awareness. And take your time… notice that the space is sensitive space, right?

Kent: (Silence for a couple of minutes.) Yes, I think so. Do you mean, like… there’s this light everywhere?

Christopher: Yes, that’s it. It’s a kind of knowing, but its special quality is that it lacks location. You would normally think you see from it, but here there’s no from, right?

[The dualistic thinking that can arise, here, is that appearance and space should not be the same. We should, the ego thinks, be in a space where there is here, there and in-between. However, this is actual experience, experience in the wild – it’s not experience shaped by logic, which has opposites. I keep him body-near, because the body doesn’t have opposites.]

Kent: That’s it! It’s nowhere.

Christopher: And, everywhere. So, relax into that spacious clarity, and tell me what happens next. Surrender into it.

Kent: (Silent for several minutes, then a relieved sigh.) It’s like golden love.

Christopher: Really? Love has arisen. How lovely. (Laughs)

Kent: (Quietly weeps, in a gentle, relieved kind of way.) Yes. It’s so very… (inaudible).

Christopher: (After a time, not to rush…) Is the love host or guest?

Kent: It’s me. I’m the love. It’s pervading everywhere. There’s nothing but love.

Christopher: It’s the host. Spend some time letting your body have that, that’s for sure.


“All appearances are change.”
When ones sees this through wisdom,
Then one forgoes the unsatisfying.
This is the path of purity.

“All appearances are unsatisfying.”*
When ones sees this through wisdom,
Then one one forgoes the unsatisfying.
This is the path of purity.

“All things are without self-substance.”
When ones sees this through wisdom,
Then one one forgoes the unsatisfying.
This is the path of purity.

*compared to spiritual freedom (nibbāna).

Dhammapada, verse 277-279. Translated Christopher J. Ash

The Guest House

Bhikkhus, suppose there is a guest house. People come from the east, west, north, and south and lodge there; [all classes of people] come and lodge there. So too, bhikkhus, various feelings arise in this body: pleasant feeling arises, painful feeling arises, neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises; carnal pleasant feeling arises; carnal painful feeling arises; carnal neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises; spiritual pleasant feeling arises; spiritual painful feeling arises; spiritual neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises.”

– From The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikāya (Teachings of the Buddha). Translated Bhikkhu Bodhi. [My amendment.]

Kent has formal mindfulness training, which makes his inquiry a very creative process. Formal training gives him enhanced ability to track his experience, to empathetically sense his body, feeling-tones, and attitudes; and, to be able to think of these in terms of their dynamics. He’s learning how he is organised by his past, and discovering how new ways of behaving, speaking and thinking can emerge. Today he discovers a new way of being.

Let’s say that this session happens months after the session where he was ‘slightly depressed.’ Over time he’s become familiar with the sadness, which was under the depressed feeling. On this occasion he finds himself feeling into it, and not identifying with it. He has a distinct strong sense of being a guest house for his sad feelings. By that he means, not only that they are allowed to come and go in him, but, that he will be a kind host for his mind-states.

I will intersperse my commentary in square brackets, with reminders (in bold) of the dynamics which the Nikāya Buddha pointed out to Sakka. You can skip the commentary and read the dialogue straight through, of course; and come back to read the comments later, if you like.

Another way to approach understanding this process is to consider R.A.I.N. The teachers trained by Jack Kornfield, a U.S. Buddhist Insight Meditation teacher, teach a mindfulness process called R.A.I.N – Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-Indentification. (Here’s an article by Kornfield about that. http://www.jackkornfield.com/articles/dharmaandpolitics.php) R.A.I.N. makes the mindfulness process easy to spot; and I mention it so that you can keep an eye out for those processes in the following dialogue – either when I invite a part of R.A.I.N, or they happen in Kent’s process spontaneously.

Kent: I feel it in middle.

Christopher: You mean like here? (I place my hand on the upper part of my lower abdomen.)

Kent: Yes. (Silence, while he feels in there.) It’s the feeling like when I was a child, and the little girl next door stopped playing with me. I never saw her again.

Christopher: He’s feeling…?

Kent: (Waits for the feeling to get clear.) Abandoned.

Christopher: He’s feeling abandoned.

Kent: (More silence). I’m letting him know it’s okay to have that.

Christopher: Right. You’re just being with him.

[There have been a number of occasions when we explored this pattern more emotionally, and much understanding has emerged from this. Today he is more subtle with it. Being organised by childhood patterns is an example of erroneous concepts (vittaka), because they are out-dated patterns fashioning behaviour now.]

(A long silence, though he looks like he’s got more energy, as though something new is there.)

Christopher: And, what’s next?

Kent: It’s funny. It’s like a feeling of what’s missing.

Christopher: Oh, lovely! What’s that like?

Kent: What missing is someone wanting him.

Christopher: Feeling wanted.

Kent: He doesn’t want to be alone. Being alone is really scary. If someone wants him, he doesn’t feel alone.

[Here we spent some time receiving the feelings and beliefs of the ‘child’ pattern. Uppermost were the feelings of abandonment, and of having no value. This, again, is an example of an erroneous concept; that is, that Kent’s well-being is dependent on how a childhood pattern (an ‘inner child’) versions him. Most people are victims of this concept.

Then his inquiry shifted to a more existential level; that is, the belief was that if he had ‘someone else’ – or even just had a longing for someone else – that would make him feel like he is a separate someone ‘in here.’ (Self-bias and dualistic perception.) Again, staying with his changes with kind, curious acceptance meant that the longing was able to move in him, and to change.

Notice that we can cling to the experience of having a longing, for what such a desire can do for us. It can feel pleasant, that we are longing. This way, the longing plays a role in keeping ego structures in place. During inquiry, such longings can play the part of fending off the feeling of dying, which comes with one’s ego structures dissolving.

Then, in Kent’s session, a shift happened that was dramatic.]

To be continued

The Five Sentient Processes

“All appearances are unstable.”
When ones sees this through wisdom,
Then one forgoes the unsatisfying.
This is the path of purity.

Dhammapada, verse 277. Translated Christopher J. Ash

Before returning to my fictional dialogue with Kent – in which he makes a break-through into a different order of reality, and a new way to experience himself, by enquiring experientially – I’d like to correct something that I wrote recently. At the same time I will take the opportunity to speak about a core Buddhist model for experiencing: that of the five sentient processes (khandha); which are usually unhelpfully named the five aggregates.

Kent is familiar with this teaching, and his experiential enquiry is underpinned with much meditation experience, in which he has explored his experience of being a person in terms of these five processes. If I can give a short introduction to that model, it will help you understand why he has the experiential shifts that he does in our dialogue. (Its only one of several models of experience which the Nikāya Buddha taught, but its a basic one.)

But, firstly the correction. In my post of few days back – in Process Never Arises, Never Ceases – I incorrectly named the fourth of the five sentient processes. I said it was ‘states of the psyche (or, attitudes).’ This was a lapse of attention on my part, because the fourth of the ‘five sentient processes’ is saṅkhāra in Pāli, which, in this context, I translate as fashioning tendencies (or, intentional factors). This word has a great number of translations, and it actually has a few different meanings, depending on the context. I don’t have the space to go into it’s other meanings, here. Translations of saṅkhāra in this context, include: fabrications, intentional factors, mental dispositions. formations or mental formations; and, volitional factors, volitional activities, or volitional formations – and more.

From that range you can see that it’s obviously an important aspect of ‘self and world creation.’ In all my conversations with Kent, we are particularly interested in how he creates his self/world experience. We begin, in the present dialogue, with how he creates his slight feeling of being depressed. Fashioning tendencies (saṅkhārā) play a central part in that.

As I said, the five sentient processes are more commonly called, the five aggregates (Pali: khandha; Sanskrit: skandha). It is not unusual to read, in beginner’s texts on Buddhism, that “The human being is comprised of five aggregates: body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.” However, ‘aggregates’ doesn’t convey anything experience-near for me, so I don’t use it. My version of these five primary categories for naming sentient processes in Buddhism are: form (or body), feeling-tones, perceptions, fashioning tendencies, and consciousness.

On what the Pāli-English Dictionary calls the ‘crude’ level khandha can mean: bulk, massiveness, or (gross) substance; and is used of an elephant and a tree! How are we to make experiential sense of such a word? The Nikāya Buddha spoke of the “five khandhas of clinging.”  So, actually, the ‘bulk’ thing might be useful, because, out of the openness of primordial experience we cling to our sentient processes and create a bulk, a substance, and call it ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ Just like a child does to its mother. All the sentient processes play a part in this, and in the creation of sub-personalities.

Khandha, when translated as ‘aggregates’ can be misleading. ‘Aggregate’ in English gives the reader the impression that separate bits that get collected together to make one unit – they are ‘aggregated.’ It makes it sound, and sometimes it is said, that these are originally separate things – like the parts of a cart. That is probably humankind’s earliest example of reducing the human being through a machine analogy, as though a human is made up of bits. That’s an inaccurate notion, because it doesn’t fit experience. No human being is made of parts. That’s merely a way of thinking, and we shouldn’t mistake the map for the territory, the model for the person.

This is a short note, but I hope it helps.

Mindful in the Body

Gotama’s pupils are ever awake:
day and night, constantly mindful in the body.

Dhammapada, verse 299. Translated Christopher J. Ash.

The value of directly knowing oneself experientially, with an attitude of kind curiosity, is inestimable. If you really are dying, it can help in so many ways, to clear the mind of unneeded detritus, and to reveal hidden jewels in your very own mind, even in the midst of crisis.

I would like to give you a few illustrations of how the Sakka-Gotama Buddha process of dependent-arising can work in enquiry. So, I offer a fictional conversation between a therapist and a client. I’ll pretend that the therapist is myself, and that the client is a man called Kent.

Kent: “I’ve been feeling somewhat depressed the last few days.”

Christopher: “Right. That’s welcome. [A pause, while I check.] Is it? Can you to be with it, like you were its friend?”

Kent: “I do try to. I say ‘hello’ to the way it lives in my body, but I slip away really quickly.”

Christopher: “Oh, a part of you doesn’t want to go there? Is that what it’s like?”

Kent: “Something like that, yes. It looks like a non-brainer. Who would want to sit with the ‘bog of eternal stench’?”

Christopher: Wow! That’s a powerful image. Don’t let that one get away. Let’s keep that one nearby. It’s got a lot of energy.”

Kent: (Laughs) “Right. True, it does. (Mind you, you can thank David Bowie’s script writer for that.)”

Christopher: Yeah, great movie. But you’re saying that this fits what you’ve got there, right? Check it. Sit alongside that place and get a feel for ‘the bog.’ Is it really like that? Or, does some other part label it that way?”

Kent: “Hmm. I don’t know. Let me see… (Silence). Well not really, it’s more like… a deep pit of sadness.”

Christopher: “Okay. When you can be empathic with it, it’s more like sadness.”

Kent has some skills, of course. He’s been doing this kind of inner work for a while, and if I say something, he feels into his body, to see how it is from the in there. With newcomers, it might not go quite so quickly. But, let’s have a look at what is happening here, using the terms which the Nikāya Buddha introduced to Sakka, and some more terms from our general inquiry. A feeling of being ‘somewhat depressed’ is made up of much – it’s not a thing.

So, we start with a state of conflict. The ‘conflict’ here is within the person. Depression indicates different sub-personalities with different agendas. Why do I say, ‘parts’?

Well, of course, no-one’s mind is made up of parts. But, these energetic patterns have a coherence to themselves, and they have sufficient differences to other such patterns, so that ‘parts language’ helps to differentiate them. This way we see them more deeply, and also awaken non-identification. So, ‘parts language’ is just a convention to help us explore states of the psyche – attitudes – and their inter-relations. The person has one attitude (sadness), which is being reacted to by another attitude (dislike). Furthermore, the two are inter-dependent.

So, taking into account what the Nikāya Buddha said to Sakka, so far we have met a conflict, which involves rejection of the experience of sadness. There are conflicting self-biases working. We take time, and we find that the one who says ‘bog of stench’ is actually trying to bring some strength in. So, we see preferences working – in the likes and dislikes of the inner actors. “Who would want to sit with the ‘bog of eternal stench’?”

When Kent searches in his body for how this lives there, he finds some aggressive rejection of his sadness. That part’s using his strength. And, it’s glad (delighted, pleased) that it is there fighting for… for what? its way of being Kent – its particular self-bias or seflishness.

When the client accepts the bad feeling without believing the labels given by the disliking process, then it can be seen more clearly as some deep sadness. Sometimes you have to sit with the disliking part for a while before it backs off enough to let you feel into the sadness. After all, it’s what the Tibetans call an ‘inveterate tendency.’ That is, it’s a veteran. It’s been fighting sadness since Kent was a child.

So, notice, too, that Sakka would be gladdened to find that we have come upon at least one ‘longing, hunger, thirst, or desire,’ underlying the depression. There is a way out for sentient beings, then.

We don’t yet know what longing the sadness itself has, but we do know that the strong part has the desire not to feel the deep pit of sadness. And, as we enquire into it, it reveals its desire that the person survive in his work life, his social life, and so on; which it believes that he won’t do, if he succumbs to the ‘eternal bog of stench.’ (There is probably an inner judge somewhere, here, too.)

You can see, in just these few interchanges, an experiential inquiry unfolding that has special skills enfolded into it. It’s ‘skilful,’ in Buddhist terms. (That is, it is yoniso manasikāra, which the Pāli-English Dictionary defines as: fixing one’s attention with a purpose, or thoroughly; proper attention; having thorough method in one’s thought.)

It’s a skilful development of attention, too, because it includes self-compassion, self-empathy, curiosity, and patience. Patience is, in more modern terms, a mode of negative capability. Remember Keats? Not rushing ahead to find where it’s all going — staying here with the thread as it unfolds. Cultivating ‘don’t know’ mind; which at this level is relative, but later can have a profoundly complete presence. And, all this is found by referring back to the body’s experiences; that is, with mindfulness of the body.

Out This Way

I rushed in from the sky; her skeleton along the bed,
a breath on a rack. No-one around, but her and me.
My father left there, a week before. I sit there, pervading.
It pretty-well stayed that way, for the next twelve hours.
She’d fallen, then bravely starved her Alzheimer’s self away.
Breathing’s tough to do, all systems closing down.

My mother dissolving. Farewell earth element, sky element.
Sometimes, during the night, I spoke to her.
I’d be happy for her, I said. Go, now. 23rd Psalm, I sang.
When I talked, she changed; when I sang of the shepherd,
her breathing was as smooth as the soundly sleeping, and
I’d never had so much joy in all those quiet waters by.

And, now the last, the out-breath and silence.
For this, the nurses had gathered, because they loved her.
When they leave me, I tickle the top of her head
and whisper: “This way, Dear One. Out this way, Mum.”
My mother, who nobly ruddered the last storm
from way, way deeper than any of us could ever know her.

– Christopher J. Ash

Not a 16th of the Worth of Unconditional Love

I don’t have a bucket list… unless, maybe… to be kinder. Yes, that would be better than a trip to Kakadu, or Dharamsala. A kinder heart, of course, depends on seeing deeply into how things are, and understanding our common humanity. So, there’s a chance, even if I die tonight.

I’d like to share a passage, which I was reading today, from a collection of early Buddhist suttas called the Itivuttaka. The Itivullaka has an interesting story behind it. It is said to be a collection of teachings recorded by a woman, which is unusual in all of Buddhist history, let alone for that early period. Her name was Khujjuttara, and she was a servant of one of the queens of King Udena of  Kosambi.

Since the queen couldn’t go to hear the Buddha teach, she sent Khujjuttara, who listened and understood so well that she was able to memorize the teachings, and subsequently shared them with the queen and her women attendants.

These verses are from a sutta called The Development of Loving-Kindness. The translation is John Ireland’s, from his book Itivuttaka: Buddha’s Sayings (1991).

For one who mindfully develops
Boundless loving-kindness
Seeing the destruction of clinging,
The fetters are worn away.

If with an uncorrupted mind
He pervades just one being
With loving kindly thoughts,
He makes some merit thereby.

But a noble one produces
An abundance of merit
By having a compassionate mind
Towards all living beings.

Those royal seers who conquered
The earth crowded with beings
Went about performing sacrifices:
The horse sacrifice, the man sacrifice,
The water rites, the soma sacrifice,
And that called “the Unobstructed.”

But these do not share even a sixteenth part
Of a well cultivated mind of love,
Just as the entire starry host
Is dimmed by the moon’s radiance.

One who does not kill
Nor cause others to kill,
Who does not conquer
Nor cause others to conquer,
Kindly towards all beings —
He has enmity for none.

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