Buddhism, Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Philosophy, Society, Spirituality

Episode 41: Navigating Through Spiritual Fads


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How can we know that the spiritual teachings we are interested in learning are genuine or will lead us off some beaten track?

Firstly, the goal of the teaching, the book, or the guru/teacher has to be the same goal you have in mind. Without a goal, we are groping in the dark and can end up absolutely anywhere.

Really reflect on why you want to take up a spiritual practice. Here are some reasons I have come across:

  • Simply following the advice of friends, family, co-workers, or authority figures based on a social and cultural contexts. (For example, “Jnana, you have to try mindfulness practice because it’s given me so many benefits!” or “Say your prayers or you’re going to Hell”)
  • Out of sheer curiosity
  • Egoic necessity: collecting knowledge to impress others or oneself, the accumulation of merit/wealth/relationships/etc. by reciting “special mantras”, doing “special meditations” or performing magic
  • Recognising an inner longing for what the material cannot provide and thus searching for it, whether that be God or otherwise
  • Liberation from the wheel of birth and death (suffering) and/or the wish that others also be free from birth and death
  • Collecting interesting experiences and states of mind; consciousness expansion
  • Learning, personal growth, and self-help
  • Or, you’re a journalist who just wants an interesting story…

So, with the goal in mind, investigate if the end goal of your chosen teaching matches your goal. This might sound silly, but it’s absolutely crucial.

Secondly, recognise reaching your goal is a process and is not figured out overnight. Yes, there are spontaneously awakened beings who did not have to do anything or “simply got it” one day with minimal effort, but if you are still seeking, then you are still in the process. As we know from our own lives, reaching goals can take weeks, months, and years to achieve.

As with any goal, including spiritual goals, there will be setbacks. Let’s apply this most obviously to losing 10 kilos of fat. The first setback is that it doesn’t happen instantly. “It takes months?! WHAT?!” The second setback is cheating on your diet or missing a day at the gym. Another setback could be giving up completely or changing course so that you gain 10 kilos instead of lose them. Because we’re not perfect and we are still learning and growing during the process of figuring out how to reach our goal, we will have setbacks and challenges. Guaranteed.

So be wary of any teacher or teaching that makes it absolutely simple and easy. Because it’s not. Losing 10 kilos if you’ve never done it befire or relaxing into meditation if you’re over-stressed is absolutely difficult and challenging — nevermind figuring out all the secrets of the universe or becoming 100% liberated from suffering forever! Spiritual liberation is, well… the most ambitious and arduous pursuit on the face of the earth. I can’t stress this enough!

So we have created our goal and now have a way to get there that we trust. What next?

There must be some evidence that it works from your own experience. Attaining spiritual wisdom is unlike any other form of learning that we know of. It is trans-rational and goes against the grain of logic and the world. A good rule of thumb is that experience means that it does not come from memory or recollection; it is not an abstraction/concept and is not imaginary; and it is not based on general knowledge or anothers’ supposed experience whatsoever.

A good example of experience is, “I can see the sun.” It is experienced by you, directly, without memory/recollection, abstract conceptions, and nobody else has to show or tell you that. However, don’t confuse knowledge with experience. They are two separate entities. I will demonstrate this here:

A baby cannot add 1+1 together and has no recollection that the answer is 2. If that child is left not knowing anything about math, then 1+1=2 is never knowledge. Even if the child does learn that 1+1=2, it is still an abstract concept coming from the imagination. “But,” you might say, “it’s true and I can experience it because I know it. It’s a fact!”. Yes, it is a logical fact, but it does not come from your own experience. If you’re not a mathemetician, you have no idea how or why 1+1=2. “It just does.” And spiritual experience is not concerned with abstract verifications, claims, imaginations, or blindly trusting others’ claims.

The accumulation of knowledge in the form of information and abstraction that the brain mechanically spews back out is not and never was the goal of any true spiritual tradition anywhere in the world.

The mind is just a tool that recalls and learns, and healthy people can use it in similar ways. You want to learn Yoga Asanas? Okay, many people can do that. You want to learn quantum physics? Okay, less people do that, but it is still in the realm of possibility for those with healthy minds. Therefore, identification with the mind’s concepts will not lead to spiritual liberation: just because a teacher showed you Yoga Asanas does not mean you will experience the full impact of the purpose of Yoga.

The bottom line is if you’re experiencing what the teacher or teachings are said you are supposed to experience — then you are on the right track!

Why, then, do we have mind-centred/mind-made paths and teachings that lead us to the trans-rational?

Because most human beings are used to it. Since childhood, we have been conditioned by other ignorant human beings about whoand how we are supposed to be but were never taught who we really are. So we are not clear yet. Teachings are like feather-dusters to show us the truth about our own mental scope: our emotions, fears, beliefs, goals, thoughts, and general viewpoint of our own conscious experience and the world — then, when we are honest about all of this, we human beings can begin to experience the trans-rational.

Giving without getting anything in return is trans-rational. How is it logical that you would give away your thing, if it belongs to you, for no good reason? It’s not. It’s other-worldly. We have to learn this, and we will struggle and fail many times in our own psychological mind when we have this basic conception of me and my thing. This is precisely why there is a path and there are teachings: to bring us back on the good boat.

The authentic and original teachings of the Buddha make it absolutely clear about the number one goal, the trials and tribulations on reaching it, and that experience is the most important so that you can verify for yourself and not just blindly believe. He was against Vedic rituals, for example, when they did not produce results and pointed this out in debates with Brahmans many times.

He also admitted the 8-fold path is a fabrication!

The Buddha, too, admits every single word uttered from his mouth is only “a raft” to be abandoned when we no longer need it. We do this all the time with: when we change jobs, for example, the skills from previous jobs are abandoned because we no longer need them.

Just for fun, I’ll leave you with this real-life analogy on how spiritual teachings function:

The Buddhist path is akin to building a beautiful mansion from scratch: first, we have to imagine the mansion (our goal) and then start to build it. The first step is Right View, which is like making the blueprints from the awareness that we want to end up with a mansion. Then we have Right Intention, knowing that we will be there physically, mentally, and emotionally to build it. Next, we lay concrete and put up scaffolding so the structure starts to take shape: Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, & Right Effort. In the final stages, the structure becomes more complex, nuanced, and beautiful. We paint, furnish, add lighting, artworks, and decorations: Right Mindfulness & Right Concentration. Finally, we have the goal: the mansion or Liberation.

Namaste!

Buddhism, Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Interview, Society, Spirituality

Episode 39: On Meditation — Interview with Eric Zimmer


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Meditation is such a vast topic, but Eric and I whittle it down to what it means to him. Firstly, before undertaking a spiritual path, Eric was deeply addicted and involved with various substances. Meditation helped him break away from his afflictive behaviour. Listen above to hear about both our meditation journeys and pick up some advice! Here is a brief article on my views on meditation:

Meditation is ancient.

Scholars trace its findings to 5.000BC in what is now modern-day India based on figurines sitting in the lotus posture with closed eyes. We then have the first written records in 1.500BC in the Vedic literature. For example, the Rig Veda outpours at least three states of meditation that rishis (seers) gave guidance through their own experiences:

  • “Mantric meditation or meditation on the Vedic mantras with concentration,
  • Visual meditation or meditation on a particular deity with illumined thought,
  • Absorption in mind and heart or meditation on illumined insight residing in the mind and the heart.”

And, in the Upanishads, which are much more explicit philosophically and revelatorally, we have the additional mention of:

  • “Samadhi or the experience of the ecstatic state of Brahman was the fourth state of Brahman, which is not mentioned in the Rigveda but described in the Mandukya Upanishad as the Fourth state (turiya)..”

On from this, we have the mention of the terms “Dharana” and “Dhyana” in both Jaina texts and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. According to Pantanjali in his eight limbs of yoga, Dharana precedes Dhyana as a means of reaching Samadhi. Dharana is one-pointed concentration on an object/idea with inevitable associative thoughts on the object. In Dharana, if one is meditating on a cup, one might think of the concept of morning or what the cup could be filled with or the shop the cup came from; the personal ego is still there. In Dhyana, the cup is the cup without associations and the meditator is not aware of him/herself as a personal ego associated with the cup; they become one. Dharana is becoming aware of the thoughts and Dhyana is uninterrupted flow with no sway by the thoughts. Samadhi is the highest form of meditation where the meditator and the cup become one and the same with a state of bliss, because there is no separation and concentration is complete.

Historically, we can see that meditation can encompass spiritual reflection, oral or silent mantra recitation, concentration, Tantra, and Samadhi — which all lead to bliss and peace eventually. This is when the Buddha steps into the picture and gives new additions to meditation: mainly Mindfulness, which can be found in the Satipatthana Sutta, and the Jhanas. Beautifully, the Buddha came to enlightenment through intense reflection under the Bodhi Tree, re-thinking his patterns, behaviour, and life decisions. All styles are valuable.

Living in Vedic society and undertaking at least six years of aescetic practices, the Buddha was quite adept at knowing Vedic philosophy and regularly debated with Brahmans. Thus, some instructions are quite similar and have roots in ancient Dharma.

His meditation instructions range from practices in concentration, to mindfulness, to the Jhanas, to Samadhi, and various instructions in between. Mindfulness, as it is known in popular culture, is not simply paying attention to the present moment nor the breath – though those are the basic foundations. The Sutta includes meditations on the five elements, what are called the cemetery contemplations, the repulsiveness of the body (which is recommended if one is naturally inclined towards worshipping the body as the self), mindfulness on bodily postures, and generally paying attention to the activity one is engaged in.

Meditation is like a rung of the ladder on the Buddha’s 8-fold path to reach this ultimate goal. In both the Vedic and Buddhist Dharma, ‘equanimity of mind’ has to be cultivated first by most people until it is permanent. Whether Buddhist or Vedic, meditation’s ultimate goal is either Moksha (Vedic) or Liberation (Buddhist sense). Liberation/Moksha comes after Samadhi and is the end of the suffering mind

First and foremost, as in Vedic history also, the Buddha instructed concentration practices, because he found the mind is prone to wandering and has a life of its own; it does not yet contain peace. As we go along in Buddhist meditative practices, concentration is not so important. What is important is realising self as non-existent, as it is wrong identification that binds us. The more a person meditates, the more spacious one becomes, until the lines of conditioned reality are blurred and separation between self and other – including inanimate objects – disappears.

Most of our lives consist of empty space.

For context, Dzogchen, Advaita, and Vedanta all aim to incorporate practices that are open and spacious in nature. When space is created in the mind, one can begin to see that mind contains everything — including the contracted self or form we have taken to be ourselves all along. Then the mind can be transcended altogether.

What do I mean by this?

Take the body, for instance. We sincerely believe, and this is true for every human being, that we are a body which has had things happen to it in a continuum of time and space. Sometimes we were the doer, and sometimes things just happened to us out of our control. Every human being has to experience this point of view for survival reasons. We think we are the one looking out of our eyes in case there’s danger up ahead or there is some delicious food to eat within our sight. The mind’s job is to keep the body alive by searching, strategising, and planning. With more sophistication of the human species, however, especially as people have evolved into civilisations and societies that are relatively peaceful, survival is no longer such a struggle in the jungle.

In modern and even Vedantic societies (and most likely many societies before them) we are not so desperate to watch our backs all the time. Even so, the ways of the mind are ancient! We still have it in us that we need to struggle to feed our close relatives, make a living, be tribal and form exclusive groups, and worry about the future. This keeps us locked in the body/mind duality… unless there comes an interest spiritual progress.

The body and the mind never cease to function until death, yet, the body and mind believe wrongly that they are in control and thus, they try to prolong life or avoid death. This simply cannot happen – at least not the death part. Human beings can stay stuck in one mental system for an entire lifetime; conversely they can try everything in their creative power to change and manipulate the earth or their own and others’ circumstances – but this is not an antidote for death.

Meditation helps a person see, first-hand, that they are not the workings of the body nor mind, regardless of how fixed or fickle. It helps unlock the door to the vast, empty space that is “another part” of our being. In this space, our body and mind are contained. So, we are much larger than we think! The body and mind are limited, so when they are identified with, this creates a limited experience. This limitation is called a “person” with past, present, future, and innumerable assumptions based on the body/mind already knows or assumes.

Space creates insight. It cannot be any other way. Meditation is a key to putting a stop to Samsaric existence – also known as “the universe’s biggest status quo”.

How can we know what we don’t know, which cannot be answered by the mind?

Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who am I? How do I know God? Are there other beings, such as gods, goddesses, devas, ghosts, and intelligent life forms with material bodies in other places? What happens after death? Are people reborn? Where does consciousness come from?

These are all questions the mind cannot answer. Those who have written books about it or talked about it were either lying (I have to say this for logical conclusion) or have had their own answers through insight. True knowledge is obtained through experience and not reliance on others’ thoughts and feelings without experimentation. We know the sun exists, because we see and feel it everyday – we don’t have to read it in a book, though there are many books about it. So meditation instructions are there to gain insight and make real progress – not to gather what we commonly call “knowledge” in the Western sense. Real knowledge is called “Jnana”, based on our “Buddhi”. “Buddhi” is our wisdom faculty. It is the clear mind, cultivated through meditation and loving-kindness and compassion.

Some beings have the good fortune of coming into existence with a degree of these faculties already in place. For example, this would be a being who is already and naturally kind and non-discriminative towards others. Then there are those who may need to purposefully cultivate the qualities they wish to emanate, and this can be done through knowing the inner mind and reflection. For ideas, these qualities can be: the elimination of fear, consideration of others and their well- being, flexibility of personality, cooperation with circumstances especially out of one’s control, patience, awe, curiosity, wonder, not putting self or other down, humour, energy as opposed to laziness or sloth, and appreciation or gratitude.

Once the mind is looked into for its patterns (karma) and pitfalls, they can be overcome. Meditation is transcendental and trans-rational. Because we are in Samsara, our faculties are not yet used to their full potential. Their full potential is omnipotence and unlimitedness – when this discovery is made, then the body/mind can express its full potential and truest nature. And this is the point of meditation!

Buddhism, Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Interview, Society, Spirituality

Episode 38: The Essence of Dharma with Devananda


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Devananda runs the Essence of Dharma podcast: a show which unites the Vedic and Buddhist Dhamma, for all seekers and finders of the truth. He also runs a fascinating Youtube channel with tons of Dharmic content.

In our episode, we have a free-flowing conversation about, well… Reality!

There is an underlying reality beyond what we normally see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. It is that which allows these five senses to function at all, except we wrongly identify with what is in the “front” of us.

But, it is like a screen. Did you ever watch a fire burning on television? Yes, this is like the ego, which pretends to be fiery-hot, but it’s absolutely cool in reality. The fire on the screen is like the consciousness of the five senses. It seems so ridiculously real, and it has been this way since time immemorial, put down to us by our parents (and their parents) who have been conditioned since time immemorial — and thus, we seem stuck in Samsara.

Though, alas…

The wheel of Samsara can be counteracted by setting the wheel of Dhamma in motion!

Whether Buddhist, Dharmi, or otherwise… enjoy the episode and come closer to our essential nature.

Om, Om, AUM. May all beings be happy, free, and peaceful.

Buddhism, Interview, Society, Spirituality

Episode 34: McMindfulness — The New Capitalist Spirituality with Ron Purser

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Ron is not afraid of controversy with his new book: McMindfulness — How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, out this July. He also hosts the Mindful Cranks podcast. Let’s start out by saying that:

“Dr. Purser is an ordained  Zen Dharma teacher in the Korean Zen Taego Order.  He received ordination in April 2013 from the Venerable Jongmae Park, Partriarch of the Taego Korean Zen order for the overseas sangha. His Dharma name is Hae Seong, which means “The Nature of Wisdom.”

As a long-time practitioner, he really knows his stuff! In our episode, we go over just how the modern mindfulness movement, founded on the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) programme convinces that “a little mindfulness goes a long way” — and all the repercussions that can have.

We go into detail how mindfulness has been hijacked to serve the capitalist system. This truth is Ron’s passion.

My passion is how it has been torn apart from its very meaning, as a way to enlightenment on this planet (and all other planets and universes, also).

So, how has modern mindfulness been severed from its Buddhist roots? Well, here’s a hint: in the Sattipatthana Sutta that the Buddha laid out on mindfulness, a lot is missing from the modern mindfulness programmes.

Bhikku Bodhi lays out on Accesstoinsight.org:

“The practice of Sattipatthana meditation centers on the methodical cultivation of one simple mental faculty readily available to all of us at any moment. This is the faculty of mindfulness, the capacity for attending to the content of our experience as it becomes manifest in the immediate present. What the Buddha shows in the sutta is the tremendous, but generally hidden, power inherent in this simple mental function, a power that can unfold all the mind’s potentials culminating in final deliverance from suffering.

To exercise this power, however, mindfulness must be systematically cultivated, and the sutta shows exactly how this is to be done. The key to the practice is to combine energy, mindfulness, and clear comprehension in attending to the phenomena of mind and body summed up in the “four arousings of mindfulness”: body, feelings, consciousness, and mental objects.

At the heart of the matter, modern mindfulness misses that mindfulness is made to lead to true and final liberation from all suffering, or Nibanna. (This is simply one way to waking up out of the vast collection of the Buddha’s methods.)

Without taking into account other factors beyond “simply paying attention to the present moment” — a person will (more than likely not) magically become free or cultivate wisdom. In fact, this is just another form of suffering, and this can be proven. If simply paying attention to the present moment worked, then we would see evidence of this in the external world as greed, desire, and hatred decrease: that is its purpose, after all. Is this the case? Not at all!

Google, Apple, Nike and other major corporations have repeatedly used secular, modern mindfulness training as part of their curriculums. Marissa Levin admits this, in just one article underpinning the mindfulness/capitalist situation:

“Once the Eastern practice became popular as a method of self-help, it quickly became a tool within businesses to increase productivity and well-being of employees.

‘With business meditation, we have a practice that is extrapolated from Buddhism and secularized so that all of the theological underpinnings are swept away,” says Catherine Albanese, author of A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion.'”

Mindfulness, as a business model, completely disintegrates the value of mindfulness as a way to liberation from wordly suffering for all beings. As a business model at all, to increase productivity for corporations, lends itself to be a materialistic substitute for Reality. This is in direct contradiction to its purpose. B. Bodhi goes on to say, “This [mindfulness] is the only satisfying way for the seeker of truth when the diffuseness [papañca] of the external world with its thin layer of culture, comfort and allurement, ceases to be interesting and is found to lack true value.

Also, modern mindfulness misses out on the other facets of the Sutta, including:

Contemplating the body in mindfulness of breathing, bodily positions/postures, eating/drinking/walking/speaking, and…

Reflection on the Repulsiveness of the Body:
Ex) “And further, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu reflects on just this body hemmed by the skin and full of manifold impurity from the soles up, and from the top of the hair down, thinking thus: ‘There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, fibrous threads (veins, nerves, sinews, tendons), bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, contents of stomach, intestines, mesentery, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, solid fat, tars, fat dissolved, saliva, mucus, synovic fluid, urine.”

Reflection on the Modes of Materiality: (Cemetary Contemplations 1-9)
Ex) “And further, O bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu, in whatever way, sees a body dead, one, two, or three days: swollen, blue and festering, thrown into the charnel ground, he thinks of his own body thus: ‘This body of mine too is of the same nature as that body, is going to be like that body and has not got past the condition of becoming like that body.”

Contemplation of Feeling:
Ex) “Thus he lives contemplating [painful, pleasureable, and neutral] feelings in feelings internally, or he lives contemplating feeling in feelings externally, or he lives contemplating feeling in feelings internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-things in feelings, or he lives contemplating dissolution-things in feelings, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-things in feelings. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘Feeling exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and remembrance and he lives independent and clings to naught in the world.”

Contemplation of Consciousness:
Ex) “Here, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu understands the consciousness with lust, as with lust; the consciousness without lust, as without lust; the consciousness with hate, as with hate; the consciousness without hate, as without hate; the consciousness with ignorance, as with ignorance; the consciousness without ignorance, as without ignorance; the shrunken state of consciousness, as the shrunken state; the distracted state of consciousness, as the distracted state…”

And so much more…

Ron and I go into detail on how modern mindfulness and capitalism are satisfied holding hands. See www.ronpurser.com to contact him.

 

 

Buddhism, Philosophy, Society, Spirituality

Episode 32: Key Buddhist Terminology


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Listen to hear about the practical meanings of:

Emptiness / Shunyata
Non-duality
Nibbana
Dukkha
&
Sankhara