Monday, 3 June 2013

The "I"

These are notes based on a dhamma talk by Bhante Bodhidhamma.

The Observer

Mindfulness (sati) is an awareness of certain characteristics. Buddha's teachings could be reduced down to the single idea of not-self (anatta), which is quite a confusing concept to explain. Someone once asked the Buddha, "is there a self?" Buddha said nothing. He then asked, "is there not a self?" Still Buddha said nothing. When he was questioned later, he said "if I had said there is no self, they would have put me in the camp of the annihilationists, if I had said there is a self they would have put me in the camp of the eternalists". So he said nothing. When you meditate, where is it that you feel the observer? I'll leave that as something for you to investigate.

Desire for Happiness & Its Effects

But let's begin again. What is it you want out of life? Contentment, meaning, fulfilment, the desire to make a difference, success, zen-mind, nibbana? We all desire happiness, however we might define it. We want this happiness to grow. But once we become psychologically dependent on anything for happiness, then the disappearance of this object creates suffering. I have to then always be on my guard that my object of happiness isn't taken away. If the threat is bigger than me, then I will fear it. Right there, are the three relationship responses arising from the desire for happiness: acquisitiveness (which remember eventually turns into an active greed), aversion (to keep the enemy away), and fear if the enemy is bigger than me. This trilogy underlies everything we are doing. The mistake we've made is to try to seek happiness in a world which is constantly changing and a world which we can't control. Happiness then is conditioned, and we don't have control over the conditions, not even of our own body. The mistake comes down to one of identity.

Identity is Beyond our Control

If sadness arises, I don't and can't control it. It is just an emotion. I might learn some new technique which works amazingly the first time, but then it stops working. The body, sensations, heart, and the mind with its imaginings, are all containers or turmoil and movement. Ayn Rand expressed in Buddhist terms the final delusion that through the power of will we can control our life. Some very successful people have applied her philosophy in their lives, and they recognised for themselves that after a while the power of will reaches its limit. We can make ourselves comfortable. But as for the power we have over our lives, it is minimal. Have you ever experienced the exchange of oxygen with carbon dioxide in the lungs? Did you know that every week you create a completely new cornea? I didn't either. Who can fathom the mysteries of this body.


We have to find a place which is objective. This is the position of vipassana, becoming aware of sensations in the body. If you notice a pain in the knee, attention is drawn towards it. The word pain will be somewhere in the mind. When you observe the pain, there is a reaction. We experience aversion to the pain. Pain and the reaction, and then allowing the reaction to die away. So long as the pain is not ridiculous, then as you become equanimous with it, you drive your attention into the pain. Then the pain becomes something else, like pressure or heat. To experience feeling through feeling, going beyond the initial perception, the word and stories and past experiences that make us see things through a context, we drive attention into the pain itself and the actual perception changes.


When you come to the surface of the pain, you see that pain is a mental construct to tell us that something is wrong. It's the same with emotions. When I feel anxious, that is a reaction, normally to fear. Even more extreme, panic is the fear of fear. As we become accustomed with the feeling of fear, not getting caught up in the story, the reaction disappears. We are left with the raw feeling of fear. Perception changes. Nausea, cold, heat, trembling. Something different. Through careful investigation we see how the mind is creating the world we're living in.


When it comes to thought and imagining, the mind is always creating stories. Connect the stories which the growth of the emotion we are experiencing. When we're depressed, we start thinking depressing thoughts. The more you think them, the more depressed you feel. The mind is the mechanism by which depression develops. On the positive side, all the joys of life, such as good food or a good meditation. A feeling of wanting to hold on to, or at least to repeat it. It was such a great party. We want it again. It is very difficult to distinguish from the enjoyment because they are so close. But what is the aftermath of attachment? Immediately we form a habitual relationship and wanting this to grow.  This is the beginning of addiction. When we can't get it, it's frustration.


The unacknowledged driving force of the consumer society is desire for something different and exciting and pleasurable to overcome boredom. I know a monk who went through boredom watching the breath. The teacher suggested different points, different exercises. The boredom drove him insane. Boredom is a sense of aversion where you're not getting the satisfaction we used to get. A society that sees happiness in terms of excitement is prone to boredom.


I tell the story of a monastery of St. Francis which I visited. There are signs everywhere to keep silent. And all these 12 year old kids are making a racket. There was no effort by the teachers to keep them quiet. Silence has gone out the window in our society. We cannot understand it.

Joy without Attachment

Searching for happiness, we have to be careful not to have the wrong relationship with joy and the pleasures of life. This is not to say we shouldn't have these joys. Buddha talks of the beauty of life and how he enjoys giving the dhamma talks. When someone doesn't take the teaching, he doesn't feel sad. When they do, he is joyful. Buddha is always living in a state of love, compassion, joy, peace. When he is by himself, he is in peaceful equanimity. He goes off into the forest to meditate. "Why?" his disciples asked, "since he is already enlightened". He replied, for quiet abiding and to set a good example to others. Notice the quiet abiding comes first. The desire is for silence.


There is nothing in the world worth holding onto. The reason is you can't hold onto it. Anything you hold actually changes in your grasp. When wrong relationship arises, allow it to just pass away. These are conditions that you can't get rid of by doing. As soon as you feel greed for something, or annoyed about something, we can't repress it and pretend we don't feel it, or it comes back at us, the "return of the repressed" as Freud calls it. This process of changing our wrong relationships to things is a struggle. Buddha's last words were not: relax, take it easy, but "work diligently".

Open Hearted Contentment

When someone complained that this training was difficult and painful, all for the sake of Nibbana — so what? But when you get Nibbana, you are contented, without attachment. This contentment is said to be one of the greatest virtues of one who has realised Nibanna. It comes across as equanimity. It is not coming from a fixed position, not from a prejudice, coming to everything with an open heart and an open mind.

Purifying the Heart

If we go back to the enlightenment experience of the Buddha, there are three knowledges. The process of insight is inseparable from the process of purification (moving towards an ethical life). In the 1980s, there was the idea that you go for a long enough retreat and you would reach enlightenment. The result for many was despair. Many turned to drugs. When they gave up, all the old conditioning came up. So you see, you can't give up! Unfortunately, you've all entered on the spiritual path, so you've got not choice now. Now you've set out on the path, you must continue!

Absorption of the Self

When have you been most happy in life? Is it not when you've committed yourself or absorbed yourself in something. We have this idea of free will in Western philosophy, but there is no free-floating will, free from conditions. All will does is empower your intention. You can change your situation by understanding conditions, and so move towards happiness. The presupposition of I am is that something exists before the sense of identity. In meditation, we get back to the point of not knowing. Feeling a sensation in the body, I am no longer the sensation, but the feeler of that sensation. When you hurt your finger, you are the finger. Jump out of that and you want to retaliate against a door even. When you lose your temper, you are your temper. That is what identity means. Disidentifying the body from its sensation, the heart from its emotions, and the mind from its thoughts, we pull out something from its confusion, that something being the observer.

The Observer Revisited

Going back to my original question, "where do you experience that observer?" You are aware of yourself being the observer. If you are aware of it, you can't be that. Buddha is pointing to something behind that, to a point which is not aware of itself, yet complete, entire, unconditioned. Next time you are in meditation, just find out. I'll leave that with you.

Two Consciousnesses

Whenever you want to do something, do it with a full heart. Then lose yourself, lose sense of time. At the end it is done. You only recognise it afterwards. That's it. We have a lot to be going away to work on. Let us meditate and work on it.

Metta Prayer

May I be free of greed and selfishness

May I be free of anger and ill-will 

May I be free of fear and anxiety 

May I be free of ignorance and delusion 

May I be kind & gentle, sympathetic & benevolent
May I be forgiving and compassionate
May I be joyful and rejoice in the success of others
May I be peace-loving and calm

May I be liberated of all my sufferings
May I experience the peace & bliss of Nibbana.


May all beings be free of greed and selfishness

May all beings be free of anger and ill-will 

May all beings be free of fear and anxiety 

May all beings be free of ignorance and delusion 

May all beings be kind & gentle, sympathetic & benevolent
May all beings be forgiving and compassionate
May all beings be joyful and rejoice in the success of others
May all beings be peace-loving and calm

May all beings be liberated of all their sufferings
May all beings experience the peace & bliss of Nibbana.

Painting: "Woman at the Window" by Salvador Dalí.

By The Window (Edward Dowden)
STILL deep into the West I gazed; the light
Clear, spiritual, tranquil as a bird
Wide-winged that soars on the smooth gale and sleeps,
Was it from sun far-set or moon unrisen?
Whether from moon, or sun, or angel’s face         5
It held my heart from motion, stayed my blood,
Betrayed each rising thought to quiet death
Along the blind charm’d way to nothingness,
Lull’d the last nerve that ached. It was a sky
Made for a man to waste his will upon,        10
To be received as wiser than all toil,
And much more fair. And what was strife of men?
And what was time?
    Then came a certain thing.
Are intimations for the elected soul        15
Dubious, obscure, of unauthentic power
Since ghostly to the intellectual eye,
Shapeless to thinking? Nay, but are not we
Servile to words and an usurping brain,
Infidels of our own high mysteries,        20
Until the senses thicken and lose the world,
Until the imprisoned soul forgets to see,
And spreads blind fingers forth to reach the day,
Which once drank light, and fed on angels’ food?
It happened swiftly, came and straight was gone.        25
One standing on some aery balcony
And looking down upon a swarming crowd
Sees one man beckon to him with finger-tip
While eyes meet eyes; he turns and looks again—
The man is lost, and the crowd sways and swarms.        30
Shall such an one say, ‘Thus ’tis proved a dream,
And no hand beckoned, no eyes met my own?’
Neither can I say this. There was a hint,
A thrill, a summons faint yet absolute,
Which ran across the West; the sky was touch’d,        35
And failed not to respond. Does a hand pass
Lightly across your hair? you feel it pass
Not half so heavy as a cobweb’s weight,
Although you never stir; so felt the sky
Not unaware of the Presence, so my soul        40
Scarce less aware. And if I cannot say
The meaning and monition, words are weak
Which will not paint the small wing of a moth,
Nor bear a subtile odour to the brain,
And much less serve the soul in her large needs.        45
I cannot tell the meaning, but a change
Was wrought in me; it was not the one man
Who came to the luminous window to gaze forth,
And who moved back into the darkened room
With awe upon his heart and tender hope;        50
From some deep well of life tears rose; the throng
Of dusty cares, hopes, pleasures, prides fell off,
And from a sacred solitude I gazed
Deep, deep into the liquid eyes of Life.

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