"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

April 30, 2013

How to Deal with Kickback and Reaction after Spiritual Victories

When you have made a moral or spiritual breakthrough, don't be surprised if you sometimes encounter a "kickback" or big reaction, or even a setback, right after your victory.  And then, if you aren't alert, you end up condemning yourself for a slip or fall and may think you haven't learned a thing.  Not true!

This reaction can make you doubt your victory, but what's really happening is that old, deep conditioned patterns are coming to the surface as "I" and "me" and "mine" and making a bid for your consent or acquiescence that these kleshas are in fact "I" or "me" or "mine."

This self-assertion of old, conditioned patterns can be so strong that you can almost feel like there's another person trying to assert him/herself as you.  Or, it can feel like dark malevolent external forces fighting against your progress.  Don't buy it!  It's all your mind and in your mind.

Whether we see/feel the resistance as some self-asserting old "self" or as projected "out there" as others and external resistance, you don't have to go outside your own heart and mind to deal skillfully with this noxious stuff—indeed, it's literally impossible to go outside your own mind and heart. I mean, where would that be?  

The very strength, even ferocity, with which these old self-identifications can arise merely show how much we may have identified with some old way of being and doing.

The kleshas—the hindrances or mental poisons of the mind—always lie and misrepresent.  It's NOT the case that you didn't have a breakthrough; it's just that often even very big breakthroughs don't get rid of all the junk in our mental basements.  That takes ongoing work and patience, helped and inspired by the light of our big breakthrough.

So, hang in there!  Over years of spiritual practice, I've almost come to expect such reactions and kickbacks as just part of the path of awakening.  Sometimes, a big breakthrough really is a clean break. You just move forward with new grace and authority. But more often, speaking for myself, I've been tested and tempted after the fact to be deceived by my old conditioning coming as "I" and "me" and "mine."  It's like Jesus talking about "the devil" or the Buddha talking about "Mara."  In reality, these things are just your "shadow stuff" not some supernatural power or authority.

When reactions to progress arise, see through the lies of setback or failure, and stand your ground in what you've seen and won.  The great Galilean teacher said, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" as well as "Resist not evil."  Both ways are skillful. [See "Non-resistance and the Art of Resisting without Resisting!"] Standing your ground in the face of reaction to progress is a skill that doesn't require belief in metaphysical powers or evil, anymore than "Mara" in Buddhism is a real entity or a metaphysical evil.

Don't be tricked or fooled! Know yourself!  Know your "enemy" but know it as not-self!   Everything you need to win full liberation and freedom is within each us and within the scope of our practice.  With each victory, we learn to trust this ourselves and our practice more fully and deeply.

A breakthrough is a breakthrough.  Sure, there may be more work to do. So what?  That just means we are human!  Love yourself and roll up your sleeves and move on to new fields of awakening.  You can't be defeated, and even apparent setbacks will make you stronger as you learn from them.

Steven Goodheart

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April 26, 2013

Spilled milk and the Dharma in Everyday Life

"There can be no real spiritual growth without deeply understanding ourselves just the way we are. Momentary peace and bliss is very encouraging but that alone cannot bring transformation." ~ Sayadaw Jotika

To me, the two keys here are understanding "just the way we are" and the understanding that we have to practice presence. With mindfulness, using the tool of "noting" what is arising, we can pay attention to what we are sensing, feeling, seeing with non-resistance and full acceptance. That path leads to liberation.

For example, I was cooking lunch in the kitchen today, and I spilled some milk, making a mess, and felt really irritated at myself. Since today I'd been making progress in paying attention, the irritation isn't just mindless; I catch myself in the moment and note, "Feeling really irritated with myself." Observing more keenly: "Feeling self-judgmental — what is that about? All I did was spill some milk. Because this happened, (I moved my arm the wrong way), that happened -- I spilled the milk. That's all — just cause and effect. So, what is all this self-judgment behind the initial irritation?"

Looking into self-judgment with curiosity and full attention... what do I see? Oh, man, I don't want to see that ugly psychological stuff! That can't be me. I can't be that way. "No," my dharma understanding encourages me, "look into this and *understand deeply, * without judgment!" More painful feelings arise, and I see big self-hating going on... no, wait, I can't feel that! Self-hate is wrong!

But in this light of awakening, self-hatred is neither right nor wrong. It just is. So, I accept: feeling self-hatred. Self-hatred is what I feel. Don't resist. Just see it as it is. Hold it in full loving attention. Get some help from my friend and anchor, the breath: Breathing in, I feel self-hatred. Breathing out, I embrace myself in compassionate presence. I just get quiet and work with the breath for a while. Then, seeing self-hate as just self hate, being totally present with the self hate, I feel something wonderful happening...without effort or thought, insight arises... self-hate is not-self! It arises in mind with causes and conditions; it passes away in mind with changing causes and conditions. Just that. Nothing more. Not "I" or "me" or "mine."

Self-hated is anicca, transient, and self-hate is anatta, not self. This is not an intellectual view or metaphysical position to believe; it's something I've actually now seen and known for myself through practicing presence and attention and non-resistance to the arising and passing away of things.

Continuing with the breath and presence, the knotted, painful energies release. I feel happy. A great hindrance has been diminished, toxins removed.  I feel clean. I feel light, in all senses of that word.  I smile like a Buddha!

The Four Noble truths are once again proved in action: First Noble Truth: there was suffering; the path is to look into that and see that suffering just as is; Second Noble Truth: with that non-resistant looking, the causes and conditions for suffering came to light; Third Noble Truth: with presence, insight, and non-resistance to what is, the end of suffering naturally arose; Fourth Noble Truth: practicing this mindfulness, attention, and compassionate presence are the path that leads to the end of suffering.

So, this is what can happen when you spill some milk! — if you are willing to really be with all that arises, whatever your particular "knots" and hindrances may be, minor or major. And to me, this is the great joy of the dharma, for there is a path of liberation and we can find walk it in the simplest and most mundane aspects of our life. Indeed, in a great, non-sectarian sense, the dharma is our life it is what is — it is simply the way things work, when we know. We just don't know this fully yet. But if we will learn how to listen to that in us which *does* know it, that inner light will guide us all the way home.

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April 23, 2013

Meditation as a Total Way of Living

"I have read Vimala Thakar's article 'Meditation, A Way of Life.' Here are some of the things I really liked in it:

'... unless there is an innate passion to find out, to discover for oneself one will not be equipped to live the meditative way. Meditation is a total way of living, not a partial or fragmentary activity... Life is neither occidental or oriental... There is no excitement in a real enquirer, there is a depth of intensity, not the shallowness of enthusiastic excitement... Then that state of observation begins to permeate the waking hours. Whether you cook a meal, go to the office, or while you are talking, the state of observation begins to permeate all activities of the waking hours... When the state of observation is sustained the sensitivity gets heightened, and from morning till night you are much more aware than before...

...It is no use concentrating your attention upon the activities of the mind, to the exclusion of the rest of your way of living. Meditation is something pertaining to the whole being and the whole life. Either you live in it or you do not live in it. In another words, it is related to everything physical and psychological... Thus, from the small area of mental activity, we have brought meditation to a vast field of consciousness, where it gets related to the way you sit or stand, the way you gesticulate or articulate throughout the day. Whether you want it or not, the inner state of your being gets expressed in your behaviour...

...This co-relation of meditation to the total way of living is the first requirement on the path of total transformation... Very few of us realise that constant verbalisation is one of the greatest obstacles in the path of meditation... Life is a homogeneous whole and you can never fragment it... To be aware of the lapse or the gap is itself a kind of observation.'" (Vimala Thakar)

Quoted in "Snow in the Summer"
Ven. Sayadaw U Jotika

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April 12, 2013

The Difference between Self-pity and Compassion for Oneself

Even as indifference is the "near enemy" of equanimity,  and clinging is the "near enemy" of love, self-pity is the near enemy of genuine compassion for oneself.   Why?  Because self-pity―as hard as it may be to understand when we have been actually wronged or had a terrible life―*always* involves our own complicity with our sense of being a helpless victim.  Self-pity fosters an egocentricity that reifies our victimhood and solidifies our self-identification as mere pawns of others or of the universe.

Genuine compassion is a kind of "tough love,"  Genuine compassion has insight and wisdom.  It looks into the *entirety* of our suffering, shining light on *everything* ― not only the wrong that's been done to us and injustices, but also how we may have consciously and unconsciously participated in that victimization.  Genuine compassion uncovers how we may have internalized being helpless and seeing ourselves as victims for others to use (often, this occurs when we were children). Genuine compassion brings light to how we are now living out and re-enacting again and again that original victimization, covered over and justified by our self-pity.

That said, self-pity is *not* to be ignored or rejected or put down, but looked into!  It's so easy to say to oneself, or to say to another, "Grow up!  Get over your self-pity!"  But such admonitions simply reveal that the person saying them simply hates the self-pity in himself or herself and can't stand to see it in another!  How unkind and lacking in compassion our own secret hates and secret guilts can make us!

The deeper reading is that self-pity is not some "childish" self-indulgence that we must scorn into submission!  Self-pity is a screaming red signpost saying, "Trauma here!  Something to look into!"  Genuine compassion knows that self-pity is a defense mechanism that our minds figured out as a way of defending itself.  The problem is, self-pity greatly cripples our life and our ability to actually break free of the past and to do good in the present.  Self-pity thwarts essential self, essential self-expression, creativity and a joyous openness to life.

We all have moments and times of self-pity; that's just human.  But when self-pity has solidified into a *way of being* and a habitual way of interacting with the world and others, then this is something to look into, finally, with genuine compassion, with curiosity ― "What is this habitual self-pity all about?" — and with great courage of heart and patience.

However we get stuck in patterns of self-identification, the fact is that each of wants to be all that we can potentially be, without fear and with no need to justify our humanity and human failing to anyone.  All that ever matters is that we are working at becoming a full human being, and nobody can judge that or tell us how that should be.


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