Looking Deeper Into Cessation

The next two weeks will explore the three insights that set up the foundation for understanding the truth of the 3rd Noble Truth.  These three insights are not set in stone.  They are basically my opinion of what I believe gives me the conviction to stay with the practice in difficult times and supports me to stay with any situation long enough to experience the felt sense of cessation of suffering for myself.

The first insight is the awareness of the distinction between bare experience and loaded experience.  Here I am talking about being able to shift from my own opinions, judgments and assumption about what going on to just being with the felt sense of the experience through my sense doors.  I have learned to shift my focus from my thinking to sensing into the moment.  It is like shifting from eating an orange to tasting an orange; from looking at something to simply seeing; from listening to music to hearing sounds, etc.  Having trained myself to let go of my thinking about something, I am able to open to a fully perspective around difficulties.  This insight is about learning the difference between thinking and experience.

The second insight is shifting from trusting physical release (release that comes from our own will power) to trusting mental release (release that occurs naturally from wisdom).  Here I am talking about letting go of the need to always have to fix a situation.  If I feel myself leaning into trying to fix something or force some type of resolution to a situation, I remind myself to let go.  This is actually a bit of play on words because the physical release of will power is actually thinking.  We are mentally trying to think a change in the situation.  When I began to understand will power as thinking, I began to relax the thinking and experienced a more natural release.  Less dependence on thinking my way through difficulty enabled me to turn towards the actual situation.  This insight is about learning to connect to the actual situation where possible resolutions lie without the tension associated with will power.

Finally, the third insight is the necessary  interrelationship of relative cessation and ultimate cessation.  Here I am talking about learning to trust that whatever cessation comes from a momentary release from suffering is representative of a larger release.  I have an absolute belief and trust in the reality of complete cessation of suffering.  Because of this, I do not let small moments of release go by without investigation into what conditions or causes were present.  I then take what I learn and apply it over and over.  I don’t believe that the cessation of suffering is happenstance, luck, miraculous or random.  I think it is built upon causes and conditions that are seen and unseen.  This insight is about understanding the nature of cessation.

This will be the discussion for the next to weeks.

P.S.   I am pleased to announce that Venerable Pannavati will be leading the talk on Thursday March 29th.  We are truly fortunate to have a private talk with her.  I hope you will get the opportunity to come.


The Third Noble Truth

Better late than never – this week we will begin a month of exploration into the 3rd Noble Truth – The Cessation of Suffering (Dukkha).  This truth comes after we have looked into the nature of dukkha and have seen and understood its origins or cause.  This truth points towards the reality of an ultimate cessation of dukkha.  A state where all delusions and mental afflictions have been overcome.  The mind is unconditionally liberated and we have awakened into seeing existence as it truly is; we are enlightened.

Many people consider this truth about some “heavenly realm” we reach at death.  It is seen as a fantasy existence.  The way we wish life could be like but “realistically” impossible.  In affect, this is the thinking, egoic mind’s opinion of the 3rd Noble Truth.  It is comes from the mind’s own conjecture, projection, and assumptions.  Often people will see this as a belief – do I believe in nirvana or not – and move on to the 4th Noble Truth (the Eightfold Path).

I’m hoping this month we will take some time to consider this truth from a more empirical level.  To do this we need to set up our discussions around insights we have come to experience and understand through practice.  I think there are three relative insights that set up the foundation of understanding the truth of ultimate cessation of dukkha – (1) awareness of the distinction between bare experience and loaded experience; (2) the shift from trusting physical release (release that comes from our own will power) to trusting mental release (release that occurs naturally from wisdom) and (3) the necessary  interrelationship of relative cessation and ultimate cessation.

Over the course of the month, we will discuss each of these insights.  Even practitioners with very little practice have experience each of these insights.  We may not always be aware of the insight, but it is what keeps us on the path.

See you tonight – Tuere

What Are We Actually Craving?

This week and next week we will look into what we are craving when the “hunger” of wanting gets the best of us.

The mind can create a powerful force to get it’s way.  Not out of meanness but absoluteness.  There is a “this or that” way in which we approach life.  Even when we are confused, we have an absoluteness around our judgment about our confusion.  Your mind may have already started creating judgments about what I’ve said or what I’m going to say.  It’s all normal.  In my opinion, craving is what we do when we follow the mind’s absoluteness or judgment without question.

Awareness practice challenges this impulsive following.  Its not easy, but the more we are willing to check our judgments against reality, the freer we become.  The process of checking is what I believe the 2nd Noble Truth is all about.  Gradually, we learn how to question our thinking and why it is so important.  It means being still with our impulses; trying new things to test out what happens; doing the opposite of our thoughts and never, ever, ever believing reoccurring thoughts and opinions.  It’s about trusting the felt sense more than words and being willing to put the words we do hear to the test to see if they ring true by patiently watching our experience to see what it is actually telling us.

I found an interesting analogy offered by the Buddha to explain the interdependence of the mind and craving.  It’s called the Seedling Sutra.  We’ll explore this for the next two weeks.  I found it really helpful in allowing me to understand why randomly “letting go of craving” is futile.  I can see why it’s important to stay with the “hunger” of wanting to understand more fully the reasons for aligning our actions with the 8 fold path.

I’ll see you Thursday…


Let’s Take A Subtle Pause…

I’d like to take a step back and talk about subtlety tomorrow night.  The 2nd Noble Truth is all about subtlety.  The definition of subtlety (according to Webster) is a small detail that is usually important but not obvious. Understanding this is important when trying to practice with this Truth.  I thought it would be a good idea to talk about how we see, feel and experience subtlety and get people’s general thoughts about it.  There are many ways in mindfulness to practice with subtlety.   I find one of the best ways to practice is by shifting between the labels in our minds and the felt sense of an object or information coming into the sense doors.  Another way is noticing impermence around the shifting nature of our moods, emotions and attitudes.   Still another way is to look for the four elements in everything – water, earth, air and fire.  We can also separate things into parts and see how they are connected and interdependent on each other to be whole.  Finally, we can distinguish our thoughts around wanting something or not wanting something from the actual something.  It just takes some interest in wanting to investigate our perception.  We’ll explore these ideas a little deeper tomorrow.


The Second Noble Truth

This week we will begin a month investigating the 2nd Noble Truth – There Is The Origin Of Suffering.   This doesn’t mean we have left the first truth behind.   Rather, it means we are adding or connecting the 2nd truth to the first; we are joining the two together.  Another way to see this would be to consider the 1st truth as recognizing and understanding the universal nature of suffering.  The 2nd truth then looks a little deeper at the root cause of that suffering.  So, it’s not your suffering, it’s the nature of humans to suffering but we can, as individuals, become aware of how this suffering is being played out in each of our lives.  This awareness will then become the key to unlocking our liberation.

So what are we looking for?

We are looking for what is called in Pali – tanha.  Tanha means “thirst”, “hunger” and “fever of unsatisfied longing”.  It is translated in English as craving; attachment and desire.  There are three types of tanha; sensual pleasure, becoming and non-becoming.   It is in our craving for sense pleasures; our craving for becoming or wanting something to happen; and our craving not to become or getting rid of something that suffering arises in our lives.  These words alone paint a pretty bleak picture of the 2nd truth.  Any normal thinking mind would gravitate towards the words pleasure/becoming and balk.  If liberation means giving up sensual pleasure, becoming, wanting, not wanting, etc. than is it really worth it?  Who needs liberation if there’s no fun.  Moreover, who wants to spend their days ruminating over their bad habits, faults and shouldn’t haves.

The Buddha, however, rejected both the indulgent lifestyle of his birth family and the rigid lifestyle of ascetic practices and instead advocated for a middle way.  Thus, the origin or cause of suffering is not with sensual pleasure, wanting or not wanting themselves.  Suffering is connected to our thirst or hunger for sensual pleasure, the wanting or not wanting.  Suffering arises when the mind gets trapped in the vortex of its own desire without regards to reality.  When the mind is so trapped, we obsess over, complain about, worry and ruminate over and over in mental torment (the 2nd dart).  When we don’t see this craving, this fever of unsatisfied longing, we can’t experience happiness unless we satisfy our craving.  We are therefore tired to the impossible task of having to always get our way.

The wisdom of the 2nd truth is about seeing the insight of the middle way.  The middle way means that there is a realistic recognition that all beings want to be happy and enjoy life.  The presence of tanha – the thirst, hunger or longing for something –  turns this natural aspiration into a source of pain, lamentation and torment.  We want to investigate the distinction of this tanha from sense pleasure, skillful aspiration and renunciation themselves.  In doing so, we will be able to escape the mind’s trap.  We will be able to connect to a more reliable path to lasting happiness and joy.  And yes, this lasting happiness and joy is connected to pleasure, fun and the overall enjoyment of life. 

Tonight, we will begin our investigation by exploring how we can begin to recognize tanha.




Looking A Bit Deeper

We have talked a little about the Two Darts Sutta.  Tomorrow night we will use it to look a little deeper into the nature of dukkha.  One reason it is hard to narrowly speak of dukkha is because most of it is subtle.  Often what we think of as suffering is not the suffering or dukkha the 4 Noble Truth is pointing towards.  We will talk tomorrow about the three subtle aspects of dukkha.

First, is dukkha connected to ordinary existence.  Dukkha is not the actual difficulties or challenges that arise in ordinary existence.  Dukkha is what arises when we experience these difficulties and challenges without mindful awareness of the potential for dukkha.  We practice the 1st Noble Truth to prepare ourselves look and watch out for this co-arising phenomenon.

The second aspect of dukkha is connected to impermanence or changing nature of everything.  Because we live in a world of condition, everything about our lives is subject to change.  We practice to remember this natural law of nature.  When we forget to watch out for the first aspect, we can get lured into the second aspect of dukkha.  This too is a co-arising phenomenon and it’s potential for making a bad situation worst is arising simultaneously with every experience.

The third aspect is the dukkha connected to our conditioned response, expectations, assumptions, etc. around living.  This shows up in our patterned and habitual responses.  It is the constant trying to fix life or make things better.  It comes from our underlying tendency to lean into the pleasant.  It gets triggered when we miss the subtlety of the first and second aspects.  We then become entangled into a web of automatic conditioned actions which makes it less likely we’ll see the subtlety of the first and second aspects of dukkha around the same or similar experience in the future.

One can look at these aspects as flowing into one another or as separate points to practice with.  It’s easy to see that practicing with one implicates the other two but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.


The First Noble Truth (a nudge)

We had a great discussion last week.  I realize that there may be some confusion around what expectation has to do with dukkha.  On one hand I mentioned that “not expecting was dukkha”, at another time I said “expecting was dukkha”  It may have left some of you with several questions around what is right.  My answer?   I don’t know…depends…maybe…  Questioning is the key to wisdom.  We need questions to investigate.  Instead of looking for an answer from outside of you.  Consider why the question has come to you in the first place and look inside for the answer.   If you don’t have any questions from the discussion last week.  Re-read the post and try to stir up a question or two for this week.

For the month of January we will be exploring the 1st Noble Truth – There is dukkha.  Dukkha is commonly translated as suffering but in this puts “dukkha” in a bad light.  It creates an identification that is rooted in the idea that something is wrong and that this wrong is mine, about me or connected to me.  Dukkha, however, has nothing to do with bad, wrong, etc.  It has to do with understanding a naturally occurring human condition.  The more we understand this occurring phenomenon the more we can see dukkha as it is which ultimately leads to our liberation around it.

So where does this misinterpretation of dukkha come from?  To begin with, I looked up the word “suffering”.  According to Webster, suffering means pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc.; physical, mental or emotional pain; feelings of pain.  This seems like the perfect definition of bad, wrong, etc. and it is why I think as practitioners we fall into the misinterpretation trap.  This definition of suffering is not what Buddha was referring to with the word dukkha.  Buddha’s dukkha is about our relationship with pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc.; physical, mental or emotional pain; feelings of pain.  Dukkha is also about our relationship with aid, good health, gain,; physical, mental or emotional benefit; feelings of elation.  Dukkha is what arises when we don’t pay attention to the true nature of human existence.  It is the trap that we get caught in when we are asleep – hence the need for us to find a path to awakening.

Everything about our natural human existence is impermanent and conditional but we have a human mind that perceives everything about our human existence as permanent and personal.   This distortion is dukkha.  Because of this distortion is so glued to and intertwined with everything about our existence we are continually shrouded in dukkha.  It has nothing to do with you or I.  Its not about whether we practice or not.  As long as we are alive, this distortion will be present.

What Buddha saw during his awakening meditation was that liberation lies in seeing this dukkha.  If we see it for what it is – a slight of hand, magic trick, distortion of mind – we will not get caught in the trap.  As we explore this over the month, we will look into what the trap of dukkha looks like.  You will began to see why it has been translated as “suffering”.  Without a doubt, we suffering under the weight of dukkha.  But to experience liberation, we must be willing to look for dukkha itself and not just because we are experiencing something we consider bad, wrong, etc.  We want to first be aware that dukkha is present and have a willingness to understand it more fully.  Finally, after we have investigated our experience, we was to acknowledge to ourselves that we understand dukkha a little more and start looking for it again in another experience.

I find a good way to focus my looking/investigating is with rhetorical questions.  Randomly throughout the day/night ask yourself – where is impermence?  what conditions have come together to make this moment?  what am I holding as mine, me or myself in this moment?   If you are having some difficulty, consider asking – am I expecting lasting satisfaction from something that is inherently conditional  and thus unreliable to satisfy? ; am I expecting permanence in something that is inherently impermanent?; am I taking this situation personally unnecessarily?  You are basically looking for the distortion between your perception and the nature of the moment.  Don’t expect to like what you see or that seeing with make the experience all better.  This month is about seeing dukkha.  No amount of teaching with help you see it.  You will only see it when you decide to look for it for yourself.   Hint:  dukkha is not about your suffering.

If you practice this month with looking for dukkha, you will understand this 1st Noble Truth on a deeper level.  The more you look, the more you will understand the insidious nature of dukkha.  The more you understand it’s nature, the more you will be ready to investigate the 2nd Noble Truth.  Take your time, you have all day, all night, 7 days a week for 3 weeks.  Don’t get caught in judging what you see.  Just look, look, look!

See you tomorrow – Tuere

FYI – Given that we are only doing one post a month, the post will most likely be longer.   Also, I might repost them weekly to remind us to keep up with the practice.  If you stay connected to the practice of these Noble Truths I promise you will be amazed at your level of wisdom this time next year.