Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pathways to Self-healing: Class 3

Key Themes (Some available in a prior post):

- Karma
- Third Noble Truth: Freedom
- The Second Principal Path: Compassion
- The "Gap"
- How an understanding of karma effects the generation of compassion


The Third Noble Truth

The Second Principal Path

The "Gap": How to Use Recognition to Override Defaut Reactions
Freedom from suffering begins with a conscious choice to override automatic or unconscious conditioning and its effects.
What is necessary is a moment of recognition known as the "gap" and an alternative, more enlightened, response.

The unconscious cycle of stress and suffering is constituted by:
Misperception (Avidya) => Afflictive Emotions (Klesha) => Reactive/Automatic Behavior (Karma) => Adaptation to a compulsive lifestyle

The conscious "gap" of freedom and opportunity can occur anywhere in the chain or cycle, but is most easily recognized (smirti) between afflictive emotion and behavior. We are typically too unconscious of our misperception, but we can recognize our afflictive emotions: greed, hatred, attachment, aversion, pride, jealousy etc. We can train to correct our behavioral response to these emotions, using mindfulness and positive emotional antidotes (love, care, joy and peace). Training involves anticipating and pre visualizing what your "button" are and know your conditioned response sets. If it offten easier to identify these in contemplative therapy or with your meditation instructor. Small gaps and minor correctives lead to new tendencies and finally to cessation (nirodha) of addictive responses. We are not talking about the big liberation here (nirvana), rather we are talking about small, practical everyday liberations that add up. If you dont plant any new negative seeds, you will not create the future causes of suffering. For more on how karma works read the earlier post.

How an understanding of karma effects the generation of compassion
So then how does an understanding of karma give rise to the second principle path: compassion? What is the relationship between wisdom, that sees how things are working, and the loving response to other living beings? There are several ways to answer this, here are two:

1. Seeing how we suffer from misperception, gives rise to the understanding of how all other beings are suffering and acting out due to the same causes. If we achieve true transcendent renunciation, defined in the text on the three principal paths (lam sum na tso) as recognizing that there is not a single experience of true happiness to be found in compulsive or unconscious living, and seeking night and day for true liberation, then compassion is the recognition that other living beings too are caught up in the dissatisfying rounds of compulsive living (samsara) without a moments rest, relief or happiness. What's worse, is that most living beings dont even recognize their complicit involvement in their captivity, and remain asleep to their true potential for freedom. This leads to the heart-felt realization, that we should strive for our own awakening and freedom, in order to be maximally effective in helping others wake up and achieve their innate potential as well. That is the essence of the second path, compassion and its correlate, the awakened spirit (bodhicitta).

How does compassion work in practice, once you understand karma? If you take responsibility for the seeds (bjas) and tendencies (samskaras) from your past that color your current misperception (avidya), then you are forced to work with difficult situations and irritating people in a different way. The world is coming from you, not at you. Perception is reality. The sense of feeling hurt by others is coming from your side, conditioned by your past memories (bijas), tendencies (samskaras) and actions (karma). So when you feel hurt by others, you must recognize the experience as the result of a prior action (karma) of hurting another living being. Recognize cause and effect. If you feel hurt, its because you have hurt another. Does this mean you should be a door mat and allow others to hurt you? - of course not! But you do need to recognize where things are really coming from. Recognize that the real enemy is within. The irritating person hurting you, is not the enemy, the real enemy is your and thier avidya, misperception, about how things work and who you really are. When you feel hurt, blame your misperception, recognize the karma that has given rise to the unpleasant experience and resolve to manage it in a different way. Resolve not to go with you knee jerk reaction. Resolve to reverse your tendencies (samskaras) and actions (karma) with ethics (sila); resolve to counteract your afflcitive emotions (kelshas) with meditation (samadhi) on positive states (brahma viharas); and resolve to see through your misperception (avidya) by studying reality (prajna).

2. The other implication of karma and compassion is how we choose to respond and behave to and with others in the world.
So how should we respond to other's negativity? If you respond to the irritating person with blame, anger, aggression etc, then according to karma, what are you creating? A future moment of suffering for yourself - right? So from the enlightened perspective, what is the best way to respond? Respond with ethics, love and compassion. Recognize the origin of the problem and the most helpful solution. Deposit a new seed into your mind stream that will produce a different future result. Understand that the irritating person who is hurting you, is both your past negativity coming full circle in your internal perception, as well as another living being under the control of their avidya in the external situation. What do you really need and what do they really need? Chances are the answer is the same: care and a feeling of safety. Don't allow them to perpetuate suffering by hurting you or themselves. Set limits and boundaries, communicate your own needs skillfully, motivated out of care and concern for both parties involved. The two antidotes for dealing with difficult people are: recognition/wisdom, of where suffering is really coming from, and love/care about how to effectively respond for your own well-being and the welfare of others. More about how to maximally transform adversity into the spiritual path, please refer to the lojong (min training) teachings of Mahayana buddhism.



Types of Buddhist teachings: Ordinary, hidden/subtle, and extremely hidden/subtle.
Karma is an extremely hidden teaching.
Ultimately, only enlightened beings can understand karma directly and fully.
Ordinary minds can not perceive karma directly, and therefore must rely on inferential reasoning and confidence in our teachers and texts.
Buddha said of all his teachings Karma was the most difficult to understand.

There are different types of causality that govern biology, the environment etc. The Buddhist teaching on karma concern the causality of mind and one's experience of either suffering or happiness, bondage or freedom.

Karma: The law of cause and effect
The science of causality, how things work.
Karma means action, but refers to the intentions that drive actions; and the consequences or results of actions.

Intentional actions create our experience.
Its not what happens to us, but how we experience or perceive what is happening to us that is our karma.
Its not the brick that falls on your head, but how you perceive and evaluate that experience that is your karma ripening.
At a very deep level, we can say that you don't have karma, rather you are karma. "You" are the sum total of your past action, and you change "you" in the future, by what you do now.

World Views:
World Views are meta-philosophies that answer the questions why do things happen and how are things working?

All world views explain the nature of reality, and have implications to how we live and relate to others (ie. ethics).

3 Main World Views:
Theism: God is in control of the forces of nature and the direction of our lives.
Implication: If we surrender and have faith in God, we will receive our blessings in heaven.
Problem: If there is only one God (monotheism), and He is all powerful (omnipotent) and all compassionate, then how do we explain evil and suffering? Either there are many gods, in which case how do we choose, or He is not all powerful, in which case why surrender to him, or He is not all compassionate, in which case why love him. Theologians have argued this problem for centuries. Ultimately they say that this problem is beyond our understanding and that suffering is a test of our faith. But again, if god was all powerful and all compassionate, why test us with misery?

Materialism: No specific forces are in control of nature and our experience. Things are randomly occurring and are not predictable.
Implications: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die and there is no reason to be moral because nothing matters.
Problem: Unethical and amoral lifestyle, in which we harm ourselves, others and the earth. Why would you even go to school or have a bank account if you didn't believe in those efforts having a consequence?

Causality: We are directly responsible for the forces that shape our lives and expereince.
Implication: We create our own happiness and our own suffering.
Problem: Are we mature enough to accept the responsibility for our lives, or do we secretly have the childhood fantasy of wishing others (God, parents, governments) will take care of us? the other main problem of karma is the gap that occurs between cause and effect. Because we do not perceive the mechanisms of karma directly, and a cause and it's effect my be separated by a time gap, it is very hard for us to understand, and accept, that this is the way things are working.

Types of Causality:

Environmental Causality: There is no environmental causality as such, because the environment is not conscious or sentient. While there is a science of cause and effect in the natural world, there is no conscious intention driving it. This is the difference between "natural laws" such as gravity and "psychological laws" of karma.

Biological Causality: There is a whole domain of science that observes biological cause and effect. Because the mind and body are separate, albeit interrelated, there are distinct causal forces driving our physical bodies. However, in the tantric view (secret teachings) of Buddhism, it is asserted that mind and psychology determine the processes of the body.

Psychological Causality: will be discussed below.

Dharmic Causality: There is a unique type of causality ascribed the the enlightened activity (Tib. trinlay) of a Buddha. Because there is no erroneous sense of self for an enlightened being, then there are no imprints and no place for the imprints to reside.

Outlines of Psychological Karma:

General Characteristics of Karma:
1. The certainty of karma
2. The magnification of karma
3. One will never experience the result of a karma one did not create the cause for
4. Karma causes created are never lost*

I. The certainty of karma
All experience arises from a cause. Nothing is random. Happiness arises from the 10 virtues and suffering arises from the 10 non-virtues. The law of cause and effect is definite and certain. An apple seed can only produce and apple tree.

10 Non-virtues:
3 non virtues of Body: killing, stealing, sexual inappropriateness
4 non-virtues of Speech: lying, slander (divisive talk), harsh words, gossip
3 non-virtues of Mind: Covetousness (greed), harmful intent (hatred), and wrong view (misperception, closed mindedness).

10 Virtues:
3 virtues of Body: Protecting the well-being of others, generosity, respecting the feelings of others.
4 virtues of Speech: Speaking truthfully, speaking to harmonize others, speaking sweetly, speaking meaningfully
3 virtues of Mind: Rejoicing vicariously with others, having love and compassion for others, perceiving reality clearly/precisely (ie. interdependence/emptiness).

II. The magnification of karma
Great effects may arise from small actions. Internal causation seems to involve a magnification, whereby immense results can have very seemingly insignificant origins. The result of tremendous suffering can arise from even a tiny non-virtue like a harsh word, likewise immense joy and happiness may arise from even one kind word. A tiny seed produces a huge apple tree.

III. One will never experience the result of a karma one did not create the cause for
Because cause and effect are inextricably connected, you will never experience the result of an action you did not produce the cause for. Suffering will not arise without a cause, but neither will happiness. If you want to be happy, but are continuously harming others, don't expect to get what you want. On the other hand, if you know you are treating others respectfully and are conscious of your ethical conduct, then rest assured you will reap the fruit in kind.

IV. Karmic causes created are never lost
Karma does not perish over time even if it does not ripen due to absence of conditions. A cause is never lost, it will most certainly give rise to an effect at some point in time. We don't know when a karmic seed will ripen, because there is a tricky "gap" or lapse in time between a cause and its result. We should just assume that we have a massive store of negative imprints on our minds and that it is only a matter of time before we experience their ripening. This assumption helps us to not get too complacent when "good" things are happening, nor too paralyzed when "bad" things are happening, because our experience is constantly changing based on the ripening of past actions. The point is to consciously create your own positive outcome and purify your past negativities. Karma can not be removed by the power of another being, such as God's grace or the power of the Buddha . It can only be mitigated by our own efforts using the method of the "Four Opponent Powers or Purification" (see below).

Different Types of Karma:

Virtuous karma: which leads to rebirth (or positive experience) in the three upper realms

Non-virtuous karma: which leads to rebirth (or negative experience) in the three lower realms

Non-fluctuating karma: actions done with different levels of concentration, resulting in experience of the Form or Formless realms (higher states of consciousness).

Throwing karma: when all four conditions of karma are present (see below) there is sufficient force to direct consciousness into one of the Six Realms of Existence at the time of death.

Completing Karma: karma not containing all four conditions (see below), that influence the circumstances (either experience, predisposition, or environment) in the next rebirth.

Four Conditions of Karma: A Complete Karma

I will steal a wallet; there is a wallet to steal; I attempt to steal it; I obtain the wallet.
I want to help others: there is a person who needs help; I do some kind gesture; A person feels helped.

Four Results of Karma (Throwing and Completeing Karmas):

I. Throwing karma

Throwing Karma: Intentional actions at the time of death that propel (throw) consciousness into one of the Six Realms of Existence:
Animal => Paranoia and anxiety
Hungry ghost => Addiction
Hell => Trauma, dissociative states, schizophrenic and delusional states
Human => Depression and dissatisfaction
Demi-god => Envy and competiveness
Gods => Narcissism

II.-IV Types of Completing karmas

Karma similar to the Action (Predisposition and Tendency)
If you kill in the past then you inherit the mental tendency to kill
If you love others in the past, you inherit the tendency to be kind, gentle and loving

Karma similar to the Cause (Experience)
If you abuse others in the past then you experience abuse
If you love others in the past then you experience being loved of others

Karma similar to the Environment
If you kill in the past, then you experience a threatening environment like a war zone or place of intolerance.
If you loved in the past, then you experience a loving, safe, beautiful environment

Heaviness of Karma:
All four conditions of the karma are present as opposed to only some of them.
Example: Picking up someone's wallet in the street. In this case, one does not have the intention to steal (condition of intention) nor is there a actual person (object) in sight, but this action still carries some level of karmic imprint of stealing because you are taking something that has not been given and their is a person somewhere out there that is experiencing the loss. Your mind knows what its like to loose a wallet.

Karma is strengthened by:

1) Nature of the virtue or non-virtue: killing is heavier than stealing; saving life is heavier than giving food.
2) Intention: The degree of resolve or strength of the emotional investment/intensity in the action.
3) Object: The objects have weight; parents and teachers are the heaviest objects towards which to direct action because they give life and liberation. An action towards a human being is a heavier karma than an action towards an animal because a person is closer to liberation.
4) Action: how conscious one performs an actions; the amount of preparation, premeditation. Is it spontaneous and based on passion in the moment or is it well thought out? Is one conscious of the principal of karma while doing the action?
5) Energy: The more energy the heavier the karma is both directions. Doing something nice for a loved one doesn’t require as much energy as doing something nice for a difficult person.
6) Frequency: How often the action is conducted, shapes the imprint and makes it more robust.
7) Non virtues actions conducted without an opponent, versus non-virtues counteracted by the Four Opponent Powers. (see below)

The Four Opponent Powers:

This is the Buddhist purification practice used to cleanse specific karmic imprints that have been caused but have not yet arisen.
Each of the Four Powers (Refuge, Regret, Repair, Resolve) counteract one of the Four Conditions of Karma:

The Power of Reliable Refuge => which counters the Object
Refuge or reliance on Buddha, dharma, sangha, essentially your own selfless nature and potential for change rather than on your ordinary sense of being inadequate in some fixed way.

The Power of Sincere Regret => which counters the Intention
Have genuine Remeasures and Regret for each negative action.

The Power of the Repair => which counters the Action
Perform the antidote or repair by mentally and then actually doing something (generous, moral, caring, kind.)
If you hurt someone, imagine being kind to them, then actually find that person or another person and act accordingly.

The Power of Resolution => which counters the Completion
Make a sincere vow or promise not to commit the action again. Hold yourself accountable for a specific time period, even if it is just a day in which you do not repeat the action. Do not break your commitments.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Pathways to Self-healing: Class 1

Key Themes:

Suffering: The First Noble Truth
Renunciation: The First Principal Path
Three Fold Refuge
Seeking a Mentor

Class Reading:
The Three Principal Paths by Geshe Michael Roach:
Find here

First Noble Truth: Pervasive Dissatisfaction and Suffering
See earlier post

The Need for Transcendent Renunciation
See earlier post for the "Three Principal Paths"
Is not about giving up our “stuff”, being broke, lonely, board and ugly.
You don’t have to give up things “out there”.

Renunciation is a shift in attitude. Reorganize your priorities. What’s important in life? Develop a motivation for spiritual progress, which will then underlie your worldly activities like work, relationships and even entertainment.

Renunciation means getting clear on the purpose of your life.

How is renunciation traditionally defined?
When you realize there is not a single moment of true happiness to be found in compulsive living (samsara) and when you seek night and day for liberation.

The Three fold Refuge
A realistic reliance or reliable refuge is where one goes for safe direction during times of difficulty. There are three reliances:

1. Teachers. The Buddha or one’s mentor. The source of knowledge acquisition in the Buddhist tradition comes through a long lineage of masters that trace their origin directly back to Shakyamuni Buddha. Role modeling is essential, as knowledge is passed directly from mentor to student. But the ultimate teacher, is Reality itself, one's innate potential for freedom and happiness. One's own Buddha or potential Awakening. When one bows to a statue of the Buddha, one acknowledges the potential for awakening that exists in all living beings. The first refuge is in the one who realized freedom, and therefor our own freedom.
2. The Teachings and Methods. In order to develop along the contemplative path one not only needs a teacher, but also the precise science, methodologies and arts that lead to awakening.
3. The Community. Traditionally the community is constituted by those who have experienced awakening, ie. the realization of selflessness/emptiness. It can also mean anyone who values and upholds the teachings and methods that lead one to Reality. Because contemplative learning is largely counter intuitive and counter cultural, strength and support is often found in numbers.
4. The Tibetan approach is to combine the three refuges into one, by seeings one's own personal mentor (guru) as the embodiment of the Buddha's awakening, methods and living support.

Seeking a Mentor, Guide or Teacher
Learning anything requires a Master to teach you, like music, math, and architecture.
You can’t figure it out on your own, at the very least it will be slow progress.
We all need help along our spiritual journey, so seeking the guidance of one who has "already seen the other side" is essential at the outset.

Qualities of the Mentor:
Test these by direct perception and by inference.

1. Well controlled. Good Ethics. Control over their behavior.
2. At peace. Good Meditation. Control over their mind. Focus and calm.
3. High peace. Insight into the nature of reality. Wisdom.
4. Spiritual qualities that exceed. Knows more than you.
5. Great efforts. Works hard and happily for their students.
6. Rich in scripture. Many spiritual traditions.
7. Deep realization of suchness. Direct or transformative experience.
8. Master instructor. Skilled in communication. Upaya.
9. Image of love. Not teaching for money or fame. Motivated by compassion.
10. Beyond discouragement. Never gives up or gets frustrated.

Find someone who meets as many of the list as possible.
You fill in the rest by changing your own mind.

These are the Minimum Qualities list:
1. Has more virtues than faults.
2. Cares more about the future life than this life.
3. Cares more about others than themselves.

Q: How do you start to find a teacher?
A: You have to consciously want one and then created the causes through generosity.

Qualities of the Student:
The qualities of seeing a good teacher come from being a good student.

1. Free from preconceptions. Have an open mind. A beginner's mind.
1A. Free from thinking your religion is the best. Fundamentalist attitude.
2. Ethical or spiritual intelligence. Knowing the difference between good and bad. Discernment. What to give up and what to take up.
3. High spiritual aspirations. To maximize you life.

The Three Problems of the Pot:
Things to avoid.

1. The downward facing pot. Cannot be filled. No open mind. Filled with concepts.
2. The dirty pot. Contaminated by bad motivation, like fame or gain.
3. The leaky pot. In one ear out the other. Can’t retain information.

Three Characteristics of a True Dharma Teaching:

1. Taught be the Buddha or enlightened being, who has reached perfection.
2. Stood the test of time. Longevity.
3. They deliver what that claim. They have helped living beings progress.