Archive for June 21, 2011


dharma

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/sutra/level2_lamrim/overview/general/4_thoughts_turn_mind_dharma.html

The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to the Dharma

Alexander Berzin
Morelia, Mexico, May 30, 2000
Lightly edited course transcript

Preliminaries

I like to begin classes with a set of preliminaries. These are various methods to help us quiet down and get into an appropriate state of mind for meditating or listening to teachings. In order to be able to get into something fully we need to enter into it slowly and appropriately. That is purpose of preliminaries.

There are many different ways to get into a state of mind conducive for meditating or for listening. I usually follow just one of many possibilities. This method starts with counting the breath. When we are very distracted emotionally or mentally, from our work, from traveling here or whatever, it is very important to first quiet down into a neutral state. This helps us to relax. The way that we do this is to breathe normally through the nose, which means not too quickly, not too slowly, not too deeply and not too shallowly. The cycle is to first breathe out, then allow a slight pause and, because we have made a slight pause, we naturally breathe in more deeply. That is a much more relaxed way of breathing deeply than consciously taking a deep breath. As we breathe back in, we count it as one in our minds. Then, without holding the breath we breathe out. We repeat this cycle eleven times and then repeat the count of eleven two or three times, depending on our speed. The numbers don’t really matter. We can count up to any number. We do not need to get superstitious about it. The point is to occupy the verbal energy of our mind with something so that we are not thinking something else while focusing on the breath. Let us do that please.

Once we have quieted down, we try to get our energies, our mind and emotions, going in a positive way. We do this by affirming our motivation. Why we are here? What do we want to gain or to accomplish by being here, or by meditating? We are here to learn more methods to apply to ourselves personally to help us in our lives. We are not just coming for entertainment or amusement or for intellectual knowledge. We are here to learn something practical. It is the same thing when meditating. It is not just for relaxation or a hobby or sport. We meditate to try to help ourselves to develop beneficial habits for use in our lives. We don’t do it to please our teacher. We are doing it because we are convinced that it is beneficial. We want to listen to something practical because we would like to be able to deal with difficulties in our lives more skillfully, and not just make our lives a little bit better, but eventually go all the way and get free of all the difficulties we have. We would like to learn methods that will help us to become Buddhas so that we can really be of best help to everyone.

When we reaffirm our motivation, not only do we look at what we are doing here at a teaching, but it is important also to look at the final aim. Although we may aim for liberation and enlightenment it is not going to happen overnight and miracles normally do not happen. Dharma is not magic. We are not going to learn magic means that will suddenly free us from all our suffering. It is not that we learn some methods and day-by-day it is going to get better and better. We need to be realistic. Realistically speaking, as we know from our own life experience, the moods and events in our lives go up and down, and they will continue to go up and down. We can hope that things will get better in the long run; but from day to day, we are going to have difficult moments. It is not that all of a sudden we will never get upset again. If we approach learning Dharma methods and in practicing them in meditation and in daily life in a realistic, down to earth way, we will not get discouraged. Even when really difficult things come up in life and even if we still get upset we are not thrown off course. This is our motivation. This is our aim. This is our understanding of what we can gain from coming to teachings and meditating and practicing.

It is important to remind ourselves of this by reviewing and thinking about it. Let’s say we are very upset before a meditation session. Instead of taking refuge in food, friends, sex, television or beer we take refuge in the Dharma and meditate to help us get over being upset. Even in that situation we need to be very careful not to expect that it will be like taking a shot of heroin, as if we could sit and meditate and feel high and joyous and all of our problems would be gone. If that does happen, be suspicious. If we do the meditation properly, sure we may feel better. But it might not make us feel a hundred percent better. Unless we are super-advanced, the unpleasant mood will likely come back. As I often repeat, “What do you expect from samsara?”

When we reaffirm our motivation we say, “Okay, I am going to do this because it will help me. I will try to apply these things properly to help me get free from this difficulty that I experience and to eventually be of help to others.” Whether we feel better a half hour from now or not is not the point. That is not our main focus. We are going in a certain direction in life and this is what we are doing to go further in that direction. The direction is refuge. Each time we listen to teachings or meditate, we take another step in that direction. We keep going, despite the ups and downs. That is realistic. Let us reaffirm that for a moment.

Then we make the conscious decision to meditate with concentration. This means that if our attention wanders we will bring it back, if we get sleepy we will try to wake ourselves up. To help our minds to be clearer we sit up straight and to help our minds be clearer we can use the visualization of a camera coming into focus.

Then there is a fine adjustment that we can make. First, we try to lift the energies in our body if we are feeling a bit heavy and our energies are too low. For this, we focus on the point between our eyebrows with our eyes looking upwards but our heads staying level.

Then to ground our energies if they are running a bit wild in our bodies and we are bit stressed, we focus on the navel with our eyes looking downwards but our heads staying level. We breathe in normally and hold our breath until we need to breathe out.

Introduction

This evening I have been asked to speak about another aspect of preliminaries, namely the four thoughts that turn the mind to the Dharma. Specifically, the four thoughts are:

  1. thinking about appreciating the precious human life,
  2. thinking about death and impermanence, that the opportunities that we have now with this precious existence are not going to last,
  3. thinking about the laws of karma and cause and effect, in other words how our behavior affects what we experience,
  4. thinking about the disadvantages of samsara, of uncontrollably recurring rebirth.

If we appreciate the opportunities that we have now with this precious human life and if we recognize and acknowledge the fact that this life is not going to last and that we are going to die sometime, if we recognize that our behavior is going to shape our experience in this life and also after we die in future lives, and if we realize that no matter what we experience in the future, because it will arise from behaving from confusion, will have a lot of difficulties and troubles, then we will turn our minds to the Dharma.

crises…..

The same philosophy can apply to not-so-famous women facing infidelity or other crises that destroy their dreams and upend their lives. These crises can be opportunities to find your true calling, says Susan Piver, author of “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart.” If you don’t remember what makes you happy, imagine figuring it out and starting the seeds of a new life. (Again, this advice doesn’t apply if you are facing threats to your safety.)

Wait to make big decisions. If you’re not facing financial ruin or the threat of violence, wait at least a few months for the pain and anxiety to settle down. In the fog of pain, people make rash decisions. One of  author Laura Munson’s friends was so unhappy in her life that she decided she had to get out of her marriage. She didn’t realize she didn’t really want out until she was gone. You need to figure out what you want.

Focus on the present moment. When the crazy thoughts are going through you head about who did what to who, and why didn’t you say that perfect comeback line, Piver suggests taking out a piece of paper and writing down five things that you notice are actually happening around you.

They’re usually pretty ordinary — cars driving by, the dog barking, a child playing with dolls. Go a little deeper and notice three things a little more carefully. Write those observations down. That list, part of a group of exercises in her book, isn’t ever as crazy as what’s in your head. It can have a calming effect.

Create something now. Take charge of your own joy. Munson didn’t simply plan a summer of fun for her family. She thought deliberately about what she could do to make herself and her two children happy during their financially strapped summer in their Montana town.

It was often as simple as taking three deep breaths or walking down the block. Sometimes she walked to a beautiful place or visited friends who helped keep the focus on herself, instead of trashing the husband. She turned on the sprinklers and watched her kids get soaked. She bought many tomatoes and canned tomato sauce. “Do something that is positive and nurturing to you,” she says.

Give up on the dream. Many people create a storyline or myth for their lives that says they will be powerful when they are pretty or handsome, skinny, married, a parent, or have the “right” job or salary.

“If you’re only powerful when it goes a certain way, then what happens when you lose your job?” asks Munson. Do you not matter anymore? Figure out the myths you tell yourself about your definition of success before you can move on.

Look for your truth. Take some quiet time in prayer or meditation to get through other people’s voices, and what the culture says about what your life should be like, to your essential truth.

“The advice for anyone going through a trauma is to allow the sorrow and vision for what you thought life should be to dissolve and see what’s left,” says Piver. “You have all the knowledge you need to solve your problems inside of you.”

Choose your own feelings. It’s incredibly hard to do, but Munson says it’s essential. After all, we only truly believe other people’s mean comments about ourselves when we think they’re true — that we’re unlovable or fat or nagging or mean-spirited.

“What if someone told you when you were 12 that nobody can make you feel mad, make you cry just by what they say?” she asks. “What if we had really understood that no one could make you feel emotionally anything?” Repeat after me: Those barbs are not necessarily true.

Do not play the victim. You are only a victim in an emotional crisis if you choose to be. “When we get into reaction and escalating the drama, it only hurts us,” says Munson. “There is a time and place for anger, but I want to powerfully choose those moments — I don’t want to feel like they’re choosing me.”

http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/2007/12/18/the-5-best-techniques-to-control-and-calm-your-mind/

You are not your thoughts.

What is the biggest obstacle most people face in achieving personal mastery?

Your mind; your thoughts. When you master your mind, everything else begins to fall into place.

But the moment we look at our mind, we begin to see how wild it is. Modern psychology estimates that we have 40 to 60 thousand thoughts a day, and most of them are repetitious, useless – and often, unhappy.

In my quest to control our monkey mind, I’ve taken from the best systems – from modern Cognitive Psychology, to the ancient spiritual systems – in particular, the Buddhist Sutra on the Removal of Distracting Thoughts.

Here are the results – five levels, arranged according to how unruly your thoughts are. First a warning – it is easy to get anxious and jump ahead to the more advanced levels, thinking that your mind is wilder than it really is. Please don’t, and give each level an earnest effort over a few days.

The first level – Reflect on the positive counterpart

It stands to reason that the thoughts you most want to remove would be negative: fears, anxieties, anger, lust, revenge, pride.

And therefore the easiest way to counteract them is to reflect on the opposite. What is the positive counterpart to your affliction?

Just a few examples then: If you hate someone, then reflect on love. Think kind and loving thoughts about them . Visualise yourself in a calm environment, a mental “happy place”.

On the deeper level, feel the counteracting emotion completely. Simply drench yourself with it. Imagine it as an energy, a light, a waterfall – anything that works best for you – and imagine yourself being surrounded from the inside and outside with it. This might be hard initially, but that’s normal. Keep trying, and you’ll get it.

Often, it is good to get your body into it as well. Get some exercise, put on some music and relax, or take a break from whatever you have to do.

The second level – Reflect directly on the misery

The next level goes a touch deeper. Look past the thoughts themselves, and see what they are costing you.

…………………………….. What would happen if you didn’t stop, if you indulged in your thoughts?

Maybe you would get fired for doing a bad job. Maybe you would actually go and punch your boss in the face. Maybe your wife would divorce you if you slept with your neighbour.

Simply realise how much misery it is already causing you, and how much it can cause you if you kept on doing it. Feel it. Feel the hatred or the lust or the jealousy or the fear totally.

The Buddha used the metaphor of a well-dressed young person, who finds him or herself with the carcass of a snake around their neck. The disgust is sometimes enough to make them throw the dead animal off them.

The third level – Letting them slide

This level is about simply letting your thoughts slide by without attaching to them. Thoughts are just thoughts. You are not your thoughts. You don’t have to believe them; you don’t have to fight them; you don’t have to cling to them. They are just thoughts, and they only have power if you give them power.

Visualise a large blank screen, and see your thoughts as little ants scurrying across. Prodding or playing with those ants make them lose their way and they can’t find their way off the screen. So: don’t judge, don’t analyse, don’t hate. You don’t have to believe them, if they are saying you are stupid, or weak. You don’t have to cling to them, if they are saying you are brilliant and handsome. These are all forms of playing with your ants.

Think of a spoilt brat who is jumping up and down, trying to make you angry while you are trying to watch the television. The more you get affected by it, the more he enjoys it, and the more he will do it. Just tune it out and enjoy yourself. Or smile at the child, let him know he can’t affect you, and after a while he’ll give up and find something else to do.

The fourth level – The source of the thoughts

The first thing we have to realise is that thoughts always have a source – our emotions. The two are inextricably linked; they feed each other in one giant cycle.

What is causing your thoughts? If your mind is filled with images and thoughts of lust, then there is the emotion of lust behind it. If you think a lot of cruelty and hatred, then the emotion of anger is right there underneath it.

Emotions are your body’s reaction to your mind. At this level, one of the most powerful, we shall simply cut to the root of the issue.

How do we deal with our emotions? The most simple way – and yet no one ever says it! Simply feel it. Bring it to the surface, find the emotion, and feel it.

Feel it, simply as an emotion, a sensation. Emotions and feelings are not wrong or right, good or bad. They simply are. They are just emotions. Even the most murderous rage is not wrong – it is only bad if you act on it. Just embrace it, let it be there. Don’t push it away or judge it. Relax into it, loosen any tightened muscles, and remember to keep breathing normally. Ride the wave, and let it pass. Don’t think about it – thinking about it will make you want to act on it.

Often times, these emotions run deep, and can take a lot of work to uncover and heal with your conscious embrace. But the journey is worth it – it is one of the best ways, perhaps the only way, of dealing with your emotions.

Heal the emotions, and the thoughts they cause will disappear.

The fifth level – Beating down the bad thoughts

This level is the hardest, and draws upon the techniques of modern psychology. It is hard and painful, and should be reserved for the most extreme cases. Think of this level as a big strong man beating down a weaker man, with pure brute force.

At this level, simply force yourself to stop thinking about it.

1. The Howitzer Mantra. Any time you catch yourself with a thought you don’t want, interrupt it with a prepared mantra. Make it a forceful phrase, one that works and feels right for you. “Stop!” “Enough!” “No more!”

2. The Rubber Band. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. And every time you catch yourself with a negative thought, snap the rubber band. It hurts a little bit, and you are telling your system that such thoughts hurt. Like a puppy that has been punished, it will eventually stop.

3. Filling in the gap. An important thing to note is that once you stop your thoughts, a space is created. If you don’t fill that gap in, the distracting thoughts will return to fill it. So find something nice to think about. A pleasant memory or perhaps an affirmation to fill that hole. A final option would be to simply focus on the gap, enjoying the pause in your thoughts, the silence. Doing so will slowly expand it – making the next gap, when it comes, even longer.