The nature of self

August 30, 2014 § 6 Comments

North Vancouver 2087

It is known that exposure to life and death situations, serious injury or violence whether real or threatened, may lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in one person but not in another. From this we may conclude that trauma does not lie in the event, itself, but in some internal realization the event precipitates. I suspect the trauma lies in a sudden realization of the true nature of the self, or sense of “I”, that has previously been ignored or denied.

Buddhist thinking says that humanity falsely sees the self as a unique and real thing that exists independent of all else. This belief creates the idea of the other that stands in direct opposition to self. It also creates an inner emptiness that, with the idea of the other, drives humanity into grasping for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. It is through this grasping and avoidance that we remain stuck in Sangsara, the eternal cycle of suffering, death and rebirth.

Individually, we grasp at or avoid people and things according to how we want to be seen and how we see ourselves. This means that each one of us seeks to sustain the idea we have of our self. I think this point very important so will repeat it; we seek to sustain the idea of self.

The self is sustained though the grasping and avoidance of specific traits, people and things that then become identified as the self. But as the world by its very nature is constantly changing, the day must come when our identity falls away and we come face to face with the inner emptiness. It is our own unwillingness to face this emptiness, i.e., the loss of self, that precipitates trauma.

When faced with change an individual that holds tightly to his or her identity will suffer more than one who grasps lightly. When things change, one who has clung tightly may be traumatized to find the self is not a real and enduring thing. He or she may feel suspended in air with no ground on which to stand. And PTSD may result if the impermanence of self cannot be accepted.

The self’s true nature is impermanence. We may fight this by grasping at pleasure or accumulating riches but as these have no more substance than clouds in the sky, we suffer. Yet we need not despair. To quote Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, “All Buddhist practices are directed to overcoming such notions so that we may open up to a level of being that is much vaster than this tiny little ego we cling to so desperately.” (Into The Heart of Life, 2011. Snow Lion Publications. p.50)

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Change your mind.

August 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Alberni Street

There need be no thought that the human brain is defective in the mass of humanity. The human brain is actually quite a marvelous instrument that for the most part does what we direct it to do. If we ask it to solve a problem of life, higher mathematics or science, it works tirelessly to accomplish the matter as long as we continue to ask it to do so. Even when our attention is directed elsewhere the brain continues its efforts, sometimes producing a solution to a problem long since forgotten.

It is because we forget that the brain does what we direct it to do that we run into trouble. Take, for instance, the successive traumatic effect war has had on people over the last two hundred years. If we assume, as some do, that trauma can be handed down from generation to generation, then even those who have not been to war may suffer post-traumatic stress handed down by parents who lived through the last century’s major wars. This means the mass of humanity may be working with brains that have been taught to operate according to rules of survival in situations where survival is not an issue. If so, is there any wonder that nation upon nation makes and sells arms in the name of better protecting their interests?

I tend to the notion that as a result of past wars humanity has trained their collective brains to see life as a matter of survival. And because the brain gives a sense of reality to whatever thought it entertains, the mass of humanity have come to believe that, in essence, the “other guy” is a threat that must be defended against.

There is hope for humanity and it comes in the form of educating ourselves on the true nature of our brains and reality. We must come to recognize that just because the brain tells us there is a threat, that does not mean there actually is a threat. Just because the brain makes it appear that our beliefs are real, it does not mean that other beliefs are incompatible with our own.  As the Dalai Lama said,

“We all want happiness, not suffering, and as a consequence we have to see if the mind can be transformed. Tibetan Buddhist culture is not just about prayers, reciting mantras and performing rituals, it involves explanations of the nature of reality. We Tibetans have the most comprehensive presentation of what the Buddha taught. We should not feel deprived, but proud of the knowledge we possess. What’s more we don’t need to rely on any other language to access this knowledge because it already exists in Tibetan.  Don’t waste your time getting drunk or gambling. There’s no reason to feel low or demoralized; much better to be confident and optimistic.” (http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/1083-how-to-achieve-happiness-and-the-unsung-heroes-of-compassion)

Transforming our minds is not a matter to be completed in succeeding generations. It is something we can accomplish now. We can retrain our brains to look at reality in its true nature. One step in this process is to see that our brains tend to assign reality to whatever we imagine. Another is to accept the possibility that if we imagine our neighbor to be our enemy, this may not actually be so.

Be confident and optimistic of your ability to change your mind. Be confident and optimistic that you can see reality as it truly is.

“As if.”

August 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Cat 1209

Watching thoughts arise and fall is rather, should I say it, enlightening?

There doesn’t seem to be any thought that is not assigned some degree of reality. Even when I can positively say that I’m just imagining something, my brain still wants to color it real.

I don’t have any problem with my brain telling me, for example, that the stranger in front of me let a door close before I got there. But when the thought arises that he or she did it “on purpose” and I react with a tinge of resentment, then I have to wonder what good it does for my brain to make even imagined events, seem real?

Long ago it was probably a good survival tactic to have primitive man act “as if” the source of a noise in the nighttime forest was a predator. But today it seems we behave as if anything that offends our self-image is a predatory fact that needs to be acted upon. That the offended one may be the only one who knows an offence has taken place seems to make no difference. There still seems to be a need to act upon this “as if” situation.

When my cat sees something curious, she investigates. If it’s nothing then she licks her paw and walks away. Yet when today’s average person finds nothing in the curious, he or she returns to it again and again thinking something is there that was missed. They’ll buy a lottery ticket, even though they’d have to buy 26 million to have a good chance of winning a major prize. They’ll go to the pub every Friday to have a good time, even though they’ve never woken up the next morning feeling a good time was had. They’ll have the same discussion with their partner, even though it always ends in an argument.

It does seem the average person’s brain is locked into a reality that is neither conducive to happiness nor even real. Yet most everyone acts as if what he or she is doing makes perfect sense.

How is it a cat’s brain works, and ours do not?

Dream Illusion and Transcendental Intelligence

August 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

flower power

Viewed simply, the brain takes input from the senses, processes it and then projects it outward. When creating this projection the brain does not automatically differentiate between objects of the senses and those of thought or imagination. All are seen as possessing some level of reality.

Believing that thought exists independently of the mind (i.e., has self-existence), one lives in a state of dream illusion. It is like a dream because one believes in this thought world’s reality. It is an illusion because this world is false. Humanity, en masse, lives in this world of dream illusion.

An obvious example of dream illusion is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. With PTSD, those who experienced a trauma continue to live “as if” some threat still exists when it has long since passed. But we need not look to extreme mental health disorders to find examples of dream illusion. We need only look inside our own minds.

We live in dream illusion when a first impression becomes the way we see someone for the rest of our lives. We live in dream illusion when an imagined person we’re having an inner conversation with is thought to be the actual person we want to talk to. We live in dream illusion when judgments of right and wrong, good or bad, become our reality. For do we not then react by seeking revenge through anger when we are wronged?  Or become depressed when we judge our self to be bad?

Knowing the need to awaken from dream illusion one may begin meditation by trying to stop thought.  But one soon learns that thought is not so easily stilled. So the next step is to simply watch thoughts rise and fall. Still, there are some thoughts that do not fall as easily as they rise. These we can work on by holding them in the awareness and gently seeing them as unreal. The more deep-seated these thoughts, the longer it will take to undermine and weaken them.

As you become better at letting thoughts go, your ability to just observe them will grow. So will your ability to select a thought and examine it without being drawn into the dream illusion it creates. Of course there will still be times when you get caught up in the dream illusion and feel as if all of your work has been for naught. That’s to be expected because meditation is not a linear process. One area of life may have its problems resolved only to have another set of problems take its place. This is the natural ebb and flow of life.  It is to be expected.

Eventually you will find thought taking a back seat and the ground of thought, i.e., consciousness, coming to the fore. This, too, you can examine by asking, “What is its true nature?” “How does this calm, motionless state arise?” “How can it be maintained?” “Where does it go when a thought arises?” “Is there a difference between this and the thought that arises?” “Is there a difference between this and me?”

These questions may seem esoteric at the moment, but when the ground of consciousness comes to the fore it will be natural to examine it with such questions, phrased in your own way.  Examining consciousness in this way is the beginning of transcendental intelligence.

Where Am I?

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