November 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Beaver Lake 0134A1

Realizing that objects have no self-existence or do not exist on their own, is important for effective meditation. Also important is non-identification, here defined as “not identifying consciousness with, or as, the objects of awareness”. Non-identification can be contrasted with non-attachment or “self-mastery in the sense of freedom from desire or aversion to the objects of consciousness”.

Regarding non-identification, a little bit of self-observation shows that when thoughts and feelings arise, there also arises an almost instantaneous identification that those objects of the mind are either “me” or “not-me,” with the co-existing appraisal that they are either “for me” or “against me”.

In the yoga aphorisms of Patanjali, we are told that the mind is made up of three parts, manas, buddhi and ahamkar. Manas is related to the senses, while buddhi is the mind’s discriminative faculty that sorts the sensory impressions, names them and then reacts to them. Ahamkar is the ego-sense that performs the above-cited function of identifying objects as “me” or “not-me” and “for me” or “against me”.

When a threat arises, it is ahamkar that says the threat is “against me”. We see this used very specifically when leaders of armies or states want to go to war. When a country is identified as a threat, leaders need only invoke the reasoning of the ahamkar ego-sense to have us believing the country and it’s people are threats to “me”.

When feelings arise, it is ahamkar that identifies them as part of the ego. If the feeling is a happy one, then the ego says it is happy. If the feeling is a sad one, then the ego says it is depressed. And so on with all the emotions.

Ahamkar does not only operate with emotions and thoughts but with sense objects, as well. Road rage is an excellent example of ahamkar identifying a car as part of our ego, such that a violation of our car’s space invokes the same rage as might a violation of our personal body space.

Ahamkar brings an endless source of misery. Even when something is considered pleasant, ahamkar will attach to it and then fear its loss, thus creating an underlying feeling of unhappiness even when all appears well.

In contrast to ahamkar is your true nature that can be defined as consciousness that is not identified or attached to any object like a thought or a body. Or, put simply, as “consciousness without an object”.

In meditation we seek first to calm the mind in order to set up a mental state wherein we can observe our thoughts and feelings. As this observation continues it slowly dawns that there is a difference between the thoughts that we observe and the awareness of these thoughts. As we begin to disentangle from these thoughts, we come to see that even our thoughts about our self is not the self. It is only a short step from there to see that the self is merely a non-self-existent thought in an awareness that can never be thought or seen, that our true nature is consciousness without an object.

It isn’t necessary to immediately realize your true nature to benefit from meditation. Simply being mindful that thoughts and the objects of thought are not you will start you on the path to happiness and peace of mind. Enlightenment will follow but, until then, why not enjoy the journey?

Tibetan meditation and emptiness.

November 3, 2014 § 4 Comments

Geogia Bay 0097

While in Vancouver the Dalai Lama spoke of the need to have some realization of emptiness for Tibetan meditation to be effective.

Tibetan meditation involves visualization. An image of a deity is visualized with such force and lifelike quality that at times others may see it. Then, having created this tulpa, as it is called, it is withdrawn back into the meditator so he or she may realize their identity with the deity. Without realizing the inherent emptiness of that deity, however, the self fails to realize its own emptiness and lack of self-existence. The meditation thus fails in its intended purpose.

As realizing emptiness is a cornerstone of Buddhism I often remind myself of what science tells us about the elementary particle called the electron. That is, that it has no size.

Now I should qualify this remark by saying that some physicists do say the electron has size. They have even made extensive calculations to show what it is. But beyond theoretical calculations there is no evidence that an electron has size.  Furthermore, it does not matter in science whether an electron has size or not, as science only deals with relationships and interactions, not things!

A scientist can happily tell us about an electron’s spin, mass and charge without ever being bothered by the fact that nothing actually need be there for her observations to be correct. She knows that properties are a quality of relationships. Similarly, a Buddhist can tell us that form is emptiness without ever denying the validity of our experience.

Form and emptiness are not mutually exclusive whether you are a Buddhist or a scientist.

It is not easy to break the habits of a lifetime and accept that experience does not require the presence of a self-existent thing.  Today you might nod with agreement as you quote Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and ask, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? – (Act III, scene I).”  Through such questions you may feel justified in your belief that permanent, solid things exist “out there”.

But if you realize emptiness, even if only slightly or with one thing, then tomorrow you might say, “There is pricking. There is bleeding. There is tickling and laughter, poison and death. But who is there to be wronged? Why, therefore, seek revenge?”

A small realization of emptiness can chip away at your belief that there are things that have power over you. This can then be expanded to a realization that judgments of your own worth and value are also empty and therefore powerless to affect you. Fear will begin to dissolve. Your demons will lose their false power as your realization of emptiness grows.  Then, one day, you may apply this knowledge to your self and find emptiness there, too.  That your true self is no self.

So whether you find emptiness in contemplating the electron or see it in the stories you tell yourself everyday, use that seed of realization to slowly transform your life.  You have, after all, nothing to lose.

Where Am I?

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