This post contains my gleanings from the book: I met a monk by Rose Elliot.
MINDFULNESS: THE FIRST STEPS TO PEACE
Buddhism does not have many things that normally constitute a religion. There is no deity to be worshipped – the Buddha always insisted that he was just a teacher you listen to and follow if his words make sense to you. But you don’t worship him. He wanted people to test his teaching, try it out and only believe in things that seem right and are helpful to you and those around you rather than in holy scripture or what was handed down by previous generations.
The Buddha’s essential teaching – how to find happiness, freedom and peace through mindfulness and meditation does not change with times and is freely available to everyone. There are many kinds of meditation but what the Buddha thought is essentially what is called mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness simply means being completely aware of the present moment – really noticing how we are feeling, what we are looking at, seeing, hearing; and accepting it exactly as it is, without judging, comparing, criticizing or wishing that it were different. It is simply focusing on how things are in the present moment – now – without trying to change them in any way. Its “being in the now”, as some people say. It is one of the most helpful and empowering things that one can do.
When we let our thoughts wander we are not being present in the moment, we are not being mindful. We may be hundreds of miles away, we may be in the past or in the future, pondering on things to be or have been. Our thoughts are all over the place, troubling and unsettling us, making us tense and miss the joy of the present moment. But with mindfulness it need not be like that. As we learn to be mindful, to focus on what we are actually doing right now in this very moment, we experience the quality of the moment..what we feel, smell, hear and taste…and we really appreciate them. But this focus is not easy; we will wander off and get distracted. That is okay. But noticing when we wander off is by itself a positive step and more we practise this, the better our mindfulness becomes
One of the best ways to become mindful is notice how our body is feeling at this very moment..touch, temperature, aches, etc. Just notice them but do not comment on them and mentally wandering off. You focus on how you are right now and you feel the sensations, but you do not think about it. Just feel your sensations. Don’t resist it, don’t comment on it, don’t judge it, just allow it to be, just be with it.
Being mindful means bring our mind back to the present moment, and noticing how our body is feeling brings us right back to the present immediately. It is not concentrating too hard. It is more an awareness, an alertness, an openness, a noticing, a observing. We simply focus on what is real and what is actually happening right now, without letting our mind take us off somewhere else.
The perfect tool to help us with mindfulness is our breath. Feel your breath going in through your nostrils and then be aware of it going out again. If your mind wanders bring it gently back to your breathing. Just notice it at whatever point you can feel it. It is about what you are feeling yourself, not what you are being told to feel. You can it anywhere and for any amount of time.
Meditation is really joined-up mindfulness. We allow ourselves a period when we can sit and concentrate on our breathing. We do it the same way as mentioned above but we do it for longer periods of time. As we keep doing this, we become so aware of this moment, that we stop focusing on goals. How long we do it is upto us but to start off, try doing at least 20 minutes. If you cannot do that, start smaller and gradually build up. Go to a place where you will not be disturbed by other people…then when you are meditating, if there is noise, just let them be…don’t let them irritate you, don’t fight against them. Open yourself to this moment- to “what is.” Keep your mind on the breath and just let anything else that is happening in this moment – be. It’s all part of “now” – and in this moment all is well. It is like a holiday for the heart. All that you need is your breath which you will always have. There is nothing else that you need to practise mindfulness meditation.
- Sit upright, spine straight, head level, chin very slightly tucked it.
- Feel the breath at your nostrils go in and out.
- Count your breaths..if you want.
- Do not hold your breath or control it in any way.
- You may notice that your breathing changes as you become mindful and becomes slower and deeper. There may be pause at the end of each breath. Just let it be.
- Just feel your breath.
The mind will keep chattering and wittering all the time when you start to do this. That is the nature of the mind. It does that and it always will. You can never completely still the mind. The thoughts are always there and what happens is that you do not let the thoughts distract you. You do not follow them, you learn simply to notice them without getting drawn into them, and so you find your own inner peace beyond the thoughts, beyond the chatter of the mind. What happens as you become more experienced at meditating you notice your thoughts, but you don’t follow them. You feel as though as you are the observer of your thoughts – watching them, but not getting caught in them. The thoughts that come like clouds floating by. You watch them pass, and then they disappear and you see the clear sky again. The gaps between the thoughts become longer and the peace and the bliss you feel between them, greater and greater.
A thought is a thought. Let the observer part of you notice it- ah, yes a thought, and let it be. Don’t label it as good or bad; its just a thought and it will pass. Let it float by like a cloud in the sky. Take another breath and follow your breath with your mind; feel the peace that comes from just noticing it.
So, when you sit down with the intention of meditating and you are aspiring to be mindful of your body and surroundings and your breath, then you are meditating. Thoughts come and go, but as as we notice we are thinking, we put our focus back on our breathing, and so we go on. When we have been doing this for a while, we begin to feel we are the observer of the thoughts in our head. We realise there is more to us than the body and the brain; we feel there is a deeper, stronger, wiser, more peaceful part beneath our mind and thoughts. And when that happens, doubts about meditation vanish.
Trust yourself, trust the process and be kind on yourself. Stop the inner dialogue of criticism. Self-control is important but loving-kindness is equally important.
How to develop this loving kindness? We start being kinder and more loving to ourselves, supporting ourselves by thoughts of goodwill to ourselves and what we are doing. Be kind, loving and encouraging to yourself. Have goodwill for yourself-wish for good, happiness and health. The following is a simple loving-kindness or metta meditation:
- Become mindfully aware of your breath for a minute or so.
- Say to yourself: May I be well. May I be happy. May I be safe and free from harm.
It is also important to build mindfulness into your daily activities. Choose a daily activity and do it with mindfulness: cleaning your teeth, washing up, waiting for a bus, queuing at a check out, eating your lunch. You can also take mindfulness breaths throughout the day, set an alarm on your phone regularly.
Do not listen to music when you are meditating. Music distracts the mind and what we are aiming to do in mindfulness meditation is to focus the mind on the present moment, not encourage it to wander off into reveries of its own, which is what tends to happen when we listen to music.
Remember also that your meditation is part of now, as is everything else that is going on. It is neither good or bad, it just is. Everything is just is. Let everything simply be, don’t fight against anything. Embrace the wholeness of the moment, whatever that brings. That is the way to peace.
Sometimes you can feel bored, aches, pains or numbness, etc. Whatever comes up, feel it, become mindful, experience it without judging or commenting on it. Hold it in your mind. Then bring into your mind the feeling of loving kindness towards it.
SUFFERING? IT HAPPENS TO ALL
The basic Buddhist teaching is so simple that it can be written on a postcard. It is called “The Four Noble Truths”.
- There is suffering.
- There is a cause for suffering.
- There is an end to suffering.
- There is a path out of suffering.
You can also say:
- There is happiness.
- There is the cause of happiness.
- There is the realisation of happiness
- There is the way of life that leads to happiness.
THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH
- There is suffering.
- Suffering should be understood.
- Suffering has been understood.
There is suffering. Not “I am suffering”. Suffering should be understood. Suffering has been understood.
There is suffering. It exists at some level always. There is always some amount of a feeling of unhappiness. We see old age, sickness, sorrow and death everyday.
Suffering should be understood. Here “understood” means to embrace completely. Once we embrace the fact that there is suffering, we begin to realise that our suffering does not depend on what is happening outside us or to us. Suppose someone is unpleasant to you: they are not making you suffer. Whether you allow yourself to be offended or not is entirely your choice. So become the observer, notice that there is suffering, then stop there. Stand under it, accept it, bear it. Don’t get into a tangled thought-web of blame, reasons, justification, anger, desire for revenge and so on. These just stir up and increase the pain. And because what happens is what is..you can also send loving-kindness to whatever that happens and this is very liberating because it takes away all the resistance to what is happening.
Suffering has been understood. This means that people have previous done this and understood: The way out of suffering, the way to happiness, freedom and peace in life, is though noticing “there is suffering” then “standing under”, accepting and allowing it to be ” exactly as it is”.
When you know and put into practice the First Noble Truth, you free yourself from the need to react by taking offence. You never have to accept insults or anger from other people. Simply don’t receive them; don’t allow them to get at you, then they remain with the person who is trying to give them to you. Work with the little dissatisfactions, annoyances and hurts of daily life. Notice how you are irritated, upset or angered by people and things around you. Notice it, accept it and let it be. Don’t provoke other people – and if they provoke you, remember who the insult or anger belongs to as long as you don’t react to it.
When we are talking about ” accepting and letting be”, it does not mean that we do not do anything. It is to accept the fears, tensions and desires that arise in you, to feel them and let them be without trying to change them. Let them be, and they will dissolve. It means to stop blaming things on the outside, stop worrying about the world and the actions of other people and not trying to set the world to rights by your judgments, comparisons, criticisms and so on. Give up judgment and criticisms, opinions and views and peace will happen.
- Be aware of your body.
- Be aware of your breath.
- Be aware of your worries, cares, thoughts, emotions, desires, let them go and just be with the feeling and the breath
WHAT CAUSES SUFFERING?
THE SECOND NOBLE TRUTH
- There is the origin of suffering, which is the attachment to desire.
- Attachment to desire should be let go of.
- Attachment to desire has been let go of.
There is the origin of suffering, which is the attachment to desire.
There are three kinds of desire:
- desire for sensual pleasure(greed)
- desire to become something(delusion)
- desire to get rid of something(hatred)
Basically it is wanting and craving, and they are part of being human. No one is judging you for wanting. But it is the degree of wanting or not wanting that makes the difference, the amount of emotional charge, the amount we want it, the strength of our wanting that causes the suffering. When we do not get something or we want something different, we try to change the things around us, but these cannot give us happiness or peace of mind because they will not stay the same; nothing stays the same. This constant “changing” quality of our life is what Buddha calls impermanence. Anything that comes into being ultimately dies. Even if we get all the things we want in a perfect manner, they cannot be perfect forever. So we cannot change life but we change ourselves and the way we look at things. This is true whereever you are- in an ashram or in the office. Change happens, desires, cravings, clingings, attachments, hopes and wishes arise. Shoulds and oughts arise and that means an attachment to some form or ideal. And this desire is what leads to suffering.
Attachment to desire should be let go of.Once we can view suffering as being caused by greed, hatred, delusion, clinging and craving; it is easy to loosen its hold over you. The thing to do is to view what is happening and recognize it as attachment to desire. Then to let it be. Not trying to get rid of it. This is a difficult thing to do practically, to let it be. The way to do it is to observe the attachment that is causing the suffering and then say to yourself to let it go. It takes time, and you have to learn it yourself, like riding a bicycle.
Attachment to desire has been let go of. When you have let go of desire, you no longer try to get rid of anything but recognize it just the way it is; when you no longer judge, when you are peaceful and calm, accepting people and situations exactly as they are, without any urger to condemn, compare or criticize anyone, or anything, even yourself. Then peace, freedom and well-being start to blossom.
Another simple meditation is what we call a walking meditation: walking with awareness of present moment sensations of your feet and body as they come into contact with the nature: earth, sky, sun, wind, etc
THE THIRD NOBLE TRUTH
- There is the cessation of suffering.
- The cessation of suffering should be realized.
- The cessation of suffering has been realized.
There is the cessation of suffering. As we accept the suffering that is inherent in life and let go of attachment to desire, suffering begins to ease. Slowly but definitely.All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing. This applies to everything: meaning that everything that is born will die at some point-whether it is physical things or non-physical things. But one could say, what is the joy in life if you do not get attached, what is the joy in life if there is no pain….yes, in a sense one may think this is true but what you are asked to learn is to appreciate something fully-even to relish it, to enjoy it in the moment – but not to cling to it – to care and not to care –
To enjoy the fragrance of a rose without wanting to pick it
The song of a nightingale without wanting to cage it
The sight of a butterfly fluttering without wanting to catch it
The love of another human being without wanting to possess them
The cessation of suffering should be realized. As we do the practice, we start to touch that part of our being that never changes:
- Not the physical body
- Not the career persona
- Not our thoughts or feelings
- Not nationality, beliefs, views, prejudices, religion, or other labels
- Not the conditioning, education, upbringing
- Not all this which we call the EGO.
That what we are cannot be explained in words but this practice will lead us there and that who we really are is filled with peace, bliss, consciousness and awareness and the feeling of oneness.
The cessation of suffering has been realized. Once we glimpse this true self of ours, there is the loss of fear of death, because you realise that you are eternal. There is this question in Buddhism as to whether there is an eternal spiritual self- the Buddha did not answer this question directly. He probably did not as that knowledge would have to be realised by each one of us and there are many layers to that realisation and those layers are all beyond the realm of the mind and words. Moreover, that knowledge does not by itself free you from suffering- what frees you from suffering is acceptance and letting go of attachment. There are other spiritual disciplines which go beyond this and that is for each of us to discover.
One can also do a standing meditation where one stands straight in a relaxed manner and then is mindfully aware of the body and the breath.
THE ROAD TO HAPPINESS, LIVING MINDFULLY, INNER AND OUTER PEACE AND LOVING-KINDNESS
We have talked about mindfulness, about metta or loving kindness. And both of them go together. Mindfulness can be mindfulness of the body( awareness of the body as in the body scan meditations), of the breath, of emotions and feelings( when we notice suffering and its cause), of the mind( awareness of the clear space between thoughts), of no-self( awareness of “who am I”). Loving-kindness is attitude to ourself and others of wellness, happiness and no-harm.
A simple way to understand what karma is that we all do actions. Depending on the actions we do, we get results. We cannot change what we have done in the past. But we can do good actions now and that will give good results.
The concept of reincarnation is there in Buddhism and is there because we are all eternal and we take many bodies for our learning. But to accept this is not required to accept the other teachings. But if you think about it, it may make sense to you.
THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH
- There is the eightfold path, the way out of suffering.
- This path should be developed.
- This path has been fully developed.
There is the eightfold path, the way out of suffering. The eight principles are as follows:
1. Right view: The right view is being mindful, being in the present moment, accepting all this moment contains and being the observer of suffering and happiness. It also means understanding that attachment to desire is the cause of suffering and letting go of the attachment leads to inner peace.
2. Right intention: It is the positive intention to put into practice the wisdom of the four noble truths in our life, to live them, rather than just think about them. The three intentions that Buddha spoke of are:
- The intention to let go of our attachments and clinging.
- The intention to bring loving kindness first to ourselves and to spread it to others and finally the whole world.
- The intention to not do harm ,not hurting, not being violent to anything and being compassionate to all living beings.
3. Right speech: It is to speak the truth without lying or exaggerating, not saying different things to different people, using filthy language or insulting or abusing people. It is speaking beneficially with a mind of goodwill at the right moment. Ask: Is it wise? Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind? Do not retaliate and pause a second or two before speaking. Ask yourself why you want to speak?
4. Right action: This is not killing, not stealing, not lying, not abusing intoxicants and not misusing sex. The extent to which we apply this may vary, but if one is really serious, one may have to go all the way.
5. Right livelihood: This is earning a living in a way that conforms with Right action.
6. Right effort: This is preventing negative states of mind like greed, hatred, delusion, clinging and craving from arising and releasing those that have already arisen by forgiveness and letting go. It is cultivating skillful qualities such as loving kindness, generosity and wisdom and strengthening the skilful qualities we already have.
7. Right mindfulness: It means bringing our attention to the present moment, being aware of what we are experiencing at this moment in our surroundings, our body and our breathing, and just noticing, accepting; letting be without commenting, criticizing, judging, wishing or comparing anything. It is noticing when we get caught in an increasing web of thoughts and simply bringing ourselves back to our breathing, to all that is in the present moment.
8. Right concentration: This means to have the intention to let go of the five hindrances: sensual desire, anger and feelings of ill-will and hate, boredom and being half-hearted, restlessness and worry and doubt. It means to strengthen our resolve to put into practice the qualities of the Eightfold Path.
Practising the four noble truths, including metta( loving-kindness) and mindfulness lead to happiness, freedom and peace. There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path.
- The Buddha’s teaching is so simple that you can write in on the back of a postcard.
- Let go of becoming, of striving after goals in our life and to let things be, and see what happens. Bring attention to the present, to notice the feeling we have ‘of stress, of wanting, or not wanting, of trying to make things different from the way they are’, and to allow everything simply to be the way it is.
- Stop judging comparing, criticizing and condemning.
- Consciously take the decision not to be offended.
As Ajahn Chah says:
Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.
Here is a infographic that will help you remember the main things: