Wednesday, May 03, 2006

No Ready Made Solution

I hope people don't mind if I recycle an old weblog post, but things are kind of quiet around here. Kind of makes me nervous. Here's something I recently wrote on mahamudra. Close enough to Zen that I thought people wouldn't mind it here.

Buddhism is not going to hand you a solution. Yes, the solution is written down in the sutras, but reading them is cheating, sort of like looking up the answers to problems in the back of the book. What Buddhism gives you is a method for finding the truth. Whether you believe in selflessness or not is not the point. The point is to see it, because only seeing it has a transformative power. Yes, there are intellectual arguments and understanding them is a good starting point. But then you sit down and look at your mind. First you practice in order to calm and focus the mind. Then you look for the self. Is it consciousness or is it what beholds consciousness? In either case, what are its characteristics? The mind is constantly changing and what changes can't be the self, which must endure through the changes. If you cannot identify any enduring characteristics of the self, how can you say you perceive it? And who is it who doubts or believes they perceive the self? Is it a second self that is looking for the self? Searching in this way, sooner or later the truth becomes glaringly obvious. But don't believe me, do the practice for yourself.


At May 05, 2006, Blogger edalleyn said...

Apologies for this being 'off-topic', but I don't think I'm registered yet to post a new topic...

I've got a question about meditation. To put it simply, I've got quite an active imagination. I dwell a hell of a lot on 'existential' issues. I've been meditating every day for about five months, and it seems to be affecting my life quite a lot, but not always in a good way. I find myself able to concentrate on things more, and, as I work in the media, a lot of the ideas I'm coming up with are pretty awesome. My writing is more flowing. Now I'm certainly not saying that I meditate in order to get some effect - although I might do this subconsciously - but, with my mind slowly clearing of 'banalities' such as what I'm going to eat tonight, why did I do that thing yesterday, I find myself focussing more on these kind of 'existential' issues. Being so focussed on them, and not distracted as much as I might used to have been, very often contributes to making me quite depressed. After meditating I may feel quite calm, but later in the day, my mind is racing.
I focus a lot on buddhist philosophy - Dogen talked about flowers and weeds, and life and death, and how, although we are 'against' death, and kind of take sides, there is nothing we can do to 'overcome' death. But I was alerted a while ago to some scientists talking about stopping the ageing process completely - and thus giving humans an immortal existence. Even this idea makes me incredibly 'jittery', and sets my mind racing.
But I want to understand why the idea frightens me so much. Is it because I can no longer attach myself to the 'ideas' of 'life' and 'death' as constituent elements of my existence? I know its to do with ideas, basically, but without the 'idea' of an end to my life, I feel like I would be holding my breath, attaching myself to my own life, and therefore losing the very meaning of 'life'. But it makes me think whether, at the moment, I keep the 'idea' of death in my mind, and 'attach' myself to that idea.
So, I wonder if, either way, both imagining myself ageing, and myself dying, as well as myself never ageing and never dying, are all ideas.
Golly, it all swells my head a bit. I'm not sure if I can 'blame' meditation. Maybe meditation just forces me to cope with these thoughts.
I know that, one take on this whole thing might be just to say - 'these are all thoughts. In meditation we let go of thoughts.' But I dispute this. Philosophy is part of Buddhism. It is not the heart of Buddhism, but it is a part.
Any thoughts would be really appreciated, even if it is 'off topic'.

At May 05, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

Hi Edalleyn:

I think you are in the process of answering your own questions. They are ideas, but they are ideas that grow out of emotion and experience.

My take on how your meditation may be impacting your thoughts and ideas can only be drawn from my own experience.

I humans are, by nature, profoundly terrified of death (until they are not ;-) This is probably what motivates most people to embrace religion (yes, even Buddhism).

Many people deny this, and say they are not afraid of death, because fear is for sissies. Fear is not macho.

By forcing us to sit with our thoughts in an environment with no distractions and no posing or posturing, meditation can bring fundamental fears and emotions to the surface. Things we may have been suppressing or rationalizing our entire lives.

Once on the surface, some of these things can be disturbing and upsetting.

At May 05, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

"After meditating I may feel quite calm, but later in the day, my mind is racing"

I went through a phase where this was common for me too. I would spend a good amount of time meditating during the day resulting in a calm mind. Then early/late evening my mind would start to race away on all sorts of silly things. It was almost as if my mind was trying to play catch-up.

Eventually it will pass. The mind gets bored of playing catch up.

Think of it as a bit like dieting. Initially you are obsessed with food and then that obsession dies away.

I cannot suggest any timescales.

At May 05, 2006, Blogger Siren said...

Being a yogi and now a budding Buddhist, my two cents to edalleyn is that the philosophy stuff doesn't seem to be helping to keep you present. I had a yoga teacher who was great at teaching what he called, 'practice pausing'- checking in with your breath and thus bringing your awareness to now: in the grocery line, at the computer, in the kitchen, at work, where-ever- until the whole day is strung together by pauses that continually bring your awareness into this moment.

At May 05, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

I just finished a blog entry about an episode of "Six Feet Under" I recently watched, which addresses your questions a bit, so I hope nobody minds of I paste some of it in here. One of the main characters, Nate, is a funeral director. He's talking with Tom, an old high school buddy he hasn't seen in twenty years. The conversation reflects Zen philosophy a bit, though neither character is Buddhist.

Tom: Nate, don't you ever lie awake in bed at night and think, Jesus, fuck, I'm going to be forty fucking years old. Forty.
Nate: No I don't. I lie awake in bed at night thinking, "Thank you God, thank you for letting me live this long."

Tom: Are you, like, Christian or something?
Nate: No, I've just had a lot of serious shit happen to me in my life. I really get it now, that this doesn't last and I'm no different from anybody else. Yes, indeed, this will happen to me. It is happening to me, a little bit each day. And that doesn't freak me out. If anything, it's liberating.

Tom: Okay, I guess that comes with the territory, I mean. . . your job?
Nate: No, I don't think it's the job really. The job allows me to practice being okay with it.

Tom: Okay, so there, you have to practice. So you're not really okay with it.
Nate: Of course you have to practice, it's not easy.

Tom: It's just so fucking big. I mean... it's all going by so fucking fast.
Nate: Well, would you change anything?

Tom: Like what?
Nate: Like who you're with or what you do or what kind of person you are --- because if you would, do it now.

Tom: Oh, dude, that's really harsh.
Nate: Well, look Tom, this is it. This is all we have. Right here. Right now.


One last thing.

It's easy to get depressed when you let yourself get all wrapped up in your head. I think the best cure for depression is to get moving. Physical activity, outside if possible, is the best thing you can do. Walking meditation on a forested path is great. Aerobic exercise is awesome for depression, recent clinical studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise is at least as effective as Prozac or any of the other 'mood elevating' drugs, though they can be useful if they raise your energy level to the point where you can begin an aerobic exercise program.

Take care of yourself,

At May 05, 2006, Blogger cromanyak said...

I can definitely relate. I have a hard time putting down a question once my mind gets going. For me it's alot like eating white cheddar popcorn. Once I start I just keep eating until I'm no longer enjoying it or even tasting it, but still something says keep going. So once I'm aware of this I have the choice to stop and feel the uneasy "I want more" feeling or keep eating and feel like crap later. It's the same process with thoughts. If I put the question down there's an uneasy, restless feeling, and if I just allow my mind to keep going then I feel shitty too. Philosophy is part of Buddhism and it's good to ponder, but at the same time you've gotta know when to stop.

p.s. I hope nobody minds if I post this to the main page. I think more people will see it there.


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