Sunday, March 25, 2012

Transforming Suffering

Thich Nhat Hanh

In Buddhist thought, we recognize the existence of suffering as a human condition and that we can arise from suffering.  Essential teachings of the Buddha are the concepts of impermanence, non-self, and nirvana, called the Three Dharma Seals.  Here is an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh's teaching on the Three Dharma Seals:  

Nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments. Heraclitus said we can never bathe twice in the same river. Confucius, while looking at a stream, said, "It is always flowing, day and night." The Buddha implored us not just to talk about impermanence, but to use it as an instrument to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain liberating insight. We may be tempted to say that because things are impermanent, there is suffering. But the Buddha encouraged us to look again. Without impermanence, life is not possible. How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent? How can our daughter grow up into a beautiful young lady? How can the situation in the world improve? We need impermanence for social justice and for hope.

If you suffer, it is not because things are impermanent. It is because you believe things are permanent. when a flower dies, you don't suffer much, because you understand that flowers are impermanent. But you cannot accept the impermanence of your beloved one, and you suffer deeply when she passes away.

If you look deeply into impermanence, you will do your best to make her happy right now. Aware of impermanence, you become positive, loving and wise. Impermanence is good news. Without impermanence, nothing would be possible. With impermanence, every door is open for change. Instead of complaining, we should say, "Long live impermanence!" Impermanence is an instrument for our liberation.

The second Dharma Seal is non-self. If you believe in a permanent self, a self that exists forever, a separate, independent self, your belief cannot be described as Buddhist. Impermanence is from the point of view of space. When we look more and more deeply at the notions of self, person, living being and life span, we discover that there are no boundaries between self and non-self, person and non-person, living being and non-living being, life span and non-life span. When we take a step on the green earth, we are aware that we are made of air, sunshine, minerals and water, that we are a child of earth and sky, linked to all other beings, both animate and inanimate. This is the practice of non-self. The Buddha invites us to dwell in mindfulness in the concentrations (samadhi) of interbeing, non-self and impermanence.

The third Dharma Seal is nirvana, which means "extinction," the extinction of afflictions and notions. Human beings' three basic afflictions are craving, hatred and ignorance. Ignorance (avidya), the inability to understand reality, is the most fundamental of these. Because we are ignorant, we crave for things that destroy us, and we get angry at many things. We try to grasp the world of our projections, and we suffer.

Nirvana, the extinction of all afflictions, represent the birth of freedom. The extinction of one thing always bring about the birth of something else. When darkness is extinguished, light comes forth. When suffering is removed, peace and happiness are always there.
At a Sangha meeting, I was listening to a DVD talk from my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.  I especially was struck by the perception of  "discrimination" that the human mind engages in to see ourselves apart from the earth, other beings, and other conditions.  I realize that I (I as Ego) frequently see the other person or thing as not like me, or may even see the "other" as my opponent, competition, or enemy.  I may then use my power to subdue, subvert, or control the other.  However, the mental formations I act upon may be a wrong view. My "ego" is really a collection of mental formations that do not reflect what is reality, but rather is a reflection of both positive and negative formations that are in my mind consciousness that I am often unaware of.  Thich Nhat Hanh teaches "Engaged Buddhism" to help us to see the essence of interconnection of all things through the use of mindfulness practices, especially meditation, using the breath to focus our minds on what is.  Here is an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh's dharma talk in Vietnam in 2008 on mental formations (the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings within our mind) and how they manifest and affect our well-being:
There is a technical term, formation (Skt. Samskara), Buddha said that all formations are impermanent, always changing, you can distinguish between physical formation, biological formations and mental formations, a flower is a formation because many elements has come together in order to help flower to manifest. you see the cloud, sunshine, the seed, soil, farmer, the gardener and many elements that had come together in order to help the flower to manifest, that is why a flower is called a formation.

That formation called flower is impermanent, it is always changing. When I looked at my hand, I know this is also a formation, many elements has come together in order to help my hand to manifest; ancestor, mother, father, food, water, experience, and so on; many elements come together to help my hand to manifest as a biological formation, my body is a formation (Skt. Kayasamskara).

When I have anger, joy, forgiveness, irritation, depression, peace, they all are mental formations. Mental formation are also impermanent, our emotion, feeling perception, are all mental formation, all mental formations are impermanent, not only physical formation are impermanent but physiological and biological are also impermanent, all formations are impermanent, statement made by The Buddha. When we observe one formation we can see the nature of impermanent in each formation.

We want to talk about the mental formation this morning....there are positive or wholesome mental formation like compassion, loving kindness, joy, forgiveness, mindfulness, concentration, insight, there are many wholesome wonderful mental formation in us. The practice is to recognize our positive mental formation in us and help them to manifest.

We also have negative mental formation, like craving, anger, hate, violence, jealousy; and the practice is consist of refraining from touching them or refraining from watering these seeds of unwholesomeness so they don't have a chance to manifest.
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Our consciousness consist of at least two layers, down here we have store consciousness, and up here we have mind consciousness, all the seed are here, wholesome and unwholesome.... When the seed of anger is watered, it manifest itself up here in the realm of mind consciousness as a mental formation, down here [in store consciousness] is only a seed.
The mindfulness is invited up in the mental formation as a kind of energy to recognize the other mental formation, we called it a practice of mindfulness of anger, mindfulness is always a mindfulness of something, when you breath mindfully this is called mindfulness of breathing, when you walk mindfully that is a mindfulness of walking, when you are angry aware that you are angry, that is a mindfulness of anger.

Those who doesn't has a practice they only has anger mental formation, they allow the energy anger to cause a lot of damages, for those of us who has a practice, we will not let the anger alone, we are always invite the mindfulness to come up to take care of anger, anger is still there but mindfulness is already there in order to take care of anger, this is the practice of mindfulness of the anger.
If the seed of depression is coming up, we suffer, the landscape of mind consciousness is not peaceful, is not happy, when depression is manifested, we should know how to invite the seed of mindfulness to manifest, the energy of mindfulness will recognize the energy of depression, there is no fighting between the two kinds of energy, because the job of mindfulness is to recognize things as they are, then to embrace whatever is there in a very tender way, like a mother embraces a child, when the child is suffered, the mother is working in the kitchen but she hears the baby cry, she know that the baby is suffering, so she goes into the baby room and she pick the baby up, she hold the baby tenderly in her arm, and the energy of tenderness from the mother begin to penetrate into the body of the child, and after a few moment the child feels better, this also happened in the practice of mindfulness.

With the practice of mindfulness breathing and walking, we generate the energy of mindfulness, the seed of mindfulness become the mental formation of mindfulness, with this energy we recognize the other energy and we can embrace other energy with tenderness, there are no fighting, there are only supporting, helping, buddhist meditation based on non-duality and non-violence.

Non-duality means, not only mindfulness is you but anger also is you; not only mindfulness is you but depression is also you, so you are taking care of yourself, you are not fighting against yourself, that is why we said that buddhist meditation is based on the principle of non-duality, you are both anger and mindfulness, no fighting is needed, you only need to recognize, you only need to embrace tenderly.

There is no attempt to suppress, to fight, and therefor the practice is non-violence. Non-duality lead to non-violence.

When we have a feeling, pleasant or unpleasant, or neutral; as a practitioner be become aware of that feeling, you recognize the feeling, you accept the feeling as it is, you don't have the intention to fight, whether the feeling is pleasant or unpleasant, or mix; to become aware of the mental formation is the practice, there is a river of feeling flowing day and night in us, a practitioner is there in order to recognize every feeling when it manifest, as it stay for sometime and die down, that is the practice of contemplation of the feeling.

[In] the four foundations of mindfulness sutra, Buddha advised us to focus on our body first, the in breath and out breath belong to our body, so mindfulness of breathing belong to the first realm of the practice.

When I practice breathing in I'm aware of my body, breathing out I release the tension, I'm dealing with my body as a object of mindfulness, when I practice total deep relaxation, I become aware every part of my body, I bring relaxation to every part of the body that belong to the realm of the realm of practice contemplation the body inside the body.

I aware the feeling and emotion, feeling and emotion maybe pleasant or unpleasant, but we should be there as a practitioner in order to recognize and to take good care, like a mother take good care to her baby, If that is a pleasant feeling, you say to yourself breathing in I'm aware the pleasant feeling is in me, we should not identify ourself with the pleasant feeling and allow it to carry us away.

If it is a painful feeling, you say to yourself, breathing in I'm aware of the unpleasant painful feeling, just become aware of that feeling, this is very important, non violence, non duality. In the case of mother embracing holding the baby tenderly, few minutes later, the painful will be lessen, you get a relief after having hold tenderly the painful feeling with energy of mindfulness (the mother), the painful feeling (baby).

Just be there for your child, recognize the suffering, hold your child tenderly and after few minutes you get a relief, so mindfulness has the function to recognize then to hold and to bring relief.

The energy of mindfulness carry the energy of concentration, when you mindful of the flower, if you maintain you mindfulness alive for a long time, concentration begin to be powerful, so mindfulness lead to concentration, with concentration you can take deep look into the nature what is there, that is deeper level of meditation, first you recognize than you can look deeper, if you look deeply with concentration, you discover the root (very nature) of what it is, with that kind of insight, that kind of understanding you can liberated from that kind of sorrow, pain, anger, and despair.

Mindfulness is a kind of energy that contain within itself, the energy of concentration, and the energy of concentration contain within yourself, the energy of insight, insight is the factor of liberation, in Buddhism we do not speak salvation by grace, but salvation by insight, insight comes only when you have strong a concentration, in order to nourish and cultivate concentration we should practice mindfulness; mindfulness, concentration, and insight are the heart of Buddhist meditation, this is the 3 kind of energy that we can cultivate in every moment of our daily life, while breathing, walking, washing, driving, cooking, this energy can cultivate at anytime and anywhere, even when you drive your car, it is still possible for you to practice mindfulness driving, and concentration, you don't need to go into a monastery in order to practice mindfulness, concentration and insight. Although the atmosphere of the monastery is very supportive to that kind of practice.

It is very important to learn how to use the energy of mindfulness in order to recognize the painful feeling, painful emotion in us, not only we can bring about a relief but we can also practice looking deeply into the nature of feeling of the emotion in order to get the insight, once we get the insight we are liberated from that painful emotion, fear, despair, and anger.

When we speak about engaged buddhism, we speak a kind of buddhism that is present in our daily life and moment. firstly when they heard about engaged buddhism, they think of fighting for social justice, fighting for human right, organizing demonstration and so on, that is not true, that is part of the practice, but not the basic part, the basic part is to have the practice alive in very moment of your daily life, you should be there in order to attend to what is happening in here and now, in the realm of the body, realm of mind, the realm of environment.

So, engaged Buddhism is to response to what is happening in body, mind, and environment, this is a simple definition, to response to physiological formation, mental formation, and physical formation.

You can watch the entire Dharma talk here. The talk begins at 11.30 minutes, after the chanting.

1 comment:

  1. There is a thin line for me between uncontained anger or general curmudgenlinous. Unforunately, I've cross over it a few too many time....:(