Letting Go

Letting Go

The following post is from a friend in Thailand. Roughly, the words translate as: ‘If you let go, time will heal’. This is sound advice. However, better still is not to hold on in the first place! This is the path of meditation.

Condivido il seguente post da un’amica in Thailandia. Grossomodo, le parole si traducono come: ‘Se si lascia andare le cose, con il tempo tutte le cose possano guarire’. Questo è un consiglio sano. Tuttavia, Forse è meglio non trattenere delle cose già dall’inizio! Questo è il percorso della meditazione.

Ven Dr Edo Shonin & William Van Gordon

Do You Really Know Yourself?

Do You Really Know Yourself?

know-3

The words ‘know thyself’ appear frequently in the work of the Greek philosopher Plato and have been used by writers and philosophers for thousands of years. But what does it mean to know oneself, why is it important, and how can a person acquire such knowledge?

We suspect that some people would be uncomfortable, or even offended, by the suggestion that they don’t know themselves. We spend 24 hours a day in our own company and while it can sometimes be difficult to interpret other people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, we can’t use this excuse when it comes to ourselves. We have direct access to our inner psychological world and in theory, we are in an ideal position to cultivate an in-depth understanding of who we are.

However, the truth is that many people are not aware of the events unfolding in their mind. At any one moment, a vast number of psychological processes are happening inside them, but at best, they are only partially aware of a small number of these. Consequently, their behaviours are the automated product of a complex – and sometimes competing – assortment of impulses, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and memories. Rather than consciously allowing these psychological processes to influence their choices, they are effectively ‘processed’ by them. Instead of collaborating with the mind and using it as a tool, they find themselves ‘lived’ by the mind.

Changing this habit is easier said than done but there are some remits of human endeavour that may be able to assist us. In particular, we can look to modern science in order to gain insight into how we can develop a better understanding of ourselves. In order to acquire knowledge about a given phenomenon, scientists engage in the process of observation. This observation takes on many forms. It can involve observing phenomena in their natural state or it can involve observing how phenomena behave under a given set of experimental conditions. However, either way, careful observation is a crucial part of scientific enquiry and if we adopt the same principle in order to gain insight into ourselves, it is likely that our journey of ‘inner scientific enquiry’ will bear fruit.

By stepping back and observing our inner psychological world, a number of ‘truths’ about ourselves become apparent. Firstly, given that it is possible – particularly when using meditation – to observe our thoughts, feelings, and impulses, we must conclude that we are something more than these psychological processes. Secondly, we must also conclude that there exists a part of us that can ‘consciously observe’ our own mind. As we continue to engage in the process of inner observation, this ‘conscious observer’ part of us steadily grows, such that it becomes easier to maintain concentration and observe ourselves for longer periods of time.

A third truth that we may come to understand about ourselves is that the closer we observe, the harder it becomes to establish exactly who and what we are. The reason for this is that we don’t exist as standalone or isolated entities. We exist in reliance upon all other phenomena in the universe. We breathe in the out-breath of every other living being. When we drink a glass of water, we are effectively drinking rivers, clouds, and oceans. Our visit to the bathroom produces food for the plants and trees. Being embraced by a loved one can change a bad day into a good one, and a single heartfelt smile can completely change another person’s life.

In order to truly know ourselves, we have to fundamentally change our ideas of who we think we are and of how we think we exist. In effect, in order to find ourselves, we have to let go of ourselves.  When we stop thinking in terms of ‘me’, ‘mine’, and ‘I’, we start to see the world differently. We start to experience that the boundaries between ourselves and other phenomena become blurred. It becomes difficult to determine where the ‘self’ ends and ‘other’ begins. We adopt a much looser definition of ‘self’ yet somewhat paradoxically, we start to understand more about who and what we are.

Letting go of self really means that we are embracing the universe. The universe has existed for billions of years and it contains lots of knowledge. It contains the knowledge of creation, existence, and dissolution. We are an indispensable part of the universe and it relies upon us just as much as we rely upon it. By exploring the inner universe of our mind, we can weaken – or even remove completely – the boundary that we think exists between our inner psychological world and the external physical world. In other words, our practice of inner scientific enquiry and observation can, in time, cause our inner and outer worlds to collide. When this happens, we find ourselves flooded with the knowledge of the universe and the universe becomes flooded with the knowledge of our mind.

Ven Dr Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

The Dangers of Being Attached to Rules: The Story of Two Monks and a Naked Lady

The Dangers of Being Attached to Rules:

The Story of Two Monks and a Naked Lady

Rules 3

A large number of Buddhist monks follow a code of conduct called the Vinaya code. Although there are various elucidations between Buddhist traditions of how to interpret the Vinaya code, some Buddhist monks – especially the younger and less experienced ones – follow this code with great rigour and can be quite intransigent when it comes to deviating from the rules.

One of the ‘rules’ in the Vinaya code relates to comportment towards the opposite sex. The Vinaya Pitaka is quite clear about this matter and the second Sanghadisesa rule states the following: “Should any bhikkhu, overcome by lust, with altered mind, engage in bodily contact with a woman, or in holding her hand, holding a lock of her hair, or caressing any of her limbs, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the community”.

This is a fairly straightforward rule that is intended to prevent Buddhist practitioners – especially those that require and respond well to external discipline – from allowing desire and attachment to overpower the mind. However, it has unfortunately been taken to extremes by certain Buddhist traditions where it is forbidden for a monk to touch a woman or even receive something from a woman directly. For example, if a woman wishes to donate something to a monk in such a tradition (known as a Dana offering), it must not be handed to the monk directly but must be placed on a cloth on the floor from where the monk may then pick it up.

Today’s post recounts one of our favourite Buddhist stories about the dangers of being attached to rules and of being too linear in our thinking:

Two monks were making their way from one monastery to another. They had been practising meditation together for many years and were very good friends. In fact, not only were they close friends, but there was also a teacher-student relationship in place – one of the monks was much older and had been a monk since long before the other monk was even born. The journey was a long one and involved many days traveling on foot. As the two monks walked through the forests and countryside, they spent a great deal of time discussing various aspects of the Buddhist Suttas as well as the various Buddhist commentaries.

At a certain point in their journey, the monks heard the screams of a woman coming from a nearby river. They rushed to see what was happening and in the middle of the river they saw a naked woman who was drowning. The older monk swiftly threw off his robes, dived into the water, and rescued the woman. He brought the naked woman to the banks of the river and proceeded to cover her with his spare robes. After assuring himself that she was safe and well, the two monks continued with the second leg of their journey.

However, the second part of their journey was quite different than the first. The river incident had quite an influence on the younger monk who, for the rest of the journey, had a surly comportment and refused to even speak to the older monk.

A few days later, the monks arrived at their destination – a monastery they were going to be staying at for the next few months. At this point, the young monk started to ostracise the older monk and refused to even acknowledge his presence. The older monk was rather dismayed and worried about the comportment of his friend and so one day he confronted the younger monk saying: “Please, young sir, why have you changed? What have I done to warrant being treated in this manner? If I have said or done something that has hurt you then I am truly sorry and I must have done it mindlessly and certainly without intention”.

The young monk replied: “You are not a true monk – you have broken the rules of the Vinaya Pitaka and as such I may no longer be associated with you”.

The older monk was rather shocked to hear this and asked what rules had been broken. The younger monk replied: “Not only did you touch a woman but you touched a naked woman and gave her the robes of a monk”.

How very true” replied the elder, “I saved the woman and carried her to the banks of the river, I made sure that she was warm and well and then I left her on the banks of the river. However, it would appear that you are still carrying her around on your shoulders! In all these years of so called practice of the Buddhist path, you have learned absolutely nothing. You cannot live without your rules and regulations – what a small and wasted life!”

We suppose the moral of this story is that rules can be very useful when they are utilised as tools, but when we allow those same rules to govern our lives and even to hold us back in our spiritual progress, then we really have to ask ourselves whether we are allowing ignorance to rule our lives.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon