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MEETING THE MONKEY HALFWAY
By Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu, Emily Popp
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu and Emily Popp
All rights reserved.
Meditation and the Mind: Understanding the Relationship Between the Two
The mind is malleable and transformable. Though we don't really know much about its nature and essence, we still have to be involved with it, or be it, in whatever capacity we can. We will describe this situation differently, depending on our perceptions and understanding.
Investigating the mind, however, requires the use of the very thing we want to study. The mind functions as both the subject and object in this case. In a conventional sense, this limits us to a superficial understanding, possibly coupled with a glimpse of some deeper aspects in the mind (or qualities of mind) that we recognize only through intuition. The superficiality is locked in by our descriptive language that attaches labels to the surface of things, preventing a meaningful exploration of either subject or object.
Meditation is the entering into this process. It allows us to penetrate the barrier of chaotic language, taking us beyond rationality and placing our mind's eye beyond the influence of the intellect.
The inner world of meditation is truly the essence of mind. It is here that the quality of mind can be transformed in profound ways, not just altered or rearranged (as in many therapies). Meditation requires a deliberate, determined intention to transform the mind in the direction of its natural, unconditioned state-a state we call enlightenment.
As awesome as this word may seem, it is without actual substance and ultimately empty. Emptiness as a spiritual goal, however, does not inspire transformational zeal in people. Translators have wisely chosen the word enlightenment to describe the "original mind," one that has divested itself of every obstacle in reaching the light of consciousness.
This process of purification occurs naturally through meditation. It is the pure intention behind our efforts that initiates the rebalancing that, in turn, prompt the mind to regain its original stability. In its original state, the balanced mind is no longer enslaved by unskillful habits and inclinations. It abides in the present moment, awake and alert.
Nothing significant comes easily. To reach anything profound, you must start with the courage to explore. You will always face the risks that come with running against the common grain. If you are willing to make this effort, the meditative affirmations given in the following chapters can gradually transform your mind in the direction of peace and harmony. It is possible to attain peace. The natural tendency to seek it is inherent in our nature.
In this type of endeavor, only the actual "doing" counts. Thinking or reading about mental cultivation won't get you very far. As you work with these affirmations, your mind will naturally develop more courage, spontaneity, happiness, and maturity, and a sense of the possibilities toward which you are already inclined.
People who have dedicated their lives to this practice are poised to get beyond the reach of suffering, conflict, loneliness, and confusion. At the end of it all, the bliss in their hearts far surpasses all the fleeting pleasures of sex, rock and roll, drugs, alcohol, and romance. That's not to say that these activities aren't pleasurable and fun. They certainly can be. They are, however, hopeless pursuits that cannot deliver lasting happiness. They are all too brief and invariably not quite good enough.
In the conventional world of description and definition, we can only interpret the surface of things as they manifest through our senses. We are limited to words themselves, and words only allow us access to reality in mental terms.
Spiritual practice looks intuitively behind the visible, into the core essence that manifests itself in the world. When you recognize that you can come to that inner reality, you also realize that it is the nature of this consciousness that creates your inner world as images. These images arise spontaneously and flow out from an inner force—unknowable and indescribable to your limited, rational consciousness.
Since this inner force creates your world, and since it can be connected to intuitively, you can shape the character and quality of your world by transforming this inner force. It is malleable, flexible, and trainable. You can train it through contemplation. This technique is called "working with affirmations."
Softening and Stretching Affirmations
Growing and sustaining wisdom-awareness in these ultramodern times require a response based on grounded spirituality. As we try to keep our heads above the flood of information, data, and messages inundating us each second, we are faced with the choice of making this situation work to our advantage or allowing the deluge to overwhelm us. Our spiritual survival is threatened by the sheer volume of superficial trivia. We risk drowning our intuition and spiritual nature in a sea of meaningless jargon.
To reclaim the ground lost to the Information Age, I offer you a series of potent spiritual messages that I have gathered with great care over many years of practice. You might call this offering an insight buffet or, simply, a wisdom banquet.
These reflections on wisdom have been a part of the perennial wisdom of the East—Buddhist dharma practice—for thousands of years. They have been utilized to great advantage by meditators, yogis, and saints since the dawn of intelligence. They represent a common thread of understanding shared by Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and Taoism.
The essence of all perennial wisdom is the understanding that the major source of human suffering comes through wrong thought. When these unskillful thoughts are translated into action, they cause the conflicts and delusion that bring about suffering and pain. If you want to change your actions, you must necessarily change the way you relate to thoughts, for thought is the mother of action.
With this understanding clearly established in your mind, you can use skillful spiritual reflections to replace unskillful thoughts. In Pali, this is called "oobai," or skillful means. Through the persistent application of oobai, you can significantly alter the way you live and give your life more profound meaning.
Wise reflections are a way of harnessing concentration in the mind. They enable us to focus singlemindedly on the insights that come with wisdom, and help us keep away from useless flights of fantasy. They nurture goodness and purify the inner machinery that sets the course of our outward actions.
The practical application of these gentle teachings is by no means easy. But neither is this challenge beyond your abilities, or anyone else's, for that matter. You can start this process at your own pace by first concentrating only on thoughts that draw your attention. Then, ponder all ten reflections at the end of the series with great care and deliberation, taking time with each of them. Anyone of them can be your teacher. Persistence and patience in this practice will eventually and surely yield untold blessings in many, many ways—ways that you cannot even begin to imagine. Cultivate this opportunity with diligence. You may find that it is just the catalyst you need to transform your life into one that is worthy of your noble intentions. You know that you are a lot better person than your speech and actions suggest!
Take this offering of spiritually energized thoughts, and sow them in your mind. Watch them grow and take root in your heart. Let them work in you as they were intended, bringing you to openness, instilling in your heart the knowing bliss of calmness, and leading you ever closer to perfect peace.
Reflections for the Heart
Life is endless. We are all in the very middle of it. We alone are responsible. There is no way out except through it. At the same time, your life is exactly what you need to unravel your karmic predicament. The teacher you seek to lead you out of your suffering is within you.
All religions are identical in their aspirations. We can dispense with everything involved in ritualized religion simply by listening carefully and following the still, sensitive, compassionate, virtuous inner guide. Be still and know the life within. Do good, refrain from evil, and clear your mind of unworthy distractions.
The all-in-one God, or dharma, is every-thing and no-thing simultaneously. Because this concept is unfathomable and beyond our rational comprehension, we resort to calling it God. It is the single energy capable of orchestrating and energizing this unfathomable world. It also creates the illusions that hide its presence from all but the most sensitive and diligent. It is this aspect of creation, the dance of the samsara, the endless cycle of birth and death and birth, that makes our existence so intriguing.
If you have been too distracted to have any contact with this subtle, sensitive energy, try to lighten up your life until you can tune into this "suchness" at will. When you get out of the way, this energy just flows. You merge with the flowing. Practice diligently and you can keep the line open so that all sorts of interesting messages can come through at any time. Reduce tension, relax, eat light foods, wear natural, lightcolored clothing, be with good friends. Choose only companions who delight in supporting your spiritual development. These skilled habits will enrich your life and make it into a buoyant adventure.
Consider this: Everyone, without exception, is in the same boat, subject to similar conditions, challenges, and suffering. How can anyone knowing this harbor anger or ill will toward another?
If you look around you with intellectual and intuitive sensitivity, it becomes evident that we are here to help each other grow into graceful, elegant, loving, and compassionate beings—light beings and beings of light! We are here to serve. To give. To sacrifice.
Not only is this world round, as Galileo declared, the entire universe moves in a circular pattern. Things spin around and around, and we are helplessly trapped within its vicious, recurring cycle. This means that we don't "go around" just once. We go around and around to the point of utter desperation, until we are disenchanted with everything and go out in search of a way to break out from this hopeless, hapless situation.
Whether you are lying on a beach in Hawaii or doing time in San Quintin, this world remains a cage. We live driven by our karma. Under the influence of culture and karma, we live different lifestyles, but we live them always within a cage. Being unaware of our predicament does not alter our reality.
If there weren't an intelligent and tested way to escape this cycle of life, everything would be absurd. And, at least in my opinion, there would be (in the ultimate sense) nothing worthwhile to do. We would be destined forever to live as we do.
But the nature of our predicament is made perfect by requiring us to understand it truly and thoroughly. This understanding spurs us further to seek a reliable and scientific path that offers the possibility of arriving at the exit door that is the gateway to enlightenment and freedom.
If you have a knack for fascinating dilemmas, you will undoubtedly appreciate the ingenuity of the maze that is our world. And that maze is just as difficult to transcend as you imagined it to be. The path that leads out of the maze is the one that follows both our spiritual inclination and the laws of nature. So, by design, we are already programmed to seek a way out and to make good our escape.
Because we have seen the entirety of this situation in our previous lives, we can now appreciate the justness and fairness of it all. We are only obliged to clear up our mistakes, and to do the best we can from then on, continuously refining and purifying as we go.
In other words, we need only be aware and respond properly to every situation that life places before us. With this wise thought as our guideline, we can strive to act morally, intelligently, sensitively, and compassionately.
We are born into this life with a specific, assigned task that each of us must carry out in his or her own unique capacity. The karma that generates life obliges us to purify these challenges and encounters. Our role in relation to others is to be someone who encourages them to do the best they can from where they are, without expecting them to change. We can also try to be a positive influence on others by leading a life imbued with awareness.
A Chameleon Called Self
Many of us relate to other people for most of our lives without ever really looking at them deeply and carefully. Has it ever occurred to you, for example, that people, from a scientific point of view, can be described as simply an assortment of bones and organs held together by skin? Furthermore, our entire physical structure, from the moment of birth, embarks on an aging process that gradually ends in disintegration. No one is exempt from this process. Looking at life from this perspective, we can see quite clearly that everyone is enamored of a situation that actually carries a death sentence.
It is important for us to be conscious of this reality all the time, because this penetrating insight that allows us to see through the haze of attachments called self, can provide us with our escape route to freedom. The self is a chameleon that adapts to anything in order to survive. It is protected by layers of tightly held beliefs that, when tampered with, produce fear as a defensive reaction.
The notion of the self as we know it, is actually a deceptive construction known in Buddhism as "kilesa" (Pali word for defilement). Kilesa is further composed of compulsions, fixed attitudes, predilections, cravings, reckless addictions, and all the seductive things that reinforce and reestablish the existence of the self. There are almost uncountable variations of kilesa. As we acknowledge the delusion of self, we must also find a way to reassert wisdom. The spiritual method I present here for doing so is called "unraveling." Unraveling is the opposite of accumulating. It is letting go, abandoning, releasing. In the resulting void, you come up with what you have been seeking your whole life: contentment.
Much of what we believe today has been corrupted by several decades of an overindulgent and demanding "American Way of Life." Only those with sufficient mindfulness can really see the looming problem in this situation. Economic success among nations and individuals does not equate to genuine, lasting happiness and contentment.
High hopes for the future have been invested in this much-touted lifestyle—one that is expected to usher in another golden age. Underneath it all, however, there is a constant yearning for the return of an era when stress and anxiety were the exceptions rather than the rule. Those "good old days," combined with the high-tech, convenient, laid-back lifestyle, constitute an American dream that hasn't quite happened yet. These mediocre aspirations are not worth the trade-offs attached to them: discontentment, crime, war, chaos.
Cool Heart, Wise Heart
The world of distraction spins around and around, while moving continuously to keep itself amused and entertained. It transports us to a world of fantasy, or a world of controversy, or competition, or of just about anything other than the one true existence that is right before us. Distraction keeps our heads turned in the direction of momentary pleasures, excitement, and delight. On the other hand, the cool heart, with its spiritual energy, is the sobering factor that keeps us focused on worthier goals. It tempers the euphoria of petty fun. It settles us firmly down on Earth, grounding and sobering us with a clear view into life's many facets in a balanced manner. The cool heart is unmoved by the intoxication of the world. The wise heart is the cool heart. It directs us to a profound state where we are liberated from the burden and stench of self-consciousness. Nothing can be better than that.
Manifesting the Impossible: Affirmations for Transforming Life
We must strive to do anything that can make the impossible and miraculous possible. A whole realm of good things opens up for us if we adhere to this way of thinking. Life is made for aspiration and for manifesting the impossible.
The following set of affirmations go right to the essence of this, to the sum and substance of inner transformation. If you have any time at all in your life that you want to devote to spiritual discovery, I suggest that you work with any of the following affirmations. When you realize that the profundity of any of them can radically alter your relationship to life, you embark on the best of all ways.
Jot down these thoughts on a notepad or card so that you can carry them around in your pocket and refer to them when you need to connect with reality. Keep them close at hand until they become a part of your thinking process. Once they settle into your mind, they can positively influence the flow of your life.
Excerpted from MEETING THE MONKEY HALFWAY by Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu, Emily Popp. Copyright © 2000 Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu and Emily Popp. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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