Chants, Rants and Trance

Chant monk copyThere’s no doubt that concentrating on rhythmically repetitive sounds and motion from a group in unison can induce a trance like state, often quickly and to nearly everyone. But are these extra sensory experiences enlightenment, entertainment or self-illusions?

Contrast chanting with a silent, motionless meditator, who, rather than loudly chasing after and trying to induce bliss, is breathing to a pattern, waiting for the right conditions where bliss develops spontaneously. To a North American or European observer, the ease of this meditation is deceptively difficult, the results neither quick nor observable. It’s difficult to brag about this type of meditation.

If you are focused primarily on provable results that can be seen, discussed at a party, boasted and documented on video, then chants are the way. A visit to a public Buddhist centre might loudly confirm this suspicion. But what do the monks do when no visitors are watching?

Fixing attention on the meditative breath develops awareness of the present moment, or “Right Concentration“, coupled with a parallel depth of understanding. This, instead of trying through volume and repetition to force conditions causing a lost track of time, space or consciousness.

Through breathing mediation we can learn to stay in reality, not seek hallucinations or illusion. By awareness of this moment, this time in reality, we can take guidance from the past and provide for the future. But it’s less impressive than chanting!

Awareness within Mindfulness

eating with fingersPaying attention to the moment by moment process of eating, we notice the touch of food or drink entering our mouths – its taste, texture, aroma, the sounds of chewing and swallowing, contemplating the body’s eventual reaction to what we have eaten.

When we extend that awareness to everything connected to that food – the meal itself, the emotional connection we have to that particular food, the economic, social and physical aspect of growing and harvesting- we are standing in the realm of awareness.

Awareness can give insight into our future experience by simultaneously creating acceptance, plus the motivation to make changes. Awareness isn’t something we make by meditating. Like mindfulness, it’s already available as part of human inheritance, if we only seek it.

Take five minutes to notice your breathing. Then, let your mind settle on something personal you like; a favourite shirt, a food, whatever. Spend a few minutes noticing the sensations created that arouse you.

Now choose a person that you like, letting your emotions rise and fall. Let their characteristics and qualities come into mind. Keep going until you tire of making the list. Notice how some negative qualities appear. Now pay attention to the types of judgements you have made. Notice, are they harsh or hasty. What does an honest judgement feel like?

Suffering Ignorance

bonsai copyMy last post examined attachment as a root of suffering. This post examines the role of ignorance, the second of three roots of suffering in the Buddhist philosophy. This concept is simple when explained in 21st century terms.

First, the dictionary definition of ignorance is “a lack of information or knowledge”. But the ignorance involved in suffering is more a “lack of awareness”– of the subtle truths involved in our human condition. In a word: Un-mindfulness!

Through meditation we practice mindful awareness of these less obvious truths; with awareness we discover subtle sensations of the body that occur unconsciously. For example, if we focus on breathing we can bring previously unconscious sensations into consciousness, becoming aware of the subtle sensation of the belly and chest rising and falling, the delicate cooling sensation of air passing through our nose and throat.

These always-occurring sensations are only obscured from our consciousness by our lack of awareness, or ignorance. We have relegated them to our unconscious, thinking they aren’t important. By employing the conscious mind to change breathing we penetrate our ignorance of the sensations of breathing. Doing so, we have transcended unconscious breathing, expanded our consciousness. Wow!

Each practice increasingly develops the faculty of concentration. Moving deliberately between unconscious to conscious compartments of the mind is like navigating to a complicated new destination; it gets easier with practice. Because ignorance, wilful blindness of self, is “hidden” in the unconscious, having a direct route to the source is essential for its removal.

Progressing if we wish, we become less ignorant, and more aware of the of subtle sensations in the body and their powerful unconscious connections to the mind.  Though tiny, this is a potent step for removing ignorance. Discovering and believing what’s true about ourselves is always emerging from ignorance

Meditation now becomes a consciousness expanding activity instead of entertainment or a relaxing timeout. We only need to just give it a chance to make a difference.

With practice we can detect and reject snap reactions rooted in previously ignored and conditioned prejudices, opinions, beliefs and self-protection strategies. We choose to reformulate, forming responses mindful of today’s conditions instead of reacting blindly from unconscious habit.

Suffering Christmas

Amidst tChristmas present shop cart jpeghe Christian holidays, when attachment to desires and gratification can become inflamed to a fever pitch by advertising, it becomes obvious that Christmas causes as much, or more suffering, as it does joy. We know this, so why do we continue to suffer?

Buddhism, a study of discovery and eliminating suffering, claims a major cause of misery is attachment (desire). Examine, the Buddhist way, why some of us become hyper-agitated, temperamental and succumb to mass advertising this time of year.

Attachment manifests in four areas:

1. Attachment to sensual gratification (feels good, then suffer through craving for more)

2.  Attachment to “I”  ego “mine” (as attachment to self-image, possessions, things associated with “us”  “we” “ours” including people, suffer through loss, decay)

3. Attachment to rigid and unyielding views, beliefs, prejudices (suffer through denial of the truth, being proven wrong)

4. Attachment to a group, ceremony, ritual, shared beliefs (suffer through persecution, competition, power mongering, frustrated ambition)

Though we suffer when our desires are not granted or when our beliefs are proved wrong, and we also suffer again when our desires that are fulfilled then become boring, broken, corrupted, stale, are proved false, evaporate or are stolen – or we suffer when the children run out of batteries Christmas morning (sic)!

If only we could get what we want! But have you ever noticed that when we are actively seeking desired objects that we become agitated?  As proof, ask someone who is buying a new car or a cell phone, both powerful symbols of desire and attachment to self-image, if they are as a calm as when shopping for toilet paper.

But attempts at control through self restraint only increase mental tensions and require enormous energy to maintain. We tire out, the dam of self-suppression breaks, releasing a destructive flood of overindulgence, hedonism and gluttony.

Controlling the mind, like we do in meditation, will help with attachment, and is the start on the path deep to the roots of suffering. Further training and insight into one’s own true nature is required to cut out the roots of attachment, ignorance and aversion, but even small steps are fruitful and very powerful.

“Every journey begins beneath one’s feet” said Lao Tzu. Rather than emphasizing the first step, the author of Taoism regarded action as something that arises naturally from stillness. And stillness is cultivated through meditation.

Meditation for Beginners

Culturally, we expecasian-home-gymt a certain result or predictable outcome from our efforts, so it is difficult letting go of expectations for meditation.

Also, disappointment of expectation can bring suffering, and isn’t that what we are trying to eliminate?

Understanding that each meditation will probably yield different results, and that regular time and place practice leads to better outcome, then here is a beginner’s meditation checklist;

As much as possible-

  • Choose a regular time – free of interruptions, distraction, noise- where possible. People with small children, demanding pets or dependent relationships may encounter challenges. Do the best you can. Set a timer for 5 to 10 min. at first.
  • Choose a comfortable space –  but not so comfortable that you fall asleep!
  • Relax your posturescan the body, looking for pools of tension; focus on letting go of the tension location by location. I start at my toes, moving up through the body.  Sit with a straight spine, arms and legs relaxed.
  • Begin to focus on your breathing. Some like to focus on the sensation of breath in the nostrils, some prefer the belly, others the chest – You use what works best.
  • Let go of your day… Let go of yesterday… Let go of future plans… Focus on this time, this moment.
  • Focus now completely on the sensation of breathing. Ideas, thoughts will come- when they do, refocus to the sensation of the breath.
  • Don’t rush back into your day when the timer ends your practice. Enjoy your efforts. Allow an interval to reengage into life.

For more detailed beginner’s instructions  comes highly recommended.

Try not to become agitated if you discover people and events seem to be interfering with your meditation plans or practice. This is showing our human reluctance to change.

I will be writing more about dependency and its relation to personal growth in future articles, so please stay tuned.

Peace and abundance to all.

Buddhist 7’th Element Taught in Canadian Public Schools

Grade six school kids copyI was surprised to hear a CBC radio program (see Links below) December 1, detailing mindfulness (Pali – the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path) being taught to grade six schoolchildren in Surrey, British Columbia as classroom behaviour control. Connections to Attention Deficit Disorder and drug therapy elimination through mindfulness are highlighted.

The reporter calls it “self regulation” probably because public opinion on teaching Buddhist principles in school would likely start a sectarian argument among parents and taxpayers funding public education. The program teaches children to spot inner tension, engage mindfulness and become calm and productive to enhance their learning.

Here is the CBC radio 27 minute audio link and here is the 5 minute reading time print article link.

Mindfulness is also being taught at my local health clinic to brain injured patients  having trouble conducting their lives. Again, there is no mention in the clinical program that mindfulness is a spiritual or psychological faculty (indriya) that, according to the teaching of the Buddha, is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment.

Whatever it’s called, it’s good to see the medicine and education communities supporting and practicing centuries-old principles!

Link to sample Mindfulness mediation instruction

Peace and abundance to all.