Remembrance

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Pantai Air Manis, Padang. 2012

Have you ever felt that you are seeking something?

That something is missing in your life, and you can’t really put your finger to it, or define what is it that is missing? You just know that there’s got to be something more than this.

You try to fill that gap with many things.

First you try to fill it with material things. Stuffs. Cars. Bags. Branded clothes. Gadgets. Etc. But material things doesn’t make that gap go away.

And then you try to fill it with non-material things. Relationships. Achievements. Career. Holidays. Power. Status. But non-material things doesn’t make that gap go away.

And then you try to fill it with even more subtle things. You seek knowledge. Read  books. Study ancient and current wisdoms. Perhaps devote yourself to a religion. Or maybe practice spirituality. Yet these subtle things doesn’t make that gap go away.

Because…

THERE IS NO GAP AT THE FIRST PLACE

You are complete. You are whole. You are already perfect.

You just forgotten that you are whole. You are suffering from delusion. Delusion that you are separated. That there is a gap.

You are already whole. You don’t need anything from outside. You just forgotten.

And all those wisdom, books, teachers, rituals… are reminders. To help you remember.

To help you remember that you are whole.

In Alan Watts’ words:

“You’re it.”

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Body Mind Soul

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In yogic theory, human is made up from five layers, or dimensions, called the koshas. I’ve written about the koshas in my personal blog a while ago. Just a short recap here, the five koshas are:

  1. Annamaya kosha / the food body – the physical dimension (bone, muscle, blood, fluids, organs, glands, nervous system)
  2. Pranamaya kosha / the energy body – the energetic dimension. What’s called prana, chi, qi, ki, lifeforce energy
  3. Manomaya kosha / the lower mind – the individual mind dimension. The executive day-to-day operating system
  4. Vijnanamaya kosha / the higher mind – the wisdom, intuition dimension. Connects with the universal, less individual
  5. Anandamaya kosha – the bliss body – the essence, the awareness.

In modern times we use the term ‘mind, body, & soul’ to describe human as a whole. It is pretty similar with the koshas framework, body is the physical part (annamaya), mind is the manomaya & vijnanamaya. Soul, this is my limited understanding of it, soul or spirit is partly vijnanamaya and partly anandamaya.

What’s bringing these three dimension together into one human? It’s the prana, the lifeforce energy. Prana began when there is conception, and as long as there is prana, the three dimension are bound together. Prana is like the glue, the binding. When there is no more prana, the binding disintegrate, mind loses it’s individuality, soul goes back to it’s source, and body starts to decompose and return back to earth.

To live as a human in the best way possible, all the dimensions ideally are in their maximum functioning capacity. All the dimensions are ideally aligned, in tune, in harmony with each other. When the layers within are in harmony, then one can start to be in harmony with the things outside (the environment, other beings, etc).

How? Work on each individual dimension, and also work on the glue that bring them all together. Work on the body, mind, soul, and work on the prana.

 

Nature of Mind

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The Knower & The Known by Fabrizio Cassetta

 

This is my notes from a talk by Tenzin Palmo.

Everything is perceived through the sense organs, caught by consciousness, and interpreted by the mind. In other words, everything we experience is in the mind.

There are two aspects of the mind. First, the known. The known covers memories, thoughts, feelings, emotions. The second is the knower, the part of the mind that knows, but not involved. A.k.a the observer, witness, or awareness.

The known is like movie. Light projects through individual thought frames to the screen continuously, moment to moment. The problem starts when we identify ourself with the movie at the screen, we believe that is us. This fundamental delusion and misidentification causes suffering.

The knower is vast, spacious, peaceful, clear, infinite. Like the blue sky. It is always there, but often hidden by the clouds. And because the clouds are so thick and never cleared up, we forgot that above the cloud there’s blue sky.

To cease suffering, start identifying with the knower and stop identifying with the known.

How? By taking a step back, and just watch the known passes through, without judging, without like or dislike, just simply watching. Have space in our life to just be, sit, and use the mind to look at the mind.

This is a form of meditation. Where we just become still and observe the fluctuations of the mind.

The knower watching the known.

 

 

Pillars of a Good Life

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There are four pillars of life. When they are all well developed and well balanced, life is good. When they are underdeveloped, life is probably not so good. Whey they are not balanced, if one aspect is much more highly developed than each other, maybe life is pretty good, but not as good as it potentially can be.

The pillars are:

  1. Health
  2. Ethical life
  3. A method to quieten the mind (eg meditation)
  4. Framework, knowledge, purpose

We’ll look a bit deeper into each one.

It’s pretty obvious that life is better when we’re healthy. We can enjoy life. We can interact with life. We are at ease with ourself, without dis-ease. So staying healthy is one of the most valuable investment for ourself. How do we stay healthy? Basically feed the body with good nutrition, enough movements to stimulate the body & organs, and enough rest.

Ethical life means leading life according to ethics and moral values. Most of the religion’s moral values are similar in some way. Yoga have the yamas & niyamas. Siddharta Gautama taught the eight noble path. Christian have the ten commandments. And so on. The moral values boil down to ‘Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.’ When one lead a life ethically, it will contribute to the next pillar – a quiet mind.

A quiet mind means a mind that is aware of it’s own fluctuations, and not getting carried away by the fluctuations. One of the method is through meditation. In meditation we train the mind to stay with one anchor for a period of time. Through practice we develop the endurance to sustain this focus for longer and longer. And the longer we can stay there, the quieter the mind become.

When the mind is sufficiently quietened down, there’s a sense of direction that comes from within. Perhaps at the beginning we can’t pinpoint or detail which direction does it want to go – but usually we can tell if the direction is wrong. If we are receptive and open we’ll find many teachers and lessons in our lives that provide you with knowledge. With this knowledge we develop framework, like a map. With a framework we know where we are, why we are here, and where we are going. And slowly find the answer to the perennial question “Who am I?”

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Based on a talk by my yoga philosophy teacher Swami Pujan

Image: Rio-Antirio bridge by Spiros Vathis

 

Stillness & Clarity

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Sandy Bay Golden Hour by Eugen Naiman

If there is no stillness, there is no silence.
If there is no silence, there is no insight.
If there is no insight, there is no clarity.

~ Tenzin Priyadarshi

Previous post: Mind Like Still Water

Stillness is when there are the feeling of calm, peace, grounded-ness, the sense of firmness, earthed, stable, unshakeable. At the beginning this stillness is achieved by becoming physically still (eg seated meditation). As one get more used to it we can have stillness in motion (eg walking meditation, focused movement like taichi, yoga etc, or even during running/swimming/knitting/cooking).

Clarity is the result of stillness. Imagine a glass full of muddy water. Without stillness, the mud will not settle down and the water will never become clear. When the glass is placed down and left to be still for a while, the mud will settle down to the bottom and water will clear up and we can see through the water. Another analogy that is more high-tech: imagine trying to take a picture while we’re in a moving car on a bumpy road. Unless the camera has very fast shutter speed, the resulting picture will be blurred. We have to be holding the camera still enough to be able to capture the image clearly.

Why is clarity important?

When there’s clarity, we can see things as they are, without any filter or coloring. Free of perception. Free from conditioning, judgement, assumption, beliefs, hypothesis, expectation, etc.

When we see things as they are, without any filter or coloring, we can better navigate ourself in relation to things. ‘Things’ here cover everything: ourself and everything that is outside ourself (family & friends, other people, relationships, objects, job, career, everything).

Clarity helps us to make the most appropriate decision at any given time. Appropriate decision usually effects the elements in such a way that they become more in harmony with everything else. When there’s harmony, there are less disturbances, less waves. Like a boat in the sea – when there are less waves, the boat will move more smoothly.

Staying with the boat in the sea analogy, there will be waves (or even storm) from time to time, outside of our scope of control. So situation can be rocky and disturbed from time to time – but the more harmony there are, the sooner the waves calm down, the sooner the journey become smooth again.

Image credit: Eugen Naiman

 

Through a glass, darkly

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Standing near the window; covered with dark glass.
Glimpses and blurred images of what’s inside.
Meanwhile; the world outside is beckoning.
Enticing the senses with colors, fragrance, sunny days, breeze.
I want to see what’s inside, but I also want run to the world outside.

Standing near the window; covered with dark glass.
Glimpses and blurred images of what’s inside.
Icy winter days and it’s storming outside.
The world is grey, freezing, numbing, cold.
I want to see what’s inside, there’s nothing to see outside.

Standing near the window; covered with dark glass.
Rubbed clean the glass from the outside, clearer glimpse of what’s inside.
Inside feels like home, cozy fireplace and a warm cup of tea.
It’s spring and the world is again full of colors, sunlight, fragrance.
I want to come in to the unchanging inside, the outside changes all the time.

Standing near the window; covered with dark glass.
Been looking inside for so long my sight adjusted to the dark.
Now I notice there’s someone inside, looking back at me.
Calling out to me, showing me the way in, there’s a door I didn’t see all this while.
I opened the door and come inside;

I’m home.

Note: I knew the phrase “Through a glass, darkly” from Jostein Gaarder’s book title. Only much later I found out that it is a biblical phrase from 1 Corinthians 13:12. (KJV: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.)

This is one of my first attempt writing something that resembles poetry, originally posted on my blog 

Image credit: Shelby U

Mind Like Still Water

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Garabaldi Lake, near Whister, BC. Photo by Tim Shield’s son, 2010

In the previous post Inviting Stillness we discussed about the importance of stillness in order to have clarity and overcome the filter of perception. We discussed about the challenges of becoming still, and the supporting practices. This post will again discuss about these.

Three possible reaction when we are trying to become still and meditate:

  1. Mind becomes dull & sleepy – and then turns off – zzZZzz time
  2. Mind becomes agitated, running all over the place
  3. Mind rest in the stillness, alert and clear

The ideal outcome is number three – yet as anyone trying to meditate know, it is not easy to get there.

Lets look deeper into the two challenges.

Dullness & sleepiness

Without stimulation, mind is bored. We modern humans are generally tired – due to many things: lack of quality sleep, too much distraction, poor nutrition, etc. The mind, when sensing there’s no stimulation, knowing it’s in a safe space (no predator or dangerous situation), decided to go to sleep because it knows the body is tired and needs sleep. How to tackle this problem? First thing we can do is make sure we get enough rest & sleep, and fed properly. When the body is well rested, at least there’s no actual demand for sleep.

But even when body is well rested, when we are trying to become still and meditate, sometimes the mind still switches off. This is dullness, losing the clarity. Some of the things we can do to overcome this challenge:

  • Arrange the meditation time so that it’s not after a big meal. After a meal more blood circulation goes to the digestive system, and less blood in the brain area, resulting in sleepiness
  • Do some yoga asana or stretches before sitting down to improve energy circulation. In my personal experience some inversion & backbends helps.
  • Do some energizing pranayama like kapalbhati or bhastrika
  • During the meditation itself, when we catch ourself becoming sleepy & dull, use the inhalation to refresh. Deepen the inhalation a few times and return to the object of focus (breath/sound/guide etc)

Agitation

If the mind is not dull & sleepy, there’s a possibility that it will go to the other extreme – becoming agitated, jumping around, running all over the place. When the mind is not focused or holding attention to something, there’s this function of the brain called Default Mode Network that usually becomes active.

What is this Default Mode Network? I’m no expert in neuroscience, this is my simple understanding of it. Default Mode Network is a function of thinking about self, thinking about others, and thinking about past or future. It becomes active when the mind is not focused or holding attention, and it seems like it serves like a background process of assimilating, comprehending & understanding of all the inputs from the outside.

So when this DMN is active, then the mind ruminates about something (usually related to self, others, past, future, or sometimes even random) – and this thing triggers another thought, and another, and another. Any meditator knows this – suddenly we catch ourself thinking about something else and totally forgot we are meditating.

How to overcome this? By holding that focus and attention at the object of meditation in a ‘just enough’ way. Not gripping, but also not too lose. Balanced. When we’re gripping, there is tension. During meditation this can be felt in the physical body – the body or the face is tensed. Release the tension with the exhalation, and relax. When too lose, the mind tend to start to wander & ride along the DMN, generating many new thoughts. As we notice we are sidetracked, first be happy that we noticed we were sidetracked, and then relax, release the thought, and return to the object of meditation.

One of my meditation teacher use this analogy – imagine the thought like a butterfly that settled down on your arm. Just notice “Oh there’s a butterfly on my arm / Oh there are thoughts on my mind”, and without needing any force or violence, gently blow it away.

Like still water

With consistent practice, gradually the mind will be trained to rest in stillness. Alert, aware, and focused. In this stillness, clarity comes. With clarity, comes the realization that it’s all perception (judgement, assumption, expectation, belief, hypothesis, conditioning, etc). When we realize that it’s all perception, we have the opportunity to take that perception filter off, and see things as they really are. Like still water, reflecting the surrounding as it is.

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Read more about Default Mode Network here:

Image from Tim Shield’s flickr

 

Inviting Stillness

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Beach of Maratua Island – north coast of East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Eddy Halim, 2014

In the post Perception vs Reality we explored that we have this filter or perception and often we forgot that we have them. Like we forgot we’re wearing glasses because it’s in front of the eyes all the time. And one way to remember there’s that filter or perception is by reflecting, and in order to reflect there has to be enough stillness.

It’s difficult for us  to be still. We are born to move, because if we don’t move we die (not moving means not finding food to eat, not running away from predator etc). We are so used to moving all the time that at the beginning it’s quite challenging to become still. We even move when we sleep.

How do we invite stillness?

Meditation is a form of inviting stillness. Becoming still physically in a position that we can sustain for a while. As the body become still, the five action senses (karmendriyas) become still – and that’s something unusual for them. What are the five action senses? They are the organs for eliminating, reproducing, moving, grasping, speaking – the digestion, genitals, legs & feet, arms & hands, speech organs respectively. In addition to that, the five cognitive senses, the sense for taking in inputs from the external world (jnanendriyas) – also receive limited stimulation from the outside world. The five cognitive senses are the organs for smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, hearing – the nose, tounge, eyes, skin, and ears respectively.

When we become still, when we are not doing anything (the five action senses are still) and receiving minimum stimulation of the outside world (the five cognitive senses are quiet) – the mind have three choices:

  1. Interpret this as time to turn off, take a break, and get some sleep
  2. Try to find something to keep itself busy, entertaining itself by thoughts of future (planning), past (remembering), or new thoughts (noting/ideas/insight)
  3. Become still and rest in awareness itself

We are training the mind to take the third choice.

For some of us the mind often goes to the second choice – the mind jumps around, agitated, like naughty monkey jumping all over the place, and we have no control of it.

For some of us the mind often goes to the first choice – the mind decided to take a break, shut down, and we drifted to sleep.

We are training the mind to take the third choice. It’s not easy. Just like everything else it takes effort & consistency. In other words, practice, practice practice.

Supporting practices

Many people think that meditation practice is only during the actual meditation itself. Actually there are practices that builds foundation for meditation. Sage Patanjali codified this in his Yoga Sutra as the eight limbs of yoga (ashtanga):

  1. yama
  2. niyama
  3. asana
  4. pranayama
  5. pratyahara
  6. dharana
  7. dhyana
  8. samadhi

I will not go into detail about these eight limbs of yoga on this post.

Just a brief recap, the first two limbs yama & niyama are ethical & moral conduct, that when we don’t follow them we’ll tend to have ‘unfinished business’ so to speak. Example – we stole something from someone, and during meditation probably that thought will arise (I feel guilty / he has so much more so he deserves to be stolen from / I need that thing, that gives me the right to steal / I’m sorry I stole I know I shouldn’t have / and so on). These ethical & moral conducts are guides for us to live our life in such a way that we have peace of mind, so that when we meditate we have less worries, less disturbances.

The third and fourth, asana & pranayama, are ways to keep the body fit, limber, and the energy moves freely, so that the physical body can be still in meditation.

The fifth, pratyahara, is about turning the senses inwards, not letting the mind drawn to the outside world through the senses.

The last three – dharana, dhyana & samadhi are different types or levels of concentration / focused attention / awareness.

To be continued.

 

Shantideva’s Dedication

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Guanyin of the Southern Sea

May all beings everywhere
Plagued by sufferings of body & mind
Obtain an ocean of happiness & joy
By virtue of my merits

May no living creature suffer
Commit evil, or ever fall ill
May no one be afraid or belittled
With a mind weighed down by depression

May the blind see forms
And the deaf hear sounds
May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose

May the naked find clothing
The hungry find food
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks

May the poor find wealth
Those weak with sorrow find joy
May the forlorn find hope
Constant happiness, and prosperity

May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests
May all medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit

May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments
Whatever diseases there are in the world
May they never occur again

May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed
May the powerless find power
And may people think of benefiting each other

For as long as space remains
For as long as sentient beings remain
Until then may I too remain
To dispel the miseries of the world

Above is a condensed version of last chapter, the dedication chapter, from Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva. I copied it from the FPMT prayer book when I did Introduction to Buddhism course at Tushita Meditation Center last November.

There are many commentaries, translation, and online version of Shantideva’s work. I’ve only read one version (the one from Shambhala Publication, link above). H. H. Dalai Lama said about this text: “If I have any understanding of compassion and the practice of bodhisattva path, it is entirely on the basis of this text that I possess it.”

I like this ‘prayer’ a lot. It’s like an extended expansion of the mantra Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. Short translation: may all beings be happy and free from suffering. Long translation: may all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Image: Guanyin of the Southern Sea, wooden sculpture from China 11th/12th century, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It’s the image used as cover of the book.

Perception vs Reality

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This Axe advertisement shows Perception vs Reality in multiple layers. First layer is the ad’s message: that wearing a certain scent will change the perceived sexual appeal of a person. Second layer is that an advertisement is all about perception – the brand wants to be perceived as something cool and sexy.

Still continuing with the topic of seeing the world as it is.

Previous posts:

In the previous posts we discussed about how everything is perception and it is us that project exaggerated qualities to an object. Because of our perception, the same object can cause both pleasant and unpleasant emotions to arise, and it’s a subjective experience (no two people experience exactly the same thing out of the same object).

Now that we know everything is perception & everything is in the mind, we should be able to operate with a more clear filter, yes? We should be able to become less attached (less like-dislike, clinging-reject, raga-dvesha), yes? Not quite. We are so used to equating perception with reality, that it has become an ingrained habit. It’s like when we’re wearing eyeglasses, because we are so used to wearing it, we forgot we are wearing it. We’re so used in seeing the world through filters, we forgot there are filters.

How do we remember that we have this filter of perception?

Just like when we forgot we’re wearing eyeglasses, when we saw our reflection in the mirror, we saw that we are wearing eyeglasses. When we take time to reflect, we realize that we have perception. We remember through reflection & contemplation. The mirror can be something that can provide a true and honest snapshot of our self, for example a journal or diary. Or listening to our self talking – I think this is what psychiatrists do – facilitate & enable one to verbalize, and this is a form of reflection & contemplation. One important thing, the listener has to be able to stay neutral and non-judging – otherwise the reflection will be distorted.

In order to reflect, there has to be stillness. Without stillness we can’t reflect. The more still, the more clear the reflection become, then the more often we remember that it’s all perception. As we remember more and more often that it’s all perception, the weaker the filter would be – the less coloring – and we start to see glimpses of things as they are, reality as it is.

How to develop stillness?

We can start from the body – physical stillness. When the body is still, then the mind can become still too. Spend some time to be still. This is meditation. No need to sit in a perfect lotus position, even sitting on a chair will do, as long as the spine is straight and upright. Sitting is too difficult? Try lying down. Preferable not in the bed as we will probably immediately drift to sleep. Lying down on the floor, place a blanket underneath if its cold, make sure the spine is straight and aligned. Let the feet fall outwards, hands besides the body with palms facing up, and relax everything. But try not to sleep. Just be still.

At the beginning stillness may feel strange. We were always active and moving since we were born. The mind, never have the experience of stillness before, will either:

  1. Get caught up in its own train of thoughts
  2. Interpret this as time to catch some ZZZs and fall asleep

How to overcome these? In my next post.