Mindful Conversations

Where Buddhism Meets Gendlin

Open Heart, Open Mind

There’s a story in a Buddhist text that the Buddha was meditating in the forest one-day when an old man came by and challenged him: “What’s your doctrine, Mendicant?

“My doctrine, Friend, is such that I don’t argue with anyone; a doctrine wherein one who is free from attachment is free of the underlying tendencies which beset of person (and which lead to violence).”

(For a translation of the whole of the Honeyball Sutta, visit here.)

What might this look like in practice? There’s a story on the focusing.org site about a man in Afghanistan, who argued with his neighbour over water rights. So angry was he that he went back to his home to get a weapon. – no doubt, in his view, to return and revenge his honour.

However, this man had been taught Focusing, so that while at his home it occurred to him that he may ‘have a guest.’ A guest in the heart is a ‘someone’ (you could say) who is not intrinsic to the human heart. So he sat down, there, and looked inward at his feelings and at the ‘more’ which came there – some of the ‘underlying tendencies,’ the Buddha might say.

And indeed he did discover that it was a ‘guest’ and not his authentic self who wanted to return in violence to his neighbour. So, instead, he returned and told his neighbour that he would take his water rights the next day and his neighbour could have them today. His surprised neighbour asked what had happened, so he told him about Focusing.

In my view, Focusing is a way of contacting the subtle source of meaning-making in the felt body. It’s a way of transforming and not maintaining the tendencies to division in us which give rise to so much human conflict.

The man’s neighbour was impressed, and as a result the village set about expanding the opportunities for Focusing. They set up a house for purpose. (You can read an account of the story here.)

I talk about the necessity for us to learn how – in whatever way we can – how to listen deeply, to ourselves and to others. The violence between us and against nature, this is optional. It may take decades, or centuries, but it is created by thought, not by organic nature. We can engage in a learning which is of the nature of an unlearning.

To do this we have to be willing to meet our habits of ‘mind.’ I know, from practice, that it’s a daunting proposition. You might think, if it means that we have to know our own thoughts for there to be peace between humans… well, that’s a two thousand years project. This may be the case; but what choice do we have? More importantly, though, we can begin to feel some changes and benefits now.

I remember talking with a friend many years ago and telling her how I was learning mindfulness. On hearing that it means being aware of everything about yourself, as it’s happening – your body, feelings, sense perceptions intentions and thoughts – she exclaimed, “Oh, God! I don’t want to know what I’m thinking!”

It is nevertheless possible to survive such intimate self-knowledge, and it really does make a difference to the quality of your relationships. In fact, it changes everything if you follow it through to the root. It does transform the ‘underlying tendencies’ which give rise to discord. We become a ‘guest house’ for whatever negativity or exaggerated passion which may surface; so that, like the Afghani man, we realise we are more than our desires and hungers – more than the stuff of our personalities.

We are forever hankering after and yet resisting the world as it is – the world with all its insecurity, all its loss, all its changes. I think my friend felt there was something she’d lose, to know herself so intimately. Yet, when we give up concocting reality, something priceless remains. And that knowledge provides, as the Buddha would say, “a pleasant abiding here and now”; complete, I need to add, with all the power you need to stand against injustices. The end of being run by the underlying tendencies to division is: peace of heart, a flourishing inner life, and an energetic, engaged life.

Our Afghan friend in the story was inspired by the Rumi poem “The Guest House.” This poem was perhaps inspired by an earlier teaching of the Buddha:

“In a guest house, Practitioners, people from the east may take lodgings, or people from the west, north or south. People from the warrior caste may come and take lodgings there, and also brahmans, middle class people and the underclass.
“Similarly, Practitioners, there arise in this body various kinds of feelings; there arise pleasant feelings, painful feelings and feelings which are neutral; there are gross feelings that are pleasant, painful or neither; and subtle feelings that are pleasant, painful and neutral.”

The Buddha’s way was to be kind, compassionate, and dispassionate toward our ‘guests.’  Rumi said, “Greet them at the door, laughing.” They are transformed by relating with understanding.

Meditating with the Body

Kāyasakkhī Sutta (The ‘Realising Through the Body’ Sutta)
Anguttara Nikāya, 9.43

Translated from the Pāli by Christopher J. Ash.

Questioner: “‘Realising the truth through the body,’ it is said. As described by the flourishing one, how is one realising truth though the body?”

Respondent: “Where, Friend, there is a practitioner, unattached to sensuality, unattached to non-skilful mental processes, who enters and abides in the first jhāna – where there is bliss and pleasure arising from being unattached, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation – when she abides thus, in touch with her body in whatever way is possible, in this way, one is described by the flourishing one as one realising through the body, though provisionally.

“And so, with the allaying of directed thoughts and evaluations, she enters and abides in the second jhāna… the third jhāna… the fourth jhāna… the dimension of immeasurable space… the dimension of immeasurable consciousness… the dimension of no-thingness… and the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception – when she abides thus, in touch with her body in whatever way is possible, in this way, one is described by the flourishing one as one realising through the body, though provisionally.

“And so, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, she enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. Then, seeing with discernment, her mental fermentations go to their total end, and she abides thus, in touch with her body in whatever way is possible. It is to this extent that one is described by the flourishing one as one realising through the body definitively.”

(See accesstoinsight for another translation.)

The Deathless

Translated from the Anguttara Nikaya; from the Book of the Ones, by Christopher McLean

“Practitioners, one does not enjoy the deathless who doesn’t enjoy mindfulness directed to the body. One enjoys the deathless who enjoys mindfulness directed to the body. The deathless has been enjoyed, by those who have enjoyed mindfulness directed to the body.

“Practitioners, one has fallen away from the deathless who has fallen away from mindfulness directed to the body. One hasn’t fallen away from the deathless who hasn’t fallen away from mindfulness directed to the body. One has neglected the deathless who has neglected mindfulness directed to the body. One is bent on the deathless who is bent on mindfulness directed to the body.

“Practitioners, one is heedless about the deathless who is heedless about mindfulness directed to the body. One is heedful of the deathless who is heedful of mindfulness directed to the body. One has forgotten the deathless who has forgotten mindfulness directed to the body. One hasn’t forgotten the deathless who hasn’t forgotten mindfulness directed to the body.

“Practitioners, one hasn’t resorted to, developed and seriously taken up the deathless who hasn’t resorted to, developed and seriously taken up mindfulness directed to the body. One has resorted to, developed, and seriously taken up the deathless who has resorted to, developed, and seriously taken up mindfulness directed to the body.

“Practitioners, one hasn’t recognized, fully comprehended, and realised the deathless who hasn’t recognized, fully comprehended, and realised mindfulness directed to the body. One has recognized, fully comprehended, and realised the deathless who has recognized, fully comprehended and realised mindfulness directed to the body.”

Ways of Seeing the Body

What is clear from the experience of mindfulness, from this practice of immediacy, is that the lived body is not the body of science, nor the medical body; that it has gradations from (what might be called) course experience to very subtle. And instead of being a mere ‘housing’ for an owner, it has level upon level of intelligence of its own. Perhaps if humanity listened more attentively to the body’s wisdom, we might find a way forward in a way that respects nature, and doesn’t dominate it. Anyhow, at the very least, you and I can contribute by finding our way into belonging on the earth, by attuning to our bodies.

From the Samyutta Nikaya

iv.360; p.1372 of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation:

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, I will teach you the unconditioned and the path leading to the unconditioned. Listen to that…

“And what, bhikkhus, is the unconditioned? The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this is called the unconditioned.

“”And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Mindfulness directed to the body: this is called the path leading to the unconditioned.

“Thus, bhikkhus, I have taught you the unconditioned and the path leading to the unconditioned. Whatever should be done, bhikkhus, by a compassionate teacher out of compassion for his disciples, desiring their welfare, that I have done for you. These are the feet of trees, bhikkhus, these are empty huts. Meditate, bhikkhus, do not be negligent, lest you regret it later. This is our instruction to you.”

Knowing Nibbāna Directly

Just looking back at that verse from the Udana, translated by F.L.Wooward, to put it in a more modern idiom:

With mindfulness of the body present,
restrained in her sixfold sense contact,
the seeker continuously collected
can know nibbāna herself.
– Ud.III.iv

I appreciate the poise in this discipline. Here it reminds me of one of my favourite short suttas, called ‘Crossing over the Flood’ (SN 1.1), where the Buddha says he: “…crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place.”

“When I pushed forward, I was whirled about. When I stayed in place, I sank. And so I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place.”

The whole sutta, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu can be found at:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn01/sn01.001.than.html

Contemplating the Great Primary Elements (Mahābhūta)

Continuing with the translation of MN 119, the ‘Mindfulness of Body (Kāyagatāsati) Sutta.’ The Buddha instructs his disciples (i.e., those undertaking the discipline)…

“Again, seekers, a seeker contemplates this very body – however it is placed and whatever its posture – in respect of the four primary elements: ‘In this body, there is the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element.’

Just as, Seekers, a skilled butcher or their apprenctice, having killed a cow, might sit at the crossroads with the dissected portions, a seeker contemplates this very body – however it is placed and whatever its posture, she reviews it [in terms of] the four primary elements: ‘In this body, there is the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element.’

“As she dwells thus, ardent, diligent and committed, her thoughts about mundane life are abandoned and hence the mind becomes inwardly steadied, quieted, unified and collected. In this way a practitioner develops mindfulness of the body.”

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The Four Great Elements of the Body.
Note that in this analysis, at present, we are just looking at the elements as found in the body. It is possible to find correlates of these elements in ‘the mind,’ but that is not our subject here.

Text: “atthi imasmiṃ kāye pathavīdhātu āpodhātu tejodhātu vāyodhātū.” “There are in this body, earth-element (pathavīdhātu), water-element (āpodhātu), fire-element (tejodhātu), air [or wind]-element (vāyodhātū).’

The practitioner inspects the body and discovers it in these qualities, which, for a beginning, we can define thus: earth = the solid, resistant, or hard element of the body; water = fluidity, wetness; fire = temperature (varying levels of warmth and cold); and air = movement or mobility.

It’s interesting that none of these stays the same from moment to moment – they are always alive and interactive, lighting up from moment to moment. It can also be easily observed, in these experiential reveiws which we do of the body during the day, that the hardness element varies according to one’s posture, one’s environment, and level of consciousness of one’s body. It can also be discovered, that when we have one element, we have the others.

Exploring the breath is particularly interesting from the movement point of view. How do you know you are breathing? Much of it (besided the sensations in the nostrils and nasal passages) is due to movement in the body. Also, temperature can be explored in the difference between the in-breath and out-breath. How do you know a particular breath is either an in-breath or an out-breath? If one’s perception is subtle enough, it’s likely a combination of all of the elements. Explore it. (Just note, if you are a beginner, it can be a little scary letting your breath breathe itself. But begin to learn how that can happen, just the same.)

The idea of these ‘elements’ isn’t to provide a scientific model for material events, but to encourage directly seeing what one is actually sensing. The word ‘body’ presents an entity that is much more than a thing – it is a subtle and complex set of perceptual events. If it wasn’t for sensations of this order of subtelty, how would one know there is a ‘body,’ for designating so. ‘Body’ is an aggregation of events – this body is conditions.

So, a personal note – during the night I was intimately contemplating my body, in terms of the elements, and I began to wonder, given my fibromyalgia (which was keeping me awake), then, where does pain fit in with this schema? Then I realised that it isn’t meant to – ‘pain’ is a word which designates something which is not a primary element of the body.

This can be seen by the fact that when you go 100% into pain, it changes. This isn’t the same for the four elements – go 100% into them, and (near enough, considering the space element may arise) they remain what they are: solid or soft, wet or dry, warm or cool, and moving or still. Pain, on the other hand, can even occasionally dissolve upon complete acceptance.

This contemplation makes possible the discernment of the difference between the fundamental presentation of the body, and the presentations that we call ‘mental.’ Once one’s inner poise (samādhi) is steady enough, discerning the basics of the body makes possible the discovery, on their own ground, of the kinds of experience that we designate as ‘mind’; and it becomes possible to see the inter-relation of these experiential dimensions.

What’s the purpose of all this? Freedom. It is even possible, once we are ‘inwardly steadied, quieted, unified and collected’, and when we are familiar with bodily and mental phenomena, to call into question whether there are even such ‘things’ as ‘moments’ to justify such phrases as ‘from moment to moment’ – and so, to become unbound.

May all being enjoy exploring the four great elements!

Mindfulness of body well-fixed

What a tough time I’ve been having in this body of mine, lately. The Fibromyalgia has been intense, but last night was so interesting – exploring the (Buddhist) elements and then asking “Exactly what is pain?” Going into the pain with that question revealed new dimensions of interdepdendence. A deep bow to my spiritual ancestors.
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Here’s another text (Ud.III.iv), from Woodward’s translation of the Udana, in its now-quaint English:

Thus have I heard: On a certain occasionthe Exalted One was staying near Sāvatthi… in Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. And on that occasion the venerable Moggallāna the Great was seated not far from the Exalted One in cross-legged posture, holding his body upright, having mindfulness concerned with body well established within himself. And the exalted one saw the venerable Moggallāna the Great doing so, and at that time, seeing the meaning of it, gave utterance to this verse of uplift:

If mindfulness of body be well fixed,
The monk restrained in the six spheres of sense,
Ever composed, could his Nibbāna know.

Contemplating the less aesthetic side of things

Continuing with MN 119, Kāyagatāsati Sutta…

In the next section of the sutta, we are invited to consider the less aesthetic aspects of the body. This hardly needs any commentary. Two easy observations arise, straight away: a culture which is obsessed with the external appearance of the body, is unlikely to be inclined to acknowledge the basic biological actualities. This portion is not a rap-song for the cat-walk set.

Secondly, regular contemplation of this kind will definitely impress the contemplative with the truth of their mortality, providing the reflection is loving and kind, and especially if it brings an ‘inner smile’ to the organs of the body – Thich Nhat Hanh-style,for example. This contemplation needs to be balanced with positivity, so that it doesn’t affect the yogi morbidly. It can be the ground for a realistic care of one’s fragile life; and being positive and realistic is can bring to light our narcissistic constructions based our lack of grounded knowledge of the body.

The sutta:

“Again, Seekers, up from the soles of the feet, down from the hair on the head, this very body bounded by skin and full of various impurities, the practitioner contemplates thus: “There is in this body: head-hair and body-hair, nails and teeth, skin and flesh, ligaments, bones and marrow, kidneys, heart and liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines and mesentery, the stomach, faeces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, the fat, tears, grease, saliva, mucus, synovial fluid and urine.” Just as if there was a bag opened at both ends, full of various grains – such as, fine rice and paddy, green peas and beans, sesame and husked rice – and a man with eyes to see were to reflect, as he emptied the bag, that, “This is fine rice; this paddy; these are green peas; these are beans; this is sesame; and this is husked rice. In just the same way does the seeker contemplate this very body, up from the soles of the feet, down from the hair on the head, bounded by kind and full of various impure things: “In this body there are head-hair and body-hair, nails and teeth, skin and flesh, … synovial fluid and urine.”

As she dwells thus, ardent, diligent and committed, her thoughts about mundane concerns are abandoned and hence the mind becomes inwardly steadied, quieted, unified and collected. In this way a seeker develops mindfulness of the body.”

This is another marvellous aspect of mindfulness of the body. There is an irony in this, of course. Contemplating the less beautiful side of our bodies, we can engender a respect for the beautiful intricacy of biological processes. What science has taught us about the workings of these organs – their intricately dynamic conditions – is staggeringly wondrous. Let’s leave that wonder in place, and even celebrate the awesome creativity of nature. However, none of it establishes that the body can provide the mind with unassailable peace, with true fulfilment – only the discovery of an unconditioned element (nibbāna) can provide this.

Mahāmoggallāna

I’m in the process of a major transition, having completed my separation from the town that I’ve lived in for the last twenty-three years. Hopefully, I will be able to regularly write in this blog from here on.

I’ve been re-reading the Udana, and this translation (by John Ireland) if from that Pali collection:

3.5 Mahāmoggallāna
Thus have I heard. At one time the Lord was staying near Sāvatthī in the Jeta Wood at Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. On that occasion the venerable Mahāmoggallāna was sitting cross-legged not far from the Lord, holding his body erect, having mindfulness with regard to the body well established within him.

The Lord saw the venerable Mahāmoggallāna sitting cross-legged not far away, holding his body erect, having mindfulness with regard to the body well established within him.
Then on realising its significance, the Lord uttered on that occasion this inspired utterance:

With mindfulness of the body established,
Controlled over contact’s sixfold base,
A bhikkhu who is always concentrated
Can know Nibbāna for himself.

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