Bodhi and contentment.

contentment IMG_0104

This is the penultimate article on Bodhi. The next topic will be the beliefs of the Cathars, a medieval Christian sect in Europe, and the similarities with Buddhist beliefs.

Bodhi mind, or generating Bodhicitta, is all about creating the aspiration for enlightenment. In other words, the intention to free oneself from all cravings and negative emotions, from all suffering. The motivation to become liberated is to be able to take all sentient beings with you to enlightenment, to the other shore of Nirvana. This involves not only deepening personal meditation and compassion, but also sharing that aspiration with others. It is said in the Nirvana sutra that if you keep such a thing to yourself it will corrode inside you and cause damage. Sharing such a glorious aspiration is something that can bring us closer to touching the human community at large, to realize the true purpose of enlightenment and, ultimately, faith.

A large part of generating Bodhicitta is to be content with life as it is and with you as you are. Of course, when you climb on to a spiritual path, you are hoping for change because you have become fixed in your views and are suffering as a result. and of course change is inevitable in the Dharma. However, most of the changes will happen in the mass of the iceberg below the surface of your conscious mind, in your unconscious mind. They will likely be subtle changes which you may not notice at first. The way to deal with this I have found is through trust, putting my trust in the qualified spiritual guides. After all, they know best what we should do to eliminate all cravings and suffering.

So, if we observe the moral laws, or Buddhist precepts as they are called, and then trust in the Buddhas and deities to guide us, we can be truly content. Every day I feel so reassured that my spiritual progress is inevitable and my moral conduct flawless, as long as I follow these simple guidelines.  Nowadays, life led by human desires is to me chaos: whereas leading a Buddha centred life is well-ordered and heavenly. I can no longer imagine making huge decisions about the way I live my life from my own limited and self-centred view of the world. It seems so pointless and wrought with the suffering of being trapped inside the prison of my mind.

In terms of material objects, I am certain that if I live altruistically, looking after others before myself, then the universe and the Buddhas will take care of my needs. But I have everything I need in my life nowadays, and I am working steadily towards nothing else except emptiness and enlightenment. Contentment is such a relaxed and serene state to experience. I recommend it. The positive views of plenty and abundance are so much more exciting than the negative views of scarcity and lack.

Chunda

In the Buddha’s final moments in human life as he reclined on his deathbed no longer able to deal with gravity, masses of devotees assembled to make their last offerings. The higher castes and enlightened offered opulent gifts, sacks of gold and herds of goats, the more lowly homemade food and drinks, but the Buddha refused to accept everything. Then a young blacksmith called Chunda appeared with his 15 friends. They offered a simple meal to the Buddha, and the Buddha accepted saying that Chunda had brought so many friends to meet the Buddha out of true Bodhicitta, the desire to share enlightenment with others. Chunda was so contented to be exactly who he was despite his lowly status compared with the majority of the congregation. So he could make sincere offerings of both his food and his friends. He had the quiet confidence that comes with contentment and acceptance.

We can all be Chunda if we put aside our craving and discontent.

Bodhi and the unconscious mind

flickerings

full stream of light

As we have seen, we can cultivate Bodhi mind, tranquil though thoroughly awakened mind, through purifying with rituals and meditation, which may consist of reflection or tranquil abiding, or both. (Meditation will be the topic of the next set of articles.  This is a complex subject as different traditions practice meditation in varying ways). So, we aspire to become enlightened, to purify ourselves until all cravings and productions of the ordinary mind are without ego, until we come face to face with reality instead of a set of projections of the ordinary mind.

In western thinking there are simply two levels to the mind: the conscious and the unconscious. It’s much more complex in ancient Indian thinking, in Asia and the East, and this is not the place to delve into that enormous topic. We have a fair amount of control over the conscious mind, which we could call the human or mundane mind. This is the place we do all our conscious thinking and learning, our positive and negative thinking and speculating, etc. It is often called the knowing mind, the aware mind. If we lose consciousness, then we cease to be aware of, we cease to know, our surroundings.

If we are lucky enough to have a qualified guru or spiritual guide, then our conscious mind can be addressed, can be brought to our conscious attention. This is so reassuring as well as purifying. Dreams and clairvoyance can also look into the iceberg below the tip. Most of us are never or rarely able to know our unconscious mind, unless we are reborn as a spiritual medium or are a realized being. It is said that when we elevate, we become able to see past, present and future karma.

To have indications from your spiritual guide is an incredible privilege. Such opportunities to address our shortcomings and interferences with the conscious mind should not be passed by. You may be told that you still have pride, or a tendency to analyse too closely, or that you are blaming others unconsciously. This is something you can begin to look out for during your interactions with others. It’s as if an extra dimension has been added to your view of the world. But of course, the real changes can be made in collaboration with the Dharma Protectors who arrange all the conditions meticulously for our effective practice.

When such things are indicated, we must first accept them with humility and willingness to change for the sake of all living beings. Then, we will start to become aware, represented by a few flickerings of the element of the light bulb. And one day, the intermittent flashes become the steady bright light of wisdom. Add to this regular rituals and reverence and a moderate life style, and soon you and others will recognize the change in you, and your life will have transformed into pure joy and the emptiness of the divine.

We take so much into the unconscious mind, which is stored there forever until it is retrieved. A good example of how this works is when we learn a language. If we are living in the country or region of the language we are learning, then in addition to consciously learning the elements of the language, we also absorb so much more into the unconscious mind. So, if we plan to change ourselves consciously, change is limited to the conscious mind. But if we invest our interest in changing at the unconscious level, then our changes have no limit.  We can become anything we want because our power increases, the self-installed prison doors are flung open and we are free. Ordinary mind is a useful tool, but unconscious or Bodhi mind is the complete tool box. By clearing away our negative karma and becoming aware of our shortcomings, we can realize total and enduring happiness. This happiness has a quality which never appears when the ordinary mind is so-called happy. It is Bodhicitta, the aspiration to enlightenment for all sentient beings.

The bus driver may drive badly or well, but he or she doesn’t know how the passengers feel behind them. This is like the conscious and unconscious minds. The driver is the conscious mind, the passengers behind are the unconscious. How can the driver know the effect of his driving on the passengers who depend on him to get where they are going. With practice and insight we can be both passenger and driver.

Bodhi mind and the power of sound

mantras

When Bodhi mind, treasure mind, is activated, and you are immersed in the well-being of all sentient beings while casting your own aside, even a broken bell can be made to ring. It is said that even birds in flight will stop and rest their wings on hearing the resonance of such a bell. The Bodhi mind is a state of mind in which the spirit is fully awake, fully aware of the impermanence of all things. It is a state of mind in which we can unlock ourselves from the prison of delusive passions, compulsions and cravings. It is our true nature.

mantras 2

The sound of the ancient syllables of a mantra or prayer can fill our being to the top. We don’t need anything else, any thoughts or worries or self-generated sounds. This sensation is comparable to letting the power of a piece of music, which resonates with you uniquely, take you over. We all know that feeling I think. We take refuge inside the sounds without a care in the world. The sounds resonate with our spirit to bring about total repose or quiescence.  We reach a sublime state which perhaps it is difficult to come back to the ‘real’ world from. But what we don’t realize is that this emptiness, this perfect contentment, is reality! And you can have that constantly in your life if you let go of your deluded mind!

All beings are potential Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The words on the lips of everyone we encounter in our lives are teachings, messages from the invisible world. We should let them flow into us like the most mellifluous of music. The same applies to all natural phenomena in the world. Look fully at a beautiful sky, an eclipse, a storm or an autumn leaf on the ground, a tear in the eye of your loved one, and you are connected to the Dharma and the greatest of teachings. Simply accept the messages and your higher self will store them as a constant resource in your wisdom bank. The Dharma is all around us constantly, eternally, but we choose instead our own mind’s views. We will never become wise and truly happy if we choose the world made by our own mind. We need to open the window or the door and go outside this limited human view.

Sound is energy, and energy can never be destroyed. It is eternal. This is why the ancient mantras and prayers from the world’s religions have survived for thousands of years.  The syllables are imbued with the original utterances of their respective teachers. We intone them with sincerity and they reach back through our lineages to the eternal source to connect us.

subduing Mara

When the Buddha was on his deathbed in the sala grove, surrounded by the multitudes who had come to pay their last respects and make precious offerings, Mara, the Prince of Demons who had plagued him with every possible distraction and temptation during his enlightenment, was also present. He humbly prostrated himself at the feet of the Buddha to make a final offering of a mantra as well as food and drink. The Buddha refused the food and drink, but he willingly accepted the mantra. Humbled by the Buddha’s enlightenment, Mara offered a mantra that could be used to eliminate all the dangers and perils faced by those who practice the Mahayana way.

Rachmaninov

Serge Rachmaninov

Music has brought numerous realizations into my own life. As a professional musician, I reached a state of such deep immersion in the music of the Great Romantics – Rachmaninov, Wagner, Scriabin, Tchaikovsky – as a performer, that I was temporarily unable to return to so-called ‘real’ life. Like Rachmaninov himself, I had what the medics called a ‘nervous breakdown,’ what Buddhists would call a ‘realization,’ while at work on his second piano concerto. The vibrations of this sublime music consumed me to a point at which I had to cease working on it. Even today, when I hear certain music from that period, I can feel myself slipping away. I so needed to climb on to the Buddhist pathway to keep my balance in human life. The bell and the ancient chants keep me anchored nowadays.

The significance of sound must not be underestimated. The bell of awakening is rung often in our various religious traditions. It signifies the true form of all existence and has the capability of purifying bodes and minds. Let the vibrations mingle with your own. This is reality, now and here forever.

Bodhi Mind and Mindfulness

noticing

It is only by being able to follow your mind and its movements with your higher self that you can catch it or notice it behaving in a distracting way, or even badly. Of course, as mentioned, meditation and the attainment of a tranquil treasure mind is the master key to this.  But then, in daily life, when we get busy and disturbed by the problems and worries symptomatic of worldly life, we need to be able to watch or survey the movements of the mind. This requires us to be totally self-honest and able to admit that we do have negative and perhaps damaging thoughts about other people and even about ourselves. We may be easily able to deny that we have such thoughts, but there are so many possible sources of them that it is rare that all beings don’t experience them no matter how enlightened and evolved they are.

So, first, we have to accept that we are not perfect, not untouched by the three poisons of hatred, greed and ignorance. Then, when a thought sneaks into our mind, simply notice it and repent. Regret for being jealous or envious, for hating, for having greedy thoughts, is perfectly forgivable, but it is you who must do the forgiving.  You must forgive yourself and move on. Such thoughts are like gravel or pebbles that flow around your feet in the rapidly moving stream of Dharma. We notice them and they flow on down stream. You must notice them and then detach and start again.

filter

If we are totally honest with ourselves we can make a strong foundation for installing the filter of mindfulness. We filter the negative to preserve the tranquil mind. Cleaning out the filter from time to time is our purification by detachment. If the mind is to be completely empty and devoid of cravings of any kind, then the filter needs to be in place all the time, and requires regular cleaning. This continuing process will eventually reveal  to you your sparkling Buddha Nature, like a diamond in the dirt found by accident.

Generosity with material items like money and property, etc. is a great way of polishing your Bodhi mind and remaining mindful. You give what you have to others, and they give back to you. You trust that the universe will provide for you as you provide for others and it. Giving time is a precious gesture in today’s busy world. Please spend time with people giving them your undivided attention and your compassion. They are part of you remember. You have lived and will live through their very sufferings, so the bond is unconditional between you and others. Your experience of life is the most opulent of gifts, so give freely of this, and of your listening to every word they say.

With time you can train yourself to divert the negative emotions and thoughts that arise in your mind unbidden. Returning to the Buddha or the Dharma Protectors of Heaven and Earth will awaken you. Gratitude for your existence, your ancestors, all your teachers no matter what they have taught you, will snap you away from such delusions. There are many mantras you can repeat to get you back to your Bodhi mind.

self-forgiveness

So, today, when your mind is carried off by a pointless worry or regret, or an anxiety about the future, please catch it with your fingers and gently accept it, and then let it go. You can smile your Buddha smile as you see it floating off down the Dharma stream. Your sincerity with yourself is the only way to open up the path, so why not just be entirely honest right now!

self-assessment

Bodhi – your anchor, your core

grinding wheel

Last article I tried to describe what a beautiful and tranquil mind Bodhi mind is. If you aspire for Bodhi to arise by having the sincere intention to bring all sentient beings to the other shore of Nirvana, to polish your Buddha nature until it is brilliant, then no matter what problems or stress you have, the tranquil mind is always available to you. Your guru, your spiritual guide or master, is indispensable in connecting you to the Dharma current which goes back directly to the Buddha Shyakyamuni, who did just that.

In my case, I have had many masters, and I recognize that all my partners throughout my life, have been excellent teachers too. They were excellent exactly because there was conflict and misunderstanding mixed in with pleasure and a feeling of being comfortable, during our time together. In this way, your partner or close friends/colleagues can act as a grinding wheel to remove the hard covering of dirt which temporarily covers the diamond in your heart. No matter what happened between you, the Bodhisattva way is to have immense gratitude to them for the opportunity they provided to develop and elevate your spirituality.

So, another aspect of the Bodhi mind is having the humility to be regretful if something goes wrong in your relationships, to be able to let go of a grudge and openly admit the problem was caused by your pride or impatience, or just sheer tiredness, stress, etc. If we hold a grudge or sulk, this creates poison, and of course bad karma which will ripen sometime in the future. The important thing is to repent and admit that some strange karma might have arisen to cause you to act in an unskillful way. We always desire the great happiness of others if we are truly on the path.

If we can shake ourselves loose from the grip of this temporary state of anger or aggression or negative emotion of some kind, then we can sink back into the soft bed of Bodhi tranquility and take time to recover. The Bodhi mind in this respect is a refuge from the storms of Samsara. It is always available to you because your are unconditionally embraced by the Buddha, and therefore your guru, an emanation of the Buddha, and indeed potentially by all beings.

Bodhi – our true nature

true nature

To cultivate the Bodhi mind, which all sentient beings possess, one of the things we need to deal with is attachment, shuchaku in Japanese. We are human beings placed in families, societies, communities and nations packed with spiritual pitfalls and traps. It is no mistake that we are in this position because the environment around us is a reflection of the condition of our Buddha Nature, that gem within us all that becomes dirtied with negative karma and the detritus of ignorance, anger and greed. We are in our placement exactly so that we can learn the lessons human life can teach us if we allow it.

It is important to say that we must never underestimate the colossal power of the human mind. It is comparable to nuclear energy, which as we know can be used to good ends, but can equally be used to bad. Only we, each of us, have the authority to decide which purposes to use it for. So, what motivates us to make the decision to ignore our Buddha Nature and plunge into suffering. Are we potential lemmings, rushing headlong over the edge of the cliff to destruction, following others blindly?

There are many things that can distract us from making the right decision about this, and perhaps the most pressing is pride. How can we, or why should we, believe that this ‘theory’ of Buddha Nature is correct; and furthermore, how can we prove it works. Well, if you look around at Buddhists, past present and future, you will see how they shine, and how they live. Lasting happiness and clear sense of mission is what Bodhisattvas, committed to walking the Bodhi pathway for the sake of others, have attained. This is well documented in the Buddhist literature. You can detect their Buddha Nature radiant like the Moon. So, as my guru always advises, don’t question and analyse with your head because there is no logic to the Bodhisattva way. It is a path of the heart, so just start to walk it with trust, and the understanding will come later. This is the first switch we have to press in this process – put our pride and fear aside, and just believe that the gurus and spiritual guides know the way to Nirvana.

The second reason for mistaken choices lies in attachment. We are human, and so we think it is our right to claim and to have human power over our lives, and to a certain extent we do need to have control of our busy lives. However, if we divorce ourselves from the spiritual, from the energy of the heart, then there is a danger that power becomes exaggerated and the ego dominant. It can easily get out of control to the point when we are no longer aware of how much our ego is driving us.

I have learned that It is always important to listen the voice of the Buddhas in those around us, to the needs and desires of others. If we cling on to our own power, exercising it freely in social and professional life, we begin to think that success, acclaim and wealth are the be-all and the end-all of our existence. The human mind can be tricky and deceptive unless we temper it with spiritual discipline and compassion. With mindfulness, watching our minds carefully, dispassionately, using tools like meditative reflection and Dharma, we can begin to recognize when the human is dominating, and when the spiritual being is in balance with it. We can learn to easily pull away from the desperation of the ego into the emptiness and pure light of the Bodhi mind, the treasure mind, the mind which puts the Buddha at the centre of life.

We should remember, Bodhi mind is by its very nature clear, calm, content and empty. On his deathbed, in the Nirvana teachings, the Buddha said,

O my disciples! The essence of this teaching is to learn to control your own mind. If you are tempted by passion, attached to worldly things, and distracted by greed, you must learn to control those feelings and become master of your mind.

A swarm of worldly desires is always looking for the opportunity to engulf you. If a viper enters your room, you must drive it away; otherwise, you will be unable to sleep peacefully

The power of the ego-centred mind is becoming more measurable with advanced technology, so we are able to have some scientific proof of what it is capable of. Recently I watched an amazing film demonstrating this convincingly, called Apartment 134. A family is in psychic distress after the mysterious death of mother/wife.  The husband struggles with grief and his two disturbed children, but his daughter Kaitlin blames him entirely for her mother’s death, displaying hostility to him at every turn. In desperation, the father calls in a psychic team to find the source of many frightening and inexplicable psychic phenomena, which continue to beleaguer them even though they have moved away from the family home where they first appeared.

The team moves in to Apartment 134 for a few days, setting up a battery of highly sensitive equipment – cameras in each room, movement and psychic energy detectors, etc.  Benny, the son, is only 4 so cannot comprehend what is happening, but Kaitlin and father are certain that the evil energy emanates from the ghost of their wife/mother. The head of the team explains that there are no such things as supernatural phenomena to them. All psychic phenomena such as the undead, poltergeists, etc. emanate entirely from the minds of human beings. In other words, that stress can generate hallucinations and ethereal states in the same way that consciousness-altering drugs can induce them.

A mind in high stress is capable of projecting all manner of distorted and destructive energy out into the environment, but the father finds it very hard to accept that it is not something outside the human mind that is causing all these dramatic disturbances. The expert also explains that pubescent girls and even young boys can be the source of such energy, so it is decided that Benny will go to stay with his grandfather overnight so that they can ascertain if Benny is the cause.

The long night vigil begins, and such evil captured on film and sound recorders in that claustrophobic apartment you have never imagined! The climax virtually destroys the apartment in a whirlwind, ripping even the paint from the walls. The team and the father struggle through this psychic storm to the bedroom of Kaitlin, who has levitated up to the ceiling, screaming hysterically because she cannot be released. When the father tries to pull her down she gives off electric shocks so he is hurled around the room and battered unmercifully. Eventually the whirlwind subsides and Kaitlin plummets to the floor badly injured, father too, and even the team has received injuries.

We see that the apartment is completely wrecked as the ambulance personnel come to take the injured away.  In the closing scene, the exhausted team start to dismantle the cameras and pack away all the complex machinery, but they decide to go to tend their wounds and come back the next day to finish off. The monitors are left on, and as they close the front door, we witnesses are allowed a few moments of surveillance of the shattered living room. Several seconds go by with flickering of light and some strange sounds, and then in a searing vision, we see a bloodied undead woman crawling along the ceiling! All this demonic energy is produced entirely by the human mind. This film is a riveting and authentic document of actual events.

We humans have incredible power at our fingertips, but only the wholesome human heart of compassion and light – Bodhi, will take us to enlightenment, to Nirvana. As you can see, there are in fact no choices in the matter between secular and sacred. We can simply revert to our true nature and let the path choose us.