Thursday, July 2, 2015

Escapism vs. MINDFULNESS

Ven. Nyanaponika; Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly
What's the alternative to being angry, confused, or full of cravings? (Tess_Athey)
What is escapism? It is the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etcetera. In a sense, it is the opposite of mindfulness (being here now with awareness) of our moment to moment experience without reacting or getting caught up in thoughts about it. But does mindfulness have the power liberate us from all forms of suffering? Yes, if we develop it on a foundation of meditative-absorption to directly see Dependent Origination.

The Power of Mindfulness: An Inquiry into the Scope of Bare Attention and the Principal Sources of its Strength
Is mindfulness actually a power as claimed by the title?
  • [DEFINITION: Mindfulness is "present moment bare-awareness," which means being here NOW without evaluating, judging, commenting, or discursively thinking about data presented to the six senses, which includes the mind and mental objects such as thoughts, memories, and imagination, but instead being awake-and-aware and equanimous about just what is happening right now.]
Young German Ven. Nyanaponika, Sri Lanka
Seen from the viewpoint of the ordinary pursuits of life, it does not seem so. From that angle mindfulness, or bare attention, has a rather modest place among many other seemingly more important mental faculties serving the purpose of variegated wish-fulfillment.

Here, mindfulness means just "to watch one's steps" so that one may not stumble or miss a chance in the pursuit of one's aims. Only in the case of specific tasks and skills is mindfulness sometimes cultivated more deliberately, but here too it is still regarded as a subservient function, and its wider scope and possibilities are not recognized.
Even if one turns to the Buddha's Doctrine, the Dharma, taking only a surface view of the various classifications and lists of mental factors in which mindfulness appears, one may be inclined to regard this faculty just as "one among many."

Again one may get the impression that it has a rather subordinate place and is easily surpassed in significance by other faculties.
Mindfulness in fact has, if we may personify it, a rather unassuming character. Compared with it, mental factors such as energy, devotion, imagination, and intelligence are certainly more colorful personalities, making an immediate and strong impact on people and situations. Their conquests are sometimes rapid and vast, though often insecure.

Mindfulness can be practiced all the time. For insight, it is best applied in peace and silence.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is of an unobtrusive nature. Its virtues shine inwardly, and in ordinary life most of its merits are passed on to other mental faculties which generally receive all the credit.

One must know mindfulness well and cultivate its acquaintance before one can appreciate its value and its silent penetrative influence.

Mindfulness walks slowly and deliberately, and its daily task is of a rather humdrum nature. Yet, where it places its feet it cannot easily be dislodged, and it acquires and bestows true mastery of the ground it covers.
Mental faculties of such a nature, like actual personalities of a similar type, are often overlooked or underrated. In the case of mindfulness, it required a genius like the Buddha to discover the "hidden talent" in the modest garb and to develop the vast inherent power of that potent seed.
It is, indeed, the mark of a genius to perceive and to harness the power of the seemingly small. Here, truly, it happens that "what is little becomes much." A revaluation of values takes place.
The standards of greatness and smallness change. Through the master mind of the Buddha, mindfulness is finally revealed as the Archimedean point where the vast revolving mass of world suffering is levered out of its twofold anchorage in ignorance and craving.
The Buddha spoke of the power of mindfulness in a very emphatic way:
"Mindfulness, I declare, is all-helpful" (SN 46:59). "All things can be mastered by mindfulness" (AN 8:83).
Further, there is that solemn and weighty utterance opening and concluding the Discourse on the Setting up of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutra):
"This is the only [or the one straight] way, meditators, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of pain and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of nirvana, namely the four foundations of mindfulness."
In ordinary life, if mindfulness, or bare attention, is directed to any object, it is rarely sustained long enough for the purpose of careful and factual observation. Generally, it is followed immediately by emotional reaction, discriminative thought, reflection, or purposeful action.
In a life and thought governed by the Buddha's Teachings, too, mindfulness (sati) is mostly linked with clear comprehension (sampaja├▒├▒a, "clear awareness of what one is currently doing") of the right purpose or suitability of an action and other considerations.

Bare attention
Escapism is fun! Who needs bare attention?
So again it is not viewed in itself. But to tap the actual and potential power of mindfulness it is necessary to understand and deliberately cultivate it in its basic, unalloyed form, which we shall call bare attention.

By bare attention we understand the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception.
It is called "bare" because it attends to the bare facts of a perception without reacting to them by deed, speech, or mental comment.
Ordinarily, that purely receptive state of mind is, as was said, just a very brief phase of the thought process of which one is often scarcely aware.
But in the methodical development of mindfulness aimed at the unfolding of its latent powers, bare attention is sustained for as long a time as one's strength of concentration permits.
Bare attention then becomes the key to the systematic meditative practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, opening the door to mind's mastery and final liberation.
Bare attention is developed in two ways, as (1) a methodical meditative practice with selected objects and (2) applied, as far as practicable, to the normal events of the day, together with a general attitude of "mindfulness and clear comprehension."

The details of the practice have been described elsewhere, and need not be repeated here.*
The Heart of Buddhist Meditation
The primary purpose of this essay is to demonstrate and explain the efficacy of this method, that is, to show the actual power of mindfulness.
Particularly in an age like ours, with its superstitious worship of ceaseless external activity, there will be those who ask: "How can such a passive attitude of mind as that of bare attention possibly lead to the great results claimed for it?"

In reply, one may be inclined to suggest to the questioner not to rely on the words of others, but to put these assertions of the Buddha to the test of personal experience.
But those who do not yet know the Buddha's teaching well enough to accept it as a reliable guide may hesitate to take up, without good reasons, a practice that just on account of its radical simplicity may appear strange to them.

In the following a number of such "good reasons" are therefore proffered for the reader's scrutiny. They are also meant as an introduction to the general spirit of cultivating the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and as pointers to its wide and significant perspectives.

Furthermore, it is hoped that he who has taken up the methodical training will recognize in the following observations certain features of his own practice and be encouraged to cultivate them deliberately.

Four Sources of Power in Bare Attention
What are the four aspects of bare attention, which are the mainsprings of the power of mindfulness? They are not the only sources of its strength, but they are the principal ones to which the efficacy of this method of mental development is due. The four are:
  1. the functions of "tidying-up" and "naming" exercised by bare attention,
  2. its non-violent, non-coercive procedure,
  3. the capacity of stopping and slowing down,
  4. the directness of vision bestowed by bare attention.
1. The Functions of "Tidying" and "Naming"
Tidying Up the Mental Household
Tidying and naming has to do an inner cleaning up not more busy-ness (Bankrate).
If anyone whose mind is not harmonized and controlled through methodical meditative training should take a close look at his own everyday thoughts and activities, that person will meet with a rather disconcerting sight.

Apart from the few main channels of his purposeful thoughts and activities, one will everywhere be faced with a tangled mass of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and casual bodily movements showing a disorderliness and confusion which one would certainly not tolerate in one's living-room.
Yet this is the state of affairs that we take for granted within a considerable portion of our waking life and our normal mental activity. Let us look at the details of this rather untidy picture:

First we meet a vast number of casual sense-impressions such as sights and sounds, passing constantly through our mind. Most of them remain vague and fragmentary; some are even based on faulty perceptions and misjudgments. Carrying these inherent weaknesses, they often form the untested basis for judgments and decisions on a higher level of consciousness.
True, all these casual sense impressions need not and cannot be objects of focused attention. A stone on the road that happens to meet our glance will have a claim on our attention only if it obstructs our progress or is of interest to us for some reason. Yet if we neglect these casual impressions too often, we may stumble over many stones lying on our road and also overlook many gems.
Besides the casual sense impressions, there are those more significant and definite perceptions, thoughts, feelings (sensations), and volitions (intentions, acts of will) which have a closer connection with our purposeful life. Here, too, we find that a very high proportion of them are in a state of utter confusion. Hundreds of cross-currents flash through the mind, and everywhere there are "bits and ends" of unfinished thoughts, stifled emotions, and passing moods. ...

In concluding this section, we briefly point out that the tidying-up and naming of mental processes is the indispensable preparation for fully understanding them in their true nature, the task of insight (vipassana). These functions, exercised by bare attention, will help dispel the illusion that the mental processes are compact. They will also help us to discern their specific nature or characteristics, and to notice their momentary rise and fall.

2. The Non-coercive Procedure
Obstacles to Meditation
Great elder Ven. Nyanaponika, BPS Editor, Sri Lanka
Both the world surrounding us and the world of our own minds are full of hostile and conflicting forces causing us pain and frustration.

We know from our own bitter experience that we are not strong enough to meet and conquer all these antagonistic forces in open combat. In the external world we cannot have everything exactly as we want it, while in the inner world of the mind, our passions, impulses, and whims often override the demands of duty, reason and our higher aspirations.
We further learn that often an undesirable situation will only worsen if excessive pressure is used against it. Passionate desires may grow in intensity if one tries to silence them by sheer force of will. 
Disputes and quarrels will go on endlessly and grow fiercer if they are fanned again and again by angry retorts or by vain attempts to crush the other man's position.

A disturbance during work, rest or meditation will be felt more strongly and will have a longer-lasting impact if one reacts to it by resentment and anger and attempts to suppress it.
Thus, again and again, we meet with situations in life where we cannot force issues. But there are ways... More


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