Friday, June 5, 2009

A Cure For What Ails

The buddhadharma is a collection of medicines for various dis-eases -- traditionally, 84,000 teachings for 84,000 kinds of suffering. Let's take a look at a half-dozen.

Recognizing our struggles and suffering leads us to taking refuge in awareness and compassion. Without that, no practice.

Stable attention undermines cognitive distraction and emotional turmoil. Stability can be cultivated in different ways, including concentration on one object (focus), returning again and again to an aspect of experience, such as the sensations of breathing, and resting attention in that experience (resting), and various energy-raising methods (devotion, qigong, yoga, etc). Stable attention can interrupt distraction and turmoil, but these are just symptoms of self-construction, which is really only undermined by insight.

When attention is somewhat stable, one can look deeply to see the true nature of self and experience. Looking is the practice of insight. The sense of self, when believed to be solid and in need of defending, is the seed of emotional turmoil and suffering. In the short run, because the sense of self tries to defend itself, insight practice tends to undermine srable attention; stability is the prerequisite and foundation of insight practice. There are many methods of insight practice: choiceless awareness and embracing of whatever arises; looking into specific aspect of experience, such as a reactive emotion or a belief; holding koans or questions that can't be answered by the conceptual mind; and many others. Each Buddhist tradition has its methods of looking.

Kindness and compassion
undermines apathy and self-centeredness. True compassion requires both stability and insight. Tricky, and essential.

Dedicating the benefit of our practice counteracts grasping after pleasure or status, transforms poverty mentality, and undermines the sense of a separate self. And dedication helps us appreciate the benefits of practice; without fully appreciating the benefits, our practice isn't likely to last long.

All of these are essential aspects of Buddhist practice, but the appropriate emphasis at a particular time depends on the disease that needs easing. Teachers often prescribe practices that seem to exacerbate our patterns of reactivity -- but medicine is sometimes bitter. A hundred days of practice can clarify how a practice works and give a glimpse of its effectiveness.

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