ENLIGHTENMENT FOR DUMMIES Newsletter – Issue #7 – THE NOBLE EIGHT-FOLD PATH – Step #7, Right Mindfulness and Step #8, Right Concentration

ENLIGHTENMENT FOR DUMMIES Newsletter – Issue #7 – THE NOBLE EIGHT-FOLD PATH – Step #7, Right Mindfulness and Step #8, Right Concentration

 flowing stream

In issue #3 of this newsletter, I noted that although the universe is filled with nouns (things both natural and man-made), it’s verbs that are crucial to injecting life and meaning into those nouns. Likewise in the Buddhist world, the Holy Grail isn’t a thing but rather a number (8) of interconnected dimensions of being or what I call wise practices or if you prefer, enlightened psychological behaviors and actions.

When developed together, this leads to the end of one’s suffering. Here are the eight steps on the Noble Eight-fold Path:

1)   Right View (or Right Understanding)

2) Right Intention (Right Thought)

3) Right Speech

4) Right Action

5) Right Livelihood

6) Right Effort

7) Right Mindfulness

8) Right Concentration

Issue #6 on Step #5, Right Livelihood, and Step #6, Right Effort, will be published in the very near future.  When I started writing the current issue, I thought I’d already published Issue #6. I apologize for any confusion. For now, I’m going to cover the last two steps, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

One of the recurring themes in this Buddhist-centric blog is “We make it up as we go along”. In keeping with that philosophy, instead of thinking of our Journey of Life as an endless series of trips that takes us from one place to another, one can, given the importance of truly being present in each moment, think of each moment not as a step leading to a far-off destination but as itself being a destination (albeit a temporary one).

Step #7: Right Mindfulness: per Wikipedia, Right Mindfulness means “Awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness; being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion.”

To me, this means one is able to resist the temptation to make everything about themselves. In any given situation, instead of first looking for ways to manipulate the perception of the situation to make themselves look better, the individual looks outward first. They honestly and genuinely examine the people, surroundings and the interactions (expressions of energy) amongst the people and with their surroundings. Cleansed of the ego’s “me” fixation and freed from the weight of having to live up to a preconceived, narrowly defined self-image, the individual’s significantly increases the odds they will correctly perceive the situation.

In addition, the last part Wikipedia’s entry, “without any craving or aversion”, indicates that a person with Right Mindfulness is able to conquer their own unenlightened, unwise tendencies and perceive the truth even though parts of their being obscure the true nature of whatever or whomever is involved.

A prime example is when a heterosexual male is around a really attractive or really unattractive woman. The tendency is for the male to place more value on the attractive woman and less value on the unattractive woman. The more attractive woman is likely to create a bias in the male’s mind that causes the man to attribute (on the whole) positive qualities other than beauty to that woman no matter what the actual evidence indicates. Conversely, the unattractive woman is likely to cause the male to attribute negative qualities (in addition to her physical appearance) that aren’t necessarily there.

But it’s not as straight-forward as that. Generally, males will presume, until there’s substantial contrary evidence, that really good-looking women aren’t that intelligent. The stereotypical “dumb blonde” is the most obvious example. Likewise, most males envision really smart women to have that “geeky” look, which is to say nerdy glasses, mousy hair, lack of obvious curves and outdated wardrobe. So it’s not all positivity that is lumped with attractive women but overall, it is. So the challenge in that instance is this: CAN THE MALE OVERCOME HIS CRAVING (FOR SEXUALLY ATTRACTIVE WOMEN) AND HIS AVERSION (TO SEXUALLY UNATTRACTIVE WOMEN) AND SEE THE TRUTH OF WHO THAT PARTICULAR PERSON (WHO HAPPENS TO BE FEMALE) REALLY AND TRULY IS.

That’s just one of many, many examples. The key is to remember that no matter how enlightened a person may be, since the nature of Life is that the only constant is change, and that it’s both each person’s great blessing and opportunity, the freedom that everyone enjoys also comes with responsibility to treat one another with the love and respect they deserve. Opportunity is synonymous with a double-edged sword. We can treat others as we would like to be treated as Jesus urged or we can go all judgmental and pick and choose who we deem good enough to merit our good treatment.

Step #8: Right Concentration:

Although Right Concentration, samma samadhi in Pali, is the “last” step, it’s important to realize that the eight steps on the Noble Eight-fold path work together simultaneously. Each step works with all the other seven steps. In general, Right Concentration means “to set the mind right”.

Right Concentration means the individual has developed a one-pointedness of focus that unifies the other mental aspects into the act of cognition. Not only the practitioner focused on the object at hand, he/she also practices wholesome concentration, which is to say the person develops elevated concentration with the deliberate purpose of raising one’s mind to a higher level of purity.

So while the gourmet sitting down to a meal, a rabid football fan watching his (her) favorite team playing on TV and a hit man preparing to dispatch their target all have one-pointedness focus, they do not possess samma samadhi.

Buddhist commentaries define samadhi as the centering of the mind and mental factors rightly and evenly on an object. As wholesome concentration, the individual collects the normally dissipated and dispersed mental states to bring about inner unification. The two primary features of a concentrated mind are unbroken attentiveness and the resulting tranquility of mental functions.

The Buddha compared an untrained mind to the fish that’s pulled out of the water and dropped onto dry land. It flops around from thought to thought, from idea to idea, without inner control. A distracted, untrained mind is also a deluded one. Overwhelmed by worries and concerns, it is easy prey to defilements, and sees things only in fragments because its view of the universe is distorted by random thoughts.

It is like a stormy sea, full of waves and fury. Conversely, a person with Right Concentration has a mind that’s like a calm lake, the surface accurately reflecting whatever is placed before it for consideration.

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Methods for Developing Concentration

  • DEVELOPMENT OF SERENITY: Deliberately honing and elevating one’s level of concentration.
  • DEVELOPMENT OF INSIGHT: The incidental accompaniment while traveling on the path to general insight.

Both methods require individual to have certain prerequisites: A quiet place in which to meditate, an enlightened, trained mentor to guide you and a genuine desire to develop Right Concentration with the goal of reducing the suffering of human beings.

In retrospect, I should have probably included a section on Right Concentration in my book, “Overcome Any Personal Challenge, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego”, as the development of a calm, focused mind is a crucial part of deconstructing the ego. But even without addressing that issue, the book’s Seven Insights of Enlightenment and linking the ego’s strong connection to the Seven Deadly Sins and the taming of the ego in order to obtain the Seven Virtues provide a solid psychological framework for freeing one from the shackles of an egocentric mindset.

The book’s site is http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter.

In “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego”, I present my unique Seven Insights of Enlightenment recovery system. The seven insights form a cognitive framework that can be used to minimize or eliminate any undesirable, harmful and obsessive behavior. To order and/or obtain more info, go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter.

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ENLIGHTENMENT FOR DUMMIES Newsletter – Issue #5 – Steps 3 and 4 of The Noble Eight-fold Path: RIGHT SPEECH and RIGHT ACTION

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  • Right View
  • Right Intention (or Right Thought)
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

We covered the first two steps in the last issue so it’s on to 3) Right Speech and 4) Right Action.

Right Speech:

Per Wikipedia, Right Speech, which falls under the ETHICAL CONDUCT division of the Eight-fold Path, means to “speak in a truthful and non-hurtful way”.

 For recovering alcoholics such as myself, this step on the path, or stage as Ajahn Sucitto describes it, means I need to be truthful and completely honest about whether I have been drinking or not. And in order to increase the odds of maintaining my sobriety, I need choose my words carefully. Right View and Right Intention should result in Right Speech. If we understand the true nature of things (i.e. – have the right view) and we have an honest, well-meaning heart (right intention), then speaking truthfully and without harming others naturally occurs. Right Speech sets up Right Action. Conversely, untruthful and/or hurtful speech leads to dishonest, harmful actions.

“Right Action” consists largely of precepts. The many schools of Buddhism have various lists of precepts, but the precepts common to most schools are these:

 

  1. Not killing
  2. Not stealing
  3. Not misusing sex
  4. Not lying
  5. Not abusing intoxicants

The precepts are not a list of commandments. Instead, they describe how an enlightened being naturally lives and responds to life’s challenges. As we work with the precepts, we learn to live harmoniously and compassionately.

Read More:The Buddhist Precepts: An Introduction
Read More:The Three Pure Precepts

Right Action and Mindfulness Training

The Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said, “The basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness.” He teaches Five Mindfulness Trainings that correlate to the five precepts listed above.

The first training involves respecting life. In awareness of the suffering caused by destruction of life, we work to protect all living things and this planet that sustains life.

The second training involves generosity. We give freely of our time and resources where they are needed, without hoarding things we don’t need. We do not exploit other people or resources for our own gain. We act to promote social justice and well-being for everyone.

The third training involves sexuality and avoiding sexual misconduct. In awareness of the pain caused by sexual misconduct, we honor commitments and also act when we can to protect others from sexual exploitation.

The fourth training involves loving speech and deep listening. This means avoiding language that causes enmity and discord. Through deep listening to others, we tear down the barriers that separate us.

The fifth training involves what we consume. This includes nourishing ourselves and others with healthful food and avoiding intoxicants. It also involves what books we read or what television programs we watch. Entertainments that are addictive or cause agitation might best be avoided.

Right Action and Compassion

The importance of compassion in Buddhism cannot be overstated. The Sanskrit word that is translated as “compassion” is karuna, which means “active sympathy” or the willingness to bear the pain of others. Closely related is karuna is metta, which means “loving kindness.”

It’s important to remember also that genuine compassion is rooted in prajna, or “wisdom.” Very basically, prajna is the realization that the separate self is an illusion. This takes us back to not attaching our egos to what we do, expecting to be thanked or rewarded.

In The Essence of the Heart Sutra, His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote,

“According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s not passive — it’s not empathy alone — but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering. Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and loving kindness. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is loving kindness).

To learn more about my Buddhist-like publication, “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego”, go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter.

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For more info on my Buddhist-themed spiritual thriller, “Dead Man’s Plan”, including how to order your copy, go to http://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0060704049/Dead-Mans-Plan.aspx

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ENLIGHTENMENT FOR DUMMIES Newsletter – Issue #4 – The Holy Grail of the Buddhist-Fueled Mission to End Suffering: THE NOBLE EIGHT-FOLD PATH

 

In issue #3 of this newsletter, I noted that although the universe is filled with nouns (things both natural and man-made), it’s verbs that are crucial to injecting life and meaning into those nouns. Likewise in the Buddhist world, the Holy Grail isn’t a thing but rather a number (8) of interconnected dimensions of being or what I call wise practices or if you prefer, enlightened psychological behaviors and actions.

When developed together, this leads to the end of one’s suffering. Here are the eight steps on the Noble Eight-fold Path:

1) Right View (or Right Understanding)

  1. Right Intention (or Right Thought)

  2. Right Speech

  3. Right Action

  4. Right Livelihood

  5. Right Effort

  6. Right Mindfulness

  7. Right Concentration

Covering two steps per newsletter issue seems like a good number. Then after all eight have been presented, then we will look at how the steps work together as a system. Taken as a whole, one can think of the eight steps as a route planner or the results of a Google Map search. The key difference is that enlightenment or Nirvana isn’t a place. It’s a state but it’s a state of being.

One of the recurring themes in this Buddhist-centric blog is “We make it up as we go along”. In keeping with that philosophy, instead of thinking of our Journey of Life as an endless series of trips that takes us from one place to another, one can, given the importance of truly being present in each moment, think of each moment not as a step leading to a far-off destination but as itself being a destination (albeit a temporary one).

 

 

Step #1: Right View: Viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be. ON the surface, it

appears we all separate but the truth of unity says otherwise. We do indeed have separate physical bodies. However, spiritually we are unified and each of us is part of the One Life.

It’s easy to see why this the first step. If a person has the wrong view – which is buying into the “every person is an island” mentality – then they will continue to suffer because they will be unable to lose their attachment to their desires. The idea that everyone and everything is separate from one another leads to the attachment to desire because there’s a presumed distance between the observer and what’s (or who’s) being observed.

And if one really thinks about it, even the most basic things – food, drink and sex – which involves very tangible physical nouns such as meat, fruits, vegetables, desserts, juice, sodas, ice-cold water, and the flesh of another person’s body – are nothing until the verbs come in. Food is experienced by eating, which results in pleasurable sensations of taste, smell and the feeling of being full. Drinks impart taste and smell as well plus slake a parched throat. And then we have sex (hopefully): the body of another person, by itself, means little until there’s an interaction with another person’s body in an intimate way.

The point is surface appearances are deceiving. On the surface, it appears the nouns in the universe – people, places and things – have solid, separate, sort of clunky and inanimate vessels. But as we know and physicists have proven, beneath the surface, there’s a frenzy of flowing, pulsing energy. Atoms, quarks, and molecules are orbiting around, moving this way and that. Blood flows through the vessels of animals and humans.

Step #2: Right Intention (Right Thought) : Intention of renunciation, freedom, and harmlessness. Right Intention means a person has the right emotive state to go with the right/correct cognitive state. In the realm of Buddhism, the mind and heart, like everything else, are not two distinct aspects but rather inextricably intertwined. They’re two strands in the tapestry of the Wisdom Path. Thought (intellect) and emotion (feelings) can’t be hacked off by some metaphysical cleaver and separated into two distinct halves, although many people try to do just that. Thought and emotion exist simultaneously, like a hand in a glove.

For example, when a person donates money to the Nature Conservancy, he or she believes, in their heart and mind, that it’s important to to protect the environment. Their intellect tells them our planet is our home so it’s important to protect it. Their emotions (heart) say we should help protect the animals and human beings who live on Planet Earth. The two facets of our being work together.

It’s like riding a bicycle. We use our mind to tell our hand when to switch gears (unless it’s an old-fashioned one speed, which is what I have, and in that case, the mind tells us when we need to stand up so we can make it up a steep hill), when to turn the bike to avoid an obstacle, what route we need to take in order to return home, and so on. In order to complete a lengthy bike ride, we require the necessary motivation and energy to keep going even after our body begins to tire. This is where emotion or heart comes into play. Many people listen to upbeat music while riding their bike but you really don’t even need to wear a headset attached to an iPhone or iPod or whatever. You can simply recall the words and tune of your favorite songs. In either case, your mind (Right View) and heart (Right Intention) work in tandem, a perfect pair of aspects that can’t be separated.

 

In “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego”, I present my unique Seven Insights of Enlightenment recovery system. The seven insights form a cognitive framework that can be used to minimize or eliminate any undesirable, harmful and obsessive behavior. To order and/or obtain more info, go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter.

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ENLIGHTENMENT FOR DUMMIES Newsletter – Issue #3 – Beginning to Understand the Solution for Ending Our Suffering

 

buddhist bloggers main image - sun rising over ocean with floating rocks

 

In the previous issue of this newsletter, I posed the question, “Why do people suffer?” And I offered what the Buddha had for an answer: We suffer because we are attached to our desires. And I explained exactly what that means (http://wordpress.com/post/41777780/2803). 

 

In this issue, we explore a solution to address the suffering we cause ourselves. From The Buddha, here are the 3rd and 4th Noble Truths:

#3 – The Cessation of Dukkha is achieved, not by belief, but by the contemplation, understanding, and elimination of desire and attachment.

#4 – The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to achieve the cessation of Dukkha.

Alright, first #3. This Noble Truth really sets Buddhism apart from almost every other religion because of three words: not by belief. Every other major religion has a set of rituals theat are to be performed, many on a regular basis, and beliefs about the nature of God and what God wants you as a human being to do in order to think and behave like you should. In Buddhism, there isn’t a god that you worship. Buddhism is more of a philosophy than religion. Philosophy is a mechanism, a perspective, from which to perceive and interpret the world around us. Two key aspects of Buddhism are immediacy and unity.

IMMEDIACY: Buddhism is extremely practical. The most enlightened people are focused on the here and now, the Present moment. We do our best work, create the most masterful art, perform the best in sporting competitions and develop the best relationships when we are truly present, not only with body but with mind and heart as well. In other words, when we truly pay attention, there’s no time or opportunity for hidden agendas.

UNITY: Compassion, loving, gentle, relaxed, humorous and creative people are considered to “have it together”, which is appropriate because Buddhism is about all unity. Not only amongst people but with the individual and the objects they perceive. Clinging, longing and attachments result when the person believes they are separated from the object of their desire. Separation is synonymous with division while unity equates to intimacy or closeness.

So if belief (in a higher power, in a deity and related set of dogma) isn’t the answer, then what is? Per the second part of the Third Noble Truth, it’s the “contemplation, understanding, and elimination of desire and attachment.”

Contemplation occurs during one’s meditation sessions, when the individual, during quiet, uninterrupted times, has the opportunity to really and truly consider the nature of what the Buddha was talking about in regards to desire and attachment. The wanna-be enlightened one considers, on both an intellectual and emotional level, the relationship between the two things and how that relationship impacts their level of happiness.

 

 

Forest road. Landscape.

 

 

The understanding piece of the equation begins during meditation and goes hand in hand with contemplation. However, it doesn’t really sink in until one experiences what it feels like to base one’s happiness on the fulfillment of one desire (extreme want) after another. For most people, life is like one giant all-you-can-eat buffet. You look forward with great anticipation to chowing down on all the food; during the meal, initially you experience a sort of high as you fill your plate with any manner of food; you devour the heaping plate of tasty treats with glee; you repeat previous two steps until you’ve had your fill; and then after it’s all done, although your stomach is obviously full, you may feel empty in a spiritual sense. You may ask, “Is this all there is to life?”

And although right after the buffet’s over with, you may say, “Oh my god, I’m not going to eat anything the rest of the day,” the odds are about five or six hours later, you’ll be ready to eat some more. So although you are generally content and enjoy satisfying your desire to consume food, you think, “That’s not enough. My belly’s happy but other parts of me aren’t.”

In this case, I’m using food as a metaphor. It’s not only that we become attached to the desire for food. We become attached, in a general sense, to the desire for a variety of objects and experiences that fulfill some desire of ours. Other examples include:

  • Sexual gratification

  • Power (ability to control and manipulate others into doing what we want to them to)

  • Altered state/high from drugs and/or alcohol

  • Attention and admiration (puffs up ego-generated pride)

  • Success (however one defines that term) at work, at home or in a sporting event of some kind.

It’s like we become enslaved to a seemingly endless litany of desires. We’re never happy for long because we’re chasing to fulfill one desire or another. When we step back and see how what’s really happening, that’s the understanding part.

flowing stream

 

Then comes the really hard part: eliminating the attachment to desire. It’s important to realize you’re never going to eliminate desire. Your mind and body will always create desires for your consideration. Hunger, thirst, lust, power, wealth, and so on, will hover about you all your life, temptations that are part of the tapestry of life. The key is eliminating your attachment to those desires. That lies within your potential to achieve.

And it’s a, like everything else of any value, a process. It’s not like you can snap your fingers and Presto!, you’ve eliminated your attachment to desire. Well, at least not initially you can’t do the snapping-fingers-Presto thing. But after you’ve spent a certain amount of time in contemplation, and then experienced what it feels like to be base your happiness on fulfilling one need (desire) after another and then honestly intended to change your thinking in this regard, then it’s possible, with that background, to one day be able to flip the switch.

However, it’s temporary. So one must keep flipping the switch day after day and hope one can continue to be free of their tendency to attach themselves to desire. It’s a fair amount of work but I believe well worth it.

In my Buddhist-centric self-help book, “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego”, I lay out the Seven Insights of Enlightened Recovery System. Insight #1: BECOME AWARE OF YOUR BREATH AT LEAST ONCE A DAY. It’s #1 because in addition to giving us life, the breath is the most mystical thing known to humanity. That’s because we don’t know where it comes from, nor how exactly a thing so ephemeral and fleeting can sustain us and finally, we don’t know where it ends up after it leaves our body.

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And the breath also symbolizes the essential nature of Life itself: it flows. It moves. It’s not a noun. It’s verb. Life, although it’s full of nouns – people, places, animals, man-made creations (buildings, cars, computers, smartphones, HD-TV systems, etc.) – those things are meaningless without two verbs: BREATHING and FLOWING (ENERGY). And verbs mean change, which is another word for temporary.

In the next issue, we get into the meat of how we stop our suffering: “The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to achieve the cessation of Dukkha (suffering).”

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Harold Ramis’ Buddhist Pocket Guide, Item #15: Step Seven on Eight-fold Path – Right Mindfulness

Forest road. Landscape.

Right Mindfulness, per Wikipedia, means “Awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness; being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion.”

To me, this means one is able to resist the temptation to make everything about one’s self. In any given situation, instead of first looking for ways to manipulate the perception of the situation to make themselves look better, the individual looks outward first. They honestly and genuinely examine the people, surroundings and the interactions (expressions of energy) amongst the people and with their surroundings. Cleansed of the ego’s “me” fixation and freed from the weight of having to live up to a preconceived, narrowly defined self-image, the individual’s significantly increases the odds they will correctly perceive the situation.

For example, have you ever been on a committee, either at work or on a nonprofit group such as a church or charity, and noticed how many, if not most, of the committee members are more concerned about trying to get the committee to adopt their own ideas instead of truly trying to find the best answer to whatever issue(s) the group is trying to resolve? Perhaps in the beginning they had the best intentions but often as the committee gets deeper into the project and each committee members develop their own special, unique idea of what the best approach is, the group loses its sense of unity, and thus teamwork and cooperation are replaced by rivalry and dissension. The ego-generated pride of the members cause clashes between different individuals.

As to the last part of the 7th Noble Truth – “…being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion” – this means having the discipline and focus to keep yourself from being distracted by wants (attachment to desire) and being able to perceive something accurately even though some part of the phenomena is distasteful, unpleasant or unsettling (or some combination or even all of three).

In this case, craving refers to the desire to enhance your sense of worth by distorting your view of a situation to suit your ego’s need to make yourself look good. Basically it’s taking credit for something you had little, if anything, to do with. In the cartoon strip Dilbert, the title character’s boss is an expert at this. He takes Dilbert’s great ideas and claims them for his own. I’m sure we’ve all had managers and supervisors who’ve, at one time or another, done this much to the dismay and chagrin of the people who came up and developed the ideas.

Dilbert with boss - last frame 

As for the second part,the aversion piece, an example of this would be, in my case because of all the pain and misery alcoholism has wrought in my life, is if a good friend of mine has a severe drinking problem that he (she) isn’t addressing. And maybe they are having problems very similar to the ones I had when I was in the depths of my Alcohol Hell. In that instance, my first inclination might be to distance myself from my friend because their situation is so reminiscent of my own that it brings back unpleasant, and ultimately (because my wife Amy died from long-term abuse of alcohol when she was 41 years old) tragic memories.

But if I truly have Right Mindfulness, I will see my good friend’s situation for it is really is, free of my own emotional baggage. That clear seeing, combined with insights from my own experience with alcohol addiction, allows me to reach out to my friend in a non-judgmental, compassionate way and say something like, “If you ever want to talk about anything, including drinking, I’m there for you.”

Also, it’s worth, I believe, emphasizing the first part of Right Mindfulness: being aware of the present reality within oneself. This means the individual is aware of their own issues and egocentric tendencies that have the potential to distort their ability to perceive the truth of a given situation. AND THEY SEE PAST THAT TO THE ESSENCE OF THE TRUTH.

For example, based on my upbringing, stereotypical portrayals in the media (TV, movies, magazines, books, etc.), and isolated personal incidents, I may have formed the belief that people of a certain ethnic background are inferior and untrustworthy (I haven’t but let’s pretend for illustrative purposes that I have). If I don’t get past the bias, then every time a person of with ethnicity comes through my line at Wal-Mart, I’m likely to treat that person with less respect than they deserve. And that barrier will likely keep me from having a pleasant, genuinely positive experience with them.

And what happens if a really funny, interesting and amicable person, who happens to have that same ethnic background, comes through my line? If I don’t set aside that personal bias, I am likely to rob myself of what could be a really cool experience because I’ve already labeled the person as just “another one of those people”. But if I am aware of my prejudices, and am willing to admit I may have been wrong to hold that bias, then I see past them to the truth.

In a nutshell, Right Mindfulness is SEEING WHAT’S REALLY THERE INSTEAD OF SEEING WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO BELIEVE IS THERE. Enough said.

Next blog: Right Concentration.

My Buddhist-like book, “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego”, is available at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter

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My Buddhist-Christianity blended novel, “Dead Man’s Plan”, is available at http://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0060704049/Dead-Mans-Plan.aspx .It’s also available on Amazon.com..

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ENLIGHTENMENT FOR DUMMIES Newsletter – Issue #2: Why do we suffer?

Zen_Buddhism_by_meltz

Why do people suffer?

In some cases, it’s obvious. Those living in abject poverty who don’t get enough to eat, have no access to sanitary drinking water, and may not even have a roof over their heads are suffering for obvious reasons. So are people with chronic pain from a traumatic injury or illness. And those in prison who won’t be getting out for a very long time. A spouse whose husband or wife dies, especially unexpectedly, is another example.

We could go on and on but we won’t. The people I want to focus are the ones who don’t have any major, obvious issues that negatively impact their happiness level. They have plenty to eat and drink. They live in a nice house/apartment/condo. They have a loving family. They have more than a few friends. Their level of income is at least middle-class level. This might very well describe you. And me.

So why do you and I suffer? What’s our problem? We all have plenty of “stuff”. Why do we suffer?

The Buddha would tell you and I that we suffer because WE DON’T UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF THINGS. Because we don’t understand the true nature of the universe, most notably human beings, including and especially ourselves, we suffer because we become attached to our desires.

alcoholic passed out

The first of the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha taught is, “Life is characterized by impermanence and suffering, or Dukkha (insatiable thirst). The second one, which I blogged about at http://wp.me/p2Pija-BD, is, “The Origin of Dukkha (suffering) is attachment to desire”.

We’ll get into the last two Noble Truths in the new issue of this newsletter. In this issue, I want to focus on the first two Noble Truths. So let’s consider if the Buddha really knew what he was talking about in regards to first two Noble Truths. What the Buddha meant is that people suffer because they believe they can possess pleasurable experiences like sexual gratification, the sensation of tasty food, feeling of accomplishment after reaching a goal, excitement from watching a well done movie or high from drugs or alcohol, and so on.

Intellectually we know that it’s impossible to hold onto these experiences forever but there’s an irrational part of us that overrides our intelligent, rational self. It says, “I don’t want to let go of this because it’s pleasurable”.

Look at the flip side of the starving person, an obese person. Do most of the obese people you see and/or know personally seem happier than other people? Do they seem happy period?

Personally I am not or never was obese. However, I, along with my wife Amy, were at one time raging, out-of-control, card-carrying (okay, we didn’t actually carry cards but you get the idea) alcoholics. So we were addicted to drink, not food, but the results were similarly as unfortunate as being addicted to food. For Amy, the result was beyond unfortunate. It reached the level of tragic when she died on November 24, 2006, at the age of 41. She died from internal-organ failure caused by excessive drinking. She, over the course of about ten years, literally drank herself to death.

Self Hel[ Book Cover

And as noted in my book, “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego” – http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter – I wasn’t far behind Amy. I lost two jobs in the space of two months (one full-time, one part-time), I lost my wife of over 19 years, I lost our town house to foreclose, and yet I continued to drink. There was no sane, logical, rational reason for me to keep drinking but I did. I was so attached to the desire for drunkenness that it bypassed and overrode my better judgment.

So my personal experience confirms the wisdom and truthfulness of Buddha’s teaching about why we suffer. In your case, you may not be or never was an alcoholic or drug addict yet you probably have periods when you’re unhappy (you suffer). It’s my belief that you suffer because of your attachment to some kind of desire. Examples include:

  • MONEY (feeling of power that comes from wealth)

  • GAMBLING (desire to obtain money/wealth without having to work for it)

  • OBTAIN HIGHER-LEVEL JOB (feeling of having power to control others and have associated higher level of compensation/more money)

  • FOOD (pleasurable sensation of taste and of feeling full)

  • MATERIAL THINGS LIKE EXPENSIVE CARS, HOMES, ELECTRONIC DEVICES SUCH LATEST SMARTPHONE, HD TV, GAMING SYSTEM AND SO FORTH (feeling of excitement and prestige of having items most others can’t afford)

  • AN IDENTITY THAT’S SEPARATE FROM EVERYONE ELSE (you can’t stand being like everyone else, you’re obsessed with being different and therefore better and more important than everyone else)

Undoubtedly I’ve missed some (or many) others. The point is, in general, people make themselves unhappy (they suffer) because they don’t understand they can’t possess things (really it’s experiences) that, by their nature, cannot be possessed. They base their happiness on identifying with (attaching themselves) to things/experiences they really want (desires).

It makes perfect sense to me. If you “don’t get it”, if you don’t understand your own nature, if you fail to comprehend the rules of the Game of Your Life, it’s natural that you won’t succeed. You’ll make yourself unhappy because you’ll be chasing things that you’ll never catch.

a-Charlie Brown trying to kick football

The epitome of what the Buddha taught about attachment to desire being the cause of our suffering is Charlie Brown’s futile attempts to kick the football Lucy holds for him. Holds for him until the last instant and then pulls it away.

Human beings in general are like that. A part of us knows what we’re trying to get is impossible but another part says otherwise. The allure of obtaining whatever shiny object crosses our path is too great to ignore. So we try to own the experience of <INSERT SHINY OBJECT HERE>.

And sometimes what we’re trying to possess (hold on to) is a definition of ourselves. We consider ourselves a great guy/gal who <INSERT CAREER OR PERSONALITY TYPE OR TALENT OR SKILL HERE>. And then we add a bunch of demographic facts (age, height, weight, birthplace, place of residence, etc.) and we call that “me” or “I”. We then envision that there is some kind of entity out there in the cosmos that’s got our name attached to it. My challenge to those people, and this includes the vast majority of the citizens of Planet Earth, so we’re talking about billions of adults, is this: CAN YOU LOCATE THE YOU THAT YOU ASSUME IS OUT THERE? Can you find and point out the spot in the ether where “you” are floating?

To learn more about my Buddhist-inspired, Buddha-esque self-help book, please go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter. To learn more about my other writing, including my Buddha-centric screenplay, “After The End”, go to http://leeman999.wix.com/copywriterandauthor.

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Enlightenment for Dummies Newsletter — Issue #1 (Introduction)

Zen_Buddhism_by_meltz

There’s a “Dummies’ Guide” for many other things. Why not to the hallowed, reverential, sacred, and elusive state of enlightenment?

First off, a definition of enlightenment:

Per Wikipedia: enlightenment refers to the “full comprehension of a situation”. It is commonly used to denote the Age of Enlightenment but today is often used in Western cultures (such as the U.S.) in a religious context. It’s a translation of several Buddhist concepts, most notably the following:

Satori: In Zen Buddhism, it refers to kenshō: “seeing into one’s true nature”.

Bodhi: In Buddhism, it is the understanding by a Buddha about THE TRUE NATURE OF THINGS. It’s normally translated into “enlightenment” in English and means to be awakened. Bodhi is the knowledge of the causal mechanism by which beings incarnate into material (physical) form and experience suffering.

Okay, so this newsletter is, like every publication, especially newsletters and blogs, a journey. In a journey, one moves along, the landscape constantly changes. After awhile, there will be times when the landscape you experience seems very much like the landscape you previously encountered. And it may well be similar but it’s never identical. Your egocentric, limited, unenlightened mind may be telling you it’s the same but don’t be fooled. It’s really not.

And that’s one of the keys to experiencing a period of enlightenment: You become aware of the true nature of each situation on your life’s journey instead of relying on your intellectual, rational and limited mind to tell you.

zen-buddhist-pic-letting-go.jpg

Awareness of the true nature of things requires you to dissolve the illusion of distance or separation between the observer (you) and what is being observed (the particular landscape you observe at any given time along your journey). A key to becoming aware of the true nature of things is to practice meditation.

Meditation is normally practiced by sitting alone in a quiet, fairly dark room. The goals are (in my opinion) threefold:

    1. QUIET YOUR EGO’S MISLEADING, HUNGRY, DISTRACTING VOICE: This is done by thinking less and just being present in your quietness. By not thinking as much, that allows you to focus on your breath, which is often taken for granted but if one become aware of the breath, it becomes obvious the breath doesn’t come from anything the personal ‘you” does. It’s a gift from God, however one defines that term. No one knows where the breath comes from or how exactly the breath keeps our bodies alive but it does so in a most magical, mysterious and lovely way.

      2. LOSE ATTACHMENTS: Per the Buddha, the primary cause of most human beings’ suffering is the attachment to desire. People with an egocentric mindset wrongly believe they can possess experiences (sexual gratification, excitement over achieving a goal, enjoying a really well-done movie or book, etc.) and material goods (cars, houses, entertainment systems, food, drink, and so on). By going beyond the personal “me” and contemplating the true nature of what it means to be a human being, you gradually comprehend the true nature of things, which includes yourself.

      3. Ari Goldfield, a Buddhist teacher at Wisdom Sun and translator of Stars of Wisdom, summarizes these two aspects of “emptiness” as follows:

 

The first meaning of emptiness is called “emptiness of essence,” which means that phenomena [that we experience] have no inherent nature by themselves.” The second is called “emptiness in the context of Buddha Nature,” which sees emptiness as endowed with qualities of awakened mind like wisdom, bliss, compassion, clarity, and courage. Ultimate reality is the union of both emptinesses.

                                                                         buddhist bloggers main image - sun rising over ocean with floating rocks

CONCLUSION

Even though the idea is simple, it’s amazingly challenging to not only become but continue to be enlightened. That’s because one can never banish the unenlightened tendency. It’s not like one day you achieve enlightenment and then boom, that’s it. You’re automatically the Zen Buddhist Master from then on. No, the “we’re all on our own spiritual island” mentality is a persistent illusion that’s easy to buy into IF we rely on strictly surface appearances that our rational, scientific self uses as a basis to interpret reality.

And it’s important to note that, on one level, in a way, the separateness view – you and I and everyone else in the universe have an inner, permanent identity that’s separate from everyone and everything else – is true. But it’s only true if you buy into the delusion. It’s the best, and most destructive, example of the self-fulfilling prophecy, in the history of the world.

So be careful what you believe. It is the most important determiner of the quality of your journey on The Road of Life.

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We’ve Always Done It This Way

Efficiency experts must hear this on every job they do: “We’ve always done it this way.” For example, let’s say an efficiency expert is examining a company’s accounts payable process. The expert probably begins by asking one of the A/P clerks, “What steps do you go through to get an invoice/bill paid?”

And let’s say A/P person says, “First I put a ‘date received’ stamp on it, then I write down the G/L (General Ledger) account(s) on it, and then I route the bill to supervisor of the department the bill is for. After they sign off on it, it goes to their manager for approval and then it goes to their manager for approval. They log in the date they sign off on it and then it’s routed back to me. I enter the invoice into the accounting system and depending on the terms of the invoice, a check is cut.”

The efficiency expert no doubt asks, “Why do three different people have to approve paying the bill?” And then if there isn’t a legitimate, logical answer, the clerk says, “We’ve always done it that way.” But what if the company is paying abnormally high amount of late charges, upsetting vendors due to slow pay rates, and delaying the beginning of company projects because vendors wait for payment of their invoices before performing services or delivering goods?

Just because something has been done in a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. Likewise just because you’ve always thought in a certain way, say you’ve assumed there is a “me” or “I” that is your true self, doesn’t mean it’s the truth. The Buddhist concept of “no one thing” or “not self”, is explained on Wikipedia as follows:

…the term anattā(Pāli) or anātman(Sanskrit:अनात्मन्) refers to the notion of “not-self” or the illusion of “self“. In the early texts, the Buddhacommonly uses the word in the context of teaching that all things perceived by the senses (including the mental sense) are not really “I” or “mine”, and for this reason one should not cling to them.

In the same vein, the Palisuttas(and parallel āgamas, both referred to collectively below as the nikāyas), categorize the phenomena experienced by a being into five groups (“khandhas“) that serve as the objects of clinging and as the basis for a sense of self. In the Nikāyas, the Buddha repeatedly emphasizes not only that the five khandhas of living beings are “not-self”, i.e. not “I” or “mine”, but also that clinging to them as if they were “I” or “mine” gives rise to unhappiness.

According to the early texts, while on the path, one should develop oneself in healthy and liberating ways, only letting go of the attempt to improve the self as it becomes unnecessary.”

I challenge you to, preferably while you’re meditating or taking a quiet, peaceful walk, contemplate this question: IF THERE IS A “ME” OR “I”, WHERE IS IT? And the follow-up question: CAN I PROVE THE EXISTENCE OF MY SUPPOSED SELF? If you can find the location of your self and/or prove the existence of your unique, permanent and special self, by all means email leeman999@yahoo.com or call me (651-212-3825) immediately. I am dying to know the answers.

flowing stream

Also think about, if it’s true there is no “you” that needs to be fed, pampered, protected, and constantly entertained, how liberating that is. It makes the world so much more fluid, solutions to challenges easier, focusing on the ever-shifting Now easier because you’re not looking over your shoulder to see how “you” are doing, and so on.

Like many things in life, although enlightenment is simple, it can also be incredibly challenging to achieve. Changing the way one views the world isn’t automatic. Your ego-generated pride will insist everything is fine and that you should ignore any attempts to change the status quo.

And BTW, you haven’t always thought this way. As a young child, you didn’t worry about protecting your self-image/reputation. You didn’t hesitate before acting because you were concerned about how it would make you look in others’ eyes. You were spontaneous, joyful, playful and generous. You were taught about me and I.

My book, “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego” – http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter – is a Buddhist-inspired publication that features the Seven Insights of Enlightened and also traces the root cause of the Seven Deadly Sins to an overly strong ego.

 Self Hel[ Book Cover

 

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Harold Ramis’ Five-Minute Buddhist Pocket Guide: Item #14: The Fifth Step on the Noble Eight-fold Path is Right Livelihood”

In his first sermon after his enlightenment, the Buddha explained that the way to peace, wisdom, and nirvana is the Noblefold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path consists of a set of eight interconnected factors or conditions, that when developed together, lead to the cessation of dukkha (suffering). The eight are as follows:
Right View (or Right Understanding), Right Intention (or Right Thought), Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

In this post, we explore right livelihood. Along with Right Speech and Right Action, Right Livelihood is part of the “moral conduct” section of the Path. These three folds of the Path are connected to the Five Precepts. These are:
1. Not killing
2. Not stealing
3. Not misusing sex
4. Not lying
5. Not abusing intoxicants

Right Livelihood is, first, a way to earn a living without compromising the Precepts. It is a way of making a living that does no harm to others. In the Vanijja Sutta (this is from the Sutra-pitaka of the Tripitaka), the Buddha said, “A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.”

Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,

“To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. ” … Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.” (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching [Parallax Press, 1998], p. 104)

So your career/job/livelihood, like the double-edged sword, can be a weapon to provide positive sources of true value to others and yourself or, if used unwisely, or if one chooses the wrong profession, it (livelihood) can be a dangerous tool that hurts one’s self and creates suffering for others by providing goods and services that while on he surface appear desirable (e.g. – sexual gratification) are overall and in the long run, ruinous to customers and others involved in the industry.

In The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism, Ming Zhen Shakya suggests finding a “pure” livelihood is impossible. “Obviously a Buddhist cannot be a bartender or a cocktail waitress, … or even work for a distillery or a brewery. But may he be the man who builds the cocktail lounge or cleans it? May he be the farmer who sells his grain to the brewer?”

Ming Zhen Shakya argues that any work that is honest and legal can be “Right Livelihood.” That might be stretching it. But if we remember that all beings are interconnected, we realize that trying to separate ourselves from anything “impure” is impossible, and not really the point.

Honesty
Besides the effect on the end user, another aspect of livelihood is the behavior of employees as they create the goods and services used by the end user (customer). A livelihood is a chance to act honestly and truthfully. One can present the company’s products and services a totally honest, up front manner or wildly (or subtly) exaggerate the merits of the company’s offerings.
Also, one can work diligently (by using Internet for work, not personal, purposes even if everyone else abuses the policy) and not printing out photos and personal documents on printers even though it’s routinely done by other employees.

Attitude
Being mindful of your work-related tasks and showing compassion for coworkers is a sign of having a right livelihood. And while acting nobly even if your boss or coworkers are not can make you stronger, an emotionally toxic workplace can poison your life. If your job is draining you more than nourishing you, you maybe be working too hard in order to keep your job. Consider a change.

Role in Society
Humans have created an elaborate civilization that requires we depend on each other to perform many labors. All work provides goods or services to others, and for this we are paid to support ourselves and our families. Perhaps you work at a vocation dear to your heart. But you may see your job only as something you do that provides you with a paycheck. You’re not doing what you said you wanted to be back in grade school, in other words. Or nothing close to those noble aspiration.

If your inner voice screams at you to follow another career path, by all means listen to that. Otherwise, appreciate the value in the job you have now. Stay in the Present moment and become aware of the good you’re doing in your present position.
Vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka said, “If the intention is to play a useful role in society in order to support oneself and to help others, then the work one does is right livelihood.” (The Buddha and His Teachings, edited by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chodzin Kohn [Shambhala, 1993], p. 101) and let’s face it, we can’t all be priests, physicians, bestselling self-help authors and personal trainers.

To learn more about, and to order an electronic or printed copy of my book, go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter.

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Sorry, I’ve Been a “Bad” Boy (Blogger) of Late

I haven’t blogged much recently for a variety of reasons — computer issues, promoting “Breaking Bad”-themed blog compilation book idea (, recreating Buddhist-themed movie script, “After the End” and working out agreement with Lee Levinson (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0506064/), along with my normal 33 hours or so being a Walmart cashier — so I want to assure you I haven’t stopped blogging. 

I do want to write a few words about my “After the End” script. There’s not very many Buddhist-themed mainstream movies that I’m aware of. “Groundhog Day” has Buddhist themes, which makes sense since it was a Harold Ramis film. In my script, the main character is Ivory Blackmon, a Walmart cashier who survives the end of the world as we know it( due to alien invasion) in his Doomsday shelter (underground bunker he had constructed at height of the 12/12/12 scare), and emerges over four years later to discover he’s the only surviving male on the planet. He endured the prolonged period of isolation with only his cat, Shaggy II, for companionship by daily, copious consumption of Grey Goose, 1800 Tequila and psychedelic mushrooms. Ivory quits alcohol and drugs cold turkey and hears voices, experience hallucinations. He tries to commit suicide, fails, and is rescued by the last surviving woman, Rhonda Freeman, on Earth.

The aliens that destroyed the Earth four years prior send an assassin, code named Janitor Man because it’s his job to clean up any remaining human debris so the aliens can repopulate the planet with a new and improved species. Rhonda becomes pregnant and it’s up to Ivory to safeguard his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn child from Janitor Man in order to save the human race from extinction.

To read the first few scenes, go to http://leeman999.wix.com/leeaeide-screenplays. Thank you for your time. . 

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