Thursday, September 21, 2006

On Enlightenment - Mindfulness

Breathing Buddha originally posted by Hanga Girl on Flickr
Original three-color woodblock print
see more at

I've been wanting include some posts about my buddhist practice and how this helps me deal with cfs and other issues in general. However, I didn't want to dive straight in to where I am right now without providing a little background. I've been reading about taoism and buddhism for over 10 years now and meditating regularly for over 4 years. I had attended a two day non-residential retreat on Insight Meditation some years ago and in 2004-5, I went to a Tibetan Centre irregularly.

At the beginning of this year I realized that if I am really serious about making any progress then I needed to make a commitment and find myself a teacher. After looking around at who was in Brisbane, it seemed clear that everything was leading me to Victor von der Heyde. Victor lives between Brisbane and Sydney, and when he is in Brisbane I see him weekly. These sessions have been enormously useful to me and are a very grounding influence in my practice. As well as seeing Victor, I "sit" regularly, usually daily, and read daily.

Over the year, I have found that each day I also have periods of "awareness" quite spontaneously. This is exactly what I have been working towards, and I hope to extend this gradually.

In my writings here, I will sometimes talk about my current concerns in my practice, and also write a little about the books I have been reading. This year I have been working through the recommended reading at the site which has included a range of books on vipassana or insight meditation by the following authors: Stephen Batchelor, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Christopher Titmuss and Toni Packer. The range of approaches even within this small group is considerable and demonstrates what an organic creature buddhism is.

Today I want to begin writing about the Factors of Enlightenment. My reference for this is Joseph Goldstein's classic, The Experience of Insight. I used to be quite confused about enlightenment - now I am perhaps, a little less confused...

I have read in Zen literature that we are not to strive for enlightenment, because in striving we are not practising correctly. In (I think it was) The Tibetan Book of Death and Dying, I read that we must strive for enlightenment - because if we do not, then we are doomed to endless reincarnations. So... what to do? Well, I don't know, but Joseph Goldstein has explained the factors of enlightenment, and it seems to me, that if I can understand them, and adopt them, and not worry about enlightenment as such....then maybe enlightenment will "take care of itself" as they say....

There are seven factors of enlightenment, which are seven mental factors and when these are cultivated, they relieve all kinds of suffering. The first is mindfulness, which is "the quality of noticing, of being aware of what's happening in the moment" (p.141).

There are four areas in which we are asked to be aware, known as the foundations or applications of mindfulness. The first is the body - the breath, the posture, sensations, movements.

The second is known as feeling, but I think of it as our response or judgement - whether we judge what we have become aware of as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This relates to attachment - we want what is pleasant (we are attached to it), we don't want what is unpleasant and we don't care about what is neutral. The goal for us in noticing these feelings is to simply watch them arise and pass away, without clinging to the pleasant and condemning the unpleasant.

The third application of mindfulness is consciousness and it refers to being aware of our mental or emotional states, to be aware of when we are angry, fearful etc while we are in the middle of it, and then, (this is the hard part) not to judge ourselves for that. To simply be aware and to observe the passing parade of emotions.

The fourth application is mindfulness of the Dharma - to be aware of the three characteristics of existence (impermanence, suffering, no-self) and of the four noble truths - but that is for another day.....

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