Read the post below or listen to the talk and meditation here.
Last week we examined mind from the inside. Drawing the analogy with a water container, where mind is the container and awareness, when poured in to it, takes the shape of the container. The 5 spiritual faculties helped us to understand the controlling factors and mental states that shape the container of our mind.
But, of course, we are also affected by external factors, of which there are many millions out there in the world. Often we focus on the things themselves, justifying their affect on us, particularly when it is a negative effect. The current move towards legal action for anything that goes wrong in life does rather show the way things are going. There is a perception developing that if something happens to us that is negative then we can reach out and blame some person or organisation. Where does this end and where do we draw the line?
At the heart of the Buddha’s teaching is the understanding of suffering. That suffering exists but there is a way to escape it by understanding its cause. As we understand, suffering arises not because of the things that happen to us, but because of our response to the things that happen to us.
Going back to our container analogy, if that water bottle is dented from the outside, this will of course change the shape of the liquid within. It will take on the shape of the dent. Our minds can get dented. It is experiences in the outside world that can dent them. This changes our container. It has an affect on the five spiritual faculties and it can cause real suffering if we allow it to. We have to learn to work on our selves. To see how things out there are affecting us and to learn to let go and accept.
A vehicle to help us understand this is the worldly winds. Similar to the 5 spiritual faculties, these can be seen as pairs of opposites. We have
Gain or Loss
Pleasure or pain
Fame or infamy
Praise or blame.
These are known as the worldly winds. They are called this because we are swept along by them, if we allow it. We can never just avoid them, they will catch us. We just need to work to see how we allow them to cause us suffering.
No matter how much wealth we have, these pairing will still touch us. So if we allow, we will always suffer.
If we have an expectation that life will be generally fair, we will always suffer from the worldly winds. Our little irritations, sense of hurt or injustice, disappointments and grumbling pains in our body all reveal this underlying delusion. Learning to let go of our desires that sit underneath this is rather difficult. However, expecting the world to step up and satisfy all of our desires will be impossible. So we are better to discover the deep peace of acceptance and letting go.
Of course understanding how these winds affect us also shows us how we respond and in that way how we make an impact on the world. Because much of our response is habitual, this gets embedded as continuous mental habit depending on the wind that happens to be blowing at a particular point. This is Karma. We will always mentally respond in a particular was when a particular wind is blowing. Then, of course this mental behaviour gets put into action.
Let’s go into one or two of these pairings and take a look at how they drive us. Pleasure and pain is relatively obvious, as is gain and loss. So let’s take a look at praise and blame first. One of my teachers told me a story that he experienced with this one. A monk called Aryadhara. Leading a retreat each morning he would lead the retreatants in a short mantra in the morning followed by a bow to the Buddha. At the end of the retreat one retreatant came up to him and said that she had been deeply moved by the mantra and the bow. It felt deeply spiritual. However, another retreatant came up and said that he had understood that Buddhism wasn’t a religion and this behaviour had therefore disturbed him and spoiled the retreat. Aryadhara was fascinated to feel the flip flop of emotions inside of him.
Then we have fame and infamy. Interestingly Facebook and other social media platforms really play to this one. People getting seduced into thinking how wonderful it is that they have more than 400 friends on Facebook without stopping to think how many of those they actually know! The fact that their friends will see that they have 400 “friends” makes them somehow feel positive, satisfied and even self important. Of course if they notice that just a single one of those people has “unfriendly” them can create an overreaction, even potentially leading to that other worldly wind, loss.
The worldly winds, of course, don’t always appear on their own. They sometimes intertwine creating a very complex feeling inside of us.
Buddhism teaches to approach the worldly winds through mindfulness. We set out what are essentially four steps.
- recognise that they are there. This is simply the action of noticing the winds in our daily lives. Noticing them arise and seeing our reactions to them. One traditional Buddhist approach is to see them as little demons touching our lives.
- Distinguishing control from influence. So here we look at what is actually happening. Yes we can look at the situation and see if there is anything we can do to avoid the worldly wind but more often than not the event has happened and we are simply left with the emotional response. Our ceiling fell down in our lounge the other night. A definite experience of “loss”! But it was no good theorising about how we could have avoided this. The lounge would have looked very strange with props in it, holding up the ceiling. That ceiling was coming down eventually. Actually, it was rather lucky no one was in the room when it happened! When it fell, it didn’t do it on purpose! So we can hardly blame the ceiling. But we could have let it wreck our weekend! We didn’t. We’ve had a marvellous and busy weekend in the Sangha House. There is a rather large cleanup job to be done but it’ll give us an excuse to crack on with the decorating.
- See the winds as opportunities. The winds are great teachers. They teach us grace, humility, patience, courage or what ever else the situation calls for. So we can see them as opportunities to grow on our spiritual path. Hard as it is, we must learn to accept. Remember, no matter who we are or how rich we are, they will still touch our lives and cause us suffering if we allow them too. For each of the pairings, we can look at a partiular learning. For gain and loss, the learning is generosity. If you are suffering with this worldly wind, look it in the eyes and find a way to apply generosity. For fame and infamy, just take a look at how deeply unique and individual you are, wonderful as you are, no need to be conforming to particular stereo types. Apply the first stage of Metta Bhavanna and offer yourself compassion. For praise and blame just look at truthfulness. See through the stories into what is actually happening. Try not to see sides, but see all still des at the same time. Pleasure and pain can be tricky. We have to apply pure mindfulness here to see how desire and aversion are playing in. Particularly with pain. We must soften in to it and have a degree of acceptance about it. It is just another experience of life.
- Listen to our own stories that we tell. Often, when we are in the grip of the worldly winds, the emotions lead us to tell ourselves stories. Perhaps following some form of verbal attach we catch ourselves afterwards thinking of remarks or comebacks that we wished we had said in the heat of the moment. In honesty, ask yourself, “is this helping? Is this wholesome?” The answer will inevitably be no. Our own internal dialogue teaches us a great deal about the nature of our habitual mental processes. Step outside that dialogue and listen to it from the outside.
The practice today will be to do this. To listen to that dialogue. Before we go up, just spend a few minutes and think of an episode from your life this week where you perhaps suffered because of the worldly winds. Pick a real situation, not imagined! Play it through and see how you reacted.
In meditation we are going to replay this moment, noticing its affect on our bodies and on our mental process. Then we are going to use mindfulness to relax our bodies and our minds and see the internal dialogue that we have going on. In this way we learn to protect our container a little from dents and perhaps smooth out some of those dents.