Enjoy this guide to the Four Ways of Turning the Mind provided to us by our friend John Wenz from Milarepa Meditation from an ongoing series of teachings inspired by our retreats with Lama Gursam.
“The fruit of one’s positive karma is happiness; suffering is the fruit of negative karma. The inexorable karmic causation is the mode of abiding of all dharmas. Henceforth, practice the Dharma by distinguishing between what should be practiced and what should be given up.” From The Preliminary Practices of the Incomparable Drikung Kagyu
“Buddhism teaches about karma. All karma is created from mental intention. These intentions are expressed as emotions.” Yogi Lama Gursam, “Love Your Enemy” August 11, 2006 Susquehanna Yoga Center,Talks Online at LamaGursam.org
“Ill nature such as this is caused
By seeking pleasure for oneself
And bearing harmful thoughts toward others.
Pride, favoritism, vanity, and hatred
Are the evil Karmic forces
That drag one to a lower birth,
Making sinful deeds more easy.
Ripening Karma brings
An instinctive hatred;
Failing to distinguish right from wrong,
They hardly can be helped by any means.
Bear this my disciples, in your minds,
And meditate with perseverance all your lives!
From “The Miracles and Last Admonishment”, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, p.664Translated by Garma C.C. Chang, Shambala Publications, Boston, 1999
“We are being developed by what we have done, and what we do, not only physically and verbally, but mentally also. What we now do in mind and speech and body will determine how we will become. The different forms and idiosyncrasies of all beings and all things—all worlds in fact—depend on this inexorable causality of evolutionary action or karma. Karma is not mysterious. Karma doesn’t mean “fate,” although in a way it occupies the place of fate. Karma means “evolution, evolutionary causality.”
From pp.79-80, The Jewel Tree of Tibet, by Robert Thurman, Free Press, New York
Exercise One: Jamgon Kongtrul the Great on the Basics of Kamma/Action:
Reflection on the Four Foundations from The Torch of Certainty
The essential teaching of the doctrine of cause and effect is quite simple. As Jamgon Kongtrul states: “In brief: The result of wholesome action is happiness; the result of unwholesome action is suffering, and nothing else. The results are not interchangeable:
‘When you plant buckwheat, you get buckwheat:
When you plant barley, you get barley.’ ”
Jamgon Kongtrul in The Torch of Certainty, p. 42
“The third of the four notions is designed to develop greater sensitivity to every day actions and their effects. The exercise is called the cause and effect of karmic actions. The beginner self monitors ongoing behavior, reflects on what actions are virtuous and which are non-virtuous, and then takes steps to modify his or her behavior accordingly.” Daniel Brown, PhD, in Pointing Out The Great Way, p.79
There is no more direct way to realize this essential principle of cause and effect then to reflect upon one’s own actions – past , present, and future. (D. Brown, p. 80)
Four General Aspects to Law of Cause and Effect
There are some basic ‘general principles’ that apply to the Tibetan Buddhist understanding of Karma or the Laws of cause and Effect.
- The results of an action becomes certain over time. That is ‘it ripens.’
- Actions, however small proliferate in their results, just like a seed that grows into a fruit tree and then produces many potential seeds.
- An action that is not taken up will not manifest any result over time. So it is possible to restrain oneself from certain actions and thereby cut off (gcod pa) any resultant effect.
- The results of any given action, though not immediately manifest, never diminish.
(From D. Brown, Pointing Out the Great Way, p.80)
Taking Your Own Inventory, Making Life Better
There is no more direct way to realize this essential principle of cause and effect then to reflect upon one’s own actions – past , present, and future. (D. Brown in Pointing Out The Great Way, p. 80)
“ The way to practice is
- to recognize non-virtuous and virtuous actions for what they are in one’s immediate experience.
- Upon recognition, the beginner should reflect on their possible results over time.
- The practitioner should use willpower to refrain from non-virtuous actions and take up corresponding virtuous actions.
- As soon as any non-virtuous act is recognized in one’s immediate experience, one should not only restrain oneself from indulging in it but should make an extra effort to cultivate its opposite.”
“In a profound sense, we are what we remember – the slow accumulation of the registration of lived experience. That’s what we have “taken in” to become part of ourselves Just as food becomes woven into the body, memory becomes woven into the self.”
From “Taking In The Good: Key Points.” Train Your Brain: The Five Essential Skills, Rick Hanson, Ph.D., 2005
“Recognizing the activity of neurons wouldn’t be very important in terms of suffering and happiness, except for a couple of important details. When neurons connect, they form a bond very much like old friendships. They get into a habit of passing the same sorts of messages back and forth, the way old friends tend to reinforce each other’s judgments about people, events, and experiences. Thus type of bonding is the biological basis for what many call mental habits, the kind of “knee-jerk” reactions we have to certain types of people, places, and things.” From p.34, The Joy of Living, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Harmony Books, New York, 2007
“Experience follows intention. Wherever we are, whatever we do, all we need to do is recognize our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions as something natural. Neither rejecting nor accepting, we simply acknowledge the experience and let it pass. If we keep this up, we will eventually find ourselves becoming able to manage situations we once found painful, scary or sad. We’ll discover a sense of confidence that isn’t rooted in arrogance or pride. We’ll realize that we’re always sheltered, always safe, and always home.”From p. 45, The Joy of Living, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Harmony Books, New York, 2007
“Nothing in your experience – your thoughts, feelings or sensations – is as fixed and unchangeable as it appears. Your perceptions are only crude approximations of the true nature of things. Actually, the universe in which you live and the universe in your mind form an integrated whole. As explained to me by neuroscientists, physicists, and psychologists, in a bold effort to describe reality in objective, rational terms, modern science has begun to restore in us a sense of the magic and majesty of existence.”From p.80, The Joy of Living, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Harmony Books, New York, 2007
Exercise Two: Taking In The Good
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
Train Your Brain: The Five Essential Skills
© Rick Hanson, Ph.D., 2005 – 415/491-4900
TAKING IN THE GOOD: Key Points
“At the banquets of life, bring a big spoon.”
What Is Taking In?
• In a profound sense, we are what we remember – the slow accumulation of the registration of lived experience. That’s what we have “taken in” to become a part of ourselves. Just as food becomes woven into the body, memory becomes woven into the self.
• Two kinds of memory: Explicit and Implicit.
– Explicit: Recollections of specific events.
– Implicit: Emotions, body sensations, relationship paradigms, sense of the world.
• Implicit memory – emotional/somatic memory – is different from remembering ideas or concepts: this kind of memory is in your “gut.” It’s visceral, felt, powerful, and rooted in the most ancient and fundamental structures of your brain.
• The sense of self, of what it feels like to be you, is rooted in emotional/somatic memory. That’s why it’s crucial to take real good care of what’s contained in those memory banks.
The Importance of Taking In Positive Experiences
• Negative experience is registered immediately: helps survival.
• Positive experiences generally have to be held in awareness for 5 – 10 – 20 seconds for them
to register in emotional memory.
• Negative experiences trump positive ones: A single bad event with a dog is more
memorable than a 1000 good times.
• Experiments with learned helplessness: great illustration of the enduring power of
negative experiences compared to positive ones.
• Therefore, it is SO IMPORTANT to consciously, deliberately help the brain register
positive experiences so they sink into the deepest layers of your mind. The benefits:
– Generally positive internal emotional landscape, atmosphere, climate.
– The fundamental foundation of self-soothing, emotional self-regulation, resilience.
– Positive expectations about oneself, others, and the future. This is the legitimate basis of “verified optimism.”
– It’s also the basis of true faith or confidence in your spiritual path.
– “Evoked others,” the sense of others inside who are nurturing, encouraging.
– In psychological terms, this is the mechanism of what’s understood as the
internalization of positive resources.
– A crucial resource inside and pathway for healing from trauma.
• All this is about being in reality, not wearing rose-colored glasses:
– It’s about proportionality, about our sense of the world being consistent with the
nature of the world. For example, if the “mosaic” of life is mainly good, shouldn’t our
sense of living itself be mainly good?!
– It’s about learning from new positive experiences – having them make a difference. It’s about using new positive experiences to counterbalance old negative ones Inner Skills
Taking In © Rick Hanson, Ph.D., 2005
• From a spiritual perspective, you are helping yourself really sense and then register good experiences on the path, or that come with skillful practice (e.g., the sukha, or deep happiness of peaceful meditation). This has many benefits:
– Highlight the milestones along the way, so you can know what they feel like and find
your way back to them.
– Build faith and confidence in the fruits of the path.
– Reward yourself for doing something that’s noble but not always easy, and thus
support your ongoing motivation.
– More easily tap into the peace, contentment, and basic well-being that are the
preconditions for deep states of concentration and insight.
How to Take in the Good
Since you are building up records of experiences in your most visceral memory banks, you need to focus on the emotional and body sensation aspects of your positive experiences. Through the mindfulness skills you’ve already learned, really tune into the embodied sense of the good experience. For example, relax your breathing and extend your awareness into the felt sense of the experience in your body.
• Being in reality. You are just being fair, seeing the truth of things. You are not being vain or arrogant – which distort the truth of things.
• You’ve earned the good times: the meal is set before you, it’s already paid for, and you might as well dig in!
• Recognize the value to yourself and others of taking in positive experiences. It is a good, a moral, a virtuous thing to soak in good experiences. Even from a spiritual perspective, positive emotional states support practice through freeing up attention, building confidence and faith in the path, and fueling heartfelt caring and kindness for others.
Try to be aware of any attitudes that say it’s vain, selfish, sinful, or somehow unfair to feel good — especially about yourself. Explore those attitudes — and then let them go by relaxing your body, releasing the emotions embedded in the attitude, and disputing in your mind the illogical beliefs in the attitude.
Specific Actions Inside Yourself
#1 Help positive events to become positive experiences for you. You can do this by:
• Paying attention to the good things in your world, and inside yourself. This includes
pretty sunsets, nice songs on the radio, chocolate!, people being nice to you, the smell of a baby’s hair, getting something done at work, finishing the dishes, holding your temper, getting yourself to the gym, feeling your natural goodheartedness, etc., etc. You could set a goal each day to actively look for beauty in your world, or signs of caring for you by others, or good qualities within yourself, etc.
• Maintaining a relaxed, accepting, spacious awareness.
• Setting aside for the moment any concerns or irritations, or at least nudging them to the background of your attention.
• Sometimes doing things deliberately to create positive experiences for yourself. For
example, you could take on a challenge, or do something nice for others, or bring to mind feelings of compassion and caring, or call up the sense or memory of feeling contented, peaceful, and happy.
#2 Extend the experience in time and space:
• Keep your attention on it so it lingers; don’t just jump onto something else.
• Let it fill your body with positive sensations and emotions. Savor, relish the positive experience. It’s delicious!
#3 Sense that the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body – registering deeply
in emotional memory. Perhaps imagine that it’s sinking into your chest and back and brainstem. Maybe imagine a treasure chest in your heart. Take the time to do this: 5 or 10 or 20 seconds. Keep relaxing your body and absorbing the positive experience.
#4 For bonus points: Sense that the positive experience is going down into old hollows and wounds within you and filling them up and replacing them with new positive feelings and views.
These are typically places where the new positive experience is the opposite of, the
antidote to the old one. Like current experiences of worth replacing old feelings of shame or inadequacy. Or current feelings of being cared about and loved replacing old feelings of rejection, abandonment, loneliness. Or a current sense of one’s own strength replacing old feelings of weakness, smallness. The “replaced” experience may be from adulthood. But usually the most valuable experiences to replace are from our youngest years. They are the “tip of the root of the dandelion,” the ones we need to pull to prevent the dandelion of upsets from growing back. The way to do this is to have the new positive experience be prominent and in the foreground of your awareness at the same time that the old pain or unmet needs are dimly sensed in the background. The new experiences will gradually replace the old ones. You will not forget events that happened, but they will lose their charge and their hold on you.
THIS IS A PROFOUND, FAR-REACHING, AND GENUINE WAY TO HELP YOURSELF GROW.
YOU ARE LITERALLY CHANGING YOUR OWN BRAIN.
Important Kinds of Experiences to Take In
Everybody has vulnerabilities, particular soft spots or “holes in the heart” which we yearn to be filled to make up for missing experiences (mainly from childhood). Reflect on yourself or ask a trusted friend what those might be for you. Then look specifically for experiences that would address your needs – or even take appropriate steps to evoke such experiences in yourself (e.g., ask a friend to explain a little what led her to say something nice about you). Then, once the experience arrives, you know what to do with it!
Common Key Experiences – and Potential Sources
For all of these, look for opportunities to feel them in the moment, and reflect on the past for signs of them as well.
• Safety, security – Settings that feel protected; being with someone who is completely accepting; (for many people) being in nature; if this speaks to you, feeling cradled in God’s love.
• Gratitude, appreciation – Even the smallest bit of good fortune; appreciating simple things like a sunset, a smile, or a spoon; reflecting on the good things in your life today or in the past.
• Strength, “I’m a survivor,” tenacity, grit, resilience – Any time in a day when you were determined, or moved forward in the face of fear, “spoke truth to power,” used your will, pushed back, asserted yourself, etc.
• Feeling loved, cared about, liked, included, attended to, empathized with – Notice when people give you their interested attention, or are warm, or touch you kindly, or are loving, or join with you in any way. Notice when you are included, fit in, are part of the gang. Look for the sense of community, of belonging. Especially look for implicit goodwill toward you within others that may not be actively expressed but is truly present inside their hearts.
• Worth, value, competence, capability, “good enough” – Look both for acknowledgement from others that you matter and have value as well as for signs of this on your own. Like times when you learned something new or did something hard. Any ways that you have contributed to others, like raising a child, volunteering in your community, helped a friend feel better, accomplished something at work, clarified something in a meeting, were kind to a stranger, helped a family member, held back your hand on tongue when you were angry, etc. Simply the sense of validity in existing, in being here – like the Buddha touching the ground when challenged by the forces of darkness to say “I get to be here, as part of this earth” – in having rights as a being to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
• Your innate goodness – It’s a remarkable fact that the people who have gone the very deepest into the human mind and heart – in others words, the sages and saints of every religious tradition – all say the same thing: the fundamental nature of every human being is pure, conscious, peaceful, radiant, kind, and wise . . . and is joined in mysterious ways with the ultimate underpinnings of reality, by whatever name we give That. Just look inside. When you are calm and don’t feel threatened, what sort of person are you? Of course, like everyone else, you wish the best for other people (and yourself). You can sense your own deepest qualities, even if they’re sometimes veiled by the worries and sorrows we all feel. As an inherent property of the nervous system, there’s a deep down essence or core in each of us that is awake, present, interested, and quietly happy. And if this sort of language speaks to you, you could also reflect on and deepen your sense of your own soul, innermost being, or Buddha nature. As you access a growing feeling of your innate goodness, let that sink in like any other beautiful experience.
Exercise Three: the Four Preliminaries are a Foundation
# 30 The four preliminaries are like
the foundation of a building.
Without them, nothing can be perfected.
Therefore, cherish persistent recollection.
This is my heart’s advice.
From “The Jewel Treasury of Advice, One Hundred Teachings from the Heart”, by Drigung Bhande Dharmaradza in A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path, by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen
Problems that Can Arise, if We Do Not Have a Good Foundation
- Practice could collapse at any time “It is like building a castle on sand or ice. So the foundation is important as the structure itself.”
- Our meditation practices cannot advance “Nothing can improve or be perfected”, if we do not have clarity in our foundation. Possible confusion about our meditation, and our practice.
- We will not be able to free ourselves from samsara : If we are not convinced about the four foundations, our practice can be half hearted, and we could be “attached to samsara and not aware of it.”
The Four Preliminaries are an Essential Foundation for Productive Meditation
- The precious human life, the basis of working toward buddhahood
- The impermanence of all phenomena
- The suffering nature of samsara
- The cause and result of all our actions
“These four form the essential foundation for productive meditation. Often, when we advise people in the West to “meditate,” they think there is something wrong with their mind, that they are not like “normal” people. They meditate to free themselves from that difficulty. Actually, one needs to have a very good, well prepared, astute mind for meditation, one that is very precise yet relaxed. Without a clear, relaxed mind, one cannot meditate. Even if one did do some meditation, it would be superficial, not productive meditation.”
P. 155 – 156., Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen, in Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path
Some contemporary applications, some possible personal considerations
- Perhaps, if I am not convinced in my own life, that my own particular life is precious, I may not think I have potential to grow spiritually. Or I may not think that life provides any hope for me or any of us beyond the typical ‘rat race’, and then we die.
- Perhaps, if I do not really believe that all things, including myself, are impermanent, I will invest all my time, money and skills on acquiring possessions, knowledge and power in this world, since that would be what really matters. A balanced ‘Middle Way’ approach of making use of a reasonable portion of my time to dharma would not really make sense, and would not really be necessary.
- Perhaps, if I had not examined the suffering nature of samsara, I would continue to find myself not really having significant energy or enthusiasm about dharma practice. I would not really think that dharma provided a way out of suffering for me at this time. I would continue to focus on achieving happiness in this mundane life, and not see dharma practice as greatly practical in this life nor personally beneficial.
- Perhaps, if I did not see the real basis of my experiences in this life, as my own thoughts, words, and actions, I would not find need to practice discipline or restraint in my conduct. I may think that others were actually more responsible for my circumstances and/or my view in this life, and also about my future possibilities. I would not think that I was really personally responsible for my own life.
“Without this kind of skill and awareness, we won’t feel need to take refuge in theBuddha, Dharma, and Sangha. When we know that samsara is suffering, that suffering is caused by our negative thoughts and confusion, and that we don’t know how to free ourselves from suffering, then we have reason to take refuge. We come to know what Buddha is, come to know what Dharma is, come to know what Sangha is, and to rely upon them.” P. 157, Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen, in Complete Guide
Exercise Four: The Four Common Preliminaries,
Taking In the Good &Where They Fit in Dharma Practice,
or I’m Confused!
“Do not rely upon the individual, but rely upon the teaching.
As far as the teachings go, do not rely upon the words alone,
but rely upon the meaning that underlies them.
Regarding the meaning, do not rely upon the provisional meaning alone,
but rely upon the definitive meaning.
And regarding the definitive meaning, do not rely upon ordinary consciousness,
But rely upon wisdom awareness.” The Four Reliances stated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in Dzogchen, The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, Snow Lion, Ithaca, New York, 2000, p. 35
Just as a goldsmith would test his gold
By burning, cutting and rubbing it,
So you must examine my words and accept them,
But not merely out of reverence for me. “ Lord Shakyamuni Buddha, quoted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama,