Author Topic: Mind on Fire  (Read 706 times)

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Mind on Fire
« on: October 03, 2016, 06:26:47 am »


I was recently reminded of a Buddhist Emoticon, of  a little man seemingly with his hair on fire.  I believed it was part of an emogy collection on another Buddhist website, which indicated that due to our suffering we were on fire, but didn't realize that there was literally an emergency to which we must respond with great urgency!  Worse yet, when we did realize our dire condition in our ignorance we didn't know what to do about it, until we discovered The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eight Fold Path, which gave us the solution to extinguish our fire. Yet somehow most of us are willing to endure such pain and suffering for multiple lifetimes, perhaps we don't get that the power to end our own suffering is within our control.  Even more startling, in our ignorance of our condition we seem to be enthrawed with the appearence of flames in our hair, and are satisfied to just run around looking in the mirror admiring ourselves as if enduring endless suffering was a condition of which we should be proud or deserving of sympathetic attention. Like pigs, we  sometimes even seem to gain satisfaction from wallowing in our own "crap".  I am familiar with this mental condition as I remember as a kid I used to stare in the mirror, when I had been punished by a parent for disobedience, or bad behavior and practice crying and making faces to see which ones would evoke the most sympathy from them and make them change their minds and feel sorry for me. :smack:  Of course it never worked! :-P

In a way it seems sordidly humorous, but not so funny given the realization that the most painful injuries and the most difficult to treat, because of complications of infection are third degree burns. 

Buddha seemed especially concerned about third degree burns of the mind, which can lead to severe depression, aberrant behaviors, perhaps ending in suicide, and subsequent endless cycles of nonbeneficial rebirths, arising in seemingly infinite degenerative loops often resulting in sojourns in the hell realms.  Buddha likened dukkha, our suffering, stress and dissatisfaction to a fire of the mind, and that if we wished to be "unbound" from this fire, we would have to learn and act with a sense of urgency to extinguish it, because appearance in the human realm, a place where we can discover and learn The Dhamma is quite rare.:

Quote
"How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if the monk reappears... does not reappear... both does & does not reappear... neither does nor does not reappear, he says, '...doesn't apply' in each case. At this point, Master Gotama, I am befuddled; at this point, confused. The modicum of clarity coming to me from your earlier conversation is now obscured."

"Of course you're befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you're confused. Deep, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. For those with other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers, it is difficult to know. That being the case, I will now put some questions to you. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, Vaccha: If a fire were burning in front of you, would you know that, 'This fire is burning in front of me'?"

"...yes..."

"And suppose someone were to ask you, Vaccha, 'This fire burning in front of you, dependent on what is it burning?' Thus asked, how would you reply?"

"...I would reply, 'This fire burning in front of me is burning dependent on grass & timber as its sustenance.'"

"If the fire burning in front of you were to go out, would you know that, 'This fire burning in front of me has gone out'?"

"...yes..."

"And suppose someone were to ask you, 'This fire that has gone out in front of you, in which direction from here has it gone? East? West? North? Or south?' Thus asked, how would you reply?"

"That doesn't apply, Master Gotama. Any fire burning dependent on a sustenance of grass and timber, being unnourished — from having consumed that sustenance and not being offered any other — is classified simply as 'out' (unbound)."

"Even so, Vaccha, any physical form by which one describing the Tathagata would describe him: That the Tathagata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of form, Vaccha, the Tathagata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea. 'Reappears' doesn't apply. 'Does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Both does & does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Neither reappears nor does not reappear' doesn't apply.


source:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.072.than.html

Buddha refers again to the analogy of fire in reference to suffering:




Quote

From:  Kor Khao-suan-luang
Usom Sathan
Khao-suan-luang
Rajburi.
23rd April 1972

The Lord Buddha has laid down the Recollections of the Four Requisites [of life], which, for the monks, are: robe material, alms food, shelter, and medicine. He said that if they weren't considered merely as material exigencies, as elements,[1] free of all ideas of self, then the yellow robe, the lump of rice, the hut and medicines would all burst into flame. Even though we may not be monks and only beginners in Dhamma practice, if we really have the determination to be rid of the defilements and self, then there's no loss in trying to follow a similar basic rule. If we don't, imagine how the defilements, craving, clinging, and self will relentlessly proliferate. So we have to make our choice: simply to follow the old way, or to strive towards the ending of self. Each one of you should take this to heart. Turning to examine internally is difficult, but even modest application will result in great benefit. Actually catching the deceit of self in the act of plunging one still deeper into suffering, and being able, there and then, to wipe it out — this is truly a reward beyond price.

The failure to implement this eradication, this giving up of self, lays the basis for the intensification of suffering. For, by not bringing it in for examination, it is able to grow freely. You may be able to quote and recite the scriptures — and even skillfully teach others — yet the mind remains impure and confused. By clearly seeing this you will feel revulsion for everything involved with this craving and desire. You will start to give generously and to make sacrifices, no matter how difficult it seems, and thereby suffering can no longer secure a hold. Each small renunciation builds its own reward in the mind until there is complete victory.

Anyone having a strong tendency towards stinginess — which is a particular defilement — seems unable to give anything up. They are reluctant to examine themselves or admit that they can possibly harbor a disease as severe as selfishness. If they would frequently make an inspection, that sort of defilement wouldn't dare to show its face. But by being negligent the defilement grows strong and bold, and is capable of the most selfish and despicable acts. Such people will then be able to appropriate the property of a community, such as we have here, for their own selfish purposes.

By turning to a constant probing of your mind, you'll be able to succeed in the giving up of unworthy attachments. Whatever you do will then become Dhamma, and will be of assistance to our companions in [this world of] birth, sickness, old age and death. The getting rid of selfishness will also allow you to come to the aid of others, without caring about the hardships involved. Without self we are truly on the noble way.

The practice of Dhamma needs orderliness in daily life. Any slackness is inappropriate. Another point here is that any shortcomings in behavior allow defilements a chance to come forth more easily. Orderliness helps to arouse mindfulness, which may in its turn forestall the defilements. Disregard for rules and regulations brings nothing, whereas conscientiously abiding by them can bring benefit. They give one a sense of how properly to respond to any situation, and this is necessary because we still can't completely understand by ourselves. The Lord Buddha knew the situation from every side, whereas we are surrounded by darkness and ignorance. This means we can't be sure of ourselves — either externally or internally — and so must depend on Dhamma and the Way it points out to us. The decision — to follow Dhamma or to wander away — remains with each one of you.

Anyone who wishes to be rid of their defilements and suffering, will need vigilance as an asset of mind and must then be diligent and persevere. Forever encountering the scorching fire of suffering, they will finally have to stop, turn and set themselves the task of struggling to be free. Without a clear and thorough understanding about oneself, the defilements will thrive and spread their virulent infection, which can only bring more and more suffering. We must therefore reinforce our mindfulness and wisdom, for no other instrument can fight and destroy the defilements.

The persistent quest to train the mind needs mindfulness and wisdom to point the way. Halfheartedness merely wastes time and one remains the same unmitigated fool. When you come to realize this the benefits from the resulting effort are immense. Eventually, you will be able to destroy the defilements, relinquish all attachment and the mind will transcend suffering. But any failure to achieve this will see you swept away by the power of craving and defilements. Negligence and carelessness will allow them to lead you away by the nose; they'll pull you here and drag you there. This is why the Lord Buddha emphasized, in so many ways, the necessity of letting go, sacrificing and disentangling yourself. This is the way to excise the cancer from the mind.

This kind of malignant disease is very insidious and though it may reveal a few symptoms, it's usually not enough to alert one to the situation. Eventually, it will usually triumph and sometimes you may even submit to its terms with alacrity. Your examination therefore must be circumspect and alert, otherwise it's like plugging one hole in a leaking boat only to find it's leaking elsewhere. There are six holes or apertures — the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind — and if you have no control over them, they are left open to follow after emotional objects. And this causes great suffering. You must use mindfulness and wisdom to seek out and review the true situation present within yourself, and this must become the most important activity throughout the day.

Our life is for working on the elimination of the defilements, not for anything else. Yet the defilements and suffering continue to hover about, and if we aren't equal to their threat we'll surely get burnt. We need to pull ourselves around and question how to deal with this, for then we'll be heading for great success. While we still have breath and our body isn't yet rotting in its coffin, we must take counsel and search for a way to eradicate the root infection of this terrible disease, the germ of defilements and craving. This cancer, which has gnawed deeply into the mind, can only be remedied with Dhamma. The Lord Buddha prescribed his Dhamma medicines with their various properties. Each one of us must carefully select from them and blend what is correct and most suitable, and then use it to destroy the root infection. All this necessitates great circumspection.

Should your self-inspection remain insufficient to destroy the defilements, they will grow stronger and burn like an unseen fire inside the mind. Introspection is the extinguisher to use, so that when you notice greed arising for an object, you can snuff it out and let go of it. Now, look at the mind, is it free or entangled in turmoil? If you don't persevere, it can only end in your getting burnt. No matter how smart you think you are, you always seem to succumb to greed. Greed seizes the commander's position and you make no attempt to dislodge it — and even go out to receive it in with compliments. The mind is then the oppressed slave of desire, and has fallen into delusion, with the grasping of this and that. There's no obvious way out of such wretched entanglement; we just don't know how to escape the dilemma that viciously encircles our mind.

We are trapped by our lack of true resolve and finally, when we are at our wit's end, we become slaves to the defilements just as before. The more often we submit to them the more their power grows. The only true way to overthrow them is strenuously to bring mindfulness and wisdom to bear. We can then examine, from all angles, the suffering they bring until the mind refuses to stay a slave any longer. It's no use just making an external show of it, because the greater the fuss the more stubborn the defilements become. Yet, we also can't be halfhearted about it. You must have the appropriate response for whatever the situation brings. You can't rush in with massive good intention to wipe them out, but must first carefully focus and enhance mindfulness and wisdom. This will all require great circumspection, and all these points will need to be remembered.

To genuinely understand, the mind will have to investigate in every posture, with every breath. It will then be equal to the task of stopping those moods and tendencies that continually fabricate notions, without reason or value, under the compulsion of delusion. Without true determination, practice becomes halfhearted. This leads to distraction and a waste of valuable time, with it all being nothing more than delusion. We must turn our vision within and persevere until we see clearly. Once we are adept, it's actually more enjoyable to look inside than out. Externally there is just the dissolution of things seen — why be so engrossed in that? But the inner eye can penetrate to the clear light and then to the Truth of Dhamma. By seeing the nature of the dissolution of all determinations,[2] new insight will arise as to that nature that doesn't deteriorate, a nature that can't be altered but just is.

If your all-round mindfulness and wisdom remain insufficient and weak, the defilements will be overwhelming. However, if you can persistently build up mindfulness and wisdom, the strength of the defilements will proportionally decline. You'll notice that though the mind was previously confused, it has now become resolute. It's able to see the impermanence of things more clearly, so that they can be let go of. This insight into impermanence empowers mindfulness and wisdom to move towards an even deeper discernment. Yet this penetration must be truly focused, otherwise the slightest inattention will be disruptive. If it doesn't wander off target, even for a moment, then this is truly the way to control the defilements. Negligence, however, means that they can never be threatened and they'll regroup stronger than ever.

Mindfulness and clear comprehension must be developed in every posture, with every breath. We must make the effort so that the mind is attentive and doesn't drift away following various emotional objects, or lose itself in the confusion of concocting thoughts. You should be forewarned here about the tendency to think, "I know!", when you don't really know at all. Until the mind penetrates to true insight there must always be doubt and uncertainty; but when you begin truly to see, such doubts fall away and speculation is no longer necessary. One truly knows. How can you be certain that you have true insight? When the mind truly comprehends, the defilements and suffering are really eliminated. However, if one just thinks that one sees — whilst having no real insight — then one can't possibly destroy the defilements and suffering.

This insight penetrates into the mind, for this is where the desire for things is activated and that which blocks out Dhamma resides. When this concocting stops, one sees through to the nature of mind that is without the fire and anguish of desire. This can be seen anytime when one focuses properly and with determination. One can see other things, why not this? Just truly look and you will certainly see!

But you must look correctly to be able to penetrate, otherwise you won't see anything. If you grasp at things — which goes against the basic principles of true knowledge — and then try to go straight on to the truth, it's probable that you'll get all twisted and an element of pride, or something similar, will insinuate itself. The only way is to see the arising and ceasing of things, merely seeing and understanding without grasping. See! This is the way to freedom from attachment. It has been said, "See the world as if it were empty," and we must similarly see our moods, as they arise and cease, as empty. When the mind truly realizes the transience of things, the deceit of the world and our moods, it doesn't grasp at them any more. This is the free mind. There are many levels to this but even a temporary experience is still of benefit; just don't go and grasp after anything!

The free mind that is called vimokkha — attaining to true and final release — we find described in one of the scriptures[3] we chant: "vimokkha is not subject to change." Those levels of freed mind that change are not true vimokkha, so we must continue to examine each level and press for the fruit, which is always freedom from attachment. It doesn't matter how many levels one has to work through until it finally doesn't change, which is when it is without any aim or attachment for anything. This is the true way to penetrative insight.


source:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/kee/directions.html
« Last Edit: October 03, 2016, 06:32:04 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline pragmatic432

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Re: Mind on Fire
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2016, 09:56:39 am »
Hi Ron. I’m rather the elder too and certainly not all that wise, though I constantly try to resist growing in bulk!

I’m familiar with Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s thesis on the metaphor of fire, though I haven’t looked at it for quite a while, so I will read his short ebook again to see how well it holds up for me, that is his idea that while for most of us a fire going out simply means non-existence for the Buddha and his contemporaries it meant something else.

Now setting aside the option of non-existence would appear to leave four other options, two dualistic and two non-dualistic:

1. Dualistic other-worldly: the unconditioned, nibbana is a real dharma that by definition (unconditioned, unreachable by senses or mind) cannot be cognized as being any particular place, but only metaphorically thought of as being another world, on the farther shore, etc. The mainstream view of the Theravada, I believe.

2. Dualistic this-worldly: the unconditioned refers to an internal, fundamentally psychological state of utter coolness, detachment, peace, etc. Some modern secular Buddhists appear to think in this way, though it may be an undercurrent that goes back much farther.

3. Non-dualistic other-worldly: the unconditioned, emptiness, suchness as Buddhahood, involving the transformation of the saha world into buddhafields created and magically upheld by the Buddhas, as set out in the Mahayana sutras.

4. Non-dualistic this-worldly: following Nagarjuna’s admonition that there is absolutely no difference between samsara and nirvana (two truths, one reality), a self-emptying into the world as it is, perhaps best exemplified by Dzogchen, Chan/Zen, the writings of Dogen, etc.

So that’s my simplified take on the topic. Make any sense?

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Mind on Fire
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2016, 11:48:48 am »
Quote
Pragmatic432:  "So that’s my simplified take on the topic. Make any sense?"

Dualism seems to be an important concept in the teachings of Mahayana traditions.  I haven't really spent much time exploring the notion.  My focus has been more upon integrating right behavior with the goal of harmonious results.

As for my handle (Ron-the -elder).  This was chosen to differentiate my son (Ron-the-younger) from his father (me) so that I distanced myself from his tax and legal bills as he travelled around the world  competing in snowboarding.  Oddly, none of his paychecks and prize money ever was sent to me in error.  Only his bills.   :wink1:

Since he retired from The Olympic Circuit and now only coaches Olympians, the problem has waned.   :-P
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Mind on Fire
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2016, 02:00:31 am »
Hi guys. You talking Cartesian dualism here, or some sort of Buddhist definition of dualism? It's the problem of using nearly-the-right-word translations, I guess. I've studied a bit of philosophy, so for me dualism would only apply if there is an immortal 'soul' residing in our bodies for a while, before going off somewhere. Is that the dualism in Buddhist traditions- rebirth of a soul? Or a soul residing in some buddhafield realm after death?
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Mind on Fire
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2016, 09:57:08 am »
Discussion of dualism with regard to Buddha's teachings:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_27.html 


What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline pragmatic432

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Re: Mind on Fire
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2016, 10:08:19 am »
Hi guys. You talking Cartesian dualism here, or some sort of Buddhist definition of dualism? It's the problem of using nearly-the-right-word translations, I guess. I've studied a bit of philosophy, so for me dualism would only apply if there is an immortal 'soul' residing in our bodies for a while, before going off somewhere. Is that the dualism in Buddhist traditions- rebirth of a soul? Or a soul residing in some buddhafield realm after death?

I can only answer from my own understanding, for what it’s worth.

In the context of Buddhism, while it’s true that there’s a core consistency running through most of the traditions, there is a very basic division between the abhidhamma of earlier sects and the later Mahayana.

Earlier traditions are often called “realistic” in that they see the basic dhammas that make up human experience as really existing, as conditioned dhammas. They see Nibbana as a really existing dhamma as well but unconditioned, completely other, beyond conventional determination.

The dualism of the system turns on this conditioned/unconditioned dichotomy. The path here is to step by step disengage, dissolve the conditioned dhammas so that the unconditioned, Nibbana supervenes, leaving nothing behind. It’s a one-way ticket from Samsara to Nibbana, which are conceived as being fundamentally separate realms.

In the Mahayana, however, the principle of dependent origination, of interdependent dhammas, is developed into the notion of emptiness or suchness, where it’s held that there are no “real” dhammas, that all reality is of one flavour, marked by emptiness, by suchness, that not even Nibbana/Nirvana is “real” but exists interdependently with Samsara. As Nagarjuna said, between Samsara and Nirvana there is not one difference.

Of course another name for suchness is non-duality. The critique the Mahayana makes of earlier abhidhamma is that disappearing into Nibbana in the end is only a stopgap - a magical city, as in the Lotus Sutra - that true Nibbana, true and full enlightenment can only be achieved here, in Samsara, because that’s where it’s always been.

Of course, that entails the path of the Bodhisattva, a much steeper climb, no doubt!

Finally, you’ll find most Mahayana sutras reflect all the basic components of the Mahayana, but with different emphasis. For explicit discussion of non-duality I would recommend the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, which besides is relatively short and often entertaining. You can find it free online.

With metta, Pragmatic.

Offline pragmatic432

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Re: Mind on Fire
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2016, 10:59:31 am »
Discussion of dualism with regard to Buddha's teachings:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_27.html


Hi Ron. Thanks again for sending me back to review something I’ve read before.

Bhikkhu Bodhi does a fair job of defending Theravada and critiquing the Mahayana. (Actually he was a little sly in classing Mahayana with Advaita, etc. Doesn’t bother me but would probably put a lot of other Mahayana types into a defensive crouch.)

Some of what he said I found fair, and some not so much, but I’d like to focus on two major points on which I kind of agree.

First, I agree that the Theravada’s focus on the concrete conditions of life, and the escape from those conditions, while exemplary and the starting point for all Buddhist practice does fall short for many, myself included. This is no place to rattle on about this difference in disposition, except to say that a spiritual vision that doesn’t recover all of existence in some way, this whole extraordinary pageant, I can’t help find wanting. In our present age, with what we now know about the exquisite fabric of reality, can we really be satisfied with “a handful leaves” whose only aim is to facilitate our disappearance? But of course I’m only speaking for myself, my own disposition.

Second, I think he does make a good point about the loss of “concreteness” one gets in much Mahayana literature, which for me at least can lose itself in hyperbole. The focus on actual conditions and practices in the Theravada is invaluable, and always will be. I would only add that Chan/Zen and Dzogchen in its way helps to correct this tendency, and brings things back down to Earth. As D.T. Suzuki suggested, the genius of the Chinese mind was to retain the comprehensive vision of the Mahayana while bringing it back down again to a human scale.

With metta, Pragmatic.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Mind on Fire
« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2016, 08:43:38 am »
Quote
pragmatic wrote:..."a spiritual vision that doesn’t recover all of existence in some way, this whole extraordinary pageant, I can’t help find wanting."

Agreed.  In "A Hand Full of Leaves"...Buddha points out that he has only taught what was necessary to end dukkha, not all the knowledge of a Sammasambuddha, which would be the collection of leaves in the rest of the world's forests and jungles.  Until I ran across this sutta, I was concerned about the obviously limited information he provided to his followers in The Holy Sangha.

Quote
...  "he does make a good point about the loss of “concreteness” one gets in much Mahayana literature, which for me at least can lose itself in hyperbole. The focus on actual conditions and practices in the Theravada is invaluable, and always will be. I would only add that Chan/Zen and Dzogchen in its way helps to correct this tendency, and brings things back down to Earth. As D.T. Suzuki suggested, the genius of the Chinese mind was to retain the comprehensive vision of the Mahayana while bringing it back down again to a human scale."

Here I will have to plead ignorance, because my study of Mahayana literature is limited to reading commentaries of Tich Nat Hahn during my years in Vietnam during the war there, and scant readings and lectures from the likes of HHDL, Sister Pema Chondron, and Bill Thurman.  Not sure you could call any of them representative of Chin Buddhism.

What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

 


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