Madeira

When I changed from za zen to vipassana practice, I learned about the four fiundations of mindfulness. One is also aware and mindful of these when doing za zen, but I had not heard about it in such detail and was not familiar with the satipatthana sutta. Of course, as diligent meditation practitioner one does not exclude any of the foundations of mindfulness, the body, feelings, mind and mind objects (Dhamma), one is aware of all (one at the time) – mostly it is the first and easiest,awarenss of the body.

Since one year, after leaving Santi and moving to Thailand and living quite secluded in the mountains, I determened to do cittanupassana as main object of observation, to become aware mainly of the mind and mindobjects, instead as before mainly kayanupassana, the mindfulness on the body. The results of that change are sometimes funny and sometimes scary. Funny in the sense that by trying to be aware of the mind, of all intentions, of impulses, of thoughts, perceptions and everything that is going on in the mind, I sometimes know what I was intending or thinking but I was so focused on it, that I totally lost awarenes of the body so much so that I stumbled over things that I didn’t see, or things slipped out of my hands and so on.

To know the intentions in regards to physical activities i.e. is relatively simple, often an inention for an activity does not come directly before one performs the action but way earlier, and then later, when the conditions allow, the impuls is sent to actually really perform the action. Often intention and impulse follow each other and seem to arise at the same time, which is not true, they come one after the other, but in quick succsession. Sometimes the impulse may seem to arise even before the intention or at least before the intention becomes known.

To know ones intentions for verbal activities or generally in interactions with other people that is different, much more complex to see and requires a lot of honesty. One may say something and think the intention is through and through good and noble but totally denies the underlying defilements. Simple example how often do we say: ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ And we might think we say that only out of so much altruistic joy but there might also be envy or attachment which we usually do not become aware of.

As far as I remember, I read in the Samyutta Nikaya that the intention set in a mind is like the river ganges which flows into one direction and this direction cannot be changed even one were to dig with a spade. In other places it is said that ‘what we think that we become’. That is the scary part. Especially since we do not know what we think most of the times. And when we come to know, it is not wholesome most of the time. I need to make a far greater effort to make sure that one of the paramies pervades my mind and not one of the defilements.

Again and again people say, I cannot stop thinking. Something interesting is: One cannot stop thinking because one wants to think, because one thinks ones thought would have any importance, which is a misinterpretation. A thought might have as much value as a fart. But thinking gives the impression one is doing something and can influence ones surrounding, whereas feeling is entertaining and give the impression one lives, something is happening. The mind wants to be active and think even when we say we would like to have peace and would not want to think so much. But in fact the reason why we can’t stop thinking is that we are attached to our thoughts and that we miss them when they are getting less or it becomes frightening when they dissapear.

What I learned so far is that one cannot trust the mind at all. One cannot trust ones perceptions. The intention for an impulse might be a totally different from what one thought it were.

And most importantly, everything that we see, hear, smell etc. will leave an imprint on the mind. When we are not observing the mind it cannot be noticed. As far as I understand the matter from reading the texts, this would be in regards to the cittabhavanga. Things that we see, even movies that we watched, one has long forgotten that one ever saw that movie or saw this image but suddnely it fashes up. An example of today, I was relaxing and closed the eyes, some blue dots appeared as a flash. I had the thought ‘I saw this, I remember this’ and the picture became clearer, it was the blue of the flowers of trees growing on the streets of Madeira. I had at all forgotten that I ever had been to Madeira, almost, that Madeira exsists, but by recocnizing the blue dots I remembered the whole thing. When not observing the mind this would happen completely unnoticed or would happen only accidentally. Or an image or feeling would arise and could not be related to anything.

The crux is – yes, one can remember things, but one only remembers ones own percetion, only ones own version of what one experienced. And this is tainted by the defilements predominat in that particular situation. In this case it is tainted by liking and as soon as I remembered the blue flowers of the trees I noticed the wish to travel to Madeira again arising in my mind.

Earlier I said provocingly that our thoughts are as valuable as our farts. That is only true for large parts of the unwholesome thoughts that arise due to our defilements. The only importance they have is that all unwhlesome will sink into this enormous flux of our lifestream conciousness and will be cause for some unwholesome resultant kamma whenever the conditions allow. It is not true for every single thought of loving kindness or compassion, or sympathetic joy or any other parami that we have arising in our minds. Those are valuable, important. These thoughts, when nourished and harboured bear great fruit. They transform us into better people and the make a difference in the world.

Weeding the mind

To write the next post, I have to admit first that I have been breaking a rule, not one of the heavy ones, but yes…

We are in our first two weeks of rains retreat. For the beginning of the rains, lay people have come to do some voluntary work in the monastery to keep it nice, like cutting grass, trimming trees, etc. Someone had also started to pull out weeds but since there are plenty, he could not finish and left me with a glance that said’ the rest of weeding is for you.

Weeding is not permitted for monks and nuns. We shall not damage plants.

When I was a lay person I had, at the time when I was living in Spain, a garden and did a lot of gardening, loved to do gardening. Being a zen practitioner and having started meditation in a monastery in Japan, it was natural to me to do gardening. To do weeding plating and so on. When we were in retreat, an hour every day of gardening was part of the practice and so I associated with gardening something peaceful, calming, with the intention to harmonize and beautify the environment. I avoided to harm beings and used no poisons and worked with hands or only light tools in order to have close attention and mindfulness for what I was doing. Then often, I would sit on the low wall and look over the neighbouring gardens, and look to the north west, over ‘es pla’, the flat plateau and the tramuntana mountains and watch the sunset.

Often the sunsets were incredibly beautiful, with colors changing from gold, orange, red, crimson and deep purple. But that leads far away from what I have the intention to write about.

Since I had become a nun, I had not been doing any gardeneing except watering plants, regardless of it being a flower, tree or weed. Sometimes, when still a Mae Chii, a monk wanted me to do trimming, cutting, pulling out of plants but I would not do it. At one time during walking meditation in Wat Rampoeng, where I had a room in at the second floor, I was still a lay person, I saw at every stop at one end of the walking path, when I stood against the window, a woman working in a garden across the street. In the beginning the weeds stood as high as herself, the entire garden was full of weed. Many days I walked back and forth for hours, many days she worked in the garden through the weeds for hours. I saw her suffering in the heat.
And the pulling out and digging up was only one small part of the process. Later had to come the planting, then the caring and maintainance, then weeding again and again. I understood why it is not good for monks and nuns to do gardening. In putting one little seed for a plant to grow or a vegetable to grow, there is so much wanting so much striving involved, the mind and the body need to be so much away from the meditation cushion.

I am very happy and rejoice that people undertake the effort of this process and as a vegetarian, I appreciate it greatly.

So, now here I stood with a small beautiful monastery, weeding half done with clear indications that nobody would come to finish it because people would have to work in the tea and fruit plantations, the lamyai is ripe and needs to be harvested, weeds are groing in the people home gardens also… I was told that before monks had been planting herbs and trees and had been doing the care as well.

For one year living here I refused to lay hands on plants other than watering everything that was green and would grow by being given water. This year however, there was for some reason more pressure from various sides that I would jump in and help with weeding. Not like, ‘do it or go’, but I see the the people every day on alms round, I see them getting sick, having pain, not being able to bend, having to care for their old parents, the children, for the sick, they work hard, it is not an easy life up here. So out of compassion, one day, I started to do some weeding at some places where a weed grows, a creeper that kills everything. It grows over everything, other plants, even buildings. I just wanted it to get down from some trees and flowers, not pull it out actually.
Any way, I stared weeding and thought that I should rather do weeding in my mind.
I tried to do it mindful and without harming, trying to have in my mind constantly thoughts about compassion, about the wish to be harmless, the intention to help, I tried to observe my mind closely while doing it. Thoughts arose about my laylaife and gardening, about zen and gardening, about many monasteries in the mahayana traditions where monks and nuns would not survive when they would not be planting, harvesting, weeding.

There was actually no moment, when I enjoyed the work, I did it because it had to be done and I use it to reflect on it. This particular creeper is a real intrudor, it invades, overgrows, dominates, creeps in, grows back, is resistant, … Just like our defilements. This creeper grows in very, very long thin strings that can easily be 10 meters or longer, it has leaves every 10 cm when the conditions are right. It can grow roots at every point of its strings and continue to grow from there in every direction, when it is not possible to grow new roots it still grows, spreading its strings in directions where it might find conditions to grow roots, often a string looks dead, no leaves, no roots, so one pulls at it, meter for meter from underneath a building and finds at the other end where it came out from underneath the building, that it was alive and green at the other end. It builds kind of a net of its strings interwoven, there is no beginning, no end, it is in fact not possible to pull this weed out, one can only pull oy parts of it, which gives the other parts strength to grow stronger and faster. To really kill this plant one had to be extremely persistend and diligent. If one had pulled out a string and its roots, but a part of the root might have remained in the earth, a new plant will grow from it. (Which means, in fact I did not break a role.)

So it is really exactly as it is with our defilements when one tries to observe the mind in order to root out the defilements. They are just like this weed and one needs to be very, very persistent and diligent. Then when one does the work, in the field or in the mind, suddenly under the weeds appear plants, beautiful flowers that have been planted once but are dying, suffocating, and they can start to grow, to florish. Same as in our minds, once we pulled out the defilements with right effort, our eautiful and good qualities can grow. Or, more likely – realistically – other weeds appear, thorny ones, hurting ones, the ones who when one gets in contact with them, closing their leaves when touched and almost seem to dissapear among grasses and leaves then. They might also grow just as a short plant above the earth, they have strong roots and spread them wide. Branches can grow flat on the ground and when overgrown by grass or something else they become roots. When the conditions are in favour, they can grow into bushes and trees and form a thicket which is terribly entangled. If that is not exactly as it is in our minds, with our defilements. I can’t speak for everybody , but it is exactly as I experience the weeding of defilements in my mind.

Just for the completeness of the story it may be said, that the unwholesome kamma in this case ripens immediately in form of skin allergies.

I feel very much at unease with doing it but did it more than once. Every time I did it y body was full of terribly itching rashes and blisters. Every litte rash, when scratched mulitplies and causes a rash at the next spot touched, when whatever it is is in the cothes and it touches the skin, rashes spread all over. Then a looong shower has to be taken, and mind you, the water is cold, clothes have to be washed and that probably more than once, Then, with some anti allergene cream, it is only a matter of hours that the itch dissapreas. Honestly, I thought I could go mad and scream or weep. But I didn’t, I bore it, stoic, lowering my head in deep respect and acknowledgemet of the law of kamma.

After a few meditation sessions after the weeding I need to add, that it was a very good lesson and I learned a lot. Most of all I learned about the subtle ways of kamma and its interrelation with intention. Trying to keep the mind as object of obsrevation during the weeding, I noticed, that even when I have the general good intention of beautifying and harmonizing the monastery, when I think I do it to help the people because they have no time for it and I would not ask them to do it anyway – there is one moment – cause the present moment can be quite short and passing quickly, there is that one little part of a second intention. Without an intention to bend down there would not be the impulse to the limbs to actually bend. That is the first interruption of that general flux of nice thoughts of harmony and helping. Without the intention to pull at the weed to uproot it, the hand would not go towards the weed. This is the second present moment in which the flow of wholesome thoughts is interrupted. The streching out of the hand cannot take place when the mind does not agree to the pulling out of the weed. So, the wholesomeness of intentions is twisting into unwholesome direction. And then for the actual pulling out an effort has to be made. An effort that has quite an aggression as underlying potential. It is too soft to be called ill will, really, but had the mind not as an underlying tendency the disposition to aggression, if the mind were total ahimsa, this effort would just not be possible. Probably one would not even bend down. This has not even something to do with the object to be pulled out, but merely with with part-of-second present moment thoughts which commonly happen unnoticed. In addition to that there is the judging of the mind ‘this is a good plant’, ‘this is a weed, it must be pulled out’ instead of the bare, impartial seeing of a plant of any kind. Etc.etc.

This goes beyond the capability of my intention of living a pure life… In order to live that, a pure, a holy life, one has to live as if one weren’t there.

Heart broken

Has your heart ever been broken?
And you felt all the pain?
Trying to sooth the suffering thinking:
‘Since now it is broken it can’t break anymore’?
But then it broke once more and again
When your love left,
Your child, your mother and father or friend,
when they died.
It broke when you heard of the hunger and war,
And it broke when you could not help.
It will break again and again as it always does,
since eons in every life.
It broke as a lions heart when a spear pierced your young one,
As a child who saw the mum carried away by a beast,
Millions of times it broke cause of love,
As a women for being reduced to an object of lust,
And as a man when you had to do what a man has to do,
Then it broke cause the world and all others are bad,
And then when you saw that you are the same,
When people betray, deceive and slaughter each other
And as an insect, carelessly trampled upon,
When you killed and were killed,
Or when you sat as a beatle in dung.
It will break again as it always does.
It will break into thousends of pieces
– and then -
it will break some more.
So often, so much that the pieces will become like fine grain of sand
then more, until it is merely dust.
Until there is nothing left,
Until you find: in this Nothing
there is all love -
wide, open, beyond time and space
Unconditioned, boundless, limitless.
And of you there is no trace.

all normal…

The construction of the new kuti is in full process after a long break around Thai new year. Most every day 2 or 3 men are working on it. Kun Wen sais it is livable at Vesakha Puja but I do doubt it. For almost one week we had almost no electricity. They do work but it is much slower when they have to sow everything by hand. Yesterday the official constructor has been ordered home, something happened there and someone came to get him. I understood ‘falling’ and ‘roof’ but I am not certain whether the roof fell or someone fell from the roof.

 

For as it is the work is proceeding well. The roof one day, the veranda one day. The floor half a day luckily a day with electricity otherwise it would have taken 2 days. The black water pit and bathroom walls one day. Now the wood for the walls gets its fine plane, the structure to keep the windows in place is set. So more than 50 % is done. Walls, bathroom installation, stairs and electricity is still to do.

 

A.D. Has gone for a month. People are really o.k. with me here now. Yesterday I chatted a bit with the workers after their work. We were all surprised that I am progressing in speaking Thai.

 

Puppy Hercules almost took his last breath. But he survived and is well now. Some mushrooms were growing in front of my kuti the workers said they are poisonous, not edible. Some time later, I saw Hercs around the place eating something and much less mushrooms… His face swell, his body was red and hot, the skin had rashes, he either ran around squeaking and scratching or fell asleep. Next day he was better. Now he is fully recovered. He came on alms round twice, today in pouring rain. The village dogs didn’t come out of their dry places so Shabala and Hercules followed me all the way. In the end Hercs was chased by the headman’s dog and ran straight home.

 

Since 2 days I am sick. I had this piercing tickling in some nerve ends and a night with light, disturbed sleep. I feel very tired and sleep all day, body heavy and head like numb but happy that it is not too bad. I have itchy, painful rashes at the neck and pain, so it seems to be shingles again. Last time when I had shingles around the same area, a tooth died. But it is not getting as bad, I think.

 

Since weeks or almost months I was without pain, could breath fully in the chest. Welcome back pain. As Ajahn Suphan sais, pain is like your best friend, comes often and stays long, so learn to live happily with it. Perry will protest when I write that this body is a burden, a mass of suffering. But even without pain it is – because it is subject to old age sickness and death.

 

Fortunately I have time to sleep and cure this body. I will not force it through a retreat although it would surely be interesting, would have done that 2, 3 years ago. Now I shall be a bit more compassionate with this conglomeration of elderly elements.

 

In regards to what I wrote earlier about feeling feminin. I did not follow after that. First I thought I have to find the feminine way to enlightenment but I am a Buddhist nun and trust the Buddha’s teaching. According to this mind is mind, whether it is pure or defiled is completely independent form being female or male. These two are, according to the Abhidhamma, just two points in a list of physical characteristics, so why bother with feminine or masculine.

spiritual adolescense

adolescence is a difficult time in every bodies life. When I remember back, Oh dear, it was difficult for me and I was difficult for others I think. Everyone seems to go through this period without exception, girls start growing their breasts, have their menstruation for the first time, total change of body and rearrangement of objectives. Boys have too big noses and the voice is breaking. One needs to find ones profile, and does a lot of nonsense. I did a lot of nonsense, my spanish nices do, my american nephew does and the children around here do. There might be variation in how dramatic or just stupid the ‘Quatsch’ (German for nonsense, I love this word and I use to love to do it :)

 

Then suddenly one day one has grown up, understands what the parents or other seniors have tried to get through for years.

 

Yesterday I had the idea that I might be in my spiritual adolescence :D

 

I was such a enthusiastic spiritual child, now in my darn 7th year of being a nun, I feel like one of those half mature adolescents. Times are difficult, don’t want to be a conformist, need to find my own way (although according to the Buddha’s teaching), want rebellion against the establishment and do some Quatsch. It is funny to observe the mind in this state. Would be funnier if it were not my own mind. But sometimes I feel detached from it enough so that I can have a good laugh.

 

For the time being I should not teach but grow up.

 

Here in Kun Pang is no one to teach and no one to rebel against. So it seems it is the most suitable place for now. A.D. Is still a good companion. We go Pindabat on different routes and don’t share mealtime any more, only meet at dogs feeding times which is not much time to socialise or chat, the rest is free for mental proliferation.

 

I stopped doing tummo, or trying to do, I shall say. It was good to keep me busy and meditating in times when I really, really didn’t want to meditate any more. But there is so much stuff related and to practice before one can even start, and it doesn’t lead to enlightenment, so there is no point, really. It is interesting that it is quite easy to hold the breath for a minute and a half, two minutes is more difficult. It has excellent effects for one who needs help to empty the bowels, not good for me, though.

 

For Ajahn Suphan’s birthday I got a set of new robes and was very keen on wearing it, just wanted to dye it a bit darker. I ruined the pot and the set of robes which is now multi coloured, somehow. It is a very good object to observe attachment and the process of letting go.

 

brahma viharas at the edge

I was pondering and writing a lot about love, the altruistic one, metta.

Before I write, imagine me sitting here giggeling when I think about it.

For my part, it feels that I am at the upper end of what is possible for me now. Since the mind is defiled, metta cannot be pure. The same holds true for the other paramis, qualities of the four Brahma viharas, like compassion and empathy and also for all the 10 perfections.

 

Compassion for example, I sometimes felt so sorry, even for a dying insect, I sometimes felt like I could cry and sometime did. Of course, I do safe even an insects life, if possible. It is compassionate. But the underlying tendency for this is fear of death. Fear is routed in all three: greed, hatred and delusion.

 

None of the paramis I tried to develop is without defilement. To all the disillusion I experience, this comes in addition. Even when I think I have only good intentions – the defilements linger underneath and sully the purity of the parami. No wonder I don’t want to see clearly any more when something frustrating like this is the result. What next? :)

 

What I have to develop more is upakkha, equanimity. Upekkha has to be consistent of metta, karuna and mudita (at least) otherwise it will be cold ignorance and metta, karuna and mudita (and others) have to be governed by upekkha otherwise they go out of hand. I have developed some patience and acceptance. One would not think that I once was a very passionate actress. But still, there are moments when the patience comes to an end. And then there is no more parami. When the dogs for example jump on me with their dirty feet on my alms bowl or robe and almost kick me over… aversion arises. Or, someone sprinkled me with water, willing or not doesn’t matter, I just stand there and develop khanti – but I would like to react in such a moment and take a playful revenge, laugh, squeak, sprinkle back, childish, just as they do it here on Songkrang, the Thai new year. That would be the end of upekkha.

 

Although I think that I came to the upper end of what is possible for me in regards paramis (at this present state of defiled mind), I will not give up training and practising them.