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Thread: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

  1. #1
    Stephanie
    Guest

    What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Besides zazen, my favorite Buddhist practice is a more traditional one: the practice of the brahma-viharas.

    The four brahma-viharas ("Abodes of the Gods") are:

    -Equanimity (composure, patience, evenness of mind)
    -Sympathetic joy (vibing off of other people's happiness)
    -Loving-kindness (gentleness, openness of heart to all sentient beings)
    -Compassion (being aware of and moved by the suffering of sentient beings)

    The Pali terms for these are upekkha (equanimity), mudita (sympathetic joy), metta (loving kindness), and karuna (compassion).

    I don't have a particular concrete practice for cultivating the brahma-viharas; rather, I notice that they are signposts of effective practice in general. Zazen promotes these qualities, as do many other traditional Buddhist practices. However, a basic form of practicing with them is, noting their arising, I try to see what led their arising; noting the arising of their opposite qualities (vindictiveness, selfishness, jealousy, irritation, etc.), I try to see what led to the arising of these opposite qualities.

    I like putting myself in situations that tend to draw out qualities that oppose the brahma-viharas and working to transform my state of mind in these situations to one in which the brahma-viharas naturally arise instead. I find that the first step is usually promoting tolerance or patience (which I would identify with upekkha). If something bugs me, I try to watch my mind as it gets "bugged" and identify the mental events that lead to this state of mind. Over time, I can often identify what's going on and change how I react in these situations.

    I also find that these qualities naturally arise in moments of surrender, often after some painful experience. Letting go of the self, letting myself surrender to disappointment, instead of fighting or trying to hold on, I find that one or more of the brahma-viharas often accompany the experience of sadness and defeat. When you're not trying to defend the self, sadness is a tenderness of heart that promotes kindness. I find that cultivating these qualities of mind has much more of a profound impact on how I interact with others on a day-to-day basis than cultivating non-distractedness of mind. But of course all of this rests on the foundation of a good zazen practice, without which the ability and reflex to watch what's going on in the mind without identifying with it becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.

  2. #2
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    I should also note that the experience of any of these qualities, much less more than one of them in combination, is often profoundly blissful. You don't have to be a spaced-out dumb-dumb or be high on something or even just have had something good happen to you to walk around feeling blissful. You know why this is possible? Because you create your experience with your mind! Anyway... I found the place where I most naturally experienced many of these the past year was riding on the subway and watching other people around me. Kids laughing, homeless people begging for money, total strangers going out of their way to help each other, whatever.

  3. #3

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    I should also note that the experience of any of these qualities, much less more than one of them in combination, is often profoundly blissful.
    Yet we still do the laundry, cook supper, and clip our toenails.

    G,W

  4. #4
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    I should also note that the experience of any of these qualities, much less more than one of them in combination, is often profoundly blissful.
    Yet we still do the laundry, cook supper, and clip our toenails.

    G,W
    The nice thing about the bliss of the brahma-viharas is that you can do the laundry, cook supper, and clip your toenails with equanimity, kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy. Your compassion for your toes makes you cut their nails with gentleness and kindness; your equanimity keeps you from having a temper tantrum when you burn something you'd been cooking; your capacity for sympathetic joy fills you with happiness when the laundry you just folded for someone else makes them smile.

    :wink:

    gassho,

    Steph

  5. #5

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Good. But let's not forget about the effortless joy that naturally arises through the intimacy of Shikantaza.

    Gassho Will

  6. #6

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Good. But let's not forget about the effortless joy that naturally arises through the intimacy of Shikantaza.
    We'll never forget as long as we have you Will.

  7. #7

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    :lol:

    G,W

  8. #8
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Does shikantaza get jealous when you practice the brahma-viharas? :wink:

  9. #9

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    I don't know I'll ask him.

    G,W

  10. #10
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    I've always understood that any bliss that arises is a bonus, and not something to be strived for...

    Kirk

  11. #11

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    I don't have a particular concrete practice for cultivating the brahma-viharas; rather, I notice that they are signposts of effective practice in general. Zazen promotes these qualities, as do many other traditional Buddhist practices. However, a basic form of practicing with them is, noting their arising, I try to see what led their arising; noting the arising of their opposite qualities (vindictiveness, selfishness, jealousy, irritation, etc.), I try to see what led to the arising of these opposite qualities.
    Deep Gassho, Steph. Wonderful post.

    I'm amazed at how little I noticed the arising of the opposites to the brahma-viharas in the past. I've only been practicing a short time and, for a while there, I thought I was getting worse. :lol: But I've just realized a few months ago that I'm not getting worse, I'm simply more aware. Now that I'm more aware, I seem to be able to respond to situations with a tad bit more equanimity.

    I'll give you an example:
    I was giving a seminar three days ago and this MD who runs one the seminar series was 20 min late (she ALWAYS late). Well, we started without her. She is unfamiliar with my field so missing 20 minutes puts her way behind. Instead of listening and trying to catch up or apologizing for being late and asking just a few questions to get caught up, she interrupts me at practically every other sentence. Then she harasses me because, as an MD, she simply cannot grasp the significance of my work no matter how much I went through it just for her. She was beyond rude and annoying. I was a aware of my extreme frustration with her but kept my cool. Several people approached me after the talk and complemented me for my professionalism and coolness under fire. One guy said that I was a very classy person. Now, you guys don't know me, but I don't think anyone has ever told me I was classy! :lol:

    Clearly my actions had consequences. I suspect I gained quite a bit of respect from the other people in the room (maybe even her) and I was able to get as much of my research across as possible. If I acted differently, I would have probably "planted the seeds of anger" ( :wink: ) and I probably wouldn't have been able to present any of my findings properly. Even worse, I would have embarrassed her because it was very tempting to be condescending with her (other people have done that to her) because she wears her insecurity on her sleeve. The cool thing is that my reactions were not planned or intellectualized while they were happening. I just naturally acted the "right" way. I guess the next step in my practice would be to be able to have more empathy for her insecurities but I haven't gotten that far yet. :lol:

    Has anyone had similar experiences?

  12. #12

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    However, a basic form of practicing with them is, noting their arising, I try to see what led their arising; noting the arising of their opposite qualities (vindictiveness, selfishness, jealousy, irritation, etc.), I try to see what led to the arising of these opposite qualities.
    Stephanie,

    I've been doing something like this, especially with selfishness and irritation, without using these words. Actually, one of the several things that led me to practice in the first place was reading some Buddhist perspectives on how anger works, watching how it arises, etc. I recognized some similarities between that and things that I'd already been doing to deal with my anger issues over the years.

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    The cool thing is that my reactions were not planned or intellectualized while they were happening.
    ...
    Has anyone had similar experiences?
    Tracy,

    Yes. I recently found myself in the middle of a fight between two people I care about. I was able to treat both of them with compassion and offer them help; in the past I would have been overwhelmed by my own anger and made the situation much worse for everyone. The ability to see my anger, to understand where it was coming from and why, and not feel threatened by it, gave me the 'space' I needed to feel compassion at the same time. It wasn't that I was trying not to be angry or to understand my anger; the understanding and lack of threat were just there.

    --Charles

  13. #13

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Good. But let's not forget about the effortless joy that naturally arises through the intimacy of Shikantaza.
    Will,

    Personally, I don't see a conflict between what Stephanie is talking about, and the sitting we do. In fact, I see what she's talking about as a natural outgrowth of sitting, without trying to do it or calling it a 'practice'. When I sit regularly, I do what she's talking about, because I'm just more aware of what's going on with me. I think it's unavoidable. Putting Pali words to it, splitting it into four or eight concepts -- that's just one way of talking about the experience. Thinking about it as a separate practice, consciously trying to do it -- maybe that's icing on the cake, or maybe there's a danger to it because our only practice 'should be' Shikantaza; but for me it's not a big deal either way. One way or the other, it makes my life better.

    --Charles

  14. #14

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Will,

    Personally, I don't see a conflict between what Stephanie is talking about, and the sitting we do. In fact, I see what she's talking about as a natural outgrowth of sitting, without trying to do it or calling it a 'practice'. When I sit regularly, I do what she's talking about, because I'm just more aware of what's going on with me. I think it's unavoidable. Putting Pali words to it, splitting it into four or eight concepts -- that's just one way of talking about the experience. Thinking about it as a separate practice, consciously trying to do it -- maybe that's icing on the cake, or maybe there's a danger to it because our only practice 'should be' Shikantaza; but for me it's not a big deal either way. One way or the other, it makes my life better.

    --Charles
    Yes. We all are on our own path. Stephanie wrote a very nice post. And I am happy that she is finding her way. That's why I wrote "Good ". In my post.

    My post was just a reminder to not get too caught up on any one particular thing in practice. Whether that be "the effortless joy that naturally arises through the intimacy of Shikantaza" or "cultivating the brahma-viharas".

    We might have differing of opinions, expression or personality, but that's ok. You don't have to like the same ice cream as I do. You never know, we might try the other kind sometime.

    G,W

  15. #15

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    My post was just a reminder to not get too caught up on any one particular thing in practice. Whether that be "the effortless joy that naturally arises through the intimacy of Shikantaza" or "cultivating the brahma-viharas".
    Will,

    Sorry if I read something into your post that wasn't there. I agree that getting caught up on one aspect of practice, and taking it for the whole, isn't a good thing. And I recognize that it's a danger. I've done it a couple times already since beginning my practice, and I haven't been doing this for very long. Spending time here is one of the things that's helped me notice it. So: your reminders are appreciated, even if I occasionally take them the wrong way.

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    We might have differing of opinions, expression or personality, but that's ok. You don't have to like the same ice cream as I do. You never know, we might try the other kind sometime.
    I suspect I'm eating the same ice cream, so to speak, and getting confused while talking about it.

    --Charles

  16. #16

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    At this place we have to kind of remember that we can't really see or hear the person who's writing, so not everything is really how we percieve it.
    That comes down to both parties and the skills of how we write, and our practice at the time of reading and writing. Sometimes our meaning comes across, and sometimes it gets lost. We have to kind of take it lightly.


    G,W

  17. #17
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    Deep Gassho, Steph. Wonderful post.
    Deep gassho back to you Tracy, I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I love reading about bodhisattva action in the world! I like to imagine that the world is full of hidden bodhisattvas that show up in many surprising contexts, lightening the burden of suffering in ways that are often invisible to those around them. And often, it seems to me to be true.

    Like Charles, what this practice (and by "this practice" I mean the whole shebang--zazen, the brahma-viharas, compassionate activity, etc.) has worked on the most has been my anger.

    Perhaps the best example I can think of from the past year is living with my roommate. I found that thanks to my practice (as well as my social work education), I was able to compromise with her without harboring resentment, bring up issues and work through them, and deal with conflict with an evenness of temperament.

    For example, my roommate threw a temper tantrum the week before I was going to leave because I wouldn't let her use the shower at sudden notice until I was done in the bathroom. It was really a ridiculous situation at which I was at no fault whatsoever, but I did not "bite the hook," standing my ground but without erupting in temper. I told her that if she had told me in advance she needed the bathroom during the time I usually used it in the morning, I would have been happy to accommodate her, but that it was unfair for her to expect me to be late to work when she was the one that had not taken the time to sort things out in advance with me. She got angry and threw a fit, storming out of the apartment with her shampoo to go use someone else's shower. She gave me the silent treatment afterwards.

    Even though I was indignant about her treatment of me (she accused me of being selfish and always getting my way, even though I actually rarely asked anything of her and often had to sacrifice or compromise to accommodate her; her temper tantrum seemed to me to stem not from unjust treatment, but from the fact she'd come in late and drunk the night before and had only had a couple of hours of sleep before stumbling out of bed and confronting me) and she did not approach me to apologize, I decided that it wasn't worth obliterating the good work we'd done to live together as roommates for an entire year to leave angry with one another. I wrote her a note saying as much, we talked about it, and we left on good terms. I could have easily justified being nasty to her, but thanks to the equanimity borne of practice, I was able to let go of it, knowing that it would only intensify both of our misery for me to stubbornly try to prove a point about how she had been wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles
    Personally, I don't see a conflict between what Stephanie is talking about, and the sitting we do. In fact, I see what she's talking about as a natural outgrowth of sitting, without trying to do it or calling it a 'practice'. When I sit regularly, I do what she's talking about, because I'm just more aware of what's going on with me. I think it's unavoidable. Putting Pali words to it, splitting it into four or eight concepts -- that's just one way of talking about the experience. Thinking about it as a separate practice, consciously trying to do it -- maybe that's icing on the cake, or maybe there's a danger to it because our only practice 'should be' Shikantaza; but for me it's not a big deal either way. One way or the other, it makes my life better.
    That's almost exactly how I see it. I've named what I'm talking about in this thread as a "practice" because it's something that I do every day, but it's really not so much a concrete thing. Instead, it's a way of watching, being, and acting that emerges from zazen and study of the Dharma. My main point in talking about this as a daily practice was to illustrate that there are other traditional Buddhist concepts / practices that I find much more useful and transformative than "mindfulness" practice. Arguably, the above is a sort of mindfulness, but I'm distinguishing it from practicing simple concentration. I find it much more practical to learn how to work with emotions in the above way than to try to cultivate a non-distracted mind at all times. I find that this actually is quite complementary to shikantaza because as I understand it, shikantaza is a way of sitting in which the amount of thoughts that do or don't arise is somewhat irrelevant, the important thing being one's ability not to get caught up in the content of thought.

  18. #18

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    She was beyond rude and annoying. I was a aware of my extreme frustration with her but kept my cool. Several people approached me after the talk and complemented me for my professionalism and coolness under fire. One guy said that I was a very classy person. Now, you guys don't know me, but I don't think anyone has ever told me I was classy! :lol:
    Yay Tracy! I've always thought that the workplace is a good place for practicing Buddhism. One has so many opportunities to learn BTW, I've always thought you to be a classy person.

    Gassho,

    Linda

  19. #19

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    RE: Similar experiences.
    Here's my story to share. I have a person at work who is always negative--about everything. She is quite funny but has a tendency to enhance her relationship with you by putting down others. I find that I am now able to have enough space between thought and action to not join in with the gossip and nay saying, but focus on her and her needs without the other stuff. The more I practice sitting, I find that the space between thought and action widens to allow more choice in how to respond that is more in line with the brahma-viharas.

    Great thread, everyone.

    Linda

  20. #20

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    NIce stuff everyone.

    No particular story to tell, but I notice that I am able to intervene in my habitual reactions. I'm more patient with others now, but with a long way to go in regards to a couple of people at work (still working on that). I'm better able to let my kids be who they are instead of who I want them to be -- better at discerning the line between behavior that needs correcting and simply annoying things that should be let go. I am more open to others when conversing; I'm not quite sure how to say that, but I notice that I actually care a bit more about what other's are saying than I might once have. Shikantaza has definitely helped my marriage. I am more able to let my wife be who she is instead of who I might want her to be. In doing so, she becomes the wife I always wanted. Funny how that works. The list goes on and on. All still works in progress. All subject to change in a moment of careless speech or action.

    Like Tracy, I too will often feel like I am having a tough time with all of this until I remember that I am actually just more aware of the stuff I had been doing all along.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  21. #21

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Hi Tracey
    I work with MDs (Consultants as we call them in the UK) & some can be quite a challenge.
    Well done for keeping your cool. Loosing it in a work setting is generally disastrous & can take ages to resolve. These days I just grind my teeth (mindfully) .
    Kind regards
    Jools

  22. #22

    Re: What I like to practice more than mindfulness

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Besides zazen, my favorite Buddhist practice is a more traditional one: the practice of the brahma-viharas.

    The four brahma-viharas ("Abodes of the Gods") are:

    -Equanimity (composure, patience, evenness of mind)
    -Sympathetic joy (vibing off of other people's happiness)
    -Loving-kindness (gentleness, openness of heart to all sentient beings)
    -Compassion (being aware of and moved by the suffering of sentient beings)

    The Pali terms for these are upekkha (equanimity), mudita (sympathetic joy), metta (loving kindness), and karuna (compassion).

    I don't have a particular concrete practice for cultivating the brahma-viharas; rather, I notice that they are signposts of effective practice in general. Zazen promotes these qualities, as do many other traditional Buddhist practices. However, a basic form of practicing with them is, noting their arising, I try to see what led their arising; noting the arising of their opposite qualities (vindictiveness, selfishness, jealousy, irritation, etc.), I try to see what led to the arising of these opposite qualities.

    I like putting myself in situations that tend to draw out qualities that oppose the brahma-viharas and working to transform my state of mind in these situations to one in which the brahma-viharas naturally arise instead. I find that the first step is usually promoting tolerance or patience (which I would identify with upekkha). If something bugs me, I try to watch my mind as it gets "bugged" and identify the mental events that lead to this state of mind. Over time, I can often identify what's going on and change how I react in these situations.
    Thank you so much, Steph.

    I have been thinking for awhile that I would like to incorporate more of such Practices (they are "Practices", and we can call them that) into our "official" bag of toys in this Sangha. This post, and some things I've read over at Harry's "anger" blog have really made me want to do so. There is nothing at all about these to take away from "Just Sitting" Shikantaza, Quite the contrary, and such practices are as ancient as Buddhism itself (I might call them "Sublime Attitudes" instead of "Abodes of the Gods", but that is just words) ... they are Buddhism itself. It is vital to nurture "Compassion" and "Wisdom" as one, and sitting alone can sometimes be much too focused on the latter, and on personal "equinimity" alone, if compassion, sympathetic joy, and loving kindness are not nurtured amid our lives. These things are not apart from each other.

    One can even turn into a mean, bitter, lost, uncaring or self-centered being (I have seen it happen sometimes, and it is one of the old criticisms of the so-called "Hinayana" way by those on the Boddhisattva path of the Mahayana) if one gets too wrapped up in one aspect of sitting without keeping a warm and kind heart. It is the same reason I emphasize the Precepts around here.

    So, let me think about this a little more, but I will be encouraging something like this as part of our daily Practices together with Zazen. Most Zen teachers around the world are now doing so in one form or another and I just want to find the right way for us here. For example, a bit of "Metta" chanting for both our friends and those not so friendly, anyone who suffers, may become a good way to end our day each day.

    May all beings be free from enmity and danger
    May all beings be free from mental suffering
    May all beings be free from physical suffering
    May all beings take care of themselves and be content

    May all beings be content
    May all beings be free from suffering
    Gassho, Jundo

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