Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Burning Away Karmaic Seeds from the Subconscious Mind

The Buddha, in his teaching about the 12 interdependent factors that cause the chain reaction of sorrow, detailed how karma plays out in our lives. One of the 12 factors is called a "samskara" which is a thought impression that is stored in our subconscious mind. It is a unit of psychological conditioning which when the right stimulus is experienced will cause us to react to an event according to a habit pattern. The 12 factors form a kind of circle of causation which constantly renews itself. The circle can be broken at three points. One is to become awake and aware. By doing this, we remove the root of "unconscious ignorance". The other is to "remain with the sensation" when we are activated and not give into the impulse to do that keeps the chain reaction going. The last is to commit to living the ethical precepts which define an altruistic life, so that we do not plant more karmaic seeds as habits. If we are totally aware, which means being aware without any resistance to what is seen, and do not react to what is happening, then a karmaic seed can be wiped out in the moment of its arising and the karmaic pattern completes itself and disappears. We can also resist the event, feel life is unfair, and retell our ego story, replant the seed, and program ourselves to have future painful events. Part of the understanding of universal law is that everything happens for a reason. There is order and there is cause and effect, and all events unfold within this order. There are no accidents. Because of this, the Buddha taught people to take all painful events as old karma ripening and completing itself in the moment. If we surrender to this way of understanding the event, then karma completes itself and the karmaic event is finished. Nothing more is programmed to happen to us. There is a kind of completion of a polarity, where we experience an event as both abuser and victim, and then transcend this polarity. When doing this process, meditating on the sensation of pain that echos from an event, I would sometimes have memory flashes from either a past lifetime or from an event in this lifetime where I was on the doing end of what I was receiving in the recent event. After having worked through many karmas this way, I found it was faster to just assume that I was on the doing end of everything I have received. This would either allow me to find the memory faster or just release the event without needing all the details. I would empathize with the victim point, resolve never to cause someone that kind of pain, have compassion extend to everyone who was feeling like I did, acknowledge any memories of me doing the same, and then letting the whole energy go. I found that the key is "completing the polarity" feeling both sides of the polarity simultaneously, and then releasing the whole thing. The energies of craving, negativity, and delusion are replaced by love, creativity, and wisdom.

It is possible to meditate deeply enough to go into the subconscious mind and uproot karmaic seeds before they manifest in a physical event. The hardest and slowest way to release a karmaic seed is through having it manifest in a physical event. It is more proactive to meditate deeply enough to feel the karmaic seeds in meditation and uproot them in meditation. Chanting, visualization, and breathing are useful in this regard. Running energy into blocked areas of our subtle energy body is helpful too. When this is done, then we can complete the polarity through a subtle activation and move through inner experience until completion. The same process that works for karmaic events that play out in physical life also works for a karma playing out energetically in meditation. You remain with the sensation and allow the polarity to complete itself. The advantage is that it is easier, more rapid, and more peaceful to energetically complete something than it is to play it out physically. For instance, if I have an dream where I am battling someone and learn to forgive this person, then I can wake up and feel refresh that something is complete. But if I have to battle the person in a physical experience, then, even if I forgive the person, I may have actual wounds to that will need time to heal and probably a lot of damage to repair. Energetic completion is less messy. If I am sensitive, I can complete more things immediately inside myself, rather than letting something get dense enough to manifest in physical experience. For instance, someone says something at a party that annoys me, I want to say something back to this person. I can finish the whole thing right there by full feeling what is happening, seeing it as a karma completing itself, and let it go, or I can say what I am going to say and then the person reacts to what I say and we have a fight. Even if forgiveness happens in this senario, the blows cause extra pain that did not have to happen. In other words, I can deal with the whole activation as an emotionally charged thought and complete it there or I can let it become hurtful words. Or I can deal with the event as very intense words and let it go on this level or I can let it become actual fists. I can even let it go on the level of fists or hold resentment about what happened and program more events to happen in the future, more fights, more hostile words, and more angry thoughts.

When a samskara is felt in meditation, it is like a magnetic vortex that is pulling energy according to like attracts like. The magnetic attraction of north pole to south pole is like the attraction that victim and abuser have for each other. The polar shifts are how victim becomes abuser and visa versa. By feeling both simultaneously at the point of activation, the process can end. It seems that it is not possible to release the event without feeling both polarities simultaneously.

There are chants and visualizations that help release samskaras internally. The Buddha taught people to use conscious breathing to access and release these samskaras in meditation. The key is that samskaras are not merely passive items waiting to be activated but energy vortexes that are gathering the energy to manifest an event. They can be felt in the energy body as energy blocks or knots and can be felt in the physical body as chronic tensions and breath inhibitions. When the tensions or knots are released, then an emotional wave is felt. Then we can complete the karma internally and move on. The key is to experience what is arising with no clinging, no identification, and no resistance.

Physical Immortality and Light Translation

I wanted to open the following theme for discussion. The theme is a questioning whether human beings need to age and die. I do believe that (1) it is possible for human beings to not age and die, (2) that aging and death are not necessary, (3) it is part of the spiritual life to include the body in our transformation process and learn how to not age and die, and (4) it is the karmaic seeds, called samskaras, stored in our subconscious mind, that cause illnesses, aging, and death, and by removing these samskaras our body can learn to regenerate itself, and keep itself alive, youthful, and vital. Although the Four Noble Truths talk about the inevitability of aging and death, this is a relative teaching which is related to the ego consciousness which is still driven by craving, negativity, and delusion. Such an ego consciousness is destined to eventually age and die when the good karma is exhausted and the unwholesome karma has its lawful result. According to a few traditions, Guatama Buddha did attain physical immortality, but chose to do a special tonglen practice, taking on a large portion of karma from humankind and letting it destroy his physical body, by doing so he accomplished a few goals. One is that he created a storehouse of merit to make meditation easier for later generations of Buddhist practitioners. Two is that he was able to demonstrate how to die a noble death and how to do phowa (consciousness ejection practice) at the time of death. Three is that he could release the Sangha, the Buddhist community, to find its own destiny, having left behind approximately 60 enlightened masters behind (30 male masters and 30 female masters). Four is that he could recreate another physical body made out of etheric matter and still guide his community from a more liberated space. Five is that he could evolve the Tantric teachings with his wife Yasodara in this more liberated space. Both of them had taken vows of celibacy during their historical incarnation and during the death they were released from these vows. While there is very little said about their relationship after Buddha left his home to become a wandering sannyasin, there is nothing I have found that indicates that he ever divorced his wife. The fact that she joined his community as a nun and brought many women with her into the community shows that she had a deep spiritual life of her own. The Lotus Sutra records in parable form the activites of the Buddha in this second physical body.

In Buddhism, there have been reports of many masters who accomplished going beyond the need to age and die. Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, and Mandara were examples of this. Padmasambhava never ages and dies, but "takes his body with him" in a process that is called "the great transfer". It is like phowa, but includes the body as well as the mind. Padmasambhava and Mandarava conquer aging and death by doing a large number of interlocking meditation practices, mainly involving chants, visualizations of deities, and mandalas, in a place called Maratiki Cave (whose name means "conquering death"). There have been Kriya Yoga masters in India who have been reported to have conquered aging and death, as well as Taoist Masters. There have been many others that I have found in my studies who have at least attained some signs of partial immortality, either living longer than 127 years of age or having a physical body that died but did not undergo the usual cellular decay. Modern science has questioned whether humans need to age and die, and have found no "absolute biological clock" (some mechanism that requires humans to die and that we cannot stop). They have found relative biological clocks, aging indicators, which seem at least partially reversible, and mechanisms which "mercy kill" the body when the decay reaches a certain point and when the body has no more purpose for living.

I did find a pattern with the accounts of those who had extreme longevity or physical immortality. They all had some version of a meditative energy breathing method, they were mostly vegetarian or vegan, did some kind of physical exercise like Hatha Yoga or Tai Chi, used herbs for cleansing and healing, and lived a life of compassion. Milarepa, when he sees that Rechungpa is karmaically fated to die early, sends him to a Dakini (female tantric master) who is 500 years ago at the time, who cures him of this karma through a method involving not sleeping for two weeks (I gather the body is resting in this two week period, but the mind stays awake and does something like lucid dreaming).

Even without historical examples, it is possible to present a case for physical immortality. There are only two theories that can be given regarding aging and death. Theory one is that aging and death is due to controllable causes. Theory two is that aging and death is due to uncontrollable causes. There is literally no evidence for theory two. No one has shown a mechanism that requires us to die. Theory one has been at least partially verified in that we have found thousands of controllable causes for aging and death (like not smoking cigarettes, not eating toxic food, etc.). The variable lifespan of human beings shows that some humans have at least partially succeeded in living longer and happier lives. There are longer lived groups of people like the Hunzas and a tribe in Venezuela. There is a pattern, too, in their lifestyle, definite lifestyle factors that enable people to live longer. Aging, too, is not linear, where you merely get worse and worse over time. I have noticed that people seem to age more rapidly when they are under a lot of stress or after a traumatic event, and seem to at least partially reverse this process when they release the stress, relax more deeply, and take care of themselves. All this indicates that the causes and conditions are negotiable and modifiable. If you parallel the human body with a car, the lifespan of a car can vary a lot depending on how the owner takes care of the car. If you change the oil often, tighten all the bolts, make sure all the fluids are topped off, make sure all the parts are working, and keep the tires inflated, then the car can last a very long time. The human body differs from a car, though, in that it is a self regenerating system, designed to replace almost all its cells every 7 years. I suspect the harsh survival conditions of the planet prevented many from accomplishing deep longevity in certain time periods, but through science and democracy (at least more democratic than an old monarchy) we have made more tolerable life conditions with more possibilities. The other set of conditions has to do with having a certain kind of knowledge about how to take care of yourself. Paralleling the car, you would need to know how to do a good maintenance routine, where and when to tighten the bolts, change the fluids, etc. This parallels to the body as knowing when and what to eat, when to cleanse, how to exercise, and how to burn out the karmaic seeds in the subconscious mind.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Meditation Practice

In the earliest teachings of the Buddha, the teachings about the Eightfold path, the Buddha spent more time discussing the 8th precept about "right concentration" or "right meditation". The first two precepts, right understanding and right commitment, are the foundation. The next three, right speech, right behavior, and right livelihood are the ethical precepts. They help prevent us from creating any more unwholesome karma. The last three, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation are the karma burning precepts and lead to the experience of nirvana which is the extinguishing the three poisons of the mind: (1) addictive craving, (2) negativity, and (3) delusion. When these three poisons have ceased in the mind, then a person feels "the unborn, the unchanging, and the undying".

I wanted to invite people to meditate in a kind of nonsectarian style and perhaps move step by step into gaining a taste of nirvana. I think it is more possible and easier than perhaps many people think. I wanted to emphasize here that the word nirvana refers to a particular kind of experience and is not a dogma to be believed. If point to a tree and I say, "Look at the tree," the point of the exercise is to have the experience of "seeing a tree". The word label, "tree," has then done its job and has led to the actual experience of a tree. To debate about whether or not the word "tree" is the right label or the best definition of what is seen is secondary to the actual experience. This is particularly important in Buddhist meditation, since we are going beyond thought entirely and into a direct experience of our true nature.

Contrary to some texts, I recommend that people meditate with eyes closed and lying down. The spine is still meant to be loose and relatively straight. You then give yourself to the gravity and let your body be held by gravity. If you are lying down in a bed, then you let your body sink down into the bed. You notice where you are holding tightness, consciously tighten the tightness, inhale, and then exhale and let go of the tightness. You scan your body for tensions and gently release all the tension that your body is holding in this way. If some tension does not release through this exercise, then you just let the tension be and let it unwind of its own accord and in its own time. What is usually found is that the tension is related to an emotion that we are not wanting to feel and within the emotion is a series of thoughts and usually a sensation about being hurt.

Attention is focused on the breathing. Noticing the inhalation and the noticing the exhalation. Not trying to control the breathing in any particular manner. Just noticing how the belly expands on the inhale and how the belly relaxes on the exhale. Keeping the breathing free from straining. Keeping the belly soft on the exhale. Not pushing the air out forcefully on the exhale. Letting the breath gently fill the belly and lungs on the inhale without inhaling so much that you are straining to fill your lungs.

You will notice that your mind will wander into thoughts. When you notice this, then you return to breathing and you let go of dwelling on whatever you are thinking. You stay with the direct experience of inhaling and exhaling. Chances are you will need to notice and return back to breathing very often. You will notice how much time is spent on thinking, thinking, and thinking. You want to take a vacation from thinking if you can. You might not be able to. If you are worried about something, then you may find a compulsive need to dwell on something and worry about something. Notice the emotion of worry, anxiety, and fear. See if you can notice how attached it is to physical survival, comfort, and security. Humans live in this kind of fear. It is behind our addictive cravings and attachment to things. It is behind our resistance to anything that threatens our security and our attachments. It is behind a kind of dull sensation which is being satisfied with what we are attached to.

You want to see if you can let this level of thought and emotion float in your awareness. Not resisting this flow of thought and emotion and not clinging to this flow of thought and emotion. If you do notice you are caught up in this flow and reacting to what is, then gently return your focus back to your breathing. Allow your mind to settle of its own accord. If possible, surrender to whatever fate your life seems to be flowing toward. Whatever you fear may or may not come to pass, but once you have determined that you have done everything that you can, then let it go and accept whatever wants to happen. If you cannot let go, then see how "clinging to self" or "clinging to life" is behind the sorrow you are experiencing. Notice the resistance you are feeling to what wants to happen. This clinging to self is behind our fears and if released we can experience some freedom from fear and its pain.

When you have "set up" meditation, you are using this space to explore your mind open endedly. You do not know what is possible and what is not. Whether the teachings of any religion are true or not, you do not know. You want to find out what is possible in your own experience. You want to let yourself experience your sorrow and see if it can end. The teachings of the Buddha are meant to help this investigation. One of the stated missions of the Buddha was to "end all speculative views". You drop into the direct experience of your own mind, see what is there, and see what is possible. In the beginning, you do not try to do anything except gently watch and notice. You may find that your mind calms down of its own accord and even releases the clinging behind each sorrow very naturally.

For people who have busy lives and busy minds, who do not seem able to make time to meditate, it is possible to set up this meditation before going to sleep. It will deepen the quality of the sleep and allow the body to regenerate more deeply. It will make the time you sleep count more and you will wake up more alive and refreshed. If you fall asleep during meditation, that is okay. You do not want to add any strain to your meditation process. You do not want to "try to stay awake". You simply want to focus attention on the breathing and release any self generated tension that you notice. Eventually you will be able to stay peacefully awake more often and for longer duration.

Another time to meditate is during a morning when you do not have to hurry and do things. Before getting up, to just notice the breathing, and let go of any anxious thinking. Even if you can devote just five minutes before hurrying about your day, you will notice a positive shift, a little more calm, and find that the day unfolds a little more peacefully and easily. There might be stressors and challenges that may frazzle you. If this happens, accept this, and see if you can focus on breathing and relaxing as you move through the challenge. Even if you are still stressed, it will be a little better if you are present in your breathing as you go through the event. You can, paradoxically, be relaxed about having tension and let yourself explore what is happening. The Buddhists sometimes talk about "being attached to nonattachment" or craving to have no cravings. There is a kind of forcefulness involved in this. We can let go of this forcefulness if we notice it and just be with our experience, even if it is tense and painful. When we are able to do this, then we do not add tension on top of tension.

Once a certain amount of time is devoted to meditation, then we can do short meditations when we are waiting in grocery lines, at a stop light waiting for it to change to green, waiting at the Post Office, waiting at the dentist office, walking in the park, and even later on we can watch our breathing when we are doing simple tasks like washing dishes, washing our car, mopping a floor, straightening out the bed, washing clothes, cleaning up a room, mailing a letter, or playing a game. Through this meditation can be woven into our lives. Eventually, gaps in thought will be wide enough to feel what is beyond them, to feel the serene crystal clear open emptiness of our true nature, which is pure awareness, which is in the background of all our transitory experiences and allowing us to feel everything that is happening. We can learn to rest in this awareness and be this awareness, and not get caught up in the transitory flow of experiences.

There are clusters of reactive thoughts, emotions, sensations, and actions that form a self personality. The Buddha taught that this self is an illusion, caused by attachment to the word "I" and all the mental opinions wrapped around this word. It is the "me put together by thought". Since thought is transitory and can even stop completely, then this self also disappears when thought ceases to arise. We identify with these temporary formations that are really "not self". We can give these formations a kind of relative reality by giving them our faith that this is what we are and getting caught up in them. This sense of self is an illusion, patterns of ever changing thoughts, emotions, and sensations with nothing enduring in them, with many gaps where it ceases to exist entirely. If we can notice how we are chanting the word "I" over and over in our minds and let this thought go, then we can sink more deeply into who and what we really are, and learn to calmly abide in our true nature. This deeper identity cannot be captured by the mind or thinking apparatus, which always objectifies something and sees it as separate from itself, and tries to grasp it. We can feel into this deeper identity by awareness noticing awareness and relaxing into itself, calmly abiding in what it is, and not even straining to see.

There is more that can be shared about this process, but I have covered a lot of ground. I do not know who is going to try to follow these leads and see where they go. I assume that there might be questions about this process. I would like, if possible, for anyone who has questions to try at least a few rounds of meditating so that the discussion can be grounded in some actual experience.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Amritayana Buddhism

This is the Amritayana Buddhist official blog site.

Amritayana Buddhism is not a formal institutional Buddhism, but just a name for a Buddhism that I feel is spontaneously growing on a grassroots level. It has no dogmatic authorities defining its root beliefs. All opinions embodied in Amritayana Buddhism are always subject to re-evaluation and re-vision as our collective understanding grows. At present, this version of Buddhism believes: (1) There is an experience called "enlightenment" where you directly feel your true nature or true identity beyond thought through pure awareness and direct recognition. This enlightenment has degrees of realization, depending on the depth of recognition and the depth of freedom from conditioned thoughts. This enlightenment is not the property of any religion and it is so natural that many of have had this insight even without the aid of a formal religion or any religion at all. (2) Males and females are equally able to realize their true nature and live from this enlightenment. (3) Our true nature is radiant awareness and compassion. (4) Being vegan, not killing and eating animals, not taking their milk and eggs, is in deep alignment with this compassion, since it radiates out beyond only being kind to the species that you belong to. (5) It is natural to form a community of spiritual friends to explore enlightened living with. (6) Individual sentient beings move from lifetime to lifetime through a process called "reincarnation" and their future lifetimes are dependent on their accumulated karma. (7) Karma is the law of cause and effect applied to individual thoughts, emotions, and actions. It basically means that how we treat others is how we treat ourselves. When we understand this, we learn to radiate kindness towards others and treat all adversity as our old karma coming back to be finished. (8) In general, Buddhism rejects the idea of a Creator God and of a beginning of the Universe, but sees the Universe as something that has always existed and always will exist, and that it is an alive expression of the energies of wisdom, compassion, and creativity. The ordering principle behind the universe is called "dharma" and accounts for the all pervasive stability of natural laws which science chooses to understand through mathematical equations and through repeatable experiments. Buddhism mainly sees that the universe is not merely physical but psychophysical. (9) The 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold path is a nice condensed version of how one can live a spiritual life. It is ultimately very simple common sense and is common to all branches of Buddhism. One writer called Buddhism "transcendental agnosticism". (10) Amritayana Buddhism is different from other branches of Buddhism because it questions whether or not humans must age and die. It questions the absolutist view that everyone must necessarily age and die, that death is inevitable and unavoidable. It seems that certain Buddhist masters like Padmasambhava did transcend the karmaic condition of needing to age and die. They therefore showed that aging and death are subject to controllable causes. Whether this is easy or hard is another story.

I would like this site to be a place of open dialogue about spirituality. I do not want this site to be about adversarial debate about religious issues. To me, a dialogue is based on honesty, compassion, and mutual respect. In order to maintain this quality to the blog, I am choosing to monitor all posts before they are published online. Part of Buddhism is called "right speech" which is about speaking kind and truthful words, about not gossiping and slandering about others, about promoting harmony and peace among people, and finding words which are spiritually nourishing and healing for others to hear. It is possible to disagree with others about core issues, and even have radical disagreements, without violating right speech. The reason why the Buddha taught right speech in his noble eightfold path is because his dharma was based on ending all unnecessary human sorrow. He observed that a vast amount of human sorrow comes from unkind and untruthful speech. This can be verified in a very simple sense if you review what has hurt you. Almost all our interpersonal sorrow has come from how we received what someone has said to us. Even when our sorrow was based on something that someone did to us, this action is usually discovered through speech telling us what happened. Right speech finds its highest form in the chanting of mantras in order to invoke blessing energy.

One difference between Buddhism and other religions is that being a "believer" does not give a lot of advantages. In many religions, if you believe you will go to heaven and if you do not believe you will go to hell. In Buddhism, whether you believe or do not believe anything, you are still subject to the law of karma and your death and rebirth will be according to karma. There are not merely two fates like heaven and hell, but another lifetime where the accumulated karmas will ripen and play out until they are exhausted. One could say that in classical atheism, that there is a belief that there is only one fate for everyone which is the total annihilation of the individual sentient being upon the destruction of the human body, regardless of what is believed and what a person has done with his or her life. In Buddhism, the chain of cause and effect does not merely come to a halt when a sentient being dies. The main advantage a "believer" has in Buddhism is that you can be conscious of universal law and use the law to your advantage. This would be parallel to someone who is aware of gravity and uses this knowledge to not walk off of buildings and therefore breaks his or her leg less often. But being a believer in gravity does not mean that gravity treats you any differently.

The other difference between Buddhism and some other religions is the emphasis on meditation practice. Many religions do emphasize this same thing and are therefore similar to Buddhism. In the original 4 Noble Truths, there are few beliefs in Buddhism and believing these beliefs is not required in order to practice meditation. The Buddha, in fact, wanted people to not believe what he said merely because he said it, but wanted people to investigate their own experience and find out what is true for themselves, and only use his words as pointers to help them see what their own experience could teach them. There is the implicit understanding that if you do not believe in anything, but simply meditate long enough, that you will be able to verify all the essential teachings of the Buddha for yourself. It may take time, for instance, to verify reincarnation through meditation. I found, in my own experience, that after a certain amount of time, that past lifetime memories did surface. It is like an amnesia slowly dissolving. Like our usual memory, we find it easier to remember significant events, usually involving a lot of happiness or a lot of pain, rather than what we ate for breakfast on January 20, 1963. Perfect recall of every possible memory is a very high state of consciousness and does not happen to everyone who meditates, but past lifetime memories will most likely float into our consciousness if we allow them. They are usually triggered by present lifetime events that make them relevant to recall. For instance, a person whom we meet and have an aversion to for no apparent reason in this lifetime may have hurt us in a previous lifetime. It takes some time to re-feel this memory as a memory and apply it to what is arising in our present experience. When we meditate long enough we stay sensitive to our "thought stream", our living stream of impressions and our reaction to these impressions, and learn to sort all this out.