“Things do not bother us, we bother them.”
It doesn't do a great deal of good to begin a discussion about religion, spirituality, prayer, meditation, or yoga with lofty and grandiose explanations of enlightenment, salvation, heaven, or nirvana. We must begin such a discussion firmly planted in reality; we must start where we are. Since this is a discussion about meditation its safe to say that discontentment or dissatisfaction is a good starting place.
Chogyam Trungpa referred to as Spiritual Materialism. We start trying to become spiritually sophisticated and what have you. We dress up in spiritual costumes, acquire a fancy new spiritual name, and begin to speak the spiritual language. Perhaps we start to competitively maneuver our bodies into all sorts of compromising yogic poses, or engaging in highly intellectual discussions regarding the quantum nature of the soul or some non-sense like that. Simply put we are playing the part, and this sort of deception is expressed in our body, speech and thought.
Deception has nothing to do with true meditation. In such cases, we are just using meditation as a prop, or something that enables us to project a certain self-image.In order to remove all of these unnecessary bells and whistles we must see through all of our contrived and pompous motives. We have to realize that we come to the practice of meditation for the same reason that we come to anything else- in order to create happiness. We would be deceiving ourselves to think that we come to spirituality, religion, meditation, or yoga for any other reason. Initially, we do it for the same reason we eat ice cream, get drunk, or change the channel- in search of some-thing that is better than what we currently have...
We feel as though something is missing, and are curious as to whether meditation can provide us with that mysterious missing ingredient. In order to develop a good understanding of meditation we must begin by further investigating this poor-me mentality: the belief that we need someone or something to complete or repair ourselves. With all that said, we can now begin our discussion about meditation by investigating the truth of discontentment. This is the First Noble Truth...
The concept of discontentment is rather ambiguous. So, it seems necessary to clearly explain what exactly is meant by discontentment. The manifestations of dissatisfaction that we can all readily identify with are the feelings of anxiety, anger, passion, arrogance, and confusion. We all know how it feels to be so angry we cannot see straight, or so sad that we cannot stop crying. Everyone knows all too well the feeling of rejection that looms over us when something does not go our way, or the feeling of anxiety that mows us over when we are uncertain as to how some series of events will play out. Most people have beat on the steering wheel of their automobile while cursing the idiot in front of them for some ridiculous stunt they just pulled in traffic. It seems as though most everyone can relate to the more obvious signs of dissatisfaction that come boiling up from our core on occasion, but they are just that- signs. The negative emotions are just symbols of our dis-ease. They are the rough texture, the surface level, of a much more corroding and pervasive form of dissatisfaction, namely self-disdain.
The common denominator in all forms of discontentment is the feeling that something isn’t quite right- a self-conscious sense of vacancy. This is essentially what is meant by discontentment. There is a sense of insufficiency or defectiveness, a very subtle inclination that we are somehow incomplete or broken. Discontentment means, lacks of content. It is this pervasive form of dissatisfaction serves as the very foundation for the more familiar forms of discontentment that we undergo.This pervading form of suffering is the product of our fragmented perception. We experience life as though it is some-thing separate from us; some-thing that we get up and go do. As a result, we always feel distant or cut-off- like we are apart from. It is this distance, or separation from life/content that is the simplest form of all our problems.
This distance is a mental fabrication that is attributed to reality. It is not some intrinsic feature of Life. It is self-generated and self-consumed propaganda. We must test our thinking or perception against the grain of reality. This is meditation. Failure to do so means, that the pervasive discontentment just described will continue to evolve.
All of these agreeable and disagreeable experiences are nothing more than frozen moments in time. Good, bad, attractive, unattractive, desirable, and undesirable are little more than labels we attribute to a variety of experiences. They are thoughts which are associated with past events or memories. We cling to these deceased events with the hope of using them to navigate our way through life. We are all the time making decisions about the present moment based on expired information. Most of our time and energy is spent trying to prevent the reoccurrence of unpleasant events, and reproduce the more attractive ones. We try to own the experience by freezing our perception of it, and then project these cryogenic memories into the future.
When we place permanent expectations on changing events it is inevitable that disappointment will arise. The legendary master from the Thai Forrest Tradition, Achaan Chah once remarked that, “Things do not bother us, we bother them.” We bother these things by placing permanent labels on them; “things” are just following their nature, which is change. Life is nothing more than an endless stream of transformation. When we single out some section of this stream by framing it as an agreeable or disagreeable mental image, we are attempting to halt the process of transformation. We are ignoring the space that invites the very things we regard as bad to transform into what we call positive, and vice versa.
It goes without saying that any attempt to solidify life is pointless. Life will continue to change from one moment to the next, and eventually we will come to realize that our pictures are no longer in their frames. It is at this point that we are once again confronted with that sense of personal insufficiency or vacancy. Except this time, there is an added element of frustration because, our attempts to repair ourselves have ended in failure yet again.
I plan on covering the entire spectrum of Buddhist philosophy over the coming weeks. There will be a progressive quality to these essays; starting today with discontentment and progressing toward enlightenment. I hope that everyone will participate in this discussion; share their comments and questions below. I also hope that everyone will share the link to these pages with their friends, and maybe... Just maybe, we can have a meaningful discussion about who we really are!