Dhamma and meditation teacher Beth Upton, whom I’ve chatted with before, recently held a three part event with Dharma Gates called “Truth, Suffering and Liberation“. I’ve edited out most everything except my responses to Beth’s questions and her responses to me so please watch the full video at the end of this post especially if requiring more context.
Beth read an excerpt of the Aggañña Sutta about the origin of human kind on planet earth then linked our suffering caused by the defilements to what was dramatically depicted in the Aggañña Sutta to the Buddha’s antidote: the The Universal Beautiful Mental Factors (sobhanasādhāraṇa). Beth then offered a short teaching, followed by a guided meditation, on her condensed and more practical version of these Mental Factors from the Abhidhamma which are:
Below Beth’s questions (in bold) that guided group discussion I share a few new responses to what’s already included in the video:
1) What was your experience being with the Beautiful Mental Factors?
2) What stands in the way of us being with these Mental Factors in the world and what helps us?
In busy, loud, frantic places — instead of fighting the chaotic flow — what about opening up to an open awareness (practice) allowing the object of meditation to be whatever and wherever the mind is pulled?
And I wonder, ironically perhaps, how the following disengaging-based guided samatha instruction from Ajahn Sucitto might be modified to help us better be with the Beautiful Mental Factors in the world:
“.. let go of the sense realm, and just take some time and keep your eyes half open because you just don’t want to go into your mental sense. Normally if you close your eyes you go into your mind sense, but you don’t want to be engaged with that either. Keep your eyes slightly open and downcast. So you’re not in. You’re not out. You’re sort of poised between the inner and outer world. And it’s light.
And the practice is to steady the attention so it’s not running out. Not running in. Not jumping up and down. Not searching for something. Just poised. And in fact, soothe it by widening it. So you might say the entire visual field, auditory, all the senses — you’re opening the whole lot up internally; that is you’re opening up the sensitivity of awareness but not focusing on any particular object.
. . . You could say your body is like a ballon. As your breathing fills it up sense something lightly expanding. Not holding back; letting it lightly expand.
Then you connect your mind to that. Just by the act of placing your mind — your attention — on that experience. The whole experience. The rhythm. The spaciousness. The quality of it. Not just the sensation but the quality of spaciousness, fluidity, relaxing, with this thread of sensation acting as the trace that you can sense. Don’t get too tight on that one.
It’s really about changing the atmosphere. Perhaps getting a feeling for body which is much more to do with how the breathing shapes it internally. Fluid.— from Dhamma Stream Guided Meditation – Jhāna is Based on Disengagement by Ajahn Sucitto
And what about the reverse psychology of asking: how can I generate more unwholesome mental factors? What does the mind do with this question?
3) Which contexts help us pay wise attention and which contexts don’t?
When do we loose sight that mindfulness itself is a conditioned state? Can unhelpful, unskillful perceptions of noisiness be transmuted? What could they better be transmuted into (perhaps something not perceived as distraction)? Maybe maintaining mindfulness doesn’t need to be top priority in such unsupportive environments, but perhaps instead the acknowledgement of suffering and its wise response of compassion?
4) How do we engage with life in the West wholeheartedly with no gentle context to train in, no nursery, where we’re either on retreat or out there fending for ourselves — going deep on retreat and then practice collapsing?
1) Zen and 2) sitting two hours a day 3) embodiment (practices). I find and hear sitting for two hours a day can maintain much of the benefits of retreats. However, obviously, not everybody has this opportunity and/or drive. Zen though is not just a lifestyle, but way of life — living every moment, moment by moment, in and as (the) practice, (even) with ordinary mind. Not really even as an opportunity for practice but as the way itself. And for lack of better phrasing, the better we can encode our practice in the body the more available its expression wherever we are.
5) How can we bring these beautiful mental factors into our lives?
- Saddhā – faith
- Sati – mindfulness
- Hiri – shame at doing evil
- Ottappa – regard for consequence
- Alobha – lack of greed
- Adosa – lack of hatred
- Tatramajjhattatā – balance, neutrality of mind
- Kāyapassaddhi – tranquility of mental body
- Cittapassaddhi – tranquility of consciousness
- Kāyalahutā – lightness of mental body
- Cittalahutā – lightness of consciousness
- Kāyamudutā – malleability/softness of mental body
- Cittamudutā – malleability/softness of consciousness
- Kāyakammaññatā – wieldiness of mental body
- Cittakammaññatā – wieldiness of consciousness
- Kāyapāguññatā – proficiency of mental body
- Cittapāguññatā – proficiency of consciousness
- Kāyujukatā – straightness/rectitude of mental body
- Cittujukatā – straightness/rectitude of consciousness