Marc Akincano Weber, Citta — The Knowing Heart, 2019–01–04

This is one of a series of transcripts of contemporary talks which have particularly resonated with me.

This talk was made available by Dharma Seed.

Citta — The Knowing Heart.

Citta [as] the seat of experience. References to citta in the discourses. Upadana — four forms of grasping. The vision of atammayata “unconcoctability”.

Insight Meditation Society — Retreat Center : Mindfulness, Insight, Liberation: Insight Meditation Retreat for Experienced Students

So I’m glad to have made it. Just got lost in the dark. By not following the rules, walking around in the dark.


As you may have noticed, we are interested in helping to translate some of these old contemplative teachings for which we have a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude and a growing sense of the richness of these teachings, both the written teachings enshrined in various textual traditions and also the teachings of an oral or maybe plural, of many oral lineages to which we have very fortuitously access today.


Much of that translation happens by translating teachings that come from a period in which mind was not understood in psychological terms, as it is for about a good hundred years now. But a type of understanding that is couched in the language of myth, it is couched in the language of imagery, it is couched in a mixture of legend, storytelling, similes, a language we would rate as unscientific by nowadays standards. And yet a language which is strangely precise. If you bother to sift through the textual corpus of early Buddhist teachings you find an incredible amount of richness, precision, dexterity, complexity, that would help us a lot if we continued that translation effort.


What we operate by today, you may think we have Buddhism. But by my understanding we don’t have Buddhism. We have scraped. This is a huge quarry of contemplative teachings and we’ve… we’ve run in there, we’ve picked up a few pieces, and we’ve made a bee-line out again. Proud of our loot. But actually there’s a lot more there. If we made a point of revisiting and sifting through more of it, much would be won. In many fields of learning today progress could be expected. In the obvious fields, in the fields of philosophy, in the fields of psychology, in fields of epistemology. We have plenty of stuff. There is so much good teachings, useful practicable teachings that are there. That are waiting to be translated and brought into dialogue with the sciences of the West. With our current understanding here in the “West”, I put that in scare quotes because the “West” now goes to the “East”. And the East and the West, this is an old story. This doesn’t work anymore. Some of the Western stuff is actually done in the East and some of the Eastern stuff is gradually being done here in the West. So these things have become a little more complicated. The modernist movements of Buddhism in the West have all begun in the East. We just happen to have forgotten this little fact because we are a little Western-centric.


So I wanted to give a really Buddhist talk tonight. While most of meditation teaching, because meditation deals with the mind, in Western fields is obviously dealt with most closely by psychology. Because it is psychology that deals most obviously with phenomena of the mind. That means that many teachings around meditation have undergone a sort of psychologization. The languaging of meditative or contemplative territory in the West happens often with the help of the terminology of psychology. Because it is in those terms that we have begun to reflect about our own experience.


This isn’t very old. Hundred fifty years ago nobody was using psychological language to refer to inner experience. That starts somewhere with William James and Wilhelm Wundt in the 1870s. But before that people, when referring to inner experience, did not use the language of psychology. Although we would call the processes they would reflect on psychological, there wasn’t a language of psychology. This is a fairly recent development.


Tonight I wanted to speak about three things. One is Citta. Which we have done an exercise. I wanted to speak of some of the problems that the Citta undergoes, where it gets stuck. And I was hoping to at least mention, or sketch a glimpse of a possibility of this Citta to not fall into the pitfalls that we all know too well.


I’d like to begin with a quote which I think sums up, in an almost embarrassingly laconic way, the lynch-pin of Buddhist mind training. Let me read that to you. … The quote is very short. It’s from the Middle Length [Sayings?], it’s in the 19th text of the Middle Length [Sayings?] and it says, “Practitioners, whatever a contemplative frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his or her mind.” Whatever we think or ponder upon, that our mind will begin to resemble. Very very simple.


On that little principle hinges the whole story of mind cultivation. When we have a choice and we place our attention on objects or on processes, then the nature of those objects or processes will begin to inform the quality of the mind that contemplates them. The more we pay attention to these objects or these processes, the more our mind will take up the message of these and will begin to resemble the things it is preoccupied with.


The verbs in there: thinking, pondering, directing the mind towards. That is what I will become. That’s exactly what William James said a few hundred years later by stating, “Our experience is what we give our attention to. If we keep giving our attention to something, this will become our experience.” If we give our attention to our fears, then we will become fearful people. If this attention is not guided in appropriate, inquisitive, modulating ways, if we just follow the habit of giving our attention to what pulls our attention, what has, as the jargon goes, attentional salience, if we follow the natural streak of giving our attention to the wheel that squeaks loudest, then we are likely to re-enforce and existing pattern.


The corollary of this is that if we take up, contemplate, and ponder and think upon things that are wholesome, that are useful, that help us to cultivate qualities of the mind that are liberating, then the mind will become like those. Then we begin to manifest the very pattern of liberation in the moment where we choose wholesome objects and sustain our attention on wholesome objects. Engage in wholesome mental processes. Relate to our experience in appropriate ways that bring about, that foster, what Buddhist teaching calls Bhavana. Cultivation. It’s one of the weirdness of this translational activity that the word “Cultivation” or literally, “Bringing into being” in the West has become translated as “meditation”. Meditare, from Latin, “Thinking”. Seems not an obvious candidate for this activity. Anybody who knows anything about Buddhist meditation is conscious that “meditation” is probably not the term that is meant by mind cultivation.


So the mind cultivation takes place in the mind and that mind is the Citta. Now that Citta it’s a fascinating term. A term that Buddhist traditions have held with some nervousness. That Citta is described in various ways. Let me see whether I can be succinct on this. The concept occurs many many times in the Palī suttas. You could say it most frequently refers to a notion of mind that encompasses cognitive functions. It encompasses affective and resonant qualities and it encompasses functions of will.


We don’t have a proper equivalent in European languages. It could be rendered as Mind or Heart, preferably as both. It is the felt seat from where we touch into the world and which is touched by this world. Subjectively this is literally the heart of our experience. It is a place where intellectual and affective functions are not yet separate.


This Citta, as the seat of our experience, is dynamic. It is not solid. It when introspectively investigated, it will demonstrate multifaceted and fascinated patterns. These patterns we recognize; they are a continuum of moments and they cease, they arise, they reconstellate. It is not a nucleus, it is not a self, it is not a soul. it doesn’t have stability. And yet there are processes that reconstellate themself. And it begins to be recognizable. So we discern patterns, and while it is changeable, indeed it is highly changeable, there’s another quote that says, “I do not see one other thing that changes so quickly as the mind. It is not easy to give a simile for how quickly the mind changes.”


If you’ve ever been in a place where you, you know how quickly something switches. You may be spending quite some time in a particular state. Then a slight little piece changes in your experience and suddenly it collapses into grief or it becomes very funny or all the fun goes away and it becomes dead serious. The Citta turns very quickly.


Let me give you some examples of how the Suttas, the old texts, describe qualities of the Citta. Famous often quoted passages describe the nature of the Citta as “inherently luminous”. That is the really good news. The Citta is radiant. And when it is troubled by defilements, by things that occlude our understanding or by various passions that distort its function, these are considered to be adventitious. They are considered to be oncoming.


The Citta, as such, is seen to be radiant and luminous, while the trouble[s] come and go. Which I think is a useful perspective. This is not predestination. It’s not hereditary sin. This is a very hopeful, I think, outlook.


Other ways to describe the Citta is described as malleable. As pliable. As lofty. As abundant. As immeasurable. It can be shrunken. It can be reactive. It can be obscured. Occasionally it may even turn into the proverbial, “Monkey Mind”. The Kapicitta is actually a genuine Palī term. All these things have Palī terms which I spare you here.


Sometimes the Citta has a mind of its own. There is a description where we are told, “His Citta is not pleased by this.” We are told that the Citta has qualities almost of an animal. Where it says, “The practitioner makes the Citta turn according to his wish. He does not turn according to the Citta’s wish.” Which is an interesting perspective.


It can be pleased or displeased. There is a lovely little passage that says, “That person does not appeal to my Citta.” Or the recognition, “Your Citta is very pleased with me.” The Citta can be taken in or it can be remain untouched by gains, by favors, by flattery. If the Citta, however, is tamed, Danta, or cleansed, purified, parisodhita, well developed, subhavita, through cultivation, that’s what Catherine this morning explained to us, by cultivation of mind, by Cittabhavana, it can become unshakeable. It can become capable of deepest intuition. It can recognize its own good, the good of others, and the good of both. It is sometimes referred to as a mind like a diamond.


Most importantly, if understood as it has truly become, in other words, if the conditionality are understood within the states of the Citta, it can be completely liberated.


So we have a description that is at once beautifully intuitive, and yet capricious. Very early Buddhist teaching does make no secret from the fact that the Citta is both capable of greatest loftiest realizations, at the same time it is quite seductable. It can be led astray. It can be falling asleep. It can shrink. It can be moaning. It can get lost.


It is something that needs relating to. I keep harping on about meditation [mindfulness?] being an intelligent relationship to one’s own experience. I think that is born out by the variety of descriptions of something, both with incredible talent, capable of liberation, of being immeasurable, of being unshakeable, of being radiant, at the same time it can shrink, it can be moping, it can be maudlin, it can be distracted. It can be dense.


And the question is, how do we tame that mind? How do we guide that mind? How do we bring that mind to fruition? As so often is the case, one way to do that is to look at where it gets stuck. We have to look at what stops the mind from actually being in a lofty state. What stops the mind from finding stillness? What stops the mind from being expansive in its loving qualities?


If you look what the troubles are, then we find a number of them. Buddhism has a lot of list of troubles, if you bother to look, there is quite sophisticated taxonomy of the troubles that can beset the human mind. One, I think very tangible such list is called The Four Upādāna. Upādāna is an interesting term. Dāna means giving, Ādāna means taking. Upādāna is both a re-enforcement and a concretization so it means, “Taking something very hard”. Taking something with firmness. We translate that often as “attachment” or as “grasping”. And “clinging” is another term for it. And when this grasping applies to mental phenomena we speak of Identification. So we have a term that means grasping, attaching, clinging, identifying with something.


From a point of view of Buddhist psychology, this is one of the crucial pieces that creates our suffering. When we have, in the second of the Noble Truths, the statement that “Suffering arises from desire”, that’s only half of the truth. I personally believe it doesn’t just say it arises from desire. The desiring there is just shorthand for desire and grasping. You can be totally without desire and you are still going to die. It’s never quite made sense to me, the causality of desire being the soul cause of suffering. There are many other ways you can come to suffering. I believe that this statement, that Dukkha samudaya, arises, from desire, is shorthand for Desire and Grasping. Desires, when arising, are not terribly unpleasant. They do get unpleasant when you start grasping them. When you begin to identify with them. As long as you are willing to hold the discomfort of an unquenched desire, then that desire does not do much damage in your life. Only when you begin to identify with that desire, then the career of your suffering is likely to begin.


So it is often not so much the quality of the stuff that arises or ceases, it’s the quality in which we believe these things. In which we identify with, [in which we say,] “Oh, yes. That’s me. I need to do that.” I didn’t get a sweet. I had a deprived childhood. Or, I’m always on the loo when the good stuff is passed around. Yet again, proof of my tragic existence. The grasping/identification piece often has a dramatization. If your grasping resembles my grasping, then it usually goes with drama. It doesn’t have little emotions. It only has passions.


Let us look once more at the term Upādāna because that term also has another meaning. The second meaning that term has means “fuel”. And it is not obvious how something that is both attaching, clinging, identification also can mean fuel. We cannot replicate that in English or, in fact, in any other language I would know of. We don’t have this double meaning in a term. But in Palī, the term has the double meaning. It so happens that this term Upādāna is not an invention of the Buddha. It is actually there in Vedic tradition and Upādāna was the act of feeding the sacrificial fires.


So. You begin to see the Buddha had some cheek. If you look at many many of the key terms in Buddhist teaching, you’ll find that he doesn’t actually invent these terms. He just takes them and then he redefines them. And he does very fascinating things with them. So he took the whole analogy of fire which, in Vedic tradition, has a big connotation of… this is something divine. Agni is one of the great deities. The God of Fire is worshipped. And at the time of the Buddha there are a number of ascetic practitioners who practice fire worship. If you have ever an opportunity to visit Agnihotra, one of the fire sacrifices in the many different forms, do attend to this. This is fascinating to see where… people recite a Parusha Sukta and then the sacrificial fires are fed. There are very cultivated forms of this which you can do indoors or there are more ascetic forms. So you have a huge fire, huge pyres, where somebody in longhis [sp?] is feeding the fire


At the time of the Buddha, several ascetic practitioners took it upon themsel[ves] to maintain the sacrificial fires in worship of the god Agni by keeping those fires going. Now, the fuel with which they fed those fires was called Upādāna. The activity, the proper ritual activity of feeding those fires with fuel was called Karma. And the fires were obviously the fires of the god Agni who was, when in flames and visible was in its manifest forms, and when not visible, when the fire went out, was in its latent, non-manifest form.


Now you begin to suspect what the Buddha does. He takes this image of fire and turns it on its head. The fires become the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion. Feeding the fires, the proper ritual activity called Karma in the Vedic tradition becomes, yes. It becomes Karma. But with negative connotations. If you feed the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion by doing Upādāna, you’re gonna create more suffering. So he takes the imagery, he takes the language, but he completely reverses the whole project. So by grasping and identifying you provide the fuel for the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion to continue. And the result is painful. That’s very simple.


These forms of Upādāna, Upādāna is one of the limbs in that the dependent arising, in the wheel of becoming. Upādāna is also negatively spoken of as Anupādāya, being free from clinging, as an epithet of somebody who is completely free. Of a mind freed from all greed, hatred, and delusion. This is a Citta that does Anupādāya or that does Anpādāna, that does not cling. That does not grasp. That does not identify anymore.


There are a number of more psychological or psychologically interesting uses of the term Upādāna. I wanted to spend a little time on those. There are four famous forms. Remember, Upādāna meaning fuel. Meaning attachment, clinging, grasping, identification. Try to hold that in the back of your mind. Then there is the observation that we cling and identify to a number of particular things. One of the things that really freaks us out is the consequence of change. The consequence of transiency is uncertainty. Ajahn Chah, a great Thai teacher, always translated Anicca, the adjective for being impermanent, he always translated that with “mị̀ næ̀nxn”, “uncertain”. Uncertain. The consequence of change, of transiency, is things are uncertain.


And if you look at developmentally, this is one of the things that we least cope with. We really can’t handle uncertainty very well. It is quite disturbing to us. Many many of our efforts, in fact the act of creating a self construct, is one such effort which Buddhism has outlined with some precision. Many of our efforts are geared to get away from uncertainty. Our comfort seeking, our security seeking, our obsession with predictability, with control, with safety. All this has to do with our struggle to cope with uncertainty.


Developmentally, we need safety. We need certainty. We need predictability. We need that to grow up. We need that to be developing our strength, our capacities. We need that to develop confidence. But practically our world doesn’t actually offer this. We need people to make things safe for us. If all goes well, you had such people. I trust you had enough of this to make it here. If these people were on the ball, they would make things safe enough for you to grow up. To figure things out. To get connected to your own strength. To develop confidence that you, even if things shift and change, that you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Or that you are smart enough to figure out how to adapt. Or to run away faster than the thing tries to eat you.


By the time we grow up, we can handle more of uncertainty. Because we have internalized confidence and strength and skills and the capacity to hold greater complexities. And with greater complexities also greater uncertainties. For that we needed things to be safe. There is a time when it’s necessary that fairy tales end well. And then there is a time when it is necessary that fairy tales don’t always end well. Or maybe they end well, but there’s a price you have to pay somewhere along the line. You get away, but you get away limping. Or you lose a few things. There are developmental necessities where you learn that things don’t always turn out well.


Grasping is one of the mind’s strategies to make things safe. The first big form of grasping is clinging to an identification with sensuality. By that, I don’t just mean sex. By that I mean anything to do with our senses. Anything to do with sensory enjoyment, sensory satisfaction, sensory comforts, safety, materials, security, and well-being. Lots of this. Technically the domain of Kamma, the word for this particular domain of grasping, is Kāmupādāna, it is anything graspable. Anything that you can have sense experience of is, theoretically, a graspable object. Your bank account. Marshmallows. The sitting mat you territorially defend against intruders. Anything of that would be a sensory object. In Buddhism also, the Sixth Sense Base, the Sense Base of Mind would be a sensory object. But this particular type of attachment we’ll deal with under another heading.


You will easily see that Kāmupādāna, grasping at an identification with sensory experience is one of the great past times in our world. Most of our affluence goes back to efforts, most of our comfort-seeking goes back to our attempts, most of our creation of safety, generally our societies applaud our efforts to grasp at sense objects. We call this progress. We call this security. We call this affluence. We call this wealth. Usually our societies do applaud our attempts to get more of this. Only when this grasping at sensuality becomes addictive or only when it becomes all too abusive, then our societies generally hold us in contempt if we are found to be grasping at sensuality. But on the whole, grasping at sensuality is not really criticized in our society. Most of our societies.


Grasping at sensuality is probably one of the most deep-seated form of creating safety. Of creating identity. Of creating bondage in terms of Buddhist psychology. We create, by the things that make us safe, we become prisoners. It’s not difficult to understand. What we hold on to, we are held on to. We are imprisoned by the stuff that we hold on to. If you’ve ever done Aikido it’s very easy. Where you grasp, that’s where it gets you.


It’s understandable why we do this grasping. And let me say that I try to say that as little morally as possible. I do not see how we can not grasp. This is something that is a very gradual process. And I see it developmentally impossible that you could, with a bit of will and good intentions, give up grasping. This is just now how it works [for humans]. But it is necessary to see that the depth of these forces and the despair in these forces. To get an idea how much we are imprisoned by our own mechanisms to gain safety. The tragedy of Upādāna is that because we don’t cope with incertitude, because we are not really good at holding transience, because we have no guarantee that things will meet our needs and turn out to our like, we feel unsafe. And because we feel unsafe we begin to grasp at things we hope make things safe. And it turns out that the very act of grasping to make things safer begins to be the thing that produces most of what we were hoping to avoid. It’s really backfiring in a major way. There is great pathos in this.


If you wanted to see, have a very little nutshell phrase for Kāmupādāna, you would call this, “I’m seeking in experience”. It’s the seeking mind. It’s the mind that is both curious, it’s the mind that is hungry, it’s the mind that wants to go into the world and experience the world.


The second type of grasping, called Diṭṭhupādāna, is the clinging to or the identification with views. If the first type of grasping is about seeking experience, the second type of grasping is about being right. And being competent. That’s an interesting one. We want to, maybe we can’t solve the problem, but at least we want to know the problem. We want to know what went wrong. I am like that, definitely. I hate nothing so much as when my computer malfunctions and then I try to figure out what it is, I don’t figure out what it is but suddenly it works again. And I realize it doesn’t work again because I’ve figured out a problem. And the fact that it now works just means the next time it malfunctions I’m exactly as stupid as this time. I haven’t actually learned anything. It’s a slight insult to the narcissistic computer user to not be God at his keys. The slightest malfunction proves to me that I am not really in control. That I’m not really in charge. That I don’t really understand that system.


In fact, I don’t understand most of the system I live by. I couldn’t even explain a lightbulb properly, to be honest with you. I mean, with some glib catch phrases like AC and glowing carbon threads and things like that, yeah. But truly understand. I mean, truly understand and being able to A) explain that in detail and possibly replicate the principle, I couldn’t. With most systems I live with, I can’t. Now that wasn’t always the case for human beings. Maybe I’m particularly daft, but I suspect many of you have similar experiences. That you are surrounded by equipment that you basically don’t understand how they work. For somebody like Goethe or Humboldt, this wasn’t the case. This guy knew everything that was taught in his universities two hundred and fifty years ago. The complexity of a petroleum lantern was obvious to him. And it was understandable. But I don’t live in a world that is explicable anymore. I live in a world of black boxes. This makes it all the more important that I understand this equipment here better. Because here most of what makes my life happy or unhappy is actually decided by this equipment here. I have found out this equipment here can be highly unhappy under almost perfect circumstances. I’ve had enough of perfect circumstance to know that I’m quite capable of suffering under almost ideal conditions. Because I have found fault with some minor flaw or I’ve been obsessed with some minor process. And conversely, I know that under not so good conditions I have found this mind to be remarkably resilient and remarkably capable of contentment and forbearance. And even happiness. There are formidable people who have, under horrific conditions, found impressive qualities of heart in themselves. I have no doubt that most of what determines my own happiness is obviously the well being of my loved ones, and the people I care [about], but it’s my own disposition. It’s the habits and disposition of this heart of this mind. It strikes me, in a world of black boxes, that it is even more important that I learn to study and understand this heart and this mind.


One way this mind habitually tries to make itself safer is by being right. And by being competent. [Evolutionary pressure that success in mating is improved by confidence, assertion.] Clinging and identification with beliefs, perceptual takes, opinions, ideologies, interpretations, concepts, points of view, would be ways we would call Diṭṭhi nowadays. Diṭṭhi comes from Darsha [sp?] “to see”. A Diṭṭhi is a view. It’s a view I take. And the important piece is not that the view is how the thing looks, it is my act of viewing. That’s the important thing. The term in Palī acknowledges that views are constructed from the point of view. It’s the viewer that does the view. It’s not the thing that has an objective view.


The Diṭṭhi I adopt determines very much what kind of world I live in. If I am fixed in a particular perception then my experience will be informed by the perception by which I have framed that experience. If you have two little kids that you look after because you’re doing a favor for a friend and you’re focused on keeping order and getting your stuff done and making sure that you hold your deadline, and then you have these little kids to look [after] then you may perceive these little kids as disruptions of your program. These are two little demons who are hell-bent on upsetting your program. If you are in warrior mode and focused on getting your stuff done, these little demons are besetting you. And you go into a warrior-type mode. You control them or you punish them or you threaten them. You do this kind of thing. If you take another frame of mind, if you are not in warrior mode, if you realize little kids need attention, that’s what you needed, that’s what we all need, that’s what makes us grow. Little kids are interested in relationship. That’s what they seek. If you give them that relationship freely they will be possibly nice. If you don’t give them that relationship they… evolution has made it so that they have very very effective ways of getting your attention. And [they] are a lot better at getting your attention, because it’s a survival skill for them, than you are focusing on your little project. So they will get your attention anyway. They will win. That’s why they survive. That’s why we survive as a species, because little kids can do such things. That may collide with your little plans, your little project plans. So if you manage to widen your frame of reference, readjust your perception to needs of little kids, this may quite an amenable morning. If not, if you are insisting on your warrior-mode, then you may have a hell of a time. And they obviously will have a hell of a time, but certainly you will have one. Because it’s two of them. And they know a few tricks.


So, Diṭṭhis have a profound influence on how we view the world. How we evaluate what’s happening in a situation.


To be honest with you, these Diṭṭhis are not all the product of rational, reasoned, plausible argumentation. Not all views are ideologies. I would think that most of our Diṭṭhis, most of our views, are actually unconsciously acquired. They are more or less, most of my views I have the suspicion, are the product of my own laziness to think through things. To ponder things. To acknowledge things. To question things. Most of what I meet in myself and in other people’s views is basically the product of laziness in the domain of investigation, rather than fortified ideology. There are a couple of fortified ideologies, but these types of Diṭṭhis are generally easily undone. Because you have consciously acquired them. It’s reasonably easy to consciously change them. It’s the subconscious Diṭṭhis that are much more of a problem.


Buddhist traditions tell us [that] there are particular Diṭṭhis that are deemed pernicious. Refuting causality. Claiming that you don’t have mothers and fathers. Denying the goodness, denying the possibility of realization, and a few other things, are outlined explicitly as so-called pernicious forms of Diṭṭhi. Unfortunately the problem is bigger than that. Buddhists, particularly Buddhist commentarial traditions, have tried to say Diṭṭhis are the views people who are not Buddhists are holding. It’s the others that have Diṭṭhis. But obviously Buddhists also have problems with views. It’s not just overt wrong views or the overt views that are counter to facts or counter to patterns of how things manifest that are the problem. It’s also the so-called proper views. Because attachment to any view will leave you in a vulnerable position.


So the act of attachment, even to something useful, may create considerable pain.


We often [proselytize] stuff that has done us good. You’ve been helped by a diet and then you say, “This is a really good diet. You should try that.” And then the next step would be, everybody should try that, actually. Irrespective of what they think. It hasn’t just helped me, [and] would be good for you, in fact everybody should do that. And then the next step is, if you don’t do this I don’t take you serious. And then the next step is let’s go on a crusade and convince the world of its good. We need to make sure that everybody does this. We’ll have to implement this as policy.


So what maybe [has] personal value to you, we are generally adopting strong views about stuff that has been useful to us, may become a real coarse and crude and cruel perspective that we try to foist on everybody else. Most of the cruelty, most of the horrors in this world have been committed by people with good intentions and strong views. Greed and anger have done damage, but most of the horrors of this world have actually been committed8, not in the name of greed and anger, but in the name of views. I know what’s good for you. God loves you. I have to do you in in the process but you’ll go to him. You don’t have to worry about anything. You’re being baptized in the process. So we do probably more damage in the name of a particular view, a particular ideology. Some of these views are consciously acquired and some of them not. So we also do cruelty, we also create hurt in unconscious ways.


These views begin somewhere with darkest superstition. They may be [?] divine mystery. They may be unreflected instinctual. They may be carefully crafted as ideology. Attachments to any of these bares risks. In the name of views we fix the other. We fix ourselves. And we’re trying to establish the primacy of my competence. And that is a type of attempt to gain safety and security. If not in things, than at least in interpretation. {There is also a potential evolutionary-psychological explanation. That the human that was “right” got to procreate and pass along more genetic information than the human that was “wrong” or ambivalent.} I have the interpretative sovereignty to say what’s real, what’s true, what matters. What’s health. What’s crazy. What’s sane. What’s effective. This has shifted in the course of the century. There was a time it was religion that did that. It seems to be now science is doing that. It’s doing a bad job at it. Just to be clear. That’s my opinion. But either way, there are strong views coming and strong attachments coming from holding such views.


A third type of grasping attachment and identification is called Sīlabbatupādāna. This is clinging to and identification with virtue, with practices, with technique. If you want, in a nutshell, the first is seeking experience. The second is being right and the third is having the right technique. I know how it works. This is the Magus Inflation for those of you who know Jungian terminology. This is me knowing how it works. I’ve got the fix. I can fix this.


In the old days this was magic, this was ritual, then in the days of the Buddha very big was observance. You practice in a certain way. In the old Vedic tradition you had propitiate the gods. Your safety was in doing the right thing to keep the gods on your good side. And then you would be rewarded with a happy, with a full, with a contended life. Meaning many sons and many cows. And a hundred twenty years of life. That’s O-Tone [sp?], original tone. Later on there’s a shift with the Upanishadic movement, sometime before the Buddha, people were not content with that anymore. They began to feel that they can’t just wait until the gods are content with them. They actually felt, we can understand something. And we can do things to make ourselves happier. We can do things, take up practices, take up yoga, take up sadana, take up rituals and the result of these practices makes us… liberates the heart. It was kind of a gnostic turn. People felt empowered to do things rather than just hope the gods would be nice to them. They felt that they can actually engage in practices and thereby liberate themselves, or find freedom, or release or bliss.


Historically magic, ritual, then observance, symbolic cult, would be the old ways of referring to this. Nowadays we would refer to Sīlabbatupādāna in other terms. We would speak of method, technique, approach, principle, practice, lifestyle, regime, favorite diet. Favorite workout routine. We would have methods and techniques. We are quite obsessed with this.


It’s important to translate this into nowadays language. Attachments to these, how you get by through your day with the help of techniques. That includes the right kind of electronic device that wakes you up in the morning, then the right kind of coffee machine, then the right kind of running shoes then the right kind of dietary implementation of your particular ideology and then the right kind of vehicle that takes you to work and then the right kind of equipment with which you do the work and so forth.


And you begin to have this strategy that then extends to your relationship. You begin to optimize your partner. You tune your partner. Update. This kind of… the idea of optimization. … Sorry, Dear. You need an update right now. Can we tune this better? Sīlabbatupādāna … in our days, we’re quite good at this. There’s a lot of investment in this. I am not free from this myself. I quite like gadgetry and I like quality. Who, hand on heart, is really free of this? We may have differing opinions whether or flower arrangements are more important than running shoes, but if you go for quality, you probably go for quality in either domain.


I think this type of clinging is very obvious. It creates comfort. It creates efficacy. It creates a sense of superior technique. Superior approach. This can be managed. The idea that “this can be managed” is one of the major outcomes of this type of grasping. Yeah, it’s difficult, but if we implement the right sort of method, we can scale this up. Then, really it works. Problem is, human beings don’t scale very well. The sort of stuff that works here doesn’t necessarily work with ten. You need different strategies. You get this. We do a lot to create safety in our lives. To cope with change. To cope with transiency.


The last of the forms of grasping, Atta-vādupādāna, clinging to and identification with doctrines of a self. Is basically a subset of the Diṭṭhi Upādāna, of the grasping at views [Diṭṭhupādāna]. Atta-vāda means … it’s all about being someone. It’s about creating an identity. It’s carving a niche of who you are in this world of so many others. It’s establishing your unique sales point. The basic wish is very simple. In a world that changes, the psyche has found an ingenious little trick to create some form of stability. It says, This is me in here. I’m the owner. I’m the director. I make the decision. I have the agency. I say what’s going. You create an identity of an internal notion that pretends to be permanent. It isn’t. Any close look at this quickly says, “Mmmm. You should lose weight, Akincano.” It says, “Yes, yes, yes.” “But there’s a chocolate eclair in the fridge.” “Yes, yes, yes.” “Why don’t you eat that chocolate eclair? Because chocolate consists of sugar and fat. And sugar and fat trigger your hedonic hotspots and when you have your hedonic hotspot triggered you feel happy.” It’s a reliable program. It’s been going at least since the neolithic. When sugar and fat where hard to come by. … Our brain has helped the finding of sugar and fat by not just remembering this but additionally by rewarding it by releasing endorphins when I find sugar and fat. So that helps me remember where I found it. So this is a fairly reliable program that ensured the survival of our species a hundred thousand years ago. And maybe five thousand years ago. And now kills us. Because we are waiting for the update. So that voice in my mind, “Why don’t you eat that chocolate eclair and then you feel happy. Because right now you’re not so happy. But if you eat the chocolate, you will be happy.” So Akincano goes, eat the chocolate eclair. And then the voice says, “I wouldn’t have done that if I were you.” Where is the permanence in myself there? They all use the same voice. They all hold some reason. But doesn’t quite seem to be consistent.


Being someone, establishing an enduring, preferably eternal, substantial, personal, perfect, immutable, lovely self. That sits in here and that says what goes. It’s convenient. It gives me a sense of safety. It’s fiction. And God, it needs a lot of maintenance. Because anything that doesn’t exist needs a lot of maintenance. It needs a lot of validation. It needs a lot of flattery. It needs a lot of confirmation. That’s a huge problem. The self is … there’s this English fun poem. Setting to Sea in a Sieve. The Jumblies. Some of you may remember that. I can’t quote it right now but the idea of setting to sea in a sieve is my analogy to trying to live with a self. As soon as you paddle out, it’s gone. It’s leaky. You can only keep it afloat by manically hauling water out. So if you have established a sense of safety on the basis of a notion of self, you’re in for a lot of hard work. Because these selves, they dissolve. Like everything that is not really existent. If you try to keep up a semblance of existence, you have to really do a lot of patching. A lot of inventing. A lot of confirming.


So here the piece is a permanent self, okay? The Buddha did not deny a functional, psychological self. By which I mean, my own capacity to connect my needs with my agency. With my vision of what is wished for in my life. An effective way of connecting need with capacity and agency to go in the direction in which I wish to go. The Buddha never denied that. If you look at his life and his way of operation, you’d have to say that he a rather robust and healthy self in that sense. But the Buddha’s problem with the self was not the psychological self. His problem with the self was a self with metaphysical ambitions. It was a Vedic self. Which was basically a soul. Only with the psychologization of Buddhism, we’ve gotten rid of translating the Atta as a soul and we started translating that as a self. And now we have a little problem. It sounds like the Buddha denied psychological self.


Believe me, the Buddha did not preach psychosis as liberation. He said the belief in a permanent self, in a little eternal soul whether you conceive of that as a stable core of your mind or whether you conceive of that as a little thumb-sized man in the space of your heart, as some religions have conceived that, doesn’t really matter. The insistence that there is a permanent, substantial essence at the core of your being, the Buddha clearly denies. And he states, the problem with this is it’s gonna create suffering and it makes learning impossible. Because if that thing is eternal, then your problems are eternal. Your hangups are eternal. It’s not just, you’re safe and you have a nice little cozy corner to retire into. It also means your [neuroses] are a curse.


So learning becomes possible because change, because personality and self is a dynamic process. What he calls “selfing”, creating an Atta out of my experience, generally works very simple. The principle is identification. A thought pops up in the mind, I become aware, “Ah. There’s a thought. Smart thought.” Thought kind of moves past. The thought, because it pops up, must be my thought because it’s here. I see it. I can feel it. I hear it. So, Ah. My thought. Interesting. And then something fascinating happens. There’s a shift of perspective. My thought suddenly makes out of me a smart person. Because it’s a smart thought I become a smart person. The thought goes and the smart person stays behind. That’s the trick. Problem is, next time is a stupid thought. Or she has a smart thought and then I have a little conflict with her because her smart thought makes a smart person out of her. And then my smart self and her smart self have a little tussle.


So this is the process of identification. By an arising phenomena in my experience becomes appropriated. And while the phenomena moves on, like all phenomena move on, I then infer ownership and a smart or stupid or generous or stingy person stays behind. For a moment. Until the next thought arises or something else happens. This is the act of identification. Doing that with a self, with a notion of self, is an attempt to create safety. To create stability. And Buddhist teachings go in some detail how we do that. I’ll spare you this tonight, but this is analytically worked through and looked at, very detailed, how we establish a self on the basis of changing experience. And the argument is very simple: if all experiences are changing, if my body is changing, if my will-functions are changing, if my sense-input is changing, if my emotions are changing, if my images and my thoughts are changing, how could I create a permanent solid self out of changing things?


Now the freeing thing is not to believe that. As plausible as it may be. The freeing thing is to establish this on a point for point basis. Whenever it feels a little bit like self, we look where this self rests on. And find it rests on unsafe ground. And that is what culminates in a basic mantra. This basic mantra runs like this, “This is not mine, this I am not, this is not myself.” This is not mine, this I am not, this is not myself. The culmination of this, a Thai teacher puts it like that, he speaks of Nine Particular Realizations. This is a wonderful man who has single-handedly turn Buddhism in Thailand from being a past-time of grandmothers to actually a relevant teaching for an educated middle class. His name was Ajahn Buddhadasa, and he was a very very creative, very very unruly man. A monk for most of his life. A great practitioner. An icon, really. And he has educated generations of very powerful people, generally university folks, the whole Thai, about two or three generations of judges in Thailand have all been influenced by him.


He was a careful reader of the Suttas and he made a list of nine different realizations. Now these lists is nowhere to be found in the Theravada canon nomenclature. All the terms are [to] be found. But they were never found in that particular list. I want to just read to you, because it’s fascinating. The first of the realizations is Impermanence. Aniccata. The “ta” bit basically means “the state of being”. It means the abstract noun. So Anicca is the adjective, impermanent. Aniccata is Impermanence. The second one is “Unsatisfactoriness”. Dukkhata. The third one is Annatata. Selflessness. So you see, the three characteristics of experience, when thoroughly understood, become realizations. The fourth one he calls Naturalness, Dhammatitata; means things unfold according to a natural order. There are principle[s] that govern the phenomenological experience of world and self.


The fifth one is the fact that things are developing according to patterns. Which Buddhist teaching calls Dhammaniyamata, the pattern of, say, how growth takes place. Or the pattern of how causality takes place. The pattern of the seasons would be a very simple example of this. The sixth one is the principle of specific conditionality called Iddapaccayatta, which is a fascinating principle that underpins dependent arising. The fact that things hinge on conditions. Sounds complicated; is not. This plant here. Hinges on earth, on a seed, on water, on warmth, on light. None of these conditions can make that plant. Even the seed cannot do that alone. Take away one condition, the plant dies. The co-arising of these conditions make it possible that this plant flourishes. This is conditionality. No single thing makes the plant. The plant depends on all of them. One of them less and the plant dies. This is the principle of Iddapaccayatta.


Then we have the Suññatā as the seventh principle. Is the the realization, understanding emptiness. Things that are dependently arisen, this is one side of the coin, if you look at that coin from the other side you see it’s empty. All you see is conditions. There is no substance in there. The eighth one is a very mysterious one called Tathatā, Suchness. Wonderful. Later forms of Buddhism have made a lot of this. And finally the last one I find personally very fascinating is called “Unconcoctability”. {Also saw it translated as “Not Made of That”.} That is a mouthful, isn’t it? The Palī word, Atammayatā, it’s also the word of my center back home in Cologne, is rare, but it is a fascinating term and let me just explain very briefly. It’s basically made up of a couple of particles. One of the particles Tammaya. Something is made out of something. Something, the idea is already in the Vedic teaching there; it means if my mind engages with something in a very focused way, my mind becomes that thing. The equivalence of the mind and the thing.


So a mind that is focused on Brahman, for example, will become Brahman. By focusing on Brahman. It’s a very powerful idea. I become the thing I engage with. Not unlike the quote I began tonight. I think that the mind begins to resemble the things it engages with. But the Vedic teaching was one more. It says it becomes identical with the things it engages with. And the Buddha found fault with that perception. He said the mind does not become the thing it engages with. Although it may resemble it, the capacity of knowing will always be different from the object that is known.


So from Tammaya the Buddha comes to Atammaya. That means the mind does not identify anymore. Outwardly it does not reify the world, it does not make objects of the world. And inwardly it does not identify with the self. So the state, the realization of Atammayatā means I live in the world, I experience the world, but I do not reify this world. I do not turn it into things and into objects. And inwardly I do not identify my subjective experience with a solidified self.


Hah. That is quite something, isn’t it? So I’m afraid I have to leave it at that. The mantra of Atammayatā is, I think this is Ajahn Buddhadasa again, the very simplest form of Atammayatā means “I am not made out of this.” I am not this. This is not mine. This is not myself. This little mantra takes us out of the habitual pattern of identification and grasping.


Good. Let’s be silent for a moment.

Note: Text in bold I found particularly instructive. Text in [square brackets] is either redacted or commentary by me. When the public decides there is massive demand for greater clarification, I will happily supply it.

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