Episode 8 is ready for you. Jeff helps me with my CPP homework on MN26, the Ariyapariyesanā Sutta. It’s not a deep dive like in this post; instead we talk about what it might look like to apply the theme of the sutta in daily life.
As always, send us a line; we’d love to hear from you!
What are we oriented towards? (MN26, Ariyapariyesana Sutta) – EP8 – Dharma PhD
Below is a mostly AI-produced transcript. Good luck!
Shannon: [00:00:00] Greetings, Friendlies. Welcome to Dharma PhD: conversations about the science, philosophy, and culture of Mindfulness and Secular Buddhism. I’m your host, Shannon M Whitaker joined once again by my fabulous cohost, Jeff Street. Welcome Jeff.
Jeff: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Shannon: How are you?
I’m very well. I’ve had a wonderful day and I’m looking forward to an interesting conversation.
Shannon: Oh my goodness. maybe we can find one for you later.
Uh but where’s the drum roll?
Jeff: Oh, I turned it down.
Jeff: there it is.
Jeff: What are we talking about today?
Shannon: Last episode, we finished the six part series, right? So a new topic, completely new topic!
Jeff: A completely new, through, through our, our, mostly your powers of perseverance and determination. We’ve arrived here at a fresh new frontier.
Shannon: At a fresh new frontier. so I have started a course, which of course, you know about, Jeff, it’s called the Committed Practitioner Course,
Shannon: Committed Practitioner Program,[00:01:00]
Jeff: Otherwise it’d be a CPC,
Jeff: But no CPP.
Shannon: It is hosted by Bodhi college. It is an 18 month program. So there’s going to be a couple more podcasts on this the way the program is set up is we have some modules in-person.
Jeff: So I amazingly traveled. In December for the first time, in forever
Shannon: in forever I was able to travel and I actually got to see other people
Jeff: Are Other, other practitioners in person?
Shannon: Other practitioners in person! Yeah. It
Jeff: Is that what CPP stand for? Committed practitioners in person?
Shannon: That’s really funny actually.
I’m going to totally tell them about that.
Shannon: The structure of the course is that we have in-person modules. And also there is homework to do. So we’re going to be talking about the first month of homework.
Shannon: They call them Continuing Investigations.
Jeff: Are you going to get me to help you with your homework? Cause that’s what’s happening
Shannon: would like you to help me with my homework.[00:02:00] Yeah,
Jeff: I see what’s
Shannon: yeah. You, our callers or our listeners write in all the time and say how charming and clever you are. So who
Shannon: to help
Jeff: so what’s the assignment,
So the first assignment for the month of January, they had us read a sutta.
Jeff: I haven’t done the reading.
Shannon: it’s totally fine. You haven’t, I don’t think you’ve prepared for any of these podcasts and they’ve gone just fine. So why would we change something that’s working so well? it’s about one of the suttas and I thought I would give for those listeners who aren’t familiar with, what a sutta is, I thought I’d give a quick structure of the Pali Canon, just what is a sutta?
Jeff: How does a sutta figure into the overall,
Shannon: is a sutta??
Shannon: So there are a lot of Buddhisms there’s Japanese Buddhism and there’s Chinese Buddhism and there’s Korean Buddhism and there’s Thai Buddhism and Sri Lankan Buddhism.
Shannon: And there’s this interesting melange Buddhism that’s happening in the west. one of those Buddhisms uses as their primary. what’s the word for it? Like their religious [00:03:00] texts?
Jeff: They’re foundational texts. Maybe
Shannon: They’re foundational
Jeff: they’re holy scripture. You would call it if it was like a Catholic or a Judeo-Christian thing
Shannon: that is called the Pali Canon,
Jeff: Okay. And it’s not like it’s not shared amongst all of these
Shannon: right It’s not shared it’s different. they have different canons in different places. There’s some that kind of all use the same one, but there’s like the Sinhalese version of the Pali Canon, and then there’s
It sounds kind of similar to the Christian situation. Cause there’s the Jews have, a certain portion of the Catholic Bible that the old Testament, Jewish people use that in different flavors, you know use different bits.
Jeff: And then the Catholics have the old Testament, the new Testament, and then, various other Christian denominations have various versions and they’ll add some books and subtract some books. And it sounds like a pretty similar situation.
yes, it’s similar in that. There’s a lot of different traditions that use, different versions of the same kind of thing and the same way that, that Jesus of Nazareth did not write anything down.
Shannon: He just, was a rad guy, Gotama, same with Socrates. These guys didn’t write anything down. They were just super rad
Jeff: They’re movers and shakers..[00:04:00]
Shannon: and shakers people memorized what they said and wrote them down at various distances from those times. So the Pali Canon again is the mmm, we’ll call it, scriptural texts for one of these traditions.
Shannon: Typically we would say the Theravadan, there’s a little variation, but primarily we’ll say Theravadan Buddhists use the Pali Canon. The Pali Canon is divided into three sections. They’re called baskets. The first basket is sort of texts for the mendicants, what we would now call monks and nuns. But I like the word mendicant better.
Shannon: It’s actually what the word Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni means. So mendicants. The second basket is teachings of Gotama, things that Gotama said. Then the third basket is philosophy and that was actually done later. So that’s not stuff that Gotama said it’s things that the tradition have philosophized about over time.
Jeff: yeah Developed since then.
Jeff: Okay So the first one is for the Mendicants. Second one is things that Gotama said. And the last one is philosophy that’s [00:05:00] developed since Gotama lived.
Shannon: Yes. And this is a really superficial designation. Gotama said stuff in the first one. Sometimes it’s not clear why a sutta is in one and not the other, because it’s good for both.
Jeff: These baskets are composed of suttas.
Shannon: . Well, not quite not
Shannon: yet. Yes. so there’s the three baskets, so we’re going to look at basket. Number two, the teachings, the sayings of Yeah. Inside of that basket, there are collections. “Nikayas”, they’re called. And within those Nikayas there are multiple suttas. So, you know, there’s big books that I have.
Shannon: These are
Jeff: to the bookshelf here.
Jeff: This is, it’s a dangerous looking book,
solid collection. So that’s one of the Nikayas inside of the second basket.
Jeff: I see Okay.
Jeff: Okayhow many, like roughly speaking, how many NIkayas, how many feet of bookshelf are we
Jeff: talking about here
Shannon: Several feet of bookshelf.
Jeff: of bookshelf Okay for the
Shannon: Yeah, for the basket. there’s several
Jeff: So you’re talking, if you want to have all of this text together, you’re going to need like a reasonable size [00:06:00] bookcase.
Shannon: I would like a library. Yeah, that’d be fine.
Jeff: Sounds fine. Okay. And then, which of these Nikayas would trigger the secret door that causes the bookcase to move aside?
Shannon: Oh Ooh. I would have to say probably the Dhammapada as translated by Gil Fronsdall.
Jeff: Okay. Stay tuned listeners for a future podcast in which we discuss.
Jeff: Sowe’ve got our baskets, got our Nikayas is like a volume, collection. Okay.
Shannon: and it’s a collection of suttas
Jeff: And then inside of that, we have suttas, Okay
Shannon: So we’re going to be looking at one of these many, many, many suttas
Jeff: How big is a sutta, like in terms of, number of words?
Shannon: Yeah. It can be one page or it can be 30 pages. I think this one is 15 ish pages. I didn’t, I don’t actually remember. the Nikayas one of them is called the long discourses and then the middle length of discourses.
Shannon: And that’s where we’re going to be is the Majjhima Nikaya, which means middle length or middle Majjhima, Nikayas collection, the collection of middle length
Jeff: So we’re in the Theravadan tradition, Theravadan, Pali Canon, we’re in the basket which is the sayings of Gotama, in the Nikaya of the middle length suttas.
Shannon: Yes. Yeah. The Majjhima Nikaya. Well
Jeff: And what’s the name of the sutta we’re doing
Crucially, the number is often used because the names are difficult.
Shannon: MN 26. So Majjhima Nikaya 26, The Ariyapariyesana Sutta.
Jeff: What does it mean?
Shannon: The translations for the title are Noble Quest or Noble Search, which feels a little silly to me. Like I Anyway, the translations of the title are Noble Quest or Noble Search,
Shannon: and I am not always good at. One of the reasons I wanted to talk with you about this is because I am not always great at reading these suttas they are religious, right? The venerable Ananda the Holy one,
Shannon: you’re yeah [00:08:00] there’s a lot of adjectives and a lot of reverence, a lot of languaging, like the Noble Search, the Noble and Ignoble Searches, which is not a thing that I often walk around saying to people.
Jeff: I’m going on a noble errand, a noble search at the grocery store.
Shannon: Probably going to be an ignoble search. let’s be honest, right? Like I’m probably going on an ignoble search to the grocery store. So I often have some resistance to reading these things. And I was trying to understand, okay, how am I going to engage with this material? You know I’m in thiscourse, I’m an 18 month course. This is the very first homework. How do I engage with this in a way that is skillful? I’ve had a lot of, a lot of Catholic education. I went to the Catholic school all the way from the beginning of school, up through, through university undergrad, and have waded through a number of religious texts in my time.
Shannon: I really didn’t engage with that stuff much. And so I struggle with it. let’s be clear. I struggle with it too. And that [00:09:00] entire time.
Shannon: Excellent. But , I thought, well okay, so this is the first piece of homework they’ve given us. There must be something in here. The teachers at Bodhi College whom I respect and who I’m putting my trust in for 18 months said, this is the first thing we want you to read.
Shannon: Whatever is in here is so important that it’s, this is thing we want to set the ground for the remainder of your course. So I did the thing I always do, which is I did this deep dive, this very analytical reading because I don’t read Pali very well yet, I took five translations and I broke them out sentence
Jeff: by sentence.
Shannon: I compared them
Shannon: across a
Shannon: I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. So that I could likeunderstand the mechanics and, oh, well this person translated the word this way, and this person translated the word this way. But what I found from that was it still wasn’t speaking to me.
Shannon: I’m trusting these teachers. I’m putting my faith in them for 18 months. They have decided that there’s something in here that’s so important that we need to start with this.
Jeff: This is the ground. [00:10:00] Okay. So what is it, what is that thing? Let me tell you, sit back and I will let me elucidate,
Shannon: You’re going to
Shannon: elucidate Oh okay Wow
Shannon: I’m glad,
Jeff: sorry, I’m sorry to interrupt.
Shannon: okay. No, I w I thought maybe you had something,
Jeff: I haven’t, I know only
Shannon: after eight years I should be able to read your hyperbole but I still don’t. I still
Jeff: only the name of this sutta
Jeff: I know, I couldn’t tell you the Pali and I couldn’t remember the number for you, but it’s like an ignoble search or a noble search.
Jeff: Oops. Oops. Is that, does that, what it talks about the difference between noble and ignoble, things that can be searched for, or methods of searching?
Shannon: Yes Yeah. So what I finally did, what I did was I read back through it and I said, okay, what is the most fundamental piece of information in here? What is the kicker? Why instead of reading it for this deep dive content, instead of teasing apart translations, what is the [00:11:00] point? Yeah. Judson Brewer says, “So what?” He brings the, “so what” question to everything, which I really love. So what? so what, why am I reading this?
Shannon: And what I think is really important here. The name of the sutta is the Nobel Search. Nobel Search doesn’t resonate with me. so what kind of languaging might I use instead? Some of the Bodhi College teachers, including John Peacock, use the term ennobling they would say the Ennobling Search. So it’s a search that ennobles you it’s
Jeff: ennobles the searcher
Shannon: the act, right? Yeah. The act of searching adds nobility to the searcher.
Shannon: But even that language is a little weird. My Dharma friends would totally get it, but talking with normal people, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
Shannon: And so I thought, what about the word orienting? What am I orienting toward? Which felt a little more idiomatic, felt a little more natural to me to talk about.
Jeff: I’m not sure I understand the word orienting. Would
Jeff: you tell me a little more aboutwhat is my life oriented towards
Shannon: it My oriented [00:12:00] towards acquisitions and
Shannon: wealth Yeah.
Shannon: It oriented towards acquisitions, in my oriented towards wealth acquisition, am I oriented towards Lamborghini acquisition?
Jeff: Personal relationships
Shannon: my oriented towards relationships.
Shannon: Yeah Right
Shannon: And as soon as I started thinking about it in that frame, what am I oriented towards? Where’s my bandwidth going. Where am I?
Jeff: your time, your energy
Shannon: Yeah, where’s my time and my energy going my time and my attention. Maybe even more to use. to you use Buddhisty language, what is my life oriented towards? So that made a lot of sense.
Shannon: As you knowevery year. I do this sort of annual, ah, it’s not a review. It’s not last year’s, but it’s like going forward.
Jeff: It’s a planning of the next year.
Shannon: Yeah. Yeah. This is I look at my values and then from my values, I got my goals and make a plan. And
is this sutta a way to, does it [00:13:00] give some tools that you might use to evaluate the things that you’vethat you’ve put in your plan for the next year and likeexamine them and say Hmm are they adding nobility to me?
Jeff: Is that what the sutta is about?
Shannon: Not exactly. The sutta talks about what not to do as opposed to what to do. I meanit does say you should be oriented towards Nibbana, but Nibbana / Nirvana depending on how you pronounce it, is a tricky word because it we haven’t pinned down what that word means. Depending on who you ask, there’s different things that word means. So saying like you should be oriented towards Nirvana,
Jeff: Thanks. Not usefulIs kind of like saying you should be oriented towards flourishing,okay,
Shannon: got it.
What it actually does. This is what not orient towards. So we’ll get to that in just a minute. But I wanted to talk about the importance, I think, of this orientation.
Because I see that as being, when I ask myself, why are the teachers of Bodhi College having me read this sutta they’re saying, look, you need to make sure your life is oriented in the right direction.
Jeff: And then more advanced things.
Shannon: And then the other stuff, [00:14:00] right If we keep spending our time pointing it towards things that aren’t helping us flourish, then this other stuff isn’t going to come along.
You said something I thought was genius. The other night we were talking about, oh, we had done our last year’s annual financial review. And you said something, you said that you weren’t feeling that the amount of money spent was commensurate with the level of personal fulfillment. You felt like you’re spending money or we were spending money, but you weren’t feeling the joy and equal amount of joy from that.
I thought that was a really wise insight because you are recognizing that like I’m spending resources, let’s just put money off the table, resources, money, time, attention, putting resources into stuff that , isn’t fulfilling. Isn’t making us happy.
Shannon: And when we do that that is Gotama’s version of the quote unquote Ignoble Search.
Shannon: That’s what happens when we’re oriented towards things that aren’t ultimately fulfilling. Does that make sense?
Jeff: Makes sense. Yeah,[00:15:00]
Shannon: I think this is really interesting because it’s not our fault. We have a culture, a society that encourages us to be oriented towards acquisition of goods.
there are there to put it more generally, there are a number of things that want to influence our orientation. This sutta, for example, wants to influence it, but also the advertising industry behind consumer goods,
Jeff: Lamborghinis in particular, they’re doing what they can.
Shannon: I bring up Lamborghinis because, I don’t know if I’ve talked about this on the
Jeff: Do. I think listeners would enjoy more Lamborghini content.
Shannon: Lamborghini content?
Shannon: So when I was a kid, I had a big poster in my room, if you saw it you’d know the genre, but I’m sure it was photo-shopped it was a house on a cliff, looking out onto the ocean and there were, I think there were six different Lamborghini’s parked out front, a red one, a
Jeff: black one, a white one whatever,
Shannon: and the helicopter pad with a helicopter on it and, whatever. And yeah, and it said, the one who dies with the most toys wins and that’s how my life was oriented my mylife
Jeff: in your room every day. You would [00:16:00] look at it
Shannon: Yeah Yeah I thought, okay. The thing to do is to acquire these goods and then I will be happy.
Jeff: You’ll win,
Shannon: I’ll win. And winning is making will make me. Yeah. And that’s nothing you win. And then if you win, you’re happy. But we know people, I know people personally, but also, our culture knows there are plenty of famous rich people who commit suicide because they’re miserable.
Shannon: It is clearly not simply the acquisition of goods, fame, fortune, whatever
Shannon: followersfollowers. Yeah. Little littlelittle thumbs ups that leads to fulfillment.
Jeff: just a tip to the listeners.
Jeff: We don’t have this poster in our house currently, although it lives in your memory
Shannon: AbsolutelyThis articulation of that value was so vivid to you. You’re moving away from it. you’re rejecting it in some way, but still
Shannon: Yeah, Yeah absolutely. Before we met in Los Angeles, for me, it was fast cars, fast [00:17:00] motorcycles, fast boys, rooftop cocktails, that was what winning looked like.
Shannon: And it was incredibly dangerous to me physically andand harmful to my mental health. I was not mentally well in, in that experience. And those things are still very dear to my heart.
I will say listeners, that I met Shannon. She was driving a red Ducati motorcycle wearing black leathers, and it was a vivid image. And in that, that image stay, it stays with me today as
Jeff: And I’m still enjoying it.
Shannon: Excellent. I’m so glad to hear it. I still love those things, but I’m no longer holding those things up as the pinnacle of wellbeing, of the pinnacle of winning of the goal of my life. it’s actually something that they talk about in this sutta, it’s okay to enjoy. The objects in the world. Some people think that Buddhism or the teachings of Gotama will tell you, you have to go live in a cave and you have to give up everything and [00:18:00] asceticism and whatever. Actually it says in here, the problem is not the objects. I want to find the exact languaging, hang on a second. The problem is not the things themselves. The problem is one is “tied to these things. infatuated with them and utterly committed to them”, right? That’s where we get into a problem where we hold these objects, these things. As the highest good, as the thing we have to dedicate our lives to.
Shannon: Right. So you were asking earlier, is there a, do they talk about it? The noble search and the ignoble search or what? I would say orientation, a skillful orientation versus an unskillful?
Shannon: It’s interesting because he actually starts off saying spouses and children and some people really take issue with that. They’re like, wait a minute. You mean, I can’t love my family and that’s not what it’s saying at all. It’s saying that you can’t hold your family as a thing that is supposed to make you happy. Right Like we see [00:19:00] parents do this with kids, right? The child is supposed to fulfill the unlived dreams
Shannon: the parent.
Jeff: no pressure,
Shannon: No, no pressure. You gotta make mommy happy. You knowlike we see this all the time. I know I have a lot of friends who have this particular psychological upbringing, or you see people who get married because the other person is supposed to make them happy.
Jeff: Or the other person maybe has a quality that they themselves wish they had.
Shannon: Yeah. right Every fairytale ends, they got married and then they lived happily ever after. And you are an amazing, wonderful person. So being my partner, I should never have a moment of unhappiness if that is in fact the case. Cause I got the right guy, but it’s not just about you.
Jeff: And I can’t expect you to make me happy. That’s a great way to ruin a relationship, frankly, Yeah. It’s like as partners, maybe you can help each other.
but it’s not simply by being partners
Jeff: To more of an active
Shannon: yeah. you can’t expect somebody else to [00:20:00] fix to make you happy. It’s not about. They haven’t even have that power, they don’t have that power. And we’re, again, we’re taught that we’re the fairytale ends. They got married and they lived happily ever after.
Jeff: so if you can just get married, everything’s going to be fine.
Jeff: right? if a person selling wedding goods or services is pitching this message, then be suspicious.
Shannon: So it starts off with, spouses and children and then it moves into,slaves, that’s a problem. we definitely shouldn’t be trying to get slaves, but then these other things, sheep, pigs, elephants, the trappings of high society, Things that, that show wealth, which today would be fashion clothes, Lamborghinis.
That’s two, that’s two Lamborghini mentions for those listeners counting at home. Is this going to become a drinking game, this podcast?
Shannon: Sure we have some tea right over here can have a little sip of water
Jeff: The only podcast that has a tea [00:21:00] drinking game associated it. they do talk about gold and silver, the acquisition of gold and silver. but again, it’s not about having these things. It doesn’t say if you have gold and silver, if you have elephants, then that’s a problem. Although I think if we had an elephant, it would, in fact,
Jeff: it would indicate that we’re in a class of society. that’s an unseen
Shannon: in the Pacific Northwest.
Shannon: So the problem is not the elephant or the gold and silver. The problem is when we are tied to these things, when we are infatuated with them, when we are utterly committed to them, when we believe that these things can give us happiness, that’s where the problem comes in.
Can I make a point about this? So well, or I guess, let me ask you a
Jeff: So it seems like there are, there are a couple aspects to having, so I have a bicycle here that I’m enjoying, but there are a couple of aspects to it. One aspect is that this bicycle is made by a prestigious brand. And so one, one way that I could [00:22:00] be enjoying it is I could tell other people I have a bicycle made by so-and-so and then they might have respect for me, or they might think a certain thing about
Shannon: me as a result.
Jeff: And another aspect is that this bicycle is quite a capable bicycle. Yes. it works well, the experience of riding it is good.
and I enjoy that. I have, I have a camera that, that is quite a capable camera as well. and using it as a pleasure riding a motorcycle that, that works well as it is a pleasure.
these things give pleasure to use. it seems It seems like I’m on board with the idea that,having things with prestigious name brands on them, and then, wanting that to, to convey a social status to us. Yes. that seems like a thing that, that people commonly do, I have done. and that seems like a problematic thing. It seems like a different issue to, to have a thing, a tool in some ways, that works [00:23:00] well. and to take pleasure in that, in, in the, using of it, in the creating of things with it, that seems less problematic to me. Are we speaking about both of those here? is it useful in this discussion to differentiate those or is this kind of beside the point?
Shannon: I think it’s all on a spectrum for me. One of the things about the teachings of Gotama that is so important is this middle way, right? Finding this balance. So it’s not, should I never have a bicycle or should I only have a rusty crappy bicycle that barely works or should I have the best possible bicycle. It’s recognizing what must one what are you giving up? what of your Liberty, what of your liberation are you giving up?
Jeff: And, another point along this line is there’s a graph of cost versus utility. And for many things, that’s not a linear thing. Like as cost goes up, utility does not increase correspondingly. Oftentimes it will, it’ll go up in jumps. And so like for this bicycle, for example,some parts of it are like the top quality available, [00:24:00] but then the other parts that I didn’t need to be the top quality. Yeah. I just got the cheap one cause so it’s a mix of some parts of very nice that they need to be that way. And then other parts, like yeah, just whatever. So maybe this is something towards the idea of a middle way, think about how you’re going to use the thing and
Jeff: the good thing that’s right. For what you’re going to be doing
Shannon: with that
Shannon: I would also say it’s not just about cost. It’s also about resources, right?
Shannon: So one of the problems in our society, I’m about to say a thing that is on the political agenda. I’m not trying to make a political statement, but this is the thing that has been politicized in our country. And this is the opinion that I have welcome to my podcast. We are destroying our environment through consumerism. That is a view that I hold. And so when we are constantly buying new things, we might recognize that some types of things, some types of materials, for example, might be better to use or less good to use because of their impact on the environment. So it’s not just about cost that’s one thing I want to say, is recognizing that it’s not just about bottom line dollar cost. [00:25:00] It’s about what is the effect? what is,
Okay. last podcast episode, we talked about Dependent Origination, and we talked about how, Idappaccayatā, Paṭiccasamuppāda. We talked about how things are interconnected. So my decision to purchase an item or not purchase that item has effects outside of that individual purchase and its effects on my financial status. It has ripple effects. The people who created it, whether or not I buy it from a private resale versus from a big box store, whether
Jeff: what’s going to happen to that item after you’re done using it.
Shannon: right, am I going to throw, is it an item that can be reused or not?
Shannon: Or that can be repaired or not? There are so there’s so much more that goes into it than cost. So that’s, I just want to caution against using cost as a metric.
Shannon: But to go back to your question. Yes. I think it’s okay to get it it’s not saying you can’t have nice things. It’s just saying pay attention to [00:26:00] where one is oriented is one’s life dedicated towards having six Lamborghini’s and a house and helicopter? And is that really making you happy or is that making a person happy or not? And I would argue in many cases not.
Jeff: I was talking to a colleague at work the other day. who’s just moved from somewhere else to the city that we’re in now. And he still has back in his previous city, a garage full of stuff that he’s not using. And so here’s an example of having a bunch of stuff around these. They are not using, it’s having a cost in terms of money. It’s having a cost in terms of weighing on you. He’s having
Shannon: to spend
Jeff: time figuring out what to do with this thing.
Shannon: Our culture, the point I was making earlier that I think is really important is our culture nudges us. There’s all kinds of, again, this idea of dependent origination, causes and conditions, creating an environment in which we are oriented one way or another. All around us, our culture is nudging us in the direction of acquisition, buy more [00:27:00] things, make more money, so you can buy more things, nicer things. So there’s this constant pressure to perform in this way. And that can be dangerous to individuals and globally, to the environment. Does that make sense?
Jeff: Makes sense. Yeah.
Jeff: havewe have a, this sutta it gives us a list of things to avoid if we want to be doing some nobel searching,
Shannon: but I think that list is not the thing that’s important.
Jeff: Or what’s okay. What’s the thing that’s important?
Shannon: The important thing is noticing what we’re being oriented towards. Okay. that, and that’s why I wasn’t even necessarily going to talk about what the sutta says we should be orienting towards because their lives were less complicated.
Jeff: Fine but pick a thing no know that youyou’re picking a thing to be oriented towards.
Shannon: Yeah exactly. Pick it carefully. Be aware, be cognizant of what you’re orienting towards because we are always laying down neural pathways. We are we are always running these neural pathways and we can be either[00:28:00] creating new ones that are more skillful, or we can be running through those same ruts that are less skillful, or we can be creating new ones that are also unskillful.
Shannon: Right? there’s a lot of things we can do every time when we look at brain function, what we see is that every choice or lack of choice that we make lays down a pattern. So we need to be careful what those are.
Shannon: We’re always forming our future habits. yes. We, that is a great way to phrase it. We are always forming our future habits.
When we were talking about intentionally orienting towards something, We were talking about how we live in a society that orients us towards acquisition of goods. One thing I wanted to say was, you know we are hedonic beings. I’ve talked about this hedonic tone, this Vedanā, knowwe have this evolutionary history of this hedonic response. Things are pleasant. Things are unpleasant, and we really respond to that. And that has been a [00:29:00] powerful survival mechanism. They it’s still it’s in the sea slug. It’s it goes all the way back to single celled , amoebas,
Jeff: And it’s certainly true for me today,
Shannon: right? Yeah.
it’s absolutely a part of our biology. And so we need to recognize, how much of what I’m doing is just driven by hedonic tone. how much of this is wise decision-making and how much of it is just about my hedonic response to the world. And because we are hedonic beings, not only is our society orienting us towards acquisition, but we are biologically , oriented towards pleasure towards acquiring things that give us immediate pleasure to not long-term pleasure. Right? It’s not about broccoli. It’s about buying that box of Russell Stover’s cream chocolates that is on sale and eating all of them right now.
Jeff: The are very good.
Shannon: you know maybe
Jeff: we did buy broccoli today. First.
Shannon: [00:30:00] that’s true. We did buy, but we only, because we didn’t know that the chocolates were on sale, I would have bought them first.
Jeff: Wow. We can only look at the record and that’s what happened.
Shannon: It’s the availability heuristic, I think. I think the thing I just wanted to talk about was this idea that this sutta, MN 26, Majjhima Nikaya 26, along with a lot of other information, like many Dharma talks, there’s a lot of stuff in this sutta. I’ll put a link in the show notes, please feel free to go and take a look at it,
Jeff: Will you also link to your awesome spreadsheet?
Shannon: I’ll link to my awesome spreadsheet. But the point is that we need, as you said, to be aware of what we are oriented towards, to pay attention to, what we’re pointing towards, I, you had asked, what does that, what am I Shannon doing? And I’ve been doing the same sort of plan since 2008 in January.
Jeff: th you have the same structure the same structure
Jeff: particular goals. That orientation has changed a little bit, but your structure.
Shannon: Yeah, the structure is the same in January. I sit down and I figure out my values for the year. And then I build goals from that. [00:31:00] And then I have a plan that comes out of that. And for me, that’s been really helpful. Some people say likeoh, that’s way too goal oriented or whatever. But for me having those values in place gives me a really powerful structure and a way to orient my life and helps me to figure out, you knowwhere to point my bandwidth. In fact, in my to-do list, when I’m being particularly strict, if I’m going to put something in my to-do list, I have to tag it with one of my values. It has to go back to a value. And if it’s not, then I need to seriously ask myself, why is this thing going in my to-do list?
Shannon: If it is not oriented towards one of my values, I think that some Dhamma people might eschew, oh, technology and structure, or some people are like, oh, I just want to be free about how I make my decisions.
Jeff: But those are for those people. Let me invite you to consider that Buddhism has a lot of lists involved.
Jeff: And so if you, if you want, like any parallels there between these various to-do list technologies and [00:32:00] Buddhism, that might be it.
Shannon: Thank you. Thank you for the backup on that one. this has been a structure that has just been really helpful for me in orienting towards away from Lamborghinis or away from big Lamborghini acquisition. Yeah. towards. Liberty and towards flourishing and towards being a better human being and taking care of the planet, it’s allowed me to change in this way.
Shannon: I came across this great quote by Bill Gates. I think two days ago, it says “I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve incredible progress. If you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal.” And xxx I think that’s so true, you know that we have to be careful, because sometimes we can pick the wrong measure. In public education, for example, the thing we’re measuring is whether or not you can take a test.
Shannon: So we’re teaching kids how to take tests. We’re teaching kids how to memorize things. We’re teaching teachers how to teach kids how to memorize things. [00:33:00] We’re not teaching critical skills. So we have failed because we’ve chosen the wrong measurement.
One thing that I did for this year for 2022 is so I, as we talked about, I do this values and then I make goals from the values one of the values was aesthetics. And one of the goals, when I first created it, the goal was, “In one year, I would like our apartment to look good while remaining turn-key.” So I didn’t want to have 35 houseplants because I needed it to be
Jeff: turn-key means we can go traveling, walk away. There is nothing here requires regular maintenance.
Shannon: Right. Cause our house in Baltimore we had 35 houseplants and that took a lot of work. They were awesome. So the first version, “In one year I would like our apartment to look good.”
But when I was thinking about that, that didn’t feel like a value that felt like flourishing, that felt like go to CB2 and spend $2,000 and buy a bunch of nice things for the apartment. But that didn’t quite feel like,
Jeff: do it. You [00:34:00] could imagine what that would be like. And you could say, okay, imagine that we ;had different stuff. Would that be? And you’re saying no,
Jeff: I’m after exactly. You wouldn’t object.
Shannon: would not object.
Jeff: likeyou like all the things at CB2,
Shannon: I do like all the things at CB2 if CB2 would like to sponsor this podcast, please call immediately. Super fine with that. But it didn’t feel like a flourishing value to me.
Jeff: a little too much like a Lamborghini in your
Shannon: yeah. It felt like Lamborghini acquisition. So I had a long conversation with a friend of mine who is an artist. And so is really into aesthetics and the Dhamma. Thanks again, Scott, if you’re listening, and what we came to talking for a while is I said, okay. I know what I want this goal to be, so the goal change from the old version, “I would like our apartment to look good” too, “I would like to feel good about how our apartment looks.”
Jeff: you see
Shannon: that difference, right? It’s a shift in orientation.
Shannon: [00:35:00] I
Shannon: want the thing is the same kind of I want to feel good.
Jeff: The measurement,
The thing that I measure make the thing I’m measuring is my sensitivity to aesthetic, not how expensive are my pillows.
Jeff: Because when one thing is maybe even a little more measurable than the other, if you say I like the apartment to look good, there’s no scale
can be measured
Shannon: statement. I can show you Instagram photos.
but again, it comes back to the way you would actually be doing that, as you would say, I feel a certain way about this Instagram photo. And that is a feeling I would like to have about our apartment.
Shannon: I’m gonna
Shannon: replicate that here
Jeff: things identical? And so then by reframing that you’ve really said that in a more overt sort of
Shannon: And I can work on something else. I don’t have to work on what pillows we have. I can work on my own aesthetic sensibility. I can orient myself to saying, I love the view from our balcony. I love our hummingbirds that are outside. I love the fact
Jeff: Create a way to enjoy those things.
Shannon: RightI love the fact that we don’t have to have the heater on because we have this tiny little condo on the [00:36:00] south side of a building that is warmed by the sun. I can be more intentional about what I am orienting myself towards.
Shannon: So it’s no longer about, again, something else making me happy, buying things to make the apartment look nice. It’s about Shannon recognizing , why don’t I appreciate this place? We have a nicer house than Versailles, technically, just from indoor plumbing.
Jeff: Big factor factor
Shannon: So why am
Jeff: Also our our mirrors are higher quality.
Shannon: Why am I dissatisfied? Looking at my own dissatisfaction, this, I would like our apartment to look good. Doesn’t say, Shannon, what is going on with your dissatisfaction? Whereas I would like to feel good about how our apartment looks says, okay, what’s going on with me? How can I reorient?
one good example of this might be the hummingbird feeder
Jeff: for Christmasyou received a hummingbird
Jeff: It’s so [00:37:00] great
Shannon: put a link in the show notes.
Jeff: And it’s a thing that has increased your enjoyment of the apartment quite a bit. and of the view from the balcony, you’ve put it, you’ve put it in a place on the balcony so that when you’re sitting at your computer working on editing this podcast, just over the top of the monitor, just a few.
Jeff: If you look over there out towards the water, you can see the hummingbird feeder and the hummingbird. Right out there. and that’s a small expenditure. it’s a physically small thing, but it changes your experience in quite a big way on a daily basis. it gets you involved in the process of, creating hummingbird juice, putting it out there, the thing in at night, cleaning it out, refilling it.
Jeff: It changes your experience.
Shannon: absolutely. Yeah.
Shannon: What do you think, how has this landed for you?
Jeff: Yeah. I, thanks. Thanks for pointing out the idea that we’re constantly creating our habits.
Jeff: I, yeah, it’s scary. I was, I was reading a thing the other day that pointed out that, if you think about[00:38:00] the way you experience your life. We tend to be oriented to big things.
Jeff: Do I have a Lamborghini or not? Thank you. and that, the presence of Lamborghinis in one’s life perhaps impact your life less than the way you greet your partner. when you were, they returned to the house each day. Like we, we make a point of doing that. and I recently, that’s a thing I’ve been focusing on.
Jeff: I have noticed that,when I come home, you make a point of stopping what you’re doing, coming over. Or if you can’t stop, I’ll make a point of coming over to you. And then we touch each other. We say, we’ll say hello, things like that. Have a big impact on our experience of the world. it’s evidence that we’re oriented towards relationships with other people, cultivating those relationships.
Jeff: And paying attention to these things changes our experience of the world
Shannon: Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: [00:39:00] changes our role in the world,
Jeff: changes the experience other people have of us. Yeah.
Shannon: Thanks for being here.
Jeff: Pleasure. As always.
Thanks so much listeners. As usual, you can find us at Dharmaphd.com. Check out the show notes for some links. And may you be well.
Jeff: I’m going to do a little burp here, right?
Shannon: You want to tell me a joke?
Shannon: Is there
Jeff: Oh I was going to do the interrupting cow, but I forgot to interrupt you. Thanks.
Jeff: Well, stay tuned listeners to our other podcast.
Shannon: Shannon learns German?
Jeff: Shannon and Jeff explore the etymology of German words.
Shannon: Wow. That’s not going to have any followers at all.
Jeff: Nope. But the nice thing about podcasts is you don’t require any followers to make a podcast. You can just, you can just do it.
Shannon: Welcome to Dharma PhD.
Jeff: We don’t have to ask permission of anyone to do this podcast. Here we are.
Jeff: Blazing forward. [00:40:00] Relentlessly.