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Lions Roar : May 2017
In other words, paying careful attention to the present moment and our inner relationship to the tone of experience allows us to rebel against the conditioned patterns by simply meeting the unpleasant, the neutral, and the pleasant with acceptance and understanding. A simple choice is at the heart of this rebellion: we can either stay asleep (clinging and avoiding) and continue to suffer, or we can wake up (practicing mindfulness and let- ting go) and find a deeper sense of well-being and happiness. Meditation, when practiced appropriately, allows us to see clearly and respond wisely. NOAH LEVINE is a Buddhist teacher, author, and founder of Against the Stream Buddhist Medi- tation Society and Refuge Recovery Centers. To find the deepest home you’ve ever known, says Zen teacher JOAN SUTHERLAND “See how vast and wide the world is,” remarked a tenth-century Chinese teacher named Yunmen. “Why do you get up and put on your clothes when the morning bell rings?” The universe is an immense thing—mysterious and awesome. Each of us is a particular thing, with our own idiosyncratic body and psyche, karmic patterns, and genetic inheritance, whose life is woven into the lives of an almost infinite variety of other unique beings. The immense and the particular are made of each other, and every morning they give birth to another day in each of our lives. This concept is so remarkable that our relationship to it is best expressed by wondering, in the lovely double meaning of that word—asking a question and feeling awe. How can I be infinite and eternal, and also so very local, rising in the morn- ing with a slightly sore back and trailing the vapors of a dream I was having when the alarm went off? To meditate is to create the simple circumstances—pretty much sitting still and letting your heart–mind grow quiet—that allow this question to find you, over and over again, so it can change you. The ancestors called this becoming more realistic, as you learn to be less bossed around by all the things you actu- ally aren’t (your opinions, judgments, prejudices, grievances, cravings, and stories), and more comfortable with, and then devoted to, what you discover you actually are when you’re not being distracted by all that other stuff. What you actually are has all kinds of names, like buddha- nature and original face, but you’ll know you’ve settled into It’s simple, says NOAH LEVINE: To end suffering Meditation, like all of the Buddha’s teachings, has only one goal: to end suffering. It is said that the Buddha taught many different meditation techniques to people, customizing these techniques to address the way suffering manifests for each individual. But in the teach- ings on the four noble truths, the Buddha offers the foundational meditation practice of Satipatanna—the four foundations of mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness, also referred to as Vipassana or Insight Meditation, is the training of attention to see clearly the three main characteristics of all reality. These characteristics are: the truth of impermanence, the truth of unsatisfactori- ness, and the truth of not-self. Through meditative training, we also come to understand that we are habitually reacting to pleasure and pain in a way that is creating suffering. We begin to respond with wisdom and compassion rather than reacting with clinging and aversion. Mindfulness of the breath and the body are only the begin- ning of the mindfulness practice. But even at this basic level, we begin to see the truth of impermanence with the changing sensations of each breath, as well as the impersonal or not-self nature of the breath and body as it breaths all by itself. Once we have established some level of present-time aware- ness and attention to the physical sensations of the body, we undertake training to bring attention to the feeling tone of the particular experience. Every single experience has a feeling tone to it—a quality of pleasantness, unpleasantness, or neutrality that we can perceive when we are mindful. An awareness of the experience and its pleasant or unpleasant tone is essential if we are to progress on the path to freedom from suffering. Our habitual reaction to pleasurable experiences is to cling to them, while our habitual reaction to unpleasant experiences is to resist or push them away. Clinging and aversion are the cause of most of the suffering we create for ourselves, and the subtle roots of all greed and hatred. This second level of mindfulness, then, offers us awareness of the causes of suffering. Through being mindful of experience and its feeling tone, we can directly examine our inner relation- ship of clinging to pleasure and aversion to discomfort, and we can react deliberately, choosing to let go at the root or cause of suffering. Without intentional mindfulness at this level of experience, we have no choice but to stay stuck in the habits of aversion and clinging, and as a result we float with the current on the stream of unenlightened existence. What’s the Goal? Different Buddhist schools have different answers. Here are two. PHOTOBYSARITROGERS LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 56