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Lions Roar : March 2014
Such moments of restoring the mind to comfort happen to me all day long. Things happen. It’s incredibly easy to become annoyed. Or dispirited. Or bewildered by lust, restlessness, or doubt. The Buddha named these energies of confusion the five “hindrances to clear seeing,” because they arise in the mind in response to challenge and subvert clear decision-making. Probably most of us can recall an instance of finding ourselves eating a slice of pizza or a Dunkin’ Donut and thinking, “How did this happen? I was walking along the street on my way home and suddenly the smell of pizza (or doughnuts) wafted by my nose. Apparently I veered into the store, and here I am eating.” Although eating a slice of pizza or a doughnut is usually a benign action, sometimes—for people with certain allergies or illnesses—it isn’t. Other impulses, those motivated by clearly unwholesome impulses such as greed, anger, or revenge, are never benign. A well-functioning mind GPS remembers that between every impulse and resulting action is the possibility of careful reflection. It signals, “Slow down. Think. Where do you want to go? Recalculate!” The experience that triggers the mind GPS into action is always a moment of realizing something does not feel right. “Where do I want to go?” is the reference point for my prac- tice. If I say, “I think my practice is working,” I don’t mean that I never fall into dismay or never act thoughtlessly. I do. It means I become aware, sooner than I used to, that I’ve taken a wrong turn and am heading into confusion and distress. That moment of clarity dispels confusion and I recognize, from the sense of peace and ease I feel in it, that I’m back on the right track. The Return Home icon in my mind GPS would automatically re-route me to choose, moment to moment, the action that cultivates and maintains wholesome states in my mind. Deliberate choosing is the central teaching in the Buddha’s Discourse to His Son Rahula. He advises Rahula to think before, during, and after every action about motivation. “Is what I am about to do (am doing, or just did) for my benefit as well as for the benefit of all beings?” And, of course, the Buddha goes on to say that if the answer is no, then the action should not hap- pen or should stop. Amends should be made for any negative impact that has already happened. I think it would be easy to misunderstand this instruction as mandating moving very, very slowly all the time and hesi- tating before any move. That would make ordinary, relational, everyday life awkward. I think it’s actually much easier than that. I think that the Buddha’s instruction to Rahula (and to us) can be understood as, “Cultivate wholesomeness—gener- osity, patience, candor, kindness—and enjoy the pleasure of their ongoing presence in your mind. Notice any arising of unwholesome states in your mind and discourage them. Steady your attention. (Concentrate!) Recognize these unwholesome states as painful, temporal, and insubstantial and be attentive to their disappearance. (Be Mindful!) Choose to maintain a clear and untroubled mind. (Make Wise Effort!)” I think as human beings we are born with prototype mind GPSs preset to aim generally in the direction of feeling safe and happy. We do the best we can to make our way through the inevitable challenges of our lives. My practice goal is refin- ing my attention and intention so I am more able to hear my GPS signaling me to notice either “You’re in pain, Sylvia. Recalculate!” or “You are holding steady in a good direction, Sylvia. Continue!” ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2014 43