Welcome to Mangala Shri Bhuti’s Dharma Blog

Welcome to Mangala Shri Bhuti’s Dharma Blog, where we explore the dharma, which we have been fortunate to come into contact with. In a word, what is “dharma”? We can say it is the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. We can also say dharma represents certain truths or “the facts of life”. But most essentially, we’ve found that dharma comes to mean an awakening of our own active intelligence about the causes of suffering and happiness. This process is ignited by the teachings we hear and catalyzed further by our contemplation and practice. Join us in appreciating and deepening our understanding of dharma through these excerpts by Mangala Shri Bhuti’s teachers and senior students.

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What I would like to talk about today is self-awareness—that is, a type of key training in self-awareness—which can be used as a means to become more clear, and thereby able to effectively reduce one’s suffering. Dharma practice is a kind of medicine, a medicine of mind rather than medicine for the physical body. It is used to reduce and heal ourselves from our afflictive pain.

Now when it comes to mental pain, people in the modern world go to see a psychologist or maybe a priest, although nowadays people rarely go to see a priest for this. In older times in India, for instance, and in many other countries as well, people would go to see a wise man or wise woman to get insight and advice. From these traditions a “Guru Principle” was established. Many great sages of all the religious traditions have given teachings about how to work with one’s own mind. The reason for these teachings in the first place is that there is dukkha or suffering.

Suffering doesn't necessarily mean that you’re in such deep pain you can hardly bear it. Some suffering could be simply a confusion in one’s mind. Suffering could occur from things you do in your life that don’t necessarily have a big negative outcome which overwhelms you, but nonetheless have small negative outcomes that make your life less peaceful, not as easy as it could be, or not as free as it could be. So suffering can range from very mild suffering to intense suffering. Of course the more intense is the suffering the more feeling is involved. When you are devastated by the loss of a loved one, or when you feel  deep anguish, the mind suffers from not being able to live comfortably, and it feels like all the structures that support your life have fallen apart. So then there can be strong panic, a lot of anxieties and fear, and you lose sleep due to this kind of distress.

But with all of this we have two choices. We have the choice to just “grin and bear” it, or to understand what is happening in our mind. What can we do to change this disturbed sense of well-being? What can we do to restore the well-being, to be able to minimize the suffering—not necessarily get rid of it, which is sometimes impossible—that we experience inside of our mind. We can either take charge of our own mind, or we can behave like it's happening from outside of us, out of our control. We tell ourselves that circumstances have gone wrong or that circumstances have become negative. No one can dispute that. Circumstances have caused the suffering. So one can certainly blame the circumstances to some extent. In fact, most people will agree with you when you do this. But whether people agree with you, and whether you blame the circumstances, nonetheless your suffering continues inside, and sometimes gets even worse as we solidify the reasons for it. When we blame the external circumstances as the true cause of our suffering, then unless the circumstances change we can expect not to feel any better, and not to change anything within our mind. Or one can actually take responsibility for the suffering.

By this taking of responsibility it would not be to deny that there are circumstances in your life that have caused suffering, but rather to recognize that it's your attitude which is contributing to your suffering even more than the circumstances. Your reactions to the circumstances are actually making you suffer more. Now, if one is willing to take responsibility to work with this—and much of the time we are not willing—to change one's attitude toward the circumstances, then we can actually minimize the suffering in our life with this positive, constructive attitude. Of course the Dharma practice is not something that can just wipe the suffering completely out of your life, but Dharma practice can actually help a lot. Perhaps it’s not as effective as one of those detergents that cleans your windows so pristinely, but it is quite an effective detergent with which to clean the mirror of your own mind. So Dharma practice should be understood as medicine, or as detergent to clean the surface of the mirror of one’s mental body.

Now in this behavior, self-awareness is very important. Without self-awareness, technically there's no “oneself” even involved in the practice of Dharma. Through mantra you might be able to develop concentration. Or through breathing you could actually develop concentration. As far as technically doing something like this, one can theoretically develop concentration. But self-awareness cannot happen on its own, without one's deep interest. So Dharma practice is not like some manual skill where you can fix something without much analysis, simply because you are trained to fix it. For someone who is very good at putting Lego’s together, they can work very quickly and easily as soon as they see the Lego’s in front of them on the table. But we cannot do anything like that with the Dharma practice, for sure. Applying the Dharma teachings has to involve  a clear self-awareness of your own experience. As you actually examine what is taking place inside of your mind, then you can apply the Dharma teachings with some accuracy. And you apply this until your mind is actually resolved, until your pain is lessened, until your mind is free to move on in a healthy state, without carrying any baggage from the past, and without fear that it will return in the future. That's the Dharma practice.

Whenever we have baggage that we carry from past experience, past losses, past conflicts, past tragedies—even though we have managed with time to move on—in the mind we are not free from the fear that something like that will return again. So when you are not secure, and you’re not free from the anguish or nervousness that remains around the pain that you have endured, that is not Dharma practice. It’s simply that time has moved forward, and you have moved forward too. With the Dharma practice there has to be some real sense of becoming free. And that kind of freedom, I think, comes from having fully understood what had to happen. It comes from understanding what took place in your mind then, and that there’s nothing left to return again, there's no place for something like that to return again and again, because you have had a view of deep insight and clarity into your own mind, as well as a certain strength that derives from this. Also you stand prepared to have to work with your mind further. So, just growing a thick skin, or creating immunity towards the same kind of pain that returns, is not a Dharma practice. Dharma practice means so much more than that with its wisdom and skillful means, what you learn to do with your mind, and how to develop your understanding.

In this way we can really come to see how much of a practitioner we are. Are we just sort of a normal human being going through life and becoming a little more tolerant along the way, or are we still very anxious all the time? Many human beings have a lot of tolerance, sometimes even more tolerance than the Dharma practitioner. But it's not because they are applying a Dharma practice in their mind. They may just have more tolerance because they have suffered a lot and have developed a thicker skin. It is said that a hair resting in your palm won’t hurt at all, but that same hair in your eye will create great discomfort. So in a way, in becoming a Dharma practitioner you become more sensitive to suffering. But it’s not just being sensitive to suffering. You have some wisdom and skillful means concerning what to do when suffering does occur in one's mind. You’re not carrying so much baggage from the past, or so much fear and anxiety about the future.

The question here really is, “What is it that we are becoming self-aware of in Dharma practice?” And, not only in the Buddhist teachings—even though that’s where I'm coming from—because more widely, I think this would be true in all religious or contemplative traditions. What we are trying to be self-aware of, is our ego. Taking responsibility for your suffering and the cause of your suffering is becoming more self-aware of your ego. Whether from within a Buddhist outlook, or from outside the Buddhist discipline, how can we address our internal suffering and the cause of suffering without self-awareness of one's ego? It isn’t as though the ego is bothersome and the cause of suffering only for Buddhists and not for others. Ego is ego, regardless of whether you are Buddhist or non-Buddhist. Whether you are a person with the discipline of a spiritual path, or a person without that discipline, ego will still create a lot of suffering in one's mind and in one's life. So becoming self-aware of one's own ego is the true discipline of all spiritual paths.

But, becoming self-aware of one's ego is also not that simple. First of all, a lot of people don't really know what their ego is. One has always been with this ego and one’s ego attachments, yet still you may not really know how to observe the ego and your ego attachments in an objective way. Subjectively you’re always enmeshed with your ego and your attachments to the ego—most likely your behavior is based on that all the time, throughout your life. But when we objectively analyze our own mind, the ego is a focal point of one's analysis: what is your ego doing to you; what is your ego attachment doing to you; how do these create suffering in your life in general? How are you totally enslaved by its drives? And, internally how does this manifest from merely a small spark to become stronger and stronger until it is like a raging forest fire inside, that can burn you alive–producing mental, emotional, physical, and verbal wrongdoings. These wrongdoings, these misdeeds and misconduct, are the “suffering in the cause.” There is as well, the suffering that results from those actions and behaviors.

To be able to observe one's own state of mind in an objective way, what’s required is a whole special technique or special skill—developing the so-called “meditative state of mind."

Link #265 - 3/30/2015

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