Podcast

100 – Keep Going

100 episodes! What an exciting milestone! In this podcast episode, I will talk about one of my favorite expressions/teachings from Sensei Kubose. “Keep Going” has become one of my go-to reminders about life in general.

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Transcript:

99 – Presence Podcast Interview

Audio from a recent interview I did on Presence Podcast about Life Lessons.
Are the stories you tell yourself real?
How do you deal with your most sensitive emotions?
Is there such a thing as good and bad?
How do you define love?
If you enjoy this episode, check out the Presence Podcast at presencepodcast.com/

Transcript:

Noah Rasheta:
Welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 99. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And today I’m doing something a little bit different. I was recently interviewed on another podcast called Presence Podcast that was recently started out by my friend Kenn Sullivan. In an effort to help promote Kenn’s new podcast, he’s allowed me to share the audio of our recent interview here as an episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. So, if you enjoy this episode, please check out Kenn’s new podcast and subscribe. It’s called Presence Podcast, and you can find it on iTunes and all the other main podcasting places. And now, I give you the audio of episode number four, Life Lessons with Noah Rasheta on Presence Podcast.

Kenn Sullivan:
You are listening to the Presence Podcast, episode number four. And I am your host, Kenn Sullivan. And today, I have a very special guest with me, Noah Rasheta. Noah hosts the amazing Secular Buddhism Podcast. I love and appreciate his perspective and uncanny ability to teach with analogies and metaphors. And so, I really thought it would be an awesome opportunity. And I also appreciate very much, Noah, the positive impact that I can see that you’re having on the world. How is the podcast doing so far?

Noah Rasheta:
It’s doing really well, continues to grow month over month and year over year. So, really excited about it.

Kenn Sullivan:
Awesome. So, why don’t you take a minute just to tell any of our listeners about the series of workshops or anything else that you’ve been working on recently?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, so the thing I’ve been working on most recently is just the content for the podcast. I am trying to develop an online workshop series, mostly kind of explaining the fundamentals of what mindfulness is, and kind of like a Buddhism 101 type course. That’s still in the works. But for the most part, people can go to the podcast and listen to the beginning. The first five episodes are intended to be kind of a summary of basic Buddhist philosophy and concepts. That’s what I’ve been working on.

Kenn Sullivan:
Online workshop? Or is it an in-person workshop?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. No, my goal is to do an online workshop that people can subscribe to and just take it on their own time. And I don’t know if it’ll be like a series of videos. I think it’ll be a combination of videos and content to read through. But all web based.

Kenn Sullivan:
Awesome. Do you do anything … I know you were talking about your trip to Nepal. Do you want us to mention anything about that right now? Or because you already have such a big waiting list, should we not talk about that?

Noah Rasheta:
We could mention it, mostly for next year because I will do it again. But yeah, this one is totally booked and has a long wait list.

Kenn Sullivan:
So, is that the only thing that you’re doing when it comes … Like, having people … Like, any mindfulness or meditation type sessions that you’re doing in person?

Noah Rasheta:
It is right now. I’m considering doing a retreat while I’m down in Mexico. But it’s just an idea at this point. But I do think it’s very likely that while I’m down there, I’ll host some kind of a mindfulness retreat in person.

Kenn Sullivan:
Nice. You know, and I hadn’t even thought about this, but now that we’re talking about it, I should invite you to come and help out with one of our upcoming Surrender Lab sessions or retreats. We can talk more about that later.

Noah Rasheta:
Cool.

Kenn Sullivan:
When we were having lunch down at The Vertical Diner in Salt Lake about a month ago or whatever it was, I just thought it was really powerful when you were describing your experiences volunteering in Africa, and how you started seeing that you were having potentially more of a negative impact than a positive one while you were building schools and stuff. Do you want to briefly touch on that?

Noah Rasheta:
Sure. Yeah, I think sometimes we get in our mind the idea that we have so much to offer to other cultures or to other countries, and Africa is one of those where the general mindset is, “I’m going to go to Africa because they need my help or they need our help.” And you get there and it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that for the most part, it’s like, no, you get to go there and learn from their culture and spend time with them and see how happy most of them are living out in conditions that we would consider extreme poverty or we would think, “Oh wow, these poor people who live this way.”

Noah Rasheta:
And yet, they’re out there and it works and they’re happy. And often times when we come over there and we’re trying to instill our way of thinking and our set of standards of, “Well, this is a good way of living, and you need this from us,” it can be detrimental because it’s like, well, who’s to say that our way of living is the right way or any better than their way. And that was a fun experience to go out there with a group of volunteers, kind of with the initial mindset of, “Well, what do we have to offer?” Only to have the roles reversed and realize how much African culture and Africa in general has to offer us Westerner’s perspective on ways of living and what truly matters in life.

Kenn Sullivan:
Yeah, I remember you talking about how they would make a little soccer ball out of … What was it again? Like wrapped up plastic bags or something?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, like plastic bags like you’d get at the store just wadded up and then one wrapped over another, over another, until it’s big enough to be a soccer ball.

Kenn Sullivan:
That’s so awesome. But over and over, you just saw they were just so happy. And then, talk about how you started to perceive that you started to have this potentially an actual negative impact. Wasn’t there an experience with one of the kids that you started … What was your first aha in that?

Noah Rasheta:
We were briefed that we should be careful to bring toys. For example, you have all these kids who are playing with sticks and bottles or whatever they have available there. And they’re using their imagination. And then you bring a toy or something out of your backpack and then you hand it to one, and it kind of creates this moment of instability because it’s like, “Well, wait a second. Why does one kid get a toy now? What do you have for all the other kids?” And it’s like, by trying to introduce something that wasn’t there before, you’re actually creating more problems. And now the kids might be fighting over the one toy that they didn’t have before, or things like that.

Noah Rasheta:
I don’t recall seeing that scenario exactly. But they had briefed us when we got there to be cautious of that. Don’t just give people stuff, because those are the kind of situations that you could present to them that we wouldn’t have thought of because we’re just thinking, “Everybody would want what I have,” and that’s not necessarily true, you know?

Kenn Sullivan:
Right. We like to project ourselves onto the world, don’t we?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. We do.

Kenn Sullivan:
Okay, so if I was to ask you then, what would you say have been … I mean, you and I have some pretty similar backgrounds. And if I was to ask you what you would say as of this point in time what your very biggest life lesson has been so far, what would you say is the top of the list?

Noah Rasheta:
That’s a really good question. And I would have to say my biggest life lesson so far is the realization that the stories that I have about life, about myself, about others, are just that. They’re stories. And they seem so real, and they may not be. And I think the biggest aha moment I’ve had in my life so far was the realization that the story I have about myself, specifically myself, is also just a story, and not realizing how bound I was by that story. In this case, for me specifically, it was around … I was losing my company. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and it was instilled in me this idea of being an entrepreneur. And I didn’t realize how I had fused my sense of identity with this label of a way of living, right? Being an entrepreneur is something that you do, it’s not who you are. And yet, here I was thinking this is who I am.

Noah Rasheta:
And years after having built up a big company that was successful, when the company started having problems and it was failing, it was a really painful experience. And I was able to kind of sit with the experience as it was unfolding to really explore, “Why does this hurt so much? This kind of stuff happens all the time. It’s not like I’m losing my life over this. But why does it hurt so much?” And I realized how my sense of identity was totally wrapped up in that label, and the label was getting ready to go away. That was a big aha moment for me that made me … it kind of dominoed into other aspects of my life where I realized I’ve been so attached to these stories of, “This is who I am, or this is who you are, or this is how life is.” And every now and then, something comes along and it kind of crushes that story and it makes you realize it was just a story all along. That was a big aha moment for me.

Kenn Sullivan:
Yeah. I mean, I have story after story after story I could tell about the ahas I’m constantly having. Okay, so I get that big time. I have come to the point in my own life where I realize that I am just projecting into the past and just projecting into the future as if I am potentially right about any of those thoughts. And really, they’re only my observations and they’re only my perspective. And if I try to project those, like walking around like I use to, I liken this to thinking exclusively versus inclusively. I used to walk around thinking that I had this most special way to believe, and that eventually I was going to help those around me come around to my special way of believing.

Kenn Sullivan:
And I’ve migrated to a much more inclusive kind of a mindset where I love just looking into people’s black round pupils in their eyes and saying, “What do you have to teach me? Because you’re the only single person who’s having this observation vantage point.” And what I’ve been discovering is that every single person, especially the ones who are completely different than me, people that I would typically have not wanted to gravitate towards in the past, they become my biggest teachers. And so, I’ve just become so grateful for the whole of it, for all of us.

Kenn Sullivan:
I mean, you’ve got the guy down at the grocery store who’s really nice and everything. But then the longer you talk to him, the more you find out that he’s got all these little other idiosyncrasies that bother you. And you’ve got the girl over at the post office who, she seems real pleasant when you start talking to her, and then as soon as you talk to her a little bit longer, you find out that she’s got all these little idiosyncrasies that you don’t want to talk … And we just find all these differences when we’re identifying with our minds and seeing ourselves as these individuals. I can totally relate with what you’re talking about in my own life. Anything else that you have said would be, “Okay, this would be another life lesson.”

Noah Rasheta:
I think another big life lesson that I’ve had is concerning my emotional states. I feel like we go through life chasing after certain emotional states and chasing away other emotional states. And I thought that was kind of the point of life, right? You’re trying to get more of this and less of that, if this is happiness and that is sadness, for example. And that’s another one of those aspects of life that I’ve come to realize the rollercoaster of life is it’s the whole thing. It’s the ups and the downs, the fast and the slow. The moments where you’re elated, and the moments where you feel like throwing up, right? And it’s all of that.

Noah Rasheta:
And part of the anguish that we experience on the ride is because we don’t want the whole ride. We only want the pleasant parts. And I’ve spent time understanding that for me personally in my own individual experience of being alive, it’s become … there’s much more contentment with the experience of being alive, now that I feel like I’ve put the various emotions and experiences on equal ground. An instance where I may feel happy is just as unique and precious as an instance where I may be feeling sad, because both of them are unique in and of themselves, kind of like what you’re describing with looking at someone in their eyes and recognizing you’re experiencing a vantage point that nobody else is experiencing in life. I feel like I’ve come to see all of my own relationships with my thoughts and feelings and emotions in that same way, where whatever I’m experiencing in that moment is precious because that’s the thing I’m experiencing. So, that’s been a really neat transition to not feel such a strong aversion towards some emotions, and such a strong clinging towards other emotions.

Kenn Sullivan:
Oh my, so much. I used to be ashamed of feeling certain emotions, and I would try to suppress them as fast as I possibly could using any little tactic to just … So, we just end up skipping the now by just acting like our emotion isn’t real. And you’re saying to sit with it. What kind of language do you use? I know the words that I use, but I’d love to hear your language about how you talk about good and bad as it relates to how you used to view good and bad, and what you would call good, if anything, or a greater good, if anything?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. I’ve for the most part eradicated the concept of good and bad out of my mind. I try to view everything in the context of skillful versus unskillful, and especially when it comes to experiences. As I’m having an experience, I realize I can have a skillful reaction or relationship with the experience as it’s unfolding, or it can be a highly unskillful reaction. And that’s kind of the angle that I take, rather than thinking, “Oh, it was bad that I felt this way and that I said this and that I did that,” I just see it more as, “That wasn’t very skillful of me because now I can see that at the time, that feeling felt so wrong to have that feeling that I was pushing it away, and it caused this spiral of reactions.” And I try to view it in that context, skillful versus unskillful.

Kenn Sullivan:
I like that. I like that.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. I’ve extended that to whether these are things that I’m feeling inside, or also the interactions that I’m having with other people, conversations that we’re having, always in that context of, what is the most skillful way to navigate this?

Kenn Sullivan:
Sounds awesome. I like it. I like it a lot. The way I have been saying it to myself, and I like this, I’m actually going to be thinking about this a lot, that I have found that all of the good that I used to call good in the past has given me happiness. And then, all the things that I call bad gave me unhappiness. And like you’re saying, I just have found that life just is what it is anyway, and I can never control what anybody else is going to choose to do around me. And so, by surrendering to the reality that it’s always now and I have to just accept what is, I’ve gotten to this place where I’ve seen all of the things that I used to call good and bad as just all part of this, what I’ve been calling the greater good, that it’s all just there anyway. It just is what it is. And if I just accept the beingness of it, then I can have actual peace of mind.

Kenn Sullivan:
I’ve found that the only place that I’ve been able to actually feel the power of the feeling of love that I can’t put into words because words are just constructs that I can’t talk about this experience of what it means to feel love, the only place I can ever feel it is in the now. And it seems like it’s inclusive of all of it. I mean, I think it was Gilbran’s, The Prophet, that book The Prophet. And he uses this analogy of the wing, the loving swan or whatever kind of bird it was that reaches out with its wings and brings you in and loves you in. And when you get in there, you realize there’s also these sharp points that you have to deal with. And it’s like all the good and bad is all just there and is what it is. And we can either complain and just keep on suffering or we can choose to just accept and find that there is a way past suffering. What would you say that you have learned about suffering, Noah?

Noah Rasheta:
Well, number one that often the greatest source of suffering that I may be experiencing is self inflicted. And that’s usually centered around these stories, right? Like, the moment I want something to be other than how it is, that feeling that I would describe as suffering, that’s what arises. And it’s a tricky one because even if I want to not want things to be how they are, I’m caught in that same trap again. So, it entails not just recognizing this is how things are, but recognizing those moments where I don’t want things to be how they are, and I can except that … You know, it’s almost like that idea of it’s okay sometimes that it’s not okay, right?

Kenn Sullivan:
Right.

Noah Rasheta:
That’s also a form of acceptance.

Kenn Sullivan:
Right. Got to accept it, right? It is what it is.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. And so, what I strive to do in moments like that is just to seek more understanding. Like, why does this matter so much to me? Why am I feeling this? Where does this come from? And being as introspective as I can, and there’s often something pretty revealing to be learned about myself when I’m willing to do that internal exploration, you know?

Kenn Sullivan:
Totally. What would you say you have learned as it pertains to self deception and self honesty?

Noah Rasheta:
That one’s tricky. I read this book that I really enjoyed called Hidden Motives. And it talks about why we do some of the things that we do, and the reality is sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes we do. If you’re willing to be honest to yourself, you may realize, “Oh, this is why I’m being nice to this person because I’m wanting to get something out of it,” or something like that. There’s always some kind of a hidden motive. And sometimes we can identify it, and sometimes we just can’t. We’re just conditioned by our upbringing, our societal views, perhaps religious views, different things that kind of makes us who we are and make us do things and say things and think things. And we may not even know that that’s why we do it. And I feel like it’s been important to recognize that there are instances where I just don’t know. I’m not sure … I may not know, and that’s okay too.

Noah Rasheta:
But the instances that I’m most concerned about are the ones where I am deceiving myself or pretending that this is why I’m doing this, when in reality, I’m not. It’s like, “No, I’m actually doing this …” You know? Like Facebook is a good example of this. You get on there and there’s some conversation happening, and you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to comment on there.” And it’s like, “Yeah, because I want to resolve this debate that’s being had on this thread.” And if you were to really dig deeper, you may discover, “No, I just want others to know that I consider myself to be pretty darn smart on this topic.” You know? It could be something like that, that if you were honest with yourself, you may find that. And that’s been a fascinating thing for me.

Noah Rasheta:
Again, never projecting this out, like, “Oh, that’s why they’re saying this.” I don’t know why they’re doing it. But it’s very interesting when you spend the time and realize, “Oh, that’s why I’m reacting this way. That’s why I want to say this or do that.” So, for me, it’s always about what can I learn about myself in this situation, you know?

Kenn Sullivan:
I like that. What would you say about … How do you view the whole concept of complaining versus gratitude?

Noah Rasheta:
Complaining versus gratitude? I feel like if we were to look at this, for me it seems like it’s a matter of perspective. When my perspective is narrow or shortsighted, it’s easy to complain about something. But the bigger I can make my perspective, like zooming out and seeing a bigger picture, it’s usually more natural to feel a sense of gratitude. For example, you’re standing in a long line and it’s like, “Why do I have to be standing in this line?” But you zoom out a little bit and realize all these intricate pieces of the puzzle that are taking place that are making it this way. And it’s not about me, you know? The line has zero interest in my experience of how long I have to stand in it. Others are standing in the line too.

Noah Rasheta:
And I feel like when I can do that, and I can take a moment and see the bigger picture, gratitude arises naturally. And I have a question that I like to bring up when I’m experiencing these moments. For example, at a red light you’re like, “I’m stuck at the red light.” I like to pause and say, “What did it take for this moment to arise?” And then I just look around. And sometimes I’ll look down … I’ve done this were I’ll look down at the dashboard and all the buttons and all the little intricate things that went into the design of my car. I’m like, “Where did this button come from? I wonder who designed this. I wonder who popped that little button into place. Maybe it was a robot. If it was a robot, was someone controlling it? If it was software, who designed that software?” And suddenly you can take a little moment to ask yourself, “What did it take for this moment to arise?” And suddenly you’re overwhelmed with gratitude.

Noah Rasheta:
I’ve done this with a red light itself. Like, whose idea was that? Because that’s pretty brilliant. If it was only green lights, we’d have all chaos. But because sometimes it’s red and sometimes it’s green, it works best for the traffic on both sides, the guys going left and right and the ones going straight up and down. So yeah, I feel like gratitude arises naturally with a bigger perspective. And with a smaller perspective, it’s hard to feel grateful because all we care about is how this is effecting us and our narrow view.

Kenn Sullivan:
So true. It’s all about the perspective we’re choosing to focus on at that exact moment. So, it just seems like a masterful question to ask because it takes your attention immediately to some other thing, other than the fact that, “This is not a good thing that I’m sitting here waiting in this line or in traffic,” or whatever it is.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah.

Kenn Sullivan:
That’s awesome. I love that. I’ll be asking myself that exact same question. What did it take for this moment to arise? I like it a lot.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah.

Kenn Sullivan:
Okay, so how do you talk about our ego and the benefits versus how we get trapped in our ego? How do you summarize the whole concept for yourself of the ego being either the pilot or the co-pilot or however you talk about that? I’d love to hear your perspective on this.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, I think ego is a tricky one for me. I view the ego very much as it’s the tricky thing that the ego’s the one that’s talking about the ego, right? So, it makes it kind of complicated to explain the ego because there’s me as this body that has blood flowing through it, it has a brain with electrical waves that make it think things. And I’m experiencing all of that. And then there’s the one that’s experiencing it, and then there’s the part of me that observes the experience. And I’m not entirely sure what the ego is, if it’s just an illusion, if it’s a construct, if it’s an illusion of an illusion, how deep does that go?

Noah Rasheta:
And I’ve joked before that I were able to peek behind the curtains to see the ego, what I would see is myself peeking behind the curtain seeing the ego, you know?

Kenn Sullivan:
Right.

Noah Rasheta:
And that’s kind of how I view it. I don’t know. I think the ego would be the one seeing itself, I guess. So, I try to remind myself, I have this natural thing that arises in me because I’m human that we would call the ego. But that’s not me, because I can’t separate that from the other aspects of me. Like, when I’m eating food, for example, and it’s something that I enjoy, is it really me that likes the flavor? Or is it my taste buds and the DNA that made my taste buds the way that they are that like that flavor, right? Like, did I consciously choose to like this flavor? Some people like Brussels spouts, some people don’t, because of a single gene that determines whether they can have the bitter taste, you know? And so, is it really me that likes something when I’m liking it?

Noah Rasheta:
I don’t know. I think those are really deep questions that are fun to entertain and to think about and explore. So, I like to remind myself in those moments that I feel like there is an ego and that I don’t want that ego to be there is that it’s almost like, is it egotistical to not want the ego to be there? Like, who’s the one who doesn’t want the ego to be there? I would assume that’s the ego. So yeah. That’s always an interesting topic to explore.

Kenn Sullivan:
Such a fascinating thing. I’ve seen it as like this amazing thing that I get to play with. But the more self aware that I’ve become, the more I get to observe, like what you’re saying, that I am just getting to play with it. So, it’s like I’m just this being, the real essence of me is connected to everything and everyone. And I have this beingness of all of that, and then I’ve got this … when I take the focus down to just acting like I am an individual, now everything is all about differences. And yeah, it’s a fascinating conversation. We can talk about that part all day.

Kenn Sullivan:
And I wanted to get your thoughts also on one more thing, and then anything else that you feel like would be good to share. I have had all kinds of experiences lately in what I call lovingly leaning into my edges, the edges of my comfort zones. I’ve had so many conversations with myself about my comfort zones because as I’ve sat and observed and tried to just become more okay with surrendering to everything as it is, I’ve discovered that I have all these actual limits that I’ve built up so far in my programming or whatever, however you want to call it. But what I’ve found is that when I push into the edge of my comfort zone, instead of … Like, I used to just imagine a comfort zone being like a circle around me, whether it’s a physical comfort zone or an emotional comfort zone or a mental comfort zone or a social comfort zone or a spiritual comfort zone, I used to get out toward the edge and I would feel the pain out there at that edge. And so, I would typically just retreat and come back and live and seek out some kind of a desire instead, all the while staying inside this circle and living this self sabotagingly smaller life than what I could have lived if I would have found out what was outside that circle.

Kenn Sullivan:
And so, as I’ve been lovingly leaning into these edges of any circle, whether it’s like you were mentioning emotional. I mean, I’ve had so many experiences now just sitting with my emotions, being okay with them, watching them as they change. And the new perspectives that I gain because of that, they seem to just be transforming me at such an alarming rate because I’m willing to actually push into that pain that I used to see as something that, “Oh, that’s not a good thing.” But now I’ve seen how helpful it can be and how much more skillful it has made me when it comes to actually now dealing with those same kinds of emotions, different types of agitating circumstances that I go through. What are your thoughts about comfort zones and how have you approached your won comfort zones, Noah?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I feel like as a society, we kind of tend to have what you would call the dualistic mindset where there’s here and there’s there, right? And the concept of the grass is always greener on the other side is the same concept of, “I’m here and I want to be there.” And then, there’s kind of this Eastern way of thinking that says, “Well, there is no there, because the moment you get there, there’s no there there. It’s always here,” right?

Noah Rasheta:
And that way of thinking has translated a little bit into the discussion of comfort zones for me in the context of, there’s my comfort zone and then there’s somewhere else, this other place. Whether it’s more comfortable or less comfortable, it’s some other zone. And I’m playing that same game, I’m here and I want to be there. And I’ve realized that for me in my own practice, what I’m really trying to do, what seems to be more skillful than going from the zone I’m in to some new zone is to become essentially more comfortable with discomfort. Rather than avoiding discomfort, I’m just trying to become more comfortable with discomfort. And that ends up being much more skillful than trying to eradicate all those rough edges that I don’t like, that bring discomfort.

Noah Rasheta:
There’s an analogy about this with a Tibetan poet who was going around the world gathering up leather trying to put leather down on all the rocky edges and all the sharp parts of the world so that he could walk comfortably because he walked barefoot. And someone pointed out to him that, “Wouldn’t it be better to use that leather and make yourself some protection for your feet, and then you can walk anywhere?” And I always thought that was fascinating because it’s like we are going around life trying to patch up all these rough spots where, “I don’t want that one to hurt me, so I’ll go work on that,” rather than focusing on using those same tools to protect the soles of our feet, then we can work anywhere.

Kenn Sullivan:
Oh my. Yeah.

Noah Rasheta:
So, I like that as a visual when I’m thinking about the context of comfort zones. I’m always wondering what am in doing to make my leather shoes or my feet more prone to talking on more difficult terrain? Rather than avoiding the difficult terrain in the first place.

Kenn Sullivan:
Yeah. So awesome. I love talking to you, Noah. You are one of my favorite people on the entire planet to talk to, no doubt. I mean, I’m serious. You have a way about you that is just beautiful. You are a beautiful human, and I watch and I get to feel the experience of what it feels like to see and experience your positive impact and feel so much power in that. And I just want to thank you and tell you I’m extremely grateful for our connection. Any last thoughts on anything that you want to talk about at all whatsoever?

Noah Rasheta:
I do want to thank you for the time. I know it takes time and effort to put these things together. And it is an honor that you would want to spend time talking with me. I did have a thought I was thinking earlier. Have you ever heard or come across the Daoist parable of the horse? It’s the like who knows what is good and what is bad parable.

Kenn Sullivan:
Will you tell it real quick? You’re reminding me, I’ve heard somebody tell this. And it’s the … He ends up going on … Yeah, I do know the story, but I can’t recite it.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, well I was thinking about this in the context of what you’ve been talking about with presence, and as we were talking in the first part of the conversation, it was kind of the meaning that we’re making about things being good or being bad. And this is a Daoist parable that comes from China that I’ve always liked. And in its saying the essence of the story is that there was a farmer who had a horse. And the horse showed up out of the blue and his neighbor came running over and said, “How fortunate for you, you have a horse.” And he says, “Well, who knows what is good and what is bad?” And goes about his day.

Noah Rasheta:
And the horse runs away. And the neighbor comes running over and he’s like, “Oh no, your horse is gone. This is horrible.” And the old man says, “Well, who knows what is good and what is bad?” Goes about his activities. The horse comes back with four additional horses. Again, the neighbor comes running over thinking this is a great thing. And then, the farmer’s son is working with one of the horses, gets bucked off and breaks his leg, and the neighbor’s like, “Oh no, this is horrible, your only son.” And the next day the Army comes into town and they’re conscripting all the youth. And they can’t take his son because his leg’s broken. And at some point in the story, it just kind of ends with the neighbor running over to say this is good or this is bad, but instead pauses and says, “Yeah, who knows what is good and what is bad?”

Kenn Sullivan:
Right.

Noah Rasheta:
And that’s kind of the version I’ve heard and what it’s become for me is just this constant reminder that life is happening. At any given moment things are happening, and we are the ones who are pausing and making meaning, “Oh, this is a good thing,” or, “Oh, this is a bad thing,” with very limited perspective of how this experience fits as a piece of the puzzle and the big, big picture that we just can’t see. And how, often times I can look back into my own life and see events that I would have emphatically agreed at the time that these were bad events or unpleasant or all these other things, only to find out later have been pivotal moments that have led to this other thing that down the road I’m like, “Wow, I’m glad that happened because had that not happened, this wouldn’t have happened.” You know?

Kenn Sullivan:
Exactly.

Noah Rasheta:
And I think that’s just a really useful story for us to hear, especially here in the West as we go through life playing this game of assigning meaning to everything and some things are good and somethings are bad, and sometimes just taking a break. And like you always talk about, just be in the moment, just be with what’s happening and stop thinking of this as, “This is a good thing or a bad thing that’s happening to me,” and just say, “This is what’s happening. What does it feel like to be going through this? Where do these emotions come from? Why does it feel this way?” And just becoming more aware of the relationship that we have with our experiences as they’re unfolding. I think that’s what I would end this on as an invitation.

Noah Rasheta:
The whole premise of your podcast with presence is that. You are that story and you’re going … Whoever’s listening, right? You’re listening to this and you’re going through something in your life. This just happened or this other thing’s about to happen. We’re all playing that game. And we’re all waiting to see, “Well, is this thing a good thing or a bad thing?” And what if we could just pause for a moment and think, “I’m not going to assign meaning. I’m just going to really experience this as it unfolds and see what happens?”

Kenn Sullivan:
It’s so hard. It’s so, so hard to not assign meaning because we have all this experience that we immediately start pulling from. It’s like there’s this pressure, like, “I have to call it something. I have to call it something.” And when you let go of that need to feel like you have to be right about it and just say, “What does this feel like? What did it take for this moment to arise? What can I gain from this? How can this …” You know? You talked about when we first started talking how you’re in a back brace because you just sprained your back. I’m in a wrist brace, I just wiped out on my mountain bike. I got a concussion and I hurt both my hands.

Kenn Sullivan:
I just recently went through shoulder surgery. I mean, all these things that … how are they actually playing parts? And if I didn’t have those, who would I have not connected with? What experiences wouldn’t I have had? I think it’s a beautiful way to wrap it up, yeah. You’re awesome, Noah. You’re a beautiful … I love you, brother. I love you so much.

Noah Rasheta:
Thank you very much, I appreciate that. Love you too.

Kenn Sullivan:
This was my absolute pleasure.

Noah Rasheta:
Cool. Well, I’m excited for your podcast and I’m excited just for everything that you’re doing. Fun stuff.

Kenn Sullivan:
Thank you. Thank you. We’re just a couple of hermanos trying to do our part, huh?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah.

Kenn Sullivan:
When somebody asks you to define love, or if anybody ever does ask you to define love, what do you say? Because words are so limiting.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, it really is. I don’t know that I’ve been asked that before. But I think if I were, it would be something like, I know what it is, but I can’t explain it. But I can feel it. And I think of it in the context of my family, right? Like, how would I explain that to my kids, what it is to love them? To me, that’s the perfect example of, “Well, I can’t. But one day you might get to know what that feels like. And then you’ll know how I felt, you know? Being your dad.”

Noah Rasheta:
It’s kind of like with time, it’s like we all kind of know what it is. We’ve invented ways to measure it. But at the same time, I’d love to hear someone really explain what it is because I think if we try, most of us realize, “Actually, I don’t know what it is.” All we know how to do is measure it in the context of, sun comes up or sun goes down. Divide that into a form of measurement, into hours or minutes. And I think with love, sometimes it’s similar. We try to define it, but by defining it, we limit it. And it’s so much more than just doing something for someone, saying something nice. It’s so much more than that. It can’t be defined. It’s just … It’s an experience.

Kenn Sullivan:
Yep, experience. You’re awesome, Noah. Thank you so much. This has been just beautiful. Love it. Thank you so much. I’m very grateful that you were willing to sit down and have a conversation with me.

Noah Rasheta:
Awesome. Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.

98 – The Rascal Behind the Curtain

Sometimes when we peek behind the curtain, we discover something that we wish we didn’t know. Imagine what it would be like to peek behind the curtain of the mind only to see yourself peeking behind the curtain of the mind. Discovering that what you have been searching for is who is searching. In this episode, I will discuss the idea of the rascal behind the curtain.

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Transcript:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 98. I am your host, Noah Rashida. And today, I’m talking about the rascal behind the curtain. So, what is the rascal behind the curtain? Some people are curious by nature. Some people want to peek behind the curtain and see what’s going on back there and others don’t. And my whole life I’ve been a very curious this person by nature, and I always like knowing the source of where things come from. I find this sense of curiosity is what leads me to want to research or watch documentaries that you know that peek behind the curtains. We have a lot of those these days. If you’re interested in learning about food, you can watch Forks Over Knives or Food Inc., documentaries that kind of show what’s going on behind the curtain. How does food get to our table? What all does that process entail? Some people don’t want to know that. Some people do.

I had to deal with this same sense of curiosity years ago when I was studying my religious views. I wanted to know who wrote the Bible, or where did the Bible come from? I had always been told, “Well, you’ve got to read this thing over and over and over,” but without any pressure of trying to understand other aspects of, “Well, where did this come from? Who wrote it?” And I started studying Bart Ehrman’s work with New Testament Historicity and that kind of started to change my worldview. I like to do this with anything. The Buddha said this, “Well, who says that?” The Buddha said this. “Where do these writings come from?” I like to peek behind the curtain and that sense of curiosity is natural for me.

And there’s no area where you’re safe from what you might find behind the curtain, right? Like, “Well, where does our oil and gasoline come from? What all does it take for us to consume the oil that we use?” And you peek behind the curtain and you may not like what you’re going to see. You can do this with plastics, our clothing. Where does our clothing come from? I remember watching a documentary about diamonds and the process for diamonds and I was like, “Ah, I don’t think I’ll ever buy a diamond again.” Or SeaWorld, right. And dolphins and watching The Cove and suddenly realizing, “Oh, I don’t know if that’s a place that I want to go to or support anymore,” and it can have this effect. I don’t want to bring this up all in a negative sense where it’s like, “Oh, every time you peek behind the curtains, life gets more doom and gloom.” But that does tend to happen sometimes. We peek behind the curtain. We don’t like what we see.

I bring this up because the process of introspective-awareness, the process of spiritual awakening is essentially the process of peeking behind the curtain. But we’re doing this in an investigative way, looking inward, right? What happens if I peek behind the curtain inside of me, behind the curtain of the mind? And this to me manifests in ways very similar to what I was talking about with external things like, “Well, where does this come from? How do we get this? What does it take for this thing to be what it is?” I’ve done the same journey going inward where I want to know, “Well, why do I feel this way about this, this thing? Why am I sensitive about that? Why does this cause me to feel this way? Where does this strong aversion come from?” Or, “Why am I chasing after this specific thing? Why not that other thing?” And then the big question that I’ve toyed with for years and years and years is, “What am I really after? What do I really want?”

And I think this gets at the heart of a lot of what we’re trying to practice in terms of Buddhism as a spiritual practice. It’s like we’re playing this game of, catch me if you can. We’re playing the game of cat and mouse, right? There’s the enlightened you that’s trying to outfox or outsmart the unenlightened you and it’s like, “I’m trying to figure myself out,” But the plot twist that we come to discover is that I am the one that wants to be behind the curtain while at the same time I’m the one behind the curtain that doesn’t want to be seen. And when one seems to have outdone the other, the other gets the upper hand and the game goes on and on. Just like the game of cat and mouse, right?

If you grew up watching Tom and Jerry, the cartoon of the cat and mouse, or taking this into more modern terms, any show entertainment that we watch that has a superhero and a villain, it’s the same game. The game is if you’re going to have one, the more entertaining and powerful the one is, you’ve got to have the opposite. The whole cartoon of the cat and mouse would be boring if the cat caught the mouse in episode one and that’s the end of that. We enjoy watching Tom and Jerry because sometimes one outdoes the other, and the next time the other one is the one who does the other and the game goes on and on. That’s what makes it an entertaining.

And with our superheroes and villains, it’s the same, right? We always want it to be, “Oh, the good guy wins and that’s it.” But it’s not entertaining to us if that’s just how it is. We need to think that there’s a chance that the bad guy was going to win and that’s what makes it entertaining. And to me, that’s what’s fascinating is this constant back and forth of who gets the upper hand, the enlightened me or the unenlightened me? And this realization that, “I am the cat, but I’m also the mouse.” And I love the way that Alan Watts talks about this. Well, first he has a quote where he says, “There was a young man who said, ‘Though it seems that I know that I know, but what I would like to see is the I that knows me when I know that I know that I know.'”

And it’s a fun mental, it’s a tongue twister almost, but it’s definitely a mental gymnastics twister as well, where you’re like, “What is he talking about? Who is the I that knows me when I know that I know that I know? And he’s alluding to these multiple layers, what I like to think of as peeking behind the curtain. And to me, it’s like imagine the moment of shock that you finally figure out how to peek behind the curtain of the mind and what you see is yourself peeking behind the curtain of the mind. That’s how it is. That’s it. That’s what you would see. You’d see yourself peaking behind the curtain and that’s the I that knows me when I know that I know that I know. And I love the complexity of these ways of thinking about seeing.

Alan Watts again, he calls this the element of irreducible rascality and he says, “To be human, one must recognize and accept a certain element of irreducible rascality, both in oneself and in one’s enemies. It is, therefore, an enormous relief to realize that these abstract ambitions are total nonsense,” it goes on to say, “for when it is understood that trying to have good without evil is as absurd as trying to have white without black. All that energy is released for things that can be done.” So to me, this is kind of that realization that if I’m putting in all this effort to finally peek behind the curtain and if what I see is the me that’s peeking behind the curtain it’s essentially that same release of energy. This wanting good without bad. Wanting things to be one way without being the other. Suddenly, that energy can be used for something else. What would I do if I gave up that game?

So it kind of leaves me with this, well what do we do with this predicament? And I think in the context of this topic, for the podcast episode, it’s wanting to be enlightened and to no longer be confused but the whole point of you can’t have one without the other, right? And enlightenment is the opposite of confusion, but you can’t have one without the other. So if we think of it in terms of certainty, it’s like we want certainty and not uncertainty and what we want to be as this and not to be that. And we’re always playing this game. And I caught myself even today, reading through Facebook and I saw an article that was shared in the Facebook page for the Secular Buddhism podcast. There’s a group that’s about secular Buddhism. It’s actually not specific to the podcast, it’s just a general secular Buddhism group.

It can be the source of a lot of pleasant stuff to read, but it can also be the source of a lot of contentious bickering about little things like anything on Facebook, right? It doesn’t matter what it is, read through the comments and you’ll be like, “What is going on in the world?” And so it is in this group. So there was this discussion about secular Buddhism versus Buddhism, and the article was trying to make a very clear point. It showed the biases of the author as a Buddhist against a secular form of Buddhism. And it was funny as I was reading that thinking, “Well, which one am I feeling naturally I should defend? Secular Buddhism, which is something that I talk about often? I have a podcast that’s called Secular Buddhism, or am I defending Buddhism in general, which I also feel a sense of affinity towards?”

I’ve undertaken the process of becoming a Buddhist minister, not a secular Buddhist minister, just a Buddhist minister. So it’s like, “Well, I feel like I’m both,” and I had this thought where I thought, “Man, I think the secular Buddhist that feels aversion towards the label of being a Buddhist because of all that it might entail, beliefs in this or what you would say is all the superstitious part of that.” It’s like the aversion to that is a total misunderstanding of the whole point. And if you flip it backwards, it’s the same. I think someone who would consider themselves a Buddhist, a classical Buddhist who feels a strong aversion towards being labeled a secular Buddhist is also missing the same point, which is alluding to what Dr. Mark Epstein once said, which I really like where he was asked, “What is the difference between a Buddhist and a non-Buddhist?” And the answer was that the non-Buddhist thinks there’s a difference.

I love that because, at the heart of what any of these messages are trying to get at, any form of Buddhism, any school of Buddhism is that there is no difference. And I find that fascinating f you were to take the argument of which Buddhism is correct? Is it Tibetan Buddhism? Is at Zen Buddhism? Is it Theravada Buddhism? And they’re all kind of trying to be like, “Well we’re the more accurate ones.” It’s like, “Well then all of you have missed the point. There is no accurate one.” It goes back to the analogy that the Buddha gave of the giant elephant and the blind men trying to describe it. And the whole point of that analogy is that no single person at a single vantage point in terms of space and time can see the whole picture. It cannot be done.

So here I am describing my interpretation of my experience with the reality and it comes across in this secular Buddhist lens. But that’s not to say that there’s anything more accurate than the description I’m giving of the tail of the elephant versus the description that someone else is giving of the trunk of the elephant from an entirely different vantage point. Maybe even a different worldview, a theistic one or a nontheistic one, or within Buddhism, a classical one or a whatever? And that I think is important to understand. So I kind of got sidetracked with the concept of the rascal behind the curtain. But what I want to get at is what we learn and what we practice in Buddhism isn’t about ensuring a better future or correcting an uncomfortable past. It really boils down to the discomfort and the uncertainty of the present moment.

And I want to bring this back to something that I regularly bring all of this back to, which is the game of Tetris. Think about the game of Tetris for a moment and think about what is it that would make that game stressful for someone? If someone were playing it and they were stressed about it, the stress would come from not knowing what’s coming next. That’s where the stress comes from, right? And if you’re watching someone play the game and they’re just loving it, what would make that game fun? It would probably be something similar, but it’s thinking that they know what’s about to come next or thinking, “I’ve got this game under control. I’ve got it under wraps,” and that sense of hope. The hope that this game is about to be better because I’m going to get what I need next.

But both of those players are in the exact same circumstances, which if you could slow down time, or if you could pause the game for a moment, you’d realize the game isn’t about the fear or the hope of what shape comes next. It’s about recognizing that right now we’re playing a game and we didn’t choose the game. It’s almost like the game chose us. Right? You wake up and there you are playing the game. That’s what we are. We wake up and here we are alive. “I didn’t will myself into existence but I’m here.” And to me, that’s what the game represents. It’s reality. It’s how things are. “I didn’t choose to look the way that I look. I didn’t choose to have the personality that I have. I can’t help that the rascal in me wants to peek and see what’s behind the curtain of all things. I’m just here. I’m participating in the entire process of being alive.”

And what I’m finding more recent in my life is that I’m getting comfortable with the uncertainty of it all. It’s kind of funny to see the transition of I want to see what’s behind the curtain to exploring why do I want it, to see what’s behind the curtain because that’s also a fascinating thought experiment. So my invitation to you regarding this whole topic and this concept of this specific podcast episode is to try to get to know yourself a bit more in this arena. Why do I care to know what’s behind the curtain? Do I care to know what’s behind the curtain? If the answer’s “Yes,” why? If the answer is, “No,” why? And again, the point, for me, is to have a more skillful relationship with myself as both the cat and the mouse. I want that to be a more skillful relationship, knowing that it’s an ongoing one and one’s going to outfox the other, and then the other one gets the upper hand and then it has the upper hand until the other one gets the upper hand. And that’s the game that goes on and on and on.

And I try to notice, in moments where I feel a certain sense of attachment to one thing, like, “Oh, I’m a this,” or, “I’m or that,” or, “Oh, I don’t want you to think I’m of that. So I better look like I’m a this.” Where does that come from and why do I feel aversion for one over the other? And notice how it changes. It’s fun to do this in terms of time too. I had this thought experiment the other day where I was thinking, “If the me of five years ago,” no, actually it’d be further. “If the me of 10 years ago met the me of today, what would that me think of this me?” And that was just a fun thought process. Where I was like, “Well, that me would probably think a lot of strange things about this me.” And then I thought, “Well, wow, I wonder what the me of now would think of the me of 10 years?” Or, “What the me of 10 years would think of the me now and the way that the me of now thinks of the me of 10 years ago?”

And again, you kind of play with this process in your mind and suddenly there’s this realization again of the complexity of the interdependent nature of all things and the constant changing of all things. And what I find is it seems to give me a little bit less of that strong attachment to how I am now and what I think now and what I believe now or what I don’t believe now. It’s like that’s just how things are. There’s no attachment to it. That’s how it works for me. So again, everything that I share in this, what I’m trying to emphasize is this is an exploration of you getting to know you.

I’m not trying to present any of this in the sense of here’s the goal. You need to discover this or that. That’s not what at all what this is about. I’m trying to share this is how it’s worked for me and I’m finding that this comfort with the discomfort of uncertainty in life is actually a pretty pleasant, the more you get comfortable with it. Like I mentioned in the podcast episode, stepping into groundlessness. I found that considerable amount of peace and contentment in my own life with the uncertainty, just not knowing and thinking, “I get to do this today. Well, that’s great because I don’t know what I get to do tomorrow.”

Someone was asking me today, “Hey, you seem to do a lot of flying,” because if you follow me on social media you would know that that’s pretty much what I do. Like, “What would happen if you got injured and you couldn’t do it?” And then it’s like, “Nothing. I’d just do whatever the next thing is that I can do.” I am, oddly enough, I don’t feel attached in any way to this thing that I pursue so actively in my life, which is flying and teaching people to fly and all that because I can, because if I couldn’t tomorrow I’d be like, “Okay, well, that’s the end of that,” and I’d be doing something else just like, “That’s how I was the day before I learned to fly.” It was something else I was doing. And before the day I learned that something else. And that’s just how it’s been.

So, sharing all these thoughts, that was the topic I wanted to share today, the rascal behind the curtain. You are the rascal and you’re the rascal hiding behind the curtain too, and playing with this concept, hopefully, you can have some entertaining thoughts with yourself as the cat and the mouse. As always, if you want to learn more about these topics and these concepts, you can always check out the books that I’ve published. They’re available on noahrasheda.com, and as always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. Write a review. I’d love to hear your feedback or your thoughts. Give it a rating in iTunes, and if you want to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can always do that visiting secularbuddhism.com and you can click the donate button there. That’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. This is 98. We’re close almost to the milestone of hitting 100 episodes, so thank you for listening. Until next time.

97 – Dependent Origination

To understand dependent origination is to understand that nothing has independent, permanent, or absolute existence. Everything is part of a web of countless interconnections and the web is always changing. Everything arises from complex causes and conditions, and in turn, combines with other things to produce countless effects. If we learn to pause the chain of reactivity at certain key points, the course of existence can be altered and effects prevented by eliminating their causes.

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Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 97. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about dependent origination.

Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use it to learn to be a better whatever you already are. Now, this topic of dependent origination, this is something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while because it is a key teaching, a key Buddhist teaching or a Buddhist principle sometimes referred to as dependent origination, the 12 links of dependent origination, the law of causality. It has a couple of names that it goes by.

But, it can be a little confusing. The first time I studied it, I kind of lost interest in it right away because it goes through these 12 links. To me at least, they didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, and I don’t fully understand the relationship between one link and the other. And then, of course, there’s the, well, which link is first? I think our Western mindset, the moment I hear they are 12 links of dependent origination, my Western mind wants to say, “Well, what are the 12th and in what order?” I’m already thinking of it the wrong way because I’m thinking of it in a linear fashion where there’s number one, then there’s number two, then there’s number three.

I think my first encounter with this teaching was a little confusing, I guess, because it just didn’t … It didn’t make sense to me. I thought, “What’s the point of understanding these 12 links if I can’t make sense of the 12 links?” But, I’ve studied it from various teachers and various approaches, talked about in different articles, in different blogs, in different magazines. I think the more I’ve come to understand it, the more simple it seems. On the surface it may seem complex, but when you really dig into it, it’s actually quite simple.

The first thing I want to do is talk about the 12 links. Because if you were to study this topic from any school of Buddhism, you’re going to encounter this teaching of the 12 links of dependent origination. The 12 links are, number one, ignorance or unawareness. Number two, conditioning. This is typically the conditioning that arises from how things are in our life. The third one is consciousness. This is the awareness or consciousness that arises from the conditioning. Four his name and form, which is essentially our mental and physical formation. Five is the six senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mental faculty, our mind. Number six is contact. It’s the meeting of the sense with what’s being sensed. Number seven is feeling. This is the positive or the negative sensation that arises when that contact is made. Number eight is thirst or the desire to possess or avoid the sensations. This is essentially the wanting what’s pleasant and not wanting the unpleasant. Then, there’s a number nine, which is grasping. This is essentially what arises from that thirst, that craving. I like this. I want more of it, so there’s grasping that arises. Number 10 is existence or becoming. This is kind of everything that arises from that grasping. 11 is birth. And 12 is death and decay.

So on the surface, if you’re like me, as you first hear these, is kind of like, “Okay. There’s some interesting stuff in there, but I’m trying to make sense of it, and it’s hard to make sense of it. How does one relate to the other? What does all this mean?” So I want to talk about this a little bit because the essence of this teaching is that it’s trying to analyze that there’s a pattern that takes place. Think of the 12 links of dependent origination not as 12 links, or 12 steps, or 12 separate things, just think of it as this massive spider web of all that is connected. It’s essentially taking all of this, and analyzing, and concluding that the process that takes place is that we crystallize out of nothing something. Then, we take that and mistake it for reality.

In other words, I smell something, and it’s an unpleasant smell. I don’t like it, so I … Suddenly, I’m caught in this chain reaction of reactivity. All these things start taking place the moment this experience is unfolding. What this teaching is trying to help us understand is that if we could pause at any given moment, if we could pause time, we would notice that none of these things are taking place in a vacuum independent of each other or as absolute things. What’s happening in that moment that I smell something and it’s unpleasant, what’s taking place is a chain of reactivity. And I want to start seeing and perceiving my experiences as part of this giant web of interdependent processes and recognizing that often I will mistake or create this illusion of reality that is not accurate. It’s forming out of all these other things.

So let’s dig into that a little bit more. Because, again, like I said, at first, this may be confusing. You may be listening to this kind of thinking, “What on earth does that have to do with anything? What is he talking about?” So let’s just dive into this from another angle.

Essentially, everything is interconnected. Everything affects everything else. Everything that is is because of other things that are. You can see this in terms of time. What’s happening now is happening because of everything that’s happened before. There’s no separation between what’s happened before and what’s happening now. Everything that will happen next is going to happen because of what’s happening now. So in terms of time, you start to see the interdependent nature of past, present, and future. This at is very, very core, I think, is the teaching of dependent origination.

The teaching is essentially that nothing is absolute. No phenomena exists independent of other phenomenon. This is especially true for the illusion of the sense of self that I’m experiencing. I am because other things are, namely my parents, and then everything else that’s taking place. What am I? How can I be me if everything else that isn’t me isn’t there? That’s what makes me me is that it’s the sense of self is interdependent with everything that is not self.

All beings and all phenomenon are caused to exist by other beings and other phenomenon. They’re dependent on these things. This makes it so that something that exists also causes other things to exist or things that arise and things that cease to be are happening because of other things that arise and other things that cease to be. All this arising, and being, and ceasing occurs in … Think of it in a giant, vast web of interdependence. And there in the middle of all of this complexity there’s me and there’s you.

Unlike a lot of other religious philosophies, in Buddhism, there’s no teaching of a first cause. We don’t have the concept of initial creation where something arises out of nothing. All of this arising and ceasing, if it has a beginning, that’s not discussed. It’s not contemplated. It’s not explained. I’ve mentioned this before. The Buddha never delved into these existential questions. He didn’t answer them. He emphasized the understanding of the nature of things as they are, as they are in this present moment.

That’s where this teaching becomes really powerful because the understanding of this teaching isn’t to figure out the beginning or to understand what will happen in the end, it’s all about seeing the interdependent nature of how things are in this moment. And the way that they are, the way that things are is because they are conditioned by other things. You are conditioned by other people, other phenomenon, right? And other people and other things are conditioned by you.

The Buddha explained it this way. He said, “When this is, that is. This arising, that arising. When this is not, that is not. This ceasing, that ceases.” That’s a pretty simple explanation that on the surface you would think, “Well, duh.” But when you really sit and think about that and realize the nature of interdependence, it can be a really profound experience because suddenly you’re left with this realization that nothing is absolute. This is because that is. And if this is not, it’s because that is not.

I like to take all of the things that I learn and that I try to put into practice through the studies of these teachings and concepts, again, it’s all about me. I cannot emphasize this enough that what I try to accomplish in my practice, it’s a very personal thing. I’m trying to understand me. So this nature or this understanding of dependent origination, when it comes into practical day-to-day terms for me, it’s me sitting with something, a feeling, a thought, an experience, or whatever it is, and trying to understand, why does this feel this way? Why am I thinking this? Why if this is, whatever this is, it’s because of that? What is that?

It can be really powerful because, again, like I said, as we go through life and we’re experiencing emotions, especially strong emotions or especially unpleasant, strong emotions, it’s very easy to get into reactivity and think, “I’m feeling this. I don’t want to feel this,” and boom, I’m reacting. But, rarely do we spend time with that emotion thinking, “Why does this feel this way? Why does this bother me? What does that have to do with me?” That quest for understanding myself has allowed me to be much more skillful in my relationships with others, especially in my family relationships, my relationship with my spouse, and with my siblings, and my parents, and my kids.

This concept of nothing is absolute. The next thing to understand is that nothing is permanent. That’s the other big implication of this teaching of dependent origination. This is related to that Buddhist concept of there’s no self in the sense of a permanent autonomous being that’s separate from everything else. What we think of as our self, our personality, and our ego, it’s just these are temporary constructs that arise because of the sensations, and perceptions, and the mental formations, and all these other things that are taking place. In other words, this is because that is, right? This is what you are. You’re an assembly of things that are taking place that are the basis for the illusion of a permanent you, separate and distinct from everything else or anyone else. When in reality, these forms, and sensations, and et cetera, these were caused to arise and assemble in a certain way because of other phenomena. Again, you cannot have this without having that. Then, as these things arise, they’re perpetually causing other phenomena to arise. That’s how it goes, right? So there we are, entangled in this extremely complex web of things taking place.

So if you start to spend a little bit of time in self-observation, what you’ll start to see is the fluid nature of the self. The self that’s you at home may be different than the self that’s you at school, or at work, or the self that you … Or the self that is hungry is different from the self that is satiated in terms of hunger, or tired, or whatever the context of the you is. Pause and think, “Is the me of right now, the me that’s out hanging out with friends or the me that’s on a road trip and I’ve been sitting here for five hours in the car,” or whatever, right? That you, is that the same you as any other you, the you that hasn’t been sitting in a car for hours, or the you that isn’t sick right now, the you that’s in a good mood versus the you that’s in bad mood, right?

You start to understand that the you that you are today may or will indeed be different than the you of tomorrow, or the you of five years, or the you when your mood slightly changes, or the you when your toothache stops hurting, or when your headache finally quit, or when you just got a raise at work. And now the you that makes more money than the you from yesterday, that’s a different you. There’s no single self to be found anywhere in any of that process. There’s no permanent one where it’s like that’s you.

Then, you can take this across bigger, more obvious things. The you that born where you were, and when you were, and to the ideologies that you were born to, the social conditioning, and that you is different than the you that would have been you had you been born on the other side of the world in a different culture, in a different religion, in a different gender. You’d be a different you, and that’s what this is trying to help us to understand is, well, where do you find a permanent you in any of that? You change. You start to change that, and it changes this. You start to change this, and it changes that because of the understanding of dependent origination.

There’s something I like to share that the Dalai Lama teaches about this concept of dependent origination. He said once we appreciate that fundamental disparity between appearance and reality, we gain a certain insight into the way our emotions work and how we react to events and objects. Underlying the strongest emotional responses we have to situations, we see that there is an assumption that some kind of independently existing reality exists out there. In this way, we develop an insight into the various functions of the mind and the different levels of consciousness within us. We also grow to understand that although certain types of mental or emotional states seem so real, and although objects appear to be so vivid, in reality they’re mere illusions. They do not really exist in the way we think they do.

That’s a lot to chew on, right? Because when you’re feeling something and you’re having the sensation of a strong emotion, it wouldn’t be very skillful for someone to come up and say, “Hey, what you’re feeling, that’s just an illusion. That’s not a real thing.” But, I think about this like in terms of … or taste. I think of my kids, and they inherited their DNA from myself and from my wife, and now they’re this unique combination of DNA. And there they are sitting at the table. One of them is eating asparagus, and she loves it, and the other one is tasting asparagus and he’s like, “This is the nastiest thing in the world. I don’t want to taste this.”

As I observed this and I think, “Well, I really enjoy asparagus.” Is there a permanent self that’s like my son, for example, that you do not like asparagus? You can’t help that. That’s you. No, right? I understand that there’s a lot of complexity going on there. One is that it could change over time. Two, I know there’s an actual genome that accounts for its bitter taste. People who have it … I can’t remember if people who have it tend to like flavors like brussels sprouts or asparagus and people who don’t don’t like it or backwards, right? Maybe you don’t have it and then you do like those flavors. I can’t remember. But, the point is there’s an actual genetic predisposition for liking or being capable of tasting bitter flavor, and that will determine whether or not you like bitter or strong tastes, like asparagus and/or brussels sprouts.

So again, what if he had the slightly different genetic combination? Would he be a different person if he did like this flavor, if he did want to eat the asparagus? Will he be if that evolves over time? It’s like there’s no permanent self. And if that’s true with something as simple as taste and the things that were experiencing when we taste, who’s to say what is the reality of taste that’s taking place? Is it fair to say this? “When you are eating this thing, it tastes good. That is real.” But it’s not real because someone else is eating this thing and it tastes bad. Which of those two realities is more valid? It’s like, well, they’re both valid because there’s no such thing as asparagus is good or asparagus is bad. That’s the illusion. There’s no such thing.

There’s the complex understanding of my taste buds are predisposed to like this flavor; therefore, the sensation of me liking this flavor arises. That’s more accurate. But of course we don’t go around treating life that way, unless we sit there in, I don’t know, meditation or contemplation and we start to understand that’s how all things are. When you say something to me that offends me and I don’t like it, that’s not reality. That’s part of the complex web of dependent origination. I was conditioned to think that this word means this. And when you use that word, I’m conditioned to believe that you are thinking this about me. I’ve been conditioned to believe that people shouldn’t think negatively of me; therefore, I’m experiencing this very strong emotion that feels real, which is I don’t like what you just said to me.

All of that is taking place, but it’s all these complex webs of interdependent processes that stem from my ability to hear, my ability to interpret that what I’m hearing means this, that this thing that I’m hearing that means this is a pleasant thing. I like pleasant thing. Can you see where I’m going with this? As I start to look at this and I think of these links, then it starts to make sense. The six senses are hearing, for example, is meeting with what it is what’s being heard with what’s being said, and that’s causing a feeling, and the feeling is causing and the sensation of I like this feeling. Well, that makes me want to feel more of it. Keep complimenting me or it’s doing the opposite. “Oh, I don’t like what I’m hearing. I want to avoid this sensation.” So now, the mental formations arise that make me want to push this away, and now I don’t like you. I don’t want to be around you.

All of this is just taking place because of, again, very complex webs of interdependent processes. None of it is real. At the same time, things are arising and out of nothing they’re crystallizing into the illusion of reality and I’m thinking that what I’m experiencing is real. It feels real to me, but that doesn’t mean that it’s real.

So then, that begets the question, well, how do we find an end to this? Because again, we’re programmed to want to find the beginning, to want to find an end. Well, the idea here is that when we don’t understand reality properly when there’s ignorance in the mind. If there’s something unpleasant, we don’t want it. If there’s something pleasant, we want it. We want to get rid of it. Instead, when we start to see things through a different lens, through the lens of interdependence, for example, instead of ignorance in the mind, there’s wisdom and there’s awareness. And when we experience a feeling, but we don’t have to compulsively or habitually grasp at it or push it away, if the feeling is pleasant, we just experience it mindfully without clinging to it. If it’s an unpleasant thing, we experience it mindfully without pushing it away or cursing at.

Suddenly, no longer do the feelings condition this sense of desire. There’s just mindfulness. There’s detachment. I’m hesitant to use the word detachment. It’s more like non-attachment, that’s it’s just seeing things as they are, kind of a sense of letting things be.

Then, when we can do that, if there’s no grasping or clinging, there’s no activity that arises behind that of wanting things to be other than how they are, we’re not generating that energy anymore, suddenly we … It’s like we’re just free to be in that complex web of interdependent things that are taking place and we’re not driven or blinded by our ignorance or our unskillful understanding of how things are.

The idea here is that every time we pause and we observe things as they are, when we bring awareness into the picture, it’s like we’re taking a hammer and we’re hitting that chain of conditioning. We’re trying to break it. If we do this long enough and practice this extensively, what happens is the chain gets weaker and weaker until it breaks. Suddenly, here we are experiencing life and we’re free from the conditioned mind of dependent origination.

Now, there are aspects of this. That’s the teaching. There are aspects of this that I think are worth highlighting, which is as long as you are human, you’re going to be doing the human things that we do. I don’t think we should approach this teaching with the thought of, “I need to free myself entirely from this chain so I don’t experience reactivity.” Well, you want to. If somebody kicks a ball and it’s coming at your face, you want to react, right? We’re hardwired to do that. If somebody is going to attack you, you want to be able to react and get away from it, or defend yourself, or do whatever you need to do.

The point, I think, shouldn’t be that I’m trying to never be reactive. The point is I want to be skillful with my reactivity and understand when am I being reactive when I didn’t need to be and when was it good to be reactive and I’m glad I reacted. That’s kind of the difference. Where this gets a really powerful to me is in the dynamic of how we relate to ourselves and to others. If I suddenly have a certain feeling, and it triggers a certain thought, and now I’m in a certain mood, I can pause and I can observe that. I’m not pushing away the mood. I’m saying, “Okay, this is the mood that I’m in,” but I can sit with it and say, “Where did this come from? Oh, it arose out of this. Oh, and this arose out of that. This is because that is,” and you start to have a more skillful relationship with the emotions that you’re feeling, with the thoughts that you’re having, with the …

That’s just with yourself, but then you extend this to other people and it’s the same thing. Somebody says something or does something and you can see it for what it is. You can allow the feeling to arise, but you understand, “Oh, this is why I’m feeling this way. Oh, this might be why they’re saying this. Oh, this might be why they did that.” It allows for a more skillful relationship to take place between you and that other person.

That’s kind of the … To me, that’s the more practical approach that I think makes this such a powerful teaching. The moment I understand that this is because that is, it doesn’t matter what this is. I can sit with it, and observe it, and have a more skillful relationship with this because I see it interdependent with that, whatever that is. That to me is a very skillful and useful practice.

Hopefully you can get something out of this. I know it can at times sound like one of those things where like, “Okay, I don’t get it.” But if you get anything out of this topic, it’s just that when something arises, whether it’s a thought, or a feeling, or an opinion, or an idea, or a belief, or a whatever, these things feel incredibly real to us. The illusion is that that thing that feels so real is real, when reality it’s more appropriate to see it as a link and a complex web or chain of reactivity or of a dependent origination with other things. Now I can say, “Oh, this thing that I feel so strongly about, where does that come from? Oh, because of this other thing. Well, where does that come from? Oh.”

And the goal isn’t to change and say, “Oh, I need to change myself.” That’s not the goal. The goal is I want to understand myself. “This thing that means so much to me, why? Because of that. Oh.” And that’s the goal. So more introspection, more awareness, understanding yourself, and having a more skillful relationship with the experiences that arise as they arise, as they unfold, that’s really the ultimate goal with this.

My invitation to you from with this podcast episode for this week or the coming weeks is to try to notice the interdependent nature of this and that. Whatever this is, find, well, this is because of that. Try to identify what is that. See if you can start to see the interdependent nature and the shift or the change in the relationship that you have with the experience as it unfolds because of your understanding of the interdependent nature of that thing with other things.

That’s all I have to share regarding this podcast episode. Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism, you can always check out my books listed on noahrasheda.com. It’s No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, and The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal, and my original book, Secular Buddhism. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it. Write a review. Give it a rating on iTunes. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com. That’s all I have for you now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for taking the time to listen. Until next time.

96 – What if the Problem is the Problem?

Pema Chodron says: “The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.” What does that mean? How do we give ourselves difficult times? And perhaps more importantly, how could we be giving ourselves difficult times and not even know that we are doing it?

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Transcript:

Welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 96. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about problems.

Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use it to learn to be a better whatever you already are. In this podcast episode I want to talk about problems. And when we refer to problems, first of all I want to recognize that while we all have problems, not all problems are equal. What we jokingly refer to as first world problems may seem to be ridiculous when looked at from the perspective of someone who’s not in a first world situation. Maybe someone in a third world for example. But the emotional suffering experienced during a so called first world problem can be just as real as any other form of mental anguish in any other given set of circumstances.

So I want to be careful as I address the idea of problems because I recognize that there are different types of problems, but I don’t want to make the mistake of categorizing these problems and saying, well, your problem isn’t as real or as valid as this other person’s problem because theirs is worse than yours. I don’t entirely agree with that line of thinking because the truth is all of the emotions and the experiences that we have are real regardless of the circumstances. So I wanted to kind of preface this a little bit with that line of thought.

I’m sure you’ve all seen this or perhaps experienced this idea of first world problems. Someone on the airplane being upset because their seat won’t go back or the Wifi isn’t working or countless first world problems. That’s pretty much all the problems that we experience living in a first world country, are first world problems.

Several years ago I was working with someone. He had to make a quick stop to pick up some tickets for an upcoming football game. I think it was a that he was going to go to. So we stopped at the house, his parents house, to pick up the season tickets that I think the parents had. Anyway, as this all unfolds, he realizes that the parents had given the tickets to one of the other siblings or to an uncle and these tickets that he had been waiting for were no longer available.

And suddenly I saw this other side of this person. It was a full blown, I’m not sure tantrum is the right word, but an absolute anger unlike anything I had seen before. And it was actually startling and kind of scary to see how upset this person was over not having the tickets that he was told he was going to be able to get. He was really upset and like scary upset, like I didn’t know what was going to happen next. He didn’t act out and do anything violent, but he was bright red and he was punching the air and cursing. It was quite the spectacle to behold.

And as I thought about that, it was easy to want to have the initial inclination to dismiss the experience as like seriously, all of this over tickets. But I had to play with that thought a little bit and be like well, wait a second. I don’t know what’s really going on here. Is this really about the tickets? It may seem tempting to dismiss the emotions that people feel when they arise in circumstances that we don’t really agree with or understand, when instead you can take that moment to recognize that the emotion is real and perhaps try to dig deeper into exploring what is the problem.

In this case, like I said, was it really about the tickets? Was it something deeper going on? Maybe a trigger feeling of rejection because a sibling got the tickets or the uncle got the tickets or whatever that was? It kind of emotional trigger that takes place when maybe this person that doesn’t get what they want.

Long story short, there were countless things that could have been deeper underlying emotions that were just coming to the surface with this experience of the tickets. And as I played with that in my mind, I was able to finally conclude at the end of this mentally exploration is I don’t know what just happened. I don’t know what’s going on and it’s not my place to make an assessment. I didn’t have to make an assessment say, well that was valid or that was not valid. What I do know is that felt very real. This person was very clearly upset and you can’t fake those emotions. I don’t know if it really was about the tickets or something deeper.

But this experience I’ve noticed in other occasions throughout my life, whether it’s standing at the DMV waiting to get your license renewed and you’re frustrated with the seeming inadequacies of how that system works or whatever the problem may be. I’ve often pondered this line of thinking from Pema Chodron where she says the most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.

I’ve thought about this when I’m experiencing a problem, whatever the problem is. I tend to ask myself, what if the problem is the problem? And I explore more about the problem usually. Instead of getting caught up in the circumstances that are making me feel upset, I kind of ask myself, why is this such a big deal? And I tried to explore that a little bit deeper.

So I want to explore this idea just for a moment here on the podcast. How do we give ourselves, if the most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves, how are we giving ourselves difficult times? And perhaps more importantly, how could I be given myself difficult times and not know that I’m doing that?

In my own experience? this mental exploration has led me down the road of exploring all of my views, my opinions and especially my beliefs. And I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before, when I was going through the loss of my company and going through the bankruptcy, the attachment that I had to my labels and my stories, specifically the story that I have about myself. And at the time that story and that label was that I am an entrepreneur. And the suffering I was experiencing in that moment of losing my company really didn’t have to do with losing my company. It had to do with losing my sense of identity with this label that I’ve given myself. And that was a very radical eyeopening experience to realize in that moment that the problem wasn’t really the problem. The problem was I didn’t understand why the problem is the problem.

And since then I’ve come to question every story, every label, every belief that I have, whether it’s about myself or about reality in general. As I mentioned in episode number 93 on the topic of groundlessness, I’ve found this incredible space of peace in not knowing and being in the space of uncertainty and allowing my beliefs and my labels and my attachments to just kind of be there. But I’m no longer attached to the attachment. I’m no longer attached to the label and I’m playing the Tetris game now more skillfully where I’m just letting it all unfold and I’ll figure it out when each shape shows up.

So that’s kind of the overall idea. I think our beliefs especially can trap us in these mental prisons of difficult times that we’re giving ourselves. It can happen on superficial levels, but it also happens on really deep levels, like our deeply held views and convictions. And with me I’m suspicious of any ideology that conveniently positions itself as the only solution to a problem that it presented in the first place.

I think you can encounter this in Buddhism where you start to study and learn a little bit about Buddhism and then suddenly you’re presented with this idea of enlightenment and you’re like, oh, oh no, I’m not enlightened. I want to be enlightened. And now the problem has been presented and the ideology around it happens to be the solution. It’s like oh, you want to be enlightened? Well, you’ve got to practice meditation and you’ve got to sit down in this pose and you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to avoid doing that. And suddenly before we know it, there we go on the road to solving a problem that only five minutes ago we didn’t even know was a problem.

I grew up with the same experience in my religious upbringing. It was a similar thing that happened. I was presented with the problem, you are a sinner and you need to be saved. And the specific ideology that was telling me this was also conveniently the only path to solving the problem. In other words, the religion telling me that I needed to be saved also happened to be the only valid path to salvation.

Later in life, as I mentally explored this problem, I found the problem to be the problem. In my case, it felt as though my difficult times where the ones I was giving myself and I couldn’t see that. And it was in the form of my beliefs. It was as though my beliefs were saying to me hey, don’t worry. We’re here to save you. And when I questioned saved me from what, my beliefs said to save you from what we’re going to do to you if you don’t let us save you. And that in itself was the problem. My beliefs were there to save me from my beliefs.

In that moment I understood that while my beliefs were indeed a solution to a problem, more importantly, they were first and foremost the problem itself. And that was a profound shift for me.

And then from there moving on to studying Buddhism, the more I’ve studied Buddhism and spent time studying the specific teachings and the concepts, the more I think these teachings are trying to tell us something deeply profound. And that is that the problem is not the problem. The problem is that we think there was a problem in the first place. In other words, like with enlightenment. Maybe the most profound thing we can realize in life is that there’s nothing to realize.

I want to be clear that when I’m referring to ideologies, I’m not just talking about religious ideologies, but also the cultural ideologies. You can take, for example, the idea of marketing and products in general. Usually the system that’s selling you products to improve your looks is also the system that’s ensured that you’ve been bought into the idea that you don’t look good in the first place. That they perpetuate that. So here you have the problem. The problem is I don’t look good. The solution is XYZ product is going to make you look good. But when you explore this a little bit more, you realize the problem was the problem in the first place. The problem is I don’t look good. There you go. Well there’s the problem. Why do you think you don’t look good? That’s where it all starts. Who sold you on that idea? And you’ll find that the cultural norms and views that sold you on that idea happen to be the same cultural norms and views that are selling you the solution. Buy this makeup or get this hairstyle or drive this kind of car or date this of person or be seen doing this kind of a job or whatever it is.

And the belief presents the problem. So yeah. So that’s one other way to explore this whole concept of what if the problem is the problem? I think the product ends up doing the same thing that the religion was doing, which the product is going to save you from what will happen to you if you don’t buy the product. And that is, in my opinion, faulty thinking.

Again, I’m not talking about the basic difficulties of life like poverty or crime or the very real difficulties that a lot of people in the world experience in their day to day lives. I’m talking about the mental difficulties that we often give ourselves. They usually emerge in the form of either regrets about the past, worries about the future.

But I think when we spend time in the present moment, something else entirely happens when we become fully engaged with the present moment. It’s like the expression of stop and smell the roses. You can stop and smell the roses and something deeply profound happens. You see the interdependence of the roses and of all things. And I think this is something that we can learn to do in our own minds with all of our problems, all of our difficulties.

And it’s fair to say when I stop and I analyze this difficulty, oh yeah, that’s a very real difficulty. And there’s something real I have to do about it. For example, if you can’t make ends meet and you have a family to feed, that’s a real problem and there’s a real skillful way to deal with that problem. And then there are unskillful ways to deal with that. And that’s, again, going back to the skillful versus unskillful, that’s kind of what we’re dealing with here.

But I do think that many of the difficulties that we give ourselves in our specific culture, especially if you’re listening to this podcast, it’s very likely you have a smartphone or some form of access to technology or some of the things that we would start to call first world problems, even if you’re not in a first world country. We can stop and we can analyze our own views, our beliefs, our opinions, the ideas that we have about ourselves, about others, about reality. And perhaps in that moment of exploration, by looking inward, you’ll find some kind of insight into the nature of some of the problems that you’re dealing with in your life right now. And with that introspection and with that insight, perhaps you’ll find a more skillful way of dealing with the problem.

That was the goal of this podcast episode, to explore the concept of problems simply from the perspective of analyzing what if the problem is the problem. So I wanted to share those ideas with you and hopefully you can take something away out of that.

I want to end with this funny meme that I saw I think on Facebook about, it was two cartoon characters and one of them was all concerned saying oh no, I think I may have been cursed. What do I do if I’ve been cursed, what’s the best cure for a curse? And I think it’s a cat that’s sitting on the couch and says something to the effect of the best defense against curses is to not believe in curses and says it with the arrogance of a cat, right? Where it’s like, come on, that’s not even a problem that you should be worried about.

I really enjoyed that and thought that was kind of fun. The best cure against, or the best defense against curses as to not believe in curses and perhaps some of that line of thinking can carry on into other aspects of our lives.

Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism and mindfulness, you can check out my book, No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners. You can pick up the Five Minute Mindfulness Journal to start practicing mindfulness in your day to day life. Both of those, along with my original book, Secular Buddhism, are all available on noahrasheta.com.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. And if you want to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com, click on the donate button.

And that’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.

95 – Levels of Morality

What does it mean to be moral? Is morality just a form of obedience? In this episode, I will talk about the concept of levels of morality and how at a certain level, it’s no longer about obeying the rules, it’s about doing what seems right given the entire set of circumstances.

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Transcript:

Welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism’s podcast. This is episode number 95. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And today I’m talking about levels of morality.

Keep in mind, you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learn to be a better whatever you already are.

Today’s podcast episode is building a bit more on episode number 92, your inner compass. So I wanna jump into this topic. The concept of morality. Now morality is a problematic word for me specifically because if you were to look up the definite of morality, the definition is “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.”

And as you know, from the Buddhist perspective, the concept of right and wrong, you know, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong. The parable of the horse teaches about this concept of what is right and wrong and how difficult or how problematic it can be for us to draw a clear distinction, given the fact that space and time prevent us from seeing the bigger picture and knowing what may have been right at one time or in one set of circumstances may be wrong or bad in another set of circumstances.

So, most cultural views of morality are based honestly more on principles of obedience than they are on principles of what’s right and wrong. Because it becomes problematic to define what is right and what is wrong. Who’s the to say what is right and what is wrong? In the book “Mindfulness in Plain English“, by Bhante Gunaratana. He talks about this concept of levels of morality and I really liked what he has to say about it and I wanna share this concept a little bit in this podcast episode.

So, imagine that here are levels of morality and at the lowest level, we have adherence to rules and regulations that are laid down by someone else. For instance, a parent, a religious leader, a religious ideology or belief system or political leader, something along those lines. So at this level of morality, all you have to do it know what are the rules so that you can follow them, and this level really doesn’t require a whole lot of personal thought or contemplation. You just need the rules and then you need to believe in the authority that’s giving those rules. And at this level, there’s generally some kind of fear associated with breaking the rules and it’s that fear that motivates compliance to the rules. For example, fear of burning in hell in the afterlife, or fear of being imprisoned by the state if you break the rules, things of that nature. So that’s the first level.

The second level of morality also includes the rules just as before, but now you may not have fear as the basis of adherence to the rules. At this stage, the rules have become internalized and you yourself are now the punisher and the enforcer. You’re the one that smacks yourself when you break the rules. So, aside from simply fear, there may now be other feelings. For example, guilt associated with this level of morality. And I think our tendency is to hover, often as these two levels. Maybe starting at the first level and then moving our way into that second level once we’ve internalized the rules that society has imposed on us or that our religious views have imposed on us.

And I see example of this all the time where people want to know like what does Buddhism say about this or that? And that’s essential a search for the question of I need to understand these rules. I’m coming across this system called Buddhism. That’s the authority. I may be reaching this point where I think, “okay, this authority is one that I agree with or that I sympathize with. Now I wanna know what the rules are that are laid out so I can decide if I agree with them or not.” And every rule that we find that we agree with, we’re like, “Yeah, okay.” That gives more authority to the system.

So for example, if I’ve already accepted Buddhism as a valid authority, then I want to know what are the rules that authority is going to give me. And I found myself in this search for awhile too as I was exploring Buddhism early on and trying to decide, well what are the rules, and I’m comparing those rules to my own logic and trying to decide what I think about each rule. So that’s kind of that second level.

Then there’s this third level which is, I think, significantly different than the two previous levels, because at this level or morality, I think perhaps it’s better to refer to it now as ethics, things start to change. So quick side note. Ethics, the definition of ethics is “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” So at this level, a person on longer adheres to a set of rules handed down by some authority. At this stage, a person chooses to follow a path of behavior or conduct hat is dictated by mindfulness, introspection, wisdom and compassion so that this level is not easy because it requires considerable effort to understand ourselves, to understand others, to understand reality as a whole. And it essentially requires us to arrive at this unique understanding of what seems right, given a particular set of circumstances or conditions.

For example, a neighbor during World War II that may know that there are Jews hiding out and then when the Nazis come and knock on the door and say, “Hey, are there any Jews here,” that person knows that it’s wrong to lie but knows that it’s okay to lie in this particular set of circumstances because there’s a bigger picture taking place. That’s just an example that popped in my head, but you can imagine what I’m trying to get at is, this level of ethics takes into consideration much more than just the black and white rules.

So this level of ethics requires us to have greater perspective beyond our own limited view, our own point of view and understanding. So this level requires us to also view to the best of our abilities, the bigger picture. Trying to balance our needs and the needs of others. And it requires us to understand our own relationship to the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion in order to gain a greater understanding of the other side of the story.

This level of ethics is about choosing the most appropriate set of actions that are ideal given the specific set of circumstances we find in. And you can kind of see this level or this concept of morality in that story that example that’s given of the monk that carries the girl across the river.

If you’ll recall that story, the monk had take a set of vows or rules that he was adhering to that he shouldn’t break, which was to never touch a member of the opposite sex. He and the junior monk come across this girl at the bank of the river trying to cross this river, he decides in that moment that the skillful thing to do is to carry the girl to the other side of the river and that’s the end of that for him. But the other monk, the junior monk I would say was at this lower level of morality where there’s a set of rules. He adheres to the authority that gave the set of rules, which was in this case was some other monk or the system itself that had prescribed these rules to not touch a member of the opposite sex.

And he was really concerned with the fact that the senior monk had picked up this girl as if it was no big deal. So what you can see taking place or at least from my perspective, it seems like what’s taking place is you have two people on two different levels of morality and the senior monk who was more at this third level had no problem with what had to take place there at the river while the younger one that was maybe at the second level of morality did struggle with what he had just witnessed and continued to carry until the senior monk gives that powerful lesson in the story where he says, “I put the girl down on the other side of the river. Why do you continue to carry her?”

So that to me embodies this concept of this levels of morality. And for me personally, trying to live a moral life is about being skillful with the relationship that I have with my own thoughts and my words and my deeds. Specifically, as I try to understand myself and try to understand my tendencies, my desires, my aversions, why do I desire somethings and why do I have aversions towards other things. And I’m working with the areas of ignorance in my life and the things that I know that I don’t know and I don’t know that I don’t know. All of these processes of trying to become more introspective help me to understand my sources of anger and hatred or frustration. And the way to practice this form of ethical living is to continually strive to see the bigger picture. To see other angles. To see understand the other side of the story. To understand others. And it requires a form of non-attachment to my own viewpoints and my own beliefs and my own opinions.

In other words, when I can separate my own ideas and opinions and beliefs from this sense of self that I have, I can become more skillful with dealing with difficult situations that require ethical choices or that you could say require morality.

I bring all of this up because it’s been brought up to me before this concept or this idea that if you don’t have a rigid set of rules prescribed by a religion or motivated by a belief in a superior being or a god for example, how could you possibly be a good person. And I think a lot of believers out there have this mindset. In other words, it’s almost like saying if you don’t believe in an authority like God that gives us rules like commandments, isn’t there a risk of no longer wanting to be a good person or doing good things? It’s almost implied like, couldn’t you just, at random, suddenly wanna go robbing banks and killing people or, that’s kind of the line of thought that’s implied.

And I like to usually flip the script and kind of say, well wait a second. Do you really believe that he only thing preventing you from going out and robbing banks and killing people or kicking cats and pinching babies is that because you believe in God and you believe in a set of rules that are handed down from that authority that say don’t do this, and do this, and don’t do that? Is that the only thing keeping you from robbing banks and murdering people?

If so, that’s pretty scary. And I suspect for most people they would agree that the answer is no. That’s not the only reason. So the invitation is, well then why do you think that is? Where does your sense of right and wrong really come from? Where does your sense of morality really come from? And I think that’s a fascinating question to explore. When I was deconstructing my belief system and my faith, this was a situation that I was suddenly faced with. Why are there certain things that feel right and fee wrong? And why do some of the things that felt right because of this specific rule or the belief in this specific authority continue to feel right? Or things that feel wrong continue to feel wrong?

This has been entirely about me trying to understand me. I was trying to ask what does morality mean to me and that’s the invitation with the exploration of this topic and this podcast episode with you. What does morality mean to you? What are your personal ethics? In other words, what principles drive your thoughts and you words and your actions. Do you simply strive to be obedient to the rules or is there something deeper going on? The quest in terms of mindfulness as a practice is to get to know yourself. And that’s my challenge to you, my challenge to myself, and my challenge to you, to spend some time pondering this topic and asking yourself these questions.

I feel like at the end of the day, perhaps morality is simply doing what seems right regardless of what we’re told and obedience is doing what we’re told regardless of whether or not it is right. And there’s a quote similar to that that’s attributed to H.L. Menk and I think I’ve quoted it before, but after doing a little bit more research, there’s no record of him ever having said that, although the sentiment is consistent with his line of thinking. So again, like all of these quotes, quotes can be problematic because we just share quotes and they don’t mean anything. So I wanted to personalize this one and state that as my way of thinking, I want to know which is more important. To try to be moral and what does that mean to be moral. Or to be obedient, and what does that mean to just be obedient, and why? Which of those are more important?

So in terms of this concept of levels of morality, I think it’s kind of cool to explore what level do I feel that I’m at. Or are there fears that motivate my behavior and my thoughts and my actions? Is there the chasing after some kind of reward that motivates my behavior and my thoughts and my actions? Or perhaps there’s something deeper, it just feels right. And if so, why have I internalized them? What would you do, what rules would you follow if you didn’t believe there were any rules to follow?

I think that’s a really powerful introspective question to know about yourself, to ask yourself. So that’s the topic I wanted to explore in terms of levels of morality. I think from the Buddhist perspective, what we’re always trying to explore is this understanding that life is dynamic. Everything is changing and in a world that’s constantly changing, we’ve approached this before. It’s difficult to pin something and say, “Ah, this is good” or “This is bad.” And you maybe listening thinking, “Well yeah, but what about egregious things like child abuse or things like that?” There are no conditions where that’s good. And yes, I agree with you. I don’t think that the implication of a constantly changing world means that sometimes something will be good, though it seems really bad. That’s not what we’re trying to get at.

What we’re trying to get at is this understand that the source of what we consider to be good or bad is something internal. It’s not this external thing.

So that’s the perspective I would invite you to explore and to internalize this way of thinking by asking these questions of yourself. Where do my views of morality come from? What do I view as something good and something ad? And under what circumstances would something that seemed good maybe seem bad or vice versa. Because again, in that mental exploration, and there’s a lot you can learn about yourself, and that’s ultimately the invitation here. What greater thing would you want to know than to know yourself? I think that’s one of the most powerful realms of the universe that you can explore is you, your mind, your actions, and your thoughts and your deeds.

So that’s my invitation to you. And as always, if you want to learn more about Buddhism, you could always go back to the first five episodes of the podcast or you can check out some of my books. “No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners”, “Secular Buddhism” and the “Five Minute Mindfulness Journal”, all of which are on Noah Racheta.com. And if you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. And if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can always visit secularbuddhism.com and click the “Donate” button.

And that’s all I have for now, but as always, thank you for listening. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. And until next time.

94 – The Five Hindrances

The Buddha taught that there are five hindrances or obstacles to realizing enlightenment. These obstacles are commonly referred to in Buddhist teachings as “The Five Hindrances” of desire, aversion, disinterest, agitation, and indecision. These mental states are considered to be obstacles because they keep us from being mindful.

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Transcript:

Noah Rasheta:
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast, this is episode 94. I am your host Noah Rasheta. Today I’m talking about the five hindrances.

Noah Rasheta:
Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learn to be a better whatever you already are. A quick note I wanted to talk about before jumping into this weeks podcast episode. In the past I had been working with other partners to try to develop content or curriculum that ties in the concepts of mindfulness with another specific topic. What I have in mind at some point is to have a series of workshops, a general mindfulness 101 workshop, which I’m working on now, and when it’s available it’ll be out there available for free to anyone. Then a series of more specialized workshops, mindful parenting, mindfulness with relationships, mindful eating.

Noah Rasheta:
One of those projects that I’ve been working on is now complete, the mindful eating workshop that I did with my friend Page Smathers. We’ve done a couple workshops now in the past couple of years that have been very successful, but we finally took that format and made it an online version. If you go to secularbuddhism.com/workshops you’re going to be able to signup and then take these various online workshops. Like I said, I’m working on several of them but the mindful eating one is now available. That one is done in partnership with Paige. It’s hosted through her platform and her website. I have a discount code for podcast listeners who may be interested in listening or attending that online workshop. The code is secularbuddhism all one word, so if you enter that and you want to take that course online make sure you use the discount so you can save a little. That’s available now and you can stay tuned for future workshops that will be coming out also hosted on secularbuddhism.com/workshops.

Noah Rasheta:
Now let’s jump into the topic for this week. It’s believed that the Buddha taught that there were five hindrances or obstacles to realizing enlightenment, and these obstacles are commonly referred to in Buddhist teachings as the five hindrances. That’s what I want to talk about today. The five hindrances are desire, aversion, disinterest, agitation, and indecision. These are mental states and they’re considered to be obstacles because they keep us from being mindful. In a way it’s like they blind us by keeping us totally focused on them and prevent us from seeing things through a more skillful lens. Anger or aversion, for example, can often blind us from seeing the bigger picture and from understanding what’s really going on in a situation. I’ll go through each one of these one at a time.

Noah Rasheta:
First I want to emphasize that the key is to understand that you can’t just wish these things away. Instead you spend time understanding them, learning to work with them, practicing with them, and rather than trying to push these things away, we just allow them to naturally come and go without encouraging them to stay. We don’t want to repress or condemn these mental states when we experience them. It kind of reminds me of that old Cherokee teaching that I’m sure many of you have heard about, the old Cherokee teaching a young boy a lesson by saying there’s a fight going on inside of me and it’s like there are these two wolves, one is anger, envy, greed, superiority, ego, and the other is peace, joy, kindness, compassion. The boy asks, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee replies, “The one you feed.”

Noah Rasheta:
So this concept of the one you feed, but rather than seeing this as two wolves, the one good wolf and one bad wolf, imagine you have all these wolves inside of you, a whole pack, and these mental states referred to as the five hindrances are like those wolves. Instead of being two there’s just a lot of them. Similarly, the one that you feed and care for the most, that you tend to the most, that’s the one that ends up being the strongest. Keep that in mind as you listen to these five hindrances. Then take into account the irony in all of this. The irony is that these are mental states that you create for yourself, but until you can perceive that these are mental states that are going to be problematic.

Noah Rasheta:
In order to work with or practice with these five hindrances, you need to recognize when they arise. You acknowledge that you’re experiencing this mental state and then you can understand that you and you alone are the one that makes this feel so real. These states arise at any given moment. I’m here having a wonderful discussion with someone and suddenly I desire to be somewhere else or doing something else. I may be doing the dishes and I want to be somewhere else, or I’m doing something pleasant, something that I enjoy and desire kicks in and I don’t want this moment to end. It can be watching a show and suddenly I’m bored or disinterested, and I’m watching a show while browsing my phone and checking what’s on Facebook. Or I may be watching a channel and I want to change it and watch another channel. These are all moments where we can practice with these mental states, these hindrances.

Noah Rasheta:
Let’s go through each one of them one at a time. Let’s start with desire. Desire, often referred to as greed, this is the desire to satisfy the senses. When it arises we can observe it, we can try to understand it. We don’t need to feel bad for experiencing it and we don’t need to fight it. In fact that often can make it take a more aggressive form. What we do is we observe it, we watch how it makes us feel, how it makes us interact with ourselves and with others, and we notice how it keeps us in this state of perpetual un-satisfaction. We’re always wanting more, suffering from never having enough.

Noah Rasheta:
Desire, again it’s not that it’s a bad thing, this is not about good states versus bad mental states, it’s just recognizing that when we’re operating from the standpoint of desiring things and never having enough, it’s an unskillful way to run your life. How do we practice with this? Well when desire arises just try to observe it. We either desire after something, a sensory experience or it may be that we’re already experiencing something and we desire to prolong that experience and we don’t want that feeling to go away so we just practice noticing it. Observe and watch and then return to whatever you were doing before.

Noah Rasheta:
Now often these things are practiced in the context of meditation, so lets say I’m sitting here meditating and the desire arises. It may be the desire to not be sitting here meditating so I can just observe it and notice it and then I go back to what I was doing before, which was just observing my breath. It can also take place where desire is the obstacle in meditation because I’m wanting to experience some mental state. I’m sitting here meditating, wanting to experience bliss, for example, and that becomes the obstacle because the point isn’t to experience something, the point is to be aware of what arises, whatever arises. Desire can be an obstacle if I meditate with the intent of achieving some kind of state.

Noah Rasheta:
This is kind of the big catch 22 I think in Buddhism in general and I referred to this before. It’s like the very reason you can’t attain enlightenment is because you want to attain it, that’s this hindrance of desire. The reason I can’t be at peace in my life because I want to be at peace in my life, or I struggle with being patient because I want to be patient. It’s the very wanting to be patient is the definition of not being patient. Keep that in mind when you’re thinking about this concept of desire.

Noah Rasheta:
What I like to do, I just like to analyze the process when it unfolds, especially when I have time if I’m not in a hurry like, for example, when I’m meditating and I’m sitting there in this mental state of desire arises and I just looked at it. What is it that I desire? Why do I desire it? Then I try to visualize well what happens if I attain it? I’ll think about whether or not it’s going to end there. If I get the thing that I desire then what? What will I desire next? Does that process ever end and I just try to look at it as a chain. If this then that, and if that then what? Then I go back to the object of my original focus, which if I’m meditating it’s often just focusing on my breathing. It can be a fascinating process to unpack.

Noah Rasheta:
Again it doesn’t have to be just during meditation, it can be anything that you’re experiencing. The moment desire arises just look at it. Why do I want that? Here I am with a good job. Well now I want a promotion. Okay why? Again, not because it’s bad to desire but it’s skillful to understand the source of desire. Where is it coming from? What do you think happens once you get it? Then what? Then what? Then what? You’re always unpacking, digging deeper to understand this more. That’s the first hindrance desire.

Noah Rasheta:
Let’s talk about the second hindrance, which is aversion, sometimes also referred to as anger. Aversion is what arises when the experience we’re having is unpleasant. Become something that we want to eliminate or push away and the underlying experience may be something like pain or fear or depression or guilt or anxiety, and what arises with that experience is the aversion to how we feel or to what we’re experiencing. We find ourselves in a position of resisting and pushing away. The practice here, again like the first one, is to simply observe. Watch the arising of the aversion and notice what may be the underlying experience that gave rise to the aversion in the first place. Observe this and let the process unfold, watch it arise and eventually fade, and then return to what you were doing before.

Noah Rasheta:
Now I experience aversion, as I’m sure many of you do, all the time. I may be experiencing it when I’m washing the dishes. I mentioned this before. That’s a time that I try to practice mindfulness. As soon as I start doing the dishes the aversion arises and I don’t want to be there doing the dishes. Rather than practicing oh I’m going to do this until I finally want to do the dishes, no every time that I do the dishes I don’t want to be doing the dishes and I notice that aversion. Where does it come from? I try to understand it. Where did this aversion start? What is it that I’m really trying to push away? Is it the sensation of my hands being wet? Is it the soap on my hands? Is it that I’m standing here and not standing there? Is it that I’m doing this and I’m not doing that?

Noah Rasheta:
The more time I spend unpacking and understanding my aversion to doing the dishes, the more I get to know myself, that’s it. At the end of the day I’m still there doing the dishes. You can do this again with whatever you’re experiencing. As soon as the experience of aversion arises, the mental state of aversion, notice it and observe it.

Noah Rasheta:
That’s the second one, let’s talk about the third one, disinterest, sometimes referred to as apathy. In some schools of Buddhism this is talked about as boredom or laziness. I’m cautious to use those words because what we’re referring to here is a mental state, not the physical state. While laziness or drowsiness may have more to do with your physical experiences, this hindrance we’re talking about is referring to what takes place in the mind when we experience apathy or disinterest. It’s important to note that disinterest is kind of like the minds way of dealing with something that you don’t want to deal with. Similar to aversion the mind doesn’t want to deal with some things, so it just seems to turn off and become disinterested, it becomes apathetic, it’s kind of like with boredom.

Noah Rasheta:
I see this a lot, for example, in relationships. Rather than dealing with the discomfort of addressing a certain issue, it may seem easier to just become apathetic or disinterested and not even have to go there about certain topics or certain issues. This is a tough hindrance to deal with, but it’s dealt with in the same way that we deal with the others, through mindfulness, through noticing, and through observing. Noticing it when it arises, paying attention to it, not fighting it or resisting it, but just noticing. The key here is to notice it right away because when we become bored or disinterested in something we move on, we distract ourselves, we don’t even realize that we’re not interested in that thing because obviously we’re not thinking about the thing.

Noah Rasheta:
You want to catch this early on when a specific topic or an experience arises and disinterest kicks in. You can mindfully ask yourself, “Why am I so disinterested in this right now?” Then you pay attention to that and you notice what arises, what feelings you have associated to it, and you pay attention. Again disinterest manifests as a hindrance to achieving a state of mindfulness because you can’t be aware of something you’re not paying attention to.

Noah Rasheta:
The fourth one is agitation, and again this is a mental state. It’s the mind that seems to not be able to settle down. We may be replaying a memory over and over and over from the past, or it may be replaying some concern we have about the future and again we run it in our heads over and over and over. It’s like our minds just jump around constantly and don’t want to settle anywhere. The practice is to mindfully observe the experience, notice how much agitation is present, notice the desire to push it away and watch it long enough and you’ll see that sometimes it can fade away and you can return to what you were doing before. Again if you were sitting in meditation when this happens you can just simply return to noticing your breath.

Noah Rasheta:
Agitation, I think, manifests in our day to day living. If I’m trying to be more mindful in my day to day living and this mental state of agitation arises it becomes very difficult to be in the present moment or to notice anything meaningful in the present moment because I’m not in the present moment, I’m in the past and I’m in the future and my mind is jumping around. When this arises in me I try to notice it and I say, “How interesting, my mind seems very agitated. Could there be some underlying issue here? Is this a form of distraction from a deeper emotion, and the mind wants to stay agitated to not have to deal with that thing?” Again it’s all through observation and mindful non-judgmental observation of the experience that you’re having and that’s how you practice with this.

Noah Rasheta:
Again with all these mental states I can’t express enough that we’re not trying to change these states or trying to push them away or prevent them from arising, we’re practicing with them. When they do arise you just notice it. Wow I’m feeling really agitated, or my mind is really agitated, or wow my mind is really disinterested, or oh this desire is really strong, or oh my aversion feels really strong. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Noah Rasheta:
Then the fifth one, indecision. I think this is kind of a fascinating one. This is a form of apprehension. Could even be talked about as a form of confusion. Again it’s another mental state that is somewhat like a mental trick. I don’t know what I want to do so I’m just going to stop here and I’m not going to make a decision about it. In the Pāli Canon it gives an example of this where someone is out walking in the desert on a path and they come to a fork in the road, and then they’re gripped by this indecision. Should I go this way or should I go that way? Because of the indecision they don’t progress forward, they just stay there at the fork in the road and never move.

Noah Rasheta:
I think we do this a lot in our lives. I think we experience this with practices like meditation where we’re trying to become better at meditating so we sit there, and as we sit there it’s like we have this mental conversation that’s going on. Hmm, is this really helping me? Why am I sitting here? Am I getting better at this? Shouldn’t I be somewhere else doing something more productive than just sitting here meditating? No, I said I was going to do this so I’m going to force myself to sit here on this cushion. Well what if I’m just being stubborn? I don’t know if you guys have had this conversation in your mind, but the indecision prevents us from actually benefiting from the practice of just sitting there and meditating.

Noah Rasheta:
It also prevents us from just getting up and going and doing something else and being productive at that. That’s kind of what happens with indecision, and to practice with indecision, again we simply become aware when it arises. We notice it, we observe, and we try to not stay stuck in it. You can backup, backup and observe. Okay here’s the fork in the road, here are the decision. Notice how strong the impulse of indecision makes us want to not do anything and how easy it is to want to remain there without having to make a choice, without having to pick which road we go at the fork in the road. If this takes place while meditating, just go back to observing the breath, observing the physical sensations of sitting there.

Noah Rasheta:
Indecision to me seems to be a common one at the start of wanting to do something, whether it’s deciding to take up a meditative practice or it could be deciding to go to the gym or to eat healthier. We get stuck at this fork in the road and then we just sit there with the indecision and we never move forward. Everybody’s experienced that feeling of I want to start going to the gym. I’ve done this and it’s like okay, when should I go? Oh should I go in the mornings or in the evenings? Every little fork in the road it becomes easier to sit with the indecision, and years go by and I never adopted that practice because I just remained with the indecision. That can take place with our goal of trying to live more mindfully, and yet we never do anything about it because we can’t decide the best way to go about doing it.

Noah Rasheta:
These mental states are happening all the time in all the things we do, even the good or noble things like ooh meditation, right? We pick up this practice and then we experience something, something we like perhaps. Now every time we meditate we have the desire to feel that thing that we felt that one time that we meditated and there desire becomes the hindrance that prevents us from being mindful of whatever it is we’re experiencing in the moment because we’re blinded by comparing what we’re experiencing to what we desire to experience or that we may have experienced one time when we meditated. I think we do this in all things.

Noah Rasheta:
These hindrances ultimately blind us from being mindful of the present moment, that’s what they do. Like all mental states these come and they go. They arise and they fade away. As you continue to practice being more mindful you’ll perhaps notice these states more, and the trick is to not become attached to them, just see the mental state as it is, watch it arise, watch it eventually get replaced by another mental state. Concentrating I think is one of the skills that we develop to not allow these obstacles to prevent us from being more mindful. Concentrating on the skill of observing these mental states will allow us to develop a more skillful relationship with the mental state when we’re experiencing it.

Noah Rasheta:
This is something I would invite you to give it a try this week, see how it goes. When you notice instances of desire, aversion, disinterest or apathy, boredom, agitation, indecision, and ask yourself are there areas of my life where I’m experiencing these things? Are these acting as obstacles for me in this facet of my life or in this relationship or in whatever, in any aspect of your life? If they are sit with it for a moment and notice what may be the underlying cause of experiencing this mental state. Again, not with the intent of okay then I’m going to change it, but with the intent of okay, I really want to understand this, this is what I’m experiencing and I want to understand why I’m experiencing it. If you can’t get to the why, at least understand how is this affecting me in my life? My life is like this because of this thing I’m experiencing. How is that affecting me, how is that affecting others around me?

Noah Rasheta:
Just again, from the perspective of I’m just observing. Imagine that you sat down with a little notepad and you’re just observing and taking notes. What does this look like? What does this feel like? What is this causing? Where is this coming from? Where will this go? You’re just noticing, as with all things that we practice with mindfulness, you’re trying to understand you and yourself. I think that’s one of the greatest mysteries out there. Of all the unknowable things that there are in the universe, how incredible is it that perhaps one of the most mysterious is understanding our own selves, the motives behind why we do what we do, and say what we say, and think what we think, and believe what we believe. Inside of you is a fantastic mystery that you can become a little bit better and understand yourself a little bit better, and that’s where this whole premise of becoming a better whatever you already are kind of kicks in.

Noah Rasheta:
Spend time looking inward and practicing and noticing these hindrances to these things manifest in a way that they may be hindering or, as on obstacle to experiencing something that you didn’t know you could experience, or to see in something that you didn’t know you could see. Again internalizing all of this, making this about you, your quest and your journey to have internal or inner peace and understanding yourself better. I like to always take it back to that, we’re trying to turn inward. We’re not turning outward on these things.

Noah Rasheta:
Those are the five hindrances and that’s how you would typically practice with those hindrances. Again, as always, if you want to learn more about Buddhism and mindfulness you can always check out No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, one of my books Secular Buddhism, or the Five Minute Mindfulness Journal. The information on those is available on NoahRasheta.com, and if you enjoyed this podcast episode please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. If you’d like to make a donation to support I’m doing with the podcast you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click the donate button. That’s all I have for now but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.