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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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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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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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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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.

93 – Stepping Into Groundlessness

Buddhist teachings and concepts often challenge us to think differently about life. They challenge us to question the stories we’ve come to believe about ourselves and about reality but perhaps none more than the idea of stepping into groundlessness.

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Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 93. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today I’m talking about stepping into groundlessness. Keep in mind that you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learned to be a better whatever you already are. Buddhist teachings and concepts often challenge us to think differently about life. They challenge us to question the stories that we’ve come to believe about ourselves, and about reality. And, the concept of stepping into groundlessness certainly does this for me.

Imagine standing at the end of a precipice. If you’re like me, I’m not even afraid of heights. I practice para-motoring and paragliding, so I spend a lot of time in the air. But, if you put me on the edge of a cliff, I feel a sense of insecurity and fear standing there at the end of a cliff looking down, you know? I feel this strong desire to be holding tight to something, like a, I don’t know, something firm. Like a handrail, or a tree, or whatever I can there. If my kids are there with me, it’s even more scary. I don’t want to let anyone else close to that edge.

You know that feeling of fear standing at the edge of a cliff, I think it’s very similar when we’re facing the uncertainty of life. On this podcast episode I want to echo some of the sentiments that are expressed in episode 78, No Hope, No Fear. And, in episode 88, Radical Okayness. I want to address this concept of groundlessness, this teaching of groundlessness that I first encountered reading some of Pema Chodron’s work. I grew up with this analogy of the dangers of building a house on sand, you know? The wisdom of building a house on rock, which I think is sound wisdom. But, what happens when we realize that we live on a planet made entirely of sand, and everything is shifting and changing all the time? Suddenly there’s this realization that the idea of a firm foundation is itself an illusion.

This is something I experienced in my life many years ago, and a friend of mine experienced this recently. Fear is a universal experience. I think it’s a natural reaction to seeing reality clearly. A reality where things are impermanent, and we begin to understand that we have no control over what happens next. These are the moments where it seems the rug has been pulled out from under us, and what seemed like a solid foundation suddenly gives way to this very real sense of groundlessness.

Some good friends of ours, like I just mentioned, had a recent experience with their son who was in the backyard, and he fell 15 feet and fractured his skull. It was a big deal. He was rushed to the ER. Fortunately he’s doing well and he’s recovering, but this was a very near catastrophic end. His mom, very understandably was upset and shaken. We were talking about this, and it was interesting how this experience caused her to question many things. Things that were taking place in their life. They had just purchased a home, were they doing the right thing having purchased that home? Questions of that nature.

It’s like the rug of comfort and security had been pulled right out from under her, and suddenly you’re experiencing this feeling of free fall with nothing to hold onto. I think it’s these moments of insecurity where we start to see how unsolid our foundations really are. This is the very start of stepping into groundlessness. Thich Nhat Hanh, the zen Monk says, “It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer. It’s wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” Here’s the thing, we all experience this at one point or another. We all have, or we are now, or we will at some point. These close calls, or it could be the actual loss of a loved one. These unexpected Tetris pieces that show up, and they seem to just smash up, and rip holes into the stories that we have, that we were enjoying so much about life. The stories we have about ourselves and others, and about life in general, and it’s happening all the time.

I don’t think that this concept of groundlessness, this teaching isn’t mean to make us feel pessimistic, or negative, or fearful. But, it is an invitation to be able to learn to step into groundlessness now, before life inevitably pushes us near the edge of that cliff, where suddenly we find ourselves in free fall, and often we lose it. We panic, and we do really unskillful things when we’re pushed into those moments.

In Pema Chodron’s book, “The Places That Scare You”, she says, “We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But, the truth is, that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s also what makes us afraid.” I really like that quote. It’s the not knowing is part of the adventure, and recognizing it’s also what makes us afraid.

I feel like moments where we feel fear, and insecurity, and uncertainty. These are moments that can highlight just how fragile life really is. They highlight our priorities, and the things that matter most to us. I remember experiencing this in my own life, the first time I had that rug pulled out from under me. I felt that feeling of falling, and I was spiraling in my thoughts, and the fear, and the uncertainty felt unbearable. Everything that seemed to be so solid and stable was gone in my life. I remember encountering this concept of groundlessness, and I remember recognizing the strong aversion I had towards the fear, and the uncertainty that I was feeling at that time in my life.

I remember thinking, “I can’t possibly be facing the fact that the nature of reality is insecurity and unknowing. No, no, no, not me. I have to know, I have to have this firm foundation under my feet again.” I was determined to regain my footing on solid ground. This is around that time in my life that I started reading, and exploring, and I first encountered Buddhism. It seemed to me at the time like all these ideologies, and religions out there had the answers for me. That wasn’t the problem, there were plenty of answers. I just had to find the one that made the most sense to me, that could fit into the story or the narrative that I had come to believe about the nature of reality.

I searched and I searched, and I felt like the more I was exploring these big, solid, existential questions like who am I, and why am I here, and where am I going? The more I read about Buddhism, the more it seemed as if to ask, who wants to know, or why do you want to know these things? That, with time, became the bigger question for me, the one that led me to understand myself first as the seeker. Kind of like I mentioned in the last podcast episode, it was like suddenly what I was looking for was who was looking.

This was a really profound shift for me. To me, this gets at the heart of stepping into groundlessness. I remember asking myself, what if I wasn’t afraid of being afraid when it comes to comfort, right? Comfort and being comfortable with all the uncertainty and insecurity, because what I was experiencing was an aversion to this. I thought, well what if it was okay to be scared? What if it’s okay to be afraid of not knowing? I realized there was a shift, and the problem wasn’t that I didn’t know, the problem was that I didn’t like that I didn’t know. I started to sit with these emotions. When they would surface, as they often do, or as they would at different stages of life, I began to invite these feelings, these emotions in as if they were old friends. I began to understand them.

Over time, I can honestly say I’ve befriended my fear, and my insecurity, and my unknowing. And, the deep grief and frustration that I used to feel when these emotions would arise, have turned into more of a friendship. It’s like, not only do they show up less and less, but when they do, when something happens that will remind me of the feeling that I had in that stage of my life, where the rug was pulled out from under me. I start to feel that same fear, and that same uncertainty arising in me. But, now it almost colorizes with a smile, almost as if to say, “Hello my old friends. I haven’t felt you in a while. Here you are, and I’m feeling scared, and I’m feeling insecure, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

That’s become the ground of groundlessness for me. The fear, and the aversion that we have towards uncertainty and towards groundlessness, it’s completely normal, and it’s natural. I think in these moments where we feel shaken, and we feel vulnerable, we feel fragile, we feel insecure. These are the moments that you may start to question everything. Why did I get into this career? Why did I marry this person? What would have happened had I done that? What if I’m messing it all up? How do I know I’m living the life that I should be living?” On, and on, and on, right? These are the questions that arise because of these moments of glimpse of insecurity.

This is the moment that we can look inward, and we can remind ourselves that what we are looking for is who is looking. The truth is, we never really know if we made the right choice about anything. We all make choices with a limited perspective in terms of space and time. It’s like the Tetris player doing the best with the current shapes in their game, but never know what shapes going to show up next. And, you’re currently dealing with all kinds of crazy things happening in your life. The Tetris pieces that cause us to question the way we’ve been playing every single piece that’s showed up prior to this one now. I think that insecurity is a natural part of the game.

I feel in my personal practice, I try to use those moments to anchor me in the present moment. As odd as it may seem, I often try to visualize, what are the most unwanted Tetris pieces that could show up in my life right now? These are like, what if one of my kids got sick? Or, what if one of them died? What if my marriage doesn’t last? What if my parents, or siblings die before I’m ready? These are deep troubling questions that we often avoid because they’re extremely uncomfortable. We don’t like to feel what we feel when we think about these questions.

For me, this has been at the heart of my practice. Thinking, “Well, I want to feel this. These are the moments I suddenly feel completely grounded in this state of groundlessness.” It’s like, I don’t know, but I do know that right now life is like this. Suddenly, the present moment seems to be so unique, and so precious. That doesn’t mean that it’s unpleasant or good, it just is. I find myself experiencing that sense of radical okayness that I have talked about before.

I’ve come to find that the fear of uncertainty has become the bedrock of my stability, of my mental stability. In other words, my firm foundation is that I don’t have or need a foundation. I’m comfortable now with the free fall. I have no certainty of what comes next, I’ve literally found that the feeling of uncertainty, that feeling of the free fall with nothing to hold onto. That’s become my normal, natural place of peace.

That doesn’t mean I go through life without wanting to make goals, or without plans, or being blown in the wind. It doesn’t mean that. It just means that I try to live my life willing and ready to shift at a moments notice. I’m constantly analyzing my Tetris game, and I’m ready to adapt, I’m ready to adjust to whatever that Tetris game is going to throw at me. It makes me feel radically okay with the game the way it is now. Because, I’m always thinking of how the game could be. It’s not that now, it’s this. With all that uncertainty, with all that fear, and often with my unconscious attempts to make life be different than how it is, in the middle of all that chaos. Every now and then I pause and I find this overwhelming sense of gratitude for life just the way that it is.

it’s like there’s a part of me that suddenly, even if just momentarily, has no desire for things to be different. Forgive me, I get emotional exploring these concepts because I know myself so well, and I know where I’ve been in my life, and the stages of my life that felt so painful, and that I felt so much aversion to that pain. Now I can look back at those moments again like with a smile, thinking, “I am the way I am now because of everything that I’ve been through.” To me this is stepping into groundlessness. It begins with having a sense of hopelessness. I’ve talked about this concept before. But again I want to share here, Pema Chodron’s wisdom where she says, “Hopelessness is the basic ground. Otherwise, we’re going to make the journey with the hope of getting security.”

“If we make the journey to get security, we’re completely missing the point. We can do our meditation practice with the hope of getting security, we can study these teachings with the hope of getting security, and we can follow all the guidelines and instructions with the hope of getting security. But, it will only lead to disappointment, and pain. We could save ourselves a lot of time by taking this message very seriously right now, begin the journey without hope of getting ground under your feet. Begin with hopelessness.”

I love that sentiment that Pema shares. I feel that’s where I have found myself to have landed, in this space of hopelessness, and groundlessness, and I almost have to laugh when I say it because these words have negative connotations in our way of thinking, in our society. It’s like, nobody wants to be hopeless, nobody wants to be groundless.

Yet, the peace that we so desperately seek is found in that groundlessness, and in that hopelessness. I can say that because that’s exactly how it’s been for me. I find myself in this place of radical okayness, and contentment with the uncertainty, with nothing to hold onto. As I experience the free fall, or as I experience the shifting sands beneath my feet where life is constantly changing. And, I have no control over the big Tetris pieces that are going to show up inevitably in my life.

My invitation to you this week, and perhaps an invitation from now on, is to try to identify these moments of groundlessness. Moments where the game seems to shift. Notice how quickly you tend to shift the story, to have some sense of certainty and security again. Like, we’re clinging for that certainty and security. Notice, how illusory that is.

Then, try to ask yourself, what if I didn’t need this sense of security? What if I could become comfortable with insecurity? What if I could find comfort in the shifting sands, comfort in the free fall, comfort with just not knowing? I think you’ll find in these moments, that you actually have a lot of faith and trust in yourself. Not the kind of faith that says, “All things are going to go my way. Things are going to be okay.” But, faith in the sense of your ability to adapt, and to handle whatever life is going to throw at you. Because, when you have that sense of security in yourself, then suddenly it’s not the circumstances that matter.

It wasn’t about the Tetris game, it was about your ability to play the Tetris game. I think that’s a fundamental radical shift that we can all start to experience, that produces a strong sense of peace. Because, it’s no longer about the game or the pieces, it’s about me and how I’m playing the game, and how I’m handling the pieces knowing that there will be times when it’s completely pleasant and fund, and times when it will be completely chaotic, and scary, and I’ll be insecure. All of that’s part of the game, and how I handle the game.

I wanted to correlate a lot of these concepts that I’ve discussed before. Groundlessness, no hope, the Tetris analogy, radical okayness, to kind of just see if I can mesh them all into one cohesive narrative that seems to help you understand what we’re all facing here, which is that we’re all standing at the edge of the cliff, holding on desperately to whatever we can hold onto. Thinking that, that’s going to prevent us from eventually falling. The nature of reality, the nature of life is that, life eventually pushes you, and there you are in the free fall, like Allan Watts has talked about. It’s like, we’ve all been pushed off this cliff and that’s our life. There we are falling, sometimes clinging to things that we think are going to be beneficial. When in reality, they’re not. You let go of them and you’re still in a free fall, and nothing changes.

This is the concept of groundlessness. I think there are a few fascinating books that address this overall concept. If you want to explore this a bit more, check out The Wisdom of Insecurity by Allan Watts, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, or Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh. Those are a few that come to mind as I explore this concept with you.

That’s all I have to share in this episode. Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism and mindfulness, you can always check out my books, Secular Buddhism, No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, and The Five Minute Mindfulness Journal. Those are all available on NoahRasheta.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. If you would like to make a donation to support the work 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.

92 – Your Inner Compass

Buddhist teachings are always pointing inward. When we put these teachings into practice, we are learning to look inside ourselves and to understand ourselves a little bit better than before. In this episode, I will discuss an experience I had last week where I ended up having to trust my own inner compass over the advice of my GPS.

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 92. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about your inner compass. Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use this information to be a better whatever you already are. In this podcast episode, I wanted to share an experience I had last week while traveling. This concept of the inner compass, I think, fits really well with Buddhism in general. I was traveling last week, attending a fly-in, which is a get-together of pilots who want to fly together. I had already spent one week in Arizona training a new class or a new group of paramotor pilots, so I had five new students, and I was teaching them how to fly. Right after that event, I went with my twin brother, and we met up at this fly-in south of Maricopa in Arizona.

The location where we were meeting to fly was way out in the middle of the desert. It was like 20 miles of driving through dirt roads to arrive at this airport where we were training. I noticed I had this experience while we were driving out there. I had my GPS navigating for me, and I had been using the GPS every day prior to going to this fly-in just to get from the Airbnb that I had rented to the airport where I was training the students. It’s eight days of training, and on about the fourth or fifth day, it occurred to me that every morning, I would still, I would do the same thing. I would punch in the airport to the Airbnb just to help navigate my way out of the residential area and onto the road and to make sure I wouldn’t miss the turn to arrive at the airport.

I thought, “How interesting that after four days, I still don’t really know my way. I just trust the GPS to tell me every day how to get home and how to get to the airport.” I kind of had this in my mind, and I thought, “I wonder why the more time that I spend depending on something like the GPS, the less skilled I am at trusting my own navigational skills and my own instinct.” It occurred to me that, in some ways, my ability to navigate becomes weaker or lazier, I’m not sure what the right word is, by depending so much on this GPS. That was the frame of mind that I had in my head as I was navigating at the end of this training session now to go meet these people in the middle of the desert to spend a few days flying.

On our way out there, I was leading my specific group, because we were all meeting there at different times. I have a truck that does not have four-wheel drive, and I’m pulling a trailer full of paramotors, and I’m just following the GPS navigation, and I notice that at one point, the GPS said to turn here. I kind of slowed down. Again, these are all dirt roads. I looked down that road, and I analyzed for a moment the ability that I had to go down that road, and I realized, “There’s no way. I’m going to get stuck if I try to go down that road,” knowing that I don’t have four-wheel drive, knowing that I’m hauling a heavy trailer. I kept going straight, and the GPS tries to reroute you, and then it says, “Okay, now turn on this road.” No, that didn’t work either. It was a combination of following what the GPS was telling me to do and using my common sense and my ability to analyze what my vehicle is capable of to keep finding the appropriate path until I made my way to the airport.

It worked. I finally got there, and when I got there, I noticed it was very common for other people to share their story of how they got there. Some people were routed going the south way, and they got stuck. There were several people who got stuck on the way. I had this thought, and again, correlating this to Buddhist teachings and to my own personal Buddhist practice, and it occurred to me that when we rely on an external source to navigate us, like a GPS, in a way, we become less skilled at using our own internal compass to navigate us. Again, this is like extreme examples. Right? The majority of the time, the GPS is right, but knowing that it’s not right all the time allowed me, at one point, to question the GPS and say, “No, I don’t think I’m going to turn down that road where someone else did turn, and they got stuck, and it took them an hour to dig them out.” A lot of people had that problem. They just followed the instructions, and it didn’t work for them.

I thought, like on a spiritual level, I feel like Buddhism is an introspective practice that’s trying to get us to be better at navigating on our own. Again, using an extreme example, right, we have the GPS. It’s super convenient, but how much more skilled is someone who doesn’t need a GPS? They can just look outside, and they can tell you which way is north, and south, and east, and west, and they can navigate using the stars, or they can navigate, I don’t know, feeling the winds or however people do that. Right? I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting. That’s kind of like what Buddhism is trying to accomplish with us in a spiritual sense, to be able to rely on your own navigation skills to be able to look around and know which way to go without relying on some external source that’s telling you, ‘Turn here. Don’t turn there. Do this. Don’t do that.'” I really liked correlating that idea in my mind.

Now, I have had the experience of just trusting a GPS, a spiritual GPS system that, for many years of my life, made it very easy. It just told me, “Do this. Don’t do that. Turn here. Don’t turn there,” and it worked really well. It wasn’t until the circumstances had changed, just like in my car … Right? Now, had I been in a four-wheel drive vehicle, in a Jeep for example, and not towing a trailer, I would have just followed that GPS, and it never would have occurred to me to question the GPS, but I was self-aware enough to know, “My vehicle cannot handle what this is telling me to do.”

I correlated that to my own experience, and my life circumstances had changed to the point where the spiritual GPS that was saying, “This is the right path for you,” I looked down that and thought, “This does not seem like the right path for me.” I want to be clear on the definition of “right” here, not … It’s still the right path for someone. Someone with four-wheel drive, sure, take that road, but it was not the right path for me and where I was at that specific phase of my life, and still am.

That’s a process that I continually work on for myself where I don’t use the GPS anymore, the spiritual GPS. I’ve navigated now using an entirely different system, which is my inner compass that’s telling me, “This is the path. This is where you should be. This is a more skillful way to navigate this path that you’re on,” but it’s not about being the right path. It’s about being the skillful path for me.

I’ve made this connection before, I think, in other podcast episodes where someone may be on one path, and you look at them and you say, “Yeah, okay, they’ve got a backpack. They’re carrying water in that backpack. They’ve got hiking boots and hiking poles. Yep, that is the right path for you.” Then you look at that path, and you look down at yourself, and you realize, “Well, I’m wearing flip-flops. I’m wearing shorts,” whatever else, and think, “Okay, well, that’s not the skillful path for me to take. I’m going to stay on this other path that’s more flat or has a handrail,” or whatever it is.

I think that’s a lot of what Buddhism is trying to instill in us. The introspective nature of the practice is for you to be able to look and to constantly make this assessment, “Is this the skillful path for me,” and Buddhism included. This is why I would tell some people, “No, Buddhism is not the right path for you, or any other ideology. This might not be the right path for you, but it might very well be the right path for you.”

Instead of entertaining that as, “Which is the right one,” what if we entertained this whole concept of, “Which is the skillful one for you? Not just for you in general, but for you right now?” Because what may have been a skillful path a year ago is no longer a skillful path today, or what may be, or maybe was a skillful path today, you’ll find yourself in a few months saying, “This perhaps isn’t the most skillful path, and now I’m going to reevaluate another path that may be more appropriate.”

How much more healthy would it be if we entertained these big concepts like paths, and spiritual paths, in the context of space and time, here and now, what works today is what matters, and not make these things feel permanent. “That path has always worked. It should continue to work,” or, “This path doesn’t work right now. It will never work.” Maybe it will work in a year, but it doesn’t right now.

Again, I cannot overemphasize the fact that even Buddhism is included in this. This path is not for everyone, and when I encounter people who say, “Oh, I’m really enjoying all this, and I’m sitting here, meditating, but it’s so hard, and I’m really struggling with this,” it’s like, well, then, why are you doing it? If you don’t … If you struggle with sitting and meditating, try to not sit and meditate. Do something else. You don’t have to be doing what everyone else on this path is doing.

I wanted to correlate those ideas, and correlate it with another experience I had while on this same trip. I mentioned that someone had been stuck there for an hour. Well, before that story, when I first arrived at the airport, and when I was meeting with all the other pilots, I had one pilot come up to me to talk to me about an experience he had. He said, “Hey, did you encounter anyone on your way in here?” I said, “No. It was going slow on dirt roads, but I didn’t see anyone,” and he said, “Well, I came the south way.” I had come in the north way. He came in that south way that was kind of difficult to navigate, and the roads were washed out at several points.

He says, “I’m driving along, and I realize I’m not going to be able to keep going, I might get stuck. Then, out of the blue, this young Hispanic kid shows up on a four-wheeler,” and this is what I thought was interesting. Right away, he says, “Sometimes, people like that show up, and they’re trying to distract you so that they can steal from you. Sure enough, right then, he grabs his phone, and he’s putting it in my face and saying stuff. I don’t know what he’s saying, because he doesn’t speak English, and he’s just holding his phone in my face, saying, ‘No work, no work.'”

“Of course, I’m paying close attention to him, to his other hand, because I’m expecting him to, by sleight of hand, show me his phone, and meanwhile, his other hand was going to reach in the back of my truck and steal something from me, so I finally said, ‘No, no, no, no. Go away,’ and he did. He went away, and I turned around, and I found another way to the airport. I just thought it was strange and wondered if anyone else encountered this guy who’s out in the desert, who could be trying to steal our stuff.”

As he’s telling me this story, in my head, I’m thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound right.” It’s not like you have random people in the desert on four-wheelers, and that’s where they go steal stuff, but I let him tell me the story. When it was all over, that was the end of that, and he left, and I thought, “Huh. It’s interesting how we tend to see what we’re looking for.” He was expecting that, if this person fits his description in his head of a criminal, or a scary person, then of course, that’s what he was looking for.

This is the best part of the story. About 30 minutes later, another pilot came, and he said, “Oh, man, I was stuck out in the desert for hours, and it started raining, and out of the blue, this young Hispanic guy shows up on a four-wheeler. He’s got his phone, and he’s saying stuff, and then I realize what he’s saying in Spanish, the phone is translating to English, so I looked at his phone and read the message, and it said something like, ‘I can help.'” He’s like, “I was really confused, and before I knew it, this kid was under my truck, digging with a shovel, and he spent an hour digging me out of this sand trap that I had pulled into.”

“It was raining, and he didn’t have a raincoat. He didn’t care. He was just there digging me out, and sure enough … Oh, he tied a rope to my truck and used his four-wheeler to help pull me out, and come to find out, this … He’s a ranch hand for one of the local ranches that has goats, and he kept trying to say, ‘Goats,’ and explain what he does. Long story short, I got out of there, and I’m just so thankful that this random guy came out of the blue and was willing to help me.”

I was laughing as he was telling me this story, because I was just thinking, “The other guy who had just come had a whole different story. It’s very likely it has to have been the same kid, Hispanic kid on a four-wheeler out in the middle of a desert with a phone.” Again, it got me thinking along the lines of this concept that we tend to see what we look for, and one person in that experience was looking for a crook, and he saw a crook. He saw this kid trying to do sleight of hand. The other one was looking, I guess he wasn’t really looking for anything, but he wasn’t looking for a crook, and he didn’t see a crook. He saw a savior who came to dig him out of the dirt. It was the same guy, and …

Now, and I don’t want to highlight this story just because like the right way was to look for the good in people. That’s not what I’m saying. This very well could have been the opposite, too, that you see this good-natured person, and, “I’m just going to trust them,” and they really do steal from you, and you didn’t see it, because you were looking for the goodness and didn’t see the red flag that they were a crook or something like that. It could have been backwards. Right? That’s not what I’m saying.

All I’m trying to get at is that we do have the tendency to see what we’re looking for, and I think this is why there’s … There’s an expression that I like in Buddhism that often says, “What you are looking for is who is looking.” That, to me, is a really profound expression that goes with this whole concept of the inner compass. It’s like the thing you’re using to try to navigate, or to try to see, in reality, what you’re looking for is the thing that’s doing the looking.

That, to me, is a fascinating concept. It’s like you want to understand how the compass works, study a compass. You want to understand the way that you see the world? It’s not by studying the world. It’s by studying you, yourself, the way that you see. All of this, to me, wraps up really nicely with almost every other Buddhist teaching where at the end of the day, what we’re trying to accomplish is to have a greater sense of awareness about ourselves, about the way that we perceive the world. Why do I see it the way that I see it? Why do I feel the way that I feel, and say what I say, and do what I do? I’m constantly trying to put this into practice in my own life in moments when I can catch myself, experiencing emotions, especially strong emotions.

Just yesterday, I was noticing how much more impatient I was feeling with my kids. I catch myself in those moments, and I don’t feel a sense of guilt or badness for being an impatient dad. Everyone feels that at some point, but what I did notice right away is, “Why am I so much more reactive than normal?” I took a moment to put myself in a timeout, and I went and sat down in the room, and first of all, I thought, “I’m just going to sit with this discomfort, because I’m feeling really irritated.” I noticed right away that I was irritated about being irritated, so I sat with the irritation. The longer I sat with it, the more understanding that arose where I noticed, “Okay, I just got home from a really long trip.” I had spent 12 hours driving. It was a stressful drive, because I hit several pockets of snow, and I had slid off of the road once and had to be pulled back onto the road.

A lot had happened in those previous 12 hours, and I was more reactive than normal, but I was able to identify all of that and sit with those emotions for a moment and then sit with the impatience I was feeling. It didn’t make the impatience go away, but it made me more capable of sitting with that emotion and not having to react. I think that’s what this is getting at with this concept of the inner compass. It’s introspective. It’s about switching the, or flipping the switch, so to speak, of, I’m looking outside of myself at something to tell me what to do, what not to do, where to go, when to be there, all of that, and instead putting up a mirror where you essentially look to learn inward, and you discover that inner compass.

I’ve talked about this concept of faith before in the Buddhist context, where it’s not that we have faith in something, like the Buddha, or in meditation, or prayer beads, or your meditation cushion, whatever that thing is. It’s not about that. The faith that we talk about, often, in the Buddhist context is the faith that you have in your ability. Using, again, this inner compass, it’s like the difference of saying, “I have faith in my GPS system. It’s never going to get me lost.” For some religions, that’s exactly how that is. Right? The GPS system may be some form of revelation, or it may be a set of scriptures or whatever it is, or, I don’t know, a preacher or a whatever.

Buddhism is trying to take that and say, from our perspective, what we’re trying to develop is faith in our own ability to navigate, that if I’m out there, and I don’t have a GPS, or maybe I do, and I decide that this doesn’t look right, I’m trusting my instinct that said, “You know what? GPS says, ‘Turn here,’ but I’m saying, ‘No, don’t turn here,'” and my faith is in me, my ability to make that decision. Could I be wrong sometimes? Absolutely. Could the GPS be wrong sometimes? Absolutely, but what I have faith in is in my ability, even my ability to have made the wrong turn and gotten stuck. I have faith in my ability to get unstuck by going and finding help or eventually digging myself out, or anything along those lines.

That’s what I wanted to present, this concept of the inner compass from a Buddhist standpoint, developing faith in your ability to find your way, whether that means that with time, you become good at navigating with the stars, or you can orient yourself by looking at your landscape, mountains are to the north, valley is to the east, or whatever, versus relying exclusively on some external source like the GPS, because while the GPS may be highly accurate and maybe, for some people in some circumstances, they’ll never, ever need to question it because they live in a place where the signal’s always accurate and the GPS is always updated, but heaven forbid you ever find yourself in a circumstance where the GPS doesn’t know what to do. Some people might be totally lost and completely incapable of questioning the GPS, or much less, doing the opposite of what the GPS is telling you to do.

That’s where I think Buddhist practice is coming in and saying, “What if you had faith in your ability to call that shot and to say, ‘Yeah, I’m following the GPS because I trust myself, not because I trust the GPS,’ or, ‘I’m not following the GPS, because I trust myself.'” I just wanted to share some of those thoughts. All of that really resonated well for me this past week as I was traveling and thinking about GPS systems and my own inner compass. As always, if you want to learn more about Buddhism in general and some of these concepts, you can find them in several books, including my books, which you can read about on noahrasheta.com. If you enjoyed this specific podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, and if you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, visit secularbuddhism.com. You can click the Donate button there. That’s all I have now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.

91 – The Three Poisons

The three poisons of hatred, greed, and ignorance, can be thought of as the root source from which all unskillful actions arise. In this podcast episode, I will discuss the Buddhist teaching of the three poisons and how we can use this teaching to develop a more skilfull relationship with the greed, hatred, and ignorance we encounter in our own lives.

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[00:00] Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 91. I am your host Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about the three poisons.

[00:12] Keep in mind that one does not need to become a Buddhist in order to benefit from Buddhist teachings and concepts. The goal of these ideas is to help you to befriend who you already are. In a lot of classical Buddhist depictions of the wheel of Samsara, some of you may have seen this, if you know the symbol of Buddhism is a wheel with eight spokes. The spokes represent the eightfold path. And often in the middle of this depiction it’ll show three different animals, usually a pig, a rooster, and a snake. These three animals represent the three poisons.

[01:01] So, I wanted to talk about the three poisons. This is a common teaching in Buddhism, the three poisons. But, I want to unravel this a little bit and talk a little bit about the words that we use to describe this. Because poison, I don’t know about you, but usually when I think of poison, I’m thinking of something that you consume and it kills you. I think most people would probably think, “Oh, well, this isn’t … I don’t need to be concerned about a poison in my life because I’m not dying. I’m not dead. So, obviously I haven’t had the poison.” So, I think that it can make it a little bit more difficult to really identify with this teaching because most of us don’t go around thinking, “Oh, I’m being poisoned right now.”

[01:51] So, the word that’s used to describe the three poisons is actually a word that can be translated also to unskillful. We talk about this word unskillful a lot in Buddhist teachings and this seems to fit better than, to me, for poison. Because then what you’re talking about is that these three unskillful things, or these roots of unskillfulness, are the root from which all unskillful or harmful actions spring forward.

[02:27] So talking about it in this context, what we’re talking about is these three, let’s call them …. Well, instead of thinking of poison in a sense of something that kills you, think of poison of something that’s causing unnecessary discomfort or pain in your life. And if you think about it in that context, then I think this all makes a little bit more sense. So what it’s trying to get at is the understanding that greed, hatred, and ignorance … Those are commonly referred to as the three poisons. Greed, hatred, and ignorance are often the source of a lot of discomfort, and pain, and unnecessary suffering. So, let’s explore this a little bit.

[03:13] I like to think about the analogy of imagine yourself on a giant hamster wheel. And there you are, and you’re running, and running, and running, just like a hamster does. We have these three unskillful mental conditioning things going on. So, think of ignorance is essentially running on the hamster wheel and not realizing that the reality of all things. The reality is you’re on a hamster wheel and it goes nowhere. You don’t realize that. That to me is a good way to visualize ignorance.

[03:52] Then we have greed or desire. This is, again, on the hamster wheel is that you’re running towards something. What are you running towards? You think that you’re finally going to get to the thing you’re running towards. That’s greed. Then on the flip side of it, there’s the hate, which is also aversion. It’s essentially you’re running from the thing that you think that, “Man, if it ever catches up to me, then life is going to be bad.” So here we are on this hamster wheel of life running towards the things that we think are going to fix everything, running away from the things that we think are going to ruin everything, and then there’s ignorance, which is realizing you can’t ever reach what you’re trying to get after and you can’t ever get away from the thing you’re trying to get away from. That’s the ignorance part is you’re on a hamster wheel. You’re just running.

[04:47] Now, I like to think of this in terms of, what are some of the things that we run towards? It can be a prestige, fame, fortune. There are so many things that we run towards. I often joke about this with a good friend of mine, Kevin. We’ve had this inside joke for years where when something happens in life like, “Hey, I just got a new car,” or, “I just got a new job,” we always joke about this with each other and say, “Now I can finally be happy.” It’s been an inside joke for years because what we’re joking about is recognizing you don’t ever finally you can be happy. You’re always chasing after whatever the next thing is, and it’s always … It’s been our inside joke for a long time.

[05:35] So whatever that thing is that you’re like, “Oh, now life is going to be good,” if you really believe that, that’s the ignorance part again. It’s realizing, no, you’re on a hamster wheel. It doesn’t stop. And sure, you may be content for a little bit, but then you’re going to be chasing after the next thing and the next thing.

[05:52] And then again, on the flip side of that, what are the things that we run away from? A lot of them. We’re running away from feeling pain, from feeling embarrassed, from looking … being unliked. We’re running away from discomfort in the sense of like losing a job, or ending a relationship, or … There’s so many things that we run from and we think, “Man, if that thing never happens to be, then life will be good.” And some of them are the big things, like not wanting to lose a family member or a loved one. Now, I think deep down we all know that’s unavoidable and at some point we’re all going to contend with that, the loss of a family member or a loved one. But, we still seem to be running on this treadmill pretending like it’ll never happen if we can just run fast enough, hard enough.

[06:43] So again, getting back to these three things, I want to talk about them each a little bit. So, it’s understood in Buddhism that as long as our thoughts, our words, and our actions are conditioned by these three … I’m going to call them the three poisons because that’s what everyone calls them. But again, keep in mind what they are and what they mean. So when our thoughts, words, and actions are conditioned by the three poisons, they’re essentially going to generate harmful actions and reactions that are caused on ourselves and others. So, we try to combat these things with following the full path and trying to see life clearly as it really is, trying to see reality as it is.

[07:37] So let’s start with the first one, ignorance. Again, this is not … Ignorance has a negative connotation, and sometimes we think someone who’s ignorant is someone … I don’t know. We looked down on ignorance. But really, what it’s getting to here is not knowing. That’s all it is. And there’s nothing wrong with not knowing. If you don’t know that you don’t know, then you’re just going through life thinking everything’s good, right?

[08:07] So what I think is helpful for with this understanding of ignorance is, first of all, realizing we’re all ignorant. All of us. If you ever reached the point where you’re thinking, “Man, I’m glad I’m not ignorant anymore,” be careful because you don’t know the things that you don’t know. And if there are things that you don’t know that you don’t know, then you’re always ignorant, right? And we’re all caught up in that. There are certainly levels, but to think even the smartest …

[08:39] I don’t know. Let’s just take another animal, for example, a lower intelligence animal, if it’s even appropriate to word it that way. The smartest chicken, to think, “Wow, I’m smarter than all these other chickens,” but compare that thing to a higher intelligence, like a dog, or a dolphin, or a human, it’s just not comparable. But for some reason we think humans, here we are at the very top, so the smartest human now there you go. That’s the very top. But it’s not. It’s just the very top of what we know intelligence to be. But, imagine a scale that goes from a chicken to a human. Now, imagine that same scale from a human to something to intelligence at that same scale higher. Then we’re nothing again.

[09:29] So anyway, what I want to get at with that is that when we’re talking about ignorance, it’s essentially a form of blindness. It’s not being able to see things as they really are. This is specifically in the context of space and time. In the context of space and time, we are bound by where we are in space and time, and that is here and now. And if I’m here, I cannot see what it’s like to be there because I’ll never be there. Wherever I am, it’s here. And the same with time, right? I cannot know what it’s going to be like then because it’s always now.

[10:09] So, that’s what’s being implied here with ignorance is that we can only see from the unique position in space and time where we each are. And know there’s no possible way to not know, to not be able to see beyond here and now because that’s just where we are. We’re here now. We’re not there and then. We cannot be there. We make approximations, but we’re blinded in terms of space and time. So, think of it that way.

[10:43] So, there’s a sense of ignorance when it comes to seeing reality as it is because how can I see reality as it is if I’m bound in space and time to here and now? So, this ignorance manifests as a belief that things are fixed, and that things are permanent. And that if I know what it’s like here, I must know what it’s like there. And if I know what it’s like now, I know what it’s going to be like forever. That is a big complication. This is, in Buddhism, it’s like, well, this is a problem because what happens then is you start to feel this tendency. It gives rise to this belief and a permanent sense of self, the me that is separate from everything else, the me that is ongoing and permanent that will transcend, and that causes a lot of unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others. It’s also what gives rise to the next two poisons, which are hate and greed. If I perceived myself to be fixed and permanent, then it becomes of paramount importance for me to get the things that I need and to avoid the things that I don’t want, right? So, greed and hatred arise out of this.

[12:03] Let’s talk about hatred first. Again, I think it’s helpful to think of hatred in the context of aversion. These are the things that we’re running away from. Hatred or aversion arises from ignorance because we don’t see the interconnectedness of all things. Instead, we experience ourselves as being apart from something, so we’re running away from something as if that’s not a part of us. When we see ourselves as separate from everything else, then we start judging things to be either desirable and I want more of that or undesirable and I want to avoid that. That’s where the aversion comes in. It also manifests in … You know, if you’re thinking of the hamster wheel again as the analogy, if you’re running towards something, anything that gets in the way of you getting the thing that you want, that aversion arises and you become aggressive to that circumstance or the person, whatever it is that’s getting in between you and the thing that you want.

[13:10] So, how do we work with this hatred, this aversion towards the things that we don’t want? Don’t think of this in terms of eliminating hatred. It’s not that. These things arise naturally because of how we are. So rather than thinking, “I want to eradicate aversion,” think of it in terms of, “How can I change the relationship I have with the aversion I have to the things that I feel aversion towards?” To me, that can be really helpful.

[13:44] An example I always give, I know that may sound silly to some people, but I have a terrible fear of snakes. I’ve tried many things to get rid of the fear but none of it has really worked. I get this. I can grasp it intellectually that it’s unreasonable, so what I’ve worked with is changing the relationship that I have with the aversion or with the fear. On a recent family trip we were in Morocco. And if you go to Marrakesh in the main square, they have snake charmers there. They play their little flutes and all these snakes are there. It was really difficult for me to go and stand there and watch, but I was able to do it. My daughter wanted to have one of the snakes put on her neck, and she did. I took pictures and I stood right next to her. It was a really big deal for me keeping my composure.

[14:39] But, it’s not that I’ve worked to eliminate the hatred. I tried that for a long time. What I’ve worked to do is to change the relationship I have with the fear. I’ve befriended the fear in the sense of the fears there. I feel it, and it’s not going away, at least … I mean, it might on its own and I won’t know how that happened. But, so when I experience it, I recognized, “Okay, here’s this fear. It’s okay to feel this. It’s all right,” and I’m used to the feeling now. So, all of the sensations, the physical sensations are there, like the hair standing up on the back of my neck and my stomach feels like it gets into this tight little pit. And I’m okay with all these feelings. I expect them. That’s what it’s going to be like, and it will feel like this until we walk away. But meanwhile, we’re here and I’m still able to function in spite of what I’m feeling.

[15:35] So, imagine this in the sense of other things, other forms of aversion. It could be something like if you get jealous when your friends or people that you know get something that you want. That may be a natural feeling that arises that instead of thinking, “Oh, I shouldn’t feel this way,” what you’re recognizing is, “Okay, this is how I feel. It’s natural that this arises. I may not fully understand why this arises.” But rather than trying to get rid of that feeling, change the relationship you have with the feeling. “Okay, here’s that feeling again. I’m going to sit with this feeling, and I’m going to become more comfortable with it,” so changing the relationship that you have with it.

[16:20] I think it’s common for us to feel aversion or hatred towards the things that frighten us or that seem to pose a threat to us. And the antidote to hatred is a loving-kindness. So again, it’s not loving-kindness towards … I’ll use the snake as an example. Well, I don’t know if that’s a good example because I recognize that I have no ill will towards the snake itself. So, but it’s not loving-kindness towards the snake that I’m thinking. It’s loving-kindness towards my fear of the snake, if that makes any sense.

[16:57] Imagine again the example of when you feel angry that a friend got a promotion and you didn’t. Instead of thinking, “Oh, I should love this friend. I should love this friend,” that may be fake and it’s not really doing anything for you. But what you can do is say, “Loving kindness towards the feeling of aversion I’m having right now.” Play with that and see how that feels. Because what you may find is a sense of self-compassion that arises and then a sense of compassion that spreads out from you and the feeling of aversion that you have to the person that you’re feeling the aversion towards or the circumstance that you’re feeling the aversion towards and it kind of spreads out from there.

[17:35] So let’s move on to greed or desire. Now we’re on the hamster wheel. We’re running. What is it that we’re running towards? In Buddhist teachings, geed often refers to the desire or the attraction we have to something that we think is going to gratify us or make us somehow better or greater. This is the thing, again, that once we finally get it’s like, “Okay, now life is going to be good. Now I can finally be happy.” So, this greed or desire, it can take a lot of different forms. A good example of this, again, is wanting to acquire things that elevate our status. It may be wanting the certain outfit that makes me look this certain way because then it’ll make me feel liked and popular, but it could be having the right title at work so people will respect me. It could be having enough money that people will deem me as successful, and respect me, and want to be my friend. So again, it’s that thing that we’re chasing after that we think if we could just finally get this, then life is going to be good.

[18:41] The problem with it is that it often puts us at odds with other people because it’s like we’re in this competition of trying to, “I’m trying to get this, and you’re trying to get that. Let’s see who gets it first.” And it makes it seem like life is a competition when in reality it’s not. Life isn’t a race. It isn’t a test. We’re not competing against each other. We’re just here experiencing what it is to be alive and we turn it into something that it’s not when we do this.

[19:12] Having the strong sense of desire to run towards the thing that we think that we want can often put us in a position where we’re okay with manipulating and exploiting others because we’re trying to make sure that we get what we want to make ourselves feel more secure by obtaining the thing that we thought that we needed. Ultimately, this, ironically, makes us more and more isolated and it gives a stronger and stronger sensation of separation from others.

[19:42] So, the antidote to greed or desire in Buddhist teachings is generosity. The idea of generosity isn’t just, “Oh, give your stuff away.” It’s recognizing that if there’s no permanent fixed self, what is this thing that I want? I think this is evident with in family relationships, especially parents and children. When a parent gives to a child, whether it’s their time, or energy, or actual resources like the food that you worked hard to earn your money to buy, you don’t think of it as, “Oh, here’s this … ” You know, it’s this … You don’t think of it as this big deal. It’s like, “Of course I’m giving to my kids,” because we understand there’s no separation between us and them. We view our kids as part of us.

[20:44] Now, imagine extending that same sense of interconnectedness or interdependence to other people and to other living beings. In a lot of these Buddhist practices, that’s exactly what you’re trying to do, is extend it from the sense of self, realizing the illusion of self. You can see this in immediate family and friends, and then extend it out from there to acquaintances, strangers, people you don’t like and ultimately all living beings. But what’s, what’s essentially happening there, what you’re trying to accomplish is seeing reality as it is, is seeing all things as interdependent and all things as connected. When you really start to see it that way it starts to change the relationship that you have with yourself and with other people. And that is the antidote to this greed or desire.

[21:37] It’s like, well, if there’s one cake in the room and there’s four of us, and I’m just thinking, “I want that cake for me,” it would be approaching us and saying, “Hey, let’s split this. Let’s all enjoy this cake.” I don’t know if that’s the best example. That’s a very simplified example, but that … With that example, that may seem very obvious, like, “Well yeah, that’s what I would do,” but we don’t do that with a lot of things with, with time, with energy, with pursuing something at all costs. It’s like, “I have to have that, not you.”

[22:11] Now, imagine being able to be in the workplace and you’re aspiring to this position that you want, but having the ability to look around and say, “Oh, you know what? So-and-so actually might be better for that than me.” I mean, who does that, right? But imagine being able to do that, to think, “Well, the greater good for the company is so-and-so should have that position. They would be better at that than me. I should probably be doing this thing and this thing over here. I would be best at that.” What if we all thought that way?

[22:41] Now again, that would obviously have its own complications because we all think differently. And you might be thinking, “Oh, so-and-so might be best for that,” and they might be thinking, “Oh, no. So-and-so’s best for that.” So, I’m not saying that’s the solution. I’m just saying imagine being able to see things a little bit differently like that where it’s not always you, you, you, me, me, me. That’s essentially what we’re trying to combat with this sense of desire or greed.

[23:09] Now for me, it’s been helpful in my own life to joke with it. Like I said, I have this inside joke with my friend. I catch myself. I mean, part of what makes it funny is that there is a tinge of really feeling that when you get something. It’s like, “Oh, now things are going to be good,” and then I catch myself in that moment and I make a joke of it. I’m like, “How funny to think that now I can finally be happy.” But somewhere inside, that stems from an actual real feeling that was saying, “Okay, now you can relax a bit. Things are going to be good because you finally got this.” So, I like to catch it, kind of mock it a little bit and then laugh.

[23:47] Again, the point here isn’t to eradicate that feeling and say, “Okay, well I’m going to become numb and I’m not going to feel any happiness when I obtained these new things.” That’s not the point. That’s not natural. I don’t think that’s helpful for you or for anyone else. But to try to see it as it really is and say, “Okay, now that I’ve achieved this or I’ve obtained that do I have the sense of, ‘Okay, now life is finally good?'” If I catch that in me, for me, that’s an invitation to pause and reflect on that. Why do I feel this way? Why did I think that this would be the thing that changes everything?

[24:20] And even if I recognize, “Well, it does change things for a little bit because today things are a little bit easier than they were yesterday because of this or that,” that’s fine. But do I feel a sense of permanence? Do I feel that sense of clinging that’s like, “I would have done anything to make this happen”? If so, I really try to analyze that. Why did it feel that way? What am I thinking I’m after? Why am I after it? What would happen if I finally get it? Then what? I’m trying to understand myself in the context of all of this.

[24:48] So if I could wrap this up with the three poisons, what I would say is, like with all these teachings, the whole point of understanding this is having a tool to understand myself better. I want to understand what are the things that I’m chasing after? What are the things that I’m running away from? And in what way am I ignorant about how that mindset is causing me and the people that I love or people around me, unnecessary suffering? And that’s it. That’s my whole approach with this teaching of the three poisons.

[25:23] So, my invitation to you would be the same. It would be make this an introspective practice where you analyze and you understand in yourself what the things are that you’re chasing after and what the things are that you’re running away from and why. What would happen if that thing finally caught up to you? You lost your job, for example. I have a friend who’s going through a really difficult time right now. One of his big anxieties or fears that he’s encountering is this aversion towards losing his business. That’s obviously something I’ve gone through and I understand. I had all those same feelings, so I was able to say, “Well, what helped me in that time was just ask yourself, ‘Okay, so what if I do? If this thing that I’ve been running from finally does catch up to me, then what?’ And play with that a little bit.”

[26:15] Again, all from the context of just understanding yourself. Why am I so scared of this? Why am I running from this? If this thing finally catches me, then what happens? That’s been a really helpful tool for me to experiment within my head. If this thing that I fear finally catches up to me, then what? Often, you’ll find that it’s not as bad as you thought it was.

[26:40] And similarly, the thing that you’re chasing after, working with that introspectively, you’ll often find it’s probably not as good as you thought it was going to be. Yeah, you got the thing you wanted. Now what? So what? Play with that and see what happens. Again, this is all to help, not to change the feelings and say, “I don’t want to feel desire. I don’t want to feel aversion.” It’s to change the relationship you have with the things that you desire and the things that you feel aversion towards all the while minimizing the ignorance a little bit because everyday you’re understanding yourself a little bit better and the context of being interdependent and not separate or independent, and also in terms of being impermanent and constantly changing instead of thinking that it’s fixed and things are always this way.

[27:30] So, that’s all I wanted to share on this topic. Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism, and mindfulness, and these topics from a very general standpoint, there are several good books out there. I like recommending mine. Secular Buddhism is one book. No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners is another one, which is now available on Audible. So, Secular Buddhism and No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners are both available in paperback, Audible audio book version, and also a PDF or digital, like for your Kindle. Then, there’s The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal, which is a great way to practice some of this stuff, introspection.

[28:11] And as always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating on iTunes. You can join our online community on secularbuddhism.com/community. And if you’d like to make a donation to support the work 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.