59 - Escape Into Discomfort / My Interview with Shinzen Young

In this episode, I am sharing the audio from an interview/discussion I had with Shinzen Young on the topic of “Escaping into Discomfort”. This interview was streamed live on November 16th, 2017.

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Home Practice Program
Life Practice Program
Brightmind app

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Noah Rasheta:                      It’s sending it off into space or somewhere.

Shinzen Young:                    Webinar is now streaming live on Facebook.

Noah Rasheta:                      I still think it’s … It’s just really cool that we have the ability to do something like this, to stream live.

Shinzen Young:                    It’s a real boon to spreading the meditative path on this planet.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, it really is.

Shinzen Young:                    [00:00:30] I sort of compare it to the existence of Koine Greek that’s allowed Christianity to spread because people could all read the New Testament because that was a kind of universal language for the Mediterranean region. Now we’ve got a universal language for the whole planet. It’s the internet and so many people speaking English, this is our way to spread the good news, so to speak.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah. [00:01:00] Okay, it looks like people are jumping in already, so this is going. Let me post it to one more group. Okay, got that on there. Okay, we’ve got almost 50 people watching already. [00:01:30] Alright, one last post and I’ll be good to go. Where are you located [crosstalk 00:01:42]?

Shinzen Young:                    I live in the city of Burlington, Vermont in northern New England.

Noah Rasheta:                      Okay.

Shinzen Young:                    Although I’m originally from SoCal. I’m an LA boy.

Noah Rasheta:                      Okay, I was gonna say, for some reason I thought you were …

Shinzen Young:                    Yeah, I’m actually [00:02:00] second generation born in LA, but I’ve lived in New England for over two decades at this point.

Noah Rasheta:                      Cool. Okay, now we are completely rocking and rolling. We’ve got people joining from all over the place, so to those of you who are joining, welcome. Thank you for your patience. The first few minutes is usually just awkward silence or filler talk while I post these links to the various [00:02:30] groups, but I’m really excited to have Shinzen Young joining me today for Secular Buddhism Podcast interview/discussion and so this audio will be available on the podcast later this week. The video is streaming live as you are well aware, and this will also be posted to our YouTube channel.

Shinzen Young:                    Hi everyone. Welcome.

Noah Rasheta:                      Thank you for taking the time to join today, Shinzen. [00:03:00] I have to say, I first came across you through podcast listeners and friends who are taking courses in meditation and your name kept bouncing up, so I started researching you and thought it would be cool to have you on the podcast, but I can’t remember exactly how that part came. I think an email came from you first. I thought, “Oh, this is Shinzen Young.” By then I had already heard of you and had looked at your book, [00:03:30] The Science of Enlightenment, so it was good timing and I thought, “This would be great to have Shinzen on the podcast,” so thank you for reaching out.

Shinzen Young:                    Sure, my pleasure.

Noah Rasheta:                      Now, I’m gonna read the quick bio I have. This comes right from your website, but just this is for those who are watching and listening. “Shinzen Young is an American mindfulness teacher and neuroscience research consultant. His systematic approach to categorizing, adapting [00:04:00] and teaching meditation, known as unified mindfulness, has resulted in collaborations with Harvard Medical School, Carnegie Melon University and the University of Vermont and the burgeoning field of contemplative neuroscience. If I understand correctly, your interest in mindfulness, or, I guess all things Eastern start at the age of 14 when you decided to attend a Japanese [00:04:30] ethnic school in your native city of LA.

Shinzen Young:                    That’s right.

Noah Rasheta:                      Tell me a little bit about your story. In your own words, how did you get into this? How did you start practicing and then ultimately teaching mindfulness and Buddhism?

Shinzen Young:                    Sure, well, I was born in LA. My family of origin is Jewish and I did actually have a Jewish upbringing. I went to synagogue and so forth. I had a very charismatic [00:05:00] rabbi and I think that was a little bit of a role model for me at an early age, but when I was in my early teens, my best friend in what was then called junior high school, now called middle school, just happened to be a third generation Japanese American. We shared some interest. Nothing related to Japan, really, but his family used to go see Japanese movies once a week to sort [00:05:30] of keep in contact with the heritage, and they invited me one week to go with them to watch Japanese movies at a little theater in downtown LA which I had no interest in, whatsoever.

I didn’t want to be rude, so, okay. It’s gonna be boring, it’s got subtitles, it’s hard to follow, but anyway, it was a double feature. The first movie was a love story set in [00:06:00] modern Tokyo and predictably, I was completely bored. The second one was a samurai movie set in 16th century Japan, and in the first three minutes, I was mesmerized. Just mesmerized. I’d never had contact with another culture, [00:06:30] other than maybe the Jewish culture, relative to America, but this was an Asian culture and an Asian culture of many centuries ago. I remember thinking, “Well, these people are obviously human beings, but they, in some ways, might as well be extra-terrestrials.” They’re just so different in every way imaginable. How they dress their hair and how they walk and the men talk [00:07:00] like real macho from their belly and the women talk real feminine. There’s sexual dimorphism in the Japanese language.

There were very cool ways of fighting that I’d never seen. Two-handed sword combat, and then values that were, to me, just over the top, like there was this one scene where the samurai [00:07:30] sort of defeats this other samurai, and the subtitle just said, “You’re a samurai, you know what to do,” and the guy just whips out a knife and cuts open his belly because he got defeated. It’s like what the hell is this world, that someone could do that without a second thought? Just being prompted like that. It’s like, whoa. [00:08:00] This is a really, really interesting world. After that movie was over, I pummeled the parents of my friend, like, “Why did they do that? I heard this word that sounded a little bit like this. What did that mean?” I never encountered a non-Indo-European language. Well, other than Hebrew, but this was really different.

They took me out to J-Town, Little Tokyo. [00:08:30] Japanese-Americans used to call it J-Town. So, you go to Chinatown. There’s nothing very mysterious in Chinatown. People have been going to Chinese restaurants, non-Asian people have been going to Chinese restaurants for a hundred years, but at that time, and we’re talking about not that long after World War II. I’m older than I look. There were only Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Little Tokyo. I was the only white bred, and [00:09:00] most non-Asians did not know anything about how to order Japanese food, so they initiated me, and this became a thing. Every week I’d see Japanese movies with them, pummel them with questions, and then they would take me out to eat Japanese food, taught me how to eat with chopsticks, which was a rarity at that time. Most non-Asians didn’t know how to do that.

It seems funny now. The culture is so caught up, but I can assure you that the [00:09:30] United States of the 1950s was not very sympathetic to Asian culture. I was this oddball with this interest, and eventually I found out there’s Japanese ethnic school. It’s like Hebrew school for Jewish kids, except it’s for Japanese-American kids. It meets in the afternoons all day on Saturday. You go to American public school but then your parents make [00:10:00] you go to Japanese school, so I decided to go to Japanese school. By the time I graduated from Venice High, I also graduated from Sawtelle Japanese Language Institute and I had had the incredible privilege of growing up bilingual and bi-cultural in Los Angeles, and I was the valedictorian of my class in Japanese [00:10:30] school.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow.

Shinzen Young:                    They wanted to show off this anomaly of a non-Asian person who was, at that time, essentially a native speaker of Japanese.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow. That’s fascinating.

Shinzen Young:                    That’s how it started. It was just this fascination with Asia, Japan, particularly martial arts, Asian food, and this is decades before the mainstream [00:11:00] culture of North America started to move in that direction. I thought I’d always be just this marginalized weirdo that was interested in things that most people disrespected. It’s hard to believe but I can remember when a piece of merchandise that said “Made in Japan” on it was considered schlock. There was actually a time [00:11:30] when that was a trope or a common theme in the United States. Hard to imagine, right? Because of the complete flip.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah.

Shinzen Young:                    I get to belong to this pioneer generation that can remember the way things used to be and can see the way things are now vis a vis Asian culture and Asian philosophy and contemplative practices. I [00:12:00] straddled both worlds. There’s a church father in the Christian tradition named Tertullian. Very interesting guy, and I have a lot of sympathy for him, a lot of understanding, because he was sort of in the same position vis a vis Christianity. When he was young, Christianity was a persecuted, kooky cult, but in later life, he could see the writing on the wall, that Christianity [00:12:30] was gonna take over Europe and sort of be running the show.

He has this phrase, “We who are but of yesterday are now in all your cities and camps,” so he saw that transition that as a little boy, he would’ve never believed possible. I got interested in Buddhism because it was an aspect of Asian culture, a traditional one, and I wanted [00:13:00] to know everything about traditional Asian culture, but then that led to, of course, practicing meditation and that took me in a whole other direction, but I look now and I can remember North America of the 1950s and I see what’s happening, particularly with the mindfulness movement and so forth. I find myself saying, “We who are but of yesterday [00:13:30] are now in all your therapy rooms, your board rooms, even your military training camps.” It’s amazing for me to have actually seen that transition, so it’s a little bit like Tertullian. It’s possible that these practices, not in the form of organized religion, but in the form of attentional skills with application [00:14:00] strategies.

These practices inspired by Buddhism and other contemplative traditions, it’s possible that they may become a major feature of the psychospiritual paradigm for humanity in this century, so we who are but of yesterday are everywhere now.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that, and I agree, I feel like we’re at [00:14:30] that stage where we’re seeing that everywhere. Time Magazine had on their cover, “Mindfulness has gone mainstream,” and we’re seeing so many of these thoughts from the East merging into the corporate level and to personal practice. I think it’s kind of doing what yoga did not long ago when it just kind of came and now yoga is so common. Nobody bats an eye if you talk about practicing yoga [00:15:00] and it’s exciting to see that the same thing is starting to have with practices like meditation.

Speaking of the practice part of it, something that I came across that I thought was interesting with your story was, so you start going to these retreats and you start practicing, right? Putting this into practice, and there’s one instance that I’ve read about that I thought was interesting, was a 100 [00:15:30] day retreat that you did that was in the winter, so it was cold, and you had some experiences there dealing with the cold, the towels freezing or the water. Tell me a little bit about that experience. Where was that and what was that like?

Shinzen Young:                    Yeah, people like that story. As I mentioned, my original interest was Asian [00:16:00] culture, so when the ’60s came around, there was money to study Buddhism in graduate school because we were having a war in a Buddhist country, Vietnam, and Buddhists had the political influence there, so the Congress would pay for a graduate education for a native-born American [00:16:30] to study Buddhism as a specialty. It was actually probably from the Department of Defense. It was called a national defense scholarship, so …

Noah Rasheta:                      [crosstalk 00:16:42]

Shinzen Young:                    Just like now they want native-born Americans who may be very familiar with Arabic or Islamic culture, well, there were political and military implications for Buddhism in the 60s, so Congress paid for [00:17:00] me to go to graduate school and study Buddhism, which originally I did … I should say, there were no strings attached on that money, by the way. I was never asked to do anything in return.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow.

Shinzen Young:                    Which was sort of pretty cool. I was studying it academically and I wanted to study a school of Buddhism that no Westerner had studied, [00:17:30] which at that time was unique in that regard. Well, maybe not unique but special in that regard, so I chose Shingon which is Japanese Vajrayana. It’s the Japanese analog of the practices that are so representative of Tibet. Not that it comes from Tibet, but both the Japanese Shingon and the Tibetan [00:18:00] Vajrayana practices share a common origin in late Indic Buddhism, so Vajrayana practices came into China and then were brought to Japan and preserved there as the Shingon school and then those practices also went into Tibet and were preserved there.

People were beginning to study Tibetan practices quite a bit but no one had looked at Japanese Vajrayana [00:18:30] as a scholar. You needed a lot of languages to do it and I was always good in Asian languages. I didn’t just go to Japanese school. My parents got me a Mandarin Chinese tutor and they got me a Sanskrit tutor all while I was still in high school, so my parents were terrific in that regard.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow.

Shinzen Young:                    They gave me a very enriched environment, particularly with regards to Asian languages, [00:19:00] so I had a pretty impressive repertoire of languages that I knew you would need to study Shingon, because you have to look at Sanskrit things. You have to look at the Tibetan analogs. You have to be able to read classical Chinese, classical Japanese and modern Japanese, so I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna specialize in Shingon because there aren’t that many people that have that skill set, and I’ll carve out a little bailiwick in the academic world [00:19:30] as the Western expert on this particular subset of Buddhism, but when I got to Japan, they didn’t want to have anything to do with me, basically, and all of my academic credentials didn’t mean, well, as we would say in Yiddish, didn’t mean bupkis. Didn’t mean anything, okay?

I got there and they just turned me away because they said, “This is not something that you do to decorate [00:20:00] your ego somehow, that you know something special. This is a transformative practice.” Now, if you’re willing to become a monk and follow our rules for a few years, then maybe we’ll teach you something, so it was basically my way or the highway. Certain things had happened in my life. I’d done drugs which almost everyone [00:20:30] did of my generation. That showed me that there were altered states. Also, horrifically tragically things happened to people that I really cared about and I say, “Oh my God,” what the Buddhists talk about when they talk about the noble truth of suffering. This is really relevant.

That combination of having seen some possibilities because of using psychotropic [00:21:00] substances plus the life lessons of seeing that your world can just come tumbling down in terms of conditional happiness in 30 seconds. Life is just a phone call away. It’s just an email away, and you can go from easy street to hell on Earth, which happened to people that I really cared about. THat’s sort of [00:21:30] brought … Those two things made the notion of practice real for me, so when the [abbott 00:21:38] said, “Hey, maybe we’ll teach you, just just come into the temple and just do what you’re told for a few years,” I said, “Okay.”

Finally after about a year, actually … It was starting to get really cold and he said, [00:22:00] “Okay, I’ll teach you, but it’s gonna be the old school way. It’s a hundred days in isolation. You spend it mostly in the meditation hall without any source of heat, and, oh yes, by the way, there’s this thing that we call cold water purification,” which he pointed out is actually not a Buddhist practice. It’s a Shinto shamanic practice but it had become part of traditional Shingon, [00:22:30] and so it entailed basically the equivalent of a cold shower on steroids three times a day, basically, stripping down and just pouring this stinging bucket of ice water over your naked body, et cetera.

Fortunately, before this all began, someone had begun to teach me how [00:23:00] to meditate, so I knew the difference between being in a concentrated state, what is generically, as you know, in Buddhism, called [foreign language 00:23:09]. I mean, that word can mean various things, but in its most generic sense, it just means any level of concentration. I’d had light experiences of [foreign language 00:23:22] before this, and I noticed that when I had to go through that and other physical ordeals [00:23:30] associated with this, if I stayed in a concentrated state, it was a lot less horrific and as soon as I left a concentrated state, it was untenable and undoable.

I realized, “Oh, okay, this is what a monastery is. It’s a giant feedback device.” The Christian term for what we, in Buddhism, would call [foreign language 00:24:00] [00:24:00] is recollection, meaning not to remember but to collect yourself back. [foreign language 00:24:05] Your attention is scattered. You bring it back. Well, that’s known outside of Buddhism and in Christianity it’s called recollection. Judaism and Hebrew, it’s called [foreign language 00:24:18]. In Arabic it’s called [foreign language 00:24:20], et cetera, et cetera.

Anyway, I noticed that if I maintained a somewhat recollected state during all of this, [00:24:30] there was a lot less suffering and as soon as I got scattered, there was a lot more suffering, so I realized, “Oh, it’s a giant feedback device,” and I also realized it’s a hundred day commitment and on day three I’m looking at 97 more days. I realized there’s exactly three things that are gonna happen here. I’m either going to suffer horribly [00:25:00] for 97 days or I’m gonna spend the next 97 days in a continuous state of high concentration, or I’m gonna give up and return to the states in shame and disgrace.

Because of those life experiences that I had, the choice was obvious. When I completed that hundred days, I was literally re-engineered. I went [00:25:30] in one kind of human being and came out a different kind of human being, and it was a very, very small price to pay for not just a new life but a new kind of life.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure. Yeah, I think that sounds fascinating. I think a lot of us kind of imagine a scenario like that and think, “Wow, it would be cool to go through an experience like that. It’s like a romanticized …”

Shinzen Young:                    Yeah, it sounds …

Noah Rasheta:                      … Image, right?

Shinzen Young:                    I could tell you …

Noah Rasheta:                      [00:26:00] Like [crosstalk 00:26:00] to do that but not really.

Shinzen Young:                    I can assure you that the exoticism and the romance gets old very, very quickly.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure.

Shinzen Young:                    However, here’s the thing, of course. I mean, like I say, people like hearing these stories, but the problem with telling these stories is that then people think, “Well, if that’s what you have to do to make [00:26:30] progress or get enlightenment, forget about it. I’m not up for that,” so the flip side of this kind of story, someone who consensually put themselves through an old school training like this, the flip side of this story is it is absolutely relevant to every person listening to this podcast.

It is absolutely relevant to the life of every human being, because [00:27:00] no, you might not go off and consensually put yourself in this situation, but it is highly probable that in the course of your life, you will be put into that situation and by that situation, I mean a situation of mental, emotional or physical distress or some combination thereof, whereby your only choice is to [00:27:30] turn it into a transformative, empowering experience through maintaining formal meditation or have it be horrific abject suffering that may leave you frail and disempowered, or take your life. That kind of trichotomy will be relevant to most people [00:28:00] and so knowing that there’s something between abject suffering and suicide becomes very relevant to every human being.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I think this is a great segue into the overall topic I wanted to get into with this, which is, you’re faced with a situation in this case where you are … Like you said, you’re three days into something knowing, “Okay, I have a choice for how I take the next 97 days, [00:28:30] right?” In a very real way, like you just highlighted, we are all presented with this when it comes to discomfort. I may be going through the loss of a job or a relationship that’s failing. Those are kind of on one end, right? But even the smaller discomforts of I’m in my car and here I am at the red light. How am I gonna handle the next 30 seconds? Am I going to just sit here and complain that life is [00:29:00] unfair because don’t you know who I am? I’m not supposed to be at a light, right?

It’s a similar scenario which goes back to the first noble truth, which is in life, difficulties will arise and in that moment of recognizing that we have a difficult … The situation at hand, right? There’s a difficulty that arises, what do we do now? Now what? I think this is what I like to compare with what your experience [00:29:30] is, is one example, and there are so many others, but we’re faced with this situation where we can try to avoid the discomfort, escape it. Like you said, you could’ve left and gone back. That would’ve been escaping it, or you could, as we’re calling this interview, escape into it. Escaping into the discomfort.

I’d love to talk about that now a little bit. Taking this idea of escaping into, the keyword into, right? [00:30:00] As opposed to escaping from, because I do think that our tendency in maybe … Maybe it’s human tendency, but especially in our western way of thinking, is here’s this discomfort. Let me fix it and get rid of it, which can be good, right? This is where I think science can step in and we solve and we fix things. The antibiotics are an example of that, so I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but that mindset of continually [00:30:30] trying to escape it, with some situations in life, you can’t escape the general discomfort that will arise. Let’s talk a little bit about switching that mindset from recognizing that we can escape into the discomfort.

Shinzen Young:                    Sure. Because, as you know, I have training in math and science, I tend to think like a scientist and I tend to express [00:31:00] myself like a scientist, so you’ll have to forgive that I get a little bit geeky sometimes. One of the things that you always are interested in math and science is called generalization, which means, okay, let’s look at the biggest picture possible. What’s the big picture here? The big picture … There’s a bunch of things I want to say about the big picture and then I’ll address specifically what you’re asking.

Noah Rasheta:                      [00:31:30] Okay.

Shinzen Young:                    One thing about the big picture is it’s important to know that the degree to which you are empowered by a challenging sensory experience, the degree to which a challenging sensory experience, an uncomfortable experience in [00:32:00] inner or outer see, hear, feel, the degree to which that is empowering for you is a function of two variables, not just one. One of the variables is how intense the experience is. The other variable is how much mindfulness you can maintain within that experience. There’s good news [00:32:30] and there’s other news depending on how you want to look at it.

Let’s look at the good news first. A very intense, challenging distress in mind or emotions or the physical body will bring about huge empowerment if you can bring even a modicum of concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity [00:33:00] to it. That’s my definition of mindful awareness. Concentration power, sensory clarity, equanimity. Three orthogonal dimensions working together. The degree to which you can bring those mindful awareness skills to an uncomfortable situation measures how mindful you are. If the uncomfortable situation is very big but you can maintain even a little [00:33:30] bit of mindfulness, you’re gonna get a huge transformation and empowering experience. That’s good news.

Let’s look at another good news. Let’s say that the sensory challenge is trivial. Like, you’re annoyed because you’re at a stoplight. What you mentioned. Let’s say that you have that small annoyance, minor annoyance, but you’re able to bring a huge amount of mindfulness [00:34:00] to that moment. You’re able to muster, start on a dime, see, see, feel, see, feel, hear … You notice, I don’t have to sit down and meditate with my eyes closed for 10 minutes in order to be able to monitor my sensory experience very precisely. See, see, feel.

You want to reach the point where you can start on a dime. [00:34:30] You can start on a dime with mindfulness in any situation, so a minor discomfort with huge mindfulness will empower you as much as a huge discomfort with a little bit of mindfulness, so you can look upon that as a win-win situation, so you don’t have to think it has to be something really big necessarily. It can be something small if you’re able to muster [00:35:00] a Herculean resolve to bring full awareness to it.

The other good news is with something big, you might not be able to be very mindful, but if you’re even a little bit mindful, the results are terrific. Now, if you’ve been really wise in life and you have prepared yourself systematically by having a [00:35:30] practice that involves life practice, retreat practice, working with a coach, at least one coach, you do formal practice, you do informal practice. If you have all of these elements lined up, I’ve got a article on the internet called an outline of practice where I outline the components that you need to have a practice in detailed [00:36:00] classification, but in any event, if you’ve been smart and you’ve had those things in place in your life, then when big things happen, you’ll actually be able to bring an enormous amount of mindfulness to those experiences.

What does that mean? Well, that means that even though you didn’t decide to go off to Japan and do the Samurai bootcamp/Samurai torture chamber [00:36:30] form of old school practice, you didn’t sign up for that, but you prepared yourself with a householder’s practice over the years, then when something really big happens in your life, you will go in one person and come out a different person, the same way I did, in that consensual situation, and that’s how a householder doing a relatively [00:37:00] … A regular but not big industrial strength practice … A householder doing a regular practice for a long time will have the same exact experience of empowerment as the person that goes off and does traditional training.

You didn’t go to a monastery but you prepared your mindfulness skills and techniques [00:37:30] so that when the horrific thing happened to you, you’re now ready to experience something big … A big challenge with big mindfulness, and so the monastery came to you and in a sense you were ordained and you went through traditional training and you could come out, theoretically even, an enlightened person as the result of [00:38:00] that.

I would say it’s important to realize it doesn’t necessarily have to be something big. Little things can be very significant. It’s also important to realize that if you can’t remember how to maintain a practice during a challenge, then you only need to remember one thing, which is you need to have a competent mindfulness coach on speed dial [00:38:30] that you can contact who will work with you and remind you of what you already know, or if you don’t know that, you need to find a competent mindfulness coach who will work with you and train you in what you need in order to turn the horrific challenge into an empowering experience.

Those are some general guidelines. Even a very experienced meditator may find it challenging to deal [00:39:00] with a really big situation. That’s sort of the bad news, but the good news is even a beginning meditator, if they have a personal coach that works with them interactively, even a beginning meditator can get a huge empowerment from a life challenge. This is why if you go to UnifiedMindfulness.com, you’ll see that we train [00:39:30] people … As soon as a person is a meditator, we will train you to be a facilitator. Our goal is all human beings not only practice this stuff but they can teach this stuff, so the optimal way to teach and support people so that they can transform the little and big challenges of life into these empowering growth [00:40:00] situations.

I would say the trick to the whole thing is to get a competent personal coach who works with you interactively. In any event, if you can’t remember all the things I’m about to say, which is the specific answer to your question, “How do you escape in?” I’m going to describe how you escape in, but a person [00:40:30] might forget or even if they have access to this information, they might not be able to implement it because the challenge is just to huge, so the one thing to remember is find someone who has a track record of working with people and that will take you through, will support you, so that you get MMM, maximum [00:41:00] meditation mileage from each of the life challenges. This is sort of a broad context to answer your question.

Now, to the sort of money piece or the specific answer, how do you escape into a uncomfortable experience? First thing to bear in mind is that the only way that you know you’re having an uncomfortable experience [00:41:30] is … This is gonna seem sort of stupid to say, but it’s a sensory experience. It may be triggered by an external situation. Something that’s happening in the objective world. You have an illness or there’s something in the world or in your life that you don’t like. A situation. It may be triggered by something objective in the world and maybe you can do something about that. Maybe you can’t.

If you can do something about it, fine, [00:42:00] but if you can’t, then what? Well, then you do have another option. You can escape into it. The first thing to remember is that although it may be something objective in the real world like an illness, an injury, a situation in politics or a society that won’t change for a while, it may be something real in the world and we’re not advocating that you be [00:42:30] indifferent to changing conditions, but there is also an independent dimension called escaping into the sensory experience that is caused by that condition.

Let’s say that you have physical discomfort. That’s one kind of body experience. You have physical [00:43:00] discomfort, so that’s gonna be a component of your distress. What other sensory components might be present? Well, you might have mental images triggered by that physical discomfort. You might have mental talk triggered by that physical discomfort. You might have … I’m gonna get rid of this. Sorry for that. I leave the phones on just in case. [00:43:30] Just in case there’s some problem with the broadcast, so you can reach me, but then we get these other things, so, sorry about that.

Noah Rasheta:                      [crosstalk 00:43:50]

Shinzen Young:                    What else could there be? Well, maybe you have physical pain, so uncomfortable physical sensation. You’ve got … Let me just take care [00:44:00] of this.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure.

Shinzen Young:                    Hi. Actually you are now on a podcast being viewed by several hundred people because you called me while I’m on the air. I free up at two o’clock eastern time. Try to get me later in the day then. Shoot me an email. [00:44:30] Okay. Have any message to the people on the Secular Buddhist podcast? Say what? What? Okay, I’ll tell them that. Bye bye. We’ll talk about that later.

Noah Rasheta:                      One of the unique aspects of being live. We just [00:45:00] see it all as it’s happening.

Shinzen Young:                    Let’s say it’s even worse. Let’s say all that’s going on and you’re in the hospital where there’s all these intrusive noises in the outer world. You’ve got all of these sense channels that are having uncomfortable experiences. The first thing you do is divide and conquer. You realize, “Okay, it’s coming to me through this sensory experience, [00:45:30] this sensory experience, this sensory experience,” so let’s untangle those strands. Let’s just take the simpler scenario. You are going through an emotional distress, so you’re experiencing rage or terror or grief or shame or impatience or disgust. You’re going through an emotional challenge. What are the sensory components there? Well, you might have visual thought, you might have [00:46:00] auditory thought and you have body emotions so there are just three.

You track it. See, hear, feel, so that instead of them criss-crossing and multiplying together, it’s just A plus B plus C, so you use your sensory clarity piece to untangle the strands, because if you don’t keep track of what part is visual, what part is auditory, what part is somatic, then [00:46:30] instead of 10 plus 10 plus 10, you’re gonna get 10 times 10 times 10. Separating out the components using, for example, a noting technique where you break your thoughts into visual and auditory, so see, hear, and then you’re aware of the presence or absence of body emotion.

First step is identify the sensory strands and then monitor them and untangle them, [00:47:00] noting the noting technique from the Mahasi lineage of mindfulness is very good for that kind of thing. Now what? You’ve got them untangled. The next thing you do is you unblock them. You, to the best of your ability, give them permission to expand and contract as they wish. You can read my essay on the internet. “What is equanimity?” will explain that process but the skill of [00:47:30] allowing sensory experience to expand and contract without interfering with that process, that skill I call equanimity.

With the equanimity, you unblock them. Well, it turns out that this combination of untangling the sensory strands and then unblocking their natural flow will cause the solid experience of suffering to go through a [00:48:00] phase change, which is analogous to water going from being ice to being liquid to being vapor. Essentially the degree to which you can bring concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity to that sensory experience will measure the degree to which you are fully present in that experience, and there’s a certain critical [00:48:30] value beyond which if your concentration, clarity and equanimity exceed that value, there will be a change in the experience itself that causes discomfort to no longer bother you and causes pleasure to deliver greater fulfillment. The metaphor that I would use is, chemically, [00:49:00] ice, tap water and steam, or H2O. H2O is H2O, viewed from the chemical point of view.

You can’t bathe in ice. You can’t drink ice cubes. You can’t be nurtured by drinking ice cubes. You can’t be comforted by taking a bath, or cleansed. Better metaphor still [00:49:30] by taking a bath in ice cubes, but if the ice is converted into warm water, you can cleanse your being with it, and if it’s converted into cold water, you can have a refreshing drink. It’s hard to believe that physical, emotional, mental and even [00:50:00] external sight sound discomfort could go through that kind of transformation. Especially it’s hard to believe and therefore rather amazingly that it’s true, that you do this merely by being so present with the experience that there’s no time to solidify the experience into a something and it both enhances fulfillment with [00:50:30] pleasure and reduces suffering with pain. This could be described as the process of escaping into the experience.

Noah Rasheta:                      I like that and I love the analogy of H2O is H2O, because as the composition, it’s exactly true, and yet those three, steam, water [00:51:00] and ice can seem so different from each other.

Shinzen Young:                    It’s drawing a metaphor from science. A physicist would call that a phase change. Chemically there’s no change. Pain still hurts, but when it goes into a fluid phase, it’s hurt without suffering, and in fact, hurt that tastes like empowerment. Pleasure is still pleasure. When it goes into a fluid [00:51:30] phase, though, it’s pleasure with deep fulfillment that also tastes like empowerment, so it works to our advantage both ways. It’s really quite extraordinary.

Noah Rasheta:                      I think it is important to highlight the fact that for a lot of people, the idea that pain and suffering aren’t the same thing can be revolutionary in the same way that you use this [00:52:00] analogy that if you had only known ice, if you were born on a planet where the only phase of H20 is ice, you would be shocked to see people on another planet are swimming in that stuff and enjoying the very same element that may produce so much discomfort for me in the realm with how I’m familiar with it.

Shinzen Young:                    On the frozen planet, and in fact, unless you visited the other planet, you could never understand it, because the [00:52:30] person from Earth would try to tell you about water, but when water is translated into the language of the frozen planet, the word for water means ice. There’s not a word for other kinds of water in the language of the frozen planet, so almost all human beings, psychospiritually, live on the frozen planet. The only synonym [00:53:00] for pain is suffering. There’s not another word for pain that means “pain that isn’t suffering,” and there’s not another word for pleasure that means specifically what the special fulfillment that you get by having a complete experience of pleasure, what the Tibetans call [foreign language 00:53:27], the oneness of bliss [00:53:30] and void.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I think using that analogy, I think on our planet, for some people, it’s a radical shift in perspective to think discomfort, this thing that I run from, you’re saying that I can run into it. That I can essentially become comfortable with discomfort and change my relationship with it, where we’ve been on this mindset of, “No, that’s something you need to get rid of. I never want discomfort. [00:54:00] Push it away. Do everything I can to escape it,” and then the Buddhist approach is saying, “Wait a second, that’s the very problem here, is you’re trying to run away from something that you can’t run away from, which is difficulties arise.” Discomfort is a very natural way of experiencing reality, but increasing your tolerance or the ability to become comfortable with that discomfort, well, that changes the game. That’s like this ice over here, now I’m bathing in it, or [00:54:30] it can be a steam bath too. You know?

Shinzen Young:                    Yeah. The way I would state it is a little more nuanced because we have to be careful how we language this because it can give a distorted impression to people that may not be familiar with Buddhism. Here’s what I mean. It’s important to realize that the ability to escape into discomfort [00:55:00] does not, in any way, interfere with the ability to eliminate the discomfort. They belong to independent dimensions, and neither does it, in any way, interfere with the ability to change the conditions that are causing the discomfort.

Sometimes within the Buddhist context, the way that we habitually talk about things, if [00:55:30] we’re not super careful, people get the impression that Buddhism is indifferent to changing conditions, and is indifferent to palliating symptoms, okay? Those are legitimate dimensions. If you can stay within the cannons of good character and do something to change a condition [00:56:00] that you want changed, go ahead and do it. If there’s a medication that will dull the pain and it doesn’t lead to side effects or problems, hey, go ahead, be my guest. All I’m saying is that inevitably we encounter situations that we cannot change within the cannons of what is ethically acceptable, at least for a while, [00:56:30] or in some cases, ever, and inevitably we encounter discomforts that we can’t palliate or maybe shouldn’t palliate because they’re to motivate and direct our behavior.

The ability to escape into the sensory experience associated with those kinds of challenges does not make you indifferent to the other dimensions of freedom that are available. In fact it frees up energy. [00:57:00] Sometimes the ability to escape into the emotional pain causes by a situation in the world will actually free up energy to more effectively deal with that situation, so we want to make sure that we don’t give people the impression that we’re advocating you should always just escape into discomfort and never try to change the underlying situation or that palliating symptoms [00:57:30] is for wimps or whatever.

The fact is, is that we’re merely offering to people an important fourth dimension of relief. I distinguish four forms of relief. One is, change the situation. You’re sick, cure the sickness. Another is, well, you can’t change the situation so palliate the symptoms, so we [00:58:00] give you an analgesic. Both of those are part of medicine. Now, what if we can’t palliate the symptoms? Well, the doctor’s gonna tell you, “Well, just try to ignore them and get on with your life.” Well, lots of luck with that, except if we have mindfulness skills, we can actually do that. You can implement a strategy of turning away from the discomfort using your concentration, clarity and equanimity to focus on other things.

That’s using mindfulness [00:58:30] to escape from the discomfort. That’s also a legitimate way of working, but if you can’t do that, then there’s still something you can do. That’s the deepest, most counterintuitive form of relief, which is, “Okay, we used the same skill set that we would use to focus on something restful or an anchor in the outer world to focus away from the discomfort. That same [00:59:00] skill set, concentration, clarity, equanimity, we now turn towards the discomfort. We untangle, we unblock, we escape into it.

There are really four fundamental strategies and there’s nothing to say that we can’t try to implement many of them at once, but the good news is that there is this final option. You can turn towards it in a way that you escape into [00:59:30] it. Notice for the second two options, the turn away from it and get on with your life, and turn towards it and deconstruct both of those require mindfulness skills. The first two options changes a situation or palliate the symptoms. They don’t require mindfulness skills. They’re things that everyone understands.

The bad news is most people, if they have a distress, [01:00:00] can only think in terms of changing the situation, and if the situation can’t be changed, they’re up the creek without a paddle. The good news is, even if you can’t change the situation, even if you can’t palliate the symptoms, even if you can’t turn your attention away from them, there is this other option. The wise person trains themselves systematically to be able to implement that other option.

Noah Rasheta:                      [01:00:30] I love that. Yeah, thank you for sharing that and highlighting those things. I think when I think of it, the way it makes sense to me, what you’re explaining, is essentially that there’s the feeling, the sensory experience of what is. It might be pain. It might be emotional discomfort. Whatever it is, and then almost simultaneously and often times without even knowing it, we have the feeling about the feeling, [01:01:00] and it’s inside of that second sphere that a lot of unnecessary suffering and discomfort arises that no longer has to do directly from the first experience. It’s what we’re experiencing about the experience, and I think for me, the visual of escaping into discomfort is it’s saying, “Well, there’s discomfort and then there’s immediately the discomfort about feeling the discomfort, and I’m escaping back into layer one,” which is whatever the situation at hand was, whatever [01:01:30] the original experience …

Shinzen Young:                    Yes, but I have to point out that there’s a little bit of a subtlety involved in that too.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah.

Shinzen Young:                    Because sometimes layer two, the second arrow, is so compelling that you can’t just ignore it, in which case you can escape into it by having a full experience, so there’s a deeper second order [01:02:00] of escape. A lot of times within the Buddhist context, it’s formulated the way that you’re now formulating it. There’s the first arrow and then there’s your reactions, so let’s say the first arrow is physical pain, and then your mental image, mental talk and emotional reactivity is the second arrow. While it is definitely true that if you can background those reactions and focus just on the physical pain, that [01:02:30] that physical pain will eventually break up into a kind of energy.

It is also true that if you can’t ignore the reactivity, you can untangle and unblock the reactivity, so that’s a …

Noah Rasheta:                      Would you say that it’s maybe even fair to say … You may notice this when you’re on the third, fourth, fifth, sixth arrow and that’s the one that you’re untangling in some situations. [01:03:00] Couldn’t it be that complex as well?

Shinzen Young:                    In my experience, it usually just goes back two or three. There’s something and then there’s a reaction and then there’s a reaction. Usually if you can get back to second or third order, you’re doing pretty good. Actually, there were arguments in the Yogachara school of Buddhism regarding how far back it goes.

Noah Rasheta:                      [crosstalk 01:03:28]

Shinzen Young:                    Academic arguments. [Aninda 01:03:30] [01:03:30] and [Dignaga 01:03:32] and I think Dharma [Paula 01:03:39] and one other fellow, I can’t remember now, they argued whether it goes back one, two, three or four, so I don’t know about that, but usually in my experience, if you go back a couple steps, you’ve taken care of it. There are [01:04:00] more steps behind those, but those are in subtle, subliminal activity that you’re not specifically aware of on the surface. Those deeper levels just show themselves as a kind of shimmering on your mental screen or a kind of a stirring in your mental talk space, so you typically, the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to the reaction, beyond [01:04:30] a certain level of subtlety, you don’t actually get that coming up as specific content. You get it as a kind of tug of space and you sort of penetrate it that way. This is getting a little bit technical. I’m sorry. Maybe we should take people’s questions.

Noah Rasheta:                      I was just looking through to see if there are any questions related to what we’re discussing right now. I’m not really seeing anything …

Shinzen Young:                    Well, if it’s other things, we can do that, because we’re already at the one hour point, [01:05:00] so …

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure.

Shinzen Young:                    People might have had things they’d like me to …

Noah Rasheta:                      Well, okay, so …

Shinzen Young:                    Talk about.

Noah Rasheta:                      I do have a question from one person that’s not quite related to this. Well, I guess it’s somewhat related to this. This is from Patrick. He says, “In The Heart Of The Buddhist Teaching, the book by [Tignat 01:05:22] [Hahn 01:05:22], it’s stated that the second noble truth is generally misunderstood as craving being the cause of suffering. [01:05:30] He states that it was just first in a list. Would Shinzen concur that this could be or is the case and that it is generally a misleading representation?”

Shinzen Young:                    Can’t comment because I’m not sure what the list in question is. I’d have to have some specifics on that, unfortunately. [01:06:00] Sometimes I can’t answer a question without asking questions. I don’t know what this list is. I certainly know that the … These kinds of questions, when you’re asking questions about Buddhism, I can give you, because I was trained as a Buddhist academic, I can give you some general guidelines. You want to always find out what the original term was [01:06:30] in the language. If you start debating Buddhist ideas using English translations only, you’re gonna run into misunderstandings very, very quickly.

You always want to … And of course, that requires some work and some study, so you can’t be lazy. You have to find out what the terms were, [01:07:00] so if we’re talking about early Buddhism, we’re talking about Theravada Buddhism, a Pali canon, so in the Poli canon, there is certainly the theme of the four noble truths over and over again. I should say that it probably didn’t mean noble truths. It probably meant truths realized by the nobles. [foreign language 01:07:27], which is translated “noble,” [01:07:30] is a technical term in Buddhism for anyone who has had at least the first level of enlightenment or liberation, so these are truths realized by people who are stream enterers, once returners, non-returners, or worthies [inaudible 01:07:46].

What is it that people in the [foreign language 01:07:50], that are [foreign language 01:07:51] who are noble people spiritually because of their practice? What are the truths [01:08:00] they realize? Now, if you go back to the original Pali, the words are [foreign language 01:08:06] which, translated as you wish, often translated as suffering, but that’s the word we’re talking about. Whatever [foreign language 01:08:15] meant to the Buddha or to people in early Buddhism who wrote those scriptures. THat’s the word we’re talking about. Maybe we can agree to call it suffering. The second term [01:08:30] does not … It is true, does not mean craving. The second of the noble truths is something called [foreign language 01:08:42] and [foreign language 01:08:42] means “necessary cause,” so it means a cause which if eliminated, eliminates an effect. That’s a necessary cause.

Literally, [foreign language 01:08:54] means “the origin.” [foreign language 01:08:58] means [01:09:00] “coming up” and [foreign language 01:09:02] means “come up together,” but in this case, it means, “Technically what a logician would call a necessary condition,” so the Buddha says there is suffering, there’s a necessary condition for suffering, meaning something that you can eliminate that will eliminate suffering. Now, often that is parsed as [foreign language 01:09:26], which would literally mean [01:09:30] thirst or craving, so I’m not sure what else might be on the list, but to me, the important thing is the claim that suffering has a necessary cause, that there’s something that has to be there for suffering to be there.

In other words, the Buddha is not saying that you’re going to go out and do something that’s gonna make [01:10:00] you happy because you’re enlightened as an attainment. He’s sort of saying there is non-enlightenment, and non-enlightenment has a necessary cause, and if you eliminate that, enlightenment’s just there, and then he’s saying [foreign language 01:10:17] and [foreign language 01:10:19], so there is a sufficient intervention called [foreign language 01:10:24] path which will eliminate the necessary cause, [foreign language 01:10:29], [01:10:30] for suffering, and what will arise then is a very special kind of non-suffering that he called [foreign language 01:10:41], which is synonymous with Nirvana, but literally means cessation, so there is an interesting logical structure to the four noble truths. There’s this uncomfortable reality [01:11:00] and it has a necessary condition. There’s a sufficient intervention to eliminate that necessary condition, therefore there’s a sufficient intervention to come to a state of non-problem. That’s the logical structure there.

So, what’s interesting to me is if we … Remember, I said scientists always want to generalize things. If we generalize this logical structure, [01:11:30] we have to ask ourself, whatever Buddhism says is a necessary cause for suffering and there might be more than one, okay? Might there be other necessary causes for suffering that are only known to neuroscience but bring about the same results as eliminating [foreign language 01:11:52]? Does [foreign language 01:11:54] itself, whatever … If we say that [foreign language 01:11:58] is [foreign language 01:11:58] and if we [01:12:00] say that [foreign language 01:12:01] is non-equanimity …

You do understand that my word, equanimity, is merely the training away of [foreign language 01:12:10], that’s why I put it in my formulation, so an interesting neuroscience question is, does [foreign language 01:12:20] itself have some biophysical, necessary condition underlying it? Is there something that can change in the brain which would bring [01:12:30] about exactly the elimination of [foreign language 01:12:35] with no other effects? If so, then that means that there would be some other [foreign language 01:12:41], some other intervention that, maybe it’s not a complete path as far as a human being goes, but it might be enough to bring about the liberation aspects of the practice. There’s more to this practice than liberation from the mind and body. There’s being a good person, for [01:13:00] example. That’s probably different training, but anyway, I’m sorry, that’s about all I could say about that question without further knowledge.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure. Okay, thank you. Another question that comes from Wendy, she says, “In his book, The Science of Enlightenment, I noticed Shinzen Young was not afraid to use the word God and alternatively the source [01:13:30] or origin or something. Origin of something or something. I found it refreshing and wondered how he felt when some Buddhist teachers have negative reactions to the secularization of meditation/mindfulness?”

Shinzen Young:                    Well, remember I said I had a Jewish education? One of my rabbi’s heroes was the philosopher Spinoza, [01:14:00] who was Jewish but got kicked out of orthodox Judaism because of his philosophy, but now is looked upon as sort of a philosophical hero in the world, and interestingly was one of the first people that tried to bring something of the spirit of Euclid into ethical and religious questions. A little bit like the science spirituality [01:14:30] interface that’s going on now, so one of my favorite phrases from Spinoza is three words in Latin, and they were probably the three words that got him kicked out of Judaism. The three words are [foreign language 01:14:55], which [foreign language 01:14:56], you may recognize, is the Latin word for God. [foreign language 01:15:01] [01:15:00] is not hard to guess. It’s the Latin word for nature. What does [foreign language 01:15:06] mean? Well, it means war, in the sense of call it God, call it nature, call it whatever you want, okay? He equated the nature of nature with God. He said, “Call it God, call it nature.”

So, [01:15:30] call it nirvana or call it the source or call it the true self or call it the no self or call it the nature of experience or who knows.

Noah Rasheta:                      [crosstalk 01:15:47] or oneness …

Shinzen Young:                    Maybe even the nature of nature. You can call it anything you want. What you call it is [01:16:00] not the issue. The issue is how directly you experience it, how strong your connection with it is, given all the doo-doo that’s gonna hit the fan in your life. That matters, from my perspective. The name, the philosophical formulation, how we try to describe it is pretty inconsequential, so half the enlightened people on [01:16:30] this planet call it the true self, the true witness. The other half say there is no self and there is no witness, so does that mean there’s two opposite forms of liberation or does that mean that there are different ways to talk about the same experience that may even seem to be the diametric opposite?

For people that want to think about it using the G-word in English or the D-word in [01:17:00] Latin, or the [foreign language 01:17:05] word in Hebrew, use whatever word you want. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m comfortable with all that language. I just want to make sure you have an industrial strength experience of it. As far as secularizing Buddhism, well, I know you call this the Secular Buddhist podcast. That’s not a term [01:17:30] I personally use. I like to just speak of modern mindfulness, by which I mean broadly contemplative practice co-evolving with modern science, that the two sort of cross-fertilizing. Now, I think that that cross-fertilization can occur without in any [01:18:00] way watering down the spiritual clout or the ethical impact of the traditional practice. We just have to language things carefully and be very clear about what we’re talking about.

I have this thing I call the happiness grid, where I … It’s like a periodic table of sensory elements, except it’s a periodic table of happiness elements. There’s 20 boxes [01:18:30] on it, organized in three columns that are sort of analogous to families of chemicals in the periodic table of chemical elements, so I talked about one of those families today, which is reducing suffering, relief, and you notice I actually talked about four different ways to get relief, one of which was obvious to anyone, and one of which was not obvious to most people at all. [01:19:00] You can change conditions, you can palliate symptoms, you can turn your attention away from the symptoms or you can escape into the symptoms. Those are four dimensions of the type of happiness called relief. There’s another aspect of happiness called fulfillment.

There’s another aspect of happiness called skillful action. Mastery of your actions. That’s where ethics and character come in. [01:19:30] Then there’s another aspect of happiness that is service. That’s where altruism comes in, and then there’s another aspect of happiness, which is people are happy if they know themselves deeply. You want to know yourself at a surface level, a psychologist can help. You want to know yourself at a somewhat deeper level, a depth psychologist or a shaman can help. You want to understand yourself as a sensory system or you want to understand yourself as the nature [01:20:00] of nature, well, for those levels of self-understanding, you need concentration, clarity and equanimity skills. Now, what is traditionally called enlightenment or stream entry, in my happiness grid, is simply described as understanding yourself as a sensory system and then understanding the deeper nature of that sensory system, what the taste of pre-conscious processing is within that system.

Well, I’ve just [01:20:30] described enlightenment in a way that is not off-putting to anyone, because everyone knows that they have different levels inside themselves and most people are curious about those, and the deeper levels, the ones that entail understanding yourself as primordial perfection or the nature of nature or the source that literally just mean source. It means just before there’s conscious inner and outer, see, hear, feel, there’s subliminal processing. Before [01:21:00] you are born and the world is born, you had a face, moment by moment. That’s how the zen people describe it, and then they’ll give you the “go on, show me that” face. Manifest for me the un-struck sound, the sound of one hand clapping.

All that means is be aware of what sound sounds like just before you become consciously aware of it. Be aware of what inner and outer vision looks like just before you become [01:21:30] consciously aware of it. Well, it turns out that at the deepest level of neuronal processing, all experience, pleasant or unpleasant, inner or outer, has the same taste [foreign language 01:21:41], one taste, and all we’re doing is saying that there’s a dimension of happiness called “understand yourself.” You go to a psychologist for the surface levels of that, but with mindfulness skills, we’ll be able to show you some deeper levels.

Now, we’ve brought in classical [01:22:00] enlightenment without using the E-word, without saying anything that sounds weird to ordinary people. You want to understand yourself? You understand that there can be deeper levels of that? Well, let’s look. Once again, we brought in character not by giving people a list of specific norms right away but rather by asking people, “Are there behaviors that you would like to change?” Well, I can show you how the mindfulness skills will help you with that. [01:22:30] That opens the door to character change, so I’m gonna claim that there’s a way of formulating mindfulness that contains nothing within it that is in conflict with science and contains nothing within it that would be off putting to any major group of human beings regardless of their religion or their politics or their philosophy.

If we’re [01:23:00] smart enough, there’s a way to formulate this whole thing so that it’s accessible to most people and has the full clout of traditional practice. To me, that’s amazing and it means that if we’re very careful in how we describe [01:23:30] things and if we’re willing to think a little bit out of the box, that we can basically enlighten the world.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that and I love the description of the categories of happiness. Excuse me. So, I’m on board with you. I think this is exactly why I feel there need to be multiple [01:24:00] angles and voices explaining and understanding concepts like mindfulness, meditation, enlightenment, because we all speak different spiritual languages, kind of in the way that we speak different love languages, so I appreciate the work that you’re doing and the approach that you’re taking and the vernacular that you’re using. For someone who’s listening and thinking, “I [01:24:30] want to learn more about this. I want to read more of Shinzen’s thoughts,” where would someone go to learn about you, find your book, anything along those lines?

Shinzen Young:                    Well, it’s pretty easy. One of my life goals is to create a really convenient delivery system for the classic results, so that people that live in countries where retreats aren’t available, et cetera, et cetera, [01:25:00] that anyone on the planet can, with time, get the same results that you get from old school monastic training. That kind of delivery system is one of my life goals. This information age makes that feasible, so a little bit of searching on the internet will reveal a lot of resources, but let me just list a few things.

What do you need to be successful [01:25:30] with this practice? Well, you need to have at least one meditation technique. You need to do what I call life practice, which is on a day to day basis, do formal practice and weave informal practice into the day. You need to do retreat practice. You need to have support of at least one competent coach and a community [01:26:00] of people, and ultimately you need to give support in various ways. These are sort of the ducks that a person needs to line up and maintain for their lifetime. If they do so, they have a high probability of success with this practice.

So, in order to understand how to monastasize each day, [01:26:30] how to weave practice into the ordinary activities of life, I have a program on the internet that we call the Life Practice Program, so if you just put in my name, Shinzen Young, and Life Practice Program, that’s gonna pop up. That landing page is self-explanatory, so you can go there and that will help you do the sort of day to day practice, so it’s the Life Practice Program. Shinzen Young’s Life Practice Program. Then most people [01:27:00] cannot get away from retreats, even one day retreats. What to say residential retreats.

How do we bring retreats to the people of the world? Well, I have an idea how to do that. We pipe it to you in very manageable modules. Four hour modules. That’s called the Home Practice Program, and if you go there, wherever you may live in the world, you can do retreats without having to leave your [01:27:30] family or your work or your community, so there’s the home practice program for that component. If you want to learn techniques, I have this grid that basically covers all the meditation techniques in the world. I call it Ultra: The Universal Library for Training Attention, and if you want to learn those techniques, there’s an app that is about to be released called Bright Mind, [01:28:00] and Bright Mind … It’s self-explanatory. You just get it and you’ll learn dozens and dozens of the techniques that I typically teach people.

If you want to learn techniques and if you want to affiliate with a community and if you want to learn how to be a coach of mindfulness, you go to UnifiedMindfulness.com, Julianna Ray’s website. [01:28:30] She does my community … A lot of the community development and the training of facilitators. As soon as you learn some techniques, we will teach you how to teach others, and that’s actually one of the best ways to deepen your practice. So, you’ve got the Bright Mind app. It’s gonna be released probably within the next few days or weeks. Not quite sure, [01:29:00] but they have a website. You’ve got the Life Practice Program, the Home Practice Program, and then the hub, which is UnifiedMindfulness.com to find community and also to … That’s to get support, including support of a personal coach, and that’s also to learn to give support.

Those are the resources and I refer to my approach as unified [01:29:30] mindfulness just to have a name. The unified means that I try to point out the connections between all the different forms of contemplative practice. Not just within the three vehicles of Buddhism, but broadly including Christian, Islamic, Native American and other tribal practices. Jewish and so forth. I see the world’s contemplative traditions as a unified whole [01:30:00] and that unification can be seen by being clear about the ways in which the different approaches relate to each other. I’ve created what an information scientist would call an ontology of contemplative approaches. An ontology is like a taxonomy. It’s like a classification system, but with an added feature, that relationships between the elements are made clear.

[01:30:30] You get a unified knowledge map. That’s technically called an ontology in modern computer science information systems, so I’ve been influenced by these notions and I’ve created what I believe is an ontology of the world’s contemplative traditions. Just to have a name for it, I call it unified mindfulness. That’s sort of the moniker, and then the programs that I mentioned, Life Practice [01:31:00] Program, Home Practice Program, the Bright Mind app and Julianna’s facilitator program at Unified Mindfulness Hub, which is UnifiedMindfulness.com.

That’s the delivery system that’s a pretty inexpensive and available to anyone, but it doesn’t have to be my approaches. The elements, life practice … I’m sorry, retreat practice, [01:31:30] life practice, getting support, giving support. Those elements will be present in any organization that is teaching these things, and you find the organization that has the vibe that appeals to you and you’re good to go.

Noah Rasheta:                      Awesome. I love that, and for those how are listening live, I will be posting these links on the podcast [01:32:00] interview page, so if you’re listening later, if you’re not listening live or watching live, you’ll be able to scroll down. You’ll see an entire transcript of our conversation and I will have links at the bottom where you can find Shinzen’s book, Shinzen’s website and all of that information. So, thank you very much again for taking the time to join us, to be on the podcast to spend some time discussing these concepts [01:32:30] with me. It’s been a fun conversation. Any last goodbye to anyone listening live and then I’ll shut off the live portion of this.

Shinzen Young:                    I would say my valediction is there’s good news. You can be 10 times happier than you would’ve ever imagined with a reasonable allocation of time and energy.

Noah Rasheta:                      [01:33:00] Great. Thank you very much. Thank you to those of you who joined us live, watching this today. This will be uploaded to the Secular Buddhism podcast as audio. The Secular Buddhism YouTube channel as a video so you can rewatch it, and it will sit on our Facebook page in this same format so you could go back and rewatch anything that you may have missed, so thank you to those of you who joined us life.

Shinzen Young:                    Thank you to you, [01:33:30] Noah, for this great work. This is [crosstalk 01:33:33] …

Noah Rasheta:    Oh, thank you. Thank you.



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Written by

Noah Rasheta

Noah Rasheta

Kamas, UT
Having fun living life. Podcast Host | Author | Paramotor Flight Instructor