Talking about how to live a good life is easy, actually living it is difficult. Anyone can use terms like “enlightened,” “awakened,” or “liberated,” or talk about “insight” and “love,” but speaking about something doesn’t just make it so.
We humans tend to distort reality, to put our own vision on it, arising from desire, hatred and underlying ignorance.
Desire, hatred and ignorance are the three roots that keep us chained to existence. The three can be found in our mind in all kinds of degrees, sometimes coarse, sometimes very subtle.
If you practice meditation, even if it is with good intentions, there is a constant danger that you consider yourself and your behavior higher (or lower) than it really is.
For example, after practicing meditation for a long time, mental phenomena may occur, for example, seeing bright light or experiences of deep joy. Before you know it, your mind will start proliferating and think ‘how beautiful’, or ‘look how far I am’, or ‘this must mean that I have achieved this or that’.
Maybe it becomes quieter in your mind and you think ‘how quiet it is, my concentration must be very high’ and then ‘my mind is probably ready for gaining insight (vipassanā)‘.
Or you have an experience of insight during your meditation or during your daily life and think ‘this is really a big insight’ and maybe even ‘I think I have reached (a stage) of liberation’.
You may think that you are living with full mindfulness simply because your mind does not have the concentration, does not have the strength to perceive 99.99% of mental moments.
And loving-kindness can be confused with sentimentality, its near enemy that is very close to longing, through which we look into the world with false rose-colored glasses that only increases our attachment.
You always look at yourself and the world with your own blind spot, with your own limitations. The Buddha taught in the Brahmajala Sutta (very nicely translated into English and provided with a wonderful introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi in his book The All-embracing Net of Views) about the views that we as humans can get caught up in.
What is so confronting about this teaching is that it is many times more subtle than you initially think.
Even deep meditative experiences and the insights that seem to result from them are no guarantee for seeing through reality, as the Buddha teaches, as long as there are still traces of desire, hatred and ignorance underlying them.
Every judgment we make, every time we think something about ourselves or the world, it is probably fueled by this very desire, this hatred and ignorance. Through the underlying desire to be or achieve something or no longer be something, we distort reality, we create new wrong views.
If you have a meditation teacher who has already traveled the path, such a wrong view, because every view is a wrong view, will be corrected.
For example, the meditation teacher may indicate that it is nice that you see light during your meditation, but that if you like it, you will only get low concentration.
Also, if you think you are something a teacher can look at you and teach you some necessary humility with a soft (or hard) hand.
Or vice versa, maybe you did a meditation retreat and you think it didn’t go well, that you didn’t take even a single step forward. That too is a judgment arising from your own limited overview.
A meditation teacher, through the much greater overview and knowing your mind, can indicate that things were going this or that way, and help you maintain the patience to keep going.
Without a good meditation teacher, this doesn’t happen and you risk running in your own circles.
Ahba has said that talking about concentration and wisdom is very easy, anyone can do that, but actually practicing is very difficult. Otherwise, we would all be enlightened very quickly! And that’s not the case. We have to make a lot of effort to take steps on the road to liberation.
It is a confrontational path that requires a lot of courage, perseverance and humility.
The Buddha once said that the meditation process is like the wood planer of a carpenter. Every day the carpenter uses the wood planer, not realizing that the handle is slowly weathering, and it’s only when the handle breaks that he notices the difference. Just as subtle is the step-by-step development of the mind through meditation. A slow grinding process that you cannot judge yourself until the moment of liberation arises.
In Zen Buddhism, the example is given of a student who asks a teacher for guidance. The teacher pours a cup of tea and continues to pour so that the cup floods. Surprised, the student says something about this, and the teacher draws the comparison with our mind. Our mind is like the cup. Once it is full with opinions and views nothing can be added.
A meditation teacher can point out such a mind full of views and help you to let go and become receptive to true insight born of concentration.
Ahba is very clear about it, whenever you have the desire to achieve something during your meditation, whenever you think something about it, this immediately becomes your own handbrake in the process.
Let it go, let everything go.
Make a patient effort, slowly but surely. Just keep trying. If you live morally and continue to practice meditation attentively, then your mind slowly but surely becomes clean and clear.
Concentration will then get the opportunity to arise.
And to a concentrated mind, reality will slowly but surely reveal itself. Not fast. Slowly, but surely.
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You yourselves must strive, the Buddhas only point the wayBuddha, Dhp 276