The 5 Aggregates, looking for the core

Last month we discussed Anatta as it applies to existence, follow the link to read more(3 Characteristics of Existence, Anatta). Let’s get a little deeper into the philosophy of Anatta. As we discussed before, the Buddha never said people don’t exist he simply suggested that, what we take to be ourselves is a compounded thing like any other. Stated most simply, we can break it down to smaller pieces. This illusion of simplicity and wholeness of self is tricky and even once it’s outlined it’s a hard pill to swallow.

So if self is not real, what are the components we can break it down to? Enter the 5 Aggregates, you may see the word ‘skandhas’ it means heaps. For me calling them heaps brings to mind images of sorting one big pile of crap into other smaller piles of crap, for parents you know, cleaning your kids room… So what are our piles that this self thing can be broken down to. Form, Feeling, Perception, Mental Formations, and, Consciousness. By those piles combined we are living breathing thinking feeling emotional train wrecks, ha myself included. Let’s outline these 5 in turn.

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Form, is the physical portion of your being. Your physical body which houses the mind, the sense faculties, and, the tissues upon which they rely. Everything corporeal about us lives here. The eyes with rods and cones that react to light, the optic nerve, the brain itself to process. All of that is what helps us see. Without any single link in that chain seeing is difficult if it’s even possible. The same can be said of all the senses. Our body houses all the sense organs and the bits make them work. Even this component is made of components. (That is an underlying lesson in this teaching, even the pieces have pieces). With that one fifth fraction of the 5 we are done talking about the physical portion of being.

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That in itself is another hard pill to swallow, some find it hard to believe that the body is only 20% of the being. According to the Buddha’s teaching that’s it. Now for Feelings, most people immediately thing of: happiness, sadness, anger etc. To be clear those are emotions not feelings. I know you’re thinking “What the hell are feelings then?” In Buddhism Feelings are an initial “taste” of objects or phenomenon. The feelings are of 3 kinds Pleasant\good, neutral\indifferent, and, unpleasant\painful. Each time something comes into contact with our sensitive meats one of these 3 classifications is evoked. We usually don’t even acknowledge that we do, this but we do, every single sensation is met labeled and tucked in the memory banks for later use. Obviously, this is a big piece of the puzzle to make the whole Samsara rat race. Now to breakdown Perception, we gon’ learn today!

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Perception is another building block in the Lego tower of what makes us… well us. Perception is where we begin to experience things and label them. It’s a way to kind of put a handle on things so we can make further use of them. Perception says: This is a chair, He’s tall, She has brown hair and so on. In Perception we begin to quantify the world around us. We then apply our findings to the game of gathering pleasant things and distancing ourselves from the unpleasant things. Perception arises when we contact things either physically, through our sense gates (sight, sound, touch, and, so on), or we contact things in a non-physical manner ie. thoughts, visions, or, symbols. Now we move on to Mental Formations

Until this point we (meaning the self) are reactionary in nature. Mental Formations is where we start doing things about it. This is where our karma comes from, this is where our intentions come from, this place is a big leap we begin to manipulate things to our advantage here. For the most part our manipulations are benign, even to an extent benevolent. But like all powers this is where it can go sideways too. For example we decided in our Perception that a big ass house was a ‘good’ thing. As we now big houses generally require big money, and we have to go about getting it, so far this is pretty ambivalent just making connections, then we decide how we are going to go about making that money. We will apply our principles to our money making, but largely it’s up to us. There is no real ‘right or wrong’ just consequences, an honest job or selling drugs, either can get you to the desired outcome but the choice was made. Dualistic thinking was not something the Buddha was into as it is a subjective game, however, we can judge a choice by it’s fruit. Just like in farming, we plant cantaloupe seeds with a solid concept of the result. In similar fashion robbing people or selling drugs has undesirable side effects, and none of us can find shelter from our choices, one day they catch up to us. If you believe in rebirth then you know karma can catch that ass down the road too. Now that I’ve successfully killed the joy in the room, let’s talk Consciousness.

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Consciousness is the most interesting of the Five in my opinion. It plays a few key roles here. Most basically, it is the generalized ‘light’ of awareness. It also plays a huge role in digesting the sense inputs. Obviously hearing something relies on more than just sound hitting ear drums, there has to be something to handle the input and make sense of it. This is true of all the senses, the consciousness has to process them all. Consciousness also has the unique ability to process it’s own class of stuffs. Thoughts, ideas, notions, symbols, visions all these things are in the territory of consciousness. This is one of the more slippery concepts. Understanding this part is more a matter of experience than a standardized explanation. I know, I know, buck well passed, sadly the path is up to each individual to walk and it isn’t always easy to convey in words. So what lessons can we draw from this things?

To wrap this up and draw some conclusions. Hopefully we are now all on the same page in our knowledge of the pieces that compose this ‘self’ idea that we suffer under. So what else can we draw from the 5 Aggregates? We now have a wealth of ground To meditate upon. Now that we have an intellectual basis upon which we can build now comes the work of realizing these things. If we practice enough we can start to find the seems among not only ourselves but our experiences as well. That is some powerful biz. From this perch you can really begin to see the lay of the land in actuality!

By J.Martin

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Mindfulness no BS Pt.4

Here we are up to The 4th Foundation of Mindfulness. Let’s recap a little. In the 1st Foundation we contemplated the body, how it felt and what was going on with it both generally and specifically Mindfulness and no BS pt. 1.

We then moved to the 2nd Foundation where we contemplated our feelings, and how in the Buddhist scheme of thinking feelings and emotions aren’t the same. We divided these feelings into 3 groups pleasant, painful, and, neutral, and traced them back to their sources Mindfulness and No BS pt. 2 .

Next, we set our sights to the 3rd Foundation of Mindfulness, we learned about using our mind to understand pur mind Mindfulness no BS pt. 3. Here we are at The 4th Foundation of Mindfulness, Contemplation of Dharmas.

This is where we have the duty…, Nay honor, to dig into the more philosophical teachings that Buddhism brings to the world. Things like The 3 Characteristics of Existence, The 4 Noble Truths we discussed them beginning here The First Noble Truth, I see you talkin’ Dukha , The Eight-fold Path, Dependent Arising, The 5 Aggregates of Impermanence, 6 sense faculties, and why stop there. If you have a curiosity of any philosophical teachings this is the time to dig in. But don’t just read it immerse yourself, see what it is truly like. Buddhism, at it’s core encourages deeply penetrating (stop giggling) all possible avenues to truth.

Unlike some belief systems, faiths, religious traditions, etc. Buddhism does not accept dogmas. There exist no truths in all of the Dharma that are above a thorough look under the hood. This in my opinion is the most unique facet of the teachings. You take them, you test them out, if you like it you apply it, if you dont, you move on… Like a boss. There are no ‘no go’ areas of the teaching.

So to be a good Buddhist or a decent self actualized believer in anything, ask those questions, ponder those truths. The only thing forbidden is dogma. And as a slight aside, this is the most misunderstood idea by organized Buddhism as a whole. We are blessed with consciousness it’s up to us to use it! This is where you have an opportunity to really connect with ideas intellectually and metaphysically.

So no matter what you believe test the teachings and apply them, take them apart, smell the pieces… put them on your head. Really dig into them. Learn how they work and truly own your beliefs.

-Enjoy!

The Third Noble Truth, Drop That Dukha!

So for those of you keeping track at home this is number 3. The Third Noble Truth, the truth of the cessation of Dukha. So far Dr. Gautama M.D. has identified the problem, pointed out the origin of the illness, now we’re going to learn how to stop this chronic Dukha issue.

Pretty simple stuff really. Craving or thirst for things and circumstances that we do not have is the problem. So changing things is a matter of changing our mind. Sounds simple, right? Just being merely being more content with what you have. Striving is still important

Just so we don’t cross lines, no one including the Buddha, would not tell you to become an ambitionless slob, sitting in the lotus position to eliminate problems, that just won’t work. Obviously the Buddha needed the drive to become Enlightened. Otherwise why would he reapply himself to the goal again and again. The lesson here is simpler still.

In order to find true happiness, or to lay down this unsatisfactoriness forever, merely be grateful for what you have. Yes I get it, it sounds so trite, nonetheless it is true. So appreciate that less than perfect house, the less than ideal car, and, that not so dream job. Why? Because no matter where you are in life there is a possibility of worse. As for the inverse say you get what you want… all of it. Then what? You have to protect, preserve, and maintain it. And as for getting all that you want, does one more log slake the thirst of the campfire? Hell no, that biotch gonna want another log in like 20 minutes. This is the way things work when their nature is only consumption

In the simplest of terms; be happy for what you have, no need lusting for more, mere contentment goes a long way to your individual happiness. It’s okay to work and desire bigger and better but don’t let it be a “this will complete me” proposition. We are finite yes but each and everyone of us is bigger than that. So get out there and abandon some unhealthy desires

For further reference here are links to the 1st two Noble Truths. Check em out!

1st Noble Truth

The 2nd Noble Truth

Mindfulness no BS pt. 3

We have now come to part 3 of the four foundations of Mindfulness. We have practiced mindfulness of the “Body” and the “Feelings”, now we take the process one step further. Now we will be headed onto Mindfulness of the “Mind”. Period. Full stop. You read that correctly we are going to use the instrument of consciousness to observe the instrument of consciousness.

The audience eye-rolling is so heavy right now my pc just turned over. So let’s take a minute to flesh this out. When you are thinking, you have an inner dialogue, you may even ask and answer your own questions, and on occasions you may get answers. All in an completely inner sense, because lets’s be honest if you didn’t you would most likely get carted off to a facility, with medications and coloring books. We all do it, and it is natural to do so. The point this illustrates is that, though you are thinking to generate this inner dialogue there is still yet another point of view at play here. A man behind the curtain (If you don’t get the Wizard of Oz reference… are you even trying?) if you will. This observer is closer to the “I” or “Self” entity that we identify as ourselves, and we will use this person to perform this next practice of Mindfulness.

The idea is to use the mind to observe the mind. Pretty straight forward and in the spirit of the meditation challenge in mental noting is the word of the day here. The only difference here is we’re noting the mind and it’s movements. If you’re mad think “Why am I mad?”, when you find the source for that anger find out what led to it, “Where did this come from?” . Think of it like watching a slide show… just let all the things pass in front of you, make that note and move to the next, as it comes, each thought in turn. The goal here is to eliminate the subject v. object situation that is usually the average course of thought. This approach to Mindfulness is so simple that it’s hard.
Things you may find here are “Wow my anger, sadness, happiness, etc. all come back to X”, its usually at this point I feel like a big old dummy for not seeing the elephant in the room. Once the thing is clearly outlined and identified the work of addressing it. Now where you go from there is entirely up to you. A good litmus test here is to ask yourself “Can I fix this situation?”. If the answer is “No”, then, work with Letting Go. If the answer is “Yes” then, get out there and do the thing! This is all part of learning how we tick, and really owning our practice. Enjoy!

The Second Noble Truth, Dukha has a beginning

Last time we discussed the First Noble Truth. If you want to get fancy it translates as The Noble Truth of the Universality of Dukha. If you missed it it’s available here (1st Noble Truth). As we discussed Dukha has no adequate translation. Some say suffering, stress, inadequacies, etc. none really capture it, however altogether they’ll give you the idea.

So in the First Truth we outlined the idea that all throughout existence there is this inherent ‘friction’ you could say. Now we come to the Second Truth.

To give the fancy translation is usually something like The Noble Truth of the Origin of Dukha. Now we come to a simple and profound truth. The Buddha said we suffer because of desire.

Not all desire is bad mind you. There are in fact very good and noble dedires. Ok the Buddha left everything behind because he desired to alleviate all suffering. I’m sure you’re thinking “WTF dude! Is desire bad or not!?” The Pali word that was used here is Tanha. The Pali language, like most non-American languages, had a greater ability to communicate meaning. Tanha translates best as craving or thirst. Now we’re beginning the pain in the ass here.

The Buddha said we encounter Dukha because we want things to be something different than they really are. And not just want difference we hunger for it… you know like a crackhead fiends for crack. We crave things like that new car, that big house, that raise, recognition, fame, power, influence, and all the other dumbshit we chase after. The demon here like the all of Buddhism is internal. We are making our own crappy little jail cell and tossing away the key. The big turn around is the Third. Next we’ll cover The Third Noble Truth… Cessation

The First Noble Truth, I see you talkin’ Dukha

The First Noble Truth: The Universality of Dukha

Now the word dukha has no literal translation. Some translate it as suffering, stress, or unsatisfactoriness. None really capture the true essence of the word but add them all up and you have a good idea. The Buddha said all beings experience dukha in fact that all things in life are concealed forms of dukha. “To be united with the unpleasant, and separated from the pleasant” is the best quote I can find to capture the meaning. All beings know it no matter their station in life, as good as you feel things aren’t ever really perfect. And they can’t be, even if you get what you want you’re still faced with protecting or maintaining it. This is just a fact of life. No matter how fortunate you are there is always a sense of lacking, of wishing for just that little bit more. And even if you don’t feel a sense of lack at some point you will die only to give up all you have acquired.

Because of this many people say “The Buddha was such a pessimist”. Not so in my opinion he was a teacher with a mission. For those of us with kids if they are playing and run near the road you usually yell because the fear of danger is very real to you as you know the dangers involved. So too for the Buddha, he was so tired of seeing people wondering around through life from pain to pain, leaving suffering for suffering, only to end in certain death. He wanted us to know that this subtle sense of lack was mixed up in everything it means to “be”. None of this means joy can’t be had or found in life. He just wanted to illustrate that even at it’s absolute best it was only temporary. This principle can help with building compassion you know what it’s like to hurt and lack, so you have already walked a mile in those shoes. Compassion which in my opinion was the hidden point between the lines can help curb your own suffering. Next we will cover the 2nd Noble Truth.

Mindfulness and No BS pt. 2

Last time around we discussed Mindfulness of the Body as the first component of the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness in the Buddhist scheme. This time to continue getting our “meditative swole on” we will be discussing the second of the four foundations, Mindfulness of the Feelings.

So let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is meant by “feelings”? As simple a question as it is most don’t initially catch the drift right away. When we think of feelings we commonly think “Well there’s happiness, sadness, anger, etc.” And that isn’t per se wrong. What the Buddha meant by feeling is the initial impression we receive of a thing we perceive. Feelings in this scheme are of 3 kinds namely: pleasant, unpleasant, and, neutral. And if we really stop and examine any incoming sense datum it’s really that straight-forward. Anything you have ever experienced left you with a pleasant, unpleasant, or, neutral feeling towards it.

So the theme to keep with throughout your “Mindfulness of Feelings” practice is exactly what it sounds like, as inputs come are they pleasant, unpleasant, or, “meh…”? When you begin to really notice these feelings train your attention to the rise and fall of them. Find their edges, where do they start? Where do they end? If you to get really fancy see if you can trace the backwards. Why? Why does this sight, sound, etc. pleasurable, or un-pleasurable? The real work starts when start asking ourselves “But why though…” Sometimes the answers we get while we use this introspection are very telling of traumas we haven’t yet realized we have or realized we haven’t let go of.

You may also find while using this method of mindfulness which particular sense input you attend to the most. Yea yet another thing to observe and trace to a point of origin. So take this and apply it to your practice. What kinds of feelings do you feel throughout the day, what causes them, what do they feel like, why are they here. All these are valid points of focus with this practice. So give it a try if you want to shake up your mindfulness practice. You might be surprised what you learn about your own mind.

-TUB