Pain is not the same as suffering

Pain is not the same as suffering; pleasure is not the same as joy; neither-pleasure-nor-pain is not the same as boredom. Pain and pleasure are physical sensations, which arise automatically from the body’s physical circumstances. But suffering, joy, boredom, and similar things are higher-cognitive states, which often are used to evaluate sensations — whether they are good, bad, neutral, desirable, aversive, etc. Higher-cognitive states like suffering, joy, boredom, etc. can exist in the mind without physical referents. For example, in the first level of jhana meditation, one sees the mind directly and usually feels overwhelming joy; in subsequent levels, the joy becomes more refined/subtle types of happiness and eventually equanimity — all while sitting in sensory deprivation-type environment. People become so accustomed to seeking pleasurable experiences and avoiding painful ones that the evaluative process is mostly unconscious habit. But one can unlearn that habit, and can live experiencing only a “subtle flow of sensations” (Pali: bhaṅgānupassanā ñāṇa), where one feels sensations but is not mentally/emotionally burdened by them.

Protected by belief?

If karma is intention, are people protected by sincerely believing that what they are doing is right/good/OK? For example, are people who believe in what the Christian book of Genesis says, that non-humans were put on Earth by God for humans to exploit/subdue, protected by that belief?

Small probabilities multiply

Statistically, if one repeats a slightly risky activity many times, the small probabilities that something bad will happen are multiplied together, when considering the set of all instances of the activity. For example, if you drive to work 10,000 times, though the likelihood of you having an accident on any given trip might be small, the likelihood of you having an accident at some point during those 10,000 trips is quite high. Please be careful.

May I have nothing to do with honor

“…the Blessed One addressed Ven. Nagita: “Nagita, what is that loud racket, that great racket, like fishermen with a catch of fish?”

“Lord, those are the brahman householders of Icchanangala standing at the gate house to the Icchanangala forest grove, having brought many staple & non-staple foods for the sake of the Blessed One & the community of monks.”

“May I have nothing to do with honor, Nagita, and honor nothing to do with me. Whoever cannot obtain at will — without difficulty, without trouble — as I do, the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of self-awakening, let him consent to this slimy-excrement-pleasure, this torpor-pleasure, this pleasure of gains, offerings, & fame. …

when I am traveling along a road and see no one in front or behind me, at that time I have my ease…” (AN 8.86).

Mental states usually have multiple opposing states

Mental states usually have multiple opposing states that can counteract them if cultivated/focused-upon. Below are examples.

Like with any medicine, one must be careful not to indulge in any mental state too extremely, or it can become a kind of poison, blindness, or delusion. For example, taking a positive attitude to everything can cause one to miss, or be taken advantage of by, the negative aspects of life (e.g., scammers, thieves, things falling apart, etc.), but taking a negative attitude to everything can lead to anxiety and depression. The Buddha once taught people to meditate on death and decay, and that led several monks to become so disgusted with their bodies that they “sought an assassin” (see Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s footnote on SN 35.88). Therefore, he switched to recommending meditation on the breath (anapanasati), which is more mentally neutral.

Siddhartha heard the musician say, “If the string is too tight, it will snap. If it is too loose, it will not play” (from the traditional Buddhist enlightenment story). A Middle Way is best.

  • For anger: thinking about (or asking) how the object of your anger might have come to be the way it is (e.g., social or natural forces, history, chance, etc.), forgiveness, generosity, patience, tolerance, etc.
  • Anxiety/fear: internal and external detachment/watchfulness/listening, letting go of attachment to outcomes, remembering that the self is just an impermanent construct, etc.
  • Arrogance/ego/narcissism: remembering your impermanence and fragile humanity, acknowledging things you’ve lost/forgotten or that you can’t know/see, having experiences where either nature or people don’t care who you are (riding the bus in plain clothes or a disguise if you are famous, doing a manual labor job, going far away from civilization with minimal supplies, etc.)
  • Depression (an umbrella term for many states): identifying and counteracting the specific state(s) involved (e.g., grief, hopelessness, fatigue, physical discomfort or weakness, etc.)
  • Greed: slowing down and doing less, generosity, remembering the impermanence of all things, remembering that one can’t ever fully own/control either oneself or external things, etc.
  • Laziness: aspiration, belief/trust/faith, effort, flexibility (see also the “eight antidotes“)
  • Lust: asking the attractive person to cover themselves, looking closely at the attractive person until you can see past their facade of makeup/jewelry/clothing, seeing people as just variations on a theme (a little bigger or smaller here or there), reducing people’s bodies to their components (skin, muscles, bones, organs, glands, etc.), disgust at the dirty or infected things inside everyone’s bodies (rotting plants/animals, feces, urine, bile, mucus, viruses/bacteria, small cancers, etc.), imagining the person as the rotting corpse they will inevitably become or looking at images/videos of rotting or burning corpses on the Internet, etc.

Many of these things involve remembering impermanence or that the self is a construct of many components. If there is no stable self, there is no one who can always feel anything. If you can change for the worse, you can change for the better.

The Buddha was a unifier

(Written on the day that the UK voted to leave the EU after 43 years of membership)

He wandered around much of South Asia during his lifetime, accepting people of all genders, ages, castes, ethnicities, nationalities, cultures/languages, ideologies, etc., and unifying them under a single set of monastic rules (vinaya). The monastic culture he created was about as white-washed as possible of the divisions between people: seniority only from age; no hair, makeup, or jewelry allowed; a unified style of robes that hide the shapes of people’s bodies, that use a common color, and that are sewn together in the pattern of the rice paddies one sees most everywhere in Asia; the same few possessions for everyone (a robe, a bowl, and basic toiletries); a single canonical language (Magadhi/Pali); etc. Some of these things he apparently picked by a spur-of-the-moment decision (e.g., the pattern in which robes are sewn), perhaps because it doesn’t matter much how it is done.

But he also created a democracy, which has caused his teachings (dhamma) and vinaya to be split many times over the millennia — even though doing so is thought by some Buddhist traditions to cause one to be reborn in the worst level of hell (see Avīci) — as people choose to re-divide themselves along lines of gender, caste, ethnicity, nationality, ideology, etc. Monastic people even draw symbolic distinctions between how dark or light-colored the ochre of their robes is (darker sometimes means a more rural or ascetic bhikkhu(ni) or tradition, and lighter sometimes means a more urban or lenient bhikkhu(ni) or tradition).

However one interprets the metaphysics of it (e.g., whether absolute reality is monistic or pluralistic), enlightened people seem to let go of identities and worldliness, preferring peace and unity, and samsaric people seem to cling to identities and worldliness and fight over them.