Talking Dharma – Talking Contentment
We know, from what the Buddha communicated within the four principal assignments and within our own direct experience, that when we want any thing to be other than it is, worrying will arise in this thing we call mind. Knowing this, or even experiencing this, why is there still this lingering experience that some thing, any thing, is not enough and we want more of it, or less of it, before we can have a sense of contentment? How on earth are we able to maintain a sense of contentment when we are being driven by the pre-conscious, biological, nature, inherent drives to seek pleasure and avoid pain?
The answer lies in developing conscious awareness of the motivational intent that informs our thoughts, speech and actions. Suppose you are keen to please somebody, to make them happy. Although it is a very nice thing to do, for it to be an authentic experience rather than a superficial one there would be a need for you to be in a current state of contentment yourself and responding on the basis of compassion and not wanting to please so the other person loved, liked or thought well of you. Can you see how there is an intrinsic link here between being and doing? If you do not experience contentment in being, then there will only be worry when doing.
If you are not secure in the context you have chosen for your Dharma journey, then you can never realize contentment. This is why context is emphasised time and time again as being a crucial aspect of the journey. Contentment arises when you know you are in the most helpful environment to support your personal Dharma journey. It does not really matter if you ever get to the end of whatever particular rainbow you have created in your head about that journey. It is the journey and the development of contentment along the way that will eventually lead to the realization of peace of mind.
The appropriate journey is of course the eight-fold journey that was set out in the Buddha’s first public communication within the four principle assignments as appropriate view, emotion, speech, action, livelihood, effort, awareness and concentration. It is this journey that we are engaged in with every breath of our waking lives that, when walked with integrity, gives rise to contentment. That contentment then radiates out into the world and affects others and the world around us in a helpful way. Eventually, with practice, the journey becomes joyous, fresh, creative and an expression of compassion in action.
Take a good look at a tree. It doesn’t seem to be doing anything. It just stands there, vigorous, fresh, beautiful and everyone who sees it gains benefit from it. That is what the state of being contented is like. If the tree was any less than what it was, we would not experience that benefit. We would be experiencing something flawed, or superficial, or something pretending to be a tree. But, on the other hand, the authentic tree is inspirational for simply being a tree. This is why, on the Dharma journey, we work towards becoming an authentic individual that is not subject to group think and behaviour. Being authentic is already action. Action is based on non-action, action is being.
A question that often pops up goes along the lines of “I get up very early in the morning to go to work and I am busy all day long until I get home late at night exhausted. I’m always surrounded by other people. Where can I find a time and a place to contemplate in silence”? Silence is an internal experience that is not found in external experience. Silence doesn’t just mean not talking and not doing things. It also means that you’re mind is not in a current state of worry. If you work to maintain helpful states of mind, then no matter what situation you find yourself in you can enjoy the silence. It is not compulsory to get caught up or engage with the dramas of others around you. Conversely, there are moments when you think you’re being silent and all around seem silent, but there is a non-stop chattering going on in your head. The proverbial monkey mind is happening. That’s not silence. The practice is to develop ways to allow silence in all the activities you do.
It is helpful to understand that silence comes from within and not from the absence of talk. Sitting down to eat your lunch may be an opportunity for you to enjoy silence. Although others may be speaking, it’s possible for you to be very silent inside. According to the ancient texts it would appear that the Buddha was surrounded by crowds of needy people all the time. Although he walked, sat, and ate among his followers, he is always found dwelling in silence. It is made very clear in Buddhist texts that the Buddha suggested that to engage with aloneness is very different from being lonely. Being alone, to be quiet, does not mean you have to go into the forest, find a cave or go off into the desert. You can live a full and active life, you can be in shopping mall, doing your job, playing with the kids, yet you still enjoy the silence and the solitude of being. Being alone does not mean there is no one around you.
Aloneness means you are established firmly in the transitional nature of the ever changing flow of the here and now moment and you are consciously aware of what is happening at all times. Awareness is paying attention. It is noticing every perception, every emotional, or psychological reaction, or response. You’re aware of what’s happening all around you, but you’re always with yourself, you don’t lose yourself. That’s the Buddha’s definition of the ideal practice of solitude or aloneness. It’s about not being caught up in the past or carried away by the future, but always to be here, body and mind united, aware of what is happening in the present now moment. That is the aloneness of being and contentment.
Life will continue to throw a spanner into the works or throw in the odd hand grenade because that is what life does. No matter how many times we study the Dharma and hear about impermanence and causality it is inevitable that life will continue to challenge what we have learned and thought we had cracked. Let’s take a look at one of those little ticking time bombs that eventually will go off for most of us. “I’m still afraid of losing my mother or another loved one. How can I transform this fear”? Where is that fear? I suggest it is a thought we are having that sets off an emotional reaction because we have yet to fully realize the actuality aspect of the situation. And that is OK because that is perfectly natural. It’s not wrong. We don’t have to do the guilt trip thing or beat ourselves up about it. That helps nobody.
Although we have a lifetime’s investment in our relationship with this other person it will be helpful if we take a deep breath and explore the actuality aspect of the situation. We can begin to reflect on the actuality that our mother and father are not only out there, but in here. Our mothers and fathers are fully present in every cell of our bodies. We carry their genetic codes with us at all times. My own parents died years ago but I can still visit them at any time with no sense of distress at all. I can ask myself what would my mum and dad have done in this situation? In the same way we can ask ourselves what we think the Buddha would have done in a particular situation. Is the Buddha still alive? If you are going for refuge to the three jewels in an effective way he will continue to be alive as an internal experience, a guide, a mentor and friend. With this kind of insight, you can know that even with the disintegration of the body of your mother or father, they still continue inside you, especially in the helpful contributions they have helped you to form in terms of thought, speech, and action.
If you look deeply, you’ll see already the continuation of your mother and father inside. Every thought, every speech, every action of theirs has contributed to who you are now and there is a continuation with or without the presence of their physical bodies. There really is no need to create any kind of fantasy that they are sitting on some kind of fluffy cloud playing a harp looking down on us from on high. That kind of fear created comfort blanket moves us in the opposite direction of awakening. We need to see the actuality of this with greater clarity if the mind is going to be content or at peace. Just as they are not confined to their bodies, you aren’t confined to your body. It’s very important to realize that. This is the wonder of opportunity that consistent meditation practice provides. Eventually the practice of looking deeply can touch your own nature of no birth and no death. You can touch the no-birth and no-death nature of your father, your mother, your child, of everything in you and around you. Only that insight can reduce and remove the fear within the awakening experience of clarity that will establish contentment and peace of mind.
But what is the starting point on the journey towards contentment and peace of mind? It is the understanding we explore within the first principal assignment. It is the awareness that all things, including the things and people we love are impermanent. It is the awareness that because of that fact we can never find happiness in any thing by attaching ourselves to it as permanent. This awareness will eventually move us to explore the second principal assignment to find out the cause of why we worry and can’t find contentment with any thing. Eventually that exploration will reveal to us that no matter what the worry is, no matter how serious or trivial, when we peel back all of the conditioned labels, all of the rationalizations, all of the justifications or excuses we will be left with the fact that we want this current experience to be other than it is. We don’t like it. We don’t want it. We want something else. It isn’t until we reach this point and have developed some degree of trust that what the Buddha sets out is going to be of benefit it us that we actually set our first step onto the eight-fold Dharma journey that leads to contentment and peace of mind within the experience of clarity.
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