Tag: mind

Meditation on Fear: Fear is Optional

Meditation on Fear: Fear is Optional

1. Fear is optional. While fear may be quite real in our lives, there is a state that is free from fear and it is possible to achieve it. Since there are two possible states – one with fear and one without it – we have a choice, but this choice is only available to us when we have the wisdom and insight to see it.

2. Fear is mental. While pain may be unavoidable in our physical body, we do have a choice not to be fearful of it. As a doctor, I have seen patients who experience similar bodily pain, yet one may suffer more than the other. The one who suffers more is the one whose mind is totally absorbed in the pain, creating stories around it and embellishing it with all kinds of fear.

3. Fear is an error in thinking. It arises out of a wrong view, belief, perception or thought. When our thought departs from reality (from what is) or when we want things to be other than what is, then we become fearful.

4. Resisting reality is futile. No matter how hard we try to resist reality or want things to be other than what is, we will fail and suffer for it. The more we resist, the more we suffer as we are going against the flow of what is.

5. We resist out of ignorance. We believe the story we have created around our experience. We do not realize that our views are wrong. In truth, no belief is true. No perception is real.

6. A belief is merely a perception of reality. We must realize that our perception has severe limitations. There are at least 3 ways our perceptions are limited.

  • We are first limited by the limitations of our sense organs. We can see light only between a specific range of wavelengths but unable to perceive those beyond this range. Further, our eye structure allows us to see an image that is different from the compound eyes of a fly. Our other sense organs are similarly limited.
  • Secondly we are limited by our perspective. We can see things only from a specific point of reference, very much like the story of the blind men and the elephant.
  • Lastly, we see things through our own filters. These filters are our mental prejudices, concepts, assumptions, beliefs, experiences and ideas. It is like a camera catching a shot through a certain filter, changing its original colour. With so many limitations to our perceptions, how can we be absolutely sure that our perception is true? Is it not more likely wrong?

7. We are deceived by our thinking mind. Our thinking mind is coloured by our ego or self. It’s rich with its own experiences, assumptions, beliefs, concepts, desires and expectations. Ultimately, our thinking mind itself is limiting our life experience. It locks us into a self created reality, a world of our own creation – an illusion of reality.

8. We can live intuitively beyond the ego-mind. Beyond this thinking mind is another that serves us intuitively. It has the ability to dip into the all-knowing, all-pervading universal mind. It is free from judgment and prejudices, and is therefore free from error.

9. There is no fear in this mind. Living like the lotus is then possible – to be in this world but not of this world. We can then live in this physical mundane world and still not be afflicted by it.

Where you find fear, there you will find a wrong belief.

What is Spirituality?

What is Spirituality?

The ultimate goal of the quest for spirituality is to know and experience the ultimate truth, and to return to that original state. But, what is ultimate truth, and what is relative truth, and why are they important?

 

ULTIMATE TRUTH

All spiritual traditions generally agree that there is an ultimate truth or reality that is unconditioned and unchanging, that is beyond time and space. It is indescribable using any languages or symbols. It cannot be known simply through logical inference, but it can be known and experienced through a purified mind.

 

RELATIVE TRUTH

Relative truth or relative reality is the universe we live in and experience. This material world is said to be emanated or unfolded out of the ultimate truth, but this is not to say that the ultimate truth is one thing and the material world is another thing. It is more accurate to say that the material world is within the ultimate truth, although even this description is probably not satisfactory.

Some people have described the material world as a holographic projection out of the ultimate truth. In Hinduism, for example, the material world is called “maya”. It is regarded as illusory and is merely a projection of our mind.

We could easily do a thought experiment with regard to this illusory nature. For example, we can ask ourselves – “Does the world exist if we are not aware of it?”

 

MIND AND MATTER

Through our own observations, we can know that this material world is made up of two things. The first is matter. Matter is perceivable to us via our five physical senses of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. The other is mind or consciousness. Mind, unlike matter, cannot be perceived by the five physical sense organs. It can be perceived only by the mind itself. That is why mind is considered to be our sixth sense.

 

MIND, SPIRIT, GOD – DIFFICULT TO DESCRIBE

Now we have arrived at a crossroad. How do we measure or quantify or define something that we cannot perceive physically? Where are the boundaries? Where does it begin and where does it end? What is its nature or essence? What are its qualities and attributes? Can we even describe it accurately with the languages that we have?

This is where confusions abound in discussion about spirituality and religions. The same term used, such as the word God, can mean differently for different people coming from different backgrounds and religions. On the other hand, something that is the same is often described differently by different people, as perceived from different perspectives. This is made worse if we see only the parts instead of the whole, as in the story of the blind men and the elephant.

Thus, words like mind, spirit, god and several others may simultaneously mean the same thing at times, and at other times hold subtle but important differences.

Without recognising the limitations of words and languages, our discussions on spirituality or religions can and will very often lead to confusions and confrontations.

Yet we know that if there is an ultimate truth that is unchanging and unconditioned, all our collective experiences of this must somehow be the same, albeit seen and understood from our personal perspective, which is coloured by our upbringing, culture and beliefs.

So, the way to avoid or minimise such confusion is to first define the words we use, and make sure that everyone is using the same words with the same definitions. Here is how I would define some of these words:

  • Mind is defined as that which perceives, cognises, thinks and is aware of. This would include both the cognitive and affective aspects as well as consciousness. Mind is also creative.
  • Spirit is defined as the fabric, base or foundation on which the mind acts upon. Thus, mind can be said to be contained within spirit.
  • God is defined as a natural impersonal creative force of the universe. The process of creation is subjected to natural laws.

You will notice that the above definition of God does not fit the God of the Old Testament, which is personal and even vengeful at times. Also, because both mind and God are creative, the two words are sometimes interchangeable, depending on the context in which they are used. In addition, since spirit is defined as the base or foundation from which creation emerges from (or emanate from or spring forth), and God is often regarded in the same way, spirit and God are also often used interchangeably.

So, even with the above definition, there is still room for confusion to occur.

 

TWO LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE

So we have the unconditioned, unchanging ultimate truth or ultimate reality, from which springs forth the material universe, the relative truth or relative reality existence where sentient beings get to experience life as we know it. Sentient beings can experience life from two different levels or perspectives.

  1. A Dualistic Personal Experience

A sentient being is conscious and aware of itself relative to its surrounding. It sees itself as separate from its surrounding. It perceives a “I” and a “other-than I”. It is a dualistic view of existence. This dualistic way of experiencing life is what we know and are used to.

In order to do this, we need to label or name things. We need to discern or compare, perceive differences and make judgments. Thus we see big and small, tall and short, and we sense hot and cold. This is how we make sense of the world we live in.

We experience all these contrasts from a personal perspective or view.

  1. An All-Inclusive Impersonal Experience

There is, however, another way to experience life – a way described by certain accomplished saints and meditators. Ancient sages from all traditions have told us of this higher perspective of experiencing life. It is an experience that is all embracing, all inclusive and free from thoughts, personal biases and prejudices. It is experienced from beyond the perspective of the self. It is an impersonal experience.

This experience is described in superlative terms and is regarded as a higher and more superior experience than our normal dualistic experience. Words such as unconditional love, great compassion, blissful joy and peace are often used to describe this supra-mundane spiritual experience.

It is also described as an inner and inherent essence or quality of our purified mind or spirituality, and is not affected or corrupted by anything outside of this mind.

This elusive and blissful state is what motivates and drives worldly beings in search of their spirituality. This is a state that is free and independent from any physical reality, and is achievable through a purified mind attained via meditation.

This state is called spiritual happiness, contrasting it with the more transient and illusory worldly happiness that is dependent on pleasing our physical senses, and is described not just in the Taoist, Buddhist or Hindu traditions but also in the Christian gnostic, Jewish Kaballah and Muslim sufi traditions.

Considered an even higher happiness than spiritual happiness is the total release from existence as we know it, culminating in a total union with the ultimate truth or reality with no possibility of coming back in any form.

 

Happiness is a state of mind

Happiness is a state of mind

Your happiness is not dependent on external things. If it were, it would not be possible to find lasting happiness.

Your happiness is dependent only on the state of your mind. Knowing this gives you the power to determine your own happiness.

The good news is that it means that you have a choice to be happy or not. The bad news is that you can only have this choice when you are totally aware of this fact that your happiness is entirely in your hands. This fact is unfortunately not as obvious as we would like it to be. In fact, most people cannot see this truth. For them, their mind has been so conditioned to think of getting happiness from people and things outside of themselves that to be told that they are the real source of their own happiness is quite simply unbelievable.

Yet, this is the truth. Your happiness is indeed in your hands. To be more precise, your happiness is in your mind.

You do not have to believe me. Instead, you can do an experiment on your own life. Choose to be happy, just for a day. Make it today. Make it this moment. Consciously choose to be happy, and see how your attitude and state of mind change to reflect that choice. Is your mind lighter? Less tense? Less tightly wound up? Less rigid? More open? More liberated? Simply by choosing happiness, you can immediately feel the lightness of your being.

However, if you have been conditioning your mind to be tight, unhappy and fearful all these while, do not expect that it will be easy to simply switch to be happy. It takes persistent effort. Old habits die hard. They keep coming back because they feel familiar. Therefore, to replace an old habit with a new one, you need to be aware as often as you can. Stay alert to your state of mind. Keep reminding yourself to choose happiness. Gradually train your mind to be happy, to relax and to lighten up. Be aware of how you feel when your mind is in this new state. Do you feel better? Happier? Lighter? It is important to experience this new state, and be aware of it. It is very rewarding, and it will continue to motivate you to be alert and aware of your state of mind.

So, how do you make your mind happy all the time?

You simply have to keep doing this – be aware of your mental state, and make a conscious choice to be happy – every day, every moment. Make it a new habit of yours to constantly check on your mind state whenever you remember – when you wake up in the morning, when you shower, when you eat, when you take a break, when you are about to go to sleep. You can do it anytime, any place. When it has become habitual, then you will be able to be happy everyday.

Remember, happiness is a state of mind.

Thoughts and Happiness

Thoughts and Happiness

The principle for happiness is surprisingly simple to understand, yet difficult to attain. Just as when a sage was asked by a king about the guide to happiness, the sage explained that happiness can be achieved simply by abandoning evils, doing good and purifying the mind, whereupon the king exclaimed, “This is so simple that even an eight year old can understand it”. “However,” said the sage, “even an eighty year old man cannot practice it well”.

This is not to say that happiness cannot be attained. It can be, but only with proper cultivation of the mind – and herein lies the challenge. It is simply not enough to abandon evils and do good, without cultivating the mind, for the cause of your happiness is your thoughts, as illustrated in the diagram below.

thought-feeling-actionIn fact, the cause of all your emotions – both happy and sad – is your thoughts. Like it or not, you have to gain mastery over your thoughts in order to gain the happiness you seek.

 

Seek First to Understand How Your Mind Works

Understanding how your mind works is crucial to mental cultivation. To understand how your mind works, you need to be able to look within your mind and be aware of all the thoughts that arise. This means you will need to be mindful of your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Mindfulness is an indispensible tool for self understanding. So, start training yourself to become more mindful – meaning to become more aware of your body, feelings and thoughts, and watching them in a non-judgmental or impersonal way. As you watch your body, feelings and thoughts, see how they affect each other. Examine their relationships with one another.
  1. Satisfy yourself with the accuracy of the observation that your thoughts affect your feelings, which in turn move you into actions (as shown in the earlier diagram). See how every positive emotion is preceded by a positive thought, and how this is true also with negative thought and emotion.
  1. Notice also that although external objects (people, things or events) may trigger an old memory or mental habit, it is your present state of mind that determines whether they may affect you in a particular way or not. This is called conscious living or living in the present moment. In karmic lingo, it is said that what you experienced outwardly is old karma, and how you experienced them inwardly is new karma. In short, you must recognize that while you cannot control what is outside, you can be in full control of what is inside – your thoughts. This insight puts you totally in charge and fully responsible for your own happiness (or sufferings).
  1. Recognize also this very important principle – what you feed becomes stronger, what you starve becomes weaker. This principle is what you will use to strengthen wholesome mental habits and weaken unwholesome mental habits. How do you feed your mind? You feed it by choosing what to focus on. Focus on what is wholesome, such as unconditional love, kindness, generosity, compassion, altruism, fair play. Discard what is unwholesome, such as fear, worries, anxiety, habitual speculation or making assumptions. It is important to recognize negative mental habits and remove or replace them with positive habits.

 

Some Observations about Thoughts

After you have examined your thoughts for a while, you will start to realize some things about your thoughts.

  1. Your thoughts come and go according to certain causes and conditions. Specifically, thoughts are triggered by association between what you are in contact with now (people, things and events) and your past memories or experiences about them. From there, it proliferates according to your mental habits. Thus, the state of your mind when the impression or contact is made can greatly influence the outcome of your present experience.
  1. Thoughts are NOT created equal. Some thoughts are more important and useful to you than others. However, you have the habit of treating all thoughts with the same urgency and importance, giving them equal weightage and attention. You need to change this habit.
  1. In the ultimate sense, thoughts are empty of any intrinsic values except what you give to them. Thoughts are simply thoughts. They become real only when you believe in them.
  1. There is no one to own the thoughts. They simply appear when certain causes and conditions are met. You personalize your thoughts and everything else in your life when you claim ownership over them.

 

What makes a man (or woman) noble?

What makes a man (or woman) noble?

The noble man is not noble because of his birth, look, wealth or position. The nobleman is noble because of his ennobled mind and noble heart. He is noble because he loves truths, seeks truths and lives his life in accordance with truths.

He speaks truthfully, gently and appropriately. He speaks to unite, to encourage and to comfort. He does not speak to divide, to discourage or to destroy. He speaks lovingly, compassionately and joyfully. He does not speak out of fear, anger or hate.

He lives his life following the fundamental principle that all beings have a right to life, and a right to choose how to live his life, provided that his choice does not infringe on the same right of another. In this way, he lives in mutual co-existence with others.

He recognizes that what is required is universal love. With love, there is respect for all lives, and mutual respect for each other. With love, there is contentment and peace, and therefore harmony.

Power and man-made laws are necessary only when this fundamental principle of mutual co-existence is breached.

When that happens, the arrogant “I” believes that he has more entitlements than others. This gives birth to greed, which leads to conflicts, then anger, hatred and violence. Discontent arises. Peace is lost. Love is diminished. Fear grows.

The nobleman takes full responsibility for his life. He knows that how he experiences life is dependent on his attitudes, mindsets and beliefs. Choosing wisely, he lives happily even in challenging external conditions. He does not blame others for his own inner discontentment for he knows that only he is in charge of his own inner world.

He trains himself, disciplines himself. He cultivates and ennobles his mind. He suffuses his heart with love.

The nobleman, with his ennobled mind and noble heart, seeks peace within, finds peace within. Thus, nothing outside of him can take away his peace, his contentment, his joy. He stays peaceful within in the midst of external chaos.

It is in this way that he is a nobleman.

Dhamma

Dhamma

The word “dhamma” in Pali or “dharma” in Sanskrit means truth. Often, it is taken to refer to the ultimate or absolute truth – truth that is unchanging and timeless. This ultimate truth is also simultaneously taken to mean absolute, unchanging reality, which is in contrast with this ever-changing relative reality of a universe we live in.

Realities

So, we have two contrasting realities. The first is the absolute unchanging reality while the other is the ever-changing relative reality. It appears that the second reality springs forth from the first. So, absolute reality is the source, the field, the canvas on which relative reality unfolds from and unfolds onto.

The nature of the absolute is that it is unchanging and impersonal. The nature of the relative is that it is ever-changing and also impersonal. There are two components that make up the relative – mind and matter. Both of these are ever-changing. Both mental and material phenomena are also impersonal. These are their true nature.

If we are able to see this true nature of reality and live in accordance with it, then all experiences are free from suffering. All experiences are just as-is. We would be able to experience every phenomenon as ever-changing and impersonal. We would simply accept it as it truly is. This is the perspective of experience for those who are fully enlightened, for the arahants.

However, and unfortunately, that is not the case for us worldlings.

Instead, we experience everything from a limited perspective of the self – a self that sees everything as separate from itself. From this perspective, there is an “I” who sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and thinks. There is an experiencer and what it experiences. Every experience becomes personal. It is through experiencing from this perspective that sufferings occur. The trade off is that there is also the experience of joy. After all, everything in this relative universe is relative to each other, conditioned by each other.

Relativity

The relative universe exists relative to the absolute.

The relative universe has two essential realities – mind and matter. Mind is intangible relative to matter. Matter is tangible relative to mind. There is a whole spectrum of mind-only existence and matter-only existence, and everything in between that has both mind and matter in various degrees of combination. So we have entities that exist only as consciousness and we have entities that exist only as matter, without conscious awareness, and we have entities that exist with various degrees of mind and matter.

Everything in the relative universe exists relative to other things, dependent on other things, conditioned by other things. However, there are at least three important relative objects we need to pay extra attention to, mainly because they affect our lives and experiences in a big way.

The first is that all our experiences are relative to other experiences. None of our experiences are absolute truths. They are only relative truths – relative to our perspective. This brings to mind the experiences of the six blind men and the elephant. One of them touched the tail and claimed that the elephant is thin and long like a rope. Another touched the legs and claimed that an elephant is big and straight like a tree trunk. Yet another touched its ears and claimed that an elephant is flat and broad like a fan. None of them could experience the whole, thus was not able to truly know what an elephant is like. The same is true with our own experiences.

What we experience is limited by our own personal and localized perspective. Thus, what is true for us is not necessary the absolute truth, only relative truth.

The second is that all values are relative as well. There is no absolute value for the simple reason that values come from the perspective of the self. The impersonal universe does not value one thing over another. It regards everything is the same way – impersonal. This is the reason why “God” does not interfere with evil deeds or stops natural disasters or prevents war and famine.

In addition, values – as in everything else in this relative universe – change with time. A good example is the concept of beauty and fashion. What is seen as beautiful now was not so regarded in the past, nor will it be regarded as so in the future. Even solid tangible things do not have real values. For example, a diamond may be deem valuable for us but not so for aborigines living in a remote jungle.

The third is that all views are also relative. What is viewed as correct today may turn out to be wrong tomorrow. For example, at one time, people believe that the world is flat and that the sun and planets revolve around the earth. Today, we know that they were wrong.

Knowing this truth is important if we were to live in harmony with each other. We can then avoid the arrogant belief that only we are right and everyone else is wrong. This is especially true in today’s world where wars are fought over beliefs and in the name of religions. Admitting that no one has exclusive rights to absolute truth is the first step to dialogue and tolerance.

Going Beyond

So, if everything in this relative universe is relative, and there is no absolute, how do we reconcile with our need for being and doing good, and overcoming evil? Yet we know that every major religion teaches the concept of “good over evil”. Are they all wrong?

Well, they are not wrong.

The reality is that we can experience via the perspective of the self or we can experience life by going beyond the perspective of the self. This latter form is what the arahants experience, and it is free from sufferings.

However, in order to be able to attain this level of experiencing life that is beyond the self, we must first work through the self. This is not the same as denying the self, destroying or eliminating the self or even strengthening our belief in the self.

Working through the self requires that we first truly know the true nature of our self. For that to happen, we need a mind that is calm and concentrated so that it can clearly see things as they truly are. The prerequisite for attaining a calm and clear mind is a mind that is pure, thus the need for purification of the mind – for a mind that is free from hindrances, from disturbing and restless thoughts. Thus, we have to work through all defilements of the mind that is preventing us from having a clear and calm mind.

The prerequisite for purification of mind is a mind that is free from remorse and guilt, a mind that is glad and joyous. This is only attainable when we, from the perspective of the present self, are practicing virtuous thoughts, speeches and actions. Thus, the perfection of morality or virtues is a prerequisite to getting a mind that is absence of remorse and guilt, and filled with gladness and joy. Only then it is possible to attain the perfection of concentration and one-pointedness of mind, a stepping stone towards gaining perfection of knowing and seeing.

The complete path to mental purification and perfection of virtues, concentration and wisdom is spelled out in the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha.

Spirituality is a personal choice

Spirituality is a personal choice

Choosing to walk the spiritual path is a very personal decision. It is a decision that only you can make. No one can, nor do they have the right to, compel you to make this choice. It is a personal matter – a personal choice.

Our modern lifestyle is too focused on materiality. If you are fine with that, that is OK too. However, sooner or later, and especially as you grow older, you will start to seek something more than material wealth.

Perhaps you will question your existence and your mortality in the face of friends and relatives passing away, or in your own illness. Perhaps you encounter a unique spiritual experience. Many people discover spirituality in the midst of their failures. Whatever the case may be, at some point in your life, spirituality will become important.

That would be a good starting point to seek out spirituality.

 

What is spirituality?

The word “spirituality” can mean so many things to so many people. Some find spirituality to be daunting and mysterious because it has been made out to be such.

In fact, spirituality is simply the aspect of our life that is not perceivable by our five physical sense organs – the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the body. All of life is made up of spirit and matter. Even our own existence is a combination of mind and body. It is the immaterial that is spiritual.

Judge Thomas Troward, who gave the famous Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science, said it best when he said that the only real difference between the dead matter and the living spirit is intelligence, or consciousness. Thus, spirit and mind are intimately related.

Here is where we have to be very careful with the use of words, for they can sometimes be the cause of confusion. In fact, in your own search for spirituality, you will come across similar words that are used in different religions. Some of these same words refer to different things. On the other hand, sometimes different words are used to refer to the same thing.

It is important to be aware of this limitation of words. It may be more useful to look at what the word represents and remember the nature, qualities or values that it represents instead of the word itself. Then you can see the similarities in the different words used, or the differences in the same word used by different religions.

 

Seeker of Truth

The seeker of spirituality is essentially the seeker of truth – the absolute truth. The nature of this absolute truth is that it is unchanging. It exists in the past, in the present and in the future. It exists everywhere. It is beyond time and space. In any point in time and space, it is there. It is there even before time and space.

This being the case, anyone who seeks it, regardless of where or when he starts out from, he should eventually arrive at the same truth – the unchanging truth. Thus, no one has an exclusive claim on spirituality – not Christianity, not Islam, not Hinduism, not Buddhism, not Sikhism, not any religions.

In fact, you will find that genuine spiritual seekers will not compel you to believe in what he himself believes in. True spirituality is not about beliefs. It is about knowledge. Beliefs may be a starting point but it must never end there. Your beliefs must eventually lead you to the absolute truth through your practice.

Therefore, there is no compulsion in spirituality or in any true religions. Compulsion is only for the fearful and the faithless who seeks strength in numbers. They are not genuine spiritual seekers.

 

My Spirituality

So, this is how I have come to see my own spirituality.

I do not see a personal God, who favors one group of people over another. God does not play favoritism. God does not say, “If you are a Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist, you go to heaven. The rest will go to hell.” I do not believe in such a God.

What I see is an impersonal creative force – a natural force. You can call it Divine Intelligence or Divine Mind. It is impersonal. It creates everything, following natural laws. Thus, it embraces everything and it is impartial. This is unconditional love. This is true justice. After all, how can one be fair when one is partial?

So, my spirituality is a path I am taking to recognize this Divine or Universal Mind. It is to purify my own Personal Mind so that it can then re-experience this Divine Mind, this Original Pristine Mind. The goal is to remove all impurities – all negativities, all unwholesome motivations, all limiting views or beliefs – from my Personal Mind, and make it pristine again.

Some people called this the merging with the Divine and considered this to be the ultimate attainment in a spiritual path. I do not know if it is the ultimate but I do know that this is the path I am taking.

And I invite you to join me in this beautiful journey.

Dress your mind up for success

Dress your mind up for success

dressmind4success

We are all aware of the need to dress up for success. There are even grooming courses being offered to teach you how to dress successfully. However, not many people are aware of the importance of dressing up their mind for success. This is, in fact, the main cause of failure in life for many.

Your success in life is highly dependent on what is inside your mind. Thus, one of the best thing you can do for yourself is to set your mind up for success every morning when you wake up.

How do you do that?

Well, start by clearing your mind of all negativity. Drop whatever fear, anxiety or frustrations you may have. Reset your mind to a clear and calm state. Doing this first thing in the morning is often easier since your mind is normally quite relaxed when you have just woken up. Then make a decision to stay focused on positive thoughts and emotions. Drop negative thoughts and emotions whenever they arise. Decide to be happy and to be grateful for what you already have.

Training your mind repeatedly every morning in this way can lead to a new positive mental habit, a new mindset that sets you up for success everyday.