Work and Worldly Routines

I’ve been working for two weeks in my new job. There are many similarities and differences compared with previous jobs in Canberra. I have found here there is less concern with security, people dress more casually and the amounts of money for programs are smaller. As expected, I’ve been spending a lot of time learning the policy area, the current issues and the positions of various policy agents (stakeholders). My bosses have complimented me already saying that I seem to have done a lot and made a good impression. I’ll be flying down south for a 3 day work trip in few days. We’ll hire a car then drive to a few places to meet local officials. That should be interesting.

The down side for me is the long commute. I leave home at 6:30AM and get home around 6:30PM or slightly later. I walk 15 minutes to get to the bus stop, sit on a bus to the office for 45 minutes get another bus and take another 30 minutes to get to the office. The trip home is the same in reverse. I’m thinking of not taking the second shorter bus route and just walking that bit. It is an easy decision really. I can peacefully walk by the Swan River and avoid the busy main street stop-start bus ride. I’ve been walking during lunch breaks too. In addition to the Swan River foreshore, there is a lovely Garden nearby with flowers, ducks and shady trees. I plan to take a sitting mat and do a quick 20 minute sit during the lunch break.

My day normally starts by waking at 5:00AM, wash the face, quick coffee, down dog on the ropes for my back and then a 30 minute sit, cereal, change appearance and possibly check the home e-mail and headlines. Mum is usually just getting up by the time I walk out the door. I do another shorter sit before sleeping. I struggle to stay awake during the evening sit. I’ve been continuing to read sutta while sitting on the bus to work. I’ve finished the Samyuttanikaaya and am now part way through the Majjhimanikaaya again. Next I may read the Anguttaranikaaya again before moving on to the Vissudhimagga again. A rewarding cycle of reading.

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Remedies for Restless Minds

Five Hindrances
Lord Buddha identified five hindrances (nivaarana) to mental development: lust, anger, sleepiness, restlessness and doubt. There are many synonyms for these hindrances and other commentators may use different words. A keen student who is not familiar with these five hindrances would do well to study them further. Essentially these five hindrances are symptoms of a lack of mindfulness and concentration. Once a yogi develops persistent mindfulness and profound concentration, the hindrances will disappear, the mind will be bright and pliant, ready to apply for worthy purposes.

When the hindrances dominate the mind the yogi may not be aware of the need to apply a remedy. Some people may consider hindrances as normal and not wish to avoid them. So the first step is to be motivated to avoid hindrances and this requires the right view that a hindrance dominated mind leads to suffering, the right view that hindrances cause suffering, the right view that the ending of hindrances is ultimately worthy, and a certain degree of confidence in the benefits of a hindrance-free mind, confidence in the yogi’s capacity to develop a hindrance-free mind and confidence that there are practical techniques that can be applied for developing a hindrance-free mind.

Lord Buddha recommended a virtuous life style that is blame free and promotes social and personal happiness. A lot of restlessness arises due to harmful speech, behaviour and thought which cause remorse and regret. Some restlessness arises due to ignorance and wrong views. We misunderstand reality and assign blame here or there for the wrong reasons and this confusion creates restlessness. Associating with wise and compassionate people who model the virtuous behaviour and who can give yogis a “reality check” during confusing times is of incalculable benefit.

Mindfulness

The more we practice, the easier it is to note hindrances such as restlessness. We can develop a base level of mindfulness and right view to remind ourselves that the mind is beginning to be dominated by hindrances. Lord Buddha provided a vast amount of helpful advice for overcoming hindrances. The Aanaapanasati Sutta (the discourse on mindfulness of breathing) is a one of many discourses. Another is the Satipathaana Sutta (the discourse on establishing mindfulness). Frequent reading of these and other discourses is highly rewarding.

Mindfulness of breathing is an excellent technique for calming the restless mind. Whether the yogi chooses to note the touch of the breath on the upper lip or the rising and falling of the abdomen, noting the breath is a sure way to subdue the restless mind and has no ill effects on body or mind.

Yogis can know the mind and phenomena that arises, persists and passes. It is as it is. Whatever arises, focus on it and note what ever it is. If yogis note many objects and find it difficult to keep pace or can’t find a label for the Dhamma or mental state yogis may note “knowing, knowing, knowing…” while rapidly following each objects as they arise and pass.

Mindfulness of breathing and the four establishments of mindfulness are the ultimate in virtuous behaviour, speech and thought. Done correctly, these techniques will lead to peace and liberation.

Slow Deliberate Movements
One way to overcome a restless mind is to practice noting slow deliberate movements in daily life and during periods of meditation practice. If a yogi has dedicated a day for practice, then it is possible to do all movements very very slowly. Get out of bed slowly, go to toilet slowly, brush teeth slowly and so on. Note each discrete movement. For example, from a reclining position, note the intention to move, note the intention to move a particular limb, move the limb slowly, noting the change in sensation of weight or the touch of an insect on the skin or the pain or other sensation in the joints and muscles as the limb moves. Note the hardness or softness of the surfaces which the body contacts.

Walking Meditation
Slow motion walking meditation helps to focus the mind and builds energy for sitting practice.

A useful alternative to walking meditation for people who can’t walk is noting slow hand and arm movements. The yogi very very slowly moves hands and arms through a repetitive series of movements that have been studied prior or have been taught by a teacher.

Slow Prostrations
The late Ven. Ajahn Kao (Titawano from Wat Bunsimunikorn) taught yogis to deepen mindfulness by prostrating very slowly. According to Ven. Ajahn Kao many people do prostrations fast and sloppily. He advised yogis to prostrate in slow motion while noting each bodily movement one at a time. One prostration might take 30 seconds or more. Some people may need to change the way they bow down to make it more convenient for slow motion bowing and to facilitate one movement at a time.

I would like to post a video or series of photos to show how to prostrate slowly. Start from the kneeling position and have hands together in front like the Anjaali position.

  1. Note the mental intention to bow.
  2. Note them mental intention to move the right hand/arm downwards.
  3. Move the hard/arm downwards very slowly.
  4. Note the intention to bend forward slightly at the hips.
  5. Note the intention to move the hand/arm more and so on with the left hand/arm and so on … note the touching of the ground, the hardness, softness of the ground with each hand separately and so on.
  6. Do the same going back up again after touching your head on the ground.

Painful Sensations Cause Restlessness and Anger
When yogis sit for a while painful sensations arise in various parts of the body including the knees. When mindfulness and concentration are relatively weak yogis may struggle to sit through painful sensations. The intense pain can cause restlessness and doubt to arise. The remedy is to focus the mind on the painful spot. This can be difficult for beginning yogis who may become angry or fearful of the pain. So in addition to the hindrance of restlessness, another hindrance of anger arises to further cloud the mind and weaken the remedies of mindfulness and concentration. If mindfulness and concentration are insufficient the painful physical sensation and restless angry mind will become intolerable, forcing the yogi to change position. The remedy is to develop strong mindfulness and strong concentration prior to the arising of painful sensations. With strong mindfulness and strong concentration, the mind may observe apparently painful sensations with equanimity and thereby gain profound insights.

Developing Right View and Confidence
A lot of restlessness is caused by confusion about what is real and this can lead to a lack of confidence in either the remedy or the yogi’s ability to successfully apply the remedy. An inspiring and knowledgeable teacher may help the beginner.

Initially yogis can put their difficult experiences in perspective. When feeling discouraged a yogi could try recalling the successes as well as set backs. By focusing mostly on the set backs the yogi may become impatient and suffer. Yogis can reflect on their virtues, remembering that they have kept five, eight or more precepts for a long period. They can also focus on their generous behaviour, how they have donated to worthy causes and helped people. Lord Buddha taught that virtuous conduct and generosity lead to a happy rebirth possibly in a heavenly realm or a fortunate human existence. These recollections can help overcome self-doubt and low self-esteem.

Remember that all those revered teachers including Lord Buddha overcame the hindrances. Remembering the virtues of Lord Buddha and other advanced teachers can inspire yogis and build confidence to continue the practice.

Remember the teaching of Lord Buddha, read discourses and reflect on the meaning of the words. Reflecting on the Dhamma helps to overcome doubts and confusion as well as arousing inspiration and energy for practice.

Many yogis experience joy or rapture while reading Dhamma. Joy and rapture is useful for sitting practice though it must be balanced with the calming factors of tranquillity and concentration else the yogi may be over stimulated and become restless again.

Restraint of the Six Sense Bases

The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya ; Translated from the Pāli by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Selected discourses from the Salaayatanasamyutta – Connected Discourses on the Six Sense Bases

SN.35.96 (3) Decline Sutta, p.1178

“And how, bhikkhus, is one subject to decline? Here, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has seen a form with the eye, there arise in him evil unwholesome states, memories and intentions connected with the fetters. If the bhikkhu tolerates them and does not abandon them, dispel them, put an end to them, and obliterate them, he should understand this thus: ‘I am declining away from wholesome states. For this has been called decline by the Blessed One.’ “Further bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has heard a sound with the ear … cognized a mental phenomenon with the mind, there arise in him evil unwholesome states, memories and intentions connected with the fetters. If the bhikkhu tolerates them and does not abandon them… he should understand this thus: ‘I am declining away from wholesome states.

SN.35.134 (1) At Devadaha Sutta, p.1206

“…There are, bhikkhus, forms cognizable by the eye that are agreeable and those that are disagreeable. [One should train so that] these do not persist obsessing one’s mind even when they are repeatedly experienced. When the mind is not obsessed, tireless energy is aroused, unmuddled mindfulness is set up, the body becomes tranquil and untroubled, the mind becomes concentrated and one-pointed. Seeing this fruit of diligence, bhikkhus, I say that those bhikkhus still have work to do with diligence in regard to the six bases for contact. …

SN.35.244 (7) States That Entail Suffering Sutta, p.1248

“Bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu understands as they really are the origin and passing away of all states whatsoever that entail suffering, then sensual pleasures have been seen by him in such a way that as he looks at them sensual desire, sensual affection, sensual infatuation, and sensual passion do not lie latent within him in regard to sensual pleasures; then he has comprehended a mode of conduct and manner of dwelling in such a way that as he conducts himself thus and as he dwells thus, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and displeasure do not flow in upon him.

“And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu understand as they really are the origin and the passing away of all states whatsoever that entail suffering? ‘ Such is form, such its origin, such its passing away; such is feeling … such is perception … such are volitional formations … such is consciousness, such its origin, such its passing away’: it is in such a way that a bhikkhu understands as they really are the origin and the passing away of all states whatsoever that entail suffering.

“And how, bhikkhus, are sensual pleasures seen by a bhikkhu in such a way that as he looks at them, sensual desire, sensual affection, sensual infatuation, and sensual passion do not lie latent within him in regard to sensual pleasures? Suppose there is a charcoal pit deeper than a man’s height, filled with glowing coals without flame or smoke. A man would come along wanting to live, not wanting to die, desiring happiness and averse to suffering. Then two strong men would grab him by both arms and drag him towards the charcoal pit. The man would wriggle his body this way and that. For what reason? Because he knows ‘I will fall into this charcoal pit and I will thereby meet death or deadly suffering.’ So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has seen sensual pleasures as similar to a charcoal pit, sensual desire, sensual affection, sensual infatuation, and sensual passion do not lie latent within him in regard to sensual pleasures.

“And how, bhikkhus, has a bhikkhu comprehended a mode of conduct and a manner of dwelling in such a way that as he conducts himself thus and as he dwells thus, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and displeasure do not flow upon him? Suppose a man would enter a thorny forest. There would be thorns in front of him, thorns behind him, thorns to his left, thorns to his right, thorns below him, thorns above him. He would go forward mindfully, he would go back mindfully, thinking, ‘May no thorn prick me!’ So too, bhikkhus, what ever in the world has a pleasing and agreeable nature is called a thorn in the Noble One’s Discipline. Having understood this thus as ‘a thorn,’ one should understand restraint and nonrestraint.

“And how, bhikkhus, is there nonrestraint? Here, having seen a form with the eye, a bhikkhu is intent upon a pleasing form and repelled by a displeasing form. He dwells without having set up mindfulness of the body, with a limited mind, and he does not understand as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, where in those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. Having heard a sound with the ear … having cognized a mental phenomenon with the mind, he is intent upon a pleasing mental phenomenon and repelled by a displeasing mental phenomenon. He dwells without having set up mindfulness of the body, with a limited mind, and he does not understand as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. It is in such a way that there is nonrestraint.

“And how, bhikkhus, is there restraint? Here, having seen a form with the eye, a bhikkhu is not intent upon a pleasing form and not repelled by a displeasing form. He dwells having set up mindfulness of the body, with a measureless mind, and he understands as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, where in those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. Having heard a sound with the ear … Having cognized mental phenomenon with the mind, he is not intent upon a pleasing mental phenomenon. He dwells having set up mindfulness of the body, with a measureless mind, and he understands as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. It is in such a way that there is restraint.

“When, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu is conducting himself and dwelling in such a way, if occasionally, due to a lapse of mindfulness, evil unwholesome memories and intentions connected with fetters arise in him, slow might be the arising of his mindfulness, but then he quickly abandons them, dispels them, puts an end to them, obliterates them. Suppose a man let two or three drops of water fall onto an iron plate heated for a whole day. Slow might be the falling of the water drops, but then they would quickly vapourize and vanish. So too, when a bhikkhus conducting himself and dwelling in such a way … slow might be the arising of his mindfulness, but then he quickly abandons them, dispels them, puts and end to them, obliterates them.

“Thus a bhikkhu has comprehended a mode of conduct and manner of dwelling in such a way that as he conducts himself and as he dwells thus, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and displeasure do not flow in upon him…

New Job and New President

I start a new public service job on 11 November. I have a 4 month contract until mid March 2009. This suits me fine. The salary will be sufficient for me to save and to continue on my journey.

My primary goal is to travel to Myanmar and do a 6-12 month intensive meditation retreat. I may decide to ordain as a monk or I may decide to return to Perth, find another 4-6 month job, save money and then go back for another retreat. Although the global economy seems to be slowing right now, I am confident I can find work when I need it.

I was offered the job a week ago and was glad my new employer asked me to start next week. I’ve become obsessed with the US general election and been following it very closely on the Internet. I’ve followed many blogs such as the Huffington Post, Think Progress and FiveThirtyEight. I’ve been up late and up early, especially this week. I was up at 3 am yesterday morning (UTC/GMT+9) to follow the voting and watch the acceptance speech live on TV around 2pm.

I am very inspired by the Obama campaign and how it appears to be transforming American and global culture. Barack Obama and his team have been so cool and professional. Amazing. I watched speeches on online and read so many political articles. The presidential acceptance speech at Grant Park was brilliant. I’ve been touched so many times watching this campaign… The impact on African Americans and everyone else is profound. Healing. I really believe this will change the US and the world. I particularly admire the way that the Obama campaign has appealed to the better side of human nature. Extraordinary. Hug somebody. Cry tears of joy.