Striving for the Breakthrough

S13.1 Abhisamayasa.mutta, Connected Discourses on the Breakthrough, translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
(ATI translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Thus I have heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Saavatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anaathapi.n.dika’s Park. Then the Blessed One took up a little bit of soil in his fingernail and addressed the bhikkhus thus:
  “Bhikkhus, what do you think, which is more: the little bit of soil that I have taken up in my fingernail or this great earth?”
  “Venerable sir, the great earth is more. The little bit of soil that the Blessed One has taken up in his fingernail is trifling. It does not amount to a hundredth part, or a thousandth part, or a hundred thousandth part of the great earth.”
  “So too, bhikkhus, for a noble disciple, a person accomplished in view, who has made the breakthrough, the suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated is more, while that which remains is trifling. The latter does not amount to a hundredth of the former mass of suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated, as there is a maximum of seven more lives. Of such great benefit, bhikkhus, is the breakthrough to the Dhamma, of such great benefit is it to obtain the vision of the Dhamma.”

The “breakthrough to the Dhamma” and “to obtain the vision of the Dhamma” are metaphors for the attainment of stream entry – sotapanna. This is a very important stage of development.

Many lay followers obtained this breakthrough and vision during the lifetime of Gotama Buddha. Strive with diligence.

Benefit of the Holy Life

Majjhima Nikaya MN29.6. Mahaasaaropama Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood (มหาสาโรปมสูตร)

“Bhikkhus, here some clansman goes forth out of faith from the home life to homelessness, considering: ‘I am a victim of birth, ageing, and death, of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; I am a victim of suffering, a prey to suffering. Surely an ending of this whole mass of suffering can be known.’ When he has gone forth thus, he acquires gain, honour, and renown, and his intention is not fulfilled… When he is diligent, he achieves the attainment of virtue, but his intention is not fulfilled…When he is diligent, he achieves the attainment of concentration, but his intention is not fulfilled…When he is diligent, he achieves knowledge and vision, but his intention is not fulfilled. He does not, on account of it, laud himself and disparage others. He does not become intoxicated with that knowledge and vision, he does not grow negligent and fall into negligence. Being diligent, he attains perpetual liberation. And it is impossible for that bhikkhu to fall away from that perpetual deliverance…

7. “So this holy life, bhikkhus, does not have gain, honour, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of virtue for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakeable deliverance of mind that is the goal of this holy life, its heartwood, and its end.

That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One’s words.

Positive Affirmations

One way I found to help me achieve goals is to do regular positive affirmations.
1. Write out 3-5 important short term goals such as

“I am growing slim and healthy each day”
“I am getting stronger and fitter all the time”
“I am confident and resilient despite discouraging remarks from others”
“I can achieve whatever goals I set”

2. Stick the paper with these affirmations in a place that you will notice early in the morning and repeat them each day until you can memorise them.
3. keep repeating them to yourself whenever you have a spare moment and can remember to do so.
4. After a few weeks you will see a change in your behaviour and will be even more confident in your ability to achieve goals. You can then adjust your goals and set new goals.

The idea is to write goals that are achievable in the short term or can be ongoing. For example, the goals of going to Europe may be a bit long term and could be saved for next year or even later than that. You really need to focus on the tasks and outcomes that come earlier on.

Don’t let negative people around you stop you achieving your goals. Sometimes people will criticise you or offer advice that may challenge your existing views. Examine their views and only take what is useful and really is good advice. You can ignore bad advice or people who are teasing for fun. The key here is to build resilience and determination.

Escape the Sinking Burning Ship

The following simile is one of my attempts to explain what motivates me to take the Dhamma journey, simplify life, meditate and so on. People see things in quite different ways, with different values, different assumptions and knowledge about reality. This leads people to adopt different behaviour and morality. Because of how we view reality we take diverse paths that tend toward further suffering or tend toward liberation.

Imagine that we are all on a ship that is on fire and sinking. Some passengers just party, party, party until the ship sinks. Other passengers become depressed and helpless and some in this camp even suicide. Some passengers panic and go crazy. Most passengers either don’t know or choose to ignore the fact that the ship is on fire and sinking. This is despite the ship listing and smelling of smoke. Of course some parts of the ship are worse than other parts.

However, a minority of passengers believe there is an escape, a way off the ship. Someone in the past found the way to get off. The believers study and practice the method of escape. Sometimes their practice attempts give them glimpses that it escape is really possible and this gives them confidence to keep trying. Some energetic passengers actually escape and then, from a safe external point, also help other believing passengers escape.

Even when the former passengers who escaped stand in that safe point to explain the method of escape, most passengers still don’t believe that escape is possible, or even if it were possible, they don’t believe it is a good thing to do. These passengers don’t like escaping because they have to leave behind all their friends and nice things on the comfortable parts of the burning sinking ship. They would lose their investments. They also don’t know or understand what they might be escaping to, escape seems risky. It is all too hard and so they prefer not to think about it.

Some passengers who don’t believe escape is possible and want to enjoy life on the sinking burning ship criticise the escaping passengers for being “selfish” for not wanting to be with passengers who are apparently enjoying life on the ship. These critics don’t see the virtue of escaping, and then from the safe place, helping other passengers to escape. Another group of ship passengers are delighted that there are sincere escaping people and fully support them in the hope that the once these people escape, they will be able to reach back from the safe point and also help them and other passengers on the sinking burning ship.

What happens when the burning sinking ship sinks and everyone goes down with it? They are all reborn on yet another sinking burning ship and most of them have to live in worse conditions than the conditions they were living on the previous ship. They also forget that there were on other burning sinking ships in previous lives. The reborn escape believers have more fortunate rebirths on the burning sinking ship and may soon escape themselves, even though most of them also forget their previous births. This is kamma.

The simile of a sinking burning ship refers to this life where we are all ageing, suffering sickness and face inevitable death. The burning sinking ship represents the unsatisfactory nature of life. I believe in the Buddha Dhamma that teaches a way to escape ageing, sickness and death. I have practiced and become confident in this path. I believe that escape is possible in this life. I believe that I may be able to help others to escape. This is a worthy goal.

There is a great potential reward for supporters who are happy to see escapees attempting to get off the burning sinking boat. The opposite is also true. Not many people are aware of this.

Four Factors for Success Applied to Worthy Projects

May everyone successfully complete worthy projects. May those projects be beneficial and not harmful.

I would like to share the four factors for success – chanda, viriya, citta and vimamsaa also known collectively in Paali language as the iddhipaada. [source: Samyuttanikaaya 51.1-86]

1. Chanda is the sincere wish to accomplish your goal. It manifests as aspiration and determination.

Be clear about the goal. Visualise, feel, hear or imagine what it would be like to achieve the goal. Create an implementation plan which explains in some detail how to achieve the goal. The plan will include lists of milestones with dates and deliverables. Divide the project into smaller tasks and then note which tasks depend on other tasks (dependencies). Note things that could go wrong (risks) and note resources that will help you along the way. Consider how to minimise the risks and outline the tactics for dealing with risks in the plan. Consider how to marshal the helpful resources and incorporate these tactics in the plan. Include a budget section in the plan.

Plan time and space for your personal life during the period you are working on your project. Make a detailed schedule or calendar showing when things are due. You can modify all of the above as you go. Sometimes there are events outside your knowledge that will impact on deliverables and time frames so you have to be flexible. Even so, it is good to have a clear and detailed implementation plan to achieve your goal.

Write the primary project objective in one or two sentences. Describe it in one page. Prepare this and stick it right above your computer screen, the back of your toilet door, the fridge door, the bed room door and everywhere you will notice it. Read it every day and check if it needs to be changed.

At least once a day you need to spend at least a few minutes focusing on your goal.
THE PROJECT WILL BE COMPLETED.

2. Viriya is the energy and effort applied to accomplish your goal. It manifests as persistence.

Keep checking the implementation plan to stay on track. Use the plan as a key motivator and guide whenever you are confused or vague about what to do right now.

If sometimes you lack energy then you increase it by developing faith in the worthiness of the goal and building confidence in your own ability to achieve it. Remember why you chose to do this project in the beginning, what inspired you. If you haven’t done so already, write that down quickly with words of exuberance and enthusiasm. Look at that statement when you feel low energy and don’t lose it. You have skills and talents for achieving goals. You can enhance these and become more effective. You have achieved a lot already just to get to this point. Remember your previous successes. Examine how you succeeded before and what personal qualities helped you. You can do that again and again. Look for inspiration around you by admiring other worthy successful people. Respect them and emulate the best in them.

You can also remember that others are counting on you. Your family and friends miss you while you are working. You have all sacrificed time together so you can complete this project. You will not let them down. You will make the best use of your time and resources, right now, to complete this project for your own sake, for the sake of your family and for the sake of others that you may not yet know.

Recognise and celebrate milestones.

Don’t allow setbacks to prevent ultimate success. Keep working!

3. Citta is a purity of mind that is focused on the objective. It manifests as dedication or cool focus.

It is a mind dedicated to the goal of accomplishing the goal. It is non-distraction and not procrastinating. It is staying on track. It is completing the project of high quality in the shortest possible time. It is not paying attention to irrelevant issues that are not your business. It is being very clear about what you are doing right now to achieve your goal.

Complete and total focus on your goal of completing the project.

You can strengthen this by only associating with wise, virtuous, calm people who also work hard and who embody all the good habits and skills you admire. You can avoid those people who are not so focused and who present distractions to your goal. You can stay physically and mentally healthy. You can rest properly, eat properly and exercise properly. Avoid gossip and frivolous talk.

Always keep the five moral precepts to protect yourself and others from harm and to cultivate peace and happiness. Peace and happiness lead to concentration which in turn leads to discernment and wisdom. Practice the eight moral precepts when possible. Go on intensive meditation retreats at least once a year. Daily practice mindfulness of breathing aanaapanasati and build concentration/one pointed mind samaadhi.

Be generous to others and yourself. Cultivate divine mental states such as loving kindness metta, compassion karuna, sympathetic joy mudita and equanimity upekkha.

4. Vimamsaa is the investigation and analysis of the project topic. It is the deep penetration into the project issues, to understand the concepts and relations between concepts in this project. It manifests as expertise and insight.

You can understand concepts and relations between concepts by seeking advice from mentors, elders and expert advisors in books and in person. Keep notes of helpful information. Get advice from more than one respected experts on whether your plan is viable and may be improved. When your project is quality tested or applied in the world, others will examine your thoroughness and knowledge. Do you have the ability to do a presentation on the main ideas in this project topic for people who may not know anything about it? Sustain a network of contacts of people in this field who can help you with your project.

Insight arises when the mind is tranquil and focused. Insight is not controlled by an act of will. Prepare the mind, balance the mental factors of confidence saddha, discernment panna, energy viriya, collectedness samaadhi with mindfulness sati. Mindfulness is the essential mental factor for the arising of skillful kusala mental states. Pay attention, be aware of body and mind at all times.

All the above iddhipaada success factors are powered by sammaa padaana the four right strivings (efforts) and samaadhi concentration.

Sammaapadaana is the four right strivings. 1. to restrain from adopting new bad habits and behaviours; 2. to abandon existing bad habits and behaviours; 3. to cultivate new good habits and behaviours; and 4. to maintain existing good habits and behaviours.

Samaadhi is concentration, focus and tranquillity of mind. Practice mindfulness of breathing aanaapanasati frequently to develop a one-pointed mind. This will build mental power and strength that will support all skillful kusala mental states.

These notes are a personal interpretation of the Dhamma as applied to worthy projects. The suttas describing these principles are not very accessible for casual readers who may not know how to apply them in daily life. I used some creative license to elaborate the basic principles and hopefully share them with a wider audience with a broader application. By applying techniques for spiritual success to worthy worldly projects we may create a more spiritual world.

Perhaps hindering accessibility, I included some Paali technical terms because they are interpreted into English in different ways. Some readers who know Paali may prefer alternative English words to the ones I’ve chosen here.

Lord Buddha originally taught the iddhipaada as The Bases for Spiritual Power, the power that leads to Nibanna – enlightenment.

“Bhikkhus, these four bases of spiritual power, when developed and cultivated, are noble and emancipating; they lead the one who acts upon them to the complete destruction of suffering. What four? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu develops the basis for spiritual power that possesses concentration due to desire [chanda] and volitional formations of striving. He develops the basis for spiritual power that possesses concentration due to energy [viriya] and volitional formations of striving. He develops the basis for spiritual power that possesses concentration due to mind [citta] and volitional formations of striving. He develops the spiritual power that possesses concentration due to investigation [vimamsaa]and volitional formations of striving. These four bases of spiritual power, when developed and cultivated, are noble and emancipating; they lead the one who acts upon them to the complete destruction of suffering.”

[source: SN 51.3 Noble Sutta, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya ; Translated from the Pāli by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Published by Wisdom Publications, 2000, page 1719]