Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

The 8 Hooks: How Mindfulness Can Get You Off the Hook

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

In the Pathamalokadhamma Sutta, the Buddha said,



Among humans, these things, namely,
Gain, loss, status, disrepute, blame, praise, pleasure, and pain
Naturally are impermanent, uncertain, and liable to change,
The wise, ever mindful, understand these things,
And contemplate them as always shifting and changing
Thus, delightful things cannot oppress their minds,
They have no reaction to disagreeable things,
They have abandoned all liking and disliking (for worldly concerns).
Further, they know the path of nirvana, dust-free and without sorrow,

They have reached the other shore of existence and know this correctly.

The Buddha warns about the eight worldly things to avoid. These four pairs of opposites are reflected in the above sutra.

1) Taking delight in money, materials possession; Feeling distress when separated from these things
(2) Taking delight in praise and things that boost the ego; Feeling distress when receiving criticism or disapproval
(3) Taking delight in maintaining a good reputation or personal image; Feeling distress when image and reputation are diminished

(4) taking delight when making contact with pleasurable things; Feeling distress when making contact with unpleasurable things.

What does the Buddha mean here? These are eight hooks for the mind and are thusly eight attitudes that make us vulnerable to dukkha (suffering; pervasive dissatisfaction, and so forth). The Buddha is not encouraging us to become zombie-like with no self-preserving instincts. Rather, he is cautioning against basing our self-worth, happiness, and well-being on their occurrence. In other words, beware of contingent self-worth. All things mentioned here are either not in our direct control (that is, it is something someone else does to us) or they cannot be controlled because they are always changing (that is, the fundamental truth of impermanence). He is not saying don’t enjoy things but he is saying that enjoyment might be a double-edged sword if not tempered by wisdom of impermanence. He is saying don’t take yourself so seriously. He is saying don’t invest so much energy into self-protection. Don’t base your self-worth on what other people think of you. In fact, spend less time on figuring out your self-worth and more time on paying attention to your experience (and while you’re at it, why not focus on helping others, or at least not doing harm to others).

Gain, loss, status, disrepute, blame, praise, pleasure, and pain are eight hooks to avoid and we are beset by them constantly. Inevitably we succumb to them on a regular basis. Alternatively, each moment is an opportunity to recognize the hook and to disentangle ourselves from its barbed grasp. Mindfulness practice helps us to disentangle. To be mindful is to see how we are hooked and allowing fear to overtake us. We can see how our sense of OK-ness has become contingent. If we breathe through the feelings that our emotional brain thro
ws at us, we can realize that while some problem may need to be solved, we are not in mortal peril and don’t require activation of our most primitive defenses. We can breathe into this moment with interest and a commitment to get off the hook or put our energy towards solving the problem in a practical matter. If the problem can’t be solved right away, we can breathe through the uncertainty. That, I think, is what the Buddha meant.

Razor Wire Dharma

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

What could be a better place to practice meditation than prison? Many have discovered the transformative potential of doing time and exploited that opportunity to do important work on themselves. The documentary film, Doing Vipassana, Doing Time depicts the remarkable work of S. N. Goenka in a New Delhi prison. In this city of a prison, he offers traditional Burmese-style 10-day Vipassana meditation retreats. The rules for a Vipassana course are actually more stringent than those for regular prison life. The schedule goes from early in the morning to late at night with hour after hour of sitting meditation. It’s an encounter with your mind where there is “no escape.” Having the escape exits blocked, participants can see clearly into the conditioned nature of experience and the constructed nature of self. This is, perhaps, the only form of truly meaningful prison rehabilitation. The psychologist G. Alan Marlatt has also taken Vipassana to prisons in the U.S. to help substance addicted individuals. In prison, we find discipline leads to freedom.

Another form of prison dharma is found in the poignant and powerful memoire, Razor Wire Dharma: A Buddhist Life in Prison by Calvin Malone (Wisdom Publications). Here is an excerpt where he describes the mundane experience of eating an apple, an apple that stood out from the usual horrible prison food he was subjected to.

“Breathing in I smelled apple, breathing out the universe. Everything there is or ever was was contained in this apple. I could see it with the wild exactness of shattered glass. The answer and the question were there in the apple. i was feeling an inexplicable joy, keenly aware. I never fore felt better in my life. I realized this moment was as good as it gets”

The Buddha’s teaching offer this form of radical freedom. That the happiest moment of your life could occur during a prion sentence. That true happiness could arise from the simple beauty of an apple, a living thing connected to everything else in the entire universe. Our usual days miss this miracle, as we move around lost in our stories and taking the apples and other miraculous occurrences that we encounter for granted. Buddhist practice and the time afforded by prison can be a potent combination for change, as Calvin Malone’s book demonstrates.

Spiritual Materialism

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

The 20% richest of the world’s population consume 60% of its resources. We in American do more than our fair share of the damage whether it is oil, food, or narcotics. After the economic downturn that followed the terrorist attacks of 9-11, President Bush urged Americans to “go shopping.” Being in such a consumer culture are we also at risk for consuming our spirituality. Is Buddhism immune from such consumption? Thubten Chodron (writing in Hooked:  Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume) warns us that “when we turn to spirituality, we may think that we’re leaving behind the corruption of the world for higher purposes. But our old ways of thinking do not disappear; they follow us, coloring the way we approach spiritual practice.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says in his classic, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

We have come here to learn about spirituality. I trust the genuine quality of this search but we must question its nature. The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit. We become skillful actors, and while playing deaf and dumb to the real meaning of the teachings, we find some comfort in pretending to follow the path. This rationalization of the spiritual path and one’s actions must be cut through if true spirituality is to be realized.

Buddhism is not exempt from such concerns. Just look at any issue of the Shambhala Sun. It is filled with beautiful and enticing adds for teachings and dharma paraphernalia — meditation cushions, bells, statues, you name it. We can become attached to non-attachment. We can become identified with non-identification. We can get lost in spiritual materialism. A cartoon in The New Yorker magazine  depicts a mother and her child exiting a burning house via an emergency ladder. The mother urges, “Simon, don’t forget Mommy’s yoga mat.” The Hindu guru, Ragneesh was infamous for having over 80 Rolls Royces in his collection and Buddhist monks have been spotted wearing Gucci slippers and gold Rolexes. No one is immune from the allure of having things, the problem arises when our sense of OK-ness is dependent on having these things. We all must proceed  with eternal vigilance, as John Philpot Curran warned, if we want to be free.

Buddhism in America is inextricably entwined in marketing. Teachers must sell themselves and their services, must raise money for their centers, must sell their books and CDs. Spirituality is a product like any other product, right? We are also looking for the “best” spritiual experiences — the highest states, the rarest teachings, the coolest teachers. Spiritual materialism may drive us to strive in a desire-laced way. We may get bored with following the breath because it is not as exotic as following some terma (secret teaching). We may be afraid that we’ll miss out (see entry on FOMO). If we fall into this trap we’ve lost sight of something elemental — the Buddha worked with his breath to awaken and that practice can take us to awakening too, if we can give ourselves permission to do so. And if we do so, that awakening won’t be accompanied by fireworks. It will be an ordinary moment of clarity. It’s been said that “enlightenment is the ego’s biggest disappointment.”

The sheer abundance of teachings that are now available in the West may be both a blessing and curse. The blessing is the accessibility of the dharma in unprecedented ways, including the Internet. The curse is that such abundance may encourage conusmerist attitudes. We can find ourselves dining at the spiritual smörgåsbord, taking a little of this and a little of that and creating a pastiche of teachings that serve our ego’s needs and not the needs of true awakening. Instant gratification can be a trap. We don’t have to work hard to get to the teachings. We don’t need to walk across a high Himalayan mountain pass; we don’t need to sit outside the gates of the Zen temple for days waiting. We are consumers with spiritual “dollars” and we can spend these dollars wherever we choose. In urban centers the choices can be dizzying and the customer is always right. The danger is that if we don’t like what we see in ourselves working with one teacher, we’ll just go down the street to another. We love to idealize and the honeymoon period can be ecstatic, expansive, and promising, But just like a good marriage, to get any spiritual attainment we need to stick around past the idealization once disillusionment sets in (and it WILL set in and if it doesn’t we’re not really paying attention). All teachers, including the Buddha, are human.

Convenience is another consideration for spiritual materialism. In a sense, our entire consumer culture is designed to make life more convenient or more of something (faster, cooler, healthier, etc.). It is said there are no atheists in foxholes and we may be the equivalent of fair-weather friends, except in this case it is foul-weather practice. When we are in distress we may recognize the increased need for practice, but can we sustain this commitment without a crisis? Let’s face it, meditation is hard. It takes time and if we practice for prolonged periods can be physically uncomfortable and mentally make us face things we did not want to face. There is no quick fix and we need to be careful about seeking short cuts.

And if we do put in the effort, a final aspect of spiritual materialism to consider is what might be called “spiritual olympics” or “the one with most spiritual toys wins.” We can identify with how prodigous we are sitting, how many retreats we’ve been on, how many vows we’ve taken and teachings we’ve received. Is this any different than showing off your BMW to your neighbor? Is this any different than keeping up with the Jones’s? Thoreau warned us not to identify with the “clothes” of
any new activity but to try to be different in how we engage with activity. I’ll leave you with his words, “beware of any activity that requires new clothes, rather than a new wearer of clothes.”

Yoga Sanga: The Yoga Online Magazine for Texas on Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Rocio.jpg

Yoga sanga.gifI had the pleasure of being interviewed by Rocio Morales the founder and director of Yoga Sanga: The Yoga Online Magazine for Texas. My book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants was also reviewed (you can read it here). 

You can listen to the interview here (about 20 minutes)

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