02/11/2013 11:07 am ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

Lojong Practice Outside of Meditation

Shakyamuni Buddha taught 12 interdependent links of causation that keep us trapped in a suffering existence. This is called "nidana," or "the nidana chain." In this blog, I am going to explain three of the links and how we can guard our minds between meditations sessions to help us break apart these links of the nidana chain.

According to Buddha's teachings, when our sense powers of sight, sound and so forth encounter an object of their type, a consciousness of one of the six types arises. (Mind is the sixth sense power.) When we encounter a visible form, for example, we become conscious of a sight, or, in other words, we experience an eye consciousness, as Buddha called it. The consciousness that arises upon the basis of a sense power is called "contact," and this is the first of the three links of the nidana chain that I will discuss in this blog. Upon the basis of contact, we experience the second link, which is a feeling of one of three types -- pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. The pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings that arise in dependence upon contact make up the nidana link that is called "feeling." Upon the basis of feeling, the third of the three links -- craving -- arises. These steps of the nidana chain result in the negative actions that cause us to suffer. I am going to illustrate how this process works, and then how to guard our minds so as to eliminate these links of the nidana chain.

It is very common to develop grasping attachment directed at automobiles that we view as attractive and desirable, so let's consider daydreaming about a car to illustrate how the nidana chain perpetuates negative actions. Advertisements for cars cause the link, contact, to arise -- we experience a visual image of a car. If the advertisement is effective in moving us in the fashion intended by the advertiser, we experience a pleasurable feeling about the car. If the advertisement is very effective in its intended effect, the pleasurable feeling leads to a strong desire to possess the car, thinking that owning it will bring us happiness. This desire to possess the car, thinking it is a source of happiness, is the form of craving called "grasping attachment." Next, we begin to daydream about possessing the car, and this daydreaming works to train our minds in a fashion very similar to our lojong meditation, but this process is not under our control, rather it controls us. (I explained lojong meditation in my Huffington Post blog, "Lojong Meditation: The Bodhisattva's Mind-training Practice.")

When we fall into out-of-control mind-training based upon grasping attachment for a car, we visualize the car, and we think about what we find attractive about it. We visualize how the car appears to us in great detail, think about the good qualities of the visualized object and experience a pleasurable feeling. This leads to the deluded conviction that possessing it will truly make us happy. This gives rise to grasping attachment, and reinforces our view of the car as desirable, and then every time we see the type of car outside of daydreaming about it, craving arises. In the process of going back and forth between daydreaming about the car and experiencing visual contact with this kind of car, we reinforce and strengthen our craving. This is out-of-control mind-training, and although I have used the example of how grasping attachment for a car arises, the process through which we train our minds to experience objects with aversion is the same, except for the fact that we experience them with a displeasurable feeling rather than a pleasurable feeling, imagine harming or eliminating the object of aversion and develop the conviction that harming or eliminating the object will make us happy.

Guarding the sense doors is used outside of meditation practice in order to stop our out-of-control mind-training at the contact stage. If we diminish or block feelings that arise from contact, we diminish or block the craving that arises from feeling. Then we must not allow ourselves to engage in the "daydreaming" that trains the mind to develop grasping attachment or aversion.

In order to guard the sense doors, we must maintain renunciation and employ mindfulness and alertness. I explained mindfulness and alertness in my Huffington Post blog, "What is Mindfulness and Why Is It Important." I explained renunciation in my Huffington Post blog, "The Three Principle Aspects of the Path." Briefly, renunciation is the attitude that mundane worldly goods cannot bring us true and lasting happiness, mindfulness attends to the contents of our minds, and alertness assesses whether a mental content is a help or a hindrance to traveling on the spiritual path. For example, we employ mindfulness to notice when we are experiencing grasping attachment, and we employ alertness to remind us that grasping attachment blocks progress on the spiritual path. Maintaining and strengthening our renunciation helps us to remain alert to the negativity of feelings caused by mundane goods, and also of the resultant grasping attachment.

There are two ways that we can guard the sense doors so as to stop out-of-control mind-training and break the nidana chain. The first way is to avoid contact with the objects that cause us to experience craving, and the second way is to employ mindfulness and alertness to stop contacts from becoming feelings and feelings from becoming cravings.

We can use our mind of renunciation to help us avoid contact, because we can tell ourselves that the mundane things that cause us to experience craving are not sources of true and lasting happiness. For instance, we can decide that we will not watch television advertisements for cars, because we know that they cause us to experience grasping attachment. Two other examples are: We can avoid crossing paths with people we view as enemies and we can avoid situations that we know cause us to become angry. The strategy of avoiding contact with the objects that cause us to experience craving will not, by itself, eliminate the underlying mental habits that make contact with the particular objects that trigger craving, but at least it will help diminish the mental agitations and obsessions that divert us from our spiritual practice, and we can then meditate on the fact that the views we have of objects that trigger cravings are delusions. When we really believe that these views are delusions, we can be more effective in the second strategy of guarding the sense doors -- employing mindfulness and alertness when coming into contact with something that triggers feeling.

We can stop contact from becoming feeling by being alert to the presence of a mental contact that we know triggers a feeling. Instead of allowing the contact to trigger feeling, we can think, "I have encountered a feeling-trigger object." At this point, we could divert our attention to something else and remove the trigger from our consciousness. Better yet, we could more fully employ alertness at this point and assess the view we have of the trigger. We can ask ourselves several important questions at this point. One is, "Am I viewing this impermanent object as something that will bring me true happiness?" Another is, "Can this impermanent object bring me true and lasting happiness?" And finally, "If I allow craving to arise, won't this cause me to suffer?" We can ask analogous questions about objects that cause aversion to arise. If you have cultivated renunciation, you are convinced that impermanent objects cannot cause true and lasting happiness/are not the true cause of suffering, and that craving only perpetuates suffering. If you alertly assess an object of consciousness that has arisen from contact as impermanent and a cause of suffering, you can change the view you have of the object that has caused a feeling to arise. For example, if you notice you are viewing the object as attractive, you can think of the object instead as analogous to a flaming-hot coal that would burn you if you were to touch it. You might even imagine that it is a flaming-hot coal. If you can change the view that has caused a feeling to arise to a view that enables you to drop the feeling, you have successfully guarded the sense doors in a much more effective way than merely diverting your attention from the object.

Guarding the sense doors is a very important part of lojong practice outside of meditation. As long as we are under the spell of the out-of-control mind-training of daydreaming that traps us in the contact-feeling-craving chain, we cannot make much progress on the Bodhisattva path. We must overcome craving if we are to develop any of the six perfections, most especially generosity and patience. So strengthen your attainment of renunciation, be mindful of the objects of contact that are present to your consciousness and alert for the invasion of feeling and craving. Find out what works for you as a method of changing deluded views of objects that cause feeling and craving into wise views that eliminate feeling and craving. If you guard the sense doors in this way, your lojong practice outside of meditation will be very effective, and you will have created the foundation for making great progress in cultivating and practicing the six perfections.

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