Week 46 - The Noble Eightfold Path - Right Thought III: Compassion

In teaching about Right Thought, the second step of the Noble Eightfold Path, Joseph has so far described thoughts of renunciation and thoughts of goodwill or lovingkindness. This week, he concludes the discussion of Right Thought by describing thoughts of compassion, free of cruelty. “Compassion is the strong wish of the mind and heart to alleviate all suffering.”

Week 44 - The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Thought I: Renunciation

Joseph moves on to the second step of the Eightfold Path this week, Right Thought. He emphasizes an often-overlooked truth, the power of habit and habitual tendencies. In understanding that our actions are conditioned by our thoughts, we can recognize the major role that thought plays on our path. There are two classes of thoughts: those rooted in desire, ill will and cruelty, and those inclining toward renunciation, goodwill and compassion.

The Buddha, as an unawakened Bodhisattva, questioned why, while he understood the effects of renunciation, his heart didn’t “leap up” when considering renunciation. He realized he had not adequately seen the drawbacks of sensual pleasure and the rewards of renunciation.

Joseph addresses the Buddha’s recognition of the value of renunciation by speaking of the experience of non-addiction. He describes various forms of addiction and then speaks of wise restraint, offering the wisdom (and comfort) that renunciation is a gradual process.

Three ways to practice renunciation are made clear and can be seen as accessible:

1.   Change habit patterns

2.   Practice the wisdom of No

3.   Cultivate an unshakable mind.

He concludes with Ajahn Chah’s direct and encouraging words:

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.”

Questions

1. How does Joseph Goldstein’s description of renunciation compare to your personal understanding and utilization of the word renunciation?

2. Of the three modes of cultivating renunciation: Which one would you consider the most challenging: wisdom of no, renunciation of complexity, or change of habit? Why?

3. Do you see renunciation as peace? How?

4. If you have practiced renunciation based upon the precepts, what has your experience been?

5.  Has there ever been an incident in which the thought of renouncing or giving up something made “your heart leap?”

6.  What does your inner two-year old demand or want?  How do you handle it?

7.  Do you find that you cling to moments of pleasant mind states in your practice when they occur? What do you do?

Practices

1.  Pay attention to moments of transition from being lost in sense desires to being aware of them. Don’t just acknowledge your awareness of the desire but note the freedom felt of its absence.

2. Reflect upon your daily routine; what habits or sense desires have become so familiar that you normally don’t even notice them? Make a simple change to your routine.  How easy (or difficult) was it to make the change?

3. Open a catalog or your favorite magazine, thumb through it and note when you feel an urge of wanting/desire when you see something you like.  Why do you feel the need or desire? What plays out when you see an item you want? How do you feel when you let go of the wanting? How long does it last?

4. How can you practice the wisdom of “no”? When you notice you have been lost in a sense desire or habit, ask: Is this action skillful or unskillful? How easy or difficult is it to “walk away”.

Week 43 - The Noble Eightfold Path: Right View II

This talk starts with page 334.

This week, Joseph concludes his talk on mundane or worldly right view, telling us that there are “wise and virtuous people who have realized the truth through their own direct experience”, and he suggests ways in which we can employ this knowledge.

He then moves on to the Noble Right View, which leads to nibbana. This is both the wisdom factor of mind (the illuminating factor) and what wisdom discovers as it illuminates our experience.  Joseph emphasizes the value of understanding the four Noble Truths by reviewing them. In discussing the truth of dukkha, the Buddha is emphatic, saying, “In brief, the five aggregates of clinging are dukkha.” Wrong view of self, in Pali, is called sakkayaditthi, also known as “personality belief”. It is a delusion about something that doesn’t exist, the self.

Joseph’s instruction then proceeds to demonstrate ways to access Noble Right View. “We can approach the understanding of selflessness most easily by refining our awareness of impermanence, particularly noticing the changing nature of the five aggregates.” He gives clear instructions on several ways of doing this.

Pp. 342 and 343 are not included in this talk.

But the conclusion of the talk is the conclusion of the chapter (on pg. 344):

        “The Buddha said there are two conditions for the arising of right view: the voice of another and wise attention. We have heard the voice –- or the words -- of the Buddha. The rest is now up to us.”

Questions

1. Recall a time when wisdom was offered from an unexpected person. Did a hindrance or openness arise?  Did this experience open your eyes to times when you may have been the unexpected source of wisdom?

2. Are compassion and generosity related to worldly right view?  Describe an experience with compassion as generosity.Describe a time when mundane right view led to a personal insight, ‘taste’ or experience of noble right view.

3. Has mindfulness of your inner stories about your place in the world led to clearly seeing the selflessness of the aggregate of perception?

4. How does your identification with feeling tone (e.g. I feel happy) strengthen attachment or delusion?

5. Joseph’s closing words are that “We have heard the voice – or the words – of the Buddha.  The rest is up to us?”  How does this statement relate to what drew you to insight meditation or Buddhism?

Practices

1. Note when wisdom comes from an unexpected source.  Try to be mindful and investigate your response in terms of feeling tone and mental formations.

2. Try to become aware of attachment to wanting to look a certain way during your daily activities.  How does this attachment feel (pleasant, neutral, unpleasant) and does this condition the arising of other hindrances?

3. Be aware of occurrences of the distortion of perception.  Does being mindful change the arising of distortion of mind or view?