For the past several months, I have been working at the eighth step of the Eightfold Path, samma samadhi, or Right Concentration. It's not that I've mastered the other seven steps, far from it, but then it's not that kind of path. Many people develop concentration in tandem with vipassana, so why do concentration practice at all?
A few years ago, I went trekking in the Himalayas. The path started out broad with abundant sunshine, lots of small villages tied together by a placid and gentle stream. Abundant wildlife, too. Many trees, birds, lizards, cows. Farmers on the path greeting me with exuberant Namastes. Day tripping families, delightful meadows, peaceful rice paddies. Up and down hills I went, gradually climbing, fording ever wilder streams. With fewer people on the path, the path itself became more narrow, more adapted to its surroundings.
One way to view humanity's enormous success story is by focusing on its strengths. It's our imagination that sets us apart from other species. That way that we have of looking forwards toward some possible future, or back to some imagined past, that can help us plan for that future or make sense of the here-and-now. Without imagination, strategic thinking would be almost impossible.
For most of our evolution, humans have been directed outward. Expansion, conquest and co-operation have been the paradigms that have made us lords and masters of this planet. Driven by a desire to be safe - in control - we're always on the move. Always inventing, exploiting, innovating. Finding better ways to do the things we already know, and new ways to conquer problems we haven't solved yet. In a sense, this creativity is so common - and so valued - that it may well be embedded in our very DNA.
I always feel better when the sun is out. The sun's warmth on my face, even in winter, can temporarily make me forget just what I'm thinking about, grappling with or seeking a solution for. It's not just an emotional thing, either. Doctors have long told us that a Vitamin D deficit, which our bodies derive from sunlight, is bad for your health. When it comes right down to it, everything we have, are and will ever be is dependent on our sun. Our atmosphere and climate are driven by it; more than that, they exist because of its continuing output.
As a break from the earlier subject of creating a life centered around meditation and exploring the extent of usefulness of meditation, I'd like to focus this blog on the subject of becoming more aware of our addictions. Different definitions exist. Addiction is sometimes defined as something you feel or think you can't do without, or can't help but doing. Furthermore, using or obtaining this item causes difficulties for you in several important areas of life. Think work, home life, relationships, school.
People who meditate a lot tend to go through a phase where they are convinced that meditation is the best thing to happen to humanity since the Neolithic revolution - a period in prehistory where humans harnessed the power of agriculture and became sedentary, thus paving the way for civilisation with all its trappings.
The paradox between living a life which I thought of as being "un-buddhist" and seeking awakening at the same time has been a particularly vexing one for me. The concept of right livelihood mentioned in the eightfold path always seemed rather narrowly defined. But more than that, I found it hard to reconcile participating in a world that thrives on indiscriminate growth with seeking a spiritual future. My parents were worried that now I would certainly never amount to much and buddies fretted that they could lose me as a friend.
I've been asking myself this question since I've started meditating in earnest in 2009. On the surface, it would appear that meditation is rather conducive to good relationships with others; all this awareness and acceptance of what's going on in the present moment, not to mention the love that people experience when they do the metta meditation. Also, in contrast to most other religious experiences that may give similar outcomes, in meditation practice there is no need for a God-concept that is different from others' God-concepts.
There are many articles on this site and on the web in general about how to use meditation as a tool for self-knowledge and knowledge of the way reality is manifesting itself right now. Thinking about the traditions involved in bringing the meditation techniques to the present also got me thinking about man's role in the many groups that he is a member of. We're for a large part social creatures. Whatever the group we're involved in does, we're affected. How come we don't use meditation to reflect on these processes?