Peace is right here, right now

13 Comments

Photo by Samuel Austin on Unsplash

For the past month I’ve been recording a series of daily guided meditations, taking as my basis the teachings in a Buddhist discourse called the Honeyball Sutta. This teaching (also sometimes called the “Honeycake Sutta” outlines a feedback loop whereby we end up causing ourselves suffering.

It describes how the basic situation is that consciousness, through sense organs, perceives objects (which can be internal, like thoughts, or external, like the words you’re reading now). This is called “contact.” The word “contact” contains the assumption that there is a self “contacting” a world that is separate from it. The Buddha is not saying this is how things actually are — just that that’s how we assume things are.

Within this field of contact we then have feeling responses to certain perceptions. The sutta doesn’t spell this out, but when the mind detects something as a potential threat it generates unpleasant sensations (feelings) in the body. When it detects a potential benefit it generates pleasant feelings. When something appears to have no bearing on our wellbeing no feeling (a “neutral feeling”) is produced.

What we have pleasant or unpleasant feelings about, we turn our attention to.

What we turn our attention to, we think about.

What we think about we (sometimes) obsess about.

What we obsess about assails us (i.e. causes us suffering) and reinforces our sense of having (or being) a separate self.

So we have a vicious circle, starting with the assumption of a separate self, and reinforcing that sense of separateness. Assuming we are separate, and feeling assailed, we continue to search among those things we have pleasant and unpleasant feelings about, trying to find peace by obsessing about them. This goes on and on and on.

A friend of mine recently gave a talk about this sutta, and he did the usual thing of talking about how mindfulness helps us to damp down the reactivity of this vicious cycle. If we find ourselves thinking obsessively then we can let go of them. With practice we can find ourselves experiencing our feelings and not have that turn into “storytelling” at all. This is of course perfectly valid as an explanation—but it’s also incomplete, because the discourse goes much further than this.

The sutta points out that were there is “no eye (or other sense organs), nothing seen (or perceived through the other senses) and no consciousness, then there is no feeling, no turning of our attention, no thinking, no obsessing, no being assailed, and no construction of a sense of self.

Now this might sound very odd, and might come off as nihilistic. What does it mean that there’s no eye (etc), nothing sensed, and no consciousness? Is it pointing to some state of blankness? To non-existence?

No, it’s simply talking, in very stripped-down language, about how we can drop the notions of a consciousness that is “me, mine, or myself” and a world out there that is “not me, not mine, not myself.” The alternative to this is just being. We just drop the whole process of reactivity all at once: not just letting go of our reactive thoughts, but coming to rest in an awareness of “self-and-world” without conceptualizing in terms of there being a self and a world. (We don’t even conceptualize that self and world are one, because that’s still a conceptualization in terms of self and world.)

Of course this isn’t something we can do in a “one and done” fashion. It’s something we need to do repeatedly, so that as we practice “just being” this starts to become the way we operate. But it is something you can do right now. It’s probably best to stop reading these words for a while and then spend a few minutes doing the following:

  • Just settle into an awareness of “self-and-world” (not taking those terms too literally).
  • Be aware of perceptions of sight and sound, perceptions arising in the body, and so on.
  • Be aware of any thinking that’s arising.
  • If there are any thoughts or impulses that have the character of trying to grasp or push away any aspect of your experience, let them go.
  • Notice how you are happier when you’re just resting with your experience, rather than trying to resist or grasp.
  • More thinking (resisting, grasping) will arise. Over and over again, let go of it.

Now that isn’t difficult. Sure, lots of thinking probably came up. And maybe you saw that as a threat to your wellbeing, and if felt unpleasant, and you had the desire to push that away, to make it stop. And that was you back into reactivity again. But you can notice that, and let it go. It’s natural that resistance and craving arise. You’ve spent a lifetime practicing those!

But for moments, perhaps quite a few moments, there is no conception of our having (or being) a self that perceives a separate world through our sense organs. Consciousness is not perceived as self, and that which is perceived by consciousness is not perceived as other. The whole self/other thing is simply set aside. And we don’t see our feelings as being threats to our wellbeing; instead they just are, and there is simply an awareness of them. And so (in those moments of pure being) the mind doesn’t obsess, and we’re not assailed, and we’re at peace.

This is something, as I’ve said, that we can practice. Now sometimes when people hear that word “practice” they think “Oh, that means there are lots and lots of things I have to do and then I can experience a sense of peace and calm. But practice doesn’t just mean “doing preparation” (like practicing scales on a piano so that you can play Bach). It also has to mean “getting better by actually doing something.” Letting go of your sense of having or being a separate self is something that you can do right now. The peace, contentment, and wellbeing that come from letting go is something that you can experience right now.

Peace is available right here, right now. Don’t try to grasp it. Don’t resist anything you think might be keeping it from you. Just be peace.

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you for this post. This is something that I am discovering more and more in my practice, going into an open awareness that does not have a center or a focus. For me, the sensations of my body are the entry point to this journey, and opening to somatic awareness allows me to then move to a place where both the sensations of body and mind merge, fluctuate, arise and move through an open field. Of course, awareness is constantly closing down onto one thing or another, but over time I am developing greater stability in the open state so that the reactive closure of awareness is less reflexive. And the peace of this open awareness is slowly changing my life as I carry more of the residue of it with me through my days.

    Reply
  • My strong craving yesterday was for the session to end. In the past I haven’t had the mindfulness to look at that desire for the session to be over or aversion to what the present moment is comprised of. Thankfully, I don’t usually get this much. Normally I am very comfortable with being in meditation or perhaps craving a few more minutes if I don’t feel I have gotten to a state of stillness. I just tried to sit with this desire to no longer be sitting and wondered what it was I was convinced would be so much better about the future ten minutes hence. I wouldn’t say I entirely dealt with it but it was a lot more comfortable than being taken over completely with desperation for the clock to tick by. Hopefully I’ll be mindful enough to do this from now on.

    I have been on this path for about ten years now and sometimes I wonder if I am going anywhere. It’s hard to remember the person you were and how much you made yourself suffer. I often think about what it would be like to be young again but really, I think it would be psychologically terrifying to go back to the place I was in on the inside when I looked so good on the outside.

    Reply
  • Thanks as ever Bodhipaksa for this great article – your posts are always so insightful. I have just returned from a retreat at Padmaloka on the Heart Sutra and I found your resonated very powerfully with my reflections from the weekend. Peace and happiness to you Leatham

    Reply
  • Hi
    Are the meditations you mention in the beginning of the article available somewhere?
    Best regards
    Olivier

    Reply
  • This information is awesome! Bodhipaksa I struggle with mental issues such as bi-polar,depression,PTSD,these issues make it hard to stop obsessing about negativity,any advice or help

    Reply
  • Aaron Cunningham
    December 12, 2018 8:33 am

    Thanks for this. I find my spiritual condition very dependent on my connection to meditation.

    Reply
  • I meditate x2 a day for half an hour each time. I sit quietly and let my mind go wherever it wants. I suffer from stress and anxiety and find that meditation is a wonderful way to give myself space. I dont use a mantra so am I missing out?!
    I also hAve strange but not unpleasant sensations and I’m not sure what these mean! Any thoughts!?

    Reply
    • You certainly don’t need to use a mantra. The early Buddhist tradition didn’t use them at all, and they’re not a regular part of my own practice.

      Having unusual sensations is quite common and nothing to be worried about. I wrote an article on different kinds of unusual experiences, and you might find that useful.

      Reply
  • Dear Bodhipaksa I’m having hard time to understand this concept. What is the point of trying to just ”being”, what is the point of trying to practice non-seperateness? Isn’t just deluding the mind and what is already there? We talk about conceptualized mind and that is creating seperateness, but what if that is the way things are? I mean a lot of people living like that then someone deconstructs the mind with prolonged training and discipline and claims no-self, is that only not making any sense to me or am I the only one having hard time understanding this? Also how just “being” is helpful to our lives, when we have short precious moment on this earth, will we be just be and let it pass away or do stuff to make our lives better?

    Reply
    • You don’t see the point of being happier and of being at peace with yourself, rather than being unhappy and conflicted?

      Reply

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