humor

Thirty four thoughts during meditation

wildmind meditation news

Chloé Morrison, Nooga.com: Meditation is not about clearing the mind fully; it’s not about not thinking.

It’s about focusing the mind; it’s about training the mind to stop its chaotic cycle of obsessive, counterproductive thoughts.

It’s about focusing on the present moment, the value of which can only truly be felt through practice. (And once you start really noticing the present moment, you recognize how much we are in a zombielike, autopilot mode for too much of our lives.)

But it’s inevitable that thoughts scamper into our minds during meditation, and that point is often confusing to anyone who hasn’t practiced.

As opposed to turning the mind off, it’s more apt to say that the goal is to be aware of our fleeting thoughts from a more objective distance and then continually, kindly redirect the mind back to the current moment.

It can be amusing to stand back and listen to what the mind comes up with.

I meditated Tuesday with Yong Oh, who teaches a class at my office, and here’s how some of the thoughts went:

1. Breathe. In. Out. Yes. Breathing is awesome. Meditation is awesome.
2. I feel it all. I feel it all.
3. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Just. Breathe.
4. I’m so in the moment right now. I’m awesome.
5. No. That’s ego talking. Stop it.
6. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
7. I like the sound of my teacher’s voice.
8. How does it work to meditate and guide the meditation at the same time? I should ask him. No. I shouldn’t.
9. Shhh! Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
10. My stomach just growled. Give me all the food!
11. I shouldn’t spend money on lunch today.
12. But who likes to go home and eat turkey or canned soup?
13. I need to think about my personal budget more. Yes. I’ll do that—after I buy lunch.
14. Back to the breath. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. Feeling the breath is truly amazing. Our bodies are amazing.
15. My foot is tingling. It’s falling asleep.
16. I’m supposed to just observe that. I don’t need to move it. Just feel the sensation.
17. I’m present in the moment. Feel the air. Feel the breath.
18. Is it hot in here? I’m hot. I want to take off my sweater. No. Don’t move. Be present with the feeling.
19. Oh, my god—my foot is numb. It’s seriously, dangerously asleep. It can’t fall off, right?
20. Just move it. It’s better to move than be distracted. Ah, OK. That’s better. Will not obsess about potential problematic circulation. That’s a thing, isn’t it?
21. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
22. What about pizza? I wish I could eat some pizza. I shouldn’t spend money, and I shouldn’t eat pizza.
23. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
24. “How strange it is to be anything at all.”
25. Jeff Mangum is brilliant.
26. Wow. There’s a lot of spit in my mouth right now. Like, a lot.
27. Just swallow it. Don’t be weird.
28. Does everyone else think in nothing but song lyrics sometimes?
29. That new Josh Ritter album is genius.
30. Where is my mind?
31. OK. Refocus. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
32. My back hurts.
33. I need to run after work. Or at least walk. OK. Maybe I just won’t eat any pizza today.
34. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

The reality that meditation doesn’t equal not thinking is worth repeating, because if your goal is to totally clear your mind for 30 minutes straight—or maybe even five minutes straight—you’re probably setting yourself up for failure.

The ability to observe my thoughts and identify them as products of my mind—not self—has been one of the most transformative results of my meditation practice. It’s made it easier for me to not take everything in life so seriously. It’s helped disconnect me from needless drama that we often stir up ourselves in our minds.

I encourage you to step back and observe your mind as you might view a movie—with curiosity and amusement, and see how that changes your world.

Original article no longer available »

Bodhipaksa

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Cookie Monster: “Me practice mindfulness!”

cookie monster

Well, Cookie Monster doesn’t quite say that, but he comes close. In this Sesame Street video promoting self-control (which psychologists call “executive function” these days) he says:

When me lose control, when me have no doubt
Me have strategies, that can calm me down
Me can talk to self, me can stand up straight
Me can take deep breath, me can self-regulate!

And also:

When me lose control, when me on the brink,
Need to just calm down, me need to stop and think
Me need control me self, yeah that’s the way to live
And then me functioning, like an executive.

Check out Cookie Monster’s excellent message, which is as applicable to many adults as it is to children:

You can view the video on YouTube if you can’t see it above.

See also:

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Why Buddhist men shouldn’t be ordained as monks

Thanks to Ayya Adhimutta, who forwarded me this wonderful link. Obviously it’s in a Christian context, but I bet we can think of Buddhist reasons why men should never, never, be trusted with the yellow robe!

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.

8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.

7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.

5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.

4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.

1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.

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The ten funniest scenes from the Pali canon

buddhist humor

The Pali Canon is profound, difficult, revolutionary: but not funny, surely. And if it is, then why? What’s the nature and purpose of Dhamma humour?

Thankfully I’m going to leave aside weighty matters of interpretation and present here the definitive list of funniest scenes. If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments. In this list I am only considering the early Suttas. There’s plenty more humour in the Vinaya, and even more in the Jatakas, but it would just be too hard to choose.

10. Saccaka gets his comeuppance

Where?

Majjhima Nikaya 35, Culasaccaka Sutta

What’s up?

Saccaka the wanderer features in a few Suttas. Here he threatens to take on the Buddha in debate on the five aggregates and not-self, giving an elaborate series of similes on how he will drag the Buddha about ‘like a huge elephant would enjoy a game of washing hemp’.

Where’s the funny?

While Saccaka is boasting, there’s no doubting his pride is due for a painful fall, and the Sutta doesn’t disappoint. He ends up thoroughly humiliated, seating and depressed. But like all good thrashings in debate, it turns out to be a necessary antidote for his pride. He ends up becoming an arahant.

9. The Boast of Brahma

Where do I find it?

Digha Nikaya 11, Kevaddha Sutta.

What’s up?

A monk searches for an answer to the question, ‘Where do the four great elements cease without remainder?’ He questions the gods, but they keep referring him upstairs (which itself is a lovely satire on the bureaucratic nature of the celestial hierarchy) until he arrives in the realm of Brahma. Brahma appears and boasts, ‘I am Brahma, the Great Brahma, Father of All…’. But he keeps dodging the question. Eventually the monk is so persistent, he takes him by the elbow, leads him to one side, and whispers to him, ‘Actually, I don’t know the answer to your question. You should have asked the Buddha!’

Where’s the funny?

It is a brilliantly accurate skewering of religious pretensions. The bluster and bombast is revealed for what it is. While the story as it stands is directed at the Brahmans, other texts make it clear the Buddha respected the good practice of Brahmans of old (after all, he must have had jhanas to become a Brahma in the first place.) The point here is that religious authority is propped up by signs and displays, and with a little dedicated and persistent questioning anyone can see beneath the surface.

8. Sariputta gets Clubbed

Where do I find it?

Udana 4.4

What’s up?

A passing yakkha sees Sariputta meditating in the full moon, his freshly shaven head a tempting target for an ogre’s club. Unable to resist, despite the warnings of his friend, he lands a blow that would split a mountain in two. Sariputta sits there unperturbed and the blow bounces off. Later, Moggallana asks him if he saw anything unusual, and Sariputta says, ‘No, but I do have a slight headache’.

Where’s the funny?

Come on. A huge troll smashing a shiny bald head in the moonlight? How is this not funny? The episode is pure slapstick, and gives an entertaining contrast between the violent religion of the yakkhas – which, let us not forget, was a mainstream cultic practice often involving human sacrifice – and the peaceful cultivation of the Buddhists. We’re left with no doubt where the real strength lies.

7. Sakka Turns Back

Where do I find it?

Samyutta Nikaya 11.6, Kulavaka Sutta

What’s up?

In the interminable war between the Gods and Titans, the Gods lost the battle and were fleeing, with the Titans hard at their heels. Their escape route led through a forest full of delicate birds, with their chicks nesting. Sakka cannot bear to endanger such innocent creatures, and so he instructs his charioteer Matali, to turn around, even though this means facing their enemies. The Titans, however, assume that Sakka has turned around because he has reinforcements. Terrified, they flee and the Gods end up victorious – and saving the birds.

Where’s the funny?

Sakka is the Buddhist version of the ferocious war god of the Vedas, Indra. He is the archetypal Aryan hero, leading his people on chariot raids, plundering and slaughtering in the joy of strength and victory. The Buddhist texts turn him, not without a struggle, into a spokesman for non-violence. Like the religious allegories, this provides, in its light-hearted way, a political allegory for the idea that non-violence can be a source of strength and political success.

6. The Humiliation of Mara

Where do I find it?

Sutta Nipata 3.2, Padhana Sutta

What’s up?

Mara tires to defeat the Buddha, but ends up routed. While later accounts depict Mara’s army as a vicious mob of monsters, this early story lists 10 purely psychological factors as Mara’s army: desire, cynicism, and the like. Mara tries to tempt the Buddha to live a life of wholesome merit and give up striving for Awakening. But the Buddha is impervious, and Mara ends up depressed, saying he couldn’t get any more entrance to the Buddha than a crow poking a stone. It ends with the unforgettable image of the ‘depressed troll’ letting his lute droop from his armpit and vanishing.

Where’s the funny?

Mara is hardly the paragon of evil we might expect by comparison with the Christian Satan. He is more akin to the Trickster figures of folk mythology; except he ends up being the one getting tricked. His inevitable defeat is a standard trope, repeated in countless stories. Like the wily coyote (another trickster figure), the fun is watching his (admittedly admirable) persistence and ingenuity, knowing all the while his efforts are doomed… I could have chosen any number of Mara tales for this spot, but I felt this major archetypal episode deserved the gong. A special mention, though, for Majjhima 50, Maratajjaniya: Mara enters Moggallana to possess him, and Moggallana says it feels like his belly is full of beans.

5. The Doctrine of Dighanakha

Where do I find it?

Majjhima Nikaya 74, Dighanakha Sutta

What’s up?

Dighanakha approaches the Buddha and without ado declares his doctrine to him. With a name like ‘Long-nails’, you know this is not going to end well. His doctrine is, ‘Nothing whatsoever is pleasing to me’. The Buddha responds with one of the best one-liners in the Suttas: ‘Well, this view of yours, is that pleasing to you?’

Where’s the funny?

The Buddha’s response is sharp, witty, and cuts to the heart of the matter. Like the best humour, it’s not just amusing, but it points to a deep truth: religious people often claim to have let go of the world, but it is their attachment to their religious ideals that is really holding them back.

4. Ratthapala’s Wives

Where do I find it?

Majjhima Nikaya 82, Ratthapala Sutta

What’s up?

Ratthapala is the son of a wealthy family. He is permitted to go forth by his parents only after he nearly starves himself to death. When he returns to his family after attaining enlightenment, they try to tempt him to return to worldly things, placing a large pile of gold before him and serving delicious food. Ratthapala’s former wives come to attend him, intent on seduction. They ask, ‘What are they like, the divine maidens for whose sake you are following the holy life?’ Ratthapala says, ‘Sisters, we do not live the holy life for the sake of divine maidens.’ They cry out, ’He called us “sisters”!’ and collapse in a faint.

Where’s the funny?

Your mileage might vary! Yes, it’s a standard ‘woman tempts ascetic’ scenario; but I don’t think it’s as sexist as it might appear out of context. The bulk of the sutta has Ratthapala dealing with his clinging parents, and later with a king. The wives only appear in this one scene, and are a transparent narrative device. I just find the image of the wives crying, ‘He called us sisters’ and fainting to be so over the top. They’re vapid valley-girls; and for me the humour lies in the naivety of their response, in stark contrast with the strong, wise women found elsewhere in the Suttas. It strikes me as a throw-away bit of camp, contrasting beautifully with the sombre and profound teachings that the sutta ends with. The sutta as a whole is one of the most dramatically accomplished in the whole canon, and the effect is partially accomplished with the fusion of dark and light elements. Anyway, if you still think the story is proof of the sexism of the Pali Canon, perhaps you’re not familiar with…

3. Mutta’s Song of Freedom

Where do I find it?

Therigatha 1.11, Muttatheri

What’s up?

An awakened nun sings of her freedom from the three crooked things: the mortar, the pestle, and her crooked husband.

Where’s the funny?

Sexual politics have, it seems, changed but little. The short verses segue blithely from the mundane to the sublime, speaking with wit and pith of the reality of domestic disappointment. Rather than offering a Cinderalla-solution (the handsome prince will take you away and you can live in a castle – with someone else to do the cooking and cleaning), this offers a genuine solution: freedom from birth and death.

2. Citta’s Faith

Where do I find it?

Samyutta Nikaya 41.8, Nigantha

What’s up?

Citta, a highly intelligent and capable lay disciple, goes to see Mahavira (known in Pali as Nigantha Nataputta), the leader of the Jains and the Buddha’s chief rival. Mahavira asks him whether he has faith in the Buddha’s claim that there is a state of mind so still that all movement and applied thought has vanished? Citta replies that he does not go by faith in the Buddha’s claim. Mahavira is delighted in this, puffs out his chest, and declares, ‘See, even the Buddha’s followers don’t believe him!’ And he praised Citta for his honesty. Citta, however, asks Mahavira, ‘Which is better, faith or knowledge?’ Mahavira agrees that knowledge is better. Citta then declares that whenever he wishes he enters the second jhana where there is no movement or application of mind, and indeed enters even higher attainments. So he does not need to go by faith: he speaks from personal knowledge. Mahavira is devastated: he glances aside at his following, and says how deceitful and insincere Citta is.

Where’s the funny?

Unfortunately, neither the Jain nor Buddhist scriptures record that the Buddha and Mahavira ever met in person, so exchanges such as this are the best we have. As well as the usual pricking of religious pretensions, Citta exposes some of the flaws of the Jain system as seen by the Buddhists. By focussing so much on self-torment, they do not have the tranquillity necessary for deep meditation, and so cannot see the truth. Moreover, Mahavira bombastically claims to be all-knowing, yet he can be so easily fooled – and by a mere layman at that.

1. The Love Song of Pancasikha

Where do I find it?

Digha Nikaya 21, Sakkapanha Sutta

What’s up?

Sakka wants to ask the Buddha some questions, but can’t seem to arrange an interview as the Buddha is on retreat. Pancasikha the gandhabba offers to help, and standing neither too close nor too near, he serenades the Buddha with a song extolling the ‘Buddha, arahants, and love’. He sings of his beloved Suriyavacchasa, ‘maiden fair of thighs’, whose glorious beauty he covets ‘as the arahants love the Dhamma’. His desire grows as does the merit of gifts given to arahants; and were he to be made one with his beloved, he would rejoice like the Buddha attaining Awakening! Despite the outrageous inappropriateness of the song, the Buddha rewards him with a nice compliment: the sound of your voice blended well with the sound of your lute. Sweet, and neatly avoids commenting on the content of the song. (Incidentally, certain later myths make this lute of Pancasikhas none other than the very lute that had dropped so ignominiously from Mara’s armpit in the episode mentioned above. Not so implausible, perhaps, as both events are closely related with the of the Buddha’s Awakening.)

Where’s the funny?

A love song in the Pali Canon! Though the verses are perhaps the earliest attested love song in Indian literature, they are clearly playing with well-practiced tropes. Even when the song doesn’t directly speak of Buddhism, it uses standard Buddhist imagery: like an elephant plunging into a cooling lotus-pond, Pancasikha longs to plunge into the bosom of his beloved. Foreshadowing later Indic literature such as Ashvaghosa, the verses are ironically aware of their own tension: her love will grant him sweet release like water cooling flames, but at the same time he is like a fish stuck on a hook, his heart bound, and his thoughts confused. You can read it either as a genuine erotic song, or as an exposure of the sufferings of lust. And, like the Ratthapala Sutta, the narrative is sophisticated enough to move from such light fare to the weighty matters that are dealt with later on.

From the blog of Bhikkhu Sujato.

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If you meet the Buddha in the produce aisle, eat him

A funny thing: If you go to Google Images and search for “bad Buddhist art” (don’t ask) you’ll find that the first result is of a pear shaped like a Buddha. No, it’s not like one of those potatoes that looks like Mickey Mouse — a freak of nature. It’s a cultivated pear.

And there’s not just one of them. A Chinese farmer called Hao Xianzhang has been growing pears inside Buddha shaped plastic molds. And he sells them. For 50 Yuan, which is, at today’s rate of exchange, just over $7.85.

It’s cute, but I’m not sure many Buddhists would want to bite into the juicy flesh of the Fully and Perfectly Awakened One, or how many non-Buddhists would be willing to shell out almost $8 for the same privilege.

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Comical genitalia

The following post is contributed by Paul Duxbury, who blogs as “poetmcgonagall” (Left wing, atheist curmudgeon with a black sense of humour and a heart of gold. Love[s] music, books, theatre, tea, and marmite). Do visit his blog.

“Comical Genitalia.” It’s not often you get a chance to use that phrase. I’m deeply grateful to an unsung staff reporter on the Sun for unleashing it on an unsuspecting world in this 2007 article, ‘Rude Buddha’ causes outrage. It was later lifted almost word for word in a Metro article – Cops probe Rude Buddha – a headline so brilliant you can forgive them the plagiarism.

The genitalia in question – a banana and two eggs – are welded onto a bog-standard statue of a seated Buddha. The work, by artist Colin Self, was probably considered rude by the good people of Norwich for a number of reasons. A banana and two eggs are surely innocent objects in themselves, but placed in the lap of a seated figure in an upstanding position, they acquire a whole new meaning. Then there’s the bronze colour of the foodstuffs, which stands out against the black of the Buddha. Finally, there’s the position of the hand curled in the lap – a classic meditation posture – suggesting an alternative activity is taking place. I’m reminded of a greeting card, with the picture of a seated mystic and the caption, “If that’s the sound of one hand clapping, I wonder what the other hand is doing?” Oh, and the statue was facing out into the street.

A Trilogy: The Iconoclasts is actually a witty spoof, melding ideas of sacred art with pop art, and evoking all the metaphorical associations of bananas and eggs. It’s a pity some people were so prudish as to complain to the police, forcing the gallery owner to turn it round so it faced into the shop. But I’d be surprised if it didn’t sell very quickly with all the free publicity. Perhaps Self got his friends to make the complaint.

So thanks to that staff reporter for adding an essential phrase to the English language – I hope it goes viral.

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