10. Hindrances of the Householder (II)
We have begun to look at what the Buddhists traditionally call
"hindrances" or difficult energies which arise in the mind and in
one's life as a part of meditation practice, particularly as
householders, and how we might look at them, deal with them, and work
I want to read a passage from an article by a woman named Portia
Nelson. It's called //Autobiography in Five Chapters//.
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the
sidewalk. I fall in. I'm lost. I'm helpless. It isn't my
fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the
sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I
can't believe I'm in the same place, but it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the
sidewalk. I see it is there. I fall in. It's a habit. But my
eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault and I get
I walk down the same street. There's a deep hole in the
sidewalk. I walk around it.
I try walking down a different street.
It somehow speaks very directly to our human experience which is not
that one sees and immediately learns, but that in some sense our
spiritual practice and our life of growing in general is a process of
making mistakes and confronting our demons, and oftentimes looking at
the same patterns and difficulties. They are the forces that the
great Christian Desert Father Teacher Evagrius described attacking
those people who went out to meditate in the desert in Egypt in the
second century A.D. There they talked about them in terms of demons.
They would be assailed by the demons of desire, wanting to go back to
Alexandria and have a pizza, or whatever they served in Alexandria at
that time, or wanting a soft bed, or the demons of aversion and
frustration because it was too hot or too cold or what we call the
Noonday Demon, which is the demon of sleepiness that would creep up in
the middle of the day to want to take them into unconsciousness. Or
if you got rid of all those, the demon of pride who would come only
after you were successful in routing the other demons, to say, "See
how good I am? I got rid of desire, frustration and anger, and I'm
really a good meditator."
Of course, what one discovers is that what was available and in fact
a part of meditation in Egypt in the 2nd Century A.D., or in ancient
India, or in China, are exactly the same forces, the same demons one
encounters here, in our lives, in our work, in our families. As I
mentioned, there was an article that articulated this very well that
describes the traditional hindrances of desire, anger, judgment,
restlessness, sleepiness, laziness and doubt in terms of marriage. In
fact, in relating to anything, whether it's our meditation, our work,
our financial life, the same states of mind will have the tendency to
What's important to understand is that these very states are the
place of practice. The doubt, the fear, the difficulty, the anger,
that arise in our life are what make practice juicy. If you could
just sit and be peaceful and get up, your meditation wouldn't take you
very far in terms of opening a heart of very deep compassion, or in
terms of some inner centeredness, a capacity to relate to birth and
death -- and all of the changes that are inevitable in life -- with
wisdom, with deep understanding.
In the Buddhist tradition there are a number of different strategies
for dealing with these hindrances or difficulties. An image that's
used is of these hindrances or difficulties being the same as a
poisoned tree. One strategy is that you go and find the poisoned tree
and you cut it down; you chop it down and try to get rid of it. We'll
talk about working with that strategy. A second strategy is to simply
put up a sign near the tree that says, "This is a poisoned tree. Don't
eat the berries, don't eat the leaves," and instead of killing it, to
take shade in it, and to enjoy it for what there is of value in it, to
have some friendly relationship to it rather than one based on fear.
The third and the most interesting strategy is the person who comes
along and says, "Oh, a poisoned tree of this kind, just what I've been
looking for. These berries make the best medicine for curing a number
of illnesses, including the illness of greed, fear, desire, anger and
It's the person that takes the very energies that are difficult and
learns to work with them or distills them in their own body and heart
until something more valuable comes to them. The phrase that Chogyam
Trungpa Rinpoche used was, " These difficulties are manure for
//bodhi//, manure for awakening or enlightenment." The most famous
biographer of Sigmund Freud, Lou Andre Salome, at one point in the
introduction wrote a statement -- This is a paraphrase. I didn't have
it to look up but I basically remember it -- When we look at the life
of a great person, rather than condemn their faults and weaknesses,
should we not be grateful and awestruck that such light could shine
through in spite of them.
It's a very different spirit of relating to difficulties, when
seeing them as who we are, to see that there is some light of our
being, of our wisdom, of our heart, that can shine through even in the
midst of these, even in spite of them.
As we talked about hindrances and difficulties before we found that
mostly as they arise they're based on stories we tell ourselves -- he
did, she did, they did, I wish, if only -- and as we begin to look at
the nature of mind, we can see what storytellers we are. I mean, I'm
a storyteller by profession. In part, that's what I do. But I don't
think I'm the only storyteller in the room. It goes on and on inside
The stories do a couple of things. They make us right, they make us
feel better, they justify, they make us feel more comfortable, and
they also help us to avoid feeling things that we don't want to feel,
or facing things that are just here in front of us. These hindrances,
in a sense, are an avoidance of what is present in the reality of the
One philosopher wrote:
Millions of people long for immortality who do not know what to
do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
It's nice to have visions of eternal peace or whatever one's
spiritual ends might be, but in fact, it's really more about facing
our life each day, each hour, and each moment.
How can we relate when these different forces arise during the day?
Here are a number of strategies one can work with in meditation and in
one's daily life. The first and the major way to relate in terms of
skillfulness is to identify with the present and to become mindful of
it, whether it's fear, judgment, anger or desire. If you want to, you
can work with mental notes or labels, "fear, fear, judging, judging,
anger, anger, irritated, irritated," not just when you're sitting on a
cushion, but try it if you're in an argument with somebody, or if
you're feeling frustrated over something, or if you feel very confused
one morning, note, "Okay, I'll look at this and label it, 'confused,
confused,'" and see what that experience is like. To pay attention to
it means to let yourself experience what arises in the body, in the
feelings, and in the mind, all of them. Confusion might arise and
there will be a physical sense with it. It will arise and there will
be a certain feeling, a state of being confused. There will be a
quality of pleasant or unpleasant. In most cases it will probably be
unpleasant. There also might be an aversion or judgment, "I shouldn't
be confused. I wish it would go away." If you try to make it go
away, what happens? Anybody ever try it? It generally gets worse,
plus which you add more judgment, "I shouldn't be judging, I shouldn't
be confused, I'm really not doing it right, if only this would go
away," and all of a sudden you have four more judgments on top of the
There was a person at a retreat who came to me because she noticed
in her mind that in most everything she did there was a voice of
judgment. So I asked her in a simple way, a 15-second psychotherapy,
what were the first names of her parents. It turns out to be this
person and that. Did that voice in her mind remind her of either of
those? It could have been someone else, but in this case it happened
to be her mother. She grew up in an Italian family. I said,
"Alright, every time you hear that voice saying you're not doing it
right or you should do more, or whatever, first of all, count the
judgments for awhile just to see them." She tried that and she was
still fighting with them. I said, "Alright, say 'Thank you, Mom.'
Whenever that voice comes, you should do a little bit more, you should
get that better, 'Thank you, Mom.'" She said, "That's not really
right because I called her 'Mama' and I would have spoken to her in
Italian. It's more like 'grazie, Mama.'"
She wrote this note after a couple of days of trying it.
The judging process and saying, "Grazie, Mama," was very
useful and even became amusing. At one point the judging
process of mind seemed to be a giant web of interconnected
judgments. Once I started counting them, there were so
many. I counted during two sittings all told about 220.
Many of them were repeats. But it got to be fun after
She also had difficulty in walking meditation. She would get bored
or frustrated. So I said, "Instead of walking a little bit, do a long
walk. Take an hour and a half or two hours and just walk back and
forth and die. Whatever arises, you just keep walking."
I also did the hour and a half walking this morning. It was
proceeded by an hour sitting in dread anticipation,
frustration, anger at you, and irritation at the upcoming
walk. The walk itself was like all things, good and awful.
The first 15 or 20 minutes I really got into it and thought,
"This isn't too bad." Then a lot of aversion came out,
mostly impatience, then rage, then calmness, then sort of
psychedelic nature stuff, then pride, lots and lots and lots
of pride, over and over again, theN planning on what I'd
write you in this note, then more pride, I did it so well,
then back to my feet and legs and sensations, then
irritation, then "Grazie, Mama," again. Then it all started
I noticed that most of my unawareness occurred during the
time between sitting and walking, so I realized that's the
place for me to focus on next in my practice.
Anyway, after ten years of sporadic vipassana, I touch for a
moment into beginner's mind.
The first spirit of it, whatever it is that you're dealing with,
whether it's fear, whether it's judgment, whether it's anger, whether
it's doubt or confusion, is just to begin to name it and identify it.
You might find that it fits your habitual tendency like some people's
tendency to move out of the present through desire all the time;
others have a tendency through judgment or aversion or disliking; for
others it might be through confusion. It's useful just to begin to be
aware of what your habit is, what your strategy is. Basically, it's a
strategy to deal with what's uncomfortable. For certain people when
it's uncomfortable there will come desire, for others there will be
aversion, for some there will be spacing out and confusion. Begin to
be aware of that and notice just what's there.
As you start to look, like our friend here, you see how amazingly
frequent it is, how many mind moments we spend desiring, judging,
irritated, sleepiness or doubting. It's really quite a lot. Has
anybody ever noticed that? Then you say, "Oh, my God, this is an
impossible task. A little mindfulness to overcome all of that?" But
it's really universal. It was true in Egypt 2,000 years ago, and it
was true in India 2,500 years ago with the Buddha, and it's true in
the monasteries on Mt. Athos, it's true in the Zen temples of Japan,
and it's true in Fairfax, San Raphael, Sausalito, Berkeley. It's the
same thing. It's really universal and it's just part of what the mind
There's a book that I've been reading on three-year olds and it's
entitled, //Three-Year Old, Friend or Enemy//. It is written by a
well-known psychologist writing on this particular stage.
Three-year-olds have a lot of aggression and a lot of testing of
limits and a lot of periods where they regress and get very needy and
they go through all these things. I see myself in her, it's not just
that she does that, but there she is acting out all this stuff that I
find in myself. There are times when I just get completely frustrated
with her and want to just throw her out the window.
I remember teaching at Esalen and there was a whole group of us in
one large room. There was some conversation about spiritual life. One
of the people there had their child. It was a young two- or
three-year-old who was crying and making a lot of noise, being very
difficult at that particular time, and finally just started to wail
and cry. The mother picked it up and carried him out of the room, and
there was this kind of, "Ahh," a relief of everybody in the room. One
woman among the many who had children, just said exactly that. She
said, "Do you remember the time when you really just wanted to pick
them up and throw them out the window, and you didn't care how far
down it was to the street?" Everybody in the room who had children
laughed because they all remembered that moment. It's not that you do
it, mind you, but that it just comes along with everything else that
What you need to do is to see that it's human and begin to look at
it directly anyway, to label it, to acknowledge, "Well, there it is,
there's aversion, there's irritation, there's judgment, there's
confusion" or "there's fear." Actually, when we see it truly, the
moment that we can name it, it's like we turn around and face it
rather than being caught or running away. We say, "Oh, I know you."
Maybe it's the dark night instead of psychosis, or maybe it's just
boredom after being with a person for some years. Instead of saying,
"Oh, I've got the wrong relationship" or the wrong marriage, when you
don't face it, it seems much bigger and worse, but when you turn
around and actually look at it, it's not as bad as it seemed.
That's the first step. Things become workable when you simply
acknowledge what that energy is that has arisen in that time in your
life, in your practice. To work with these forces, in addition to
naming them and being aware of them, you really have to let yourself
touch them with your heart. It's not just to name it, but somehow
it's to let it in, to let yourself connect with it from a place of
tenderness or caring, somehow to make friends with it or at least not
to be upset or judgmental of it, whatever it is.
If you find that there's anger, or fear, or desire, maybe it's your
food craving, and you eat over and over again, and you say, "Oh, I
wish I didn't do it," or maybe it's the way you treat your body in
some other fashion, maybe it's the relationship with some person in
your life, you look at it and say, "Ugh, I hate that." See if you can
acknowledge what that state is. Is it judgment, is it aversion, is it
dislike, is it fear, and then in acknowledging it, send some loving
kindness, send some //metta// to it or embrace it. Let your heart
connect with it as if it were a poor down-trodden dog or something
like that, that generally whenever it came you kicked it, and instead
you are going to be nice to it today and touch it in some way with
more tenderness. If we can't let things into our heart, we don't
really let ourselves grow and there is still some sense of aversion or
trying to get over them or rid of them.
See it and identify it, let yourself be touched by it without
pushing it away, and as you open to it, notice its nature and then
study it as if you were a botanist or a biologist. It's a part of the
nature of mind. It's what every mind does. Every mind doubts, every
mind gets restless, every mind gets confused, every mind judges.
Anybody who doesn't have all of those things? Not a single person
So you look at its nature. When does it begin? What's the middle
of it? How intense does it get? What's its end like? Is there
something you want to learn about? What's the most powerful point of
it? What are the body sensations like, if you want to learn to deal
with this particular energy? What triggers it, what's the thought or
the image that generally comes right before it? What's the story
line that goes along with it? There you are driving and you're
annoyed by some driver for doing something for the umpteenth time.
What's the story that goes through your mind? "California drivers are
this . . ." or "People who drive on the road should . . ." or what is
it? Just look at not only what the event is but what's that inner
thing that triggers it. See what the story is. Just look at it, and
then ask yourself one other question. Who is making up the story?
Very useful question at that moment. It's really beginning to observe
the movement or the dance of the mind.
This is called, "The Cosmic Dance" or in other traditions, "The
Dance of Shiva," or "The Dance of Maya."
The restless waters of the lake appear to make the moon dance.
It's our own storytelling that makes things move. You pay attention
and you watch its beginning, its end, its nature, what it feels like
in the body, if it is painful, if it is pleasant. If you want to
learn, if you have some hindrance or difficulty in your life that you
want to learn about, particularly study the moment when it just ends.
Suppose it's desire. We'll take a simple one. You have a desire for
something you want to eat. Maybe you have a chocolate craving, and
you decide to go out and get an extraordinary triple fudge Swiss
chocolate cake, or whatever it is, and you fantasize and you imagine,
and finally you get to that place that specializes in catering to
people just like you. They know you're coming and they put all the
extras on, and there it is. Instead of just going for the cake, this
time you're going to watch. You feel the desire in the body, you
watch the salivation in the mouth, you imagine the pictures and the
satisfaction. You really let yourself look at it and you feel it.
It's tense. In that very craving, there's a certain amount of tension
and pain. That's alright, you're going to get it satisfied. You get
in your car, you go to the ultimate bakery and you get that thing. You
don't even take it to your car. You sit down at the table, you take
your first bite, and then all of a sudden there's this whole shift
that happens in your body. From this place of tension, it all just
softens and relaxes. That chocolate touches your tongue and it melts
some in your mouth, it tastes delicious, it's really good. At that
point, it almost doesn't matter whether you have any more than that.
That's probably just about enough. If you watch, the desire moves at
that moment and the desire ends. Why is that? Anybody have an
answer? Because the great happiness of it is not just the pleasure,
although there's pleasure and that comes from sense delight, a certain
happiness, but the great happiness comes because the desire ends.
If you want to learn something really powerful about the mind or
about particular energies that are arising in your life, whether it's
in relation to food, people, love, work, look at it and discover what
happens at the moment in your mind when that anger, that confusion,
that doubt at a certain moment ends -- it is a very, very interesting
place to study. There is where you learn a lot about its nature.
It doesn't happen easily. Whatever this is, it requires practice.
How many times have these states arisen in our lives? Countless,
unbelievable number of times. So you practice. Maybe you start with
little ones. Remember that quote of William Blake?
If one is to do good,
it must be done in the minute particulars.
General good is the plea of the hypocrite,
the scoundrel and the flatterer.
To do anything well, it has to be done here immediately, in this
moment, rather than with some ideal -- "I'll get rid of this," or
"I'll change the world." How do we actually relate to our family, to
the people nearest to us, to our coworkers, to the people that we
encounter in the day, or to the immediate circumstances of our life? I
regret to say this about Mr. Blake, but I also have a quote from
Catherine, his wife, who was asked about William, particularly about
the quality of his company. She replied:
I regret to say I have very little of Mr. Blake's company. He's
always busy in paradise
Some person who I know whom I will not name said:
If you really want to know about a master, a Zen master or
otherwise, talk to their spouse.
Actually, this was a woman. She said, "Talk to their wife," but
there are a number of female Zen masters. That's really where you
learn about yourself, and that's also where you learn about what it
means to be free. It's not in the theory but in the nitty-gritty, in
the little things. In traffic, as I said, when somebody cuts you off
or does some idiotic thing which only a human being could do, and they
do it, that's the place that you learn. You have that argument with
your lover or your husband. Maybe you come home and you know you want
to argue. Have you ever seen that one? If you look at it, there is a
desire to make contact, but not too close. It's sort of a safe way to
make a connection and still keep some distance at the same time, or
maybe to discharge something because you're grumpy at someone else, or
some other reason. These are very interesting places to learn about
our minds, to learn about how things operate.
The desire to be right, you might just listen for that voice. I
don't know if any of you have that. I just love to be right, it feels
so good to be right. Do you know what I mean? You notice that voice
that comes, and you feel its quality, what's it like in the body, what
does it do in that moment to the relationship, and what is the sense
of self that is built around that story that I'm right and therefore
somebody else is not. You look at it.
This isn't anything new, is it? There's nothing new in tonight's
talk. It's really old stuff. Here it is again. It's the nature of
mind, and we're learning to relate to mind in a friendly,
compassionate and wise way, not to stomp it out or get rid of it. You
need it for certain things, like planning a few things here and there,
writing once in awhile. It has its place.
What is interesting is watching as you begin to allow yourself to
look at these energies and not just act them out habitually. You
might just pick one for the next week or two. Pick one hindrance or
difficulty in your life and study it. Maybe we can have a little
botany lab work here. At the end of a couple of weeks we could have
a meeting and we'll share. We'll have a little time and people can
share which particular hindrance they picked and what they learned
about it as they observed it.
As you look you also discover that each has a beautiful side. Isn't
that interesting, that each has some creative energy locked up in it?
For example, the Tibetans talk about those forces of greed, hatred and
delusion, in terms of Buddha families or types of personality energies
-- if you will, archetypes. The //padma// energy, which is that of
greed and seduction, when one learns to work with it and doesn't get
quite so personally caught up in it, turns instead to incredible
creativity and a beautiful sense of esthetics and beauty that's not
oriented toward manipulation or grasping but can be part of something
creative and skillful. Or the //vajra// type of mind which is in its
negative or its difficult aspect portrayed as cold, hard, judgmental,
and seeing what's wrong with everything, when one learns to work with
that energy and open it and not be so afraid and learns how to use it
skillfully, it becomes transformed into what's called "discriminating
wisdom." Instead of being something that's undermining, it's the
clarity of mind to see exactly what is going on and to know how to
relate to it wisely. It is depicted as the sword which cuts through
all illusion and all nonsense. Similarly, the Buddha family type
which is associated with delusion and being spaced out, not being so
present, avoiding things, when one learns to work with that energy and
allows it without getting caught in the story, it moves to a place of
great peacefulness, of spaciousness, of a kind of mirror-like quality
which can receive everything in the world without doing battle with
What if these things are strong, what if desire, fear, anger,
judgment and so forth, are very strong, and it's really too hard to
pay attention, how can you work with them? There are five traditional
strategies that are also listed as ways to work with them.
The first strategy is called, "Letting it go." It arises, you see
it, and you just let it go. Terrific if you can do it. The thing is
it is not so easy to do. There's also a danger in it that letting go
of the judgment, or the desire, or the fear, or whatever, often gets
twisted in our minds a little bit until it becomes, "I can't wait to
let go of this," which is to say, "I can't wait to get rid of it." It
becomes an aversion, "I don't like that." A better phrase for it is
to "let it be," better than "letting go," more the quality of "letting
be." To be mindful and just see it, see that "it's mine," and let it
into the heart rather than resisting it.
What is interesting if you let things be is first of all they come
and go on their own. It's quite terrific if you really watch them.
They do that all by themselves. Secondly, if you pay attention and
you really let them be and let them in, what you see is not so much
greed, hatred, delusion, desire or restlessness. Even those, deep
though they are, are something more superficial or on some medium
level, and underneath what you touch when those arise is pain,
emptiness, loneliness, fear, some grief or sorrow, or some kind of
contraction. All those things arise as a strategy to not feel
When you let them be, it's not only to let that state be, but to
really open yourself to feel what is present, and to soften your heart
enough so that you can get just to the bottom of it, whatever that
particular energy is, and that's what begins to heal you. That's what
begins to allow you to work with it in a different way. That's the
first strategy. Suppose that doesn't work, what other ones can you
There's a second one. That first strategy is like turning the
poison into something valuable, into insight. That's the strategy of
making it into a useful medicine. A second strategy is one of
balance. For example, if there is a great deal of desire, you can
reflect on the brevity of life, on death and impermanence, and think,
"Is this something I really want?" or "What really matters to me? If
I only had another month or another six months to live, what would I
be wanting to do with my body, heart and mind? How would I want to
live?" Very often it puts desires into perspective. The balance for
doubt is faith, to seek out some inspiration. If there's confusion
and doubt, to read something or to speak with someone -- it just
reminds you of another part of yourself that's a counter to that ,so
then you come into enough balance to watch it.
The balance for anger and judgment -- and it's a difficult one -- is
forgiveness. You can't do it too soon, but some time when you're
ready. At first you can extend maybe a little, and then maybe a
little more, with forgiveness to yourself or to another person. You
can work with forgiveness when the anger is too strong to just
The balance to sleepiness or laziness is to do those things which
This set of strategies, if it's too strong, you can kind of cool it
out a little by raising energy when you feel yourself being too sleepy
or dull, or by working with forgiveness when the anger is too strong
to just observe.
The third strategy is suppression. Very interesting that this
should be listed in here. It is generally talked about as a bad
thing. You don't want to suppress things because it makes you sick
and it just comes out some other way anyway. This is like the old
adage of counting to ten when something is difficult. You just stop
and you count to ten.
I'll give you a better example. Suppose you are a surgeon and
you're in the middle of having an argument with your husband. You're
on call that day and your beeper goes off. He did something, and
you're quite upset. It's time to go the hospital. You get in your
car and drive right over. Someone is lying on the table and they need
open heart surgery. You get scrubbed, you get your gloves on, and
you're about to do surgery. That's not a very good place to ruminate
and think about that argument and try and finish it up. That's a very
good place to put it aside and just complete your task of surgery and
wait until there is a skillful place, a place that's the right
container, where it feels safe, where there's the support or the time
to let yourself solve it. Sometimes it is a skillful strategy, when
something is very strong, to put it aside, especially if you're
willing to say, "I will come back to it when a better or a safer
opportunity arises after this circumstance is over." It requires
There's letting things be and being aware of them, that's the first
one. Bringing some balance is the second. The third strategy is
suppress them if necessary or put them aside for awhile. The fourth
is sublimation, taking the energy and transforming it into something
The traditional example, if you're very angry, is to take that and do
something useful with it, to go and chop the firewood that you need
for the woodstove for the winter and get some of it out of your
system, let go of it and also do something useful. That's
externally. Internally, you can work with it in the same way. For
example, if there is a lot of lust and sexual desire that's really
compulsive, just as you can move it outwardly, you can also through
some practice move the energy in your body and take it from being just
sexual up into your chest and heart in some way that the desire is
still there but it is transformed more into the desire to be loved or
to love or to connect in some way. It is to find some other outlet
for it that is skillful.
The last of these categories is the most interesting and dangerous
one They actually get more dangerous as you go down the list because
suppression is dangerous if you don't work it out later, and
sublimation is dangerous also or can be because it can be an
avoidance. The most dangerous, but also the most interesting, is the
category where you exaggerate it. If you haven't learned, it is,
"Alright, let's do it; let's look at it." I don't mean particularly
if it is going to be harmful to someone. There are two ways to do
this. First is just put in your mind Part A, where you take that
desire or anger, whatever it is, and you imagine taking it to its
extreme. What would you do? How far can you imagine taking it?
Instead of resisting it, you play it out to the umpteenth degree. The
only way that this is a spiritual practice is if you do it and you pay
attention. If you do it and you're not very mindful, then it is
reinforcing it and pretty soon you'll go after that unconsciously. It
can be done very skillfully. If you have that desire or that anger,
imagine what you would do to that person. If you have a desire and
imagine getting it a hundred times as elaborate as can be -- see what
it's like. There, you've ended the 100th time, and how do you feel?
There you are in the same place. Does it arise again? Can you really
see that it's endless if you just try to fulfill it?
The second part, Part B, is to actually act it out, which we do all
the time anyway. It's nothing terrible to say that most of the time
we act on our desires, and that's fine. Even for these difficult
ones, go out and indulge that thing, whatever it is, see, but just do
it by paying attention as well, and learn from it -- not just
The story I usually tell with this is one of Munindra, Joseph
Goldstein's teacher in India, who had this incredible craving for
Indian sweets, particularly for gulabjaman. Gulabjaman are so sweet,
they're in this sugar water and they make baklava seem like dry toast.
He loved them. After each meal he would want to go and have his
gulabjaman. Finally, he was tired of this craving, so he went into
town, brought some money with him, and he ordered something like 20 or
30 rupees of gulabjaman, this enormous plate full of it. He sat down.
I don't know how far he got into it, but I don't think he could eat
very much before he started getting really sick, and certainly sick of
gulabjaman. After that he said he could take it or leave it, as one
If you're going to do it, okay, pay attention. At least learn from
it. As one Zen master said:
This life is a series of mistakes. True practice is one
continuous mistake, one after another anyway.
The only difference is that you pay attention so you learn from it.
I hope you can hear in going through these strategies of letting it
be, of observing it, feeling it in the body, of noticing what the
loneliness or pain or fear or contraction is out of which it comes, of
sublimating it or transforming it in some way, or even acting it out
and observing it, that if you're willing to do it with the experience
or particular hindrance in your life, it starts to make the practice
quite alive. That is where it becomes juicy, where you learn from it.
It frees a tremendous energy. Instead of running away or acting
habitually, you start to evoke and allow this inner energy that's been
bound up in these patterns to be understood and to become more a part
of your conscious being.
In all of these, in all of them, what's important is to learn to
watch the movement of mind, the mind that wants to close or is afraid,
that wants to defend itself or to avoid opening to the fact of
whatever is actually here, to the "just this much" of the moment, to
the spaciousness of it or the meaningless of it in certain moments, or
the emptiness of it, or the birth and death of it, the loss, and the
next thing that comes.
The whole process of working with these states of mind and these
energies, is to finally learn to come to rest, to open to this moment,
one after another, as it is, and find a kind of stillness that allows
for all the coming and going of the ten thousand joys and the ten
thousand sorrows, and it brings an ease and humanness and compassion.
I close by reading a letter. This is from one of Munindra's
students, a woman who was in a prisoner of war camp in Europe during
World War II, and involved at that time in very painful and horrible
things that were happening in the war camps in Europe. She finally
escaped as a teenager at the end of the war and moved to Australia.
She wrote him this letter after doing some years of meditation
practice. She said:
A few weeks ago I was sorting out old files with notes and
stories and thoughts which I had written down over the years.
Reading through them before destroying them, I was more amazed
than I have ever been in my life of so much misery and
unhappiness. How is it possible that a human being could live
for 55 years through so much fear, despair, unhappiness,
morbidity, depression, pain, suffering, and not be utterly
destroyed by it? I must have been stronger than I thought. And
when I look back over the past four years, since the first time
I came to practice in India, life has become simple and so
serene that it's unbelievable.
She's a very fine yogi. She is one of Munindra's greatest students.
After reaching the first deep stages in my mental development, I
lost my depression. My headaches, fears and nightmares went
away, and after doing deep practice for another year, during my
second visit to you, I don't even understand anymore what all
the fuss was about, those first 55 years of my life.
I just live life as it is and as it comes in a calm wholeness
with some equanimity and I find myself content with whatever
arises. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I don't meditate at
all, but you see my life has become more of a meditation because
I try to live each minute of the day in mindfulness and
openness, and somehow nothing seems to be able to touch me in
the same way anymore. It's like living on two levels. The
outer level to make conversation with people and say the right
things at the right time, but under that is a second level where
there is a core of untouched and untouchable stillness, of quiet
attention and peace, because somehow life is so simple,
uncomplicated, and all those old upheavals were after all really
just of my own making, weren't they. You only get upheaval
through the ways you react to things, and once you react the
right way, the direct and simple way, there aren't problems
left, and somehow the right way of reacting is most of the time
not reacting at all.
I hope this makes some sense to you. I'll tell you a little
story to show you what an enormous success you are as a teacher.
I think her success was that she had suffered so deeply in some way
that she brought that strength and that genuineness that had gotten
her through that to her spiritual life. She said:
A few months ago the man who I love more than any in the world,
and who was for the past 17 years as close to me as any man and
woman could be, died rather suddenly. If that had happened
before you started to teach me, I'm sure it would have
completely destroyed me. I would have committed a quick suicide
and ended it all. But now of course I felt sorrow about losing
this man's close love for me and I missed his company, but for
the rest, a stone thrown in the water would have caused more
ripples than his death.
I accepted his death with an amazing serenity and detachment.
He's just finished this life trip of his and they have already
started another one. I don't know that, but apart from this
personal loss and his companionship, there isn't the kind of
upset and conflict in me about death. I am not afraid as I used
Apparently I've always been able to see and understand other
people's problems and help them somehow, but in the old days
other people's miseries tore out my heart and gave me stomach
ulcers in my pity and concern for them. But now when people come
to see me with their miseries, I can listen to them, sometimes
help them, and have a much deeper compassion, but when they
leave, it's over and done with, and they haven't torn my guts
out in the process.
I've been working with an alcoholic this past month or so, and
for some odd reason my willingness to listen seems to help him
in his struggle to stay away from alcohol and find his true
I think you can be proud of yourself as a teacher and content
with me as your pupil.
There is something really wonderful and joyful about working even
with the pains and difficulties in one's life and mind, for that
moment when you realize, "For that little thing, I don't have to take
it so seriously. I really can be free to touch that." It makes
* * * * * * * *
TITLE OF WORK: The Eightfold Path for the Householder: Ten Talks
(Transcribed from audio tape)
AUTHOR: Jack Kornfield
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: Spirit Rock Meditation Center
PO Box 909
Woodacre, CA 94973
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: N/A
COPYRIGHT HOLDER: Jack Kornfield (1995)
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1995
RIGHTS AND RESTRICTIONS: See paragraph below.
DATE OF DHARMANET DISTRIBUTION: February, 1995
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