Today December 7, 2019 – Bodhi Day Eve!
We now end our journey through the Eightfold Path with the last two items, Awakened Mindfulness and Awakened Concentration.
I’m lumping these two items into one post for two reasons. The first is that this knowledge is helpful if you plan on meditating early in the morning tomorrow to celebrate Bodhi Day.
The other is that they are two sides of the same coin. That “same coin” is being in the Now. Being in the Now is the key to ending our suffering. Freed from suffering, dukkha, our Sentience is able to continue its Journey Towards Perfection on a smooth ride.
The Journey Towards Perfection
Mindfulness is the state of awareness of a Buddha – a fuller sensitivity to what is around you, but at the same time focusing your awareness onto the present. This means our awareness is focused on a small area of space and time around us. As opposed to our awareness diffused all over the place (worrying about the past we cannot change and futures that probably won’t come). Or, conversely, narrowly focused on something, unaware of the other things around you. Concentration is about how to practice towards mindful awareness.
This isn’t a binary thing, Enlightened or not Unenlightened. Rather, a Sentience starts as pure entropy, just random energy, and begins a journey towards progressively greater understanding of the Universe. Perfect understanding of the Universe means it’s a perfect model of the Universe.
The sentience of we humans is somewhere along that Journey Towards Perfect understanding. This phase of human sentience is just one segment. However, within that one segment is a roadblock we need to tame in order to move on. That is, our Monkey Brain – which is a really crappy model of the Universe.
The removal of that roadblock, which is what the Eightfold Path is about – well, that’s Bodhi. And Bodhi Day is the day that Siddhartha Gautama awoke from a long meditation to this realization.
Shutting Out the Monkey Brain
“Mindfulness” is a misnomer, but it sounds better than mindlessness. The best descriptive name should be “Monkey Mindlessness”, or “Mind of No Monkey”.
As mentioned way back in Awakened View, we are primates with the Gift of Sentience … a terrible combination if there ever was one. While our monkey brain keeps our body running and has the street smarts to deal with normal Life on Earth, it’s more than an annoyance to our Gift of Sentience.
The work of the monkey brain, originally designed for life in the jungle, is interpreted by our Gift of Sentience not merely as a lot of noise, but as the source of your fears and addictions. To release the full potential of our Gift of Sentience, as well as relieve our suffering, we must shut out the rantings of the monkey brain – not eradicate it, just shut it out.
Your monkey brain thinks it knows everything. So it’s constantly arguing with you about things it really doesn’t know about. All it knows is what it has ever experienced – and it thinks that’s all there is to know. Yes, it can derive new knowledge from what it knows, but that’s still a really limited set of all things one could know about the Universe.
Mindfulness the a state of peace we achieve through the exercise of meditation. That state of peace arrives when meditation shuts out the monkey brain. Meditation is not about pondering lofty things or tough problems. It’s not about calming down to lower your blood pressure. It’s about shutting out your monkey/primate brain.
Without the narrow-minded monkey brain limiting us, our sensitivity to our surroundings improves. The blinders are removed – those blinders set in place by the monkey brain’s limited knowledge, hard-wired habits and biases, and knee-jerk reactions. We see the Universe as it really is, a wondrous, complex system – not just life in the trees for monkeys, essentially glorified squirrels. More things become possible.
There are two forms of meditation I’ll discuss here: Zazen and Awakened Effort. Each serves a different purpose and both should be practiced each day.
Zazen – Shutting Out the Monkey Brain
Zazen is the form of meditation that is most associated with Mindfulness. That’s what monks sitting on the ground with their backs straight, eyes closed, and palms on the lap facing up are doing.
The value of zazen is in the ability to shut out the rantings of the monkey brain by focusing our attention away from it. Because of the recent popularity of Mindfulness, there are tons of books on the subject of meditation. So, I won’t get into the details, but offer a TLDR checklist.
Zazen TLDR Checklist
- Mindfulness is your mind free from the jabber of your monkey mind. It’s not for thinking through problems.
- Meditation is an exercise for shutting out the monkey mind. It’s like running. You run until you can’t. Hopefully the next time you can run over a longer distance. It takes work.
- You shut out the monkey mind by focusing your attention on your breathing. Breathing is the only thing any of us must do every second of our life. After a while, the monkey mind shuts up.
- If your monkey mind succeeds in interrupting your focus on your breath, refocus. Don’t try to stop the thought, refocus on our breath.
- The irony with meditation is that it’s not about calming yourself down. It’s actually an effortful activity of forcing focus on your breath.
Once we have some control over shutting out the monkey brain, Awakened Effort applies that clear mind to a Zen Art in order to train our minds and bodies with skills conducive to blending in with the Universe. Unlike Zazen, the Zen Art opens meditation to a limited set of the Universe, not just breathing. But it shouldn’t be too tough, just tough enough that there is much room to improve with the Zen Art.
The Zone is Awakened Effort, but with a domain much larger than that of a typical traditional Zen Art such as flower arrangement (ikebana), the tea ceremony, archery, or even a sport. This larger domain could be your work, navigating your way through Laguardia, or working on a tough series of blogs within a short time span. It’s the ultimate a challenging meditation, the no-holds-barred real world.
I get into the zone virtually every day at work programming. I’ve mentioned in other posts that software development as my Zen Art. Software development is on the tough side of a Zen Art. It’s magnitudes more complicated than an art like ikebana. A typical application involves tons of moving parts across many systems, meaning software development is indeed complex. It takes a while to get into the zone programming, getting all those balls in the air. But it all comes crashing down by a visit from a colleague with a, “Hey, quick question …”
Your zazen skill will strengthen your ability to get back into the zone after such interruptions.
It’s Bodhi Day Eve
Yes, today, December 7, 2019, is Bodhi Day Eve. We’re at the end of our journey through the Noble Eightfold Path.
Please do check out Bodhi Season 2018 for more of feeling of Bodhi Day itself. At the very least, get up early tomorrow morning, enjoy the solitude for a few minutes, and whip up a batch of Mrs. Hanamoku’s Bodhi Day Rice Pudding.
Faith and Patience to you!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Posts on minimizing wasted energy, fears, and addictions:
Bodhi Season/Day 2019:
- Pre-Bodhi Season 2019 – The Eightfold Path
- Day 1 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened View
- Day 2 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Intent
- Day 3 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Speech
- Day 4 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Action
- Day 5 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Livelihood
- Day 6 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Effort