In September 2017, Lila Kimhi, a senior Dharma teacher in Israel, and I met for an in-depth Dharma exploration on a range of topics. We recorded the exchange consisting of Lila asking me a range of questions addressing issues that practitioners often bring up. Several of her questions or concerns were on behalf of meditators. She is a friend for more than two decades.
Six audio recordings were made with around 60 minutes per session. The recordings were made on annual visits to Israel over a three or four year period.
This is a transcription of the first session with editing, adapting and modification to make the audio suitable for text. The audio recording serves as a basis, a foundation, for this text. I have added questions to introduce a break in some responses that lasted for some minutes. I also expanded on some of my responses for the text.
In this session, two or three other meditators listened. I have included their questions as well. I have indicated their questions with Q2.
Lila asked the remaining questions. Some of my responses lasted for some minutes. I broke this text up by inserting questions.
In months ahead, I plan to convert the remaining recordings with Lila and adapt into text.
Questions in Session 1 include:
1. What is the relationship of change to emptiness?
2. What is the relationship of mindfulness to emptiness?
3. Are all views positive or negative?
4. What is a wise response to views?
5. Does emptiness require proof?
6. Why do you call it (emptiness) a truth?
7. Is resentment to violent organisations, such as ISIS, an expression of wrong view?
8. Can we go beyond conditions?
9. Are you saying there is no right nor wrong?
10. Aren’t we citizens of the national state. Don’t we belong to the nation state?
11. There is the experience and the view of the experience. Can you clarify this?
12. How do we find a fresh view?
13. What do I reflect on?
14. The state of mind impacts on the body. Do I direct mindfulness to the body first or to the state of mind first?
15. What do you mean by freedom from dependency on conditions?
16. What allows me to change my behaviour.
17. Explain self and no self.
18. I find it useful to give myself rules and regulations. What is your response?
19. My husband always says extreme violence can only be answered with violence. He was speaking about World War Two. What do you say to this?
20. Does falling in love lead to suffering?
21. How do you view knowledge?
22. I find it hard to find the balance between being spiritual and knowing a sense of incompletion.
23. How do you view the place of knowledge in reflection?
24. What are your views about punishment for breaking the law?
Q. I heard you say at the end of a talk that change confirms emptiness. Can you please elaborate on this? We look back at an argument. What was all the fuss about?
CT. What was all the fuss about? That is knowing the emptiness of the argument. We can see the emptiness of greed, blame and other problematic states of mind. We see the emptiness of trying to cling onto and hold into such experiences since all experiences change and thus have no lasting substance. There is nothing whatsoever negative about emptiness. It has no relationship at all to a negative view of life. Emptiness relates to seeing the emptiness of suffering and reveals a waking up from deceptive views.
Q. What is the relationship of mindfulness to emptiness?
There is the directing of mindfulness and application of mindfulness to the inner life. See how impersonal all movements are going on within. This movement shows a combination of different perceptions, thoughts, feelings and conceptions working together. Out of this combination, the mind produces a view – whatever that might be. The view can repeat itself frequently to the point that it loses its authority because it has become a habit. Habitual and reactive views confirm the emptiness of the view. Application of mindfulness requires the finding of clarity about the formation of views to come out of the spell of them.
Q. Are all views positive or negative?
CT. The repetition of views, positive or negative, shows laziness through repeating past views, which cast a shadow over the present. The self has grabbed onto these views. The constant repetition of such views does not bring about or contribute to wisdom and clarity of a situation. The view used in the past may not work today so they are not insightful nor liberating. From the standpoint of emptiness, such views form from positive or negative projections. Wise view is neither positive nor negative.
Q. What is a wise response to views?
We experience arising of thoughts, words and actions. Conceptions taking place in time. Repetitive views are worthwhile letting go of because we cannot rely upon them to support wisdom and clarity. The past has no life in it. The views become a rhetoric including spiritual language, such as being in the now, oneness or just being. Constant repetition forms into an ideology bearing no relationship to liberation. It’s an immense challenge to stay awake so that we have a depth of understanding of original mind. This means we see the emptiness of clinging to the old, to views and spiritual ideologies.
Q. Does emptiness require proof?
CT. Emptiness doesn’t require rational proof. It is not a theory about existence, not a philosophy of the mind. A human being can explore going deep to discover and realise the truth of conditionality of all experiences, events and things. Whatever we see anywhere, inwardly or outwardly, both together or neither, has come together through the movement and influence of conditions. We can speak of the truth of such conditionality and the emptiness of a unique self-existence of any ‘thing.’
Q. Why do you call it a truth?
CT. The language of truth matters. It is impossible for a human being to show anything in our consciousness, mind, body or around us, near or fear, which has its own inherent existence. Everything we see here, feel and think depend on conditions for its appearance. That’s the truth, not a view for comparison with other views. Nothing whatsoever is a confirmation of its own existence, but only a confirmation of the variety of conditions coming together. If this is not true, then you would have to show something, via the five senses, the states of mind and in concepts, which is not dependent in any way on the influence of conditions, known or unknown.
We give a self-existence to concepts such as life, nature, consciousness, the world, people, the planet, the universe and the cosmos. These concepts only confirm the dynamics of dependent arising conditions. None of these generalised views confirm self-existence.
Q. There are words used to indicate going beyond conditions, such as God, Dharma, Reality, the Unconditioned. Can we go beyond conditions?
CT. Certain religious people might find the concept of God helpful or the same concept a pain in the butt. The word God gains a transcendent status in the same way words like Dharma or Reality. If we keep focusing on such words. we elevate these words into an independent status. This creates a gap between the conditioned and the unconditioned. A deep inquiry sets us free from the compelling idea that something has its own existence. Authentic liberation reveals the absence of suffering from dependent conditions. We cannot go beyond conditions into another realm, nor can we be bound to them. I and my manufacture supported with habits produce these views.
Q2. You refer to views and positive or negative views. Is resentment to violent organisations, such as ISIS (Islamic State), an expression of wrong view?
CT. The resentment to any organisation offers one of the best supports to perpetuate that organisation, its ideology and its actions. Your aversion to ISIS feeds the views of the violence of the organisation or the military violence of the nation state. Why? Like attracts like. Aversion feeds on the aversion of the other. Blame, negativity, agitation and anger fuel the issues that go with the violence – whoever the other might be. You might find yourself thinking in the same way as the others you condemn. Your state of mind mirrors their state of mind. One side does the same as the other side. Living like this shows we have learnt little anything about the dynamics of life and inter-activity.
When people treat each other this way, both remain completely convinced of the rightness of their side of the situation. Resentment and aggression put petrol on the fire. If you say “I don’t want to be like that army or violent organisation then you don’t behave and support rage, anger and blame. You endeavour to find a different view and act on it. We do not become quiet and passive. Far from it. A non-divisive view provides us with an opportunity to respond and act in fresh ways otherwise violence heaps upon violence. Violence doesn’t work. It’s never worked, and it never will work.
Q2. Are you saying there is no right nor wrong?
No. You can use the language of right and wrong. I have no problem with that language. My view of the perception wrong means inflicting of suffering on people, animals and the environment. I regard that as wrong, unethical, unhealthy, unskilful, and unwise. If I want to find an alternative to unethical views and actions, it will take inquiry and cooperation. Whereas an aggressive reaction seems to me to be impulsive or carefully planned. That reaction can be an attack – verbal or physical or whatever, on the other. I regard the inflicting of violence on the other as the problem. Violence begets violence. Violence produces violence. To resolve suffering, it will require a wise response There are people who do not react in terms of blame and attack but engage in sharp critiques of war, of violence. They engage in a compassionate caring and active response. Meaningful change brings about resolution. Personally, I wish to associate myself with the wisdom of action, fearless and compassionate. That matters to me far more than the destructive objectives of nation state or the political organisation.
Q2. We are citizens of the national state. Don’t we belong to the nation state?
CT. Our being has a deep need for a sense of belonging. The sense of belonging is beautiful and precious. I belong to the Sangha. I am a small servant of the Sangha. You might describe me as a General in the non-violent army of the Sangha. Those who consistently support the slaughter of people have no place in the noble Sangha. Such people are welcome to attend Dharma retreats and Zoom workshops, but they exclude themselves from the noble Sangha until they experience an authentic change of heart. I belong to grassroots organisations who show their humanity, integrity and acts of kindness. We can engage in beautiful actions. I wish to stay close to such networks revealing wisdom and compassion. I don’t feel a need to belong to the ideology of the nation state. I don’t feel any interest to support revenge, violence and war. I have no wish to be identified with the abusive behaviour of the nation state and violent organisations like NATO.
Q2. I see it as an interdependent circle. There is the experience and the view of it. You often dispute the view of the experience. Can you clarify this?
CT. You are right. There is the view and the experience. You can sleepwalk through an experience by holding to the same view of it.
Q. How do we find a fresh view?
CT. For example, there is pain in the body. Explore it. Meditate on it. Direct loving kindness (Pali: metta) towards the physical experience. A common condition can arise in parts or all the body. Where do painful sensations arise in the body. Is it in the stomach area? Is it the chest, a headache or an overall sense of heaviness? You direct your attention to the area experiencing the vibrations and sensations seeing changes taking place.
Another example. Be interested in the movement of the relationship between intention, actions and their consequences. What is a different view from being identified with success and failure, winning and losing, having and not having. You wish to achieve, to accomplish and benefit from the results but it doesn’t happen. What is a wise view that accommodates any outcome?
Another example. You are in a relationship. She says frankly to you, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I’m leaving you.” She jumps over the fence. This happens. Afterwards, you feel depressed, miserable and disappointed. You feel you are a failure. You become jealous. You get angry. These views do not help you understand yourself, nor the experience of your departed partner walking out of your life. You cannot see the emptiness of your view, nor the emptiness of your suffering. This requires exploration, reflection and inquiry, perhaps with another(s), to find a fresh view. You have no wish to go on living in a state of misery and self-pity. It will not be easy to shift to a fresh view, but it is a lot harder living depressed and angry from one day to the next. Develop steps out of despair and reactivity.
Q2. What can I do to handle the end of my marriage?
Remember the basics. This might require mindfulness of breathing in and out to break through obsessive thinking, activities, keeping a diary, reflecting on the benefits of being single and much more. It might require sharing your experience with another or group regularly to help dissolve the suffering. It might require a quiet resolution to be patient and stay open to gradual or sudden change. Remember everything is possible. The mind produces unhelpful views, often based on memory, images and self-deception, such as “she will not leave me,” or “she will come back.” You engage in quiet reflection. Chill out.
Q. What do I reflect on?
You ask important questions. What view is authentic? What view is helpful? What view is insightful? Listen within, and see what arises. The shift is from a harmful view to a healthy view. Freedom neither takes up negative nor positive views but finds the wisdom in the face of a situation.
Q2. Can a harmful view resolve itself?
Sometimes a healthy view arises out of our being naturally. Conditions were there for resolution, but we did not know it. You see the emptiness of holding to a harmful view, such as wanting to make another suffer. There is no purposeful intention to have a different view. You may find yourself at a future date in a similar situation. In an original mind, the experience or situation ceases to be a problem. A movement in the being has changed the view. Often, it is the purposeful cultivation of insights or the development of trust to identify and transform the problem. This then gives clarity to your perceptions so that you do not repeat history. If the problematic view changes, the experience will also have to change. It will start to fade away. For the old, unhelpful experience to last, you need to keep feeding the problematic view. In the ending of problematic views, you will chill out. A total chill out is Nirvana.
Q2. The state of mind impacts on the body. Do I direct mindfulness to the body first or to the state of mind first?
CT. Explore both. See what your experience tells you. Practice includes becoming familiar with the impact of emotions and thoughts on the physical cells, which started off as the state of mind. Take an example of the intimacy of connection of mind-body. A person says to you something which you find really embarrassing. In a moment of hearing the words, the state of mind has an impact on the cells. Your face changes colour becoming bright red. It is one small example of this intimacy of body and mind. A feature of the practice explores the intimacy of body and mind starting with mindfulness of ways to engage in dissolving stress, tensions and pains in the body. The practice benefits the mind and body.
The Buddha didn’t teach meditation exclusively in terms of a method and technique though this is a regular teaching in the Theravada tradition. There is power in kindness. Kindness expands the heart if kindness is accessible. Experience the benefits. Do not regard the benefits as an avoidance or as an escape. Engage in loving kindness meditations, guided meditations and wise reflection.
You practise loving kindness (metta) meditation. The next day somebody gets angry with you. You find you can’t cope with their anger, so you get angry back. This leaves disappointment in the power of metta meditation. You need to develop insights and understanding beforehand. Make use various meditations rather than dependency on one or two techniques. Some practitioners, who work with painful experiences, painful states of mind, find ways to dissolve the phenomena, so love and friendship can naturally emerge. It is the finding of wisdom which confirms the truth of ending of a problem previously causing suffering. Wisdom releases empathy, equanimity and love without any major effort.
Do we have the presence and commitment to work with difficulties? Are we willing to share our experiences and concerns with the wise? Difficulties include mind-body, heart, communication, spirituality, worldly matters, secular, religious, social, global issues and more. Dharma leaves no stone unturned.
Q. What do you mean by freedom from dependency on conditions?
Liberation, the ultimate freedom, reveals a release from dependency on conditions for suffering. Your wisdom and liberation benefits others in countless ways. Reflect on this. A liberated person neither gets stuck with a specific ideology or methodology. You and I have the privilege and the opportunity to explore insight meditation, yoga, mind-body world with different teachers and teachings. We benefit from their advice. It is valuable to give attention to lifestyle. Insights into lifestyle give an extra string to your violin., Yes, the wealth of exploration can become confusing at times. More questions may arise. Clinging to a narrow approach reveals the death of spirituality
Q. What approach do we take?
CT. Explore mindfulness, meditation, psychology, methods and techniques, East and West. See what brings benefit. There are quite a few canaries in the cages of mindfulness and meditation. Sometimes religion attracts people who find themselves in sects and cults. Let’s take the risk and trust in sharing and communication. It feels fresh. Avoid contracting the mind around a method or teacher. There is a limited security for the canary in a cage. A few authority figures appear keen on empire building, so they want people to join them in their cage. Let’s not do anything that sets a limit on our exploration of freedom for ourselves and others. An expansive exploration serves our best interest rather than an expensive exploration.
Q2. There is something I don’t understand. I am not sure what allows me to change my behaviour.
CT. Wisdom and clarity allow a change of behaviour. To repeat: An experience doesn’t exist within itself but relies upon the conditions. There is ongoing change but changes can happen slowly. A change in condition changes behaviour. It seems the existence of what is going on in the body or mind is real. I find it uncomfortable making claims about the validity of any self-existence of behaviour. It gives the impression that there is something present and permanent in our behaviour. The view of the conditioned self, of I and m, then takes priority over the emptiness of this conditioned self, the emptiness of substance of I and my and the behaviour that does with it.
Q. Please explain self and no self.
CT. These teachings emphasise a middle way between self-existence and no self-existence. It is useful at times to use the language of I and my – without giving it substance and without rejecting I and my. Rejection of self gives too much reality, too much substance to such concepts.
We need response-ability for our behaviour rather than blaming other people. A wise view includes a skilful use of language knowing arising of experiences without any sense of ego in an unfolding event. An excessive use of importance of self ends up with a view of the solidity of the reality of any experience especially suffering. This shows we have forgotten and neglected to explore the conditions that triggered the suffering. If you change a significant condition supporting suffering, you dissolve suffering. Be clear about this.
Q. Yes, it’s exhausting to keep dwelling in the same old view rather than find a wise view.
CT. The Buddha once picked up a flower to in response to a question on emptiness. He revealed the flower in the noble silence. He neither affirmed a view of the flower as possessing substance or essence nor did he reject the flower. We need to remember to be at ease with the changes in daily life. We do not need to keep looking at our views. – that becomes exhausting. Remember to take extra interest in problematic views whether our own or somebody else’s. Teachings do not emphasise trying to observe all the views we uphold or views we exchange with another person. Genuinely helpful views have no intention to cause harm. If we establish a view of non-harming, then such a view challenges views of those who believe in harmful behaviour. Their rejection of our view will test the mettle of our understanding of non-harming. Non harming challenge the views of the nation state, our relationship to animals and the violence we inflict upon the environment. There is a way of life with no desire to inflict any harm. It is a much greater challenge than supporting anger, violence and war.
Q2. I find it useful to give myself rules and regulations. What is your response?
Rules, discipline and regulations on behaviour can develop inner trust and develop the whole being. I find setting regular disciplines for myself useful, beneficial and insightful. There is no guarantee that practices and disciplines will stop harmful behaviour. Wisdom, the fruit of practices, dissolves harmful activity. We develop a dedicated commitment to wise responses. This shows our potential to offer an alternative view to conflict whether personal, domestic, social or in a wider field. We find inspiration from those who deeply believe in the value of non-violence.
Q2. I will be the devil’s advocate My husband always says extreme violence can only be answered with violence. He was speaking about World War Two. The Allies had to fight the Germans. There are questions in our region of conflict of interest. I find sometimes my rage against both sides gets me involved.
CT. The argument for the just war such as World War 2 get repeated year after year. The response to the second world war depends on your understanding of human history. What were the views which triggered World War 2? What developed beforehand? What was the impact of the Versailles Treaty on German citizens? Did the rest of Europe engage in humiliation of Germany? What did the victors of World War 1 fail to see? Be a student of history. Look at the emotional conceptual and ideological views which brought about World War Two. What were the conditions for those views and the subsequent mass slaughter of tens of millions? Unless society changes the conditions for war, nations will continue inflict as much suffering on others as possible. The conditions for the Second World War led to the World War.
Do I want to direct rage towards the other? How does a person see the causal conditions for World War 2 in a mind distorted with negative beliefs, blame and desire for revenge? I see change when women and men get together and start talking. The Second World War did not end due to saturating bombing of the cities of Germany, housing mostly children, women and the elderly. There was a realisation – enough is enough. This required all sorts of people on both sides to start talking. Communication brought an end to World War Two, otherwise the bombing would still be going on today. The resolution of violence requires the condition of communication. I prefer to offer my voice to men and women who seek resolution rather than perpetuate suffering. War inflicts terrible suffering for all concerned. Holding onto the belief in victory for one side and defeat for the other side paves the way for more wars within decades. Victory feeds arrogance. Defeat feeds humiliation. Both sides lost the war.
Human beings have a greater depth to offer. We need every voice to make a shift from the emotional, conceptual and ideological states of mind justifying the murder of countless numbers of people war. Our voice needs to go from a whisper to a shout to establish communication to resolve conflict.
We will not stop war by supporting the slaughter of other people and destroying their habitats. We repeat the current situations due to a collectively of identification with inflamed views and expanding the armaments industry. Do I want to support killing? Or do I want to support resolution?
Q2. My rage goes against the people who perpetuate suffering on both sides.
CT. Ending violence is not about taking sides. I’m concerned about the rage. This anger is not sustainable. You will burn out. You might end up disillusioned. The anger and rage doesn’t contribute to a resolution. You can go a lot deeper than expressing your outrage. The view, which justifies the rage, might get you to mobilise yourself to do something. Is there a potential to act without rage? Non-violent energy lasts far longer than rage ever can ever find. Dig deep,
Q2. Does falling in love lead to suffering?
CT. I think of the Four Noble Truths. Recognising the truth of suffering, the conditions for it to arise, its resolution and the way to resolve suffering. A woman said to me yesterday that she fell in love with the Dharma. She said falling in love with the Dharma has a lot more reliability than falling in love with a man. I know her. She is speaking from experience. Holding onto, clinging and dependency on the other for happiness and peace of mind leads to suffering. Not falling in love can also lead to suffering. Falling in love can lead to staying in love, happiness and mutual understanding. A happy marriage can contribute to a fully awakened life.
The four noble truths serve as a hub for this extensive body of teaching. We have the capacity to know a noble life and abide fully dedicated to wisdom and awakening. The Buddha uses the word truth when he means to get something across deeper than just the view. He referred to the truth of suffering. Both ageing, pain and death reveal hard truths of life. Evolutionary life reveals the processes, the dynamics of becoming which contact forces giving shapes to our lives.
Q. We understand the way we used to be. But we also have the capacity to reflect to review on situations within and outside of ourselves, past and present. How do you view the place of knowledge in reflection?
CT. I am immensely grateful to the intellectuals, scholars, academics and professors for their critiques, thesis, translations, texts and books. We benefit immensely from their research. The mind functions as an instrument for the exploration of a wise analysis to address suffering and more. Their dedicated work brings much gratitude and appreciation from us. Some of us love poetry. I am a poet. A single line in a poem may take days or weeks to arise to complete the poem. Like other poets, I put the poem aside without intention to reflect on the one line. A one liner comes out of the depths of the inner world at any time, day or night. I quickly write it down on a piece of paper and pen. Where did that one liner come from? What brought it together which released an original perception into consciousness. Spiritual practices contribute to receptivity to such depth. We cannot know where an insightful line poetry comes from. It seems like a gift. We receive the excellence of a revelation or a potential action. Our practice invites the depth of experience and insight.
Q2. It is hard to find the balance between being spiritual and knowing a sense of incompletion.
CT. We are neither complete nor incomplete. I use the metaphor of the left hand and right hand. There is a place for spirituality, which needs to be grounded not spacu and insipid. Spirituality belongs to the bread-and-butter issues of daily life. On the other hand, there is a place for practical matters starting with brushing our teeth first thing in the morning. You will be more effective with the voice of kindness than with the voice of demand. You listen with a warm heart not become a heartbreaker. You reflect on the ways you can communicate where you have a sense the other will hear you. You stay true to ethics and integrity. This are examples of a spiritual response.
Your view enables others to recognise and acknowledge your concerns. Do not put self-righteous pressure on yourself or others. In the absence of wanting and the absence of neediness, you will get much closer to the truth of your being with the capacity to act. Others will appreciate this. Others will recognise what is important and act too. Express a need if it is accompanied with a quiet precision of the need. Empathy, love and fearlessness communicate a spiritual awareness.
Q2. I read in the newspaper about a Bedouin father who forced his daughter to marry an old guy. She killed the guy because he raped her. She has now been sitting in jail for 11 years. What do you think would be an appropriate punishment for what she did? Would you like to name what punishment she should have received? What are your views about punishment for breaking the law?
CT. Have you broken the law? What punishment do you deserve? The punishment for you would be less because you didn’t kill anybody. You haven’t done that. The punishment must correspond to what you did. What would be an appropriate punishment for you for your criminal behaviour? See what your response is towards yourself. Does it change the way you view another person and what she or he did wrong? If we want to punish others, then we need to apply the principle first to ourselves. It would be worthwhile reflecting on such an important question. If you believe in punishment, then accept the punishment somebody else gives you for your behaviour.
The execution of a person takes away the opportunity for the person to realise what she or he did. An execution can prevent a person showing repentance and atonement. How do you respond to denial or a rigid view around punishment? Find and understand alternative ways of viewing situations.
Let’s have a quiet minute together. Let’s just sit being together.