On Sunday 18 February 2018, I had an interactive hour on screen with participants worldwide.
Organised by Realize Media (www.realizemedia.org), this course consists of a deep exploration of the Goal of Dharma/spiritual practice.
Participants can put a question to me in the hour-long exchange. You will see below a transcription of the questions and my responses. Occasionally, there is a little modification to make the responses clear for readers.
Each of the four modules engage in the integration of and consummation of the teachings into daily life.
A core purpose of the course is for each participant to have a ‘lightbulb moment.’
The Goal of all spiritual practice might be much closer than you think.
TRANSCRIPTION OF MODULE ONE
ON LIBERATION THROUGH NON-CLINGING.
Thank you for joining this exploration into the Deep Dharma for Daily Life.
I would like us to start with five minutes of meditation. The meditation will start with a short reflection. Then I will go to the questions where I can see your questions in the bottom right corner of the screen.
Initially with the meditation posture, there is the golden rule for the meditator of the straight, upright spine – sitting tall. This contributes to the expansion of the lungs, heart and organs of the body. This posture allows the energy to flow more easily and freely.
Secondly, regarding the meditation, I would like us to give recognition to the silence – a silence of the being. This is to bring in a short question on the theme of the Deep Dharma for Daily Life, namely on the Goal of the practice. This reflection is to ask yourself in this five-minute period: “What is your response when you hear the words ‘Deep Dharma,’ What is your response when hear ‘The Goal of the Practice.’ Your inner voice is the important one. You experience a receptivity to that inner voice. That might trigger or spark a further question or two from you. Let us have our few minutes together in the silence.
I will give an occasional reminder on the theme of: “What is deep Dharma?” or “What is your response to the Goal of the Practice?”
I will also close my eyes, as well as give the occasional reminder. In our silence and stillness, there is the potential for a deep response to the issues of human existence. Thank you for sharing an international meditation. (Technology is) quite something.
We have a theme today. It is an exploration of clinging and liberation through non-clinging. Liberation is the consummation of reflection, enquiry and meditation.
One person has requested to come back on the screen. t will go to the question on the right-hand side of the screen. It will read out you the question here.
Question: Approaching death, I want to let go of all clinging. I notice that I am clinging to my relationship to my two small kids. I do the see how I could ever wish to let go of this relationship with them. Please give me some advice.
It is not easy. There is a vulnerability regarding one’s life, which triggers sometimes a deep sense of uncertainty and insecurity. It is not surprising for you that a primary role emerges. The primary role is the parent. The love of the parent goes to the little ones – naturally, healthily and that is important.
It is vitally important, from a free and liberated view, to be clear, and distinguish, the difference between love and clinging.
The clinging shows an exaggerated relationship of identity of the parents with the children. That clinging easily gets confused with love. My suggestion is to focus on the love. When there is clinging going on, it will reduce your love for your children.
Clinging is not an expression of love for your children.
The clinging will increase the levels of stress, fear and anxiety. That is the exaggeration and distortion in your relationship there. Love your kids to bits. Do not for a moment confuse love with fear and anxiety, which are expressions of clinging.
Take one day at a time. Your kids will appreciate it. So, will you. Thank you.
I am turning now to the next question.
Question: Is seeing or recognising a desire or clinging enough to be able to abandon it? Is being mindful of it enough? What are the conditions necessary in order to become free from a desire and let go of clinging?
Rarely. At times, there is an exaggerated hope that by seeing, by being mindful of, by meditating on, that will dissolve the clinging, which is taking place. The conditions that give support to the clinging matter. The clinging relies upon these conditions.
What are the conditions, perhaps one, two or three of them, which feed into the clinging to keep the clinging in place? What do I need to change so the clinging cannot emerge? I am not saying that you must let go of the clinging. What I am saying is to look at the background of what needs to change.
Is it attitude? Is it moving onto something else? Is it a matter of the heart? Is it being creative?
What is the insight which you need to be clear about? The willingness to look at the conditions, to look at the alternative, is the step towards dissolving the clinging. The dissolving of the clinging is liberating. This liberating expression is a confirmation, a small statement of the Goal. That is important to recognise, too.
A little reflection on these conditions. The word ‘clinging’ has no relationship in terms of trying to find detachment from anything. That certainly won’t work. Detachment has a kind of coldness in the word. The original meaning of the translation of clinging refers to a human being who ‘inflames’ a situation. This inflaming of a situation may be due to beliefs and assumptions.
Nirvana means ‘without flames.’ One is no longer inflaming situations. Our liberation, our knowing of the Goal, can be very clear and steady. Those times of such clarity through not inflaming a situation, are an important whisper of liberation, of Nirvana.
Does anyone have any other questions?
Question. Could you elaborate on the relationship between clinging and dependent arising?
First, let me refer to the different aspects of clinging. I mentioned a few moments ago that in the dynamics of our life much goes by which flows relatively well and relatively easy. Out of all the multiplicity, of what touches us, moves through our life quite well.
However, there are some areas where there is vulnerability. That vulnerability, reactivity, anxiety, greed, views about oneself and more show areas where the tendency towards reactivity gets picked out of this vast field of dependently arising conditions. To know yourself means that you have go to know where you get reactive. Mindfulness, ethics, enquiry, exploration, interest and love applies to the areas where you are most vulnerable to suffering. Sometimes your reactivity and suffering arise around a role or roles.
Be clear which roles can provoke an inflammation of the situation. Which roles bring about the most clinging?
Please focus and concentrate on your liberation. Keep the Goal really at the centre.
No need to use the Path language. Recognise the precious moments when you feel unencumbered. Recognise when you feel free. Recognise when you not feel oppressed. Recognise when you are at peace with yourself and with what is around you. Know those moments very, very well.
Correspondingly, know those moments when that recognition is in danger of getting lost. You are knowing and speaking from a ‘place’ of Freedom. You have a send of those precious moment of Freedom in daily life. You equally know when there is some departure from Freedom, such as negativity, fears, blame, worry, stress, impatience or whatever it might be.
Dependent arising is to be understood in two ways. One is in terms of psychological/physical process. This includes projections, intensity of thinking, patterns and formations that hold the baggage in the mind-body dynamic. All this phenomenon arises because there are the conditions for there arising. This is the first meaning of dependent arising. Dependent arising explores the problematic conditions for what arises.
There is the second meaning. It is to be understood that dependent arising takes place regardless of the condition of human life. Everything that we look at, near and far, arises due to conditions. The entire universe, down to a sub-atomic particle and everything in between show conditions which dependently arise. If we see such dependently arising conditions with wisdom, then dependent arising is not seen as a problem. There is a freedom right in this vast field of dependent arising.
When we experience contraction around states of mind, dependent arising has suffering in it – either for our ‘selves,’ or for ‘others.’ As human beings, we are challenged to respond to the suffering in dependent arising by taking the suffering out of it. It is the finest service that women and men can offer on this Earth.
Areas of Clinging
I will talk a little more on the theme with you. There are four areas of clinging – four precious insights from the Buddha. There is an encouragement to examine the way we distort our way of seeing due to the movements going on inside of us. These are the four areas to give care to. I will refer later to other areas.
- The field of pleasure. Do we spend foolishly far too much of our time in the hunt for pleasure? Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness is different feeling. Pleasure is that which I go after and I get what I want. Sometimes it is appropriate. Happiness is that which comes to me, but I have not pursued it. Moments in the day can bring happiness, joy, gladness, recognition, appreciation and connection. Happiness arises unanticipated. It touches us. May we be free to be receptive to such happiness. Happiness can come to us in the outdoors or in meditation, out of the silence, out of the deep within. There is an ultimate freedom in the being enabling this receptivity to happiness to reach consciousness. Insights, love, relationships, passion, discovery and creativity can touch us.
The freedom of the being with the support of silence and stillness gives access to happiness. This happiness is the cream of the milk in the field of existence. Let me turn to the next question.
Question: Is it possible to follow the path without giving up meat and alcohol?
The world of views and opinions can arise here. This wallah also has a fair share of them. Let us take one part of the question at a time. Essentially and this is important – what comes out of our mouth takes priority. Human beings face the food industry and food propaganda, which has its impact upon us. That impact in terms of what we eat can generate habitual forms. Diet is a practice. Some of us have no wish to eat animals, birds or fish. Period. The absence of creatures in our diet gives support to other forms of diet – plant based. Diet is genuinely worthwhile to explore. Is it an absolute necessity to eat a plant-based diet or be a vegetarian? No. No.
With alcohol, some of the religious, such as Buddhist monks, including well known ones, have certain disapproving views about drinking alcohol. A person came to my house some time ago. He asked me about drinking alcohol. He told me he was drinking two to three bottles of wine a night. I said to him: “My response to drinking alcohol is above your head.” He could not understand. I opened the cupboard above his head. There were bottles of wine in the cupboard. Is the consumption of alcohol or drugs affecting the balance of mind, the clarity of mind and the ability to see clearly? If you know you keep the balance of mind, then there is moderation. This is in accordance with the Dharma.
Question. Are happiness and pleasure always separate? If I go to a concert, I am seeking pleasure. I usually feel happy after a concert. Isn’t that a co-existence of happiness and pleasure?
Right on. The exploration is about a seeing and knowing which is taking place. One is fully engaged in this world. One explores happiness and pleasure and recognises the subtlety of those sensations. The good questioner makes a point. We go out. I go out to my coffee for a soya latte it is an oat milk latte these days. There is pleasure in the event. Afterwards, I am happy I came. I saw some friends, had a discussion. I would say the same with going out to the concert with the pleasure and happiness or to the coffee shop is important. This is in accordance with the richness of life, with communication, culture, the arts. There is nothing you wrote on the screen, which I find any discomfort with. The clarity knows when there is clinging to pleasure. You want to go to a concert and there no tickets left. Is there peace with that? Is there frustration, disappointment, agitation, anger, self- blame or whatever. Sometime the clinging shows prior to the event or after the event. We need to take real interest in both sensations of happiness and pleasure, separate and together, as you said. Keep exploring. It is an interesting area and liberating through understanding the relationship of both sensations.
I will take the four areas of clinging. Lose intereste in the practices if the Goal is far away. Be deeply interested in the immediacy of existence. You are deeply interested in sensing that the Goal is extraordinarily close at hand.
Just as sometimes, we might have the taste of a drop of water, a glass of water or the taste of a stream of clear water – all has the same taste. The small taste of freedom includes the freedom to be, the freedom to listen, the freedom to let go and the freedom to explore. This freedom is important in life because it releases the best out of us. We need to give some exploration to that which obstructs freedom – the clouds going across the sunshine. Four primary areas of clinging are:
- Forms, methods, techniques and ways of doing things.
- The self. I, me and my which obstructs the Deep within and listening to others.
- Holding onto views which often shows as building oneself up, putting oneself down or building others up or putting others down.
If we take an interest in this relationship to pleasure, views, I and my and forms/methods/techniques/ways of doing things, including in meditation, we can disempower the problematic aspects of these four areas. In the immediacy, then something the expansive reveals itself. Moments of expansiveness become available to us. They are important and precious drops in the great ocean of awakening, in the great ocean of liberation.
Recognise the drops. Recognise the taste. Recognise the mountain stream.
Let me have another look for a question from your precious world.
Question. How is partnership, implying sexual relationship, possible without clinging?
We need fresh views about relationships. We need a shift away a little from Buddhist orthodoxy. I mean that my response to the good person’s question frankly is this: We cannot have a relationship if there is clinging in it.
It is not a relationship. It is stuff obstructing the love and presence of the other. A person (a teacher) said to me in a retreat in California: “You can’t make love (sexual love) without desire.”
My response was: “You can’t make love with desire.” Desire has the force of I and my in. The motion and movement has wanting in it. This wanting that forms the desire gets in the way of the relationship. So, the act of intimacy with all the passion, action and connection required flows well, beautifully and vitally in the absence of desire and in the absence of clinging.
I will touch upon a couple of more points in this appreciation of non-clinging. It is a remarkable insight (to emphasis non-clinging) of the Buddha. You might take a particular area, as some of you have done with your good questions.
An area in your life indicates to you there is projection, excessive amount of thinking, possibly heat, going on in the mind. The views and opinions often form a world of duality of good and bad, right and wrong. Holding and clinging feeds notions of good and bad, right and wrong with layers of projection upon oneself or others. All that mass we find in our political, corporate, social and family issues, as well as personal situations.
We have to listen deep. That is where our silence, stillness and reflections come in. What is a liberated way to look at this situation? If you like a more personal language: How would the Buddha respond to this stuff in the mind?
We are not buying into the version of reality of the self. We see that as non-self, instead. We are not taking that view from the self in any way, as some statement of reality. We see there is something problematic and difficult about it. If we are seeing that view as non-self, we are not interested in that view, nor in those streams of thoughts and projections. What is a way of looking that is not of the self?
What view comes from the non-self? The non-self emerges. It is liberating. The non-self is insightful. We are deeply interested in the non-self, not as a goal to reach next month or next year but today. That movement wakes us up. We see the whole package of the self is non-self. The clarity generates completely fresh responses. Sometimes the tradition has sweetly referred to access to the non-self as the original mind. Something emerges which could not have emerged before because of the constructions of the self.
I am just warming up. The time is going by.
Question: Is it possible to experience clinging as a way to understanding? Or is clinging a sterile place to be?
I find it a little hard, an English understatement, impossible to see the virtue of clinging in any way. Sometimes in the English language, the word attachment is used in a healthy way. Mum and dad feel attached to their children. Our society with its psychologists and social workers, refers to the benefit of love to the children. They might use the word ‘attachment’ to the children. Attachment here shows connection and love. This is use of the language.
If I wish to free the being up, then I want to know on what occasions clinging lands. If it is problematic, then it shows that we need another way to look.
A person will say to me: “Ah, Christopher, I have looked at this situation. I understand what is going on, but it is not making any difference.”
This is not ‘understanding.’ Understanding’ means when the issue, problem or event stands under us. Understanding, another word for wisdom, is the resolution. Resolution is seen, known and feels to be freeing. There are situations which we have let go of or we have moved on from. We really sense: “Wow. This freeing up has taken place.”
Dharma teachings are simple. May this freeing up, this liberation be the norm of daily life.
Know the taste. The taste invites the Goal to be to the daily norm. We keep it as our priority. The taste confirms the Goal of practice
Any other questions. You have kept to the theme which is precious.
Question. I have a difficulty understanding clinging despite the context you mentioned. Is it perhaps bringing in other emotions into the picture, rather than experiencing and appreciating whatever the present moment brings. Such as enjoying a concert without anger if something goes wrong.
I appreciate this question. As a species, the movement of our life often revolves around our intentions, actions and our relationship to the outcome. This includes major issues, minor issues, big events and small events. Here we are in a dynamic process of a life unfolding in which intentions, actions and results are a part of life. Others easily influence us. We want to allow that dynamic movement, as much as possible, to take place.
We need to be exceptionally clear that outcomes, consequences and fruits are not in the hands of the ‘self.’ We must be extremely clear about this. Do not fudge this. Nor are consequences of actions in the hands of another, though it might seem like it. Remember the conditions for dependent arising.
There is a movement with a variety of conditions arising. It is our challenge and task to be deeply intimate like wood and trees with the free movement of life. Life is not meant to fit in with your wishes or my wishes. You might evoke happiness and delight, something deeply memorable. You may experience something spiritual about it. Love those emotions. Feel the emotion. Feel the touch of the event. Don’t cling to it. You will end up feeling the next experience did not touch you in the same way. You experience the concert. You love it. You share it with your friends. You move on. You see what else life has to offer. If you get that right, you will understand what the impact of clinging.
Here is an example of a relationship to clinging. Some years ago, I picked up a coal out of the grate in the morning. The coal was still hot. I did not have to ask myself if I am going to let it go. Non-clinging was immediate, spontaneous, so as not to get burnt. That is the sharpness we need for a liberated way of life.
Is there a good clinging like clinging to practice, Dharma and insight?
Not a chance. No way. Not in my perception. The language here matters. Is it wise to have a deep connection with the deep Dharma? Absolutely. Is it wise to reflect on an important insight which has touched you? The Buddha commented that we need to ‘squeeze the honey out of’ the experience. That means we might use meditation methods. We might have contact with different teachers with a variety of experience. At times, we apply our memory to squeeze more honey out of experiences.
All this exploration has an interest, love, curiosity and intention. This exploration has nothing do with clinging. Clinging gets in the way inhibiting the opportunity for fresh insights and understanding to come. If you go to a meditation teacher with an important experience, perhaps the teacher does not understand your experience or know this experience. The teacher may say it is just another experience. In a superficial way, maybe it is just another experience.
More important, the experience provides an opportunity for more insights into the experience. The teachings of liberation show a fulfilled way of life do not depend upon experiences. The experiences are not the important thing. The insights and understanding that come out of those experiences or the insights come without the experiences are important. They get revealed. There is nothing to cling to with experiences, nor the insights. Their application shows an expression of a free way of life.
Question: While I was listening to module 1, I realised that I am clinging mostly to my family life but not in my professional life or to less close people. For example, I get very irritated when others intellectualize. My response is to put the other person down in some subtle way. I can there is friction in it. The difficulty is to find a non-clinging response.
Good one. Here is a precious situation. The person identifies what generates some measure or level of reactivity. A person listens to another. The view or irritation arises: “Oh he or she is too much in their head, too theoretical, too abstract.”
Some irritation or dissatisfaction is fine. Just acknowledge it. Some things we hear go over our head, do not seem relevant what we listen to. It is happening. The skill is not trying to get rid of the irritation in the chest or friction in the mind. I cannot see anything specifically problematic about that.
What is the question that you are going to ask mindfully and calmly? What will help both people to look in a fresh way. If it is in the family, the home dynamic, then presumably, you know the other or others well. You have a sense of where they come from. Give some reflection. Remember what the typical reaction is from the other. Be quiet. Listen carefully. Listen deeply. See if you can ask a non-reactive question. With interest. With love. Your communication might go deeper than an intellectual answer.
One minute to go. Amy said I could give a two or three- minute summing up.
In this hour exchange, there has been a consistent emphasis on one of the ways of knowing that which is ultimate, the Goal. The Goal was shown in the key word this evening of ‘freedom.’
Freedom does not require any limitations, any measurements or even any conditions for it.
Freedom does not depend on seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching or thinking. That expanse of freedom we can taste, indoors and outdoors, in silence and with others. To know the taste well is precious.
We also know that, which, so to speak, leads us away from freedom and puts us out of touch. These are issues around I and my, holding onto views and opinions, the blind pursuit of pleasure, clinging to methods and techniques, forms and rituals.
As we find clarity and wisdom, a greater sense of freedom will come. This freedom is expansive without limits. This freedom is immeasurable. This is the Best.
Keep reflecting on this. Keep staying with this in the daily life. Make this Goal the centre of your day as much as possible.
Thank you very much. All being well in the world of uncertainty, I hope to see you next Sunday. We will have a further exchange together. Thank you.
Here is the video link to the Q and A on Sunday 18 February.
On Sunday, 25 February 2018, we have the second hour long online module.
We will explore the relationship of Liberation and Truth. What is Truth. Why does Truth set us Free?