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Four Foundations: Mindfulness of Dhammas – (4 of 4)

A Talk by Ines Freedman (IMC, April 26, 2007)
(Transcribed and lightly edited by S.C.L. Eiler)

Tonight is the last of a series I’ve been doing on, The Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  I’m going to review them all a little bit, just in case you haven’t come to the previous ones.  First, let’s start out with, what is mindfulness?  That’s what you all supposedly have been doing for the last half hour.  Mindfulness is paying attention to what is, without being judgmental of it, without embellishing it, without reacting to it, just paying attention to what is.  In vipassana or insight meditation, the reason we pay attention to what is, is so we can figure out how to be happier; because if we don’t pay attention to what is, the habits of mind that make us suffer can take over; and those habits are very deeply ingrained.  So, it requires training the mind to really pay attention to see:  how do we make ourselves suffer; how do we make ourselves stop suffering and how do we make ourselves happier?  The Four Foundations of Mindfulness help us do that.

Our minds are habitual machines.  They tend to do the same thing all the time.  What The Four Foundations of Mindfulness do, is they make us look at things we don’t normally look at; and by doing that we get to see what’s hidden, the things that affect us very deeply that we don’t normally even notice.  A good example is, right now we’re about to paint our house, and we had to decide what color to paint it.  We walk around our neighborhood all the time, but all of a sudden, because we decided to paint our house, I now know what color all our neighbors’ houses are.  I had no idea how many had painted their trim this one color or another color, and it’s just because I have a reason; so, I expanded what I actually noticed.  And that’s what the training in The Four Foundations is about.

Most of us sit down, and think, ‘okay, let’s be mindful,’ but we’re usually mindful of a very narrow field, what we’re habitually mindful of.  And often things that are causing us a lot of pain, we don’t even notice until we’re finding ourselves upset, or angry or irritated.  In The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, nothing is left out.  Mindfulness of any object, anything, the slightest irritation and itch, the slightest anything, is an object of meditation.  The entire universe is an object of meditation.  Nothing is left out.

Just in case some of you are new, I’m now going to review The Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  There’s mindfulness of the body, which all of you have probably done to some extent if you pay attention to your breath; that’s part of mindfulness of the body.  The second one is mindfulness of the feeling tone or vedana, which is whether something’s pleasant or unpleasant.  The third one is mindfulness of mind, which is mindfulness of the quality of the mind:  whether you’re mind is greedy or not greedy; whether it’s angry or not angry; whether it’s deluded; or, whether it’s clear and stable.  The fourth foundation is what I’ll be covering, which is called mindfulness of dhammas, and I will go over that in a little bit more detail.

There are two basic ways that teachers teach The Four Foundations.  One way is called prescriptive, which means they teach it as a series of exercises, and there are actually twenty-one exercises in The Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  The other way is descriptive, which means that instead of seeing it as an exercise you pay attention to what is, whatever arises, but you learn this map of the different things that can arise.  And so, when things arise you have a context through which to understand your experience.  So these are two different ways that you can work with it, and some teachers work with both.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness start out from the gross to the subtle.  And so, you start out with the body.  In fact, you start out with the body postures, with activities.  And then you get subtler and subtler:  into the feeling tone; into the mind states; and into what we’ll cover in a few minutes in the fourth foundation of the dhammas.  But, before I go on into the fourth foundation, does anybody have any questions about the first foundation, mindfulness of the body?  (Silence.)

Very briefly, the way it’s taught is it starts out with mindfulness of the breath, which I’m sure everyone here probably has been doing.  And then it shifts into mindfulness of the body postures, so that, you know whether you’re sitting; you know whether you’re standing; or lying down.  Then bringing mindfulness to our activities:  when you bend over to pick something up; when you walk to another room.  After that, the thirty-two parts of the body, which is an exercise of really looking at your body kind of objectively, like a bag of bones, a bunch of blood vessels and a bunch of nerves.  It’s a way of just really paying attention to the body in a very objective manner.  Then, it’s the four elements:  really seeing that the body is made up of earth, air, fire and water; the same elements, the same atoms that are found in this plant are found in us.  Practicing with these different aspects helps us broaden how we identify with who we think we are.  And then, the last of the meditations on the body—there are actually nine of them—are meditating on corpses, on dead bodies, which in this culture we don’t often get a chance to do.  Here death is kind of hidden away.

We were very fortunate, very recently when a Sangha member died, many of us were able to sit with her before she died.  We sat with the dying body.  Some of us went to her cremation.  It was quite a blessing to be able to be part of this cycle of life.  (Silence.)

So, do you have any questions about this foundation?  (Silence.)  As I go through these, please feel free, if anything comes up that you feel needs clarification.

The second foundation is very important, because that’s the feeling tone of an experience and that’s really where we can get caught quite easily.  For instance, if you’re sitting here, let’s say it’s a very hot day, and you feel, you’re mindful of, ‘ah, it’s the air conditioning hitting me, it’s really cool; that feels really good.’  If you don’t be aware of that, what can easily happen is, ‘oh yes, boy I wish I had air conditioning at home, but that’s really expensive; maybe I should try to get a raise, but my boss is really uptight, he’ll never give me a raise.’  And, all of a sudden, you’re in this whole other state that has nothing to do with the present moment, and might even get into a negative state about your uptight boss; and that’s all because you didn’t notice a pleasant sensation.  The same thing happens with an unpleasant sensation.  You might be sitting there dripping sweat, and the air conditioning doesn’t kick on, and you wonder about the management in this place, ‘God, who runs this place?’ and ‘they’re so irresponsible, they should have fixed the air conditioning,’ and on and on.  So that happens all day long.

We’re continuously having either pleasant sensations or unpleasant sensations, and our minds are taking off in all these different directions, over, and over and over again.  So training with vedana, with this particular foundation, I don’t know if any of you have ever tried this, but you can spend the whole day just focusing on that instead of the breath.  You can just notice, ‘pleasant/unpleasant.’  You take a bite of a sandwich, ‘pleasant.’  You keep chewing.  Is it still pleasant right when you swallow it?  Is swallowing pleasant?  So, all day long, we’re continuously going from pleasant to unpleasant, and reacting to that.

The third foundation, that’s where we notice whether we are attached or not.  That’s really what we’re looking at in the mind when we look at the quality of the mind.  Is this an attached mind right at this moment?  If you want, at this very moment, something to be different than it is, you’re attached.  You’re either attached by wanting something, which is greed or desire; or you’re pushing something away, which is aversion; or you might be just confused, which is delusion.  At every moment there’s some mind state going on:  it’s either greedy or non-greedy, aversive or non-aversive.  If there isn’t peace in your mind, there’s attachment; you’re clinging to something if your mind is not peaceful.  You are clinging to something; there’s something you’re not seeing.

The first three foundations:  body, feeling tone and the mind states; they’re all paying attention to what’s there, the very simple paying attention, ‘this is here, this is what it’s like.’  The difference in the fourth foundation is that the fourth foundation pays very careful attention to the process of clinging and letting go of clinging.  It’s the entire process from beginning to end, and it does it by looking at five different categories of experience.  So, the fourth foundation is called the mindfulness of dhammas.  Dhammas can mean:  there’s a capital “D,” Dhamma, which is the path, the truth; but there’s also the, in Pali, the little “d,” dhammas, which actually means, ‘things.’  So it covers most of the things in the mind; in fact, it covers all of the things in the mind:  any thought, any emotion and any intention; these are dhammas.  Everything that’s running around in your mind:  these are all dhammas.

And so, the five categories; I’ll name the categories first.  There are:  The Five Hindrances, The Five Aggregates, The Six Sense Bases, The Seven Factors of Awakening and The Four Noble Truths.  Now, I‘m going to touch on all of these in a minute, but I want you to think of the five categories as a filter.  Each one is like a different filter through which you look at the same thing, which is your mind; and by looking at it through different filters we’re going to get different aspects of how our mind runs.  You look at things depending on the reason you’re looking at them.  For instance, I mentioned the house; if you want to paint it you’re looking at the color.

But let’s say, you have an elephant.  How do you look at an elephant?  Say you want to take a picture of the elephant; so, you’re going to look at the color, what’s the lighting like, what’s the texture, how close am I to it.  Or, let’s say you want to put that elephant in a truck.  You want to look at the size, how much does it weigh.  Or, let’s say you want to pet it.  Then maybe you want to look at its temperament.

Whatever you’re purpose is for looking at anything is how you should look at it.  So, what’s the purpose of the fourth foundation of mindfulness?  It’s liberation.  It’s freedom.  We’re going to look at our minds through the eyes of what gives us freedom.

It’s important to notice that when we’re working with the fourth foundation we’re often working with thoughts.  Often in meditation, because it’s usually so much more pleasant when there are few thoughts in the mind, it’s very easy to think of thoughts a little bit like they don’t belong:  ‘that’s the enemy, let’s get rid of them.’  And so, it’s really important to think about thoughts as part of our meditation.  What’s important is what we do with our thoughts.  So, in the fourth foundation, there’s a little bit more thinking involved or contemplation.

We want to turn our thoughts to a useful purpose.  For instance, if you’re sitting around thinking about when the sitting is going to be over, it’s very easy to look at that thought and think:  ‘wow, that thought isn’t useful; that thought doesn’t make me happy; that thought just makes me even more impatient.’  So, how do we think in a way that’s useful?  And, that’s what we’re going to do with these five different categories.  That’s why the Buddha said that, okay, you’ve got a mind that thinks.  It likes to think; it’s able to think.  Let’s use that thinking process in a way that can free the mind.

First of all, I’m going to start with the Hindrances; how many of you have studied a little bit about the Hindrances, are most of you familiar with them?  Okay, what the Hindrances are, they’re the obstacles to clear awareness that happen in meditation, and there are five of them.  Desire, that’s when you want something to be different, like, you want the room to be cooler.  There’s aversion, for example, you want the person next to you to be quieter.  There’s restlessness, when the mind just keeps going and doesn’t let you be peaceful.  There’s sloth and torpor, when you’re really struggling to stay awake and you have low energy.  And there’s doubt, such as when you think, ‘I’ll never learn how to meditate,’ or ‘am I doing it right; I can’t get this right,’ those kind of thoughts.  So that’s very briefly The Five Hindrances.

In the past we’ve had classes where we’ve spent an entire hour on each one of them, but I will be touching on these lightly.  The really wonderful thing about mindfulness is that we can turn these Hindrances into the objects of our meditation, so that they’re not a problem.  What we look to do in the fourth foundation of mindfulness is to not only recognize the Hindrance, for instance, to see, ‘here’s desire;’ but to really pay such close attention that we see the desire arise out of a quiet mind.  And then we see the desire.  We watch desire go away, disappear, and we notice what caused the desire to begin with.

For instance, let’s say you have something happen at work; somebody said something that hurt your feelings, okay.  So, here you sit down to meditate, and the memory of that comes up and you get really angry with this person who made that comment.  You might catch it in the middle, ‘ah, that’s anger, aversion,’ so then, you stay with it and you stay with it until eventually that strong emotion starts going away.  It gets calm, it starts going away and you’re quiet again; so, you’ve watched it, and then a thought gets triggered.  The memory of the situation happens again, and you have a choice.  If you’re really paying attention, you have a choice.  You can actually go replay it, which many of us do.  We just replay it, and replay it and replay it, and get angry all over again, and maybe even build on it this time.

This time they just didn’t say that comment, but they’re also kind of lazy.  We build up a case against this person.  All those things can get added on.  But if we notice that just replaying it is the cause of the aversion, then we can prevent the anger from arising.  So, in the fourth foundation, with each one of the Hindrances, we want to watch it start.  What is it like when it’s full on, how does it disappear and how do we prevent it from arising again?  You can’t do that if you just sat down from a busy day and your mind’s moving a hundred miles an hour.  This is something that you really work with as the mind gets a little bit more settled.

To get deeply concentrated the Hindrances have to be suspended.  We don’t get rid of them totally but in meditation we suspend them.  We keep concentrating and being mindful until the Hindrances really settle down and they don’t arise.  The very deep stages of insight meditation are done in a very deeply concentrated state where the Hindrances are not arising or not arising much.  They’re just like little occasional dips.  For mind to be able to really develop insight, it has to be happy, it has to be calm; and, it has to be concentrated to be happy and calm.

I’ll give you another example of being able to prevent a Hindrance from arising.  I’ve mentioned this before.  Gil tells a story about when he was a child, when he was a young boy.  His Mother used to like to take him shopping for clothes for herself, to drag him with her.  No matter how awake he was, when he actually got into the department store he’d get completely fatigued, and exhausted and just couldn’t keep his eyes open.  But as soon as they left the store he’d be fine again.

This quality of ‘department store mind,’ what actually happened, let’s really look at it.  Here he is, full of energy, and then his Mom says, ‘lets go do shopping,’ and the thought probably arose that said, ‘I don’t want to go.’  That’s the unseen part.  And because he didn’t want to go, then he just stopped being there, and that shut down all his energy and then he’d be sleepy.  And that’s what we do all the time.

We don’t necessarily get sleepy, but when we don’t see our resistance to life we don’t see the effects of that resistance.  For instance, an area that I traditionally have gotten, in the past, irritable with, is calling tech support.  How many of you have been on hold with tech support, and then connect with someone and finally get a hold of them, and they don’t seem to speak English or know what your problem is?  Habitually, that’s an area where I’ve seen in myself, if I go down that path, I will get irritable.  So, how do I prevent myself from getting irritable?  What I do now is I try to remind myself that my happiness isn’t dependent upon this person being prompt and fixing my problem.  By actually having that thought, directing my mind in that direction, it changes the experience for me.  I can practice with being patient, and I can be happy and friendly no matter what my experience is.

So, right at this moment, are you aware of any Hindrances?  (Silence.)  Are there any Hindrances present?  Anybody?

Student 1:  Restlessness

Restlessness?  (Silence.)  So, throughout the day, at any given moment, you can check that out.  Is there any resistance to life on any level?  Are we grabbing something that we don’t yet have?  Are we pushing life away in any way?

The second category of The Four Foundations is called The Five Aggregates, or the khandhas in Pali.  The Aggregates, the word khandhas actually means lumps, a pile of things, and it refers to what the human personality, body and experience is made up of, these five different things.  So, there’s the body, which is actually the first foundation; the feeling tone, which is the second foundation; and, the third one is perception or recognition.  Now, the difference between perception and mindfulness, for instance, mindfulness might hear this sound (bell) and not recognize it; but perception says, ‘ah, that’s a bell.’  That’s the third aggregate.

Student 2:  Wouldn’t that be labeling?  Perception?

Ines:  But you don’t have to label.  Perception, your mind might recognize it’s a bell but never actually say the word, because we’re continuously perceiving a lot of things that are moving too fast to actually label.  But any form of labeling is based on perception.

The fourth aggregate is called mental formations or fabrications.  That’s pretty much most of the content in your mind:  your thoughts, your emotions, your intentions, your dreams and your fantasies—most of the thinking part of the mind.  And the fifth aggregate is, it’s called consciousness, but people use this word in many different ways.  It’s not like we’re creating a definition for consciousness; so, try to get just this particular way of using the word consciousness.  What it refers to is the part of the mind that knows we’re seeing; it’s only in relation to the senses.  For instance, again, if you hear a sound, the ear mechanically hears something, mechanically does something, but it’s the part of the mind that actually catches that, grabs that, hears it.  But it doesn’t include the thought part.  It’s just:  the part that has heard, the part that has seen, the part that has smelt—but without the thoughts.

A lot people, as they start questioning themselves deeply, ‘well, who am I?  Who is this person sitting here?’  They go through the Aggregates, ‘am I my body?  I’m not my hand, if I lost my hand I’d still be me.’  Even if you lost your heart—you could have a heart transplant and you’d still be you.  We’re not our bodies.

And then, we might look a little deeper, and think that we’re not this feeling of pleasant or unpleasant, ‘that comes and goes, that can’t be me.’  We’re not our memories or perceptions, because these change over time.  People lose their memories, and some of us are beginning to lose our memories.  And are we our thoughts?  We have these repetitive thoughts, is that who we are?  So, a lot of people, as they start really questioning and exploring who they are, ‘none of these things seem to be me.  But the part that is aware, that sees, feels, without thoughts, maybe that’s who I am.’

I’m not going to answer that.  The Buddha never answered that.  The Buddha, he was asked many times, “is there a self?”  And he said, “I’m not going to say there is a self, and I’m not going to say there isn’t one, and I’m not going to say there is or isn’t one.”  So, he kind of left it, but he said, “but I can’t find a self.”  He said, “that’s the only thing, the self can’t be found.”  You don’t draw a conclusion from that, just like you can’t see bacteria with the naked eye, doesn’t mean it’s there, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

The usefulness of looking at ourselves as these little lumps or Aggregates, a little piece at a time, is to kind of break our idea that we are this fixed self.  We keep creating this idea, ‘this is who I am,’ and yet that person who thought that’s who they were thirty years ago is very different than the one sitting right here.  And so, by contemplating on these Five Aggregates, it allows us to kind of loosen our identification with our perceptions, with our points of view.  One of the meditation teachers who has taught here, Ajahn Jumnien, he’s also a great Thai master, meditation master, he’s not bothered by physical discomfort at all.  I’ve watched him sit hour, after hour, after hour, without moving.  He wears the traditional Thai robes, which are very, very light.  If it’s cold, he says, “well, I’m not cold, the body’s cold, but I’m not cold.”  He just doesn’t identify with the sensations of the body; they’re there, but that’s just what’s happening.

So, we’ve gone over the Hindrances, the Aggregates, and we could spend a whole day on each of these, in working with them; but this is really an overview.  The next is The Six Sense Bases, and that is:  the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, touch and the mind.  In Buddhism the mind is seen as one of the senses here.  In the Sense Bases, what we want to notice is that the eye sees form, but it’s two separate things; so, you have the tongue and taste; you have the nose and odor.  The reason you want to try to look at it through those eyes is because this is where clinging arises.  We look at something and we can immediately get hooked into it.  We see someone really beautiful, and, ‘oh, I want that person.’  So by looking at it as:  this is the eye and this is seeing, this is form; it creates a little bit of a space; so, we can look at it a little bit differently.

It helps you stay aware of the clinging that arises due to the senses.  Let me give you an example, let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see this beautiful tree with pink blossoms.  If you’re looking at it, just kind of distracted, and all of a sudden it pops into your view, and you think, ‘wow, that’s really beautiful; I want to take a picture, oh, I wish I had my camera.’  Very quickly you can get into a wanting to have this picture, and ‘oh, my camera’s really cheap, maybe I should get a better camera; I could post it online,’ etc.  So, you can absolutely lose connection with the situation, because clinging arose and you didn’t notice it.

Another way of looking at it, as an exercise, is to actually stay aware that you are seeing, and that that’s form.  It might be a beautiful form, a pleasant form, and recognizing that, but allowing yourself to actually be present with it:  ‘this is seeing; this is the eye; it’s different from the form,’ and not running with it.  A really wonderful practice you can do, especially if you walk places, is to take each one of the senses and practice with them during the day.  Pick a day where every time you walk, instead of paying attention to anything else, you pay attention to seeing.  So you’re walking to the car and you just notice seeing all around you.  You keep a soft gaze.  You might see the parking lot, you might see people there, you might see the cars; but you don’t let your mind land on those things in particular.

Another day you might just take a walk and listen to sounds:  the birds chirping, the airplane passing.  And really try to stay neutral as you listen to sounds.  Noticing the ear and the sound, so that if you’re hearing this beautiful birds chirping, you’re just as aware, just as open as if you listen to that really loud Harley-Davidson driving right next to you.  And just stay with, ‘this is the ear, this is sound.’  Staying aware of the tendency towards clinging and grabbing the pleasant and pushing away the unpleasant.

It’s a lot to cover in The Four Foundations, and the next one we’re starting is The Seven Factors of Awakening.  The first three were about how we cling and how we let go of clinging.  The Hindrances are where we’re contracted, clinging.  The Aggregates:  the same thing as when we identify with these areas.  The Six Sense Bases are the areas where clinging occurs quite easily.  The Seven Factors of Awakening are the states of mind that we want to cultivate and develop to help us free ourselves, to help us be happy.

The Seven Factors of Awakening start with mindfulness.  You first have to focus the mind on what is.  Once you focus the mind, and it doesn’t matter what the object is, even assuming it’s your breath that you’re paying attention to.  As you pay attention and your mindfulness gets stronger and steadier, the second factor of mindfulness can arise, and that’s called investigation.  And that investigation, in particular, refers to being able to see what’s skillful and what’s not skillful.  And that’s a very, very powerful factor of awakening, because it’s what leads you on.

If you have a thought that says, ‘I’ve got to really work hard and concentrate, and be really serious about this.’  That actually might be a very unskillful thought, because you might be really uptight, very tense.  So, investigation:  you really look at that, ‘so, okay, my intention is to really concentrate.  What’s the quality of my intention?  It sounds like a good intention but I’m actually really contracted.  I’m tense, I’m scrunching my eyebrows.’  And so, by investigation, we really look deeply at where mindfulness is noticed, and we notice whether what we’re doing is skillful or not.

As we investigate, the third factor of awakening that arises is energy.  Whenever we direct ourselves energy tends to arise; so, the more we concentrate, the more energy that is available to us.  As energy arises our effort gets easier and easier.  At first, when you first sit down to meditate, you go to the breath, one, two breaths, you’re off and running, okay, again; and as you keep meditating, as you keep training the mind, you’re able to stay on the breath and stay on the breath, and eventually the effort becomes effortless.  It just does it all by itself and that effortless effort creates a sense of joy.

You can experience effortless effort, in dancing, in music, in sports, in a lot of different activities.  It happens when you’re so there.  People call it, “the zone.”  It’s a very joyous wonderful feeling, and that’s the next factor of awakening, energy.  Once it reaches the level of effortless effort it becomes joy, or piti is the Pali word, which is kind of a rapturous deep interest in everything around you, just kind of an ecstatic kind of feeling of joy.  That’s the fourth factor of awakening.

And that factor of awakening, when you first feel that, it’s just like, ‘wow, things couldn’t be any better,’ and it’s very excited, very energetic; but after a while you notice that it’s just a little too excited, it’s just a little restless.  And so, the mind starts staying with it and settling a little bit, getting a little bit mellower; and there’s a better state yet, and that’s tranquility.  You still have the energy but the energy is just a little softer and mellower, you’re very happy and content, and that’s the next factor, tranquility.  As the tranquility settles, you enter into a deep, concentrated absorbed state, and that state is the complete unification of the mind.  There’s just one point, the entire mind is all together, and it’s a very deeply peaceful state.

Then concentration brings us to the next and the very last factor of awakening, which is equanimity.  Equanimity is a balanced mind that doesn’t need anything to be different than it is.  Some people call it, “one taste.”  It could be chocolate cake or it could be rotten food.  It’s a mind that accepts anything.  Conditions don’t matter.  As The Third Zen Patriarch said, “the great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.”  That’s the state of equanimity, and that’s the state that’s necessary for awakening to occur, for the deep insights to occur.

At any given moment, we have all seven of those qualities happening right now to some degree.  They’re just not stable.  We all have a little bit of mindfulness, a little bit of concentration.  Otherwise you couldn’t understand what I’m saying.  And there’s a little bit of equanimity, you know, if somebody bumps you, you might not get upset.  But all these factors can be developed and they need to be developed to be able to free ourselves from our conditioning.

The last of the five categories is The Four Noble Truths, and the path begins and ends with The Four Noble Truths.  Many of us have heard The Four Noble Truths at the very beginning as an intellectual construct.  The Buddha said that there is suffering in this world, there is unsatisfactoryness; and if we look around, that’s true, we understand that intellectually.  And he said that the Second Noble Truth, that the cause or the origin of this suffering is clinging or craving, wanting things to be different than they are.  The Third Noble Truth, the Buddha said that if you let go of that clinging or craving then you can be happy; that’s what it takes.  The Fourth Noble Truth is the path on how to get there, how to do it, which is The Eightfold Path, how to step-by-step, how we do this.

Intellectually, when we think about it, most of us can get very aligned with that.  ‘Yes, that kind of makes sense.’  And as we practice we can see it in action.  As we keep practicing with The Four Noble Truths, instead of coming from the intellectual, the reality of the experience becomes more and more real.  The insights become much deeper than the intellectual of, ‘oh yes, that makes sense,’ into something that can truly free us from our suffering.

Any moment that we investigate, like, if we take just, right at this moment, no matter what your experience is, no matter how concentrated you are at this moment.  If there’s a Hindrance present, let’s say, is there something you might want right now to be different?  Think about it for a moment.  Is there anything right at this moment, that a certain part of your mind’s a little restless, and wants something just a little different?  Now, can you let that go?  If you can let that go, that’s the ending of suffering.  That’s actually the process of the ending of suffering; we’re doing it all the time.

We let go of the clinging to wanting things to be different.  Of course, we take it up immediately again, but that’s the process; and by paying attention and working with The Four Noble Truths.  Is there suffering right now, and how much of this suffering or unsatisfactoryness can I let go of right now?  We’re practicing freedom.  We’re putting suffering down, and you can do it anywhere, any time:  ‘Is there suffering now?  Can I let go of this suffering?’

Sometimes we use the word suffering too loosely.  Actually, it’s any form of unsatisfactoryness.  It’s not really major suffering.  We really mean anything, the slightest irritation.  ‘Can I let that go?’

Sometimes we cover a lot, and like I said, twenty-one exercises, if you think of it that way, and there are different ways.  Having the map of it can be really helpful, because when you’re sitting in meditation and let’s say you’re starting to enter a very excited happy state, just knowing that if you stay with it, it leads in to tranquility, can be helpful.  It can guide you.  There are people who systematically use the system and work through it day after day.  They start with one of them and go on to the next.  There are a lot of different ways to work with it, which can be a little bit confusing.  If you find it confusing it all, I just want to end with a quotation from Pema Chodron, she said:

If your every day practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet, to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that—then that will take you as far as you can go.  And then you’ll understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught.

So that’s what I had for tonight.  Does anyone have any questions about this, or any questions about your practice, or about any of The Four Foundations, of how you might want to work with them in your life, in your practice?

Student 3:  You used an expression that I found very helpful.  You said “resisting life,” and that was really evocative for me.  I don’t know if that worked that same way for other people.  It’s like, ‘oh yes, I do resist,’ and the resistance is in a lot of the different forms.  The other thing, verbiage that really worked for me was talking about the filters.  You have this set of filters and you look at the same set of you, through these different filters, and it’s, ‘yes, okay, yes, I can look at it this way.’  It’s not quite as daunting as it can be when you think that you’ve got all these categories, and it sounds like Motown groups.  It’s like, ‘no, thank you.’

Ines:  A lot of my practice with these different categories has been on retreat.  You don’t want to sit down if you’re sitting for say, forty-five minutes a day, and try to go through these categories.  But sometimes the teacher will actually lead you through them throughout a retreat.  Gil has done that, at times, where he’s taken a whole retreat and just gone through them.  So there are different ways of working with them.  But sometimes just really getting familiar with them really helps us work with them at times that are sometimes unexpected even.

Well, thank you very much.