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Day 186 - Eighth Fold - Right Concentration

Welcome to Day Eight of the Eight Fold Path!


Happy Birthday to the Buddha! He would have been 2652 today!


So who was the Buddha anyway?


Siddhattha Gotama or Siddhārtha Gautama was a philosopher, mendicant, meditator, spiritual teacher, and religious leader who lived in ancient India (c. 5th to 4th century BC). He is revered as the founder of the world religion of Buddhism. He taught for around 45 years and built a large following, both monastic and lay. His teaching is based on his insight into duḥkha (typically translated as "suffering") and the end of dukkha – the state called Nibbāna or Nirvana.


The Buddha was born into an aristocratic family, in the Shakya clan but eventually renounced lay life. According to Buddhist tradition, after several years of mendicancy, meditation, and asceticism, he awakened to understand the mechanism which keeps people trapped in the cycle of rebirth. The Buddha then traveled throughout the Ganges plain teaching and building a religious community. The Buddha taught a middle way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the Indian śramaṇa movement. He taught a spiritual path that included ethical training and meditative practices such as jhana and mindfulness. The Buddha also critiqued the practices of brahmin priests, such as animal sacrifice.


A couple of centuries after his death he came to be known by the title Buddha, which means “Awakened One” or the "Enlightened One". (Wikipedia)


What I love about the Buddha’s life is that he was just a guy. He was a guy given everything in life that one could want, yet still he was not satisfied. He longed for more...like so many of us. He was suffering from desire and attachment and, like so many of us, sought a different path. Now unlike many of us, he left the world and its worldliness behind and created a new path, the middle path and gave us a new way to look at life and to live more richly while acquiring nothing on the outside other than an honest desire to practice more.

So what is right concentration?


This is perhaps the hardest part of the path to explain for me...because I have the least experience with it. As I understand it, Right Concentration is detaching from sense-desires, detaching from unwholesome states, entering and remaining in a state where there is applied and sustained thinking, together with joy and pleasure born of detachment. Through this process one gains inner stillness and openness of mind, and enters and learns to find joy and pleasure born of concentration by not applying and sustaining thinking but by its absence. As the joy fades, one remains in a state of equanimity, mindfulness and awareness of pleasure. Then one renounces both pleasure and pain, and through the leaving of happiness and sadness, one enters into a final state without pleasure or pain and arrives in a place where there is only equanimity and mindfulness. Once you get here, that is called Right Concentration.


Ummmmm.


No.


I am not sure that I am ever going to get there. I know that I have never been there and I am not sure that I even understand it all that well.


So are we just left hanging with only a seven fold path?

How can we practice right concentration today? Mired in our pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, aversion and seeking?


For me, it is a continued willingness to return to the present moment and daily sit on the cushion with whatever comes up. To be with the pain, the pleasure, the aversion, the craving. To just allow it to come and not let it carry me away.


Here is how I meditate:


I light some incense and candle as an offering that all beings may be free of suffering and the root of suffering.


Then I sit down and set my timer.


I chant Oh Mani Padme Hum a few times to center myself and then I settle into position.


I sit on the cushion with my feet in lotus, back erect and hands facing down on my thighs. I have my eyes open but facing downward and focusing on the floor about 4 feet in front of me. I notice my breath.


In this most current time, I am immediately flooded with gratitude that I can breathe...so lucky am I in this most dire time to have lungs that function and carry oxygen around my body so that I can continue to live my life. I recognize that there are many that are struggling for breath right now, both physically and spiritually. I breathe out with the intention that all beings be given breath free from obstruction.


I begin to count my out breaths.


One.


Two.


Three.


Four.


Five.


Six.


Seven.


Eight.

Nine.


Ten.


Then I begin again. I do this over and over again until the chime sounds and the meditation is concluded.


Then I say a few prayers to include a thank you to the Buddha for giving me the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.


Then I begin my day.


Pretty simple right?


WRONG!


I have just described the structure and process of meditation. I have not described what actually happens during this process...


I am usually pretty good up until I start counting breaths. This is where I get lost.


My head thinks:

This is BORING!!!!!!!!!!!


I return to the breath


My head thinks:

CRAP, you forgot to send that email last night. You should get up and do that right now because you are going to forget again.


I return to the breath


My head thinks:

Your nose itches you should scratch it and don’t tell me that it doesn’t need to be scratched and it will go away by itself. I am tired of hearing crap like that from you!


I return to the breath.


Sometimes I scratch it, most of the time I don’t. Just depends on the day.


My head thinks:

HA! Got you to do it (If I scratched it).

I kind of hate you (if I didn’t scratch it).


I return to the breath.


I have started over counting never making it to ten, ever.


I just begin again. Right there with all the chatter in my head.

My head thinks:

I wonder if we are ever going to fall in love again...


I return to the breath.


My head thinks:

Usually about some past relationship or some future dream.


I return to the breath.


My head thinks:

This is so incredibly lame. Why do you do this to yourself every damn day!?


I return to the breath.


And so it goes...for minutes which sometimes pass as seconds and other times like hours. Yet I do it every day.


This is my practice of right concentration. A practice of every day noticing how much my head wants to leave the moment, repeatedly. Over and over again. All the time. How it is never different and, yet, in the same sense, it is always different.


Sometimes, not every day, I get a glimpse of what might be true right concentration. A very fleeting moment whereby the thoughts are gone and there is just all this space. All this equanimity and peace. It is gone as quickly as it came but it is beautiful. It is amazing. It is the most peaceful place I have ever been. It is there in the gap of my mind’s incessant chatter that I find a connection with a higher purpose. For a lovely moment, I have surpassed all the trappings of my consciousness and have levitated into the middle way.


When I get up from meditation, I am different. Cleaner. Even if my entire mediation my head chewed on me and gave me not one moment of peace. I leave the cushion knowing that I strengthened my serenity by just being with this most difficult mind for awhile and not allowing it to get me off the cushion which sometimes feels like its only job.


I am sure that any Buddhist scholar will tell you that this is NOT Right Concentration. But like I said in the beginning, this is the fold that I understand the least...


So I continue to practice. I continue to try. I continue to place myself on the cushion every day because while I know I am not there, I know that practice is the only hope I have of ever getting there. So I remain committed to the path by showing up in all of my many dreadful forms and begin again. And again. And again. Breathing in. Breathing out.


Happy Birthday Siddhartha! Thank you for the path! I am going to keep trying.




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