This morning I completed the last course in the behavioral health degree program I’ve been attending full time for the past year and a half. The Associates of Applied Science in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders will be my first degree in a “soft” science and I am curious to discover when, where and how I will be using my new knowledge.
While the information about the pharmacology of drugs was fascinating, for instance even one use of some drugs can “permanently” change nerve functioning in the brain, the program was first and foremost a preparation course for counselors. As such I learned a lot of therapeutic skills and tools for assisting people in their change process. Of course I also learned that, while there is evidence to suggest treatment programs and counseling work, there is no definitive scientific evidence of how they work. It makes me wonder, what people have made so significant about science. Is there a better use of the energy that is currently invested in creating, promoting and proving evidence-based practices?
Speaking about investment of energy, about half way through the degree I decided that I had gotten all I wanted from the program. I thought further energy investment wasn’t going to pay off. However, when I went to withdraw, I found I couldn’t let go. Part of me wanted to continue. Such it is with me. I was able to honor that part without judgement.
I have been noticing thoughts arising recently that are telling me that it is impossible for me to reach shamata. The thoughts were also pointing out without mental stability I would not be able to progress to enlightenment. I knew it was time to talk back to my mind and I needed ammunition. I went directly to my teacher (aka Google) and put in the search terms: “unable to reach shamata”.
One of my favorite sites, The Benzin Archives, popped up on the first page with a catchy page title of “Achieving Shamatha“. Now, much of the information was review for me, but I enjoyed the comparisons between the objects used in the different Tibetan schools of Buddhism. This was useful since my primary background is Gelug, but I have been recently studying Dzogchen.
My favorite part of the presentation was advice from Master Shantideva:
Steadfastness (brtan) or self-confidence (nga-rgyal) comes from examining if we are capable of achieving the goal and, being convinced that we are, applying ourselves steadily, even though progress goes up and down.
The part I like about Shantideva’s advice is that he thinks that self-examination could only lead to the conclusion that one is capable of the goal, while I’ve concluded that I am incapable of achieving the goal. The very absence of advice to people that are hopeless suggests that I am capable, regardless of past experience.
So if I am capable, where do I need to work? I am currently at stage four and shamata is stage 10. Perfect advice for me is:
Mental flightiness (rgod-pa, agitation), a subcategory of mental wandering (rnam-g.yeng) or distraction (‘phro-ba), is a fault of the mental placement on the object due to desire or attachment.
Yes, that is just the issue I talked about yesterday. I have an increase in desire arising from the expansive energy of spring. This is leading to a “fault in mental placement” since my mind is dancing with the energy. Yet, the antidote for this is just what I am doing – reaffirming how sexy and attractive shamata and enlightenment are.
The Matrix is another Buddhist philosophy film in my list of top ten movies for Buddhists. This movie, like Inception, demonstrates the basic Tibetan Buddhist tenant that the world we see and experience is deceptive. Deceptive, in this instance, means that it appears one way when it actually is a different way. Sometimes people use the analogy that this reality is really just a dream or say it is an illusion, but this is not accurate. If I dream I am being hurt, I will wake up to find myself unharmed. If, in this reality, I experience my finger being cut off, that reality is persistent, at least for as long as I maintain my identity.
What this boils down to is that this reality, for all intents and purposes, is not a dream. It is “real”. It just is a “deceptive” reality. The basic deception is that things seem to come from outside of ourselves. They seem to be “solid”, self existent things. For instance, when someone gets mad at us, we think that that is coming from them and not about us. Well, it might not be about us in our current state, but the whole situation is created by our mental potentials or karmic seeds planted by our past thoughts and actions.
An intellectual understanding that the reality we live in comes from us is not enough to set us free. The characters in the Matrix demonstrate this. The ones that are no longer plugged into deceptive reality continuously, still cannot control the happenings when they do enter the “matrix” of deceptive reality. However, the main character, Neo, does gain the ability to use his mind to transcend what normally would be considered human limitations. He is then able to move in ways that are not humanly possible, such as fly and dodge bullets.
The movie also could be seen as a metaphor for the enlightenment process. Like in the movie, the majority of people we see around us are not aware that the world they see around them is actually an elaborate deception. If we tried to point that fact out to them they might become angry and would certainly dismiss us.
In the movie, a small number of people have realized the deception, yet their awareness of the deception does not allow them to change things. They know the matrix world is not ultimately real, but they act like it is when they are in it. These people are like Buddhist aryas. A arya (stream-enterer) knows that they are not a separate self and the world is not occupied by self-existent objects, but they are (initially) unable to experience the world as it is ultimately.Neo represents someone that is progressing rapidly along the path to enlightenment and as his experience of ultimate reality increases his ability to manipulate deceptive reality increases. While this type of manipulation is not part of the goal of Buddhism, many advanced practitioners experience these changes naturally. Indeed, Bernadette Roberts a few weeks before she entered the permanent state of “No-Self” found she could know the future, levitate, and leave her body. (All of which she disliked and quickly found a way to extinguish.)
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Reference: Bernadette Roberts. (1991). The Path to No-Self. State University of New York Press, Albany. p 169