It seems that no matter how much I meditate, practice mindfulness, read dhamma books and attempt to follow the 8fold path etc it only takes one little thing to happen and I just instantly revert to very entrenched maladaptive, negative, and I suppose conditioned thoughts and behaviours.Then I feel lots of shame, hopelessness and guilt etc. how do I work with this and change myself for the better permanently? I've changed a little since I begun about 6 years ago but I'm impatient as life is going by very quickly, I'm getting older and I want to be happy and live a fulfilling life but I keep thinking, saying and doing things that are not conducive towards that. I don't have much hope that I'll ever make any lasting positive change. My brain seems to be wired to fail. How can buddhism help me with this conundrum?
So a client hires me as their personal trainer. They say, "I've been working out for five years. I never see any results. I just don't think I'll ever get into shape!" I ask them to workout for me. They go from machine to machine doing all sorts of bizarre rep schemes. They take five minutes between sets. They use weight that's easily 50% less than what they should be doing. They get on the treadmill and do ten minutes at about 2.5 MPH. I ask them how often they do their workout out. "At least once a week. Sometimes twice. Sometimes I don't go at all."
I put them on a basic, consistent, progressive program. Since they are paying me $25 an hour whether they come or not, suddenly they start going to the gym with more frequency. After six weeks, they've seen more progress than in their previous five years of training.
Seng Ts'an says that "to live in the great way is neither easy nor difficult, but those with limited views are fearful and irresolute." If I was to look at your practice, how much would it resemble one of my fitness clients? Are you really showing up or are you just going through the motions with your practice?
Simple exercise regiments often work just as well as the most complicated. The deciding factors are effort and consistency. The Buddhist path is no different. At most, there are three things to keep in mind - sila, samadhi, and prajna. Practice these three things wholeheartedly and you will make progress. It's absolutely inevitable. This means paying close attention to the precepts, meditating every day for at least an hour, going on regular retreats, and meeting often with your teacher. It also helps to sit with a sangha. This gives you accountability in a way that practicing by yourself simply cannot.
You can change, you simply have to work at it with everything you've got. If you get derailed, simply get back on the cushion and keep going.
Repeat after me: ;-)
- Nothing is wrong with me.
- I'm alright.
- I don't really need anything to be different.
- Life is pointless and there is nothing I need to achieve.
- I am less entangled in life than most of the people.
- In fact, I probably am much happier than most people already
- If I ever feel envious of this world, or rejected by it - I just need to remember that, in fact, they are all quite miserable.
- As for their perspective on me, as long as I'm morally pure, there is nothing for others to blame me for, so I don't need to feel bad about my life.
- As for achievements, the peace of mind is the highest achievement, so if anyone asks about my achievements, here it is.
- As for helping others, this is what I share, the gift of confidence and the peace of mind.
- So in all senses I can feel good.
- All of this is a matter of conviction and will power, so I will not let others make me feel incomplete, and I will not let the doubts arise.
- Everyone has a dharma (a system of values and a way of living) that they identify with, foolishly. Their dharmas require skill, effort and will-power, and lead to both great joys and great suffering. In contrast to them, I knowingly and deliberately choose to be certain about this Dharma. My Dharma too requires skill, effort, and will-power - but unlike theirs it always leads to peace.
- I can feel good about myself, knowing that my Dharma is flawless and complete.
- There is nothing in particular I have to do, other than to be confident in this Dharma and be an expression of it.
Do you understand? This looks like a trick, a loophole - and in a way it is. You don't need to "change", you use Dharma as tool to change your attitude, that's all. "With no hindrance in the mind / no hindrance, therefore no fear / far beyond mistaken fantasy at last there is nirvana."
In order to realize complete liberation from suffering, one needs to calm his mind.
Only when the mind is completely calmed, meditation becomes effective to realize complete liberation from suffering.
In order to calm the mind, one needs to live a simple life.
To live a simple life, one needs easy access to water, food, shelter and time.
When one lives like that, with easy access to water, food, shelter and time, worries of complicated life fall off. If while living a complicated life one had ten worries, now, when living a simple life, one has no worries.
Such a simple life calms the mind.
Only when the mind is calmed enough, the mind can be completely calmed.
In order to calm the mind completely, one needs to meditate.
Only when the mind is completely calmed, meditation becomes effective to realize complete liberation from suffering.
Once liberation is achieved, one can live in peace and harmony in any life presented, even in complicated life.
"it only takes one little thing to happen ..."
In life where "little things" arise, mind is agitated.
Realization of complete liberation from suffering is not possible.
The path is to calm the mind.
Make your life simpler by removing these "little things" that happen.
That's the first step.
Then the Venerable Ānanda approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and said to him:
(1) “Bhante, what is the purpose and benefit of wholesome virtuous behavior?”
(2) “Ānanda, the purpose and benefit of wholesome virtuous behavior is non-regret.”
(3) “And what, Bhante, is the purpose and benefit of non-regret?”
“The purpose and benefit of non-regret is joy.”
And it goes on with "What is the purpose and benefit of joy?"
Ven. Thanissaro wrote in the essay "The Integrity of Emptiness":
Observing Everyday Actions
The Buddha told Rahula — who was seven at the time — to use his thoughts, words, and deeds as a mirror. In other words, just as you would use a mirror to check for any dirt on your face, Rahula was to use his actions as a means of learning where there was still anything impure in his mind. Before he acted, he should try to anticipate the results of the action. If he saw that they'd be harmful to himself or to others, he shouldn't follow through with the action. If he foresaw no harm, he could go ahead and act. If, in the course of doing the action, he saw it causing unexpected harm, he should stop the action. If he didn't see any harm, he could continue with it.
If, after he was done, he saw any long-term harm resulting from the action, he should consult with another person on the path to get some perspective on what he had done — and on how not to do it again — and then resolve not to repeat that mistake. In other words, he should not feel embarrassed or ashamed to reveal his mistakes to people he respected, for if he started hiding his mistakes from them, he would soon start hiding them from himself. If, on the other hand, he saw no harm resulting from the action, he should rejoice in his progress in the practice and continue with his training.
The right name for this reflection is not "self-purification." It's "action-purification." You deflect judgments of good and bad away from your sense of self, where they can tie you down with conceit and guilt. Instead, you focus directly on the actions themselves, where the judgments can allow you to learn from your mistakes and to find a healthy joy in what you did right.
When you keep reflecting in this way, it serves many purposes. First and foremost, it forces you to be honest about your intentions and about the effects of your actions. Honesty here is a simple principle: you don't add any after-the-fact rationalizations to cover up what you actually did, nor do you try to subtract from the actual facts through denial. Because you're applying this honesty to areas where the normal reaction is to be embarrassed about or afraid of the truth, it's more than a simple registering of the facts. It also requires moral integrity. This is why the Buddha stressed morality as a precondition for wisdom, and declared the highest moral principle to be the precept against lying. If you don't make a habit of admitting uncomfortable truths, the truth as a whole will elude you.
The second purpose of this reflection is to emphasize the power of your actions. You see that your actions do make the difference between pleasure and pain. Third, you gain practice in learning from your mistakes without shame or remorse. Fourth, you realize that the more honest you are in evaluating your actions, the more power you have to change your ways in a positive direction. And finally, you develop good will and compassion, in that you resolve to act only on intentions that mean no harm to anyone, and you continually focus on developing the skill of harmlessness as your top priority.
All of these lessons are necessary to develop the kind of wisdom measured by the Buddha's test for wisdom; and, as it turns out, they're directly related to the first meaning of emptiness, as an approach to meditation. In fact, this sort of emptiness simply takes the instructions Rahula received for observing everyday actions and extends them to the act of perception within the mind.
This is an EXCELLENT question Arturia. I'd like to answer it from a layman's perspective.
First of all I couldnt agree with you more. I've only been working on this about half the time that you have - specifically regarding Buddhism. But I have been exploring my beliefs to help my behavior for a few decades. I feel the exact same way that you do very often. I think I've made a little progress and then the old habits and thoughts come back.
But I did learn that there is value in the path itself and not just in the destination. The fact that you actually recognize your shortcomings and work to resolve them is huge. If you read the Isha Upanishad it teaches that so few get to even that point so you shouldnt be down on yourself.
I actually focus often on the Brihadaranyanka where we are advised of a simple plan to aid us when we stumble. Damyata Datta Dayadhvam. Self control, giving of yourself first, and compassion. I use these 3 guides as my keel and they help me navigate troubled waters.
The neural pathways of our aged brains require more repetition to lay in new routes. As mere infants we are easily able to develop new habits and routines. As adults it takes more patience and repeating.
So do not lose hope. The effort itself achieves good karma and as long as you're following a good beacon the right path will show itself to you. This is how Buddhism helps me. namaste
I remember I've "changed" a couple of times in my life, and I'm sure that has also happened to you: over the process of separating from the mother when one is a baby, over the process of puberty when 10 to 18 years old, when one gets "matured" , when one gets children and develops automatically new senses and wideheartnesses, when one gets old and permanently sick - those are periods where "the self" of someone (his desires, his interests, his hopes and his behave) change substantially - if you had a diary from the time of your youth you could simply read this from your own books. Those are the well known times of existential "crisis" in life.
For me personally it happened even a couple of more times - mostly because of existence/influence of very much (existencially) beloved people, sometimes because of forecast-projections of biological change after sicknesses, or even after the contact to political and later of spiritual "greats", earlier with the peace-movement, later with buddhistic teachers and with that what was transmitted to us about the Buddha, his life and his teachings.
I think -because my own experiences with this- it was and is essential to be in lovingly contact with other people, so much, that in the unavoidably occuring conflicts you're really ready for change even if it would "destroy your self", if panic comes up in you that you would die ("symbolically" - that would already be enough).
You may then even experience that the mental force of "patience" can come to you and so on - because with awareness and loving kindness you'll see and shall really understand the examples of other people who are already able to be patient and to change things slowly and positively, with that force.
Studying literature and doing meditation alone shall not be able to achieve that process in you - remember the Buddha needed to step out into the forests, needed to have comrades with him (the samaneras around), needed living with teachers for some periods, and needed then a fight with himself which led him very near to physical extinction - until he was prepared to understand, that dying would be no help for liberation, given (in the philosophy of that time) that one's karma would continue and some kernel of the inner self (the "atman") would reincarnate with a new corpus: only after winning that understanding he could accept food to come back to life again and being then able to set himself out for the so-much-existential change of "him-self" by a full awakening. (see for instance MN12 in the pali-canon, but there are some more focusing the same theme and possibly even better)
So change can and will come to you and your "ego/self" anyway - chances are always better to allow it before you begin ageing, when you want to give it also a wholesome direction. To approach this it seems to me easier when you get in contact with life (besides meditation and thinking, but never for get that! It keeps the direction of the road!) as deep as it is possible for you. "Love" is known as one of the strongest force to accept the risk for change, and has also the advantage that it can happen with the folks near to you... :-)
I have practiced mindfulness meditation for over 50 years and I have even written a couple of books on my experiences. You say that you have not changed since you were 6 years old. That undoubtedly means that you suffered from an abusive or profoundly dysfunctional family. Modern suffering is due to such family conditions. By suffering, I mean profound problems with self-love and finding love in adult life. The historical Buddha did not deal with or talk about this kind of suffering. Nonetheless, mindfulness meditation has the purpose of gaining insight into how and why your debilitating emotions were cause by deeply tragic circumstances. I suggest you go the a mindfulness center that offers both MBSR and psychotherapy.
There are two ways that one can change using mindfulness meditation. First one is by practicing morality and by practicing mindfulness, one can become more relaxed, less agitated and become less pulled into stuff that causes irritation, frustration and the likes. It doesn't take much time to experience this change. Since you are practicing for six years, maybe you have experienced this change, probably you are getting pulled into stuff lesser than before but not considering this as a change as many things still affect you and you still experience (some) negativity.
The above change is temporary as it is dependent on you practicing on a continuous basis. The other way to change is to work your way through enlightenment. For the kind of changes you seem to expect, I would say at least till sakadagami (second path, the one after sotapanna or stream entry) as this cuts the defilements of gross attraction and aversion. Stream entry itself can bring lot of changes as it cuts through the fetter of identity view, but for some at least it doesn't change their behaviours fundamentally (It definitely reduces the burden though by bringing changes in perception and opening of dhamma eye and hence makes practice easier). This change generally takes longer time to achieve and there will be phases were things seem to get worse but if you persist this will lead to permanent and lasting change.