The ultimate aim of our Master Classes alludes to the following theme: “Unlocking Buddha-nature by heartfulness” and the motto “We are all embarked on a ship to float and drift in life’s vast ocean with one sole certainty – we shall sink one day…”
Seven steps to Nirvana
by Dr. G.T. Maurits Kwee, PhD, Clinical Psychologist and Em. Hon. Professor
1. Three Marks of Existence
The essence of the Buddhist teachings can be compactly summarized in a discourse of the Buddha’s, delivered some 2600 years ago, which is about three empirical characteristics of life. The first mark refers to the impermanence of things, the second mark to emotional suffering which is due to the third mark, i.e. to craving for and clinging to a self which is non-existing. Suffering arises because of grasping to a permanent self in a non-abiding universe. Why is there no self or in other words: how come that the self is an illusion? In order to answer this query it is necessary to discern the provisional from the ultimate. In an ever moving and ever changing world there can be no unmoving and unchanging self. At the most there can be a provisional, hypothetical and temporary self as index. This implies that we could use self (myself, yourself, her/himself, ourselves or themselves) in speech, thus as a pseudo-self so to say, which is a self without any retrievable/empirical substance. This self is not an ultimate thing with inherent/abiding existence based on intrinsic/essential nature. The importance of uncovering not-self is ending suffering by dis-attaching from self and its concomitants “I-me-mine” and “soul”, all illusory concepts.
2. The Four Ennobling Realities and an Eightfold Balancing Practice
Thus, life inheres in psychological suffering which is logically caused by imbalances in speech and self-speech, i.e. in our own thinking, intention and activity. A core causal factor is intentional action, also known as karma, which leads us to regrettable consequences. The genius of the Buddha is that he pointed at a way out of emotional suffering, which could be called: an Eightfold Balancing Practice. This practice entails: balancing our views on life, balancing intentions/planning, balancing speech/self-speech, balancing actions/conduct, balancing daily living/livelihood, balancing effort/commitments, balancing moment-to-moment awareness and balancing attention/concentration. A most relevant Buddhist view of life is the deep insight called “dependent origination”, which is a revelation during the Buddha’s awakening that on the personal/individual level feeling/sensing-perceiving/thinking-behaving/interacting originate in interdependence. They do not independently arise, peak, subside and cease. On the interpersonal/social level we are all interconnected as symbolized by Indra’s Net which depicts at each crossing of the net a gem which reflects all other surrounding gems.
3. Relational Buddhism
“Dependent origination” on the social level submits that we cannot but be born into a network of relationships, dwell in a family surrounded by friends, colleagues, customers, and so on, and stay in there from the cradle to the grave. Viewed from this umbrella perspective psyche or mind is located in-between people, rather than in-between the ears behind the eyeballs in the skull under the skin. If mind is foremost a relational given, reality is a relative and context-dependent social construction. This is a proposition erasing Transcendental Truths in favor of transient communal reality constructions. The implication of this understanding is that declared “eternal truth” misses any other foundation than that of the endorsing community; missing a solid base “the truth” is therefore “non-foundational” or “empty”. This emptiness corresponds with the empty self or not-self as discussed before. These expounded ideas are the result of a confluence of Buddhist thought and notions of social constructionism, a psychology championed by Ken Gergen, who expounded: “I am linked, therefore I am”. I call this fusion of ideas promoting a relational stance Relational Buddhism. (Please google K.J. Gergen)
4. Karma Transformation
Any emotional overreacting is caused by one’s own intentional action (called karma). Thus grief due to a beloved person’s passing away is an appropriate adjustment, whereas depression is an overreaction. Fear of danger like being under attack is an adequate preparation for a fight or flight reaction, but agoraphobia is an overreaction. Anger when being brutalized is not abnormal, however aggression is an overreaction. Overreacting is mostly self-chosen intricately entwined to self-chosen thoughts with emotional/behavioral impact. In order to transform karma (intentional action) one first of all assesses the color of the targeted primary emotion one is moved by (depression, fear, anger, sadness, joy or love) to pave the way toward tranquility and silence. Embedded in thinking, behaving, sensing and relationship each of these emotions originates, arises, subsides, peaks, subsides and ceases in multimodal conjunction. Transforming necessitates assessing the moment-to-moment constellation of the karmic emotion in the framework of what we perceive, see and hear, what we think, visualize and conceptualize, and what we do: how do we behave and interact? Multimodal assessment requires mindfulness.
5. Rational Practice
Multimodal assessment is an ongoing process of emotional fluctuations, a snap-shot of a film. For instance, “I see a barking dog, I think it will bite me, I feel fear, I run away and I scream for help”. However, once inside the dog licked: “I sense licking on my left hand, I think he won’t bite me, I feel relaxed, I take a seat, and have tea with my host”. In case fear persists, transformation requires zeroing in on the fear-evoking irrational thinking (cognition and imagery), i.e. one’s self-speech or self-talk. Coaching a client applying for a job, he continuously thinks: “If I fail, I am a worthless human being”. Rational practice disputes one’s own self-sabotaging/irrational self-talk, as follows: “There is always a possibility that I fail, but whether I’ll fail remains to be seen. By thinking of failure before the fact I only fuck myself up, a recipe for a bad interview. Let me wisely do my relaxed breathing now and convince myself that a failing job application can’t jeopardize my self-acceptance. One bad fruit does not spoil the whole basket. My fallibility doesn’t change my humanity”. Karma Transformation demands an awareness of emotions, its multimodal context, the minutiae of irrational self-talk and a choice for rationality.
6. Eight Meditations
Unlocking Buddha-nature implies a reliance on oneself in the interpersonal milieu. This proposition does not question the existence or non-existence of a god-head and rather focuses on self-development and “enlightenment”. This focus comprises “heartfulness” which is awareness on breathing, sensing, minding, dying, loving, compassing and smiling. Selected out of a pool of many more meditations, these eight heartful exercises are instructed in the next CDs. (1) Breathing refers to tranquilizing toward a calm mind as an anchor of meditative awareness. (2) Sensing sharpens the doors of perception (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting) and awakens the mind’s eye, a sixth sense which enables seeing the inner objects of thinking mind, visualizations and verbalization. (3) Mindfulness is about being aware of body and mind and their contents: any bodily felt sensation and emotion, and any appearing mind concept through speech/self-speech and self-talk. (4) Dying is meant to eradicate the human fear of death and the body’s decomposing to find peace of mind in life. (5) Loving-kindness, (6) Compassion and (7) Laughing and (8) Smiling are pro-social exercises maintaining high spirits despite life’s backlashes.
7. On Becoming a Buddha
Thorough exercising might accrue Buddhahood: what does this entail? A Buddha views existential suffering as it is, with insight in how things become and un-become, and understands the “survival of the kindest”. She or he eradicates suffering by psychological transformation which has to come from within, however without losing sight on the relational origin of mind: we are because of parental love. Meditation focuses on emotional change leading to experiencing nirvana and emptiness. The initial task is to be inquisitive and tranquilizing the mind. Once calmed down, one is ready for something relevant: the awakening of the mind’s eye, i.e. brain circuits which enable looking within and discerning body/mind-speech phenomena. The focus is on unwholesomeness and extinguishing detrimental emotions like the fear of death. Having ceased negatively felt emotion – a nirvana experience – emptiness is at hand: a state of timeless security and universal serenity. This condition provides a scaffold for serving humanity by disseminating loving-kindness, empathic-compassion and smiling-delight. Intelligently comforting fellow-men, even though death knows no fix, is the Buddha’s way of life…
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