Negative thoughts and feelings are a bane of human life. They are the downside of the great gift of imagination. A person insults one in some way and one finds oneself riling with unwanted emotions. Thoughts of vengance, or bitterness, or guilt, or many other unedifying purposes buzz around like a cloud of mosquitoes that are seeking one’s blood. At such a moment, even if one remembers one’s high purpose as a good spiritual person, one finds one cannot banish them at will. Perhaps when the mind’s attention is drawn to something important they temporarily disappear, but as soon as the mind idles back into neutral, there they are again. So, although a good first line of defense against such thoughts is to strongly turn the mind toward some other more wholesome matter, this does not constitute a complete solution.
For many people, the plague of negative thoughts is a continual struggle. Either they give in to a bitterness of character or they alternate between entertaining criticism, envy, resentment, avarice, and so on, and feeling guilty about doing so, believing that the presence of such negativity marks them out as a bad person. This alternation can then generate confusion and anxiety and provoke an inner struggle toward a restoration of self-respect that never can fully succeed and only manifests as more conceit or projection of badness onto others. Thus is set up a vicious circle that can be real torture.
Buddhist faith and practice does tend to reduce this problem. Over the years one may develop habits of mind and if the mind repeatedly turns toward positive things, one tends, increasingly, only to see the good in others and not the harm. This, perhaps, makes one less effective as a social combatant, but it makes for a happier life.
This process is, however, greatly helped by gradually gaining the conviction in relation to one’s thoughts and feelings that “This is not me, this is not mine, this is not myself”. In other words, when one identifies less with what is happening in one’s mind one is less likely to multiply up the problem by adding guilt toward oneself and vindictiveness toward others over what is happening.
We can call this the matter of secondary thought. The primary thought might be, to quote the Dhammapada, “He hurt me, he abused me, he beat me, he robbed me’” but what is the secondary thought? The secondary thought might be “I am a bad person for having this kind of primary thought,” Or, the secondary thought might be “My mind is producing these thoughts in order to try to protect me. It wants to rehearse possible responses if I were to be attacked in a similar fashion again.” In the first kind of secondary thought, one identifies with the mind and thus with the negativity and this ends making matters worse. One then seeks to suppress or hide the bitterness but this is a self-defeating procedure, adding new energy to what is already bad. In the second type of secondary thought, however, one does not identify with one’s mind, one treats the mind as an impersonal organ that is doing its job, just as one might think of one’s lungs or liver. This way of thinking tends to the gradual fading of the primary thoughts rather than to their multiplication. It also allows one the possibility of some better humour. One can accept that, consciously or unconsciously, the mind is going to go on complaining for a while, but one may then think, “And while it does so, I’ll say a few nembutsu,” or take up some other worthwhile activity.
In this way one “Lets mind fall away” in the sense of not identifying. This makes it possible for one to be friendly with the mind as an other. One can be respectful or tolerant without falling into identification. Such identification is the “pride and conceit” that is the target of much of the teaching of Shakyamuni.
When we think about primary and secondary thoughts in this way we can see the meaning of the texts that say “When the practitioner has a hateful thought, he know ‘there is a hateful thought’, and when there is no hateful thought, he knows, ‘there is no hateful thought’, and he know what leads to the arising of such thought and he knows what leads to the diminution and passing away of such thought.”
This is all useful practical advice. Buddha’s teaching includes so much good practical advice and it can give us an easier life. However, even if we remain tormented by our swarm of self-generated mosquitoes, Buddha will still love and accept us just as we are, because he has allowed his own body and mind to fall away and does not take our negativity personally. Thus we can always turn to the Buddhas, no matter what mischief our mind may seem to be up to, and there we always find a perfect refuge whatever our own body and mind are going through at the time.
I can too easily 'identify' with this process of negativity. There is another side to what is called negativity or pessimism or even hopelessness and I seem to excel here in regard to dwelling on the multitude of critical problems besetting this modern age. It seems to me to be vitally necessary to do so. It hardly enhances the joys of being alive nor the development of friendships. Are there similarities though with this process of identification; perhaps not seeing these ecological and social disasters we are witnessing as other?
Interesting question. It is turning the original point around, in a way. For most people the struggle is to see body and mind in the way that they see the weather, but, if I'm getting you right, in your case you see the weather as you see body and mind - as part of self and therefore suffer personally for the woes of the planet. I suppose part of what is at issue are the questions (a) what is one really responsible for and what is one not? and (b) what, realistically, can one do something about and what not? NAB
I may have moments of not identifying with body and mind but there is a vast amount of identifying with body and mind in between. Movements like deep ecology draw us into primarily identifying with the natural elements of our world and even the most recent understandings of science relate to the illusion of identifying ourselves as other while viewing mind as essentially part of a universal consciousness. A universal consciousness that underlies and informs all that our mind is. This whole subject is incredibly confounding and way beyond my comfort zone even to discuss. Otherness is an essential component to our sense of faith in Pureland Buddhism. I do not know how to navigate this apparent difference in view but ask if otherness is regarded as ultimate or is more a way of dis-identifying with our obsessions of self?
Philosophically, I suppose, the self-as-subject is not directly perceptible. Perhaps transcendental in the Husserlian sense, or even experientially. This is why there are Buddhist meditations in which one searches for self and, of course, cannot find it. There is a Zen dialogue between Hui-ko and Bodhidharma where Hui-ko says he has no peace of mind and asks for his mind to be pacified and Bodhidharma says to him to bring his mind here and Hui-ko says he cannot find his mind in order to bring it and Bodhidharma then says, So, I have pacified your mind. This is as obscure as a lot of Zen stuff but I think it is in the same area. Phenomenologically speaking, one does not perceive self, what one does perceive is that others perceive something that they regard as one. One then has a vested interest in trying to control or manipulate this image that others have and so one becomes invested in this posited self that only actually exists in the minds of others (and then not consistently) over which one has no direct control, so the attempt to build an enduring self is a kind of chasing after shadows. So all that one ever actually perceives is necessarily other. Even what we think of as self is a concoction based upon our perception of other's view of us as an other. So I don't think we can say that otherness is absolute in an ontological sense, but it is the only think actually available in a phenomenological one. This, of course, is a long way away from notions of universal mind, etc. which are metaphysical constructs.
Well, that seems to have confused the matter more than somewhat so I think I'll stop there. Thanks, Rob.
Very much appreciated thank you David. Having recently read Robert Lanza's Beyond Biocentrism and considering now reading Ervin Laszlo's the Intelligence of the Cosmos I am rather full of notions of there being only consciousness universally and our senses manufacture our apparent physical reality. I hadn't slightly considered such notions as being metaphysical constructs. This was science not philosophy.....?
A huge distinction to keep in mind... we perceive self only through the other, through perceiving how others perceive us. Maybe that is an understanding I had forgotten. It seems so apparent from your clear explanation.
I had a rather long and passionate discussion with a good friend yesterday about your essay on negativity. She powerfully related positively to negativity and secondary thought. Look at what David Brazier is doing! He is working through his life helping to prepare people to be calm, useful and caring come what may. If this apocalypse that occupies my mind does happen ...or whatever, no work could be more useful than this. I met Marion through Modgala and value deeply a good friendship. NAB
Thanks, Rob. Namo Amida Bu.
There were extreme circumstances this morning as I wrote to the discussion on negativity. I answered a knock on the door and a neighbour was there extremely disturbed. He was high on ice and barely able to speak. He explained that he had just attacked his partner and he was holding a large butchers knife.
As no-one was home and he couldn't be left in that state I invited him in. He was psychotic and extremely paranoid; there were carloads of people continually crusing around looking for him. He rang the police to please come and get him and I spoke to the officer. But I dared not tell them he held a knife...... mentally challenged people holding knives are rather routinely shot as soon as the special police are called.
And after a few very difficult hours it was clear the police were not coming. At times his anger focused on me as did the knife. At this time I needed to become a very small presence and I returned to replying to the negativity essay and really apply
my focus there. The words took on much significance.
I knew I had to separate him from his knife without him understanding that was my intention. Very dangerous business.. But Brett did become relaxed enough and eventually he put the knife under my bed. We worked out a way through the day and I drove him hidden under blankets on the floor of my car to a house he considered safe quite some distance from home.
Modgala knows Brett and Peter. I was in a similar situation with Peter sometime in the last 12 months. So tragic the lifestyle they have fallen into. I expect to see Brett next sleeping rough in the CBD. I. don't know what has become of Peter,. He fled after he was attacked.
How bizarre it all seems and I feel it is somewhat inappropriate to share all this. I realised tonight I am rather traumatised by the days events and it is good to write about it. Namo Amida Bu
That is quite a day. I think you need to chill out and recuperate. But what is going to happen to these two chaps now? Clearly not in a happy state. You did extremely well in the circumstances. Not many people would have invited in a schizophrenic with a cleaver who had already attacked one person. I remember working with such people myself, so I can imagine the scene. Namo Amida Bu.
Thank you David. A good day in store visiting my latest grandchild and family. It seems Brett and Peter have gone too long down this terrible path to rebound, given the few options available now. Namo Amida Bu.
Each person is on their path and there is light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes the tunnel goes very deep and long.
Good discussion guys. The elusive Self stuff made me think of Quantum Physics, where it seems that the closer you look, the less there is to see. I think the world/universe has a way of symbollicaly demonstrating the nature of this mystery, which must, to some extent, remain a mystery in order for us to remain teachable and humble. As Krishnamurti said "There are no problems apart from the Mind." But, philosophically speaking, it is a big one!!
Namo Amida Bu( :
Hey Dayamay, nice to hear from you and yes how interesting 'negativity' has been. The most 'out there' of scientific theory I have come across is in the book 'beyond biocentrism'by Robert Lanza. He pioneered stem cell research. That there is only consciousness and our senses create what we believe to be reality. Common objects, including our bodies and the stars are mind projections. And it is mostly developing through the last decade or two of scientific understandings. Science discovers 'oneness'. Namo Amida Bu