Victory leads to hatred,
for the defeated suffer.
The peaceful live happily,
beyond victory and defeat.
— Dhammapada 201
"Those who live beyond victory and defeat are called ‘the peaceful’, but not because they are devoid of feelings. They are not ‘beyond’ because they have escaped all feelings of pain and loss, but because they have escaped the confidence trick of self. Self is like a rainbow. From a distance it appears real and substantial; as you get closer it appears less solid. If we hold too tightly to our sense of self, we get lost in views about what makes us happy. We believe that winning is all that matters, not seeing that in the process we cause suffering to others. If we hold too loosely to our sense of self we get lost, this time from a lack of boundaries, becoming overly sensitive and lacking in confidence. Self-respect and self-confidence are the natural consequences of a life lived with integrity and understanding."
˘— Ajahn Munindo
"As wisdom matures and we begin to understand in accordance with the truth, we will no longer be dragged up and down. Usually, if we have a pleasant mood, we behave one way; and if we have an unpleasant mood, we are another way. We like something and we are up; we dislike something and we are down. In this way we are still in conflict ‘enemies’. When these things no longer ‘oppose’ us, they become stabilized and balance out. There are no longer ups and downs and highs and lows. We understand these things of the world and know that that’s just the way it is. It’s just ‘worldly dhamma’."
— Ajahn Chah
Note: earlier in the text (which this quote comes from), Ajahn Chah points out that those who aren’t well-developed in practice tend to see distracting phenomena as ‘enemies’. This is what he refers to in this selection.
All chains of confinement fall away
from those who see clearly
and know well the states
of concentration and insight.
— Dhammapada 384
"A visitor to the monastery asked the meditation master Venerable Ajahn Chah how we can practise concentration meditation (samādhi) when in reality there is no self. The teacher explained that when we are developing concentration we work with a self. When we are developing insight (vipassanā) we work with non-self. Then when we truly know what’s what, we are beyond both self and non-self.”
— Ajahn Munindo
Reflect on this throughout the day
"In our practice we just look directly at the mind. Whenever our practice begins to slacken off, we see it and make it firm — then shortly after, it goes again. That’s the way it pulls you around. But the person with good mindfulness takes a firm hold and constantly re-establishes himself, pulling himself back, training, practising and developing himself in this way.
The person with poor mindfulness just lets it fall apart, he strays off and gets side-tracked again and again. He’s not strong and firmly rooted in practice. Thus he’s continuously pulled away by his worldly desires — something pulls him here, something pulls him there. He lives following his whims and desires, never putting an end to this worldly cycle.”
— Ajahn Chah
Those who are energetically
committed to the Way,
who are pure and considerate in effort,
composed and virtuous in conduct,
steadily increase in radiance.
— Dhammapada 24
"The Buddha’s path to radiance is about letting go. We are encouraged to consider things carefully and consistently until we see into their true nature; uncertainty, instability, impermanence. We train ourselves to let go with an understanding born of investigation, not out of rejection or denial. There is a deluded path of practice which leads to radiance arising not from letting go, but from clinging to views. Holding fast to ideas and feelings of righteousness can bring about intense feelings of self-importance. There may be energy, enthusiasm, conviction, but this path leads to division and disharmony. If our effort is at one with reality there will be inner contentment, radiating well-being."
— Ajahn Munindo
Reflect on this throughout the day, be mindful
"In our lives we have two possibilities: indulging in the world or going beyond the world. The Buddha himself was somebody who was able to free himself from the world and thus realized special liberation."
— Ajahn Chah
A single day lived
with conscious intention and wisdom
is of greater value than a hundred years
lived devoid of discipline and manifest wisdom.
— Dhammapada 111
"The best offering we can make to the Buddha is to live wisely. We all know the consequences of living in accordance with preferences: we feel divided, not whole. When conditions conspire to be agreeable we lose ourselves in the happiness we have gained; when conditions become disagreeable we despair over what we have lost. Wisdom ‘sees’ both gain and loss - wisdom sustains the awareness which makes us free"
Reflect on this today. Remember that even the most blissful states of mind are impermanent! Don’t get lost in them.
Previously I had made a post called, “What it means to let go”, which describes the way which is not repression/ventilation. Its topic is actually the same as this one. This post in particular is sort of an improvement on the previous one (in my opinion), having a more detailed description on the venting process. Nevertheless, readers may find this one more understandable, or the previous one, or both, or neither.
"Not for the weak, not for the evil, but for the misguided" — What does this mean? In modern society, when we call a person "weak", it’s more of a derogatory term used to describe people with little self control. While those who vent do lack self-control, "weak" is a poor way to describe such a person. Keeping the anger bottled up inside requires endurance but it isn’t a good way to deal with it either.
In modern society, “evil” is also quite a negative term. When describing a person as evil these days, we’re often using it as a term which sums up the person in one word. In my view, “evil” describes a person’s actions or inclination, not the person themselves. While those who vent are doing evil (in the sense that anger is an unwholesome quality and they’re letting it manifest), they aren’t a demon.
Misguided is a good term because it doesn’t have a negative social stigma around it (as far as I know). A person who vents out their anger has been deluded into thinking that it’s an effective “cure” because after venting it’s as if they dropped a load off their shoulders — thus they are misguided.
Anger and venting — How it works, and what it does
Anger is an unwholesome state of mind rooted in ignorance of things as they are. We tend to view things as we want them to be, so when the opposite happens, we get quite upset and angry. When we’re calm, we like that so we attach to it. This attachment brings up the potential to be upset or even angry when our mind gets cloudy. And when that anger arises, we might get even more angry! This same sort of thing can be applied to our expectations of a person or object. For example, we like when people are nice to us. But when they aren’t nice, we get upset or angry. In the end, it’s all because we haven’t understood that all things are subject to change and our attachment to that which changes causes stress and suffering.
But I’m not here to talk about attachment, I’m here to talk about anger and venting. Now that I’ve talked about anger and its cause, I’ll talk about its effect — cause and effect! — and why we shouldn’t vent it out or even repress it.
So there are these 3 routes of action: thought, speech, and body. These aren’t separated from each other, but are linked like a chain: thought is the subtlest way of action whereas body is the coarsest. When we don’t restrain our mind, angry thoughts lead to angry speech, and angry speech can lead to angry bodily actions.
The way of repression usually involves noticing these thoughts of anger and trying to deny them or push them away. This method leads to the “build up” because even when we try to deny anger, it’s still there. However, this doesn’t completely describe why it builds up. If all we’re doing is denying, then it should just stagnate in the mind. In other words, it shouldn’t get much weaker or get strong enough to manifest through speech, it should just stay in the realm of thought. But something else is going on when we try to deny this anger. We have this idea that we shouldn’t be angry. This is a way of judging the anger negatively. This negative judgement is based in ill-will, which is a subtler form of anger — it’s just disliking. So anger arises in the mind, and we get negative and start denying it in negativity. Thus, the anger grows stronger in the mind, because anger itself is supported by ill-will. This is the way of repression.
The way of repression, since it causes the anger to grow, is thus part of the way of venting. We think it’s going in the opposite direction, but really it’s just the preliminary stage.
When the anger gets really prominent in the mind as a result of repression, it becomes incredibly stressful on the mind. This is why people go to venting for relief — instead of keeping it in the mind, we let it go forth into speech and body. The anger’s out of the mind, and into the body. All that was built up inside has been expressed. Thus, we feel relief.
This is the immediate effect of venting, and in this way it is seen as an effective stress reliever — by the foolish! Why is it foolish to see it in such a way? We haven’t looked at the long run. The body is the route of action for intentions which are strong, like the anger we have been building up. We don’t make anger weaker by repression and venting, we make it stronger. When anger manifests through the body, it has passed through the gates of thought and speech and has taken over the mind entirely.
When we know no other way than repression and venting, we’ll always be expressing our anger, because it relieves us! Eventually (if we’re not careful), instead of keeping the anger inside until breaking point, we’ll immediately release it. So instead of hiding our anger, we openly express it. Thus, we develop serious issues in both our behavior and social relationships with others.
This principle does not only apply to anger. We can apply it towards the things which are viewed positively by society as well. Passion, for example. When men see a beautiful woman, they may get sexually aroused. Although sexuality is seen positively today, it is actually sometimes viewed negatively (like anger) so we may try to repress it and deny it. Like I said, this is based in ill-will (sexual frustration), so it will lead us to vent through masturbation or even rape.
So, in short, the effect of repression and venting is the strengthening of whatever it is we’re repressing or venting: passion and aversion.
What should we do?
Well, when we aren’t repressing, we aren’t denying or being averse to the qualities of mind which are unwholesome. When we aren’t venting, we aren’t expressing them. So, what happens when you don’t repress, and you don’t vent? You’re just aware of the phenomena before it goes out to speech or body. It’s just there in the mind. You aren’t upset by it, you aren’t embracing it. If you’re just simply aware, you’re not attached to it. When we’re not attached, we’ve already “let go”. The thought doesn’t need to fade away in order for it to have been let go of, but the natural fading away is a result of the letting go.
So at this point, we can let it just fade away. This “letting it fade away” was what I talked about in the previous post (explained in the intro). The thought is there, and our non-attachment to it just makes it go away. While this is wholesome, it doesn’t really get to the bottom of things. It’s a good exercise for beginners in the practice of mindfulness, but in order to prevent unwholesome qualities from arising, we need to go deeper: we need to understand them and their cause.
So if you’re used to letting the thoughts fade away, now’s the time to actually start investigating. Let’s apply the four foundations of mindfulness: body, feeling, mental quality, and mental phenomena.
When the thought arises, first investigate the feeling it causes in your body. That’s the foundation of the body.
For the foundation of feeling, investigate the feeling-quality of the phenomena itself — does it feel pleasant, unpleasant, or neither?
For the foundation of mental qualities, you can investigate the state of mind when the thought arises — is there desire, passion, aversion, hatred, or ignorance of things as they are in the mind? Those are unwholesome qualities of mind, and you may need to investigate those things as well in order to understand them. You need to contemplate “wholesome” and “unwholesome”. To do so, investigate the causes and effects of your actions via reflection. Next time you act, find out if it was based in greed (aka passion or desire), hatred (aka aversion or ill-will or anger), or delusion (aka ignorance or unawareness). Also try to find out if it was based in their direct opposites. Then, try to see where those actions have taken you in terms of relationships, behavior, etc. You can also investigate the gratification (pleasant result) and drawback (unpleasant result) of the action. Other mental qualities may be cloudiness, “contracted”-ness, or open-ness.
For mental phenomena, that’s where you investigate the thought itself. What’s it about? What events led to its arising? What was my reaction to it?
The foundations of mental qualities and mental phenomena, as you may have noticed, go quite deep. They really try to get to the bottom of things. This is what leads to understanding, and that’s what leads to the end of unwholesome qualities — and the end of repression and venting!
We need to take a light hold of those mental phenomena and learn about them rather than deny them or express them. This is mindfulness practice based in the intentions of letting go and harmlessness, and it leads to wisdom, right-understanding of cause and effect, and peaceful living
It’s like you have weeds in your garden. Repressing them is kind of like just shoving them deep in the dirt or just cutting off the part you see — they’re still going to ruin the garden, aren’t they? This doesn’t solve the problem at all! Eventually, because you’re tired of doing the same thing over and over again, you just let the weed grow, and it takes over the garden — that’s like venting. We feel better at first because we don’t have to keep stuffing the weeds away or cutting them at the surface, but the weed keeps growing and then we feel worse!
Investigating is like discovering the weed, finding its root, and then removing it completely. Of course, there may be other weeds too, so we aren’t done yet! We still need to work on investigating the garden, or the mind. It is clearly the superior way. It is the way of understanding and problem-solving. We don’t have to feel annoyed when removing weeds from a garden, it’s just work that needs to be done. If you have a garden, don’t expect weeds to not grow. If you do, then you won’t deal with them correctly — unless you’re willing to learn! In the same way, in life, don’t expect your mind to be perfect. If you do, then you’ll deny its imperfections and that’ll be the way of repression — unless you’re willing to learn about the mind.
So I hope this post helps everyone, even though it was initially targeted towards those who don’t know a way out of anger other than repression or venting. For more “science-friendly” information, here’s an abstract to a study about venting (“rumination”): http://psp.sagepub.com/content/28/6/724.abstract
"Compare practice to a bottle of medicine a doctor leaves for his patient. On the bottle is written detailed instructions on how to take the medicine, but no matter how many hundred times the patient reads the directions, he is bound to die if that is all he does. He will gain no benefit from the medicine. And before he dies he may complain bitterly that the doctor wasn’t any good, that the medicine was worthless, yet he has only spent his time examining the bottle and reading the instructions. He hasn’t followed the advice of the doctor and taken the medicine.
… Doctors prescribe medicine to eliminate disease from the body. The teachings of the Buddha are prescribed to cure disease of the mind; to bring it back to its natural healthy state. So the Buddha can be considered to be a doctor who prescribes cures for the ills of the mind. He is, in fact, the greatest doctor in the world.”
— Ajahn Chah
"The Buddha taught restraint, but restraint doesn’t mean we don’t see anything, hear anything, smell, taste, or think anything. That’s not what it means. If practitioners don’t understand this, then as soon as they see or hear anything, they cower and run away. They don’t deal with things. They run away, thinking that by doing so, these things will eventually lose their power over them and they will eventually transcend them. But they won’t. They won’t transcend anything like that. If they run away not knowing the truth of them, later on the same stuff will pop up to be dealt with again."
— Ajahn Chah
It is hard to live the life of renunciation;
its challenges are difficult to find pleasant.
Yet it is also hard to live the householder’s life;
there is pain when associating with those
among whom one feels no companionship.
To wander uncommitted is always going to be difficult;
why not renounce the deluded pursuit of pain?
— Dhammapada 302
"The Buddha uttered this verse to a monk who had been indulging in deluded feelings of self-pity: ‘Surely nobody is having as hard a time as I am.’ Fortunately for him, this monk received a wise reflection in just the right way, at just the right time, so that he could see what he was doing and let go. When we are not attentive in the present moment, we tend to blame our misfortune outwardly, or we blame ourselves inwardly. Either way we increase the pain by forgetting to expand awareness and fully accommodate the suffering. Suffering is the right response to resisting reality. If we don’t cling, we don’t suffer. Suffering is the message. It is not something going wrong. We don’t have to get rid of suffering; we need to listen to it."
— Ajahn Munindo
Reflect on this throughout the day
"The Dhamma arises within the practice. If you know it, you know it in the practice. If you doubt it, you doubt it in the practice."
— Ajahn Chah
“This moment is not the idea of this moment. If you see it as a concept, it becomes frozen. But the real moment is not frozen.”
— Dainin Katagiri
There is no fire like lust,
no distress like hatred,
no pain like the burden of attachment,
no joy like the peace of liberation.
— Dhammapada 202
"How can we stay focused on the path that leads to clarity and unshakeable peace? Greed, aversion, and delusion distort are thinking. Lust can appear attractive; we are pulled into its vortex. Hatred can appear attractive; we feel compelled to do harm. Attachment is rooted in the false belief that clinging makes us happier. The truth is that lust burns, hatred obstructs intelligence and attachments spoil that which is beautiful in life. We might begin to see this truth for ourselves when we train our attention to see through the outer appearance of things. A deeper understanding of these three poisons encourages us to hold back from following their impulses. This is the understanding that leads to liberation."
— Ajahn Munindo
"Everyone likes zazen at first. They feel that in zazen, they can relax. But actually zazen is beyond tension or relaxation. If you do zazen, forget about relaxing and just sit down."
— Dainin Katagiri