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    The Buddha's Four-Part Strategy for "Ultimate Happiness" | Sally Armstrong

    enJuly 08, 2020

    Podcast Summary

    • Exploring the Foundations of Mindfulness with Sally ArmstrongMindfulness goes beyond a popular trend and requires understanding and practice. Aligning intentions and values with meditation helps break habitual patterns and develop inner resources.

      Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword, but many people don't truly understand its meaning or how to practice it. In order to address this, the Buddha outlined four foundations of mindfulness as a way to wake up and establish mindfulness in our lives. Sally Armstrong, a Buddhist meditation teacher, discusses these foundations and breaks them down in a way that is easy to understand. She emphasizes the importance of aligning our intentions and values with our meditation practice, and choosing between habitual patterns and doing the right thing once we become aware. Sally's journey into meditation began unexpectedly during a trip to India, where she discovered the spiritual and challenging nature of the country, leading her to develop inner resources she hadn't explored before. The conversation highlights the need to go back to basics and deepen our understanding of mindfulness beyond surface-level buzzwords.

    • The Power of Meditation: Choosing a Purposeful LifeMeditation helps develop self-awareness, allowing individuals to observe their thoughts and emotions without being controlled by them, leading to the ability to make conscious choices aligning with personal values.

      Meditation can bring about a profound sense of self-awareness and the ability to make conscious choices in our lives. Sally's experience in India and her participation in a Goenka retreat allowed her to explore Tibetan meditation and gain insights into her own mind. Through the practice of meditation, she realized that she could observe her thoughts and emotions without being controlled by them. This newfound awareness gave her the power to choose how she acted and responded to situations, leading to a transformative change in her life. The practice of meditation serves as a tool to break free from automatic and impulsive reactions, enabling individuals to align their actions with their values and live in a more purposeful manner.

    • Creating Space for Choice through MindfulnessMindfulness empowers us to step back from our automatic reactions, challenge our urges, and make decisions aligned with our values, leading to transformative changes and fostering a sense of community.

      Mindfulness creates a space for choice. By paying attention to our breath and body sensations, we can step back from our habitual reactions and make choices aligned with our values and higher intentions. This space for choice is available to everyone, including meditators like Dan Harris and Sally Armstrong, but it requires conscious awareness and effort to resist the pull of distractions and unwise impulses. Mindfulness allows us to recognize and challenge these urges, like resisting the urge to scratch an itch, and make wiser decisions. The choice point becomes even more powerful when informed by our values and aspirations, leading to transformative changes in our lives and fostering a sense of community among meditators. Being a teacher, in Sally Armstrong's case, is an extension of her own practice and a way to share the benefits with others.

    • The Benefits and Challenges of Teaching in One's PracticeTeaching is not only a way to share knowledge, but also a means to personal growth, creativity, and developing empathy, leading to a dynamic and mindful approach to teaching.

      Teaching is both a benefit and a challenge to one's practice. Sally Armstrong highlights how teaching stimulates growth and inquiry into one's own experience. Preparing to teach, whether through dharma talks or classes, requires thoughtfulness and consideration of what will be helpful to students. It also provides an opportunity for creativity and engagement with the audience. Additionally, teaching involves supporting students through small group or one-to-one meetings, requiring empathy and a deep understanding of the territory. This embodied practice of responding in the moment cultivates mindfulness and a dynamic approach to teaching. The conversation emphasizes the richness and stimulation that teaching brings to one's practice, showcasing its significance beyond merely obtaining a certificate.

    • The Challenging and Rewarding Journey of a Meditation TeacherBeing a meditation teacher is more about continuous learning and growth alongside students, rather than being an expert. It requires a beginner's mindset and a dedication to supporting others in their meditation practice.

      Being a meditation teacher requires extensive training and experience in order to respond to students' vulnerable moments with wisdom and skill. Just as a physician undergoes years of training to save lives, a meditation teacher must have a deep understanding of the mind and the teachings in order to support their students effectively. However, even with extensive training, a teacher may still feel like a beginner in certain aspects and acknowledge the vastness of knowledge and experiences yet to be explored. The role of a teacher is not about being an expert, but about maintaining a beginner's mindset and continuously learning and growing alongside their students. It is a challenging but rewarding journey of self-discovery and finding ways to support others in their meditation practice.

    • Addressing Real-World Concerns and Embracing Diversity in Dharma TeachingSally Armstrong emphasizes the importance of speaking skillfully to individuals with different life experiences and incorporating relevant issues like climate change into dharma teachings.

      As a Dharma teacher, Sally Armstrong faces the challenge of addressing real-world concerns that people have, such as suffering, pain, confusion around sexuality, racial background, and feeling marginalized. With the increasing popularity of retreats and the arrival of more diverse communities, Sally emphasizes the need to speak skillfully to individuals with different life experiences. In addition to this, Sally and her fellow teachers are also exploring how to incorporate issues like climate change into their teachings, providing support and guidance without overwhelming people. As a meditation teacher, Sally's role is to help individuals understand their experiences in terms of dharma language and practice, fostering wise views and a deeper understanding of modern-day life.

    • The Buddha's teachings and mindfulness practice offer guidance for navigating difficulties in lifeBy understanding impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and lack of a permanent self, practicing mindfulness, and holding space for others, we can learn from challenges and avoid being overwhelmed by reactive thoughts and emotions.

      The teachings of The Buddha provide valuable wisdom and guidance for navigating difficulties and suffering in life. Sally Armstrong emphasizes the importance of understanding the three characteristics of existence – impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and lack of a permanent self. By reminding ourselves of these truths and practicing mindfulness, we can learn from our challenges instead of feeling helpless or angry. Sally also highlights the significance of grounded breathing and intention in dealing with difficult interactions and situations. It is essential to hold space for others' struggles and recognize that contention and difficulty are part of being human. Additionally, she emphasizes the impermanence of challenges, reminding us not to take them too seriously and to resist buying into our own reactive thoughts and emotions.

    • The Buddha's Guidance for Meditation Practice: Noble Truths and Foundations of MindfulnessThe Buddha's teachings offer a roadmap for meditation, emphasizing the importance of understanding suffering, desire, and the noble eightfold path as a means to find liberation and peace. Mindfulness of the body serves as a crucial foundation for meditation.

      The Buddha's teachings provide us with useful maps and guides for our meditation practice. One of these maps is the four noble truths, which highlight the nature of suffering and the path to liberation. The first noble truth emphasizes that clinging to impermanent things leads to suffering. The second noble truth emphasizes the role of desire in perpetuating suffering. The third noble truth offers hope by suggesting that there is a way out of suffering. And the fourth noble truth presents the noble eightfold path as the way to end suffering. Additionally, the conversation introduces the four foundations of mindfulness, with the first foundation being mindfulness of the body. This foundation provides the basis for various meditation practices and serves as a fundamental aspect of any meditation practice.

    • Deconstructing Our View of the Body and Finding Freedom Beyond the PhysicalShifting our perspective on our bodies as impermanent and beyond our control can free us from societal constructs, leading to a deeper understanding of our true nature.

      The Buddha teaches us to deconstruct our solidified view of our bodies and the conditioned relationships we have with them. The foundation is to focus on the impermanence and unsatisfactoriness of our physical form, rather than fixating on our appearance or societal constructs. The Buddha encourages us to feel our bodies from the inside, shifting our understanding of them through different perspectives. By recognizing that our bodies are constantly changing and beyond our complete control, we can free ourselves from the limitations and falsehoods imposed by our own perceptions and cultural influences. This practice of deconstruction leads to a greater sense of freedom and a deeper understanding of our true nature beyond the physical.

    • The Impact of Mindfulness on Our Conditioned Experiences and Consumer CultureMindfulness helps us recognize and gain control over our knee-jerk reactions, allowing us to break free from the constant pursuit of pleasure and escape suffering caused by consumer culture.

      Every conditioned experience we have, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, is refracted through our mind. We have been deeply trained to chase after what's pleasant and push away what's unpleasant, leading to a constant desire and unquenchable thirst for more. These reactions cause us suffering, as we are constantly ping-ponging between these experiences without feeling in control. Mindfulness, especially in meditation, allows us to observe these knee-jerk reactions more clearly. However, it is important to remember that this phenomenon occurs all the time, not just during meditation. We must recognize the choice point in our reactions and understand the impact of consumer culture in intensifying our compulsions to satisfy our desires.

    • Understanding and Observing Primal Urges for a Balanced MindMindfulness allows us to understand and observe our primal urges without judgment, leading to a balanced mind and appreciation for moments of freedom from these urges.

      Our primal urges, such as wanting and not wanting, fuel our choices and actions in life. These urges are never satisfied, leading us to constantly seek new objects of desire or things to hate. By being unaware of these urges, we can find ourselves trapped on a treadmill, believing that we are in control of everything. However, the Buddha emphasized the importance of recognizing these primal reactions and the delusion or ignorance that comes with them. The foundation of mindfulness involves understanding the mind states and emotional realm tied to these urges. Rather than viewing them as negative or something to resist, meditation teaches us to simply observe their presence or absence without blame or judgment. Additionally, we should appreciate moments when these urges are not present and recognize the positive states of mind that arise.

    • Cultivating Non-judgmental Awareness and Questioning Self-Identity through MindfulnessMindfulness helps us detach from our thoughts and emotions, leading to a greater understanding that they do not define us. It allows us to find balance and reduce suffering in our lives.

      Mindfulness allows us to observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment or identification. By practicing non-judgmental awareness of whatever is happening in the present moment, we can develop a powerful sense of mindfulness. This helps us see that our mind states do not define our identity, and we are not obligated to invite or indulge them. Mindfulness also allows us to question the idea of self and deconstruct our deeply wired beliefs about our worthiness. By cultivating awareness, we can decouple suffering from pain, shift our relationship to unpleasant experiences, and find balance amidst difficulties. Mindfulness, when practiced moment by moment, becomes a tool to reduce the volume of suffering in our lives, leading us towards the cessation of suffering as a long-term goal.

    • The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness: Skillfully Engaging with Difficult Experiences in MeditationBy understanding and addressing hindrances that arise during meditation, such as sleepiness or doubt, practitioners can develop a more skillful approach to challenging experiences.

      The fourth foundation of mindfulness involves understanding and engaging skillfully with difficult experiences in our meditation practice. Sally Armstrong explains that the fourth foundation, known as dharma, encompasses the teachings of The Buddha and the way things are. It is a list of lists that guides us on how to practice and see things in a mindful manner. One aspect of this foundation is understanding the hindrances that can arise during meditation, such as sense desire, restlessness, sleepiness, and doubt. It encourages meditators to identify the conditions that contribute to these hindrances and to find ways to dissipate them, enabling a more skillful approach to challenging experiences. For example, Sally discusses how to skillfully address sleepiness during meditation by recognizing the conditions that lead to it and actively engaging with them.

    • Developing Mindfulness and Clear Seeing in Meditation and LifeThe fourth foundation teaches us to cultivate qualities like mindfulness and clear seeing, and emphasizes the importance of recognizing and transforming difficult states to reduce suffering in our lives.

      The fourth foundation provides a map within a map on how to skillfully encourage mindfulness, right view, and clear seeing in our meditation practice and in our lives. It focuses on understanding how things are constructed and creating conditions that are helpful. The Seven Factors of Awakening, a beautiful list of qualities, is discussed as something we can develop. The fourth foundation prompts us to recognize whether these qualities are present or not and how to support their development. It also emphasizes the importance of working with difficult states and developing positive qualities. The conversation also sheds light on the translation of "dukkha" as suffering, which fails to capture its full range of meaning. Instead, the fourth foundation encourages us to examine what creates suffering for us in the moment and to explore alternative perspectives and responses.

    • The Importance of Integrating the Foundations of MindfulnessTaking the time to commit to daily practice and explore personal experiences is crucial for integrating the teachings of mindfulness into one's life.

      Integrating the teachings and practices of the four foundations of mindfulness takes time and effort. It is not a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all solution. Sally Armstrong emphasizes the need for personal practice and exploration, rather than relying solely on reading or external resources. One suggestion is to explore Joseph Goldstein's book, which offers in-depth guidance and practical exercises. However, the most important aspect is committing to a daily practice, supported by tools such as meditation apps and attending retreats. The fourth foundation of mindfulness, in particular, encompasses the essence of the Buddha's teachings, making it a comprehensive and profound area to delve into. Overall, the key is to invest time and dedication in integrating these teachings into one's own being and experience.

    • The Path to Enlightenment: A Journey of Mindfulness and FreedomPracticing mindfulness in every moment and exploring the teachings of The Buddha can lead to ultimate happiness and freedom.

      The practice of the four foundations of mindfulness can lead to enlightenment or a significant level of progress, according to The Buddha. The suggested timeframe for intensive practice ranges from seven years to seven days, with each level promising a deeper understanding and freedom. However, the path to enlightenment is not easy, as the mind is often conditioned by habits and memories. Sally Armstrong emphasizes the importance of being mindful in every waking moment to achieve the desired results. She also suggests exploring the teachings of The Buddha through resources like Spirit Rock and dharma seed.org, which offer accessible explanations and practical guidance for integrating these teachings into one's own life. Ultimately, the conversation highlights the potential for ultimate happiness and freedom through dedicated mindfulness practice.

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    We encounter something pleasant + inappropriate attention/exaggerating its good qualities = attachment arises (the feeling we can not be happy without it)

     

    Sometimes we are attached to people being different than they are, to being right, drugs, alcohol, or unhealthy food. In all these cases, it is not the person or object that makes us unhappy, but our attachment that causes us to suffer.

     

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    Longing gives rise to grief; 

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    There is no grief; 

    And from where would come fear? (212) 

     

    Affection gives rise to grief; 

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    For someone released from affection 

    There is no grief; 

    And from where would come fear? (213) 

     

    Infatuation gives rise to grief; 

    Infatuation gives rise to fear. 

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    There is no grief; And from where would come fear? (214) 

     

    Sensual craving gives rise to grief; 

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    For someone released from sensual craving There is no grief; 

    And from where would come fear? (215) 

     

    Craving gives rise to grief; 

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    There is no grief; 

    And from where would come fear?

    —Buddha, The Dhammapada

     

    References

     

    Buddha. The Dhammapada, translated by Gil Fronsdale. (2011). Shambala, pp. 56-57




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