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Switching Off Unskillful Thoughts – Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

“Is this a satisfying thought?”

This line caught my consideration when studying an article within the Wall Street Journal about “part-time optimism” (since, the author claimed, full-time hope and cheerfulness are simply too laborious). What a beautiful query to ask your self, I believed. What a quintessentially Buddhist query. The article was basically describing alternative ways to “dial into” positivity, and whereas it didn’t go far past the standard pop psychology recommendation, it jogged my memory of the Vitakkasanthana Sutta (The Relaxation of Thoughts), during which the Buddha gives 5 alternative ways to work with unskillful ideas or indicators. These instruments will be taken up sequentially, or they are often utilized to particular problematic ideas in line with the antidote that can finest assist us to work with them. The end result is just not solely part- and even full-time optimism, however the institution of a quiet, concentrated thoughts. 

Appreciating how thorough the Buddha was in each figuring out and releasing himself of ideas that may vary from merely pesky to downright dangerous, I created an acronym that might assist me bear in mind what to do after I bought snagged by my very own thoughts. It’s SWITCH: swap, warn, ignore, hint, and chop.

The first method, swap, entails changing an unskillful signal with a skillful one. According to the Buddhist definition, an unskillful signal is a thought that falls below the class of the three poisons of greed, anger, or ignorance. We may also consider it extra typically as any type of thought that creates a bump, a crack, a pointy nook within the thoughts that we are able to’t see round. It’s an uncomfortable thought, for instance, irritating like a bit of hair in our collar. “I’m not good enough.” Or it’s awkward and self-acutely aware, like a bathroom paper tail caught to the again of our pants. “Wow, why did I do that?” Or it’s downright painful, like glass in our eye. “No one loves me,” or “I hate you.” 

Noticing an unwholesome thought rearing its head in our thoughts, we swap it with a healthful one, identical to a carpenter “might knock out, remove, and extract a coarse peg by means of a fine one,” the sutra says. When we expect, “I’m not good enough,” we counter it by saying to ourselves, “I am enough,” or “I’m perfect just as I am.” We don’t cease to surprise why we at all times suppose so negatively or attempt to establish the supply of this thought. We merely substitute it, like hitting a pool ball with one other, sending it careening out of the best way and right into a pocket, the place it’ll be out of sight.

The second instrument is to warn ourselves of the hazard of such a unwholesome thought. In the Wall Street Journal article, one particular person scheduled prompts on his telephone like “Is this a satisfying thought?” to cease himself from ruminating. When a thought seems, we should always ask ourselves, “Is it helping me? Will it liberate me or will it keep me bound?” Going additional, we mirror on the hazard of letting a dangerous thought run unchecked in our thoughts. “I hate so-and-so. I’d like to hurt them. I’d like to hurt them like they’ve hurt me. I’ll make them pay…” Thoughts that objectify, divide, instill hatred, encourage revenge, or feed habit—they’re all candidates for this second instrument. Examining the hazard of harboring these ideas, we quietly allow them to go. 

The Buddha gives an unforgettable picture for this instrument, saying that it’s like all of the sudden noticing we’ve the corpse of a snake, or a canine, or an individual dangling from our neck. We’d be horrified if this occurred, he says. We’d be humiliated (and disgusted!) and would do something to eliminate this weight. Just so, by warning ourselves of the hazard of our ideas, we remind ourselves that they’re not innocuous. The thought that vilifies or rejects self or different is toxic. The Buddha’s picture isn’t gratuitous. It’s meant to evoke a visceral horror so it is going to deter us from the kind of ideas we should always keep away from in any respect prices. 

The third method after swap and warn is to ignore the unskillful thought. Just as we’d cowl our eyes to not see one thing we don’t wish to see, we should always neglect or ignore our unskillful ideas and never pay them any consideration. But the Buddha isn’t encouraging us to repress or deny our expertise. He’s merely saying we shouldn’t give these indicators any airtime. “If only,” is an effective instance of this sort of thought. “If only I’d said/did/had, then…” This is a lifeless-finish thought. What’s carried out is completed, and though it’s definitely useful to mirror on our actions and their outcomes, berating ourselves or spending time imagining alternate options which might be not potential doesn’t assist us and doesn’t change our actions. The quintessential meditation instruction to “see the thought, let it go, and return to the breath” (or consciousness, or our mantra, or koan), is precisely the appropriate instrument right here. We don’t fake we’re not feeling what we’re feeling. We don’t keep away from taking accountability for our actions. Rather, we cease feeding the unhelpful thought with our consideration.

“Am I not supposed to let go of thoughts?” college students generally ask after I describe this sequence. “It sounds like I’m talking to myself during meditation.” My reply is that generally it takes reasoning, cajoling, and inspiring ourselves so we received’t fall again on acquainted patterns of thoughts. These instruments require that we be keen to fastidiously observe our thoughts and patiently work with the meditation strategies. Wanting to be targeted isn’t sufficient. Telling ourselves to let go isn’t sufficient. Sometimes we’ve to make use of diplomacy or deflection to work with our wily thoughts. Sometimes we’ve to be our personal cheerleaders, different instances powerful taskmasters. The most essential factor is to look at and reply. 

The Buddha’s fourth instructing is to hint the trail of the thought to its root. The sutra offers this course of a fairly technical time period: tostill the thought-formation” of those ideas. The Buddha describes an individual who, when strolling quick, thinks to themselves, “Why am I walking fast? Why don’t I walk slowly?” Then, strolling slowly, they ask themselves, “Why don’t I stand?” “Why don’t I sit?” “Why don’t I lie down?” By substituting a gross posture with a subtler one, they arrive at full stillness of physique and thoughts. The picture that comes up for me is that of diving into the ocean. At the border between water and sky, thunder booms, ships piled excessive with cargo heave and roll, and seagulls squawk. But the deeper we dive, the darker and calmer the water turns into. There’s life there, nevertheless it’s extra silent and nonetheless. Again, we’re not attempting to grasp the place the unskillful thought comes from—that’s not what tracing means right here. It means attending to the nonetheless place from the place the thought arose, so we are able to liberate it.

Finally, if the earlier 4 methods didn’t work, or if the thought has an influence and momentum that require extra drive, then we chop it on the root. The sutra says, “With teeth clenched and tongue pressed against the roof of the mouth, [a practitioner] should beat down, constrain, and crush mind with mind.” Not what we normally consider after we consider meditation. But at this level, we’re coping with the kind of thought that won’t yield to purpose or re-course. It’s the kind of thought that requires the Read-Yourself-The-Riot-Act antidote since you can not afford to mess with it. Like, “I’ll just have one drink.” Or even, “No one loves me,” mentioned one too many instances. Enough! You suppose to your self, just like the bodhisattva Manjushri swinging the sword of knowledge to chop delusion on the root. 

Crushing thoughts with thoughts is just like the ninth-century monk and scholar Shantideva saying in The Way of the Bodhisattva

Those who seize and crush their anger down
Will discover their pleasure on this and future lives… 

Therefore I’ll totally destroy
The sustenance of this my enemy,
My foe, whose sole intention is
To carry me damage and sorrow. 

It’s a thoughts that’s fierce and undaunted and won’t again down, it doesn’t matter what the cussed self says.

SWITCH: swap, warn, ignore, hint, and chop an unskillful signal the second it arises. If we are able to do that, the Buddha mentioned, we’ll have company over our ideas. We’ll sever craving and put an finish to struggling. Not a simple process, by any measure. But having a human physique and a human thoughts, we’ve all of the instruments we have to awaken. Look in any respect the choices you’ve, the Buddha was saying on this sutra. Explore only a few of the instruments you should use to free your thoughts. He didn’t say it in these phrases, however after I learn this instructing, I hear him whispering in my ear: Never surrender.


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