Gautama Buddha (563 BCE to 483 BCE) might wonder why on earth we'd want to be thinner! At that time to be sturdily built was an indication of wealth, beauty and wellbeing. A larger girth indicated resistance against disease. Today, in a relatively well off country we fret over an extra pound or two, many of us feeling despair in the silence of judgment. If Gautama Buddha were living today what would he have to share with us?
Gautama Buddha, even as a young boy was aware of great suffering. He dedicated his entire life (~80yrs) to learning the workings of the mind through scientific experimentation. Eventually he teaches people how to purify the mind and to experience the ultimate in happiness.
Gautama was often found sitting under the bodhi tree, quietly in the open air, experimenting; observing the reactions going on within his own body.
While quiet, he comes to observe several things, related to his own mind.
- He notices "thousands" of thoughts coming up; random, scattered and often unrelated, in a period of minutes – all having only 2 qualities: pleasant or unpleasant.
- He also notes that every thought has a corresponding feeling or sensation in the body. (example) If the thought is pleasant, the associated sensation is good. If it is unpleasant, the associated sensation is bad.
Thousands of random thoughts in a period of minutes, all either sending good or bad sensations through the body every minute, of every day and all through the night (except in deep sleep). The random odd dreams that we have in the night, also occur all day long in our thoughts.
The question he asks himself is, "How can I stop this spiraling, confusing mess of thoughts?"
You see, misery does not occur with the unpleasant thought alone. For example you may notice something desirable, it leads to wanting; wanting leads to clinging, and clinging leads to craving. Craving something that you may or may not be able to possess leads to misery.
On the flip side, if the thought that has occurred is unpleasant, it is unwanted. You feel a repulsion, disgust or an aversion to it. You may start to generate heat, rapid pulse, your rate of breathing changes, and you feel anger or hatred.
Thousands of thoughts over the course of minutes, generating misery of either clinging and craving or aversion and hatred; non-stop. This, Buddha discovers, is the human dilemma. Gautama sits and simply observes.
"How long will this sensation last, if I just sit and watch it."
He knows that each thought leads to a corresponding bodily sensation (ie) (breath shortens, heart rate increases, sweating, hands clenched, etc.) He also discovers that every sensation has three important qualities. It is given birth, it stays for while, and then it passes away; every single sensation.
So he observes some more, "What happens I wonder, when I react?"
If I react, my mind seems to circle into a never ending spiral. Sometimes I hold onto these worn out thoughts (emotions and physical pain) for years upon years. It hurts me, it has devastated at least a quarter of my life so far. If I react to the unpleasant thought, the seeds of this sour fruit land in the fertile soil of my mind, more sour fruit trees sprout in this fertile soil as I continue promoting this unpleasant thought. More of these sour trees produce hundreds of sour fruit, and the unpleasant thought begins to take over my mind. I do not know how to stop promoting all of this sour fruit AND it keeps on getting bigger. Sooner or later, it becomes overwhelming and I realize that I cannot deal with it anymore.
So I simply observe. Every day I sit in silence for an hour or so and I come to see in my own body the thoughts that come and go, the sensations, emotions and pain that comes and goes. I conclude with a smile that nothing is eternal.
Here might be Buddha’s observation if his roundish body had bothered him.
“My body has a size and shape; that is the nature of all bodies. I notice that some thoughts make me feel unhappy or angry. I will watch those thoughts come up, I will notice how long they stay (while sitting quietly) and I will notice them pass away, for this is the nature of all things. Yesterday during this meditation, I felt pain in my upper left shoulder probably related to my habit of slouching, but today the pain is not there. I notice that pain causes me misery. I can watch the pain come up, stay for a bit, and pass away too. I can actually sit in practice and notice myself becoming more content, as the days go on.”
Of course, another barrage of thoughts will come up because that is the nature of the mind, along with other emotion and feeling because that is the nature of the body (sensation). On behalf of the Buddha's teachings, let us use our moments of silence, not for despair but for quiet internal observation. Let us experience absolute equanimity within ourselves and around all issues that will come up. Let us know the contentment of truly living and letting go.
Heather Johnston is a Registered Dental Hygienist and Certified Yoga Instructor. She enjoys all aspects of health, is fascinated with anatomy and evolution, with yoga and meditation and is always looking for ways to strengthen the body and mind.
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