Transcribing the oral tradition...

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From Alienated Awareness to Integrated Awareness

You can also listen to this talk.

by Sangharakshita

... the seventh step in the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, I have dealt with this subject in the seventh lecture in the series on `The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path'. I have also dealt with this subject of awareness or mindfulness in a more Lecture 84: From Alienated Awareness to Integrated Awareness Page 2 contemporary manner, also in a more comprehensive manner, in the course of a talk on `Dimensions of Awareness'. These talks, by the way, are all on tape. This evening we have only time for an outline of the subject of awareness in general.

Altogether there are four main kinds of awareness which we sometimes call dimensions of awareness. First of all, there is awareness of things; secondly, awareness of self; thirdly, awareness of people; and, fourthly, awareness of Reality. To begin with, awareness of things. This means awareness of the world around us, awareness of our material environment; if you like, awareness of nature. Now if we want to be aware of something material in this way, we have first of all to look at it or to listen to it, or perhaps both look at it and listen to it. But this is what very few people ever do. Most people, if they were challenged, would say that they have no time to look, really look, stop and look; no time to listen. But if we want really to be aware of things, material things, things which are part of the world around us, part of nature, we must learn to look at them.

We have to learn to look, we may say, at the sky, learn to look at mountains - when we get the opportunity - learn to look at trees, learn to look at flowers, at rocks, at water, at fire; at all those in a sense very familiar material things that are all around us, that are there all the time, that in a sense we see all the time but which at the same time we never see; not only to learn to look at these as it were more poetic things but also learn to look at other material things that we encounter, that we cannot help encountering in the course of our existence, things even like brick walls and unemptied dustbins - even at these, if they are around us, we have to learn to look. It is not only a question even of looking; it is not only just a question of using our eyes. We also have really to learn to hear, to taste, to smell, to touch. No doubt the highest degree of perceptual awareness is possible through the sense of sight, through the eyes, but that does not mean that the other senses are not important or that they can be neglected. We should learn to look, moreover, not only at natural objects, not only at familiar household things of everyday use, but learn to look, really to look, for example, at works of art, paintings, sculpture and so on, things that very often, only too often, we just take for granted as parts of our cultural heritage, which we know are there in the museums and art galleries and maybe as reproductions on our walls, but at which we don't really need to look, that we don't really need to see.

We should also learn to listen - to music. Lots of people just have music on as a sort of background noise to which they never actually listen. It is just something there in the background - whether it is Bach or whether it is just the latest popular song they don't really know; they would have to stop and listen hard before they could tell you. It is just a sort of running rivulet of sound in the background without too much meaning or significance. But this is the way in which awareness of things, awareness of the material environment, awareness of nature and of man's handiwork to the extent that it is itself part of nature, is to be developed.

Secondly, awareness of self. By this we do not mean anything very metaphysical. We mean simply awareness of the changing empirical self, which is in any case all that we usually experience.

Traditionally in Buddhism, awareness of self is of three kinds, of increasing degrees of subtlety.

First, there is awareness of the body and its movements, including the breathing process on which, of course, a whole concentration technique is based. Traditionally it is taught that, as one moves about, one should be aware of just how one is moving. If you are standing, be aware that you are standing. If you are sitting, be aware that you are sitting; experience yourself sitting. If you move your hand, be aware you are moving your hand. If you close the door, be aware that you are closing the door. if you are holding a book, be aware that you are holding the book. If you are running, be aware that you are running. if you are talking, be aware that you are talking. If we try to practise in this way, even for a little while, we shall very speedily become aware that we have sort of lapses of consciousness, lapses of awareness. There are whole periods, not to say tracts of time, when we don't really know what we are doing, in a quite literal sense. We don't know what we are doing with our bodies, if we are in fact doing something with our bodies. We don't know what has happened to our hand; we don't know where it is or what it is doing. We don't even know where our head is, sometimes.

This is the sort of teaching that traditionally we are given: that we should be aware of our physical body; be aware of its posture, be aware of its movements and, above all, in a sense, be aware of the breath, this most subtle part of the bodily function. Be aware of its coming in and going out, coming in and going out.

Lecture 84: From Alienated Awareness to Integrated Awareness Page 3 This is the simplest form of self-awareness: just being aware of the physical body - being aware of your feet, being aware of your hands, and so on. But, even though it is the simplest, it is still very difficult, and it is the foundation of all the rest - that is to say, all the other forms of awareness or mindfulness of self. it is traditionally held that if you cannot practise this, if you can't succeed in being aware of your physical body and its movements, it is not much use trying to practise any other more advanced form of awareness or mindfulness. And from Japan there comes a little story to illustrate this point. It is a story, as so many of these stories are, about a young monk. The young monk, we are told, went to an old monk because the old monk was a great meditation teacher, and the young monk wanted to learn meditation; he wanted to become Enlightened. So he made a long journey to the monastery where the old monk, the meditation master, lived; and after travelling for a long while, mostly on foot, very late at night, he reached his destination, knocked on the gate and was admitted. It so happened that, during the last stages of his journey, it had been raining heavily, so he folded up his umbrella and put it to one side, took off his shoes and put them also to one side, and then he was ushered into the presence of the master. So he made his three bows, his three prostrations, and the master asked him: `What have you come for?' He said, `Well, Enlightenment, of course.' So the master said, `That is very good. Let me ask you a few questions.' So the young monk sat back, getting ready to answer questions on Buddhist philosophy, logic, his spiritual experiences and so on, but all that the master asked was: `When you came here just now, what was the weather like?' This is the sort of question that masters sometimes ask. People get very disappointed; they expect to be asked about Nirvana and so on, but all that the master asked was, `What was the weather like?' So the young monk, rather surprised, said, `It was raining rather heavily.' So the old monk said, `Oh yes; and did you get wet?' He said, `No, I had an umbrella.' So the old master said, `Where is the umbrella? The young monk thought to himself, `This conversation is getting more and more ridiculous,' but anyway he politely answered, `It's outside.

I left it outside with my shoes.' So the old master thought a minute, then he said, `Tell me: on which side of the door did you leave your umbrella and shoes?' The young monk thought, and thought, and thought, and he could not remember. So the old master said, `Tut, tut. That won't do.

If you can't remember where you put them, where you left them - whether on the right-hand side of the door or the left-hand side, it means you just weren't mindful when you did it. If you can't even practise mindfulness, how do you expect to practise meditation? How do you expect to gain Enlightenment? You had better go away. This is not the place for you.' So the poor young monk had to depart. This is a little traditional story illustrating this point that awareness of the body, awareness of one's physical body and its movements, what it is doing, is the foundation of any subsequent higher practice of mindfulness and awareness.

All right, suppose you pass the test; suppose you know where your umbrella is at this particular moment; then you can go on to practising awareness of feeling, awareness of whether one's feeling tone, as it were, is pleasant - pleasurable - or painful, or whether you are experiencing a sort of grey, neutral state. And from there we can go on to being aware of our emotions; being aware of whether we are experiencing love or hate or fear or anxiety or desire or hope or jealousy or delight or expectation or disgust or any other emotional state when we experience it, knowing that we experience it. If we can do this - if we can be aware of our feelings, aware of our emotions, aware of our whole emotional life, then we shall find that this has a twofold effect: our negative emotions will tend to be dissolved and our positive emotions will tend to be refined still further; or at least, even if the negative emotions are not dissolved they will be brought very much under control.

Thirdly, there is what is known as awareness of thoughts; and here we become aware that very few people really think. Very few people are really ...

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