Lifting ourselves

Delight in vigilance.
Protect your own mind.
Lift yourself from a bad course
Like a tusker sunk in mud.

Dhammapada v. 327, translated by Gil Fronsdal

Sometimes overcoming our unwholesome inclinations feels like we’re trying to lift ourselves out of the mud. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re stuck in the mud until we try something different and notice that it feels better, freer.

How do we protect our own minds? And from what? The real dangers are not external, but our own negative mental habits – how we frame issues, how we look at the world, what we do when we don’t feel right. It is easier to see the external threats, but it’s the ones we don’t see that drag us down.

In a recent interaction with an acquaintance, I noticed that every topic of conversation led him to correct someone, present or not: “He should…”, “Did you tell her…”, “The government should…”. I could see the suffering being produced, minute by minute.

Sayadaw U Tejaniya recommends checking for “right attitude”, by which he means checking to see if our thinking is colored (right now!) by greed or aversion. This is the crucial investigation. If greed, hatred and delusion are absent, then right mindfulness is present, and this can be called “right attitude”.

So if there’s irritation, boredom, wishing, etc. present along with whatever thoughts we’re having, then we can recognize that fact and by acknowledging it, weaken it. We can look into how these attitudes affect us and our behavior. Eventually, as we become more sensitive to the moods of our mind, we see more and more clearly how greed and hatred prevent us from being fully present to what is. We see their insidious effects on the next moment’s thoughts and actions. We will also see that they can be interrupted and abandoned, by re-establishing a connection with immediate body sensations or our breathing (or sound, etc.).

I’m pretty sure that this is the kind of vigilance and lifting that the verse above refers to.

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