Understanding Dukkha

Dukkha is one of the key concepts of Buddhist practice, considered as one of the three characteristics of existence, along with anicca (impermanence) and anatta (the absence of an autonomous and enduring self).  It is traditionally translated as suffering; however, Peter suggests the terms distress and confusion as more workable.  Dukkha is the First Noble Truth, and the Second Noble Truth is understanding the cause of dukkha, which is craving (tanha in Pali) and clinging (upadana in Pali).  Distress is a more direct rendering of craving, and clinging involves confusion about the true nature of reality.   The way dukkha was understood in the Buddha’s era can be related to the poor fit between the axle of a cart and the hub of the wheel.  Contemporary commentators suggest this uncomfortable and unreliable fit as a useful representation of dukkha.  During the talk, Peter emphasized the importance of not just understanding dukkha conceptually; experiential understanding through the practice of vipassana is essential for resolving dukkha as well as craving and clinging, and this is accomplished through the practice of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, the mental training components of the Noble Eightfold Path.

The presentation was followed by a discussion of how to recognize the experience of dukkha, craving or clinging, in order to use Right Effort to provide clarity and serenity in life.

Here are the notes prepared for this talk:  Understanding Dukkha

During the talk, Peter frequently referred to the cetasikas, conditioning functions of the mind.  Here is a chart listing them categorically:  CETASIKAS POSTER


Understanding Intention

During the discussion of January 10, 2018 “Understanding Karma”, the importance of cetana, intention, was mentioned.  This talk elaborates on cetana, which is one of the “universal mind conditioners” that function in every moment of consciousness.  Peter quoted excerpts from Van Gorkam’s book “Cetasikas” describing the coordinating and motivating function of intention in the formation of each moment of selfing.  The relationship between intention and the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination was also described.  These understandings were aligned with an excerpt from Siegel’s “The Mindful Brain” regarding the neuroscientific research on intention that supports the traditional Buddhist view.  Ways to cultivate mindful intention were discussed associated with the practice of mindfulness of breathing.

Here are the notes prepared for this talk:  UNDERSTANDING INTENTION

Next week’s topic will be understanding the practical benefits of cultivating virtue, a core aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path, from a psychological as well as spiritual perspective.



The Virtuous Cetasikas

This talk focused on the mind conditioners associated with virtue, that is, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Compassion and Sympathetic Joy.  The maturing of the wholesome cetasikas presents the virtues of the Noble Eightfold Path as being organized through the shift from being virtuous “because I’m supposed to” towards virtue manifesting “effortlessly” and authentically.  As the wholesome functions of the mind become more effective, the natural expression of compassion and sympathetic joy/generosity emerges, associated with Right Speech, Action and Livelihood.  The explanation was followed by interested participation by those at the meeting in reflecting on how these manifestations are realized through regular, diligent mindfulness meditation practice.

Next week’s talk will finalize the discussion of the cetasikas with a review of Right Understanding.  The approach will be similar in describing the association between increasing the functionality of the wholesome cetasikas to make Right Understanding realized, that is, to be understood experientially as well as conceptually–an important realization on the path towards Awakening.

Universal Wholesome Cetasikas

During this talk, Peter describes the categories of mind-conditioning functions called cetasikas that are always operating when the mind is free from dukkha, that is, unburdened from the distress and confusion caused by craving and clinging.  The descriptions clarified the ways these cetasikas, particularly mindfulness, set aside the dysfunctional five hindrances.

Here are the notes prepared for this discussion, including a graphic that illustrates the dynamic interactions of the wholesome conditioners involved in the practice of vipassana:  universal-wholesome-cetasikas

Next week’s discussion will focus on the “Beautiful Pairs” of cetasikas, that is the harmonious interactions between consciousness (citta) and cetasikas (Those conditioning functions that “belong to” the citta).  These functions are cultivated through diligent practice of mindfulness of breathing meditation, promoting a flow of subjective experience that is remarkably productive of insight into the nature of experienced reality.

Universal Unwholesome Mind Conditioners

This week’s talk describes the first 8 unwholesome cetasikas.  The first 4, ignorance/delusion, shamelessness/absence of conscience, recklessness/heedlessness and restlessness/mental agitation.  They function cooperatively to shape every self-state organization.  the second 4, desire/attachment, wrong view, conceit/self-absorption and aversion/ill-will, may or may not cooperate with the universal unwholesome cetasikas.  The 8 cetasikas were discussed in depth, followed by questions and comments from others present at the meeting.

Here are the notes prepared for this talk:  the-unwholesome-mind-conditioners

Next week’s talk will describe the remaining unwholesome cetasikas, envy, stinginesss, sloth, torpor and skeptical doubt