NOV 10

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19: NOV 10


  • Pali Cannon, “The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness” (16) (rec)
  • Ricard, C6, “The Alchemy of Suffering” (20)

Pali Canon, Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness

  • "Mindfulness is also the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path. By developing mindfulness, a person first observes the various aspects of one's being,then learns to control the mind and its reactions to external and internal stimuli." Mindfulness presumes a moral orientation on the world.
  • Basic goals of meditation: cultivation of awareness and "control" of sense and feeling. (Control: quieting, not being at the mercy of psychological processes and processes of desire.) How does meditation do that?
  • Four foundations of mindfulness, five aggregates of attachment, six bases of sense, seven factors of enlightenment, four noble truths (51),
  • Some Points:
  • Mindfulness not disconnection from environment, but intense connection, especially if one can control the mental processes that interrupt one's full experience.
  • Note use of lists and repetition. inventories.
  • Note "joy and happiness born of detachment" 57
  • Small Group Discussion (please use the Google group form to report your work):
  • Considering Buddhism primarily as a psychological theory of suffering and happiness, what are some of its keys insights according to its adherents? (3-4) How is mindfulness supposed to help us avoid suffering and promote joy? What are you most skeptical about in thinking of Buddhism as a happiness philosophy? Does your group worry, for example, that that egolessness Buddhism calls for might make it hard to be ambitious?

Chapter Six: Alchemy of Suffering (Modern version of 4 noble truths)

  • Shortest history of the kingdom: "They Suffer"
  • Pervasive suffering -- from growth and development. “What’s won is done.”
  • Suffering of Change -- from illusion of permanence. “Moving targets”
  • Multiplicity of Suffering -- suffering from awareness of the many ways things can go wrong. (An example of suffering due our big brain imaginations.)
  • Hidden Suffering -- anxiousness about hidden dangers (same)
  • Note connection to Gilbert: because we can "next" (imagine futures and alternate presents, design) we are open to these kinds of suffering. Quite a bargain.
  • Invisible Suffering -- as in the food industry, suffering of workers to bring you cheap socks. A consequence of invisible suffering is that we repeat the behaviors that lead to it because we don't see it (also food examples. Suffering in your egg or burger.). (Complicity in causing/perpetuating suffering. Moral causation.)
  • Suffering is ubiquitous, but we can learn the causes. Suffering can be avoided "locally" (as entropy can be reversed locally). Note that Buddhism involves a consistent commitment to causation even as, over centuries, our understanding of it has changed.
  • Sources of Suffering -- self-centeredness, our unhappiness is caused, 4 Noble Truths.
  • A Buddhist tetra pharmakos: Recognize suffering, Eliminate its source, End it, By Practicing the Path. 66
  • 66: "One can suffer physically or mentally -- by feeling sad, for instance -- without losing the sense of fulfillment that is founded on inner peace and selflessness"
  • Buddhist story of woman distraught over loss, sent by Buddha to gather dirt from all houses without loss.
  • Note 67: parallel story as in stoicism. Read, “Remaining….”
  • brings in a dash of attachment theory 69-71. Hurt people hurt people.
  • Using suffering for spiritual growth. Example of people experiencing near death. (Mention research on cancer patients (survivors) and happiness.)
  • Methods for responding to suffering -- Control of sense and emotion. Meditation. Use of mental imagery. Mindful self-observation and reflection. (The training program.)
  • Some themes of a modern (scientifically oriented) Buddhist explication of the 4 Noble Truths:
  • Causal attitude toward suffering at the psychological more than metaphysical level. 65, 67; use of neurology to understand pain and related phen. 73
  • Positive aspects of suffering 71 -- suffering can be productive for spiritual dev.
  • Mental imagery in ancient and modern Buddhist practice; use of meditation in management of tendencies of ego. (Note to meditators. Use visualization to re-center and avoid the dynamics of conscious thought suppression.)
  • Use in stimulating positive and prosocial emotions: compassion, empathy. (stories of suffering endured with growth)
  • Note the emphasis on conscious use of methods that get at pre-conscious expression of emotion. The emotions are the "scene" for progress, not just a matter of rational control of emotions. more of a training model. While the meditations and use of mental imagery might seem a little far out to some of you, recall that this is being proposed within a naturalistic (evolutionary and neurological) model. He's making empirical predictions about how you can alter your responses to the conditions of your suffering.

Small Group Assessment

  • Buddhism makes the case that we cultivate wisdom and happiness by understanding and responding to suffering in a particular way. The understanding of suffering involves appreciating the complex causal patterns that perpetuate it. Suffering also emerges from our ignorance of the illusory or impermanent character of the self and the ego. The remedy involves cultivating this awareness and reflecting it in our life and actions toward others (the eight fold path).
  • This might lead you to a kind of dual standpoint, expressed in this popular Buddhist maxim: "Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.". For some of you, this is wisdom, for others, not so much.
  • In your small group discussion, consider the Buddhist analysis (maybe its modern reconstruction in terms of physics and psychology) of wisdom and happiness, the analysis of suffering as ignorance of ultimate reality and attachment to illusory or "dependent reality" (of the self and ego), as well as the "training program" it recommends, so far as you understand it. What parts of the program, if any, resonate for you?