This gorgeous rose sharing space with it’s neighbor in a garden along the path of my walk today caught my attention. It’s beauty not yet taken by the frost that often is the fall as it turns to winter. It unspoiled beauty spoke to me and I knew it would be a part of our chat today. Last we spoke, we discussed the journey of the soul’s work in moving towards the transformation and releasing of past karma in our chat Learning and Growing:. Today after spending time with this beautiful blossom, I decided to go home and watch a video by my favorite dharma teacher, Noah Levine. Today’s discussion was on samsara which is the cycle of wandering through birth and death of different lifetimes through reincarnation
Buddhists believe that we reincarnate through different realms as a journey of working through and releasing the karma from past life times. Our souls have made a contract to continue to reincarnate until we are able to release the suffering (dukkha) created by samsara. Levine discusses that we go through a variety of different incarnations including the human realm, animal realm, heaven and hell realms, hungry ghosts and jealous gods. We can only see the human and animal realm but all the other exist as well. The animal realm is said to involve a lot of impulsivity with a drive towards violence. We previously discussed the Hungry Ghosts in our chat How Hungry Are Your Ghosts? They are thought to be ghosts with big bellies, very thin necks and pinhole mouths. They have insatiable needs that can not be satisfied because they can take much in which leaves them in constant craving. The Jealous Gods have abundance in comfort and pleasure. They possess everything but something is missing. They become greedy as they are constantly desiring what they don’t have. The heaven realm is about impermanence and the hell realm well that’s just damn hot and uncomfortable! Levine states that samsara is the process of wandering throughout these realms as we continue to struggle with dukkha. Boy does that sound like a familiar pattern! I want, I want, I want, I need, I need, I need, more, more and then some more. But isn’t this what we are socialized to expect in our culture? It sounds like Levine is stating that we should not be American! Wink wink goes the eye (not necessarily as I can’t wink but you get it.) How do we even notice that we are in any of these realms when we live in a culture that completely supports the continuance of dukkha in an effort to bolster the economy? Would we be being less supportive of our fellow Americans if we pulled away from fulfilling desire? Deep thoughts by Jack Handy goes the SNL skit.
This is a very interesting topic to ponder as Levine discusses the continuous of samsara as being self focused. It would seem though that in the US this is understood much differently. Case in point, it’s not even Thanksgiving and we are already being pressured to think about what to consume around Christmas. Parents get pressured earlier and earlier in the year to begin thinking about how they are going to fulfill their child’s every material desire. Should they not be able to afford all those material goods, surely their children will be missing out on something, right? Wrong we all say loudly as we continue to consume despite disdain for capitalism. Despite there being much greed and wealth in the US, we continue to have hunger and financial suffering. People struggling to pay their bills and worrying about whether they will be able to afford insurance coverage continue to participate in the consumerism game because to not feels un-American. The holidays are a time for gluttony on all levels. Thanksgiving is known as the holiday where we are supposed to eat until we can’t move. Doesn’t matter if it makes you feel awful, we are supposed to want to do it anyway. Levine discusses that the realms are just different states of mind that we move through along the journey of our soul’s transformation. He shared that there are three personality types that occur of which we generally fall more squarely into one of them more prominently. Levine states that a person more centered in greed will walk into a room immediately drawn to what they like and want in the environment. After this they may find what they don’t like but they are generally first drawn to what they desire. They will lust over these desires which creates their pattern of dukkha. A personality more centered in aversion immediately sees what they don’t like in the environment and will hone their attention in on these issues. They may eventually find things that they desire but generally will focus on what they don’t like. Delusional types are often not present in the moment and therefore do not notice what they like or do not like about the experience. They are thought to be “flaky and ungrounded.” While the practice of mindfulness can be helpful for all three personality types, it is very important for delusional types to practice mindfulness. I bet you can see yourself in one of these three categories: I know I can. My eyes love bright and shiny things. It’s the U2 song DESIRE every time I walk into one of my favorite stores. While I love shiny new things, I also know that this drive for desire can also be a pattern of greed full of gratifying constant craving.
So what are we to do? Are we just all walking around acting and reacting in patterns of self centered greed, aversion and delusion. Well pretty much but the good news is that we have the capacity to liberate ourselves from samsara whether within this lifetime or another. Hallelujah you say wondering how this occurs. Well, to begin first we need to work on cultivating awareness of being. We need to begin to cultivate what Buddhists call “witness consciousness” which is the ability to see our patterns of behavior rather than acting out every emotion that arises in the moment. We do this by calming the mind and becoming more centered in our breath. When we are aware of the quality of our breath and our body in physical space we drop below the fluctuations of the mind and ego. No longer are we trapped mindlessly acting out the samsara of our karma but we become aware that samsara is actually arising right here, right now. With this level of awareness, we have the option of choosing a different path. Through the cultivation of mindfulness skills we begin to slowly shift our behavior which creates capacity for a different way of relating to the world. As we begin to walk through the world more aware of our patterns, relating to our samsara in a more grounded way, we begin to walk down a new path slowly releasing samsara as we ebb and flow. We are spiritual beings having human experiences. How we react to their human experiences makes all the difference.
For today, how will you begin to bring mindfulness into your everyday experiences to allow for the journey of liberating yourself from samsara? For me, I began my day with meditation and yoga, knowing that when I do, all flows much differently.Cheers!