Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will listen to a 10 minute segment from a Questions and Answers session that Thich Nhat Hanh offered in Hanoi in May of 2008. (A transcript is below.)
Thay was asked, basically: How do we as mindfulness practitioners relate to pleasure and excitement (the expectation of pleasure)? Do we go with them, indulge them, and thereby strengthen their hold on us? Or do we resist, detach from them, and thereby reduce their hold on us?
For me, the questions go to the very heart of what it means to be a spiritual practitioner, and what it means to be a grown-up.
Thay’s response is nuanced. Before we know the best way to respond to an individual instance of pleasure or excitement, we have to look deeply into it. If the excitement or pleasure is wholesome, nourishing, leading to peace and happiness, then we go with it. And if not, we let it go.
We are all attracted to pleasures, Thich Nhat Hanh notes. However, the pleasures can be dangerous:
When you throw into the water a hook with bait, the fish think that is very exciting, very delicious, and the fish may bite at the bait and get the hook. Sometimes the bait is not a real bait, it is plastic. It has the appearance of something delicious.
Manas, the self-centered, grasping mind, always goes after the bait. It ignores the dangers. Mind consciousness, the mind of awareness, has the potential of knowing things as they really are. With mindfulness and insight it is possible to refrain from taking the bait.
During our sharing, we will explore how we have learned to enjoy wholesome pleasures and when it is that we still go after the baited hook. You are invited to be with us.
Also, this Thursday is the first Thursday of the month. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., we will be offering a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community, followed by a guided meditation during the 7:00 pm sitting. If you would like to attend, it is helpful to let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Mindfulness of Pleasure and Joy
From a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, May 10, 2008, in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Mindfulness makes if possible for us to see into the nature of the joy, of the excitement, or of the sorrow. In Buddhism we speak of the difference between joy and happiness. In joy there may be still some excitement, and when there is excitement you are not as peaceful as you wish to be. True happiness cannot be without peace. Excitement is not yet very peaceful. When you have excitement, excitement is not yet happiness.
When you are mindful you see: “Breathing in, I have some excitement. I don’t have enough peace, so my happiness is not truly there.”
Mindfulness makes it possible for us to look at the pleasant feeling that is there. We know that this is truly a pleasant feeling or not. It may be a pleasant feeling, but it may bring unpleasant feelings later on. Like when you drink some liquor, there is some pleasant feeling, but you know with your mindfulness that later on your liver will suffer and will present unpleasant feelings that will last longer. So mindfulness makes it possible for us to see into the nature of the feeling, so that we know that this is a wholesome pleasant feeling, or a kind of pleasant feeling that will bring sorrow and suffering later on. The key is mindfulness.
We should be nourished by joy, peace, and happiness. If that joy, peace, happiness only has the power to nourish or heal, that is no harm. We also know that experience with suffering may help to develop more compassion and understanding. So while we experience suffering, we can learn and we really do not suffer.
Manas [the self-centered, grasping mind] does not have that kind of mindfulness, that kind of insight. Its manner of seeking pleasure is just an instinct. Manas does not know that pleasure may be dangerous. When you throw into the water a hook with bait, the fish think that is very exciting, very delicious, and the fish may bite at the bait and get the hook. Sometimes the bait is not a real bait, it is plastic. It has the appearance of something delicious. So mindfulness and insight make it possible for us to see that the bait is dangerous as an object of pleasure. You can refrain from being attracted to that object of pleasure. You know that you will die or you will almost die if you bite into that object of pleasure. . . . But Manas ignores that. Manas is just the instinct. That is why Manas is always seeking any kind of pleasure, and Manas ignores the danger of pleasure. Manas is seeking to run away from suffering. Manas does not know that suffering can be helpful.
Mind consciousness is not Manas. Mind consciousness has access to many kinds of seeds in store consciousness and may bring out insight and understanding in order to bring transformation to Manas. Therefore, the practice of mindfulness – to be in the present moment, in order to recognize all the feelings, whether they are painful, or pleasant, or neutral, and to look deeply into their nature – is a very important practice. We know what to do and what not to do. We know how to deal with this emotion, this feeling, in order not to suffer right now and not to suffer in the future.