Sunday, July 11, 2010

De-Constructing the Greed Experience

One of my favorite moments is to linger in the hot tub at the YMCA after a long swim. Yesterday, with my mind on break, and eyes closed, all I could feel was the delightful pressure of the jets against my back, and the joyful sounds of women chatting. A most pleasurable state indeed, very much to my liking. I also noticed how protective I became of 'my' space, right in front of most powerful jet . . . and then the slight tension that followed in my upper chest. 

Turning to Ayya Khema, one more time - from Who Is My Self?:
"We can look at the mind and see its four aspects . . . In doing this, we will come nearer to the understanding that in fact there is nobody who owns it. The first aspect is "sense-consciousness", the five senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling. The second aspect is feeling, which arises from sense-contact. This feeling is either pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. The third is perception, which can also be called labeling. For example, when the feeling is unpleasant, the label is "pain". The fourth is mental formation, or reaction. If the mind had said "pain", the reaction is usually "I don't like it", or "I've got to get away from this." It is very useful at this stage in our practice to become clearly aware of these four aspects of mind and of how they follow each other as cause and effect: sense-contact, feeling, perception, and lastly reaction. It is important to get to know this sequence, both during meditation and in our every day life. The Buddha taught that it is through an awareness of these four parts of mind, through the knowledge and vision of the understood experience, that we come to the realization that there is nothing at all within them than constitutes a "me". The "me" is a thought, an idea . . . 
This "me," however, is not only an idea, it is also the mechanism that produces greed and hate. We all know these two; they come very easily to us. We all live with them and are familiar with them, but they do not produce happiness. In our practice we need to examine . . . the four parts of mind and how they arise and cease. We can become aware of each sense-contact-a taste, a smell- and how such contact leads to the next step, feeling-pleasant, unpleasant, neutral-and so on.
Most people are only aware of the first and the last step, the sense-contact and the reaction: "It looks nice, I want it", or "It looks awful, I must get rid of it." The reaction follows so quickly that we miss out completely on the two intervening stages. We should practice in the following way: Having noticed our reaction, we go back to the sense-contact that led to it. We then try to become aware again of the feeling that followed the sense-contact, and then of the mind's explanation (dirty, disgusting, delicious, boring). Notice these two missing parts, the feeling and the label. Now, within these four parts - sense-contact, feeling, perception, reaction - try to find the one who senses, feels, perceives, reacts. The mind says, "But its' me doing that," but this is only an idea. Where is the doer? We can actually notice that these four steps are an automatic progression, that there is no one "doing" anything. It all just happens and we can watch it happen.
We can also decide to stop the sequence at any of the four points, particularly at the perception, the labeling. Then we will notice that we are not compelled to react. As we do this, however, the mind will say: "Surely I must be the one who made that decision, who determined to do that." You can now try to find that one. There is only determination, which is a mental factor. It is essential to investigate this not once, but many times. Within these khandhas, these aggregates, lies the illusion. One person will say the determination came from their thinking, another that it came from their feeling, someone else will say: "It was the observer" or "It was my willpower" Then we need to ask ourselves if any of these can really be called "me". Where is that "me" when none of these reactions are taking place, when there is no observer, no willpower, nothing like that going on at all? When any one of these supposed "me's" is not functioning, where is it? What is it doing?"
De-constructing the hot tub experience that way, I can clearly see the sequence: 

sense contact of touch between high pressure water and back -> pleasant feeling -> delightful perception/label -> liking reaction -> greed 

and I how I got in trouble the minute mind engaged in second and fourth step, as it always does, automatically, if left on its own.  


  1. At least you "saw Mara" so something is succeeding!

    Ayya Khema was truly great - many dharma talks exist here

  2. Thanks Bob. I agree, seeing Mara is a start . . . :)

    I cannot get enough of Ayya Khema's wisdom! So much to discover there. Her books, talks, and videos. I am just beginning.

  3. Marguerite,

    Dharma Sister, As ever, the way your mind processes and connects your experiences to your training brings a smile to my face. In this point, there is no abstraction... theory... wasted motion... or gaps. It's just hands down in the mud. There must be a lotus down there.

    With Nine Bows,


  4. Thank you Seiho, for these beautiful words from you. As I practice more, I notice a greater ease with just being with whatever is present in the body, in the mind. Very lovely, indeed, and the source of immense gratitude and joy.

  5. First, I really would like to read some of Ayya Khema's writings. Truly great wisdom shared here.

    I'm starting to get more and more interested in the inner workings of the mind. Kind of interesting that this reminds me of a video I just wrote a post on. The process that Ayya Khema describes seems to be the left brain's way of taking in the energy/mental picture of the present moment observed in the right brain and then labeling it. So, we first have the true experience and the feeling of it. Then the labeling begins...good, bad, neutral and then thoughts about that...I don't like this, I want more, etc. I'm starting to observe this more and more in my daily life.

  6. Yes, isn't it fascinating how science is rediscovering 2500 year old wisdom? Of course, the main thing is to discover for ourselves based on our moment to moment experience, tapping into our reservoir of accumulated knowledge and wisdom for reference points.

    From Ayya Khema, I have read:

    I Give You My Life (autobiography)
    Being Nobody, Going Nowhere
    Who Is My Self?

    Next, I am planning to read:

    Be An Island
    Visible Here and Now
    When the Iron Eagle Flies

  7. Excellent - thanks for sharing the book recommendations!