Friday, March 2, 2012

One Underlying Tendency

Tonight, prompted by a 'bad day' made even worse by mind's reactivity, I went down Ayya Khema's list of the seven underlying tendencies, those deep rooted personality traits that keep on tripping us, over and over again. Here is the list:
Sensuality is part and parcel of a human being and shows itself in becoming attached and reacting to what one sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and thinks. One is concerned with what one feels and has not yet come to the understanding that the sense objects are only impermanent phenomena arising and passing away. When this lack of profound insight is still prevalent, one ascribes importance to the impressions which come in through the senses. One is drawn to them and seeks pleasure in them. When the senses are still playing an important part in a person, there is sensuality. Man is a sensuous being. 
Where there is sensuality, there is also irritation, the two go hand in hand. Sensuality is satisfied when the sense contact impingement was pleasant. Irritation arises when the sense contact was unpleasant. It doesn't have to issue as anger, shouting, fury, hate or even resistance. It's just irritation, which results in being displeased, feeling ill-at-ease and restless. It goes together with being a sensuous human being. 
 The third underlying tendency is doubt or hesitation. If one has doubts, one hesitates: "What am I going to do next?" One doubts one's own path and abilities, and how to proceed. Due to hesitation, one doesn't use one's time wisely. At times one may waste it or overindulge in activities which are not beneficial. Doubt means that one doesn't have an inner vision to guide one, but is obsessed by uncertainty. Doubts and hesitation lie in our hearts because of a feeling of insecurity. We are afraid of not being safe.
The next underlying tendency is the wrong view of relating all that happens to a "self." This goes on constantly and we can verify that easily, as it happens to everybody. Very few people realize: "This is just mental phenomena." They believe: "I think." When there is pain in the body, few will say: "It's just an unpleasant feeling." They'll say: "I'm feeling very badly," or "I have a terrible pain." This reaction to whatever happens as "self" is due to an underlying tendency so deeply imbedded that it takes great effort to loosen its hold.
Next comes pride and conceit, which here means having a certain concept of ourselves, such as being a man or a woman, young or old, beautiful or ugly. We conceive of what we want, feel, think, know, own and what we can do. All this conceptualizing creates ownership and we become proud of possessions, knowledge, skills, feelings, being someone special [...]
Next we come to clinging to existence. That's our survival syndrome, clinging to being here, not willing to give up, not ready to die today. We must learn to be ready to die now, not wishing to die, but to be ready for it [...] Clinging to existence brings us into a dependency syndrome. We want everything to work out well for us and resent it if that doesn't happen.
Ignorance opposes wisdom, and here it concerns the fact that we disregard reality by not realizing that all our dukkha comes from wanting, even if our desire may be a wholesome one [...]
 I read Ayya Khema's advice:
It's very useful to pick the characteristic that creates difficulties for us over and over again and make it one's focus of attention. Since they are all interconnected, minimizing one will help to reduce the others to more manageable proportions.
And I could not pick just one but several tendencies manifesting all at once. Sensuality and irritation, for sure. Also, tying experiences to a monolithic "self". And last, clinging to existence:
This clinging to being alive brings much difficulty to all of us because it projects us into the future so that we can't attend to the present. If we don't live in the present, we're missing out on being alive at all. There's no life in the future, it's all ideation, conjecture, a hope and a prayer. If we really want to be alive and experience things as they are, we've got to be here now, attending to each moment. This entails letting go of clinging to what will happen to us in the future, particularly whether we are going to continue to exist. Existing in this moment is enough. To be able to let go of that clinging means to let go of the future, only then will there be strong mindfulness, real attention and clear knowing. Clinging to existence will always give us the idea that something better will come along if we just wait long enough and that denies effort. Effort can only be made now, who knows what tomorrow will bring?
I worry way too much about the future.

How about you, what are your most salient underlying tendencies? 


  1. "Tendencies" is also synonymous with "obsessions" in many texts. And so the issue at hand becomes one of degree and perspective. For example, the ability to experience "sensuality" (and "irritation") is a gift of existence and is well received when accompanied by right view. It only becomes a problem when we don't KNOW it's purpose.

    But I can definitely understand why you would want to attend to an inbalance if a "tendency" is identified.

    Sister Ayya Khema's talks were very interesting.

    Thank you for pointing to them.


  2. "I worry way too much about the future."


    Every once in a while a few words will come to me, rather poetically, that stick with me. Here's one, for instance:

    "All of our fears are about the future, and the relentless passage of time that takes us there."

    Relentless: Anxiety rooted in the longing that time would somehow stop, at least sometimes, just for a little while; just long enough to get off the train and look around and gain my bearings; and just...breathe. To make some sense of it all. But time never does stop, does it? Even in the early morning predawn quiet, or the contemplative Saturday mornings (that I spend all week looking forward to) with oh so much wonderful coffee, the sun mercilessly burns it's way up and across the sky and time moves on; chores and schedules and responsibilities beckon.

    And, with time seeming to run over me - "roadkill" - I fear that it will all-too-soon run out. And, that, when it does I will not have really changed - will not have evolved - or even have realized what it was all about to begin with.

    And rather than engaging the life that is - with bravery and acceptance -, too often I retreat. Hide. Escape. Medicate.

    These are my tendencies.

    Thanks for the thought prompt... :)


  3. Bill, Mark, thank you for sharing your gift of right view. And Bill, I too share this existential angst you so beautifully write about. Knowing about the tendency of clinging to existence has been particularly helpful in uprooting some of that restlessness for me. Knowing that it is due to a deep disturbance of the mind, but not the true nature of being, is extremely comforting. I can then view myself as I would a clumsy child, still unsteady on his feet, and in need of guidance. Self-compassion and wisdom.

    May you both be well, may all beings be well, and at peace.

  4. "existential angst"

    Love that. I've been carrying that around with me like some fortune from a fortune cookie ever since reading it. Looked it up. Broke it apart and analyzed it. Good contemplative words.

    One of the things I like about your posts and replies is that you share your own issues, and, in doing so, often offer some very good language with which to spray-paint my own ghosts with. Doesn't make the ghosts go away, but it's always easier to work with them when they're no longer so cloaked in confusion.

    Thanks very much.


  5. Thank you, Bill for your response. I do think that one of the most precious gift we can offer each other is our own practice and very human experience of the Dharma.