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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
20 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 7 into sexual fantasy, it would be wise to work with the practice of right effort. The Buddha stresses the need for effort, diligence, exertion, and unflagging per- severance, the tools with which we can change the thought patterns that keep us stuck and out of reach of freedom. The suttas state that “we can prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states”; if we’ve missed that chance, “we can abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen.” Often, sexual fantasy is trying to pull us away from boredom; the mind tends to want to entertain us. Knowing this is key to not letting that part of the mind win. At the beginning of your sit, set the intention to stay with a steady object, perhaps the breath. Every time you notice the mind wandering, return to the steady object, knowing that the mind is in a rigor- ous retraining, maybe even a marathon. The work of self-cultivation is not easy but also not impossible. And there is no one who can do it for us but ourselves. One last thing: The pornography industry can be seen as unwholesome, supporting exploitation, abuse, and addiction; part of your work, then, is to ask yourself if you are participating in oppression. The reflection is “Am I causing suffering to myself or others?” repa dorJe odzer: I hear how intense this experience is for you and am moved by your clarity and desire to find some- thing that works in your practice. I think that meditation can still be meaningful. But you may need to change things up a bit. In the biography of Milarepa, close to the end, Milarepa is on his deathbed after having been poisoned, and one of his students comes up to him and says, “Teacher, you are such an ideal practi- tioner—you have manifested the act of transforming all the negative karma of killing so many people with black magic and have reached enlightenment. Surely you are the reincarnation of a great master. Can you please tell us who that awareness—noticing first that the thought-forms have arisen, and then by refraining from dwelling in them, that they always pass. With enough practice, we come to see that there’s really noth- ing to our thoughts, and they lose their grip on us. Still, what’s wrong with dwelling in sexual (or any other) thoughts? Noth- ing, really. Wrong and right are beside the point. Rather, it’s a matter of the consequences of it, not the morality. Leaving aside the fact that in consum- ing porn we are sustaining a market for the degradation of women (and men), there are also a growing number of stud- ies that implicate habitual porn use in anxiety, depres- sion, sexual problems, and relationship distress. And no wonder. How can gawk- ing at screen content com- pare with relating to a real person? (How can a menu compare with actual food?) Yet more people than ever seem to prefer screen relationships. Although these present none of the risks that come with real- life relationships, they can also leave us impaired in that department. Meditation, on the other hand, grows our capacity for intimacy. By develop- ing self-awareness, it integrates the inner split that would drive us to seek to escape our sense of alienation through compul- sive use of porn or other substances. If you’re in a retreat and you find yourself getting stuck in pornographic or other tenacious mind states, see the teacher. She or he will provide a reality check, starting with the reminder that since those mental formations have no substance, you should avoid either clinging to them or fighting them. If you don’t have access to a teacher, you can develop self-awareness skills through participating in a porn-addiction sup- port group or supervised group therapy. Best of all is to do this while maintaining daily meditation. Joanna harper: You’re not alone. Working with sensual desire (at vary- ing degrees, flavors and intensities for different minds) is a normal part of our practice. There is a common misconcep- tion that our practice is supposed to be sterile and “thoughtless” and that some- how when we sit on the cushion, our everyday habitual thought processes will end and an enlightened mind will show up. I’d like to debunk that myth. Who we are in life, what we think about, and our actions all join us on the cushion. When you say, “I end up bringing por- nography into my meditation,” well, of course you do! Our minds are really honest. What’s important is how we decide to look at what comes up. In the Cittapariyandana Vagga Sutta, the Buddha acknowledges, “Both men and women would find no better sight, sound, smell, or touch than that of one to whom they are sexually attracted.” The power of sexual energy was not lost on him. There are many stories in the suttas in which the armies of Mara, the tempter, visit the meditating Buddha and attack his sense desires. Meditation is a good idea—for you and all of us humans who have inces- sant or obsessive thoughts. I look at practice in two ways when dealing with a tenacious mind. First, we don’t have to take it personally. Thoughts happen; the practice instructs us to recognize, not judge, the mind’s process. Second, there is a way out—and the practice is about retraining the mind toward that poten- tial. The mind does not get to be the boss in our practice. If we find our lives and relationships really sucking because we can’t control our thoughts or actions, this practice gives us the opportunity to redirect our untrained habit mind from unwholesome/unskillful to wholesome/ skillful. Ask yourself, is this thought true? Does it have to control me? In your case, knowing that you con- tend with the mind’s Mara of slipping We’re basically addicted to our thoughts. This, not the content of the thoughts, is the core issue. —Bodhin Kjolhede