12 Step Audio Lectures – Santikaro

12 Step Audio Lectures
“We are a conscious part of the Universe, or we are the Universe being conscious…aware…and that consciousness is at root pure, it’s not addictive, it’s not full of craving, and clinging and egoism. Those are all kind of ways that consciousness goes astray, but fundamentally that’s not consciousness. And so ‘humbly asking’ in the way that I’ve been looking at it here... I think is to begin to trust... In a way this is part…

Selected excerpts:

(transcription of the conclusion to Step 7)

“We are a conscious part of the Universe, or we are the Universe being conscious…aware…and that consciousness is at root pure, it’s not addictive, it’s not full of craving, and clinging and egoism. Those are all kind of ways that consciousness goes astray, but fundamentally that’s not consciousness. And so ‘humbly asking’ in the way that I’ve been looking at it here… I think is to begin to trust… In a way this is part of going to refuge… to trust in the purity, the wholesomeness, the innate wisdom of consciousness… So that’s kind of ‘humbly asking that which already is and has always been’… Buddhism doesn’t quite call it ‘eternal’… it doesn’t like those kind of metaphysical statements, but it’s related to the way some religions talk about God as being eternal… So the Universe has these aspects to it… and that’s part of what we can humbly ask…”

“Another side of this, it’s in a way the same thing but it’s a different side of it is the ‘him/her/it that is within’….which for now I’ll call ‘the Buddha within’. And this is maybe more active than what I was just talking about. Recognising that the Universe has these aspects that I just discussed, then, one can actively interact with that… I have three examples.”
“One is then that there is a growing commitment to shift from egocentric life to what we might call Dhamma-centric, or truth-centred, or reality-centred, or God-centred, however you want to phrase it… So, in a way I’ve already been discussing this one quite a bit today, so …those are broad terms that ..the re-orienting, and I think this happens in every Step, and it’s part of the deepening process of getting out of the ego centred life and centring our life on something bigger, deeper, more real… which Buddhism calls ‘Dhamma’.”
“Another way to frame that is the shift from a defensive way of life into freedom. Ego is primarily a defensive structure… use of alcohol and other substances to numb ourselves… compulsive behaviour, even addictive thinking, where, or the way sometimes we cling to beliefs because they seem to give us some comfort, even though there’s a major limitation especially to conceptual beliefs. All of that has a defensive quality to it. It’s to protect, it’s to avoid pain somehow, but we all know how limited and how some of those defensive things can become not only limiting but very harmful. And part of that defensiveness again it’s connected with ego, it involves not trusting life, the Universe, our innate Buddha-ness, and so we take this defensive stance towards life, that’s what the ego does. The shift to freedom is all so scary, because then you start to put down your defences, you actually… you open up, which means being more vulnerable, and so for that to really work we have to do a lot of inner work so that the inner strength is there to be vulnerable. The whole defensive thing is actually weakness… You know, like America’s foreign policy right now, this pretending to be so strong seems to me a sign that at home we’ve got major problems, and instead of facing our inner weakness, we take a more bullying attitude towards the world although we pretend it’s benevolent, that we’re bringing democracy to places that have lots of oil that we want, and stuff like that. So, not to go too much into the politics, but that seems to be an example of pretending to be powerful or even, actually you go out and buy a gun so you can be tough, but that comes from weakness, and from lack of faith, so it’s really we’re… excuse me but… these Christians who express their faith by wanting to go bomb other countries… I’ll never get how that’s Christian… You can straighten me out on that later if you so choose… but it’ll be tough… OK, back to our topic…So it’s the shift towards freedom, and as say existential philosophers and others have pointed out, freedom isn’t always easy… and freedom can be scary…and I think all of us know that… because freedom means responsibility… not ego-centred responsibility but there’s… and it means love… To really be free means to love. And although we all like the word ‘love’, actually doing it… you know… Love means you’re willing to set aside what you want. The wellbeing of others becomes really important ..your own wellbeing is more important than sort of your bad habits, or your little comforts… Whether they be Hershey bars, or Coke, or Budweiser, or snorting cocaine or whatever. So that’s another aspect of the shift. But that’s the shift towards being a Buddha. Buddhas aren’t defensive. Buddhas are free. And which in the end do we want? So that’s another way I can understand ‘Him’.”
“And then the third, which is sort of the same thing but in another set of terms, shifting out of anger, fear, loneliness, despair, hurt, loss, whatever kind of emotional stuff we’ve been escaping, and shifting from that to compassion, so instead of the ‘heart energy’ that’s kind of stuck in fear, anger, whatever, shift it into compassion. Compassion is in Buddhism ‘karuna’ which is the sincere wish that all beings be free of suffering, and never forget that ‘all beings’ includes us. Sometimes pity gets that wrong, in that all beings are out there and I’m different, but ‘all beings’ is us and everyone. So that’s another part of the shift. And because ‘humbly asking’ is a little bit more active than just being ready, there’s a movement, you know, it’s… things in us are directing, and channelling ourselves, our lives, our feelings, our thought, our behaviour in these directions.”

“OK, I’ve spoken about as much as time-wise I want to, but allow me to say a little bit more about the last three words which are to ‘remove our shortcomings’. I want to go back to the law of ‘nature as impermanence’ for this one. In the way I’ve come to understand Buddhism, in a way it’s not that anybody including me has to remove my shortcomings, the more we see how everything is impermanent, we see how those shortcomings are impermanent. And as we, especially through meditation when we see how let’s say anger, which is one I’m familiar with, anger, resentment, blaming, that kind of stuff, each, you know, we may think of anger as sort of this thing ‘I’ve got’. That’s when we identify with anger. But if we, in meditation we see anger come and go, resentment comes and goes, habits of mind like blaming, judgement, criticising, come and go, and it’s the same with fear and worry, it’s the same with loneliness, with despair. All that stuff comes and goes. That’s impermanence. When we’re not clear about impermanence, something like anger, or any shortcoming seems really big and solid, and we tend to assume it must be there all the time somehow. But when you look around can you find anger in yourself and point to you know ‘this is where anger is stored in its… you know it’s there all the time?… You can’t do that, even with neuroscience…We talk about it in some therapies, or I don’t know if you do this in AA, some Buddhists will talk about, you know, anger is stored in the body, or anger is like this, but that’s metaphor. We can’t in reality point anywhere and say ‘that’s where it’s stored’. Even when they do MRIs and see neurons flashing, well they’re not flashing all the time..it’s not like there’s this part of the brain that’s going ‘anger, anger, anger, anger, anger’ constantly. They may be able to isolate that when anger happens, it happens in this area in a certain way, but it’s not happening constantly. That’s part of what impermanence means. So, the shortcomings are impermanent. That means they end. Every time they happen they end. They pass. And, so that’s the nature of all created things. Both… (what’s the opposite of shortcomings… ’longcomings’?!)… the virtues, the beneficial stuff ends too, and so does the shortcomings, so one way to understand Buddhist practice is it’s not so much that you have to get rid of stuff… you just stop repeating it. Maybe it sounds like I’m just playing with words, but I think there’s an insight here that’s very helpful. Partly, and this is where the teachings on karma are relevant, you see that anger or whatever is a choice. You know there’s part of us that you know on one level, you know we blame – ‘I’m angry because you did something’. So I put the blame on you. But when we really see impermanence, interrelatedness, no, anger is a choice, fear is a choice, all of these shortcomings are choices. And they happen because we choose to follow these habits, these patterns. Some of them there is a biological predisposition, many of them there’s a lot of support unfortunately in our society, or even justification, but we choose. And so impermanence will remove all that stuff, or you could say emptiness, those of you who are into that teaching, all of this stuff is empty, it doesn’t have inherent existence, it’s not sitting inside of us just ready to cause trouble. It’s a choice. And so impermanence will remove it, our job is then to learn the lesson and not repeat the mistake, not to make that choice over and over again. Now it’s not always so simple, as I said a little while ago. All of the shortcomings are coming out of relatively complicated causal patterns. They’re related to how we see the world, to our self identities, to how we were socialised, family of origin, lots of stuff, and some behaviours are even careers, are partly dependent on some of our ego qualities and so it’s scary. You know, if I change this am I going to be marketable? So it’s tricky. But what another part of letting impermanence remove the shortcomings is you stop,… so I emphasise choice, but what we do is we also feed the causes, so anger, anger keeps repeating because I feed it. I think about other people in certain ways that feeds anger. I react to certain ways, I hold on to certain beliefs, I continue certain behaviours that feed the shortcomings, so our choice isn’t just ‘Yes – I don’t want to get angry any more’, but it’s also choosing ‘I’m not going to do this and this and this that feeds it.’ I think that’s in the Steps, where, you know, part of it’s learning ‘OK I don’t want to drink, but to not drink, I also have to give up this other stuff, otherwise it’s going to be really hard to not drink’. So that’s recognising how everything is inter-conditioned. You know, drinking is not just this one big monster that exists in isolation. It’s fed by other stuff. And so we learn to stop feeding it. The way Ajahn Buddhadasa sometimes phrased it… you know if you’re really macho and you want to kill a tiger, you can go in there with your bare hands and try and kill it. But you might get chewed up pretty good. If you’re smarter, all you do is let it fall into a pit and don’t feed it, and it’ll eventually starve to death. So, you can take the macho approach, or, if you survive, or, you can take what might be a more effective approach.”

“And then the third piece I want to bring up here is that when we don’t feed the problems, the shortcomings, we still have energy, and life, and if we’re not careful that energy… habits means our energy is used to going in certain ways, like using the example I’ve been talking about, blaming and judging. Well, and I think it looks like lessons eight and nine are partly you shift the energy somewhere else. So that it’s not feeding the shortcomings you shift the energy to feed virtues. So, as long as I, if I don’t want to feed blaming, then I learn to praise. Or if not praise, ‘cause that can be problematic, but you praise when it’s appropriate, you give supporting kind words. We shift the way we look at other people, think about other people, relate to other people, and ourselves, our own bodies, our feelings, and so on, so, we even more actively channel our energy in ways that we see are healthy. So I don’t know if it’s heretical to say actually nobody has to remove our shortcomings, but I think from a Buddhist angle at least, one can say that. It’s only the egoistic illusion that thinks somebody does that. Or those of us that like to talk about the law of nature as God, then you can say ‘OK, God does that’. For us, non-theists, we talk about the law of nature and impermanence. So those are the thoughts I’ve prepared. And now we open it up for further discussion… deepening, sharing and whatever else happens.”