Eleven practices to attain the first awakening

Every creature seeks to become like God. If there were no search for God, the heavens themselves would not be revolving. If God were not in everything, nature would not function nor would desire be in anything.

All things speak God. All creatures have a call to return whence they flowed forth. All their life and being is a calling and a hurrying back to what they came out of. – Meister Eckhart (Walshe, Sermon Twenty Two)

Starting out

The monastic life provides advantages that may not exist for someone seeking enlightenment at home (see “Song of Angya“). Think about the differences so that you can take steps to make your own life more monastic. The most important aspect is being apart from the world, which is a constant evolution of desire. The second most important aspect is the ‘thought of enlightenment’, which is an internal vow to renounce everything in the pursuit of one’s goal.

The Perfections

Buddhism teaches perfections or paramitas (literally reaching the opposite shore), which are effective means of attaining the Absolute. Since the Absolute is perfect, only that which is perfect can unite with it; this is the reason why Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” If this seems impossible, remember that millions of beings have accomplished it, and that enlightened sages are no different from you. If it were impossible, Jesus, the Buddha, Bodhidharma, Lahiri Mahasaya, Meister Eckhart, Madame Guyon, Lester Levenson and all of the myriad other sages wouldn’t have taken the trouble to teach.

The Pali canon lists ten perfections:

  1. Giving (Dana)
  2. Morality (Sila)
  3. Renunciation (Nekkhamma)
  4. Wisdom (Prajna)
  5. Zeal (Viraya)
  6. Patience, Acceptance — to suffer ills without complaint (Ksanti)
  7. Truthfulness
  8. Resolution (Adhitthana)
  9. Loving-kindness (Metta or Karuna)
  10. Equanimity, dispassion, detachment (Upekkha)

One perfection from Mahayana Buddhism that isn’t on this list is dhyana, which is purposeful meditation. Another one missing is Right View, which is the first perfection of the Eightfold Path, which is the original list of perfections taught by the Buddha. Combining the above perfections with the simple exercises I learned from the Finder’s Course, I have drawn up the following list:

Eleven practices for the modern disciple

  1. Having Right View (the Eightfold Path)
  2. Making a commitment (Resolution)
  3. Desiring happiness for others (Giving)
  4. Surrendering your will (Renunciation)
  5. Forgiving (Loving kindness)
  6. Being grateful (Renunciation)
  7. Envisioning success (positive psychology)
  8. Mindfulness meditation (Dhyana)
  9. Loving everyone (Loving kindness)
  10. Letting go of the ego (Renunciation)
  11. Practicing acceptance (Ksanti and Equanimity)

1. Having Right View (Before beginning your program)

“There are two causes, two conditions for the arising of Right View: the testimony of another, and proper reflection.” When one doesn’t believe in the illusory nature of the world, this realization can be shattering. Lester Levenson realized Right View through his intense self-inquiry, but as he was unprepared for it (being a materialist), the experience left him trembling for several days. Armed with belief however, one merely slips into the experience.

Recommended:

To say that the passions may be quieted and destroyed without right reasoning and scriptural teaching is the view and discourse of the philosophers; this is not to be practised by the intelligent. – The Lankavatara Sutra

2. Making a commitment (Practices 2-7 are performed beginning with week one)

Spiritual commitment means to give up all other goals one has set for one’s life. Enlightenment is not one more goal that is added to others, but the goal that replaces all others, because all other goals are hindrances. This is the meaning of three parables attributed to Jesus: one about a fisherman who kept one large fish and cast all the smaller fish back into the sea (Gospel of Thomas logion 8), one about a merchant who gave up his goods in order to buy one pearl for himself (Gospel of Thomas logion 76), and one about a man who found a treasure buried in a field, and “in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field” (Matt. 13:44).

Write down your goal in your own words and set a limited term for attaining it, but no longer than four months. Every morning as soon as you wake up, and every evening just before going to sleep, state your goal out loud: “My goal is such-and-such.” Then repeat the following vow: “I will attain my goal well before such-and-such time.” When you say the words “I will,” say it with the utmost confidence, as if it had already happened and you are merely re-enacting the event. “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be [granted] you” (Mark 11:24)

Here is an example of a monk who vowed to attain enlightenment quickly (this is a great vow):

54 Firmly Vow to Awaken

Chan Master Lingyuan Qing, when he was first studying with Master Huanglong Xin,  participated in question-and-answer along with the rest of the sangha. He didn’t know what was going on and had not a clue. At night he would make a vow before the buddhas: “I will exhaust my body and life in order to be able to give the Dharma. I vow to quickly attain understanding!” Later he was reading the Sayings of Xuansha; tired, he sat facing a wall. He then got up and began walking meditation. As he walked he promptly lost a shoe. When he bent down to pick it up, suddenly he had a great awakening. (Broughton, The Chan Whip Anthology, p. 140)

And here is Lester Levenson’s vow: “I resolved that either I get the answers or I’ll take me off this earth, that no coronary was going to do it. And I had the means, enough morphine to do it.” (No Attachments, No Aversions, p. 65)

3. Wishing happiness for others

After stating and vowing to attain your goal, pray that others may attain their goals, whatever their goals may be. Two variations on this prayer are: “Just as I wish to be happy and free from suffering, so may that being.” “May all beings be happy and free from suffering!” (https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel006.html

4. Surrendering your will

After stating your goal and praying for others to attain their goals, surrender control over your life to a greater power. (For the reasoning behind this, read the post, “The question of will“)

5. Forgiving

After surrendering your will, forgive others for the mistakes they have made in their ignorance, and then forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made in your ignorance. (To refuse to forgive yourself is to cling to pride in yourself.) You owe nothing to this world, and this world owes nothing to you.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6)

6. Being grateful

Every morning and evening, after you have practiced forgiveness, state out loud a few things you are grateful for.

One-time exercise: Write a letter to someone expressing your gratitude for the kindness the person has shown you. It isn’t necessary to send it, since you are cultivating your own mind.

7. Envisioning success

At the end of your morning exercises, spend a few moments envisioning yourself joyfully celebrating at the end of the day because you have attained your goal; then don’t think about it for the rest of the day. (A neighbor had told me about an experience in which she levitated, so I envisioned myself levitating.)

One-time exercise: watch this interview of one of the first six graduates of the Finder’s Course: https://youtu.be/v7bXukRfYmU. This is so you can see on his face what awakening feels like.

To sum up morning and evening exercises, every morning when waking up

  1. State your goal and vow to attain it before a certain time
  2. Pray that others may be happy and free of suffering
  3. Surrender your will to a higher power
  4. Forgive others and yourself
  5. Count your blessings
  6. Envision success

Just before going to sleep, do all of the above except the last one, envisioning success. These practices can be done very quickly.

8. Mindfulness meditation (Beginning of week two of your program)

Read “The most direct path to self-realization

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose non-judgmentally in the present moment as if your life depended on it. — Jon Kabat Zinn

Find a mindfulness technique that works for you. Mindfulness as the quickest path to self-realization; this is because the ego is never in the present moment–it is always somewhere else. Practice sitting meditation for at least one hour every day or longer; this is because the transformations of your consciousness occur after the first 40-45 minutes.

For instructions on observing the breath, see The Foundations of Mindfulness (also copied in this post: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness).

  • Start by counting your breaths (five in, five out) until you have mastered it–a few days.
  • Without counting, observe your breathing, mentally saying “gone” at the very end of each inhalation and then at the end of each exhalation. Do this for a few days.
  • Focus on the sensation of the breath entering and exiting just the opening of the nostrils. Mentally say “gone” whenever the sensation of the breath flowing past the opening ceases. Do this for another few days.
  • Focus on the sensations of the breath inside of the nose and the sinuses. Mentally say “gone” whenever any sensation ceases. Do this for a few days.
  • Focus on the sensation of the breath as it touches the skin beneath the nostrils (above the lip). Say “gone” when a sensation ceases.
  • Focus on the sensations felt on the skin on the outside of the nose, noting when each sensation begins and saying “gone” when it ceases.
  • Focus on the sensations of the face, again mentally saying “gone” when they stop.
  • Focus on sensations on the crown of the head. Beginning with the very top, wait until you feel a sensation. Then slowly proceed downward, square-inch by square-inch, in concentric rings. This is only for the crown of the head.
  • Scan every square inch of your body beginning with the top of the head and moving down in concentric rings, inch by inch. Stay on each section until you feel a sensation then quickly move on. (It is fine to cheat by pinching or tapping the spot.) if you don’t finish the entire body in an hour, pick up where you left off the next day.
  • Scan the entire body in a slow, fluid motion starting from the top of the head and moving down to the toes, like a medical scan.
  • Scan the entire body from the top of the head to the toes, but this time feel the sensations both inside and outside. (By this time you should be able to feel an energetic sensation at will.)

Note: The mind has two modes: “default” and “task.” The default mode is wandering. When you notice your mind has wandered, that’s perfectly normal; simply return to the task. In Buddhism this practice is called “non-dwelling” or “non-attachment”; don’t dwell on the idle thought but just return to the task just as soon as you notice it. If you are a log floating down the river to the sea, don’t become snagged in the embankment.

9. Cultivating love for everyone (Beginning of week four)

First read the short story of Lester Levenson’s enlightenment here : Lester Levenson, or this version edited by Larry Crane: http://www.presentlove.com/lester-levenson/. Then read the post, “What is Love?” This practice is extremely important.

The Finder’s Course Practice

Make a list of everyone you know, beginning with the people you dislike the most.  Every day, set aside twenty or thirty minutes and go down this list in order. With each person, ask yourself, “Can I change this feeling of [resentment, anger, envy] to love?” Then release the unloving feeling and replace it with love. Repeat this process with each person as many times as you need to, then move on to the next person. Do this exercise until you feel only love for everyone on the list. Some people will take a few minutes, and some people may take hours. Be thorough.

One-time exercise in giving: After you have started the love exercise, perform five acts of charity all in one day. Examples: Donate money anonymously to a homeless shelter; buy coffee for a security guard; give a sandwich to a street person; leave some quarters on the washing machine; send someone a greeting card; call or visit someone who is alone.

10. Letting go of the ego (Beginning of week four)

Bad memories

We repress bad memories in the unconscious like junk we have shoved into the attic. They serve no purpose but only make us miserable and block us from experiencing life. What makes them seem like real things are strong emotions that the mind has attached to them. To let go of bad memories, you simply allow yourself to feel the feeling until it goes away on its own. Without the feeling, the memory loses its power.

See the post, “Letting go of the ego” for the Release technique taught by Lester Levenson, and let go of all of your bad memories one by one.

Attachments and aversions

Letting go of attachments (desires) and aversions (fears) should be practiced constantly. See “Letting go of the ego” for the Release technique. Whenever you have an emotional reaction to anything, release the ego-attachment that caused the reaction:

How to see the ego? Every time there is a reaction to anyone or anything that reaction is ego-motivated. Look within for the ego motivation, and when you see it, let go of it. Each time an ego motivation is seen, the ego is weakened. To see ego motivation is to feel it, not just see it intellectually. The more it hurts, the more [involved our ego is]. – Lester Levenson

11. Practicing acceptance (Beginning of week five)

Accept everything and everyone exactly as they are right now without judgment. All beings and all things are nothing but myriad reflections of the One, which is perfect. All things arise from it and return to it, and no time passes between the arising and the returning.

Whatever you perceive is a reflection of your thoughts in the mirror that is your mind. If you see anything as ugly or bad, that ugliness or wrongness is only in your own mind. Apart from your mind, things have no inherent qualities: they simply are; what’s more, they are in their essence all the same. Therefore, seek the imperfection within your mind that caused you to perceive imperfection without. It is some desire or fear that you are holding on to, such as pride or shame, wanting approval or fearing disapproval, wanting control or fearing powerless, wanting superiority or fearing inferiority. Use your emotional reaction to identify and let go of the desire/fear.

See the post: Practicing Acceptance.

 

[End of Eleven Practices]

* * *

Lester Levenson: (1998) PRACTICAL METHODS THAT MAY BE USED DAILY

Correct Behavior

There are only two laws that need be known to cover all correct behavior.

  1. One should have a feeling of harmlessness toward all beings.
  2. That which is mutual is correct.

By following only these two rules one will be guided correctly in all situations, and will be aided in one’s growth. Square all with love.

Accept full responsibility for whatever happens to you. By taking full responsibility and seeking the cause in your thinking, you will find the initiating cause and eliminate it.

Discriminate between the real, which is changeless, and the unreal, which changes.

Attain the desireless state.

Attain the place where no one and no thing can disturb you.

Be a witness, unaffected, assuming the place where you should be.

Consciousness is perfect, and when one sees that, one only sees perfection.

Do not try to correct a problem. Behold the real perfection underlying everything.

There’s nothing out there but your consciousness.

Only that which is within can be seen without. When we see imperfection without, we should look within. If you don’t like something in the world out there, change yourself.

Thinking is cause, what happens is effect.

See your Self in everyone and everything.

Develop a constant feeling of gratitude.

Grant others their beingness.

Get quiet; concentrate your mind on one question.

Daily, let go of the ego.

Take no thought for the ego, only for your Self.

Let the ego go its way and know that it is not the real you, your Self. Just keep knowing that you are not it. Eventually, it not being recognized, it will recede!

Practice loving those who oppose you; be grateful to them for providing you with an opportunity for growth.

Reactions or disturbing thoughts are gifts, so be grateful for them. Seize them as opportunities for growth by seeking their source and letting go of more of the ego.

Introspection brings up the subconscious and makes it conscious, allowing us to change it.

Focus on the positive, eliminate the negative.

We are here and now a fully realized being telling ourselves that we are not, saying, “I need this,” “I need that,” “I am limited by this,” “I am limited by that.” All we need to do is to stop feeling that we are limited and start being the unlimited Being that we really are.

Levenson, Lester. The Ultimate Truth. Sherman Oaks, CA, Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc., 1998. (https://www.scribd.com/doc/17260101/Lester-Levenson-Ultimate-Truth-Part-1-2-3-52-Pages)

Ashida Kim. Zen Koans. From the Shaseki-shu (Collection of Stone and Sand), written late in the thirteenth century by the Japanese Zen teacher Muju, and from anecdotes of Zen monks taken from various books published in Japan around the turn of the 20th century. (http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/zenindex.html)

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