I suppose I can officially say I’m a practicing Theravada Buddhist as of about a week ago. I’m primarily focused on getting comfortable with the sitting posture without actually focusing on meditation. Right now I’m sitting for 40 minutes once or twice a day while reading.
Before sitting today I noticed I was a little hungry. I didn’t have a lot of options so I ate an apple. I needed a little more fuel, so I went with a brownie, not so much because I “desired” one as it was just something simple to eat. That said, brownies are tasty so I enjoyed eating it. While enjoying the brownie I asked myself “Who’s enjoying the brownie?”
Things got a little weird from that question. I realized my tongue liked the flavor and certainly enjoyed it, but I was kind of indifferent to the brownie as I was eating it in preparation for sitting (as opposed to desiring the actual brownie). Then I started to “see” the me that wasn’t there. The feelings in the bottoms of my feet from standing weren’t me. I wasn’t tasting the brownie. The sounds of the cars driving by weren’t me either. It was all just a bunch of inputs coming in and getting processed by the mind (I can’t even say my mind… who owns that?!)
All this tripped out thinking is because I’m currently halfway through 3 different books on Theravada Buddhism… “Small Boat, Great Mountain by Ajahn Amaro“, “Everything is Teaching Us by Ajahn Chah (pdf)” and “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana“.
The Elephant and the Rider
I need to hurry up (who needs to hurry? 😉 ) and get out a review for the book “The Happiness Hypothesis” before I have as backlog of books to review (I suppose I already technically have one from years of not writing book reviews…) In this book the author uses the analogy of the “mind body” relationship being similar to an elephant and the rider. The rider is what we perceive as consciousness, the elephant representing the body and a layer of consciousness the rider can’t see (I suppose it’s normally called the subconscious).
The elephant rider analogy is used to show how many of the things you do and you think you (the rider) are doing them are actually done by the elephant. The rider is good at creating stories to support how “in charge” he is. Anyhow, I think it was “the elephant” that was enjoying that brownie. What’s interesting about the elephant/rider analogy is it hints at a couple things.
- You are not the rider
- You are a combination of rider and elephant (multiple minds)
- You are not a combination of rider and elephant (it’s just an idea, born from the mind… of the rider)
Who Am I?
This line of self inquiry is something Ramana Maharshi was fond of. He even “wrote” (I don’t think he wrote any books, instead they are from his talks) a book titled “Who am I?” (I read a different version which was put in the question answer format). I guess it was something Ajahn Chah was fond of as well since something I just read that was attributed to him woke up doing this kind of self inquiry again. I’ve often heard references made to the mirror and that’s who we are (a combination of inputs that get processed as I, me, my, this, that, them, etc.). Good and bad things get reflected into the mirror, but they have no effect on the mirror, the mirror stays being the mirror. Happiness comes and goes based on these reflections but, the mirror is ever present (I believe emotions are supposed to be reflections thoughts which are also seen as inputs). Recognizing the taste of the brownie as being a reflection in the mirror was… interesting.
A Useful Takeaway for Practice
Now here’s the awesome part of this adventure in who enjoys eating brownies. I took this self inquiry with me while sitting. Sitting starts to suck pretty quickly for me as I’m not as flexible as I need to be. To make matters worse (or better) I put a backpack full of books on each knee to keep them flat on the ground. The pain is pretty instant, it’s light, but instant and gets annoying fast.
Today I maintained composure, didn’t wiggle around and shift and when “my” legs were complaining. I realized that “I” didn’t feel any pain, “my” legs did. Once that was handled I starting thinking about the clock and wanting to take a look at how much time was left. That’s when I started thinking about who wanted things to be over and why and it went back to those pesky legs… Once it was made clear to the legs that they wouldn’t not interfere with my sitting in any shape or form, I was able to comfortably enjoy the distraction of the book I was reading (I decided not to worry about who was enjoying the book as I was only interested in the sitting practice. 🙂 )
What blew my mind is that the “time” went by super quickly. Yesterday I must have looked at the clock 4 or 5 times during my sit and it felt like it was taking FOREVER. Today I didn’t look once and it was over before I knew it. This all thanks to a thought about who was enjoying the brownie, which got converted into thinking about who was experiencing the pain.