Q . When I am contemplating the three aspects of reality (anicca, anatta, dukkha), I find I start off thinking and reflecting on these facts as if I was a doctor looking over my body, mind and sensations, constantly reminding myself of their true nature. However, I know the Satipattana Sutta states you should observe 'body in body', 'feelings in feelings', etc. I do occasionally dissolve the separation of my observer and my observed, but find it difficult to maintain this awareness. Should I be patient and allow the awareness to naturally integrate with body and mind (which it does eventually), or should I be making more effort to contemplate less and experience more. Secondly, I've heard different meditator's tend to reflect on anicca, anatta or dukkha. My experience is that very quickly they appear as different aspects of the same truth, inseparable. What is your experience of this?
A. After starting meditation, concentration will naturally take time to strengthen. Therefore, being more dualistic with our contemplation when concentration is at its weakest (though present to a good degree) will be our starting point. As concentration strengthens, we will then be able to fulfil the sutra's teaching of being at one with our chosen subject. It is also useful to remember that a skilful means is to arouse your insightful understanding from previous meditations and bring it to bear in the present contemplation. This should aid the development of concentration markedly. From my experience maintaining awareness is hardly ever a passive engagement. Rather it is one that continually needs 'pumping up' through either returning briefly to your samatha practice and/or deliberately surrendering to the insightful knowledge that is present. The three signs of being are just that, signs or characteristics of any dharma and not the Dharma itself. Contemplate whichever one attracts you, as they all lead to the undermining of the notion of a separate solid self. They also support each other to the extent that they are mutually inclusive, and when looked at closely are seen as one.
Q. I wonder if you could say some more on attachment and how it holds us back from progress along the path. In particular, can you say something about it in relation to desire, or thirsting after things? I've understood that it is desire for things which is an obstacle, and that one's dharma practice ideally leads to greater contentment and doing without. However, if I understand recent postings by you, it is more the emotional attachment that we place on objects that hinders, and that desire itselfmay or may not be something that we can't do a lot about (you don't say this, I'm speculating). I can see how overcoming desire and overcoming attachment can both lead to contentment, stillness, doing without, etc. ... However, it seems to me that perhaps the nature or focus of practice is different in both cases. For example, if I'm attempting to overcome my tendency to desire things, I may well decide to remain out of a relationship and be stoic about this. However, if it's attachment that is the 'devil', then being in a relationship is perfectly natural and Dharmically acceptable.However, it's the attachment to my partner and wanting the relationship to be a certain way that now becomes the practice ground...
A. Becoming unattached IS the path. Outside of attachment there is no world and therefore no suffering. In a metaphysical sense we are attached moment by moment, even when we are at our most peaceful. But we can hardly do anything about that. What we can address are our obvious attachments that manifest through the emotions. We focus on containing and working with them. This then becomes the transforming process that characterises the Mahayana. You could say there are two perspectives on containment practice: restraint before the event takes place, and restraint when the event is in play. The first is to restrain or even deny something we are strongly attached to, (or maybe see it as something that may hinder the practice). The second is to live life and, if you so wish, knowingly (if not willingly) take on something that you are attached to, then see it as your training ground. To use your example. if you feel you can live without a relationship, because you know it will certainly bring dukkha in one form or another and make your practice much more difficult to do, then restrain yourself from entering into it. If you feel you don't want to/can't live without a relationship, then that is okay as well. You are taking on a form of practice that for you will be difficult to fulfil, but do it anyway. It could be your vehicle to awakening. Or maybe it will be your vehicle to even greater dukkha. Either way, emotional restraint IS the practice.
Q. Lately I seem to keep meeting with 'healers' and having conversations about healing with them. So much so that I'm wondering whether there might be some meaning to all of this for what I should be doing with my life. At least in the short term? Do you think that the dharma interacts with each of us in our daily lives, and through chance meetings, conversations, etc.? Gives us clues as to what we should be doing in order to have a more effective practice and to make progress? I guess a more broad way of putting this question is: If one reaches toward the dharma, does it respond in kind and interact with one's life? If so, how does one go about identifying what is dharma interaction and what is just 'pie in the sky'?
A. The restless mind and wishful thinking is usually the architect of 'Dharmic omens'. Keep your feet on the ground and deal with what is in front of you. When genuine change is about to come to you, it usually becomes clear after you give the possible new situation space (and time) within yourself. Then you will see the next thing to do, clearly. NEVER be compulsive. One reaches towards the Dharma, as you put it, by practising the eightfold path, embraced by going for refuge. If you do this, then you will have your feet firmly on the ground and be less inclined to be looking for signs and omens to rescue you from your restlessness and dukkha.