Holding to Self Centered Thoughts

At Appamada, we use the Four Practice Principles as one of our foundational chants. This is a poetic version of the Four Noble Truths and was used originally by Joko Beck's Ordinary Mind sangha. It is a clear and multilayered teaching, functioning as all good chants do by connection us energetically as we chant and inviting us to continually take the teachings deeper into our body. This is the verse:

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;

Holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream.

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;

Being just this moment, compassion's way.

The first line is clear and powerful. When caught in our self-involved narratives and resulting embodiment, we separate ourselves from others and from the world and suffer as a result. The second line is often not taken so intimately and powerfully, so I wanted to say a few things about its possible meaning. This was the focus of the Inquiry session linked below this brief post.

When we chant “Holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream,” we are pointing to all the ways we maintain and continually recreate the virtual reality in which we live. It does not refer solely to mental thought. It also means “embodiment” — how can we hold our attitudes and personal views without holding our body in a certain way? The Four Foundations of Mindfulness as taught by the Buddha clearly link the body and breath, the ways we incline toward and away from life through our preferences (attachment, aversion, and confusion), the emergence of emotion-thought (the whole display of our reactive mind), and the establishment of constructed narratives and objects of the mind (the stories and concepts that we take for reality). Actually, there is no duality when we say “body” and “thoughts.” They are all of one piece. They arise together and pass away together. Each of the four foundations shapes and is shaped by the others (which are actually not “other”). The invitation in Zen practice is to engage the body in certain ways, through the forms of practice, in order to awaken to these embodied habits without resorting to the more common habit of fixing. Based on our curative fantasies we hope that practice will help us transcend our life rather than helping us learn to live wholeheartedly the life we actually have. I hope you will benefit from this brief reflection and the Inquiry that followed.

Inquiry recording:

Sun comes up in the West