Monday, 14 April 2014

The Spectrum of Usefulness and Enlightenment.

I want to point out a distinction which I consider important for understanding the Mahayana and for avoiding a particular hindrance to enlightenment. My concern is that a certain wrong view leads us to be too busy, which I think stems from our understanding of how altruistic activity fits into Buddhism. We considered the Mahayana goal of Buddhahood to be merely a re-emphasis of the goal of full enlightenment.  However, it’s not difficult to see how this is a mistake. To become fully enlightened we do not also need to develop the extra abilities which make one a Buddha (like our historical Buddha) – for example, liberating yourself without the guidance of an enlightened teacher and successfully passing on that enlightenment to others. In fact, it should not come as a surprise that becoming fully enlightened does not mean you are suddenly going to be useful (like our historical Buddha). The problem, as I see it, is that our path to full enlightenment can be hindered by these mistaken views; they lead us to confuse the conditions necessary for our liberation with the conditions necessary for becoming useful to others. It seems to me that in reality the two goals represent two possible extremes on a spectrum of how much one is of actual benefit to others whilst gaining liberation. I.e. someone who is fully enlightened but not very useful to others and someone who is fully enlightened and is very useful to others. 

One implication of this is that there is a boundary between altruistic activity which moves us towards full enlightenment (i.e. an Arahant), and altruistic activity which is more than needed merely for our own full enlightenment (towards the Mahayana goal). Of course we can prolong our path to enlightenment by adding more altruistic activity; we could follow the recommendation for a Bodhisattva to train in the languages, medicines, and other things useful to others. These things can lengthen our path because they take up our mind. We should know that it is in fact not necessary to master any of the arts or sciences in order to gain enlightenment. If we do not clearly separate enlightenment from ability we are likely to think altruistic activity we are doing for others is also just what we need for our path to enlightenment, but this may not be the case. I think most of us are just being too busy and hindering our path to enlightenment. A manifestation of the wrong view which conflates enlightenment with abilities is that in practice we end up being too busy trying to become useful. This may also have lead to an undervaluation of monasteries, meditation and the life of calm in Triratna. 

Most importantly, more has been added in the Mahayana, explaining why the path to Buddhahood would take longer. This altruistic activity was never intended to be the direct path to a Bodhisattva’s enlightenment. It is not easy to see what is necessary for a particular person’s path. Extra altruistic activity can sometimes be helpful for a person’s path to enlightenment. One example of this is the story of Milarepa’s trials. However, those towers were not really built for the benefit of Marpa. There are several aspects at play here which we can easily confuse. For example, if we conflate enlightenment with ability we may expect someone to not be very enlightened just because they don't have very good social skills, or can’t give good public talks. Selflessness, altruism and altruistic activity need to be distinguished. Selflessness cannot actually be equated with usefulness to others; sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. It seems to me that this really distinguishes the two goals. In terms of the goals of Buddhism we could say that they are characterised by a ‘spectrum of usefulness’ alongside the attainment of enlightenment; at one extreme there is mere enlightenment and at the other extreme there is enlightenment plus the fully developed ability to be useful to others. This has an early precedent in the Kitagiri Sutta which describes ‘liberation in both ways’. Perhaps this was an early example of what gradually developed into the Mahayana as the Buddha’s achievement began to be included in the schema of goals. We need to distinguish enlightenment from abilities as we see described in the Kitagiri Sutta if we are to both understand the Mahayana and avoid hindering our path to enlightenment. The movement’s approach to altruistic activity has helped it to grow, but now we should look more carefully our approach and even how we have been influenced by cultural conditioning, get the principle right and incorporate all aspects of ‘the spectrum’ correctly. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Anti-intellectualism and the Spiritual Community

By never exploring doubts (which are necessary to explore) we can keep our place in the group but lose our place in the spiritual community. By exploring doubts (which are necessary to explore) we can lose our place in the group but keep our place in the spiritual community. In Buddhism one of the earliest examples of this was when the buddha explored his doubts about the 'Hindu' groups he first belonged to. Anti-intellectualism could be one way we attempt to gloss over our troublesome doubts - so we can stay in the group and the spiritual community at the same time. However, big problems can arise in a group/spiritual community when we are unwilling to think things through for ourselves. This can lead to cult-like behaviour.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-intellectualism


http://new.exchristian.net/2012/08/dogmatism-and-anti-intellectualism-in.html



http://thirdorderintelligence.com/dumbin9.gif


Monday, 5 August 2013

Great Book - Autogenic Training: The Effective Holistic Way to Better Health

Interesting ideas on passive concentration from Chapter 9



'this is the most important aspect, the mainstay, of the whole Autogenic concept', 'most of our lives we have been taught to concentrate hard and actively'. 'Unfortunately, our conscious interference by means of active concentration usually puts a spanner in the works.' - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Autogenic-Training-Effective-Holistic-ebook/dp/B00796E3OC

Friday, 12 July 2013

Principles Underlying Altruistic Action In The Paths And Goals Of Buddhism




Principles Underlying Altruistic Action in Buddhism - The Spectrum of Usefulness


I’m not arguing for or against altruistic action in particular here. Personally I would like to take the fastest route to enlightenment and during this time help others as much as possible. Here I explore the implications of two points. Firstly, how the ‘hinayana’ and ‘mahayana’ goals are in fact different. Secondly, and in connection with this, what it means that we can gain enlightenment without having been of much, if any, use to others.
It’s important first that I clarify my terminology, so you know where I’m coming from. Otherwise it could seem like I’m using different words for the same thing, i.e. enlightenment, which I am not. This could lead to the feeling that ‘it’s all just words’, which it is not.
I’m limiting myself to a comparison of ‘hinayana’ with early ‘mahayana’, rather than later developments. For what I mean by early mahayana please refer to Jan Nattier’s book, ‘a few good men’. When I say goal of the mahayana I mean the goal of becoming a full buddha, or Samyaksambuddha. By this I mean someone who has gained enlightenment without first hearing the teaching, and then was able to successfully communicate this to others, etc. I am using ‘bodhicitta’ in the sense of establishment on, or dedication to, this path to becoming a full buddha, or at least towards that direction. By the hinayana goal of ‘arahant’, or ‘sravaka’, I mean the goal of full enlightenment, where greed, hatred and delusion have gone, but without the special abilities of a buddha, as described above. If you examine the inconstancy in the use of these terms - with enlightenment and buddhahood being used interchangeably – you may find it contains a subtle downplaying of the goal of early Buddhism, and of the Theravada.

The two main points

I ask whether we have to be of much use to others in order to gain enlightenment? May the attempt to help others sometimes get in the way of our path to enlightenment? How could altruism be problematic, since isn’t compassion part of the goal? To understand all this we need to look carefully at distinctions within our ideas of altruism.
From the Buddhist records we have examples of people having much or little ability to actually benefit others alongside their enlightenment. For example, the buddha being of great help to others and some of his enlightened disciples being of little help, perhaps some not even being able to teach effectively.
In the story of Angulimala the buddha did not advise him to get a job to raise money for the families of those affected by his killing; the least he could have done we might think. But this may have been for a good reason – as it may have hindered him from gaining enlightenment. In contrast to this Anathapindika, the chief lay disciple of the Buddha who was known as the "foremost disciple in generosity" and a great benefactor of Buddhism (even though he had great reverence for the Buddha) still seems to have been unable to gain full enlightenment himself. Results won’t be the same for everyone, but perhaps this gives us a clue that we can over-do altruistic activity.
Since we’d naturally like to respond to the many needs of others, whether or not this forms part of our path to enlightenment, the question becomes - what limits if any should we put on our altruistic activity if we do not want to delay our enlightenment? Could the attempt to help others get in the way of our path to enlightenment? Is any amount of altruistic action by us also what we need for our own liberation?
Then we have to consider whether we are talking about altruistic action before enlightenment as a part of our path, or after enlightenment as a result of our path, I think we can tend to mix these up. We have to consider that the even the Buddha wasn’t of much use to anyone before he was enlightened. We could even say that the Buddha actively just walked out on people during his approach to enlightenment; for example his family, his first teachers, and his first spiritual companions. If he’d put others’ needs first, like staying to care for his family, maybe he wouldn’t have gained enlightenment at all.
I think it is vital that as Buddhism in the West grows we have a clear understanding of the place of altruistic activity, if we are to reduce the danger of becoming a group of social workers who never quite deepen meditation enough. I think examples of people suffering ‘burn out’ which we have seen are symptoms which merely reveal the tip of this iceberg; they may well arise from a misunderstanding of the place of altruistic action.

Clarifying our teaching of altruistic action

It seems to be clear now that the mahayana did not start as a mere re-emphasis based on polemic. This understanding, described in the work of Jan Nattier, is now becoming common knowledge. At some point we will need to integrate the understanding of this, and its implications.
I suggest that the main principle involved, which exists whether or not one talks of traditional Buddhism, is that one can gain full enlightenment alongside much or little ability to benefit others and after having benefited others much or little. This means the path of Buddhism contains a full spectrum of possible altruistic activity and the goal of Buddhism contains a full spectrum of possible altruistic activity.
So in traditional Buddhist terms two possibilities of ‘much or little ability’ could mean becoming a full buddha or a mere sravaka (or arahant) respectively. These two goals I suggest represent two possible extremes on a spectrum of how much one is of actual benefit to others alongside one’s liberation. I.e. someone who has fully developed the ability to help others alongside their enlightenment and is of much help to others, and someone who has only just managed to get themselves enlightened and may not be of much use to others.
Bahiya of the Bark Garment would be an example of an arahant who did not benefit others much before his enlightenment. After his enlightenment he didn’t have much of a chance to be, though he could have been more useful if he’d been able to keep himself alive. He certainly did not pass on his insight to others before he died. However, the mahayana is about actually helping people in the end; effective altruistic action, and learning how to be useful to others. Altruistic activity may not be the direct path to enlightenment in the early mahayana because it is not meant to be; but rather it is a path which involves more preparation so at the point of enlightenment one is more useful to others and this means it could take longer. The original mahayana goal of buddhahood means gaining enlightenment without hearing the dharma and then successfully passing that on to others, which involves far more than just getting yourself enlightened. So becoming a buddha (like our buddha Gautama) is more challenging to achieve.

Where is the misunderstanding?

I wonder if some of the misunderstanding around what the place of altruistic action is could come from using the word altruism in too many ways. The Oxford dictionary says for ‘altruism’; ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others’, which talks about a concern rather than an action, and follows with; ‘some may choose to work with vulnerable elderly people out of altruism’. So here it is described as a concern on which an action can be based. This is ideally how we should be using these terms. However we can often talk about altruism itself as action– in this way we can conflate these two aspects (people in general might not think of the possibility of solitary meditation retreat being suitable for developing altruism, but this seems to represent the original mahayana approach). For example we may tend to consider the Bodhicaryavatara more as a guide to action than meditation, which I think is not the case. Would we even have heard of Santideva if he’d done all his day time work duties and dropped his idea of night time meditation?
If we think that altruism not quickly manifesting in action is a contradiction in terms, we should then reflect on whether this really fits with the teachings of Pratitya Samutpada. We also need to consider that altruism and selflessness are actually not the same thing. Selflessness, altruism and altruistic action must be distinguished. If we confuse these we may think someone who is fully enlightened (i.e. fully selfless) is also going to be well developed in altruistic action; displaying much usefulness to others. But no one said getting enlightened guarantees you any special powers or skills. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to run a business, or even pass a GCSE in English. Everything arises from conditions; it is the same with this.
The mahayana goal of buddhahood involves altruistic action which actually benefits others, not merely altruism as intention or an attempt to benefit others, and actually benefiting others can be extremely difficult. I think this is why it involves action or effort which goes beyond what is necessary just for gaining enlightenment. If this were not the case all who gained enlightenment would also be buddhas with the ability to communicate enlightenment to others, which obviously hasn’t been the case; since we have not seen an exponential growth in buddhas in the world. It follows that we have choice about which goals we choose ourselves. Misunderstanding originating in our views about altruistic activity will also affect the choices we make.

Problems

The main problem which comes from a failure to distinguish the goals may be that it leads us to confuse the conditions needed for full buddhahood with the conditions needed merely for our liberation, which has historically been called arahantship (i.e. enlightenment without necessarily much usefulness). Not clearly distinguishing between effort which is necessary for progress to enlightenment and effort which is more than needed for this could mean that we end up, because of our busy lives, becoming useful to others but not becoming enlightened. I have no problem with people choosing this. I do have a problem with people choosing this without any understanding of the distinction involved, and I have a problem with the path to enlightenment turning into the path to social work.
It seems to me that someone who is enlightened cannot be more selfless than someone else who is enlightened, because otherwise we introduce a duality into what is non-dual. The difference is not in the ‘transcendental’ realm but in the mundane realm, and mundane abilities which go along with it. This is one reason why there is such a distinction between the two goals of enlightenment (arahant) and enlightenment plus abilities to help others (buddha). It seems to me a clear mistake to use the terms enlightenment and buddhahood interchangeably.
Most importantly, our failure to distinguish this may mean we train in much altruistic activity thinking we are doing just what is needed for our enlightenment when it is not the case. In fact we may be extending our path to enlightenment or just putting off our enlightenment because we are not getting away from the world enough. We may certainly not be on the direct path to enlightenment. This might particularly be a problem view for us modern people living in the west, where success comes through doing. The question isn’t doing or not doing, it’s not black or white. It’s about how much you do. Success in enlightenment does not come in the way we are used to it in the modern world.

The Problem with Positive Formulations of the Path

It occurred to me that Buddhist tradition tended to stick to negative formulations of the path and goal for a good reason. We can start to think of the path too much as ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’, as an addition rather than a reduction. This is where the problem comes in. How generous should we be? Is it ungenerous to spend a year in secluded retreat when millions of children are starving in Africa? Is it ungenerous to spend a whole hour meditating at home when you could be spending time with your children or grandchildren? Of course it’s ungenerous. If we did not understand why the buddha to be had to leave his family, it may be because we didn’t understand this point. Framing the precepts as ‘doing’ rather than as ‘reducing’ is subtly problematic because it leaves us open to doing too much.

The Spectrum of Usefulness; a More Correct Definition of the Two Goals?

It seems to me that the real principle underlying the distinction between the two traditional goals, of early buddhism (sravaka or arahant) and early mahayana (buddha), is that they can represent two extreme ends of a spectrum. It is a spectrum of how much actual ability to benefit others we have developed by the time we gain enlightenment; enlightenment without, and enlightenment with, much ability and usefulness to others. This has a precedent in the Kitagiri sutta, as shown below.

The Dividing Line

It seems to follow that there will be a dividing line between altruistic training needed for our liberation and altruistic training which is more than needed for this. I think this line can be said to divide the ‘hinayana’ from the ‘mahayana’ approach. This line will change for each specific person because of the needs of that individual. Psychology, and even how much (as in Milarepa’s case) one needs to work to counteract one’s karma, will play a part in this. However, below this line includes all altruistic action which also provides what one needs for one’s own liberation; i.e. altruistic activity which helps us build the conditions necessary for our enlightenment. It is not essentially about how much we have helped others but the conditions in our own mind, and these factors are not always easy to separate. Sometimes the ‘mahayana’, whether knowingly or not, may just be being used for the purpose of the ‘hinayana’ goal, for example when we say that someone needs to work for others for the sake of their own spiritual progress, as we can tend to do. As I’ve said earlier the original mahayana meant doing more than just getting yourself enlightened.

Altruistic Action on the Path to Enlightenment

One implication of this awareness in terms of the path is that it shows us the boundary between altruistic action which moves us towards enlightenment (towards the ‘hinayana’ goal), and altruistic action by us which is more than we need merely for our own enlightenment (towards the mahayana goal). Adding more means our path to enlightenment can get longer. For example, the recommendation for a bodhisattva to train in languages, medicine or the arts, and other things useful to others. These are more than we need for our path to enlightenment. It is in fact not necessary to master any of the arts or sciences in order to gain enlightenment. Most importantly, this activity is not intended to speed bodhisattvas to their enlightenment, the mahayana means adding to the path. It seems that this was what the early mahayana was all about; not re-establishing the goal of enlightenment. I think of it as ‘enlightenment plus’.

Two paths or one?

I think this could be described as one path with any amount of ‘additionally’ involved activity. This would lead to somewhere between two ends of the spectrum I have described. It would make sense that the path simply to one’s liberation (at one extreme) is likely to take less time than the path to full buddhahood (at the other extreme). However, it is unlikely we will be completely useless to others at the point of our enlightenment. We are likely to be somewhat useful even if we are not a full buddha, we may fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. We could call this spectrum the 'bodhisattva spectrum' or ‘spectrum of usefulness’. I think this may be the true distinction between hinayana and early mahayana. If so it will be the correct basis for integrating the two approaches.

Liberated in both ways?

This sheds light on something perhaps not many of us have hear of; ‘One who is liberated in both ways is an arahat who has completely destroyed the defilements and possesses the immaterial attainments. The commentaries explain the name ‘liberated in both ways’ as meaning ‘through the immaterial attainment he is liberated from the material body and through the path (of arahatship) he is liberated from the mental body’ (MA.ii,131)’
Analayo discuses this in his book Satipatthana in the section on calm and insight pg 88 – 91, where he also mentions that in the Susima Sutta some monks declare themselves to be merely liberated by wisdom. This doesn’t mean that there are two separate kinds of liberation goal. Monks were liberated alongside various levels of mundane ability: the immaterial attainment being one such mundane ability.
This could be an early example, found in the Kitagiri Sutta, of the underlying principle I talk about here. It’s basically a distinction between enlightenment without and enlightenment with certain abilities; here involving the ability to access the formless dhyanas and siddhis. Mentioned in the Sutra S.II. 124-8, where the buddha is asked why not all enlightened disciples had special abilities. We find that the second of seven types of noble persons, who are arahant but not liberated in both ways, ‘have none of the first five of the six ‘higher knowledges’. These are the higher knowledges which a buddha might employ in order to help others.
It’s interesting that the early distinction of seven noble persons exclude the specific abilities of a buddha, which are rediscovering the path and re-turning the wheel of the dharma. It seems to me that this was corrected later by the new mahayana approach. It does seem to be an early attempt to explore distinctions in the path and goal. In any case it shows the basic underlying principle I want to make clear: a distinction between enlightenment with much usefulness and enlightenment without much usefulness.
Enlightenment is not dependent on how much, or how many, people we actually benefit. Awareness of ‘the spectrum’ means having the power to choose. Without this awareness the choice of whether or not to lengthen our path becomes blurred, and will be influenced by our unconscious or cultural assumptions. The main problem is that doing lots of altruistic activity can get in the way when it leads us to be busy, pushing out other elements of the path we need when we’re still unenlightened.
The ‘spectrum of usefulness’ or ‘bodhisattva spectrum’ represents a natural possibility in the universe, rather than something artificial. It may explain the hinayana/mahayana distinction. It may be that the lack of this understanding has contributed a subtle hindrance to enlightenment within Triratna. If this is the case it is a very serious issue for Triratna and should be investigated further to avoid that possibility in the future.
What makes effort necessary or not depends upon the goal we want to achieve.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Reducing Unnecessary Effort Meditation



In drawing out implications of my ‘path of relaxation’ idea, May 2012 Shabda, I also experienced one of the implications to be a new approach in meditation, or even a new meditation in itself. I would call this a reducing unnecessary effort (or RUE) meditation, even a relaxation meditation if relaxation’s nature as reducing unnecessary effort was more widely understood. 

Relaxation really means reducing unnecessary effort rather than reducing any effort, making it central to Buddhist training; it is also essential to success in any activity. It just hasn’t been very explicit in the past, probably for similar reasons that stress wasn’t so much of an issue in the past.

To understand the RUE approach to meditation we should first look at how the four Satipatthanas are a process rather than four separate areas of mindfulness. After reading Bodhipaksa’s ground breaking essay ‘the four foundations of mindfulness as a dynamic process’ I realised that Satipatthana and relaxation could be intimately connected. When we see this we can see how a spiral process of reducing unnecessary effort unfolds on the basis of engaging first with what is going on in our body, after this our feelings become apparent, then our emotions, and mind objects. Relaxation will be proportionate to awareness because engagement with our tension is vital before we can choose to affect any change in that tension.

The Method: The general training of RUE meditation is using Satipatthana to become aware of and drop unnecessary effort at each level, which is experienced also as relaxation. For example, dropping physical tension or the five hindrances, which are both forms of unnecessary effort. Relaxation starts with awareness; we all naturally practice Satipatthana to some extent when we attempt to relax fully because we need awareness of what to relax and what not to relax. So in detail, awareness of our body reveals tension there (experienced as uncomfortable), awareness of this tension reveals deeper emotional conditions (also an activity we make ourselves) and awareness of this emotional level reveals mistaken uses of our mind and unnecessary effort in the form, for example, of the five hindrances and wrong views. Dropping each level of unnecessary effort refines and calms our mental and physical experience and allows us to refine this process further. In this process we see directly how our experience is conditioned. Seeing this conditional spiral process in light of the Four Noble Truths can be described as the fourth Satipatthana. We then drop the unnecessary effort, or asravas, with which we can see we cause our own suffering. 

Satipatthana may have been called ‘the direct path’ because of this relaxation process. Certainly relaxation as described here is central to the path, and the most direct path is the one which makes the least unnecessary effort. The RUE approach is a direct path first to dhyana, since the dhyanas can be described as increasing levels of the absence of tension and unnecessary effort, and then a direct path to Enlightenment. Clinging to greed, hatred and delusion can be seen as unnecessary effort which we are making ourselves, and self-clinging the deepest form of tension at the core of our concentric layers of unnecessary effort.  

Method of Using Feedback for RUE: The rate and quality of our breathing is accurate feedback for our level of unnecessary mental and physical effort, because it is fuel in direct proportion to the demand of that activity. Relaxation is then guided by this feedback by watching and asking the question; what unnecessary mental and physical activity is stopping me from relaxing the breathing fully? We will discover that we are tense somehow or doing something which demands the higher breathing rate. This process (of Satipatthana) will take us directly and naturally into absorption. In the light of reducing unnecessary effort Satipatthana takes on a new training dimension.

Something Subhuti mentions in his talk on just sitting and which is also important for this approach is the use of positive signs, and I think he mentions the Buddha as a positive sign. However, I think nimitta (sign) is more primarily a positive sign in terms of positive feedback. The nimitta (or subtle counterpart meditation object) appears only when we start to access the super-conscious state – and hence is feedback indicating engagement with dhyana. Many qualities can be used as feedback in this way; indicating where we are in the meditation, for example reduction in the tiny movements our eyes and mouth make when we think. In deep absorption the breathing may seem to stop altogether. We can continue engaging with the breathing as a meditation object now only through its subtle counterpart (nimitta). The nimitta of the breath arises when the physical breathing is no longer perceivable. Likewise the body memory of dhyana, or of this level of relaxation when the breathing is effortlessness, guides us very quickly into absorption. Samapatti, the experiences we can have as we disengage from having six points of awareness to having one-pointed awareness, also represents a sign of reducing unnecessary effort in a slightly different way. Although we wouldn’t tend to use it as a new meditation object because of its transitory nature, it does give feedback of leaving behind coarse activity.

Just as in the Mindfulness of Breathing, our meditation object here starts as an experience in our body, which in this case is relaxation experienced through Satipatthana. As we progress the meditation object can become the nimitta experience or even the body memory of dhyana directly. If we don’t straight away have a sense of the enjoyment of relaxation, then we need to wait like in Subhuti’s five stages of just sitting, allowing the body and mind to start calming down. Boredom is a lack of enjoyment which comes from disengagement. As we relax into engagement boredom fades and becomes enjoyment. Samadhi, happiness and relaxation are ultimately different words for the same thing.

Postural Issues: To engage with this process of awareness of the subtle me
ntal and physical tensions it is better first to reduce the course tensions which come from the physical exertion of moving around or holding up a poor meditation posture. We can of course reduce unnecessary effort completely and enter an absorbed state whilst sitting upright, standing, or even during martial arts training, but increasing the demand on the body also increases the challenge of full relaxation. Because it can take a long time RUE meditation for many of us is best in a reclining posture, and there’s no point boiling a kettle for thirty seconds a day unless it’s a very fast kettle.

The attempt to meditate in an upright posture when we have trouble fully relaxing means that, as well as meditating, we are actually also doing an intense physical training - like Qigong.  [bold]Meditating upright is also a physical training exercise.[/bold] We can remove this physical exercise, and any associated distraction or tension, simply by swapping to a fully externally supported (reclining) posture. We could meditate whilst doing weight training, for example, but probably the first step would be to stop weight training. 

The Importance of Enjoyment for RUE Meditation: The forth dhyana (and the arupa dhyanas if we include them) could be described as the highest level of relaxation in mundane existence, where unnecessary effort is reduced to the minimum level possible. This also represents the highest potential level of energy and satisfaction possible. Here we can be aware of our most subtle activities and energy not normally perceivable. Training in the four dhyanas has been described as Buddhist Qigong by Shaolin Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit.

As Sariputra said, the hardest thing once one has gone forth in the spiritual life is to find enjoyment. Calming the body and mind takes time. If we gradually become uncomfortable, with the build up of soreness or tension, we won’t want to sit so long, perhaps we won’t want to meditate at all. However the posture naturally becomes perfect as soon as we enter dhyana since the body’s tension, which is a form of unnecessary effort, is released. This is like Vajradaka’s ‘provisional’ and ‘real’ posture. Another benefit of this approach is that relaxation can provide instant gratification. A treat given to a dog loses its effect as an incentive if it’s not immediate. We might tend wrongly to think of meditation as merely giving delayed gratification. Instant gratification, however small the amount, is essential. Relaxation can be deeply satisfying and is always accessible; we can always let go of unnecessary effort, even if it means just stopping the practise we are doing and waiting, or engaging outside help. 

Happiness is vital for meditation; we can only be as relaxed as we are happy. Because the process of RUE meditation involves the provocation of deeper emotional trauma, for example through investigating ‘defensive tension patterns’, it can be a challenge to enjoy it.
Success Through Reduction: The RUE approach can also be equated with the reduction of asravas. We do the asravas ourselves so we can’t stop them merely by making an additional effort, only by reducing effort. I was put onto this by Subhuti in his talk on just sitting, which was formative for my understanding of relaxation. The asravas are a form of effort we make which makes our experience less satisfying. In fact merely making an additional effort to stop them would be the sign of the continued presence of asravas; a bit like arm wrestling yourself. This has similarities to Asangha’s ‘ninth mental abiding’ where the last and only antidote necessary is called ‘the desisting from application of antidotes’

A New Approach for the Modern World: The RUE approach also touches on the therapeutic, and this is explained well by Boyesen’s description of how sedative relaxation (i.e full relaxation) becomes provocative. This has similarities with Sangharakshita’s horizontal and vertical integration in meditation. In Satipatthana we become more aware of our emotions and some off-loading exercises might be necessary when we encounter un-abreacted and repressed emotion or trauma, which is likely to be there if we are letting go of defensive tension patterns. Tension is mostly subconscious, with only the tip of the mountain appearing to us. Reducing this form of unnecessary effort may mean radical change to our own character or personality. Thus this process, in addition to awareness, requires much courage and a firm anchor of positivity.

The RUE approach describes to everyone the higher goals of relaxation, which are dhyana and Enlightenment. I don’t see a better way to integrate the popular modern idea of relaxation into the Dharma. Its most important feature may be that it perhaps clarifies Satipatthana’s nature as the ‘Direct Path’ and comes at the right time to address our modern need for relaxation.