Clinging & unskilful acts

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In Buddhist meditation, we have the intention of working on our minds.  (Although that may be contentious:  the idea of having any goal in meditation, rather than just being in the meditation – even if that is to aim at being in the meditation). 

Since clinging was identified by Buddha as the cause of all suffering, we are aiming to let go of clinging, which we practise, by letting go of thoughts and of the breath.  We work to improve our mind states, to be present, and therefore to be aware of what comes up in the mind, and to let go of whatever comes up, whether we judge it to be positive or negative.

Akong Tulku Rinpoche (Restoring the Balance, p53) states:  “Most of us have fifty percent good and fifty percent bad.  So there is fifty percent to work on.”  That seems to me to be a high percentage of bad!

So this is not a good assessment of the human condition from a Buddhist.  Most of us have 50% bad (and good), and “human beings do damage to each other”.  Bearing in mind that the ratio of bad to good is so high in most of us, we should not be surprised when we ourselves, or other people, do not live up to our expectations of consistent goodness.  Yet it is surely not productive to expect ourselves or other people to have approximately 50% of bad in them.  People often deliver according to their own and others’ expectations, so it would surely be more productive to set high expectations of goodness.  At any rate, I think there must be more variation in ratio of good to bad in people.  And these ratios will also vary at different stages of our lives.

So whenever I find myself particularly unable to let go of something in my mind; whenever I make what feel like catastrophic, yet avoidable, mistakes through carelessness or anger, I wonder whether Buddhist meditation is in fact doing me any real good.  I wonder if there has really been any point to spending hours of my life on the cushion.  (When I come across negativity in other meditators, I find it similarly paradoxical.)

Perhaps the difference is that after the fact of this cumulative meditation, I may be able to own up to my mistakes more quickly, or at all.  While my reaction might initially be defensive, and I may search for ways to mitigate or justify or even disown unskilful actions of mind, body or speech, I might now perhaps become aware of these things sooner.  It’s hard to know if I get fewer things wrong the longer I keep up a meditation practice – how can we know what we would have got wrong otherwise?

In aiming for or wanting something (non-clinging), we may be averse to and resistant to what we do not want (clinging), and Buddhism teaches us that we actually strengthen thoughts and feelings that we resist, by giving them energy.  This is why we practise letting go of thoughts.  So could our meditation, with such an intention, actually be strengthening our clinging through our resistance to it, instead of eroding it?  This may be the logic behind the ideal of sitting in meditation with no purpose.  Just to be with the sitting, with the body, and the breath.  (However, someone once pointed out that when we meditate, it is a good idea to set up conscious intentions, because otherwise unconscious intentions may take over.)

In speaking of intentions, these are apparently the driving force of karma:  the consequences of our actions.  To put it simplistically, actions deriving from positive intentions reap positive karma, and the opposite applies to actions deriving from negative intentions.  But in my experience, great harm may come about from actions where intentions have not been negative, and it is possible for positive consequences to result from actions deriving from negative intentions.  I have not found a way of reconciling this with ideas of karma, but welcome input/discussion on this.  Actions and intentions can be very mixed.  One can be doing something beautiful, such as caring for a child, and at the same time, mindlessly engage in idle gossip without negative intentions, which may result in someone being hurt.  Or in trying to protect oneself (a positive intention), one may unintentionally endanger someone else. 

According to Chogyam Trungpa, “The Sanity We Are Born With” apparently evades us thereafter unless we can avoid psychosis (manifested by our habitual reaction to our own projections) by developing an effective meditation practice.  

And according to Tibetan Lama Rinpoche Yeshe, meditation strengthens the mind.  These are certainly good reasons to meditate!

Many people come to meditation to find peace.  Chogyam Trungpa seems to scoff at the idea of using meditation as a tranquillizer.  The bigger aim of Buddhism is the cultivation of world peace;  the sum total of the cultivation of all our individual peace.

One kind of Buddhist meditation is known as “insight” meditation, and I have found, from time to time, that I seem to receive insight during meditation – particularly on meditation retreats.

Having acknowledged one’s own “unskilful” – also, depending on the action – characterised as “evil” – actions of body and mind, the Judaeo-Christian way may is to feel guilt.  The Buddhist way is to to be aware, and to resolve not to repeat negative actions.  I have come to the conclusion that there is no way of truly compensating or being compensated for harm caused to anyone, even if the harm was unintentional.  Feelings of guilt, which is in fact “self-hatred” are definitely not the answer.  

Thought Forms and Green Tara


In Buddhism, the characterisation of harmful acts which we repent and resolve to avoid, includes harmful acts of the mind. There is the idea that thoughts can actually cause harm per se, rather than just being a precursor to the possibility of physical harmful acts. Such harmful acts – whether of the mind or otherwise – are characterised as stemming from ignorance, but are “evil” nevertheless.

The idea of acts of the mind being harmful is actually widespread in the world. In the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and parts of Africa, protection is required against the “evil eye”. This refers to jealousy which is seen as exerting a harmful force.

In the West, there is much interest in psychic phenomena. The College of Psychic Studies in London, and other institutions, offer courses in energy healing, developing psychic intuition, mediumship, etc. Among the “psychic community”, there is also the idea of harmful acts of the mind, referred to as “psychic attack”. Through intentions to heal, we can affect healing in people, and conversely, through negative thoughts or intentions, we can connect with and produce negative energy which may be harmful not only towards the person such thoughts are directed towards, but may also cause collateral damage in adversely affecting those physically or psychically close to the target. Harm may occur even if the negative thoughts are unconscious and if harm is not specifically intended.

In Buddhism, the purpose of meditation is primarily to avoid the main “evil” and source of suffering – that of clinging. We aim to train our minds to recognize that we are thinking, and then to let go of the thought, no matter whether it is a positive or negative thought. The idea is not to push thoughts away if they are negative, or to hold on to them if they are positive, since by doing either, we are practising attachment, and feeding the thought. By trying to resist an unwanted thought…. perhaps a traumatic or disturbing memory – for example –  we are actually giving it energy. If we cling to a positive thought, it will cause some degree of suffering when this thought ends, and we are practising and strengthening our habit of clinging.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is the idea that when we feed thoughts they solidify. By allowing thoughts to pass like clouds through the sky, we do not allow them to become solid and to exert a force over our minds.

So all these factors relate to the potential of thought to become solid; to exert a force; to take a shape. “Thought forms” – a term which comes up often in psychic literature. Eckhart Tolle, in the Power of Now and his other books, refers to “pain bodies”. These are, essentially, solidified energetic entities created by our own negative thoughts and pain, which we may constantly tap into, tune into, connect with, and feed with further pain, and which seem to exert a life of their own!  They may, it seems, commune with “pain bodies” generated by other people’s minds.

French sociologist Durkheim refers in his work to the “collective consciousness” – which appears to refer to a giant thought form which may engulf a collectivity of people, from a family, to an entire society.  This would consist in a collection of values, ideas, prejudices.  There is the implication that while one person or group of people may be predominant in generating and solidifying the cluster of thoughts and ideas which make up the form,  each person is tapping into, contributing to and strengthening this “cloud” of thought.  (Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa come to mind as among the most extreme malevolent examples.)  For those who get a feeling that this “collective consciousness” conflicts with their true individual consciousness, it must take a great deal of strength of mind to break out.  This notion of the “collective consciousness” implies the impact of external forces on the individual mind.

A psychiatrist once told me that there is a view in the field of psychiatry of the healthy mind being “sealed”. That if people feel that their minds are being controlled, or invaded, or permeated from external sources, this is a measure of mental illness. That a healthy mind is an impermeable one, essentially.  One can imagine someone in Nazi Germany going to a psychiatrist, complaining of a conspiracy by the Reich to act on his mind and control his actions…. and being diagnosed as having a mental illness for reporting such experiences!

Much of the world in fact operates on the basis of the permeability of the mind: the advertising industry; the brainwashing of commercialism – to name a couple of the more benign (although often far from benign) examples.

Then there is toxic exploitation of the belief in the permeability of the mind. There are voodoo practitioners who – if they are unethical – may employ ritual procedures to solidify thought forms to harm their targets. A Western couple who lived in Ghana related how they witnessed for themselves a schoolteacher being the target of voodoo (or juju as it is called there) and instantly becoming mad from that point on.  I’ve heard it said a number of times that voodoo cannot work on someone who does not believe in it. It is fear that lets it in. Similar ideas exist among the “psychic community” – through fear, one becomes more open and susceptible to psychic attack. But this does not explain why a psychic or voodoo attack might also fall onto those who are physically or psychically close to the victim – who may have no knowledge of the attack, and no fear.

To continue on the subject of the problem with proposing the impermeability of the human mind, those who rape the minds of entire generations of entire nations to the purpose of evil seem to know differently, and it has been demonstrated to work. At the Institute of Propaganda Studies in Israel, we were shown techniques used to brainwash the German people before and during WWII into believing the Jews and other races were subhuman; techniques which were first honed in relation to the Namibian peoples – the first victims of genocide perpetrated by Germany in the 20th Century. Then there is Hamas and Isis – infiltrating the minds of their human instruments of mass murder – “grooming” them for this task from infancy.

A summary internet search offers many techniques designed to get rid of negative thought forms and the harm they may exert on people.

Tibetan Buddhism offers a very powerful antidote. For while there is an emphasis on letting go of thoughts, there is, at the same time, the ritualised solidifying of thoughts in a controlled way in order to cultivate such qualities as fearlessness, compassion. In the Green Tara Practice, for example, we visualise this deity, who has formidable superhuman qualities: she is very swift, appearing in an instant to anyone who calls upon her; her face is like 100 full moons in a Tibetan autumn. If just one full moon can light up a night sky, think how bright the night would be with 100 full moons! Her body is like a multitude of stars. Well – taking the sun as one star, a multitude would be blindingly bright! With her frown, she can destroy all adverse machinations. She whirls around surrounded by a garland of blazing fire. And these are just a few of her attributes! During the practice, we invite Green Tara into the space before us; then in an instant we are in her body, and finally, the visualisation melts into light and merges with us.

Ultimately, when we are ready to transcend notions of dualism, we see that there is no real separation between Tara and ourselves.

A practice that takes much time and commitment, but perhaps it can be a lifesaver!

Dewa Che – Tara Mantra