Pragmatic Morality

Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 7/25/17 8:17 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:18 PM

Pragmatic Morality

Posts: 1206 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
6/25/2017 - Created comments thread
6/28/2017 - Created this thread
6/30/2017 - Added Stage One through Four description
7/2/2017 - Added Stage Five through Seven description
7/25/2017 - Added appendix 
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:20 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:20 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Morality is not as technical or patterned as what happens in the mind during meditation.  It requires more perspective or understanding in advance to set up a proper plan. 

-Every stage has to be built on the last/previous stages maintained for maximum benefit as a system, but practicing any one alone still obviously works.
-The point of the process is that metacognitively reflecting on it enhances it.  Change the mind to learn about how impermanence & conditionality work & then use that knowledge to your advantage with future morality planning.
-Reading between the lines & grokking fundamentals is key.  Do that & you can create your own morality map.
-Definitions foster principles foster stages. Language needs to be established to define the way the process works.  From that, its stages.
-No time frame or rigid criteria for stage mastery.  Yogi must use best judgement to assess when they can access the targeted state or actions consistently.
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:21 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:21 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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-The pali canon
-The lineage of Buddhadasa
-My teacher & his direct students & peers
-My experience & that of my friends

*Add links
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:29 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:28 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:38 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/28/17 8:38 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/29/17 11:24 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/29/17 11:24 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/30/17 12:04 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/29/17 11:32 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Stage One: Get relaxed
Technique: Self acceptance

Exercise:  At times, you can accept self criticism.  At other times, you can reject it and specifically try to be nice to yourself.  Just keep doing what feels good in the moment.  The goal is to build a feel-good flow within yourself.  Challenge yourself with the following questions:
  • How kind can I be to myself?
  • How often can I be kind to myself?
  • How creative can I be in finding new things to like about myself?
  • Can I get myself to the point where I feel the tenderness and intimacy of parental love towards myself?
 Here’s some examples of specific ways to be nice to yourself:
  • You say a joke and make someone laugh - Wow, you know Noah, you are actually very funny.  You make your coworkers laugh at least once a day.  I am very proud of my mastery of humor!
  • You trip and fall while walking on the street and get embarrassed - Noah, you are a clutz and that is okay.  You don’t have to be perfect because no one is!  And besides, being a clutz is relative, there are definitely people out there who are much more clumsy than me!
  • You see a dog on the street that looks back at you.  You feel warmth in your heart cavity as you remember your family dog growing up - Ok, I am now specifically going to recall the sight, sound and touch of my family dog because it feels good to do so.  I deserve to feel good and can do this as much as I want.  What a joy!
Mastery: Yogi metacognitively observes that they are able to access self acceptance most of the time.
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/30/17 12:02 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/29/17 11:37 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Stage Two: Get Energized

Techniques: Gratitude, Gladden the Mind

Gratitude Exercise: As with Step One, focus on doing what feels good in the moment.  There may be times when you are not able to think of objects to be grateful for.  At these times, move back to Step One and then be grateful at your success with Step One.  You can always appreciate the fact that you are alive, that you have limbs and perception or that you were born in the modern age.  Immediately after being grateful for or appreciate of something, notice how it makes your mind and body feel.  There should be times when it just feels right and something clicks.  Remember this feeling and use it to gauge and direct your practice moving forward.   Challenge yourself with these questions…
  • How often can I be grateful or appreciative?
  • How grateful or appreciative can I be in any given moment?
  • Can I get myself to the point where I want to cry from the beauty of life or the love I have been given?
 One of my favorite ways to practice is called The Rampage of Appreciation and was created by a New Age teacher named Esther Hicks.  The idea for it is to rapidly list all the things you appreciate in a stream of consciousness.  While I tend to use the word “grateful” in this exercise to avoid awkwardness, it is really more about appreciation.  Here is an example:
  • I’m grateful to have ten fingers.  I am grateful for my physical health.  I am grateful for my loving family.  I am grateful for the nice community in which I live.  I am grateful to have sense organs.  I am grateful to live on planet earth.  I am grateful for the existence of apple pie.  I am grateful for the dhamma.
You can do the Rampage of Appreciation as often as you want and for as long as you want.  You might practice it while driving, walking your dog or washing the dishes.

Gladden the Mind Exercise: Here are two ways to gladden the mind…
  • Use breath, mental talk and mental image.  The exercise is simply “as I inhale, I breathe in joy, as I exhale, I breathe out letting go.”  It can help to imagine light or energy which is relaxing parts of your body.  It can also help to imagine the satisfaction a deep diver feels when they first inhale after surfacing.
  • Another way to gladden the mind is to think of a memory which makes you happy.  Fantasy is to be avoided because it can cause clinging.  
You should gladden the mind when you are feeling positive, negative and confused.  Notice how these different states produce different outcomes.  Notice how the exercise affects the mind and the body in different ways.  Experiment with breathing in various degrees of intensity and into various parts of the body.  Specifically, try breathing into your chest cavity and also into your lower belly.  Try sighing aloud as you exhale.   Challenge yourself with questions like…
  • How joyful can I be in any given moment?
  • How often can I be joyful?
  • How good can I get my body to feel through the breath?
  • Can I get myself to the point where I can not resist smiling or giggling?
Mastery: Yogi is able to maintain Stage One criteria & metacognitively observes that they are able to access gratitude & joy most of the time.
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/30/17 12:01 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/29/17 11:49 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Stage Three: Repeatedly Anchor Attention & Observe

: Remembrance of Breath, Investigate Qualities of Phenomena, Investigate Contents of Phenomena

Remembrance of Breath Exercise
Here are some ways to watch the breath…
  • Notice the belly rising and falling for two seconds while you walk to the bathroom at work.
  • Feel the whispy air of the breath in the throat on and off for half an hour as you ride the bus home.
  • Follow the full cycle of the breath in terms of the air itself and the way it moves the body as you fall asleep.  
The goal is to watch the breath as much as possible & then use that grounding of attention to investigate.

Investigate Qualities of Phenomena Exercise
Here are some basic objects which can be investigated…
  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Bodily actions and sensations
  • Other people’s behaviors
  • The movement and stillness in physical objects
  • The process of perceiving through the various sense organs
  • The passage of time
  • The quality of space
  • The interrelation between thoughts, emotions and behaviors
Notice the qualities (shape, texture or color) of any object.
  • I can feel the air hitting my skin causing tingles that feel like champagne bubbles.
  • Notice the sunlight glinting off a car and how it fractilizes into a fanlike shape until it dissolves.
Investigate Contents of Phenomena Exercise
Notice the contents or meanings associated with any object.
  • I always feel slightly tense on my way to work.  I run through all the negative things which could happen that day.
  • I feel great whenever I hang out with my new partner.  There is so much safety and security in that which leaves me buzzing the whole next day.
Notice how observing qualities leads to observing other qualities and objects.
  • Feeling the champagne tingles of air hitting my arm causes me to get goosebumps.  The goosebumps then lead to a feeling of excitement which manifests as a charge in my spine.  Switching my focus there makes my back hurt which leads to subtle aversion.  What does this tell me about the activity of attention and how it relates to aversion?
  • Examining the sunlight causes an afterimage to appear when I close my eyes.  As I focus on the afterimage, it begins to become larger and I feel very relaxed in my whole body.  Eventually, another, more solid but darker image becomes superimposed over that one.  What does indicate about the conditions for a calm and restful mind?
  • Notice how observing contents or meanings leads to observing other contents and meanings in new objects.
    • When I get tense and catastrophize on my commute, I sense that it is about something deeper than just work.  The more I feel into that space, the younger I feel.  There is some basic fear there that may be more animal in nature and may have developed at a younger age.  What is it about my childhood that might have caused this?
    • The safety and security I feel with my new partner leaves such an impressive afterbuzz.  What is it about this person that seems to cause this and why is the feeling so good?  I do notice that it makes my body very relaxed, so maybe I am tensing up a lot of the time without even realizing it.  Is there a way I can work with this buzz that could make it even more sustainable and amplify it?
Challenge yourself with questions like…
  • How many different things can I watch without coming to a decision about them?
  • How many connections can I notice between things that I watch and how they make me feel?
  • How joyful, kind and grateful can I be while I watch?
  • How often can I remember to anchor to the breath?
  • How appreciative can I be of the skills that I have gained so far?
In general, the relation between these lists is as follows:
  • Remembrance anchors the mind on the present moment
  • Once anchored, investigation of objects happens through open ended looking
  • The diversity of objects and lenses increases over time
  • The complexity and subtlety of objects increases over time
  • This in turn reinforces the strength of remembrance, restarting the cycle
Mastery: Yogi is able to maintain Stage One & Two criteria & metacognitively observe that they are able to remember the breath & investigate most of the time.  
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 6/30/17 12:00 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 6/29/17 11:52 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Stage Four: Remove Stressful States

Techniques: Choiceless Awareness of Stressful States, Antidoting Stressful States

Choiceless Awareness of Stressful States Exercise: Surrender can manifest in various ways.  It might feel like a sense of intimacy and warmth in the chest cavity alongside a cognitive acknowledgement of connection to the universe.  Or it can feel like everything is happening automatically like dominoes, with no sense of anyone at the wheel.  Another image for surrender is surfing a wave or being carried by a powerful current.  It is important to learn to surrender to positive, neutral and negative feelings in a variety of situations.  Another word for surrender is equanimity.   All of the previous steps have set up the conditions for this equanimity.  Patterns of kindness, gratitude, joy, focus and openness have been woven into the body, preparing it let the hindrances pass through as if it were a ghost.  Using the images described above, try to get a handle for how equanimity feels.  Once you do this, repeat it again and again.  Know what it is like to feel the great mass of tension without reacting or resisting.

Antidoting Stressful States Exercise: Once you are able to surrender, you are ready to begin antidoting.  Unlike equanimity, antidoting can come in an almost unlimited number of forms.  The general theme is to substitute the object of hindrance with its opposite in the mind.  This is done using the prebuilt tools inclduing attentional focus and stability, clear distinctions between feelings, etc. An antidote usually involves an object which is distracting enough to move the energy of the mind in an opposite direction.  At different times there may be need for less extreme antidotes.  Antidotes draw on the naturally selfish tendency of the mind by motivating it to do something else entirely.  As soon as the hindrance is gone from the mind, it is good to look at what is left over, appreciate that and acknowledge that the technique has worked.   Here are some examples of hindrances and their antidotes:
  • Lust -> Disgust at human body
  • Gluttony -> Disgust at food
  • Unskillful behavior (i.e. laziness, selfishness, etc.)
    • -> Disgust at unskillful behavior
    • -> Desire for skillful behavior
  • Agitation -> Gladden the mind
  • Anxiety -> Ask “what is the worst that could happen?
  • Depression -> Worship the sense of disatisfaction as a universal constant.  Imagine building cathedral walls around the bottomless pit inside.
  • Perfectionism -> Shrug and tell yourself “good enough!”
 Some questions to challenge yourself with include…
  • How often can I recognize the hindrances and how joyful can I be when I do?
  • How quickly can I banish them through antidoting?
  • How nonreactive to them can I be when I practice equanimity?
Sometimes it may be best to perform several antidotes in a row.  Other times it may be best to switch between antidoting and surrender.  Whenever antidoting becomes impossible, it is best to surrender.  If surrender is not possible, it may be better to move back to earlier stages or to take a break from practice for a few hours.  It is important to continuously switch between surrender and antidoting as they complement and balance each other.  Too much equanimity can begin to reinforce the hindrances even if one is not blatantly reacting to them.  Too much antidoting can begin to subtly ingrain the very hindrances one is attempting to abandon by grasping at control and solidity where there is none to be found.  

Mastery: Yogi is able to maintain Stages One through Three & metacognitively observe that they are able to be choicelessly aware of & antidote hindrances most of the time.
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 7/2/17 8:52 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 7/2/17 8:19 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Stage Five: Remove Beliefs

Technique(s): Examine Effects, Weigh Value, Decide
Examine, Weigh & Decide Exercise:  This stage isn't really about discrete techniques.  It is moreso about directing intention & watching the result than using willpower to change the mind-body.  The intention is to eliminate suffering.  An emphasis on the principles of pragmatism & skillfulness contrast with the false causality implied by beliefs.  Beliefs are the mind's tendency for pattern recognition solidifying experiences into concepts.  The goal is to undo those concepts & the underlying process & instead to rely on the data from investigation to decide how to act in each situation.  Of course recall of past experiences is still useful.  Beliefs are distinguished from this recall by an extra layer of reification.  This will feel different for each person so it is up to the individual to distinguish what is skillful & what is not.

As one frees the mind of the initial layer of hindrances, their causes will be uncovered.  These causes are the beliefs.  Examples of beliefs include:
  • I can't feel good unless I have enough sleep.
  • I can't feel secure unless I am loved by others.
  • Enlightenment will solve all of my problems.
  • Work is painful, play is pleasurable.
  • Being a democrat is good.
  • I am man.
Looking at these is the "Examine" part.

The "Weigh" step has to do with reflecting on the activity of the previous stages.  The yogi in Stage Five has consistent in-life access to kindness, gratitude, joy, focus & openness.  She is also able to metacognitively reflect on the process of developing these qualities & their effects on the mind.  This reflection is the view of skillfulness.  Gaining this happiness & wisdom is valuable.

However, beliefs are also valuable because they give the mind shortcuts in navigating through the world.  The weigh part has to do with looking at exactly what the function the shortcut serves.  Examples of this include:
  • I feel grumpy 68% of the waking time I am sleep deprived.  Installing a belief about this with a preference for sleep will ensure that I prioritize getting sleep.  It will prevent me from doing other, distracting things through fear.
  • Using fixed labels for my identity allows me to know myself & my position in relation to other people & the world.  Gender is one of the most common designators that members of society use, therefore I will also adopt it.  Furthermore, knowing I am a man will allow me to decide how to act in situations by defaulting to the 'masculine' thing to do.  
  • Etc.
In general, navigation of situations without beliefs requires more present moment focus & openness.  It is not skillful to drop beliefs without these two processes in place.  They provide the data for decisions.  Being energized & joyful is also necessary.

The observation is that beliefs have functions which are useful, but also that they lead to hindrances.  They are no longer necessary once one has gained the skills in Stages One through Four.  This conclusion is the "Weigh" step.

The last step is "Decide."  It is not possible to stop yourself from believing things through willpower.  Beliefs are subconscious processes & willpower is conscious.  The mind can not directly reach back inside itself.  Observation & motivation (the prior two steps) lead to conclusions.  Noting these conclusions is the decide step.  For instance:
  • I do not need to dread being sleep deprived because I no longer dread being grumpy.  Grumpiness is a hindrance which I am able to toss out.  I am able to mitigate the biochemical stress from sleep deprivation using the techniques from the earlier stages.  Also, whenever I get less sleep, I will almost always be able to make it up the next night.  Furthermore, even if I can't make it up & even if this belief is true, it will still be ultimately more skillful to uproot the belief & associated hindrances.  Finally, I can see that sleep is a necessary & healthy habit.  That observation is enough to make me do it.  I do not need to run off of fear at all.
  • Etc.

There needs to be a very solid understaning of definitions & principles to make this stage work since it is different for every person & every situation.  The yogi needs metacognitive understanding of how the previous stages have progressed to see how skill formation actually works.  From that understanding, the correct comparisons & conclusions will arise.

The process of eliminating hindrances & later beliefs is a very deep one that will continue for the rest of one's life.  However, eventually it will become automatic in the later stages.  This means that beliefs will be eliminated even while they arise through new life challenges.  These are not permanent stages, but rather critical masses of automaticity.

Mastery: Yogi is able to maintain criteria for Stages One through Four.  Most of the time, they can observe how beliefs lead to hindrances & are revealed once those hindrances are removed.  They are then able to examine the underlying belief, weigh it against the benefits of skillfulness & present-mindedness & decide to drop the belief.  They can metacognitively observe how each previous stage leads to the next, in addition to the individual steps of this stage.
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 7/3/17 4:03 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 7/3/17 4:02 AM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Stage Six: Maintain Emptiness

Technique: Appreciate Emptiness

Appreciate Emptiness Exercise: Strictly speaking, there is not an exercise for this stage.  It is more of a pivot point between the removal of internal and external obstacles.  After Stage Five, both surface hindrances and underlying beliefs have been removed.  This leaves nothing in its place.  Purposely looking into that highlights how much lighter and easier things have become.  This then reinforces the skill or value of this way of being.  

Mastery: Yogi is able to maintain criteria for Stages One through Five while metacognitively observing that they can appreciate the emptiness in their mind most of the time.
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 7/3/17 4:19 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 7/3/17 4:19 AM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

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Stage Seven: Compare Emptiness & Action

Techniques: Look At Behavior, Resolve to Preserve Emptiness, Decide if Behavior is Worth Maintaining

Exercises: The exercises for this stage are similar to Stages Four & Five, but at a deeper level.  The habits of the body are deeply ingrained through years of physical repetition.  The value of happiness & skill must be very deeply realized in order to align the mind towards giving these habits up.  

The basic notion of open observation, assessment of the relative skillfulness of what is observed & the use of the intention are at play here.  Each external action one performs arises from internal movement (however small) & results in an internal impression being stored.  It is important to understand the mechanics of this process & then use that understanding to change the patterns.  

Look at the time you spend throughout the day.  The times you eat, the way you interact with others, your posture, your work habits (i.e. how often you take breaks), the media you consume, your exercise regimen (or lack thereof), etc.  Look at how often you do each of these things and what effects they have on the mind.  Specifically, do they reinforce the weightless ease which you have uncovered through the previous stages, or do they obscure it?

Once this comparison has been clarified, ask yourself what you desire more: the joy of emptiness or the solidity and comfort found in the behavior.  The answer will not always be the former & that is OK.  That means your mind must accumulate more data before becoming aligned enough to conform to what is observed.  The work of the previous stages should be running in the background at this point, eliminating the possibility of self-criticism or stress related to this effort.

There will be quite a few cases where the action does not need to be dropped entirely, but instead changed.  At these times, if there is resistance to change, it means that a belief is still in place.  Repeat Stage Five protocols until the belief has been loosened or removed, aligning the mind-body into a compliane with the need to change.

Mastery:  Yogi continues to exhibit mastery of Stages One through Six while also metacognitively observing that they are able to observe the effects of action on the mind & choose to preserve a state of emptiness most of the time.
Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 7/24/17 11:16 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 7/24/17 11:16 PM

RE: Pragmatic Morality

Posts: 1206 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts

I will use this space for content worthy of this thread, yet not necessarily organized into the stages.

Right View - While working on a completely secularized rephrasing, I would be remiss to ignore the importance of "right view."  It is not enough to completely take the dhamma as an 'open experiment' with a simple, wait-and-see attitude.  There do need to be some assumptions going in.  However, there can be a willingness to change these assumptions if they turn out to not be true.  

Generally, there are four of them...
1) Conditioned experience tends to be unsatisfying.
2) This dissatisfaction arises from resistance to conditions.
3) It is possible to eliminate dissatisfaction from experience.
4) The way to do this involves breaking circular patterns of perception, thought, speech & behavior.

Samsara - I am not a linguist, but I believe samsara is a sanskrit word which connotes (if not denotes) "circle" or "cycle."  Because of the chaotic nature of life, no reaction (on any level) will be continuously skillful (see definition of 'skillful' upthread).  However, living organisms seek shortcuts to preserve energy.  The most basic shortcut that humans develop is dualistic perception.  We must learn that events occur in a sequence (time), we are able to control our environment & have dominion over our thoughts (subtle ownership), our body has a certain position in space, etc.  

The elimination of these perceptual shortcuts is the basis for the other trainings.  Samatha-vipassana meditation produces this result, usually gradually.  However, this is actually only the platform or foundation upon which the other levels (thought, speech, behavior) are transformed.  The core is that no way of thinking, speaking & behaving will always lead to the happiness & health of oneself & others, now & in the future.  It is integral to recognize which patterns are most consistently skillful & use them.  It is integral to be willing to drop currently unskillful & previously skillful patterns at any time.  Morality is a process of unifying the subconscious around the fact that nothing always works but if one can get it right most of the time, things will get better and better.  

In short - cut off the circle of unskillful thought, speech & action.  Also work towards the more fundamental or subtle layer of perception.  Release the clinging which seeks to preserve energy through following easy, simple, delusioned impressions.  Study good teachings & follow good instructions to get a feel for the mechanics of breaking samsara at each level of being.