Applying the Five Buddha Wisdoms toward Ourselves


Yesterday we were speaking about the five types of deep awareness and enhancing them more and more in relation to directing them towards others. But we can also use them directed toward ourselves. Let’s just do it, because it’s far more effective if we do it without a long discussion beforehand.

We begin by quieting down, focusing on the breath, quieting the mind, and generate the caring attitude toward ourselves: “I’m a human being, like everybody else. I have feelings, just like everybody else. The way I treat myself affects how I feel, just as the way that I treat anybody else affects how they feel.”

We direct our mirror-like awareness at the feelings and emotions that we’re feeling right now. I’m not talking about the physical sensations, please; I’m talking about the emotional state that we’re in. we try to become aware of the complex factors that make up this moment of how we feel, without mentally commenting, without being judgmental about it or commenting. And we include, as well, so be aware of judgmental feelings that we might have toward ourselves. And also we can include here feeling nothing, if that’s our present state.

Then, with equalizing awareness, try to see that the present feelings that we’re feeling are equal to any other feelings that we’ve experienced. They’re only a feeling, no more and no less. They’re only an emotion, no big deal. This can allow us to face it, our various emotions, with equanimity; without any fear. Then, putting together equalizing awareness and awareness of reality, try to see and identify the patterns in our feelings and emotions. Then, with individualizing awareness, we acknowledge the uniqueness of what we’re experiencing now. Then, with accomplishing awareness put together with the awareness of reality, try to see how to relate to what we’re feeling. Maybe we need to be kinder to ourselves. Maybe we need to be more firm – not treat ourselves like a baby – and lift ourselves out of a depression, so that we can relate to and work with you. Then lastly, with awareness of the deepest reality, try not to identify solidly with the mood of the moment. Try to see that our moods and ourselves – that we’re open to change.

Try to combine these. With the mirror-like awareness, we’re aware of what we’re feeling now. It’s equal to any other feeling that we have, nothing special. We can see the pattern, but we respect the individuality, the uniqueness of the moment. And we understand how to relate to it, even if it’s just to leave it alone. And we don’t identify with it. We understand that it will change. And, underlying all of this, we have the caring attitude toward ourselves: “I’m a human being with feelings, just like anybody else. And the way that I relate to myself and my feelings and my emotions is going to affect me very much, whether I ignore them or I pay attention and deal with them.”

Then we quiet down and let the experience settle. Then slowly we return to paying attention to the class.

So this is one way in which we can apply our working with these five types of deep awareness here with relation to ourselves. And, as you probably have experienced, it can be quite powerful.

If you have any questions or comments…


Participant: I have a difficult time identifying between the equalizing one and the individualizing one. Somehow I feel that they are antagonistic to one another and it’s difficult for me to identify them.

Alex: Well, if we are eating fruit, for example, or drinking juice, we can be aware that when we drink a certain juice, it’s orange juice. We can equalize it with other juices that we’ve drunk and say “Okay, this is orange juice.” But we can, without any contradiction whatsoever, individualize it in terms of: this particular glass of orange juice is sweeter or less sweet than others.

So here we’re using equalizing awareness with respect to what we feel in two ways. First, in the most general way, that any emotion that we’re feeling is equal to any other emotion that we’re feeling. So there isn’t really any emotion that we feel that is more important than another emotion. There aren’t any that we need to fear. They’re just emotions. Like when we see things, they’re just sights. When we hear things, they’re just sounds. No big deal. And then the other way that we were using equalizing awareness here was to be able to identify patterns in our feelings. So equalize it to other situations in which we were feeling something similar.

For instance, maybe it’s a pattern of feeling sad or feeling very excited, but actually it’s like a surface screen to protect what we feel on a deeper level – which is, actually, insecurity. So we see the pattern there. But then the individualizing is very important here, because it’s not just another time when I feel sad, it’s not just another time when I feel excited, but insecure. But it is an individual instance of it which has arisen in relation to this or that circumstance that’s going on now. Or maybe it has nothing to do with what’s going on now. Then, although we might have a general strategy for how to deal with this type of emotion, we need to modify it in terms of the present situation. So it works like that.

And there are many different strategies, depending on the situation. Like, for instance, I feel sad. Well, the situation might be one in which I can’t really indulge myself in feeling sad; I just have to go on with what I’m doing. Other times I might notice the pattern that I feel sad, and I tend to ignore it and not pay attention to it; not deal with it. And if we’re in a particular moment in which we could investigate it more deeply and work more deeply with it – in terms of feeling kind to myself, thinking in terms of the good things in my life – then we deal with it in that way at this particular moment, because it’s appropriate to this moment.

So the generalizing and the individualizing – or the equalizing and the individualizing – awarenesses aren’t contradictory at all; they complement each other.

Question: [unclear, but concerning the emotions changing while doing the exercise]

Alex: Well, certainly as we do an exercise like this – whether we do it as a formal exercise or we’re doing it in our normal lives – the more that we observe an emotion, certainly the weaker it will become. This is perhaps more the case with people who are very emotional. The emotions become a little bit less intense because we’re a little bit removed from them. But for those who are more alienated from their emotions or feelings, when they first start to do this type of practice they might feel nothing. And, as they do the exercise and become a little bit more relaxed, then suddenly they discover that there is some feeling underlying this nothingness. So for some people the emotions are quite deep but hidden, and for others they are very much on the surface. But usually when the emotions are very much on the surface they also hide something deeper.

Also, when we focus on the pattern and try to see the pattern, then the whole quality of the exercise, I think, changes in terms of the feeling. Because perhaps the intensity of the moment is not so strong, but it increases again when we see the pattern. And I think it’s more that, the intensity of that awareness of the pattern that we work with, because it’s within the context of that pattern that then we look again at what we’re feeling now. And that now might not be this exact second, but it might be in this phase of what we’re examining. And what we need to deal with is really the whole pattern and, within the context of that pattern, modify it a little bit according to the individual situation. So we’re really dealing with a pattern as we progress through the exercise. Of course, what we feel changes from moment to moment. But, in doing this exercise, I wouldn’t imagine that they would change dramatically to a completely different emotion.

Now of course our experience with this type of practice will vary according to what we feel. If we’re feeling just sort of general sadness and existential angst – existential, I don’t even know the English word – then that’s one thing. Or a depression, that’s another thing. These aren’t terribly dramatic feelings. But it could also be when we are feeling intense anger or jealousy or attachment, these types of things as well, and that’s quite a different experience that we can work with.

And when we’re feeling nothing then it’s important to remember our teachings about negation phenomena. In other words, that nothingness – that’s an absence of what? Is it an absence of enthusiasm, which is to have no enthusiasm for anything? Or is it an absence of compassion? Like I’m supposed to be a Mahayana Buddhist and I’m meditating on love and compassion; and yet when I’m with people, I really don’t feel anything. I’m just sort of acting almost mechanically. We try to help them, but I don’t feel anything. So that’s important to investigate when we feel nothing or just very, very little. What is it an absence of? It could be an absence of joy in my life, of excitement – it’s just boring; every day is the same – or an absence of time off, time for myself.

There are many, many different types of feelings that we might have and often they’re not so dramatic. And if we’re the type of person that overlays these types of nondramatic emotions with an external show of being excited and just a grand show of emotion then sometimes it’s even more difficult to see what is lying underneath. Then of course there’s fear, there’s insecurity, there’s all sorts of things that we can explore.

What is essential for all of this is of course to have a caring attitude toward ourselves. First of all, I’m a human being. I have feelings, like everybody else. And the way that I feel affects the quality of my life. And the way that I treat myself, and the way that I deal with my emotions, affects me even more. So we care about that. This is important. Now of course we need to balance this with the caring attitude that we have toward others. And then that of course gets into all sorts of syndromes, like the syndrome of not being able to say “no.” Then we need to explore what is the feeling – what’s the emotion behind that. I’m afraid to say “no” because if I say “no” then the other person will reject me, and so I’ll put up with as much crap [as they throw at me], no matter what the other person does, because I don’t want to be abandoned; I’m too insecure. Or I don’t want to say “no” because I’m supposed to be a bodhisattva and I’m supposed to help everybody, and if I say “no” then I’m guilty; I’m a bad Buddhist. I’m supposed to always help others, and if I don’t then I’m selfish and then I’m bad.

These are things that we need to try to see the pattern and deal with it. And appreciate how it affects my life; the quality of my life. This can be very far-reaching. In terms of not saying “no” – I mean, that’s a very common syndrome. Like, for instance, I’m supposed to be the good mother, I’m supposed to be the good wife – the good husband – and so I can’t take time out for myself or do anything for myself because I have to support my family. Well, this is a very noble thought; but it can also be very unhealthy, the way in which it’s carried out. So a balance is necessary, with respect for ourselves, so that we don’t feel guilty. Because, after all, I’m a human being, like everybody else in my family and everybody else in the world. That’s why this caring attitude is really very essential.

Of course we can go to the other extreme: I’m the center of the Universe. I’m the only one with feelings and I don’t care about your feelings. I can hurt them and – actually, I don’t even consider that you have feelings, so I can say and do whatever I want. That’s the other extreme. And any tiny little thing that somebody says or does hurts my feelings, and I make a big deal out of it; a big show.

Question: When you talk about not making comments or not being judgmental, does it mean any comment whatsoever? Because I find it very difficult, for example, when discovering patterns, not to make any comments in order to clarify them in my mind. So to just have a calm mind with no comments whatsoever, I don’t find it possible.

Alex: Well, I think that we need to clarify a little bit here. The main thing that we want to quiet down is extraneous comments. You know, thinking about something else, comparing ourselves to other people. These type of comments. Or, in trying to identify a pattern, to then go into a whole story or a whole movie about previous instances that we’ve experienced. That’s mental wandering. So we want to stay – try to stay – focused on what we’re doing. Now it may be helpful of course to verbalize in our minds what the pattern is, but not to talk too much about it.

Now one has to be a little bit delicate here. On the one hand, verbalizing and identifying the pattern is helpful. On the other hand, we don’t want to lock ourselves into some solid box – I am a depressive person; I am a paranoid person – and then solidly identifying with it. So that requires of course, to do it more effectively with a little bit of an understanding of voidness.

I always think of the example of alcoholics, that it’s important initially to identify oneself as an alcoholic if one is, especially if one has been in denial about that. But then, after working with Alcoholics Anonymous or whatever program we do, eventually we have to stop identifying ourselves as an alcoholic. Otherwise, you’re now identifying yourself as an ex-alcoholic and becoming totally addicted to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and so on. One has to just go on with one’s life.

Now with the issue of being judgmental, if that is our attitude toward ourselves, that I’m very, very judgmental – I’m always saying “Oh, I’m such an idiot. I’m such a loser,” this type of thing – well, that’s something that we need to deal with. But what we want to quiet down is giving a whole long harangue against ourselves, in our minds, when we’re observing this and trying to work with this.

Now this of course can become more and more subtle, more and more interesting, actually, as we look at it. Because our attitude toward ourselves, this emotional feeling – although we might not consider it an emotion, but it is certainly a feeling – can be the judgment “I’m so fat. I’m ugly,” and that type of attitude; that type of feeling. “I’m fat but still I eat like a pig.” “I’m fat and I have to lose weight; I’m not losing weight,” and then all the conflicts about that. Or we lose a couple of kilos and then of course we put it back on in one or two weeks, then we’re disgusted with ourselves. This also gets into that area of being judgmental and so on. And how are we dealing with that? And how much are we – do you want to just deal with it, identify with it, or do you want to constantly yell at yourself in your head?

Also of course we can explore whether or not that evaluation of ourselves is correct or not. We may or may not be actually fat. An anorexic person is not actually fat, although they think of themselves as fat. Then other people are actually quite obese; they are fat. And also we might discover that our attitude toward ourselves is basically unrealistic. If we are fifty years old and we expect that we’re going to weigh the same as we weighed when we were twenty-one, and that that really is what we should weigh, that’s being a bit unrealistic, isn’t it? And so maybe that is the emotion that we have to work with, in terms of I have unrealistic expectations of myself – in whatever area that might be: whether it’s weight, whether it’s achievement at work, whatever it is.

This particular way in which we did this application of the five types of deep awareness toward ourselves is in the situation when we’re actually feeling one of these emotions. But there’s another way of applying these five types of awareness toward ourselves that looks in a more general way – even when we’re not feeling a certain emotion right now – and that we’ll do after the coffee break.