VTC: Guided Meditation–Factors Stimulating the Arising of Disturbing Attitudes and Emotions

by Ven. Thubten Chodron
Every year, I lead a Lamrim retreat near Seattle, USA, and over the years have developed a meditation outline for the principal Lamrim meditations. The one below, “Factors Stimulating the Arisal of Disturbing Attitudes and Emotions” is excerpted from the path in common with the middle level practitioner. We do this meditation after reflecting on the Four Noble Truths and the six root disturbing attitudes and emotions. Begin your meditation as usual with the preliminary prayers, generating a bodhicitta motivation, and doing a few minutes of breathing meditation to calm the mind.

The key to getting some taste when we meditate on Lamrim is to relate the points to our own lives. In this case, by reflecting on each point one by one and making examples of it in our lives, we will come to understand how the following six factors affect the arisal of negative emotions and misconceptions in our minds.

1. The predispositions of the disturbing attitudes and emotions.
Until we realize emptiness directly, the predispositions the disturbing attitudes and emotions remain in our mindstream. For example, we may not be angry at this moment, but the seed of anger is in our mindstream. When it meets the proper conditions (some of which are below), that seed transforms into full-blown anger. Reflect on how these seeds operate in your life and create the cause of suffering.

2. Contact with the object (this includes people, places, ideas, etc.).
When we meet an object we find pleasant, attachment arises. When we meet one we find unpleasant, hostility arises. Make examples of this in your own life. What are the main objects of attachment and anger for you? Until we gain more control of our mind, the Buddha recommends that we temporarily avoid contact with objects and people that trigger our strongest attachments and aversions. For example, if you weigh 150 kg., it’s wise not to go to the ice cream parlor just to “look around,” because it’s almost certain attachment will arise and we’ll harm our health by eating more fattening ice cream! What objects do you need to keep a respectful distance from? How can you relate in a balanced way to the objects and people you encounter?

3. Detrimental influences such as wrong friends.
Although we like to think that only teenagers are influenced by peer pressure, all of us are, and we easily adopt the values and actions of our friends and family. What qualities do you look for in people? Who do you choose as friends? Are they people with good ethical discipline and a kind heart, or do they speak badly behind others’ back, lie when it suits their own purposes, etc.? Do they encourage you in your Dharma practice or make fun of it? Out of friendship for them, are you distracted from going to Dharma class, attending retreats, or doing your practice at home? Are you able to do what you know to be right even if a friend or family member does not agree and pressures you to change?

4. Verbal stimulus and media, such as books, TV, magazines, newspapers, radio, Internet, CDs, etc.
Spend a week clocking how much time you expose yourself to the media, from listening to the radio in the car, to channel surfing on the TV, to exploring the Internet. When you are honest with yourself, how much is done for a good reason, and how much is distraction? How much do you fill your eyes, ears, and mind with media stimuli to avoid looking at what is really going on inside of yourself? How much does the media shape what you believe and your self-image? Make a determination concerning your relationship to the media.

5. Habit.
What emotional habits or patterns do you have? Observe the emotions that commonly distract you when you meditate. Observe your habitual behavior—emotional, verbal, and physical. For example, are you commonly grumpy in the morning? Are you sensitive about your weight, your looks, or your athletic abilities? Are you easily offended by others comments? Are you continuously searching for romantic relationships? What are your emotional “buttons?” Knowing these gives us an opportunity to learn and apply antidotes to these patterns and habits.

6. Inappropriate attention.
Do you pay attention to the negative aspects of situations? Do you have many biases? Are you quick to jump to conclusions or be judgmental? How much do you tend to look at situations only in terms of how they affect you and those you’re attached to, and how much are you able to see the bigger picture including others’ needs and concerns? What steps can you take to remedy these tendencies?

Conclusion: Understanding the disadvantages of the disturbing attitudes, determine to abandon them. Think of how you can avoid or subdue the factors causing their arisal. Doing this will bring peace in this life, enable us to abandon negative karma and create positive potential, will bring us closer to enlightenment, and will actively contribute to world peace.