Buddhism, Nihilism and practice

Dear friends,

I hope you are all so well! I am new here so hoping that I am not duplicating a topic - please let me know if this is so.

Just wondering how you all manage aversion and self-hatred (even if very subtle) on the Path? I have recently realised my interest in disappearing and Nibbana was tainted with some very subtle aversion, self-hatred/nihilism, craving for non-existence. Metta practice has certainly corrected this imbalance/defilements. I am just very curious how others handle this?

*please note I am safe and not suicidal. If my post makes other people feel unsafe or if this raises any concerns and you would like emotional support I recommend contacting lifeline 13 11 14.

with gratitude and metta,

Letty

3 Likes

Hi @Letty
Welcome to the forum.

I have faced and continue face the same issues as you. I understand most of us do too.

In short, the answer is to focus on the right thought factor of the path.

Also, it helps to appreciate how these sort of thoughts, moods and mind states are just impersonal and natural aspects of experience when it is supported, rooted and based in the fundamental ignorance (avijja) the Buddha talks about in a specific and special discourse called Avijjāsutta to which I present a link below.

If I may suggest. Have a read and reflect on this sutta and maybe share with us what your conclusions are in terms of how we can “solve the problem”?

:anjal:

4 Likes

Dear Gabriel_L,

Thanks so much for your caring response to my post! I am sorry to hear that you have and also perhaps continue to struggle with similar thoughts/feelings - I really appreciate the time you took to respond and thank you for sharing the Avijjasutta with me. It’s so helpful! I hope to associate with more “good people” on the path to help reduce the effects of avijja.

With metta and gratitude,
Letty

4 Likes

You’re very welcome and I am glad you took away from the sutta a very similar conclusion to the one I did!
:anjal:

4 Likes

Hello Letty, imbalance is the right description.

What you have described is a normal assessment of the mind state with an adjustment applied as directed in the Anapanasati sutta. It reveals your natural foundation of mindfulness is the third foundation, mindfulness of the state of mind.

I find your dhamma approach basically healthy in that it has categories for both nibbana and conventional reality, but that the latter is not clearly understood. The self is a product of conventional reality and so what is thought of as self-hatred is really negativity towards the world. This is what the Satipatthana sutta means by “subduing greed and distress towards the world,” so it is a universal phenomenon. But the temperament is inclined towards either greed or distress, in this case distress.

The insight path develops dispassion towards conventional reality and I think if you adjust your view and successfully focus detachment towards what is impermanent, then that is the correct Buddhist outlook. Then if that attitude becomes over-balanced towards aversion, non ill- will is cultivated, as you are doing, which is based on the common state of suffering shared by all living beings.

Anapanasati sutta third tetrad:

"[9] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the mind.’ [10] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in satisfying (gladdening) the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out satisfying the mind.’ [11] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in steadying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out steadying the mind.’ —-MN 118

There are recommended meditation subjects for either gladdening or steadying the mind, and they include the brahma-viharas.

7 Likes

Dear Paul,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful response. You have given me a lot to reflect on and a clear direction for correcting these imbalances of mind. Thank you for helping me understand that self hatred is in my case, distress/negativity towards the world. I really value the quote you shared from the Anapanasati sutta - so beautiful.

Much gratitude and metta,

Letty

3 Likes

I manage it by choosing to stay as that which witnesses all movements in the mind, and when being is firm and cool in a stand-alone state, it bubbles effortlessly over with the characteristics of the four Brahma viharas.

4 Likes

For an unrelated reason I happen to be studying AN5.193 this week:

AN5.193:11.1: Furthermore, when your heart is not overcome and mired in doubt … Even hymns that are long-unpracticed spring to mind, let alone those that are practiced. Suppose there was a bowl of water that’s transparent, clear, and unclouded, brought into the light. A person with good eyesight checking their own reflection would truly know it and see it. In the same way, there’s a time when your heart is not overcome and mired in doubt and you truly understand the escape from doubt that has arisen. At that time you truly know and see your own good, the good of another, and the good of both. Even hymns that are long-unpracticed spring to mind, let alone those that are practiced.

To deprive others of the good we can share with others would be cruel. Understanding this, we can then read MN8, which clearly states that self-effacement does not involve nihilistic views. Such self-involved views are wrong per MN8:

MN8:12.1: Now, Cunda, you should work on self-effacement in each of the following ways. ‘Others will be cruel, but here we will not be cruel.’ ‘Others will kill living creatures, but here we will not kill living creatures.’

6 Likes

In addition to what was mentioned already it might be interesting to pursue some questions…
How do I know that what I experience is aversion/self-hatred?
Is it exactly the same ‘as before’ or slightly different?
What gives me the confidence to recognize it as such? And am I sure that the unconscious habit of recognizing and labeling mental states doesn’t co-create the state itself?
In other words - am I sure that I-as-the-recognizer am not also the I-the-creator of the aversion?
Where is the aversion located? Can another state be in that same space or is it exclusive to aversion?
Can I play with the aversion - stretch it, expand it, shrink it, color it?
Is it static or oscillating?
Is it a distinct thing in itself, or is it nourished by fibers/roots/sources that are not visible to me? If it is nourished can I do something about the nourishment even if it is not clearly visible?

6 Likes

Yes, I am hoping you can build a knowledge of the suttas as relevant to your own practice from studying those comments. Out of body, feeling and mind, it’s evident your natural ability is to be aware of mind-states. It is the first noble truth of suffering, dukkha that causes distress with reference to the world. Dukkha has been likened to an axle that doesn’t fit the hole in a wheel, so the constant unsatisfactoriness of existence in the world eventually causes ill-will to arise in some and greed in others. You have proved that the world results in suffering by your own experience, that is the thing to establish in your mind.The only escape is by finding an alternative source of pleasure in the joy accompanying meditation, so even though you are a ‘mental’ person, it is necessary to be aware of feeling, which is represented in the Anapanasati second tetrad:

[5] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to rapture.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to rapture.’ [6] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to pleasure.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to pleasure.’

Not all forms of pleasure are undesirable, and feeling arises from sense contact. So it is necessary to be attuned to the feelings resulting from tactile/visual/auditory sensations, internally and externally in the body, which is a separate awareness to the verbal level. However this does not mean indulgence.

4 Likes

This is a very excellent Australian helpline. Here is a link to international numbers:

8 Likes

Thank you and much gratitude to @Gabriel_L, @karl_lew, @Gabriel, @paul1, @awarewolf and @Gillian for your kind, thoughtful and insightful replies :pray:

I feel touched and supported by your responses - thank you for your guidance and spiritual friendship. I am taking up the ideas and directions offered here. Thanks @karl_lew, I will try to stay with “that which witnesses the movements in the mind” along with a greater focus on the Bhahma Viharas on and off the cushion. Thanks @Gabriel for the suggestion that perhaps I am not experiencing aversion and self-hatred. I have been watching Venerable Brahmali’s and Venerable Sunyo’s wonderful Dependent Origination course and I realise my vedana is probably more related grief and sorrow - which is related to clinging to my perception of self. As Ajahn Brahmali suggested, it is easy to misinterpret the Buddha’s teachings and become depressed about our essential emptiness - so it is important to focus on the joy and bliss in not identifying with the illusory self… Thanks so much @paul1 for also pointing this out and for the wonderful quotes form Anapanasati Sutta - I will meditate with these and hopefully blissout.

Thanks so much @Gillian for kindly including international numbers for anyone who may be experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts here - so important!

Thanks again everyone, your kindness and Buddhist wisdom have greatly assisted me.
Metta and gratitude,

Letty :pray:

8 Likes

My primary three approaches have already been mentioned: cultivating the brahmaviharas, the gladdening and uplifting of the mind per Ānāpānassati, and being with/noticing that subtle aversion to investigate and understand it.

Since this is the Water-cooler and not a pure EBT discussion I will add that for me a certain level of self aversion came from messages I received from caregivers in childhood and from society at large. Seeing that helps me add an element of non-self to the aversion: it’s not Me, Mine, or Myself, but from external causes and conditions. This often loosens the grip to create enough space to bring in karuna and gladden the citta into a more expansive state not narrowly fixated on labels and identities.

Hope that helps someone reading this later :blush::pray:

4 Likes

Letty has expressed joy from reading the Anapanasati sutta and joy connected with the dhamma is an important source of non-worldly pleasurable feeling:

“there is the case where you recollect the Dhamma: ‘The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.’ At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Dhamma, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Dhamma. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.”—AN 11.12

5 Likes

It may be thought an attitude to nihilism or non-action would be cut and dried in western Buddhism, but that is not the case due to Buddhism’s nascent form there, and discussions by the author monks on the subject are ongoing. Both Bikkhu Bodhi and Analayo have published tracts on “Compassion and Emptiness,” compassion referring to action, and emptiness the path of meditation. Even the lives of those two authors reflect their respective positions on that question, with Bikkhu Bodhi’s involvement with Buddhist Global Relief (compassion) indicating action, whereas Ven Analayo recently held a workshop on the development from the brahma-viharas to emptiness, indicating his position on the path of meditation. This is from the point of view of the anger temperament:

The Anapanasati first section instructions on mindfulness of breathing include training in developing joy and pleasure in the body, since it follows training focussing on the body with respect to the breath. These bodily feelings are related to awareness of sense contact particularly through tactile sensation, but also sensitivity to the four other bodily receptors. This is because the primary need arising at this stage is to divert awareness away from the interpretative verbal level to contact with pure sense data. This is broadly indicated in the Lesser Discourse on Emptiness (MN 121), where the first level subject is to focus on ‘wilderness,’ rather than human society.

In the Satipattana sutta instructions on feeling, the priority now turns from awareness of bodily to the sixth sense, mental feelings, so the tendency to outgoing exhuberance should be curbed. This ultimately involves feelings of joy arising from achieving one-pointedness with the meditation subject, but also the joy arising from dhamma study can be classed as a mental feeling.

The brahma-viharas can be thought of as dealing with the body internally (self) and externally (others). Those who develop the brahma-viharas with their function as recognizing the condition of the common suffering of living beings, if they progress to the path of insight, would then turn the attention inward in favour of pursuing personal awakening, something in western terms misinterpreted as nihilism as it does not have an immediate material outcome.

Transcripts of video lectures:

Brahmavihara 1) https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Brahmavihāra-Emptiness_Video-Lecture-1_Brahmavihāra-1_-English-Transcription.pdf

Brahmavihara 2) https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Brahmavihāra-Emptiness_Video-Lecture-2_Brahmavihāra-2_English-Transcription.pdf

Emptiness 1) https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Brahmavihāra-Emptiness_Video-Lecture-3_Emptiness-1_English-Transcription.pdf

Emptiness 2) https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Brahmavihāra-Emptiness_Video-Lecture-4_Emptiness-2_English-Transcription-converted.pdf

Emptiness 3) https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Brahmavihāra-Emptiness_Video-Lecture-5_Emptiness-3_English-Transcription-converted.pdf

Emptiness 4) https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Brahmavihāra-Emptiness_Video-Lecture-6_Emptiness-4_English-Transcription.pdf

3 Likes

Venerable Anālayo’s teaching does indeed focus on inner work, but he is also concerned about how we can relate, and mentally respond to outer challenges such as climate change and (this was new in the mail today) countering racism. Working on ourselves in this manner is laying a foundation for compassionate action.

And thank you so much for pointing to the transcripts of those lectures. :pray: After the workshop I spent so long struggling to get my notes into shape.

Bikkhu Bodhi’s work for Buddhist Global Relief is a wonderful instance of compassionate action, but I’m not aware of his writing on “Compassion and Emptiness”: could you give us a reference please.

I’ve found a couple of magazine articles. Where these what you’re thinking of?

and

https://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/conscientious-compassionmdashbhikkhu-bodhi-on-climate-change-social-justice-and-saving-the-world

4 Likes

Right intention, the second link of the path, with right view forms the ‘wisdom’ component. “Compassion” refers to non-ill will and harmlessness. “Emptiness” refers to the end product of renunciation.

“Since the most important formulation of right view is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths, it follows that this view should be in some way determinative of the content of right intention. This we find to be in fact the case. Understanding the four truths in relation to one’s own life gives rise to the intention of renunciation; understanding them in relation to other beings gives rise to the other two right intentions. When we see how our own lives are pervaded by dukkha, and how this dukkha derives from craving, the mind inclines to renunciation — to abandoning craving and the objects to which it binds us. Then, when we apply the truths in an analogous way to other living beings, the contemplation nurtures the growth of good will and harmlessness. We see that, like ourselves, all other living beings want to be happy, and again that like ourselves they are subject to suffering. The consideration that all beings seek happiness causes thoughts of good will to arise — the loving wish that they be well, happy, and peaceful. The consideration that beings are exposed to suffering causes thoughts of harmlessness to arise — the compassionate wish that they be free from suffering.

The moment the cultivation of the Noble Eightfold Path begins, the factors of right view and right intention together start to counteract the three unwholesome roots. Delusion, the primary cognitive defilement, is opposed by right view, the nascent seed of wisdom. The complete eradication of delusion will only take place when right view is developed to the stage of full realization, but every flickering of correct understanding contributes to its eventual destruction. The other two roots (greed, hatred) being emotive defilements, require opposition through the redirecting of intention, and thus meet their antidotes in thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.”—-Bikkhu Bodhi, “The Noble Eightfold Path.” (book)

“The Balanced Way” (essay):


My view is that when the Buddha-to-be formulated right intention prior to awakening, there is no mention of action, but an emphasis on thinking:

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with non-ill will arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with non-ill will has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding. If I were to think & ponder in line with that even for a night… even for a day… even for a day & night, I do not envision any danger that would come from it, except that thinking & pondering a long time would tire the body. "—MN 19

The awakening was not accomplished through acts of compassion, but rather by meditation and renunciation, withdrawal to the forest. After awakening there was hesitancy to teach, illustrating how his mind was not overly inclined towards compassionate acts. The four noble truths take precedence, and the practice of non-ill will and compassion are dependent on the depth of direct knowledge of them. Most Buddhists already have direct knowledge of the first two noble truths, although often it is not recognized. They know suffering, that’s why the path is sought. That suffering has been brought about by a materialist approach, that’s the second noble truth. But it’s the third noble truth that requires investigation, that renunciation results in release, and that should be personally observed.

3 Likes

“Inner work” is right. I think both Bikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Analayo are referring to a hybrid practice between compassion and renunciation, but there are different emphases in each, the latter monk having the main focus on the renunciation path (meditation, emptiness).
Through necessity I also practice both brahmaviharas and renunciation as conditions demand, but my main focus is the renunciation path.

This is supported in the suttas, where “any inspiring theme” can be taken to include the brahmaviharas which deal with externals:

“And further, he remains focused on feelings… mind… mental qualities in & of themselves—ardent, alert, & mindful—subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. As he remains thus focused on mental qualities in & of themselves, a fever based on mental qualities arises within his body, or there is sluggishness in his awareness, or his mind becomes scattered externally. He should then direct his mind to any inspiring theme. As his mind is directed to any inspiring theme, gladness is born within him. In one who is gladdened, rapture is born. In one whose heart is enraptured, the body grows calm. His body calm, he feels pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind grows concentrated. He reflects, ‘I have attained the aim to which my mind was directed. Let me withdraw.’ He withdraws & engages neither in directed thought nor in evaluation. He discerns that ‘I am not thinking or evaluating. I am inwardly mindful & at ease.’

“This, Ānanda, is development based on directing. And what is development based on not directing? A monk, when not directing his mind to external things, discerns that ‘My mind is not directed to external things. It is unconstricted [asaṅkhitta] front & back—released & undirected. And then, I remain focused on the body in & of itself. I am ardent, alert, mindful, & at ease.’—SN 47.10

As described in principle here, resorting to the brahmaviharas in daily life situations does not imply any action, it is a means of protecting the mind from “greed or distress with reference to the world.” As well as ill-will (distress), metta also avoids greed with its quality of unselfish non-attachment, which if not properly developed it is in danger of degenerating into.

3 Likes

In my case, the easiest way to overcome nihilism is through acknowledging its lack of certainty and that it is not radically different from its opposite (eternalism) as far as the intention behind the two is concerned.

It is the view that there is something intrinsically wrong with nihilism is what i try to avoid.

1 Like

As I have said to @Letty, when you get involved in some external issue through action, it automatically causes reinforcement of self.

MN 8 has already been mentioned by @karl_lew and in that there is a list of non-actions which the Buddha points to as ‘effacements’ or removal of self:

  1. "But herein, Cunda, effacement should be practiced by you:[16]

(1) Others will be harmful; we shall not be harmful here — thus effacement can be done.[17]

This teaching is specifically aimed at advising beginners, those at a level preceding stream entry.
From its perspective of material acquisition, non-action appears as nihilism in the western cultural context, but in the Buddhist view it is a positive entity resulting in the development of skillful qualities because it involves thought:

  1. "Cunda, I say that even the arising of a thought concerned with salutary things [and ideas][19] is of great importance, not to speak of bodily acts and words conforming [to such thought].[20] Therefore, Cunda:
  • (1) The thought should be produced: ‘Others will be harmful; we shall not be harmful here.’
3 Likes