Monkey Mind

March 6, 2010

Meditation is learning to know and eventually control the monkey mind. 

Monkey mind is that situation where your thoughts are all off doing all sorts of things while the rest of your body is doing something else.  It’s when you start to wash the dishes and your thoughts are saying, “Damn it.  I have five loads of laundry to do and the stove looks like someone made chili without a pan. If I don’t get this done by 10:00 I won’t have time to finish before my doctor’s appointment.  I need to go in to work early on Monday if I’m going to finish writing the procedure in time for the meeting.  Dang it, I WISH he would throw the junk mail away instead of stacking it on the countertop. Oh, look at the squirrel on the fence… so cute.”  And when you wake up from Monkey Mind, if you ever do, you have stopped washing the dishes and are on to some other task you won’t finish in the time you have available.   You feel irritated and frustrated and rushed and ugh.  Monkey Mind prevents you from paying attention. 

But we are not striving for a rigid control.  It is more like clicker training animals.  It is, “Yes!  That’s right!”  while simply acknowledging imperfections and letting them go.  It’s never, “No, that’s wrong, and you shall be hurt for it!”  Because in Buddhist teaching, we are all already perfect beings who are on a different place on the path.  If you have overcome prejudices I am still succombing to, you are not better than me, we are simply at a different point on the path.  Oh, and the path leads to HERE, not someplace out there in the future. And we all have a different “here”.  When I was 18 I wrote a song that included the words, “Living is the road and not the goal.”  I had an inkling even way back then, but I still don’t completely understand it all these years later.  Oh, my silly Monkey Mind.

I found a book at Half Price entitled “The Accidental Buddhist” by Dinty Moore, who I think is a canned soup product.  It was written in the 90s by this guy who went to a bunch of Buddhist retreats trying to figure out the place for Buddhism in America.  He even had a chance to briefly meet the Dalai Lama.  One of the first teachers he encountered told him that the answer to his questions was to “just sit”, but he didn’t understand it until he’d followed his Monkey Mind all over north America.  As his sitting practice began to mature he began to realize that it wasn’t about traipsing off to parts unknown to spend time with people who were also traipsing, and it wasn’t about breaking the bank on retreats.  It was about learning to be present where you are right now.  Ram Dass said it all back in the 60s when he said, “Be here now.”  But everyone thought he was some hippie nut sitting around smoking pot and luring American Hippie kids off to some stoned nirvana.  Everyone was clueless.  And everyone still is, thanks to Monkey Minds everywhere.

So, Dinty Moore had a press pass to a speaking engagement with the Dalai Lama, and he had a chance to ask a question.  The question he asked was something like, “What’s your take on the future of Buddhism in America?”  The Dalai Lama said, “Well, you’re really Judeo-Christian people, so you should probably just be Jews and Christians.”  This struck him like it did me, and like it probably did every American Buddhist in the audience.  “Well, damn, Dalai, I’ve come this far and you’re telling me you don’t want me on your path?”  But he kept going, probably because he saw everyone turning pale and looking a little too bewildered.  He added, “Well, ya’ know, it’s probably right for some Americans to be Buddhists, but I think too many Americans become Buddhists because they are mad about something about their Christian or Jewish religions.  If you want to be a Buddhist, that’s not a good reason.”  Needless to say, I’m paraphrasing with wild abandon.  “If you become a Buddhist be gentle with your old faith.”  Or something like that.

Now, that hit me where I live, but not with such a powerful punch to the solar plexus.  I have family members who demonstrate a lot of love and support and are good people in that old faith, which is, by the way, not as old as Buddhism.  Where you find goodness is where you find goodness.  I was waking up during my parents’ illnesses and all our funerals and all that grief.  I was learning to look past the rituals and judgments to the people doing the practicing.  And I started getting better at forgiving and about not judging in the first place so there was less to forgive.   And right there is something that is very Buddhist.  I started to see that I laid the foundation that was the stage for resentment and judgment.  The less cement I use in the foundation, the less likely resentment and judgment are to come and perform on it.

Christianity takes an approach to self-improvement that is based on avoiding punishment, while at the same time putting the source of goodness and the source of evil “out there” where we are just victims or lucky recipients is problematic.  Blaming sin on Satan instead of on the fact that each of us helped to build the Satan Foundation.  Saying we can never be perfect.  But when it comes right down to it, that works for some people, and they are on their paths.  They are not better than me.  I am not better than them.  That’s not an easy admission, because there are Christian leaders whose views still disgust me, even knowing that they are creating their own Karma. 

Buddhism takes an approach to self-improvement (the road to enlightenment) that reinforces every step.  The general idea is that if you acknowledge the Four Noble Truths (Life consists of suffering, Suffering comes from attachments, Suffering can be eliminated, and It’s eliminated by releasing your attachments) and walk the eightfold path (Right view, Right intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration) (Google them if you’re interested in learning more…. there is a lot online)you have what it takes to be a Buddha.  And quite honestly, even if you don’t follow exactly those steps, you can still be a Buddha.  It’s just that many people, in not wanting to reinvent the dharma wheel, decided that since this has helped a lot of people over 2,500 years, they will walk on this path.

Some people even say that Jesus was a Buddha.  We can all be a Buddha.  You and I can be a Buddha. 


Shiwa Nyi-tso

Meditator Tot on the Dharma Path

2 Responses to “Monkey Mind”

  1. Pat Says:

    Nice entry.

    One thing is, I think, that living in a judeochristian society we see it’s flaw up close. That makes it easier to be disappointed in our leaders. I suspect that even buddhist societies are disappointed occasionally in their leaders. Buddhism taught me that all people really are the same. That means all groups have strengths, all weaknesses.

    That said I see no reason why someone can’t be Buddhist and Christian, Moslem or Jewish.

    But boyohboy the Dali Lama sure seems to be an amazing guy.


    • I think that is what works for me… first, the ability to be more objective because Buddhism is fresher to me. And it’s actually helping me have a more open attitude about my old faith. I recently read that more than 75% of Japanese people consider themselves Buddhist, but very few of those do more than call up a monk when there is a funeral. They don’t meditate every day any more than most Christians pray every day… maybe less so. But, they also don’t try to convert anyone. They don’t think you have to be Buddhist to be on the right path. I read someplace that the Buddha was once asked if you have to give up your other gods in order to follow him. He said, No, way… “You don’t have to give up your old friend just because you made a new friend.” But I think if you have already given up your old gods … well, for me … I feel that I can learn to appreciate the old faith because of practicing the new one.

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