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A man was living close to a mountain, and every day he was thinking: How would it be to climb that mountain and what would I see on the peak? So finally, the day came, and the man went on the journey. Arriving at the foot of the mountain, he met the first traveler. So he asked, "How did you get up the mountain, and what did you see from the top?" And so the traveler shared his path, and also the view that he had. But then the man was thinking, “The way that this traveler described to me sounds very exhausting. I need to find another way to climb.”
So the man continued to walk on the foot of the mountain until he met the next traveler. So once again he asked, “How did you climb up that mountain, and what did you see from the top?” And so again the traveler shared his story. Still not being determined on which direction and which way to go, the man asked 30 more people, 30 more travelers. When he finished talking to all of them, he finally made up his mind. “Now that so many people already shared with me their paths and especially what they all saw from the top, I don’t need to climb there anymore.”
What this story teaches us is, firstly, that each individual needs to find the most suitable way to climb that mountain. But secondly, there is information possible to be shared with words, but it is impossible to share the experience of clarity when you are standing on that peak by yourself. To invest the right effort in climbing that peak, it’s very much what all the Buddhist practices, the Shaolin training, or any spiritual practice is about.
Clarity means we see more clear.
When we see more clear, interrelations become more apparent.
When we see more clear, there is no need to believe anyone or anything.
Seeing clearly means we can distinguish for ourselves which is the proper direction to take and which decisions we have to make in order to make our goals or aspirations take shape.
Along our personal journey, we will encounter challenges. Those challenges will either prevent us, or some of them even stop us, from moving on and climbing that mountain. In the Shaolin practice, they are referred to as “the five hindrances.” The 5 hindrances are describing different states of the mind. In those states of the mind, it becomes very hard to see clearly and therefore engage in the right decisions.
The first hindrance is called “sensual desire.” Sensual desire arises in the moment when we are paying attention to something that is giving us a positive emotion. This positive emotion can originate from five gates of our body: Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling. So in our mind, we climb up that mountain. After one mile of walking, we discover a beautiful restaurant surrounded by beautiful people. We smell delicious food and the great variety of beverages.
When we follow that temptation, we have already lost our track.
When this temptation becomes so strong that we don’t want to leave that place anymore, then the sensual desire has turned into an obsession.
In both cases, remaining at that place means that we can’t get clarity.
The second hindrance, “ill-will,” describes the state of the mind that arises from negative emotions. In that state of the mind, we have an aversion, a rejection, or simply a dislike against either an object, a situation, or can be even a person. To simplify, it means: We are climbing the mountain, and it starts to rain, but we don't like rain. We discover the roads are bumpy, but we don’t like bumpy roads. Whatever it is that we dislike, it won’t make it a pleasant journey unless we learn to let go of this ill-will. It’s more likely even that we won’t continue that journey.
The third hindrance originally translated as “sloth and torpor.” “Sloth” means the heaviness of the body. “Torpor” means the dullness of the mind. It is characterized by sleepiness, non-motivation, lack of energy, and oftentimes can manifest itself in a state of depression. Now, a simile used in Buddhism describes it as “imprisonment.” We find ourselves locked in a cell. It becomes very hard to make any type of mental or physical effort. So in order to continue our path, there is only one option left. We need to find a way to get out from that hole, from that cell.
The fourth hindrance is called “restlessness”. It is the state of an unsettled mind. “Unsettled mind” means our mind cannot settle. Settle where? Settle in the present moment. An unsettled mind either is worrying about the future or traveling into the past and rejecting, judging about an event that happened into your past. A simile used here is the monkey mind, constantly jumping from one branch to another, unable to stay for too long time at the present moment. The problem is, there is no time to see clearly anymore.
The last of the five hindrances is called “skeptical doubt,” and it's very closely related to a state of mind which is based on indecisiveness. It is very easy in that state of mind getting lost in thoughts. Can I do this? Is this the right path? What will the others say? “What if” this? “What if” that? The mind cannot synchronize with our own actions anymore. And the result is that we are getting disconnected with the goals and aspirations that once we have set to ourselves. When the way is filled with too much doubts, more often we will stop instead of moving on.
First, we need to align and structure our life in such a way as to prevent those hindrances from arising. If we are not successful, we need to use techniques in order to remove them. Each of these hindrances is placing a dark cloud on our mind, or on the way of our climb. Simply remember one thing:
Just let it RAIN.
Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify.
This is a 4 step method to help us in removing the 5 hindrances. The first step is to recognize in what state of the mind we are finding ourselves in. Afterwards, learn to accept, acknowledge, and allow the situation or the person to be the way it is, to be the way they are. Investigate our emotional and mental state, and ask questions: Why did it come up? What is going to be the consequence if I remain in that state? And ultimately, non-identification means detaching and delimiting: I am not the body. I am not the mind. I am not my emotion. These are just three aspects that I see about me.
All of our lifetimes, all of our lives are too unique to copy the path from someone else.
To bring meaning to our life, to bring value into our life, we need to learn and master ourselves, and not let the hindrances stop us.
Just let it RAIN.
If any of you chooses to climb that path to clarity, I would be very happy to meet you at the peak.
[Animum] rege: qui, nisi paret, imperat.
Rule your [mind], or it will rule you.
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
In this TED Talk, Shaolin Master Shi Heng Yi talks about self-discovery and the hindrances along the way to it and to personal growth. Learn why RAIN is an essential part of each flowering, and every small step a part of the journey to the highest peak.
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