The Second Realization
Brothers and sisters,
This is the Second Realization. Please listen carefully:
“THE SECOND REALIZATION is the awareness that more desires bring more suffering. All hardship in daily life rises from greed and desire. Those with little desire and ambition are able to relax their bodies and minds, free from entanglement.”
Desires such as diligence in our daily practice for wisdom, our striving for excellence in our professions, or ability to help others are positive energy for making progress on our chosen paths. Desires that go in the direction of greed and craving are destructive. We crave what we don’t have, find it – even at the cost of risking all we have, then crave more. Carl Lewis, a drug addict turned neuroscientist, writes in his book Memoirs of An Addicted Brain “This cycle is at the root of all addictions – addictions to drugs, sex, love, cigarettes, soap opera, wealth, and wisdom itself” to which I should add the other major trappings of the culture of consumerism: power, food, alcohol, laziness, oil, technology, and work. I was a workaholic. The following mortality data published by the US government and United Nations illustrates the magnitude of the problems caused by addiction to tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug consumptions:
- Tobacco: It is estimated that 100 million people died worldwide during the 20th century due to tobacco consumption. If the current trend continues, there will be one billion deaths in the 21st In 2011, there were six million deaths. It is projected that there will be eight million deaths by 2030 and more than 80% of them will be in low income nations.
- Alcohol: It’s estimated that about 2.5 million people died worldwide every year due to alcohol consumption. The 19-25 years old group accounts for about 300,000 of these deaths.
- Illicit drugs: There are about 90-250,000 deaths worldwide every year due to illicit drugs usage. The UN estimates that there are approximately 15-40 million problem drug users worldwide.
Deaths and diseases are quantifiable, and their cost is staggering. But reverberations of the suffering to the families and society are immeasurable.
We are what we consume. Our body and mind are the manifestations of the nutrients that we’ve ingested. We must consume mindfully.
The Buddha taught that there are four types of nutrients that we consume. These are edible food, sense impressions, intentions, and consciousness.
The first category of nutrient is edible food. What is meant by eating and drinking mindfully? The major considerations include:
- Maintain a balanced diet that keeps the body healthy. A healthy body nourishes a clear mind.
- Consider making a conscious effort to shift from a meat– based protein diet to a plant – based diet. If one cannot become a vegan, the alternate is becoming a vegetarian, a pescatarian, or being any of these on a part time basis unless there are overriding reasons – such as medical requirements. Numerous studies have proven that a plant – based diet is better for our health than a meat – based counterpart. My wife has been a vegan for about two years. She has achieved good results to date in terms of weight loss, lower cholesterol, and free of arthritis symptoms. I plan to get on her program as soon as I’ve gained some more weight. A plant-based diet is also a sustainable diet. It helps alleviate inflicting cruelty on animals. It reduces the impact of air pollution, wastewater contamination, water consumption, and land usage on the environment from raising animals. It protects the earth and makes it more sustainable for future generations. We’ll discuss sustainability in the session on living in simplicity next week. This is the practice of no-self.
- Consume only healthy nutrients moderately to nourish the body and mind, not for self indulgence, or to eat or drink away our suffering.
- Bear in mind that when we take the above mindful steps, we help not only ourselves, the animals, and the environment. We also help keep medical costs down and make the healthcare system in the country sustainable and more affordable to more people. This is the practice of no-self.
The second category of nutrient is sense impressions. The moment our six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind) are in touch with their objects, these contacts become the sources of nutrients to our consciousness. When we go out, we’re exposed to graphic images at store fronts and inside shopping centers, on magazine covers, in books and movie theaters. At home, we encounter them in explicit, violent language and actions – hatred, anger, revenge, fear, suspicion, betrayal, and depression – on television, social media, and video games, etc. We can be proactive in our defense against these toxins by avoiding them, and constantly guard against them with our mindfulness. If we’re exposed to them, the moment they’re recognized, we immediately disconnect the contact and follow our breath. An arousal of emotion in response to the exposure is the signal that we’ve ingested the toxins. It is essential that we protect our children from these exposures. My family no longer turns on the TV except for the selected programs for our grandson.
Nowadays, technology has made our life easier, from communications to family and friends, to planning and scheduling of personal activities. Its proliferation is also invading our privacy, threatening our personal security, and robbing us of the tranquility of our mindful way of living. Companies hand out free smart phones to employees for 24/7 access making it more difficult to separate work life from private life. Others buy them as the prices have gone down. In the 2012 research study, Pew estimated that 46% of Americans had smart phones. The average user checks the phone 35 times a day, for 30 seconds each. 44% of the users go to sleep with the phones next to their beds. 29% imagine they can’t live without it. As the number of applications increases and marketing ploys targeting additional users spread, more people will depend on them. We’re trading in our brain for this electronic device. We’re reaching a stage when we can’t leave home without it.
The third category of nutrient is volition. It is our intention, the engine of success. When I was a young project engineering manager, the president of the business line asked me in the first project performance review “How do you work?” I intuitively replied “I eat and sleep with it”. That was a truthful answer. I was focusing on the technical, financial, and schedule performance goals during the day. Sometimes, I awoke during the night, thought of the solution to a problem, got out of bed to write it down on a pad, and went back to sleep. That was the life of a workaholic. The behavior is driven mostly by the personality of a perfectionist. It was encouraged by the culture of a company that rewards performance. While I’m writing these lines, I’m reminded of the essay that I wrote to pass the national examination for junior high school in Vietnam when I was 15 years old. The topic of the essay was a quote from then president President Ngo Dinh Diem “Life is like a boat on the river, it either goes upstream or downstream. It never stays in the same place”. I must have understood it well, since I passed the examination. I must have lived it well, for I had a decent career path and was able to overcome the odds when I first started out to engage in the type of work that I’d like to do. I erred in overly focusing on my intention – my work – and drove my life out of balance. I can trace this tendency to go on overdrive to my adolescent. I skipped two grades, one in junior high school and one in senior high school. It helped the family financial situation. I’ve to admit that I missed out a lot on life as a result. I missed opportunities to study Vietnamese literature, develop life skills, and to participate in cultural activities, to name a few. I share this experience to impress upon young parents not to push their child to start school early. She’ll be younger and less mature than her class mates. It places her in a disadvantaged starting position. Besides, one year now is statistically insignificant in the context of a 40-year working career later. There is also the tendency for parents to try to provide their child with too many extra curriculum skills besides preparing them for academic excellence. It leaves the child little time for savoring life.
The fourth category of nutrient is consciousness. Our thoughts, speeches, and actions – including those passed on to us from previous generations – accumulate in the store consciousness. When any of these seeds is activated by a catalyst (thought, speech, action), it sprouts: the habit energy manifests and the seed becomes stronger in our store of consciousness. I think the thoughts that went through my mind when I wrote that junior high examination had a powerful impact on me. I wrote many essays in my life, but that’s the only one that I remember. The Dalai Lama often shares with his audiences that he goes to bed around 7:00 PM. He gets up around 3:30 AM, and practices a total of four hours of meditation every morning. He does concentration meditation, then moves on to analytical meditation on his emotions before starting other activities of the day. He laughs heartily and easily. His smiles are contagious. His thought, speech, and action are compassionate. He’s joyful although he carries the suffering of the Tibetan people on his shoulders. He has mastered the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Brahamas Viharas. Let’s laugh with him, and smile with him. Let’s breath with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and take a walking meditation with him, or have a cookie/tea meditation with him instead. You don’t have to be Buddhist to do this and it wouldn’t make you less Christian, or Jewish, than you are even if you do. But if you practice it every day, you’ll feel happy, peaceful, and compassionate.
The Marshmallow Experiment.
Last but not least, I’d like to bring to your attention the important findings of the marshmallow experiment on delayed gratification and its enormous potential in public policies.
Walter Mischel, a Standford psychologist, started an experiment in the 1960s with 4-5 years old children. The experimenter tells them you can have one marshmallow now, or if you wait for 15 minutes, I’ll give you two when I come back. Follow up studies have established strong correlations between the number of seconds in delayed time and outcomes at later stages in life. At age 16, those who had good delayed gratification at ages 4-5 have better SAT scores, and higher ratings from parents and teachers on social cognition. At age 32, they exhibit less tendency to develop obesity, have better mass body index, and have less tendency to be addicted to cocaine and drugs. Another important finding is that delayed gratification can be easily taught. After a child has eaten her marshmallow in less than one minute, the experimenter suggests to the child to imagine that the stuff in front of her is just a picture, and put a frame around it in your head. When she returns 15 minutes later, the marshmallow is still there. Recently, Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, used delayed gratification as a measurement of the effectiveness of a Preschool Kindness Curriculum. It’s an 8-week program consisting of three 30-minute sessions per week that teaches the students restraint through kindness and mindfulness training. 50 children took the training. 50 children in the control group didn’t. There was significant improvement in delayed gratification in the children that took the training while there wasn’t significant improvement in the control group. Economists have also been conducting studies on economic development and savings using the marshmallow experiment as the basis.
The above findings are of paramount importance. They prove that this critical skill is easily learnable. It deserves a more significant role in the formulation of public policies regarding training early in schools for children
We’ll have a healthy body and healthy mind if we consume the four nutrients mindfully despite the ever increasing numbers of toxins surrounding us in our daily life. Mindful consumption also helps sustains the earth for future generations. Cultivation of mindfulness and training of the critical skill of delayed gratification early in life are effective means against craving and addiction.