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Zen & Meditation

In Zen Buddhism, all suffering and negative emotions are seen as arising from the fondness of the human mind for picking and choosing: "I want...", " I don't want... ", "I like...", "I don't like...", and so on - a little nagging voice, all the time. If we give it free rein then all our energies are wasted on the Three Fires of Greed, Anger and Delusion (i.e. clinging to fondly-held beliefs).

Extinguishing the Three Fires is not quick or easy, because they lie at the heart of the human condition. Zen seeks a slow transformation of the Fires into more positive, healthy forms of energy through formal meditation practices and - more importantly - corresponding discipline in everyday life.

Buddhist psychological theory (Abhidhamma) embodies a systematic analysis of the effects of the Three Fires on mental and emotional states. The stream of human consciousness is dissected into a succession of microscopic thought-processes, linked via cause-and-effect, and characterized ethically as "wholesome" or "unwholesome". Over time, this leads to an accumulation of karma which determines the sort of person an individual is. Abhidhamma distinguishes between six personality types, depending on which of the Three Fires is dominant and whether their accumulated karma is predominantly positive or negative.

Two of the six types are sufficiently similar that they can be grouped together, giving five personality types loosely corresponding to the five Chinese elements (though historically unrelated to them). There are no "good" or "bad" personality types - they are all fine in moderation (and it takes all types to make a world). However, if indulged to extremes, each personality may develop a characteristic vice. To prevent this from happening, it's important to keep your karma in balance, and Abhidhamma theory suggests an appropriate meditation subject to help with this:

Personality Vice Meditation subject
Believer Intolerance Generosity
Aversion Anger Compassion
Discursive Delusion Breathing
Acquisitive Greed Transient nature of things
Intellectual Arrogance The absence of thought

For another fascinating aspect of Zen practice, see my notes on the Heart Sutra, or check out my my Zen Dynamics book for much more detail on both Abhidhamma and Zen Buddhism:

Zen Dynamics book
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