Buddhism and Shadow

Shadow is a problem of bypassing, and not a problem of “what the Buddha taught”. I can only talk of Theravada – really Buddhadasa-Theravada, although there was a Thay book (Reconciliation – the inner child) that I might get into – all this reading!!

What are the 4 foundations of mindfulness? The satipatthana sutta and the 4 foundations of mindfulness are often discussed in Theravada (as far as I know) – here are 3 suttas MN10, SN 47:40 and DN22. These are concerned with becoming mindful of kaya - body, vedana - feelings, citta - mind and Dhamma. [Teal and Jeff Bond – why doesn’t integration include Dhamma?]

For me it is important to connect satipatthana to anapanasati-bhavana. By this I mean that the 4 foundations of mindfulness are not simply descriptions but that there is a practical part of these foundations, a meditation method to integrate the four. This is anapanasati-bhavana. This was quoted from Venerable Buddhadasa, and referenced Mindfulness with Breathing but I have no page:-

“Another common problem is that some people cling to and are stuck on the word satipatthana (foundations of mindfulness) far too much. Some go so far as to think that Anapanasati has nothing to do with the four foundations of mindfulness. Some even reject Anapanasati out of hand. In some places they really hang onto the word "satipatthana." They cling to the satipatthana of the Digha-nikaya (Long Discourses) which is not anything more than a long list of names, a lengthy catalogue of sets of dhammas. Although there are whole bunches of dhammas, no way of practice is given or explained there. This is what is generally taken to be satipatthana. Then it is adjusted and rearranged into these and those practices, which become new systems that are called satipatthana practices or meditation.

“Then, the followers of such techniques deny, or even despise, the Anapanasati approach, asserting that it is not satipatthana. In truth, Anapanasati is the heart of satipatthana, the heart of all four foundations of mindfulness. The 16 Steps is a straight-forward and clear practice, not just a list of names or dhammas like in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta. Therefore, let us not fall into the misunderstanding that Anapanasati is not satipatthana, otherwise we might lose interest in it thinking that it is wrong. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding is common. Let us reiterate that Anapanasati is the heart of all four satipatthana in a form that can be readily practiced.

“We have taken time to consider the words "satipatthana" and "Anapanasati" for the sake of ending any misunderstandings that might lead to a narrow-minded lack of consideration for what others are practicing. So please understand correctly that whether we call it satipatthana or Anapanasati there are only four matters of importance: kaya, vedana, citta, and Dhamma. However, in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta there's no explanation of how to practice these four things. It gives only the names of dhammas and expands upon them.”

Interpreting what Venerable Buddhadasa said, the theory of satipatthana needs to be put into practice, and his approach is anapanasati-bhavana. Putting into practice is one of the criticisms of those who talk of spiritual bypassing.

But when people bring up shadow as an issue for spiritual bypassing there is far more than just this Buddhadasa criticism of satipatthana going on. For our practice more needs to be spoken of about integrating shadow when we are integrating kaya, vedana, citta and Dhamma. Theorists might point to vedana and say “Gotya, vedana is feeling and therefore shadow, so we are not bypassing”. This is not a gotya because of selective identification. One of Ven Buddhadasa’s focus teachings is atammayata which he translates cumbersomely as “unconcoctability” – what other word? This high state of atammayata (unconcoctability) means that there is such a strong connection in Dhamma that body, feelings and mind cannot create conditions that affect it.

Nothing wrong with this teaching but there could be a problem with practice. What if a misinterpreting teacher were to say that the purpose of anapanasati-bhavana is to prevent the concocting, and then devoted their teaching methodology to stopping concocting. To me this risks bypassing.

In lay terms what am I saying? Bypassing could be the use of meditation to control feeling so that it does not condition the mind. This is not integrating feeling but bypassing the integration of feeling in order to not concoct the mind. Is that lay enough? I’m not sure.

Let’s examine what is meant by shadow. It is an attachment to ego, it is clinging to something – upadana. And here’s the rub, this is totally true but its emphasis shows why bypassing might occur. In a literal sense shadow is just another attachment. But let’s be clear for many people, shadow is huge. It is a presence that dominates their daily life, and telling them it is an attachment that can simply be let go could come under the category of insensitive or even callous. There was one Buddhist teacher I liked who would say that if you have psychological problems go to a psychiatrist, but if you are coming to me it is a spiritual journey. Whilst I understand this statement I now don’t agree. I feel it is the responsibility of the meditation teacher to have some understanding of the impact of shadow, recognise its existence, and accept that integrating shadow is part of the meditation process. But such a teacher is not a psychiatrist, and for some meditation is not enough a professional psychiatrist is needed.

Within the method of anapanasati-bhavana there needs to be an understanding of how shadow arises, and the best way I have got that is when Teal talks of fragmentation. Fragmentation is a product of conditioning. Now conditioning is part of our upbringing. As children, our family, society and school fashion us through agreement. They expect us to agree with them, and “if things go well” children grow up without problems. However that is not likely to happen because our society is traumatic – far from the path. We are expected to grow up comfortable with the trauma of war, and to accept training to work as wage-slaves for the profits of a few. As this societal path is far from authentic, true selves can react to the upbringing and this places us in conflict with the people we love or the people who are supposed to be our authority figures. There is a part of us that agrees and accepts, and there is a part of us that cannot do this; we fragment into at least two parts and this fragment becomes shadow waiting to be integrated.

And then there is pain. This pain comes from our experiences in life rather than during our upbringing – although pain can come from upbringing. This pain I am associating with emotion – love, we fall in love and this can often cause pain. There is perhaps so much pain that we cannot face it and it becomes internalised and perhaps unrecognised – Eckhart calls this our pain body, I am referring to it as shadow.

To be fair to traditional Buddhist teachings, let me reiterate that fragments and shadows are attached egos, and meditation techniques ask us to recognise and let go of these attachments. But the problem is that fragments and shadows are so strong that if they are not recognised as such and requiring special attention, they can adversely affect this meditation process. For example strong fragments and shadows can prevent us from being relaxed in meditation. Or we can be pressured by our own determination or at the encouragement of our teachers to persevere with the calm breathing when these fragments and shadows are trying to emerge.

What is needed is mindfulness and discernment. Through our mindfulness we need to discern the difference between egos as attachments that we can just let go and those fragments and shadows which need special attention. Through meditation you might be able to cope. When such emotions (fragments and shadows) arise, they need to be integrated through acceptance and letting go. Instead of simply letting go, this integration requires that during meditation and perhaps afterwards you need to go into the emotion, experience it, embrace it, integrate it and then let it go; this could involve great outpouring of emotion - tears and such. Integrating fragments and shadow is extremely powerful, destroys “normal meditation” at the time, and has a huge impact of relief on daily life. It is big as was the process that created the fragment and shadow in the first place. But here there is a warning. What is being unearthed might be too powerful for individual inner work as described, and the meditation student and teacher must be prepared to accept help from the therapeutic community if required.

To me being open to such a change is not a significant alteration of practice – just something to be aware of. We all have fragments and shadows but to different intensities. If there is feedback between the meditation teacher and student, then the teacher ought to be aware of the emergence of fragments or shadows and can advise accordingly. If it is something they are scared of, then perhaps they should not be meditation teachers; establishing a connection with the therapeutic community ought to be par for the course of a regular meditation teacher.

Teal Swan has written in far more detail concerning shadow and integrating fragments through the completion process. If you are not happy with a meditation teacher or what is written in these books, then seek professional help through the therapeutic community.

What need not happen is rejection of spiritual teachings because recognition of fragments and shadows has not always previously been part of the awareness of the meditation community. Bypassing might occur for other reasons but emotional bypassing of intense fragments and shadows is harmful to the individual student. One function of meditation will be to bring up these fragments and shadows so forced attempts at bypassing can run against the natural process leading to serious unresolved issues.

In the end such fragment and shadow work will lead to a situation where the individual can integrate the 4 foundations of body, emotion, citta and Dhamma as the Buddha recommended.

Integrating shadow can be very powerful – such a relief, and people can be mistaken in thinking this is spiritual bliss. As it occurs on this spiritual path it is a spiritual experience but is there more? Quite simply, yes, and this is why we should consider integrating the 4 foundations.

Let’s begin with bhavana – mental development. During anapanasati-bhavana we focus the mind on different objects, and as a result concentration (samadhi) develops thus leading to various experiences of concentration known as jhanas. These experiences can be blissful, and are parts of the fruits of the path. Such jhanas are enjoyable but not the purpose of the journey.

As we increasingly develop the mind through detachment and liberation in general we also develop an understanding of the three characteristics of Buddhism – anicca (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (no-self), and these characteristics further liberate the mind. Particularly important in understanding anatta is the teaching of 5 khandhas, the 5 aggregates of body - kaya, feeling - vedana, sanna – perception and memory, sankhara – mental operations and proliferations, and vinnana – sense consciousness. Through understanding of the role of the 5 khandhas we can recognise that these aggregates are sufficient to explain human action, and as a result there is no need to have a self. As a result we can recognise self as an attachment, as Ven Buddhadasa says “There is no I or mine in the 5 khandhas”.

This process of liberation from mind can also be described as transcendence when we recognise that we can go beyond attachment, beyond conditioning, beyond self. Becoming mindful of anicca (impermanence) helped me with this, it reinforced understanding of anatta, and brought the Dhamma closer. This brought the recognition that Dhamma or Gaia-consciousness can provide the dhammas such as the 4 dhamma comrades of sati, sampajanna, panna and Samadhi, as well as the 4 brahma-viharas (sublime states) of metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), muditta (empathy) and upekkha (equanimity).

Throughout this process of anapanasati-bhavana we develop inner space, and in this space as the understanding of Dhamma increases we can experience connection with sunnata (what Eckhart calls presence). This connection can bring with it feelings of bliss as with the jhanas, but we have to be careful not to attach to these wonderful experiences. These experiences of presence and the jhanas come as we develop the mind, and if we think our spiritual journey has finished with the integration of fragments and shadow we will miss all of that.

What the Buddha taught contains the teachings we need but there is so much confusion as to the teachings and interpretation we can miss the essence, and our journeys can fall short.