Spiritual Implications of Entropy: Perfect Freedom

Spiritual Implications of Entropy:Perfect Freedom

         ─Feedback to my daughter Annie A. Chen

       Chen Yu-Hsi

You have shown me the scientific concept of entropy (能趨疲/熵)defined as “energy dispersal,” which means that energy contained in a physical entity has a natural tendency to disperse from being localized in a structured or organized state to becoming spread out if it is not hindered to do so. To me this seems to imply that the intrinsic nature of energy in the universe is to be in a spontaneous state of total relaxation and freedom from being conditioned in any way.

I find this intrinsic nature of energy very inspiring because it has significant implications for human spirituality. According to Buddhist insights, our “original nature” (Buddha-nature, 佛性/真心本性) is also in an unconditioned, spontaneous state of perfect freedom (nirvana, 自性涅槃/本自解脫). But we humans have lost this freedom because the self-preoccupation of our ego-consciousness produces a false need to defend itself from being harmed or threatened psychologically, thereby causing stress and tension. For example, most of us experience tension and anxiety in the face of a contest or examination, or even when we walk into the classroom as a teacher or a student. This goes to show how self-defeating and counter-productive our ego-consciousness can be! In fact, the defense mechanism of the ego-self is continuously at work on a subconscious level, making it difficult, if not impossible, for our mind and body to relax completely. Furthermore, our habitual conditioned pattern of reactions with craving and aversion (貪瞋習性反應模式), or greed and hatred in extreme cases , along with the resultant mental afflictions, adds to this unwholesome state of stress, tension and disharmony.

 To restore our original Buddha-nature of perfect freedom, Buddhist psychology teaches that we let go of our ego-attachments (我執) and the related conditioned pattern of craving and aversion, or greed and hatred, so that the unconditioned “true self” can reveal itself. A crucial step towards this goal is the practice of mindfulness meditation (正念禪修), in which we learn to be fully open to all experiences, whether positive or negative, without judgment as good or bad, and thus free of craving (for what is good) and aversion ( to what is bad). This wholesome state of mind is called Equanimity(平等心/捨心)—mental balance, peace, harmony, relaxation, tenderness, stability, and purity—which is the foundation for the development of three other wholesome qualities, namely, Love, Compassion and Joy. Together, they constitute what is called “the four sublime states of mind” (or “divine abode” as translated from “brahma vihara” in Sanskrit, 四無量心/四聖心=慈悲喜捨). In other words, we learn to observe things, especially our adverse circumstances and emotions, as they really are (如實觀照), free of all cognitive biases and emotive entanglements, and without identifying ourselves with them. In so doing, we embark on the Path (八正道) to returning to our intrinsic state of perfect freedom, along with unconditional love and compassion and ultimate bliss, which is our “true self.”

It takes time and persistent right efforts for mindfulness meditation to achieve this goal of spiritual liberation. For the conditioned patterns of our minds are so deeply rooted that letting go of them is no easy task. However, even beginners can enjoy the benefits of peace, joy and bliss that help to heal the mind and the body, if they learn how to relax in the meditative process. The following two tips are very helpful in achieving inner peace and relaxation, and thus facilitate progress on the Path.

First, wholesome life-style: In your everyday life, learn to purify your heart and mind by avoiding mental defilements such as greed, lust, anger, hatred, animosity, jealousy, etc. as well as unwholesome bodily conducts and speech that are motivated by these defilements. Learn to cultivate the virtuous wholesome qualities of love, compassion, generosity, tolerance, empathy and forgiveness. This wholesome life-style goes a long way towards creating a peaceful, stable and relaxed mindset needed for the practice of meditation, and is therefore crucial to develop Equanimity (平等心/捨心) , which in turn enhances the growth of inner freedom, peace, harmony, love, compassion, joy and happiness.

Second, the art of relaxation: Most beginners start meditation with a certain degree of stress and tension for reasons stated above. The stress and tension are aggravated by deliberate efforts to concentrate the mind as required by the practice of meditation. As long as stress and tension persist, meditation becomes fruitless and self-defeating. Being unable to relax and maintain equanimity –letting go of stress, tension, anxiety and other negative mental states–  can cause various mental and/or physical discomforts during meditation. Therefore it is of vital importance for students to learn the art of relaxing mind and body from the very beginning.

There are a variety of methods to follow. One is to take deep and soft breathing at the start of a meditation session while reminding oneself to “relax.” Such a practice of self-reminding can be undertaken from time to time until you enters deep samadhi ()— a tranquil and serene state in which the mind and the body fully and spontaneously relax. But relaxation should not become an object to crave for. If craving arises, relaxation becomes unattainable, as craving and aversion are the root cause of stress, tension and anxiety, which constitute an integral part of “dukkha”(mental suffering or affliction, ) as taught by the Buddha. In the context of mindfulness meditation (正念禪) , one should not even make an effort to relax. Rather, mindful observation of mind/body sensations should include a clear awareness of the sensations of stress and tension. If you can observe stress and tension clearly as they are, and with equanimity, i.e., without judgment and emotional reactions, then you can let them go spontaneously and enjoy the fruit of deep peace and relaxation.

Mindful observation in this strict sense does not come by easily. For beginners, it is easier to just remind oneself to “relax” in a spontaneous, gentle manner and with tenderness. You can also imagine yourself to be in a relaxing position, such as enjoying a hot-spring bath in which your mind and body are fully relaxed. A well-known Western teacher of Tibetan Buddhism recommends a similar technique said to be effective in letting go of ego-attachments. It puts emphasis on mindfulness of exhalation as a good  way of cultivating  tenderness, relaxation and the ability to let go. When exhaling, you take note of whatever thoughts and feelings arise, remain clearly aware of them without judgment, and have them released into the vast empty space together with the out-breaths. Following this method, you can also gently and spontaneously “exhale” your stress and tension, and thus enjoy the feelings of peace and relaxation.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that the technique of visualization (觀想), though not recommended by the Buddha’s early teachings on satipathana (foundations of mindfulness, 念住), is found to be highly efficacious by latter-day saints, particularly in Tibetan Buddhism. For example, you can visualize (or imagine) that your heart and mind is now open to the boundless, pure, radiant and empty space that is your “true nature,” into which your ego-self, along with its stress, tension and anxiety, is dissolved, and which is always ready to unconditionally embrace all parts of your being and the world, including your negative emotions, grief, sorrow, fear and all adversities in life. The resultant feelings of peace and relaxation not only yield positive healing effects for your mind and body; they are also conducive to the rapid progress of your practice of meditation if you do not become attached to them.

 It needs to be noted, though,  that visualization should not be carried too far; neither should it be done with a craving for spiritual gains (peace, relaxation, enlightenment, etc.). For students who have difficulty in relaxing, the art of relaxation as discussed above serves as an expedient supplement to mindfulness meditation, which is the authentic teaching of the Buddha, and in which you are expected to be clearly aware of and fully open to all experiences, with perfect equanimity.