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ZEN - Teacherless Knowledge and the Ocean of Your Own Essence

 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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13 June 2017 20:52
 

Since when are excrement and urine afflictions?  I thought they were bodily functions, which are, you know, no big deal. 

The toughest thing about being a teacher is that teachers know a lot of cool stuff, but inevitably they will be faced with questions about the unknown.  At that point, some teachers have the tendency to make stuff up.  I think that, these days, people in the West respect the version of Buddhism that is OK with answers not being known or knowable.  But obviously, at least one ancient Buddhist felt inspired to expound on the specifics of an era clearly of the imagination. 

Or maybe the teaching is a parable.  Like, even if people had only a measly 6 afflictions and lived 60,000 years, they’d think life was short and hard.  What’s the lesson in that?

 
sojourner
 
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14 June 2017 07:10
 
hannahtoo - 13 June 2017 08:52 PM

Since when are excrement and urine afflictions?  I thought they were bodily functions, which are, you know, no big deal. 

The toughest thing about being a teacher is that teachers know a lot of cool stuff, but inevitably they will be faced with questions about the unknown.  At that point, some teachers have the tendency to make stuff up.  I think that, these days, people in the West respect the version of Buddhism that is OK with answers not being known or knowable.  But obviously, at least one ancient Buddhist felt inspired to expound on the specifics of an era clearly of the imagination. 

Or maybe the teaching is a parable.  Like, even if people had only a measly 6 afflictions and lived 60,000 years, they’d think life was short and hard.  What’s the lesson in that?


Yeah, I’m not sure what to make of it. I mean I think it’s important to be a skeptical consumer of information but at some point, in the information age, you can only put so much onus on an individual person - I can’t learn the entire history of Buddhist translations and all the nuances of where the controversies are and why and what the various schools of thought are in order to be able to read one book! I have plenty of other things to read in a day as well, if I had to get a semi-doctorate in all of them there would be some time constraint issues, ha ha.


I guess what throws me is that if that is an accurate transmission, to my mind it points to the run-of-the-mill local tribal legends and superstitions you might find in any ancient village, where I guess I’d gotten used to thinking of Buddhism (at least the original teachings) as being sort of beyond that, if that makes any sense. I mean if the Buddha really did get that one wrong, he got it really wrong, which kinda makes me wonder how “bird’s eye view” his perspective really was, on the whole.


Buddhism is an interesting tradition in that its methodology has evolved over the centuries, leading to Buddhist psychology and the creation of various kinds of meditation practices, from Buddhaghosa and the Visuddhimagga to some of the practices in Tibetan Buddhism to Zen, and so on. And given the amount of study that is now going in to those practices, I feel pretty confident in them either way - but of course the truth about the founder of the tradition himself does still interest me.

 
 
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hannahtoo
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14 June 2017 13:05
 

NL, you kinda remind me of me when I started becoming disillusioned with Christianity.  Thinking, well wait, maybe a certain aspect doesn’t make sense, but the rest is still so true!  I started reading about how the Bible was put together, and I learned there was no way to trust that it was the accurate word of anyone, and it was put together by committee (many potential holy books were left out) to satisfy the leadership of a certain era, and translated variously, resulting in different interpretations.  I realized I had originally accepted the awesomeness of the Bible just on the word of people who believed the word of others for countless generations. 

After I lost my faith in the main Christian doctrine, the fabulousness seemed obvious.  But there is a lot of profundity worth pondering in the theology, even without faith in the primary tenets.  It’s just plain fascinating.  Plus, being humble and having a servant heart are good things.  Repenting, forgiving and accepting forgiveness, all good too.  But not so much because we’re born with Adam and Eve’s sin nature and need to accept Jesus, blah, blah, blah.

All this having been said, I wonder if you read the ancient Buddhist stories as they were intended.  Did Buddha need to say, “Now I’m going to tell a parable to teach a lesson.  Here we go, ‘Once upon a time, when people lived to be 60,000 years old…’”  Or maybe Buddha was like Jesus.  Just a slob like one of us.  Lots of unique and deep insights, a magnetic personality, a gift with public speaking, and kinda crazy in that he was convinced he knew the nature of reality beyond this day-to-day world.  Jesus thought he was the son of god.  I don’t know as much about Buddha, but didn’t he teach about reincarnation (or maybe that was a later add-on)?  Like amazing people today—fully amazing in some areas, but not infallible, very human.

 
sojourner
 
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14 June 2017 18:24
 
hannahtoo - 14 June 2017 01:05 PM

NL, you kinda remind me of me when I started becoming disillusioned with Christianity.  Thinking, well wait, maybe a certain aspect doesn’t make sense, but the rest is still so true!  I started reading about how the Bible was put together, and I learned there was no way to trust that it was the accurate word of anyone, and it was put together by committee (many potential holy books were left out) to satisfy the leadership of a certain era, and translated variously, resulting in different interpretations.  I realized I had originally accepted the awesomeness of the Bible just on the word of people who believed the word of others for countless generations. 

After I lost my faith in the main Christian doctrine, the fabulousness seemed obvious.  But there is a lot of profundity worth pondering in the theology, even without faith in the primary tenets.  It’s just plain fascinating.  Plus, being humble and having a servant heart are good things.  Repenting, forgiving and accepting forgiveness, all good too.  But not so much because we’re born with Adam and Eve’s sin nature and need to accept Jesus, blah, blah, blah.


Yes, I think there’s an element of that, and an element of me being like velcro with the negative parts of any religion, ha ha! Some of the sutras in this book are so depressing. If you live a good life you will go to the deva realm for 500 eons. What? Yaaaay!!! Deva realm! 500 eons!! But then, if you weren’t a devout Buddhist, you’ll reincarnate in the animal or hell realm. What? Noooo!!! So even all the happy loving NDEs you read about are only what people experience for an interlude before they reincarnate in hell?!

All this having been said, I wonder if you read the ancient Buddhist stories as they were intended.  Did Buddha need to say, “Now I’m going to tell a parable to teach a lesson.  Here we go, ‘Once upon a time, when people lived to be 60,000 years old…’”  Or maybe Buddha was like Jesus.  Just a slob like one of us.  Lots of unique and deep insights, a magnetic personality, a gift with public speaking, and kinda crazy in that he was convinced he knew the nature of reality beyond this day-to-day world.  Jesus thought he was the son of god.  I don’t know as much about Buddha, but didn’t he teach about reincarnation (or maybe that was a later add-on)?  Like amazing people today—fully amazing in some areas, but not infallible, very human.


Yeah, I think the thing that’s tricky for me is that I have no general “insider feel” for Buddhism. If you asked me about Christianity I could give you at least the basics regarding schools of thought and who says what snippy things about who and what’s considered fringe and what’s not and so on. The kind of stuff you’re not going to find in a history book - you can study most religions all you want, most people aren’t going to come right out and say “X group thinks that Y group are a bunch of wackadoos, and Y group has a beef with Z group about…” You just have to know that kind of thing from exposure. So I have no idea what views are fringe vs. mainstream or equally divided into various camps and so on in Buddhism. And then people who have had “Rilly Spiritual Experiences” tend to describe it in ways that I have zero frame of reference for anyhow. Sam Harris says “Have you ever traveled, beyond all mere metaphors, to the Mountain of Shame and stayed for a thousand years? I do not recommend it.” - when in reality as we know it he was probably zonked out for about twenty minutes. So what is 500 eons really, if you say “Oh, but time and space have no real meaning in this description…”


I dunno. The Dalai Lama usually gives the same advice - don’t agitate your mind. I think that’s good advice, so for the time being I should just assume any agitating teachings were meant for other types of minds!

 
 
unsmoked
 
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22 June 2017 10:27
 
NL. - 14 June 2017 06:24 PM

I dunno. The Dalai Lama usually gives the same advice - don’t agitate your mind. I think that’s good advice, so for the time being I should just assume any agitating teachings were meant for other types of minds!

Spoiling the Broth

“Once there was a Zen elder who didn’t talk to his group at all during a retreat.  One of the group said, “This way, I’ve wasted the whole retreat.  I don’t expect the teacher to explain Buddhism; it would be enough to hear the two words ‘Absolute Truth.’”

The elder heard of this and said, “Don’t be so quick to complain.  There’s not even a single word to say about ‘Absolute Truth.’”  Then when he had said this, he gnashed his teeth and said, “It was pointless to say that.”

In the next room was another elder who overheard this and said, “A fine pot of soup, befouled by two rat droppings.” 

Whose pot hasn’t one or two droppings in it?”  -  Zen master Xuedou

(Xuedou’s story is from the book, ‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’ - translated and edited by Thomas Cleary)

 
 
sojourner
 
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22 June 2017 13:31
 
unsmoked - 22 June 2017 10:27 AM
NL. - 14 June 2017 06:24 PM

I dunno. The Dalai Lama usually gives the same advice - don’t agitate your mind. I think that’s good advice, so for the time being I should just assume any agitating teachings were meant for other types of minds!

Spoiling the Broth

“Once there was a Zen elder who didn’t talk to his group at all during a retreat.  One of the group said, “This way, I’ve wasted the whole retreat.  I don’t expect the teacher to explain Buddhism; it would be enough to hear the two words ‘Absolute Truth.’”

The elder heard of this and said, “Don’t be so quick to complain.  There’s not even a single word to say about ‘Absolute Truth.’”  Then when he had said this, he gnashed his teeth and said, “It was pointless to say that.”

In the next room was another elder who overheard this and said, “A fine pot of soup, befouled by two rat droppings.” 

Whose pot hasn’t one or two droppings in it?”  -  Zen master Xuedou

(Xuedou’s story is from the book, ‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’ - translated and edited by Thomas Cleary)


Question… you talk a lot about this “Absolute Truth”. Is it because you feel you’ve experienced it, or haven’t but have faith that it exists?

 
 
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23 June 2017 11:13
 
NL. - 22 June 2017 01:31 PM

Question… you talk a lot about this “Absolute Truth”. Is it because you feel you’ve experienced it, or haven’t but have faith that it exists?

A Zen master gave a student a koan.  He said, “How do you realize paradise (absolute truth) when you hear this sound?”  He tapped his staff on the floor.

The student looked puzzled so the master tapped the staff again and answered the koan for him.  “Just the sound.”

The student was still puzzled.  The master dismissed him saying, “More zazen.”  (more meditation)

 

 

 
 
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23 June 2017 14:28
 
unsmoked - 23 June 2017 11:13 AM
NL. - 22 June 2017 01:31 PM

Question… you talk a lot about this “Absolute Truth”. Is it because you feel you’ve experienced it, or haven’t but have faith that it exists?

A Zen master gave a student a koan.  He said, “How do you realize paradise (absolute truth) when you hear this sound?”  He tapped his staff on the floor.

The student looked puzzled so the master tapped the staff again and answered the koan for him.  “Just the sound.”

The student was still puzzled.  The master dismissed him saying, “More zazen.”  (more meditation)


Ok. But I’m saying, you keep giving instructives on zen, absolute truth, and so on. Why? Because you know it works, or because you like the idea? I’m not saying one is better than the other - I will fully admit that I talk about it a lot largely because I like the idea (certainly I also think it’s beneficial but I can’t say I have concrete evidence, beyond intuition, that it’s beneficial in anything more than purely pragmatic, ‘mind exercise’ ways.)


I’m curious because you quote a lot of zen, so I assume you have some reason to do so, but I’ve never heard you talk about your spirituality in personal terms. Is this something you’ve experienced, or more something you believe is logically possible so hope to experience one day? When you quote zen, what does that mean to you, or what importance do you think it holds for others?

[ Edited: 23 June 2017 14:30 by sojourner]
 
 
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24 June 2017 10:48
 
NL. - 23 June 2017 02:28 PM
unsmoked - 23 June 2017 11:13 AM
NL. - 22 June 2017 01:31 PM

Question… you talk a lot about this “Absolute Truth”. Is it because you feel you’ve experienced it, or haven’t but have faith that it exists?

A Zen master gave a student a koan.  He said, “How do you realize paradise (absolute truth) when you hear this sound?”  He tapped his staff on the floor.

The student looked puzzled so the master tapped the staff again and answered the koan for him.  “Just the sound.”

The student was still puzzled.  The master dismissed him saying, “More zazen.”  (more meditation)


Is this something you’ve experienced, or more something you believe is logically possible so hope to experience one day?

The sound?

 
 
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24 June 2017 15:50
 
unsmoked - 24 June 2017 10:48 AM

The sound?


You’re waiting to hear the sound, or you heard it?


Sorry, if that’s too personal, feel free not to respond or say you don’t get into personal info on forums, again, just curious as to what these stories mean to you, individually. Personally I never really connected with the zen tradition because it seems a bit too ‘wink wink nudge nudge if you spell it out you just don’t ‘get it’’ on the one hand and too stoic on the other hand for me, but I can see how it might appeal more to, say, guys who aren’t into chatting about their ‘spiritual journey’ in detail or whatever (those are just my impressions, btw, obviously I’ve never spent time at a zen monastery or anything.) To me, contemplative practice is so personal and individualized that stories of unknown practitioners sort of plucked from the ages don’t feel as if they have much to do with me and my particular practice, beyond the vaguest and most general terms. But for other people, that format may be helpful, so again, just curious.

 
 
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28 June 2017 11:18
 
NL. - 24 June 2017 03:50 PM
unsmoked - 24 June 2017 10:48 AM

The sound?


You’re waiting to hear the sound, or you heard it?


Sorry, if that’s too personal, feel free not to respond or say you don’t get into personal info on forums, again, just curious as to what these stories mean to you, individually. Personally I never really connected with the zen tradition because it seems a bit too ‘wink wink nudge nudge if you spell it out you just don’t ‘get it’’ on the one hand and too stoic on the other hand for me, but I can see how it might appeal more to, say, guys who aren’t into chatting about their ‘spiritual journey’ in detail or whatever (those are just my impressions, btw, obviously I’ve never spent time at a zen monastery or anything.) To me, contemplative practice is so personal and individualized that stories of unknown practitioners sort of plucked from the ages don’t feel as if they have much to do with me and my particular practice, beyond the vaguest and most general terms. But for other people, that format may be helpful, so again, just curious.

Zen master Yuanwu comments:

“Right before your eyes, it has always been there [absolute truth] . . . If you don’t know it in your daily life, where then will you look for it?  [just the sound]

(Yuanwu quoted from the book, ‘ZEN LETTERS - Teachings of Yuanwu’ - translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)  (words in brackets by unsmoked)

 
 
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28 June 2017 19:41
 
unsmoked - 28 June 2017 11:18 AM

Zen master Yuanwu comments:

“Right before your eyes, it has always been there [absolute truth] . . . If you don’t know it in your daily life, where then will you look for it?  [just the sound]

(Yuanwu quoted from the book, ‘ZEN LETTERS - Teachings of Yuanwu’ - translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)  (words in brackets by unsmoked)


If you’ve experienced the kind of zen-lens that people talk about and think it’s great, that’s awesome, I just haven’t found it to be a roadmap when it comes to my personal experience. On the “just the sound” thing, for example… I could give you a vaguely concordant story about how this has featured in my spiritual life, but it falls into ‘might be a stretch’ territory. The last silent retreat I did was in a Christian context. Nothing but meditation and monks chanting for a couple of days. This was both extremely peaceful and excruciatingly boring, alternately (I’m so peaceful! Oh gawd I’m so bored! But so peaceful! But SOOOO bored! But so…) But it was kind of cool to do a retreat with zero instruction, just to see how it went. And I noticed more keenly how attention is like changing the channel on a radio dial, to a degree that is almost startling when you really pay attention. I would do a sound meditation, get lost in thought, remember what I was doing, and think “Wow, the sound literally disappeared when I wasn’t paying attention to it - how weird is that?”. Or, alternately, I would realize how ‘tuning in’ to a particular channel comes with a lot of unexpected baggage. There were two plants my eyes kept going to outside the building - one was a beautiful, unique tree; the other was a nondescript leafy plant in the garden. The former seemed storybook-like, inspiring, and uplifting; the latter reminded me of a plant in my backyard that has grown voraciously and yet refuses to flower (not enough sun, I think,) which makes me worry that the neighbors will think it’s a weed overrunning our flowerbed, and yet I feel I can’t pull it out since it’s thriving, albeit without flowers. And I realized even gliding my eyes over the scenery, that emotional component (a mix of ‘attraction/aversion’, in Buddhist terms,) was there every time I looked at those two plants - subtly, but humming in the background. “Aaaaaah!” and “Argh!” respectively, ha ha!


A few days after that retreat, I was having an anxious moment, and I thought out of nowhere “Well my head feels anxious, but my heart is calm.” It occurred to me after that, that I had no idea what I meant by “my heart”, other than a newly tuned awareness that seems to be associated with that general area (my actual, physical heart still races when I’m anxious, so it wasn’t that.) I can’t describe it any other way except that it was like tuning into ‘a new channel’ - I have no idea where it came from, it’s like being lost in thought and suddenly realizing “Oh! Sound! It’s like it appeared out of nowhere!”. Suddenly I thought “Here’s this calm place that isn’t bothered by all of this.”


Does that track with ‘just hearing’? Maybe sorta kinda I guess. I could find reference points in there that are close enough to connect the dots if I really wanted to. Working on mindfulness first. Noticing the qualities of hearing being attentionally present and absent. Noticing what ‘just vision’ vs. ‘vision plus emotion’ feels like. Sensory mindfulness was certainly in the mix there. But I can’t say my trajectory includes an ‘aha!’ moment involving ‘just hearing’ or ‘just seeing’, etc., even though I think it (my spiritual practices) is incredibly valuable to me. To that end, I have a hard time finding personal meaning in zen-speak, because when given the old advice of ‘check it out for yourself’, I’m kinda like “I have, and it doesn’t really track with my experience in anything but a very vague way.” If it’s something that is beneficial for you, I’m glad, was just curious about the details as I haven’t personally experienced them myself.

 
 
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29 June 2017 11:30
 
NL. - 28 June 2017 07:41 PM
unsmoked - 28 June 2017 11:18 AM

Zen master Yuanwu comments:

“Right before your eyes, it has always been there [absolute truth] . . . If you don’t know it in your daily life, where then will you look for it?  [just the sound]

(Yuanwu quoted from the book, ‘ZEN LETTERS - Teachings of Yuanwu’ - translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)  (words in brackets by unsmoked)


If you’ve experienced the kind of zen-lens that people talk about and think it’s great, that’s awesome, I just haven’t found it to be a roadmap when it comes to my personal experience. On the “just the sound” thing, for example… I could give you a vaguely concordant story about how this has featured in my spiritual life, but it falls into ‘might be a stretch’ territory. The last silent retreat I did was in a Christian context. Nothing but meditation and monks chanting for a couple of days. This was both extremely peaceful and excruciatingly boring, alternately (I’m so peaceful! Oh gawd I’m so bored! But so peaceful! But SOOOO bored! But so…) But it was kind of cool to do a retreat with zero instruction, just to see how it went. And I noticed more keenly how attention is like changing the channel on a radio dial, to a degree that is almost startling when you really pay attention. I would do a sound meditation, get lost in thought, remember what I was doing, and think “Wow, the sound literally disappeared when I wasn’t paying attention to it - how weird is that?”. Or, alternately, I would realize how ‘tuning in’ to a particular channel comes with a lot of unexpected baggage. There were two plants my eyes kept going to outside the building - one was a beautiful, unique tree; the other was a nondescript leafy plant in the garden. The former seemed storybook-like, inspiring, and uplifting; the latter reminded me of a plant in my backyard that has grown voraciously and yet refuses to flower (not enough sun, I think,) which makes me worry that the neighbors will think it’s a weed overrunning our flowerbed, and yet I feel I can’t pull it out since it’s thriving, albeit without flowers. And I realized even gliding my eyes over the scenery, that emotional component (a mix of ‘attraction/aversion’, in Buddhist terms,) was there every time I looked at those two plants - subtly, but humming in the background. “Aaaaaah!” and “Argh!” respectively, ha ha!


A few days after that retreat, I was having an anxious moment, and I thought out of nowhere “Well my head feels anxious, but my heart is calm.” It occurred to me after that, that I had no idea what I meant by “my heart”, other than a newly tuned awareness that seems to be associated with that general area (my actual, physical heart still races when I’m anxious, so it wasn’t that.) I can’t describe it any other way except that it was like tuning into ‘a new channel’ - I have no idea where it came from, it’s like being lost in thought and suddenly realizing “Oh! Sound! It’s like it appeared out of nowhere!”. Suddenly I thought “Here’s this calm place that isn’t bothered by all of this.”


Does that track with ‘just hearing’? Maybe sorta kinda I guess. I could find reference points in there that are close enough to connect the dots if I really wanted to. Working on mindfulness first. Noticing the qualities of hearing being attentionally present and absent. Noticing what ‘just vision’ vs. ‘vision plus emotion’ feels like. Sensory mindfulness was certainly in the mix there. But I can’t say my trajectory includes an ‘aha!’ moment involving ‘just hearing’ or ‘just seeing’, etc., even though I think it (my spiritual practices) is incredibly valuable to me. To that end, I have a hard time finding personal meaning in zen-speak, because when given the old advice of ‘check it out for yourself’, I’m kinda like “I have, and it doesn’t really track with my experience in anything but a very vague way.” If it’s something that is beneficial for you, I’m glad, was just curious about the details as I haven’t personally experienced them myself.

When you’re bored, are you able to take advantage of the opportunity to look at it carefully to see what it is?  (before it goes away and you’re not bored any more).  How would you describe it? 

 

 
 
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29 June 2017 17:06
 
unsmoked - 29 June 2017 11:30 AM

When you’re bored, are you able to take advantage of the opportunity to look at it carefully to see what it is?  (before it goes away and you’re not bored any more).  How would you describe it?


Yeah, I know all the “be interested in the boredom” exercises. What does it feel like, where does it manifest, how does the mind move, just observe it, etc., etc. They help somewhat, but, like mindfulness for pain management, they’re not a panacea, unless you’re extremely advanced, I guess. Boredom is a bit of an impulse, when you think of it (to find stimulation,) and if you think of the tenacity of human impulses (from the very mundane and easily resisted “Should I buy that candy bar in the checkout line?” to the strongest [Having a ‘holding your breath underwater’ contest when you were a kid and eventually going “I have to breath, NOW”]), it takes a lot of ‘practice’ to quiet them. I think meditation certainly helps but it’s a years-long proposition (unless you’re doing it 24-7 in an ashram, possibly.)

 
 
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30 June 2017 12:21
 
NL. - 29 June 2017 05:06 PM
unsmoked - 29 June 2017 11:30 AM

When you’re bored, are you able to take advantage of the opportunity to look at it carefully to see what it is?  (before it goes away and you’re not bored any more).  How would you describe it?


Yeah, I know all the “be interested in the boredom” exercises. What does it feel like, where does it manifest, how does the mind move, just observe it, etc., etc.

I didn’t mean how would you manifest boredom.  I meant, how would you describe it? 

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/thesaurus/boredom

NOUN

1‘his eyes were glassy with boredom’

SYNONYMS
weariness, ennui, lack of enthusiasm, lack of interest, lack of concern, apathy, uninterestedness, unconcern, languor, sluggishness, accidie, malaise, world-weariness
frustration, dissatisfaction, restlessness, restiveness
tedium, tediousness, dullness, monotony, repetitiveness, lack of variety, lack of variation, flatness, blandness, sameness, uniformity, routine, humdrum, dreariness, lack of excitement
informal deadliness
British informal sameyness
ANTONYMS
interest, entertainment

bored1
ADJECTIVE

Feeling weary and impatient because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.
‘she got bored with staring out of the window’
‘they hung around all day, bored stiff’
‘bored teenagers’
‘John was soon bored to tears with the work’
‘she’s bored out of her mind’
More example sentencesSynonyms

 

[ Edited: 30 June 2017 12:24 by unsmoked]
 
 
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