I’d like to mention two upcoming classes. If you’re in the area, you should go!
One is in Rowley, this Monday. It’s at the Public Library, from 7-8 pm. This class will be the first of four on Mindfulness/Awareness. It’s also a fundraiser for the Library, all donations go to support the Library.
The other is one I’m really excited about. It’s a class called “Selfless Self-Help.” This will be in Amesbury, through Amesbury Adult Education. It will start November 5th and run for seven weeks. The class goes from 6:30 to 7:30 at night. If you’re interested in learning about compassion, or in developing a regular meditation practice, this class is for you. It will also touch on the nature of habits, and a number of shamanic elements.
Feel free to contact me about either. I hope to see some of you there!
A reminder: every Tuesday here is a “dharma talk.” This means a period of sitting meditation, with instructions, and some discussion. Topics vary. This week I plan on working with the book the “Dhammapada.”
Also, I’m writing (slowly) so here is a little sample of something new on the topic of “egolessness.”
Egolessness has two basic usages in spiritual writing. The first is a Buddhist meaning. It has to do with the contrast between confused perception, or suffering infused perception, the contrast between that and reality (reality, in this context, being a synonym for what is beyond overly simplistic conceptions, what goes beyond confusion). The logic of it being called “egolessness” is a little abstruse, but it goes something like this: an ego is a self. A self is an idea of things as solid and separate. (In this format, then, the chair has a self as much as a person does.) In reality, the things we assume to have selves (unchanging, separate from other things in a significant way) do not. The second meaning is more about serving and helping others. If the ego means something like being arrogant, or too full of yourself, then being egolessness means being free from arrogance, being willing to work with others and serve.
It’s a little too easy to say the one meaning is equal to the other. There is a connection in Buddhism between the two, but it’s not necessarily simple or obvious. I think it’s sufficient to say that ideas about becoming less arrogant, and more able to engage with and help others around us are essential to the spiritual path (how they connect to ideas of the nonconceptual is a little more involved). It is possible to have the second meaning, service, without the first, but that is not how it’s done in Buddhism.
In regards to sitting meditation practice, both meanings come into play. First, when you sit, the concepts take a different internal position. It’s common to say something like they “fall away,” which is equally unclear, and equally helpful. There’s no way to actually feel what this means until you sit, until you actually do it. A very useful technique to have is called “labeling thoughts.” As you sit, and maintain your body is a relaxed fashion, thoughts and feelings come up, sometimes fantastically complex and colorful, sometimes very simple or repetitive. You can think to yourself “thinking” as you sit, the go back to the process of meditating.
As far as the second meaning of egolessness, there a few implications: a) meditation in action b) emotions and postmeditation c) not being arrogant. Meditation in action means finding ways to practice during the midst of chaotic life. There are tons of instructions for how to do this. One is to reconnect with the breath as you work, talk, whatever. Meditation in action is related to how to be in the world, as a practitioner. Maybe it’s almost impossible to “be egoless” and help others without thought for ourselves. Still, progress can be made, and being mindful through meditation in action is both helpful, and something that formal sitting cultivates. Postmeditation just means the period following meditation. You have no choice but to work with the emotions during postmeditation. (You’d do it even if you weren’t a practitioner.) There is a connection between sitting meditation and being able to work fully and properly with the emotions during postmeditation. A first step often has to with becoming more self-aware, more sensitive to what you’re going through.
Finally, being arrogant is problematic. It also very common. It’s also possible to feel arrogant after having done some meditating, or after having understood some complex spiritual idea. This is a problem, because sooner or later, said arrogance will create a communication problem, a lack of awareness, or will hurt someone’s feelings. It can sound a little overly religious or heavy handed to say “don’t be arrogant,” but it’s actually true, and has to be dealt with. It would be very difficult to be a good meditator and be full of yourself. (And remember, being a “good meditator” does not mean quickly being able to “turn off” thoughts or find some magical place of calm and stillness. It has more to do with being willing to try, and do the technique, and to face yourself.)
Just quickly, here is an overview of the next four weeks of Tuesdays. Each week, we’ll meditate and then discuss a text called the “Dhammapada.”
Photocopies will be available.
Jan. 8- Mind training
Jan. 15- Mistakes to avoid
Jan. 22- The goal
Jan. 29- Good and bad
Dharma talks are Tuesdays from 4-530pm. Meditation instruction is offered. By donation.
Come chant Buddhist texts at the barn on Christmas eve.
It’s a nice way to celebrate this time, enjoy the company of others, and relax. Chant is also a good way to familiarize yourself with the teachings, practice your breathing, and rouse your energy.
It will be on Monday the 24th, from 5-6 pm. There will be no dharma talk this week, but we’ll start up again next week.
This will be by donation, pay what you can. All profits for this event will be donated to a charity in Boston.
(Note: this is not a performance. Come and chant! Don’t come just to listen.)
Oh my guru,
who exemplifies view, meditation, and action,
please grant your blessings
and let me achieve absorption in the realm of the nature of mind.
As far as view, meditation, action, and accomplishment,
keep these three points in mind:
all manifestations, even the universe itself is contained in mind.
The nature of mind is the realm of luminosity
beyond thought, beyond form.
Those are the key points of the view.
Wandering thoughts are liberated in the dharmakaya.
Awareness, luminosity is always blissful.
Meditate in the style of nonaction and ease.
These are the key points of practice.
The ten virtues naturally grow
within uncontrived actions.
The ten unvirtuous acts are then purified.
Luminous emptiness is never disturbed
by remedies or correct behavior.
These are the key points of action.
There is no nirvana to attain.
There is no samsara to renounce.
To actually know yourself is to be the buddha.
These are the key points when it comes to accomplishment.
Simplify these three down to one.
This emptiness is the nature of being
which only an excellent guru can illustrate clearly.
You don’t have to do a lot.
If one notices co-emergent wisdom
the goal has been reached.
This talk is a precious jewel
for all practitioners of the dharma.
– Jetsun Milarepa
- The Five Faculties in Meditation (enteringthestreamblog.wordpress.com)
- You’ll find the way (barnmeditation.wordpress.com)
- The Buddha’s Map – New Meditation Class for Folks at UUSS (ironicschmoozer.wordpress.com)
- Meditate Throughout Your Busy Day in 3 Not-So-Calm Places (massageenvy.com)
I pay homage to the guru, suffused with grace.
Please grant your blessings.
Please help me, a beggar, to practice.
Although you children, members of the current generation,
live in towns infested with negativity,
the dharmic connection remains.
Having heard the Buddha’s teaching
you sought me out-
this will keep you on the path.
By constantly accumulating merit you will get more devoted.
Blessings will enter your being
and the two kinds of realization will grow.
But even if you do all of this,
it’s not much help unless you reach full attainment.
I tell you this out of compassion.
Listen closely, my young friends.
When you’re alone,
do not think about the entertainment available back in twon,
or the maras will appear in your mind.
Then inward, and you’ll find the way.
When you meditate, apply patience, and hard work.
Contemplate the problematic nature of samsara, and the uncertainty of the time and place of death.
Avoid craving pleasurable things.
Then courage and patience will grow in you.
You’ll find the way.
When you request advanced teachings,
don’t long for learning, or to become a scholar.
If you do, desires and common behavior will dominate you.
You’ll throw your life in the trash.
Be humble and modest, and you’ll find your way.
When various meditation experiences arise
don’t be proud and excited about telling others,
or you’ll offend the dakinis and mothers.
Meditate evenly and you’ll be on your way.
When you’re with your guru
don’t overthink his positive and negative traits,
or you’ll find mountains of faults.
You’ll only find the way through faith and loyalty.
When you go to dharma gatherings with your brothers and sisters,
don’t try to be the first
or you’ll stir up anger and desire,
and cause problems for your vows.
Adjust, understand each other
and you’ll find the path.
When you beg for alms in town,
do not use the dharma
to deceive or manipulate others,
or you’ll force yourself down a lower path.
Be honest and genuine, and you’ll find the way.
Remember, especially, at all times and places:
don’t show off. Don’t be arrogant,
or your confidence will be overwhelming
and you’ll be bloated with hypocrisy.
If you abandon deception and be natural
you’ll be on track.
The person who has found the path
can pass on the blessed teachings to others.
Such a person not only benefits others, but himself as well.
Then, generosity is the only thought remaining in his heart.
– Jestun Milarepa
- daily meditation practice (bodhisattvaintraining.wordpress.com)
- from the “Karmapa 900.org” website, on the first Karmapa (thekarmapas.wordpress.com)
- Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken Buddha (everydaygurus.com)
- Be a Buddha! (1earthnow.wordpress.com)
- What we think we become. (jelenaneylan.com)
- The Power of Speech (evatenter.wordpress.com)
(courtesy of Vectorstock.com)
I’m looking forward to seeing people at next week’s dharma talk! If you need directions/want to register just let me know. I thought I’d just do a quick one somewhat on the topic of “balance.” This is probably the number one thing people talk about when I talk to them about Buddhism, thinking it’s a Buddhist idea. It isn’t, exactly. I also wanted to write a bit about how Buddhism shows up in random American places.
So people love to mention “balance” when they talk about Buddhism, assuming they’re interested, and somewhat new to Buddhist practice and so forth. Obviously, it’s wonderful if someone is interested enough to actually take a class, and try to meditate. I don’t want to sound too harsh. The other thing is that finding some sort of balance (say, between work and family time) is natural and healthy. It just isn’t something I think the Buddha, or any important Buddhist thinker ever recommended, particularly.
One interesting thing about this is- the language we use when we discuss spiritual stuff (or anything, for that matter) can be very important. This is partly because a single word carries with it lots of associations, specific to a culture, and a given time. So, balance, as a term, connotes certain things. I don’t think it’s especially deep or helpful, although it’s not terrible.
As Buddhist imagery, Buddhist ideas, even a few Buddhist masters have become mainstream, you get this happening- the stuff is on people’s radar, sort of like the way a subculture becomes infused into popular culture. And like a subculture mixing into pop culture, like rap mixing into pop music, for instance, some stuff gets “filtered out,” some things change, get made more easily understandable, or easily accepted.
I have seen one particular quote from the Buddha so many times, usually in the context of a yoga website or yoga studio. It’s the most famous one at this point, and if you think about it, you can probably come up with it. (It’s the only one most Westerners know.) Not that it’s a bad one, although some translations are dodgy, I think. It has to do with the mind, and how you use the mind, or how you use your thoughts.
“With our thoughts…”
To be pretty general, we’re talking about the idea of balance, in some way, and the power of your thoughts.
The Buddhist tradition is very old. It’s nearing 3000 years at this point. It’s a little more complex than just saying, “Find a balance,” and “Your thoughts are really powerful, you should pay attention to them.”
So, how to deal with this seeming problem, the watering down of Buddhist wisdom in popular culture? I have two ideas. It really is a huge sociological issue, among other things, but here are two ideas.
1. Turn those platitudes into questions.
What is balance? What would this balance feel or seem like? Have you found this before in your life? What conditions supported it? Are there any problems with this kind of approach to life, with finding a balance?
What are thoughts?
How do they work?
How do you know you’re having them?
(By the way, it’s okay to think when you meditate. Common misconception.)
So, if people really really want to stop thinking when they meditate, why is this? What is so terrible about having a thought, or lots of thoughts?
2. Bring it back to some more solid ideas
Here are some more traditional Buddhist takes on those ideas:
There is the idea of a “middle way.” The middle way exists between extremes. Now this is starting to sound like balance, right? However, this idea is traditionally used to describe the way reality exists. That’s one way it is used. So, it’s not quite about finding a stress free life, it’s more about understanding how things are, in reality. The two extremes could be described as “nothing,” and “things.”
Things: the commonplace view- my life is real, my body is real, physical objects are real
Seems okay so far…
Nothing: my life is made of many changing and shifting parts, my body is too, physical objects themselves are changing, shifting, moving
Maybe this makes clear why people prefer to think of balance as not spending too much time at their job. This way of looking at reality, as being somewhere between a dream, and what we normally assume, is not easy at first. The idea of a middle way there, is that somehow it can be helpful to investigate the possibility that-
people, places, things
are not exactly what we normally assume.
The example I often use is molecules- that chair appears real and solid, but we also accept that, on some level, it’s moving about.
The “middle way” idea manifests in various forms in Buddhist philosophy. A more in depth analysis would take a lot longer. Another time!
Here’s a better one: not too loose, not too tight. This one actually corresponds much more closely to the idea of “balance.”
One of the Buddha’s students was a musician. He played something similar to a guitar. You’ve probably seen someone tuning a guitar before. The student couldn’t understand how to meditate. The Buddha told him to work with his mind just like he tuned his instrument, “not too loose, not too tight.” Importantly, though, this instruction was not about how to schedule your life, but about how to work with your own mind. The question of how busy you should be, or how to order the elements of your life, are something slightly else.
Not that it’s good to spend all day at work, just that this wasn’t exactly a Buddhist idea.
- Post-Traditional Buddhism: The Quiet Revolution? Part Two. ~ Matthew O’Connell (elephantjournal.com)
- The teachings and compassion (barnmeditation.wordpress.com)
- Bangkok Monks and why make offerings (tsemtulku.com)
- Is Justin Timberlake an Ascended Buddha? Fucking-A-not-Fucking-A (thefirstdark.wordpress.com)
- The Buddhist (mindgraft.wordpress.com)
Just making a cup of tea in the kitchen, I had an idea for next week’s talk: the wideness of the dharma, and the wideness of compassion.
The gist of it: sometimes we have limited views about what the dharma (Buddhist teachings) is, and about what compassion is. So, come next Tuesday (4-530pm) and let’s discuss this. How varied and vast is the Buddhist tradition? What does it even mean to be a Buddhist, or to practice Buddhism? What is compassion, and how can we cultivate it?
Thanks very much to the Rowley Public Library for having me lead a discussion/talk last night. It was very interesting, and I was so glad to see some people come out to participate. It was especially nice to have someone ask for meditation instruction. That is something I love, to have someone not only express an interest in meditation, but actually ask how to do it. I hope some of you from last night’s event will go to next week’s dharma talk (Dec. 11th).
Since it often feels stingy to just promote an event here, and not offer any ideas, here’s one regarding compassion. Not that I have any great insight into the matter, this area of the teachings is one I find difficult, more than meditation practice, more than the so-called “wisdom teachings.”
One way you learn about compassion in this tradition is in terms of the “four immeasurables,” or the four “brahma viharas.” They are: equanimity, kindness, joy, and compassion.
They’re immeasurable in that they are practices and feelings that are very large. The intention cultivated becomes very large. I would also imagine that the benefits of this kind of practice are vast. They are practices of the heart, as I see it, so you could say it’s about making your heart bigger. Maybe finding that vastness, in your heart, that’s already there (but for me, it feels more like actually make your heart bigger, expanding your heart, beyond pettiness and defensiveness).
They’re also called “brahma viharas.” This tends to get translated as “divine abodes,” which is nice, but also kind of stodgy. Who says abode these days, outside of a fantasy novel, or a movie set in Medieval England? Brahma is a god, one of the main gods, in the Hindu tradition. That’s where the divine comes in. As I understand it, the idea of these practices being divine dwelling places is that you uplift yourself to a kind of bliss, a kind of superhuman or extraordinary enjoyment. It feels good to cultivate these virtues. This always seems to be the irony of suffering- it feels terrible, but we want it so much, somehow. It’s not easy to let go of things like anger, even if they feel awful (and therefore it seems like dropping them should be a piece of cake).
This is no small teaching, the four immeasurables. As I mentioned, compassion will be one of the foci of next week’s discussion. Here was my thought though. You don’t get them separately. Yes, they are cultivated on their own, in a concentrated way. At the same time, they’re not really separate feelings. You can’t be compassionate and still be unkind. You can’t be levelheaded (equanimous) without being compassionate. They go together. They’re really one thing, with four aspects.
- Ken Griffin program at Shambhala Mountain Center (theeleventhstep.com)
- Buddhism 101 – What Is Buddhism? (liefortruth.wordpress.com)
- Joe Loizzo, M.D., Ph.D.: When Mindfulness Meets Compassion: Close Encounters in Contemplative Science (karahpino.me)
- Using Neurotechnologies to Develop Virtues – A Buddhist Approach to Cognitive Enhancement (Part 1) (ieet.org)
- Bullies aren’t Strong and Compassion isn’t Weak (thetonyd.com)
- Just 8 weeks of meditation can cause enduring changes in the brain (rawstory.com)
- “Boundless Heart” (perspectives11.wordpress.com)
- The Science of Loving-Kindness Meditation (dereksdharma.wordpress.com)