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Does the self get convinced?

crematorium at karme choling retreat center in...

crematorium at karme choling retreat center in vermont, where tibetan lama chögyam trungpa rinpoche was cremated. this stupa like structure is in the upper meadow. picture was taken by laura ross and she released it under this creative commons license. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’m going to write a very short one about a thought I had today, or yesterday, I can’t remember.

The idea of a self, which is separate in some way, experiences, relates to world, and others-

The idea of habits as a way we keep from experiencing new, surprising, challenging things-

The idea of some sort of realization or progress on the path-

 

Here’s my thought- the mesh of habits we use to avoid being spontaneous, being in the world, this seems to create stasis. All of our habits and set ways seem to create stability. This is an illusion in a real sense, because things are always changing. The ground shifts under our feet, continually. No matter how stuck we are in the mud of habit and routine, we’re approaching that big surprise.

[remembered from a note tacked up on the wall at a certain meditation center I used to frequent, a quote from Chogyam Trungpa, at a teaching about the dying process… a student asked something like “How would you talk to someone who is passing away?” VCTR- “Well, you see, you are dying…”]

So being set in our ways is like a film over the eye of present, always changing experience. The self loves being set in its way, it loves habit, loves addiction, even. Working on that, is it about convincing the self, eventually, that things are, really, the way they are? Is it about getting the self to accept the nature of change?

 

 

Love to hear your thoughts

 

 

….

 

New class- Jan. 8th, nine Wednesdays from 4-5pm, “Selfless Self Help”

 

 

 

 

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New class starting soon!

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I’d like to announce a new class starting in January.

It’s called Selfless Self Help, and it’s taking place in West Newbury, Massachusetts. Let me know if you have any questions.

Jake

Upcoming Classes

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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!

Tuesday dharma talk/a short piece about egolessness

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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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday the 17th

I’m giving a talk on space tomorrow evening in Lawrence at the Public Library. It will be at seven pm, and I’ll probably offer meditation instruction as well.

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The next four weeks

 

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.

Light and darkness in dialog

(from Dcrouchartist.com)

I listen to NPR a lot. I’m a conflicted liberal. I grew up in a liberal household, listening to NPR all the time. I love This American Life, All Things Considered, and Prairie Home Companion is nostalgic. These days I’m a little less liberal and hold NPR in a bit of skepticism as I listen. But I still love listening.

Today when I was making lunch there was a talk show on. The speakers were addressing the recent violence, and in the context of “darkness” and the solstice. Actually, this was a remarkably creative take on things, for this kind of talk show, which tends to be overly factual, overly dry.

At one point, a caller made a point about the solstice, which is today, being a time for quiet contemplation. According to him, and it seems reasonable, this was in many cultures, a time to go into the darkness, to settle down, and contemplate the sadness and pain in one’s life, maybe in general. He made a point of saying that this time of year was not just about hope, or about light. It was about finding the light in the darkness.

This was fascinating.

Here’s what I liked about this: the idea of solstice and winter, even, as a time of contemplation, and the idea of working with darkness (shadow maybe). I liked the emphasis on not jumping to hope, or to light. Not making things artificially positive.

What I didn’t like: the insistence on hope, and light, the assumption of what one would find as the result of contemplation. As an avid reader of Chogyam Trungpa, hope always rings false with me. There are arguments to reconcile VCTR’s hopelessness with hope, but usually when I hear people going off about “hope” it seems a little aggressive and desperate, a little flimsy. Then, the bigger problem is suggesting that one will always find light in the darkness.

You might not. I think insights will always happen, but they might not take the form of light. I also think, and this has been born out by how many Buddhist teachers present the dharma, that you can’t tell someone what kind of insight they’ll have if they reflect. You might find light, or further chaos, or you might discover all sorts of things. Until it’s actual spontaneous insight, it’s not very helpful or useful. It’s someone else’s insight. An encouragement, maybe, but maybe also a way to avoid actually doing it oneself.

Then again, the duality of light and dark. Somehow this also bugs me, as a Buddhist, the duality. Then again, there are ways to make it work.

 

You’ll find the way

 

Thikse monastery. This statue of the Maitreya ...

Thikse monastery. This statue of the Maitreya Buddha is about 30 ft tall! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

English: Three large statues of the Buddha at ...

English: Three large statues of the Buddha at Dharma Flower Temple in Huzhou, Zhejiang province. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Tuesday

Newbury-Boston-36-Mile-Marker-L A reminder of the classes coming up, and a few thoughts-

Classes coming up- Meditation Basics 1 and 2, Foundations of the Path, and a weekly Dharma Talk.

Tonight! A talk at the Rowley Library in MA, about sanity and holiday experience.

 

If gratitude doesn’t arise naturally

you can’t force it.

If gratitude doesn’t arise at all,

you have to do something.

 

(A little poem about gratitude)

 

(A striking image of a “seed syllable” from the Japanese tradition, from Shugendo.org)

This post is pretty unfocused. I guess you could say it’s about symbols. That’s always a safe bet. Since holidays are the topic of conversation tonight, and something I’m thinking about these days, holiday symbolism is relevant, more or less. It’s easy enough to rattle off some holiday symbols, for the popular holidays, but what about symbols that actually invoke something? Symbols that actually create a palpable atmosphere (or maybe all symbols do that, but just some more noticeably than others).

 

(Another little poem before I get some coffee)

 

Dont’ be afraid of symbols

they’re a bridge

of sorts

to what!

 

…………………………………………………………………………….   …………………………………………………………………..

 

 

 

 

 

About the “Meditation Basics” program

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As I’m enjoying my day off, I’d like to write a little about the Meditation Basics classes that are starting soon.

As the title suggests, this is a good introduction for people new to the practice of meditation. At the same time, I’m sure that more experienced people would benefit as well. The class combines time spent sitting, with some discussion. If you’ve been interested in meditation and are thinking about trying it out, or have just started on your own, this is a great class for you. If you’re a more seasoned meditator, we’d love to have you here as well. The presence of serious meditators always adds something special to a group.

Group practice is valuable. I think there’s no way to overstate this. Personally, I read a lot, and meditated on my own for a few years before I got curious enough, or brave enough, to try out sitting meditation with a group (Berkeley Shambhala in California). I was so nervous going to a new place, not knowing anyone there. I remember to this day how the person at the door, who’d buzz you in, seemed really unfriendly. Weren’t meditators supposed to be friendly and gentle and caring? She buzzed me in, I walked up to the second floor, and made my way into the meditation hall. I felt like I knew what I was doing, since I’d been meditating by myself for a few years. Somehow, it felt very different though. The room was warm, pleasantly decorated, and not too crowded. But being around other people as I sat felt significantly different. Doing the technique I’d done for so long with others, and in that space, felt different. I felt exposed, put on the spot. I noticed my own thoughts and feelings much more clearly, including the feeling that I already knew what I was doing, and that I was a good meditator already.

I went back to this particular center a few times. Maybe three or four. Not too many. Somehow the difficulty of it, and the intuition that something was up there drew me in. That door guardian, who still brings up a little twinge of annoyance after all these years, somehow her presence, her unyieldingness had done something. The experience of being with a group had also. Later, asking questions of the more senior students did something valuable too. For the most part, I could just tell they had something. They were not ordinary people. They weren’t saints or gods, but they had something, and something I wanted to get for myself.

After leaving those Sunday meditations, I’d walk around Berkeley a little bit, enjoy the sunshine, probably get some coffee. Then I’d drive home to Fairfax, I think, at that point. Fairfax is an odd little town in Marin County, with a definite hippy vibe. There’s a church there that hosts a monthly (I think) rave. Normal church, but just once a month there’s a rave there, with DJ’s, people dancing. The Good Earth, I think, is the big health food store in town, and they make their own kombucha. They have this giant kombucha fungus sitting in a big jar at the back of the store. It’s really a hug kombucha creature, about three by three if I had to guess from memory.

Obviously everyone is on their own journey, with sidetracks, pit stops, crashes, and all the rest. For meditators, studying with others is a valuable part of that journey, and can be very interesting and surprising. Thanks for indulging me as I shared a little about my own trip. Here’s a little information about the Meditation Basics classes. They’ll be starting on the 11th of December.

Overall, there are three classes. I highly recommend that you take them in order, from one to three.

We start with sitting meditation, which focuses on the breath. This technique, sometimes called mindfulness, is the foundation of various sorts of practice. It’s the technique that all the others taught here are built on. In Basics 2, we learn walking meditation, and a kind of body-awareness meditation. Again, the mindfulness technique in Basics 1 is the foundation the things like walking and body awareness are built on. In Basics 3, we learn contemplative meditation, and some other forms too.

Of course, there’s also discussion. This is a time to talk about what’s on your mind, and to ask questions about the techniques we’ve learned. There are also some discussion topics. Basics Two focuses on the teaching known as the “four foundations of mindfulness.” Basics One is a little more general. We cover a lot of different ideas. Here a few:

Meaning

The meaningful life

Preciousness of life, and gratitude

Change

Letting go

Cause and effect

Discipline

The mind

Emotions

Overall, the three courses are a great introduction to meditation. I think they’d also be a great refresher for people who’ve been sitting for a while, and want a reminder. Classes held in Newbury MA, about forty five minutes from Boston.

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