Articles by " Jan"
7 May
2018
Posted in: Books
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What We Talk About When We Talk About….

Mirabai and Ram Dass have just written a new book: Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Death and Love (which is coming out soon), so of course we talked about this while I was visiting with her.

And (as I posted last week), Bhikkhu Analayo has just come out with a new book: Rebirth in Early Buddhism & Current Researchso we talked about that too.

Also, a friend of Mirabai’s had recently died (Bobo Legende, who had also written a book just before she died: Not What I Had Expected).

So as you can see, there was kind of a theme going on. Which was quite wide-ranging. And not in any way at all sad.

For example, we also talked about this little gem: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant (by Margareta Magnusson).

Here’s an excerpt:

Death cleaning…it is a term that means you remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet…

“I have death cleaned so many times for others, I’ll be damned if someone else has to death clean after me…..

“I am now somewhere between eighty and one hundred years old. I take it as a responsibility of my old age to tell you about my experiences, because I believe this philosophy of death cleaning is important for all of us to know….

“Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish–or be able–to schedule time off to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don’t leave this burden to them.”

***

Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

4 May
2018
Posted in: Poems
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I Live For A While In Its Sight

I Go Among Trees
by Wendell Berry

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

3 May
2018
Posted in: Books
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If You’re Interested….

Bhikkhu Analayo has just come out with a fascinating new book: Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research, which I HIGHLY recommend if you’re at all interested in the topic…which I totally am, ever since I heard Joseph Goldstein play a recording made in the 1970s of ancient Pali chants recited spontaneously by a little 2-year-old boy (now grown up), who Joseph knows personally (as do many of the other dharma teachers I’ve sat with).

I was kind of neutral on the subject until I heard that sweet little voice!

(Links to the recordings can be found here under the boy’s name: Dhammaruwan.)

Dhammaruwan (now Bhikkhu Samadhikusala) and those tapes feature prominently in Bhikkhu Analayo’s new book:

“…it occurred to me to take a closer looks at recordings of Pali chants recited spontaneously and from memory by a small Sri Lankan child, whom I knew from the time I lived in Sri Lanka myself in the 1990s, by which time he had already become an adult. This brought to light support for his recollection of having learned these chants in the long-distant past, making it clear that they deserved a study more detailed than is possible within he confines of an article.

“In order to contextualize my findings, I also started to read up on various areas of research related to rebirth. This in turn made me realize that I had entered a minefield of at times firmly entrenched opinions regarding rebirth, leading me to investigate historical antecedents for the current debates on this topic. These four trajectories inform the four chapters of the book.”

Check it out!

2 May
2018
Posted in: Study
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Awareness. Emptiness. Radiance.

Applications are now being accepted for Spirit Rock’s next Advanced Practitioner Program (APP2) and — surprise, surprise — I’ve applied!

The APP is a year-long study-and-practice program for experienced students (those who have completed either the Dedicated Practitioner Program or the Community Dharma Leader program). The structure is a lot like DPP and CDL, with monthly homework, small-group meetings, one-on-one mentoring, and three related retreats:

  • Nature of Awareness, April 15 – 23, 2019 (8 nights), at Spirit Rock with Phillip Moffit, Guy Armstrong, Susie Harrington, JoAnna (Harper) Hardy, Brian Lesage with Dawn Scott assisting.
  • Emptiness and Liberation, November 12 – 20, 2019 (8 nights), at Spirit Rock with Gil Fronsdal, Susie Harrington, JoAnna Hardy, Brian Lesage with Dawn Scott assisting.
  • Radiant Mind, Peaceful Heart, April 2 – 10, 2020 (8 nights), at Spirit Rock with Venerable Bhikkhu Analayo, Guy Armstrong, Susie Harrington, JoAnna Hardy, Brian Lesage with Dawn Scott assisting.

“The Buddha said that he teaches just suffering and the end of suffering. These retreats will focus on the ending of suffering — Nibbana — and the practices and insights that lead to this ending.” (click here to read more)

Sounds pretty enlightening to me!!!

What do you think, DPP and CDL buddies? Applications are being accepted from now till August 1, 2018.

Check it out.

1 May
2018
Posted in: Poems
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More than Enough

Enough
by David Whyte

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.

***

(Mirabai’s meditation room)

30 Apr
2018
Posted in: Teachers
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With Mirabai

I’m back. Sort of. My body is sitting here at my desk, in my house, and my fingers are here too, typing away at the keyboard. I can feel my feet on the floor and my seat on the chair. And my breath, too — I can feel it’s right here. But my heart….oh my happy heart…. it just keeps running off. So no proper post for today. Just this. A little peek at where I’ve been (maybe always).

20 Apr
2018
Posted in: Poems
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Where the Walls are Kind

I leave tomorrow morning for back-to-back visits with two of my teachers, Mirabai Bush and Lila Kate Wheeler — no agenda really, just a gesture of respect…plus a chance to hang out with some very cool people! I won’t be posting again until after I get back, so check back on Monday, April 30.

In the mean time, I leave you with this:

The Work of Happiness
by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall–
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind. 

19 Apr
2018
Posted in: Talks
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Ego-hood

 

I was listening to a talk by Ajahn Sucitto last night and was so struck by what he said about our sense of self and what it does to us that I just had to get up and write it down. Here it is (slightly edited for readability):

“We have so learned to BE our selves and to DO things, that it can be hard to just sit with ourselves in a sense of sympathy — rather than criticizing or constantly having a plan to change things — but just be present with oneself in a sympathetic state. This fundamental quality of a sympathetic resonance with what’s experienced comes from a certain depth of realization, when the citta [heart/mind] is clear enough, not so driven, not so impacted with ‘ego-hood.’

“The self image tends to block that. Because the self image is making us more concrete and less resonant, more prepared and less open, more strategized and less intuitive, more competent and less caring.”

***

It’s a very rich talk. The quote above starts at about the 10 minute mark, but it’s really worth your time to listen all the way through. Click here.

18 Apr
2018
Posted in: Books
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And So On…

More from Turning the Wheel of Truth by Ajahn Sucitto:

“When something new arises in your life, if it’s pleasant and wished for, there is happiness — and then comes the need to sustain that happiness or the wish not to be parted from it. When something beautiful to behold arises, how long can you continue to be thrilled by it? A few minutes? Can you make it through an hour before it starts to pall? How about a day, let alone a year?

“Of course, we live with many options. If we get bored with looking at a painting, we read something; when that becomes boring, we go for a walk, perhaps visit a friend and go out for dinner together, then watch a movie. If this routine gets tedious, we might attempt to regress into our past life, pursue astral travel, then write a book about it…and so on.

“The pattern is that each new arising, or ‘birth’ if you like, is experienced as unfulfilling. In this process of ongoing need, we keep moving from this to that without ever getting to the root of the process.

“Another aspect of this need is the need to fix things, or to fix ourselves — to make conflict or pain go away. By this I mean an instinctive response rather than a measured approach of understanding what is possible to fix and what dukkha has to be accommodated right now. Then there’s the need to know, to have it all figured out. That gets us moving too.

“This continued movement is an unenlightened being’s response to dukkha. That movement is what is meant by samsara, the wandering on.

“According to the Buddha, this process doesn’t even stop with death — it’s like the habit transfers almost genetically to a new consciousness and body. But even within this life, we can see all these ‘births’ as the same habit taking different forms…

“Our habits prescribe the way we relate to others, and of course they model our own future. This habitual activity is kamma. Its key feature is that its effects don’t die away when the action is completed; it actually changes how we will perceive things and act — it molds our identity. That is, through habitually forming tendencies, our mind gets into and deepens its ruts, and that affects how it works and how it intends….

“If we develop and foster thieving intentions, covetous ‘mental action,’ then we see life and people in terms of what we can get out of them. You know the saying: ‘A thief notices a saint’s pockets.’ On the other hand, if we foster harmlessness and compassion, we see the world very differently….

“Each birth is aimed at getting what is pleasing, getting away from what we don’t like, and finding fulfillment. Birth, therefore, involves a lot of stressful reaching out, holding on, jealousy, possessiveness, and defensiveness. And those same old instincts crop up again in different scenarios.

“Birth is pretty deluding: it always looks like a fresh thing until we’ve learned to look at that shadowy feeling in our heart — the same old compulsive drives, needs, holding on….suffering.

“And in the blur of these drives and needs, the mind that goes through birth, aging, and death assumes ‘that is what I am’. And so it tries to create a self to get out of there or to not be there. But all these creations are more ‘births,’ and more unsatisfactoriness. Frustrating, isn’t it?”

***

Whew! Good thing that’s not the end of the story. Stay tuned.

17 Apr
2018
Posted in: Books
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Dukkha

Everyone knows the feeling of lack or loss or conflict in their lives: this is what the Buddha called dukkha, often translated as “suffering,” but covering a whole range of meanings and nuances. At times, we feel it as a sense of need, or a dissatisfaction that can vary from mild weariness to utter despair.

“…It is a feeling characterized by a sense that things are ‘out of balance.’ Even if we are physically well and mentally skilled, we can feel disappointed that life isn’t offering us enough, or that we’re not making enough of it or doing enough, or that there’s not enough time, space, freedom….

“Then there’s the sense of ‘too much‘ — feeling overwhelmed, not having enough space, time, and ease. In both cases there’s a continual sense of subtle or gross stress.

“Just reflect upon your activities and pursuits: notice that they involve a constant effort to change or cope with what is disagreeable, or to stimulate well-being. This striving is universal.

“It is worthwhile considering that, however altruistic our actions are, the feeling of unsatisfactoriness is the same. This feeling is what the Buddha pointed out as the dukkha that we can resolve.

Dukkha is characteristic of objective physical reality, with its disease and death. However, as a noble truth, the term points to something different. It means the subjective sense of stress that isn’t bound to physical reality.

“Sometimes having little is fine or even peaceful in its simplicity; at other times we can feel devastated that there’s a stain on the dining room tablecloth…

“The Buddha is not implying that life is miserable; most things have a mixture of pleasure and pain and neutrality in them. It’s just that human experience is characterized by a constant restless quality of disquiet. It’s like a shadow….

“The Buddha taught dukkha, but also the cessation of dukkha. The particulars of unpleasant circumstances can come to an end or be brought to an end, even if problems then surface in other areas. And the way of meeting conflict and problems can be compassionate, calm, and peaceful in itself. So accepting that life has its dark, problematic side needn’t be depressing.

“Most fruitfully, the kind of suffering that is the mental reaction to a situation, even on an instinctive plane, can be completely abolished. With the ending of that kind of suffering, the mind is clearer and wiser and more capable of effecting positive change in the world of ever-changing circumstances.”

— Ajahn Sucitto, from Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary of the Buddha’s First Teaching.