Browsing Category "Books"
9 Aug
2017
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Just About To….

“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?”

“‘Well,’ said Pooh, ‘what I like best –‘ and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
—  
from The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne

***

Ajhan Amaro says:
In the process of moving from feeling a pleasant feeling to liking it, to wanting it, to becoming completely absorbed in it, “the moment of maximum thrill is when we’re chasing after a desired object, when we know we’re going to get it, but we haven’t got it quite yet. This is what we call ‘becoming’. This is very useful to understand because, surprisingly, what we get addicted to is not getting what we want but it’s that moment when we know for sure that we are going to get it

“We absorb into that promise, into that becoming. But as soon as we get what we want, we’re already disappointed. The thrill is in that promise…

“It’s important to use our meditation to explore and understand this process; we need to see into its mechanisms, its workings and then through that seeing, to help set the heart free from it.”

3 Aug
2017
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What Do We Value?

Sorry for not posting yesterday. I had a doctor’s appointment, then a friend stopped by and we got to talking, and then, after being inspired by an article in the New York Times, I started reading: Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen, by James Suzman. And then I couldn’t stop.

Here are some of the passages that grabbed my attention:

“Ju/’hoansi [bushmen] spend only 15 hours a week securing their nutritional requirements and only a further 15 to 20 hours per week on domestic activities that could be loosely described as ‘work.'”

“A good case can be made that hunters and gatherers work less than we do and that, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in other conditions of society.”

“What was special about the Bushman data was that it showed that they coped easily with relative scarcity and that they had mastered the art of not obsessing about whether the grass was greener on the other side, which–given that they lived in one of the world’s oldest deserts–almost certainly was the case.”

“[The perspective of the Ju/’hoansi as a result of their introduction to modern society] brings the difference between foraging and production cultures–like our own–into vivid if sometimes uncomfortable relief. It reveals how our sense of time shapes and is shaped by our economic thinking; why, despite our obsession with celebrity and leadership, we take such pleasure in seeing the successful stumble and why we object so viscerally to inequality when we feel ourselves to be the victims of it.

“It also invites us to query how, why, and to what we ascribe value; how we understand affluence, satisfaction, and success; and how we define development, growth and progress. Perhaps most importantly it reveals how much of our contemporary economic and culture behavior–including the conviction that work gives structure and meaning to our lives, defines who we are, and ultimately empowers us to master our own destinies–is a legacy from our transformation from hunting and gathering to farming.”

1 Aug
2017
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Much Easier!

Ajahn Amaro writes: I once met a Wall Street lawyer who had started practicing meditation some half a dozen years previously. She said: “Until I started to meditate it was one conflict after another, and life was one ongoing struggle. But since I began meditating, my relationships have become much more easeful and my working situation is more relaxed, though I’m still working with the same company and I live with the same people.”

It was if she thought: “This magical visitation has come into my life and taken all my troubles away!”

I said: “This isn’t really very magical. It’s more like: you used to get from one room to another by smashing yourself against the wall until you broke through it, and then suddenly you noticed that it’s much easier to go through the doorway. It’s not magic, it’s noticing where the gaps are and aiming for them, rather than just putting your head down and pounding with it until the wall breaks or you fall down unconscious.”

I think she was a little startled, perhaps because she had some internal story about how the devas were helping her and how magical things were. 

But often when we apply plain ol’ mindfulness and activate this capacity to be spacious, to see things in context, they open up. Life becomes a lot more easeful and we can find ways to deal with the conflicts, difficulties and apparently intractable situations that we face. We find ways to work with them that surprise us. 

It can seem miraculous, but it’s often merely a matter of allowing more spaciousness, a radical acceptance based upon a quality of listening, into the mixture. 

31 Jul
2017
Posted in: Books, Study, Suttas
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So Now I’m Totally into Pali!

I’m still feeling the effects of taking that course on Vedana, at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, where Akincano really opened my eyes to the benefits of comparing several different translations of the same sutta — including jumping in and looking at the original Pali!

I’ve even started working my way through a surprisingly readable — and enjoyable! — little book: Pali–Buddha’s Language: A Complete Teach Yourself Course for Beginners in 10 Simple Lessons, by Kurt Schmidt, which includes a website with audio recordings of the Pail lessons that students are encouraged to (STRONGLY encouraged to) memorize.

So I’m doing it!

Starting with this very famous verse from the Dhammapada (Dhp. 5), which Gil Fronsdal translates as:
Hatred never ends through hatred.
By non-hate alone does it end.
This is an ancient truth.

Which Kevin Trainor translates as:
For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time:
hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.

And Ajahn Sujato translates as:
Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

Here’s the original Pali, with word-for-word translation from the book by Kurt Schmidt:

Na hi verena verani
Not namely through-enmity enmities

sammat’ idha kudacanam
stop here ever

a-verena ca sammanti
through-non-enmity and they stop

esa dhammo sanantano.
this Law (is) eternal. 

***

I think this is really cool. So OK. I confess. I’m a total sutta geek!

28 Jul
2017
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Are You Comfortable and Alert?

When I was in Burma a few years ago, I stayed at ShweOoMin monastery and met with the meditation master there, Sayadaw U Tejaniya (pictured), who impressed me in many ways, not the least of which was the deep tenderness I could hear in his voice every morning in the meditation hall. He spoke in Burmese, so I have no idea what he was actually saying, but he seemed to be soothing us — caressing us, even — the way a mother would sooth and caress a small child. (There, there sweetheart. It’s OK. Don’t worry. I’m here.)

So I was delighted when I saw he has a new book out, titled When Awareness Becomes Natural. I’ve just started reading it and I love it already. I can “hear” the tenderness I remember so well, but also the very direct, down-to-earth instructions he gave, when he spoke in English to our little Spirit Rock group.

Here’s a sample from the book:
“The first instruction I will give a yogi who is new to this practice is to relax and be aware, to not have any expectations or to control the experience, and to not focus, concentrate or penetrate. Instead what I encourage him or her to do is observe, watch, and be aware, or pay attention. 

“In this practice it is important to conserve energy, so you can practice continually. If the mind and body are getting tired and tense, then you are putting too much energy into the practice. Check your posture; check the way you are meditating. Are you comfortable and alert? 

“You may not have the right attitude. Do you want something out of the practice? If you are looking for a result or want something to happen, you will only tire yourself. It is so important to know whether you are feeling tense or relaxed; check in repeatedly throughout the day; this also applies to daily practice at home or at work.

“If you don’t do this, tension will grow. Whether you are tense or relaxed, observe how you are feeling; observe the reactions. When you are relaxed, it is much easier to be aware; not so much effort is required, and it become an enjoyable, pleasant, and interesting experience.”

***

Check it out for yourself!

26 Jul
2017
Posted in: Books, Practice, Social Justice
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I Hereby Pledge Myself

 

I’ve recently finished reading The Words & Wisdom of Charles Johnson, which I have been savoring since taking it up after Charles Johnson himself met with us as part of the CDL (Community Dharma Leader) program (where I was wowed by his brilliance, his ease, and the dignity of his presence.)

The book is a collection of essays, the last of which is a reflection on the “Commitment Form” that was used during the Civil Rights Movement. Johnson writes:

“…Martin Luther King Jr. said that in the black liberation struggle we always have to work on two fronts, one public and the other private, one external and one internal. One effort is to constantly improve the social world; the other is to constantly improve ourselves. Both efforts are necessary; they reinforce and strengthen each other

“The men and women of the Civil Rights Movement worked out the Commitment Form, which nicely complements Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of satyagraha, in practice as they moved from one campaign to another in the south. This form(ula), this insight, was fully developed by the time of the electrifying Birmingham campaign in 1963. Men and women, and their children filled the jails of “Bull” Conner in a massive act of civil disobedience. They–and all volunteers–were asked to sign this document, which is as follows:

Commandments for Volunteers
I hereby pledge myself–my person and body–to the nonviolent movement. Therefore, I will keep the following commandments:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus. [my edit: Meditate daily.]
  2. Remember always that the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation–not victory.
  3. Walk and Talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free. [my edit: Set the intention daily that my efforts be directed to the liberation of all beings.] 
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free. [my edit: that all beings might be free.]
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration. [my edit: Follow wise counsel.]

“I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.  Name:_____________________

“…This was not simply a pledge for civil disobedience. This was a grand vision in which the personal and the political were one, a blueprint for how to live… I say all this as a Buddhist who has taken formal vows, the Precepts, as a lay person. (My very Christian wife of 41 years once said that she saw me as being like a Unitarian, someone always looking for the beauty and best in the world’s religions and science, and I guess she was right about that.)…

“Why don’t you, dear reader, print this off right now, and sign it. You’ll feel good, if you do. And M.L.King, wherever he is, will thank you for doing that.”

***

I have printed it off (with my edits) and signed it. And I do feel good! (I also hope M.L.King, wherever he is, will not take offense.)

14 Jun
2017
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Whole Lotta Wisdom!

In addition to
The Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha, translated by Bhikkhu Bohdi, and
Kamma and the End of Kamma, by Ajahn Sucitto, and
Mindfulness, by Joseph Goldstein, and
A Path with Heart, by Jack Kornfield, and
Radical Dharma, by angel Kyodo williams and Lama Rod Owens,
I’m also counting as one of my Dharma books:
True Style is What’s Underneath: The Self-Acceptance Revolution, by Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum.

Wisdom is wisdom, no matter where it shows up.

13 Jun
2017
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Family Practice

I am delighted to announce the long-awaited publication of Sitting Together: A Family-Centered Curriculum on Mindfulness, Meditation, and Buddhist Teachings, by Sumi Loundon Kim, with foreword by Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman.

This 3-volume set provides a complete curriculum for adults and children to learn and practice together, either in the home, in partnership with other families, or with a local sangha.

The Adult Study Guide (280 pages) offers 36 lesson plans including meditation practices, homework, readings, and reflection questions for group study.

The Children’s Lesson Plans (296 pages), used in conjunction with the Adult Study Guide, provides step-by-step instructions for teachers on meditation exercises, stories, crafts, songs, and games.

The Activity Book (56 pages) expands the educational opportunities for children with coloring pages, puzzles, and other fun activities.

Plus, there’s a companion Mindful Families website with even MORE resource! Want a sneak peek at the book? Check out this pdf preview.

I don’t have kids, but I’ve ordered the set anyway because this is such an important area of practice. I’d be delighted to share it with anyone who’s interested in putting it to use. (Just email me here.)   

12 Jun
2017
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Learn from the Trees

Right after the election last fall, Jack Kornfield wrote a beautiful article, Practicing the Dharma in Times of Uncertainty, which begins:

When times are uncertain, difficult, fearful, full of change,
they become the perfect place to deepen the practice of awakening.
After viewing the elections, whatever your point of view,
Take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart.
Then go out and look at the sky.
Remember vastness; there are seasons to all things:
gain and loss, praise and blame, expansion and contraction.
Learn from the trees.
Practice equanimity and steadiness.
Remember the timeless Dharma amidst it all…

That line about learning from the trees has stayed with me. I thought about it a lot when I did walking practice in the hills behind Spirit Rock last February and March. And when I watched the hundred-year-old Sycamore trees in my front yard, bending and swaying during all those thunderstorms we had in April.

And also when I read this wonderful new(-ish) book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben.

Wohlleben writes about the underground social networks of trees discovered in the late 1990s (and since called the “wood wide web”) which “has been mapped, traced, monitored, and coaxed to reveal the beautiful structures and finely adapted languages of the forest network. We have leaned that mother trees recognize and talk with their kin, shaping future generations. In addition, injured trees pass their legacies on to their neighbors, affecting gene regulation, defense chemistry, and resilience in the forest community…

“Peter highlights these ground-breaking discoveries in his engaging narrative The Hidden Life of Trees. He describes the peculiar traits of these gentle, sessile creatures–the braiding of roots, shyness of crowns, wrinkling of tree skin, convergence of stem-rivers–in a manner that elicits an aha! moment with each chapter. His insights give new twists on our own observations, making us think more deeply about the inner workings of trees and forests.” — Dr. Suzanne Simard, Professor of Forest Ecology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

***

Read this book.
Then go out do what Jack say: Look at the sky. Remember vastness. Learn from the trees.

9 Jun
2017
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It Shouldn’t Be, But It Is

I’m not sure why, but I feel drawn today to post this passage from Parami: Ways to Cross Life’s Floods, by Ajahn Sucitto:

“The Buddha famously declared patience to be the supreme purification practice. He was playing on the Vedic term ‘tapas,’ which signifies the taking on of an austerity or ascetic practice such as fasting or mortifying the body in order to cleanse the mind of passions and attachments. But the Buddha pointed not to physical asceticism — which he frequently spoke against — but of the restraint of holding the heart still in the presence of its suffering until it lets go of the ways in which it creates that suffering….

“Patience is not a numbing resignation to the difficulties of life; it doesn’t mean that suffering is all right. It doesn’t mean shrugging things off and not looking to improve our behavior. Nor does it mean putting up with something until it goes away. 

The practice of patience means bearing with dukkah [suffering] without the expectation that it will go away. In its perfection, patience means giving up any kind of deadline, so the mind is serene and equanimous. But if the patience isn’t pure yet (and it takes time to develop patience!), the mind still feels pushy or defensive.

“Impure patience is the attitude: ‘Just hold on and eventually things will get better; I’ll get my own way in the end if I’m patient enough.’ This approach can temporarily block or blunt the edge of suffering, but it doesn’t deal with the resistance or the desire that is suffering’s root.

“Pure patience is the kind of acceptance that acknowledges the presence of something without adding anything to it or covering it up. It is supported by the insight that when one’s mind stops fidgeting, whining and blaming, then suffering can be understood. It is this suffering that stirs up hatred and greed and despair, and it is through practicing the Dhamma, or Way, of liberation that its energy and emotional current can be stopped. Reactivity isn’t the truth of the mind; it’s a conditioned reflex, and it’s not self. Because of that, suffering can be undone, and when it is, the mind is free….

“One year, I decided to not allow my mind to complain about anyone or anything. I was at Amaravati then, which was busy and there was a large community of people of many nationalities, with different languages and from different cultures. So in the general confusion and dysfunction of it all, my longing for simplicity and stability was sorely challenged, and I could get quite irritable. I kept most of it to myself, but still my mind was discontented. Hence the resolution…

“So instead I had to watch the irritation. Just putting up with it didn’t really take me across. I could put up with things and become a patronizing old grump who puts up with things.

“But instead, as the practice of patience deepened, it took me to that point in the mind where I could feel the chafing, the tension, the disappointment — and the wanting to get away from it. At the point, where there was no excuse and no alternative, there was also no condemnation. After all, no one like suffering. And we’re all in this together — wanting peace and harmony, but disappointing and irritating each other nonetheless….

“And from there, my mind began to open into love and compassion for all of us. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is — and we have to support each other. I could realize, ‘There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re my patience teachers, they’re helping me to cross over the flood by getting me to jettison my demands, impatience and narrow-mindedness.’…

“This is the perfection of patience: it can make one’s life a vehicle for blessing.”