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22 Apr
2013
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Pay Careful Attention

More from The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on Nibbana, by Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro:

The second factor for stream-entry is hearing the true Dhamma (saddhammassavana) and the third is careful attention (yoniso-manisakara). “This term can be translated in many ways — wise consideration, skillful reflection, clear thinking, appropriate attention, keen application of mind. The importance of this element in the development of qualities useful for understanding and penetrating truth cannot be underestimated.”

And what should we be paying careful attention to?

“He attends wisely: ‘This is suffering;’ he attends wisely: ‘This is the origin of suffering;’ he attends wisely: ‘This is the cessation of suffering;’ he attends wisely: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’ “— from Majjhima Nikaya 9-11, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

Oh yeah. That.

(image: Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot)

19 Apr
2013
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Choose Wisely

According to the Samyutta Nikaya, the first of the factors of stream-entry is “association with superior persons.”

A man who wraps rotting fish
in a blade of kusa grass
makes the grass smelly:
     so it is
if you seek out fools.

But a man who wraps powdered incense in the leaf of a tree
makes the leaf fragrant:
     so it is
if you seek out
     the enlightened.

 from the Itivuttaka, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

(image: “A Whole World,” by Couprie and Louchard)

 

4 Apr
2013
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You Are Not Your Brain

I’ve just finished reading Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness. It’s a fascinating new book by Alva Noe, one of the contributors to NPR’s science blog: 13.7 Cosmos & Culture.

He doesn’t use the exact words, but it sure sounds like he’s talking about the Buddhist understandings of dependent origination and non-self when he describes consciousness as something that arises from the interconnectedness of our brain, our body, and the world.

Here’s what he says:

“We are out of our heads. We are in the world and of it. We are patterns of active engagement with fluid boundaries and changing components. We are distributed…

“The brain plays a starring role in the story, to be sure. But the brain’s job is not to ‘generate’ consciousness. Consciousness isn’t that kind of thing. It isn’t a thing at all….

Brain, body, and world–each plays a critical role in making us the kind of being we are….

“If we are to understand consciousness–the fact that we think and feel and that a world shows up for us–we need to turn our backs on the orthodox assumption that consciousness is something that happens inside us, like digestion….

“Consciousness, like a work of improvisational music, is achieved in action, by us, thanks to our situation in and access to a world we know around us.”

1 Apr
2013
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Breath and Body

The Dancing with Life KM group meets tonight. The passage I chose for our discussion is from Chapter 15: When the Dance Ends, Freedom Begins.

“Ajahn Chah used to say, ‘We focus on the here and now dharma. This is where we can let go of things and resolve our difficulties. We look at the present and see continuous arising and ceasing. When the mind starts to realize that all things without exception are by their very nature uncertain, the problems of grasping and attachment start to decrease and wither away….’

“To practice Ajahn Chah’s style of moment-to-moment awareness in daily life, when your mind is engaged in a specific task, you train it to automatically rest in awareness of breath and body sensations. Eventually breath and body awareness will become the ‘default’ position of your attention.

“Once you develop this ease of attention on the breath and body, you begin to note that every breath and every sensation ceases. At first, practicing noticing these endings may feel mechanical, but gradually a realization of wonder emerges: It is really true–everything that arises disappears! Such a moment of wonder is the direct experience of cessation.”

Phillip Moffitt says, “If you only develop one practice for cessation, this is the one I recommend.

(image: Kitty Kahane Tarot)

 

18 Mar
2013
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Momentary Nibbana

In Dancing with Life, Phillip Moffitt writes, “In daily life you’ve no doubt experienced many moments of cessation when your mind was finally free from stress and contraction after a period of suffering: There were the arguments in which you were attached to being right, but winning them suddenly no longer mattered; there were your old desires of receiving recognition or acceptance, or getting some material object, but now you realize you no longer care about them; or there was the time you were rejected by someone you were in love with and it hurt for a long time, but now there is no pain. The stress you felt about all of those things that you thought you had to have just disappeared.

“The late Thai meditation teacher the Venerable Ajahn Buddhadosa says that each of these ordinary moments in which the mind is no longer grasping is a moment of nibbana, a little sampling of the mind being free from clinging. He teaches that if you did not have many of these small, brief moments of cessation each day you would literally go crazy from the tension and stress that arise from clinging.

There are hundreds, even thousands of moments each day when your mind is not grasping at anything. Your mind is temporarily, albeit briefly, content with how things are, and it is not stressed.”

So pay attention….and enjoy all those little bits of freedom!

(image: Housewives Tarot)

15 Mar
2013
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Just Show Up

Two KM groups has been reading and discussing Phillip Moffitt’s, “Dancing with Life,” for more than a year now….and all I can say is the more I read and reflect on this book, the more it speaks to me.

I leave you to savor this quote (from page 167):

Just show up for your deepest intentions, as best you can, and then allow the dharma, the truth of awakened presence, to do the work.

 

 

 

 

(image: Insight Meditation Society)

11 Mar
2013
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Burning Mind

The Monday night “Dancing with Life” KM group has started reading Chapter 14, which begins looking deeply into the Third Noble Truth: The Noble Truth of Cessation is the abandoning of all craving.

Phillip Moffitt writes, “Imagine your mind totally free of craving, ill will, and delusion. It is clear, alert, and unaffected by external and internal conditions, whether pleasant or unpleasant. This liberated mind state is what comes with the realization of the Third Noble Truth….

“The fruit of realizing cessation is nibbana, in which you are no longer affected by dukkha. Nibbana literally means, ‘cooled’ and is analogous to a fire that’s no longer burning. Thus, when there is cessation, your mind no longer burns in response to the arising of pleasant and unpleasant in your life; it isn’t reactive or controlled by what you like or dislike…

“From this place of non-attachement, you are free to respond to the moment in a manner that is aligned with your values and reflects your deepest wisdom.”

(image: Q-cards)

1 Mar
2013
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The Dance of Desire

The Monday night Dancing with Life KM group has started reading Chapter 12: The Paradox of Desire. In it, Phillip Moffitt writes, “Being in the physical realm, you are undeniably involved with the energy of desire…This, then, is the paradox of desire–it leads to suffering when grasped after, yet without it there is no movement to tend to your child’s needs or to help your sick neighbor, or to free yourself from suffering.Thus, your challenge is not to rid yourself of desire, but rather to choose your desires wisely and respond skillfully

Desire always involves movement–either toward something pleasant, or away from something unpleasant. There is movement in desire whether you are reacting to something that is happening right now, thinking about the future, or even remembering the past. The frozen states of apathy, helplessness, cynicism, and depression have little movement and, therefore, little life. They are hindrances to freedom and well-being. Such wounded states of mind point to the necessity of movement for healthy life. They also reveal that you need healthy desire to provide the energy you need to seek liberation.

“To understand the relationship between movement and your desires, there are two refinements that I suggest you reflect upon. The first is to make the movement of your desire the object of your mindful attention. By focusing on the energetic movement, you can quickly determine if what you are being drawn toward or repulsed from is in line with your deepest values…..

“A second refinement for working with the energy of desire is to explore the great mystery of stillness. Stillness is not apathy or collapse; it is vibrant, fully alive energy. In stillness the movement is neither away from nor toward any object…

“By becoming aware of the moments of stillness in yourself (you do have them!) you gain the ability to clearly see your desire as movement. You see how desire arises naturally from causes and conditions and aren’t beguiled by it. You know that clinging to desire is not the freedom of stillness. You understand that in order to be free your challenge is to come to terms with desire and to cease to be attached to it.”

(image: Q-cards)

12 Feb
2013
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Losing and Finding

At Cafe Sangha this month, I got a chance to talk with Pamela, who is a regular at the Dharma Seed KM group, and found out that she is planning to walk the Camino de Santiago this spring! I met someone at the DPP retreat last fall who had just come back from walking it, and was immediately inspired…but then I started thinking that I can’t get enough time off until next year at the earliest, and my knees hurt, and my back goes out, and — basically , I’m a couch potato — so I started to think I was crazy to even consider it…and then I ran into Pamela…and now I’m inspired all over again!

So naturally, I got out my favorite Camino book and read it again over the weekend. It’s called I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago and it’s by a German comedian named Hape Kerkeling (who is apparently very famous). He is funny. And a great storyteller. Very down-to-earth. But also very inspiring. In a delightfully heartfelt but non-pious way.

Here’s a sample:
“I decide to spend the remaining miles today without speaking or thinking, following advice from Sheelah, who said to me in Leon: ‘You don’t feel the toll this trek is taking on your body when you walk without thinking or speaking.’…Silence is easy to maintain; I’ve gotten fairly used to that. I say nothing to the farmers on the field as I pass by, and they respond in kind. They seem to respect my silence. But it is nearly impossible to stop thinking. In my mind I keep breaking out into song, or my thoughts turn to disjointed drivel along the lines of ‘Where are my keys?’ ‘Buy cigarettes!’ ‘Aching feet!’ ‘Could go for some potato salad!’

“At some point I find I’m actually able to switch off my stream of thoughts and simply stop thinking. Incidentally, it is virtually impossible to describe a path after the fact when you are not thinking about it, since you see things without sorting them out or judging them. Dispassionate perception is hard to put into words.

“Everything joins together: my breath, my steps, the wind, the singing of birds, the waving of grain fields, and the cool feeling on my skin. I walk in silence. Am I pressing my feet onto the ground while I walk, or is the ground pressing up onto my feet?…

“Needless to say, I get hopelessly lost. With silence in my head and all this nonthinking for nine miles, I’ve lost track of the path’s arrows and scallop signposts. And once I start to focus again, I am simply somewhere at some time. It’s lovely here, but wrong. Later, though, it turns out that my meandering did not add up to more miles at all–in fact, it save me about two miles. A farmer sends me through a filed with grain as tall as I am, which brings me back to the right path. How funny! I stop paying attention to the trail, lose my way, and still wind up taking a shortcut…”

11 Feb
2013
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Ready for Your Close-Up?

The third Ego-Renunciation Practice that the “Dancing with Life” KM group will be playing with over the next couple of weeks is: giving up being the star of your own movie.

In Dancing with Life, Phillip Moffitt writes, “The unfolding of events that make up your life is like a movie, is it not? And you interpret every scene or event from the vantage point of being the star of your movie–is it good or bad for you, do you like it or not, and so on.

“Once you renounce being the star of your own movie, you begin to see the unfolding of each scene and the movie as a whole from multiple perspectives. You don’t forsake your role in the movie, but once you cease making it be all about you, the movie creates less anxiety and you are more able to live from your core values.”

Give it a try!

 

 

(image: Steampunk Tarot by Curly Cue Design)