Browsing Category "Books"
28 Jul
2017
Posted in: Books, Practice
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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
By    Comments Off on I Hereby Pledge Myself

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
Posted in: Books
By    Comments Off on Whole Lotta Wisdom!

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
Posted in: Books
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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
Posted in: Books
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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
Posted in: Books, Practice
By    Comments Off on It Shouldn’t Be, But It Is

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.”

5 Jun
2017
Posted in: Activism, Books, Practice
By    Comments Off on That Place is Within Ourselves

That Place is Within Ourselves

In The Words & Wisdom of Charles Johnson (2011)this amazing novelist, philosopher, teacher, illustrator, award winner, and sanscrit scholar (!) writes:

“Our era looks eerily (to me) like the time of Petronius, author of the Satyricon, at the end of the Roman empire. A time of late cultural decadence, confusion, and incoherence. So many people are scarred and scared, stressed and depressed, angry and willful.

“Given that fact, we need a place for spiritual renewal and healing. That place is within ourselves. It is always available to us. We need not look outside ourselves in order to achieve happiness and freedom from suffering. As it says in the Digha Nikaya:

“You should be an island to yourself, a refuge to yourself, not dependent on any other but taking refuge in the truth and none other than the truth. And how do you become an island and a refuge to yourself? In this way: You see and contemplate your body as composed of all the forces of the universe. Ardently and mindfully, you steer your body-self by restraining your discontent with the world about you. In the same way, observe and contemplate your feelings and use that same ardent restraint and self-possession against enslavement by greed or desire. By seeing attachment to your body and feelings as blocking the truth, you dwell in self-possession and ardent liberation from those ties. This is how you live as an island to yourself and a refuge in the truth–that one will come out of the darkness and into the light.”

15 May
2017
Posted in: Books
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Hard. But Necessary.

The tiptoeing around race and other forms of difference as if in fear of waking a sleeping lion is one of the most subtly toxic attributes of whiteness in our culture right now. Everyone fears making mistakes. For white folks, though, the coexistence of being historically lauded as the creators of what is right, making mistakes must be hard. We are all waking up. It is going to get messy.”

— from Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation,
by Rev. angel Kyodo williams
and Lama Rod Owens
with Jasmine Syedullah, PhD,

which has been on my list to read for awhile, but I’m just now getting around to. (Thanks for the nudge, Akiko.)

4 May
2017
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Lighter. Freer. Happier.

I cleared my calendar this week so I could stay home and take care of my back. (Which, by the way, is recovering nicely.) One of the side benefits is that I’ve been able to really get into reading Guy Armstrong’s excellent new book, Emptiness: A Practice Guide for Meditators, which just came out this week.

“Emptiness” may not sound very appealing. But the Buddhist concept of “emptiness” means something quite different than “void,” or “vacancy,” or “nothingness.” It’s actually the fundamental property of everything that appears in our world. It’s what allows us to change and to grow. It’s what lets us be free!

As Guy writes, “When we see that this is true in every facet of life, it changes us deeply. We become less bound to the past and able to live more in the present. The heart can let go of what it has tried to store up. This shift comes as a great relief. We feel lighter, freer, and happier.”

***

If you like Guy’s talks, you’ll LOVE this book. (In fact, quite a lot of his recent talks — especially the ones he gave at the February retreat at Spirit Rock — are directly from this book.)

2 May
2017
Posted in: Books, Poems
By    Comments Off on Soon Enough

Soon Enough

One of the benefits of having to lie flat on my back for most of the day, which is my tried-and-true method for relieving my back (along with stretching exercises and anti-inflammatory meds), is that I can listen to lots of different kinds of on-line dharma, including this Tricycle podcast of an interview with Andrew Ostaseski about his new book, The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, in which he recites (by heart) this end-of-life poem written by one of his hospice patients, Suno:

Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray.
Soon enough the seas will sink your little island,
So while there is still the illusion of time,
Set out for some other shore.
No sense packing a bag.
You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.
So give away all of your collections.
Take only new seeds and an old stick.
Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.
Don’t be afraid,
Someone knows you are coming.
An extra fish has been salted.