Browsing Category "Practice"
8 Aug
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on It Begins to Shine

It Begins to Shine

I’ve been listening to a lot of Ajahn Sucitto’s new talks lately and, as always, have come across several teachings that have grabbed my attention so powerfully, that I had to stop and let my heart drink it in. Here’s one from a recent Q&A session, in which he talks about the quality of adhitthana (usually translated as “resolve” or “determination”).

“Pick one or two parami [wholesome qualities such as: generosity, patience, honesty, goodwill, etc] that you really want to focus in on, and then you can do things [to deepen your commitment to this quality], like make an image of it.

“This is what shrines and rituals are about. You pick up on something, or you feel something where there’s a glow in your heart, a strength, a keenness… Yeah, a glow in your heart that says: This is meaningful; This is beautiful; This is strong; This is what I value — deeply. Or you look in your life and you think: What DO I value — deeply?

“If you’ve got one or two of those, you hold it and you contemplate it and you take it in — and it begins to shine, and fill you.

“Then you want to make some kind of image out of it. You can use a word for that — a verbal image — or a sound, or a chant or a prayer. Or you can make a physical image, like something you can fashion or paint, or just use flowers or sticks or something. And then you make a shrine. And you want to put that thing up there, and you want to look at it every day, and you want to offer things to it, and you want to bow at it — and then you’re establishing a real participating field with that quality. This is how you generate fields.

“You generate a meaningful field not just by thought, but by really placing something, going to it, enacting it, chanting it, praying to it — you know?

“Why do people do this? It’s not just because of some superstition. It’s because when you put it there and you keep activating it, potentizing it by your presence and by your actions — it starts to pay off. It starts to hold you. Yeah. And the next time you’re about to “lose it,” you remember that. You remember that, and you come back. You’ve look to that and you’ve thought about that every day and the next time you’re about to lose that quality — it brings you back.

“This adhitthana principle is something that I’ve used a lot. It’s powerful. You say what you resolve — and then, you listen. If something inside you says: That’s a good idea, then it’s not enough. So you say it again: I resolve this. If something says: Yeah, that’s interesting. Then no, that’s not good enough. So you say it again, until something in your heart goes: Mmmmm. Then you’ve got it. And maybe you fold your arms or you bow or something. Then that’s locked it.

“Then it’s not just a good idea. It’s not a thought that will later change its mind and say that’s NOT a good idea. This goes beyond that. You’ve planted something in the field.

“You don’t enter this field just by a little thought. You’ve got to plant it there. And then you’ve made that. And, at that depth, it holds you. It’s very powerful…..

“These are things that…. if it means something, it really… It does work. It works — on a level that’s difficult to explain rationally. Because the mind is not just rational. These are strong psychological potencies. When you make adhitthana, they go in there. This can be because you make a resolution with another person or because you know the “sign” of something that gives you faith and strength and then, if you get that sign, that’s fantastic. Then make the most of it. Really. Get it established strongly. And don’t think about it ‘working’ in terms of time…”

***

When I first hear this I had to get up right in the middle of it and go make a drawing. (A graphic symbol, actually.) Which is not quite in its finished form, but which I will put on my altar as soon as it is.

(The excerpt is edited for readability. It begins at about the 34-minute point on the tape, but really, you should listen to the whole thing. FYI: In this talk, he also gives a thorough and quite beautiful response to a question about female monastics. Click here.)

26 Jul
2018
Posted in: Books, Practice, Suttas
By    Comments Off on Happily Ever After, and Even After That!

Happily Ever After, and Even After That!

At Sunday Sangha last week we got into a discussion about the fact that of course we “cling” to our loved ones (spouses, children, grandchildren, etc.). And Brian mentioned that at a recent retreat, Bhikkhu Bodhi pointed out that while many of the Buddha’s teachings were given to monastics, many of them were not — they were given to “regular people,” who were married and had children, etc. — and that it’s important to know who the Buddha was talking to when we try to understand these teachings.

Which brought to mind the sutta where the Buddha tells Nakulapita and his wife Nakulamata how they could stay together and in love with each other as long as they lived….and on into future lives as well!

This discourse also shows that far from demanding that his lay disciples spurn the desires of the world, the Buddha was ready to show those still under the sway of worldly desire how to obtain the objects of their desire. The one requirement he laid down was that the fulfillment of desire be regulated by ethical principles.” (from In the Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Here’s what it says in the sutta:

“One morning the Blessed One dressed, took his upper robe and bowl, and went to the dwelling of the householder Nakulapita. Having arrived there, he sat down on the seat prepared for him. Then the householder Nakulapita and the housewife Nakulamata approached the Blessed One and, after paying homage to him, sat down to one side. So seated, the householder Nakulapita said to the Blessed One:

Venerable sir, ever since the young housewife Nakulamata was brought home to me when I too was still young, I am not aware of having wronged her even in my thoughts, still less in my deeds. Our wish is to be in one another’s sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well.

“Then Nakulamata the housewife addressed the Blessed One thus: Venerable sir, ever since I was taken to the home of my young husband Nakulapita, while being a young girl myself, I am not aware of having wronged him even in my thoughts, still less in my deeds. Our wish is to be in one another’s sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well.

“Then the Blessed One spoke this: If, householders, both wife and husband wish to be in one another’s sights so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well, they should have the same faith, the same moral discipline, the same generosity, the same wisdom; then they will be in one another’s sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well.” (AN 4:55)

***

How sweet is that!

24 Jul
2018
Posted in: Books, Practice
By    Comments Off on Which Is Always Beaming in All Directions

Which Is Always Beaming in All Directions

The Dilation of What Seems Ordinary
from Things that Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living, by Mark Nepo

Just now, it happened again. My defenses were down, my memory machine asleep, my dream machine tired, and so the Mystery — which is always beaming in all directions — made it through. And the moment of clarity the Mystery releases is always like a return from amnesia. So this is what it means to be a person, how could I forget: To be alive, to look out from these small canyons called eyes, to receive light from the sun off the water and feel it shimmer on the water in my heart. To listen to the silence waiting under our stories, long enough that all the vanished words said over time simmer together to make me feel journeys beyond my own. Till I surface before you with a humbled sense of happiness. Not because I’m any closer to what I want, or even know what I want. But because in the flood of all that is living, I am electrified–the way a muscle dreams under the skin that holds it of lifting whatever needs to be lifted. 

23 Jul
2018
Posted in: Poems, Practice
By    Comments Off on And So On, And So Forth

And So On, And So Forth

Zazen
by Jenny Xie

Sour tobacco, tofu bowl, bright.
Planks of hollyhock in Anhui,
the way I don’t know could open
months later like a hive.
Hard tide of shame that I thought
had dried out years ago.
Love’s barks grow watery, faint.
I walk the edge of an honest life.
The lash of carnal thoughts, followed
by the thin whip of banal guilt.
Hot yellow lights of cities
where I once pressed, over and over,
up against alternate lives.

Now, I sit. Above a deep ground.
The mind fetches the chatter.

And so on, and so forth.

17 Jul
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. ME!

Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. ME!

One of my dharma buddies sent me a great series of talks by Tenzin Palmo, a British woman who spent twelve years practicing in a remote cave in the Himalayas and was the first to receive full bhiksuni ordination in the Tibetan tradition. (Thanks Betsy!)

I haven’t listened to them all, but I plan to. Yesterday I listened to: Teaching on the Eight Verses of Mind, in which Palmo says:

“In Buddhism, pride means thinking we are superior to other people, but it also means thinking that we’re inferior to other people.

“Because if I think: Oh, I’m the most stupid person here; I’m hopeless; I can’t do anything; All these people, they’re so wonderful…. Or when you’re on retreat: Oh, everybody else is deep in the first jhana or at least some samadhi, I’m the only one that’s been caught up in these wondering thoughts…. That is not humility. That’s just the inverse of the ego, beating itself up.

“The ego is very happy to be miserable. Because, if we are miserable (especially full of self-pity) about how awful and hopeless and stupid we are…. what are we thinking about?

“Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Oh poor Me. Oh stupid Me. Oh hopeless Me. — ME!”

***

She nailed that one.

The whole talk is really quite wonderful. It’s long, but it’s worth it. (The excerpt above begins at about the 29 minute mark.) Click here to listen.

16 Jul
2018
Posted in: Books, Groups, Practice
By    Comments Off on Heartwood

Heartwood

Our Dharma Book Group meets tonight (we’re reading In the Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi), and it looks like our discussion will take us into The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood (MN 29), which includes one of my favorite quotes from the Buddha.

Here’s what Bhikkhu Bodhi has to say:

“The sutta is about a ‘clansman’ who has gone forth from the household life into homelessness intent on reaching the end of suffering. Though earnest in purpose at the time of his ordination, once he attains some success, whether a lower achievement like gain and honor or a superior one like concentration and insight, he becomes complacent and neglects his original purpose in entering the Buddha’s path. The Buddha declares that none of these stations along the way — not moral discipline, concentration, or even knowledge and vision — is the final goal of the spiritual life…”

The Buddha says, “But it is the unshakeable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end.”

***

“Unshakeable liberation of mind.” I just love that!

12 Jul
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on Something Naturally Arises

Something Naturally Arises

Another excerpt from Ajahn Sucitto, this time from a beautiful little talk (less than 12 minutes long!) in which he suggests “entering into a relational field” — instead of reacting to things in terms of “subject-and-object.” (Thanks for pointing me to this one, Carolyn.)

Sucitto says, “Be on guard for any time we see something as an ‘object’ — especially if it’s a person — (oh, her…or he’s my boss…or she’s my wife…). As soon as you get one of those: Uh-oh! You’ve just whistled up a problem! Because objects in that experience are always saturated with unconscious craving, resistance of various kinds, and mental factors we haven’t acknowledged.

“When that happens, it’s time to: Stop. And check. Not the object or the subject, but: What’s the relational tone of mind?  Is it ill will; is it regret; is it nagging; is it hungry; is it blaming; is it comparing; is it ‘should-be’; is it ‘if only he was…’

“Ask what is happening in that relational field. And then: could that activity just stop….and take a break — a break from suffering!

“Then from there, take a breather and ask: What seems important now? What’s the one important gesture now? 

“Then from that place, you can just… have a little bit of give. Because: Why not? And it makes you feel good!

“The more you can enter that kind of place, the more you can get all kinds of growth, development, understanding, realization… Shifts can occur. In relationship with other people. In relationship with yourself!

“….So, entering the relational field: It’s always kind of fresh because it’s not pre-conceived. Even a good strategy like: OK, I will be loving and peaceful. That’s a nice idea, but it’s an ideal. And where does that come from? [laughter]

“Instead, could something naturally arise…through the relinquishment of mental obstructions. That’s really a mystical and religious experience — when something naturally arises — which is not myself.

“And it happens. Definitely. It happens.”

***

This excerpt is edited and condensed. I highly recommend listening to the whole talk (and doing it more than once!). Click here.

11 Jul
2018
Posted in: Practice
By    Comments Off on Yet Another Reason to Know How to Meditate

Yet Another Reason to Know How to Meditate

A friend just told me she heard this on BBC news (thanks, Judy):

Thailand cave rescue:
Meditation led by coach helped the boys survive terrifying ordeal, family say

“The 12 Thai boys and their football coach who were trapped in a cave in Thailand got through the ordeal by practicing meditation, family members have said.

“According to a mother of one of the boys, the team were meditating in the widely shared video of their discovery by two British divers.

“‘Look at how calm they were sitting there waiting. No one was crying or anything. It was astonishing,’ she told the Associated Press.

“The coach who was rescued from the cave on Tuesday, trained as a Buddhist monk for 12 years before he decided to coach the Wild Boars soccer team.

“‘He could meditate up to an hour,’ said his aunt, Tham Chanthawong. ‘It has definitely helped him and probably helps the boys to stay calm.'”

***

Wow, you just never know when it’ll come in handy!

(This story appeared yesterday in the Evening Standard. To read the full article, click here.)

10 Jul
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on Where Am I Now?

Where Am I Now?

More from Ajahn Sucitto:

“Whenever you feel yourself getting pulled, that’s the most important time to — pause. Pause for just 20 seconds…or a minute…and ask: Where am I now?

“Not: What should I do? But: Where am I now?

“You might think, ‘I’m in a restaurant. I’m in an office.’ No, that’s just what it looks like. That’s what your eyes can see. That’s what your thinking mind can tell you. But the real question is: Where do you feel your presence? Where is your presence now?

“Presence is a sense of firmness, of stability. It’s always here. And it’s always being dissipated into the sense fields. So when we ask, “Where am I now,” this is not really asking for a verbal response. It’s pointing to the quality of the citta — of Awareness as Presence. We can notice the trembling, or the questioning or the feelings or the sensations — they’re all moving and changing.

“Meanwhile, with all that, as one is acknowledging that it’s all moving and changing — what is it that acknowledges the moving and changing? It’s: Presence. The sense of presence of the citta, as a simple quality of being. There’s a stillness there. A point of stillness.

“It may sound difficult when I try to put it into words, but we can — pause — and ask: “Where am I?” Or: “What’s really here? And within this realm of sights and sounds and thoughts and energies and emotions and pushes and pulls and moods and impressions — Presence is here.

“Take your time with that. This is Being. Being is always exactly the same. Being doesn’t change in time. Being is not the person. Being is not the moods. Being is not the thoughts. Being is not the activities. Being is just being here. And that’s a refuge. That’s an island in the middle of the stream, in the middle of the flood. You can return to that. And then from here, you can ask: “What’s useful? What’s important? What is the most skillful thing to do, at this particular time?

***

This is just an excerpt from Ajahn Sucitto’s talk, The Duties of Heedfulness, beginning at about the 26 minute mark. I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety. He’s talking about how to make daily life into a meditative practice! Click here to listen.

6 Jul
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on Try: Seeing a Tree

Try: Seeing a Tree

Suggested Exercise, from Ajahn Sucitto:

“One thing that’s very important in all meditation practice is a sense of changing speed. Because in the change of speed you come out of that blurred, impulsive rush, whereby you go down the channels [of habitual patterns]. So this is about a change of speed… or calming, if you like…. or sustaining attention.

“I’d like to suggest that you practice this for a while, maybe 30 minutes, outside… it’s something I quite appreciate doing… just let your eyes rest upon, say, a tree or something like that… Stay with it visually, just let your eyes stay there. And you will notice how, if you stay with that for 5 or 10 minutes (a sustained period of time) — you’ll notice all the changes that occur in that simple experience: Seeing a Tree.

“So, let’s say you look at it and expectation occurs. OK, expectation — that occurs. Then you notice a detail. Oh, that’s kind of interesting — that occurs. Then maybe appreciation. What a lovely tree — that occurs. And then, Well, I think I’ve done that, had enough — that occurs. [laugher]

“And then maybe the visual thing starts to dilate. In other words, you see tiny details and you see the big field, and if you keep your eyes on it, it will start to vibrate (visually). And it becomes much more amorphous… and you stay with that, until eventually — tree???

“The word ‘tree’ no longer applies.

“This is when, in a way, what’s happened is: the object-forming tendency, which goes on for a period of time, starts to…. Well, I’ve seen that object… It’s done its job. It’s said, Oh, that’s a leaf; that’s a twig; that’s bark; that’s green; that’s black; that’s a color; I like that…. and eventually it’s, Well, I’ve said all that, and it starts to not have anything more to say. [laughter]

“And then, one feels more touched by it.

“As the object-forming and the categorizations wear out, or receded… one gets more and more touched… There’s an intimacy, of presence, that occurs. I don’t know what it is, but I’m feeling really attentive, and awake, to this. And a sense of appreciation occurs.

“These are the sorts of modalities that can occur, because all these tendencies… these aggregates… which seem so concrete, are only made so by the rapidity of the juggling act that keeps them all binding together. And the passion for it. The excitement to make it happen.

“If you stay with something long enough, it starts to… the object-forming tendencies begin to… you know…. wear out.

“But it’s not that there’s nothing there. It just becomes more… un-named. And something is very bright about that.

“So I would suggest you take some time and see if you can find… either standing, or a bench or something whereby you may be able to sustain… It’s not a matter of having your eyes rigidly focused, but keep a sustained attention. You can look around it, look up and down… pause… slow… slow your eye movements down… as if you are tasting with your eyes, every grain of visual experience, every little fleck of it.

“Yeah.

“This is all seeing. It is just seeing. Until the mental configurations begin to pass away.

“OK?”

***

OK!

This is the entire transcript (very lightly edited) of a lovely little less-than-5-minute talk by Ajahn Sucitto, title: A Suggested Exercise. Listen to it here.