Browsing Category "Talks"
17 Jan
2019
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The Ability to Pour Forth

Ajahn Sucitto: “Another very important quality of heart — we sense this as an aspect of what we might call love — is the ability to pour forth, to bring forth, to give.

“We can do this in our work: we want to really give ourselves to something we really care for or are interested in. Or to another person, to give to a child or to a partner: we want to really offer something from ourselves.

“And in puja [spiritual devotion] or in making commitments to one’s spiritual training or one’s practice: you really want to give yourself to the sacred — however that’s configured.

“And that’s quite important. To actually extend the range of that. So we give ourself to our duties, to our relationships, and even to the earth — how can we support, look after, and care for the earth — and to the sacred.

“So: How do I offer myself, open my mind, open my heart — to truth, virtue, beauty, clarity, purity…to those resonances.

“Can I reach to that range, which is ungraspable.

If it’s graspable, it turns into dogmatism, believe systems.

If it’s left un-grasped, it turns into this infinite opening of heart. It’s a very beautiful form of spiritual love.

“This is something definitely to get a handle on, to train in. Because it’s for one’s deep fulfillment — this pouring one’s self into.

“We long to do that. For most people this is expressed in one’s vocation. Or in their relationships. Or in their parenting. Or even in the way they look after a piece of land or something. They empty themselves into that.

“And there’s a lovely richness in that. We don’t lose, we are actually gained by the giving, enriched by the giving.

“This is a very important feature of practice.”

***

(from this talk by Ajahn Sucitto, beginning at about the 25 minute mark)

15 Jan
2019
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Metta is…

Since this is my Year of Getting to Know Goodwill, I am taking note when Ajahn Sucitto, in a recent talk at the Forest Refuge, described metta as “that which inclines toward nourishing.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put quite like that before.

Kind of gives it a different flavor, doesn’t it!

***

(quote from 11/11/18 Q&A session, beginning at about the 27 minute mark — click here to listen.)

8 Jan
2019
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It’s SUPPOSED to Feel Good

When asked to discuss the role of delight on the Buddhist path, when it should be cultivated, and when let go of, here’s what Ajahn Sucitto had to say:

“Well, there are many words that are used in the Buddhist lexicon, but I image that what the questioner is talking about is something like rapture and happiness piti and sukha.

“This is to be cultivated in order to counteract the hindrances — the effects of the hindrances, the traces of the hindrances.

“We can imagine that the citta [heat/mind] will flow down the most predominant tracks, the most deeply etched tracks, like a fluid will run down the tracks that are most deeply engraved, that are most habitual. So if our habitual tendency is worry, or negativity, or cynicism, or self-criticism, then the citta easily runs down that. At the drop of a hat, it rushes down it.

“When we meditate, we are deliberately blocking those channels, or turning away from those channels, and developing other channels. So, with puja [devotional rituals], sila [ethical behavior], metta [goodwill], dana [generosity] — all that — composure, breathing in and breathing out, and so forth — we are developing other things.

Those qualities become authorized by pleasure.

“We are quite simple creatures, really. We follow what’s pleasant. So, pleasure gives authority. We obey pleasure. And we obey pain.

“So when we begin to recognize qualities that give a sense of pleasure that is skillful, that we feel no regret around, that doesn’t gives us hangovers or burn-outs or harm anybody or cost anything — then, we go for it.

“And then the citta begins to get reset from these negative kamma [actions] to agreeable kamma. Agreeable kamma has good feeling associated with it.

“Agreeable kamma feels good. It’s not just morally correct. It feels good. And it’s important to recognize the feel-good quality of it. It’s not just correct. It should feel good.

If it doesn’t feel good, you haven’t really embedded in it yet, you haven’t really drunk it in yet, you haven’t made use of it. You should absorb it — till it makes you feel GOOD.

“Then it’s going to gain authority.

“So reflect a lot and wisely attend to skillfulness. Take it into the heart. How’s this feel? To avoid harming, to put aside cruelty, doesn’t that give you dignity, value, self-respect? Isn’t that good? Doesn’t that feel good?

“So we meditate — and part of the aim of meditation is to feel good. To feel these qualities of calm, and ease, and absence of pressure, and simplicity, freedom from obstructions… This is supposed to feel good! To make you happy!

“If you haven’t looked at that aspect of it, then you have deprived yourself of one of the main aims. Because the pleasant feeling definitely creates a momentum so that the citta will then go there. And then it loses track, it loses touch with the negative kamma. Gross negativity, that is. Those tendencies dry up. Because it’s gone the other way.

“This is the point of piti and sukha. These are embodied qualities. And the body itself begins to release some of its tensions, its somatic distortions. We can feel trapped in our chest or locked into our bellies or shut down in our throats. Then that starts to peel off. And you feel VERY NICE.

And it’s skillful.

“It should not be ‘let go of.’ Nothing is ‘let go of.’ Things become unnecessary. They fall off when they’re no longer needed.

“Letting go is not an action that you do. It’s something that occurs when: that’s finished; that’s enough of that.

“Then this quality of piti/sukha, when it’s done its work, strangely enough, something in the citta feels: I’d like to be just a little bit quieter. Yeah, that’d be nice. Just a little quieter. Yeah. Nice….

“So then the pleasure subsides. Into something more equanimous.

“OK. I think that’s enough for tonight.”

🙂

***

The above excerpt is from this talk, beginning at about the 48 minute mark.

7 Jan
2019
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What Feeds the Heart?

Hint — Not this:

Here’s what Ajahn Sucitto’s says:

“Renunciation — nekamma. Kamma is a word that has to do with the senses, the external senses, the sense doors. Nekamma is the movement away from feeding on senses — eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body. This is an inclination that occurs as one begins to feel the richness of food for the heart — such as kindness, goodwill, gratitude, generosity, virtue, etc. — you start to feel satisfied, fed, enriched by that. Therefore, sense contact really isn’t such a big deal. It doesn’t quite ‘hit the mark’ in the same way that these heart qualities do.

“Because the citta cannot feed on the senses. It feeds on the feelings, the metal perceptions, that arise from the senses. The interpretations of it. So we see something that signifies as attractive or delightful, but actually the eye doesn’t do that. The eye just sees something and the mind infers beauty or attractiveness or desirability in it.

The mind creates a kind of ‘glow’ perception. There’s a particular ‘glow’ that occurs. That’s mental. Deriving from the sense contact, there’s a triggering of this kind of ‘glow’ that occurs when we see a cinnamon bun, or something.

“But you know you can’t actually pack a cinnamon bun into your mind. So you put it into your mouth. And it doesn’t last. And it probably doesn’t quite do exactly what the ‘glow’ said it would do.

“If you track the process you begin to get it. It’s actually not the sight, not the object itself, but it’s the particular kindling of a delight quality — that’s what the citta likes. It wants that. But it’s actually quite brief when it comes dependent on sense contact. It’s relatively brief. It’s a sort of ‘flare.’ And actually, after the fifth cinnamon bun, it doesn’t occur at all.

“So then we have something else. It can go on like that. Because the ‘glow’ can move from one place to another. The citta feeds on that ‘glow’ as best it can.

“Now, there’s actually a deeper, warming effect that is richer food, that is generated through the citta itself. This is called: Happiness which is born of withdrawal from unskillful states.

“So whenever there’s a withdrawal from hatred, greed, malice, jealousy, fear, bitterness, worry, doubt, etc., the citta feels: Ooooh, that’s nice! There’s the subtle quality of that.

“Then if that quality is tuned into, is embodied through breathing and fully feeling it, that quality magnifies and amplifies to a very satisfied quality of pleasure. The Buddha says, there’s not one pore of the entire body that’s not drenched in this pleasure. The pleasure which is generated through withdrawal from unskillful states. The entire body radiates with that.

“So when there’s that, you don’t really have a big thing about cinnamon buns. [laughs] Or any of it.

“Renunciation is the recognition of that. The moving toward that. It can sound like it’s all very cold. But actually it’s just the transferring of food, where the citta is fed, from areas which are generally more mottled and temporary, into something more fulfilling and sustainable.”

***

The above is from that same Q&A session I quoted in my last post. It begins at about the 40 minute mark. Click here to listen to the full talk.

2 Jan
2019
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The Year of Getting to Know Goodwill

Some of you might remember the blogpost I wrote last year at this time, in which I recommended a wonderful talk by Phillip Moffitt, called Making This The Year Of...”, which I listened to again last night (and which, of course, I highly recommend that you do so as well).

For me, last year was The Year of Listening. This year, I’ve decided it will be The Year of Getting to Know Goodwill — after being inspired by Ajahn Sucitto’s daily practice of recollecting any gesture of goodwill that has come to him from another person, reflecting on the feeling of that, and really taking the feeling in.

He talks about this practice in a retreat Q&A session I listened to last night, beginning at about the 30 minute mark. He says:

“You have to get your citta going. It’s not just about getting your willpower going. You have to get your citta [heart/mind] going. Citta is the source, it’s the problem, it’s also the solution.

“None of us are void of health and enlightenment factors. They’re our human potential. They may not be completely fulfilled, but there is that. Otherwise we would not be here at all. We’d be insane.

“And because there is that, one has to bring the wholeness of the citta into the practice. First of all, before we get too much into driving forward, let’s actually understand the vehicle. What is this? The citta is that which is liberated. So what is it?

“This understanding involves a certain pausing, opening, unpacking, and getting it in trim. And metta — or, friendly attitude — has to be part of that. Because the citta is only touched by the qualities of intention. If your intention is not appropriate, then it doesn’t respond well.

“Now, kindness can be firm kindness. Like firm parenting: No. Stop. We’ve been there before. It didn’t feel good. Let’s just put that down. That’s still kindness. It’s an attitude; it’s not a sentiment.

“With all these terms — kindness, mindfulness — it’s so easy to think we understand what they mean. You can easily go to a Pali dictionary and find out what they mean and then you’d have a word. And you think that’s what it is. Because, verbally, it is.

“But actually the depth of what that signifies doesn’t come immediately. It has to be explored and fulfilled. Entering the citta is where you begin to get the deep understanding of what “goodwill” really means. Or what “sati” really means. Or what “wisdom” really means.

“They’re not concepts. They’re not theories. They carry particular energies that have to be held and balanced carefully. So it’s an ongoing process.

“The beauty of this is that in the phrases having to do with goodwill, there’s: “around, in all directions” and “to others as to myself” — so you learn this quality in being with others, and when others present it to you. That’s how you learn the tone of it.

What’s it like when someone is spontaneously kind and sympathetic to you? What’s that feel like? What’s it like when somebody says: Oh, I’ll give you a hand. I’ll help you. And they didn’t have to. What’s that like? What’s it like when someone looks at you and they light up with happiness to see you? What’s that like?

“These are not unknown experiences, are they? That’s what it’s like.

“Now, what about — can you do that for others? Can it happen through you? When you’re not nervous or frightened or think it’s not worthwhile or worried about this, that, or the other? It’s quite natural.

“And now, receive that. What’s it like to be seen, felt, in that way?

“And so one exercise I find quite useful every day is to recollect, perhaps at the end of the day, just to recollect any acts of that tone. I’ve never been at a loss to notice some gesture of goodwill from another human being.

“What’s that feel like? They didn’t have to. What’s that feel like?

“It’s the human medium. When you begin to sense it as a common human medium, the really surprising thing is: How did you ever forget it? How did you ever lose it? Not: What brings it into presence. But: What takes it away? When isn’t it there?

“Very often the Buddhist approach is not so much creating something as understanding what obstructs it and then removing that.

“So what obstructs that flow? Fear. Inattention. Delusion. Impatience. Indifference. Seeing somebody as an object. Or a label: gardener, driver, cook. That’s what obstructs it. You know those?

“And when you do that to yourself. That’s what obstructs it. When you take yourself as and object. As a something-that-should-be. That’s what stops it. If you can see and recognize the painfulness of that, and if that can be put aside — then life is just a lot richer and better.”

14 Dec
2018
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The Mind Points. The Heart Receives.

I continue to re-listen to the talk on Relational Dhamma, by Ajahn Sucitto, which I quoted extensively in my last post. I can’t help myself, so here’s another excerpt:

“Although we conceptually understand that our experience is relational, when it comes into practice many people have very dysfunctional, or afflictive, relational strategies: I control it, push it away, look somewhere else, or give up.

“What eventually occurs is the sense of an isolated self — an isolated entity — trying to deal with their mind. And then not being able to do it because the relationship is wrong.

“There’s not enough loving acceptance. There’s not enough spaciousness. Not enough openness.

“Quite a lot of meditation instructions — certainly when I first started — are very much about getting crystal clear definition of the object. To maintaining an unwavering, moment-by-moment crystal clear definition of the object. The subject: not there. Just object. Deal with the object. The subject: no self, not there, forget about it. Just deal with the object.

“But the kind of mindset that that sets up is of a continual lack of heart.

“One begins to use the mind — or “citta” — like a finger that points.

“This very much mirrors the visual way of relating to experience, which is: object definition. Which is great for clarity. For crystal clarity.

“But useless for relationship. Because it’s got no ability to receive anything. It just points. And directs.

“…So now, what I’m noticing is that many of the fundamental problems that people are experiencing — which are essentially a lack of loving acceptance, a lack of ease with other people, a tendency to continue to perform to try to get somewhere or to become something — are not addressed in the standard model of meditation instructions.

“In fact, the standard model often unconsciously encourages those problems — the isolation, the dependence on purely one’s own intellect and one’s ability to focus, and also the lack of receptability.

“We’re beginning to recognize that the word “citta” — which is that which can be purified and realizes liberation — is probably best translated as “heart.” Heart, Mind –these words are interchangeable, but…. Come to “heart” and you realize that “heart” doesn’t do that: [he points his finger]. It does that: [he opens the palm of his hand].

“And that’s a very different focus. It’s just as sensitive because the finger doesn’t receive. But the hand — the palm — does. And it can be just as accurate in its own way.

“So we’re staring to use focus much more in the receptive sense of: What is this doing to me; How is this effecting me; Who am I when I’m with these people; How am I when I’m with this one; How am I when there’s no one…

“And now there’s the beginning of the ability to understand the mutable nature of the ‘self’ that comes out of the relationship, rather than the ‘self’ being an entity than needs to attain concentration in order to be released…

***

The above is just a taste. Click here to listen to the talk in full.

12 Dec
2018
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Relational Energies in the Body

I keep listening over and over to a fascinating little talk (only 24 minutes long), called Relational Dhamma, given by Ajahn Sucitto, in which he says:

“Take something like Sangha — Community. Why is that a gem? Why is kalyana mitta [spiritual friendship] the ‘whole of the holy life’? Why is that considered so basic, so fundamental — to have people, and to be in a situation, where you have a relationship that is trusting, accepting, truthful. That’s not trying to make something out of you. Not judging you, but able to mirror…

“The fundamental model is sangha. But even more specifically: the teacher with the disciple. It’s a relationship that’s very close. The word for ‘disciple’ in the Pali text is ‘one who shares living space with you’. That’s close. ‘The one who shares the same dwelling as you’ — they get up before you; they prepare water for you; you talk to them; you do things together; you interact. That’s the fundamental place in which learning can occur.

“Because the learning of the heart is never through a book. What we learn most profoundly is from other people.

“And often what you learn from other people are very confused messages. Messages about what we should be. Message about the models of what we’re supposed to be, but not the message of: I am with you. Or: How are you?

“So I’m trying to emulate this in some sense. Certainly in monasteries there’s a lot of interaction. But I cannot say [laughs] that monasteries are by any means ideal relational experiences — but the nature of the disfunction does becomes more apparent… [more laughter] It becomes very obvious: the projections and the withdrawal from contact and the comparisons and all that kind of stuff that goes on.

“I am interested in a model whereby we begin to learn from each other, not from our personalities talking or adjusting each other, but from something far more basically human than our personalities, much less messed up and socialized than our personalities. (Personalities are really a series of structures that arise through contact in the social domain. That’s how we get a personality.)

“But prior to that, we have a simple thing: sentiency. I sense: a human being…feels pain…likes pleasure…there’s uncertainty…wants to be loved, is able to experience being loved…objecting to it. That would be helpful. What the personality is, that’s secondary.

“Interestingly enough, what I’ve been practicing with, is using this very body as a sense organ. Just using the somatic intelligence of the body. Which immediately tells me, when I’m drawn in with another human being, I feel a certain: Hey, what’s happening? I want to know. I want to know if that’s OK. And if it is OK, I feel a sense of happiness.

“And in that sense of forming a somatic bond with another person, one can begin to align one’s relational energies to something that’s far more fundamental — and far healthier — than the personality relationships.

“Some of us have been doing this together for about twelve years — this Somatic Presence Relationship Work. Often very confusing. Because it’s not always that clear…you can’t always get the words in your head as to what’s happening. But when I’ve tried to present this model, whatever is said (which is often minimal), what occurs at the end of it is that everybody feels: accepted, somehow belonging. The words they come up with are: belonging, accepted, trusted, relaxed, at ease.

“It’s because for one time they didn’t have to come up with something smart, polite, clear, interesting, wonderful, profound, etc. They’re just saying how it is. And the other person can add: how is that. Just encouraging them to track the relational energies as they occur in the body, prior to the personality…

“So when I say I’ve been interested in relational practices, this may sound kind of strange in a way. Because, you know, I am a kind of ‘recluse’. But I don’t see this as forming — whatever this word ‘relational’ can mean — sometimes people think almost immediately: ‘sex.’ That’s how bad it’s got. That whenever you’re having a relationship with someone, it’s sexual. That’s how bad it’s got in our society. The idea that any kind of quality of love can only occur if there’s physical contact and so forth. That it’s impossible outside of it. Unless it’s with a dog. (That’s why people get dogs, of course.)

“But I don’t do physical, sexual relationships. (Which is another topic all together.) I’m much more attuned to how I can learn and how I can sense — respectfully, as a sentient being — other people’s actual presence, as they are, rather than as projections in my mind. Rather than what I judge them to be. Or how I measure them. This is a great step.”

***

The transcript above begins at about 13 minutes into the talk and is edited. Click here to listen to the full talk.

27 Nov
2018
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We’re Not Having an Experience…

“We’re not having an experience, we are an experience. An experience that’s changing, that’s affected.”

— Ajahn Sucitto during a guided meditation on Disengaged Awareness. “Allowing content to arise and manifest generates spaciousness and eases the sense of self.” Click here to listen.

21 Nov
2018
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Compassion Incantation

I’m thinking of someone who’s going through a difficult time right now, so I’d like to offer these phrases, which Phillip Moffitt uses in his Compassion Practice:

I can feel your suffering.

May your suffering cease.

May the light of love and understanding penetrate the darkness of this loss and grief. 

May your suffering cease.

May your suffering cease.

***

Phillip suggests being as specific as possible, so instead of “loss and grief,” which are appropriate in the situation I’m thinking of, one could use “pain and despair,” or “fear and uncertainty,” or whatever else feels right.

Listen to Phillip speak about these phrases and how to work with them in his talk: Surrender, Collapse, Conquer, and Compassion, part 2.

19 Nov
2018
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Understandable Results of Unbalanced Energy

My “Headphone Retreat” continues. Last night I listened to Ajahn Sucitto’s talk on Intention, which concludes with a wonderful explanation of the Five Hindrances as “understandable results of unbalanced or depleted energy” (and therefore to be seen as “less of a sin and more of a problem that can be amended.”)  

Sucitto says, “The body and mind are in sympathy and they are co-dependent. So at this level, the way you inflect your mind effects your body energy. If you approach your body from a controlling attitude, then your body will start to become rigid on a physiological level. If you approach it from an acceptance place, it becomes softer, more relaxed.

“So what is the proper relationship? To not be dominating, but at the same time, be present. This is a very beautiful skill to learn. And naturally the success rate is not all that great. [laughs] But if you are getting a 1 or 2 out of 10, this is definitely progress. Because every time you touch that, faith arises.

“There are definitely big benefits in the sense of self dropping away, the obsessiveness or the moodiness dropping away. Because in the relational sense, when that is harmonious, the quality of harmony becomes the atmosphere. And the disharmonious qualities drop away.

“Then one feels settled, composed. This is called samadhi. It’s harmony — unification of body and mind. That’s when the mental energy and the body energy are in synch. They’re in synergy. So what occurs is there’s an overall sense of harmony, unification, and settledness.

“And that has not arisen really from me trying to get things calmed down. (Unless it’s done in a very careful way.) Certainly the inclination is: Let’s just take things easier; there’s no pushing; no pressure; just stay present. The inflection of an intentionality is something that no matter how many words I put around it, you will have to find it for yourself. And it may have different words for you.

“But the result will be, definitely a cleaning of behavior on a subtle level. And that cleaning on a subtle level will definitely have effects on a more obvious relational level. One becomes less fearful or pushy. One becomes less flustered in the presence of phenomena that are not delightful or attractive. Because the energy itself builds up a certain strength.

“So as our bodily energy system becomes more strengthened and cleaned, then we’re able to be present with difficult phenomena without feeling highly impacted. It’s not that you don’t notice them, but you don’t feel shocked by them. Or tightened up. Or defensive.

“These are the effects that occur from the skill that comes with this kind of mode of practice. Because the body and the mind are not separable — they effect each other — then the negative effects of the defective behaviors of grasping and so forth…they are felt in the body and the mind.

“The first list of these defective behaviors we know so well — The Five Hindrances.

Greed or sense desire:
“This is because the energy feels really flat and needs something to get it going. It’s hungry. It lacks vitality. So it’s got to have something to feed on, to get livened up with. Clearly, if one has vitality, this does not have to occur.

Ill-will:
When we cannot cope with difficult feelings, we get hostile instead. Energy tightens up because it has no capacity to accommodate and discharge the difficult feeling. So instead it develops hostility towards it. Prickling and souring.

Dullness:
“Because so much of the energy gets exported into distraction and outgoing tendencies, one’s ‘home base,’ one’s ‘reservoir,’ is rather low. One hasn’t got a rich supply of energy because so much of it goes out through the sense doors and in occupations. So there’s not much ‘at home.’ Therefore one’s dullness is a sort of indolence and a sluggishness.

Restlessness:
“Because so much energy is expended in sense phenomena — which are diverse — the system is used to jumping from this to that, to this, to that, to this, to that. So that pattern gets established. Now if there’s a sense of something that’s unifying, that the citta [heat/mind] can go to… if there’s a unifying energy…. then it can settle into that. So restlessness can cease.

Speculative doubt:
“This is when we are over-emphasizing the conceptual intelligence. This is what happens when the other intelligences are more limited. If our body intelligence isn’t very acute, and the heart intelligence is not so agile, then what happens is a lot of the intelligence goes into the mental faculty. Which means we are always searching for clarity and answers to things.

“But the mental faculty can’t provide it. It cannot provide the satisfaction that can only be really experienced in the heart. This is the state of doubt: ‘Is it this or that…’ ‘Should I do this or that…’ What’s being sought is the sense of: ‘Ah-hahhh.’ And that is a heart sense.

“If the heart intelligence has not been properly energized and brought to bear upon experience, then speculative doubt becomes potentially more apparent. Because we seek orientation in terms of thought. But thought cannot provide it. So there’s the sense of: ‘maybe this… or maybe that…’ Because we’re still looking for the clarity orientation that cannot arrive. It’s like walking on water. It can’t be done. So there’s the skidding effect of doubt. Confidence arises not from the intellect, but from realization of citta: ‘Ahh. This is this.’

“These hindrances have energetic effects, though very often in dharma instruction the approach is more from the psychological aspect — which is also true — but I feel that the psychological qualities that we attune to, this area of our intelligence, is so over-worked that it’s almost inflamed — with self-hood — and with blaming, and criticism, and guilt around these hindrances.

“So perhaps it would be easier to sense them as just understandable results of unbalanced or depleted energy. And then it becomes less a “sin” and more of a problem that can be amended. By accessing, steadying, smoothing, calming — forming a healthy relationship. And breathing is certainly an excellent object for that because it will give you a lot back.

“It will give you a lot back — if you approach it in the right way.”

***

The excerpt above begins at about the 45 minute mark. Click here to listen to this talk in its entirety.