Browsing Category "Talks"
23 May
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Getting our Mind around Mindfulness

The word “mindfulness” gets tossed around a lot these day, but nobody seems to be clear on what the “mind” actually is. So I really like Ajahn Sucitto’s reflections on this in his recent talk, Mindfulness and Experiencing a Living Being. (Which is described by whoever put the talk on line as: “A truly excellent exploration of mindfulness, what it’s about, and how to get our minds around it.”)  

Sucitto says:
“Mindfulness…sati [in Pali]…is the particular quality of mind that causes one to remember, causes a certain deepening, and then ‘uh-hu’…a kind of recognition… That’s the etymology of it. So, mindfulness is that which causes you to have an ‘un-hu’ moment. Where something is happening that lands, is referred to, and is felt. It touches, really touches the citta [mind-heart]. So the citta receives it. Gets a handle on it. Gets a feel for it…

“Mindfulness is not thoughtfulness, though thoughtfulness plays a part in it. It’s not attention, though attention has a part. It’s not fixed concentration.

“It’s: Mindfulness.

It’s bringing something to mind.

“So, what is ‘mind’?

“For many people ‘mind’ would seem to be the rational processes. That’s part of it. But that’s what Buddhists call ‘inner speech’.

The mind is something more like ‘heart’. It has emotion, but it’s a bit more than that. It has thought. It has intuition…imagination. It has sensitivity. It has stillness…presence.

“There is a gradation of qualities that we can experience, which would be held under the term ‘mind’. Including the kind of experiences that are not common to the everyday person — a sense of just: open, aware, with no thought — but very aware. For many people this is not a reference.

“But that’s ‘mind’. In fact, in Buddhist understanding, that’s the clearest, most accurate description of mind: sensitive, open, with no particular content — but able to handle content, if content arises. That would be considered to be the optimal ‘mind’.


I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. (And that’s just the first five minutes of the talk!) Click here to listen to it all.

19 May
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Meditation is Enjoyment

Last night I listened to yet another great talk by Ajahn Sucitto (from the retreat last month at IMS). Apparently someone must have complained about not getting specific enough instructions from him about “how to meditate” — particularly it seems about how to get into the deep absorption states called “jhana.” The whole talk is great, but my favorite part is the last ten minutes:

“The Buddha said that when your body is refreshed and relaxed, there’s no need to make a special effort to make your mind feel happy. IT FEELS HAPPY. And when your mind is happy, there’s no need to make a special effort to concentrate. IT IS CONCENTRATED. It is ‘samadhi-ed.’

“Meditation is enjoyment. If it isn’t, then it isn’t meditation. Or, it hasn’t arrived yet. Sure, it’s not always easy. But you don’t always have to have it easy as long as it’s meaningful, and it’s not punitive, and it’s not crushing you. Or if it is, well, we can work that out. And even that’s got some quality of enjoyment and energy and faith and interest.

“Clearing the heart. Dwelling in the body. That’s the absorptive process.” 


Click here to listen to the whole talk.

12 May
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Sacred Play

I’ve been listening to the talks Ajahn Sucitto gave at IMS last month. I always try to jot down a few of his more evocative phrases, but quite often I find that I’m transcribing the whole talk!

Here’s a sample from a short reflection he gave on April 10, after the morning ritual (puja) of chants, bows, and making offerings:

This is sacred play. It’s play not in the foolish sense, but play as in the acts that we do that are purely in the moment, using just what we have. It’s not: “Well, I’ll do this and then in four days time I’ll get it done.” That’s what we call work. [laugh]

But this is play. It’s: What counts is just right now and…let it go, let it go. Just now, let it go. There’s no competition, there’s no: Who did better than anybody else? It’s just what it is.

This is where, in this mind of play, that our body is most vital, alert, less anxious, less worried, less forceful, less faltering, less doubtful. This is how our body actually is.

We’ve kind of gotten used to tuning into machines and systems and times that are not what the body is. This play is just tuning into the organic life, the momentary nature of it. This is where the body is just what it is and it doesn’t aim for results. It’s not pushy and it’s not faltering. The body is in “true.” And in “true,” we find truth.

Truth is: There is this which is in us that is not the proscribed, historical identity. There is this within us that is not “what I am, what I was, what I should be, what I could be, what will other people think of me…”

There is this. And “this” is the real heart and vitality. There is a precious alignment of consciousness. The more we align ourselves with this and enact it…the more this alignment can remain a little longer, a little more recognized on a conscious level: “I don’t have to be who I’m supposed to be. Or who I think I am. I can just be this life…as it happens…beautifully.” 

This is faith. This is “sadha,” the Buddha’s word that is translated as faith or confidence. We can have faith or confidence in all kinds of “things”…and they will be causes of dispute and attachment. And dogmatism. And all that.

But this is faith in the purity of consciousness as it’s manifesting right now. Very intimate. Immediate. Not delayed in time. Inviting you to enter that domain, revealed within yourself, revealed through wise handling.

This alignment then, when the silence enters, when the voice sounds have finished their play…perhaps this can be a little fresher, a little more innocent, less anxious, a little less pushy, or less hanging back.

This is mediation.  


I have edited the above for clarity. Click here to listen to the full talk.

17 Apr
Posted in: Retreats, Talks
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We Know How to Steer

Another one of my favorite talks from the 2-month retreat is this one, by Guy Armstrong (especially the last 20 minutes or so), in which he talks about how we are bound to our past actions by the way we are shaped by them; we are conditioned by the patterns of thought, speech and action that we have invested in over and over again.

“These patterns are strong, but the beautiful thing is: they’re not fixed. Nothing in our being is fixed. Not the patterns. Not craving. Not even ignorance…. These are all still just arising and changing. Anything that has arisen can also pass away. Any patterning that has been established can be undone. This is the karmic principle that makes dharma practice transformative

“The path itself is a karmic unfolding. We start with the conditioned habits of mind that we bring into practice from perhaps lifetimes of craving, ignorance, and so forth. But as we encounter the dharma we start to bring in wholesome mind states — mindfulness, lovingkindness, renunciation, tranquility, concentration, equanimity — and all these start to change us, little by little by little… All these new karmic effects start to steer the stream [of our mind] in a different directionfrom suffering (samsara) to the end of suffering (nibbana). That is the only place this leads.

“And it’s important to know this because, as Yogi Berra says: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you could end up somewhere else.’ So we want to know where we’re going: We want to end up in nibbana. If there were anything fixed in us, then these streams of dharma practice couldn’t change us; they couldn’t turn us in that other direction.

“So that’s why the teaching on not-self — meaning there is nothing fixed at the center — is the avenue by which karma can unfold in us and we can change the patterning of our actions…

“Our situation is — all of us — we are afloat on a sea of changing conditions. Most of them are outside our control. External things — the weather, to some extent our body, the interactions we have with people, the successes or disappointments we have in life — a lot of these are really beyond our control.

“But we have one really important thing: We have a rudder and we know how to steer. And the rudder for our journey on this unpredictable, uncontrollable ocean — is karma.

We steer through the force of our wholesome intentions. And the Buddha said that those intentions, repeated over and over again, are what take us to a safe harbor. Of peace. Of safety. Of security. Of release. And of liberation.”

12 Apr
Posted in: Poems, Retreats, Talks
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Live in the Layers

Another one of the talks from the retreat that I’ve been re-listening to (and will probably listen to again and again) is this one by Phillip Moffitt, mostly dealing with the topic of “not-self” (anatta), which as Phillip says, is one of those understandings that are non-conceptual, that have to come to us through direct experience, that for a long time just don’t make any sense because it’s something “we just don’t know — until we do.”

So it’s one of the teachings that we have to talk about by talking around. Which is where poetry comes in. Here’s the poem Phillip quotes, by Poet Laureate Stantley Kunitz, who wrote it when he was 89:

The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angles
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to it’s feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In the darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes. 

7 Apr
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Safe, Secluded, Sheltered

I’ve been listening again to some of the talks from the retreat. One of my favorites was this one, by Gil Fronsdal, in which he describes the healing quality of the sate of samadhi as similar to the way he felt when he was a kid and used to put a white bed sheet over the dining room table, then crawl inside where he felt: safe, secluded, sheltered from the hectic activity that was going on around him, peaceful, quiet, and bathed in beautiful, soft light.

It’s mesmerizing. Listen to it here.

5 Jan
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One Millimeter

There is something that Ajahn Sucitto said in one of his talks — the one called Waves and Fields: No Self — that keeps coming back to me, calling to me, whispering to me….like a little bell ringing…or maybe it’s more like a flash of light I can just barely glimpse out of the corner of my eye. It wasn’t that he said it like it was anything big. It was just sort of an aside, towards the end of the talk, in the midst of a larger point he was making about the self and practice in relationship. But it grabbed me. And it hasn’t let go.

He said:

It doesn’t matter who you are — who you sense yourself as being. Who you sense yourself as being is like — one movement  — away from freedom. The ice is one millimeter thick. You could skate across that forever. Or, you could just pause…and drop through.


I heard that and something inside me stopped, sat up and took notice. Listen for yourself. Click here. (It’s at about the 40 minute mark of the talk.)

28 Dec
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I Bring to Mind and Invoke

Another one of Ajahn Sucitto’s talks that’s having a big impact on me is the one from the last night of the retreat, titled: Establishing the Templein which he talks about the importance of making a space that can help create a “field of practice.” By which he means establishing a “theme” in the mind — a certain boundary of attention (non-harming, for example) — so that whatever arises in awareness, one can bring it into this field.

He talks about the use of ritual to “potentize” this field of practice, to solemnize it, to give a little more weight to it…to embed it more fully by expressing it as an outward form. One of these rituals is the practice of paying homage to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha:

“I bring to mind and invoke the Buddha, the awakened one, the one truly awakened by himself…through the courage to go out on his own, through the resilience and the resolve to keep practicing — no matter what — and through his penetration to the truth. I wish to bring Buddha to mind in this respect. I wish to bring, invoke the Buddha as the one who, moved by compassion, spent his entire waking life teaching, instructing, encouraging others for their welfare. I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Buddha as someone who had the gifts to be able to express this subtle and profound teaching in worlds that we can still make use of. And so bringing the Buddha to mind, I also acknowledge my ability to bear such a thing in mind, and to receive blessings of the Buddha.  

“I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Dhamma, the truth of the way things really are, revealed by a Buddha — taught in words, modeled in deeds, exemplified, penetrated by view. Dhamma that is immediate, accessible, inviting me inwards and encouraging me to reveal through my own efforts, through my own wisdom. I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Dhamma, which produces harmony, welfare, and liberation. I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Dhamma, which is persisting to this day and taught to this day, and which I aspire to realize for myself.

“I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Sangha, those who have practiced well, those who have practiced directly, those who have practiced with insight, those who have practiced with integrity through thousands of years — many different personalities, many different characteristics — who have struggled and worked and followed the pathway of the Buddha. And who are still present in this day and age. I wish to bring to mind and invoke any members of that extended community of practitioners who I know, who I read about, who act as models for my behavior. I wish to bring to mind and invoke Sangha so that I may also see myself as part of that community of followers.  

(He says this so beautifully, it feels like a blessing.)

He also talks about the practice of making an offering to this field. “By my act of offering, I’m entering into, contributing, participating in this field that we can all bear in mind.” He talks about the symbolism of these ritual offerings and the qualities they represent: Flowers for integrity/virtue/sila; Candles for discernment/clarity/seeing; Water for kindness/compassion; and Incense for samadhi.


His words are lovely. But what touches me the most is the unmistakeable depth of feeling they express. Reading doesn’t do it justice. Listen to him here.

26 Dec
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How to Have Harmonious Relationships

I’ve been listening again to another of Ajahn Sucitto’s profound-and-useful talks, this one given near the end of the November retreat, in which he describes how to bring what we’ve learned during retreat practice directly into our lives outside of retreat — especially in how we engage in relationships both at home and at work.

He says: One of the first principles is that instead of “I want it this way,” or “I want it that way,” or “It shouldn’t be like this..” —  just unhook, step back, and ask “How is this?”

Look for what activations are occurring. Do I feel fed up, dismissed, irritated, happy, worried, concerned….? Hmmmm…. Then ask: How do I find harmony with that? Where does harmony occur with that?

Widen the field. Feel it in the body. Hmmm….”It’s like this now. Feels like this now.” 

This is not stepping out of the field. It’s staying within it, but just disengaging one’s wishes and preferences. “It’s like this now. I’d like it to be like that, but it’s like this.” Hmmm. “How is that?” Can one sustain that, and see what that brings up. What shifts that allows. When we come to that place of disengage — not dissociate — but just lift, then, can we ask: “What’s helpful here? What’s helpful here that allows harmony?”

Maybe taking one’s time. Maybe being more patient. Maybe just — a little more generosity of heart. Maybe just a little more groundedness in the body. Maybe just a little more openness, of acceptance of differences.


This is just the beginning. He also talks about having very clear boundaries, not taking on other people’s issues, etc. I’ve listened to this talk over and over. And it’s been helpful to me — over and over. He talks about “fields” and “potencies” and “differentiation,” but that’s just language. This is not a theoretical talk. It is very, VERY practical.

Check it out.

21 Dec
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Simplify. Get More Comfortable.

I’ve been listening to the talks (there are 43 of them!) from Ajhan Sucitto’s recent month-long retreat at the Forest Refuge. They’re terrific. Some of them I’ve listened to more than once, including this one: Samadhi — Absorbing the Sweet Spot.

Happiness and ease are the forerunners of samadhi,” he says. Many people find it really difficult to access these qualities because as Westerners, we tend to get intellectual/conceptual/”notional” about the process of mindfulness and mediation.

So he likes to give a very different kind of instruction.

He says: Let the body teach you about mindfulness. Let walking teach you about mindfulness. Let eating teach you about mindfulness. Let sitting teach you about mindfulness… The body is where there is direct wisdom that knows: this is stress. [sigh] And there’s the release from that. This is what we want to know. Thinking mind can’t know that because it can always conceive of a stress, of a should, or a could, or of whether I match up to the standard. It will always be doing that… It can not realize the end of stress. And realization is what it’s about.

He suggests instructions that are non-technical: “Put aside what you don’t need. What you feel you need, stay with that for awhile and then after that, see what else you can put aside…..

Simplify is one instruction.

The other instruction is: Get more comfortable.

Put aside the topics that are going to make you more uncomfortable… Attune to qualities that are going to give you a sense of comfort and contentment. Self respect. Bearing in mind one’s skillful action, one’s skillful companions, one’s warm relationships, one’s love…. Just bear it in mind. Drink it in. Drink in the beauty of it…


Try it.

(And definitely listen to the talk. Click here.)