29 Nov
Posted in: Groups, Practice
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After the Sitting

We had a sweet little group at the Hi-Pointe Sitting last night, and then afterwards, several of us went over to Kaldi’s for chai and biscotti and a bit more sangha building.

There was discussion about looking for an “overview” or “map” of the teachings and I said that the basics of the practice are the Four Noble Truths.

Traditionally, the Four Noble Truths are:
(1) There is suffering.
(2) The cause of suffering is clinging.
(3) There is an end to suffering.
(4) The way to the end of suffering is the Noble Eight-fold Path

The Eight-Fold Path is:
(1) Wise View
(2) Wise Intention
(3) Wise Speech
(4) Wise Action
(5) Wise Livelihood
(6) Wise Effort
(7) Wise Mindfulness
(8) Wise Concentration

Or, more conversationally, these truths are:
(1) Even at it’s best, life is challenging and filled with disappointments.
(2) The reason for this is that we are always wanting things to be different than they are (easier, better, more satisfying, longer lasting, etc.).
(3) It doesn’t have to be like that.
(4) The way out of this difficulty is to follow the path offered by the Buddha.

This path is:
(1) Understanding the way things really are
(2) Turning one’s mind toward that understanding
(3) Speaking in ways that are not harmful
(4) Acting in ways that are not harmful
(5) Supporting oneself in ways that are not harmful
(6) Doing things that are wholesome and not doing things that are unwholesome
(7) Being aware of what’s actually happening
(8) Training the mind to be calm and collected

28 Nov
Posted in: Practice
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As part of this month’s DPP homework, we have been asked to read/recite the Buddha’s teaching on kamma at the beginning, middle and end of each day…and to reflect on this in our meditation. (Kamma — or karma in Sanskrit — means “action.”) Want to join me?

All beings are the owners of their actions,
heir to their actions,
born of their actions,
related through their actions,
and live dependent on their actions.

Whatever they may do,
for good or for ill,
to that they will fall heir. 

27 Nov
Posted in: Books, Practice
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The End of Kamma

The DPP homework for December has arrived and one of the assignments is to read the preface and first chapter of Kamma and the End of Kamma, by Ajahn Sucitto. It’s a very enlightening book. So much so, that one of the previous DPP-ers paid to have 100 copies shipped from England, as a gift to each us in the current program. (The printed book is free, but only available in England. Electronic versions are also free on iBooks and here in pdf form.)

I am so glad to be focusing on this book for a whole month. (A whole year would not be too much!) I’ve already been using it for meditation instruction at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group.

Here’s a sample:
Sit in an upright alert position that allows your body to be free from discomfort and fidgeting yet encourages you to be attentive. Let your eyes close or half-close. Bring your mental awareness to bear on your body, feeling its weight, pressures, pulses and rhythms. Bring up the suggestion of settling in to where you are right now, and put aside other concerns for the time being.

Take a few slow out-breaths sensing your breath flowing out into the space around you; let the in-breath begin by itself. Sense how the in-breath draws from the space around you. Attune to the rhythm of that process, and interrupt any distracting thoughts by re-establishing your attention on each out-breath.

Bring to mind any instances of people’s actions that have touched you in a positive way, in terms of kindness, or patience, or understanding. Repeatedly touch the heart with a few specific instances, dwelling on the feeling that it evokes.

Stay with the most deeply-felt recollection for a minute or two, with a sense of curiosity: “How does this affect me?” Sense any effect in terms of heart. There may be a quality of uplift, or of calming, or of firmness. You may even detect a shift in your overall body tone. Allow yourself all the time in the world to be here with no particular purpose other than to feel how you are with this in a sympathetic listening way.

Settle into that feeling, and focus particularly on the mood tone, which may be of brightness or of stability or uplift. Put aside analytical thought. Let any images come to mind and pass through. Dwell upon and expand awareness of the sense of vitality or stillness, com for, space or light.

 Conclude the process by feeling fully who you are in that state. First feel how you are in bodily terms. Then notice what inclinations and attitudes seem natural and important when you are dwelling in your place of value. Then bring those to your daily-life situation by asking: “What is important to me now? What matters most?” Give yourself itme to let the priorities of action establish themselves in accordance with that.

26 Nov
Posted in: Practice, Sangha at Large
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Starting Now

One of the many best things about being part of this Dedicated Practitioner Program is the amazing group of people I’m getting to know. For example, I was invited to spend the night before the retreat at the San Francisco home of Tony and Maggie. (Tony is a current DPP-er and Maggie completed the program a few years ago.) When I arrived, David (another DPP-er) was already there, and as we were talking, he just happened to mention that he had spend the last month walking the Camino de Santiago.

That’s a 500-mile walk across Spain! 

And then just as I was saying how awesome I thought that was, and how I had once thought about doing it, but had decided it was just not realistic….Tony said that HE had ALSO walked it. Twice!

And then later, at one of our DPP small-group lunches, I mentioned my astonishment that David had walked the Camino and then Leahe (another DPP-er) said that a friend of hers….a friend about my age AND my SHAPE…had also just finished walking it. And then Carolyn (my weekly check-in DPP Buddy) said that SHE had always wanted to walk it, and that maybe if I were going to be doing it…..

Well OK then.

I’m going to do it!

Not next year, because believe it or not, next year is already pretty much booked. And besides, much preparation…including some serious training….will need to be done.

But the year after that, I’m doing it.

And in the mean time….

I’ve been out walking!


21 Nov
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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Dharma Buddies

At the retreat, one of the teachers (Anushka Fernandopulle) mentioned that early in her dharma life, she decided to take on the practice of reading one sutta every day. There are LOTS of suttas (teachings)….152 in the Middle Length Discourses alone…so I’m sure it’s a many-year practice, but somehow the idea really inspired me and I decided to do the same thing.

Our primary text for the Dedicated Practitioner Program is The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Majjhima Nikaya), translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, so I’ve started with that. (Bhikkhu Bodhi, by the way, was at the retreat! Which I think was part of the reason I was so inspired.)

We’ve already read quite a few of these suttas (the Satipatthana Sutta was the subject of one entire retreat) but reading ALL of them, one by one, day after day…that’s a whole other thing.

Luckily, one of my DPP Dharma Buddies ALSO decided to take on the practice.

I’ve just finished reading #9. These teachings were orally transmitted for the first several hundred years, so they’re formulaic and repetitive to say the least.

But there’s also something profound about the form….and the pace.

I feel grateful to have found this path and to be on this journey.

Still, it’s good not to be going it alone.

(image from Danielle and Olivier Follmi)



20 Nov
Posted in: Retreats
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I think it’s fascinating to see all the different ways people try to make themselves comfortable in the meditation hall. Here are a few examples. (My own is included.)


























































































19 Nov
Posted in: Retreats
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Room with a View

Hey there! I’m back from retreat at Spirit Rock and have MUCH to say, but it will have to wait till I get caught up with emails. In the mean time, I leave you with a peek into the meditation hall.

Here’s a view looking toward the front.








Here’s a view looking across, toward the back.








And here’s a view from the floor…..looking up!










I’ll post more tomorrow. Stay tuned.



6 Nov
Posted in: Retreats
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Back on Monday, Nov 19

I’m on my way to Spirit Rock for the next Dedicated Practitioner Program (DPP) retreat and then to spend a few days with Dharma friends I’ve met through the program. The DPP teachings are awesome, but I’m finding that the real jewel of the program is the connection with fellow practitioners.

This will be the 4th of 5 retreats. We started in May of 2011, and will finish in May 0f 2013. I’ll be sad to see it end. But, actually, this is just the beginning.

I’ll be back in DharmaTown on Monday, Nov. 19. In the mean time, I leave you with this photo by staffer, Walt Opie, taken from the courtyard in front of the Spirit Rock meditation hall. I’ll be standing at exactly this spot quite often over the next several days. Wishing, in gladness and in safety: May all beings be at ease.

This photo is available to download as wallpaper for your computer desktop by clicking here.

5 Nov
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Abbra Caddabra!

This month’s DPP homework has arrived and one of the topics is The Five Aggregates. This is a key teaching, which is hard to fully get, but one that’s certainly intriguing. The Buddha looked at his experience and found that everything he felt himself to be could be categorized into five groups (aggregates), and that none of these were really substantial, none were “who he was.”

The five categories are:
(1) the body
(2) the feeling that experiences are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral
(3) the perception/recognition of knowing what things are (oh, yeah, that’s a bird!)
(4) the thought patterns that include emotions, attitudes, fantasies, likes/dislikes, etc.
(5) the consciousness that is aware of things that are seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted, or thought

One of our readings is the Phena Sutta, in which the Buddha offers metaphors for the nature of each of these five. The body, he says, is like a pile of foam. Feelings, like a bubble in a pond. Perception, like a mirage. Thought patterns, like a banana tree (which has no core). And conscious, he says, is like a magic trick.

“Now suppose that a magician or magician’s apprentice were to display a magic trick at a major intersection, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, and appropriately examine it. To him….it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a magic trick?

“In the same way, a monk sees, observes, and appropriately examines any consciousness that is past, future or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him….it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in consciousness?”

Try it!

2 Nov
Posted in: Sangha at Large
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Dharma Desktop

The Spirit Rock e-Newsletter just arrived with lots of interesting stuff, including a free, hi-res download of this photo taken at Spirit Rock by Walt Opie….and which makes very cool wallpaper for you computer desktop! (The full image is horizontal and proportioned to fit most computer screens, but it’s cropped here to fit the blog window.) Check it out here (scroll down).