15 Oct
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Revolutionary Approach

Tonight is the Dancing with Life KM Group. We’ve moved into Book Two: The Second Noble Truth (which, basically, says that the stress in our lives is caused by insisting that things be the way we want them to be, instead of they way they actually are.)

I’ve highlighted just about all of Chapter 8, but the passage I’m bringing to discuss tonight is:

Craving [insisting that things to be the way we want them to be] creates an illusion, a misperception, a deluded mental reaction, which causes the mind to contract into stress and anxiety. If this state is avoided or released, the mind is naturally calm and luminous

The three Insights of the Second Noble Truth thus represents a revolutionary approach to spiritual development–the utilization of awareness and observation to bring freedom without reliance on beliefs or rituals of any sort. 

(from page 76-7, hardback edition…emphasis mine)

I chose this passage because (1) I am drawn to the assertion that our natural state of mind is calm and luminous. (As opposed to the idea that we are naturally “sinful”.) And (2) I am so glad to have been shown a way to understand my life…in a deep and profound way…without also being asked to check my brain at the door.

12 Oct
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All Are Welcome

The Saturday morning Sitting in the Park meditation group will be….well, sitting in the park!….tomorrow morning (unless it’s pouring down rain) near the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market from 8:30 to 9:00 am. No chanting. No dharma talk. Just sitting.

We’ll be there tomorrow, and the rest of the Saturdays in October. But our last sit of the year will be November 3 (when the Market closes). So join us while you can. All are welcome.

Including your monkey mind!



11 Oct
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Don’t Limit Yourself

Last night I opened the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group with this excerpt from Wild White Horses, by Laurie Anderson.

In the Tibetan map of the world, the world is a circle, and at the center there is an enormous mountain guarded by four gates. And when they draw a map of the world, they draw the map in sand, and it takes months and then when the map is finished, they erase it and throw the sand into the nearest river.

Last fall the Dalai Lama came to New York City to do a two-week ceremony called the Kalachakra, which is a prayer to heal the earth. And woven into these prayers were a series of vows that he asked us to take and before I knew it, I had taken a vow to be kind for the rest of my life. And I walked out of there and I thought: “For the rest of my life?? What have I done? This is a disaster!”

And I was really worried. Had I promised too much? Not enough? I was really in a panic. They had come from Tibet for the ceremony and they were walking around midtown in their new brown shoes and I went up to one of the monks and said, “Can you come with me to have a cappuccino right now and talk?” And so we went to this little Italian place. He had never had coffee before so he kept talking faster and faster and I kept saying, “Look, I don’t know whether I promised too much or too little. Can you help me please?”

And he was really being practical. He said, “Look, don’t limit yourself. Don’t be so strict! Open it up!” He said, “The mind is a wild, white horse and when you make a corral for it, make sure it’s not too small. And another thing: when your house burns down, just walk away. And another thing: keep your eyes open.

And one more thing: Keep moving. Cause it’s a long way home.”

(image from “Offerings,” by Danielle and Olivier Follme)


10 Oct
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For a while now, I’ve been really interested in Pali chants.

Last week, I posted the Pali Homage and Refuges chat I use to open the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group. And last night, at Maplewood Metta, I played a tape of Jesse Vega-Frey leading a group of yogis (people on retreat) in chanting the Pali Karaniya Metta Sutta. (It’s only 5 minutes long. You can listen here.)

This morning, I downloaded a gorgeous recording of Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero (a Sri Lankan monk) chanting the entire Satipatana Sutta, in Pali. I’ve been listening to the first 4 minutes…over and over…since hearing it played as part of a talk given by Greg Scharf. (You can listen to the talk here.)

The entire Satipatana chant is available here (scroll down). The quality of the recording is extraordinary…and the sutta is long….so the chant has been recorded in 3 parts (plus a spoken intro). The whole sutta lasts more than an hour. But even if you just listen to the first few minutes, it can be a truly transportive experience.


(image from “Offerings,” by Danielle and Olivier Follmi)

9 Oct
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Guanyin Again

I went back to look again at Guanyin on Sunday. This was my 7th of the 13 visits I plan to make, each time writing a page or two in my “Now I See” journal. Here’s what I wrote:

Now I see soot on the tips of her fingers. Has she been in a fire? Was it candles? Smoking incense? She is made of wood, so right away I sense danger. Those tender fingers seem impossibly long, eminently vulnerable. They rest, yet seem to ripple, like waves on the ocean, or grass, but more alive, serpent-like almost, but without menace. Her hand, like the rest of her pose, is relaxed, yet reaches out. Not moving, it is the embodiment of potential motion.

But that soot! Surely this was not intended. It suggests age. Fragility. Wear. And use. She was not kept away from life. Protected. There is roughness. And a worn quality that adds its own patina.

I imagine the artist, sanding those fingers. Rubbing, caressing, stroking. How intimate! Now I see the sensuality of those curves, the tender spaces between the fingers, the exposed openness of the palm. And now the possibility of holding hands with this — goddess? — has suddenly appeared with such visceral awareness! The act of her creation must have been, quite literally, an act of making love.

Now I see that her fingers, so alive, seem to be reaching out, responding, ready at any moment to return the caress. And now the fact that her hand is soiled makes that potential seem all the more vivid. I can look at her closely like this from the side, but when I step to the front, I feel too bold. She seems to watch me, with eyes almost closed, and I feel impertinent. Out of bounds. She lets me look. But she sees that I see. And this causes me step away.

How sentient she seems, and yet I know that she is not. It’s a projection of my own mind, of course. A story made up from the arrangements of features, the shape of limbs, the form of hands. She is carved from wood. Which, in fact, was once living…in the form of a tree. Not conscious. But alive. Then the tree became wood. And the wood became what I see in this moment. Which eventually will decay, turn back into carbon and oxygen. Which will then be taken up again, into another form. Perhaps human. Perhaps not.

But now I do not see a piece of wood. And certainly not a tree. I see a human-like form. One that my mind responds to by making associations and projections. Which is not to say that there is anything wrong. When I look at her, I am seeing the workings/habits/skills (even) of my mind. Of this midstream…if you want to get all Buddhist about it.

Looking at her, I see myself. This particular human incarnation. The causes and conditions that have brought “me” here, that have resulted in my seeing what it is that I see when I look at her.  

So she is me. And I am her.

Together we respond to the world, with eyes half-open. And fingers, dark with soot. 

8 Oct
Posted in: Talks
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Dharma TV

More free videoconferences! 

The Compassionate Brain
Rick Hanson
, author of Buddha’s Brain, will host a 7-part video series called The Compassionate Brain. The series begins tonight, 7-8pm Central time and will continue for the following seven Monday nights. Each week, he will discuss the power of neuro-plasticity with world-class teachers: Richie Davidson, Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Dacher Keltner, Kelly McGonigal, Kristin Neff and Jean Houston. You can watch live or view archived videos by clicking here.

Open Your Heart, Be the Change
Qigong Master Mingtong Gu
 will host an on-line series of conversations with respected thought leaders: James Baraz, Sharon Salzberg, Jean Houston, James O’Dea, Marci Shimoff, Janet Attwood, Norm Shealy and others. Beginning Tuesday, Oct 16, 3:30-4:30pm Central time, watch live or view archived videos here.


5 Oct
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Mindfulness at Work

My very first introduction to Mindfulness meditation — to any meditation, for that matter — was at a 3-day silent retreat offered by the company I worked for at the time: Monsanto. Strange, I know. But it was a life-changing experience….mainly, I think, because the teacher was Mirabai Bush.

Mirabai is the Founding Director of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (just to name one of her incarnations). And she has recently teamed with More Than Sound to offer a FREE, monthly webinar series on the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace.

The next webinar will be Thursday, Oct 11 at 2:00 pm Central Time. It will feature a live discussion between Mirabai and Dr. Kyra Bobinet, President of Senior Care Solutions at Aetna. You can register for it here, or view a streaming video shortly after the webcast here.

The webinar will cover:

* Dr. Bobinet’s best practices learned from developing and leading Aetna’s clinical efficacy studies with the company’s mind-body stress reduction programs

* Discussion of Aetna’s Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace clinical trial, and the study results that were published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology

* Mirabai Bush’s experience with developing the curriculum for Google’s Search Insider Yourself course, including participant reports of reduced stress, increased productivity, and more creative problem solving after taking the course

* A short, guided mindfulness exercise led by Mirabai Bush

Stay Tuned: The next webinar in the series will held on Nov 14 and will feature a discussion with Mirabai Bush and Richard Davidson, Ph.D., director of The Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain.


4 Oct
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Wakefulness, Wisdom, Community

Last night at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, someone asked if we could spend some of our time learning the Pali chants I use to start the sit. So we did!

Here’s the Homage part of the chant in Pali (which we repeat 3 times):
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa

Here it is in English:
Homage to the Blessed, Noble and Pefectly Enlightened One

Here’s the Refuges part in Pali (normally done 3 times, but we just do it once):
Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami

Sangham saranam gacchami 

Here it is in English:
To the Buddha I go for refuge
To the Dhamma I go for refuge
To the Sangha I go for refuge

For me, this means that I turn to Wakefulness (the Buddha), Wisdom (the Dhamma) and Community (the Sangha) for my place of safety and rest.

Of course chants are to be heard, not read. Click here for a terrific talk by Greg Scharf, where you can listen to these chants, and hear a beautiful reflection on what it means to pay Homage and Take Refuge.

(image from Offerings by Danielle and Olivier Follmi)

3 Oct
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Fruits of Action

This month’s DPP homework has arrived and one of the topics is Karma. Cool. Turns out, one of the assigned readings is from Small Boat, Great Mountain, which I just finished (and posted about yesterday). So I’m ahead of the game already!

Another of the readings is from Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield. Here’s a sampling:

“The law of karma refers to the law of cause and effect: that every volitional action brings about a certain result. If we act motivated by greed, hatred, or delusion, we are planting the seed of suffering; when our acts are motivated by generosity, love, or wisdom, then we are creating the karmic conditions for abundance and happiness.

“And analogy from the physical world illustrates this: if we plant an apple seed, the tree that grows will bear apples, not mangoes. And once the apple seed is planted, no amount of manipulation or beseeching or complaining will induce the tree to yield a mango. The only meaningful action that will produce a mango is to plant a mango seed. Karma is just such a law of nature, the law of cause and effect on the psychophysical plane.

“…Another dimension of the law of karma helps in understanding how individual personalities develop. While it is true that there is no enduring entity, no unchanging self that can be called “I,” it is also quite obvious that each of us is a uniquely changing and recognizable pattern of elements. 

“This comes about because each of us has in our own way, both consciously and unconsciously, cultivated different mind states. If we cultivate loving-kindness, we experience its taste in the moment and at the same time are strengthening it as a force in the mind, making it easier for it to arise again. When we are angry, we experience the suffering of that anger as present karma and are also strengthening that particular pattern of mind.

“…Who we are as personalities is a collection of all the tendencies of mind that have been developed, the particular energy configurations we have cultivated.”

But that’s not the end of the story:

“Our lives are a dynamic process of energy transformation, constantly flowing and changing, and we each have the power to determine the direction of our lives and to live in accord with our deepest values.

“If we become more conscious and awake, developing the ability to observe clearly, we can being to use our energy creatively and not be bound so blindly to past conditioning.”

Good thing!

2 Oct
Posted in: Books
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I’ve been reading a wonderful — and fascinating — book, called Small Boat, Great Mountain. It’s a compilation of talks by Ajahn Amaro given at a Dozgchen/Vipassana retreat in partnership with Tsoknyi Rinpoche at Spirit Rock several years ago. It’s wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it’s available FREE on iBooks or as a pdf here.

I am tempted to quote it at length. (It’s VERY readable. I’ve highlighted passages on just about every page.) But I’ll spare you that. Instead, I’ll give you a peek at the table of contents:

Essence of Mind
Ultimate and Conventional Reality
The Place of Nonabiding

Being Buddha
The View from the Forest
Cessation of Consciousness

Immanent and Transcendent

Who Are You?
No Buddha Elsewhere
Off the Wheel
The Portable Retreat

There’s also a very interesting Forward written by Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche, an entertaining Preface by Guy Armstrong, and an excellent selection of Tibetan and Theravada chants.

Check it out!

(image from The Buddha Tarot by Robert M. Place)