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.)

12 Jan
2019
Posted in: Classes
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Introducing: Study and Practice Class

Beginning March 5, I will offer a 6-week Study and Practice class on the Buddha’s foundational instructions for meditation practice — the Satipatthana Sutta.

Although not required reading, we will use Bhikkhu Analayo’s Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide as our reference text.

This is an intermediate-level class, suitable for practitioners who are interested in going beyond the basics of Mindfulness of Breathing.

The course will include instruction in:

* Mindfulness of Body (including Breathing and Four Elements contemplation)

* Mindfulness of Feeling Tone (Pleasant, Unpleasant, Neutral)

* Mindfulness of Mind States (Thoughts and Emotions)

* Mindfulness of Categories of Experience (Hindrances and Enlightenment Factors)

***

When: Tuesday evenings, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, March 5-April 9
Where: First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, 5007 Waterman
What: Each session will include a silent 30-minute sit as well as meditation instructions, discussion, and Q&A.
Cost: The teachings will be offered on a dana (donation) basis, but there is a $20 fee to register.

Interested? Email me here.

***

My teaching credentials: I have completed four years of training through Spirit Rock, where I am certified as a Community Dharma Leader. I’ve practiced in the Western Insight tradition for 20 years with a variety of teachers including Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg — and Bhikkhu Analayo. I’ve spent more than 450 days on silent retreat including several 1- and 2-month intensive retreats in the U.S., South Africa, and Burma (Myanmar). My primary teacher is Phillip Moffitt.

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.”

21 Dec
2018
Posted in: Art, Racism
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My New Favorite Christmas Movie!

Yesterday the members of one of the Waking Up to Whiteness anti-racism groups I’ve working with went together to see Green Book, which I had thought would be difficult-to-watch-but-“good-for-me” — but which turned out to be NOT-difficult-to-watch (yet also not sugar-coated) and not just a “good experience” for me, but a WONDERFUL MOVIE for just about everyone!

Here’s the synopsis, which is based on a TRUE story: “Dr. Don Shirley is a world-class African-American pianist who’s about to embark on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. In need of a driver and protection, Shirley recruits Tony Lip, a tough-talking bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. Despite their differences, the two men soon develop an unexpected bond while confronting racism and danger in an era of segregation.” 

AND it’s got a Christmas-Eve ending!

GO SEE IT.

(Click here for the official trailer.)

20 Dec
2018
Posted in: Books, Practice
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In Pali, “Sati” is Feminine

Imagine my surprise — and delight! — when I read these instructions by Bhikkhu Analayo in his recent book, Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide.

“It can be useful to take into consideration that the word sati in the Pali language is feminine.

“My suggestion would be to relate to sati, to mindfulness, as a feminine quality. In this way, sati can be understood as receptively assimilating with the potential of giving birth to new perspectives.

“Right away from the moment of waking up in the morning our good friend sati can already be there, as if waiting for us. She is ready to accompany us throughout the rest of the day, encouraging us to stay receptive and open, soft and understanding. She never gets upset when we happen to forget her, she is right there with us again.

“Visualizing the practice in terms of a coming back to the presence of a good friend helps to avoid mistaking sati for a forceful type of hyper-attentiveness that requires strained effort in order to be maintained.

“Instead, being in her presence carries the flavors of an open receptivity and a soft alertness to whatever is taking place.”

18 Dec
2018
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When I Remember It…

Just a little more from Ajahn Sucitto’s Dec blog post:

When heart-minds are in resonance, energy transfers and there is a corresponding glow — the ‘love’ effect… And when Dhamma is shared, the heart-mind can light up with a steady radiance — for good reason.

“…All the more reason then, to internalize the potency that has been thus aroused.

“Accordingly the Buddha questioned Visākhā, the devout matriarch of Savatthi, when she asked to make offerings to the Sangha: ‘What benefits do you see for yourself …?’ 

“Notice her impeccable reply: When I remember it, I shall be glad. When I am glad, I shall be happy. When my mind is happy, my body will be tranquil. When my body is tranquil, I shall feel pleasure. When I feel pleasure, my mind will become concentrated. That will maintain the spiritual faculties in me and also the strengths and also the enlightenment factors.’ (Vinaya, Mahavagga, 8)

Wisely managed, inspiration and gratitude result in liberation.

***

(Thank you, Phillip.)

17 Dec
2018
Posted in: Retreats, Social Justice, Teachers
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And Finally…

One of the topics at the recent course on Suffering and Oppression, taught by Lila Kate Wheeler and Lama Rod Owens, was the sexual and physical abuse perpetrated by leaders in some Buddhist communities. Our discussion focused mainly on the Rigpa lineage, since the leader of that organization — Sogyal Rinpoche — had been Lama Rod’s primary teacher. (Sogyal stepped down in 2017 when the abuse he’d perpetrated for decades finally came to light.)

Unfortunately this kind of behavior is not limited to any one tradition or organization, so I am very glad to see that Ajahn Sucitto has just written a blog post on this subject, titled The Power: to Bless or Abuse, which I highly recommend.

Of course Sucitto’s blog post doesn’t begin to cover this topic, but I like that he sums up his thoughts with this advice:

“The duty of the teacher, lay or in robes, is to recognize that their position and Dhamma will give them power – whether they wish for it or not.

“Thus my advice to disciples: check as to whether a teacher is in touch with a source outside his/her own mind; whether they operate within conventions that are widely held to be virtuous; and whether they are accountable to a group of peers or elders.

“And to teachers: ward off titles and empowerments; while occupying the teacher’s seat, pay homage to the source of those teachings; and finally when one has completed a teaching, get off that sacred seat and walk away.”

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.