17 Jul
2019
Posted in: Books, Generosity
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The Economy of Generosity

At the Study & Practice class last night, I explained that I set a registration fee for the class ($20), which is a fee-for-service arrangement that participates in our “normal” market economy (in which I collect a fee to cover the costs that I have to pay).

But I teach the class under an entirely different arrangement. It’s what Buddhist call the Practice of Dana, which I think of as an Economy of Generosity: I offer the teachings freely — as an expression of my love and appreciation for these teachings and for those who have taught me — and in doing so, I provide an opportunity for the people who are taking my class to participate in this same Economy of Generosity. By which I mean the opportunity for them to give freely (to me financially, yes, but in other ways too, such as to the class by participating whole-heartedly).

Or not.

Either way is OK with me. (That’s what makes it an Economy of Generosity.)

After the class, I got to talking with a friend about this idea of giving and receiving, and I recalled a book I read when I was in college that had a tremendous impact on me. The book is The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde. (I had mis-remembered the title as: The Erotic Life of Generosity, which maybe says something about why it had such an impact on my understanding of generosity!)

My friend also mentioned a book about Art and Generosity, which had a big impact on him, and after looking around on Google, I think maybe this is the same book! It’s now called The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, and apparently it’s recently been re-published in a special twenty-fifth anniversary edition.

Here’s a sample from the Introduction (original 1983 edition), which now that I’m reading it with “Buddhist eyes,” has a whole other level of meaning:

“There are several distinct senses of ‘gift’ that lie behind these ideas, but common to each of them is the notion that a gift is a thing we do not get by our own efforts. We cannot buy it; we cannot acquire it through an act of will. It is bestowed upon us. Thus we rightly speak of ‘talent’ as a ‘gift,’ for although a talent can be perfected through an effort of will, no effort in the world can cause its initial appearance. Mozart, composing on the harpsichord at the age of four, had a gift.

“We also rightly speak of intuition or inspiration [and I would add: insight] as a gift. As the artist works [as the meditator practices], some portion of his creation [her insight] is bestowed upon him [her]. An idea pops into his head, a tune begins to play, a phrase comes to mind, a color falls in place on the canvas. Usually, in fact, the artist does not find himself engaged or exhilarated by the work, nor does it seem authentic, until this gratuitous element has appeared, so that along with any true creation comes the uncanny sense that ‘I,’ the artist, did not make the work. ‘Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me,’ says D. H. Lawrence.” [The Buddhist teaching of Not-self!]

The first chapter of The Gift continues exploring the nature of gifts and giving:

“…a cardinal property of the gift: whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again, not kept. Or, if it is kept, something of similar value should move on in its stead, the way a billiard ball may stop when it sends another scurrying across the felt, its momentum transferred. You may keep your Christmas present, but it ceases to be a gift in the true sense unless you have given something else away. As it is passed along, the gift may be given back to the original donor, but this is not essential. In fact, it is better if the gift is not returned but is given instead to some new, third party. The essential is this: the gift must always move. There are other forms of property that stand still, that mark boundary or resist momentum, but the gift keeps going.”  

15 Jul
2019
Posted in: Talks
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Maybe This is What’s Going On in Her Mind

As many of you know, my mom (who will be 90 next month), has dementia. This is not an uncommon situation, I know. Recently her condition has deteriorated. Not dramatically. But significantly.

And, well, it’s challenging.

Which is why I am delighted to have found that Phillip Moffitt’s annual daylong retreat for care providers was recorded — all 7 hours and 45 minutes of it — and is available on dharmaseed here.

I’ve only listened to the first half of it, but already I’m feeling more resilitant. (I only wish they had recorded it on video — not just audio — because he does a segment with guided movement instructions that I’m going to try — even without seeing it, because it sure sounds like they’re having a lot of fun!)

The retreat was called Renew and Revitalize: Sustaining Yourself as a Care Provider. I especially like the part where he explains how being present refreshes us.

Check it out.

12 Jul
2019
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on Or Not Caught.

Or Not Caught.

Fear and Love
by Jim Moore
published in The Sun, June 2019 issue

I wish I could make the argument that a river
and a sunset plus a calm disregard of the ego
are enough. But whatever comes next must include
tents in the parking lot, that homeless camp
on the way to the airport,
and the hole in your cheek
from the cancer removed yesterday.
I said last night,
in the few seconds before I fell asleep,
You do realize, don’t you, everything
is falling apart?
You said, OK,
I’ll try to keep that in mind.
And now it is
starting to be late again, just like every other night
for the last seventy-five years. Fear and love,
a friend said in an impromptu speech
at his surprise birthday party,
we all live caught between fear and love.
He tried to smile as he spoke, then sat down.
Yesterday you saw the moon
from the operating table
where they were about to cut you.
Look! you demanded, and the surgeon bent and turned
to see it from your angle,
knife in hand.

11 Jul
2019
Posted in: Retreats, Talks
By    Comments Off on Try This at Home!

Try This at Home!


I just checked dharmaseed and it looks like quite a lot of the talks from the June retreat I sat at the Forest Refuge are already posted and publicly available! (click here for the full list)

Most of the talks I’d already heard. But not the guided instructions Guy offered on Abiding in Emptiness (click here) and the Taking the Practice Home talk Guy gave on the very last day of the retreat, which really sums up the Awareness practice and speaks very clearly about how to integrate it into classic Insight practice. (click here)

You could pretty much do the retreat on your own, right there at home if you’d like, by listening to the talks, starting with first morning instructions on Mindfulness of Breathing, and then going through all the 31 talks that are posted.

Or if you’d just like to take in some of the highlights, I’d recommend:
Falling in Love with the Breath, (Sally)
The Development of Metta, (Sally)
Three Limbs of Equanimity, (Sally)
The Nature of Awareness, Part 2, (Guy)
Morning Instructions: Big Mind, (Sally)
Morning Instructions: Abiding in Emptiness,(Guy)
Taking the Practice Home, (Guy)

***

That should do it.
Enjoy!

9 Jul
2019
Posted in: Books, Practice
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If We Pay Attention

Now that I’m back home, I’ve starting writing again in my “Goodwill” journal where, since this is my Year of Getting to Know Goodwill, I make note of whatever acts of kindness, friendliness, generosity, etc. that I notice during the day — whether done for me, or by me, or between other people.)

So in that spirit, for today’s post I offer this entry from The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay:

“Something I’ve noticed riding on Amtrak trains, like the one I’m on right now between Syracuse and Manhattan, is that people leave their bags unattended for extended periods of time. Maybe they go to the end of the car to use the bathroom, or sometimes they go to the far end of the train to the cafe, which smells vomity like microwave cheese. My neighbor on this train — across the aisle and one row up — disappeared for a good twenty minutes, her bag wide open, a computer peeking out, not that I was checking. She is not unusual in this flaunting of security, otherwise know as trust, on the train. Nearly everyone participates in this practice of trust, and without recruiting a neighbor across the aisle to ‘keep an eye on my stuff while I use the restroom,’ which seems to be a coffee shop phenomenon. Trusting one’s coffee shop neighbor, but not the people in line, et cetera.

“I suppose, given the snugness of a train, especially if it’s full, one might speculate there’s a kind of eyes-on-the-street-ness at play, although it seemed to me, this morning, when I was first leaving my valuables on my seat for pilfering, my laptop and cellphone glittering atop my sweatshirt and scarf, most everyone was sleeping and so provided little if any eyewitness deterrent.

“I suppose I could spend time theorizing how it is that people are not bad to each other, but that’s really not the point. The point is that in almost every instance of our lives, our social lives, we are, if we pay attention, in the midst of an almost constant, if subtle, care taking. Holding open doors. Offering elbows at crosswalks. Letting someone else go first. Helping with the heavy bags. Reaching what’s too high, or what’s been dropped. Pulling someone back to their feet. Stopping at the car wreck, at the struck dog. The alternating merge, also known as the zipper. This care taking is our default mode and it’s always a lie that convinces us to act or believe otherwise. Always.”

***

He’s right. It’s become clear to me — now that I’m paying attention — that we are all swimming in a sea of goodwill.

8 Jul
2019
Posted in: Classes
By    Comments Off on This Year, Summer Starts July 16

This Year, Summer Starts July 16

I’m back from sitting a month-long retreat (with stories to tell) and now I’m just about ready to begin teaching a 5-week Study & Practice class on How to Work with the Five Hindrances. (Details below.)

The first class meets on July 16. Want to attend? There’s still time! Email me here.

Our practice during these five sessions will focus on how to work with what Buddhist texts call the Five Hindrances — five common challenges to meditation:

  • Desire (“If-only-I-could” Mind)
  • Aversion (“If-only-I-could-get-rid-of” Mind)
  • Restlessness and Worry (“I-can’t-settle-down” Mind)
  • Sloth and Torpor (“I-can’t-stay-awake” Mind)
  • Doubt (“I-can’t-do-it” Mind)

***

*When will we meet?
Tuesday evenings, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pmJuly 16 to August 13

*Where will we meet?
First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, 5007 Waterman

*What will we do?
Each session will include a 30-minute sitinstructions, and Q&A.

*What will it cost?
The teachings are offered on a dana (donation) basis, but there is a $20 fee to register (which pays for room rental and fees to maintain this website).

Interested? 
For more information or to register, please e-mail me here.

28 May
2019
Posted in: Practice, Talks, Teachers
By    Comments Off on Find. And Follow.

Find. And Follow.

For today, one last post before I leave on Friday for a month-long retreat at the Forest Refuge:
Ajahn Sucitto’s very succinct response to a pair of written questions submitted during a recent Q&A session (also at the Forest Refuge).

Question #1:
“Is there anyone equivalent to the saints who one can ask for help with one’s practice?”

Question #2:
“If you could only give one suggestion or piece of advice to someone to further them towards liberation, what would that suggestion or piece of advice be?”

Sucitto’s response:
“Well, the answer to both these questions would be: Find a spiritual friend.

“And, if a teacher arises that you find yourself getting good results with, follow that teacher.”

***

I wholeheartedly agree.

After the retreat, I’ll be staying with my spiritual friend and teacher, Mirabai. (That’s us, in the photo above.)

Then I’ll be home on July 3 and hope to post again on July 8. I expect I’ll have a lot to say. Stay tuned.

22 May
2019
Posted in: Practice
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Things Change

Just as I was getting ready to write my blog post yesterday, the tornado sirens started going off and the sky got really dark, so I went to the basement till it brightened up again, but then when I went upstairs, I discovered that the top half of one of the hundred-year-old Sycamore trees in front of my house had broken off and landed on the steps going up to my house (see photo)…


…and on the street in front of my house (see next photo)….


….and on my sweet little car that was parked in front of my house (see third photo).

So. No blog post last night.

And I’m thinking I probably won’t be writing blog posts for the next few day, as it seems I’m going to have to deal with a whole bunch of stuff I hadn’t really planned to be dealing with.

Such is the nature of this ever-changing life.

But there is good news:

No one was hurt. And it looks like my car is damaged, but not destroyed. And my house seems pretty much OK, although I’ll have to get someone to look at the roof. And I have insurance. Which pays for a rental car. And the Forestry Service has already come out and removed the debris. And this happened to me and not to my elderly parents. And it happened this week, while I’m in town, and not while I’m away on retreat for a month! And it’s sunny right now. And, well, lots and lots of other good things.

As well as plenty of not-so-good things, of course.

Being alive. It’s like this.

20 May
2019
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on Widening. Offering. Opening.

Widening. Offering. Opening.

Almost 30 new talks from Ajahn Sucitto’s month-long retreat at the Forest Refuge have already been posted on dharmaseed! (And the retreat is still going on.) Normally I start listening to these talks as soon as they’re posted — in the order they’re recorded, as if I were right there on the retreat — but since I still haven’t quite finished re-listening to the talks from the retreat I was just on, I’ve been holding off.

With a few exceptions.

For example, the ones with great titles such as: The Wisdom of Walking and of Sheepdogs.

Also this lovely little 12-minute talk: Puja — A Daily Going Forth. (“Puja” refers to ritual, devotional practices such as chanting, lighting candles, bowing, etc.) Here’s an excerpt:

Puja is a touching-in point for the day. It’s not necessarily the first thing we do, but it’s the point where we establish a conscious intention to enter Dhamma. We are touching this place in us that wishes to dedicate. This is a very important place (or movement or occasion) in citta — in awareness, in this consciousness stream — where although we can be doing and meeting and losing and winning and so forth (very much dealing with our personal lives and in them), at this point we’re making an occasion where we highlight, underline, illuminate: the quality of dedicating ourselves.

“Or even dedicating on behalf of someone else! Which is really a helpful thing because sometimes we just can’t be bothered. We can get to that place where we’re fed up with ourself. Then we can just: Oh, well, for my mother, my father, my relatives, for the welfare of others… in recognition, in gratitude of those who’ve come before me, who’ve made this body/mind possible, made this Dhamma possible, made this occasion possible… for that I can say: Thank you.

“This is the place in us which is opening. The citta can very much be embroiled with its own kamma and preceptions…. things that happened with no conscious choice (we’re just IN them) and getting embroiled with dealing with that or speculating about it or struggling with it…

“Puja is where we can step out of that process altogether for the moment. Just to dedicate. Somatically, the experience is one of widening, rising, opening. Widening the heart. Bringing something forth. That’s the gesture. The bring-forth is the gesture of widening and opening. And there is a certain relief of the pressure of self in just doing that. Relief from the pressure of becoming, identifying, planning, and so forth. Relief from the tangle and pressure of that. By dedicating, opening, offering. This is the daily going forth….


“This opening quality is called: Buddha (Waking Up)…. We are activating buddha potential, abhicitta (the higher mind), bodhicitta (the awakening heart). The Buddha is someone who has perfected that. So we emulate that…

“Puja is a practice, whereby we strengthen that aspiration and gesture by embodying it. Open the throat. Open the chest. Resonate. Bring forth: Sound. Make offerings: Light, water, flowers, thoughts.

“The consequence of this is that you open to awareness. You unfold the citta from its formulating and fabricating. You unfold it. And it reveals: Awareness.”


17 May
2019
Posted in: Suttas
By    Comments Off on Bring to Light the Mind Jewel

Bring to Light the Mind Jewel

I’m really getting into the Flower Ornament Sutra — which I’ve decided requires reading out loud. I love the sound of all the types of beings — and their amazing names(!) — which the text describes as attending on the Buddha at the moment of his awakening. Here’s a sample:

“There were great enlightening beings numerous as the atoms in the ten buddha-worlds surrounding him. Their names were: Universally Good, Light of the Supreme Lamp of Universal Virtue, Lion Banner of Universal Light, Subtle Light of Flames of Universal Jewels, Banner of Oceans of Qualities of Universal Sounds, Realms of Enlightenment of Radiance of Universal Knowledge, Banner of Flower of a Topknot of Universal Jewels, Pleasing Voice of Universal Awareness, Light of Inexhaustible Virtue of Universal Purity, Mark of Universal Light, Great Brilliance of the Light of the Moon Reflected in the Ocean, Undefiled Treasury of Light of Oceans of Cloudlike Sounds, Born of Wisdom and Adorned with Virtue, Great Light of Sovereign Virtue, Brave Lotus Topknot, Sun Banner of Clouds of Universal Knowledge, Greatly Persevering with Indestructible Courage, Light Banner of Fragrant Flames, Deep Beautiful Sound of Great Enlightened Virtue, Born of Wisdom with the Light of Great Virtue. These and others were the leaders–there were as many as there are atoms in the ten buddha-worlds.”

It goes on from there to list the names of thunderbolt-bearing spirits (Pure Sound of Clouds, being one of my favorites), footstep-following spirits (Joyfully Uttering Sublime Sounds), sanctuary spirits (Wonderful Eyes Raining Flowers), city spirits (Flame Banner Clearly Showing), earth spirits (Fragrant Hair Emitting Light), mountain spirits (Awesome Light Conquering All), forest spirits (Bearing Branches Emitting Radiance), herb spirits (Energy-Augmenting Clear Eyes), crop spirits (Gentle Superb Flavor), river spirits (Roaring Everywhere), ocean spirits (Beautiful Flower Dragon Topknot), water spirits (Freedom of Contentment), fire spirits (Light Destroying the Darkness), wind spirits (Everywhere Manifesting Courageous Action), space spirits (Traveling Everywhere Deeply and Extensively), direction spirits (Forever Ending Confusion), night spirits (Observing the World with Joyful Eyes), day spirits (Exquisite Light of Fragrant Flowers), and more!!!

I can see the full moon from my window right now, so I’m feeling particularly drawn to the names on this list:

“There were also innumerable moon deities, led by such as Moon Godling, Flower King Topknot Halo, Myriad Sublime Pure Lights, Pacifying the Hearts of the World, Luminosity of Tree King Eyes, Manifesting Pure Light, Immutable Light Traveling Everywhere, Sovereign Monarch of Constellations, Moon of Pure Awareness, Great Majestic Light.”

They were present because of their service to the Buddha: “All strived to bring to light the mind-jewel of living beings.” Which I am feeling very grateful for tonight.