16 May
2019
Posted in: APP, Practice, Retreats
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Is There Something That’s Stopping You?

Another reflection from one of the sessions Phillip led at the Nature of Awareness retreat:

“Awareness bathes each of us in unconditional acceptance. It doesn’t move toward or away from any aspect of our personality. It is unconditionally accepting of whatever arises from this endless potential that a human mind is capable of creating.

“Awareness knows and accepts. It does not judge.

“Rest in awareness and let the multiplicity be known, and accepted. What somehow can not be accepted, hold with tenderness.

Is there something that you believe about yourself that’s stopping you in your movement toward freedom? Something that’s blocking you? Freezing you?

“If there is, in this very moment, can you hold it in compassion? Can you let yourself rest in the knowing of this?”

15 May
2019
Posted in: Books
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Raining Inexhaustible Quantities

At the beginning the Dedicated Practitioner Program (DPP) in November of 2012, I started a practice of reading one sutta from the Pali canon each day. I began with the Majjhima Nikaya (Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha), then went on to the Samyutta Nikaya (Connected Discourses), then to the Anguttara Nikaya (Numerical Discourses), then finally to the Digha Nikaya (Long Discourses). This practice took me way past the end of the DPP program, and even way past the whole of the Community Dharma Leader (CDL) program — six years in all. (I finished in December of 2018. There are a LOT of suttas!)

After that, I took a break.

But now that the Advanced Practitioner Program (APP) has begun, once again I feel the desire to take something like that on.

During one of his talks at the first APP retreat on the Nature of Awareness (which is the retreat I just attended), Guy Armstrong mentioned the Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Ornament Scripture), which he said is the foundational text for later schools of Buddhism (Hua-yen, Chan, Dzogen, and Mahamudra) and which has greatly influenced many others’ way of thinking about the nature of awareness and of consciousness.

When he said that, I immediately recalled listening to Jack Kornfield read from that very text at one of the early DPP retreats and being totally blown away it — by the imagery and the scope and the sheer wow-ness of it.

So I’ve decided that THAT’s what I’m going to read next. This is no small undertaking. The book is actually a series of 39 books, with introduction and summary, plus an amplification of and commentary on Book 39. And: It’s 1,643 pages long. (So this may take me another six years!)

But I’m up for it.

Because…well, here’s how it starts:

“Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was in the land of Magadha, in a state of purity, at the site of enlightenment, having just realized true awareness. The ground was solid and firm, made of diamond, adorned with exquisite jewel discs and myriad precious flowers, with pure clear crystals. The ocean of characteristics of the various colors appeared over an infinite extent.

“There were banners of precious stones, constantly emitting shining light and producing beautiful sounds. Nets of myriad gems and garlands of exquisitely scented flowers hung all around. The finest jewels appeared spontaneously, raining inexhaustible quantities of gems and beautiful flowers all over the earth. There were rows of jewel trees, their branches and foliage lustrous and luxuriant. By the Buddha’s spiritual power, he caused all the adornments of this enlightenment site to be reflected therein.

“The tree of enlightenment was tall and outstanding. Its trunk was diamond, its main boughs were lapis lazuli, its branches and twigs were of various precious elements. The leaves, spreading in all directions, provided shade, like clouds. The precious blossoms were of various colors, the branching twigs spread out their shadows.

“Also the fruits were jewels containing blazing radiance. They were together with the flowers in great arrays. The entire circumference of the tree emanated light; within the light there rained precious stones, and within each gem were enlightening beings, in great hosts like clouds, simultaneously appearing.

“Also, by virtue of the awesome spiritual power of the Buddha, the tree of enlightenment constantly gave forth sublime sounds speaking various truths without end.”

***

Let me just say: the Pali canon reads nothing like that! Stay tuned.

14 May
2019
Posted in: Practice, Retreats, Teachers
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The Mind Can Rest

I can’t give you a link to the recorded talks from the Nature of Awareness retreat I just went to, because those talks are only available to people who attended the retreat. But I can report on my own experience, and my experience is this:

I find myself returning again and again to the following words, which struck me as deeply significant when Phillip offered them during his guided meditation on the Earth and Wind Elements:

“In the stillness, the mind can find ground. Can rest. But also in movement. Attention can rest in knowing movement. Attention can rest in regard to a moving object — whether it’s the wind element, or thoughts, or desire or aversion or joy… Attention can rest. This knowing capacity is not dependent on whether the object that is being know is still or moving. 

“This stillness, that allows the resting, is awareness.”

13 May
2019
Posted in: Poems
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Only the Cause and End of Movement

Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement…

— from Burnt Norton, Four Quartets
by T.S. Eliot

9 May
2019
Posted in: Classes
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Summer Session: 5-Week Study & Practice Class

I will be on retreat during the month of June, but beginning July 16, I plan to offer a 5-week Study & Practice class on How to Work with the Five Hindrances. (Hint: Practice with them!)

This will be an intermediate-level class, suitable for practitioners who want to understand how to deal with these five common challenges to meditation practice:

  • Desire (wanting to get something)
  • Aversion (wanting to get rid of something)
  • Restlessness and Worry (nervous energy)
  • Sloth and Torpor (sleepiness, dullness, lack of energy)
  • Doubt (lack of confidence)

This is the second course in the new Study & Practice class series I plan to offer periodically throughout the year. Each course is designed to stand alone, so no need to have taken the first series (an overview of the Satipatthana Sutta) to benefit from the second. Of course, it would be ideal for those those who took the first course to follow up with the second, but it’s definitely not necessary to have taken one before the other.

***

When: Tuesday evenings, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pmJuly 16 to August 13
Where: First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, 5007 Waterman
What: Each session will include a 30-minute sit, instructions, and Q&A.
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 contact me BEFORE MAY 31 OR AFTER JULY 3. E-mail 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 more than 20 years with a variety of teachers including Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, and many more. 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 mentoring teacher is Phillip Moffitt.

8 May
2019
Posted in: Practice
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We’re Practicing, Not Resulting

More notes from the retreat on Phillip Moffitt’s instructions for Living an Intentional Life:

“We are living intentionally. We are learning to live intentionally. Each moment is a moment of practice. It is NOT a moment of resulting. So often we get confused and we get oriented to results, and that I call: resulting.

“Practicing is: This is another moment to practice. If we practice with clear intention — using the skills we have — results follow as best they are able, given the conditions.

“This is easily provable. And yet we often don’t have that kind of faith, or just that kind of remembering: “I’m practicing, I’m not resulting. All parts of me are welcome, so I can just let go. I can just be here.

“I know how to respond. If I react instead of responding, I know how to respond to my reacting. And if I react to my reacting, then I still know how to respond!

“It take such a small amount of faith, of confidence — but it is critical. And we come to that confidence, that faith, by remembering: This is what we’re about.

“The path is reliable. We just have to practice.”

7 May
2019
Posted in: Teachers
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Mirabai…and ME!

In the midst of making travel plans to attend the June month-long retreat at the Forest Refuge (in Barre, MA), I took a quick look at Mirabai Bush’s new website, since I’ll be staying a few days with her after the retreat is over — Mirabai is my “Dharma Godmother” — and while I was scrolling down to look at her calendar, I came across this picture. (above) That’s Mirabai, on the right, with blond hair, dressed in black, holding a microphone and looking across the room, directly at…ME!!!!

Yes, that’s me!!!, in the purple long-sleeve t-shirt, with cropped reddish-orange hair, and funky black-and-white-checked glasses. I’m not sure, but I think this was taken in about 2010. It was at a conference on Contemplative Practices in Academia at the Garrison Institute (in upstate New York), which I had more or less “crashed” (I am not in academia), because it was the only way I knew, back then, to get to be in the room with her. You can see how riveted I was.

At lot has changed since then (not the least of which is my hair!) but I would still go to extraordinary lengths to be in any room that Mirabai is in.

I love you, Mirabai. I’ll see you soon.

6 May
2019
Posted in: Poems
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If,

Amitabha’s vow
by Gary Snyder

“If, after obtaining Buddhahood, anyone in my land
gets tossed in jail on a vagrancy rap, may I
not attain highest perfect enlightenment.

wild geese in the orchard
frost on the new grass

“If, after obtaining Buddhahood, anyone in my land
loses a finger coupling boxcars, may I
not attain highest perfect enlightenment.

mare’s eye flutters
jerked by the lead-rope
stone-bright shoes flick back
ankles trembling: down steep rock

“If, after obtaining Buddhahood, anyone in my land
can’t get a ride hitch-hiking all directions, may I
not attain highest perfect enlightenment.

wet rocks buzzing
rain and thunder southwest
hair, beard, tingle
wind whips bare legs
we should go back
we don’t

***

(Thank you, Brian)

3 May
2019
Posted in: Poems
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Then It is Time

Also Known As
by Jim Moore
published in The Sun, May 2019 issue

If you are more close to the dying
than you would like to be, then it is time for the sky
to grow larger than the earth, than the sea even.
You need to go to that place where your story
is seriously quiet. Nothing in it counts
compared to the things the sky
calls out to: birds, clouds, the occasional cypress
that has reached beyond itself.
You could call it a kind of waiting
and that would be fair. There is a green bench
— a corner of heaven, you could say —
and there you can sit in the shade
and watch the grandfather and grandson walk by,
hand in hand. The little one makes the older one laugh
again and again, and that is the way it works
in heaven. Also known as going home.
Also known as getting over yourself.

1 May
2019
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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This is What Matters to Me

For those of you who were at Sangha this past Sunday, here is the “Write This Down” list I promised from Phillip Moffitt’s closing night talk at the Advanced Practitioner retreat:

  1. Know for yourself and remember: This is what matters.
  2. Be clear as to your aspiration: If this is what matters, then my aspiration is to be in relation to it in this particular way.
  3. Act with intention: My goals and the means for reaching those goals may change, but my moment-to-moment intention is based on my values — and these do not fluctuate.
  4. Maintain the commitment: Living an intentional life requires commitment, which I will cultivate in this particular way.

It was quite extraordinary to have a teacher say: “Write this down” in the middle of a dharma talk! So I’m inspired to take it on:

  1. This is what matters to me: A calm, clear mind and a peaceful loving heart.
  2. This is what I aspire to: Freedom from “Judging Mind.”
  3. This is what my intention is: To act with kindness and goodwill, as best I am able.
  4. This is how I will maintain my commitment: Practice daily (Year of Getting to Know Goodwill); deepen practice by going on retreats; meet regularly with a wise and caring teacher (Phillip).

***

What matters to you?