Browsing Category "Practice"
14 Dec
2012
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Impermanent

All conditioned things are impermanent,
Their nature is to arise and pass away.
To live in harmony with this truth
Brings true happiness.

For almost two years now, as part of my evening ritual, I have chanted these line (in Pali and in English) every night before going to bed. I find them soothing. Especially now, since my dear, sweet, affectionate, 15-year-old cat….Ruby…is very, very near her death.

 

 

 

 

(image from “A Whole World,” by Coupire and Louchard)

13 Dec
2012
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What Am I Supposed to Do?

More from Kamma and the End of Kamma, by Ajahn Sucitto:

“Meditation is a deeply transformative activity. This may sound strange, as meditation doesn’t look that active: it ofter centers on sitting still, and within that, in silence. And as for doing anything with the mind….all that apparently entails is a few seemingly inconsequential things like bringing attention onto the sensations associated with breathing; or, maybe witnessing thoughts as they pass through. Meditation doesn’t seem to be a very significant process at all.

“Beginners ask: ‘What am I supposed to do with my mind to make it better…what should I think about?‘ In fact, one point about meditation is that it’s about moderating that ‘doing’ energy; and consequently being more receptive.

“The teaching is that the more we moderate our energy in this way, the more we’re going to arrive at a resultant brightness, confidence and clarity. Then restlessness, worry, and impulses to distort ourselves don’t arise.

“And because of this, meditation can generate far-reaching effects in our life: we get to enjoy and value stillness and simplicity, and that inclines us towards wanting less and letting go.

“Meditation centers around two functions. The first is a kind of healing, a tonic. It’s called ‘calming’ (samatha); the settling and easing of the bodily and mental energies. The second function is ‘insight’ (vipassana), which is more a matter of looking into the body/mind that has become calm, taking in how things really are.

“The two functions work together: as you settle down, your attention gets clearer, and as you see things more clearly, there’s less agitation, confusion or things to fix. And where the two processes conclude is in guiding the mind–or rather the moods, attitudes and memories that get us going–to a place of resolution.

“Meditation is about action that leads to the end of action.”

12 Dec
2012
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May All Beings….

Tonight at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, I plan to offer instructions on the practice of Metta meditation. Metta is a Pali word that is often translated as “loving-kindness”….a word that, to my ear, sounds stilted and “saintly” (and therefore disconnected from my everyday life.) But the root word of “metta” is the same as the word for “friend,” so I prefer the more colloquial translations, which are “friendliness” and “goodwill.”

Here are the Buddha’s words on the practice of Goodwill (Metta Sutta SN 1.8):

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who seeks the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all being be at ease.

 Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this mindfulness.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense-desires,
Is not born again into this world. 

(translation by Amaravati Sangha, image from “Offering,” by Danielle and Olivier Follmi)

7 Dec
2012
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Every Day

I’m still doing my One-A-Day practice (reading one sutta every day…starting with the Middle Length Discourses) and I’m actually enjoying it! OK, it’s not like reading short stories by Alice Munro (my all-time favorite), but it’s not nearly as dry and arcane as I had imagined. The translation is quite readable (thank you Bhikkhu Bodhi) and some of the suttas are even slyly humorous.

I just finished  #25, titled: “The Bait.” It goes like this:

Bhikkhus, a deer-trapper does not lay down bait for a deer herd intending thus: ‘May the deer herd enjoy this bait that I have laid down and so be long-lived and handsome and endure for a long time.’

A deer-herder lays down bait for a deer herd intending thus: ‘The deer herd will eat food unwarily by going right in amongst the bait that I have laid down; by so doing they will become intoxicated; when they are intoxicated, they will fall into negligence; when they are negligent, I can do with them as I like on account of this bait.’

You’ll notice a certain repetitiveness, but other than that, it moves right along. Check it out!

(image from “A Whole World,” by Couprie and Louchard)

 

6 Dec
2012
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Living the Question

Last night at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, I used another of the meditations from Kamma and the End of Kamma, by Ajahn Sucitto. It’s a reflective practice of “dropping” a question into the mind when it’s in a meditative state….not so much to get an answer, but rather to find a deeper way to live the question.

Here are the instructions:
Establish a supportive bodily presence: a sense of uprightness, an axis that centers around the spine. Connect to the ground beneath and the space above and around the body. Acknowledge sitting within a space, taking the time and space that you need to settle in.

As you settle, let your eyes gently close. Attune to the bodily sense through feeling the breathing: first in the abdomen, allowing the breath to descend through the soft tissues…feel the flexing of the breath mirrored by the effortless release and firming of the abdomen in respiration.

As you come to a sense of balance, bring to mind a current situation in your life. It may well be the case that if you ask yourself: “What’s important for me now?” or “What am I dealing with now?” a meaningful scenario will come to mind. It could be about something at work, or to do with your close friends or family, your well-being or your future. Just get the overall impression of that, without going into the full story….Try to catch and distill the emotive sense: burdened, eager, agitated, or whatever.

As it becomes distinct, feel the energy, the movement of that (even if you can’t quite put it into words). Keep triggering that affect by bringing the scenario to mind until you feel you have the tone of that.

Then contemplate that affect in terms of the body. Notice whether, for example, you feel a flush in your face or around your heart, or a tightening in your abdomen, or a subtle tension in your hands or jaw or around your eyes….Whatever it is, create an attentive space around the experience: can you be with this for a little while?

Let the awareness of the “being with” fully feel the tone of that experience. It may settle into an image–such as a bright stream, or something dark and heavy, or something twisted and stuck. Ask yourself: “What does this look (or feel) like, right now?”

Then, as you settle with it for a few seconds, bring up the question: “What does this need?” or “What does this want to do?”

Follow with attention anything that happens to that sense of reaching out, or sinking back or tension. Notice if other parts of your body are affected….Be with the enlarged experience, noticing any changes in the emotive sense.

Carefully repeat this with that aspect of your world until you feel that something has shifted in your response, or that has given you a key to deeper understanding.

Return through the body: the central structure and the softer tissues wrapped around that, the skin around that, the space around all that. Slowly open your eyes, attuning to the space, and the sense  of the place that you’re sitting in.

(image from my DPP buddy, Tony Siciliano, taken at Zion National Park)

 

29 Nov
2012
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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
2012
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Inheritance

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
2012
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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
2012
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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
2012
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)