"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

December 29, 2011

Meditation - There's More to It Than Sitting

In the [the Buddha's] Discourse on How to Establish Mindfulness, there is the following section on Clear Comprehension:
A meditator when moving forward or backward is clearly aware of what they are doing; when looking ahead or behind, clearly aware of what they are doing; when bending, stretching ... when carrying things , clearly aware of what they are doing; when eating, drinking, chewing, savouring ... when passing stools or urine ... when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep and waking up ... when speaking or staying silent, they clearly aware of what they are doing.

That is, whatever the meditator is doing, that is what they must be mindful of.

In other words, the sitting meditation is only a part of the practice as a whole. The Buddha wanted us to develop a meditative life. To know what we are doing at all times. A life of full-time awareness. The danger for meditators is to raise the sitting meditation practice to the position of a magical ritual as if all we needed to do was a little sitting in the morning and in the evening (perhaps) and liberation from suffering is assured.

Too often meditators think sitting meditation is the be-all and end-all of the Path. I once met a meditator because of this. He had been tremendously ardent, spending months in intensive meditation only to come out and live the 'good life.' After years of this so-called practice, achieving very little in terms of inner peace, he had achieved little but sorrow and despair. He felt the five years of so he had spent on the meditation practice had been a great waste.

So, it is this dependence on meditation sitting as the one and only practice that leads to disillusionment and disappointment. Eventually the meditator may abandon the practice altogether as useless! So sitting meditation is only part of the Buddha's path, though undoubtedly necessary.

Bhikkhu Bodhidhamma
"Meditation In Ordinary Daily Life"
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December 28, 2011

On Bringing Awareness to our Sexuality

"One some level, we as a society regard sexuality as something dark, forbidden.  This shadowy undercurrent of puritanical sentiment still flows deep in our cultural memory.  As a consequence, the desire for sex is rarely simple.

Sometimes is it imbued with the thrill of conquest or the lure for the forbidden.  Often it is driven by the thirsting desire for excitement and romance, to cover over the anxiety of our aloneness.  And almost always, from our very core, there comes some desperate craving for acceptance, for love.

Yet the power of our sexual energy is in itself neither good nor bad. Far more important than the mere denial of fulfillment of desires, the clarity of our awareness determines whether our sexuality is a heaven or a hell."

Ezra Bayda from Saying Yes to Life (Even the Hard Parts)
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Pema Chodron on the Path of Compassion

"Compassion is not a magical device that can instantly dispel all suffering. The path of compassion is altruistic but not idealistic. Walking this path we are not asked to lay down our life, find a solution for all of the struggles in this world, or immediately rescue all beings. We are asked to explore how we may transform our own hearts and minds in the moment.

Can we understand the transparency of division and separation? Can we liberate our hearts from ill will, fear, and cruelty? Can we find the steadfastness, patience, generosity, and commitment not to abandon anyone or anything in this world? Can we learn how to listen deeply and discover the heart that trembles in the face of suffering?

The path of compassion is cultivated one step and one moment at a time. Each of those steps lessens the mountain of sorrow in the world."

Pema Chodron

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December 27, 2011

When the Tibetan Master Cried at the Loss of His Son

"When Marpa, the great Tibetan meditation master and teacher of Milarepa, lost his son he wept bitterly. One of his pupils came up to him and asked: ‘Master, why are you weeping? You teach us that death is an illusion.’

And Marpa said: ‘Death is an illusion.  And the death of a child is an even greater illusion.’ But what Marpa was able to show his disciple was that while he could understand the truth about the conditioned nature of everything and the emptiness of forms, he could still be a human being. He could feel what he was feeling; he could open to his grief. He could be completely present to feel that loss. And he could weep openly.

There is nothing incongruous about feeling our feelings, touching our pain, and, at the same time understanding the truth of the way things are. Pain is pain; grief is grief; loss is loss — we can accept those things. Suffering is what we add onto them when we push away."

Ajahn Medhanandi  from "The Joy Hidden in Sorrow"

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December 13, 2011

Metta for a Dog and Its Delight

O Great Doggy Heart,

Looking upon the Wonderful Object of your Joy and Desire,

May your Master make time for your Joy and Delight in the Chase,

May you race through the grass with ecstasy,
as the Great Hunter of Things Thrown and Things Caught!

May your Master delight in your Joy and Delight in the Chase

May your Master look deeply into this Joy and Delight

And sense the endless Fields of Love, where Dog and Delight and Master and Play,

And are One in the never-ending Bliss of the Dance of Being.

Steve Goodheart

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December 10, 2011

Quantum physics, Oppenheimer, and the Buddha

“If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say ‘no’; if we ask whether the electron’s position changes with time, we must say ‘no’; if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say ‘no’; if we ask whether it is in action, we must say ‘no’.

“The Buddha had given such answers when interrogated as to the condition of man’s self after death, but they are not familiar answers from the tradition of the 17th and 18th century science.”

Robert Oppenheimer

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Listen with Compassion

“Deep listening, compassionate listening is not listening with the purpose of analyzing or even uncovering what has happened in the past. You listen first of all in order to give the other person relief, a chance to speak out, to feel that someone finally understands him or her.

Deep listening is the kind of listening that helps us to keep compassion alive while the other speaks…During this time you have in mind only one idea, one desire: to listen in order to give the other person the chance to speak out and suffer less. This is your only purpose. Other things like analyzing, understanding the past, can be a by-product of this work. But first of all listen with compassion.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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The Old Monk and the Secret of Heaven and Hell

The old monk sat by the side of the road. With his eyes closed, his legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap, he sat. In deep meditation, he sat.

Suddenly his zazen was interrupted by the harsh and demanding voice of a samurai warrior. “Old man! Teach me about heaven and hell!”

At first, as though he had not heard, there was no perceptible response from the monk. But gradually he began to open his eyes, the faintest hint of a smile playing around the corners of his mouth as the samurai stood there, waiting impatiently, growing more and more agitated with each passing second.

“You wish to know the secrets of heaven and hell?” replied the monk at last. “You who are so unkempt. You whose hands and feet are covered with dirt. You whose hair is uncombed, whose breath is foul, whose sword is all rusty and neglected. You who are ugly and whose mother dresses you funny. You would ask me of heaven and hell?”

The samurai uttered a vile curse. He drew his sword and raised it high above his head. His face turned to crimson and the veins on his neck stood out in bold relief as he prepared to sever the monk’s head from its shoulders.

“That is hell,” said the old monk gently, just as the sword began its descent.

In that fraction of a second, the samurai was overcome with amazement, awe, compassion and love for this gentle being who had dared to risk his very life to give him such a teaching. He stopped his sword in mid-flight and his eyes filled with grateful tears.

“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”
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December 9, 2011

Using Breath as an Anchor to Come Back Home To

"For me, it is an axiom that meditation is not so much about being with the breath every single second. That is very difficult and can only be achieved in very specific circumstances. But this does not mean the meditation of coming back is not effective.

You could have a thousand thoughts, and a thousand times you will have the opportunity to come back. You can make the choice to come back at any time, and it will diminish the power of the mental habit. So cultivation is the coming back, again and again, to the breath. It is not useful to think only about the effect of meditation, because that is a slippery slope. Better to focus mainly on cultivation.

When we come back to the breath, we come back to experience. It’s very important to see that when attention goes off, it generally goes into abstraction. In abstraction we are ignoring reality instead of being in the fullness of experience, which is where our creative potential can come out and express itself. We all know we have a brain, we have a certain kind of emotional system related to the heart, we have a body, and we have sensations that go with it. All this is not going to stop. But there is a difference between what I would call creative functioning within those potentials of thinking, feeling, and sensation, and being stuck in them and feeling you can’t get out. Concentration brings back the mental, emotional, and physical patterns to the creative functions of mind, body, and heart.

An image of what concentration does is that of a glass with muddy water. If you shake the glass, the water gets muddy and you can’t really see through it. But if you leave the glass alone for a bit, the mud goes to the bottom and the water at the top becomes clean. This is the basic idea of concentration: if things are not so agitated and they settle down, then you can see more clearly and there can be more space for you to see. Over time meditation develops space around our thoughts, around our feelings, and around our sensations."

Martine Batchelor from "Breaking Free with Creative Awareness"
Insight Journal Winter 2008

Martine Batchelor is the author of Meditation for Life, The Path of Compassion, Women in Korean Zen, and Let Go: A Buddhist Guide to Breaking Free of Habits. She teaches at Gaia House in England and also world-wide, and lives in southwest France.

December 6, 2011

Slack Mind or Agitated mind - Build a Fire - Extinguish a Fire

“Monks, suppose a man wanted to make a small fire burn up, and he put wet grass on it, put wet cow dung on it, put wet sticks on it, sprinkled it with water, and scattered dust on it, would that man be able to make the small fire burn up?” — “No, venerable sir.” — “So too, monks, when the mind is slack, that is not the time to develop the tranquility enlightenment factor, the concentration enlightenment factor, and the equanimity enlightenment factor. Why is that? Because a slack mind cannot well be roused by those states. When the mind is slack, that is the time to develop the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor, the energy enlightenment factor, and the happiness enlightenment factor. Why is that? Because a slack mind can well be roused by those states.

“Monks, suppose a man wanted to extinguish a great mass of fire, and he put dry grass on it,... and did not scatter dust on it, would that man be able to extinguish that great mass of fire?” — “No, venerable sir.” — “So too, monks, when the mind is agitated, that is not the time to develop the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor, the energy enlightenment factor, or the happiness enlightenment factor. Why is that? Because an agitated mind cannot well be quieted by those states. When the mind is agitated, that is the time to develop the tranquility enlightenment factor, the concentration enlightenment factor, and the equanimity enlightenment factor. Why is that? Because an agitated mind can well be quieted by those states.”

The Buddha, Samyutta Nikaya, 46:53

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December 2, 2011

When Meditating, Don't Chase the Shadows

"When you sit and meditate, even if you don't gain any intuitive insights, make sure at least that you know this much: When the breath comes in, you know. When it goes out, you know. When it's long, you know. When it's short, you know. Whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, you know.

If you can know this much, you're doing fine. As for the various thoughts and concepts (sanna) that come into the mind, brush them away -- whether they're good or bad, whether they deal with the past or the future. Don't let them interfere with what you're doing — and don't go chasing after them to straighten them out. When a thought of this sort comes passing in, simply let it go passing on. Keep your awareness, unperturbed, in the present.

When we say that the mind goes here or there, it's not really the mind that goes. Only concepts go. Concepts are like shadows of the mind. If the body is still, how will its shadow move? The movement of the body is what causes the shadow to move, and when the shadow moves, how will you catch hold of it? Shadows are hard to catch, hard to shake off, hard to set still.

The awareness that forms the present: That's the true mind.  The awareness that goes chasing after concepts is just a shadow. Real awareness -- 'knowing' — stays in place. It doesn't stand, walk, come, or go.  As for the mind — the awareness that doesn't act in any way coming or going, forward or back — it's quiet and unperturbed. And when the mind is thus its normal, even, undistracted self — i.e., when it doesn't have any shadows — we can rest peacefully. But if the mind is unstable and uncertain, it wavers:

Concepts arise and go flashing out — and we go chasing after them, hoping to drag them back in. The chasing after them is where we go wrong. This is what we have to correct. Tell yourself: Nothing is wrong with your mind. Just watch out for the shadows."

From "The Art of Letting Go" by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff)
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
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A Buddhist Vision of the Beatitudes

Blessed are the merciful, for they have learned how to be merciful to themselves.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they have looked into their heart of darkness and smiled with the wisdom of a Buddha.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they have transformed the war in their own hearts.

Blessed are they who mourn, for through suffering they will seek and find the path to release.

Blessed are the poor (the beggars) in spirit, for they will discover the kingdom of heaven is already within.

Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake, for they have learned to let go of persecuting the unrighteousness of others.

Blessed are the meek, for they have learned the joy of letting go of self and of finding self in others.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after liberation, for they have found the desire that leads to the end of all entrapments.

Steve Goodheart
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November 28, 2011

Held In the Arms of Mindfulness

In the space of sacred silence, I come home again.
Held in the arms of mindfulness, I am at peace,
A child of the Buddha.

Steven Goodheart
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The Moment We've Been Waiting For

If we will only realize it, this is the moment we've always been waiting for, and there is no other.

Steven Goodheart

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November 26, 2011

How Even a Telephone Ringing Can Help Us Awaken

"The Buddha is someone who is very close to us. The Buddha is the power of awakening, of loving, of understanding in us. Every time the Buddha is calling, we have to listen with all our being. That is why our minds have to be with our bodies; so we stop every activity, including thinking, and we go back to ourselves, using our breathing as a vehicle. We arrive, and we listen very deeply to the voice of the Buddha. That is the voice of peace, of stability, of freedom.

If we don’t know how to listen to the voice of the Buddha, we won’t be able to restore peace, tranquility, and solidity inside ourselves. In Plum Village we enjoy the practice of listening to the bell very much. Every time I listen to the bell, I feel I am a better person. I am more solid, I am more free. I am calmer, more understanding. That is why everyone should profit from the practice of listening to the bell of mindfulness.

You will notice that in Plum Village we practice mindfulness of listening with other sounds. For, example, every time we hear the telephone ringing, all of us in Plum Village will stop our talking, stop our thinking, and go back to our in-breath and out-breath, and listen. Even though the sound of the telephone is a very ordinary kind of sound, when you practice, it becomes something very important too.

We practice breathing, with the gatha: 'Listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.' 'Listen, listen,' that is what you say when you breathe in. When you say, 'Listen, listen,' that means 'I am listening deeply,' and when you breathe out you say, 'This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.' My true home is where there is peace, there is stability, there is love, and I love to go home, because at home I feel safe."

From a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hahn at Plum Village, July 1998

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November 25, 2011

Allen Watts on Beat Zen and Square Zen

“. . .the Westerner who is attracted by Zen and who would understand it deeply must have one indispensable qualification: he must understand his own culture so thoroughly that he is no longer swayed by its premises unconsciously.

He must really have come to terms with the Lord God Jehovah and with his Hebrew-Christian conscience so that he can take it or leave it without fear or rebellion. He must be free of the itch to justify himself. Lacking this, his Zen will be either “beat” or “square,” either a revolt from the culture and social order or a new form of stuffiness and respectability.”  Allen Watts

 Sound interesting?   You can read Allen Watt's entire article here:

Beat Zen? Square Zen? or just Zen?

Allen Watts



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Working with the Six Parimitas

The Six Paramitas
by Jack Kerouac from “Some of the Dharma

    1.    Unselfish giving for others, DANA, radiant & selfless

    2.    Moral purity, kindness, SILA, sympathy, absence of craving

    3.    Forbearance, patience, KSHANTI, endurance, forgiveness

    4.    Energy, enthusiasm, VIRYA, effort for the ideal

    5.    Dhyana concentration, DHYANA PARAMITA, 4 stages of meditation

    6.    Wisdom, insight, PRAJNA PARAMITA, absence of conceptions and illusions

Meditation on the Six Paramitas
from the Japanese Soto Zen tradition

Dana - May I be generous and helpful.

Sila - May I be pure and virtuous.

Kshanti - May I be patient and able to bear and forbear the wrongs of others.

Virya - May I be strenuous, energetic, and persevering.

Dhyana - May I practice meditation and attain concentration and oneness to serve all beings.

Pranja - May I gain wisdom and be able to give the benefit of my wisdom to others.

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November 23, 2011

What Attention Can Reveal

“If you can sustain your attention on any part of nature long enough, nature opens up to you and reveals its secrets, whether it's watching a leaf on a tree or it's watching the moon in the sky or even watching the finger on your hand. 
Whatever it is, if you can sustain your attention unmoving and without comment, silent and still, you'll find the object in front of the mind will open up its secrets to you. And you'll see much more in there than you've ever seen before.”
Ajahn Brahmavamso
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November 22, 2011

The Right Attitude in Meditation

"Having the right attitude is essential for success in meditation. Although it is necessary to motivate ourselves to meditate, samâdhi will not arise from ego-based craving for altered states of consciousness or for the repetition of previously experienced peaceful states. This craving will actually increase stress. There is too much desire and sense of self.

The quickest way to make progress in meditation is to be perfectly content, putting energy into being mindful in the present moment, and not hoping for or expecting anything."

Ajahn Chah
"A Mind of Harmony"

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November 20, 2011

Renunication - It Really Isn't Medieval Self-Torture

"The Buddha taught that as conditioned beings living in a conditioned existence (Samsara) we can never be completely free of all sorts of unpleasantness, stress, and suffering. All conditioned phenomena are flawed, and that inevitably gives rise to unsatisfactoriness.

This is the First Noble Truth of the Buddha’s teaching, and far from being a vague philosophical speculation, it is something that each of us experiences first hand for him-or-herself in daily life. While true and permanent freedom (Nibbana) comes about as a result of the insight gained through Vipassana meditation, we can eliminate a great deal of unnecessary suffering in the meantime by applying the principle of renunciation.

Unfortunately, the very word “renunciation” has a strange medieval ring to it in this modern, Western-dominated, supposedly hedonistic age. For most, it carries the smell of sack-cloth and ashes, an image of penance, self-denial, self-deprivation, even self-torture. It is thought of as a negative, dejected turning away from the world, a gloomy giving up on life, the last refuge of spurned lovers and aging old maids.

It is none of those things. Genuine renunciation, as the Buddha teaches it, is akin to throwing open the windows of the mind to morning sunshine and crisp, cool air. Renunciation is “cleaning house,” getting rid of trash and useless clutter, both figurative and literal. It is recognizing that when we become attached to things, we do not own them, instead they own us. It is putting things in proper perspective, simplifying our lives, and being satisfied with 'enough.'”

Petr Karel Ontl
"Of Mindsets and Moneypots"

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November 11, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh and the Soldier Who Poisoned Five Children

Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on May 10, 1998  in Plum Village, France.

Beginning Anew

"During the Vietnam War there was an American soldier who got very angry because most of the soldiers in his unit got killed in an ambush by Vietnamese guerrillas; that happened in a village in the countryside, so out of his rage he wanted to retaliate. He wanted to kill a number of people who belonged to that village. So he took out a bag of sandwiches, and he mixed explosives into the sandwiches and left them at the entrance to the village. He saw children coming out and happily taking the sandwiches, thinking that someone had left these delicious sandwiches, and they ate together, enjoying a lot.

And just half an hour later he saw them begin to show signs of suffering. Their father and their mother and sister came, and tried to help, to give them massage and medicine, but the American soldier who had hidden himself not far from there, knew very well there was no way to save these children, and that they would die. He knew that even if they had a car to transport these children to the hospital it would be too late. Out of anger he had done things like that. If anger is strong in us, we are capable of doing anything, even the cruelest things.

When he went back to America he suffered because of that: that scene appeared to him in his dreams, and he could never forget it. Any time during the day if he found himself alone in a room with children, he could not stay, and had to run out of the room right away. He could not talk about that to anyone except to his mother, who said, 'Well, that was the war, and in a war you cannot prevent these things happening.' But that did not help him, until he came to a retreat organized by Plum Village in North America.

During many days he was not able to tell people of his story. It was a very difficult retreat. We sat in circles of five or six people, and invited people to speak out about their suffering, but there were those who sat there unable to open their mouths. There were war veterans who were deeply wounded inside, and fear and despair were still there.

When we did walking meditation I saw one or two walking far behind, at least twenty meters behind us. I did not understand why they did not join us, but walked far away like that. When someone inquired, they learned that these ex-soldiers were afraid of being ambushed. So they walked far behind so that if something happened they would have enough space to run away. And one war veteran set up a tent in the jungle, and in order to appease his fear, he set up booby traps around his tent. That happened in the retreat in North America…he always had the guerrillas around him, and in him, ready to kill him at any time.

Finally that American Vietnam War veteran was able to tell us the story of the explosives put into the sandwiches. It was very good for him to be able to tell it, especially in front of the Vietnamese people, his former enemies. I gave him a prescription. I had a private consultation with him, and I said:

'Now look, you killed five children, yes. And that is not a good thing to do, yes. But don’t you know that many children are dying in this very moment, everywhere, even in America, because of lack of medicine, of food? Do you know that 40,000 children die every day in the world, just because of the lack of medicine and food? And you are alive, you are solid physically. Why don’t you use your life to help the children who are dying in this moment? Why get caught in the five children who have died in the past? There are many ways…if you want, I will tell you how to save five children today. There are children who need only one table of medicine to be saved, and you can be the one who brings that tablet of medicine to him or to her. If you practice like that every day, the children who died because of the explosives will smile in you, because these five children have participated in your work of saving many children who are dying in this very moment.'

So, the door was opened, so that the man was longer trapped in the feeling of culpability. That is the amrita, the ambrosia of compassion, of wisdom, offered by the Buddha: there is always a way out.

So that war veteran has practiced and has been able to help many other children in the world. He has gone back to Vietnam, has done the work of reconciliation, and the five children who died have begun to smile in him and to become one with him.

In the beginning it was a distressing image, but now the five children have become alive, have become the energy helping him to live with compassion, with understanding. The garbage can be transformed into flowers if we know how to do it."

Related links:

How Loving-kindness Practice and Meditation Can Help with Military Suicides

Skillful Ways to Deal with Your Demons

Veterans Day Book-At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace by Claude Anshin Thomas
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