"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

February 25, 2012

Progress in Awakening Begins With Acknowledging Where You Are

Pema Chodron
"It is tempting to ask ourselves if we are making 'progress' on the spiritual path. But to look for progress is a set-up-a guarantee that we won't measure up to some arbitrary goal we've established.

Traditional teachings tell us that one sign of progress in meditation practice is that our kleshas diminish. Kleshas are the strong conflicting emotions that spin off and heighten when we get caught by aversion and attraction.

 Though the teachings point us in the direction of diminishing our klesha activity, calling ourselves "bad" because we have strong conflicting emotions is not helpful. That just causes negativity and suffering to escalate. What helps is to train again and again in not acting out our kleshas with speech and actions, and also in not repressing them or getting caught in guilt. The traditional instruction is to find the middle way between the extreme views of indulging-going right ahead and telling people off verbally or mentally-and repressing: biting your tongue and calling yourself a bad person.

Now, to find what the middle way means is a challenging path. That is hard to know how to do. We routinely think we have to go to one extreme or the other, either acting out or repressing. We are unaware of that middle ground between the two. But the open space of the middle ground is where wisdom lies, where compassion lies, and where lots of discoveries are to be made. One discovery we make there is that progress isn't what we think it is.

We are talking about a gradual awakening, a gradual learning process. By looking deeply and compassionately at how we are affecting ourselves and others with our speech and actions, very slowly we can acknowledge what is happening to us. We begin to see when, for example, we are starting to harden our views and spin a story line about a situation. We begin to be able to acknowledge when we are blaming people, or when we are afraid and pulling back, or when we are completely tense, or when we can't soften, or when we can't refrain from saying something harsh. We begin to acknowledge where we are. This ability comes from meditation practice. The ability to notice where we are and what we do comes from practice.

I should point out that what we're talking about is not judgmental acknowledging, but compassionate acknowledging. This compassionate aspect of acknowledging is also cultivated by meditation. In meditation we sit quietly with ourselves and we acknowledge whatever comes up with an unbiased attitude-we label it 'thinking' and go back to the out-breath. We train in not labeling our thoughts 'bad' or 'good,' but in simply seeing them. Anyone who has meditated knows that this journey from judging ourselves or others to seeing what is, without bias, is a gradual one.

So one sign of progress is that we can begin to acknowledge what is happening. We can't do it every time, but at some point we realize we are acknowledging more, and that our acknowledgment is compassionate-not judgmental, parental or authoritarian. We begin to touch in with unconditional friendliness, which we call maitri—an unconditional openness towards whatever might arise. Again and again throughout our day we can acknowledge what's happening with a bit more gentleness and honesty. . ."

Pema Chodron from Start Where You Are
Copyright © 2004 Shambhala Sun Magazine
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Simple, Skillful Instruction for Doing Loving-kindness (Metta) for Yourself

"When you practice loving kindness meditation, you first start by sending loving and kind thoughts to yourself. You remember times when you were happy. When that happy feeling arises, it's a warm glowing feeling in the center of your chest. And a radiating feeling. As soon as that feeling arises, then, you make a wish for your own happiness:  'May I be happy. May my mind be peaceful and calm. May I be filled with joy. May I be cheerful.'

Whatever wish you make for yourself, feel that wish. You know what it feels like to be peaceful and calm. Bring that feeling of peace and calm, put it into your heart, radiate that feeling to yourself. You know what it feels like to be happy. Bring that feeling into your heart, and radiate that feeling to yourself. Whatever wish you make for yourself, you want to feel that wish.

You can make the same wish over and over again, as long as it has meaning for you, or you can change the wish occasionally. But you don't make a wish like this, you don't say: 'May I be happy. May I be happy. May I be happy. May I be happy. May I be happy.' When you do a wish like that, it turns into, like trying to memorize something, and you start thinking about other things. You want to feel the wish. Make the wish, feel the peace and calm, if that's what your wish is, keep that feeling in your heart, when that feeling starts to fade, then you make another wish.

While you're sitting like this, your mind is going to wander. You're going to think about other things. As soon as you notice that your mind is thinking about other things, you simply let go of those thoughts. Don't continue thinking, even if you're in mid sentence let it go. Relax the tension and tightness caused by those thoughts in your head, in your mind, in your body. And gently come back to the feeling of loving kindness and making a wish for your own happiness.

It doesn't matter if your mind wanders fifty times during the sitting, and fifty times you see that, you let it go, you relax, you come back to your meditation object. That is a good sitting. A bad sitting would be, noticing that you're thinking about something, and to continue thinking, not letting it go.

When you're sitting, you want to sit with your back reasonably straight. Please don't move your body at all. Don't wiggle your toes, don't wiggle your fingers, don't scratch, don't rub, don't change your posture. Don't rock back and forth. Sit very still.

While you're sitting like this, there can be some sensations that arise in your body. You want to cough, and itch, heat, vibration, a painful feeling. As soon as that arises your mind will be drawn to it, and then you start thinking about that sensation: 'I wish it would stop. I really don't like this feeling when it happens. I wish it would just go away.' Every thought like that makes the feeling become bigger and more intense. So, the first thing you do is to let go of the thought about the sensation. And then, relax the tension or tightness in your head, in your mind.

Next you will notice that there is a tight mental fist wrapped around that sensation, you really don't like that sensation there, you really want it to go away. The truth is when a sensation arises, it's there. That's the truth. And it's OK for that sensation to be there. It has to be OK, because it's there. Anytime you try to fight with the truth, anytime you try to control the truth, anytime you try to make the truth be anything other than it is, that's the cause of suffering. Allow that sensation to be there. Make it OK for it to be there. Relax. Gently come back to the feeling of being happy and making a wish for your own happiness.

While you're doing this meditation, this is a smiling meditation. You want to put a smile in your mind. A little smile in your eyes, even though your eyes are closed. A smile on your lips, a little one, and a smile in your heart. Whenever you notice that you're not smiling, then start again. . ."

Bhante Vimalaramsi

For many more inspiring, skillful teachings from Bhante Vimalaramsi be sure to visit: Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center

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February 18, 2012

How Mindfulness Brings Meaning to Our Lives

"When we rush in with...mental chatter, we are no longer being mindful. We are just thinking about being mindful. Mindfulness is not thinking about, it is being present and actually knowing in the moment without any mental commentary. If commentary begins to happen, we simply ignore it and return to being present in the moment.

Think about this. There are so many things happening in our lives that we never really experience. We experience only ideas, interpretations, and comparisons. We dwell on things that happened in the past or anticipate future events. But we almost never experience the moment itself. It is for this reason that we often find our lives boring and meaningless. What we need to realize is that this sense of meaninglessness does not come from our lives, but from the quality of awareness with which we live our lives."

Ani Tenzin Palmo - Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism
For more in-depth dharma articles and instruction, visit:  METTA REFUGE

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February 8, 2012

What Was Your Original Face - Before Ignorance and Craving?

"A fundamental experience and comprehension which the enlightened Zen masters have urged us to realize is known as the original face. A famous Zen patriarch asked, 'Before your father and mother were born, what was you original face?'

If we understand 'father and mother' in a traditional symbolic way to refer to ignorance and craving, this question directs us to realize our original nature as it was before a lifetime of habitual illusions based on ignorance and greed.

Here, in this original face, there is no station or grade, no prejudice, no philosophy or religion; all beings are the family, all worlds are the household. Only on the basis of the most fundamental realization, only with open mind and heart, can the affairs of the family and household have a sound foundation for accomplishment."

from "The Original Face" in Classics of Buddhism and Zen by Thomas Cleary, Volume Four

For more in-depth dharma articles and instruction, visit:  METTA REFUGE

February 2, 2012

On Skill in Letting Go of Hindering Visions by Luang Pu

It’s normal that when people practicing concentration start getting results, they can have their doubts about what they’ve experienced—for example, when they experience conflicting visions or start seeing parts of their own bodies. Many people came to Luang Pu, asking him to resolve their doubts or to give them advice on how to continue with their practice. And a lot of people would come to say that when meditating they saw hell or heaven or heavenly mansions, or else a Buddha image inside their body. “Was what I saw real?” they would ask.

Luang Pu would respond:
“The vision you saw was real, but what you saw in the vision wasn’t.”
The questioner might then ask,“You say that all these visions are external, and that I can’t yet put them to any use; if I stay stuck simply on the vision I won’t make any further progress. Is it because I’ve been staying so long with these visions that I can’t avoid them? Every time I sit down to meditate, as soon as the mind gathers together it goes straight to that level. Can you give me some advice on how to let go of visions in an effective way?”

Luang Pu would respond:
“Oh, some of these visions can be lots of fun and really absorbing, you know, but if you stay stuck right there it’s a waste of time. A really simple method for letting go of them is not to look at what you see in the vision, but to look at what’s doing the seeing. Then the things you don’t want to see will disappear on their own.”
Excerpt from "Gifts He Left Behind: The Dhamma Legacy of Phra Ajaan Dune Atulo (Luang Pu)
For more in-depth dharma articles and instruction, visit:  METTA REFUGE