“In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away” – Shing Xiong

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Five Hindrances

1. sloth and torpor aka laziness and procrastination
2. ill-will aka boredom, frustration, irritation
3. sensual desire aka "I want this/I don't want this."
4. restlessness aka inability to be still
5. skeptical doubt aka disbelief in the efficasy of the chosen course of action

How do you deal with them?
 #1 is a Noble Friend, covers all five, this is someone who encourages and assists and leads by example on the path and the middle way.
#2 each have a specific antidote as you might imagine. Go ahead, imagine. You have the answers.
#3 gentle persistence, incorporating the roots of happiness: Generosity, Compassion and Wisdom.
Generosity and compassion combined are kindness, and this is how you gradually tame, train, guard and restrain the mind, turning adversity into alliance.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

On the cushion or off, conversations with Sensei

"Certainly! You may wear a hat, you may ride a pony, I don't care what you do so long as you watch thoughts come and go and do not attach a story line to them."

Enjoy your mind

I realized today that most people must not associate meditation with pleasure, yet I just had the experience of greeting my own mind like a friend of another species, a horse or some other large animal, with a definite sense of pleasure. At different times I might see it as something else. You might see your own mind as anything you like or dislike, but I think you will definitely acknowledge it has a life of its own.

Rajju Jim sent a link to an article stating that most of us are on autopilot nearly 50% of the time and that this does not lead to happiness, according to the study findings. Autopilot is the mind run amok. It has no business flying this plane, it is not qualified and has only limited understanding of what to do with this business it has taken over.

Thus have I heard: "Not one thing do I see, oh devoted wanderers, not one thing that leads to such sublime unconditional happiness, as a tamed, trained, guarded and restrained mind." From the Anguttara Nikaya book of ones in the Pali canon, Buddhist scripture.

My landlord has often greeted me returning from a walk with my dog by saying "Boy, that's like a full time job!" Well it is a part time job, one I enjoy immensely. Dogs have historically been known in our culture as Noble animals, selfless and loyal, able to give unconditional love. A Noble Friend is the common antidote to the five hindrances, one who helps us stay the path, protects us and leads by example.

We who have taken this route have the responsibility to continue, and when we hit a wall as happens when inhabiting a realm of strife and discord, we can rely on our Noble Friends to keep us going until it is past. The practice that enables us to trust and rely on such beings begins on the cushion in meditation. There we confront the wild animal that is the mind and tame it, teach it to trust, forge an alliance with it, one governed by affection and reward.

There are times when we must retreat behind the mind and leave it to guard against intruders, but for the most part we should take the lead and have the mind be subservient, a sixth sense, not the boss. This is the training that is pleasurable and rewarding and is what meditation is all about.

So many of us are unaware that the mind is not who we are, it is just a facet, an ally. This awareness is born on the cushion, it is not made clear naturally during development for most people because so often is is dominant from the start.  It is dominant when needed for survival, for when things don't make sense, for when fear rules, but then it has to be relieved of duty or becomes truly domineering and sometimes it stays in charge, permanently. The struggle to be happy reveals its failure as a leader and its separate role or identity within us.

The best guide to training the mind available today for most  of us is Sensei's teaching of the Dhamma, elaborated on in her book, "The Missing Peace." From the home page of Great Determination Buddhist Sangha website click on her picture and go the links under recommended reading or at the end of her short bio.

The training of the mind is a gradual process, happening in stages over time, but it is never too late to start. Once started the path unfolds naturally and accretions fall away when appropriate.
This really is an enjoyable part of life.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ohh now I understand

I used to wonder about folks that would leave meditation and get pissed off shortly thereafter, where had all that time on the cushion gone? Well, that happened just now to me, irritation arose. (Shhhhhhh,, just shhhh, I like this quiet.) Irritation arises, what happens on the cushion is no different than daily life, daily life is no different than on the cushion, actually on the cushion is more "my ball, my rules." Although it feels good it may not be so beneficial to sit in bliss, or maybe this is hitting a wall during this retreat and will be something to get over.

On reflection, which is an important step not to forget in meditation, I made two big mistakes while meditating today. It wasn't so bad to allow the brain to rest and feel good but I did not focus on compassion meditation, and later in the day indulged in a memory or had an encounter with a remembered acquaintance and spent some time caregiving, which is different than compassion meditation and means I got sidetracked. As a direct result irritation could arise and I am not so replenished.

Also changed locations today, and after rearranging the furniture had it settled pleasantly enough but the room is adjacent to a lounge area and in a hyper sensitive mind leaving through a boisterous crowd is daunting so I stayed through lunch, maybe tomorrow I will do the morning in the park.

If you have had a similar experience do not omit the review step, poke around and find out where the deficiency lies, then change the game plan accordingly. Meditation is a craft like any other, if a batch of pots come out of the kiln all blistered and spalling something went wrong, figure out what it was and start again.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day three retreat

My brain feels like a fish must feel upon being caught and released, returned to the water,  regaining buoyancy

Saturday, September 13, 2014

meditation retreat

has begun at Emperor's. A less difficult transition than expected. Several visits from a young woman who peeks in, walks to the back of the room,  lingers a bit then turns and leaves quietly.  Really? It seems so, Sensei joined me at the second sitting and remarked on her, so there it is.

Peggy's table runner is keeping the sacred among the mundane, not an altar but an echo of one. And the stone pig is festive with a new pair of wings that Sensei found at Goodwill for me:

(The pig is a feature of room D, not something added for the meditation)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

'Feed your head' commentary

several years back a colleague said she watched movies to 'keep up' and today I resonate with that. I lived a simpler life then and was much more sensitive to imagery and themes. Today I go to school and live in a city and interact with a host of people every day, then I lived in the woods essentially camping and doing hard physical labor while building the hermitage with limited access to media. I retain some of the slowness and sensitivity but have noticed some changes and mostly for better.

Different monastics interpret the Vinaya differently and it is a matter of personal choice what and how much they or we take in from the media available as information or entertainment. There is a very wide range of varying opinions about this, there is some degree of judgment and even competitiveness among our colleagues today. Imagine jostling for first place in a 'purity' contest! Lots of laughs that is but sobering as well. I really feel bad when some of our colleagues make statements about what is right or wrong discipline because that is - in my opinion- just their opinion, and should only apply to themselves, and not be presented as a blanket that covers everyone. But that's just me (and Sensei- we have at least that much in common.)

Actually for everyone, monastic or laity, entertainment is not unsafe or unwise unless it crosses a line which it is up to each of us to draw for themselves. News as the article in the Guardian points out is much more insidious and even dangerous. Both require careful critical thinking and self awareness, the news more so.

The terrain inside our heads is complex and challenging to navigate, maybe this is a silver lining, it certainly is an opportunity for practice. Today the difference between the technologically adept and the unplugged is striking, especially if you are one. I am looking forward to brief resumption of stillness over the break between quarters - we will see what it brings!

Feed your head

 what the doormouse said  (thank you Grace Slick) is the thing we humans do, but what we should be more careful with - all this focus on the diet, too much sugar too many chemicals - none of that matters so much as what we put in our heads. See this article in the Guardian agrees with me! (and the Buddha, of course) yeah, I know it, knew it instinctively, can see the similarity between thinking and donuts, but since the Buddha said it, trained in it, taught it, cared about it,,,I see how important it really is. What a silly little thing to make such a difference, but the Dhamma is full of that sort of insight, connecting the mundane to the sacred, the tiny to the grand, the micro to the macro.

If we choose to forego the morning news and instead read a bit of Dhamma or poetry what a difference that makes.  Tame, train, guard and restrain the mind and happiness is the result. Feed your head like a small child you love and it will be easier to live with.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sensei speaks

three pages of ethical behavior codified by some Zen monastics can be simply and properly reduced to one sentence: "drop your stupid story".

Friday, September 5, 2014

sloth and torpor

one of the five hindrances also known as laziness and procrastination. Sometimes that is difficult to differentiate from true depletion and exhaustion. How can that be? A lot of westerners are running on fumes, with no real depth to their energy stores.

Damage from chronic lack of sleep is not repaired in one night though that can make a big difference, the restoration really comes with a change in lifestyle that embraces not just routine evening winding down and getting to sleep before midnight but also a welcoming of daily highs and lows, a comfortable enjoyment of the rhythms of life. The figure below demonstrates the changing of yang into yin, and yin into yang, day into night and night into day. If we wait until midnight or later to get to sleep yang is already rising and sleep will not be as restorative.
To get a good nights sleep we train ourselves to let go of the days events. Besides training in meditation to watch thoughts come and go we can shake off the physical accumulation of tension with an evening walk, a shower or a wash both literally and energetically removes the debris from the day.

 Closing out the day with compassion meditation is a great way to release the stories generated by mind, to retain the beneficial impacts and dissolve the harmful. It can be accomplished in several ways but it is always important to start with yourself, to direct compassion toward yourself first, this may seem counter intuitive or you may feel resistance to this, feeling responsibility and blame or shame but this is why it is so important, to be effective you have to start right here in your self. To arouse compassion think back to an event, a situation a being that you felt compassion for or from and feel that sensation, hold it in your heart and then direct it to your target, visualize giving it, handing it over like a gift or a life raft, let your intuition be your guide. You don't have to work hard at this, make it easy, make it natural, enjoy it. More Information is available in Sensei's book "the Missing Peace."

 Training in meditation helps us let go of the stories that keep us from resting. We train to let stories - thoughts, come and go without getting stuck on them. Discernment gained in meditation clarifies what is true and what is false and what is neither. This is the insight we achieve through stillness, the practice of the Dhamma.

Beyond meditation we must consider the body and how it works. Sleep is essential to good health and good sleep is a product of good health. Diet plays a big part in both. Taking time to eat well is a counter part to taking time to prepare to sleep well. At all times we should avoid eating in any way that causes discomfort, indigestion, bloating or burning, but especially in the hours before sleep. 

Beside food we take in other substances and ideas and information. These things have to be evaluated for benefit before consuming, is it worth the result? If not we can choose to refrain, this is the practice to repeat in daily life over and over again. Regular exercise that is balanced and satisfying but not overdone keeps the pumps that run the body in good working order. We all know this, it is a matter of doing it.

If sloth and torpor interfere with your meditation perhaps you need sleep. Perhaps you need to adjust your diet or your exercise. Traditional Oriental Medicine is able to define and correct the root of imbalances that interfere either with meditation or sleep. A licensed acupuncturist can help.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Boddhisattva role

To pay attention as an able and helpful servant, that is the Boddhisattva's role.

We usually see the Boddhisattva as a heroic figure but that is only in hindsight, the hero is just a simple hardworking individual in their present moment. We all have Boddhisattva nature, Buddha nature. We should not fail to implement it, we cannot fail to do it well if only we begin to do it at all because there is a force like gravity that assists.

Be the quiet simple servant. Cultivate our own generosity compassion and wisdom like a gardener or a groom cares for the garden or the horses, and the tools and the tack.

The moment comes when the garden blooms and then the harvest, when the owner calls and then the ride.It does not happen without preparation and hard work. It does not happen if ego arises and interferes. If the gardener or the groom says "what about me?" Then the work is not being done and preparations are not made, the harvest will be meager and the ride will be disappointing.

The Boddhisattva is selfless because the self is a pointless waste of time. Paradoxically they then become someone we want to be, who we strive to emulate, whom we meditate upon and seek empowerments for.

When we wonder what can we do about global warming, the oceans being over fished, pollution, desertification, starvation and war...we have to consider this.


Another point of view: most people see conflict and assume the victim is suffering but not the attacker. Injustice, inequality, rich and poor, destroyer and destroyed - our instinct is to side with the underdog,  to defend, to shield, to respond angrily-loudly-powerfully (so we think).

But our real power is in discernment. Observing with the heart, with a quieted heart, it is possible to see clearly and then it is obvious that every situation has simply two sides- agonist/antagonist, effector/effected, user/used, harmer/harmed. In such an equation where is the point at which to place the tip of the lever of our will? We know a simple machine such as the lever multiplies our force considerably, but placement is everything. physics 101. The tip of our lever must go directly to the heart of the one we perceive as causing harm.

It seems as if we are then giving to the one who already has, to the strong, the wealthy, the attacker - and why help them? Because in such an equation the one without actually has more. The one with actually has less, less contact with the ultimate reality, with the universe, with divinity. This is the point which is mobile, which we can move, which we can alter the trajectory of. And what is our lever? How do we exert our effort? Compassion.

Those whose greed or anger or stupidity lead them to hurt others are hurting themselves most of all but they don't see it and often we don't either. If we react instinctively and strike back we are merely worsening the situation, putting out the fire with gasoline, wasting our breath. To be effective we have to act efficiently.

Cultivate compassion, generosity and discernment on and off the cushion. Strengthen the power of mind with meditation and mindfulness. Apply the Dhamma.