The Opposite of Grasping Is Intimacy by Lama Willa Miller

AROUND THE PERIPHERY of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India, along a path where pilgrims circumambulate, rose-colored walls of solid stone depict scenes from the Buddha’s life, hand carved in lifelike relief.

My favorite of these is the scene depicting the night before the Buddha’s enlightenment, when he was visited by the maras, projections of his own delusion, desire, and aversion. The scene depicts the Buddha seated peacefully, surrounded by sensual maidens, ferocious beasts, and furious demons threatening him with spears and clarioning for his attention.

I’ve always been struck by the juxtaposition of the swirling vigor and emotion of the maras and the insouciance of the Buddha. How is it possible to remain motionless and peaceful, with eyes lowered and a smile on one’s face, while threats swirl so close at hand?

This scene from the Buddha’s life is a visceral teaching for those of us who meditate. If you sit still and watch your mind, everything that sleeps in your psyche and your memory will come to visit. To meditate will– sooner or later– require us to encounter and deal with every part of the self, and that might not be what we have in mind when we first stumble into a zendo or take our first mindfulness class. In the early days of practice, we seek meditation as a refuge, an island away from trouble, a place where we can escape our outer distractions and inner afflictions.

For a while, for months or years even, practice might seem to work this way. It might come to represent a world apart from our daily life, a kind of sanctuary. But eventually, the moment arrives when you look down at the island of kapok (our meditation cushion, that is) and realize this is not where you get away from your inner demons. It is where you face them.

If meditation is doing its job, space opens within, and in that space every memory and trauma will revisit us, every fear will surface. Our shadow will come out to play. This is not a sign of backsliding. It is a sign the work is beginning.

APPEARANCE

In the Tibetan tradition, there is a well-known pith instruction spoken by the Indian master Tilopa to his disciple Naropa. He said:

  • The mind is not bound by appearances.
  • The mind is bound by grasping.
  • O Naropa, cut through grasping.

This word “appearance,” abhasa in Sanskrit, is worth considering for its breadth of meaning. We don’t really have a word in English that does it justice, although “appearance” is probably the closest one-word translation.

Its first meaning is “phenomenality.” Abhasa is everything the subjective self experiences. It includes everything that can be seen by our eyes, heard with the ears, smelled, touched, tasted, felt. In that sense, appearance includes everything “out there”– the conditions of our life.

What arises within the mind and heart is also abhasa. It also includes thoughts, beliefs, memories, intuition, past traumas, habits, and emotions– everything we think of as “in here.” 

The conditions of your life? Those are abhasa. That person who irritates you at work? She/he is abhasa. That endless train of thought cascading through your mind when you try to meditate? That is abhasa. Chronic illness? Abhasa. Your fears, joys, hopes, and dreams? Those too are abhasa. Anything that you can have, are, or will experience is abhasa. 

THE CONDITIONS

One of the gifts of meditation practice is that it provides us with a way to slow down and observe our experience. When we do, so much is revealed. Slowing down provides the leisure to step back

from manipulating and fixing. Instead, we can simply watch abhasa, watch what is happening. When we watch, we gradually begin to notice a profound richness. Many things are happening at once. Sound is happening. The breath is breathing. The light in the room is changing. The heart is beating. Some things seem to be happening outside, and some are happening inside. A symphony of appearance is unfolding. 

At first, perhaps all is quiet and all is well. But then eventually there is an itch. Our back aches. The sound of music from the radio is getting in through the window. That music persists.  Aversion arises.  I could meditate if only the noise would cease.

Now I am sure the noise is why I  cannot meditate. It is responsible for my restlessness and irritation. It is at fault. But is it? Can a sound reach inside a mind and make it suffer? Reactivity has a way of making us believe the impossible. It seeks to turn attention away from the true cause and externalize the fault. The absurdity of reactivity’s logic reveals itself when we turn this assumption into a question.

Tilopa urged his disciple Naropa to question blaming our internal state on external conditions. For so long, we have believed that external conditions determine our contentment, and we have thereby given up our power.

To say we are fettered is to say we are limited. When Tilopa said, “The mind is not bound by appearances,” he was saying we are not limited by external conditions. They are not holding us down, at least not in the way we believe them to be. This is a radical statement and it goes against what we may have believed our whole life.

Reactivity thrives in the gap between how things are and how we wish they would be. This is one way to understand grasping: it is energy that externalizes and reaches slightly ahead of the present. When we are living that way, the mind stays rigid and expectorant. It cannot land on what is.

ENTANGLEMENT

Noise is important– whether it be the audible kind or the noise of our own thoughts– because how we are with noise and other changing conditions on our practice is how3 we are with the conditions of our life.

In everyday life, as in meditation, we are completely absorded by these appearances. We are caught up in what is happening. We are bound. some appearances are attractive and interesting. Those we pursue. Some are challenging and make us fell uncomfortable. Those we try to avoid. Some appearances don’t seem either threatening or beneficial. Those we leave alone.

In other words, we are not just witnessing appearances like innocent bystanders. We are caught in a push and pull with them. We are locked in struggle. Tilopa called the push and pull “grasping.” We see grasping at its most tangible in the way we manipulate our environment, trying to keep uncomfortable abhasa away and keep attractive appearances close at hand.

Another way to put this is that we are, for want of a better word, entangled. We are not just stuck to appearances, we are enmeshed in them. Entanglement happens before we make a choice. It leads to a habitual tendency to micromanage experience.

Because this entanglement is almost constant, it is not easily noticed. What we notice so much more is the reactivity that bursts through the surface. Without a gap in the cycle, we do not actually know what it means to be free.. So it is a little hard to see entanglement at first. But you can feel it. You feel entanglement as a pull into the vortex of your opinions, judgments, and beliefs. You feel it as a veil between this mind and the fresh unfolding of your life. You feel it in the body as an energy of grasping and avoiding. Entanglement is visceral.

DISRUPTION

In some respects, entanglement is a matter of belief. We don’t just witness appearances. We believe in them. We attribute to them reality and consistency. We also believe in the self that experiences them.

The Buddha called such belief delusion. We have misunderstood reality — the reality that nothing is solid, separate, fixed or predictable, and that there is no separate self. To see appearances in their true light would be to see them as flow, as ephemeral and unbounded. It requires that we de-center the self.

When Tilopa said, Your mind is bound by grasping,” he assumed this underlying belief that the self and appearances are separate. This belief of separateness is, in the Tibetan traditions, called ignorance, because it is so deep and so old. We might even say primordial ignorance is the parent of grasping. Only when we objectify can we grasp.

Tilopa lays out the path to awakening in just one line: “O Naropa, cut through grasping.” The metaphor of cutting and severing implies that awakening can be sudden, and that it requires disruption of business as usual. A belief can, theoretically, collapse in a moment.

But sudden disruption is not enough,. The vines of grasping have been growing for a long time, at least as long as we have been alive. If you happen to believe in reincarnation, they have been growing wince beginningless time, through endless cycles of birth and death. This grasping is an old habit.

AGRICULTURE OF THE SOUL

Behind my house stand three tall maple trees, surrounding a grand old willow. All of the backyard trees are entwined with English Ivy. The ivy climbs up their trunks. It has been growing for decades, and I know that to free these trees will require care and patience.

In the Mula Sutta (Discourse of the Roots, AN 3.69), the Buddha invokes the image of a great, beautiful tree. Growing up and around this grand tree, slowly choking its life, are three vines of attachment,aversion, and ignorance. A gardener, the practitioner, comes along.

The gardener does not just cut. The Buddha describes the process of freeing this tree as careful, protracted, and even loving. I have learned, in my gardening life, that vines are like this. You cannot just uproot your English Ivy. The better strategy is to learn how to work with it over a long period of time.

Trees are appearances and the ivy is the grasping. There is a tree of thought, a tree of emotion, and a tree of conditions. Cutting them down is not a solution. Our thoughts, emotions, and conditions of our life are what make us human.

The task of our practice is to mindfully, gradually, and thoroughly disentangle the grasping. To free the tree of appearances is a long and careful process, requiring self-observation, self-awareness, and skill. This is where meditation comes in.

In meditation, we slow down. We watch the trees. We watch the vines. We learn to discern the difference between what is indigenous and what is invasive. We weed, prune, cultivate, and nurture. Meditation is our agriculture of the soul.

INTIMACY

To disentangle a great tree from an invasive vine, you must become intimate with both. We meditators often make a grave mistake in this regard. We want to become intimate with our states of ease and leave our states of dis-ease behind. We want to embrace states of concentration and leave agitation behind. We want to cut down our trees.

We can be forgiven for this The initial trainings in meditation ask us to return our mind again and again to the breath, or some other non-conceptual focus. On a quest to strengthen mindfulness, we label almost everything but attention as “distraction.” This works for a while, but not forever. Eventually the labeling of experience becomes an “othering” that is yet another form of aversion.

Thoughts and feelings are not aberrations of the human condition, they are natural to us. They are the inner abhasa. To befriend them, we need to develop a non-adversarial relationship to appearances. As long as we feel threatened by our thoughts, or seduced by them, we are entangled.

True “cutting” is to become intimate with whatever is arising. This intimacy is affectionate and loving, but it is not indulgent. Can you love your thoughts? Can you love your anger? Can you love your fear? To mature as a practitioner is to embrace such a path of intimacy.

To stop and watch appearances with equanimity and curiosity is a sea change. However, to become a gracious host of whatever arises takes a radical shift in perspective.

THE DISPLAY OF AWARENESS

There is a second meaning of abhasa: luminosity, or vision. Abhasa are phenomena, but the nature of those phenomena is visionary, luminous, and ephemeral. From a Buddhist phenomenological perspective, these arisings are the play of one’s own consciousness, the light of one’s own awareness.

If you stop for a minute and watch, you can witness this marvelous, spontaneous display that seems to come out of nowhere. The mind is tremendously fertile. It presents a miraculous unfurling of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Tibetan masters have a name for this: rang tsal, the mind’s natural inherent energy.

In Tibetan meditative traditions, there is a critical relationship between appearances (abhasa) and inherent energy (rang tsal). When we are caught in grasping, it seems as if some of these appearances are coming at us from the outside. Other appearances, the ones that we call thought, feeling, emotion, and perception, seem to be coming at us from within. All of these seem significant for their content. We are distracted by what we see.

But once in a while, we might realize that what we are actually witnessing– when we witness appearances– is the natural energy (rang tsal) of the mind! While the mind’s display changes (our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions change), the bright energy behind the display is an ebbing and flowing that is constant.

Recognizing the splendor of the mind’s energy in this way takes our attention away from the content of appearances. It takes our attention away from the conceptuality (and its subsequent enmeshment). It takes us away from the stories and reduces obsession. This critical turn of attention lifts the veil of delusion.

When we understand these appearances are the light of our own awareness, they are no longer distant. We do not need to crave a self-fulfilling beauty. They are also no longer threatening. These appearances, once the trigger for grasping, transform into our friends. They can even become a cause of freedom and release.

THE HERE AND NOW

We might think the opposite of grasping is detachment, but actually it is intimacy. Intimacy can be approximated with the conceptual mind. We can understand it. We can imagine it. But approximation is not enough. True intimacy, the kind that the Buddha seems to be expressing when he smiles at his demons on the eve of his awakening, is embodied. Embodied intimacy arises from a neurological change in our response to appearances.

Back to the inquiry: how is it possible to remain motionless and peaceful, with eyes lowered and a smile on one’s face, while threats swirl so close at hand? It is possible when one embodies intimacy with abhasa.

At the very end of the Mula Sutta, the Buddha could have been describing what happens next:

“[The practitioner] dwells in ease right in the here and now– feeling unthreatened, placid, unfeverish– and is unbound right in the here and now.”

This connection between the Buddha’s intimacy with the maras and the radical presence of bodhi might hold a simple but profound key for those of us who meditate. It is a breadcrumb on the path of meditation. The most important goals of our practice may not be focus, relaxation, or even tranquility. Intimacy may be the most important goal and outcome of our practice, its most important promise, because the one thing keeping us from radical presence is our struggle with appearances.

Lama Willa Miller, PhD, is a teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the founder and spiritual director of Natural Dharma Fellowship in Boston and its retreat center, Wonderwell Mountain Refuge in Springfield, New Hampshire. She is a visiting lecturer on Buddhist ministry at Harvard Divinity School, and is author of Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You; Essence of Ambrosia: A Guide to Buddhist Contemplations; and The Arts of Contemplative Care. She was authorized as a lama (minister within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition) in 1999, following more than six years of silent retreat and intensive study.

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James Reis on “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron

When Things Fall Apart:  Heart Advice for Difficult Times -by Pema Chodron

How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart – when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety and pain?  The answer, Pema Chodron suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect.   . . . Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. (from the book jacket)

The Buddhist Sangha of Bucks County, met as a fourfold sangha and discussed this book at via zoom from 8-9pm after our sitting practice.   The following are reflections for each week complied by James Reis, who with Jeannie led our discussions.   The chapters are small, about 5-10 pages each.   The book is available online and at the library.

Excerpts Discussed Monday  June 22 :

Ch 1: On Intimacy with Fear: 

  • Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth
  • We cannot be present and run our story lines at the same time
  • Anyone who stands at the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without a reference point, experiences groundlessness.  That’s when our understanding goes deeper, when we find that the present moment is a pretty vulnerable place and that this can be completely unnerving and completely tender at the same time.
  • I once asked a Zen master Kobun Chino Roshi how he related to fear and he said, ‘I agree, I agree’

Ch 2: On When Things Fall Apart:

  • What happened to me when I got to the abbey was that everything fell apart.  All the ways I shield myself, all the ways I delude myself, all the ways I maintain my well-polished self-image – all of it fell apart.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t manipulate the situation.
  • When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something.  We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way.
  • The test for each of us is to stay on the brink and not concretize.
  • …. The only time we every know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out from under us.
  • Life is a good teacher and a good friend.
  • To stay with the shakiness, the broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with a feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge, that is the path to true awakening.

Ch 3: On This Very Moment is the Perfect Teacher:

  • Those events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news.
  • All addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it.
  • Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity.
  • The first thing that happens in meditation is that we start to see what’s happening.  Even though we still run away and we still indulge, we see what we’re doing clearly.  To the degree that we’re willing to see our indulging and our repressing clearly, they begin to wear themselves out.
  • We continue to make friends with our hopes and fears again and again.

Excerpts Discussed Monday June 29

Ch 4: On Relax as it is:

  • …not to speak of ‘concentrating’ on the out-breath but to use more fluid
    language. So we would tell students to ‘touch the out-breath and let it go’ or
    to ‘have a light and gentle attention on the out-breath’
  • If we connect with something blissful or inspiring, we might think we’ve
    finally got it and try to stay where there’s peace and harmony and nothing to
    fear…
  • Just how willing are we to lighten up and loosen our grip. How honest do we
    want to be with ourselves

Ch 5: On It’s Never Too Late:

  • I get many letters from ‘the worst person in the world’.
  • What makes Maitri (Metta, Loving-Kindness) such a different approach is
    that we are not trying to solve a problem.
  • When we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval
  • In the midst of the worst scenario (about ourselves), open space is always
    there
  • Cutting our expectations for a cure is a gift we give ourselves
  • There’s so much resentment and resistance to life. In all nations, it’s like a
    plague that’s gotten out of control and is poisoning the atmosphere of the
    world.

Ch 6: On Not Causing Harm:

  • By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as
    fundamental spaciousness
  • The ground of not causing harm is mindfulness, a sense of clear seeing with
    respect and compassion for what it is we see.
  • Refraining has something to do with giving up entertainment mentality….
    We see that there’s something between the arising of the craving, or the
    aggression or the loneliness or whatever it might be, and the action we take
    as a result.
  • There has to be some kind of respect for the jitters
  • We don’t waste the gift of speech in expressing our neurosis
  • To be completely here, without anxiety about imperfection

Excerpts Discussed Monday  July 6 

Ch 7: On Hopelessness and Death: 

  • Without giving up hope that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be, we will never relax with where we are or who we are.
  • Believing in a solid, separate self, continuing to seek pleasure and avoid pain, thinking that there is someone ‘out there’ to blame for our pain, one has to get totally fed up with these ways of thinking
  • The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong.  What a relief
  • Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides, (and so the are…) hopelessness and confidence.
  • On renunciation:  The real thing we renounce is the tenacious hope that we could be saved from being who we are.
  • All anxiety, all dissatisfaction, all the reasons for hoping that our experience could be different are rooted in the fear of death.

Ch 8: On Eight Worldly Dharmas:

  • We might feel that somehow we should try to eradicate the feelings of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace.  A more practical approach would be to get to know them.
  • We carry around a subjective reality that is continually triggering our emotional reactions.
  • When we become more insightful and compassionate about how we ourselves get hooked, we spontaneously feel more tenderness for the human race.

Ch 9: On Six Kinds of Loneliness:

  • … To have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness.
  • There are six ways of describing this kind of cool loneliness.  They are less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts.
  • Contentment:  When we have nothing, we have nothing to lose.
  • Complete discipline means that at every opportunity, we’re willing to come back, just gently come back to the present moment.
  • Not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts: The rug’s been pulled, the jig is up, there is no way to get out!  …. We do not expect security from our own internal chatter.

Excerpts For Monday  July 13  (Chapters 10, 11 and 12)

Ch 10: On Curious About Existence: 

  • Find out for yourself about peace and whether or not it’s true that our fundamental situation is joyful.
  • People have no respect for impermanence. We take no delight in it; in fact we despair of it.  We regard it as pain. 
  • Impermanence is a principle of harmony
  • Pain is not a punishment, pleasure is not a reward.
  • Wakefulness naturally radiates out when we are not so concerned with ourselves.
  • Egolessness is a state of mind that has complete confidence in the sacredness of the world.

Ch 11: On Non-aggression and the four Maras:

  • What we habitually regard as obstacles are not really our enemies, but are our friends.
  • Nothing ever really goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.
  • Human beings habitually become confused and lose touch with their wisdom mind.
  • We run like crazy to try to become comfortable
  • Our whole world falls apart and we are given this great opportunity, but we…. Want to get ourselves back, even our anger resentment fear and bewilderment.
  • We knock on every door asking people to sign petitions until there is a whole army of people who agree with us that everything is wrong.
  • When we talk about a good life, from the samsaric point of view, we mean that we have finally gotten it together.

Ch12: On Growing Up:

  • The wisdom of what we might call neurosis and the wisdom of unconditioned truth; can only be found in our experience.
  • Within that container of discipline (ie; meditation), why do we have to be so harsh?
  • When we begin to just try and accept ourselves, the ancient burden of self importance lightens up considerably.

Excerpts For Monday  July 20  (Chapters 13, 14 and 15)

Ch 13: On Widening the Circle of Compassion: 

  • Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.
  • Roshi Bernie Glassman . . .  said he doesn’t really do this work to help others; he does it because he feels that moving into the areas of society that he had rejected is the same as working with the parts of himself that he had rejected.
  • We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong.  It is a very common,  ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better.
  • Compassion and emptiness don’t mean much until we start cultivating our innate ability simply to be there with pain and an open heart and the willingness not to instantly try to get ground under our feet.
  • We make ourselves right or wrong.   This middle way involves not hanging on to our version so tightly.   It involves keeping our hearts and minds open long enough to entertain the idea that when we make things ‘wrong’ (or ‘right’), we do it out of a desire to obtain some kind of ground or security.  Could we see, hear or feel people as they really are?  
  • How are we ever going to change anything?  How is there going to be less aggression in the universe rather than more?   We can then bring it down to a more personal level: how do I learn to communicate with somebody who is hurting me?  How do I learn to speak to someone so that some change actually occurs, ….. so that some space opens up….?

Ch 14: On The Love That Will Not Die:

  • This kinship with the suffering of others, this inability to continue to regard it from afar, is the discovery of our soft spot, the discovery of bodhichitta, …. A Sanskrit word that means ‘noble or awakened heart.’
  • Stephen Levine tells the story of a woman who was dying and feeling overwhelming pain and bitterness… she unexpectedly began to experience the pain of others in agony, a starving mother in Ethiopia, a runaway teenager dying of an overdose in a dirty flat, a man crushed by a landslide and dying alone by the banks of a river.  She said that she understood that it wasn’t her pain; it was the pain of all beings. It wasn’t just her life, it was life itself.
  • When we protect ourselves so we don’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor; armor that imprisons the softness of the heart. 
  • Because bodhichitta gives us no ground, it cuts through concepts and ideals.  It does not take gearing up or struggling to achieve.  When strategies are not yet formed and we feel uncertain about which way to turn, in those moments of vulnerability, bodhicitta is always there.

Ch 15: On Going Against The Grain:

  • Tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering – our own and that which is all around us, everywhere we go.  It is a method for overcoming our fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our hearts.
  • We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person whom we know to be hurting and wish to help. ….this practice does go against the grain of wanting things on our own terms, wanting everything to work out for ourselves. 
  • Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure.
  • First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness.
  • Second, work with texture.   Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark and heavy, a sense of claustrophobia, and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright and light.
  • Third, work with a personal situation, any painful situation that’s real to you.
  • Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. Breathe in their pain and send them relief.

Excerpts For Monday  July 27, 2020

Ch 16: On Servants of Peace (the six paramitas or perfections or transcendent actions): 

  • When we are training in the art of peace, we are not given any promises that, because of our noble intentions, everything will be okay.  Instead, we are encouraged to simply look deeply at joy and sorrow, at laughing and crying, at hoping and fearing, at all that lives and dies.  We learn that what truly heals is gratitude and tenderness.
  • Prajna is the wisdom that cuts through the immense suffering that comes from seeking to protect our own territory.
  • If we think they are about achieving a standard of perfection, then we’ll feel defeated before we even begin.  It is more accurate to express the paramitas as a journey of exploration….
  • When we are able to be there without saying ‘I certainly agree with this’ or ‘I definitely don’t agree with that’, but just be here very directly, then we find fundamental richness everywhere.
  • The real transformation comes when we let go of our attachment and give away what we think we can’t.
  • What we discipline is not our ‘badness’ or our ‘wrongness’.   What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality.
  • Patience is the antidote to anger, a way to learn to love and care for whatever we meet on the path.  By patience, we do not mean enduring, grin and bear it. In any situation, instead of reacting suddenly, we could chew on it, smell it, look at it, and open ourselves to seeing what’s there.
  • Exertion is touching in to our appetite for enlightenment.   If we all knew how unhappy it was making this whole planet that we all try to avoid pain and seek pleasure, how that was making us so miserable and cutting us off from our basic heart and our basic intelligence, then we would practice meditation as if our hair were on fire.
  • Our birthright…. Is the wisdom with which we were born, the vast unfolding display of primordial richness….
  • When we work with generosity, we see our nostalgia for wanting to hold on.  When we work with discipline, we see our nostalgia for wanting to zone out and not relate at all.  When we work with patience, we discover our longing for speed.  Practicing exertion, we realize our laziness.  With meditation, we see our endless discursiveness.

Ch 17: On Opinions:

  • One of the best practices for everyday living when we don’t have much time for meditation is to  notice our opinions. …. This is an extremely helpful practice because we have a lot of opinions and we tend to take them as truth.
  • I’m talking about noticing opinions as a simple way of beginning to pay attention to what we think and how much energy comes along with that.  We can rightly say that the thinning of the ozone layer is a scientific fact; it’s not simply an opinion.  But if the way we work with trying not to further harm the ozone layer is to solidify our opinion against those we feel are at fault, then nothing ever changes; negativity begets negativity.
  • Although we are going in a direction… to help reduce suffering, we have to realize that part of that helping is keeping our clarity of mind, keeping our hearts and minds open.

Ch 18: On Secret Oral Instructions:

  • You may have noticed… that there is frequently an irritating, if not depressing, discrepancy between our ideals and good intentions and how we act when we are confronted with the nitty-gritty details of life.
  • ‘Bus story’
  • How do we mix our intentions to be alert and gentle in meditation with the reality that we sit down and immediately fall asleep?….For the practitioner, this is an exceedingly important place.

Ch 19: On Three Methods for Working with Chaos (No more struggle, Using poison as Medicine, and Choicelessness):   

  • Through practice we realize that we don’t have to obscure the joy and openness that is present in every moment of existence.
  • When we sit down to meditate, whatever arises in our minds we look at directly, call it ‘thinking’ and go back to the simplicity and immediacy of the breath.  Whatever or whoever arises, train again and again in looking at it and seeing it for what it is without calling it names, without hurling rocks, without averting our eyes.
  • The three poisons are passion (this includes craving or addiction), aggression, and ignorance (which includes denial or the tendency to shut down or close out).  ….. they can become seeds of compassion and openness.
  • We are told from childhood that something is wrong with us, with the world, and with everything that comes along; it’s not perfect, it has rough edges, it has a bitter taste, it’s too loud, too soft, too sharp, too wishy washy.  We cultivate a sense of trying to make things better because something is bad here, something is a mistake here, something is a problem here.
  • We can regard ourselves as already awake; we can regard our world as already sacred.

Ch 20: On The Trick of Choicelessness:

  • From the point of view of the teachings, thinking that we have ample time to do things later is the greatest myth, the greatest hangup, and the greatest poison.
  • There is no better time than right now, there is no higher state of consciousness than this one.
  • Looking for alternatives is the only thing that keeps us from realizing that we’re already in a sacred world.
  • If we don’t think there’s a better, more inspiring, less irritating, or less disturbing sound, sounds become vivid and transparent.

Ch 21: On Reversing the Wheel of Samsara:

  • Usually we feel that there’s a large problem and we have to fix it.  The instruction is to stop.  Do something unfamiliar.  Do anything besides rushing off in the same old direction, up to the same old tricks.
  • I stopped following through with my habitual plan.
  • That’s what Dharma is all about; turning all our habits around, reversing the process of how we make everything solid….
  • My experience is that by practicing without ‘shoulds’, we gradually discover our wakefulness and our confidence.
  • Every act counts.  Every thought counts too.  This is all the path we have.

Excerpts For Monday August 10 2020

Ch 22: On The Path is the Goal:    

  • Now is the time.  What does it take to use the life we already have in order to make us wiser rather than more stuck?
  • The source of wisdom is whatever is happening to us right at this very instant.
  • …we think that the reason we’re on the path is to get rid of this painful feeling.  (“When I get to LA I won’t feel this way anymore.”)  At that level of wanting to get rid of our feeling we naively cultivate a subtle aggression against ourselves.
  • …what seems undesirable in our lives doesn’t have to put us to sleep.

AFTERWORD:  – Instead of continuing to close down and defend our own territory, we can learn to relax with the true nature of reality, which is uncertain and unpredictable.  This is the only way to transform the world from a place of escalating aggression to a place of awakening. 

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The eightfold path is the fourth ennobling task – Discussion

The eightfold path is the fourth ennobling task.  

It is what leads to cessation.
The eightfold path can be divided into three sections: understanding, ethics and morality, and meditative practice.

Understanding or Wisdom

Wise View

Wise Intention

Ethics or Morality

Wise Speech

Wise Action 

Wise Livelihood

Meditative Practice

Wise Effort

Wise Mindfulness

Wise Concentration or Gatheredness

Each limb of the path supports the other limbs; they feed into each other.

The path is to be developed as a whole. There is much more to practice than what we do on the cushion.

The metaphor of path can be aspirational. However, there are other, non-sequential ways of understanding the practice.

The path is integrated. All aspects are to be developed: it is not a linear progression.

Following the path is an inquiry into what is “appropriate,” not necessarily what is “right.”

Akincano on The Intention to  Inquire

This quality of inquiry is such a big topic in early Buddhism. There are so many, many words that speak of forms of questioning, inquiring into, examining, investigating, reflecting on, probing into. There are so many, many words in the Pāli language that suggest that we very carefully touch into a particular terrain of our experience. So, one way of using the four truths would be a very simple grid. 

 I could ask:

First truthWhat hurts right now? What am I feeling discontented about? What is not good right now?
Second truthDoes it rest on something? Do I understand the origin of this discontent, its precursor? Do I understand the condition on which this rests?
Third truthCan I let go of the reason, cause, or condition that leads to what I am dissatisfied with? Can I let go of it a little bit? Do I want to let go of it?
Fourth truthWhat does this situation offer my practice? Maybe this is not a moment of stillness. Maybe it is a moment to enunciate my values and intentions. Maybe it is a moment in which I clarify my understanding. Maybe this is a moment in which I can practice effort. Maybe this is a moment in which I can strengthen mindfulness.

So I can use various path factors and connect them with a practice that is both intention and inquiry. One of the key terms for such enquiry is something Buddhist traditions call yoniso manasikara: radical inquiry. 

This means taking things from the root, probing into the origin of things and applying the fullness of your mind to phenomena so that you may understand more of it, hold more of it, and possibly bring some release into it.

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Selected Readings for Virtual Sangha Meetings

Incense Offering
In gratitude we offer this incense to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
throughout space and time.

May it be as fragrant as earth herself, reflecting our careful efforts, our
wholehearted awareness, and the fruit of understanding slowly ripening.

May we and all beings be companions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas .
May we awaken from forgetfulness and realize our true home .

Homage to the Buddha
Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato, samma sambuddhasa
Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato, samma sambuddhasa
Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato, samma sambuddhasa
Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The supremely Enlightened One
Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The supremely Enlightened One
Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The supremely Enlightened One

The Three Refuges
I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life .
I take refuge in the Dharma, the way of understanding and of love .
I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness.
(Bell)
Dwelling in the refuge of the Buddha,
I clearly see the path of light and beauty in this world.
Dwelling in the refuge of the Dharma, I learn to open many doors
on the path of transformation.
Dwelling in the refuge of the Sangha, shining light that supports me,
I keep my practice free of obstruction.
(Bell)
Taking refuge in the Buddha in myself, I aspire to help all people
recognize their own awakened nature, realizing the mind of love.
Taking refuge in the Dharma in myself, I aspire to help all people
fully master the ways of practice and walk together on the path of liberation.
Taking refuge in the Sangha in myself, I aspire to help all people
build fourfold communities, to embrace all beings and support their transformation.
(Two Bells)
The Four Immeasurables
(Repeat 3 times)
May all mother sentient beings, boundless as the sky,
have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May they be liberated from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they never be separated from the happiness that is free from sorrow.
May they rest in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.

Shantideva’s Dedication Prayer
May all beings everywhere
Plagued by sufferings of body and mind,
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy
By virtue of my merits.

May no living creature suffer,
Commit evil or ever fall ill.

May no one be afraid or belittled,
With a mind weighed down by depression.

May the blind see forms
And the deaf hear sounds.

May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose.

May the naked find clothing
The hungry find food

May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.

May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy;

May the hopeless find hope,
Constant happiness and prosperity.

May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests;

May all the medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit.

May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world,
May they never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power
And the people think of benefiting each other.

For as long as space remains,
For as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too remain
To dispel the miseries of the world.

Choices
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you,
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you,
As your shadow, unshakable.
How can a troubled mind understand the way?
Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
But once mastered, no one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.

Four Bodhisattva Vows
(chant 3 times)
All beings without number I vow to liberate
Endless blind passions I vow to uproot
Dharma gates beyond measure I vow to pass through
The great way of Buddha I vow to attain
Sharing the Merit
Beginning anew, practicing the way of awareness gives rise to benefits without limit .
We vow to share the fruits with all beings .
We vow to offer tribute to parents, teachers and friends,
and numerous beings who give guidance and support along the path.
Evening Gatha
Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken: Awaken!
Take heed; do not squander your life.

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Practicing with others online during pandemic (COVID-19)


Note: Most of the links use Zoom – is an online video conferencing platform. You can download the Zoom application for Windows or Mac for free, or you can access Zoom via their free apps for iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android. Once the software is installed you can join the Sunday or Monday conference at the scheduled time via the links above, or via the “Join a Meeting” button in the app (you’ll need to enter the appropriate conference number, given above). You can set up a free personal account on Zoom if you want, but it isn’t necessary to use the software. You can find more help on getting started in the Zoom Help Center online.


DDRC has meditation events online https://dharmadrumretreat.org/events/


Sounds True – resources for our challenging times


Live meditations with Plum Village https://plumvillage.org/live/ and Covid-19 practice resources https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/covid-resources-dharmatalks


Padma Dharini – MBSR Course via zoom Tthursdays. Email her at colettefanning@gmail.com for registration information.


10:30am BSBS is offering a daily sit https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/resources/daily-sit/


Common Ground Meditation Offers daily practice online


Mindfulness and Meditation Groups from Way Opens Center (Amy Ward Brimmer)
• Mindful Meetups: Twice weekly on Mondays at 12:30 pm and Fridays at 5:00 pm.
• Qigong & Meditation Hour: Tuesdays at 12:00 pm.
• Buck Insight Meditation group: Every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month.


Lama Gursam

  • 8:55am Zoom Meditation
  • 8:55pm evening meditation with Rodolfo Urdain as host.
  • Contact John Wenz johnrwenz49@gmail.com to get access to these meetings

Shotai at Turtleback Zendo zazen (meditation) daily at 7:20 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 9:00 p.m. Click for this and more info https://www.turtlebackzendo.org/

You can reach Shotai with any questions at turtlebackzendo@gmail.com.


Princeton Buddhist Meditation Group

* Sundays at 12:30
join in for virtual meditation and compassion practice. You can download the chantbook at the PBMG Resources page to use during practice.

* Sunday 1:00pm to 3:00pm EDT, Anam Thubten will offer, via free livestream, a guided meditation and a Dharma talk. To access the livestream, go to this web page: https://www.dharmata.org/memberstream/

If you’d like both to practice with us and to hear Anam Thubten teach: Typically he leads guided meditation at 1:00, and the teachings begin around 2:00–so you could still log in there immediately after practice.


Chan Meditation Center

Saturdays: 3/14 – 4/25, 11:00am – 12:30 pm (PDT) followed by Q&A 12:30 – 1:00 pm (optional)

Practice and learn together online, while building camaraderie, diligence and having fun. Explore the journey of self-mastery through Chan Meditation.


Soji Zen center

Offers a virtual zendo Monday evenings @ 7:00 pm (EST), Thursday evenings @ 7:00 pm and Sunday @ 10:00 am. The dharma talk is scheduled on Sundays @ 11:30 am. Check their website for the latest times


Insight Meditation Community of Washington – Various Online Meditations Click Here for Calendar of Events


Common Ground – practice opportunities available each week, beginning Sunday at 11:30 am EDT at https://commongroundmeditation.org/currentevents/calendar/


Rebecca Li

Helpful resources and meditations on Rebecca’s website – she also offers occasional zoom meditation and dharma talks live on zoom.  Free guided meditation   +  Dharma Talks


Other Online material in support of practice during the COVID-19 outbreak:

Lion’s Roar Magazine has published a number of articles on how to practice in a pandemic. 


Tricycle Magazine – free access to articles and videos on practicing in a pandemic.


CTBC

  • Tuesday Cyber Sangha Circle 7 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. EDT
  • Thursday Cyber Meditation 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. EDT
  • Sunday Cyber Sangha 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. EDT
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Bhikkhu Analayo next 4 weeks @ Buddhist Sangha

As we embark in this New Year, May your weeks be filled with peace, love, happiness and joy. Here’s to a wonderful and joyous new year!

The next four weeks we will be sharing a recorded video and meditation series offered freely through Barre Center for Buddhist studies in our 8-9pm discussion period.  

Bhikkhu Analayo presents a practical approach to the diverse challenges of climate change that is grounded in the teachings of early Buddhism.

Did you attend our New Years Retreat? Did you attend any of our Monday night meditations or discussions? 

We would like to hear from you about your experience with us – contact us

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Retreat into Being – December 31, 2019

12/31/2019 – On this last evening of the year, you are invited to join the BSBC community for a rare and lovely opportunity to engage in extended meditation practice with our sangha. The retreat will be from 8 pm to 12 am.  Everyone is welcome to come for the whole or part of the evening.

The retreat will include guided meditation instructions, chanting, alternating sitting movement and walking  meditation periods, and a time for sharing poems, readings and reflections.

Sangha member and long-time practitioner Jeanne Reis will lead the retreat with BSBC founder James Reis who will travel from Boston MA.

If you aren’t able to arrive at 8 pm, you may either time your arrival to coincide with a walking session or enter quietly if the group is sitting. If a sitting is in progress, choose a spot in the back of the hall, then feel free move to a preferred spot during the next walking session. There will be chanting sessions at the beginning and end of the evening; chanting sheets will be provided.

You may bring a favorite poem, reading, and snack to share at teatime, if you wish.

The theme this year will be Memories and Reflections: Holding time with Lovingkindness.
Suggested donation is $20 to cover the cost of reserving the meetinghouse

Please contact us with questions 

Tentative Evening Schedule:

8:00 –   8:30 pm                    Welcome, settle in, quiet sitting meditation
8:30 –   9:00 pm                    Opening session
9:00 –   9:30 pm                    Quiet sitting
9:30 –   10:15 pm                  Tea: share readings, poems, intentions
10:15 – 11:45 pm                   Alternating quiet sitting and walking
11:45 – 12:00 am                   Closing and final chant

*You may opt to continue sitting during walking sessions, if you wish 

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Stephen Procter 4 week series in Nov/Dec 2019

Stephen Procter will be joining us via Skype to teach a 4 week series:  Mindfulness in Daily Living (MIDL)

  • Observing Thinking in Mindfulness Meditation
  • Mindfulness Meditation in Daily Life

Stephen has dedicated his life to the practice of understanding the mind, reducing suffering and had created a systematic training method for practicing and developing the Satipatthana path to full maturity within daily life.  http://www.meditationintheshire.com.au/

* We will also have his book available 

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Lama Gursam – How to love yourself and others in challenging times

Join us for and evening and full day urban retreat : how to love yourself and others in challenging times with Lama Gursam

Suggested donation $40 Fri eve/Sat all day Or $20 Fri eve; $25 Sat day

Love is the wish that we and others should be happy. Love wishes for the benefit of self and others without any expectations. That is the academic definition of the term. All beings, human and non-human, young and old, have a natural desire for happiness. Everyone deserves happiness and no one deserves suffering. So love is most basic and important.

Love has to start with oneself. Love for oneself is most important for the beginning practitioner. It is very important to love oneself. In the tantric practice one cannot have a bad opinion of oneself, one must view oneself and others as deities. Therefore, loving oneself is very important. Loving oneself has to be practiced to recognize who we are. We all have the buddha nature. Everyone has the qualities of a buddha: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. All these great qualities are within oneself. Therefore, we have buddha nature and can love oneself. When we recognize our own buddha nature we recognize everyone has these qualities. The only difference is that some recognize these qualities and some do not.

At practice time we start first with whomever has shown love to us. This can be our parents, friends, grand parents, or adopted parents. We have to recognize and remember who loves us. That is very important for the beginning meditation. It has to start with recognizing the love others have given us. We have to remember their kindness again and again. We don’t have to remember the negative feelings, but should remember the kindness that others have shown us. From remembering this some warm feeling will develop. So a feeling rises of love toward that person. We will wish that they be happy and that we can help them. That rises naturally in the heart. That is very important at practice time. Then slowly the feeling must extend to others, not just for oneself and the one who has loved us. Since others have the same desire for happiness that we do, our love must pervade to others. That doesn’t mean our love decreases for those who have loved us. Our love only increases as it spreads to others.

Lama teaches in English, and always tries to focus on the practical application of the Dharma in everyday life.

Lama Gursam went to monastery at a very young age, received teachings as a monastic, and studied and practiced as a monastic. Then Lama Gursam went to study in Tibetan University Sarnath, Varanasi, India to get both bachelors and masters degrees in Buddhist Philosophy, History, and languages. Upon graduation he received a special award for scholastic achievement from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

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Guest Teacher Rebecca Li – No self or Not self – applying the teachings to every day life – 11/18/2019

Here are the recordings from Rebecca’s visit, first half:

On Monday, November 18th, we were happy to host Dr. Rebecca Li at the Sangha. A dharma heir in the Chan lineage of Master Sheng Yen, Rebecca lead us in guided meditation and the dharma talk was “No self or not self? How should we consider the teachings on Anatta?”

–Very basically, anatta (or anatman in Sanskrit) is the teaching that there is no permanent, eternal, unchanging, or autonomous “self” inhabiting “our” bodies or living “our” lives. Anatman is contrasted with the Vedic teachings of the Buddha’s day, which taught that there is within each of us an atman, or an unchanging, eternal soul or identity. 

Anatta or anatman is one of the Three Marks of Existence. The other two are dukkha (roughly, unsatisfying) and anicca (impermanence). In this context, anatta often is translated as “egolessness.” 

Of critical importance is the teaching of the Second Noble Truth, which tells us that because we believe we are a permanent and unchanging self, we fall into clinging and craving, jealousy and hate, and all the other poisons that cause unhappiness. —  More reading on this topic: https://www.learnreligions.com/self-no-self-whats-a-self-450190

Dr. Rebecca Li, began her teacher’s training with Master Sheng Yen 1999 when she also began to serve as his translator until his passing in 2009. Starting in the mid-2000s, she also trained with John Crook and Simon Child, two lay Dharma heirs of the master, and received full Dharma transmission from Simon Child in 2016. Currently, she leads Chan retreats, teaches meditation and Dharma classes, and gives public lectures in North America, the U.K., and in Taiwan. Her talks and writings can be found at www.rebeccali.org. She is the founder and guiding teacher of Chan Dharma Community and a sociology professor at The College of New Jersey, where she also serves as faculty director of the Alan Dawley Center for the Study of Social Justice.

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