Meditation is not easy. It takes time and it takes energy. It also takes grit, determination, and discipline. It requires a host of personal qualities that we normally regard as unpleasant and like to avoid whenever possible. We can sum up all of these qualities in the American word gumption. Meditation takes gumption. It is certainly a great deal easier just to sit back and watch television. So why bother? Why waste all that time and energy when you could be out enjoying yourself?
“The gradual training essentially involves learning how to quiet down and observe your thoughts and behavior and then to change them into something more conductive to meditation and awareness. It is a slow process, not to be hurried.” p16-17
~ Bhante Gunaratana (from “Eight mindful steps to happiness: Walking the path of the Buddha.” Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.)
“So don’t be in a hurry and try to push or rush your practice. Do your meditation gently and gradually step by step. In regard to peacefulness, if you become peaceful, then accept it; if you don’t become peaceful, then accept that also. That’s the nature of the mind. We must find our own practice and persistently keep at it.”
The Bhavana Society Theravada Buddhist Monastery near High View, W.Va., in Hampshire County, has announced its retreat schedule for 2016 on the monastery’s website. Retreat sign-ups begin 30 days before a retreat begins and you are encouraged to sign up quickly as Bhavana retreats are attended by people from around the country and world and fill up fast. There is no charge for retreats, in the spirit of Buddhist traditions that sees teachings as given freely because they are considered priceless. But dana — generosity — is always welcome as Bhavana survives entirely upon the generosity of its supporters and visitors.
The Introduction to Meditation retreat, Thursday, March 24 to Sunday, March 27 is open for registrations, but only for women, as all the spots for men have been filled. Here is the schedule for the year:
In 2016, the Meditation Circle will be focusing on anapanasati, a core meditation practice in the Buddha’s teaching, focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath and the 16 steps or instructions involved with deeply investigating the breath. This was one of the chief methods of meditation the Buddha likely practiced and taught throughout his 40 years of teaching. The 16 steps are divided into four sections or ‘tetrads.’
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Breathing in a long breath, one knows one is breathing in a long breath.
Breathing out a long breath, one knows one is breathing out a long breath.
Breathing in a short breath, one knows one is breathing in a short breath.
Breathing out a short breath, one knows one is breathing out a short breath.
Breathing in, one experiences the whole body.
Breathing out, one experiences the whole body.
Breathing in, one relaxes the bodily formations.
Breathing out, one relaxes the bodily formations.
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Breathing in, one experiences joy (or enjoyment).
Breathing out, one experiences joy (or enjoyment).
Breathing in, one experiences pleasure (or well-being).
Breathing out, one experiences pleasure (or well-being).
Breathing in, one experiences one’s mental formations.
Breathing out, one experiences one’s mental formations.
Breathing in, one relaxes one’s mental formations.
Breathing out, one relaxes one’s mental formations.
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Breathing in, one experiences the mind.
Breathing out, one experiences the mind.
Breathing in, one has satisfaction of mind.
Breathing out, one has satisfaction of mind.
Breathing in, one composes the mind.
Breathing out, one composes the mind.
Breathing in, one liberates the mind.
Breathing out, one liberates the mind.
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Breathing in, one contemplates impermanence.
Breathing out, one contemplates impermanence.
Breathing in, one contemplates fading away (of clinging).
Breathing out, one contemplates fading away (of clinging).
Breathing in, one contemplates cessation (of clinging).
Breathing out, one contemplates cessation (of clinging).
Breathing in, one contemplates relinquishment.
Breathing out, one contemplates relinquishment.
+ + + If you wish to explore on your own the teachings on anapanasati, here are some suggestions:
Larry Rosenberg talks. Lay Buddhist teacher Larry Rosenberg (author of “Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation“) says of his teaching approach: “The method I use most in teaching is anapanasati or mindfulness with breathing. Breath awareness supports us while we investigate the entire mind-body process. It helps calm the mind and gives us a graceful entry into a state of choiceless awareness–a place without agendas, where we are not for or against whatever turns up in the moment.” Here is a link to a page of audio files of his teachings at DharmaSeed.org. Click on the white bar that says ‘Select from Larry Rosenberg’s 308 Talks’ and find a host of them on anapanasati.
+ + + Come join the circle! Beginners are always welcome or those who are renewing a meditation practice. You don’t need to self-identify as a Buddhist to gain the benefits of a regular meditation practice. The Meditation Circle meets every Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation building, 520 Kanawha Blvd W, in Charleston, W.Va. For directions, click here.
Esteemed lay meditation teach Sharon Salzberg is hosting a Meditation Challenge this month, encouraging people to meditate each day this month and emailing participants guided meditations. More than 13,000 folks have signed up. Deadline to join the challenge is midnight tonight. You can do so at this link:
Are you having a hard time building a consistent daily meditation practice? Rather than worrying about how long your sessions should be, focus on really trying make daily meditation a habit.
Start out with the expectation of just sitting or walking for 5-10 minutes a day. Trust me when I say from experience that doing 5-10 minutes of meditation a day is much more fruitful then doing 30-60 minutes once or twice a week.
When you build up the habit of every day sitting, even for 5-10 minutes, you are creating a skillful habit that will bring you and others great benefit. As you start to see these benefits you will naturally have the desire to meditate longer periods and the seeds of your initial practice will grow.
That’s not to say it will be easy, or that you reach a point where meditation is all sunshine and rainbows. Meditation is hard work and you will have your good and bad days, cycles of practice where you feel like a meditation master followed right after by cycles that make you feel less then a newbie, it’s all the nature of the practice, and it’s all worth it. Consistently practicing through the ebbs and flows is how it’s done.
Remember consistency breeds stability, start small and build a strong base that will lead you to peace.
Here is a loving-friendliness meditation for the start of 2016. This comes from the 20th anniversary edition of Bhante Gunaratana’s classic primer on Buddhist meditation practice, “Mindfulness in Plain English” and the concluding chapter “The Power of Loving Friendliness.” Bhante G writes:
I’d like to offer another way to practice loving friendliness. Again, you start out in this meditation by banishing thoughts of self-hatred and condemnation. At the beginning of a meditation session, say the following sentences to yourself. And again, really feel the intention:
May my mind be filled with the thoughts of loving-friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. May I be generous. May I be gentle. May I be relaxed. May I be happy and peaceful. May I be healthy. May my heart become soft. May my words be pleasing to others. May my actions be kind.
May all that I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think help me to cultivate loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May all these experiences help me to cultivate thoughts of generosity and gentleness. May they all help me to relax. May they inspire friendly behavior. May these experiences be a source of peace and happiness. May they help me be free from fear, tension, anxiety, worry, and restlessness.
No matter where I go in the world, in any direction, may I greet people with happiness, peace, and friendliness. May I be protected in all directions from greed, anger, aversion, hatred, jealousy, and fear.
“The Buddhamas Carol” or “Ode of a Vipassana Yogi” was composed by Bhante Yogavacara Rahula with a little musical accompaniment by The Clementines. The lyrics are a short course in Buddhist teachings on the path to enlightenment. See more about Bhante Rahula below the lyrics and follow his world travels at bhanterahula.blogspot.com. Through the years, he has visited the Meditation Circle several times and is planning a return visit in 2016.
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“The Buddhamas Carol” by Yogavacara Rahula
Silent Night, Peaceful Night,
All is calm, Stars are bright,
Round the hall Yogis sitting still,
Keeping their backs straight, exerting will,
Enduring pain without any ill-will,
Pervading Metta all throughout space,
Wishing good-will to the whole human race.
Silent Mind, Peaceful Mind,
Thoughts are few, pain is slight,
Focusing mind at the tip of the nose,
Knowing each breath as it comes and it goes,
Perceiving the light that steadily glows,
Feeling the rapture from head to the toes.
Silent Mind, Tranquil Mind,
Thoughts are stilled, Body is light,
All the Five Hindrances have died down,
The Ego no longer is spinning around,
Mind is one-pointed not moving a bit,
Enjoying at long last the Jhanic Bliss.
Sitting in Rapturous Joy, Sitting in Rapturous Joy.
Silent Mind, focused Mind,
All is calm, Mind is bright
The Spiritual Faculties are prepared,
Vipassana-Insight has Mara scared,
Scanning the body from head to the toes,
Anicca, Anicca, each moment goes,
Anicca, Anicca, Impermanence shows.
The Five Aggregates appear empty as foam,
The Truth of No-Self is easily known.
Silent Mind, Wisdom Mind,
Awareness is strong, Wisdom is fine,
The six sense-impingements arise and pass,
No desire, no clinging, no ego to grasp,
No holding to present, future or past,
Mara has vanished he’s took his last gasp,
This body-mind house is empty at last,
Sitting and walking the whole night through,
Greeting the dawn completely anew.
Silent Mind, Holy Mind,
Now is the time, Conditions are prime.
The Enlightenment Factors are developed well.
The Four Noble Truths become clear as a bell,
The Eye of Dhamma is opened wide,
The three lower fetters are broken in stride.
Tonight the Yogi enters the Stream,
Tomorrow Nibbana no longer a Dream.
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Bhante Yogavacara Rahula
Bhante Rahula has led an interesting life, chronicled in his book “Autobiography of an American Monk.” Here is a little more more about him from a 2008 profile by Bill Lynch in the Charleston Gazette newspaper in West Virginia. He is planning on making a visit to Charleston and the Meditation Circle in 2016.
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Bhante Rahula’s story of how he went from typical hippie to clear-headed Buddhist monk is chronicled in his book, “One Night’s Shelter: Autobiography of an American Monk.” Two versions of the book exist. There’s the “green” version, which catalogs his extensive drug use and sexual escapades. It details his time as a drug dealer, mentions his time in the Army stockade for being AWOL, as well as his arrest and detainment in an Afghan prison after trying to smuggle drugs into India.
“That’s the toned-down version,” said the 59 year-old monk, laughing. “The other version is much juicier. More sex, more drugs, more rock ‘n’ roll.”
Bhante Rahula doesn’t celebrate who he was in the 1960s, but he’s not afraid of it. He’s at peace with it. If not for the constant craving for chemically induced experiences, he might not have found his way to the dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. Wishing now to have been different then is pointless.
“It’s all just grist for the mill,” he said. “Taking all of those drugs. I didn’t know any alternative
He acknowledges that he got off pretty easy. He made it out alive.
Becoming a Buddhist, then a monk started with his craving. He was always on the lookout for the next high, the next profound experience. While he was traveling in the mountains of Asia, he heard about a meditation course in Katmandu. He went looking for another experience, but stayed for the enlightenment.
“That was the turnaround for me,” he said. “I had this very deep insight, and I just wanted to pursue meditation and the dharma.”
“In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. The pith instruction is to stay….stay….just stay. So whenever we wander off we gently encourage ourselves to stay and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay. Discursive mind? Stay. Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay. Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay. What’s for lunch? Stay. What am I doing here? Stay. I can’t stand this another minute! Stay. This is how we cultivate steadfastness.