Establishing a meditation practice

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The following encouragement and advice about establishing a regular meditation practice comes from Samanera Jayantha, a recently ordained novice monk at the Bhavana Society Theravada Buddhist forest monastery near High View, W.Va.

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.

~ Samanera Jayantha

A loving friendliness meditation for 2016

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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.

 

A Buddhist holiday carol

“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.buddha_smile

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.”

For the full story, click here.

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To read Bhante Rahula’s autobiography and other books, click here.

Just stay

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Image courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_meditation
“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.
~ Pema Chodron
from “The Places That Scare You”

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In Memorium: Joe Miller

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The Meditation Circle of Charleston is a small and fluid Sangha, with lots of people coming and going and some staying for a long while. We would like to note the passing of a long-time member, Joe Miller, who for many years graced us with his presence.  Joe died Nov. 16, 2015 at the age of 67 of kidney cancer at Hospice of Kanawha Valley.

He was a sweet and gracious man. As the program for his memorial service noted, Joe was “a polymath and Renaissance man”:

“He was a psychometrist, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, a mobility teacher of the blind, a lawyer, a field biologist, executive secretary of the North American Mycological Association, a fiction writer, a web developer and an actor. His many hobbies and avocational pursuits included astronomy, photography, woodworking, singing and performing in a barbershop chorus and doo-wop quartet…”

(At his memorial service, his fellows from Uncle Ernie’s Boys serenaded us with a wonderfully layered and unconventional Recessional of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”)

I first came to know Joe better when in 2011 I staged a portion of “Saint Stephen’s Dream: A Space Opera,” for FestivALL Charleston in the self-same room where the Meditation Circle meets each Tuesday at 6 p.m. In this eco-sci-fi tale, a portion of humankind flees a sick Earth into orbit, living in thousands of ships and escaping the torment of losing their home by creating holographic dream worlds. In one of the great ships, the height of Venetian society is recreated, ruled over by a stern and authoritarian doge.

The story revolves around the battles a group of rebels have with the Doge and his men, and their desire to return to Earth. Each night of the four-night run of the show, a different person portrayed the Doge (Alex Bannerman, Larry Groce,  Gary Brown and Joe Miller). They all wore the same magnificent, award-winning and historically accurate doge costume made available to us by Magic Makers in Huntington. Each of the Doge actors bought a different quality to the role. I played one of the rebels, but when it came time for Joe’s turn as Doge I was struck by his imperious but dignified portrayal. Joe would have made a great Doge in real life. I could see why people followed him, he played the role so well.

He was many things to many people and much beloved. He is deeply missed. Fare thee well, friend.

~ Douglas Imbrogno

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Doge Miller, right before entering the set of “Saint Stephen’s Dream: A Space Opera,” in 2011 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Getting familiar with the present moment

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“Simply be with the sense of the breath coming in, going out, allowing it to fill the body. Allow it to find its own right rhythm. You nudge it a little bit here, nudge it a little bit there to make it feel good, and this makes it easier to get pulled into the present moment rather than into the future or the past. You develop a greater and greater sense of mental seclusion by just dropping those distractions, dropping all those voices and attitudes that pull you back or pull you forward. You allow yourself simply to be right here, absorbed in working with the breath, settled down with a sense of wellbeing, settled down with a sense of familiarity.

“It takes time, of course, to get familiar with the present moment, because for the most part we’re just running through. We’re like a little kid who runs home — “Hi, Mom!” — grabs a sandwich and runs out again: That’s “dinner.” We have a fragmentary sense of the present moment as we rush through from the past to the future and from the future to the past.

“The only time we really take notice of the present is when pain transfixes us here. Well, during the meditation, get a sense of pleasure and allow that to transfix you in here instead. This is what creates true mental seclusion. The past and the future drop away and all you’ve got left is the body sitting here breathing — right here, right now. You’ve got mindfulness reminding you to stay right here, alertness keeping watch over what’s going on, and discernment absorbed in trying to understand it.

“That’s a much deeper and more satisfying sense of seclusion. Ultimately, it forms the basis for the third one, seclusion from craving. As the Buddha said, craving is our constant companion even when the mind is in the present. To cut through this craving, we have to call into question the things we’ve been identifying with. In his second sermon, the Buddha pointed out to the monks that if you let go of your attachment to form, feeling, perception, thought-constructs, and consciousness, what happens? In their case they attained Awakening. In other words, they became secluded even from their sense of who they were in the present moment — because our sense of who we are is composed of those five kinds of things, coupled with craving and clinging. Form: the form of the body. Feelings: You may identify with a pain, saying “This is my pain,” or you may identify with a more metaphysical feeling, a larger sense of light or wellbeing, a sense of bliss. You may think that that’s who your true self is. Then there’s the label that says, “This is my self.” That’s a perception. Thought-constructs: You identify with your thinking, or the Thinker. Or you identify with the moment-to-moment consciousness of things.

“As long as you identify with these things, you crave them. You’re still not secluded from them. You still have companions. But when you create that still center inside and allow yourself simply to watch these things, you step back and realize that you don’t have to identify with them. Self-identification is an act. Our sense of who we are is something we create. As you step back from these things and allow that activity of repeatedly creating your sense of who you are to fall away, see what happens. Then learn to drop your sense of identification even with the still center inside. See what happens then. The Buddha says that an even greater sense of freedom comes. See if he’s right.

“When you taste that freedom, you’re no longer a slave to these things. Instead, they become your tools. You can use them for good purposes.

“So this process of gaining seclusion is a process not only of growing up but also of gaining freedom. We look at all the influences rushing around in our minds and we come to realize that we have the ability to choose which ideas are useful and which ones are not, which of the phenomena we’re aware of are useful and which ones are not. We don’t have to be driven around by them all the time.

“For most of us, life is a story of just that: being driven around. And this involves a lot of conflict because there are so many conflicting voices in our minds. This or that person gets under our skin and all of a sudden we start identifying with their particular way of thinking; another way of thinking gets under our skin and that gets incorporated too. We never really have a chance to sit back and sort things through, to see where they’re harmonious and where they’re not….”

~Thanissaro Bhikkhu
from “Rites of Passage”
July 2003

Meditation Circle at PeaceTree Center on Sat., Dec. 5

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The Meditation Circle of Charleston will be on the road for a  group meditation session from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday (Dec. 5) at the wonderful PeaceTree Center, about a five-minute drive from the Huntington Mall, off Interstate 64 at 5930 Mahood Dr., Huntington.  Beginners are encouraged and there will be guided meditation practice and a chance to talk about meditation. Chairs and a few cushions are available. Free. This is the start of a monthly meditation gathering at PeaceTree, to take place the first Saturday of every month, so mark your calendars.

 

On Spiritual Friends

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“There is no big difference between a spiritual friend and a teacher, because one plays both roles in spiritual matters. Someone who strives for liberation from suffering needs a spiritual friend until they attain liberation. So a spiritual friend would not say, “I have played my role. Now you are on your own.” Rather he would say to you, “Come any time you need help. Don’t forget to ask me any questions. I am available to you any time. Whenever you have any difficulty, remember, I am here waiting to help you. Don’t think you are alone. I am here.”

“Spiritual friends give you a sense of security. You always feel someone is paying attention to your spiritual needs. You feel there is somebody to help you. You don’t feel as if they will ignore you. A spiritual friend is there to help guide you in the right direction.”

~Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
“Preserving the Dhamma” (page 206).

Bhavana Society Forest Monastery (2007). www.bhavanasociety.org
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(Quote courtesy of the Bhavana Society Facebook page)

one moment of mindfulness

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“One suggestion of how to maintain awareness, is to have a sense of humility and simplicity. These things help. There is a monk at Amaravati who tends to strive too hard, then fail, then get depressed, then frustrated by the thought that he needs more solitude, more isolation and a different environment. He thinks there are too many distractions at Amaravati, too many people. One way I have of handling this is to be grateful for the moments I am mindful. If I get caught up in the life of the monastery, pulled this way and that and am not very mindful, then suddenly—I remember! And I treasure that; I value that rather than think, ‘Oh, I’m trying to be mindful but I can’t do it,’ and beating myself up because I vowed in the morning to be mindful the whole day, but failed. I would go into these states of, ‘Oh, there I go again; I shouldn’t have done that!’ and nag myself, criticize myself and feel like a failure. But even if there is only one moment in the whole day when I am mindful, I can feel this ‘thank you!’ To me that is more helpful than beating yourself up, because that doesn’t help you in any way. Meditation is not a matter of success, of being able to achieve goals and prove ourselves. Remember that.”

~ Ajahn Sumedho
from “Don’t Take Your Life Personally”

A meditation group in the Buddhist insight tradition, based in Charleston, W.Va.