Following the Buddha’s instructions, you can work with the body and body awareness as part of your own spiritual path, most fundamentally as a means for learning to stay present. This is called mindfulness of the body, which the Buddha taught as the First Foundation of Mindfulness practice. When you first begin to meditate, it becomes immediately obvious why the Buddha started with the body-you continually get lost in your thoughts.
In vipassana meditation we cultivate this special way of seeing life. We train ourselves to see reality exactly as it is, and we call this special mode of perception mindfulness. This process of mindful- ness is really quite different from what we usually do. We usually do not look into what is actually there in front of us. We see life through a screen of thoughts and concepts, and we mistake those mental objects for reality. We get so caught up in this endless thought-stream that reality flows by unnoticed. We spend our time engrossed in activity, caught up in an eternal pursuit of pleasure and gratification and eternal flight from pain and unpleasantness. We spend all of our energies trying to make ourselves feel better, trying to bury our fears, endlessly seeking security. Meanwhile, the world of real experience flows by untouched and untasted. In vipassana meditation we train ourselves to ignore the constant impulses to be more comfortable, and we dive into reality instead.
~Bhante Gunaratana, “Mindfulness in Plain English”
“This is why the Buddha says that uncertainty is overcome by looking at skillful and unskillful qualities in the mind. To begin with, you’re focusing your attention on the most important issue in life, which is what sort of impact your actions are having, and particularly what kind of impact your mind states are having. After all, the source of action is in the mind. If you’re uncertain about different mental qualities, then watch. Try developing goodwill; try being generous; try observing the precepts. See what kind of impact these qualities have on your life.”
~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu “Virtue Contains the Practice”| Read full Dhamma talk
My trials continue
On and on
Now I’ll see
My mind really is
– Daito (1282-1337)
(Quote courtesy DailyZen.com)
When the Buddha was giving his very first instructions on monastic discipline, and this was to a spontaneous gathering of 1,250 of his enlightened disciples at the Bamboo Grove, his first words were: “Patient endurance is the supreme practice for freeing the heart from unwholesome states.”
So when someone would come to Ajahn Chah with a tale of woe, of how their husband was drinking and the rice crop looked bad this year, his first response would often be: “Can you endure it?” This was said not as some kind of macho challenge, but more as a way of pointing to the fact that the way beyond suffering is neither to run away from it, wallow in it, or even grit one’s teeth and get through on will alone—no—the encouragement of patient endurance is to hold steady in the midst of difficulty, to truly apprehend and digest the experience of dukkha, to understand its causes and let them go.
~From “Food For the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah”
‘Sabbe satta sukhi hontu’
~ May all beings be well
How to cope with wavering thoughts?
Versatile are flying clouds,
Yet from the sky they’re not apart.
Mighty are the ocean’s waves,
Yet they are not separate from the sea.
Heavy and thick are banks of fog,
Yet from the air they’re not apart.
Frantic runs the mind in voidness,
Yet from the Void it never separates.
(Quote courtesy of DailyZen.com)
“.. Don’t hate your fears or fear your fears. Learn how to educate them. When they’re educated and trained, they’re part of the path to the end of suffering. This is part of the Buddha’s genius: He took things that many of us don’t like about the mind, things that actually cause trouble in the mind, and learned how to tame them, to train them, so that they actually become part of the path to the end of suffering. In this way, you can reach a place in the mind where there really is no more reason to fear. As Ven. Ananda said, you use desire to come to the end of desire. In the same way, you can use fear, treating it wisely, to bring yourself to the end of fear. And as it turns out, that’s the only way you can get there.”
~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu from “The Uses of Fear”
“Many of those who come to see me have a high standing in the community. Among them are merchants, college graduates, teachers, and government officials. Their minds are filled with opinions about things. They are too clever to listen to others. It is like a cup of water. If a cup is filled with stale, dirty water, it is useless. Only after the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful.
“You must empty your minds of opinions, then you will see. Our practice goes beyond cleverness and stupidity. If you think that you are clever, wealthy, important, or an expert in Buddhism, you cover up the truth of non-self. All you will see is self — I and mine. But Buddhism is letting go of self. Those who are too clever will never learn. They must first get rid of their cleverness, first empty their ‘cup.'”
~ Ajahn Chah
Ajahn Chah was one of the great Buddhist masters of the 20th century. The following is a vintage talk given by him in his direct and unadorned style of teaching. The aside (“Whose parents are these?”) is quite charming and the extemporaneous talk he gives turns into an illuminating seminar on sitting meditation practice. Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
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This was a public talk by Ajahn Chah given on October 10, 1977, addressed to the parents of a monk who had come from France to visit their son at his Thai monastery. From “Still Flowing Water”
SO NOW… There’s been not enough time…. too little time…. You’ve been visiting for many days now, and we haven’t had the chance to talk, to ask questions, because here at Wat Nong Pa Pong there’ve been many visitors, both day and night. So we haven’t had the opportunity to talk.
to visit with your son, the monk. I’m glad for you, but I don’t have any gift to give to you.
There are already lots of material things and whatnot in Paris. Lots of material things. But there’s not much Dhamma to nourish people’s hearts and bring them peace. There’s not much at all. From what I observed when I was there, all I could see were things to stir up the heart and give it trouble all the time. From what I observed, Paris seems to be very advanced in terms of all kinds of material things that are sensual objects—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas that act as temptations for people who aren’t familiar with the Dhamma, getting them all stirred up. So now I’d like to give a gift of Dhamma that you can put into practice in Paris after you leave Wat Nong Pa Pong and Wat Pa Nanachat.
The Dhamma is a condition that can cut through and reduce the problems and difficulties in the human heart—reducing them, reducing them until they’re gone. This condition is called Dhamma. So you should train yourself in this Dhamma in your daily life. When any preoccupation strikes and disturbs the mind, you can then solve the problem, you can resolve it. That’s because problems of this sort, everyone—whether here in Thailand, abroad, everywhere: If you don’t know how to solve this problem, it’s normal that you suffer.
building discernment, training discernment, making discernment arise from within our heart. As for the path of practice, it’s nothing far away. It’s right within you: in your body and mind. It’s the same whether you’re Thai or from abroad. The body and mind are what stir up trouble. But the body and mind can bring peace.
Continue reading The Path of Practice is Nothing Far Away
“Just be mindful of your bodily activities, every moment, every posture and every action that you do. Just watch. Don’t send your mind to think about something else. When you’re walking, standing, eating, taking a shower, driving or whatever activity you do, stay with that activity. This is being mindful.”
“When you come to sit in concentration, then even if your mind isn’t yet quiet, simply sitting in the meditation posture is something good. It’s better than people who don’t even do that much.
“It’s like being hungry, but today there’s only rice, with nothing to go with it. We feel disgruntled, but I’d say that it’s better than having no rice at all. Eating plain rice is better than not eating anything, right? If all you have is plain rice, eat that for the time being.
“It’s better than not eating anything at all. The same with this: Even if we know only a little about how to practice, it’s still good.”
Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Only when the mind
Is settled can it become quiet.
Only when the mind
Is quiet can it become still.
Only when the mind
Is still can it see.
And only when the mind can see,
Can it reach the mystery of mysteries.
This is the process
That anyone who
Practices has to go through.
How long it takes
Is up to the individual.
(Quote courtesy of DailyZen.com)
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NOTE: We recently revised the set-up of our meeting times for the Meditation Circle’s “About” page and wanted to share that with members of the circle and those interested in attending. | Thad and Doug
WHO WE ARE:
Welcome. The Meditation Circle is a meditation group in the Buddhist tradition, practicing vipassana or insight meditation. We’re based in Charleston, West Virginia, and meet every Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd.
Those wishing instruction in basic, breath-centered Buddhist meditation are welcome to arrive from 5:30 to 6 p.m., along with seasoned meditators who may wish to sit longer or for whom that time period is better for their schedules.
We’re a lay support group for people interested in meditation or who wish to deepen their practice through the support of a meditation sangha. Our members come from a wide variety of spiritual traditions and backgrounds. You do not need to be Buddhist to enjoy the benefits of a meditation practice. The circle’s facilitators are not teachers and we encourage people to seek out seasoned teachers to further their practice. Cushions, meditation benches and chairs are available or you are welcome to bring your own cushion, if you wish.
WHAT WE DO:
The time from 5:30 to 6 p.m. p.m.. is set aside for basic instruction in sitting, standing, and walking meditation for those new to meditation, along with discussion about maintaining a regular meditation practice. Regular meditators are also welcome to come and sit during this period.
From 6 to 7 p.m, time is set aside for seated meditation. The format consists of two rounds of meditation, each lasting about 20 minutes, with a 5 minute period of standing or walking meditation between rounds. We close the evening with a short Metta meditation. (Metta is the Pali term for loving-kindness or friendliness.) There is an opportunity for questions or discussion about practice at the end of the meditation period. Feedback welcome!
Those new to meditation practice may visit our Resource page for more information about the type of meditation we practice at the Meditation Circle.
There is no cost to join the circle. We do accept donations in a box titled ‘dana’ to offer to the Unitarians to cover the costs for their kindness in letting us use the space and also to help defray the costs of occasionally bringing Buddhist monks to town.
Come join the Circle! (Although sometimes it resembles an oblong or parallelogram, but the Meditation Parallelogram of Charleston didn’t have quite the right sound.)
Now, the word ‘ignorance’ as used in Pali means ‘not knowing the Four Noble Truths with their three aspects and twelve insights’ (that is the formula of the Four Noble Truths). And the path is in terms of being eightfold (the Eightfold Path). But the Eightfold Path is really just awareness. Awareness is the path, and the eight parts are more or less positions for reflection rather than actual steps on an actual path. It is not a matter of taking this whole conception of a path too literally, thinking that one step leads to the next ― first you do this and then you do that.
Taken in personal terms, you might start wondering, ‘Do I have right view? Is my speech really right speech all the time?’ And then maybe thinking, ‘Oh, I’m not on the path! I said something the other day I shouldn’t have said.’ If you start thinking about yourself in that way, you just get confused. My advice is not to make a problem of yourself. Give up making a problem about yourself, or how good or bad you are, or what you should or shouldn’t be. Learn to trust in your awareness more, and affirm that; recognize it and consciously think, ‘This is the awareness ― listening ― relaxed attention.’ Then you will feel the connection. It is a natural state that sustains itself. It isn’t up to you to create it. It isn’t dependent on conditions to support it. It is here and now whatever is happening.
Every moment we recognize awareness ― and really trust and learn to appreciate it ― joy comes, compassion comes, and love. But it isn’t personal; it isn’t based on liking, preferences, or kammic attachments. The dhamma is not the destruction of conditioned phenomena, but the container of it. All possibilities of conditioned phenomena arise and cease in the dhamma; and there is nothing that can bind us once we see that, because the reality of the dhamma is seen rather than the forms that arise and cease. Mindfulness reflections are skilful means the Buddha developed for investigating experience, for breaking down the illusions we hold, for breaking through the ignorance we grasp at, for freeing ourselves from form, the limited and the unsatisfactory.
Rather than teaching too many techniques now, or giving too much structure, I prefer to encourage people just to trust themselves with mindfulness and awareness. Often meditation is taught with this sense that one has to get something or get rid of something. But that only increases the existing idea of ‘I am somebody who has to become something that I am not, and has to get rid of my bad traits, my faults, my defilements.’ If we never see through that, it will be a hopeless task. The best we will ever do under those circumstances is maybe modify our habit-tendencies, make ourselves nicer people and be happier in the world ― and that isn’t to be despised, either ― but the point of the Buddha’s teaching is liberation.