“Meditation is not easy…” | Reading Selection for Dec. 15 Meditation Circle gathering

HERE IS THE READING SELECTION for the Dec. 15 meeting of the Meditation Circle of Charleston, an excerpt from Chapter 1 of “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana, which can be read in its entirety for free online or for purchase through Wisdom or Amazon. See this post for more on the Circle’s ongoing discussion in 2010 on the basics of a meditation practice in the Buddhist style of insight or vipassana meditation.

Excerpt from Chapter 1, “Meditation: Why Bother?” from “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (Wisdom Publications)

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 which we normally regard as unpleasant and which we like to avoid whenever possible. We can sum it all up in the American word ‘gumption’. Meditation takes ‘gumption’. It is certainly a great deal easier just to kick back and watch television. So why bother? Why waste all that time and energy when you could be out enjoying yourself? Why bother? Simple. Because you are human. And just because of the simple fact that you are human, you find yourself heir to an inherent unsatisfactoriness in life which simply will not go away. You can suppress it from your awareness for a time. You can distract yourself for hours on end, but it always comes back — usually when you least expect it. All of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue, you sit up, take stock, and realize your actual situation in life.

There you are, and you suddenly realize that you are spending your whole life just barely getting by. You keep up a good front. You manage to make ends meet somehow and look OK from the outside. But those periods of desperation, those times when you feel everything caving in on you, you keep those to yourself. You are a mess. And you know it. But you hide it beautifully. Meanwhile, way down under all that you just know there has got be some other way to live, some better way to look at the world, some way to touch life more fully. You click into it by chance now and then. You get a good job. You fall in love. You win the game. and for a while, things are different. Life takes on a richness and clarity that makes all the bad times and humdrum fade away. The whole texture of your experience changes and you say to yourself, “OK, now I’ve made it; now I will be happy”. But then that fades, too, like smoke in the wind. You are left with just a memory. That and a vague awareness that something is wrong.

But there is really another whole realm of depth and sensitivity available in life, somehow, you are just not seeing it. You wind up feeling cut off. You feel insulated from the sweetness of experience by some sort of sensory cotton. You are not really touching life. You are not making it again. And then even that vague awareness fades away, and you are back to the same old reality. The world looks like the usual foul place, which is boring at best. It is an emotional roller coaster, and you spend a lot of your time down at the bottom of the ramp, yearning for the heights.

Continue reading “Meditation is not easy…” | Reading Selection for Dec. 15 Meditation Circle gathering

The Basics of a Meditation Practice: Introduction

At tonight’s Meditation Circle of Charleston gathering, we began a new, ongoing discussion on the basics of a meditation practice, a conversation that will continue through 2010. We are starting with a review of the now-classic nuts-and-bolts guide to the basics of Buddhist meditation, “Mindfulness in Plain English,” by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. Below is the introduction to the book, which can be read in its entirety for free online or for purchase through Wisdom or Amazon.

“Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana | Introduction

The subject of this book is Vipassana meditation practice. Repeat, practice. This is a meditation manual, a nuts-and-bolts, step-by-step guide to insight meditation practice. It is meant to be practical. It is meant for use.

There are already many comprehensive books on Buddhism as a philosophy, and on the theoretical aspects of Buddhist meditation. If you are interested in that material we urge you to read those books. Many of them are excellent. This book is a ‘How to.’ It is written for those who actually want to meditate and especially for those who want to start now. There are very few qualified teachers of the Buddhist style of meditation in the United States of America. It is our intention to give you the basic data you need to get off to a flying start. Only those who follow the instructions given here can say whether we have succeeded or failed. Only those who actually meditate regularly and diligently can judge our effort. No book can possibly cover every problem that a meditator may run into. You will need to meet a qualified teacher eventually. In the mean time, however, these are the basic ground rules; a full understanding of these pages will take you a very long way. Continue reading The Basics of a Meditation Practice: Introduction

Getting to the basics of a sitting practice

As the end of 2009 approaches and a new year commences, the Meditation Circle of Charleston will begin to undertake a discussion of the basics of meditation in the Buddhist tradition and the building blocks of a good sitting practice. We’ll start by using tapes describing insight and metta meditation by Ajahn Sumato along with the book “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. Fortunately, the entirety of Bhante Gunaratana’s book is online. So, those interested in taking an active part in an ongoing discussion about the regular practice of meditation are encouraged to start reading the book online or it can be ordered from Wisdom or Amazon. It’s an excellent introduction to the basics of sitting. We can also print out chapters or reprint significant sections of ones on this site, We’ll also upload to this site some mp3s of Ajahn Sumato’s talks on meditation in advance of meetings, where we will listen to them there (I have them on my iPhone — anyone have an iPhone speaker?). Stay tuned for more details.

~ Read “Mindfulness in Plain English” online here.
~ See Bhante G’s biography here and here.

P.S. Bhante G has a new book out about the jhanas, titled “Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English: An Introductory Guide to Deeper States of Meditation” (Wisdom Publications, Boston). More to come about that later.

Douglas | Meditation Circle member

BLOGPOST: Ajahn Brahm expelled for Ordaining Nuns

I must profess, my sympathies lie with Ajahn Brahm on this, at first blush. The whole post is interesting on this issue that has been much on the mind of many Western monastics in recent years. Thoughts? See Ajahn Brahm’s interesting biography here:

The popular monk Ajahn Brahm has been disciplined by the Thai forest monastery sangha founded by the Venerable Ajahn Chah because he was involved in ordaining four women as nuns, or bhikkunis, in a ceremony on October 22 at his Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery in Perth, Australia. The Wat Pah Pong Sangha’s action of excommunication (revoking Bodhinyana’s status as a branch monastery) has resulted in a firestorm of controversy in the Theravada Buddhist world.

The ordination of nuns is illegal under Thai Buddhist law because the order of nuns became extinct sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries, after which, the argument goes, no new bhikkhunis could be ordained since there were none left to preside over an ordination. However, nuns currently may be ordained in the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka, and also in Mahayana Buddhist countries, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and China where the religious authorities are not so conservative. According to an official statement from the Thai forest sangha, Ajahn Brahm’s decision to ordain nuns without permission “may cause wrong understanding among Buddhists throughout the world, and division of views regarding this issue.” Called to Wat Pah Pong a week after the ordination, Ajahn Brahm was told the ordination at his monastery was invalid and the senior monks asked him to recant. He refused .. | Read on

Ajahn Brahm (above). His monastery’s website does not appear to have posted anything as yet and says succinctly: ‘Ajahn Brahm is currently teaching the Dhamma.’

douglas | meditation circle member

Some suggested authors for further reading

A friend, Patrick Hamilton, compiled this list for the Web site for his sitting group in Washington, D.C.. He writes:

Anything by the following well-known Buddhist authors will help you widen your perspective on Buddhism, deepen your understanding of the Dhamma and strengthen your personal practice.

My words have ancient beginnings . . .

My words are easy to understand and easy to perform | Yet no one under heaven knows them or practices them| My words have ancient beginnings. My actions are disciplined | Because people do not understand, they have no knowledge of me | Those that know me are few; Those that abuse me are honored | Therefore the sage wears rough clothing and holds the jewel in her heart.

~ Tao Te Ching, Chapter Seventy

~ Another Tao Te Ching

So, there are these 3 monks in a cave..

Three monks are doing meditation in a remote cave.  One day a sound is heard from outside the cave.  After about six months, one of the monks says, “Did you hear that goat?”  Once again there was silence.  About a year later, one of the other monks says, “That wasn’t a goat; it was a mule.”  Again, there was silence.  About two years later the third monk says, “If you two don’t stop arguing, I’m leaving.”

~ joke passed on by Craig Wilger

… a thousand sounds are quieted by the breathing of a temple-bell.

A Buddhist Retreat Behind Broken-Mountain Temple

In the pure morning, near the old temple,
Where early sunlight points the tree-tops,
My path has wound, through a sheltered hollow
Of boughs and flowers, to a Buddhist retreat.
Here birds are alive with mountain-light,
And the mind touches peace in a pool,
And a thousand sounds are quieted
By the breathing of a temple-bell.

– Ch’ang Chien

from the entry for Nov. 7, 2009 at www.dailyzen

Once you have learned a way…

If you memorize slogans, you are unable to make subtle adaptations according to the situation. It is not that there is no way to teach insight to learners, but once you have learned a way, it is essential that you get it to work completely. If you just stick to your teacher’s school and memorize slogans, this is not enlightenment, it is a part of intellectual knowledge.

— Fayan
(courtesy today’s www.DailyZen quote, one of the Web’s most essential daily stops)

When humans are worse than insects…

“From one point of view we can say that we have human bodies and are practicing the Buddha’s teachings and are thus much better than insects. But we can also say that insects are innocent and free from guile, whereas we often lie and misrepresent ourselves in devious ways in order to achieve our ends or better ourselves. From this perspective, we are much worse than insects.

~ H.H. the Dalai Lama

Speak up in the ‘Comments’ section

Charleston Meditation Circle member Chris tried to comment on the recent ‘Noble Standards’ post last week and couldn’t. Which led me to check out what was up. Fixed! The flip that was preventing comments on Meditation Circle posts has now been flipped ‘on.’ (You’ll be asked to provide a screen user name and an e-mail, which will NOT show on your comment.) Please share your thoughts, reactions and insights (it’s an insight meditation group after all, no?) in the ‘Comments’ section. Help end the forlorn sight of the ‘No Comments’ phrase atop each post, by clicking there and sharing your views. ~ Douglas

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