Watch right there…

“Wherever you are still inept, wherever you are still lacking, that’s where you must apply yourself. If you haven’t yet cracked it don’t give up. Having finished with one thing you get stuck on another, so persist with it until you crack it, don’t let up. Don’t be content until it’s finished. Put all your attention on that point. While sitting, lying down or walking, watch right there.

~Ajahn Chah (from “Food for the Heart,” pp. 94-95)

Guard one’s mind

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Difficult to detect and very subtle,
the mind mind seizes whatever it wants;
so let a wise one guard one’s mind,
for a guarded mind brings happiness.

Sududdasam sunipunam,
yatthakamanipatinam;
cittam rakkhetha medhavi,
citam guttam sukhavam.

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~ The Buddha
From The Dhammada, 3:36
A collection of the Buddha’s sayings.
(Translated by Ven. S. Dhammika)

Another word for self-discipline

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“Discipline” is a difficult word for most of us. It conjures up images of somebody standing over you with a stick, telling you that you’re wrong. But self-discipline is different. It’s the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting of your own impulses and piercing their secret. They have no power over you. It’s all a show, a deception. Your urges scream and bluster at you; they cajole; they coax; they threaten; but they really carry no stick at all. You give in out of habit. You give in because you never really bother to look beyond the threat. It is all empty back there.

There is only one way to learn this lesson, though. The words on this page won’t do it. But look within and watch the stuff coming up—restlessness, anxiety, impatience, pain—just watch it come up and don’t get involved. Much to your surprise, it will simply go away. It rises, it passes away. As simple as that. There is another word for self-discipline. It is patience.”

~ Bhante Gunaratana

Watch the mind

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Ajahn Chah was one of the great Buddhist teachers of the 20th century. Here, he responds to a question about monks and monastic discipline. But there are many insights in his remarks for those of us layfolk who struggle with meditation practice and who compare our efforts with others.

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“You must examine yourself. Know who you are. Know your body and mind by simply watching. In sitting, in sleeping, in eating, know your limits. Use wisdom. The practise is not to try to achieve anything. Just be mindful of what is. Our whole meditation is looking directly at the mind. You will see suffering, its cause and its end.

“But you must have patience; much patience and endurance. Gradually you will learn…. You must learn the values of giving, of patience and of devotion. Don’t practise too strictly. Don’t get caught up with outward form. Watching others is bad practice. Simply be natural and watch that. Our monks’ discipline and monastic rules are very important. They create a simple and harmonious environment. Use them well.

“But remember, the essence of the monks’ discipline is watching intention, examining the mind. You must have wisdom. Don’t discriminate. Would you get upset at a small tree in the forest for not being tall and straight like some of the others? This is silly. Don’t judge other people. There are all varieties. No need to carry the burden of wishing to change them all. So, be patient. Practice morality. Live simply and be natural. Watch the mind. This is our practice. It will lead you to unselfishness. To peace.”

~ Ajahn Chah
For more teachings by Ajahn Chah, click here.

What makes the year auspicious …

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“What makes the year auspicious is that you do good with the year. What other people do with the year, that’s their business. There is so much in the world you cannot control. But you can control your own thoughts and your own words and your own deeds, if you put your mind to it.

“That’s how to make the New Year a good year. Regardless of how it goes in the rest of the world, your contribution is going to be a good one. Don’t let the bad things other people do discourage you from doing goodness, because this is your gift to yourself and to the world around you.”  

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu

On our habit of ruminating

“RECOGNIZING PAST TURMOILS and future rhapsodies as projections of our mind prevents us from getting stuck in them. Just as the face in the mirror is not a real face, the objects of our memories and daydreams are likewise unreal. They are not happening now; they are simply mental images flickering in the mind.

“Reflecting on the value of our precious human life also minimizes our habit of ruminating. Our wondrous potential becomes clear, and the rarity and value of the present opportunity shines forth. Who wants to ruminate about the past and future when we can do so much good and progress spiritually in the present?

“One counteracting force that works well for me is realizing that all these ruminations star Me, Center of the Universe. All the stories, all the tragedies, comedies, and dramas all revolve around one person, who is clearly the most important one in all existence, Me. Just acknowledging the power of the mind to condense the universe into Me shows me the stupidity of my ruminations. There is a huge universe with countless sentient beings in it, each of them wanting happiness and not wanting suffering just as intensely as I do. Yet, my self-centered mind forgets them and focuses on Me. To boot, it doesn’t even really focus on Me, it spins around My past and future, neither of which exist now. Seeing this, my self-centeredness evaporates, as I simply cannot justify worrying about only myself with everything that is going on in the universe.

“The most powerful counteracting force is the wisdom realizing there is no concrete Me to start with. Just who are all these thoughts spinning around? Who is having all these ruminations? When we search we cannot find a truly existent Me anywhere. Just as there is no concrete Me to be found on or in this carpet, there is no concrete Me to be found in this body and mind. Both are equally empty of a truly existent person who exists under her own power.

“With this understanding, the mind relaxes. The ruminations cease, and with wisdom and compassion, the Me that exists by being merely labeled in dependence on the body and mind can spread joy in the world.”

Thubten Chodron
excerpt from “Ruminating”

About the Meditation Circle

WELCOME. If you are just finding the Meditation Circle, or are interested in joining a meditation support group in the year ahead, here is some background about the group. The Meditation Circle is a meditation group in the Buddhist tradition, practicing vipassana or insight meditation. We have two weekly meetings, from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays in Charleston, W.Va. And 11 to noon on Saturday at the Peacetree Center for Wellness near Barboursville, W.Va.

TUESDAYS: The Meditation Circle meets most Tuesdays, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd., in Charleston, W.Va.
DIRECTIONS: Click here for directions to the UU building, about five minutes from downtown Charleston, W.Va., right across from the Kanawha River.
NOTE: Those wishing instruction in basic, breath-centered Buddhist meditation  are welcome to arrive 5:30 to 6 p.m., along with any seasoned meditators who may wish to sit longer or for whom that time period is better for their schedules.

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SATURDAYS: The Meditation Circle meets most Saturdays from, from 11 a.m. to noon, at the PeaceTree Center for Wellness near Barboursville, W.Va. (about ten minutes from the Huntington Mall).
DIRECTIONSClick here for directions to the PeaceTree Center for Wellness.
NOTE: We often have a communal soup lunch after meditation, which you are welcome to join. If you are interested in yoga, there is usually a community yoga class from 10 to 11 a.m. before meditation in the same room at Peacetree.

THE MEDITATION CIRCLE is 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. We also have a lending library of books you are welcome to borrow, about meditation practice.

WHAT WE DO:On Tuesdays, 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. Seasoned meditators are also welcome to come and sit during this period.

From 6 to 7 p.mtime is set aside for meditation. The format consists of two rounds of meditation, lasting about 20 minutes, with a  5-minute period of standing or walking meditation between rounds.  We close the evening with a Metta meditation. (Metta is the Pali term for loving-kindness or loving-friendliness.) The first Tuesday of every month, the Charleston group hosts a single sitting, followed by a Kalyana Mitta (or Spiritual Friend) gathering with cookies, juice and conversation in the adjacent meeting room.

NEW TO MEDITATION? Visit our Resource page for more information about the type of meditation we practice at the Meditation Circle.

COST & DONATIONS: There is no cost to join the circle. We do accept donations at the Tuesday group in a box titled ‘dana’ (a Pali word that connotes generosity) to offer to the Unitarians for their kind use of the space and also to help defray the costs of occasionally bringing Buddhist monks to town. The same goes for the PeaceTree Center, where you will find donation jars on tables in the center. Please support both institutions.

JOIN THE CIRCLE: We should note, that sometimes it resembles an oblong or parallelogram, but the Meditation Parallelogram didn’t have quite the right sound.

SUBSCRIBE TO E-MAIL NOTICES: Stay up to date on the Meditation Circle postings and news by subscribing on the home page or clicking here.

Learning from mistakes

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As the Buddha taught: “I do not see any quality by which the skillful arises and the unskillful subsides than friendship with admirable people… [From our teachers] I learn what is beautiful in the beginning, the middle and the end, surpassingly pure. The spiritual life is one of mutual dependence, for together we can cross over the flood of ignorance.”

In our spiritual transformation we will make mistakes; after such errors there’s no role for self-judgment or self-punishment; the process is simply one of learning from mistakes and returning to practice with renewed conviction.  We’re on a journey that requires perseverance and forgiveness, of myself and others. 

~ Josh Korda
from “Unsubscribe: Opt Out of Delusion, Tune Into Truth”

The question of morality

Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society

Q: What is the role of sila or morality in establishing a successful meditation practice?

BHANTE GUNARATANA: Think of a large tree. When you look at a tree, you can see the leaves, the canopy, the branches, the bark. Yet the whole tree stands on its roots buried in the ground. If the roots are very strong, deep and powerful, you can depend on a tree’s steady growth.

Similarly, deep roots are similar to ethical moral principles or wholesome spiritual habits. Some habits are called unskillful or akusala sila. Wholesome habits are called kusala sila. Everything depends on our moral principles just like the roots of that large tree. 

For one who observes the precepts, the mind will not be shaken and full of regret and remorse. So, when you go to sleep you can sleep well and you get up well. At night, you will not have nightmares because your moral habits are good ones. 

When you reflect on how you spend your day you have no regret. As a result, the next day you are full of joy. With joy, you live your daily life, observing the same moral, ethical principles. Then, you will be very calm, relaxed and peaceful. Tranquility will easily arise. It happens naturally, You don’t have to wish to be calm and relaxed.

That is the nature of Dhamma. When you have this calm, relaxed, peaceful joyful state then you become happy. Happiness arises naturally in a mind free from remorse.

We also should remember the difference between happiness and excitement. Some people equate the two. When excitement arises you will laugh and jump up and down. You win the lottery and get a lot of money and get excited. And you say, ‘I’m happy!’ But that is not happiness, that is excitement.

But when you experience happiness based on moral, ethical, wholesome habits, then your mind is very calm, relaxed and peaceful. There is nothing to agitate and excite you. When you are happy, you don’t have to strain to gain concentration. Buddha said the happy mind naturally gains concentration.

This all happens very naturally and you don’t have to wish for it to happen. You just have to take that first step. That is, undertaking moral ethical, wholesome skillful habits.

From a forthcoming books of questions and answers with Bhante Gunaratana, abbot of the Bhavana Society, a Theravadan Buddhist monastery and retreat center near High View, W.Va.

Breaking old habits

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“As the Buddha once said, our duty with regard to suffering is to comprehend it, to understand it to the point where we stop creating it, where we can let it go. All the causes, all the conditions that lead to it: we can let them go. That way, the problems we’re responsible for totally disband. As for the rest of the world outside, it goes along with its own way, but it doesn’t make inroads on the mind, can’t weigh the mind down. Those are the benefits of learning to understand or learning to discern suffering.

“But for most of us, our lives are distracted with other things, other issues that seem to be more pressing — and they make themselves more pressing. They demand that we take responsibility for them. It requires a real act of will to step outside of those imposed responsibilities, and to take the time to really look into the mind to see exactly where the suffering is, what the suffering is, where it’s coming from, and how it can be stopped.” 

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu, from “Breaking Old Habits”

Nourishment and healing in times of stress

In the vitriolic, hyperbolic, anxious and angry times through which we are living, especially as America’s mid-term elections ramp up the angst and stress, it is helpful to take a break from media consumption. Thich Naht Hanh’s version of the fifth of the Five Buddhist Precepts, may be helpful as we nervously and anxiously check our phones and Facebook and news sites and end up clicking ourselves into an anxiety attack.

The Five Precepts constitute the basic code of ethics of Buddhist practicioners. As this Wikipedia page on precepts notes: “The precepts in all the traditions are essentially identical and are commitments to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.”

But the great Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn broadens the scope and focus of the precepts. The Fifth Precept prohibits intoxication through alcohol, drugs or other means, and its virtues are mindfulness and responsibility. But “Thay” (as Thich Naht Hahn is referred to by adherents of his gentle teachings worldwide) broadens widely this proscription into advice that speaks to all forms of unmindful consumption. Such, as, for instance, overdosing on vitriolic political posturing.

Nourishment and Healing: The Fifth Precept in Buddhism as intepreted by Thich Naht Hahn.

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations.

“I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.”

For more on Thay’s interpretation of the Five Precepts, which his plumvillage.org site describes as “The Five Mindfulness Trainings,” click the link below. _/\_

PS: Thich Naht Hahn, who just turned 92 and after having suffered from serious illness,  expressed a deep wish to go back to reside at his “root temple,” Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam, to live his remaining days. He arrived there recently. Here is a story about his return home.

Hatred never ceases by hatred…

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The Meditation Circle and its members are saddened by the terrible hate crime at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania. We stand with people of all faiths and spiritual traditions in expressing our solidarity in the face of this awful crime.

Rabbi Urecki of B’nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston WV, posted to Facebook the following quote in the aftermath of this assault against society and shared existence: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This echoes exactly the words of the Buddha: 
“Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.” 

BELOW IS THE JOINT STATEMENT from Charleston’s two Jewish houses of worship.

To All the Friends of the Kanawha Valley Jewish Community, 

We write to you in deep sadness, grief, anger, and deep concern, appalled and repulsed by the most recent terrible event in Pittsburgh. There are no words adequate to express what we feel. We join in mourning those who died, and our broken hearts go out to the families of those who were killed, to the injured and their families, and to all in the community of Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, and beyond; all everywhere who are or will be affected by and feel this event personally.

A time of joyous celebration and heartfelt prayer was savagely changed, not, as the Psalmist promises us, from mourning to joy, but the reverse, when a gunman barged in and opened fire on those in the facility. The end result was death, destruction, and damage for no reason and with no purpose beyond expressing hate. As we write this, eleven are reported dead, and others are injured, some critically, including police officers who responded to the event.

This was a hate crime. The gunman targeted the congregation because it was Jewish, and apparently because it was one of the hundreds of congregations that had supported and participated in the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) National Refugee Shabbat event last weekend (notably, as had both B’nai Jacob Synagogue and Temple Israel in Charleston). The rampant anti-Semitism of the terrorist was fanned into action in the supercharged atmosphere of the language of hatred and bigotry so prevalent today, and the result was a terrible tragic event. 

We want to express how much we appreciate the messages of solidarity, support, caring, and concern for the Jewish community we have received from among so many of our neighbors and friends, and from the leadership of the different faith communities, as well as the police, among whom we are privileged to live. 

In the face of evil, we must not be deterred. We must carry on and persist, working together for a better world through prayer and worship, mitzvot (G-d’s commandments) and tzedakah (righteous action), deeds of lovingkindness, and tikkun olam (work to repair and better the world). 

B’virkat shalom (with blessings of peace),

Rabbi Victor Urecki and Rabbi Joe Blair
B’nai Jacob Congregation Temple Israel Congregation

Gary Sheff, President David Shapiro, President
B’nai Jacob Congregation Temple Israel Congregation

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