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

Photo by Jose A.Thompson on Unsplash

“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…

Photo by Thomas Quaritsch on Unsplash

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

Triple Gems

Bhante Gunaratana, Thich Nhat Hanh and H.H. the Dalai Lama

H.H. the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and Bhante Gunaratana, abbot of the Bhavana Society monastery and retreat center in Hampshire County, W.Va., are featured in the article, “Three Lives of Wisdom,” by the matcha tea folks at this website link. Here is a bit of the article below.

“Buddhism is one of the oldest faith traditions in existence, and three of its most prominent leaders are still thriving and teaching well into their eighties. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, the most visible and venerated of the Theravada monks, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, head of the world’s Tibetan Buddhists, and Thich Nhat Hanh, who leads active communities of Buddhists on several continents, are living legends. Quite different from each other in their approaches to the tradition and in the way they believe it should be transmitted to future generations, the three have been a significant force for good in a world that often seems stuck in neutral, or headed toward Armageddon.

“What called these unique individuals to lives of service, justice and peace? Their diverse backgrounds, personalities and strengths are living examples for anyone who strives to make the world a better place.”

One Minute of Meditative Video

Take a minute with a few contemplative reminders in the video above..

The Meditation Circle meets most Tuesdays from 6 to 7 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation building in Charleston,WV,  520 Kanawha Blvd.

And 11 am to noon Saturdays at the Peacetree Center for Wellness, 5930 Mahood Dr, about 10 minutes from the Huntington Mall. Beginners welcome for sitting and guided meditation in the breath-centered Buddhist tradition.

Changing everything

Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

“A frequent image in meditation instructions is that all you have to do is turn on a light and the darkness goes away. No matter how many eons the darkness has reigned, all you have to do is turn on the light once and that’s the end of the darkness. All you have to do is work on how you’re perceiving things in the present moment and when things finally click, you don’t have to worry about what other people tell you, you don’t have to worry about the world, you don’t have to worry about the self, you don’t have to worry about what you’ve done in the past, for you’ve learned a new habit, you’ve developed a new skill. And the development of that new skill changes everything.”

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu
from “Habits of Perception”

New Subscription Link for the MeditationCircle.com

We had some trouble with our old subscription link for TheMeditationCircle.com site. If you wish to subscribe and receive regular notice of new posts to the site and news about Meditation Circle events and inspiring quotes about meditation and mindfulness in the breath-centered Buddhist tradition, please add your email to the ‘SUBSCRIBE TO THE MEDITATIONCIRCLE SITE’ link at the top of the left-hand colum, at the top of the right-hand side of the site or at the bottom of the site. If you are viewing this post on your phone, go to the very bottom of the site’s screen on your phone to subscribe.

NOTE: We will be turning off our old email list, so if you WERE subscribed, please re-subscribe if you are still interested in receiving emails from the Meditation Circle. We will try and figure out how to send out an email to former subscribers to let you know. If you have any questions, e-mail Thad or Doug at breathe AT themeditationcircle.com.  With metta _/\_

Schedule and Format Change for Sept. 25

Next Tuesday, September 25th, the World Religions class at Charleston Catholic High School will make it’s annual visit to the Meditation Circle. There will be a schedule and format change for THAT NIGHT ONLY.

The CCHS students will arrive at 5:30. There will be an informal introduction to the MC along with meditation instruction.

At 6:00 there will be a short “guided meditation” session of about 15 minutes. The round of meditation will be followed by a period of questions and answers focusing on the topic of Mindfulness Meditation. Meditation Circle members are encouraged to attend, participate, and share their experience.

The following Tuesday, October 2, the format will return to the regular schedule. The monthly Kalyana Mitta meeting will be held after the sit on Oct 2nd.

 

 

 

 

Why meditate?

…What the Buddha did teach, though, is to focus on what’s the most skillful thing we can do now, given the situation. That’s where the emphasis should lie. And one thing we can do is to help the world through our meditation. Many people think that to sit with your eyes closed like this is irresponsible, that we’re running away from the world. But when you think about the unhealthy energies people are putting out in the world all day, everyday, through their thoughts, words, and deeds, the world really needs people who are putting out peaceful energy. That’s where meditation has a lot to offer.

The mind is like a broadcast station. It sends out currents. If we create a peaceful, steady, calming current, that has an effect on the world in ways that are hard to trace, but they’re there.

So reflect on the fact that all who are born into the human race have unskillful karma. There’s no need to wish ill on anyone, no matter what. The best you can do in difficult circumstances is to figure out the most skillful thing to do right now. You try not to give in to your emotions, not to give in to your fears, but to create within your mind as skillful a state as possible, as calm and steady and mindful a state as you can, and then offer that to other people. That’s one way of helping. And when the people are far away, it’s probably the best thing to do right now.”

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu “For the Good of the World” (Meditations2)

The power of mindfulness

Photo by Valentina Yoga on Unsplash

By Lynn J. Kelly  } The Buddha’s Advice to Laypeople

… Nyanaponika Thera suggested that the first power of mindfulness is to help us “tidy up” the jumble of thoughts, ideas, impressions, and shadows in our minds. After we start sorting the clear from the unclear and the useful from the useless, we can have a closer look by accurately naming the elements in our minds. We may not get the name quite right immediately, and so we might need to re-focus our mindfulness to examine our thoughts more closely.

Once we start to recognize the repetitive thoughts that pass through our minds, we can categorize them, at first into wholesome and unwholesome, or leading towards or away from clarity, and later into more refined groupings.

Sometimes we camouflage our thoughts to make them more palatable. We blame others for our own aversion, or give ourselves (reflected) credit for others’ good acts. We are experts at re-creating our experience to make it more pleasant and to hide any unpleasant aspects of our thinking from ourselves. This is one way we give the defilements a clearer field of play. It is delusion in action and must be exposed through careful inquiry.

[From Nyanaponika Thera] But by applying the simple method of clearly and honestly naming or registering any undesirable thoughts, these two harmful devices, ignorance and camouflage, are excluded. Thence their detrimental consequences on the structure of the subconscious and their diversion of mental effort will be avoided.

The method of naming and registering also extends, of course, to noble thoughts and impulses which will be encouraged and strengthened. Without being given deliberate attention, such wholesome tendencies often pass unnoticed and remain barren. But when clear awareness is applied to them, it will stimulate their growth.

Many of us have a tendency to take our kind or generous thoughts (and actions) for granted. We tick them off and don’t reflect on them, but they can be the basis for confidence and joy in the (heart-)mind.

In the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10), some of the instructions say:

[Translated by Sujato Bhikkhu] It’s when a mendicant knows mind with greed as ‘mind with greed,’ and mind without greed as ‘mind without greed.’ They know mind with hate as ‘mind with hate,’ and mind without hate as ‘mind without hate.’ They know mind with delusion as ‘mind with delusion,’ and mind without delusion as ‘mind without delusion.’ They know contracted mind as ‘contracted mind,’ and scattered mind as ‘scattered mind.’ … They know mind immersed in samādhi as ‘mind immersed in samādhi,’ and mind not immersed in samādhi as ‘mind not immersed in samādhi.’ They know freed mind as ‘freed mind,’ and unfreed mind as ‘unfreed mind.

Using the power of mindfulness, we can name and categorize the contents of our minds,  and, in this way, walk the path towards awakening.

The full essay is here: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel121.html

~ By Lynn J. Kelly
from her Aug. 25, 2018 post from her website | Subscribe to her site at:
“The Buddha’s Advice to Laypeople: Guidelines for Developing a Happier Life”

 

 

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