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RETREATS: Around the region

Robin Wilson passes along word of this meditation retreat in the region:

The Mid-Atlantic Vipassana Network is hosting a retreat with Shinzen Young from May 22 – 31, 2009, outside of Richmond, VA. As a religious scholar and ordained monk at Mt. Koya, Japan, Shinzen is a westerner with decades of knowledge and experience in Buddhism and many other contemplative traditions.  He leads retreats throughout the U.S. and Canada and is involved in the growing interface between meditation and neuroscience.  Shinzen brings a scientific rigor to his system of mindfulness meditation that is very accessible to the western mind.

For more information on Shinzen and this retreat (including scholarship information), please visit and click on “Shinzen’s Retreats” or click on this link for a pdf file of the retreat registration form. Or you may call Nancy Elizabeth Nimmich at 301-334-4445.

Next Meditation Circle: May 5


Please note: Doug will not be at Tuesday’s meeting as I have a rehearsal for the “West Virginia: Words and Music” show later this month at the Clay Center’s Walker Theater. Any volunteer meeting facilitator candidates for this Tuesday?

> NEXT MEETING: THE Meditation Circle gathers next 6 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 5 (and every Tuesday) at the Unitarian Universalist Congregration, 520 Kanawha Blvd., in Charleston, W.Va. Bring cushions or we have chairs available. We sometimes undertake a few minutes of light yoga before sitting for 30 minutes. Beginners welcome with basic instruction in meditation available. Come join the circle.

> THOUGHT for the DAY

I explain to you matters
Pertaining to enlightenment,
But don’t try to keep
Your mind on them.
Just turn to the ocean
Of your own essence
And develop practical accord with its nature.

– Yangshan (quote courtesy of


We’re currently considering Right Concentration as part of an ongoing look at the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. What are examples from your own life of wholesome and unwholesome concentration? Why should it make a difference? What blocks concentration from coming into focus?

Right Concentration: The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object.

Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.

Click here for more on the Noble Eightfold Path, from the website we are using to help stir our discussions.


See the ‘About‘ page of our website – – for more on the Meditation Circle of Charleston, including a map to our Charleston, W.Va., location in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation there. We begin each meeting with a short session of simple yoga, followed by a 30-minute sitting, then discussion. Please feel free to forward this e-mail to interested friends.


We welcome beginners who wish to learn Buddhist meditation or who want to revive a sitting practice that may have lagged. If you’re a lone sitter who may benefit from a supportive group to deepen your practice, drop by. We encourage all to seek out established teachers to deepen their practice.


Send us prospective blogposts, tips, quotes, events and other news for the Web site at douglas And let me know at this e-mail if you have problems signing up for the Meditation Circle e-mail newsletter a our website. Some have reported it took many tries.


My best,
Douglas (on behalf of the Meditation Circle)

Never Give Up

Never give up.
Not matter what is going on.
Never give up.

Develop the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
but to everyone.
Be compassionate
Work for peace.

And I say again
Never give up.
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up.

~ His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama Reaches to the Bleachers

From The Meditation Circle of Charleston (W.Va.)

Bhante Gunaratana on effort and meditation

The following is from an interview with Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, abbot and co-founder of the Bhavana Society Monastery and Retreat Center in Hampshire County, W.Va., near Wardensville. “Bhante G,” as he is known worldwide, is one of the leading Therevadan Buddhist monks teachers in the Western world and author of several books, including the best-selling “Mindfulness in Plain English” (Wisdom Books), which can also be read in its entirety online. ‘Right Effort’ is the discussion theme for February for the Meditation Circle. In a related vein, how much effort should we bring to our meditation practices?

QUESTION: How much effort should be bring to our meditation practice? Zen teachers sometimes speak of ‘effortless effort’ and to ‘just sit’ when meditating. How hard should we be trying when meditating?

BHANTE G: When it comes to meditation, your effort should not be haphazard or blind. It’s a committed effort. Before you even start, you should consider: “Is this the right moment for me to practice?” Suppose it’s a busy time, the TV is blaring somewhere, people are running around. No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to do the practice. So you have to understand the situation, you have to be mindful of when to sit.

But once you’ve chosen the place and time to practice, by all means, apply every ounce of effort to overcome laziness, drowsiness, restlessness, worry and so on. These are very common, ordinary obstacles. In Buddhism, we call them ‘hindrances’ since they hinder our progress. When hindrances arise, we shouldn’t be lazy. We shouldn’t think: “Well, this is just way too hard. I’m wasting my time. This stuff always comes up and blocks me when I try to meditate. I give up.” You must encourage yourself and always renew your effort at sitting. You might tell yourself: “I can do this. This is possible. I can overcome my sleepiness, I can work with this restless mind. I see other people who have learned how to do this. I can do this myself.” So you must exert yourself, you must try to shake yourself awake and tell yourself: “Hey, you! Don’t chicken out of this!” Continue reading Bhante Gunaratana on effort and meditation

Next Meditation Circle: Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009

THE MEDITATION CIRCLE OF CHARLESTON gathers next from 6 to 7:30 p.m.,  Tuesday, Feb. 3 (and every Tuesday) at the Unitarian Universalist Congregration, 520 Kanawha Blvd., in Charleston, W.Va. See the ‘About‘ page for more on the group.

DISCUSSION THEMES: We’ve been moving monthly through the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. The next step is RIGHT EFFORT, which is an essential ingredient in making any changes in how we experience life. Here is a description from the website we are using to guide us through the Eightfold Path:

Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

Click here for more on the Noble Eightfold Path, from the website we are using to help stir our discussions. We hope to see you in this new year.

BEGINNERS WELCOME: To start the year, we especially invite beginners who wish to learn Buddhist meditation or who want to revive a sitting practice that may have lagged. If you’re a lone sitter who may benefit from a supportive group to deepen your sitting practice,  join us in this new year.


NOTE TO READERS: Let me know at this e-mail if you have problems signing up for the Meditation Circle e-mail newsletter in the upper right corner of this page. Some have reported it took many tries.

A few thoughts on Right Effort

Image of gluttony by Artemio Rodriguez. Click image for artist site.

Right Effort is our current discussion theme of the month for the Meditation Circle. (See the post below for more on that.) Robin shares some thoughts on this essential part of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Add your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section:

ROBIN WRITES: Reading over the elements of right effort I thought of the seven deadly sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride. (Wikipedia has a good summary right here.) I was struck by how what is considered a sin changes in time and cultural context.  I’m also interested in the varying approach to how effort can reduce sins/distance from Buddha nature.  Often it seems non effort is what helps bad habits fall away.  For example, being aware could keep one from gluttony by being conscious of the following: bad health effects, the injustice of taking more than ones share, tuning into biological signals of when one has had enough, and the use of food as a tranquilizer/depressant for unfelt pain.

However, in traditional Christianity it often seems more of a battle between good and evil behavior. The cure for sloth was to run at top speed – maybe this would work?  I like the idea of finding the right balance.  Do you think all the deadly sins have a positive reason when they are in balance?

All is fully interpenetrating…

Indra’s Net of Pearls

Subject and object from the start
Are no different,
The myriad things nothing
But images in the mirror.
Bright and resplendent,
Transcending both guest and host,
Complete and realized,
All is permeated by the absolute.
A single form encompasses
The multitude of dharmas,
All of which are interconnected
Within the net of Indra.
Layer after layer there is no
Point at which it all ends,
Whether in motion or still,
All is fully interpenetrating.

– Zhitong (d.1124)

LETTER FROM MOSCOW: Tolstoy and Buddhism

Meditation Circle member Robin Wilson is in Moscow, visiting his son and daughter-in-law (she’s a New York Times correspondent posted to Russia). He e-mailed this blogpost to us on Sunday:

Yesterday, I visited a Tolstoy Museum in Moscow. Tolstoy was the inspiration and name for the first commune I moved to in 1964.  Tolstoy became a champion of nonviolence, vegetarianism, simple living, anti-inheritance, free schools, and anti-authoritarian government through his writing and experiments.  Also, as the piece from Wikipedia below points out he was influenced by Buddhist thought.  In a nice example of international “what goes around comes around,” Henry David Thoreau influenced Tolstoy, who influenced Gandhi who influenced Martin Luther King. ~ from Robin Wilson

On Tolstoy (from Wikipedia):

The years 1856–61 were passed between Petersburg, Moscow, Yasnaya, and foreign countries. In 1857 (and again in 1860-61) he traveled abroad and returned disillusioned by the selfishness and materialism of European bourgeois civilization, a feeling expressed in his short story “Lucerne” and more circuitously in “Three Deaths.” As he drifted towards a more oriental worldview with Buddhist overtones, Tolstoy learned to feel himself in other living creatures. He started to write “Kholstomer,” which contains a passage of interior monologue by a horse. Many of his intimate thoughts were repeated by a protagonist of “The Cossacks,” who reflects, falling on the ground while hunting in a forest: Continue reading LETTER FROM MOSCOW: Tolstoy and Buddhism

Thought for the Day: When falsity is extinguished …

Although we know that a
Frozen pond is entirely water,
The sun’s heat is necessary to melt it.
Although we awaken to the fact
That an ordinary person is Buddha,
The power of dharma is necessary
To make it permeate our cultivation.
When the pond has melted,
The water flows freely.
When falsity is extinguished,
The mind will be numinous
And dynamic and then its function
Of penetrating brightness will manifest.

– Kuei-feng

quote from