“We don’t meditate to hate our bodies or other bodies. Unsatisfactoriness depends on clinging to impermanent bodies. A mindful meditator should remind himself or herself that an attractive object has triggered sense desire. One should then develop wise reflection or mindful reflection.
“The Buddha gave a very meaningful simile to underscore the meaning of mindful reflection, or yoniso manasikara. Suppose you throw a stick to a dog. The dog runs after the stick and bites on it or brings it back to you. But if you throw a stick to a lion, he does not run after the stick. He runs after you! He wants to know where the stick came from. The lion wants to go to the root.
“Similarly, mindful reflection goes to the root. We have six roots. They are greed, hatred, and ignorance on the unwholesome side. And nongreed, nonhatred, and nondelusion on the wholesome side. When an unwholesome emotional state arises, we should be mindful enough to go to its roots and mindfully reflect that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and without self.”
CHECK OUT THE NEW WISDOM EXPERIENCE BOOK “WHAT WHY HOW: Answers to Your Questions About Buddhism, Meditation, and Living Mindfully.” The book compiles Bhante G’s answers to both beginning and advanced questions about meditation practice, mindfulness and Buddhist teachings.
Meditation Circle co-coordinator Douglas Imbrogno helped compile the book’s contents, along with other Bhavana lay supporters, from questions Bhante G has answered on the cushion, in interviews and on retreats around the world.
A bird in a secluded grove sings like a flute. Willows sway gracefully with their golden threads. The mountain valley grows the quieter As the clouds return. A breeze brings along the fragrance Of apricot flowers. For a whole day I have sat here Encompassed by peace, Till my mind is cleansed in and out Of all cares and idle thoughts. I wish to tell you how I feel, But words fail me. If you come to this grove, We can compare notes.
The Dhammapada is probably the most popular Buddhist literature in the world. It consists of 423 verses — sort of poetry, sort of philosophy, and a useful set of instructions to guide our deepening practice of the Dhamma. There are more than 50 translations from the Pali into English, and many more into other languages. For our reflections, I’ve chosen Gil Fronsdal’s translation because his purpose aligns with my own: to translate the Buddha’s teachings with all possible accuracy and in a way that enables the practitioner to deepen her wisdom in the here and now.
Without further ado, we begin:
All experience is preceded by mind, Led by mind, Made by mind. Speak or act with a corrupted mind, And suffering follows As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.
All experience is preceded by mind, Led by mind, Made by mind. Speak or act with a peaceful mind, And happiness follows Like a never-departing shadow.
Gil explains in a footnote that “preceded by mind” is sometimes translated as “impelled by mind”, giving the image more force. But our minds don’t compel us to do anything; we decide how to act, whether consciously or subconsciously motivated. If our mind is habitually angry or selfish or confused, our actions are likely to be the same. And if our thoughts tend to be kind, generous, and wise, then our actions are likely to be more in that vein.
“WHEN WE SEE A FLOWER, we think, ‘How pretty. I like looking at this.’ The feeling is one of acceptance. Seeing a cockroach, however, may cause revulsion and rejection. We may experience feelings like ‘I don’t want to see that. It’s disgusting. I wish it would go away.’
“So, who is doing all this accepting and rejecting? The answer, of course, is your own mind. We make these decisions as we see the world around us with our eyes, hear it with our ears, and feel it with our bodies. Acceptance of something gives rise to attachment, rejection to anger. Therefore, we can see that the true source of anger lies in the individual, not in the object. Objects are neutral. A flower has no intention of making us happy; neither does a cockroach intend to cause repulsion. Every individual’s perception is fixed by his or her attitude.
“Let us say that all of us are wearing colored glasses. These glasses are the difference between whether one lives in the light of contentment or in the darkness of dissatisfaction. The Buddha provides instructions to remove the glasses and correct our vision, but the responsibility of actually taking the glasses off falls entirely upon the individual. Please do not wait until a mystical being intervenes. That will never happen.”
Every year about this time, we like to post what has to be one of the few Buddhist Christmas carols out there. This is one by Bhante Yogavacara Rahula, a Theravadan Buddhist monk. Born 1948 in Southern California as Scott DuPrez, he became a Buddhist monk in 1975 at Gothama Thapovanaya in Kalupaluwawa, Sri Lanka. His colorful life story is told in “One Night’s Shelter: From Home to Homelessness,” which you can download on the book page of his blog at bhanterahula.blogspot.com. He lived at the Bhavana Society, a Buddhist monastery and retreat center in Hampshire County, West Virginia, from 1986 until 2010. He is now the principal teacher at the Lion of Wisdom Meditation Center near Damascus, MD.
Bhante Rahula performs “A Buddhamas Carol or Ode of a Vipassana Yogi” with help from singer-songwriters Casi Null and Douglas John Imbrogno (one of the co-facilitators of The Meditation Circle). Below are the lyrics, which are a Dhamma discourse in themselves:
A Buddhamas CarolorOde of a Vipassana Yogi | by Bhante Yogavacara Rahula)
Silent night, peaceful night. All is calm, stars are bright, Round the hall yogis sitting still. Keeping their backs straight, exerting will. Enduring pain without any ill-will, Pervading metta all throughout space, Wishing good-will to the whole human race.
Silent Mind, Peaceful Mind, Thoughts are few, pain is slight. Focusing mind at the tip of the nose, Knowing each breath as it comes and it goes. Perceiving the light that steadily glows, Feeling the rapture from head to the toes.
Silent mind, tranquil mind, Thoughts are stilled, body is light, All the Five Hindrances have died down, The ego no longer is spinning around, Mind is one-pointed, not moving a bit, Enjoying at long last the Jhanic Bliss. Sitting in rapturous joy, Sitting in rapturous joy.
Silent mind, focused mind, All is calm, mind is bright. The spiritual faculties are prepared, Vipassana-insight has Mara scared, Scanning the body from head to the toes, Anicca, anicca, each moment goes, Anicca, anicca, impermanence shows. The Five Aggregates appear empty as foam, The Truth of No-Self is easily known.
Silent Mind, Wisdom Mind, Awareness is strong, wisdom is fine. The six sense-impingements arise and pass, No desire, no clinging, no ego to grasp. No holding to present, future or past, Mara has vanished he’s took his last gasp. This body-mind house is empty at last. Sitting and walking the whole night through, Greeting the dawn completely anew.
Silent mind, holy mind. Now is the time, Conditions are prime. The Enlightenment Factors are developed well. The Four Noble Truths become clear as a bell, The Eye of Dhamma is opened wide, The three lower fetters are broken in stride.
Tonight the Yogi enters the Stream, Tomorrow Nibbana, no longer a dream.
MORE FROM BHANTE RAHULA: Here is a guided meditation by the monk:
DZOGCHEN PONLOP RINPOCHE | “If we want to be free of the pain we inflict on ourselves and each other — in other words, if we want to be happy — then we have to learn to think for ourselves. We need to be responsible for ourselves and examine anything that claims to be the truth. That’s what the Buddha did long ago to free himself from his own discontent and persistent doubts about what he heard, day after day, from his parents, teachers, and the palace priests …
“Those teachings today still describe a deeply personal inner journey that’s spiritual, yes, but not religious. The Buddha wasn’t a god — he wasn’t even a Buddhist. You’re not required to have more faith in the Buddha than you do in yourself. His power lies in his teachings, which show us how to work with our minds to realize our full capacity for wakefulness and happiness. These teachings can help us satisfy our search for the truth — our need to know who and what we really are.
“Where do we find this truth? Although we can rely to some degree on the wisdom we find in books and on the advice of respected spiritual authorities, that’s only the beginning. The journey to genuine truth begins when you discover a true question — one that comes from the heart — from your own life and experience. That question will lead to an answer that will lead to another question, and so on. That’s how it goes on the spiritual path.
“We start by bringing an open, inquisitive, and skeptical mind to whatever we hear, read, or see that presents itself as the truth. We examine it with reason and we put it to the test in meditation and in our lives. As we gain insight into the workings of the mind, we learn how to recognize and deal with our day-to-day experiences of thoughts and emotions. We uncover inaccurate and unhelpful habits of thinking and begin to correct them. Eventually we’re able to overcome the confusion that makes it so hard to see the mind’s naturally brilliant awareness. In this sense, the Buddha’s teachings are a method of investigation, or a science of mind…”
“If a person has a really deep interest in spiritual growth, he or she cannot do away with the practice of meditation. That is the key! Just a mere prayer or wish will not affect this inner spiritual change.
“The only way for development is through a constant effort through meditation. Of course, in the beginning it is not easy. You may find difficulties, or a loss of enthusiasm. Or perhaps in the beginning there will be too much enthusiasm—then after a few weeks or months, your enthusiasm may wane. We need to develop a constant, persistent approach based on a long-term commitment.”
NOTE: Thanisssara will offer an online teaching on “Refuge: The Heart’s Own Knowing,” on SUNDAY Sept. 29, 2019. Register here at WorldwideInsight.org., the site of an online Dharma practice group. The teachings are given in the Buddhist tradition of dana: “The Buddhist tradition views teachings of liberation as priceless, and this online class is offered in the spirit of generosity, called Dana. The teacher is directly supporting your practice. Please support her / him directly, through your generosity.“
“Our practice is preparation for when real challenges hit.” – Ajahn Chah
It’s important to recognize that we are living in extremely challenging times, and because of this, we are going to experience some very painful and disturbing bodily feelings, emotions, and mind states.
When the norms and forms of life we are used to radically change, we can become very triggered and overwhelmed. Our nervous system deregulates and old traumas can activate destabilizing our sense of cohesion and focus. Feelings of profound fear, anxiety, panic, outrage, shock, despair, disorientation can arise, and when they do, we need to take extra special care. To pause and recognize that there’s nothing wrong with us, that actually what is felt is an appropriate response to a fast dismembering world.
So, as profound uncertainty deepens and intensifies within and all around, our Dharma practice becomes ever more vital. The ground and heart of this practice is alignment with Refuge. This offers a direct connection to sustaining and nourishing qualities of peace, equanimity, joy, clarity, impassioned fearless compassion, discernment, and the confidence to listen ever more deeply into the “here and now” living Dharma.
We are in a time that is inviting us to be more real, more authentic and to let go of what is no longer essential, to forgive it all, and to trust the capacity of the heart’s ability to regenerate and hone to integrity and love.
It’s a time when each breath becomes ever more precious and when Rilke’s encouragement is superbly meaningful:
“Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
Thanissara trained in the Forest School of Ajahn Chah as a Buddhist nun for 12 years. She is a Dharma teacher and co-founded Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat Centre in South Africa and Sacred Mountain Sangha in the US with Kittisaro. She is an author and poet and is currently involved in mobilizing a Buddhist initiative to Declare Climate Emergency Now in the San Francisco Bay area.
A meditation group in the Buddhist insight tradition, based in Charleston, W.Va.