Category Archives: Readings

Summer 2016 “Forest Path” Newsletter Online

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The Summer 2016 edition of “The Forest Path,” the online newsletter of the Bhavana Society Therevadan Buddhist Monastery and retreat center in High View, W.Va., in Hampshire County, is now online at this link.

From the introduction to this newsletter:

The Summer 2016 edition of the Bhavana Society’s quarterly newsletter features an excerpt from Bhante Seelananda’s new book, “Our Buddha, His Life and Teachings In His Own Words,” a book rich in Dhamma drawn straight from the Buddha’s direct teachings. There’s also an article from Bhavana’s newest fully ordained monk, Bhante Pannaratana, titled “The Walking Dead,” with advice on avoiding the zombie virus of heedlessness — pamada — by understanding its opposite, appamada. Abbot Bhante Gunaratana is featured in another installment of “Ask Bhante G,” in which he talks about how long laypeople should meditate in their daily lives. This issue also introduces a new feature, “Bhavana Moments,” where visitors recall special moments during visits to the Therevadan monastery deep in the West Virginia hills.” | READ ON

 

mindfulness just accepts it

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“It is psychologically impossible for us to objectively observe what is going on within us if we do not at the same time accept the occurrence of our various states of mind. This is especially true with unpleasant states of mind. In order to observe our own fear, we must accept the fact that we are afraid. We can’t examine our own depression without accepting it fully. The same is true for irritation and agitation, frustration , and all those other uncomfortable emotional states. You can’t examine something fully if you are busy rejecting its existence. Whatever experience we may be having, mindfulness just accepts it. It is simply another of life’s occurrences, just another thing to be aware of. No pride, no shame, nothing personal at stake — what is there is there.”

~ Bhante Gunaratana
“Mindfulness in Plain English” (Wisdom Publications)
p. 133

The heart of our true nature

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“…To forgive does not necessarily mean to forget. Sometimes to forget is not wise, but to forgive is wise. And it is at times not easy. It can, in fact, be quite challenging. It will come as no surprise that one of the most difficult people to forgive can be yourself. Yet with patience and gentle determination, it can be done.

Parami (Pali), Paramita (Sanskrit): literally, perfection, or crossing over (to the other shore).

The paramis are practices that can lead one to the perfection of certain virtuous or ennobling qualities. They are practiced as a way of purifying karma and leading the practitioner on a path to enlightenment. In the Theravada tradition, the ten paramis are dana (generosity), sila (morality), nekkhamma (relinquishing), panna (wisdom), viriya (effort), khanti (patience), sacca (truthfulness), adhitthana (determination), metta (lovingkindness), upekkha (equanimity). In the Mahayana there are six paramitas: generosity, morality, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom.

It is interesting to note that the parami of generosity comes first, before the other practices, even morality. Some commentators suggest that the list begins with the easiest practice and becomes progressively more challenging. Another view is that until one sees the interconnected nature of phenomena and has a heart open to the needs of all beings, the other paramis can remain beyond reach. With practice, the virtuous qualities become stronger and support one another. Generosity supports relinquishing, which supports morality, which supports truthfulness, which supports wisdom, which supports equanimity, and so forth.

The paramis are seen as the heart of our true nature but greed, hatred, and delusion cause them to become somewhat blurred. Practicing the paramis is said to help us see in a different, more beneficial way. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “These deeds, called the perfections, constitute the essential and comprehensive path to enlightenment, combining method and wisdom.” Thus the paramis are important practices for one who seeks to become an awakened being and to end the cycle of samsara, or cyclic existence. The key point to remember is that the paramis are offered not as philosophy but as practices. To be effective, practices need to be practiced.”

~ Allen Lokos
Read full excerpt here

Walking to Lhasa

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“… The mind is very powerful. There’s a tremendous strength there, and it makes such a big difference how this mind, this will, this intention is being steered. And everything depends on whether it allows itself to relax and be serene, or whether it allows itself to get caught up in anxiety, grasping, and fear; it makes a difference if you do something with a relaxed, easygoing frame of mind, or if you do it in a harried and distracted way.

“In past times, people used to walk from eastern Tibet all the way to Lhasa, in central Tibet. Some types wanted to get there really fast, so they’d walk as quickly as they could. They’d tire, or get sick, give up and have to return. But other people, they would just walk at an easy pace, and they’d sit down, take breaks, pitch camp for the night, have a good time. And then, the next day, continue. And in that way they would actually reach Lhasa quite quickly. Thus the Tibetan proverb, “If you walk with haste, you do not reach Lhasa. If you walk at a gentle pace, you will make it there.”

~ from a Tricycle  interview with Mingyur Rinpoche

Hold to your precepts

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Here’s a wonderful interview from Mask Magazine with the Buddhist scholar monk, Thanissaro Bhikku. The whole thing is worth a read, but these paragraphs really stuck out:

“Try to have a part of your mind that doesn’t buy into everything around here. You can create that. The Internet has the advantage that now you can listen to dharma talks at any time. You can read dharma passages for some of these alternate ideas.

“Hold to your precepts. Try to develop a state of mind, where you’re in touch with that part of the mind that’s not affected by anything. So that whatever comes in, you don’t feel overwhelmed. That sense of being overwhelmed is what makes people desperate. Develop that part of the mind that can tell itself: okay, no matter what comes, I can handle it.

“That requires some meditation. And having the precepts as the basis for your self-esteem. Basically, that there are certain things that nobody can ever pay me to do. If you’ve got a precept and someone offers you a million dollars to lie, you say “nope” – and suddenly, you’ve got a precept worth more than a million dollars.”

Acknowledging the problem

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“We carry addictions. The first step is acknowledging that. The acknowledgment itself is the purpose of the First Noble Truth. If you really look at the Buddhist tradition, the First Noble Truth is to understand the truth of suffering, which means acknowledge the problems we face, the addictions we have. If drinking coffee makes you sick, you have to cut the coffee out—and likewise when you recognize the addictions of attachment, anger, hatred. The Second Noble Truth is to find out what it is that causes these addictions and then to separate yourself from it. There are many causes of suffering created by individual karma—anger, hatred, jealousy, and, above all, ignorance. Ignorance is the most important one, the one which really creates all other negative emotions, such as anger, attachment, hatred.

“The Third Truth is cessation of ignorance. And the Fourth Truth is the Path, which is the medicine. If you have too much acid in your stomach, you take Pepto-Bismol. The practice, the path, is the antidote to whatever your problem is. If you’re too angry, you deal with the passions. If it’s laziness, you deal with diligence. If it’s ignorance, you use wisdom. If you’re wandering or thinking too much, you use meditation. These are the methods that automatically bring us to Buddhist ethics.”

~ Gelek Rinpoche
(from a very rich interview, “A Lama for All Seasons,” in Tricycle. Read the whole thing here.)

Understanding Cause & Effect

 

Bhante Gunaratana

Bhante Gunaratana

“Once we understand that everything we think, say or do is a cause that leads inevitably to some effect, now or in the future, we will naturally want to think, say, and do things that lead to positive results and avoid those thoughts, words, and deeds that lead to negative ones. Recognizing that causes always lead to results helps us accept the consequences of past actions. It also helps us focus our attention on making choices that can lead to a happier future.

“Skillful actions are those that create the causes for happiness, such as actions motivated by loving friendliness and compassion. Any action that comes from a mind not currently filled with greed, hatred, or delusion brings happiness to the doer and to the receiver. Such an action is, therefore, skillful or right.”

~ Bhante Gunaratana

from “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness”
p. 27-28

When Fear Arises WITHIN OUR MEDITATION

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Image from WikiMedia

When fear arises within our meditation, we apply an antidote. Recognizing what is happening at each instant as mind, we remain in the present. It is important to remember that patterns don’t have to repeat themselves. Through remaining in the present, we can let go of the past and the future—the headquarters of our fears. We recognize and then we let go, whether coming back to the focal point of our meditation—posture, breath, visualization—or non-conceptual space. Through motivation, honesty, and confidence you can practice with your fears and go beyond them in a way you never thought possible.

Lama Tsony
Read full excerpt

Purifying the Mind

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“Nibbana is not a location or condition somewhere outside of us. Rather, it is within. Nibbana is the total destruction of all defilements. The very moment our greed, hatred and ignorance are destroyed, nibbana arises. The key to overcoming defilements and reaching nibbana is cultivating (or training) the mind. As the Buddha said, “As rain does not get into a well thatched house, so craving does not get into a well trained mind.”

So how should we proceed? First, we must understand what we are trying to accomplish and develop some skill in mindfulness both during meditation and in life. We use this mindfulness to prevent external defilements from entering the mind by carefully guarding the senses. We also use it to prevent latent tendencies that exist as traces within the mind, such as craving, hatred, greed, jealousy and pride, from arising. If, in spite of these efforts, latent tendencies do arise or reach the stage of manifestation in words and deeds, we apply additional mindful efforts to overcome them.

Then, instead of worrying over past unwholesome thoughts, we arouse wholesome thoughts, such as generosity, patience, and loving-friendliness and use effort to strengthen the wholesome thoughts. In addition we use mindfulness to guard the senses against external sensory experiences that might stimulate any unwholesome tendencies. As we have said, mindfulness is in essence vipassana or insight meditation. Only insight meditation can train the mind to watch and discipline itself in order to purify it, eventually destroying all the defilements, including their latent tendencies.”

~ Bhante Gunaratana
pp. 34-35, “Meditation on Perception: Ten Healing Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness”
Wisdom Publications

The Five Wonderful Precepts

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Here is Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh‘s take on the Five Precepts in Buddhism, which expands their definition to include some wonderful nuances. (Thanks to Robin Wilson for passing these on).

The Five Wonderful Precepts

FIRST PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of live, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

SECOND PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

THIRD PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

FOURTH PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I know not to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all affords to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

FIFTH PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

A primer on karma

stonemanCheck out this Tricycle article on the much misunderstood Buddhist concept of karma. It’s an interview with Matthieu Ricard, born in France in 1946, and who trained as a molecular biologist at the  Institute Pasteur before taking up robes as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in 1972. Note: the article is live to non-members of Tricycle.com only through Sunday, June 2. Some highlights:

+ + +

RICARD: At each point in our lives, we are at a crossroads. We are the fruit of our past and we are the architects of our future. When we ask, “Why did this happen to me?” it is because of our limited view. If we throw a stone up in the air and forget about it, when it falls down on our heads, we shouldn’t complain, although we usually do. We have this notion that what happens to us is somehow independent of our own actions. We can ask, why did this happen? but the more important question is, what we are going to do about it?

If you want to know your past, look at your present circumstances. If you want to know your future, look at what is in your mind. If we know that our fate is in our hands, then the quality of our actions becomes a central issue. The whole point of karma is to recognize how our actions determine our future, so that we can begin to act properly. It’s not just a cosmological or philosophical matter. It’s entirely practical. The main point is not to get in trouble again.

THE LAWS OF KARMA

1. Karma is definite: An action will definitely bring its specific results unless it meets an obstacle. A positive action will result in happiness. A negative action will ultimately produce suffering.

2. Karma increases: Just as a small seed gives rise to a towering tree, the seeds of both positive and negative karma increase in potency unless they are obstructed. Positive results can be obstructed by expressions of anger and other negative actions. Negative results can be obstructed through purification.

3. Karma is specific: Karmic results are experienced only by one who created the cause for that experience.

4. Karma is never lost: The karmic seeds do not lose their potency of their own accord. Without purification and the cessation of negative actions, those karmic seeds will never lose their potential. They will continue to have the power to bring us suffering when the proper conditions arise. -Mark Magill

Excerpt: Breathing Life into the Suttas

Except from the article “From Thought to Stillness: Breathing Life Into the Suttas,” by Rodney Smith | TRICYCLE, Winter 2012 |
Read the whole article by becoming a Tricycle online member


By Rodney Smith
| Tricycle Winter 2012 |The constant inquiry among meditators is how to maintain awareness, but the question is being considered from the wrong end of the suffering continuum. The anxiety associated with the continuation of awareness is suffering, and becoming more worried about how we practice does not move us in a wise direction. We can begin to see how our personal struggle to be mindful is misplaced when we observe the sense of self arising within our effort to maintain mindfulness. The harder we try in this, the more forgetful we become. Since the sense of self is the embodiment of the absence of awareness, forgetting to observe is inevitable as we try harder to be aware. The problem of how to be mindful is actually resolved not through strenuous effort but by relaxing, allowing, and observing what is already here. Within the framework of relaxation, the sense of self has a diminishing power center, making space for awareness to be revealed.

If we place an emphasis on “me” entering the here and now, the here and now becomes a project, when actually the “me” is the real project. The “I” state is the unnatural component, but from the sense of self’s twisted logic the moment becomes the problem and needs “my” effort to enter it. This inherent contradiction— of trying to enter something that already is—limits access to the here and now and takes away what is naturally here already. An authentic spiritual practice begins to reverse this perception by abiding with the natural and dismissing the artificial.

If we think of ourselves as outside the moment needing to get in, this is working our practice from the wrong view, intention, and effort. If we want to move from thinking to stillness, we have to relax and see what was there before we created the storybased assumption that we were outside anything. It dawns on us that we are powerless to make freedom happen because our efforts only disconnect us from our intended goal. We exist as a thought believed, and it is not within the power of a thought to control awareness. When this is realized, we stop trying to be mindful and relax into the awareness that existed before thought instead of holding to the mindfulness driven by thought. One is eternal, the other temporal.

We give up the “doing” of mindfulness to fully participate in what mindfulness is attempting to do—that is, to allow a full abiding presence. Mindfulness has a way of both advancing and retracting that cause. It can maintain the observer and the observed and straddle the fence between these two. Mindfulness tries to have it both ways by proclaiming full participation in the moment even as it applies a fail-safe plan to pull out if the experience gets a little frightening. The observer or watcher is the part of our mind that likes to know what it is getting into, the contained and controlled part that maintains an escape route “just in case.” At a certain level of understanding our practice, this is all fine, but we soon tire of holding ourselves in reserve. The observer and the observed must eventually merge into a single abiding presence if there is to be spiritual fulfillment. | Read on (must be a Tricycle.com member)

Links to the Buddha’s teachings on breath-centered meditation

“Getting to Know the Breath” is the ongoing theme for 2012 we’ll be considering in the weekly 6 p.m. Tuesday gatherings of the Meditation Circle of Charleston at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation building in Charleston, W.Va. In past weeks. Thad and I have mentioned some of the core teachings of the Buddha on breath-centered meditation. We are not qualified to teach suttas, but we’re all qualified to absorb and discuss them as they relate to our ongoing lay meditation practice.

To that end, we encourage Circle members and others to take a dip into the Buddha’s direct teachings on meditation instruction in the following suttas (We’re borrowing these links and their descriptions with our thanks from the Washington D.C. Buddhist Studies Group).

An inescapable fact and challenge

Bhavana Society Buddha ~ 2010

In this uncertain political season, full of angst, anger and fear, I have wondered what to remark about the current agitated national scene in America. I will not use a Buddhist blog to share my own particular points of view except to note that when it comes to nations and politics, angst seems the norm. Yet how are we to face bedeviling fears and enormous questions – how shall we run our country? – when we are also consumed with the equally enormous question of how to run our daily lives?

I’ve been on vacation the past week, the first four days spent at the Bhavana Society Buddhist monastery in the eastern mountains of West Virginia. Now, I abide in a friend’s lovely townhouse in Washington, D.C., preparing to head out to the National Mall for Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” (and good luck with that!). So, the personal and the national have been playing out in my travels and in my thoughts. With coffee cup in hand, I cracked open Chapter 15 of Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano’s remarkable book, “Longing For Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” (Wisdom Publication) this morning, instead of  lap-topping to my favorite political blog and getting all agitated again.

The good monk serves up much nourishment in the closing pages of a book whose voice and vivid imagery on finding Dhamma in daily life has become a treasured resource for me. The following is a gorgeously written call to attention to wake up out of the gloom of our moody, distracted introspections. Some members of our Meditation Circle purchased this book after reading other excerpts on this blog. I encourage other readers to do likewise for the full course of this American monk’s wise peregrinations and clear-headed expositions of the Buddha’s core teachings:

Excerpt (p. 71) by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano from “Longing For Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” (Wisdom Publications).

After enough hard experience we cannot believe that living comes to any wise conclusion by itself, or that suffering will finally be outlasted by patience alone. Among the numberless hours of dreaming and speculating, where is the true time that counts toward wisdom? Cause and effect crash through us every moment, unseen and unheard, perhaps, but making us and remaking us according to the nature of our actions. In considering history – of our own family or of all humanity – we are considering actions, changes, the endless turn of circumstances, the surge and fall of generations. Why should our own generation necessarily surge higher than any other and carry us with it? Whatever the fanfare around us, still we act as individuals, well or badly, and receive the results of those actions. Our own past and all of history teach us the essential sameness of worldly things, show us the prevailing passions of living beings, but do not direct us to liberation from suffering. For that we need the teachings of the Buddha.

We gaze out the window at the dazzling, motionless neighborhood – bright white under a winter blue – and through the near houses are new enough, time seems strangely indefinite, blown away as the snow has been blown away from the branches of the trees. We might also be living in any century, looking up with surprise from any life, any domestic moment, into that amazing emptiness of sky. Always it is something like this when we sit still enough and watch with mindfulness. We sense the vastness of the season, wherein we are always, it seems, beginning again to grapple with birth and death, beginning and hesitating and faltering for lack of knowledge or lack of faith.

Whether we yearn for the charming past or the intriguing future, still those white and blue depths of winter surround us – emblematic of the great dukkha that is continually regenerated out of ignorance by our actions. While cause and effect inexorably race on we have no grounds for esteeming ourselves necessarily superior or inferior, in moral safety or religious confidence, to past generations or our own past lives. We make our guesses, restrain or obey our impulses, and run along through the brief warmth of our years, hoping to attain at last to peace and contentment; but history, read out of books or sensed now in the belongings of our family, tells only of sameness beneath the flickering of incidents – the timeless moral questions and groping for certainty. Continue reading An inescapable fact and challenge

“A Pilgrimage in Autumn”

autumn cul-de-sac | october 2010

NOTE: An earlier posting of this excerpt contained several misspellings. This one fixes them!

Regular readers of this occasional blog will know of my current infatuation with the book “Longing For Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” (Wisdom Publications) by Bhikku Nyanasobhano, excerpted once before here. It may be that this American Buddhist monk’s approach to Buddhist Dhamma accords with my own stumblebum Buddhist path – seeking out the actuality and truth of the Buddha’s teaching in the evidence of daily life, often through the filter of the senses on long peregrinations through the back woods. Yet it is also one of the most beautifully written books you’ll hope to find by an American-born Buddhist, steeped in the teachings of the Buddha and capable of communicating them in vivid, accessible language culled from common experience.

Since we here in West Virginia are now experiencing one of the most glorious Indian summers in many a year, it came as both serendipity and blessing to come to Chapter 13 in the Bhikku’s book this morning, titled “A Pilgrimage in Autumn.” An excerpt follows. But the chapter and book is so rich I encourage those of like-minded sensibilities to buy it for the full flavor of his strolling investigations of Dhamma in daily life.

Or if you attend the weekly 6 p.m. Tuesday gatherings of the Meditation Circle of Charleston, ask me for my copy once I finish or Thad’s when he’s done since he bought the book after I posted the last excerpt. And yes, I realize it’s a form of attachment to be infatuated with a Buddhist book – what’s a stumblebum Buddhist to do but stumble onward, carting along all his contradictions? This chapter also contains a skillful explication of one of the Buddha’s most difficult teachings, that of “no self.” ~ Douglas I.

READINGS | From “Longing For Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” by Bhikku Nyanasobhano

… OUT HERE IN THE COUNTRY the world looks different – not necessarily more beautiful or cheerful, but more dignified, at least, more graceful and significant. We had been intending to enjoy some of that autumn beauty, but if we cannot we may as well take meaning instead – or not even meaning if we think of it as chunks of information or succinct conclusions, but perhaps the intuition of splendor that the land inspires in us. For we feel that the land is old, ancient with respect to us and our ancestors. Empty woods all around, windy solitude, antiquity, huge oaks in the distance – these shrink us almost to nothing, yet impart something of richness and freedom. We hurry on through our trivial moment with the intention (frail as it is) of glimpsing certainty in old things, great things not made by man.

The noise, speed, and brilliance of what is called society do not, it seems, satisfactorily answer our longing for certainty; at any rate, from the stimulation of our social life we have turned aside for a while, to get far away from even from ourselves so that we might look around unimpeded and contemplate whatever is noble and true. Out here we walk through the wind that streams and lags and streams again, exploring the cold, vital, primitive land until we feel somewhat less bound to our old preoccupations, more concerned with wind, creeks, and brambly meadows. A day of sunshine and stillness would have given us more pleasure, but by now we are not really sorry about it, for the gray weather smooths a fine wonder over everything, suggesting greater truths than we might have suspected in more conventional beauty. Continue reading “A Pilgrimage in Autumn”