Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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)

Right View…plus some Encouraging Words

“The ability not to get discouraged by events comes down to your ability to keep talking to yourself with the right tone of voice, saying the right things to yourself. That’s what right view is all about. Remind yourself that no matter how bad things get or how long the dry stretches seem to last, it’s not the end. The possibility for knowledge is always there. This is one of the amazing things about the mind: It’s always aware. There’s always that potential for knowledge, for understanding. Sometimes it may seem weak, but it’s there, and you can encourage it. That’s how, when things get bad, you can become your own best counselor, your own best advisor, so that when things crash, not everything gets demolished. Your determination not to keep on suffering: That’ll see you through.”

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu “When Things Aren’t Going Well”

https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/Meditations5/Section0027.html

 

 

 

 

Essential Attitudes for Meditation

“The mind itself is a set of events, and you participate in those events every time you look inward. Meditation is participatory observation: what you are looking at responds to the process of looking. In this case, what you are looking at is you, and what you see depends on how you look. Thus, the process of meditation is extremely delicate, and the result depends absolutely on the state of mind of the meditator. The following attitudes are essential to the success in practice:

1. Don’t expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Treat the whole thing as an experiment. Take an active interest in the test itself, but don’t get distracted by your expectations about the results. For that matter, don’t be anxious for any results whatsoever. Let the meditation move along at its own speed and its own directions. Let the meditation teach you. Meditative awareness seeks to see reality exactly as it is. Whether that corresponds to our expectations or not, it does require a temporary suspention of all our preconceptions and ideas. We must store our images, opinions, and interpretations out of the way for the duration of the session. Otherwise we will stumble over them.

2) Don’t strain. Don’t force anything or make grand, exaggerated efforts. Meditation is not aggressive. There is no place or need for violent striving. Just let you effort be relaxed and steady.

3) Don’t rush. There is no hurry, so take your time. Settle yourself on a cushion and sit as though you have the whole day. Anything really valuable takes time to develop. Patience, patience, patience.

4) Don’t cling to anything and don’t reject anything. Let come what comes, and accommodate yourself to that. Whatever it is. If good mental images arise, that is fine. If bad images arise, that’s fine, too. Look on all of it as equal and make yourself comfortable with whatever happens. Don’t fight with what you experience, just observe it all mindfully.

5) Let go. Learn to flow with all the changes that come up. Loosen up and relax.

6) Accept everything that rises. Accept your feelings, even the ones you wish you did not have. Accept your experiences, even ones you hate. Don’t condemn yourself for having human flaws or failings. Learn to see all the phenomena as being perfectly natural and understandable. Try to exercise a disinterested acceptance at all times with respect to everything you experience.

7) Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. You may not be perfect, but you are all you’ve got to work with. The process of becoming who you will be begins first with the total acceptance of who you are.

8) Investigate yourself. Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don’t believe anything because it sounds wise and pious and some holy man said it. See for yourself. That does not mean that you should be cynical, imprudent, or irreverent. It means you should be empirical. Subject all the statements to the act or test of your own experience, and let the  results be your guide to truth. Insight meditation evolves out of an inner longing to wake up to what is real and to gain liberating insight into the true structure of existence. The entire practice hinges on this desire to be awake to the truth. Without it, the practice is superficial.

9) View all problems as challenges. Look upon negativities that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow. Don’t run from them, condemn yourself or bury your burden in saintly silence. You have a problem? Great. More grists for the mill. Rejoice, dive in, and investigate.

10) Don’t ponder. You don’t need to figure everything out. This cursive thinking won’t free you from the trap. In meditation the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention. Habitual deliberation is not necessary to eliminate those things that are keeping you in bondage. All that is necessary is a clear, conceptual perception of what they are and how they work. That alone is sufficient to dissolve them. Concepts and reasoning just get in the way. Don’t think. See.

11) Don’t dwell upon contrast. Differences do exist between people but dwelling upon them is a dangerous process. Unless carefully handled, this leads directly to egotism. Ordinary human thinking is full of greed, jealousy, and pride.

The meditator’s job is to cancel this unskillful habit by examining it throughly and then replacing it with another. Rather than noticing the differences between oneself and others, the meditator trains him- or herself to notice the similarities. She centers her attention on those factors that are univeral to all life. Things that will move her closer to others. Then her comparisons, if any, lead to feelings of kinship rather than of estrangement.

Bhante Gunaratana (2015)
Mindfulness in Plain English
20th Anniversary Ed.
Wisdom Publications, p 33-36

 

A Definition of Mindfulness

Bhante Gunaratana’s Definition of Mindfulness:

Mindfulness (Sati)
Mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali word  sati .  Sati  is an activity. What exactly is that? There can be no precise answer, at least not in words. Words are devised by the symbolic levels of the mind, and they describe those realities with which symbolic thinking deals. Mindfulness is presymbolic. It is not shackled to logic. Nevertheless, mindfulness can be experienced—rather easily—and it can be described, as long as you keep in mind that the words are only fingers pointing at the moon. They are not the moon itself. The actual experience lies beyond the words and above the symbols. Mindfulness could be described in completely different terms than will be used here, and each description could still be correct.
Mindfulness is a subtle process that you are using at this very moment. The fact that this process lies above and beyond words does not make it unreal—quite the reverse. Mindfulness is the reality that gives rise to words—the words that follow are simply pale shadows of reality. So it is important to understand that everything that follows here is analogy. It is not going to make perfect sense. It will always remain beyond verbal logic. But you can experience it. The meditation technique called  vipassana  (insight) that was introduced by the Buddha about twenty-five centuries ago is a set of mental activities specifically aimed at experiencing a state of uninterrupted mindfulness.
When you first become aware of something, there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness just before you conceptualize the thing, before you identify it. That is a state of awareness. Ordinarily, this state is short-lived. It is that flashing split second just as you focus your eyes on the thing, just as you focus your mind on the thing, just before you objectify it, clamp down on it mentally, and segregate it from the rest of existence. It takes place just before you start thinking about it—before your mind says, “Oh, it’s a dog.” That flowing, soft-focused moment of pure awareness is mindfulness. In that brief flashing mind-moment you experience a thing as an un-thing. You experience a softly flowing moment of pure experience that is interlocked with the rest of reality, not separate from it. Mindfulness is very much like what you see with your peripheral vision as opposed to the hard focus of normal or central vision. Yet this moment of soft, unfocused awareness contains a very deep sort of knowing that is lost as soon as you focus your mind and objectify the object into a thing. In the process of ordinary perception, the mindfulness step is so fleeting as to be unobservable. We have developed the habit of squandering our attention on all the remaining steps, focusing on the perception, cognizing the perception, labeling it, and most of all, getting involved in a long string of symbolic thought about it. That original moment of mindfulness is rapidly passed over. It is the purpose of  vipassana  meditation to train us to prolong that moment of awareness.
When this mindfulness is prolonged by using proper techniques, you find that this experience is profound and that it changes your entire view of the universe. This state of perception has to be learned, however, and it takes regular practice. Once you learn the
technique, you will find that mindfulness has many interesting aspects.