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Metta Meditation Talk, 2

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LISTEN | Guided Meditation | Bhante Sujato | Part 2
The Meditation Circle has been listening to
a series of talks on meditation by the Australian monk Bhante Sujato. of Santi Forest Monastery in Bundanoon, Sydney in Australia. The talks are on the practice of metta or loving-kindness meditation, as taught by a monk in Bangkok with whom Bhante Sujato has studied. In this guided meditation, he leads a 30-minute meditation on the basics of working with the attention as you first begin to sit.

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LISTEN | Meditation Introduction | Bhante Sujato | Part 1
Along the way of introducing this metta meditation practice
, Bhante Sujato undertakes an illuminating survey of the different kinds and methods of Buddhist meditation. The talk heard here is a shortened version taken from a rains retreat — I edited the talk down a bit to fit into manageable size for listening to at the Meditation Circle. I encourage you to seek out this and other talks by this very interesting Western monk who trained with Ajahn Brahm and who had a colorful past as a performer.
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Where the answer is …

A young man caught a small bird and held it behind his back. He then asked, “Master, is the bird I hold in my hands alive or dead?”

The boy thought this was a grand opportunity to play a trick on the old man. If the master answered “dead,” it would be let loose into the air. If the master answered “alive,” he would simply ring its neck.

The master spoke, “The answer is in your hands.”

~ H.H. the Dalia Lama | NOTE: This story was the quote for April 2, 2010 on a Dalai Lama daily quotes calendar. But I wonder what the original source o is? It appears on the Web in various guises, usually as a Zen tale.

Protecting Lumbini


Bodhi tree and pond at Lumbini from this page.

Thein, a Meditation Circle member, passed along this petition about an important subject in the larger Buddhist world. The information below is excerpted from the petition form, which you can find and sign online at this link. To read the group’s full petition with background information, see here.

INTERNATIONAL PETITION TO PROTECT LUMBINI’S ENVIRONMENT

Dear Friends of Lumbini:

The Lumbini Environmental Protection Alliance (LEPA) is writing to ask for your help in protecting Lumbini’s environment and the health of its local population. As you may know, Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha and is situated in Nepal. It is one of the four holy sites of Buddhism, the other three being Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kusinagar, all located in India. In recognition of its religious significance, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Lumbini as a World Heritage Site in 1997 …

Today, environmental pollution from heavy industry (cement and steel plants) that have located in the Lumbini region of Nepal is degrading air and ground water quality and local agriculture. It is likely impacting human health as well. A campaign has been underway for some years now to stop this desecration of Lumbini’s sacred space. As the collective voice of Lumbini’s friends around the world, LEPA is writing to humbly request your support in an international effort to protect and safeguard Nepal’s Lumbini from the growing impacts of environmental pollution …

This petition is an appeal to Nepal’s Ministry of Industry’s Industrial Promotion Board (IPB) to:

(1) create an industry-free zone around Lumbini,
(2) freeze the establishment of new industries outside of this industry-free area, and
(3) strictly monitor existing industrial firms.

… As the voice of concern for Lumbini, we urge you to sign this petition by adding your name and country of residence to the form (and by answering the optional questions as well if you wish); and clicking the ‘Submit’ button. You will be adding your voice thereby to that of other individuals and organizations around the world who understand the importance of cherishing and preserving this world treasure. The Lumbini Environmental Protection Alliance wishes to express its maha-gratitude for your anticipated support of its effort on behalf of current and future generations of beings everywhere!

With much metta! | Lumbini Environment Protection Alliance
Click here to sign on to the petition.

Next Meeting | Tuesday, April 13

Lately, we have been listening to a series of talks on metta or loving-kindness meditation by the Australian Buddhist monk Bhante Sujato. You can listen to or download the first talk right here. Next Tuesday, April 13, we will listen to the second part of the talk at the link above, which includes a very nice guided meditation by this wonderfully clear and insightful meditation teacher.

We welcome both beginners and experienced meditators to the Meditation Circle of Charleston, and others who may hope to revive a meditation practice that has lapsed. We are a small, but devoted group of people with a lifelong interest in deepening our practice and understanding of meditation in the Buddhist tradition, through regular sitting practice and an understanding of the Buddha’s teaching surrounding meditation.

Come out to the group! If you are a beginner, we offer one-on-one basic instruction in sitting meditation in a separate room, to get you up-to-speed. These days, we’re doing longer sitting meditations of about 35 to 45 minutes, starting at 6 p.m., followed by tapes or discussion about sitting practice and the Buddha’s teachings. Join us in the circle.

~ Douglas Imbrogno

Witness the trees

“Natural environment sustains the life of all beings universally. Trees are referred to in accounts of the principal events of Buddha’s life. His mother leaned against a tree for support as she gave birth to him. He attained enlightenment seated beneath a tree, and finally passed aay as trees stood witness overhead.” ~ The Dalai Lama

Mandala Making

This is worth the click, a time-lapse movie of the creation of a sand mandala as part of the exhibit “In the Realm of the Buddha,” up through through July 18, 2010 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. From the Web site about the exhibit:

Buddhist monk and mandala master Venerable Ngawang Chojor created a Tibetan sand mandala in the Sackler pavilion March 13–21, 2010. A mandala is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional palace that exists in the mind of the artist; it is considered a place where Buddhist deities reside. The intricate process of creating a mandala, which requires great patience and focus, serves as an aid to Buddhist meditation. Upon completion the mandala was consecrated, then swept up and dispersed to signify the impermanent nature of existence.

The ritual was captured by a camera mounted on a platform directly above the mandala. Images shot at five-minute intervals were merged to create this time-lapse movie.

Re-subscribe Note


The Meditation Circle of Charleston has been
re-focusing itself of late into a more explicitly Buddhist-oriented group. In the process of revising our Web Site, I created a new subscription feed that, alas, in my self-taught Web designer bumbleheadness, erased the link if you have have been a subscriber in the past.

IF YOU WISH TO RECEIVE AUTOMATIC E-MAILS when we post stuff on meditation news and resources (or if you follow Web sites through Google and Yahoo RSS news readers) you’ll need to re-subscribe to this site. Click one of the options at the top right of this home page to subscribe via RSS reader or ‘Get the Meditation Circle delivered by email’

~ With metta, Douglas I.

Metta Meditation Talk, No. 1

Listen to Bhante Sujato on types of Buddhist meditation practices.

Starting this month,
the Meditation Circle of Charleston has begun to listen to a wonderful series of talks on meditation by Bhante Sujato, of Santi Forest Monastery in Bundanoon, Sydney in Australia’s Southern Highlands. The talks are on the specific practice of metta or loving-kindness meditation, taught in a methodical fashion by a monk in Bangkok with whom Bhante Sujato has studied. Along the way of introducing this metta meditation practice, Bhante Sujato undertakes an illuminating survey of the different kinds and methods of Buddhist meditation. The talk in the mp3 player above is a shortened version of his introductory talk that I edited down a bit so as to fit into a manageable size for listening at our meeting and online. I encourage you to seek out this and other talks by this very interesting Western monk who trained with Ajahn Brahm and who has a colorful past as a performer.

Three types of laziness

I don’t know about you, but I believe I am an Olympic medal contender in all three of these flavors of laziness described by the Dalai Lama. ~ Doug

“Laziness will stop your progress in your spiritual practice. Once can be deceieved by three types of laziness: the laziness of indolence, which is the wish to procrastinate; the laziness of inferiority, which is doubting your capabilities; and the laziness that is attached to negative actions, or putting great effort into nonvirtue.”

~ H.H. the Dalai Lama

Re-focusing the Meditation Circle of Charleston

Hello all. The Meditation Circle of Charleston is in transition and we welcome your feedback and attendance in the coming weeks. For a long while, the group has tried to be many things, open to all sorts of discussions and directions. But the result has been that it has not been any one thing, and has not had much focus.

To that end, we’re in the process of refocusing the group. Although there is no requirement of those who come that they be self-identified as Buddhists (Doug’s usual quip is that it runs a bit contrary to the Buddha’s teachings to cling too strongly to the label ‘Buddhist’), going forward we’ll be much more specifically a Buddhist meditation group.

We’ll be introducing Noble Silence as a practice upon entering the main hall of the Unitarian building where we hold meetings, we’ll be learning to sit a little longer (from 30 to 45 minutes), we’ll be introducing Buddhist pujas and chanting now and again — plus the Buddha himself will be in attendance in the form of a small statue in the room.

As we re-introduce listening to recordings by Buddhist teachers into the group (something we used to do), we’ll pick ones that deepen an understanding of how to meditate in the insight or vipassana tradition and how meditation fits into the teachings of the Buddha. We’ll focus more deeply on the Noble Eightfold Path, and impermanence, no-self and dukkha (or unsatisfactoriness, to use the least limiting definition of this complex word) which lie at the very heart of spiritual practice in the Buddhist tradition.

None of us facilitating these meetings are teachers, so the group will remain a kind of support group for people serious about a lifelong practice of Buddhist meditation and who seek an area sangha. We hope to renew the practice of bringing Buddhist teachers to town. In order to do this, and also to contribute regular donations to the Unitarians for their generous hosting of our meetings, we will be encouraging people to donate $1 per meeting or $5 per month, if possible. (If you’re going through rough fiscal times, don’t worry about this.)

We welcome you to our Tuesday meetings in the next couple weeks for your ideas on this transformation, as well as how to structure meetings so beginners may have some instruction without starting each week’s meditation sitting from scratch. We are also contemplating moving the meeting to Monday nights and would like to know your thoughts on such a move. Please join us!

With metta,
Douglas Imbrogno
Thad Settle

New directions for the Meditation Circle

Please come to the next few gatherings of the Meditation Circle and join in a discussion of some new developments and new directions for the group for those of you interested in meditation and in Buddhism. Given the constant but irregular flow of people of many traditions or no traditions to our Tuesday sessions, we’d like your input on the direction you would like to see the Tuesday sessions go. We will also be announcing some new opportunities for those interested in more deeply exploring how a lifelong practice of meditation fits into the Buddha’s teachings.

What Meditation Isn’t

At its Tuesday, Jan. 12 meeting, the meditation group  continues its discussion of excerpts from Bhante Gunaratana’s classic guide to meditation practice, “Mindfulness in Plain English.” As we consider the basics of insight or vipassana meditation in the Buddhist tradition, Bhante G discusses what meditation in this tradition does NOT encompass.

What Meditation Isn’t
Excerpt from “Mindfulness in Plain English,” Chapter 2

Meditation is a word. You have heard this word before, or you would never have picked up this book. The thinking process operates by association, and all sorts of ideas are associated with the word ‘meditation’. Some of them are probably accurate and others are hogwash. Some of them pertain more properly to other systems of meditation and have nothing to do with Vipassana practice. Before we proceed, it behooves us to blast some of the residue out of our own neuronal circuits so that new information can pass unimpeded. Let us start with some of the most obvious stuff.

Unless your life is immoral and chaotic, you can probably get started right away and make some sort of progress. Sounds fairly encouraging, wouldn’t you say?

We are not going to teach you to contemplate your navel or to chant secret syllables. You are not conquering demons or harnessing invisible energies. There are no colored belts given for your performance and you don’t have to shave your head or wear a turban. You don’t even have to give away all your belongings and move to a monastery. In fact, unless your life is immoral and chaotic, you can probably get started right away and make some sort of progress. Sounds fairly encouraging, wouldn’t you say?

There are many, many books on the subject of meditation. Most of them are written from the point of view which lies squarely within one particular religious or philosophical tradition, and many of the authors have not bothered to point this out. They make statements about meditation which sound like general laws, but are actually highly specific procedures exclusive to that particular system of practice. The result is something of a muddle. Worse yet is the panoply of complex theories and interpretations available, all of them at odds with one another. The result is a real mess and an enormous jumble of conflicting opinions accompanied by a mass of extraneous data.

This book is specific. We are dealing exclusively with the Vipassana system of meditation. We are going to teach you to watch the functioning of your own mind in a calm and detached manner so you can gain insight into your own behavior. The goal is awareness, an awareness so intense, concentrated and finely tuned that you will be able to pierce the inner workings of reality itself.

There are a number of common misconceptions about meditation. We see them crop up again and again from new students, the same questions over and over. It is best to deal with these things at once, because they are the sort of preconceptions which can block your progress right from the outset. We are going to take these misconceptions one at a time and explode them.

MISCONCEPTION No. 1:
Meditation is just a relaxation technique

The bugaboo here is the word ‘just’. Relaxation is a key component of meditation, but Vipassana-style meditation aims at a much loftier goal. Nevertheless, the statement is essentially true for many other systems of meditation. All meditation procedures stress concentration of the mind, bringing the mind to rest on one item or one area of thought. Do it strongly and thoroughly enough, and you achieve a deep and blissful relaxation which is called Jhana. It is a state of such supreme tranquility that it amounts to rapture. It is a form of pleasure which lies above and beyond anything that can be experienced in the normal state of consciousness. Most systems stop right there. That is the goal, and when you attain that, you simply repeat the experience for the rest of your life.

Not so with Vipassana meditation. Vipassana seeks another goal–awareness. Concentration and relaxation are considered necessary concomitants to awareness. They are required precursors, handy tools, and beneficial byproducts. But they are not the goal. The goal is insight. Vipassana meditation is a profound religious practice aimed at nothing less that the purification and transformation of your everyday life. We will deal more thoroughly with the differences between concentration and insight in Chapter 14.

Misconception No. 2:
Meditation means going into a trance

Here again the statement could be applied accurately to certain systems of meditation, but not to Vipassana. Insight meditation is not a form of hypnosis. You are not trying to black out your mind so as to become unconscious. You are not trying to turn yourself into an emotionless vegetable. If anything, the reverse is true. You will become more and more attuned to your own emotional changes. You will learn to know yourself with ever- greater clarity and precision.

In learning this technique, certain states do occur which may appear trance-like to the observer. But they are really quite the opposite. In hypnotic trance, the subject is susceptible to control by another party, whereas in deep concentration the meditator remains very much under his own control. The similarity is superficial, and in any case the occurrence of these phenomena is not the point of Vipassana. As we have said, the deep concentration of Jhana is a tool or stepping stone on the route of heightened awareness. Vipassana by definition is the cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. If you find that you are becoming unconscious in meditation, then you aren’t meditating, according to the definition of the word as used in the Vipassana system. It is that simple.

Misconception No. 3:
Meditation is a mysterious practice which cannot be understood

Here again, this is almost true, but not quite. Meditation deals with levels of consciousness which lie deeper than symbolic thought. Therefore, some of the data about meditation just won’t fit into words. That does not mean, however, that it cannot be understood. There are deeper ways to understand things than words. You understand how to walk. You probably can’t describe the exact order in which your nerve fibers and your muscles contract during that process. But you can do it. Meditation needs to be understood that same way, by doing it. It is not something that you can learn in abstract terms. It is to be experienced. Meditation is not some mindless formula which gives automatic and predictable results. You can never really predict exactly what will come up in any particular session. It is an investigation and experiment and an adventure every time. In fact, this is so true that when you do reach a feeling of predictability and sameness in your practice, you use that as an indicator. It means that you have gotten off the track somewhere and you are headed for stagnation. Learning to look at each second as if it were the first and only second in the universe is most essential in Vipassana meditation.

Misconception No. 4
The purpose of meditation is to become a psychic superman

No, the purpose of meditation is to develop awareness. Learning to read minds is not the point. Levitation is not the goal. The goal is liberation. There is a link between psychic phenomena and meditation, but the relationship is somewhat complex. During early stages of the meditator’s career, such phenomena may or may not arise. Some people may experience some intuitive understanding or memories from past lives; others do not. In any case, these are not regarded as well-developed and reliable psychic abilities. Nor should they be given undue importance. Such phenomena are in fact fairly dangerous to new meditators in that they are too seductive. They can be an ego trap which can lure you right off the track. Your best advice is not to place any emphasis on these phenomena. If they come up, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine, too. It’s unlikely that they will. There is a point in the meditator’s career where he may practice special exercises to develop psychic powers. But this occurs way down the line. After he has gained a very deep stage of Jhana, the meditator will be far enough advanced to work with such powers without the danger of their running out of control or taking over his life. He will then develop them strictly for the purpose of service to others. This state of affairs only occurs after decades of practice. Don’t worry about it. Just concentrate on developing more and more awareness. If voices and visions pop up, just notice them and let them go. Don’t get involved.

Misconception No. 5
Meditation is dangerous and a prudent person should avoid it

Everything is dangerous. Walk across the street and you may get hit by a bus. Take a shower and you could break your neck. Meditate and you will probably dredge up various nasty matters from your past. The suppressed material that has been buried there for quite some time can be scary. It is also highly profitable. No activity is entirely without risk, but that does not mean that we should wrap ourselves in some protective cocoon. That is not living. That is premature death. The way to deal with danger is to know approximately how much of it there is, where it is likely to be found and how to deal with it when it arises. That is the purpose of this manual.

Vipassana is development of awareness. That in itself is not dangerous, but just the opposite. Increased awareness is the safeguard against danger. Properly done, meditation is a very gently and gradual process. Take it slow and easy, and development of your practice will occur very naturally. Nothing should be forced. Later, when you are under the close scrutiny and protective wisdom of a competent teacher, you can accelerate your rate of growth by taking a period of intensive meditation. In the beginning, though, easy does it. Work gently and everything will be fine.

Read ahead for Bhante G’s six additional thoughts on misconceptions about insight meditation. The group will consider the second part of the chapter at its Jan. 19 meeting. | READ ON