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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?

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

“The Buddhamas Carol” or “Ode to the Vipassana Yogi”

NOTE ON LOADING TIMES: Try waiting a few seconds before starting the show, to give it a little time to load. With a fast connection (or mindful patience) you can watch the show full-screen by clicking on the ‘four-arrows’ icon at lower right of the viewing screen.



SO, BHANTE YOGAVACARA RAHULA, an American Buddhist monk, stayed at my house earlier this year. We lodged him downstairs in a guest room that shares space with my home rehearsal and recording space. I came back from work to find he’d written and recorded on my BR 600 notebook recorder what he called “a Buddhist Christmas carol.” It’s about a yogi who sits down and attains enlightenment one silent night. My monk friend titled it “The Buddhamas Carol or Ode to the Vipassana Yogi.” Since monks aren’t supposed to become the next Myspace web stars, I recorded the song with harmonies by The Clementines, which would be Casi Null and myself. It’s a rough recording with a lot of ambient noise in it. (I recorded Casi at her kitchen table in a drive-by visit to her new digs in Princeton, W.Va., near the Riff Raff Art Collective. I think at one point, you hear Hendrix the Dog skittering across the linoleum kitchen floor). One day, we’ll do a proper recording in a real live studio with a sound engineer who knows his stuff. The lyrics are below. Let us know what you think. For more on Bhante Rahula, see here and here.

NOTE ON USAGE: Feel free to republish the song on your site, use the lyrics for your own version of the song (or slideshow). Or get the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to cover the tune. If you do record your own version, let me know (contacting me here) and I’ll post it here. If you republish it somewhere, it would be appreciated if you listed the web address:


A Buddhamas Carol
or Ode of a Vipassana Yogi

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 goodwill 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 feels light,
All the Five Hinderances 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,

CHORUS: Sitting in Joyful Peace, Sitting in Blissful Peace.

Silent Mind, focused Mind,
Awareness is strong, 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 flows,
The Five Aggregates appear empty as foam,
The Truth of No-Self is readily shown,

Sitting in insightful Joy, Sitting in insightful Joy…

Silent Mind, Equanimous Mind,
Awareness is clear, 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 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, Wisdom 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.

WORDS: By Bhante Yogavacara Rahula |
By The Clementines and the RiffRaff Choir

A meditation on recycling…

I liked Meditation Circle member Craig Wilger’s letter to the editor (below) in the Friday, Dec. 12, 2008 “Reader’s Forum” of the Charleston Gazette. Isn’t the way we systematically plunder and gobble up the planet’s resources and places a spiritual malaise? (Or in a memorable line about voracious humanity from Bruce Cockburn’s “If a Tree Falls”: Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world…” Recycling may take only a sliver of the trash back from the torrent we vomit out daily because of the way we like to live. But along the way we role model a more sustainable and truer way of living. The letter below Craig’s makes an equally salient point — why must recycling pay for itself when it’s OK to toss out as much trash as you wish, while everyone pays the same  fee for pickup? (P.S. Don’t you like the way newspaper letters still begin with ye olde “Editor:” salutation? Can you imagine blog comments beginning that way? Many are more likely to start “Dolt!”)


I applaud South Charleston’s Frank Mullens and city council for standing strong with recycling. The very act of recycling is symbolic of a willingness to turn away from a way of living that considers only the immediate and insatiable need to consume. Rather it looks toward a future for our children based on a respect for ourselves and for the land’s limited resources. Continue reading A meditation on recycling…

NEXT MEETING: Meditation Circle at 6 p.m. Tues, Dec. 9

Need some down time from the holiday hustle (not mention bustle)? The Meditation Circle of Charleston will meet from 6 to 7:30 p.m., on Tuesday, Dec. 9 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregration, 520 Kanawha Blvd., in Charleston, W.Va. See the ‘About‘ page for more on the group. Newcomers to meditation are welcome.

Our current discussion theme is Right Action. The second ethical principle of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right Action involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind… Read on.


NOTE TO READERS: Let us know if you have problems signing up for e-mail notices for this blog. E-mail questions to douglas

Discussion Theme: ‘Right Action’

The December theme for Meditation Circle discussion is Right Action. Here’s a definition for this element of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, from the website we’re using to guide us:

The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.

Welcome to the Meditation Circle




Welcome. The Meditation Circle is a meditation group in the Buddhist tradition, practicing vipassana or insight meditation. We’re based in Charleston, West Virginia, and meet every Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd.

Those wishing instruction in basic, breath-centered Buddhist meditation  are welcome to arrive from 5:30 to 6 p.m., along with seasoned meditators who may wish to sit longer or for whom that time period is better for their schedules.

We’re a lay support group for people interested in meditation or who wish to deepen their practice through the support of a meditation sangha. Our members come from a wide variety of spiritual traditions and backgrounds. You do not need to be Buddhist to enjoy the benefits of a meditation practice. The circle’s facilitators are not teachers and we encourage people to seek out seasoned teachers to further their practice. Cushions, meditation benches and chairs are available or you are welcome to bring your own cushion, if you wish.


The time from 5:30 to 6 p.m. p.m.. is set aside for basic instruction in sitting, standing, and walking meditation for those new to meditation, along with discussion about maintaining a regular meditation practice. Regular meditators are also welcome to come and sit during this period.

From 6 to 7 p.m, time is set aside for seated meditation. The format consists of two rounds of meditation, each lasting about 20 minutes, with a  5 minute period of standing or walking meditation between rounds.  We close the evening with a short Metta meditation. (Metta is the Pali term for loving-kindness or friendliness.) There is an opportunity for questions or discussion about practice at the end of the meditation period. Feedback welcome!

Those new to meditation practice may visit our Resource page for more information about the type of meditation we practice at the Meditation Circle.

There is no cost to join the circle. We do accept donations in a box titled ‘dana’ to offer to the Unitarians for their kind use of the space and also to help defray the costs of occasionally bringing Buddhist monks to town.

Come join the Circle! (Although sometimes it resembles an oblong or parallelogram, but the Meditation Parallelogram of Charleston didn’t have quite the right sound.)