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A shareable video

Here is a promo video for The Meditation Circle, which hosts two weekly meetings— one in Charleston, WV, from 6 to 7 pm on Tuesdays (beginners seeking meditation instruction and those who wish to sit longer may arrive a little after 5:30 p.m.); and from 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays at the PeaceTree Center for Wellness in Huntington, W.Va. For details and directions, click this link.


With each and every breath…

“…all in all the premises of breath meditation are based on four observations about the mind that the Buddha called Noble Truths:

1) The mind experiences stress and suffering.

2) The stress and suffering come from the way the mind shapes its experience through its actions driven by ignorance.

3) That ignorance can be ended, opening your awareness to an unconditioned dimension free of stress and suffering.

4) That dimension, even though it’s unconditioned, can be reached by training the mind in the skillful qualities of virtue, concentration, and discernment.” 

The purpose of breath meditation is to help with that training.

from “With Each and Every Breath. A Guide to Meditation.” 2013. Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff)

Guard one’s mind

Photo by Michelle Griest | Unsplash.com

Difficult to detect and very subtle,
the mind mind seizes whatever it wants;
so let a wise one guard one’s mind,
for a guarded mind brings happiness.

Sududdasam sunipunam,
yatthakamanipatinam;
cittam rakkhetha medhavi,
citam guttam sukhavam.

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~ The Buddha
From The Dhammada, 3:36
A collection of the Buddha’s sayings.
(Translated by Ven. S. Dhammika)

Watch the mind

Photo by Abigail Keenan | unsplash.com

Ajahn Chah was one of the great Buddhist teachers of the 20th century. Here, he responds to a question about monks and monastic discipline. But there are many insights in his remarks for those of us layfolk who struggle with meditation practice and who compare our efforts with others.

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“You must examine yourself. Know who you are. Know your body and mind by simply watching. In sitting, in sleeping, in eating, know your limits. Use wisdom. The practise is not to try to achieve anything. Just be mindful of what is. Our whole meditation is looking directly at the mind. You will see suffering, its cause and its end.

“But you must have patience; much patience and endurance. Gradually you will learn…. You must learn the values of giving, of patience and of devotion. Don’t practise too strictly. Don’t get caught up with outward form. Watching others is bad practice. Simply be natural and watch that. Our monks’ discipline and monastic rules are very important. They create a simple and harmonious environment. Use them well.

“But remember, the essence of the monks’ discipline is watching intention, examining the mind. You must have wisdom. Don’t discriminate. Would you get upset at a small tree in the forest for not being tall and straight like some of the others? This is silly. Don’t judge other people. There are all varieties. No need to carry the burden of wishing to change them all. So, be patient. Practice morality. Live simply and be natural. Watch the mind. This is our practice. It will lead you to unselfishness. To peace.”

~ Ajahn Chah
For more teachings by Ajahn Chah, click here.

What makes the year auspicious …

Photo by Ian Schneider | unsplash.com

“What makes the year auspicious is that you do good with the year. What other people do with the year, that’s their business. There is so much in the world you cannot control. But you can control your own thoughts and your own words and your own deeds, if you put your mind to it.

“That’s how to make the New Year a good year. Regardless of how it goes in the rest of the world, your contribution is going to be a good one. Don’t let the bad things other people do discourage you from doing goodness, because this is your gift to yourself and to the world around you.”  

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu

About the Meditation Circle

WELCOME. If you are just finding the Meditation Circle, or are interested in joining a meditation support group in the year ahead, here is some background about the group. The Meditation Circle is a meditation group in the Buddhist tradition, practicing vipassana or insight meditation. We have two weekly meetings, from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays in Charleston, W.Va. And 11 to noon on Saturday at the Peacetree Center for Wellness near Barboursville, W.Va.

TUESDAYS: The Meditation Circle meets most Tuesdays, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd., in Charleston, W.Va.
DIRECTIONS: Click here for directions to the UU building, about five minutes from downtown Charleston, W.Va., right across from the Kanawha River.
NOTE: Those wishing instruction in basic, breath-centered Buddhist meditation  are welcome to arrive 5:30 to 6 p.m., along with any seasoned meditators who may wish to sit longer or for whom that time period is better for their schedules.

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SATURDAYS: The Meditation Circle meets most Saturdays from, from 11 a.m. to noon, at the PeaceTree Center for Wellness near Barboursville, W.Va. (about ten minutes from the Huntington Mall).
DIRECTIONSClick here for directions to the PeaceTree Center for Wellness.
NOTE: We often have a communal soup lunch after meditation, which you are welcome to join. If you are interested in yoga, there is usually a community yoga class from 10 to 11 a.m. before meditation in the same room at Peacetree.

THE MEDITATION CIRCLE is 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. We also have a lending library of books you are welcome to borrow, about meditation practice.

WHAT WE DO:On Tuesdays, 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. Seasoned meditators are also welcome to come and sit during this period.

From 6 to 7 p.mtime is set aside for meditation. The format consists of two rounds of meditation, lasting about 20 minutes, with a  5-minute period of standing or walking meditation between rounds.  We close the evening with a Metta meditation. (Metta is the Pali term for loving-kindness or loving-friendliness.) The first Tuesday of every month, the Charleston group hosts a single sitting, followed by a Kalyana Mitta (or Spiritual Friend) gathering with cookies, juice and conversation in the adjacent meeting room.

NEW TO MEDITATION? Visit our Resource page for more information about the type of meditation we practice at the Meditation Circle.

COST & DONATIONS: There is no cost to join the circle. We do accept donations at the Tuesday group in a box titled ‘dana’ (a Pali word that connotes generosity) 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. The same goes for the PeaceTree Center, where you will find donation jars on tables in the center. Please support both institutions.

JOIN THE CIRCLE: We should note, that sometimes it resembles an oblong or parallelogram, but the Meditation Parallelogram didn’t have quite the right sound.

SUBSCRIBE TO E-MAIL NOTICES: Stay up to date on the Meditation Circle postings and news by subscribing on the home page or clicking here.

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.