The issue features the fourth and final part of a series on the Four Noble Truths, written by Mangala Bhikkhu. This series seeks to explore the Buddha’s powerful teachings on the nature of suffering in a way that clarifies and engages the reader, asking one
to question why we suffer in the first place. The second article is from the ‘Ask Bhante G’ series, in which Bhavana abbot Bhante Gunaratana answers questions posed to him during interviews and retreats. The third article is an excerpt from The Sedaka Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
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HERE IS A PORTION of a talk given by Ven. Ajahn Sumedho on a recent visit to Washington, D.C., his first trip ever in his long life. Ajahn Sumedho talks on mindfulness and meditation. The talk was given July 1, 2017, and was co-sponsored by the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C., and the Thai Embassy. Ajahn Sumedho is the senior Western representative of the Thai forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism.
Bhante Jayasara, a Theravadan Buddhist monk from the Bhavana Society in High View, W.Va., gives a Dhamma talk on “making meditation part of one’s livelihood.”
The talk was part of a day retreat on May 27, 2017, at the Peace Tree Center for Wellness in Huntington, W.Va., sponsored by PeaceTree and The Meditation Circle of Charleston WV. For more on the Bhavana Society Buddhist monastery and retreat center, visit bhavanasociety.org
Here is a Dhamma talk on meditation given by Bhante Yogavacara Rahula at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Oct. 14, 2016, during his visit to Charleston and Huntington, W.Va. Bhante’s talk concerns the practice of mindfulness meditation. Below are the opening minutes of the talk.
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BHANTE RAHULA: In general. the practice of meditation helps a person to kind of cool their hot-tempered mind down a bit and helps their mind deal with the stresses of fast-paced living and also the general ups and downs of life. How to handle the crises and other surprising events and situations that throw people’s mind a little bit off balance and cause them to do some unskillful types of actions of body speech and thought. And then they have to suffer the consequences. Or just generally, learning to help free the mind of its repetitive habits, whether its unskillful speech or just the habits of useless thinking, especially thoughts about weakening one’s over-dependence on sensory stimulation, and learning how to develop more inner calmness and balance of mind that’s not so dependent on sensory overload.
So, there are many kinds of benefits that can be acquired from the practice of meditation. Although, of course, mindfulness meditation a lot of times it’s taught in a very secular way, it does come from the tradition of Buddhist meditation as taught by the Buddha for also helping to overcome suffering. One of the main aspects of the Buddha’s teachings is about the nature of suffering and happiness. And how we create it in our own minds and how we can use meditation and the whole practice and teachings of the Eighfold Path and so on as a way to help sort of bring more order and calmness and understanding and wisdom and also love into our mind and to help to deal and live with our fellow beings in a more skillful way.
The word mindfulness — or sati — it means to remember. But specifically to remember the present moment. So, it’s a way of helping to train the mind and allowing the mind to kind of rest a little bit more in the present moment, without so much this neurotic rushing to the future and remembering the past. Most of people’s problems come from obsessing about the past — either guilt, worry or remorse or fear. Or pining about the past to bring it back, which you can’t. Also, then, fearing about the future. What’s going to happen to me in the future, whether it’s health-wise, job-wise, or other things, obsessing about the future that also you cannot control. The future hasn’t come but yet most of the time people’s minds are caught back and forth between the past and future. Rarely does a person ever actually rest in the present moment….
“We can’t wait until the world gets straightened out before we straighten out our own minds, because the cause is in the mind. The world out there is the realm of effects. The realm of causes is in here: That’s one of the basic lessons of dependent co-arising. All the causes of suffering come prior to your engagement with the world. If you want other people to change their behavior, you’ve got to straighten out your behavior. You have to walk your talk, so that your talk is compelling. You can’t force other people to follow your example, but at least you establish that example here in the world. It’s good to have these examples in the world. Otherwise the world would be a totally depressing place.”
Here is an excerpt from a wonderful essay, “A Holistic Mindfulness,” by Ajahn Amaro on the Buddhist context of the word “mindfulness,” which is so much the rage these days. The whole essay is worth a read, but the segment below gives a wonderfully nuanced explanation of the Buddhist term ‘dukkha,’ often translated as ‘suffering’, but which has a far more nuanced and complex meaning.
“It is also significant, in this same vein, to consider the etymology of the word dukkha (according to Analayo 2003, p. 244):
Dukkha is often translated as ‘suffering’. Suffering, however, represents only one aspect of dukkha, a term whose range of implications is difficult to capture with a single English word. Dukkha can be derived from the Sanskrit kha, one meaning of which is ‘the axle-hole of a wheel’, and the antithetic prefix duḥ (= dus), which stands for ‘difficulty’ or ‘badness’. The complete term then evokes the image of an axle not fitting properly into its hole. According to this image, dukkha suggests ‘disharmony’ or ‘friction’.
“Thus, when things are not attuned or balanced (sammā), the result is disharmony or friction (dukkha), like the wheel of a bicycle being out of kilter. The understanding of these terms, and their application in practice, lends a somewhat different tone to an individual’s appreciation of experience. They help the practitioner to reconfigure the customary absolute judgments of “good” and “bad,” right and wrong, and to reflect on what needs to be adjusted in a less personal and more practical way…”
Bhante Seelanda gives a Dhamma talk on Day 1 of a retreat on Samatha and Vipassana meditation at the Bhavana Society Therevadan Buddhist Forest Monastery in West Virginia, from April 6-13, 2015. This is an illuminating talk on the relationship and role of these two types of meditation practices, that entail concentration and insight, respectively.
“The dharma can heal our wounds, our very ancient wounds that come not from original sin but from a misunderstanding so old that we can no longer see it. The instruction is to relate compassionately with where we find ourselves and to begin to see our predicament as workable.
“We are stuck in patterns of grasping and fixating, which cause the same thoughts and reactions to occur again and again and again. In this way we project our world. When we see that, even if it’s only for one second every three weeks, then we’ll naturally discover the knack of reversing this process of making things solid, the knack of stopping the claustrophobic world as we know it, putting down our centuries of baggage, and stepping into new territory. If you ask how in the world we can do this, the answer is simple. Make the dharma personal, explore it wholeheartedly, and relax.”
I recently attended a retreat on Metta or loving-friendliness meditation at the Bhavana Society, led by the Buddhist monastery’s abbot, Bhante Gunaratana. You can experience that retreat for yourself, including all the great Dhamma talks and the very rich and fruitful Q-and-A sessions each evening with Bhante G, through the monastery’s YouTube channel video playlist devoted to the Metta retreat. Bhante G excels at off-the-cuff responses to a wide variety of Dhamma and life questions.
But I also wanted to point readers’ attention to the retreat’s closing talk (see video above) by a young American-born monk named Bhante Suddhaso, now in residence at Bhavana. It is a wonderful and inspiring talk on the importance of devoting oneself to Dhamma practice in one’s life and aspiring to make such practice central to one’s daily routines. In questions after the talk, he also speaks very movingly on working with self-hostility and self-forgiveness — when we don’t live up to the precepts or when we commit unwholesome actions. As he says, the entire ‘tone’ of the Buddha’s many teachings is about developing wholesome mental states and abandoning unwholesome ones. This talk is a great boon of encouragement to all of us in deepening our commitment to practice.
Since sky and earth are mindless,
They last forever.
What has mind has limits.
A person who has attained
The Path is like this too.
In the midst of no activity,
She carries out her activities,
Accepting all unfavorable
And favorable circumstances
With a compassionate heart.
If you have developed great capacity and cutting insight, you can undertake Zen right where you are. Without getting it from another, you understand it on your own.
The penetrating spiritual light and vast open tranquility have never been interrupted since beginningless time. The pure, uncontrived, ineffable, complete true mind does not act as a partner to objects of material sense, and is not a companion of myriad things.
When the mind is always as clear and bright as ten suns shining together, detached from views and beyond feelings, cutting through the ephemeral illusions of birth and death, this is what is meant by the saying “Mind itself is Buddha.”
You do not have to abandon worldly activities in order to attain effortless unconcern. You should know that worldly activities and effortless unconcern are not two different things, but if you keep thinking about rejection and grasping, you make them two.
First, a shout-out to the website DailyZen, which supplied the above excerpt on their page today. I’ve long made DailyZen my homepage on multiple computers for just such a thing as encountering Hui Neng. He was, his Wikipedia entry informs, “a Chinese Chán (Zen) monastic who is one of the most important figures in the entire tradition, according to standard Zen hagiographies. Huineng has been traditionally viewed as the Sixth and Last Patriarch of Chán Buddhism.”
…a wonderful melange of early Chan teachings, a virtual repository of the entire tradition up to the second half of the eight century. At the heart of the sermon is the same understanding of the Buddha-nature that we have seen in texts attributed to Bodhidharma and Hongren, including the idea that the fundamental Buddha-nature is only made invisible to ordinary humans by their illusions”.
That bears repeating, if only to spend a few more moments taking it all in:
“… the fundamental Buddha-nature is only made invisible to ordinary humans by their illusions.”
“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).
Sister Dang Nhiem is a nun at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA. She practices Zen Buddhism in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Sister D shows us the proper way to invite the sound of the bell. She also teaches us how to cultivate that peacefulness when we hear noises that might otherwise cause stress.
The downloadbale mp3 link above will fire up a wonderful Dhamma talk introducing breath meditation by Bhante Sujato, of Santi Forest Monastery in Bundanoon, Sydney in Australia’s Southern Highlands. This is actually talk no. 6 in a series of Dhamma talks the Australian monk gave on the 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. In this talk, he gives a pretty rich introduction to breath-centered meditation.
As always, the Meditation Circle encourages people to listen to a variety of Buddhist teachers on such core practices as breath meditation and find which teachers and specific methods of teaching work best for you, rooted in the basic fundamentals of how the Buddha taught meditation. For instance, I find the counting technique Bhante Sujato suggests here to be a little overly complex for my taste, although since listening to this talk I have been experimenting with it.
In addition, this may well be for some of you a first encounter with a Western Buddhist teacher who speaks of the nimita, which has been described as “a visual light effect that is a byproduct of the mind unifying.” For serious practitioners, committed to pursuing meditation practice until the day they die, the study and understanding of such matters really requires working with a teacher deeply grounded in Buddhist teachings. Which is to say, don’t ask us Meditation Circle facilitators to get into such weighty topics – we’re just here to point in various directions and unlock the door for our weekly Tuesday meditation!
Below are two of Bhante Sujato’s introductory talks on metta in that series, used with permission of the monastery where he teaches. I encourage you to seek out this and other talks by this very interesting and informed Western monk who trained with Ajahn Brahm and who has a colorful past as a performer. Here is his blog, called simply ‘Sujato’s Blog.’
~ Douglas Imbrogno
TALK 1: Bhante Sujato undertakes an illuminating survey of the different kinds and methods of Buddhist meditation. The talk heard here is a shortened version — I edited the talk down a bit to fit into manageable size for listening to at the Meditation Circle.
TALK 2: In this guided meditation, Bhante Sujato leads a 30-minute meditation on the basics of working with the attention as you first begin to sit.
Here is an excerpt fromBhante Gunaratana’s Dhamma talk at Vesak 2010 at the Bhavana Society on Saturday, May 29, 1010. Vesak is a celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing away (paranirvana).