“When the mind starts grasping at things and making a big deal out of them, you have to stop it. It will argue with you, but you have to put your foot down. Stay in the middle as the mind comes and goes. Put sensual indulgence away to one side. Put self-torment away to the other side. Love to one side, hate to the other side. Happiness to one side, suffering to the other side. Remain in the middle without letting the mind go in either direction.”
“Wherever you are still inept, wherever you are still lacking, that’s where you must apply yourself. If you haven’t yet cracked it don’t give up. Having finished with one thing you get stuck on another, so persist with it until you crack it, don’t let up. Don’t be content until it’s finished. Put all your attention on that point. While sitting, lying down or walking, watch right there.”
~Ajahn Chah (from “Food for the Heart,” pp. 94-95)
“Discipline” is a difficult word for most of us. It conjures up images of somebody standing over you with a stick, telling you that you’re wrong. But self-discipline is different. It’s the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting of your own impulses and piercing their secret. They have no power over you. It’s all a show, a deception. Your urges scream and bluster at you; they cajole; they coax; they threaten; but they really carry no stick at all. You give in out of habit. You give in because you never really bother to look beyond the threat. It is all empty back there.
There is only one way to learn this lesson, though. The words on this page won’t do it. But look within and watch the stuff coming up—restlessness, anxiety, impatience, pain—just watch it come up and don’t get involved. Much to your surprise, it will simply go away. It rises, it passes away. As simple as that. There is another word for self-discipline. It is patience.”
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 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.”
“RECOGNIZING PAST TURMOILS and future rhapsodies as projections of our mind prevents us from getting stuck in them. Just as the face in the mirror is not a real face, the objects of our memories and daydreams are likewise unreal. They are not happening now; they are simply mental images flickering in the mind.
“Reflecting on the value of our precious human life also minimizes our habit of ruminating. Our wondrous potential becomes clear, and the rarity and value of the present opportunity shines forth. Who wants to ruminate about the past and future when we can do so much good and progress spiritually in the present?
“One counteracting force that works well for me is realizing that all these ruminations star Me, Center of the Universe. All the stories, all the tragedies, comedies, and dramas all revolve around one person, who is clearly the most important one in all existence, Me. Just acknowledging the power of the mind to condense the universe into Me shows me the stupidity of my ruminations. There is a huge universe with countless sentient beings in it, each of them wanting happiness and not wanting suffering just as intensely as I do. Yet, my self-centered mind forgets them and focuses on Me. To boot, it doesn’t even really focus on Me, it spins around My past and future, neither of which exist now. Seeing this, my self-centeredness evaporates, as I simply cannot justify worrying about only myself with everything that is going on in the universe.
“The most powerful counteracting force is the wisdom realizing there is no concrete Me to start with. Just who are all these thoughts spinning around? Who is having all these ruminations? When we search we cannot find a truly existent Me anywhere. Just as there is no concrete Me to be found on or in this carpet, there is no concrete Me to be found in this body and mind. Both are equally empty of a truly existent person who exists under her own power.
“With this understanding, the mind relaxes. The ruminations cease, and with wisdom and compassion, the Me that exists by being merely labeled in dependence on the body and mind can spread joy in the world.”
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). DIRECTIONS: Click 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.m, time 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.
As the Buddha taught: “I do not see any quality by which the skillful arises and the unskillful subsides than friendship with admirable people… [From our teachers] I learn what is beautiful in the beginning, the middle and the end, surpassingly pure. The spiritual life is one of mutual dependence, for together we can cross over the flood of ignorance.”
In our spiritual transformation we will make mistakes; after such errors there’s no role for self-judgment or self-punishment; the process is simply one of learning from mistakes and returning to practice with renewed conviction. We’re on a journey that requires perseverance and forgiveness, of myself and others.
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.
“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.”