Speak up in the ‘Comments’ section

Charleston Meditation Circle member Chris tried to comment on the recent ‘Noble Standards’ post last week and couldn’t. Which led me to check out what was up. Fixed! The flip that was preventing comments on Meditation Circle posts has now been flipped ‘on.’ (You’ll be asked to provide a screen user name and an e-mail, which will NOT show on your comment.) Please share your thoughts, reactions and insights (it’s an insight meditation group after all, no?) in the ‘Comments’ section. Help end the forlorn sight of the ‘No Comments’ phrase atop each post, by clicking there and sharing your views. ~ Douglas

Buddha is concealed within the sentient being…

Buddha is concealed within the sentient being
If for one instant of thought we become impartial,
Then sentient beings are themselves Buddha.
In our mind itself a buddha exists,
Our own Buddha is the true Buddha.
If we do not have in ourselves the Buddha mind,
Then where are we to seek Buddha?

~ Huineng (courtesy of the Daily Zen website)

Upcoming Events: Tai Chi Workshop, Sept. 12

TAI CHI WORKSHOP, 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 12, Unitarian Universalist building, 520 Kanawha Blvd., W., Charleston, W.Va.

Tai Chi is considered a soft style martial art, applied with internal power (to quote from its Wikipedia definition). It can be a very centering and healthful activity, meditative awareness in motion. One of the region’s finest Tai Chi master instructors Ron Wilkerson with Sifu WiIliam Fleetwood, founder of the Chi Lin Taiji Quan Academy, will lead a Tai Chi workshop at Charleston’s Unitarian Universalist building at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 12 with a break for lunch. The cost is $40 and the workshop is suitable for both beginners and advanced students. Call 304-345-5042 or e-mail unitarians@verizon.net. Call Ron for more details at (304) 395-7671.

EXCERPT: ‘Noble Standards’ by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano

This excerpt from “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano explores the Buddha’s teachings on the significance of wholesome, ethical behavior and how this paves the way for meditation practice and spiritual maturity. Without a basic grounding in morality or sila, all the devotional, meditative practices in the world may bear scant fruit. Note the end of the piece, which features a particularly succint explanation of the Buddhist view of kamma (or karma):

When we think of a holy person, an arahant, one who has attained full liberation, who is entirely free from the defilements of greed, hatred and delusion, we do not imagine a specific physical appearance but rather a pattern of noble actions, a manifestation of poise, of serenity, of inspiring dignity. We imagine a way of speaking, standing or sitting. Those inner qualities of saintliness must, to be meaningful to us, show themselves in behavior. It is behavior — observable conduct — which defines and exemplifies the true character of a person.

While we certainly have ideas, clear or vague, of what constitutes noble behavior, we are perhaps less sure of how that behavior is brought into being, how a person might actually come to conduct himself in a saintly fashion, distinct from the usual human course. Is it the case that someone first attains liberation and then begins to behave in an especially virtuous way? Is moral purity the incidental product of an abstract mental discipline? Might we simply apply ourselves to some meditative practice with sufficient energy, setting aside our moral deficiencies, until wisdom shall arise and by itself purify our conduct?

Such ideas are tempting, but wrong. There is no postponing good moral conduct, for it is just such conduct, even in tentative form, which makes possible the development of mental concentration and thence of insight or wisdom. Good moral conduct means, at its most basic, honorable restraint of bodily and verbal actions — the healthy, judicious self-discipline which must be practiced along with any kind of meditative exploration of reality. Furthermore,  morality or virtue remains incomplete until it is extended to mental conduct as well. Because all this is difficult, because it goes against selfish interest, it requires specific attention and effort and a clear understanding of what actions lead to what results.

The Buddha taught that bodily conduct, verbal conduct, and mental conduct are each of two kinds — that which should be cultivated and that which should not be cultivated. The distinction can be seen in the results of each. Certain kinds of conduct naturally result in benefit, happiness and well-being, and other kinds naturally result in pain and misery. It then should behoove a serious-minded person to learn the difference between the two — which may easily be obscured by passion and delusion — and to strive for honor in action as well as in belief. Continue reading EXCERPT: ‘Noble Standards’ by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano

Tantric Buddhist Meditation Center opens in Fayetteville, WV

We received notice of the followed center opening in Fayetteville, W.Va. Anyone know more background on this?

OPENING CELEBRATION for Khyentse Ozer Meditation Center
Sunday, August 30th, 125 Keller Avenue, Fayetteville. 11 a.m.- noon: Meditation in the Tantric Buddhist Tradition. Noon: Catered Brunch.  Free and Open to the Public.  Tibet’s ancient Tantric Buddhist tradition offers serenity and joy through meditative practices of mind, body and feeling. Call 304-534-2323 or khyentseozer@gmail.com.

Teasing out the meaning of ‘dukkha’

Douglas Imbrogno writes:

In a prior post, I described admiration for “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano. This is one wise book. It weaves keenly observed walks in Nature with deep, unsentimental reflections on the challenges of daily life and how Buddhist teachings may be gleaned from what we see around us. In the following selection, the American monk offers up a good description of dukkha, an often misunderstood word. Frequently translated as ‘suffering,’ a superficial reading of this core teaching by the Buddha has led some to conclude the Buddhist worldview is a pessimistic one. Far from it, as the author teases out the real meaning of a word better translated as referring to the ultimately unsatisfactory nature of all conditioned things. I encourage people looking for an approachable Buddhist book to seek this one out for its many insights and riches, and to place into context this excerpt (from pages 62-63 of the Wisdom Publication paperback). I’l leave for another discussion, his and other teacher’s descriptions of that ineffable word Nibbana:

From “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano:

On a fine summer day, after a satisfying lunch, in good health, and temporarily unpreoccupied with serious trouble, we stroll through woods or gardens and see the world as good – that is, as happy, obliging, untrustworthy – when all that experience really would allow us to say is that it is beautiful. The gratified mind infers too much when it assumes that whatever delights it does so out of a predisposition in its favor. Such unjustified inference leads on, moreover, to shock and grief when misfortune lights up the landscape with its glare. Then we are hit not just with specific pains but with a demoralizing disillusionment, when we find that what we thought good is not good, and perhaps never was. Death and sickness, failure and loss – how shall we smoothly account for them? Must we flee despairingly through the wreckage of our casual philosophy to the other extreme and bewail the universe as hideous and malevolent?

The Buddha describes all formations, all compounded things, as impermanent, and hence as dukkha, or unsatisfactory – a doctrine radically contrary to the common, conventional view of reality as fundamentally good or ultimately, if not presently, perfect. But to say that all formations are dukkha is not to say that they are necessarily hideous and malevolent; for dukkha, while it includes what is generally understood as suffering, also and more broadly refers to the liability to destruction inherent in all phenomena, their weakness, their variable, sure-to-dissolve nature. A particular phenomenon, or the world at large, might very well be beautiful, agreeable, and welcome to us on a given occasion without being eternally or categorically “good.” Because worldly joy  and pleasure do not last, cannot last, and must inevitably fade, they are, along with the gross miseries of existence, characterized as dukkha, but this does not give grounds for the pessimistic view that this universe is basically evil or hostile. Happiness and sorrow appear throughout sentient existence in varying concentration, always depending on appropriate causes; so the obvious task for a realistic, pragmatic person is to diminish the causes for sorrow and cultivate the causes for happiness.

It is useless to extrapolate from specific pleasure to general rightness, or from specific pain to general malignity. It is far better to learn how benefit and harm both come to be and to set about improving our lives through intelligent action. This is exactly what the Buddha teaches. He advises us to observe how things arise and pass away, so that, understanding causality as the fundamental principle, we will be moved to pursue the good in the moral sense – not merely the aesthetic – and thereby benefit both ourselves and others. Although the flood of samsara rages through time,  although what is pleasant perishes, although pain and death assails all creatures, the religious-minded person may so comport himself as to strengthen his present equanimity, purify his mind, and eventually cross over the flood to the highest freedom of Nibbana.

More on compassion and meditation

The WVU compassion meditation study described in the post below led us to an inspiring link on the Buddhist view of compassion’s role in easing our own disquiet and suffering and that of  other beings with whom we share the world. The link will take you to a rich discussion of the function of compassion  in the Buddhist worldview, written by Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, one of the great interpreters of Buddhist teachings in our day. Here is one choice bit worth recalling daily, as we look around our heads each morning, afternoon and evening and examine where our attention routinely resides. Ven. Nyanaponika writes:

“Meditative development of the sublime states will be aided by repeated reflection upon their qualities, the benefits they bestow and the dangers from their opposites. As the Buddha says, “What a person considers and reflects upon for a long time, to that his mind will bend and incline.”

WVU meditation study seeks participants

A researcher at West Virginia University is studying compassion meditation and is seeking participants willing to travel to Morgantown, with travel costs covered up to $65. After we heard of the study through a friend, we asked the folks behind the study to describe it a bit more to the Meditation Circle:

Dear Meditation Circle of Charleston: There is a neuro-imaging research opportunity at West Virginia University for a study of compassion meditation for persons with some experience with some type of compassion meditation (visualization, metta/loving-kindness, the four Brahmaviharas, tonglen, etc.). We are testing to see whether compassion meditation has an influence on how we perceive faces with positive vs. negative associations and facial expressions. The study takes about 2 hours to complete and there is financial compensation for your time and also for travel if you live 30 miles or more from West Virginia University (with a cap of 200 miles round trip). If you are interested in learning more about the study, please contact Mary Pettit at WVU at 304-293-6898 or e-mail: mpettit@hsc.wvu.edu. Click poster below to enlarge for more information on the study.

The present is what your life is…

A friend passed along this poem, whose message is worth noting this day. For more on the author, see this link:

Mornings at Blackwater

by Mary Oliver

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.
And live
your life.

Meditation Circle Newsletter for july 23, 2009

As the moon slips from
Behind a cloud and shines,
So the master comes out
From behind ignorance and shines.
Swans rise and fly toward the sun.
What magic!
So do the pure conquer
The armies of illusion
And rise to fly.

~ The Buddha in the Dhammapada | quote courtesy of Daily Zen | www.dailyzen.com

The sound of peaceful music, the sound of terrible noise, are both clearly revealed as they are and nothing else. Nonetheless, we prefer the peacefulness and dislike the irritation of the noise. We try to control, to change things to how we want them. This can be done with a certain degree but cannot be done completely and eternally. If, on the other hand, we accept things as they are and see things as clearly revealed as they are, that acceptance itself is the first step toward unbreakable peacefulness.

~ Eido Tai Shimano

The Meditation Circle of Charleston gathers next 6 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 28 (and every Tuesday) at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd., in Charleston, W.Va., across from the Kanawha River. Bring a meditation cushion or chairs are available. Newcomers to meditation are welcome and basic instruction is available. We begin 30 minutes of silent sitting meditation promptly at 6 p.m., followed by discussion and questions. We conclude the night with a 15-minute sitting. Come join the circle.

“Mandala: The Perfect Circle,” opening August 14 at Boston’s Rubin Museum of Art is the first of three  shows to explore how different cultures have pictured the universe. The exhibit features “The Mandala of Enlightened Speech,” an animation created by Cornell University’s Department of Computer Science that will help viewers better understand the three-dimensional structure of the mandala. (Doug notes: This took awhile to download completely onto my home computer, but is well worth the wait). The Rubin Museum site goes on to say:

“The mandala is a mysterious and sacred realm. Its most recurrent graphic form is circular in shape. While the word itself means both center and circumference, it is created by Buddhists as a model for contemplative visualization practice, thus becoming an aid to meditation which in turn enables the practitioner to attain a state of Enlightenment. This exhibition will explore the various manifestations of the mandala. While simultaneously explaining its symbolism it will describe the means by which it fulfills its function and demonstrate its correlation with our physical reality.

The Meditation Circle of Charleston practices breath and body-centered meditation in the Buddhist tradition. You need not be a self-identified Buddhist to benefit from meditation practice. We encourage everyone to seek out established teachers to deepen their practice. See the ‘About‘ page of  themeditationcircle.com for more, including a guide to other area sitting and yoga sessions. Feel free to forward this e-mail to interested friends.

When they discover the center of the universe
a lot of people will be disappointed to discover
they are not it.

~ B. Bailey

NOTE TO MEMBERS of the CIRCLE: Send prospective blogposts, tips, quotes, events and other news to douglas @hundredmountain.com.


QUOTE: ‘All the various types of teachings and spiritual paths…’

“All the various types of teachings and spiritual paths are related to the different capacities of understanding that different individuals have. There does not exist, from an absolute point of view, any teaching which is more perfect or effective than another. A teaching’s value lies solely in the inner awakening which an individual can arrive at through it. If a person benefits from a given teaching, for that person that teaching is the supreme path, because it is suited to his or her nature and capacities. There’s no sense in trying to judge it as more or less elevated in relation to other paths to realization.”

~ Namkhai Norbu, from “Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State” (Arkana, 1989)

Meditation Circle next meets 6 p.m., Tues., July 7


> QUOTE/UNQUOTE: “Whenever we get angry we should realize that the strength we feel is not the strength of the charioteer. It is the strength of the runaway horse. We should immediately try to put the charioteer back in control. If we can do this, we are masters. If we cannot, we are slaves.

~ Ananda Pereira from “Escape to Reality: Buddhist Essays,” Wheel Publication No. 45/36

> NEXT MEETING: The Meditation Circle of Charleston gathers next from 6 to 7:15 p.m., Tuesday, July 7 (and each Tuesday) at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd., in Charleston, W.Va. Bring a meditation cushion or chairs are available. Beginners welcome. Basic instruction in meditation is available 5:45 to 6 p.m., plus there is time for questions on sitting practice after the first meditation. We start sitting promptly at 6 p.m. The first round of 30 minutes is followed by questions or discussion, then we conclude with a shorter sitting of 15 minutes. Come join the circle!

> QUOTE/UNQUOTE: “The wisdom that shatters craving and release the mind from suffering is not some esoteric, fortuitous inspiration but the gradual, built-up, practical understanding of the experience that flies through the senses. Liberation is obtainable – so taught the Buddha. There is a means, a path available to all who will exert themselves properly. We have head of such a thing, have heard that it lasted down through the riotous, forgetful centuries and survives even now, powerful and free.

~ from “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano. See longer excerpt here

> ABOUT: The Meditation Circle of Charleston (W.Va.) is a group for people interested in learning breath and body-centered meditation in the Buddhist tradition. You need not be a self-identified Buddhist to benefit from meditation practice. We welcome beginners who wish to learn Buddhist meditation or want to revive a sitting practice that has lagged.  We encourage everyone to seek out established teachers to deepen their practice. See the ‘About‘ page of our website – themeditationcircle.com – for more, including a map to our Charleston, W.Va., location. Please feel free to forward this e-mail to interested friends.

> NOTE TO MEMBERS: Send prospective blogposts, tips, quotes, events and other news for the Web site to douglas @hundredmountain.com.


My best,
Douglas (on behalf of the Meditation Circle)

BOOKS: “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life”

During a retreat at the Bhavana Society Buddhist Forest Monastery in Hampshire County, W.Va., the prodigious library there is closed to the retreatant. This, I suppose, is to concentrate one on the lived experience of a silent Buddhist retreat instead of the often second-hand intellectual experience of the Dharma via books. But when I’m there off-retreat, the library is a jewel of a place. I’ve taken to reaching randomly off the shelves, then reading as much of the book that my reach produces during the hours or days of the visit. (You can sign the books out and take them overnight to your dormitory or kuti – the dozens of cabins sprinkled across the 50 acres of woodland property.) In this way, I’ve nabbed, out of the air, as it were, Buddhist books that have become a part of my life, often purchased off the Web upon returning home, like “A Still Forest Pool,” a collection of simply put, yet profoundly helpful talks and remarks by the wonderful Thai teacher Achaan Chah.

This last May while attending Vesak at Bhavana, my hand pulled down “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano. A former actor and playwright, this American Buddhist monk melds walks in Nature and the back woods with reflections on the challenges and insights of the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence, craving and dukka. He has been described by esteemed Buddhist scholar and monk Bhikku Bodhi as “American Buddhism’s Thoreau.” As someone for whom regular walks in the deep woods are utterly essential to his mental hygiene, “Longing for Certainty,” written in lyrical, yet unsentimental, straightforward prose, came as a gift from the blue. Below is an excerpt that captures the monk’s style. This book is a follow-up to an earlier one titled “Available Truth: Excursions into Buddhist Wisdom and the Natural World,” both of which you can investigate further at Wisdom Books. (though I do like Amazon.com’s feature that allows you to read several pages of a book you’re interested in).

P.S.: Suggest Buddhist books that have become essential to you in comments to this post or write up a review and send it to douglas [at] hundredmountain.com.

EXCERPT (from pages 16 to 19) from “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life”” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano. As this reflection commences, he has been talking a walk off trail along a creek on a sunny winter’s day:

ALL CRAVING IS STRUGGLING ON A HILL OF SAND, which produces more weariness and suffering, not an ascent to peace; but we persist in spite of experience, because unexplained impulse drives us and because we simply do not see what else to do. Though we might even concede that the world is impermanent and liable to suffering, we wish to believe that, amid the boiling and subsiding of all phenomena, we at least have an indubitable stability, that we possess a self or ego which is superior to the surrounding flux and which we must exert all our strength to mollify, protect and entertain. In Buddhist teaching, however, this self is nothing but a baseless concept, a mere device of language. A human being, like other creatures, is a dynamic pattern of mental and physical events shifting through time, without any unchanging part. It follows then, that the ignorant compulsion to serve an imagined self can only deepen delusion and worsen error.

Now our hands and feet are getting cold. We hear no music in the waterfall and find no more beauty in the fantastic ice. Down here deep in the hollow, we see the sun vanishing behind the highest fringe of woods, and with it our rare sense of freedom is vanishing too. There is change happening and we do not like it. Shivering a little, rubbing our fingers, we look around at the way we have come with a sudden pang. Oh, let us turn back to home and warmth. Philosophy cannot stand the snow! But having come so far, having once made it to this strange place, we hold on for a minute, for the remembered, lovely smile on a statue yet haunts us. How could he, the Buddha, seeing impermanence and suffering and the emptiness of the idea of self, still smile? How could he walk, unhurried and fearless, through a hopeless world? But maybe the world is not hopeless. And maybe he had found the cure for these dire conditions that assail us. Continue reading BOOKS: “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life”

A meditation group in the Buddhist insight tradition, based in Charleston, W.Va.