Liberation

Liberations is instantaneous.

Liberation is in the moment when one sets down a burden and before picking up another.

Liberation is when the search stops.

Liberation is when the search, and what is sought are experienced as having no independent inherent essence. 

Liberation is when the mind rests in the understanding and experience of the emptiness of all things that arise as a result of a cause.

Liberation is the freedom of spontaneous, unconditional forbearance toward all beings and oneself.

Liberation is the dropping of the concept that one is not liberated. 

It has always been challenging for me to reconcile the luxury and ease of having the time and opportunity to be able to contemplate these things, and the awareness of other people, whose birth into genetic streams of generational trauma and whose lives and thoughts are consumed with just surviving, and not conducive to contemplation without a heroic amount of effort. In my life the experience of liberation is the freedom from habits of mind and conditioning that lead me to attachment or aversion. It is freedom from the mental gymnastics of doubt and judgment of self and others. What is liberation for the starving masses in war, flooded, and drought stricken lands? What is liberation for the deeply impoverished rural populations of the Western societies, who have been led into the addictions of alcohol, pain relievers, 24 hour hate media, and spiritual charlatans promising liberation? What is liberation for the urban destitute who don’t even have the respite of nature and its solace, but are born into canyons of empty, concrete and glass promises and unscalable and soul crushing mountains of the Wealthy’s law and order?

As I hold these disparate worlds in the crucible of contemplation, I notice that, by opening my experience to the images and thoughts that arise from seeing the lives of the folks who do not live in the luxury of having time and opportunities to contemplate, the incessant habit stream of conditioned thinking dissolves. I am no longer a cloud of lofty aspirations mulling the nature of reality. I experience being grounded in humanness and thisness. The non conceptual qualities of loving kindness, compassion, gratitude/joy and equanimity are unveiled as manifestations of true nature, not merely concepts. Fears of losing my place in the hierarchy of materialism and intellectualism drop away and I am left with the prayer that I will have the capacities and be presented with opportunities to bring ease to those who are suffering however, whenever and wherever that suffering occurs. 

That is all that is left.

I experience liberation.

In the teachings of the boddhisatva path to liberation, the buddhas and enlightened ones appear endlessly, without hesitation, wherever there is suffering. They rarely show up as pulpit bangers or cushion sitters or miracle workers, but dressed in the garb, the desires, the attachments, the lostness of those who are suffering, regardless of social class, spiritual lineage, or past deeds. They are relentlessly residing within the caves of the suffering, living as companions to those who are suffering, no matter how it manifests. In some of the teachings it is pointed out that those of us who live lives of material ease ultimately suffer immensely when we realize our ignorance of how we may have perpetuated suffering in the world because of our ignorance and desires to hold onto our luxury. While the sages immerse themselves into these caves of ignorance, greed and hatred they are shining lights on on the path to liberation that originates from each individual’s, unique, inherent manifestation of goodness. Like Jesus and all the wisdom teachers, these buddhas descend into hell, not to battle with the lost souls but to invite them without conditions into the heaven of their own true nature.

When I am able in a moment of presence to willingly and without expectation to offer all that I am, and am not, to bring about an end to suffering, I experience liberation. I practice and study the dharma, however it shows up, to be always ready to step into the cave and don the garb wherever and whenever the call comes. I often cannot hear or am ignorant of the call because it is drowned out by the cacophony of my own mind stream of conditioned greed and aversion. But there are moments, more and more with practice, that this willingness to show up, presents opportunities to apply the lessons of buddha, dharma and sangha, in the world. It is not like when, in my younger years, I would barrel into the barrios with my arrogance and righteousness to save those “lesser” folks from their lives. Riding in on my white horse into save the lives that I assumed were insufficient without what I had. The experience is merely waiting for the invitation to walk a path with another without any objective but to relive suffering, whatever that means to them.  

With the practice, the path, that I have the skills and experience and humility to travel, steps into me, meets me, and shows me where and how I can do this work without causing more suffering. When I slow down enough and listen without ambition or agendas, what is needed offers itself as a gift for deeper practice and understanding of the path. Liberation is the result of the acts of selfless/egoless serving and dedication to the end of suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions. Liberation is the result of finally being willing to be unconditionally, essentially human.

These words are dedicated to all wisdom elders and wisdom teachings and to bringing about the end of suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

May it be so.

-William

Practice

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for a safe, inclusive, free, virtual community contemplative practice. Everyone is welcome regardless of meditation experience or spiritual lineage.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 6 AM PacificTime

Monday: calm abiding, Samatha, Tuesday: body awareness, Thursday: Tonglen

Sunday at 7 AM Pacific Time: Four Brahmaviharas

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 5:30 PM Pacific Time : Practice and Inquiry       

Please feel free to forward this email and any posts form our website at:

Sangha of the Pandemic                   

Working with Karma

The first few paragraphs of this post are my attempt to wind through the mental and emotional knots of how the three poisons work to create karma. For a real life, non conceptual reflection on work ing with karma skip right down to Chuck Fondue’s story. 

Karma is the activity, experienced and observed, of the perpetual engine of cause and effect. Karma is not the cause of suffering. Suffering manifests as a result of how I relate to karma. Release from suffering is not an effect of karma. Release of suffering comes about as a result of how I relate to karma.

Karma is the beginningless activity of cause and effect. Being beginningless it is also endless. Being endless it is beginingless. Mental and emotional suffering and release from this suffering are effects and causes in the infinite expanse of karma. The effects of grasping clinging, lust, and greed of passion that come about are effects.  These effects are caused by the conceptualizing mind wanting to hold fast to, or make definitive, to know for sure, an ultimate cause of karma. Aversion, hatred and violence as expressions of aggression are the effects of the mind wanting to push away anything that reminds me of the reality that the causes and effects of karma are unknowable. These passions and aggressions are the effects of the ignorance of the true nature of Karma as being beginingless, endless and empty of true nature. 

In the cases when I experience suffering as aggression, I am relating to karma by trying to avoid, push away, destroy; i.e. act aggressively toward karmic activity that I believe threatens my well being and/or survival. It is also when who and what I think myself to be, or what I want to be, is brought into question. 

In cases when I experience the suffering of passion I am relating to karmic activity by trying to grasp and cling to, the experience of freedom from suffering. It is the suffering of the mind trying to make something permanent.

The suffering of ignorance manifests when I forget that the activity of the karma that I experience is merely a perpetual engine of cause and effect.  This engine of activity has no intrinsic nature and no form. It is a habit of a conditioned mind and therefore cannot be pushed away or clung to. Ignorance is when I believe that karma, its activity, and the resulting suffering is the absolute nature of reality; when I believe that Karma is more than merely habitual, conditioned activity in the infinite field of beingness. 

The suffering of ignorance arises when my habits of thinking and conditioned reactivity to karma draw my perception of reality away from the experiential knowledge of the true nature of being. This true nature arises to awareness when I experience a pause in the mind’s incessant activity and see reality just as it is: unconditional, universal goodness.

So how is it possible to work with something so omnipresent and and intrinsically non-existent?

From Chuck Fondse.

First things first: I am writing down my experience with mindful concern. Writing it down gives is a permanence that is not part of the experience. In fact, after I share my experience, I will tell the “rest of the story” that shows just how impermanent it was. 

November 11 to 14, 2022 

My surgery for a right knee replacement is scheduled for Monday morning, early. Arrival time is to be 6:15am at the surgery center. Today is Saturday. I have spent the past days on the beach in Oregon with my spouse. Today we spent the windy, chilly, mostly cloudy day on the beach with my children and grandchildren, with a photographer capturing the day for photos to be shared at Christmas and beyond. We are having a laughing good time. If I shared photos, you could see it. My granddaughter Alice is an angel, and Marjke is being her normal naughty self. 

Jan and I leave to pack up our room and meet the rest at a breakfast place that Alice is so excited about. The food is good, I have Buckwheat pancakes, a treat I can rarely find. Then, my body starts to cramp and off to the restroom I go. I have a history of such stomach occurrences ever since my extreme dysentery incident in the 70’s in the middle east. I have learned to live with it and for the most part control it. What happened next took me by surprise. I had extreme vertigo. Jan needed to help me to the car. I rested for the rest of the afternoon, and it seemed to go away. 

Sunday was spent at home relaxing, getting the house ready for my recuperation. Sunday evening we ordered our favorite Chinese food and I was wolfing it down as usual. And then it hit again. The whole world started to spin. I was scared. I closed my eyes, opened them and still the same. I am worried about not being able to do the surgery. After an hour, it subsides a bit and I do my pre-surgery shower and sleep in a bed with clean linens on them, following instructions of the surgery center. 

Monday morning alarm goes off at 5:15am. I get up thankful that the vertigo was gone. We were heading for the door when I almost fell. It hit again, powerfully telling me that I was not in control. I had to use my walker, intended for post surgery, to get to the car. As Jan drove me in the dark rainy morning, it did not get better. I hobbled into the center to the reception desk and was checked in. The nurse comes to get me and helps me to my room. The world is still spinning. I tell her about it. She asks me to stand before she leaves me to change into those wonderful challenging hospital robes with no back. I almost fall. She is alarmed, tells me to sit and leaves to consult with the anethesiologist. I beg her to let me be for a bit but she is not going to just let me into surgery. She leaves. I look for a spot in the floor that can stop spinning and bow my head. 

Suddenly I feel a cry come from my gut, tears flowing from my eyes and I say, from the gut I—Am— SCARRED. I AM REALLY SCARED. There is no one in the room to comfort me with “It will be ok Chuck. Don’t worry.” No I sit with my fear, tasting it, seeing it, embracing it as I had just learned to do in our Sangha. William had been helping us just sit with our discomfort we SAW in each of our own versions of the three poisons. And as I sat with it, the power of the spinning dissipated. It did not go away but I could stand and function without falling. No one was in the room yet. Then the Dr and nurses and administrator come in to “talk to me.” I was more afraid of postponing the surgery than of having it at that moment, but I was also SEEing that my body had memory that I was not aware of from the last knee surgery. That one went poorly. I was in the hospital for 3 nights and went home in extreme pain. 

As the doctor talked to me about why we should not proceed and the risks of ambulances and emergency rooms in these COVID/FLU times I forcefully asked him to be quiet and let me do their pre-op proof of walking with my walker all through the hallways, the prescribed test they gave me. I passed with flying colors. Yes, I was still not cognitively “all there” but the debilitating vertigo was gone. 

Surgery went very well. Only 1 ½ hours for a total knee replacement. Post surgery went very well and I have been walking from the first day out. Today, I can walk without a cane but use one for safety and stability. I am about 1 to 2 weeks ahead of the schedule that I was on with my last knee. 

Why do I share this? 

1. I realize that my body had a memory that I had pushed down below cognizant awareness. It was not letting it go until I heard it. 

2. I learned to embrace the fear, truly embrace it, and in so doing, the fear became manageable and my body responded. 

3. This would not have been possible had I not been practicing. Practice is what we do each morning we gather and the in between times when we “remember.” 

4. SO, thank you to the Sangh of the Pandemic. 

The rest of the story: I have had several major vertigo incidents since surgery, the last one being after our wonderful Thanksgiving meal at our house. I almost fell in the bathroom. This one has not left me 3 days later. I can function, sometimes slow the spinning down, but it is still there. I see my PCP on Friday to see if we can find out why. I grieve the impermanence of the solution that appeared to find me in the surgery center. I am scared that this might last and define my life going on. I am mad. I am trying to embrace each of those. IMPERMENANCE sucks. BUT, permanence is hell, the hell of expectations of perfection, happiness, the way it is supposed to be. 

So there you have it. Today I can write on the computer, I can read for short periods of time. I can do my exercises, I am much more pain free than the last knee, and I may even be able to play with my model trains. My greatest attachment is to my biking. That is one of my greatest fears, to lose that. This vertigo thing is a teacher that I did not ask for. NOT IN THE LEAST!!!! My oh my. What will a person do? – Chuck Fondse

_____________

These words are dedicated to all wisdom elders and wisdom teachings and to bringing about the end of suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

May it be so.

-William

Practice

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for a safe, inclusive, free, virtual community contemplative practice. Everyone is welcome regardless of meditation experience or spiritual lineage.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 6 AM PacificTime

Monday: calm abiding, Samatha, Tuesday: body awareness, Thursday: Tonglen

Sunday at 7 AM Pacific Time: Four Brahmaviharas

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 5:30 PM Pacific Time : Practice and Inquiry       

Please feel free to forward this email and any posts form our website at:

Sangha of the Pandemic                                           

Karma

“I have good parking karma.”

“They must have bad karma.”

“Your karma’s showing.”

“What goes around comes around.”

“If you do good you get good.”

 The pop karma that permeates Western culture is rooted in the reward/punishment theologies of materialistic spirituality and egocentricity. It is centered on a “me” getting or losing as a result of actions or speech, or payback for the “other” who has taken something from or given something to a “me”. There is a thread that runs through it, spun out of reward and punishment, that if the “me”cannot get, or does get, what it wants or thinks that it needs, some unseen, all knowing force will come in and impose reward or punishment in the future upon the “me” the “other”. And that the current experience is a reward or punishment for actions taken in the near or distant past.

In my earliest exposures to the concept of karma, I could only grasp it in relation to my upbringing in the Catholic church. Like the pop culture of karma, it was dependent on doing good to get a reward or if I did something bad, I would receive penance in this life or the next. There was a little taste of practicing being in the present, but it was mostly about what happened in the past and how I need to pay for my bad actions, how can I prevent those actions from happening again, so that my future will be better. Somewhere in there was the idea that doing good for others would get me to a better place in the future. i.e. it was all about me. 

I have used this understanding of karma to promote the inner-critic and the self-justifier. When I do something wrong I should be punished and until I am punished appropriately, I am a bad person. Or I did something right and I should receive a reward or acknowledgment and until I do, I experience a sense of superiority in my altruism. This all can get really convoluted triggering a torrent of shame, blame, arrogance and self righteousness.

My understanding of karma as taught in the Eastern wisdom traditions is much more straightforward and scientific. It is simply action and reaction, cause and effect; action of body, emotion, and thought and the effect of those actions. It is the unconscious engine of temporal reality. There is no moral judgment, as such, because it just is. Karma is merely cause and effect ,and then effect becoming cause for further effects… endlessly. There are some elements of accurate perception of karma in the pop culture perspective in so far as they point to this cause and effect reality, but the popular conception of karma of doing something to get something only shows up in the Eastern teachings as a simile for the mechanics of karma or an inducement to not be a mean person.

From the Eastern perspective, karma is a perpetual circular track of suffering that runs on the fuel of the three poisons; passion, aggression and ignorance. It is like an infinitely long snake feeding on its own tail. It has no independent origin, it is beginningless and endless. When inquiring carefully into the fuels and the structure of karma, it becomes apparent that it is a compound of mental concepts that have no actual substance or inherent nature. Empty concepts that arise from an infinite chain of cause and effect with no initial or terminal moment.

Seeing this and experiencing the quality of this understanding, stills the habitual mind stream for a moment. In this moment that is out of time there is an experience of what Edgar Casey called the ultimate Is-ness. I think that might be what is referred to in buddhism as thusness, and in Taoism as the eternal Tao, and perhaps it is the Rapture in Christian teachings.

In the moment-less moment, there is the experience of freedom, spaciousness, unburdenedness. The perpetual habit stream of karma and the resulting suffering is seen as void of reality. It is like the experience of waking up from an all consuming nightmare and seeing that it wasn’t real. In a sense, one steps out of the endless cycle of cause and effect, karma, and steps into the reality of true nature; though there really is no stepping off or on. It is more like a final knowing that the experience of deep ease, unconditioned love and joy, and the knowing that everything including one’s experience of self as whole, holy, goodness, is just the way things are. That the grasping, clinging, greed, hatred, aversion, fear, doubt are the shadows created by the ignorance of the way things are. These shadows are a result of trying to fix or change or undo karma; cause and effect, when in reality there is nothing really there to be undone or fixed. 

When I put my hand in fire I get burned. When I drop a stone in gravity, it falls. I cannot unburn my hand or unstop the fall. I can only not put my hand in the fire or not drop the stone in gravity. I cannot stop the immediate effect of an action. If I move in anger or hatred, either in thought or deed, I cannot undo that moment of action or thought. It will have some effect regardless of what I do, think, or say subsequently. When this realization spreads into the marrow of my being, the aspiration to stop the cycle, arises in the empty space of that realization. In the space of that awareness there is the opportunity and time to look around, find the key to the engine of karma, turn it off, and get off the track.

The goodness of karmic activity is in its capacity to point, urge and cajole us to be alert to suffering and the endless causes and effects of suffering. As awareness of how habit and conditioning contributes to suffering grows, the awareness of the nature of reality as goodness expands. It is as if karmic activity is a headlamp on a path that is shrouded in ignorance; shining the light of understanding on the obstacles of cause and conditioning, and showing a way through to the experience of reality as the intrinsic goodness of being.

In this reality there is only the substance-less, causeless, absolute goodness perpetuating and being perpetuated, reflecting and re-reflecting itself. It is in the eyes of a child discovering snow, and a guardian seeing the child discovering snow. It is in the awe of infinitely different sunsets and the blinding explosions of a lightning strike. It is in the first breath of life and the last sigh of death. It is here and now. No need to search or strive or do anything to get it. Just lay back in the arms of your own goodness and in that, allowing all beings to lay back in your embrace of goodness. 

_____________

These words are dedicated to all wisdom elders and wisdom teachings and to bringing about the end of suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

May it be so.

-William

The Three Poisons: Ignorance

From the beginning of life the body is constantly striving to survive. It does this by finding nutrients from outside of itself and transforming them into usable forms to promote and sustain itself. In this process it also learns to discern what is not usable and either avoids or rejects it. Internally it is also discerning, transforming, attacking, and expelling. The body develops habits and conditioning that simplifies the process and makes it efficient. In my utterly layperson’s understanding, the brain is the storehouse for the information gathered from these body experiences and directs this process through the nervous system. 

Somewhere along the line, this natural, efficient and necessary process bleeds over into the learned experiences of pleasure and displeasure and the consciousness of those experiences. We begin to link survival of the body with pleasure, and death of the body with displeasure. As infants, especially in the preverbal stage, we only have our physical being to communicate this pleasure and displeasure, or to grasp for comfort and push away discomfort. As a result of the memory of these experiences the developing consciousness also becomes conditioned to maximize the efficiency of getting what we sense/think/feel will sustain us and keeping away what we sense/think/feel will harm us. We learn that crying, pooping, crawling, talking etc. will all get a response or not; give us pleasure or not. As this capacity of consciousness matures and a sense of self and other begins to crystallize, the habits and conditioning of this early developmental stage, as well as the continuing developmental processes of coming to adulthood, continue to function and calcify throughout our lives. The efficiency of the processes of physical survival are imprinted in our consciousness and we are able to skip the conscious, linear process developing unconscious habits of thinking and feeling associated, correctly and incorrectly with survival.

Over time and through repetition, these unconscious habits of sensing, reacting, feeling and thinking stimulate the development of conditioned reactions of passion with its expressions of grasping, clinging, craving and greed as well as aggression with its expressions of aversion, hatred, anger and violence. The lack of awareness of the origin and function of these habits is one part of the poison of ignorance. 

A few of the most apparent expressions of this behavior out of ignorance for me are when I have an aversion to being around someone or some situation for no obvious reason, or when I am spontaneously yelling at a driver who won’t drive the way I want them to, or judging another or myself for not doing “it” right. This is unconscious aggression. Using concentration and insight in contemplation, leads to bringing to light the hidden conditioning or habit that runs the engine of the aggression. Upon deeper inquiry, I am able to see how my unconscious grasping or clinging or lust (passion) for something is the sparkplug igniting the start up of the engine engine of aggression. More aggression leads to more intense and unconscious passions, and the endless cycle of suffering. The process of shining a light of awareness on unconscious habits and conditioning allows me to be able to then make choices and offer responses out of understanding the reality in the present moment, rather than out of ignorant, conditioned habit.

For example I may discover that the behavior or speech patterns or dress of the person that I have an aversion to, are the same expressions that I have been trying to eliminate in my own behavior; expressions that have caused some kind of suffering for me or others or have been detrimental to my craving or holding on to friendship, position, acceptance etc. 

Over time with consistent, regular, contemplative practice and open ended inquiry (inquiry without expectation of results)into what is happening in these instances, the light of awareness reveals the unconscious knots of aggression and passion that cause so much suffering in our lives and the lives of others. This awareness liberates thinking, feeling and acting from the prison of ignorant reactivity, allowing true freedom of choice in the present moment. Shining a light on conditioning and unconscious, habitual thought patterns, reveals our ignorance of the reality of the causes of suffering, slows down the process and opens up space for clarity.

This open, spacious, clarity reveals the other part of ignorance; the ignorance of our intrinsic  nature. 

As the clutter of unconscious habits dissolves, the spacious freedom of present reality opens up and there is an awakening to the realization that we and all those we share the cosmos with are intrinsically good, generous, kind, compassionate, joyful and non-judgmental beings. The more that we are able to cultivate this knowledge through practice, the lighter our experience of reality is. This lightness is generative and the boundaries between self and other also begin to dissolve.  The resulting space expands to include not only personal suffering and freedom from that suffering but also opens space for the understanding of the suffering of others regardless of how it manifests; in hatred, clinging, anxiety, despair, or violence. It also clears a space for mutual joy, kindness, and ease of being. The capacity of strength that comes with this experiential knowledge slows the conditional processes down enough that there is time to respond appropriately rather than react habitually in the face of suffering or joy. 

As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught: “Everything is working working.” The three poisons that cause so much suffering are also the medicines that initiate the healing of awareness of the suffering. The suffering of the three poisons cause us to seek out the end of suffering because it is the intrinsic nature of all beings, not only to be free of self suffering, but to long for for all beings throughout all times and in all directions to  be free from suffering.

May it be so.

These thoughts and practices are dedicated to all wisdom elders in all traditions, and to all beings throughout all times in all directions, with the intention that they may ignite the flame of self awareness and provide a little solace and ease.

-William
 

Practice

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for a safe, inclusive, free, virtual community contemplative practice. Everyone is welcome regardless of meditation experience or spiritual lineage.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 7 AM CR Time

Monday: calm abiding, Samatha, Tuesday: body awareness, Thursday: Tonglen

Sunday at 7 AM CR Time: Four Brahmaviharas

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 5:30 PM CR Time : Practice and Inquiry                                                   

The Three Poisons: Aggression

The three poisons of passion, aggression and ignorance are inextricably linked and interdependent and are the causes of the conditioned and habitual whirl of what is referred to, in eastern traditions, as samsara. When these habits of thinking and being are explored it becomes apparent that they are the primary causes of mental and emotional suffering. When inquiring into the nature of each one, individually, there is an awareness of how they arise from and give rise to the other two in an endless cycle. Noticing this, an understanding becomes apparent that, because they rely solely on each other for activation and sustainment, they are empty of independent, inherent substance and when one of them dissolves as a result of this understanding, the whole conditioned, habitual, cycle of suffering dissolves with it. 

Aggression

When I was first introduced to the teachings of the three poisons in Shambhala Warrior* training, it seemed obvious that aggression was a poison; unlike passion and ignorance, which I thought could be seen as either a gift or blameless (respectively) and therefore not really poisonous. I associated aggression with intentional violence, hatred, meanness, anger, rage etc. I was ignorant of the more subtle expressions of aggression that arise out of aversion. Aversion is a more insidious form of aggression and violence that I have often cloaked with spiritual, social or political, superiority. Whereas passion, as a poison, is any action, feeling or thought that tries to attract, grasp and cling, aversion is any action, feeling or thought that tries to push away or avoid. (It is understood here that there are some of these movements that are necessary in moments when our existence is threatened.)

Aversion is the surreptitious form of aggression that is seeded in the grasping of, and clinging to what is thought of as the good and the beautiful and pushing away everything else. Aversion often shows up as micro aggressions in speech and action. It is mostly unconscious until it is pointed out to us by someone who has been on the receiving end of it, or we discover it in the contemplation of suffering. For me these aversions are so deeply rooted and pervasive, that the process of uncovering them and weeding them out has been filled with shame and pain and I found myself redirecting  the aggression and aversion, that I had manifested toward the other, back on myself. And as a result perpetuating the cycle of violence.

With careful and gentle guidance from teachers, spiritual friends and the sangha of compassionate beings, as well as faith in universal goodness, I have been able to sit with this aggression in gentle observation. Like a guardian sitting with a young child who is in the heart of an emotional explosion; present, allowing, and soothing but not stopping or changing the experience. Working in this way, I began to see the conditioned nature of aversion and aggression. I began to understand that most of the aggression and aversion manifested as a result of habitual and conditioned responses that were imprinted in childhood and cultivated over time in the search for pleasure and avoidance of displeasure. With aversion it was less the outward expression of aggression that I recalled but the subtle looks, gestures and speech filled with hidden meaning. Like the times when, driving to baseball games, my mom insisting that we not go through the part of town where black folk lived to get there because “it’s dangerous”.  Or the unwillingness of adults to talk openly about sexuality while giving the impression that it was evil. 

In perceiving the conditionality of aggression, aversion and all the reactivity that manifests out of them, I began to understand that they were void of their own substance or form and only existed as a result of my unconscious habits of clinging, grasping and attachment. My anger, aversion, fear and aggression were a result of a fear of loss, or of a memory of the past, or anxiety about the future. i.e not really real in this moment.

Over time and through persistent practice of presencing, and insight into the nature of my aggressions and aversions as well as my passions, the incessant cycle of elevation and diminishment of self and others has begun to dissolve. As a result, little by little, I have been more able to respond to situations out of the experience and awareness of the present reality, instead of reacting out of an unconscious habitual thought stream. Awareness of the causes and conditions of the suffering that occurs because of these poisons an important step on the path to freedom from that suffering. This capacity also supports the skill  to be able to see through the aggression and aversion of others and into the heart of their suffering, so that we can respond out of compassion instead of passion.

This description of the process sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Begin by looking closely at the most obvious expressions of aversion or aggression and asking a simple question like “Where did that come from?” or noticing how the body changes in the midst of the expression. This slows the reaction time down enough that the connections to memory, fear or habits of thought can be observed.  In the moment that the aggressions happen it may not be possible to do this, so when there is time to reflect, in a safe environment, one can recreate the experience  in the imagination and begin the inquiry. This leads to a clearer understanding of the origins of the poisons and our suffering. The more that we understand our own suffering and how it develops, the more skill we have when we engage with others who are suffering and expressing that suffering through aggression or aversion.

Ultimately we begin to see that all passion and aggression and the resulting suffering is seeded in the ignorance of how these things work. We might also begin to notice that at the core of these passions is the deep longing for the expression and experience of our inherent goodness and the inherent goodness of all beings.

May it be so.

– William

* A system of practice and insight developed by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to whom I dedicate all these words and this practice.

Practice

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for a safe, inclusive, free, virtual community contemplative practice. Everyone is welcome regardless of meditation experience or spiritual lineage.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 7 AM CR Time

Monday: calm abiding, Samatha, Tuesday: body awareness, Thursday: Tonglen

Sunday at 7 AM CR Time: Four Brahmaviharas

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 5:30 PM CR Time : Practice and Inquiry                                                   

The website for the sangha is: gratefulroadwarrior.org

Please feel free to share this or any post from the Sangha

The Three Poisons: Passion,  Aggression, Ignorance

When I study the laws, practices, commandments, and aspirations of wisdom traditions, they all seem to dedicate a good deal or time to the causes and conditions of suffering and what to avoid or what to cultivate in order to prevent or bring and end to that suffering. 

In the buddhist teachings these are refined down to three primary causes and conditions for suffering; passion (attachment, grasping, clinging, greed), aggression (hatred, aversion, anger) and ignorance (bewilderment, delusion, folly). Over the next few weeks the sangha will be exploring how these three are present in our lives and how they contribute to our suffering and the suffering of others. We will also explore how , in the same way that poisons can be helpful on the path to healing, these three point to the path of freedom from suffering.

Passion

When I first heard that passion was a poison according to buddhist teaching, I was in my mid thirties, filled with a passion for acting, sexual exploration, and finding the perfect relationship. I had bottled up my passion for living free of my family history, religious oppression, and societal pressures for most of my life and I scoffed at the idea that passion was a poison. It was the fire of a fully engaged life! I thought the other two causes made sense but was resistant to looking at my understanding and experience of passion as a detriment to an awakened life. 

As I delved more deeply into the buddhist dharma, I understood that what it was pointing to was not the belly fire of loving and fully engaging in life, but the activity of searching and moving out of my centered, present experience of life, toward something other, in an attempt to get it and own it. I began to see that passion in this sense is any thought, feeling or action that prevents the experience, perception, or understanding of things as they are, and a grasping for something other than that. Or a clinging to something to prevent an experience from disappearing or changing. This passion moves my awareness out of present time and tries to draw in or attract something that exists only in my thought stream. This is something that is derived from a construct of “good” memories or ideas, and experiences that I have been conditioned to believe are better than my experience now. In the ten commandments this would be covetousness. In the buddhist teaching, it goes beyond the “inordinate desire for another’s possessions” (def. Mer. Webster) to include the craving for or attachment to any physical, emotional or mental experience that arises out of conditioned or habitual patterns. i.e I Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda had it or I Wanna, Gotta have it. 

The key words for me are “habitual” and “conditioned”. As The practice of meditation or any other form of contemplation, develops, it allows for on objective perspective on the thought stream (or what was a torrential waterfall in my case.). When inquiring, during the relative stillness of contemplation, into what drives or motivates any action, feeling or thought, there is an opportunity to see how most dissatisfaction and resulting covetousness or greed has its origin in a memory or a promise. This is a memory that gives rise to an habitual idea of happiness or pleasure that seems better than what is being experienced in the moment. Dissatisfaction might also be observed as a conditioned state of being that has been imprinted in our unconscious while seeking and achieving a promised result, or gaining approval from childhood guardians, peers or teachers. 

At the core of this inquiry I become more aware that this passion for getting and keeping something, is a striving for freedom from suffering and  a grasping for the experience and knowledge of true nature as easeful and good. I see that my passionate activity is looking for my true nature everywhere other than where it is, here and now. In other words the passionate search for peace outside of myself is a primary cause of my suffering and ultimately the suffering of those around me.

When we spend hours scrolling screens, or self medicating, or pushing our physical body to extremes, or endlessly spending resources on trying to mold ourselves into a better looking person, habitually looking for that experience of something more than this, it seems that we are just looking for that which is already present in our essential being.

In these times of polarization, paranoia, addiction, and the barrage of input that is always reminding us that what we are and what we possess is not good enough, it seems impossible to find that place of ease and goodness that we know, in the core of our being, is here already. In the quiet of contemplation and the still open space that arises, even if just for a second, there is an opportunity to know and experience reality as it is. From this place we are more able to respond to what is from the true belly fire of passion for an engaged life rather than reacting from a conditioned, habitual, thought stream. From a quiet place of self awareness we are able to know and experience that the spark of that fire is our inherent goodness. In these moments, striving for otherness diminishes and we, very naturally and without effort, stop the search and experience a respite from suffering, resting at ease in our truest nature.

May all beings throughout all times and in all directions know and experience their true goodness and an end to suffering.

I would enjoy and appreciate hearing your insights and questions. Feel free to respond to this email. –William

Practice

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for a safe, inclusive, free, virtual community contemplative practice. Everyone is welcome regardless of meditation experience or spiritual lineage.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 7 AM CR Time

Monday: calm abiding, Samatha, Tuesday: body awareness, Thursday: Tonglen

Sunday at 7 AM CR Time: Four Brahmaviharas

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 5:30 PM CR Time : Practice and Inquiry                                                   

The website for the sangha is: gratefulroadwarrior.org

Please feel free to share this or any post from the Sangha

Suffering and the Causes

When Siddhartha Gautama left the sheltered garden of his father’s palace, he was ignorant of the day-to-day realities of life and the myriad ways of human suffering. Having seen, for the first time, the pain of the body expressed in birth, sickness, old age and death, he made a decision to leave his life of royal privilege and wander in search of answers. There are many theories about what the exact motivation that spurred Siddhartha  to leave his life of infinite privilege. I wonder if it was because of the inner turmoil that he experienced for the first time in his young life. All of his life he had experienced  and had been led to believe that life was only easeful, joyful and revolved totally around promoting his own happiness. He had been conditioned to believe that there were no obstacles to his happiness or anyone else’s. Imagine the experience of seeing the pain of a mother giving birth, the sore covered body of a leper, an aged one stumbling along in pain or the grey rotting corpse of a dead person, for the first time and all in one day! The feelings of shock, dismay, doubt perhaps even mistrust of his beloved family and community must have shattered reality for him. For me, I think it would have been deeply, wrenchingly painful. Experiencing an inner anguish and torment never experienced before, I imagine that I would have rushed back to the royal compound, run up to my rooms and begged for some distraction to take away the overwhelming feelings. I am afraid that I would have spent the rest of my days trying to suppress the memories and recreate the ignorance that allowed me to live a life of mindless ease.

I experienced a small taste of what that might have been like in the fall of 2019 when I saw the film “The Color of Fear” by Lee Mun Wah. I had a realization that I had been living life believing that I was beyond racism as a liberal, well educated man and that being gay gave me insight to the suffering of non-white folk. For the first time I heard my liberal cliches about racism as a person of color might hear them and I was literally nauseous with shame. Soon after, George Floyd was murdered.

Siddhartha left his royal privileges in search of the cause of the experiences of inner conflict and dis-ease that he was experiencing as a result of seeing suffering for the first time. In the beginning of his journey I wonder if it was not an altruistic seeking for the causes and relief of suffering for all beings, but for an understanding and relief from his own personal anguish and deep shame for having lived a life in ignorance.

In the months after George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent revelations of the hundreds or thousands of murders and incarcerations of innocent people of color just in my lifetime, not to mention the centuries of enslavement and oppression of non-white, folk that came before, I could no longer listen to the progressive white leaders talk about working to fix racism in America. I left my royal family of liberal white male theorists and sought out teachers and authors of color who could help me delve into the habits of racist thought and actions that were ingrained in the marrow of my being. James Baldwin led the way with his eloquent, true mirroring of white privilege. In the following autumn, I began a six month road journey to bow before and give thanks to teachers that pointed me to the way out of ignorance. The beginning of that journey was set in the reddest of red country in the Western USA. And once again I was brought to shame and nausea in seeing the ignorance I was holding onto about rural, predominately white Americans, whose depth of suffering due to the  broken promises, lies and abandonment by the political, religious and social elites, was heart rending.

Siddhartha traveled in search of teachers from his own lineage as well as those of the traditional spiritual lineages of his land, and only found teachings that always, in some way, mirrored the narrowness of understanding of his royal upbringing. There was always someone left out, someone better than, someone judged and someone elevated in these lineages. He saw how these ways of spiritual endeavor only perpetuated people’s suffering and as long as he knew that there was someone suffering he would re-experience his own anguish that resulted from his conditioned ignorance. 

Time after time throughout my road and wilderness journey, my conditioned habitual ideas and perceptions were shaken till I felt unmoored. Nothing was solid or definitive, even the daily routine of practice, movement and study changed moment to moment, in quality and depth. The expansiveness of awakened experiences would be contracted into self doubt from one day to the next. White men with with full MAGA gear would offer unconditional help when I was in need and share with me a wilderness sunset with exuberance for life, while a long life liberal friend would claim that all those folks deserved to die. Suffering was universal and any attempt to weigh and judge who deserved compassion was impossible.  The only thing that was reliable was that there was no reliability and that everyone was experiencing a suffering that seemed almost congenital and few would sit still long enough to inquire into the cause.

Siddhartha is said to have found a place to sit and inquire. I wonder if the inquiry was something like what was missing in all of these lineages, or in his own blessed life that, no matter how gratifying, easeful, mind-blowing, they still allowed suffering to exist. He was a scientist of human reality and could not stop until he experienced the truth of things first hand. In the sutras it is said that the Buddha of this Land of Endurance, Siddhartha, while sitting under the body tree, saw that suffering is the obstacle to the knowledge of the true nature of all things, including the truth of all beings’ inherent goodness. That our ignorance of this inherency is perpetuated by habitual conditioned thoughts, feelings and actions and that the fuel for this perpetual engine of ignorance is unquenchable passion and unrelenting aggression, that there is experience without suffering, and that there is a way to realize that experience and live life without suffering or causing suffering.

So, inspired by Siddhartha, Jesus, LaoTzu and all of the teachers who have pointed to the moon’s silent light of wisdom that there will always be suffering as long as there is suffering, I sit and practice, in hopes of seeing how I contribute to this suffering and how I unconsciously set up obstacles for sentient beings and myself to the realization of inherent goodness. I sit and practice and study in hopes of realizing ways that I might be able to contribute to the end of suffering and the universal realization of goodness. I sit and inquire and practice and study and be human and do human things and fall down and get back up and pray and pray and pray for the end of suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

______________

There are as many ways to the inevitable awakening to the true nature of reality and experiencing things just as they are, as there are atoms in the entire cosmos. Ways that bring about an end to suffering. In the Sangha of the Pandemic we practice and explore by meditating together and sharing insights from our unique paths. We invite you to join us whenever you can.

PRACTICE

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for safe, inclusive, free, virtual community contemplative practice. Everyone is welcome regardless of meditation experience or spiritual lineage.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 6 AM Pacific Time

Sunday at 7 AM Pacific Time

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time                                                    

We look forward to sitting with you!     

Please feel free to share this or any post from the Sangha

Unconditioned Insight

This week in the sangha we have been inquiring into Insight in relationship to the practice of concentration. 

Damien Quartz shared the process of finding the bug in a computer program as a simile for the process of concentration/observation and insight:

When thinking about what it means to have insight, I thought about one of the processes I use when trying to determine why a computer program that I’ve written isn’t working the way I intended it to. We’re used to experiencing programs as interactive graphical interfaces, but what they actually are is a set of instructions for manipulating the state of a bunch of bits of memory. When a program has a “bug,” where it produces an incorrect result, or behaves strangely, or stops working entirely, I use another program called a debugger to freeze the buggy program at the place where I think the error might be occurring. The debugger allows me to inspect the state of all the bits of memory relevant to that portion of the program, which can give me insight into why the program is behaving incorrectly. I might see that a number in memory is negative that should never be negative, or that a piece of important text has become garbled, and I can begin to reason about how that might have happened. I can run the program again and freeze it at an earlier point in time, stepping through the instructions one by one until I discover what’s causing the error. Without a debugger it can be extremely difficult to reason about the internal state of a program because so much of the inner workings are hidden by the interface. Programs are opaque in this way, unknowable almost. A debugger allows for close, careful inspection. And, sometimes, in the course of investigating a bug, I discover that while the behavior may be unexpected, it may be that it is a legitimate outcome I did not foresee when writing the program. In these cases, it’s often OK to stop debugging and say, “Ah, it’s a feature, not a bug!”

(From William)

Folks are often drawn to meditation practice because of the experience of suffering or when a thought or action “produces an incorrect result”, or our emotional body, thinking or physical body “behaves strangely, or stops working entirely”. Meditation practice is like having a “debugger” to “freeze” the habit stream and conditioned thoughts so that we can closely observe the causes and conditions that lead to the habitual behavior or thinking causing suffering. In the stillness of open ended concentration/observation, there is an opportunity to see and experience the reality of the present moment without the interference of the “bug” of conditioned habits. This is a rich culture for unconditioned insight that leads to healing and clarity. It may even lead to the understanding that what we assumed was an aberration or obstacle is rather, a doorway to freedom from suffering. “In these cases, it’s often OK to stop debugging and say, “Ah, it’s a feature, not a bug!”

PRACTICE

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for safe, inclusive, free, virtual community contemplative practice. Everyone is welcome regardless of meditation experience or spiritual lineage.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 6 AM Pacific Time

Sunday at 7 AM Pacific Time

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time                                                    

We look forward to sitting with you!     

Please feel free to share this or any post from the Sangha

The Sangha of the Pandemic site For more information about virtual meetings throughout the week, both mornings and evenings see:

Concentration/Observation and Insight/Wisdom

During the practice sessions this week the sangha has been reflecting on the meditative practice of Concentration or focused Observation that, when practiced without desire for attainment, clears a space for Insight and Wisdom as revelations of essential nature.

Mark Demmel shares his own experience of this unfolding.

Historically, the idea of Concentration has led to painful thoughts and feelings for me because I was concentrating on what I was not that I needed to become. To focus & work toward a goal, to increase one’s resilience, to grow, to build, to become better, to do it the way a leader/parent/guide does it, to allow shifts in direction & motivation, to not miss the moment when it comes to you. The ways I looked at concentration often led me to be thinking about a better, future state of my life, which took hard work and great effort to arrive in this future me. I found myself often not embodied, unable to connect deeply & healthfully to the people and life around me in ways I craved nourishment. Concentrating on that which I wasn’t yet, led me to believe the state I currently found myself in was not good enough, or wrong, or bad. This left a door to shame open and that door let all kinds of things in. How could I ever become that which I wanted to be and feel?

The future state of me which could never come into the present reality efforted and worked so hard to become that which it thought it needed to be….to be okay, again. A scared little kid, who had gotten some slams (of various kinds) became that which it deeply resented. I recently took a morning walk in nature on a beautiful land painted with oaks, pines, valleys holding signs of deer and coyotes, and a refreshing morning joy that had me moving slowly and feeling open to the day. On my return, I sensed my 4 year old self high upon my shoulders, taking in the hike with an elder, parent, and trusted friend. I physically put my arms around the 4 year old’s legs straddling my neck. It felt really good. I was a bit surprised by the experience as much as I was over-joyed. Why was my 4 year old trusting me? I wasn’t concentrating on fixing anything, healing my broken parts, working hard to glean some great wisdom from nature. I was just present, enjoying the moment, giving the least amount of effort to the effortlessness of a simple morning walk.

Later that night, caught up in some emotions of sadness and grief to be leaving good friends and the land I was enjoying, I forgot about my 4 year old and I pushed my body in places it did not want to be pushed. I took my hammock high in a tree and tried to sleep with the many coyotes howling every 15-20 minutes. Trying to milk every last drop of “growth” out of the day & night, even at the cost of losing sleep, with a long drive the next day. My body did not settle. My goal to sleep in a tree failed. I even felt the skin itch, which I had not experienced for several months. The coyotes were loud, yipping, hollering, going all night. Finally at 3am, I climbed down the tree and went back to the place that invited me to sleep before setting off into the dark night. My body immediately settled and a peaceful rest fell upon me.

The next morning I remembered my 4 year old. I apologized. I acknowledged the pattern of pushing myself hard, working to be better, urgent to get to that improved future state, at all costs. I’m grateful for the gift from my younger self, inviting me into the present moment, where everything is as I should be, no heavy effort needed, trusting myself, all the parts, working together to allow a needed sense of ease back into the way I concentrate. The serious one was invited to be kind. The strong handed & stubborn adult was invited back to gentleness. I invited myself (all parts) to the conversation where I listen more than I speak. Patience, real honoring and tender patience is returning. The 4 year old enjoys adventures, but they are trusting me to honor their voice in the matter, for me to trust a renewed idea of Concentration. All of us will be “better” for it.

Click here for more Perceptions from the Sangha

PRACTICE

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for safe, inclusive, virtual community contemplative practice.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 6 AM Pacific Time

Sunday at 7 AM Pacific Time

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time                                                    

We look forward to sitting with you!     

Please feel free to share this or any post from the Sangha blog with other folks.

Faith

Catholicism was the air that I breathed in early childhood. My mother was basically raised by nuns. My father was agnostic but converted to Catholicism so that he could marry my mother. We went to mass every Sunday and all holy days, said grace at every meal and prayed on our knees before going to bed. Catholicism, the Church, Mary, God and Jesus (in that order) were what we were taught to put our faith in. As I reflect on that time, I realize I had two experiences of faith. This exoteric one was centered around obedience to the Church and  the Ten Commandments, the promise of heaven and the threat of hell. These were all thoughts imprinted on my consciousness and reinforced by fear and reward. That faith was based on fear and loss and was purely conceptual. The other faith was more magical and esoteric, like praying for and receiving guidance for very specific ways to stop my father’s rage, or to relieve my parents’ fear of having no food to put on the table, or dreams about who I should be when I grew up. While the first, which was learned faith, feels now like it was following orders in order to get something that I was told that I needed, the second was spontaneous and always about practical, real life situations that were causing suffering or fear and my exercise of faith resulted in actual results or knowledge that eased the suffering or relieved the fear. The religious faith had a type of deductive logic to it that made sense if you believed in the initial premise that there was a god rewards and punishes and the church was the adjudicator of that process. This second, more personal faith, and the its manifestations, had no logic to it and lived in a realm of experience that was ungraspable and inexplicable. It was an interior experience that had no discernible origin or direction. The faithful prayers that led to the results often rose up in me out of desperation about my suffering or the suffering of those close to me. The results were magical and nonlinear; a roast falling off the back of a delivery truck after my parents told us we wouldn’t have supper that night, a voice telling me  a precise way to stop the beatings from my father, deja vu as a warning that he was about to rage. Other times and over this lifetime there were experiences of soothing without a source and spontaneous experiences of fearlessness that eradicated all doubt and stabilized the knowledge that goodness was the inherent nature of every human being. 

The faith that was imprinted by the church and society through threat and reward and all of the objects of the faith that it promoted, became baseless, senseless, and brittle, eventually fading into an empty, useless thought. The faith that was grounded in experience, though illogical and ungraspable by thought or desire, metastasized into a systemic way of being that flowed like an underground river bubbling up into consciousness periodically, and shaking loose the false idols of conceptual faith. ( money, sex, the perfect relationship, approval, authority, and other gods) This faith manifested whenever I was still enough and awake enough to recognize and experience it. Often when these bubbling-ups occur, I’d pull out my flask of grasping and try to bottle-up the experience. I’d look for the steps that got me there and try to construct a damn of clinging to keep it in a safe reservoir for the future. These attempts to cling to the experience lead to the inevitable dissipation of the presence of faith as such. (See Failure for a humorous rendition of this.) But I noticed and still notice now when springs of faith come to the surface and retreat, that as the experience slowly dissolves and the ache of “losing” something precious eases, there remains a knowing that resonates throughout my being, and like the sound of the bell at Cloud Mountain, that rings throughout the day, calling practitioners to practice, it is reliantly there/here but ungraspable, non conceptual, unreproducible by will or thought, yet not separate from, not other than just this-ness. 

The invitation, in the practices with the Sangha of the Pandemic this week, was to explore faith and inquire into its nature and expression in our lives and practice. I experienced, in the practices and wisdom sharings, a sense that no matter what we have faith in, whether material, relational, spiritual or anything else, the essential quality that is labeled “Faith”, is an inherent quality that is discernible but not definable, experiential but not conceptual. It is ever-mutable, not containable, bubbling up into consciousness in times of suffering and stillness. Its roots are in our inherent knowledge of truth, and like Earth’s network of mycelia that break down matter to be used for promoting life, this faith patiently and persistently breaks down the obstacles to experiencing our true nature. And like the mycelia, it is active and ever-present, carrying knowledge and sustenance surreptitiously from one being to another; a reliant web of interconnectedness and interdependence.

It seems to me that all forms of contemplative practice, scientific inquiry, justice action, and acts of goodness, are drawn into being by the essential human quality of faith. Faith in the truth that goodness is the intrinsic nature of all beings, the ineffable faith in the capacity of all beings to be good, and that all beings deserve to be free from suffering.

I hope that these words and anything that arises as a result of reading them do not cause distress or doubt and that they might contribute to the awakening to goodness and the end of suffering for all beings, throughout all times and in all directions. – William

PRACTICE

The Sangha of the Pandemic offers several opportunities for safe, inclusive, virtual community contemplative practice.

The Zoom link is:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 6 AM Pacific Time

Sunday at 7 AM Pacific Time

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time                                                    

We look forward to sitting with you!     

Retreat Return

Dear Friends,

I returned from a four week solo retreat last Friday. During that time several folks stepped up to facilitate and keep the virtual practices going. Thank you all for keeping the sangha meetings going while I was gone and thank you Chuck, Mike and Randall for taking on the facilitation of the sits that I am responsible for. It is good to know that the sangha is its own being now and thrives independent of any one individual.

The three months at Cloud Mountain and the retreat allowed me time to practice and study with teachers and in silence in a way that I had not experienced before. These experiences guided me to a broader understanding of the practice of being human and a strong affirmation of the numerous teachings that have presented themselves in our practices in the sangha. In the next weeks, I would like to share with you some of the insights and teachings that I experienced in the past few months.

All of these meetings will be accessible to everyone regardless of experience in the sangha or otherwise. Although the sessions will have a focus of study or inquiry, they will not differ in format from our approach since the sangha formed 2 1/2 years ago. We will gather, check-in, there will be a short talk that may provide some direction for a 20 – 30 minute practice and then a space for sharing, for folks who would like to, before closing. Usually about one hour, though when the group is larger it may be longer.

At the end of this note there are brief summaries of the areas of practice and study that I would like to explore with the sangha. I hope this focus doesn’t deter anyone from joining, because just the experience of sitting in this community of good folk is a gift of tremendous goodness and will make a positive difference in your life and your community. Everyone’s presence, regardless of approach or experience contributes to the practice.

We meet:

Monday, Tuesday, and Thursdays: 6 AM Pacific Time

Sunday at 7 AM Pacific Time

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time    

I look forward to practicing with you!

Gratefully yours, -William

                                               

There are areas of practice and study that we will be focusing on for the next several weeks.

a) Faith. Faith in this buddhist tradition is the persistent return to practice because of firsthand experiences of essential qualities of being human like ease, joy, and freedom. It is faith in the non conceptual knowledge of universal goodness that consistently presents itself when we gather in sangha.

b) Concentration and Insight. These are the foundational practices of buddhism and most of the Eastern wisdom traditions. The meetings and retreats of Sangha of the Pandemic have been based on these with an emphasis on insight. I am hoping to bring more concentration practice into the mix that will guide us to the experiences of more open space for clarity and deeper insight into what we already have been experiencing in our practices whether in the sangha or other spiritual lineages.

c) The Three Poisons. I was introduced to these at the beginning of my practice journey as passion, aggression, and ignorance. Other terms that may be more helpful in approaching these are greed, hatred and ambivalence or attachment, aversion and delusion. These seem to be the primary manifestations resulting from forgetting our true nature and the true nature of all beings as Goodness and contribute to the obscurations of our awareness of the true nature of reality.

d) Habit Energy or Karma. This is the persistent and seemingly unending stream of thinking and resulting reactivity that we are generally unaware of. As we shine the light of concentration and insight and the understanding of the three poisons on this habitual and unconscious way of being, there is more space for kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity for ourselves and all beings.

No matter what are focus in the sittings, our aspiration is always to bring about the end of suffering for ourselves and all beings, throughout all times and in all directions.

Body Wisdom

Randall Mullins

These words 

are to help me arrive 

and stay home 

where I am 

inside this body, 

faithful 

wlth the many 

diminishments 

that belong to its nature. 

It is made 

of millions of miracles, 

cell communities, 

synapses, 

water of the planet 

flowing as blood 

in channels 

beyond comprehension. 

It is like an old mansion, 

beyond repair, 

yet with flaws 

made more beautiful with age.

Its wisdom is out in the open, 

sacred signs that it is mortal, 

not designed 

to keep this form forever. 

Blood vessels in the legs 

leak predictably, 

giving a blue hue 

to the ankles.

It offers voice, 

sight, 

sounds, 

and other ways 

of touch and love.

Slowly 

the changes continue. 

Cancer lives here, 

an uninvited guest 

that could be here 

three more years. 

It settles in 

as a good teacher.

This is my home, 

always has been, 

and will be until 

it mingles again 

with the soil 

and the eternal life 

to which it belongs.

Randall Mullins 

June, 2022

Each Tuesday morning at 6:00 AM PST the Sangha gathers virtually in a practice dedicated to body awareness. This poem from Randall blossomed from this week’s practice.

If you would like to plant some seeds through community contemplation-meditation practice you are always welcome to join us.

The Zoom link is:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 

You are also invited to join other practices:

Mondays and Thursdays: 6 AM Pacific Time

Sunday at 7 AM Pacific Time

and

Monday and Wednesday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time                                                    

We look forward to sitting with you!     

The Sangha of the Pandemic. Randall, Linda, Chuck, Brian, Mark, Richard, Paul, Jeff, Timmer, Tom, Damien, Mike, Ginny, David, Angie, and William

Beginnings –

Embarking on a new journey, a new relationship, a new job, a new practice has always felt a bit like stepping into a cloud of unknowing. It is a moment that seems to allow space for a full spectrum of feelings and thoughts to arise. It is an experience of spaciousness that I have often tried to fill with things to do that would occupy my mind and hands in the absence of things that needed to be done. There was some of that in the preparation for the Gratefulroadwarrior journey when I began thinking about it three years ago, and more when I began choosing the vehicle and rigging them for the journey. But once I hit the road, I drove into that cloud of unknowing with the experience of the “beginner’s mind” that is so eloquently spoken of by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I knew that I wanted to find a way to express gratitude to teachers throughout my life who had nurtured the mustard seed of aspiration for peace, so that it sprouted and grew enough that I could begin to maintain and cultivate it with my own hands, heart and mind. What I didn’t know was that how my idea of “teacher” was narrow and that the time on the road, from the torrents of rain, the poverty of rural communities, the benevolent rivers, the nights of fear, the mornings of relinquished awe, the desolation of deserts, the weather, the thiefs, the camp stove, the empty skies, the Civil Rights Trail, would not only teach me, but teach me that everything, every thought, breath, fear, love, doubt, rock, mountain, blade in glades, is a teacher, and that the gratitude that I felt for my embodied teachers of the past was only a dust mote in the vast sky of self annihilating gratitude that I experienced on the road and that still resonates in every present moment.

I was able to walk and drive and still remain on this road of unknowing and beginner’s mind because of the practice of meditation and inquiry, and the members of Sangha of the Pandemic that rode along with me and are riding still.

________________

In these times of so much “knowing” that cuts off potentiality and inquiry; In these times of planning and filling every moment of our life with doing that undermines freedom; In these times of fear and clinging, and the cultivation of ignorance of the suffering of others; In these times it is Urgent!, as Pema Chodron likes to say, to step into the cloud of unknowing that is experienced through the simple practice of meditation and inquiry. It is time to dedicate ourselves to understanding the causes and conditions of our personal suffering which then allows us to understand and have compassion for the suffering of others. As we relinquish our attachments to rigid knowing through the easing that is the result of the practice, we begin to cultivate the possibility of seeing and experiencing reality from the perspective of beginner’s mind.

So we begin;

The Practice

EveryMonday, The Sangha of the Pandemic will offer “beginning” meditation. This will be an opportunity for new meditators to join a group sit, to learn different methods of practice, and to ask questions about the practice. It is also an opportunity for folks who have practiced to reset the practice with the mind of a beginner; relinquishing all of the habits of practice and walking into the cloud of unknowing.

The practice will begin with a brief check-in and questions, followed by some instructions then meditation practice. We will close with sharing for folks who would like and then time for more questions. We’ll plan on an hour but it may go past that. You are welcome to step out of the group anytime after the sit, though we encourage you to tay as long as possible to gain the benefit of other’s experience.

Everyone is welcome and please feel free to share this with others.

Every Monday, we will gather on ZOOM

 https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 

at 4:30 PM, Pacific Time, every Monday. (7:30 PM Eastern)

You are also invited to join other practices:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time                                                    

We look forward to sitting with you!                                                                                                                             

Sangha of the Pandemic: William, Linda, Brian, Chuck, Paul, Mike, David, Jeff, Ginny, Tom, Randall, Angie, Damien, Paul, Richard, Christo, Timmer                                                                           

–  May all beings throughout all directions and all times be free from suffering. 

Everything Contributes

Beneficial action is action that contributes to any path that leads to understanding the inherent nature of reality. Through contemplation there is the realization that inherent nature is reality and reality is inherent nature. That the absolute manifests as the relative and the relative reveals the absolute. 

When contemplating action (or non-action) that is seeded in clinging, attachment, expectation, fear, anger, conceit or thoughtlessness, it is revealed that the result or reaction points back to the causes of those seeds. The suffering that arises from actions sprouted from the seeds of self-fullness, are like gutter rails in bowling, they guide the path back to the middle. In this same way, global environmental catastrophes, wars of greed and anger, and all the subsequent suffering point us back to seeking and end to suffering and actions that will lead to an end to suffering. When contemplating even the smallest of sufferings this understanding is revealed. In some cases the ball is so wildly thrown down the lane that it ricochets from on rail to the other, all the way down the lane until it ends in the gutter without striking a pin. Then the ball is sent back to try again.

When contemplating action that is seeded in the desire to end suffering through generosity, loving kindness, compassion, unconditioned joy and equanimity, it is revealed that the result or re-action, is ease of being, openness, clarity and goodness; the songs of the inherent nature of reality. This beingness in balance is like finding the sweet spot just to the side of the head pin, yielding a strike. And the ball is sent back to go again.

And like bowling (with repeated practice and observation of the causes of the gutterballs and the strikes), repeated contemplative practice, and beneficial actions seeded in kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity will, in a moment or over time, yield the understanding of the causes and conditions of suffering, the liberation from suffering and the manifestation of goodness, for oneself and for all our relations. 

May all beings throughout all times and all directions be free from suffering.

Practice

Through regular practice of attending to our breathing and inquiring into the causes of our suffering and the suffering of others, we may begin to experience a growing ease of being.  As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, this first hand experience may lead to an arising of spontaneous compassion and a motivation to act in a way that brings this ease to all beings who experience suffering. 

According to many wisdom teachings, in order to be of help to others, we are advised to realize our interdependence and interconnectedness with all beings and then to act out of that understanding. How can we do this in a way that recognizes the infinite experiences that have led to suffering, and honor the infinite ways that point to or offer relief from suffering, without judgment, recrimination or any other type of diminishment of those who may be suffering. 

Please feel free to join us in practice once, intermittently or as often as the inspiration arises! Your presence and insights contribute to this practice and the end of suffering for all beings in all directions and in all times.

We practice on ZOOM:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time

ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Sangha of the Pandemic

Brian, Linda, Chuck, Paul, Paul, Ginny, Jeff, Ned, Richard, Timmer, David, Christo, Angie, Damien, Mike, William

Helplessness.

“What can I do? I feel so helpless.”

This has been the repeated refrain this week, in check-ins during meditation practices and in community conversations. Inundated with despair is how, at times, I have been feeling about the bombardment of human aggression in the world.  

During the practice with the sangha we have been exploring “beneficial action”; one of the four embracing virtues of a bodhisattva’s practice. This exploration was planned before the war in Ukraine began but feels like it is just right for these times.

The fundamental teachings of Buddhism are founded on the Four Noble Truths:

  • There is suffering
  • There are causes that lead to the conditions of suffering
  • There is an end to suffering.
  • There is a path leading to the end of suffering.

In the practice and our explorations in the sangha, I have wondered if the despair and helplessness that is experienced in these times could be addressed by looking at these truths.

There is Suffering. Even in the peaceful, rural areas of Costa Rica I cannot find sunglasses dark enough to shield me from seeing the ever-present suffering throughout the globe. It is evident in every form of community connection. And if I try to avert my attention from the external manifestations it bubbles up internally somehow. Although there may be palaces or islands that  attempt to shield themselves and their inhabitants form the experience of suffering,( as Shakyamuni Buddha’s parents did ), we live in a time where that is just impossible for anyone. There is suffering! “I know, I know damnitt! Now what can I do about it? Please!!!”

There are causes that lead to the conditions of suffering. In general, if not universally, we want to skip this part. We want to get right to “the path that leads to the end of suffering”. “There’s a problem let’s just fix it.” Or at least let’s try to feel better by talking about ways to fix it. This, it seems to me, is the approach that leads to despair and helplessness. Even though we know from all of the wisdom teachings from Nature, Science, Psychology, Religion, etc, that we must discover the root cause to a problem before we can address it, we’re in a hurry. We want it done now. This research into the causes of suffering cannot be done through intellectual speculation or imposition of theory or relying on someone else, we have to get our hands dirty. We have to muck around in the soil of suffering in order to get our hands on the root causes. “But I cannot muck around in the soil of Ukraine, or Gaza, or the favelas of San Paulo, or the minds of folks who seem to live in another world from me.” So true! We can really only inquire deeply into the causes and conditions of the suffering in our own experience. We can really only understand and grasp the roots of suffering in our own garden.

“Great! I found the root, now I’ll just yank it out.” But as we pull and dig and yank we might see that there is no end to it and maybe, even, that it supports the whole structure of our being and we are back to helplessness and despair. This is where faith comes in.

There is an end to suffering. In my experience, faith seems to be cultivated by a practice of broadening my view of myself and the world. By taking a step back to try to see the whole picture. That allows us to see an expanded perspective of my garden and that the nasty root cause is, not only just a part of the garden but that it may even contribute to the well being of the garden as a whole. When we ask how the root came about and how it might contribute to understanding, we gain perspective. We see that it is not the only root in the garden. We begin to have first hand experience of the other aspects that might sprout and flower: joy, kindness received and offered, the deep compassion to end others suffering that started us on this journey, and ultimately equanimity towards all parts of the garden. From this perspective we can see the causes of the causes of the root of suffering and also begin to understand the causes of kindness, joy, compassion and equanimity. In the same way that we dig deep into the causes of our own suffering, when we begin to explore these attributes we discover the causes of these innate perennials of goodness. Then we can begin to cultivate them, bring the garden into balance and begin to make these experiences sustainable. And, if even only for a time of one breath, we experience being without suffering. And perhaps, in that moment, we also get a glimpse of the true root cause of suffering. That we have been unaware of, the true nature of the garden. That it is not only not Knotweed, but that it is that, and dahlias, and apple trees, and jungle and clay and loam and love, and compassion, and kindness… Then that grumpy neighbor, who always seems to be ranting about the way people put their trash out, walks by and is taken by surprise by the brilliant smell of the jasmine of joy emanating from your cultivated garden. And they ask: “How did you grow that?”

There is a path leading to the end of suffering. “Well ya see, I…” And then we see. And faith flowers and beneficial action fruits and our garden expands and includes.

“But what about Ukraine? It is my experience that all that I have to do is ask the question, be open to whatever arises as action, and then get out of my own way and the tumble of habits of thinking that block the path to action. 

“And helplessness?” The smile on the grumpy neighbor smelling jasmine of joy, the laughter of the child plucking a sunflower of kindness, the fruit of compassion, harvested and shared with family, and community, the cultivation of the garden of equanimity of our being while knowing that  the yield will somehow benefit anyone who experiences it. These may not eliminate helplessness but they will bring it into balance within the garden of our being and this action, this gifting, reflects and makes space for the true nature of all beings to come forth. 

Oh yeah… and practice, practice, practice.

May all beings throughout all directions and all times be free from suffering.

Practice

Through regular practice of attending to our breathing and inquiring into the causes of our suffering and the suffering of others, we may begin to experience a growing ease of being.  As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, this first hand experience may lead to an arising of spontaneous compassion and a motivation to act in a way that brings this ease to all beings who experience suffering. 

According to many wisdom teachings, in order to be of help to others, we are advised to realize our interdependence and interconnectedness with all beings and then to act out of that understanding. How can we do this in a way that recognizes the infinite experiences that have led to suffering, and honor the infinite ways that point to or offer relief from suffering, without judgment, recrimination or any other type of diminishment of those who may be suffering. 

Please feel free to join us in practice once, intermittently or as often as the inspiration arises! Your presence and insights contribute to this practice and the end of suffering for all beings in all directions and in all times.

We practice on ZOOM:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time

ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Sangha of the Pandemic

Brian, Linda, Chuck, Paul, Paul, Ginny, Jeff, Ned, Richard, Timmer, David, Christo, Angie, Damien, Mike, William

Compassionate Action

The Four All-Embracing Virtues of the Bodhisattva

“At the heart of Buddhism is the idea of interconnectedness. We all suffer. That is the first noble truth of Buddhism: Suffering is a reality. And the practice begins with the awareness that suffering is there in you and it is there in that other person. When you have seen suffering, you are motivated by the desire to remove suffering — the suffering in you and the suffering in that other person — because if that person continues to suffer, it will make you suffer somehow later on. So helping other people remove their suffering means doing something for you also.

An act of compassion always brings about transformation. If not right now, it will happen in the future. The important thing is you don’t react with anger. You react with compassion, and sooner or later you see the transformation in the other person. You keep being compassionate, you keep being patient.”  – Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Through regular practice of attending to our breathing and inquiring into the causes of our suffering and the suffering of others, we may begin to experience a growing ease of being.  As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, this first hand experience may lead to an arising of spontaneous compassion and a motivation to act in a way that brings this ease to all beings who experience suffering. 

According to many wisdom teachings, in order to be of help to others, we are advised to realize our interdependence and interconnectedness with all beings and then to act out of that understanding. How can we do this in a way that recognizes the infinite experiences that have led to suffering, and honor the infinite ways that point to or offer relief from suffering, without judgment, recrimination or any other type of diminishment of those who may be suffering. 

Throughout the buddhist teachings there is reference to the Four All-Embracing Virtues or the Four Integrative Methods of the Bodhisattva* as a practice to cultivate an environment for fulfilling the desire for compassionate action.

Here is a very brief summary

  1. Dana – Paramita (skr.). In this context dana is generosity of giving what others want, without thought of self or achievement of a goal.
  2. Priyavacana (skr.) Affectionate speech. Speaking with others in a way that promotes ease of being.
  3. Arthacaryā (skr.) Conduct benefitting others.
  4. Samānavihāra (skr.) Walking in the other’s shoes. Also referred to as consistency or being in union in body, speech and mind, while remaining engaged in community. 

* (Someone who has an aspiration to awaken to truth and lives a life centered on the well being of others.)

For the next five weeks or so, during our morning gatherings we will be exploring these four methods through inquiry and meditation, using the formats of samatha (calm abiding), body awareness, tonglen and brahmavihara practices. It is not necessary to participate in every session to explore with us and to share your insights. Each sit will be a complete practice session in itself.

Please feel free to join us once, intermittently or as often as the inspiration arises! Your presence and insights contribute to this practice and the end of suffering for all beings in all directions and in all times.

We practice on ZOOM:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time

ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

May all beings in all directions, throughout all times be free from suffering.

William, Linda, Brian, Chuck, Paul, Mike, David, Jeff, Ginny, Tom, Randall, Angie, Damien

Weary

Weary: From the Proto-Germanic worigaz: to wander, totter

We are weary… With the burden of becoming

We are weary… With the duty to do 

We are weary … With the responsibility of our failures

We are weary… With the weight of worry

We are weary…  With promise of mañana

We are weary… With the memory of our misdeeds

We are weary… With the pressure of pandemic

We are weary… With the constriction of words of warning

We are weary… With treading water in an ocean of unshed tears

We are weary… With the fear of unknowingness

Listen to the weariness

Let it bow you down

Let it lie you down 

Let it wrap you, melt through you, rinse you

And finally liberate you from 

Becoming

Doing

Failure

Worry

Misdeeds

Pandemics

Warnings

Tears

Fears

Unknowing

Let it loosen your grasping Let it release your clinging Let it show you that your

Burdens

Duties

Responsibilities

Weights 

Promises 

Memories

Constrictions

Treadings

Fears

Are your 

Adornments, 

Guides, 

Teachers, 

As you wander, tottering, on this path of

Being human.


Practice

There are as many myriad of ways of practicing meditation as there are the myriad of sentient beings in all of the cosmos. With each of these practices, over time, or in an instant, comes an understanding of the nature of personal suffering and the suffering of others. With this understanding, knowledge of the causes and conditions that give rise to this suffering  become clear. In the light of this awareness, the grip of the habits, of thinking, acting, and speaking, on being, loosens and compassion for personal afflictive conditioning and the afflictive conditioning of others emerges; like a child awakening from a nightmare. Then the soothing voice of truth dawns with the light of first hand experience of how to alleviate suffering for all beings. And like each dawn of every day, in every location on this planet, and on all the planets throughout all directions and in all times, each first hand experience is unique, as is each response to that experience. 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, seems to activate the yeast of meditation practice in a different way than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to share the bread of the practice with us, No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.

We practice on ZOOM:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time

ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

May all beings in all directions, throughout all times be free from suffering.

William, Linda, Brian, Chuck, Paul, Mike, David, Jeff, Ginny, Tom, Randall, Angie

Practice


There are as many myriads of ways of practicing meditation as there are myriads of sentient beings in all of the cosmos. With each of these practices, over time, or in an instant, comes an understanding of the nature of personal suffering and the suffering of others. With this understanding, knowledge of the causes and conditions that give rise to this suffering  become clear. In the light of this awareness, the grip of the habits, of thinking, acting, and speaking, on being, loosens and compassion for personal afflictive conditioning and the afflictive conditioning of others emerges; like a child awakening from a nightmare. Then the soothing voice of truth dawns with the light of first hand experience of how to alleviate suffering for all beings. And like each dawn of every day, in every location on this planet, and on all the planets throughout all directions and in all times, each first hand experience is unique, as is each response to that experience. 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, seems to activate the yeast of meditation practice in a different way than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to share the bread of the practice with us, No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.

We practice on ZOOM:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Monday and Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time

ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

May all beings in all directions, throughout all times be free from suffering.

William, Linda, Brian, Chuck, Paul, Mike, David, Jeff, Ginny, Tom, Randall, Angie, Paul, Timmer, Christo

Stress

stress (n.) From Online Etymology Dictionary: 

c. 1300, “hardship, adversity, force, pressure,” in part a shortening of Middle English distress (n.); in part from Old French estrece “narrowness, oppression,” from Vulgar Latin *strictia, from Latin strictus “tight, compressed, drawn together,” past participle of stringere “draw tight”

Over that past several weeks I have become more and more aware of  the effects of the seemingly endless “being on guard-ness” that the state of humanity is in. It permeates virtually all social interactions and media. The Fourth Estate is dominated by expert-pundits who bankroll their mini kingdoms and their egos by extolling the virtues of being on guard, so much so that all of their followers are being encouraged to be on guard against being on guard. The necessary protections that we have been encouraged to use to protect us against ravages of the pandemic, social inequality, poverty, and harm are, in some circles, things to be on guard against because they threaten our personal freedom. There are security services for every aspect of our lives; remote door and bedroom cameras, drone surveillance, satellite surveillance, phalanxes of bulked up private security guards, et.al., all for the purpose of being on guard.

Where or when can we put down our guard in these days?

During practice a few days ago, an image presented itself while I was reflecting on stress and its causes and conditions. I was experiencing my body in stress as “tight, compressed, drawn together,”  twisted, as if I were trying wring out all the fear, anxiety and tension that seem to be the fuel for my revved up habitual thinking. The image was of my hands using all of their strength to wring water out of a towel. No matter how hard or how long I wrung it out, the towel never was completely dry. Then I let go of the wringing and allowed the towel to open up all the way and imagined hanging it in the sun until it was dry.

It was a simile for the practice of meditation.  Often when I begin to sit, my thoughts are a jumble of judgments and self corrections and I try to “wring” the thinking out of my experience, trying to compress it into something manageable or to override it with “better” thinking.  With practice, though, my attention loosens and broadens. I am able to expand the experience of thinking so that the light of knowledge about the causes and conditions of this suffering and stress can “dry out” my experience. The more that light of understanding permeates the experience, the more the habitual, and mostly unconscious, thinking evaporates like water in a towel hanging in the sun. And for maybe a moment or more I let down my guard and experience stresslessness.

In time and with rhythmic, consistent practice, those moments have become experiences that inform my understanding of the nature of things. Now there are times throughout the day that the practice and this awareness, of the nature of the causes and conditions of the “on guard-ness” of the stress, allows me to stop wringing, tightening, and compressing this life. So that I can hang it out in the sun and expose it to the light of the knowledge of the true nature of things as they are. In those moments, I find myself compelled to move and speak and act, in this stress filled, on guard world, to give everything over to alleviating the suffering of all beings, whatever it takes. Not by wringing out fear, anxiety and stress, or by telling folks what to do in order to be free, but by making space, expanding, like an open sky, my own narrow version of self to include all beings, so that the inherent nature of all beings as loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, may be revealed.

I dedicate these words and this practice to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, enlightening ones and teachers throughout all times and in all directions.

Warmth and ease all around!

William

The Sangha of the Pandemic is a small cohort of folks who practice together virtually a few times per week and we would like to invite you to sit with us in hopes that our practicing together might lift a little bit of the burden in these stressful times. There is no obligation, long term commitment, previous experience or fee required. Just a willingness to work toward the gradual relief of suffering for ourselves and for other beings. 

We currently meet on ZOOM four mornings per week:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time

ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Right Speech Threedux Songs from the Sangha of Right Speech.

Right speech stuns to silence.

It emanates from the emptiness of nothing left to lose.

It is abundant in its starkness.

It touches each soul,

no matter their position in the array of infinite positions,

exactly where they are asking to be touched.

Right speech churns like a galactic hurricane through fixed concepts and obscurations,

shredding all veils and unbinding the wings of freedom.  wrg

Here are some songs from the sangha of Right Speech.

Linda Atwater

The Origin of Speech


Listen, the sound of whispered murmurings.

Of measured tympany, stone against rock.

Dancing melody, weaving wordless presence.

Drip, drop,

Stalactites call to the Earth.

Voices and response echo in dim shadows.

Flames move features into fear, awe.

Human stroke paints a vision.

I am, we are.

-Linda Atwater- https://www.ghanacommunitypathways.org/our-team.html

Angie Alkove

This is me
Deeply submerged
Dreaming
Still as death
Floating
drifting
Navigating rapids
Swimming to the shoreline
Waking up to 
to
to
all of the kingdoms
holding me up.

-Angie Alkove – https://waterhorsewriting.com/

I’m celebrating 30 days sober while stuck in Chicago-O’Hare overnight. I got this coin the first time on September 6th, 2017. I lasted maybe six months in the program. I liked it until I didn’t. I lied a lot. I used to do a thing where I would tell a story about my life that seemed to fit the place that I was telling it to. So I told a story about being an alcoholic for a while and listened to a lot of Bruce Springsteen while feeling like some kind of straight edge badass. I also started doing drag. It was not an entirely true story. I’m still not sure which if any of mine are. I still have some literature whose title is “You Think You’re Different?” and every time it pops up in shuffling things I laugh and laugh. What I know now is that my life moves in and out of meaninglessness and ecstasy and always has. What I know now is that I love extremes. What I know now is that I can’t pay attention to something unless I love it, and that I don’t always have a lot of love in me, and that other times I have so much I can only scream at oceans and busy highways to properly express it. What I know now is that when I drink and smoke and stare at my phone all day for the next like and subsist entirely on spoonfuls of JIF and cheezeits and cruise ambiguous affections as a primary means of connection for days on end like a ghost fishing off a dry dock I cease to maintain any grip on the tether that hooks me in to what little I truly do love in this world, and that I truly do want to love in this world. I made it all the way through 2020 then drank a toast on New Years Eve wondering if I had just imagined how bad it could get. I hadn’t. And now I’m back. Holding the tether again like it matters. I don’t like AA. I think inviting folk to wallpaper over a name for God when you’re not actually willing or able to do much to change the bones of a very specific mid-century theology with a very specific view of what it is to be human is dangerous. But I must acknowledge there’s real magic in the rooms. Lately I just go to listen, and it helps me. I don’t speak there, or about this in church, because I don’t want to tell half-truths about it again, and I find it difficult to be honest and feel heard by some folk who are very religious about the program. I’ve seen it save lives, though, just like I’ve seen folk change through other means, too. Abstinence helps some, shades of grey help others, everyone has to figure it out. I have a sincere desire to not drink or use. I believe I have received that desire by asking for it. I believe it’s given me my life back. And I believe folk who’ve come to know where their own solitary power ends and another one takes off can change their lives and be good for the world, one day at a time.

– Loretta Lordchild – https://www.facebook.com/loretta.lordchild

Each Sunday a group of folks join virtually to practice Tonglen meditation and inquire into the challenges and joys of being human. Everyone is welcome to drop in whenever the inspiration strikes.

Zoom link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

We look forward to sitting with you!

Sangha of the Pandemic. Practicing Being Human

Each Sunday a group of folks join virtually to practice Tonglen meditation and inquire into the challenges and joys of being human.


When we practice Tonglen, we take in suffering with the in-breath, “soak” it in the waters of  of our own generative qualities then with the out-breath ,offer back to the one who is suffering, loving kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity or whatever quality of ease may be most appropriate for a particular experience of suffering. Tonglen promotes the spreading highly contagious virus of empathy that is contractible in even the smallest doses and is highly effective in alleviating suffering for all beings.

Everyone is welcome to join the practice whenever the inspiration strikes.

Zoom link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

We look forward to sitting with you!

Right Action

Dharma Talk: Right Action: Waking Up to Loving Kindness

#14 Autumn 1995

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Right Action is a part of the Noble Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha. It includes, first of all, the kinds of actions that can help humans and other living beings who are being destroyed by war, political oppression, social injustice, and hunger. To protect life, prevent war, and serve living beings, we need to cultivate our energy of loving kindness.

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Loving kindness should be practiced every day. Suppose you have a transistor radio. To tune into the radio station you like, you need a battery. In order to get linked to the power of loving kindness of bodhisattvas, buddhas, and other great beings, you need to tune in to the “station” of loving kindness that is being sent from the ten directions. Then you only need to sit on the grass and practice breathing and enjoying.

But many of us are not capable of doing that because the feeling of loneliness, of being cut off from the world, is so severe we cannot reach out. We do not realize that if we are moved by the imminent death of an insect, if we see an insect suffering and we do something to help, already this energy of loving kindness is in us. If we take a small stick and help the insect out of the water, we can also reach out to the cosmos. The energy of loving kindness in us becomes real, and we derive a lot of joy from it.

The Fourth Precept of the Order of Interbeing tells us to be aware of suffering in the world, not to close our eyes before suffering. Touching those who suffer is one way to generate the energy of compassion in us, and compassion will bring joy and peace to ourselves and others. The more we generate the energy of loving kindness in ourselves, the more we are able to receive the joy, peace, and love of the buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout the cosmos. If you are too lonely, it is because you have closed the door to the rest of the world.

Right Action is the action of touching love and preventing harm. There are many things we can do. We can protect life. We can practice generosity (dana). The first person who receives something from an act of giving is the giver. The Buddha said, “After meditating on the person at whom you are angry, if you cannot generate loving kindness in yourself, send that person a gift.” Buy something or take something beautiful from your home, wrap it beautifully, and send it to him or to her. After that, you will feel better immediately, even before the gift is received. Our tendency when we are angry is to say unkind things, but if we write or say something positive about him or her, our resentment will simply vanish.

We seek pleasure in many ways, but often our so-called pleasure is really the cause of our suffering. Tourism is one example. The positive way of practicing tourism – seeing new countries, meeting new people, being in touch with cultures and societies that differ from ours – is excellent. But there are those who visit Thailand, the Philippines, or Malaysia just for the sake of consuming drugs and hiring prostitutes. Western and Japanese businessmen go to Thailand and the Philippines just to set up sex industries and use local people to run these industries. In Thailand, at least 200,000 children are involved in the sex industry. Because of poverty and social injustice, there are always people who feel they have to do this out of desperation. In the Philippines, at least 100,000 children are in the sex industry and in Vietnam, 40,000. What can we do to help them?

If we are caught up in the situation of our own daily lives, we don’t have the time or energy to do something to help these children. But if we can find a few minutes a day to help these children, suddenly the windows open and we get more light and more fresh air. We relieve our own difficult situation by performing an act of generosity. Please discuss this situation with your Sangha and see if you can do something to stop the waves of people who profit from the sex industry. These are all acts of generosity, acts of protecting life. You don’t need to be rich. You don’t need to spend months and years to do something. A few minutes a day can already help. These acts will bring fresh air into your life, and your feeling of loneliness will dissolve. You can be of help to many people in the world who really suffer.

Right Action is also the protection of the integrity of the individual, couples, and children. Sexual misbehavior has broken so many families. Children who grow up in these broken families become hungry ghosts. They don’t believe in their parents because their parents are not happy. Young people have told me that the greatest gift their parents can give them is their parents’ own happiness. There has been so much suffering because people do not practice sexual responsibility. Do you know enough about the way to practice Right Action to prevent breaking up families and creating hungry ghosts? A child who is sexually abused will suffer all his or her whole life. Those who have been sexually abused have the capacity to become bodhisattvas, helping many children. Your mind of love can transform your own grief and pain. Right Action frees you and those around you. You may think you are practicing to help others around you, but, at the same time, you are rescuing yourself.

Right Action is also the practice of mindful consuming, bringing to your body and mind only the kinds of food that are safe and healthy. Mindful eating, mindful drinking, not eating things that create toxins in your body, not using alcohol or drugs, you practice for yourself, your family, and your society. A Sangha can help a lot.

One man who came to Plum Village told me that he had been struggling to stop smoking for years, but he could not. After he came to Plum Village, he stopped smoking immediately because the group energy was so strong. “No one is smoking here. Why should I?” He just stopped. Sangha is very important. Collective group energy can help us practice mindful consumption.

Right Action is also linked to Right Livelihood. There are those who earn their living by way of wrong action – manufacturing weapons, killing, depriving others of their chance to live, destroying the environment, exploiting nature and people, including children. There are those who earn their living by producing items that bring us toxins. They may earn a lot of money, but it is wrong livelihood. We have to be mindful to protect ourselves from their wrong livelihood.

Even when we are trying to go in the direction of peace and enlightenment, our effort may also be going in the other direction, if we don’t have Right View or Right Thinking, and are not practicing Right Speech, Right Action, of Right Livelihood. That is why our effort is not Right Effort. If you teach the Heart Sutra, and do not have a deep understanding of it, you are not practicing Right Speech. When you practice sitting and walking meditation in ways that cause your body and mind to suffer, your effort will not be Right Effort, because it is not based on Right View. Your practice should be intelligent, based on Right Understanding of the teaching. It is not because you practice hard that you can say you are practicing Right Effort.

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There was a monk practicing sitting meditation very hard, day and night. He thought he was practicing the hardest of anyone, and he was very proud of his practice. He sat like a rock day and night, but he did not get any transformation. His teacher saw him there and asked, “Why are you sitting in meditation?” The monk replied, “In order to become a Buddha.” Thereupon his teacher picked up a tile and began to polish it. The monk asked, “Why are you polishing that tile?” and his master replied, “To make it into a mirror.” The monk said, “How can you make a tile into a mirror?” and his teacher responded, “How can you become a Buddha by practicing sitting meditation?”

To me, the practice should be joyful and pleasant in order to be Right Effort. If you breathe in and out and feel joy and peace, you are making Right Effort. If you suppress yourself, if you suffer during your practice, you are probably not practicing Right Effort. You have to examine your practice. Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are manifested as the practice of mindfulness in daily life. This is the teaching of engaged Buddhism – the kind of Buddhism that is practiced in daily life, in society, in the family, and not only in the monastery.

During the last few months of his life, the Buddha talked about the Threefold Training – sila (precepts), samadhi (concentration), and prajna (understanding). Mindfulness is the source of all precepts: We are mindful of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, so we practice protecting life; We are mindful of the suffering caused by social injustice, so we practice generosity; We are mindful of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, so we practice responsibility; We are mindful of the suffering caused by divisive speech, so we practice loving speech and deep listening; We are mindful of the destruction caused by consuming toxins, so we practice mindful consuming. These Five Precepts are a concrete expression of mindful living. The Threefold Training – precepts, concentration, and understanding – helps us practice Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort.

In his first Dharma talk, the Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path. When he was about to pass away at the age of eighty, it was also the Eightfold Path that the Buddha taught to his last disciples. The Noble Eightfold Path is the cream of the Buddha’s teaching. The practice of the Five Precepts is very much connected to his teaching. Not only is the practice of Right Action linked to the Five Precepts, but the practice of Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are also linked to all Five. If you practice, you will see for yourself. The Five Precepts are connected to each link of the Eightfold Path. We need Right Speech, Right Livelihood, and Right Action. Buddhism is already engaged Buddhism. If it is not, it is not Buddhism. It is silly to create the term engaged Buddhism, but in society where people misunderstand so greatly the teaching of the Buddha, this term can play a role for a certain time. Whatever we say, what is most important is that we practice.

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Right Effort

Shifting gears from being on the road to settling into a regular householder rhythm, has given me the opportunity to deepen my relationship with Jeff in our paradisiacal home, have a regular rhythm to practice, study, work on the land, and to cultivate ease. In addition the morning meditation sangha has flowered, with a regular cast of characters and very welcomed drop-ins from new folks. I miss a lot about being a Grateful Roadwarrior, but the joy of being in a home that doesn’t change frequently has brought expanded joy.

I will be writing weekly about the practice in the Sangha and over the next several weeks the community will be studying and inquiring into The Eightfold noble Path. This week: Right Effort. If this is your first visit, it may be helpful to visit the two previous posts on Right View and Right Intention.

Through calm abiding meditation and inquiry into the reality of the moment, the Right View of the nature of Nature arises: that all beings are essentially good and that all beings’ actions, in their essence, are ignited by the Right Intention to manifest and sustain goodness. These are the seed and root of the sprouting of Right Effort.

When I reflect on my actions in the world, I’m able to see those actions that cause suffering, relieve suffering, or are neutral, and looking more carefully, I am able to see the origin of those actions in my effort. (Suffering in this context would be any action that causes the veiling or obstruction of the essential ground of goodness in myself or others.) Effort then is not the actions that I take, but the movement or will beneath and before the actions. 

How I effort is based on the causes and conditions, conscious or unconscious, that precede the effort. Unconscious conditioning is often a result of how I was raised, how my physical being was formed, how I learned to interact with the environment, as well as any pre-birth experiences and are the foundation of the causes that have led to my view of the world and developed my intentions. This unconscious conditioning is often the primary engine behind my suffering and the suffering that I inflict on others. This conditioning manifests in afflictions like ignorance, anger, hate, jealousy, or fear that seem to lurk and arise unbidden especially in situations where I feel threatened.

While this is all going on there is an ever-present call to return to goodness. I notice that when I slow the process and my thinking down, there is space for goodness to be seen, and the veiling of goodness caused by the afflictions becomes conscious. In this awakened consciousness, I begin to think toward goodness with my intention and an effort arises to move away from the afflictions. That effort is the slowing down that began the reflection as well as the effort to move toward goodness. 

Besides the call to return to goodness, the experience of suffering is another significant trigger of these processes. When I experience or see suffering I usually recoil from it or have a reaction to it. Through the practices of calm abiding and inquiry, I train my thinking, feeling and willing to pause before moving towards an action. With practice, the unconscious causes and conditions that often propel me into reaction, become conscious and are calmed by the simple act of attending to them. Then I am able to allow the natural effort that arises from Right View and Right Intent to be the ground of my actions.

Right Effort then, is the conscious willing to bring about goodness in all that I do, feel and think. The effort to sit in practice, the effort that leads to taking vows, saying prayers, cultivating Loving-kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity, following commandments, or anything that flowers as actions that lead to the cessation of suffering is Right Effort.

Paradoxically, the more I practice this way of making Right Effort, the less effort there is. More and more, Right Effort appears effortless and the perpetual generator of goodness comprised of Right View, Right Intention and Right Effort, becomes a way, the only way, of being who I am.

If any of this strikes a chord or sparks some interest, the sangha would enjoy your presence in the morning practice.

We meet Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6 AM Pacific time. Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/4257749477 Sunday at 7 AM Pacific time at a different Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/2867859631 

Right Intention

(Beginning last week and over the next several weeks these writing will be dedicated to exploring the Noble Eightfold Path. It may be helpful to look over the previous post as an introduction and ground for subsequent postings. I would enjoy hearing from you about your experience, insights or anything else that shows up when you read these. – William)

As Right View develops in our experience, other aspects of the Eightfold Noble Path unfold. After seeing that there is suffering in the world, in our personal lives and in the lives of sentient beings, that there is the experience of knowing the causes and conditions of suffering, that there is a potential for experience without suffering, and that there is a path, or practice, or way of being, that brings about the cessation of that suffering. This is the fundamental ground of Right View that also leads to the true experience of reality:

  • Universal Goodness is the essential nature of all sentient beings
  • The core intent of all beings is to act out of that goodness.

These two Right Views of the way the world really is, precipitates the development of a personal Right Intention as well as a true perception of how all sentient beings, in all of their actions, thoughts and expressions have at their core, basic goodness and an intent to create, sustain, and offer goodness to the world. 

How I show up in the world, how I think, and how I feel, arise out of intentional and unintentional causes and conditions, and the ignorance or awareness of the effects of those causes and conditions. When I have the good sense to slow down the cataract of thought streams in the midst of my own suffering and ask “What is happening right now?” “What is the cause of this contraction, anger, fear, frustration?”, when I settle into the experience of my body and breath and kind of sit back and watch the movie unreeling, I am able to get a glimpse of some of the links to the suffering and the path that leads to its cessation. It doesn’t usually take very long, minutes maybe, and then I see or experience a memory, or a habit of thinking, or a chronic aversion, that has manifested in a clenched jaw, a bouncing foot, or an urge to say or do something to relieve the pressure.

Then I try to look at my own intention and causes and conditions  behind the suffering. I inquire into the pictures and memories that float to the surface and see the link. Usually an experience comes to the fore that was similar to an earlier experience that caused me to feel like my basic goodness, or when my intention to be good, was being challenged, or that the innate human desire and belief that all beings  are good and have good intentions had been been threatened. If I am sufficiently present in the moment, I can open my senses to the people or animals or insects around me! (See: http://gratefulroadwarrior.org/failure/) I can look at the scene playing out in front of me and see that this is not that earlier situation but merely an echo of it. My mind and body are reacting to signals that seem the same as an earlier experience and they work to defend me against the threats to my essential nature. In the simple realization of that, I often experience a settling of the turbulence and am able to look deeper into the situation as it is. In that looking I have a chance to begin to see, not only the causes and conditions of my own suffering but the causes and conditions of the situation, and the suffering of others. I may also see how their expression, or their action, may be igniting my suffering. In that moment I become free to respond, rather than react; to see that cycle of suffering working and then to bring forward the practices of loving kindness and compassion for myself and the all the beings present.

Here is a story from buddhist lore of the buddha and the raging elephant that elucidates this more clearly:

Buddha had a cousin, Devadatta, who was extremely jealous of him. Devadatta felt that he himself was as good as Buddha and was jealous that people ignored him and did not honour him the way they honoured the Buddha.He was always thinking of ways to harm the Buddha. One day he devised a plot to kill Buddha. He knew that day that Buddha was going to pass through a particular town. Before the Buddha came into the town, he brought the elephant to the town, hiding it beside a wall. He then fed the elephant a lot of liquor to make it drunk. His plan was to make use of the drunken elephant and trample Buddha to death. When he saw from a distance that the Buddha was coming, he immediately used sticks to beat the elephant brutally. The drunken elephant was in great pain and was totally enraged. Seeing this, Devadatta immediately released the elephant in the direction of the Buddha. Overwhelmed with anger and pain, the elephant was now mad and started at full speed towards the Buddha. It raised its ears, tail and trunk, making a lot of noise. It was as if thunder was striking. All the disciples who were with Buddha were horrified at this terrible sight and scrambled to flee from harm’s way. Only Ananda, Buddha’s attendant, stood firmly beside the Buddha. At that time, Buddha himself remained totally at ease and composed. He took a look at the elephant and felt great love and compassion for the poor beast. He stood where he was and radiated his loving-kindness towards the elephant. Buddha’s love and compassion was so strong and powerful that the elephant could feel it. Just a few steps before it was about to charge into the Buddha, it stopped in its path and calmed down. It then trotted towards Buddha and respectfully bowed its head. Buddha stroked the elephant’s trunk and comforted it with soft & kind words. The elephant was totally tamed.

When I am in a situation where I am particularly activated and where withdrawal for reflection and inquiry is not possible because of the activity or place, or where it might appear like i am being anti-social or aloof, I try settle into my breath and, like a mother easing a crying child or a person soothing an anxious pet, I simply breathe and follow my breath until I come to some ease or I can extricate myself. Once in a place and time where I can reflect, I look deeply into the experience and ask: “Where was the suffering and what were its causes and conditions in and beyond the immediate moment? “ From that inquiry and the resulting arisings, I am able to practice cultivating loving kindness to meet the raging elephant of my karma and the karma of all sentient beings.

This practice has the effect of activating the Right Intention to bring about the cessation of all suffering of all beings, the wish for all beings to know their own goodness, and the realization of the inherent intent in all beings to act, speak and think, out of this Universal Goodness.

If any of this strikes a chord or sparks some interest, the sangha would enjoy your presence in the morning practice.

We meet Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6 AM Pacific time. Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/4257749477 Sunday at 7 AM Pacific time at a different Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/2867859631 

Right View

During the morning meditation sessions with the Sangha of the Pandemic, we have been reflecting on the Four Noble Truths introduced by the Buddha 2600 years ago: 

1) There is suffering

2) There are causes and conditions that lead to suffering.

3) There is a cessation of suffering.

4) There is a path or a practice that leads to the cessation of suffering.

This week after four  weeks of reflecting on and inquiring into these Truths we began inquiring into the fourth; the practice of The Noble Eightfold Path.

The first step on the path, or the first practice, is the understanding of and experience of Right View. Although considered the first step, it is essentially the only step. The remaining seven might be considered the natural result of the cause and condition of Right View.

In  a culture that is waking up to the immeasurable diversity that exists in our biosphere, cultures, and our ways of thinking, and a culture that has, as one of its primary foundations, the Puritanical approach to goodness and evil, rightness and wrongness, and has conditioned our perceptions into rigid polarities, there is often a resistance to the word “Right”; especially when it is proclaimed by an authority. When I hear “Right View” I have an internal reaction of contraction, resistance and aversion. “Who’s to say what is the Right View anyway?” “On such a diverse planet, how can any one view be the Right View?’

In Buddhism, Right View is not a qualifier of actions, feeling or thoughts. It is not a point of view. It is not a way to separate the chaff from the wheat. Right View in this practice is the essential view of seeing things as they are, especially in terms of suffering and the Four Noble Truths. Paradoxically there is no right or wrong from this view. There is no judgment or categorizing. There is no better or worse. There is just seeing things as they are.

When I look into the world and reflect upon my own experience, I see that there is suffering; suffering including and beyond the material experience of pain, suffering of the whole being. This is a simple fact and thus from this perspective, a Right View.

When I inquire into what has led to suffering in the psyche and the mind I see that it has causes and conditions. In the same way that body pain is not a phantom and has a direct cause, suffering of the heart and mind has conditions and causes that lead to it. Through further inquiry, I discover that this is a simple fact and thus a Right View. 

When I inquire even further I notice that there are times when the experience of suffering has diminished and may even be absent and through deeper inquiry I discover that this is a simple fact and thus a Right View.

This naturally seems to lead to the question, “How does that happen?” “How can I make suffering go away?” How can I keep it from coming back?” This is where I have gotten stuck throughout this life. It is where I have latched onto dogmas and doctrines and then trashed them because they often seemed to cause just as much suffering, either for me or for those around me or other beings. While blindly engaged in the newest, wokest way, I have jumped into the quicksand of righteousness and clung to a grass blade of promised liberation while remaining ignorant of the quicksand of suffering that I was drowning in. “That blade is the true path!” “If I cling to that it will free me.!” “I’ll get to heaven, or Nirvana, or bliss, or wealth, or adoration, or a beautiful body, or a life partner.” Thrash thrash, thrash, gurgle… I had stepped away from seeing what was present and just working with that. I had stepped away from the Right View. In the case of the quicksand, that view might be: “Oh I am in deep doo-doo here and all I have is this blade of grass to get me out. I am drowning and I will die.” Or: “Oh I am stuck in some deep shit here. This blade of grass is worthless, what other options are there?”

Right View, as a step on the Noble Eightfold Path is just seeing what is without preconceived ideas about what is. This primary practice of the path has been more accessible for me when I have been able to set aside the promises of tomorrow and the fears from past experiences; when I allow my thoughts and feelings to settle down into the body in calm abiding. When I stop thrashing around in the quicksand of concepts, cravings, clinging, promises, and fears, I inevitably stop sinking in the shit of my own making. I begin to become aware: “Wow, there is suffering here.”

When I was on the Grateful Road, there were several times when my life’s conditioning and my intellectual conceptualizations about white men in pick-up trucks and MAGA hats, and black men at night in urban centers, threw me into a quicksand of fears that seemed involuntary yet overwhelming. Sometimes my impulse was to put the Element in gear and drive away, leaving campsite and all behind, or put my backpack on my belly and my hands on my key ring to prepare to defend myself. And boy was I suffering! And now, especially after recent national events, I know that there was a chance that I had also caused suffering for those men who may have just wanted to say hi or needed help, and their own conditioning was probably reaffirmed by my actions. 

Over time and with practice, I have begun to develop a capacity for Right View. Over time and with practice, the light of this view has exposed more and more of the causes and conditioning of my own suffering. Over time and with practice, my experience and view of the world has softened and opened up resulting in more, real, and simple, human connections with folks that I had shunned or run away from in the past. Over time and with practice, I have felt more human and hopefully been more humane with the whole, beautifully diverse population of all beings who may be suffering just like me.

If any of this strikes a chord or sparks some interest, the sangha would enjoy your presence in the morning practice.

We meet Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6 AM Pacific time. Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/4257749477 Sunday at 7 AM Pacific time at a different Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/2867859631 

Reflections on Metta and Dana

Reflections from the Spring Equinox retreat from some participants.

Reflection on Metta and Dana by Mike den Haan

The grand tree,

open to all visitors,

its trunk injured by

lightning long ago.

Many long branches,

held in place,

reaching out

to hold, invite, embrace.

Entangled roots

connecting everywhere,

sharing stories,

nourishment, energy.

Pine needles and sap.

Lichen and bark.

Source for woodpecker.

Mark for bear.

Nest for robin.

The elder, tree

beckons to consider a truth:

benevolence.

Our souls join.

Linda Atwater

From a Deep Pool    by Daniel Lefebvre

Sound of flowing water, gentle breathing  

As baby’s breath, opening the heart echo  

To the wordless fragrance of life,  

Silently touching tenderly only with your eyes  

Aaah…. Such kind eyes, sparkling at times with Crow’s feet,  Whisper a generous patience and acceptance  

A lightness of being radiating out  

Perspiring a posture of receiving all  

Open your heart to a soulful melody  

To desire for oneness, for peace of mind  

Banish any thought that disturbs the mirror image  

Of a deep pool reservoir, overflowing with Hagia Sophia *  

Absorb the essence of God’s Love for self and all beings  Breathe; be open to the movement of the Spirit  

* presence of the Divine Feminine