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.

mb14-dharma1.jpg

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.

mb14-dharma3.jpg

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.

PDF of this issue