The Six Paramitas. An Exploration and Journey to the Other Shore.

Dear Friends,

Thirteen months ago, I wrote a post inviting the community of the Sangha of the Pandemic to join in an exploration of the Six Paramitas. Before continuing with this post I encourage you to take a few minutes to read that introductory post here

At the time of that writing I thought that we would be exploring and practicing with the Six Transcendences for about six months. The beauty of exploring and practicing with only the light of the moon and stars of open inquiry, while heading to no definite destination, is the freedom that the goalless trek into the darkness provides for the natural unfolding of the journey. Perhaps you have followed along for the whole route, or met us off and on at waystations, or joined part of the way through. However you have participated or contributed, it seems like now would be a good time to reflect on the initial intentions of exploring the Six Perfections.

  1. To see what is here already and to reflect on teachings about each paramita.
  2. To recollect or call up experiences of each paramita that were/are joyful and generative.
  3. To explore obstacles, that we may experience, to these qualities
  4. To bring intentionality to these qualities in our practice and in our daily life.

DanaparamitaGenerosity, Selflessness

Silaparamita – Ethical Conduct, Harmlessness

Santiparamita – Patience, Peace

Viryaparamita Diligence, Effortlessness

Dhyanaparamita – Meditation, Attending, Staying With, Malleability, Abandon

Prajnaparamita – What’s Here.

So, how’d we do? Where did you begin and where are you now? As you review the paramitas and some of the concepts associated with them, what is here? If you are interested in rereading some of the posts, you can go to the website page: “Perceptions and Reflections from the Sangha” and search (top right magnifying glass) or scroll to the bottom for the list of archives. These explorations began in May of 2023 and the posts are listed from the most recent one of the month you visit.

This journey and these posts are the result of infinite causes and conditions that have allowed me the luxury of time and leisure to practice, study, write and be in a virtual community with this sangha. These posts and the unfoldment of this particular confluence of stardust is a direct condition of the willingness of each of you to open your emails once a week, or once a month, or just once, and to open your lives, hearts and minds to the possibility of bringing about an end to all suffering throughout all times and in all directions for all beings until the last grain of sand. Your commitment to practice looking at just what’s here and sharing the prajnaparamita  as a result of that looking shakes me from my, and the whole world from its, concrete foundations of greed, clinging, hatred, aversion and delusion. Without the sangha, there would be no seat to practice on, no dharma to study, and no awareness of the truth of just here. 

So beloved sangha, it is time to hear from you. For the next four weeks, I will be taking a break from writing these posts and it is important that you apply viryaparamita and submit some original posts about “what is here” is for you. Artistic expressions, poetry, photos, and essays, whatever shines through. Submit them via email (wrgentner@gmail.com) to me and I will post them.

I wonder how gratitude is not included as one of the paramitas,  because it is in the weft and weave of the fabric of this practice. I bow with deep gratitude to you and all buddhas for being here. Tenshin Reb Anderson sums it up well for me:

From Tenshin Reb Anderson’s introduction to the final dharma talk of the 1994 fall practice period at Tassajara p149 (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GapGeUnFmgDqwM1Arg33b2QnBhroSSKO/view?usp=drivesdk:)

Sesshin Day 6 Dharma Talk

December 16, 1994

This world, as you may have heard, is called a saha world (land of endurance), a world in which it is possible to practice patience. It’s also a world in which it is possible to get angry. The reason why you can practice patience here is because there’s some difficulty. There are some other worlds where there isn’t any difficulty. When human beings hear about that, they sometimes think it’s a mistake that they came to this world. Some of them ask Buddha why we’re practicing here. Why don’t we go to those other places? You can’t practice patience in those other realms, and if you can’t practice patience, you can’t realize enlightenment. You can be blissed out for a certain period of time, but then everything ends and you’re in trouble. On this planet you can practice patience and therefore you can realize infinite wisdom and compassion.

Once, on a sunny day here at Tassajara, I hung my laundry on the line. It was a bright piece of cloth, maybe a white towel, and it reflected the sunlight. When I hung it there freshly washed, and smelled it, I thought, “This is worth it. This is worth coming for. If all I get in this lifetime is to hang these clothes on this line and see the light come off the sun, onto my cloth, into my eyes, I’m willing to put up with the rest of it.” I still am willing to put up with the rest of it, for a while. Eventually I’m going to check out. However, my vow is to come back until the whole thing, every little particle, is willing to be here and willing to come back, too. That’s my vow.

___________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

———————————

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays: Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays: Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays: Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays: Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

———————————
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajnaparamita. Upright Concentration. Upright Intimacy.

Dear Friends,

The eighth fold of the Noble Eightfold Path is samma samadhi (pali) translated into English most often as Right Concentration. So, right off the bat, I am thrown into mental and physical aversion in association word concentration and into grasping and clinging associated with samadhi. 

As a child I was interested in everything that crossed my path and was full of questions, to the dismay of most people. Staying on subject for any length of time was just not interesting enough. Intertwined with that, I always tested extremely high on any standardized evaluations. So, when parents and teachers tried to get me to stay on track with studies or chores, they would experience great frustration and would say, “If only you would concentrate…” or yell at me “Concentrate or you will never live up to your potential.” The expectations were high, but the curiosity in all things had no space for the body or mind remaining in one location or concentrated on one thing for too long. Anger and frustration of adults led to Ritalin, Valium and Compazine by 10. Fortunately my mom, saw the change in how I was approaching life and how the light went out, so she stopped the scrips. But the bat of “concentration” was still used by almost all of the adults in my life.

In my 20’s, I remember how samadhi  was introduced to American culture as a place to get to or something to achieve that would bring peace and enlightenment. That if you chanted the right chant, or sat in a certain position, or surrendered yourself to a certain teacher, you would get samadhi. I sought out many of those options because it seemed like I might finally overcome distraction to be able to concentrate and to quiet the mind of the constant turmoil that had been with me for as long as I had lived.

So as you can see the words “concentration” and “samadhi” are loaded for me and maybe for many of us in this culture that is focused on achievement through suppression and gaining luxury that is supposed to provide ease.

Samma samadhi,  in the way that I have come to understand it through study and taste it through practice, is neither suppression/aversion of something that is active in me nor the achieving/grasping of something that I think I do not have or that I think I am not. It is completely the opposite of these movements. At the same time it is not merely accepting what is and going with the flow, or falling asleep or withdrawing into a cave of ignorance.

In the past few weeks during sangha practice sessions and in conversations with several sangha members, the word and experience of intimacy has been popping up. I think one of the first times was when someone asked after practice, “How can this feel so intimate when we are just experiencing electronic impulses through a screen?” “How does that happen?” Then it would show up in conversations with folks trying to find a concept to apply to the experience of ease of being in the practice. Then Maria Popov, wrote about it in a discourse about DH Lawrence. And for the past two weeks the newsletters from Richard Rohr have been focused on intimacy  as the path to knowing god. Letting this seemingly global attention to intimacy take hold, the practices were simpler, clearer, more stable and almost effortless. It seemed that Upright Intimacy was empty of the twisted karma of this life, and all of the associations with my concepts of concentration and samadhi. Holding that, all the striving for, pushing away and blindness to how things work began to dissipate. 

This intimacy is the kind that does not turn away from what is arising in the thought/feeling/physical stream nor does it cling to that stream or grasp for something different. It is different from the “attending” of Mindfulness or Remembrance, in that there is no separation between observer and observed. The only apparent activity is the effortless absorption in just what is arising and the clear grokking of the insubstantiality of those arisings. This insubstantiality is understood when, by inquiring into these thoughts and feelings, there is the realization that they are made up entirely of other concepts, thoughts and feelings and have no inherent selfness. In other words they cannot stand alone, or they are void of self nature. There is nothing there to hold onto, or to avert from, or to ignore. Realizing this, they are like cotton candy dissolving with the first taste of intimacy.

In this Upright Intimacy, being entwined and interdependent with what is, there is a giving up of any desire to achieve and instead, there is being what is being achieved in the moment. There is a giving up of avoiding what thoughts or feelings frighten or threaten and instead, welcoming them as old friends that are on death’s threshold and supporting their progress by just being there intimately with them. There is a giving up clinging to beauty and instead, being deeply intimate with beauty and being completely of beauty absent of any doubt about beauty as everything. There is a giving up of judgment , and instead, without effort or judgment about judgment, there is the intimacy of boundless equanimity.

Nothing is attained in this Upright Intimacy called samadhi. Nothing comes or goes. Nothing is lost, found, received, or given away. Nothing is done and nothing is undone. And there is no way to get here, because we’re already here.

___________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

———————————

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays: Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays: Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays: Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays: Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

———————————
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajnaparamita. The Noble Eightfold Path. Upright Mindfulness. Upright Remembrance

Dear Friends,

Before writing about Upright Mindfulness or Remembrance, here’s a reminder about the upcoming retreat; The Art and Wisdom of Being Human. Three full days and an intro and closing few hours bookending them; June 20 – June 24.. There are a few more spaces available. So if you have considered coming but have thought up some obstacles or reasons for not coming, please reach out to me directly so I can talk you out of them (grin emoji and lol)! For more information check your emails (search “retreat”) or contact me and I will send the summary and schedule to you. (Thank you for putting up with our sponsor. : )

________________________________

Sati is a Pali and Sanskrit word and has most frequently been translated as “mindfulness”. Weellll…. I think that most of us have observed what has happened to that word and how it is being used in virtually all aspects of society today. Large corporations have mindfulness training in order to produce more productive producers in order to have improved productivity to produce greater profits. It is taught in schools to get the children to have better attention spans so that they can become good producers. It is taught to athletes so they can be better at what they do. It is introduced in psychological contexts to help folks get “better” than what they think or what society thinks they are. It is even taught in religious settings in order to get enlightened, experience the divine, or attain bliss. These may be worthwile, even noble goals to work toward, and this is not “sati”. This is more of a practice to lessen distractions from the task at hand. 

While searching through wisdomlib.org, there was a listing of the Noble Eightfold Path from the Buddhist Door Glossary , which translated samma sati  as “Right Remembrance”.  For me “Upright Remembrance” gets to the heart of the practice of sati  in a way that mindfulness does not, especially in today’s consumer/achievement oriented culture. 

In this particular coalescence of cosmic dust (my fancy way of saying “for me”.), Sati, is the practice and experience of remembering what is true, or what is real, or simply what is here. Another way to say it might be that it is the practice and experience of “unforgetting”.

This might sound totally off because it seems that all of our thinking and doing is based on memory. When looking closely, we might see that all of our thoughts are constructed from concepts that are dependent on thoughts, feelings and experiences from the past. And most of the time we identify ourselves and others by these thoughts or even as these thoughts. “I’m a good boy.” I’m a bad boy” They’re annoying.” She’s smart.” “I’m happy.” “That’s wrong.” I’m right.” Looking even more closely there is a chance that we might see that these thoughts/concepts are just transient, impermanent, insubstantial wisps of formless impulses. They cannot be held on to, no matter how hard we try to concretize them or turn them into permanent substances, “He’ll never make it.” “I’ll always be your BFF.” “The earth is flat.” They are just not really real, not ultimately true, and certainly not the final definition of you, me or anything else. All of this dependent on the past or memory, but this is not what “remembrance” in the context of practice is.

So then what is Upright Remembrance? This normal remembering described above  is similar to the drops of ocean in a wave crashing on the shore except the drops have completely forgotten that they are ocean. They are soaring and forming into a separate water being, flying through the air, then seeing what is ahead. They will soon be crashing on the rocky shore, and fear and aversion come up. Instead of the thrill of breaking free into the air, there is the fear of death and hating whomever or whatever caused this to happen and SMASH!, into the sand and dragged back out to … ocean. “Oh yeah I remember this! This is just ocean, there is no separate soaring, crashing me, there is just ocean. Deep, broad, unfathomable ocean.” Then “I” , the drop, senses movement and activity and color up there, over there. “Gotta go, gotta get that, gotta have that experience.” And “I” forget “just ocean”. Now drop thinks (as if a drop could) it’s “just me.” soaring, forming, dropping, crashing, forgetting. 

But then this being comes along and tells drop on their way back to ocean, “Hey maybe next time you join wave try remembering “just ocean” and see what happens. It may take a few times or three eons, but it seems that when I practice and have Upright Remembrance of just ocean there is just that. The soaring, the colors, the freedom, the crashing, the fear, the vengeance, the being drawn back, all…just ocean. Maybe check it out and see for yourself. I’d like to hear what your experience of just ocean is whatever you’re doing. I’ll bet that it is totally unique and the same… just ocean.

When speaking to his students during sesshin about practicing sati, Tenshin Anderson said;

“One of the main ways you remind yourself, which you have already done, is remind yourself how you forget.”

Practicing Upright Remembrance is noticing just what is here, just as it is, it is the practice of seeing the experiences/thoughts of “I” as separate and “I” not separate.And noticing in the moment of thinking “I” as separate, that even that thought is inseparable. It is the practice of noticing “how you forget” and how you remember. Practicing noticing that I think that other is separate, a separate drop, not ocean, is the practice of Upright Remembrance or unforgetting.  And practicing noticing that I think that “I” is not separate is the practice of Upright Remembrance. What are we remembering or unforgatting in this practic where there is nothing to achieve, produce, gain, or become by practicing?  Just notice separate and inseparable merely as they are in the moment that they are and then see, and see, and sea.

( For a very thorough and informative dissertaion on Samma Sati: https://www.wisdomlib.org/buddhism/essay/the-buddhist-path-to-enlightenment-study/d/doc1187817.html )

  ___________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

———————————

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays: Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays: Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays: Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays: Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

———————————
Check-In

(The website will be down for a little bit so if you would like to check-in, please reach out by email: wrgentner@gmail.com)

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajnaparamita. The Eightfold Path. Upright Effort.

Dear Friends,

In general, when we hold the concept of “path” in our minds, most of us think of going somewhere, getting to something, or taking steps to arrive at a destination. But then, reading sutras and scriptures or listening to teachers from most spiritual streams, we hear that there is no place to go, nothing to achieve, and that the destination is where we already are and that now is all that there truly is. Perhaps “the way” has a little less of that “doing to get”, “going to be” sense and yet it still indicates, if more subtle, a process of getting from one point to another. 

When I reflect on my own spiritual explorations, the experience of practice is not so much a path or a way but an un-dimming of the view. The more I am able to see, the more there is to see; similar to “The more I know the less I know”. And seeing or noticing more clearly reveals a more holographic view of the way things are, where each part, each moment, feeling, thought, sensory experience, contains the whole. Each piece not only contributes to the whole, it is contained within and contains the whole. So, although there is a sensory experience of a path to somewhere or a way to achieve enlightenment or “heaven on earth” and a collection of thoughts that create the concept of a path and arriving, all points in space (sensory) or time (thought stream) contain and are contained by all other points and the whole. In other words, where we are trying to get to on the path is where we already are, and when we are able to step out of the habitual torrent of imprinted tendencies we might see what is here and not look for it at the end of the yellow brick road..

This seems to be the fundamental upright effort; to bring seeing and noticing, our full attention, to what is happening now and to be curious without seeking something. In this way there is an opportunity for prajna, non-discriminating wisdom, learning before learning, or effortless awareness. So, similar to all of the other folds in the Eightfold Path, the practice reveals its fruition as its antonym. Upright view, is no fixed view, upright action is “me” not acting, upright speech begins with silent listening, upright livelihood or taking care of me is founded on taking care of others, and upright effort is founded in and realized in effortlessness.

To begin the practice of upright effort, first, there is the immense effort of slowing the million pound tanker of the habitual thought stream and emotional reactivity in order to be able to see where we are, to notice what is here and how things are working right now. Then according to the buddhist sutras there are four practices. 

  • Restraint
  • Abandonment
  • Cultivation
  • Preserving.

Restraint. Noticing that there is suffering or confusion (the first Noble Truth), we try to understand the causes ( the second Noble Truth)  and begin to restrain the habitual tendencies that arise from the past like selfishness, greed, anger, hatred, and jealousy. 

Abandonment.  In the practice of noticing, understanding and restraining, we begin the practice of preventing or abandoning the causes and conditions that lead to the habitual thoughts, emotions and behaviors. This is the practice of preventing these habits from manifesting in the future.

Cultivation. In the practice of noticing we begin to not only see what the causes of suffering are but that there are ways of being that relieve or prevent suffering (the third Noble truth) and we make the effort of intentionally including these ways of being in our daily life. For example by nurturing the practices of the paramitas and the brahmaviharas. (Kindness, Compassion, Joy for other’s joy and Equanimity) This is the practice of bringing about goodness that is not already integral to this life.

Preserving.  With these three, generally external, practices we begin to notice that there are qualities of being and ways of being that sustain the practices of the paramitas and the brahmaviharas. We begin to make the effort (the fourth Noble Truth) to include prayer, meditation, study, mindful interaction with the community, continued noticing, and inquiry into the way things really are. This continually expanding awareness of just what is, not only preserves but invigorates all four practices.

With these practices, these upright efforts, there seems to be an awakening, an undimming, that en-light-ens the prajna, the understanding that these efforts are already and always happening, and that the idea that “I am not enlightened.” or that “This is not heaven.” are mere concepts that drop away. The striving for and the idea of achieving them are realized as hindrances to seeing/knowing. This allows the way of being fully engaged and intimate with just what is here, now, effotlessly.

___________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

———————————

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays: Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays: Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays: Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays: Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

———————————
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

The Art and Wisdom of Being Human. A Virtual Retreat

Dear Friends,

In these times there seems to be an intensification of global suffering and the anxiety that comes with it. It also seems that a good portion of this anxiety is a result of feeling helpless in the face of the constant reminders of all that is going “wrong” in the world. During this retreat we will use practices of meditation, small group exchanges, silent engagement with the natural world, and creative expression to help lift the blanket of overwhelm a little, and to bring awareness to the inherent capacities that each human being has to relieve suffering for ourselves and for others.

Creative Expression Practice

There will be six sessions of working with a creative expression during the weekend. You will choose between poetry, drawing, and whittling. These practices will not be geared toward making art, or acquiring a specific artistic skill. Instead, we will use the creative expression practices to begin to free the body, heart, and mind from habitual patterns of achieving, expectation, self doubt, clinging and avoiding. This freeing of the creative spirit can awaken our unique approaches to the natural capacities for spontaneous, kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, with the hope that we will be able to meet suffering, anxiety and overwhelm in daily life with more confidence, and from our deep well of inherent, human goodness.

The recommendation is that you chose a creative practice that you are least familiar with. Supplies that you will need to provide for creative expression:

Poetry: journal and writing tool

Spontaneous Drawing: Graphite and/or colored pencils, and soft pastels. Click here for an example.  Drawing paper at leasst 18′ X 24″.

Woodcraft: Whittling knife and sandpaper. Click here for a good starter knife.

The retreat will happen on Zoom rom the evening of June 20 through the morning of June 24, (These are new dates.) Over the three full days and two partial days we will use meditation practice, small group exchanges and three forms of creative expression to contemplate and inquire into the basic wisdom and creativity of humanness.

Although the retreat will be on Zoom, we will be limiting actual screen time to a few hours per day. There will be times to engage with nature during breaks and during the creative practices, so being in a quiet place with easy access to outdoors would be very beneficial.

Please download the Zoom app before the first day of the retreat. If you have not worked with Zoom before, begin to familiarize yourself with it. More detailed instructions and sign-in codes will be provided once you have registered.There are no fees for participation in the retreat and everyone is welcome regardless of experience in meditation or creative expression. Feel free to forward this invitation to anyone who you think might enjoy and benefit from the retreat.

To register use this link. https://form.123formbuilder.com/5838522/2024-june-retreat-registration-form

The instructions for registration are pretty straightforward, and if you have questions or are not able to register please email William at: wrgentner@gmail.com

If you cannot attend the entire retreat, you are welcome to participate by dropping into the meditations or dharma talks. Please go ahead and register so that I can send you the links for those.

I look forward to retreating with you!
Warmest ease,
William

Prajnaparamita. The Noble Eightfold Path. Upright Action

Dear Friends,

In the introduction to the previous post about Upright Intention ( Click here to read ),  I introduced a simile for the Noble Eightfold path as an origami crane with eight unique folds and sixteen steps. Perhaps as you review the previous four postings ( The Noble Eightfold Path , Upright Understanding , Upright Speech ) you will begin to have a sense of the enfoldment of the Eightfold Path similar to the origami crane. Each of the practices are seeded by and are fruit of the other. Upright Intention is inspired by Upright Understanding. Upright Understanding, opens the way for Upright Intention and Upright Speech. Upright Speech clarifies Upright Understanding, similar to the way a mirror reflects our image. And now, exploring the practice of Upright Action the crane of Prajnaparamita and the Noble Eightfold Path begins to take shape with each fold unique but not separate from, and contributing to, the whole.

The Noble Eightfold Path

Upright Action

As with the other folds of the Eightfold Path, there are recipes for Upright Action. And like with all recipes there is the first step of seeing what ingredients are already on hand and working with just what is here; adjusting the recipe according to what is available in the present cupboard of experience s.t.s. This is the practice of approaching the recipe with uprightness. Sometimes this upright posture of mind, heart and body may not show up until the prep work or the cooking. Sometimes we may settle into uprightness by other practices, like cleaning the surfaces of the kitchen and laying out all of the implements that we need to make the recipe, or by just being still.

The recipe for Upright Action is similar to some of  the specifics of Silaparamita, the practice of harmlessness, and is related to actions of the physical body: “Do not kill or cause physical harm, Do not steal, Do not misuse physical intimacy”. In the same way that the repeated preparation of a recipe leads to not having to refer to the hard copy or the internet and to even feeling free to add ingredients or approaches that enhance the recipe or make it an original recipe, the diligent practice of harmlessness, in a sense, becomes a habit of beingness that is no longer conceptual, that adapts to the moment, is flexible, and uniquely responsive to the present moment of experience. 

As the flow of the practice of Upright Action becomes just the way things are, there is more of an opportunity to realize unconscious habits of the body that may be harmful to self or others. These could be things that we may not associate with causing harm, like advocating for the death penalty or incarceration, without seeing the causes of an individual’s suffering, and as a result causing more harm and creating more suffering. Or as simple as withholding touch or an embrace of someone who is in need out of our aversion to them, or embracing someone, who does not want to be embraced, out of our own greediness. With consistent practice with the recipe of Upright Action there is the chance to see more subtle and deeply ingrained physical habits that cause harm or impede the practice of harmlessness. In seeing these, we might realize that they are just concepts that have nothing to do with the present experience and in seeing them for what they are, they lose their importance, influence and substantiality and we can freely choose to not engage them.

It seems that diligent use of the recipe of harmlessness leads us back to the beginning: the open, unconditioned awareness of just what is here and the resulting freedom of acting without habitual causes and conditions, craving or grasping, aversion or hatred. We are fully present and understand what actions are perfectly appropriate for the moment. Using the simile of the cooking recipe, this approach would be seeing just what is available in the cupboard and creating a meal from that, or going to the farmer’s market and working with what is in season. Eventually we might be free to abandon all recipes responding to and creating from what is here, in this moment.

In the Mahayana path, the path of the bodhisattva, Upright Action is action that flowers from the understanding that there is no independent separate self. It is the action that is taken that manifests out of the realization that any harm that I may cause, to my self or others, through my actions, is the result of being ignorant of the interdependence of all beingness. Upright Action is the result of awakening to the reality that I or my people are not the chosen one(s), and that I am neither more or less deserving of harm or harmlessness than any other. It is when I am aware of my ingrained, habitual tendencies from beginningless time but my action manifests free from those habits. Upright Action is when I am like the whippoorwill and I take flight, or I nestle down for the night, or when finally free from fears, doubts, greed or hatred, I sing the original song that has been sung and heard by all of the ancestors and all beingness throughout all of time.

_______________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays: Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays: Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays: Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays: Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

____________________________________
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajnaparamita. The Eightfold Path. Upright Speech

Dear Friends,

It seems to me that the regular state of mind of the human being is in love with recipes. “In love” meaning that there is a very strong and mostly unconscious habitual attachment to them. Generally when “recipe” is used it refers to food. In addition to over $20 million dollars spent on cookbooks annually, there are thousands of online sites with recipes for every gastonomical urge, not to mention the card recipe boxes and ancestor journals that are used to capture “the way grandma used to make it.” But there are also recipes for making money, staying strong, getting ahead, being in relationship, fixing a car… What is this love of recipes? Maybe it is the drive to fill the experience of emptiness and fear that comes with “I don’t know.” or, perhaps, the fear of doing it wrong. This addiction to recipes permeates the entire human social structure these days and is exacerbated by infinite access to “the right” answer” via the internet. It is embedded in the educational system, medicine, psychology, political institutions and spirituality. “If we just get the right recipe, everything will be alright and we’ll teach it to everyone so we’ll all be doing it right!” “If I sit upright in meditation and force the mind to follow the breath and obliterate thoughts, I will become an enlightened bodhisattva.” Apparently this is the approach to buddhism that developed when it was brought to the West. It’s also the approach that Jesus’s teachings took when they were appropriated by the Roman Empire. 

But when we approach these teachings and any recipes with uprightness, free from the habitual tendency to look “out there” for enlightenment, or heaven, or “the way grandma made it”, or “the way buddha did it”; when we let these teachings resonate with the experience of this moment; when we sit in the emptiness and fear of unknowing without expectations or answers, we may begin to realize that these recipes are only pointing us to see the original recipe of our true beingness that is already and will always be just here. Uniquely manifesting in this moment out of all the karma, causes, and conditions as just this point of being, we might be able to begin to write an original recipe that is free from the burden of “doing it right” or getting the “right answer”.  This is the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path and the Paramitas, and the Beatitudes. Recipes work and frequently give us a little taste of something sublime, but when we set down the cookbooks, turn away from the internet of right answers and invite the recipes, the teachings, the way, the path, into the innermost; when we practice uprightness whenever we can remember to, there is not only a chance of seeing the beauty of our own original recipe but the exquisite radiance of the infinite original recipes of all beings. 

So, how do we practice uprightness? Here is an excerpt from one of Tenshin Anderson’s dharma talks:

Zen practice is to be upright in the middle of whatever you choose to do, such as following your breathing. The public case can even manifest as a compulsion; in the midst of your compulsion you can be upright. If you are trying to follow your breathing and are unable to, and get angry at yourself and start beating yourself up for not being able to do it, and you call yourself bad names because you are so distracted, and feel bad about yourself because you don’t do what you say you want to do; in the midst of that, you’re always clearly aware and no words reach it. This is the Dharma gate of repose and bliss. Once its heart is grasped, you’re like a tiger when she enters the mountains, you’re like the dragon when he gains the water. Being upright is not about self improvement. To make your mind state better is OK. If you want to make your mind state worse, that’s all right also. What we are concerned with in sitting upright is to actually practice the total culmination of practice realization right now. Bodhisattvas vow to accomplish such realization for the welfare of all beings.” [For the full commentary on uprightness:  Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses on the Realization of Mere Concept (Trimsika Vijñaptimatratasiddhi Commentary) by Tenshin Reb Anderson. Sesshin Day 2 Dharma Talk, October 3, 1994. pgs 42 – 46. ]

The Eightfold Noble Path. Upright Speech.

The recipe for samyak vaca (Sk) or “right speech” is  generally taught in buddhism as abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech and idle chatter.1 It is also considered speech which is truthful, affectionate, helpful,  and  promotes  concord, harmony, and unity. These sound like a great recipes for “right speech”. The same resources tell us that Shakyamuni suggests that five things that we should consider before speaking. “The speech should be 1) factual and true, 2) helpful, or beneficial, 3) spoken with kindness and good-will, or well-intended (that is, hoping for the best for all involved), 4) endearing or not harsh (that is, spoken gently, in a way the other person can hear), and 5) timely (occasionally something true, helpful, and kind will not be endearing, or easy for someone to hear, in which case we think carefully about when to say it.” 2

Reflecting on  the practice of upright speech I sense that there are  two steps  that are often left out in the process of  speech, or for that matter any expression, before we get to the recipes of considering  and then speaking mentioned above. 

First there is listening. This is the practice of taking on the upright posture of opening all of the sense gates to what is happening in the present moment. It is the practice of bringing full uncluttered awareness to just what is. I think that often we find ourselves “relating” to what someone is sharing or what is happening. We nod and “mmm-hmmm” or we think about our own past experiences, making judgments about what we are listening to or experiencing, agreeing or disagreeing, preferring or disliking. We add our own recipes to whatever another is speaking or expressing which clutters and even obscures what is actually being communicated. Someone told us at some point in our experience that nodding and agreeing or saying that we understand because “that has happened to me too!” makes the other feel comfortable or at ease and more able to speak freely. I believe and have the experience that this is the opposite of reality. When I am nodding and saying “I know , I know” or reaching out with a touch or assuaging, that is all about me being uncomfortable with not knowing what to do or being afraid of what might come next. I consistently find that when I am still, open and upright, veering away from my story and making room for what is happening or being expressed in the moment, the other’s expression resonates in the innermost and I become an empath. The speaker’s words or the artists expression flows forth with more ease because I am not in the way.

When I am able to listen in this way the second practice, before considering and speaking, is to understand how what I am about to say may be colored with my own unconscious history, imprints and karma. To the best of my ability I bring awareness to these things and lay them down. I try to step out of habitual responses to let speech or expression come out of just what is here without expectation of resolving or being appreciated or fear of being rejected or not heard. I practice being upright like the whippoorwill and singing just what is here. From this place of uprightness the speech and expression will be “factual and true, beneficial, well-intended, endearing or not harsh and timely”.  Then the speech will be naturally “truthful, affectionate, helpful,  and  will promote concord, harmony, and unity”. 

When Dr. Martin Luther King, spoke, what is now referred to as the “I have a Dream” speech, at the March on Washington he had a prepared speech, a recipe for ending the suffering of the downtrodden and healing the wounds of racism and slavery, but about halfway through he set aside that recipe and spoke words that are timeless, true, beneficial, endearing, and timely. (see below for the spontaneous part of the speech.)

When we are able to speak and express from the posture of uprightness we share the original recipe of our unique beingness. We trust it implicitly and it can be spoken without fear or hesitation because it has been handed down from beginningless time, from all of our grandmothers. Upright speech is “good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end” (from the Kalama Sutta).

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays: Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays: Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays: Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays: Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 


Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Excerpt from Dr. King’s speech. August 28, 1963. Lincoln Memorial. 

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. 

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. 

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

1 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344341148_BUDDHA’S_TEACHINGS_AND_ROOTS_OF_NONVIOLENT_COMMUNICATION

2 ibid

Prajnaparamita. The Eightfold Path. Upright Intention, Aspiration, or Thought

Dear Friends,

I have been reflecting this week on the translation of the Sanskrit word astaguna as “eightfold”. Another translation is “endowed with eight qualities” which stirs in me the sense of uprightness. But eightfold seems to me the more accurate of the two. Perhaps you can imagine the Noble Eightfold Path as a perfect square of origami paper that will transform into a crane  with sixteen steps and eight unique folds. We also might imagine the manifested crane as prajnaparamita. In the steps for the origami crane the folds are separate or unique but they each contribute equally and are completely necessary for the manifestation of the crane. Likewise, each quality of the Noble Eightfold Path contributes to and is essential for the manifestation of prajnaparamita.The subtle difference between an origami crane and the Noble Eightfold Path is that there is not a sequence or order of the qualities in order to manifest prajnaparamita. Each quality is simultaneous and contributive to the other seven and to the whole. Precise and unwavering attention to and practice of one quality reveals or unfolds each of the other seven and the whole. So, the practice of the Upright Eightfold Path for you might start with where there is resonance to or affinity for one of the eight and, in the same way that we return to a focus point in meditation (like the breath), throughout our daily excursions through life we return to attention and practice to that quality and see what unfolds.

The Eightfold Path.

Upright Intention, Aspiration, or Thought.

Just sitting (or standing, walking, lying down…) here and letting the five sense gates open wide to here and the consciousness gate open wide to thoughts, is the beginning of the practice of uprightness. We can use the analogy from Tenshin Anderson of  just sitting in the open field of awareness-of-here that seems to have at its perimeter a dense forest of darkness out of which thoughts and feelings join the present awareness in the field. If they are sparks of light that promote a sense of positive feelings we tend to want to name them and cling to them and make them a permanent part of here. If there are the little demons of lust, greed and hate, we want to name them and push them back into the forest trying to obliterate them from here

The practice of uprightness is to, neither move toward or away from the sparks and demons but, to see what they are made of, be curious about them and see if they are substantial or not. The invitation is to practice this to such an extent that we don’t even name them but just let open awareness experience them while noticing the habitual tendencies to name, cling, or avert from them. Then just see what happens without the hope or expectation of them changing or moving or going away, just see.

In the opening dharma talk of the 1994 fall practice session at Tassajara (link), Tenshin asks the practitioners, “What is your ultimate concern?” For me this encapsulates the practice and quality of “upright intention, aspiration or thought”. Sitting in the clearing of open awareness we ask “What is my ultimate concern?” It is not “What is the ultimate concern for all beings?”, “What is the ultimate concern of god?” or anything else. It seems that when we ask this question of ourselves all sorts of demons and sparks come out of the dark forest of our habitual ingrained mind stream. There is a tendency/habit of grabbing on to the most beautiful ones and calling them the “right aspiration” or taking up a sword of what we think “right intention” is and slaying the demons that have “wrong intention”. This approach to “right intention” is the primary cause of the polarization, aggression, war, starvation, consumerism in society today and throughout the evolution of human consciousness.

Instead, we might consider this practice of “upright intention”; that in the midst of the cataract of sparks and demons, we remain in the stillness of simple awareness and ask again, “What is my ultimate concern?” again and again, letting the habits of clinging, aversion, and delusion dissipate in this open ended question. Over time this practice may winnow out the intentions that are inspired by greed, hatred or delusion. Then there is the possibility of seeing the intentions, aspirations and thoughts that are behind all of our volitions, our willings and doings. There is the glimmer of seeing what brings us to practice, what draws us to compassion, what inspires awareness of understanding.

This question of ultimate concern then becomes like our breath. It is with us in all of the daily excursions of life. It shines like a crystal clear light  that enlightens awareness of the ways that our habitual thoughts and emotions inhibit or prevent the manifestation of our “upright intention, aspiration or thought” and reveals the ways that naturally manifest our unconditioned, untainted, “ultimate concern”. With practice the whole being is permeated with this concern. The body and the sense gates sing in harmony with the chorus of all Nature and alert us with disharmony, contractions or resistance when we slip. There may even be the dawning of “upright understanding” that this ultimate concern was/is/will be always here at the heart of and the cause of all sparks and demons, stillness and movement, the clearing in the forest and the dark forest. So dear friends, what is your ultimate concern?

_______________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

______________________________

Hoh Forest Photo by Jim Ekstrand

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays: Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays: Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays: Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays: Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

____________________________________-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajna. The Four Noble Truths. The Eightfold Path

Dear Friends,

It is believed Shakyamuni laid out the Four Noble Truths at a place called Deer Park in Saranath India. This first teaching is entitled Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta,  translated as The Setting of the Motion of the Wheel of the Dharma Sutta or The Promulgation of the Law Sutta. As usual, these translations are apt to set off a lot of reactivity because of our relationship to the words as a result of our own conditioning.  The way that I have experienced them in practice and in study, is a pointing to a straightforward way that Shakyamuni used to share his understanding of the nature of suffering, its causes and conditions, its cessation and practices to bring about that cessation. These are so broad and universal that each individual can find their way using their own immediate experiences of conditioning and freedom.  There was never any intention to set up rigid laws of right and wrong, or to take sole credit for a theology, or even to suggest that he had developed an ironclad perfect way to understand the nature of reality, suffering and freedom. He was initially hesitant because he knew the pitfalls of conceptualizing the experience of this truth and was only convinced to share his knowledge by the king of the gods, Bhrama. All of us have been stranded in silence at some point in our experience of life when we knew our words, photos, paintings, or physical expression could never touch the reality of that experience, and that concepts would be misunderstood or tied up into pretty packages to sell to the highest bidder.

Over these last three weeks I have been writing about the first three Noble Truths as one way to understand prajna or wisdom beyond wisdom. For the next nine weeks up to the Solstice Retreat in June, we’ll explore the Eightfold Path, the fourth Noble Truth.

Right Understanding

Right Thought

Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Right Effort

Right Concentration

“Right”and sometimes “correct” are the standard translation of the Sanskrit word samyan. When using the online Sanskrit dictionary there are numerous translations with only a few using “right” or “correct”. The English word “Right” is loaded with all sorts of baggage that stimulate conceptual polarities, egoism, judgments and strong emotional responses, the very things that Shakyamuni taught were the causes of suffering and obstacles to truth.  Although there are uses of the word that translate as ”right” most of the references are to “wholeness”, “togetherness”, “agreeable”, “going together”.  The exact opposite of how it is generally used in today’s English. 

A few months ago I came across an essay about the Eightfold Path and this person (Apologies I have forgotten where I read this.) used “authentic” as a translation. This rang true for me in that moment; to be authentic in all that we do, think, say etc. To be authentic is to take responsibiltiy or acknowledge authorship. In other words, to come to know ourselves so completely that we can be responsible for how we are in the world and not attribute our ways of being to others.

Most recently I have been studying Tenshin Reb Anderson’s dharma talks ( https://rebanderson.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Vasubandhu_s-Thirty-Verses-commentary-94.pdf )  offered during a three month practice period at Tassajara in 1994 where he explores the “Thirty Verses” Treatise by Vasubandhu, a 5th century monk who was basically laying out how to come to know oneself and through that understanding know the causes of suffering and liberation. 

Tenshin Anderson introduces “uprightness” as a way to look at the approach to self awareness  outlined in the Eightfold Path. Substituting “upright” for “right” offers a completely different perspective on these ways of being. When I think of upright, I immediately think of trees. (and whippoorwills)  Deeply rooted in the earth, absorbing water and warmth, responding to wind and remaining in one space, not moving away from here or going toward somewhere else. No matter what the conditions of natural or man-made phenomenon, the tree is always moving in upright stillness. From sapling in the understory of the dense jungle, to the time that they break through to the light, and then topple to the earth, they do not waver. Or growing on a steep precipice above the ocean battered by intense storms, and clinging to crumbling cliff faces, they remain upright in stillness. 

This seems to be an accurate picture of the Eightfold Path. No matter what causes and conditions this life is exposed to, the practice is to remain upright in action and stillness in beingness. The tree does not try to stop the wind, or change the earth, or complain about the water or rail against the sun or move to a different space. And that is the practice of the Eightfold Path; always being here with what is here, not following it but letting it blow through like the wind in the branches, not rejecting but being rooted in this hereness, not becoming bitter or rigid as a result of past actions or being acted upon, but drawing up the nutrients of those experiences and allowing them to wash away fear, resentment and self doubt. In this upright stillness whether we’re sitting, standing, walking, singing, playing having sex, watching Netflix, or following the news, we let the fires of our conditioning to anger or hate burn through, obliterating clinging to positions or egoity and letting the warmth of sun-like love and compassion radiate through us without without holding on or trying to keep it all to ourselves or our chosen ones. To be as still and as big as space which allows for everything without clinging, grasping, pushing away, or imagining and dreaming that this here should be something else.

Tenshin Anderson describes this practice like sitting in a clearing surrounded by a dark impenetrable, unkowable forest. While we sit, sparks of light or little demons pop out and we remain still . They come towards the center and dissipate like shadows in the light of stillness. These sparks of light are the stuff we are habitually drawn to and want to keep like good feelings, profound concepts, pleasant experiences, even life itself. In the stillness of uprightness  these are allowed, in a sense, to be here in this open space and then allowed to dissipate or dissolve, in their own time and as they will, into the stillness. The demons are the ugly stuff, the self hate, the fear and loathing, things we don’t want near us. In the spacious open center of stillness they come and rock our stability, and tear us away from our practice, and trample our peace, and we still are still; rooted deep in the stillness, swaying with the storm, absorbing the water of wisdom and the sun of compassion for all suffering. In all of that, all of those habitual tendencies and conditionings, hopes and longings, we see how we are made and what we are made of. In time, the dark void of the forest seems to move further and further from the center as all of the sparks of light and demons are exposed to simple awareness, absent of grasping, aversion or delusion. There is an understanding that comes with not moving, from being on the spot, that I have constructed this forest and the clearing and that neither are substantial. That here, in this absolute, non-conceptual reality there is no separate self or separate other. That all of the demons and light, clearings and darkness, are entirely dependent on all of the other demons and light and clearings and darkness. In the flashing instances when this is the experience of this coalescence of stardust, there is the simple, unspeakable, unknowable truth of what is always here. And like the warmth of the sun, the cleansing nature of water, the freshness of wind and the unconditional welcoming of space, this stardust is drawn to cultivate space for universal goodness and freedom from suffering for the entirety.

________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

The Art and Wisdom of Being Human. Virtual retreat

Dear Friends,

It seems that, in these times, there is an inordinate number of negative feedback loops in the human realm that persistently remind us of our failures, our destructiveness, and our incompetence when it comes to interacting with the worlds around us. It sometimes seems so pervasive that a sense of despair and apathy about how to meet these challenging times can consume our thinking, emotions, and actions and deaden aspirations and inspirations. This gathering for art and practice is not so much to address the multitude of problems that humanity and the other-than-human world face, but to offer some practices that might, for a minute, lift the veils of doubt and fear and awaken the natural capacity for creativity and wisdom that is inherent in all beings. With this even bried awakening, a seed is planted that when attended to will strenghthen our ability to engage in these times with unconditioned compassion for ourselves and all beings.

The Sangha of the Pandemic will be offering this virtual retreat in June; The Art and Wisdom of Being Human. It will begin on the evening of Thursday, June 13 and continue through Monday, June 17 around noon PST. Over the three full days and two partial days we will use meditation practice, small group exchanges and three forms of creative expression to contemplate and inquire into the basic wisdom and creativity of humanness.There will be several opportunities during the retreat for drop-ins if you cannot participate in the entire retreat. There will be some activities on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that will only be open to folks who have committed for the entire retreat. There is some flexibility ffor participation in these meetings if you cannot attend eihter Thursday opening or Monday closing.

Below is a schedule for the retreat. All meditation periods and dharma talks are open for drop-ins. All group exchanges and creative expression practices are for folks who have registered and intend to attend these sessions on Friday Saturday and Sunday. 

The creative practices will be

Poetry

Spontaneous Line Drawing

Woodcraft

Folks participating in these will choose only one creative expression for the whole retreat.  If you are unable to attend these sessions, written instructions and guidance will be provided for folks who would like to take up a practice after the retreat. When choosing a creative expression it is recommended that you choose the one you are least familiar with or most hesitant to attempt. Supplies that you will need to provide for creative expression:

Poetry: journal and writing tool

Line Drawing: Graphite pencils and any other form of colored medium. Drawing paper.

Woodcraft: Whittling knife and sandpaper. A link for the recommended knife will be provided after you register.

The retreat will happen on Zoom. Please download the Zoom app before the first day of the retreat. If you have not worked with Zoom before, begin to familiarize yourself with it. You can practice using Zoom with the sangha during our six practice sessions during the week. Click here to see those times. More detailed instructions and sign-in codes will be provided once you have registered.There are no fees for participation in the retreat and everyone is welcome regardless of experience in meditation or creative expression. Feel free to forward this invitation to anyone who you think might enjoy and benefit from the retreat.

Please take time to register for the retreat even if you will not be able to attend the whTo register use this link. https://form.123formbuilder.com/5838522/2024-june-retreat-registration-form

The instructions for registration are pretty straightforward, and if you have questions or are not able to register please email William at: wrgentner@gmail.com

Draft schedule of the retreat Times are PST

Thursday June 13

5:00 – Check – in
5:20 – Practice
5:50 – Intro to retreat and logistics
6:15 – pause
6:30 – Intro to break out. Reflect on “The art and wisdom of being human.”
6:45 – Breakout
7:30 – Shared reflections.
8:00 – CloseFriday – Sunday April 19 – 21

7:00 – Check – in and practice
8:00 – 10 minute stretch.
8:10 – Intro to small group reflections.*
8:30 – Break out for small group reflections.*
9:45 – Shared reflections*

10:00 – Break
10:20 – (Friday only. Intro to creative practice.) Creative Practice*
11:30 – Shared reflections*

Noon – Break
1:00 – Stillness and movement practice
2:00 – Dharma Talk
2:30 – Break
2:45 – Creative practice*
3:45 – Shared reflections*

4:00 – Break
6:00 – Practice
6:30 – Q&A /Check -in
Close

Monday, April 22

6:30 – Check -in and practice
7:30 – Stretch
7:45 – Dharma Talk
8:15 – Q&A
8:30 – Break out: Colloquium
10:00 – Shared reflections
10:30 – Closing

*These activities are for folks who are attending the entire retreat.

Prajnaparamita. The Four Noble Truths. There is Cessation of Suffering.

Dear Friends,

Sometimes it is just better to not try to place concepts on prajnaparamita like:

  • the art and wisdom of being human
  • the cessation of suffering
  • non-discriminating wisdom
  • the absence of mental meddling 
  • the gap
  • before naming

It’s just best to read a poem twenty times that reminds us of what we already know. Or write a poem twenty times. Or be a poem in this time. Or just listen to the whippoorwill.

From Randall Mullins.

Today I listened to the song 

of a whippoorwill on my computer. 

I turned the computer off 

and I could hear it even more clearly, 

its haunting sound moving across the Mississippi countryside of our childhood.

It said all I never knew how to say to you.

All our differences dissolved into birdsong that has lasted thousands of years.

We are blended and bonded within it now.

We all come together.

We rest in that song.

Whippoorwill Song.  by Randall Mullins

A calm abiding greets me  

as memory. 

1958 

I’m nine, sitting in the swing 

at dusk on granddaddy’s 

front porch on the farm

in Mississippi 

after supper. 

He’s in his rocking chair 

wearing pin-striped bib overalls, 

his shoulders bare 

after a day of work and sweat. 

He is about to roll his own cigarette, 

sifting a little channel of tobacco 

onto the paper out of the 

red Prince Albert can. 

I’m in the swing,

my easy rocking

offering a rhythmic sound 

of metal on metal. 

Darkness grows in the warm air.

Then a whippoorwill sounds off, 

haunting the countryside, 

holding everything 

within its hearing. 

Trees feel its vibrations. 

A cow in the barn 

raises her head. 

Its haunting sound 

makes a deep imprint 

in all the places 

where memory lives. 

I heard it then, 

and I have never 

stopped hearing it.

It continues to vibrate 

in my bones. 

Grandaddy’s daddy, 

the Confederate soldier 

who got bored with war 

and went awol, 

and grandaddy’s grandaddy 

also must have heard 

the whippoorwill. 

And Aunt Em whom daddy 

barely remembered from 1921, 

she must have heard 

the whippoorwill 

when she was three 

and her frontier father 

held her in his lap at dusk 

in 1838.

And the enslaved people 

that he considered his property, 

had to have heard 

the whippoorwill sing,

and the Chickasaw people 

who were moved west in 1837, 

they must have all heard 

the whippoorwills sing 

for at least a thousand years. 

It has become a rare thing 

to hear one sing, 

their extravagant population 

of billions 

now down to a million 

as insecticides silence insects, 

and silence sounds 

that held everything.

Can birdsong be passed on in our DNA?

Are we destined by grace 

to live on inside 

the perennial sounds 

which hold memory 

and which memory holds?

We still listen at dusk.

We hope.

_________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

Whippoorwill, a painting by T-Marie Nolan © The artist.

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajnaparamita. The Four Noble Truths. There is a Cause of Suffering.

Dear Friends,

In the immediate experience of suffering there is an absolute intimacy with just this where self and other are eradicated. This intimacy may look or feel like the loss of self, the destruction of the palace of identity. The clarity is so clean and bright and naked that there is an immediate reaction to either turn away in fear, attack the cause of the annihilation or cling to the remnants . In the moment of suffering we may try to ignore it by turning away, hate it and push it away or grasp and cling to the memories or dreams of what my self was or will be.  Paradoxically this deluding, aversion and greed are the forces that bring about suffering in the first place. Suffering is, from this perspective, an endless and beginningless mobius strip of activity.

When Shakyamuni left his golden palace after experiencing the suffering of others, he did not bring money, or healers, or scientists to stop the suffering, he set out on a search to know the root of suffering and to see if there was a way to eradicate it. In the process searched for the cause and from this beginning to his awakening at the bodhi tree he studied suffering and many of the different ways that spiritual practitioners were dealing with it. 

In buddhist sutras it is written that Shaktamuni defined three types of suffering or duhkha  (Sanskrit). These are psycho/emotional experiences of how we relate to suffering. 

  • The suffering of suffering. This is the suffering that arises as a result of our relationship to physical or emotional pain, discomfort, lack, or fear, to name just a few.
  • The suffering that is related to change or impermanence. The experience that life is not reliable or that there is no place to just land.
  • The sense of dissatisfaction with life due to this instability and unknowing.

In the primary moment of experiencing suffering there seems to be a timeless gap without these three types of duhkha. Then almost instantly the organism draws from the field of imprints, or memories of past experiences and steps in to take command; to try to fill the gap and replace the sense of loss of self, or loss of control. Shakyamuni thought that this gap-filling is caused by the three poisons or kleshas (Sanskrit). The three poisons and all the resulting tributaries of emotional and mental activity are considered to be the primary causes of duhkha. They are delusion, hatred and greed. or ignorance, aversion and passion.

In the first moment of experiencing or witnessing duhkha, when there is still a gap and before the habitual tendencies take hold, unconditioned compassion is present and it is the seed for beneficial actions in the light of suffering. Then almost immediately it is “poisoned” to different degrees by one or all of the three kleshas depending upon our capacities to remain with the duhkha just as it is.

I think it is important to be clear right now, that in buddhism there is no judgment about this process. A being is not considered to be better or worse, more or less, good or bad depending on whether they fill the gap or with what they fill the gap. This is just the way things are as a result of being aware or unaware of the habitual tendencies and unconscious imprints of the psycho-emotional self. 

This unawareness can be considered the first klesha:  delusion. In general we think, especially in these moments of suffering, that the universe, just as it is, is not capable enough to bring about what is needed to relieve this suffering, or that the constant and universal goodness of reality will not act or provide us with the means to bring compassion and appropriate responses to these moments. This does not mean that we do not act, but that we act with awareness of our own history of suffering. Instead of reacting based on our habits of mind and emotion we look into the timeless pause which allows for the question “What is really needed here?” instead of  the delusional “What do I think is needed here?”

Another reaction that we may have in the space blown open by duhkha is the poison of aversion or hatred. There is the habitual tendency to avoid anything unknown or uncontrollable. This habitual response drives us to fill the gap with action, and to push away anyone or anything that doesn’t do the filling our way. This aversion spreads like an insidious virus and at its worst becomes hatred of anything, including people and cultures, that we think are related to our suffering or the suffering of our allies in filling the gap.

The third reaction is the klesha of greed. This is the habitual tendency to gather up all of the things that we think are needed to either hide or fill the gap. We shield our loss, fears, and uselessness in the face of suffering with accumulations. In my life this was the habit of seeking different spiritual practices and gathering them like shields to protect me from seeing or experiencing the gap. For some it might be self medicating, or keeping busy. In the case of another’s suffering, rather than stepping into the gap with them we take care of ourselves first. 

So what to do? Is there a release from this mobius strip of duhkha and kleshas? Is there an experience of not suffering? If so, what is that? In my imagination , Shakyamuni traveled and studied for years seeking out the causes and conditions of suffering and the multiple ways that folks of that time were practicing to relieve suffering, but to no avail. He could see the causes of suffering but all the practices either were ineffective or temporary. So, perhaps he switched the question: Is there relief from suffering and if so what are the causes and conditions for that?

_________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajnaparamita. Entering Boundlessness Through the Gate of Suffering

Dear Friends,

In last week’s post I invited folks to engage in an improvisational mantra practice. Before we go further in the exploration of  prajna, I think it would be helpful to take a few minutes to try this out again, abandoning, for now, the word “wisdom” which tends to have a limited tone of something that can be achieved or something that is better than something else. 

The translation of prajna broken down into its two parts: pra and jna.

Prajñã

Pra

forward from

before

forth

in front of

onward to

away from

jñã

knowing

learning

ascertaining

seeing

Blend these words randomly before and after each other in a kind of spontaneous poem or rap. It is most helpful to write them down as you explore.  For example: “Forward from knowing, before knowing away from learning and onward to seeing but in front of ascertaining and forth from learning.” Or perhaps you find a series of just a few that undoes any conceptual ideas about prajna.

__________

Prajnaparamita is introduced in the buddhist sutra, (translated from Sanskrit) “The Transcendental Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000 Lines” which has been distilled down to 25,000 lines, 18,000 lines, 10,000 lines, 8,000 lines and the sutra that is most commonly referred to in American buddhism: “The Heart Sutra” which has significantly fewer lines. (Here is a standard translation: https://www.lotsawahouse.org/words-of-the-buddha/heart-sutra 1

In an essay from Roshi Joan Halifax, in 20042, Roshi suggests, with the support of Kazuaki Tanahashi, that the Prajnaparamitra Sutra is a teaching that expresses the boundless nature of prajnaparamita  rather than the emptiness of true nature which is the most often used translation.  So from this perspective the Prajnaparamita or Heart Sutra is expounding on the true nature of all beingness that is not only universally good but boundless in every way.  This wisdom beyond wisdom, is not something out there that is achieved through striving towards it, which would mean it has a beginning and an end or an arising and ceasing, but that is already here in this moment-just-as-it-is and in all moments, in all dimensions and is merely veiled by the habitual tendencies of mind and the unconscious activity of the body-mind organism. 

Still, there is still the question, “How do I unveil it?” Even with unquestionable faith in the teachings, and hours and hours of meditation practice, I look out into the everyday world and my everyday life and do not experience boundlessness. I can impute it from the logical processes laid out in busshist treatises, but it is still merely conceptual. There are moments when there is a taste of freedom from fear, and a sense of unending trust in just-thisness. If that is this boundlessness, how is it only temporaary and how does it become re-veiled? How did it become veiled in the first place? How do I prevent it from being veiled? Or as Shariputra asks of Buddha at the beginning of the Heart Sutra : “How should a son or daughter of noble family train, who wishes to practice the profound Prajnaparamita?”3

It is important that Shakyamuni Buddha does not respond with words to this question but remains in stillness and that Avalokiteshvar, the bodhisattva of compassion responds because it is through absolute compassion that one realizes and becomes what one already is: prajnaparamita,  Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom.

What is the gate to this boundless compassion? The first teaching or Turning of the Wheel of Dharma from Shakyamuni: The Four Noble Truths.

There is suffering.

There is a cause to suffering.

There is cessation of suffering.

There is a way to the cessation of suffering.

Reflecting on the first truth. To see suffering is the first step to awakening to the world around us as it really is and to step out of our own palace of identity. It is the first story of Shakyamuni who had been sheltered in a golden palace of riches for his entire life and had never been allowed to experience or see any form of suffering. Until one day he snuck out and saw birth, sickness, old age, and death. He experienced in his being something that he had never known before, like something had been cracked open and his golden palace of identity and reality as he had known it was permanently shattered. What had been awakened was the heart of compassion which had been veiled with curtains of sensual fulfillment, and satisfaction of every whim or desire. This fire of beingness, this goodness would not be denied and so he began his journey to the bodhi tree.

When I look around with an open heart and mind and do not hide from the prevalent suffering of all sorts that thrives in these times, both my mind and heart are broken open and a quality of being flows forward. It is at first so painful that I want to avoid it or put it back into its container. I want to shield my senses and protect my heart and my palace of identity from this pain. I tell myself to stop reading the news, to avoid any unpleasant interactions with folks, to bury my own bouts of depression and self doubt under meditation, study or hard work or perhaps to have a drink. When I do turn toward the suffering, my own or others and receive it with open heart and mind, it feels like a fire cleansing the whole being. Burning away obstacles to generosity, harmlessness, patience, effortlessness and calm. I am more able to respond from selflessness and willing to offer just what is needed instead of doing or saying what my habitual self thinks is needed. 

There have been several instances in our practices in the sangha when folks have been willing to speak of their immense suffering. As a response to this sharing, members of the sangha have  consistently expressed how grateful they are for the generosity and willingness of those folks to speak to their suffering. Because our hearts break open, our mind is, if only for a moment, freed from its habitual traps of identity and a note, or whisper, or fragrance of boundless compassion shines forth. We are beginning to learn to let ourselves be touched by suffering  in all aspects of our lives, not to fix it, cover it up with bandages of kindness, or blessings, but to fully experience it. To render ourselves helpless to the buddha nature of the one who is suffering, the one who is guiding us on the path to compassion and prajnaparamita.

This then is the realization that suffering is the gate to compassion and that suffering is permeated by “Transcendental Perfection of Wisdom” and that this prajnaparamita  is simultaneously permeated by the Universal Goodness of Compassion unveiled and permeated by suffering. 

It is a beginning. 

_________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

  1. https://www.lotsawahouse.org/words-of-the-buddha/heart-sutra
  2. https://www.upaya.org/dox/Boundlessly.pdf
  3. https://www.lionsroar.com/vague-no-ungraspable-yes/#:~:text=From%20within%20the%20embrace%20of,to%20practice%20the%20profound%20Prajnaparamita%3F

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajna. Wisdom.

Painting: Master Yoda by Florian Yodarte

Dear Friends,

As I mentioned in previous posts, there are innumerable treatises on prajnaparamita.  So, why not a few more thoughts to add to the heaps? In our exploration of the other paramitas the members of the sangha consitently tapped into an understanding and experience of these  practices through an inquiry to what is already here. So we’ll start off this exploration in the same way. First looking at the etymology of ‘prajna’ and ‘wisdom’’

From the Sanskrit, pra, as a prefix to verbs, means ‘forward’, ‘forth’, ‘in front’, ‘onward’, ‘before’, ‘away1. From Sanskrit,  jna  is generally translated as ‘to know’, ‘to learn’, ‘to ascertain’, ‘to see’, ‘to understand’.

The most common English translation of prajna from buddhist texts is ‘wisdom’. The etymology of wisdom is from Old English root of ‘wise’; ‘weid’ meaning ‘to see’ plus ‘dom’ meaning judgment: to see (know) a judgment or wise judgment2

Neither the current cultural concepts of wisdom nor its etymolgy; “see a judgment’ or ‘wise judgment’, capture the complexity of prajna. There probably is not an English word that would accurately reflect a comprehensive meaning for prajna, but there may be a way to get a sense of it by combining the etymology for the Sanskrit ‘pra’ and ‘jna’  in a contemplative way. Try taking the English words “forward” ‘before’, ‘forth’, ‘in front’, ‘onward’, ‘away’, and inter-mixing them with ‘to know’, ‘to learn’, ‘to ascertain’, ‘to see’, ‘to understand’ in a kind of mantric meditation. In that process perhaps there will be a unique experience of prajna that resonates with your individual mindstream.

As we begin to approach some of the buddhist teachings on prajna, take some time this week to inquire into your own understanding of wisdom or, if you like, prajna. What general ideas do you have? Images? Memories? Somatic sensations? Are there any fixed ideas about wisdom? In other words, what is already here in your beingness when you contemplate wisdom or prajna. 

I look forward to hearing from you!

_________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

1https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/pra

2https://www.etymonline.com/word/wisdom

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Prajnaparamita. The Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom

Dear Friends,

Over the last several months, these posts and the daily virtual practices with the Sangha of the Pandemic have been focused on five of the six paramitas, often translated as transcendences, purities, or perfections. Throughout the buddhist sutras and commentaries, the paramitas are pointed to as practices that are essential to the abolishment of suffering for oneself and for all beings. These posts have reflected the perspective and understanding of these teachings that have developed in this particular being-stream named William Gentner. These are the thoughts and experiences that I have had and are unique to me.

They are not ever meant to be definitive approaches to buddhist practices or the only way to think about buddhist teachings. As I have mentioned before these words and practices are a meager attempt to use dualistic concepts to point to the non-dualistic reality of beingness. Each individual being will understand the truth of universal goodness based on their own being-stream and habitual tendencies that they have developed. Each individual will find words, phrases, approaches and activities that allow a uniquely beautiful way to manifest the truth of goodness and bring about an end to suffering. Every step along this path that we walk together, every unique expression and practice contributes to the universal realization of goodness. 

Before we move into the sixth paramita: prajnaparamita or the Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom, here is a brief review of the five paramitas that have been covered since last July. They are listed with their Sanskrit name, there common English translation , and a word or phrase that summarizes my experience of their actualization.

Danaparamita. Generosity. Selflessness

Silaparamita. Ethical Conduct. Harmlessness

Santiparamita. Patience. Peace

Viryaparamita. Diligence. Effortlessness.

Dhyanaparamita. Meditation. Attending, Staying With, Malleability and Abandon.

Although each paramita is presented as a separate aspect of practice and fruition, they each contain and cannot be actualized without the other five. For example: Generosity is realized as selflessness through generous practice, harmlessness, the peace of patience, diligence, and self awareness that comes through meditation. Likewise, meditation reveals the nature of the generosity of selflessness, promotes harmlessness and peace, and is itself realized through diligence. This is applicable for the other two and the sixth: prajnaparamita.

Prajnaparamita , the transcendent perfection of wisdom, is regularly presented in the buddhist scriptures as the ground of all beingness; the seed, sprout, path, flower and fruition of all practice; the canvas, pigment, paint brush, painting, painter and witness of all art and all endeavors. 

Prajnaparamita is considered to be so all encompassing that there are treatises about the treatises that are about the origin of the treatises that are about the definition of the words used to describe prajnaparamita while claiming at the same time that it is not definable. A contemporary philosophy that tries to surmise the entirety of prajnaparamita  is Ken Wilbur’s “Theory of Everything” in which he introduces the concept of universal contribution, and the path that all activity is “expanding to include”. There is a buddhist sutra elucidating prajnaparamita  entitled “The Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Lines, which is then summarized in “The Sutra in Twenty-Five Thousand Lines”, which is summarized in “The Sutra in Eighteen Thousand Lines” which is summarized in “The Sutra in Ten Thousand Lines” which is summarized in “The Sutra in Eight Thousand Lines” which is summarized in “The Verse Summary”. In addition to all that there have been billions of other words written and are still being written since Shakyamuni awakened to the truth of suffering, it’s causes, it’s cessation and then began to point to the reflection of the moon of truth and this freedom from suffering through the presentation of the Eightfold Path. 

(chuckle)

And for the next several weeks we will continue this great tradition as  the sangha will be exploring and I will be sharing interpretations and reflections about and this ineffable, nonconceptual, truth of the goodness of being a.k.a. the transcendent perfection of wisdom. I am committed to this exploration and these practices, not because I think that we will arrive at a definitive universal understanding, but because this wisdom and all of the paramitas are knowable, and can be actualized through self revelation or boundless self-knowing. This wisdom that “surpasseth all understanding” is simply who and what is already here, and with the practices of selflessness, harmlessness, peace, effortlessness, and abandon, perhaps we’ll experience a glimpse, a taste, a whiff, a whisper, a caress, or an inkling of the truth of our own human beingness.

The exploration will culminate in a four day virtual retreat, currently scheduled for June 13th – June 17th called “The Art and Wisdom of Being Human.” Look for more information in future posts. 

As always, I look forward to walking th e path, sharing and practicing with you.

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the websiteor by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Dhyanaparamita. The Fruition of Meditation. Abandoning.

(Painting: Total Abandon by Chris Brandley)

I can, in newly quickened inner life,

Sense wide horizons in myself.

The force and radiance of my thought –

Coming from the soul’s sun power –

Can solve the mysteries of life,

And grant fulfillment now to wishes

Whose wings have long been lamed by hope.

  From The Calendar of the Soul, Verse 28

Rudolf Steiner

Dear Friends,

Meditation is practice. In all practice there is a quiet calling that reminds us that there is a different, more easeful, more aligned, more integrated way of doing or being whatever it is that the practice is for.

The call to practice meditation sprouts, not only from an understanding based on hearing about the truth of goodness and the end of suffering, but from an absolute inner knowing that the way of goodness and the absence of suffering is the paramita of being. With continued and consistent practice of attending to just what is here with an open hand of equanimity, and staying with and continually returning to that attending , attachment and clinging to inflexible concepts about life and the ingrained habits of feeling and doing, lessen and loosen. The ways of being, thinking, feeling and doing begin to have a quality of malleability. We begin to see that the fixed ideas and inflexible ways of living as well as the judgments of ourselves and others are obstacles to the experience of ease and actually the causes of suffering. In seeing this, these ways begin to lose their hold on us and there is a natural effortless abandoning of the habitual ways. The experience of being might then be experienced as less cluttered, more spacious, and there is more ability to move fluidly and freely with the flow of things just as they are.

I can, in newly quickened inner life,

Sense wide horizons in myself.

As a result of some sort of inner memory or knowing and the call of the warming sun, every year the crocuses put their backs into the weight of snow and awaken to herald the transition from the darker days of winter to the brighter days of spring. Similarly, the true nature, the paramita of beingness that lies somewhat dormant under the weight of habitual, inflexible thinking, awakens with the light and warmth of gentle attending and the resulting malleability. This awakening, truest nature is vulnerable  and responsive to the suffering that it encounters in the world and is absolutely flexible, abandoning all preconceived notions, expectations or hopes of specific results. There is also an abandoning of the ideas of a separate self that can build impermeable walls to protect “me” from suffering or the evil things that threaten my separateness. All the concrete ideas about how life should be, and hopes about making it that way, melt under the “soul’s sun power” and life becomes workable. 

Coming from the soul’s sun power –

(I) Can solve the mysteries of life,

And grant fulfillment now to wishes

Whose wings have long been lamed by hope.

There is delight in the workings and flowings of life. There is clarity about how all sensings and experiencings, including suffering and the causes of suffering, ease and the causes of ease, contribute to the beauty of just this moment, this here-ness. That it is “all, all working.” (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche) and that all of life, just as it is, is ever-creating and unfolding to reveal its Universal Goodness. 

This is the fruition of meditation, of attending, staying with, cultivating malleability, and abandoning: dhayanaparamita.

_________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Dhayana. Meditation. Abandon

Attending. Meditation is loving the one you are with. 

Concentration. Meditation is shoveling the snow from the path, so that more snow can fall, be seen, and shoveled, until spring. 

Cultivation. Meditation is the practice and realization of malleability. 

Abandoning. Meditation is leaving nothing behind and taking nothing with. 

________________________________

“Through me you pass into the city of woe:

Through me you pass into eternal pain:

Through me among the people lost for aye.

Justice the founder of my fabric moved:

To rear me was the task of power divine,

Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.

Before me things create were none, save things

Eternal, and eternal I shall endure.

All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”

― The Divine Comedy: The Inferno, the Purgatorio and the Paradiso.

Canto 3, Line 9.

Dante Alighieri

__________________________

I can, in newly quickened inner life,

Sense wide horizons in myself.

The force and radiance of my thought –

Coming from the soul’s sun power –

Can solve the mysteries of life,

And grant fulfillment now to wishes

Whose wings have long been lamed by hope.

  From The Calendar of the Soul, Verse 28

Rudolf Steiner

Dear Friends,

I have not read Dante’s Inferno, but line nine and especially the final phrase “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” which is posted outside the gates of hell where Virgil and Dante traverse the Inferno, has permeated the culture for this entire life. It has been used at least 84,000 (inside buddhist joke meaning countless) times in literature, movies, parental guidance, even video games. 

From the beginning of consciousness  and until I stumbled onto a spiritual path that focuses on original goodness rather than original sin, I thought that these words were a warning against doing anything that had been labeled bad by the prelates, or a warning against having any feeling or thinking that all beingness is goodness and all beings are good. I had faith in the teaching that I should construct a barrier to hold back any actions, feelings or thoughts of fear, desire, lust, anger, hate, greed…etc. That I should construct a crystal cathedral of perfect behaviors, feelings and thoughts whose walls were double sided mirrors allowing me to remain safe in the sanctuary of a delusion that there is a separate “I” and to maintain the ignorance of the suffering, my own and the that of world around me, that was a result of this cathedral. I believed that this was my only hope to be a good boy and get the promised reward when I died and that if I abandoned this cathedral and let it decay into ruins, I would also “abandon all hope” and enter the realms of hell.

Weeeelllllll…. not so much.

With the exhortation from Gangai to “Just stop!”, the invitation in the teachings of A.H. Almaas to be curious about just what is here and its origins, the teachings from Rudolf Steiner about child development and unconscious imprints of karmic activity, and the wish fulfilling gem of dharma through Shakyamuni Buddha that provides a guide to the abandonment of all concepts, attachments, feelings and even profound realizations, so that all that remains is the truth of goodness.

Approaching the practice of stillness in meditation is similar to approaching the gates of hell. Before the approach there is curiosity about what will happen and enticement from the stories of other folks who have crossed the threshold. There  is even a seduction of release from suffering similar to the inticements of the archetypical devil. As we are at the threshold in the beginning of practice, there might be a sense of heat or foreboding of what is to come. If the threshold is crossed and stillness practice is begun, there is often an avalanche of thoughts, emotions, and physical discomfort that might feel a little like hell. Fear of failure and feelings of inadequacy arise; “I can’t stop the distractions, it’s impossible.” “I just don’t have it in me to be still.” The instruction to attend to whatever is arising with open handedness is forgotten and the urge to stop practicing is present. The reminder that seeing things just as they are and staying with the practice is also present. With consistent practice , there may be an experience of going through these feelings, thoughts and discomforts leading a little quieter and even calmer experience.

“Through me you pass into the city of woe:

Through me you pass into eternal pain:

Through me among the people lost for aye.

Practicing meditation moving through these internal sufferings, and not leaving anything behind, or taking anything with. i.e. staying with what is present without following, attaching or avoiding, the thoughts, emotions, and discomforts of daily experience. These are the things that “people” the cluded mind  “are lost for aye” through meditation. Little by little they are abandoned; not by force or intention but naturally as a result of seeing these experiences as they really are. There is a glimmer of the light of understanding that this internal suffering might be the result of habitual and fixed ways of approaching life.

Justice the founder of my fabric moved:

To rear me was the task of power divine,

Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.

Through continued practice of staying with what is here, compassion, as a quality of the essence of being human, steps forth as merciful “justice, the founder of my fabric”. This compassion, our true nature is “power divine, supremest wisdom and primeval love” and has always been present  and it “rears” us to see that this suffering is illusory, empty, and impermanent. This compassion is the source of the strength that allows the “open handed staying with” practice and the cultivation of a malleable quality of being that allows divinity, “supremest wisdom and primeval love” to grow. 

Eternal, and eternal I shall endure.

All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”

According to buddhist canon, in three countless eons and in one instant, this instant of practice there is comprehension that all ”things create” are fabrications arising out of the habitual ways of thinking, feeling and doing. These fabrications are seen, in the full light of compassion, wisdom and love, as being “none”. And that all the longings, self doubts, fears, conditioned love, all suffering and the hopes to attain freedom from suffering or abolish it are also seen as passing moments of experience in endless and beginningless time. They all turn to dust and slip through the open hand of eternal, enduring Universal Goodness, abandoned without a thought, or intention of abandoning.

And then:

I can, in newly quickened inner life,

Sense wide horizons in myself.

The force and radiance of my thought –

Coming from the soul’s sun power –

Can solve the mysteries of life,

And grant fulfillment now to wishes

Whose wings have long been lamed by hope.

_______________________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the websiteor by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Dhyana. Meditation. Cultivation and Relization of Malleability

Malleability

  • capable of being extended, shaped, bent
  • capable of being changed so as to fit new uses or situations1

Dear Friends,

In buddhist sutras and commentaries the true nature of beingness and mind is often compared to gold. Generally the idea is held that gold, in a refined state, is precious, pure and indestructible and so when hearing that the nature of the mind is like gold I have mostly thought of a solid, unwaverable, changeless essence. When practicing meditation there has been a subtle striving for this perfect state of flawless stillness  and purity with an absence of thought. But in addition to invulnerability, gold has the quality of malleability. When heated it is impressionable, moldable and receptive to any application while still retaining its purity and indestructibility.

Meditating is the practice of working with the mind, similar to the way a metallurgist works with gold, meditation is the practice of understanding that the mind’s true nature, like refined gold, is not only pure but malleable and workable. When I approach meditation with a specific goal of getting something out of it like ease, peace or enlightenment, the practice becomes fixed and inflexible rather than responsive. It is like trying to craft a wedding ring out of sedimentary rock that contains gold without breaking down the rock and heating the ore in order to refine it into a material that can be worked with. 

Each practice period is like a different rock containing gold ore. Each time I sit I work with what is present in this moment, by letting go of agendas or trying to get that peace that I got the last time I practiced. So there is malleability in the beginning.

Over time the metallurgist develops the skill of being able to quickly identify the rocks that are most likely to contain gold ore and so discards or does not even pay attention to the ones that don’t, giving them more time to work with the gold ore.  Similarly, wIth continued practice, the recurring, habitual thought streams are recognized as being fixed, inflexible and empty of value and so I discard them and eventually don’t attend to them at all. These thoughts are usually judgments about my ability to practice correctly, judgments about how others are doing it, or thoughts about all the things that I think need to be done once meditation is over. They also show up as clinging to feeling good, getting caught up in feeling bad, or feeling pride about how profound my understanding is, or shameful about my lack of understanding. These are all just empty habits built up over time obscuring the true nature of beingness, like the sediment in the many layers of earth that hide the gold. Seeing this is the malleability of the middle.

When the metallurgists crushes the sedimentary rock and blows or washes away the dross, the gold ore is treated with intense heat and the gold is revealed and refined until it is in its pure state. In this state it responds to the wishes of the craftsperson to create something beautiful that may bring joy and delight to the owner. 

Likewise, with the continued practice of seeing the habitual mind stream for what it is, discerning thoughts and feelings that are empty, fixed and inflexible and then discarding this dross by not attending to it, the natural pure beingness or the true nature of mind is revealed under the warmth of open hand attention and concentration. The mind is found to be not only pure, precious, and indestructible but completely malleable. Acting, speaking, feeling and thinking from this pure mind  are all perfectly responsive to what arises in the present. It moves in these expressions without an agenda for the habituated self. It is not out to get something to enhance “me” or make things better for “me”. It constantly lives out of the question “What is here?” and then responds to just that. This experience within the practice of meditation begins to bleed into the everyday experiences in life like molten gold bleeds out into empty vessels or cracks or molds. This malleability begins to gradually inform and guide every experience in this life. When others experience it they may see beauty and experience joy and delight, that awakens an awareness of their own hidden gold buried in the sediment of their fixed, habitual way of being.  This is the malleability of the end that may inspire the malleability to begin to practice.

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

1.Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/malleable.

____________________

 Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Dhyana. Meditation. Cultivation of Malleability

Dear Friends,

With the practices of dana/selflessness, sila/harmlessness, ksanti/patience and virya/diligence, the approach to life becomes more open and flexible. Long held beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and the world lose there hold and are seen to be impractical or even irrelevant in the present moment of experience. The urges to grasp or avert and the afflictions of greed and hate are are understood to cause suffering for ourselves and others and perhaps inspire a longing to experience a sustained relief from these habitual behaviors. In time this longing may lead to some form of  practice of meditation.

The practice of meditation promotes the calming of the blizzard of the thought stream that gives rise to these behaviors. The warm open-hand attention to what is arising and gentle restraint of the thought stream allow for some space in the field of the mind for the natural or endemic qualities of humanness to sprout and flourish.

This practice of the paramitas that inspire the practice of calm abiding and the longing for the stillness of  the quiet mind in meditation might be compared to a garden that experiences the seasonal transition from fall to winter to spring. In the fall the earth prepares for the winter by giving away its bounty of fruit in the harvest and there is the discipline of canning and preparing the larder and planting cover crops and mulching before winter ensues. As winter arrives, patience is necessary to make it through the darker cloud filled skies while longing for spring. Then there is the diligence of keeping paths and roofs cleared of ice and snow. During the longest nights and coldest days, stillness spreads over the land and a good deal of time is spent interiorly, repairing tools and preparing seeds for planting; attending to just what can be done in the season of stillness. With the passing of winter the snows diminish and the earth begins to thaw with the gradual increase of exposure to the longer days that bring the light and warmth. The freezing temperatures of winter have cleared away the weeds and bracken making room for the crocus, daffodils, asters and other perennials to break through from the moist loamy malleable soil.

Like the garden which has been prepared in the fall with cover crops that adds nutrients and the mulch that holds back the adventitious weeds, meditation that arises from the nutritious practice of the first four paramitas quiets the adventitious unconscious “weeds’ of the habitual thought stream. The diminishing presence of these thoughts during the quiet stillness of interiority allows for an open space for natural qualities of humanness to be realized. The ground of the mind becomes malleable and adaptable to whatever is experienced, similar to the spring earth which has been softened by the hard winter and opened by the warmth of the sun. Like the perennials, these qualities of loving kindness, compassion, joy for joy and equanimity, for example, are already present and endemic to humanness. They do not need to be achieved or strived for. They naturally spring forth when the timing is right and the mind is stable in stillness, providing delight for ourselves and others. 

This process is referred to as cultivation in some of the commentaries on the buddha’s teaching. Cultivation in this sense are the practices and efforts that prepare the ground of the mind for the natural and nonconceptual presencing of the human qualities that alleviate suffering. The subtle difference between this cultivation and that associated with gardening is that once the preparation has been done, the sprouting, growth, fruiting and seeding (i.e the realization of these innate qualities) happen with minimal effort of  human hand or thought. There is some effort still as we continue to turn our attention away from grasping and averting, greed and hatred, similar to weeding the garden, through the summer and up to the fruition of realization.

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

____________________

 Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific TIme
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Approaching Meditation. Attending and Concentration.

Dear Friends,

Attending. Meditation is loving the one you are with. 

Concentration. Meditation is shoveling the snow from the path, so that more snow can fall, be seen, and shoveled, until spring. 

Attending by “loving the one you’re with” and concentration by staying with the point of focus become unified in the practice of meditation. Each is absorbed by the other.  Being absorbed in the union of attending and concentration is the approach to the practice. Practicing one without the other leads to discursiveness or fixation, respectively.

Attending during meditation is like approaching a situation with relaxed open hands willing to receive whatever comes. The mental and emotional posture is like “loving the one you’re with”. It is open and equanimous. Referring to the snow simile in the previous post, approaching the endless activity of the mind stream during the practice is like holding out an open relaxed hand and letting the snow fall through spread fingers or letting it land and melt in the warm, open palm.  With this open hand approach there might also be a tendency to let the mind be lax and carried away by whatever thought arises; to drift from thought impulse to thought impulse like snow flurries in the wind. There also may be a tendency in the practice to try to grasp thoughts that are appealing and cling to them, especially thoughts that trigger positive emotions or seem meaningful. Approaching the thought stream in this way is similar to trying to hold onto the snow or making it into a snowball to prevent it from melting. 

To limit this discursiveness or distraction during meditation, concentration or staying with the point of focus is applied. The practice of focusing on a specific aspect of the experience like the breath, the pulse, a repeated mantra, word or phrase, draws the attention away from the whims of the habitual mindstream or the clinging that comes with desire and preference. This encourages resting in the immediate experience of the present moment. Repeatedly directing the attention of the mind to a single point of focus encourages the mind to relax its vigilance and habit of seeking something or averting from something.  It also serves as reminder to maintain the approach of open attending to whatever is arising without grasping it or following it. This practice over time allows space for an open hand approach to the practice and eventually to all aspects of life. This type of easeful concentration allows the thought stream to flow unimpeded while also preventing the discursiveness that comes with too much laxity. This is similar to shoveling snow to keep the path clear to allow an open, flowing connection with the world. 

In the practice of concentration there may be a tendency to hold fast to the point of focus in such a way that there is clenching and clinging. Closing the open hand of the at-ease mind into a fist and clamping down on the point of focus can create tension in the body, inflexibility of thinking and fixation rather than easeful attending. When there is an awareness of this hardening experience relying on open handed attending will bring release and a return to an easeful meditation. 

With time, the alternation between the two seemingly contradictory practices of open attention and concentration become absorbed into one seamless experience of open minded, easeful and equanimous attention to whatever arises in the present experience. This might be similar to the eventual passing of winter storms and the arrival of spring when the earth, after being repeatedly exposed to the light of the sun, retains its warmth and any late snow that falls melts away leaving the soil moist, loamy, and ready for cultivation.  

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

____________________

 Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific TIme
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Dhyana. Meditaion. Concentration or Shoveling Snow.

Dear Friends,

Whenever I finally sit down to write these posts, the first thoughts or concerns that come to mind are that they not be interpreted as definitive ways of practicing or ways to achieve something or become someone beyond what you have already achieved or who you already are. My hope is that they are more like reflection pools that invite you to see the way that you are already practicing to end suffering in the world and the goodness of that. I also hope that they might offer insights into how to stay with the practices of the paramitas and dhyana/meditation in particular. The second part of exploring dhyana is concentration.

Concentration. Meditation is shoveling the snow from the path, so that more snow can fall, be seen, and shoveled, until spring. 

The buddhist practices that guide us to awakening to the truth of the nature of reality and bringing about an end to suffering throughout the world might be compared to the path that leads from the entryway of your home to the path, sidewalk or street that connects to the rest of the world and also allows the rest of the world to come to you. Meditation, in particular, is a way to keep that path clear of obstructions.

Dhyana is a Sanskrit word that is translated in the Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras as concentration.

“Concentration is a translation of the Sanskrit term dhyana. The ya subscript is equal to a ra, … which means “to hold”. Concentration is therefore, when the mind is held to its inner observation without being distracted outwardly.”

(I like to use “to hold to” or “to stay with” as an understanding of concentration because these do not have a sense of attachment or force when I hear them.)

If you have ever lived in a place that has long frozen winters with a lot of snow, you probably developed the practice or art of snow shoveling. If you have not had the fortune of that experience, you have probably seen images of folks carving out paths, through high accumulations of snow, from the entryway of their homes to the rest of the world. The concentration aspect of meditation practice is kind of like that. If the simile of snow shoveling doesn’t resonate, perhaps there is something in your experience that has some of the same opportunities for simile; gardening, dusting, gutter cleaning.

When that first snowstorm hits and brings inches, if not feet, of sparkling white crystals there may be a reluctance to clear the path from the front door. “It’s so beautiful and clean!” “Aw, it’s only a few inches, I’ll get to it later after the Super Bowl.” “Arrgh! It’s so much work. I have to go get the shovel out and find my gloves and put on my winter boots. Maybe it’ll melt on its own.” “There is too much on the schedule today. I just don’t have time.”

This might seem similar to when we first approach the practice of stillness in meditation. We might read about how the practice helps calm our mind and heart, or how it helps us be kinder or more compassionate and then think, “I am already pretty calm and kind. Life is beautiful just as it is. I probably don’t need to meditate.” “I only have a few problems and I really want to have a cup of coffee and read the news, I’ll get to it another time or another day.” “How can it possibly bring calm? There is so much to do to prepare for it. I have to buy a cushion and then clear a space in my home to sit. I’ll have to set up an altar or light a candle which I don’t have.” “ I just don’t have the time in my busy life to just sit and do nothing.”

When we finally realize that winter is here and it will remain in freezing temperatures for weeks or months, we might be convinced that it’s time to shovel the snow. It seems daunting. There is more snow than we imagined. It has already started to freeze. The temperature and wind make it very uncomfortable, even painful to be outside. It might be overwhelming. We might want to give up. But we know that we need to be able to get out of the house to get sustenance and to continue living. We know that we cannot help ourselves much less others that rely on us if we don’t clear the path of snow, so we begin and we stay with it even if it takes several attempts, until the path is at least a little clearer.

Like finally realizing that winter is not going away soon, we may realize that the suffering that we are experiencing or causing in this life are not going away by themselves. We have had a taste of that calmness, when we have met folks who seem at ease in life, or when we read inspiring messages from spiritual leaders about joy and peace. Or when we have walked in the stillness of the wilderness or woke up to the morning sun bringing soft soothing light into our bedroom and we are stopped in the stillness of its beauty. We begin to realize that something is needed to bring ease and joy so we find a way to practice. Perhaps we begin the practice of meditating in stillness and are immediately flooded with a torrent of thoughts. We try to follow the instructions of staying with the breath or the point of focus, but it is daunting. Being still is hard. We sense the constrictions and pain in the body and want to stop. This is when concentration in meditation comes in. We remember why we are practicing; to end suffering for ourselves and others and to rest in joy and ease. We use the memory to inspire us to concentrate, to stay with the breath, to continue to come back to the breath, to hold to the point of focus. We find a way to practice. 

As the winter goes on and our shoveling skills improve, we develop muscles that support the work and we might even begin to look forward to the steady, quiet rhythm of moving the newly fallen snow off the path. While shoveling, perhaps we come across old lost things, a missing glove, a child’s toy, the hot mug, that we thought was left at work. There is an impulse to deal with these things right away. Take the missing glove inside and find its match. Bring the toy to your child and give a lengthy reprimand about being careless with our things. Take that beloved mug inside and make a nice hot fresh pot of coffee. In the process of leaving the shoveling, another snow storm threatens and we are left with a partially cleared path and the potential of new snow hardening and freezing the part that was left unattended. Or perhaps we take the newly found items and set them aside until we have finished the clearing for the day. When finished we attend to those things as needed.

Little by little, from one practice to the next, some ease and the rhythm of meditation and concentration are more accessible. We develop the mental muscle of concentration and might even look forward to the time in stillness. During the practices, memories that feel important to attend to might arise; like actions that we have taken that have caused suffering that we want to remedy or joy that we want to enhance. The normal, habitual thought might be that we have to attend to these things right now or we will forget them and so we turn the focus away from the breath and follow the thought stream that leads away from the practice of calm abiding. Following these thoughts that seem important during the practice will tend to lead down a long and winding road of endless problem solving or dream planning. In reality, once revealed those insights will be available as needed after the practice period and there will be an appropriate time to attend to them. Returning to the practice of stillness and setting those thoughts aside for the moment, might give us an opportunity to approach them with ease and mindfulness at the appropriate time. 

One day while shoveling, we notice that the snow is the perfect consistency for building a snow person or a snow castle. We begin to imagine all of the things we will do to make the snowbeing and the castle beautiful, fun, or even permanent! We begin to build them right on the path and marvel at their perfection and then want everyone to see. At some point there is the realization that the constructions, beautiful as they seem, are obstructing the path. We can’t go out and no one else can come in. Instead, perhaps, we might let the idea rest, knowing that the yard in front of the picture window will have the same snow with more space to craft the snowperson. So we choose to continue to clear the path.

While practicing there will be experiences and realizations that are beautiful and exquisite and important. We might then cling them in the practice and develop them, sometimes stopping the practice completely. We look forward to hanging on to them and making them a part of our life. In the moment of the practice we turn away from the concentration with its resulting ease and become lost in the idea. We might even be so enamored with them that we leave the practice to write them down and save them. Maybe a post-it on the refrigerator, a t-shirt or a bumpersticker! We might begin to talk about them all the time with everyone, no matter what the situation. At some point we may realize that this profound idea has turned into a rigid concept that obstructs the path to the world and prevents the world from reaching us. Instead of this agitative approach, an option would be to stay with the practice in the moment and later, upon reflection or in a journal, explore the idea and see how it might be applied to the everyday practice of living.

Through the winter, if we haven’t kept up with the shoveling, the snow turns to ice, becomes difficult to walk on, and it takes a great deal of effort to clear.

Staying with the meditation practice by setting up a regular schedule, helps keep the practice, of understanding and peace, active in our life. Taking time daily to rest in stillness and to clear the mind of habitual, engrained thought streams that tend to accumulate in our unconscious, allows us to be awake and available in the present moment of experience. Setting aside or interrupting the regular rhythm of practice tends to make it more difficult to return to the  experience and the benefits of a quieter, more easeful mind. 

Blizzards may come and last for hours or days, building up high banks of hard packed snow. There may be no time to clear the snow as it falls so we sometimes just have to watch and wait for a clear sky. When it does and we try to go out to assess what is needed, the path may be completely blocked and a great effort will be needed to clear it. This is a time to remember the community of friends and neighbors. A time to ask for help clearing the path or to reach out to those who may need help clearing theirs.

There are times when situations overwhelm and take hold of all of the time of this life; life and death situations, loss or suffering of loved ones, natural catastrophes, depression, addiction. Formal practice may not be possible, but the practice still seems to happen. The strength and resilience that is a natural quality of beingness steps up and steps in. It is OK and even necessary to put down the shovel, stop concentrating and just be fully present and available to what is happening in the moment. This is a time to make the personal practice a global practice. To reach out for support if needed and to respond when called on.

And then there is spring. The snow and ice begin to melt in the light and warmth of the unclouded sky and unobstructed sun. The first thing to completely clear is the path that you have been staying with through the winter. Then outward from this path the clearing spreads without any effort on your part. There may still be patches of frozen snow and ice in the places where the sun never reaches and perhaps you will have time to look into those and clear away trees and shrubs that prevent the sun from getting through. Winters and snow will inevitably return but for now instead of clearing we might begin to loosen the soil and add amendments so that we can start a garden.

There are times during the practice of concentration, as a result of staying with the practice, that we might experience some spaciousness. It is an experience , like the advent of spring, that is not brought about by conceiving of it, or trying to achieve it. The blizzards of thought have diminished or have become translucent memories that can be seen through and experienced as without substance and empty. This spaciousness is a quality of our true nature. It comes about as a result of the consistent warmth and light of attention during the practice of concentration that melts away rigid concepts, habitual patterns or ingrained behaviors that obstruct our natural open state of awareness. Resting in this awareness without effort, clinging, or attachment eventually allows the warmth and light to spread beyond our immediate experience to bring warmth and spaciousness to others in the same way that the light and warmth of spring melts away the ice and snow of winter. It is from the ground of this quality of beingness that we are drawn to cultivate and deepen the practices of selflessness, harmlessness, peace, effortlessness, attending and insight; the paramitas.   

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

1. Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras. Maitreya’s Mahayanasutralamkara, with commentaries by Kehnpo Shenga and Ju Mipham. The Dharmachakra Translation Committee. Shambhala Publications 2014. pg. 510.  This collection of sutras is one of the five treatises of Maitreya transmitted to and transcribed by the monk Asanga. He’s the fellow the story who came across the dying dog and the road and realized enlightenment through his compassion for the dog.

Image: A Winter Morning. Shoveling Out. Drawn by Winslow Homer. 19th Century.

____________________

 Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific TIme
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

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Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Dhyana. Meditation. Attending, Love the One You’re With.

Dear Friends,

We are attending all the time. Attending is the activity of sentience. We are attending with all of our senses constantly and simultaneously; inwardly and outwardly. Though most of our attending does not make it to the conscious level of attending. In the series of lectures “The Child’s Changing Consciousness”1, Rudolf Steiner likens the preverbal infant to a sponge that not only attends to and absorbs everything that their senses come in contact with, but are also attended to and absorbed by everything that their senses come in contact with. He theorized that there is no sense of separation, no I and thou, in the time leading up to the awakening to a sense of self or an “I”. One might say that the infant is perpetually loving the one they are with, but without freedom of choice. At some point (Many theorists including Steiner believe around the age of three.), through experiences of pain and enjoyment, the child develops preferences, attachments, and aversions and the capacity to filter out what they don’t have a preference for and to attend to what is preferential. They begin to develop the freedom to choose. This is the beginning of “I” consciousness. 

This is a complex process, obviously. The development of these preferences are linked to the environment that the infant is swimming in and absorbing. According to Steiner this is the time when the human being embodies their conditioning or karma from previous lives and lays down the karmas or the habitual ways of thinking, speaking and acting for the present life. The vast majority of these imprints remain unconscious and affect how the human being is in relationship to themselves and the world for the entire lifetime and beyond. But what also remains is that original core beingness and ability to absorb and be absorbed by the entirety of the cosmos. It is this true nature, this total absorption that draws us toward and activates the practices of meditation and realization. In a sense it is always calling us, the “I”, the self, to attend to itself.

There are many obstacles, obscurations, and veils that lie on the trail, preventing consciousness from seeing and actualizing this true nature of beingness. Throughout a lifetime we have developed fears, aversions, hatreds, desires, attachments, passions and delusions that are mostly reactions that are not freely chosen, but are habits of thinking, speaking and doing related to those early imprints. These are continually reinforced and reconstructed through childhood and even as adults. In the midst of all of these habits we may also experience moments of awakening from the clouds of habit. Sitting on the edge of a canyon that stills all thought and desire. Meeting a spiritual friend who emanates ease, joy and compassion. Hearing music that undoes the thought stream and leaves us in awe. Seeing one’s infant child for the first time and not being able to turn away from the marvel of wholeness manifested in toenails and eyelashes and a piercing wail. This is that call to stop, and come home, to love and attend to the one you are and the infinite one you are with.

Then perhaps there is a curiosity about this thing that is beyond our normal consciousness, that keeps popping into our consciousness or experience. We may then be drawn to inquire of the spiritual friend about how they got to be how they be. Or we are drawn to return to the canyon’s edge. Or we are moved to choose to act with generosity, harmlessness, and peace. Or we train our voice and our hands to sing and play music that not only delights us, but others. Or perhaps we begin to see our reflection in the embodiment of the infant and we choose to move toward that. There are 84,000 ways of awakening to this and they are everpresent for our attention

At some point there may be an understanding that these experiences are not sustainable. They come and go and the habits of reactivity; desire, clinging, aversion and delusion keep returning. But the call is relentless and no matter how far we stray from the trail, or how many times we give up, stop practicing, or how many barriers we build, this selfless self that is absorbed in and absorbed by all of life, remains like the pulse in the blood, the breath, gravity, particle and wave. And so we return to attending.

We may also learn over time that stillness is the key to this attending. The experience is probably stillness of the body. That when the body is still it becomes like an empty canvas upon which the paint of our habitual way of being is splattered. Or a clear sky wherein we can see the clouds of confused thoughts and emotional suffering that gather in storms that bring a blizzard of snow. Gradually, we may begin to be able to attend to the canvas and the sky as well as the splatters and the clouds with loving attention. By loving and attending to the one that we are with, we are able to see the one that is hidden. By loving and attending to the one that is hidden we are able to see the one that is obscuring, obstructing or veiling. 

As the attention in stillness of body becomes more refined we might find that choosing a single point of attention ( prayer, the breath, the pulse, emptiness, impermanence…) and engaging all of the senses including the sense of consciousness or “I” to attend to this point, provides a space for those unconscious imprints, of this life and those formed before this life, to be seen more clearly. And we may see how they obstruct, obscure or veil the trail that leads to the wisdom of all things. There may be a sense of overwhelm at the density of the imprints and the depth of the snow and ice obscuring the trail. We may give up, turn away, be drawn back into the desires and attachments, but the self that knows itself as itself, remains, never turning away, patiently inviting us to pick up the shovel of the practice of attending to just what is and start shoveling through the hard packed snow.

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

1. Steiner, Rudolf (1996). The Child’s Changing Consciousness: As the Basis of Pedagogical Practice. SteinerBooks.

Photo by Paulo Sousa: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulosousafotografia/

____________________

 Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific TIme
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Dhyana. Meditation. Attending, Concentration, Cultivation, Abandonment

Dear Friends,

It seems that there have been infinite (In buddhist terms, 84,000.) words written and spoken about meditation. There also seems to be 84,000 approaches to meditation or at least 965,500,000 according to Google search. So anything that might be written about meditation over the next few weeks in these posts has undoubtedly been written before. 

I will be writing about the experiences of meditation in this life, using similes and concepts that reflect some aspects of the practice as I have experienced it. These ideas are not meant to be a definitive map for the path of practicing meditation. In my experience, maps or guides that claim to be the right way or best way, or easiest way, or most appropriate way of practicing, have led me down paths of grasping, clinging, aversion and disengaged bliss or delusion. In other words, suffering; the very experience that meditation is intended to relieve or at least to bring about some understanding of. Also, approaches that promised specific results or any results at all, often led me to seeking something in the future or outside of what is already here, or something based on a concept floating around in my thought stream. This is not to say that any of these paths are wrong approaches or have not been helpful, but when the approach to the approach was rigid or made promises, I found that I either caused myself physical or emotional harm in the fervent desire to do it right and judged others for doing it wrong, or I gave up because the promises seemed unattainable or led to a striving that was the antithesis to ease.  So, for this particular coalescence of thought, experience, and form with the name William, if the practice yields mostly suffering, disengagement, or being ill at ease, the longing and commitment to end suffering for all beings will be hindered.

If during the reading of any of these posts you sense any promises, shoulding, or notice a sense of superiority please bring it to my attention. My hope is that anything that I share or suggest comes across as a warm invitation to be curious and to explore; that through these similes and concepts, anyone who is reading might discover their own approach to meditation and a path to bring ease and to end suffering for themselves and others. I am inspired by the quality of the approaches of His Holiness, the Dali Lama: awakening through joy, Thich Nat Hahn: practicing peace, Pema Chodron: curiosity about everything, Suzuki Roshi: realization happens when it happens, the heart of the culture of Costa Rican people: pura vida, Gangaji: you are that, and the 84,000 meditation guides from the other than human world: live, die, same.  As I wrote before, there is nothing here that has not already been revealed by the buddhas and christs that have come before and I am deeply grateful to learn from and to be anywhere near their retinues. 

So here we go.

In the next four weeks, I will be “excavating” (Thank you Brian Wilson.) my own mind and experiences using four different translations or understandings of dhyana. The first one, “attending” is my translation that is not based on scholarly means but most accurately reflects this life’s experience of dhyana as meditation practice. “Concentration” and “cultivation” are scholarly translations of dhyana and seem to me to be unique and integral aspects of the practice of meditation. “Abandonment” seems to be the complete realization of dhyana paramita.  These are not necessarily experienced in any order because they are all present whenever there is meditation. But, like the subtle progression of the paramitas, there has been, for me at least, a progression from “attending” through to “abandonment”.

Attending. Meditation is loving the one you are with. 

Concentration. Meditation is shoveling the snow from the path, so that more snow can fall, be seen, and shoveled, until spring. 

Cultivation. Meditation is the practice and realization of malleability. 

Abandonment. Meditation is leaving nothing behind and taking nothing with. 

It might be fun to read these statements one by one and reflect on them, letting your own experiences, reference points, echoes, or questions bubble up. Kathie Fischer shared with me that journaling has been helpful for her practice of reflecting, so if that is in your toolhouse you might do that. Linda Atwater and Sharon Pavelda find reflecting through art is helpful. Randall Mullins uses movement a lot for his reflective practice. Whatever your approach, if you would be willing to share what shows up, you can do that here or send it to me via email. Let me know if you are open to your reflections being shared with the community. 

That is enough for this week eh? I’ll write about “attending” next week. 

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

____________________

 Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific TIme
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

Dhyana Paramita. Meditation

Dear Friends,

When beginning the study of the paramitas, I was curious about why dhyana paramita, meditation, was number five. In my experience, meditation was what drew me into the path of buddhism. I experienced meditation as the threshold to, and the constant of, the path to liberation from suffering. So why number five? 

The practice and realization of each paramita is integral to the practice and realization of the other five. In a real sense there are no boundaries between the paramitas; there is no center point or periphery and as a result no order of attainment as such. But when I take a more microscopic look at the history of this life’s path of practice, I can see how that without the selflessness of generosity even in microdoses, the longing for the harmlessness that inspires moral discipline, the experience of peace that came with little patiences, or the effortlessness that sometimes peeked through with diligence, I may have never considered or been able to sit still  on a cushion in silence that first time, while my mind was bucking like a wild mustang corralled. 

So as we consider dhayana paramita over the next several weeks, perhaps there will be opportunities to see how meditation is the natural outcome of the practices of the other paramitas or how the other paramitas might be affected by the practice of meditation. In order to do that it might be good to know the current assumptions that we make about meditation. So this week, take a look at what concepts are held or have been held in the past about meditation. Reflect on desired outcomes, fixed ideas about approaches, value judgments about how we or others meditate. In general, what do we think about meditation and if we practice it, why? i.e. contemplate on meditation.

Please share your insights on the website post or in an email to me. If the latter, let me know if you are willing to share them with the broader community. Your experience and insights always contribute to the awakening of the whole to the reality of true nature.
_________________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

-William

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – The Six Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Virya Paramita. Fruition. Effortlessness.

Dear Friends,

It is my belief that the practices of all spiritual lineages are the practices of focusing one’s will on the effort of liberation from suffering. This effort is seeded in an experience of the inherent nature of beingness, which is unconditioned Universal Goodness, empty of suffering. 

Within the practice  of virya paramita there seem to be two aspects or faculties of virya that are active in beingness. One is virya that is “not transcendent” or not  paramita. This practice is the conscious or unconscious application of vigor and diligence to achieve liberation. This application is initiated by experiences of suffering and absence of suffering that are present in our memory or unconscious imprints. In a sense these experiences and memories are the engines of the drive for freedom from discomfort, illness, death, aging, sickness, emotional distress, confusion; suffering of any type. This time centered virya is usually about the achievement of a specific goal based on some concept of suffering or what the liberation of suffering should look like. The results of this conceptual diligence may be liberating for some but harmful for others. Because it is seeded in a personal concept or idea of freedom and not the direct experience, it is, most often, not universal. It is based on past experiences and projections into, or desires for the future. Because it is time centered and conceptual it may not be appropriately or fully responsive to the present situation. This is not a judgment or diminishment of this type of virya. This is just the way things are working while one is in the practicephaseof any paramitas. 

The other manifestation is virya paramita or transcendent virya.   This is the inherent, natural, omnipresent force of beingness. It is neither created or uncreated. It is goalless and fulfilled. It is the active aspect or faculty of Universal Goodness. The concepts or experience of  “basic” virya, when related to diligence and vigor, is often experienced as an application of effort. Virya paramita is diligence and vigor without effort. Virya paramita is effortlessness. It is the cause, the condition, and the fruition of the practice of the diligence and vigor to eliminate suffering. Virya paramita, perfect, transcendent, pure diligence is the inherent nature of all effort. It is beyond normal sense experiences and inconceivable by normal thought processes. To borrow a phrase from another lineage; virya paramita is the Alpha and Omega of all efforts and practices to end suffering.

These aspects can be pointed to using a few similes.

Taking some liberties with Plato’s allegory of the cave.  A person without education or an understanding of reality is like someone in a cave always facing the back of the cave with their backs to the opening. When the sun and the light of day arise they become completely entranced by the shadows on the wall of the cave which disappear and return. There is fear of losing the experience of entrancement with the shadows so they keep diligent watch on the back wall. Seeing only the shadows, they develop the concept that the shadows and all that they perceive from that vantage point is all of reality. At some point there is a pull or a sense that there might be something behind them where they have not looked before. Eventually with great effort they turn away from the entrancement of the shadows, and are able to see the light of the day and all things outside the cave of entrancement. Over time and with persistent curiosity they realize that the light from the orb in the sky is the cause of not only the shadow but the ability to see the shadow. The effort that was needed to stay focused on the shadows and then to turn away from the entrancing shadows is no longer needed. There is just seeing the expanded reality of the world in the light of the sun.

While living their entire life in a dark, heavily canopied forest without any knowledge of the sky beyond the trees’ boughs and leaves, a person comes upon a clearing with a small, still, clear pond. Within the pond is a bright white disc of light. They are so absorbed by the pond and the light they do not see the open sky and assume, because of their lifelong experience, that a canopy of trees remains. The person is absorbed by and in awe at the beauty of the light. In their awe they reach out for the light in the pond and it wavers and disappears in their effort to grasp it. Then through repeated efforts there is the awareness that stillness keeps the light in place and available to be experienced. So they make great effort to be still and not try to grasp the light in the pond. Soon, the person begins to overcome their fear of losing the light and senses, intuits or understands that there must be a source of this disc of light other than the pond. So they begin to look around and eventually see the true moon shining in the vast heavens. And that the effort to grasp the disc or to keep the pond still were not needed to see the true moon.

Basic virya or diligence is the effort of turning away from the entrancements, beliefs, learned concepts, or unconscious imprints that drive us to grasping, attachment, fear of loss, aversion and hatred. These activities of vigor and diligence are seeded by but only reflections or shadows of the pure diligence and vigor of the virya paramita  that is ever-present in beingness. And even though these shadows and entrancements are ultimately realized to be empty of true reality they are also the perceptions (though unreal) that point us to the light of the sun, the beauty of the luminescent moon and the purity of gold. And even thought the efforts of basic virya, diligence are ultimately realized as mere shadows of the transcendent, perfect, pure and effortless virya paramita,  they are the necessary practices to move us out of our caves, to turn our senses toward the vast sky and to realize the pure gold of Universal Goodness that is the true nature of all beingness.

______________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

-William

______________________________

 Here are a few more resources for studying and reflecting on virya.

Looking into Laziness. Pema Chodron. Lion’s Roar September 7, 2021.: https://www.lionsroar.com/start-where-you-arelooking-into-laziness/

From The Noble Great Vehicle Sūtra: The Questions of Sāgaramati. Chapter Five. Practicing Diligence. https://read.84000.co/translation/toh152.html?part=UT22084-058-001-chapter-5#UT22084-058-001-chapter-5

Virya Paramita: Universal Energy and Personal Failure. Kathie Fischer. https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/kathie-fischer-virya-paramita-six-perfections-part-7a/ 

Painting by Cveto Vidovic, Slovenia. https://www.saatchiart.com/cvetovidovic

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/seyer/files/plato_republic_514b-518d_allegory-of-the-cave.pdf

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – The Six Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Kausidya. The Primary Obstacle to the Practice of Virya

Photo Collage by Hisham Baroocha. https://www.instagram.com/p/CfDQTi1oVSA/

Dear Friends,

The primary obstacle to the practice and fulfillment of virya paramita, according to sutras and commentaries that I have read, is kausidya.  Kausidya is almost always translated into the English word “laziness”. I noticed that every time that I read this, I would experience a twinge of shame or anger or doubt. I think that “laziness” is a poor if not outright incorrect translation of the sanskrit word kausidya. “Laziness” has been used throughout the past two millennia (at least) as a negative epithet to identify entire classes of beings and is most often used to imply that someone is intentionally making a choice to avoid working. It is used by racists to describe people of color. By the wealthy and powerful to diminish the struggling poor. By teachers, parents and folks with higher education degrees to describe children who learn differently or carry genetic attributes that make it difficult for them to apply themselves to the narrow academics of school. By psychologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists to describe folks with diseases that could not be diagnosed as such (chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety). By those who have dutifully adhered to societal expectations of achievement to describe artisans, spiritual practitioners, and seekers. “Laziness” does refer to obstacles of the diligence that is dedicated to greed, power, polarization and self aggrandizement but definitely not to the diligence that is associated with the practice of virya.

Kausidya  in the case of virya/diligence is referring to the things that get in the way of one’s ability to turn the attention of the body, speech or mind away from habitual unconscious practices and toward presence and goodness. 

Kausidya as an obstacle, might be something in the genetic stream that prevents  someone from being able to bring attention to the task at hand, the object of meditation, or to follow the thought process of a spiritual teaching. As an obstacle, it could also be the result of early childhood imprinting or trauma that triggers an unconscious survival mechanism that avoids silence, or isolation, or acts of kindness and compassion. 

Kausidya as an obscuration is a more conscious turning away from practices that may provide benefit for self or other. This turning away may be related to rigid concepts developed over time, like religious dogma, political perspectives, or negative judgments about certain practices of compassion and kindness. For example,  the thoughts, speech or actions that move us to withhold generosity because of someone’s religion or lack thereof.  Or when we withhold love from someone who holds a different political perspective. Or when we judge certain spiritual or personal perspectives as wrong because they do not line up with our way of practice or feelings.

Kausidya  can also be very subtle, like a silk veil. This type seems more like avoidance rather than outright turning away. It could be as simple as not following through on a resolution to practice, or volunteer, or show up for someone because life got busy. This kausidya  might also be the choice to self medicate with intoxicants, entertainment, or social media rather than sit silently in contemplation, or listen/read/study something that may inspire us to look for ways to practice selflessness, harmlessness and peace.

Virya is basically the diligent practice of turning toward goodness, by practicing selfless, harmlessness, peace, meditation and developing the capacities to understand the true nature of all beingness or wisdom. When we turn away from these practices, this wisdom and this goodness, that is Kausidya. Reflecting on  these turnings perhaps you might notice a direct experience through the body, heart, mind of the difference in the quality of virya and kausidya. There might be an opportunity to experience and understand the difference between the true, mindful nature of being and the habitual, unconscious way of being.   

__________________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

-William

______________________________

 Here are a few more resources for studying and reflecting on virya.

Looking into Laziness. Pema Chodron. Lion’s Roar September 7, 2021.: https://www.lionsroar.com/start-where-you-arelooking-into-laziness/

From The Noble Great Vehicle Sūtra: The Questions of Sāgaramati. Chapter Five. Practicing Diligence. https://read.84000.co/translation/toh152.html?part=UT22084-058-001-chapter-5#UT22084-058-001-chapter-5

Virya Paramita: Universal Energy and Personal Failure. Kathie Fischer. https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/kathie-fischer-virya-paramita-six-perfections-part-7a/ 

Photo Collage by Hisham Baroocha. https://www.instagram.com/p/CfDQTi1oVSA/

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – The Six Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Virya. The Water Cycle. The Earth. The Sun

Dear friends,

In the experiences of this life, diligence has been synonymous with effort. The effort was applied in order to make something happen or stop something from happening, to gain something or get rid of something, to become someone or to undo what I had become. All of these diligent and sometimes vigorous efforts were based on a concept; a mental construct. These concepts were constructed from preferences and judgments, that may have been conscious or unconscious. Concepts that may have been laid down in the mind stream from pre birth or preverbal time as a result of the mostly unconscious reactions and responses to basic drives of survival and the need for connection. Or concepts that developed over time that were more conscious based on preferences, judgments or moral principles. All in all diligence and the vigor that sometimes accompanied it was mostly founded from concepts that promised something different than what was happening in present time.

These diligences were and still are, generally, attempts to bring about benefit for self or other or to turn away from ways of being that caused harm. Often, though,  when there was a particular, almost blind, vigor propelling diligence, these efforts led instead to suffering for self or other. So focused on the conceptual outcome, there was delusion about the long term benefit and ignorance of the present wake of suffering that I was leaving behind. Examples of this are prevalent in many of the well intentioned efforts by humans to bring about ease. Wanda Sykes in a standup routine shares a story about running behind trucks spraying DDT to get rid of mosquitoes when she was a child which may have contributed to the breast cancer that developed. Paving roads through the jungle here in Costa Rica allows ease of transport of goods and services and also causes toxic runoff into the rivers and the ocean. It is the cause of thousands of wildlife deaths, and stimulates housing development for folks like me; stripping away the forests and diminishing the natural beauty that we sought and why we moved here in the first place. 

Virya is not diligence driven by blind commitment to a specific outcome regardless of the effects. Virya, in this sense,  is like the water cycle on this earth. There is no terminal point and no beginning. There is just the movement of water from vapor floating in the sky as clouds, to droplets falling as rain, penetrating into springs and and aquifers, rising and flowing as streams and rivers, gathering as lakes and oceans, freezing as glaciers and warming to rise as vapor… Each step just as it is. The water isn’t thinking “I want to skip the cloud part this time.” Or “I want to just continue to trickle and bubble as a stream because it’s the best of me.” It moves in accordance with the rhythm of the stones, the earth, the warmth and the coolness. Virya is the essential  nature of water; flexible, responsive, steady.

Sometimes diligence has been about speed. When the greatest imperative has been to get to the conceptual goal as quickly as possible regardless of the effect on self or other in the process or the effect on the quality of the result. Like rushing in the car to a mountain trail and then rushing up the trail to the vista and then rushing home to beat the weekend traffic; getting frustrated at the slow drivers, the strolling hikers and oneself for not planning it all better so there wouldn’t need to be rushing. Or after reading the expected maturation milestones of a child, trying to speed up the process so that they’ll be ahead of the game or pressuring them to move quicker because they are “behind”. At the end of Linda Atwater’s emails is this African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far go together.” This sums up the diligence speed that results in selfishness. It’s all about me.

Virya is not about speed. It is like the vigorous life force of mother earth. Unrelenting, but adaptable, abundantly generous but balanced in giving her resources just as needed, patient but insistent. This virya is an essential quality of the action of all of her children, even humans. Like the life forces of earth, this diligence is the patient mother of all of our efforts, it is the seed of all efforts, even those that run aground or go astray as a result of our speediness. 

Sometimes diligence has been used to separate, judge, elevate or diminish, because of preference, greed, or hate. This type of diligence has its origin in fixed concepts about identity, morality, spirituality and any ideation that highlights the separate self or freezes a concept in time and space. This is the diligences rooted in the idea that something can be worthless or, on the other hand, inherently more valuable. It is the dogmatization of theology. It is the fighting for a political cause that makes no room for alternate perspectives and experiences, hiding behind a protective cloud of righteous concepts. It is about benefit for me and mine.

There is no separate self in virya. It is like the  warmth and light of the sun radiating out on mountain peak, to the lowland; equanimous in its objective.  As the sun is ever-present even in cloud filled skies and ever-returning from the longest night, this diligence never turns away from the path of peace for all beings, no matter how hard we cling to and idea, or how angrily we resist, or how haughty we may have been in our self aggrandizement. It is similar to the understanding that we are not the makers of the light and warmth of the sun, and that we cannot diminish the sun with our ideas or actions. Virya, this vigorous diligence does us, in a sense. We do not do it.

The practice of virya is the practice of  diligently slowing down and patiently persisting like the earth. This practice is responding to present awareness, being flexible and open to the changes and alternative perceptions and ways of being like the water in its cycling on earth. This practice of diligence is the practice of relinquishing control and setting aside the ideas that reinforce a separate self and that lead to greed, hatred and isolation. Like laying back to receive the warmth and light of the sun just as it is, just as we are. 

__________________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

-William

______________________________

Here are a few more resources for studying and reflecting on virya.

From The Noble Great Vehicle Sūtra: The Questions of Sāgaramati. Chapter Five. Practicing Diligence. https://read.84000.co/translation/toh152.html?part=UT22084-058-001-chapter-5#UT22084-058-001-chapter-5

Virya Paramita: Universal Energy and Personal Failure. Kathie Fischer. https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/kathie-fischer-virya-paramita-six-perfections-part-7a/ 

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – The Six Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Virya. Diligence, Vigor, Delightful Enthusiasm.

Dear Friends,

First, thank you to the folks who shared their experiences and contemplations of virya. These sharings and the responses deepen everyone’s understanding and enliven the unique practices and paths that each of us traverse and help weave the tapestry of the sangha that is absolutely inclusive.  It would be great to hear from more folks this week.

Contemplating virya over the past few weeks, I have noticed that, in my experience, there seems to be three expressions of diligence or vigor. These expressions overlap and intermingle but I experience a distinct flavor for each. Similar to the way the three flavors of neapolitan ice cream can be distinguished even though they are in the same spoonful. The first two are initiated and sustained by a concept of something that needs to be achieved or something that can be gained through effort and striving. The third is a virya that has no goal, no past or future and is experienced as enthusiastic delight.

The first expression of virya comes about and is sustained by a strong craving for something that will give me pleasure, or that will fulfill a desire to achieve something that I think is better than the current situation, or that will help me become someone who I think is better than who I think I am right now. This might be called “diligence for self”. This vigor can lead to results that provide positive benefit for not just for self but there might be collateral benefit for others. “Diligence for self” can also lead to destructive behavior and cause great harm. It seems that the different results are dependent on mindfulness – benefit  or delusional ignorance – harm. I also notice that when I have engaged, patience, generosity and or moral discipline, in the throes of this type of diligence, the likelihood of negative results have been diminished. This is also the case with the second expression.

This second expression of virya is the diligence that arises and is sustained as the result of a desire to improve a situation or experience for someone else. This might be called “diligence for other”. In these instances the vigor that drives my activity is to fulfill a need that I perceive in the world. The achieved result may benefit me but the initiating motivation is the benefit, or improvement of a situation, for the other. This expression overlaps sometimes with “diligence for self”. For example, I can remember doing housework as a child that helped my mom that would get me a bigger allowance or some craved approval from my parents. It seems that “diligence for other” is a no brainer for bringing about benefit rather than harm because even if there is a sub level motivation of benefit for self there is benefit for others as a result. Unfortunately, when this diligence separates out individuals or groups for benefit , without taking into consideration the whole of beingness, it will likely lead to harm. This diligence, when narrowly focused on a result for one individual or group of individuals, can be terribly destructive and is a primary reason for the isolation, polarization, poverty, crime, war, extinction, climate catastrophes etc. that we are experiencing today. 

The third expression of virya is the essential nature of the first two. This is the virya paramita or transcendent diligence and vigor that manifests as delightful enthusiasm.

Inherent in “diligence for self” and “diligence for other” are the immeasurable activities of the four brahmaviharas: loving kindness, unconditioned compassion, unrelenting joy, and absolute equanimity. These are the expressions of reality that have no future goal, no desire to reify past glory, and are manifest as a result of diligent mindfullness of the present situation. This virya is the effortless manifestation of goodness. It is the spontaneous gift of flowers to a beggar. It is remembering that the one who caused harm to our child is suffering too and offering prayers of ease for them. It is the consistent mindful care of a dying companion no matter the personal loss or cost. It is the deep listening to a daughter whose suffering was brought about by their upbringing even if you were the parent. It is showing up for family no matter how exhausted. It is waking over and over again through the night to feed a newborn. It is dancing and drawing others into the dance of life even when the body is dying.  It is inviting someone who has caused you pain to tell their story. It is practicing calm abiding in the midst of the torrent of global suffering. 

All of these expressions of virya paramita come out of the deepest knowing that there is no ultimate separate self or other.  This is the “diligence for self” that knows self as other and “diligence for other” that knows other as self. It is natural, spontaneous and all inclusive. These expressions of vrya paramita sprout unbidden with delightful enthusiasm for life because “Of course! What else would I do?” 

__________________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

-William

______________________________

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Virya Paramita. Diligence. Vigor

Marc St. Onge 17 Jan 2009 Ottawa--Stony Swamp (Jack Pine Trail), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Dear Friends,

The name of fourth paramita is virya in Sanskrit. It is usually translated as diligence or vigor.  The etymology for virya  indicates two Sanskrit terms. 

“ Vi carries the meaning of “supreme” or “true” while rya indicates practice. Hence since it makes one practice the true supramundane virtues, diligence is the  “practice of the supreme.” 1

Whew! What are the “supramundane virtues”? These are the paramitas (translated as transcendences or perfections). So, virya is the practice of the paramitas. According to Merriam Webster, diligence is “steady, earnest, and energetic effort: devoted and painstaking work and application to accomplish an undertaking.” The definition for vigor is “active bodily or mental strength; force.

So virya is not simply practice but “supramundane” practice.  Steady, devoted, painstaking and forceful work to bring the paramitas to fruition.

When I read this it seems to be a contradiction to the approach of the practice of calm abiding that is focused on bringing about ease and reducing striving. It also seems in contradiction to the practice of ksanti/patience and all of the indications that the paramitas are the natural state of the true nature of being.  Throughout the “Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutra” and other sutras and commentaries diligence is also often taught as being synonymous with delight. How can painstaking and forceful effort, be reconciled with the effortless ease and delight that is the full expression of the natural state?  

In the next several weeks the sangha will focus the practice and inquiries on virya/diligence and vigor, the paramita that is the innate force that sustains all practices. 

The invitation this week is to reflect on the concepts of diligence and vigor. What memories present themselves when you think about them. Are there reactions or emotions, fixed ideas or aversions that may be imprinted in your mind stream and body in relation to these concepts? Are there judgments or preferences?

I look forward to hearing about your inquiries as the sangha begins the study of virya paramita.

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

  1. Asaṅga, et al. Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras: Maitreya’s Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra with Commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham. Snow Lion, 2014. 
  2. Photo:  Marc St. Ong, 17 Jan 2009,  Ottawa–Stony Swamp (Jack Pine Trail), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

____________________

 Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Ksanti Paramita. Fruition

Dear friends,

The paramitas are already inherent qualities that cannot be achieved but are revealed to be ever-present essences of being. Bringing awareness to the paramitas and applying will to their practical aspects is the practice that reveals. It is like priming a pump to bring the water from a deep well to the surface, or planting a seed and applying cultivation techniques to support its growth until it bears fruit.

Each paramita is an integral aspect of all the paramitas. Although the unique experiences of each can be discerned, their essences or natures are inseparable. For example, through the practice of dana or giving, there is the realization of selflessness. Selflessness is a necessary quality for harmlessness, the realization that comes about with the practice of sila or taking the moral precepts. Harmlessness, in turn, is an aspect of selflessness. As the study and practice of the remaining three paramitas continues the inseparability of all of them will be apparent.

With the practice of ksanti or patience there is the realization of peace. This peace is beyond the relative peace that comes about with the end of aggression. This peace is an essential, ever-present quality of being. It is a fruit of dana and sila and is also experienced as their seed. 

Ksanti paramita is already known. It is the experience that highlights its own obscurations, veils and obstacles. It is the sense that reveals the experience of the longing that comes with boredom, the irritation that comes with impatience, the discomfort that comes with frustration, and the dis-ease that comes with anger. 

Ksanti paramita, the fruition or perfection of the practice of ksanti/patience, is the direct experience of the quality of being that is a calm persistent stillness; the ground from which all thought, speech or action manifests. It is the direct experience of unbounded potential. It is like the womb of the mother that does not hinder but only nurtures. In ksanti paramita  there is no time, no pressure to achieve, no objective. It is as flexible as water and as open as space. It is like the movement of the wind that cannot be impeded but does not impede. It is like the stable, fecund earth, and the illumination and warmth of fire. It is the beingness that shines a light on and makes aware the potential of goodness regardless of the situation. It is the peace that passes all understanding.

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Ksanti: Obstacles, Obscurations, Veils.

Dear friends,

When hiking on an established narrow trail on a cliff face, there may be an encounter with an obstacle. An immense tree, a major landslide, or a downed bridge over a crevasse too broad to cross. In these situations we might look for a way around and not seeing one, give up and go home.We might let someone know in hopes that they will clear or repair the obstacle. If we have hiked the trail before and really enjoy it we also might offer our assistance in removing the obstacle.

In another situation there might be a smaller tree or brambles that has fallen across the trail, whose branches and leaves obscure the trail but it is visible through the branches so that we might be able to find a way through. Or there may be a slide that is obscuring the path but can be crossed or a small but deep crack that looks just narrow enough to leap across.

In a third situation, there may be overgrown shrubs or spiderwebs, or small creeks running across the trail that we can more easily move aside or walk through.

If we have been on the trail before our approach to these obstacles, obscurations or veils, might be different. We may be aware of a side path around the obstacle, or confidently work through the obscurations, and the veils may be seen immediately for what they are and brushed aside without thinking. If we are new to the trail we will probably turn around at the obstacles and might even never come back to the trail, or experience doubt about the existence of the trail if the obscuration is too dense or confusing, or when seeing the brambles on the trail or the spiders or even the small creeks, think that even though the trail seems clear ahead, frustration or concern about what other clutter might be encountered is just not worth the effort.

These situations could be seen as similes for practicing on the path of the paramitas or any path that points to the unfolding of awareness of true nature.

Someone tells us about the practices and we can see that the person has a sense of ease or joy about them that we would like to experience. When we ask how they got that sense, they invite us to the practice or give us some books to read or show us a link to a podcast. Or we might just google it ourselves. Like reading about the great vistas of the aforementioned trail we read or hear about the potential results of the practice so we go for it.

Approaching the practice we may become aware of what seem like insurmountable obstacles: depression, addiction, a torrent of thoughts, a life filled with things to do and just no time to be still for the practice. But like the promise of that vista on the trail, something has been awakened in us by our friend’s way of being, an inspirational quote or a deep stirring in our inner being that feels like it may lead to less suffering and greater ease. So maybe instead of giving it up and coming up with all sorts of reasons for not continuing, we seek that friend out again, or look for a place to practice with others. We might begin to seek assistance in removing the obstacles.

Once the commitment to practice has been made and there is a sense of devotion to the guidance, we may encounter obstructions. At this juncture, though, there has already been at least an awareness of some alternatives to the habitual way of being and our devotion and commitment lead us to look carefully at the obscurations to see a way through. In the practice, these obscurations usually manifest as fixed, inflexible concepts about the way things are: The beliefs that thoughts are real, that some things are permanent, that each being is an island separate unto themselves, that there is something to achieve or somewhere to get to that is better than just this. So in a similar way to seeing through and removing the obscurations on the hiking trail, the practice evolves into seeing what the obscurations of thought and feelings are made of and working with them in a way that loosens their grip on us so that we can continue on the path.

The veils like spider webs and trickles of water are the most subtle of layers that hide the way of true understanding. So insubstantial and even beautiful that we may even experience them as the final summit. These are the ideas that lead to believing that we are complete. The blissful experiences that feel endless but that stir longing and attachment when they pass away. The idea that there is only one way to practice or that one practice is superior to another. Any thought or feeling that exclaims, “I have it and you don’t.” These are the poisonous spider in the web, the slippery moss in the creek that sends us sliding, or the talus that falls away underfoot tumbling us down the mountainside.

After many hikes on many trails there is the realization that the joy and ease that comes with hiking, is not the vistas, which come and go, or the accomplishment of scaling a step switchback, or the lush green glades around a cascading waterfall. The joy and ease comes with the trail in each moment. This step then this step. This sense experience then this sense experience. Every experience of every part of the trail in the moment that it is experienced is the true nature of the trail. Each trail, unique in its expression but identical in its essence: the joy and ease of just being on the hike.

As  we dedicate more time and devote more of our thoughts, and expressions to the practice of awareness, the obstacles, obscurations and veils seem to become inseparable from the joy and ease. We begin to, not just see through them, but see them as what they are. Over time and through practice we might begin to see them as the very things that keep us on the path and lead us to the true nature of being. The obstacles that make it clear that there is suffering and that there is something other than suffering. The obscurations that encourage curiosity about the nature of things. And the veils that keep us alert to subtle and habitual thoughts and feelings of separateness that prevent us from realizing the true nature of all beingness.

Working with patience, set some time aside to reflect on the obstacles, obscurations or veils to your experience of patience. There is a practice that is usually done in the form of a dyad with another person but is very effective journaling too. When an obstacle, obscuration or veil becomes apparent, settle into the experience of that. Then ask the question “What is right about…?” For example. If anger arises as one, write the question “What is right about anger?” Without too much thinking, write whatever comes to mind. When that thought is expressed, write the questions again: “What is right about anger?” Then write, keeping it as spontaneous as possible. Continue this journaling for at least 10 minutes. No answer is more correct than another. Whatever arises after the questions, write it down and continue asking. Explore this with other things that are in the way of patience. After at least ten minutes of journaling. Put your pen down and sit for a bit. Asking “what’s here?” I also recommend that you then rip out the journal writing without reading it and tossing or burning it. . Feel free to reach out with questions.

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Ksanti. Heart of the Beatitudes

From the Sermon on the Mount from the King James Version, Luke 6, 27 – 30.

27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, 

28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. 

29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. 

30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. 

These stanzas from Luke’s version of Jesus’s life and death sit in the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. They are the crux of his teaching, in my opinion, and they are also the heart of the paramitas: Ksanti or patience. 

In the opening verses of the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks about how to prepare for receiving and then hearing the word of these four verses by speaking about the effects of the practices of the blessed and the woeful. Dana/selflessness and sila/harmlessness, the first two paramitas, are, in the same sense, practices that prepare for the highly demanding and counterintuitive practice of ksanti/patience. In order to practice and realize ksanti paramita there must have already been an understanding that there is nothing that is mine as such and that harm is never isolated to the harmed or to the moment of harm.

With the realization that there is no absolute me or mine and that every harmful thought, word and deed has an effect that reverberates endlessly throughout space and time, one cannot help but pause before following through on an act, word or thought of anger, revenge or retribution. Not only a pause but then choosing to turn away from these reflexive reactions of habitual tendencies. Tendencies that are caused by the ideas of me and mine as different and separate from you and yours.

Until selflessness/blessedness and harmlessness/woe-lessness is no longer a practice, but realized as just the way things are, in truth; that these essential qualities of beingness are true nature, there will be confusion and doubt about ksanti. There will be reasoned exceptions to, and logical justifications for rejecting the rules of: 

Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. 

As long as there is anger in response to hate, there will be endless anger and hate. As long as there is spite in response to being manipulated there will be spite and manipulation. As long as there is violence in response to violence there will be violence. As long as there is greed in response to stealing, there will be greed and theft. As long as there is a demand for debt repayment there will be indebtedness.

In the recent biography of Dr. Martin Luther King1, Jonathan Eig writes about the wrenching internal struggles that Dr. King had when sending the people, who trusted and followed him, into the hate and violence of their oppressors, while demanding that they not retaliate, that they not respond to violence with violence, knowing that some would be beaten, jailed and even killed. He knew though, in spite of how illogical it seemed, that the generational violence that had been, was, and still is, being perpetrated on non white people in the United States, could only be seen by those ignorant of that dark violence when it was exposed in the stark contrast of the shining light nonviolence.

This is the embodiment of ksanti paramita; the fully engaged patience that automatically and without doubt, turns away from the ingrained, habitual tendencies of greed and hatred no matter what the situation.This is the mind of flexibility, of loosening the grip of, me/not you and mine/not yours, on this life, this body, these thoughts and emotions. It is the practice of stepping into the arms of the suffering ones who are striking out rather than trying to break them. To recognise through their eyes and in their heart, the inherency of them that is not different or separate from the inherency of us. The inherency of goodness, the desire to be good, and the longing for goodness for all beings. Ksanti paramita the willingness to endure and to wait with loving patience through beatings, manipulation, hunger strikes, jail, assassination, crucifixion, for eons, until the effect of this patience: boundless love, eradicates all suffering throughout all times and all directions.

____________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

1   Eig,Jonathan (2023). King, A Life. Farrah Strauss and Giroux.

For further study:

Kshanti Paramita: Crucible of Character (The Six Perfections Part 6b) Podcast https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/norman-kathie-fischer-kshanti-paramita-six-perfections-part-6b/

“The Psycho-semantic Structure of the Word kṣānti (Ch. Jen)” in the 7-10-2016 edition of Buddhism.org, Sungtaek Cho

Nomon Tim Burnett : Paramitas – Patience Beyond Patience (Kshanti) https://redcedarzen.org/Dharma-Talks/3518505

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

What Is Ksanti Paramita?

SHELBYMCQUILKIN

The most often used translation of ksanti in western commentaries and teachings is  patience.  Like innumerable words in the English language, ksanti can have different meanings depending on the context. In the essay, “The Psycho-semantic Structure of the Word kṣānti (Ch. Jen)” in the 7-10-2016 edition of Buddhism.org, Sungtaek Cho points to at least seven different meanings of  ksanti that are not patience.  In fact Cho states the majority of uses in the early sutras and subsequent commentaries do not translate as patience. Most of these indicate that it has a complex meaning which at their core, point to the activity of the mind that notices, and then turns the attention or focus away from, habitual tendencies and toward the actuality or the nature of what is, or simply: goodness.

For example, in meditation practice when we find that we are wandering the wonderful canyons of memories or planning the day ahead, we notice that and turn the attention back to the breath or point of focus of that practice. When waiting in a long line and we are late for an appointment, we may choose to turn the attention away from frustration, anger, fear and toward an inquiry about the reactivity or toward kindness and compassion for other folks who might be experiencing the same struggles. When we stumble or fumble or just can’t keep up due to the body losing capacities because of illness or aging, we have an opportunity to turn the mind’s focus away from self deprecation, doubt or despair and toward a contemplation of impermanence.

As I was reflecting on patience this week, inquiring into the causes and conditions that contribute to patience in this body-mind-life, I noticed that the first step was always noticing that I was in an habitual reactive state. Secondly, letting loose of the attachment to an agenda or a fixed idea about the experience, myself or another. Then third, to attend to the breath or the senses or to practice seeing what was happening through the qualities of kindness, compassion, peace… or any generative practice. Fourth, acting from that seeing.

From this perspective patience is not just the acts of waiting, refraining, or subduing negative thoughts, emotions, or actions. Those are merely the result or symptoms of “the activity of the mind that notices and then turns the attention or focus away from habitual tendencies and toward the actuality or the nature of what is, or simply goodness.” Patience is the first awareness of “negative” thoughts or emotions all the way through making a choice to turn away, turning away, and choosing to attend to what’s really happening. In other words, ksanti in all of its uses and contexts is this complete patience.

The acts of waiting, refraining, or subduing “negative” tendencies without the understanding of the causes of anger, impatience, fear, doubt… and without the confidence in the practice of turning away from the habitual tendencies of the regular mind stream and turning toward actuality, are only the reflections of the pure, transcendent practice of patience. These acts of restraint are noble and beneficial and can prevent further suffering, and they are like the beauty of the moon’s reflection in a still pond. It will waver when the pond is disturbed or disappear with the passing of a storm. True patience, that is an essential quality of the nature of all phenomena, including our body-mind, is like the moon. It does not waver or diminish or temporarily disappear in the storms of emotion, reasoning, sickness, old age, or death. Paramita ksanti, transcendent patience, is the ever present knowing of reality, however it appears, as its true nature: simply goodness.

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

Painting by Shelby McQuilkin

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Ksanti Paramita. Patience


Dear Friends,

With the understanding and practice of dana there is the experience of selflessness. With diligent practice of dana one becomes aware of habitual tendencies of body speech and mind that obstruct the practice. With this awareness there may be a natural striving to discard those tendencies. This striving inspires the practice of sila, the practice of harmlessness. A life guided by selflessness and harmlessness may begin to reveal one’s attachment to certain ways of acting, speaking and thinking and the expectation that everyone else should act speak and think in the same way. When seeing that, there may be an habitual tendency to become angry with, judge, strike out, punish, or retaliate against any being or oneself that does not behave the right way. The observations of these habitual reactions in the context of dana and sila lay the foundation for the practice of ksanti paramita: patience.

Over the next several weeks these posts and the practices will be focused on ksanti, patience. During the coming week the invitation is to reflect on the experiences of patience in your life. What shows up in the body, emotions and thoughts when reflecting on the word patience? Where is patience easy  or challenging to practice? Take some time to practice an open ended inquiry: What is patience?

It would be great to hear your reflections. Please take some time to write them down and send them, even if it’s just a brief phrase. i.e. “What’s here when you contemplate on patience?”

_______________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

Evenings

  • Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

————————————————-
Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.” 

Interlude

It’s Okay to Be Human

It’s Okay to die;

To cry,

To sigh,

At a pink gold open sky

Of day’s dawn and

At the diminishing light of its demise.

It’s Okay to be old;

To mold, to lose hold,

To feel cold so deep in the bones

That they crack open; reveal the gold.

It’s Okay to be sick;

To hear the click of

Thick phlegm in the lungs,

Feel the prick of fever

And to know the wick, longing for body’s ease.

It’s Okay to be born;

To be torn from womb,

To be shorn of worn raiments of the stars,

So earth may adorn with her radiance.

It’s Okay to desire;

To be mired in the fire of passion,

To admire and acquire

Until greed and clinging expire

Under the weight of nothing.

It’s Okay to avoid;

what has annoyed, 

To avert, to push away, 

To even hate until the efforts exhaust

And dissolve in pure love’s void.

It’s Okay to be deluded;

For awareness to be muted

Secluded from the present,

Ignorant of the mind

When it’s denuded of thought.

It’s Okay to suffer;

To not buffer

From the rougher patches on the path

Or acquire tougher boots 

To protect the soles

Already untouched by stony obstructions.

It’s Okay to be enlightened;

To experience nothing as heightened and 

This life untightened, lightened and brightened,

To not be frightened 

By suffering 

By delusion

By hatred

By greed

By birth

By sickness

By old age

By death

To be all or none in just this.

It’s Okay to be Okay

With being just me and thee and we

As is

It’s Okay to be human.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM: Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

Sila Paramita. Discipline, Moral Precepts. Fruition

Dear friends,

I thought it might be good to hear some perspectives about the precepts from other folks and recall a few key points that have been presented in the last six weeks.

The first is from Shunryu Suzuki  from his teachings on the Sandokai, an eight century poem by Shitou Xiqin1

There were two monks traveling together, and they came to a big river where there was no bridge to cross.While they were standing on the bank a beautiful woman came along. One of the monks carried the woman on his back across the river. Later the other monk became furious. “You are a monk! You violated the precept not to touch a woman. Why did you do that?” The other monk responded. “You are still carrying the woman. I already forgot about her. You are the one who is violating the precepts.” 

Maybe as a monk it was not completely right to carry the woman. Even so, as all human beings are friends, we should help them even if it means violating a buddhist precept. If you think about the precepts in a limited or literal way, that is actually violating the precepts. So to see the woman was not to see the woman. When he was crossing the river with her on his back he was actually not helping her. Do you understand? So, not to help her was to help her in the true sense.

When you are involved in the dualistic sense of precepts, – man and woman , monk and layperson, that is violating the precepts and is a poor understanding of the Buddha’s teaching. Without any idea of attainment, without any idea of doing anything, without any meaningful practice, just to sit is our way. To be completely involved in sitting 

meditation this is how we observe our precepts. Sometimes we will be angry and sometimes we will smile. Sometimes we will get mad at our friend and sometimes we will give them a kind word. But actually what we are doing is observing our way.

From Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras.2

The quality of pure discipline is explained next. With loving hearts, bodhisattvas always relinquish their lives, enjoyments, and spouses to sentient beings without the slightest unhappiness and with great joy. Then why would they not refrain be able to refrain from selfishly taking lives, stealing, engaging in sexual misconduct, blind intoxication or deceitful speech. 

From Middle Beyond Extremes 

Discipline keeps others from being harmed as it entails giving up harming others as well as the basis of such acts.

Roshi Norm Fischer teaches that the practice of sila paramita is:

 “easy going serene conduct, beautiful conduct…actively benefiting others…joyful, expansive effort to be of service.”3

From earlier posts.

Of great importance is to remember that the vow of harmlessness is a practice. We will drop the ball, miss a cue, forget, even reject. There is no punishment or reward for failing or perfection. That would cause harm.

This is the practice of sila and the moral precepts of buddhism. They are not laws imposed from upon high, but discoveries that are made when we are generous with our lives and open to relinquishing the barriers of imprints and habits that imprison us. Barriers that also keep us from allowing others to show up in their complete goodness.

I vow to cherish life, not to kill

I vow to receive only what is offered, not to steal.

I vow to respect others, not to misuse sexuality.

I vow to practice clarity of mind, not to intoxicate self or other.

I vow to practice truthfulness, not to lie.

With the practice of dana, selfless generosity, we become aware of activities of body, speech and mind that discolor or even obstruct dana, as well as their remedies that are the seeds and the effects of dana. The practice of these precepts takes patience with self and other; the third paramita.

Perhaps take time this week to review the posts on sila and dana. Also look into your experiences, thoughts and speech as well as others to notice the natural occurrences of sila ,discipline, moral virtue. In this time of great chaos and polarization there is a tendency to remain focused on the horrors and to lose the awareness of the natural, inherent qualities of goodness that are present even in the darkness.

__________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

1. Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness. Zen Talks on the Sandoval, Shunryu Suzuki. Pg 102. Mel Weitsman, Michelle winger editors. University of California Press, Berkeley , Ca. 1999

2. Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras. Maitreya’s Mahyanasutralamkara  with commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Miphham. Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee. Snow Lion, Boston, 2014.

3. Norm Fischer Roshi “Sila Paramita”. Being a Good Non-Person. (The Six Perfections Part 5)” Upaya Zen Center. Copyright October 2023 URL.https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/norman-kathie-fischer-sila-paramita-six-perfections-part-5/

___________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM: Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

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

Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

Sila. Moral Precepts. I Vow to Practice Truthfulness, Not to Lie.

Alexskopje https://www.dreamstime.com/alexskopje_info

Dear friends,

When we make a decision to take on a vow, precept, commitment or even a simple task, it seems that there is always an implied perfect outcome if we do it the right way. In these practices, we inevitably stumble, come across obstacles, get lost and sometimes fail. Then, at least in my case, there is the self flagellation of the judging mind, or regret or remorse. All of these experiences, from taking on the practice through the struggles or failures and finally the emotional experience of self judgment, are just what happens in the practice of making a commitment to something or even someone. The first two parts seem, in most cases to happen and then diminish, arise and fall away. It’s that last bit of regret and remorse and judgment that linger and carve deep groves of negative self perception into the regular habitual mind stream.

In my early religious upbringing, I was taught that mistakes or failures were literally carved into the soul of our being, sometimes permanently until the savior came along and cleansed us or condemned us to an eternity of suffering. In a sense, this is what we do when we repeatedly bash ourselves for not living up to that perfect expected outcome, hoping for something or someone to come along and tell us that we’re OK and all is forgiven. In reality, at least in my experience, nothing can undo the effects of some action that I have taken, or the effects of some action that I have not taken. The results will happen, period. It’s like writing that angry email and pushing send.

So what to do when we stumble in the practice or break a promise or a vow? From my  little bit of studying of the commentaries on the buddhist teachings about the moral precepts it appears to me that there is a practice for this. 

First there is allowing the experience of remorse or regret to be present and to be present to the experience of remorse or regret. Making the best attempts at being in the emotional reaction without judgment. Noticing how the body is experiencing it,  any persistent images that may arise, noticing how the breath is affected. i.e. being fully present to what is here in the moment of remorse or regret. There sometimes may be a tendency or habit to stuff these feelings or “rise above them” or “put on big boy shoes and walk away” from them. This practice is to allow the mind and body to come into sync so that there is consciousness around the action or non action and the personal result of that.

Second is, believe it or not, confession. Well, maybe my mother religion has something there after all. The difference in the Buddhist practice is that we confess to make it known that we know that we did or didn’t do something and take responsibility for it. That’s it. Not looking for redemption or cleansing or forgiveness, just stepping into the effects that we caused and saying this is mine.

The third relates to the third paramita of patience. Once we sense into the suffering that has been caused by our action or non action, and take responsibility for it, we are encouraged to open our heart and mind to what can be done now. ( I wish I was a Sanskrit scholar, because this is usually translated into English as repent or atone. The first one is so loaded for me that it is not helpful at all. The second feels more in alignment just because this part of the practice is realigning with the truth or we might say being at-one with the truth. But in the Sanskrit dictionary there are tens of translations of these two words so I sense that there is much more there that’ll we cannot grasp with our language.) “What can be done now?” is a question, not an answer. The practice is not for us to determine what can be done now but to ask whatever being is in the vicinity, or the cosmos itself,  “What is needed now?” In many cases the effects of not fulfilling a precept or commitment may be such that there is no immediate response. The suffering that may be experienced, either ours or others, may be too intense or debilitating to address that question. So we may have to just leave it open and wait patiently. Here is where faith in the practice and these teachings comes in for me. I know that my embodied memory of regret and taking responsibility for my action or non action from the first two parts will lead me to actions that will steer me back to alignment with the precept and perhaps alignment with anyone that was affected and the whole of reality. This faith builds over time and practice with open ended questioning and patient waiting without an expectation of result…ever.

In summary, noticing that I have not followed the precept, I then embody, confess, and ask.

I vow to practice truthfulness, not to lie.

Ahhh, but what is truthfulness? Your truth or mine? Absolute or relative? 2500 years ago or today?

And what about the effects of truthfulness? Can truthfulness bring harm? In a case like that, is it breaking the commitment to harmlessness to be truthful?

For the practice of all of the precepts, the first and most necessary observation is “What is here?” The question is not “What will I do when…?” Or “What will happen if?”, and then make a plan and stick to it no matter what. This does not rule out considering approaches to future situations. It means being in alignment or at-one with the present experience. “What is here?” redirects the mind away from the habitual tendencies and impulsive reactions or fixed agendas. So the question is not really “What is true right now?” it’s just “What is here?”.

Speech is action is manifested thought. There are several references in my studies to this precept that list the types of speech, action, and thought to avoid. Divisive, manipulative, hateful, deceitful, slanderous and idle. This is very helpful and when the moment arises it is good to have these gutter bumpers at the ready.

And yet, when we are able to think act and speak from the open, spacious presence that the question “What is here?” creates, truthfulness is all that is available. These directives can be helpful but this practice of truthfulness is not logical or conceptual. It cannot be planned for. This truthfulness is stepping into the full incarnate embodiment of our senses, emotions and thoughts. This truthfulness is taking on the responsibility of being a fully, uniquely me-ness or thisness. And it is the truthfulness that is willing to step into the vast space of the open ended question “What can be done, said, thought, prayed, not done, not said, not thought, not prayed, now?” This truthfulness is a leap of unending faith into the simple, natural goodness of reality

.

__________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

___________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM: Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

Sila. Moral Precepts. I Vow to Practice Clarity, to Not Intoxicate Myself or Others.

Dear Friends,

I notice that when I merely consider taking a vow or taking on a precept, my thoughts wander, almost instantly, to the question “How will my freedom be limited by following this precept?” “What pleasure will I have to sacrifice in order to maintain this vow?” By noticing this, I realize that the practi ce is already working by revealing my habitual tendencies of clinging and aversion. This is prior to taking the vow. It will most likely get even juicier when taking on the precept. This may be part of what Norm Fischer means when he claims that taking the precepts is fun. The practice of taking on the moral precepts acts like a highly polished mirror reflecting the conscious and unconscious actions in this life that cause constrictions and suffering for self and others. Practicing the precepts, perhaps paradoxically, also creates space for flexibility and an expanded sense of freedom to engage joyfully with life.

Taking on moral precepts is kind of like asking to have the gutter bumpers put up in bowling. Until we develop the strength to swing and guide the heavy ball towards the pins instead of it swerving off into the gutter, we have the bumpers to keep the ball in the lane. Once strength, confidence and skill develops through practice the physical bumpers are dropped, but we maintain an inner sense of their presence and are able to direct the throw off the ball where we want it to go. Then we are freer to be fully and joyfully engaged in the game

I vow to practice clarity, to not intoxicate myself or others.

From Etymology on Line.1

Intoxicate v.

-mid15c., “to poison” (obsolete), from Medieval Latin intoxicatus, past participle of intoxicare “to poison,” from in- “in” (from PIE root *en “in”) + Latin toxicare “to poison,” from toxicum “poison” (see toxic). Meaning “make drunk” first recorded 1570s (implied in intoxicated). Figurative sense “excite to a high pitch of feeling” is attested from 1590s.

From Sanskrit Dictionary2:

unmada . adjective. 

mad, furious, drunk, intoxicated, intoxicating.

In some of the historical references to the time of Sakyamuni Buddha, intoxication from alcohol or opium may have been an issue for the community and that may have been what this precept was referring to. But, in these times there are innumerable forms of intoxicants beyond drugs and alcohol: internet, social media, video streaming, gambling, shopping, spirituality, money…

Reflecting on this life, where do we find our intoxicants? What do we do to “excite a high pitch feeling”? What do we consume to diminish clarity of mind? To excite our passions, avert from our suffering, or to enable numbness or delusion? 

More importantly, how do we find ways of being that allow us to pierce the dense cloud of seductive intoxication that is so prevalent in these times? This is no small feat in a time when from first emergence to our funerals, we are subject to and are expected to subject each other to an inundation of diversions from just being; when even most spirituality seduces with promises of something beyond just this beingness. The simple act of being fully present with a clear and open mind takes significant effort, even though ultimately, when the magnetic field of intoxication finally dissipates as a result of our lack of attending to it… there is no doing being done.

From one line in the poem “Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage” by Shitou Xiquian3:

Turn around the light to shine within,

Then just return.

This practice of moral precepts is part of that turning around the light away from the seductive intoxications and toward the omnipresent true nature of beingness.

__________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

1.1https://www.etymonline.com/word/intoxicate#etymonline_v_12158

2. https://sanskritdictionary.com/?q=unmada

3. Shitou Xiqian (700 – 790 CE), Translated by. Kazuaki Tanahashi and Dan Leighton


Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage

I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value. After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared. Now it’s been lived in – covered by weeds.
The person in the hut lives here calmly,
Not stuck to inside, outside, or in between. Places worldly people live, he doesn’t live. Realms worldly people love, he doesn’t love.
Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world.
In ten square feet, an old man illumines forms and their nature.
A Great Vehicle bodhisattva trusts without doubt.
The middling or lowly can’t help wondering;
Will this hut perish or not?
Perishable or not, the original master is present, not dwelling south or north, east or west.
Firmly based on steadiness, it can’t be surpassed. A shining window below the green pines —
Jade palaces or vermilion towers can’t compare with it.
Just sitting with head covered, all things are at rest. Thus, this mountain monk doesn’t understand at all. Living here he no longer works to get free.
Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?
Turn around the light to shine within, then just return. The vast inconceivable source can’t be faced or turned away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction,
Bind grasses to build a hut, and don’t give up.
Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely. Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
Are only to free you from obstructions.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut, Don’t separate from this skin bag here and now.

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM: Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

Sila. Moral Precepts. I Vow to Respect Others, Not to Misuse Sexuality.

The vows are not about this self. 

Growing up imprinted with the Catholic traditions, I was taught that all of my actions would be the causes of where I would spend eternity. That if I took the vows called the ten commandments I could go to heaven, that if I failed on some I would go to a middle place of suffering called purgatory and that there were a few that if I failed , I would spend eternity in hell. Once my imaginary soul was spotted with the sins of failing these vows, my soul would be marked for eternity until Jesus came back and absolved all of us of sin, except those in hell. It was all about me getting what I wanted, not about the inherent goodness of not causing harm to others. 

This seems to also be the heart of the grading system in education, the crime, punishment and incarceration system, as well as the capitalistic economic structure. All have the primary motivation of what is good or bad, punishment or reward for the self. Even the new age spirituality inspired by eastern traditions, morphed into the “self help” movement. So there may be a tendency to look at these vows and even experience the practice of the vows as a way to get something for this self.

During the study and reflection on dana paramita several folks in the sangha shared that the practice of giving selflessly uncovered an ever present experience of lightness or joy and that the practice also clarified previously unconscious tendencies of selfishness and greed. Practicing the moral precepts with selflessness and harmlessness as the focal points may offer similar unveilings; that cherishing life, receiving gifts, respecting others, and practicing truthfulness and clarity of mind, are specific, inherent, ever present capacities or states of being, that have been obstructed by the habitual tendencies of the mind stream that see selfishness as the way to be happy and to survive.

I Vow to Respect Others, No to Misuse Sexuality.

Of the five precepts, this one is both personal and communal.The first two, killing and stealing, relate to how my actions in the commun can cause harm to others; the last two relate more to how lack of self awareness and personal development can cause harm to others. Sexuality is very personal and also about being in relationship with others. There are tens of thousands of words in Buddhist suttas and their commentaries about sexuality. Who can have it? How can they have it? Where can it be done? What parts of the body can be used? Underlying all of this is at least one consistent theme: sexuality in any form tends to obscure the realization of non conceptual wakefulness or enlightenment. 

I experience a little hitch here because it seems to me that the last sixty years of sexual liberation have broken the harmful dominance of sexuality by heterosexual males. However I also have the direct experience of sexuality and passion for physical intimacy has cluttered any experience of open sky mind that I have had.

In the context that is being used in this approach to this vow, the precept is specific to refraining from using sexuality for personal gain or to harm another. And as as this practice of respecting others and not misusing sexuality evolves there can be a deeper understanding of sexual expression in one’s life. A few questions that might be considered are: What is the intent of my sexual expression? How does this sexuality affect others? How does it inform or detract from the practice of harmlessness? How does my sexuality impede or enhance mindfulness and the expression of goodness?

There are many thorough contemporary discussions about sexuality and Buddhism. Here are a few.

”Does Dispassion Belong in the Bedroom?” Randy Rosenthal. Tricycle August 19, 2018. https://tricycle.org/article/what-the-buddha-taught-sex/

Buddhist Sexual Ethics: An Historical Perspective. Dr. Alexander Berlin. Edited transcription of a lecture, Moscow Russia, October 2009.https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/lam-rim/karma-advanced/buddhist-sexual-ethics-an-historical-perspective

 ___________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM: Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

Sila. Moral Precepts. I Vow to Receive Gifts, Not to Steal.

 It is important to understand that the moral precepts are vows one takes for themself. These are not commandments that we follow and then, from a self righteous seat, judge everyone who has not taken them or who is acting in ways that are opposed to these precepts. The moral precepts appear in sutras written about when the Buddha was asked about how one would join a sangha of practitioners or when he was asked what practices will bring one to “ the other shore” and what practices keep me on “the near shore”. (“The other shore” is the non regressing realization of intrinsic goodness of the totality. “The near shore” is the suffering that is the result of living in ignorance of that reality). In the Jannusoni suttas1 Buddha talks about the moral precepts as principles that will lead to good results and that principles that are in opposition to these moral precepts will lead to bad results. Whatever one does, says, or thinks will lead to results. It is that simple.

Throughout the sutras there are references to effects that may come about as a result of one’s way of being, but these effects are not imposed or inflicted by another, a judge, or a god, as reward or punishment. They are merely the result of an individual’s actions, words, or thoughts. As a result of actions we may end up having experiences that are like hell or heaven but, from this perspective, no one sends us there. We are there as a direct result of our way of being.

I vow to receive gifts, not to steal.

Stated simply in the Janussoni sutta:

“Stealing is the near shore, and not stealing is the far shore.”

The first step to stealing is taken based on the assumption that something can be possessed. The assumption that something can be owned is based on the assumption that a thing can be permanent and that the owner is somehow permanent. I have read about colonizers meeting indigenous peoples and wanting to trade, but that the native peoples did not have this concept of mine and yours and found the idea that something could be owned as preposterous. Things might be passed from hand to hand but ultimately all things are of the earth and sky and so are people, so both will inevitably return to earth and sky.

This is similar to the Buddhist insights on impermanence. Ultimately all things, ideas, human creations will pass away. When this is known and experienced as the nature of all of reality, the idea of ownership is eradicated and as a result, the motivation to steal or take what is not offered freely doesn’t occur. It seems that stealing is an action taken as the result of a belief in permanence or not understanding that there is only impermanence. When I think that there is something that is fixed and unchanging that leads me to believe that it can be owned, or kept; that it can be mine or theirs. These ideas lead to attachment and greed, which inevitably lead to a desire to take what is not mine or what has not been offered. 

The hellish world that we seem to be experiencing in these times is a result of the belief in permanence. My things, my house, my land, my spouse, my children, my thoughts, my legacy, my country, my religion, my earth; all impermanent, all destined to return to earth and sky and ultimately forgotten.

Taking this knowledge to heart, we can practice receiving gifts, offering gifts, not stealing and knowing that ultimately, nothing is there to be stolen.

Practicing this will result in crossing to “the other shore”.

__________________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

1 https://suttacentral.net/an10.170/en/sujato?lang=en&layout=plain&reference=none&notes=asterisk&highlight=false&script=latin

___________________________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! 

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

Sila. Moral Precepts. I Vow to Cherish Life, Not to Kill.


There are as many ways to approach and engage in vow practice as there are beings throughout all time and space. These approaches and practices are seeded by the individual, habitual tendencies of one’s mind stream.

They might be similar to approaching an ocean for the first time. In my youth, I would see the ocean and run full bore to crash into the incoming waves and be tumbled back onto shore.  (Actually I continued to do this until my 50’s when one encounter almost snapped my neck in two.) Some might approach with scientific curiosity; studying the direction of the waves, the quality of the land at the shore jand beneath the water, seeing the flotsam etc. and wondering how all these things might affect them when they finally step in to the water. And while there, making acute observations about the effects on the body and how it all works. Some might approach the sea curious about how it will make them feel. Others might approach tentatively, first a toe then a foot and so forth before complete immersion, or as an artist, observing color and line and form and light with an aspiration of expressing it. 

Just as there is not one right way to approach an ocean ( Although some might be more dangerous to the body than others.), there is no right way or wrong way to approach the practice of vows. However one approaches and engages, it seems that is very important to let the practice work on the whole being and then to be deeply curious about the effects of the practice on one’s life experience, thoughts, feelings and the effects on the environment and all the beings that one encounters.

I vow to cherish life, not to kill.

Of the five moral precepts this seems to be the most clear cut. On the surface it appears to be an ocean that is easy to approach and then dive in. If you had the opportunity to listen to the question answer section in Norm Fischer’s talk on sila, you might be more cautious about vowing to cherish life and not to kill. A person questioned why there was yogurt and other dairy products offered at mealtime. He passionately shared that, the general treatment of dairy animals does not uphold cherishing their lives and in some cases they are slaughtered when they can no longer produce milk.

It seems to me to be very important to consider the key terms of this vow; “cherish” and “kill”. 

What does it mean for you to cherish life? What stories show up when you inquire into the experience of cherishing? Are there any rigid concepts? Any doubts? What is the body experience? What emotions are evoked? What do we bring out of our habitual tendencies to the act of cherishing?

What does it mean to kill? My first reaction to this question and one that continues to arise is avoidance. I’d rather focus on the cherish part and dance around the kill part. A clear signal that the inquiry into killing will be fruitful in clearing the path to practice this vow wholeheartedly. There are endless rabbit warrens here and one could become lost in the dark tunnels of trying to determine one’s culpability in all of the killing that goes on in this world. This can be disheartening and damaging to the practice. How might one approach this vow with sincerity and gentleness?

The first thing that the inquiry and practice do is to slow things down. They open space that allows me to really see what the experience is in the present moment and then I can breathe a bit. Instead of an inflexible, absolutist approach, I take a moment to see the causes and conditions that may have led to this killing and the resulting effects. There might be an opportunity to understand how I may have contributed to this killing; out of ignorance, or fear, or survival. Through this momentary pause, I bring consciousness to my actions and then, in the context of the vow, I make a choice from knowledge instead of avoidance, ignorance or naïveté.

For example, I am invited to dinner at a family member’s home. We have not seen each other for a while, due to an incident that caused hard feelings. It is an opportunity to start fresh. I have taken  the vow to cherish life and not to kill, which has led me to practice veganism. My relative has grilled salmon that their spouse (a salmon fisherman) caught, knowing how much I love it. And we are having homemade ice cream for dessert. 

The primary question for me is not how can I keep my vow, but what approach and action will bring the least harm in this moment? For me, I want to reconnect, be grateful for the gifts and honor the work and livelihood of the family and cherish this life that offers the opportunity to heal.

In the moment that I am contemplating this, I will take the time to wish that responsibility for any negative effects or karma that may arise for the family as a result of their actions fall on my shoulders. I would also offer gratitude to the animals that have given their lives for this meal and the opportunity that allows healing for my family and, that the offering of their lives may lead to the freedom from suffering in their future.

This seems like a lot. In reality it only takes a moment. In subsequent meditation practice, I may review and refine the wishes and the vows.

How you came to be reading this, as well as how you arrived at contemplative practice or follow a spiritual lineage is a result of a the infinite causes and conditions of your individual life stream. It is the same with your approach to and practice of vows. There is not one right way and the choices you make today may not be the choices you will make in the next. I think that the only truly common thread that each unique approach and practice of these moral precepts has, is to imbue them with harmlessness.

Perhaps this week, you will have opportunities to approach the vow to cherish life and not to kill. What practice will help you prepare for that so that you are action consciously and harmlessly?
____________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! 

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

Sila. Five Moral Precepts. The Vows of Harmlessness

Sometimes when I read the titles to these posts, I feel a bit overwhelmed and even hopeless. 

Moral? What comes to mind is a smirking Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. He used the concept of morals to divide all beings into right and wrong camps. I still sense echoes of fear, frustration, and loss when I reflect on how many folks turned away from each other because of this divisive approach to morals. 

Precept? I confuse it with percept.

Vow? Ouch! My thought: An eternal knot that, if undone, will cause great suffering. There were times in this life when I thought of “lie” and “vow” as synonyms. Or to take a vow would inevitably lead to breaking it which would cause suffering for all involved.

Harmlessness. Is this even possible? As Norm Fischer shared in a response to a question in his talk about sila1, we harm beings just by walking on the grass, not to mention the harm that is caused as a result of what we consume and what we do to stay alive.

So when these experiences of constriction start to seep in, and I have awareness of them, I take some time to breathe, see what is happening in the body and then remember that this is a practice. The thoughts about these concepts, and reactions that I have to them, are the effects of conscious and unconscious imprints that were probably passed down for generations in a response to fear of loss of life, position, resources or power. These constrictions are not me. These thoughts and feelings are not me. The practice is helping me see that and then, in the clarity of that understanding, I can look at these words and concepts with a fresh, open, and flexible mind. Then ask a simple question. In this time, in this life and in this moment, what would it mean to take a vow of harmlessness? And then see. Poco a poco.

My understanding of the practice of harmlessness and the commitment to this practice, is that harmlessness is the heart of buddhist teachings and most spiritual teachings. All the vows in buddhism are founded in the four noble truths and the understanding that the suffering of greed, aggression and delusion, is the cause of all suffering. The vow practice is dedicating this life and all lives to bringing about  the end to that suffering. These vows are not ways to get something or somewhere. They are not badges of honor or accomplishment. When taking a vow, there is not a knotting to a specific rigid practice. These vows are generative and responsive. They are touchstones, guidelines, prods and reminders, that are resonant in the present moment. The more that they become a part of our everyday lives, the deeper our understanding of suffering and what brings about an end to suffering. Of great importance is to remember that the vow of harmlessness is a practice. We will drop the ball, miss a cue, forget, even reject. There is no punishment or reward for failing or perfection. That would cause harm.

The Vows of Harmlessness:

  • I vow to cherish life, not to kill
  • I vow to accept gifts, not to steal.
  • I vow to respect others, not to misuse sexuality.
  • I vow to practice truthfulness, not to lie.
  • I vow to practice clarity, not to intoxicate the mind or body, of self or others.

So the invitation this week is to take a look at your experience as you read the words and concepts in the post title and especially at The Vows of Harmlessness. See what is already present in your life practices. See if there is resistance or constriction in the body, heart or mind. Where is there spaciousness or openness? What would it be like to commit to a life of harmlessness and if this is already your life practice, how is it working on you and your environment? Celebrate when and where it is effective at bringing an end to suffering and when it seems to cause constriction, inquire into the intent beneath the vow. Overall be gentle and curious. And see. 

____________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM:

Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! 

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

1 Norm Fischer Roshi “Sila Paramita”. Being a Good Non-Person. (The Six Perfections Part 5)” Upaya Zen Center. Copyright October 2023 URL.https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/norman-kathie-fischer-sila-paramita-six-perfections-part-5/

Sila Paramita The Discipline of Moral Virtue. Easy Going, Serene Conduct

The buddhist practice of sila is an evolution of being that was initiated in that first moment of insight or enlightenment when we realized that there was something more than getting, hanging on to, or defending against things of the world. And with the realization that the first paramita of dana, selfless giving, is just how things work when we let them. There is the experience of delight and freedom for ourselves as well as the receiver in the act of giving without expectation.And we naturally want more of that, not just because it feels good but because we know it is a true expression of goodness.

With the practice of contemplation and goodness we also may begin to notice that we have habitual  ways of being that inhibit dana and the way of kindness, compassion and love and we naturally want to stop those behaviors. The buddha delineated the behaviors that interfere with goodness and suggests to us that seeing these habitual behaviors and what causes them would help us bring an end to them.

This is the practice of sila and the moral precepts of buddhism. They are not laws imposed from upon high, but discoveries that are made when we are generous with our lives and open to relinquishing the barriers of imprints and habits that imprison us. Barriers that also keep us from allowing others to show up in their complete goodness.

The buddhist moral precepts are not laid out as commandments or rigid laws that will make us perfect or holy. They are simply natural ways of being that show up on the path of goodness. Like dana, when we approach life with the intent to practice these precepts, we can experience  more delight  with life and living beings, and consequently we become delightful to others who we share this life with. Sila is like an invisible, silent virus of goodness that has no vaccine to prevent its spread.

Depending on the buddhist lineage there are from 5 – 16 or as I read in one sutra 84,000 (which means innumerable) moral precepts. There are five that are presented that are for those of us who have not renounced livelihoods, or family. In the zen soto tradition there are an additional six that are precursors to these five. When one becomes a renunciate, then one takes on the remaining five (or three in some lineages). For our study of sila we will explore the five that all lineages have in common. I will introduce them from the perspective of the soto zen tradition from Everyday Zen ( https://everydayzen.org/ ) because the emphasis is on the practices that generate goodness and result in the disabling of ways that inhibit goodness. 

The five are:

I vow to cherish life, not to kill

I vow to accept gifts, not to steal.

I vow to respect others, not to misuse sexuality.

I vow to practice truthfulness, not to lie.

I vow to practice clarity, not to intoxicate the mind or body, of self or others.

Roshi Norm Fischer teaches that the practice of sila paramita is:

 “easy going serene conduct, beautiful conduct…actively benefiting others…joyful, expansive effort to be of service.”1

May it be so.

 ____________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions! 

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

 

1 Norm Fischer Roshi “Sila Paramita”. Being a Good Non-Person. (The Six Perfections Part 5)” Upaya Zen Center. Copyright October 2023 URL.https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/norman-kathie-fischer-sila-paramita-six-perfections-part-5/

Zila (Sila) Paramita. The Transcendent Perfection of the Discipline of Moral Virtue

Well. that sounds like a huge undertaking!

Before taking on this study, it may be helpful to begin by looking at each of the concepts/words separately. In previous posts ( see: Exploring the Practice of the Six Paramitas )there was the discussion of the terms “paramita”, “transcendent” and “perfection” and all of the resistances that might arise to using those terms. So, they won’t be looked at in this post. Instead the invitation is to inquire into the experiences, thoughts, emotions or bodily reactions that show up when remembering, reading or hearing “Zila”, “Discipline” and “Moral Virtue”.

Zila (Sila)

In an online Sanskrit dictionary ( https://www.learnsanskrit.cc/translate?search=sila&dir=au) Zila has numerous translations: zilA with the emphasis on the ending “A” is translated as rock, door timber, crag. With the emphasis on the “I” some of the translations are plough, virtue, tendency, piety, natural good disposition or acquired way of living or acting, moral precept, beauty, practice, custom, habit, morality, integrity. So perhaps the combination of the two pronunciations could lead to something like combining the strength and stability of rock and timber with the character of the natural good disposition and acquired way of beautiful, moral practice. In short: The Discipline of Moral Virtue. Take some time to either look through the above definitions or refer to the full list on the website and check out what experience is generated in you when you fold all of them together.

Here are some of my reflections. They are not meant to impose any ideas about these concepts but perhaps they can be useful to prime the pump for your own contemplations. There is no wrong idea or even a quest for the right idea. The invitation is to see what is here so that as we study zila paramita there will be some awareness of what is functioning in the background of our contemplations.

Discipline

This is a tough one for me and brings up a host of memories and reactions. Experiences of harsh language, punishment, judgment, self deprecation flood my consciousness and I notice barriers that have been in place for a long time. My emotional reactions are a complex of fear, aversion, defensiveness and rage. The somatic experience is dominated by contractions in several areas. The memories trigger emotions triggering contractions, re-enlivening memories and triggering more emotion. There are more subtle experiences that I am aware of that are related to the discipline that is needed to develop a skill or an approach to engaging in the world. These latter experiences feel like overrides or forceful suppressions of the former reactions. I have spoken with other folks who experience deep joy and satisfaction when contemplating discipline, so be open to whatever arises. Take some time to reflect on the word discipline and how it moves through your being. Allow whatever shows up to be there with an equanimous mind.

Moral

This one is very confusing for me. The concept has become very convoluted because of being raised in an environment that spoke about the values of morality and tried to impose those values on me and my community, but acted in direct opposition to those values. This was especially true with speech, sexuality and intoxicants. The body has nervous, electric/buzzy feeling when I contemplate the word. In spite of the contradictions, I also sense an inner gauge that might be like a moral thermometer that has kept me relatively free from outrageous actions that might have caused significant harm. Take some time to reflect on the word moral and how it moves through your being. Allow whatever shows up to be there with an equanimous mind.

Virtue

The Virgin Mother Mary is always the first thing that shows up in my experience when hearing or thinking about virtue. I experience it as a place to reside or a place to strive for. It is blue and welcoming and tastes warm, honey sweet. The most joyful memories of both of my parents are present in virtue. The best of them shines out and touches the dark places of self doubt and deprecation with tenderness. There is a whisper of anger in the memories of situations when I or others were acting out of integrity. Take some time to reflect on the word virtue and how it moves through your being. Allow whatever shows up to be there with an equanimous mind.

The Discipline of Moral Virtue

Once you have taken the time to look at each concept separately, the invitation is to allow the whole phrase to resound in your experience. And see what is here.

____________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being

William

____________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com

Danaparamita. Fruition

Dana Sutta (From the Pali Canon) – Preached at Jetavana, regarding an offering founded by Velukantaki Nandamata to monks, with Sariputta and Moggallana at their head. 

“Her offering”, says the Buddha, “is complete in six ways – three on the part of the giver and three on that of the recipients. The giver is glad at heart before making the gift, is satisfied while giving, and rejoices after the gift. The recipients are either free from lust, hatred and delusion, or are on the way to such freedom.”1

While studying the Tale of the Tigress (click to read) one will see that the fruition of dana has many aspects.

There is suffering.

The first step on the path of dana is realizing that there is suffering. In the tigress tale we are told that it had not rained for some weeks so that even the earth was suffering from the drought. Then there is the “coughing roars”. This may seem like an obvious step and yet there is a lot of not seeing suffering in these times.

Listening

Listening goes deeper than hearing. Listening is the practice of taking time to discern clearly what is being heard. Hearing often triggers an habitual reaction similar to the disciple’s in the story who insists that they return to safety when he realizes that the coughing roar is from a tiger. The bodhisattva says: 

“Wait a moment. Listen again. Those are not simply the roars of a hungry tiger. They are the roars of a starving one. Let’s go on a bit further and see if there’s anything we might  do to help.”

Once there is an understanding of what is real, beyond what the habitual conditioned reaction tells us, there is an opportunity to respond to an opportunity for dana from open mindedness rather than reactivity.

What is wished for?

Looking down, they saw what was clearly a starving tiger; a tigress, actually, for two         small cubs were trying to nurse from her. But every time they approached, the tigress           roared miserably and drove them away. She was emaciated, just skin and bones, with all    her ribs plainly showing.

Once there is a determination that there is suffering there is the practice of seeing what is wished for. There is a subtle difference between wish and need. Unless one is omniscient, a truly accurate determination of what is needed by someone else may not be possible because it will be colored by one’s own past experience and imprints and may or may not reflect the actual need of the being that is suffering. What is needed changes from event to event even if what is happening appears to be the same. Rather than assuming what is needed, asking what is wished for by listening, seeing, and sometimes trial and error, interferes with the habitual reactivity of selfishness. Similar to when an infant is crying, the nurturing caregiver listens and looks closely, and then tries several methods to soothe until the one that is wished for in that moment is found.

What offering will bring the greatest benefit?

When she looked at her cubs, her eyes narrowed and seem to glaze over. It was clear that   her desperation she had begun to view them, her own children, as prey, as meat.“Quick,”  said the bodhisattva to his student. “Run and see if you can find some food for this.         starving animal. She may be driven to eat her own cubs if she doesn’t have food soon.           The karma arising from that will be terrible.

The dana sutta from the beginning of this post may apply here. One can know benefit in an action by the delight that is experienced by the giver and the receiver. Pure delight is a result of the experience of being interconnected with the totality which allows “The giver to be glad at heart before making the gift, satisfied while giving, and rejoicing after the gift.”

How does this delight, gladness, satisfaction and rejoicing come about in the practice of dana?  

Before

Through the regular practice of meditation and insight into the nature, causes and conditions of our habitual tendencies, there is an understanding that these things are empty of a separate, inherent identity. All of these are dependent on something that came before and have no separate identity as such. From this awareness there arises a deeper understanding that the nature of the body and the identity of self is based on these tendencies. As a result there is the opportunity to see that:

Mind is vast, totally empty, and cannot be found. This body, so much matter, is the.                 crystallization of my own past thoughts and deeds extending back into the endless past.

This understanding reveals a great ease of being, peace of mind and unconditioned joy. And as a result one may experience gladness of heart before making the gift. This is expressed by the bodhisattva when he says: “My deepest wish has ever been to save sentient beings. To fail to act when there is opportunity would only be a cause for regret.” So not only is he glad at heart for being able to have the opportunity to end suffering and fulfilling his deepest desire, he can eliminate the obscuration to delightedness of regret that may come without action.

As Linda Atwater shared in a morning sit this week. (my paraphrase) “The repeated practice of dana is like polishing the gem of the true nature that resides on our heart.” In addition to practicing meditation and insight, practicing dana yields the delight of experiencing our truest nature.

During

One also experiences deep satisfaction and ease in the act of giving. Perhaps you have experienced the satisfaction of diving off a steep cliff or diving board after several attempts thwarted by fear. Or the deep satisfaction of knowing the simple rightness of your action, where there is a complete void all expectation for recompense or acknowledgment. Experiencing this type of satisfaction when practicing dana indicates completeness or purity of the practice.

He removed his robe and hung it on a branch of the tree. Then, like a man preparing to.         simply dive into a lake, he put his hands together and leapt from the cliff.

An essential part of this satisfaction is the act of setting aside one’s identity; who one thinks they are and who other’s think they are, setting aside one’s own needs, expectations, and desires. In the bodhisattva’s case, his robes identify him. Being naked ,stripped of all adornments of identity, the self is set aside. 

After

His dana then is a cause for rejoicing. We are not told about his personal experience after the act, but there is the rejoicing of disciples and gods, by building a jeweled stupa and laying of garlands, precious incense sandalwood powder and perfumes. We are told that this bodhisattva emerged later as Shakyamuni buddha. A cause for great rejoicing!

But what about benefit for the receiver? 

In the Dana Sutta  Buddha says:

The recipients are either free from lust, hatred and delusion, or are on the way to such freedom.”

Clearly the tigress was not free from lust for the meat of her cubs. One might even say, as the bodhisattva understood, that she was experiencing delusion in not knowing the great harm that she would cause for herself as a result of devouring them. One is often confronted with opportunities to practice giving when it may be apparent that the receiver is filled with hatred for self or society, lusting for retribution or in delusion about what the causes and conditions of their suffering are. 

The qualifier “or are on their way to such freedom.” points to how the completeness of dana for the receiver might be understood.

 In the case of this story, the bodhisattva does not allow the tigress to take on the karma of killing him. He kills his own body to prevent that. The body is just meat then and the tigress is free from the karma of killing; freeing her to perhaps see a way to freedom from suffering for herself and her cubs.

 For times when there is an opportunity to offer dana to a being who seems greedy, hateful or delusional, one can remember that all of the totality of beingness is on its way to freedom from greed, hatred and delusion. In human beings the heart of even the most greedy, violent, self absorbed is the newborn child always striving to be in goodness. Then as we grow:

“…we cover our own innate purity and goodness as we encounter a challenging world. As children many of us were criticized, ignored, misunderstood, or abused, leading us to doubt that gold within us. As we grow up, we increasingly internalize the judgments and values of our society, further losing touch with our innocence, our creativity, and our tender hearts. We cover over the gold as we seek the approval of others, looking to them to measure our worth—to determine whether we are good enough, smart enough, successful enough.” Adding layer after layer to protect ourselves, we become identified with our coverings, believing ourselves to be separate, threatened, and deficient. Yet even when we cannot see the gold, the light and love of our true nature cannot be dimmed, tarnished, or erased. It calls to us daily through our longing for connection, our urge to understand reality, our delight in beauty, our natural desire to help others. Our deepest intuition is that there is something beyond our habitual story of a separate and isolated self: something vast, mysterious, and sacred….  Tara Brach2

Understanding this one comes to know, without doubt and with great delight, that no being can be left out of the practice of dana.

What about the loss of benefit for the disciples and anyone who may have had an opportunity to learn from this monk?

Dana is faith in the way things work.

This tale of the starving tigress and the selfless bodhisattva on the path to emergence as buddha has been told innumerable times. His act of dana echoes endlessly in the minds and hearts of not only those who have heard and learned from it but of those who have encountered or have relationships with those hearers. This drop of dana continues giving for as long as there are beings to hear it. 

Every act of dana is a center point for an infinite sphere of goodness that radiates beyond the moment of the act or the one who acts.

Dana is selflessness.

______________________________________________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

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1Dana Sutta, Wisdom Library: https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/dana-sutta#:~:text=In%20Buddhism,-Theravada%20(major%20branch&text=Dana%20Sutta%20%2D%20Preached%20at%20Jetavana,on%20that%20of%20the%20recipients.

2 Tara Brach, Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2021), 2–3, 5.  via Richard Rohr Daily Meditation: The Hidden Gold. https://email.cac.org/t/d-e-vjyatl-iuyhlujjx-s/

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Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

Danaparamita. Fruition. The Tigress. A Jataka Tale

Jataka Tales are stories believed to be relayed by Shakyamuni Buddha to enhance understanding of the path to enlightenment by revealing his own past lives and the thousands of incarnations that he had experienced on the path to awakening. An appropriate Jataka Tale will be part of the exploration of each of the paramitas that will be covered in the next several months. Mindfully reading and reflecting on these tales can be a fruitful practice for deepening the understanding and enacting the paramitas. Here is one approach to reading them:

  1. First read the tale through without pausing or reflecting, enjoying the tale and allowing it to unfold fluidly. 
  1. On second reading bring more mindfulness to the experiences in the body, of the emotions and any thoughts that arise. Noticing constrictions, spaciousness, judgments, aversions etc. 
  1. On the third reading. Inquire into the experiences of obscurations or obstacles to the teachings in the story. “What’s that about?” “What brings that up?” etc. 
  1. Finally reading with an inquiry about the fruition or perfection of dana and how it may relate to your life.

Enjoy!

The Story of the Tigress 1

Long, long ago, ages before the bodhisattva attained perfect enlightenment and became the Buddha of our world-age known as Shakyamuni, he was born into a family of wealthy Brahmins. He grew up learning the wisdom, rituals, and skills of his station. When he was grown he was honored. Nobles saw that he had the bearing of a king; the wise looked up to him as a sage. Warriors and merchants felt he had the wisdom of a leader. He was also a naturally gifted teacher, drawn to guiding others along a path of selfless generosity, which in time he decided was his true calling. So he left the city for the forest, where he established a hermitage for those seeking to enter the higher life.  

One day years later, now a teacher, he was walking in the forest with one of his disciples. It had not rained for some weeks. The trees were bare, the grass brittle, and the streambeds nearly dry. Suddenly they heard a series of coughing roars coming from somewhere very close nearby. The student listened and said, “Master, those are the roars of a tiger—a hungry tiger. We’d better go back. Now.” But the teacher said, “Wait a moment. Listen again. Those are not simply the roars of a hungry tiger. They are the roars of a starving one. Let’s go on a bit further and see if there’s anything we might do to help.” Reluctantly the disciple agreed.  

In a short time they came to the edge of a cliff. Looking down, they saw what was clearly a starving tiger; a tigress, actually, for two small cubs were trying to nurse from her. But every time they approached, the tigress roared miserably and drove them away. She was emaciated, just skin and bones, with all her ribs plainly showing. When she looked at her cubs, her eyes narrowed and seem to glaze over. It was clear that in her desperation she had begun to view them, her own children, as prey, as meat. “Quick,” said the bodhisattva to his student. “Run and see if you can find some food for this starving animal. She may be driven to eat her own cubs if she doesn’t have food soon. The karma arising from that will be terrible. I’ll wait here and do what I can to stop her from harming her cubs till you return.” The disciple ran off.  

The teacher watched him go, then turned back to watch the tigers below. How pitiful, he thought, watching them. Even as the bodhisattva watched, he saw the starving tigress struggle to rise up on her front legs, hindquarters still on the ground. She tried again. And again. At last she managed to rise and, growling and drooling, tottered unsteadily toward her tiny cubs. My disciple is not going to be back with food in time to stop her now, thought the bodhisattva. But I can’t just stand idly by and let this happen. Mind is vast, totally empty, and cannot be found. This body, so much matter, is the crystallization of my own past thoughts and deeds extending back into the endless past. My deepest wish has ever been to save sentient beings. To fail to act when there is opportunity would only be a cause for regret. He removed his robe and hung it on a branch of the tree. Then, like a man preparing to simply dive into a lake, he put his hands together and leapt from the cliff. Startled by the sound of something crashing through the trees and bushes behind her, the tigress crouched down in fear, then turned to look. And saw the bloodied body of a man stretched out on the rocks at the base of the cliff. Gathering her remaining strength she lunged forward and began to feed.  

When the disciple returned, apologetic and emptyhanded, he saw the teacher’s robe hanging on the tree at the cliff’s edge. He called the teacher’s name but there was no response. Fearing the worst, he went forward and looked down over the cliff’s edge. And saw the tigress feeding. With a cry, the disciple threw himself to the ground by the base of the tree and wept. At last he rose, dried his eyes, and, in awe, carried the robe as a sacred relic back to the hermitage.  

Once there, he told the tale of their teacher’s sacrifice to the other disciples. Then he led them all back to the spot. There they festooned the tree with garlands of flowers. When the tigress and her cubs departed, the disciples all descended the cliff, gathered the bodhisattva’s bones, and built a jeweled stupa in which to house them.  

The gods, stunned themselves by what they’d witnessed, descended to Earth where the bodhisattva’s body had been devoured and his blood shed and covered the ground with precious incense, fine sandalwood powder, and heavenly perfumes. Even now the bodhisattva’s selfless deed is remembered by those very gods, and by humans, too, who know the tale. It will never be forgotten, even as long ages pass in which high mountains and great civilizations rise and fall, never to be heard of again.

1Rafe Martin. Endless Path: Awakening Within the Buddhist Imagination: Jataka Tales, Zen Practice, and Daily Life, North Atlantic Books. 2010.

Image credit Khangsar.wordpress.com

______________________________________________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

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Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

Dana. Obstacles and Obscurations

What inhibits giving? When I reflect on this question, I want to believe that there is nothing that would inhibit me from giving. But that is not the case and I find that there are numerous situations where I would not give or have not given. Reflecting on these, when I sense into the body, I notice constrictions in various locations depending on the situation associated with the giving. I also notice a deeper paraphysical constriction that has sadness, fear of loss, and a sense of holding on tightly. There are also memories of giving that led to difficulties, critical analyses about a particular giving that lead to assumptions about the result of giving, and judgments of self and the beneficiary of the giving. These three different experiences might be understood to be in line with the three sufferings that are pointed to in buddhist teachings. 1 

  1. The suffering of suffering; having to do with the physical body, including sickness, aging and death. 
  1. The suffering of change; having to do with the inherent impermanence of all things. 
  1. The suffering of conditioning; having to do with what has been imprinted in our habit body/mind and what has been learned and accepted as truth.  

At the heart of these sufferings is a belief that the self and all things are substantially permanent. In suffering of suffering, I tend to believe, that the physical constriction or pain, will be permanent unless I stop it or avoid the giving that causes my constriction. In the suffering of change, I believe that if I can hang on to what I have instead of giving, then I will remain fixedly whole, or stable, or secure. In the suffering of conditioning, I believe the stories that parents, peers and teachers have taught me about what happens when I give myself or my things away. Or I have had an experience where I did not get what I thought I should have because of giving and the resultant suffering still echoes in my being. These stories and memories lead me to believe that there is a permanent and consistent “negative” result from giving in certain situations. 

When I am able to attend to my experience while practicing dana or contemplating dana, I am sometimes able to discern these obstacles and obscurations, often referred to as stinginess, miserliness or greed in buddhist teachings. When discerning them, I am able to investigate their causes and conditions. When investigating the causes and conditions, I sometimes come to the realization that the obstacles and obscurations are insubstantial, conditional, and impermanent and that they cause suffering. Initially, suffering in my own being and ultimately for anyone from whom I am withholding giving. There are two experiences that show up then. From realizing the lack of their inherent permanence of the obstacles and obscurations, I experience a lightness of being. From understanding that my withholding may cause suffering a natural compassion arises and I see an open, unobstructed path to giving. 

The path to relinquishing stinginess, miserliness and greed is to practice conscientious giving; dana. The path of conscientious giving is through the thresholds of seeing, investigating and realizing the nature of the obstacles and obscurations. The realization of the nature of these is the threshold to danaparamita.  

Giving, that is absent of self.  

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

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1 Middle Beyond Extremes. Maitreya’s Madhyantavibhaga with commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju MIpham. Translated by The Dharmachakra Tranlation Committee. p 35. 

Photo courtesy of One Mind Dharma. https://oneminddharma.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/perfection-of-giving.jpeg 

_____________________________________________________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

Danaparamita. Obscurations

Obscurations on the path of paramita practice are unique to each practitioner. There are some experiences that seem to show up for most folks. Yet even with those there is the individual experience that is relative to one’s habitual thought tendencies and history. So rather than list the common marks of obscuration, this week would be a time to inquire into your individual experience to see what obscures your practice of danaparamita. Gaining awareness of our habitual tendencies will help break the unconscious habits that impeded or veil the natural, inherent capacity of dana.

It may be helpful to begin by reviewing the previous posts about obscurations:

and:

Here are a few excerpts:

As we begin the practices, we may notice that we are strongly defending a point of view, or a sense of uncomfortableness, or there is an outright rejection of another person’s experience or one of our own that brought up suffering, or there may be a tendency to become distracted while listening or studying a specific paramita. It is as if the paramita practices are pointing out a previously unknown obstacle on the path to understanding. “Look here. Pay attention to this.” If the aspiration for truth is present, we will begin to look carefully and inquire into these experiences. “How did that get there?” “What is the cause of that?” “Is it real or is it my mind playing tricks on me?” Perhaps after we look carefully, we will see something new about it. A way through or around, or the value of it. 

Finding obstacles on a trail is similar to the obscurations that may show up as we plan to practice and also may show up on the path of the practice. They are made up of thoughts or emotions that have an unknown origin. They distract and dissuade us from the practice. We come up with what seem to be solid reasons for not continuing or not needing to practice. When we stop and take time to attend closely to these obscurations we may see that they are, like clouds, ephemeral and impermanent. And what seemed to be an unmovable obstacle begins to dissolve and lose it solidity. The image or memories of the obscurations may echo in our experience but we have an understanding of their nature as impermanent and maybe even unreal. And in the same way that the trail itself remains after a rainstorm, we notice that the paramitas, as the practice and expression of goodness, also remains after a storm of thought or emotions.

It may also be helpful to review the blogs on dana: https://gratefulroadwarrior.org/perceptions/

Or listen again to Zoketsu Norm Fischer’s teaching on dana: https://everydayzen.org/teachings/six-paramitas-1-insight-yoga-institute/

And then take up the practice of inquiring into the constrictions, obscurations or obstacles that may be presenting themselves as you practice danaparmita.

After settling onto a regular meditation practice of calm abiding, begin to let the body, heart, and mind experience the qualities of any phenomena of obscurations that may be present as you reflect on dana. Notice any sense of obscuration. Perhaps there is a reflection of it in the physical body, or memories that arise, or overall sensations, when you hold these images of phenomena in your experience. Stay with that for several minutes. See what shows up. Each time some memory or physical sensation presents itself that feels like an obstacle or obscuration to dana, sense into the quality of the experience. You may notice that there are thoughts, judgments or emotions about what you are experiencing. Check those out like you might when looking at a cloud. See what they are made of. Notice if they change or remain solid under the gaze of your attention. As you finish the practice, gently bring your awareness back to the body and or breath; reengaging with the physical senses and environment. Rest for a bit without effort or practice.

Then as you go about your daily life see what happens when you apply this practice to any experience of resistance, constriction, or suffering in the practice of danaparamita. And then as usual, just see what shows up. 

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

_____________________________________________________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

Danaparamita. Blessed are the Poor in Mind*

The mind is constantly filled with activity; rich with it. Processing the infinite sensory inputs and directing physical responses to those inputs. Making correlations between what is sensed and memories or past experiences. Interpreting emotional feedback based on attractions and aversions while screening out information that is not essential to survival. This is accompanied by a steady stream of commentary on all of it.  

The practice of danaparamita begins with cooling all of that activity down, turning down the volume so that what is being wished for can be heard. It begins with emptying out the pockets of personal agendas, judgments, expectations for return on investment, and attachment to what is thought of as mine. Dana paramita begins with a willingness to impoverish the conceptual, dualistic mind. 

This diminishment of the usual, incessant mind activity occurs naturally when one is touched by suffering; our own or another’s. In the first instant of the experience of suffering the mind activity stops and there is an immediate innate response that is untouched by greed, hatred or delusion. The “riches” of habitual thinking, desires, and defenses are, just for an instant, wiped out.  The practice of danaparamita is the cultivation of the empty, open, unburdened mind of that first instant after being exposed to suffering. It is the cultivation of being poor in mind. 

Responding to suffering from this “impoverished” mind allows for unconditioned listening and a clear perception of what is wished for, leading to giving that is absent of a mine or yours, a separate self or other allowing for the experience of the true nature of reality as universal goodness. 

“Blessed are the poor in mind for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

*I have taken some liberty here with a translation of the Aramaic ruwach using one of Strong’s definition. https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/strongs/H7308



With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William


A few more links with an open mind approach to the beatitudes 



Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

Dana is an act of selflessness.  

When we experience suffering, we seek ease from suffering. Over time there is the experience that the ease is transient and there might be an inquiry as to why that is. After looking closely there is the realization that that disruption of ease is often caused by witnessing ,or being on the receiving end of, the suffering of others. Looking more closely at this type of suffering, we may understand that our actions, while promoting and maintaining our own ease, may be the cause of the suffering of others. This may lead to the realization that the suffering of others is the same as the suffering of self. There is also the realization that the ease that comes from the relief of self-suffering is transient unless it also provides the relief from suffering for others. The foundation of dana as selflessness is when there is a realization that there is no separate self that suffers, or that experiences ease.  

Practicing dana. 

  • Noticing suffering; our own or another’s.
  • Asking what the cause of suffering is, and what is wished for to relieve the suffering. There may be a tendency to skip these steps, because we think that we know what is best to bring about ease. When it comes to ourselves there may be a habitual practice of relief by self medicating or just doing what someone else tells us to do. When it comes to others, instead of asking and listening we impose our own ideas of ease on the other in ignorance of their self-awareness and wish. The practice is to ask and then…
  • Listening. Relinquishing the self to make space for the wish. Sometimes this is all that is wished for. Deep, open minded, selfless listening disarms the defensive and protective ego, of the giver and receiver, so that the nature of the suffering and the remedy that is wished for can be revealed. 
  • Self-inventory. Am I able to provide what is wished for? If not, is there some way that I can acquire or provide support for attaining it. Will fulfilling the wish cause greater suffering? There is no indication in any buddhist canon that one should inflict suffering to relieve suffering.   
  • Selfless giving. One may have experiences of ease, happiness, praise, accomplishment, and pride, resulting from fulfilling a wish and will then continue to give in order to have those experiences again. Giving to get something in return will cause suffering when one realizes that the experiences are transient. This type of giving sets up a cycle of miserliness. Giving with an expectation of specific results will also cause suffering, regret, sadness and doubt about the practice. Giving without thought of self is liberating for both giver and receiver.
  • Selfless receiving. Moving through the world with an empty begging bowl without expectation or desire to have it filled can be a very challenging dana practice. Allowing the bowl to be filled with whatever is offered is dana of equanimity. Openly practicing selfless wishing allows the true nature of dana and the thoroughly established goodness of reality to manifest. 

With the practice of dana and fulfillment of transcendent, perfect, dana paramita, there is the realization that there is no separate self that gives or receives and no dana that is done; a realization that dana is the natural way of being. Ask the sun and see. 

Sutra: The Buddha told Sariputra, “It is by means of the dharma of having nothing whatsoever which is relinquished that they prefect dana paramita. This is because benefactor, recipient, and material object cannot be found.”1 



With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

1Nagarjuna on the Six Perfections. An Arya Bodhisattva Explains The Heart of the Bodhisattva Path. Exegesis on the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, Chapters 17 – 30. P 80. Translation by Bhikshu Dharmamitra. Kalvinka Press, Seattle, Wa. 


A boy who is said to have offered a mud pie to Shakyamuni Buddha. According to The Story of King Ashoka, a work translated into Chinese by An Fa-ch’in in the early fourth century, one day when the Buddha was begging for alms in Rājagriha, he came upon two boys, Virtue Victorious and Invincible, while they were playing. The two boys wished to present an offering to the Buddha but had nothing to give, so Virtue Victorious hastily fashioned a mud pie and placed it in the Buddha’s begging bowl, while Invincible pressed his palms together in reverence. Because of the blessings from this offering, a hundred years after the Buddha’s death, Virtue Victorious was reborn as King Ashoka and Invincible as his consort.


Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

Danaparamita, The Perfection of Giving Away, The Blessed Poor 

Dear friends, 

Over the next several months we will contemplate and cultivate insights about the individual paramitas. This will happen weekly in this blog and in the practice sessions throughout the week. This approach to the practice of the individual paramitas, (a fleet of vessels passing over to the further shore1) will follow the following process: 

  1. Contemplating what is here. Contemplating on the words or marks associated with the paramita, to bring awareness to the concepts, emotions and even bodily experiences that are already present when we hear or say the names of each paramita, will allow us to notice any preconceived ideas, or unconscious imprints that we might harbor in relation to the words or ideas of each paramita. So, first we will just notice what we think we know.  
  1. An invitation to study the sutras, verses, and commentaries associated with each paramita. i.e., what are some of the insights that the wisdom lineages offer about these practices. 
  1. What is in the way? What inhibits our understanding and practice of the paramita? What obscurations or obstacles are experienced. 
  1. A contemplation and inquiry of the fruition of the practices. How might each paramita come to life in our everyday experiences.  

Danaparamita, The Perfection of Giving Away, The Blessed Poor 

Dana is most often translated from the original Sanskrit word as generosity2. It is always the first paramita that is introduced and is included in several lists of practices throughout the buddhist canon. The first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor.” and the vow of poverty is a primary practice for christian monks and nuns and the central practice of the Franciscan tradition.  

Contemplating what is here: 

What shows up in my experience when I contemplate generosity? What memories? What images? Concepts? Constrictions? Emotions? What physical sensations are experienced? 

In the same contexts, what shows up when I think of the phrase “Blessed are the poor.”? 

What occurs when I contemplate: 

  • Perfect generosity or poverty 
  • Transcendent generosity or poverty 
  • Pure generosity or poverty 
  • Generosity or poverty that carries me to the other shore The shore of liberation from suffering for all beings. 

So, the invitation this week is to explore your ideas about and life experience of dana. Perhaps you might notice if there are any attachments or hardened ideas; where there is fluidity; where there is passion and movement. Perhaps you might notice where there is spaciousness. Just look and see what is here so you know where you are starting from. 

It would be wonderful if you would take some time to share a bit of your inquiry in the comment section on the website or in a reply to this email. If you do the latter, please let me know if it is OK for me to share with the whole sangha. 

I look forward to hearing from you and practicing with you. 

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

1 Hotori, Risho. (2006). The Etymological Meaning of ‘paramita’. JOURNAL OF INDIAN AND BUDDHIST STUDIES (INDOGAKU BUKKYOGAKU KENKYU). 54. 1011-1005,1340. 10.4259/ibk.54.1011. 

2 Insight Meditation Society. https://www.dharma.org/retreats/forest-refuge/dana-generosity/#:~:text=Dana%20is%20a%20Pali%20word,central%20role%20throughout%20Buddhism’s%20history. 


Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

Fruition 

Everything in experience is fruition. The fruition of billions, trillions, an infinity of causes and conditions which are also fruitions of causes and conditions without beginning. In this moment of experience, this fruition is the seed for billions, trillions, an infinity of causes and conditions leading to fruitions without end. It is like an uninterrupted avalanche of dirt, pebbles stones, boulders on an unending slope, that reveals a path that transcends the slope. This is my understanding of the karma of cyclic existence as well as the path of liberation from suffering. 

Some of us have had the experience, when we first began to practice meditation, of the thoughts, feelings and sensations being like an unending avalanche or an immense, overwhelmingly loud waterfall. It seemed impenetrable. Over time, with practice, the avalanche or the cataract of water seemed to diminish, either in their volume or in their impact on experience. These lessenings or quietings are, in a sense, the fruitions of the practice. 

I have been playing with the simile of the avalanche in an inquiry into fruition of the paramitas and the beatitudes.  

When I am caught up in the day-to-day habitual mind stream and trappings of the three poisons of greed/attachment, hatred/aversion, and delusion/ignorance, it feels like I am on a slope that has no visible top or bottom. The thoughts and experiences are like dirt, pebbles, rocks, and large boulders tumbling down the slope toward and past me. I am entranced by some and repelled or fearful of others. I am ignorant of their origin or where they come from or what they are made of. My relationship to each one is different, and I react accordingly.  

I am attracted to the shiny colorful ones, or the ones that seem to have deep meaning, and I run around the slope trying to gather them up so that I can keep them someplace and not let them cascade down the infinite slope. I even try to build storehouses with bigger boulders to hoard and protect them from the constant bombardment; trying to fix them in place. Inevitably the slope of beliefs and the concepts that built the fortress deteriorates underneath, or a massive boulder of life experience or emotion crashes into it and all my possessions and concepts go tumbling into the abyss.   

“Well!” I say to myself, “I will go out and prevent those big ones from crashing into my fortress”. This is my habit of trying to protect who I think I am; my self-identity. So I run around the slope hurling my hate and anger, pushing away and trying to destroy everything that I think is trying to destroy me and what I have. Or I try pushing the debris back up the slope or try holding it in place so it won’t crash into my fortress. 

During all of this I am so caught up in grasping and holding on to, or diverting and destroying, that I think that this is life. “This is just the way things are.” I am completely unaware of the constant suffering that I am experiencing and ignorant of the futility of my efforts not to mention that all of these doings and thinkings are the very causes and conditions that bring about this suffering. I am unaware that my suffering is the fruition of all of my thoughts and actions and these are the seeds of my suffering.

At some point, I am so exhausted by the effort, that I stop and for a moment, I have time to breathe and look around. I get a glimpse of something off to the side. A trickling brook, a stately tree, a foraging agouti, or someone sitting still and at ease. I realize for an instant that the avalanche still continues, but it is not coming at me. It seems to be going around where I am in my stillness. Then I see an especially beautiful gem tumbling down out of reach and I get up from my seat and run toward it to get it and while trying to find a safe place for it, the assault of the avalanche begins again. And so it goes, ad infinitum  

Until again, out of exhaustion or being knocked down by the avalanche, I stop and see. This time in addition to the still nature scene, the person is dancing with the wind or adorning themselves and their surroundings with garlands or beckoning me with a calm smile and eyes filled with understanding. I have a sense of rightness or okayness and an aspiration blossoms to join them in their dance. I may even sense the potential of “life without avalanche”. And I notice, or the person invites me to walk, a path that seems untouched by the falling debris of thoughts, reactions, and emotions.  

I begin to walk the path responding to the invitation. I remember my gem and I go back and put it in my pocket. “I’ll keep this one thing.” It is heavier than I remembered and as I walk, its weight causes me to stumble off the path, but I cling to it and the inevitable happens again. Then, in the cascade of suffering, there is understanding. I relinquish even this most prized possession and continue on the path. The avalanche still goes on and I am drawn to some things and fearful of others. Boulders cross the path and even block it. When I try to move them, I become embroiled again in anger and the desire to destroy it but to no avail. After repeated attempts, there is a realization of the futility of trying to force it off the path, so I sit again and wait and see. Eventually I notice that the soil is giving way and the boulder is slipping to continue down the slope on its own without my efforting.

I continue. 

While walking the path toward the calm stillness and the beckoning friend, I notice that when I direct my attention toward the focal point of the path and the aspiration, that the avalanche seems to diminish and that it increases when I let my attention be distracted toward the activity of the avalanche of thoughts and feelngs. This is even more evident when I stop where I am and rest in calm abiding. A wake of space seems to form around me and the appearance of the debris of the avalanche doesn’t approach at all. While just sitting there without moving toward or away from the goal, there is the appearance of a little sprout of green in the earth nearby, untrampled by the avalanche of habitual thinking and afflictions. Directing complete attention to this present experience there is now a stream of coolness, and garlands of flowers strewn in the boughs of a great sheltering oak, and the beckoning friend is sitting there with me, as if this was the way it always was.  

I can still hear the echoes of the avalanche and sometimes feel its rumblings in my belly but when I look there are only the shadows of dirt, pebbles, rocks and boulders. I notice that the more I attend to them the more real they become and vice versa. When looking more carefully I may see that there are other folks on the slope, dodging, attacking, collecting, and building in a flurry of suffering. My heart is shaken with compassion so I rise and wave and dance and even venture out onto their debris field, beckoning them to stop and see. 

Fruition and Seeds of Fruition on the Path 

Suffering on the field of avalanche debris of habituation of thoughts, feelings and actions, is the fruition, of ignorance of the natural state of beingness. It is also the seed of greed and hate. Trying to gather and keep the preferred debris and hating or trying to destroy or deflect the nasty stuff is the fruition of this seed and these ways of being are the seeds of continued suffering, ad infinitum. Paradoxically, this suffering is also the seed of exhaustion and helps develop the capacity to sense stillness. Stillness is the fruition of noticing suffering and the seed for the aspiration to end suffering. This aspiration is the seed for beginning the path; in this case the path of the paramitas and the beatitudes.  The first fruitions are the practice of the paramita or beatitude of generosity or poverty. These are the seeds that yield the fruit of the discipline of doing no harm. Doing no harm is the seed that yields the fruition of patience or discarding anger. Patience is the seed that yields the fruit of diligence to act, think and speak in goodness, which permeates all of the fruitions. These four fruitions and seeds, give rise to the fruition of focused attention, meditation or prayer. The calm abiding of focused attention, meditation or prayer yields the ultimate fruition that is also the ultimate seed: the wisdom and insight that the true nature of reality and all beingness is unconditioned goodness and love. 

_______________________________

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William


Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

Fruition: The Paramitas from Buddhism and the Beatitudes from Christianity. 

(As a disclaimer to this introduction of the beatitudes as a support for the exploration and practice of the paramitas, I am not a scholar of either of these wisdom traditions. I am curious and intrigued by the similarities between the foundational teachings of the two and I am hoping that the exploration of these commonalities allows for a deeper insight into the nature of reality as goodness. 

When looking for common threads in the teachings of wisdom traditions it is not to justify one stream by seeing it mirrored in another. It is also not to compare and contrast one with the other, nor is it to lift one above the other. From the buddhist perspective, revealing the wisdom of the inherent goodness of reality is right, however it is revealed. Perhaps the christian view of this is reflected in the phrase, “The holy spirit works in mysterious ways.”  

The beatitudes are the first half of what is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. They are followed by an explanation in parable and simile of what Jesus was teaching.  Prior to this gathering of a multitude followers, Jesus has been pointing out and clearing the obstacles and obscurations that inhibit folks from understanding the sutra of the beatitudes. He spent forty days and nights with satan , clearing away the obstacles of attachment, doubt, pride, and greed. Then he points to the obscurations of suffering, caused by the misperception of the nature of form, by enacting miracles of limitless bounty and healing with a touch or word. Luke 6, the chapter with the beatitudes, begins with Jesus working by harvesting corn, feeding the hungry from the sacred loaves in the temple, and healing a man’s withered hand, all on the sabbath which was against Jewish holy law. In trying to find an analogy to buddhist teachings here, it seems that it is pointing out how the obscurations of rigid concepts (Jewish law) become obstacles to goodness. Perhaps it is also a teaching on how to respond out of this inherent goodness, spontaneously in the present moment instead of habit or imprint.  

So, it seems that prior to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching the necessity of identifying obstacles and obscurations and discarding them or at least loosening the grasp of the habits of belief in them. This is in preparation for hearing, reflecting upon and cultivating the wisdom teachings that he is about to offer.  

Below is the complete wisdom teaching of the Sermon on the Mount from the King James Version, Luke 6, 12 – 49. As you read, the invitation is to reflect on how it  points to perfection, transcendence and purity.  Notice and inquire into the constrictions of body and mind that may arise that obscure the heart of the teachings. Apply the same practice to the experience of openness and loosening that may arise. Then perhaps reflect on the six paramitas; generosity, discipline, patience, meditation and insight. And then inquire into what the fruition of the practices of the beatitudes and the paramitas might be.

And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 

13 And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; (14 – 18 names of disciples) 

17And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; 

18 And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. 

19 And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. 

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. 

21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. 

22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. 

23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. 

24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. 

25 Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. 

26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. 

27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, 

28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. 

29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. 

30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. 

31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. 

32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. 

33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. 

34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 

35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. 

36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 

37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 

38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. 

39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? 

40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. 

41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 

42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. 

43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 

44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 

45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. 

46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? 

47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: 

48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. 

49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great. 

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

William

_____________________________________________________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

What’s in the Way of the Way Part 2. – The Trail Remains 

While preparing for a trail hike through old growth forests, expansive fields under wide skies, leading to incredible vistas, we encounter things that clutter our imagination about the experience we think that we are going to have. They may come in the physical form of old shoes, no water bottle, a tweaked knee, that may or may not be remedied easily. Then there may be the things that we have no control over, weather, the trail closed for maintenance, last minute needs that must be attended to immediately. During the process of attending to these situations, our aspirations for the hike may dwindle or become clouded with frustration, doubt, even fear. We may give up entirely. 

Looking carefully, there seem to be two different experiences that may be impediments to the hike and likewise the practice of the paramitas; the obstacles that impede the actual hike or practice and the obscurations of the aspirations that have led us to hike or practice and keep us on the trail or in the practice. Obstacles usually have pretty clear remedies, and they can be removed or not, before the hike or during.  New shoes or water bottle, physical therapy or knee replacement. Similarly, adjustments of the physical environment or the sense experiences can be made for obstacles to the practice of the paramitas.

Obscurations are much more subtle, and we are often unaware of them, or the causes of them. there is often a sense that nothing can be done about them. They are like clouds veiling the sun, or dust in the wind, a rainstorm on the mountain trail. But if we watch closely we notice that the clouds are changing or the wind and storm are passing. We can see the light of the sun through them and eventually they dissolve or move on. The trail still exists and we can continue the planning and taking the hike.

This is similar to the obscurations that may show up as we plan to practice and also may show up on the path of the practice. They are made up of thoughts or emotions that have an unknown origin. They distract and dissuade us from the practice. We come up with what seem to be solid reasons for not continuing or not needing to practice. When we stop and take time to attend closely to these obscurations we may see that they are, like clouds, ephemeral and impermanent. And what seemed to be an unmovable obstacle begins to dissolve and lose it solidity. The image or memories of the obscurations may echo in our experience but we have an understanding of their nature as impermanent and maybe even unreal. And in the same way that the trail itself remains after a rainstorm, we notice that the paramitas, as the practice and expression of goodness, also remains after a storm of thought or emotions.

Obstacles and obscurations will always be present in our experiences and our practice. Both are likely to occur once we set out on the trail or any other endeavor and also once we commit to the practice of the paramitas. Developing the skill to discern the difference between obstacles and obscurations will help bring ease and increase flexibility of mind when we meet them and discover the appropriate approaches to their remedies. With practice, obstacles and obscurations may eventually be realized as the thresholds, the doorways and the paths that lead to permanent awareness of the truth of the nature of reality as goodness. 

Buddhist teachings refer to that which prevents us from experiencing our true nature and the nature of reality as transcendent, perfect, pure goodness, as an obscuration. Some of the similes that are often used to describe these obscurations are clouds impeding the light of the sun or the luminescence of the moon, mud or pollution in water that prevents us from experiencing the clarity of the nature of water, dust that fills the air so that we cannot breathe freely or see clearly, gold encrusted with filth, a treasure underground.  

Take some time now, to let the body, heart, and mind experience the qualities of these phenomena of obscurations. Use one or more of the above phenomena to stimulate the experience of obscuration or veil in you, and explore or rest in that experience. Notice the sense of obscuration. Perhaps there is a reflection of it in the physical body, or memories that arise, or overall sensations, when you hold these images of phenomena in your experience. Stay with that for several minutes. See what shows up. Each time some memory or physical sensation presents itself, sense into the quality of the experience. You may notice that there are thoughts, judgments or emotions about what you are experiencing. Check those out like you might when looking at a cloud. See what they are made of. Notice if they change or remain solid under the gaze of your attention. Then as you go about your daily life see what happens when you apply this practice to any experience of resistance, constriction, or suffering. Perhaps asking is this obstacle or obscuration, or both? And then as usual, just see what shows up. 

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings.

_____________________________________________________________

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

We practice on ZOOM: 

  • Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or participate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual post or click on the little green box floating on the page.

William

What’s in the Way of the Way?

Dear friends, 

The primary purpose of the practice and exploration of the paramitas is to bring about and end to suffering, not only for ourselves but for all beings. Recalling this as we read, listen to, and speak about them, as well when we act in the practice of them, is like the practice in meditation of returning to the breath or a focal point, when we notice that we have gone on a mind journey or have been distracted by our sense awarenesses or emotions. During this exploration it might be good to remember that we are exploring together and that each revelation and experience of each one of us is important to the whole community. I also encourage you to look beyond just what you read in this blog or hear in the practice sessions and to trust in your direct experience of this exploration and where it might lead you to study or explore. The best that any of us can do in our attempts to express our understanding of what we have learned or experienced is to point to what is ineffable and inexpressible using words, art, and actions. You are encouraged to do this by responding to blogs or practices by email, or participate in discussions on the individual postings.  

Over the next several months the outline of this exploration, these writings, and the practice sessions will look something like this: (Although, even these may divert from this outline in response to questions or expressions that show up in the exploration.) 

  1. What is here? As we approach each paramita, you will be invited to look at your current experience of the concept. 
  1. What has been taught or revealed by the buddhist sutras, the beatitudes, other wisdom traditions, or from our direct experience? 
  1. What, in our own experience, are the veils or obscurations to the experience and understanding of the essential nature of each paramita?  
  1. What is the fruition of the practice and exploration of the paramitas? 

Participating in this exploration in any way that is available to you is great! Participating by joining practice sessions seems to not only broaden our individual experience and understanding but will contribute to the same for the whole community. So, drop into a session whenever you can, you are always welcome. 

In the past two weeks I have been writing about the paramitas as a whole (Exploring the Practice of the Six Paramitas and Paramitas as Purities), following number one and two above. This week and next we will be looking at number three: obscurations, and four: fruition. 

What’s in the Way of the Way? 

The paramitas are an essential aspect of all parts of the practice of awakening to the causes of suffering and the true nature of reality; that the nature of reality is universally good.  

The first hearing or reading about the paramitas is like an invitation to an unexplored trail that has been said to have challenging climbs, fields of wildflowers, cool stream crossings, waterfalls and culminates in endless 360o vistas. This hearing may stimulate the aspiration to go hike the trail and then all the necessary preparations that need to be made to get to the trailhead. To begin the exploration. 

The aspiration that arises because of hearing the wisdom teachings about the paramitas or meeting others who manifest them, may lead us to begin to practice and study the teachings for ourselves; to accept the invitation and to arrive at the threshold of the path to understanding. Like arriving at the trailhead and taking that first step on to the path. This moment of hiking for me is filled with the hopes and longings to have all of the experiences that I have imagined come to fruition. Your experience of receiving and accepting this invitation to explore the paramtias may have a similar resonance 

Exploring the meaning of the paramitas and practicing them with conscious awareness brings about an authentic, direct experience of the reality of goodness, the nature of everything. The practice also begins to highlight the veils that hide or obscure our experience and understanding of this nature: the causes and contitions of suffering. In the buddhist Lotus Sutra1 and throughout the buddhist canon and commentaries these are summed up as the three poisons.  

  • 1)passion/attachment/greed  
  • 2) aggression/aversion/hate 
  • 3) ignorance or delusion.   

As we begin the practices, we may notice that we are strongly defending a point of view, or a sense of uncomfortableness, or there is an outright rejection of another person’s experience or one of our own that brought up suffering, or there may be a tendency to become distracted while listening or studying a specific paramita. It is as if the paramita practices are pointing out a previously unknown obstacle on the path to understanding. “Look here. Pay attention to this.” If the aspiration for truth is present, we will begin to look carefully and inquire into these experiences. “How did that get there?” “What is the cause of that?” “Is it real or is it my mind playing tricks on me?” Perhaps after we look carefully, we will see something new about it. A way through or around, or the value of it. 

On the trail we may stumble over a root that causes us to bring our attention to the path before us instead of dreaming about the vista at the end or the field of wildflowers. Or our thoughts start going to judgments about the relative beauty or challenges of the trail. As the trail ascends a steep switchback or traverses a steep, slippery talus, we may become doubtful about our skills and question whether the ultimate view is worth traversing that part. Or the supposed field of wildflowers is now just a dried-up field of weeds, and of course… the bugs. “This isn’t at all what I expected.” “This wasn’t in the trail guide!” Or we may see that the switchback goes on for a mile but there is a way to go straight up to the end of it by hacking a way through, tramping all of the vegetation and disturbing the slope. Or perhaps we are just thinking about the snack that we brought, or what we will do when we get back, or whether our phone is working…. And then, out of fatigue or fear or frustration or boredom we begin to notice. We may stop and sit and look more carefully at what is there in the moment. The path is pretty stable if I go with patience and caution. There are new shoots of green beneath the dry grass and the weeds are shining gold like they are on fire from the sun. First step off the path, I create a small cascade of dirt and stone that obscures the path behind me and then I slip and fall and twist an ankle. Right there in front of me is a salmon berry bush loaded with fruit. 

The paramitas are not only the aspiration, the threshold, and the way to understanding, they are each, and as a whole, the fruition of understanding. All along the way to understanding there may be experiences of seemingly boundless joy, wells of understanding, spacious skies of awareness, and bright clarity of just this as it is. A tasting of each aspect that is indescribable, beyond an expressible concept. It feels like an arrival, an achievement, a culmination. When the agitation of excitement and the sense of pride are expended, looking more closely we may notice that there is no end to this goodness and, with that experience and knowledge, there may be an experience of no beginning either. No past, or present or future, no here or there. Included in that is also the experience of past, present and future, here and there, beginning middle and end. The experience of the practice of the paramitas as the fruition of understanding.  

Brother Paul walked the Pacific Coast Trail from the southern border to central Washington. In his blogs and stories, he speaks of the experiences of arriving at the planned destination of the day’s hike as sometime being so wonderful that he forgot, for a moment, that he was exhausted and that his body was suffering. Then there was the practice of unpacking, setting up camp, preparing a meal and planning the next day’s trek. Or reaching a trail mark that let him and us know that he was halfway or had 300 miles to go, and then celebrating. Or experiencing euphoria at the culmination of the trek and turning his attention back to the practice of being in the non-trail world and his personal practice as a Franciscan monk, daily walking the streets of Seattle with generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, prayer and understanding. If you have done trail hiking where you reached a culmination point of a breathtaking vista that left you with an experience of joy or ease or completeness, you may have looked out into that vista and seen other trails leading to other peaks, (Or often for me, that actually, this was not the ultimate vista of this trail, it was that one 500 yards further on.). Either way, the endlessness of the vistas and potential vistas beyond where you were; the vastness of the endless sky above; the realization that there were seemingly infinite trail heads that were arrived at from infinite beginnings; that there were, are, and will be infinite unique experiences on these infinite trails, and then maybe an understanding that all trails, all experiences on the trail including the things that were in the way of the way, and all culminations, point to the true beauty of Nature and the true nature of all beingness as goodness. 

The invitation this week is to reflect on your experience of your concepts of the ideal paramitas. Then look to see what might be obscuring your own understanding or appreciation of the experience or of the wisdom teachings about the paramitas. To the best of your ability approach this inquiry with open-ended curiosity, free from opinions, judgments and distractions. And then simply see, what is, what was, and what is unfolding. As Gangaji often said, stop trying to see and just see. 

1THE LOTUS SUTRA (Taishō Volume 9, Number 262) Translated from the Chinese of Kumārajiva by Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research 2007.  https://www.bdk.or.jp/document/dgtl-dl/dBET_T0262_LotusSutra_2007.pdf  

_____________________________________ 

Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, seems to activate the yeast activity of meditation 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 – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time 
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time 
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time 

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to leave comments or particpate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual blog post. You must be a subscriber to the website to comment. 

Paramitas as Purities

Dear friends, 

Over the next several months these regular reflections and the virtual practice sessions will explore the buddhist practice of the paramitas. The exploration will be approached by encouraging direct experience of the paramitas in our individual lives. These written inquiries are not meant to be instructions on how to achieve a result. They are instead invitations to develop a relationship with the paramitas and encourage their realization through individual experience and contemplation. References will be made to buddhist sutras about the paramitas, commentaries on the sutras, and teachings from other traditions. In the latter case, we will be regularly exploring the parallel to the beatitudes from the christian teachings. 

Before diving into the individual paramitas of generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, mediation/concentration, and wisdom/insight, over the next few weeks, time will be spent preparing the ground for the exploration. The intent here is to loosen the mind from habitual perceptions of the concepts, by recognizing any attachment to ideas about the paramitas, or assumptions that we might be making about how they should be practiced or experienced. By turning the hardpacked soil of the conditioned thinking, there may be the opportunity for space to not only realize but express and celebrate the aspects of the paramitas that, according to many wisdom traditions, are the natural states of being human. Last week began by exploring, in this manner, the common translations of paramitas; “perfections”, “transcendences” and “gone to the other shore”.  

This past week, while inquiring into the meaning of paramitas, I continued to have a sense that the English words, “perfections”, “transcendences” and even “gone to the other shore”, carried some weight of striving for an objective. (Granted, this is undoubtedly a result of personal experiences, causes, and conditions that echo in my mind when I hear these words and, as a result, are calcified in my way of experiencing them.) So, I looked into the etymology in both Sanskrit1 and Paali2. If you have done this before you know what a gopher’s warren it can be. In Sanskrit it seems to be the combination of two words pAara – beyond, and  amita – boundless. In Pali, it seems to be a combination of parami – completeness or perfection and amita – immeasurable. So, for me, there is a sense of boundless immeasurability without qualification to the experience and practice of the paramitas. This leaves a void of striving, achievement or arriving at. There is a quality of ever-presence.   

The word purity shows up repeatedly in the sutras and is often used to refer to the nature of mind or reality, using synonyms like stainless or clarity. The more I study the paramitas in the context of the sutras they seem to have these qualities, as well as begininglessness and immeasurability. When I reflect on the word purity in this context and am able to quiet the persistent definitions of purity of contemporary society, it represents the essences of generosity, discipline, patience, concentration/meditation, and insight/wisdom. In the sutras and their commentaries, gold, water, and space are frequently used as similes to point to the purity of the suchness or nature of reality.  

Gold is always gold. It may be buried in dirt, covered with tarnish, molded into form, but it remains pure gold, it was always pure gold, and it will remain pure gold regardless of the conditions in which it is found. Whether it is a gnarly, bumpy mass or a finely wrought, delicate chain, the nature of gold remains the same. Water is unchangeably H2O in whatever form it appears or whatever container is holding it. And space has these qualities, as well as begininglessness and immeasurability. Space is also untouchable but experienceable. When I contemplate purity, absent of the concepts that have been applied to it in some Western traditions, there is a sense of ungraspability, absent of blemish. Such that even so called impurities express purity as their essence. Purity cannot be conjured or achieved. In a sense, it is what remains. 

When I reflect on the paramitas, it is these qualities of original stainlessness, combined with begininglessness, that give rise to their transcendence from achievement, striving, judgment, or any relativity. They are pure in the sense that, regardless of how our thoughts, feelings and actions conceal them, they remain as pure qualities of our true nature and like space, they neither diminish or grow, disappear or appear. They are inconceivable but discernible. They cannot be thought but they can be known. They cannot be done but they do. In this sense the paramitas are purities. 

Perhaps, when you have the opportunity and time, you might reflect on the paramitas as a whole or individually, letting them be immersed in your ideas of perfection, transcendence, beyond the other shore and purity.  Perhaps you become aware of a different name, word, mark, experience, or sense, that rings the bell of nonconceptual wakefulness in you. Allow yourself to taste it, enjoy it, celebrate it. Then allow yourself to be touched, tasted, and enjoyed by the paramitas as they appear in your beingness, and your daily life. The practice of being human is not meant to be rigid, constricting or definitive. These explorations are not meant arrive at commandments, expectations, or obligations. Practicing the paramitas is an opportunity to bring pliability to the conditioned and habitual thoughts, feelings and actions and ultimately, freedom from suffering for us and all beings with whom we cohabit this universe and this time.

With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth.  -William

1 Kosha Sanskrit Today https://kosha.sanskrit.today/ 

2 The Pali Text Societie’s Pali English DIctionary https://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/  

References for study:  

The Six Paramitas Perfections of the Bodhisattva Path A Commentary by Chan Master Sheng Yen. Dharma Drum Publications 2001. https://chancenter.org/download/free-books/TheSixParamitas.pdf 

Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras. Maitreya’s Mahayanasutralamakara with commentaries by Koenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham. Ch. 17, Transcendences and Means of Attractions. Snow Lion, Shambhala Publications 2014. Dharmachakra Translation Committee 

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, seems to activate the yeast of meditation 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 – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM PacificTime

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org

Exploring the Practice of the The Six Paramitas

Dear friends, 

It has been a while since you have received posts from me or the Sangha of the Pandemic. I hope that you will enjoy and find useful this and future postings as we move into a period of exploring the six paramitas taught in the sutras of the buddhist lineages. If you would not like to receive these emails, please feel free to unsubscribe. You can do that on our website: Sangha of the Pandemic or at the bottom of this email. The sangha continues to meet for practice and inquiry six times per week. For times and the Zoom link refer to the end of this post.

Each week or two through the end of the year you will receive postings of reflections on the paramitas. During the meditation sessions during the subsequent week, we will meditate on and inquire into the six paramitas with the intention of deepening understanding and cultivating a direct experience of the practices and their fruition. We will also provide links to digital materials at the end of each post for further study. In the near future, there will be an opportunity for comments and discussions with other members of the sangha on the bottom of each post on the website. In the meantime, feel free to respond to the email that you received about this post.

The forum for the practice sessions is a bit unique to this sangha. We open with a few minutes of silent reflection. We take a few minutes to check in. The facilitator will speak a bit about the topic shared in the post and in the context of the specific practices. We practice for 20 – 40 minutes. In the last ten minutes there is an invitation to share essential insights from the practice with the sangha. The sits usually are one hour long but sometimes we go over a bit. 

Let’s begin with a reflection on the paramitas as a whole. 

The Six Paramitas  

Perhaps before you begin to read this exploration, you take a few to settle in and relax. Maybe clear the mind of to do and to want lists and just see what’s here. May these words bring about ease in heart and mind.

The three most common translations of paramita” are “aspect of perfection”, “transcendence” and “gone to the opposite shore”.

So right off the top we might get lost in the semantics of these words, not to mention the baggage of memories and experiences that they carry. The imprints of Western materialism consistently show up as a need for constant achievement and a drive for perfection. The suffering that the drive for perfection has caused over the millennia, and is still causing, is pervasive. “Transcendence” sets the mind spinning in a similar way. With the introduction of Eastern thought to the mainstream of the West, mid twentieth century, transcendence became a goal, for many, to get out of this life. It has been loaded with spiritual superiority and a universal judgment of being human, as being something that one should get past, and that if you didn’t you were somehow less than the folks who claimed to experience transcendence. This seems like just more of the baggage of perfection. Several teachers from the Eastern traditions recognized these rigid mind and heart habits and like Traleg Rinpoche,1 began using the translation of Sanskrit paramita: “going over to the other shore”. This seems to land more easily for many with a lot less baggage than the translations from Pali (perfection or transcendence), but it still sets up a getting to somewhere other than here.

Now would be a good opportunity to pause and take a few, or several, minutes to see what arises in your own mind and heart experience when you read or hear these words: perfection, transcendence, other shore. It is important to know what hidden streams of habitual thought are going on while you are contemplating this exploration of paramita and in the coming months, the specific paramitas. Because, most assuredly, these little demons of unconscious imprints will rise up, as we deepen the practices, and rock the boat of contemplation, distracting our mind and triggering doubt; sending us right back on the track of striving for perfection and justifying our judgments of self and others. So take a few here and notice.

Zoketsu Norman Fischer, a zen monk, points to a different way to understand and entertain the practices of the paramitas. In his introduction to a series on the paramitas2 he points out that these are not states or goals to be achieved but the essence of our humanness. When we meet someone who is happy with being human, just as they are, and you can sense that that happiness has nothing to do with their material wealth, social position or intellectual achievements, they also, uncoincidentally, act in alignment with the six paramitas. In other words, when we stop striving to be some imagined idea of what a perfect human is, or when we stop trying to transcend our unique way of being human, or discard the desire to get in a boat and get somewhere over there, just anywhere but here; when all those habitual judgments of just this-ness, just here-ness, diminish and eventually fall away entirely, what remains are these essential human qualities. Qualities that are perfect just as they are, transcendent of the unconscious haranguings of our super ego, and finally, are not over there, but just right here.

This is the heart of any wisdom practice. First, to develop the skill to see what is here, what unconscious habits of mind are causing distraction, attachment, and hate, fear, clinging and judgment. Second, to see these obstacles to our inherent qualities of goodness and to know the causes and the conditions that give rise to them. Third, to notice that there are times when these conditionings are not piloting the boat and then allow ourselves to experience the joy in the freedom of that. Fourth to begin to consciously cultivate this joy of being human, the joy of being right here, right now; gradually discarding the ingrained habits of the mind and heart. This does take practice. Practice that resonates with the true heart and celebrates the open spacious mind. Whatever that practice looks like is not important. It is important, however, that you choose a practice that you can stick with and find healing, ease and joy in it.

So, over the next several months, in this way, we will explore the virtues (oh-oh another trigger word – eh?) of the six paramitas:

  • Generosity
  • Discipline
  • Patience
  • Diligence
  • Meditation
  • Wisdom

Perhaps the mind has already started spinning on these words. Good to notice. The approach to our study and practice in relation to each paramita will be:

  1. To see what is here already and to reflect on teachings about each paramita.
  2. To recollect or call up experiences of each paramita that were/are joyful and generative.
  3. To explore obstacles, that we may experience, to these qualities
  4. To bring intentionality in meditation and in our daily life to these qualities.

We look forward to hearing from you and practicing with you!

May these words and all the intentions that give rise to them bring about the end of suffering for all beings, throughout all times and in all directions.

1The Essence of Buddhism. An Introduction to Its Philosophy and Practice Traleg Kyabgon. 11/11/2014

2Six Paramitas. -Insight Yoga Institute, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, 10/14/2010

Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, seems to activate the yeast of meditation 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 – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time
  • Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time
  • Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM PacificTime

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

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org

Coming Into Prayer – Angie Alkove

High in the quiet snow covered mountains,

My heart

Ushered by a dream 

Awakened to darkness 

Startled into revelation

A year since my breast was cut away.

I will never be the same.

In the dream

A dark star awaits,

The star reflected in scans and biopsy reports, 

In long pauses and shaky voices 

Of nurses 

And doctors 

And heads of departments

In the scientific names and details 

Critical to bodily survival, 

Lost in piles of paperwork.

In the dream 

The star is no longer hidden deep within, 

But centered above me 

So that

I lost myself in what appeared to be

A twisted cross of ebony

Turning toward the darkness 

Walking though my body,

Completely alone, singled out

I found myself

Coming into prayer.

Not through the door of an imposing cathedral, 

Not on my knees at my bedside, 

But through a softening 

Given by time 

A lens to focus my breath

Prayer is not a universal language like music or beauty,

Prayer welcomes the unknown

Prayer is the call to listen

Prayer disarms the mind

Prayer creates form from loss

It is the labor of the soul turning inside out.

It is the

Seed sprouting 

Bud opening

Fish splashing

Bird singing 

Tree swaying 

Wonder 

Where the visible is given to the darkness, 

The hidden and held lost in light.

Angie Alkove -3/07/2023

Saturday Morning News

Randall Mullins, Feb 25

Expecting a light morning for news,

I turn on the tv, 

coffee in hand, 

feeling at ease, 

until a baby boy’s face appears on the screen. 

His father, 

who must have loved his son,  

“lost it,” as we say, 

shook him too hard, 

and killed him. 

He was charged with murder, 

and is now in custody.

This, brothers, 

all over the world,

from our lonely workplaces 

to fields of battle, 

is our harsh invitation 

to transformation. 

Those among us 

who also have lost it, 

or who came close 

(I am one), 

but managed to stop short of tragedy, 

recognize the hard truth.

“Love your enemies” 

must include 

loving those 

wounded parts 

of ourselves where we

have not yet learned 

to weep our way toward home.

Is it not clear 

that most of the destruction 

of Things Sacred comes 

from the wounded hearts of men?

Let us hold one another accountable, 

but let us not condemn this man 

before remembering 

that we are in this struggle together.

Is he not Everyman?

a brother?

wounded like us, 

but never beyond repair?

He deserves time apart, 

a place of penitence, 

a penitentiary, 

a space 

where the soul can come forth.

It can happen.

Someone has said that 

the young man 

who does not weep 

is a savage, 

and the old man 

who does not laugh 

is a fool.

Transforming our pain, 

healing, 

includes the sacred work 

of grieving, 

and we can never 

complete this work alone.

We too are in custody, 

but not in a prison. 

We are in custody of the Beloved,

helping us turn toward home.

We have a True Home 

at the Sacred Center of Everything.

waiting there to embrace us.

Even if it seems 

thousands of miles away, 

let us turn toward home, 

walking shoulder to shoulder, 

with brothers 

drawn to the same sweetness, 

knowing ourselves as Beloved.

– Randall Mullins (Dedicated to my Illuman brothers)

Grace in the Clearing – Chuck Fondse

Fall in Meadow - Linda Atwater

Grace is there for the asking 

Tall Weeds choke the way 

Arms thrashing through the weeds 

Trying to get to the clearing. 

The clearing appears 

Meadow, beauty, open air 

Sense the air in my lungs. 

Fresh, crisp, life giving. 

No more weeds 

No more thrashing 

No more cut arms 

Clear freedom 

Until it is not.  

Rocks in the meadow 

Just below the short grass 

Not seen.  

First trip: 

Oh damn  

I did not see it 

Second trip 

What is this shit 

Who put that there? 

Third trip.  

I sit down, 

Despondent 

Wondering. 

Will this ever get smooth  

Ever? Ever? 

Grace is there for the asking. 

Not smooth but 3-D,  

There to trip me? 

Deep crevasses, 

Big rocks, breaking down 

To little rocks in the meadow 

That make beauty real.  

May these offerings be in service to the end of suffering for all beings, throughout all times, and in all directions throughout the cosmos.

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 Thursday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time : Practice and Inquiry       

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

Sangha of the Pandemic                   

New Year Dream Practices

A New Year: The Twelve Holy Nights

Offerings from Linda Atwater:

Boughs down!

Crack. Limbs laden with ice give way.

Escaping the excess falling all around me,

Shedding that which no longer serves,

no longer wanted.

What am I ready to cast off?

–::::—-::::—-::::—-::::—-::::—-::::—-:::

Bow down.

Kneeling in gratitude for what remains,

Trunk, heart, a skeleton of I AM.

Parts lost or true nature exposed?

___________________________________________

“I bow with all beings to attain liberation.” -Zen verse-

-Namaste- I bow to the Divine within

Linda

For a description of the practice click here

____________________________________________________________________________

May the joy, kindness, compassion and equanimity of your true nature and the nature of all beingness rain down in unending blessings this year and in all years past, present and future.

May this practice, these words, and all actions be in service to the end of suffering for all beings, throughout all times, and in all directions throughout the cosmos.

-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 Thursday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time : Practice and Inquiry       

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

Sangha of the Pandemic                   

A New Year

While teaching in Waldorf schools, I was introduced to a practice for the children of starting each morning lesson with a questions: “What’s new?” In the early grades , their attention was directed to something new or different in the classroom. As the years progressed, the children began experiencing the question as more open ended and began including new experiences or new ideas that they had or were having. As we advanced to middle school, the questions was more refined to what we were studying at the time or what issues were active in the community. 

I was reminded of this practice by Chuck Fondse in a sangha share recently when he related an experience of approaching the solstice as fresh and new and then that leading to an experience of every moment and experience being fresh and new.. The daily habit of this question: “What is new?” can become a daily practice for us too. Beginning the day with this question may free the mind from habitual thinking and open the experience to what is.  

It is like the experience of a new year. New Year’s Eve has always been a time of washing away, putting down, releasing the accumulations in mind, heart and body that have bunched up from the previous year. In addition to un-clinging, there has been the habit of grasping for something new in the coming year by setting goals or planning specific changes in life. If instead one approaches the New Year with “What is new?” with pure openness, there is a possibility of freedom from expectation of something to come (grasping) or regret of something that has passed (clinging). A gesture of gentle, openhanded receptivity offers the opportunity for connection to what is, and strengthens the capacity to respond with the skill and means that are called for and not what the habitual conditioning thinks is needed. 

Rudolf Steiner introduced a meditation practice for the new year that has this openness to what is. There are many interpretations of this practice, referred to most often as The Holy Nights Meditation. It is often practiced from December 25 – January 6 in reflection of the Christian celebration of Jesus’s birth. However, throughout Steiner’s lectures and notes form other folks, he indicates that the practice can begin on the longest night of the year, the solstice, and continue through January 1st. Some references include a 13th night as well. One of the reflections that I read about the practice was that beginning on the first day of the New Year, we start to collect uncompleted intentions, or we begin to fill up a trunk of hopes and regrets. This continues throughout the year until, near the closing of the year, there’s a bottleneck or backlog of stuff that wants to be attended to. The invitation in this practice might be to methodically reflect on the year month by month and see what hopes are being clung to or what regrets are taking up space in our consciousness. Another approach is to use the practice to open our mind-heart to unknown possibilities in the coming year. There are many other approaches as well so just seeing what shows up as you engage in the practice is great!

The Practice of the Twelve Holy Nights. (My interpretation)

  • Place a journal and pen next to your bed so that you can access it easily in the night or first thing in the morning.
  • Prepare, ahead of time, your question that you will carry through the Holy Nights. For example, you might ask what will come in the month of ____? (The first night would be January, second February and so forth through the twelve months.)
  • Each night before going to sleep write at the top of the page or area the month and year that you will be working with.
  • Go to sleep having asked the question and to the best of your ability refrain from dwelling on it as you drift off. 
  • If you wake in the night with a dream, write it down with as much clarity as you can and then go back to sleep. If you don’t dream during the night, upon waking up take time to write whatever you are experiencing or contemplating upon waking.
  • Repeat this for twelve or thirteen nights. 
  • It seems that one of the most important parts of the practice is to remain in an open, non-assumptive frame of mind when you ask the question and when you record your experiences in the journal.
  • If you are  using the practice to review the year, begin with December and work back by month until last year’s solstice. If you are practicing opening to what is coming toward you in the year ahead, start with January and progress through the twelve months
  • If an experience arises during the day that draws your attention in an our of the ordinary way, record that as well. 
  • If you are not able to begin the practice on the actual solstice, no problem. Begin when it feel right for you. The important thing is to stay with it for a consecutive stretch of twelve nights.

At the end of the twelve nights, review what you have written and keep the journal someplace accessible so that you can refer to it as the year progresses. This is not a prognostication practice so don’t be concerned if what shows up is odd or extraordinary or nothing at all. Like all practices, the invitation is to experience and notice the effect of the experience.

Another possibility would be to incorporate the reflection or question into your daily practice for these twelve days. The indication for the night and dreams is that the veils between our conditioned, habit stream and our open, non conceptual nature is thinned when we sleep. So maybe a daytime contemplative practice would work better for some folks.

May the joy, kindness, compassion and equanimity of your true nature and the nature of all beingness rain down in unending blessings this year and in all years past and present.

May this practice, these words, and all actions be in service to the end of suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions throughout the cosmos. 

-William

A Path

From the perspective of the Mahayana teachings of buddhism, as far as my understanding goes, there are as many paths as there are beings to walk them; as many ways to walk the paths as there are atoms in all the cosmos, as many teachers as there are moments in and out of time. These paths, ways of walking, teachings and teachers are all revelations of true, untouched goodness, the primordial essence, thusness of all things.

Within the paths of the lineages of wisdom that I have been exposed to there seem to be some similar experiences in the process of revelation.  We have been exploring these in the last several weeks: 

  • faith
  • practice as concentration and insight 
  • revelation of obstacles on the path as the three poisons of passion, aggression and ignorance
  • awakening to the causes and conditions of these obstacles: karma
  • liberation.

These are by no means a complete summary of the experiences on the infinite paths nor are they the only commonalities on the paths. These are the ones that have been most prominent in my experience and understanding of the wisdom lineages that I am familiar with.

Faith: At some moment in a life or in pre-birth, everyone seems to have had an experience of complete ease, free from suffering and fear, with a non conceptual connection with all beings and an experience of unconditional goodness. When this experience passes, the imprint on the whole being remains and is like a permanent beacon that reminds us of the experience as being the true nature of all beingness. Regardless of what path one is on, it seems that there is faith in this experience, and the knowledge that arises as a result of the experience, that is guiding us or calling us to return to what we know, from that initial experience, to be the true nature of beingness.

Practice: All practices seem to have two core constituents; contemplation and insight.

Contemplation is the practice of quieting unconscious and habitual thoughts, feelings and actions. It is most often practiced as focused attention on one thing: the breath, an object, an inner picture, a guardian, a prayer, god. In this practice, what is thought of as a self separate from other and all the constructs that make it, begins to diminish and a stillness that sometimes manifests as a presence or presence remains. There is a taste of the experience of the nature of beingness in the quietude of the mind, emotions and body.

Insight is what sprouts, grows, and blossoms from that rich soil of quietude. It often a surprise and is rarely what one thinks they are looking for or needing because it arises, not out of the habitual mind, but the still, open mind of contemplation.

Obstacles on the path: The light of insight shines brightly on the path, not only illuminating the way of return, but the obstacles or unconscious, habitual and conditioned ways of being, that have diminished our inherent capacities and our nature of goodness. This light also illumines how one diminishes and hinders others on their path. When one contemplates the obstacles they seem to congeal into three types, referred to as poisons in some buddhist texts: passion, aggression and ignorance.  ( See the links for more on these. )

Karma: The revelation of the obstacles leads to the understanding of the causes and conditions of these unconscious habits of being or karma. In the contemplation of these causes and conditions one begins to see the how and why of their existence. This knowledge also reveals the insight of how they are perpetuated in, and perpetuate, an unending cycle of suffering. Upon further contemplation, one may begin to see that there is no reality in these poisons as such; that they are fabrications of early life or pre-birth imprints and resulting, conditioned habits. As a greater understanding of the mechanism that runs the engine of karma develops, mind, heart, and body, in their natural brilliance, begin to effortlessly drop the habits that have burdened us in the path to return.

Liberation: First in an instant, in moments, in periods, in days, weeks, lives, past and future, in timelessness, through the experience of a path, the suffering and obstacles on a path, and the glimpses of reality on a path, one arrives where there is no path and never was; where there is no arriving and no leaving; our omnipresent nature as 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

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 Thursday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time : Practice and Inquiry       

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

Sangha of the Pandemic                   

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 Thursday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific Time : Practice and Inquiry       

Please feel free to forward this email and any posts from 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 Thursday evenings at 5:30 PM Pacific Time : Practice and Inquiry       

Please feel free to forward this email and any posts from 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 Thursday 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: 6 AM PacificTime

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

Sunday at 8 AM Pacific Time: Four Brahmaviharas

and

Monday and Thursday evenings at 4:30 PM Pacific 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.

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.

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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