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.

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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

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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 

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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.”

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