Karma and No-Self

A friend emailed me yesterday, and asked “If the Buddhist doctrine of anatta (which holds that the self is an illusion) is true, who is it that is accumulating karma? I’m genuinely puzzled by this, especially as it pertains to the concept of re-incarnation and the Atman (two seemingly incongruent concepts to anatta).”

My friend was asking about karma, which is the idea that we are the inheritors of the results of our actions – in other words, the idea that what we sow, we reap. A common example of karma: if we eat healthily, exercise, and get enough sleep, we will probably be relatively physically healthy, and, if we don’t, we won’t. Simple enough.]

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What Time Of Day To Meditate, And For How Long

A traditional teaching in the Buddhist lineage is that the best times of day to engage in formal, still meditative practice is first thing in the morning, upon waking up from sleep and before the day gets going, or right before sleeping, as the challenges of another day on Earth wind down and slip away. I personally feel best about the practice of meditating first thing in the morning

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A Couple Lessons From My Research Career

I spent five years in the nineties as part of research teams studying how to improve drug and alcohol treatment. My job was to manage and clean the data, and to do statistical analysis

In my first job after university, I worked on a team that examined “proximal outcomes” for recovery, both for twelve step programs and cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea was, each modality of treatment program suggests various activities for people to do if they want to get sober – but which of these many activities are actually most effective in helping people to stay clean?

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The Ceremony Of Meditation

Fifteen years ago, I felt unsettled after reading a transcription of a talk given by one of my Zen teachers, Tenshin Reb Anderson. The piece was entitled “A Ceremony for the Encouragement of Zazen”.

I felt fine about Tenshin Roshi expressing the common Zen teaching that full liberation (and “oneness with the universe”) is not something that we can simply capture or do through our own intentions or efforts, but that we can align with our true place in the cosmos by sitting meditation (called “zazen” in Japanese Zen). What this piece said that I had not heard before, and disliked reading, was the idea that the true meaning of meditation is only realized within the context of a “ceremony”.

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What I Say To Friends Who Are Grieving

I imagine that most people would agree that it is often difficult to find appropriate words of condolence when a friend is grieving. I personally do not want to say to a grieving friend that I hope that they feel better soon, because I think that it is healthy for a human psyche to go through a period of pain when it has lost someone or something that it cares about. I believe that people often say “feel better soon” because they are uncomfortable in the presence of another person’s pain, and that that phrase can sometimes feel like an unpleasant pressure put on a grieving person to have it all put back together sooner than would be otherwise natural for them.

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Interpersonal Meditation

Many of us with a desire to be truly emotionally close with other people eventually come to the conclusion that interpersonal relating can either be under control, safe, and artificial, or it can be raw, real, and genuine. A corollary of this is that there is no way around the anxiety that comes from being truly close with people – being intimate involves making space for a certain amount of anxiety without trying to manage it or make it go away.

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Lessons I’ve Learned From Rock Climbing

I’ve noticed that it feels unmistakably more fun and satisfying to challenge myself, to get out and go climbing, to get on some routes that are edgy and difficult for me, and then to be skillful, brave, and persevering, and do what it takes to get all the way to the top. This is, of course, similar to many other areas of life: we don’t have to take on challenges, and we don’t have to succeed at them – but it sure does seem to feel better to win than not to play.

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Mindful Driving

The technique that I have found most useful for meditation while driving is to simply be present and focused on the sense impressions of the act of driving – to see what is going on around us, to keep our ears open for the sounds of traffic, and to be aware of the bodily feeling of sitting in a car seat holding a steering wheel. We can developing an all-round awareness of what is to our sides and behind us as well as in front, inside our cars and outside, repeatedly releasing wandering thoughts so as to bring ourselves back to the richness of the present moment.

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Longer Attention Span

As we know, our modern electronic internet/social networking/cell phone culture is stimulating, entertaining, and short-attention-span-ish, but accomplishments that fulfill us the most take patience, focus, and a long attention span. A quote that I just saw and like, from “The Organized Mind” by Daniel Levitin : “As already noted, the Internet has helped some of…

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Why Not Join Us?

In 2009 I spent a couple weeks at the Wat Pahnnanna Chat monastery, in the austere and celibate Thai Forest Tradition. Most of the long-term monks seemed distant, unavailable for conversation, and even emotionally cold. I had friendly chats with one guy, though, an old Sri Lankan monk, who had kind eyes and always seemed warm and open. One morning we had the following exchange:

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Why Large-Scale Spectator Sports Are Valuable To Everyone

Some people seem to think that large-scale organized spectator sports needlessly create competitiveness, violence, and aggression, and that they are a waste of money, energy, and attention that could be better spent on “real” life. But large-scale organized spectator sports are vastly cheaper and healthier than the alternative ways that people act out their territorial aggressions.

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Marriage, Commitment, and Trust

For most of my life, I’ve felt that a wedding ceremony should be a reflection of the fact that two people are basically “as good as married” already, and that a healthy commitment grows out of already existing intimacy and trust. But lately I’ve noticed that at least a few couples that I watched get married within two months of meeting each other, and that I doubted would last long, are still going strong years later. Sometimes, it seems, commitment creates intimacy and trust.

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Bamboo In The Wind

I think that most people who pick up spiritual practice are looking for more peace and stillness; we want our movements, thinking, and speaking to be easeful, unforced, non-compulsive, and perhaps even almost effortless. A common image in Zen poetry is of bamboo swaying in the wind. One explanation for this is that bamboo swaying in the wind moves – but it moves in an unforced and easy way.

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A History Of Circling

“Circling” is a powerfully liberating and connecting authentic relating practice that has been exponentially growing in popularity, worldwide. As circling has reached wider, people have gotten interested in its roots and history. As a part of an epic Facebook discussion thread on the subject, I wrote a post to clarify my memories of the beginning days of Circling and its evolution since then. I especially focused my writings on the early relationships between some of the major founding figures.

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Responding To An Article Called “Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate”

This article in the New York Times alleges that mindfulness in the workplace decreases motivation and therefore is something employers should discourage.  The title is, “Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate”. My thoughts, after reading this article: 1. I’d put it more as, rather than that meditation reduces motivation, more like it…

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