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.
One way to understand meditation practice is to see it as similar to the habit of physical exercise and working out, which is something that more people are more familiar with and able to understand.
We can get liberated with any sensation: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, subtle or strong, dynamic or static, mental, physical, or of the external senses. The point is how we relate to the sensation.
Years ago, there was a study done about mystics, saints, and great spiritual teachers throughout history. The researchers read the writings and went over their teachings of these folks, and found that there seemed to be a nested hierarchy of mystical and spiritual experiences
I think of my car as an object. But the cars that I’ve owned and driven around in the past are no more – I think now that the steel, fiberglass, plastic, aluminum, etc molecules that made up their parts are scattered all over the planet.
What is real to us when we are in dreamless sleep? What is a dream made out of, and where does a dream happen? If “God” does not exist, then what is “God” made out of? Nothing, a void.
I just finished reading the book “Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing“, which was written anonymously under the pen name “Jed McKenna”. I had heard about this book for years, but had formed mostly negative impression based on the words and actions of those who said that they had read it. Several friends who I trust…
I’ve heard it said that many of the attitudes that spiritual seekers take towards the path of growth can be grouped in two ways. One is to say that all is perfect as it is, and that all we need to do is relax and realize this inherent perfection.
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.
One question that sometimes comes up for people who are learning how to meditate is whether it is a good idea to meditate in the period between climbing into bed and actually drifting off to sleep.
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”.
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.]
Here is an brilliant excerpt from a talk by master meditation teacher Shinzen Young, discussing a difference between psychotherapy (where we completely deal with one memory percolating up from the subconscious at a time) and insight meditation (where we slowly bring awareness and openness to the whole mind, conscious and subconscious)
In Buddhism, it is taught that, ultimately, liberation comes though insight. It’s difficult for me to explain what “insight” means in this context, but I suppose in simple terms you could call it, seeing existence as it truly is. The traditional teaching, though, is that deep insight usually requires a concentrated focused mind, and that developing concentration usually requires a foundation of ethical behavior.
Today’s guest is Adam Coutts, a meditation teacher and practitioner who has worked with hundreds of individuals and groups to guide them to discover the experience of meditative awareness and to customize a spiritual practice that fits their personality and into their lives. So, join us as we enjoy the power and simplicity of meditation and the profound peace and bliss that comes from learning to rest in awareness and consciousness itself.
So what is it to be a “true person”? One of the simplest definitions of what is “Truth” (and perhaps pointing to the “truth that will set you free”) is that we are being truthful when we do what we say and we say what we do. We can tell the truth at least to ourselves, and maybe even to others too. Living in truth, there is a harmony between our words and our actions. Buddhists would go one step further, and say that truth is expressed when there is a harmony between our “beingness”, what we really are, with what we say and what we do – in a sense, when they are the same.
I once read a book on sex that suggested that healthy sex has at least three aspects: respect, honesty, and consent. Within that framework, the book suggested, do whatever your dirty li’l minds come up with. That definition made a positive impression on me. And now, years later, having developed in my Buddhist practice, I like those three as good guidelines for a basic foundation of “right sexuality” that fits with the modern world that I live in.
The molecules on the outer edge of “you”, say the ones on the edge of the cell membranes of the cells that are on the outer edge of your eye, are just as enmeshed, electron-swapping-wise, with the molecules in the air around you as they are with the molecules further back in the cell wall. In other words, it is scientifically impossible to say where “you” end and “your environment” begins – from this perspective, it all seems to be one interconnected whole.
One core teaching of classic Buddhism is “the Brahma Viharas”. The first on the list is “metta” or “maitri”, which translates as “loving kindness”. The second is karuna, compassion. The third is “mudita”, sympathetic joy. The final one is “Upekka”, equanimity, an evenness of emotionality.
I put on YouTube two interviews that I did for a local Buddhist-themed TV show. Some of it is kinda advanced Buddhist stuff, but almost all of it should be pretty accessible to all folks with an interest.
A central theme in the book is that being human is like being a rider on an elephant, the rider being our conscious intentional awareness, and the elephant being our instinctual habitual animal self. The elephant can be trained, slowly, so that it will obey the rider’s whims, but it takes time and patience.
I now vow to commit myself to taking full responsibility for fully untangling all my inner tangles, and letting the process of life flow through me smoothly.
A straight up masterpiece. This book is filled with deep, true, authentic Buddhist wisdom, and yet is written in an easy, extraordinarily clear Americanized vernacular. It is a comprehensive introduction for mindfulness meditation practice, filled with clear instructions for the path. The book challenges the reader to go deep and to practice properly, but it also has a simple, patient, humorous, kind, smiling vibe to it. It covers a wide ground, and yet touches on each subject in depth.
I trust the tradition when it says that killing creates bad karma, and that bad karma interferes with happiness, clarity, and the potential transcendence. I also find it instructive that all mature religions/world religions advise against unprovoked killing.
[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 1999. I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]
I wrote most of my last letter after being here about three weeks. I imagine that this letter will be sent out sometime after eight weeks here. Time is clearly passing. The hours of sunlight of each day are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer. Sometimes. during the day, I am even hot, which would have been shocking during the frozen month of January. My first week here dragged forever, but now it is another day before I know it (similarly to how, in running, the first time I run a new route it seems to last for weeks, but after running the route fifty times, it goes from starting out to finishing up without much in between).