Buddhism

More Like Working Out

More Like Working Out

“When people go to the gym, for example, they know pretty much what’s going to happen, and how it’s going to happen. Lifting weights causes muscles to stretch and even tear a little, causing lactic acid to build up, causing the muscles to rebuild themselves bigger and with more capacity than they had before. It’s a physical process, and while trainers will debate the best methods until the end of time, the basic operation is clearly understood.

Meditation is similar. If you do the work, predictable changes in the mind and the brain tend to result, in a fairly reliable way. This, in a sense, is the very opposite of spirituality—and it’s certainly not religion either. It’s more like working out: Each time I come back to the breath, I’m strengthening very specific neural networks.”

~ Jay Michaelson

Riddled with Dilemmas

Riddled with Dilemmas

The dilemmas related to attentional fitness are similar to the more familiar dilemmas that make physical fitness easier to discuss than to turn into habits. A mindfulness teacher has to sell you on the possible outcomes, but also has to steer you back again and again to the slippery path that leads to them.

Practice Like a Devoted Mother

Jack Kornfield's response to the question, "What in Buddhism have you changed your mind about, and why?" Tricycle Magazine, Summer 2008:

I have changed my mind about a hundred things. Effort in meditation is one example. I used to think that to become free you had to practice like a samurai warrior, but now I understand that you have to practice like a devoted mother of a newborn child. It takes the same energy but has a completely different quality. It's compassion and presence rather than having to defeat the enemy in battle.

Here’s another thing: I used to think that sitting in meditation was enough, that it would really change everything in your life in a whole and complete way. For a few people, it might work out that way, but in general, it ain’t so. For most of us, meditation is one part of a whole mandala of awakening, which includes attention to your body, attention to your relationships, attention to right speech and right livelihood. 

I used to think that deeper, better meditation and practice was happening in the centers in Asia than what we could teach here in America, and that for the real thing you had to go to Thailand or Burma or India or Tibet. Many of us who studied in Asia used to think that, and maybe some still do. But now, when I go back to Asia, I realize that beautiful deep practice is happening in Burma and Thailand and India and Tibet, and the same beautiful deep practice is happening here, and I think, “Oh, that was just a delusion I had.”

Read other responses to this question...

The Way We Daydream It Should Be

 

Cabeza Vainilla, Cabeza Córdoba, Cabeza Chiapas by Javier Marín

Excerpt from "Negative Capability: Kerouac's Buddhist Ethic," by Allen Ginsberg, Tricycle Magazine, Fall 1992:

The Four Noble Truths are as follows. First, existence contains suffering. Second, suffering is caused by ignorance of the conditions in which we exist—ignorance of the transitoriness and ignorance of anatma, the empty nature of the situation, so that everybody is afraid of a permanent condition of suffering and doesn't realize that suffering itself is transitory, impermanent. There is no permanent Hell, there is no permanent Heaven. Therefore, the suffering that we sense during this transition of life is not a permanent condition that we need to be afraid of. It's not where we're going to end up. We end liberated from the suffering either by death, or in life, by waking up to the nature of our situation and not clinging and grasping, screaming and being angry, resentful, irritable or insulted by our existence.

It is possible to take our existence as a "sacred world," to take this place as open space rather than claustrophobic dark void. It is possible to take a friendly relationship to our ego natures, it is possible to appreciate the aesthetic play of forms in emptiness, and to exist in this place like majestic kings of our own consciousness. But to do that, we would have to give up grasping to make everything come out the way we daydream it should.

So, suffering is caused by ignorance, or suffering exaggerated by ignorance or ignorant grasping and clinging to our notion of what we think should be, is what causes the "suffering of suffering." The suffering itself is not so bad, it's the resentment against suffering that is the real pain. This is where I think Kerouac got caught as a Catholic, ultimately, because I don't think he overcame that fear of the First Noble Truth.

Read more...

Mature Wisdom

Topiary Park, November 4, 2012

"Wisdom, the Buddha says, starts with a simple question: What actions will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness?

The wisdom here lies in realizing that your happiness depends on what you do, and that the pursuit of happiness is worthwhile only if it’s long-term.

The test of how far your wisdom has matured lies in the strategic skill with which you can keep yourself from doing things that you like to do but that would cause long-term harm, and the skill with which you can talk yourself into doing things that you don’t like to do but that would lead to long-term well-being and happiness.

In other words, mature wisdom requires a mature ego."

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu, from "Hang On To Your Ego," Tricycle Magazine, Summer 2007

Natural Community

Excerpt from "Sick Love" by Stephen Schettini (Jan. 14, 2013):

I loved the Buddha’s teachings. I found them invaluable and still do. However, I mistook Buddhists for the Buddha and lost my way. Still, I was lucky and my eyes opened one day to the contrived righteousness of communal life. I understood that it was time to move on. Technically, I was free, under no physical and only gentle psychological pressure to stay. However, it took me a full year to extricate myself, to let go of my need for love and validation from this group, to give up the image of myself on a holy and righteous path and return to the plain truth that purity is an illusion, that there is no security and that I had to pursue my mundane way alone.

That in fact, I’d been alone all along.

There is life after a spiritual community. There is such a thing as natural community, not contrived to support your fondest wishes but to commiserate with on life’s hard byways. There is no preexisting group out there waiting for you. Real community forms organically, spontaneously. Prepare yourself for it by traveling light. People of like mind are not found in any particular monastery, school or social group. It’s rare to meet others with whom we truly commune. We know that. You know that. Locking yourself into a gated community, pretending you’re safe and sound, is a sure way to not bump into anyone intimately.

Get out there, vulnerable and honest. Admit you’re alone on your path through life and you’ll sooner or later meet fellow-travelers. You’ll share your insights as equals. Some of them may for a while become mentors or guides. Bear in mind though, that relationship will deteriorate the minute you abandon your discernment, the instant you stop taking your own risks.

Otherwise, how will you know when they’re speaking nonsense, as from time to time we all do? How will you realize that they’re manipulating you, as they might if they see you can’t hold your own? They might even be doing it because they love you.

How would you know what sort of love that is?

Read entire essay...

The Product of Our Actions

Matt Running Columbus Half Marathon, October 21, 2012

"Nothing happens without a cause. Things are the way they are not because of chance or the will of a deity but because people have acted in particular ways and generated particular consequences. The world we inhabit is the product of our actions, which are themselves reflections of our minds. . . If we do not care for one another, who else will care for us? Who among us has the right to say of another, 'He is of no use to us?' For better or worse, whether we like it or not, we are all in this together. Learning how to care for one another is a central part of the path and of the practice."
    
~ Andrew Olendzki, "Medicine for the World," Tricycle Magazine, Summer 2008

Dust to Dust

Franklin Avenue, October 7, 2012

Excerpt from In My Own Way by Alan Watts:

This is all there is;
     the path comes to and end
     among the parsley.

Perhaps I can express this Buddhist fascination for the mystery of nothingness in another way.

If we get rid of all wishful thinking and dubious metaphysical speculations, we can hardly doubt that – at a time not too distant – each one of us will simply cease to be. It won’t be like going into darkness forever, for there will be neither darkness, nor time, nor sense of futility, nor anyone to feel anything about it.

Try as best you can to imagine this, and keep at it. The universe will, supposedly, be going on as usual, but for each individual it will be as if it had never happened at all; and even that is saying too much, because there won’t be anyone for whom it never happened.

Make this prospect as real as possible: the one total certainty. You will be as if you had never existed, which was, however, the way you were before you did exist – and not only you but everything else.

Nevertheless, with such an improbable past, here we are. We begin from nothing and end in nothing. You can say that again. Think it over and over, trying to conceive the fact of coming to never having existed.

After a while you will begin to feel rather weird, as if this very apparent something that you are is firmly and certainly grounded in nothingness, much as your sight seems to emerge from that total blankness behind your eyes.

The weird feeling goes with the fact that you are being introduced to a new common sense, a new logic, in which you are beginning to realize the identity of ku and shiki, void and form.

All of a sudden it will strike you that this nothingness is the most potent, magical, basic, and reliable thing you ever thought of, and that the reason you can’t form the slightest idea of it is that it’s yourself.

But not the self you thought you were.  


See also:

 

 

Very Anxious People

From "The Maniac in Me," by Daniel Smith, The New York Times Magazine, April 20, 2012:

Monkey Mind : A Memoir of AnxietyContrary to popular belief, Buddhists can actually be very anxious people. That’s often why they become Buddhists in the first place. Buddhism was made for the anxious the same way Christianity was made for the downtrodden or A.A. for the addicted.

Its purpose is to foster equanimity, to tame excesses of thought and emotion. The Buddhists have a great term for the mental state these excesses produce. They refer to it as "monkey mind." A person in the throes of monkey mind suffers from a consciousness whose constituent parts will not stop bouncing from skull-side to skull-side, flipping and jumping and flinging feces at the walls and swinging from loose neurons like howlers from vines.

Buddhist practices are designed to collar these monkeys of the mind — to pacify them. Is it any wonder that Buddhism has had such tremendous success in the bastions of American nervousness on the West Coast and in the New York metro area?

Only Listen

Nothing's worth noting that is not seen with fresh eyes.

Bashō

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.

Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakens.

Carl Jung

III A Glimpse of the Ox

The meadowlark sings, sitting on a branch.
Warm sun, light breeze, green willows by the river.
The Ox stands right there; where could he hide?
That splendid head, those stately horns,
what artist could draw their likeness?

If he would only listen to everyday sounds he would get it in a second. As for the senses: it was the cicada that made the ear! The thing itself is there no matter what we do. It is like the salt in water and the binder in paint. Rightly opened, the eye sees no difference between the water and the well.

Max Gimblett / A Glimpse of the Ox, 2005-08 / Sumi Ink, HMP American Handmade Paper

Oxherding is based on the Song-Dynasty Chinese “Oxherding Series,” a Zen Buddhist parable of self-discovery composed of pictures and verse. A contemporary American set of perspectives on this greatly venerated Buddhist text, the exhibition includes six collaborative artist books, a series of 10 sumi ink paintings by Max Gimblett, and 10 poems in Chinese and three English versions translated by Lewis Hyde. (Exhibit runs from Oct. 29, 2011 through Mar. 4, 2012 at the new Graham Gund Gallery on the campus of Kenyon College.)

Beyond the Mind

Excerpts from Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti:

The mind can’t fathom that there can be a true intelligence, a transcendent intelligence, that isn’t the product and outcome of thought and conceptual understanding. It can’t fathom that there could be wisdom that’s not going to come at you in the form of thoughts, in the form of acquired and accumulated knowledge.

The true spiritual urge or yearning is always and invitation beyond the mind. That’s why it’s always been said that if you go to God, you go naked or you don’t go at all. It’s the same for everybody. You go in free of your accumulated knowledge, or you are forever unable to enter. So an intelligent mind realizes its own limitation, and it’s a beautiful thing when it does.

When you stop holding on to all the knowledge, then you start to enter a different state of being. You start to move into a different dimension. You move into a dimension where experience inside gets very quiet. The mind may still be there chatting in the background, or it might not, but consciousness is no longer bothering itself with the mind. You don’t need to stop it. Your awareness just goes right past that wall of knowledge and moves into a very quiet state…

…Once your conceptual world of knowledge gets put in its rightful place, it is transcended. You see that you are eternal consciousness now appearing as woman or man, this or that character. But like every good actor, you are not what you are appearing as. Everything that exists is consciousness appearing as, or God appearing as, or Self appearing as, or spirit appearing as. The Buddha called it no-self. When that’s seen, you see Unity. There is only God. That’s all there is: God appearing as floor, as a human being, as a wall, as a chair.

No knowledge, no statement of the Truth touches what’s eternal, what you really are. And no statement about how to get there is true either, because what gets one person there doesn’t get another person there. A mind that likes to look for the one truth path cannot find it. Of course, the mind doesn’t like that. “No right path? Nothing that could be said or read that ultimately, in the end, could be true? The most enlightened being can’t speak the Truth?”

No. It’s never been done, and it never will be done. The only thing you can do is to put a pointer on the way that says, “Look that way.” A false spiritual arrow is one that points to the wall and says, “Look this way.” A true arrow is one that points beyond the wall of concepts.

To Cultivate Attention

Excerpts from "Buddha Nature: Living in Attention," by Ken McLeod:

"It seems to me that the intention of all these practices is to cultivate attention, either by practicing attention directly or by removing what prevents attention from developing. Once attention is present, appropriate action, skillful means, bodhicitta, everything else flows quite naturally. There is no need for minute dissections of Buddhist ethics or philosophy. The phrase ‘Be there or be square’ acquired a new meaning for me. Very simply, attention reveals buddha nature and enables it to manifest in our lives...

Once I shifted my effort to paying attention to what was arising, doors started to open. I began to see a little more clearly what was going on. I'd had to let go of old ways of looking at things, some that I had learned in the course of my training, others going back much further to family patterns. The patterns became apparent. The function and purpose of the patterns also became apparent...

Bring the attention to what is arising and we know, directly, what needs to be done. This changed not only my own practice but how I tried to teach others. The source of that knowing is buddha nature. And the practice is very simple in principle: strip away whatever prevents it from manifesting.

Read the entire essay...

[Thanks, Kit !]

Branches from a Single Root

W.S. Merwin from “The Garden & the Sword,” an interview with Joel Whitney, Tricycle Magazine, Winter 2010:

I don’t think we have imagination apart from the environment. And I don’t think we have an existence apart from the environment either. And if the imagination isn’t about our existence, I don’t know what it’s about. It’s not about making money, that’s for sure.

…If you’re looking for neat formulaic answers in Dogen, you don’t find them. You don’t find them in Keizan, either. You have to come at them from a different part of your own mind. That’s the part of Zen practice that’s attractive to me. But it’s not unique to Zen. It’s there in Taoism. It probably was there in parts of the practice that became Greek Orthodoxy, that came out of the desert. The origins of all of those things are extremely ancient; they’re older than what we think of as the beginnings of Buddhism. The origin of Taoism may be completely on its own, but all of them go back to shamanism. And we don’t know know the history of shamanism; it’s all speculation. They link in my mind to things which are incredibly ancient.

…the link between the imagination—which to me is the great pinnacle of humanity, the imagination that makes the arts and makes compassion—is ancient in our species and goes way back. And it’s never been separate. And when you get any aspect of the culture that tries to separate it, it’s destructive and suicidal.

Take them away, names like Buddhism. I’m impatient with them. There’s something beyond all that, beneath all that that they all share, that they all come from. They are branches from a single root. And that’s what one has to pay attention to.

Huxisanxiaotu

Song Dynasty painting in the Litang style illustrating the theme "Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are one." Depicts Taoist Lu Xiujing (left), official Tao Hongjing (right) and Buddhist monk Huiyuan (center, founder of Pure Land) by the Tiger stream. The stream borders a zone infested by tigers that they just crossed without fear, engrossed as they were in their discussion. Realizing what they just did, they laugh together, hence the name of the picture,Three laughing men by the Tiger stream.

The Power of Mindful Awareness

"The goal of becoming a better person is within the reach of us all, at every moment. The tool for emerging from the primitive yoke of conditioned responses to the tangible freedom of the conscious life lies just behind our brow. We need only invoke the power of mindful awareness in any action of body, speech, or mind to elevate that action from the unconscious reflex of a trained creature to the awakened choice of a human being who is guided to a higher life by wisdom."

~ Andrew Olendzki, Unlimiting Mind: The Radically Experiential Psychology of Buddhism

Here is a video interview from May 2010 in which Andrew Olendzki discusses his book with Tricycle’s Joan Duncan Oliver.

 

[Thanks, Whiskey River!]