We are not currently meeting 'in-person'

We are not currently meeting 'in-person.'
I have made the difficult decision to stop holding our in-person Sunday night meetings - you can read more about this in my post here. I will be continuing to post weekly content here and in our newsletter. Do remember to sign up for the 'Metta Letter' newsletter below as I will be sending out weekly meditations there.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Lute
(Meditation for Sunday 27th September)

The Lute

(Or: How Did I Get Here?)

As we navigate through this strange year a common sentiment has been 'how did we get here?' Whether we are talking about the pandemic, police brutality, civil unrest, wildfires, air quality or a divisive election it is natural for us all to want answers. Why is this happening? Who is to blame?

There are may pundits out there who will happily take your money or your clicks and offer you a simple solution, from Chinese markets to bad apples to protestors to conspiracy to... There is no shortage of theories, hunches and guesses as to what 'the one thing' to blame is.

In reality, of course, none of what is troubling us has a simple cause. Everything that happens comes about because of a wide number of precedents. So while any of the events, people or theories may be contributory causes to our situation it is never as simple as 'this happened because of X.' We all know this, but it still feels comforting to be able to explain and solely blame X - especially if X is something or someone we never liked anyway.

This desire to find a single, simple cause and ignore the complexities of a system is not new. The practices of scapegoating and witch-hunts have been around for centuries.

All of this stems from our common delusion that things exist in isolation, and that simple, singular causes can be found for everything. One of my favorite stories that The Buddha told is that of The King and the Lute:
"Suppose there were a king or king's minister who had never heard the sound of a lute before. He might hear the sound of a lute and say, 'What, my good men, is that sound — so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling?' They would say, 'That, sire, is called a lute, whose sound is so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling.' Then he would say, 'Go & fetch me that lute.' They would fetch the lute and say, 'Here, sire, is the lute whose sound is so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling.' He would say, 'Enough of your lute. Fetch me just the sound.' Then they would say, 'This lute, sire, is made of numerous components, a great many components. It's through the activity of numerous components that it sounds: that is, in dependence on the body, the skin, the neck, the frame, the strings, the bridge, and the appropriate human effort. Thus it is that this lute — made of numerous components, a great many components — sounds through the activity of numerous components.'

"Then the king would split the lute into ten pieces, a hundred pieces. Having split the lute into ten pieces, a hundred pieces, he would shave it to splinters. Having shaved it to splinters, he would burn it in a fire. Having burned it in a fire, he would reduce it to ashes. Having reduced it to ashes, he would winnow it before a high wind or let it be washed away by a swift-flowing stream. He would then say, 'A sorry thing, this lute — whatever a lute may be — by which people have been so thoroughly tricked & deceived.'
I love this story both for the humor and the clear message. It is easy to see how we make the same mistakes, how we look for something to have independent existence and simple causes. And this doesn't only apply to current events or challenges in our lives but also to ourselves - recognizing that we don't exist independently from those around us, our culture and our society.
So how do we develop this insight? The Vina Sutta continues:
"In the same way, a monk investigates form, however far form may go. He investigates feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness, however far consciousness may go. As he is investigating form... feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness, however far consciousness may go, any thoughts of 'me' or 'mine' or 'I am' do not occur to him."
We are encouraged to work with our own thoughts and experience in the same way that the king did with the lute. Not because by doing so we will find the solid answer, but because by doing so we will find that like the music nothing exists independent of everything else.

If you would like to practice this yourself I have linked below a fully guided meditation on the Lute and 'how did I get here?' You are welcome to listen any time you wish, but a few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm PT on Sunday 27th September. You are welcome to join us if you wish.

Wishing you all a good week,
Metta, Chris.

If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.
"Vina Sutta: The Lute" (SN 35.205), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013
Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash




Friday, September 18, 2020

Filled with Joy
Meditation for Sunday 20th September

 Filled with Joy

This week I read a beautiful quote from Lama Zopa Rinpoche that I would like to share with you:
There’s Only Space for Joy... 
If something is difficult—think of the benefits. You should take difficulties as an ornament, not a burden. So in life there’s not one second to be depressed, no place, no space – only joy, happiness more than the sky.
With everything that is going on at the moment I keep on coming back to the importance and centrality of joy. I have already written a couple of articles about this, and I guess I will do so again. The more that we are challenged by what is going on around us the more that we need to return to, and choose, the four immeasurable qualities of Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity.

We see around us many people being overcome with fear, division and anger - even turning into outright hatred. It is easy to see why, and I am sure that we have all felt some of this ourselves as we have been challenged by all that has happened this year. It can be hard to be joyful.

Rinpoche gives us a clue to how we should approach this, by only allowing space for joy. We can choose to allow ourselves to be driven into negative states, or we can be so full of joy that we have no space for them.

Of course this is easier said than done, and I know that I am much less than a ray of sunshine some of the time! Yet we can all set an intention to cultivate more joy, even in these times.

The wonderful teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a beautiful piece titled 'This Silence is Called great Joy", which you can read here. In it he contemplates this old Buddhist gatha:
All formations are impermanent.
They are subject to birth and death.
But remove the notions of birth and death,
and this silence is called great joy.
In this piece he speaks directly to how we might work in the current troubled situation. He encourages us to look at things in this way:
So it is crucial to look deeply at your thoughts and your views. What are you holding on to? Whether you are an artist or a businessperson, a parent or a teacher, you have your views about how to live your life, how to help other people, how to make your country prosperous, and so on. When you are attached to these views, to the idea of right and wrong, then you may be get caught. When your thinking is caught in these views, then you create misunderstanding, anger, and violence. That is what you are becoming in this very moment.

When you are mindful of this and can look deeply, you can produce thoughts that are full of love and understanding. You can make yourself and the world around you suffer less.
The story here is the same -- that we can allow negative emotions to arise by clinging to an idea of how things 'should' be, or we can choose love, joy, compassion and equanimity.

As I am writing this (on Friday evening) I have just learned that RBG has passed away. Of course my initial thoughts are sadness at the loss of such an important and inspiring individual. And then comes the fear of what the outcome may be, the ways that this can lead to more division and strife in our country. But I can choose to be filled with joy that she was here on this earth, and for all we have gained from her life and example.

I'm going to choose to be filled with joy. Hopefully there won't be room for anything else.

 Mudita, Chris.
I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation on cultivating joy. A few of us have committed to pressing 'play' together at 7pm on Sunday, September 20th. You are welcome to join us if you wish.

If the above player doesn't work for you, please click here.

 Photo by Joe Caione on Unsplash



Saturday, September 12, 2020

All is Aflame
(Meditation for Sunday September 13th)


All is Aflame

It is very strange here in the Northwest right now. There are many massive wildfires in the area and the sky is an eerie orange-yellow throughout the region. Many communities have been engulfed or threatened by the fires, with losses of life and property and a threat to the health of all who have to be outside for any reason. And this pattern is repeating in other parts of the country as well. Our hearts truly go out to all of those who have been or will be affected by this latest, additional, challenge.

For obvious reasons my mind turned earlier this week to the well-known 'Fire Sermon' that the Buddha gave. This is a lovely piece that can be read at many different levels, and which contains a wealth of wisdom that is highly relevant to us today.

In a nutshell, the Buddha is talking to a group of seekers who had previously worshiped fire and who practiced a fire ritual. Because of this he uses the metaphors of flames and burning to deliver his message. It covers how our senses and our minds interact with the world and how we then allow our passion, aversion and delusion to ignite. One passage that I think is highly relevant to today says:

The intellect is aflame. Ideas are aflame. Consciousness at the intellect is aflame. Contact at the intellect is aflame. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is aflame. Aflame with what? Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I say, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs.

This is not saying that Intellect and Ideas are bad, or even that they are in themselves harmful. What causes suffering is when we allow ourselves to become aflame with passion, aversion and delusion. We are living in a time when this is front and center in our lives, where we see media of all sorts burning with division, ignorance and hatred. The devil nowadays not only has 'all the good tunes,' but also the best video production values as well. As Stephen Colbert says, we no longer care about the truth, but instead demand that what we see or read is 'truthy' - something that feels like it should be the truth. What becomes popular (and believed) is not that which speaks truth, but that which most effectively evokes our passions.

Of course, having laid out the problem that all is aflame, the Buddha goes on to explain how we can move beyond that and extinguish these flames If you aren't familiar with the piece you may be surprised with how we are taught to extinguish the fire. We are told that a person manages to extinguish the flames by doing the following:

 He grows disenchanted with the intellect, disenchanted with ideas, disenchanted with consciousness at the intellect, disenchanted with contact at the intellect. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: He grows disenchanted with that too. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, 'Fully released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'

Now when I first read this I found it strange, that we would be exhorted to become 'disenchanted.' It seemed strange that we should be cultivating what comes as second-nature to every teenager! But looking deeper, what it is saying that we need to let go of our enchantment with our ideas, our intellect our feelings. The truth is that we become enchanted by our beliefs, by our passions - and that we need to become disenchanted in order to stop them having a hold on us. This is the path to freedom.

I hope that you all manage to stay safe and healthy over the coming week. And maybe a little disenchanted, too.

Metta, Chris.

For our meditation this week I have done something a little different. Rather than linking a previously recorded session I have recorded a new meditation. In the recording I read the full Fire Sermon, and then we do our usual 30 minute meditation. I read the passage again during the meditation. Hopefully this will allow you to meditate on the piece. Let me know what you think of this slightly different approach.

A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 13th September. You are welcome to join with us then if you wish.

"Adittapariyaya Sutta: The Fire Sermon" (SN 35.28), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013
Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Nothing to Achieve
Meditation for Sunday 6th September


Nothing to Achieve

Earlier this week I was listening to a radio comedy (the wonderful Cabin Pressure) and one of the characters started singing the old song "We're Busy Doing Nothing." You probably know it, but the lyrics go:
We're busy doin' nothin'
Workin' the whole day through
Tryin' to find lots of things not to do
We're busy goin' nowhere
Isn't it just a crime
We'd like to be unhappy, but
We never do have the time.
As a kid I loved this song, but something about it always felt a little, well, subversive. As a fully paid up member of the Type-A club I was taught (and believed) that happiness came from industry and application. Singing about doing nothing felt quite 'naughty.'

The problem with the way we focus on achievement is that we are always striving. This in itself is a form of clinging - to some unknown future state where we will be 'improved.' This is most famously expressed in the story of the Fisherman and the Businessman, where the businessman exhorts the fisherman to work hard to grow his business into an enterprise so that he can - eventually - retire and enjoy exactly the life he has right now.

We can make the same mistake with our meditation, by striving for some kind of achievement and clinging to an ideal of a state we want to get to. We might see others who we assume are further along on their path and be envious of their achievements. We might beat ourselves up that somehow we haven't achieved the level of calm that we think we should have. In short, like the businessman, we cling to some imagined future and ignore where we are right now.

So our best approach to meditation is to let go of the focus on achievement and to just 'be' with how we are and where our mind is. To sit and enjoy the now.

With this long weekend I'd like to encourage you all to achieve nothing. You never know, by doing so you might not have the time to be unhappy.

Metta, Chris.

Below is a fully guided audio meditation on having Nothing to Achieve. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 6th September - you are welcome to join us if you wish.