Yes, we are meeting 'in-person'

Temporary Suspension of In-Person Meetings: Given the current surge in cases locally I have decided that it would be prudent for us to suspend our in-person meetings temporarily. Please check back here regularly, hopefully we will be back to normal really soon! Do remember to sign up for the Metta Letter newsletter as I will be ending out weekly meditations.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Ignorance May Be Bliss...

Ignorance May Be Bliss...

If you are reading this it is likely that you are a meditator, or have meditated in the past, or you are considering meditation. If you are already a meditator you probably remember what it was like when you first sat on the cushion and closed your eyes...

In his advice to beginner meditators ("Meditation Takes Gumption") Bhante Henepola Gunaratana gives this warning:

Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation; they have not. So they still feel relatively comfortable. That does not mean that they are better off. Ignorance may be bliss, but it does not lead to liberation. So don’t let this realization unsettle you. It is a milestone actually, a sign of real progress. The very fact that you have looked at the problem straight in the eye means that you are on your way up and out of it.

I love the humor and candor that Bhante uses here, and you can probably more than identify with what he says. The 'monkey mind' that he describes is familiar to all of us, and even though practice helps us tame it,  it sometimes makes a re-appearance, often at the most inconvenient times.

However, the part of Bhante's advice I want to focus on here is this:

You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation; they have not. So they still feel relatively comfortable. That does not mean that they are better off. Ignorance may be bliss, but it does not lead to liberation.

The point here is that right from day one - from the very first time we choose to sit to meditate, we start to peel away the delusion and ignorance that we have embraced.

As we progress on our path we continue to strip away at this delusion. Sometimes it is bit by bit, sometimes it is through a major revelation when the 'penny drops.'

This realization - that from the very beginning of our meditation journey we have been working on removing our delusion - is an important one. Wherever you are on your journey this continues to be our endeavor. Ignorance may be bliss, but it does not lead to liberation.

Metta, Chris.

PS: For those of you who live in the area and who join our Sunday night group note that we will not be meeting on October 31st (Halloween) as I will be out of town.

PPS: This also means that there won't be a Metta Letter next week - I will send the next one in two weeks' time

PPPS: I have linked below a fully guided thirty minute meditation on this passage from Bhante Gunaratana - please feel free to use it in your own practice in whatever way helps.



"Meditation Takes Gumption" by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana|, September 15, 2020,
https://www.lionsroar.com/why-meditate/

Photo by Simon Infanger on Unsplash










Saturday, October 16, 2021

Skillful Words

Skillful Words

A recurring theme in what I write is that we can all agree that if everyone else was more loving and compassionate in their words and actions then this world would be a better place. Of course the corollary to this is that the only person I can actually change is my self - that at the end of the day it is incumbent on each of us to choose to be more loving and compassionate.

With everything that is going on in the world at the moment it is easy to focus outwards, to concentrate on where we think the blame lies. We see the actions and speech of others and condemn them. This is especially true at the moment when we think of the influence of social media, where continued intentional and unintentional mistruths and divisive words seem to be tearing us apart.

And yes, we can all agree that if everyone else was more truthful and compassionate in their words and actions the world would be a better place. But of course, once again, we each have to take responsibility that it is our own words and actions we have to look at, we can only change our selves.

The good news is that in the Pali writings there is very clear and guidance for how we should post on social media. Yes, you heard that right - some two thousand year-old writings can give us clear guidance on social media behavior.

In the Abhaya Sutta Prince Abhaya asks The Buddha (who here refers to himself as 'The Tathagata') a tricky questions about speech:

...Prince Abhaya took a lower seat and sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "Lord, would the Tathagata say words that are unendearing & disagreeable to others?"

"Prince, there is no categorical yes-or-no answer to that."
...

[1] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[2] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[3] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[4] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[5] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[6] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings."
Now, as is typical in these older writings, there is a lot of near-repetition here, where just a few words are changed in each paragraph. If you read carefully you will see that there is a clear logic to the words (the programmer in me sees this as a classic IF...ELSE or CASE statement!).  If you find this a little dense then the translator, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, gives a very clear summary in his introduction:

In this discourse, the Buddha shows the factors that go into deciding what is and is not worth saying. The main factors are three: whether or not a statement is true, whether or not it is beneficial, and whether or not it is pleasing to others. The Buddha himself would state only those things that are true and beneficial, and would have a sense of time for when pleasing and unpleasing things should be said. Notice that the possibility that a statement might be untrue yet beneficial is not even entertained.

As I say, this is very clear advice and can be directly applied to all of our speech and interaction with others - and is directly relevant to how we might choose - or not choose - to post on social media. Ask three things - is what I am going to say true? Is it beneficial for the reader/hearer? Will it be pleasing to them?

If the words are untrue or not beneficial then we should say nothing. If they are true and beneficial then we ask whether they will be pleasing to hear. Having determined that, we ask whether this is the right time to say them. Note that something can be true, beneficial and pleasing, but we still choose not to say them. If they are true and beneficial and unpleasing (disagreeable) then we take extra care in what we say. Why? As we are told "Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings" - in other words, we choose whether or not to say something through a sense of compassion. If we are posting from anger or indignation then that is not right speech.

I have done my best to ensure what I say here is true, and I hope that it is both beneficial and pleasant to read. Hopefully I got the timing right too!

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a meditation on being skillful (Kusala) in our speech. Feel free to listen and use it in whatever way supports your practice.



 

"Abhaya Sutta: To Prince Abhaya" (MN 58), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.058.than.html .

 

 Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

 

 

 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Not Just a Happy Place

Not Just a Happy Place

Sometimes, when we are stressed, the ability to sit and calm ourselves can be incredibly healing. When we practice meditation we almost always start with centering, calming and being present in a way that we don't usually experience in our daily life. Of course as we practice the hope is that this calm will pervade more and more of our life so that we can be centered and present even when we are not on the cushion.

But meditation is surely much more than just finding that place of peace, and can offer more than reading The Little Book of Calm can. Finding that point of peace, calm and presence is part of the journey, not the destination. Meditation is not just about finding your 'happy place.' As Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche says in his book "What Makes You (Not) A Buddhist":

Prince Siddhartha, who sacrificed all the comforts and luxuries of palace life, must have been searching for more than passivity and shrubbery when he set out to discover enlightenment.
The key insight we can have, when we find that place of presence and calm, is that 'Things Look Different From Here.' We can in the moment of presence have a clarity of view that we cannot reach when we are distracted.

We live in a time where the most influential words and actions seem come from a place of noise and distraction. People read a Facebook post,  hear a TV pundit or watch a YouTube Video (or twelve) and then shout their received viewpoint. Action comes from an ever-growing snowball of outrage and indignation, and for that reason they only increase suffering.

In contrast, when we are in a place of calm and presence we can instead cultivate compassion, goodwill and wisdom. Having cultivated these we can get clarity - and use that clarity to inform our actions.

Things really do look different from here.

 

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided thirty minute meditation on finding Clarity in that place of calm. You are welcome to use it in whatever way helps your own practice.








Saturday, October 2, 2021

I Am Water

 

I Am Water

The other week I was driving through Portland when we hit some traffic as we were merging on to the freeway. Above us I noticed a piece of graffiti (graffito?) written on a bridge that said, simply:

You Are the Traffic

This simple sentence really got me thinking. I had not come across it before - though subsequent searches showed it is not an original thought, having even been used as a slogan by a GPS company. But it is a powerful one, and one that can teach an important lesson.

When we sit in traffic we usually think about 'us' and 'them' - our car has a legitimate right to be on the road, with an important reason for getting wherever we are going. Everyone else is 'the traffic' and their motives, and the motives of the city planners, are at best suspect. The traffic is bad, and gets in the way of our own desire to be somewhere.

Of course this is obviously foolish, but we have all felt it. This separation of 'me' versus 'traffic' seems very real. Despite the fact that even a small piece of reflection shows that it is a deluded way to think we continue to think that way. For most of us the state of traffic only matters to us when we are in our car, and then we are, by definition, part of the traffic. I am Traffic.

This is a very clear example of the delusion of a separate self. In the concept of anatta (not-self) we see that our concept of our selves as completely independent separable entities is delusion. Not seeing ourselves as part of the traffic is delusion.

In his book "Selves & Not-self - The Buddhist Teaching on Anatta" Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu teaches:

Take an example from your childhood. Suppose you have a younger sister, and someone down the street is threatening her. You want to protect her. At that moment she is very much your sister. She belongs to you, so you will do whatever you can to protect her. Then suppose that, when you've brought her home safely, she begins to play with your toy car and won't give it back to you. Now she's no longer your sister. She's the Other. Your sense of your self, and of what is yours and not yours, has shifted. The boundary line between self and not-self has changed.

You've been doing this sort of thing — changing the boundaries of what's self and not-self — all of the time. Think back on your life — or even for just a day — to see the many times your sense of self has changed from one role to another.

Normally we create a sense of self as a strategy for gaining happiness. We look for what abilities we have in order to gain a happiness we want. Those abilities are then ours. The hand we can use to reach for the object we want is our hand; the loud voice we can use to scare off the bullies threatening our sister is our voice. This is why the element of control is so essential to our sense of self: We assume that the things we can control are us or ours. Then we also try to think about which part of ourselves will live to enjoy the happiness we're trying to gain. These things will change depending on the desire.
This idea of our shifting sense of self, dependent on what we believe will bring happiness is exactly what is going on when we separate our self from the traffic.

There is a widely-quoted saying from Thích Nhất Hạnh that says:

Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean,
is the moment the wave realizes it is water.
Thay often used this analogy of the wave and the water, especially in the context of our limited life spans. The analogy speaks to how we are all part of many processes, and how having a sense of self that separates us from those processes is a delusion. We are traffic, we are our neighborhood, we are society, we are our family, we are sangha- we are water.

Metta, Chris.

PS. I have linked below a fully guided meditation on traffic, water and how we cannot separate ourselves from the process we are part of. Feel free to use it in your own practice if you wish.

PPS. The Thích Nhất Hạnh quote is widely quoted on the internet but I was unable to identify the original source. Normally I do not use quotes that I can't definitively source but in this case there are many examples of Thay using the same or similar analogies that I could source. I take sourcing seriously, so if you know exactly where the quote I used came from please let me know - I would be very grateful! As Abraham Lincoln said, you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet.



"Selves & Not-self: The Buddhist Teaching on Anatta", by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition),
30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/selvesnotself.html .