Sunday, February 28, 2010

Finding My Own Way

One of the (many) surprises from the pilgrimage was discovering the diversity of practices that are espoused by other practitioners within various Buddhist traditions from all over the world. And in the process, finding, or rather confirming the shape of my own practice. Nowhere did this become more evident than at Bodhgaya Mohabodhi Temple, with its constant spectacle of monks and nuns going all out in the outer demonstration of their faith. My heart made it clear what it liked and did not like. 

Liked, the tranquil beauty emanating from European nun's face, as she sat, eyes closed, in state of rapture, on ledge facing Bodhi tree.
Liked walking slowly, in rhythm with breath, around the tree.
Liked synchronicity of single bodhi leaf circling down to my feet, just as I was getting in touch with craving for such a leaf - cravings know no bounds, don't they?
Liked living presence of tree itself, descendent of original tree under which Buddha became enlightened.
Liked the palpable fervor of so many pilgrims, all united by common faith in the path. 

Disliked the constant chanting that left no room for even a second of silence.
Disliked being caught in slew of monks circumambulating the tree at manic pace.
Disliked the sight of monks prostrating for hours at end, right outside the temple inner walls - what were they trying to achieve?
Disliked all the devotion to outer representation of imagined Buddha form. 
Disliked the idea of Buddha relics - what did it say about impermanence?

I came home with my own relic, dried bodhi leaf that had met my steps at the temple, carefully preserved between two pages of pilgrimage diary.

A modest symbol of the way I have chosen to travel the path. Naked, unencumbered by religious paraphernalia and props. With renewed faith in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  

To each, his or her own way. 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Back From Pilgrimage

Just back from India. What a trip it was! I had planned to blog about my journey, but ended up being caught instead in an almost continuous flow of sensory impressions and moment to moment experiences, leaving no time for reflecting and writing, or taking photos even. Talk about being in the moment(s) . . .

Contrast with habit I had formed prior to pilgrimage, of dutifully documenting my practice, causes me to question the impact of becoming one step removed from moment, during such mundane activities as blogging, or sharing tweets.

From U Pandita, in In This Very Life, part on Unbroken Continuity:
One should try to be with the moment as much as possible, moment after moment, without any breaks in between. In this way mindfulness can be established, and its momentum can increase. Defending our mindfulness prevents the kilesas, the harmful and painful qualities of greed, hatred and delusion, from infiltrating and carrying us off into oblivion. It is a fact of life that the kilesas cannot arise in the presence of strong mindfulness. When the mind is free of kilesas, it becomes unburdened, light and happy.
. . . Apart from the hours of sleeping, yogis on retreat should be continuously mindful. Continuity should be so strong, in fact, that there is no time at all for reflection, no hesitation, no thinking, no reasoning, no comparing of one’s experiences with the things one has read about meditation — just time enough to apply this bare awareness.
This is not to say, I will stop reflecting, and blogging altogether about my practice. Only, I will do so in a much more deliberate way, paying attention to the intention behind writing each post, and whether or not doing so serves greater purpose of enhanced wisdom.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hot in Delhi

After two days of nonstop travel, I had been looking forward to the pleasure of a good night sleep at the hotel in Delhi. Instead, I was met with steaming hotness from broken air conditioner, and intermittent loud noises from night workers in courtyard below. What to do? I decided to seize the opportunity and practice lying meditation. After all I was following the Buddha's footsteps.

Body and mind softened by jetlag fatigue surrendered, easy, to the gentle flow of breath. Each  part so sweet   especially the  pregnant pause between each fall and rise, that filled with surprise of new hotness, and sometimes sounds, several of them at once.  And, when confusion was too much, it was back to breath. So sweet  still. . .

Mind, calmed. Body, rid of tension. Enough for sleep to do its job. Meditation is the best sleeping remedy.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In the Buddha's Footsteps

Off, I am to India, to follow the footsteps of the Buddha, under the guidance of Shantum Seth. A 16 day pilgrimage during which I will get to visit all the places that marked the Buddha's life. Complete with meditation, talks, and site visits.

Sitting this morning before leaving, I got a taste of clinging, deep down, in the midst of just breath. I don't do well with separations, and this time is no exception. Leaving behind loved ones, and the sweetness of home, is creating some friction. In the Buddha's footsteps, I just sat and observed what it felt like to hang on, to what cannot be had. There was love, tainted with sadness, and fear of loss also. Further along, was boredom, and resistance to staying with the unpleasantness. In the Buddha's footsteps, I knew better than to quit, and continued to sit, breath by breath.

PS - Not sure how much  I will be able to write while on the pilgrimage . . .

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lightening Up

I have been tensing up lately. Too much. Was thinking about James Baraz's talk at IMC a few weeks ago, and his story about getting too serious about practice, and how it almost killed his ability to feel joy. 

It's time for a bit of Buddhist humor:

The last thing I want is to become dead serious . . .

Friday, February 5, 2010

Nothing Wrong With Monkey Mind

Monkey mind kept interrupting train of breath. Rising, falling, rising, falling . . . effort to focus succeeded up to a point, until thoughts, again, and again. How about counting breaths from one to ten? I tried that as well, and encountered limited success, still. There was irritation, and contraction for sure, from not liking thinking mind having the upper hand. Awareness showed judgement at work, as in monkey mind equal bad meditator, and reality clashing with wish for perfection, or rather my idea of it. 

Clear seeing put monkey to rest, shifting energy to heart place instead. Breathing became more faint, as heart filled up with not sure feeling. I became aware of resistance, and temptation of ending. Enough noticing, to make me stay. Ending with heart, and breath, and cloud of diffuse knowing, a sense of, I have been in that place before, many times. Tenderness.

Sometimes I am a monkey, and that's ok.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Balancing the Mind

Armed with the determination of self-discipline, I sat. And found thoughts, rushing with the temptation of, 'got to blog about this' pseudo-insights. I knew better than to stop meditation, and jot down those brilliant ideas. Noting thinking, thinking . . . then going back to breath, over and over. Soon, compelling tightness in the throat, and jaws, got my attention, in between 'clever' thoughts, still. Telltale sign of unwholesome state, with ensuing suffering in tow.  Awareness mobilized, and shining the light on tightness, tightness . . . and breath . . . and thinking . . .

U Pandita, on "A Balanced Mind", in "In This Very Life":
The third support for the arising of investigation is balancing the controlling faculties of faith, wisdom, mindfulness, energy and concentration. . . Four of these five faculties are paired: wisdom and faith, effort and concentration. The practice depends in fundamental ways upon the equilibrium of the pairs.
. . . The balance between effort and concentration works like this: if one is overenthusiastic and works too hard, the mind becomes agitated and cannot focus properly on the object of observation. Slipping off, it wanders about, causing much frustration. Too much concentration, however, can lead to laziness and drowsiness. When the mind is still and it seems easy to remain focused on the object, one might begin to relax and settle back. Soon one dozes off.
. . . The most basic way of maintaining balance and of reestablishing it when it is lost, is to strengthen the remaining controlling faculty, mindfulness. 
Mindfulness is such a beautiful thing!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Unruly Mind and Self-Discipline

The sad spectacle of two brothers running around Whole Foods, unsupervised and creating havoc, while their mother went about her business, oblivious, came back to me this morning, as I sat, and fell prey to a sloth and torpor attack. It takes discipline to keep the mind focused. Meditation is hard, really hard, especially for a novice like me. The concentration and mindfulness muscles are still weak, and tire easily. So, I am left only with sheer will to fall back onto, whenever tiredness sets in. Underneath the good will, are the love for myself, and the faith in the path, and the trust in my teachers. Just follow the breath, and focus on now, they say. Just do it. Like a good mother, it is my responsibility to not let unruly mind run the show. Instead, I am to extend tough love, and practice self-discipline.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sitting On the Egg

This morning I woke up with heart racing from anxiety about upcoming India trip. Mind still fresh from day long with Gil, and his talk on 5 Hindrances, I knew better than to give into restless mind. And so I sat, like the mother hen in U Pandita's story below:
The Buddha gave a rather homely example which illustrates just how the results of meditation are attained. If mother hen lays an egg with a sincere wish for it to hatch, but then runs off and leaves the egg exposed to nature’s elements, the egg will soon rot. If, on the other hand, mother hen is conscientious in her duties toward the egg, sitting on it for long periods every day, the warmth of her body will keep the egg from rotting and will also permit the chick within to grow. Sitting on the egg is mother hen’s most important duty. She must do this in the proper way, with her wings slightly spread out to protect the nest from rain. She must also take care not to sit heavily and crack her egg. If she sits in proper style and for sufficient time, the egg will naturally receive the warmth it needs to hatch.
Inside the shell, an embryo develops beak and claws. Day by day the shell grows thinner. During mother hen’s brief excursions from the nest, the chick inside may see a light that slowly brightens. After three weeks or so, a healthy yellow chick pecks its way out of its claustrophobic space. This result happens regardless of whether the hen foresaw the outcome. All she did was sit on the egg with sufficient regularity.
. . . I hope you will take this analogy of mother hen into deep consideration. just as she hatches her chicks without hopes or desire, merely carrying out her duties in a conscientious way, so may you well incubate and hatch your practice.
May you not become a rotten egg.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cleansed Body, Cleansed Mind

Taking a shower always takes me to a place of gratitude. For water, plentiful and hot, for the fancy jets, almost as good as a massage, for the surround sound that shields from all else, for the freedom to splash to my heart's content, for the pleasure of body, being cleansed, well . . . 

I tell myself, I am so lucky! Mind takes it from there, and away into world of random thoughts. What happened, I wonder, and think once more about the autonomous nature of habitual mind. Back to now, and the joy of observing connection between ordering thoughts, and actions, and sensations in the body. Got to shave, lather cream, grab razor with right hand, contact with right ankle, feeling contact, move razor up, away, down, up again, . . . Fascinating! 

Oh! noticing feeling of cold, and not liking, wanting warmer water. Wish indulged with one small turn of knob to the left. Liking, really liking, super hot shower. For a while. Until heat gets to be too much, and I start wishing for colder water this time. Wish indulged with one small turn of know to right. Oh! too cold. Got to adjust a bit, back to left. Not too much. Right there, perfect! . . . For a while . . . Wise mind steps in. This is ridiculous. There is no such thing as perfect temperature, is there? No, but perfect window into temporary nature of happiness from sensual pleasures? Yes. 

And then the end. Stepping out into relative coldness of bathroom. With desiring mind wondering for a second, whether to like or not like the coolness.

Joy of mind, cleansed by the penetrating rays of  mindfulness.