Wednesday, March 31, 2010

That Too Shall Pass

With each step,
a gentle slap
for both cheeks,
from fresh, tingly breeze.

Meanwhile, on the left,
orange poppies,
for the eyes,
a delight make.

Grateful heart rejoices,
from conditions,
so gathered
for perfect moment.

Not so fast,
wise mind whispers
in the ear,
that too shall pass.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Outside of Myself

Behind concentric walls
of dislike, and powerlessness,
and frustration, and fear,
I couldn't see 
her, whom I love so much. 

She, who lives inside a fortress,
all of her own,
and has not yet found 
the key out.

Down, under piercing light
of insight,
the stone wall tumbled
and I stepped outside of myself
into a wide open space.

Oh! the sweetness of jasmine, and love 
as I stood still,
close by her prison,
not expecting.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Power of Connection

I often wonder whether my daily calls to my mother make any difference in her life. She's got Alzheimer's and can't remember things from one minute to the next. Our conversations are usually short, and limited to same few topics I know she can master.  I ask her about the weather, the time on her watch, and the state of her health. She likes to tell me how 'well' she is doing for her age, and how good she has been all her life at taking care of herself. "J' ai toute ma tete" . . . ("I've got all my head"). How about you? She needs to know that I am OK. We are all doing fine. She is relieved. Several times, she asks when am I coming to visit next. Several times, I tell her, I will be visiting soon, in two months. And wish her good night.

Today, I asked my brother who lives close to her, and has frequent contacts with the staff at the nursing home, what good are the few minutes I spend with her on the phone? Make no mistake, he tells me. Apparently when I was gone to India last month, and was not able to call for two weeks, she got worse, and would not recognize her room any more. Now, she is back to being oriented again. 

Yet another example of the power of heart to heart connection, that endures, long even after memory and mind have gone.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Buddha Map

It had been a while since I had done a self-collage. This time, I was drawn to making a Buddha map . . . 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Down The Anxiety List

Lately, I have been feeling extremely restless, and for good reasons. True to its 'full catastrophe' nature, life has been handing me a few rotten cards, stressors that I wish would go away, and seem to worsen instead. The usual tricks of calmness, concentration, equanimity, meditation, deep breathing, exercise,  and self-talk, have only helped with staying calm on the surface. Inside, the agitation, and the free-floating fear, have continued, unabated. In my search for a better way, I remembered an exercise, that Gil shared during his last year's day-long on The Five Hindrances: Restlessness, (4/3/09 talk series in AudioDharma library). It goes like this:

Take a piece of paper and pen, and in a calm, loving, accepting, meditative space, write down a list of things which are unresolved for you. Then, looking at the whole list, answer the following questions: Which of them come up during meditation? Are they in background, foreground? Which of them are best resolved through inner personal work? Which of them are better resolved by talking to someone in the world Which of them require you doing both? What does list say about you? What might be inner work you are called to do, to address list of unresolved issues?  How is it that meditation practice can be helpful for addressing items on list?

Quickly, I came up with a list of five items, that are causing me great grief. And wrote down, next to each, the thoughts and feelings attached to each one. Lots of emotions there: fear, aversion, powerlessness, greed, doubt, sadness, tiredness, guilt, frustration, anger . . . Each issue with its own set. In all cases, I realized there is little I can do to influence the outcome, and it is clear the only work to be done is around graceful acceptance of what cannot be changed on the outside, and about skillfully dealing with unhelpful mind states inside. Replacing each unwholesome thought with its wholesome counterpart. And overcoming Mara's soldiers of confusion, greed, anger, fear, and doubt, with great clarity, letting go, love, calm, and wisdom.

Now, I know what to do. And I feel greatly relieved. 

I realize once more the crossovers between traditional Buddhist mindfulness practice, and healing approaches from contemporary psychology. This exercise is very close to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) exercise of Dysfunctional Thought Record, that I used while working as a therapist with psychiatric patients, many years ago. The integration between the two disciplines is even more complete now, with new fields of MBCT (mindfulness based cognitive therapy) and MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction). 

I would love to hear from you on this topic, particularly after you have done this exercise.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dharma Lovers

Oh! the sweetness
of he and I
perfectly still
in hidden closet
breathing in,
breathing out . . .

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not There, and Here

Love this quote from Saki Santorelli, in 'Heal Thyself':
By virtue of being human, each one of us is on intimate terms with not being present. Because of this, our intimacy with this felt absence is a powerful ally. This is the terrain of mindfulness practice. Each time that we awaken to no longer being present to ourselves is, paradoxically, a moment of presence. if we are willing to see the whole of our lives as practice, our awareness of the moments that we are not present, coupled with our intention to awaken, brings us into the present. 
Each time I used to catch myself, having being 'lost' in yet another train of thoughts, disappointed mind would jump in, quick with judgement. Oh! no, not again, where is my vow of unbroken mindfulness? U. Pandita would not be happy. Got to try harder . . . 

I am coming around with a more loving way to be with myself, viewing each moment of mindfulness, as reason to celebrate, realizing that mindfulness is relative, and exists only in relationship to non-mindfulness.  

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Full Catastrophe

As part of MBSR Practicum training, I am reading Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living.  His notion of full catastrophe living really speaks to me:
For me facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is most human in ourselves. There is not one person on the planet who does not have his or her own version of the full catastrophe. Catastrophe here does not mean disaster. Rather it means the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crisis and disaster but also all the little things that go wrong and that add up. 
Another twist on the First Noble Truth . . . particularly as redefined by Stephen Batchelor.

Not a day goes by, without life reminding me of its full catastrophe nature. Today, is about the reality of being  lioness, scared for the life of her not well cub:

Under a shady tree,
the lioness sits,
perfectly still.

Her long gone cub
has returned,
and is not looking well.

Running in circles,
hardly eating,
the young one insists.

Armed with courage,
the mother keeps her fear,
all to herself.

Full catastrophe, I am telling you . . .

What is your version of the full catastrophe today?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Under Her Black Cloak

Last night, I faced death, up close. Fear and dread, still very much present, I review the dream that visited me:

In a vast complex, she was waiting to be executed, along with all the other women in the building. Only fifteen more minutes before her time came. She was terrified but would not show it. Instead, she decided to adorn herself, and also to gather her personal belongings. Her plan was to go say goodbye to her husband and to leave her baggage with him. She came down the stairs, into the lobby where much activity was taking place. There, she ran into one of the executioners and his helper. The man wanted to know where she was going. Didn't she know she was supposed to be executed soon? The man appeared without any feeling at all. She reassured him, yes, she would be right back. At that very moment, though,  she experienced a change of mind. What was she thinking? No, she would not abide. She would fight for her life instead, and con her potential killers. She made her way towards the elevator to her husband's place. A large group of men, all seeming to have a good time, were gathered. She heard them discuss their imminent departure. Up on the higher floors, she found herself in a deserted maze of hallways, happy to find one man at last who knew where her husband was. She told her beloved about her plan to escape her deadly fate, and to elope, unseen. She would need to change her identity most likely, and would no longer be able to communicate with him. Maybe he and her could decide on a time and place  to meet, every year, in the chance that some day she might be completely free again? She left him, tearfully, and made her way out to safety, ending in the Arab quarter in Paris. There, a young  man agreed to help her and pretend to be her new husband. Under the protection of her black burka, she could lead her life again, safe from indiscreet eyes. 

To bear witness, she documented her journey in a secret diary. And all along,  she relied on her practice of mindfulness to carry her through her ordeal. After a very long time, she finally heard the much awaited news, that a coup had toppled down the rulers that had tried to kill her. That evening, she saw her husband appear on TV, asking for her to reconnect with him on Facebook.

Primal fear related to forces at war inside. The feminine experience of Mara. About risk that loving heart   may get annihilated by cold, power hungry masculine principle. Resourcefulness of feminine, that can con negative complex. Waiting it out, until it gets destroyed through practice of mindfulness.  The way back to the heart requires no less than complete sacrifice of all attachments - material things, self-identity, relationships. Not holding on, letting go. With the loving support from patient lover.

To you, my Dharma sisters, I ask, do you know that story?  

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reconstructing the Four Noble Truths

I have been spending time digesting revolutionary insights shared by Stephen Batchelor during his day-long at IMC, this last Saturday. Stephen was promoting his new book, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. The topic for his talk, was "Deconstructing Buddhism", and deconstructing, he certainly did, from questioning the legitimacy of rebirth concept, to assigning new meaning to the Four Noble Truths. I am most interested in the latter, as it has some important practical implications for practice. Here are my notes:

Stephen Batchelor goes back to original text of Buddha's First Discourse, on the Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma - SN 56:11: Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta; V 420-24 - and takes a fresh look at the Buddha's expose of what awakening means, and what the Four Noble Truths entail, and how they relate to the Eightfold Path. He also uses the story of the Ancient City - SN 12:65; II 104-7 - to further make his point.

Starting with concluding paragraph of first discourse:

"So long, monks as my knowledge and vision was not entirely clear, about the twelve aspects of the Four Noble Truths, or these Four Noble Truths, I did not claim to have had a peerless awakening in this world with its humans and celestials, its gods and devils, its ascetics and priests. Only when my knowledge and vision were entirely clear in all these ways, did I claim to have had such awakening."

Stephen makes point that awakening is not distinct point in time, nor is it about accessing universal truth, or ultimate reality, but rather a process, that is described in very pragmatic fashion, including a series of tasks (twelve relating to four noble truths). 

First Discourse deserves to be read over and over again, as it contains in one page, essential teachings of the Buddha, who states:
  1. I have awakened to middle path, unlike two dead ends (not "extremes" as is often referred to) of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
  2. Path is the Eightfold Path
  3. These are the Four Noble Truths
  4. This is how to practice the Four Noble Truths, including specific tasks, defined as 12 aspects, three for each of four truths.
  5. This is what I mean by awakening.
Further explanation can be gained from Ancient City story:

"Suppose, monks, a man wandering through a forest would see an ancient path, an ancient road traveled upon by people in the past. he would follow it and would see an ancient city, an ancient capital that had been inhabited by people in the past, with parks, groves, ponds, and ramparts, a delightful place. Then the man would inform the king or a royal minister: 'Sire, know what while wandering through the forest I saw an ancient path, an ancient road traveled upon by people in the past. I followed it and saw an ancient city, an ancient capital that had been inhabited by people in the past, with parks, groves, ponds, and ramparts, a delightful place. Renovate that city, sire!' Then the king or the royal minister would renovate the city, and some time later that city would become successful and prosperous, well populated, filled with people, attained to growth and expansion.
"So too, monks, I saw the ancient path, the ancient road traveled by the Perfectly Enlightened Ones of the past. And what is that ancient path, that ancient road? It is just this Noble EIghtfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. I followed that path and by doing so I have directly known aging-and-death, its origin, its cessation, and the way leading its cessation. I have directly known birth . . . existence . . . clinging . . . craving . . . feeling . . . contact . . . the six sense bases . . . name-and-form . . . consciousness . . . volitional formations, their origin, their cessation, and the way leading to their cessation. Having directly known them, I have explained them to the monks, the nuns, the male lay followers, and the female lay followers. This spiritual life, monks, has become successful and prosperous, extended, popular, widespread, well proclaimed among devas and humans."

Metaphor is not just about the path as Eightfold Path, but more importantly about what it leads to, the city that can be restored, or the Four Noble Truths. Viewed in that way, the Four Noble Truths cease to signify the way to the end of suffering, as per traditional model, but are instead representative of another kind of civilization, a new way of life.

Rather than adopting linear medical analogy of effect - cause - effect - cause, that is usually used to interpret Four Noble Truths, Stephen Batchelor opts for a circular loop model, where Eightfold Path leads to Four Noble Truths, that in turns lead to Eightfold Path, in a never ending, continually unfolding process. He sees those teachings as primarily therapeutic, pragmatic instructions to guide us towards better way of living.

Then comes what I consider as Stephen Batchelor's major contribution . . .

Unlike traditional dogma, that asserts that craving is the source of suffering, Stephen Batchelor offers  a radically different view of the Four Noble Truths:

1) All of life is suffering, due to its inherently unreliable, always changing, and tragic nature. We are to fully know life's suffering, as a precondition for our liberation. This can only be accomplished through concentrated attention, moment to moment, deeply feeling the fabric of existence, starting with breath to ground us. So that we can transform our habitual distaste for suffering, into accepting it fully, and therefore radically change the way we are with ourselves, and others.

2) Craving is the effect of suffering, not its cause. Because of dukkha, and five aggregates coming into contact with dukkha, we are naturally moved to look for ways to escape present unpleasantness. We want to get this to get rid of that. Hence craving, with its attendant army of unwholesome states, symbolized by Mara. Even Buddha, after he had conquered power of Mara, kept being confronted with Mara throughout his life. We are to let go of our craving, abandoning its hold on us, even for discrete moments. We turn away from our habitual surface preoccupation with sense gratification, to face the miracle of life and the reality of death. We cease to be victims of our attachments and fears. That can be accomplished through mindfulness.

3) Next comes the cessation of craving, not suffering. Buddha knew tremendous suffering throughout his life, even after he got enlightened. The traditional distinction between pain and added suffering from clinging is really an artificial one. More relevant goal is not to not suffer, but rather to lead flourishing life. We are to experience life free from craving. That is true liberation, at which point the possibility of another way of life opens up. To be unconditioned means to not be conditioned by the three poisons of  greed, hate, and delusion. Leading us to be free to enter the stream.

4) Next is the Eightfold Path, in which we engage the world in a meaningful way. This is a thread that has never been really developed under the traditional dogma. It says, we have the capacity to be awakened at every moment. Once craving is let go of, and we have successfully conquered Mara, we are no longer blocked from experiencing the path. We are to cultivate the path. We become stream-enterer. We become free from morality as just a set of rules. We become independent, autonomous, and free according to light shining within us. It is an affirmation of our transformation, of what really matters to us in our lives, of what it means to be fully awake.

Four actions, descriptive of a single, unified process, each one a precondition for the next one.

I don't know about you, but this totally makes sense. Thank you Stephen, for your courage, and for being a true disciple of the Buddha, always questioning, not afraid to challenge the religious establishment.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Giving Mind a Break

Listening to the gentle voice of Bob Stahl*, as he guides our class into hearing meditation, I become aware of active mind, quick to jump in, and associate, and anticipate, and judge. Each sound, heard, labeled, and superimposed with thoughts, and ensuing feelings, and urges to act.

Not a bad thing. Mind needs to decide, does sound mean danger or not? can I stay seated in meditation chair, or is some other action required? To that end, mind uses all resources at its disposal, in form of memory, deductive reasoning, and stored in wisdom. I understand.

From useful attention, to hyper-alertness, however, the mind easily leaps. Sitting, I surrender to easy flow of breath, in and out, in and out, in and out . . . and give mind permission to take a break. What could possibly happen during next few minutes of meditation? AC, throats clearing, hallway noises, . . .  all heard, in trust, as if for the first time. And then, an island of calm. Sweet.  

* Bob Stahl is trainer for MBSR Practicum towards MBSR teacher certification (MBSR stands for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Traps and Wonders of Wisdom 2.0

There is a lot of debate currently on the value and relevance of social media for mindfulness related endeavors. A few days ago, I asked on IMC online community, whether anybody else besides me, was planning to attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference. And got these two dissonant responses:

First response:
I personally believe Internet social media and mindfulness don't go well together. There is an element of addiction involved here. One can give excuses like "limiting", "doing it mindfully", "doing it with purpose", "keeping a check" etc. The very fact that one has to look for such excuses makes me suspicious. It is like someone telling drinking alcohol in moderation is ok. Just like one does not need alcohol, one does not need these virtual reality medias. There are tons of libraries, books, real world sanghas and even google to get all the information anyone truly seeking would need. 
Buddhist evangelism should be by example. The Internet social media is turning it into a joke. There are also people who are pretending to be highly ordained monks - not sure what sickness causes them to do that. Respected monks should distance themselves from this. They can publish articles which are very helpful but not get involved in the virtual reality world. 
Second response:
Isn't this true with almost anything though? Every experience has pluses and minuses and buddhist social media seems to have more extreme peaks and troughs. I had a few friends who reacted much as you did after the article in Tricycle sometime ago describing the online difficulties of a few practitioners. In the end though it seems that respected monks should participate if they so wish and can help bring some good to a larger audience. As for those of us in the audience, a re-read of the Kalama Sutta is most helpful.
Personally, I am more in the second 'camp'. And will reiterate response I made to Maia Duerr, in her recent post on same topic, Mindfulness and Social Media: Not an Oxymoron!:
Like you, I don’t see any problem with the two words ’social media’ and ‘mindfulness’ coexisting. There is such a thing as mindfully tweeting, and blogging, and facebooking . . . And blogs, tweets, and Facebook updates can be great media to broadcast mindfulness related experiences. Of course like anything, social media has the potential of being abused and becoming addictive. That does not mean it should be abandoned altogether.
Where do you stand on this debate?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Good Will Always

Recent circumstances have given me much opportunity to learn about anger, my own and that of others:

Sitting on top of smoldering ashes,
I felt the heat in my chair.
Offender nearby, 
and the thumps of steps
kept on reigniting the fire.
Patiently, I watched
steady cloud, burning,
and wise heart,  almost pleased
with the opportunity.

Sitting, I kept thinking of Vedehika's story in The Simile of the Saw. Here it is, as told by the Buddha:

"Once, monks, in this same Savatthi, there was a lady of a household named Vedehika. This good report about Lady Vedehika had circulated: 'Lady Vedehika is gentle. Lady Vedehika is even-tempered. Lady Vedehika is calm.' Now, Lady Vedehika had a slave named Kali who was diligent, deft, and neat in her work. The thought occurred to Kali the slave: 'This good report about my Lady Vedehika has circulated: "Lady Vedehika is even-tempered. Lady Vedehika is gentle. Lady Vedehika is calm." Now, is anger present in my lady without showing, or is it absent? Or is it just because I'm diligent, deft, and  neat in my work that the anger present in my lady doesn't show? Why don't I test her?'
"So Kali the slave got up after daybreak. Then Lady Vedehika said to her: 'Hey, Kali!'
"'Yes, madam?'
"'Why did you get up after daybreak?'
"'No reason, madam.'
"'No reason, you wicked slave, and yet you get up after daybreak?' Angered and displeased, she scowled.
"Then the thought occurred to Kali the slave: 'Anger is present in my lady without showing, and not absent. And it's just because I'm diligent, deft, and neat in my work that the anger present in my lady doesn't show. Why don't I test her some more?'
"So Kali the slave got up later in the day. Then Lady Vedehika said to her: 'Hey, Kali!'
"'Yes, madam?'
"'Why did you get up later in the day?'
"'No reason, madam.'
"'No reason, you wicked slave, and yet you get up later in the day?' Angered and displeased, she grumbled.
"Then the thought occurred to Kali the slave: 'Anger is present in my lady without showing, and not absent. And it's just because I'm diligent, deft, and neat in my work that the anger present in my lady doesn't show. Why don't I test her some more?'
"So Kali the slave got up even later in the day. Then Lady Vedehika said to her: 'Hey, Kali!'
"'Yes, madam?'
"'Why did you get up even later in the day?'
"'No reason, madam.'
"'No reason, you wicked slave, and yet you get up even later in the day?' Angered and displeased, she grabbed hold of a rolling pin and gave her a whack over the head, cutting it open.
"Then Kali the slave, with blood streaming from her cut-open head, went and denounced her mistress to the neighbors: 'See, ladies, the gentle one's handiwork? See the even-tempered one's handiwork? See the calm one's handiwork? How could she, angered and displeased with her only slave for getting up after daybreak, grab hold of a rolling pin and give her a whack over the head, cutting it open?'
"After that this evil report about Lady Vedehika circulated: 'Lady Vedehika is vicious. Lady Vedehika is foul-tempered. Lady Vedehika is violent.'

The fire burning inside is mine for me to claim. I have quoted this other passage from the same sutta before, and I am sharing it again, as I seem to keep on forgetting:

"Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: 'Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.' That's how you should train yourselves.

Of course, this does not mean denying anger when it arises. Nor does it imply condoning wrongful acts towards ourselves or others. Rather, we are to feel our anger fully, for as long as needed, and transform it with wisdom and compassion. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Freedom No One Can Touch

In the semi-darkness,
I heard the door slam
and key lock,

and I saw a bag of grief,
jamming up my throat,
heavy with sorrow and anger.

I felt the gentle caress of breaths,
back and forth,
against sensitive spot,

and I thought ideas of freedom,
a whole train of them,
quickly dropped into thin air.

I sat for the longest time,
until only space remained,
vast, limitless,

and I delighted
in the bliss of freedom,
that no one can touch.

I opened my eyes
back to the light of day,
and a circle of sunflowers,

and went about my day,
wanting to tell the whole world,
my joyful secret.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Training the Horse

Sure, it is important to clean house, and keep on purifying one's mind through unbroken mindfulness. Just as critical is surrounding oneself with good people, starting with one's most inner circle. This is an aspect of practice that often does not get enough attention. Of course, life tends to take care of such things . . . 

I was surprised by the straightforwardness of the Buddha regarding the matter, as communicated in this story:
Then Kesi the horsetrainer went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to him: "You, Kesi, are a trained man, a trainer of tamable horses. And how do you train a tamable horse?"
"Lord, I train a tamable horse [sometimes] with gentleness, [sometimes] with harshness, [sometimes] with both gentleness and harshness."
"And if a tamable horse does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, Kesi, what do you do?"
"If a tamable horse does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, lord, then I kill it. Why is that? [I think:] 'Don't let this be a disgrace to my lineage of teachers.' But the Blessed One, lord, is the unexcelled trainer of tamable people. How do you train a tamable person?"

"Kesi, I train a tamable person [sometimes] with gentleness, [sometimes] with harshness, [sometimes] with both gentleness and harshness.
"In using gentleness, [I teach:] 'Such is good bodily conduct. Such is the result of good bodily conduct. Such is good verbal conduct. Such is the result of good verbal conduct. Such is good mental conduct. Such is the result of good mental conduct. Such are the devas. Such are human beings.'
"In using harshness, [I teach:] 'Such is bodily misconduct. Such is the result of bodily misconduct. Such is verbal misconduct. Such is the result of verbal misconduct. Such is mental misconduct. Such is the result of mental misconduct. Such is hell. Such is the animal womb. Such the realm of the hungry shades.'
" . . . And if a tamable person does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, what do you do?"
"If a tamable person does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, then I kill him, Kesi."
"But it's not proper for our Blessed One to take life! And yet the Blessed One just said, 'I kill him, Kesi.'"
"It is true, Kesi, that it's not proper for a Tathagata to take life. But if a tamable person does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, then the Tathagata does not regard him as being worth speaking to or admonishing. His knowledgeable fellows in the holy life do not regard him as being worth speaking to or admonishing. This is what it means to be totally destroyed in the Doctrine and Discipline, when the Tathagata does not regard one as being worth speaking to or admonishing, and one's knowledgeable fellows in the holy life do not regard one as being worth speaking to or admonishing."
"Yes, lord, wouldn't one be totally destroyed if the Tathagata does not regard one as being worth speaking to or admonishing, and one's knowledgeable fellows in the holy life do not regard one as being worth speaking to or admonishing!
A good friend, no matter how flawed, deserves a chance, particularly if there is indication of that person's will to reform. At the same time, loved one has to follow through, and be willing to get trained. Otherwise, the Buddha makes it clear. That person is not worth speaking to, or admonishing. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Spider and the Fly

Three days, it has been already, since a big fly landed in my web. And I still have not made it back to the center. Instead, I have been lingering close to the point of impact, unable to put the fly away. This morning, I sat with heavy heart, and confused mind. To hang on? to take action? or to just let go? . . . 

Ajahn Chah makes it sound so easy:
Try watching a spider. A spider spins its web in any convenient niche and then sits in the center, staying still and silent. Later, a fly comes along and lands on the web. As soon as it touches and shakes the web,“boop!” – the spider pounces and winds it up in thread. It stores the insect away and then returns again to collect itself silently in the center of the web. . . “Coming to the center” means living mindfully with clear comprehension, being always alert and doing everything with exactness and precision – this is our center. There’s really not a lot for us to do; we just carefully live in this way. . . Our mind is comparable to the spider, our moods and mental impressions are comparable to the various insects. That’s all there is to it! The senses envelop and constantly stimulate the mind; when any of them contact something, it immediately reaches the mind. The mind then investigates and examines it thoroughly, after which it returns to the center. This is how we abide – alert, acting with precision and always mindfully comprehending with wisdom. Just this much and our practice is complete . . . If you know that these things are impermanent, bound up with suffering and that none of it is you, then you would be crazy to go after them! If you don’t see clearly in this way, then you must suffer. When you take a good look and see these things as really impermanent, even though they may seem worth going after, really they are not. Why do you want them when their nature is pain and suffering? It’s not ours, there is no self, there is nothing belonging to us. So why are you seeking after them? All problems are ended right here. Where else will you end them? 
(in "Coming to the Center", from "The Two Faces of Reality",  The Teachings of Ajahn Chah

Investigating, examining the pain. Not holding on to it. All within an atmosphere of meditative joy. That is the task at hand.

Where on the web are you? What does your fly look like? What is your relationship to it?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sacred Fire Burning

Sitting some more,
I felt discontent,
Oh! no, not again,
judging mind wanted to dismiss,
Down below,
tender heart was beating
to another drum.
Soon, I started to see,
the fire of sacred desire,
kept under lid.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In One Spot

Things have been a bit rough on the home front, as of late. During such times, I turn to Uttama, my elder sister, for comfort:

Four times, five, I ran amok from my dwelling,
having gained no peace of awareness,
my thoughts out of control.
So I went to a trustworthy nun.
She taught me the Dhamma:
aggregates, sense spheres, and elements.
Hearing the Dhamma,
I did as she said.
For seven days I sat in one spot,
absorbed in rapture and bliss.
On the eighth, I stretched out my legs,
having burst the mass
of darkness.
And like her, I sit in one spot, absorbed in ebbs and flows of breath. Body, dissolved. Heart, cracked wide open. Mind, clear.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Deer, the Cat, and the Bull

Young cat showed its claws,
oblivious to big bull
waiting to pounce
at the slightest provocation.

Their deer friend stood up
in the middle,
trying to steer the bull
away from frightened cat.

Too late, for damage
had been done already.
Cat crawled back to its house,
licking its wounds.

The bull was hurting
almost as bad,
and wandered ashamed,
its tail between its legs.

Back into the forest,
the deer knelt, heart heavy,
amidst a pool of tears,
doing nothing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Two Fat Women

With girlfriend, in the train, I got  approached by two fat women:

They wanted to sit with us. Discouraged by the lack of space, they decided to walk away. Soon after, a man came to offer some food. Mini quiches and things, neatly arranged in a square white box. Not being hungry, I suggested, maybe he could give them to the fat women instead?

Last night's dream left me wondering. What was up with the two fat women? Something inside was getting stirred up. 

Sitting, I was met with great restlessness:

Resting place, impossible to find;
even counting breaths won't do,
neither do opening the eyes.
Body, not happy,
indulged with a few stretches,
still yearns for more action.
iPhone shows 15 minutes left,
and 10 emails waiting.
Torture, resumed.
Just staying in meditation seat
is only remaining card 
in mindfulness game
A look at timer, once more:
one minute and forty six seconds left.
Back to being with restlessness.
Who is in charge?

I turned to Bikkhu Bodhi for some help:
. . . a young god named Subrahma appears before the Awakened One and explains the problem weighing on his heart:
"Always anxious is this mind,
The mind is always agitated,
About problems present and future;
Please tell me the release from fear."
. . .  When Subrahma came to the Buddha with his urgent plea for help, he was not seeking a prescription of Prozacs that would tide him through his next round of business deals and his dalliance with celestial nymphs. He wanted nothing less than total release from fear, and thus the Buddha did not have to pull any punches with his answer. In four piquant lines he told Subrahma the only effective way to heal his inner wound, to heal it with no danger of relapse:
"Not apart from awakening and austerity,
Not apart from sense restraint,
Not apart from relinquishing all,
Do I see any safety for living beings."
. . . This relinquishment of clinging cannot come about through the forcible rejection of what we love and cherish. It arises from wisdom, from insight, from awakening, from breaking through the deep dark sleep of ignorance. The sovereign remedy is to see that right now, at this very moment, there is nothing we can truly claim as ours, for in reality "All this is empty of self and of what belongs to self." Form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness: all are to he given up by seeing them as they really are, as "not mine, not I, not my self." To see the truth that all conditioned things are impermanent, disintegrating, and bound to perish, is to turn away from clinging, to relinquish all. And to relinquish all is to find ourselves, not barren and empty-handed, but rich with the wealth of the noble ones. For one without clinging, there is no fear, no tremor or agitation, no dark winds of anxiety. The one without clinging is akutobhaya, one who faces no danger from any quarter. Though dwelling in the midst of aging, sickness, and death, he has reached what lies beyond aging, sickness, and death. Though the leaves fall and world systems shimmer, he sees security everywhere.
So many clingings, most of them unconscious still, waiting to be released with the light of mindfulness. I understand now my dream about the two fat women. Rather than pushing them away, I need to invite them for tea instead. To find out what drives their (my) insatiable hunger, and to understand their (my) suffering.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Best Gift

Yesterday was my birthday. Best gift of all, came as a surprise during meditation.

I was happy, or so I thought, until I sat. Quickly, in the stillness, I found tightness in the chest, pain in the heart, and tension in the right shoulder. And thoughts of loved one, who had failed to please me with  early morning birthday wishes. Heart, insecure from past neglect, was filled with doubt. I watched, powerless, as sadness, self-pity, and anger, took turn contributing to more contraction, more suffering. Bursted, the bubble of illusory equanimity that had met me upon awakening. Instead, stressed out body was struggling to stay still. Breathing in, breathing out, . . . each breath rubbing against the suffering, I started seeing the foolishness of wanting that which I could not control, and watched it slowly release its hold.
"When a noble disciple has thus understood craving, the origin of craving, the cessation of craving, and the way leading to the cessation of craving . . . he here and now makes an end of suffering." - Sammaditthi Sutta -
In my mailbox, awaiting, was wished for message. Loved one had not forgotten, after all. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Learning From the Monastics

This morning, I watched with intense curiosity, the energy of resistance taking hold of mind. The day had started well.  I was going to sit first thing. Downstairs, I went, still in my robe. Cup of tea, lovingly prepared by Prad, tempted me into lingering at the kitchen table. From tea cup to computer, were only a few feet, easily crossed. Meditation could wait a little while longer, . . . I was just going to check my emails, and respond to comments on my blog, and tweet a bit, and read a few more pages from the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha

Three hours later, at the computer still, I realized I had only a small window left before swim practice. And I wondered what had happened to earlier resolution. Forces greater than rational mind, had conspired.  Quickly, I rushed to my chair, and sat. Halfway through meditation, I noticed boredom threatening to take over, with concomitant thoughts of quitting, and finding more pleasurable state elsewhere. Ah-ah, craving at work . . . noted. Soon losing its grip, and giving way to concentration, easy, sweet, and joy from deep tranquillity. The fight was not over, however, as I noticed sleepiness, creeping in. Maintaining right effort is no easy task, from finding the time to sit, to staying on the chair . . . 

The monastics have it down with their strict adherence to a preset daily schedule. As a lay person, I can learn from them and create a structure,  to better support my young practice. Starting tomorrow, I will adhere to the following early morning routine:

Get up
Brush teeth
Get dressed
Stretching exercises 
45' sitting meditation
Tea & breakfast

From the bedroom, straight to meditation room. I am bypassing the kitchen and the office altogether.  It's that simple!

Do you have a daily routine for meditation?

Monday, March 8, 2010

So Close, So Far

From enlightenment, I feel so far, and yet so close, at times. A change of mind, is all it takes, I understand. So simple, so difficult. Because the process of awakening has its own rhythm, that cannot be rushed. With patience, I follow the necessary meanderings of not yet ready mind.

From T.S. Eliot, in Little Gidding, Number 4 of Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In the End

An old bag of bones,
sitting upright
despite itself,

Waxy flesh
sure sign of decay
under way already,

Nauseating smell
from disinfectant
and unchanged diaper,

Repugnant sores
that keep on slipping
from under flimsy blanket,

Barely audible sounds
trying hard
to be words,

All leaving no doubt:
body's  not to be trusted,
for sure.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Green Grass and Beyond

Ground unfolding, 
in front, with each step. 
A break in the cement, 
gives way 
to a patch of green grass.

Soon I  see,
only a patch of green, 
then just a patch 
with no name attached, 
then just 'it'.

Tears stream down,
oh so sweet,
from being one
with 'it', 
with everything.

PS -  Sayádawgyi U Sìlánanda, gave a great talk on this, in Concept and Reality 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Traveling Sangha

It's been a week already since I left traveling sangha from India pilgrimage. Sixteen brother and sisters with whom I shared living quarters and travels during a total of sixteen days. Sitting under trees, eating rich Indian food, discussing the teachings, riding the bus, walking around stupas, having pee fests in lentil fields, exchanging medicines, shopping for Buddha souvenirs, visiting temples, riding ricksaws, . . . together. 

Many happy moments, and also some struggles from the inevitable frictions of separate egos interacting. Conflicting wants and needs, differing points of views, personalities with various degrees of skillfulness, shadows in full display, gave us all ample matter for practice. I had left the imperfect community of my family for this new, just as fallible assembly of brothers and sisters. 

Mindfulness, and also remembering Gil's advice, that "You may not like them, but you ought to love them", helped me patch a few rough patches, in the privacy of my heart. Now back home,  it is more of the same. Learning to compose, moment to moment, with the ebbs and flows of communal life. Being grateful for the pleasure of happy times, and the learning from difficult ones.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tearing Down the Wall

Sitting, I encountered this image of old Indian wall, unfriendly with its glass shards on top. There was anger too, and thoughts about earlier exchange that day. I had remained relatively calm in face of unwelcome hostility, but now the quietness allowed for the whole truth to raise its unfriendly edges. 

Sitting, I contemplated new image of wall down, and possibility of heart exposed, and loving thoughts towards my aggressor. Another teaching moment was at hand, including the opportunity to understand the other more deeply. I could see how seemingly innocent act on my part had been misconstrued by loved one, as a sign that I did not really care. 

Sitting, I was humbled into finding my limits on the equanimity scale, and I remembered the Kakacupama Sutta:
Monks, a monk may be ever so gentle, ever so even-tempered, ever so calm, as long as he is not touched by disagreeable aspects of speech. But it is only when disagreeable aspects of speech touch him that he can truly be known as gentle, even-tempered, and calm . . . 
Monks, there are these five aspects of speech by which others may address you: timely or untimely, true or false, affectionate or harsh, beneficial or unbeneficial, with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. Others may address you in a timely way or an untimely way. They may address you with what is true or what is false. They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They may address you in a beneficial way or an unbeneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. In any event, you should train yourselves: 'Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person's welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will - abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.' That's how you should train yourselves.
Good will. No unfriendly wall. And practice.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Gift of Beauty

Perched on top of the stupa marking the site of ancient Kapilavastu, I watched the dancing colored dots of women heading home to their village for the evening. And I admired the beauty of their graceful stride, and feminine attires.

One unforeseen outcome of my trip to India, has been a radical change in the way I dress. Gone, the boring practicality of jeans, black Petit-Bateau tops, and neutral sweaters, that used to be my everyday uniform. Instead, I am finding great joy in emulating the effortless femininity of Indian women, adorning myself every morning, with a colorful Indian top and scarf to match, worn over a skirt and black leggings. I leave the best part for the end. Mindfully, I pick up the sandalwood mala bracelet I purchased in Bodhgaya, and I wrap it around my wrist, and savor for an instant, the sweetness of its subtle fragrance.  Utterly woman, I feel. I am now ready to start the day.

In the pool's locker room, an elderly woman compliments me on my skirt. "You are looking sharp today". I tell her about  my new resolution to dress like a girl, and how I ditched my old pants. She lights up. "My husband told me he prefers me in dresses. That was a long time ago, but I never followed up. You are giving me some ideas. How about bicycling with a dress? How do you manage?" No problem, I assure her, that's what the leggings are for. "Where can I get those?" She wants to know, she is on a mission now. "That was an important conversation", says she, as she heads out. 

Dressing nice is an act of love.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Joy of Clear Seeing

Dreams of upcoming earthquake, and men threatening with detonation of plastic explosives had been warning me over the last few days. Potentially dangerous situation was brewing inside. This morning, sitting, I was welcomed by cloud of anger, big, right in front of my eyes. Ajahn Chah's words, 'not sure, not sure', flashed, long enough to give me confidence to be with the cloud. Not holding on, not pushing away. Only sitting, feeling, and 'seeing' with great clarity. 

Oh! the joy . . . Cloud dissipates. I am left with just breath and incredible sense of well being.  

Monday, March 1, 2010

Under The Trees With Buddha

Sitting under neem tree at Bamboo Grove, next to Shantum Seth and other fellow pilgrims, I got my first real inkling of what it must have been like leading the Buddha's life. 

A life led amidst nature, walking through mustard fields, crossing streams, sitting under trees, climbing up peaks, sitting in caves, watching bright sunsets, fighting mosquitoes, receiving alms from the villagers, sleeping inside makeshift shelters. With stray dogs, and squirrels, and deers, and tigers, and elephants . . . Not much has changed, with the exception of disappearing tigers. 

From 'In the Buddha's Words', edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
At Rahagaha, in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Sanctuary, a certain brahmin approached the Blessed One and exchanged greetings with him. When they had concluded their greetings and cordial talk, he sat down to one side and asked him . . . 
Thus I have heard . On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Aavatthi in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's Park. There he addressed the monks, thus . . .  
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Savatthi in the Eastern Park, in the Mansion of Migara's mother, together with a great sangha of monks. Now on that occasion-the upostha day of the fifteenth, a full-moon night-the Blessed One was sitting out in the open surrounded by the Sangha of monks . . . 
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Ayojjha on the bank of the river Ganges. There the Blessed One addressed the monks thus . . .
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Kosambi in a simsapa grove. Then the Blessed One took up a few simsapa leaves in his hand and addressed the monks thus . . . 
The Blessed One took up a little bit of soil in his fingernail and addressed the monks thus . . 
Then, monks wandering by stages, I eventually came to Baranasi, to the Deer Park at Isipatana, and I approached the monks of the group of five . . . 
On one occasion the Blessed One was traveling along the highway between Madhura and Veranja, and a number of householders and their wives were traveling along the same road. Then the Blessed One left the road and sat down at the foot of a tree. The householders and their wives saw the Blessed One sitting there and approached him. Having paid homage to him, they sat down to one side, and the Blessed One then said to them . . . 
Thus I have heard. Once the Blessed One was staying at Rajagaha on Mount Vulture Peak . . . 
At Kosambi in Ghosita's Park the Blessed One addressed the monks thus . . . 
I wonder, how different the Buddha's life would have been, had he lived in our Western world, estranged from nature and the support from rural communities? Would he have become enlightened? How does one environment shape one's destiny? What are the physical conditions most propitious to one's awakening?