Friday, April 30, 2010

Not Just at Hospice

From Zen Hospice training I have taken these three precious gems:


and carried them around with me everywhere, all week. 

Sitting, not always literally, as in taking the time to settle into each moment, fully. There is a grounded-ness to be had there, that says, yes, I am here in this place, at this moment. I sit while I walk. I 'sit' while I drive. I 'sit' while I am talking to someone. I 'sit' everywhere, nowadays . . . 

Breathing, as a way of staying anchored in the body. I can't say enough about the gift of belly breath. So much calmness to be drawn from each breath, rising and falling in the belly. Breath has become my constant companion, my best friend, that can help me survive even the most turbulent circumstances.

Listening, as in paying attention to self, and all the thoughts, and emotions, and sensations that arise, moment to moment. Listening, as in keeping eyes, and ears, and all the other sense organs fully open to receive others. This often means talking less, and putting aside the chattering 'I'. 

Three simple things, that can change your life, and the lives of those around you!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Part of the Program

I finally got around to listening to Paul Haller's entire talk on Practice as Process. And I am very glad I did. His way of normalizing the daily 'grind' of practice experience is most helpful for novices like me. In the back of my mind, still floats the fantasy that, if only I got my act together, and I was not so flawed, I would not have to deal so often with difficult mind states. Not so, says the teacher. The struggle is part of the program. Our responsibility is to meet the moment, no matter how challenging, with patience, kindness, curiosity, honesty, and compassion. And to not fall into the temptation to anesthetize the discomfort through going numb, or distracting ourselves. 

This is not the first time I hear this discourse. Gil Fronsdal, Jack Kornfield, Sylvia Boorstein, Sharon Salzberg, and pretty much every other teacher I have come across . . . all say the same thing. I just keep on forgetting. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hanging in There

I made a new friend this morning in the YMCA locker room. She and I got to talk about meditation. She tried it once, she said, but decided it wasn't for her. "I could not sit, I got restless . . ." The ability to sit with anxiety, or any other unpleasant emotion, does not come naturally, and its lack thereof is one of most often cited reasons for not pursuing meditation. Speaking from my own experience,  I know it is also one the greatest challenges of day to day meditation practice. How to continue to be mindful, through the grief, and the powerlessness, and the fear, and the anger, and the myriad of difficult emotions that are an integral part of human living? This begs the question of how to cultivate that important quality, what Norman Fischer refers to as forbearance:
Though it is not very popular or exciting, forbearance is the greatest of all spiritual qualities, because without it all other good qualities, intentions, insights, and powers will be wipe away as soon as the first leopard, serpent, or boar appears in the vicinity. You can be strong, intelligent, kind, say your prayers every day, meditate till your legs fall off. You can have beautiful spiritual experiences, meet God face to face, serve your neighbor with compassion and zeal. You can be creative and talented in many ways. But if you are not ready and able to hang in there when conditions suddenly and fiercely change, then your spiritual practice, however devoted or brilliant it may be, is in the final analysis pretty useless. It's the changes, the constant shifts and sudden reversals, that prove us, so we ought to appreciate them, even look forward to them, unpleasant though they may be at times, for it is thanks to them that we are forced to develop forbearance. 
 The Chinese ideograph for forbearance is a heart with a sword dangling over it, another instance of language's brilliant way of showing us something surprising and important fossilized inside the meaning of a word.

Vulnerability is built into our hearts, which can be sliced open at any moment by some sudden shift in the arrangements, some pain, some horror, some hurt. We know and instinctively fear this, so we protect our hearts by covering them against exposure. But this doesn't work. Covering the heart binds and suffocates it until, like a wound that has been kept dressed for too long, the heart starts to fester and becomes fetid. Eventually, without air, the heart is all but killed off, and there's no feeling, no experiencing at all.
To practice forbearance is to appreciate and celebrate the heart's vulnerability, and to see that the slicing or piercing of the heart does not require defense; that the heart's vulnerability is a good thing, because wounds can make us more peaceful and more real - if, that is, we are willing to hang on to the leopard of our fear, the serpent of our grief, the boar of our shame, without running away or being hurled off. Forbearance is simply holding on steadfastly with whatever it is that unexpectedly arises: not doing anything; not fixing anything (because doing and fixing can be a way to cover up the heart, to leap over the hurt and pain by occupying ourselves with schemes and plans to get rid of it). Just holding on for dear life. Holding on with what comes is what makes life dear. 
Today, is about hanging on to the leopard of fear. It started on the dentist's chair, and has stayed with me on and off ever since. Fear of the root canal tomorrow, that rejoins all the other fears, big and small, that are attached to some of my present life circumstances. Heart open wide, breathing in, breathing out . . . through the fear.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Call of Now

This afternoon, driving to pick up my daughter, I seized the opportunity to finish listening to Paul Haller's recent talk on 'Practice as Process'. I have been intent on becoming acquainted with him, since he will be my teacher for the year to come at San Francisco Zen Center. Usually eager mind surprised me though, as it, for once, refused to cooperate. I was hearing Paul Haller's words, but could not make sense of them. Heart was tugging at me, asking to be noticed. There was no room for thoughts. In what felt like a radical gesture, I turned off my iPhone. 

Driving to pick up my daughter, I just sat with my heart, and welcomed the grief inside. And paid attention to the road.

Driving to pick up my daughter, I felt at one with the now. Just right.

Practice as process. :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Power of Felt Powerlessness

Visiting the Total Care Unit at Laguna Honda Hospital yesterday, stirred things up in me, that I am only starting to comprehend now. The sight of men and women, trapped in their bodies, and unable to do anything for themselves, even breathing, resonated with buried part that keeps me bound, despite my will. 

Hands still, mouth shut, 
I sit and feel
the powerlessness from long time ago.
First grade, oblivious,
I want to walk about and play,
not sit and read.
I will teach you, she says,
and sits me down,
and ties my hands behind my back,
and puts tape over my mouth.
Powerless, I want to kick and scream.
Will someone please rescue me?

Powerlessness, dissolving under the light of bare awareness . . . What Jack Kornfield describes in his chapter on 'The Ancient Unconscious', in 'The Wise Heart'. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Precious Moment

Tonight marks the end of Zen Hospice training. Taking a walk on Stanford campus, I stopped to sit, and capture a precious moment:

Too tired to think,
there is only heart,
heavy with grief,
my own, and that of others,
met in the wards,
waiting for death.
Burden floating,
in sea of calm awareness,
and gratitude
for wisdom gained.
At once, I see 
the air, warm with Spring,
that brushes me, gently.

I am so lucky.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stephen Batchelor's Response On the Four Noble Truths

I just got an email back from Stephen Batchelor regarding my recent post on 'Reconstructing the Four Noble Truths', inspired by his recent talk at IMC. Here is his response:
'I’ve just read your blog and can confirm that, yes, you got it. I’ve been trying to get this idea across for a long time now; it is basically all I’ve been teaching – though I admit that my own understanding keeps developing (I hope) so my way of expressing it also changes. What surprises me is how few people are able to retain the idea after they’ve heard me talk about the four truths in this way, and quickly revert to the default orthodox view again. It can’t be because my interpretation is difficult to grasp – if anything, it is far simpler and more economical than the traditional one, so it must be because of some attachment formed out of habit over time to the usual view. I plan to write a book-length study of the first sermon at some point. Maybe that will help shift the pack-ice of fixed thinking.'
Since writing that earlier post, I have been giving a lot more thought to Stephen Batchelor's interpretation of the Four Noble Truths, and I must admit, part of me keeps getting confused, between his view, and what he calls 'the default orthodox view' that is part of contemporary mainstream Buddhist teachings. My hunch is a lot of the debate has to do with semantics, around the interpretation of the various levels of dukha. The way I see it, there is 'primary dukha' (my own words), or unsatisactoriness with life's inherent unpredictability, and impermanence. This primary dukkha causes us to seek some escape routes, in the form of cravings for anticipated, more pleasurable states. This, I feel, is Stephen Batchelor's primary contribution, as recognized by him in his response above. Paradoxically, this strategy results in added dukkha, what I call 'secondary dukkha'. This is akin to popular distinction made in Buddhist circles, between inevitable pain, and optional, added suffering from lack of acceptance of the pain. Where that view gets a bit twisted in my opinion, is in the logic commonly used to interpret the connection between the first and second noble truths. That logic says, cravings are the cause of suffering/dukkha, not the result of it. Based on my own personal experience, this is a wrong view. Cravings are the natural inclination in response to primary dukkha. They are also the cause of secondary dukkha. The wise approach as expressed in Four Noble Truths consists in knowing and fully embracing life's primary dukkha, and adopting Eightfold Path as alternative strategy to pursuit of cravings. Cultivating detachment from all earthly experiences that are inherently flawed with built in dukha, and pursuing instead unconditioned happiness. I am reminded of Thanissaro Bkikkhu's recent remark, something to the effect of, "It is worth foresaking small short-term happinesses, for the sake of long-term happiness".

Friday, April 23, 2010

Taking Good Care

These last few weeks, I have been feeling the strain from giving myself wholeheartedly to the demands of the path. And I have become very aware of the need for raw heart, and alert mind to be held within sturdy container of healthy body. Hence the importance of self-care, starting with such basics as eating healthy, exercising one's muscles, and getting enough sleep. As the French say, 'Qui veut aller loin menage sa monture' (Whoever wants to travel far, steady wins the race)

The Buddha agrees:

So, too, prince there are five factors for striving . . .

Here a bhikkhu has faith, he places his faith in the Tathagata's enlightenment . . .

Then he is free from illness and affliction, possessing a good digestion that is neither too cool nor too warm but medium and able to bear the strain of striving.

Then he is honest and sincere, and shows himself as he actually is to the Teacher and his companions in the holy life.

Then he is energetic in abandoning unwholesome states and in undertaking wholesome states, steadfast, launching his effort with firmness and persevering in cultivating wholesome states.

Then he is wise; he possesses wisdom regarding rise and disappearance that is noble and penetrative and leads to the complete destruction of suffering.

These are the five factors of striving.

- from Bodhirajakumara Sutta: To Prince Bodhi, in Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha -

What do you do to take care of yourself?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Real Meaning of Being

That life is about being, and not doing, has become such a cliche. There is a lot truth in the idea, although not a complete one. Lately, I have become more aware of what is really called for, in the idea of being. What is really meant is the act of being actively present for oneself, and for others, in the midst of each moment. Not simply thinking about the now, but also feeling it in the heart, sensing it in the body, and letting the sixth sense of intuition fully operate within us. Bringing all of ourselves to what is happening, right there.

Actively being. Quite a tall order, and a most worthwhile one . . .

For that deeper understanding of 'being', I thank all my teachers, including Gil Fronsdal from Insight Meditation Center, Bob Stahl from Mindfulness Programs, and Eric Poche from Zen Hospice. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

High Wire Act

the tyranny from sticky memories
of past deceptions,
along with the mirage 
of future freedom, without,
keep me suspended
in hard wire act, back and forth,
between two imaginary poles,
high above present reality.

Truthful heart,
heavy with burden of rancor,
and tiredness, and sorrow,
begs for a lighter load.
Confused mind
is of little help
as it contemplates fork in the road,
wondering which way?
Sitting still, I dwell amidst, 
letting wisdom do its work
of diligent sifting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Listening to the Heart

Some timely words, straight from ZenDotStudio, a wonderful and always inspiring blog by Dharma sister and artist, Carole Leslie:
But mostly it's about honouring the call of the heart, doing what may not always seem logical or safe but doing it anyway. And somehow as you take the mundane, daily steps, you move closer to the heart's calling. Sometimes it's clear what the next step is and some days clouds cover the horizon. Some days you need to adjust your course around fallen trees and downed power lines and sometimes you just need to sit still and wait for the direction to make itself clear.
And so gradually it becomes clear at the gut level that we can never really know what's around the next corner but we have faith and trust that life is unfolding as it should. And there is always that sign in our heart pointing us toward harmony.
And so I sit.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not Just Any Post-Its

Saturday, at Zen Hospice we did the Post-Its exercise. Although, I had gone through it twice before, this time was no less powerful. It goes like this:
  1. Pick 16 blank square Post-Its, broken out into four categories of four, from four different colors
  2. Lay them out on a sheet of paper
  3. In the first category, write down your four most precious material possessions, one per Post-It
  4. In the second category, write down your four most liked activities, one per Post-It
  5. In the third category, write down your four most  favorite roles, one per Post-It
  6. In the fourth category, write down your four most dear people, one per Post-It
  7. Become aware of the feelings, thoughts, sensations as you go through exercise
  8. Next, you are being asked by group facilitator to pick one item in each category and surrender it to him
  9. Stay very aware of what is going on inside, as you hand items over to person, and look into his eyes
  10. Next, you are to pick four more items, this time from any category
  11. Again, notice what happens as you give those up as well
  12. Last, facilitator goes around the room for the third time, and picks any number of items from different people, at random
  13. What does it feel like?
Very, very powerful, not just in terms of helping one get a sense of what it must be like to face one's end of life, but also in terms of clarifying for oneself, what it is that really matters. It was certainly the case for me, as I found myself contemplating the universe of my attachments, and the differing degrees to which I am attached to different things, and activities, and roles, and people.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reading the Heart

Another long day at Zen Hospice, training to be a volunteer, and dealing with grief and death. Tonight, taking a restorative walk on Stanford campus, I could feel the vast expanse of my heart, still raw and achy from all the grief, my own and the other people in the group. And for the first time, I became fully aware of the telltale signs, the exact sensations that signify grief for my body. The burn in the heart and stomach, the heaviness in the chest, the almost bitter taste in the mouth . . . And I realized how mistaken I had been before, whenever I had felt those same sensations, out of context, and had rushed to see them as the expression of other emotions such as anger or self-hate. Thinking mind likes to pack away experiences neatly into known categories, even at the risk of being mistaken. 

I am still finding my way around the heart . . . 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Waiting Room Wisdom

Wisdom is everywhere to be found, including in the waiting area of Stanford Hospital Spiritual Care Office. There, while waiting to process my paperwork for  No One Dies Alone volunteer program, I found this great little booklet called "Living With a Problem You Can't Solve", published by Christian publisher Care Notes. Full of tips for people who are stuck living with difficult people :

Don't make an "idol" of your problem:
You may discover that this problem has become to you "as big as all outdoors". You probably devote a great deal of time and energy to thinking about it. No problem deserves that place in your life. To let that happen is to make an idol of it. Lift up your vision above your problem until you get a larger perspective on it. Make the problem a part of your life, sure, but not the center of it. Even if the problem is life itself, viewing the larger perspective can help enormously. You may be tempted to turn each small annoyance into a massive catastrophe. Each aggravation reminds you of the whole issue and is likely to turn on all your alarm bells. Don't let every minor incident mushroom into a full-blown crisis. Don't let it ruin your whole day - or week. Say to yourself: "Here it is again! This, too, shall pass."

Realize that you can only change yourself:
Many of the problems we cannot solve involve the unacceptable behavior of other people. We sometimes organize our whole lives around cleaning up the emotional, spiritual, financial, and interpersonal messes these people make. No matter how much you plead, harangue, or pressure someone, no matter how "right' you may be about someone's destructive habits or choices, you cannot change another person. Though you may not be able to change someone else, you can change your own response to the situation. You can refuse to give another power over your happiness. You can refuse to let yourself be a victim to someone else's destructive behavior. You can stop rescuing the person from the consequences of his or her behavior. You can set your own boundaries and be firm in stating them. 

Consult with specialists:
Mental health professionals, professionals, physicians, substance abuse counselors, for example are likely persons to whom to turn. Don't worry about getting them "to fix" someone else. Rather, ask them if they have suggestions for you as to what you can do, quit doing, or forget about doing. Get a "checkup" on what you may have left undone in your efforts to solve the problem. You might also want to look into finding a spiritual director. A meeting at least twice a month with a rabbi, pastor, priest, chaplain, or pastoral counselor can bring the encouragement and enrichment of the spiritual life to you. Look for someone who can help you explore your plight and feelings of helplessness in a spiritual light. 

Stop fruitless thinking and talking:
"Thought-stopping" is another way of coping. You may feel as if your mind paces around and around the problem in a circular pattern of thinking that never allows you to arrive at a solution. Yet, remember, the mind doing its fruitless thinking is your mind. You are in charge of it. You can say to yourself: "Stop!" and shift your attention to issues you can resolve. "Talk-stopping" is akin to thought-stopping. You and your family members can easily get into the habit of talking about nothing else but this problem. It may dominate the conversation while other more productive issues are neglected. In fact, if an errant member of the family seems to be causing the problem, he or she often becomes the "identified problem", and other members of the family, especially children, may be neglected. Your family can discipline itself to avoid this. Try to not talk about the problem until some new events call for it. 

Count on others for support:
You may be surprised to find others in your church, your group of friends, or your community who are facing the same or similar problem. Seek out others who are struggling with a frustration similar to yours. 

Do what you can do:
You may not be able to do away with the problem that burdens you, but you can outwit some of its threats to your sense of equanimity. Occasionally your problem - whatever it might be - will change somewhat, revealing something you can do. For instance, if an alcoholic loved one develops an illness, you can see to it that he or she gets good medical attention. If a relative who hasn't spoken to you in months gets into a situation requiring your help, you can offer the aid matter-of-factly, as if nothing has happened to estrange the two of you.

Accept your helplessness:
We all live under the illusion that we can solve any problem. Yet we cannot change circumstances over which we have no control. We can't work miracles, particularly in our efforts to change other people's behavior . . . "to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." To the day's challenges, respond calmly, doing what you can reasonably do to deal with  the situation at hand. Then consciously enter an act of surrender. Push yourself away, put distance between the problem and you. 

7 great tips. 

Today, I remembered to  lean on my girlfriends, and made several calls, sharing my plight, and listening to theirs in return. Now, my heart feels a lot lighter, and my mind clearer. 

Naming the Breath

Last night,  during our first volunteer training session at Zen Hospice, zen teacher Jana Drakka taught us this very simple mindfulness practice:

Focusing on breath, just become aware of,

"Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out."
"Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath."
"Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath."

Eyes opened. To be practiced anywhere, any time.

She learned it from Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Breathe You Are Alive, a commentary on Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing.

Very powerful.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Door of the Wishless

Today is about pain in the right shoulder. I pulled a muscle, no big deal, but right then, pain feels huge. Worse than the pain, is reactive mind's verdict of refusal. Wishing for another time in the future, when pain will be gone. Sitting, I linger in the extra suffering from wishfulness. After a while, the feeling tires out and withdraws, leaving in its wake only raw pain, unedited, and breath, and  the comforting sounds of house waking up. 

As I think of Gil's recent talk, on The Three Doors, I contemplate the potential beauty of wishlessness, the second door (to liberation). How I wish . . . :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Asking the Right Question

Last night, I was fortunate to sit with, and hear talk from forest monk and Buddhist scholar Thanissaro Bikkhu. He spoke about the importance of giving skillful answers to questions. His talk referred to several suttas, with relevant excerpts quoted below: 

"There are these four ways of answering questions. Which four? There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that]. There are questions that should be answered with an analytical (qualified) answer [defining or redefining the terms]. There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question. There are questions that should be put aside. These are the four ways of answering questions."

From Abhaya Sutta (Thanissaro Bikkhu's commentary in Access to Insight):

The prince asks him two questions, and in both cases he responds first with a counter-question, before going on to give an analytical answer to the first question and a categorical answer to the second. Each counter-question serves a double function: to give the prince a familiar reference point for understanding the answer about to come, and also to give him a chance to speak of his own intelligence and good motives. This provides him with the opportunity to save face after being stymied in his desire to best the Buddha in argument. The Commentary notes that the prince had placed his infant son on his lap as a cheap debater's trick: if the Buddha had put him in an uncomfortable spot in the debate, the prince would have pinched his son, causing him to cry and thus effectively bringing the debate to a halt. The Buddha, however, uses the infant's presence to remove any sense of a debate and also to make an effective point. Taking Nigantha Nataputta's image of a dangerous object stuck in the throat, he applies it to the infant, and then goes on to make the point that, unlike the Niganthas — who were content to leave someone with a potentially lethal object in the throat — the Buddha's desire is to remove such objects, out of sympathy and compassion.

Most notably, Thanissaro Bikkhu stressed the importance of not just answering questions skillfully, but also of raising the right questions. 

This morning, I reflect on this last point from Thanissaro Bikkhu, and I wonder which question(s) do I need to ask myself? which ones do I need to bring forth to my teacher? and I realize, that in itself is a great question to ask . . . 

How about you? Which questions should you be asking, that you have not already asked?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Minding Absent Mind

Half-way to the pool, I remember, all of a sudden. I forgot to lock the front door. Off, I go back home, pedaling furiously, hoping that I will not be too late for swim practice. Once in the water, wandering mind plays tricks, again, and soon, I start losing count of laps. Later, in the kitchen, I almost forget the rice pudding on the stove. Today is one of those days . . . 

In the background, I can feel sadness in the heart. Images of dream the night before come to mind. Loved one is not doing well. 

Time to be extra careful, and to move slow. Time to sit down and be with myself, absent-mindedness and all. Time to listen to the heart.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Deep Cleaning of the Mind

There is mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of body sensations, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of sounds, mindfulness of whatever is most compelling . . . So many different kinds of mindfulness! Lately, my attention has turned to mindfulness of thoughts. Taking a very involved approach, that goes beyond simply acknowledging, and letting go of the thoughts, as is most common in meditation. The image that comes to me, is of a deep cleaning of the mind. It goes like this:
  1. Become mindful
  2. Notice the thought(s)
  3. Identify whether thought is wholesome or not wholesome
  4. If wholesome, cultivate the thought
  5. If not wholesome, label the thought, and replace it with its wholesome counterpart
Be like the Buddha, as he was striving for deliverance, before his enlightenment:

Meditating in the forest, he found that his thoughts could be distributed into two different classes. In one he put thoughts of desire, ill will, and harmfulness, in the other thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness. Whenever he noticed thoughts of the first kind arise in him, he understood that those thoughts lead to harm for oneself and others, obstruct wisdom, and lead away from Nibbana. Reflecting in this way he expelled such thoughts from his mind and brought them to an end. But whenever thoughts of the second kind arose, he understood those thoughts to be beneficial, conducive to the growth of wisdom, aids to the attainment of Nibbana. Thus he strengthened those thoughts and brought them to completion.

Since greed and aversion are deeply grounded, they do not yield easily; however, the work of overcoming them is not impossible if an effective strategy is employed. The path devised by the Buddha makes use of an indirect approach: it proceeds by tackling the thoughts to which these defilements give rise. Greed and aversion surface in the form of thoughts, and thus can be eroded by a process of "thought substitution," by replacing them with the thoughts opposed to them. The intention of renunciation provides the remedy to greed. Greed comes to manifestation in thoughts of desire — as sensual, acquisitive, and possessive thoughts. Thoughts of renunciation spring from the wholesome root of non-greed, which they activate whenever they are cultivated. Since contrary thoughts cannot coexist, when thoughts of renunciation are roused, they dislodge thoughts of desire, thus causing non-greed to replace greed. Similarly, the intentions of good will and harmlessness offer the antidote to aversion. Aversion comes to manifestation either in thoughts of ill will — as angry, hostile, or resentful thoughts; or in thoughts of harming — as the impulses to cruelty, aggression, and destruction. Thoughts of good will counter the former outflow of aversion, thoughts of harmlessness the latter outflow, in this way excising the unwholesome root of aversion itself.

- From Bikkhu Bodhi, in The Noble Eightfold Path, the Way to the End of Suffering -

No mystery here. Only tedious, and indeed very sacred work. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger

Anger . . . not a day goes by, without feeling its heat, usually in reaction to some other person's unkind words, or actions. 

Here are excerpts from sutta reading we did while at Bodh Gaya, during India Buddha pilgrimage with Shantum Seth - from Madhyama Agama 25, in Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book: Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger -

When someone's bodily actions are not kind but his words are kind, we should not pay attention to his unkind bodily actions, but only be attentive to his kind words. This will help us put an end to our anger . . . 

With someone whose words are not kind but whose bodily actions are kind, do not pay attention to that person's words. Only be attentive to his bodily actions in order to be able to put an end to your anger . . . 

When you see someone whose bodily actions and words are not kind, but where there is still a little kindness in her heart, do not pay attention to her actions and words, but to the little kindness that is in her heart so that you may put an end to your anger . . . 

When you see someone whose words and bodily actions are not kind, and in whose heart there is nothing that can be called kindness, give rise to this thought: 'Someone whose words and bodily actions are not kind and in whose heart is nothing that can be called kindness, is someone who is undergoing great suffering. Unless he meets a good spiritual friend, there will be no chance for him to transform and go to realms of happiness.' Thinking like this, you will be able to open your heart with love and compassion toward that person. You will be able to put an end to your anger and help that person . . . 

When you see someone whose bodily action are kind, whose words are kind, and whose mind is also kind, give your attention to all his kindness of body, speech, and mind, and do not allow anger or jealousy to overwhelm you. If you do not know how to live happily with someone who is as fresh as that, you cannot be called someone who has wisdom . . . 

This reading made a great impression on me. So simple, so practical. A real gem.

I dedicate this post to my paternal grandmother, whose chronic nastiness I despised so much as a child. She died twenty five years ago. For the first time, I think of her with compassion, and I see her as another human being, not an evil witch. And I use the power of understanding, and loving kindness, to let go of my long held resentment towards her. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Right Attitude for Meditation

Just when I needed it, this very wise teaching from Burmese sage U Tejaniya fell into my inbox:

23 Points for Right Attitude for Meditation:

1. Meditating is acknowledging and observing whatever happens —whether pleasant or unpleasant—in a relaxed way.

2. Meditating is watching and waiting patiently with awareness and understanding. Meditation is NOT trying to experience something you have read or heard about.

3. Just pay attention to the present moment. Don’t get lost in thoughts about the past. Don’t get carried away by thoughts about the future.

4. When meditating, both the mind and the body should be comfortable.

5. If the mind and the body are getting tired, something is wrong with the way you are practising, and it is time to check the way you are meditating.

6. Why do you focus so hard when you meditate? Do you want something? Do you want something to happen? Do you want something to stop happening? Check to see if one of these attitudes is present.

7. The meditating mind should be relaxed and at peace. You cannot practise when the mind is tense.

8. Don’t focus too hard, don’t control. Neither force nor restrict yourself.

9. Don’t try to create anything, and don’t reject what is happening. Just be aware.

10. Trying to create something is greed. Rejecting what is happening is aversion. Not knowing if something is happening or has stopped happening is delusion.

11. Only to the extent that the observing mind has no greed, aversion or anxiety are you truly meditating.

12. Don’t have any expectations, don’t want anything, don’t be anxious, because if these attitudes are in your mind, it becomes difficult to meditate.

13. You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want them to happen. You are trying to know what is happening as it is.

14. What is the mind doing? Thinking? Being aware?

15. Where is the mind now? Inside? Outside?

16. Is the watching or observing mind properly aware or only superficially aware?

17. Don’t practise with a mind that wants something or wants something to happen. The result will only be that you tire yourself out.

18. You have to accept and watch both good and bad experiences. You want only good experiences? You don’t want even the tiniest unpleasant experience? Is that reasonable? Is this the way of the Dhamma!

19. You have to double check to see what attitude you are meditating with. A light and free mind enables you to meditate well. Do you have the right attitude?

20. Don’t feel disturbed by the thinking. You are not practising to prevent thinking; but rather to recognize and acknowledge thinking whenever it arises.

21. Don’t reject any object that comes to your attention. Get to know the defilements that arise in relation to the object and keep examining the defilements.

22. The object of attention is not really important; the observing mind that is working in the background to be aware is of real importance. If the observing is done with the right attitude, any object is the right object.

23. Only when there is faith or confidence (saddhā), effort will arise. Only when there is effort (viriya), mindfulness will become continuous. Only when mindfulness (sati) is continuous, stability of mind will become established. Only when stability of mind is established (samādhi), you will start understanding things as they are. When you start understanding things as they are (paññā), faith will grow stronger.

Not trying too hard, nor wanting anything out of meditation. Instead, just being aware, noticing what is present, whatever it is. That's all . . .

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Magic Tree

Dreams, dreams, never cease to amaze me . . .

Driving down a windy road, I notice all of a sudden a beautiful palm tree. The tree has a supernatural quality. It is glowing with rainbow colors at the top and also at its base. I decide to rush home to pick up Prad and bring him to see the tree with me.

Upon waking up, I share my dream with Prad. Funny, he tells me, he too dreamed about a tree. He was looking for a heritage tree, the same kind he and I used to scout for together when I was working on Witness Trees Environmental Art Project. And he was meeting me at art school, just like we did back then. 

Later, sitting and meditating together with Prad, as we now do every day, the magic tree is there as well, bathing us in all its numinous splendor. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

One More Round

Just when I thought,
I was done with the devil,
good news from a friend
on her way to the top,
threatened to send me back
to the hellish realms.

Old demons jumped at once,
from dark corners
and started to play tricks.
First was envy, whose bitter brew
I tasted only for an instant,
then spit, and washed away
with a dose of heartfelt rejoicing.

Then, an old craving awoke,
and started to torment me
with unreasonable demands
for what could not be had any more,
the fruit of which I had eaten before,
and decided I did not like.

Last came doubt,
under the guise of wisdom,
who begged me to please reconsider
the difficult path I had just chosen.
Familiar lines, heard several times
too many, were losing their power.

I took all three demons head on,
and sent them back flying.
Still a bit shaken
from such arduous confrontations,
I stood still,
and congratulated myself
for my resolve.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Mustard Seed

If only . . . If only . . . If only . . . Three separate wishes keep on dancing in the back of my mind, often times without me even realizing it. Three wishes that keep me trapped in the iron jaws of conditioned happiness. Like Gotami, I need an admonition from the Buddha, to shake myself out of non acceptance and useless self-pity:
[Her] son, running back and forth and running all around, while playing met his end. Because of this, sorrow-to-the-point-of-madness arose in her. She thought: "Before I was one who received only scorn, but starting from the time of the birth of my son I gained honor. These [relatives] will now try to take my son, in order to expose him outside [in the charnel ground]." Under the influence of her sorrow-to-the-point-of-madness, she took the dead corpse on her hip and wandered in the city from the door of one house to another [pleading]: "Give medicine to me for my son!" People reviled her, [saying] "What good is medicine?" She did not grasp what they were saying. And then a certain wise man, thinking "This woman has had her mind deranged by sorrow for her son; the ten-powered [Buddha] will know the medicine for her," said: "Mother, having approached the fully awakened one, ask about medicine for your son." She went to the vihara at the time of the teaching of dhamma and said, "Blessed One, give medicine to me for my son!" The master, seeing her situation, said, "Go, having entered the city, into whatever house has never before experienced any death, and take from them a mustard seed." "Very well, Sir." [she replied], and glad of mind she entered the city and came to the first house: "The master has called for a mustard seed in order to make medicine for my son. If this house has never before experienced any death, give me a mustard seed." "Who is able to count how many have died here?" "Then keep it. What use is that mustard seed to me?" And going to a second and a third house, her madness left her and her right mind was established — thanks to the power of the Buddha. She thought, "This is the way it will be in the entire city. By means of the Blessed One's compassion for my welfare, this will be what is seen." And having gained a sense of spiritual urgency from that, she went out and covered her son in the charnel ground. She uttered this verse: It's not just a truth for one village or town, Nor is it a truth for a single family. But for every world settled by gods [and men] This indeed is what is true — impermanence. And so saying, she went into the presence of the master. Then the master said to her, "Have you obtained, Gotami, the mustard seed?" "Finished, sir, is the matter of the mustard seed" she said. "You have indeed restored me." And the master then uttered this verse: A person with a mind that clings, Deranged, to sons or possessions, Is swept away by death that comes — Like mighty flood to sleeping town.  
We've all got our load to carry. How we choose to carry it however, can make all the difference. Not wishing away, not feeling sorry for ourselves, not lamenting . . . but accepting instead, what is, warts and all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Excellent Moment

So many unnecessary heart afflictions, I encounter, because of wandering mind. Either dwelling on the past, wishing I had taken different course of action, or projecting into the future, dreading some imagined outcome. The Buddha is clear on that one:

Let not a person revive the past
Or on the future build his hopes;
For the past has been left behind
And the future has not been reached.
Instead with insight let him see
Each presently arisen state;
Let him know that and be sure of it,
Invincibly, unshakably.
Today the effort must be made;
Tomorrow Death may come, who knows?
No bargain with Mortality
Can keep him and his hordes away,
but one who dwells thus ardently,
Relentlessly, by day, by night - 
It is he, the Peaceful Sage has said,
Who has had a single excellent night.

- from Bhaddekaratta Sutta: A Single Excellent Night -

Taming wandering mind, and bringing it back, over and over again, to the present moment. Using the breath, and the power of mindfulness, and concentration, as anchors. All with great patience, and kindness.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Pain of Love

Sitting with pain in my heart, I remembered, thanks to the Buddha,

The sorrows, lamentations,
the many kinds of suffering in the world,
exist dependent on something dear.
They don't exist 
when there's nothing dear.
And thus blissful and sorrowless
are those for whom nothing 
in the world is dear anywhere.
So one who aspires 
to be stainless and sorrowless
shouldn't make anything
in the world dear 

- from Visakha Sutta: To Visakha -

Ah! the pain from loving too much . . .

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spiritual Quotes on Twitter, Anyone?

Here are the results of mini-survey I conducted on Twitter, regarding the use of spiritual quotes in tweets:
@NellaLou: No context. A bit like gorging on jelly beans. Momentary delight but lacking nourishment. 
@iamwun: yes, spiritual quotes help me enormously. Reminders that help me in staying tuned into the Main Current.
@tomotvos: I think there are enough "quote" services on Twitter. I look to my friends to give me more meaningful content.
@Thrine: they remind me of what is important and of letting go, most of the time.
@sharingair: don't help much. Personal experiences in everyday life are more what I look for on twitter.
@craftivista: I like Buddhist/spiritual quotes because they ground me throughout the day as I randomly catch them on my feed.
@Lalizlatina: spiritual quotes help to remind and ground me. I often forget to be mindful & practice loving kindness.
@AnthonyLawlor: Spiritual quotes help when they seem conscious. Mindless, mechanical quoting is numbing and not helpful.
A mixed bag, showing once more the multicolored nature of Twitter crowd.  Personally, I am more interested in Twitter as a channel for personal sharing. I draw much inspiration from others' heartfelt direct experiences, and rarely from random quotes, thrown in without any personal context to anchor them.

If you have not participated in survey, I would love to have you share your take here, in form of a comment.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Unfiltered Swimming Meditation

Off, into the water, I dove, for my daily swim. As usual, taking advantage of the opportunity to practice mindfulness, paying attention to each stroke, or at least trying to . . . Today, something happened, that caused me to wonder. For the first time, I heard the sounds as I moved through water. And what a cacophony it was, and so loud! That I had never noticed those sounds until this day, made me realize how narrow my awareness can be. What I had taken for mindfulness before, was instead my idea of what mindfulness should me, mainly of the body sensations associated with the repetitive motions of my arms hitting the water. 

I think too much . . . 

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Gift of Silence

Yesterday, being subjected to one of my fellow students' practice of guided MBSR meditation - part of our teacher training - I experienced firsthand the desolation from not having the necessary moments of silence, to just be. Here are my notes, jotted during our group debriefing:

Oh! the gift of silence,
most appreciated 
during your misguided meditation
I wanted space for me
but no, 
you talked too much.

I learned lots though
about what not to do 
on the other side;
and so  I thank you
my anxious sister
for making me realize.

My job, your job
is to do less with our words
and let mindfulness 
do its job, instead
Giving them a chance 
to be, with themselves.

Being mindful. Being present. Being silent. That's all . . . 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Feverish With Longing

Drenched in fear, I sat, and let awareness take me down, down to the roots of most unpleasant state. There, I found resistance to change, and fear of suffering, and difficulty accepting the nature of life itself. Life not to be relied on, could turn on me any time. Even further down, lied craving for sensual pleasure, uninterrupted. Craving still strong, eroded only just a bit, and a sure indicator of need to keep on with practice . . . following the footsteps of Mittakali, my 'elder sister':

Although I left home for no home
and wandered, full of faith,
I was still greedy
for possessions and praise.

I lost my way:
My passions used me,
and I forgot the real point
of my wandering life.

Then as I sat in my little cell,
there was only terror.
I thought-this is the wrong way,
a fever of longing controls me.

Life is short.
Age and sickness gnaw away.
I have no time for carelessness
before this body breaks.

And as I watched the elements of mind and body
rise and fall away
I saw them as they really are.
I stood up.
My mind was completely free.
The Buddha's teaching has been done. 

- The First Buddhist Women: Translations and Commentary on the Therigatha, by Susan Murcott -