Saturday, July 31, 2010

Here Come The Tibetans!

18 Great Tibetan Buddhist Teachers in America.

Very much inspired by a recent weekend retreat with Mingyur Rinpoche, I was looking for a list of the great contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teachers in America. Finding no such recent list, I decided to put one together. Here it is:

Chskyi Nyima Rinpoche
Tsoknyi Rinpoche
Mingyur Rinpoche
Thrangu Rinpoche
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Dzigar Kongrul Rinpoche
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Khandro Rinpoche
Ringu Tulku
Traleg Rinpoche
Phakchok Rinpoche
Phagyab Rinpoche

Of course, any additions, comments on your part are most welcome!

  • Twitter 'twangha': @pixelsrzen, @NSteinbergOttaw, @LuminousHeart, @electronicist, @Ommane, @NalandaWest
  • Waylon Lewis's excellent 2008 list of 'Top 10 Buddhist Teachers in America'
  • Pema Chodron's list of teachers
  • Google search
  • Conversations with members of Tibetan Buddhism community

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Men They Learned From

Great (All Male) Teachers of Great Women Buddhist Teachers in America

While researching for the post on 20 Great Living Women Buddhist Teachers in America, I was most struck by the fact that without any exception, all of the women on the list had learned the Dharma from men teachers.  I became interested in finding out who were these men who had 'birthed' such great women teachers. Who knows, maybe I too could go to the source and learn directly from them as well?

Here is the list:

U Pandita 
Tradition: Theravada
Location: Burma
Age: 89
Accessibility: Still gives long retreats at Panditarama center in Burma, and also month long every Spring at Tathagata Center, in San Jose, California; no longer gives interviews.
Students: Kamala Masters, Michele McDonald, Ayya Medhanandi, Sharon Salzberg

Shodo Harada
Tradition: Zen
Location: Tahoma, USA
Age: 70
Accessibility: Leads several sesshins a year at One Drop Zen Monastery, in Tahoma, WA
Students: Yvonne Rand, Jan Chosen Bays

Tradition: Tibetan
Age: 38
Accessibility: In retreat until March, 2011

Tradition: Tibetan
Location: Tibet and US
Age: 37
Accessibility: Contact Dawn Mountain Center

Tradition: Tibetan
Age: 44
Accessibility: Gives many retreats in the US
Students: Sharon Salzberg

Sojun Mel Weitsman
Tradition: Zen
Location: Berkeley, USA
Age: 81
Accessibility: Gives out formal practice interviews at Berkeley Zen Center
Students: Blanche Harman

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Tradition: Tibetan
Location: Boulder, CO
Age: 46
Accessibility: Gives out retreats throughout the US
Students: Pema Chodron

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
Tradition: Tibetan
Location: Charlottesville, VA
Age: 51
Accessibility: Many retreats throughout the US, including webcasts
Students: Anne C. Klein

Tradition: Tibetan
Location: Worldwide
Age: 72
Accessibility: Link to Rinpoche's schedule

Tradition: Tibetan
Location: Cambridge, MA
Age: 71
Accessibility: A few one day workshops each year
Students: Anne C. Klein

Tradition: Tibetan
Location: Portland, OR
Age: 64
Accessibility: Gives out retreats worldwide, including US
Students: Thubten Chodron

Tradition: Tibetan
Location: Swayambhu, Nepal
Age: 78
Accessibility: Check Facebook page
Students: Khandro Rinpoche

Tradition: Theravada
Location: UK
Age: 76
Accessibility: Contact Amavarati Monastery for Ajahn Sumedo's schedule
Students: Ayya Medhanandi

Tradition: Zen
Location: Montague, MA
Age: 71
Accessibility: Many talks, retreats in the US.
Students: Joan Halifax 

I hope you will find this list useful.

If you have more information about any of these teachers, particularly in terms of how to access their live teachings, please add in comments below. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

20 Great Living Women Buddhist Teachers in America

Finally, after much research and deliberation, here is my humble attempt at a list of '20 Great Living Women Buddhist Teachers in America' (in alphabetical order):
  1. Tsultrim Allione - Tibetan
  2. Dale Asrael - Tibetan
  3. Jan Chozen Bays - Zen
  4. Pema Chodron - Tibetan
  5. Thubten Chodron - Tibetan
  6. Ruth Denison - Theravada
  7. Christina Feldman - Theravada
  8. Joan Halifax Roshi - Zen
  9. Blanche Hartman - Zen
  10. Anne C. Klein - Tibetan
  11. Narayan Liebenson Grady - Theravada
  12. Judith Lief- Tibetan
  13. Kamala Masters - Theravada
  14. Michele McDonald - Theravada  
  15. Ayya Medhanandi- Theravada
  16. Lama Palden - Tibetan
  17. Yvonne Rand - Zen
  18. Khandro Rinpoche - Tibetan
  19. Sharon Salzberg - Theravada
  20. Judith Simmer-Brown - Tibetan
Such a list can never be complete, nor perfect. I expect you will come up with more names and will volunteer them in comments section.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Power of Sounds to Unify Mind

Some of my most profound experiences during sitting meditation, come from connecting with outside sounds. 

Sounds coming to meet the ears, and acting as bridge between narrow self and limitless outer world. 

This morning, listening to tick-tack, I had fuzzy sense of awareness being somewhere between clock, and ears. Gone, the mind-created boundary between physical body and the atmosphere surrounding it . . . and in its place, the sweet freedom from not not knowing, 'where is sound?' 

I am curious, when you sit, and you close your eyes, how is your experience of sounds?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Where Is The Feminine?

As part of the research for my upcoming post on Great Living Women Buddhist Teachers in North America, I chanced upon this video of Lama Tsultrim Allione discussing the role of the feminine principle in our world. Being a woman, I am naturally drawn to that question. 

Throughout my life, I have certainly felt very deeply, the absence of the feminine values described by Tsultrim Allione:  

as a child in Catholic Sunday school, listening to the priest teaching about  God as a benevolent patriarch watching over all of the us,

as a student in engineering school, being part of 5% minority of women students,

as an advertising executive needing to ask for VP promotion, whereas my male counterpart was handled his on a platter,

as a daughter, feeling my mother's lack of esteem for herself as a woman in a men's world,

as a mother, when asked the question, "what do you do?" and being dropped out of the conversation when I admitted to 'just being a mom',

as a junior social worker, working in a hospital, and being paid as little as the housekeeper,

as a dweller in the Silicon Valley microcosm, being bathed in a world where money, greed and ambition supersede all else,

as an artist, struggling to get funding for public art project, and realizing that art comes last in terms of priorities, because if is not 'useful',

as a Buddhist, bumping against the patriarchy again, both in the ancient and present worlds of Buddhism,

as a citizen, seeing every day the effects of the feminine principle being trampled upon, as in the lack of mobilization against climate change,

. . .

We need more feminine voices like Tsultrim Allione.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Meditation: What It's Like.

A Visual Essay On the Meditative Experience.

Often, I get lost in a cloud,
not seeing beyond the cotton whiteness.

Eventually, I find my way back into the blue sky,
where I can watch a whole bunch of clouds go by:
bright clouds
dark clouds
fuzzy clouds

And once in a while, if I am lucky,
I get a glimpse of just pure sky.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Lynchpin of Emotional Awareness

Sitting this morning, I was able to clearly see the 3 steps of being with emotions. It goes like this:
  1. Awareness of sense experience
  2. Awareness of emotional reaction to sense experience
  3. Awareness of feeling about emotional reaction

I find step 3 to be the lynchpin of complete emotional awareness, the part in the whole process that can get easily overlooked, and yet holds the greatest transformative power.

This morning, for instance, I 'saw' my annoyance with discomfort in the body from persistent cough. Harder to become aware of, was my dislike of the annoyance. Left untracked for a while, the dislike caused me to evade present moment, going into planning mode and thoughts about the future. As soon as I placed my attention on feeling about annoyance, I was instantly brought back to the now, and could stay there, no problem. The same thing applies to positive emotions, and the natural tendency to cling to what feels good. I found that whenever that happens, inevitably, my mind takes over sooner or later, this time in the form of fantasies about the pleasant emotional experience.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When Sleep Catches Awareness

A slight case of mid-afternoon sleepiness, gave me an opportunity to practice Mingyur Rinpoche's instructions for 'sleeping meditation'.

Boredom, sleepiness, dullness, drowsiness, etc can all become support for meditation. There is nothing to do other than being aware. Starting with normal sitting meditation posture, and then no longer worrying about it. Body can do whatever it needs to do. Rinpoche demonstrated and had his body almost drop to the floor. Eventually, letting sleeping catch awareness. With practice, all sleep can become awareness.

3 signs of sleeping meditation:
  1. no dreams
  2. when one wakes up, the awareness is right there
  3. the body feels very restful afterwards
I did not fall asleep, but I did experience a different way of being with the sleepiness. Inclusive, vast. Amounting to nothing less than a profound change in the way I was able to rest in awareness, completely, without any holding back. 

Oh! the joy from embracing all that is . . . 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Woman in Nature

From my days as an art therapist, I have kept the gift of collage as a self-visioning tool. Today, straight from the unconscious, almost exclusively, some images of women in the midst of nature. 

Not to be interpreted, but contemplated instead.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mingyur Rinpoche's Playing Tricks With Monkey Mind

Last weekend, Mingyur Rinpoche taught us how to deal with 'monkey mind', the crazy, restless part of our mind that causes us so much suffering. Making ample use of paradox, Rinpoche explained how to use monkey mind to free ourselves from monkey mind. I was reminded of structural family therapist Salvador Minuchin's clever paradoxical interventions with families.

Mingyur Rinpoche's Monkey Puppet

Below, my notes from the day, unedited . . . 

How to meditate with sixth consciousness, mental consciousness (monkey mind), is most important.

We know two kinds of dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction/discomfort):
  • self, or mind created - 95% of dukkha 
  • natural
One example is fear of dying which is a lot worse than death itself.

Rinpoche's story, to illustrate how to use problem as antidote:
When I was in training in the monastery, I once got water stuck in my ear. The sound from water swishing around drove me crazy. I went to my teacher and asked him what should I do? He told me to pour more water into my ear. I did, and that way was able to get all the water out.
Same with monkey mind. Use monkey mind to free monkey mind.

We usually have two responses to monkey mind:
  • "Yes, Sir" - being controlled by monkey mind, monkey mind as our bad boss
  • "Get out!" - aversion to monkey mind, monkey mind as our enemy
Instead, we need to make friend with monkey mind - "Hello!"

When we put our awareness on monkey mind, monkey mind becomes a support for our awareness.

Monkey mind is made up of thoughts and emotions and entails three things:
  • Images
  • Words
  • Body sensations 
Images and words are most connected with thoughts, and sensations with emotions.

Emotions, particularly long time developed emotions are more difficult to use as support for meditation, at least at first. That is because it is difficult to get out of habits. Hence, one should start by learning first how to use thoughts as support for meditation. 

Thought meditation:
  • Having thoughts is not a problem
  • If one runs into expectations about thoughts, use these as support for meditation
  • When watching thoughts there are two possible experiences, maybe you can see them, maybe not - if you cannot see, you are into open awareness, like being at a bus stop waiting for the bus - if you can see thought, then awareness of thought as object - either way, two great meditation experiences.
  • If you want to use thought as support for meditation you can - using them just like sounds, or breath - watching them come and go
  • Like watching "inner television" - only problem is program is quite old - that's ok, keep on watching same program, the result of watching will be different each time - analogy of swimming, only five strokes, but experience of Olympic swimmer is quite different from person who is learning how to swim.
  • When watching thoughts, it is important to be uncontrived - whatever happens, happens.
Emotion meditation:
  • Difficult with long time held emotions, because of very strong habits of fighting or surrendering
  • It is very important to talk about emotions, as first step before meditation
  • There are four steps for emotion meditation.
Four steps of emotion meditation:
  1. Main practice, with two parts: 1) recognize emotion, which often means feeling it more fully - mountain analogy: when you see the mountain, that means you are out of the mountain, but at first, it may seems as if mountain is bigger, 2) don't ask question, only be aware of three aspects of emotion - audio (verbal), video (images), body (sensations)
  2. Try something different: if emotion is too overwhelming, 1) go back to other objects of meditation, such as sounds, smells, forms, breath, etc . . . or, 2) make a different emotion, eg, anger instead of panic (gossipy neurons will join anger group instead of panic group)
  3. Take a break: if 1) and 2) don't work, or if you feel too exhausted, like a computer running out of battery, don't meditate - instead, rest, do physical exercise, get a cup of coffee, appreciate being alive . . . 
  4. Step back: look at booster of emotion, which is often stronger than emotion itself, eg, fear of panic, dislike of anger, expectations about emotion, etc . . .  and turn it into object of meditation.
Brilliant, simple, practical. A breath of fresh air in Dharmadom . . . For more teachings from Mingyur Rinpoche, you may want to read his two books: The Joy of Living, and Joyful Wisdom, and also visit his website.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Innocent Movement

It started during the last day of Mingyur Rinpoche's retreat. An iron hand pressing down on my chest, then slowly moving up to encircle throat, and head. I had the same experience again this morning, during sitting meditation at home. The energy felt even stronger. Remembering Rinpoche's instructions, I knew better than to believe interpreting mind. This was not a panic attack, nor something to be feared, but rather a manifestation of "innocent movement". 

My notes from Rinpoche's talk on the topic:

Innocent movement is a part of meditation process. It is important to recognize and not get attached.

Four signs of innocent movement are:
  1. Physical sensations: very real sensations of unusual warmth in stomach or in the head, tingling in the spine, tightness in the throat, chest or stomach
  2. Sensitive perceptions: seeing colors, fireflies, visions, or dream like states, sounds, smells that are not real
  3. Emotions: feeling of energy, positive or negative, which is partly real, partly not
  4. Senses: alternating between up and down, happy and anger, not real
This does not mean that you are special, or that you are going crazy.

Practical steps to take when faced with innocent movement:
  1. Drink water
  2. Do physical exercise
  3. Stop meditation for as long as needed
Taking Rinpoche's prescription to heart, and looking forward to mid-day swim practice :)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mingyur Rinpoche's Meditation Cure For Pain

Day 2 with Mingyur Rinpoche.

After seven hours of sitting in unfriendly chair, my back was screaming, and ready for the master's instructions for pain meditation:
  • Don't try to get rid of the pain. This is the opposite of our normal responses which are: 1) being afraid of the pain, 2) wishing for the pain to go away; in both cases end result is more pain
  • Rather, turn pain into object of meditation, just like any other object, such as breath, or sounds. 
  • Just become aware of pain/discomfort, seeing it develop with clarity
  • Welcome it as a friend.
  • If you cannot make friend with the pain, and you notice either fear or aversion, then make fear/aversion the object of meditation - using them as support for meditation
  • Learn with small pain at first, otherwise one risks getting overwhelmed with big pain
  • With attention, pain may becomes bigger - this is not bad; Rinpoche gave the analogy of dried cow dung on a wall. When the dung is dry it does not smell. As soon as one starts to apply water on it to clean it, the smell gets released, and gets more and more intense as more water is applied. This is temporary however but a necessary step before the wall can be all clean. More pain signals purification process. 
  • If pain becomes too overwhelming, turn the attention to other objects: sounds, breath, forms, smells, etc . . . 
  • Eventually, meditation on pain heals the pain.
Eyes closed, listening to Rinpoche's voice, I met the pain in my back, and felt it spread even wider. There was dislike, for sure. Turning my attention to the aversion itself, the pain receded in the background, until it . . . well, vanished!

Pain meditation. Healing meditation. 

Dharma Play With Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Last night was the beginning of our weekend retreat with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a funny, very happy, little guy from Tibet, and also extremely gifted Dharma teacher. 

Here is a (bad iPhone) picture of the Rinpoche acting out the 'serious meditator':

His instructions for meditation - abbreviated version:
  1. Don't meditate (as in don't take yourself too seriously and tense up)
  2. Don't get lost (as in stay aware)
Now off to day 2 of retreat, and looking forward to some more joy, play, and simplicity from Mingyur!

PS- I never quite know which part of his name to use in short. Yongey, Mingyur, Mingyur Rinpoche, Yongey Mingyur . . . Do you know?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Letting Go of 'Me', Not Quite Yet

This morning, I yearned for more of an embodied connection with Ayya Khema, and watched these two short videos of her, on the topic of death, and no self, and wise living:

As I sat afterwards,  I could feel the familiar tightness in the body. Jaws, throat, chest, and stomach clenching in unison. And I contemplated Ayya Khema's teachings about the need to let go of 'me' idea, that which causes fundamental craving for existence, and chronic tension in the body. Her urging to "get down to the bottom of that" had not fallen on deaf ears. For now, all I could do was being with unpleasantness in the body, one breath at a time. 

This week, as I struggled with a cold, I got an inkling of what it must be like to be in a dying body, with little energy left to think, or want anything. Nothing else to do but letting go . . . The great challenge for all of us still blessed with the energy of full life, is to not wait until death to experience that relief. So simple in principle, and yet so difficult to achieve. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

'Hahayana' Buddhism: Integration or Fragmentation?

The Washington Post just published an interesting piece from Chade-Meng Tan'Hahayana Buddhism', on the merits of tapping from the various schools of Buddhism:
"Theravada teachings form both the theoretical and practical foundations of my Buddhist practice, from which I became able to understand and appreciate the other schools of Buddhism. Theravada is my root, my foundation. This is the body of my practice. The body of my practice is Virtue, Concentration, and Wisdom.
. . . 
It [Tibetan Buddhism] has awed and inspired me. It has given me my Compassion practice. It inspired me to take my Bodhisattva Vows. Vajrayana is my thunder, my power. This is the heart of my practice. The heart of my practice is Emptiness and Compassion. 
I benefited tremendously from the simple directness of Zen Buddhism, which is, in my opinion, the greatest of all the Mahayana schools. True wisdom is simple and full of lightness and humor. Zen embodies it. Just be. Enlightenment is the perfection of just being. Zen is my no-self (无我). This is the soul of my practice. The soul of my practice is. Just is."
My friend, Bill Behrman, sent me the article, thinking it would speak to me:
"When he [Chade-Meng Tan] talks about open-minded Americans who seek out the best elements from all three yanas, I thought of you."
It is true, I have been doing my share of  Dharma searching . . . Starting with Theravada, my home base, just like Meng. This is the school of Buddhism that speaks to me most, at least for now, and why I have such a fondness for Insight Meditation Center, my local sangha, and the primary teacher there, Gil Fronsdal

A few months ago, inspired by my involvement with Zen Hospice Project and the wonderful zen teachers I met there, I decided to open up my horizons, and signed up for San Francisco Zen Center's one year EPP Training Program. I was drawn by the possibilities of a residential sangha, and also the aesthetics of Zen. Half-way through my first day at Zen Center, I realized this was not the place for me. While my mind was intrigued, my heart was elsewhere. I left with a renewed sense of connection with IMC. 

This week,  I will be flirting with the Tibetan school. Bill Behrman's enthusiasm for Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's Joy of Living training, as well as hearing Spirit Rock teacher Guy Armstrong describe (22' into talk 1 of 4) his appreciation for the master's embodied emptiness, convinced me to sign up for Yinget Mingyur's retreat this coming weekend. I have some mixed feelings about it. Am I showing open mind, or  am I distracting myself from deeper practice?  The French expression "Elle ne sait pas a quel saint se vouer." - She doesn't know which saint to devote to - comes to my mind.  

Thinking about Chade-Meng's argument some more, I realize each tradition has already within it, all that is needed for awakening. Taking Theravada for instance, beautiful teachings abound there about emptiness, and compassion, and loving kindness. No need to go outside. Same with the bare bone simplicity of Zen mentioned by Chade-Meng. Aesthetics set aside, Theravada can be just as satisfying as Zen in that respect. More important than the tradition, is the teacher's level of progress along the path, and his understanding and transmission of the original teachings as taught by the Buddha.

I can spend the rest of my life looking for a 'better' tradition, a 'better' teacher. Or I can stay where I am, which is a perfectly fine place, and engage, day after day, moment after moment, in the challenging path of practice. With the support of my existing sangha, and my teacher.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on the topic. What has your own spiritual journey been? Are you 'married' to one tradition, or do you move freely from one to the other? Do you have a primary teacher, or several teachers? 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why Meditate?

I often get asked the question, what's the point of meditation? Here is a great answer from Ayya Khema. Short, simple.

My take away:

We take great care of our body. We go to sleep to give it some rest. We wash it. We feed it. We protect it. We exercise it . . . 

How about our mind? Do we pay attention to it? Do we give it a rest? Do we purify it? . . . For most of us, the answer is no. And yet, our mind is more important to our well being, than our body even.

The only way to care of our mind is through meditation. This is why we should meditate every day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Three Big Questions About My Self

Body taken over by cold, gives me an opportunity to ponder the question:

"Whose body is it?"

Teary eyes, tiredness, congested chest, sore limbs, headache, runny nose . . . are not experiences I would choose, if it was up to me.

And another question:

"Where does my self end and begin?"

Prad got cold while we were in Paris, and I got it from him. Proof that we are not separate organisms, but instead part of the whole. Breathing the same air. Viruses going in an out freely, from cells to cells, with no regard for our man-made IDs.

And yet another question:

"Who is the person experiencing cold this morning?"

Obviously not the same as yesterday, when I was healthy. My whole self has been altered. Different thoughts, different emotions, different sensations, different awareness even.

Three big questions, embedded in one little cold . . .

Monday, July 12, 2010

Infinite Wisdom For Hardly Anything

Come to think of it, Dharma teachings are one of the best bargains to be had. Where else can you get so much value? Infinite wisdom and the keys to  long lasting happiness, for free or close to nothing . . . 

Here are some of the best deals in the Dharma world today:

Gil Fronsdal's AudioDharma talks - free
Thanissaro Bhikkhu's website - free
Ayya Khema's complete collection of writings - $45 from Amazon

If you know of any other such gems, please add them in comments section below.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

De-Constructing the Greed Experience

One of my favorite moments is to linger in the hot tub at the YMCA after a long swim. Yesterday, with my mind on break, and eyes closed, all I could feel was the delightful pressure of the jets against my back, and the joyful sounds of women chatting. A most pleasurable state indeed, very much to my liking. I also noticed how protective I became of 'my' space, right in front of most powerful jet . . . and then the slight tension that followed in my upper chest. 

Turning to Ayya Khema, one more time - from Who Is My Self?:
"We can look at the mind and see its four aspects . . . In doing this, we will come nearer to the understanding that in fact there is nobody who owns it. The first aspect is "sense-consciousness", the five senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling. The second aspect is feeling, which arises from sense-contact. This feeling is either pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. The third is perception, which can also be called labeling. For example, when the feeling is unpleasant, the label is "pain". The fourth is mental formation, or reaction. If the mind had said "pain", the reaction is usually "I don't like it", or "I've got to get away from this." It is very useful at this stage in our practice to become clearly aware of these four aspects of mind and of how they follow each other as cause and effect: sense-contact, feeling, perception, and lastly reaction. It is important to get to know this sequence, both during meditation and in our every day life. The Buddha taught that it is through an awareness of these four parts of mind, through the knowledge and vision of the understood experience, that we come to the realization that there is nothing at all within them than constitutes a "me". The "me" is a thought, an idea . . . 
This "me," however, is not only an idea, it is also the mechanism that produces greed and hate. We all know these two; they come very easily to us. We all live with them and are familiar with them, but they do not produce happiness. In our practice we need to examine . . . the four parts of mind and how they arise and cease. We can become aware of each sense-contact-a taste, a smell- and how such contact leads to the next step, feeling-pleasant, unpleasant, neutral-and so on.
Most people are only aware of the first and the last step, the sense-contact and the reaction: "It looks nice, I want it", or "It looks awful, I must get rid of it." The reaction follows so quickly that we miss out completely on the two intervening stages. We should practice in the following way: Having noticed our reaction, we go back to the sense-contact that led to it. We then try to become aware again of the feeling that followed the sense-contact, and then of the mind's explanation (dirty, disgusting, delicious, boring). Notice these two missing parts, the feeling and the label. Now, within these four parts - sense-contact, feeling, perception, reaction - try to find the one who senses, feels, perceives, reacts. The mind says, "But its' me doing that," but this is only an idea. Where is the doer? We can actually notice that these four steps are an automatic progression, that there is no one "doing" anything. It all just happens and we can watch it happen.
We can also decide to stop the sequence at any of the four points, particularly at the perception, the labeling. Then we will notice that we are not compelled to react. As we do this, however, the mind will say: "Surely I must be the one who made that decision, who determined to do that." You can now try to find that one. There is only determination, which is a mental factor. It is essential to investigate this not once, but many times. Within these khandhas, these aggregates, lies the illusion. One person will say the determination came from their thinking, another that it came from their feeling, someone else will say: "It was the observer" or "It was my willpower" Then we need to ask ourselves if any of these can really be called "me". Where is that "me" when none of these reactions are taking place, when there is no observer, no willpower, nothing like that going on at all? When any one of these supposed "me's" is not functioning, where is it? What is it doing?"
De-constructing the hot tub experience that way, I can clearly see the sequence: 

sense contact of touch between high pressure water and back -> pleasant feeling -> delightful perception/label -> liking reaction -> greed 

and I how I got in trouble the minute mind engaged in second and fourth step, as it always does, automatically, if left on its own.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Transport in Sainte-Chapelle

Several years in a row, I tried to get into Sainte-Chapelle, and got discouraged by the long lines. This time, we were able to get in no problem, thanks to tickets for an evening of classical music in the place. Never before, had I seen such a beautiful church. A real jewel, made to delight the eyes with its luminous rose and all around spectacular display of tall stained glass windows.

The best was yet to come after we sat down, and were treated to the auditory feast of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, played by a talented group of French musicians. So much pleasure, and also the happiness of sitting next to Prad and our daughters, all sharing that same delight with me. I thought to myself, this is as good as life can get.

And very quickly, the realization of the impossibility of holding so much gladness forever. With the high, a down was to be expected. The concert would end, and we would have to leave this heavenly setting. Even if the experience were to be prolonged, boredom would inevitably set in eventually, and with it unsatisfactoriness, and the desire to change. No matter what, suffering was involved.

From Ayya Khema, in Who Is My Self?:
When we become aware of something pleasant, we should immediately look at tis unpleasant features, and through this, too, we arouse equanimity, and do not become immersed in desire. The unpleasant feature of anything pleasant is its impermanence. We need to bear this in mind. Most people think they are quite aware of impermanence, quite accepting of it, but in fact they would much rather forget it, and constantly do so. But we should always remember that everything with which we come into contact is impermanent. Every single moment of our lives, pleasant or unpleasant, is one moment in eternity. In order to counteract greed or desiring what is pleasurable, we recognize the impermanence  of that pleasure.
Allowing myself to be transported by the experience, en connaissance de cause. :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Meditation in Saint-Sulpice

Following up on yesterday's resolution, I went to Saint-Sulpice to meditate. Prad came with me. We picked seats in the back row of one of the side chapels where it was most quiet. And bowed to each other, and started to sit, eyes closed in the sticky warmth. 

For a second, I wondered, did I know how to do this, still? That's how disconnected I felt. Staying with the feeling, and the buzzing energy, I found my way in, back to myself, very quickly though. All of it. Breath, sensations in the body, thoughts, emotions, hearing, smelling, touching, all the contact experiences between senses and the outside, . . . Soon, the incense, the steps and the whispers from tourists started to recede. There was no longer emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, nor thoughts. I had found my center, again. Right at the edge of the deep water well, where breath becomes so subtle and sweet. And was reminded of time passing, by the sound of Christian hymns coming afar, from the main altar, and signaling the start of the seven o'clock mass. Opened my eyes, and turned towards Prad, touching his right arm, softly. 

Out of the church, we walked, feeling anew.

Sitting meditation. Such a gift to self. I just wonder about the people who do not meditate, and how they must feel. I think once one has tasted from the pure water of stillness, it is almost impossible to not want it again. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

6 Tips for the Buddhist Traveler

Feeling the toll from a week in Paris, with hardly any time to be still. Friends and family to visit, exhibits to see, events to attend, restaurants to go to . . . I could not say no. Until this morning, when I  found myself speaking and acting out of mindless, reactive place.  

This passage through the temporary hell of mindlessness has taught me a few things for the rest of the trip, and for future trips as well:
  1. I need to recognize the challenge of practicing without the support of my usual Sangha. Not  benefiting from the support of weekly Dharma talks, group sittings, and conversations with other members in the community.
  2. I need to not underestimate the power of typical vacation environment that fosters idle talk, sensory stimulation, greed, and an overall lack of awareness.
  3. Formal daily meditation practice is a necessity, not an option. Without the ability to recharge from the deep well within, the mind becomes unsettled, and unable to function well.  
  4. The fact that I am not in my usual, home environment is no excuse. Churches, other places of worship are great places to meditate, in the absence of a personal quiet place to retreat to. 
  5. Reading a good Dharma book, staying connected to spiritual friends online, can compensate somewhat for lack of physical Sangha. 
  6. Slow vacationing needs not be an oxymoron. While the temptation is great to want to pack in experiences, giving into too many activities makes it impossible to be mindful.
Today, I shall sit 30' in the Saint-Germain des Pres church before we head out to dinner. I shall take the time to walk slowly, mindfully in the neighborhood. And I will read some more of Ayya Khema's book. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Malaise at Beaubourg

During my days as a conceptual artist, I used to enjoy contemporary art. A lot.

What a difference a few years can make . . . 

Yesterday during my visit of the elles@centrepompidou collection on the 4th floor  of the Centre Pompidou Museum, I felt a sudden urge to flee. A strong aversion to the so called works of art from contemporary women artists, bombarding me with their messages of angry, depressed, arrogant, cold feminism. Culminating with Betty Tompkins's Fuck Painting, a black and white photorealistic closeup of heterosexual intercourse, on a 7 by 5 feet canvas. And Sigalit Landau's Sado Hula's masochistic video performance of herself with a barbed wire hula hoop.

Not even Niki de Saint Phalle's fantastic Crucifixion could save the show . . .

Last night, I dreamed of a woman artist who was dying of brain cancer.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Temptations on Rue Dauphine

Every day, as I walk out of our hotel, on rue Dauphine, temptations await in the form of Desigual dresses and fancy sandals, and purses on sale for 60% off. I have sworn I will not buy anything during this trip. Now, I find my resolution waning.

I am reminded of the story about the Dalai Lama, driving down Fifth Avenue during Christmas, and being awed, and tempted by all the goods displayed in the store windows. And laughing about it . . . 

The Dalai Lama's human-ness serves to show me the difference between feeling the craving, and indulging it. It is actually quite an interesting process. Getting in touch with the unpleasantness, the physical tug at the throat, the frazzled energy that besiege me as I dwell in the wanting. And then imagining the temporary high from buying the Desigual dress, and the letdown that will follow. 

Revisiting my notes from earlier retreat with  Andrea Fella two months ago, particularly her talk on the Second Noble Truth:

When we get what we want, we get a double hit of pleasantness:
1) getting what we want
2) having pain of wanting go away

We start to believe the only way to get happiness is to get what we want combined with release of the wanting. As the pleasure of the satisfied craving fades away, we want more of same thing, or we create more wants. This is a perpetual cycle.
. . .

The Buddha recognized this was not very satisfying, and that a deeper happiness resulted from letting go of the craving. This requires a leap of faith. There are lots of opportunities for testing this out . . . Of getting in touch with feelings of wanting, and the experience of unpleasantness associated with wanting itself. Realizing that wanting is dependent on causes. Also seeing that feeling of wanting eventually disappears, and leads to feeling of satisfaction. This can get tricky, as when we start looking for, wanting moment when wanting disappear. It is not about getting rid of wanting, but instead understanding it, and as we do, it will let go of itself.

Using every moment as opportunity to practice. Forsaking the indulgence of small cravings for the chance to experience real, unconditioned happiness.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

This Is Temporary

This afternoon, I basked in the pleasure of a perfect moment with my daughter at Bertillon, Paris's famous place for sorbets and ice cream. Lingering over the different flavors, and hesitating between wild strawberry or rasperry with rose flower, peach or pear, black currant or dark cocoa . . . ? Gustative faculties fully mobilized, she and I settled the matter with a full order of four different flavors each.

Between shared laughter and two spoonfuls of wild strawberry sorbet, all of a sudden the thought, 'this is temporary', and the subtle joy of being ok with the full reality of passing happiness. Ajahn Chah's "not sure" wisdom . . . this time applied to an endearing moment.