Vedana – Warm Hearted Insight

This Sunday, Patrick guided our reflections, exploring how awareness of feeling tone (pleasant, unpleasant, or neither; called vedana in Pali) can help cultivate a warm heart and a greater internal awareness. A short talk by Gil Fronsdal helped to illuminate this understanding of both worldly and spiritual feeling tones, and the benefits of distinguishing between them.

Gil’s talk is available here:

The Way of Tenderness

This past Sunday, Mike Blouin led our reflections, continuing to explore other dimensions of the relationship between engaged buddhism and personal practice. Sharing his own perspectives as well as drawing from “The Way of Tenderness” by Zen priest Zenju Earthly Manuel, who brings her own experiences as a lesbian black woman into conversation with Buddhism to square our ultimately empty nature with superficial perspectives of everyday life, Mike extended the range of our reflections over the past several weeks.

The book is available through here:

Below are some excerpts from the book.

Excerpts from: The Way of Tenderness: Awakening through Race, Sexuality, and Gender, by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

On Oneness:

Inclusiveness underlies oneness. Being aware of the multiplicity in oneness requires that we recognize the collective nature of our lives. It is crucial that we see the variety of lived experiences within oneness in order to see who we really are as living beings. We have mistaken our sameness for being human. Our sameness stems from the fact that we share the same life-source as a flower or a bee. But we are nonetheless inherently different in form. When we speak of race, sexuality, and gender – when we speak of our embodiment – we speak of all of us, not just “those people” over there (pp. 39 -40).

When we see multiplicity as the varied expressions of nature we are better able to understand that all living beings on the planet exist within oneness. To say that all living beings exist within inherent oneness is to say more than ‘we are all one’ or that ‘we are all in this troubled world together.’ It isn’t as if we are all different but contained in some larger encompassing vessel. We are not like passengers inside a leaky boat. Oneness existed before us and before the troubled world. Nothing can leak into or submerge oneness. It can’t be possessed – it is not ‘our’ oneness. See the multiplicity of oneness means to acknowledge that there is an innate nonhistorical experience of oneness that we have no control over. It is ungraspable. We are not one. Oneness is itself and we are within it.

When we try to manipulate the nature of our oneness into a flat, one-dimensional sameness, we choose to ignore the concurrent multiplicity of nature. The sameness of being one does not erase difference. We need not make a union of sameness and difference, for they are already perfect – two aspects of the single dynamic relationship that is the nature of life. When we look out onto the garden and see curly willow trees, roses, succulents, collard greens, and plum blossoms, we are witnessing oneness. We don’t have the power to create it (p. 54 – 55)

On the Body as Nature:

Everything we experience is because of the body. The body mediates our lives. We work to preserve the body even though we know we will eventually lose it. Our identities slip from one birth to the next. From birth to birth we end up embodying humanity. Yet we are often advised to let go of identifying with our personal embodiments for the sake of enlightenment.

In the face of such guidance, some find more reasons to hold on to identity and others try to detach from the body. Our personal experiences as straight people, as brown people, as men, as women, as non-men, non-women, may grow more intense. Or, on the detachment end of the spectrum, we may become too aloof and lose sight of everything and everyone around us. There is still attachment to experience even in the act of being aloof. When we detach we suppose there is something to detach from. Who or what is it that is attached to or detaches from embodiment. Identity is what we are struggling with (p. 94).

Granted choosing not to drop identity is a departure from the view that identity is an obstacle to awakening. We are departing from requiring others to drop the labels and categories of race, sexuality, and gender, as this would end discussion of such identities. Identity is not taboo. I am not speaking of identity as a source of suffering, of illness, or that which proves the existence of pain; rather I am speaking of identity as a source of both personal and social awakening. I am not speaking of identity in the way it has been used to divide; rather I am speaking of a clear and undistorted identity that exists as a part of nature. I am speaking of identity that has its source in nature and not the mind.

This type of identity resides naturally within us, just as the identity of a tree resides with it. The tree doesn’t need to detach itself from being a tree to end its suffering. It is a tree in the midst of all things. If we add to the tree’s identity, superimposing inferiority or superiority on it with our minds, then we would be distorting its identity and our actions would be based on a distorted appreciation of the tree (p. 102).

To simply say ‘We are not our bodies’ is to flatten and eliminate all of the nuance that appears in teachings like the Satipatthana Sutta, which teaches mindfulness of the body. The body, it says, is comprised of the five skhandas, or aggregates: the physical body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness (the five senses and thought). We are our bodies from the perspective of these conditions.

However, each of these aggregate conditions depends on the others and is interrelated to all things. So the meaning of the saying ‘We are not our bodies’ is that we are not a singular entity but an aggregate that exists in interrelationship. ‘Not our bodies’ means that our bodies are not ours alone, free from being conditioned by the existence of others. In fact we are in dynamic relationship with all that lives with all bodies (p. 107).

Social Transformation – part 2

This week Jeffrey continued our investigation of racism and buddhism with a review of basic concepts and definitions about racism. This was followed by a discussion of how the self is constructed by both social elements, e.g, racial identity, and personal experiences, e.g., experiences in our families. All of these elements are similarly conditioned and contribute to the illusion of “I” as a self, thus there really is no substantial dichotomy of “personal transformation” and “social transformation.”

See last week’s talk for more resources:



Personal Transformation / Social Transformation

Jeffrey guided our reflections this Sunday. We continued investigating the issue of social transformation from a Buddhist perspective that has threaded through many of our meetings. Most recently, Brit hosted a meeting April 1st about angel Kyodo Williams’ conception of “engaged buddhism” that Williams calls “Radical Dharma”. Lorilee followed April 8 with another talk on Engaged Buddhism by Thich Nat Han entitled “The World We Are”.

The focus this week was on the question of “personal transformation” vs (and?) “social transformation”. Is this a false dichotomy? Does one come before the other? In particular, the focus was on racism, how we are all racially conditioned by living in this society, and what that means for followers of the wise Gautama.

Opening Talk for Transforming Self, Transforming World, Transforming Self, Transforming World, Talk 1 We heard from minutes 37 – 48, more or less
The Suffering Self , Transforming Self, Transforming World, Talk 2 We heard from minutes 45 – 55, more or less
Three Lack Traps: Money, Fame and Romance, Transforming Self, Transforming World, Talk 3 Didn’t use
Healing Ecology – A Buddhist Perspective on the Eco Crisis, Transforming Self, Transforming World, Talk 14 Didn’t use

Peggy McIntosh article on White Privilege
Lists more of the privileges she came up with. Very helpful article.
Greg Snyder, “Waking Up to Whiteness”, Lion’s Roar, 16 August 2017
I used this for background info. He packs a lot into a very few pages. Snyder guided some of the language and concepts I presented. If some of the concepts presented are new to you, these two articles will get you a long way.
A Class Divided (video, Short Version)
In 1968, a 3rd grade teacher divides her class based on eye-color. One of the best depictions ever of how “races” are created, awarded different privileges, and behave based on their new “race”. Only 12 minutes long.

The long version (55min) is well-worth watching.
Kay Young McChesney, “Teaching Diversity: The Science You Need to Know to Explain Why Race Is Not Biological”. SAGE  Open. First Published October 16, 2015.
Nice article on the science of human differences. This is good background for discussion points about however much humans engage in “tribalism” (grouping people into “us” and “them” categories), the basis for the grouping is social-historical, and not based on real biological differences.

The Religion of “Me”

This past week, Michael led our Sangha in an exploration of the ever-present idea of “self” and all the identifications and attachments that entails. In particular, he looked at traditional Buddhist concepts and how they have evolved in our modern world.

To make the Dharma up-to-date and relevant to our lives, we may set aside traditional Buddhist ideas that many would consider essential to authentic practice.  We explored the roots and results of this move in our own particular cases.

You might want to think of beliefs, even traditional Buddhist beliefs, that you have set to the side, and why.

More notes coming soon.

Engaged Buddhism

Building on last week’s exploration of Engaged Buddhism, this week Lorilee offered a talk by one of the world’s best known teachers in this practice: Thich Nat Han.

In a talk given at Plum Village on the last day of 2008, “Thay” as he is often called by his followers, presents “The World We Are”, an experiential explanation of how practicing compassion changes our world, because we “are” our world.

Here is the talk, courtesy of

Radical Acceptance and our Engagement with the World

Britt guided our reflections this Sunday, focusing on questions around radical acceptance and engaged Buddhism — examining where the collective efforts towards the liberation of all beings lies in our individual practice and what we have to give up in order to get there.

She played a wonderful talk by Reverend angel Kyodo Williams, which is available here:

And here is a link to the Radical Dharma website, which is the larger project that involves the Reverend angel:

The truth about what we experience

Today, Zac led our reflections on the teaching of the Three Characteristics or three marks of existence. The phrase to “see things as they really are,” itself a fascinating and potentially problematic term, refers to experiencing reality through the lens of the three characteristics. An important tenet of the dharma is that learning to see the three characteristics in all phenomena leads to wisdom and liberation.

Zac played a talk by Gil Fronsdal, available here:

Here are some quotes which Zac used during the discussion:

Diamond Sutra: Chapter 32 
(the Diamond Sutra contains the discourse of the Buddha to senior monk Subhuti)
“Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind any arbitrary conception of forms or phenomena or spiritual truths? It can only be done, Subhuti, by keeping the mind in perfect tranquility and free from any attachment to appearances.
So I say to you –
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:
Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.
So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”
Thus spoke Buddha.

The three characteristics are mentioned in verses 277, 278 and 279 of the Dhammapada:

Maggavagga: The Path, translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita

276. You yourselves must strive; the Buddhas only point the way. Those meditative ones who tread the path are released from the bonds of Mara.
277. “All conditioned things are impermanent” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.
278. “All conditioned things are unsatisfactory” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.
279. “All things are not-self” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.
280. The idler who does not exert himself when he should, who though young and strong is full of sloth, with a mind full of vain thoughts — such an indolent man does not find the path to wisdom.
281. Let a man be watchful of speech, well controlled in mind, and not commit evil in bodily action. Let him purify these three courses of action, and win the path made known by the Great Sage.
282. Wisdom springs from meditation; without meditation wisdom wanes. Having known these two paths of progress and decline, let a man so conduct himself that his wisdom may increase.

Vipassana specifically means seeing the 3 characteristics (vi = special, deep; pas= seeing)

The 3 characteristics are facets of emptiness (suññatā)

Also doorways into experiencing emptiness/freedom

Dogen: “What is the way of the Buddha? It is to study the self. What is the study of the self? It is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be Enlightened by all things.”


This Sunday, Margaret led our Sangha on the topic of Aversion and its roots. She played a talk by Shaila Catherine that included a guided meditation. That talk is available here:

She also referred to another talk on emotions by Shaila Catherine:

While she didn’t play that talk during the Samgha, she read the following quote:

“Instead of being mindful of emotion, we retell the story; we dwell in the concept that keeps triggering the emotional state.”

So we remove ourselves from what fear and anger really feel like in the body.

“We disconnect from the authenticity of what is happening now.”