Thoughts Think Themselves

This Sunday Jeffrey presented the topic, “Thoughts Think Themselves”. He presented a quick review of the work of Robert Wright, Why Buddhism Is True, and an article by Max Bertolero and Danielle Basset, “How Matter Becomes Mind”, Scientific American, July 2019. These sources describe “modular” models of the mind, with the overall “managing” function performed by the evolutionarily late frontalparietal control module. Examining the modular nature of the mind can help one better understand and experience the “self” as a fragmented group of connected modules, rather than a single entity.

We listened to a talk by Gil Fronsdal, The Web of Thoughts.

We meditated with the intent of identifying how thoughts arise, and how we become attached to them. 

“When you start doing this, you’ll begin to notice that your thoughts never just appear all at once fully verbalized. They start out much more nebulous.” -Sit Down and Shut Up,  2007 by Brad Warner  

Exploring our individual practice

This week, rather than listen to a talk, Stephen moderated a deep discussion within our gathering. The topics began with how we were drawn to Dharma practice and opened up into practices, experiences, and questions about our paths. A recurring theme was that anything we can do to make our practice a more enjoyable experience will increase our willingness to sit. This is not at all to say that meditation is always a pleasant endeavor, but that a little ritual, place, time, exercise, or external motivation can make a big difference in priming the mind. Many stories were shared and we were reminded that we are not alone.

Intimate Relationships

Lorilee led our exploration of ways in which the dharma can illuminate our intimate relationships this past Sunday.  Drawing on the work of Israeli teacher Zohar Lavie, as well as Americans Tara Brach and Steven Cope, we explored ways in which intimate relationships can offer a clear lens with which to examine the nature of ’selfing’, just as clearly as silent sitting can explore it.  Then we looked into the ways in which diminished attention spans undermine both serious dharma practice and intimate relationships, exploring ways to lengthen and strengthen our attentional connections.  Throughout, the matter of what it took to be a committed and skilled listener provided a thread that united our explorations. 

Here’s a link to the talk by Zohar Levie:

And here’s a link to Tara Brach’s talk:

Steven Cope’s book is “The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living”

Thriving in Uncertainty

This Sunday Patrick guided our reflections, turning to the topic of living in and with uncertainty.  Anchoring in a talk by  Zohar Lavie called “Anicca, Equanimity, and Bodhicitta,” we explored the roles these three have in working with the uncertainties we experience everyday. We discussed how uncertainty can bring a new way of seeing, and how it provides us opportunities for mindfulness, strength, and thoughtful action. 

Here is a link to the talk we heard:

And here is a link to Zohar Lavie’s organizational website:

Vedana: Attention to Feelings Opens up our Practice in New Ways

This Sunday Denise guided our reflections on vedana, the sensation or “feeling tone” that arises when our senses come into contact with something.  We focused on the challenges and benefits of working specifically with vedana as a part of one’s spiritual practice.

Here’s the references from Denise’s talk:

  1. Analayo. 2018. Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide.
    (Windhorse Publications, UK)217pp.
  2. Analayo. 2016. Interview “Vedana Part 1: Addressing Views and
    Clinging at the Source”. Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.
  3. Analayo. 2016 Interview “Vedana Part 2 Addressing Views and
    Clinging the Source”
  4. Faulds, Danna. 2009. “Nothing More is Needed”. Poem published in
    Limitless: New Poems and Other Writings. (Morris Publising, NE) 120pp.
  5. Goenka, S.N. 2010. “Why Vedana and What is Vedana?”
    Vipassana Research Institute
  6. Sangharakshita. Living with Awareness: A Guide to the Satipatthana
    Sutta . A community audio book read by Suhadra. Paper copy
    published in 2004 by Windhorse Publications, Cambridge UK.
  7. Vidyamala Burch. 2018. Talk on Vedana and Growth. Part of a series
    on Sattipatthana Sutta

Other references that came up during discussion:

  1. Brahm, Ajahn and Chan Master Guojun. 2019. Faliing is Flying: The Dharma of
  2. Facing Adversity (Wisdom Publication, Mass.). 136pp.
  3. Chodron, Pema. 2017 Twentieth Anniversary Edition. When Things Fall Apart: Heart
    Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Publication, Colorado).151pp.
  4. Rinpoche, Youngey Mingyur and H.T. Tworkov. 2019. In Love with the World: A
    Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying (Bluebird, London UK)

Space and Spaciousness

This Sunday we explored space and spaciousness. Contacting and abiding in spaciousness can be a deeply liberating practice and, for some teachers and traditions, is a central concept and practice on the path of awakening. Zac guided our reflections as we contemplated spaciousness experientially, examined how it shows up in some teachings, and considered its implications in our modern lives.

Below are some of the quotes Zac read during the talk, followed by a link to the guided meditation we used for practice.

“After his great awakening beneath the bodhi tree in Bodhgaya , Lord Buddha said that the ultimate nature of mind is perfectly pure, profound, quiescent, luminous, uncompounded, unconditioned, unborn and undying, and free since the beginningless beginning. When we examine this mind for ourselves, it becomes apparent that its innate openness, clarity, and cognizant quality comprise what is known as innate wakefulness, primordial nondual awareness: rigpa.” p. 78

Natural Great Perfection (Nyoshul Khenpo & Surya Das, 2008)

“Whenever there is any grasping or aversion towards something indeed whenever ay hindrances are present, the mind to some degree or other, is in a contracted state. It has, so to speak, been sucked into some perception, some object of consciousness, has shrunk and tightened around it. Generally, we experience this contraction in the mind as an unpleasant state, as dukkha.”

The Seeing that Frees (Burbea, 2014, p. 79)

“Develop the meditation in tune with space. For when you are developing the meditation in tune with space, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind. Just as space is not established anywhere, in the same way, when you are developing the meditation in tune with space, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind.”

Majjhima Nikaya 62, Maha-Rahulovada Sutta: The Greater Exhortation to Rahula | translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

“Just as if there were a roofed house or a roofed hall having windows on the north, the south, or the east. When the sun rises, and a ray has entered by way of the window, where does it land?”

“On the western wall, lord.”

“And if there is no western wall, where does it land?”

“On the ground, lord.”

“And if there is no ground, where does it land?”

“On the water, lord.”

“And if there is no water, where does it land?”

“It does not land, lord.”

“In the same way, where there is no passion for the nutriment of physical food… contact… intellectual intention… consciousness, where there is no delight, no craving, then consciousness does not land there or increase. Where consciousness does not land or increase, there is no alighting of name-&-form. Where there is no alighting of name-&-form, there is no growth of fabrications. Where there is no growth of fabrications, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is no production of renewed becoming in the future, there is no future birth, aging, & death. That, I tell you, has no sorrow, affliction, or despair.”

Samyutta Nikaya SN 12, Atthi Raga Sutta: Where There is Passion, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

 “… all objects of experience… seem solid only from one limited perspective. For this reason, the view of solidity is called a hallucination of perception.” 

Goldstein, 2013, p. 176

Joseph Goldstein 2016-10-13 41:11 
41:11 Big mind meditation 
Insight Meditation Society – Retreat Center: Three-Month Part 1

Tea and other common activities as meditation

Treat every moment as your last; it is not preparation for something else.

Shunryu Suzuki

This week, Payton guided the Sangha in a simple tea ceremony practice as we explore how this ancient beverage can create a sacred space in our daily life. 

This quote set the stage for our sitting:

“If asked / the nature of [making tea] / say it’s the sound / of windblown pines / in a painting.”

Sen Sotan, translated by Dennis Hirota, Wind in the Pines

Tea can be a meditation object; just as the breath can be an anchor to our awareness, so too can the process of making and drinking tea. Just focus your concentration toward the tea, and when you find that your mind is wandering, bring it gently back to the tea again, without judgement.

Why tea? Because it lends itself to ritual and is at the same time a mundane activity. It is also a single beverage that exists in the experience of millions of people on this planet. It is perhaps one of the few unifying factors that lies between all countries and cultures. What is making tea? Simple! Heat water, infuse leaves, drink. And yet, when one cares to do so, it is possible to perform those actions with mindfulness, being aware of each step, each motion, fully in the present.

In one sense, tea is no different from any other familiar activity, but it can be used to create something special. After all, sitting is done without mindfulness many times each day, but when we sit to meditate, we tend to do so with a bit of ritual; a bell may be rung, a cushion may be used, or our hands may be placed just so. None of these things are necessary, of course, but they are aids to mindfulness. Such variation helps us remember that we are not performing an everyday activity. When making tea, through the use of particular tools, motions, or setting, one can also cultivate such a variation. Indeed, others have developed these variations into rituals and schools for hundreds of years.

Previous Tea Meditations were offered in 2015 and in 2017. See those posts for more details.

Non-Dual Awareness

Over the last several weeks, voices from the non-dual tradition have been getting a hearing in our sangha meetings.  Michael, Jeff, and Joey have each drawn on the teachings of Rupert Spira, as well as others in that tradition.  This past week, Sam guided our reflections, drawing on the thoughts of long-time buddhist teacher Guy Armstrong.

The talk is available here:

Sam also read a short excerpt of Ch. 4 of Nagarjuna’s “Mulamadhyamakakarika” (fundamental wisdom of the middle way).

Wise View and Awareness

Wise View is the first component of the Eightfold Noble Path, and one that can shape all the other aspects of the Path.  Following on Jeffrey’s presentation on perception, this week Joey continued the discussion with offerings from Yuka Nakamura, Mark Nunberg and Rupert Spira that explore Wise View and how we can practice it.

Joey found the following talks helpful:

Distortions Of Perception, Thought and View. Mark Nunberg:

Seeing as Meditation

This past week, Jeffrey presented the topic Seeing as Meditation. Drawing, in part, from Culadasa’s discussion of the balance between attention and awareness as the basis of mindfulness, we engaged with images to observe our process of perception.  Does this make it harder or easier to enter a non-dualistic connection with the object? Connections were also made to Michael A’s presentation of Rupert Spira’s work on non-duality. 

Jeffrey passed out prints of different types of paintings. Participants chose one at random and began the meditation by examining how mind gropes for meaning in what is perceived. One idea that emerged was that the paintings were so laden with meaning that something simpler… Rorschach blots… might have made for an easier start to the practice. 

We listened to a composite of parts of Rupert Spira’s talks on The Nature of Perception and Rilke and the Tantric Path.