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Awareness and letting go

Last week we discussed the ways in which our illusory sense of self is reinforced by papanca, the mind’s tendency to proliferate thought unceasingly.  To anchor this week’s reflections, Eveline has chosen a talk by Mark Nunberg on ‘Establishing and Trusting Awareness.’ 

       Awareness can reveal the ever-shifting conditions from which all experience unfolds, opening the possibility of living mindfully.  Without it, we are stuck in the same old ruts.  But even quite imperfect awareness can reflect to us the truth of our mind’s deceptions and give us the insight by which we are able to take a new path — to change our lives.

A link to the played talk (as well as an additional related talk) are forthcoming. Watch this space!

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Loosening the grip of the sense of self

Buddhist teachings point to “papanca” [pah PAHN chah], the naturally-occurring tendency of the mind to generate endless thoughts about one’s self.

Joseph Goldstein offers a particularly penetrating in-depth analysis of papanca’s sources. The first is “craving”, the sense of “mine” (my thoughts, my feelings and so on). The second is “conceit,” the felt sense of “I am …” (I am angry, I am patient, etc). The third is “wrong view”, the deeply held belief in an abiding self. These three sources of papanca constantly reinforce our illusory sense of self. 

How to be free of such deeply rooted tendencies? Margaret guided our reflections this week, as we were led by Joseph’s deep focus on the impermanence and non-personal nature of our experience.

Margaret read some potent quotes during the meeting, some of which are reproduced below.

I’m tired of going around, pretending to be me.

– Philip Larkin

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.

The Dhammapada as translated by Gil Fronsdal

There was also some very insightful discussion in our group, including,

I’m pretty much just a story that I made up; I’m just a work of fiction, and not a particularly good one at that.

Don S.

The talk Margaret played is part of https://dharmaseed.org/talks/68027/

The preceding talk, https://dharmaseed.org/talks/68004/, is well-worth listening to for those interested in the topic of how the habits of mind reinforce our sense of self.

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Aspiration

On this first Sunday in the new year, we reflected on our aspirations. Remember when you first encountered the dharma? What was it that drew you in? What seemed valuable, useful, practical? What was your goal, your aspiration? Has that changed? Has it evolved? Were you looking for something new, something better, something more exciting or satisfying? Did you find it? Did you find something else, something unexpected? Have you come closer with practice? What is your aspiration right now in this moment?

Steve guided our reflections on these questions, and shared a video of Buddhist nun Sister Le Nghiem sharing her deep and discerning personal experience of aspiration in the Dharma.

You can watch the full video here:

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Negotiating the Holidays

We are in the midst of the holidays, with all their joys and frustrations. Coming freshly to this recurring rhythm can allow us to see more deeply into what resonates most profoundly and what drives us most crazy about this time – and perhaps we can find ways to negotiate the holidays more skillfully, for our own benefit and the good of those we care for. This week, Don S. framed our reflections on Negotiating the Holidays, drawing on a talk by Dharma Teacher Brian LeSage given this Fall.

You can listen to Brian’s talk here: https://dharmaseed.org/talks/player/68183.html

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Meeting Suffering head-on

Lorilee, who brings to the table a career in medicine as well as years of practice on the cushion and on the mat, asks us to reflect on ways in which we have turned to Buddhist principles to alleviate suffering — in particular, chronic or severe physical or mental pain.  How successful were these at the time? And, looking back, what benefits did they bring or fail to bring over time?

When we suffer, we might ask ourselves: who is suffering? Where is the “I” that is suffering?

This week, Lorilee played excerpts from Sylvia Boorstein and Kittisaro to prompt our group discussion.

Kittisaro’s talk is available here: https://www.dharmaseed.org/talks/player/6452.html

Sylvia’s talk is available here https://dharmaseed.org/talks/3306/

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Surprises on the Path

In a short sutta, (Middle length discourses #22) the Buddha’s recommended approach to leading a wise and effective life that leads to awakening is sketched in with great economy. The results are somewhat surprising (e.g., he covers when to follow the path and when to set it aside). And it is clear that the Path did not originate as a list of eight elements, handy as that might be as a prompt to memory (see below), but as a strategic response to sometimes desperate circumstances.

Michael’s talk this Sunday centered on brief quotations from two Suttas in Middle Length Discourses and the Connected Discourses. In the first, The Buddha explains the process of getting from the ‘near shore’, our familiar life and its inherent suffering, to the ‘far shore’, nibbana, using a raft, the Eightfold Path, to cross the great uncertainties of undertaking spiritual development.

It is perhaps striking that, in contrast to the feeling of predictable regularity, conveyed by the many lists which organize the Dhamma, the Path here is presented as concocted from what is in one’s immediate environment and experience – whatever is at hand. And further, it may be surprising to learn that the Buddha recommends not ‘carrying’ the Path understanding once one has finished crossing the river, a passage both puzzling and often misunderstood.

Our discussion this week revolved around these features of the suttas, and around our own experiences of using elements of the Eightfold Path to help us make our way through our lives and to arrive at some degree of spiritual maturity.

For your convenience, here’s a quick summary of the elements of the Eightfold path:

  • Wholesome View/Understanding — 4 noble truths, 3 marks of existence
  • Wholesome Intention/Thinking — letting go/generosity, loving friendliness, compassion
  • Wholesome Speech — refrain from lying, harsh/malicious language, useless chatter
  • Wholesome Action — 5 precepts – no killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, intoxicants
  • Wholesome Livelihood — work should not disrupt our spiritual development or harm others
  • Wholesome Effort — avoid the 5 hindrances: desire, aversion, restlessness, sloth/torpor, and doubt
  • Wholesome Mindfulness — apply present moment attention to mind states + marks of existence
  • Wholesome Samadhi — develop unified mind by directed & sustained thought, joy, happiness and concentration.

Michael read the Sutta of the Raft, reproduced below, and emphasized that the metaphorical raft in question is not a pre-built construction which we discover, but a makeshift tool that we put together from the detritus and experience of our lives, and that we must get our hands and feet wet in the waters of suffering in order for it to get us anywhere at all.

“Monks, I will teach you the Dhamma compared to a raft, for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding onto. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said: “Suppose a man were traveling along a path. He would see a great expanse of water, with the near shore dubious & risky, the further shore secure & free from risk, but with neither a ferryboat nor a bridge going from this shore to the other. The thought would occur to him, ‘Here is this great expanse of water, with the near shore dubious & risky, the further shore secure & free from risk, but with neither a ferryboat nor a bridge going from this shore to the other. What if I were to gather grass, twigs, branches, & leaves and, having bound them together to make a raft, were to cross over to safety on the other shore in dependence on the raft, making an effort with my hands & feet?’ Then the man, having gathered grass, twigs, branches, & leaves, having bound them together to make a raft, would cross over to safety on the other shore in dependence on the raft, making an effort with his hands & feet. Having crossed over to the further shore, he might think, ‘How useful this raft has been to me! For it was in dependence on this raft that, making an effort with my hands & feet, I have crossed over to safety on the further shore. Why don’t I, having hoisted it on my head or carrying it on my back, go wherever I like?’ What do you think, monks: Would the man, in doing that, be doing what should be done with the raft?”

“No, lord.”

“And what should the man do in order to be doing what should be done with the raft? There is the case where the man, having crossed over, would think, ‘How useful this raft has been to me! For it was in dependence on this raft that, making an effort with my hands & feet, I have crossed over to safety on the further shore. Why don’t I, having dragged it on dry land or sinking it in the water, go wherever I like?’ In doing this, he would be doing what should be done with the raft. In the same way, monks, I have taught the Dhamma compared to a raft, for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding onto. Understanding the Dhamma as taught compared to a raft, you should let go even of Dhammas, to say nothing of non-Dhammas.”

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight

The second quote was from the Asivisa Sutta:

“‘The great expanse of water’ stands for the fourfold flood: the flood of sensuality, the flood of becoming, the flood of views, & the flood of ignorance.

‘The near shore, dubious & risky’ stands for self-identification. ‘The further shore, secure and free from risk’ stands for Unbinding. ‘The raft’ stands for just this noble eightfold path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. ‘Making an effort with hands & feet’ stands for the arousing of persistence. ‘Crossed over, having gone to the other shore, he would stand on high ground, a brahman’ stands for the arahant.”

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight
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Discomfort

Although Buddhist discussion often centers around the larger experiences of suffering in our lives, arguably the most pervasive form is the thousands of small experiences each day where we find ourselves dissatisfied, disappointed, or uncomfortable. With assistance from a series by Gil Fronsdal, Payton guided our Sangha’s discussions this Sunday as we looked to explore these less obvious forms of dukkha and tried to discern what they might teach us.

Gil’s talks are below. We listened to parts 1-3, but there are 5 total that I will include here.

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Gratitude, Gladness, and Unifying the Mind

During the Thanksgiving holiday season, we might be contemplating the role of gratitude in our lives, and wondering how Buddhism can help us navigate the experience of pleasure. Guided by Sarah, this week’s sangha discussion included a recent talk by Jill Shepherd on Muditā, or gladness, as a way of exploring of samādhi, unification of mind, and how opening to gladness can support deeper calm and ease.

You can listen to the talk here: https://www.dharmaseed.org/talks/67530/

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Doubt

In this time of ongoing uncertainty and perpetual transitions, it would be no surprise to notice the fifth Hindrance of “doubt” creeping its way into our lives. With Andrea guiding the session, this week’s sangha discussion centered around talks by Sharon Salzberg and Tara Brach to explore the presence of doubt in our practice and our psyches. Our lives can be freer and clearer when we explore doubt’s roots, its disguises, its effects, and skillful ways to meet it.

You can listen to Sharon Salzberg’s talk in full here:

https://dharmaseed.org/talks/player/41929.html

And Tara Brach’s talk is here:

https://dharmaseed.org/talks/player/60146.html

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Deep Listening

How do we listen to the pulse of the world?  How do we listen to one another?  Our capacity for deep listening can be the source of healing, for others, and for ourselves. This week Stephanie shared with us the reflections of Jack Kornfield as he explored the path to healing, especially through the deep listening that we call mindfulness, or loving awareness.

You can listen to Jack’s talk here: https://dharmaseed.org/talks/55024/

Stephanie also played the following song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX5TWsfykSs