Joy in the Rise & Fall of All Experience

Sam led our reflections this past Sunday, focusing on the way in which the rise and fall of the Five Aggregates — the elements of all experience — can actually bring us joy. 

Sam played the talk “Intoxicated with Reality” by Eugene Cash, given at Spirit Rock:

Some quotes he read too:

Whenever he sees with insight the rise and fall of the aggregates, he is full of joy and happiness. To the discerning one this reflects the Deathless [Nirvana]

“Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”

 Suzuki Roshi

When I realized that no moment can be repeated, then I became enlightened.


“The dharma I have reached is deep, hard to see, difficult to awaken to, quiet and excellent, not confined by thought, subtle, sensed by the wise.   But people love their place (alaya):  they delight and revel in their place.   It is hard for people who love, delight, and revel in their place to [see these two grounds;   the ground of conditioned arising and the ground of nirvana (the stilling of inclinations, the relinquishing of bases, the fading away of reactivity, desirelessness, ceasing). ] 

From the Buddha

The mind and the self

This week, Zac guided our sangha discussion. He played an excerpt from a dharma talk by Rob Burbea and read a very insightful chapter from the book “I Am That” by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, some of which is quoted below.

The talk by Rob Burbea is here:

Here is an excerpt from “I Am That”:

Maharaj: You were glad when the body was well and you are sad when the body is unwell. Who is glad one day and sad the next?

Questioner: The mind.

M: And who knows the variable mind?

Q: The mind.

M: The mind is the knower. Who knows the knower?

Q: Does not the knower know itself?

M: The mind is discontinuous. Again and again it blanks out, like in sleep or swoon, or distraction. There must be something continuous to register discontinuity.

Q: The mind remembers. This stands for continuity.

M: Memory is always partial, unreliable and evanescent. It does not explain the strong sense of identity pervading consciousness, the sense ‘I am’. Find out what is at the root of it.

Q: However deeply I look, I find only the mind. Your words ‘beyond the mind’ give me no clue.

M: While looking with the mind, you cannot go beyond it. To go beyond, you must look away from the mind and its contents.

Q: In what direction am I to look?

M: All directions are within the mind! I am not asking you to look in any particular direction. Just look away from all that happens in your mind and bring it to the feeling ‘I am’. The ‘I am’ is not a direction. It is the negation of all direction…. Bringing the mind to the feeling ‘I am’ merely helps in turning the mind away from everything else.

Q: Where does it all lead me?

M: When the mind is kept away from its preoccupations, it becomes quiet. If you do not disturb this quiet and stay in it, you find that it is permeated with a light and a love you have never known…

Q: How shall I recognize this state when I reach it?

M: There will be no fear.

Q: Surrounded by a world full of mysteries and dangers, how can I remain unafraid?

M: Your own little body too is full of mysteries and dangers, yet you are not afraid of it, for you take it as your own. What you do not know is that the entire universe is your own body…

Awakening to Joy

This past week Sojun guided our discussion, continuing on the topic of Joy, but focusing this time on practical advice for bringing appreciation to moments of happiness in our lives. Below are his notes on what was a very fruitful talk.

Joy is fundamental to successful practice, but joy does not always come easily. Taking joy as the focus of my practice this last week my experiences ran the gamut from carefree and joyful, to absolutely desolate and miserable. Over the course of the week I developed five approaches to joy, like five medicines of increasing strength, to help relate to joy even when it feels far away.

These five approaches I call:

  1. The Subtle
  2. The Opposite
  3. The Comical
  4. The Absence, and
  5. The Compassionate

The Subtle approach is for days where joyful practice comes easily. We need nothing more than to sit and experience the flow of sensation through the body like birds twittering through our limbs. One practitioner likened this feeling to the title of Walt Whitman poem, “I Sing The Body Electric.” These are the subtle changes in the senses and the world outside us that are constantly with us.

But we don’t always experience these sensations as joy. Sometimes they can appear to us as fear or anxiety. There is an element of interpretation that makes these sensations feel to be either joy or something else. An emotion is after all, a physical sensation matched with certain thoughts or mental images. The sensations themselves are often quite neutral, and as such, we can flip the switch on them and re-interpret negative feelings as their opposite. I like to use this technique in the morning if I’m resisting getting out of bed. I try to experience my anxiety about the day as excitement.

The Comical approach is useful when flipping the switch doesn’t work. We can see ourselves as the curmudgeon, the Mr. Wilson who refuses to see the play of a child as a joyful event.

Sometimes it feels as if we are pushing away joy on purpose. Perhaps we feel that we are not worthy of it. If we find ourselves doing something absurd like this, it is useful to follow this to its logical conclusion. Imagine yourself completely empty of joy. Nature abhors a vacuum. You may begin to feel joy from all around pushing into you like water pushing into a deep sea diving bell. This exercise never fails to make me giddy. This is the approach of absence.

But, of course there are times for all of us when joy seems as remote as the moon. We can’t remember any reason to feel good about anything, and the attempt to find joy is simply galling. At times like this it is helpful to remember the feelings of compassion that are present in you. That you would never wish this suffering on anyone, and that you would like nothing more than to see everyone freed from this misery. There are countless being in the world who wish the same for you. Even when you cannot feel it yourself, you can rely on the compassion of others to awaken joy within you.

The Heart’s Capacity

Joey guided our reflections this Sunday, opening with a guided meditation on grounding — finding the support waiting for us in the Earth and the earth element in our own being.  Weaving together strands from teachings by Chris Cullen and Robin Kimmerer, with her own observations, we explored and cultivated the capacity of the heart as it manifests in our individual and collective lives.

Chris Cullen’s talk is here:

Joey also read excerpts from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, available here:

The Nature of Insight itself

Stephen guided our reflections this Sunday, centering on the topic of Insight or “Vipassana”. Despite the fact that many of us practice a form of meditation that goes by this name, we may not keep fully in mind the very meaning of Insight to which our meditation might bring us. 

Culadasa (John Yates) website & book info:

One portion of his Dharma talks including the Meditation & Insight set of talks:

The Mind Illuminated at Amazon


This Sunday, Mike Blouin guided our reflections on the central topic of Generosity, with some additional thoughts from Gil Fronsdal.  Generosity is a foundational and transformational element in the dharmic path, and a cornerstone of practice.

The first talk was here:

The second talk was here:  (parts 3 and 6 from the generosity section).

Buddha’s Begging Bowl

Michael guided our reflections this Sunday focusing on the ways in which Zen, Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhism have found implications for our practice in the bowl which the Buddha carried with him early and late in his career.  In sacred art, spiritual endeavor, and daily life, the bowl figures as a strong and yet nuanced way of relating to experience.

Links and material forthcoming

A different way to respond to suffering

This Sunday, Payton guided the Sangha discussion on the topic of how we experience injustice and dissatisfaction in our minds, and if there is a way to take action in the world without greed, aversion, or delusion.

Payton played a talk by Andrea Fella which is available here:

Some of the notes from the talk follow.

When anger is not present, our mind can see suffering and we can more naturally act out of compassion rather than acting out of anger or fear.

Our minds are confused. We see only the greed or aversion, rather than what’s actually happening and we want to resolve the greed or aversion, not the thing that’s happening.

It’s not a mistake or a problem that things are unreliable and always changing, it’s actually just the way things are. We are confused because of our desire for reliability and the sense of being able to control things.

Wisdom wants us to allow both truth and wanting for happiness without craving for a particular outcome.

“If we use scissors to cut a tangle out, we are left with a whole in the fabric.”

Ajahn Sumedho’s insights into life and practice

This week Patrick guided our reflections around Ajahn Sumedho’s talk titled “Watch Your Mind.” Sumedho is one of the great elders of the western Buddhist movement. His free ranging discourse weaves together insights on mental formations, concentration, monastic life, and suffering in his characteristic down to earth style.

The talk is here:

And here’s a pdf of one of his books, as a way to explore more of his writing: