A New Approach to our Discussion

Stephen proposed a slightly different format this week — that we spend our time after meditation in an extended group discussion about practice.  Since it usually seems our discussion could outlast our ending time, it might be useful to have a bit more time and to open up the discussion to any topic that folks might want to share or explore.

Although sharing is always optional, please be aware that sharing our personal experiences is often a great gift to others.  We all face challenges, have had successes and setbacks, and have gained some hard won wisdom along the way. The Buddha recognized this and explicitly encouraged his followers to spend extended time with fellow practitioners in discussions concerning the Dhamma.

Awareness & Attention in Practice

In several previous gatherings, we have considered ideas of Culadasa, a neuroscientist and ordained Budhhist minister, with extensive meditation experience.   This Sunday we considered some aspects of the model of mind that Culadasa presents, and some of the implications for the practice of meditation.

Guided by Margaret, we based our reflections on interviews with Culadasa.       

This relates strongly to ideas that arose in the discussion that Payton led last week – specifically to the distinction between the terms “awareness”  and “attention”, as used by Culadasa, and as well on the balance between these two in the practice of meditation.  Those who are reading Culadasa’s book “The Mind Illuminated” might want to take a look at “The Fourth Interlude: The Moments of Consciousness model”.

Here are links to the talks Margaret played:

https://www.oneyoufeed.net/culadasa/

https://www.oneyoufeed.net/culadasa-part-2/

What drives our Decisions?

Every moment we are making decisions, large and small, which create our reality and can change the world. However, when we become more aware of the subtle forces of Greed, Aversion, and Delusion in our day-to-day experience, we may find that they are the driving forces behind all our decisions. Can we learn to act instead when these poisons are not present? Payton guided the Sangha this week in exploring this question based on a recent retreat with Carol Wilson, Mark Nunberg, and Alexis Santos.

The practice of vipassana, as I understand it, is: develop continuous, non-preferential awareness of the six sense doors. Use the least effort possible, by simply directing the awareness to the sense doors. Investigate the gross and subtle forces of clinging and aversion that motivate where the mind goes in response to the sense doors. Gain evidence that acting from these states leads to more unsatisfactoriness. Then begin to notice when clinging and aversion are not present, and learn to act from this state. Gain evidence that action from this state leads to happiness.

Book

The following are quotes from the freely available book, Dhamma Everywhere, by Ashin Tejaniya

Do you know that you have a mind? How do you know that you have a mind? You can see or observe the mind through its workings/functions e.g. knowing, thinking, experiencing, feeling, wanting, focusing, etc. Now, put your hands together and look at your clasped hands. You know that your hands are touching, right? How do you know this touching sensation? What is the mind doing that you are able to know this? You know because the mind is aware and paying attention to it now. (p. 16)

Do you know that the mind is paying attention and aware? Would you know that your hands were touching if your mind was thinking about something else? No. So you can see that it is not merely because your hands are touching that you know but because the mind is paying attention and awareness is a quality that is a part of this attention that you know they are touching. (p. 16)

Can you shift your attention from your palms to your feet? You can, right? This shift in attention is actually the mind at work. It is the mind paying attention. If you know that you are paying attention, then you are aware of the mind. There is no need to go searching for the mind, as everyone more or less knows it. (p. 16)

We need right view … we also need inquiry and dhamma investigation, which is the investigation of phenomena and reflection on how we are observing or practicing, while we are practicing. The emphasis is on the need for wisdom along with the awareness… (p.18)

When we practice with wanting or expectations, we are meditating with greed. When we practice with dissatisfaction and discontent, we are meditating with aversion. When we practice without having a real understanding of what we are doing, we are meditating with delusion. (p. 19)

When we are focused on an object, we can’t see the workings of the mind. … we no longer see the mind, what it’s doing, or how it’s operating. … in mindfulness meditation, we don’t need to cultivate or work on objects or what we observe. We can and will need to develop how we observe. We do this first by noticing or acknowledging how the mind is already observing. Is it agitated or calm? Is there some kind of wisdom present? … You don’t need to try to change how the mind is observing. You want to take note of how it is observing and the corresponding effects of observing in that way. (p. 22)

Start with an awareness of any object. As you maintain awareness, keep checking the mind. What is the mind aware of? When it is aware, is the mind at ease or not? Is it relaxed? What is the attitude in the mind? Keep checking. (p. 24)

In vipassana, the eyes are one sense door and the ears are another sense door. Can you become aware with any object? Can you start with sounds? Do you have to go looking for sounds? Aren’t they always there? You can know that there is sound. Take whatever object is available. There’s no need to look for very subtle objects. (p. 25)

Many yogis have this idea that their meditation begins when they hear the bell. That’s not so! The bell is only there to remind you. The right time to practice is from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed at night. (p. 27)

How much effort do you need to know seeing, hearing, heat, cold, touching, or tiredness? Do you need to focus to know any of these? Is that tiring or difficult? See how easy observing is? … Trying to find the object you want requires energy. (p. 29)

There are three kinds of wisdom: … Sutamaya pañña is information you get from reading, from listening to Dhamma discourses, or from discussions with teachers. Cintamaya pañña is intelligence or knowledge acquired through thinking, reasoning, or intellectual analysis. Bhavanamaya pañña is insight or wisdom gained through direct experience. (p. 30)

Craving will surely arise when choosing one object over another. Aversion comes in when you don’t find the object of your choice. Believing that an object is “good” is really delusion at work! … You are not trying to change anything that is happening but working to strengthen and improve the mind… (p. 33)

Understanding that something is not beneficial is very different from thinking or judging that something is “not good”. If the mind labels something as “good”, there is craving already. With any object that arises, delusion is already on the scene. Delusion conceals an object’s natural characteristics … and labels it as “good” or “bad”. Lobha or dosa then do their work of grasping or rejecting. … Meditation is the recognition of gross and subtle forms of craving, aversion, and delusion, and all their relatives that are present in the mind while it is observing objects. (p. 34)

Because we want to learn about the nature of the mind and objects, we don’t try to calm the mind down or try to remove objects. We don’t want to interfere or control but observe, because we want to understand the mind and objects in their natural state, as they are happening. This is right view. As such, we also don’t try to remove aversion when it arises. We are not trying to get rid of aversion. As soon as we try to push aversion away, there is more aversion. (p. 35)

Sati means not to forget. Sati means to remember. … To be aware doesn’t mean we create awareness out of what was absent before. Sati is about not forgetting – sati is not energetic focusing. (p. 37)

It is the nature of the mind to take as an object what it thinks about. Doesn’t the mind go directly to your hand if you think about what is happening at your hand? If you ask, “What is happening on my head,” the mind is immediately at your head. How much focusing do you need for that? (p. 39)

It is samma-ditthi if you observe these objects of the mind and body as nature instead of as “me” or “mine”. … Take heat as heat, not that you feel hot. Everyone feels heat and cold and everyone experiences feelings. … Anger grows when you take possession of the anger with, “This is my anger.” When people are sad and they say, “I’m depressed, I’m feeling down,” then they really get depressed. Why is that? It’s because their attitude and ideas have assumed the sadness as their sadness. If you consider sadness as just one aspect of the nature of mind, then you’d feel much better. It’s the mind that’s sad, not my mind that’s sad. It’s not, “I want, I’m not satisfied.” It’s the mind that is angry or wanting. (p. 52)

When you look at your thoughts, don’t get swept away by the story. It is enough if you are aware that thoughts are happening. … Just acknowledge whenever thoughts happen, check the bodily sensations, and alternate between the mind and the body. (p. 57)

That’s how you need to meditate, with interest and inquiry every time defilements arise. When you are ready, the lesson will come and you will understand fully. … I used to watch feelings until they calmed or died down. Of course, the mind would calm down eventually. Why? The mind can effectively calm down if it looks directly at something without being able to think about anything else. But no wisdom or understanding arose. (p. 63)

The role of awareness is just gathering data. … The answer will come when the data set is complete. It can’t arise when there is still some missing data. However, you do raise the level of interest and curiosity in the mind by posing some questions. The solution will eventually come to you when you have enough data for the problem at hand. (p. 65)

We don’t want this doing, forceful effort that uses a lot of energy all at once, only to slack off when we are tired. When we get some energy back, we may recover from our drowsiness and start to be aware once again. It’s impossible to develop continuity of awareness in this random way. (p. 104)

Talk by Carol Wilson

https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/39/talk/55915/

Sayadaw U Tejaniya talk

https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/246/talk/23102/

Non-dual

This past week, Michael led an exploration of a non-dualist approach to meditation and mindfulness, guided by the work of Rupert Spira, from whose week-long retreat he recently returned.  If you are interested in exploring some of the unique approaches to these familiar topics which non-dualism offers, here are a few of the literally hundreds of YouTube videos in which Spira explores them.

Meditation: Being Aware of Being Aware is the Highest Meditation (43 minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZ8tQYYNIg0&t=5s
Awareness is not located in the body (8 minutes)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5wfFVaMA_w

Rupert Spira Shows What Non-Duality Really Is (audio: 18 minutes)

Dharma and climate crisis

This past Sunday, Lorilee moderated our discussion, a reflection on a Buddhist approach our global climate crisis. An excerpt by a recent dharma talk given by James Baraz at Spirit Rock, entitled “Internally & Externally – Holding It All” was followed by personal and shared reflection.  How does greed, aversion and delusion  manifest in our reactions to notions about climate change?   How can the cultivation of joy, in fact, be a potent tool toward solving this existential problem for humankind?

The talk by James Baraz is here:

https://dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/86/56273.html

Emptiness from several angles

Mike Blouin led our discussion this past Sunday on the concept of Śūnyatā, or emptiness, from a few different angles including natural history, poetry, and Buddhist philosophy.

We looked at the phenomenon of emptiness through poetry and prose, and read and talked about the Heart Sutra as well.  There was no audio, but this article from Thich Nhat Hanh provides helpful context:  https://www.lionsroar.com/the-fullness-of-emptiness/

We also read some passages from a book called Stirring the Mud by Barbara Hurd, and The Tree by John Fowles, plus some Rainer Maria Rilke poetry from The Book of Hours

Social Equanimity

Patrick’s presentation this past week included a talk from Gil Fronsdal called Social Equanimity.

In the talk, he reviews the Brahma Viharas in general, talks about the role that equanimity plays in relation to the others, and its application in everyday life, including consideration of the limits of equanimity and how to apply it in difficult or painful situations.

It’s also worth considering whether or not equanimity pushes us to live with a very restrictive emotional range, or if it’s primarily a tool for handling harsh emotions.

The talk by Gil is available here:

https://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/1987.html

Culadasa

This past Sunday, Jeffrey presented the 10 Stages of Meditation by Culadasa, a particular path of practice designed to foster insights and Awakening [complete detachment from “Self”].  Jeffrey provided a brief overview of Culadasa’s stages and guided the discussion to the idea of stages in general. How do people feel about progressive stages? Is this model useful for householders who practice on our own, often without one specific teacher or group of adepts to guide us? Is it useful to identify signposts and milestones on “the way”? Is there a downside to this approach?

A few members were already, or interested in starting, working with Culdasa’s Stages. We agreed to check in about July, and October, to assess the value of his approach.

Audio clips from:

Meditation Intro: Training the Mind (I used audio from 7:40 – 9:35)

Intro to 10 Stages of Meditation ~ CULADASA with Stephanie Nash

Mastery of Stages ~ CULADASA with Stephanie Nash

Culadasa on the way to practice with the Ten Stages (starts about 12:30 mark)

Video of Robert Wright & Bhikkhu Bodhi [The Wright Show] in which, about 12:30 into the video, that Robert Wright asks Bhikkhu Bodhi if he has attained liberation.

Sources for the Overview:

How to Master the Art of Meditation: A Complete Guide to the 10 Stages of Meditative Development BY CULADASA (JOHN YATES Ph.D.)

Progressive Stages of Meditation in Plain English – Culadasa

The Mind Illuminated – Culadasa

An interesting annotated reading list

Karma

Based on her recent retreat at the IMS, this past Sunday Margaret shared some of Christina Feldman’s reflections on karma, within the Buddhist framework.  (Recall that karma appears as the fifth of the five recollections:  http://www.leighb.com/5drult.htm ) Karma simply means actions. The focus of the reflections was karma as ethical choices in the present;  karma as contribution, not retribution.