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.

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:

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.


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

Sayadaw U Tejaniya talk