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The ‘why’ of Metta

In several recent gatherings we have focused on the practice of metta or “loving-kindness” with a focus on the “how” of the practice; the phrases one uses, for example, or the order of each of the subjects.  This Sunday we again considered metta, this time focusing on the “why”, that is, metta as an integral part of insight practice, and not just a sort of extra activity added to vipassana. Specifically we looked at metta practice as an antidote to ill will and aversion, and the relation to the arising of self. Margaret skillfully guided the discussion, drawing on a talk by Christina Feldman.

For those unfamiliar with metta practice or desiring a refresher, Margaret provided this short guided meditation by Chas DiCapua.

Christina’s talk is available here:

https://dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/44/15696.html

Margaret also sent along several quotes related to metta, included below.

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

Shoulders, Naomi Shihab Nye – 1952

“Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

Hafiz
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Buddhist Personality Types

We all struggle with the “three poisons” of Greed, Anger, and Delusion, but may be more likely to gravitate toward one of these than others. There are some elements about how a practice of mindfulness can transform these hindrances into possibilities for presence and liberation. When stripped of their attachment, Greed imparts a sort of optimism and faith, Anger imparts clarity and wisdom, and Delusion imparts equanimity and calm.

This week, Mike B led our Sangha’s exploration of how Greed, Anger, and Delusion manifest in our lives, how we might better understand their conditioned nature, and how they all change on their own. We discussed how important it is to remember that these feelings are subjective and that any given experience can elicit any of these reactions from different people, so we must take care to avoid assuming our perception is the “right” one.

We listened to a talk by Sharon Salzberg on this topic, which you may find here:

https://dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/venue/undefined/165/16055.html

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How can we hold people accountable while still holding them in our hearts?

Division within our communities appears to have reached new highs, or lows, depending on your perspective. Regardless of which side of an issue we identify with, it seems that half of our community takes an opposite view. The escalation from mild disagreement to threatened and then actual violence has rocked our world. How can we hold people accountable while still holding them in our hearts? This is not a new question and Buddhism provides some suggestions.

This week, Jeff H turned to two Buddhists who have led a monastic life to provide perspectives on using elements of love to try to heal our community.

Kaira Jewel Lingo presented a talk on January 12, 2021 titled “Equanimity and Loving Our Enemies within the Framework of the Four Brahmaviharas”. You can listen to this talk here: https://dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/1012/63628.html

Jaya Rudgard presented a talk on January 20, 2020 titled “Reflections on Metta for difficult people”. Jaya’s talk can be heard here: https://www.dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/566/60349.html

Some thoughts that resonated for Jeff from Kaira Jewel Lingo:

• If we had less contempt for people with opposing viewpoints, people with even more extreme viewpoints may be less compelling for others to follow

• She offers the image of one hand raised to stop someone from doing harm and the other hand outstretched in an offer of reconciliation

• She reminds us that “us is them is us”
• If we see through the illusion of separation, healing is possible

• We can hold someone accountable and not be consumed by ill-will
• Ill-will harms us more than the object of ill-will

• Equanimity enables us to remain impartial during a conflict
• This is an advanced practice
• To do this we put ourselves in the skin of the other person

• Equanimity knows how to not make things worse when suffering arises

Some thoughts that resonated for Jeff from Jaya Rudgard:

• We do not need to like someone to practice metta
• A lack of ill will is enough, and is actually a high bar if applied universally

• Wishing people ease and peace will make a better world
• “May they be free from ill will”
• “May they be safe” can mean “safe to be around”

• Feeling ill will towards some causing harm does not help us
• The Buddha provided the analogy of picking up a burning coal to throw it at someone to cause them harm – it will cause us harm first

• Starting metta practice will “easier” people may help make room for the difficult person

• Taking the relationship as the object of metta can help
• “May we both find the healing that we need”

• The purpose is to open our heart so that we are not shutting people out

• The image of one hand raised and one outstretched is offer again
• The raised hand is setting a boundary
• The outstretched hand is keeping the heart open

• The challenge is to set clear boundaries without ill will

Overall themes

Both teachers suggested the image of one hand raised and one outstretched
• The raised hand is setting a boundary
• The outstretched hand is keeping the heart open

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The experience of Craving

The Buddha spoke of Craving as the primary cause of our suffering in this life, and while we can intellectually understand that wanting things to be other than they are can be problematic, really noticing what that Craving feels like is not so obvious. That level of awareness is particularly challenging when the ancient texts do not give us examples from our modern life.

This Sunday, Payton attempted to make the felt sense of Craving more clear to all of us so we can start to explore ways to recognize and interrupt the thoughts, feelings, and reactions that stem from that unexamined mental imbalance.

We listened to excerpts from the talk “Dharma and Technology: Craving and the Arising of Self” by Anushka Fernandopulle, which you can listen to here: https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/222/talk/15458/

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Images and metaphors for change

This Sunday Mike B. led our Sangha discussion and played a talk and guided meditation by Pascal Auclair. The topic was on the changing nature of the self, experience, and memory. A feeling, thought, or self-image can seem so real and permanent in the moment, but then the next moment (or many moments later) it reveals itself to have been nothing at all. We explored the Buddha’s metaphor of experience as the foam of bubbles in a stream and how it was reflected in our own lives.

You can listen to Pascal’s talk here:

https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/198/talk/51978/

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Continuing Practice, Changing Aims

The Dhamma draws each of us for a variety of reasons and as we commit ourselves to practice, our intentions and experiences change and develop over the course of our lives. This Sunday Andrea guided our reflections drawing on a talk given by Anusjka Ferandopoulle via Cambridge Insight entitled “Refreshing the Heart, Living with Wisdom.” where we were presented with quite a list of varied motivations and experiences of Dhamma that can be part of our practice from “mental fitness” to “devotion” to “not knowing” each of which is a valid and useful stepping stone in our path.

You can listen to the talk here:

https://cimc.dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/222/61823.html

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Interrupting reactivity and responding with love

Our sangha continued its master class this Sunday on how to respond to challenges in our lives and in our world. Lorilee offered a lecture by Ajahn Sucitto, delivered during winter retreat this January, which took us into the subtle, deep layers of how our sankhara or mental conditioning is created, and how as yogis and buddhist practitioners we can understand, slow down, and deconstruct this habitual process. Developing this skill allows us to choose a different response. This is activism at its roots.

You can listen to Ajahn Sucitto’s talk here:

https://dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/9/63592.html

Lorilee also played an excerpt of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel peace prize acceptance speech, which you can watch here:

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/acceptance-speech/

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Intimacy and vulnerability

Continuing a particular thread of our exploration from last week, Sam guided our reflections this Sunday on Intimacy and Vulnerability, drawing on the teachings of Ajahn Sucitto, Christina Feldman, and Pamela Weiss. As we open to experience our lives more fully, we become both more intimate and more vulnerable, and can use a path of wisdom that helps us negotiate this terrain.

Here are links to the three talks:

Dhamma Stream Online Puja:  The Gift of Vulnerability, 5-3-20,  Ajahn Sucitto https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/9/talk/61685/

Dukkha and Vulnerability,   9-24-17,   Christina Feldman https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/44/talk/47553/

Listening With Love, 3-23-19,  Pamela Weiss https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/231/talk/55409/

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Meditative Inquiry – investigation of the depths

Although Investigation is known as the Second Factor of Awakening (after Mindfulness), it is often overlooked in practice as our meditative lives unfold.  Drawing on Early Buddhism, Zen, Advaita, and related traditions, Michael guided our reflections and experiments in Meditative Inquiry this Sunday,  as we explored ways to investigate our sense of what counts most for us in appreciating and shaping our lives.

Specifically, we took part in a small group exercise where we repeatedly asked one another some variation of the question, “what do you want from your practice?”. After some exploration in which we determined that much of what we want seems to be rooted in the present moment, we then asked, “what is getting in the way of having that right now?”.

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Bringing Dharma to Life or Life to Dharma

At a time of the year when many take stock and reassess, it helps to have some reliable principles to base our thinking on. An end-of-retreat talk by Akincino offers a thought-provoking context for looking at one’s life afresh. Don guided our reflections this Sunday, drawing on Akincino and our own insights to see what values are guiding us, and why.

The talk is available here: https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/360/talk/33191/