Connecting and Clowning

This week we had a more active Sangha. Sojun guided us to practice an connection and awareness exercise derived from the Clowning tradition and viewed through the lens of Zen. We explored what it was like to fail and what that failure meant, and then how it felt to be held in community even in failure.

Communicating Mindfully

This week, Joey led our Sangha on the topic of mindful communication, using different strategies and practices to improve our interaction with the world.

She played excerpts from three talks, available from the links below.

Will Johnson, The Posture of Meditation; Breathing through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body and Breath  https://www.embodiment.net/audios

Oren Jay Sofer, Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication  https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/248/talk/54846/

Ruth King, Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Outhttps://ruthking.net/recordings/

Strong Emotions and Grief

The challenge with difficult emotions is that we don’t want to feel them. During this week’s Sangha, Payton guided the discussion around how we experience and relate to strong emotions like grief, deep sadness, anger, and fear. Buddhism is often characterized as a way to become healed from difficult emotional states, yet perhaps some difficult emotional states are the direct result of having an open heart. How are we to make sense of this?

Payton played a talk by Shaila Catherine on using the body to work with difficult mental states. It is available here:

https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/163/talk/48118/

He also played excerpts from a talk on working with grief, by Matthew Brensilver, available here:

https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/496/talk/33320/

Entanglement

Entanglement, or knotted-ness, is a metaphor often used in the consideration of dependent origination. This week, Sam led our Sangha discussion following excerpts from talks on this topic by Sharon Salzberg and Christina Feldman.

Here is the full talk “Happiness And Mindfulness” by Christina Feldman (1995): https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/44/talk/10142/

Here is the talk “Disentangling” by Sharon Salzberg (1983): https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/165/talk/2594/

Sam read a short quote from “Beyond Buddhism” by Stephen Batchelor and the following quote from the Long Discourses of the Buddha #15:

This dependent origination is deep and appears deep. It is because of not understanding and not penetrating this teaching that [people] become tangled like string, knotted like a ball of thread, and matted like rushes and reeds, and it doesn’t escape the places of loss, the bad places, the underworld, transmigration.

How does the mass of suffering originate? Name and form are conditions for consciousness. Consciousness is a condition for name and form. Name and form are conditions for contact. Contact is a condition for feeling. Feeling is a condition for craving. Craving is a condition for grasping. Grasping is a condition for continued existence. Continued existence is a condition for rebirth. Rebirth is a condition for old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress to come to be. That is how this entire mass of suffering originates.

So it is, Ānanda, that feeling is a cause of craving. Craving is a cause of seeking. Seeking is a cause of gaining material possessions. Gaining material possessions is a cause of assessing. Assessing is a cause of desire and lust. Desire and lust is a cause of attachment. Attachment is a cause of possessiveness. Possessiveness is a cause of stinginess. Stinginess is a cause of safeguarding. Owing to safeguarding, many bad, unskillful things come to be: taking up the rod and the sword, quarrels, arguments, and fights, accusations, divisive speech, and lies.


Extending and Maturing Mindfulness

Most of us were introduced to meditation through paying attention to breath, sounds, or sensations, as ways to calm our unruly minds.  While these provide an excellent point of departure, even the early Buddhist teachings recommend that as we gain a foothold in meditation, we learn how to extend and augment our practice, both deepening it and integrating it into our lives. 

Michael guided our reflections this past Sunday, as we explored these ancient yet fresh ways of extending and developing our practice.

Upadana

Today Mike B. led our Sangha by playing a talk on the topic of Upadana, or “clinging” by Akincino.

Here is a link to the talk: https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/360/talk/54064/  The focus on Upadana starts at about 21 min.  

Below are some notes Mike created while listening to the talk (spelling of Pali words is almost certainly incorrect in most cases)

  1. Grasping sensuality – calma upadana (4 min)
    1. Anything you can have sense experience of can be grasped, bank account to meditation mat
    2. Call this affluence, security, wealth, etc. (society generally applauds this tendency)
    3. The things that make us safe make us prisoners – “where you grasp, that’s where it gets you”
    4. The very act of grasping to make things safer is the thing that produces most of what we hope to avoid….it is backfiring in a major way
    5. The “seeking mind” is a good name for this
  2. Identification with view – ditta updana (9 min)  [could cut further] 
    1. Attachment to any view will leave you in a vulnerable position (diet example…”everybody should do that”, then “if you don’t do this I don’t take you seriously”, then crusade) 
    2. 18:30 – trying to establish the primacy of my competence
    3. “Being right” is a good name for this
  3. Identification with technique – cilavatta upadana (about 20 min)
    1. “Having the right technique” is a good name of for this – me knowing how it works
    2. Modern examples = favorite diets, work out routines, electronic devices, right kind of vehicle, etc., “the right kind of…” anything
    3. Develop strategy of optimization, extends to relationships, etc. 
    4. Idea of “we can manage this” 
  4. Clinging to doctrines of self — Atavada upadana 
    1. All about being someone, creating an identity
    2. Create an identity that pretends to be permanent – chocolate éclair example
    3. With a permanent self – a soul – your problems are eternal
    4. Shift of perspective from smart thought to being a smart person  process of identification, we appropriate arising phenomena in our experiences
    5. Mantra: “This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.” 

The Insights that Lead to Awakening

This past week Margaret guided our reflections, focusing on those particular insights which lead to awakening.  Excerpts from the teaching of Culadasa (John Yates), an ordained monk and a buddhist practitioner for 40 years – and also a neuroscientist – were used to focus the discussion, thus extending our exploration of the contributions of neuroscience to practice.  

Margaret played audio excerpts from the following youtube talk given by Culadasa, on the five ultimate insights: 

Here is a link to the talks and guided and mediations on Culadasa’s website: http://culadasa.com/


Skillful Action, its foundations and expression

Lorilee guided our reflections this past Sunday, investigating the source of Skillful and Unskillful Actions.  Shantideva said “We are like senseless children who shrink from suffering, but love its causes.”  

  Through unskillful action, we often create suffering in our attempts to be happy.  From eating too much ice cream, to incessant activity, to avoiding difficult interactions, examples of unskillful action abound, along with the suffering that flows from them.

   Excerpts from a talk titled “Taking Refuge in Skillful Action” by Mark Nunberg (a Minneapolis Dharma teacher and a regular teacher at IMS), were used to help focus our thoughts, as we investigated what skillful action would look like for each of us in our individual lives.  

The talk is available here:

Why Buddhism is True

This past week, Jeffrey presented an overview of  the work of evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright, with a focus on Wright’s provocative book, Why Buddhism is True. His notes follow.

Wright claims that the Buddha’s path to become free from suffering actually addresses the inherent insatiable imperatives of our brain that developed through natural selection. The discussion will focus on the question of how emerging developments in neuroscience affect our practice, or whether they are ultimately, irrelevant.

Jeffrey presented the Modular Model of the Mind, as outlined in Robert Wright’s book, Why Buddhism is True. Wright’s argument is that our brains evolved bit by bit through natural selection, and as a consequence, we are prone to self-delusion and anxiety, leading to suffering. We are hard-wired to experience pleasure as fleeting, leading to constant cycle of craving, sating and dissatisfaction. Wright agrees with Buddha that there is no “CEO” style of self that is in control of our thoughts, feelings and actions. He contends that our minds are made up of “modules’, each with a specific evolutionarily-driven goal, such as satisfying hunger or spreading our genes. There is no overall self, instead, whichever module is most highly stimulated by information in the environment will tend to become dominant for a period of time. Because buddhism shares very similar notions about craving as the source of suffering, the buddhist prescription for relief from suffering makes sense to Wright. 

Wright presents his ideas and explores new territory on his “vidcast” show.