Planning versus Living

We often undermine our own possibility of happiness because we are living in future planning for it. This Sunday Wendy guided us as we reflected in depth on this question, drawing insights from a talk by John Peacock addressing our obsession with planning.

The talk by John Peacock is “The present alone is our happiness”, and can be found here:

In the talk, the speaker read “Beyond the Bend in the Road”, a short poem by Fernando Pessoa, which you can read here:

Also mentioned in the talk was the book “Rowing Without Oars” by Ulla-Carin Lindquist, which you can find more about here:

Finally, during our discussion, Michael quoted from the Hsin Hsin Ming or Xinxin Ming, specifically the Richard B. Clarke translation, which you can find here:


Facing uncertainty and the “What if” mind

Today Jeff H. led the Sangha as we listened to Brian Lesage from Election Day 2020 in a talk entitled “Facing Uncertainty: Allowing Love to to Return in a Different Way”. You can listen to the talk here:

Jeff’s thoughts on this topic are written below.

Some people say we are living in unprecedented times: a global pandemic, an intensely divisive American presidential election, fallout from the American system of racial oppression, global climate change and more. Uncertainty seems to be lurking everywhere.

Other people might instead offer that there is nothing new under the sun. World Wars I and II, the violence and unrest of the 1960’s, plagues throughout history, the world has always been filled with uncertainty. Everybody gets an uncertainty medal.

The Buddha proposed that everything is uncertain, subject to causes and conditions beyond our control. When we choose to believe the illusions of certainty we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Better to study the transient, imperfect and impersonal nature of all things,  release our attachment to particular outcomes and reduce our disappointment. Sounds easy.

Our brains are hardwired to seek certainty in an uncertain world. Brian Lesage recognizes that this tendency is futile, but it appears to offer short-term comfort as we plan for the future. What can be a useful tool, the “what if” mind can become a prison. Let’s listen to the talk that Brian gave this election day, a peak in national uncertainty.
I admit to spending a lot of time before, during and after the election stuck in my “what if” mind. I deliberately ramped up my vipassana practice to improve my resiliency, but occasionally fall back into anxiety and fear. We can even bring others into our “what if” scenarios, which is not a way to dispel the misery of the world.

Brian advocates using media to inform, but not allowing media to rule our lives. I have limited the amount of election news I view. The stories are designed to catch our attention and push us onto the next story. This is a recipe for anxiety and fear. As Brian says, anything can happen tomorrow which is always the case. Letting the media fill our hearts with sensationalized stories is not a kindness to ourselves.

I appreciate Brian’s suggestion to use the “what if” mind as a tool and use the media to inform. This seems to be in harmony with “the middle way”.



News of great anger, tragedy, and destruction of life and environment comes into our awareness from all directions in our modern world. Although this immediacy of information is incredibly useful, a lot of it is triggering to our sensitive hearts, and our heart wants us to react.

Sometimes a piece of news can merit a quick reaction. If we learn that our house is on fire, we need to do something! But most of the news does not need an immediate reaction. It may require a powerful response, but we need time and care to choose a response that does not cause further harm. This may be obvious in the case of dramatic physical responses (punching someone in the face), but it’s equally true for responses in our mind (thinking about how much we want to punch someone in the face).

To do this, we need to be able to handle our own restlessness and reactivity, bringing calm to an agitated mind. This is not easy to do. The space between the triggering thought, image, or word and the immediate chain of thoughts that follow is very small. Meditation practice is a way of widening that space.

In this week’s Sangha, Payton investigated our reactivity and ways in which we can bring a wise view into our daily life.

We first heard a talk by Christina Feldman, entitled “Embodiment”, which you can listen to here:

Christina references the Arrow Sutta, which you can read a version of here:

Next, we listened to a talk including an exercise by Jill Shepherd, which you can find here:

Finally, there were some quotes from a book by Sayādaw U Tejaniya, entitled “Dhamma Everywhere”, which is actually free and you can find copies of it online here: (there are also free physical copies but I don’t seem to be able to find those right now; they may be out of print at the moment).


Varieties of Concentration, Focus, and Steadiness of Mind

Focusing attention on a single object is fundamental to meditation.  In fact the skill of focusing attention has two distinct applications in meditation practice.   One application is as the fundamental strategy of Samatha practice, which has as its aim the development of calm and tranquility, a “place to rest one’s mind”.   The other application is as the framework that supports Vipassana practice, the stability of mind that allows us to “see things as they really are”, that is, to nurture mindfulness.  In our gathering this Sunday we reflected on the difference and connection between these two aspects of practice, and on the relevance of both to the world in which we find ourselves today.

Margaret guided the discussion on these matters, using teachings of Chas DiCapua, Sharon Salzberg, and Jack Kornfield.

The first recorded teaching was a guided meditation by Chas DiCapua, recorded as part of the IMS “Daily Dharma” series on September 7th. You can watch the talk here.

The second teaching was by Sharon Salzberg, which was given last week as part of an online retreat through IMS. In this talk Sharon was reflecting on the role of mindfulness in developing understanding of what is really true (at both the relative and absolute level). Unfortunately we cannot link to the talk as it was part of a retreat.

The third teaching was by Jack Kornfield, discussing working with “slogans”  (tonglen practice, which derives from the teachings of the 9th century sage, Atisha) which you can view here.

Here are Kornfeld’s versions of the slogans Jack mentioned in that clip.

1.  Explore the nature of timeless awareness.  
2. Don’t be swayed by outer circumstances. 
3. Consider all phenomena to appear as dreams.
4.  Don’t brood over the faults of others.
5.  Be grateful to everyone.
6.  Offer your gifts to the world.
7.  At all times, simply rely on a joyful mind.
8. Don’t expect a standing ovation.


Socially engaged Buddhism = Seeing the Interdependence of all life

Ginny guided our session this Sunday, drawing on readings and teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh and others on the importance of Socially Engaged Buddhism.

The hour is striking so close above me,

so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now: there’s a power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.

I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.

The hour is striking so close above me
Rainer Maria Rilke, translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

“These days, I am thinking that socially engaged Buddhism is to be found in those with a solid Dhamma practice—not just fuzzy, nice intentions—who can bring it to bear on social issues in real live situations. What Dhamma practice can give is enough mindfulness to be present in the moment, enough non-bias to see the situation from various angles (including one’s own inner dynamics), enough compassion to want to end suffering, enough wisdom to understand the major causal relationship at play (including intra- and interpersonal) and enough effort to do something effective on the ground.”

Santikaro Bhikkhu, cited in Ken Jones, The New Social Face of Buddhism: A Call to Action (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003), p. 230

Everybody wakes up – the story of the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka – the talk was given following the massive Tsunami that hit Sri Lanka and Thailand in December of 2004.

Part 1 –

Part 2 –

“Violence never ceases through hatred. It is only through love that it ceases. This is ancient law.”

the Buddha from the Dhammapada

Ginny also discussed the 14 Principles of Engaged Buddhism, whihc you can read here:


The space of presence

A great gift of practice is the ability to cultivate presence, a space in which we can meet our experience with a real attention that brings deep connection and fulfillment. This Sunday, Andrea guided our reflections, drawing on Tara Brach’s exploration on this topic.

Tara’s talk is available here:

During the talk, Tara read a poem by Judy Brown, entitled “Fire”. It begins,

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

Judy Brown, from The Sea Accepts All Rivers

You can read the full poem on Judy’s website here:


Dharma in our wider world

Matters like COVID, political uncertainty, police violence and the like often seem remote from the meditation cushion and the world view of the Buddha. And yet the connections between dharma, pain, grief, effective action, and social challenges can be clearly drawn, as they are in an end-of-retreat dharma talk by Michele MacDonald and Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey which served Mike B as the inspiration for shaping this week’s sangha meeting.

Here is a link to the talk:


Selfing – moment by moment creation

The Self, so often thought of as a thing, is, from a Buddhist perspective, an activity that arises under certain conditions, which can be seen and seen through.  Sam guided our reflections this week, and drew upon several teachers in the Early Buddhist tradition, including Andrea Fella, Guy Armstong, and Susie Harrington (who also offers  a guided reflection).

We listened to excerpts from the following three talks:   

Not-self and selfing :  Andrea Fella 9/11/18

The Five Aggregates Are Not Self:  Guy Armstrong 9/10/19

Selfing and Freedom from Selfing:  Susie Harrington  11/12/19

Sam then read verse 14 from the Tao Te Ching:

Eyes look but cannot see it
Ears listen but cannot hear it
Hands grasp but cannot touch it
Beyond the senses lies the great Unity —
invisible, inaudible, intangible
What rises up appears bright
What settles down appears dark
Yet there is neither darkness or light
just an unbroken dance of shadows
From nothingness to fullness
and back again to nothingness
This formless form
This imageless image 
cannot be grasped by mind or might
Try to face it
In what place will you stand?
Try to follow it
To what place will you go?
Know That which is beyond all beginnings 
and you will know everything here and now
Know everything in this moment
and you will know the Eternal Tao

Sam also read a quote from Nisargadatta Maharaj:

There is only one truth in the world, and that is that everything is unreal.  I am the Unmanifested talking through the Manifest.  When the body, the mind, the vital breath drop off, nothing happens;  only I, the Absolute, prevail always.  No knowledge is called for to understand this truth, because that knowledge is innate.   (Feb. 12, 1981)


Buddhism, Racism, and Independence

This week Jeff H guided our reflections, returning to the topic of racial justice from a Buddhist perspective, and anchoring the discussions with a podcast titled “Racism and Independence” by Jack Kornfield that seems to have been recorded this year but was in fact from the 1990s. Jack starts with the context of our celebration of Independence Day a few weeks earlier and illuminates how the history of racism and prejudice in this nation directly contradicts our instilled ideals of freedom and independence. Jack weaves Buddhist teachings into an examination of some of the root causes of suffering in America and challenges us to use the Dhamma to lessen suffering.

The link to Jack Kornfield’s talk is here:

Below are Jeff’s notes from the talk:

I found the talk I am going to play on the Heart Wisdom Podcast with a date of June 26, 2020. In the talk, titled “Racism and Independence”, Jack Kornfield mentions Rodney King speaking to a crowd. The second time I played it I realized that the talk was probably from 1991 or 1992, as Rodney King died in 2012. Although the talk is nearly 30 years old it is just as relevant today, partly due to Jack Kornfield’s timeless wisdom. Sadly, the talk is still relevant because many things have not changed over the course of the intervening years for people with black and brown bodies.

Jack explores the American meaning of independence and freedom, and contrasts it to the reality of our history of aggression, genocide, racism and greed. This is not a flag-waving, happy time Dharma talk. Jack challenges us a look at the “greatest wound in American society”, racism, and to use Buddhist teachings to work towards healing America. Jack also candidly explores his own racism and other forms of racism.

Jack Kornfield repeatedly states that the small sense of self is the basis of all fear. Independence can be interpreted as being separate from others, in which case it leads to suffering. This type of independence in its extreme is isolation.

Jack discusses two domains or Buddhist vehicles for freedom:
• The first domain for freedom is letting go
• Letting go – through practices of generosity, integrity, virtue and kindness
• A kind of sacrifice – giving up greed for generosity and kindness
• The second domain for freedom is realizing an underlying shift of identity
• A shift away from identifying with money, belongings, status, body and mind
• Realizing that all boundaries are not real

Jack reminds us that real independence can be achieved by realizing interdependence.

A quote that really resonated with me:

Let us bear in mind that a society will not be judged by the standards attained by its wealthiest and most privileged members, but by the quality of life it is able to ensure for the weakest of them.


Evil: a Buddhist perspective

This Sunday, Jeffrey provided an overview of Stephen Batchelor’s key ideas in his book, Living with the Devil, followed by a talk by Batchelor. He rejects the dualistic conception of Mara or Satan or The Devil as embodiments of pure evil; and of Buddha as pure good, to instead tease out the subtle nature of the devil as “the adversary”, the one who blocks our paths.

Mara stands for those patterns of behavior that long for the security of clinging to something real and permanent rather than facing the question posed by being a transient and contingent creature. “It makes no difference what you grasp,” said Buddha, “When someone grasps, Mara stands behind them.” 

Even after their awakening, Mara approaches Buddha and his followers. Mara never is defeated, always close at hand. Why “always”? Evolution produced our capacity for greed, hatred, delusion as survival mechanisms. As long as we are in a body, these will be our faithful companions. 

Theme: If we let go of the personifications, then Buddha stands for a capacity of openness, awareness, freedom, and Mara represents confusion, closure, restriction. To live with the Devil is to live with the perpetual conflict between one’s Buddha-nature and one’s Mara-nature.

The video was excerpted from a long playlist of videos available here.