Right Effort

During this week’s Sangha, Jeffrey facilitated the topic of Right Effort. A talk by Ayya Anandabodhi and the discussion focused on improving one’s practice through pursuit of Right Effort, the 6th element in the Eightfold Path.

Right Effort addresses the quality of effort, proper amount of effort, and finding the appropriate approach to each situation. All of that constitutes skillfulness. The Buddha laid out Four Tasks or Exertions that constitute Right Effort:

  1. Preventing the arising of unwholesome states
  2. Abandoning unwholesome states that have arisen
  3. Cultivating the arising of wholesome states
  4. Maintaining wholesome states.

Jeffrey chose the topic because he felt his practice was stagnant. A vibrant practice includes curiosity, energy and joy. The group discussed their experiences in meditation and how curiosity, energy and joy can be cultivated.

Resources:
– Talk on Right Effort by Ayya Anandabodhi: http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/379/talk/49511/
– The Joy of Effort – Thanissaro Bikkhu: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/joyeffort.html
– “Right Effort” in The Noble Eightfold Path – Thannissaro Bikkhu: https://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/eightfoldPath_150211.pdf

Practicing Justice

This past week Ginny guided our reflections, exploring the deep connections that arise between our formal practice and our engagement with our communities, large and small. How does our practice on the cushion support our vibrant presence amidst a challenging world? She played excerpts from Angel Kyodo Williams and Natalie Goldberg to provide different perspectives on the question.

in search of SANGHA

When I came to Vermont – almost 10 years ago, it was in search of sangha – of community that was bringing together the practice of meditation with the work of creating a more just society. In retrospect – I think I was searching for respite from the pain and challenge that facing injustice required.
Waking up to ideas around privilege, what it means to be a white person in this country with its history of stolen land and slavery, I found myself tapping into a well of shame and fear that was paralyzing.

“It is probable that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

My early response was to “be good”. To do the “right” thing (nothing new here – a lifelong pattern). And really that was about my own comfort and sense of self, and my need for belonging and approval. In my early meditation practice I was seeking peace, goodness – relief from suffering. It was separate from work, another path, in part because the spaces I was in did not integrate spiritual practice and work for justice.

My practice has become one that allows me to be with suffering, deepening understanding, being with what is, rather than seeking to avoid it.

WELCOMING

Today my practice has become one of continuing to welcome the feelings and stay with them, rather than turn away or avoid the fear. To create space for the exploration of history – to create space for the pain and experience of others – to create space for the enduring tensions that cannot be solved or fixed in my lifetime. To turn toward, rather than turning away from the truth of suffering.

“Welcome the very thing that we don’t want…SO that we don’t prevent the healing that might occur when we give it space and time.” Gil Fronsdal
Audio Dharma – https://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/9120.html
Gil’s Talk – Dharmette, Welcoming from 7.18.2018 – through 9:40

PRESENCE

Vibrant presence – moment by moment – welcoming all of it.
The gift of being present – to ourselves and one another. Instead of needing to fix things, taking on the responsibility of centuries of oppression and harm.
This is relevant in the smallest things – and in the enduring challenges of our time.

Page 98 Radical Dharma

“It turns out that far from dragging you down, one of the most liberating things you can do is the come to terms with the fact that some form of you suffering will always be there. To really be present with that unhooks us from the constant anxiety of trying to make it go away. Paradoxically, one we release the proposition that we are going to get rid of suffering, then the potential to alleviate the suffering becomes possible.” Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sensei

Tenderness – and compassion come in when I am able to allow myself to fully experience something. To be fully present to it. By not turning away from the history of injustice, from the terror and pain that has been wrought by the dominant culture – there is the potential for healing, and liberation.
Again – that idea from Gil
“Welcome the very thing that we don’t want…SO that we don’t prevent the healing that might occur when we give it space and time.” Gil

LOVE

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” James Baldwin

The Place Where We Are Right
~ Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood

Avija

This week Stephen led our Sangha’s discussion, examining the depth of the concept of “Avija”.

Early Buddhism sees Avijja (Ignorance/Misunderstanding)/Confusion/Delusion/’Not Getting It’) as the root cause leading to suffering. Avijja is seen as including misconceptions regarding the nature of reality, especially regarding Impermanence, Suffering, and Non-Self/Emptiness. Such misunderstandings lead onwards to the pursuit of grasping and clinging as (ultimately ineffectual) strategies for obtaining happiness.

Although the normal, mundane, everyday mind can intellectually grasp the doctrines of Impermanence, Suffering, and Non-Self/Emptiness, and can understand the validity of the Noble Four Fold Truths as the path leading to the end of suffering, it is not freed from such suffering. Only when the mind is cultivated to manifest the Awakening Factors can it truly grasp the truths that can free it.

Therefore, practitioners must train in ways of living that lead to non-regret and ease, and then utilize that ease to support and further develop mindfulness, stillness, concentration and clarity. Only when developed thusly can the mind ‘see things as they really are’ and be freed

The talk Stephen played was by Akincano Marc Weber, titled ‘Flavors Of Not-Knowing’. It is available here:

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/360/talk/51197/

Our North Star

Britt guided our reflections this week, exploring our personal North Stars. Reconnecting with what brought us to practice, and probing why we continue to do so, can affirm and reinvigorate our commitments to awakening into presence.

Britt played a talk by Michele McDonald called “Spiritual Urgency and Awakening – Touched Completely by the Universe 18” which is available here:

http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/126/talk/33240/

She also played a talk by Donald Rothberg entitled “Twelve Reasons why we Practice”:

http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/55/talk/10705/

Skillful Effort: not too much, too little, but just right

Today Mike B offered a presentation centered around a dharma talk by Shaila Catherine, a teacher mainly known for her work in concentration. But the talk today was much more wide ranging, covering the many different aspects of Wise Effort. She made clear that a wide spectrum of effort can be appropriate in meditation, from light to intense – always with the alert not to ‘over-effort’. Further, she traced how the four kinds of effort that the Buddha himself outlined in his articulation of the eight-fold path offer a nuanced range of well focused approaches, differing according to the circumstances of the moment. The discussion that followed encompassed a wide variety of our sangha’s experience with finding the appropriate degree of effort to bring to our meditations.

https://audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/1170.html

Sense of Identity: where does it come from?

This week, Margaret guided our reflections as we continued the theme of identity from Lorilee’s Sangha last Sunday.

Margaret played excerpts from a talk by Rodney Smith:

http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/148/talk/38402/

Below are some quotes which were used during the discussion.

When you hear your inner voice, 
forget it.

-Hyoen Sahn

Krishnamurti: “It is the truth that liberates, not your efforts to be free”.

In teaching, the Buddha never spoke of humans as persons existing in some fixed or static way. Instead, he described us as a collection of five changing processes: the processes of the physical body, of feelings, of perceptions, of responses, and of the flow of consciousness that experiences them all. Our sense of self arises whenever we grasp at or identify with these patterns. The process of identification, of selecting patterns to call “I,” “me,” “myself,” is subtle and usually hidden from our awareness. We can identify with our body, feelings, or thoughts; we can identify with images, patterns, roles, and archetypes. (Kornfeld; article in Tricycle.)

The experience of self may be an illusion but without it we would be unable to function and this presents us with a question about the development or preservation of aspects of selfhood. Our experience of continuity allows us to make sense of the world we inhabit and our own internal narrative and it seems that some form of story must be present. In this regard the cognitive scientist Bruce Hood makes an important point by claiming that the brain itself creates narratives and that without them we would be incapable of making sense of the world we live in. Certainly, perceiving of the self as a narrative, or set of narratives is a rich arena for exploration and provides a useful basis for analysing the relationship between the individual self narrative and the collective social narratives. The questions then change. What stories allow us to wake up to our human condition? Which stories allow us to live well? How can we weave stories about our species that lead to better conditions for the many, instead of the few? How do we erect these stories self-consciously so that they do not become new forms of ideological imprisonment? This brings us into the history of sociology, religion, politics and economics: That is to say, those collective efforts throughout history to create tales, forms of collectivity that would respond to the questions concerning how we successfully co-exist and make sense of our lot.
Source: https://posttraditionalbuddhism.com/2016/12/15/identity-formation-and-buddhism-some-issues/

Freedom from inherent bias based on identity

This week, Lorilee led our Sangha discussion based on her current exploration of identity and bias in all types of relationships. She began by playing a brief video illustrating the layers of judgement we place on people and situations.

The video showed unsuspecting couples coming into a movie theater filled with tough-looking biker dudes and filmed their reaction to having to take the two remaining seats right smack in the middle of them; it is about judgement and identity.

Afterwards the discussion challenged us to explore awkwardness and discomfort; to engage with people we consider “others”. Who do we tend to socialize with, and who do you have a tendency not to socialize with? In challenging our inherent bias, it can be helpful to utilize Buddhist teachings about freedom and identity; to be proactive and expand our circle.

We also listened to an excerpt from Jack Kornfield’s talk at Spirit Rock entitled “Who Am I?”

https://jackkornfield.com/heart-wisdom-ep-67-who-am-i/

Compassion, Pain, and an Open Heart

Mike Blouin led our reflections this past Sunday, aided by a talk by Michele Macdonald, with whom he attended retreat this May. 

Difficulties such as pain and overwhelm can prompt in us a response of compassion rather than evasion, if we have come to understand the spirit of Kwan Yin (Guanyin), the buddhist patron of mercy.

The talk itself cannot be posted because it was available for retreatants only, but here are a few excerpts.

Excerpts from Michelle McDonald talk (from 5/25 – 6/2 retreat at IMS)

“So we’ve been offering different ways to understand what mindfulness is, which is including mindfulness of compassion. And one definition we gave, which is from Suzuki Roshi, in the book Beginner’s Mind, is “soft readiness”. And soft readiness is implying that anything can happen. And we tend to not quite get that….that the message of mindfulness if that you’re developing a mind strong enough to be with anything that happens. The more that you’re connected with that truth that anything can happen, the safer you are, the more protected you are…the more disconnected you are from that truth, the more we will tend to think that the appearance of pain is our fault, or someone else’s fault.”

“And when something unpleasant appears….we’re caught in believing we can control it. We believe we can push it away, or with pleasure passing, we believe we can hold on. And the Buddha said that the willingness to go through seeing this is what causes the end of suffering.

“When we want something, we tend to get caught up in the object of the wanting…when we’re caught up in the object, we are completely disconnected from reality. None of us want to be objectified and yet we do it a lot. In this practice, it takes even getting remotely protected and quiet to even be interested in this. Because if you pull the projection back from the object, you’re stuck with the pain of wanting. It hurts. Wanting hurts, but it’s totally okay. Wanting is okay, aversion is okay. It’s just being caught in it, being imprisoned by it, and then it’s acting on it…acting on this disconnection from reality that causes so much suffering. There’s the object of the fear, which has nothing to do with anything, and then the fear, which is the pain in the heart.

“This is a question and answer with a teacher named Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, from the book I Am That. The question is: but pain is not acceptable. And he answered: why not? Did you ever try? Do try, and you will find in pain a joy that pleasure cannot yield, for the simple reason that acceptance of pain takes you much deeper than pleasure does. The personal self by its very nature is constantly pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. The ending of this pattern is the ending of the self.

“If you’re having doubt, then just stop. It is one of the few times I will encourage someone to reflect back. The degree of doubt will be dependent on how painful something was, and how overwhelmed we got by it. Because if we’re not able to be mindful of pain, we tend to think that when we are overwhelmed by it, that it’s all our fault, even the appearance of pain is all our fault.”

“The Buddha described the proximate cause for the appearance of compassion, which is that pleasant feeling of caring about pain – the awareness is pleasant because it’s caring for pain – he said that the proximate cause for the appearance of compassion is the overwhelm we feel in the face of suffering. We tend to think of the helplessness we feel in the face of suffering, our own…that helplessness or the overwhelm, he said, is how compassion can arise.”