A Buddhist Perspective on the current situation

This week, in our second all-remote Sangha, Mike B guided our reflections on how to bring a Buddhist perspective to the current world-wide pandemic situation.

Here is a link to the Gil Fronsdal talk that Mike played: https://audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/11031.html

We also listened to an excerpt of an episode of the NY Times Daily podcast which you can hear at this link (the story we listened to starts at 12:20): https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/podcasts/the-daily/jobs-economy-coronavirus.html

At the end of the discussion Mike mentioned a book called The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Finally, Mike mentioned a poem which Ginny kindly shared with the group:

Gratitude Prayer
A gift from Kaylynn TwoTrees. Meant to be spoken aloud – add in what comes to your mind and heart as you extend your gratitude to all things seen and unseen  (…… -offer the names of the things of the season and your landscape, and memory)

Sun, Moon, Galaxies……
We are grateful to be part of you today
Mountains, valleys……
We are grateful to be part of you today
The earth beneath our feet
Soil, sand, clay….
We are grateful to be part of you today
Waters both salty and sweet
Rain, oceans, streams….
We are grateful to be part of you today
All the green
Plants, trees ……
We are grateful to be part of you today
All the winged creatures
Butterflies, hummingbirds, raven, crow…….
We are grateful to be part of you today
All the creatures who live under the ground
Groundhogs, earthworms…..
We are grateful to be part of you today
All the creatures who crawl on the skin of the mother
Ants, snakes…..
We are grateful to be part of you today
All the creatures of the waters both salty and sweet
Frogs, salamanders…….
We are grateful to be part of you today
All the 4 legged creatures
Domestic and wild….
We are grateful to be part of you today
All the human…..
Races, cultures, ages….
We are grateful to be part of you today
All the life forms in all the dimensions
All of the entities named and unnamed, remembered and forgotten, known and unknown
We are grateful to be part of you today

When letting go is the best strategy

This week, out of concern for the COVID-19 situation, we opted to host our sangha online for the first time, rather than in-person. It went well!

Appropriately to the times, Eveline took up the topic of letting go of expected outcomes, even as we take determined steps toward worthy goals. 

James Baraz, in his talk ‘Skillful Letting Go for Intense Times,’  asks us: when do we find ourselves toppling forward, and what does it feel like? How do worry and fear affect us?  Can mindfulness and clear intention guide us, even as circumstances change, in these uncertain times? 

You can listen to the talk here: https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/86/talk/61105/

Eveline’s notes are below:

The talk is about how we can let go of our desires for the future, which unsettles us, and live in the present moment.  If we’re going to be attached to something – we should try to be attached to the present moment.

Reaching out to the future through anticipation or attachment is unbalanced, causing worry and anxiety.  We don’t have enough information to know how it’s going to be and most certainly anything we imagine will be wrong.  Living in the ‘now’ is easy and manageable.  What we can do is think of the future, plan for the future, but don’t be attached to the outcome.  Trust that you can handle anything that happens at the time.

One step at a time – we’ve all been able to handle what’s come up in our lives so far, we can handle what comes up in the future as long as we can meet it in the present moment and not get overwhelmed with projections of what is to come.

Additionally, ‘action absorbs anxiety’ – real happiness comes from identifying our own strengths and offering them as contribution.  Have a vision of how you can make a difference in the world and then go out and do it.

Margaret also referred to a poem by an Irish priest (about which you can read more here), which is quoted below:

Lockdown

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM

Living Heartfully

Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart explores the path of living with ‘heartfulness,’ a tender and precise way of relating to our world.  This week, Jessica took up this theme through the personal story of Dipa Ma, known as the Patron Saint of Householders, and a primary teacher of Jack’s.

During the discussion, Jessica referenced and read from an article in Lion’s Roar, available here. She also played a talk by Jack Kornfield, given just after Dipa Ma’s passing, which you can listen to here:

https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/85/talk/11168/

The four noble truths

This week Barry brought our attention to the Four Noble Truths. He read selections aloud from Ajahn Sumedo’s book of the same name, with the goal of inviting us to reflect on our practice in the context of this foundational teaching.

In his book, Ajahn Sumedo contends that the teaching of and reflection upon the Four Noble Truths has been marginalized in favor of teachings that appear more “advanced” or esoteric, and therefore somehow more attractive to modern practitioners. Barry encouraged us to re-engage with this fundamental teaching of the Buddha, and explore the ways in which a renewed examination of the Four Noble Truths (specifically, the First Noble Truth) may lead us to fresh insights.

Anatta: Entry into the Formless

This past Sunday Bobby focused our Sangha’s thoughts on anatta, the concept of no self. Anatta is the doctrine that there is in humans no permanent, underlying substance, that the stories we tell about ourselves to construct an identity are empty and meaningless. We suffer when we perceive ourselves as separate, instead of embracing our connection to everyone and everything. 

To help facilitate and explore the experience of anatta, Bobby presented a guided meditation from Ajahn Punnadhammo entitled “Entry into the Formless” (link posted with permission). This guided meditation is based on the Cula-suññata sutta: the Lesser Discourse on Voidness.

Ajahn Punnadhammo is the abbot of Arrow River Forest Hermitage in Northern Ontario. He has studied and practiced Buddhism since 1979, and was ordained in Thailand in the Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah in 1992.

Below are Bobby’s notes on the talk:

The three characteristics of being:  anicca: impermanence; dukkha: suffering; anatta, , not self

“There is no self.”

Thanissaro Bhikku: The one time the Buddha was asked point-blank if there is or isn’t a self, he refused to answer  he stated that the views “I have a self” and “I have no self” are both a thicket of views that leave you stuck in suffering. When the Buddha taught not-self (anatta) — as opposed to no self — he was recommending a strategy for overcoming attachment, a way of cutting through the mind’s tendency to cling to things by claiming them as “me” or “mine.”  The Buddha never said that “There is no separate self” either. He declined to get involved in the issue of whether any kind of self exists or doesn’t exist.

All suffering arises from identifying anything as me or mine. The Buddha actually said that people suffer because they identify with things that change. When the mind is strong enough that it doesn’t need to identify with anything, that’s when there’s no more suffering.

Dogen Zenji: To study the self is to forget the self……or,   To study the self is to know the self. To know the self is to forget the self.  

Ram Dass:  Dharma is designed to get rid of basic ignorance from which suffering arises. Suffering arises from the ignorance of separateness. Not that separateness isn’t part of the dance, it’s our identification with our separateness. Source of suffering.  

Zen koan: Searching for owner of empty house not finding anyone. who is doing the looking?

The simile of a chariot. When broken up into pieces can you find the essence of chariot?   “Chariot” is the name for the conglomeration of parts in proper order.  So it is with human beings. There is body, feelings, perceptions ,mental formations of consciousness.  But we can’t find essence in just these factors, the five aggregates.  The individual components of body and mind are empty of substance

In Tibetan Buddhism  it is said that nothing exists from its own side. No phenomenon is a self-existent entity. It only exists because of causes and conditions.  Nothing inside or outside can be singled out as a self-existing substantial entity. 

Aristotle: Western things have essence and changing qualities. Buddhism says no essence to be found. No self-existent thing. What we identify as as a thing is only convention a reflection or result of interplay of other things. Momentarily existing entities. Nothing you identify as a self within organism.  

Joseph Goldstein: The Big Dipper is just a random conglomeration of seven stars. But it is shaped in such a way that we give it a name and imbue it with stories. So it is with an identification of self. 

Ajahn Punnadhammo: In meditation, we look at the body and the mind closely and all we find are different factors including the factor of knowing which in itself is impersonal, conditional, relational and empty of substance. There is knowing and the known but no one doing the knowing. 
To impose a self into the system to insert a self is mental shorthand, ignorance. If we look at any given moment, we can’t find a self. It is an unnecessary and extraneous concept. 

Compassion as a Practice

This past Sunday Joey offered the guidance of several teachers to deepen both our questions and our commitment in the practice of compassion.

We began with a guided meditation by Tara Brach using the practice of “RAIN” for self-compassion. We then listened to Gil Fronsdal in an excerpt from his thought-provoking dharma talk, “Don’t Give Up Your Own Welfare for the Welfare of Others”.

https://www.tarabrach.com/meditation-rain-compassion/  A Guided Meditation on RAIN from Tara Brach’s website.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3nMF54MnJo  Talk by Tara Brach in which she leads the practice of RAIN.  Start at 50:17

https://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/9139.html  Gil Fronsdal’s talk, Don’t Give Up Your Own Welfare for the Welfare of Others.

Expanding our Experience of Sangha

Jeffrey J led a session on Expanding Our Experience of Sangha this week.

Our Sangha operates somewhat on a “drop-in” basis. Where might we take the sense of “community” in Sangha? Other “religions” offer much in terms of interaction and spaghetti dinners. How might we reflect on, and nudge, our understanding of “Sangha”?We will engage with each other to listen, ask, offer what we can about what our practice is, where we want to take it, what we can offer to each other.

 Thich Nhat Hanh writes, ” A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. “

Our civilization, our culture, has been characterized by individualism. The individual wants to be free from the society, from the family. The individual does not think he or she needs to take refuge in the family or in the society, and thinks that he or she can be happy without a sangha. That is why we do not have solidity, we do not have harmony, we do not have the communication that we so need.

The practice is, therefore, to grow some roots. The sangha is not a place to hide in order to avoid your responsibilities. The sangha is a place to practice for the transformation and the healing of self and society. When you are strong, you can be there in order to help society. If your society is in trouble, if your family is broken, if your church is no longer capable of providing you with spiritual life, then you work to take refuge in the sangha so that you can restore your strength, your understanding, your compassion, your confidence. And then in turn you can use that strength, understanding and compassion to rebuild your family and society, to renew your church, to restore communication and harmony. This can only be done as a community—not as an individual, but as a sangha.

In order for us to develop some roots, we need the kind of environment that can help us become rooted. A sangha is not a community of practice in which each person is an island, unable to communicate with each other—this is not a true sangha. No healing or transformation will result from such a sangha. A true sangha should be like a family in which there is a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood

https://www.lionsroar.com/the-practice-of-sangha/

Participants broke in small groups to practice mindful listening of each other’s experience of, and needs around, our sangha. We then reconvened to share out. Some of the notes from that sharing. Our sangha…

  • is a safe space to practice, to speak from body and heart, feeling of community without judgement or responsibility
  • fosters willingness to share, to show what we are grappling with
  • provides accountability because it is there every week
  • offers a rooting connection, the comfort of kinship, compassion
  • is an anchor, weekly medicine
  • helps me remember the teachings through discussion, energizes how teachings apply in my life
  • is a grounding spot after retreats. 
  • is a place to practice metta for dealing with others
  • tea in the middle is really nice

Thoughts on what might change:

  • develop more of a “community” sense? Potluck gathering?
  • Consider tea at the end?
  • consider social justice action as a non-partisan “community of concern” that builds bridges as opposed to take sides. Example of group holding space in discussions between local citizens and police.
  • Doing a “retreat day” of greater length
  • “Hosts” vs “guests” 

Ways to engage with political & environmental turmoil

Lorilee guided our reflections as we continue our sangha’s discussions around how to approach the particular complexities that life presents us with today, given political and environmental turmoil.  We listened to and discussed a talk given by Donald Rothberg at Spirit Rock on “Metta (Lovingkindness), Equanimity, and Daily Life Practice”. The talk is available here:

https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/55/talk/60427/

Martin Luther King Jr. and Buddhist Thought

Martin Luther King Jr. was a revolutionary thinker and embodied the Buddhist traits of lovingkindness, compassion, and fearlessness in the face of the Eight Worldly Winds. Though a Christian minister, he was exposed to Buddhist philosophy through his correspondence with Vietnamese monk and fellow peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh and even nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. This Sunday, Mike B. skillfully guided the Sangha as we explored the intersections of King’s teachings and Buddhist ones.

The discussion was centered around a sermon given by Dr. King in 1957, which you can listen to here: