Four Truths, Tasks, or Vows

What are the Four Noble Truths? Buddhist practice epouses practice and insight, and yet the core teaching of the path is a short list of statements. How can we look at this teaching from another perspective? Perhaps the Truths are meant to be activity rather than philosophy.

This week Eric played a talk by Stephen Batchelor on the Four Noble Truths and how they are reflected in traditional vows taken by some monastic traditions.

The point is that each of these “truths” is something to be acted upon in a specific way. The point of the Dharma is not to persuade yourself that life is suffering… the point of the practice is to embrace suffering. It’s to fully know Dukkha… To say “yes” to the life situation that confronts you in this moment. These are tasks to be recognized, performed, and accomplished. They are not truths to be believed or disbelieved.

Stephen Batchelor

You may wish to examine this chart as a reference to the comparison of the Four Truths, the Four Tasks, and the Four Vows:

You can listen to Stephen’s talk here:


How Nature reveals dharma

The natural world offers us readily accessible opportunities to become intimate with the wisdom and qualities we work so hard to cultivate in enclosed spaces. Bringing our bodies and our senses into the present, nature reveals the laws of dharma, things just as they are.

Mark Coleman’s talk, “The Wisdom of Nature Practice,” presents a unique way of being in nature. In it he describes the art of being outdoors with a contemplative presence and points us to the insights that can be derived by practicing it. Stephanie brought this talk to our sangha this week.

You can listen to this talk here:


Dharma & the Ancient Wisdom traditions

The time before, during, and after the teaching career of the Buddha were rich in other Wisdom traditions worldwide. Some of these can shed light on the dharma with implications for a richer practice. Michael guided our discussion of these intersections this week and their possible potential.

Some quotes from the talk and discussion:


Stand still. 

The trees ahead and the bushes beside you are not lost.

Wherever you are is called Here. 

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger. 

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes.  Listen.  It answers.  

I have made this place around you.  

If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.  

No two branches are the same to Wren.  

If what a tree, or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost.

Stand still. 

The forest knows where you are.  

You must let it find you.

—from the Indigenous American tradition

Instructions for Living a Life
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

—Mary Oliver

To be happy you must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passion, and learned your place in the world.

—George Santayana

Social Anxiety and Buddhism

While it’s not a new phenomenon by any means, the physical distance created between people by the Pandemic has made the topic of social anxiety much more ubiquitous in our culture. The fear of judgement by others, always present in our minds, can suddenly be debilitating. This can make everyday activities become traumatic events and it can be challenging to explain such behavior to our friends and loved ones since doing so reinforces that very fear. We may sense further judgement from ourselves to just “deal with it”. What can Buddhist practice offer us as a real antidote to this experience? In this week’s Sangha, Payton explored the topic of social anxiety, using Buddhism’s practices to see how it functions and what we might be able to do about it.

When I have social anxiety it feels like this:

  • Fear of not knowing what to say and not being prepared.
  • Fear of saying the wrong thing.
  • Fear of what I say causing the other to dislike me.
  • Exhaustion with having to become who the other expects me to be.
  • Fear of disappointing the other or not being what they need from me.
  • Exhaustion with having to read the words and body language of the other in order to understand what they really mean.
  • Exhaustion with having to summarize my experience in a way that others can understand.
  • Discomfort of having to context switch from something I’m focused on.

A summary of my exploration of this topic:

  1. What is happening?
    I am anxious about judgement and work hard to make others comfortable.
  2. Why is this happening?
    A lack of self-confidence and fear of the unknown.
  3. What practices may help?
    Remembering the eight worldly winds, remembering that no one is immune to blame, returning to the body, willingness to stay with suffering and not escape, touching the earth, practices of impermanence, and all practices of not-self.

Verse 227: It is not new, O Atula! It has always been done from ancient times. They blame one who is silent, they blame one who speaks much, they blame one who speaks little. There is no one in this world who is not blamed.

Verse 228: There never has been, there never will be, nor is there now, anyone who is always blamed or always praised.

– Dhammapada, verse 227, 228 from

Looking more deeply at the experience:

  • I want others to feel comfortable but doing so is a lot of work.
  • Why do I want others to be comfortable? Because in their place I would want to be comfortable. For strangers, it’s also because comfortable people are less likely to be dangerous/make me uncomfortable. So the motivation is both kindness and fear.
  • Why is it a lot of work? Because I have to stop paying attention to my own needs and instead read the other and adjust my behavior with all my awareness. Depending on conditions this can be easy or hard. With less information, like when I’m on a phone call, this is more difficult still.
  • Due to the effort required, even thinking about social interaction can be aversive and causes me to avoid interactions entirely, particularly when I am tired or stressed.
  • Underlying beliefs that cause this are a lack of self-confidence and fear of the unknown. I feel inherently unlikable and that my behavior may make others uncomfortable. Uncomfortable people at best don’t want to be friends and at worst may want to cause me harm.

A brief talk on the topic of social anxiety:

Here’s some additional material I gathered as part of the research for this talk:

We need suffering in order to see the path. The origin of suffering, the sensation of suffering, and the path leading to the cessation of suffering are all found in the heart of suffering. If we are afraid to touch our suffering, we will not be able to realize the path of peace, joy, and liberation. Don’t run away. Touch your suffering and embrace it. Make peace with it. Buddha said, “the moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.“ If you know what has come to be and how it has come to be, you are already on the way to emancipation.

– The heart of the Buddha’s teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

A talk by Maria Straatmann on anxiety and the dharma:

An excerpt from the Attadanda Sutta:

A talk by Gil Fronsdal on anxiety in general:

A report of an experience with anxiety that was helped by the practice:


Unresolved pain in the heart

Last week’s sangha conversation ended on the topic of dealing with the dissatisfaction of our current worldly condition and the ‘death of optimism.’ This week, Evelien played off of that topic and the concept of ‘death and rebirth’ with Mark Nunberg’s talk called ‘Meeting and Healing the Unresolved Pain in the Heart’.  

Mark Nunberg talks about the difficulty of trying to be present when something is asking for our attention.  This could be something from our past, which is Mark’s focus, but it could also be a concern with the present or fear for the future.  Mark discusses that a gratitude, metta, or appreciative joy practice may be the medicine that can help our heart digest and process this pain, not dismissing it, but bringing it to a point of healing.

You can listen to Mark’s talk here:


Easter, Death and Rebirth – a Buddhist perspective

On this Easter Weekend, Drawing on a talk by Matthew Brensilver, Sam guided our reflections on the themes of death, renewal and rebirth from the Buddhist point of view. Points of divergence, similarity, and resonance between the Christian and Dharmic perspectives can enhance our sense of the meaning of this season for all.

Sam played excerpts from these talks:

Death and the Poignancy of Life, by Matthew Brensilver, 12-17-19

On Death | Monday Night Talk, by Jack Kornfield

Some things mentioned in the talks:

When things go missing, by Kathryn Schulz

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

A Year to Live:  How to Live This Year As If It Were Your Last,  by Stephen Levine

This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, by Martin Hagglund

Be crumbled.
So wild flowers will come
up where you are.
You have been stony for
too many years.
Try something different.  

— Rumi

Right Action Here; Right Action Now

There is comfort in the dharma’s ability to remain relevant and impactful over thousands of years. Yet while these seemingly timeless universal truths can anchor our navigation of the life experience, at times it can be important, if not essential, to pause and consider how the teachings pertain to the uniqueness of life on earth at this moment. This week’s presentation examined one practice of the Eightfold Path that especially benefits from consideration of these dual perspectives: Right Action.  

Andrea drew from talks by Andrea Fella and Jill Shepard to provide a brief overview of Right Action, offer its basic historical foundation, and translate the intentions into modern day application. Selected subtopics of moral weight, vegetarianism, and an expanded understanding of abstaining from stealing complicate our thinking on Right Action in contemporary times.

Here are the three talks about Right Action excerpted today:

Andrea Fella, Wise Action Part 1:

Andrea Fella, Wise Action 2:

Jill Shepard:


Where does the mind disappear to, and why?

The idea of staying mindfully present seems so elegant and simple.  Why is it so difficult to do?  Borrowing metaphors from a recent talk by Mark Nunberg, instead of maintaining attention on what is being known in the moment, we get “lost in the whirlpools of the mind,” and our minds create narratives for experience,  “reacting to reverberations of kharma”.  This Sunday, Margaret drew from a talk by Matthew Brensilver to explore how our memories of the past and our ruminations about the future relate to our attempts to be fully in the present. 

You can listen to Matthew’s talk here:


Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The very American political affirmation of the values of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness takes on new meanings when framed in a Buddhist context.  Steve guided our reflections on seeing this familiar phrase through a new lens, drawing on a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh. 

You can listen to the talk here:



We usually associate change with lots of moving around, but deep change comes through stillness. It’s associated with pleasure – not sense pleasure but heart pleasure. It’s a shift to learn to pause and lift from the engagement.

Citta (heart/mind) qualities come through in this stillness and we can meet what arises with openness and goodwill. At some point in our practice, heart/mind takes on an energy of its own. We no longer sneak a look at our watch as we sit. Things quiet down but there is still a lot going on. We breathe or are we “being breathed?” We feel a bigger landscape. The stillness carries us along and we need to care for it and not stir things up. We can sit without effort. Our posture improves on its own. It is a long time between thoughts.

Don S. guided our Sangha this Sunday, examining the nature of stillness, accompanied by a talk from Ajahn Sucitto, which you can listen to at the link below: