The natural world, environmentalism, and buddhism

After leaving his cushy palace home in search of deeper insight into life, the Buddha spent most of his life in the outdoors, walking the roads, living in forests, sitting at the edges of rivers.  Most of the instructions on how to meditate begin with the direction to find the base of a tree at which to sit. And when his very right to awaken was challenged by Mara, the Buddha simply placed his hand on the earth, calling it to bear witness in his favor. 
     The deep interconnection between the dharma and nature continues to the present, when Buddhist teachers such as Joanna Macy are among the most articulate and forceful advocates for the environment.  This Sunday, Mike Blouin guided our reflections, drawing on Macy’s passion and acuteness of insight. 

You can listen to Joanna’s excellent talk here:


Perpetual change and letting go

Perhaps the easiest fundamental of the Dharma for almost everyone to agree with is anicca – that everything changes. On the surface, at least, it seems like common sense.  But if that is the case, why do we find it so difficult to let go of our preferences, attachments, and long-held ideas?  Sam guided our reflections on this conundrum today, enhancing our discussion with a guided meditation by Tara Brach and an excerpt of a dharma talk by Eugene Cash.

The guided meditation is available here:

Eugene’s talk is available here:


The Eight Worldly Winds, and how to navigate with them

This Sunday Margaret guided our reflections on the Buddha’s advice about how to deal with what he called the eight “worldly winds,” which are often paired as

gain and loss,
pleasure and pain,
praise and blame,
fame and shame.

“Wind” is a wonderful characterization for these circumstances, because they are as much beyond our control as is the wind, even as they may affect us profoundly, even changing the course of our lives. We based our discussion on a talk given by Zohar Lavie at Gaia House.

You can listen to the talk here:

And here is the translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu of the Lokavipatti Sutta, on which Zohar bases her talk:



Last week Ginny led us in reflection on why we practice.   Lorilee built on that theme today, with a teaching on developing gracefulness in the face of suffering.  “Dukka is part of the deal,” states Eugene Cash. Buddhism teaches to become “bigger containers” for this world’s challenges.  Suffering itself can call forth a grace in the art of living. Andin the end, growing our own inner harmony can be our largest contribution to our community and our planet.

The talk is available here:


Living the Practice

Highlighting the centrality of Karma, Thich nhat Hanh said, “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.”

In leading our discussion, Ginny focused this Sunday on how our meditation practice supports us in our daily actions. Why sit? Why walk? How can we water the seeds of love and wholesome actions through a life of dedicated practice?

Beautiful Chorus – Be Like Water

“Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations, but fall to our level of training.”

Bruce Lee

The talk, Gil Fronsdal – Kalyana – The Beauty of Practice, is here:

“It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas
which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, totally without
rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in light of this idea, it goes without
saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be
complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s
own life, accept these injustices as commonplace, but must fight them with all
one’s strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to
my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.”

James Baldwin from Notes of a Native Son

“The wave does not need to die to become water. She is already water. [this is the concentration of the Lotus Sutra] Live every moment of your life deeply, and while walking, eating, drinking, and looking at the morning star, you touch the ultimate dimension.”

from TNH Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings p.112


Forgiveness is both possible and necessary. It is never too late to find forgiveness and to start again.  Buddhist psychology offers specific teachings and practices for redemption and the development of forgiveness.  Like the practice of compassion, forgiveness does not ignore the truth of our suffering.  Forgiveness is not weak.  It demands courage and integrity.  Yet only forgiveness and love can bring about the peace we long for.  This week Stephanie guided our reflections on the possibility and necessity of forgiveness by sharing a dharma talk by Phillip Moffitt and encouraging a discussion of his offerings on the topic.

You can listen to the talk yourself here:


The Three Keys

At the heart of the Buddha’s understanding and practice are the Marks of Existence, the three characteristics that are true of all things: the normality of suffering, the pervasiveness of change, and the absence of an enduring individual self.  As excerpts from several talks selected by Sam demonstrated this Sunday, we can return to these insights again and again, each time encountering fresh perspectives that arrest the mind and heal the heart.

The full talks are linked below.

Kamala Masters 2017-12-08 46:38

46:38 Part 2 – The Three Universal Marks of Existence

Perth, Australia: Perth Insight Meditation Retreat

John Peacock 2011-07-03 45:43

45:43 What is this Path of Mindfulness?

Gaia House: The Path of Mindfulness

Howard Cohn 2011-01-07 65:43

65:43 Song of Awakening: Confronting the Three Marks of Existence

Spirit Rock Meditation Center: Monday and Wednesday Talk


Equanimity, further developed

Last week’s three short talks by Matthew Brensilver presented new perspectives on topics such as delusion and clinging, and engendered a very fertile discussion. Equanimity is not about the future or the present, but about accepting what has already come to pass without distorting it with the delusion that disguises our strategies of evasion.

This week Jeff focused our discussion on two related short talks by Brensilver. The first focuses on our anticipations, and the second on the ways in which “performing the self” enhances our pain, rather than providing the reassurance that it seems to promise.  Getting past this performance of the self we arrive at the wonder and openness of equanimity. 


Equanimity – Beyond Balance, into Something New

Equanimity comes at the end of several key lists in Buddhism and is considered a culminating practice by many. However, a strategy of waiting until you nearly reach the end of the path to develop equanimity may not yield the greatest fruit. Jeff led our continued exploration of cultivating equanimity featuring excerpts from three short talks by Matthew Brensilver from a five-talk series on equanimity given at the Insight Meditation Center.

Matthew reminds us that equanimity is not passivity. Instead, equanimity enlivens our commitment to non-harming and to eliminating suffering. And significantly, Matthew points out that the middle way described by the Buddha is not the “average” of two extremes, but is a radical departure from either extreme and their opposition, with the potential for true freedom.

You can listen to the whole series at the following links, but we listened specifically to the talks numbered 1, 3, and 5.

Some of the pearls of wisdom from Matthew’s talks.

  • Equanimity is a non-compulsion around our preferences. We still have preferences, but we do not have a compulsion to enact them in the world. We no longer have a feeling that the moment can be fixed.
  • Ajahn Sumedho – “Desire is not the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is grasping of desire.”
  • On the subtlety of delusion: Delusion feels exactly like the truth until it doesn’t. How can we see what we can’t see? Delusion is very subtle – it “launders” our greed and hatred. It serves to justify and dignify the forces of greed and hatred. Launder greed and it looks like hope, and fun and excitement. Launder hatred and it looks like righteousness, clarity and discernment.
  • Pain met with equanimity is a cause for love. The capacity to bring difficulty into attention is profound and is the basis for not spilling our suffering on others. Our self-regulation fails when equanimity is absent.
  • Matthew presents the two extremes which the Buddha rejected:
    • Extreme 1: Everything means everything. There is no rest
    • Extreme 2: Nothing means anything. Love dissolves.
  • In the Buddha’s middle path equanimity purifies our compassion. Our compassion becomes less compulsive, less codependent, less grandiose and less self-righteous. Actions arising from equanimity are more potent than actions arising from clinging. We are less intimidated by the enormity of dukkha when are are confident that the heart can rest in peace, or equanimity.

The Physical Path to Equanimity

Equanimity is clearly an important aspect of dharma practice – it’s one of the four Brahma Viharas, and is the seventh Factor of Awakening. We often seek a mental path to arrive at this state of being – attempting to reason ourselves into balance and non-reactivity. But a more direct way is available, through looking deeply into our somatic sensations and working with these bodily expressions of our mind/heart state— as we find it, and as it develops in practice sessions. This week, Sarah brought a talk and other insights from Jill Shepherd to help to clarify this approach.

We listened to excerpts from several talks:

Sarah also read the following quote by Jill on the interdependent nature of the Brama Viharas, which you can also find here.

The Four Sublime Abidings

Metta, [kindness] the love that connects, is an antidote to all forms of aversion.

It is not attachment.

If it slides into sentimentality, karuna [compassion] brings the heart back into balance.

Karuna, the love that responds, is an antidote to cruelty. 

It is not pity.

If it slides into sorrow, mudita [appreciative joy] brings the heart back into balance.

Mudita, the love that celebrates, is an antidote to envy.

It is not competitive.

If it slides into agitated excitement, upekkha [equanimity] brings the heart back into balance.

Upekkha, the love that allows, is the antidote to partiality.

It is not indifference.

If it slides into disconnection, metta brings the heart back into balance.