Death as an Advisor

As we move towards winter and the turning in of the natural world, we can draw from the season’s qualities of stillness, introspection and dormancy to contemplate death as an advisor. When we attune to the reality of death, we can illuminate what is most important to us and strengthen our ability to come into presence and wakefulness. Carina guided us through an exploration of impermanence through personal story, an excerpt of Tara Brach’s talk, “The Four Remembrances” and discussion.

The following resources were offered:

The Four Remembrances – Tara Brach:

The Wisdom of No Escape – Pema Chödrön (Carina read a passage from the chapter, “Joy”)

My Opinion, Your Opinion, the Truth

Considering our current political climate, and the upcoming holidays where people who have very different opinions may be gathering, Denise guided our reflections to focus on Views and how much they impact how we interact with our internal selves as well as others. Excerpts from Shaila Catherine’s talk titled “Opinions and Truth” provided useful perspectives for the discussion.

The talk is available here:

Discovering Beauty

An under-appreciated but deeply valuable theme in the dharma of early buddhism is cultivating the ability to see the world, others, and oneself as beautiful. 

Practices that cultivate opening to the experience of beauty were the theme of our explorations on Sunday, and we explored them in several ways, ranging from reading, listening to recorded teachings, experimenting with Sensory Awareness, and discussion. 

Michael guided our reflections, with help from Gil Fronsdal, Jack Kornfield, Galway Kinnell, and Charlotte Selver.

Here are links to the media used:

Re-shaping Karma: the power of intention

This past Sunday, Evelien drew from a talk by Sally Clough Armstrong on Intention.

Sally Clough Armstrong led an IMS talk about Equanimity, Intention and Karma. “We are the heirs of our actions” is a liberating realization that our choices along the way have led us to be right where we are. With wisdom and compassion we can understand how we got here and with intention we can choose how to respond, rather than react, to it.

“All beings are the owners of their own actions/karma.  Even though the past may account for the suffering and inequalities in life, our measure as human beings is not in the hand we’ve been dealt but in the way we play the had we’ve got.” 

The talk is available here:

Self and The Path

This past Sunday, Stephen guided our reflections, exploring how effective practice can lead to a mind prepared to achieve insights into the nature of the self.  Using a short talk by Culadasa, we discussed the specific process by which lasting transformations can be achieved.

Karma in everyday life

This Sunday Patrick guided our reflections, on the topic of Karma and Reincarnation, drawing on a talk by Joseph Goldstein about the role that karma plays in our everyday lives and the consequences of our volitional acts, including some consideration of reincarnation. 

We explored the different beliefs people have about reincarnation, the role it might have in our spiritual and meditation practice, and the sometimes confusing fit between the practical and numinous aspects of Buddhism.

The talk Patrick played can be found here:

Are we creating our own reality?

To what extent do we create our own reality with our perceptions and ruminations?  This week Margaret guided our reflections, using excerpts from talks by Christina Feldman to explore the ways in which mindfulness of moods can help us discern when our experience is clouded and when it is sharpened by our mental processes and our conditioning.

The talks that were played were from a retreat, so they are not publicly available.

We began the sitting by reflecting on our underlying mood at that moment, and on how such moods affect how we view and interact with what is around us.  In addition, based on the talk by Christina Feldman, we considered two models that give some insight into how we construct our reality. The first of these goes as follows:

Where there is contact, there is feeling tone; What we feel we perceive; What we perceive, we think about; What we think about, we proliferate about; What we proliferate about, we dwell upon; What we dwell upon, becomes the shape of our mind; And the shape of our mind becomes the shape of our world.

The second model goes as follows:

Where there is contact, there is feeling tone; Feeling tone is the condition for craving; Craving is the condition for clinging;  [identification] Clinging is the condition for becoming. 

Homelessness and Homecoming of the Heart

As well as being experienced in the outer world, the suffering of inner homelessness and and the joy of inner homecoming can be felt acutely as parts of the journey toward spiritual and psychological maturity.  Sam guided our reflections this Sunday, drawing particularly on the insights of Christina Feldman.

We listened to a talk by Christina Feldman, given July 10, 2019 at the IMS, titled “Homelessness and homecoming”. We cannot post this talk here but if you’d like to hear it again, please contact Sam directly.

At the start of our meeting, Sam read two quotes, which follow.

After asking the Buddha ten standard philosophical questions, Vacchagotta receives only the terse response, “I don’t hold that view.” Finally, exasperated, Vacchagotta blurts out,

“Then does Master Gotama hold any speculative view at all?”

“Vaccha, ‘speculative view’ is something with which the Tathāgata has nothing whatsoever to do. . . . With the destruction, fading away, cessation, giving up and relinquishing of all conceivings, all excogitations, all I-making, mine-making and the underlying tendency to conceit, the Tathāgata is liberated through not clinging.”

“But, Master Gotama, a bhikkhu whose mind is thus liberated: Where does he reappear [after death]?”

“‘Reappear,’ Vaccha, does not apply.”

The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings oa, by Ajahn Pasanno & Ajahn Amaro

There is an island, an island which you cannot go beyond. It is a place of nothingness, a place of nonpossession and of nonattachment. It is the total end of death and decay, and this is why I call it Nibbāna.

Samyutta Nikāya, 1092-5

Four Noble Truths

This Sunday the topic for our exploration and reflection was the Four Noble Truths. With teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh and Stephen Batchelor, Ginny led us on an exploration of the foundational nature of this teaching.

We discussed how just “showing up” and witnessing the activity of our mind can often be the hardest and most important thing to do to relieve suffering.

Below are Ginny’s notes from the talk.

Reflection on righteousness, clinging and suffering.

Ginny shared reflections on her own attachment to judgement – in particular, judgment of the old guard of environmentalism. This arising of suffering J began in response to a reference to Henry David Thoreau in Michael’s talk the week before.

Ginny walked us through the exploration of the suffering and the four noble truths and the experience of being free from suffering.

On Thoreau – expanding the view.

On transcendentalists from handy dandy Wikipedia:

A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature. Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent.

Transcendentalism emphasizes subjective intuition over objective empiricism. Adherents believe that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with little attention and deference to past masters.

Excerpt from Thoreau’s essay Slavery in Massachusetts:

“I wish my countrymen to consider, that whatever the human law may be, neither an individual nor a nation can ever commit the least act of injustice against the obscurest individual without having to pay the penalty for it.” Thoreau

Readings on the Four Noble Truths from:

Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings p. 9-10

Stephen Batchelor’s After Buddhism – where he talks about the Four tasks  p. 55-58

Audio dharma talk:

Gil Fronsdal – The Simplicity of the Four Noble Truths


by Tony Hoagland

Sometimes I prefer not to untangle it
I prefer it to remain disorganized
because it is richer that way
like a certain shrubbery I pass each day on Reba Street
in an unimpressive yard, in front of a home
that seems unoccupied
a chest-high, spreading shrub with
large white waxy blossoms —
whose stalks are climbed and woven
through simultaneously
by a different kind of vine with small
magenta flowers
that appear and disappear inside the
maze of leaves
like tiny purple stitches.
The white and purple combination
of these species,
one seeming to possibly be strangling
the other,
one possibly lifting the other up – it
would take both
a botanist and a psychologist
to figure it all out.