Evil: a Buddhist perspective

This Sunday, Jeffrey provided an overview of Stephen Batchelor’s key ideas in his book, Living with the Devil, followed by a talk by Batchelor. He rejects the dualistic conception of Mara or Satan or The Devil as embodiments of pure evil; and of Buddha as pure good, to instead tease out the subtle nature of the devil as “the adversary”, the one who blocks our paths.

Mara stands for those patterns of behavior that long for the security of clinging to something real and permanent rather than facing the question posed by being a transient and contingent creature. “It makes no difference what you grasp,” said Buddha, “When someone grasps, Mara stands behind them.” 

Even after their awakening, Mara approaches Buddha and his followers. Mara never is defeated, always close at hand. Why “always”? Evolution produced our capacity for greed, hatred, delusion as survival mechanisms. As long as we are in a body, these will be our faithful companions. 

Theme: If we let go of the personifications, then Buddha stands for a capacity of openness, awareness, freedom, and Mara represents confusion, closure, restriction. To live with the Devil is to live with the perpetual conflict between one’s Buddha-nature and one’s Mara-nature.

The video was excerpted from a long playlist of videos available here.


Living a Meaningful Life

The Buddha said that he taught the nature of suffering and the end of suffering.  But many have found that his teachings take us far beyond that, and into shaping lives that are more meaningful to us — and even to others.  And some have discovered, along the way, a relation with continuing suffering can be part of a life that is most meaningful.  

This Sunday, Don guided our reflections drawing on a recorded talk by Brian Lesage to frame the discussion. You can listen to the talk here:

Another quote that was shared was and discussed was the Dung Beetle Sutta, which you can read here.


Living the Great Questions

Rather than seeking the certainty of answers, we can mature authentically by staying with the great questions.  This past Sunday, Michael guided our reflections as we explored three zen koans which directly meet the question of authenticity in practice.

We did not record the session, but Michael gave a very similar talk another time, which you can listen to here:


Meeting the judging mind with wisdom

Many of us have a tendency to be critical and judgmental of ourselves and others. This habit can seem quite strong and can create a lot of suffering. Mindfulness is a wonderful tool to enable us to see these thoughts for what they are, so we can begin to bring wisdom and understanding to them. The good news is, like any conditioned habit, we can learn to decondition them. This week, Wendy guided our reflections, with particular attention to an excerpt from a talk by Sally Armstrong addressing the judging mind.

The talk is available here:

In this talk Sally quotes Byron Brown, author of “Soul Without Shame“, who explores the root causes of self judgement and overriding this habit. She also references Shakil Choudhury’s book “Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them” and his work studying judging others and racial bias.


The mind’s endless narratives

In the Ball of Honey Sutta (MN 18), the Buddha stated that the cause of “conflict lies within, in the unskillful habits of the mind, rather than without.” He identified this unskillful habit of the mind as papanca.

The  Pali term papanca does not have direct English equivalent and is often translated as proliferative thinking or conceit of self. This week Denise shared a talk given by Christina Feldman on papanca and how we might work with it while meditating and as we go about our daily lives.

You can listen to Christina’s talk here:

Prior to our sitting, Denise read the first verse of the Dhammapada, as translated by Gil Fronsdal:

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.
All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind, Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.


Denise also read the following poem to close our gathering:

Forget About Enlightenment
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
Breathe out,
Touch in,
Let go.

John Welwood

When Fear Dies

 In this time of stress—political, racial, economic, familial, and certainly mental—the Buddha’s teachings are particularly useful, even precious.  Ordained Bhikkhuni Ayya Medhanandi, who directs a Hermitage in Ontario, recently offered a talk titled “When Fear Dies,” in which she presents the Buddha’s teachings on how we can respond to anxiety, fear, impatience or aggression, whether these arise in others or ourselves.  

She states that the “Buddha’s teaching on love – and fear being the absence of love – has become urgent” and that it is more critical than ever that we practice metta within our Sangha, training to carry it out into the wider world, where we can influence our environment toward peace. 

This last Sunday Eveline guided our reflections on how we can practice skillful actions that heal ourselves and others during this acute time of turmoil in our culture and around the world.

The talk is available here:

Eveline also read from the book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, by Rev. angel Kyodo williams and Lama Rod Owens. 


Wise awareness: beyond habitual patterns of whiteness

What can we learn about our habitual patterns of whiteness so that we do not perpetuate racial harm? This Sunday, Joey utilized a podcast of Sharon Salzberg interviewing Ruth King about her book, Mindful of Race: Transforming Race from the Inside Out.

Joey read some excerpts from King’s book, referencing the Six Hindrances to Racial Harmony.

You can listen to the interview here:

Other resources mentioned during this week’s Sangha:


Overwhelming emotions

Experiences we have and thoughts that we think can trigger strong emotions in our minds and bodies. Some of these feelings can be overwhelming. Paradoxically, these sensations can make it extremely difficult to notice the overwhelm, instead causing us to react in increasingly unskillful ways. In this week’s Sangha, Payton explored the challenging practice of becoming aware of strong emotions and techniques we can use to relate to them skillfully.

We listened to excerpts from a talk by Guy Armstrong entitled Working with Difficult Emotions (2008-11-09 at IMS) which you can listen to here:

Some notes Payton had from the talk include:

Watch children deal with their emotions. They’re not scared of them. They don’t hold back, and the emotions don’t get stuck. (If trauma doesn’t exist.) This teaches us that we don’t have to get rid of these unwholesome emotions. We just need to be aware that they arise, have their time of expression, and then pass away. They only remain if we resist them or think about them. They can be extremely compelling, but usually what’s compelling about them is the storyline that sustains them, not the emotion itself.

This is the third foundation of mindfulness: Citta discussed in the Satipatthana Sutta. It has to do with the state of mind we are experiencing. Sometimes this state of mind is strongly obvious, but many times it can be strongly coloring our other experiences (body sensations, thoughts, perceptions) but in such a subtle way that we are not even aware of it. Therefore, becoming aware of a coloring emotion, our current Citta, is the first step toward working skillfully with it. Naming it can be extremely helpful, but we don’t even have to have an accurate name for it; even just knowing “there’s something coloring my experience now” can be enough.

Two things need to happen: first there needs to be an attitude shift toward acceptance of the emotional state; second we need to bring greater understanding to these states. We need to see and fully understand how they arise, are sustained, then pass away. When we learn the steps of this ride, it loses its mystery and power.

There are three areas we can examine: how it feels in the body, the mind (notably Vedana and Citta), and the thoughts. Body will always have contraction around a strong emotion. Mind will always have a mental coloring or flavor. These two things seem the same (eg: coffee with milk) but they are separate. The third thing is thoughts: all afflictive emotions are sustained by thinking. Storylines are sustaining the emotion.

There are four primary emotions: Sadness, Desire, Anger, and Fear. Possibly also self-judgement. All these are tied to time that’s in the past and future.

Andrea also brought up the modern psychology concept of the Wheel of Emotions (a much more detailed map than the four listed in the talk), which you can read about here:


Seeking and Finding Refuge in Today’s Dharma

Refuge is a central concept in the path of liberation. Today Zac focused on the experience of refuge through personal experience and an exploration of teachings.

The talk we listened to was an excerpt from an audio book called “Truly Seeing” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Here’s a link to the audio book on Amazon:

The five mindfulness trainings (precepts):

Araka’s Teaching:

Thich Nhat Hanh on Taking Refuge:

Zac read two quotes, excerpted below, from Jack Kornfield’s “The Wise Heart”, both found here:

“We take refuge in the Buddha, but what is this Buddha?  When we see with the eye of wisdom, we know that the Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, any place.  Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind.  So the Buddha was not enlightened in India.  In fact he was never enlightened, was never born, and never died. This timeless Buddha is our true home, our abiding place.” 

Ajahn Chah, from The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield

“Your true nature is something never lost to you, even in moments of delusion, nor is it gained at the moment of enlightenment.  It is the nature of your own mind, the source of all things, your original luminous brilliance.  You, the richest person in the world, have been going around laboring and begging, when all the while the treasure you seek is within you.  It is who you are.”

Huang Po (1st century Chinese zen master), from The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield

Lama Rod Owens: Trust, Refuge, & Gratitude:

Finally, Zac is teaching a retreat for teens and young adults August 3 – 7: If you could help spread the word, that would be awesome!

If you know any teens or young adults who could use some heart-centered connection and community that’s based in awareness and kindness and some tools to cope with all the craziness right now, check this out.

Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) is a nonprofit organization offering mindfulness retreats for young adults (ages 15 -25) across the country. Our programs introduce teens to mindfulness through guided meditation, mindful movement, small group discussions, and creative activities. We have full and partial scholarships available, and no teen has ever been turned away for lack of funds. 

What benefits do teens receive from the retreats? 

  • Learn how to focus in, calm your mind, and let go of distractions 
  • Deepen your understanding of emotions and develop skills for navigating them 
  • Develop listening, speaking, and relational skills in an authentic, supportive community 
  • Connect with the best inside yourself and others. Get away. Turn off your phone. Step back into yourself 

Check out this video (under 2 minutes) which has multiple teen retreat alumni sharing how iBme has helped them. 


Sustainable Compassion and Wisdom Training

Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock meditation center and one of the principal bringers of vipassana meditation to the west, once found himself having to explain, at length, to the Dalai Lama how it could be that, in the West, an individual could not like himself, could find herself unworthy of others’ love, or could stumble at the first step of the metta meditation as it is taught here: “May I be happy, may I be free of suffering, may I find contentment and ease.”

There may be many explanations for why this is such a widespread phenomenon, but rather than looking to the causes, Lama John Makransky has spent years of deep study in buddhism and psychology finding a way of opening us up to a non-egoic path to self love.  And even if we are at ease with the metta meditation, and not caught in self-deprecation, this can bring us real benefit.  

Michael A guides our reflections this Sunday, utilizing Lama John’s guided meditations, designed to open this aspect of the whole person.

The materials on which this Sunday’s presentation is based can be found on the website of the Foundation for Active Compassion.

Lama John Makransky’s framing talk and guided meditation are contained within the first session of a seven-week course he gave at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, spring/summer 2020.

The introductory frame and guided meditation are from 4:52 to 39:00 and Makransky’s follow-up review/reflection continues to 49:00.

Lama John also refers to printed instructions which can help recall the details of practice for this and subsequent meditations. Those instructions of the various phases and varieties of this meditative tradition can be found here:

At the bottom of the frame is a downloadable practice guide for the entire path of this practice. Read the tips at the end of the practice guide, and then take it slow, cultivating a thorough practice.