with Tim Burnett

 

LECTURES FROM THE BUDDHIST ROOTS OF COMPASSION RETREAT, AUGUST 2017

In August 2017, Mindfulness Northwest director and leader teacher Tim Burnett co-led a 5-day silent mindfulness retreat with assistant teacher Beth Glosten and gave daily talks exploring the Tibetan Buddhist compassion training system of “lojong” or mind-training slogans.

The primary text for the lectures was:

  • Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

Tim also referred to the following texts:

  • Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living
  • Chogyam Trungpa, Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness
  • Thubten Jinpa, Essential Mind Training

An outline of the mind training slogans Tim focussed on in his talks is as follows. There are 7 points and 59 slogans in total. What follows are the wording from Norman Fischer’s book which in some cases is a bit different from the traditional phrasing.

These mind training slogans when practiced with, remembered, turned over in our minds, and breathed with can really change our orientation and approach to life helping us to become more aware, open, and compassionate.

Slogans Covered

Point 1: Resolve to Begin

  • Slogan 1: Train in the preliminaries.

Point 2: Train in Empathy & Compassion

  • Slogan 2: See everything as a dream.
  • Slogan 3: Examine the nature of awareness.
  • Slogan 5: Rest in the openness the mind.
  • Slogan 7: Practice sending and receiving alternately on the breath (tonglen practice).

Point 3: Transform Bad Circumstances into the Path

  • Slogan 11: Turn all mishaps into the path.
  • Slogan 12: Drive all blames into one.
  • Slogan 13: Be grateful to everyone.

Point 4: Make Practice Your Whole Life

  • Slogan 17: Cultivate a serious attitude (practice the five strengths).
  • Slogan 18: Practice for death as well as for life.

Point 5: Assess and Extend

  • Slogan 19: There’s only one point.
  • Slogan 20: Trust your own eyes.
  • Slogan 21: Maintain joy (and don’t lose your sense of humor).
  • Slogan 22: Practice even when you’re distracted.

Point 6: The Discipline of Relationship

  • Slogan 24: Don’t be a phony.
  • Slogan 25: Don’t talk about faults.
  • Slogan 26: Don’t figure others out.
  • Slogan 27: Work with your biggest problems first.
  • Slogan 28: Abandon hope.
  • Slogan 30: Don’t be so predictable.

Point 7: Living with Ease in a Crazy World

  • Slogan 41: Begin at the beginning, end at the end.
  • Slogan 46: Don’t lose track.
  • Slogan 47: Keep the three inseparable.
  • Slogan 48: Train wholeheartedly, openly, and constantly.
  • Slogan 54: Be wholehearted.
  • Slogan 56: Don’t wallow.
  • Slogan 57: Don’t be jealous.
  • Slogan 58. Don’t be frivolous.
  • Slogan 59. Don’t expect applause.

Talk 1 – Monday August 28th – Introduction and Point 1

 

Talk Notes

Like all deep teachings the Buddhist teachings don’t just take for granted that we are who we think we are and reality is what we think it is either.

The Buddhist teachings in general are referred to by the Sanskrit term “Dharma” which also means reality. So these teachings are seen as a way of re-understanding reality.

And reunderstanding reality in a positive way: in a way that relieves suffering

Buddhism suggests that the very way we look at ourselves and our experience, our reality, is a root cause of suffering and distress. We expect a certain kind of stability from a reality that’s always changing and never quite the way we want it. And we expect a kind of independence and agency in ourselves which is in conflict with how radically dependent we are on each other.

The mind seems to narrow down and get tight, locked in, as we learn how to use language and concepts to simplify and organize the world. The useful tool of conceptual thinking and simplification is mistaken for a true definition of reality and we become blind to the shifting sands and interpentration and massive unknowability of things are they are.

And then from time to time reality shifts far enough from our conception of what’s going on that we get a big jolt. And we’re upset and we suffer. When we’re saying to ourselves “this just can’t be!” whether it’s a car that won’t start, a relationship that suddenly ends or a surprising and unexpected election result, those are moments when the Buddha’s teachings – and really most teachings – help us to realize the problem isn’t that things aren’t the way they ought to be.

The problem is we have an idea that there is such a thing as “the way things ought to be.” Things happen according to causes and conditions and when we are shocked but an outcome these teachings enourage us to both accept that what is, is, but also to wonder what those causes and conditions where and how we ourselves contributed to them.

—–

Just like with Christianity there are actually many Buddhisms and some scholars doubt the usefulness of the term “Buddhism” altogether for such a diverse movement which has moved through multiple cultures over about 2600 years from the Buddha’s day and of course he was a product of his time so even longer than that.

Generally speaking early Buddhism was concerned with deeply recognizing these fundamental misunderstandings of reality and reducing the mind’s reactivity to it all. And the suffering that results from that.

This is an aspect of contemporary mindfulness we are all familiar with. Non-judgmental awareness. Acceptance. Being with what is without being so reactive. One teacher I like said that early Buddhism was about taming the mind. And there’s a famous simile that’s exactly that.

It talks about how running around chasing after the things we desire and resisting the things we dislike is like we’re collection of wild and unruly animals who don’t know any better. And our practice is to tether those animals. To hold us in the place. We sit on our cushion want watch our desires but to stay rooted. We can feel the tug of them but we don’t let them pull us around until ulitmately they are exhausted and we can come to some peace. Taming the mind.

Here’s a great passage from the Early Buddhist teachings – this is the Buddha speaking:

“Cognizing an idea with the intellect, [an ordinary person] is obsessed with pleasing ideas, is repelled by unpleasing ideas, and remains with body-mindfulness unestablished, with limited awareness. He does not discern, as it actually is present, the awareness-release, the discernment-release where any evil, unskillful mental qualities that have arisen utterly cease without remainder.

“Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, he would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, and tying a knot in the middle, he would set chase to them.

“Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range & habitat. The snake would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the anthill.’ The crocodile would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the water.’ The bird would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll fly up into the air.’ The dog would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the village.’ The hyena would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would submit, they would surrender, they would come under the sway of whichever among them was the strongest. In the same way, when a monk whose mindfulness immersed in the body is undeveloped & unpursued, the eye pulls toward pleasing forms, while unpleasing forms are repellent. The ear pulls toward pleasing sounds… The nose pulls toward pleasing aromas… The tongue pulls toward pleasing flavors… The body pulls toward pleasing tactile sensations… The intellect pulls toward pleasing ideas, while unpleasing ideas are repellent. This, monks, is lack of restraint.

“And what is restraint? There is the case where a monk, seeing a form with the eye, is not obsessed with pleasing forms, is not repelled by unpleasing forms, and remains with body-mindfulness established, with immeasurable awareness. He discerns, as it actually is present, the awareness-release, the discernment-release where all evil, unskillful mental qualities that have arisen utterly cease without remainder.

Until ulimately:

when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would stand, sit, or lie down right there next to the post or stake. In the same way, when a monk whose mindfulness immersed in the body is developed & pursued, the eye does not pull toward pleasing forms, and unpleasing forms are not repellent. The ear does not pull toward pleasing sounds… The nose does not pull toward pleasing aromas… The tongue does not pull toward pleasing flavors… The body does not pull toward pleasing tactile sensations… The intellect does not pull toward pleasing ideas, and unpleasing ideas are not repellent. This, monks, is restraint.

Those 6 animals symbolizing our 5 senses and the mind that thinks – 6 senses told in Buddhist psychology.

So this is wonderful all by itself. That’s why mindfulness is so amazing. There’s an organized process by which restraint and presence are transformational. Habit patterns change and we are calmer, less reactive, and more peaceful. It is analytical – what kinds of animals (thoughts) and tendencies are we working with but also so simple. Stay put and them them run out of steam.

And then the later Buddhist movements which are collectively called the Mahayana – the “great” vehicle – they appreciated this but also extended it further. What about the person next to you who’s still consumed by all of this? Don’t you want to feel compassion for his suffering? How can you help her? Is it just through the example of your own practice – which is a powerful example to be sure – or is there a greater engagement possible?

And what if you notice that you don’t feel like helping the person over there who’s straining away tugging at the stake? That’s their problem, you think, they brought that on themselves. They need to learn how to take care of this. While sometimes it’s compassion and wise to give people space to find their way there’s also ignoring and avoiding the suffering of others. There’s also a subtle kind of stake pulling goig on – I don’t want to be around you because your suffering and that makes me uncomfortable. That puts me in contact with my own pain.

Or taking it a step further what about someone who’s stake pulling pain leads them to get in your face. What about a suffering being who insults you or disrepects you or blames you for something or takes credit for something you did? Is it possible then to be kind and understanding to see this is someone tied to a stake who’s desparate. Or do we get defensive? Some might say it’s natural and normal to be defensive if someone does something to you. Maybe so, but is it the only response available to us as humans or is there a broader range of response that’s possible.

One way to think about this is a kind of balance between wisdom and compassion. The wisdom of seeing things as they are and interacting more wisely with experience so you suffer less – and have more joy. Wonderful. And compassion as our human ability to be in contact with suffering – our own or others’ – and stay put with a willingness to help out. With openness and understanding. And of course not all helping is in fact compassion!

And more or less early Buddhism emphasized wisdom – and this brilliant wisdom has some into our society as mindfulness – and later Buddhism emphasized compassion.

Our topic this week is later Buddhism. in this system the emphasis isnt’ on taming the mind but on training the mind. And immediately the powerful implicit idea the the mind can be changed and transformed.

The mind training teachings of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism are traced back to an Indian pundit named Atisha who lives in the 10th century and then through a series of teachers in Tibet in the 11th and 12th century who wrote famous commentaries on Atisha’s work. And this has been a living tradition in Tibet to the present day and through the Tibetan disapora into Western culture. A famous proponent of these teachings in the West was the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trunpa who formed a large center in Colorado in the 70’s and through his most famous student which I bet you’ve heard of: Ani Pema Chodron.

And then about 10 years ago my own Zen teacher, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, took them up and gave a series of talks and retreats on them which became a wonderful book called Training in Compassion, Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong.

Lojong is simply Tibetan for mind-training.

The basic idea of this is to take up a progression of contemplations. The original work by Atisha was a framework – a list of key points and subpoints. Those subpoints are pithy instructions than can be turned over the mind like slogans or mantras. On their own they don’t always mean that much – although some are quite clear – but you study their meaning and contemplate and memorize the slogans attached to that meaning. Then when this is working well, the slogan can immerge in our mind as a kind of guide when you need it the most.

When someone is coming at your at work you might, on a good day, instead of going right to a defensive or agressive response be able to have a shift in persepctive through this mind training. A slogan like “Be grateful to everyone” might pop into your mind. And you come up short for a moment and realize, oh: look I have something to learn here about suffering and compassion. This grouchy co-worker is my teacher right now. Wow. And wow is he suffering. Wooh. Thank you.

But that’s not to say you have just a woo woo kind of transformation and suddenly it’s all better. Although that can actually happen – when we react with gratitude or compassion to agression sometime the agressive person is healed and transformed. But more often it’s that we have more space and power to choose a wiser response. We stay calm but we may still let that person know it is not okay with us that they speak to us in the way. We might share our feeling in a clear calm way, I feel belittled when you talk that way. Please don’t do that. Let’s sit down and work this out.

There are 7 points and 59 slogans. To practice with them all deeply takes a lot longer than we have so we’ll just try to get the flavor for these teachings this week and take up a few of the slogans.

The first of the 7 points is called “Resolve to Begin” – and we are living that point right now. We showed up here. We resolve to begin, or to re-new our practice, making it new again. Beginning again.

The slogan under this point is “Train in the preliminaries” so this is one that requires some unpacking.

Four contempations:

Consider the rarity and preciousness of human life.

Consider the inevitability of death.

Feel the awesome and indelible power of our actions.

Accept the inescability of pain and suffering.

Talk 2 – Tuesday August 29th – Point 2

 

Talk Notes

Like all deep teachings the Buddhist teachings don’t just take for granted that we are who we think we are and reality is what we think it is either.

The Buddhist teachings in general are referred to by the Sanskrit term “Dharma” which also means reality. So these teachings are seen as a way of re-understanding reality.

And reunderstanding reality in a positive way: in a way that relieves suffering

Buddhism suggests that the very way we look at ourselves and our experience, our reality, is a root cause of suffering and distress. We expect a certain kind of stability from a reality that’s always changing and never quite the way we want it. And we expect a kind of independence and agency in ourselves which is in conflict with how radically dependent we are on each other.

The mind seems to narrow down and get tight, locked in, as we learn how to use language and concepts to simplify and organize the world. The useful tool of conceptual thinking and simplification is mistaken for a true definition of reality and we become blind to the shifting sands and interpentration and massive unknowability of things are they are.

And then from time to time reality shifts far enough from our conception of what’s going on that we get a big jolt. And we’re upset and we suffer. When we’re saying to ourselves “this just can’t be!” whether it’s a car that won’t start, a relationship that suddenly ends or a surprising and unexpected election result, those are moments when the Buddha’s teachings – and really most teachings – help us to realize the problem isn’t that things aren’t the way they ought to be.

The problem is we have an idea that there is such a thing as “the way things ought to be.” Things happen according to causes and conditions and when we are shocked but an outcome these teachings enourage us to both accept that what is, is, but also to wonder what those causes and conditions where and how we ourselves contributed to them.

—–

Just like with Christianity there are actually many Buddhisms and some scholars doubt the usefulness of the term “Buddhism” altogether for such a diverse movement which has moved through multiple cultures over about 2600 years from the Buddha’s day and of course he was a product of his time so even longer than that.

Generally speaking early Buddhism was concerned with deeply recognizing these fundamental misunderstandings of reality and reducing the mind’s reactivity to it all. And the suffering that results from that.

This is an aspect of contemporary mindfulness we are all familiar with. Non-judgmental awareness. Acceptance. Being with what is without being so reactive. One teacher I like said that early Buddhism was about taming the mind. And there’s a famous simile that’s exactly that.

It talks about how running around chasing after the things we desire and resisting the things we dislike is like we’re collection of wild and unruly animals who don’t know any better. And our practice is to tether those animals. To hold us in the place. We sit on our cushion want watch our desires but to stay rooted. We can feel the tug of them but we don’t let them pull us around until ulitmately they are exhausted and we can come to some peace. Taming the mind.

Here’s a great passage from the Early Buddhist teachings – this is the Buddha speaking:

“Cognizing an idea with the intellect, [an ordinary person] is obsessed with pleasing ideas, is repelled by unpleasing ideas, and remains with body-mindfulness unestablished, with limited awareness. He does not discern, as it actually is present, the awareness-release, the discernment-release where any evil, unskillful mental qualities that have arisen utterly cease without remainder.

“Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, he would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, and tying a knot in the middle, he would set chase to them.

“Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range & habitat. The snake would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the anthill.’ The crocodile would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the water.’ The bird would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll fly up into the air.’ The dog would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the village.’ The hyena would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would submit, they would surrender, they would come under the sway of whichever among them was the strongest. In the same way, when a monk whose mindfulness immersed in the body is undeveloped & unpursued, the eye pulls toward pleasing forms, while unpleasing forms are repellent. The ear pulls toward pleasing sounds… The nose pulls toward pleasing aromas… The tongue pulls toward pleasing flavors… The body pulls toward pleasing tactile sensations… The intellect pulls toward pleasing ideas, while unpleasing ideas are repellent. This, monks, is lack of restraint.

“And what is restraint? There is the case where a monk, seeing a form with the eye, is not obsessed with pleasing forms, is not repelled by unpleasing forms, and remains with body-mindfulness established, with immeasurable awareness. He discerns, as it actually is present, the awareness-release, the discernment-release where all evil, unskillful mental qualities that have arisen utterly cease without remainder.

Until ulimately:

when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would stand, sit, or lie down right there next to the post or stake. In the same way, when a monk whose mindfulness immersed in the body is developed & pursued, the eye does not pull toward pleasing forms, and unpleasing forms are not repellent. The ear does not pull toward pleasing sounds… The nose does not pull toward pleasing aromas… The tongue does not pull toward pleasing flavors… The body does not pull toward pleasing tactile sensations… The intellect does not pull toward pleasing ideas, and unpleasing ideas are not repellent. This, monks, is restraint.

Those 6 animals symbolizing our 5 senses and the mind that thinks – 6 senses told in Buddhist psychology.

So this is wonderful all by itself. That’s why mindfulness is so amazing. There’s an organized process by which restraint and presence are transformational. Habit patterns change and we are calmer, less reactive, and more peaceful. It is analytical – what kinds of animals (thoughts) and tendencies are we working with but also so simple. Stay put and them them run out of steam.

And then the later Buddhist movements which are collectively called the Mahayana – the “great” vehicle – they appreciated this but also extended it further. What about the person next to you who’s still consumed by all of this? Don’t you want to feel compassion for his suffering? How can you help her? Is it just through the example of your own practice – which is a powerful example to be sure – or is there a greater engagement possible?

And what if you notice that you don’t feel like helping the person over there who’s straining away tugging at the stake? That’s their problem, you think, they brought that on themselves. They need to learn how to take care of this. While sometimes it’s compassion and wise to give people space to find their way there’s also ignoring and avoiding the suffering of others. There’s also a subtle kind of stake pulling goig on – I don’t want to be around you because your suffering and that makes me uncomfortable. That puts me in contact with my own pain.

Or taking it a step further what about someone who’s stake pulling pain leads them to get in your face. What about a suffering being who insults you or disrepects you or blames you for something or takes credit for something you did? Is it possible then to be kind and understanding to see this is someone tied to a stake who’s desparate. Or do we get defensive? Some might say it’s natural and normal to be defensive if someone does something to you. Maybe so, but is it the only response available to us as humans or is there a broader range of response that’s possible.

One way to think about this is a kind of balance between wisdom and compassion. The wisdom of seeing things as they are and interacting more wisely with experience so you suffer less – and have more joy. Wonderful. And compassion as our human ability to be in contact with suffering – our own or others’ – and stay put with a willingness to help out. With openness and understanding. And of course not all helping is in fact compassion!

And more or less early Buddhism emphasized wisdom – and this brilliant wisdom has some into our society as mindfulness – and later Buddhism emphasized compassion.

Our topic this week is later Buddhism. in this system the emphasis isnt’ on taming the mind but on training the mind. And immediately the powerful implicit idea the the mind can be changed and transformed.

The mind training teachings of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism are traced back to an Indian pundit named Atisha who lives in the 10th century and then through a series of teachers in Tibet in the 11th and 12th century who wrote famous commentaries on Atisha’s work. And this has been a living tradition in Tibet to the present day and through the Tibetan disapora into Western culture. A famous proponent of these teachings in the West was the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trunpa who formed a large center in Colorado in the 70’s and through his most famous student which I bet you’ve heard of: Ani Pema Chodron.

And then about 10 years ago my own Zen teacher, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, took them up and gave a series of talks and retreats on them which became a wonderful book called Training in Compassion, Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong.

Lojong is simply Tibetan for mind-training.

The basic idea of this is to take up a progression of contemplations. The original work by Atisha was a framework – a list of key points and subpoints. Those subpoints are pithy instructions than can be turned over the mind like slogans or mantras. On their own they don’t always mean that much – although some are quite clear – but you study their meaning and contemplate and memorize the slogans attached to that meaning. Then when this is working well, the slogan can immerge in our mind as a kind of guide when you need it the most.

When someone is coming at your at work you might, on a good day, instead of going right to a defensive or agressive response be able to have a shift in persepctive through this mind training. A slogan like “Be grateful to everyone” might pop into your mind. And you come up short for a moment and realize, oh: look I have something to learn here about suffering and compassion. This grouchy co-worker is my teacher right now. Wow. And wow is he suffering. Wooh. Thank you.

But that’s not to say you have just a woo woo kind of transformation and suddenly it’s all better. Although that can actually happen – when we react with gratitude or compassion to agression sometime the agressive person is healed and transformed. But more often it’s that we have more space and power to choose a wiser response. We stay calm but we may still let that person know it is not okay with us that they speak to us in the way. We might share our feeling in a clear calm way, I feel belittled when you talk that way. Please don’t do that. Let’s sit down and work this out.

There are 7 points and 59 slogans. To practice with them all deeply takes a lot longer than we have so we’ll just try to get the flavor for these teachings this week and take up a few of the slogans.

The first of the 7 points is called “Resolve to Begin” – and we are living that point right now. We showed up here. We resolve to begin, or to re-new our practice, making it new again. Beginning again.

The slogan under this point is “Train in the preliminaries” so this is one that requires some unpacking.

Four contempations:

Consider the rarity and preciousness of human life.

Consider the inevitability of death.

Feel the awesome and indelible power of our actions.

Accept the inescability of pain and suffering.

Talk 3 – Wednesday August 30th – Point 3

(No recording was made for talk 3)

 

Talk Notes

Well we’ve been at this for a while now, haven’t we? Beth and I were talking and realized we are both so amazed at everyone’s level of commitment to this process. And what an odd kind of process it is, isn’t it?

Isn’t it amazing how many opinions that mind can have about how you’re doing? You’re doing great. You’re doing terribly. You’ll make it through. Maybe. I have come to think over time that the unstructured time in between our meeting in here – the so called breaks – are one of the most important times in the retreat. How is the mind doing then? Interesting having nothing you have to do isn’t it? Sometimes that might be peaceful and wonderful – wow, I don’t have to do anything! – other times it’s really hard the mind is agitated and wants something – stimulus? something purposeful to do? It can’t settle.

Even when those times in the breaks are uncomfortable I think they’re really valuable. There’s a kind of integration that’s happening. And of course the mind and heart don’t always integrate in a nice tidy way. I often just run out of steam at some point during a retreat. Okay, I’m done. Let’s go. Nothing to see here folks, let’s move on. But then the structure of the retreat schedule and the community holds me and I move through that. And little by little there’s a deep movement towards contentment and happiness that’s availableto us regardless of the circumstances.

So I hope you appreciate the breaks even if all you can do is collapse in a heap or you are sitting there impatiently waiting for something to happen or you’re worrying a lot about something. Still something good is happening there.

Sometimes a lot of gratitude arises [me for them, Beth, Norman]

As we move into the more elaborate compassion and loving-kindness practices I want to be sure you know that there’s a warm warm invitation here to adapt and change them to suit you. Or to ignore them altogether. As I was saying yesterday when we try to access the deeper reaches of the human experience and we out of necessity have to use language and imagery and so on that particular language definitely won’t be a perfect fit for everyone. So if black smoke, for instance, just isnt the thing or is troublesome in some way, don’t worry about it. invite your own imagery or don’t worry about imagery and breathe the the feeling itself.

And another note on the news of the world. It’s still raining in Texas and Lousiana as Tropical Storm Harvey starts to wind down. The recorded rainfall already from this story of 51 inches is the most rain ever recorded from a storm in the U.S.

And of course the messages we read and hear about the “the world” are very U.S. focussed. In Southeast Asia things are far worse it turns out. The annual summer monsoon season in India and surrounding countries was far far more intense than usual this year. 1200 people have died from flooding in Bangledesh, the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and in Nepal. 1200 people. Hundreds and hundreds of families devasted by the loss of a loved one. And even more troubling for the longer term vast areas of crops, and soil, were washed away. Writing about Bangladesh, Al Jazeera news reports, “Crops on 10,583 hectares of land have been washed away while another 600,587 hectares of farmland have been partially damaged, according to the disaster ministry, in a big blow to the farm-dependent country which lost around one million tonnes of rice in flash floods in April.”

A million tons of rice and who knows how much soil. It’s hard to understimate the importance of soil and yet we take it for granted don’t we? The layer of soil that’s biologically rich and will support crops is just a thin blanket over the surface of the earth. And once it’s washed to the bottom of the sea it’s gone. Biologically healthy soil can take decades to build itself up again.

The USDA says, ‘An often asked question is, “How long does it take to form an inch of topsoil?” This question has many different answers but most soil scientists agree that it takes at least 100 years and it varies depending on climate, vegetation, and other factors.’

The thing our eyes don’t always distinguish is that there’s biologically rich topsoil and then there’s biologically poor mineral soils. Just dirt and rock. Lacking the complex communities of organisms in top soil that help plants grow. Fungi, bacteria, insects and worms of all kinds. There are tiny tiny little worms called nematodes which are important in healthy soil. I looked it up and was astonished to find out 25,000 species have been describes so far. Tiny: many are microscopic but there are some big ‘uns that get to be an inch long and .1 mm in diameter.

We were up in a sub-alpine meadow on a hiking retreat with Red Cedar Zen Community a few weeks ago and I noticed clearly for the first time that in the areas that have been trampled by people the level of the ground was about 3 inches lower than it is right around the inact vegetation. Looking closely this time I saw that it’s not just 3 inches of dirt that’s gone. That 3 inches is the soil that the plants need to survive in the short time each year they’re out from under the snow. Looking at it right under some heather and mountain blueberries I could see the color and texture of the dirt (soil) was quite different. A bit lighter in color, flaky, and if i had a microscope i bet looking at samples of the two different “dirts” would have been like night and day.

So it’s a complex and fragile world we live on isn’t it. And our view of what’s going on, how it all works, how it’s change, and where the suffering is is always a bit confused and befuddled by our lack of knowledge and the bias and distortion in the reports we receive. Almost all of our information is second hand at best and we construct a picture of the world from that, don’t we.

Let’s offer a minute’s pause, or prayer, if you prefer for the suffering people in India and Bangladesh – to have your little farm that your families depends on for food and income wiped out and perhaps some of your relatives carried away. Most people in the third world don’t have the opportunity to learn to swim either so flooding is extra dangerous but even strong swimmers can’t handle much on the scale of a real flood. So however that lands for you let’s do a little compassion practice for them, for all of it, for all of us. All of us humans on a fragile world.

[pause 1 minute]

Thank you. Let’s get back to our studies now. Not just because it’s kind of interesting – at least I think it is – but because these are tools we can learn and adapt and grow through so we can be more available and compassionate in this world of ours.

The third point in the Lojong training system is “Transform Bad Circumstances into the Path” – this is my favorite part of this Indo-Tibetan approach to compassion and to life in general. Practicioners of this have shown time and again that human beings can respond to bad circumstances in remarkable ways. I’ve read several biographies of Tibetan monks who were imprisoned and even tortued by the Chinese government. And they come of that experience without demonizing their captors at all, rather they felt compassion and sympathy for their captors – that they were in such a horrible situation of having to inflict harm and how bad that is for them – and they consistently talk about what a powerful opportunity for practice being imprisoned was. Of course they would all rather have not had that happen I’m sure but there’s a deeper engagement with it than just suriving or using tools to find a way to endure or anything like that. It was a transformational and helpful experience in their growth and development in many ways.

None of this is to minimize the deep harm caused by trauma. And all of us, even those of us who grew up in relatively peaceful circumstances and to whom nothing too terrible happened in this lifetime so far, all of us have been harmed by trauma. This is a real thing too.

So this point is very challenging that way. It’s a holding opposites kind of thing. On the one hand bad circumstances, even really terrible circumstances, can be turned into the path of learning and growth, can become a vehicle for becoming even more loving and compassionate. And on the other hand trauma really is harmful for all living things – to be be reduced and avoided when it can be.

But here’s the thing: remember that last line of the four contemplations? Accept the inescability of pain and suffering. Trauma actually can’t be completely avoided and we need tools for not just reducing it’s harm but transforming it into good.

And I started with a very dramatic example so let’s back this off into much smaller kinds of difficulties that we can work with. The many ways life offers us circumstances we don’t want; and denies us the things we do want. We’re building the same “heart muscle” that those heroic Tibetan monastics were able to access even when we practice with much smaller things. That’s the other key point about these practices: everything matters. There is no moment that’s too trivial to be important to the wellness of ourselves and our world.

This weekend we’re going to begin our 9-month Mindfulness Teacher Training Program and one of the things i’m looking forward to is watching once again Jon Kabat-Zinn being interviewed by Bill Moyers in the early 1980’s about his work bringing mindfulness to the hospital where we was working. He has some great comments about how every moment matters. And matters critically. “There are no throw-away moments,” he says, “because these moments are our lives.”

So if the bad circumstance you encounter today is that you are deparate for a cup of coffee and you get to the kitchen and get your cup out and squeeze the lever and …. psssssbllllhlll…. nothing but air comes out, that’s a bad circumstance too. One we can turn into the Path. We start small to build up for the big stuff. And we never know when the big stuff will arive.

The first slogan mirrors the title of this point:

Turn all mishaps into the path.

What can I learn about my mind from this moment of irritation, or anger, or pain? In the practical world this does seem again somewhat impossible. Bad stuff is bad stuff. Better ignored or gotten through or managed. And that may sometime be true as it’s more than our inner resources can handle just then.

Picture three concentric circles if you would. The center circle is safety. The in between ring is growth and change. The outer ring is overwhelm.

Sometimes we need safety. We need to hide. We need to be under the covers for a while. We need to just tune…it…out. That’s okay, it’s part of our full range human life.

But other times we didn’t really need to hide. Hiding is wasting our time and losing our lives sometimes too.

We can poke our heads up and turn towards the suffering. Be fully with it. Learn from it. Breathe it in as we’re starting to train ourselves in.

But other times it’s just too much we’re in the outer ring of overwhelm. This is the area of the classic fight or flight stress response. Our frontal cortex shuts down. We are not good to ourselves or anyone. Time to seek support and get ourselves back to safety.

So turning all mishaps into the path is a subtle art with much discernment needed. And we need to move that point of discernment out of the usual “What do I WANT” realm into “What do I, and the others, really NEED here.” No one wants to be with suffering. But sometimes we all neded to be with suffering. sometimes being deeply in relationship with suffering is by far the most imporant thing. That’s exactly where healing and growth are.

As a Dharma teacher I often feel extremely close to the people I get to work with. It’s an honor to be allowed into the hearts and suffering of others. To get to bear witness to that and be in companionship with others in such a deep and real way. To get to offer support and a little help. These can be some of the most excruciatingly beautiful relationships actually.

And then something can go wrong, like in any relationship.

I’ve been thinking alot lately about a young woman who came to our Zen sangha. She had undergone horrible, horrible trauma in childhood and then somehow she stumbled into the dharma as a teenager only to end up in another traumatic and abusive situation (not as bad as the childhood stuff, but still: abusive).

She started sitting with us and gradually opened up to me about what was going on for her.

Somehow, even though I don’t have lots of formal training in responding to trauma or understanding it’s dynamics – I do have some thankfully, it seemed like I could really be of a lot of help. Just being with it. One time she was trying to decided whether to move to a new apartment for instance and she invited me to go see it with her. While there something about leaving the old place or this new place or I really don’t know what triggered I assumed to be a full-blown PTSD response. She was sobbing and couldn’t think straight and utterly wrecked. And I was able to help just by being there. By being stable, by loving her regardless of whether her reactions made sense or not, by not trying to fix it. We just sat side by side on the steps of this building for quite a long while. Eventually she came to herself and said, “well I guess i’m not ready to move.” “I guess not,” I said. And we parted.

Then a few months later she didn’t like something I’d said and did and she told me she was never going to see me again. This is a bad circumstance for me. I didn’t like this at all. My defensive voie immediately was shouting, ‘hey! after all I did fro you! why you ungrateful…” luckily i didn’t express any of that and soon the more compassionate voice was there, “this is what she does – it’s a manifestation of her suffering.” But it still hurt. It still hurts right now. She wounded me. But for a while there I was in overwhelm about this and I needed to give it time to hide out in safety befor eI could contemplate the growth and learning possibilities for turning this mishap into the path.

I’ve been thinking about how to turn it into the path of compassion. Should I be more cautious about opening my heart to Dharma students? No, that’s why I was able to be helpful to her in the first place. Do I need to deeply recognize the inevitability of human suffering including my own? Yes. I think that’s it. As I connect with people it’s not that I need to steel myself or be ready for an inevitable rejection, but I need to feel the full dimensions of the connection. It’s so much more than me, nice guy Dharma teacher, helping him or her, person in distress. It’s a mutual interaction of humans with love and trauma in their hearts and that doesn’t have a happy ending sometimes – many times really. May my experiences with this student just help me to be more compassionate, more open, more fully available, and may I show up with the wisdom borne of suffering.

As we do turn mishaps into the path we can start to practice the next slogan I want to bring up:

Be grateful to everyone. And they really mean everyone. Be grateful to people who are kind to you and be grateful for people who are unkind to you. They are both helping you in different ways. The kind ones help you to feel safe and secure. The unkind ones help us to let go of our self-centered need to protect ourselves all the time. They help us to practice compassion in the face of stress and pain. They help us to actually grow that circle of learning and growth even bigger.

The last slogan I want to mention in point three, Transform Bad Circumstanes into the Path, is the most powerful in this section but also the most confusing.

Drive all blames into one.

This means take responsibility. Don’t blame others. Don’t blame yourself exactly either. But do take radical responsibility for your own state and your own being and emmanating out of that take radical responsibility for the world that touches your life. See it as absolutely your job in life to make things better. To be a better person and to leave behind a better world. Drive all blames into one means there is no one to blame.

My teacher used to say, “It’s not your fault but it is your responsibility.” (and then oddly that expression popped up in the MSC curriculum attributed to the UK compassion psychologist Paul Gilbert – who know who said it first).

It’s not your fault in that you didn’t choose this conditioning, this background. You didn’t choose the trauma your parents went through or your culture went through. You didn’t choose the bias, racism, sexism, and so on that permeates our cultures. You didn’t choose to be here at this unbelievable time of enviornmental change and crisis. And yet here you are. Drive all blames into one is the same as “it’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility.” Who but you is going to help this situation? Do you think you can just hang around and hope someone else will take care of it? I think we’re probably in the era that’s solidly beyond the idea of just trusting our leaders, right? That’s been horrible in it’s way but also I think very important and in the long run a good thing. There are no leaders who can save us. Or maybe it’s better to think we are all the leaders who can save us every one.

And our habit towards blame doesn’t help and has never helped. The way it’s expressed is a little odd and it might be a great one for your future studies but the way I practice with Drive all blames into one is like that. Of course i can’t do it alone either, I need help and support, but it’s fundamentally my responsibility not someone else’s.

Let’s end today by hearing a little from Pema Chodron on the intent behind the Tonglen giving and receiving practice. I’m looking forward to hearing from you what you make of all of this later on – perhaps it will come up in the interviews or perhaps at the end of the retreat or next time we see each other. You don’t need to be too quick to figure this stuff out either. It’s good to just marinate in it at first.

[close by reading Pema on the theory of Tonglen and letting go of resistance – demon story into Tonglen description, last 2 paragraphs of p. 35 to top of p.38]

Talk 4 – Thursday August 31st – Points 4 & 5

 

Talk Notes

Many of us are wondering how we’ll bring this feeling of practice back to our so-called ordinary lives in the so-called real world. A few thoughts about that.

The main advice about this isn’t what the mind that’s asking this question wants to hear. And that is: forget about it. I mean that quite seriously. It actually doesn’t help us that much to buy into the mind’s idea that there’s a something particular that we “got” here than we can “take” with us. The development of our hearts and minds is far more subtle and process-oriented than anything that reductionist. This is the way of freedom and letting go of clinging right? So we can’t cling to that either!

And. And. There are some things we can definitely keep in mind and there is a way of practice we can emphasize a little more while we’re still here together.

Things to keep in mind.

Firstly a little is a lot. We get into an all or nothing mentality so easily. Practice at least a little every day – and it can be really little. Stop and take 3 mindful breaths before you pick up the car keys in the morning kind of thing. Really stopping makes space for a lot in us. It’s letting our natural human ability to be grounded, compassionate and loving to flow back into us.

Secondly, seek support. We also get into a “I have to figure this out myself” mindset. We can’t. Really can’t. We are always dependent on the help and support of others. This happens somewhat by accident usually. We don’t notice all the support that’s bouying us up. For practice to be deeply a part of our lives it’s time to be more deliberate about seeking support. Ask a friend to come practice with you. Take a mindfulness or compassion class. Sign up for another retreat. Join an online practice community. Look up what the local meditation groups are and set yourself a plan to visit one a month until you find a good match for you. Seek support. Maybe some of the others in this room will end up in your close support network. And speaking of which we’re glad to send out a contact list from this retreat to make it easier to get in touch with each other afterwards. just let us know if you would rather not be included – it’s an opt out kind of thing. Of course in this format it’s challenging in that we didn’t get much chance to pave the way with the usual social small touches until we feel comfortable with each other but have faith too in the kind of quiet contact we’ve had all week. And we’ll get to chat a bit tomorrow too.

Thirdly, the entire idea of these mind training slogans is they help us to integrate our so-called oridnary lives with our lives as pratitioners. I’ve been writing them on the white board as we go and of course you can get the book.

Train in the preliminaries: bring forward the 4 contempations regularly. Sit regularly. Ground yourself in the real feeling of being alive and the real situation we’re alive in.

Rest in the openness of mind. Those pauses. Looking up a the sky. Seeing if you life out of the hurry habit from time to time. And even if you don’t feel a thing just saying these phrases to yourself is healing. Before you go into work just say one to yourself. “Today I will rest in the openness of mind a little more.”

And when we can rest in the openness of mind it’s more possible to have a feeing for see everything as a dream and to examine the nature of awareness.

These are bedrock ideas and teachings and practices. Without these we’re so easily blown around by the winds of the world.

Keep playing with tonglen. Breathing in your suffering. Breathing in the suffering of others. The suffering of the world. And developing trust that there’s an organic way that the body-and-mind can transform suffering back into ease and joy. Tongen is a deep matter and I’m myself in early stages with it. Don’t be too heavy or intense about it. I would most of the time do simple awareness of breathing, or listening, or breathing with the phrases of loving kindness and dip into tonglen from time to time.

Turn all mishaps into the path. That is exactly 110% about the so called “real world.” The mishaps are happening and will happen and will keep on happening. Seeing if you can turn problems from problems into learning and growth and practice. Here’s where support from someone with some wisdom is a big big help. Someone who can ask you helpful questions, someone who believes in you. Sometimes our friends just reinforce our complaining and narrow view. They mean well but it’s not that helpful. Seek friends who can support the wider and deeper view of compassion and wisdom.

And being grateful to everyone and drive all blames into one. Take responsibility. Hold everything lightly but take this all seriously. It’s a serious matter. The world needs us to accept that even though it’s not all our fault is it our responsibility.

So those are some ideas so far about taking this practice forward into the world. But I should cycle back to the first point before the mind is too much “OMG how am I going to remember all of that!?!” The core practice for bringing our retreat experience into our regular lives is to forget about our retreat experience and show up for each new moment as it arises. You don’t need the extra burden of thinking you should feel just how you felt at Samish that one time, and if you aren’t feeing that way it’s just more evidence of your many failings.

So the next point, point 4, is “Make Practice Your Whole Life.”

There are two slogans. The first is cultivate a serious attitude. Just what i was just saying. That slogan in the commentaries is always associated with a teaching on a set of practices called the five strengths. There’s a way that all teachings, Buddhist teachings, Torah, the Bible, I assume the Qu’aran too, are also lecture notes for teachers. Handy that. I’ve really been appreciating that in this environment with your support I can sit down every day and write an hour long talk that is, I hope, more or less coherent and helpful. This arises from the confluence of this materials (lecture notes!), this peaceful enviornment (the piles on my desk are too far away to do anything about), and all of our steady quiet practice together. All of that meets my training and if I don’t get in the way it’s not difficult to write these talks. It’s a pleasure actually. It takes effort certainly but it’s a joyful effort. Nothing better in a way. So for me cultivate a serious attitude is that although we could just do practices all day and say little snippets in here when they occur to us – but actually we could also have a lecture. This is possible and it’s helpful so we take ourselv seriously and do that.

The five strenghts are: dilgence, seeds of virtue, familiarization, remorse, and aspiration.

Dilgence is just like it says and this is the quality that keeps amazing Beth and I every time we saunter down here. It amazes me with all of the camp chores that are getting down so gracefully too. We’re doing such a nice job taking care of this place. And by the way back to the opening question: doing the dishes or cleaning the bathrooms with care and attention this week is also training for your everyday lives. A pretty deep training actually. You thought you were just helping out with a chore but actually that is completely practice and not different at all from the meditation periods. So being diligent and doing so with a good heart is key. I think alot about “healthy discipline.” We need discipline if we are going to grow and change ourselves and our world. But there all kinds of agressive and destructive ways of approach discipline or resisting discpline. Let’s experience with a healthy approach. That’s the 1st strength of diligence.

Seeds of virtue means to recognize that we all have within us the wonder seeds of all of the great human virtues. We all have the capacity to be more kind, more loving, more understanding, and more compassionate than we can quite understand. We feel good when those seeds sprout and grow. We don’t feel good when the opposite arises (although we may feel a kind of false satisfaction sometimes out of our righteousness). But if we slowdown and look we can see that we do have these seeds. Whether they express themselves full depends on the conditions. So can you both celebrate your seeds of virtue and do what you can to create good conditions for them to express in the world? That’s the second strength.

The first strength is familiarization. It’s closely connected to seeds of virtue. Get really familiar with how it goes. Understand deeply your patterns of conditioning and how to navigate more skillfully how and you get hooked and what happens. AND become more and more familiar with alternate more healthy patterns. In the tradition here this means studying the dharma. Studying this stuff so much that it becomes the default instead of your usual nutty patterns. Chogyam Trunpa said, “The proess of familiarization in which your dharmic subconscious gossip has begun to becme more powerful than your ordinary subconscious gossip. Bodhicitta has become familiar ground in whatever you do…so you are getting used to bodhicitta as an ongoing realization.” So steep yourself in how you and step yourself in this alternative vision of you as an awakening being. that’s the third strength: familiarization.

The four strength is remorse, or reproach. This is a tricky one and worth more discussion than we have time for. Develop the ability to appologize for your failings, learn from them, and be at ease. This can drift into guilt and self-blame and all kinds of toxic doubt so easily though. It’s a little like discipline. Experiment with having a healthy remorse for your failings and misdeeds. We all make mistakes and we will all keep making mistakes. It’s a terrible misunderstanidng of this to think, oh it doesn’t matter it’s all part of the teachings. If she’s offended by what I said that’s her inability to be free or something like that. No, if we offend someone we are sorry even if we meant no offense, even if in our world view she shouldn’t have been offended by what we did. We are paying attention, we see that she’s hurt, we listen to what she has to tell us, we learn what we can, we apologize. But then we don’t need ot hold onto it. We practice tonglen and breathe in our suffering and shame and transform it into growth and connections. That’s the strenght of remorse.

And the last strength is aspiration. This is the practice of vow. Regardless of the evidence we aspire to be wonderful, loving, connected, compassionate, wise beings. When we see all the heavy evidence to the contrary we practice these 5 stengths as an antidote; so we aren’t defeated by it all. We practice diligence with our healthy practices, we practice seeing and nurturing our seeds of virtue, we practice a health remorese for our screw ups, and we renew our aspiration and vow to be better than all of that. And to realize that we are already better than all of that. To me aspiration is a great way to unpack a famous saying by Suzuki Roshi, “You are all perfect just as you are, and I think you could use a little improvement.”

So the five strengths are standing behind this slogan cultivate a serious attitude which is the first slogan of this 4th point of Make Practice Your Whole Life.

The second slogan in this point is practice for death as well as life. Wow another one that we could spend a whole week on. Well a whole lifetime on. This circles us again back to the four contemplations! We don’t practice just so we’ll feel good when we’re alive, we practice so that we can live the whole life to death spectrum with grace and dignity. And if we can do that for ourselves we are so much more helpful to others, especially here others who are more obviously close the death. The key contemplation of this slogan is that we are all of us, every one, close to death. Very close to death. Death is just around the corner. So not only is it the height of foolishness to act like death will happen sometime in the distant future so I don’t need to thikn about it now; this slogan reminds us that we’re practicing for life and for death. And we’re practicing with awareness of our wise attitudes about living and dying and our foolish ones.

Okay we are all conditioned to try to finish what we started so if we’re going to get to all 7 points of the lojong mind training at this retreat we need to do one more. Everyone okay. Shall we break from tradition and have a stretch break?

The fifth point is titled by Norman,”Assess and Extend” The traditional title sounds quite different on this one, it’s “Evaluation of Mind Training.” These slogans are about integrating the practice into your life and checking to see how it’s going. That’s the evaluation part.

There are four slogans and I’d like to speak about all four of them.

The first one is there’s only one point. We get so tangled up sometimes. Jumping from this project to that project. I have a big stack of half-read books on my nightstand. We get a bit fragmented. Not to say that it’s not wonderful to have many interests and be involved in multiple projects but maybe we forget that it’s all in essence about one thing and we don’t give each activity the depth and feeling it deserves. There’s only one point reminds me of another famous Suzuki Roshi quote, “The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.” This “one point” might not be an idea or a concept. It might be a feeling. A feeling of deep appreciation for life, for ourself, and for everyone around us – everyone in every species. There far far far more non-human beings than human beings on this island. And in your neighborhood. Appreiate all of it and all of them and make that feeling of appreciation and service the central point. Then the many projects are just different expressions of that one point.

The second slogan is interesting. Traditionally it’s “Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.” Norman simplified it down to trust your own eyes. The two witnesses are your own perspective and an outside perspective. The other witness is what everyone else thinks of you. So this slogan is encouragement to trust your gut. To believe in your self. And yet we know all too well how confused and befuddled our own self can be so this is another point to really contemplate carefully. We can start by noticing how much agency we give other people. How their opinions of us or just about anything remotely connected to us can rock our boat. We learn to take a pause when we feel ourselves being pushed by an outside view – I notice my mind is so quick to agree with them, it can be a kind of misdirected empathy, I really want to suppor the other person and so I automatically agree and support thier view even if it’s something about me that’s well…not quite right! So this is a powerful slogan that I practice with a lot. The pause really helps. The noticing that i’m letting myelf be knocked over. That in fact it’s not the other person who’s knocking me over but the way I’m grabbing onto their words and ideas. They provide the lever to tip me over but I’m the one planting it under my own feet. Then once they pull on it, down I go. Remember how the Buddha encouraged us to really try things out for ourselves? That’s trust our own eyes And how the Buddha then said, “and listen to the wise.” So we don’t want to misundrstand trust your own eyes to be license to believe in all of our insanity and ignore good advice and wise feedback where we should instead be practicing health remorese.

The third slogan is Maintain joy (and don’t lose your sense of humor). This is in a way very self explanatory. Touch into how amusing this all is. Our nutty minds. Our confusion. Everyone else’s confusion. It’s amazing we can communicate or get along at all. It’s amazing that cars aren’t crashing in the street constantly instead of just once in a while. And yet it’s also a sad kind of humor isn’t it? There is so much suffering and pain and violence and turmoil in the world. Your mind can bring up a thousand examples if you think about it. And that’s not so humorous. But this is like seeds of virtue and familiarization. There’s plenty of joy and humor all around. Let’s access it in service of the lightening of a heavy world. This of HH Dailai Lama again. The spiritual leader of a people in excile – they have many many problems. And yet what is he doing in every picture you ever see of him? Smiling! Joking around! Someone told me that he was one time witha group of scientists who were being so respectful and differential towards him it was getting in the way of the conversation so he reached out and grabbed one of the scientists noses and gave it a good tweak. They all laughed like crazy and then they could relax and engage with each other. So maintain joy and don’t lose your sense of humor.

The last slogan in this section is a kind of “checking question” in the Tonglen system. Norman expresses it in the affirmative as practice when you’re distracted. The more traditional wordiing is if you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained. This slogan is more of a natural result of our stead practice over time. What good is practice if it’s only available when we’re feeling good? We really need it when we’re distracted and upset. When instead of calling on the wisdom and compassion of these practices and teachings we act like a 2 year old this slogan calls on us to notice that, well, you could use a little more training. But then the key is to not use it as more weight for guilt – the Tibetans seem to be more or less culturally not so guilt prone by the way – instead we see this as encouragement. Ahhhh…more training is needed. Back to the cushion with me. Call up my wise friend for support. Maybe instead of messing around on my next vacation break I’d better go to that retreat after all. Of course our goal is to practice all the time and to practice when you’re distracted. But the distracted mind isn’t so good at this. The root meaning of the Asian word that was translated into mindfulness is “remembering.” this slogan is about remembering our practice. And remembering all the time and this just takes time.

[if time read Atisha

Talk 5 – Friday September 1st – Point 7

 

Talk Notes

Like subterranean water, or vast oil deposits, or minerals buried deep with the rock of the planet, we are talking here of interior resources deep within ourselves, innate to us as human beings, resources that can be tapped and utilized, brought to the fore – such as our lifelong capacities for learning, for growing, for healing, and for transforming ourselves. And how might such transformatin come about? It comes directly from our ability to take a larger perspective, to realize that we are bigger than who we think we are. It comes directly out of recognizing and inhabiting the full dimensionality of our being, of being who and what we actually are. It turns out that these innate internal resources – that we can discover for ourselves and draw upon – all rest on our capacity for embodied awareness and our ability to cultivate our relationship to that awareness. We go about this discovery and cultivation through paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

-Jon Kabat-Zinn, from the Introduction to the second edition of Full Catastrophe LIving (2013)

Maybe you guessed who that is. Jon Kabat-Zinn, from the Introduction to the second edition of Full Catastrophe LIving published in 2013. His well known book about the MBSR program which was first published in 1990.

I really admire Jon for picking his line and staying with it. Just pay attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, and everything else follows.

We might add from our studies this week that we can play with additional teachings to enhance and guide and nurture this natural human capacity. Especially as we examine the complexities of living in relationship with other messy human beings which is what the last two Points in the lojong teachings are about.

Point Six is “The Discipline of Relationship” and traditionally this section is associated directly with wisdom. So it’s about how to be wise in relationship. Relationship to each other, relationship to our own mind, relationship to experience itself.

Point Six has 16 slogans in it and point seven has 21 so we obviously won’t discuss every one of them here. And they aren’t designed to be digested in a big batch of info either. They are designed to be taken up one by one, and turned over slowly, breathed with, considered, contemplated and held up as mirrors of our conduct and looking glasses into our preceptions.

So I’ve selected a few and my suggestion is to just see which of these grab your attention. Which strike you as important and helpful. And that one, or those few, are the slogans for your ongoing practice. And remember you can get the book – I’ll put all my books out at lunch today so you can take a look at them. And my notes and talk recordings will be on the website in a week or so.

The first slogan I want to discuss under point six, The Discipline of Relationship, is don’t be a phony. Be genuine. Be yourself. And that is to say you’ll need to be vulnerable. It’s hard for us to be vulnerable because we’re all so used to trying to hide our imperfections while at the same time projecting all kinds of assumptions onto others. Most commonly we think I’m not good but they all ave it together. (Or the variation is the more narcasistic: These people are idiots, I’m the only one who gets it – but there’s really not much difference between the two).

It’s actually a great gift to others to be vulnerable and real. To stop being a phony. It helps all of us to let our guard down and makes it possible for all of us to be fully ourselves and to connect with each other in a much deeper way. So it’s a real gift to be yourself, warts and all.

Often times the ways we be a phony are automatic habits that we hardly even notice. Like I have a habit of imitating accents. If I’m around a bunch of Kenyan people I start speaking in some version of Kenyan English. I was with my father in law’s Polish wife an I started talking a bit like Polish person and dropping articles (which she still does after 30 years in the this country – coming from some languages I think our articles and prepositions are just a bear). The root impulse for this is I think to connect and to respect that here’s a person who’s not a native English speaker which I’m really sympathetic and appreciate of as basically a monoglot myself. But it ends up being weird – my son at dinner called my faux Polish accence “vaguely dehumanizing” – because after 30 years in this country of course Nina understands English with a American accent just fine. I blame Rick Steves a little: before our first trip abroad we went to a lecture by him and he said, “don’t worry that you don’t speak the language just speak in simple English and most people will understand you.” But he actually didn’t say, “try to immitate their accents when they’re speaking English back.” It just comes off as phony and fake and unhelpful. But boy is it a habit: I just find myself speaking that way. So don’t be a phone is being genuine and being yourself and also noticing your habitual patterns that are less than genuine.

I want to speak next about three slogans together beause they are closely connected: don’t talk about faults, don’t figure others out, and don’t malign others. Don’t talk about faults is a wonderful precept. Hard to do! Like my Polish accent sometimes the critical words our out of our mouths before we know it. But speaking about faults is so powerful and can often be incredibly destructive. A weird side effect is if you’re talking with person B and about person A’s faults, what happens is person B can realize of you’re a really critical person who talks about the faults of others, it’s not safe to be around you. Ouch. One of the teachers I like discussion ethical precepts says, if you must talk about someone’s qualities for a good reason only do so if you can give it no more emotional baggage than talking about their shoe size. So if someone isn’t here yet at our group and I know that that person habitually runs late maybe it makes sense to reassure the others that he’ll probably be here soon and that this is typical. But how do you say it? Oh my goodness, he is ALWAYS later, you can’t depend on him. Or you know often runs a little late, let’s go ahead and get started, I bet he’ll be here soon. Or: does saying anything about your perception of this persons fault help at all even there? Why not just say, “It’s okay, let’s get started” and leave it at that.

Don’t figure others out is connected to a personal maxim of mine: you can’t straighten anyone out. One hates to say never but so far my experience of trying to straighten people out has had consistent results and usually results not only in their not changing in the way I want them to but in their getting upset with me and it messing our our relationship. This is not to say we shouldn’t say “ouch!” when someone does something that hurts us – we absolutely should – not to do so would be dishonest and actually a bit deceitful – that false “that’s okay, I don’t mind” has such bag consequences for everyone involved. But we don’t need to say, “you always do that because you’re an arrogant person” – that’s thinking we can figure them out. And few things are more descructive than boxing people with words like “always” – you always do that.

In Buddhism these ideas apply not just to what we say and do but also to what we think. There is not that hard separation between mind and matter like we have in Western thought. So this slogan is also about noticing if you’re building and maintaining a fixed view of others. Letting go in the mind as you notice the “I’ve got you figured out” thought arising. Even if we have enough restraint not to say anything our thinking guides and affects our actions, attitudes and relationships. How much freer and intimate we can e with other if we let go of figuring them out. Don’t figure others out.

And don’t malign others is a variation on same. Norman tells a nice childhood story about this. [p.113 of Training in Compassion by Norman Fischer].

The next phrase I was to address is Work with your biggest problems first. Some years ago my wife Janet and I saw an Irish movie. I wish I could remember which one – she has an incredible memory and probably does – but one of the characters was facing a lot of problems. Some big, some minor. And his guiding principal was to just wade in there and tackle the biggest one: “you must grasp the thistle firmly!” he said. So that’s been a slogan around our house for ages. I’ve got to grasp the thistle firmly we say when we’re mustering our energy to face something difficult. I looked it up hoping to find a reference to the movie but it’s a common expression in the commonwealth it seems, usually as “grasp the nettle” – the write up said everywhere there are nettles there is the expression “grasp the nettle.”

This is about procrastination. Sometime we think, “I’ll just warm up on this minor problem first.” But somehow that doesn’t seem to lead to facing our bigger problem. We can always find another small problem to address first and we never get to it.

Plus when we face the biggest problem we have the most learning, growth and change. Often a whole slew of the minor problems just go away with the big problem. And in any case everything changes. I know that several of us here are in recovery. One of the more powerful and challenging examples of work with your bigest problems first – if you find a way to live more wisely with addiction everything changes, right? Everything. And whether it’s alcohol or food or Facebook as the object we all come with addictive tendencies – they seem to be pretty well baked into us thanks to the reward systems in the brain that pump out dopamine. It turns out oddly that the dopamine comes more strongly in anticipation of the object we think is pleasurable but not so much when we actually get it, thus we keep going running that cycle of anticipation of the next drink, or cookie, or interesting post only to be a bit disspointed by the actual experience. And on and on. (I am far from an expert on the neuroscience of addiction, so feel free to straighten me out later if I have this wrong.)

So don’t put them off, as soon as it’s possible: work with your biggest problems first. And of course we can’t be too compassionate or helpful if we’re consumed by our big unaddressed problems. Many of these seem to be about out own separate lives but we can easily see they all govern our abiity to relate to others, too.

I love this next one and it was one of those hunh! moments when I first learned about it. Don’t be so predictable. We put ourselves in a box of personality. I’m this kind of person and I always act this way, that’s just who i am. We become so predictable. It damps us down and limits our expression of our good hearts. So to deliberately experiment with going a different way than usual is liberating and broadens your life and enriches the lives of others around us. Don’t be predictable. Be a little more spontaneous. Mix it up.

As I’ve said, our enviornment is a powerful governing force – easily as important as our willpower or sense of our own agency – so a great way to practice don’t be so predictable is to put yourself in a different environment. So….congratulation you are already practicing this! Several of you said at dinner the first night something like, “I don’t know if I can be silent for 5 days. I told my friend about this retreat and she said, yeah well I’ll see you on Tuesday or Wednesday!” In other word sthey had a big prediction about your ability to do this quiet practice. I guess all such friends have been proven wrong and you are not so predictable!

An example from my own life is I noticed when Janet and I were in Costa Rica last May and I was making a little bit more progress with my Spanish again I was being a lot more outgoing towards strangers than I am here. Like even though my Spanish is really primitive and simple somehow in the different enviornment I could be a different person. At restaurants here if I want the waitstaff’s attention I just sit there quietly until they visit the table again. Maybe I give a little wave when they are passing by. But never would I holler across the room: excuse me! check please! But there I was in Costa Rica. We were ready for something or other and there I’d be projecting my voice right across the whole restaurant: ¡Por Favor! And woah: the waiter quite cheerfully would come over and help us. No one was offended. Woah. When you practice don’t be predictable you often learn things about yourself and others. It’s a rich possibility that’s always with us.

The last slogan I want to talk about in the Discipline of Relationship point is a little odd sounding: abandon hope. It sounds really bad like decending into Dante’s hells. But it is actually a liberating idea: release from this constant cycle of hoping for something different. Trungpa Rinpoche frames this in terms of letting go of spiritual striving – and maybe you’re heard of his famous and helpful book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism – think about that title for a minute, spiritual materialism. Greed for spiritual progress. His commentary on abandon hope ends with, “any pursuit of this life’s happiness, joy, fame, or life hereafter, would be regarded as a problem.”

I actually think hopefulness is a positive quality. I have great hopefulness that humans will respodn to diminshed resources by learning how to share and connect and treat each other with dignity and respect for example. I’m hoping for that. I’m rooting for it. And with eyes open, we have awful examples of the opposite of that happening but we also have examples of exactly that happening. Someone was telling me a spiritual community she’s involved in has helped to build schools in Bangladesh that are made of concrete and up on stilts. And that during the monsoon floods they become shelters that people live in for the worst of the annual flooding and they have saved many lives. Amazing. And all over Kenya I saw similar kinds of projects when I was there. There is plenty of reason to hope.

But stop hoping to be a different person with a different tragectory. Be who you are and take the next step from there. Another Suzuki roshi quote,”Our way is to practice, breath by breath, step by step, with no gaining idea.” Freedom from gaining ideas is the slogan of abandon hope.

Okay! The Seven Point of the Lojong Mind Training system is entitled “Living with Ease in a Crazy World” by Norman. More traditionally it’s just “Guidelines for Mind Training.” There are 21 slogans and we’ll focus on a few highlights as we did with point 6.

The first is very practical: begin at the beginning, end at the end. The commentaries all agree that this sage advice to be simple and thorough includes also a simple and helpful practice that I recommend highly. When you first get up at the beginning of the day, ask yourself: what is my intention today. Maybe you are working with one of these slogans. My intention is to remember work with your biggest problems first today, and if I get sidetracked I’ll do my best to get back to the biggest problems. I know I can do it. This is actually a very hopeful moment. Begin at the beginning, end at the end. Then at the end of the day, right before bed. Reflect on how it went. And see ifyou can not add guilt or shame or confusion. It went how it went. Any outcome is okay. The important thing is you’re strengthening your intentionality and resolve and remembering (remember that the root of mindfulness is just that? remembering). “Well I was pretty focussed in the morning and I faced that report I’ve been meaning to get to, but after that it’s a blur. Okay, not bad. Tomorrow’s a new day.”

Then I’d like to discuss a set of three that are a little technical. Don’t lose track and Keep the three inseparable and Train wholeheartedly, openly, and constantly. These there are about continuity in practice. Don’t lose track means exactly what it says. This is was begin at the beginning, end at the end is helping us with. Keep track of what and who you really are and what your intention is for this life. Keep the tree inseparate: the three are body, speech, and mind. As in relationality how we think matters, the words we say matter – in the wedding ceremony I do there’s a line, “we make and destroy worlds with our words.” And our body is not just a kind of fleshy car that gets us around – it’s an expression of everything we are, can be, and will be. I have so loved Beth’d precise mindful movement. That helps me practice keep the three inseparable. And a side note to the MSC Teachers-to-Be in our group: maybe you can be the seeds of virtue that help MSC version 2 include the body a bit better. And train wholeheartedly, openly, and constantly is as it says too. Another gloss on the 5 strengths of yesterday. Dilegence and all that, but softened by aspiration and healthy remorese when we blow it (and the knowing that we will blow it). There’s another slogan a little later in the list be wholehearted that supports this same idea.

And by the way there is repetition in religion. Many slogans overlap and repeat ideas, just in different words, maybe this was skillful on the part of these great sages or maybe they just repeated themselves. There is repetition in religion. There is repetition in religion. There is repetition in religion. And we need that.

And now a nice set of three that addresses what Suzuki roshi called “small mind.” Don’t wallow and Don’t be jealous and Don’t be frivolous. Maybe all I need to say by way of comment here is: don’t wallow, don’t be jealous, don’t be frivolous. And of course you’ll be too busy working with the biggest problems first, being grateful to everyone, resting in the openness of mind, maintaining joy and so on to be hanging around wallowing in self-pity, being jealous of others, or frivolously wasting time and resources on things that don’t help you or others.

(Which is not to say it’s not wise to take breaks and rest!)

OKAY….drum roll please…..the last slogan of the 59 slogans arranged into 7 points is my few favorite: don’t expect applause.

Now this has a very direct and obvious application for those of us who somehow ended up making presentations. It’s not a helpful way to work to be pushing out a perfect and engaging and wonderful presentation just so you can get to that glorious moment at the end when you are showered with applause and reassurance and adoration. That kind of motivation can indeed lead to some pretty clever presentations. People will leave saying, wow that was so interesting. You’re a great speaker. What fun. Thanks a lot! But I’m doubtful the experience will actually do them that much good.

But it has much much wider application than literal applause from an audience.

Do you do things for your friends, or your kids, or your patient, or your co-workers or boss with a sneaky kind of expectation built in. If you loved me and appreciated me you would thank me in just the right way for my generous act of making you just the right lunch for school. And…you failed the test. Or…does this mean I’m not a good parent just as I feared? Or not a good clinician? Or not a good teacher or whateer role you’re identifying with at that moment?

This is one of the slogans that really has somehow planted it in my heart and pops up the give me a friendly little nudge when I need it. I do something really pretty great and I notice this little something in me – this energy of expectation – that i’ll get a certain kind of response. There’s this desire for validation, for a little praise, for recognition. This incomplete empty kind of feeling and it’s focussed usually on someone else. And up pops “don’t expect applause!” and I can usually let go. Sometimes with a little chuckle – maintain your sense of humor – sometimes with a little sadness, sometimes with some compassion for that hurt little boy in me, sometimes the whole complex situation of approval seeking just melts away. I love this slogan a lot actually.

Plus, speaking of approval seeking, I felt like a bit of a phony at times teaching on this material because I haven’t studied this slogans nearly as thoroughly as I’d like. I haven’t taken each one up carefully for a month to investigate my life. So I hope my limited engagement with them hasn’t reduced the efficacy of talking about them for 5 days straight. BUT: this one I sure have. don’t expect applause.

Thank yous: Beth, C of C & the camp, Michael, other MNW staff, Norman, Jon and MBSR teachers, Michelle and Steve for MSC, my family and everyone’s for puttig up with our being gone

Post-Retreat Suggestions:

• practice at least a little tiny bit tomorrow and then in a spacious way as close to daily as works out

• don’t be too hyped about reading all the books, it’s not that kind of learning

• trust that you’ve received what you need this week and don’t worry if you seem to be falling right back into the same old patterns

• a little depression in the next few days is very very normal – there’s a part of the mind that thinks something really special happened here and it’s going to disappointed (After the Ecstasy, the Laundry)

• The root message of all of this stuff is to have more faith in “you’re perfect just as you are” and that we can work on “and you can use a little improvement” from that basis not from the basis of lack and inadequacy.

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