with Tim Burnett & Robin Boudette
LECTURES FROM THE BUDDHIST ROOTS OF MINDFULNESS RETREAT, OCTOBER 2017
In October 2017, Mindfulness Northwest director and Guiding Teacher, Tim Burnett, co-led a 7-day silent mindfulness retreat with Robin Boudette. Tim and Robin gave daily talks exploring Beginner’s Mind and the Foundational Attitudes of mindfulness training as expressed by several teachers: principally Shuryu Suzuki Roshi and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
The primary texts for the lectures were:
- Shuryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and Not Always So
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living
Recordings of the six talks along with our lecture notes are in the pages that follow.
The Foundational Attitudes
The 7 Foundational Attitudes for mindfulness training according to Jon Kabat-Zinn (see his Full Catastrophe Living, chapter 2)
- Beginner’s Mind
- Letting Go
To which many add some of the following:
Talk 1 – October 16 -Beginner’s Mind and MBSR History – Tim
Talk 1 recording
Warning that I seem to give long talks and you can see it as encouragement or entertainment, don’t worry too much about remembering all of this. Sit comfortably. Especially this talk I let myself dip into some Buddhist history so it goes on a while. Remember that they are recorded and I’ll post my notes if you want to dig back into this later. Maybe this will at least distract your from the anxieties and pains in the body for a while.
The way we’re practicing together this week owes much to a class in mindfulness and awareness which most of us are familiar with called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Created by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late ’70’s back when this way of being and practice was little known. Sometimes we say it was little known in the West but the truth of the matter is that this way of being and practice has never been all that popular in Asian cultures either.
Serious meditation retreats like we’re doing has mostly been the province of specialized monks and nuns in the Buddhist world. For most Buddhists worldwide Buddhism has been much like the other religions: about venerating the wonderul example of the founder and his or her teachings, about expressing a feeling for life through ritual, about making sense of major life transitions like birth, marriage, and death, and a way of being together as a community. In Japan there are something like 30,000 Sōtō Zen temples of various sizes (some quite small) but only a dozen or so places where a schedule of all day meditation is practiced. Although the priest in your neighborhood temple would have gone through at least a year or two of meditation-based training as part of his or her formation as a priest, but most likely he (I keep saying or she but they are of course mostly “he”) doesn’t practice daily himself and wouldn’t be very comfortable showing you how to sit in meditation. Probably you’d be moved by his sense of presence in his body, his attentiveness and a ready repetoire of ritualize ways to meet life’s challenges but he probably wouldn’t be what we would see as a serious meditator.
There have been a few interesting Buddhist reform movements that have emphasized meditation and even meditation for lay people – one of them in Burma in the 18th into 19th centuries along with a monastic reform movement in Thailand a little later – is largely responsible for what now call Insight Meditation which is probably the most popular forms of Buddhist meditation in America. But although it references a set of old Buddhist texts it’s not so much part of an unbroken line of lived tradition. Although most reform movements do use that trope to justify themselves – this is the way it’s been done since the time of whomever. Historial reality is usually more complex.
I call all of this because of our overall theme of these retreats: Buddhist Roots. And when we hear that or think about it we might assume a kind of simple direct living tradition from the Buddha’s day where all Buddhists are faithfully meditating every morning and going on lots of retreats and eventually in the 1960’s some of them brought that practice over to America.
There’s some truth to that notion but reality is much messier and more complex.
But the interesting thing about meeting people in Buddhist cultures is there is a real feeling of groundedness in the body and steadiness of attention that you see, even though most of those Buddhist practitioners are not, in fact, regular meditators. So there may be a lot more going on here than meditation.
So the amount of formal meditation that Jon asked his students in the 1970’s in Worcester Massachuettsets was actually a lot more meditation than the average Buddhist would ever practice. Interesting eh?
Jon himeself learned meditation from a Korean Zen Buddhist named Seungsahn who came to America in 1972. He did this on his own without support from the Korean Buddhist establishment and supported himself working as a washing machine repairman in Providence, Rhode Island.
But somehow people heard that a trained meditation teacher had appeared from Asia and students soon gathered allowing Seungsahn Sunim to start a center hang up his toolbelt again. A group of students form Brown University, I read, and I know Jon heard about all of this at MIT so maybe Seungsanh was smart about making connections with college students as a way to get started.
In the Korean tradition there is, possibly more than many other Buddhist cultures, a strong tradition of serious meditation practice and Seungsahn had been through that system. But he wasn’t a particularly remarkable or important monk there. And certainly wouldn’t have been seen as a teacher
This is part of why he left Korea most likely. In the monastic establishments there wasn’t much room for innovators and he certainly was one. He created his own order of practitioners and empowered serious lay people to do monastic-style training and receive his authorization to teach meditation and the Dharma
I’ve meet Jon and talked to him a bit about his practice and read a good bit of what he’s written about how he got into all of this but I don’t know why he left Seungsahn’s temple. He was for a while the director of the place. Perhaps he realized he just had too many interests and ideas to fit into a new and innovative but still pretty rigid system of practice. One of the thing that was happening in those days is a big bout of what scholars call Reverse Orientalism. Perhaps that’s what turned Jon off.
Orientalism is the the paternalistic chauvanism with which the intellectual west first met Asia. It includes a wide range of attitudes from really dismissive, racist stuff about coolies and so on to a kind of uniformed valorization of the “eastern mind” and the “unscrutiable oriental” – but basically although the eastern cultures may have something useful for us they are in some way childish or naive compared to the sophistication of the West
Reverse Orientalism is when that flips over and Western people see Eastern culture, or their idea of it anyway, as much superior. And that was part of what was happening when these Asian Buddhism monks started appearing, usually on their own, in America to teach in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The students, largely young hippie types, were rejecting their own culture (and with some good reasons to do so!) and enthusiastically embracing this new, better way of being. And in the case of Zen Buddhism this was even more rarified in some ways because Zen was seens as the best of Korean culture or the best of Japanese culture to name a few cultures we’ll focus on today.
My friend Anita Feng who teaches at Blue Heron Zen Center in Seattle which is a practice style that derives from Seungsahn lived with him at the Providence Zen Center that he founded with his students and she said that after a while she realized there was a creepy undertone of veneration and emulation of everything Seungsahn did, done to people even talking like him with a fake korean accent and broken English. I fall into patterns like that myself so I’m sympathetic, one doesn’t really realize one’s doing it.
Perhaps Jon noticed that too. I’ve never asked Anita if she knew Jon back then, but he was Director and co-founded of a satelite group in Cambridge so maybe not.
Jon was also into yoga and soon was teaching yoga classes in Cambridge. And finishing his PhD in microbiology he got a job teaching medical students at a teaching hosptial in Worcester, Mass, and soon started noticing how miserable many of the patients there seemed to be as he’d walk through the halls to work. He’s a pretty gregarious guy and getting to know the physicans there he started asking them how it was going with the chronic pain patients. Shocked to hear that medical intervention was only helping a small percentage of them – 20% or 30% I forget what he was told – he got interested in whether the practices from Buddhism and Yoga could help. Before long he had a major flash of insight as an Insight Meditaiton retreat and envisioned this class we now call Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
So that’s a long winded introduction to the idea of Beginner’s Mind beause Jon is a good example of it in this story. Curious about meditation, curious about yoga, curious about other applications of it already I think of his encounter with the doctors and patients as the Worcester Medical Center as a great example of beginner’s mind. He didn’t just take at face value that meditation and surgery are the only ways to treat chronic pain and it’s just too bad that this only helps 20% of people, he wondered instead. What else might be helpful here? Maybe even something never seen before in this setting by these people. Why not?
And of course he had the wisdom not to call it Buddhist meditation. In our teacher-training group we recently watched the 1993 NPS show with Bill Moyers Healing and the Mind which featured Jon’s work with this class and they spend a lot of time in the show talking about whether Amerians are likely to accept something as foreign and strange as Buddhist meditation. In there Jon says, “this had never been tried before and we had NO idea if people would accept it, this isn’t Berkeley or something!” and later in the show one of the participants says in her Massachuettsets accent, “This is UnAmerican but I love it!”
Instead of calling his class Buddhist-Inspired Stress Reduction or something he pulled the name of one of the important mental factors in Buddhist psychoogy – mindfulness – out and used that to stand for the whole system of Buddhist meditation training. About the same time the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh was using the term mindfulness in a similar way and his first book translated into English, The Miracle of Mindfulness, was published in 1975 so that might have been why Jon picked “mindfulness” – it’s so common now but in Buddhism it actually doesn’t have quite the same broad meaning that after Jon we are not using it for here.
A little earlier than the Korean Zen master Suengsahn or the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh came to the West, in 1959, a singular Japanese Zen master named Shunryu Suzuki was sent by the Japanese Buddhist church to San Francisco to minister to the Japanse immigrants there. It’s clear he angled for the assignment and had long wanted to go to the West and teach English-speaking Westerners. And just like with the other two masters it wasn’t long before enthusiastic young students gatherered around him looking for a better way to live and be, and to a large extent looking to reject and replace the dominant American culture in their lives. In deep ways they saw themselves not just as serious students of Zen and meditation but as quiet revolutionaries creating a newer, better culture. And even when I arrived at San Francisco Zen Center a few decades later there was a similar spirit to Anita’s Dharma friends talking like Koreans with people using their own verisons of Japanese mannerisms and honorifics. People called me Tim-san and so forth.
And yet the huge over the top enthusiasm these students felt, tinged by this Reverse Orientalism as it may have been, led them to really commit deeply to the practice. They threw themselves into in in a way that’s hard I think for us to imagine now. It was like an oasis in a cultural desert for them and they drank deeply. Some deeply refreshed and opened and others of course got a little drunk on his nectar.
Perhaps now we’ve learned a more balanced approach. But we owe a deep debt of gratitude to these pioneers who devoted themselves to completely to the practice of meditation and to doing their best to understand the culturally-shaped container this practice arrived in. How the different streams of movement from East to West treated the container varied a lot. Some got too excited about it as I mentioned, some tried to leave it behind in Asia as a kind of unneeeded husk feeling they could extract the essence and bring that forward.
Perhaps Jon’s in the latter camp. Can we extract the essence of this and leave the cultural stuff behind? Can we see the insights of the Buddhist monks and teachers as universal human insights that have been offered to the world and now through our careful effort and practice we can experience and share with others?
Jon likes to say he’s not a Buddhist and that’s okay because the Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. Which is true enough since the term “Buddhism” was invented by Protestant Missionaries and academics trying to make sense of the wide range of practices and beliefes they encountered in Asia. Buddha himself, as best we know, called what he offered the teaching and the discipline. In seventeenth-century Europe there were four religions known: Christianity, Judaism, Mohammedism, and Paganism. Eventually paganism was exploded into more -isms: Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism and so on. So even the term “Buddhism” is a kind of product of this tangled relationship between West and East even though now you can open any encyclopedia and it says “Buddhism is a religion common in Asia characterized by…blah blah blah.”
All of these great teachers saw that it wasn’t just doing the practices that mattered but the attitude we bring to them and the Zen school has always emphasized in it’s teachings a sense of intimacy and immediacy. A sense of presence. But of course like any human movement it gets a big stogy and heirarchical and rulebound. So we are lucky that these few people – Suengsahn, Thich Nhat Hanh, Suzuki Roshi, Jon, and I know that I’ve mentioned only men so far which is too bad, were all creative innovators trying to breathe life back into this.
They all recognized deepy that tender human beings aren’t just transformed by sitting here like statues. That the spirit we bring to it, the orientation we take to it, is key.
Zen training Japan is actually pretty rote – even the training with lots of meditation in it- it’s about how you move around the monastery, how you stand, how you bow, the words you say. There is formal dialog between the monks during ceremonies that’s all scripted. And there are short expressions they all memorize. And depending on your teacher may never be explained. Having not trained that way myself I don’t know many of them but one that Suzuki Roshi brought with him is an expression called “shoshin” which is probably part of a list of desirable minds to cultivate. Sho (初) means beginning or starting, and shin (心) means mind.
The mind we have when we start something or begin something.
And just mind like the mind that things but a broader vision of mind. The word shin means heart too. Often like other terms that don’t quite land right in English we use a hyphenated word heart-mind.
So we are here this week to explore the heart-mind of beginning. Begining again and again. Approaching each moment with beginner’s mind.
Here is the famous little talk Suzuki Roshi gave on this which was recorded and edited into the prologue of the book of his talks Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
[ZMBM p. 21 2nd paragraph to p. 22]
And Jon extended this idea of beginner’s mind – fleshing it out into a set of 7 connected attitudes he called the Attitudian Foundation of Mindfulness Practice. We’ll dig into these more over the week but for now just to name them: non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go. Non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go.
So this is our topic this week. What is our attitude. What is our intention. How are we meeting this life as it appears moment by moment.
And in our study of beginner’s mind we might notice “expert’s mind” arising all the time. We’re all experts on all kinds of things. And especially we think we’re experts on ourself and how we tick.My teacher used to say “Everyone’s a philosopher” – we all have a philosophy, a theory of everything, how i am, how I should be, how you are, how you should be.
And like so many wonderful projections of the mind these are useful thoughts and a handy short hand on what’s going on so we can function but we do notice from time to time that our projects are all a little off. Or a lot off. We find out we were making assumptions about someone. That we were totally wrong about something. That we were operating under false pretense in all kinds of ways. And what is the usual result of such mismatches between our ideas and reality? Suffering. Usualy suffering
Retreat is so great for studying all of this. We can see in the quiet and relative simplicity of retreat that our mind is inventing various studies based on little snatches of information. We can see how we meet things with all kinds of extra little dramas built in when our preferences arise. We can see how emotions and judgments and evaluations of all kinds come and go and change.
And really this practice of beginner’s mind seems to me to come down to meeting. How do we meet each moment? And to starting to wonder if there’s actually a bit of a fallace – a non-beginner’s mind – built right into this idea of “me” meeting a moment. Maybe it’s more like letting a moment meet me. Or letting me disolve and open into an ocean of moments too rich and full to really quite understand.
Suzuki Roshi loved to study his famous forebear in the tradition Eihei Dogen who was the 12th century founder of the Soto school of Zen. One of Dogen’s famous teaching is appropros:
To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion.
That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.
Myriad things is a translation of a the Buddhist term “dharmas” which here means everything that can every be experienced. So to carry yourself forward and experience these moments has a kind of delusional quality to it. Our idea of the me who’s carrying herself or himself forward is an manifestation of the experts mind in some way. There is a narrowing of possibilities there.
Maybe today, this week sometime, we can relax this self-focussed view a little bit and just let our experience arise. Maybe we can let our moments meet us.
Putting Dogen’s teaching into the language of our mindfulness movement maybe we have:
To think that you are meeting your life is full of confusion;
to allow your life to arise and welcome you into this moment is clarity.
Something like that. So this week we can study this meeting. Self meeting other. Sounds and sights passing through eyes and ears to meet the mind with allof its complexity.
Perhaps this week we can open to wonder and curiosity about all of this. And go from “What is this?” to “what is this, wow!”
We can notice our preferences our expertise, our openneess and our freshness. That we can be wide open and curious and narrow and upset.
Is all of this something we do? Is it something we allow to happen? Is it about this experience of “me” doing this practice? Is it about when this “me” finally gets so tired of being me that he or she settles down enough to let something else through?
How do we meet our moments? How do the moments meet us?
Thank you very much.
Talk 2 – October 17 – Non-Judgement and Non-Striving – Robin
Talk 2 recording
Non Judging : Open, observing, curious, allowing
attitudes qualities part of mindfulness training
helpful, essential in cultivating present moment awareness
Not independent of one another, actually interdependent
In Letting go, helps to have to trust
Non-striving is supported by patience
beginners mind brings balance to the judging mind
So it’s not about doing or being something
More like recognizing what’s arising
This is striving… holding on, what about letting go
Recognition is important
Much of the time we might not be aware of striving or judging
Once aware, recognize, what happens next?
See the moment, power of pure recognition…
There my be loosening, a space, a shift
We can incline the mind/body/heart in the direction
Dance of Actions of Recognition and Non doing
We will be exploring the conditions that encourage, out of which the attitudinal foundations arise
Some are named by what they are not, non judging
Want to move out of conceptual into experiential
What are the qualities of judging mind and non judging
Mindfulness translation is become familiar
Not fixing, changing our experience, getting to know it,
Get to know it when it comes
Overview: Judging Mind
How does non judgmental land in you
You might be thinking: not for me, rainbows and unicorns
Non judgmental awareness not warm and fuzzy sentiment
allows us to look at ourselves and our world in a different way
Break out of habit patterns
Is judging something you do? Or maybe it’s something you notice
Have you ever tried to stop having judgmental thoughts?
Can you force yourself to not have any judgments?
Is judging something you do? Or maybe it’s something you notice
Or maybe both or either, inquiry into
The judgmental mind
Cultivating nonjudgmental attitude Requires you become aware to the constant stream of judging that arises, how we are constantly reacting to inner and outer experiences
Awareness of judging, automatic activities of mind evaluate, happens without our awareness
Intensity can vary: rate, value, criticize, condemn
Tend to think of judging as negative, could also be good, great, have to have it
mind is problem solver, in charge of performance improvement
Genes we inherited
Process of Judging:
Brain in eastern cultures is seen at sixth Sense organ
Mind is to thought what ear is to sound
See the weather outside
Taste chocolate cookies
I’m really not very good at this
Contact Generates feeling tone,
I don’t like this weather, not liking, want something different
I have to have another one of those cookies, liking, feeling wanting
Contact, feeling tone, followed by us moving toward or moving away
Happens often without our awareness
mechanical reactions, no basis in direct experience
SEA of FOR or AGAINST
When a thought appears in the mind we run with it, we exaggerate a thoughts’ power, we become easily obsessed with certain thoughts
On auto pilot, not aware of it arising, don’t question it, act according to what it seems you to do or feel
Judging mind is SO convincing, compelling, already knows
This person did something wrong…on purpose
This situation, job, day, event is going to be HORRIBLE… WONDERFUL
Has this happened to you to?
As we observe mind, we see how
How caught / entangled / absorbed in judging mind right now
gift of retreat, we can slow things down enough to
become interested in this chain of momentary events
see natural arising of thoughts, judgmental and other thoughts as well
same way observe sounds
Judging is happening, moment not judging
To keep going the judging mind like fire needs fuel
This is where we come in
Add fuel to the fire, rehash, rehearse, engage in process
This amplifies into a story, a mood, state and then dictates our behavior
Or note, judging is happening, step back observe the thinking process
Judging is happening… inquire further..
What is the story my mind is telling?
I am having the thought that…
Judging is happening… how does it feel in the body right now
With awareness we can explore,
relate to judging mind in a different way
Inquiry: what does judging feel like?
Absence of judging, what does that like
Notice the absence of judging mind
“Don’t know mind” is non judgmental; Beginner’s mind
qualities of don’t know mind: open, curious, receptive, smiling, clear
how does it feel in the body, tight, spacious
quality of mind, clear, cloudy
The barn burned down
Then I could see the moon
Seeing with fresh eyes…
As if for first time
Weather, too cold
Where does the “not liking” take you?
What else is here: beginners mind
Trees dancing in the wind, sound of the rain
Don’t step in same river twice
No 2 breaths
No 2 bites
No 2 storms
No 2 body scans
How present can you be to your experience?
Suspend liking and disliking, below the words
What do you learn, discover?
quote without preferences: 3rd Zen patriarch, Sengstan
The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind�s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The Way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Notice how judgments, preference cause suffering
See how this shows up on retreat
Want a different schedule, a warm meal, more guiding, less guiding
More comfortable clothing, different seat in the room
Wanting what we don’t have, Not wanting what we do have..
How is this…
No preference, no suffering, less suffering
No need to judge the judging mind, just what’s arising
Let mind do what it does and observe with curiosity
Faculties of recognition
Might even see judging mind as a teacher,
Zen: bad horse is better
See the bad horse with a beginners mind, don’t know mind
No need to change the judging mind, be a teacher
Train mind in ways that help us no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in
Talk 3 – October 18 – Forgiveness, Trust and Acceptance – Tim
Talk 3 recording
First a little more about forgiveness, this is from the insight meditation teacher Gina Sharpe.
Forgiveness is not simple. When we have been harmed, hurt, betrayed, abandoned, or abused, forgiveness can often seem to be out of the question. And yet, unless we find some way to forgive, we will hold that hatred and fear in our hearts forever. Imagine what the world would be like without forgiveness. Imagine what it would be like if every one of us carried every single hurt, every single resentment, all the anger that came up, when we felt betrayed. If we just kept that in our hearts and never let it go, it would be unbearable. Without forgiveness, we’re forced to carry the sufferings of the past. As Jack Kornfield says, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” In that sense, forgiveness is really not about someone’s harmful behavior; it’s about our own relationship with our past. When we begin the work of forgiveness, it is primarily a practice for ourselves.
I said “Insight Meditation teacher Gina Sharpe” – which brings up another thread in the history of this practice. Unlike the Zen traditions of Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, and also Tibetan Buddhism, the path of practice Gina Sharpe represents wasn’t brought over by individual teachers like we were discussing with the fierce Korean teacher Seungsahn Sunim or the kind Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh or the somewhat ineffable Japanese teacher Shunryu Suzuki roshi. And a great example in the Tibetan tradition is Chogyam Trungpa – who was a young, creative former monk who’d been to college in the UK before heading on to the US. These teachers all represent a broad Buddhist movement called the Mahayana – this was a kind of second wave of Buddhism that emerged around the birth of Christ and was developed in a broad swatch north and east of India: Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, and down to Vietnam.
Meanwhile there was a Buddhist that stayed closer to the earliest forms and teachings of the Buddha – at least to what we think to be the earliest forms, but we don’t really know for sure what the Buddha said or did – but this south Asian school of Buddhism died out in India but thrived in the Island nation of Sri Lanka and in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and to some extent Indonesia.
The actual naming of the complexity of these Buddhist movements would take too long and is beyond my scholarly understanding but collectively we can call these Southeast Asian Buddhist movement Early Buddhism or Theravada Buddhism – Theravada meaning “school of the elders” – and this was the Buddhism that another group of enthusiastic young Americans discovered when they went to Thailand and Burma as PeaceCorp volunteers and hippy trail travelers.
Maybe you’ve heard a few of these names: Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein were in this group that studied meditation intensively in Southeast Asia in this Early Buddhism/Theravada style in the early 1970’s. And when they brought it back they decided that it made sense to bring back just the essence – the practices and core teachings – and to leave behind the Thai or Burmese rituals and also to leave behind the emphasis on having monks and nuns in the center of the practice. And they didn’t name what they do Thai or Burmese Buddhism or even, at first, Theravada Buddhism, rather than named it by one of the primary styles of meditation they learned from their Asian teachers: insight meditation.
The differences in style and language between Theravada and Mahayana are actually pretty significant. Remember how I said that the first Protestant missionaries and explorers in Asia in the 15th and 16th centuries didn’t even recognize that what they were seeing in these different Asisan countries was what we now consider the one religion “Buddhism”? It’s hard to talk about the differences without falling into stereotypes and oversimplification but maybe for now we can say Early Buddhism/Theravada/insight Meditation tends to be down to earth, step by step, practical maybe in some ways appearing to be more psychological. They consider Buddha among other things to be a great physician of the mind bringing healing to the suffering world. And Mahayana Buddhism which shared the same root understandings of how the mind works and suffers emphasizes more of an interpentrated mysterious-to-our-thinking-mind felt liberation from suffering that we access through practice and express through practice. The super short hand might be: Theravada says “sadly you are a bit broken and misunderstanding the nature of who you are and what reality is, these pracitces will help you wake up from that confused trance, shed your clinging and suffering and find yourself to be whole and complete.” And Mahayana says, “oh dear! you think you’re broken? that’s terrible! these practices will help you to remember that you’re already whole and complete and always have been.”
So anyway Gina Sharpe is a student of the Insight Meditation Society founded by Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Joseph Goldstein. Interstingly to me she doesn’t list a primary teacher on her website, but rather that she was part of a group of teachers who trained in that school. So this might be another difference: there’s a stronger emphasize on direct student-teacher relationships in Zen and the Manayana schools compared to the Insight folks. But again this is speaking in broad strokes and if you know anything about these worlds you probably would say this differently and have some corrections for me – which I look forward to after the retreat.
This folds back into our stor of the Roots of Mindfulness because after moving on from Korean Zen, Jon Kabat-Zinn started doing Insight meditation retreats at the newly founded Insight Meidtation Center an hour east of him in Massachuetsetts. This was one of the first places in the US where it was even possible to go on a retreat like we’re doing now. So there are so many conidences and connections in this story. What the Buddhists call karma: the rich web of cause and effect that leads something to appear in this world. Maybe if jack, Sharon, and Joseph had opened their center somewhere else and Jon hadn’t taken this next step in practice he never would have thought of MBSR and we wouldn’t be here. Who knows?
Because it was at one of these Insight meditation retreats that Jon had a big epiphany. He kept this quiet actually for a few decades only writing about this in a paper published in 2011.
[read page of jon’s paper on PDF Expert]
And at the same time, some other friends of Jon’s were seeing if they could get the academy itself focussed on meditation. Two psychology graduate students at Harvard: Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman were both investigating meditation themselves and also trying to find ways to research it and write about it. At the time they say there was exactly ONE published study on meditation that had any real credibility to it. And now 40 years later they’ve published a book summarizing the best of thousands of studies on meditation – here it is called Altered Traits. Like many of the scientists coming in behind them they were both practitioners and scientists. For those of you who’ve been studying pain in the body so far this week here’s an interesting excerpt from their own experience:
Altered Traits p.147-149 about Richie Davidson released from pain. My own story of knee pain and the bell.
It’s back to this investigation with curiosity and open-mindedness isn’t it? Back to beginner’s mind – I think I know what pain is and how it works. I’ve folded myself up like a pretzel and of course it’s going to hurt and I don’t like that and it’s awful and let’s get out of here.
As we come to all kinds of conclusions this week about how we are and how things work – our body, mind, each other, the world, everything – it helps to stay present and curious to access wonder as we meet this world. And maybe to our list of qualities we can add a sense of wonder.
More on Suzuki Roshi – this my teacher, Norman Fischer, reflecting on the teachings in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
I am going to make a few comments about the introduction by Richard Baker. This is the sentence that caught my eye and delighted me in his introduction. He says on page 13:
This is the purpose of all Zen teaching – to make you wonder and to answer that wondering with the deepest expression of your own nature.
I thought that was a lovely, grand statement about the purpose of all Zen teaching – to make you wonder. To make you wonder, and to answer that wonder with the deepest expression of your own nature.
We all know from reading Zen teachings that they’re often paradoxical or not obvious in their form of expression. If you pay attention to them and don’t just dismiss them, it does have the effect of making you wonder, “What is going on in this life? What is my experience of every moment? Who am I, actually, besides my conditioned definitions of myself? What really is the significance of my living, on a daily basis? What is happening with my life, and can I ever know? Isn’t it much more than I would imagine?”
I think that this sense of wonder at the ineffable significance of our human living is not only a characteristic of Zen teaching, but of all religious teaching. But Zen teaching is maybe a little different from others in that you can’t help but feel disoriented – which is what we want – slightly disoriented from our habitual frame of mind.
The purpose of all Zen teaching is to make you wonder – to see things more deeply and to go beyond our surface views – and then to answer that wondering with the deepest expression of your own nature. So there is something beyond the wonder. You are responding to that wondering. You are answering to that wondering. This seems to me to be very true and crucial about Zen practice. It’s a practice that is active. It’s a form of life, rather than an understanding or a teaching that we take in. It’s a response. Practice really is an act of response, an act of expression of the teachings, as they come uniquely through every individual life.
There is an answer to this wonder. We don’t just passively receive or acknowledge this wonder. It causes us to come forth in our living. So our practice is an active practice. It’s an expressive practice, but it’s not an activity or expression that is willful or possessive. In other words, it’s not my great idea of Zen expression. It is coming from deep within my nature. So it’s not egotistical or expressive in the conventional sense. But it’s rather a touching deeply with my own nature what I most truly am, and letting the expression come from there. So, in a way, it’s almost an unconscious or non-intentional expression. It’s not something that I do or that is mine. It’s something that just flows through me. And at the same time, it’s something more completely myself than anything that I could ever cook up on my own, because it comes deeply from my nature.
So we need wonder and wonder is a bigger and broader thing than just Wow! Super cool! but wonder of wondering, wonder as deep curiosity. We’re focussing a bit on Suzuki Roshi and his lineage around beginner’s mind but I think all of what Norman says here about Zen practice applies to this mindfulness practice just the same.
Two more of Jon’s 7 attitudinal foundations are trust and acceptance.
Trust seems to show up in common parlance just around relationships to people and maybe relationships to institutions. I trust you, I don’t trust her she’s let me down too many times. I don’t trust them, they have a sneaky agenda.
This trust is a deeper idea of trust. And it’s trust not of a thing or a person or an idea so much as trust in a process. And it’s trust in a process that’s hard to name and the second you name it you we start splitting hairs and arguing. So trust isn’t easy.
Jon’s disciples talk a lot about the “unfolding” of our lives. We’re all tied up in knots, folded in on ourselves, and in time with kind attention it all unfolds and opens up. Robin has adopted that language too I notice. And it’s nice. Trust in the unfolding.
Or we could say trust in our true hearts. Trust in our deepest selves.
As post-modern scientific people we like that there is a growing body of scientific evidence that these mindulness trainings work. In fact the research cited in the book i opened with talks about retreat practice being particularly effective at changing our minds and our health and yet there is plenty we don’t know in a scientific way about consciousness and the mind.
Trust in the practice, in the context of Zen practice, is the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my teacher, Norman Fischer.
** story of first sesshin here at Samish **
** early at the first Dharma Hall on giving people reminders and guidance during meditation, not to interupt their practice (hmm, maybe we shouldn’t interupt you so much!) **
** seeing our local group as a baby group but over the years and decades watching my friends, and mirrored by them, myself grow and change **
** and now of course the often surprising changes people report after even just a few weeks of a mindfulness class – example of what doctors have told me: naming the emotion makes it less powerful, loving kindness practice changing a docs relationship to her team “I see them as more human now than before” (less deumanization) **
So over time we come to trust a process. Is it just because we see evidence – results – or is there a feeling for it and in that starts to take hold?
And this trust is a great antitode to fixing.
Acceptance is something we’ve been talking about a lot already. Let’s hear Jon himself on this from his classic (and long!) book on MBSR called Full Catastrophe Living. Many of you may have read this passage already. Like all good things, though, it bears repeating.
It’s so easy to end up shaming people around their weight so it’s interesting that he chose that example. I slipped up in a training recently and said that mindfulness is great partly because it’s free of side effects, free to try, and not fattening. I never said that before and I don’t know why it popped out. At the end of the training a woman came to me to say that she was quite disturbed by that example. And that made me think of another trianing earlier at which i let a little eye roll comment about then-candidate Trump who was in town at the time slip out. Someone felt alienated all day at that training – she shared with me she feels isolated as the only republican among her colleagues at work.
So easily we divide up into camps. One wishes for more trust and acceptance. And also it’s good if we’re mindful and kind in our speech too.
If trust and acceptance are foundational to this practice does that mean doing the practice we’ll feel more trusting? And more accepting.
If we practice accepting ourselves as we are does that mean the practice doesn’t change us? I have book on the evidence that it does – even as a cellular and genetic level. And yet it seems that if we sit down to practice in order to improve ourselves is always somehow backfires.
Suzuki Roshi was famous also for advocating a non-striving orientation, another of Jon’s 7 fundamentals which Robin is going to speak about tomorrow I think, Suzuki Roshi said stuff like:
Our way is to practice on step at a time, on breath at a time with no gaining idea.
Remember how I said the books of his talk are heavily edited by his students. Here’s a bit of verbatim Suzuki Roshi on this idea of practicing to try to get something
There may be various kinds of practice, or ways of practice, or understanding of practice. Mostly when you practice zazen you become very idealistic with some notion or ideal set up by yourself and you strive for attaining or fulfilling that notion or goal. But as I always say this is very absurd because when you become idealistic in your practice you have gaining idea within yourself, so by the time you attain some stage your gaining idea will create another ideal. So, as long as your practice is based on gaining idea, and you practice zazen in an idealistic way, you will have no time to attain it. Moreover you are sacrificing the meat of practice, set up for the future attainment, which is not possible to attain. Because your attainment is always ahead of you, you are always sacrificing yourself for some ideal. So this is very absurd. It is not so bad, rather not adequate.
And here’s a little more from Norman reflecting on Suzuki Roshi’s way.
Then another little quotation from the introduction on page 17. He says,
You find that zazen meditation is the most perfect expression of your actual nature.
In the first quotation he talks about expression of your nature, and then he says that zazen is the most powerful expression of your actual nature. So that’s a beautiful thing to conceive of. Nowadays there’s so much discussion about meditation and how good it is for you. It makes your heartbeat slow down. It reduces your stress. You live longer. You’ll be a happier person. You’ll be calmer. And then Zen students think of all the great things they can accomplish by meditation.
Actually, in the end, we want to sit in zazen, but not for all the wonderful things it will do for us – and it does do great things for us, I think – but because this is our expression. Imagine having that motivation while sitting in meditation: “This is the deepest expression of who I am. That’s why I am sitting here. It’s the deepest expression of who I am.” It’s a beautiful thought and something to be working toward.
So let’s practice trust and acceptance today. It was trust that I was trying to hint at last night in my pep talk to those who were in a tough spot then. Probably those people are in a totally different place now and there’s a new crop of us in a tough spot. I hope it’s not too difficult.
And sometimes we do need difficulty, as Jon said in that section on acceptance: often acceptance is reached only after we have gone through very emotion-filled periods of denial and then anger. So if you are in an emotion-filled period of denial and anger I hope you can take a little heart or hopefulness from all of this. These are the guests to treat honorably because they are clearing you out for a new delight. The delight that is trust and acceptance.
Talk 4 – October 19 – Non-Striving and Letting Go – Robin
Talk 4 recording
NON Striving: Being with, relaxing into, right effort
Explore attitudes, see them know them
We say concentration but to concentrate your mind on something it’s not the true purpose of Zen. The true purpose is to see things as they are to observe things as they are and to let everything go by to let everything go as it goes.
Inquiry, process of curiousity, begnininers mind, investigation
What is striving? How do you know when you are doing it? What tells you this?
Certain state mind—open or contracted
Focused or distracted
Sensations in the body?
Bring that habit with us on retreat, how does that striving show up on retreat
Reading the schedule
Frustration w slowing down
Too narrow focus in walking or sitting
Sitting to meditate, get rid of thoughts, become calm, make something happen
‘what next moments” doing
leaning into future, anticipation, what next
human beings not human doings
being is so foreign, unfamiliar, system gets confused
stillness in the woods, waiting to be entertained, bird how nice, how long?
How to know striving: S Roshi: trace of thinking quote
Background of thinking, going somewhere, doing something
What am I telling myself right now?
Inquiry into striving: on and off
Strive to stop striving
Recognition: this is striving
How strong is the striving? 0-10, lean in get real curious
How do you know this?
Labeling: Sensations your body, thoughts, telling yourself, emotions
How long does it last?
Can I be with it?
What happens as I relax into it?
What does that feel like,
Process of inquiry, slow down, take a closer look
What’s the opposite: allowing, being with, accepting, letting go
Organic, don’t have to make it happen
Follow sitting instructions, all you have to do
There is a putting forth of energy. There is a commitment. There is a unity or integrity of purpose. Yet there is also effortlessness. Not pushing, not straining not trying to get something, but just allowing the natural energy of the heart to function in a focused and free way.
What conditions support allowing, right amount of effort
Nature beautiful way to explore non-doing
Everything happens in it’s own time
By Bessie Rayner Parkes
THE steadfast coursing of the stars,
The waves that ripple to the shore,
The vigorous trees which year by year
Spread upwards more and more;
The jewel forming in the mine,
The snow that falls so soft and light,
The rising and the setting sun,
The growing glooms of night;
All natural things both live and move
In natural peace that is their own;
Only in our disordered life
Almost is she unknown.
In your body
Trees, bend with the wind
Breath with the trees: leaves release oxygen we breath in
We exhale carbon dioxide, trees take in together
Natural peace within, natural rhythm, being with what is…
Letting go: Seeing clinging, explore how it feels
Explore: What we holding onto not even know holding
Belief, thought habit, without awareness
Recognition of holding on, resistance
Feel in body, thoughts, emotions
Recognition: holding on, craving something
See it, name it to tame it
Shift focus from getting, having, should should not to exploring
Seeing habit of craving, clinging
· Getting what we want be happy
· How strong is it
· Does give me what I need or want
Explore before, during, after, what do I get from this, am I getting from this
See all the results, long term, short term, physical, emotional
Pay close what am I getting from this
Not intellectual, body, mind, heart
Whole experience immediate, short term long term
Comes from paying attention, being present to experience
Disenchantment- spell is broken
What do I get when I let go?
Maybe loss, some fear, might be some freedom
Might be different then way mind says it is
Not from head, more a knowing, embodied wisdom
Inquiry into letting go: what does clinging, grasping feel like, letting go feel like
look like in this moment for you
attitude about this moment, holding onto it, pushing it away
Effortless letting go:
Non forced choice based in embodied awareness
Joy of letting go
We say concentration but to concentrate your mind on something it’s not the true purpose of center. The true purpose is to see things as they are to observe things as they are and to let everything go by to let everything go as it goes.
Wanting to grasp the ungraspable, you exhaust yourself in vain. as soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping, infinite space is there open, inviting and comfortable.
Make use of this spaciousness, this freedom and natural ease. Don’t search any further looking for the great awakened elephant, who is already resting quietly at home in front of your own hearth. Nothing to do or undo, nothing to force, nothing to want, and nothing missing. Everything happens by itself.
–Lama Gendun Rinpoche
There is another way
Talk 5 – October 20 – Nature, Devotion, and Patience – Tim
Talk 5 recording
I’m feeling a good bit better from the cold that clobbered me on Wednesday night, thank you for your concern and good wishes. I hope everyone’s health is okay. I know there are some migraines and other challenges going on among us.
I’m appreciating anew how we can notice more when we’ve practiced more. Notice more in the body, in the heart, notice more in the environment.
And what a rich environment this is for the practice of noticing. Noticing the sky and the beautiful clouds. Each cloud unique and never to come again.
Noticing the feeling and sound of the rain coming down. I’ve been so moved by those of us who are devoted to walking meditation outside in all weathers – what a wonderful opportunity to really notice and meet the rain. Usually we just try to get through the rain – rushing along from buildings to vehicles, taking shelter as if rain was dangerous to us. And of course it can be dangerous, just like anything else can be dangerous, but are we acting out of habit like even a light rain is a threat? We we hunch our shoulders and drop our head and try to outrun the raindrops? How wonderful to stand upright and really meet the rain (although nice we all seem to have the good fortune of owning good gear)?
On the way out of breakfast I noticed a mixed flock of small birds in the bushes and trees between the pond and our main path. How wonderful to stop and really look. I saw chickadees and juncos and ruby-crowned kinglets, and a little sparrow I didn’t recognize (but I was happy I didn’t feel too bad about that – as a half-decent birder, emphasis on the half, sometimes I beat myself up for not knowing a common bird), and I think I saw a nuthatch working it’s way up a Douglas Fir. In the distance a flicker on a tree, various ducks in the pond. And the snoberries and blackberries and roses glistening in the sun. I just felt surrounded by life in the golden light this morning as the sky cleared for a while. What an incredible show – astounding really I was so grateful that it was happening and that I was actually available to take it in.
And then the clouds dropped back down which made me thing of our Holly Hughes poem:
Only a beige slat of sun above the horizon, like a shade pulled not quite down. Otherwise, clouds.
But for the moment I didn’t agree with her analysis of the mind: at least for a moment the mind wasn’t wanting more. The mind always wants more than it has, except when it doesn’t.
Maybe you’re noticing more too. Maybe you’re experiencing moments of contentment. And if not you know what we’re going to say: that’s okay, too. We negotiators of the way each have our own journey to take here.
A few odds and ends.
One is about the story I read from Richie Davidson and the Hour of Stillness – remember how he was in a situation that required him to sit very still and watch the pain in his body and it all dissolved into sensation? I told a similar story from my experience too.
Well I didn’t mean we should be superheros of not moving in hopes of some huge shift in our perception. Be gentle with yourself please. Dramatic situations like a stern Indian teacher telling you “This is the Hour of Stillness!” can lead to dramatic results…sometimes. Other times they lead to injuries. Our way here is more gentle. Easing ourselves into stillness and a turning-towards-it orientation even to strong sensations and powerful emotions. But it’s better not to force anything. To notice when there’s some agression arising and back off a bit. Be curious, stay with it for a while, and then with a sigh and a half-smile change your posture. And this isn’t giving up, it’s being skillful and kind. The kind of dramatic chances I was talking about also happen slowly and gradually and that’s usually better for tender people and plants.
Also a few of us are having to leave early for various reasons that were arranged ahead of time. Karen Schwisow who was sitting in the back over there left to go back to Tacoma. She is a teacher of new yoga teachers and they have a long weekend of training ahead. They are working on inversions she told me which makes the trainees super pumped up and chatty – energize. I think she was feeling a little resistance in going from this to that.
Oh and I think we’ll continue with interviews right after the talk and then again in the afternoon. To see everyone we may have to focus a little on time efficiency so if whomever ends up with the shell at lunch thinks of it you could come straight to the blue-door classroom at 2:30pm. If you get down here having forgotten about that that’s fine I hate to burden you with tracking something in the future. Maybe you’ve noticed that this is a feature of our week. There is actually no reason whatever for you to be thinking ahead, ever.
And that brings me to retreat survival strategies. I was remembering my first long retreat – very difficult – I was very tense. Anyway my strategy didn’t help me any. When I arrived there I studied the schedule carefully and counted up how many peroids of seated meditation there were – I think there were 11 or 12 each day – and calculated that all out to get the total. Then I started a count down. The bell would ring to end a period of meditation – there were all 40 minutes long there – and I would say “ok, 74 to go” or something. Why i thought this would help me I don’t know because of course usually the inner dialog is like you’d imagine: oh shit, 63 more of these to go, I don’t know if I can handle that.
So just a gentle encouragement if you find yourself investing in a strategy for survival to forget about it as best you can. Just do one thing at a time and somehow it works out. Somehow you negotiate your way and it’s helpful to your life even if there are some seriously challenging moments. Luckily they are in fact just moments, and then there’s a new moment.
Returning to the foundational attitude of trust. We were musing about what it is that we trust. Do we trust people? institutions? philosophies and ideas? a process? Or does trust even need a what that we trust? Might it be that we can just practice trusting without so much concern about what we’re trusting? Or is that risky – making us too vulnerable? Do we need some armor just in case the situation or the person or indeed the world proves untrustworthy after all.
And lately the slices of the world that we receive in the news are quite challenging for most of us – and how we do weave those little slices of world together into our conception called “the world.” Somehow it’s easier for the mind to weave in the outrages and confusions and violence and disasters of the world and leave out the quiet beauty of a morning with a flock of birds, leave out the billions of people who are getting up, making breakfast on their stove or their fire, feeding their children and setting about the business of the day in fellowship with their community. It’s easy for the mind to leave out the many billions of simple kindnesses and smiles and moments of gratitude that grace this planet every day. How hard it is for our mind to hold that the world could be both a disaster and a loving community. How hard it is for our mind to hold that we ourselves are both okay – excellent in fact: privledged, supported people with food, shelter, physical safety and even a mindfulness retreat we get to attend – that we are both okay and also a mess. Also a disaster.
So here’s a little more on Suzuki Roshi on trust and a good example of the Mahayana spirit around all of this. This is from the sequel to Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (did you know there was a sequel? how did someone long dead write another book? well his students went through the archives and transcribed and edited more of this talks is how).
[Not Always So, p. 144-145 and note that when he says “zazen” he’s talking about meditation]
What does he mean by Buddha here? I was saying that the earlier Buddhist schools which we’re calling Theravada as a short hand emphasized Buddha as a human being – although a very special one who trained for many lifetimes in order to become a Buddha, an awakened one. But still for the most part as a kind of being that looks like a person that people talked to and lived with for 60 years until he died – well Buddhist don’t say died which has a particular meaning in the cycle of rebirth but he passed away into parinirvana. Gone at any rate.
The later Mahayana movement saw Buddha in a broader, more cosmic light, and I don’t think from our post-modern, western, scientific perspective we can totally understand the view. Buddha as a kind of essence of awakened vision that permeates everything. And everything is made of this Buddha-ness really. They would say that all beings have Buddha nature. The nature of Buddha. Not that we are all Buddha’s in the same way the main Buddha we think of is, there can only in this comological system be one Buddha in the universe at a time. But actually the Mahayana Buddhists emphasized, and the Theravada Buddhists wouldn’t argue, there have been many many Buddhas over the endless reaches of time and will be many more Buddhas. Each Buddha appearing the world in the form that people most need.
You see statues of Buddhas and there are also related beings in Mahayana called Bodhisattvas which exemplify different qualities of practice. Bodhisttavas of compassion, Bodhisattvas of wisdom, Bodhisattvas of healing and so on.
And in fact these bells I’ve been ringing have a prayer on them: Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ which is a mantra that calls to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. This bodhisattva is often depicted as female and one of her names means “she who hears the cries of the world” – hears them and doesn’t turn away. Sometimes she’s depicted as having a thousand arms and in each hand a different gift or tool or something that she can use to be of help. And so a devoted Mahayana Buddhist isn’t just ringing some bells because they sound nice, handy way to let you know the meditation is ending, when we ring these bells we are sending out a prayer – Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ – to a Buddha-filled universe. We are sending a humble call for the protection and help of the Bodhisattva of Compassion – maybe you’re heard some of her names: Avalokitsevara, Guan Yin, Kannon, Chenrezig. And we could study each sound in the mantra which has deep significance and invokes all kinds of teachings and deep feelings. Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ. One could easily spend a week studying the teachings in this one mantra.
So this is a practical non-religious mindfulness retreat of course and i’m a practical 21 century American with a degree in science so…what are we going on about here? Well I don’t know whether I “believe in” spirits and Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as existant things exactly but I’ve certainly had experiences that I can’t explain if I limit the explanation to scientifically agreed upon phenomena – and actually among the most powerful of those experiences was right here at Samish. I’ll restrain myself from going into it because it requires a long story but this seems to be a powerful place in many ways. And I hesitate to even say such a phrase as this is a powerful place. But, it is.
So Mahayana has more of a feeling of the mystery and unknowability of things to it perhaps than the practical and wise teachings of the Theravada school. Jon Kabat-Zinn ended up translating this part of the tradition with the phrase “non-instrumental” That there are the practical step-by-step practices and things to learn and do – albeit with this non-striving attitude – these are instrumental aspects of the practice. But there are other factors at play here, mysterious to our conscious awareness, that he called non-instrumental. Stuff like Buddha-nature and another big Mahayana teaching called emptiness (which is more positive than it sounds) are in the non-instrumental camp. Jon even wrote a published paper about this it turns out.
And without trying to parse all of this out or get too involved in sense-making let’s say that there is always more going on that we can quite see or think or understand and our practice includes a connection to, and a curiosity about, this something-beyond. Which sounds quite mystical, and maybe it is, but is also quite sensible if you think about it. Our conceptual life is formed from language and culture and education all of which is built of the sense impressions that consciousness picks out from a vast field of awareness. Since our culture has selected and built a world from all of this it makes sense that we inevitably left something out. In fact it makes sense that inevitably left a LOT out.
We can use worlds like “the subconscious” or something to try to put the beyond-what-we-can-know into a kind of conceptual box, that’s okay. But even that is just a concept mascarading for someting beyond knowing. Or the mystery. Or emptiness. Or Buddha. Or maybe for some of us it’s Christ or God or spirit. There’s a reason why every culture even has ideas of spirituality and mysticism although just like the many Buddhisms the ideas and forms are so different we don’t want to be crude and suggest they are all pointing to the same thing. Who knows? And that’s the point of what I’m trying, crudely, to say is there is a lot going on that we don’t know here.
That would be frightening or it could be wonderful. Or it could be both. Here’s a famous Zen story. A student named Fayan had been at the monastery of his teacher Dizang for many years and had reached a point in his training where it was time to leave and deepen his understanding by meeting the world in various ways. So he’s at the gate getting ready to go and this traditional Zen story was recorded about that moment:
Fayan was going on pilgrimage.
Dizang said, “Where are you going?”
Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.”
Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?”
Fayan said: “I don’t know.”
Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”
If we’re only on the Instrumental side of thing – only focussed on what we can see and think and hear and understand – we like knowing, we don’t like not-knowing. Not knowing is lack to be corrected. And that’s just fine. But maybe that alone is not so good for us. That is our usual frame of endless improvement and a life of to-do’s.
The suggestion in these teachings, emphasized by the Mahayana side of things but certainly found in all of Buddhism and I think all of the world’s deep spiritual traditions, is when we are open and receptive to the deeper and broader feeling of life we touch the mystery with appreciation for it’s unknowability also. And when we accept that and open to it we don’t feel inadquate or lacking we feel a kind of intimacy. A kind of openness.
So I wanted to flesh out a little this very crude sketch of the value Mahayana Buddhism has offered to our mindfulness training because it’s mostly under the covers as it were. It’s easier to write articles and give lectures on the instrumental step-by-step practical aspects of this way. And sometimes the mystery fades into the background. Touched at times in the MBSR classroom with a poem or a feeling emerging in the meditation and a silent knowing glance exchanged between a participant and teacher (or perhaps it’s a not-knowing glance). And I myself wouldn’t talk about any of this in MBSR class either. Our forum here on the Roots of Mindfulness opens that door.
So it seems we’re been not quite getting around to one of Jon’s 7 fundamental attitudes of mindfulness….patience.
I looked up the English word patient. To be patient. The first definition of patience as an adjective is “bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like.” So a sense of bearing things with good grace. With fortitude and calm. That’s pretty good.
The second definition of patience as a noun is “an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay” – so here we’ve kind of lost our good grace. We’re wiling and able to supress our restlessness and annoyance.
Patience also shows up in a famous Buddhist list of highly recommended practices called the 6 parimis or the 6 paramitas – usually rendered in English as the “6 Perfect Practices” – a high recommendation indeed. And there is has a bit of a different spin than surpression. The perfection of patience is more of a radical acceptance of things as they are. A feeling for the “is-ness” of things. Things are just as they are, it is just as it is.
That the situation I find myself in – a long line at the post office say – is just as it is. If we feel like it we can unpack this logically. It’s a combination of many factors beyond my control and I can study my somewhat crazy assumption that the world should be organized for my convenience and also the total unknowability of how many other people in my town happened to need to go to the post office at that particular time and how the Post Office managers had to make their best guess on how many people to assign to the counter and all of this happening in the midst of the constancy of change with the Post Office losing money as fewer and fewer people mail things while they still have to maintain this incredibly vast network of post offices and employees and sorting centers and trucks and planes. We can reflect on how what we are experiencing is just the tiny tip of all kinds of vast icebergs which we have no real visibility into. And we arrive: we see, we practice standing and breathing and being with our species in line at the post office. Renouncing any idea that there should have been less wait, seeing that just as an idea that comes up in a self-centered kind of way. But an idea it is.
And as we practice patience we find that this kind of analysis isn’t really necessary either. As we practice a deeper patience than surpression of annoyance we are embracing life and our world just as it is. Ah other beings, just like me, need to mail things. Hello everybody. Welcome!
Jon wrote about patience, “To be patient is simply to be completely open to each moment, accepting it in it’s fulness, knowing that, like a butterfly [emerging from a crysalis], things can only unfold in their own time.”
Sounds nice doesn’t it?
Or the idea takes hold the minute we come around the corner and the see the parking lot is full and there are many dark shapes through the windows. Oh no! Aversion is arising. Tension in the jaw and cheeks is here. We begin a kind of incessant checking of the time and worrying about whether we’ll be late for our next appointment. Darn it. I should have known not to come at this time. And like Robin was saying yesterday in her wonderful exploration of non-striving and letting go when we’re caught we’re caught.
Returning to our old friend the breath in the body is a great response. Actually opening our senses to the people around us can help a lot – can we see them not as impediments to our progress, dehumanized by our impatience, and see them anew as actual human beings interestingly diverse, each with his, her or their own story and situation. And through vast numbers of decisions and circumstanes we all ended up at the Post Office at the same time.
But really the ultimate practice with impatience is meeting it. Just meeting it: hello impatience, I see you, I feel you, I know you, welcome into the guest house, would you like some tea? No, well the exit’s over there, thanks for stopping by. Meeting impatience with kindness and clarity and really we don’t have to let it run the show either.
So we aren’t at the post office this week and really things are pretty darn easy in our material world. We even tend to string out a bit on our way to the food line so that we hardly have to wait for anyone ever. And yet, any yet I would be shocked if impatience didn’t arise sometimes.
Maybe you’re impatient with some quirk in your own mind. Or impatient with the body. Or impatient with me or Robin for not saying things quite the way you wanted. Oh: you could certainly have had impatience arise around the loud crackling of the mic which we FINALLY solved last night I think.
Can impatience be not a problem so much as a call to practice. Can the tensions-thought complex we call impatience be like a bell calling out to your version of the Bodhisattva of Compassion? Calling on you to wake up our limited views, our self-centeredness, and somewhat silly expectations of ourselves and others. And merge again with the reality we find before us.
Even as we don’t really know what that reality fully is. And that’s actually a wonderful thing, not a big problem. Not knowing is most intimate.
This whole people in our way idea at the Post Office made me think of a favorite poem – I’ll close with that:
Alison Luterman – Because Even the Word
Try to love everything that gets in your way:
the Chinese women in flowered bathing caps
murmuring together in Mandarin, doing leg exercises in your lane
while you execute thirty-six furious laps,
one for every item on your to-do list.j
The heavy-bellied man who goes thrashing through the water
like a horse with a harpoon stuck in its side,
whose breathless tsunamis rock you from your course.
Teachers all. Learn to be small
and swim through obstacles like a minnow
without grudges or memory. Dart
toward your goal, sperm to egg. Thinking Obstacle
is another obstacle. Try to love the teenage girl
idly lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:
Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,
in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.
Be glad she’ll have that to look at all her life,
and keep going, keep going. Swim by an uncle
in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew
how to hold his breath underwater,
even though kids aren’t allowed at this hour. Someday,
years from now, this boy
who is kicking and flailing in the exact place
you want to touch and turn
will be a young man, at a wedding on a boat
raising his champagne glass in a toast
when a huge wave hits, washing everyone overboard.
He’ll come up coughing and spitting like he is now,
but he’ll come up like a cork,
alive. So your moment
of impatience must bow in service to a larger story,
because if something is in your way it is
going your way, the way
of all beings; towards darkness, towards light.
Talk 6 – October 21 – Beyond the Foundations – Tim & Robin
Talk 4 recording
Metta, Karuna, Mudita, Upekka
In many Buddhist traditions, the teachings are said to have two wings, like the wings of a bird: wisdom and compassion.
Wisdom — clearly seeing
comes from the practice of mindfulness, training the mind to attend to direct experience,
Cutting thru of delusion, or subjective bias, stories we tell ourselves
With the clarity, wisdom arises understanding interconnectedness of everything — when we see that we are all connected, complicated intricate web
People, trees, earth, beings, compassion naturally arises
compassion embedded in mindfulness training, not separate
nonjudgmental attitude: kind and friendly
compassion practices, heart practices
to cultivate compassion, we train in the Brahma Viharas,
heavenly abodes, 4 immeasureables
incompatible with a hating state of mind, and in that they are akin to Brahma, the divine
they are called abodes (vihara) because they should become the mind’s constant dwelling-places where we feel “at home”; they should not remain merely places of rare and short visits, soon forgotten.
Hatred can never cease by hatred.
Hatred can only cease by love.
This is an eternal law. –the Buddha
When we see, feel, know that we are all connected, hatred can only cease by love, compassion is the only wise response, not right or wrong, wise
4: l-k, compassion, sympathetic (appreciative) joy, equanimity
We all have the potential to abide in loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
When we train in these qualities, they become an inner resource, gift, like wealth, more valuable than any outer riches.
Love, kindness, care, peace don’t have to be dependent on ideal circumstances; rather, we can learn to awaken and develop these qualities so they so they becomes the natural dwelling place of the heart.
All these capacities are said to be of the “heart” because they are deeper and more stable than thoughts about loving.
Deep, not entangled in the shallowness of selfishness
stable when not compromised by fear, aversion, and craving
caring for a child, protecting a child
quality of devotion arising viscerally from the heart
heart practices: relational, practice for ourselves but also others
benefactor, friend, neutral, difficult, all beings
involve attitudes and intentions that arise out of instincts embedded in our physiology, neurology, and psychology.
they appear easily when we are at ease, they can feel like the natural working of our inner life.
· How do you feel when you see a puppy?
· And if that puppy were to get hurt?
· Having fun playing?
· First time it gets chased by a cat?
“near enemy” quality or experience that can be mistaken for a helpful quality or experience.
The near enemy is a kind of counterfeit of what we’re actually aiming for, and it’s unhelpful because while the genuine article helps free us from suffering, the counterfeit doesn’t.
Far enemy or opposite
phrases: inclining the mind, planting the seeds of intention, over time, see that qualities of unconditional friendliness and compassion arise naturally
whatever the mind ponders upon becomes the inclination of the mind
neurons fire together wire together
metta: loving-kindness, unconditional friendliness, gentle friendliness
Metta is exemplified by the bond between a mother, parent, and her newborn child
offering friendliness to everyone
not just friendly to those we like, those we know, people who are us, but to everyone without discrimination; we like, don’t like, similar to us and different, kind and unkind
gentle rain: non selective, falls everywhere, evenly
near enemy: selfish affection, conditional love, I love you, what you do for me.
Codependent, out of needing you to be, or do something
far enemy: ill-will, road rage, easily triggered
“May all beings be well; may all beings be happy; may all beings find peace.”
wish to be happy
is the ultimate growth of a person.
It is becoming softer in your words
in the sound of your voice
and in your whole being.
The gaze from your eyes
becomes a warm “feeling into”
because in the people around you
you recognize yourself.
It has nothing to do with weakness
it is much deeper.
It is the power
that causes you to wake up and live.
People who become gentle on the inside
realize who they are themselves.
You don’t judge others anymore
you’re no longer hard.
You don’t need to prove yourself all the time
at the expense of others
because every “other”
is an ongoing miracle
you enjoy the sun and the rain
and all the small things.
Often you can see this kindness
in people who suffered a lot
they see and hear things differently
They who become gentle
have won over themselves.
A grateful breath of freedom
rises up inside of you
you love the people
because you have learned
to love yourself,
Not the way you would like to be
but just the way you are.
compassion: Karuna: when metta meets suffering
love in face of suffering
quiver of heart:
feel visceral sensation, quivering of the heart followed by a move to act
mother child relationship that remains undisturbed by fear and aversion when the child is suffering.
allows for sustained and unobstructed presence of mind, knowing what to do, taking action
not always easy, arises from willingness to come close to suffering
see a person living on the street- turn away, block out, detached, not see
because it hurts
need equanimity for balance
near enemy of compassion: feel pity, sentimentality, overwhelm;
open to suffering without drowning in it
self and other circles, no compassion separate
compassion connected circles
not lose self in other
come from place of equanimity , where wisdom and l-k meet
unconditional steadiness of heart
practice is the transformation of consciousness that increasingly makes compassion the response to suffering our default setting
not turn away, not melt in sentimentality
Compassion’s far enemy is cruelty. Cruelty is devoid of mercy.
“May all beings be free from suffering; May all beings have joy and ease.”
Sympathetic Joy, unselfish joy
Appreciative joy for ourselves
Parent-child connection when the child begins to express its own creative nature. Mudita is the ability to join and support this expanding spirit
Hardest to cultivate, we often have the thoughts…
Jealousy, carried away by it or turn away
Incline to wholesome
Near enemy: exuberance, hypocrisy, insincerity,
Far enemy: Resentment, jealousy
I’m happy that you’re happy.
May your happiness continue.
May your happiness increase.
May your good fortune shine.
May all your dreams come true.
Equinimity Inner Peace
And in the particular circumstances when we have no role in the welfare of others, upekkha is the wish that we ourselves not become agitated while keeping our hearts open and responsive, perhaps available for when we can help.
the power of observation, the ability to see without being caught by what we see.
Equanimity’s exemplar is the mother child relationship as the child leaves home. The parent’s roll is fulfilled and, now, it is time to cut the ties that bind. She now belongs to the universe of her own karma. With a heart full of good will, compassion and appreciative joy we stand at the threshold of her departure.
Equanimity may be seen as the balancing factor that keeps us stable in the opening of the heart.
Upekkha is the quality of remaining stable in the midst of everything.
As a quality of heart, equanimity helps us not completely base our happiness on the actions and feelings of others.
Equanimity is a container of balance that helps hold all of the other Brahma-viharas.
We are able to separate our wishes for someone from reality, and not cling to how somebody else should act.
Although we may have compassion or wish well for somebody else, this doesn’t mean it will “cure” them or take away all of their suffering. Rather, the heart practices are about opening our own hearts.
Equanimity is the ability to dwell equally with
pleasure and pain,
loss and gain,
praise and blame,
fame and disrepute.
It means that we are able to move equally in both directions as the need arises, without clinging and aversion toward one or the other polarity.
Equanimity doesn’t mean not caring. When we open our hearts, we can
connect to all things, and that’s as it should be. The point of equanimity is not
to lose one’s heartfelt connection with the things going on around us. Rather,
it means balancing that connection with a clear recognition of the way things
are. So, for example, we see what we genuinely cannot control, no matter
how obsessed we might become with trying to. We see how much things are
constantly changing. Even in the midst of intense devoted activity, we can be
served by seeing such truths clearly and remaining balanced.
Indifference is the near enemy of equanimity. Indifference is the pretense of equanimity.
Instead of releasing attachment to a preference of how we want things to be (Equanimity), when we are indifferent we are detached from the way things are. It is the quality of apathy that pretends not to care. It is a cold distance from a heartfelt sense of life.
Sense of superiority, disconnection
The far enemy of Equanimity is restlessness or agitation, as we cling desperately to the way we want things to be, or try to push away the things we don’t want.
Clinging, striving, pushing, forcing
· All beings are the owners of their karma. Their happiness and unhappiness depend upon their actions, not upon my wishes for them.
· May we all accept things as they are.
· May we be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events.
· I will care for you but cannot keep you from suffering.
· I wish you happiness but cannot make your choices for you.
“May I be open and balanced and peaceful.”
Things are as they regardless of how I want them to be
“Your happiness and suffering depend on your thoughts and actions and not my wishes for you.”
“May we learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.”
“May you have true equanimity.”
“May you be balanced and peaceful.”
When developed, these qualities help to balance one another. Because love, compassion and joy can lead to excessive attachment, they need to be balanced with equanimity. Because equanimity can lead to excessive detachment, it needs to be balanced with love, compassion and joy. Together, they express optimal mental harmony.
May you be safe
May you be healthy and happy
May you be free for suffering
May you know peace
may my mind turn in this direction
wish not prayer
benefactor: easy to feel friendly, loving, kindness towards—person you know, a pet, a teacher who has been an inspiration
self: learn to be our own friend
friend, maybe someone you know suffering
difficult : not the most difficult, start with easy, edge into unconditional
conditional unfolds into unconditional,
stands right at the edge of unconditional and conditional
establish concentration, restful awareness followed by the phrases
victims of human trafficking
males and females
near and far
born, yet to be born
all beings everywhere
let go of phrases, resting in awareness
I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering. – the Buddha
Compassion knows we are in this together.
We are practicing with and for everyone.
Thich Nhat Hahn
You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you; you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy
If anybody asks you what the Path is about,
it’s about generosity.
It’s about morality.
It’s about concentration.
It’s about gaining insight through focused self observation.
It’s about the cultivation of subjective states
of compassion and love based on insight.
And it’s about translating that compassion and love into actions in the real world.
The Buddha first taught the meta-meditation as an antidote to fear a group of monks were afraid of spirits in the woods the Buddha gave them the method meditation and they believe this would protect them they believe the tree spirits became moved by the beauty of the energy feeling the forest and resolve to care for and serve the monks
What unites us as all human beings is an urge for happiness which is at heart yearning for union for overcoming our feelings of separateness the opposite of meta-is hatred
Meta-is the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves as well as all parts of the world
Over time Jon like everyone else has changed and grown in his understanding. Nothing is fixed, everything’s changing, perhaps there are some truths that are deeper and more stable than others but nothing is fixed and perfect as it is.
Jon’s 7 attitudinal factors and beginnig attitude towards the practice strongly emphasize the wisdom side of the teachings. The wisdom of being present, the wisdom of awareness, the deep freedom that comes from a wiser discernment around how to direct our attention and where to put our energy and our focus.
In the Buddhist traditions they say that the great bird of awakening flies with two wings: one wing is wisdom and the other wing is compassion.
Wisdom without compassion can be flat. A little heartless. Like the way you can say something to someone that’s completely true and clearly said but you aren’t feeling a connection with the person and where they’re at with this and you end up hurting them. Sometimes quite badly. Wisdom without compassion.
But compassion without wisdom is off balance too. We can have all kinds of other sympathetic and empathetic interactions that may have elements of compassion but are off balance and sticky in all kinds of ways. we can help in ways that don’t help, that even harm.
Jon was aware that he’d made this somewhat narrow selection I think – he felt this was the side of these teachings he realized would be accepted and embraced by the sociey of the time. And he was right. He certainly modeled compassion in his teaching ofmindfulness. If you watch that Bill Moyer’s TV show about him from 1992 you’ll see some very touching compassionate interactions between Jon and the ordinary suffering people in his class who are meeting all of this for the first time.
And Jon also started changing his language a bit over time. Saying it’s not “mindfulness” but “heartfulness”. Riffing on an interesting aspect of the Chinese-based languages that the same character – shin or kokoro – means both mind and heart.
And research has shown that the linking of wisdom and compassion happens organically which is great news for those of us who want to trust in some kind of inherent goodness in people.
Research by Shauna Shapiro and others has shown that people increase in compassion from taking an MBSR class – and MBSR doesn’t mention compassion particularly in the curriculum. It’s all implied. But opening our minds to what’s really happening seems to naturally open our hearts. We can deeply see that we all want happines and we all don’t want to suffer. But mindfulness also shows us an essential pre-condition for practicing compassion: that we all do, in fact, suffer. Without mindfulness of suffering there can be no compassion.
I can relate to this as my own Zen tradition also emphasizes wisdom and leaves compassion largely implied – and lived through the realtionships of people in the community and teacher and student.
But later on when Jon revised his great book on MBSR FCL in 2013 he adds a kind of postscript to his list of 7 attitudinal foundations:
[read Full Catastrophe Living, p. 31]