Roots of Mindfulness: Foundational Attitudes - Talk 3

Talk 3 - October 18, 2017 - Forgiveness, Trust and Acceptance  - Prepared Talk by Tim Burnett © 2017

Talk 3 recording


Talk 3 notes 

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.

[FCL 27-29]

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.


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