Topic-Comments

This is where I write a short synopsis of the theme covered during our Sunday Sitting Group and Retreats. It’s also a place where those who attend can comment, giving you another venue to share your insight with others, and perhaps stimulate conversation that will help cultivate wisdom.

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62 thoughts on “Topic-Comments

  1. I continue to Feel so refreshed and Centered when I leave your group, that I recognize it is up to me to surround myself with other groups that provide me with that similar feeling.
    It is very comforting and envigorating to walk through my Sundays with the Energy of your morning group.
    Thank you very much for all of your effort.

  2. In my talk about fear this Sunday, I shared information about how mindfulness can free us from being caught-up in fear because of our attachments to it. I shared a quote by Bhikku Bodi and a simile by Acariya Buddhaghosa in reference to hiri and ottappa.

    “There are two mental qualities as underlying safeguards of morality, thus as the protectors of both the individual and society as a whole. These two qualities are called in Pali hiri and ottappa. Hiri is an innate sense of shame over moral transgression; ottappa is moral dread, fear of the results of wrongdoing. These two states are referred to as the bright guardians of the world (sukka lokapala).They have this designation because as long as these two states prevail in people’s hearts the moral standards of the world remain intact, while when their influence wanes the human world falls into unabashed difficulty and violence, becoming almost indistinguishable from the animal realm (Itiv. 42).

    Acariya Buddhaghosa, a 5th century Indian Theravadan Buddhist scholar, illustrates the difference between the two with the simile of an iron rod smeared with excrement at one end and heated to a glow at the other end: hiri is like one’s disgust at grabbing the rod in the place where it is smeared with excrement, ottappa is like one’s fear of grabbing it in the place where it is red hot.

    With a deep sense of mindfulness, now the fear the rod represents is instead, clean and comfortable to the touch. It allows us to hold it without fear, with the ability to see it for what it is, so that by understanding it, we can let it go. Why? Because we never created the attachments to it in the first place.

  3. Hi and thank you for this opportunity.

    I too enjoyed visiting your group and look forward to returning again.

    (for me)
    I agree that the rod is a rod and that “Be”-ing Goodness and Joy knows the rod as it know a tree and a rock.

    The “willing-ness” to “Be” in Goodness and Joy (the christ mind) honors our True being (easily).

    All assumed discorse is a job that takes a lot of energy to create, believe and to hold on to and to share :-(.
    :-)
    Thank you

  4. From the Pali chant:
    Anicca watta sankhara
    Uppaduwhy o dhammino
    uppakittu nharru chhanti
    tesang vèpasamo sukho

    All constructions: all constructed things are impermanent
    They have the nature of arising and passing away
    Having arisen, they come to an end.
    The stilling: the bringing of these constructions (things) to peace, is the great happiness.

  5. Someone who is a prolific writer and outspoken Atheist, Sam Harris, has also practiced meditation for a long time. He was even a bodyguard for the Dhali Lama.
    When I met him last year, he seemed to be predisposed toward equanimity, even in the face of altercation.
    I’m familiar with all of his writings, and find his logic and perceptive character like someone who sees through the veil.
    He just posted a short article on his blog entitled, “How To Meditate” and takes the Vipassana style of the practice, like I do, and makes it obviously helpful to everyone.
    Here is the link:
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-meditate/

    And, since my Sunday talk this week is on my take of Buddhism, The Religion of No Religion, you may want to read Sam’s article published in Shambahla Sun Magazine entitled, “Killing The Buddha.”
    Here is that link: http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/killing-the-buddha/

    Comments?

  6. Today, we discussed one of my favorite tales of the Buddha, the Kalama Sutta. This is one that precisely teaches us, and encourages us to engage in intellectual discourse, and skeptical inquiry into our beliefs.
    Honestly, if Buddhism wasn’t infused with the disposition behind this Sutta…this powerful questioning and critical examination, I’m pretty sure I would not be writing this now, nor would I have started this Sangha, nor would I be teaching, nor would I have even begun a meditation practice.

    Here are some quotes I used today…

    “Abide with oneself as an island, with oneself as a Refuge.
    Abide with the Dhamma as an island, with the Dhamma as a refuge.
    Seek no external refuge.”

    “Prayers take the character of private communications, selfish bargaining with God. It seeks for objects of earthly ambitions and inflames the sense of self. Meditation on the other hand is self-change.” — Sri Radhakrishnan

    “Come, Kalamas. Don’t go by reports, by legend, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by consistency with your own laws, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that ‘these mental qualities are unskillful; these mental qualities are blameworthy; these mental qualities are criticized by the wise; these mental qualities when acted on lead to harm and suffering’ then abandon them. When you know for yourselves that ‘these mental qualities are skillful; these mental qualities are blameless; these mental qualities are praised by the wise; these mental qualities when acted on lead to well-being and happiness’ then keep following them.”

  7. This Sunday, May 22nd, I used a wonderful quote in my talk. It is of unknown origin; howver, often attributed to Chinese/Buddhist writers.

    Quarter Moon Teaching

    “Sow a thought,
    and you reap an act;
    Sow an act,
    and you reap a habit;
    Sow a habit,
    and you reap a character;
    Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”
    - anonymous

  8. Thank you michael for providing The relaxed awareness retreat this Saturday. For me it was empowering, refreshing… A real treat!! I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to participate and I can’t wait to the next one!!
    And then, the sunday sitting ( and walking) was like the cherry on top!! Just wonderful!!

  9. Our retreat, Relaxed Attention, was a wonderful experience.
    One simple act we cultivate when we practice Insight meditation is relying on the object that is always present; one we can turn to it at any time. The breath.
    We don’t have to have any special qualifications to watch our breath. It’s always there, we just never pay attention to it when we are relaxed, because in it’s usual mode, the breath is boring.
    It only gets acknowledgment when it is NOT normal. When it is rapid, or the opposite, when it is restricted.
    Mindfulness is using the gentle rhythm of the breath, being slower than the rhythm of thought, because that in and of itself, is a means to tranquility; when we begin to stop thinking, and finally begin to pay attention!

  10. I had a fantastic time at the retreat. In fact participating in this group has greatly added to my meditation practice and
    understanding the mind. Among the better decisions of my life was joining this group. Thank you Michael

  11. A couple of weeks ago, I announecd Sam Harris’ blogpost about free will entitled…”Morality Without Free Will.”
    He has written a follow-up that is now available, entitled…”Free Will and Why You Still Don’t Have It.”
    Here is the link to his Blog:
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/

  12. Anicca watta sankhara
    Uppaduwhy o dhammino
    uppakittu nharru chhanti
    tesang vèpasamo sukho
    (spelling and translation not necessarily correct)

    All constructions: all constructed things are impermanent
    They have the nature of arising and passing away
    Having arisen, they come to an end.
    The stilling: the bringing of these constructions (things) to peace, is the great happiness.

  13. Watch this. It’s fantastic and wonderful. A lecture by a neuroscientist at Brown University about neuroscience and meditation.

  14. FORGIVENESS AND LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION PHRASES

    First always, start with FORGIVENESS:
    When practicing forgiveness, fold your hands up, and say to yourself repeatedly:
    “If by deed, speech or thought, foolishly I have done wrong,
    May all forgive me with their wisdom and compassion.
    With my innate wisdom and compassion, I freely forgive anyone who may have hurt or injured me.
    With wisdom and compassion, I freely forgive myself.”

    Now you can practice LOVING-KINDNESS meditation. When practicing loving-kindness meditation, repeat the following sentences silently to yourself,
    May I be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings in this house be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings in this area be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings in this city be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings in this county be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings in this state be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings in this country be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings in this world be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings in this universe be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May suffering ones be suffering-free and the fear-struck fearless be.
    May the grieving shed all grief, and all beings find relief.

    Loving-kindness can also be practiced by way of persons, as follows:
    May I be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May my teachers be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May my parents be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May my relatives be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May the indifferent persons be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May the unfriendly persons be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all meditators be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful.
    May suffering ones be suffering free and the fear-struck fearless be.
    May the grieving shed all grief, and all beings find relief.

  15. The Five Hindrances are negative mental states that impede our practice and lead us toward unwholesome action.
    These five hindrances are the desire for 1) sensual pleasures, 2) anger, 3) indolence-sloth (laziness, lethargy) , 4) worry and 5) doubt.
    All of us have no doubt experienced how sensual desire, anger, laziness, restlessness, and doubt can overtake our minds—not to mention our meditation practice.
    As I said in my talk on Sunday, we cannot change the world so that it will give us happiness. But we can change our attitude towards the world so as to remain unaffected by the stresses exerted by events around us. Buddhist teachings help to show us the way to bring about this wholesome change of attitude.

  16. Is meditation the push-up for the brain?

    Study shows practice may have potential to change brain’s physical structure

    Two years ago, researchers at UCLA found that specific regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger and had more gray matter than the brains of individuals in a control group. This suggested that meditation may indeed be good for all of us since, alas, our brains shrink naturally with age.

    Now, a follow-up study suggests that people who meditate also have stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy. Having stronger connections influences the ability to rapidly relay electrical signals in the brain. And significantly, these effects are evident throughout the entire brain, not just in specific areas.

    Eileen Luders, a visiting assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues used a type of brain imaging known as diffusion tensor imaging, or DTI, a relatively new imaging mode that provides insights into the structural connectivity of the brain. They found that the differences between meditators and controls are not confined to a particular core region of the brain but involve large-scale networks that include the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes and the anterior corpus callosum, as well as limbic structures and the brain stem.

    The study appears in the current online edition of the journal NeuroImage.

    “Our results suggest that long-term meditators have white-matter fibers that are either more numerous, more dense or more insulated throughout the brain,” Luders said. “We also found that the normal age-related decline of white-matter tissue is considerably reduced in active meditation practitioners.”

    The study consisted of 27 active meditation practitioners (average age 52) and 27 control subjects, who were matched by age and sex. The meditation and the control group each consisted of 11 men and 16 women. The number of years of meditation practice ranged from 5 to 46; self-reported meditation styles included Shamatha, Vipassana and Zazen, styles that were practiced by about 55 percent of the meditators, either exclusively or in combination with other styles.

    Results showed pronounced structural connectivity in meditators throughout the entire brain’s pathways. The greatest differences between the two groups were seen within the corticospinal tract (a collection of axons that travel between the cerebral cortex of the brain and the spinal cord); the superior longitudinal fasciculus (long bi-directional bundles of neurons connecting the front and the back of the cerebrum); and the uncinate fasciculus (white matter that connects parts of the limbic system, such as the hippocampus and amygdala, with the frontal cortex).

    “It is possible that actively meditating, especially over a long period of time, can induce changes on a micro-anatomical level,” said Luders, herself a meditator.

    As a consequence, she said, the robustness of fiber connections in meditators may increase and possibly lead to the macroscopic effects seen by DTI.

    “Meditation, however, might not only cause changes in brain anatomy by inducing growth but also by preventing reduction,” Luders said. “That is, if practiced regularly and over years, meditation may slow down aging-related brain atrophy, perhaps by positively affecting the immune system.”

    But there is a “but.” While it is tempting to assume that the differences between the two groups constitute actual meditation-induced effects, there is still the unanswered question of nature versus nurture.

    “It’s possible that meditators might have brains that are fundamentally different to begin with,” Luders said. “For example, a particular brain anatomy may have drawn an individual to meditation or helped maintain an ongoing practice — meaning that the enhanced fiber connectivity in meditators constitutes a predisposition towards meditation, rather than being the consequence of the practice.”

    Still, she said, “Meditation appears to be a powerful mental exercise with the potential to change the physical structure of the brain at large. Collecting evidence that active, frequent and regular meditation practices cause alterations of white-matter fiber tracts that are profound and sustainable may become relevant for patient populations suffering from axonal demyelination and white-matter atrophy.”

    But, Luders said, more research is needed before taking meditation into clinical trial studies.

    ###

    Other authors of the study included Kristi Clark, Katherine L. Narr and Arthur W. Toga.

    The study was supported by the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, and funding was provided by the Brain Mapping Medical Research Organization, the Robson Family and Northstar Fund, and the following foundations: Brain Mapping Support, Pierson-Lovelace, Ahmanson, Tamkin, William M. & Linda R. Dietel Philanthropic Fund at the Northern Piedmont Community, Jennifer Jones-Simon, and Capital Group Companies. The study was also supported by the Human Brain Project and the National Institutes of Health. The authors report no conflict of interest.

    The UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, which seeks to improve understanding of the brain in health and disease, is a leader in the development of advanced computational algorithms and scientific approaches for the comprehensive and quantitative mapping of brain structure and function. The laboratory is part of the UCLA Department of Neurology, which encompasses more than a dozen research, clinical and teaching programs. The department ranks first among its peers nationwide in National Institutes of Health funding.

    For more news, visit UCLA Newsroom and UCLA News|Week and follow us on Twitter.

  17. The Four Immesurables Meditation Phrase:
    May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes;
    May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes;
    May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss;
    May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

  18. “Helping Children Become More Mindful”
    They’re constantly checking for text messages before hurrying off to soccer practice, or updating Facebook after a violin lesson, or adding a song to iTunes while doing homework. It’s no wonder that kids are distracted and a little on edge these days, says the Tufts psychologist Christopher Willard.

    http://shar.es/HQ3ws

  19. A beautiful poem by Lao Tse

    All Things Pass

    All things pass
    A sunrise does not last all morning
    All things pass
    A cloudburst does not last all day
    All things pass
    Nor a sunset all night
    All things pass
    What always changes?

    Earth … sky … thunder …
    mountain … water …
    wind … fire … lake …

    These change
    And if these do not last

    Do man’s visions last?
    Do man’s illusions?

    Take things as they come.

    All things pass.

    Lao Tse

  20. From the Satipatthana Sutta, the well-known discourse on meditation, the Buddha speaks about observation and awareness of the body:

    In this way he dwells observing the body, embodied, internally or externally. Or both internally and externally. He dwells observing the phenomenon of arising in the body. He dwells observing the phenomenon of passing away in the body. Now the awareness presents itself to him, “This is body.” This awareness develops to such an extent that only understanding and observation remain, and he dwells detached without clinging to anything in the world.

  21. About Skillful Speech and Deep Listening

    Dear Sunday Group,

    Last Sunday as we closed our conversation about the Eightfold Path, I came back to the path of skillful speech. I spoke about the other side to skillful speech: deep listening. I mentioned that Thich Nhat Hanh teaches the two together, speech and listening. Michael asked me to post something if I could.

    Below is the 4th Mindfulness Training in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are an expansion of the Five Precepts of Buddhism. All Five Mindfulness Trainings can be found here:
    http://www.plumvillage.org/mindfulness-trainings/3-the-five-mindfulness-trainings.html

    The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

  22. A BAG OF NAILS
    Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
    Finally the first day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
    “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound is still there.”

  23. “Ball and Chain”

    “People who like to gather up thoughts, worries, etc., to hold onto are no different from prisoners tied down with a ball and chain. To fasten onto thoughts of the past is like having a rope around your waist tied to a post behind you. To fasten onto thoughts of the future is like having a rope around your neck tied to a door in front. To fasten onto thoughts you like is like having a rope around your right wrist tied to a post on your right. To fasten onto thoughts you don’t like is like having a rope around your left wrist tied to a wall on your left. Whichever way you try to step, you’re pulled back by the rope on the opposite side, so how can you hope to get anywhere at all?
    As for people who have unshackled themselves from their thoughts, they stand tall and free like soldiers or warriors with weapons in both hands and no need to fear enemies from any direction. Any opponents who see them won’t dare come near, so they’re always sure to come out winning.
    But if we’re the type tied up with ropes on all sides, nobody’s going to fear us, because there’s no way we can take any kind of stance to fight them off. If enemies approach us, all we can do is dance around in one spot.
    So I ask that we all take a good look at ourselves and try to unshackle ourselves from all outside thoughts and preoccupations. Don’t let them get stuck in your heart. Your meditation will then give you results, your mind will advance to the transcendent, and you’re sure to come out winning someday”.

  24. Shawn Anchor, is the CEO of Good Think Inc., where he researches and teaches about positive psychology. Author of “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work [Hardcover] gave this amazing talk at TED.
    “We’ve found that there are ways that you can train your brain to be able to become more positive. In just a two-minute span of time done for 21 days in a row, we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully. We’ve done these things in research now in every single company that I’ve worked with.”

    You have to watch this!

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLJsdqxnZb0&w=560&h=315%5D

  25. Last week, my talk was titled, “Questioning The Question.”
    Here were some questions I was asked to post here:

    1. Where does eternity end? Where does eternity begin?
    2. What will happen if I do? What will happen if I don’t? What won’t happen if I do? What won’t happen if I don’t?
    3. How can I be the person my dog thinks I am?
    4. Who’s attention is it that I want?
    5. “Is what I am about to say as valuable as silence?” by Sylvia Borstein,
    6. Five years from now, what will I miss most about my life right now?

  26. New Meditation Methods Linked to Increased Intelligence

    Las Vegas, NV (PRWEB) March 23, 2012

    For years, meditation has been shown to increase the well-being of chronic sufferers of pain and other afflictions which western-medication is unable to remedy. However, recent research conducted at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging as well as an in-depth report posted at popular health and wellness online portal BeWellBuzz.com, has confirmed a link between the holistic pain methodology of the far east and increased learning capabilities.

    In the April 21, 2011 edition of the medical journal Brain Research Bulletin, it was reported that researches at MIT found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms. “These activity patterns are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention,” says Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist stated. “Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.”

    The discovery of alpha rhythms convinced the Assistant Professor of UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, Eileen Lunders to embark on a study to determine a potential link between these alpha rhythms and increased learning capacity. It was also found out in this study that there was a deep connection between this processing of information faster (called gyrification in medical terms) and years of meditation. This research was written in the online edition of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

    In medical terms, meditation folds the cortex which is the outmost layer of the neural tissue. This cortex plays a central role in memories, attention, thought and consciousness. The folding of the cortex creates narrow furrows and folds in the brain called sulci and gyri which ultimately stimulates mind processing tenfold. The more you meditate, the more the folding action will occur causing a boost in your memorizing skills, decision making, solving complex problems etc.

    To confirm their research, Luders and the team carried out an experiment with 50 meditators, out of which 28 were men and 22 women and compared them to non-meditators of the same characteristics. The meditators were meditating for 20 years using various meditating practices like Samatha, Vipassana and Zen. There was a huge difference between the different parts of the cortex suggesting that the longer a person meditates, the more the folding occurs, and the more the mind gets active and disciplined.

    Further research has been conducted to facilitate an increased desire to perform clinical research into this important discover. There results of these studies are posted at the article posted at BeWellBuzz.com. To read more about this discovery and the extended research conducted, please visit the link to the article at BeWellBuzz.com posted below.

    http://www.bewellbuzz.com/wellness-buzz/meditation-for-brain/

    Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/636119#ixzz1qgu3E5Qf

  27. Non-Duality articles mentioned today (4-8-2012) in our sitting group:

    “Dhamma and Non-duality”, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight, 4 April 2011, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_27.html

    “What is Advaita and Nonduality”
    http://endless-satsang.com/advaita-nonduality-oneness.htm

    Tonglen, by Pema Chodron
    http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/tonglen1.php

    Jamal
    (Beautiful)

    What‟s the meaning of life?
    Who knows?
    What does tomorrow bring?
    Happiness for life?
    Sorrow and strife?
    Or simply
    another day?
    Who knows?
    Yesterdays are memories
    and tomorrows are simply
    pipe dreams.
    ‘I’
    is the only reality
    that I truly know.
    And the only reality that
    ‘I’
    knows
    is the here and now.
    Not five days from now
    not five hours from now
    not five minutes from now
    not five seconds from now
    not five seconds ago
    But now.
    Reality is perceived
    simply
    as a passing dream
    through a flowing stream
    that men through the ages
    have defined
    as time.
    Dreams and realities of tomorrows
    slip by
    and become
    silent memories of yesterdays.
    Synaptic impulses
    create the beat
    and the rhythm
    I call ‘myself’
    I am Jamal
    and Jamal is
    ‘I’

    Anonymous

  28. “No one saves us, but ourselves.
    No one can and no one may.
    We ourselves must walk the path,
    Buddhas merely teach the way.”

    Paul Carus

    ((from Wikipedia))

    Carus is proposed to be a pioneer in the promotion of interfaith dialogue. He explored the relationship of science and religion, and was instrumental in introducing Eastern traditions and ideas to the West.[5] He was a key figure in the introduction ofBuddhism, to the West,[4] sponsoring Buddhist translation work of D.T. Suzuki, and fostering a lifelong working friendship with Buddhist Master, Soyen Shaku. Carus’ interest in Asian religions seems to have intensified after he attended the World’s Parliament of Religions (in 1893).
    For years afterwards, Carus was a strong sympathizer of Buddhist ideas, but stopped short of committing fully to this, or any other, religion. Instead, he ceaselessly promoted his own rational concept which he called the “Religion of Science.” Carus had a selective approach and he believed that religions evolve over time. After a battle for survival, he expected a “cosmic religion of universal truth” to emerge from the ashes of traditional beliefs.[4]

  29. “By allowing yourself the space to be as you are, you discover a self-existing sanity that lies deeper than thought or feeling,” says John Welwood. “For many of us this may be the hardest path of all—opening our hearts to ourselves.”

  30. In our discussion today, I used this quote to emphasize the use of confidence in our practice.
    By Dr. Seuss:
    “Be who you are, and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

  31. By Gempo Roshi:

    It is a simple fact: whatever you resist will persist.

    If you are resisting suffering, you suffer more.

    If you are resisting confusion, you remain confused.

    If you are looking for peace, you find yourself constantly disturbed.

    If you are seeking after clarity, you are in a muddle.

    If you do not want to be angry, you are going to walk around angry.

    If you do not mind being angry, you will never be bothered about anger, because you will not be holding on to it.

    Having no opinion for or against, just being open to whatever comes, you are free.

  32. The Guardians of the World

    by Bhikkhu Bodhi

    Like the Roman god Janus, every person faces simultaneously in two opposite directions. With one face of our consciousness we gaze in upon ourselves and become aware of ourselves as individuals motivated by a deep urge to avoid suffering and to secure our own well-being and happiness. With the other face we gaze out upon the world and discover that our lives are thoroughly relational, that we exist as nodes in a vast net of relationships with other beings whose fate is tied up with our own. Because of the relational structure of our existence, we are engaged in a perpetual two-way interaction with the world: the influence of the world presses in upon ourselves, shaping and altering our own attitudes and dispositions, while our own attitudes and dispositions flow out into the world, a force that affects the lives of others for better or for worse.

    This seamless interconnection between the inner and outer domains acquires a particular urgency for us today owing to the rampant deterioration in ethical standards that sweeps across the globe. Such moral decline is as widespread in those societies which enjoy a comfortable measure of stability and prosperity as it is in those countries where poverty and desperation make moral infringements an integral aspect of the struggle for survival. Of course we should not indulge in pastel-colored fantasies about the past, imagining that we lived in a Garden of Eden until the invention of the steam engine. The driving forces of the human heart have remained fairly constant through the ages, and the toll they have taken in human misery surpasses calculation. But what we find today is a strange paradox that would be interesting if it were not sinister: while there appears to be a much wider verbal acknowledgment of the primacy of moral and human values, there is at the same time more blatant disregard for the lines of conduct such values imply. This undermining of traditional ethical values is in part a result of the internationalization of commerce and the global penetration of virtually all media of communication. Vested interests, in quest of wider loops of power and expanding profits, mount a sustained campaign aimed at exploiting our moral vulnerability. This campaign proceeds at full pace, invading every nook and corner of our lives, with little regard for the long-term consequences for the individual and society. The results are evident in the problems that we face, problems that respect no national boundaries: rising crime rates, spreading drug addiction, ecological devastation, child labor and prostitution, smuggling and pornography, the decline of the family as the unit of loving trust and moral education.

    The Buddha’s teaching at its core is a doctrine of liberation that provides us with the tools for cutting through the fetters that keep us bound to this world of suffering, the round of repeated births. Although the quest for liberation by practice of the Dhamma depends on individual effort, this quest necessarily takes place within a social environment and is thus subject to all the influences, helpful or harmful, imposed upon us by that environment. The Buddhist training unfolds in the three stages of morality, concentration and wisdom, each the foundation for the other: purified moral conduct facilitates the attainment of purified concentration, and the concentrated mind facilitates the attainment of liberating wisdom. The basis of the entire Buddhist training is thus purified conduct, and firm adherence to the code of training rules one has undertaken — the Five Precepts in the case of a lay Buddhist — is the necessary means for safeguarding the purity of one’s conduct. Living as we do in an era when we are provoked through every available channel to deviate from the norms of rectitude, and when social unrest, economic hardships, and political conflict further fuel volatile emotions, the need for extra protection becomes especially imperative: protection for oneself, protection for the world.

    The Buddha points to two mental qualities as the underlying safeguards of morality, thus as the protectors of both the individual and society as a whole. These two qualities are called in Pali hiri and ottappa. Hiri is an innate sense of shame over moral transgression; ottappa is moral dread, fear of the results of wrongdoing. The Buddha calls these two states the bright guardians of the world (sukka lokapala). He gives them this designation because as long as these two states prevail in people’s hearts the moral standards of the world remain intact, while when their influence wanes the human world falls into unabashed promiscuity and violence, becoming almost indistinguishable from the animal realm (Itiv. 42).

    While moral shame and fear of wrongdoing are united in the common task of protecting the mind from moral defilement, they differ in their individual characteristics and modes of operation. Hiri, the sense of shame, has an internal reference; it is rooted in self-respect and induces us to shrink from wrongdoing out of a feeling of personal honor. Ottappa, fear of wrongdoing, has an external orientation. It is the voice of conscience that warns us of the dire consequences of moral transgression: blame and punishment by others, the painful kammic results of evil deeds, the impediment to our desire for liberation from suffering. Acariya Buddhaghosa illustrates the difference between the two with the simile of an iron rod smeared with excrement at one end and heated to a glow at the other end: hiri is like one’s disgust at grabbing the rod in the place where it is smeared with excrement, ottappa is like one’s fear of grabbing it in the place where it is red hot.

    In the present-day world, with its secularization of all values, such notions as shame and fear of wrong are bound to appear antiquated, relics from a puritanical past when superstition and dogma manacled our rights to uninhibited self-expression. Yet the Buddha’s stress on the importance of hiri and ottappa was based on a deep insight into the different potentialities of human nature. He saw that the path to deliverance is a struggle against the current, and that if we are to unfold the mind’s capacities for wisdom, purity and peace, then we need to keep the powderkeg of the defilements under the watchful eyes of diligent sentinels.

    The project of self-cultivation, which the Buddha proclaims as the means to liberation from suffering, requires that we keep a critical watch over the movements of our minds, both on occasions when they motivate bodily and verbal deeds and when they remain inwardly absorbed with their own preoccupations. To exercise such self-scrutiny is an aspect of heedfulness (appamada), which the Buddha states is the path to the Deathless. In the practice of self-examination, the sense of shame and fear of wrongdoing play a crucial role. The sense of shame spurs us to overcome unwholesome mental states because we recognize that such states are blemishes on our character. They detract from the inward loftiness of character to be fashioned by the practice of the Dhamma, the stature of the ariyans or noble ones, who shine resplendent like lotus flowers upon the lake of the world. Fear of wrongdoing bids us to retreat from morally risky thoughts and actions because we recognize that such deeds are seeds with the potency to yield fruits, fruits that inevitably will be bitter. The Buddha asserts that whatever evil arises springs from a lack of shame and fear of wrong, while all virtuous deeds spring from the sense of shame and fear of wrong.

    By cultivating within ourselves the qualities of moral shame and fear of wrongdoing we not only accelerate our own progress along the path to deliverance, but also contribute our share towards the protection of the world. Given the intricate interconnections that hold between all living forms, to make the sense of shame and fear of wrong the guardians of our own minds is to make ourselves guardians of the world. As the roots of morality, these two qualities sustain the entire efficacy of the Buddha’s liberating path; as the safeguards of personal decency, they at the same time preserve the dignity of the human race.

    Buddhist Publication Society Newsletter cover essay #23 (Spring 1993)
    Copyright © 1993 Buddhist Publication Society
    For free distribution only

  33. Being without fear, you create fear.
    The renown of fear cannot be feared.
    When through fear you examine yourself,
    You trample on the egg of fear.

  34. Larry Minsky, one of our long-term members and students of Mindfulness, shared this article with us on Sunday. It is about a Neurosurgeon’s “near death” experience. Something people who study Buddhist psychology understand as the mind just making reason out of fantasy.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/10/07/proof-of-heaven-a-doctor-s-experience-with-the-afterlife.html

    And, Larry added this quote from Einstein:
    “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the universe, a part limited in space and time. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
    This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affectation for a few people
    near us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our understanding of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
    Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

  35. Contemplating the 32 parts of the body

    The Parts:
    Group 1: head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin,
    Group 2: flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys,
    Group 3: heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs,
    Group 4: intestines, mesentery, contents of the stomach (gore), excrement, brain,
    Group 5: bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat,
    Group 6: tears, grease, saliva, snot, fluid of the joints (sonovial fluid), and urine.

    Suggested Steps for the practice:
    Memorize in forward and reverse order.
    Visualize/see each part in terms of color, shape, location, and surrounding matter.
    Contemplate one group at a time, then combine groups until you can easily review the 32 parts forward and backward.
    Contemplate these parts as they occur within your body. Also contemplate them in other people’s bodies.
    See the world of bodies as collections of parts, not-self, not so personal, not so appealing, nothing to become enthralled with or attached to.
    Then review the body parts seeing their repulsive characteristics. Let the repulsive perception support dispassion toward the body.

  36. I found 212 articles on the AARP website that reference Meditation!
    Here are the first few and if you are interested, here is the link:
    http://search.aarp.org/browse?Ntt=meditation

    212 Results for “meditation”
    1 – 10 of 212
    A Meditation Technique That Changes the Brain
    Technique That Changes the Brain. Science says the ancient practice has benefits beyond reducing stress, lowering blood pressure. by: Michael Haederle | from: AARP Bulletin | August 6, 2010. En español | As a ce…

    Meditation Might Cut Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke in Blacks
    ability to lower…

    Mindful Meditation Might Ease Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    technique can help ease the torment suffered by people with a chronic bowel disease, a new study has found. The research, done at the University of North Carolina…
    Meditation Goes Mainstream
    practices—including deep breathing, walking, tai chi and yoga—to elicit the relaxation. Shortly after that, Kabat-Zinn became interested in the connection between mind and body, and in particular how stress aff…

    Meditation Soothes MS Patients
    known as mindfulness may help patients with multiple sclerosis. Patients with MS — a nervous system disease that typically surfaces in early adulthood and can cause muscle……

    Meditation May Help Women Cope With Hot Flashes
    technique can help ease the hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia of menopause, a new study says. The University of Massachusetts research showed that…

    ‘Mindful’ Meditation Tied to Healthy Brain Changes: Study
    training may change your brain for the better, a small, new study suggests. Researchers using imaging technology have found that people develop measurable changes in the white…

    Meditation Method a Matter of Taste
    should select a method that makes them feel comfortable, rather than choose a technique just because it’s popular, a new study indicates. Researchers from San Francisco…

    The Benefits of Meditation
    showed greater skill at choosing what to focus on among competing stimu…

    Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed

  37. “For all the subtlety of his teachings, the Buddha had a simple test for measuring wisdom. You’re wise, he said, to the extent that you can get yourself to do things you don’t like doing but know will result in happiness, and to refrain from things that you like doing, but know they will result in pain and harm.”
    Thanissaro Bhikkhu

  38. About Love on Valentine’s Day Weekend:

    Polly Young-Eisendrath
    “My current teacher, Shinzen Young, first trained in Rinzai Zen but then decided that Vipassana was the best way to teach Americans. Vipassana teaches us the awareness of ever-present expansion and contraction, and having no preference between them. There are good feelings and bad feelings, good days and bad days, expansion and contraction. This is the way it is for all of us. Nobody gets anything better than that.
    But we so often make a steady state our ideal, especially in relationships. When you pick someone, you think you’re going to escape suffering, get out of the expansion and contraction. Your ideals for relationship might be so high that you never get into one, because every time you put your toe in, you say, “Ahh! This doesn’t work. This is falling short.” You never even get on the path of love, because you’re holding on to your ideal.
    Or perhaps you get on the path of love, and then you are looking for those highs within the ups and downs of life. You put great store in them. Occasionally you have a really good day, or even a peak experience, and there is this wonderful opening. You recognize that you and the other person are absolutely in tune, totally accepting of each other. You think to yourself, “OK, now I’ve got it. In the future I will do exactly this, and I’ll get these results again.” But of course, it doesn’t work, because the waves go up and down, up and down.
    Here’s the secret: get a surfboard. As the waves go up and down, the surfboard allows you to maintain your balance. When things are going well, you maintain your balance and don’t go whole hog into it. And when things are going badly, you can see that painful as it is, it’s interesting and even fascinating to observe. By surfing the waves and maintaining your balance, it starts to feel less like bouncing up and down all the time.
    Meditation practice, mindfulness, psychotherapy, clear observation of your experience—all these will give you this capacity to surf. However, everybody falls off the surfboard at some point, so you need one of those little ankle bracelets that keeps you and the surfboard together. Whether it’s psychotherapy or meditation, you need to stay with it long enough to get the bracelet that connects you. If you don’t, then one day you will fall off hard and you might say, “I worked hard on that surfboard and it didn’t work, so screw it. I won’t work on one of those again.” That is the worst outcome. The things that could help you have been tossed away.
    When the shit hits the fan in your life―and it will―you will need your surfboard and the bracelet that ties you to it. You will need your training and you will need a bigger view of love, one that encompasses and accepts a broken heart. You will need something that reminds you of your vow to “take the training” to love.”

    Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D., is a Jungian psychoanalyst and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont. A longtime practitioner of Zen and Vipassana meditation, she is author of fourteen books, including her most recent, The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance.

    John Tarrant
    “A while ago my mother was dying. I traveled home, went to the hospital, held her hand, and sat with her. The next morning she was still alive, so I did the same thing. Meanwhile, my sisters were negotiating with the nurses about oxygen levels, my father was trying to encourage mom to stay in this world, to eat for him (“May I tempt you with just a spoonful of this custard, Allison?”), and my mom was holding off my dad with garlic and crosses. But I didn’t have anything to do, no special role, and I began to think that was probably good. I noticed that when I wanted anybody in that room to be different, it became rather painful. “Dad, ease up. I mean, she’s dying. She doesn’t want to eat.” Or, “Mom, he just loves you and he’s trying to be helpful and it probably would help if you ate.” Or, “Girls, you could relax; the oxygen is not going to help her now.” I had all those let’s-improve-the-world thoughts, but I noticed that when I didn’t go with those, everything was completely at peace. People were doing what they were doing because they needed to. Who am I to know what they should be doing? It was beautiful appreciating how much they cared about each other.
    The koan for that situation is, “Not knowing is most intimate.” What if someone shouldn’t be improved? Maybe if they gave up smoking, they’d turn out to be a serial killer. How about not wanting to change others? How about not wanting to change yourself?
    We spend a lot of time whipping the donkey. If we stopped doing that, we might find we change in unexpected ways, and others do as well. Most projects to change other people or ourselves are really projects about interior decoration for the prison. A spiritual practice is really about jail breaking. When you show up for your life, what kind of ride do you want to take? Do you want to spend your time telling other people they should be different?
    Love means bearing people’s differences without trying to change them—not just bearing, but valuing and appreciating and loving people’s uniqueness. That’s a path all by itself. What if the fact that you’re different from me is a gateway rather than an obstacle?”

    John Tarrant, Ph.D., is a Zen teacher who for many years had a practice in Jungian psychoanalysis. Author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros and The Light Inside the Dark, he teaches physicians and executives at Duke Integrative Medicine and directs the Pacific Zen Institute.

  39. Buddhism and the God-idea
    by
    Nyanaponika Thera
    © 2004. BuddhaNet edition © 1996.–2011
    Quite contradictory views have been expressed in Western literature on the attitude of Buddhism toward the concept of God and gods. From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, etc., are excluded by the Buddha’s teachings on Anatta, non-self or unsubstantiality.
    In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world; as, for instance, world-soul, time, nature, etc. God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the kammic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of man and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct.
    Theism, however, is regarded as a kind of kamma-teaching in so far as it upholds the moral efficacy of actions. Hence a theist who leads a moral life may, like anyone else doing so, expect a favorable rebirth. He may possibly even be reborn in a heavenly world that resembles his own conception of it, though it will not be of eternal duration as he may have expected. If, however, fanaticism induces him to persecute those who do not share his beliefs, this will have grave consequences for his future destiny. For fanatical attitudes, intolerance, and violence against others create unwholesome kamma leading to moral degeneration and to an unhappy rebirth.
    Although belief in God does not exclude a favorable rebirth, it is a variety of eternalism, a false affirmation of permanence rooted in the craving for existence, and as such an obstacle to final deliverance.
    Among the fetters (samyojana) that bind to existence, theism is particularly subject to those of personality-belief, attachment to rites and rituals, and desire for fine-material existence or for a “heaven of the sense sphere,” as the case may be.
    As an attempt at explaining the universe, its origin, and man’s situation in his world, the God-idea was found entirely unconvincing by the Buddhist thinkers of old. Through the centuries, Buddhist philosophers have formulated detailed arguments refuting the doctrine of a creator god. It should be of interest to compare these with the ways in which Western philosophers have refuted the theological proofs of the existence of God.
    But for an earnest believer, the God-idea is more than a mere device for explaining external facts like the origin of the world. For him it is an object of faith that can bestow a strong feeling of certainty, not only as to God’s existence “somewhere out there,” but as to God’s consoling presence and closeness to himself. This feeling of certainty requires close scrutiny. Such scrutiny will reveal that in most cases the God-idea is only the devotee’s projection of his ideal — generally a noble one — and of his fervent wish and deeply felt need to believe. These projections are largely conditioned by external influences, such as childhood impressions, education, tradition and social environment. Charged with a strong emotional emphasis, brought to life by man’s powerful capacity for image-formation, visualization and the creation of myth, they then come to be identified with the images and concepts of whatever religion the devotee follows. In the case of many of the most sincere believers, a searching analysis would show that their “God-experience” has no more specific content than this.
    Yet the range and significance of God-belief and God-experience are not fully exhausted by the preceding remarks. The lives and writings of the mystics of all great religions bear witness to religious experiences of great intensity, in which considerable changes are effected in the quality of consciousness. Profound absorption in prayer or meditation can bring about a deepening and widening, a brightening and intensifying of consciousness, accompanied by a transporting feeling of rapture and bliss. The contrast between these states and normal conscious awareness is so great that the mystic believes his experience to be manifestations of the divine; and given the contrast, this assumption is quite understandable. Mystical experiences are also characterized by a marked reduction or temporary exclusion of the multiplicity of sense-perceptions and restless thoughts, and this relative unification of mind is then interpreted as a union or communion with the One God. All these deeply moving impressions and the first spontaneous interpretations the mystic subsequently identifies with his particular theology. It is interesting to note, however, that the attempts of most great Western mystics to relate their mystical experiences to the official dogmas of their respective churches often resulted in teachings which were often looked upon askance by the orthodox, if not considered downright heretical.
    The psychological facts underlying those religious experiences are accepted by the Buddhist and well-known to him; but he carefully distinguishes the experiences themselves from the theological interpretations imposed upon them. After rising from deep meditative absorption (jhana), the Buddhist meditator is advised to view the physical and mental factors constituting his experience in the light of the three characteristics of all conditioned existence: impermanency, liability to suffering, and absence of an abiding ego or eternal substance. This is done primarily in order to utilize the meditative purity and strength of consciousness for the highest purpose: liberating insight. But this procedure also has a very important side-effect which concerns us here: the meditator will not be overwhelmed by any uncontrolled emotions and thoughts evoked by his singular experience, and will thus be able to avoid interpretations of that experience not warranted by the facts.
    Hence a Buddhist meditator, while benefiting by the refinement of consciousness he has achieved, will be able to see these meditative experiences for what they are; and he will further know that they are without any abiding substance that could be attributed to a deity manifesting itself to the mind. Therefore, the Buddhist’s conclusion must be that the highest mystic states do not provide evidence for the existence of a personal God or an impersonal godhead.
    Buddhism has sometimes been called an atheistic teaching, either in an approving sense by freethinkers and rationalists, or in a derogatory sense by people of theistic persuasion. Only in one way can Buddhism be described as atheistic, namely, in so far as it denies the existence of an eternal, omnipotent God or godhead who is the creator and ordainer of the world. The word “atheism,” however, like the word “godless,” frequently carries a number of disparaging overtones or implications, which in no way apply to the Buddha’s teaching.
    Those who use the word “atheism” often associate it with a materialistic doctrine that knows nothing higher than this world of the senses and the slight happiness it can bestow. Buddhism is nothing of that sort. In this respect it agrees with the teachings of other religions, that true lasting happiness cannot be found in this world; nor, the Buddha adds, can it be found on any higher plane of existence, conceived as a heavenly or divine world, since all planes of existence are impermanent and thus incapable of giving lasting bliss. The spiritual values advocated by Buddhism are directed, not towards a new life in some higher world, but towards a state utterly transcending the world, namely, Nibbana. In making this statement, however, we must point out that Buddhist spiritual values do not draw an absolute separation between the beyond and the here and now. They have firm roots in the world itself for they aim at the highest realization in this present existence. Along with such spiritual aspirations, Buddhism encourages earnest endeavor to make this world a better place to live in.
    The materialistic philosophy of annihilationism (ucchedavada) is emphatically rejected by the Buddha as a false doctrine. The doctrine of kamma is sufficient to prove that Buddhism does not teach annihilation after death. It accepts survival, not of an eternal soul, but of a mental process subject to renewed becoming; thus it teaches rebirth without transmigration. Again, the Buddha’s teaching is not a nihilism that gives suffering humanity no better hope than a final cold nothingness. On the contrary, it is a teaching of salvation (niyyanika-dhamma) or deliverance (vimutti) which attributes to man the faculty to realize by his own efforts the highest goal, Nibbana, the ultimate cessation of suffering and the final eradication of greed, hatred and delusion. Nibbana is far from being the blank zero of annihilation; yet it also cannot be identified with any form of God-idea, as it is neither the origin nor the immanent ground or essence of the world.
    Buddhism is not an enemy of religion as atheism is believed to be. Buddhism, indeed, is the enemy of none. A Buddhist will recognize and appreciate whatever ethical, spiritual and cultural values have been created by God-belief in its long and checkered history. We cannot, however, close our eyes to the fact that the God-concept has served too often as a cloak for man’s will to power, and the reckless and cruel use of that power, thus adding considerably to the ample measure of misery in this world supposed to be an all-loving God’s creation. For centuries free thought, free research and the expression of dissident views were obstructed and stifled in the name of service to God. And alas, these and other negative consequences are not yet entirely things of the past.
    The word “atheism” also carries the innuendo of an attitude countenancing moral laxity, or a belief that man-made ethics, having no divine sanction, rest on shaky foundations. For Buddhism, however, the basic moral law is inherent in life itself. It is a special case of the law of cause and effect, needing neither a divine law-giver nor depending upon the fluctuating human conceptions of socially conditioned minor moralities and conventions. For an increasing section of humanity, the belief in God is breaking down rapidly, as well as the accustomed motivations for moral conduct. This shows the risk of basing moral postulates on divine commandments, when their alleged source rapidly loses credence and authority. There is a need for an autonomous foundation for ethics, one that has deeper roots than a social contract and is capable of protecting the security of the individual and of human institutions. Buddhism offers such a foundation for ethics.
    Buddhism does not deny that there are in the universe planes of existence and levels of consciousness which in some ways may be superior to our terrestrial world and to average human consciousness. To deny this would indeed be provincial in this age of space travel. Bertrand Russell rightly says: “It is improbable that the universe contains nothing better than ourselves.”
    Yet, according to Buddhist teachings, such higher planes of existence, like our familiar world, are subject to the law of impermanence and change. The inhabitants of such worlds may well be, in different degrees, more powerful than human beings, happier and longer-lived. Whether we call those superior beings gods, deities, devas or angels is of little importance, since it is improbable that they call themselves by any of those names. They are inhabitants of this universe, fellow-wanderers in this round of existence; and though more powerful, they need not be wiser than man. Further, it need not be denied that such worlds and such beings may have their lord and ruler. In all probability they do. But like any human ruler, a divine ruler too might be inclined to misjudge his own status and power, until a greater one comes along and points out to him his error, as our texts report of the Buddha.
    These, however, are largely matters beyond the range and concern of average human experience. They have been mentioned here chiefly for the purpose of defining the Buddhist position, and not to serve as a topic of speculation and argument. Such involvement can only divert attention and effort from what ought to be our principal object: the overcoming of greed, hatred and delusion where they are found in the here and now.
    An ancient verse ascribed to the Buddha in the Questions of King Milinda says:
    Not far from here do you need to look!
    Highest existence — what can it avail?
    Here in this present aggregate,
    In your own body overcome the world!

  40. Dismounting Dead Horses:
    A Meaphor for Change

    The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from one generation
    to the next, says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse,
    the best strategy is to dismount.

    Of course, we may first try other strategies.
    We might whip harder, or offer sugar, or change riders, or appoint a committee to study the horse. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, we
    will still be left on a dead horse.

    Why would anyone (or any organization) hold on to a dead horse?
    For many reasons, possibly. We have believed in the horse, hoped for the horse, and loved the horse. We doubted or denied the horse could ever die.
    Perhaps we even relish the hero’s role of resurrecting a dead horse, or the martyr’s ideal of self-sacrifice alongside the horse.
    Dismounting seems to mean giving up, or doubting that there will ever be another live horse again.

    Actually, discerning our dead horses takes uncommon wisdom, and rarely happens without an intentional process. Perhaps such discernment begins with noticing, not denying, a lack of forward movement. (Others of us must absolutely crash!) The discernment continues as we discover that despite trying harder, or smarter, or more aggressively, we remain at the same place. And we finally acknowledge that the same
    place is not our desired destination.

    Spiritually, the temptation to keep riding a dead horse comes from a misplaced faith. We think our horse is sacred, and we are in ultimate control. Whether the horse is a relationship, a job, a dream, or an
    ideal, we think we must stay on and ride it out, with our own blinders blocking any other vision.

    Paradoxically, sometimes only by dismounting,
    by letting go of our dead horse, can we begin a new trek. It can be the hardest thing we ever do.
    As I reflect on my own life, I find myself reminded of a dead horse or two.
    I think I’ll try sugar first.

    –Ron Johnson, Ph.D.
    Samaritan Counseling Centers

  41. 12 Steps of Realistic Recovery

    I can no longer deny I have an addiction, and admit my addiction can make me feel powerless, and that my choices and decisions while unaware or in denial of my addiction were destructive.
    I came to believe that realistic and rational thinking could restore me from the insanity of addictive thinking.
    I will let myself be helped by myself and others by using realistic and rational thinking and will never again turn my will and life over to addictive thinking.
    I will make a realistic and rational evaluation or “inventory” of my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, both positive and negative. This is not to induce guilt and shame, but to evaluate where my attitudes, actions and decisions were not realistic or rational.
    I will now admit to myself, the exact nature of my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, both positive and negative. I will share and review this evaluation with another willing person if I choose, unless where to do so would put myself or others at risk.
    I am entirely ready to allow realistic and rational thinking to reveal my destructive patterns of addictive thinking and behaviour.
    I will apply realistic and rational thinking and behaviour to replace my addictive thinking and behaviour.
    I will make a list of all person’s I have harmed, or been harmed by, in a way that might have enabled my addictive thinking.
    I will take the responsibility of making amends and give the opportunity of receiving amends, except when to do so would put myself or others at risk.
    I will continue to evaluate my life, and when my thoughts, feelings and behaviors are not realistic or rational, I will promptly admit it.
    I will seek to improve my conscious awareness of reality, striving for the knowledge of what is real and rational and for the ability and determination to stop my addictive thinking and behaviour.
    Having had progress towards a realistic and rational self-awareness away from addictive thinking as a result of what I have accomplished with these principles, I shall practice these principles in all areas of my life, and will be willing to share these principles with others who think they might gain from them.

  42. On Dependent Origination, I was reminded of a dreamed experience recently – eating dreamed food seems to be exactly as good as expected, just as good as it looks, there is no disappointment in the experience. Some people may wake and discredit the experience as being “just a dream,” but the experience happened, it was enjoyable and it’s a later time now. This is just like reminiscing on eating a meal, it’s already past your tongue, but there’s no reason to lament when it’s gone when you have the memory of that delicious experience. Enjoy mindful waking and lucid dreaming.

  43. Today, I spoke about “STRESS” and the Buddhist reasoning for stress contained in The Five Hindrances. They actually are causes by which our minds are deprived from happiness and reasoning. Here is the questions and answer portion I quoted:

    The First Hindrance: Sensual Desire: Q & A with Geri Larkin
    I always desire what I don’t have: friends, food, lovers, material possessions. It seems like I never have what I want at any moment, that I’m always thinking, “What if…?” How can I learn to satisfy this desire with what I do have?
    My experience has always been that it’s an enormous relief just to admit to myself that I’m obsessed by a desire for something.
    First, I can stop trying so hard to pretend that I don’t want something that, in fact, I do want.
    Second, most of the time something I think of as an overriding desire is often more a moment of “wishful thinking.” Often seeing our desire simply as what it is – a desire – allows it to drop away, or at least loosens our hold on it.
    The few times when that hasn’t worked, though, gratitude or metta practice has made me sane again. Instead of getting caught up in the desire, I literally start to list all of the things I’m grateful for, starting with the fact that every time I breathe out, my body breathes back in. I suddenly notice all the different colors in my teacup, the sound of the chickens outside. I call a friend, pull out an old journal to remember a former boyfriend.
    Then I sometimes try a lovingkindness meditation
    I am in a committed romantic relationship, but I still feel desire for other people. How should I handle these feelings?
    Desire happens; it doesn’t make you a bad person. People are attractive. They flirt. We fantasize. There is no doubt more than one soul mate for each of us. On the other hand, a solid relationship where two people can take refuge in each other as great spiritual friends, helpmates, and lovers is well worth defending. But how, in the face of desire for someone else?
    A powerful antidote is focusing our attention on devotion to our mate. During the Buddha’s lifetime, one of his best friends was King Pasenadi, whose wife, Mallika, was completely devoted to him. When Pasenadi was thrown into jail, Mallika covered her body with honey to provide him with sustenance. Cherishing our mate is a warrior’s weapon against falling into a relationship with the wrong person (yes, that is anyone who is not our mate). It reminds us how much we love this person who shares our bed and how important she or he is to us. Our devotion might take the form of cooking fresh vegetables for dinner instead of microwave stir-fry. Or putting fresh sheets on our bed. Or going for an evening walk together. Taken singly, these actions are little things; writ large, they are a love poem.
    If that doesn’t work, Buddha reminded the nuns and monks studying with him that everyone gets sick, ages, and dies. In one case, Buddha made this point by conjuring up a vision of a beautiful woman and making the vision visibly age right in front of a group of her admirers. They got his point: Everything is impermanent, even beauty. Even desire.
    Geri Larkin is the founder and guiding teacher of Still Point, the first Zen Buddhist temple in Detroit. She is the author of Love Dharma: Relationship Wisdom From Enlightened Buddhist Women.

    The mind oppressed by anger is compared to boiling water which cannot give an accurate reflection. A man overpowered by anger is unable to discern an issue properly.
    The Second Hindrance: Anger: Q&A with Lama Palden
    I often find myself torn between lashing out at someone and trying to remain equanimous. I know it’s ideal not to explode in anger, but sometimes it still seems like the right thing to do—or like it would be “good” for me to express how I feel, directly. Is it ever right to let anger show?

    When we are angry it may be important for us to communicate what we feel. But how we do this is critical.
    Simply blasting other people with our anger is not skillful or kind. We may think, “Well, they’re so thick-headed, I need to yell in order to get through to them.” But it’s difficult for people to take in what another is saying if they are being yelled at, because their defenses are instantly mobilized. They’re just as distracted by the reactionary thoughts going through their heads as we are by the force of our anger.
    If we allow ourselves to calm down before addressing the situation, we can let go of our own defensiveness and anger.
    As we all have experienced, it is not possible to think objectively when we are in the throes of strong emotion.
    We need space to think clearly, to see what is really bothering us, and then to decide what it is that we actually want—and need—to communicate. We should take the opportunity to think through what is going on within ourselves, and imagine what the other person might be feeling as well.
    After we’ve given ourselves this critical distance from the situation, it’s possible to articulate what we want to say much more accurately and effectively. It is also more likely that we will be heard if we can deliver our message without triggering the other person’s defenses—or our own.
    It’s understandable to feel better immediately after an initial catharsis: we’ve dumped our painful feelings onto another. But it’s not long before we feel worse, as our minds and bodies fill with the poison of anger, resentment, and, possibly, guilt or regret. We may try to cope with this miasma of feelings by going over the whole story in our minds again and again, talking about it with our friends, justifying our position and securing their support, planning our next attack, but these defensive strategies ultimately bind us further to suffering.
    When we feel that someone “deserves” our angry attack, we are indulging in hurting them in order to eradicate our own hurt—and hurting to get rid of hurt never works.
    We suffer because we do not understand the openness of our true nature. This is the ignorance that the Buddha taught is the root of all suffering. The radiance of true nature is generated by compassion.
    The fortresses we construct around ourselves to ratify our position not only separate us from the person we’re angry with —but they also separate us from ourselves. The more we are cut off from our true nature, the more we suffer, and the less likely it is that others will listen to us. If we take the time to shift to a place where we can actually rest in openness and lovingkindness, our suffering diminishes. Anything that we feel needs to be communicated will naturally be articulated more effectively from this place.
    Lama Palden is a licensed psychotherapist and a founder of the Sukhasiddhi Foundation, based in Marin County, California.

    When the mind is in the grip of indolence it is like moss covered water: light cannot even reach the water and a reflection is impossible. The lazy man does not even make an effort at correct understanding.
    The Third Hindrance: Sloth, Torpor, and Boredom: Q & A with Ajahn Amaro
    When I find myself with a free evening before me, I frantically try to fill it with activity rather than spending it alone. How can I learn to face an evening with nothing to “do”—and enjoy it?
    Our sense of self is continually formulated by the things that we do and our interactions with others. When we find ourselves with nothing to do or no one to be with, our ego has nothing familiar by which to define itself.
    However, we can transform our fear of this emptiness. Boredom and loneliness depend on investing in the sense of self. And, ironically, the harder we try to solidify our image of me through activity, the more we create the conditions for boredom to arise. If the sense of self is clearly understood as empty, solitude becomes a cherished companion. Try quieting the mind and then dropping the question “Who am I?” into it. A gap opens up after the question and before the thinking/self-creating habit can produce a verbal answer. Explore that gap and how it changes your experience of selfhood.
    Sometimes I keep participating in something just because it’s comfortable, even though I’m not getting anything out of it: my relationship, job, even meditation practice. Is there a way to transform these feelings of sloth and apathy into newfound interest, or are they signs that I really am ready for a change?
    We easily take refuge in the familiar because we enjoy the sense of belonging it brings; however, it is unwise to make a change reflexively every time these feelings arise. If we just sugarcoat our apathy with a new situation, we will never come to any real sense of fulfillment.
    The Buddha recommended that in order to benefit from our engagements we need to ask ourselves, “Does this thing still have any genuine benefit for myself and others, here and now, or do I just keep at it out of habit?” Just that simple knowledge of the true effects of our actions is usually enough to guide us as to whether or not to proceed. If a change is needed, we shift our situation, guided by mindfulness and wisdom; if patient endurance is needed instead, that, too, will arise.
    When I’m going through a difficult period, I often find myself doing everything I can to avoid the source of the trouble. I tend to become apathetic and even drowsy. Where can I get the courage to confront my problems?
    From suffering, of course! If we can simply recognize that we’re distracted and that it’s because we’re avoiding something, that’s half the task.
    Compulsive activity, blaming others, taking refuge in drugs or alcohol, and submitting to feelings of dullness in meditation are some of the ways that we evade our internal problems. These latter two are often caused by a desire to avoid feeling, because the litany of self-criticism is so painful.
    The courage to confront the source of our problems usually arises from desperation. If we truly wish to be free of our difficulties, our heart has no other recourse than to acknowledge the core issue (even if we have studiously avoided it for decades!) and accept its connection to the suffering we are experiencing.
    The other main source of assistance, when the heart is enmeshed in delusion, is the helpful perspective of our friends. Delusion has the unique ability to mask itself from its originator, thus it is often only from the “outside” that it can be recognized, and this recognition arouses the bravery needed for us to look squarely at the truth.
    Ajahn Amaro is co-abbott of Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, California.

    When worried the mind is like wind-tossed turbulent water, which also fails to give a true reflection. The worried man, forever restless, is unable to make a proper assessment of an issue.
    The Fourth Hindrance: Restlessness and Worry: Q & A with Michael Liebenson Grady
    As soon as I’m in one place, or with one person, I want to be somewhere else, or with someone else. How can I learn to be satisfied with my current situation?
    We are conditioned to seek happiness outside of ourselves. If only we could be in a different place, or with a different person, then we would be happy—or so we think. This conditioning generates a lot of restless minds interacting with one another, which in turn creates enormous disconnection. We need to be mindful of the state of mind that is driving our restlessness.
    As soon we begin to feel even a little bit bored, many of us react by distracting ourselves with activity—any activity, however mindless: we turn on the television, call a friend, do the dishes.
    We may also feel we’re missing out on something better than whatever it is we’re doing. Both of these reactions ultimately stem from either aversion or greed. We need to learn to recognize our insatiable craving for new experiences. Being ashamed of our cravings doesn’t help, but justifying or denying them doesn’t help, either. Instead, we should learn to be with our situation as it is rather than moving away from it.
    Acknowledging the feeling of boredom and then paying attention to our discomfort help bring the mind back to what is happening now. No doubt it can be difficult to be content with the present moment. But when we learn to open to the feelings that underlie restlessness, then meaningful connection with ourselves and others becomes possible.
    Even though the circumstances of my outer life appear stable, inside I’m always second-guessing my decisions, worrying about what I’ve done in the past and what I should do in the future. Sitting practice brings me temporarily into the present moment, but as soon as I’m off the cushion, the worries flood back in. What can I do to prevent this?
    To begin with, we should cultivate a friendlier relationship toward our worrying mind, rather than making an enemy of it. The nonjudgmental quality of mindfulness practice allows us to open to painful mind states such as anxiety without rejecting these energies or rushing in to try and fix them. With this attitude, we can then ask ourselves, “How can I work with this worry energy in a skillful way that will allow me to understand its nature?”
    Our awareness that the mind is getting caught up in worrying indicates that we are on the right track. But it’s important not to stop at this level of awareness. Do we feel aversion to worry? Do we react by getting caught up in the other hindrances of discouragement, impatience, or self-doubt? With practice—both on and off the cushion—we can begin to taste the inner freedom that comes when we let go of our habitual reactions of clinging to pleasure and avoiding pain.
    Sometimes, though, we are so caught up in our reactions to worry that we can’t seem to find the mental space to observe it. At these times, we can use skillful means to bring attention to the first foundation of mindfulness: the body. During sitting practice, focus your awareness on the sensations that arise from contact with the seat or floor. This will help bring the mind back into the present, and produce calm and inner balance. This practice sounds so simple—and it is! And yet, bringing awareness to the body at the times when we’re experiencing difficult emotions is often the last thing that we would think to do. With practice, working with the touch points becomes a very accessible and reliable resource for allowing us to be more present wherever we are and under any conditions.
    Michael Liebman Grady has been practicing Vipassana mediatation since 1973. He is a guiding teacher at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center.

    When the mind is in doubt it is compared to muddy water placed in darkness which cannot reflect an image well.
    The Fifth Hindrance: Doubt: Q & A with Sharon Salzburg
    I make a point to keep sitting every day, but lately I’ve been asking myself what good it’s doing me, apart from the value of sticking to my commitment and the supposed benefits of spending time in silence and alone. How can I reinvigorate my faith in the practice?
    Doubt and faith in our meditation practice often arise and pass away depending on what we are using as criteria for success. The first step is to try to move away from incessantly evaluating what’s going on in our practice. We need to be willing to go through ups and downs without getting disheartened. When doubt arises, try to recognize it as doubt, and realize that it is a constantly changing state.
    If that doesn’t help, you might need to seek clarification about the meditation method you’re using, and perhaps make a change in your practice. You shouldn’t hesitate to ask a teacher or fellow practitioner about that. But in most cases, the doubt is simply a reflexive sign of our impatience.
    This example is sometimes used to describe practice: It’s as though you’re hitting a piece of wood with an ax to split it. You hit it ninety-nine times, yet nothing happens. Then you hit it the hundredth time, and it breaks open. But when we’re hitting the wood for the thirty-sixth time, it doesn’t exactly feel glorious.
    It’s not just the mechanical act of hitting the wood and weakening its fiber that makes for that magical hundredth moment, just like it’s not the physical act of sitting on the cushion that leads to realization—though both are certainly necessary. It’s also our openness to possibility, our patience, our effort, our humor, our self-knowledge. These are what we are actually practicing, no matter what happens or doesn’t happen to our problems, our moods, our sense of “being in the moment.”
    Every so often I meet someone who seems perfectly congenial on the surface, but something in me just doesn’t trust them. This doubt ends up evidencing itself in my behavior, and sometimes causes hurt. When is it worth noting these feelings of doubt, and when is it best just to let them go?
    It’s important to note a feeling of doubt that arises in a relationship. If we immediately attempt to let it go, we are automatically discounting our intuition. If you allow yourself to acknowledge the doubt and investigate its constituent feelings without judgment, a lot will be revealed.
    You may notice that at its root are sadness, envy, competitiveness, or perhaps even echoes of a time in the past when you didn’t trust your intuition—with unfortunate consequences. In looking quietly at the doubt, you may decide it is largely a result of your projections onto the other person, or feelings of your own inadequacy, or jealousy.
    As a result of this inquiry, you may resolve to behave differently. Or you may decide that there really is a disquieting element to the other person’s behavior that you don’t want to ignore. If it is the kind of relationship where you can communicate your feelings, it is worth trying to skillfully convey your discomfort to this person, and to listen to their response. If the relationship doesn’t allow for that, it is good at least to be aware of how your doubt might be clouding the ways you interact with that person, so that you don’t cause unnecessary hurt.
    Sharon Salzberg is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Her most recent book is Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience.

  44. From Sam Harris’ Bog:
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/taming-the-mind

    Dan Harris is a co-anchor of Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America on ABC News. He has reported from all over the world, covering wars in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq, and producing investigative reports in Haiti, Cambodia, and the Congo. He has also spent many years covering religion in America, despite the fact that he is agnostic.
    Dan’s new book, 10 Percent Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story, hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.
    Dan was kind enough to discuss the practice of meditation with me for this page.
    * * *

    Sam: One thing I love about your book—admittedly, somewhat selfishly—is that it’s exactly the book I would want people to read before Waking Up comes out in the fall. You approach the topic of meditation with serious skepticism—which, as you know, is an attitude that my readers share to an unusual degree. Perhaps you can say something about this. How did you view the practice in the beginning?
    Dan: I was incredibly skeptical about meditation. I thought it was for people who lived in yurts or collected crystals or had too many Cat Stevens records. And I was bred for this kind of doubt. My parents are both physicians and scientists at academic hospitals in the Boston area, and my wife is also a scientist and a physician. I was raised in a very secular environment. I had a Bar Mitzvah, but that was mostly because I wanted the money and the social acceptance. My parents were also recovering hippies who made me go to a yoga class when I was a little kid. The teacher didn’t like the jeans I was wearing, so she forced me to take them off and do Sun Salutations in my tighty-whities in front of all the other kids.
    Sam: Rarely has the connection between yoga and child abuse been illustrated so clearly.
    Dan: No doubt. And the result was that not only was I skeptical about anything bordering on the metaphysical, which I assumed meditation involved, but I had a long-standing aversion to anything touchy-feely or New Agey. Meditation seemed like the quintessence of everything I was most wary of.
    Sam: For those who are unfamiliar with meditation—in particular, the practice of mindfulness that we are discussing—I have described it in a previous article on my blog and also posted some guided meditations that many people have found helpful. But, in essence, we are talking about the practice of paying very careful, non-judgmental attention to the contents of consciousness in the present moment. Usually one begins by focusing on the sensation of breathing, but eventually the practice opens to include the full field of experience—other sensations in the body, sounds, emotions, even thoughts themselves. The trick, however, is not to spend one’s time lost in thought.
    How did you get started practicing mindfulness, and what was your first experience like?
    Dan: Well, the thing that got me to open my mind just a crack was hearing about the science. I think that’s true for a lot of people who have given it a try of late. You hear about the science that says it can do some pretty extraordinary things to your brain and your body: lowering your blood pressure, boosting your immune system, thickening the gray matter in parts of the brain that have to do with self-awareness and compassion, and decreasing the gray matter in the areas associated with stress. That’s all really compelling. I work out because I want to take care of my health, and meditation seemed like it could fall in the same bucket. But my first taste of it was miserable. I set an alarm for five minutes and had a full-on collision with the zoo that is my mind. It was really hard.
    Sam: People who haven’t tried to meditate have very little sense that their minds are noisy at all. And when you tell them that they’re thinking every second of the day, it generally doesn’t mean anything to them. It certainly doesn’t strike most of them as pathological. When these people try to meditate, they have one of two reactions: Some are so restless and besieged by doubts that they can hardly attempt the exercise. “What am I doing sitting here with my eyes closed? What is the point of paying attention to the breath?” And, strangely, their resistance isn’t remotely interesting to them. They come away, after only a few minutes, thinking that the act of paying close attention to their experience is pointless.
    But then there are the people who have an epiphany similar to yours, where the unpleasant realization that their minds are lurching all over the place becomes a goad to further inquiry. Their inability to pay sustained attention—to anything—becomes interesting to them. And they recognize it as pathological, despite the fact that almost everyone is in the same condition.
    Dan: I love your description. Interestingly enough, the door had opened for me before I tried meditation, in the most unexpected way. One of my assignments at ABC News had been to cover basic spirituality. So I had picked up a book by a self-help guru by the name of Eckhart Tolle, who has sold millions of books and is beloved by Oprah. I had read his book not because I thought it would be personally useful to me but because I was considering doing a story on him. Nestled within all his grandiloquent writing and pseudoscientific claims—and just overall weirdness—was a diagnosis of the human condition, which you just articulated quite well, that kind of blew my mind.
    It’s this thunderous truism: We all know on some level that we are thinking all the time, that we have this voice in our heads, and the nature of this voice is mostly negative. It’s also repetitive and ceaselessly self-referential. We walk around in this fog of memory about the past and anticipation of a future that may or may not arrive in the form in which we imagine it. This observation seemed to describe me. I realized that the things I’d done in my life that I was most ashamed of had been as a result of having thoughts, impulses, urges, and emotions that I didn’t have the wherewithal to resist. So when I sat down and had that first confrontation with the voice in my head, I knew from having read Eckhart Tolle that it wasn’t going to be pretty, and I was motivated to do something about it.
    Sam: Why didn’t you just become a student of Tolle’s?
    Dan: I think that Eckhart Tolle is correct, but not useful. I’m stealing that distinction from the meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg. I think his diagnosis is correct, but he doesn’t give you anything to do about it, at least that I could ascertain. He has sold millions of books about “spiritual awakening.” If he were truly useful, we should have a reasonable population of awakened people walking around, and I’m just not seeing them. I found Tolle to be both extraordinarily interesting and extraordinarily frustrating. The lack of any concrete advice was really the source of my frustration, alongside the aforementioned weirdness. I think Tolle deserves credit for articulating a truth of the human condition extremely well. But I also think that it’s a legitimate criticism to say he doesn’t give you anything to do about it.
    Sam: It’s interesting that you mention Tolle, because when someone asks me for the two-second summary of my new book, I’m often tempted to say, “It’s Eckhart Tolle for smart people”—that is, people who suspect that something important can be discovered about consciousness through introspection, but who are allergic to the pseudoscience and irrationality that generally creeps into every New Age discussion of this truth. I haven’t read much of Tolle, but I suspect that I largely agree with his view of the subjective insights that come once we recognize the nature of consciousness prior to thought. The self that we all think we have riding around inside our heads is an illusion—and one that can disappear when examined closely. What’s more, we’re much better off psychologically when it does. But from the little reading I’ve done of Tolle, I can see that he also makes some embarrassing claims about the nature of the cosmos—claims that are unjustified both scientifically and philosophically.
    However, in the man’s defense, this lack of usefulness you mention is not unique to him. It’s hard to talk about the illusoriness of the self or the non-dual nature of consciousness in a way that makes sense to people.
    Dan: You know, I’ve read a little bit about non-duality, but I still don’t fully understand the distinction you’re making. I know you’re supposed to be interviewing me, but I would love to hear more about this from you. I’ve wanted to ask you this question for a long time. What is the non-dual critique of gradual approaches like mindfulness?
    Sam: I think the best way to communicate this is by analogy. Everyone has had the experience of looking through a window and suddenly catching sight of his own reflection staring back at him from the glass. At that point, he can use the glass as a window, to see the world outside, or as a mirror, but he can’t do both at the same time.
    Sometimes your reflection in the glass is pretty subtle, and you could easily stand there for ten minutes, looking outside while staring right through the image of your own face without seeing it.
    For the purposes of this analogy, imagine that the goal of meditation is to see your own reflection clearly in each moment. Most spiritual traditions don’t realize that this can be done directly, and they articulate their paths of practice in ways that suggest that if you only paid more attention to everything beyond the glass—trees, sky, traffic—eventually your face would come into view. Looking out the window is arguably better than closing your eyes or leaving the room entirely—at least you are facing in the right direction—but the practice is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. You don’t realize that you are looking through the very thing you are trying to find in every moment. Given better information, you could just walk up to the window and see your face in the first instant.
    The same is true for the illusoriness of the self. Consciousness is already free of the feeling that we call “I.” However, a person must change his plane of focus to realize this. Some practices can facilitate this shift in awareness, but there is no truly gradual path that leads there. Many longtime meditators seem completely unaware that these two planes of focus exist, and they spend their lives looking out the window, as it were. I used to be one of them. I’d stay on retreat for a few weeks or months at a time, being mindful of the breath and other sense objects, thinking that if I just got closer to the raw data of experience, a breakthrough would occur. Occasionally, a breakthrough did occur: In a moment of seeing, for instance, there would be pure seeing, and consciousness would appear momentarily free of any feeling to which the notion of a “self” could be attached. But then the experience would fade, and I couldn’t get back there at will. There was nothing to do but return to meditating dualistically on contents of consciousness, with self-transcendence as a distant goal.
    However, from the non-dual side, ordinary consciousness—the very awareness that you and I are experiencing in this conversation—is already free of self. And this can be pointed out directly, and recognized again and again, as one’s only form of practice. So gradual approaches are, almost by definition, misleading. And yet this is where everyone starts.
    In criticizing this kind of practice, someone like Eckhart Tolle is echoing the non-dualistic teachings one finds in traditions such as Advaita Vedanta, Zen (sometimes), and Dzogchen. Many of these teachings can sound paradoxical: You can’t get there from here. The self that you think you are isn’t going to meditate itself into a new condition. This is true, but as Sharon says, it’s not always useful. The path is too steep.
    Of course, this non-dual teaching, too, can be misleading—because even after one recognizes the intrinsic selflessness of consciousness, one still has to practice that recognition. So there is a point to meditation after all—but it isn’t a goal-oriented one. In each moment of real meditation, the self is already transcended.
    Dan: So should I stop doing my mindfulness meditation?
    Sam: Not at all. Though I think you could be well served if you ever had the opportunity to study the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Dzogchen.
    Dan: Joseph Goldstein, who’s a friend to both of us, recently put out this supplement to daily practice where he says, “Listen to all the sounds that arise in your consciousness and then try to find who or what is hearing them.” I find that when I do that, I’m directed into a space completely different from the one I arrive at when I’m sitting there watching my breath. I’m wondering if that is the kind of shift in attention you’re talking about. Is that what you would recommend as a way to bridge the gap you’ve just described?
    Sam: Yes. Looking for the mind, or the thinker, or the one who is looking, is often taught as a preliminary exercise in Dzogchen, and it gets your attention pointed in the right direction. It’s different from focusing on the sensation of breathing. You’re simply turning attention upon itself—and this can provoke the insight I’m talking about. It’s possible to look for the one who is looking and to find, conclusively, that no one is there to be found.
    People who have done a lot of meditation practice, who know what it’s like to concentrate deeply on an object like the breath, often develop a misconception that the truth is somewhere deep within. But non-duality is not deep. It’s right on the surface. This is another way the window analogy works well: Your reflection is not far away. You just need to know where to look for it. It’s not a matter of going deeper and deeper into subtlety until your face finally reveals itself. It is literally right before your eyes in every moment. When you turn attention upon itself and look for the thinker of your thoughts, the absence of any center to consciousness can be glimpsed immediately. It can’t be found by going deeper. To go deep—into the breath or any other phenomenon you can notice—is to start looking out the window at the trees.
    The trick is to become sensitive to what consciousness is like the instant you try to turn it upon itself. In that first instant, there’s a gap between thoughts that can grow wider and become more salient. The more it opens, the more you can notice the character of consciousness prior to thought. This is true whether it’s ordinary consciousness—you standing bleary-eyed in line at Starbucks—or you’re in the middle of a three-month retreat and your body feels like it’s made of light. It simply doesn’t matter what the contents of consciousness are. The self is an illusion in any case.
    It’s also useful to do this practice with your eyes open, because vision seems to anchor the feeling of subject/object duality more than any other sense. Most of us feel quite strongly that we are behind our eyes, looking out at a world that is over there. But the truth—subjectively speaking; I’m not making a claim about physics—is that everything is just appearing in consciousness. Losing the sense of subject/object duality with your eyes open can be the most vivid way to experience this shift in perception. That’s why Dzogchen practitioners tend to meditate with their eyes open.
    Dan: So I would look at something and ask myself who is seeing it?
    Sam: Yes—but it’s not a matter of verbally asking yourself the question. The crucial gesture is to attempt to turn attention upon itself and notice what changes in that first instant. Again, it’s not a matter of going deep within. You don’t have to work up to this thing. It’s a matter of looking for the looker and in that first moment noticing what consciousness is like. Once you notice that it is wide open and unencumbered by the feeling of self, that very insight becomes the basis of your mindfulness.
    Dan: The way you describe it, it’s a practice. I get it. Tolle and the other non-dual thinkers I’ve heard talk aren’t telling us what to do. You’re actually giving me something clear and easy to understand. I think you could use that as a complement to and perhaps even a replacement for the mindfulness practice that stabilizes your attention and helps you recognize that you have an inner life worth focusing on in the first place.
    Sam: That’s right. Mindfulness is necessary for any form of meditation. So there’s no contradiction. But there remains something paradoxical about non-dual teachings, because the thing you’re glimpsing is already true of consciousness. Consciousness is already without the sense of self.
    Most people feel that the self is real and that they’re going to somehow unravel it—or, if it’s an illusion, it is one that requires a protracted process of meditation to dispel. One gets the sense in every dualistic approach that there’s nothing to notice in the beginning but the evidence of one’s own unenlightenment. Your mind is a mess that must be cleaned up. You’re at the base of the mountain, and there’s nothing to do but schlep to the top.
    The non-dual truth is that consciousness is already free of this thing we think we have in our heads—the ego, the thinker of thoughts, the grumpy homunculus. And the intrinsic selflessness of consciousness can be recognized, right now, before you make any effort to be free of the self through goal-oriented practice. Once you have recognized the way consciousness already is, there is still practice to do, but it’s not the same as just logging your miles of mindfulness on the breath or any other object of perception.
    Dan: I appreciate what you’re saying, but it seems to present a communication challenge or PR problem. I think most people will buy the basic argument for mindfulness. We all know that we eat when we’re not hungry, check our email when we’re supposed to be listening to our kids, or lose our temper, and then we regret these things later. We all know that we’re yanked around by our emotions. So most people will readily see the value of having more self-awareness so that they can have more—for lack of a better term—emotional intelligence. However, I don’t know that it will be readily apparent to most people why it would be desirable to see the self as an illusion. I don’t even know that most people have considered the nature of the self at all, because I certainly hadn’t. So to ask them to take the further step of considering whether it is an illusion—that requires a lot of work to even wrap your head around. That seems to me to be one of the big issues for non-dualists.
    Sam: I agree. It’s a more esoteric concern, almost by definition—but it’s a more fundamental one as well. It’s the distinction between teaching mindfulness in a clinical or self-help context—whether to the Marines, to enhance their performance, or as a form of stress reduction in a hospital or a psychotherapy practice—and going on silent retreat for months in the hope of recapitulating the insights of a great contemplative like the Buddha. Some people really want to get to the root of the problem. But most just want to feel better and achieve more in their lives. There’s nothing wrong with that—until one realizes that there is something wrong with it. The wolf never quite leaves the door.
    Ultimately, no matter how much you improve your game, you still have a problem that seems to be structured around this feeling you call “I”—which, strangely, is not quite identical to this body of yours that is growing older and less reliable by the hour. You still feel that you are this always-ready-to-be-miserable center of consciousness that is perpetually driven to do things in the hope of feeling better.
    And if you’re practicing mindfulness or some other form of meditation as a remedy for this discomfort, you are bound to approach it in the same dilemma-based way that you approach everything else in life. You’re out of shape, so you go to the gym. You feel a little run down, so you go to the doctor. You didn’t get enough sleep, so you drink an extra cup of coffee. We’re constantly bailing water in this way. Mindfulness becomes a very useful tool to help yourself feel better, but it isn’t fundamentally different from any of these other strategies when we use it that way.
    For instance, many of us hate to be late and find ourselves rushing at various points in the day. This is a common pattern for me: I get uptight about being late, and I can feel the cortisol just dump into my bloodstream. It’s possible to practice mindfulness as a kind of remedy for this problem—to notice the feeling of stress dispassionately, and to disengage from one’s thoughts about it—but it is very hard to escape the sense that one is using mindfulness as an antidote and trying to meditate the unpleasant feelings away. Technically, it’s not true mindfulness at that point, but even when one is really balanced with one’s attention, there is still the feeling that one is patiently contemplating one’s own neurosis. It is another thing entirely to recognize that there is no self at the center of this storm in the first place.
    The illusoriness of the self is potentially of great interest to everyone, because this false construct really is our most basic problem in every moment. But there is no question that this truth is harder to communicate than the benefits of simply being more self-aware, less reactive, more concentrated, and so forth.
    Dan: This is exactly why my book is a great prologue to yours.
    Sam: Absolutely. And you’ve written a book that I could never have written. I became interested in meditation relatively early in life. I was a skeptical person, but I was only 19, so I didn’t have all the reasons you had to be skeptical when you first approached the practice. Nor did I have a career, so I wasn’t coming from the same fascinating context in which you recognized that something was wrong with your approach to life. I think your book will be incredibly useful to people.
    Can you say something about what it was like to go on retreat for the first time? What sort of resistance did you have? And what was it like to punch through it?
    Dan: I blame the entire experience on you. It was largely your idea, and you got me into the retreat—which, to my surprise, was hard to get into. I had no idea that so many people wanted to sign up for ten days of no talking, vegetarian food, and 12 hours a day of meditation, which sounded like a perfect description of one of the inner circles of Dante’s Inferno to me.
    As you can gather from the previous sentences, I did not look forward to the experience at all. However, I knew as a budding meditator that this was the next step to take. When we met backstage at the debate you and Michael Shermer did with Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston, which I moderated for Nightline, I realized for the first time that you were a meditator. You recommended that I go on this retreat, and it was almost as if I’d received a dare from a cool kid I admired. I felt like I really needed to do this. It was as horrible as I’d thought it would be for a couple of days. On day four or five I thought I might quit, but then I had a breakthrough.
    Sam: Describe that breakthrough. What shifted?
    Dan: As I say in the book, it felt as if I had been dragged by my head by a motorboat for a few days, and then, all of the sudden, I got up on water skis. When you’re hauled kicking and screaming into the present moment, you arrive at an experience of the mind that is, at least for me, totally new. I could see very clearly the ferocious rapidity of the mind—how fast we’re hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling, wanting—and that this is our life. We are on the receiving end of this fire hose of mental noise. That glimpse ushered in the happiest 36 hours of my life. But, as the Buddha liked to point out, nothing lasts—and that did not last.
    Sam: It’s amazing to realize for the first time that your life doesn’t get any better than your mind is: You might have wonderful friends, perfect health, a great career, and everything else you want, and you can still be miserable. The converse is also true: There are people who basically have nothing—who live in circumstances that you and I would do more or less anything to avoid—who are happier than we tend to be because of the character of their minds. Unfortunately, one glimpse of this truth is never enough. We have to be continually reminded of it.
    Dan: This reminds me of the Buddhist concept of suffering. The term “suffering” has certain connotations in English and, as you know, it’s a poor translation of the original Pali term dukkha. The Buddhist concept describes the truth of our existence, which is that nothing is ever ultimately satisfying.
    As you said, you can have great friends and live pretty high on the socioeconomic ladder—your life can be a long string of pleasurable meals, vacations, and encounters with books and interesting people—and, yes, you can still have what Eckhart Tolle describes as a background static of perpetual discontent. This is why we see rock stars with drug problems and lottery winners who kill themselves. There is something very powerful about that realization.
    Sam: And this is why training the mind through meditation makes sense—because it’s the most direct way to influence the mechanics of your own experience. To remain unaware of this machinery—in particular, the automaticity of thought—is to simply be propelled by it into one situation after another in which you struggle to find lasting fulfillment amid conditions that can’t provide it.
    Dan: What’s interesting is that so many people reflexively reject this—just as I would have five or six years ago—because of their misconceptions about meditation. I think there are two reasons why people don’t meditate. Either they think it’s complete baloney that involves wearing robes, lighting incense, and subscribing to some useless metaphysical program, or they accept the fact that it might be good for them, but they assume that they couldn’t do it because their minds are too busy. I refer to this second reason as “the fallacy of uniqueness.” If you think that your mind is somehow busier than everyone else’s—welcome to the human condition. Everyone’s mind is busy. Meditation is hard for everybody.
    Sam: The first source of resistance you mentioned is especially prevalent among smart, skeptical people. And I’m a little worried that the way in which many of us respond to this doubt ultimately sells the whole enterprise short. For instance, consider the comparison people often make between meditation and physical exercise—in fact, you drew this analogy already. At first glance, it’s a good one, because nothing looks more ridiculous on its face than what most of us do for exercise. Take the practice of lifting weights: If you try to explain weightlifting to someone who has no understanding of fitness, the wisdom of repeatedly picking up heavy objects and putting them down again is very difficult to get across. And until you’ve actually succeeded at building some muscle, it feels wrong too. So it is easy to see why a naïve person would say, “Why on earth would I want to waste my time and energy doing that?” Of course, most people understand that lifting weights is one of the best things they can do if they want to retain muscle mass, protect their joints from injury, feel better, etc. It’s also extraordinarily satisfying, once a person gets into it.
    Meditation presents a similar impasse at first. Everyone asks, “Why would I want to pay attention to my breath?” It seems like a shameful waste of time. So the analogy to exercise is inviting and probably useful, but it doesn’t quite get at what is so revolutionary about finally paying attention to the character of one’s own mental life in this way.

    Truly learning to meditate is not like going to the gym and putting on some muscle because it’s good for you and makes you feel better. There’s more to it than that. Meditation—again, done correctly—puts into question more or less everything you tend to do in your search for happiness. But if you lose sight of this, it can become just another strategy for seeking happiness—a more refined version of the problem you already have.
    Dan: I’m guilty of using the exercise analogy repeatedly. My feeling—and I think you’d agree with this—is that the analogy is good enough to get people in the door. It may be misleading, but I don’t think in a harmful way. Obviously, when done correctly, meditation is much more transformative than ordinary exercise, but you need to meet people where they are. I think that mindfulness, and potentially even non-duality, has the potential to become the next public health revolution, or the spirituality of the future. In order for that to happen, you need to communicate with people in a way that they can understand. Not to keep whaling on Eckhart Tolle, but part of my problem with him is that I just don’t know that anybody actually understands what he’s saying, despite the fact that he has sold millions of books.
    Sam: This raises the question of how to evaluate the results of a spiritual practice—and whether those results, however transformative they may be for someone, can be credible to others.
    What constitutes evidence that there is a path to wisdom at all? From the outside, it’s very difficult to judge—because there are charismatic charlatans who are probably lying about everything, and there are seemingly ordinary people who have had quite profound experiences. From the inside, however, the evidence is clear; so each person has to run the experiment in the laboratory of his own mind to know that there’s anything to this.
    The truth is that most of us are bound to appear like ordinary schmucks to others no matter how much we meditate. If you’re lost in thought, as you will be most of the time, you become the mere puppet of whatever those thoughts are. If you’re lost in worries about the future, you will seem to be an ordinary, anxious person—and the fact that you might be punctuating this experience with moments of mindfulness or moments of non-duality isn’t necessarily going to change the way you appear in the world. But internally, the difference can be huge. This gap between first-person and third-person data is a real impediment to communicating the significance of meditation practice to people who haven’t experienced it.
    Dan: I agree, although, as we’ve already mentioned, there are some external manifestations that one can measure—changes in the brain, lowered blood pressure, boosted immune function, lowered cortisol, and so forth. People find these things compelling, and once they get in the door, they can experience the practice from the inside.
    I would also say—and perhaps you were just getting into this—it’s hard to gauge whether some spiritual teachers are telling the truth. I’ve been privileged to meet many of these people, and I just go by my gut sense of whether they’re full of crap or not.
    I have to say that with Eckhart Tolle, I did not get that feeling. I got the sense that he is for real. I don’t understand a lot of what he’s saying, but I didn’t feel that he was lying to himself or to me. Obviously this isn’t really data, but I found it personally convincing. To what end, I don’t know.
    Sam: As distinct, say, from our friend with the rhinestone glasses…
    Dan: Correct. I think I say in the book that I had no questions about whether Tolle was authentic, although I had many questions about whether he was sane. It was the reverse with Deepak Chopra.
    Sam: Now I find myself in the unusual position of rising to Deepak’s defense—I think this happens once a decade, when the planets align just so. As I was saying before, a person like Deepak could have authentic and life-transforming experiences in meditation that nevertheless failed to smooth out the quirks in his personality. If he spends most of his time lost in thought, it will not be obvious to us that he enjoys those moments of real freedom. We will inevitably judge him by the silly things he says and the arrogance with which he says them.
    But I’ve learned, as a result of my humbling encounters with my own mind, to charitably discount everyone else’s psychopathology. So if a spiritual teacher flies into a rage or even does something starkly unethical, that is not, from my point of view, proof that he or she is a total fraud. It’s just evidence that he or she is spending some significant amount of time lost in thought. But that’s to be expected of anybody who’s not “fully enlightened,” if such a rarefied state is even possible. I’m not saying that every guru is worth listening to—I think most aren’t, and some are genuinely dangerous. But many talented contemplatives can appear quite ordinary. And, unfortunately, cutting through the illusion of the self doesn’t guarantee that you won’t say something stupid at the next opportunity.
    Dan: I fully agree with you. I enjoy picking on Deepak, but the truth is that I like the guy.

    Sam: Let’s leave it there, Dan. It was great speaking with you, and I wish you continued success with your book.
    Dan: Many thanks, Sam.
    - See more at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/taming-the-mind#sthash.gVyqtRZT.dpuf

  45. “Surfboard” Quoted today in my talk to our Sitting Group.
    My current teacher, Shinzen Young, first trained in Rinzai Zen but then decided that Vipassana was the best way to teach Americans. Vipassana teaches us the awareness of ever-present expansion and contraction, and having no preference between them. There are good feelings and bad feelings, good days and bad days, expansion and contraction. This is the way it is for all of us. Nobody gets anything better than that.

    But we so often make a steady state our ideal, especially in relationships. When you pick someone, you think you’re going to escape suffering, get out of the expansion and contraction. Your ideals for relationship might be so high that you never get into one, because every time you put your toe in, you say, “Ahh! This doesn’t work. This is falling short.” You never even get on the path of love, because you’re holding on to your ideal.

    Or perhaps you get on the path of love, and then you are looking for those highs within the ups and downs of life. You put great store in them. Occasionally you have a really good day, or even a peak experience, and there is this wonderful opening. You recognize that you and the other person are absolutely in tune, totally accepting of each other. You think to yourself, “OK, now I’ve got it. In the future I will do exactly this, and I’ll get these results again.” But of course, it doesn’t work, because the waves go up and down, up and down.

    Here’s the secret: get a surfboard. As the waves go up and down, the surfboard allows you to maintain your balance. When things are going well, you maintain your balance and don’t go whole hog into it. And when things are going badly, you can see that painful as it is, it’s interesting and even fascinating to observe. By surfing the waves and maintaining your balance, it starts to feel less like bouncing up and down all the time.

    Meditation practice, mindfulness, psychotherapy, clear observation of your experience—all these will give you this capacity to surf. However, everybody falls off the surfboard at some point, so you need one of those little ankle bracelets that keeps you and the surfboard together. Whether it’s psychotherapy or meditation, you need to stay with it long enough to get the bracelet that connects you. If you don’t, then one day you will fall off hard and you might say, “I worked hard on that surfboard and it didn’t work, so screw it. I won’t work on one of those again.” That is the worst outcome. The things that could help you have been tossed away.

    When the shit hits the fan in your life―and it will―you will need your surfboard and the bracelet that ties you to it. You will need your training and you will need a bigger view of love, one that encompasses and accepts a broken heart. You will need something that reminds you of your vow to “take the training” to love.

    Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D., is a Jungian psychoanalyst and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont. A longtime practitioner of Zen and Vipassana meditation, she is author of fourteen books, including her most recent, The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance.

    • I love this quote about relationships and really about life. I love the metaphor of a surf board
      Thank you

      Joel

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