OUR APPOINTMENT WITH LIFE

Notes from the Discourse on Living Happily in the Present Moment

Our appointment with life is in the present moment. The place of our appointment is right here, in this very place.  – Thich Nhat Hanh

The Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone

Excerpt from Bhaddekaratta Suta (translated from Pali)

The Buddha taught:

Do not pursue the past.

Do not lose yourself in the future.

The past no longer is.

The future has not yet come.

Looking deeply at life as it is in the very here and now,

the practitioner dwells

in stability and freedom.

We must be diligent today.

To wait until tomorrow is too late.

Death comes unexpectedly.

How can we bargain with it?

The sage calls a person who knows

how to dwell in mindfulness

night and day

“one who knows

the better way to live alone.”

PUTTING THE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA INTO PRACTICE

The Buddha said that living alone means living in the present moment deeply observing what is happening. If we do that we will not be dragged into the past or swept away into thoughts about the future. To be in touch with community is very important. To discover the way of being alone in a practice community is something we need to do. The monk Thera was part of a practice community but he was determined to live alone because he heard the Buddha once praise the practice of living alone but he was unable to mix with his fellow practitioners and they expressed their concern to the Buddha. If we practice “the better way of living alone,” and we spend most of our time quietly practicing walking and sitting meditation, our presence will make a real contribution to the community. Unlike the monk Thera every step we make adds to the quality and stability of the community.

To live alone means to live in mindfulness. It does not mean to isolate oneself from society. If we live in forgetfulness, if we lose ourselves to be tossed about by desires, anger, and ignorance, we will not be able to live each moment of our life deeply. When we are feeling hollow, exhausted, joyless and not our true selves we should stop trying to be in touch with society and come back to ourselves and practice conscious breathing, observing deeply what is going on inside and around us.

If we live in mindfulness we are no longer poor because our practice of living in the present moment makes us rich in joy, peace, understanding and love. Even when we encounter someone poor in spirit, we are able to look deeply and discover that person’s depths and help him or her in an effective way. If we watch an unwholesome movie or read a bad novel and we are already poor in heart and mind and weak in mindfulness, that movie or book may irritate us and make us even poorer. But if we are rich in mindfulness we will discover what lies in the depths of the film or novel. Maintaining full awareness of the present moment, we are able to profit from it. This is the better way to live alone.

Internal Formations

Buddha taught that we should not pursue the past because the past is no longer. When we are lost in thoughts about the past, we lose the present. Life only exists in the present moment; to lose the present is to lose life. Internal formations are mental factors that arise in us and bind us. Things we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, imagine, or think can all give rise to internal formations–desire, anger, irritation, confusion, fear, anxiety, suspicion, and so on. Internal formations are present in the depths of consciousness of each of us. Internal formations influence our consciousness and every day behavior; because they compel us in this way they are called fetters because they bind us to acting in certain ways. Commentaries usually mention 9 internal formations (desire, hatred, pride, ignorance, stubborn views, attachment, doubt, jealousy, selfishness) and ignorance is the fundamental internal formation, it is the raw material by which all other mental formations are formed. We have to learn to transform our internal formations so that we will be free to be attentive to the present moment.

The present is also made up of the past

The present contains the past. When we understand how our internal formations cause conflicts in us, we can see how the past is in the present moment, and we will no longer be overwhelmed by the past. When we review the pas and observe it deeply, if we are standing firmly in the present, we are not overwhelmed by it. This is called, “looking again at something old in order to learn something new.”

If we know that the past lies in the present we know that we are able to change the past by transforming the present. An important part of the work of observation meditation is to be able to recognize the latent tendencies, observe them deeply and transform them.

Do not lose yourself in the future

The reason we think about the future even when we do not want to is because of internal formations. The energies behind our thinking about the future are our hopes, dreams, and anxieties. Because the present doesn’t bring us happiness, we allow our minds to travel into the future. We all know that hope is necessary for life but in Buddhism hope can be an obstacle. If we invest our mind in the future we will not have enough mental energy to face and transform the present. Naturally we have to make plans for the future but this does not mean we should be swept up by day dreams. While we are making plans our feet are firmly planted in the present. We can only build the future from the raw materials in the present. The essential teaching of Buddhism is to be free of all desire for the future in order to come back with all our heart and mind into the present. Only the present moment is real.

The Past and Future Both Lie in the Present

When we think about the past, feelings of regret may arise. When we think about the future feelings of desire may come up but all of these feelings arise in the present moment and all of them affect the present moment. The main thing we have to remember is that the past and the future are both in the present, and if we take hold of the present moment, then we also transform the past and the future. If we observe the present deeply and take hold of unpleasant feelings about the past we can transform it. We do so by means of mindfulness, determination, and correct actions and speech. There is a gatha or repentance: “All wrongdoings arise because of mind. If mind is transformed, can any wrongdoing remain? After repentance, my heart is light like the cloud floating free in the sky.” Because of our lack of mindfulness, because our mind was obscured by desire, anger, jealousy, we acted wrongly. If the wrong doing arose from the mind, it can also be transformed within our mind. Such transformation is available if we know how to return to the present moment. If we can transform the past we can transform the future. Our anxieties and fears for the future make the present dark. Taking care of the present is the best way to take care of the future.

Buddhism talks about three poisons: desire, hatred, ignorance. To live in the present moment is to accept and face these poisons as they arise, manifest, and return to the unconscious, and to practice observation meditation in order to transform them. Happiness is the direct result of facing things and being in touch. That happiness is the material from which a beautiful future is manufactured.

Life is Found in the Present

Peace, joy, liberation, awakening, happiness, Buddhahood, the source–everything we long for and seek after can only be found in the present moment. Aimlessness in Buddhism is taught as a way to help the practitioner stop pursuing the future and remain in the present, it is also called wishlessness. To be able to stop pursuing the future allows us to realize that all the wonderful things we seek are present in us, in the present moment. Life is not a particular place or destination. Life is a path.

Buddhism teaches a way of breathing which gives us the capacity of making body and mind one in order to be face to face with life. Stability and freedom refer to the contentment and tranquility of not being carried away by anything whatsoever. Impermanence and selflessness are the foundations on which life is built. Impermanence is the constant transformation of things and selflessness is interdependence.

Suffering becomes the element which nourishes our love and compassion and so we are not afraid of it. When our heart is filled with love we will act in ways to help relieve the suffering of others.

A life of peace, freedom and joy

If we live observing everything deeply in the present moment, we learn to live in peace and joy with freedom and stability. If we continue to practice diligently in this way, peace, joy, and stability will grow every day until we realize complete liberation. Observation of impermanence can lead us to transcend the boundaries of birth and death. When we look at all that is in the universe and all those dear to us, we see that there is nothing eternal and unchanging that we can call “I” or “self.”

Transcending birth and death

The Buddha taught us to look directly into the elements which combine together to constitute our body, in order to see the nature of these elements and transcend the idea of “self.” The five elements which combine together to become the things we call self are form (body), feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. All five elements are constantly transforming.

The sutra refers to someone who practices according to the teachings of the Noble Ones which means someone who lives in the present and observes deeply in order to see life’s impermanent and selfless nature.

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TRANSFORMATION AND HEALING

Notes on the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness

The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, and the Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone are three extremely important discourses of the Buddha and are fundamental to the practice of meditation; they refer to mindfulness practice as the main gate to awakening. The 4 methods are: 1. mindfulness of body, 2. mindfulness of feelings, 3. mindfulness of the mind, 4. mindfulness of the objects of the mind (dharmas).

In the Establishment known as the body, the practitioner is fully aware of the body, the various parts of the body, the four elements that comprise the body, and the decomposition of the body as a corpse.

In the Establishment known as the feelings, the practitioner is fully aware of pleasant, painful, and neutral feelings as they arise, endure, and disappear. He is aware of the feelings which have a psychological basis and feelings which have a physiological basis.

In the Establishment known as the mind, the practitioner is fully aware of states of mind such as desire, hatred, confusion, concentration, dispersion, internal formations, and liberation.

In the Establishment known as the objects of mind, the practioner is fully aware of the 5 aggregates which comprises a person (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness; the sense organs and their objects, the factors which can obstruct understanding and liberation, the factors which lead to Awakening, and the Four Noble Truths concerning suffering and the release from suffering.

The word satipatthana (Sanskrit: smrtyupasthana) is a compound of sati which means “mindfulness” or “remembering” and upatthana which means “place of abiding,” “establishment, or “application.”

Body, Feelings, Mind, and Objects of Mind

Methods of Practice

To practice meditation is to look deeply in order to see into the essence of things. Due to our insight and understanding we can realize liberation, peace, and joy. Our anger, anxiety, and fear, are the ropes that bind us to suffering and if we want to be liberated from them we need to observe their nature, which is ignorance, the lack of clear understanding. When we misunderstand a friend, we may become angry at him, and because of that we suffer but when we understand the other person and his situation then our suffering disappears and peace and joy arise.

The first step is awarenss of the object and the second step is looking deeply at the object to shed light on it, therefore mindfulness means awareness but also looking deeply.

The Pali word, sati, (Sanskrit: smrti) means “to stop” and “to maintain awareness of the object.” The Pali word vipassana (Sanskrit: vipasyana) means “to go deeply into that object to observe it.” While we are fully aware of and observing deeply and object the boundary between the subject who observes and the object being observed gradually dissolves, and the subject and object become one. This is the essence of meditation. Only when we penetrate the object and become one with it can we understand it. That is why the sutra reminds us to be aware of the body in the body, the feelings in the feelings, the mind in the mind, and the objects of mind in the objects of mind.

Mindfully Observing the Body

Establishment of mindfulness in the body includes the breath, the positions of the body, the actions of the body, the parts of the body, the four elements of which the body is composed and the dissolution of the body.

FIRST PRACTICE – CONSCIOUS BREATHING

“He goes to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty room, sits down cross-legged in the lotus position, holds his body straight, and establishes mindfulness in front of him. he breathes in, aware that he is breathing in. He breathes out, aware that he is breathings out.”

The first practice is full awareness of breathing. To succeed, we must put our whole mind into our breath and nowhere else. As we follow our in-breath, for example, we need to be watchful of distracting thoughts. As soon as the thought, “I forgot to turn off the light in the kitchen” arises our breathing is no longer conscious breathing as we are thinking of something else. We must stay focused on the entire length of each breath. As we breathe our mind is ONE with our breath and as this happens we understand the meaning of mindfulness of the body in the body.

This practice is valuable because:

1. Conscious breathing aids us in returning to ourselves. In everyday life we get lost in forgetfulness and our mind chases after thousands of things and we rarely take time to come back to ourselves. When we are aware of our breath we come back to ourselves, we feel the warmth of our heart and we find ourselves again.

2. The second result of conscious breathing is that we come into contact with life in the present moment, the only moment when we can touch life. We should not be imprisoned by the past or future. When we follow our breathing we are already at ease. As we breathe consciously, our breath becomes more regular, and peace and joy arise and become more stable with every moment. Relying on our breathing we come back to ourselves and are able to restore the oneness of our body and mind. This integration allows us to be in real contact with what is happening in the present moment, which is the essence of life.

SECOND PRACTICE – FOLLOWING THE BREATH

“When he breathes in a long breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing in a long breath.’ When he breathes out a long breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing out a long breath.’ When he breathes in a short breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing in a short breath.’ When he breathes out a short breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing out a short breath.'”

The practitioner follows his breathing very closely and becomes one with his breathing for the entire length of the breath, not allowing any stray thought or idea to enter. This method is called, “following the breath.” While the mind is following the breath, the mind IS the breath and only the breath. During the process of this practice, our breathing becomes more regular, harmonious, and calm, and our mind also becomes more and more regular, harmonious, and calm and this brings feelings of joy, peace and ease in the body.

THIRD PRACTICE – ONENESS OF BODY AND MIND

“Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.”

In this practice you use the breath to bring the body and mind into harmony. The object of our mindfulness is no longer simply the breath, but the whole body itself, as it is unified with the breath. The practitioner should use breathing to bring body and mind together as one, so the object of concentration is simultaneously body, mind, and breath–total integration. In our daily lives we often find our mind and body separated

FOURTH PRACTICE – CALMING

“Breathing in, I calm the activities of my body. Breathing out, I calm the activities of my body.”

This is a continuation of the third practice and uses the breath to realize peace and calm in our whole body. When our body is not at peace then our mind will have difficulty being at peace. Our in-breaths and out-breaths should flow smoothly and lightly. Our breath should be light, smooth and not audible. The more subtle our breath the more peaceful will be our body and mind. When we breathe in we can feel the breath entering our body and calming our cells and when we breathe out we feel the exhalation taking with it all our tiredness, irritation, and anxiety.  We can recite this gatha as we breathe: Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.

The essence of meditation practice is to come back to and dwell in the present moment and to observe what is happening in the present moment. “A wonderful moment” means that the practitioner can see the wonders of life in her body, mind, and breathing can make the feelings of peace and happiness stable and strong. We should also strive to renew ourselves in each moment and become fresh.

FIFTH PRACTICE – AWARENESS OF BODILY POSITIONS

“Moreover when a practitioner walks, he is aware, ‘I am walking.’ When he is standing, he is aware, ‘I am standing.’ When he is sitting, he is aware, ‘I am sitting.’ When he is lying down, he is aware, ‘I am lying down.’ In whatever position his body happens to be, he is aware of the position of his body.

Meditation is not just practiced in the meditation hall but all day long to help the practitioner remain in mindfulness. Before beginning any kind of walking meditation, you can recite this gatha: The mind can go in a thousand directions, But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, a gentle wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms. When you sit you can recite: Sitting here is like sitting under the Bodhi tree. My body is mindfulness itself, entirely free from distraction. We can use our breathing in order to be aware of the positions of sitting and standing.

SIXTH PRACTICE – AWARENESS OF BODILY ACTIONS

“Moreover, when the practitioner is going forward or backward, he applies full awareness to his going forward or backward. When he looks in front or looks behind, he bends down or stands up; he also applies full awareness to what he is doing. He applies full awareness to wearing the sanghati robe or carrying the alms bowl. When he eats or drinks, chews or savors the food, he applies full awareness to all this. When passing excrement or urinating, he applies full awareness to this. When he walks, stands, lies down, sits, sleeps or wakes up, speaks or is silent, he shines his awareness on all this.”

This practice is the observation and awareness of the actions of the body. Practicing breathing in combination with reciting a gatha helps us dwell more easily in mindfulness. Mindfulness makes every action of our body more serene, and we become masters of our body and mind, it nurtures the power of concentration in us. Many gathas in “Gathas for Everyday Use” a text by Chinese master Du Ti were taken from the Avatamsaka Sutra. Without mindfulness our actions are often hurried and abrupt.

SEVENTH PRACTICE – PARTS OF THE BODY

“Further, the practitioner meditates on his very own body from the soles of the feet upwards and then from the hair on top of the head downwards, a body contained inside the skin and full of all the impurities which belong to the body: ‘Here is the hair of the head, the hairs on the body, the nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, bowels, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, mucus, synovic fluid, urine.'”

This exercise brings us into even deeper contact with our body. We use conscious breathing in order to observe mindfully all parts of the body. “Breathing in, I am aware of the hair on my head. Breathing out, I know that this is the hair on my head.” Why do we need to observe in mindfulness the different parts of the body? To establish harmony with our bodies. If our body is not happy then we are not happy. You should touch each part of your body with love. The second reason for mindfully observing the different parts of the body is that each part can be a door to liberation and awakening. Observing the interdependent nature of a single hair can help you to see into the nature of the universe.

EIGHTH PRACTICE – INTERDEPENDENCE OF BODY AND UNIVERSE

“Further, in whichever position his body happens to be, the practitioner passes in review the elements which constitute the body: ‘In this body is the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element.'”

This practice shows the interrelationship of our body and all that is in the universe. It is one of the principal ways of witnessing for ourselves the nonself, unborn, and never-dying nature of all that is. We should be aware of the presence of earth, water, fire, and air elements in our body.

NINTH EXERCISE – BODY AS IMPERMANENT

The Nine Contemplations (nine stages of decomposition of a corpse):

1.    The corpse is bloated, blue, and festering.

2.    The corpse is crawling with insects and worms. Crows, hawks, vultures, and wolves are tearing it apart to eat.

3.    All that is left is a skeleton with some flesh and blood still clinging to it.

4.    All that is left is a skeleton with some blood stains, but no more flesh.

5.    All that is left is a skeleton with no more blood stains.

6.    All that is left is a collection of scattered bones—here and arm, here a shin, here a skull, and so forth.

7.    All that is left is a collection of bleached bones.

8.    All that is left is a collection of dried bones.

9.    The bones have decomposed, and only a pile of dust is left.

The practitioner observes mindfully in order to see the corpse at each of these stages and to see that it is inevitable that his or her own body will pass through the same stages. Its intention is to help us see how precious life is; not to make us pessimistic, but to help us see the impermanent nature of life so that we do not waste our life. When we see the impermanent nature of things we appreciate their true value. The 9 contemplations help us see the preciousness of life. They teach us how to live lightly and freshly, without being caught by attachments and aversions. The Buddha because he was not attached to things, lived in peace, joy, and freedom with a healthy and fresh vigor. He always had a smile on his lips and his presence created a fresh atmosphere around him.

Mindfully Observing Feelings

TENTH EXERCISE – HEALING WOUNDS WITH THE AWARENESS OF JOY

The purpose of this exercise is to bring about ease, peace, and joy; to heal the wounds of the body as well as of the heart and mind; to nourish us as we grow in the practice of joy; and enable us to go far on the path of practice.

You can practice according to the exercises which follow:

1.    I am breathing in and making my whole body calm and at peace. I am breathing out and making my whole body calm and at peace.

2.    I am breathing in and feel joyful. I am breathing out and feeling joyful.

3.    I am breathing in and feeling happy. I am breathing out and feeling happy.

4.    I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace. I am breathing out and making my mind happy and at peace.

When the state of happiness is really present, the joy of the mind settles down to allow happiness to become steadier and deeper. For as long as the joy is still there, there goes with it, to a greater or lesser extent, conceptualization and excitement. “Joy” is a translation of the Sanskrit word, piti, and “happiness” is a translation of sukha. Someone traveling in the desert that sees a stream of cool water experiences joy. When he drinks the water, he experiences happiness.

The function of this exercise is to nourish us with joy and happiness and to heal the wounds within us. But we have no doubts about letting go of this joy in order to embark on the work of observation. Joy and happiness come about because of physical and psychological conditions, and are as impermanent as all other physical and psychological phenomena. Only when, thanks to mindful observation, we realize the impermanent, selfless, and interdependent nature of all that is, can we achieve freedom and liberation.

ELEVENTH EXERCISE – IDENTIFYING FEELINGS

There are 3 sorts of feelings: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. The teaching of this exercise is to identify and be in touch with these feelings as they arise, endure, and fade away. When there is an unpleasant feeling the practitioner is not in a hurry to chase it away. She comes back to her conscious breathing and observes, “Breathing in, I know that an unpleasant feeling has arisen within me. Breathing out, I know that this unpleasant feeling is present in me.” She is neither drowned in nor terrorized by that feeling, nor does she reject it. This is the most effective way to be in contact with feelings. If we call a pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feeling by its name, we identify it clearly and recognize it more deeply. Our attitude of not clinging to or rejecting our feelings is the attitude of letting go and is an important part of meditation practice. When we are mindful of our feeling, the situation begins to change. The feeling is no longer the only thing present in us, and it is transformed under the light of our awareness. If we are able to observe the feeling mindfully we will be able to see its substance and its roots. This empowers the observer.

TWELFTH EXERCISE – SEEING THE ROOTS OF FEELINGS

When he experiences a pleasant feeling based in the body, he is aware, ‘I am experiencing a pleasant feeling based in the body.’ When he experiences a pleasant feeling based in the mind, he is aware, ‘I am

This exercise is a continuation of the eleventh exercise and has the capacity to help us see the roots and the substance of the feelings we have. Our feelings—pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral—can have a physical, physiological, or psychological root. When we mindfully observe our feelings, we discover their roots. We have to look deeply in order to see how these feelings manifest and to understand their true substance. To know a feeling is not just to see its roots but also to see its flowering and its fruits. We should continue to observe the pleasant feeling brought about by those words of praise. The work of mindful observation helps us avoid pride or arrogance—the two things which above all obstruct our progress on the path. We can use conscious breathing to assist us in carrying out this work of mindful observation. Every time she sees the substance, roots, and effect of her feelings, she is no longer under the control of those feelings. The whole character of our feelings can change just by the presence of mindful observation.

The Buddha teaches us not to repress anger, fear or unpleasant feelings but to use our breathing to be in contact with and accept these feelings, knowing that they are energies which originate in our physiological or psychological make-up. Mindful observation is based on the principle of nonduality. To repress our feelings is to repress ourselves. We have to be in contact with and accept feelings before we can transform them into the kinds of energy which are healthy and have the capacity to nourish us. Our work of mindful observation helps us see that experiencing unpleasant feelings allows us insight and understanding.

Mindfully Observing the Mind

The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness lists only 22 mental formations including desire, anger, ignorance, disturbance, narrowness, limitedness, lack of concentration, lack of freedom, dullness and drowsiness, agitation and remorse, doubt; their opposites: not desiring, not hating, non-ignorance, non-disturbance, tolerance, unlimitedness, concentration, freedom, absence of doubt; absence of dullness and drowsiness, absence of agitation; as well as mindfulness, distaste, peace, joy, ease, and letting go.

We mindfully observe the arising, presence, and disappearance of the mental phenomena which are called mental formations. We recognize them and look deeply into them in order to see their substance, their roots in the past, and their possible fruits in the future, using conscious breathing while we observe. We should remember that when the lamp of mindfulness is lit up, the mental formation under observation will naturally transform in a wholesome direction.

THIRTEENTH EXERCISE – OBSERVING THE DESIRING MIND

Desire means to be caught in unwholesome longing. Form, sound, smell, taste, and touch are the objects of the five kinds of sense desire, which are desire for money, sex, fame, good food, and sleep. These categories produce obstacles on the path of practice as well as many kinds of physical and mental suffering.

Whenever the practitioner’s mind and thoughts turn to desiring, he or she immediately gives rise to awareness of the presence of that mind. “This is a mind longing for wealth.” The Satipatthana Sutta also teaches that when desiring is not present, the practitioner also needs to observe that it is not present. “This is the sense of ease which accompanies the absence of mind desiring reputation etc.”

According to the Buddha, true happiness, is a life with few desires, few possessions, and the time to enjoy the many wonders in us and around us.

FOURTEENTH EXERCISE – OBSERVING ANGER

When anger is present in him, he is aware, ‘Anger is present in me.’ When anger is not present in him, he is aware, ‘Anger is not present in me.’ When anger begins to arise, he is aware of it. When already arisen anger is abandoned, he is aware of it. When anger already abandoned will not arise again in the future, he is aware of it.

This exercise is to observe our anger with awareness. In Buddhism, we learn that a person is comprised of the Five Aggregates of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Anger belongs to the aggregate of mental formations, and the unpleasant feeling which goes along with anger belongs to the aggregate of feelings. The first benefit of mindfully observing the presence and absence of anger is that we see that when anger is not present we are much happier. Anger is like a flame blazing up, consuming our self control, making us think, say, and do things that we will probably regret later. The second benefit of mindfully observing our anger is that by just identifying our anger it loses some of its destructive nature. When we are angry, our anger is our very self. To suppress or chase away our anger is to suppress or chase away yourself. When we are joyful, we are joy. When we are angry, we are anger. When anger is born, we can be aware that anger is an energy in us, and we can change that energy into another energy. If we want to transform it first we have to learn how to accept it. When anger arises, other mental formations, which are lying latent in the depths of our consciousness, are not arising. This deep consciousness is called alaya by the Vijnanavada school. Joy, sadness, love, hate, are present in alaya when we are angry but they are lying beneath the surface without manifesting like seeds in the ground. When the mental formation of mindfulness arises from alaya, it can become the spiritual friend of the mental formation of anger. As we follow our breathing and sponsor our anger with mindfulness, the situation becomes less and less dangerous.

The point of meditation is to look deeply into things in order to be able to see their nature. Seeing and understanding are the elements of liberation which allows us to be free of the suffering which always accompanies anger.

Sometimes people try to find ways to express their anger in a less dangerous way. They may go into their room, close the door behind them, and pound a pillow with all their might. Eventually they will feel exhausted and their anger will subside but the roots of anger remain untouched and anger can arise again when the conditions arise. The method of mindful observation in order to see and to understand the roots of our anger is the only method that has lasting effectiveness.

Mindfulness embraces the feeling as a mother holds her crying child in her arms and transmits all her affection and care.

FIFTEENTH EXERCISE – LOVE MEDITATION

When anger is not present in him, he is aware, ‘Anger is not present in me.’ When already arisen anger is abandoned, he is aware of it. When anger already abandoned will not arise again in the future, he is aware of it…When his mind is not attached, he is aware, “my mind is not attached. When his mind is not hating, he is aware, “My mind is not hating.”

In the Angutarra Nikaya (V. 161), the Buddha teaches, “If a mind of anger arises, the bhikku can practice the meditation on love, on compassion, or on equanimity for the person who has brought about the feeling of anger.” Love meditation is a method for developing the mind of love and compassion. Love is a mind which is intent on bringing peace, joy, and happiness to others. Compassion is a mind which is intent on removing the suffering which is present in others. That is the meaning of the phrase, “Love is the capacity to give joy. Compassion is the power to relieve suffering.” When love and compassion are sources of energy in us, they bring peace, joy, and happiness to those dear to us and to others also. The essence of love and compassion is understanding.

In the Satipatthana Sutta we are taught to be one with the object of our observation. If we sit with someone and follow our breathing and observe mindfully we can be in contact with his or her suffering. The physical and psychological suffering of that person will be clear to us in the light of our mindful observation.

We can begin our meditation on compassion with someone who is undergoing suffering of a physical or material kind because that kind of suffering is easy to see. We observe it deeply and have to observe until the mind of compassion arises, and the substance of the mind of compassion penetrates deep into our being and the mind of compassion will envelop the object of our observation. If we observe in this way, the mind of compassion will naturally be transformed into action. We will not just say, “I love her very much,” but instead, “I must do something so that she will suffer less.” The mind of compassion is truly present when it has the capacity of removing suffering.

The person who has made us suffer is suffering too. We only need to sit down, follow our breathing, and look deeply and naturally we will see her suffering. The suffering has been transmitted from generation to generation, and it has been reborn in her. If we can see that, we will no longer blame her for making us suffer, because we understand the way in which she is also a victim. To look deeply is to understand. Once we understand, it is easy to embrace the other person in our mind of compassion. To look deeply into the suffering of those who have caused us to suffer is a miraculous gift.

After we experience the fruit of the meditation of compassion, the meditation on love becomes relatively easy. Just as with the mind of compassion, the mind of love brings peace, joy, and happiness to the practitioner first.

We must be careful not to think that the meditations on love and compassion consist in just sitting still and imagining our mind of love and compassion will spread out into space like waves of sound or light. Like sound and light, love and compassion can penetrate everywhere. It is only in the midst of our daily life and in our actual contact with people and other species, including the object of our meditation, that we can know whether our mind of love and compassion is really present and whether it is stable.

One word, one action, or one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring him joy. One word can give confidence and comfort, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, open the door to liberation, and show him the way to success and happiness. One action can save a person’s life, or help him take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts lead to words and action. If love and compassion are in our hearts, every thought, word and deed can bring about a miracle. We must always remember that love is none other than understanding.

Mindfully Observing the Objects of Mind

SIXTEENTH EXERCISE – DISCRIMINATIVE INVESTIGATION

When the factor of awakening, investigation or phenomena, is present in him, he is aware, ‘Investigation-of-phenomena is present in me,’ He is aware when not-yet-born investigation-of-phenomena is being born and when already-born investigation-of-phenomena is perfectly developed.

In order to correct our wrong perceptions, the Buddha teaches us a method of discriminative investigation, which relates to the Establishment of the mind and the Establishment of the objects of mind. The objects of mind are also called dharmas (all that can be conceived of as existing. They include: 6 sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind), 6 sense objects (form and color, sound, smell, taste, tactile objects, and mind-objects–every concept and everything which belongs to the sphere of memory and mental experience), six consciousness (sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, mind consciousness). All dharmas are contained within these 18 realms, which include all psychological, physiological, and physical aspects. All 18 realms are also called objects of mind, including mental formations. When mind is observing mind, the mind becomes an object of mind. The basic characteristic of all dharmas is interdependent origination; all dharmas arise, endure, and fade away according to the law of interdependence. This teaching is crucial because in our daily lives we tend to perceive things as real and independent of each other.

This method of discriminative investigation begins by classifying the dharmas into categories like the 6 sense organs, the 6 sense objects, and the 6 sense consciousnesses, namely, the 18 realms, which can be classified according to the Five Aggregates of form, feeling, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Form: all physiological and physical phenomena; feelings: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral; perceptions: basic conceptualizations and naming; mental formations: psychological states that arise and manifest in us; consciousness: function of maintaining, cognizing, comparing, storing, and remembering all the seeds.

The Heart of the Prajnaparamita Sutra tells us that the Bodhisattva, Avalokita, thanks to his observation of the 5 aggregates was able to see the interdependent nature of all dharmas and realize their essential birthlessness and deathlessness, and transcend the fear of birth and death.

Through discriminative investigation, we realize the interdependent nature of all that is. This is to realize the empty nature of all things. To be able to end the concept of birth and death is the essential point of discriminative investigation.

The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness also describes the mind which is not in a state of ignorance and confusion, as when we are conscious of impermanence, interdependence, and selflessness; when our mind rests in Right Views, Right View is one of the eight ways of practice called the Noble Eightfold Path.

A student of Buddhism who does not practice the mindful observation of interdependence has not yet arrives at the quintessence of the Buddhist path.

SEVENTEENTH EXERCISE – OBSERVING INTERNAL FORMATIONS

He is aware of the eyes, (ears, nose, tongue, body, mind) and aware of the form, (sound, smell, taste, touch, objects of mind), and he is aware of the internal formations which are produced in dependence on these two things. he is aware of the birth of a new internal formation and is aware of abandoning an already produced internal formation, and he is aware when an already abandoned internal formation will not arise again.

Internal formations can be classified as two kinds: 1. the Five Dull Knots: confusion, desire, anger, pride, and doubt and 2. the Five Sharp Knots: view of the body as self, extreme views, wrong views, pervaded views, and superstitious views (or unnecessary ritual prohibitions). When someone speaks unkindly to us, if we understand the reason and we do not take the words to heart, we will not feel irritated and a knot will not form in our mind. If we do not understand the reason and we feel irritated then a knot will form.

Feelings associated with internal formations are usually unpleasant but sometimes internal formations are associated with pleasant feelings. When we are attached to a form, sound, etc. an internal formation of the nature of desire is formed. Falling in love is also an internal formation, because in it there is the material of blind attachment. The phrase to “fall” in love sounds disastrous. But being in love can be transformed, so that blind attachment, selfishness and domination are replaced by the capacity to understand and bring happiness to the person we love, without demanding specific conditions and expecting something in return. To transform being in love in this way is to transform an internal formation.

If we live according to the teachings of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, we practice mindful observation of the arising, duration, and transformation of internal formations. In our daily life we practice full awareness in order to be able to recognize the internal formations just born and find a way to transform it. When it arises for the first time the know is still very loose and the work of untying it is easy. When we live with another person, we should help each other transform the internal formations that we have produced in each other.

EIGHTEENTH EXERCISE – TRANSFORMING REPRESSED INTERNAL FORMATIONS

He is aware of the eyes, (ears, nose, tongue, body, mind) and aware of the form (sound, smell, taste, touch, objects of mind), and he is aware of the internal formations which are produced in dependence on these two things. He is aware of the birth of a new internal formation and is aware of abandoning an already, produced internal formation, and he is aware when an already abandoned internal formation will not rise again. (This is the same quote from the sutra as Exercise 17)

The internal formations of desire, regret, anger, fear, feeling worthless have been suppressed in our subconscious for a long time. Although they are suppressed they are always seeking ways to manifest in our feelings, thoughts, words, and actions. Internal formations that are repressed cannot appear in a direct and natural way in the conscious mind. They only disclose themselves indirectly. Thus, we are not aware of their presence although they continue to tie us up and make us suffer in a latent way.

The method of curing the sorrow which comes when mental formations are repressed is the deep observation of these internal formations. But to observe them we first have to find ways to bring them into the realms of the conscious mind. Here we practice conscious breathing in order to recognize our feelings, thoughts, words, and actions, especially those which arise automatically, as reactions to what is happening. Our reactions may have their roots in the internal formations buried inside us. During our sitting meditation, because we have closed the doors of our sensory input in order to stop listening, looking, and reasoning, the internal formations which are buried in us have the opportunity to reveal themselves in the form of feelings or images which manifest in our conscious mind.

We practice mindfulness in Buddhism as a way of looking after our feelings, being their sponsor in an affectionate, nonviolent way. When we are able to maintain mindfulness, we are not carried away by or drowned in our feelings or in the conflicts within ourselves. We nourish and maintain mindfulness through conscious breathing and try to become aware or our internal formations and conflicts as they manifest. We receive them with love as a mother takes her child in her arms: “Mindfulness is present, and I know that I have enough strength to be in contact with the knots in me.” Without judgment, blame, or criticism for having these feelings or images, we just observe, identify and accept them in order to see their source and their true nature. If there is pain, we feel the pain but we do not lose ourselves in it. Even if we cannot see the roots of our internal formations, the fact that we can greet our pain, our sadness, and our anger in mindfulness already causes the knots to lose some of their strength.

NINETEENTH EXERCISE – OVERCOMING GUILT AND FEAR

When agitation and remorse are present in him, he is aware, ‘Agitation and remorse are present in me.’ When agitation and remorse are not present in him, he is aware, ‘Agitation and remorse are not present in me.’ When agitation and remorse begin to arise, he is aware of it. When already arisen agitation and remorse are abandoned, he is aware of it. When agitation and remorse already abandoned will not arise again in the future, he is aware of it.

In Buddhist psychology, remorse or regret is a mind function which can be either beneficial or damaging. When it is used to recognize errors and not commit them in the future then it is a wholesome mental formation. If regret creates a guilt-complex which follows and haunts us then it is an obstacle to our practice. We have all made mistakes in the past. We may think that because the past is gone, we cannot return to the past to correct our mistakes. But the past has created the present, and if we practice mindfulness in the present, we naturally are in contact with the past. As we transform the present, we also transform the past. If we can transform ourselves we also transform those we love including our ancestors because they live on through us.

If we take hold of our breathing and live in a mindful way, thus bringing joy and happiness to ourselves and others in the present moment, we can overcome our complexes of guilt so we are no longer paralyzed by the.

Fear is also a dominant mental formation. The ground of fear is ignorance, the failure to understand our “not-self nature.” Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva who has transcended all fear: He offers all beings “abhaya” which comes from mindful observation of the no birth, no death, no increase, no decrease nature of all that is. If we can observe deeply the interdependent and selfless nature of all things, we can see that there is no birth and no death and pass beyond all fear.

TWENTIETH EXERCISE – SOWING SEEDS OF PEACE

When the factor of awakening, joy (ease, letting go) is present in him, he is aware, ‘Joy is present in me.’ When joy is not present in him, he is aware, ‘Joy is not present in me.’ He is aware when not-yet-born joy is being born and when already-born joy is perfectly developed.

The purpose of this exercise is to sow and water seeds of peace, joy, and liberation in us. Buddhist psychology talks of seeds as the basis of every state of mind and the content of our consciousness. Seeds which produce suffering are unwholesome and seeds which produce happiness are wholesome. According to the principle of interdependent origination, seeds do not have a fixed nature. Every seed is dependent on every other seed for its existence, and in any one seed, all the other seeds are present. An unwholesome seed can be transformed into a wholesome seed and vice-versa. This tells us that even during the darkest times of our life wholesome seeds are still within us.

The sutras refer to the mind as a plot ground in which all sorts of seeds are sown. Cittabhumi, “the mind as the earth.” If peace and joy are in our hearts we will gradually bring more peace and joy to the world.

The 7th precept of the Order of Interbeing reminds us to practice conscious breathing in order to stay in contact with the many healing and refreshing elements which are already around us.

The Sutra of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness offers many exercises for living in mindfulness. By the process of conscious breathing, smiling, walking meditation, sitting meditation, by our way of looking, listening and mindfully observing, we help the seeds of happiness flourish. The realms of love, compassion, joy, and letting go are the realms of true joy and happiness. If we have joy and can let go, we can share happiness with others and reduce their sorrows and anxieties.

CHAPTER SIX: Principles for the Practice of Mindfulness

1. DHARMAS ARE MIND

All four establishments of mindfulness (body, feelings, mental formations, dharmas) are objects of mind. Since the mind and the objects of mind are one, in observing its objects, mind is essentially observing mind. The word dharma in this context is understood to mean the object of the mind and the content of the mind. Dharmas are classified as one of the 12 realms. The first six are sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind). The remaining six are form (sound, smell, taste, touch, and dharmas). Dharmas are the object of mind, as sounds are the object of the ears. The object of cognition and the subject of cognition do not exist independently of each other. Everything that exists has to arise in the mind. “All is just mind…Because of consciousness, all phenomena can exist.”

The object of our mindful observation can be our breath or our toe (physiological), a feeling, or a perception (psychological), or a form (physical). We observe the object of our mind in the way the right hand takes hold of the left hand. Your right hand is you and your left hand is also you. So the hand is taking hold of itself to become one with itself.

2. TO OBSERVE IS TO BE ONE WITH THE OBJECT OF OBSERVATION

The subject of observation is our mindfulness, which also emanates from the mind. Mindfulness has the function of illuminating and transforming. When our breathing, for example, is the object of our mindfulness, it becomes conscious breathing. Mindfulness shines its light on our breathing, transforms the forgetfulness in it into mindfulness, and gives it a calming and healing quality. Our body and our feelings are also illuminated and transformed under the light of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the observing mind, but it does not stand outside of the object of observation. It goes right into the object and becomes one with it. Because the nature of the observing mind is mindfulness, the observing mind does not lose itself in the object but transforms it by illuminating it, just as the penetrating light of the sun transforms trees and plants. If we want to see and understand we have to penetrate and become one with that object. That is why the sutra says, “Observing the body in the body, observing the feelings in the feelings etc.” The description is very clear. The deeply observing mind is not merely an observer but a participant. Only when the observer is a participant can there be transformation.

In the practice of bare observation, mindfulness has already begun to influence the object of consciousness. When we call an in breath and in breath, the existence of our breath becomes very clear. Mindfulness has already penetrated our breathing. If we continue our observation there will no longer be duality between the observed and observer. Mindfulness and our breath are one. We and our breath are one. If our breath is calm, we are calm. Our breathing calms our body and our feelings. If our mind is consumed by a sense desire mindfulness is not present. Conscious breathing nourishes mindfulness and mindfulness gives rise to conscious breathing. When mindfulness is present we have nothing to fear. The object of our observation becomes vivid, and its source, origin, and true nature become evident. That is how it will be transformed. It no longer has the effect of binding us. When the object of our mindful observation is totally clear, the mind which is observing is also fully revealed in great clarity.

3. TRUE MIND AND DELUDED MIND ARE ONE

“True mind” and “deluded mind” are two aspects of the mind. Both arise from the mind. Deluded mind is the forgetful and dispersed mind, which arises from forgetfulness. The basis of true mind is awakened understanding, arising from mindfulness. Mindful observation brings out the light which exists in true mind, so that life can be revealed in its reality. Just as the calm sea and rough sea are manifestations of the same sea, true mind could not exist if there were no deluded mind. In the teaching on the Three Doors to Liberation, aimlessness is the foundation for realization. What is meant by aimlessness is that we do not seek after an object outside ourselves. If the rose is on its way to becoming garbage then the garbage is also on its way to becoming a rose. One who observes discerningly will see the non-dual nature of the rose and the garbage.

To be liberated is not to run away from the 5 aggregates (form, feelings, mental formations, perceptions, consciousness). The world of liberation and awakened understanding come directly from this body and this world.

4. THE WAY OF NO-CONFLICT

The realization of non-duality naturally leads to the practice of offering joy, peace, and nonviolence. The five aggregates are the basis of suffering and confusion, but they are also the basis for peace, joy, and liberation.

Mindfulness recognizes what is happening in the body and the mind and then continues to illuminate and observe the object deeply. During this practice, there is no craving for, running after, or repressing the object. This is the true meaning of bare observation.

When we accept our body and our feelings, we treat them in an affectionate, nonviolent way. When we are mindful we can see our roots of affliction clearly and transform them. As long as the lamp of mindfulness shines its light, the darkness is transformed. We need to nourish mindfulness in ourselves by the practice of conscious breathing, hearing the sound of the bell, reciting gathas, and many other skillful means.

Mindfulness nourished by conscious breathing takes the feelings in its arms, becomes one with them, calms and transforms them.

5. OBSERVATION IS NOT INDOCTRINATION

The method of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness is observing deeply in the spirit of “not craving and not feeling distaste.” Observe all dharmas but do not have any fixed ideas, just keep on observing mindfully without comment, without assuming any attitude toward the object you are observing.

CONCLUSION

Mindfulness is the core of Buddhist practice. This practice can be done not only in sitting meditation but also in every minute of our daily life. In order for the practice to be easy and successful, it is very helpful to practice with a community, called a sangha.

Keep your attention focused on the work, be alert and ready to handle ably and intelligently any situation which may arise–this is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. It is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life. Consider for example a magician who cuts his body into many parts and places each part in a different region–hands in the south, arms in the east, legs in the north, and then by some miraculous power lets forth a cry which reassembles every part of his body. Mindfulness is like that!

Mindfulness is at the same time a means and an end, the seed and the fruit. When we practice mindfulness in order to build up concentration, mindfulness is the seed. But mindfulness itself is the life of awareness: the presence of mindfulness means the presence of life, and therefore mindfulness is also the fruit. Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully each minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live.

You should know how to breathe in order to maintain mindfulness. Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.

The Sutra of Mindfulness teaches the method to take hold of one’s breath in the following manner: “Be ever mindful you breathe in and mindful you breathe out…”

In a Buddhist monastery everyone learns to use breath as a tool to stop mental dispersion and to build up concentration power. Concentration power is the strength which comes from practicing mindfulness.

For beginners the method, “following the length of the breath,” the student lies, back down, on the floor:

– Although inhaling and exhaling are the work of the lungs, and take place in the chest area, the stomach also plays a role. The stomach rises with the filling of the lings. At the beginning of the breath the stomach begins to push out. But after inhaling about two-thirds of the breath, it starts to lower again.

– Why? Between your chest and stomach there is a muscular membrane, the diaphragm. When you breathe in correctly the air fills the lower part of the lings first, before the upper lungs fill with air, the diaphragm pushes down on the stomach, causing the stomach to rise. When you have filled your upper lungs with air, the chest pushes out and causes the stomach to lower again.

– That is why, in former times, people spoke of the breath as originating at the navel and terminating at the nostrils.

When doing this exercise don’t prop on a pillow, one should like on his or her back with a thin blanket or mat with two arms loosely at the sides. Focus your attention on your exhalation and measure how long it is. Measure it slowly by counting in your mind: 1, 2, 3…After several times you will know the length of your breath: Perhaps it is 5. Now try to extend the exhalation for one more  count. When you reach 5 rather than immediately inhaling as before, try to extend the exhalation to 6 or 7. When you have finished exhaling, pause for an instant to let your lungs take in fresh air on their own. Let them take in just as much air as they want without making any effort. The inhalation will normally be shorter than the exhalation. Practice like this for several weeks. Continue to measure your breath while walking, sitting, standing, and especially whenever you are outdoors. While walking you might use your steps to measure your breath. After a month the difference between the length of your exhalation and inhalation will lessen, gradually evening out until they are of equal measure. In order to measure your breath you can count or use a rhythmic phrase that you like. For example, if the length of your breath is 6, you might use instead of numbers six words, “My heart is now at peace.” If you are walking each step should correspond with one word.

Your breath should be light, even, and flowing, like a thin stream of water running through the sand. Your breath should be quiet, so quiet that a person sitting next to you cannot hear it. Each time we find ourselves dispersed and find it difficult to gain control of ourselves by different means, the method of watching the breath should always be used.

When you sit down to meditate begin by watching your breath. At first breathe normally, gradually letting your breathing slow down until it is quiet, even and the length of the breaths are fairly long. From the moment you sit down to the moment your breathing has become deep and silent, be conscious of everything that is happening in yourself.

Counting your breath

Making your breath calm and even is called the method of following one’s breath. If it seems hard you can first begin by counting your breath. As you breathe in, count 1 in your mind, and as your breathe out count 1 and so forth. Continue through 10 and return to 1 again. This counting is like a string which attaches your mindfulness to your breath. The exercise is the beginning point of becoming completely conscious of your breath. Without mindfulness you will lose count. Once you have reached a point where you can truly focus your attention on the counts, you have reached the point where you can abandon the counting method and concentrate solely on the breath itself.

When you are upset or dispersed and find it difficult to practice mindfulness, return to your breath. Learn to practice breathing in order to regain control of body and mind, to practice mindfulness, and to develop concentration and wisdom.

Breath is aligned to both body and mind and it alone is the tool which can bring them both together, illuminating both and bringing both peace and calm.

A person who knows how to breathe is a person who knows how to build up endless vitality: breath builds up the lungs, strengthens the blood, and revitalizes every organ in the body. They say that proper breathing is more important than food. Breath is a tool. Breath itself is mindfulness. The use of breath as a tool may help one obtain immense benefits, but these cannot be considered as ends in themselves. These benefits are only the by-products of the realization of mindfulness.

One hour if meditation a day is good but not enough. you need to practice meditation when you walk, stand, lie down, sit, and work, while washing hands, washing the dishes, seeping the floor, drinking tea, talking to friends, or whatever you are doing. When you are thinking about other things as you do them that means you are incapable of living during the time you are doing that task. Each act is a rite, a ceremony. Each act must be carried out in mindfulness.

Each person should try hard to reserve one day out of the week to devote entirely to their practice of mindfulness. While still lying in bed, begin slowly to follow your breath–slow, long, and conscious breaths. Then slowly rise from bed, nourishing mindfulness by every motion. Once up brush your teeth, wash your face, and do all your morning activities in a calm and relaxing way, each movement done in mindfulness. Follow your breath, take hold of it, and don’t let your thoughts scatter. Each movement should be done calmly. Measure your steps with quiet, long breaths. Maintain a half smile. Spend at least half an hour taking a bath. Bathe slowly and mindfully, so that by the time you have finished you feel light and refreshed. Afterwards you may have chores but whatever the tasks do them slowly and with ease, in mindfulness. Don’t do any task in order to get it over with. Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, with all of your attention. Enjoy and be one with your work. Without this the Day of Mindfulness will be of no value. The feeling that any task is a nuisance will disappear if it is done in mindfulness. Take the example of the Zen Masters. No matter what task or motion they undertake, they do it slowly and evenly, without reluctance. For those just beginning to practice, it is best to maintain a spirit of silence throughout the day. Keep talking to a minimum and whatever you sing or speak do so in mindfulness. It is possible to sing and practice mindfulness at the same time just as long as one is conscious of the fact that one is signing and aware of what one is singing. But be warned that it is much easier to stray from mindfulness when talking or singing if your meditation strength is still weak. At lunchtime prepare a meal for yourself. Cook the meal and wash the dishes in mindfulness. In the morning, after you have cleaned and straightened up your house, and in the afternoon, after you have worked in the garden or watched clouds or gathered flowers, prepare a pot of tea to sit and drink in mindfulness. Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if the axis on which the whole earth revolves–slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life. In the evening you might read scripture, write letters, or do anything else you enjoy outside of your normal duties during the week. But whatever you do, do it in mindfulness. Eat only a little for the evening meal. Later, around 10 or 11 o’clock as you sit in meditation; you will be able to sit more easily on an empty stomach. Afterwards you might take a slow walk in the fresh night air, following your breath in mindfulness and measuring the length of your breaths by your steps. Finally, return to your room and sleep in mindfulness.

Why should you meditate? First of all, because each of us needs to realize total rest. Even a night of sleep doesn’t provide total rest. It is possible to find total rest in a sitting position, and in turn to advance deeper in meditation in order to resolve the worries and troubles that upset and block your consciousness.

Both knees should touch the floor. Back should be straight. Neck and head should be aligned with the spinal column, straight but not stiff or wood like. Keep your eyes focused a yard or two in front of you. Maintain a half-smile. Follow your breath and relax all of your muscles. Concentrate on keeping your spinal column straight and following your breath. As for everything else, let it go. Place your left hand, palm side up, in your right palm. Let all the muscles in your hands, fingers, arms, and legs relax. Let go of everything. Hold on to nothing but your breath and the half smile. The technique for obtaining this rest lie in two things: watching and letting go. Watching your breath and letting go of everything else. Release every muscle in your body. After 15 minutes or so, it is possible to reach a deep quiet, filled with inner peace and joy. Maintain this quiet and peace. If you sit correctly, it is possible to find total relaxation and peace right in the position of sitting.

Visualization: Imagine yourself as a pebble which has been thrown into a river. The pebble sinks through the water effortlessly. Detached from everything, it falls by the shortest distance possible, finally reaching the bottom, the point of perfect rest. You are like a pebble which has let itself fall into the river, letting go of everything. At the center of your being is your breath. You don’t need to know the length of time it takes before reaching the point of complete rest on the bed of fine sand beneath the water. When you feel yourself resting like a pebble which has reached the riverbed that is the point when you begin to find your own rest. You are no longer pushed or pulled by anything.

The ease of sitting depends on whether you practice mindfulness a little or a lot each day. And it depends on whether or not you sit regularly.

The goal of meditation is to go much deeper than relaxation.  Relaxation is the necessary point of departure, once one has realized relaxation; it is possible to realize a tranquil heart and clear mind. To realize a tranquil heart and clear mind is to have gone far on the path f meditation. To take hold of our mind you must practice mindfulness of the mind and know how to observe and recognize the presence of every feeling and thought which arises in you. This must be done at all times, during your day-to-day life no less than during one hour of meditation.

During meditation all sorts of thoughts will arise but if you do not practice mindfulness of breath, these thoughts will lure you away from mindfulness. But the breath isn’t a means to chase away thoughts and feelings. Breath remains the vehicle to unite body and mind and to open the gate to wisdom. Just acknowledge the presence of thought and feelings, don’t chase them away. Do not let any thought or feeling arise without recognizing it in mindfulness, like a palace guard who is aware of every face that passes through the front corridor.

Don’t be dominated by distinguishing between good and evil thoughts and create a battle within. Just acknowledge wholesome and unwholesome thoughts. Our thoughts and feelings are us; they are a part of ourselves. We are both the mind and the observer mind. Therefore chasing away or dwelling on any thought isn’t important, what is important is awareness. Sutra on mindfulness, Buddha always stressed, “mindfulness of feeling in feeling, mindfulness of mind in mind.” The Sutra says that the mind is like a monkey swinging from branch to branch through a forest. In order not to lose sight of the monkey by some sudden movement, we must watch the monkey constantly and even be one with it. Mind contemplating mind is like an object and its shadow–the object cannot shake the shadow off. The two are one.  Wherever the mind goes it still lies in the harness of the mind. The Sutra sometimes uses the expression “Bind the monkey” to refer to taking hold of the mind. But the monkey image is only a means of expression. Once the mind is continually and directly aware of itself, it is no longer like a monkey. There are not two minds, one which swings from branch to branch and another which follows after to bind it with a piece of rope.

During the first 6 months of meditating try only to build up your power of concentration, to create an inner calmness and serene joy. You will shake off anxiety, enjoy total rest, and quiet your mind. You will be refreshed and gain a broader, clearer view of things and deepen and strengthen the love in yourself.

Sitting meditation is nourishment for your body and your spirit.

The Five Aggregates

Every object of the mind is itself mind. Dharmas are grouped into five categories:

1. bodily and physical forms

2. feelings

3. perceptions

4. mental functionings

5. consciousness

The fifth category contains the other 4 and is the basis of their existence.

The first object of contemplation is our own person, the assembly of the 5 aggregates in ourselves. You contemplate right here and now on the 5 aggregates which make up yourself. You are conscious of the presence of bodily form, feelings, perception, mental functionings and consciousness. You observe these “objects” until you see that each of them has intimate connection with the world outside yourself. If the world did not exist then the assembly of the 5 aggregates could not exist either.

Consider a table. It exists from non table elements (the forest, the carpenter, the nails etc.) If you return any of these non table elements to their source then the table would not exist. A person who can look at the table and see the universe is a person who can see the way.  If we contemplate the 5 aggregates in a stubborn and diligent way, we, too, will be liberated from suffering, fear, and dread.

Meditation on interdependence is to be practiced constantly, not only while sitting, but as an integral part of our involvement in all ordinary tasks. We must learn to see that the person in front of us is ourselves and that we are that person. We must be able to see the process of inter-origination and interdependence of all events, both those which are happening and those which will happen.

We must also look death in the face, recognize and accept it, just as we look at and accept life. Meditate on the corpse until you are calm and at peace, until your mind and heart are light and tranquil and a smile appears on your face. Thus, by overcoming revulsion and fear, life will be seen as infinitely precious, every second worth living.

Sitting in mindfulness, both our bodies and minds can be at peace and totally relaxed. This state of peace and relaxation differs fundamentally from the lazy, semi-conscious state of mind that one gets while resting and dozing. Sitting like this is like sitting in a dark cave. In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion it is a serene encounter with reality. Be like a lion going forward with slow, gentle, and firm steps.

For beginners I recommend the method of pure recognition: recognition without judgment. Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.

In a family, if there is one person who practices mindfulness, the entire family will be more mindful. Because of the presence of one member who lives in mindfulness, the entire family is reminded to live in mindfulness. Only by practicing mindfulness will we not lose ourselves but acquire a bright joy and peace.

We ought to listen to music or sit and practice breathing before every meeting or discussion.

Tolstoy Emperor story moral: Remember that there is only one important time and that is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person you are with, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.

EXERCISES IN MINDFULNESS

1. Half-smile when you first wake up in the morning. Hang a branch, any other sign, or even the word “smile” on the ceiling or wall so that you see it right away when you open your eyes. This sign will serve as your reminder. Use these seconds before you get out of bed to take hold of your breath. Inhale and exhale three breaths gently while maintaining the half smile. Follow your breaths.

2. Half-smile during your free moments. Anywhere you find yourself sitting or standing, half-smile. Inhale and exhale quietly 3 times.

3. Half-smile while listening to music. Smile while watching your inhalations and exhalations.

4. Half-smile when irritated. When you realize you are irritated, half-smile at once. Inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining the half-smile for three breaths.

5. Letting go in a lying down position. Lie down on your back on a flat surface without the support of a mattress or pillow. Keep your two arms loosely by your sides and your two legs slightly apart, stretched out before you. Maintain a half smile. Breathe in and out gently, keeping your attention focused on your breath. Let go of every muscle in your body. Relax each muscle as though it were sinking down through the floor or as though it were as soft and yielding as a piece of silk hanging in the breeze to dry. Let go entirely, keeping your attention only on your breath and half smile. Think of yourself as a cat, completely relaxed before a warm fire, whose muscles yield without resistance to anyone’s touch. Continue for 15 breaths.

6. Letting go in the sitting position. Sit in the half or full lotus, or cross-legged, or your two legs folded beneath you, or even on a chair, your two feet touching the floor. Half smile. Inhale and exhale while maintaining the half smile. Let go.

7. Deep breathing. Lie on your back, breathe evenly and gently, focusing your attention on the movement of your stomach. As you begin to breathe in, allow your stomach to rise in order to bring air into the lower half of your lungs. As the upper halves of your lungs begin to fill with air, your chest begins to rise and your stomach begins to lower. Don’t tire yourself. Continue for 10 breaths. The exhalation will be longer than the inhalation.

8. Measuring your breath by your footsteps. Walk slowly and leisurely in a garden, along a river, or on a village path. Breathe normally. Determine the length of your breath, the exhalation and the inhalation, by the number of your footsteps. Continue for a few minutes. Begin to lengthen your exhalation by one step. Do not force a longer inhalation. Let it be natural. Watch your inhalation carefully to see if there is a desire to lengthen it. Continue for 10 breaths.

9. Counting your breath. Sitting or walking inhale and be mindful, “I am inhaling, one.” When you exhale, be mindful that “I am exhaling, one.” Remember to breathe from the stomach. Continue to 10 and then start over. Whenever you lose count, return to one.

10. Following your breath while listening to music. Listen to a piece of music. Breathe long, light, and even breaths. Follow your breath, be master of it while remaining aware of the movement and sentiments of the music. Do not get lost in the music, but continue to be master of your breath and yourself.

11. Following your breath while carrying on a conversation. Breathe long, light, and even breaths. Follow your breath while listening to a friend’s words and to your own replies. Continue as with music.

12. Following the breath. Sitting or walking begin to inhale from the stomach mindful that, “I am inhaling normally.” Exhale in mindfulness, “I am exhaling normally.” Continue for three breaths. On the fourth breath extend the inhalation, mindful that, “I am breathing in a long inhalation.” Exhale in mindfulness, “I am breathing out a long exhalation.” Continue for three breaths. Now follow your breath carefully aware of every moment of your stomach and lugs. Follow the entrance and exit of air. Be mindful that “I am inhaling and following the inhalation from its beginning to its end. I am exhaling and following the exhalation from its beginning to its end.” Continue for 20 breaths. Return to normal. After 5 minutes, repeat the exercise. Remember to maintain the half smile while breathing.

13. Breathing to quiet the mind and body to realize joy. Sitting in a comfortable position with a half-smile follow your breath. When your mind and body are quiet continue to inhale and exhale very lightly, mindful that, “I am breathing in and making the breath-body light and peaceful. I am exhaling and making the breath-body light and peaceful.” Continue for three breaths giving rise to the thought in mindfulness, “I am breathing in and making my entire body light and peaceful and joyous.” Continue for three breaths and in mindfulness give rise to the thought, “I am breathing in while my body and mind are peace and joy. I am breathing out while my mind and body are peace and joy.” Maintain this thought in mindfulness from 5-30 minutes, or for an hour, according to your ability and to the time available to you. The beginning and end of the practice should be relaxed and gentle. When you stop gently massage your eyes and face with your two hands and then massage the muscles in your legs before returning to a normal sitting position. Wait a moment before standing up.

14. Mindfulness of the positions of the body. This can be practices in any time and place. Begin to focus your attention on your breath. Breathe quietly and more deeply than usual. Be mindful of the position of your body. Be mindful of the purpose of your position.

15. Mindfulness while making tea. Prepare a pot of tea to serve a guest or drink by yourself. Do each movement slowly in mindfulness. Do not let one detail of your movements go by without being mindful of it. Take hold of your breath if your mind strays.

16. Washing the dishes. Wash the dishes relaxingly, as though each bowl is an object of contemplation. Consider each bowl as sacred. Follow your breath to prevent your mind from straying. Consider washing dishes as the most important thing in life.

17. Washing clothes. Scrub the clothes relaxingly. Hold your attention on every movement of your hands and arms. When you have finished scrubbing and rinsing, your mind and body should feel as clean and fresh as your clothes. Remember to maintain the half smile and take hold of your breath if it wanders.

18. Cleaning house. Move slowly, three times more slowly than usual. Fully focus your attention on each task. Maintain mindfulness of the breath, especially when your thoughts wander.

19. A slow motion bath. Allow yourself 30-45 minutes to take a bath. Don’t hurry for even one second. From the moment you prepare the bath water to the moment you put on clean clothes, let every motion be light and slow.

20. The pebble. While sitting still and breathing slowly, think of yourself as a pebble which is falling through a clear stream. The pebble sinks through the water effortlessly. Detached from everything, it falls by the shortest distance possible, finally reaching the bottom, the point of perfect rest. You are like a pebble which has let itself fall into the river, letting go of everything. At the center of your being is your breath. You don’t need to know the length of time it takes before reaching the point of complete rest on the bed of fine sand beneath the water. When you feel yourself resting like a pebble which has reached the riverbed that is the point when you begin to find your own rest. You are no longer pushed or pulled by anything.

21. A day of mindfulness. Set aside one day of the week that accords with your own situation. Forget the work you do during the other days. Do not organize meetings or have friends over. Do only such simple work as house cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, and dusting. Once the house is neat and clean, and all your things are in order, take a slow motion bath. Afterwards, prepare and drink tea. You might read scripture or write letters. Afterwards take a walk to practice breathing. During all activities maintain mindfulness. While reading follow what you are reading, while writing follow what you are writing. Follow the same procedure for listening to music or talking to a friend. In the evening prepare yourself a light meal. Sit in meditation for an hour before you go to bed. During the day, take two walk of half an hour to 45 minutes. Instead of reading before you go to bed practice deep relaxation for 5-10 minutes. Be a master of your breathing. Breathe gently, following the rising, the lowering of your stomach and chest, your eyes closed. Every movement during this day should be at least 2 times slower than usual.

22. Contemplation on interdependence. Find a photo of yourself as a child. Sit comfortable. Begin to follow your breath. After 20 breaths, begin to focus your attention on the photo in front of you. Recreate and live again the five aggregates of which you were made up at the time the photo was taken: the physical characteristics of your body, feelings, perceptions, mind functionings, and consciousness in the present moment. See the five aggregates which make up yourself. Ask the question, “Who am I?” The question should be deeply rooted in you, like a new seed nestled deep in the soft earth and damp with water. The question, “Who am I?” should not be an abstract question to consider with your discursive intellect. The question “Who am I?” will not be confined to your intellect but to the care of the whole of the five aggregates. Don’t try to seek an intellectual answer. Contemplate for 10 minutes, maintaining light but deep breath to prevent being pulled away by philosophical reflection.

23. Yourself. Sit in a dark room by yourself, or alone by a river at night, or anywhere else where there is solitude. Begin to take hold of your breath. Give rise to the thought, “I will use my finger to point at myself,” and then instead of pointing at your body point away in the opposite direction. Contemplate seeing yourself outside of your bodily form. Contemplate seeing your bodily form present before you–in the trees, the grass and leaves, the river. Be mindful that you are in the universe and the universe is in you: if the universe is, you are; if you are, the universe is. There is no birth. There is no death. There is no coming. There is no going. Maintain the half smile. Take hold of your breath. Contemplate for 10-20 minutes.

24. Your skeleton. Lie on a bed or on a mat or on the grass in a position in which you are comfortable. Don’t use a pillow. Begin to take hold of your breath. Imagine all that is left of your body is a white skeleton lying on the face of the earth. Maintain the half smile and continue to follow your breath. Imagine that all your flesh has decomposed and is gone, that your skeleton is now lying in the earth 80 years after burial. See clearly the bones of your head, back, your ribs, your hip bones, leg and arm bones finger bones. Maintain the half smile, breathe very lightly, your heart and mind serene. See that your skeleton is not you. Your bodily form is not you. Be at one with life. Live eternally in the trees and grass, in other people, in the birds and other beasts, in the sky, in the ocean waves. Your skeleton is only one part of you. You are present everywhere and in every moment. You are not only a bodily form, or even feelings, thoughts, actions, and knowledge. Continue for 20-30 minutes.

25. Your true visage before you were born. In a comfortable sitting position concentrate on the point of your life’s beginning–A. Know that it is also the point of beginning of your death. See that both your life and death are manifested at the same time: See that you are at the same time your life and your death; that the two are not enemies but two aspects of the same reality. Then concentrate on the point of ending of the twofold manifestation–B–which is wrongly called death. See that it is the ending point of the manifestation of both your life and your death. See that there is no difference before A and after B. Search for your true face in the periods before A and after B.

26. A loved one who has died. Sit in a comfortable position and begin to take hold of your breath. Contemplate the body of a loved one who has died and know clearly that the flesh has decomposed and only the skeleton or ashes remain. Know clearly that your own flesh is still here and in yourself are still converged the five aggregates of bodily form, feeling, perception, mental functionings, and consciousness. Think of your interaction with that person in the past and right now. Maintain the half smile and take hold of your breath. Contemplate this way for 15 minutes.

27. Emptiness. Sit in a comfortable position and regulate your breath. Contemplate the nature of emptiness in the assembly of the five aggregates: bodily form. feeling, perception, mind functionings, and consciousness. Pass from considering one aggregate to another. See that all transform, are impermanent and without self. The assembly of all phenomena: all obey the law of interdependence. Their coming together and disbanding from one another resembles the gathering and vanishing of clouds around the peaks of mountains. Neither cling nor reject the five aggregates. Know that like and dislike are phenomena which belong to the assemblage of the five aggregates. See clearly that the five aggregates are without self and are empty, but that they are also wondrous, wondrous as is each phenomena in the universe, wondrous as the life which is present everywhere. Try to see that the five aggregates do not really undergo creation and destruction for they themselves are ultimate reality. Try to see by this contemplation that impermanence is a concept, non-self, and emptiness. You will see that emptiness is also empty, and that the ultimate reality of emptiness is no different from the ultimate reality of the five aggregates.

28. Compassion for the person you hate or despise most. Sit quietly. Breathe and smile the half smile. Contemplate the image of the person who has caused you the most suffering. Regard the features you hate or despise the most or find the most repulsive. Try to examine what makes this person happy and what causes suffering in his daily life. Contemplate the person’s perceptions; try to see what patterns of thought and reason this person follows. Examine what motivates this person’s hopes and actions. Finally consider the person’s consciousness. See whether his views and insights are open and free or not, and whether or not he has been influenced by any prejudices, narrow-mindedness, hatred, or anger. See whether or not he is master of himself. Continue until you feel compassion rise in your heat like a well filling with fresh water and your anger and resentment disappear. Practice this exercise many times on the same person.

29. Suffering caused by the lack of wisdom. Sitting in a comfortable position begin to follow your breath. Choose the situation of a person, family, or society which is suffering the most of any you know. This will be the object of your contemplation. In the case of a person, try to see every suffering which that person is undergoing. Begin with the suffering of bodily form (sickness, poverty, physical pain) and then proceed to suffering caused by feelings (internal conflicts, fear, hatred, jealousy, a tortured conscience). Consider next the suffering caused by perceptions (pessimism, dwelling on his problems with a dark and narrow viewpoint). See whether his mind functionings are motivated by fear, discouragement, despair, or hatred. See whether or not his consciousness is shut off because of his situation, because of his suffering, because of the people around him, his education, his propaganda, or lack of control of his own self. Meditate on all these sufferings until your heart fills with compassion like a well of fresh water, and you are able to see that the person suffers because of circumstances and ignorance. Resolve to help that person get out of his present situation through the most silent and unpretentious means. In the case of a family, follow the same method. Go through all the sufferings of one person and the on to the next person until you have examined the sufferings of the entire family. See that their sufferings are your own. See that it is not possible to reproach even one person in that group. See that you must help them liberate themselves from their present situation by the most silent and unpretentious means possible. In the case of a society, take the situation of a country suffering war or any other situation of injustice. Try to see that every person involved in the conflict is a victim. See that no person, including all those in warring parties or in what appears to be opposing sides, desires the suffering to continue. See that it is not only one or a few persons to blame for the situation. See that the situation is possible because of the clinging to ideologies and to an unjust world economic system which is upheld by every person through ignorance or through lack of resolve to change it. See that two sides in a conflict are not really opposing, but two aspects of the same reality. See that the most essential thing is life and that killing or oppressing one another will not solve anything. Remember the Sutra’s words: In the time of war Raise in yourself the Mind of compassion Help living beings Abandon the will to fight. Wherever there is furious battle Use all your might To keep both sides’ strength equal And then step into the conflict to reconcile (Vimalakirti Nirdesa). Meditate until every reproach and hatred disappears and compassion and love rise like a well of fresh water within you. Vow to work for awareness and reconciliation by the most silent and unpretentious means possible.

30. Detached action. Sit comfortable and follow your breath. Take a project you believe to be important as the subject of your contemplation. Examine the purpose of the work, the methods to be used, and the people involved. Consider first the purpose of the project. See that the work is to serve, to alleviate suffering, to respond to compassion, not to satisfy the desire for praise or recognition. See that the methods used encourage cooperation between humans. Don’t consider the project as an act of charity. Consider people involved. Do you still see in terms of ones who serve and ones who benefit? If you can still see who are the ones serving and who are the ones benefitting your work is for the sake of yourself and the workers, and not for the sake of service. The Prajnaparamita Sutra says, “The Bodhisattva helps row living beings to the other shore but in fact no living beings are being helped to the other shore.” Determine to work in the spirit of detached action.

31. Detachment. Sit comfortably, follow your breath. Recall the most significant achievements in your life and examine each of them. Examine your talent, your virtue, your capacity, the convergence of favorable conditions that have led to success. Examine the complacency and arrogance that have arisen from the feeling that you are the main cause for such success. Shed the light of interdependence on the whole matter to see that the achievement is not really yours but the convergence of various conditions beyond your reach. See to it that you will not be bound to these achievements. Only when you can relinquish them can you really be free and no longer be assailed by them. Recall the bitterest failures in your life and examine each of them. Examine your talent, your virtue, your capacity, and the absence of favorable conditions that led to the failures. Examine to see all the complexes that have arisen within you from the feeling that you are not capable of realizing success. Shed the light of interdependence on the whole matter to see that failures cannot be accounted for by your inabilities but rather by the lack of favorable conditions. See that you have no strength to shoulder these failures, that these failures are not your own self. See to it that you are free from them. Only when you can relinquish them can you really be free and no longer assailed by them.

32. Contemplation on non-abandonment. Sit comfortably and follow your breath. Apply one of the exercises on interdependence: yourself, your skeleton, or one who has died. See that everything is impermanent and without eternal identity. See that although things are impermanent and without lasting identity, they are nonetheless wondrous. While you are not bound by the conditioned, neither are you bound by the nonconditioned. See that the saint, though he is not caught by the teaching of interdependence, neither does he get away from the teaching. Although he can abandon the teaching as if it were cold ashes, still he can dwell in it and not be drowned. He is like a boat upon the water. Contemplate to see that awakened people, while not being enslaved by the work of serving living beings, never abandon their work of serving living beings.

Just a few hours after my 4:30am flight landed in Kuala Lumpur I found myself at a Malaysian University with hundreds of Chinese-Malaysian Buddhists and the monks and nuns from Plum Village for a day of mindfulness. I had traveled to Malaysia primarily to see my teacher, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Zen master, and poet, Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh speak at a day of mindfulness, “This is a Happy Moment: Becoming Truly Alive” and give the keynote address at the first World Buddhist Conference, “Living in Harmony When Things Fall Apart.”

When I was on retreat at Deer Park monastery this past summer the Abbot, Brother Phap Dung, said to me, “I make sure I never let my gas tank go below 80.” Well, I was nearing the 79 mark when I boarded my flight to KL but the past few days have been filled with inspiring teachings given by world renowned Buddhist scholars and activists and I’ve returned to Delhi nourished with a heart filled with love, hope and gratitude.

I feel so blessed to have received these teachings and feel it is my duty to share the Dharma with anyone who is interested. For a brief summary of the teachings I received, conference presentations and some of my reflections from the past few days I’ve spent in Malaysia.

This is a Happy Moment: Becoming Truly Alive

If your cup is small, a little bit of salt will make the water salty. If your heart is small, then a little bit of pain can make you suffer. Your heart must be large.  –Thich Nhat Hanh

My exhaustion from travel, lack of sleep and mental agitation melted when I came into Thay’s (students of Thich Nhat Hanh call him, “Thay” which means “teacher” in Vietnamese) beautiful, loving, gentle presence. My understanding and practice of mindfulness is rooted in the teachings of my guru, Thich Nhat Hanh. The day began with mindful walking. When introducing the practice my teacher said: “Our teacher is the Buddha and every step brings us back to the here and now. We breathe in mindfully to become aware we are alive. We walk as a free person, as a Buddha. We are a free person when we let go of the past and the future. We are inhabited by the energy of the Buddha when we walk in mindfulness. What we are looking for is happiness, peace and love. This moment can be a happy moment. As we walk, embrace the collective energy of the Sangha to transform you. We will walk like a formation of birds and generate the energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight.” Always finding creative, humorous ways to connect with his students, my 84 year old teacher even made a reference to Michael Jackson and said with a smile, “’This is it’, like Michael Jackson.”

As we walked as a Sangha, as a formation of birds, I followed my breath with every step, “I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell,” and I just felt peace and joy. After walking meditation, Thay’s teachings were essentially “on love,” centering on the the “bhrahma viharas” also known as the “four immeasurables” or the “four divine abodes”: loving kindness (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity (upeksha). My teacher presents these qualities as the foundation for “true love” and wrote a beautiful book, Teachings on Love, that details how these qualities contribute to “true love.” Teachings on Love was one of the first Thich Nhat Hanh books I ever read so it was wonderful to have him give these teachings to reinforce the importance of the “brahma viharas”. This book states that the Buddha’s teaching on love are very clear and concrete and when we put these teachings of the “brahma viharas” into practice then our heart blooms like a flower. Thay stressed that love and understanding make us happy and alive and when we have cultivated loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity within then we can make other people happy. Maitri (loving kindness) comes from mitra which means friendship and it is the capacity to offer happiness but you can only offer someone else happiness when you understand their suffering. Karuna (compassion) is the ability to remove suffering. So a practitioner of maitri and kaurna has the capacity to offer happiness. In order to understand someone else’s suffering we must look deeply and listen to them. The First Noble Truth is suffering, the Second Noble Truth is the nature of our suffering. We must look deeply in order to understand our suffering and its origin and this leads to the Third Noble Truth which is the cessation of suffering and the Fourth Noble Truth is the path to end suffering. Unfortunately, in our modern society the path the suffering is covered up by consumption.

Thay stressed that we must first understand our own suffering before we can help another person understand their suffering. At Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice center in Bordeaux, France, he held a retreat with Israelis and Palestinians. He shared that only when they could understand and see the suffering of each other were they able to build peace. Understanding is not only the foundation of love but also peace.

Love for another is only possible when you love yourself. Self-love is the foundation for loving another person if you don’t understand yourself or understand how to transform your suffering then you cannot help others. Understanding oneself and one’s own suffering you become free. Maitri and karuna are two energies that can help you relieve your own suffering and help others suffer less. When your loved one is expressing their upset feelings Thay reminded us not to interrupt as they speak or else that will ruin our session of deep listening. When we listen deeply we must only breathe in and out with the sole purpose of helping our loved one to empty his/her heart. When we are listening deeply we must only listen, we do not correct wrong perceptions, we follow our breath and we do not get irritated or angry, in the future we can help our loved one correct their wrong perceptions but initially we only listen. We can even evoke the name of Kuan Yin and as her disciple we listen to our loved ones. He reminded us that when we listen deeply, we are the arm of Kuan Yin, the Chinese version of the male god or Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, who is seen as the deity of compassion in Buddhism.

Thay shared that “true love” in us and in our partner or those we care for should bring us mudita or joy in every moment. Equanimity or upeksha stresses inclusiveness and ensures that in true love happiness is not an individual matter–the happiness of a father and son, mother and daughter are one. These elements can grow and grow continuously. Each practitioner should be able to cultivate and generate more love every day. Thay ended with one of my favorite quotes: “If your cup is small, a little bit of salt will make the water salty. If your heart is small, then a little bit of pain can make you suffer. Your heart must be large.” True love is without frontiers, it is unlimited. The more understanding we put into our heart, the larger it grows—Understanding is what makes your heart grow.

As Thay spoke I thought a lot about whether or not I really understood the suffering of my students. While I definitely try I’m not sure how successful I am in truly understanding the suffering of my students. It’s challenging in an 85 minute period with so many objectives to accomplish to feel like I can understand deeply the nature of the suffering of each student but I must try and I’ve made this a focus for me this quarter. How do the “brahma viharas” influence my work in the classroom with my students? The teachings are simple but the practice is very hard but it is only the application of the teachings in our lives that will transform ourselves and the world.

After Thay’s inspiring teachings “on love” we engaged in the practice of mindful eating and teachings by the most senior female monastic in our tradition, Sr. Chan Khong, who is looked at as Thay’s Chief of Staff. Sr. Chan Khong led us in the practice of deep relaxation and touching of the earth. The day ended with a Dharma sharing in small groups. It was so wonderful to be with the Sangha, my spiritual family.

World Buddhist Conference: “Living in Harmony When Things Fall Apart

The World Buddhist Conference was organized by three Malaysia based groups, the Buddhist Gem Fellowship, the Buddhist Missionary Society and the Young Buddhist Association. The conference brought together more than 500 Buddhists from more than 12 countries, representing various lineages in the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana traditions. There were three distinct sessions that focused on managing relationships, engaging society, and protecting the world. The title of the conference was “living in harmony when things fall apart” and the enduring understanding I believe every conference attendee left with was that in order to have harmony and peace in the world we have to have harmony and peace within ourselves and the application of basic Buddhist teachings enable us to do that. One of the eminent speakers, Venerable Tejadhammo Bhikku, a Theravadan Monk shared that in the Pali Cannon, the term “harmony” is never divorced from its musical origins which means it arises and comes into being constantly, it needs to be sustained, is dynamic and not static. Every single day things fall apart and we must learn how to maintain harmony in ourselves and in the world.  An Australian native, Venerable Tejadhammo talked about “rips” which I understood from my few surfing experiences in Bali and Hawaii. A rip is a current in the ocean that can pull you far away from shore. The only way you can escape a rip is not to try and swim against it but rather become aware of what you are in, allow the rip to take you into the ocean where it will eventually lose its power and then you can swim back in a slightly different direction. Venerable Tejadhammo encouraged us to live into the turbulence with a lot of trust, confidence and faith. In response to my question about “faith in the Buddhist context” on a retreat in India, my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, told me that faith is having confidence in my own Buddha nature and my ability to skillfully handle whatever life may throw my way. I tend to think of the First Noble Truth of suffering as impermanence, inevitable change and uncertainty and am learning to move with those changes and become more comfortable with not knowing and with uncertainty.

My teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, gave the keynote address at the conference entitled: “Living Together in Harmony.” In introducing my teacher, Dr.Wei, President of the Buddhist Gem Fellowship, a trained economist and Chairman of the Malaysian Tourism Board shared that “Nhat” stands for one and “Hahn” stands for action and his insight could help the multi-ethnic, multi-religious country of Malaysia promote harmony and unity in diversity. During my brief time in the country it was clear that the concept of “One Malaysia” needs a lot of work, the segregation between ethnic-religious groups was very evident.

Thay spoke beautifully about how through right thinking and right action peace and harmony can remain even when the whole world seems to have turned upside down. In the talk he submitted to the conference which differed slightly from what he shared “live” in his keynote address he focused on the importance of creating harmony in the family through deep listening and loving speech. He also spoke about the importance of having a “kalyanamitra” or spiritual friend who is able to support us in our practice and nurture right thinking and right action. I’m blessed with smany kalayanamitras in my life! Right thinking and right action can be expressed through the five mindfulness trainings (which are a modern interpretation of the Buddha’s five precepts): Reverence for Life, True Happiness, True Love, Loving Speech and Deep Listening, Nourishment and Healing. I took refuge in these trainings more than two years ago and they’ve helped me bring love, peace and harmony to myself without which I am unable to bring love, peace and harmony to others. During the Q & A session, one of the Sisters told a story of a young woman who had the trainings on her iPod and how she reads them until her mind is clear. I read them every morning and whenever I am faced with an ethical dilemma I also turn to the trainings and focus on them until my mind is clear.  Here are the trainings:

Sisters and brothers in the community, this is the moment when we enjoy reciting the Five Mindfulness Trainings together. The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

Reverence For Life: Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

True Happiness: Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

True Love: Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

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.

Nourishment and Healing: Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

In Venerable Wei Wu’s response to Thay’s lecture he shared: “Living in accordance to the five Mindfulness Training of protecting life, acting with generosity, being responsible for one’s sexual behavior, speaking lovingly and listening deeply as well as nourishment and healing is the key to heal our personal lives and the life of our society and all this has to start within the family.” Oftentimes I encounter “spiritual seekers” from the West in India. They are sincere and come to India to engage in deep practice but many of them have horrible relationships (if any relationship at all) with their parents. Our parents are our source and while Thay always stresses the importance of creating harmony in all of our relationships we should especially create harmony with our family first. I think it was Ram Dass who said something along the lines of, “You think you are enlightened? Go spend a week with your family.”

Thay also quoted the French philosopher Sarte who said, “Man is the sum of his actions.” With right thinking we can gain the insight of interbeing which is Thay’s term for the fundamental Buddhist teaching of dependent origination or co-arising and with this understanding we can engage in right action.

In Dr. David Loy’s response to my teacher’s lecture he shared a beautiful quote from the well known Indian nondualist, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, “When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love. And between these two, my life turns.” Loy then spoke about how Thay calls upon us to overcome the illusions of our separateness. The root of our suffering is sense of separation and “as each of us is not separate from other people, so our families are not separate from other families and social institutions. Family breakdown reflects a larger social breakdown, and we cannot expect to resolve the former apart from changes to the latter. The most important point is not to preach but to set an example. One of the main things I learned as a parent is that, when I became angry at my son for doing something that I didn’t like, what he really learned from me is that it’s okay to get angry at people when they do something you don’t like. This implies that when my child develops values that I don’t like, the first place for me to look is in the mirror. A focus on values, however, should not overshadow another concern: developing healthy habits. The most important Buddhist principle of all is the emphasis on mindfulness—that is, on one’s awareness and attention. One way to understand the distinction between delusion and awakened is the difference between awareness struck in unhealthy grooves and awareness liberated from such ruts. What I do determines the kind of person I become. An anonymous verse makes this point very well: Sow a thought and reap a deed. Sow a deed and reap a habit. Sow a habit and reap a character. Sow a character and reap a destiny. This gives us insight into how karma works, and it is also consistent with Buddhist teachings about non-self. Buddhism starts with what I think because that determines the intentions that motivate my actions, and actions repeated become habits. Habits create my character because my sense of self is actually composed of habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. This sense of self determines how I relate to the world and thereby strongly affects how the world relates back to me.” Dr. Loy also urged us to be motivated by kindness and that in order to transform the quality of our lives we must first transform our intentions and motivations. Training our minds will transform ourselves and therefore the world and how we relate to the world. To address the crisis we face there needs to be a marrying of the inner transformation Buddhism can provide (meditation teaches us how to transform our suffering) and the social transformation modernity has brought us.

I asked Dr. Loy and my elder monastic brothers and sisters in my tradition who were representing, Thich Nhat Hanh, to give their thoughts on a nondual approach to education. Brother Phap Dung, the Abbot at Deer Park Monastery, spoke about bringing the practice of insight and nondualism and interbeing to educators  and he described the retreats he has held with parents and their children and professors and their students. He shared that when they practice together they lose their concept and titles. Teachers and parents suffer with hierarchy, power or inferiority. At Deer Park parents are taught to nonparent and instead of reprimanding they come back to breathing and this helps parents and teachers recognize the source of speech or action before they speak or act which promotes right thinking and right speech. We have a history from our childhood and we bring that into our teaching and parenting environment and continue this cycle. A practice to help teachers and parents is to reflect on the 5 year old child within to see and feel their tenderness and vulnerability. When we do this we see our children and students and that there really is no difference between us. Dr. Loy shared that Rudolph Steiner who founded the Waldorf Schools would ask students: “Do you love your teacher?” And then ask teachers, “Do you love your students” This exercise is a test of nonduality in the classroom. Loy also spoke to the importance of reducing competitiveness and reminded me of Yeats remark that education is “not filling a pail but lighting a fire.”

Another question asked for clarification on the term “socially engaged Buddhism” and my elder Dharma brother shared that engaged Buddhism is when we use our daily life as our practice. We cannot choose our circumstances but we can choose how we respond. Even when we are busy we can enjoy our in breath and out breath and be present for others when they are suffering. He also stated that while we will not allow our Sangha to be political instrument we will speak out against an injustice. In order to share deeply, we must share our understanding in the spirit of deep listening and loving speech. Politics can be expression of awakening. Meditation is an expression of love. Only when we are aware of the situation can we respond skillfully. Socially engaged Buddhism is Buddhism that enters into the world and this is the Bodhisattva ideal.

One of the speakers, Ms. Anchalee Kurutach, shared a definition of socially engaged Buddhism from Donal Rothberg and Hozan Alan Senauke: “Socially engaged Buddhism is a Dharma practice that flows from the understanding of the complete yet complicated interdependence of all life. It is the practice of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. It is to know that the liberations of ourselves and the liberation of others are inseparable. It is to transform ourselves as we transform all our relationships and our larger society. It is work at times from the inside out and at times from the outside in, depending on the needs and conditions. It is to see the world through the eye of the Dharma and to respond emphatically and actively with compassion.”

Managing Relationships

After the reflections on my teacher’s keynote address the next session focused on managing relationships. The first speaker was Dr. Tan Eng Kong, a medical doctor, consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist. He focused on the second part of the conference theme, “Things Fall Apart” and presented how he attempts to blend western concepts of psychology and ancient insights of the Buddha. He stressed the importance of communication, compassion, and continuous connections in order to nurture and nourish relationships. His understanding of communication combines the Buddhist principles of Right Speech, Right Actions, and Right Livelihood that constitute our ethical foundations and the importance of nonverbal communication as expressed in Western Psychology (facial expressions and body language). Compassion for Tan Eng Kong is “our capacity to be kind, gentle, understanding and accepting because we wish to reduce the pain and suffering of another especially when they are vulnerable. He spoke about the “brahma viharas,” and writes: “When we are in states of loving-kindness, metta, our warmth, respect and friendliness sustains our intimate relationships. Secondly we need compassion for each others shortcomings and sufferings. Our capacity for altruist joy, helps us to enjoy and celebrate each others strengths and successes. And finally, equanimity gives us the calmness we need when we are in the face of conflicts and challenges—it helps us to respond wisely rather than act foolishly.” Continuous connecting refers to our human need to “connect deeply and be emotionally related to others for a normal sense of well-being.” As he listens Dr. Tan Eng Kong is relaxed, he keeps his mind open, follows his breath. In deep listening he listens to what is behind the words. Every message has a feeling, an emotion, and he is moved into understanding the feeling of a speaker.

Venerable Geshe Tenzin Zopa spoke about “Transforming the Demon Within Oneself.”  Geshe said that things fall apart because of negative karma. He shared the prayer, “Never commit non-virtue. Commit only wholesome virtue. Subdue one’s mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha.” The first two lines address the impact of cause and effect (karma) and the third line addresses our minds. Geshe writes, “Our minds are filled with delusions of every kind but in particular, the primary six root delusions (anger, ignorance, attachment, pride, doubt and wrong view) flow from the root delusion of the ignorant mind. As long as one does not subdue or transform these delusions, resultant negative emotions will arise as the demon within oneself. The fourth line says that transforming one’s mind is the teaching of the Buddha. The elimination of delusions and karma is all about transforming our afflictive emotions and delusions. The general antidote to these delusions is to cultivate the altruistic attitude (or Bodhichitta) in its two aspects of conventional altruistic mind and ultimate altruistic mind. When one refers to the “ultimate,” this is within the context of selflessness/emptiness. The specific antidotes to delusions are as follows: For ignorance, the antidote is the wisdom realizing emptiness. For anger, the antidote is patience. For attachment, the antidote is recognizing the unattractive aspects of samsaric existence. For pride, the antidote is humility. For doubt and wrong view, the antidote is the wisdom realizing emptiness. All three yanas (Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana) have the Four Noble Truths as their foundation. Karma teachings are common to all the three yanas without which, there is no enlightenment. It is important to have a clear understanding about karma: Karma has four characteristics – 1. Results from karmic action are certain (positive actions produce positive results; negative actions produce suffering). 2. Karma increases. 3. One does not encounter experiences that one has not created the cause for. 4. Karma committed does not disappear on its own. For karmic action to be “complete,” there needs to be four factors present – 1. The intention; 2. The object to commit the action upon; 3. The action itself; 4. The result that one intended and a sense of satisfaction when it happens. If all four actors are present when an act is committed one will experience all the three types of results of karma, namely (a) ripened results (b) results similar to the cause (c) environmental results.  We should reflect on our own daily lives and see the kind of karma we commit. As a Buddhist practitioner, one should always live in respect of the karma teachings with the great inspiration of Bodhichitta, the altruistic mind. Bodhichitta can simple be described as compassion combined with the acceptance of responsibility by oneself, to help liberate all beings from suffering. Loving kindness, equanimity, compassion are the necessary steps towards developing the fruit of Bodhichitta, which requires courage to accept such a responsibility to free all beings from Samsara. Like the bird which requires two wings to fly across the ocean, in order to go beyond Samsara, the Buddhist practitioner needs to cultivate both Bodhichitta and the wisdom realizing selflessness/emptiness of self and phenomena.” Geshe inspired us to practice, understand and sincerely apply the Buddha’s teachings with respect to karma.

Venerable Bhante Tejadhammo spoke about “Living With Purpose in Turbulent Times.” He began by saying the one yana is not enough and as he said this I was so pleased to see many traditions within the three yanas represented at the conference. He shared that urbulence is relative, what is turbulent for one person will not be for another. He urged us to listen to the Buddha’s teachings with our heart. The Buddha’s favorite image of turbulence in the Pali sutras is water/floods. He cited Samyutta Nikaya Part 1 where a devata asks the Buddha, “Sir, how did you cross the flood?” The Buddha answers, “By not halting, friend, and by not straining I crossed the flood.” The devata then asks, “But how is it, dear sir, that by not halting and by not straining you crossed the flood?” The Buddha answers, “When I came to a standstill friend, then I sank; but when I struggled, then I got swept away. It is in this way, friend, that by not halting and by not straining I crossed the flood.” The Buddha associates the flood with Samsara, he enters into Samsara but he doesn’t struggle against it, he doesn’t push forward straining out of it. He moves with it yet is free of it and in the movement he transcends it. Bhante said that our biggest problem is an obsession with having to know everything. We don’t have to know everything but we may have an experiential knowledge. He told us to be patient with all that is unsolved in our hearts and to try to love the questions themselves. He ended with quoting from Rilke in “Letters to a Young Poet” when he responds to a young man’s questions about the things of life: relationships, work, art etc.: “You are so young, so before all beginning, and so I must beg you as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and to learn to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the key is this, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, without hardly noticing, you will live along some distant day into the answers.”

During the Q & A the speakers asked us to practice right speech between this moment and the time we go to sleep. Buddhism is not going to save anyone as a religion or institution. It never has and never will, what will liberate us and others is when the teachings are put into practice. I was also reminded that when the Buddha visited his disciples he asked 3 very simple questions: 1. Are you well? 2. Do you have enough to eat? 3. Are you dwelling in harmony? If you answered yes he would ask, “Good, tell me how you do it.” The concern of the Buddha is basic. Dr. Tan Eng Kong mentioned that it is the personhood of Thich Nhat Hanh that inspires him. He shared: “Everyday I make mistakes, I hope they are getting less and less and I often apologize and simply say, “I am sorry.”  There is no such thing as compassion fatigue there is no giver and receiver, how can you be fatigued? An occupation is different from a vocation.” I feel blessed that my occupation and vocation are the same 🙂

Engaging Society

The focus of the next session was on “engaging society.” The first speaker, Roshi Joan Halifax, (who I’ve admired for quite some time) shared her work with the “Upaya Prison Project” which seeks to help prisoners “cultivate wholesome and prosocial changes of mind and behavior that are sustainable upon release, such as compassion, insight and honesty, and that decrease the likelihood of return to addiction or prison.” I found Roshi Joan’s presence beyond inspiring and she spoke with so much heart throughout the conference, her sharing touched me deeply. She began her presentation by reminding us that the Buddha taught one thing and one thing only, suffering and the end of suffering. She accompanied her teacher, Roshi Bernie Glassman to Auschwitz in 1997. This visit combined with her exploration of the suffering of prisoners brought her into a context where tremendous human suffering had transpired. The victims in Auschwitz were victims of ignorance and those who are incarcerated suffer because of structural violence. The United States houses 25% of the world’s prison population. 2.5 million men, women and children are incarcerated in the US. Her stories about working with prisoners made me think deeply about how crimes committed are systemic and due to societal breakdowns. Bearing witness is a profound process of listening without judging and without prejudice. Her work rests on three tenets of the Zen Peacemaker Order: not knowing, bearing witness, and healing. She writes: “not-knowing may seem strange to some of us. Conceptual knowledge is so valued in the world. Yet in many cultures wisdom is equated not with knowledge but with a kind heart of openness. Wisdom, said one Zen teacher, is a ready mind, a mind and heart that can be both tender and strong in the face of that which seems unbearable. This fresh and open mind is the mind that does not rely on facts or knowledge or concepts. This is the courageous mind that is able to separate from the familiar landscape of mental busyness and dwell in the still reality of how things are, rather than how we think they should be. The second tenet, bearing witness, reminds us to be fully present for what is—our lives and the world just as they are. In doing so we are called upon to continually cross the threshold of our story. Out of expectations, concepts, ideas, beliefs, and fears, most of us fabricate a story of how things are. We defend ourselves against the fear of pain with our story. We like to use it as a buffer against the impermanence of the present moment. To bear witness to the story and then go beyond it is one of the ways in which we express our compassion—sharing the suffering and joy of others and being in touch with our own situation as well. The third tenet, healing, asks us to make a whole cloth of all the pieces of our lives, to include everything present in the moment and to reject nothing. In the midst of suffering, dying, death, and uncertainty, we are able to appreciate the warmth of the sun. Through not-knowing and bearing witness, our capacity to include all the ingredients of the present moment increases. This enables us to serve others in whatever way we can by expanding the horizon of our lives beyond our small selves. The tenets are an expression of the three jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, the awakened nature of all beings; Dharma, the ocean of wisdom and compassion; and sanhga, the interdependence of all creations.” 

Roshi Joan Halifax stressed that in the world today we still persist on a dualistic view. Inmates are physically removed from society and they are who they are because of what we give them. The conference literature detailed curricula for teaching inside a detention center, it states: “In mindfulness training we have a chance to be alone with our mind, to let it become still, to give up ‘telling our story’ over and over again to ourselves. Paying attention for a period of quiet time teaches us patience. In learning to pay attention to the moment at hand, we learn to see the truth of this very present moment. Out of this truth comes wisdom. With wisdom comes new life. In addition to the periods of mindfulness training, the course includes stretch exercises (yoga), slow movement exercises (Tai Chi Chuan), and anger management exercises. Course Objectives: To reduce stress among inmates, thereby  lessening aggressive behavior between inmates. To reduce addiction, relapse and prison entry recidivism. To improve concentration skills during GED study. To improve the quality of inmates’ lives, so that they can focus attention on those life changes necessary for re-entry into society. Course format: The course class will meet for two hours each week. Pre- and post-intervention ratings of anger and anxiety will be done in an effort to determine the validity of this course.” The literature then went through 20 lessons including topics such as: Guidelines for an Ethical Life; Developing the Ability to Concentrate; Developing Mental Stability; Developing a Positive Mental Attitude; Working With Forgiveness; Cultivating Kindness in Stressful Situations; Cultivating Compassion in Stressful Situations; Cultivating Altruism in Stressful Situations; Cultivating Mental Balance in Stressful Situations; Cultivating Generosity, Ethicality, Patience, Enthusiasm, Mindfulness, Wisdom; Working With Physical Pain; Working With Mental pain; Exploring Self Responsibility and Interconnectedness; Learning the Relationship Between Cause and Effect; Working with Inclusiveness, Dealing With Prejudice; Transforming Fear; Discovering the Relationship between the Relative and Absolute; Building Trust in Yourself; Developing the Inquiring Mind; Learning Nonviolent Communication.  Each topic includes an objective, exercise, and rationale for the lesson. Each week of the 8 week course built upon the week before using Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.

Venerable Thubten Chodron spoke about “Bringing Harmony to the Work Place.”  She shared that the human mind has the ability to create suffering no matter how good the conditions of our mind are. Stress in workplace comes because our priorities are confused. We haven’t clearly thought about the meaning and purpose of our lives, we just do as we are told and follow along until the time of death comes. She writes, “Most people spend a good part of their day at work, so it is important to be able to incorporate our Dharma practice into this area of our life. We can do this in several ways: generating good motivation, being mindful of how we interact with others, and counteracting old, habitual, dysfunctional behaviors. Our motivation is key because it influences the choices we make and determines the karmic or ethical value of what we do and how we do it. We need to ask: What is our real motivation for going to work? To become well-known in the field? To be praised? To feel successful? Imagine expanding our motivation, thinking: Today I am going to work to bring happiness into the lives of my colleagues, clients and customers. I greet them with friendliness, speak the truth to them, and treat them honestly and with respect because I want to bring harmony to their lives and my own. Take your time in contemplating the meaning of this motivation so that it will remain steadfast in your mind during the day. During the day, practice being mindful of how you speak and act towards others. Be aware of the intentions that lie behind those actions. If you notice that your mind is getting agitated, aggravated, annoyed, jealous, or arrogant, stop and breathe. Come back to the beautiful and inspiring motivation that you generated in the morning and remember why you are working. Very often we get stuck in habitual behaviors that we do not even recognize, even though they interfere with creating a good environment at our workplace. Attached to praise and seeking a good reputation, we defend our ego. We want to hear only good comments and don’t want to hear anything bad about ourselves, and we are in the habit of assuming that any question or even a small comment is meant as criticism of who we are as a person. This oversensitivity is based on believing that we are so very important—this is the work of our self-centered thought, which is the real enemy that destroys our peace and happiness. Meditation on the disadvantages of attachment to fame and reputation and the faults of self-centered thought will help correct this. Lacking self-confidence, we seek others’ support and think that by making one person in the office look bad, it means all the rest of us are good. When there is conflict in the office, we need to talk with the people concerned instead of involving the entire workplace.” Thubten Chodron also urged us to stop being competitive and instead be more cooperative and look at our lives as having a common goal to benefit society. We have two choices when we work with people we don’t like: 1. We complain 2. We find a way to make our mind happy. People want to change others but that is not a choice, we have to work with our own minds.

Buddhist activist, Anchalee Kurutach, spoke about “Relieving the Pain of the Neglected.” She shared the story of when the Buddha attends to the sick Bhikku Ptigatta Tissa. She asked us to think about what we would do when faced with someone whose body was covered with sores and pus oozing from their infected skin. What would we do? Would we care for the sick? She then spoke about her work with teaching Cambodian refugees in Thailand English and how while she worked very hard to plan her lessons and loved her students she failed to “find the root cause of their suffering.” She writes, “Two major defilements contribute to our neglect of others’ pain—greed and ignorance. We live in the world that conditions us since childhood to compete with one another and to be greedy for ourselves and our loved ones. Often, we say right away when encountering an oppressive situation that it is due to karma. That is, people must accept their poor fates because they did something in the past that resulted in them being unfortunate in the present. In this way, we do not see it as our responsibility to make any changes toward the betterment of society. Ignorance is a deeply rooted factor in our failure to help relieve suffering both in ourselves and in others. It is easy enough to point to where there is pain and suffering. We may donate clothes, medicine or money to the needy. These charitable deeds are important and needed. But, as a socially engaged Buddhist, I also contemplate whether these acts lead to the transformation of suffering or whether they merely provide temporary reliefs of suffering. This is the key question in my practice and in my involvement with the volunteer work I do.”

Rites of Passage and Being With the Dying

Sunday morning began with a special talk given by Roshi Joan Halifax that moved me to tears. She began with a quote from the Mahabharata when Yudhishthira askes, “What is the most wondrous thing in the world?” And the response is: “The most wondrous thing is that people are dying and we do not think it will happen to any of us.” She urged us to practice the truth of our own mortality and bring it more vividly into our own awareness. Placing such a focus on our mortality is really swimming upstream in our global culture and society. She quoted a physics professor from my alma matter, Amherst College, Arthur Zajonc who wrote inMeditation as Contemplative Inquiry: “Imagine that half the world is hidden from you. Half of the person sitting across from you has never been appreciated, half of the garden has never been seen or smelled, half of your own life has never been truly witnessed and appraised. If we fail to attend to the interior of self and world then, indeed, half the world is missed. When we turn toward contemplation, we are turning to the forgotten half, toward that half of the world which modestly and patiently awaits our freely given attention. While the rest of the world is on red alert, shouting for every minute of our conscious life, the equally important interior dimensions of existence wait quietly. When it seems impossible to find the time to meditate, we can remind ourselves of these facts. We give so much time to the demands of the world; isn’t it proper and even essential to give time to the silent half of the world that patiently waits us? Shouldn’t we give as much time to the inner as we do to the outer?”

Roshi Joan Halifax has dedicated more than forty years to working with the dying and as she shared she stressed the importance of recognizing our interior life and the development of mental qualities based in the “brahma viharas”. She had lost her eyesight when she was a young girl for two years and as a result she was forced to recognize her interior life.  Halifax writes, “Catastrophe is usually the circumstance that liberates strength, wisdom and kindness from within the suffocating embrace of fear. Dying, we can be more alive. Being present and giving care in the midst of a meltdown of mind or life can seed compassion. This is how we mature, and how transparency and intimacy are engendered. Our very physical and psychic vulnerability, if we allow it, shows us the path and the present. It can also nurture gratitude and humility. Contemporary scientists tell us that a living system, which is robust is one that often breaks down and learns how to repair itself. This is the essence of the spiritual path, a series of breakdowns that allow us to discover the truth that threads all of life into a whole cloth.”

During her talk, Halifax spoke about how death in our culture is a rite of passage and caregivers play a key role during these changes that take place. She also touched on how the tenets of the Zen Peacemaker Order have been guidelines for her work with death and dying—“Sitting with a dying person, I can only not-know. Sitting with a dying person, I can only bear witness. Sitting with a dying person, I can heal. The Three tenets come from life. They also were discovered not simply in the confrontation with suffering but in the experience of meditation. Using contemplative practices that help deepen our capacity for concentration, openness and insight, we can gradually expand the horizons of our hearts until they are big enough to include everything, including the reality of death and the fact that even when someone dies, “well,” it may not be a pretty picture.” During her talk she showed photos of the dying and the dead and I found this incredibly moving. While I am anything but a cerebral Buddhist the photographs had a deep impact in my heart and mind and I appreciated her use of them during the presentation. She concluded by saying: “Let us awaken. Do not squander your life.”

After Roshi Joan Halifax spoke there was a panel discussion about her talk and a beautiful Q & A session. She mentioned the neuroscience research being conducted and the domains in which she works: Attentional Balance (experience of attention can be sustained for very long periods of time); Emotional Balance (the importance of watering the seeds of altruism); Metacognitive Stability (guiding your thoughts and actions in a congruent way with your intentions so you are not a toy of emotions or mass of reactivity and you learn to actualize the vow “I vow to transform suffering” and bring that vow to your moment to moment experience; Resilience (increasing a zone of resilience in your life has 5 challenges: 1. vital exhaustion, 2. secondary trauma, 3. moral distress 4. horizontal violence. 5. structural violence).

Halifax also made a clear distinction between empathy and compassion. Empathy is the experience of feeling with someone. It is an isomorphic experience of affective resonance with an individual and brain research shows that this occurs in the insular part of the brain. Compassion is another order of experience. It is a  feeling for, concern for the individual and it is a complex mental quality which includes empathy but also the capacity to distinguish between self and other at some point so you don’t go into empathetic over-arousal—different parts of the brain are activated. It is a feeling of being able to respond. This feeling is located in the left prefrontal cortex. Now we have scientific evidence of what the Buddha preached. We can generate our capacity for more compassion through meditation. Venerable Thubten Chodron also shared that compassion does not mean you are a doormat. Compassion means we want someone to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering and this reminded me of Pema Chodron’s discussions on “idiot compassion” and the importance of balancing compassion with wisdom. Thubten Chodron also stated that compassion means you stand up for what is right when it is necessary to end suffering and the causes of suffering.

Venerable Tejadhammo shared that it is important to balance our emotions and intentions when we work with death and dying and it is important to understand that being present with a dying person is to share their suffering.

After the presentation on Death and Dying Dr. Loy gave a presentation about a fairly new US based organization, Buddhist Global Relief, created in response to a beautiful article by Venerable Bhikku Bodhi entitled, “A Challenge to Buddhists”: Seeing the immensity of the world’s anguish has raised in my mind questions about the future prospects for Buddhism in the West. I’ve been struck by how seldom the theme of global suffering—the palpable suffering of real human beings—is thematically explored in the Buddhist journals and teachings with which I am acquainted. It seems to me that we Western Buddhists tend to dwell in a cognitive space that defines the first noble truth largely against the background of our middle-class lifestyles: as the gnawing of discontent; the ennui of over-satiation; the pain of unfulfilling relationships; or, with a bow to Buddhist theory, as bondage to the round of rebirths. Too often, I feel, our focus on these aspects of dukkha has made us oblivious to the vast, catastrophic suffering that daily overwhelms three-fourths of the world’s population. An exception to this tendency may be found with the Engaged Buddhist movement. I believe this is a face of Buddhism that has great promise, but from my superficial readings in this area I am struck by two things. First, while some Engaged Buddhists seek fresh perspectives from the Dharma, for many Buddhism simply provides spiritual practices to use while simultaneously espousing socio-political causes not much different from those of the mainstream Left. Second, Engaged Buddhism still remains tangential to the hard core of Western interest in Buddhism, which is the Dharma as a path to inner peace and self-realization. If Buddhism in the West becomes solely a means to pursue personal spiritual growth, I am apprehensive that it may evolve in a one-sided way and thus fulfill only half its potential. Attracting the affluent and the educated, it will provide a congenial home for the intellectual and cultural elite, but it will risk turning the quest for enlightenment into an private journey that, in the face of the immense suffering which daily hounds countless human lives, can present only a resigned quietism. It is true that Buddhist meditation practice requires seclusion and inwardly focused depth. But wouldn’t the embodiment of Dharma in the world be more complete by also reaching out and addressing the grinding miseries that are ailing humanity? I know we engage in lofty meditations on kindness and compassion and espouse beautiful ideals of love and peace. But note that we pursue them largely asinward, subjective experiences geared toward personal transformation. Too seldom does this type of compassion roll up its sleeves and step into the field. Too rarely does it translate into pragmatic programs of effective action realistically designed to diminish the actual sufferings of those battered by natural calamities or societal deprivation. By way of contrast, take Christian Aid and World Vision. These are not missionary movements aimed at proselytizing but relief organizations that provide relief and development aid while also tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Similarly, the American Jewish World Service doesn’t aspire to convert people to Judaism but to express Judaism’s commitment to social justice by alleviating “poverty, hunger, and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion, or nationality.” Why doesn’t Buddhism have anything like that? Surely we can find a supporting framework for this in Buddhist doctrine, ethical ideals, archetypes, legends, and historical precedents. I recognize that many individual Buddhists are actively engaged in social service and that a few larger Buddhist organizations work tirelessly to relieve human suffering around the globe. Their selfless dedication fully deserves our appreciation. Unfortunately, their appeal has as yet been limited. Buddhist teachers often say that the most effective way we can help protect the world is by purifying our own minds, or that before we engage in compassionate action we must attain realization of selflessness or emptiness. There may be some truth in such statements, but I think it is a partial truth. In these critical times, we also have an obligation to aid those immersed in the world who live on the brink of destitution and despair. The Buddha’s mission, the reason for his arising in the world, was to free beings from suffering by uprooting the evil roots of greed, hatred, and delusion. These sinister roots don’t exist only in our own minds. Today they have acquired a collective dimension and have spread out over whole countries and continents. To help free beings from suffering today therefore requires that we counter the systemic embodiments of greed, hatred, and delusion. In each historical period, the Dharma finds new means to unfold its potentials in ways precisely linked to that era’s distinctive historical conditions. I believe that our own era provides the appropriate historical stage for the transcendent truth of the Dharma to bend back upon the world and engage human suffering at multiple levels—even the lowest, harshest, and most degrading levels—not in mere contemplation but in effective, relief-granting action illuminated by its own world-transcending goal. The special challenge facing Buddhism in our age is to stand up as an advocate for justice in the world, a voice of conscience for those victims of social, economic, and political injustice who cannot stand up and speak for themselves. This, in my view, is a deeply moral challenge marking a watershed in the modern expression of Buddhism. I believe it also points in a direction that Buddhism should take if it is to share in the Buddha’s ongoing mission to humanity.

Buddhist Global Relief is conducting many worthwhile projects all over the globe. In fact, they are conducting a walk in a few weeks for World Food Day in New Jersey not too far from the home of my parents!

Protecting the World

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the gret wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.” – Dogen

“Studying the Buddha way is studying oneself. Studying oneself is forgetting oneself. Forgetting oneself is being enlightened by all things. Being enlightened by all things is to shed the body-mind of oneself, and those of others. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.”- Dogen

The focus of the final session was on “Protecting the World.” In his presentation, “Healing Ecology,” David Loy shared that there are “parallels between our perpetual individual predicament, according to Buddhism, and the present situation of human civilization which implied that the eco-crisis is as much a spiritual challenge as a technological one. The fundamental Buddhist teaching of no-self makes us realize that the self is a psychological and social construction, which is by definition ungrounded and ungroundable, and therefore always insecure. Our constructed self is best understood as a process or work in progress…Perhaps our problem is not self-love but a profound misunderstanding of what one’s self really is. Without the compassion that arises when we realize our nonduality—empathy not only with other humans but with the whole biosphere—it is becoming likely that civilization as we know it will not survive the next few centuries. Nor would it deserve to.” He presented:

1. The self is a psychological construct–link between our suffering and delusive sense of self

2. Involving a sense of separation from the world which causes suffering

3. This anxiety includes confusion about who I am and the meaning of my life

4. In response, I try to “ground” myself in ways that make my situation worse

5. I cannot get rid of the self but i can realize that it is empty

6. This realization frees and empowers me to help “others”

Given the state of our planet Loy said we need eco-sattvas whose primary role is to heal the earth.

In “Doing Our Part,” Venerable Thubten Chodron asked us to think about how we relate to environmental degradation and to stop blaming others. Every piece of paper we use is an opportunity to care about the environment. Tonglen practice is insignificant to but it keeps our heart open so we do not fall into laziness. We must think about our role in destroying the world—when we are in our cars we should think about the human beings that are going to die of climate change that is related to our cars, we also need to think about the corporations that produce the products we buy. She shared that at a conference she attended last year she learned about a new psychological ailment called: “climate anxiety or environmental anxiety.” This refers to when “people look at the environmental devastation and become fearful, angry, anxious, or apathetic in response.” Chodron writes, “The Buddha knew that just because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean we give up and don’t act. Instead he called up his hope, optimism, and joyous effort and did whatever he could, and so must we to heal the natural environment. Acting in a more environmentally conscious manner in our own lives is an antidote to feelings of despair, helplessness, and anger. We must do our part—however big or small that may be—to lessen and stop climate change and the destruction of nature. In this way our lives will be meaningful and our minds optimistic as we bring the Buddhist principles of interdependence, wisdom, and kindness into our daily actions.”

In “Awakening WITH the World” Anchalee Kurutach inspired me with her story about working with victims of domestic violence and her call for Buddhists to live the Bodhisattva vow with socially engaged Buddhism. “That we are not free until all beings are free is daunting. It is much easier to focus on our internal liberation, taking refuge in our own cushion. After all, those who brave their souls and march on to ‘save the world at any cost’ are often crushed along the way when they realize the world cannot be saved. But does it have to be one way or the other? Can we truly see the interdependence of the liberations between self and others? Socially Engaged Buddhism offers a clear path. A meditation practice does not save battered women. Law enforcement, education system, health care system, societal values, spiritual teachings, family support, for example all play a vital role in her safety.”

During the final Q&A I was reminded that while I focus on this moment, I must do it within the context of big mind. We practice in the present moment and this moment is valuable because right now it is the only moment for practicing and it creates causal energy. On my way back to Delhi I was fortunate enough to travel with a lovely Tibetan Buddhist Monk who is a student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, my friend, Kabir Saxena. Spending time with Kabir also reminded me of the larger context of the dharma and the deep teachings in the Tibetan tradition about karma. In the tradition of my teacher we don’t subscribe to reincarnation in the traditional sense but rather “continuation” where we continue on all of the elements and all of the lives of those we’ve touched. Dr. Loy even commented that science hasn’t proved rebirth and that was the accepted belief of the day during the Buddha’s time but this is something we may want to approach with agnosticism and this reminded me of the writings of Stephen Batchelor and his book, Buddhism Without Beliefs.

The conference ended with the organizer, Benny Liow, summarizing each talk and sharing my favorite lines from the Avatamsuka Sutra which speak to our interconnectedness, lack of a separate self, and how we exist in others: “Far away in the heavenly abode of the great God Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out indefinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel at the net’s every node, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but that each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is infinite.” – The Avatamsaka Sutra, Francis H. Cook: Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra, 1977

The World Buddhist Conference sought to teach us that “if we understand the Buddha’s teachings, we will see life in perspective and be able to cope with our lives when ‘things fall apart’” and emphasize how basic Buddhist concepts can change the way we look at life so that we can experience true happiness. To close the conference we engaged in “sharing the merit” which is the traditional way of “ending” a session of formal practice or teaching. A representative from each yana shared as we all stood up and sent out the merit of our practice to all sentient beings. In the tradition of my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, we chant the following:

Joyfully Sharing the Merit

Blessed Ones who dwell in the world, grant to us compassion.
In this and countless lives before, from beginningless time,
our mistakes have caused much suffering to ourselves and others.
We have done wrong, encouraged others to do wrong, 
and given our consent to acts of killing, stealing, deceiving, 
sexual misconduct, and other harmful actions 
among the Ten Unwholesome Deeds. 
Whether our faults are known to others or whether they are hidden, 
they have brought us to the realms of hell, hungry ghosts, and animals,
causing us to be born in places filled with pain and suffering.
We have not yet had the chance to realize our full potential.
Today we are determined, with one-pointed concentration,
to repent the obstacles of our past unwholesome actions. 
Blessed Ones, be our witness and look upon us with compassion.
We surrender before you and make this aspiration:
If at all within this very life and countless lives before, 
we have given, even if only a handful of food or simple garment;
if we have ever spoken kindly, even if only a few words;
if we have ever looked with eyes of compassion, 
even if only for a moment;
if we have ever comforted or consoled, even if only once or twice;
if we have ever listened carefully to wonderful teachings,
even if only to one talk;
if we have ever offered a meal to monks and nuns, even if only once;
if we have ever saved a life, even if only that of an ant or a worm;
if we have ever recited a sutra, even if only one or two lines;
if we have ever been a monk or a nun, even if only for one life;
if we have ever supported others on the path of practice, 
even if only two or three people;
if we have ever observed the mindfulness trainings, 
even if imperfectly;
all of this merit has slowly formed wholesome seeds within us.
Today we gather them together like a fragrant flower garland 
and, with great respect, we offer it to all Awakened Ones —
a contribution to the fruit of the highest path. 
Opening our hearts wide to the Perfect Highest Awakening,
we are resolved to attain Great Understanding.
We will realize compassion and embody deep love.
We will practice diligently, transforming our suffering
and the suffering of all other species.
Please transfer the merits of body, speech, and mind
to the happiness of people and all other beings.
Apart from bodhicitta and apart from the thirst 
for great understanding and the embodiment of love,
there is no other desire within us.
All Buddhas in the Three Times and the Ten Directions
have offered their merit as we are doing today.
Repenting all our faults, we joyfully contribute 
to the immeasurable ocean of merit 
and the towering peaks of the Highest Understanding.
The Buddhas and the Ancestral Teachers 
are the light which shows us the way. In this solemn moment, with all my life’s force,
I come back to myself and bow deeply with respect.

These are my notes from a few years ago…

Meena’s notes from Thich  Nhat Hahn’s Commentary on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing

Three sutra’s fundamental to the practice of meditation are Anapanasati, Satipatthana (Four Establishments of Mindfulness), and Bhaddekaratta Sutta (Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone).  In the Southern traditions these are regarded as the most important texts on meditation.  Thay feels that if we understand these sutras we will have a deeper vision and comprehensive grasp of t he scriptures classified as Mahayana, just as after we see the roots and trunk of a tree we can appreciate its leaves and branches more deeply.

The 16 methods of inhaling and exhaling, in combination with the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, are the essence of the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Breathing is a means of awakening and maintaining full attention in order to look carefully, long, and deeply, to see the nature of all things.

Everything that exists can be places into one of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness (the body, feelings, mind, and objects of the mind).

The 16 methods of breathing in and breathing out can be divided into 4 groups of four methods each. The first group uses the body as the object of Full Awareness; the second uses the feelings; the third uses the mind; and the fourth, the objects of the mind.

If the methods of fully aware breathing are practiced continuously they will lead to the realization of the Seven Factors of Awakening.

Analysis of Sutra’s content

The first part describes the circumstances under which the teaching was delivered.  The second section is the heart of the sutra. It elaborates the 16 methods of fully aware breathing in connection with the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.

Four Preliminary Exercises: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

1. Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.

2. Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.

3. Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.

4. Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.

These exercises of fully aware breathing help us return to our body in order to look deeply at it and care for it. In our daily lives, it is important that we create harmony and ease in our body and to reunite our body and mind. In the first two exercises the object of our awareness is the breath itself. Our mind is the subject, and our breath is the object. Our breath may be short, long, heavy, or light. Practicing our awareness this way we see that our breathing affects our mind, and our mind affects our breathing.  Our mind and breath become one. We also see that breathing is an aspect of the body and that awareness of breathing is also awareness of the body.  In the third exercise the breath is connected with our whole body, not just a part of it. Awareness of the breathing is, at the same time awareness of our whole body—our mind, breath, body are one. In the fourth breathing exercise, our body’s function begins to calm down. Calming the breath is accompanies by calming the body and the mind.  Our mind, our breathing, and our body are calmed down, equally. In these 4 exercises, we can realize the oneness of body and mind. Breathing is an excellent tool for establishing calmness and evenness.

The Second Four Exercises

5. Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.

6. Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.

7. Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations. Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.

8. Breathing in, I calm my mental formations. Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.

The second four exercises help us return to our feelings in order to develop joy and happiness and transform suffering. Our feelings are us. If we do not look after them, who will do it for us? Every day we have painful feelings, and we need to learn how to look after them. Teachers and friends can help but we have to do the work. Our body and our feelings are our territory and we are responsible for that territory. As a result of conscious breathing and calming the body, joy, a pleasant feeling arises. In the 6th exercise, joy is transformed into peace and happiness, and we are fully aware of it. The 7th and 8th exercises bring our attention to all feelings that arise, whether produced by the body or the mind. The mind’s functions include feelings and perceptions. When we are aware of every bodily and every mental action, we are aware of every feeling. The 8th exercise calms the body and mind and makes them peaceful. At this point we can perfectly and completely unify body, mind, feelings, and breath.

The Next Four Exercises

9. Breathing in, I am aware of my mind. Breathing out, I am aware of my mind.

10. Breathing in, I make my mind happy. Breathing out, I make my mind happy.

11. Breathing in, I concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I concentrate my mind.

12. Breathing in, I liberate my mind. Breathing out, I liberate my mind.

The third group of four exercises have to do with our mind which refers to the activities of our mind. These exercises help us deal with whatever mental formations are present, cultivating mental formations that are beneficial, and being in touch with and transforming mental formations that are not beneficial. Mental formations are part of our territory. They are seeds buried deep in our consciousness that we do not touch often enough, seeds of love, understanding, compassion, joy, knowing right from wrong, the ability to listen to others, nonviolence, and the willingness to overcome ignorance, aversion and attachment. Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to identify these traits in us and nurture them. When we survey our territory we also find destructive traits, such as anger, despair, suspicion, pride and other mental formations that cause suffering. With the aid of mindful breathing we learn to take full responsability for restoring our territory and taking good care of it.  The 10th exercise makes our mind happy because it is easier for the mind to becom concentrated when it is in a peaceful, happy state than when it is filled with sorrow or anxiety. We are aware that we have the opportunity to practice meditation and that there is no moment as important as the present one. Calmly abiding in the present moment, immense joy arises each time we touch in ourselves the seeds of faith, compassion, goodness, equanimity, liberty, and so on. These seeds are buried deep in our consciousnes, and we only need to touch them and water them with conscious breathing for them to manifest. The 11th exercise of using the mind to observe the mind brings us into deep concentration. Mind is the breath. Minds is the oneness of the subject that illumines and the object that is illuminated. Mind is peace and happiness. All mental formations that manifest in the present moment can become objects of our concentration.  12th exercise can release the mind to freedom, if it is still bound. Mind is bound eithr because of the past or the future, or because of other latent desires of anger. With clear observation, we can locate the knots that are binding us, making it impossible for our mind to be free and at peace. We loosen the knots and untie the ropes that bind oru mind. Looking deeply at the nature of mental formations such as fear, anger, anxiety, and so on brings about the understanding that will liberate us.

Four Final Exercises

13. Breathing in, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas. Breathing out, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas.

14. Breathing in, I observe the dissapearance of desire. Breathing out, I observe the dissapearance of desire.

15. Breathing in, I observe cessation. Breathing out, I observe cessation.

16. Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.

Mind cannot be separated from its object. Mind is consciousness, feeling, attachment, aversion and so on. Consciousness must always be conscious of something. Feeling is always feeling something. Loving and hating are always loving and hating something. This “something” is the object of the mind. Mind cannot arise if there is no object. Mind cannot exist if the object of mind does not exist. The mind is, at one and the same time, the subject of consciousness and the object of consciousness. All physiological phenomena, such as the breath, the nervous system, and the sense organs; all psychological phenomena, such as the earth, water, grass, trees, mountains, and rivers, are objects of mind, and therefore are all mind. All of them can be called “dharmas.” The 13th breathing exercise sheds light on the everchanging, impermanent nature of all that exists–the psychological, the physiological, and the physical. Breathing itself is also impermanent. The insight into impermanence iis also very important because it opens the way for use to see the interrelated, interconditioned nature as well as the selfless nature (nothing has a separate, independent self) of all that exists. The 14th exercise allows us to recognize the true nature of our desire, to see that every dharma is already in the process of disintegrating, so that we are no longer possessed by the idea of holding on to any dharma as an object of desire and as a separate entity, even the physiological and psychological elements in ourselves. The 15th exercise allows us to arrive at the awareness of a great joy, the joy of emancipation and the cessation of illusion, by freeing us from the intention to grasp any notion. The 16th exercise illuminates for us what it is to let go of ourselves, to give up all the burdens of our ignorance and grasping. To be able to let go is to already have arrives at liberation.

The Four Establishments of Mindfulness

4 Establishments are:

– Body

– Feelings

– Mind

– All dharmas (objects of mind)

We practice full awareness of these 4 establishment through conscious breathing. The key to “observation meditation” is that the subject of observation and the object are NOT regarded as separate. Students of meditation have to remove the boundary between subject and object. When we observe something, we are that thing. “Non-duality” is the key word. “Observation meditation” is lucid awareness of what is going on in the 4 establishments: body, feelings, mind, and all dharmas. To suceed in this work we must go beyond attachment and aversion.

The 7 Factors of Awakening

This sectiosn discusses the arising, growth and attainment of the 7 Factors of Awakening, through abiding them in conjunction with concious breathing.

1. Full attentions is the main Factor of Awakening. Full attention is awareness, being fully awake.

2. The work of observation to shed light on the object of our dharmas and see clearly all that exists is investigation of dharmas.

3. Energy is perseverence and dilligence.

4-5. Joy and ease are wonderful feelings nourished by energy.

6. Concentration gives rise to understanding. When we have understanding we can go beyond all comparing, measuring, discrimination, and reacting with attachment and aversion.

7. Going beyond is letting go. Those who arrive at letting go will have the bud of a half-smile, which proves compassion as well as understanding.

Emancipation

In this section the Buddha reminds us that the Seven Factors of Awakening, if practiced diligently, lead to true understanding and emancipation.

A Point of View on Practice

Six Wonderful Dharma Doors: counting, following, stopping, observing, returning, and calming

Counting is an excellent technique. Breathing in, count “one,” and so on. This method can help us refrain from dwelling on troublesome thoughts; instead we concentrate on breathing and the number. When we have developed some control of our thinking we can abandon counting and just follow our breath.

Meditation has 2 aspects: stopping (shamatha) and observing or looking deeply (vipshyana)

Stopping is concentration and looking deeply is insight. We stay with one object in order to observe it and look deeply into it. In this way, stopping and observing become one. Thanks to our ability to stop we are able to observe. The more deeply we observe the greater our concentration becomes.

Subjects of Practice

We practice stopping and observing in order to arrive at liberation, freedom from being bound. bound to what? First of all, falling into forgetfulness, to losing our mindfulness. We live as if we are in a dream. We are dragged into the past and pulled into the future. We are bound by our sorrows, by holding onto anger, unease and fear. “Liberation” here means transforming and transcending these conditions in order to be fully awake, at ease and in peace, joyfully and freshly.

7 methods for putting the Anapanasati Sutta into practice:

1. Following the breath in daily life–eliminating forgetfulness and unecessary thinking (Exercises 1-2)

2. Awareness of the body (Exercise 3)

3. Realizing the unity of body and mind (Exercise 4)

4. Nourishing ourselves with the joy and happiness of meditation (Exercise 5-6)

5. Observing our feelings (Exercises 7-8)

6. Caring for and liberating the mind (Exercises 9-12)

7. Looking deeply in order to shed light on the true nature of all dharmas (Exercises 13-16)

When we practice sitting we should always begin with following our breath and nourishing ourselves with the joy of meditation and only after should we go into the other subjects. The 5th subject should be practiced when oru mind becomes agitated or ill at-ease and the 7th subject is the door that opens onto liberation from birth and death. The first 6 emphasize stopping and looking deeply but the 7th emphasizes looking deeply but we can only embark on that once we develop the capacity to concentrate our mind with great stability.

The First Subject of Full Awareness: Following the Breath in daily Life, Eliminating Forgetfulness and Unnecessary Thinking (Exercises 1-2)

Breathing in, I know I am beathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

1. Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.

2. Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out, I know I am breahthing out a short breath.

It is important we learn to practice Full Awareness of Breathing during our daily lives. Usually when we perform these tasks our thoughts wander, and our joy, sorrow, anger and unease follow close behind. We enter the present moment by becoming aware of our breath. Breathing in and out, we can smile to affirm that we are in control of ourselves. Through Awareness of Breathing, we can be awake in, and to, the present moment. Being attentive, we already establish “stopping” and concentrating the mind. Most of our daily activities can be accomplished while following our breath. When our work requires special attentiveness we can unite Full Awareness of Breathing with the task itself like carrying a pot of boiling water, repairing something etc. We can nourish this awareness with our breath, “Breathing in, I am aware my hands are carrying a pot of boiling water.” But it is not enough to combine awareness of breathing with tasks that require so much attention. We must also combine Full Awareness of our Breathing with every movement of our body: “Breathing in, I am sitting down.” Stopping the random progression of thoughts and no longer living in forgetfulness are giant steps forward in our meditation practice. We can realize this by following our breath and combining it with awareness of each daily activity. Some people have no peace or joy because they cannot stop their incessant thinking. Thinking too much can give us headaches and our spiritual power diminishes. By following our breath and combining conscious breathing with our daily activities we can cut across the stream of disturbing thoughts and light the lamp of awakening. Our breath is usually short at first but as we practice it gets longer, slows down and deepens. It is not important to make your breath long or short, it is important to recognize it.

The Second Subject of Full Awareness: Awareness of the Body (Exercise 3)

3. Breathing in, I am aware of my while body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.

With this exercise we embrace our body with mindfulness rather than just embracing our breathing. We recognize the presence of our body and we return home to be one with it. Breathing is the vehicle that brings us home, to our body. If we do not come back to our home and cae for it, who will? We embrace a wounded body, care for it, and heal it with right mindfulness. In the Anapanasati Sutta, the Buddha teaches four exercises in connection with the body, but in the Satipatthana Sutta many more methods are taught: 1. Breathing. 2. Recognizing the body, calming the body. 3. Recognizing the positions of the body. When standing, sitting, walking, or lying down, you know you are standing, sitting, walking, or lying down. 4. Recognizing actions of the body: bending down, drinking tea, etc. If your actions are hurried and forgetful you recognize that and your hurriedness and forgetfulness disappear. 5. Observing different parts of the body.

During the practice of meditation mind and body are united. The Buddha taught walking meditation and we can use ideas from the Anapanasati Sutta to help us succeed in our walking. We can take one step and say, “In,” silently. It means, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.” For as long as the in-breath lasts, we continue stepping with our left foot. As soon as the out-breath begins, we begin stepping with our right foot and say the word, “Out” silently, which means, “Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” We just take a step and know we are breathing in, and we take a step and know we are breathing out. That is all we need to do. After practicing “In, Out” four or five times our breath will become deeper and slower quite naturally. Sometimes we practice observing different parts of our body, one by one, and then observe the whole body. We can start with our hair, “Aware of my hair, I breathe in. Smiling to my hair, I breathe out,” and then we survey all the different parts of our body, down to the tips of our toes. Right mindfulness is a ray of light that recognizes different parts of our body, helps us become acquainted with them, and shows us how to take care of them. In half an hour we can scan the 36 parts of our body named in the Satipatthana Sutta. During this practice difficult feelings can arise but in that case do not push the feelings away. Instead just look at it and say, “Breathing in, I am aware that I am anxious,” and then continue observing your body under the supervision of the Full Awareness of Breathing. The secret of practicing this second subject of Full Awareness, “Awareness of the Body,” is to concentrate your mind and observe each organ of the body in full awareness.

The Third Subject of Full Awareness: Realizing the Unity of Body and Mind (Exercise 4)

4. Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.

Now that we have observed our whole body we can bring peace and calm to it. Sometimes our body does not function peacefully. In this practice allow your breathing, your body, and your observing mind to all become one. Subject and object are empty. Subject and object are not two.

The Fourth Subject of Full Awareness: Nourishing Ourselves With the Joy and Happiness of Meditation (Exercises 5-6)

5. Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.

Those who practice meditation should know how to nourish themselves with the joy and happiness of meditative concentration, in order to reach real maturity and help the world. Life in this world is both painful and miraculous. Joy is a positive psychological and physiological state.

6. Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.

This exercise helps us feel happiness as we breathe in and out. Happiness is easiest when our body and mind are at ease, free of excessive worries and preoccupations. Happiness is more than joy. According to the Buddhist teachings, joy is less pure because it contains excitement. If we are too excited about the future how can we enjoy the present moment? The Buddha never criticized joy, we need joy very much but we also need to go futher than joy. To succeed in the practice we must experience joy and happiness–it is not enough to repeat the words.

The Fifth Subject of Full Awareness: Observing Our Feelings (Exercises 7-8)

7. Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations. Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.

Mental formations are psychological phenomena. There are 51 mental formations according to the Mahayana School and 52 according to Theravada. Feelings are one of them. In the 7th and 8th exercises mental formations simply mean feelings. Some feelings are rooted in our body, such as a toothache of a headache. Feelings that are more rooted in our mind arise from our peceptions. When you feel sad remember that it will not last forever. Whatever feeling is present, we identify it, recognize that it is there, and shine the dun of our awareness on it. If we have an unpleasant feeling, we take that feeling in our arms like a mother holding her crying baby. The “mother” is mindfulness and the “crying baby” is the unpleasant feeling. Mindfulness and conscious breathing are able to calm the feeling. If we do not hold the unpleasant feeling in our arms but allow it just to remain in us, it will continue to make us suffer. “Breathing in, I touch the unpleasant feelings in me. Breathing out, I touch the unpleasant feeling in me.” In Buddhist meditation looking deeply is based on nonduality. We do not view irritation as an enemy, we see that irritation is the present moment and we breathe in and out this awareness. We treat our irritation with compassion, every feeling is a field of energy. Feelings originate in the body or in oru perceptions. Insomnia we feel fatigue which originates in the body. Seeing a rope as a snake we may cry out in fear but fear is a feeling and mistaking the rope for a snake is an inaccurate perception. If we live our daily lives in moderation, keeping our bodies in good health, we can diminish painful feelings that originate in the body. When we observe a feeling deeply, we recognize the multitude of causes near and far that helped bring it about, and we discover the very nature of feeling.

8. Breathing in, I calm my mental formations. Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.

We use our conscious breathing in orer to calm and transform the energy of our feeling. It is like riding a bicycle. As long as we continue to pedal, we will move forward, but as soon as we stop, we will lose our balance and fall off. We have to keep following our breathing for the feeling of calm to transform. “Hello fear. Come here. I shall look after your.”

The Sixth Subject of Full Awarenes: Caring for and Liberating the Mind

9. Breathing in, I am aware of my mind. Breathing out, I am aware of my mind.

The 9th exercise recognizes the other mental formations aside from feelings. It is the first of the group of four exercises that belong to the field of the mind. In the Sutra of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, we are taught to observe “the mind in the mind.” It means we should observe mental formations in the spirit of non-duality, with no barrier between the subject and object of observation. When we look at the blue sky, the boundary between the observer and the infinite blue sky disappears, and we feel a deep contact between ourselves and the blue sky. When a grain of salt standing next to the sea asks, “How salty is the sea?, he is told that the only was to know is to jump into the sea and become one with it. Mind here is compose of psychological phenomena, including perception, thinking, reasoning, discriminating, imagining, and all the activities that have their roots in the subconscious. As soon as any psychological phenomena arises we should breathe in and out and identify it. As we continue to observe it, we can see its connection with the whole of our mind. The meaning of the 9th exercise is: “I breathe in and out and identify the mental formation that is present at this moment in me.” To identify a mental formation with the help of conscious breathing means to recognize, embrace, and become one with that mental formation–it does not mean to drown in that mental formation, because the subject that is recognizing, embracing, and becoming one with the mental formation is the energy of mindfulness. When our mindfulness is one with the mental formation, the mental formation quite naturally changes for the better. The first 4 breathing exercises help us become one with our breathing and drop all thinking, discriminating ideas, and imaginings. The second four exercises get us in touch with our feelings. The 9th exercise helps us identify psychological phenomena, such as thoughts or imaginings as they arise. “Citta” refers to all psychological phenomena, such as feelings, perceptions, thoughts, reasoning, and so forth, along with their objects. Mind is a river of psychological phenomena that is always flowing. To know how to identify psychological phenomena as they arise and develop is an important part of meditation practice. When we recognize the mental formation that is manifesting in us, we recognize whether it is wholesome or unwholesome. Once our mind is able to identify what is happening, we will be able to see clearly our mental formation and make it calm. Just that will bring us peace, joy, and stillness.

10. Breathing in, I make my mind happy. Breathing out, I make my mind happy.

The 10th breathing exercise is intended to gladden the mind. Compare this with the 5th and 6th exercise. The 5th aims at the experience of joy, the 6th at the experience of happiness. To gladden the mind is to see the beneficial mental formations that are within us like faith and confidence in the path. You can practice the 10th exercise by, “Breathing in, I recognize the mental formation of non-violence in me. Breathing out, i feel happy.”

11. Breathing in, I concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I concentrate my mind.”

The 11th method aims at concentrating our mind on a single object. We bring all our power of concentration and place it on the mental formation that is present. Whether the mental formation is positive or negative we recognize it and call it by its name, directing all our mental energy upon it. We embrace it and look deeply at it, and doing this already begins the work of transforming that negative mental formation. It is like waking up on a cold morning and lighting a fire. The cold air is warmed by the warm air of the fire. We do not need to open the door and force the cold air out to make the room warm. All we have to do is tend the fire. In the case of a negative mental formation, all we have to do is look after it with warmth of the fire of our mindfulness. Only by concentrating on the object can we observe it. The object of our mind is lit up by our observation, like a performer standing in a spotlight on the stage. The object might be moving in time and space, since it is alive. But our mind is also alive, and in the state of concentration, subject and object become one. Breathing is an object of our mind and we pull all our attention on our breath and our mind and our mind and breath become one. That is concentration. Only if there is concentration can the work of looking deeply take place.

12. Breathing in, I liberate my mind. Breathing out, I liberate my mind.

The twelfth exercise aims at untying all the knots of the mind–the sorrows and meories of the past, the anxieties and predictions concerning the future, feelings of irritation, fear, and doubt in the present, or confusion created by inaccurate perceptions. Only by concentrating the mind do we have the capacity to observe, illumine, and be emancipated from obstacles. When we say, “liberate the mind” what we are referring to is any mental formation that makes us suffer or pushes us in the wrong direction. “Breathing in, I open my heart for all the knots to be untied. Breathing out, I open my heart for all the knots to be untied.”

The 7th subject on Full Awareness: Looking Deeply in order to Shed Light on the True Nature of All Dharmas (Exercises 13-16)

13. Breathing in, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas. Breathing out, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas.

All phenomena are impermanent. Understanding impermanence is not a matter of words but a matter of practice. Only through our daily practice of stopping and looking deeply can we experience the TRUTH of impermanence. Looking deeply we realize that impermanence is neither good nor bad. Impermanence also means interdependence. Impermanence also means “signlessness” (alakshana). The categories of perception and thought are “signs.” A wave can be high or low but the essense is neither “high” or “low”. All signs, “high” or “low” cannot touch the essence of water. When we begin the practice, we want things to be permanent and we think things have a separate self. Whenever things change, we suffer. To help us not suffer, the Buddha gave us the truths of impermanence and non-self as keys. When we look deeply at the impermanent nature of all things and no-self we are using those keys to open the door to reality or “nirvana.” The reality of everything that exists is its signlessness since it is a reality that cannot be grasped by concepts and words. Because it cannot be grasped it is empty. Emptiness here does not mean nonexistent as opposed to existent, it means signless, free from all imprisonment by concepts–birth/death, pure/impure etc. Impermanence also means aimlessness (apranihita) the presense of everything that exists is not to attain a final goal.

14. Breathing in, I observe the dissapearance of desire. Breathing out, I observe the dissapearance of desire.

The fourteenth exercise looks deeply in order to shed light on the true nature of all dharmas and the true nature of our desire. We see that happiness does not lie in ideas about what we realize in the future, and for that reason we are no longer attached to the objects of our desire that we thought would bring us future happiness. A practitioner should clearly observe the impermanence and fading nature of all things including the Five Aggregates that comprises his or her own self. The Nine Contemplations were a special practice used during the time of the Buddha where you observe the decomposition of a corpse.

15. Breathing in, I observe cessation. Breathing out, I observe cessation.

The fifteenth exercise helps free us from individuality so that we can become a part of the whole universe. Nirodha is the Sanskrit and Pali word and it means cessation of all erroneous ideas, of all notions that keep us from directly experiencing the ultimate reality, and of all suffering born of our ignorance. Cessation of ideas like birth and death, increasing and decreasing, coming and going. We have to go beyond these ideas because they form the basis of our suffering. When we look deeply and see that reality is beyond ideas then that leads to cessation.

16. Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.

The 16th exercise, like the 15th, aims at helping us look deeply in order to shed light on giving up desire and attachment, fear and anxiety, hatred and anger. The more we let go, the happier we become. We do not let go of reality but we do let go of wrong perceptions about reality. We have to practice letting go of our ideas in order to see life everywhere, beyond space and time. Letting go means giving up every comparison, seeing that the boundary between ourselves and others is not real. Let go in order to be everything and to be completely free.

Summary

The order of the 16 Breathing Exercises is the order of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness: body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind. The intelligent practitioner knows how to regulate and master his or her breath, body, and mind in order to enhance the power of concentration before proceeding in the work of looking deeply to shed light. Meditation rpactice is nourishing for body and mind, and can also expand our vision. Expanded vision enables us to go beyond passionate attachment or aversion to life. It makes us joyful, calm, stable, tolerant, and compassionate.

During my time in India I often read Vir Sanghvi’s editorials and when I found out he would be the guest speaker at this month’s London School of Economics Alumni Mixer in Delhi I made it a point to attend.

Mr. Sanghvi is an engaging speaker and since I’m most familiar with his writings on cuisine I definitely didn’t expect for him to be delivering a political analysis about India’s major challenges. While he succinctly detailed 5 hurdles India faces he was unable to offer the audience any clear answers as to how India should go about tackling these hurdles.

India’s 5 Major Challenges:

  1. Inclusive Growth
  2. Center vs. State
  3. Terrorism
  4. Kashmir
  5. Challenge of Pakistan

Inclusive Growth: While there is a lot of talk about India’s economic growth no one can deny that this nation is ridden with poverty. I believe 1/3 of the nation lives on less than 12 rupees a day—there is an India “out there” that no one is really paying attention to. Sanghvi touched on how the benefits of economic growth seem to be restricted to individuals like those of us at the talk at the Ashoka hotel’s F Bar Lounge! He pointed out how when the BJP lost their election to Congress the slogan they used was “India’s Shining” and in many ways they neglected the masses who went to the polls and voted Congress. The consequences of a free market system are that the poor don’t really benefit. While Manmohan Singh is undoubtedly more of a traditional capitalist there is a strong contrary view in the Congress party. The only way to tackle the problem of un-inclusive growth is to write off farm loans and employ direct transfers and rural employment guarantees (Singh is opposed to this).

Center vs. State: India is diverse and much more like Europe than the US and many have held that the States should have more power but the problem is States elect irresponsible leadership like Lalu and Mayawati etc. When people are left to their own in the States the tendency is toward corrupt leaders. Perhaps there should be more power in the hands of the Central government.

Terrorism: Radicalization of religion is a major problem. India has the world’s second largest Islamic population and if even ½ of 1% of that population becomes fundamentalist the nation has a huge problem in her hands. While Indian Muslims are traditionally peaceful what will happen with a domestic, homegrown radicalization of religion among the Muslim minority?

Kashmir: Sanghvi detailed specific points regarding Kashmir—1. Accession of Kashmir is a problem different from other states. 2. Kashmir is disputed according to the rest of the world. 3. Average Kahmiri Muslims sees himself as a Kashmiri not as an Indian or a Pakistani. 4. Kashmir has 3 parts, Ladakh and Jammu are relatively safe (they are, I’ve been to both!) but Kashmir Valley is the area under contention. 5. In 1990 the worst ethnic cleansing in the part of the world occurred where Kashmiri Pandits were essentially thrown out. The younger generation of Kashmiris’ have grown up in the shadow of violence, they have never even met Hindus, Hindus are “the other.” Young Kashmiris want and Islamic state under Sharia law. 8. Pakistan is passionate about Kashmir, they will not budge on this! Secessionism is inevitable in a country like India (Sikhs, Mizos, Tamils) but throughout the years these problems have been handled with money and a certain degree of violence and for her 63 year history India has a fairly good record with handling secession EXCEPT Kashmir. 9. Indian public opinion is intractable on Kashmir.

Challenge of Pakistan: There are three approaches—1. The Indira Gandhi approach where you accept that the best ay forward is to break up Pakistan and make it so weak that it cannot give India problems. 2. A strong and stable Pakistan is in India’s best interest. 3. Use the China model and improve relations so it can’t be wrecked with a border dispute but this isn’t possible as long as India won’t budge on Kashmir.

After detailing these 5 major challenges Sanghvi entertained questions. The questions that were asked shed light on just how serious the problems India faces are. Sanghvi stated that focusing on education and the legal system could determine India’s future. He also mentioned that Gandhi’s village system has been romanticized, it is not the solution and there needs to be more power from the Center. Sanghvi spoke about the character flaw many Indians have with not helping others once they reach the top and the lack of philanthropy and charity in this country. Wealthy Indians may build temples but giving back to society in more tangible, effective ways is far from the norm. He encouraged young Indians to commit to India through politics in order to change the system. As long as corrupt leaders are elected it will be challenging to make any real change.

Sitting at the F Bar listening to him speak I couldn’t help but feel conflicted because I am overwhelmed by the immense challenges this country faces and longed to go back to the US where even among all of its failings I do feel strong sense of efficacy. Now that it is so clear in my heart that it is time to go home to the US at the end of this fifth and final year of living in India the fact that I am American and this is not my country continuously hits home.

Notes from Mindfulness in Plain English by Venerable Gunaratana Mahathera

Buddhism address 2 main types of meditation: Vipassana and Samatha

Vipassana = Insight, clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens

Samatha = concentration or tranquility = state in which the mind is not allowed to wander, brought to rest and focuses on only one item

Most systems emphasize the Samatha component (focus on chant, candle etc.) Vipassana uses concentration as a tool by which awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion

Attainment of mindfulness through bare attention to and clear comprehension of the whole process of breathing. using the breath as one’s primary focus of attention the meditator applies participatory observation to the entirety of his own perceptual universe. he learns to watch changes occurring in all physical experiences, in feelings and in perceptions. he learns to study his own mental activities and the fluctuations in the character of consciousness itself. all of these changes are occurring perpetually and are present in every moment of our experience.

meditation is a living activity, experiential.

Most of this publication draws from the Tipitaka which is the 3 sectioned collected work including the Vinaya (code of discipline for monks and nuns and lay people), Suttas (public discourses attributed to the Buddha), Abhidharma (set of deep psycho-philosophical teachings)

why meditate?

happiness and peace are really the prime issues in human existence

you can’t ever get everything you want, it is impossible but there is another option. you can learn to control your mind. you continue to live a normal looking life but you live from a whole new viewpoint.

meditation is intended to purify the mind. it cleanses the thought process of what can be called psychic irritants, things like greed, hatred, jealousy, things that keep you snarled up in emotional bondage. it brings the mind to a state of tranquility and awareness, a state of concentration and insight.

we believe that knowledge makes a cultured person civilized but civilization polishes the person superficially.

in the buddhist context faith is closer to confidence, it is knowing something is true because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself. in the same way, morality is not a ritualistic obedience to some exterior, imposed code of behavior.

the purpose of meditation is personal transformation. the you that goes in one side of the meditation experience is not the same as you that comes out the other side. it changes your character by a process of sensitization, by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, words, deeds. meditation properly performed prepares you to meet the ups and downs of existence. it reduces your tension, worries and fear. meditation sharpens your concentration and your thinking power and your own subconscious motives and mechanics become clear to you. your intuition sharpens. precision of your thought increases and gradually you come to a direct knowledge of things as they really are, without prejudice and without illusion.

we are not going to teach you to contemplate your navel or to chant secret syllables, you are not conquering demons or harnessing invisible energies, there are no colored belts or turbans. we are dealing with the vipassana system of meditation. watch the functioning of your own mind in a calm and detached way so you can gain insight into your own behavior. the goal is awareness.

MEDITATION IS NOT JUST A RELAXATION TECHNIQUE

relaxation is a key componenet of meditation but vipassana style meditation aims at a much loftier goal. all meditation procedures stress concentration of the mind, bringing the mind to rest on one item or one area of thought. done strongly and thoroughly enough you achieve a deep and blissful relaxation which is called Jhana. some systems stop here. in vipassana concentration and relaxation are necessary for awareness (precursors). the goal is insight.

MEDITATION DOES NOT MEAN GOING INTO A TRANCE

you actually become more and more attuned to your emotional changes; you will learn to know yourself with greater clarity and precision. in hypnotic trance the subject is susceptible to control by another party whereas in deep concentration the meditator remains very much under his own control, if you find yourself becoming unconscious in meditation then you aren’t meditating

MEDITATION IS A MYSTERIOUS PROCESS WHICH CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD

Meditation deals with levels of consciousness which lie deeper than symbolic thought therefore some of the data just won’t fit into words. That does not mean it cannot be understood there are deeper ways to understand things than words. Learning to look at each second as if it were the first and only second in the universe is most essential in Vipassana meditation.

THE PURPOSE OF MEDITATION IS NOT TO BECOME A PSYCHIC SUPERHUMAN

The purpose of meditation is to develop awareness.

MEDITATION IS NOT DANGEROUS AND A PRUDENT PERSON SHOULD NOT AVOID IT

Vipassana is development of awareness, that in itself is not dangerous but just the opposite. Increased awareness is the safeguard against danger. Properly done meditation is a very gentle and gradual process.

MEDITATION IS NOT FOR SAINTS AND HOLY MEN IT IS FOR EVERYONE

3 integral factors to buddhist meditation: morality, concentration and wisdom. These 3 factors grow together as your practice deepens. When you have the wisdom to truly understand a situation compassion toward s all parties arise automatically ad compassion means that you automatically restrain yourself from any thought, word or deed that might harm yourself or others thus your behavior is automatically moral.

LEVELS OF MORALITY

  1. Adherence to a set of rules and regulations laid down by someone else, this requires no meditation
  2. Obeying the rules in the absence of somebody who will smack you if you disobey because you have internalized the rules, this requires a bit of mind control
  3. Ethics, one chooses his behavior depending on the situation

MEDITATION IS NOT RUNNING AWAY FROM REALITY

Meditation is running into reality. Learning to look at yourself exactly as you are. See what is there, accept it fully and only then can you change it.

MEDITATION IS NOT A GREAT WAY TO GET HIGH

It can produce blissful feelings but that is not the purpose.

MEDITATION IS SELFISH

It looks that way but one is meditating to purge their mind of anger, prejudice and ill-will. Actively engaging in the process of getting rid of greed, tension and insensitivity as these items block compassion for others. Cleansing yourself of selfishness is not a selfish activity.

WHEN YOU MEDITATE YOU SIT AROUND THINKING LOFTY THOUGHTS

Some systems are like this but Vipassana is about awareness, awareness of whatever is there be it supreme truth or trash.

A COUPLE OF WEEKS OF MEDITATION WILL NOT MAKE ALL PROBLEMS GO AWAY

Nothing worthwhile is achieved overnight. At each sitting you will gain some results.

WHAT MEDITATION IS

Every culture on earth has produced some sort of mental practice which might be termed meditation, it depends on how loose a definition you give that word.

Within the judeo-christian tradition there are two overlapping practices of prayer and contemplation. Prayer is a direct address to some spiritual entity. Contemplation is a prolonged period of conscious thought about some specific topic—both of these are exercises in concentration

Yogic meditation is purely concentrative on focusing the mind on a single object.

In the buddhist tradition concentration is highly valued but the new element of awareness is added and more highly stressed. Zen uses two separate tracks. One is the direct plunge into awareness by sheer force of will. You sit down and you just sit, meaning that you toss out of your mind everything except pure awareness of sitting. In the rinzai school you trick the mind out of conscious thought into pure awareness by giving the student an unsolvable riddle he must solve anyway. Since he cannot flee from the pain of the situation he must flee into a pure experience of the moment. There is nowhere else to go.

Tantric buddhism: conscious thought is the manifestation of the ego, the you that you think you are and tightly connected with self concept. The self concept or ego is nothing more than a set of reactions and mental images which are artificially pasted to the flowing process of pure awareness. Tantra seeks to obtain pure awareness by destroying this ego image. This is accomplished through visualization. Student is given a religious deity/image to meditate on. He takes off his own identity and puts on another and during the process recognizes the way the ego is constructed.

Vipassana comes directly from Satipatthana Sutta. Student’s attention is carefully directed to an intense examination of certain aspects of his own existence. Meditator is trained to notice more and more of his own flowing life experience. Listen to yoru own thoughts without being caught up in them. The objective is to learn to pay attention. Mental training where you will experience the world in an entirely new way.

That which has been learned can be unlearned. The first step is to realize what you are doing and stand back and quietly watch.

We see ourselves reacting without getting caught up in the reactions themselves. Escape from the obsessive nature of thought produces a whole new view of reality.

You can tune into constantly ongoing change, learn to perceive your life as an ever-flowing movement, a thing of great beauty like a dance or symphony. Take joy in the perpetual passing away of phenomena. Learn to live with the flow of existence.

ATTITUDES ESSENTIAL TO SUCCESS IN PRACTICE

  1. Don’t expect anything. Treat the whole thing as an experiment.
  2. Don’t strain.
  3. Don’t rush.
  4. Don’t cling to anything and don’t reject anything.
  5. Let go.
  6. Accept everything that arises.
  7. Be gentle with yourself
  8. Investigate yourself
  9. View all problems as challenges
  10. Don’t ponder. In meditation the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention.
  11. Don’t dwell upon contrasts. Differences exist between people but dwelling upon them is a dangerous process.

 

THE PRACTICE

You want to cultivate mindfulness culminating in insight and wisdom to realize truth as it is. You want to know the workings of your body-mind complex exactly as it is. You want to get rid of all psychological annoyance to make your life really peaceful and happy.

We should not confuse bodily sensations with mental formations. Isolate the feeling and watch it mindfully.

We should watch our emotion exactly as it is without trying to confuse it.

We seek to gain insight into the experience of impermanence to overcome our resentment.

What we face every day is unpredictable. Things happen due to multiple causes and conditions as we are living in a conditional and impermanent world. Mindfulness is our emergency kit, readily available at our service at any time. Mindfulness practice is the practice of 100% honesty with ourselves. When greed, hatred and ignorance reveal themselves in our daily lives we use our mindfulness to track them down and comprehend their roots. The root of each of these mental states is within ourselves.

Goal is to reach the perfection of all the noble and wholesome qualities latent in our subconscious mind. This goal has five elements to it: purification of mind, overcoming sorrow and lamentation, overcoming pain and grief, treading the right path leading to attainment of eternal peace, attaining happiness by following that path.

Actual Practice: once you sit do not change the position again until the end of the time you determined at the beginning. Do not change your original position no matter how painful it is.

After sitting motionless, close your eyes. Our mind is analogous to a cup of muddy water. The longer you keep a cup of muddy water still the more mud settles down and the water will be seen clearly. Keep your mind in the present moment. What is present every moment is our breath. Do not verbalize or conceptualize anything. Simply notice the in-coming and out-going breath without saying, “i breathe in” etc. When you focus your attention on the breath ignore any thought, memory, sound, smell, taste, etc., and focus your attention exclusively on the breath. At the beginning both the inhalations and exhalations are short because the body and mind are not calm and relaxed. In spite of efforts to keep the mind on breathing it may wander.

Suggestions to gain concentration when the mind wanders:

  1. Counting
  2. Connecting: do not wait to notice the brief pause before exhaling but connect the inhaling and exhaling so you can notice both inhaling and exhaling as one continuous breath
  3. Fixing: after joining inhaling and exhaling fix your mind on the point where you feel you r inhaling and exhaling breath touching.
  4. Focus your mind like a carpenter: a carpenter draws a straight line on a board he wants to cut and cuts the board with a handsaw. He doesn’t look at the teeth of the saw but rather all of his attention is on the line he drew so he can cut the board straight. Keep your mind straight on the point where you feel the breath at the rims of your nostrils.
  5. Make your mind like a gate keeper: a gate keeper does not take into account any detail of the people entering a house. All he does is notice people entering the house and leaving the house through the gate.

When the mind is united with the breath flowing all the time, we will naturally be able to focus the mind on the present moment.

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BODY

Buddhist practice has always recognized that the mind and body are tightly linked and that each influences the other. Meditation does not mean sitting in lotus position. It is a mental skill. But postures will help you learn the skill and speed yoru progress and development.

Purpose of posture is threefold. First they provide a stable feeling in the body so you can remove yoru focus from balance and muscular fatigue. Second, they promote physical immobility which is then reflected by an immobility of mind and this creates a settled and tranquil concentration. Third they give you the ability to sit for a long period of time without yielding to the meditator’s 3 enemies: pain, muscular tension and falling asleep. The most essential is to sit with your back straight. Spine should be erect with vertebrae held like a stack of coins one on top of each other. Head should be held in line with the rest of your spine. All of this is done in a relaxed manner. No stiffness. If you slouch you invite drowsiness.

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR MIND

Difference between being aware of a thought and thinking a thought

Breathing is a nonconceptual process a thing that can be experienced directly without a need for thought

In wordless observation of breath there are two states to avoid: thinking and sinking. Sinking mind is when there is no thought, observation of breath or awareness.

Don’t think about your problems during your practice. Push them aside very gently. Take a break from all that worrying and planning. Let your meditation be a complete vacation. Trust yourself, trust your own ability to deal with these issues later, using the energy and freshness of mind that you built up during your meditation. Trust yourself this way and it will actually occur.

Mindfulness of breathing is a present-time awareness. This meditation is a process of retraining the mind.

STRUCTURING YOUR MEDITATION

We set aside a certain time specifically devoted to developing this mental skill called mindfulness. Meditation recharges your mindfulness.

“I am about the tread the very path that has been walked by the Buddha and by his great and holy disciples. An indolent person cannot follow that path. May my energy prevail. May I succeed.”

At the beginning of each meditation session, say the following sentences to yourself and really feel the intention:

  1. May I be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to me. May no difficulties come to me. May no problems come to me. May I always meet with success. May I also have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  2. May my parents be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, unerstanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  3. May my teachers be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  4. May my relatives be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  5. May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  6. May all indifference persons be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  7. May enemies be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems and failures in life.
  8. May all living beings be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

Once you have completed these recitations, lay aside all your troubles and conflicts for the period of practice. Just drop the whole bundle. If they come back into your meditation later, just treat them as what they are, distractions.

If your enemies were happy, well and peaceful they would not be your enemies. Your practical solution to yoru having enemies is to help them to overcome their problems so you can live in peace and happiness.

When you hate somebody you think, “Let him be ugly etc.” What happens is that yoru own body generates such harmful chemistry that you experience pain. You cannot see truth as it is. Your mind is like boiling water.

Practice loving kindness BEFORE you start to meditate.

DEALING WITH PROBLEMS

The main trick in dealing with obstacles is to adopt the right attitude. Difficulties are an integral part of your practice. It is essential to learn to confront the less pleasant aspects of existence.

When you are having a bad time examine the badness, observe it mindfully, study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a trap is to study the trap itself, learn how it is built.

 Pain is inevitable suffering is not.

Physical pain you should employ standard medical treatments

If pain persists during meditation notice there are two things present, the physical pain and your resistance to it.

Mindfulness never exists by itself. It always has some object and one object is as good as another. Pain is a mental state. You can be mindful of pain just as you are mindful of breathing.

Numbness in your legs is nothing to worry about it is caused by nerve pinching not by lack of circulation.

Inquisitive awareness is the opposite of drowsiness and will evaporate it.

Mindfulness is never boring, it looks at everything with the eyes of a child with the sense of wonder.

Regard meditation as your friend

DEALING WITH DISTRACTIONS

Time gauging – gauge the length of time you were distracted

Deep breaths – reestablish mindfulness with deep breaths when mind is agitated and wild

Counting – to reestablish mindfulness

In out method – alternative to breath counting

Canceling one thought with another – skillful thoughts vs. Unskillful, not good vs. Bad, examine the emotional response, ponder it, see how it hinders you from liberation, and use an ANTIDOTE

Recalling your purpose

“I’m not sitting here to waste time with these thoughts. I’m here to focus my mind on the breath, which is universal and common to all living beings.”

When you first sit down you will be struck by how busy the mind is. A distraction in insight meditation is any preoccupation that pulls the attention off the breath. When any mental state arises strongly enough to distract you from the object of meditation switch your attention to the distraction briefly. Make the distraction the temporary object of meditation. TEMPORARY. Breath will always be the primary focus but switch your attention to the distraction just so you can notice: what is it? How strong is it? How long does it last? As soon as you wordlessly answer these questions return to yoru breath. These questions are not an invitation to mental chatter. Nonconceptual experience of breath.

Mindfulness is a function that disarms distractions. Shine the light of awareness on them and they evaporate. Distractions are paper tigers they have no power on their own they need to be fed in order to survive. Be mindful of what is occurring. Don’t try to control what is occurring. From the point of view of mindfulness there really is no such thing as a distraction. Whatever arises in the mind is just another opportunity to cultivate mindfulness.

The purpose of meditation is to achieve uninterrupted mindfulness. Buddhist philosophy has organized distractions into categories.

Observe the mental states, each has a birth, grow and decay. Even the good states you should observe that they arise and pass away.

Thoughts pertaining to “me” “my” etc. Have no place in direct awareness. If you leave I out of the operation pain is not painful, it is just pure surging energy flow. See each sensation, experience it fully in its natural, unadulterated form.

Mindfulness grows by the exercise of mindfulness. It is like exercising a muscle. Every time you work at it you pump it up just a little.

MINDFULNESS (SATI)

Words are only fingers pointing at the moon they are not the moon itself. The actual experience lies beyond the words.

When you first become aware of something there is a fleeting moment of pure awareness before you conceptualize it, before you identify it, that is a stage of mindfulness. Flash where you experience a thing as an un-thing.

Mindfulness is an impartial watchfulness. It does not get hung up in what is perceived. It just perceives. It is nonconceptual awareness. Another english term for “sati” is bare attention. It is not thinking and it does not get involved with thoughts or concepts or ideas or memory—it just looks.

It is the wakeful experience of life, an alert participation in the ongoing process of living.

Three fundamental activities of mindfulness: 1. Reminds us of what we are supposed to be doing 2. It sees things as they really are 3. It sees the deep nature of all phenomena

Mindfulness is at one and the same time both bare attention itself and the function of reminding us to pay bare attention if we have ceased to do so.

Mindfulness distorts nothing. Conscious thought loads us down with concepts and ideas.

Only mindfulness can teach the three prime characteristics that Buddhism teaches are the deepest truths of existence: anicca (impermanence) all conditioned things are transitory; dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) every worldly thing is in the end unsatisfying; anatta (selflessness) there are no entities that are unchanging only processes.

Appamada is another pali word translated as mindfulness which means non-negligence or an absence of madness. One who attends constantly to what is really going on in one’s mind achieves the state of ultimate sanity.

CONCENTRATION VS. MINDFULNESS

Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions. Concentration is a forced type of activity, it can be developed by willpower. Mindfulness is a delicate function leading to refined sensibilities. Mindfulness is the sensitive one. Concentration is the power. Concentration keeps the attention pinned down to one item. If either is weak meditation goes astray. Concentration needs mindfulness to understand.

Mindfulness is cultivated by gently pulling oneself back to a state of awareness.

MEDITATION IN EVERY DAY LIFE

Seated meditation is practice for the game.

Faith and Freshness in the Practice

A few weeks ago I ran out of toilet paper and it was just after 10pm so I went to the liquor store on the corner of 26th and Church a few houses down from the small studio I was renting for the month in San Francisco. As I went to the counter to purchase my toilet paper there was an inebriated woman ahead of me and when she turned around my automatic reaction was to look her straight in her eye with a smile and send her waves of love and compassion from the depths of my heart. Five years ago my automatic reaction would have probably been to look away and think about how she was a drunk for a few seconds, forget about her and continue going about my business. This incident was just more experiential proof that dharma practice does change you and while I am far from being any sort of Buddha I’m a hell of a better person than I was ten years ago and authentic, genuine instances like this reinforce my faith, commitment and dedication to the path of transformation.

At the moment I’m at San Diego airport and just hours before I had left Deer Park monastery (http://www.deerparkmonastery.org/) a practice center in Escondido in the tradition of my beloved teacher, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, poet, and Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. My retreat at Deer Park was the culminating event of close to two months of travel and my first extended trip to North America in four years. I’ve been living in India for the past four years and the purpose of this trip was to connect with individuals in the Mindfulness in Education field in the States and attend a Brain Development and Learning conference in Vancouver. The majority of my time was spent back to the Bay area, where I lived before I moved to India in June of 2006. In step with the usual occurrences of my life what has transpired in the past two months is usually what one would anticipate might happen over the course of 5 years but I’m embracing the birth of many new possibilities and doing my best to remain grounded in the present and remain true to my integrity while planting seeds for the future. As I sit here in a Starbucks attempting to gather my reflections and notes from my time in North America my heart is filled with gratitude, wonder and I’m just brimming with joy. I can’t help but smile to myself and laugh a little because the older I get the more I realize the importance of letting go and just riding the waves of the universe—she’ll take care of you if you let her and all you need to do is remain deeply connected to your heart. As I continue to water the seeds of “gratitude” and “letting go” life only seems to get richer.  I’ve been fortunate enough this summer to connect with countless sources of inspiration like Jon Kabat-Zinn, the monastic Brothers and Sisters at Deer Park, key individuals in the Mindfulness in Education field and I also had an opportunity to hear Bob Thurman and Marianne Williamson speak in New York. I managed to make countless new connections professionally and personally, the future of which will unfold in unimaginable ways I’m sure. But most importantly I spent time with beautiful friends and family some I haven’t seen in many years. These timeless friendships are what bring the most meaning to my life and I’m reminded of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s emphasis on mindfulness as relationality in Vancouver and my dear Dharma brother, Brian, who I met at Deer Park’s understanding of mindfulness as intimacy.

Three months before my 29th birthday I sat under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, heart wide open and eyes filled with tears of joy because I had found my path, and as obnoxious as this might sound, a sense of confidence that if the Buddha could do it I could too and my sole purpose in life is to try and bring happiness to all sentient beings and work towards a collective awakening. (I guess it’s fitting that the dharma name I’ve been given is “Pure Confidence of the Heart.”) I haven’t sought out my “path” but it found me and while I have a lot to learn and a long way to go there is no doubt that bringing mindfulness to education is what I’m meant to do with my life. But in the past months in the States before my time at Deer Park even though I was maintaining a relatively healthy lifestyle and daily meditation I was not nourishing my practice as well as I could and my last day in Vancouver I even had to ditch the brain conference and do a few hours of walking meditation to get in touch with the wholesome seeds within me and cultivate a sense of freshness in my practice.

This morning one of the elder Brother’s spoke about a talk my teacher had given this summer in Germany where he urged his students to “be in touch with the power and energy of the aspiration of your practice so it can light the fire of your heart” and support you in your practice. The power and energy of my aspiration was fully alive when I was under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya but during the past 18 months the freshness and vitality has definitely lessened. My time at Deer Park reinforced the importance of keeping that same degree of enthusiasm alive to support my practice. In a teaching once, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When the Buddha was asked, ‘Who are you?’ He answered, “I am your freshness.” So why do we practice? To continue to be in touch with the freshness of our aspiration. But intention isn’t enough the elder Brother reminded us. We must also cultivate our capacity to drive that intention otherwise our mind can run interference and here is where the practice of mindfulness is crucial. Nowadays with Buddhism being very popular it is important to be careful about our consumption. He cautioned the importance of getting past reading and immersing ourselves in our practice—this is key because in the world there is more support for consumption than practice. Our actions of body speech and mind are our only true belongings and the ground in which we stand and we continue on in other through the way we live our lives.

At Deer Park we went back to the basics. At the core, mindfulness involves coming back to your breath and being aware. One of the Brothers said that the basic practice of mindful breathing is like singing/playing scales and this really resonated with me. It was also wonderful being in the space of individuals who were touching the Buddha Dharma for the first time. On my last day I met a wonderful young woman who had come to the retreat after being introduced to mindfulness through Dialectical Behavior Therapy but her therapist lacked grounding in mindfulness practice. Having had a few suicide attempts this young woman was suffering greatly and when we spoke her face was glowing and she told me that the retreat has helped her tremendously and now she really has an understanding of how mindfulness practice can transform one’s life. Through breathing we can hear our feelings. The breath is the anchor and by stopping (cultivating awareness) and looking deeply one can calm their emotions and body and understand their mind better and allow it to heal. In the age of multitasking it is also wise to remember as one of the Sisters reminded us, “We really cannot do more than one thing at a time moment by moment.”

Being a social person, while in San Francisco I thoroughly enjoyed connecting with individuals my age and had fun “going out” but I didn’t meet too many young people connected with the dharma but at the retreat there for more than 50 people under the age of 35 and this was so wonderful for me! When I took refuge with my root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, I made a commitment to practicing mindfulness trainings which are a modern interpretation of the Buddha’s original 5 precepts (don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, don’t take intoxicants) that a dharma sister at the retreat described as, “not commandments but an invitation to a better way of living.” It was a joy to be in the same space as other young people who have made that same commitment to have more awareness of how we live and reinforcement that true dharma practice is more a change in lifestyle and we do need to hold and protect our practice in order to help and serve others.

The Abbot spoke about how if you don’t know how your mind works then you will be ruled by it but if you know how your mind works then you can guide it.  When you are mindful you are mindful of something like an object or a mental occurrence and this is the heart of Buddhist meditation. In the Satipatthana Sutra the Four Establishments of Mindfulness involve the body, sensations which are either pleasant/unpleasant/neutral, mind (thoughts/emotions), dharmas (teachings).

Each of us has a little Buddha inside but sometimes we are cluttered by emotions and situations. It has been my experience that cultivating and strengthening this mindfulness energy allows myself to be more skillful (though I have a LONG way to go) in handling all aspects of my life. The Monastics reinforced that if you cultivate this energy and you have more concentration you are less pulled away by strong emotions.  The Abbot also spoke about right mindfulness which involves intelligence, selection and watering our good seeds and this contributes to the re-patterning I experienced when I encountered the inebriated woman when I was buying toilet paper.

The purpose of the retreat at Deer Park was to cultivate a culture of awakening. The present moment manifests the next moment and what we do now can create a better future. Cultivating a culture of awakening is also at the core of what Bob Thurman and Marianne Williamson spoke about in New York. Essentially it was a discussion about compassion in our time from the Buddhist view and a “Course in Miracles”. We suffer because of our ignorance. For example, our true enemy is not another person but rather, hatred and we must understand how to work with and transform that hatred. From the perspective of the “Course in Miracles,” the present moment is an endless eternity, reality is infinite and love is all that is. Our ego is the temptation to perceive without love and every moment we have a choice of whether or not we will give birth to fear or love. Miracles are an expression of love and arise from conviction and our job is simple: Bring love to the world.

At one of the world’s largest brain conferences I had the honor and privilege to introduce Jon Kabat-Zinn who pioneered bringing mindfulness into the mainstream and the most beautiful blend of researcher/practitioner I’ve ever met. He developed MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and in the past 30 years more than 18,000 individuals have completed this program at the UMASS Medical Center which consists of 3 formal practices of sitting meditation, body scan, mindful yoga and informal practices like mindfulness in everyday life using your breath to cultivate awareness and presence. A number of studies have supported the effectiveness of his program but research in this field is emerging. While at the brain conference in Vancouver my roommate, a Clinical Psychologist, and I wrote a short piece “Current trends in mindfulness research: Backing up the practice with science” that will be included in a few publications. Epigenetics (the alterations in gene expressions as a result of environmental influences) and neuroplasticity (the brain’s capacity to change, both in structure and function, as a result of life experience and volitional training) are two areas in particular that seem to support the benefits of mindfulness practice. When I introduced him at the brain conference I broke with tradition and invited the bell before he spoke in true Thich Nhat Hanh fashion. He actually used my meditation bell throughout his presentation to give the audience an experiential understanding of mindfulness. In his presentation he notes that awareness may be the final common pathway of what makes us human. Our whole education system refines critical thinking but where is the education that cultivates and refines awareness itself?

In Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, Jon writes, “It turns out that we all have, lying deep within us, in our hearts and in our very bones, a capacity for a dynamic, vital, sustaining inner peacefulness and wellbeing and fore a huge, innate, multifaceted intelligence that goes way beyond the merely conceptual. When we mobilize and refine that capacity and put it to use, we are much healthier physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And much happier. Even our thinking becomes clearer and we are less plagued by storms in the mind.”

Jon spoke about finding our true calling and a job that we would pay to do. I’ve found that. I know why I’m here and I deeply grateful. I feel incredibly blessed to have found mindfulness practice and to have complete certainty, faith and confidence in it. It is the verified faith in the practice that gives me the ease to continue moving forward with great uncertainty and a deep sense of wonder. I’ve always trusted my heart and lived to never have regrets. Within my first days of being back in the Bay area I knew with complete certainty that this upcoming year in India would be my last in this capacity. Knowing that it will be my last I can cherish each moment as the gift it truly is.

Today I had the honor and privilege to attend a dharma discourse given by one of the great masters in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Sogyal Rinpoche and what follows is a synopsis of my notes from his teaching. He had recently returned from teaching in Bhutan and Sikkim. Bhutan is the only Buddhist kingdom in the world he felt it is necessary to “set the record straight” while there to especially the younger generation that Buddhism is not just ceremonies and monks praying. He’s known for giving teachings that are relevant to the modern mind.

His work, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, just might be the most important text I’ve ever read. I feel so blessed to have been in his presence which literally lit up the auditorium at the India International Center. I was lucky enough to sit in the center of the front row where I witnessed his radiant face in close proximity. His smile and laughter was infectious and he literally looked like a “Laughing Buddha!” He remarked that there is a purpose in his “sillyness” and the few hours spent with him felt like an act of grace. He urged us all to listen with our whole being to his discourse and to not get caught up on the words. Instead we must tune into his being, and his presence. As he called upon us to do this he mentioned “mirror neurons” which dissolve the barrier between “self” and “other” and are often referred to as “empathy neurons” or “Dalai Lama neurons.”

He began his discourse by saying that the right attitude to have when attending a teaching is to not think about what you might gain but rather what your are going to lose. We must drop our preconceived ideas. The title of the discourse was “Gaining confidence in our innate wisdom” and in order to have confidence in our innate wisdom we must first understand our true nature.

In order to understand our true nature we must realize the essence of mind. The mind is the root of everything and it is the universal ordering principle. It is the mind that creates samsara or nirvana, happiness or suffering. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that Buddhism is about transforming the mind. Transforming the mind calls upon us to first look inwardly and investigate our mind.  Samsara is the mind turned outwardly and nirvana is the mind turned inwardly.

Meditation is the process of coming to know the mind so we can have an ultimate realization of our ultimate nature. Distraction is exactly what meditation is not. We can remove the cause of suffering if we don’t want suffering by engaging in mind training.  Happiness is knowledge, wisdom and developing our positive emotions. All fear and anxiety come from an untamed mind. Through taming the mind and cultivating virtue we can transform our lives and situations for the better. Mind training calls upon us to think before we act and in all of our actions examine our mind. When you throw a dog a stone he runs after it but if you throw a stone at a lion he ignores the stone but runs after the person who threw the stone.

The fundamental Buddhist philosophy is interdependence and the fundamental Buddhist conduct is non-harming. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “My religion is simple, it is kindness.” Following the principle of interdependence when we harm others we are harming ourselves and when we blame others we fail to see the various causes and conditions that contribute to everything. Understanding interdependence can inspire altruism.

Sogyal Rinpoche also had some very insightful comments about compassion. He made the distinction between compassion and pity and stressed that compassion is affinity. He quoted Nelson Mandela who said that a good heart and a good head are a formidable combination. In the Buddhist context compassion is both empathy and reason and this creates a dynamic combination. Most importantly, compassion is not just good for others but good for ourselves. When we practice compassion our mind is transformed. For example, if we focused our thoughts on the following mantra when we encounter others, “May you be well. May you be happy,” then our mind will be filled with love.

As he spoke he made it clear that we all have potential for enlightenment and our ground is Buddha nature but what binds us is our grasping. Water if you don’t stir it becomes clear.  Wisdom is purified perception and as we practice and train our minds then our view will change. Our view transforms according to our understanding.

When he gave practical guidance with respect to meditation he said that we shouldn’t fight thoughts. We should let them be when we sit but not get involved like a non-stick frying pan! He also said that his practice center in France houses a huge Buddha and when his students are confused the size of the Buddha reminds them that the Buddha is bigger than their confusion. Whenever I’m confused from now on I will remember this thought and the large Buddha in Bodh Gaya.

Rinpoche also stressed the importance of asking questions pertaining to his teaching. One Indian man asked about “who is the who looking when he is examining the mind.” I loved how Rinpoche said, “Don’t be clever, just look.” In response to a question about “guru yoga” Rinpoche said that guru yoga is uniting your mind with the wisdom of all the Buddhas and I found this explanation very inspiring.

At the end of the teaching he said that all of us had changed by the end of his discourse. Even if we didn’t realize it, we had changed. At one point he looked deeply in the eyes of everyone in the auditorium and we sat in silence after a brief meditation.

He closed by saying: “The dharma is fun, inspiring, incredible and really the source of happenings. The teachings are just love and compassion.”

When Rinpoche looked at me I just felt love. I will treasure being in his presence and keep his blessings in my heart.

May I share the merits of this teaching with all sentient beings.

This evening I met the late Professor Ramchandra Gandhi’s brother, Rajmohan at the India International Center here in Delhi. Professor Gandhi is the single most influential person in my life so it was very meaningful for me to meet his brother. When I mentioned that his brother would speak to me in Tamil he also spoke a few words of Tamil to me and I could see Ramu Mama’s vivid continuation in his warm smile and polished demeanor. The event was chaired by the former Indian Ambassador to the United States, Lalit Mansingh. Professor Gandhi is a Research Professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and he also served as a member of the Indian Parliament.

Rajmohan Gandhi spoke about his latest book, A Tale of Two Revolts, where he compares the 1857 revolt in India and the US Civil War. The Civil War began in 1861 just a few years after the 1857 revolt. Rajmohan Gandhi wrote this book for his own curiosity and didn’t set out to prove anything or establish any theories. He just wanted to journey to that period of time. Both Karl Marx and Leo Tolstoy had strong views about both historical events. The India-America story is fairly fresh and many cite Bill Clinton’s historical visit as the beginning of a relationship between the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest. Rajmohan-ji was interested in seeing if there were any links that could be drawn between these two nations in the mid-1800s. As a social studies teacher with a keen interest in both India and America I found his talk fascinating.

His talk detailed aspects of his book including the rivalry between the US and Britain back then and similarities between the American notion of “Manifest Destiny” and Dalhousie’s very own  ideas of Westward Expansion in India. Expansion in India could make up for the loss of America in the eyes of Dalhousie. He also discussed that his book focused heavily on the writings of journalist, Wililam Howard Russell, a correspondent for the London Times during the mid-1800s. In a way, his book looked at the US and India through the eyes of this journalist.

One of the final points he made was a comparison between Abraham Lincoln and the leaders of the 1857 revolt. He argues that Lincoln was able to speak to the whole of American and tried to reconcile divisions and break polarization. However, in India the nation was deeply divided, polarization tremendous and no one spoke to “all” of India–this could be the reason why the revolt ultimately failed.

He concluded with how a lesson can be drawn from this comparison to the times of today and he spoke about the Naxalites and the suppression of them by the Indian government. Lincoln was able to in many ways at least speak to all sides which is something we still fail to do in India. I asked him how teachers can use this comparison he has made between India and America in the mid-1800s to support his brother’s vision of a socially engaged Advaita Vedanta. He urged me to re-examine the Gettysburg address and read Lincoln’s second inaugural address because both of these documents are masterpieces of literature and statesmanship that speak to “the other side” in an inclusive way.

What follows is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Fellow-Countrymen: AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the causeof the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.