Notes about the Dharmapalian site

Aside

Hi Friends:

Since several people have asked, here’s what’s up with this site.  Under Buddha, you will find handouts intended to support meditation practice, including basic instructions, the full metta recitation, and a summary of the Brahmaviharas (metta/lovingkindness, karuna/compassion, mudita/gladness, upekkha/equanimity).  The Dharma page includes material and links to teachings.  The Sangha page has information about classes and practice groups.

Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are the Three Jewels where we can go for refuge.  Buddha means the awakened mind, all awakened beings, and the (semi)historical Buddha.  Dharma means the body of teachings leading to liberation from suffering.  Sangha means the community– local, global, and cosmic– of practitioners and awakened beings, rather like the Communion of Saints.

Small Nonharmings

A few days ago I graduated from seminary with a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. Most of my colleagues were in the Master of Divinity program, intending to be ordained ministers. As we sat together on the Quad for Commencement, a classmate sitting behind me whispered to me that there was a spider on my cap. I had sort of noticed the spider, but it didn’t bother me. Another student, one becoming a Master of Divinity, tapped the spider onto his program. I turned around and whispered, “Don’t kill it! Don’t kill it!” He smashed it between the pages of the program with a little crunch. Then he was awarded the degree Master of Divinity. Sometime soon he will be ordained to lead a Christian community.

I’m curious about the impact of these micro killings. We may not love all beings equally, but it is possible to love more than we do now.  How about starting with questioning microkillings?  The effect of doing a harmful thing is not limited to the immediate harm. Causing harm makes it easier to cause harm again. Doing nonharm makes it easier to do nonharm again.

Ending a life that has nothing to do with us is so easy, so normative, that it isn’t part of any ethics discussion in seminary, except perhaps as an absurdity, the point at which one’s position is exhausted. When we kill intentionally, pointlessly, and reflexively, we play out moral damage to ourselves by making the next killing, the next violent rejection of the Other, easy too.

Theological Superhero

Theological Superhero!  The Academic Hood: Scarlet for Theology, Blue and Gold for My Alma Mater

Love Song to Late-Night Worriers

O Late-Night Worriers
Wrap your hands in mine. Let us prowl the dark empty rooms;
Let us turn on just enough lights to make the bugs scatter.
Dear Mary, Mother of God, do you still listen to late-night worriers;
Kwan Yin, do you still hear the cries of the world?
In the late night, tired of myself, I ask: Is it possible that anyone else has worries too?
Yes.
Then who are they, my companions? They are mothers and fathers longtime jobless,
Lonely people, diagnosed people, we who never got our act together.

Worriers, let us seek together for mercy
In every corner. I know we will find scraps of it here and there, in the most forgotten places.
Let us be found by mercy.

Going on a Date with the First Noble Truth

I’ve been dating, using an online matching service. I’ve corresponded with and met some people that I’ve liked (most of whom I never heard from again), some that I have not liked (some of whom have wanted a second date), and some that I can’t tell how I feel about them. Intimate relationships, and the quest for them, are perfect examples of the First Noble Truth: there is suffering (dukkha in Pali).
The First Noble Truth does not say that all of life is suffering, but it does call our attention to the fact that life always involves suffering. Being separated from what we want is stressful. The presence of what we do not want is stressful. Things and people that do not arouse strong preferences tend to result in confusion or ignoring, which is stressful. So the three basic responses to situations- liking, disliking, and neutrality- bring a certain amount of suffering with them.
This is not a sign that something is wrong. It is natural and inherent in human incarnation to like, dislike, and not notice, and to experience the stress induced by each of these responses. Getting some perspective on ourselves through compassionate observation of the mind and body brings us to insight into the Second Noble Truth: stress has causes, and the causes are knowable.
In this flesh, liking, disliking, and neutrality will not end, but we can end the additional stress we create when we turn liking into grasping, disliking into rejection, and neutrality into confusion. We can stop the pattern of reinforcing suffering and experience joy instead. This is the Third Noble Truth.
The Fourth Noble Truth says that the way to end suffering, the way to make room for joy, is to treat ourselves and others well, to cultivate wholesome mental states, and to develop insight into the impermanent nature of everything we experience in the flesh and mind. In terms of dating, this means doing my best to be kind and clear when saying “no,” not taking it personally when things don’t go my way, and carefully observing the mind and the body for the lessons they are offering. Dating, for me at least, is a crucible of the Four Noble Truths.
Look around in your relationships for evidence of the Four Noble Truths. Is there stress? Does stress have causes, namely grasping, rejecting, and confusion? Is there joy? Does joy have causes? If you are not dating, you may not have the benefit of the immediacy of these lessons. If you look at whatever relationships you are in, as lover, worker, parent, child, or friend, you may still see evidence of these truths. See for yourself if they bear out.

If I See One More Picture of a Meditator at Sunset…

Do a quick Google Images search for pictures of people meditating. Apparently meditation is for people who are wearing yoga clothes, sitting cross legged on a mountain top beach or at sunset.

MeditationThe irony is that pictures from popular media are used to market an idealized self, the very self that actual meditation will dismantle as practice deepens. When we practice sincerely and with commitment, we let go of the Perfect Meditator in the Perfect Circumstances. Idealized self-image and idealized surroundings cannot perfect the mind. We have all already tried that strategy, and it failed. The mind ripens through treating ourselves and others well (ethics, or sila), concentration (samadhi), and compassionate wisdom (panna).

My house is a mess. Rather than fleeing to the beach, or waiting until my house is tidy before I can meditate, I need to sit down in the mess. Do not be ashamed or aversive to anything that is true about your experience. Part of enlightenment means being transparent, accepting all that we are, including our shadows. Live ethically, concentrate, and develop compassionate wisdom, in whatever body, whatever room, whatever circumstance you have now.

 

Mental Cultivation: Working with Impermanence

If you have been practicing meditation for some time, you may feel you have reached a plateau. In the Theravada tradition, practice has a goal: cessation of suffering. More precisely, cessation of suffering is a result of cultivating the mind. We can move off a habitual plateau toward a more mature relationship with the mind.

Fist, a word about “meditation.” The term evokes images of sitting still and feeling attentive and possibly blissful. However, it is a poor translation. The ancient terms are more accurately rendered “cultivation” or even “work.” The terms come from agriculture and refer to the work involved in cultivating a field. What we refer to as meditation is not supposed to be a passive process. It means working the mind in a skillful way to allow certain crops to grow. Just as a farmer must both labor in the field and allow the crop to grow of its own accord, a meditator must both work the mind and allow the mind to unfold naturally.

We often begin by meditating on the breath. This object of meditation has the benefit of grounding us in the senses (mindfulness) as well as developing stability (concentration). As beneficial as this practice is, it is not the end, just as planting is not the end of cultivation. To move closer to harvesting a ripe, mature freedom from suffering, we need additional skills and tools, as well as the diligence to use them.

A major reason for our suffering is that we object to impermanence, yet impermanence is inherent in all conditions. What we think of as the self changes, and anything conditioned that we cling to will disappoint us. Jesus taught that a foolish person builds his house upon shifting sands, while a wise person builds upon rock. The shifting sands are conditioned, changeable phenomena. The rock is clarity plus love. Clarity about what? About nonself, impermanence, and inability of conditioned things to provide unconditional joy.

To meditate on impermanence, try examining everything that arises in the senses, including in the mind itself, to see whether it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Is this sound permanent? Is this scent permanent? Is this thought permanent? Look for impermanence in everything that happens. Does the bath water stay the same? Are we always pleased or displeased by the same circumstances? When we see impermanence, we see dhamma (dharma), truth of the way things are. We gain clarity. Change is less shocking, and we are less at war with reality. We are less likely to base our hope on things that cannot deliver.

Retreat this Saturday, May 11

There is still time to register for this Saturday, May 11! I’ll be leading a retreat on “Four Freeing Attitudes: Kindness, Compassion, Appreciation, and Equanimity.” The retreat will be held at Hazelbrand Farm in Covington, Georgia, about 40 minutes east of Decatur. The weather should be good for low pollen and enjoying the farm during walking periods. Registration and more information are at http://www.may11retreat.eventbrite.com.