Friday, January 24, 2014

The Deep Habit of Forgetfulness

From Thich Nhat Hanh, “Touching the Earth, Intimate Conversations with Buddha.”
Page 27

Lord Buddha, I recognize my deep habit energy of forgetfulness. I often allow my mind to think about the past, so that I drown in sorrow and regret.  This has caused me to lose so many opportunities to be in touch with the wonderful things of life present only in this moment.  I know there are many of us whose past has become our prison.  Our time is spent complaining or regretting what we have lost.  This robs us of the opportunity to be in touch with the refreshing, beautiful, and wonderful things that could nourish and transform us in the present moment.  We are not able to be in touch with the blue sky, the white clouds, the green willow, the yellow flowers, the sound of the wind in the pine trees, the sound of the running brook, the sound of the singing birds, and the sound of the laughing children in the early morning sunlight.  We are also not able to be in touch with the wonderful things in our own selves.”

“The deep habit of forgetfulness”
Sometimes mindfulness is translated as remembering.  Do I remember the deeper meaning of life as I go through the day?  Do I remember to observe myself when my greed, anger and ignorance are playing themselves out?  Am I aware enough to transform them?  This transformation happens is in the small moments of our daily life.  There is no other place we can enact our enlightenment.  This requires a tremendous attention and intention to observe myself throughout the day.  Lately, I have been practicing stopping at least three times a day, to meditate, to notice my feelings and to reconnect with “enoughness.”  When I allow this practice to happen in the rush of my busy life, I’m amazed at the satisfaction in life I can find for myself.  I am using the visualization of the center knob in the Wheel of Life and Death.  The Center knob is greed, anger and ignorance in a continuous circle.  When one of these arise, all three are present.  And if and when we grab onto them, we turn the whole wheel from the center hub.  When is my hand on that knob?

“I drown in sorrow and regret.”
Our personality structure is unique and made from many conditions as we are growing up.  One of these is our ethnicity and culture.  Did our culture and our family dwell on the negative or the positive, each with the corresponding denial.  A negative personality can’t see the positive beauty of life shining through.  The positive personality often denies or is out of touch with suffering.  Knowing yourself, you can begin to find practices that help balance you so that you can bring awareness and wisdom to the total picture. 

Has our past become a prison? 
I find that zazen and in particular longer zazen retreats, helps me to digest my past.  Honest self-reflection helps me to be at peace with my past.  Part of spirituality is digesting the conditions of our childhoods and past, so we are not held by them or in some cases tortured by them.  Sometimes this is called a purification process or a clearing process.  We are open to be a vehicle for the Buddha-dharma.  We are freer to find our role as adults and to be free enough to serve others.

Because I have always been a “half empty” person, I have been using the mantra, “Half full.  Half full!”  I am now trying to see my life and current conditions as half full.  This allows my mind to be full of gratitude, which really allows me to be less self-involved and more open to things as they are.
In addition, I have been using a sympathetic joy phrase, which again helps me not to dwell on suffering and my evaluations of dissatisfaction, and helps me place my mind on goodness.  The phrase I have been using is:  “May this success and happiness continue and grow. “  Even when, in my judgment, the situation is difficult or “bad”, I try to find the success and happiness in the same situation and pray that it continues and grows.  It’s a very different prayer, kind of upside-down.


Be in touch with the refreshing, beautiful and wonderful things that could nourish and transform us in the present moment.

One of the reasons Thich Nhat Hanh is so deep with such a beautiful practice is that his practice was born out of the very deep suffering of the Viet Nam War.  He really is a person whose horrible memories and suffering of the past could have drown him.  Instead, he exemplifies a practice that is open to beauty and nourishment.  He does not deny suffering, but is an example of overcoming it.  He works ceaselessly to teach us all how to do the same.   I am learning to place my mind on true nourishment - the sweet nectar of the dharma that is always at hand.  With this true nourishment, I can face my suffering and other’s suffering with a measure of equanimity and sincere compassion.  We must allow ourselves opportunities to become refreshed by the dharma and that is Buddha’s promise to us, that suffering, though not denied, can be transformed.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Exhaling and dissolving.

Here are some quotes from Suzuki Roshi in “Not Always So” (chapter: Calmness of Mind) that emphasizes working with the exhale while meditating:

Calmness of mind is beyond the end of your exhalation.  If you exhale smoothly, without even trying to exhale, you are entering into the complete perfect calmness of your mind.  You do not exist anymore.

Inhaling without effort you naturally come back to yourself with some color or form.  Exhaling, you gradually fade into emptiness – empty, white paper.  That is shikantaza.  The important point is your exhalation.  Instead of trying to feel yourself as you inhale, fade into emptiness as you exhale.

To take care of the exhalation is very important.  To die is more important than trying to be alive.  When we always try to be alive, we have trouble. Rather than trying to be alive or active, if we can be calm and die or fade away into emptiness, then naturally we will be all right.  Buddha will take care of us.  Because we have lost our mother’s bosom, we do not feel like her child anymore.  Yet fading away into emptiness can feel like being at our mother’s bosom, and we will feel as though she will take care of us.  Moment after moment, do not lose this practice of shikantaza”

This is very impressive quote to me.  It is in alignment with the fourth Tetrad of the Anapanasati Sutra.  The Anapanasati Sutra is composed of sixteen contemplations, which divide rather neatly into four sets of four:  The body group, the feelings group, the mind group, and the wisdom group.  They are in a “somewhat” developmental order in that mindfulness of the physical movements of the breath is the first emphasis in any concentration practice.  The feelings group is becoming sensitive to rapture and joy in meditation and then calming or letting go of rapture.  The third group is the mind group – becoming aware of the mind, gladdening the mind, steadying the mind, and liberating the mind.  (See “Breath by Breath” by Larry Rosenberg.  This is a book Clouds in Water studied several years ago).

The fourth group the wisdom group is very similar to Suzuki Roshi’s quote above.

From a Thich Nhat Hanh translation:

13. I am breathing in and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas.  I am breathing out and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas.  He practices like this.

14.  I am breathing in and observing the fading of all dharmas.  I am breathing out and observing the fading of all dharmas.  She practices like this.

15.  I am breathing in and observing liberation (cessation). I am breathing out and observing liberation (cessation).  He practices like this.

16. I am breathing in and observing letting go (relinquishment).  I am breathing out and observing letting go (relinquishment).  She practices like this.

This sutra demonstrates how the breath can take you all the way to the deepest realizations.  The breath often is used as the first object of concentration.  But it also can practiced as a complete teaching which leads to insight.

In Larry Rosenberg’s book, he writes about Buddhadasa’s approach to breath practice and its use for going all the way to realization.  He writes:

When we got to the thirteenth contemplation – which concerns impermanence, this is where real vipassana begins – he said that Anapanasati was one of the simplest and most effective means for realizing emptiness.”

Buddhadasa said: “There is no question that breathing is taking place.  Can you see that there is no breather to be found anywhere?  The body is empty, the breath is empty and you are empty.”


Perhaps this is where Zen and Vipassana meet.  Where the Mahayana and the Theravada come to the same conclusion.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Express yourself fully

I have been reading “Not Always So” by Suzuki Roshi and found some interesting words on Time.  They go along with what I have been working with for the past years but with a slightly different slant.

From Suzuki Roshi, page 8,

“When you live completely in each moment, without expecting anything, you have no idea of time.  When you are involved in an idea of time – today, tomorrow, or next year – selfish practice begins.  When you are faithful to the dharma position you are in or faithful to the work that you are doing right now, your true being is there.  This is very important.
Without any idea of time, your practice goes on and on.  Moment after moment you become you yourself…….The way to extend your practice is to expose yourself as you are, without trying to be someone else.  When you are very honest with yourself and brave enough, you can express yourself fully.

Our way is not to criticize others but to know and appreciate them.  If you continue practicing together, and your mind is big enough to expose yourself and to accept others, naturally you will become good friends.

We can extend this practice to city life and be good friends with one another.  This is not difficult when you decide to be honest with yourself and express yourself fully, without expecting anything.   Just being yourself and being ready to understand others is how to extend your practice into everyday life.”

I am moved by Suzuki Roshi’s emphasis on being completely yourself in the present moment.  That means we welcome any and all conditions within and without. We accept what our karma is bringing up.  Radical Acceptance.  When we stop fighting or wishing to change things, we settle into the self.  We can also feel our true being is right here!

Suzuki Roshi says that we have to be brave and honest with ourselves and to accept others.
That goes along with the precept:  See the perfection.  Do not speak of others’ errors or faults.  I am teaching the precepts again now and still I think I’m such a long way from learning to live the kind of life which doesn’t speak of others’ errors or faults.  I laugh, I would have to change entirely the way I speak.  But I have taken this vow, and I will bring my awareness to it.

To be “settled into the self” is to live life in this radical acceptance-  each moment is its own life and I can show up for it without evaluation or expectation.  Without any idea of time, I can show up for the perfection of the moment and show up for my true self which includes everything.