Sunday, October 30, 2016

Abiding Independently and the Bahiya Sutta

These are notes taken from studying Joseph Goldstein's book, "Mindfulness"
This is the last part of chapter 6.

The last sentence of the refrain is:
And one abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world”
This line encapsulates the whole path.

Abiding independently means
that the mind is not attached to any arising experience, either through craving or views.

Pali word tanha- desire, craving and sometimes translated as thirst
Thirst has the embodied urgency of this powerful state of mind.

We learn through practice two levels:
·      Birth and death, existence and nonexistence, self and other, are the great defining themes of our lives
·      On another level, we see that all experience is just a show of empty appearances
Not being attached through views
And, most fundamentally, through the view of self.

The Bahiya Sutta or the discourse to Bahiya

The story of Bahiya:
Shipwrecked on the southern coast of India, where he lost everything
With no clothes, he covered himself with bark.
People who saw him honored him as a “holy man” an arahant, or fully enlightened being and he came to believe it himself.
He did this for years
And then some devas, celestial beings, who were former companions came and told him that not only was he not an arahant, but not even on the path to becoming one.
They told him to seek the Buddha.
Bahiya requested teachings of the Buddha three times.
On the third time, Bahiya said, “Lord, you may die.  I may die.  Please teach me now.”

Buddha said:

In the seen there is only the seen,
In the heard, there is only the heard,
In the sensed (smell, taste, and touch), there is only the sensed,
In the cognized, there is only the cognized:
This, Bahiya, is how you should train yourself.

When Bahiya, there is for you
In the seen only the senm,
In the heard only the heard,
In the sensed only the sensed,
In the cognized only the cognized,
Them Bahiya, there is no “you”
In connection with all that.

When, Bahiya, there is no “you”
In connection with that,
There is no “you” there.

When, Bahiya, there is no “you ”there,
Then, Bahiya, you are neither here nor there
Nor in between the two.

This, just this, is the end of suffering.

This is the quality of bare knowledge.  We do not add on evaluating or proliferating different sense impressions. When we practice in this way, we understand the selfless nature of phenomenon – with no “you” there – and we live abiding independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

Friday, October 28, 2016

On Establishing the continuity of Mindfulness

These are notes from Joseph Goldstein’s book, “Mindfulness”
These notes are from the first half of the chapter on Bare Knowing and the Continuity of Mindfulness.

Bare Knowledge is to observe objectively without getting lost in associations and reactions.

One of our missions in Buddhism is to establish a continuity of mindfulness.  There are two ways to practice to accomplish this.

1.     Through the momentum of moment-to-moment mindfulness
2.     Through the mental faculty of perception.

Strengthening mindfulness through the momentum of moment-to-moment mindfulness

·      Mindfulness can become spontaneous through repeated practice.
·      Through our own experience, we can observe that knowing and its object arise simultaneously

The first stage of insight we call Purification of View.  In this stage we begin to see that there is no “knower” or “witness”.   Knowing and the object arise simultaneously.  Knowing or consciousness is always preceded by the appropriate causes and conditions for that object to arise.  This is a liberating factor of merging subject and object. The knowing faculty is not altered by the object.  We can simply be aware of the object without holding on to it.

There is a progression in the cultivation of mindfulness
·      Object-concentration, bringing the mind back to a certain object: breath, heart, love, sound, body sensation and so on
·      As mindfulness strengthens we go on to object-less awareness, choiceless awareness, or shinkantaza- just opening to what is arising in this moment.
·      Progressing further, the awareness becomes more panoramic and more general
o   We move from emphasis on the content of the particular experience to noticing
§  Impermanence
§  Unreliability
§  Selflessness

Strengthening mindfulness through the mental factor of perception.

Consciousness or Knowing identifies an object through perception.   Perception is the mental quality of recognition.  It picks out distinguishing marks and stores it for future reference

Consciousness simply knows the object like a sound,  But perception is the underlying process that identifies and records the object:
·      Recognizes the sound
·      Names it bird
·      Remember this concept for the next time
·      It is a pre-verbal recognition that that particular sound is called the sound of a bird.

But we can use perception also in a different way that can leads us towards the liberation we seek.  We can begin to use perception to notice the how of our activity rather than the what or contents.

·      We can cut through identifying with our experience by notice the tone of voice of our noting or the mood that you are in.
·      We can investigate our conceptual over-lay by more subtlety being curious about the layers of perception and how we identify objects.
·      We can notice the hindrances to awareness that our present.

Mental noting is a skillful means but not the essence of mindfulness.  The essence is to be simply aware.  Eventually we have to even let go of the means. 

Mindfulness doesn’t have to be serious and grim.  It can be graceful like Tai-chi or the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  It can express what Zen people call effortless effort.

Simply resting in the continuity of bare knowledge.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Satipatthanas sutta refrain

These are notes from Joseph Goldstein’s book “Mindfulness”.
These notes are from Chapter 5 on Contemplating the Four Foundations.

There is a refrain that occurs 13 times in the sutra.  An abbreviated version is thus:

In this way, in regard to the body (feelings, mind, dhammas) one abides contemplating
the body (feelings, mind, dhammas) internally, or one abides contemplating externally, or one abides contemplating both internally and externally.

One abides contemplating the nature of arising in the body (feelings, mind, dhammas)…. The nature of passing away in….or the nature of both arising and passing away in.

Mindfulness that ‘there is a body’ (feelings, mind, dhammas) is established in one to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness.

And one abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world…

Reminding us again and again to:
·      Contemplate our experience internally, externally and both
·      Contemplate the nature of impermanence – the arising, the passing away, and both the arising and passing away in regard to our experience
·      Establishing enough mindfulness to recognize simply what is unfolding moment to moment – without mental commentary – and to remain mindful of what’s happening.
·      Abiding without clinging to anything that enters our realm of experience.

Internally, externally and both

Noticing internally are experiences like the sensations of the breath or different sensations in the body like heat, cold, tightness, or pressure.  To notice something externally is to notice other people’s bodily actions or breathing.  Especially important with this “noticing” is to bare note which means to observe things without an added commentary or judgement.  Sometimes noticing things externally includes noticing other’s people concentrated practice and allowing that to inspire our own practice.  Buddha suggests that we associate with people who are mindful and concentrated.

Noticing things internally and externally simultaneously is actually a very profound and insightful mind.  This is observation that goes beyond the distinction of self and other and the insight that other people’s experience are our own.

Arising and passing away

The Tathagata is translated as one thus gone.  This means that a practitioner knows and actualizes impermanence. Each phenomena or moment is in the process of arising and passing away and we don't cling to anything.

Buddha expounds:
That being so, Ananda, remember this too as a wonderful and marvelous quality of the Tathagata.  For the Tathagata feelings are known as they arise, as they are present, as they disappear.  Perceptions are known as they arise, are present, and disappear.  Thoughts are known as they arise, are present and disappear.  Remember this too, Ananda, as a wonderful and marvelous quality of the Tathagata.

In seeing impermanence, the mind becomes disenchanted.  Becoming disenchanted, one becomes dispassionate. And through dispassion, the mind is liberated.

Disenchanted – waking up from the spell of enchantment, waking up into a fuller and greater reality
Disillusioned – a reconnection with what is true, free of illusion, not the same as discouraged or disappointed.
Dispassionate – a mind of great openness and equanimity, free of grasping,  not that we are indifferent or apathetic.

A sustained contemplation of impermanence leads to a shift in the way we experience reality.
            We see through the illusions of stable existence
            Both in what is perceived and what is perceiving.

Buddha makes a distinction between the
·      Establishment of mindfulness
·      And the development of the establishment of mindfulness
o   The awareness of impermanence becomes even more predominant that the object itself.
o   Beginning the movement of
§  Mindfulness of content to
§  Mindfulness of process
o   This is the stage moving towards wisdom and awakening
o   We begin to open to the unconditioned, nibbana when we start to see everything as impermanent

Monday, October 24, 2016

Concentration - The Collected Nature of Mind

These are notes from Joseph Goldstein’s book “Mindfulness”.
It is the last of the section about the four qualities of mind:  ardency, clearly knowing, mindfulness and concentration.

One of the benefits of meditation is to find a clearer, calmer mind.  This helps us in so many ways.  It helps us relax and be present, and it also helps us discern what we should do in each situation.  We aren’t filled with thoughts and stories of our own projections.  It is a mind that is free from our personal desire system and also a mind that knows the truth about samsara – the wandering-in-circles world.  We will never find the wholeness and happiness we seek from the appearances and stories of our world.  We have to find this truth, this discontent with regards to the world, in order to have enthusiasm about practice.

What surprised me about this section was Goldstein’s emphasis that concentration brings joy and relaxation.

He quotes Ajahn Sucitto speaking of Samadhi thus:

Receiving joy is another way to say enjoyment, and Samadhi is the act of refined enjoyment.  It is based in skillfulness.  It is the careful collecting of oneself into the joy of the present moment.  Joyfulness means there’s no fear, no tension, no “ought to” There isn’t anything we have to do about it.  It’s just this.

Early in my Buddhist life, I felt the opposite about concentration.  It was an intense and very effortful focus on staying with an object; almost military in its discipline.  Maybe even the opposite of joy, until I opened up to the rapture of concentration.  Then, I was attached to the sensual delight of rapture for another several decades.  I laugh.

But in this reading from the book, the emphasis is on skillful behavior, sila, ethics, as the skillful means that is the basis of non-harming that is the foundation of joy.   We do not want a mind that is filled with worry, regret and agitation.

In the stillness of Samadhi, we become more aware of our actions and their consequences.  As our mindfulness gets stronger, we see more clearly the unending ego-centricity of our minds.  This is a good thing!  We have a vast field of moments in which to practice pivoting our ego-centric desires into skillful behavior.  Dogen says we have 6 and a half billion moments in a day to continuously practice pivoting our behavior.

The strengthening of concentration comes through the continuity of mindfulness.
In practicing continuity, we learn to skillfully interweave the two approaches to concentration
1.     Object concentration – placing our mind on a single focus, the breath, the sound, our walking etc.  This can definitely help moving away from the hindrances and interrupting our monkey minds- the constant chatter in an untrained mind.
2.     Choiceless awareness – one-pointedness on changing objects called momentary Samadhi or in Zen vernacular, Shikantaza, receiving the moment just as it is.

Object concentration gives us the strength to follow choiceless awareness without being distracted.  After some time, we get an intuitive feel for which approach to concentration is appropriate at any given time.  We have the flexibility of mind to move between concentrating on an object and being open to everything according to the circumstances.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mindfulness, the Gateway to Wisdom

Continuing with notes from Joseph Goldstein’s “Mindfulness” book.
We are working with the section on the four qualities of mind: Ardency, Clearly knowing, mindfulness, and concentration.

Mindfulness is much more than what our pop-culture thinks of it, which is simply something about returning to the present moment.  The media often says- this was a Zen moment.  They refer to a peaceful, quiet moment.  I smile.  After studying Zen for 40 years, I know it’s more than just that!  And it’s often difficult!

Goldstein presents several meanings and functions of mindfulness:
·      Present-moment awareness
·      The practice of Remembering
·      Balancing the Spiritual Faculties
·      Protector of the mind
·      Fabricated and unfabricated mindfulness

Present-moment awareness is the aspect of mindfulness we are most familiar with. We often call it bare noting or non-interfering awareness.  It is the opposite of absentmindedness.  It is a type of non-judgmental receptivity or listening to what is actually happening.

The Practice of Remembering reminds me of Ram Das’s book title “Be, Hear, Now!”  But actually that’s not the book title!  It is “Remember, Be, Hear, Now”.  That Remember might be the most important word.  Do we remember to be mindful? Or are we on automatic most of the time?
What do we remember?
·      The virtues of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
·      Generosity
·      Ethical conduct
Remembering all the qualities of our practice, helps us to become more confident and self-respecting and allows us to really feel the possibility of awakening.

Balancing the Spiritual Faculties
            The Five Spiritual Faculties
·      Faith
·      Energy
·      Mindfulness
·      Concentration
·      Wisdom
We enhance our mindfulness when we notice one of these is in excess or deficient.  We can get into trouble if these are out of balance.  Too much faith and not enough wisdom can create being a fundamentalist and dogmatic.  Too much Concentration can cause us to be lost in states of mind.  Too much effort causes restlessness.  Too little effort causes torpor.  Etc.

Protector of the Mind.  I have always taught that we need to have huge strong guardians placed at the entrance of our minds.  These guardians have great discernment and can decide if a thought is wholesome or unwholesome.  These guardians allow the wholesome thoughts in and prevent the unwholesome from taking root.

These guardians also notice when our habituated habits based on our ego’s desire system are at play.  This type of mindfulness: sees a habituated habit and can have the strength and determination to interrupt it with a spiritual action.

In Buddha’s discourse on “The Two kinds of Thought”, he divides our thoughts into two kinds:
1.     Sensual desire, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of cruelty
2.     Renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will, and thoughts of non-cruelty

And Buddha says:

“As I abided thus, diligent, ardent and resolute, a thought of sensual desire arose in me.  I understood thus:
This thought of sensual desire has arisen in me.  This leads to my own affliction, to other’s affliction and the affliction of both; it obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties and leads away from Nibbana.  ….
Whenever a thought of sensual desire arose in me, I abandoned it, removed it, did away with it.”
And he applied these same thoughts to ill will and cruelty.

With wholesome states of mind, mindfulness takes a different form. We don’t need to be quite so actively engaged.  In fact, doing so would only lead to disturbance of mind and body.  We find a balance between active and receptive, doing and non-doing.

Fabricated and unfabricated mindfulness

Fabricated mindfulness is our concerted effort to stay mindfulness, sometimes called prompted mindfulness.  We are using our minds to stay mindful.  After a considerable amount of practice, sometimes this mindfulness becomes spontaneous and continues through the strength of its own momentum.  This is called effortless mindfulness.  In effortless mindfulness, sometimes the consciousness of the observer stops and there is no reference point for that which is observed.

Unfabricated mindfulness is our innate wakefulness of the mind’s natural state.
Our natural mind is like a mirror that reflects everything without value judgements. It is not something we create or develop, but something we need to recognize and come back to.

When these two types of mindfulness are in harmony, we bear the fruit of great ease. Our practice is simply let go, relax, and surrender into the natural unfolding.

From the Suttas:
The mind within itself is already peaceful.
When the mind is not peaceful it is following sense impressions and following the moods created by the sense impressions.
The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things, forgetting itself….
Our practice is simply to see the Original Mind

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Clearly knowing

Notes from Joseph Goldstein's book "Mindfulness; a practical guide to awakening"
Clearly knowing is one of the four qualities of mind: Ardency, Clearly knowing, mindfulness, and concentration.

Clearly knowing - Sampajanna

This is translated in different ways as clearly knowing, clear comprehension or fully aware.  This is a quality of mind that encourages mindfulness to be all-inclusive.  Mindfulness is more than just being present.  It is awareness of what is actually going on.  It demonstrates that mindfulness includes knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it.  We become aware of our purpose and the appropriateness of our action.  What is the motivation behind what we our doing?

We become aware of:

  • our desire
  • our decision to act
  • and the appropriateness of the action
Is this motivation and action skillful or not?  Useful or not?

Clear comprehension is part of the investigatory and wisdom aspects associated with mindfulness. It includes discernment in what is helpful and what is not helpful.  How does our action affect everyone else like a vibratory wave going through our communities.

It also includes our motivation.  Do we take actions to benefit all beings?

The more we understand our own minds, the more we understand other people's mind.
The more we understand how we create our suffering,  the more commonality we feel with all people's suffering and how its created.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Goldstein's mindfulness, "Ardency"

Hi, it's been quite a while since i posted a blog.  I have had several big changes in my life.  The main one is stepping down from the guiding teacher position at Clouds in Water Zen Center and teaching at a very minimal level.  The open space that stepping down has created has been good for me personally.  I need and still do need- time to recuperate from twenty years of teaching and leading a community.  But what came out of that is a kind of silence - Vilmalakirti's silence, i'm hoping. smile.
This blog had clearly been inspired by my teaching life and so fell silent as well.

But this morning, I had an idea for the blog.  I am beginning to study Joseph Goldstein's book called "Mindfulness; a  practical guide to awakening" on the Satipatthana Sutra,  and I had an urge to share my investigation on the blog.  So I'm going to begin to post short paragraphs, digesting what i'm reading.  What's more important than increasing our ability to be present?  So, we'll see how long this inspiration lasts!

From this great book:

There are four qualities of mind that the Satipatthana Sutra begins with.
  1. Ardency
  2. Clearly knowing: cultivating clear comprehension
  3. Mindfulness: The Gateway to Wisdom
  4. Concentration:  The collected nature of mind.

The first Chapter is on Ardency.

Joseph Goldstein calls it a balanced and sustained application of effort.  What sustains our practice through the ups and downs of life, and the ups and downs of our relationship to teachers and sanghas? He said, ardency also suggests warmth or passionate enthusiasm or devotion because we see the practice and dharma as really valuable.

How do we cultivate Ardency?

First, we reflect on the rarity of a precious human birth and the rarity of connecting to the dharma. He writes, " how many people who think of practice, actually do it.  How many people who start practice, actually continue."

Second, by reflecting on the ever-present quality of impermanence and ungraspability. He brings up that great impermanence verse which he translates slightly different then I do:

Whatever is born will die; 
whatever is joined will come apart; 
whatever is gathered will disperse; 
whatever is high will fall.

And thirdly, by reflecting on karma.  Everything that comes from our body, speech and thought has an effect on the world.  In fact,  the effects of our karma are the only things we "possess".  
Padmasambhava a famous Tibetan teacher said, “though my view is as vast as the sky, my attention to the law of karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour."