- Impermanence and death: how we relate to the process of death and dying
- The difference between "post hoc", reactive applications of impermanence (e.g. "this too shall pass" once something bad - or good - has happened) compared to impermanence as a view to be applied as an approach to life
- Impermanence and flow: How life/reality has the interdependent, fluid, nondual quality of flow. How our (eternalist) tendency to solidify experience (and create a sense of permanence) leads us to interrupt the flow of life as we attempt to cling to (or reject) experience.
- The difference between flow as impermanence/nonduality/compassion and flow as a 1960s-style (or New Age) "going with the flow"
- What creates blocks to our remaining in the flow? Where do we lack awareness of (aspects of) flow? How do we choose not to engage in the flow?
- Impermanence and compassion: how meditation on impermanence gives rise to tenderness, the genuine heart of sadness, and compassion
- Impermanence as path
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
- How emotional habits can get in the way of Dharma practice
- The pitfalls of developing emotional attachments and expectations towards the teacher
- The application of the Six Paramitas in all aspects of practice and life (cf. §2.2.2 on p.18)
- The benefits of contemplation on precious human birth and "the difficult of finding the freedoms and advantages" to develop the inspiration for practice
Monday, November 9, 2009
This week we started Patrul Rinpoche's commentary on the Longchen Nyingtik ngöndro, The Words of My Perfect Teacher. We will be following Rinpoche's teachings from San Francisco in 1999-2002. A recording of our conversation is available here.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
- The importance of mentorship (especially for younger people)
- The contrast between work and spiritual life, and what does "spirituality at work" actually mean (what Christian/Buddhist perspectives might have in common, and where they differ)
- Broadening our circle of concern and sphere of influence
- How it's often unclear what is the right or best thing to do from an ethical perspective (i.e. even if we have an enlightened intention, what should we do?)
- Action and enlightened engagement (from the perspective of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika)
- Western approaches to ethics (Aristotelian virtue ethics, Kantian deontology, consequentialism and utilitarianism) and how these are different from bodhicitta and Buddhist approaches to ethics (in particular the role of intention/motivation)
Our conversation on 11 October (Week 8 of Buddhist history) was the second of two sessions looking at the history of tantra and Tibetan Buddhism, and also completing Conze's book "Buddhism: A Short History" by looking at Buddhism in the West and the modern world. We also revisited Alan Wallace's article "The Spectrum of Buddhist Practice in the West" (available here). The recording is available here.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
- Chants for the 21 Praises to Tara, including both slow/fast versions (by Erik Pema Kunsang, here)
- Pictures and descriptions of each of the 21 Taras (available here). As the site notes, " Basically the colors are a code for the 4 activities: pacifying (white), enriching (yellow), subjugating (red) and eliminating (black.) Mixed colors such as orange indicate a combination of qualities"
- The challenges of adaptation: the risk of over-simplifying by throwing too much out, and the risk of including elements from other cultures that aren't relevant to the West
- The importance for the current generation of Buddhist practitioners in ensuring an authentic transmission of dharma to the West
- In Tibet, the ecumenical (rimé) movement sought to overcome divisiveness among the four Tibetan schools. In the West, these four are also interacting with all the other Buddhist traditions such as Zen, Vipassana, Japanese Buddhism etc, in a way that is historically unprecedented. What might a rimé movement look like in the West?
Apologies for belated posting. Summer holidays and retreat beckoned. Here's the recording of our meeting on 30 August, continuing our study of the second 500-year period of Buddhist history (from Conze's "Buddhist History"), from 0 AD to 500 AD. Among other topics, we covered:
- Mindfulness in the Mahayana and mindfulness in "insight meditation" traditions
- The integration of practice into daily life
- The importance of nonduality and going beyond extremes
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
On growing up too fast
So, today I have something to tell you, that is especially for the teenagers, especially. I don't know whether you realize this, this is really important. It's ... important is not the right word. I don't know what to say. I'm trying to fish for a word.
There is something so incredible about being young. I made a mistake by trying to grow up fast, and I'm sure there are a lot of other people who have made the same mistake. Please for your own sake, do not grow up fast, because you can never rewind and play back. Once you play, that's it!
But this is easier said than done, no? ... a whole society, books, television, movies ... all trying to make you grow up. And you yourself, as a human being ... human nature is competing: "Who will grow up fastest?" I'm sure you even tell yourselves sometimes, "Grow up! C'mon!" ... not the right thing to do.
On discipline and depression
OK. One last word. Now, I hate to use the word discipline. The trouble is this is the one thing that you don't want to hear, discipline ... But even to make a cappuccino, you need a discipline ... you need a discipline, of course. Skateboarding, all these things, they all need discipline. In our modern society, one of the biggest problems is depression, really really feeling down and depressed, and people turning to drugs and alcohol and all of that. If you really look into the root of the depression, it is because of lack of discipline.
Discipline is so important ... And when I say discipline I'm talking about something so simple, huh? I'm not talking about like getting up in the morning, 5 o'clock ... you know, like things like that ... You make your own discipline, such as, I don't know ... something like, "I will not go to Starbucks on Wednesdays." Really, if you took that kind of vow, something as simple as this, in the future, the ratio of visits to your shrink will be definitely reduced. Even as simple as not going to Starbucks on Wednesday. I'm serious. I'm serious ... If you can manage ... if you do that one year, good! Very good. You have learned the art of controlling yourself.
If you want to be brave (you know, maybe you think, not going to Starbucks on Wednesdays would be too simple for you) then take a vow: Next six months, whoever it is, you will not yell at them. That's a difficult one, huh? That's a difficult one ... But it will give you amazing, amazing power. Because ... you all want to be indestructible, don't you? Well, if you want to be indestructible, why volunteer yourself, to become an easy target? So, you can become very brave and take that kind of vow also.
Question: If we were take a vow, for six months never to yell at somebody, how would you be ... you know, sort of approach a possible inevitable failure, or how should you approach this ...
Khyentse Rinpoche: Ah, failure is good. Failure is good. You have to fail many times. Take a vow again. Take a vow again ... To shape the human character a lot of things have to go wrong, you know. You shouldn't be afraid [of failure].
Sunday, July 12, 2009
- Path and view: What's the difference between path and view in the Theravada and the Mahayana? How can we bring our practice more into our everyday lives?
- The nature and meaning of compassion: what's the connection between everyday "touchy-feeling" notions of being a "good person" and the Buddhist understanding of compassion? How can compassion become a trap and turn into just another manifestation of ego-clinging? What does it mean to practice compassion?
- "All emotions are pain": Rinpoche uses these words to convey the essential meaning of the second of the four Dharma seals. But does he really mean it? How are we to interpret this? What does this mean in the light of all the current interest in emotional intelligence, positive psychology and therapeutic interventions?
- Can we consider "Fight Club" to be a Buddhist movie? It deconstructs eternalism in the guise of salvation through consumerism, but it falls short of Buddhist view. Why?
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
- These schools correspond to our emotions, as Rinpoche points out when teaching Madhyamika. For example, the notion of "no self" offends everyday commonsense, and also Buddhist ideas of karma and reincarnation (how can we speak of a "person" taking rebirth unless there is some continuity between this life and the next life?), so the Vatsiputriyas (the Personalists) invented the notion of a real "Person" in order to explain this. We reflected that many of us have a similar emotional clinging to the notion of our own rebirth/next life.
- The essential view of the Tibetan Buddhist path was established over 2,300 years ago - so it's not at all a recent invention or reinterpretation. Even around 340BC, the Mahasanghikas had established a view that holds the seeds of the later Mahayana and Vajrayana. They believed: (i) the 'real' Buddha is transcendental, and the historical Buddha was simply a manifestation or magical emanation for the sake of teaching and benefiting sentient beings. In fact, Buddhas are manifesting at all times in all realms. (ii) the nature of thought/mind is pure, and all impurities (such as ignorance and negative emotions) are adventitious, i.e. they are not part of mind itself. (iii) the ultimate truth cannot be expressed in words or concepts - they can only ever refer to relative truth.
According to the Tibetan calendar, today is the 50th anniversary of the parinirvana of Rinpoche's previous incarnation, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (thanks to Maggie for the picture of him sitting under the bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya). There's a lovely tribute video available here (thanks to Grey Fox, Adam, Pete and Volker at Remembering the Masters).
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
By any normal measure, they had it made. They tended to be bright, polished, affluent and ambitious. They had the benefit of the world’s most prestigious university. They had been selected even from among Harvard students as the most well adjusted.
Their lives played out in ways that would defy any imagination save Dostoyevsky’s. A third of the men would suffer at least one bout of mental illness. Alcoholism would be a running plague. The most mundane personalities often produced the most solid success. One man couldn’t admit to himself that he was gay until he was in his late 70s.
“If you want executive management support, you better back it up with data,” Broecker said. “We did a lot of research as to the effectiveness of our programs. One of the questions [we researched] was whether we could show that people who had gone through our programs were happier in Google than people who had not gone through our programs. And we definitely had data that showed that this was the case.”
Sunday, May 10, 2009
A recording of today's teachings and discussion (from 10th May) of Rahula's "What the Buddha Taught" (part 3 on Chapter 6 and chapter 7) can be downloaded here. Among the topics we covered today:
- The purpose of meditation and its benefits in cultivating mental health
- Meditation techniques
- The two forms of meditation, shamatha and vipashyana, and their relationship to each other and to the view (including "form is emptiness, emptiness is form")
- Deconstruction and dis-identification from form, feeling, thoughts, references and self - how meditation allows to cultivate egolessness
- Living in the present moment, losing yourself in your action, flow and positive psychology, creativity and performance
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
In recent years, social psychologists have begun to study what they call the holier-than-thou effect. They have long known that people tend to be overly optimistic about their own abilities and fortunes — to overestimate their standing in class, their discipline, their sincerity.
But this self-inflating bias may be even stronger when it comes to moral judgment, and it can greatly influence how people judge others’ actions, and ultimately their own. Culture, religious belief and experience all help shape a person’s sense of moral standing in relation to others.
Religion appears to amplify the instinct to feel like a moral beacon. The study also found that the most strictly fundamentalist of the students were at the highest end of the scale. "It reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers,” said Dr. Epley, of Chicago. “ ‘Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.’
The psychologist William James wrote: “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” You can lead a miserable life by obsessing on problems. You can drive yourself crazy trying to multitask and answer every e-mail message instantly.“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher (author of "Rapt") said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime. “People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”Ms. Gallagher advocates meditation to increase your focus.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
we should say prayers and do practice in the hope that one day we will be free from the agony of time, and from the agony of the separation of all the transitory elements that, in our deluded minds, we have pieced together so convincingly. Most of us are so lost in our delusions that we actually believe them to be permanent, and when the illusion we've created reveals itself in its true colours, we suffer the most unbearable agonies. And it is from this kind of delusion that, ultimately, we need to free ourselves
Monday, March 30, 2009
I think you already know my views. I believe that in the 21st century, despite a lot of material development and facilities to support us and help provide us with a happy, joyful and meaningful life, there are limitations to having only material values and material development. So all major religious traditions still have an important role today. That’s clear. And one clear indication is that many people have some kind of interest about inner values, and so we have seen the emergence of some strange religions like the New Age and things like that. But this means there are people who are not completely satisfied with material values, and so they are seeking some inner values. People are really seeking something. And some other people might be quite clever at taking advantage of that opportunity. But under such circumstances, the buddhadharma certainly has a similar role to play in this century. Among the different traditions, I think all the major religions have the same potential to help humanity. But for those people who are generally a little sceptical about religion, and who aren’t easily convinced about God or such things, then Buddhism can help. Even among Buddhists who have a keen interest in Buddhism, there are still many who are sceptical about next life. In such a period I think certainly Buddhism may have greater potential to help such people, who love reasons and explanation. For such people, I think the Buddhist approach is suitable.
You may have noted – may even have pitied – the vehemence with which I wrote ‘But I said that first.’ I, the insistent, emphatic, italicized me. The I to which I am brutishly attached, the I that must be farewelled. And yet this I, or even its daily unitalicized shadow, is not what I think of it as. Around the time I was assuring the college chaplain that I was a happy atheist, there was a fashionable phrase: the integrity of the personality. This is what, amateurs of our own existence, we believe in, don’t we? That the child is father, or mother, to the man, or woman; that slowly but inevitably we become ourselves, and that this self will have an outline, a clarity, an identifiability, an integrity. Through life we construct and achieve a unique character, one in which we hope to be allowed to die.
But the brain mappers who have penetrated our cerebral secrets, who lay it all out in vivid colours, who can follow the pulsings of thought and emotion, tell us that there is no one at home. There is no ghost in the machine. The brain, as one neuropsychologist puts it, is no more or less than ‘a lump of meat’ (not what I call meat – but then I am unsound on offal). I, or even I, do not produce thoughts; thoughts produce me. The brain mappers, peer and pore as they may, can only conclude ‘there is no “self-stuff” to be located’. And so our notion of a persisting self or ego or I or I – let alone a locatable one – is another illusion we live by. Ego Theory – on which we have survived so long and so naturally – is better replaced by Bundle Theory. The notion of the central submarine captain, the organizer in charge of the events of his or her life, must surrender to the notion that we are a mere sequence of brain events, bound together by certain causal connections. To put it in a final and disheartening (if literary) way: that ‘I’ of which we are so fond properly exists only in grammar.
- There's a difference between suffering and dukkha. We noted that many of us still think of the First Noble Truth as "The Truth of Suffering", when in fact it is the truth of dukkha, which is a much richer (and less "negative") idea than suffering. Dukkha has three aspects: (1) ordinary suffering, (2) suffering produced by impermanence and change, (3) conditioned states. Until we correctly understand the First Noble Truth, we will not be able to understand the origin or cessation of dukkha, or the path that leads to its cessation.
- We have "outsourced" much of the suffering in our lives, so that we no are not aware of the consequences of our actions, in much the same way that the acid rain from a power plant can fall hundreds of miles away from the source. We discussed examples such as our attempts to insulate ourselves from disease and death (hospitals, fashion magazines); our unawareness of (and emotional disconnection from) the conditions of factory farmed animals; the fur trade and the fashion industry; and how the US has outsourced much of its drug problem to Mexico.
- Nirvana is not a result, else it would be an effect produced by cause. Nirvana, Truth, is beyond cause and effect. It simply is. All you can do is see it. A path leads to it, but it’s not the result of the path. You get to a mountain along a path, but the mountain is not result of path.
- There’s nothing beyond/after Ultimate Truth, and it has no purpose (as that presupposes something subsequent). The spiritual path has no purpose because enlightenment has no purpose, so there’s no point talking about its “benefits” – which is a direct challenge to the utilitarian approach we take in our materialistic approach to life.
- Even according to the Theravada, Nirvana can be realised in this very life (which might perhaps help to temper our Vajrayana pride!)
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Sunday, March 8, 2009
This week's New York Times features an article by Judith Warner on 'Being and Mindfulness', a fascinating snapshot of how meditation and mindfulness is (mis)understood in the West. Judith paints an image of Buddhist practice as "extreme solipsism" leading to a state that is "cold and forbidding, and above all terribly, terribly dull":
Mindfulness is supposed to bring people together. By embracing your essential humanness, getting in touch with and accepting your body, sensations, emotions and thoughts, you are supposed to join with, and empathetically connect to, all humanity ... But in real-life encounters, I’ve come lately to wonder whether meaningful bonds are well forged by the extreme solipsism that mindfulness practice often turns out to be.
Some of us experience our emotions always in capital letters and exclamation points. This isn’t always pleasant but, to go all mindful for a moment, it is what it is, and if you are one of these people then probably one of the great pleasures of your life is finding others like you and settling in with them for a good rant. A world devoid of such souls can be cold and forbidding, and above all terribly, terribly dull.
Thankfully, the Times' readers weren't happy to let such confusion go without comment! There are many excellent and enjoyable responses to her article - 589 in all - most of which are inspiring and insightful, although there are a few that demonstrate even greater confusion or misunderstanding than Judith. Taken as a whole, it's a great read - strongly recommended!
- Samudaya, the arising or origin of dukkha
- Nirodha, the cessation of dukkha
- Magga, the way leading to the cessation of dukkha
- All compounded phenomena are impermanent
- All emotions are pain
- No phenomena have a truly existing self or nature
- Nirvana is beyond extremes
- All conditioned things are impermanent (Sabbe samkhara annica)
- All conditioned things are dukkha (Sabbe samkhara dukkha)
- All dhammas are without self (Sabbe dhamma anatta)