Posts Tagged ‘buddhism’
Tricycle editor-at-large Andrew Cooper recently recounted events from the 1980′s, when he accompanied Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) on his first speaking tour of the U.S. Earlier in Thay’s tour, he gave a well-received talk at the Reverence for Life Conference in New York City:
At the heart of his talk, however, was a well-known passage from the Pali canon:
“When this is, that is.
This arising, that arises.
When this is not, that is not.
This ceasing, that ceases.”
… This is the most succinct formulation of the Buddhist teaching of paticcasamuppada, or dependent origination, one of Buddhism’s core ideas. Starting with this most simple of expressions—When this is, that is—Thay explicated dependent origination as a vision of radical interdependence, or what he called “interbeing,” in which all beings support and are in turn supported by all other beings. This elaboration of paticcasamuppada encompassed the foundation, the practice, and the fulfillment of spiritual life.
But the culmination of Thay’s U.S. tour was a weeklong visit to the SF Zen Center, which at that time was headed by Suzuki Roshi’s controversial successor Richard Baker. The visit started with a much-anticipated conversation between Thay and fellow peace activist Daniel Ellsberg. Things didn’t go exactly as planned! To make things worse, a film crew was there to document the event:
The discussion was being filmed in the front room of the Zen Center Guest House—the very room I’d dreamed about the night before. The room was packed with film equipment, electrical wires, and maybe thirty people, who filled in every inch of space that was left. In the center of the room, Daniel Ellsberg sat stage right, the Macys were in the middle, and Thich Nhat Hanh completed the arc. Thay got the ball rolling.
“I want to ask Daniel Ellsberg: Why does the American peace movement have no compassion?” That’s what he said. He might have said it a little differently; he might have said a little more; but that was pretty much the crux of it.
My guess is that no one there, except me and maybe Ellsberg, knew what this was about. But everyone recognized the peculiar note that had been struck. I just cringed: Oh no. Oh no. This is not what I meant. This is not what I meant at all. A knot began to form in the pit of my stomach.
I hoped that Ellsberg would find a way past this. Not that it would be easy. He had just been blindsided, targeted unfairly with one of those questions one can’t possibly answer because the premise itself is so askew. But if anyone knew how to think on his feet, it was Daniel Ellsberg. Maybe he could set this thing aright.
What happened next, however, couldn’t have been worse: Ellsberg took Thay’s question personally and responded defensively. He answered the unfortunate challenge with a few of his own, in particular, he challenged Thay’s passing judgment on who was and who was not compassionate. From there, the nastiness and absurdity just accelerated. Here they were, two great and good men, arguing like kids on the playground, about compassion—who had it, who had the right to talk about it, who really understood what it was. It was their pain talking, and neither seemed able to see it or admit it or get a handle on it.
Every so often, Fran or Joanna would jump in to try to change the subject, but Ellsberg and Thay weren’t about to fall for that. They were Ali and Frazier, LaMotta and Robinson, just waiting between rounds for the bell so they could get back to pummeling each other. There was no stopping them; they were going to go the distance.
Finally, and mercifully, it was over, and there followed another cinematic moment, but one very different from what had followed Thay’s talk at Reverence for Life. This was like the audience response to the performance of the jaw-droppingly awful musical number “Springtime for Hitler” (“We’re marching to a faster pace/Look out, here comes the master race!”) in the play within Mel Brooks’s movie The Producers: stunned silence and disbelief.
Soon people began slowly to file out of the room, but in a kind of daze, much like they were walking away from a pileup on the interstate. Joanna approached me and in a shaky voice asked, “What about paticcasamuppada?” It’s not often one gets to be part of an unqualified and incomprehensible debacle.
Needless to say, I was feeling just horrible about my role in the whole thing. I had pushed the event through, and I had suggested the starting topic, and while it was true that I had no control over the turn the discussion had taken, there was no getting away from the fact that my judgment had been just abysmal. But oddly enough, I also felt a sense of relief. For while that part of myself represented by those upright Buddhist priests was glaring down at me more harshly than ever, that davening Jew had hitched up his pants and stepped out of his corner and was ready for action. One must, after all, move ahead from where one is, not where one would like to be.
Everybody, even the best of us, will sometimes behave ingloriously, and to think otherwise is to be hemmed in by vanity. As sad sinners wandering through samsara, one of the few things we can count on is that we are on occasion going to screw up miserably. For those of us who are exceptionally reliable in this regard, it is nothing less than a saving grace, is it not, that in our guise as bodhisattvas, falling down on the job is the biggest part of the job, and sometimes, somehow, failure, if allowed to do its work, can actually be surprisingly emancipatory. It can even help make us whole. We have to try to be better—wiser, kinder, more generous—people, but mostly there’s no getting away from our embarrassing, maddening, harebrained selves.
- Tea, Zen and The Art of Life Management: The founder of Samovar Tea in a panel discussion with Leo Babauta, author of the blog Zen Habits, Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, and Susan O’Connell, VP of the San Francisco Zen Center. This is a long video, so you may want to watch bits and pieces over several sessions. The dynamics of the panel can be at odd at times – the hyperactive and demonstrative Ferris, in contrast to the calm demeanor of Susan O’Connell – but overall they really pulled it off well.
- Living Goddess (a documentary set in Nepal): Just when I thought I was familiar with Nepalese culture, I come across a film on aspects of Nepal I knew nothing about (and have a hard time comprehending). This documentary follow 3 (pre-pubescent young women) Kumari’s who represent Devi. Nepalese have a tradition of worshipping Kumari’s, who are believed to be the reincarnation of Dunga (until they menstruate, at which point Dunga is believed to vacate their bodies). The documentary takes place during a period of intense street protests against the monarchy. Be warned, the scenes involving animal sacrifice to commemorate Dasain can be horrific to outside observers.
- Raga Unveiled (from the makers of Yoga Unveiled): If you’re a fan of Indian Classical music, this 4-hour series from 2009 provides a detailed introduction to its key components. I was amazed by the complexity of the Tabla, particularly the vocabulary that accompanies the popular Indian percussion instrument.
- The Whoop: In this episode of Heart and Soul, a self-described white, Jewish journalist looks into a preaching/oratorical style common in African American churches. You might be surprised to know that there is a lot of technique that goes into the Whoop. Full audio below:
Full audio below, you can download the accompanying slides HERE.
This moving and heartfelt event is an annual tradition, held each year to to express deep appreciation for the generous donors and volunteers that support Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Rick Hanson, PhD presented for this year’s event, giving an inspiring talk exploring the dimensions and benefits of both gratitude and generosity.
- Concentration: There are two forms of concentration (absorption and momentary concentration), insight meditation is concerned mainly with the latter. “Riding the waves of consciousness from moment-to-moment.”
- Mindfulness: Attention that is free of decision, judgement, and commentary.
- Clear comprehension: Seeing everything is impermanent and selfless.
The Fourth Noble Truth in Buddhism holds that the Noble Eightfold Path can lead us away from suffering. One of the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood, a set of guidelines to help followers of the Buddha find ethical professions:
There are two criteria for right livelihood. First, it should not be necessary to break the five precepts in one’s work, since doing so obviously causes harm to others. But further, one should not do anything that encourages other people to break the precepts, since this will also cause harm. Neither directly nor indirectly should our means of livelihood involve injury to other beings. Thus any livelihood that requires killing, whether of human beings or of animals, is clearly not right livelihood…. Selling liquor or other drugs may be very profitable, but even if one abstains from them oneself, the act of selling encourages others to use intoxicants and thereby to harm themselves. Operating a gambling casino may be very lucrative, but all who come there to gamble cause themselves harm. Selling poisons or weapons–arms, ammunition, bombs, missiles–is good business, but it injures the peace and harmony of multitudes. None of these is right livelihood.
BBC’s Heart and Soul recently interviewed Buddhists in several countries to find out how they ended up in their current professions/vocations. What was their discernment process like? The hosts also ask “Has the Global Economic Crisis made it more difficult to find Right Livelihood?”
FULL AUDIO Below:
I first encountered RAIN (“Four Principles for Mindful Transformation”) in Jack Kornfield’s wonderful book on buddhist psychology. Kornfield describes RAIN as a staple of Western mindfulness retreats, I haven’t yet tracked down it’s exact origins.
RAIN is comprised of four transformative principles, which proponents describe as useful for getting through life’s difficulties and for understanding triggers of strong emotional reactions:
- Recognition: The willingness to see what is happening allows us to step out of denial.
- Acceptance allows us to “… relax and open to the facts before us. … With acceptance and respect, problems that seem intractable become workable.”
- Investigation: “Whenever we are stuck, it is because we have not looked deeply enough into the nature of the experience. As we undertake investigation, we focus on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (body, feelings, mind, and dharma).”
- Non-identification “… means that we stop taking the experience as ‘me’ or ‘mine’. … ‘Is this really who I am?’ … We see the tentativeness of this identity. Then we are free to let go and rest in awareness itself.”
From RAIN’s appearance on one of the blogs in Psych Central (”the Internet’s largest and oldest independent mental health and psychology network”), it seems that this useful framework is at least being introduced to a wider range of mental health practitioners. Here are some notable posts:
- Developing a meditation practice: Zen teacher Zoketsu Norman Fischer writes “… When people ask me how to get a home meditation practice started, here is what I tell them: the practice begins the night before. Before you go to sleep, set the alarm for half an hour earlier than usual … This little exercise may sound silly but it is very important. It addresses the main difficulty we have with self discipline: we are ambivalent. … Try this for two weeks, taking a day or so off each week. If you miss a day, that’s OK. … Many people ask, “Is it necessary to do this in the morning? Is there some magic to the morning? I am not a morning person.” Yes, I think there is magic to the morning. Monastic schedules the world over include early morning practice. Practice seems most beneficial at that time of day, when your psyche is in a liminal state and the world around you has not quite awakened. Also, you are more likely to do it in the morning, before your day gets engaged and you remember all the things you need to do.”
- Four Steps to Renewing Your Energy, Health and Life: Author and physician Linda Clever talks about her new book and along the way recommends a listener read Ram Dass’ Be Here Now! “Our lives demand too much of us; when everything is a priority, this can make us sick and tired. Dr. Clever discovered the personal cost of this lifestyle and has since devoted herself to helping people renew themselves and regain balance in life. … Filled with easy self-assessments, informational charts, and sound advice from a physician who healed herself, this book will help you avoid illness, reset priorities, and most importantly, regain your health and happiness.”
- Walking Meditation as a 10-Minute Willpower Boost: “A 2009 study by researchers at the University of Exeter, UK, found that walking for 15 minutes decreased cravings among smokers, and a 2010 study at the University of Virginia study found that two weeks of regular exercise induced brain changes that suppressed cravings, and reduced drug-seeking behavior, in cocaine-addicted rats.”
- Meditation Room at the U.N. Headquarters: Bet you didn’t know that there was a meditation room at the U.N. Neither did I, until last week. Created under the direction and vision of the late Dag Hammarskjöld (whom JFK referred to as the “the greatest statesman of our century”), I only hope that the visiting dignitaries make it a point to use this “… place dedicated to silence”, before they pass resolutions that affect the planet.
- Life After Death (from This American Life): “Stories of people haunted by guilt over their role in others’ deaths, even when everyone agrees they’re blameless.”
- Masters in Focus: “… a pictorial book that commemorates the five great masters of yoga – T Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi, Pattabhi Jois and TKV Desikachar.” From yoga teacher and photographer Kausthub Desikachar, son of TKV Desikachar and grandson of Krishnamacharya.
- Yoga distortion field: As I highlighted in an earlier post, Krishnamacharya’s Mysore yogasala was heavily influenced by athletics and physical education. Nonetheless, the video is still disturbing.
- Awake in the Wild: Meditation teacher and author Mark Coleman combines his passion for the outdoors and mindfulness to ” … shows seekers how to remedy this widespread malady (‘Nature deficit disorder’) by reconnecting with nature through Buddhism.”