Tuesday Reading Material

Gratitude & Grace | 11 . 13 . 18

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Counting Your Blessings

– Phillip Moffet

Let me be clear that the practice of gratitude is not in any way a denial of life’s difficulties. We live in troubling times, and no doubt you’ve experienced many challenges, uncertainties, and disappointments in your own life. Nor does the practice of gratitude deny the Buddha’s teaching on death: Death is certain; your death is certain; the time of death is unknown; the time of your death is unknown. Rather, gratitude practice is useful because it turns the mind in such a way that it enables you to live into life or, more accurately, to die into life. Having access to the joy and wonderment of life is the antidote to feelings of scarcity and loss. It allows you to meet life’s difficulties with an open heart. The understanding you gain from practicing gratitude frees you from being lost or identified with either the negative or the positive aspects of life, letting you simply meet life in each moment as it rises.

There are numerous ways to use mindfulness to cultivate gratitude. Of course you acknowledge your appreciation when things are going well. But even more helpful is to notice those things for which you are grateful when you are contracted physically or emotionally. I often instruct students to respond to a difficult situation by acknowledging it as such, then saying to themselves, “Yes, this is terrible, and I am grateful for . . . .” An example would be, “I am angry at this moment, and I am grateful I have a mind which knows this is so and can deal with it.” I also encourage students to focus on the wonderment of nature and the human capacity for learning and creating. It is so easy to only notice the terrible aspects of human beings so that wonderment is often forgotten.

You can reflect on gratitude by inquiring if it is time-based. Ask yourself what happened to all the gratitude you have felt in the past? Where did it go? Do you believe that gratitude is dependent on feeling good right now? If so, isn’t that a very small-minded, “what have you done for me lately?” attitude? Would it not imply that your gratitude is contingent upon an exchange-as long as you feel good, you will be grateful, and if not, forget it. This is not the quality of gratitude that leads to a mystical, direct experience of life; it is an unskillful blackmail or emotional demand on the universe.

You can also practice being consciously grateful to your family, friends, teachers, benefactors, and all those who have come before you who have made it possible for your existence to be comfortable, informed, and empowered. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to mentally note the many people who have invisibly served you by providing medicine, shelter, safety, food, and education.

If you were asked to make a list of things for which you are grateful, how long would this list be-20 items, 100, 500? Most likely you would include your health, your mind’s ability to function well, family, friends, and freedom. But would it include the basics, like a safe place to sleep, clean air and water, food, and medicine? What about for Earth itself, blue skies, a child’s laughter, a warm touch, the smell of spring, the tang of salt, the sweetness of sugar, or that morning cup of coffee?

The making of such a list is not meant to make you feel indebted but is intended to clarify your understanding of how life really is. It is a reflective meditation that uses mindfulness to carry you beyond the superficial to a deeper experience of your life unfolding moment by moment. You learn to throw off the blinders of habitual assumptions that prevent you from perceiving the miracle of life.

The next step in gratitude practice is to actively notice things you are grateful for throughout your regular day. For instance, when you’re stuck in traffic and it’s making you late and irritated, you notice you can be thankful you have transportation and that other drivers are abiding by the agreed-upon driving rules, which prevent chaos and unsafe conditions. In other words, there is a level of well-being and community cooperation that is supporting you even in the midst of your bad day. And you do this not just once or twice, but a hundred times each day. You do so not to get out of a bad mood or to be a nicer person, but with the intention of clearly seeing the true situation of your life. Traffic remains frustrating, but the inner experience of how your life is unfolding begins to shift. Slowly you become clearer about what really matters to you, and there is more ease in your daily experience.

You might ask yourself about your “gratitude ratio.” Do you experience the good things in your life in true proportion to the bad things? Or do the bad things receive a disproportionate amount of your attention, such that you have a distorted sense of your life? It can be shocking to examine your life this way because you may begin to realize how you are being defined by an endless series of emotional reactions, many of which are based on relatively unimportant, temporary desires. When you look at how much griping you do versus how much gratitude you feel, you realize how far off your emotional response is from your real situation. The purpose of this inquiry is not to judge yourself but rather to motivate yourself to find a truer perspective. Why would you want to go around with a distorted view of your life, particularly when it makes you miserable?

Without instruction, reflecting on gratitude can seem boring or sentimental, evoking memories of your mother admonishing you to eat all the food on your plate. Part of the confusion is that many people have come to equate gratitude with obligation. But real gratitude begins as appreciation for that which has come into your life. Out of this appreciation, a natural, spontaneous emotion arises that is gratitude, which is often followed by generosity. When gratitude comes from indebtedness, by definition what’s been given cannot have been a gift.

There is a shadow side to gratitude, in which reality gets distorted in yet another way. It manifests as a hopeless or helpless attitude disguised as gratitude, and it expresses itself in a self-defeating, passive voice-”Yes, these things are wrong and unfair, but I should be grateful for what I have,” or “At least we have this,” or “Compared to these people, look how much better off we are.” This voice, whether it is an inner voice or comes from someone else, is not to be trusted. Gratitude is not an excuse for being passive in the face of personal or societal need or injustice. You are not excused from working to become a caring person, creating a better life for your loved ones, or protecting the innocent. Acknowledging the great gift of a human life through gratitude is just the opposite; it is a call to action to be a caring human being while acknowledging the folly of basing your happiness on the outcome of your actions.

Finding Grace Through Gratitude

The words “gratitude” and “grace” share a common origin: the Latin word gratus, meaning “pleasing” or “thankful.” When you are in a deep state of gratitude, you will often spontaneously feel the presence of grace. The grace in receiving a human life is that it grants you the capacity to experience that which is beyond the mind and body-call it God, emptiness, Brahman, Allah, or the Ground of the Absolute.

Reflect on this: You, with all your flaws, have been chosen for this opportunity to consciously taste life, to know it for what it is, and to make of it what you are able. This gift of a conscious life is grace, even when your life is filled with great difficulty and it may not feel like a gift at the time.

When Henry Thoreau went into retreat at Walden Pond, he and his friend Ralph Emerson had been studying Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist texts. He wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” He understood that conscious life was a gift for which the highest form of gratitude was to know it in all its depths.

This grace of conscious life, of having a mind that can know “this moment is like this,” is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows. The wonder, the mystery, is that you, like everyone else, are given this short, precious time of conscious embodiment in which you can directly know life for yourself. However you find life to be-cruel or kind, sorrowful or joyous, bland or stimulating, indifferent or filled with love-you get the privilege of knowing it firsthand.

Gratitude for the grace of conscious embodiment evolves into the practice of selfless gratitude, in which your concerns slowly but surely shift from being mostly about yourself and those close to you to being about all living beings. As this occurs, you need less and less in the way of good fortune. It becomes enough that there are those who are happy, who are receiving love, who are safe, and who have a promising future. It is not that you would not prefer good things for yourself, but your sense of well-being is no longer contingent on external circumstances. You are able to rejoice that amidst all life’s suffering there exists joy. You realize that pain and joy are part of a mysterious whole. When this state of selfless gratitude starts to blossom, your mind becomes more spacious, quieter, and your heart receives its first taste of the long-sought release from fear and wanting. 

This is grace.

Resilient Heart | 11 . 6 . 18

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Akkoso Sutta: Abuse

– Pali Canon, The Buddha

 

… At one time, Akkosaka was angry and displeased with the Buddha. He went to see the Buddha, overwhelming him with abuse and reproaches. At these words the Buddha said:

“What do you think, Akkosaka ? Do you receive visits from friends and colleagues, blood-relations and others?”

“Yes, Gotama, sometimes such people come.”

“What do you think? Do you serve them with solid food, soft food and savories?”

“Yes, Gotama, sometimes.”

“But supposing, Akkosaka, they do not accept what you offer, whose is it?”

“If they do not accept, Gotama, then it belongs to us.”

“So it is here, Akkosaka. The abuse, the scolding, the reviling you hurl at us who do not abuse or scold or revile, we do not accept from you. It all belongs to you, brahman, it all belongs to you! If a man replies to abuse with abuse, to scolding with scolding, to reviling with reviling, brahman, that is like you joining your guests for dinner. But we are not joining you for dinner. It is all yours, brahman, it is all yours!”

Akkosaka:
“The king and his court believe that Gotama the recluse is an Arahant (enlightned). And yet the good Gotama can get angry!”

[The Blessed One said in verse:]
How could anger rise in him who is free,
Wrathless, all his passions tamed, at peace,
Freed by highest insight, by himself,
So abiding, perfectly serene?
If one is abused and then answers back,
Of the two he shows himself the worse.

One who does not answer back in kind,
Celebrates a double victory.
From one’s action both sides benefit,
Oneself and one’s reviler too:
Understanding the other’s angry mood,
One can help the other clear it and find peace.

One is the healer of them both, because
One and the other both benefit thereby.
People think one like that is a fool,
Because they cannot understand the truth.

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Kakacupama Sutta
– Pali Canon

The Great Earth

“Suppose, monks, a person were to come to you, holding a hoe and a basket and he were to say: ‘I shall make this great earth earthless.’ Then he would strew the earth here and there, spit here and there, and urinate here and there, and would say:’ ‘Be earthless, be earthless.’ What do you think, monks, would this person render this great earth earthless?”

“No, indeed not, most venerable sir.”

“And why?”

“Because this great earth, most venerable sir, is deep and without measure. It cannot possibly be turned earthless. On the contrary, that person would only reap weariness and frustration.”

“In the same way, monks, others may use these five modes of speech when speaking to you — speech that is timely or untimely, true or false, gentle or harsh, with a good or a harmful motive, and with a loving heart or hostility. In this way, monks, you should train yourselves: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to that very person, making him as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love — thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.’ It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves.

Empty Space

“Suppose, monks, a person were to approach you, carrying paints of lacquer, turmeric, indigo or carmine, and he were to say: ‘I will draw this picture, I will make this painting appear on this empty space.’ What do you think, monks, could he make this painting appear on empty space?”

“No, indeed not, most venerable sir.”

“And why not?”

“Because this empty space, most venerable sir, is formless and invisible. He cannot possibly draw a picture or make a painting appear on this empty space. On the contrary, that person will only reap weariness and frustration.”

“In the same way, monks, others may use these five modes of speech when speaking to you — speech that is timely or untimely, true or false, gentle or harsh, with a good or a harmful motive, and with a loving heart or hostility. In this way, monks, you should train yourselves: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to that very person, making him as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love — thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.’ It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves.

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Release Ill Will
-Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo

Don’t allow yourself to carry hate with you. It’s only normal that when people live together, their behavior isn’t going to be on an equal level. Some people have good manners, some people have coarse manners — not evil, mind you, just that their manners are coarse. Physically, some people are energetic, industrious, and strong; others are weak and sickly. Verbally, some people are skilled at speaking, others are not. Some people talk a lot, some people hardly talk at all; some people like to talk about worldly things, some people like to talk about the Dhamma; some people speak in unwholesome ways, some people speak in a wholesome way. This is called inequality. When this is the case, there are bound to be conflicts and clashes, at least to some extent.

When these things and ill will arise among us, we shouldn’t hold onto grudges or keep score. We should forgive one another and wash away that stain of ill will from our hearts. Why? Because otherwise it turns into animosity and enmity and turns toxic.

The resilient heart that forgives is truly a gift for all concerned. It turns you into the sort of person who doesn’t hold onto things, doesn’t carry things around, doesn’t get caught up on things, living in the past — the sort of person who doesn’t bear grudges and spread around more disharmony.

There will always be misunderstandings, missteps or mistakes from time to time and we should continuously forgive one another. A sense of acceptance and kindness for everyone around us is to be cultivated as much as we can. This is the kind and resilient heart of our practice as Buddhists, both for householders and for contemplatives.

Released Heart: Your Guide | . 10 . 30 . 18

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Removing the Thorn

-Andrew Olendzki

In a remarkable passage in the Attadanda Sutta, the Buddha speaks frankly about his fear and dismay about the state of society:

Fear is born from arming oneself.

Just see how many people fight!

I’ll tell you about the dreadful fear

That caused me to shake all over.

Seeing creatures flopping around,

Like fishes in shallow water,

So hostile to one another!

—Seeing this, I became afraid.

This image—fishes flopping around in the shallows—seems as apt today as ever. As the world’s resources diminish and the number of people in need of them increases, things may well get only more desperate. Even in the Buddha’s time the situation seemed overwhelming. The Buddha acknowledges his despair, but he also describes his breakthrough to a deeper understanding:

Seeing people locked in conflict,

I became completely distraught.

But then I discerned here a thorn

—Hard to see—lodged deep in the heart.

It’s only when pierced by this thorn

That one runs in all directions.

So if that thorn is taken out—

One does not run, and settles down.

                          (Sutta Nipata 935—39)

This pivotal insight shapes how conflict and peace are to be understood in the Buddhist tradition. Human society is formed by the collective action of its individuals; it thus reflects the qualities of heart and mind of each person. Peace in people’s hearts creates peace in the world; turmoil in people’s hearts creates turmoil in the world. The harmful behavior people manifest in the world can be seen as having a single cause. That cause is desire.

Desire comes in two forms, attachment and aversion. The first makes us grab after the things we like and hold onto them, the second makes us avoid or resist or attack the things we don’t like. Attachment leads us to consume resources at any cost, take from others what has not been given to us, and drives us to exploit others for personal gain. It also underlies such personality traits as pride, arrogance, conceit, selfishness, and the lust for power. Aversion compels us to turn away from what we find unpleasant, to shut out or discriminate against those we don’t like, and to destroy what we fear or what we don’t understand. It also causes such aberrant behaviors as violence, cruelty, bigotry, and other acts of hatefulness.

But these thorns in the heart can be removed. It is just the thorn, driving us mad with pain and fear, that makes us crazy enough to hurt and hate, that makes us lose touch with our innate goodness. Like a ferocious lion with a thorn in its paw, we are only in need of a healer to come pull out the thorn that afflicts us. The Buddha was such a healer. Having diagnosed the problem as desire—so embedded in the heart that it is often hard to see—his prescription was simply to apply awareness to the problem, and to do so in massive doses. Because the workings of desire are hidden in the unconscious functioning of the mind, we must bring greater consciousness to bear on the moment. We have only to learn to see things clearly, and a natural process of healing will occur.

To heal the individual wounds brought about by desire, the Buddha prescribed mindful meditation, the careful, moment-to-moment observation of everything arising and falling in the field of phenomenal experience. When we are able to see what is actually occurring within us, wisdom will gradually evolve. The principle is simple, but it takes practice. To heal the collective wounds of our planet, likewise brought about by desire in its various forms, it seems to me we might apply the same prescription. The way to bring collective mindfulness to bear on the collective field of experience is through witnessing and sharing what has been seen by others.

We can see many examples today of the beneficial things that can happen when an atrocity is caught on tape and shared widely with others, or when evidence of wrongdoing is brought to light and exposed before the court of world opinion. Just as the evil we are capable of as individuals lies lurking unexamined deep in our psyches, so also much of the cruelty and abuse that takes place in the world is hidden from view. And just as uncovering our personal demons can begin a process of healing, so also can the revealing of cruelties and injustices that have been kept secret have a transformative effect on global behavior.

According to the Buddha, the human world is protected by twin guardians, two forces in the mind that watch over and guide moral behavior. The first guardian of the world is hiri, a word that connotes conscience, moral intuition, and self-respect. It refers to that within the human psyche that knows the difference between right and wrong, between what is noble and ignoble, between what is worthy of respect and what is not. Each of us has within us an innate moral compass, and it is the view of the Buddhist tradition that religion is not the source of this but rather a form by which it is given expression. The second guardian of the world is ottappa, which comprises such notions as social conscience, a cultural or collective sense of morality, and respect for the opinions and the rights of others.

Buddhism teaches that anything we do that is wholesome will be done with the support and guidance of these two inner guardians. Conversely, everything we do that is unwholesome can only be done when these moral guides are disregarded. So if there is something morally reprehensible occurring in an individual or in a society, it means that we lack sufficient clarity of awareness of what we are doing. It means we are temporarily blinded by our greed, hatred, or delusion, or by some combination of the three, such that we refuse to attend openly to the deeds we are committing. When attention has been brought to bear on the matter—in sufficient amounts, with sufficient intensity, and with sufficient honesty—we will naturally shy away from doing harm to ourselves, to others, and to both.

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Vijja-bhagiya Sutta:

Pali Canon, The Buddha

(paraphrased)

 

“These two qualities balance clear knowing (guidance). Which two?

Tranquillity (samatha) & insight (vipassana).

 

Tanquility can be thought of, in meditation, as the mind/heart/body in the ease and repose of balance. –

Insight can be thought of, in meditation, as the understanding (knowledge) of the nature of phenomena arising and passing away—along with (vision) personal experience of observing the orgin, the arising and passing away of all phenomena.-

 

“When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve?

The mind is developed

which allows obsession to be abandoned.

“When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve?

Discernment is developed.

Which allows Ignorance to be abandoned.

“Defiled by obsession, the mind is not released.

Defiled by ignorance, discernment does not develop.

Thus from the fading of obsession there is there awareness-release.

From the fading of ignorance there is there discernment-release.

Triumph of Heart | 10 . 23 . 18

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What Leads to Triumph of The Heart?

– Jospeh Goldstein

There is an important lesson here about the sustaining power of lovingkindness. Because it does not depend on any particular quality in the other person, this kind of love does not transform easily into ill will, anger, or irritation, as love with desire or attachment so often does. Such unconditional love comes only from our own generosity of heart. Although we may recognize the purity and power of this feeling, we may fear or imagine that this kind of love lies beyond our capacity. But metta is not a power that belongs only to the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa or some extraordinary being categorically different from ourselves. We can all practice it and learn to love in this way. The question for us is, how can we do it? What makes this inclusiveness possible?

A number of years ago, the Harvard Medical Journal included an article about a Tibetan doctor named Tenzin Chodak, who had been a personal physician to the Dalai Lama. In 1959, Dr. Chodak was imprisoned by the Chinese. For seventeen of the twenty-one years he remained in prison, he was beaten and tortured daily—physically and psychologically—and his life was continually threatened. Astonishingly, he emerged from this horror virtually free from signs of post-traumatic stress.

In the article, Dr. Chodak distills the wisdom we need to understand into four points of understanding, which made possible not only his survival—people survive horrendous conditions in many ways—but also the great triumph of his heart. A short biographical sketch of him by Claude Levenson describes him in this way: “Dr. Chodak could easily pass unnoticed, until you meet his gaze—a gaze filled with the perception of one who has seen so much that he has seen everything, seeing beyond the suffering he has experienced, beyond all the evil and the abuses he has witnessed, yet expressing boundless compassion for his fellow human beings.”

  

FOUR INSIGHTS IN TIMES OF DISTRESS

First, we must endeavor to see every situation in a larger context. Like the Dalai Lama—who often speaks of how one’s enemy teaches one patience—Dr. Chodak saw his enemy as his spiritual teacher, who led him to the wisest and most compassionate place in himself. Accordingly, he felt that even in the most dreadful and deplorable circumstances some human greatness, some greatness of heart could be accomplished. Of course, thinking this is easy; the challenge is to remember and apply this understanding in times of difficulty.

Second, we must see our enemies, or the difficult people in our lives, as human beings like ourselves. Dr. Chodak never forgot the commonality of the human condition. The “law of karma” means that all our actions have consequences: actions bear fruit based on the intentions behind them. People who act cruelly toward us are actually in adverse circumstances, just as we are, creating unwholesome karma that will bring about their own future suffering.

But we mustn’t fall into thinking of karma as “they’ll get theirs,” as a kind of vehicle for cosmic revenge. Rather, seeing the universal human condition can become a wellspring of compassion. The Dalai Lama said, “Your enemies may disagree with you, may be harming you, but in another aspect, they are still human beings like you. They also have the right not to suffer and to find happiness. If your empathy can extend out like that, it is unbiased, genuine compassion.” Understanding karma—that we all reap the fruit of our actions—as a vehicle for compassion is the wisdom we could now integrate into our lives. We’re all in the same situation with regard to the great law of karmic cause and effect.

Lovingkindness is a feeling that blesses others and oneself with the simple wish, “Be happy.”

Third, we must let go of pride and feelings of self-importance. These attitudes, which can arise so easily in times of conflict, become the seeds of even more difficulty. It doesn’t mean that we should adopt a stance of false humility or self-abnegation. Rather, we let go of the tendency toward self-aggrandizement, whether interpersonally or within the framework of our own inner psychology. A story from ancient China uses nature to illustrate the great protection of true humility:

The sage Chuang Tzu was walking with a disciple on a hilltop. They see a crooked, ancient tree without a single straight branch. The disciple says the tree is useless, nothing from it can be used, and Chuang Tzu replies, “That’s the reason it’s ancient. Everyone seems to know how useful it is to be useful. No one seems to know how useful it is to be useless.”

Dr. Chodak actually attributed his survival to the ability to let go of self-importance and self-righteousness. This insight provides a tremendous lesson on the spiritual journey, a lesson that can come up for all of us again and again. Finally, the insight that nourished Dr. Chodak’s amazing triumph of the heart, and one we must truly understand ourselves, is that hatred never ceases through hatred; it ceases only in response to love. Many spiritual traditions acknowledge this truth. In situations of conflict, lovingkindness and compassion grow when we understand them to be the most beneficial motivation for responsive and effective action.

Can we hold these perspectives, even in less trying circumstances? When someone is very angry with you or you’re in some difficult situation, remember that this difficulty itself can strengthen patience and love. In these situations, we can investigate what greatness of heart we might accomplish, remind ourselves that everyone involved shares the common bond of humanity, let go of pride, and understand that, in the end, hatred and enmity will only cease by love.

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Set the Compass of Your Heart

-Jack Kornfield

You need a reliable compass to set your direction and steer through the rough waters when you are going through hard times, when you’ve been betrayed, when you’ve lost your job, when you’ve lost friends or loved ones, when you’re in conflict with your family, or when you’re going through illness.

But how can you set your direction when you can’t see any clear harbor? And how can you navigate through difficult waters when you’re swamped by overwhelming emotions, when so much of your awareness is taken over with trying to figure out who’s at fault and who did what to whom, or creating stories about who’s wrong and who’s right and why?

When we’re overwhelmed by a difficult situation, sometimes we know we’re behaving in a way that is only making matters worse, but we don’t know how to stop.

No matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can always set our compass to our highest intentions in the present moment. Perhaps it is nothing more than being in a heated conversation with another person and stopping to take a breath and ask yourself, “What is my highest intention in this moment?” If you can have enough awareness to take this small step, your heart will give you an answer that will take the conversation in a different, more positive direction. With simple steps like these, you can behave in ways that at least will not fuel your difficulties—or anyone else’s.

Whatever your difficulties—a devastated heart, financial loss, feeling assaulted by the conflicts around you, or a seemingly hopeless illness—you can always remember that you are free in every moment to set the compass of your heart to your highest intentions. In fact, the two things that you are always free to do—despite your circumstances—are to be present and to be willing to love.

Heart at Ease | 10 . 16 . 18

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SUBLIME ABIDING PLACES FOR THE HEART

A Foundational Heart Practice: Brahmaviharas

– Ajahn Amaro

THE BRAHMAVIHARAS ARE THE QUALITIES of loving-kindness, com- passion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. What is often not sufficiently emphasized is that the brahmaviharas are fundamental to the Buddha’s teaching and practice. I shall begin with the chant called The Suffusion of the Divine Abidings. I find this chant very beautiful. It is the most frequent form in which the brahmaviharas are mentioned in the discourses of the Buddha. Here is the Divine Abidings chant:

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness; likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above and below, around and everywhere; and to all as to myself. I will abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness; abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill will.

The chant continues using the same words with the other three qualities:

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with compassion…equanimity…gladness…

Last February I was asked to be the spiritual advisor to a Thai man who was to be executed at San Quentin, and I spent the last few days until his death with him. He touched many people and had many visitors, but in the capacity of spiritual advisor, I was the only person allowed to be with him in the last six hours of his life. So some of his friends asked me what they should be doing in those final hours to help Jay as well as themselves. I asked them to chant this Divine Abidings chant. That’s what they did during the final hours of Jay’s life, sending forth these thoughts of loving-kindness, compassion, gladness, and equanimity. They are pow- erful emotions to evoke at a time when one could be stuck in anger, regret,andself-pity.Itisveryempoweringtobeabletobringforththese qualities of the heart, to turn the mind away from negativity towards that which is wholesome and positive.

Cultivating the brahmaviharas means bringing these qualities (metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha) into consciousness. It is like exercising muscles that have not been used. As you develop these qualities, you have to consider whether your mind is getting clearer or more confused.The correct practice of the brahmaviharas always leads to increased clarity and joy. That is the nature of these qualities of mind.

The whole point of the Buddha’s teachings is to cultivate mental qualities in order to gain happiness of mind. And the brahmaviharas—a prime source for creating happiness—can thus lay the foundation for the entire practice. Most of the terms the Buddha uses regarding the devel- oping of practice are those that describe states of well being.We see this in a sequence he sets out to illustrate the development of the mind.

Anavajjasukha is the state of mind resulting from abiding by the moral precepts—the happiness of blamelessness or harmlessness, the happiness of non-remorse.

Abhyasekhasukha is the happiness that ensues from training in sense restraint—the composure one finds when one is not bent on gratification or excitement of the senses.

Pamojja means the delight that results from being free of the five hin- drances that hinder meditation (sensual desire, ill will, sleepiness or drowsiness, restlessness, and skeptical doubt). Pamojja also refers to the happiness that meditative states of tranquility can bring—an unalloyed kind of happiness. It also includes the delight that arises from skilful reflection on the true nature of things. Pamojja leads to piti (joy). Piti leads to passadhi (the state of tranquility).When there is tranquility, sukha (happiness) arises, and because of sukha, samadhi arises. Samadhi is the firm meditative state of mind.The Buddha says in many discourses that the happy mind is easily concentrated.

We see that happiness brings about samadhi, whereas usually we ap- proach it the other way round.We often think,“If only I could get my meditation together, then I would be happy,” whereas it should be:“How do I gain true happiness so that my heart could be at ease?” It is a very important truth that the Buddha points to in this sequence of shades of happiness culminating in samadhi.

The result of samadhi is summed up in the recurring phrase “seeing things as they truly are.”This is a description of a mental state where the mind steps back from the sense of self. This state prepares the mind to be truly still and unshakeable.When that happens, the mind moves into nibbida. Sometimes this word is translated as boredom or disgust or re- vulsion, but that does not really get it. It means a cooling of the heart and turning away from things, leading to vimutti (freedom). Happiness plays a great role in the development of the whole sequence, and the brahmaviharas, which generate happiness, can serve as a powerful foundation for one’s practice.

The qualities of happiness and joy are necessary for mental development.This is seen in many aspects of the Buddha’s teaching.The Buddha very explicitly uses the Four Noble Truths as a tool. Over and over again he says, “I teach only two things, suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Some could say this is a miserable teaching, dwelling on suffering. But when you investigate the teaching, you see why the Buddha sets it out like that. Suffering is a very tangible quality. We can investigate it. It is some- thing that we know and do not want. The whole range of sentient exis- tence is subject to suffering, and the wish to escape from it is universal.

Many positive qualities are brought into being and are involved when one is engaged in cultivating the boundless qualities of the brahmaviharas. They lead to a sense of ease, security, and fearlessness. The Pali word for fearlessness is abhaya. In Thai, it also has the connotation of forgiveness. Developing the brahmaviharas engenders forgiveness, particularly in the practice of loving-kindness and compassion. To open one’s heart to these qualities, one needs to be forgiving. The holding of past grievances—the constant refrain of “he did this; she did that; I did this; I can’t forgive myself ”—is swept away. There is no room in the divine abodes for hold- ing grudges and enmity towards oneself or others.

Generosity, or dana, is another natural result of the desire to promote happiness and alleviate suffering.Three kinds of dana are mentioned: the givingofmaterialthingssuchasfoodormoney,thegivingofDhamma, and the giving of forgiveness or fearlessness. Often we do not pay much

attention to the little things, such as our perceptions of ourselves and others.We have to learn to really forgive so as to open our hearts to these boundless qualities.

For instance, during that experience I had with Jay Siripongs, I asked him if there was still anybody he had not forgiven.This was during the last six hours leading up to the execution.We had spent the previous four and one-half hours or so talking, chanting, meditating, laughing, and generally having a buoyant time. Jay paused for a while and quietly said,“I don’t think I’ve quite forgiven myself.” That’s not just him. All of us are in that position. So it is very important to bring up into consciousness areas where we have not forgiven ourselves and where we have thus created limitations and constraints for ourselves.

________________________________________________________

Creatures of a day, 

what is anyone?

 What are they not?

We are but a dream of a shadow.

Yet when there comes as a gift of heaven

a gleam of sunshine, 

there rests upon the heart a radiant light

and, ahh,

a gentle life.

– Pindar (518-438 BCE)

Purity of Heart | 10 . 9 . 18

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Yamakavagga: Pairs

– The Buddha: Pali Canon

 

Phenomena are preceded by the heart,

ruled by the heart,

made of the heart.

If you speak or act with a corrupted heart,

then suffering follows you as the wheel of the cart,

the track of the ox that pulls it.

Phenomena are preceded by the heart,

ruled by the heart,

made of the heart.

If you speak or act with a calm, bright heart,

then happiness follows you like a shadow

that never leaves.

‘He insulted me,

hit me,

beat me,

robbed me’

for those who brood on this, hostility isn’t stilled.

‘He insulted me,

hit me,

beat me,

robbed me’ —

for those who don’t brood on this, hostility is stilled.

Hostilities aren’t stilled through further hostility.

Hostilities are stilled through non-hostility.

this is an unending truth.

Unlike those who don’t realize that we are all here on the for a very short time,

those who do realize this—their quarrels are stilled.

 

 

Purity of Heart

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu

During my first weeks with my teacher, Ajaan Fuang, I began to realize that he had psychic powers. He never made a show of them, but I gradually sensed that he could read my mind and anticipate future events. I became intrigued: What else did he know? How did he know it? He must have detected where my thoughts were going, for one evening he gently headed me off: “You know,” he said, “the whole aim of our practice is purity of heart. Everything else is just games.”

That one phrase — purity of heart — more than intrigued me. It reverberated deep down inside. I prompted me to recalled the philosopher Kierkegaard and his dictum: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” I didn’t agree with Kierkegaard as to what that “one thing” was, but I did agree that purity of heart is the most important treasure of life. And here Ajaan Fuang was offering to teach me how to develop it. That’s one of the reasons why I stayed with him until he died.

His basic definition of purity of heart was simple enough—”a happiness that will never harm anyone”. But a happiness like that is hard to find, for ordinary happiness requires that we eat. In my practice one of the first training questions was “What is a being? To begin with, all beings subsist on food.” This is how the Buddha introduced the topic of causality to young people: The primary causal relationship isn’t something gentle like light reflecting off mirrors, or jewels illuminating jewels. It’s feeding. We feed in many ways.We feed our senses, feed our ego, feed our desires. But we can begin by thinking of feeding our bodies. Our bodies need physical food for their well-being. Our minds need the food of pleasant sensory contacts, intentions, and consciousness itself in order to function. If you ever want proof that interconnectedness isn’t always something to celebrate, just contemplate how the beings of the world feed on one another, physically and emotionally. Interbeing is inter-eating. As Ajaan Suwat, my second teacher once said, 

“If there were a god who could arrange that by my eating I could make everyone in the world full, I’d bow down to that god.” 

But that’s not how feeding works.

We’re so compelled to feed that we blind ourselves to its larger impact. Our first pleasure, after the shock of being born, was getting to feed. 

But when you go to a quiet, secluded place and start examining your life, you begin to see what an enormous issue it is just to keep the body and mind fed. 

On the one hand, you may think that any suffering caused to others is unavoidable as you fulfill your need. Or you may see something even more dismaying: the emotions that arise within you when you don’t feel that your body and mind are getting enough fuel. You realize that as long as your source of physical or mental food is unreliable, you’re unreliable, too. You may be able to see the connection explaining why even good people can reach a point where they’re capable of murder, deceit, adultery, or theft. 

Being born with this body means that we’re born with a huge bundle of obvious and not so obvious needs and desires that compel and can overwhelm our minds. This is where our practice of understanding and training our minds becomes the essential solution.

Fortunately, we human beings have the potential to civilize our continous needs by learning to wean ourselves from our passion for the junk food of sights, sounds, smells, etc., and look instead for wholesome sustanence within our hearts. When we learn to appreciate the joy that comes from generosity, honor, compassion, and trust, we see that it’s much more fulfilling than the pleasure that comes simply from grabbing what we can for ourselves. We realize that our happiness is supported by non-harming. 

Unfortunately, these qualities of the heart are conditional, for they depend on a tender web of beliefs and feelings — belief in justice and the basic goodness of human nature, feelings of trust and affection. When that web breaks, as it so easily can, the heart can turn vicious. We see this in divorce, broken families, and society at large. When the security of our food source — the basis of our mental and material well-being — gets threatened, the finer qualities of the mind can vanish. People who believe in kindness can suddenly seek revenge. Those who espouse non-violence can suddenly call for war. And those who rule by divisiveness — by making a mockery of compassion, prudence, and our common humanity — find a willing following for their law-of-the-jungle agenda.

The unconditional happiness—one’s unwavering source of wisdom and compassion comes from “the knowledge and vision of things as they truely are”. This unconditioned happiness can guarantee the purity of your behavior-— purity of heart. Independent of space and time, it’s beyond conditions. No one can threaten its food source, for it has no need to feed. When you’ve had even just a glimpse of this happiness, your belief in goodness becomes unshakable. Other people can trust you, and you can genuinely trust yourself. 

You lack for nothing.

Purity of heart is to know this one thing.

 

Daily Affirmation

Consider all phenomena 

to be conditioned & impermanent.

Be grateful to everyone and everything.

Let the middle way/heart center be your refuge.

Let go of brooding over others faults.

Be curious about all phenomena.

At all times rely on a joyful heart.

Don’t expect a standing ovation.

Forgiving Heart | 10 . 2 . 18

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Right & Wrong

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu

What is the wise understanding of right and wrong in the buddhist tradition? The Buddha based his methods for reconciliation with a culture of values whereby right and wrong become aids rather than hindrances to reconciliation. To prevent those in the right from abusing their position, he counseled that they reflect on themselves before they accuse another of wrongdoing. The checklist of questions he recommended boils down to this: “Am I free from unreconciled offenses of my own? Am I motivated by kindness, rather than vengeance? Am I really clear on our mutual standards?” Only if they can answer “yes” to these questions should they bring up and pursue the issue. The Buddha recommended that one determine to speak only words that are true, timely, gentle, to the point, and prompted by kindness. The motivation for actions should be compassion, solicitude for the welfare of all parties involved, and the desire to see the wrong-doer rehabilitated, together with an overriding desire to hold to fair principles of right and wrong.

To encourage a wrongdoer to see reconciliation as a winning rather than a losing proposition, the Buddha praised the honest acceptance of blame as an honorable rather than a shameful act: not just a means, but the means for progress in spiritual practice. As he told his son, Rahula, the ability to recognize one’s mistakes and admit them to others is the essential factor in achieving blamelessness in thought, word, and deed [MN 61]. Or as he said in the Dhammapada, people who recognize their own mistakes and change their ways “illumine the world like the moon when freed from a cloud” [Dhp 173].

In addition to providing these incentives for honestly admitting misbehavior, the Buddha blocked the paths to denial. Modern sociologists have identified five basic strategies that people use to avoid accepting blame when they’ve caused harm, and it’s noteworthy that the Buddha’s teaching on moral responsibility serves to undercut all five. The strategies are: to deny responsibility, to deny that harm was actually done, to deny the worth of the victim, to attack the accuser, and to claim that they were acting in the service of a higher cause. The Buddha’s responses to these strategies are: (1) We are always responsible for our conscious choices. (2) We should always put ourselves in the other person’s place. (3) All beings are worthy of respect. (4) We should regard those who point out our faults as if they were pointing out treasure. (5) There are no — repeat, no — higher purposes that excuse breaking the basic precepts of ethical behavior.

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Forgiveness Meditation

When someone harms us or is a source of ill will or causes us deep grief, meditation is indeed very effective to reduce this type of suffering. In other instances, for example when one gets stuck or feels a block in their Loving-Kindness meditation practice, one may find it beneficial to do a Forgiveness Meditation. This enables one to remove the barriers that may be there.  And after the Forgiveness Meditation, a true warm sincere Loving-Kindness arises.  

Forgiveness meditation is a way of opening oneself up to the possibilities of true healing and love for oneself and others. The forgiveness meditation is a soft, gentle way of learning how to lovingly-accept whatever arises and to leave it be, without trying to control it with thoughts.

Sometimes in our lives, there can be a feeling of letting someone down by not doing enough to help them. Of course this is just mind saying “I should be better”, “I should have done better”, “ I failed and I am not worthy” and “ because of that I should suffer even more.”

The forgiveness meditation is not ever to be used as a club to beat away a feeling of sadness, or anger, or frustration or any other kind of feeling. Once again, the forgiveness meditation is a soft, gentle way of learning how to lovingly-accept whatever arises and to leave it be, without trying to control it with thoughts.

Of course, blaming kinds of unwholesome thoughts and feelings don’t have anything to do with reality. Nor does anyone need to blame themselves for their friends or family members decisions. These complicated feelings that cause difficulties can be gently addressed by a Forgiveness Meditation practice.

This meditation is done by sitting down and beginning the forgiveness process by forgiving yourself.

I forgive myself for not understanding

I forgive myself for making mistakes

I forgive myself for causing pain to myself or anyone else

I forgive myself for not acting in a wholesome way.

The way one does this is by first forgiving themselves. This is done by taking each of these 4 statements, Beginning with  “I forgive myself for not understanding” Repeating silently this forgiveness statement over and over again. Place that feeling of forgiveness in your heart, ( visualize in your minds eye, a soft pink radiant glowing light of forgiveness) and permeate your whole body with that pink glowing light, radiating and feeling the soft acceptance within yourself, your body and your heart.

Use the statement, the feeling and the radiant light filling your body as the object of your meditation. 

The thing is, mind it tricky and it will sometimes have huge resistance to forgiving yourself and will come up with all kinds of thoughts to distract you and blame yourself. But when you see the mind taking off and thinking unwholesome things then gently 6R those thoughts and feelings, then gently redirect your attention back to forgiving yourself again. Sit with that feeling of loving-acceptance for as long as it lasts, then make the statement again to help the loving-acceptance last for longer.

6R Review

When your mind wanders in meditation…

Recognize that

Release the distraction

Relax your body and mind

Return to your object of meditation

Re-Smile give yourself a little smile, like the Buddha

Mind will naturally have a lot of, “But… But… But…” interruptions and try to distract you and condemn you and then make you feel guilty or sad or angry or whatever it wants to do. This is where patience needs to be cultivated, softly allow those distracting (hindrances) to be there and then you gently bring your attention back to forgiving yourself. Do this softly with the 6R’s. Return to using the statement, the feeling and the radiant light filling your body as the object of your meditation

Having forgiven yourself allow your mind to go to the person(s) you are now going to forgive. Softly, gently, start forgiving them.

I forgive you for not understanding

I forgive you for making mistakes

I forgive you for causing pain to myself or anyone else

I forgive you for not acting in a wholesome way.

Pick one of the 4 statements—whichever one that seems most appropriate at the time. Using that one statement,  “I forgive you for not understanding” Repeating silently this forgiveness statement over and over again. Place that feeling of forgiveness in your heart, Visualize in your minds eye, a soft pink radiant glowing light of forgiveness and permeate your whole body with that pink glowing light, radiating and feeling the soft acceptance of forgiveness within yourself, your body and your heart. 

And now see them in your mind’s eye and look into their eyes and see their acknowledgment of your forgiveness. Then, place that forgiveness into your heart. Visualize in your minds eye, a soft pink radiant glowing light of forgiveness and permeate your whole body with that pink glowing light, radiating and feeling the soft acceptance of forgiveness within yourself, your body and your heart. 

Completing the Circle of Forgiveness

This forgiveness meditation starts by forgiving yourself, then forgiving another person, then you “hear” them forgive you too. This is a complete circle. It will eventually make things change in your mind so there will not be any guilt or frustration or sadness or anger or making excuses for making mistakes and then feeling hard about yourself. Making excuses about anything means that one doesn’t take responsibility for their own actions and this is a subtle attachment to be forgiven and to be let go of.

Pick one of the 4 statements—whichever one that seems most appropriate.. Using that one statement,

hear that person saying:  “I forgive you for making mistakes.” Hearing from that person this forgiveness statement over and over again. Place that feeling of forgiveness in your heart, Visualize in your minds eye, a soft pink radiant glowing light of forgiveness and permeate your whole body with that pink glowing light, radiating and feeling the soft acceptance of forgiveness within yourself, your body and your heart. 

And now see them in your mind’s eye and look into their eyes and acknowledge you have received their forgiveness. 

Eventually there may develop an equanimous acceptance and feelings of understanding toward that person who caused so much pain.

Expanding Forgiveness into your life:

Now, this is the sitting meditation but there is still more to the meditation and that is to forgive everything and everybody, all of the time. Use this forgiveness as your only object of meditation. Forgive yourself for bumping into something or if cooking for cutting yourself or burning yourself or for making mistakes. Put forgiveness into everything all of the time. Forgive thoughts for distracting you, forgive others for distracting you. In short forgive everything all of the time. When walking from one place to another forgive yourself and/or others. Any tiny distraction, forgive it. Forgive yourself for not remembering, forgive yourself for making mistakes. Forgive every thought, every memory, forgive every pain that arises. 6R and forgive ALL OF THE TIME!!! If you forget to forgive something then forgive yourself for forgetting and then start again.

It may take some time before the mind begins to let go of these attachments but patience leads to liberation (eventually).

Resentment and Ill Will are old energies, unwholesome habit patterns we all carry within us, knowingly or sometimes unknowingly. So it is necessary to keep this practice going for quite some time so the attachments will loose their hold on your heart and you can free your energies to follow wholesome, uplifting states leading to peace and a sense of wellbeing and eventually awakening.