"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call!

The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Tonglen Practice: Taking It To Heart

“You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion. It is said that in difficult times,
it is only bodhichitta that heals.”
-- The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa quoted by Pema Chodron, 
When Things Fall Apart:
Heart Advice for Difficult Times

"So, when we are willing, intentionally, with this kind of attitude, 
this vision, to breathe in the suffering, we are able to transform it 
easily and naturally; 
it doesn't take a major effort on our part, other than allow it."
-- Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

A grin comes to my face as I remember her voice on the telephone.

"That's backwards isn't it? You meant breathe in the good and send out the bad, right?" she said, not unkindly. Being gracious, she was making a space for me to realize that my aging brain cells had gone dyslexic.

I had been chatting with an old friend for first time in quite awhile, talking about my continued wonder at the Lojong Teachings in general, and Tonglen Practice in particular.  

After a moment's pause, to relax and reconnect with the basic openness of mind -- and to make sure that I really hadn't verbally zigged when I had intended to zag -- I continued.

"No, I actually did mean that I get in touch with my aspiration that we be released from suffering and the roots of suffering.  Then I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that have emerged at the moment.  I then breathe out a sense of relief and healing energy.

She paused for awhile (perhaps, to relax and reconnect with a basic openness of mind herself? LOL)  Then she simply replied, "Oh?" 

She didn't sound convinced.

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly individualistic and materialistic society, the basic premise of this ancient Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training seems counter- intuitive.  Making the decision to open our hearts to the entire gamut of human emotions, rather than always grasping at the "good" and pushing away the "bad?  Seems a bit crazy, right? It most certainly is. 

Crazy like a fox.

The Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which consist of 59 training aphorisms are supported by two meditation practices: Basic Sitting Practice (Shamatha-Vippasyana) and Tonglen.  Each of these practices has a role in cultivating our Connection to the essentially miraculous nature of life.  Each contributes to our deepening ability to be Present -- moment to moment -- to the Sacred Perfection in which we are immersed.

To wit:

As I sit here and pay attention, I become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness as I pause to become aware of my body, my breath, the room that I am sitting in, world outside the window.  I can feel its expansiveness in my heart.  I can relax and rest in its embrace. 

Sitting here, breathing in, breathing out,  I'm aware of the dance of my fingers along the surface of this keyboard.  I see that milliseconds before the fingers move, thoughts emerge instantaneously, seemingly from nowhere in particular.  Although, these thoughts are most certainly prompted by my intention to write this blog post, they appear to be emerging by themselves, quite mysteriously.  

Although Western science claims that these thoughts are merely epiphenoma, just brain secretions of some sort, at this moment they are connectioned to something much grander than that.  My heart feels that connection.  I have come to trust that feeling.  A boundless sense of wonder and joy emerges from the luminous silence that embraces me as I embrace it.   Aware of my feet on the floor, the clicking contact of my fingers on the keyboard, the soft humming of the computer, the wind outside the window, the vast, open spaciousness of a clear and boundless open mind, my heart opens.  I feel the Presence of the Sacred.

But, I digress -- sort of.
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Saturday, November 21, 2020

Empty Handed


 "Emptiness wrongly grasped is like 
picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end." 
― Nagarjuna
 
 “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”
 ― Pema Chödrön

Mahakala: Wrathful Protector of Tibetan Buddhism
Years ago, when I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society, my Dharmabum Buddhy Jimi (not Hendrix) grabbed me by the shoulders, and with eyes as big as saucers,  he asked me "Have you had a direct experience of the VOID?!"

"Damn!" I thought.  The stark horror in his voice didn't incline me to want to do any such thing.

Unlike Jimi, at that point I had not spend much time with the Teachers and Teachings of the Tibetan tradition where the term the Void (or Great Void) were commonly bandied about.  Although I'd read a couple of translations of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, my wanderings through the Yankee Buddhist world of the 70's and 80's had primarily been focused on Zen.

Like Jimi, though, I was then drawn to practice with the folks at IMS, who drew their inspiration and practice from teachers in the Theravadan tradition.  There, Nirvana seemed to be a more palatable ultimate destination.

Little did I know.
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Saturday, November 14, 2020

Once Upon a Time

“The Buddha’s principal message that day was
that holding on to anything blocks wisdom.
Any conclusion that we draw must be let go." 
---Pema Chodron

"We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

The irony is exquisite.  

I'm sitting here at the laptop poised to sprinkle some thoughts across the screen in an effort to capture the essence of the thought that thoughts can't really capture the Essence. 

To be honest, after choosing the two quotes for this post, my next thought was, "Ah, I'll just leave it at that, choose a graphic, and hit 'send.'"
 
But, that seemed like a cheap shot, a bit too cutesy.  When I was in residence at Zen Mountain Monestery, Roshi Daido Loori would just roll his eyes at such stuff, claiming it had "the stink of Zen."

I have, after all, been committed to publishing a weekly post here in cyberspace for the past seven and half years.  Although for quite some time now I've been going back through a couple of hundred previously written posts and polishing them up,  this weekly commitment is part of what Uchiyama Roshi called a "life of vow." 

It seems to me that a set of commitments and the actions produced is all that I really have to bring to the plate.  The rest is in the hands of the Cosmic Pitcher.   All I can really do is commit to showing up, stepping up to the plate, and taking my best swing if it appears to be in the strike zone -- or let it go by if it ain't.  (Egads, I'm thinking in baseball metaphors, again.  Am I a 74 year old American male or what?)

And here's the Pitch.....
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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Love. Love. Love.

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, 
perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love:
in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles

We have it on good authority.  
 
Jesus and Buddha, as well as many of the other gurus, seers, sages, and saints of the world's religions seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering?  Why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks call love, the subject of myth, music, and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  Instead, what is pursued in the name of love is actually a form of desire, biological and energetic attraction, and attachment.  This "love" has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the love that flows from the spiritual dimension.  True Love is the quality of consciousness that emerges from what the Buddhist Teacher, Pema Chodron, calls an Awakened Heart.  

Love is not the profound passionate graspings of deep attachment to the "other." True Love is much grander than that. (It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what J.C., Buddha and the others had in mind when they spoke of love, right?)  

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of isolation and separation that we've been conditioned to experience.  Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love is experienced as the open heart's capacity for kindness, compassion, joy, and clarity.  Our innate ability to access True Love is the our ultimate connectivity. 

Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something that someone just "falls into," in the Buddhist tradition, human love is seen as a quality of heart, a mode of consciousness that can be consciously cultivated.  Although, we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "the other" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- True Love is vaster than that.  It emerges from a fundamental choice to open our hearts and clear our minds, to embrace Life itself.  It involves the willingness to let go of who we think we are, lay aside our agendas, and get it touch with our experience of the present moment as it is.

Although we may get glimpses of this again and again, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen.  It is a Practice.  Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving.  Like any discipline, the cultivation of True Love takes commitment, time, effort -- and patience. 
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