Both mindfulness and discriminative alertness are needed in responding to sensory input of the three types–attractive, unattractive and neutral. Once again, in this tradition mindfulness does not mean simply to witness. It is a more discriminative kind of thing. You are asking yourself, “What is my response?” and then actively responding by applying the antidotes to attachment and hostility. The word mindfulness is a little bit different in different contexts. Here, Mindfulness refers to the mental faculty of being able to maintain continuity of awareness of an object. Vigilance is concerned with the quality of mind, watching to see, for example, if the mind is veering off to other objects.

Gen Lamrimpa (Ven. Jampal Tenzin).

Photo by Thomas Fehlfokus.

Chanting the Heart Sutra [for Japan], and Sobbing

It seems that every time I try something new, something that is designed to open my heart, it doesn’t just open, it cracks into a million pieces.

Yesterday I received a message from Shambhala International (as did the thousands of everyone else on the mailing list) encouraging us to recite the Heart Sutra for the benefit of all those affected by the earthquake near Japan, and the Prajñāpāramitā mantra included therein 108 times.

First I meditated for 20 minutes. Cross-legged this time, not on the bench. Wanted to see how much numbness I could take. There was a lot of numbness.

Then I recited the Sutra.

I had only a vague idea of what the mantra meant. At least, I kept remembering it had something to do with emptiness. Turns out I wasn’t too far off.

oṃ gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

“OM gone, gone, gone beyond, completely gone beyond, awake, so be it.”

Anyway, after the Sutra, including chanting the mantra the prescribed number of times, I thought I was done. I dedicated the merit, put my zabuton and zafu away, sat down on the bed, and began to cry. Just as before, it was wracking sobs, deep, shaking to the core. But only for a few seconds.

Then I sat with it for 5 minutes.

I thought that it shouldn’t happen this fast. That since I’ve been meditating every day since September I should be progressing along, but not this much. I think I must be doing something wrong. I think that I’m going off in the wrong direction, toward insanity.

But I feel very stable right now. Stable as in my mind doesn’t feel like it’s going to fly off into a rage or drop off into some other kind of craziness.

Other things came up: the utter fear of being lost, the fear that not only would my heart break, which it has been doing more and more lately, but that my mind would break. That I would lose myself.

I guess that’s the point.

But it scares the hell out of me.

This little part of me – I suppose it’s my ego talking – says, “Run away! Go back to your familiar habits and life! It’s comfortable!” Then some other part says, “That way was the way of depression, of pain, of getting angry for no good reason, of judging people, of doing whatever it takes to protect yourself. That way is the wrong way.”

And so I trudge on.

But I have no idea how long I will last.

Perhaps that’s the point.

Training the mind well is a useful activity. You can see this even in draft animals, like elephants, oxen, and water buffaloes. Before we can put them to work, we have to train them. Only when they’re well trained can we use their strength and put it to different purposes. All of you know this.

A mind well trained is of many times greater value. Look at the Buddha and his noble disciples. They changed their status from being run-of-the-mill people to being noble ones, respected by people all over. And they’ve benefited us in more wide-ranging ways than we could ever determine. All of this comes from the fact that they’ve trained their minds well.

A mind well trained is of use in every occupation. It enables us to do our work with circumspection. It makes us reasonable instead of impulsive, and enables us to experience a happiness appropriate to our station in life.

—  Ajahn Chah

“Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. But you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.”

Ajahn Chah

The Nine Progressive Stages of Mental Development According to Shamatha Meditation Practice (Tibetan Thangka Painting).
The practice of Shamatha meditation develops the ability to focus the mind in single-pointed perfect concentration and is a prerequisite for the development of vipashyana or analytical insight meditation. Shamatha meditation should ideally practice in an isolated place and one should seat in meditation posture of Vairochana Buddha. The object of concentration is usually the image of the Buddha or a deity. The illustration of the development of mental tranquility is brilliantly depicted in this thangka in nine progressive stages of mental development which are obtained through the six powers of study, contemplation, memory, comprehension, diligence and perfection. The first stage is attained through the power of study and or hearing. The monk fixes his mind on the object of concentration. Here a monk chasing, binding, leading and subduing elephant whose colour progresses from black to white. The elephant represents the mind and its black colour the gross aspects of mental dullness. The monkey represents distraction or mental agitations, and its black colour, scattering. The hare represents the more subtle aspect of sinking. The hooked goad and lasso which the monk wields represent clear understanding and mindful recollection. The progressive diminishing along the path represents the decreasing degree of effort needed to cultivate understanding and recollection. The five sense objects represent the five sensual source of distraction.

The music in my head

Today I spent all day digging deep into Mahamudra practice. Without going into detail, and I’m sure this ability will fade, but as I walk down the street after the first day I find the normal chatter of my mind returning. But its substance seems less solid.

A tune arises and as I walk something reminds me to regard it without interest and suddenly it fades.

Reminds me of the folks who say, “I can’t get that song out of my head!”. Makes me want to say, “You could learn how if you wanted…”

And then I think to myself, “If you do the practice with that goal in mind, you’ll never attain it.”

Back to the drawing board I guess…

Meditation Cushion

Meditation – What I was taught and what I wish I was told

Meditation will certainly come up more than once on this site as it has been one of my greatest teachers since I began to practice daily. I’m going to assume if you found yourself on this page you are already interested in starting this practice. What I’m going to do here is help you get started and try to demystify the process.

If you are looking to be convinced on why to practice you could visit herehere, or here. Or a million other different websites, books and articles. From what we know meditation has been used for at least 5,000 years so you’re bound to find something that speaks to you.

So this is an introduction to shamatha meditation. This simply means to sit with your breath and practice being in the present moment. What you do “on the cushion” will then start to influence what you do “off the cushion”.

Mindfulness Meditation The Way I Was Taught

·         Choose an amount of time you wish to sit for. I’m doing 20 minutes every day and an hour on Sundays, but you can begin with 5 minutes or more. Whatever will get you started is the best amount of time. Once you’ve chosen your time, set an alarm so you aren’t constantly looking at the clock and try to sit for the entire time.

·         Sit either in easy pose, half lotus or full lotus with your spine erect. You’ll find these poses allow your body to feel stable and thus do not distract your mind. If this is uncomfortable for you there is always the option to sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and back erect, not leaning against the chair.

·         Create a fist with each of your hands, touching the tip of your thumbs to the base of your ring fingers. 1) This gives you something to do with your hands and 2) I was told that it also helps to keep the energy coursing through your body instead of releasing out into the surrounding space. Then rest your fists on your legs/knees.

·         With eyes open, relax your vision and look down and out about a foot from your body. It should not feel like you are straining your eyes either in focus or looking too far in any direction. You want to feel relaxed during meditation, not tense. There is also the closed-eye method but personally I tend to enter a dreamy kind of pre-sleep state when I close my eyes. Experiment with this to see what you prefer. Read excerpts from others to see what their take is on it.

·         Adjust yourself properly and then begin your practice. Focus on your breath going in and out but don’t try to manipulate the breath. If – er WHEN — your mind wanders just let that thought go and return your attention to the breath. This may happen 1 million (or more) times during your practice, just continue to return to the present moment and understand that this is normal.

·         At the end of your practice you may dedicate the merit to the benefit of all sentient beings (this includes yourself) and thank yourself for coming to practice. Congrats!

What I Wish Someone Told Me

Meditation is not *magic*. Or – at least not in the sense of ABRA CADABRA type of magic. I think this was the biggest surprise to me once I started practicing. Before I started a daily practice I really thought it was this thing where people say “OMMM” and you went in to some sort of trance. The opposite of what I really needed or was looking for in my life. There are times when I have had some pretty powerful emotions and revelations during meditation. Thanks to the quieting of my mind these types of things were given space to arise within me. But I try not to attach myself to them as this would not be the point of the practice. It sounds counter-intuitive but if you can remain present and focused on your breath in a moment of rapture and bliss then you are really on your way to a state of contentment and peace.

Meditation is ordinary with extraordinary benefits. It really is you just sitting there with the environment, with your thoughts, with your feelings and with your breath. This is FABULOUS. It is meant to bring you into what is real. It is meant to slow you down. It is meant to make you realize your repetitive thought patterns. Which brings me to my next point…

…YES you will have thoughts during meditation. This is not bad. In meditation there is no good or bad. Eventually you will start to notice more and more space between your thoughts but that won’t happen right away. Minds think. That’s what they do and they’ll keep doing it even if you don’t will it to. Notice the thought and then return your attention to your breath. If it’s a really juicy thought and you don’t want to forget it when I first started meditating I would put that thought in an imaginary basket in my mind to be picked up later when I finished. Another method that worked for me was to just label the thought “thinking.” By doing this the thinking would typically go away on its own. I attribute this to my mind/ego trying to grab my attention, but by naming it for what it is with no judgments tend to make them go away on their own.

Give it time. Just because nothing happened the first day or two does not mean it’s been worthless. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, acquire a skill or save money you know that it takes more than 1 day to accomplish any of these things. Meditation is no different.

Meditation does not require anything special on your part. You do not need money. You do not need fancy clothes. You do not have to follow a certain religion or spiritual path. All you need is a place to sit, preferably a quiet place, and your breath.

Meditation is not the same for everybody and it is not the same every day. Some days you will drag your ass to meditation while other times you will be more than happy to sit for your practice. Some days you will be able to keep focused on the moment without any effort and other days you will be shaking your head trying to physically throw the thoughts out. Some people will meditate for an hour and others for only 5 minutes. Just remember that we are different every day so we shouldn’t expect our meditations to be the same either.

Finally, thank yourself every day after you finish meditation. There are always a million other things we could be doing. Work is never finished and there is always something new to learn. Sitting down for meditation practice will take a great amount of resolve and you should thank yourself for coming to practice every day. You are taking care of yourself which in turn will help others take care of themselves and that is no small thing.

Stages of calm abiding (Tibetan: Zhine, Sanskrit: Shamatha) Meditation...

Sakin duruş-konsantrasyon Meditasyonun Aşamaları…

If this elephant of mind is bound on all sides by the cord of mindfulness,
Eğer bu zihnin fil'i her tarafından farkındalık içerisinde ise, 

All fear disappears and complete happiness comes…
Tüm korkular kaybolur ve tam anlamıyla mutluluk ortaya çıkar… 

All enemies: all the tigers, lions, elephants, bears, serpents [of our emotions];
Tüm düşmanlar bütün kaplanlar, aslanlar, filler, ayılar, yılanlar [tüm duygularımız] 

And all keepers of hell; the demons and the horrors,
Ve cehennemin tüm bekçileri, şeytanlar ve korkular, 

All of these are bound by the mastery of your mind,
Tüm bunlar zihninizin ustalığı tarafından dize getirilirler, 

And by taming of that one mind, all are subdued,
Ve bu bir zihni eğitmek suretiyle, onların hepsine boyun eğdirilir. 

Because from the mind are derived all fears and immeasurable sorrows…
Çünkü aslında tüm korkuların ve tarifsiz üzüntülerin kaynağı bu zihindir…

From Entering the Path of Enlightenment,
The eight-century Buddhist master Shantideva. 
Aydınlanma Yoluna Giriş eserinden,
Sekizinci yüzyılda yaşamış Budist Usta Shantideva. Çeviren: Tenzin Jigmey

In the teachings of the Buddha, the way to generate an accommodating, open mind is through the practice of sitting meditation, known in Tibetan as shinay. Shi means stability, tranquility, or harmony. Nay means to dwell or to stay.   So, shinay literally means to dwell in stability, in tranquility. 

- Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

Image: seated Amitabha Buddha; Borobodur, Java.

Tomorrow: we release our tensions into the earth, and use the energy of the sun to rewire our brains. We’ll talk about what we subconsciously long to admit and what we long to behold. But most importantly, we’ll simply enjoy the ease and the coolness of practicing outdoors. It’s been beautiful so far.

Meet at Union Ave. and N. 12th. Bring something to sit on (lying in the grass is fine too). We will walk into the park together and find a good place to sit together. We’ll stay close to the meeting spot in case anyone’s late. By donation. Bring your busy ass mind and a donation. #meditation #mindfulness #heartfulness #shamatha #vipassana #wholebrainintegration

Patience, Part Deux

My meditation this past Saturday revealed that I had quite a bit of unresolved emotion to work with. I have been trying to figure out how to coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached, and learned quite thoroughly that the approach I’ve been taking assumes some very wrong views.

First, that I should even be trying to coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached. It was an assumption I was unwilling to let go of. And, the times before when I would say, “Perhaps we should just stop – that’ll show him!” were still wrapped up in ego. I was protecting my feeling that I was right about how to work with my teammate.

Second, that working one-on-one with everybody on my team is even the right approach. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it seems that if I am an intimidating kind of person, and the team member is also of strong ego, then putting them in a one-on-one situation will make them feel less safe. Perhaps group activities are more appropriate for that kind of coaching.

Third, that I know everything. I am still learning about this whole leadership thing, and probably will be for the rest of my life. To assume that I know the right approach to working with someone is to assume that I am perfect. I’m not.

So, given all that, what will I change? Most of all, I will try harder to listen to what the situation is telling me. A lot of that is to endeavor not to take things seriously, even if they are direct insults pointed at me. I go back to this amazing quote:

If those who are like wanton children
Are by nature prone to injure others
There’s no reason for our rage
It’s like resenting fire for being hot.
The Way of the Bodhisattva, Chapter 6, Verse 39

And we mustn’t forget Patience. Except in this case, patience is not a thing I should be having with my manager, but instead something I should be having with the person I am leading.

Amazing how it all fits together like that.

If we have ambitions—even if our aim is enlightenment— then there is no meditation, because we are thinking about it, craving it, fantasizing, imagining things. That is not meditation. This is why an important characteristic of shamatha meditation is to let go of any goal and simply sit for the sake of sitting. We breathe in and out, and we just watch that. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter if we get enlightenment or not. It doesn’t matter if our friends get enlightened faster. Who cares? We are just breathing. We just sit straight and watch the breath in and out. Nothing else. We let go of our ambitions. This includes trying to do a perfect shamatha meditation. We should get rid of even that. Just sit.
—  Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

Hello beautiful people!

What better way to start off the day than with some meditation?  It clears the mind and helps me better understand how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it.  Taking time for myself to meditate helps me keep my sanity in my crazy and busy college life and who doesn’t like to keep their sanity?

I am currently taking a class on Buddhist meditation and it is very informative.  While the material we learn in class isn’t all that informative because the teachers are very repetitive (in my opinion anyway), the readings are very helpful for learning new meditation techniques.  

My favorite meditation technique is called Shamatha meditation (calmness meditation – Shamatha is Sanskrit for calm).  This type of meditation involves calming the mind and focusing on the breath.  It’s quite relaxing!

How you do it:

  1. Grab a comfy cushion to sit on or a nice chair.  I use two pillows from my bed (note:  It’s more comfortable to sit on a cushion that allows your hips to be above your knees!)  
  2. Find yourself a quiet and relaxing place that has little to no distractions.  I like to meditate in my bedroom but it’s different for everyone.  Once it gets a little warmer outside, I’ll be out on the lawn!   
  3. Sit on your cushion or chair (if you’re in a chair make sure your feet are flat on the ground if you’re on a cushion find a comfortable sitting position, typically with your legs crossed Indian style) making sure your back is straight as if a string is pulling you upward to the sky from the middle of your head and place your hands on your knees (this helps with posture though you can really put your hands anywhere you like as long as they’re not supporting your body weight).  Sometimes I find that sitting with my back completely flat against a wall helps with my posture because I can feel when my shoulders start to slump and lose connection with the wall.
  4. You can either close your eyes or keep them open at this point (I like to close mine though some people find meditation with closed eyes difficult because it makes them fall asleep).
  5. Now, focus on your breathing.  Throughout the day, we don’t really realize how shallow our breathing has become so during meditation it is important to really notice and focus on deepening the breath (not every breath has to be a deep inhale and deep exhale, but it may help to start with a couple of deep breaths)

Currently reading. This book basically applies the principles of shamatha / mindful awareness meditation to one’s relationship to finances. It’s funny, cuz my money is a mess, and HMMMM so is my meditation practice. If how you do anything is how you do everything, then our bank accounts are valid arenas for awakening (which is difficult as hell for me to wrap my head around as an anarchist). #meditation #mindfulness #shamatha #vipassana #dharma