Archive | Reflections on Practice

Wisdom and Faith

There is a very simple connection between wisdom and faith.

Wisdom is bound to arise as we keep being mindful from moment to moment, exerting effort with concentration building.

At first, wisdom arises in simple ways: just knowing the nature of one rising movement, knowing the nature of a falling movement; knowing the specific nature of some pain, some ache, some hardness, some softness; gradually getting to know the different mental states; discerning the specifics of mind and matter and their relationship to each other, and other insight knowledges.

Every time a meditator intuitively (not just intellectually) realizes a new insight knowledge the meditator understands “Wow, I’m seeing something that I’ve never seen before. There really seems to be something to this path. Something is really happening.” One begins to find that their experience is in accord with what has been said in Dhamma talks or written in the texts. As a result of this, one’s faith increases.

And as our wisdom increases stage by stage, the wholesome mental state of faith is strengthened.

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Using Everything as Food for Freedom

When we are faced with the challenge of bringing the practice into our everyday lives, it can seem like a daunting task. Out of this we may become despondent and slowly our good intentions about practice begin to recede into the background as we become seduced by worldly distractions, relegating our practice to a period of formal sitting some time in the day. While this is an important part of the practice, it is only a part.

What about the rest of the day?

Rather than limiting the practice to some special period of time on the cushion, can we learn to see every situation as an opportunity for wisdom and compassion to grow? For example: whilst driving our car is there aversion to other drivers or are we perhaps daydreaming? When talking with others are we judging or wanting something from them? When preparing the evening meal are we rushing, leaning in to the moment?  In the midst of these ordinary, worldly situations can we notice how we are relating to the moment?

The Buddha tells us that the end of suffering comes with the uprooting of the defilements of greed, hatred and delusion. Thus our job is learning to bring awareness to the presence of these unwholesome habits in the mind and not acting on them – this is how they are ultimately uprooted. In this way we are working towards ending suffering.

But this takes time – the patient, sincere willingness to begin with a gentle but determined encouragement to be aware of what is happening in the mind in one small moment. This is perfectly doable – nothing grandiose like being aware “for the whole day”. One moment of awareness begets another. Slowly and repeatedly throughout the day noticing what our attitude of mind is in any moment. Asking the question: “What’s happening in the mind now?”

In this way we can see that there is nothing special we have to do to alter our day. Only watching how the mind is operating. With awareness we begin to see the unwholesome tendencies of mind showing themselves. With time our attitude of mind shifts from living out the defilements of greed, hatred and delusion towards living from a place of generosity of heart, kindness and compassion and wisdom.

A joy comes into our lives when we realize the scope of the dharma. We see that it doesn’t narrow or limit our lives, but brings a growing ease of mind into life as wisdom and compassion is cultivated in the midst of the fullness and vibrancy of daily life. We come to understand that awareness wakes us up. It is a courageous and a deeply compassionate act because it breaks the cycle of ignorance. Gratitude arises for our lives as they may be manifesting right now, recognizing that the seeds of wisdom and compassion lie in whatever life is offering in this moment. It is up to us to use them as food for freedom.

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The Dharma In A Few Words

We might think that the Dharma is only to be found in long hours of sitting on our meditation cushion…but not so. It incorporates all areas of our lives if we are prepared to look at life with eyes of wisdom – and what better place to begin than with our speech?

The Buddha spoke about the importance of speaking wisely. It is one of the steps of the 8 fold path and an immediately rich area of practice for us in the busy, interactive world we live in. Each time we open our mouth to speak we have the opportunity to cultivate either wholesome or unwholesome qualities:  we can perpetuate the habitual responses borne out of delusion that we have blindly acted out for many lifetimes or we can learn to pause momentarily before we speak, take note of what is happening in the mind – and then speakZia flower 2 from a place of growing awareness of what our motivation is in our choice of words, because motivation or attitude of mind, is the key to wholesome speech. Are our words motivated by kindness or anger, greed or generosity?

For example, take the simple sentence: “Hello, how are you today?” What is our motivation in saying these words that are used so often in our daily lives? We might say them to our neighbors, the check-out clerk at the supermarket, our friends, our children, partners and people in the street. But are we aware of all of the qualities that might be present within the heart/mind as we are speaking them?

In just these few words we can find the Dharma: when the heart is open and connected to the other person – we can touch our common bond, our humanity. We are not threatening the other person or wanting anything from them, rather we are giving in a very simple, aware way. We are letting go of thoughts about ourselves and what we want, and including someone else into our world with kind awareness, transforming what might have been a mere formality, a polite, empty sentence if said without awareness, into a small gesture of kindness and inclusion borne out of awareness. In these moments we are also not trying to make any special feeling arise, instead, through being genuinely open and truly present, we can feel a quiet connectedness come to life within the heart, free of expectation of any particular result.

It takes so little of our time, yet has far reaching consequences in terms of our practice because each drop of wholesome motivation in our speech, coming from a place of generosity and kindness of heart, rather than from a place of grasping or unkindness is a step in the direction of letting go of our deeply ingrained habitual tendency of unawareness in the world.

If we are sincerely interested in developing in our practice, then we can resolve to pay attention when we speak. As we begin to include speech into our practice we will notice how difficult it is because our habits run so deep. Don’t let this dishearten you…and watch the judging mind…. we are all working towards purifying our unskillful habits….and of course, it is going to take time. The important thing to remember is to be patient with ourselves and never to give up… each moment we are willing to make the effort towards strengthening awareness in our speech brings wholesome results….a drop at a time.

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Inner Happiness

Vivekananda HeadAs a non-meditator, we think that for our happiness and well-being we have to rely on external gadgets such as having the latest computer game, or spending holidays in the Caribbean renting a yacht. When we meditate, we gradually come to realize that more and more joy and happiness is arising within. This leads to the arising of contentment with whatever we have, with whatever social position we find ourselves in. We realize that for true inner joy, happiness, peace, and balance of mind, we don’t really need those external gadgets. And this, in a sense, is a form of inner liberation.

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From Joseph Goldstein

“It was an amazing first five minutes. For the first time I saw there was a way to look at the mind, instead of looking out at the world through it. When people first get a taste of watching their minds, the discovery is tremendously compelling.”

“Calm is a state that is the opposite of restlessness. Equanimity is the quality of mind of impartiality… the equanimous mind holds everything, and in that impartiality is the chance to learn.”

“When you realize the empty or selfless nature of consciousness, the energy to bring about the good of others dawns uncontrived and effortless. When we take ourselves out of the way, what is left is love and compassion.”

“Real spiritual maturity happens when the relative and ultimate levels of truth are known as expressions of each other. When we understand truth on the ultimate level, we can engage in the world with much greater freedom.”

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