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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Expectations

My apologies for a lack of postings recently. The Grand Rapids Zen Center opened and the response was much greater than expected and it required a lot of my time. Things are settling down and I am getting into a routine. What I learned is that having expectations is not right thinking. It is better to have no expectations so that you can experience what is and don't get caught up in what was or what might be. It was a very god lesson for me---abandon expectations, accept just what there is.
I also wanted to share this article form today's Washington Post entitled, "The Inconspicuous Buddhists Among Us". Very interesting article and I hope you'll take the time to read it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why Do Things Happen They Way They Do

Why do things happen the way they do? Why are some experiences good while others are not? We've all heard the question, "why do bad things happen?". From a Buddhist perspective we would say it has to do with karma---but be careful---karma has nothing to do with reward or punishment. Karma has nothing to do with judgment. Karma is about result; a non-judgmental result. Karma is a result from an intention and/or action taken. Think of it as a consequence. If we put a match to paper it catches fire. If we tell someone we love them we feel good and maybe they do as well. If we hold a negative thought, negative things sometimes happen. Natural disasters occur because certain factors coincide to bring about e.g., an earthquake, tornado, or tsunami. Just the simple result of the rising of certain causes and conditions. In our lives what is happening now is the result of past actions. What we are doing now will cause certain results in the future. Those results are not rewards or punishments, they are just the result of actions taken and nothing more or less. So when the question of "why is this happening" comes up, don't look for a reason, look instead to intention and action---what is happening results from those and not from a place of reward or punishment. To reward or punish is to judge. Karma makes no judgments. Only we do. Wonder what would happen if we made no judgments? What karma results then?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What the Research Shows

Over the past year there have been a series of research articles detailing the beneficial effects of a regular meditation practice. Here is a summary of what the research is finding. What follows is a short list of some of the areas where they have found that a meditation practice has had lasting benefit: stress (this is an easy one!), psychotherapy, fibromyalgia, smoking cessation, depression, anxiety, anger, cognitive processing, chronic pain, eating disorders, post traumatic stress to name the ones that have been studies the most. If you take a close look at this list you might notice that all of them have an underlying current of pain and suffering. If we call to mind the Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths we can see that the First Noble Truth---suffering---still resonates 2500 years after he gave this teaching. And, the teachings on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness interestingly begin with the Mindfulness of Breathing. So what we can take away from the the Buddha's teaching and current research is that he was on to something---that a place to begin to relieve suffering is through Mindfulness of Breathing, i.e. through a regular meditation practice. Here we are 2500 years later acknowledging what he tried to get us to understand 25 centuries ago.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The First Foundation of Mindfulness

There are Four Foundations of Mindfulness. This week let us concentrate on the First Foundation: Mindfulness of Breathing. In short, this means being mindful of the simple process on which our entire being depends---breathing in and breathing out; inhale and exhale. We take it for granted. Don't even imagine just how crucial this process is. How many times a day does this simple in and out of breath happen? Think about it. I mean really think about it. If the next breath doesn't come then what? So simple yet so crucial to everything. No breath/no life. It all boils down to the next breath. If you think about it, about the necessity of your next breath, then just how important are all those things that nag and annoy? Wouldn't it be better to be thankful for the breath from moment to moment? When you start to see life, not just yours but all life in this way, then you begin to move away from the delusions of life. Greed and anger start to fade. What steps in to take their place is the simple peace of the next breath. This is how life is. It is the next breath. We need the breath, we need life if we are to see things as they are and let go of our attachments and our cravings. We will move away from the things we needlessly cling to and abide in things just as they are. Nothing else matters except that fundamental truth---things are as they are. This is where the First Foundation of Mindfulness will lead you. This is the possibility being mindful of breathing reveals.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where are you?

This week let us step back and take a long view of our practice. What have you learned from the contemplation of how the senses work? Have you been able to experience that what you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch begins and ends inside your head? Have you noticed that once those senses arise your mind begins to make choices and judgments: have you heard the words "I" "me" "mine" "you" "yours"; decided "like" "dislike"? These words, when we think them, speak them, hear them signal that we still see the world and everything in it is separated. We see things in terms of inner and outer, subject and object. As our practice evolves and we come to see that in truth there is no I or you, there is just "things as they are", our judgments fall away and so do all the things that cause us pain and suffering. It all starts with our first sense encounters. When we can really experience how they work in conjunction with our discriminating mind we can begin to see how much of I me mine you and yours dominate the way we approach the world. If we can really experience this at a visceral level we can begin to experience the world in a different way. Compassion and loving kindness step in where judgments once took up space.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Something to consider for the weekend

Coming empty-handed, going empty-handed---that is human
When you are reborn where do you come from?
When you die where do you go?
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.

What, then, is the one pure and clear thing?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where is "Me"?

Here is a question to consider. At what point in our development does the thought, "this is me"? first arise? We are told that this is a crucial point in a child's development; the point at which the child starts to differentiate him/herself from everyone else. Our thoughts become consciousness: we become "conscious" of the world around us and of the "me" in the world. Where does that consciousness come from? We can see, hear, touch, taste, smell and that explains a lot about how we take in the world around us. But, where do our thoughts, judgments, feelings, reactions come from? The mind? Where exactly is that? I'm not talking about your brain, I'm talking about the mind. Where is the mind? The mind is where consciousness arises. But, where is it? The mind is where notions of "I, me, mine, you, your, it" come from and the mind is where we spend so much of our time. The questions, where is the mind and where does "me" come from, perhaps don't have clear answers, but the questions alone are worth pondering. In our practice we talk a lot about the mind, the conventional and the original mind, so we should keep these questions in front of us. They might help us in our practice. Don't seek answers, just be with the questions.