Calm: The Floor Upon Which Awakening Begins

The month of October is around exploring the fifth of the Seven Factors of Awakening – Calm or Tranquility. The Pali word for Calm is Passaddhi and it has two types; calm body, calm mind. Let’s start with calm body. To understand it we need to step back a moment because calm body is not about the physical body.

Basically, everything we experience in the physical is a result or residue from a mental phenomenon. Feeling tones (pleasant, unpleasant and neutral) are mental tags or labels that the mind attaches to everything we experience through the sense doors. Our reactions to the feeling tone are mental as well. The mind impulsively and habitually responds to pleasant with grasping for more; the unpleasant with pushing away or avoiding; and completely ignoring the neutral. Calming the body means calming our reactivity to these habitual impulses. For instance, we may feel unpleasantness in the physical body but we slow down the mental response by not pushing it away. We patiently relax, observe and allow the experience to unfold with genuine interest in how it came into being, how it it now and how it fades away.

By doing this, I think we profoundly confuse the mind. By not reacting in the habitual way we begin to question the original feeling tone tag or label. The mind can then re-tag or re-label the experience as neutral. This re-tagging/re-labeling takes the sting out of the moment. We in effect, rewrite the program or code from which the mind operates. This can be quite liberating.

The second type of calm we are cultivating is calming the mind. While the first is more akin to mental qualities, this is more likened to the function of mind. We have the capacity to know objects. Ear objects, eye objects, nose objects, mouth objects, objects associated with touch and objects associated with thought. Calming the mind means calming the enticement of the sense doors. It also means calming the mind’s obsession with mind obejects like the hindrances (desire, aversion, sloth&torpor, restlessness and doubt) and the vicissitudes (pain/pleasure; gain/loss; praise/blame and fame/ill repute). We simply let the sense doors objects and the mind objects flow through us.

Without a doubt, we need the upbeat energies of joy and investigation to enable the re-writing of the first type of calm and for the flowing nature of the second type. It also takes the open and gentle receptiveness of mindfulness to stick with the process over and over and over; even while everything in you wants to react. The main point (or take away) is to remember you don’t “do” the re-writing, nor do we force the flow of oobjects. We just relax, observe and allow the unfolding.

By letting the mind untangle itself, we enable the mind to awaken to the possibility of insight. Learning to cultivate awakening in this way is like laying high quality wood floorboards. Althought calm or tranquillity is what awakening rests upon, experiencing it is no easy task. This is mostly because we are uncomfortable with the experiance of neutrality. It seems boring, dull and unimportant. Our task is to become increasingly interested in and/or curious about sensations andmental qualities associated with neutral. The more we want to explore neutral, the closer we gt to a sense of liberation.



No Sangha October 3

Heads up – because 30 of us will be attending the Sangha Retreat with Tuere (it’s full) on October 3-6, there will be no sit on Thursday, October 3.

If you are already registered for the retreat you should have received some details today including about the Annual Sangha Meeting which will happen. If you’re not attending but have input please leave a comment below which will not be posted but will be included in our meeting discussion. This is an opportunity to offer feedback on how Thursday nights are structured. We’ll also be discussing how best to assure the Sangha functions well with Tuere traveling on retreats more and more frequently.

Joy: The Bridge To Awakening

This month we will be exploring and practicing with the fourth Factor of Awakening – Joy. The factor – piti – is traditionally translated as rapture or happiness. I personally think rapture and happiness bring with them some heavy baggage in English. In some respect, the same baggage is with joy as well but maybe not so much.

The baggage of rapture comes from confusion around the Christian use of the word and the baggage around happiness comes from our association of happiness and conditions. We can gat stuck in our traditional understanding of the word and fail to see its significance in awakening itself. That’s why I prefer the word joy. It is just elusive enough to enable me to investigate it’s arising.

Piti or joy is what enables us to turn the corner towards awakening. In fact, we cannot awaken without it. It is like the bridge we cross over in order to experience the ecstacy of calming faactors of calm, tranquility and equanimity. Without joy, mindfulness can get dull, dry and brittle with just the energizing factors of investigation and energy.

We all feel this in practice. When there’s a level of joy we want to practice. We’re upbeat and interested. But when joy is weak we quickly lose interest in practice. We my still go through the motions but without any growth in understanding, or capacity. Joy is what keeps us engaged. So this month we want to learn how to cultivate piti.

It starts with learning to be content. Contentment is what is meant by happiness in Buddhist cosmology. Contentment is what arises when you have your fill of joy. When your level of rapture becomes too much, you will let go into a calmer inner presence.

This month we will share ways we can cultivate and connect with joy. Not the kind born out of pleasure but the kind born out of the realization of the liberating qualities of practice. Here’s a quick and easy example – reflect on what your life would look like if you never started practicing. Who would you be? What has shifted because you started practicing? How much capacity do you have now to deal with the difficulties of life as opposed to before.

If you are in anyway like me, you would be very thankful and grateful right now. That’s the importance of joy. It keeps us steady on the path, even with the difficulties.


Fall Retreat – CLOSED

If you’ve been coming on Thursday nights you likely have heard that we’re planning  our second annual fall retreat. We already have 25 folks signed up and the capacity is 30. So space is limited. Please register now to secure your space. And if you’ve signed up but your plans change, please be sure to let us know so we can free up the space.

Camp Sealth on Vashon Island, October 3-6, 2019

The retreat will be held in Noble Silence, with a mix of sitting and walking meditation, Dharma Talks and interviews. The cost of the weekend is $175 including dormitory sleeping accommodations Thursday through Saturday  nights and meals from breakfast Friday through lunch on Sunday. The fee is set as a sliding scale. Please pay what you can. The generosity of those who pay more than $175 will help to cover the needs of those who are not able to do so. Transportation costs and Teacher Dana are not included in the fee (dana is optional). Any funds over costs will go directly to Tuere as additional Dana.

You can complete and submit this form to register online.  You’ll be added to the Wait List. Do NOT pay unless we contact you that there is an opening. Then you  must ALSO click the PayPal link to actually submit a payment of your choosing. Please be sure to leave the default “Friends & Family” checked to avoid us paying a fee. You will not be registered until your payment has been received. And yes, if you also bring a check and pay at Sangha if you don’t want to use PayPal.

There is not a confirmation email. Feel free to post questions in the comments below. In the meantime here are a few helpful points:

  • We’ll be at Camp Sealth’s Wrangler Retreat Center.
  • Camp Sealth is about 30 minutes drive from the Vashon Ferry.
  • Sleeping will be separated male/female in open dorms. If you indicated you have a sleep apnea machine we will accommodate you, doubled-up in a separate room.
  • As shown, they are bare cots, so you will need to bring your own bedding, pillow, towels.
  • There will be vegetarian meals and we can accommodate vegan or gluten-free. Meals included are from Friday breakfast through Sunday lunch.
  • There will be chairs but no zafus or zabutons provided on site, so you’ll need to bring your own.
  • Cheryl will be coordinating carpooling. Stay tuned for that.

Energy: The Motor Behind The Mind’s Awakening

This month we are exploring the third of the Seven Factors of Awakening – Energy.  Energy is what moves the mind towards awakening.  We are talking about a subtle energy not force of will.  For years and years, I thought I had to make myself wake up.  I know many of you are thinking, I would never do that but in a subtle way that is what is behind the, hindrances.  The hindrances are resistant in the mind.  The mind is, in effect, trying to use force of will to create a different reality.  We become complicit in this battle with reality by failing to turn away from this resistance and towards reality.

This process is basically wasted effort.  But there we are week after week,  month after month, year after year following the mind’s lead.  All the while, going nowhere – like trying to get to the grocery store using a rocking chair.  You’re moving, maybe even really fast, but you’ll never get to the store.

Practicing with the factor of energy means learning to access the subtle energy of awakening.  I like to think of this access through two ways – commitment and right or wise effort.

We can access this subtle energy and, in effect, set awakening in motion.  It means accepting two assumptions.  First, that the mind wants to awaken into reality rather than resist.  It resists because it is not in reality but rather a memory or projections onto reality.  When we train the mind to be still and observe we are creating the conditions necessary for the mind to see reality rather than its own projections.  The second assumption is that this energy to awaken is inherent in the mind.  It’s not something we need to do but rather allow this natural process to gradually unfold.  To do this we need a consistent and disciplined practice.  Just a commitment to practice  – in any condition or mind state.  We let the mind’s natural movement towards awakening to move us along the path.

The second way to practice connecting to this subtle energy is with right or wise effort.  This is not the effort of “doing”, it is the effort of intention.  We set an intention to (1) abandon any unskillful qualities of mind (basically the resistance associated with the hindrances); (2) prevent the arising of unskillful qualities of mind not yet arisen; (3) cultivate the arising of skillful qualities of mind (lovingkindness, compassion, joy, equanimity, the calming factor, etc); and (4) sustain skillful qualities of mind that have arisen.

In every moment, one of this qualities of mind are present.  We are learning to be proactive in the moment and use right effort  to relate to the moment.  We are not trying to turn ourselves into someone in the future.  This is about learning the wise way to relate to reality rather than resisting or needing to change it.


Investigation: The Spice of Living

This month we are exploring the 2 Factor of Awakening – Investigation.  I think this factor of investigation is what sets The Buddha’s Path apart from all other paths towards liberation or freedom from suffering.  I was sharing last Thursday that the one we call the Buddha was not the first, nor the last, Buddha.  Buddha means an awakened being.  There are many, many awakened beings.  What is unique about The Buddha’s Path is that it is an articulated path that is repeatable so anyone following the path will awakening.  I think it is because of this factor of investigation.

Investigation is the English translation of the Pali word Dhammavicaya.  In English, investigation is defined as “trying to find out facts about something in order to learn how it happened, who did it, etc.  or to try to get information about someone”.   It is synonymous with words like delve into, examine, inquire, explore, probe and research.  Likewise, Dhammavicaya  is described as a keen investigation of the Dhamma.  It is the investigation of the symbiotic relationship between the mind, body and the conditional nature of life.  My problem with the English use of the word is because it is usually associated with the investigation of a crime or journalistic style reporting.  This seems like a heavier subjective critique of something, whereas the Pali usage is pointing to a lighter more upbeat “interest in” or “curiosity”; an objective awareness, noticing or observing.  

Since we are exploring these factors in relationship to our hindrances, we want to keep a lighter more upbeat interest in the symbiotic relationship between the hindrance, how it impacts the body and the conditions surrounding it’s presence.  We are not trying to simply get the hindrances to go away.  To the contrary, our practice is to get intimate with them.  We want to know what conditions cause them to rise, to remain, to cease.  We want to know what the present arising of a hindrance tells us about the 5 aggregates, the 3 characteristics, the 4 noble truths, etc.  Basically, we can learn the whole of the Dhamma within the span of investigating the nature of having a bad moment.

Moreover, the very essence of “having a bad moment” is the birthright of human existence.  If we learn to appreciate the flux between the presence and absence of hindrances we can come to understand the nature of cessation of suffering.  It is only within our kind objective observance of experience that we can come to know this.  If we use the heavier subjective critique of our hindrances, we will end up getting further and further trapped within it’s grip.  By using our lighter, more upbeat awareness, we can see the deeper implications that lay the foundation for genuine liberation.

So this month (and for the rest of the year), we are not looking for the solution to our problem with desire, aversion, restlessness, sloth/torpor or doubt.  We aspire to be interested or curious enough to go on an adventure into the nature of being human – investigating the hindrances will add just the right amount of spice to make the journey worth traveling.


Special Event this week

film-emanuelOn Wednesday, June 19, several members from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim [and Buddhist?] communities will be joining First AME Church for a community outing to see the film Emanuel at 7 pm at AMC Pacific Place Theater in Pacific Place (6th & Pine downtown).

The film is centered around events from the June 17, 2015 church shooting in Charleston, SC, when a white supremacist walked into Emanuel AME Church and massacred nine African-Americans churchgoers during a Bible Study meeting.

In case you are not familiar with Seattle FAME, there is more info at The church has historically sponsored interfaith dialogues around healing racism.

If you want to see the film but can’t go with the FAME group on June 19, the film is also showing on Monday, June 17 at 7 pm at Pacific Place AMC.

The follow-up meeting to discuss the film will be on Sunday, June 23. from 4 – 6 pm at St. Mark’s Cathedral, 1245 – 10th Ave East, 98102.