Our New Reality

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As we’ve probably all expected and some may know already, Tuere’s monthlong retreat at Spirit Rock was canceled and she came home on Sunday. The good news is that she will be able to be with us on Thursday nights for the foreseeable future.

How This All Works – Zoom Meetings

We will do our normal sit from 6:30 to 8:30 together. We’ll begin with a 30 minute meditation and Tuere will offer some guidance during the meditation so we have a sense of connection with each other. After that, Tuere will give a talk and then we will take a break for tea and come back and open it up for reflections.

Once you log into Zoom, someone will be there to welcome you.

Zoom Meeting Instructions – THIS IS A DIFFERENT NUMBER THAN WE USED LAST WEEK (for those who were on last week’s call)

If you’ve not used Zoom before you should download the Zoom Client for Meetings (top of the list) and install it on your computer or phone in advance. It’s free. On Thursday night use this link to connect to the discussion each week. You can also choose to join with the Zoom meeting number, which is 334-007-2100.

Be sure to download and install the app before that time. If you have trouble with the link after installing Zoom be sure you have your pop-up blocker disabled.

Everything Changes!

As a neighborhood practice group of SIMS we are taking their lead on the evolving coronavirus and our sangha. The first part of this message is from SIMS and then there’s some specific information about our Thursday night group.

A message from SIMS

Gathering together as a sangha in community is something very dear to all of us. But in light of recommendations from public health authorities and concerns for the safety and well-being of our members, we have reluctantly chosen to make changes to our weekly in-person gatherings. Until further notice, we will meet remotely via Zoom software.

As more information about the coronavirus becomes available, the situation is expected to change and we’ll keep you posted through our blog posts and subscriber emails.

This is of course all new and is a bit of an experiment. While challenging, this may also offer an opportunity for members of our community who have been unable to join to now feel more connected to our sangha.

Thursday night plans

We recommend that you meditate whenever works for you during the day, or specifically from 6:30 to 7 PM as we do in person. Around 7 PM you can log into Zoom and the volunteer holding space will be there to welcome you and lead a group discussion on the week’s topic. Sometimes the volunteer may provide a link to read or listen to in advance. We’ll use Zoom for sangha discussion on the current topic. If you’ve not used Zoom before you should download and install it on your computer or phone in advance. It’s free. On Thursday night use this link to connect to the discussion each week. Be sure to download and install the app before that time. If you have trouble with the link after installing Zoom be sure you have your pop-up blocker disabled. You can also choose to join with the meeting number: 830293043.

Call protocol – Please keep yourself muted except when you are going to speak. And please try to call from a quiet/private venue.

Patience – Remember this is a great opportunity to practice, especially if technology is challenging for you. It’s worthwhile to figure this out.

Social distancing may mean staying further apart from each other physically in [the] coming weeks. We should compensate by caring even more about each other than [usual], because we are, of course, all in this together.
—Kai Kupferschmidt, Journalist covering infectious diseases

Due to Coronavirus – This week’s Sangha is CANCELLED!

The decision has been made to cancel the March 5 Sangha. Stay tuned for updates going forward. Below is the original post. We needed to make a new one in order to assure everyone received the updated version. Thanks for your understanding. Stay safe. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face!

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Hopefully the subject line got your attention. Tuere is on retreat and not seeing email so we are functioning without her counsel. Some of the Sangha leadership (those opening, holding space and closing) have been debating if we should cancel this week’s Sangha. We’re waiting to hear from everyone involved and will post a final decision Thursday morning. But we wanted folks to know it’s uncertain if we’ll meet. What is certain is that if you aren’t well please take care of yourself and others by staying home, especially if you have any vulnerabilities or other concerns. Like everyone else, we really don’t know how best to respond to this situation. So no matter what we decide for this week, stay tuned to see how things will unfold.

Moving Into The Present

This month we will be exploring the third link in the chain of dependent origination or dependent co-arising – Consciousness.  We begin by recognizing that ignorance (or blindness/confusion) motivates our mental formations (or impulsive and intentional actions/habits) which in turn motivates consciousness.  Basically the first two links are past causes influencing the present moment consciousness.  This influence, however, is unrecognizable  without mindfulness.  It’s our practice of mindfulness that allows us to interrupt the habitual push of the past. 

Consciousness is the connection between the two previous links and the 6 sense doors.  There’s seeing consciousness, hearing consciousness, body (sensory) consciousness, tasting consciousness, smelling consciousness, and thinking consciousness.  Each moment, one of these consciousnesses are triggered by the arising of ignorance and habit.  Once triggered, the habit continues all the way through the remaining links to a result of some sort of suffering.

Try not to look at all this as good or bad.  It’s just nature.  The reason we practice with all this is to see and understand what is occurring.  When we learn to see and understand what is occurring, we can begin to unravel it’s influence upon us and disrupt the conclusion of suffering that inevitably follows ignorance.

Another way to look at consciousness is like the coloring of our habits.  It is the mind, and therefore, it shapes how we see the moment, the experience, the world.  Consciousness works in tandem with our mental formations so what (or better yet,  how) we experience any given moment is largely dependent upon the type of assumptions, beliefs, expectations and desires each of us brings into the moment.  So we may all experience anger, but we don’t all experience anger in the same way.

This is another reason why it’s pointless to criticize oneself.  Our consciousness is constantly moving from one sense door to another. Depending upon the coloring of the mind, there’s no telling what the mind sees, feels, hears, tastes,  smells or thinks.  Without mindfulness, our life is not based on what is actually happening, everything is based on what our minds believe is happening.

Gradually, we learn  to use mindfulness to pay attention to where the mind has latched onto.  We can begin to see the disconnect between what our minds are telling us and the reality of just the pain data coming into sense doors.  This is called bare awareness.  The more we practice with this bare awareness, the less trapped we become in believing whatever the mind says.  This is why we learn to trust the somatic, felt sense of experience more than our thoughts about experience.

We’re talk moreover about this Thursday night…
Tuere

Continuing Into Mental Formations

This month we will be exploring the next link in the chain of Dependent Origination – Mental Formations (MFs).  MFs are connected to ignorance from the past and consciousness in the present. They are the volitional impulses, habits, assumptions and fabrications of the mind and are developed from our past conditioning.  The best way to get a sense of how MFs work is to think of them as the imprints or impressions on our mind.  They determine how we see the world and what we believe is true.

When these impulses or impressions arise out of ignorance – they push us towards further ignorance or suffering.  Mostly because we never question the truth of our impressions about life/experience.  We simply follow the impulses as if our impulses are somehow telling us the truth about the moment.  In fact, the impulses and/or impressions are really only telling, or to be more precise, reminding us about what we thought before.

MFs can be physical, verbal and mental (even though they are all referred to as MFs).  They all relate to the impressions, habits and/or impulses relative to some source.  Physical formations are relative to the bodily sense doors.  Verbal formations are relative to speech and mental formations are relative to thought.  They can also be “good” or “bad”. 

“Good” formations arise out of the cultivation of wisdom about the true nature of existence through the felt sense awareness of the 3 Characteristics and the 4 Noble Truths. They are considered good because they can interrupt or change our course and lead us away from suffering towards skillful means. “Bad” formations arise from past ignorance.  They are considered bad because they are habitual and continue to lead us directly towards suffering by strengthening our persistent unskillful actions. 

Additionally, MFs are related to kamma.  They are the intention behind action.  In Dhamma, intention to act is what leads to action so it is considered the same as acting.  This means we are responsible for our intentions before we act and the impact of any action we intended to take – even if we didn’t intend the specific impact that occurred. 

Finally, these MFs are connected to our past actions and usually are part of our unconscious awareness.  This is why it’s nearly impossible to stop ourselves from doing harmful habits.  We have to cultivate the capacity to feel the impulse and not react out of habit.  It takes practice and time to not follow our impulses. 

This is why we meditate.  We feel the impulse to scratch an itch, to move the body, to distract ourselves in thoughts or to stop meditating outright  But we practice not following these impulses.  Not because we’re such good yogis.  We do it because if we practice enough with resisting the urge to scratch, to move, get lost in thoughts or to get up, we can train our minds how to resist the urge around much bigger issues like harmful reactivity, destructive behaviors and/or manipulative & intimidating habits.

With a deep bow…
Tuere

Practicing with Ignorance

This week I will talk about the main, most fundamental thing about ignorance. Ignorance is the foundation of how we end up in suffering. The root of ignorance is not seeing greed, hatred and delusion. And so, everything we are trying to see is greed, hatred and delusion. In the West we think in terms of lists and learning this and that, but when practicing it’s all intertwined. You have to see something in order to then see it in a different way. I am pointing more directly towards how these three areas actually help us see greed, hatred and delusion. Pushing and pulling is greed, hatred and delusion. The thing of greed, hatred and delusion is it’s not any one of us in this room. Even though every one of us is doing it, it’s the nature of doing it, it’s the nature of being a body. My organism is going to continue to look for ways to make it feel better and get rid of things it doesn’t want.

Our bodies know how to take air in, translate it and send it back out again in whatever way it does, and we stay alive. If it stops working, we’re in trouble. It knows when the air is good, and the air is bad. It knows if there’s not enough oxygen in the air we’re breathing in. Food, too. We eat food and we eat what we like. How does it take the nutrients from an apple and send them where they’re supposed to go? It just happens, without any of our control at all. Whatever our bodies are made with, whatever conditioning or functionality is how our bodies are going to do this. It is how our bodies are going to operate.

It’s the nature of being human. Coming and going, coming and going. Intentions that our parents’ parents’ parents’ parents had are still in our DNA. That pushing and pulling is still in our bodies. This idea of ignorance is this humungous level of greed, hatred and delusion arising out of karmic implications from actions done as far back as 15 or 16 generations before we came along and we’re still feeling the effects of that energetic pull. Just like when we walk into a room after there has been a big argument. We can feel the energy, the intentions even though we weren’t there. We can still feel it. Kamma and intentions, good intentions, bad intentions, good kamma, bad kamma; we feel all of that in our lives and it’s pushing and pulling us.

The first thing to begin to see is this idea of blindness, we’re blinded to it. It’s not something seeable, not something we can touch or hold onto. It’s not like that. It is theoretical, energetic, subtle; we can’t really see it so we live in it, we’re humans, all humans are living with it. Like fish in water. We can’t see this subtle greed, hatred and delusion that’s happening all the time. You can begin to get a glimpse of why Buddha was awakened. It’s because he saw it. Not just saw it in a general sense, but flat out saw it and couldn’t not see it anymore. When you begin to see this pushing and pulling and how unrelated it is to you, you can see that a lot of what we’re doing in life and practice is to try and interrupt that impulsive nature. Not to be a better person, a good girl, a good boy, but more to just this sense of, can I interrupt this pushing and pulling that is occurring just because I’m human.

This means we can’t see the three characteristics. If we can see that all phenomenon is both impermanent, it is that impermanence that means it subject to change, which means it is subject to dukkha, and when it changes, we’re not gonna like it. If it changes from good to bad, we don’t’ like it. If it changes from bad to good, we want to hold onto it, so it never changes again. Because of that we suffer, it’s dukkha and it’s not even personal so we can’t even figure out a way to make it work for us. If we could see the three characteristics as a doorway to see the pushing and pulling, we’ll see the dislike to impermanence, begin to see how we don’t want change. This helps us see there’s a pushing and pulling. This is a doorway into this blindness where we cannot see this constant pushing and pulling that’s going on. When we go on retreat, we slow down and then we can see things we can’t see in our everyday life. But we can see if we stop. Just stop and stand there. Just say, I’m not moving until I see the subtle movements all around me. Just sit there, look out the window. Just sit there and wait and see and you are going to start noticing there’s all this movement that’s going on all the time.

The second way to look at this would be more in relation to understanding the 4 Noble Truths just to get this understanding of the inherent nature of suffering. It’s this idea that we can come into right relationship with the fact that we’re suffering all the time. It’s not random, you don’t have to wait until someone dies. We can wait 20 minutes, 10 minutes… “oh no I can’t sit here another minute, how long is this going to last???” Is there tension, tightness, holding? Look around me, see there’s a tension, a holding and tightness all over the world, everywhere I look. You can begin to sense into this tightness, tension, holding as suffering. This is what suffering is; it is a blockage to the flow of not wanting impermanence. The kind of way we hold onto things, so we don’t get stuck in this constant flow, this moving, moving, moving.  You can begin to see this suffering just by noticing when we’re around things that are uncertain, unfamiliar or unknown. Those are the three bads. Anything like that shows up, lots of difficulty. We live in a world where we think, oh, I’m not going to have any suffering because I’ve set it up where I know everything, I’m only in the certain world. Everything in my life is exactly the way I want it to be. But you know what happens, something messes it all up and then we get all upset about it.

The third way to see this is through misperception. This is the four distortions of mind and we will talk more about this when we talk about mental formations next month. This is one of the reasons why we cannot see impermanence. A way to think about this is, the earth is spinning and yet we don’t feel that spin. Part of why has to do with the way our minds make things seem permanent, solid and real even though things are impermanent. It goes against the natural understanding of things. Things that are not going to satisfy us at all, including food, drugs, alcohol, parties, they do not satisfy us but we think they’re going to satisfy us. I will not buy and expensive car because I’d have buyer’s remorse. Not a long time would go by before I wished I’d bought that other car. That’s how the mind is distorted. It thinks things are satisfying and they’re not, we think things are permanent and they’re not, we think things are personal and they’re not. We’re stuck in this idea that he whole world centers around us. One of my favorite misperceptions, that we don’t talk about much, is that the world should be lovely. But if you look at real nature, it’s every man for itself kind of energy out there. We look at the cute stuff, but there is a realness about the way wild animals are going to relate to each other and it’s not about being all nice and fuzzy. We don’t want to see the harshness of life. We just want the kind, loving, caring part. The greatest qualities we get come from the hard, difficult determination and courage to get though something. It will give us the greatest amount of liberation and freedom.

A suggestion for practice is to just note – begin to see how much of our thoughts are related to something we want or something we don’t want. Am I gonna get this, how am I gonna to get this? What am I thinking about and how much has to do with how do I go about doing this to make it happen the way I want it to happen and how much is about what I don’t want? How much of this is about you? That’s what we want to begin to see so we can see the other things.

~posted from a transcript of Tuere’s Monday night Dharma talk at SIMS

A New Year; A New Decade; A New Exploration

This year we will be exploring the Dhamma of Dependent Origination. It is often considered a complex topic that’s hard to grasp but this isn’t necessarily true. Buddha taught this topic to anyone and everyone regardless of status, class, education level and/or family. He once said that whoever sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination, whoever sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma and whoever sees the Dhamma sees the Buddha. I take this to mean that dependent origination is another way of practicing with the whole of Buddha’s teaching through one door. It is about understanding self and non-self in a more accessible way. If we are able to understand what is meant by self and non-self, we are halfway to the idea of Awakening.

So let us begin on the ground floor. At its core, duality means separate. It means the existence of two separate things; each independently controlled. It means what happens to you has nothing to do with me and no matter how the world is around me, I can still control the outcome of my life; my world. In this view, I may believe that I will be somewhat impacted by the world but I can still insulate and provide protection for me and mine so that the impact is minimal, or at the very least, lessened.

Most of the world lives within this view. We live pushing and pulling our way through life trying to insulate and protect ourselves from the perceived separate outer world. This is the view Buddha lived in before his awakening. In my opinion, Buddha had what I would call a paradigm shift in understanding at his awakening that enabled him to see that truth lay more in his relationship with the world. He saw how conditional everything is to each moment of existence. This arises because this arises; relinquishment of this means relinquishment of this; when this is present this is also present and when this is not present this is not present.

Buddha saw that all phenomenon is therefore co-arising in relationship to something else. When certain conditions come together phenomenon arises and when the conditions change (even slightly), the phenomenon changes. Moreover, life is movement and movement means change. Buddha saw that what he called the world is constantly changing and that this change was lawful, natural, unreliable and, therefore, unrelated to him. Since he had no control over the change, all of his security measures were always falling apart causing him to have to be vigilant in rebuilding them. And he saw that this constant building and rebuilding of protective measures for himself was not only painful; it was futile. Buddha realized that his release from suffering; his middle way – was in his relationship with the present phenomenon.

Over the course of the year, we will talk about the twelve links that represent the intersections of self and non-self; or rather the twelve places where our relationship with life leads towards suffering or towards liberation.

One last thing…

Life is as life is. Conditions will come together in pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and ill repute. Our job is not to make sure we get the good, positive conditions. Our job is to learn skillful means so that in either conditions we will bring kindness, not cause additional harm and to let go of the need to get our way.

Tuere