MENTORING PROGRAM – SIX EXERCISES
The exercises are to be completed preferably in a group, as the real fire for cooking insight is in sharing. The sharing is strictly confidential and remains in the process and is not communicated outside. This builds trust and protects everyone participating as sangha friends. The six exercises are to root your experience in sangha practice. You may have specific agendas in front of you at present, however, I think a deep dive into re-examining the 14 Mindfulness Trainings will solidify things for you.
The first task is to learn and sing “The Incense Offering” and “Invitation to Meditation.” They are the first and last track on the Pine Gate meditations CD. I am sure Carolyn will be happy to help you with the singing! Find someone to sing it with and have fun as you sing it together over the phone. The second task is to reflect on and rewrite the first two mindfulness trainings in your own words and from your own experience and suffering. Share this task with others.
The First Mindfulness Training: Openness
Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.
The Second Mindfulness Training: Non-Attachment to Views
Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.
I should emphasize that there is no right way of doing the reflecting and rethinking of the MT’s. It is all in the sharing with buddies – you can rewrite, or paint or make up a poem, dance or song from your insights, prepare a skit, create a photo essay etc. How you express your own experience of the MT’s is not at all restricted to the written form. I hope that you feel free to express yourselves as you wish to. It is the sharing process that provides the real “fire” of understanding. This is a very important point. Take one another’s phone numbers and perhaps arrange a monthly coffee sharing before you come and see me.
There are six exercises in all. Future exercises will have rewritten/ reformulated Mindfulness Trainings considered along with:
- The Heart of the Prajnaparamita – Thay’s updated version/ MT 3 & 4 (Exercise 2);
- A Verse from Transformation At The Base/ MT 5, 6 & 7 (Exercise 3);
- Sangha Building/ MT 8 & 9 (Exercise 4);
- Engaged Practice/ MT 10 & 11 (Exercise 5);
- Living Dharma/ MT 12, 13 & 14 (Exercise 6).
Guidelines and pertinent readings for each exercise are provided from my E Books and website – www.ianprattis.com Click on Articles sidebar. Check out the pertinent dharma talks that are on the YouTube Pine Gate Channel – www.youtube.com/user/pinegatesangha
After each exercise provide a brief report, which will be of assistance to others. Interbeing rocks on! I hope to create fun and a good environment for the mentoring. Singing on….
The second exercise involves your rewriting of the 3rd and 4th Mindfulness Trainings. Once again drawing on your own experience and words. This is so the MT’s become personal, not just something you recite by rote. The meaning to you of each training thus deepens. Do share the rewritten MT’s with your buddies. That is a vital stage of the exercise.
The singing continues with the second exercise of the training program, this time with some study. The focus is on Thay’s new version of “The Heart of the Prajnaparamita.” First of all learn to sing it, with the bell at the appropriate time. To study this keystone of practice – read it and sing it through a few times and jot down what insights come to you. Then turn to the UK sangha’s Manual of Practice. The UK sangha have produced an excellent manual of mindfulness practice. Chapters 1 – 4 give explanations of the basic teachings and guidance on following the practice in our daily life. It is now available as a web based on-line book.
For the Heart Sutra study – be aware that there is a dance between the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions. What does “No attainment” mean in the Historical as opposed to the Ultimate? If we try to understand it in the Historical we get stuck as it belongs in the Ultimate Dimension. What does “no eyes, no ears etc” tell you about perception through the senses? Go deep with this one.
An article that charts my difficulties with these two dimensions is available from my website. Go to http://www.ianprattis.com/articles.htm and download “My Practice in the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.” Take your time with this “homework” and enjoy the exploration together.
The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought
Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue.
The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Awareness of Suffering
Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop understanding and compassion, we are determined to come home to ourselves, to recognize, accept, embrace and listen to suffering with the energy of mindfulness. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. We know we can realize the path leading to the transformation of suffering only when we understand deeply the roots of suffering. Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer, so we can help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.
Dear Friends in the practice of mindfulness,
The Third Exercise in the OI training program is to rewrite MT’s 5, 6 & 7 from your own experience and suffering. The study is for you to take one of the fifty verses from Thay’s book “Transformation At The Base.” Whichever verse appeals to you the most. Then make that verse your meditation and contemplation focus for the next month. Have a notebook handy to jot down insights and questions that arise.
A chapter that appears in Vol II of Keeping Dharma Alive E Book would be useful to examine. The chapter draws on Thay’s Fifty verses in large measure and is titled “Consiousness As Food.” After you meet together, once more write a brief report and then come to meet with me. There is a lot to this exercise so take your time with it – can even stretch over two or three months.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Compassionate, Healthy Living
Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, we are determined not to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying nor to take as the aim of our life fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, which can bring much suffering and despair. We will practice looking deeply into how we nourish our body and mind with edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. We are committed not to gamble or to use alcohol, drugs or any other products which bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness such as certain websites, electronic games, music, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. We will consume in a way that preserves compassion, wellbeing, and joy in our bodies and consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of our families, our society, and the earth.
The Sixth Mindfulness Training: Taking Care of Anger
Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are committed to taking care of the energy of anger when it arises, and to recognizing and transforming the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger manifests, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking to acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We know that the roots of anger are not outside of ourselves but can be found in our wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in ourselves and others. By contemplating impermanence, we will be able to look with the eyes of compassion at ourselves and at those we think are the cause of our anger, and to recognize the preciousness of our relationships. We will practice Right Diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same.
The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment
Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, in all situations. In this way, we will be able to cultivate seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness. We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.
The fourth exercise is to rewrite the next two mindfulness trainings – 8 & 9 – once again from the perspective of your own experience. The study portion of Exercise Four asks you to take a chapter from “Friends on the Path” compiled by Jack Lawlor, or a chapter from Thay’s “Living Joyfully.” Present your thoughts on different chapters to one another with your reflections and insights about sangha building in your own practice community. Also take a look at the experience of the Pine Gate sangha at: http://www.ianprattis.com/pinegate.htm Then report about the nature of your discussion and insights.
The Eighth Mindfulness Training: True Community and Communication
Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. Knowing that true community is rooted in inclusiveness and in the concrete practice of the harmony of views, thinking and speech, we will practice to share our understanding and experiences with members in our community in order to arrive at a collective insight. We are determined to learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. Whenever difficulties arise, we will remain in our Sangha and practice looking deeply into ourselves and others to recognize all the causes and conditions, including our own habit energies, that have brought about the difficulties. We will take responsibility for the ways we may have contributed to the conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.
The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech
Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumors nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.
The fifth exercise brings your attention, experience and skills to mindfulness trainings 10 & 11. The study portion has its focus on Engaged Buddhism, which is the heart of Thay’s practice and teaching. There are many books and teachings on Engaged Buddhism. Select a particular chapter or dharma talk from Thay that appeals to you and use this as the basis for your discussion with your fellow aspirants. There is also a dharma talk about Engaged Buddhism on YouTube.
The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha
Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit, or transform our community into a political instrument. As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body. As a true cell in the Sangha body, generating mindfulness, concentration and insight to nourish ourselves and the whole community, each of us is at the same time a cell in the Buddha body. We will actively build brotherhood and sisterhood, flow as a river, and practice to develop the three real powers – understanding, love and cutting through afflictions – to realize collective awakening.
The Eleventh Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood
Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that contributes to the wellbeing of all species on earth and helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of economic, political, and social realities around the world, as well as our interrelationship with the ecosystem, we are determined to behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens. We will not invest in or purchase from companies that contribute to the depletion of natural resources, harm the earth, or deprive others of their chance to live.
Almost done – for now anyways!! The final three mindfulness trainings – 12, 13 & 14 – are the last trainings for you to think about from the standpoint of your own experience and suffering. You have traveled a long way from the first exercise and you should be encouraged by the diligence and intelligence you have brought to this mentoring program. Also know that your fresh eyes and insights have enriched my own understandings in so many ways. I thank you all deeply for this. The study portion of the final exercise asks you to explore the issue of “Living Dharma.” Thay talks about this in Chapter 3 of “Joyfully Together.” There is also a dharma talk given in Plum Village by Thay on January 19, 2003 that addresses “Living Dharma.” You can access this through the website: http://langmai.org/TNH_DharmaTalks.html
“The Small God Limited Dharma Syndrome”, which is a chapter in “Keeping Dharma Alive” addresses these issues in the context of conservative and fundamentalist hierarchies within North American spirituality. It is available from http://www.ianprattis.com/articles.htm and will also be sent to you as a Word File.
The Twelfth Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life
Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, compassion, and the insight of interbeing in our daily lives and promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, ethnic and religious groups, nations, and in the world. We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life, prevent war, and build peace.
The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating generosity in our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.
The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: True Love
[For lay members]: Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends. Seeing that body and mind are one, we are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and to cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness for our own happiness and the happiness of others. We must be aware of future suffering that may be caused by sexual relations. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with compassion and respect. We are determined to look deeply into the Four Nutriments and learn ways to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will regularly meditate upon their future environment.
It has been a privilege to share this journey, a deep bow to each one of you.