Tag Archives: Bodhisattva

Waves Into Water

When Thich Nhat Hanh ordained me as a dharma teacher he transmitted the Lamp of Wisdom in a ceremony at Plum Village in France. I was required to present a dharma talk to the monastics present on this occasion. I talked about waves and water and came around to the significance of silence. This is what I said.

Thich Nhat Hanh uses a wonderful analogy of waves and water to understand how the Ultimate and Historical dimensions of reality are interwoven. Waves rise, they fall and die when they wash up on a seashore or riverbank. This is the analogy for the Historical Dimension. Many other notions within time/space constraints situate the wave clearly within the historical dimension of viewing reality, which provides a metaphor for our daily existential cycle of life – our crises and cycles of ups and downs. But no matter what attributes apply to waves there is always a constant. While a wave is about its business of being high or low, born or dying, coming or going, it is always water. The constant of water refers to the Ultimate Dimension.  With the interconnected nature of waves and water, the idea is that if we touch the waves of life deeply with our insight then we can touch the water of life – the Ultimate Dimension that we can call Nirvana, the Kingdom of God.  This is a transcendent reality, a dimension outside of time and space, distinct from the time and space constraints of our daily existence.

I have heard Thich Nhat Hanh many times express the waves and water analogy, and the metaphorical qualities certainly made intellectual sense to me. But my experience was such that deep looking into my waves did not lead me to touch the water of the Ultimate Dimension. My “Waves” did not shoot me through to the “Water” as I certainly expected them to do, after listening to my teacher. I wondered for a long time about this disjunction between my intellectual acceptance of this notion and my lack of personal experience. There were three logical options for me to investigate.

  1. The first option was that Thich Nhat Hanh was incorrect.
  2. The second option was that Thich Nhat Hanh was neither correct nor incorrect. He was simply very generous in choosing not to chart the difficulties of transition from waves to water.
  3. The third option was that Thich Nhat Hanh was correct and that something crucial was missing from my practice.

I eliminated the first option as I have great trust and faith in Thich Nhat Hanh as a teacher.  There may be something to the second option as I know how generous a teacher he is, that he may choose to encourage rather than chart the difficulties on the path. Yet, I realized very early on that the real investigation was the third option – to investigate just what was missing from my practice of mindfulness. I was aware that my waves were too small to carry me through to the Ultimate Dimension – too small in terms of insufficient concentration, insight and mindfulness – the three energies of transformation. What I needed was a tidal wave to make my waves full of concentration, insight and mindfulness so that this energy could provide the “voltage” to transition from waves through to water. I knew that a tidal wave has the properties of increasing energy and appears to disobey the second law of thermodynamics. It is described as a “soliton” in science, with characteristics of both wave and particle and therefore a kinship with elementary particles such as the photon and electron. So my investigation was into my internal state for the causes and conditions that would make my waves into “solitons” – into tidal waves full of concentration, mindfulness and insight. As I pondered this deeply I stumbled across where I had to go.

It was into Silence. Deep Silence and stillness amidst the world I lived in. This is where I found the causes and conditions that would provide tidal waves of energy to my cells and consciousness. Silence producing Tsunami was the initial equation. I could truly look deeply into my suffering, into the dark areas that held hostage my mental formations of an unwholesome nature. And so over the past decades I have built more and more silence into my everyday life. On a daily basis I stop, look deeply and dialogue with the feminine seeds in my consciousness – a practice received from my Native American medicine teachers. I listen deeply in the silence to the communications from the wholesome attributes of feminine wisdom within me to address issues and questions. For a long time now this has been, and still is, my fieldwork of life – observation and understanding the field of consciousness within me through the eyes of the internal feminine. Silence and skilful deep looking were certainly important yet the dialogue with the internal feminine was the key for me. My consciousness was guided by these seeds of awareness to transform difficulties and impediments in my life, enabling me to move on.

My home and sangha life, supported by the entire Pine Gate Sangha, enables me to retreat into silence on a regular basis. In this way – through silence and deep looking – my waves became bigger, more infused with concentration, insight and mindfulness.  Deep silence and dialogue with the internal feminine provided the causes and conditions for my waves to become Tsunami.  As I continued to stop in the silence and look deeply into my shadows, there emerged the distinct experience of touching the water. Thich Nhat Hanh was correct. I had to discover for myself the significance of silence, skilful deep looking and consulting with the wisdom of the internal feminine.  The fruits of this practice of silence and non-action were many and particularly manifest in my study of the Lotus Sutra.

Silence had given me a better understanding and experience of the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions. I applied myself to study the Lotus Sutra, particularly Burton Watson’s 1993 translation from the Chinese version done by the Central Asian scholar-monk Kumarajiva in 406 CE. Prior to this intensive study I was much more comfortable with accepting the Buddha in Historical form. The story of the Buddha’s life, awakening and ministry was enough for me and I had not paid too much attention to the Buddha in the Ultimate Dimension. That changed radically through reading the Lotus Sutra from my practice of silence. For in the Lotus Sutra the Buddha in the Ultimate Dimension is revealed in no uncertain terms. In its beauty, grandeur and compelling intimacy with all that is, ever was, and ever will be, my scepticism about the Ultimate Dimension of the Buddha disappeared. As I read different chapters of the Lotus Sutra I was transported to the worlds and dimensions described. I would read a little then put the book down as I felt myself going deeply into meditation. I was profoundly moved by the words, the dimensions, by the energy that I experienced through the series of translations into Chinese then into English. And I would remain in a trance like state for hours. My wife Carolyn would come home from work, take one look at me and say: “You’ve been reading the Lotus Sutra again, haven’t you?” She was right!

My direct experience of the energy of this Mahayana masterpiece brought home to me so many insights. The most pertinent one was that I would not be able to experience the Lotus Sutra in this way if my waves were still too small – lacking in insight, concentration and mindfulness.  Over the years I took steps to remedy my small wave syndrome as best I could, through protracted periods of deep silence and skilful deep looking. I still continue with this practice.  Without the silence and what it enabled, I am sure I would have had a different experience from my study of the Lotus Sutra – a superficial reading that would not have allowed me to touch its depth and magnificence. The Lotus Sutra is full of the activities of bodhisattvas, sages and holy beings, and of how we may understand their role. The bodhisattvas are described as being immersed in the Ultimate Dimension, and from there they return to the Historical Dimension to transform suffering. This is the Action Dimension – shaped for us through the Six Paramitas – plus one – Upaya! As “water” bodhisattvas live the life of a “wave.” Their example in choosing to do so encourages us to come face to face with suffering, to step away from fear and take our own steps into freedom. This is the task of the true revolutionary of the twenty first century. Not to pick up a gun and shout hatred, but to penetrate “Water” from the “Waves” of life. There are so many bodhisattvas from all spiritual traditions who are choosing to do this.  In a way this ushers in the end of Religion – of being attached to the identity gained from one’s religion.  The task before us in the 21st century is to step out as Spiritual Warriors and not be caught by our religious identities but to connect and walk hand in hand with friends from other spiritual traditions who are doing the same. Thus I am expanding the term bodhisattva so that it embraces far more than Buddhism.

I came through this process with waves that are not so small anymore, with joy and happiness, and a full heart to share with everyone. I also experience a distinct cycle of interconnectedness.  Empowered by my study of the Lotus Sutra, I institute yet more silence into my life even when I am talking to someone or offering a dharma talk. I became available to the Three Gems in a manner I was not before. My waves carry more voltage and my Seven Paramitas are filling up rather than being half empty as my skillfulness grows. My activism for peace and the environment rests on a foundation of silence and the initial necessity of non-action.  The true art of doing nothing! It all weaves together like a spider’s web glistening in the morning dew.  It is so lovely. I offer my insight gatha when receiving the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in  Plum Village, France.

Lotus Sutra sings.

Fresh dharma rains penetrate

My heart – wide open.

 

Pine Gate Wide Open

PINE GATE MINDFULNESS COMMUNITY                                                                       

 Pine Gate is a Zen Buddhist community practicing Engaged Buddhism inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and Sulak Sivaraksa. It has created an engaged expression for peace, social justice and planetary care as the community is the nucleus of Friends for Peace. The coalition, with Pine Gate at the core, has since created annual events to celebrate peace, social justice and planetary care.

The resident teacher is Dharmacharya Ian Prattis – True Body of Wisdom.  Ian is a poet, scholar, peace and environmental activist. As a professor at Carleton University he taught courses on Ecology, Symbols, Globalization and Consciousness – reflected in his 2008 award winning book: Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves. He encourages people to find their true nature so that humanity and the world may be renewed.  He has trained with masters in Buddhist, Vedic and Shamanic traditions.

 Pine Gate, located in the west end of Ottawa, had very modest beginnings. Inaugurated in 1997 following Ian’s return from teaching meditation in India, early gatherings featured Ian, Carolyn, and their pets – Nikki the dog and Lady the cat. Since then it has blossomed into a vibrant community. In the summer of 2001 major renovations took place to the lower level of their home.  A new meditation hall emerged from the dust and knocked down walls – the Pine Gate Meditation Hall. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh provided a gift of calligraphy naming the Pine Gate Meditation Hall. This now hangs on the wall for all to see. The meditation hall has become a source of sanctuary for friends from many traditions. There are three seasons at Pine Gate – the Fall Study Session from September to December, the Winter Study Session from January to May, and the Lazy Days of Summer program from July to August. June is recess and quiet time.

The bottom line at Pine Gate is the practice of Silent Meditation, Zen style, every Thursday evening from 7pm – 8pm with tea afterwards. The First Saturday of each month provides a Day of Mindfulness. The gathering on Saturday September 3 ushers in the 2016 Fall Program. It is an opportunity for socialization, dharma and pot luck vegetarian supper, 5pm – 8pm. Dharma talks, discussion, mindfulness trainings recitations, sutra study, deep relaxation, Q & A, ceremonies and other practices will follow on further Days of Mindfulness. On occasions the supper will be a formal meal. Hikes, Sweat Lodges, Pilgrimages, and Meditation Retreats are also organized. The voice of the sangha can be heard through its quarterly Buddhist Journal – Pine Gate – which appears three times a year. Quirky!

Our engagement with society and the environment rests on our quality of being. When that quality is rooted in stillness and silence there is a different ground for subsequent actions and so events take a different course. We simply go home to our true nature. We are very active in this way and bring harmony to those we interact with. The most significant interaction is with our true nature. To connect to its boundless quality in daily life, and then to connect to others and the world in the same way is surely the ticket to ride!

The Buddha brilliantly created the initial form of sangha but I do think he would not have wanted it to stay the same as when first established 2,600 years ago! The change of form in sangha practice at Pine Gate emphasizes the power of deep silence. From my yogi training in India I believe that that once one can be truly silent all aspects of mindfulness fall into place. You do not have to fight your difficulties. Silence allows it to leave you. Alone with silence and all that is generated by the imperturbable silence of the Buddha and masters like Ramana Maharsi, the way is paved for bodhisattvas to emerge. This evolving ancient form, resting on deep silence, brings to us the transmissions that the Buddha and Ramana Maharsi made available.

DIRECTIONS: In Ottawa, take Queensway to Woodroffe South exit; go to Baseline Rd; RT on Baseline; RT on Highgate (2nd lights) RT on Westbury; LT on Rideout and follow the Crescent round to 1252, which is always lit up with Christmas lights in the winter and full of flowers in the summer. Attendance is by donation according to means.  Ball Park: $5 – $10.

Contacts: iprattis@bell.net ; carolyn.hill@bell.net Tel: 613 726 0881   

 

The Buddha At The Gate

Essay Eleven: The Buddha at the Gate. 

Let me tell you a story. There was a young monk who was sent by his Abbot to beg for food in a nearby town.  The town had a wall around it, with a main gate placed at each cardinal direction.  The young monk was a little nervous during his first alms round but the townspeople were very generous and quickly filled his bowl.  Late that morning he decided to leave by the North Gate.  Sitting to one side of the gate was a bedraggled, dirty old beggar who stirred himself at the sight of the young monk and started to spit and curse at him.  The monk jumped to one side in alarm and quickly passed through the gate as fast as he could.  As he walked away he could still hear the beggar’s curses ringing in his ears.

On the next day once his bowl was full he decided to leave by the West Gate to avoid the dreadful old beggar.  But the beggar was there, spitting and cursing at him once again.  The young monk was angry this time and shouted at the old beggar “Don’t you know who I am?  I am a student of the Buddha!”  At which point the beggar picked up some dirt and threw it into the bowl, spoiling the monk’s collection of food.  Angrily the young monk walked back to the monastery, knowing he would have to endure an enforced fast, wondering why he should be treated in this way.  So he made up his mind to breathe and calm himself and to totally ignore the beggar if they should meet again.

As he left by the South Gate next day he met the old beggar, still cursing and spitting at him.  He protected his food with part of his robe and kept his head down as he endured the abuse from the old beggar once more.  His heart was in turmoil, his mind in so much distress that he could eat nothing from his bowl once he reached the monastery.  Next day he left by the East Gate and to his dismay the same old beggar was waiting for him.  As he heard the curses and endured the spitting, the young monk raised his walking staff to strike the old beggar, who just cackled in glee at the young monk’s discomfort.  With a moment’s pause the monk stayed his hand and walked quickly through the East Gate.

He was deeply ashamed at how close he had come to violence.  He felt he was a wretched student of the Buddha and totally confused as to why all this abuse was happening to him.  He suffered so much from the anger and violence inside himself that he knew he needed his Master’s guidance.  He sought out the Abbot and asked for forgiveness and guidance after he told the story of his past four days.  The Abbot listened deeply to the young monk then smiled very gently with understanding.

“My child, you have met the Buddha at the Gate.  He is asking you to look deeply into the depths of your reactions and anger.  He is asking you to listen instead to the deep source of Love and Compassion in your heart.  He is asking you not to lose your Joy and Equanimity.  He encourages you to develop your Equanimity so it is solid and strong, not easily moved.  These are the Buddha’s teachings on Love and you must meditate deeply on these teachings.”

The Abbot instructed him on the Buddha’s Teachings on Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity; the Four Immeasurable Minds.  Also known as the Four Brahmaviharas, these teachings were first given by the Buddha to a Hindu gentleman who wished to find the way to be with Brahma, the Universal God.  The young monk was instructed to deepen his practice, to listen deeply to his heart and always to stop and look deeply into the causes and conditions of his reactions, anger and violence.  The young monk bowed in gratitude to his Abbot and diligently practiced meditating on the Buddha’s teachings, immediately putting them into daily practice.  This enabled him to pass by the beggar without reaction, until one day no beggar was to be found at any of the four gates.

This simple teaching is something we can all put into practice and not activate the demons in our own mind. A better world is the end result.

 

Are We Stupid? Climate Change Unhinged.

Essay Three: Are We Stupid?                                                                                                                                                                           

Oscar nominee Pete Postlethwaite plays the best role of his acting career in the film “The Age of Stupid.”  The movie fast forwards us to the year 2055.  Pete plays the sole fictional character in this riveting film.  He stars as an old man living alone in a world totally decimated by global warming.  His location is the High Arctic.  How prophetic this makes James Lovelock’s conclusion from his 2006 book Revenge of Gaia. In an interview about this book, Lovelock provides a dire prediction for humanity: “Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”

The character played by Postlethwaite is the curator of The Global Archive, a digital storage laboratory located in the Arctic. It is the last habitable place for humans on Planet Earth.  The footage he views shows how global warming reached tipping points and runaway effects while at the same time humanity’s achievements are also saved for posterity.  How could the human mind capable of such monumental achievements neglect to take care of the destruction happening to their lived-in-ecosystem?  The old man shakes his head in disbelief looking for an answer.  The film gives us an answer – carbon based energy. Our addictive dependence to it is what propelled the downward spiral of devastation. The addictive process was enabled because we allowed the environment to become an extension of human egocentric needs and values, an ego-sphere rather than an eco-sphere. In this ego-sphere we consumed mindlessly in the global economy without regard for ecosystem balance or concern about creating inequality, poverty and ecosystem imbalance.  Planetary care is not on this agenda, as the film graphically shows.  We see the old man in the High Arctic watching archival video footage, carefully preserved from 2008.  His stark question to the viewer is: “Why didn’t we stop climate change in 2008 when there was a chance?”

The director of the film, Fanny Armstrong, creates a montage from live news and documentaries saved from 1950 to 2008.  The video record charts the steps taken by humanity into global devastation – devastating that is for human habitation and for all other species. In an artfully created mosaic, six real life characters play out the dramas of their personal stories.  Their humanity and incredible stupidity are extant in this brilliant tapestry of human folly.  What is so gripping is that we who view it are made to feel distinctly uncomfortable, because their shadows and myopia reflect our own. The shadows and myopia arrive as a projection of our political and corporate leaders.  After watching this film we can no longer hide from these shadows.  We are forcibly held to account.  If we do not act now, this film then becomes our story.

Two Forks In the Road – Which One Will We Take?

I talked about the Failsafe in Consciousness concept in my 2008 work, Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves, to describe how consciousness expansion will be held back by a deliberately cultivated ignorance about better knowledge. That is until the global ecological situation deteriorates to a breaking point. My thought was that this breaking point will then act as a catalyst, exposing such ignorance. At which point consciousness is propelled into expansion, deliberation and change. My vision was a very positive one, as I believed that humanity could create new structures and organizations out of which emerge the radical solutions to address the environmental crises. We have the knowledge to create this, but the obstacles that stand in the way are not technological. They are the attitudes, values and concepts that define the present dominance of corporate values, rampantly consolidated through “turbo-capitalism.” I argued that the necessary clarity to deal with the global environmental crises will emerge, once our thoughts, values and attitudes change and no longer sustain and feed our internal pollution. This is the radical internal Climate Change necessary to engage intelligently with the external Climate Change.

There is certainly global awareness, but also fear about our future place on Planet Earth. The overwhelming terror of Gaia crashing down on us is unbearable. Yet I asked the reader to take hold of the 2% option that creates the opportunity for the Failsafe in Consciousness to function and multiply. I recall many years ago when I was teaching meditation in India, hearing Sai Baba, the Indian sage, say that a transformation in human consciousness required at least 2% of the population to meditate on a daily basis. I have no idea what the knowledge source was for his pronouncement yet I do remember the “buzz” of energy in my body and mind when I heard it. I do not remember anything but that from the audience with him, yet have retained it as a distinct possibility, translating this wisdom into the 2% option. This is do-able and within our immediate grasp. Just persuade 2% of the people we know to implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, reduce meat consumption, walk or cycle more, drive less, create an organic garden, plant a tree – but do it! Reduce our ecological footprint by conserving energy with one eco-friendly act every day, then global consciousness as a collective human phenomenon will change. Different questions will be asked and different solutions found, as a new mind-set of shared consciousness emerges to make the necessary decisions for change.  Mass awakening does not mean that everyone “wakes” up.  A critical mass of 2% will be satisfactory as a tipping point, the catalyst, to get things moving in the right direction.

To make Failsafe a robust concept I identified three interconnected components:

  1. Innate Earth Wisdom,
  2. Counter Culture and
  3. Tipping Points in Consciousness.

We do in fact possess innate earth wisdom. Ninety-nine per cent of our evolution as a species relied on a hunting and gathering adaptation known as foraging, a strategy of adaptation based on sophisticated ecosystem knowledge, which was integrated into harvesting patterns through a spiritual understanding of the world. That is still hardwired into our brain and I thought it was simply a matter of re-accessing what we already possess. My anthropological logic pointed to the radical remembering of this mindset in order to activate the feedback cycle needed to prevent further degradation of the global ecosystem. I note how the modern day counter culture pulled together the Ecology of Ideas from Gregory Bateson, Rachel Carson’s Radical Ecology and the fostering of Gaia as metaphor and social movement through feminists, environmentalists, and the New Age beads and incense set. This unusual coalition established a broad consensus that provided a foundation for the new science of Eco-psychology. The counter culture also touched base with a responsible corporate response and the emergence of the powerful anti-globalization movement.

A massive global citizen response will certainly elicit an equally massive government and corporate response, as the bottom-up movement and top-down strategies for drastic change meet and integrate. There is not room in this Global Ecological Emergency for separating into “US’ and “THEM” categories. We are totally interconnected whether we like it or not.  We will all live together or we will all die together. An intelligent green ideology embedded in everything we produce and market is a means to bridge competing agendas. Our dependence on fossil fuels reduces because we are aware of the deadly consequences of our addiction to oil and coal. The transition to a carbon neutral global energy system over the next few decades will be costly and require a massive response from government and corporate leaders to initiate the second industrial revolution. This is necessary to blunt the impact of climate change. It is a huge global industrial project that governments and corporations can bring about due to citizen pressure to “Make It So!” Global warming has certainly entered public consciousness. It just has to penetrate the corridors of political and corporate power. As global citizens we must find the ways and means to support the shift in consciousness at all levels of global society to make this so. Our future existence, and the existence of other species on planet earth, depends on making a new beginning for all of us.

Tipping points in consciousness are about achieving a critical mass for radical change and draw on the new science of Neuroplasticity that clearly demonstrates we are not necessarily stuck with present mindsets. Our mindsets can be changed but that takes extensive and diligent internal work. Just as there are tipping points in the external ecology of Gaia, so must there be tipping points in the internal ecology of consciousness.

“The Age of Stupid” is a watershed film.  You will not be the same after you have seen it.  It is impossible not to be moved in a constructive direction of immediate action.  For the latter, I refer the reader to Failsafe’s Appendix I: Simple Steps to Empowerment, which provides guidelines and an action plan for the global ecological emergency. The steps are:

  1. Take Action
  2. Get Up Close And Personal
  3. Reduce Your Ecological Footprint
  4. Guidelines for Business and the Workplace
  5. The “Big” Picture for The Future
  6. Science and Diversity
  7. Environmental Organizations
  8. Warning to Governments

The Scientific American journal published “10 Solutions for Climate Change” much later and basically endorsed my Appendix.  If only we can get it right – and get it right now!

The hopeful trajectory is that our diligent mindfulness has changed our brain structures in the direction that permits new paradigms of behavior to come into form.  As cells in the ecosystem of Gaia it is as though humanity has aligned their neuronal networks with principles of ecosystem balance, ethics and responsibility.  The critical mass has arrived and it amounts to a collective tipping point for our species.  Once the wild, ego driven, greed driven mind is reined in then clarity and compassion are suddenly there to provide the basis for how we can be with the planet and with one another in a totally new way.  This is what happens if we “Begin It Now” – the concluding words to Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves.

The best case scenario is that we get on with the task of reining in our ego and greed driven mind.  This permits a Failsafe in Consciousness to kick in because conditions have been created by our choice to cultivate different patterns within our minds. Thus consciousness expansion can no longer be held back as the radical internal Climate Change has taken place.  Our innate knowledge is manifest. We interconnect with a vast counter culture that is no longer a minority, no longer asleep or disempowered. We become another light shining in the quiet revolution that has over two million organizations world-wide pursuing constructive change.

However, I underestimated the lure and power of the Second Fork. Should a Failsafe in Consciousness prove to be unfounded, we are then faced with the likelihood that humanity is a failed genetic experiment. If we continue to turn our beautiful rivers into sewers because of our endless greed and neglectful ignorance, it is obvious that there is no place on Mother Earth to support our present civilization. That too will join the trash heap collectively created by mindless generations of humanity.  If consciousness is too slow to change and make the quantum leap to a culture of sustainability then there are drastic consequences to contemplate, which are starkly portrayed in the film. The ancient ecologist on Mars studying a million years of earth history would note a parasitic infestation of Planet Earth that was not very intelligent. An intelligent parasite would ensure the good health of the host that supports it. And so the Martian biologist would factor in an inevitable elimination date for our species in her star-date log and may well view our civilization as a failed genetic experiment.

This is a sobering metaphor, yet we have to accept it as a potential reality staring at us from the very near future. Our present values and patterns of consumption are the architects of the present global ecological emergency, as we remain ignorant to the consequences of the fact that everything interconnects. We are, in fact, our environment. It is our collective habits, thoughts and patterns of mindlessness that have created a flimsy, uncertain future for our species on Planet Earth. Yet civilizations rise, civilizations fall. Once we can accept that we have created the conditions for the present global civilization to die, then and only then can we find a respite. During this respite, perhaps it is possible for insights to emerge that will bring radical change to our values, habits and mindset.

It is very difficult in modern day civilization to accept death, whether it is of a loved one, ourselves or the planet. The usual response is fear and denial. We have to re-educate our minds to get past these two obstacles. For once we can clearly recognize the reality that our present form of civilization is dying we know that despair and denial will do us no good. Instead, a window opens in our mind for peace and steadiness to enter, which could then propel our species to live differently so that we may create a future on planet earth. This requires a mass awakening of attributes that run counter to the bottom line of turbo-capitalism and the ecology of greed. It does require a candid acceptance, without fear, that our global civilization in its present form is coming to an end. Such an acceptance can actually free the mind from its chains and enable mindful engagement to naturally arise. Such a way of life, such an acceptance of our true reality on the planet, can be the springboard to mitigate the course of environmental collapse. The energy and power to avert the disaster facing us rests in our minds and in a new collective choice to live very differently.

Because of all the warning signals, however, allow me to be starkly realistic. If the Failsafe in Consciousness does not kick in, the field is open for James Lovelock’s conclusions to take root. But perhaps after all the Arctic Circle may not be such a bad evolutionary staging point, as digital records, carefully preserved as archaeological relics, could provide clear guidelines for future civilizations to conduct themselves more appropriately with respect to the Earth Mother. A million years from now is merely a blink of an eye in geological time. After Global Warming destroys the present habitable eco-niche any future civilization that evolves will be able to draw on the triumphs and failures of our present civilization.

I finish with Dave Hampton’s passionate thoughts about this film (Resurgence May/June 2009: 66).  “The Age of Stupid is not just a film that could change the course of humanity.  I hope it will be the catalyst that gives us a second chance to create a sustainable future.  I hope it will promote a mass collective awakening globally such that we are not stupid and that we choose life and reclaim our children’s birthright – the right to expect a future.”

I have fourteen grandchildren. In the same vein as this film, I wrote Failsafe: Saving The Earth from Ourselves. Consider this book as archival footage from 2008 that provides hope and an action plan so that my grandchildren can enjoy a habitable planet. Should the adversity of Climate Change overwhelm humanity – then a different question arises. What will we then choose to do as a paradigm of behavior?

 

Glance at the sun

See the moon

And the stars

Gaze at the beauty

Of the earth’s

Greening

 

Now Think

 

Hildergard of Bingen 1098 – 1179

 

 

 

 

 

Buddha Mind

Notes on Buddha Mind                                                                         

Reflections on Mentoring and Mindfulness Trainings.

2,600 years ago – 5 Wonderful Precepts                   1966 14 Mindfulness Trainings

The trainings were created under radically different circumstances – but have the same underlying thread of implementing the Bodhisattva Way.

  • Where did the Five Precepts come from? They had to come from somewhere.  There are three major causes and conditions that permitted their emergence.  The first is the awakened mind of the Buddha; the second is the great skill of the Buddha as a teacher; the third is Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful rewording of the Five Wonderful Precepts of the Buddha.  In a language that would appeal to the consciousness of the 21st century, the Buddha’s Precepts were renewed as the Five Mindfulness Trainings, in tune with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments.  So when we study and penetrate deeply into these mindfulness trainings we touch all three conditions, in particular the awakened mind of the Buddha.  At the same time we also touch our potential to be similarly awakened.
  • The 5 MT and the 14 MT are for the lay community – created at different times by different sages (Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh), also under drastically different conditions.

2,600 yrs ago Gautama Shakyamuni awakened under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya in India.

Before that he practiced many deflections and trained in limited spiritual paths.

  • Ascetic practice almost killed him when he tried to subdue his mind and his body.
  • Buffalo herder Sujata saved his life – fed him – he focused on the Middle Way so his mind could settle. He sought out the bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya and sat in an imperturbable manner at the foot of the tree.

Two considerations:

  • The man Gautama Shakyamuni
  • The Buddha Mind – a universal, mystical level of consciousness. Christian mystics talk about this as “Christos.”

At Bodh Gaya we have #1 stepping into #2 and never being the same again. Gautama became the Buddha on his awakening.

Buddha’s Creation of the 5 Precepts for the Lay Community – Avatamsaka Sutra

– Avatamsaka Sutra: Establishes how to enter the Buddha’s world and mind, the reality witnessed by enlightened beings whose vision and mind is no longer clouded by egocentric addictions. What can be communicated from the Buddha Mind to our mind is the vision the Buddha first obtained under the Bodhi tree. The Avatamaska Sutra – known as the Flower Ornament Scripture – was translated from Chinese texts by Thomas Cleary in 1993. It has a surreal, mystical aspect. The Chinese scribes describe how it was delivered in full by the Buddha soon after his awakening – to all the heavens and galaxies.

The Avatamsaka Sutra requires more than an intellectual understanding. It needs a visceral response to grasp it. It is a universal phenomenon – a Buddha-verse of enlightened beings no less, bringing awakening and empowerment in their wake. It comprises thirty nine books, each one a sutra in itself – everything in Buddhism is derived from this. Tucked away in it are the 5 Precepts for Lay People.

The template of Avatamsaka lays out the Bodhisattva path in all its intricacies. A visionary, mystical text – millions of enlightened beings from all the galaxies listen to the Buddha’s revelations, or so the Chinese scribes tell us! We join them with our mentoring program for the 14 Mindfulness Trainings at Pine Gate. The 1966 Mindfulness Trainings lay out a framework for the Bodhisattva thread to be re-woven. We will encounter a multi-dimensional reality that transcends time/space/past/future.

A prior stage of emphasis on this Bodhisattva paradigm was supplied by Shantideva in 8th century India at Nalanda University. This is an example of Buddha Mind at work – Shantideva  provides an example of multi-dimensional reality, as did Milarepa in Tibet during the 11th century.

  • “Eats, Sleeps and Shits” was the observation of Shantideva’s attributes, described by his teachers and fellow students. He was set up by the students to give the Graduating Speech so that he would likely be disgraced. Shantideva, however, delivered his classic poem, “The Way of the Bodhisattva” and took the entire audience into a trance – then disappeared from the throne built for him. He was never seen again. He had devoured all the sutras and books in the great library at Nalanda and stepped into Buddha Mind. Distinct parallels with the Avatamsaka Sutra in terms of mystical reach.
  • Pema Chodron – “No Time To Lose” – titles her foreword “People Like Us Can Make a Difference” in her book about Shantideva. She brings awakening down to the everyday level Shantideva prescribed – changing our minds and living in a particular kind of way by following the Way of the Bodhisattva.
  • Shantideva’s greatest gift: “Verse 14 – Great Sins are utterly consumed by Bodhichitta” – damaging patterns/habits burned up by refraining from causing harm. We also refrain from firing the 2nd arrow of fear and anger into our consciousness.
  • Bodhichitta – Awakening of the Heart and Mind
  1. Boddhisattva – an Awakened Being, who chooses to stay in the mess and turmoil and takes steps to transform it.

Same energy experienced when we do walking meditation at Pine Gate and connect to the Earth Mother through our feet while walking – bodhichitta rises up when we make an authentic connection with the Earth Mother.

Relative Level – Yearning to transform ourselves with bodhichitta and then transform others

Absolute Level – Buddha Mind

  • Shantideva shows us how to work with emotional reactivity, develop bodhichitta so it becomes a way of life. His “Way of the Bodhisattva” is a guidebook for compassionate action. Think Bigger. Unwavering encouragement to deal with suffering, fear, habits, collapse, depression, anxiety and so on.

2016 MENTORING PROGRAM AT PINE GATE – 14 Mindfulness Trainings

  • It is vital that you make each of the 14 Trainings your own.
  • 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 dharma friends – you can rewrite, or paint or make up a poem, dance or song from your insights, prepare a skit, create a photo essay etc. Identify and document the personal process you took in the investigation of each one of the Trainings. This is very important as the transformation vehicle is YOU!  How you express your own experience of each MT is not at all restricted to the written form.  Feel free to express yourselves as you wish to. It is the sharing process that provides the real “fire” of understanding, which brings me to Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966.

Thich Nhat Hanh – LOTUS IN A SEA OF FIRE 1966 – Continues “The Way of the Bodhisattva.”

In the middle of the Vietnam War Thich Nhat Hanh creates the Tiep Hien (Order of Interbeing), based on the 14 Mindfulness Trainings – 6 members were ordained. He took an incredible revolutionary step – taking Buddhism out of the monastery and into society. The emphasis was on Engaged Buddhism, though Buddhism was always engaged from the get-go! Buddhist monastics conveniently forgot the significance of the “Engaged” part of the Buddha’s dharma talk to the five ascetics about The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (plus Engaged Buddhism!) They by and large busied themselves in creating a monastic semi-feudal structure that fed off the hinterland of monasteries.

  • In 1966 Thich Nhat Hanh touched the Buddha Mind to lay down a radically different template – 50 years ago. Since that time there are two major crises not anticipated:
  1. Internet explosion – distraction technologies leading to blatant addiction with cellphones.
  2. Climate Change – denial, lack of understanding, ignoring science – in particular The Cascade Effect that compromises a safe niche for humanity on Planet Earth.

The present task of the mentoring process is to update, refine and relocate the 14 MT within current circumstances. It is not easy to bring about change in a spiritual bureaucratic organization. It took ten years to get “mitigate” considered rather than “reversal” of Climate Change into the trainings. Evidence from climate change scientists, seismologists, particularly the Cascade Theory from James Lovelock, brought a few concessions. The best we can actually do is to mitigate the impact of Climate Change and learn how to adapt. The 2015 Paris Accords on Climate Change also overlooked the notion of “mitigate.” I unilaterally changed the wording in the trainings at Pine Gate and it quickly caught on with many communities. In dealing with the bureaucracy I relied heavily upon the Hopi Prophecy of 2000: “Do not take anything personally!”

REQUIREMENTS FOR INVESTIGATION

  1. Intelligence
  2. Personal Experience and Suffering
  3. Focus and Investigation
  4. Silence
  5. Deepening of Practice
  6. Allow Buddha Mind to enter – flash of insight, the pen writes something you did not intend, be open
  7. End result (hopefully) – being totally authentic. Just you at your best!!

Violent Consumption and Dharma Disconnect

I begin with a story. Shortly before the 2016 Christmas season my grand-nephew celebrated his ninth birthday. He was asked how he felt about being nine. Jacob replied that he felt awful and would prefer to stay five years old. When asked why, he replied that if he could stay five forever then the Earth would not explode. I pondered for a moment on what I could say to little Jacob. I could not say that everything will be OK, that my generation will fix things, as he was much too intelligent for such a placebo. So I spoke to him about the steps taken by the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in Ottawa. We simplify, make do with less, share and adapt. The intent is to create environmental leaders and that includes him. “Why not become a leader for your generation?” I asked him. He thought about that intensely. Then I told him about a talk I gave recently about mindless consumption and consumerist madness. His sharp mind held on to every word.

I pointed out that festive occasions like Christmas provide opportunities for the best and the worst within us to come out and play. Compassion and kindness are quickly overshadowed by greed, selfishness and consumer madness. We need to begin a re-assessment, as it is time to move on from being so self-absorbed and distracted. Let us locate ourselves in something bigger – a humanitarian cause, respecting the earth, making our thinking better, being kinder and more generous. How about examining our habit energies around gift giving and learn to give gifts that make a difference?  I pointed out to Jacob the small steps I have taken. I no longer buy Christmas gifts, instead present gift certificates in the name of family, grand-children and young neighborhood friends. These gift certificates provide: education for a girl in Afghanistan, grants for female led families, rebuild forests in Haiti, literacy packages and mosquito nets where needed, support for Habitat for Humanity building houses for the destitute and so on. Such gifts are bigger than our self-absorbed egos and create happiness for less fortunate people. I related to Jacob that my grandchildren proudly take their Christmas certificates to school for Show-and-Tell periods. They play it forward with their class mates and teachers. One boy on the crescent where I live had received such gifts from me for several years. For his most recent birthday he asked all his friends not to give him presents, but to bring a donation for the Ottawa Humane Society that looks after hurt animals. All of his friends brought donations, a splendid sum of one hundred and eighty dollars. They all went together to the Humane Society and happily handed their bag of cash to the surprised staff there.

The greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of global crises is Freedom and Caring. It involves stepping onto the Bodhisattva path – or something like it. (Jacob knows that I am a Zen teacher!) I explained to him what a Bodhisattva was and stated that it is time for the Bodhisattva-within-us to enter the 21st century as an example for action. This enables us to deeply transform ourselves and our civilization. We nurture this paradigm by cultivating two aspects that lie dormant within us. The first aspect is Interbeing, knowing that we interconnect with everything – the earth, oceans, forests and mountains, all species and most of all – with all people. The second aspect is Non-Discrimination, which carries the energy of compassion and dilutes selfishness. Taken together – these buried aspects, once they manifest from within us, open pathways and bridges to build a better world.

Jacob asked “How?” I said, “We cultivate energies of transformation – Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. Always, at every opportunity we bring Interbeing and Non-Discrimination to the forefront of our daily lives. We shape the future of the 21st century because we begin to live differently. We are not intimidated by present crises. We are certainly shocked and hurt by such circumstances but are much stronger than we think.” I emphasized that “Enter the Bodhisattva” is our guiding paradigm and alluded to Bruce Lee’s classic Enter the Dragon, which was one of Jacob’s favorite old time movies. I told him that it brings the fierceness of the warrior to the fore and the determination of a saint to overcome tragedy and set a new course. It takes practice, smartness and creative vision. I assured Jacob that we are equal to the task and did not hold back anything from him. He is an unusually bright boy and asked questions and demanded clarification. Yet I knew he had grasped what I had said. He came up to me as I was leaving and whispered in my ear that my chat with him was his best birthday present ever.

Violent Consumption

The focus of this essay is on Violent Consumption and how it dominates our planet, mind and body. I also examine the relevance of dharma and sangha to modern realities, as I clearly see a Dharma Disconnect from modern crises. There is drastic need for updating and refreshing both dharma and sangha.

Jacob’s greatest fear was about the planet’s ecological crises, from mining disasters in Brazil and China, Amazon deforestation making way for cattle ranches all the way to the Gulf Oil Spill, which has the specs to suit all disasters. BP deliberately underestimated the amount of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from its destroyed Deepwater Horizon oilrig. Their spin did not fool the stock market, as the share values of this corporate giant plummeted down. Yet BP ads continued to tout their environmental sensitivity. The ads could not be taken seriously. But do people actually think or just get caught in a whirlwind of spin from business, government and other stakeholders in environmental disasters like this? Not only are ocean ecosystems and wetlands at risk, vital economic sectors are doomed. Fishing, tourism and real estate are at risk in all Gulf states. The tons of toxic oil dispersants used to break up the surface oil slick settled on the ocean floor. It contaminated the entire oceanic ecosystem. Not only are fish, marine mammals and other wildlife being killed, the industries and communities that their harvest support are also being eliminated.

The US administration, CNN, FOX and other media had their own spin doctors to amplify the volume, so spin became a norm.  How do we get off this mad carousel of lies? We must stop, locate ourselves in the present moment and make different choices by examining our minds, consumption patterns and personal culpability in the creation of such a huge disaster. Guidelines are necessary and can be found in the Mindfulness Trainings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – particularly the Fifth Training about mindful consumption.

It takes us back to what we do with our minds. I apply this to walking meditation, taught to students and friends who come to Pine Gate Mindfulness Community, where I have the privilege of being the resident Zen teacher. When we concentrate on our breath and focus on slow walking, we have a brilliant piece of engineering to quiet the mind and body and be present.  When we add a third concentration – aware of how our feet touch the earth – we have a meditative practice for our times.  We focus our mind on the mechanism of each foot touching the earth – heel, then ball of foot, then toe.  We slow down even further and with our body – not our intellect or ego – and make a contract with Mother Earth to walk more lightly and leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use, and commit to decreasing the size of our ecological footprint, all from walking with astute awareness. Our conscious breath co-ordinates our steps as we notice how our feet touch the earth. The energy of wellbeing that arises from this practice is stronger than our habit energies and mental afflictions. And so the latter falls away.  Insight and clarity then guide us in the direction of what to do. Nobody requires a lecture from me. We do know how to reduce our ecological footprint. We also know that taking care of the earth and the oceans takes care of ourselves. We must begin it now for the future, which is our tomorrow shaped by the actions we take at this moment.

I had told Jacob that if rampant consumption remains our deepest desire we will certainly have a degraded planet that will blow up.  Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas – are targeted by the captains of industry for optimal retail returns, and mindless consumerism is fuelled to the max. At Christmas we are far removed from remembering the significance of this spiritual celebration. The mantra of western civilization – endless economic growth – provides a promise of expectations being met without any awareness of consequences for either our own health or the health of the planet.  Our current non-sustainable energy and economic systems are subsystems of a global ecology that is disintegrating before our very eyes.  If we do not simplify, make do with less and change then the vicious downward spiral of environmental degradation would definitely occur.

I added that if we are driven to search for, strive and even fight to obtain that “something” we crave, we will suffer all our lives. We are never happy with what we get or achieve, as there is always that “want” for more.  We need the big insight that our habits of consumption are the obstacle to true happiness. We must be prepared to release the habits rather than be held captive by them.  We can stop this process by meditating, being present and looking deeply into the driving force of our deep desires.  Instead of greed and fame we foster the desire to awaken at the highest level – the desire to bring loving kindness to everything we connect with.

There is also violence to our bodies through the food we eat, driven by internal desires that have disastrous consequences, particularly for our connection to all living beings. The vast consumption of meat and alcohol constitutes a grossly excessive ecological footprint.  Industrial animal agriculture, which is the norm in North America, is not really farming. Animals are treated solely as economic commodities and subjected to horrible cruelty.  The stress, despair and anger generated in the animals are the energies we consume when they end up on our plate.  We are eating their suffering and pain, taking it into every cell of our bodies and consciousness.  The ecological footprint created by our dietary preferences is huge, costly and damaging.  Furthermore it is not good for our health – physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. Although this is horrific – it is not the card I want to deal from the deck.  There is a much bigger card.

FAO produced a scathing report in November 2006 titled Livestock’s Long Shadow. Relentless statistics demonstrate how industrial animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gases than the entire sum of emissions from cars and trucks worldwide. Vegetarianism is no longer just a healthy lifestyle choice. It is a direct and rapid means to restrain the livestock industry from damaging the planet beyond the point of no return. We can actually save the planet by not eating animal products. It is unrealistic to expect folk to go vegetarian in an instant. Yet scrupulous shoppers could do their best to buy free range meat and be vegetarian one week per month and move gradually to eating organic foods and less meat products. This change in basic consumption does far more than taking our car off the road. The present mind-set that drives our consumption requires an essential planetary saving change for we are eating our mother. Also our children, as we are depriving future generations of their chance to live. Our dietary preferences have to be called by their true name – cannibalism. The FAO report concludes that it is essential to reduce meat industry products by 50%. That was in 2006. Consumers can still make this happen by changing their minds about what and how they eat.

With awareness we can change our minds and patterns of food consumption. We re-educate and retrain ourselves mentally, as well as physically, and choose to support our body, consciousness and planet by shifting deeply ingrained food habits.  We step more lightly on the planet when we consume with mindfulness and radically decrease those activities that pollute. Furthermore, the chronic degenerative diseases common in western civilization find their origins in the toxic food we eat.  Yet if we know how to eat mindfully, then we also know how to take care of ourselves, of others, and the environment. Before eating, simply look at what is there on the table, where it has come from, how it has been prepared, and whether it will truly nourish you, and at the same time protect the environment and future generations from harm. It means reducing as much as possible the violence, destruction and suffering brought to living creatures and to the planet. If we bring violence into our own biological system and consciousness, then we inevitably bring violence to the other systems – political, economic, planet – we engage with through our thoughts, speech and actions.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings and Dharma Disconnect

Where did the Mindfulness Trainings come from? I identify three major conditions that enabled their emergence. The first is the awakened mind of the Buddha; the second is the great skill of the Buddha as a teacher; the third is Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful rewording of the Five Wonderful Precepts of the Buddha. In a language that would appeal to the consciousness of the 21st century, the Buddha’s mindfulness trainings were renewed to be in tune with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments. When we study and penetrate deeply into the mindfulness trainings we touch all three conditions, in particular the awakened mind of the Buddha. At the same time we also touch our potential to be similarly awakened. Thich Nhat Hanh’s revisions were an important step not taken by other traditions.

There is an energy in the trainings that comes directly from the awakened mind of the Buddha, which is continued through us. As a sangha collectively and diligently practices the Five Mindfulness Trainings, an extraordinary energy emerges that uplifts everyone who is suffering. When I think about taking refuge in the trainings I smile. My home sangha, the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community founded in 1997, has matured so that it operates very much as an organism. There are many leaders in the sangha choosing to walk the Bodhisattva path and be of support to everyone else. We take one another’s hand and walk together through the early part of the twenty first century. Great confidence and clarity emerge from our engaged practice in the city of Ottawa for peace, environment and schools. The experience of the fruits of practice transforms our wider community. We become more skillful and aware that we are infusing mindfulness throughout our city.

Previously I briefly documented the toxic overload on our planet, and in our minds and bodies. It is critical that necessary re-education also find a place in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. They are a guidance system to encourage us to no longer participate in a non-sustainable economic system driven by greed and distraction. This global ethic is our protector as it helps us to stop, look deeply and throw away our harmful patterns of behavior. Crises such as Climate Change prompt us to refresh and refine the trainings but there were some awkward disconnects in their creation. The Buddha was clear about impermanence and new challenges. He created the Five Mindfulness Trainings for the lay community and told Ananda that the minor precepts should be revised according to the culture and the time. But Ananda and the Buddhist elders were confused about which precepts were the minor ones and misunderstood what the Buddha was talking about. And so nothing changed for 2,600 years.

There was no preparation for modern realities, as monastic precepts had not changed and were not equipped to handle issues ranging from internet, terrorism, a world full of refugees, to Climate Change. The seeds of disconnect are not just with the trainings but with dharma in general, but we see that Thich Nhat Hanh was able to overcome this awkward divide. The disconnect reveals itself in terminology. Minor precepts refer to the Five Mindfulness Trainings for lay people while major precepts define monastic ethics. This language creates a divide between lay and monastic with the latter considered as superior, which is certainly not the case. In the modern era it is the lay dharma teachers who are the true bodhisattvas. They are in society, working in the trenches of everyday life, creating transformation in alliance with many other groups of lay people. Whereas the monastic community is secluded, cut off from everyday reality and are not in a position to create transformation in the wider society.

This disconnect is a marker of modern Buddhism in the west and was noted by David Loy in his excellent article in Buddhadharma (Winter 2015.)  Loy addresses the current ecological crisis and questions the deep rooted ambivalence within Buddhism towards it. He asks “Does the ecological crisis have nothing to do with Buddhism?” I add a further enquiry, “Where are the Buddhist politicians, CEO’s, entrepreneurs in political, ecological and economic spheres?” There is a wide disconnect in Western Buddhism between playing the capitalist game, yet only being concerned with the so-called peace of the inner self. The latter is the refuge we so readily withdraw to. This can never be satisfactory. Loy points out that the issue is structural as well as personal, making the challenge that of changing the economic and political systems rather than remaining in blissful denial. He identifies the two main obstacles as:

  1. Changing the mind is where it’s at.
  2. Beliefs of Buddhist practitioners that we do not waste time trying to reform the unsatisfactory world, just concentrate on transcending it.

Both obstacles are major dharma mistakes, traps about higher spiritual reality that reflect disconnect in modern times, preventing us from engaging fully with the world. Social, political and ecological engagements are devalued as we place our backsides on the cushion, chant and avoid the reality all around us. Modern Buddhism needs a wake-up call. The basic premise of the Bodhisattva path is to walk it, not as a separate self, but as an engaged self. An authentic sense of awakening naturally extends into political, economic and ecological spheres of potential action. I agree with David Loy that the reconstruction of our mind necessarily involves the reconstruction of our world – economic, political and spiritual. I like his comment that “Bodhisattvas have a double practice – as they deconstruct and reconstruct, they also work for social and ecological change…….Such concerns are not distractions from our personal practice but deeper manifestations of it.”

Gardening in the Mind

I offer eight simple steps to refine the mind and at the same time take it into the world as engagement that does not disconnect with the Buddha’s intention. Ananda and the Buddhist elders really got it wrong about periodically updating the minor precepts. Furthermore, the terminology used by the Buddha was fine for his times but needs to be better framed for the 21st century. Yet the Buddha mind continues through time, permitting a re-creation of creed and understanding. If we are intelligent with what we do in the modern era, we can correct both.

  1. Clear time and space for spiritual practice at home and throughout your daily schedule. You – learn to be still and quiet!
  2. Create a stress reduction menu and subtract the “weeds” in the garden of your mind.
  3. Be determined to meditate daily – do the weeding.
  4. Focus on and soften your heart – cultivate the soil of your mind’s garden.
  5. Water the seeds of mindfulness at home, work or in retreat.
  6. Simplify, make do with less, de-clutter your mind and home.
  7. Taste the fruits of your spiritual practice.
  8. Engage with the world. This thread (8) runs through all of the prior steps (1-7) as you become more mindful.

Just as our mind must be transformed and re-constructed, our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms must also be re-constructed. 1 – 7 and 8 are two sides of the same practice. Tasting the fruits of practice and transforming (7) is not the ultimate step. It provides a beginning for intelligent engagement. We must also re-think the nature of sangha. This was a brilliant creation by the Buddha 2,600 years ago, but it has entered the modern era with some missing and necessary extensions. Most bodhisattvas are not to be found sitting on cushions during weekly meetings with chants, bells and dharma talks. There are many forms of sangha and I do not cling to any rigid form. In Ottawa I founded Friends for Peace Canada and am part of the National Capital Peace Council. I also work with organizations such as Orkidstra and the Dandelion Dance Company to name only a few. These groups are all sanghas in their own right, with commonly held ethics and a determination to change things for the better within the city and elsewhere. They provide the means to galvanize parents, friends and volunteers so that good kids are created and excellent citizens emerge – all this with an eye on society, economics, ecology and politics.

We all have the capacity to awaken the mind and transform it. If we do not access such capacity then we become pre-occupied with self-importance and attach more distractions to our separated self. There is a Zen saying that the goal of practice is to discover our true face. This is heart consciousness and there are many ways to this source. Finding stillness and inner silence is a necessary first step. We have to find a way to create the conditions for this to happen (1 – 7). In our modern world of fast paced lifestyles there are so many distractions that make us outwardly dependant and un-centered. We often fail to find the time or discipline to access the store of mindfulness just waiting to be cultivated. The external restlessness amplifies the internal restlessness in a feedback loop that ignites our untrained mind. We have closed the doors due to wrong perceptions, ignorance and continual suffering. Our hearts are not open and the tapestry of our consciousness is limited. We hold on tight to self-imposed dramas and suffering, slamming the door shut and keeping dysfunctional habits well fed and alive. We find it easier to close down rather than open up our hearts. Thus we remain wounded and suffer all our lives, driven by scars, anger and fears. The remedy is, however, within reach. We unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful. This is brought about by organic gardening in the mind.

Why should we do all this stuff? Here is why. When you can be open and receptive you become an epi-center of light for others. When you can just sit with pain, come face to face with what hurts, breathing in and breathing out, you feel the sting recede as you calm. Stay open by never closing your heart. If you start to close down ask yourself, “Do I really want to take a pass on happiness?” Always let go once you feel you are clinging. I have a fridge magnet – Let Go Or Be Dragged – that I see every day and take to heart with a quiet smile. It is essential to learn to be quiet, to stop clinging and find the way to be present. As the Hopi advise us – never take anything personal and look around to see who is with you. As you do all of this, transcendental love becomes your calling card and Buddha consciousness becomes your state of being. The world changes as a consequence. Such a destination is well worth your try.

 

Right View and the Four Nutriments

The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s methodology to lead us out of suffering. I will offer dharma talks on the entire spectrum for the remainder of Pine Gate’s Winter Study Session – beginning with Right View and the 4 Nutriments.  This will be a series of foundation teachings, as everything in Buddhism comes around for this visit to the Eight Fold Path. Recommended reading is Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” Part Two: The Eightfold Path. The dynamic nature of the Eightfold Path will be highlighted by emphasising how Mindfulness and Concentration are crucial to kick start the process by transforming Views into Insight. The views we hold strongly are often attitudes, perceptions and attachments that are capable of cascading through the other components of the Eightfold Path so that Thinking, Speaking and Action are modelled on wrong views. Right View is no view – rather it is insight, which is why Mindfulness and Concentration are required to start the engine of the Noble Eightfold Path.

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“Heads up from Lisa!

Please see from minute 17:30 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfPJ6T-5Z9w

I think Thay was sending you a message!”

Christmas Gifts and Consumerist Madness

The Christmas season is upon us, following Thanksgiving and Black Friday. All three occasions provide opportunities for the best and the worst within us to come out and play. It is mostly the worst that emerges – greed, selfishness, consumer madness. With the festive season now going full blast, let us all begin a reassessment that all of us can do.  It is time to move on from being so self-absorbed and distracted. Let us find the opportunities to locate ourselves in something bigger – a cause, respecting the earth, making our thinking better, being kinder and more generous.

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How about examining our habit energies around gift giving and learn to give gifts that really make a difference? Why not begin by participating less in the expected excess of mindless consumerism of Christmas buying? I have taken that small step and no longer buy Christmas gifts. Instead, I present donations and gift certificates in the name of family, grand-children and friends to provide education for a girl in Afghanistan, rebuild forests in Haiti, provide literacy packs and mosquito nets where most needed, support Habitat for Humanity building houses for the destitute and so on. Our gifts then become bigger than our self-absorbed egos and can lead to creating happiness for less fortunate people. My grand-children proudly take their Christmas certificates to school for Show-and-Tell periods. They are very articulate as they play it forward with their class mates and teachers.

This then leads to the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of global crises. If you do not realize the crises staring us in the face – Climate Change, anarchy, rise of fascism etc – please wake up! The gift to search for at Christmas is Freedom and it involves stepping firmly onto the Bodhisattva path made clear by the Buddha and other great teachers.

It is time for the Bodhisattva to enter the 21st century as a paradigm and archetype for individual and collective action. This enables us to be rooted in our own sovereignty and deeply transform ourselves and our civilization. We nurture this paradigm by cultivating two aspects that presently lie dormant within us. The first aspect is Interbeing – knowing that we interconnect with everything – the earth, oceans, forests and mountains, all species and most of all – with all people. Interbeing creates harmony and unity and destroys the ego. The second aspect is Non-discrimination, which carries the energy of compassion, and this combination threatens selfishness. Taken together – these buried aspects, once they manifest from within us, open pathways and bridges to build a better world.

How do we do this? We cultivate the energies of transformation – Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. Always – at every opportunity we bring Interbeing and Non-Discrimination to the forefront of our daily lives. In this way we shape the future of the 21st century as we begin to live differently – here and now. We are not intimidated by present crises. We are certainly shocked and hurt by such circumstances but are in fact much stronger than we think. “Enter the Bodhisattva” is the guiding paradigm for our lives. I allude to Bruce Lee’s classic – Enter the Dragon – which brings the fierceness of the warrior to the fore and the determination of a saint to overcome tragedy and set a new course. It takes practice, skillfulness and creative vision – but we are equal to the task. Nelson Mandela thought so. His 1994 inaugural speech laid out the territory clearly when he opened with:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us….

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Nelson Mandela Photo (2)

Walking with Sand Hill Cranes at Fish Lake

Walking with Sand Hill Cranes at Fish Lake

I offered 10 days of mindfulness practice in November to the Fish Lake Sangha in Orlando, Florida. Imagine my surprise to be greeted at the lakeside by Sand Hill Cranes who honked every time I started a dharma talk! They are wonderful creatures, totally unafraid of the two legged walking with them and taking photographs.

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On the first Saturday we greeted the morning and the cranes with Zen Practice. Zen Practice has a very practical nature – Chop Wood, Carry Water – and being aware of precisely doing so. The cultural origins from China and Japan do not necessarily travel well to western countries, so I have adapted the form somewhat and kept the essence. We listen to the bell calling us back to our true selves for guidance, listen to our breathing and through the discipline of this practice we settle into a deep calm and harmony with everything around and within is.  The simplicity and elegance of silence. The cadence of sitting with breathing in and out, the flow of walking with breath – in and out, the joy of stretching with breath in and out. Then repeat the entire cadence three times. The silence deepens as we settle gently into the quality of our mind. Nowhere to Go, Nothing to Do.

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The first dharma talk to the community was on the topic of Righteous Anger. All such conflicts require the active and intentional cultivation of Zen Mind to navigate the pitfalls of hatred, distraction, violence, past wounds. We deal with the fundamental pollution – in the human mind. Making the world better requires that we make our minds better. The task is to make our thinking better. Navigate more skillfully. The Four Brahmaviharas meditation is a good tool, all children’s songs an effective antidote. Foundation Practices and the Two Arrows teaching.

A recent protest in Antigonish, N.S. supporting Gaza produced yelling hate, violence and anger. There was a woman standing apart with a list in one hand and purple chalk in her other hand. She was carefully and quietly writing down on the edge of the sidewalk of Main Street, Antigonish, N.S. the names and ages of every child killed in the Gaza bombardment.  My question to you is: Which protest do you think had the most impact?

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During the week there was a session of qi-gong with Carolyn and a Transmission Ceremony of the Five Mindfulness Trainings – a step into living the Bodhisattva Path.  When I invited the 5 aspirants to come to the front and offer bows to the three gems, they spontaneously held hands and bowed together. Very sweet, a great omen for what they will bring to the sangha.

Carolyn and Ian at the transmission ceremony

The day of mindfulness on the final Sunday began with silent meditation and the 2nd dharma talk, Collapse and the Bodhisattva. I spoke about the breakdown of Industrial Growth Society. Staring into the abyss. No limits, no maturity. From Columbine to Newton, CT – the killers are pre-adult males with mental illness – the immaturity of the Carry Movement – NOT defense of 2nd amendment rights. The solution – STOP; RE-ASSESS; ENTER THE BODHISATTVA – NOW with interbeing and non-discrimination.  Shantideva’s unwavering encouragement from the 8th century. Buddha Mind. “Ego” is very disappointed with Awakening – so let us all disappoint the ego. I finished the talk by reading the Hopi Prophecy of 2008.

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Carolyn led everyone through a qi-gong session prior to a Silent Lunch ushered in with the Five Contemplations before eating. The next edible item was chocolate meditation which followed walking meditation outside by the lakeside.  Carolyn spoke about the causes and conditions that brought the wrapped chocolate to each hand and the vast population it had touched before landing. The dharma discussion was on a very weighty topic – How can Mindfulness be addressed to the crisis with ISIL? This was very challenging. The final session was a Q & A before the closing ceremony and good byes.

During the days prior to leaving for home, Carolyn and I cycled ten miles each day to the Café de Paris, owned by a French family. It was interesting that our ten mile bike ride was past a series of gated communities. An omen of the times we are in, but do not have to be part of.

 

More Dead Children

The media and government in Canada have largely covered up the factors of mental health and drug addiction in the recent shooting of a soldier on Parliament Hill. The cover up gives a false sense of security to our mental health services, which are woefully inadequate. This same lack is shared by our neighbor to the south, which requires that I return to the very serious reality of more dead children.

The shock waves from the 1999 high school shootings in Littleton, Colorado and the 2012 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, swept across North America and touched every community.  As those shock waves recede, the greatest danger is public distance from taking responsibility for the toxic environments we have created.  The specter of children shooting children in high schools shocked me very deeply.  After several days of silence and meditation after Columbine, I wrote a short essay titled “Yes It Can Happen Here” that looked deeply into the causes of the shootings.

I wrote about the ready availability of guns and drugs.  When this combines with lack of time spent with young people by parents, teachers and community leaders, then the consumption of violence by our children through the media, video games and the internet can lead to the deadly carnage of high school shoot-outs.  Many of our children have become exiles.  They experience “not love”, “not connected.”  Nobody hears their voice, and we have largely forgotten how to listen to them.  Many children have found a third parent in cyberspace where violence, hatred and killing are readily available without any sense of consequence or responsibility.  In the absence of clear ethical guidelines from parents and society, young people are creating their own identity from the very worst that cyberspace and Hollywood have to offer.   In the absence of a stable identity, there is a drive to achieve instant fame through acts of notoriety and violence.

Twenty years later after the massacre in Newton, CT, I wrote about Dead Children. Twenty children gunned down at an elementary school. Children killed as collateral damage in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Congo, Afghanistan and in world-wide violence. We are all grieving parents to the world. The question we all face is – What Now? In the face of grief we must feel it deeply, be hurt by it, taking time to feel the pain of the tragedy. Then come through, determined to make a difference. STOP: REASSESS: ENTER THE BODHISATTVA.

Stopping requires calling in the support of wise friends, counselors and community so we can begin to see clearly and give ourselves the chance to find ourselves. Stillness is needed, not social media distraction – for we now have to look for a new direction and leadership. To reassess the 21st century, we must look deeply at the factors involved in the shootings. We will see a complex, intertwined tapestry with the easy availability of guns and drugs, compounded by societal tolerance of violence through the worst that cyberspace and Hollywood have to offer. Plus the very serious common denominator shared by the killers stretching back to the Columbine massacre. This is the factor of mental illness in predominantly pre-adult white males who are caught in an identity trap that they escape from through violence and murder. This is their five minutes of fame that enables them to be remembered. They occupy a toxic landscape of “not love”, “not connected.” And this is what requires the attention of our mental health system and our mindfulness.  How do we begin?

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It is time for the Bodhisattva to enter the 21st century as a paradigm and archetype for individual and collective action. This enables us to deeply transform ourselves and our civilization. We nurture this paradigm by cultivating two aspects that lie dormant within us. The first aspect is Interbeing – knowing that we interconnect with everything – the earth, oceans, forests and mountains, all species and most of all – with all people. Interbeing creates harmony and unity and destroys the ego. The second aspect is Non-discrimination, which carries the energy of compassion, and this combination threatens selfishness. Taken together – these buried aspects, once they manifest from within us, open pathways and bridges to build a better world.

How do we do this? We cultivate the energies of transformation – Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. Always – at every opportunity we bring Interbeing and Non-Discrimination to the forefront of our daily lives. In this way we shape the future of the 21st century as we begin to live differently – here and now. We are not intimidated by present crises. We are certainly shocked and hurt by such circumstances but are in fact much stronger than we think. Enter the Bodhisattva is the guiding paradigm for our lives. I allude to Bruce Lee’s classic – Enter the Dragon – which brings the fierceness of the warrior to the fore and the determination of a saint to overcome tragedy and set a new course. It takes practice, skillfulness and creative vision – but we are equal to the task.

My Manifesto: My body and mind are not individual entities that I can do anything I like with – such as filling them with drugs, alcohol, hateful attitudes and violence.  My body and mind exist for future generations therefore I must be aware of what I put into them.  We must also exercise care and responsibility over what we allow into the minds and bodies of our children, to prevent murders from happening in our schools.  Furthermore, this care and responsibility is to prevent young people turning their consumption of violence in on themselves – in the form of suicide.  We must take steps to fill the ethical void, give our children the benefits of our full presence and learn to listen deeply to them so that positive steps are taken to eliminate murders taking place in our schools.

Peace