Tag Archives: Mindfulness

LET GO OR BE DRAGGED!

                                                         

I presented the Sutra on The Better Way to Live Alone to the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community on our First Saturday Mindfulness gathering in February 2015.

Pine Gate Meditation Hall

I really like the brevity and impact of this sutra. After reading it out to the sangha I used a series of quotes from elsewhere to get the sangha juices flowing.  I began the dharma talk with my favorite fridge magnet – LET GO OR BE DRAGGED – and then moved on to the quotes, which were read aloud by different sangha members. The discussion was illuminating with poignant and direct reflections on experience. I introduced Right View and the Eightfold Path into the conversation. Once Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration spark the engine of Right View so that views transform into insights, then there is a cascade of insight from Right View pouring into all thinking, speaking and action – the rest of the Eightfold Path. When our tired old stories prevail and do not transform into insights, then we have wrong views cascading through thinking, speaking and action. And that ensures the presence of suffering.

This eighteen line sutra is immense, as it contains the essence of the Buddha’s teachings about not getting imprisoned by past, future and present circumstances. They are all enslaving ghosts until we cultivate sufficient attention from the present moment. The key lines for me are:

“Do not pursue the past.

Do not lose yourself in the future.

The past no longer is.

The future has yet to come.

Looking deeply at life as it is

In the very here and now

The practitioner dwells

In stability and freedom.”

Buddha Picture

I also felt that Osho really nailed it in the first quote. I found this way of presenting the material to be novel and useful.

Quotes

There is a teaching on “The Better Way to Live Alone” which defines “living alone” to be the experience of having one’s mind free of thoughts about the past and future, but is instead focused on the “present moment.”  But I can live physically alone but not be alone at all. If my mind is full of memories of the past and thoughts of the future, I can live physically alone but not be alone at all. If my mind is full of memories of the past and thoughts of the future, I can live physically alone while dialoguing with the deceased, reliving a past conversation or some painful (or joyful) incident or experience. Or I can be mentally rehearsing or imagining some future conversation, some future event.

All of which is the antithesis of “living alone” if I am lost in these thoughts. On the other hand If I am aware and watchful of these thoughts, realizing I am having these thoughts in the present moment, then I am truly “living alone” – even if I am living with 100 other beings. And this leads me to my own “deepest core” of who I am. If I know this, I have the capacity to love

  • Osho

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

  • Henry David Thoreau

Happiness and suffering are dependent upon your mind, upon your interpretation. They do not come from outside, from others. All of your happiness and all of you suffering are created by you, by your own mind.

  • Kyabje Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

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.  So we say NO to our children consuming violence through movies, video games, internet and hate concerts. At the same time we say NO to ourselves at engaging in violent and toxic interactions with them.  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.

  • Ian Prattis

New Year Celebration at Pine Gate, Wednesday December 31, 2014

The most meaningful New Year’s Eve party in town at Pine Gate this Wednesday with a special tradition, which is the pinnacle of our yearly cycle.

Date:  Wednesday December 31, 2013

Time: 9.00pm – midnight

Place: Pine Gate Meditation Hall

Purpose: Ethical Dance for 2015

Program: Gather at 9.00pm, Recitation Ceremony 9.30pm, 11.00pm snacks and whooshing homework into the fire, mid-night Auld Lang Syne with fake champagne.

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The brash new year of 2015 meets the presence of the Bodhisattva revealed through a recitation of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. This is a complete map of ethics to navigate the difficult times we are in. The trainings are a guiding light to pierce through the darkness that threatens humanity and the planet. How do we choose to behave towards one another when things begin to collapse? Will we be steady and generous or think only of ourselves?  Pine Gate’s response is –  ” Enter The Bodhisattva. ”  There is homework – write down all you wish to move on from and what do you wish to move to. Then whoosh it into the fire with community support to make it so!

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

The Buddha practiced Socially Engaged Buddhism giving dharma talks to people in society.  His first dharma talk emphasized the Four Noble Truths, the Middle Way and the Engaged Nature of mindfulness practice.  He formulated the Five Wonderful Precepts for lay practitioners, which evolved into the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In 4th Century AD in India the Brahma-Net Sutra was created.  It was known as the “Moral Code of the Bodhisattvas.”  It was translated by the Indian monk, Kumarajiva, into Chinese during the 4th century AD and contained 3 groups of precepts:

  1. Do not what is evil (Do not create suffering)
  2. Do what is good (Do wholesome actions)
  3. Do good for others (Help all sentient beings, be of benefit to all sentient beings)

Contained within the Brahma-Net Sutra are the10 major precepts of wholesomeness and 48 minor precepts.  This was practiced in China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea as an early expression of Socially Engaged Buddhism

In 14th century Vietnam, the Bamboo Forest Master (formerly King Than Nhan Tong from 1258 – 1308), went from village to village teaching the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the 10 Wholesome Precepts derived from 4th century India, strongly influenced by the Brahma-Net sutra and the Buddha’s initial dharma talk. In the 20th century, Socially Engaged Buddhism was renewed in Vietnam and extended to the West.  Thich Nhat Hanh ordained the first 6 members of the Order of Interbeing in February, 1966 .  The 14 Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing contain the 5 Mindfulness Trainings, the Noble Eightfold Path and are a renewal of the earlier Bodhisattva Precepts.  Thay brought them up to date to be in tune with our times, in step with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments yet resting on the foundation provided by the Buddha and 4th century expressions of socially engaged Buddhism.  They are Thay’s gift and guidance to mindfulness practitioners.

Mental Illness, Alcoholism and Depression

The greatest gift one can receive is that of finding one’s true nature. The human spirit is resilient and can triumph over tragedy and psychological dependence. Learning to find our inner strength can conquer mental illness, alcoholism and depression. It is one factor in the complex reality of modern day suffering. It is essential to have a good physician and social support as well as the tools of mindfulness to nourish inner strength. The reality is that almost 15 million adults in North America suffer from some form of depression, enhanced through alcoholism and other mental afflictions.  I believe that the power of inner strength can help such wounded individuals overcome their worldly crutches. It took me a while to come to these realizations and the avenue was through a book I wrote some 40 years ago. This novel – Redemption – is in fact an allegory for depression and life difficulties that I once experienced, though I did not realize it at the time. The themes of mental illness and depression are writ large in this book – a turbulent Hero’s Journey to emancipation.

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The novel illuminates startling cycles of maturing and downfall experienced by the book’s main character – Callum Mor – a gifted child, master mariner, derelict drunk, who finally gains wisdom from a hard life’s journey. His failings and misery are ultimately conquered when he saves the life of a young girl and comprehends the fragility and beauty of human existence. “Redemption” was a “lost” manuscript, first written in 1975, forgotten until spring 2011. The narrative was vivified and refined with hindsight forty years later. It reads like an extended prose poem reflecting the primal forces of nature and of human nature.  Callum Mor takes the reader on a deep Hero’s Journey. It opens with his childhood in the Hebrides. He draws wonderful mentors to him; his schoolteacher, who lights the spark of a bard in him, animal friends such as an otter, a brutal fisherman who shields his darkness from the boy as he matures. Callum Mor thrives despite the poverty of his home in an island nurturing with gentle humor and adventure.  This novel moves from the rhapsody of Callum Mor’s idyllic childhood through tragedies to the derelict zone of his alcoholic drowning out of pain and suffering. His father, a seaman longing to be at home, is driven to madness by his inability to create a place for himself on the island. His brother is murdered on the docks at Montreal. So Callum Mor stays with his mother and forgets his yearnings to be a writer. He becomes the best fisherman in the region before grave misunderstandings tear his love, Catriona, away from him. This displaces his gifts as he drives himself and his crew to the very limits of endurance. The manner of his mother’s death is the final straw.

Callum Mor’s sensitivities and mind snap, as he enters the dark zone of alcoholism and withdraws from society. With only his animals keeping him this side of sanity he survives in a bleak solitude.  Until a family with a small girl seeking refuge from a storm come to his house. Slowly he edges away from his self-destruction. He saves the girl’s life in a winter blizzard. The glimmer of awakening dawns in him while sheltering in a cave with the child warmly ensconced in a gutted carcass of a sheep he killed to keep her from freezing. He sees his life pass in front of his eyes and this sets the stage for the final drama that illuminates the resilience of the human spirit. “Redemption” is my fourteenth book and first novel, though actually the first book I ever wrote.  In 1975 I was unable to get it published.  I found this “Lost” manuscript in an old filing cabinet, read it through and could scarce believe it.  I requested my wife and a couple of friends with critical eyes to read it through, just in case I was dreaming. Modern technology enabled the yellowing typed manuscript to be transformed into a computer ready document.   My wife thought it was incredible; one friend could not put it down and mused about the film to be made; the other friend cried through most of it.  All of which encouraged me to bring “Redemption” to life. I was tempted to leave this gem from 1975 in its pristine state, but realized that my insights some forty years later could enhance the narrative and flesh out “Callum Mor” into a character of epic proportions.

The story is an allegory for the life difficulties I experienced at that time–40 years ago. The surprise for me was how could I have written such a book while in a miserable state of mind? I was not in a good place physically or mentally – with a failing marriage in the Hebrides and trying to keep a career going at Carleton University in Canada. I was not doing a good job with either. Publishing this book in 2014 was an imperative for me, as a necessary part of my own life- journey. It is a companion to Trailing Sky Six Feathers: One Man’s Journey with His Muse-also published in 2014.  These books are writing me. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Xlibris websites. Check out: http://www.ianprattis.com/Redemption.html Book video: Youtube: http://youtu.be/9ohImbVX57g Redemption Interview http://toginet.com/shows/xlibrisonair Find Recent Shows 10-19-2014

Taking Refuge in The Five Mindfulness Trainings

Incense Offering by Carolyn                      

 The Fall Study Session at Pine Gate on Thursday September 4, 2014 begins with a Recitation Ceremony of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Where did they 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 mindfulness trainings were renewed, in tune with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments.  So 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.

 

With the Five Mindfulness Trainings the Buddha communicated in a very precise way the ethical and moral basis of practice; of how to be with ourselves, with others and with the planet and society at large.  To be in touch with the Buddha’s awakened mind enables us to take refuge in the Three Jewels – the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha – in a very deep way, so that something deep and very wholesome stirs in our hearts. 

 

Taking refuge allows us to transport our everyday reality with its disasters, joys, ups and downs, into the loving embrace of teachers such as the Buddha and Jesus.  Their teachings provide instruments for practitioners to travel from the Historical dimension of daily life and be refreshed by touching deeply the Ultimate dimension of the awakened mind of the Buddha and other fully enlightened beings. 

 

Taking refuge in the Dharma, practices, sutras and trainings brings to mind the pivotal exchange between Ananda and the Buddha.  As the Buddha was preparing for his bodily death his faithful attendant Ananda put a number of questions to the Buddha on behalf of the monastic community.  The Buddha had repeatedly encouraged his disciples not to take refuge in the person of the Buddha, but in the island of mindfulness within the self where the diligent practice of the mindfulness trainings would reveal their Buddha nature.  Still Ananda had to ask: “Who will our teacher be when you are gone?” to which the Buddha replied “The Mindfulness Trainings,” adding “They are your teacher even while I am alive.”

 

Taking refuge in the Sangha brings the Buddha and the Dharma to life.  Without the Sangha, the Buddha and Dharma cannot evolve to be relevant to the suffering of our times, which is quite different from the times of the Buddha.  In the latter part of his ministry the Buddha took great care to reconstitute himself in terms of the sangha, so that if you wanted to truly touch the Buddha and Dharma you had to do so in the Sangha.    Thich Nhat Hanh has repeatedly referred to sangha building as the noblest profession in the 21st century.

 

Ordinees

 

I am convinced more than ever before that the world needs a universal code of ethics.  The Five Mindfulness Trainings fill this void.  For me they are a guide and protector in moments of doubt, so that I see clearly and can take care of my own internal garbage.  This is the only way to deal with the potential terrorist that lurks deep within everyone’s consciousness.  To unravel the insidious internal knots caused by generations of ancestral habits, created from ignorance, vengeance and separation – this is the work of the new revolutionary of the 21st century, transforming terror and violence first within themselves and then within the world.  It is not a political or intellectual exercise, nor a matter of compromised treaties or ceasefires.  It is an internal transformation of consciousness at the very core of our being.  It takes mindfulness to do this and the Five Mindfulness Trainings provide the starting gate, a guidance system and a deep well of internal ethics to live by.  This is why I do my very best to live by these trainings.

 

 

On Being Splendid

When a friend asks – “How are you?” – we tend to automatically reach for a standard descriptor such as “Fine”; “Not Too bad” or “Could Be Worse.” Our automatic pilot rarely delivers uplifting, generous responses. Something obstructs us from replying “I am splendid” or “I am feeling absolutely marvellous.” If we should make such an extraordinary response, we would not really believe it. A serious problem exists that requires investigation. Let me begin by breaking “Fine” down into an acronym:
F – Freaked out
I – Insecure
N – Neurotic
E – Elsewhere.
It is possible to choose other somewhat depressing terms, though I choose the Buddha’s Four Clay Pots metaphor as a starting point for this investigation.

The Buddha categorized his listeners into four different kinds of clay vessels. The first clay pot has holes at the bottom, so whatever is poured into it goes right through the bottom into the ground. No matter what wise skilful teaching or practice is offered to clay pot person number one, absolutely nothing is retained. The second clay pot is one that has many cracks in it. If water is poured in, it all eventually seeps out. The teachings may be retained for a short while, yet sooner or later they are completely forgotten. The third clay pot is one that is completely full. Water cannot be poured into it because it is already full to the brim. A person with characteristics of this vessel is so full of views, self-righteousness and wrong perceptions that they cannot be taught anything about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then there is the fourth clay pot – an empty vessel without holes or cracks, empty of views and attitudes. We may recognize that at different times we occupy one or another of the first three pots and thus strive to move to pot number four. How can we do this?

Buddha Picture

To be completely empty of a separate self, as the fourth clay pot, is what our mindfulness practice leads to. On the way there we are bound to have views and attitudes, but may be significantly empty enough to take in the teachings and practices that can move us along the path of awakening. Step by step we let go of clinging and attachment to views and re-build our minds so that equanimity and peacefulness arise. We discover that the art of Being Present is what all of the Buddha’s teachings, practices and trainings lead to. From this vast tool kit of transformation we then use intelligent awareness to work with strong emotions and let go of all clinging and their damaging consequences. The trio of Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight become our best friend, as we step into freedom from brainwashing. I touch base with the Shambhala Warrior training to address the matter of “Being Splendid.”

What does it take before we can relax into our inherent goodness and be authentically “Splendid”? In the teachings brought to the west by Chogyam Trungpa there is a strong emphasis on Shambhala warrior training. The fifth and final level is the sense of splendidness. It is preceded by four interconnected levels:

1. Being free of deception by recognizing afflictive emotions and discerning habit energies.
2. Truly entering the freedom of being present in each moment.
3. Embracing the vision of sacredness of ourselves and the world.
4. Bringing mind and body together because we are grounded and in harmony with the world around us. (Sakyong Mipham, 2011, Shambhala Sun, November 2011)

In the fifth level, building on these prior steps, we attain confidence in our inherent goodness and simply radiate the energy of splendidness. This visceral sense of unyielding trust in our inherent goodness, of being splendid, enables us to become spiritual hubs and beacons of an extraordinary nature. All the great spiritual masters had this sense and shared it without deception or ego. This power of transformation comes from a place of steady well-being, strength and confidence in our ability to be brilliant and to shine in the face of any adversity. Linji refers to this phenomenon as being rooted in our own sovereignty as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us in his excellent account of Master Linji in Nothing to Do, Nowhere To Go – Parallax, 2007. Sakyong Mipham rounds out the sense of being splendid through his emphasis on being present in everything we do, choosing to no longer hide behind habitual patterns and old memory tapes. A lack of splendidness simply attracts sorry-ass individuals to ourselves and they become complicit with our hiding patterns. It makes better sense to have the lucidity to train ourselves to be splendid rather than close down and hide.

Cymbals at vesak

Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is a wonderful legacy left to us by the Buddha. It is a meditative form that can be used for many purposes – for calming and slowing down, for insight and looking deeply and also for healing. We know from our experience of hikes in nature, or neighborhood walks after dinner, that sudden flashes of insight often arise in concert with our footsteps. We then see clearly how to handle a predicament or solve a problem. Imagine what can happen when we add conscious awareness to our footsteps. When we concentrate on our breath and focus on slow walking, we actually have a brilliant piece of engineering to quiet the mind and body. When we add a third concentration–aware of how our feet touch the earth–we have a meditative practice designed 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, we make a contract with Mother Earth to walk more lightly on her surface and leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use and commit to decreasing the size of our ecological footprint.

With this concentrated focus of walking meditation there is very little opportunity for the mind to worry about past events or future anticipations. The meditation keeps us present, here in the moment of being fully alive. We slow down internally with the focus on breath, steps and contact with the earth. This is aided by another component we can add to walking meditation–a gentle half smile kept on your lips to nurture the peace and silence within. With the deepening of this internal silence, insight naturally occurs.

Walking meditation is a powerful methodology for healing ourselves and the earth. We start by breathing in and out with full attention to the in-breath and to the out-breath. Co-ordinating our breath with our steps we breathe in, saying silently to ourselves, “Breathing in” as we take two or three slow steps. Then as we breathe out, we say, “Breathing out” as we take two or three slow steps, fully aware of breathing in and out, and of walking slowly step by step. Sometimes you will take two steps, sometimes three or four steps, sometimes there will be more steps on the out-breath than on the in-breath. Allow the breath and lungs to find a natural rhythm with your steps. It is the concentration and awareness that matters, not whether you take two or three steps.

The meditation keeps us present, here in the moment of being fully alive. It slows us down step by step so that our mind enters silence. This is the important first stage of meditative practice, Samatha, learning to stop our busyness and mental agitations. When we come to a stop internally, then the opportunity is there to see deeply into ourselves and know the true nature of our reality.

First of all we must close the external doors of our preoccupations with judgements, ego-attachments and illusions; for then the inner doors to the heart begin to open. That is where Vipassana happens, deep looking and insight into the heart of ourselves and of all matter. Both arise in walking meditation, as we slow down internally with the focus on breath, steps and gatha. With the deepening of this internal silence, insight naturally occurs because in the present moment we touch our true nature and enter heart consciousness. From this consciousness we experience our interconnectedness with all, touching the Divinity in ourselves and others. In this consciousness all our relationships are shaped by the experience of oneness, for our relationships are with Buddha consciousness, with Christ consciousness, with whatever term comes naturally to you to describe the Divinity within all.

Walking meditation is also a powerful methodology for healing, as we automatically discard our distress and anxiety while we are doing it. If we closely observe animals when they are injured or hurt, we would notice that they retreat to a safe place and slow their breathing and metabolism down, so that their internal energies of healing are activated. They do not eat, remaining still and quiet they come to a deep rest and heal as they stop. This is all done instinctively; no one has taught them about Samatha–it is simply the first step animals take in healing themselves. If our modern medical doctors would learn this lesson from animals and the Buddha they could guide their patients to stop and meditate, enter inner silence and enhance the recovery process by allowing the internal energies of healing to arise. All of the components of walking meditation – Samatha, Vipassana and healing – become a single focus as we maintain our awareness of being in the present moment. We just need to practice it.

ian at brook

At the university where I used to teach, I would walk from the bus stop and take a detour around the greenhouses of the Botany Department and come to the Rideau River that runs along one side of the campus. From there I had a kilometer of riverbank to practice walking meditation before arriving at my office building. It is quite secluded in parts and the river has sets of rapids that greatly enrich my walk. One section of the path takes my steps through a cedar grove, and I always feel a sacred blessing from these beautiful trees. I slow my walking right down to a three–three rhythm when I enter the cedar grove. The path is never the same, as the seasons change its character. Autumn leaves give way to snowfall as winter leaves her embrace. My clothes and footwear change, yet my steps, breathing and feet touching the earth remain constant. The rustle of autumn leaves is replaced by the crunch of snow and ice, which gives way to the mud and rain of spring before the heat of summer allows me to walk in sandals or barefoot. The birds and foliage change with the seasons, as does the river–iced over in winter, turbulent in the spring and calm in summer and fall. Students with their books and friends congregate by the river when the weather is sunny.

Autumn Sunset

I notice the changes in the seasonal round of nature, yet remain with my breathing, footsteps and the earth, so that I am not drawn into unnecessary thought. It takes me approximately twenty minutes to arrive at my office. I am in a clear, calm state and better able to be of assistance to students and colleagues and bring my own sense of calm and clarity to the university. On leaving the university I retrace my steps of walking meditation along the river before going home, or to appointments in the city. The experience engenders the same calm and clarity. This walk is Paradise, a constant reminder to me for those occasions when I am not in touch with the Earth Mother. We do not need to walk on water, or over hot coals. We simply need to walk on the earth and touch her deeply with our full awareness. That is all that walking meditation is.

Buddha's Geet

Pine Gate – Volume 13, Issue 1: Winter 2014

We are entering the 13th year of putting out Pine Gate’s Online Buddhist journal. Enjoy the beautiful new look created by Production Editor Yves Desnoyers. The issue is a work of art in its own right! A bow of gratitude to all the contributors. To read or download please go to:
http://www.ianprattis.com/PineGate/PineGateNewsletter.html

The latest issue – Volume 13, Issue 1: Winter 2014 – contains articles on Educators Mindfulness Retreat, Renewing Buddhism, Five Mindfulness Trainings, Friends for Peace, YouthBuild, Sangha Outreach, Engaged Buddhism, Soft Heart Meditation, Poems, Quotes, Humor and much more. The feature article on the Indigenous Elders Statement is by Chief Orval Looking Horse and other elder signatories..
Table of Contents – Pine Gate Volume 13, Issue 1: Winter 2014
1. Peace Ambassadors – Ian Prattis
2. 2013 Friends for Peace Day – Koozma Tarasoff
3. Educators Mindfulness Retreat – Lisa Karuna
4. Renewing Buddhism – Thay
5. New Dharma Talks on YouTube – Pine Gate Mindfulness Community
6. Winter Study Session – Pine Gate Mindfulness Community
7. Soft Heart Meditation – Jacqueline Shoemaker Holmes
8. YouthBuild and the Eight Fold Path – John Bell
9. Indigenous Elders Statement – Chief Orval Looking Horse
10. Ottawa Friends of Tibet – Barbara Brown
11. Seeds of Peace – Michael Anzonye
12. Alchemy – Angie Kehler
13. Presence – Rumi
14. What If Nobody Shows Up? – Ian Prattis
15. Water in the Wave Day of Mindfulness – Jim Ebaugh
16. You Are Just A Man – Dave Kot
17. Peace: The Exhibition – Pine Gate Mindfulness Community
18. Engaged Practice and the OI – Ian Prattis
19. Quotes
20. Pine Gate Mindfulness Community

Pine Gate is the voice of Ottawa’s Pine Gate Mindfulness Community who practice Engaged Buddhism inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and Sulak Sivaraksa – great teachers for our times. Pine Gate is also the nucleus of Friends for Peace. The Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, had this to say: “Friends for Peace is an outstanding organization that does very important work, promoting, strengthening and maintaining peace, planetary care and social justice within our communities and the environment.”
Friends of Pine Gate also contribute to the journal. Submissions are invited, articles of approximately 700 – 1,000 words, poems and insights that reflect engaged practice and personal experience. The community has many leaders and the newsletter is an organic outcome of collective insight. Effortlessly it appears. It is a Quarterly online Buddhist Journal, appearing three times a year. Quirky!
Find us online at: http://ianprattis.com/PineGate/index.html
and on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pinegatesangha

Editor: Ian Prattis
Production Editor: Yves Desnoyers
Copy Editor: Carolyn Hill
Ian is the dharmacharya (teacher) at Pine Gate and the founder of Friends for Peace.
Pine Gate Meditation Hall

Dharma Detective Investigates Great Difficulties

TOOLS: Center in Mindfulness
: Taking Refuge: Deep Looking/ Deep Listening
: Skills to Garden in the Mind
STAGE ONE: Locate Difficulty in Time & Space
: Sangha Eyes: Deep Looking/Deep Listening
STAGE TWO: Remember Feelings
: Use of Teachings & Practice
STAGE THREE: Deep Looking into Blaming and Complicity
: Understanding, Impermanence and Transformation
STAGE FOUR: Deep Reflection
: Learning Curve

Start by recognizing the mind-state that causes suffering, be prepared to stop and skilfully look deeply into suffering by placing it within a practice of mindfulness. Just these initial steps can prevent us from being hooked and taken down by strong emotions and wrong perceptions. The tools are not those of intellectual self-analysis where we rationalize our suffering away. To recognize the significant elements of our suffering we need mindfulness, concentration and insight. Above all else we need to locate in heart consciousness – that still place of calm that is available by first of all stopping and then centering in mindfulness. This is so your mind-state is calm and grounded for the investigation.

Your time of great difficulty – locate it. What happened, where and when? What was the time frame? What do you think caused it – was it something in you or were the causal elements also around you? Do your best to establish the nature of the different factors that caused you to suffer at this difficult time in your life. Know also that your perceptions and recollections of the situation may well be skewed, so it is wise to take refuge in sangha eyes, to find out from dharma brothers and sisters just how you were at that time in terms of your actions and reactions. In this first step of being a dharma detective there is the importance of being grounded, of deep looking and of relying on sangha eyes to remember clearly.
Christmas Dharma Talk

Stage Two takes the process deeper. You have recognized your suffering but do you remember how you felt at that time? Did you become overwhelmed by it all or did you apply the practices and teachings in any way? Were there dharma friends available to help you or did you not seek help because you had lost faith? We need courage with this part of the inquiry, for it leads to the very difficult next stage of looking deeply into how we tend to take refuge in blaming instead of taking refuge in the Three Gems. We have to be a “Hercule Poirot,” truly a dharma detective, for now in Stage Three we list in our notebook how we blamed – the other, the situation, the Buddha, Jesus – even God! How did you lash out during your suffering? How did you try to harm and discriminate against the one you hate and any one else who got in the way? Did you shut them out or run away? Did you seek complicity with someone to help share your hate?

We all love our dramas, so much so that we tend to seek out someone to agree with our suffering – but there is no support in that, as only deeper suffering ensues. Were you lucky enough to find true support, someone steady to direct you to a greater understanding of the particular hell you are investigating? Did you come to an understanding that blaming, punishment, shutting off, running away, seeking complicity – none of these are motivated by understanding and compassion? Did you begin to realize that suffering is impermanent and that understanding and compassion illuminates impermanence, that this is the way out? If you have these realizations then progress is surely being made.

The Fourth Stage is a process of deep reflection on what would you do now, if faced with a similar situation. From the investigation of your time of great difficulty can you identify a learning curve that will enable you to not repeat the same mistakes? You may see for yourself the value of taking refuge in sangha eyes to guide your perceptions; of taking refuge in the practices, mindfulness trainings and sutras for guidance in order to apply the energy of mindfulness to the energy of suffering. This exercise is a wonderful one that all of us can do. The practice of mindfulness comes alive as a highly strategic set of tools and skills to produce transformation of the suffering caused by difficult and painful circumstances. Life is full of crises, curve balls and disasters. But even so, we do not have to be overwhelmed, hooked and crushed by them. Mindfulness practice helps us. Understanding and compassion hone our skills so that we become excellent gardeners of the mind.

The importance of taking refuge is to make fully alive the reality that we inter-are. We are never alone once we realize that Interbeing is a basic law of nature and of the Universe. Our scale of difficult circumstance runs through a vast range. The suffering and pain can be from a divorce, a son addicted to drugs, loss of a job, the death of a loved one, childhood abuse or brutal discrimination. The suffering can also be there from the situation in the Middle East between Palestinians and Israelis. The dharma detective operates well in all domains – personal, national, international – providing an instrument to focus our mindfulness, concentration and insight to whatever difficulty we suffer from.

Ian is the resident Zen teacher at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in the west end of Ottawa, Canada. Teachings and dharma study are offered on Thursdays 7.00pm – 9.00pm.
Pine Gate Meditation Hall

2013 Fall Study Session at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community

2013 Fall Study Session at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community

Pema Chodron

The Fall 2013 Study Session at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community will be based on Pema Chodron’s “Fully Alive” retreat. This is on 2 DVD’s and totals 5 hours. This series will commence on Thursday October 17, 7.00pm – 9.00pm.

2 copies of the book – Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change – will be purchased for the sangha library. You are encouraged  to get a copy for yourself – either from Singing Pebble or Serendipity bookstores in Ottawa.  The DVD’s and discussion sessions will be interspersed with the Buddha’s Foundation Teachings that Ian will offer to the community, plus important ceremonies such as Deep Relaxation, Touching the Earth and the Five Mindfulness Trainings Recitation ceremony. Maybe also a Tea Ceremony to stir into the pot of dharma.

“The focus on “Fully Alive” addresses the difficult times we are in. Life sometimes seems like a roiling and turbulent river threatening to drown us. Why, in the face of that, shouldn’t we cling for safety of the shore – to our comfortably familiar patterns and habits?

Pema Chodron teaches: that kind of fear-based clinging leads only to greater suffering. In this recorded retreat, based on the program “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” she provides a wealth of wisdom for learning to step right into the river: to be completely, fearlessly, present even in the hardest times, the most difficult situations. It’s the secret of being fully alive. When we learn to let go of our protective patterns and do that, we begin to see not only how much better it feels to live that way, but, as a wonderful side effect, we find that we begin to naturally and effectively reach out to others in care and support. The teachings and practices include:

1. A teaching – based on Native American prophecy – for cultivating the ability to take nothing personally.

2. A guided meditation for developing patience in the midst of irritation.

3. A curiosity practice to release your mind from old habits.

4. Tips for accessing your innate strength and confidence – simply by altering your posture.

5. Ways to make your practice the impetus for serving others.”

Let’s rock this coming Fall Study Session!

Directions to Pine Gate Mindfulness Community

Directions: Take Queensway to Woodroffe S. exit; Go to Baseline Rd; RT on Baseline; RT on Highgate (2nd  light); RT on Westbury; LT on Rideout Crescent and follow it round to 1252 Rideout Cr. – home of Pine Gate mindfulness Community. Contacts: 613 726 0881; iprattis@bell.net ; Chill.Carolyn@gmail.com  Attendance is by donation according to means.  Ball Park: $5 – $10. Teacher: Dharmacharya Ian Prattis, True Body of Wisdom

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity

This is an extract from a chapter – Consciousness As Food – in a  book available on Amazon Kindle  – Keeping Dharma Alive. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0074A3LNC

In the groove

Buddhist masters for over two thousand six hundred years have observed the process of their own awakening.  The training of disciples and observation of their similar steps into awakening empirically confirmed the validity of their own experience.  This would not be a verification process that Western science would necessarily concur with, as examining the mind from the vantage point of an awakened mind is not something that Western science is equipped to do.  In 1987 Francisco Varela made a statement that has shaken scientific turpitude:

The chance of surviving with dignity on this planet hinges on the acquisition of a new mind.  This new mind must be wrought among other things, from a radically different epistemology, which will inform relevant actions

Varela was the catalyst for the Mind and Life dialogues between neuroscientists and Buddhist meditators. He maintained that a third person observational stance was inadequate for modern science as the first person experiential component was necessary to make science complete. He turned to Buddhism for this component and enlisted the support of the Dalai Lama for a series of dialogues, which began in 1987. Varela clearly saw that Buddhism used investigative practices that rested on observation, mind training, logical thinking and a rigorous experimental/verification process that relied on a person’s own experience. Verification of Buddhist teachings did not come solely from faith, but relied on testing the teachings out in the laboratory of personal experience and the mind.

The Dalai Lama sent eight highly trained senior monks to the Wisconsin laboratory of Dr Richard Davidson in 1992.  The monks had trained in the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma and Kagyu traditions for periods of 10,000 to 50,000 hours.  They were observed for high frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, hooked up by 256 brain sensors to electroencephalograph (EEG) and fMRI machines and compared with control groups without meditation training (see Lutz et alia 2004).  The results were sufficiently astonishing to encourage further ongoing research, as the sensors picked up in the monks’ brains an exponential increase in gamma waves, much more highly coordinated than that observed in the control groups.  Significantly, activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the monks was very high.  This brain region is usually associated with positive thoughts, feelings of balance and harmony (Lutz et alia 2004; HOPES 2003).

The significance of these ground breaking research results by neuroscientists is that in terms of meditation effects – it is clear that the trained mind is cognitively and structurally different from an untrained mind, as new neuronal connections are created so that ingrained perceptions fall away.  Yongey Mingyur, who was one of the original experimental subjects, refers to the essence of the Buddha’s teachings as: the mind is the source of all experience, and by changing the direction of the mind we can change the quality of everything we experience (2007:102).  Prolonged meditation has the effect of producing permanent changes in levels of awareness in the direction of harmony and balance.  Just what we need as a species!

Thich-Nhat-Hanh-image-5

The medical implications of neuroplasticity are nothing short of astonishing, as mechanistic biology and genetics are progressively thrown out of the window.  Previously, neuroscience in the twentieth century had established a dialectical relationship between the brain and the body.  Scientists had identified the health of the immune, hormonal and nervous systems with discrete areas of the brain – frontal lobes, amygdala and hippocampus respectively (Pollard 2004).  At that time it was thought that the brain was fixed in its structure and functions early in life – that the brain contained all its neurons at birth.  But from the 1980’s onwards, experimental research clearly demonstrated that this assumption was incorrect, that new neurons and synapses were generated throughout one’s lifespan as a consequence of new learning processes activating memory functions in the brain (Milgram 1987; Racine & Kairis 1987).  Recent studies by Begley (2004) and Lutz et alia (2004) using sophisticated MRI scans on the brains of Buddhist monks in meditation, demonstrated in no uncertain terms that meditation as a long term practice rewired the chemical and physical structure of the brain and as a consequence promoted behavioral and attitudinal changes in the direction of balance, harmony and happiness.

Now that the doctrine of the unchanging brain is thoroughly discredited, radical new vistas have opened up both for medicine and culture.  Eric Kandel received a Nobel Prize in 2000 for advancing the argument that learning and challenging memory functions stimulates genes to create new proteins and new neural circuits in the brain.  This has significant implications for curing memory disorders, treatment of neurological problems as well as reversing memory loss in the ageing brain.  Norman Doidge (2007) has argued further that this is how the brain always works – only we did not allow ourselves to understand this feature of constant malleability.  Though Buddhism does have a handle on brain structure being impermanent and everchanging.  The brain is inherently “neuroplastic” and therefore can change both its structures and functions.  Doidge documents the case history of Michelle Mack, born without the left hemisphere of her brain.  Nevertheless, Michelle leads a full and active life because the right hemisphere of her brain reorganized itself to create the synapses and brain circuits to do what were thought to be exclusive left hemispheres functions.

The changing brain is normal; furthermore the ageing brain – often beset with decline – can be stimulated by a variety of brain exercises that create new processing functions.  Costa e Silva’s work in 2004 demonstrates that depression and chronic pain are a function of a lack of plasticity in brain structures and the search is on for drug combinations that can stimulate the creation of new proteins and synapses so that brain circuits expand.  The groundbreaking work of Davidson (2000, 2003) has already shown that prolonged meditation reorganizes frontal hemisphere activity related to the stimulus of theta and alpha brain waves, which are associated with calm, harmony and attitude shift.

Furthermore, being permanently stuck with the same old cultural assumptions and predispositions is a notion that is no longer tenable.  While we most certainly shape culture, culture also shapes our brain structure.  The commonly held view that cukltural differences are implacable has to give way to the fact that we can change our cultures by simply changing our minds and the way we think about things.  Our synapses, senses, brain circuits and cultures are all malleable.  So an “unchanging world” perspective is no longer tenable particularly as the recent work of Iacoboni (2008) postulates a “mirroring” neuron.  His argument is that we understand the world around us through brain circuits that copy what we sense and see, yet do not do.  He thinks the mind explores beyond the item copied and reaches into the realm of intuition and feelings.  Are we getting closer to a “neuropolitics” and a “neuroeconomics”? Iacombini does think this is indeed possible and already happening (2008). Whether one agrees with his experiments on monkeys and further inferences – it is clear that static views in medicine, science and consciousness are exceedingly hard to justify.

The term “Neuroplasticity” was coined to describe the phenomenon of continually adjusting and reorganizing brain neurons, synapses and neural pathways.  There is no longer a place in modern neuroscience for Cartesian mind/body dualism, nor for a plausible distinction between mind and brain.  This meeting ground between Buddhist meditation and modern science in the twenty first century has produced a series of groundbreaking studies in neuroscience, accompanied by a flurry of international conferences and collaborative research projects between seasoned Buddhist meditators and contemporary neuroscientists.  It is all about consciousness change!

 

An interesting departure from the conference circuit and testing the brain scans of Buddhist meditators are the retreats (such as Plum Village 2006, Garrison Institute 2006) where neuroscientists have the opportunity to practice meditation surrounded by the Olympic athletes of meditation – highly skilled Buddhist meditators.  If it holds true that our store consciousness consumes the mind states of surrounding beings, then a pertinent question arises.  With neuroscientists surrounded by skilled Buddhist mediators in a retreat setting – how will the scientists subsequently practice their science once they return to their laboratories?  Only time will tell, though Buddhist meditators may provide an educated guess!  At the very least the explorations between Buddhist meditation and neuroscience create the conditions for a compassionate foundation to emerge for science, while at the same time Buddhism is refreshed by a novel experimental foundation rooted in scientific procedures (Chopra 2005).