Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

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.

 

Buddha Mind and Silence

Buddha Mind

2,600 years 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.
  • His penultimate 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.

The Avatamsaka Sutra establishes how to enter the Buddha’s world and mind, the reality witnessed by enlightened beings whose vision and mind are 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. The template of Avatamsaka is very significant as it lays out the Bodhisattva path in all its intricacies. A visionary, mystical text – it is written that millions of enlightened beings from all the galaxies listen to the Buddha’s revelations and encounter a multi-dimensional reality that transcends time/space/past/future – or so the Chinese scribes tell us!

Shantideva and Thich Nhat Hanh

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. Changing minds by following the Way of the Bodhisattva

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

Absolute Level – Buddha Mind and non-dual wisdom

  • 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. He provides unwavering encouragement to deal with suffering, fear, habits, collapse, depression, anxiety and so on.

In the modern era Thich Nhat Hanh’s Lotus in a Sea of Fire continues “The Way of the Bodhisattva.” In 1966 in the middle of the Vietnam War Thich Nhat Hanh creates the Tiep Hien (Order of Interbeing), based on the 14 Mindfulness Trainings. 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 had conveniently forgotten 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 (they had also forgotten 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 three major crises not anticipated:
  1. Internet explosion – distraction technologies leading to blatant addiction with social media devices and 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.
  3. Global Terrorism.

In the mentoring process for the Order of Interbeing at Pine Gate the task is to update, refine and relocate the 14 MT within current circumstances. Of the seven requirements for aspirant investigation – I will concentrate on item 4 – Silence.

  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!!

Sound of Silence

Paul Simon wrote “The Sound of Silence” in 1963 and with Art Garfunkel recorded this song with Columbia Records a year later. It totally bombed and led to the duo breaking up. Later on the song’s producer, Tom Wilson, did a remix of the original track, overdubbing electric rock instrumentation played by musicians from Bob Dylan’s band. It became a number one hit overnight all over the world and brought the very surprised Simon and Garfunkel back together. They were university students and part of the counterculture movement, yet Simon had no intent other than writing a good song in his bathroom while he played his guitar with lights off and the water running! He was all of twenty-one years old. Garfunkel provided a focus on the inability of people to communicate. But it seems as though the lyrics wrote them. It took the American heavy metal band “Disturbed” and their lead singer David Draiman in 2015 to add a sharper edge. Their rendition was not just great music and lyrics – it was a cry of pain for our entire civilization.       The poetic lyrics are insightful about society and the planet, hauntingly so. Simon’s imagery and Garfunkel’s insight shone light on humanity’s inability to communicate with any harmony. The “neon god” no less:

 

“People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share.”

Note the enigmatic ending:             “The words of the prophets

Are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls

And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

Does this sound all too familiar for our modern times? Whether Simon and Garfunkel recognized it or not, the song is highly provocative in the awakening process. The lyrics carry a steady context about the necessary expansion of silence. They provided a vocal crash landing that until there is silence there is no place for the wisdom of the prophets to penetrate human consciousness. The latest version of this masterpiece by the Heavy Metal band –Disturbed – rams it right into our current societal and planetary collapse. I extrapolate on the significance of this overlooked aspect of Simon and Garfunkel’s song and draw on two heavy hitters from the realm of prophets. I refer to the Buddha and to Ramana Maharsi and then follow on with my limited experience for good measure.

The Buddha and Yasoja

I take a more intense tangent on silence with the Buddha and Yasoja. Ten days before the rainy season retreat Yosaja and his five hundred monks journeyed to where the Buddha held his three month retreat. They arrived in a boisterous way to greet the monks there with loud greetings and lots of talking. The Buddha heard this uproar and asked his faithful attendant Ananda, “What is that noise?” Ananda replied that the Venerable Yasoja and his followers had arrived and were greeting the resident monks. The Buddha asked for them to come to him, so he could send them away and dismiss them for their noise. The five hundred monks and their leader bowed to the Buddha and left the rainy season retreat in Jetta Park. They walked for many days to the east side of Koshala and arrived at the Vaggamuda River. Once there, they built small huts to begin their own rainy season retreat. Yasoja addressed his followers and told them that the Buddha sent them away out of compassion, so that they would practice deeply. All the monks saw this as true and practiced very seriously to show the Buddha their worth. The majority of them realized levels of enlightenment during their three month retreat. The Buddha’s rainy season had also finished and he remarked to Ananda that he could discern the energy of goodness and light emanating from the east. He realized that Yasoja and his five hundred monks had achieved something very deep and sent them an invitation to join him.

They arrived quietly in the evening after many days of silent walking to find the Buddha sitting in silence, in a state of concentration called imperturbability – free and solid. When they saw this, they decided as one body to sit like that with the Buddha and entered the same state of silent imperturbability. Ananda approached the Buddha during the three watches of the night and asked him to address the monks. The Buddha remained silent. After the third reminder he said, “Ananda, you did not know what was going on…..I was sitting in a state of imperturbability and all the monks did the same and were not disturbed by anything at all.” In this deep unshakable silence the communication between the Buddha and Yasoja’s five hundred monks was perfect so that a deep transmission of insight, freedom and joy went to them. No fancy ceremony was required as the monks experienced a natural awakening – all from imperturbable silence.

Ramana Maharsi

During my yogi years in India I had the privilege of training in Sri Ramana Maharsi’s tradition through Siddha Samadhi Yoga. I had been recognized as a guru and taught meditation in Mumbai and Bangalore. I made a point of staying at Ramana Maharsi’s ashram near the holy mountain of Arunachala in South India where he stayed until his death in 1950. I followed his footsteps up the mountain and meditated in the cave where he first took shelter and bit by bit I entered into his zone of silence, though he was long gone in body. Yet it was of the same nature of imperturbable silence as described for the Buddha’s welcome of Yasoja. Sri Ramana emanated the same force of freedom, which stilled the minds attuned to it. He offered a transmission of the state he was perpetually immersed in that could be directly experienced by those sitting with him.

This was his preferred method of teaching, though he would verbally address the issues and questions brought to him by students and followers from all over the world. His verbal teachings were there for those unable to understand his silence. He provided guidelines to practice a vigorous method of self-examination: “Who Am I”, “Whence Am I” – to help them step into the silence of their true nature and experience that consciousness alone exists. Also to give the thought tortured mind a rest. His simplicity, humility and sense of equality were legendary. He always shone like a beacon as he had realized that his real nature was unrelated to his mind, body and personality. He was accessible to everyone, shared in communal work at the ashram and rose at 3am every day to prepare food for visitors – always eating last after everyone had been fed. He lived, slept and held audience in the small hall of the ashram. I used to sit and meditate there a lot during my stay and could feel and imagine how he would address the questions of the constant flow of visitors and at the same time radiate his silent presence.

His spoken teachings all arose from deep in his heart – from his direct experience that consciousness was the only existing reality and it was through silence that his disciples would know the same. It was the depth of his heart that moved the other, which demanded only the exit of ego and trust in the arising consciousness and to be patient for the flow. That threshold was what moves the other into the space of the origins. The other then feels authentic. We are surrounded by a modern, noisy, ungrounded world that opens so many avenues for disaster, yet Sri Ramana Maharsi ably demonstrated that there are conditions to take such disaster into transformation. That is how I endeavour to write, speak and think these days. This brief reference to Buddha, Yasoja and Ramana Maharsi describes universal consciousness.

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. This was in 2003. I was required to present a dharma talk to the monastics present on this occasion. I talked about Waves and Water to come around to the significance of silence. This is what I said.

My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh uses a wonderful analogy of waves and water to understand how the Historical and Ultimate 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. The wave is clearly within the historical dimension of viewing everyday reality, our daily existential cycle of life full of 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. Thich Nhat Hanh’s 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 is a transcendent reality, a dimension outside of time and space, distinct from the time and space constraints of our daily existence. We often can call this Nirvana or the Kingdom of God.

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 so 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 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 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. 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. 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 Community, 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 and skillful deep looking.  The fruits of this practice of silence and non-action were many and particularly manifest in my study of the Lotus Sutra.

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, my scepticism about the mystic 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.

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 skillful deep looking. I still continue with this practice.  Without the silence and what it enabled, I am sure I would have had a superficial reading of the Lotus Sutra 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. 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 as we presently know it – 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. 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 and a full heart to share with everyone. I also experience a distinct cycle of internal 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 even offering a dharma talk. I became available in a manner I was not before. My waves carry more voltage and are filling up rather than being half full. 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, much like a swift river running through it all.

Conclusion

I would like to read something I wrote twenty years ago:

“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 the silence 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!”

For a long time now I have been contemplating a different form for Pine Gate and my teaching. The evolving form I am thinking about rests in Silence. Our Thursday evening sessions will be the practice of total silence, drawn from the imperturbable silence of the Buddha and also from my training in India in the tradition of Ramana Maharsi. I will then deliver monthly dharma talks that reflect how we can draw on the Great Masters to adapt to the dangerous conditions on the planet we as a species have created.

So the bottom line at Pine Gate is the practice of Silent Meditation, Zen style, every Thursday evening with tea afterwards. The First Saturday of each month provides a Day of Mindfulness. It is an opportunity for socialization, dharma and pot luck vegetarian supper. Dharma talks, discussion, mindfulness trainings recitations, sutra study, deep relaxation, Q & A, sangha council, ceremonies and other practices will follow on further Days of Mindfulness. On occasions our supper will be a formal meal. The voice of the sangha can be heard through our our online Buddhist Journal.

The Buddha brilliantly created the initial form of sangha but I think he would not have wanted it to stay the same as it was when first established 2,600 years ago! The change of form in sangha practice at Pine Gate emphasizes the power of deep silence for bodhisattvas to emerge. I believe that from my yogi training in India that once one can be truly silent all aspects of mindfulness fall into place. We can bring the quality of silence to our speech, work, community and to the desperate situations around the world. 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 form, resting on silence, brings to us the transmissions that the Buddha and Ramana Maharsi made available.

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   

 

Guidelines to reconstruct our World.

I am preparing a collection of essays – “Our World is Burning” for publication in 2017. Essay Fifteen is pertinent today.

Essay Fifteen: Guidelines to Reconstruct our World

The life support systems of the planet are severely threatened by Climate Change, aided by the accelerating greed, materialism and waste of the current global paradigm. Our ignorance and neglect are destroying the Earth, because we do not know how to behave in an aware manner with respect to ourselves, to others, and to the planet. Unless we radically change there is no possibility of balance, environmentally or socially. There is no remedy without establishing universal environmental ethics. This was my thinking while I was preparing for my Ecology and Culture course on TV at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I wanted to connect the dots of the many levels of violence and fear we engage with. The environment certainly, but also the everyday use of harmful speech, harmful consumption and all the way up to acts of terrorism. We need to dig out the causes of how violence to the earth and ourselves is nurtured worldwide.

We live in a world framed by fear, hatred, terror, revenge and uncertainty. These derivatives of human experience are no strangers to our consciousness yet we remain ill equipped to reconstruct the world we live in. We desperately need guidelines. The not so hidden agenda remains “What do we do about neglect, indifference, violence and terror?” I show that with ethical guidelines rooted in spiritual practice, we do not generate the energy that enables terror and violence to grow. From our everyday situation to the present climate of fear, hatred and vengeance, I demonstrate that it is all of the same nature. We just have to learn how to behave differently. Radical retraining is evidently in order, as we must change before a brave new world can become a reality.

These issues were examined with great clarity by the awakened mind of the Buddha, 2600 years ago. His teachings are timeless, as relevant to the modern world as when first spoken. The Buddha taught the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a design for living. Thich Nhat Hanh reworked them to be in sync with modern realities. They are non-sectarian and all spiritual traditions have their equivalent. The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in one-self, family and society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity and not exploit other beings. The third is responsible sexual behavior to protect couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconcile. The fifth is about mindful consumption, to help us not bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind. Quite a formula to present to my class!

I asked students if anyone would care to read them out to their classmates during my lecture. There were many volunteers. I did wonder if this borrowing from Buddhism would go over well with students and the viewing audience. Much to my surprise students and the public viewers wrote in to tell me that this was a wake-up call, the first time they had been presented with environmental ethics. Let me be clear – the trainings are not there for us to be in judgment of others, to bludgeon people with a misplaced self-righteousness. They are an internal compass so that as individuals we wake up to love and compassion and take heed of the directions the Mindfulness Trainings guide us to. The trainings are not a coercive design for conformity. They simply assist us to be more aware of what is going on, around and within us. They enable us to distinguish that which is good for ourselves, our minds and the world and that which is not. It is not necessary to be perfect in the practice as that is not possible. But it is possible to move in the direction of responsible and ethical living and make a difference to our society and environment. The options are: Do we bring to violence, indifference and terror a renewed application of the same? Or do we step back and consider these teachings?

We created the present situation, yet there is a way to transform our creation. The politicians, corporate moguls and terrorists making the decisions that presently shape our world do not have awakened minds. Their minds are scarred, filled with ignorance, their hearts held hostage to corporate and electoral agendas. They all follow the same script, seeking similar justifications to advocate the use of violence. Trapped in history and hate they offer no means of re-creating our world. The Buddha does. The implications of his Five Mindfulness Trainings apply fully to the dangerous times we live in. Our world needs guidelines like these to live by. The Trainings provide explicit guidelines that resonate fully within other religious traditions.

The flip side to global violence is the growing concern about the absence of love, decency and compassion in daily and public life, in schools, at work, in the healing professions and in the world at large. This preoccupies and worries many citizens and scholars at the present time.  If there was ever a time to learn anew from these teachings, it is now. The awakened mind of the Buddha is there in the Five Mindfulness Trainings and it is not just a property of the Buddha’s consciousness. It is the potential state of our own mind. When we touch base with the Five Mindfulness Trainings the same aspect of mind in ourselves is being reminded to wake up. Neglect, terror and fear are states of mind. Therefore we need tools that reconnect us to a mind state not driven by such factors.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are presented as an antidote to the contemporary crises and devastation we have created through ignorance and neglect. The deep malaise in society is making us ill, so preventive medicine is necessary, so that we may become whole and regain our health and balance. The ethics of the Five Mindfulness Trainings provide the necessary balance to come home to our true nature, while caring for all we interconnect. Before trying to address social and environmental crises, the building of inner spiritual strength through meditation and mindfulness is crucial.

FIRST MINDFULNESS TRAINING – Reverence For Life

 Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

            Allow me to break it down. Each training begins with Aware of the suffering caused by …  “Aware” means that I am mindful of suffering. I am aware that when life is destroyed mindlessly, suffering ensues. As I grow more aware, I begin to take refuge in the awakened aspect of my mind. The First Mindfulness Training addresses suffering caused by physical violence. When we become aware of that, we take steps to diminish the source of that suffering. We can choose to be vegetarian. We do not give our approval to violence carried out by the state, but we have to take care, first of all, of the violence that rests in our own minds. Our concerns manifest in what we do, say, and think. Body, Speech and Mind provide three locations for our action. Of these three, Mind is the most difficult one to deal with, as the task is to learn ways of practicing non-violence in our minds.

I am committed to cultivating interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. The notion of “learning ways” indicates that we do not know it all, that we make mistakes and do not do things perfectly. Yet we make a commitment to find ways to do things better, as we take responsibility for all that we interconnect with on the planet. The first training is about compassion, of cultivating the ability to transform suffering. The energy of compassion is born from insight and experience, not from the intellect or external decree. We know that our compassion includes the ecosystem. To protect human life we must protect the life of ecosystems. If the environment is destroyed, humans will be destroyed. It is taken further in the stricture not to support killing, even in our minds. To find the way to transform the wars and killing within our thoughts, we must learn how to be internally peaceful. As peace and environmental activists, if we have not taken care of this and continue to work out of anger or despair, then we will never succeed. The change and healing begins with the individual. From there it can extend to society and the environment.

When we practice mindfulness through walking meditation or conscious breathing, then we practice peace. When we reduce the internal wars compassion is born. With understanding and insight we learn the ways to express it. The practice of mindfulness is the ground from which we touch the suffering in the world and from there we act with clarity and understanding.

SECOND MINDFULNESS TRAINING – True Happiness

 Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others: and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help others reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and mitigate the process of global warming.

In our commitment to cultivate loving kindness, we learn ways not to exploit. We learn to share more and to consume less. A most difficult thing to share is our time. We will often give money to support a worthy cause, yet rarely do we share time. We attribute not having time to causes and conditions that lie outside of ourselves; job, family, housework, political activities and so on. Yet being polluted by time is a condition that lies entirely within our own minds. We forget to practice mindfulness, and rarely can we even enjoy a cup of tea. I remember with some nostalgia having tea with my Scottish grandmother. It was a carefully observed ritual, with the best china and attention to detail. It was a wonderful opportunity to slow down and really be with each other. Contrast this with the hasty cup of coffee first thing in the morning, as we watch the news, feed the children and hit the highway. It is no wonder that by the time we get to work, we are tied up into tight knots. This is a direct effect of pollution by time.

On those occasions when we allow ourselves to be present and truly share our time, there is a memory of joy, because it stands out from all other experiences of life.  I remember several years ago shopping at Starbucks to buy some decaffeinated coffee. An elderly lady was in front of me, being served by the assistant manager. She asked him about the taste and quality of the different kinds of coffee beans. As there were no other customers apart from myself, the assistant manager took the time to explain the difference between French Roast, Kenyan and Columbian coffee beans in terms of growing conditions and taste. He was very knowledgeable and I received quite an education. Finally he asked: “Madam, what would you like?” To which the elderly lady hesitatingly replied, “Do you have any of that Tim Horton’s coffee?” (Tim Horton’s is a competing franchise to Starbuck’s.) Smiling broadly, the young man said that they did not stock it, but as things were not too busy he would drive her to the nearest Tim Horton’s. He shared time, and made my day (and the elderly lady’s) with the joy that emanated from him being totally present. I have never forgotten this small act of loving kindness, and I am sure his customer remembers it with similar feelings of joy.

This training is about generosity. It is about the opposite end of the spectrum from exploitation, oppression, social injustice and stealing. These attributes have many faces and constitute a form of theft that kills us slowly. In the Second Mindfulness Training the emphasis is on loving kindness, expressed through generosity. There are three kinds of gifts of generosity. First of all the gift of material resources, second the gift of helping people to stand on their own feet through the gift of wise teachings, and third the gift of fearlessness. The third gift is very important, as so many people are motivated by the fear of not surviving. Fear corrupts and degrades, yet is a pressing reality in the minds of so many global citizens. To help those in the grip of fear, we bring the gift and benefits of our loving kindness, of our own fearlessness. We can encourage people to feel safe by being fully present with them. This may be something they rarely experience. Fearlessness in our example helps friends in difficulty and pain.

Thich Nhat Hanh poses a direct question about the Second Mindfulness Training:

Is your nation practicing this?  Or in the name of development or growth, is your nation or are your lawmakers violating it, exploiting other nations, trying to make them into a market, monopolizing them, profiting from their manpower and natural resources in order to win the heart of their own country and its people?

The Second Mindfulness Training is a profound practice, as it generates larger and more encompassing groups of people in communities, cities and nations to engage with global realities of systemic breakdown.

THIRD MINDFULNESS TRAINING – True Love

 Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that the body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness, which are the four basic elements of true love, for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

             This training is about healing the negative consequences of sexual misconduct. In contemporary society love is often misunderstood; attachment is substituted for friendship and the sex industry for relationship. It is no surprise that subsequent actions lack responsibility. Authentic love calls for understanding, responsibility and respect, whereby our sexuality reflects a wider mosaic of joyful communion between body and spirit. The key term in this training is responsibility. Because we are responsible for the well being of so many people, we make the choice to refrain from sexual misconduct. In sexual relationship, as many of us know and have experienced, we can become deeply hurt and devastated. This training protects us, and others, from being wounded. Loneliness, advertising and the sex industry provide a powerful inducement for misconduct, which has destructive consequences for all concerned in the sexual abuse of children. On a daily basis the imagery of the sex industry is presented to our senses through advertising, the media, internet, pornography and films. The producers of this material may claim freedom of expression, but it is really a lack of responsibility. It influences everyone profoundly, particularly young people. This irresponsible imagery pollutes our consciousness and fosters sexual misconduct, destroying self-respect and respect for the other.

We need to learn ways to protect our senses, to guard against the energy of the sex industry as it is insidiously purveyed to us on a daily basis. There is an ethical void around sexual behavior, and young people are left to experiment without clear guidance. They stumble frequently into disaster and suffering, as do their parents. That void can be filled by observance of the Third Mindfulness Training as it protects our senses and provides the means to re-establish the balance that has been lost. Meditation closes the sensory doors to external inputs and opens the doors to the heart, wherein dwells our true nature of responsibility. Once the doors to the heart are opened we are predisposed to be more responsible with our sexuality. From the awakened mind of great teachers come insights and guidelines to cultivate our own awakening. The Third Mindfulness Training is such a guideline. It helps us to know our own mind, to see habit energies and addictions for what they are, and guide us to become aware of the awakened mind that exists as seeds within our consciousness. This Training feeds those seeds and takes us to a place of non fear.

FOURTH MINDFULNESS TRAINING – Loving Speech and Deep Listening

 Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering within myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord, I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

             If we learn to take care of our thoughts as the actions of our Mind, then we will take care of what we say as the actions of our Speech. We pay attention and discipline our thoughts, taking greater care of what we say. This ensures that the important guidelines of the Fourth Mindfulness Training are applied. Our speech also comes from our parents, ancestors, teachers and friends. Very often something comes out of our mouth which we instantly regret and we wonder, where on earth did that come from? We are a continuation of our ancestors and teachers. We have to be aware that in addition to all their mindful qualities we have also inherited harmful habits of speech. Children are often criticized and reprimanded at mealtimes, as that was the way our parents communicated. So children consume the energy of punishment along with their food. Frequently they will cut themselves off from their bodies while eating, so it is not surprising that so many children suffer from eating disorders. Family meal times can be changed from a battlefield that produces casualties. If parents would only take the time and effort to talk about what is going right, and empower young people rather than focus on supposed faults. Mindful mealtimes can transform family life. We must learn ways to be considerate in our speech, though it takes time, understanding and awareness.

This training is about the art of deep listening and the power of compassionate speaking. In our busy modern world very few people give their time or presence to listen deeply to anyone. Yet our presence is the greatest gift we can give, especially to children, for it bridges chasms of misunderstanding and heals wounds. The reason we do not listen is simple. We have ceased to listen to our true nature, the neglected internal component of ourselves that harbors our strengths, compassion and love. As we learn to touch this island within ourselves through meditation, then we can listen to others and deeply heal them with our full presence. Our perceptions are filled with incorrect judgments and this is what is fed by a toxic conversation. We rarely listen to the other speaking to us, simply because we are not present for them. We also do not listen to significant others in our lives. We are unskillful and often harmful. On the other hand the practice of meditation does not distort what is presented and provides freedom from the prison of prejudice. And so we train with the Fourth Mindfulness Training as a guide.

I remember the magical effects of being present and listening deeply with my children, particularly as I previously had a long history with them of not doing so! To truly love our children is to be present for them. Everything is available through our full presence. Being present, listening deeply from a compassionate heart, speaking lovingly is what the Fourth Mindfulness Training is about. It provides a practical and ethical guideline about what to do with our speech, listening and presence so we can bring about transformation and healing. We learn to listen to a different internal voice that has its foundation in goodness and decency. The capacity for deep listening and loving speech lies within everyone and this training guides us to develop and use these skills to relieve suffering in others. We all know that the power of words can cause distress, yet it can also bring about joy and happiness. The Fourth Mindfulness Training guides us to be aware of how we so often place judgments into our speech, and encourages us to reflect on our perceptions before we open our mouths. With our mouths wide open for mindless speech to spill out, we condemn and criticize without understanding. Blaming does not allow understanding and compassion to enter into the picture.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training encourages us to look deeply into the habit energies so powerfully wrapped round our speech, and to take care that we prevent separation and harm from coming into the lives of families and communities. At the same time we do our best to nurture the energy of reconciliation when conflicts are created by unkind and thoughtless words. In order to practice the art of deep listening we have to retrain ourselves so that the seeds of compassion and love are nurtured. But very often we have our own scars and personal baggage, which makes deep listening and compassionate speech difficult. Never before have there been so many means to communicate with one another, yet we remain isolated because our communication is shallow and meaningless, without depth. In our communications with others, our words and energy have the power to either uplift or harm. Very often we choose to harm, and though this may provide a moment of triumph, our speech action alienates us from that consciousness which brings happiness. When we cannot listen deeply, we cannot speak kindly.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training takes us into a deep investigation of what to do with our speech and the quality of our presence. What we do is often very unwise because the environment that surrounds us encourages us to be untruthful. We may believe it is innocuous to lie under certain circumstances, the proverbial white lie. Yet some part of our mind knows our integrity is compromised. When that volume is pumped up, however, politicians, business people, the media, bureaucrats feel they have to lie in order to be successful. Our elected representatives do not usually speak mindfully, or listen to anyone. Many are mindful only of public opinion polls and their re-election. A considerable proportion of the icons from the sports, entertainment, and media domains present posture and hype rather than truth, and we know that most of them lie. This environment that encourages untruth translates into a degraded nation, world and environment. Can we not set an example for our children by speaking the truth, by coming from the heart, by demonstrating the positive effects of deep listening and compassionate speech? An antidote such as the Fourth Mindfulness Training is needed to transform and heal the basis of our communication with others. This Training is the sword to cut through the Gordian knot of lying that tangles us in webs of deceit and destruction, and guides us in the direction of integrity and trust.

FIFTH MINDFULNESS TRAINING – Nourishment and Healing        

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or any other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in such a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

This training is about the way we consume. It guides us to adopt new patterns of consumption so that our society becomes mindful and less violent. This is the necessary shift in consciousness required if we choose to actualize the Five Mindfulness Trainings in our daily lives. Then we can step more lightly on the planet and find ways to encourage people to consume mindfully and bring an end to violence. However, media, TV and advertising bombard our senses daily with violence. Indeed, we are encouraged to consume in a manner that supports a political/economic system based on greed. As long as we remain willing prisoners to this corporate ideology, we are unable to take responsibility for the world we live in and create. None of this is good for our mental and physical health. Our consciousness absorbs and is defined by all that we consume. If we continually consume toxins, violence and garbage, then it should not surprise us that this is the raw material for daily decision making. We are the sum of the nutriments we put into our beings, and to be healthy we must learn how to protect ourselves otherwise we will get sick and violent and create a sick and violent society.

Our consciousness stores everything. Deeply hidden in our mind are the addictions of our ancestors, the negativity, cruelty and discrimination throughout our species memory, our fears, hatreds and guilt. Also in our consciousness are the seeds of an enlightened mind, the Grace of God, the potential of understanding, compassion and love buried as seeds, waiting to grow. Guidelines such as the Mindfulness Trainings take us on a journey, so that the latter seeds are nurtured rather than the former. Without ethical guidelines rooted in a spiritual practice, we would suffer continuously from internal conflicts and confusion.

We can say, “This is not good for me”, or “This is not good for my children,” and then begin cultivating an alternative consumption that is good. Without mindfulness we are exposed to all kinds of energy-sucking elements that activate and indulge the seeds of violence, hatred, anger, terror and despair; all of which drain us of life force. As we begin to understand the effects of these energies feeding our worst attributes of mind, then we can stop. With insight we can cut off the energies that are damaging us. The Mindfulness Trainings provide the key. If we know what the nutriments are that feed our ill-being, particularly the potential state of violence within us, we can make the conscious decision to cut off the feeder supplies. Replace them with nutriments that support us moving in the direction of compassion and responsible ethical living. Remember, it is the ethical void in our lives that supports violence in daily expression of who we think they are.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training guides us out of this prison with a clear commitment to consume mindfully and thereby create a different kind of society, one that is responsible to ancestors and future generations. The issue of responsibility is the key to this training. because we interconnect with and affect everything. We must realize that lack of responsibility to the environment, ancestors and future generations, creates a very dangerous situation. If we do not choose to consume mindfully then we will destroy our world. We need to go on a diet of mindfulness for all aspects of our life, society and environment. It is possible to move in the direction of responsible and ethical living. This is what mindfulness practice is for. This is the hope and the remedy for violence in our society, in our children and on our planet.

We must deliberately cultivate the positive attributes in our minds and shine the light of recognition and mindfulness on our suffering, so that we can become steady and full of resolve to live differently. The Five Mindfulness Trainings provide us with a template to do exactly that, as we consciously choose to nurture patterns of behavior and habits that are wholesome and generous. In other words we make mindfulness practice our new habit! This is the only way 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. It is not only a political and intellectual exercise, not only a matter of compromised treaties and cease fires. It is an internal transformation of consciousness at the core of our being.

I shape all of this this into a simple personal mantra: “I refrain from causing harm.” I know that by refraining from one thing that causes harm, I then prevent other harmful things from happening. I arrive at my own insight, which is not imposed by any outside authority. 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. Without them………….? I choose not to go there, as my commitment is to actualize these trainings in my life, and in the lives of others, to the best of my ability. That is my dance.

 

The Sound of Silence

Essay Fourteen: Sound of Silence

           Paul Simon wrote “The Sound of Silence” in 1963 and with Art Garfunkel recorded this song with Columbia Records a year later. It totally bombed and led to the duo breaking up. Later on the song’s producer, Tom Wilson, did a remix of the original track, overdubbing electric rock instrumentation played by musicians from Bob Dylan’s band. It became a number one hit overnight all over the world and brought the very surprised Simon and Garfunkel back together. They were university students and part of the counterculture movement, yet Simon had no intent other than writing a good song in his bathroom while he played his guitar with lights off and the water running! He was all of twenty one years old. Garfunkel provided a focus on the inability of people to communicate. But it seems as though the lyrics wrote them. It took the American heavy metal band “Disturbed” and their lead singer David Draiman in 2015 to add a sharper edge. Their rendition was not just great music and lyrics – it was a cry of pain for our entire civilization.

The poetic lyrics are insightful about society and the planet, hauntingly so. Simon’s imagery and Garfunkel’s insight shone light on humanity’s inability to communicate with any harmony. The “neon god” no less.

“People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share.”

Note the enigmatic ending:

“The words of the prophets

Are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls

And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

Does this sound all too familiar for our modern times? Whether Simon and Garfunkel recognized it or not, the song is highly provocative in the awakening process. The lyrics carry a steady context about the necessary expansion of silence. They provided a vocal crash landing that until there is silence there is no place for the wisdom of the prophets to penetrate human consciousness. The latest version of this masterpiece by Disturbed rams it right into our current societal and planetary collapse. I extrapolate on the significance of this overlooked aspect of Simon and Garfunkel’s song and draw on two heavy hitters from the realm of prophets. I refer to the Buddha and to Ramana Maharsi and then follow on with my experience for good measure.

I take a more intense tangent on silence with a story about the Buddha and Yasoga. Ten days before the rainy season retreat Yosaga and his five hundred monks journeyed to where the Buddha held his three month retreat. They arrived in a boisterous way to greet the monks there with loud greetings and lots of talking. The Buddha heard this uproar and asked his faithful attendant Ananda, “What is that noise?” Ananda replied that the Venerable Yasoja and his followers had arrived and were greeting the resident monks. The Buddha asked for them to come to him, so he could send them away and dismiss them for their noise. The five hundred monks and their leader bowed to the Buddha and left the rainy season retreat in Jetta Park. They walked for many days to the east side of Koshala and arrived at the Vaggamuda River. Once there, they built small huts to begin their own rainy season retreat. Yasoja addressed his followers and told them that the Buddha sent them away out of compassion, so that they would practice deeply. All the monks saw this as true and practiced very seriously to show the Buddha their worth. The majority of them realized levels of enlightenment during their three month retreat. The Buddha’s rainy season had also finished and he remarked to Ananda that he could discern the energy of goodness and light emanating from the east. He realized that Yasoja and his five hundred monks had achieved something very deep and sent them an invitation to join him.

They arrived quietly in the evening after many days of silent walking to find the Buddha sitting in silence, in a state of concentration called imperturbability – free and solid. When they saw this, they decided as one body to sit like that with the Buddha and entered the same state of imperturbability. Ananda approached the Buddha during the three watches of the night and asked him to address the monks. The Buddha remained silent. After the third reminder he said, “Ananda, you did not know what was going on…..I was sitting in a state of imperturbability and all the monks did the same and were not disturbed by anything at all.” In this deep unshakable silence the communication between the Buddha and Yasoga’s five hundred monks was perfect so that a deep transmission of insight, freedom and joy went to them. No fancy ceremony was required as the monks experienced a natural awakening – all from imperturbable silence.

During my yogi years in India I had the privilege of training in Sri Ramana Maharsi’s tradition through Siddha Samadhi Yoga. I had been recognised as a guru and taught meditation in Mumbai and Bangalore. I made a point of staying at Ramana Maharsi’s ashram near the holy mountain of Arunachala in South India where he stayed until his death in 1950. I followed his footsteps up the mountain and meditated in the cave where he first took shelter and bit by bit I entered into his zone of silence, though he was long gone in body. Yet it was of the same nature of imperturbable silence as described for the Buddha’s welcome of Yasoja. Sri Ramana emanated the same force of freedom, which stilled the minds attuned to it. He offered a transmission of the state he was perpetually immersed in that could be directly experienced by those sitting with him.

This was his preferred method of teaching, though he would verbally address the issues and questions brought to him by students and followers from all over the world. His verbal teachings were there for those unable to understand his silence. He provided guidelines to practice a vigorous method of self-examination: “Who Am I”, “Whence Am I” – to help them step into the silence of their true nature and experience that consciousness alone exists. Also to give the thought tortured mind a rest. His simplicity, humility and sense of equality were legendary. He always shone like a beacon as he had realized that his real nature was unrelated to his mind, body and personality. He was accessible to everyone, shared in communal work at the ashram and rose at 3am every day to prepare food for visitors – always eating last after everyone had been fed. He lived, slept and held forth in the small hall of the ashram. I used to sit and meditate there a lot during my stay and could feel and imagine how he would address the questions of the constant flow of visitors and at the same time radiate his silent presence.

His spoken teachings all arose from deep in his heart – from his direct experience that consciousness was the only existing reality and it was through silence that his disciples would know the same. It was the depth of his heart that moved the other, which demanded only the exit of ego and trusting with patience the arising consciousness and wait for the flow. That threshold was what moves the other into the space of the origins. The other then feels authentic. We are surrounded by a modern, noisy world that opens so many avenues for disaster. Yet Sri Ramana Maharsi ably demonstrated that there are conditions to take such disaster into transformation. That is how I endeavour to write, speak and think these days.

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.

My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh uses a wonderful analogy of waves and water to understand how the Historical and Ultimate 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. The wave is clearly within the historical dimension of viewing everyday reality, our daily existential cycle of life full of 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. 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 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 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. 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. 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 Community, 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.

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 mystic 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 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 superficial reading of the Lotus Sutra 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. 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. 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 and a full heart to share with everyone. I also experience a distinct cycle of internal 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 even offering a dharma talk. I became available in a manner I was not before. My waves carry more voltage and are filling up rather than being half empty. 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. It is much like a swift river running through it all.

Lotus Sutra sings.

Fresh dharma rains penetrate

My heart – wide open.

 

The Sound of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of music

 

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestone

‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence

 

“Fools” said I, “You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you”

But my words like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

 

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said “The words of the prophets

Are written on subway walls

And tenement halls

And whispered in the sounds of silence”

 

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!!

Engaged Practice

My understanding of the Order of Interbeing charter and the transmission ceremonies is that they presented me with the heart of the Buddha and the heart of Thay. In my experience of the transmission ceremonies with Thay – the 14 Mindfulness Trainings and the Dharma Lamp – I certainly felt Thay’s love and encouragement but also felt his steel. For me, this was never an invitation. My direct experience was that I was authorized by Thay to teach the dharma, build sangha and skilfully engage with the wider society and environment. In engaging with creativity, experimentation and skilfulness, I felt that

I was actualizing the spirit and the letter of the OI charter. Thay gave me a driver’s license and the keys to the car and I drove it as far and as fast as I could.  There was plenty of creativity and experimentation though I was initially lacking in skilfulness. In my sense of urgency I kept the gas pedal to the floor and went flat out at high speed – this was not wise.  I quickly learned that action followed consciousness, not the other way round and so I eased up on the gas pedal!

My grounding was in Pine Gate Mindfulness Community, founded by Carolyn and I in 1997 after my return from teaching meditation in India.  Sangha life was a subtle ebb and flow through a series of concentric circles.  At the core was the practice of sangha leaders (Carolyn and I), the next circle was senior OI members and aspirants, then a circle of sangha members committed to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, then a circle of sangha members young and old, and then extending to a vast circle beyond the boundaries of Pine Gate to the wider community.  The ebb and flow between concentric circles breathed us in and out and the energy generated became the basis of action.  A good alternative to keeping the pedal to the floor!

An unusual set of circumstances led to a particular form of engaged action. This is not a blueprint or a formula – just what arose from the depth of sangha practice in the midst of global crisis – the international war against terrorism and Global Warming.  The beginnings of Friends for Peace began with the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003.  Friends from across the city of Ottawa worked together together and organized candlelit vigils all across the city prior to the outbreak of war.  Over 3,000 people responded to this hastily put together initiative.  We also organized a Peace Song Circle on Parliament Hill, the seat of Canadian government, to send the strong message that mindful living was preferable to the warlike alternative.  Pine Gate members provided the nucleus for this nascent movement.

The organization of this event was left in their care as I left for two months in India just before the event took place.  It was in highly competent hands. On a cold, wet March day in 2003 a sea of multi–colored umbrellas adorned the grounds of Parliament Hill.   Choirs from all over the National Capital Region were there to give their hearts for peace. Earlier that morning I had received news of the shock and awe bombing campaign of Baghdad – and was filled with anger and grief.  This was not the appropriate mind state to lead this event, so I took refuge in the sangha. Carolyn took care of all the final arrangements, while I did walking meditation in Pine Gate Meditation Hall to calm and look deeply into the causes of my anger and to let it go.  Then I could be peace.

The incessant rain symbolized the tears of Iraqi children, your tears, my tears. Young, old, multi faith and diverse – the faces in the rain moved me deeply as people sang, danced and stood up for peace.  The NOWAR group was due on Parliament Hill after us and they had a more violent agenda.  I had talked to their leaders and requested that they join us on the Hill but without noisemakers and slogans.  They came with anger after burning effigies of George Bush and Tony Blair outside the US embassy. We felt the anger of their demonstration as they joined us, then it suddenly calmed and dissipated as they sang and danced with us in the downpour. The Sufi Universal Dances of Peace group organized 5,000 people to do a dance, chanting “May Peace be With You and With You be Peace” in English, French, Hebrew and Arabic.  When the rain came down like a monsoon – nobody ran for cover.  We danced and sang for peace together. The NOWAR group meditated with us in silence at the end.

From the response to these events Friends for Peace was created and registered as a non profit organization with a mandate for peace, planetary care and social justice. It has a charter and a mandate.  All parts of the mandate are active with respect to outreach, support and action. The first thing put into motion was an annual Friends for Peace Day every Fall, which was a celebration of all that we stood for.  It had the feeling of a country fair with lunch kitchen, activist tables, Silent Auction, great entertainment and Peace Awards to prominent citizens who delivered their often very edgy Visions for planetary care, social justice and peace.  Peace Grants were also awarded to organizations making a real difference. This day has now grown into the final bookend of a two week Peace Festival in our city of Ottawa. The growth and enthusiasm is there because there are tangible results from each area of the mandate.  There is a new six storey apartment building for low income families downtown that we supported, there is a pristine watershed – the Dumoine River – that we helped to get protection for, there are direct results from our support of aboriginal rights in the apology from the Government of Canada to First Nations, there is the annual Peace Camp Canada bringing Palestinian and Israeli teens to Ottawa for a peace camp.  And much more that is unfolding – the promotion of Orkidstra and the Dandelions Dance Theatre,  Tibetan and Syrian resettlement in Ottawa and many other causes.

The consequences of engaged practice for Pine Gate are confidence, clarity and skilfulness. Friends for Peace now comprises a loose coalition of over 45 groups throughout the city – activist, environmental, peace, business, faith, cultural, schools, government – and they are a force to be reckoned with in a good way.  The former Mayor of Ottawa has described Friends for Peace as the face of the city he wants to see in the future.  That future is now! The present Mayor, 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.”

The confidence from doing all this has led to the sanghabody jumping into the river of the Buddhadharma and kindly carrying me along with them. This is all due to deep internal practice and intelligent engaged practice. The home of Pine Gate had a major eco-retrofit – solar panel to heat the hot water, low flush toilets, energy efficient furnace and wood burning fireplace, energy windows and doors, solar blinds on south facing windows, insulation, rain barrels and so on.  The neighbours and sangha are watching very closely and enquire about cost, rebates and results – and several have followed suit.  Our money is where our mouth is, as this is a planetary care project right at the heart of Pine Gate, which is also the heart of Friends for Peace. And on it goes all the way back to the hearts of Thay and the Buddha.

I have also planted an apple tree on the front lawn, so that as the fruit ripens passersby and neighbours with their children may just pick them and eat them. There are many ripe fruits on the sangha tree, especially young people. They are storming the barricades, transcending boundaries and breaking down barriers. I ask only one thing, that they hold out their hand and wait for me – because I am going with them.

 

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.

 

Mentoring for the 14 Trainings

MENTORING PROGRAM – SIX EXERCISES 

The exercises are to be completed preferably in a group, as the real fire for cooking insight is in sharing.  The sharing is strictly confidential and remains in the process and is not communicated outside.  This builds trust and protects everyone participating as sangha friends.  The six exercises are to root your experience in sangha practice. You may have specific agendas in front of you at present, however, I think a deep dive into re-examining the 14 Mindfulness Trainings will solidify things for you.

 First Exercise

 Dear Friends,

The first task is to learn and sing “The Incense Offering” and “Invitation to Meditation.” They are the first and last track on the Pine Gate meditations CD. I am sure Carolyn will be happy to help you with the singing! Find someone to sing it with and have fun as you sing it together over the phone.  The second task is to reflect on and rewrite the first two mindfulness trainings in your own words and from your own experience and suffering.  Share this task with others.

The First Mindfulness Training: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.

The Second Mindfulness Training: Non-Attachment to Views

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

Enjoy together.

Dear friends,

I should emphasize that there is no right way of doing the reflecting and rethinking of the MT’s.  It is all in the sharing with buddies – you can rewrite, or paint or make up a poem, dance or song from your insights, prepare a skit, create a photo essay etc.  How you express your own experience of the MT’s is not at all restricted to the written form.  I hope that you feel free to express yourselves as you wish to. It is the sharing process that provides the real “fire” of understanding.  This is a very important point. Take one another’s phone numbers and perhaps arrange a monthly coffee sharing before you come and see me.

There are six exercises in all.  Future exercises will have rewritten/ reformulated Mindfulness Trainings considered along with:

  1. The Heart of the Prajnaparamita – Thay’s updated version/ MT 3 & 4 (Exercise 2);
  2. A Verse from Transformation At The Base/ MT 5, 6 & 7 (Exercise 3);
  3. Sangha Building/ MT 8 & 9 (Exercise 4);
  4. Engaged Practice/ MT 10 & 11 (Exercise 5);
  5. Living Dharma/ MT 12, 13 & 14 (Exercise 6).

Guidelines and pertinent readings for each exercise are provided from my E Books and website – www.ianprattis.com  Click on Articles sidebar.  Check out the pertinent dharma talks that are on the YouTube Pine Gate Channel – www.youtube.com/user/pinegatesangha

After each exercise provide a brief report, which will be of assistance to others.  Interbeing rocks on!  I hope to create fun and a good environment for the mentoring.  Singing on….

Second Exercise

 Dear Friends,

The second exercise involves your rewriting of the 3rd and 4th Mindfulness Trainings.  Once again drawing on your own experience and words.  This is so the MT’s become personal, not just something you recite by rote.  The meaning to you of each training thus deepens.   Do share the rewritten MT’s with your buddies.  That is a vital stage of the exercise.

The singing continues with the second exercise of the training program, this time with some study.  The focus is on Thay’s new version of “The Heart of the Prajnaparamita.”  First of all learn to sing it, with the bell at the appropriate time.  To study this keystone of practice – read it and sing it through a few times and jot down what insights come to you.  Then turn to the UK sangha’s Manual of Practice.  The UK sangha have produced an excellent manual of mindfulness practice.  Chapters 1 – 4 give explanations of the basic teachings and guidance on following the practice in our daily life.  It is now available as a web based on-line book.

http://www.interbeing.org.uk/manual

For the Heart Sutra study – be aware that there is a dance between the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.  What does “No attainment” mean in the Historical as opposed to the Ultimate?  If we try to understand it in the Historical we get stuck as it belongs in the Ultimate Dimension.  What does “no eyes, no ears etc” tell you about perception through the senses?  Go deep with this one.

An article that charts my difficulties with these two dimensions is available from my website.  Go to http://www.ianprattis.com/articles.htm and download “My Practice in the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.”  Take your time with this “homework” and enjoy the exploration together.

The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue. 

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop understanding and compassion, we are determined to come home to ourselves, to recognize, accept, embrace and listen to suffering with the energy of mindfulness. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. We know we can realize the path leading to the transformation of suffering only when we understand deeply the roots of suffering. Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer, so we can help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

Third Exercise

 Dear Friends in the practice of mindfulness,

The Third Exercise in the OI training program is to rewrite MT’s 5, 6 & 7 from your own experience and suffering.  The study is for you to take one of the fifty verses from Thay’s book “Transformation At The Base.”  Whichever verse appeals to you the most.  Then make that verse your meditation and contemplation focus for the next month.  Have a notebook handy to jot down insights and questions that arise.

A chapter that appears in Vol II of Keeping Dharma Alive E Book would be useful to examine. The chapter draws on Thay’s Fifty verses in large measure and is titled “Consiousness As Food.”  After you meet together, once more write a brief report and then come to meet with me.  There is a lot to this exercise so take your time with it – can even stretch over two or three months.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Compassionate, Healthy Living

Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, we are determined not to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying nor to take as the aim of our life fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, which can bring much suffering and despair. We will practice looking deeply into how we nourish our body and mind with edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. We are committed not to gamble or to use alcohol, drugs or any other products which bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness such as certain websites, electronic games, music, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. We will consume in a way that preserves compassion, wellbeing, and joy in our bodies and consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of our families, our society, and the earth.

 The Sixth Mindfulness Training: Taking Care of Anger

Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are committed to taking care of the energy of anger when it arises, and to recognizing and transforming the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger manifests, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking to acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We know that the roots of anger are not outside of ourselves but can be found in our wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in ourselves and others. By contemplating impermanence, we will be able to look with the eyes of compassion at ourselves and at those we think are the cause of our anger, and to recognize the preciousness of our relationships. We will practice Right Diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same.

 The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, in all situations. In this way, we will be able to cultivate seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness. We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.

Fourth Exercise

Dear friends,

The fourth exercise is to rewrite the next two mindfulness trainings – 8 & 9 – once again from the perspective of your own experience.  The study portion of Exercise Four asks you to take a chapter from “Friends on the Path” compiled by Jack Lawlor, or a chapter from Thay’s “Living Joyfully.”  Present your thoughts on different chapters to one another with your reflections and insights about sangha building in your own practice community.  Also take a look at the experience of the Pine Gate sangha at: http://www.ianprattis.com/pinegate.htm  Then report about the nature of your discussion and insights.

The Eighth Mindfulness Training: True Community and Communication

Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. Knowing that true community is rooted in inclusiveness and in the concrete practice of the harmony of views, thinking and speech, we will practice to share our understanding and experiences with members in our community in order to arrive at a collective insight. We are determined to learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. Whenever difficulties arise, we will remain in our Sangha and practice looking deeply into ourselves and others to recognize all the causes and conditions, including our own habit energies, that have brought about the difficulties. We will take responsibility for the ways we may have contributed to the conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.

 The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumors nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.

Fifth Exercise

 Dear friends,

The fifth exercise brings your attention, experience and skills to mindfulness trainings 10 & 11.  The study portion has its focus on Engaged Buddhism, which is the heart of Thay’s practice and teaching.  There are many books and teachings on Engaged Buddhism.  Select a particular chapter or dharma talk from Thay that appeals to you and use this as the basis for your discussion with your fellow aspirants. There is also a dharma talk about Engaged Buddhism on YouTube.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit, or transform our community into a political instrument. As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body. As a true cell in the Sangha body, generating mindfulness, concentration and insight to nourish ourselves and the whole community, each of us is at the same time a cell in the Buddha body. We will actively build brotherhood and sisterhood, flow as a river, and practice to develop the three real powers – understanding, love and cutting through afflictions – to realize collective awakening.

 The Eleventh Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that contributes to the wellbeing of all species on earth and helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of economic, political, and social realities around the world, as well as our interrelationship with the ecosystem, we are determined to behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens. We will not invest in or purchase from companies that contribute to the depletion of natural resources, harm the earth, or deprive others of their chance to live.

Sixth Exercise

 Dear friends,

Almost done – for now anyways!!  The final three mindfulness trainings – 12, 13 & 14 – are the last trainings for you to think about from the standpoint of your own experience and suffering.  You have traveled a long way from the first exercise and you should be encouraged by the diligence and intelligence you have brought to this mentoring program.  Also know that your fresh eyes and insights have enriched my own understandings in so many ways.  I thank you all deeply for this. The study portion of the final exercise asks you to explore the issue of “Living Dharma.”  Thay talks about this in Chapter 3 of “Joyfully Together.”   There is also a dharma talk given in Plum Village by Thay on January 19, 2003 that addresses “Living Dharma.”  You can access this through the website:  http://langmai.org/TNH_DharmaTalks.html

“The Small God Limited Dharma Syndrome”, which is a chapter in “Keeping Dharma Alive” addresses these issues in the context of conservative and fundamentalist hierarchies within North American spirituality.  It is available from http://www.ianprattis.com/articles.htm and will also be sent to you as a Word File.

The Twelfth Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life

Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, compassion, and the insight of interbeing in our daily lives and promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, ethnic and religious groups, nations, and in the world. We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life, prevent war, and build peace.

The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating generosity in our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: True Love

[For lay members]: Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends. Seeing that body and mind are one, we are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and to cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness for our own happiness and the happiness of others. We must be aware of future suffering that may be caused by sexual relations. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with compassion and respect. We are determined to look deeply into the Four Nutriments and learn ways to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will regularly meditate upon their future environment.

It has been a privilege to share this journey, a deep bow to each one of you.

With metta,

Cymbals at vesakDharmacharya Ian

 

 

Understanding Suffering

I turn to my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (Reconciliation: 2010: 64) to open a discussion on understanding suffering.

“Dealing with suffering is like handling a poisonous snake. We have to learn about the snake, and we ourselves have to grow stronger and more stable in order to handle it without hurting ourselves. At the end of this process, we will be ready to confront the snake. If we never confront it, one day it will surprise us and we will die of a snake bite. The pain we carry in the deep levels of our consciousness is similar. When it grows big and confronts us, there’s nothing we can do if we haven’t practiced becoming strong and stable in mindfulness. We should only invite our suffering up when we’re ready. Then, when it comes we can handle it. To transform our suffering, we don’t struggle with it or try to get rid of it. We simply bathe it in the light of our mindfulness.”

 

First we have to develop and nurture our mindfulness, which means waking up to the reality of our suffering that we would rather avoid. There are clear warning signals if we choose to pay attention. We get caught in our dramas and find ourselves telling and retelling our stories to whomever will listen. We also court our suffering and keep it alive. We often engage in a competitive aspect – my suffering is bigger than yours. The courtship of suffering can be an ugly romance for we enter into a co-dependent relationship, which has to be called by its true name – Addiction. Physiologically and emotionally we become so tightly tied into our suffering that we cannot be without it even though it is destroying our well being. We grasp at brief insights that “Yes – this is suffering” – but deal only with surface appearances. Yet the surface exposure has a long history of gathering momentum and energy until it actually surfaces. The small snake has become a monster. The addiction to suffering is now embedded in our mental state. We respond to any glimpse of suffering with such destructive emotion that we reinforce the causes and conditions that created the suffering in the first place. And so we continue shooting ourselves in the foot, torpedoing our lives – over and over again.

Our suffering is caused by abuse – emotional, physical and sexual – and it becomes an organizing template in our mind. We then create an abusive relationship with that template’s qualities – addiction; fear; co-dependency. To stop the cycle of harm we need an OMG moment. The insight that: OH MY GOD THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN DOING ALL MY LIFE. HOW DO I STOP IT? That insight has to arrive in the mind before we can apply ourselves to developing mindfulness as an antidote to the abusive relationship established with our suffering. It is an awesome realization to penetrate the darkness and realize that the abuse you have suffered has created an abusive relationship with yourself. Mindfulness practice can bring the abusive relationship to a halt. This is the required OMG moment that propels you to get to work. To go backwards from the surface and investigate the causes and conditions that placed you in such suffering. And so we learn the practices, tools and concentrations that support this journey of understanding suffering and taking care of it. We break the cycle through re-training and mindfulness practice. We equip ourselves for a journey to be well that requires our determination to practice mindfulness daily and ensure that we take refuge in wise support.

photo12

Ian is the resident teacher at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community. On Facebook search “Pine Gate Sangha” for program, discussions, events and humour.