Posted by: Upāsaka | 08/02/2014

Our Common Destiny

On days when I cloister myself within the walls of my tiny, East Village apartment and spend most of the daylight hours working furiously my first steps out into the buzzing world of Manhattan humanity are always a little overwhelming. At these times I am often, if inexplicably, drawn to reflect on just how many of us there are and the mind inevitably turns to the damage and change we are wreaking on this planet. And today, walking do wn 14th Street the uncommonly chill breeze that blew past me and out to the east towards the ocean seemed to portend strange and inexorable changes that were already taking place.

Usually my first thoughts when I see the insensate throngs of humanity doing whatever it is that we do I am filed with loathing and blame. It is as if I want to make them responsible for where we are and for the damage done but why? Surely none of them want to wreak the havoc that is the result of our resource hungry world. Not the guys eating pizza as they walked briskly up 3rd Ave nor the man who carelessly threw a receipt to the ground as he walked to the rhythm of his ear phones and not the homeless huddled under the eaves of a restaurant. For the first time I realized that I am not s pecial and no different. It is our common lot and destiny and the only appropriate response to all of them, to all of us is compassion.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/31/2014

Questioning Contentment

During this morning’s bus ride to Union Square I decided I would just take the ten minute ride and enjoy the breath instead of cramming every available minute with a “useful and productive” activity. For quite some time I have followed a pretty rigorous schedule of reading and writing both for professional enrichment and spiritual growth and although I’m not calling these pursuits into ques tion it definitely does seem to me that I have gone a little too far.

At some point this morning, either before or during meditation, I had the thought that this constant chasing after experiences, knowledge, insight and what have you was causing a lot of suffering. When I am always planning my next move where is there time for contentment? 

This line of thinking naturally lead me to my next question: can one even practice contentment? And, really, what is contentment in the first place? Is it gratitude? Appreciation? A well-developed sense of moderation?

Thinking about it I realize I may not have ever known contentment. The closest I may have eever been w as during a seven day retreat when I experkienced bliss in the body and a feeling of peace as a result of breath meditation but surely this isn’t what is meant. Or is it?

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/30/2014

Ill Will and Dissonance

The dissonance between the ideals of non-harming and metta that I espouse and the reality of my speech, thoughts and deeds has often been on my mind lately. In fact I have been feeling like the worst of hypocrites and the most insincere of fakes because of it.

Funny that in this very thought, in this line of hinking there’s an obvious absence of care and concern for myself as well. It is clear that my mind has a tendency to lean towards the negative and it is equally clear that I need to take this time to see that if I hope to change.

The last year has been one of intense struggle, fear and failure and has shown the limits of what effort in the conditional realm can bring. Even after all of the work and long hours we are no closer to security; we are still not safe. Maybe it is because I miss my family but the more I work the less important it seems and the less willing I am to allow myself to make a big deal of it. A supplier sends $500 of the wrong film and refuses to take it back? Okay. My customer service staff had to be cut to one annd now she’s got to be out for a week? Well just deal with it. All of the imagined expectations and midnight catastrophes that I can dream up are just that: dreams. Why squander my life reacting like a brute ti them and setting myself up for a lower birth? May I carry this moment of clarity with me as a touchstone throughout the day and fogive myself when I inevitably let it slip from my hand as I slip into dream.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/30/2014

Creature of Habit

I can’t quite decide if it’s funny or depressing just how much of a creature of habit I truly seem to be despite years of reading and contemplating the Dhamma. But, regardless how I choose to feel about it the fact remains that I am more or less ruled by my routine and, in their absence, I lose track of just what I need to be doing.

Case in point, I am writing this post at almost 10pm only because I just now realized that I hadn’t posted today. It seems I slipped into a bad habit during Ramadhan of frantic working until sunset and I have yet to break myself of it. May I do better tomorrow.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/28/2014

Eid Mubarak

Eid is here which means the fast of Ramadhan is over. Although I never quite expected it to have auxh an effect this year was tough and caused my plans for the last thirty days to veer significantly off course. Still, I am happy to have made it without missing a day and feel that I have learned some much needed lessons about effort.

The one lesson I’ve distilled from Ramadhan is just how fragile and delicate these body-minds really are and that it only takes a missed meal or two to completely change one’s outlook and ability to put forth effort. Ramadhan laid bare the dukkha that is always there just under the surface and showed clearly just how dependent I am on just th right mix of external conditions to practice well.

So Eid Mubarak everyone! May we not squander our opportunities to practice in this life while we have so many blessings.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/27/2014

Faltering

I’m not sure about tye cause but my routine has been completely off for the last few days. In reality it may just be that I have overscheduled myself and that the delicate balance required to fulfill my own self-imposed obligaions is just not realistic outside of a vacuum.

So it is that I find myself returning from my in-laws at noon without having done my morning sit, my normal two hours of work or several blog posts. On the one hand I can feel the anxiety creeping up and squeezing my chest as I obsess over what’s left to do and worry not getting it done. At the same time though I realize just how selfish my attachmen to my routine can be which is why I decided to break fast with them in the first place.

May I learn to care for others as I care for myself and for myself as I care for others.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/25/2014

Sapped

This morning has certainly been strange so far. I awoke around 4am and proceeded to follow my normal routine but as it the morning went on my mind continued to darken to the point where it was hard to see through it. When I sat down to meditate it only worsened and I got the sense that there was a black, inky presence draped over me threatening to stifle the life out of me. I immediately switched from the breath to metta as I was losing energy fast and although this helped somewhat I found the strength to sit only for a scant ten minutes.

What is going on? I’m not too clear on that although each day of fasting has a cumulative effect and I simply feel worn out altogether. That, and the fact that my days are spent working like a madman only to end with a whimper every evening as I pass out from exhuastion haven’t helped to add a lot of light to the mind. My focus during these days of solitude and fasting really gets completely fixated on work and gain which dries the heart and turns it into a desiccated wasteland. Thank goodness Eid is in a few days.

The one bright spot happened this morning as I returned to the altar just before I left and decided to recite the precepts. For whatever reason the mind fell on the thought that even if we have made a mess of everything in the world and in our lives there is yet the possibility of doing good and not harming. If there is a place for hope and faith in the Dhamma it would seem to me that it is here in our precepts and skillful actions, knowing that they will bear beautiful fruits in the future.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/23/2014

Unchallenged Aversion

Over the past few months I have noticed that my practice has skewed much more towards the brahmaviharas and in a very specific way. Perhaps as a result of the influence of the book by Jeffrey Hopkins I read (A Truthful Heart) the technique I used to cultivate th brahmaviharas changed from one which used metta as the key and progressed through groups of people to one which used karuna for a specific person a way to gain entry. It really seems to me that Hopkins’ admonition to use one’s imagination to visualize compassion inducing situations is what caused the shift in my own approach.

Although I am having difficulty articulating it, I feel that my method has changed fundamentally from a hammer only approach (that is, a one technique only method) to one where I will use whatever tools are necessary to open the door of my heart. I think an example is really the best way to explain what I mean.

This morning, after reiting the refuges and precepts before my altar, I sat down and readied myself for meditation. As always I made a quick check with myself to clarify my intention and, as I had decided to cultivate the heart, I posed a silent question to myself asking if there was any ill will towards anyone in the heart or mind. Not surprisingly there was and so I set my timer and began.

For whatever reason the usual method wasn’t working to elicit a ender heart so even though I could see the truth that this person wanted happiness and not suffering just like myself it was as if I were a block of wood. My next thought was to try to imagine hellish situations that the person could find themself in as a key. This worked somewhat but I was concerned that there was some small part of myself relishing the suffering I imagined. At this I saw that I was holding onto the aversion and to let it go I would need to forgive and so I spent the next while offering forgiveness to the person, to myself and the reflecting on my wish to be free from aversion.

And that was the key. Forgiveness was the key that opened my heart on this day and allowed the warnth and tenderness of metta and karuna to flow forth. Is it always this way? No, not always but by experimenting and not allowing ill-will to inhabit my mind unchallenged I am finding my days much easier and my heart much lighter. May you be happy!

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/23/2014

Gradual Realization

203. Just as the great ocean slopes away gradually, tends downwards gradually without any abrupt precipice, even so this Dhamma and discipline is a gradual doing, a gradual training, a gradual practice; there is no sudden penetration of knowledge.

Udana 54

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/21/2014

The Inevitable

Worry. Worry about business. Finances. Family. Worry about the myriad things that occupy our minds day in and day out that strips us of peace of mind and weakens us in the face of adversity. This is where I find myself today but I am wise to its tricks even if that simple recognition only slightly modulates its intensity. What does help in times like this is to contextualize the worry by recalling that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that it won’t last forever. Specifically, the recollection of death, my own death, helps to take the sting out of gain and loss and reorients me to the Dhamma. Success in business may not be within my control but my actions here and now are (largely).

Recollecting death and the other reflections is not a panacea but surely it keeps one focused on what wil lead tot he end of suffering. Yes, this life is difficult and tied up with suffering but how much more so would it be without the light of the Dhamma?    

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