Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/29/2015

I Should Know Better

I know how highly the Blessed One praised giving so why is it that I find my heart closing and contracting the moment I have allowed my mindfulness to lapse? If it were a matter of faith I could understand my deeply conditioned reticence to give bit I know from firsthand experience the joy that heartfelt giving produces. In short, I really should know better.

Watching the movements of the heart and the flickerings of thought this morning as I walked to the train I saw that one of the major hindrances to giving was the fear of interacting with the sleeping homeless (really,  it is the fearof interacting with anyone). Along with this was my equally strong aversion towards their physical appearance and, the final stumbling block I was able to see in the heart was my own greed. This last hindrance was not, however, the greed that clenches the fist around one’s wallet but rather a miserliness with one’s time. I knew I had to get to work so I just didn’t have time to offer food or drink to someone who has gone without for who knows how many hours. Sad to say but it sounds pretty petty when I see it in black and white.

As a result I would like to make an aditthana to offer food or drink to someone at least once a day for the next 30 days. Obviously they don’t have to accept but I do want to train myself in real generosity and wear away at the conditioning of lifetimes that prevents me from practicing dana parami.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/28/2015

Simplicity

209. Let one control speech and mind
And do no wrong deed with the body.
If the home is well stocked with goods,
Let one have faith, be gentle.
Share his goods with others and speak kindly.

Samyutta Nikaya I.42

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Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/27/2015

Daily Suffering

I had intended to post about something altogether different than what I now find myself writing but I suppose that really is exactly as it should be. I am beginning to a new dietary schedule inspired by a conversation with a kalyanamitta who recounted his own mother’s practice of not eating after six pm. Because I have been wanting to practice more restraint around eating for both my own physical and spiritual health it seemed to me that eating only between the hours of 9am and 5pm was a sensible alternative to attempting to keep to the monastic rule of not eating after noon.

But,  I have digressed; my reason for bringing up my new practice was simply to say that I may be a little more sensitive and people than I normally would when fortified with a full stomach. As a result, upon seeing a young man sitting in a half empty and dirty Dunkin Donuts listlessly typing away on his MacBook I was immediately struck by what I perceived to be the intense suffering of his situation. As is clear to me on writing this, my intuition of the situation is not supported by the facts of perception but,  for a moment at least,  I felt a true and painful connection that servedtocommunicate his desperation and pain. Then again, this could have all been in mind and had no relationship to the man’s interior reality.

The next person for whom I felt an deep and mysterious sympathy was a young,  twenty-something professional in a suit and tie worth a pair of iPhone ear buds walking confidently to his train. I can’t explain what it was about him that elicited my feelings of compassion but I got the feeling that he had a stressful job where he was rarely appreciated despite doing his best to succeed (I mean or was 5:45 am and he was already on his way to work). I know that I’m not articulating myself quite as well as I’d like and perhaps it isn’t possible to convey the meaning of stock intimations in words but I would hope that these two glimpsed into the daily sufferings of strangers would serve to open my heart just a little more today and all the rest that follow.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/25/2015

Failing Well

This morning,  as I was dribbling my morning coffee and checking my work emails, I thought that it might be nice to listen to a Dhamma talk as well. I happened upon a good talk by Ajahn Amaro in which he touched on the idea of learning how to fail well. Speaking to this, he got upon the very real obsession that many of us have with succeeding and being the “best” at whatever we do. And,  although the Venerable seemed to think this was a particularly American trait, I think anyone can identify with the feeling of not being good enough. I know that I, personally, have been afflicted with this obsession and have suffered dearly for it. But, what does it mean to fail well?

For me, the idea of learning to fail has everything to do with not giving up and succumbing to negativity when we don’t immediately succeed or when we fail unexpectedly at something we have been working towards. in this case of precepts and practices, I find I take failures exceptionally hard and it is here that I need to learn to accept my shortcomings,  learn from them and then move on rather than wallowing in self reproach.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/25/2015

Lest We Forget

205. These five things should often be contemplated by both women and men, by both householder and home leaver. What five?
“(1) Old age can come to me; I have not got beyond old age.
(2) Sickness can come to me: I have not got beyond sickness.
(3) Death can come to me; I have not got beyond death.
(4) I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
(5) I am the result of my own deeds, the heir to deeds – deeds are the source, the kin and the foundation.
Whatever deed I do, whether good or bad, I shall become heir to that.”

These five things should often be contemplated by both women and men, by both householder and home-leaver.

Anguttara Nikaya III.71

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Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/23/2015

Making Merit through Meditation

Since I first began to practice I have viewed formal meditation add something rarified that requires special preparation of the mind and a set of very fixed conditions which must be met for it to be “successful.” Like ask else, however, the truth of such ideas is commensurate only worth how far they can take you in the practice and I am at a point where continuing to hold onto these ideas is clearly holding me back.

My life, as are the lives of so many billions of others on this planet, is one which is not wholly devoted to the Dhamma but fragmented into greater parts of work and family obligations with maybe an hour a day to devote to bhavana. As such, the conditions for formal meditation are not always optimal and I generally have to adopt a take what I can get attitude which is five I suppose but does little to brighten the mind. The recent reminder I received from a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Achalo has helped me to see my formal practice in as more skilful and joyful manner however. Now, despite how “bad” the session is I can rejoice in the good kamma created which is a great way to brighten the mind and to fill up my electronic merit notebook. May you never have a wasted meditation again!

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/22/2015

No Sudden Breakthroughs

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

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Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/21/2015

The (Merit) Notebook

I believe I have written about this before and know that I have briefly experimented with the practice but, because I have taken it up again and it is on my mind, I thought it would be food to share the idea of a merit notebook. You see, yesterday at work I was listening to a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Achalo on the subject of how to die well. Speaking to this he brought up the belief that one’s mind state at the time of death is one of the most important factors in determining one’s rebirth. Add such, it is important that the mind stay as bright and joyous as possible which is why there odd a tradition in Sri Lanka of keeping personal records of one’s meritorious deeds so that one can reflect on them at the time of death. And, in the case where a person is unable to read the notebooks for themselves, the merit notebook can be read to them.

Seems like a great idea doesn’t it? I know that, even in the short span of one day it had great effect as  I was able to reflect this morning on some of the few good deeds I had done and the mind instantly became brighter and more receptive to metta. Interestingly,  i also forgot one thing I had written down which highlighted the need for a written record all the more.

Ajahn Achalo recommended recording not only acts of generosity but also meditatons you have done, pilgrimages,  visits to teachers, precepts kept and any other form of merit made. St present I am using Evernote to keep track and then we’ll print the records of I am able to keep up the practice.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/20/2015

Something Like Hope

It has often occurred to me that the followers of Abrahamic religions, especially our Christian sisters and brothers, make much ado about the idea of hope, seemingly to good effect. As a good Buddhist, I have known for some time that hope is yet another forum of tanha, craving, and have necessarily viewed it with suspicion.  And yet,  given my own somewhat morose character, for much of my adolescence and early adulthood I was a card carrying nihilistic materialist so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I yet possess the same perceptual proclivities. As a result, it has long seemed to me that hope or something like it would be a great counter balance to the darkness that otherwise clouds my perception. And, I believe I may have found something that actually does better than foolish optimism and it has  been staring me in the face for as long as I have known about Buddhism in this life.

Now, to give a philosophically satisfying account of hope and its Buddhist alternative would require a lengthy definition of terms so let me just get that out of the way at once: this will not be a philosophically satisfying blog post. What is ultimately satisfying,  to yours truly,  is the fact that every situation,  every happiness and every pain is workable and presents us with the possibility of learning and growth in the Dhamma. This lion’s  roar of the upasika/aka is the counter balance to the samvega and may be more aptly described by the Pali term passadha (have to check my spelling there since I’m worrying this on my phone on the R train). The fact that we can learn and,  even find release,  in any situation may just be the reason why a number of Buddhist teachers have come out against over-drugging during palliative care regimens and euthanasia (in addition to the fact that the layer clearly is in breach of the First Precept). Whatever the reason, I know for me that I can take heart that every situation,  no matter how dire can be used for my own ultimate happiness and wellbeing. Sukhita hontu!

Posted by: Upāsaka | 07/19/2015

A Good Wife

200. Once, while the Lord was staying among the Bhaggis on the Crocodile Hill in the Deer Park at Bhesakala Grove, the good man Nakulapita lay sick, ailing and grievously ill. And his wife Nakulamata said to him: “I beg you, good man, do not die worried, for the Lord has said that fate of the worried is not good. Maybe you think: ‘Alas, when I am gone, my wife will be unable to support the children or keep the household together.’ But do not think like that, for I am skilled in spinning cotton and carding wool, and I will manage to support the children and keep the household together after you are gone.”
“Or maybe you think: ‘My wife will take another husband after I am gone.’ But do not think like that, for you and I know that for sixteen years we have lived as householders in the holy life.
“Or maybe you think: ‘My wife, after I am gone, will have no desire to see the Lord or to see the monks.’ But do not think like that, for my desire to see them shall be even greater.
“Or maybe you think: ‘My wife will not keep the virtues in full.’ But do not think like that, for as long as the Lord has female disciples dressed in white, living at home and keeping the virtues in full, I shall be one. And if any doubt it, let them ask the Lord.
“Or maybe you think: ‘After I am gone, my wife will not have a calm mind.’ But do not think like that, for as long as the Lord has female disciples dressed in white, living at home, who gain that state, I shall be one. And if any doubt it, let them ask the Lord.
“Or maybe you think: ‘My wife will not win a firm foundation, a firm foothold in this Dhamma and discipline. She will not win comfort, dissolve doubt, be free from uncertainty, become confident, self-reliant, and live by the Teacher’s words.’ But do not think like that, either. For as long as the Lord has female disciples dressed in white, living at home, who win a firm foundation, a firm foothold, who have won comfort, dissolved doubt, who are free from uncertainty, who have become confident, self-reliant and live by the Teacher’s words, I shall be one. And if any doubt it, let them go and ask the Lord.”
Now, while Nakulapita was being counselled thus by his wife, even as he lay there his sickness subsided and he recovered. And not long after, he got up, and leaning on a stick, Nakulapita went to visit the Lord and told him what had happened. And the Lord said: “It has been a gain; you have greatly gained from having Nakulamata as your counsellor and teacher, full of compassion for you, and desiring your welfare.

Anguttara Nikaya III.295

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