How to enter the stream

October 11, 2014

Boat detail in pondWhat you need to do to become a stream entrant

There are certain things you need to do, and attitudes that you need to cultivate, if you’re going to set up the conditions for insight to arise.

You’ll need periods of intensive practice, such as going on retreat. And I don’t mean just getting away for the odd weekend, which is all some people say they can manage. You need to have intensive spells of meditation for a week, ten days, two weeks, preferably longer.

Sometimes we find it hard to have the time. I heard someone say that when you say you don’t have time to do something it’s not a statement of fact, … Read more »

Lovingkindness as a path to awakening (Day 25)

May 6, 2013

100 Days of LovingkindnessThe Buddha’s recorded as having said:

For one who mindfully develops
Boundless loving-kindness
Seeing the destruction of clinging,
The fetters are worn away.

If with an uncorrupted mind
He pervades just one being
With loving kindly thoughts,
He makes some merit thereby.

But a noble one produces
An abundance of merit
By having a compassionate mind
Towards all living beings.

The “fetters” are mental habits that hold us back from attaining enlightenment. Lovingkindness practice, the Buddha is saying, wears away these fetters. So lovingkindness practice helps us become enlightened.

The way I think of the Buddhist path of practice these days is that it’s all about “un-selfing.” Normally we are “selfing” all the time … Read more »

“A little bit pregnant”

August 29, 2012

In the Buddha’s day, many people got enlightened quickly. Some people would say this is because the Buddha was such a great teacher, and to some extent that’s got to be true. What better than to have an expert around? But most of the monks and nuns and householders would have had very little contact with the Buddha. After all, he couldn’t be everywhere!

What they did have, that was every bit as helpful as the presence of the Buddha, was the belief that enlightenment was possible. Having the Buddha around was helpful, perhaps, not so much because he was a “personal trainer” who was around to say just the right thing. It was more … Read more »

When spiritual practice gets in the way of spiritual progress

March 16, 2012

Spiritual practices are intended to help us free ourselves from self-clinging, but sometimes they can become subtle, or not-so-subtle ways to cling.

The Buddha said his teaching was a raft: something designed to help you get to the “other side.” Once you arrive at the destination, it’s pointless to hoist it onto your head or carry it on your back. But sometimes even before we get to the other side, we find ourselves overly attached to the raft. It’s as if we push the raft half-way into the water, but don’t quite launch it. And then we get quite proud of the fact that we’ve constructed such a beautiful raft. And maybe we spend … Read more »

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” George Orwell

January 3, 2012

Metaphors can be traps. We can end up taking them too literally. The point of a metaphor is to help us see things more clearly (“time slips through our hands like sand” helps us connect something intangible and abstract, like time, to a physical experience, like sand trickling through our fingers). But sometimes metaphors mislead, and make it harder to see things clearly. The image of the path is one of those metaphors that can potentially trap and mislead us.

The Buddha himself used the image of his teaching being a path. One of his key teachings is the Eightfold Path (aṭṭhaṅgika magga), and in a famous teaching he explained that he was like an … Read more »