Reflections on Samsara

April 1, 2013

samsara - the endless roundIf we believe that we are not responsible for our mental suffering then we are implying we are helpless.

If we believe everything is permanent then we are implying there is no room for change.

If we believe in a fixed self then we are implying we can not transform ourselves.

If we cling on to these thoughts and think they are facts we will continue to be swamped by the ocean of samsara.

If we can begin to see that our mental suffering arises out of our strong habitual behaviours we will begin to transform ourselves.

Ask yourself:

  • What thoughts that arise do I believe in?
  • What would I do if I could just
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Love yourself, and your self will love you back

March 16, 2013

Buddha with lotusThis week one of my students described how she tends to talk to herself in a very harsh tone of voice — much harsher than she’d ever use with other people. And that’s a very common experience. In our own minds we often describe ourself as “an idiot,” tell ourselves that our actions were “stupid,” or limit ourselves by telling cruel stories about how people don’t like us and how we’ll never be good at the things we do.

We tend not to talk this way to others, or at least to a much lesser extent. Of course if we do there tends to be a backlash. We cause hurt, anger, fear. We probably wouldn’t … Read more »

Gratitude, creativity, and the “boys in the basement”

March 11, 2013

Glass lamp in a black backgroundLast night I sat without a timer, or rather using a stick of incense to time my sit. Recently I bought some rather lovely Shoyeido Nokiba (Moss Garden) incense, which has long sticks that burn for 50 minutes. It’s a nice alternative to using my iPad as a timer. Sometimes it’s nice not to have electronics between me and my little altar.

The Boys in the Basement offered up some interesting experiences. The “Boys in the Basement” is a term I borrowed from the novelist Stephen King. He uses it to refer to the creative powers of the mind. I write quite a lot, and the term resonated with me very strongly. Writing barely happens … Read more »

Listening as a meditation practice

February 14, 2013

100 day meditation challenge 045For Day 45 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge I wanted to post something I wrote in response to one of our participants who found it useful to set a bell to ring every so often while she was meditating.

What I’ve found is that when I’m listening very intently to something, I can’t also do much (if any) thinking. So listening to a gong can be very calming.

When we’re listening we’re also being very receptive and open, and opposed to all the “doing” we normally, well, do. That “doing,” if were not being very mindful, tends to make us close off to our experience, so that we can become very willful. The ideal … Read more »

Letting meditation happen: Day 22 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

January 22, 2013

100 day meditation challenge 022Have you ever had the experience that you’ve been experiencing distractedness in meditation, and you return from a distraction only to find that — in your absence — a state of joy and calmness has been created for you? That was my experience tonight. A state of joy and calm had been created without my doing anything consciously to bring it about.

At the same time I noticed this I found that, as has been happening a lot lately, an urge appeared to “just rest.” I needed to get out of the way, stop trying to do anything, and allow the meditation to happen.

I see this as a teaching on anatta (not-self). It’s interesting … 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 »

Be the body

December 13, 2011

As a kid, I was really out of touch with my body. I hardly noticed it most of the time, and when I did, I prodded it like a mule to do a better job of hauling “me” – the head – around.

This approach helped me soldier through some tough times. But there were costs. Many pleasures were numbed, or they flew over – actually, under – my head. I didn’t feel deeply engaged with life, like I was peering at the world through a hole in a fence. I pushed my body hard and didn’t take good care of it. When I spoke, I sounded out of touch to others, emotionally distant, even … Read more »

Learning to love the flaws

November 17, 2011

As I wrote in my most recent book, Living as a River:

Relating to someone as a “self”—on the basis of how we see them right now—is like seeing a video reduced to a single frame, or seeing a ball hurtling through the air in a freeze-frame photograph. It’s life-denying. It’s a static way of seeing things. In taking a snapshot of a thing we lose its sense of trajectory, the sense that it’s headed somewhere. We’re disconnected from the reality of change and process. But imagine if we could consistently see a person not as a thing but as a process—if we could, at least in our imagination—see that person evolving towards wisdom

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Is Buddhism right?

August 28, 2011

Joshua Rothman (Boston Globe): Buddhism is in vogue in the West, partly because Buddhist practices, especially meditation, are popularly associated with contentment and well-being. As religions go, Buddhism strikes many people as a sensible and practical lifestyle choice.

Owen Flanagan, a distinguished philosopher at Duke, thinks this purely practical approach to Buddhism misses the point. In a new book, “The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized,’’ Flanagan argues Buddhism matters not just for practical reasons, but for philosophical ones. Subtract the “hocus-pocus” about reincarnation and karma, he argues, and you’ll find a rigorous, clear-eyed account of the universe and our place in it – one that would satisfy even the most ardent modern-day materialist. Buddhism matters, in … Read more »

Jettisoning the notion of the “true self”

June 15, 2011

Joshua Knobe has a thought-provoking article in the New York Times on the topic of what we believe to be our “true self.” Knobe is an associate professor at Yale, where he is appointed both in Cognitive Science and in Philosophy. He is one of a new breed of philosopher — the kind that not only takes account of science, but actively participates in scientific exploration.

In the article, In Search of the True Self, he explores the thorny problem, just what is the “True Self” anyway? Take the example of a Christian who believes that homosexuality is a sin, but comes to realize that he is homosexual. As the article says,

One person

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