Ajahn Amaro

“Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind,” Michael Stone (ed.)

Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind

This summer I led yoga on a month-long Buddhist meditation retreat in The Santa Cruz mountains, and when I returned home to the city this book, “Freeing the Body Freeing the Mind” was in my mailbox. It appeared like a welcome-home gift and a tool for reflecting more deeply on my own joyful exploration of Hatha Yoga and Buddhist mediation as one practice.

I had been pondering the relationship between the two traditions and how the two practices support one another, and this book is a deep reflection of these very themes. In a compilation of 13 essays from a variety of perspectives, the authors of this book explore this intersection and how Hatha Yoga and Buddhist meditation can inform and inspire one another.

Title: Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind: Writings on the Connections Between Yoga and Buddhism
Author: Michael Stone (ed.)
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-801-1
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.

Michael Stone, in his essay “Practice Maps of the Great Yogis”, asks practitioners to ponder where the mind ends and the body begins, and where the body ends and the world begins. In “Zen Body”, Eido Shimano Roshi writes that studying “the way with the body” means to study the way with our own bodies, directly and with curiosity. And Frank Jude Boccio, in “Mindfulness Yoga”, reminds us that, according to the Buddha, in our exploration of bodily experience we can find discomfort, pain and suffering, but also peace and liberation.

“In order to meditate,” writes Eido Shimano Roshi, “we need our body. We also need our breath.” In his eloquent description of the Ch’an spatial breathing practice, Ming Qing Sifu, in “The Broad Tongue of the Tathagata”, writes of a “great circulation of breath”. “The breath, in a free space,” he writes, “will accomplish the absence of limits”.

“Just stop, look up, breathe in and breathe out,” advises Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, in “Body and Mind Dropped Away”. “Breathing is an experience of prana,” writes Chip Hartranft in “Awakening to Prana”, the body being “energetic by nature”, what the Buddha called “a body within the body”. “The yogi abides,” Hartranft says, “observing the body within the body.” He continues that “the yogi’s vision is yoked to the moment of unfolding, of arising and passing away.”

We enter into yoga postures not to complete some perfected image or gesture, but rather to wake up the intelligent union of mind, body and heart. (from Michael Stone’s essay “Practice Maps of the Great Yogis”)

Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor, in “Joining with Naturalness”, say that “Buddhist yoga is ideally suited to being practiced right within our daily activities.” and invite practicioners to “arouse the mind of bodhicitta before every practice”, infusing “our whole practice with compassion’s power”. O’Hara quotes the Vimalakirti, urging us to “let go of every shred of self-clinging, to drop all notions of a separate self, all ideas of reality, of body and mind, let it all drop away.” “What is left,” he teaches, “is the ceremony of daily life.”

Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor, in “Joining with Naturalness”, say that “Buddhist Yoga is ideally suited to being practiced right within our daily activities”, and they invite practitioners to “arouse the mind of bodhicitta before every practice”, to “infuse the whole practice with compassion’s power”. O’Hara quotes the Vimalakirti, urging us to “let go of every shred of self-clinging, to drop all notions of a separate self, all ideas of reality, of body and mind, let it all drop away.” Then “what is left,” he teaches, “is the ceremony of daily life.”

Several of the book’s authors challenge the dualistic view of the mind and body as separate, as well as the popular misconception that yoga is for the body and Buddhism for the mind. In “The Body of Truth”, Ajahn Amaro Bikkhu says that “the Buddha encouraged the kinds of practices that would keep the mind full of the body”, while Shosan Victoria Austin, in “Zen or Yoga” reminds us that “mind is not in the brain: mind permeates the whole.” And Sarah Powers, in “Mind and Body at Ease”, describes a practice of “receptive attention”, becoming “fluid, flexible and adaptable” and “coming home to our bodies in a dignified way”.

The deepest yoga makes us realize that the infinite space of our heart is free of any form and is all forms at the same time. (Ming Qing Sifu, in “The Broad Tongue of the Tathagata: Spatial Breathing in Ch’an)

In “Brahma Vihara, Emptiness and Ethics” Christopher Key Chapple explores three points of contact between Buddhism and classical yoga; the practice of the Brahma Viharas of friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity; an understanding of emptiness as described in The Heart Sutra; and the practice of ethics, compiled as the yamas and niyamas. Many of the essays relate Hatha Yoga practice to the Buddha’s instructions on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, as well as practice instructions which focus on the body and the breath, in The Anapanati and Satipattana Suttas.

Michael Stone explains that “what Yogic and Buddhist teachings share is a radical challenge to the way we conceive spirituality.” New to me were the ways Patanjali, the author of “The Yoga Sutras” was influenced by the Buddha, and the counter culture roots of both the Buddhist and Hatha Yoga traditions. Both Shakyamuni Buddha and Patanjali questioned Brahminical orthodoxy and the rituals of the Vedic tradition.

Chip Hartranft describes how both the Buddhist path and Patanjali’s Hatha Yoga path rely on “direct seeing”, in a practice centered in the present moment.

What struck me as I finished the book was the depth of the commitment to practice of each of the authors, and their clarity in sharing their wisdom. I read the essays out of order, depending on my mood each day, and when I finished the last one I felt like I had been on an intensive Buddhist Yoga Retreat, led by the authors of these 13 beautiful essays. This book itself was an experience and, for me, the reading of it became a daily practice. I recommend this book as a valuable resource and encourage taking time to savor it.

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Buddhism in education

Buddhist meditation is justified in schools by its practical benefits. But there’s more to it than that.

As faith schooling from various traditions continues to grab headlines, the prospect of a specifically Buddhist education hasn’t been much mooted. School-based practices inspired by Buddhism, on the other hand, are starting to gain momentum. Last weekend, Goldie Hawn was enthusing about the British launch of her meditation in schools programme, while, on a slightly lower key note, mindfulness teaching has already been introduced in several private institutions – Wellington College and Tonbridge School among them. There are also initiatives to introduce meditation in the state sector, under the guidance of psychologists such as Mark Williams in Oxford.

It’s been said that Buddhism will establish itself in the west as a psychology rather than a religion, and that seems to be the case here – many of those introducing meditation to schools wouldn’t identify as Buddhists. And the rationale has been mostly scientific – among other benefits, meditation has been shown to foster attention skills, reduce aggression, and increase pro-social behaviour and relational abilities (among children and adults), as well as protecting against anxiety and depression.

That the practices have been presented in this positivist way is skilful – the prospect of teaching kids to pay attention is far more likely to spark educators’ interest than suggesting, hippie-style, that meditation will connect them to a deeper understanding of experience. But are the two claims really that different? A deeper understanding of experience doesn’t have to mean contacting an other-worldly state that reveals the secrets of the universe – in the context of meditation, it’s more likely to involve developing a here-and-now investigation of thoughts, feelings and events, and recognising how they interconnect to create our perception of the world.

The risk of presenting meditation purely in “here’s what you get out of it” terms is that it can come to seem like a technique for self-improvement, or self-control, when actually it is about self-letting-go, a deep dissembling from which a new understanding can come. Rather than offering a promise of betterment, or a false confidence based on faith, meditation can be a way of teaching doubt – the kind of creative uncertainty that can be a useful container for learning. By taking a different perspective on experience – watching it mindfully for a while, rather than getting so caught up in it, we can become more attuned to how our attitudes colour our world, and how the way we see things aren’t the way they necessarily are.

This isn’t quite the kind of scepticism that Richard Dawkins has suggested might be the kernel of an atheist schooling – as Andrew Brown has pointed out, the unspoken premise there is that doubt is taught according to a set of given rules, with an implicit discrediting of ideas which can’t – at least for now – be demonstrated. Instead, it’s more radical – a method for becoming more alive to our ever-changing experience (intellect, emotion, body sensation, event perception), and developing an understanding that to treat one element (or one moment,) as the arbiter of truth is to fixate and judge in a way that limits our view.

It’s the kind of wisdom that Socrates spoke of when he said that while he knew nothing, he knew something from not-knowing. Similarly, by investigating in a meditative way, we might get a little closer to recognising how our preconceptions afflict us. It’s an approach that might not just mean fewer fights in the playground, but the spread of a humility that underpins our continued search for answers – we can accept that it’s a struggle even to formulate good questions.

There wouldn’t be anything explicitly or exclusively Buddhist about such an education, and nor should there be (as Ajan Amaro says: “If you think you really are a Buddhist, you are totally lost!”). But it would honour the spirit of open-minded, fully-embodied inquiry that the Buddhist tradition at its best can offer.

[Ed Halliwell, The Guardian]
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The Best of Inquiring Mind: 25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight

Best of Inquiring Mind

Title: “The Best of Inquiring Mind: 25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight”
Author: edited by Barbara Gates and Wes Nisker.
Publisher: Wisdom Publications (2009).
ISBN: 0-86171-551-9
Available from: Amazon.com.

As the exceptional, essential new anthology The Best of Inquiring Mind: 25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight underscores for us, Inquiring Mind journal has been both a vital and heroic effort in English-language Buddhist media.

At a quarter-century in age, the biannual is one of the longest-standing publications for Dharma practitioners in North America—a survivor, a keeper, and an example. As publisher Alan Novidor so aptly puts it in his preface, the journal is generally regarded as “beautiful, honest, provocative, and simply presented.”

Co-founded and co-edited by Barbara Gates and Wes Nisker (who also put the book together), Inquiring Mind is staffed by six part-timers and a lot of volunteers. A labor of devotion to the Dharma and to others, there is no office or headquarters—it is assembled in the homes of its editors and staffers—and published on recycled newsprint.

Freely offered as dāna, it depends entirely on reader donations; and though it has been popularized at American Vipassana centers, it is neither “affiliated with” nor “subsidized by” any particular community or tradition, opting instead for a nonsectarian, independent approach.

Expressly dedicated to “the creative transmission of Buddhadharma to the West,” contributing authors have included such luminaries as Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy, Gary Snyder, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Allen Ginsberg, Rick Fields, Ayya Khema, Mark Epstein, S.N. Goenka, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Robert Thurman, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Noah Levine, Edward Espe Brown, and many others.

With such an incredibly rich archive to draw upon, the question can be asked: How best to distill Inquiring Mind down into a “Greatest Hits” volume? In the introduction to The Best of Inquiring Mind, Gates and Nisker articulate a sound vision: an anthology arranged into eight sections that best represent the issues and ideas pondered over in the pages of the journal. (Each issue of Inquiring Mind has revolved around one or two themes.) By doing this, the “mix of genres” and “mix of voices” that made the publication so distinctive are very well exhibited without making for an unwieldy book.

The editors are careful to note, however, that their volume nonetheless reflects gender and ethnic “imbalances” in Western Buddhism, as the authors are mostly male and white. Still, it would be difficult to fault the book for not presenting a fairly broad spectrum of genres—in particular, the inclusion of artwork at the beginning of each section highlights some other important ways of teaching dharma that are often neglected.

 Inquiring Mind is expressly dedicated to the creative transmission of Buddhadharma to the West  

The first section, “Path of the Elders: East Moving West,” seeks to chart and characterize the transmission of Theravāda Buddhism to the West. It includes interviews (with Goldstein, Goenka, Salzberg, Kabat-Zinn, and Ajahn Amaro); reflections on the great Dipa Ma (by Goldstein, Kornfield, Jack Engler, Carol Wilson, and Michele McDonald); and a conversation (between Nisker and Noah Levine). It also features a piece that should be required reading for all Western Buddhists: Jack Kornfield’s “Advice from the Dalai Lama,” which reports on the first historic meeting between His Holiness and a group of twenty-two Western Dharma teacher from various traditions.

The second section, “Living & Dying in a Body,” is a consistently fascinating, powerful, and unique portion of the book—in many ways, this small collection itself exemplifies what has been so special about Inquiring Mind. An exploration of “the flesh and its attendant joys and conflicts,” it immediately grabs a hold on the reader with Rick Kohn’s evocative poem “Mr. Lucky.”

Also brilliant and equally absorbing is Diana Winston’s reflection on being a nun and experiencing the “blessing” of her menstrual cycle, which served as a reminder of her “connection to the Earth and [herself] as a woman.” Former belly-dancer Terry Vandiver’s coming to grips with her age, Caitriona Reed’s meditation on gender identity, and Kate Lila Wheeler’s encouragement of us to include the “loathsome” in our practice are all also outstanding and extremely valuable in that they touch on issues and ideas not often mulled over in contemporary Buddhist writing.

Zen Hospice Project founder Frank Ostaseski’s “Stories of Lives Lived and Now Ending” and the late Rick Fields’ recollection about teaching a fellow cancer patient about the Medicine Buddha offer memorable insights from those looking death squarely in the eye. The section ends with an absolutely unforgettable piece by Ronna Kabatznik, entitled “Tsunami Psychologist,” about tending to survivors among the dead following the Southeast Asian tsunami that was caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

“Science of Mind,” the third section, considers the “new synthesis” of Eastern and Western ideas about the human mind. It includes interviews with scientists Paul Ekman and Francisco Varela, psychotherapist Epstein, and dharma teacher Kornfield. Additionally, Susan Moon contributes a fiercely honest reflection on her experience with depression as a devoted Buddhist practitioner.

 …deserves to find a home on every practitioner’s bookshelf…  

The fourth section on “The Dharma & The Drama” includes pieces about “the dramas of life…seen through the lens of Buddhist teachings.” Working from the story of Prince Siddhartha’s renunciation of his family, Norman Fischer provides a striking teaching on “the sacred and the lost.” Nina Wise vividly recalls a dinner with Carlos Castaneda that included an important lesson: “You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Gates, recognizing that “nothing can be thrown away” in meditation, composes a terrific love letter to garbage. In a very powerful teaching on facing fear, African-American teacher Charles Johnson confronts the memory of a near-lynching during a long retreat. Zen cook Brown’s funny story involving strawberry rhubarb tart cake makes for a fitting wrap-up.

The fifth section, “Complementary Paths,” delves into the issue of practicing in multiple traditions, borrowing from others, and creating new hybrid communities—distinctive trends in Western Buddhism. A typically incisive and provocative interview with Stephen Batchelor (who has practiced in the Tibetan, Korean Zen, and Theravāda Buddhist traditions) on the subject is the first of several interviews in this chunk of the book.

Also featured are interviews with Ram Dass, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and Hari Lal Poonja. Last is a wonderful conversation between Ani Tenzin Palmo, Ajahn Sundara, Ajahn Jitindriya, and Yvonne Rand about their harmonious experiences as nuns in various traditions.

“Practices,” the sixth section, showcases several riffs on specific practices and aspects of practice. Nisker reveals his rationale to practice in poetic, sometimes lighthearted form. Santikaro articulates mindfulness of breathing in technological language. Ayya Khema, Miranda Shaw, and Goldstein are interviewed about jhana practice, tantric practice, and “the undiluted Dhamma,” respectively.

Rev. Heng Sure memorably ponders humor as he recounts a three-year pilgrimage doing full prostrations for 800 miles along the California Coast Highway. This portion of the book concludes with one of Thurman’s classically quick-witted, razor-sharp teachings—this one on the importance of recognizing impermanence in practice.

“Artists & Jesters of the Dharma,” the seventh section of the book, looks at how the arts and humor are being used as “teaching tools and expressions of realization” here in the West. Judith Stronach, for example, finds koans in Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and an infectiously adulatory Patrick McMahon makes a case for Jack Kerouac as a Dharma ancestor.

There is also Anne Waldman’s astounding poem-cum-elegy about sitting with the corpse of her friend Allen Ginsberg, and Gates’ piece about all that “laundry-line images” evoke for her.

Movie buffs are sure to appreciate Andrew Cooper’s hilarious and imaginative film noir spin on the sutras as well. There are also three stimulating interviews in this section on Buddhist tricksters (Steven Goodman), the “music of sound” (John Cage), and teaching Beat poetry in China (Ginsberg, of course).

The last section, “Tending to the World,” brings forwards pieces that offer a sampling of the various ways socially engaged Buddhist practitioners have articulated what it is that they are doing. There are fabulous interviews with Joanna Macy, Gary Snyder, China Galland, and prison administrators Kiran Bedi and Lucia Meijer, as well as excellent conversation pieces on environmentalism (Julia Butterfly Hill and Ajahn Pasanno) and indigenous voices (Eduardo Duran, Lorain Fox Davis, and Tsultrim Allione). In addition, gardener Wendy Johnson, prisoner Jarvis Jay Masters, and public school teacher Naomi Baer offer colorful glimpses into their lives and work.

The Best of Inquiring Mind is a completely engrossing read and a significant record of a magnificent journal’s work. It’s rare to be able to say that a book deserves to find a home on every practitioner’s bookshelf, where it can continue to motivate and otherwise benefit the reader…and I can say that without hesitation about this book. I’ll be revisiting and drawing inspiration from it for a long, long time. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another twenty-five years for Volume II.

Rev. Danny FisherRev. Danny Fisher, M.Div., D.B.S. (Cand.), has written for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review; The Journal of Buddhist Ethics (forthcoming); The Journal of Religion & Film; Eastern Horizon; Dharma Life; New York Spirit; elephant journal; and many other publications. He was ordained as a lay Buddhist minister by the ecumenical Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California in 2008, and is certified as a mindfulness meditation instructor by Naropa University in association with Shambhala International. Visit him online at https://chaplaindanny.blogspot.com. [Photo by Pierre Rene Bouchard.]

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A day in the life: A monk on Fearless Mountain (Ukiah Daily Journal, CA)

Tony Anthony, The Ukiah Daily Journal: Ajahn Pasanno appears out of the woods, walks up a few steps and plunks himself down in a comfortable wicker chair on the front porch of Abhayagiri “Fearless Mountain” Monastery in Redwood Valley.

The day is coming to a close and the peace and the quiet of the place is what is noticeable. The only noise is the distant sound of a lawnmower, which almost seems to come from some other world, a world different from this one. Ajahn, means teacher and is used in place of a first name for the abbot of the monastery. Pasanno means “one having faith and joy,” the name his teacher bestowed on him when he was still a novice.

It is difficult to imagine Ajahn as a young man in a secular sense, now that he is of middle age, with a shaved head and clothed in a simple mustard-colored robe. It seems he was always this person he is now. But Ajahn’s journey began in the 1970s as a young man when he left his home in Manitoba, Canada after finishing his university studies to travel the far reaches of the world. He rambled through Europe, Afghanistan and India, not seeking to become a Buddhist monk but visiting various holy places along the way.

It wasn’t until he arrived in the north of Thailand that he began to feel a sense of belonging. In order to learn more about Buddhism, he attended some classes at a monastery called Wat Nong Bah north of Chiang Mai. “I was just passing through, but the Thai society seemed to have a whole different value system. I felt at home,” he said.

After a month-long stay, the Abbot of the monastery suggested the young man consider ordination with an initial goal of remaining three or four months. Although he was not yet sure what he was getting into, he was willing to give it a try. He took on the robes of a forest dwelling monk thinking it would be only for a short time that was the beginning of the life he still lives now, more than 30 years later.

“You are not required to make a life-long commitment,” Ajahn says, “It just happened.”

The monk says he didn’t have any intuition that he would lead a monastic life.

“When I began it was to learn how to meditate.” But, he says, “at one point, it didn’t seem possible to go back.”

Thus the young monk began a practice where monks wear plain robes and shave their heads in an effort to let go of their own personal preferences.

“Doing this, is about simplification,” Ajahn says. “We renounce the world because of the peace that comes from it. The quality of peace we can access and dwell in is deeply satisfying.

“I encourage people that peace and well-being are a possibility for your life – to explore that for your life. I encourage people to use the tools of a virtuous life.”

An Abhayagiri pamphlet lists the “The Eight Precepts” for leading such a life: 1. Harmlessness: not intentionally taking the life of any living creature. 2. Trustworthiness: not taking anything which is not given. 3. Celibacy: refraining from any sexual activity. 4. Right Speech: avoiding false, abusive or malicious speech. 5. Sobriety: not taking any intoxicating drink or drugs. 6. Renunciation: not eating after mid-day. 7. Restraint: Not seeking entertainment, playing radios or musical instruments. Dressing in a modest, unadorned way that does not attract attention. 8. Alertness: refraining from over-indulgence in sleep.

Choosing to live amidst the beauty that surrounds Fearless Mountain may not seem to be renouncing the world at all, but Ajahn Pasanno says, “we even try to renounce the beauty. Most people try to get more of everything. Then when they get more they feel a loss when they lose it and don’t have it anymore. Then they lament the separation.

“A monk gets to the place of stillness. It is not rejecting anything – it’s another aspect of life that most people don’t pay attention to.”

A gift of land

There are eight monks who live at Abhayagiri, plus one novice and one postulate in training, all living on 250 acres of almost untouched forest land, originally a gift from the late abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah – Master Hsuan Hua. Master Hua dreamed of bringing the Northern and Southern Traditions of Buddhism together again where they could relate in an atmosphere of mutual respect and harmony.

The monastery was founded by two teachers, Ajahn Sumedho, and Ajahn Amaro after they developed a devoted following in Northern California in the1980s. The original Abhayagiri was in ancient Sri Lanka at Anuradhapura and although it follows the Theravada branch of Buddhism, the monastery was known for accepting both teachers and practitioners from many different Buddhist traditions.

“The monastery currently has more people who want to come here and be monks than the facility can handle,” Ajahn says.

A monk named Sudanto, meaning “one who trains himself well” calls Abhayagiri, “a zone of peace people can use as a community resource.” He explains the monastery’s connection with the community as, “an interrelationship that keeps us (the monks) relevant, as a peaceful presence – people with deep knowledge and experience of the Buddhist teachings of peace and wholeness.”

A day in the life of a monk

The day on Fearless Mountain begins at 4 a.m. Then from 5-6 a.m. they begin their spiritual practice with meditation and chanting. These reflections set a tone of the mind during the day. 6:30-7 a.m. there are some general chores, cleaning up and a light breakfast. At 7:30 a.m. the monks meet to delegate chores – maintenance, cooking, office tasks and the job of maintaining the miles of trails which circle through the forests. After chores, the monks have their main meal from 10:30-11 a.m.

When it comes to food, the forest dwelling monks are alms mendicants. Not allowed to plant or pick their own food, they rely on gifts. The monks can be seen on Fridays walking through the center of town collecting gifts of food.

“This creates interdependence with the lay community. We don’t want to be completely cut off,”Ajahn said.

He explains this synergistic relationship. “People from the community come to the monastery to gain more simplicity, more well being. We give the opportunity for people to have the way of living, which is more peaceful, more fulfilling. Sharing our life is sort of the by-product. If one’s goal is to teach, it can be distorted. Refocus on the quality of our lives and that becomes an example to others.”

Ajahn is suddenly explaining some of the core elements of a monastic life. “The more the I’ can get out of the way, the more peaceful things become. The monks spend the remainder of the daylight hours in their cabins where they do various forms of meditation – both traditional sitting, and walking. Ajahn explains: “Outside each cabin is a level 50-foot path where the monks develop sustaining attention on the walking – recognition of words and mental states. ”

At 5:30 in the afternoon the community gathers once again for tea. This is the time for guidance by the teacher. Help also comes from the community at large – mental support from other monks. Even monks learn from each other’s foibles. Asked if monks maintain personality traits like senses of humor, Ajahn says that even ascetic monks remain individuals and some are known for their enlightened sense of humor.

At 6:30 p.m. there is a reading where monks can ask questions, then from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., evening chanting and meditation.

Many questions, of course, will arise even in those experiencing blissful states of mind. Ajahn explains, “of course there is a longing to repeat that experience. We don’t want to be dependent on anything. The enlightened are not dependent on anything for their happiness. Although,”he is quick to add, “there is a quality of compassion. But we strive for separation from attachments that create entanglements. We are conditioned to think we need certain things for our well-being.”

Too much eating or sleeping creates complications in life. Ajahn laughs as he mentions just how much of everything people seem to need to be happy. And then, he asks, are they ever really happy?

As the sun is ready to drop behind the mountains to the west, Ajahn Pasanno is eager to show a “walking meditation.” High up on the mountainside at the end of a path curving between the manzanita trees, is a small cabin where the monk spends most of his time in meditation. Beside the cabin is a 50-foot dirt path where he thoughtfully, mindfully walks with his eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open.

A gift from Thailand

During one evening recently, the Abhayagiri Monastery held a ceremony for the installation of a statue of the Buddha, a gift from a Thai donor. After the sun had set and the moon had risen, a delegation of monks – both resident and visiting but of the same forest tradition – sat on a wooden platform amongst the trees, chanting at the base of the statue. The scene was magical, with a hundred or more devotees from all parts of the country in attendance.

As the mountaintop had grown colder as the night grew later, the visiting abbot Ajahn Liam spoke in his native Pali, translated by Ajahn Pasanno for the western guests in attendance. “We might feel it is a bit cold – but nature is just being natural, natural to the climate and the season. It is just liking it or not liking it.” He went on to say, “Nobody wants to suffer, to experience discomfort.”

The moon was half full, sitting in the sky above the mountaintop, giving a golden glow to the resplendent life-size statue of a sitting Buddha. The breeze rushed through the trees making a sound much like ocean waves breaking on a shore. The monk’s point was that nature is always in the business of just being nature and it is up to humans not to be disturbed by the world around them. Then, only then, when we accept the world for what it truly is, are we able to see ourselves as we truly are – perfect, divine, awakened individuals – happy to be who we are.

Original article no longer available…

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