Sunday, February 27, 2011

Barley, mindfulness, and yoga

Elizabeth led the first of what will be at least four yoga sessions before regular meditation. The sessions are oriented to beginners - and she's both very knowledgable and gentle!

Jeff provided the reading. Actually, he read several selections. Here is one of them: It's from the Milindapañha, a Buddhist text dating from approximately 100 BCE. It is supposedly the record of a dialog between the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Milinda in Pali) of Bactria, who reigned in the 2nd century BCE, and the sage Nāgasena. Menander was interested in Buddhist thought - and the sage tried to answer his questions.

The king said: "Is it through wise attention that people become exempt from further rebirth?" — "Yes, that is due to wise attention, and also to wisdom, and the other wholesome dharmas." — "But is not wise attention the same as wisdom?" — "No, Your Majesty. Attention is one thing, and wisdom another. Sheep and goats, oxen and buffaloes, camels and asses have attention, but wisdom they have not." — "Well put, Venerable Nagasena."

The king said: "What is the mark of attention, and what is the mark of wisdom?" — "Consideration is the mark of attention, cutting off that of wisdom." — "How is that? Give me a simile." — "You know barley-reapers, I suppose?" — "Yes, I do." — "How then do they reap the barley?" — "With the left hand they seize a bunch of barley, in the right hand they hold a sickle, and they cut the barley off with that sickle." — "Just so, Your Majesty, the yogin seizes his mental processes with his attention, and by his wisdom he cuts off the defilements." — "Well put, Venerable Nagasena."


Of course, the text continues from there. Jeff did not read the whole thing. Just in case you are curious, here it is....


The king said: "When you just spoke of 'the other wholesome dharmas,' which ones did you mean?" — "I meant morality, faith, vigor, mindfulness and concentration." — "And what is the mark of morality?" — "Morality has the mark of providing a basis for all wholesome dharmas, whatever they may be. When based on morality, all the wholesome dharmas will not dwindle away." — "Give me an illustration." — "As all plants and animals which increase, grow, and prosper, do so with the earth as their support, with the earth as their basis, just so the yogin, with morality as his support, with morality as his basis, develops the five cardinal virtues, i.e., the cardinal virtues of faith, vigor, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom."

"Give me a further illustration."

"As the builder of a city when constructing a town first of all clears the site, removes all stumps and thorns, and levels it; and only after that he lays out and marks off the roads and cross-roads, and so builds the city, even so the yogin develops the five cardinal virtues with morality as his support, with morality as his basis."

The king said: "What is the mark of faith?" — "Faith makes serene, and it leaps forward." — "And how does faith make serene?" — "When faith arises it arrests the five hindrances, and the heart becomes free from them, clear, serene and undisturbed." — "Give me an illustration." — "A universal monarch might on his way, together with his fourfold army, cross over a small stream. Stirred up by the elephants and horses, by the chariots and infantry, the water would become disturbed, agitated and muddy. Having crossed over, the universal monarch would order his men to bring some water for him to drink. But the king would possess a miraculous water-clearing gem, and his men, in obedience to his command, would throw it into the stream. Then at once all fragments of vegetation would float away, the mud would settle at the bottom, the stream would become clear, serene and undisturbed, and fit to be drunk by the universal monarch. Here the stream corresponds to the heart, the monarch's men to the yogin, the fragments of vegetation and the mud to the defilements, and the miraculous water-clearing gem to faith."

"And how does faith leap forward?" — "When the yogin sees that the hearts of others have been set free, he leaps forward, by way of aspiration, to the various fruits of the holy life, and he makes efforts to attain the yet unattained, to find the yet unfound, to realize the yet unrealized." — "Give me an illustration." — "Suppose that a great cloud were to burst over a hill-slope. The water then would flow down the slope, would first fill all the hill's clefts, fissures, and gullies, and would then run into the river below, making its banks overflow on both sides. Now suppose further that a great crowd of people had come along, and unable to size up either the width or the depth of the river, should stand frightened and hesitating on the bank. But then some man would come along, who, conscious of his own strength and power, would firmly tie on his own loin-cloth and jump across the river. And the great crowd of people, seeing him on the other side, would cross likewise. Even so the yogin, when he has seen that the hearts of others have been set free, leaps forward, by aspiration, to the various fruits of the holy life, and he makes efforts to attain the yet unattained, to find the yet unfound, to realize the yet unrealized. And this is what the Lord has said in the Samyutta Nikaya:

By faith the flood is crossed,
By wakefulness the sea;
By vigor ill is passed;
By wisdom cleansed is he."
"Well put, Nagasena!"

The king asked: "And what is the mark of vigor?" — "Vigor props up, and, when propped up by vigor, all the wholesome dharmas do not dwindle away." — "Give me a simile." — "If a man's house were falling down, he would prop it up with a new piece of wood, and, so supported, that house would not collapse."

The king asked: "And what is the mark of mindfulness?" — "Calling to mind and taking up."

"How is calling to mind a mark of mindfulness?" — "When mindfulness arises, one calls to mind the dharmas which participate in what is wholesome and unwholesome, blamable and blameless, inferior and sublime, dark and light, i.e., these are the four applications of mindfulness, these the four right efforts, these the four roads to psychic power, these the five cardinal virtues, these the five powers, these the seven limbs of enlightenment, this is the holy eightfold path; this is calm, this insight, this knowledge and this emancipation. Thereafter the yogin tends those dharmas which should be tended, and he does not tend those which should not be tended; he partakes of those dharmas which should be followed, and he does not partake of those which should not be followed. It is in this sense that calling to mind is a mark of mindfulness." — "Give me a simile." — "It is like the treasurer of a universal monarch, who each morning and evening reminds his royal master of his magnificent assets: 'So many elephants you have, so many horses, so many chariots, so much infantry, so many gold coins, so much bullion, so much property; may Your Majesty bear this in mind.' In this way he calls to mind his master's wealth."

"And how does mindfulness take up?" — "When mindfulness arises, the outcome of beneficial and harmful dharmas is examined in this way: 'These dharmas are beneficial, these harmful; these dharmas are helpful, these unhelpful.' Thereafter the yogin removes the harmful dharmas, and takes up the beneficial ones; he removes the unhelpful dharmas, and takes up the helpful ones. It is in this sense that mindfulness takes up." — "Give me a comparison." — "It is like the invaluable adviser of a universal monarch who knows what is beneficial and what is harmful to his royal master, what is helpful and what is unhelpful. Thereafter what is harmful and unhelpful can be removed, what is beneficial and helpful can be taken up."

The king asked: "And what is the mark of concentration?" — "It stands at the head. Whatever wholesome dharmas there may be, they all are headed by concentration, they bend towards concentration, lead to concentration, incline to concentration." — "Give me a comparison." — "It is as with a building with a pointed roof: whatever rafters there are, they all converge on the top, bend towards the top, meet at the top, and the top occupies the most prominent place. So with concentration in relation to the other wholesome dharmas." — "Give me a further comparison." — "If a king were to enter battle with his fourfold army, then all his troops — the elephants, cavalry, chariots and infantry — would be headed by him, and would be ranged around him. Such is the position of concentration in relation to the other wholesome dharmas."

The king then asked: "What then is the mark of wisdom?" — "Cutting off is, as I said before, one mark of wisdom. In addition it illuminates." — "And how does wisdom illuminate?" — "When wisdom arises, it dispels the darkness of ignorance, generates the illumination of knowledge, sheds the light of cognition, and makes the holy truths stand out clearly. Thereafter the yogin, with his correct wisdom, can see impermanence, ill, and not-self." — "Give me a comparison." — "It is like a lamp which a man would take into a dark house. It would dispel the darkness, would illuminate, shed light, and make the forms in the house stands out clearly." — "Well put, Venerable Nagasena."

— Milindapañha,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Activities on Sunday

On Sunday, February 27, we have a bunch of special things happening before and after our regular sangha meeting.

At about 12:15, Elizabeth will be leading a free beginners yoga class at the Council House. Members of the sangha are more than welcome to participate. Wear comfortable & loose clothing. If you have an extra yoga mat, please bring it.

In Elizabeth’s words, this is what she has planned:

“Basic Sun Salutations with some poses inverted in the mix. Emphasis on alignment and breathing. I will do some assists. Gentle and Basic.”

We will start our regular meditation at 1 p.m.

Following the meditation and dharma talk, Meredith is going to talk to us about the garden out back. Members of the sangha helped out last year – turning over the earth, etc. Because Meredith has a Peace Corps gig, the sangha will have the opportunity to take a larger responsibility in preparing and tending to the garden.

Anyway – we’ll be talking about that after meditation – about 2:15 p.m. or so. Please hang around if you are interested in participating in this growing venture!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The following is an excerpt from the “Shobogenzo”, Dogen Kigen (1200-1253). This particular passage is the final section of the third fascicle, “Ikka Myoju” (The One Bright Pearl).

“This is why, even though it seems that, on the surface, things are either fluctuating or still, everything is the Bright Pearl. To know that this is precisely how the Jewel is, is what the Bright Pearl is. In this manner we can perceive the sounds and forms of the Bright Pearl. Because this is the way things can be, even though you may be uncertain about whether or not something is the Bright Pearl, you should have no doubt about whether or not there is the Jewel. Whether you actively pursue your doubts, cling to them, or let them go, they are simply momentary observations of little significance, fleeting images of small weight.

Do we not cherish the Bright Pearl with Its infinite variety of shades and hues like this? Its multifaceted, brilliantly hued sparkling is the merit of the universe throughout all its ten quarters; who can take this from you by force? After all, there is no one in any of the market places of this world who throws away a roof tile, so do not worry about which of the six worlds of existence you will fall into due to causality. Never hidden, It is, from the first, synonymous with always doing one’s training, and doing it consistently as well as thoroughly. The Bright Pearl is your Original Face: the Bright Pearl is your very Eye in all Its brightness.

Nevertheless, neither you nor I know precisely what this Bright Pearl is and precisely what It is not, but hundreds of notions and opinions about this subject all too obviously have become associated with ‘food for thought’. Now, through Shibi’s voicing of the Dharma, we have learned and had clarified for us the point that what appears as our body and mind is, and always has been, the Bright Pearl. Hence, the conscious mind is not what we are, so who is it that arises and passes away? Why worry yourself over whether or not something is the Bright Pearl? Even if you are perplexed as you grope along, do not think that this is not the Bright Pearl. Since there is no action or thought that can be generated that is not of the Bright Pearl, even your going back and forth, in and out of the demon’s cave within the black mountains is nothing other than the One Bright Pearl.”

The Power of Now

Judy read selections from the work of Eckhardt Tolle at today's meeting of the sangha. She chose readings from two books, but the one title I remember was The Power of Now. Following the reading and some discussion, she led us on a guided meditation to explore the space within us, becoming aware of the spaciousness that pervades our existence.

Next week, Anneli is going to provide the reading.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Meditation and the brain

For those of you who need scientific proof, researchers have determined that the benefits of meditation can by physically measured. In a recent report, researchers reported that people who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. Here's the New York Times article on the report.