Archive for May, 2007

Living by Reflection

Our experiences and interactions of the world are shaped by our thoughts. No two people are identical in their experiences, interactions or thoughts, thus the world is unique to each of us. Our reference point for the world is called our outlook or perspective. Perspective, however, is not true reality; it’s just one view point out of the potential many.

Two people look at a flower; one happy, the other sad. The way they see and relate to flower is different. The happy person smiles, seeing joy and vitality, the sad person feels lonely, seeing isolation and previous better times. These external reflections are based on internal conditions and emotions. The flower’s reality is unchanging regardless of perspective.
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More to Vipassana than S.N. Goenka?

Vipassana literal translation is Insight. Yet somewhere along the line I tied Vipassana totally to the practice of S.N. Goenka.

Listening to Gil Fronsdal, I picked up that he was a teacher at the Insight Meditation Centre. From there I re-discovered that insight meditation is Vipassana.

How could two totally different approaches and teachings be the same name? I was nearly exploding at this seemingly double bind I’d created for myself. I e-mailed the IMC asking for some clarification, and got a fantastic reply. In that they clarifying how both S.N. Goenka and Gil Fronsdal have Theravada Buddhism at their core. They then explained how the differences in teaching styles came about from this same tradation.

“Goenka emphasizes the second foundation/application of mindfulness described in the Satipatthana Sutta - which is to focus on mindfulness of “feeling tones” (pleasant, unpleasant, neither) as a path to liberation.

Gil’s teachings encompass a wider range of teachings from the Theravada tradition, employing a variety of approaches to develop mindfulness and other qualities/characteristics that support our development in following the path to liberation, rather than narrowing the focus to one specific technique”

My gut feeling/instict was telling me that Goenka was really locking in on one area, blocking the greater holistic methods upon how to live life through Dharma. The IMC has a great collection of books on the greater Vipassana practice if interested.

Living in the Moment

It’s very easy to get caught up in thought or ideas. Reality is outside our minds, it’s outside space, it’s outside time, and it has no bindings. It is as it is, always in the present, without any filters or concepts from us. The nature of our human consciousness is to see and accept things as they are, free from filters. In Ego, however, we no longer connect to reality with direct consciousness. In Ego, a filter is applied; the filter called self. It’s this self filter where our concepts, thoughts, and ideas are generally accessed from.

Thoughts and ideas aren’t by their nature bad, it’s when they are accessed through the self filter instead of with direct consciousness that we make mistakes. The self likes to think it knows everything, it likes to think it understands all concepts. Socrates said “Wisdom begins when we realize that we know nothing”. By this he means, when we access life from outside ego, when we make the direct connection to consciousness, only then do we begin to grow wise.

An experience of my own recently, brought about my understanding of this. I was watching the most amazing sunset, being present and watching it as it was happening. Then a thought popped up, about how nice it was to be watching the sunset, I then realised I was no longer watching the sunset and I was thinking about watching the sunset. At this point, I smiled at my mind thinking and came back to the present moment and started watching it again.

Practice Beyond The Books

Karl’s morning routing that included post-breakfast meditation caught my eye. It caught me so much I commented, Karl e-mailed and we began a discussion on the topic. It was slightly odd, but very rewarding for me. Our discussions led me to see the ‘theory only’ advice/teachings I was offering to Karl, valid as they are, were without direct experience or understanding from me.

Below is a condensed reply of our conversation, hopefully illuminating our key points and the flow things took. After that contains a small section on the lessons learnt. I hope, and believe this post illustrates the theory vs the actual present moment.

Conversation

Me: Biologically, energy is required to break down food, which removes the mental focus from meditation.

Karl: I sometimes like to use the breakfast as a way to channel my energy in a different direction.

Me: I pose openly put(ting) yourself at a disadvantage in your practice does not seem like a skillful application of the teaching.

Karl: Sometimes I meditate during my lunch break or after dinner because it’s better to meditate on a full stomach then not at all.

Me: Have you tried change the order of eat/sit with sit/eat for the lunch time sits? It’s the same amount of time in total, just a different order? In every method there are pitfalls, and there’s also no right answer. Our practice is a personal practice, and if it works for you, it works for you. Seeing other people’s approaches and perspective even makes me smile. It shows me the flexibility and the lack of strict routine in this. I like seeing a frame work that each and everyone can apply in a way that works for them. It demonstrates lay practice is possible, and this is not just something for monks.

Karl: I’m going to try meditating before I eat for the next several days and let you know what I think. I meditated first thing when I got up this morning. I had a hard time concentrating because I was still groggy, but it was easier to focus after a few minutes than after I eat.

Me: I’ve actually been meditating a few days after meals to see the difference from my side. “Live by experience” :)

The Lesson learnt?
The evolution of our discussion from theory to application, for me, is a great lesson about finding your own path and practice. Self experience, self examination are the core philosophies of Buddhism, not living in the text books, but living in the actual.

I also learnt that, personally, sitting after a meal is a hard sitting, but as Karl said, it is better than no sitting at all. Thanks Karl for this discussion and online version. I look forward to many more insightful discussions with you in the future.

Would you hear the music?

An Oscar and Grammy award winning Violinist is playing at the entrance to a train station, do you hear him play, or walk past in your own world?

Well, in DC where this was conducted

over a thousand people walked past as Joshua Bell performed. Only seven of them seemed to notice. That seven included a 3 year-old boy. Of the other 6, only a few stayed for more than a few moments before they rushed off.

I wonder if I would hear the music, or if I would be so caught up in my own world to pass on without even blinking at the performance. I know what I’d hope for, but the reality, is unsettling. A fantastic story, and lesson on mindfulness in the world. Would you hear the music? Really?

On Becoming a Person

What do you really know? Do you know what you don’t know? Are you working to know what you currently don’t know? Investigating and examining everything you know and bring it home to yourself, to see how you feel about it is how you become a person. Personally I know very little, I know a little of what I don’t know, and I’m trying to work on what I don’t know.

People are generally filled with views and opinions, most of which come from other people. When asked to explain or justify their views, they are often unsure as to why, or answer that such and such believes it so I believe it. Copying the wording of the original seed planter is also quite common. I find it scary that people accept what others say at such face value.
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Where are You on the path?

Ask yourself, where are you on the path? Checking in with yourself, is a great method for self-guidance. When honestly look at where you are, you’ll find yourself able to apply the specific doses of the specific medicines in the specific combinations you require, at this moment to get you back. You are your own best spiritual doctor on the path. Others may be of some help, but looking and listening to yourself is your best source of healing and helping.
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Buddhism + Google = Google Tech Talk(Video)

Google occasionally have external speakers giving talks to their employees, they call these Tech Talks. Technology, however, is by no means the only topics or speakers they get in.

This video, Change your Mind Change your Brain: The Inner Conditions for Authentic Happiness, is spoken by Matthieu Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist Monk of 25 years. In this he “examines the inner and outer factors that increase or diminish our sense of well-being, dissect the underlying mechanisms of happiness, and lead us to a way of looking at the mind itself”.

It’s most amazing for me to see two tools/items that I use so much being paired together in this fantastic, down to earth video.

(Ricard’s self-shot slide show The Himalayas, is in itself breath taking.)
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