Archive for May, 2012

Self Arising by Kim Woodward

May 28, 2012

I was driving back from Shasta Abbey last weekend and listening to a teaching by Mark Epstein, a Buddhist practitioner and teacher and clinical psychiatrist, on working with the emotions. Mark was teaching that it is a common error to think that meditation is a tool to  eliminate the emotions. Instead, the practice is to notice them arising and work skillfully with them. Periodically in the teaching, he asked the listener to join in a short meditation.

I always find it interesting when I’m listening to a teaching on the road and am asked to meditate. Often the teacher says “Close your eyes.” Not such a good idea at 65 mph. But I do find a kind of meditation while driving not only possible but quite interesting. Many of us have had the experience when driving of suddenly realizing we can’t remember the last ten minutes. We have moved miles in the car thinking of something else and suddenly awaken to the fact we are further on our journey with no memory of the last few miles. Clearly we have driven the car safely and competently (we didn’t run off the road or hit anything). So we do not need to have our whole mind engaged in the process of driving. There is room for listening to a teaching and for some type of meditation. For myself, I find it helpful to sit straight in the driver’s seat and take the wheel equally with both hands. Then I bring my thoughts fully to the act of driving. This is almost like using the breath as the object of meditation, which I do if I become particularly distracted in my daily sitting meditation. I find driving can become a very meditative experience in this way.

At one point in the teaching, Mark asked that the listener move into the space of meditation and pay particular attention to thoughts arising and to notice when self arose. What triggered it? What were the thoughts and emotions associated with self arising? I did this and found that while driving as meditation, self co-arose with other. Not before and not as a result of, but simultaneously. When I noticed self, I was noticing other. It might be another driver driving in a way I found irritating or dangerous. It might be my own speed requiring my full engagement and attention. But in every case, regardless of the particular circumstance, self and other were two sides of the arising. When I was just in the driving as meditation, the road was flowing beneath, the scenery was passing, other cars were in front or behind or passing in the other direction, and there was really no “me”. It was just the flow. When self and other co-arose, I noticed that often (always?) there was some defensive emotion (fear or anger) associated with the arising. In the few cases where a defensive emotion did not manifest, feelings of desire were present (I love that car!!).

When I was just driving… anatta!

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A Small Precepts Ceremony at Shasta Abbey by Andrea Spark

May 20, 2012

Last month a member of our meditation group took part in a ceremony in the Buddha Hall at Shasta Abbey in which she solemnly vowed to live her life within the mandala of the Buddhist Precepts. The celebrant for the ceremony was Rev. Astor Douglas, assisting her were Rev. Master Shiko Rom, Rev. Master Jisho Perry and Rev. Helen Cummings. Rev. Vivian Gruenenfelder was one of the group of witnesses.

Although such a ceremony held at the request of the new Buddhist is an abbreviated version of the Jukai ceremonies which are held each year at the Abbey and therefore shorter, it is not any less meaningful. As I sat watching and listening to this ceremony I was struck repeatedly by the solemnity, care and gentleness of it all. The other three witnesses and myself were seated in the spacious Buddha Hall facing a small altar in front of and to the  right of the main altar. Doreen, the new Buddhist, was invited forward to kneel at the small altar behind which sat Rev. Astor. To either side of them were Rev. Master Jisho, and Rev. Master Shiko. Our group were the only people in the hall and yet it was not empty. As the Precepts were offered to Doreen, we joined our response with hers in a soft-spoken reaffirmation of our own intention to keep them. It was a very moving ceremony. I have only been to one other Jukai besides my own nearly 35 years ago. This one reflected back to me all these years of training and I realized that we don’t “take the Precepts” as individuals. I too, was being given the Precepts  together with Doreen and all the other beings in that Buddha Hall. They are offered to us as signposts to use as we walk on the Path. By choosing them rather than our ancient habit-energies as a source of guidance we  naturally become less inclined to do harm.

Receiving the Precepts and thus formally committing oneself to deepening one’s training as a Buddhist practitioner is one of the most important steps one can take in the quest for self realization. It publicly affirms one’s desire to begin lessening the impact of our greed, anger and delusion. As we then begin to truly look at ourselves through the mirror of meditation and  preceptual living, we catch glimpses of a kinder, more thoughtful and compassionate being that is actually right there inside just waiting to be let out into the world.

At a cursory reading, the 16 Precepts may seem to be simply another list of prohibitions. And if that’s as far as you see, that’s as far as you get. Although they may be simply written, as you bring them into your awareness each day their meaning becomes less clear and more complex. This work of burrowing into, of chewing on the Precepts seems to let you gradually become aware of your interactions with yourself and others. As you digest them and they become more and more a part of you, their kaleidoscopic nature becomes evident. They expand and contract as we breathe through our day. They sustain our search for Truth.