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Archive for March, 2018

What a fascinating name for this chapter, “Contemplation of a Once-Tree.”  Here he takes us on a long walk in winter through a forest and spends the time sharing his thoughts on a dead tree in the woods. It brought up a vision of my first house that I lived in after I got married, it was damp and cold in the winter and hot and unbearable in the summer.

tree with buddhists half alive and half deadAs I read on he shared with the reader two important words in Buddhism anicca and dukkha in English impermanence and suffering. I did not live permanently in that cold old house, but I sure did suffer while I was there. That was, of course, before I began studying Buddhism!

Thus, when the opportunity arrived I left that place and moved to Florida where the winters were like springs in New Jersey. I moved into a brand-new townhouse and the summers were surrounded with every building and every car filled with air conditioning! No more dukkha!

Well almost…. instead I replaced it with too much traffic on A1A in the winter with all those “snowbirds” and vacationers.  As I read on I soon came to this line, “In all this immensity and motion our wisp of self becomes ridiculous (page 29).”[1]  I  started to notice that about myself after I began studying the principles of Unity and New Thought and then moved into the teachings of Buddhism.

I realized that I could make my life as happy or as sad as I wanted to.  I could make my days drag on like an endless winter freezing in the cold or melting in the heat of the relentless Florida sun. Or I could simply say “just this.” This choice is mine to make without any judgment, description, story, or emotion. Simply deal with what is…get into an air-conditioned vehicle or building, get a warmer coat or step into a place with heat.  Done!

Once a tree—once a person blaming my mistakes in life on everything and everyone but myself, my own thinking, and my own reactions to my own thoughts.  At least now I can catch myself when I begin to act like that old dying, feeling sorry for myself “tree,” and take a deep breath and say “just this” and move on!

[1] picture https://thaivillage72.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/the-old-man-who-made-the-dead-trees-blossom/

[2] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

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Landscapes of Wonder book coverIn this chapter Bhikkhu talks about meditation as not just something to do when you are at the zendo, on your cushion at home, or in your yoga class. It is to live a life filled with opportunities to “mediate” in each and every moment to be mindful and to be present!

He writes:

To be effective in revealing truth, meditation or bhavana must include mindfulness (satti). Mindfulness means pure attentiveness, an alert, impartial function of mind that simply notes whatever appears by way of the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mind itself.  Mindfulness does not cogitate, judge, or interpret; it only observes, naturally and without commentary, the actual character of an object or phenomenon (page 16-17). [1]

Wow!  Imagine how different your life would be if you walked around in a mindful way, without judgment, criticism, or expectation.  Without judgment!  I am not saying this effort won’t be difficult since we have been living a life filled with judgments and opinions and rules.  Yes, we need some so we won’t try to cross the street on the red instead of the green and won’t eat food that looks or smells spoiled and get food poisoning that’s for sure! But those are extremes.

I’d like for you to give this technique a try for just 5 minutes!  I’d like for you to simply go about your business focusing your thoughts on looking at things as they actually are.  This is a curb I need to step down.  Not—look at this curb it’s all busted up and the yellow paint is all chipped!  Where are my tax dollars going!?

You may be thinking I don’t have time to practice mindfulness or mediation I’m too busy!  Bhikkhu writes, “…insight meditation is not an extra duty to be piled on top of our already overburdened minds, but rather a way of looking more clearly at what is actually happening (page 18).”

He encourages us to “rouse and employ mindfulness in all situations, to perceive simply what is there, to note calmly and objectively the rising and the passing away of phenomena, specifically with regard to (1) the physical body; (2) pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings; (3) mind or consciousness and (4) mental objects (page 18).”

In doing so you will see your life and the external world more clearly and yet less judgmentally.  You will see it just as it is.  He goes on to recommend that there is, “No need to comment on these; mindfulness merely notices, holding on to nothing. Likewise, the mind entertains countless ideas and perceptions.  They all come and go, come and go—and the consistent, moment by moment observations of these is meditation (page 19).

So, if you think in order to be meditating you have to be sitting on your cushion, or at the beach, or in the mountains you are wrong! When you find yourself focused on this “moment” without judgment you are meditating!  How easy is that…simply live in the now moment not in the past not in the future.  What a novel idea! Let me know how it goes!

[1] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

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On the second page of this chapter Bhikkhu writes this question, “How did we ever fall to this bondage (page 2)?”[1] It made me stop to think about my life and the bondages I have created for myself.  The bondage of perfection, hope, fear, lack, hopelessness, and suffering. As I read I wondered if I could ever break these chains.

He answered my question when he wrote, “The Pali word ‘Dhamma’ (Dharma in Sanskrit) means true nature, the fundamental, liberating facts of reality and the course of practice that leads to deliverance from all suffering. But the path of Dhamma is a way without extremes.”  And so, I thought about my day and wondered how often I have gone to extremes and how those extremes affected my day.

cartoon-b-c-words-slip-outExtreme #1:  Woke up as usual at 5:15 to get ready to go to Zen and the coffee was not made and ready for me to enjoy in my morning ritual—reaction anger and not so nice words.

Extreme #2:  I love apple pie so I bought a nice one and baked it in my oven. Wow did that smell delicious! I proceeded to eat a piece after supper, then for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and an evening snack the next day.  Hmmmm

Now I know these are not “cardinal sins” as they say in Catholicism but they sure did not make my life devoid of suffering or bondage.  And they were definitely not the way “without extremes.”

He goes on to write: The Dhamma beautifully encompasses the twin problems of thoughtful people: how to get along serenely day to day in the toils of the world, and how to overcome the world and all its suffering forever (page 5).”[2]  He points often in this chapter to our “ignorance” as a catalyst to our suffering.  He writes “When ignorance is destroyed and craving withers away, greed, hatred, and delusion cannot come to be, and suffering, cut off at the roots, must expire and disappear.  Then there can no longer be any mental affliction, or spiritual uncertainty, or confusion.  The perfected one sees the universe just as it is, and experiences what the Buddha called ‘that unshakable deliverance of the heart (page 7-8).’”[3]

“We can achieve deliverance by consciously cutting through the bonds we have tied around ourselves, by resisting and ultimately destroying greed, hatred, and delusion, by making a final end of ignorant craving. However sharp the hunger, however keen the pain, nobody gets out of the jungle of troubles without making a sustained, personal effort (page 9).”[4]

And finally, he writes, “The Buddhist goes by way of Dhamma—the middle—way and does the walking alone, stumbles and gets up again, picks off the thorns, gets in the open and stays there with determined effort—no slave to false hope, no listless idler, and yet no superman: just a thinking being who has become convinced that the fearful storms of the universe are born in and burst out of his own heart and that nobody can quell them but him. (page 9-10).[5]

I wish for you a beautiful middle way, a forest with less and less thorns, and fewer and fewer storms all overcome by your budding unshakable heart.

[1] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

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Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano writes in his introduction:Landscapes of Wonder book cover

The faith of the Buddhist grows out of experience fortified by instruction.  The Buddha shows how to make the journey out of suffering to emancipation, and if we feel quickening of interest we can take steps ourselves to investigate and to test what we have learned. This collection of essays is about finding the right direction and then moving forward with mindfulness and deliberation (page xi).

I hope that sharing these ideas and my musings about them will help you discover the power of your practice, to allow it to enlighten and brighten your life, to help bring you to a place of peace, love, and compassion for self and others each and every day.

This journey is never an easy one because we are required to look within, to set aside time to mediate, contemplate, and to push through our fears, anxieties, old beliefs, and doubts.  However, with determination, concentration, and support from the author and others on the path all things are possible!

Bhikkhu goes on to write:

Fortunately the teaching of the Buddha is universal, giving us the chance not just to admire what others have admired but to make our own search—to observe, meditate, and discover through our own efforts (page xii).

Thus, it does not matter if you were raised in a non-religious household or a religious one of any denomination or teaching truth is truth no matter where it comes from.  In your life I know that you have discovered what you believe through actions propelled from book learning, intuition, help from another, or seemingly by accident.  It does not matter how it came the important thing is that it did.  It gave you that cosmic AH HA! Or Yikes—Or Oh my god!  It could have felt like you were hit with a hammer, a banana, or a cream pie, but hit you were!

I hope our wandering through this wonderful book will give you many cosmic experiences! Good luck with that…

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