Sunday, September 20, 2020
Beginning November 1, 2020, we will be having a Sunday evening meditation at Wat Phothisomphan, 2560 SE 14th Street, Des Moines. The hall is quite large, more than 4,000 square feet, so we’ll have plenty of room to distance socially. We’ll also be wearing masks to protect each other.
Here are some thoughts on group meditation.
In a broad, general sense, most people meditate for the “benefits” outside of meditation, not just for the meditation experience itself. Some folks meditate to gain enlightenment, some for esoteric knowledge, some for “union” with God or Brahman or Ultimate Reality, some because it is part of a “program.” Meditation in a group seems to “deepen” or “enhance” progress towards whatever goal they have. I think a lot of this has to do with the environment group meditation creates, but some would talk about shared energies, good vibes, and so forth. Whatever explanation one chooses, group meditation is, at times, very profound. People who meditate together commonly report a buoyancy that the group provides, carrying them further into meditation than they could travel alone.
For most people, meditation is part of a lifestyle. Meditating in a group can help to reinforce that lifestyle. It is comforting, exciting, and sustaining to be a part of a shared activity. Or, in the case of meditation, perhaps a shared non-activity? <GRIN> Shared activities, in this case group meditation, can also build a sense of fellowship; of belonging to a community. We experience the company of “like-minded” others. In the midst of “doing nothing” together, there is often a shared experience of “meaningful togetherness.” Bonds form and relationships deepen.
With time, the group builds an environment of trust and confidentiality, and the members will talk about their inner and outer experiences (and their interpretations of those experiences), what difficulties they might have encountered in their practice and ways they have surmounted them. When we discover that other people have encountered many of the same difficulties, and have discovered ways to overcome them, we are less likely to feel discouraged during the “dry spells” which we all endure, or to get overly inflated when we experience those elevating “highs” meditation produces. Solitary meditators – those who never practice with a group – are more likely to misunderstand their experience, and to get frustrated by the bogs and marshes they stumble into.
One of the most frequently encountered difficulties is incorporating practice into one’s daily life. Group practice offers opportunities to explore with others how they have managed to do this, and also helps motivate us to continue to practice. Meditating with a group can provide the motivation we need to find time to practice.
Group meditation can also further our knowledge and understanding of meditation itself. We can listen and ask of others about their experiences. If there is a Teacher, Master, Guru, Guide, etc., we can check our practice, gain understanding of the nuances of practice, and perhaps learn new techniques. We may also be able to roughly judge where we are on our path to our goals. We can learn from the other members’ feedback. If we talk about our experiences and problems and success, other group members’ feedback can help us to understand what is occurring. We discover that the other people are having many of the same experiences.
It has been pointed out to me than many people who practice meditation are individualistic and/or non-conformist, and “groups” don’t fit their lifestyle. This is true. To be part of a group means we must conform in some ways. For example, there are “time” issues. The day or time of day may not be to our liking. The length of time the group meditates may differ from the time we meditate. Some people meditate for 15 or 20 minutes, and some mediate fro one or two hours or longer. While some groups will allow meditators to come and go during group sessions, others are quite strict about conforming. If one’s ideas about how a group is to function are in conflict with the way the group functions, stress (dukkha?) ensues. These are issues for discussion. Some folks may choose to not be part of a group.
It has been pointed out to me that it is common for a number of different “ideologies” to be found among meditators, and that explanations of experiences and techniques usually reflect those ideologies. Do I expect everyone who is a member of the a group to subscribe to my ideology? Honestly, no. We of differing ideologies and diverse personalities find “common ground” in the silence of group meditation. Since there's nothing to argue about in silence, meditators from different traditions and ideologies can practice together and support each other. Furthermore, membership in a group where there is respect and trust can provide opportunities for investigating the “Truth” statements put forth by myself and others. And I encourage everyone to investigate!
I was recently asked the question: “What qualifies you to lead a mediation group?” The short – and smart-alecky – answer was “Well, I can read a clock, I have the hand-eye coordination to ring a bell, and I can count to three.” But I knew the person was really questioning my “authority.” So I explained that the regular practice of meditation is sort of like an extended visit to a strange city. One wants to find someone familiar with the layout of the city, but also someone knowledgeable about the good restaurants, the bad neighborhoods, and where to get the best price on good incense. I’m that someone. I’ve practiced regularly for more than 40 years, and I’ve studied for that long, or maybe even a little longer. I know the “territory,” and have functioned as a guide for more than 30 years. And nobody’s gotten lost.
So, if anyone wants to join us, every Sunday we have scheduled the start time as 6:30 p.m. for now. We can adjust that earlier or later as the group needs.
Hope to see you November 1st!
Life is a struggle. Suffering is optional.
Thursday, July 16, 2020
It is a strange time to be a Buddhist in the United States. So much hate.
Buddhist training/practice leads to the development of an accurate perception, an accurate assessment of “self.” Buddhist training/practice leads to the development of perceptual acuity, objectivity and critical thinking. At the same time, Buddhist training/practice leads to the development of compassion and lovingkindness. Buddhist training/practice leads to the development of a moral sense. For many, Buddhist training/practice leads to the active engagement with the world while renouncing hate.
So much hate.
There’s a lot of hate being spewed out there. Hate towards the police. Hate towards the government. Hate towards people of color; Blacks and Browns. Hate towards Whites. Hate towards Asians. Hate towards LGBQT.
There’s hate aimed towards Conservatives, Liberals, Reactionaries, Progressives. I see/read/hear hate towards Joe Biden; towards Donald Trump. Hate is being aimed at senators, representatives, state and local legislators, governors, mayors, council-people, and the like.
Hate is aimed at Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and a myriad of less-well known religious groups.
Hate is aimed at the poor, and at the rich. At the homeless and at the mentally ill. Hate is aimed at the well-educated, and the poorly educated, and at the uneducated.
So much hate. Reminds me of some of the lyrics from a 1970-something song by Kris Kristofferson:
“Eggheads cussing rednecks cussing
Hippies for their hair
Others laugh at straights who laugh at
Freaks who laugh at squares
Some folks hate the Whites
Who hate the Blacks who hate the Klan
Most of us hate anything that
We don’t understand.
Cause everybody’s got to have somebody to look down on.
Who they can feel better than at any time they please.
Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty decent folks can frown on.
If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me.”
-0- Jesus Was A Capricorn by Kris Kristofferson -0-
Hate is, as we know, the expression of a strong emotional attachment to a desire for things be a way other than the way they are. Hate is attachment to wanting things to be “my way,” and not the way we perceive them to be. Hate is a pattern of thoughts, words, and deeds. Hate is often a self-justifying mechanism for those thoughts, words and deeds. And when we dig into hate – the thoughts, words, and deeds – we find hate to be a lot more complex that what I’ve just described. Hate has sociological, anthropological, biological, psychological and historical aspects to it. But simplistically, we aren’t getting what we want, and we blame the object of our hate as the cause. We want things to change and they don’t. We want things to remain as they are, and they change. We blame the object/person/people for the reason(s) things aren’t the way we want them to be. We have some picture of a “better” world, or a “better” society, or a “better” life, and the object of our hate is keeping us from realizing that picture. We believe things would be “right” if the object of our hate didn’t exist.
As we know, most of the time our beliefs regarding the object(s) of our hate, our situation, our displeasure, are delusional. Our beliefs don’t accord with objective reality. But we cling to them anyway. We cling to our ignorance.
Hate and fear are often emotional siblings. We fear something, and we learn to hate it. Fear operates pretty much the same way as hate. We want, or expect, reality to be a certain way, and when it’s not we experience that emotionally as a “loss’ or a “threat” of loss. The hormones kick in, and we feel a strong need to act to rid our reality of the source of that threat or loss. Of the source of that discomfort.
Hatred is learned. We cling to our delusions, we cling to our ignorance because our beliefs are so emotionally charged. We REALLY want Reality to conform to our wishes, our desires.
Hatred can be unlearned. Buddhist training/practice can help.
Something to think about.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Words Are Goopy!
These are troubled times, no doubt. And while there are lots of contributing factors, one of them is the fact that words are goopy. Any give word, or set of words for that matter, can have more than one meaning. And correctly so.
So maybe if we practice good communication, in Buddhist parlance, “Right Speech,” we might start contributing to lessening the troubles. For example, there’s a phrase floating around, “Black Lives Matter.” And it is obvious that not everybody gets the same meaning from that phrase. For some people it is the name of a movement whose aim is to eradicate white supremacy, a campaign against the violence and racism so prevalent in our society, an effort to bring justice, healing and freedom to black people. For some, “Black Lives Matter” is an anthem, a rousing and uplifting chant, used to rally the troops, to add energy and momentum to marches. For others, “Black Lives Matter” seems to be something akin to a slogan, a motto, a memorable phase to advertise a cause. Sometimes it seems to be “code” in one language which isn’t “decoded” very well in an other language. And for a lot of people it is a phrase which divides people into “us” and “them.” It pits one group against another. It is an aggressive, in-your-face challenge. Using the phrase, “Black Lives Matter” is a threat.
And for everybody, it points to a problem.
Might I suggest that good communication is important if we are to solve some of the problems we’re facing right now? So if I ask you, “What do you mean by ‘Black Lives Matter’ please don’t get upset. I’m aware that the phase can have many meanings, and I’m wanting to understand what you are saying. If I ask you to define what you mean by “Fake News,” it’s not that I’m disputing what you’re saying, I’m trying to understand what you’re saying.
Bear with me. Be patient. Be kind.
Be clear in your thoughts, words and deeds. Practice Right Speech. It will go a long way in solving our problems.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
I was recently chastised for being too “political” in my postings on Facebook. Well, it seems to me that one function of the saṅghā is to bring the Dhamma to the people. And if doing so fits in the genre, “political,” so be it. But before we dismiss it so easily, let’s kick some ideas around a bit.
The Dhamma teaches us that the “Human Condition” is characterized by three distinguishing qualities: aniccā, anattā and dukkhā. “Aniccā” is the concept of impermanence and transitoriness. Nothing lasts forever, and while things exist they are undergoing constant change. “Anattā” asserts the negation of the Brahminic doctrine of “Atta” (Ātman). And “dukkhā” is the central problem addressed by the Dhamma. “Dukkhā” is that state of being in which we find ourselves when our desires and perceptions are not congruent with Reality. Sort of an academic definition, but what it means is that when we don’t get stuff we want (or get stuff we don’t want), and when our thinking about how Reality is or should be turns out to be inaccurate, we get upset. The more committed we are to thinking/feeling that we should (always) get what we want, or that Reality should be exactly the way we want it to be, the greater our distress. That distress is manifest in a whole range of behaviors – thoughts, words and deeds.
So, how is it we get into this state of dukkhā? To explain that takes us to a couple of defining characteristics of Human Nature – that is what it means to be human.
When humans are born, we are totally lacking in knowledge, wisdom, and insightful understanding. And when we’re born, we are totally consumed with self-gratification. The Pāḷi word for this first trait is “avijjā,” (ignorance, delusion) and the Pāḷi word for the second is “taņhā,” literally, “thirst,” but desire, clinging, greed, attachment and many other words have been used to translate the concept. The mechanism works something like this: the less grasp we have of Reality as it is, as opposed to how we want it to be, or think it should be, coupled with a greater or lesser desire for Reality to conform to how we want it to be, or think it should be, results in an emotional reaction. When we let our thoughts, words and deeds be controlled by those emotional reactions, we experience dukkhā. And we create all sorts of difficulties for ourselves and for others.
“All very well and good!” you say, “But what has this to do with you being political on Facebook?” Ah, thank you for asking.
“Politics” points to the many concepts, doctrines, practices, activities, etc., associated with how people live in groups. How we set about to make a particular community, or society, or polity work. In some sense, “politics” is all about the distribution of power within a group. Who gets to make the important decisions, and who gets to enforce the rules, and who’s will gets imposed on the rest of the group. There are many forms of political organization: secular, religious, autocratic, despotic, monarchy, oligarchy, theocracy, etc. In the U.S. we are set up as a secular, pluralistic, representative democracy. Being secular means we don’t impose any particular set of religious beliefs on how that power is distributed. Pluralism recognizes the existence of any number of diverse and competing interests and calls for us to be considerate of the interests of others. Representative democracy points out that we, the people, are the final authority on the distribution of power, and that we pick folks who share our values, views, and ideals. to make the rules and make the decisions about how power is to be distributed. Being a “good” citizen of such a form of government requires that we a) be informed [look at other postings on Right Knowledge], and b) we participate. We make our voices heard.
So, to tie this all together (or to attempt to), as a member of the saṅghā (one who lives and teaches the Dhamma), living in a secular, pluralistic, representative democracy, it is my responsibility (duty perhaps) to point up instances of avijjā and taņhā when they occur in the process of governing, and to make an effort to enlighten and alleviate these conditions. When political leadership displays ignorance, and the propensity for self-gratification over lovingkindness (mettā), compassion (karunā), and joy in others well-being (muditā), we are obligated to speak up, and to act.
So, label it political if you want. Chastise me if you want. I’m just trying to be a good Buddhist. A good teacher. A good bhikkhu. A good Buddhist monk.