Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Don’t get swept away by emotions

If you are a good horseback rider, your mind can wander but you don’t fall off your horse. In the same way, whatever circumstances you encounter, if you are well trained in meditation, you don’t get swept away by emotions. Instead, they perk you up and your awareness increases.

Pema Chodron, "Bite-Sized Buddhism"

Received as
Daily Dharma from Tricycle.com on the 10th of November 2010


My experience of this kind of increase in awareness is when I manage stay in the present, in any situation. At work, at home, on the train, in conversation, when a particular emotion arises
and I am aware of it while staying in the present, there is a heightened feeling of being alive and in a kind of flow. Not being swept away. Riding the flow. Not following a particular emotion off into one story or another. And as Pema Chodron indicates, this applies across the board, not just to emotions. Emotions are strong distractions from the present for some people and in some circumstance, but for other people and at other times, phone calls, gossip, questions, the weather etc can be strong distractions.

I can easily be pulled away from the present when I am at work and it seems that phone calls and emails are piling up an endless list of tasks to do. I can easily fret and worry and turn away from the tasks at hand for a comforting distraction. And yet, when I stay present, the flow of emails and phone calls and requests for attention from colleagues can perk me up and I can dance with liveliness through all the tasks that need doing. I can ride on the flow of the present moment with just what is in front of me.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Dharma Reflections #Reverb10

You may have noticed the #reverb10 badge over on the right? I heard about Reverb 10 from @GwenBell via a retweet of @RowdyKittens and I thought I would participate by using the prompts to reflect on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010.

Perhaps you'd like to join in yourself?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Each bow is a chance to wake up #openpractice

Bowing is the act of our small self bowing to our true self. Our small self is the “I, my, me” that feels like a separate person. Our true self has no idea of being separate, because it is before all ideas and thinking. Each bow is a chance to wake up from the illusion that we are somehow separate from the universe. In the physicality of palms touching the mat, of knees on the ground, and of standing up again, there is only the activity of bowing.

Jane Dobisz
, "Up and Down"

Received as
Daily Dharma from Tricycle.com on the 21st of November 2010


In the full article Jane Dobisz shares that she does 300 prostrations (bows) each morning on a retreat and that Zen Master Seung Sahn did 1000 daily for a considerable number of years. 300 is quite something I imagine, having only ever done 108 prostrations in each session myself, let along 1000!

I have also read that for a considerable period of time during his early training Chan Master Sheng-yen did 500 prostrations each morning on top of his extensive monastic duties.

There is something incredibly powerful about bowing or prostrating that the quote above picks up on. As it notes in the full article, "We in the West don’t bow to anything or anyone. Not to God, not to Buddha, not to our parents, not to each other." And because of this, it seems to me that there is an enormous richness of practice and of life itself that we miss out on. And that is why my forehead will be on the floor 108 times tomorrow morning, as it was today...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Instant gratification

Consumer culture is modeled on instant gratification. We say we want a close relationship with a spiritual mentor, but when that mentor’s guidance challenges our desires or pushes our ego’s buttons too much, we stop seeking it. At the beginning of our practice, we profess to be earnest spiritual seekers, aiming for enlightenment. But after the practice has remedied our immediate problem - the emotional fallout of a divorce, grief at the loss of a loved one, or life’s myriad setbacks - our spiritual interest fades, and we once again seek happiness in possessions, romantic relationships, technology, and career.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, "Shopping the Dharma"

Received as
Daily Dharma from Tricycle.com on the 23rd of October 2010


What Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron writes is indeed very true for so many people. And at the same time it is so often true for myself, and no doubt others, in a more immediate sense even though we continue to practice diligently after "
the practice has remedied our immediate problem." When our teacher challenges us or our practice challenges us, who hasn't thought: "This isn't what I wanted for a spiritual practice"? And who hasn't been tempted after a marvellous experience of one kind or another to avoid further practice for a while to dwell on the experience and cherish it? "Best not meditate again too soon in case it turns out terrible and I forget the wonderful experience I just had!" Or the opposite: "Back to the cushion, I want some more!"

Instant gratification.

It's what so much of our current culture is about, it takes a concerted effort to turn away from it, to go against the stream. But if we want ourselves and others to be free, what choice do we have, really?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

There's no such thing as power-meditation #openpractice

Just as the title says, there is no such thing as power-meditation. It takes time, practice and diligence. And it takes patience to build up to sitting for longer periods.

Previously when I meditated using a stool, I was comfortable sitting for an unbroken period of 30 minutes regularly and repeatedly, 40 minutes comfortably and fairly often, and even a full hour on occasions. When I shifted to sitting cross-legged I had to start over by sitting for an unbroken period of only 5 minutes! I would then sit for 40 minutes using the stool as the 5 minutes cross-legged was as much about getting used to the posture and accepting the new sensations as it was about meditation. Part of the ongoing
adjustment process that is important for any long term practice. As I gradually got used to the posture and my flexibility increased, I built up to sitting for an unbroken period of 10 minutes, then 15 minutes and then 20 minutes. However, as the title implies, sitting for 5, 10 or 15 minutes isn't getting into meditation very much. Yes it can calm the mind a little and yes it can increase focus and attention, all of which are good and beneficial, and don't get me wrong, they are brilliant starting points for a practice, but these barely skim the surface of meditation. In my experience, 20 minutes is really just starting to touch on meditation. It allows enough time for the mind and the body to settle and for the method to start to take hold.

So I was very pleased when I decided to try sitting cross-legged for 30 minutes on Thursday and found that I could do it quite comfortably! So from Thursday I have changed from sitting 2 periods of 20 minutes to sitting a single period of 30 minutes. And today (Sunday) I sat for 2 periods of 30 minutes. During the second period a thought did come to mind that it could easily turn into a test of endurance rather than meditation. You know the kind I'm sure, where you silently bargain with yourself: "Just count 10 more breathes, it must almost be time! Focus, can't be long now...!" It didn't though and I was deeply grateful for the extended & deepened morning practice.

May sentient beings depart from suffering
May the vows of the donors be fulfilled.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Delivering Sentient Beings #openpractice

I've decided to share my practice activities on this blog in a "Open Practice" kind of way. See C4Chaos for more explanation on this idea as I've taken it directly from him as per his invitation! I was also somewhat stirred up by the passionate call of Everett Bogue in his blog post "Why We're Here" - what he expresses about his Yoga practice is how I feel about my Chan practice. I'm not sure what it will lead to or how regularly I will post like this but I want to explore. Do feel free to join in! Actually I'm a bit nervous about it as practice is rather a personal and intimate activity in my experience.

Taking the first of the month as a cue for no particular reason I altered my practice from Monday to include prostrations.

My current daily practice:

1. 5:30am wake up
Get out of bed and get dressed. (Seriously this is vital!)

8 Form Moving Meditation
I do a pared down version of the exercises outdoors, in the manner that I learnt them on retreats run by the
Western Chan Fellowship (I'm a fellow). Most WCF retreats involve early morning exercises outdoors and standing or sitting exercises indoors between some sitting meditation periods. Interestingly some of these exercises / meditations have been around a long time, for instance the Chan Master Tsung Tsai in George Crane's "Bones of the Master" did some of the same exercises when training as a young monk in Inner Mongolia.

3. Altar set up

I light 2 candles and 1 stick of
Sandalwood incense that burns for around 30 minutes, then I make a small water offering. Finally I blow out the candles again rather than leave them burning the whole time because I find them too smoky and too oxygen hungry!

4. Prostrations

I do 108 Chinese style full prostrations (not Tibetan style where they lie right down with arms out-stretched) in a continuous flow and count using my mala. I have the mala wrapped around my wrist 3 times (to stop it swinging around) and count the beads through my thumb each prostration. I also recite A-Mi-Tuo-Fo 阿弥陀佛 in my mind while prostrating to maintain focus and I place my attention closely on the exact movements of my body and posture the whole time. It's a pretty intense workout for the body and mind!

5. Sitting Meditation

First I do 15 minutes sitting meditation (left leg on right leg) and then changed position and do another 15 minutes sitting meditation (right leg on left leg). I simply place my attention on the breath and hold it gently there. In the last two days I have found myself caught up in thoughts, concerns and plans about work quite often and have had to consciously bring my attention back to the method each time.

6. Recitation
Finally I recite the Four Great Vows, the Three Refuges and then a Transfer of Merit, all taken from the WCF liturgy.

So that is a basic run-down of what I do for my daily practice. Of course the doing is only part of the equation.