Let’s Stand Up Together – Bhikkhu Bodhi

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In response to the intense turbulence of the last few months, and the immense outpouring of messages of resistance and support, adding my own not-so-articulate-or-informed opinions to all of that seemed redundant.  I’ve been staying quiet in terms of not posting, but active in terms of looking for ways to resist harmful energies, whichever country or community they’re emerging within.

The latest news in relation to changes in US immigration policy has been yet another wake-up call though.  I’m still struggling to find an appropriate response of my own, so in the meantime, here’s  a recent message from the North American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi that feels very relevant.

Let’s Stand Up Together – by Bhikkhu Bodhi

I recently came across a news report stating that 2,500 religious leaders had signed a petition urging Congress to reject Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees as “a cabinet of bigotry.” I looked over the list of signatories, designated by religion, and saw only one who identified as Buddhist. This observation reinforced my puzzlement as to why Buddhist teachers and leaders in the U.S. are not more outspoken in addressing issues of public concern. Considering that Buddhism is widely hailed as the preeminent religion of peace and compassion, why, I ask myself, aren’t we more visible as advocates of peace, basic sanity, and social justice?

We’re entering a turbulent time when it won’t be enough for us merely to adopt the dharma as a regimen of resilience, a means of maintaining inner balance against the shock waves rippling across the social landscape.

Granted, our numbers are small, but I don’t think that is the only reason for our reticence to speak up. Several other factors may also be involved. One is the adoption of the dharma as a path to personal happiness to be pursued mainly in the silence of the meditation hall. A second is the fear that political activism will fire up our passions and shatter our fragile calm. A third is the belief that active engagement with worldly events is an entanglement in illusion. And still a fourth is the view, widespread among dharma teachers, that we must welcome everyone and not risk alienating potential students by expressing our political convictions.

Now, I believe that teachers whose primary job is to teach the techniques of meditation practice should not expound their personal political views from the cushion. It’s also unfitting for heads of dharma centers to use their authority to endorse candidates for office or throw their community behind a political party. Nevertheless, I would draw a sharp line between political endorsement and advocating on public issues, and I would hold that to address such issues is well within a dharma teacher’s domain. Politics today is not merely a battleground over power and position; it is also an arena where great ethical contests are being fought, contests that have a crucial impact on everyone in this country and on this planet. If, from fear of upsetting others, dharma teachers shy away from addressing these critical matters, their silence could even be considered an abdication of their responsibility as spiritual leaders.

There are certain convictions that we as Buddhists hold and consider inviolable. We believe, for instance, that every human being possesses intrinsic dignity, that everyone should be treated fairly, that those fallen into hardship should be protected and given the chance to flourish, and that the resources of the earth should be used judiciously, out of respect for the delicate web of nature. The inauguration of Donald Trump as America’s new president is likely to strain each of these beliefs to new limits. We’re entering a turbulent time when it won’t be enough for us merely to adopt the dharma as a regimen of resilience, a means of maintaining inner balance against the shock waves rippling across the social landscape. We’ll need a bolder agenda, a program of collective resistance inspired by a radically different vision of human interconnection, one that affirms our duty to respect and care for one another and to maintain a habitable planet for generations yet unborn.

To stand up and speak out in support of such ends is not necessarily to meddle in party politics. It is, rather, to bring the moral weight of the dharma to bear on matters that affect the lives of people everywhere.

If, as upholders of Buddhist faith, we’re to make our distinctive mark on public policy, we may have to establish a Buddhist advocacy group, a pan-Buddhist alliance grounded in the recognition that hot political disputes are also burning ethical issues on which we should take a stand. Through such an alliance we can bring the power of Buddhist conscience out into the public arena. Since our numbers are relatively small, we won’t be able to make much of an impact on our own. But we can join with progressive leaders of other faiths who share our convictions, advocating together on behalf of human decency and in defense of our embattled democracy. We can call, in unison, for a policy of global generosity in place of rash militarism, for programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, for the advancement of social and racial justice, and for the rapid transition to a clean-energy economy. To stand up and speak out in support of such ends is not necessarily to meddle in party politics. It is, rather, to bring the moral weight of the dharma to bear on matters that affect the lives of people everywhere—now, and long into the future.

 

December 2016 full moon – Wise Action, Wise Non-Action

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Surf life-saving crew, Tamarama Beach, New South Wales

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s prescription for completely curing ourselves of unhappiness.  And like any good medicine, it doesn’t only work in one way.  It’s a very holistic treatment that works on several different aspects of our lives at once – in fact, every aspect of our lives is included here, if we’re practising fully.

The way the path is laid out invites us to pay attention to three particular areas of development, traditionally known as sīla, samādhi and pañña, or ethics, meditation and wisdom.  These three aspects support each other like the three legs of a tripod, and all of three of them need to be equally well developed, if our practice is to keep deepening. Continue reading

November 2016 full moon – Turmoil

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almost super-moon, Newcastle Beach NSW Australia 13 November 2016

Turning towards and turning away

Whether it’s global political upheaval, worsening social injustice, natural disasters, personal stress, emotional pain, relational crises, or health challenges, we seem to be in a phase of intense turmoil right now.

Many of the communities around the world that I care about are struggling in relation to recent political developments in the US and UK.  And now the latest earthquakes and flooding in New Zealand are powerful reminders of our vulnerability, confronting the delusion that we are in control and challenging the belief that we can rely on anything external for our security.

I’ve noticed in myself these last few days, a shift from turning away, to turning towards.  After an initial period of shock and numbness, a renewed sense of purpose and determination is starting to emerge, helped by a whole range of articles, videos, resources and Buddhist readings that have been shared from many different sources.

So in this month’s post, I wanted to include a few of these, with the hope that they might bring some inspiration, renewed courage, or just practical support for facing these current challenges.


Inspiring Buddhist teachings for difficult times

Pema Chodron

As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground—something predictable to stand on—seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not.
https://tricycle.org/magazine/fundamental-ambiguity-being-human/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=c816b6d659-Special_Newsletter_11_09_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-c816b6d659-307269753

Jack Kornfield

When times are uncertain, difficult, fearful, full of change,
they become the perfect place to deepen the practice of awakening.
After viewing the elections, whatever your point of view,
Take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart.
Then go out and look at the sky.
Remember vastness, there are seasons to all things,
gain and loss, praise and blame, expansion and contraction.
Learn from the trees.
Practice equanimity and steadiness.
Remember the timeless Dharma amidst it all.
Think of the best of human goodness.
Let yourself become a beacon of integrity with your thoughts, words and deeds.
Integrity in speech and action, virtue and non-harming brings blessings.
Remember the Noble Truths, no matter the politics or the season:
Greed, hatred and ignorance cause suffering. Let them go.
Love, generosity and wisdom bring the end of suffering. Foster them.
Remember the Buddha’s counsel,
“Hatred never ends by hatred but by love alone is healed.
This is the ancient and eternal law.”
The human heart has freedom in itself to choose love, dignity and respect.
In every circumstance, embody respect and cultivate compassion for all.
Let yourself become a beacon of Dharma.
Amidst the changes, shine with courage and trust.
Love people, and…
This is your world. Plant seeds of goodness
and water them everywhere.
Then blessings will grow for yourself and for all.
http://www.spiritrock.org/

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.”
http://kalachakranet.org/text_his_holiness_dalai_lama.html

Gil Fronsdal

Equanimity, one of the most sublime emotions of Buddhist practice, is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill-will.”
https://tricycle.org/magazine/perfect-balance/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=c816b6d659-Special_Newsletter_11_09_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-c816b6d659-307269753


The current U.S. political situation – some commentaries

Bhikkhu Bodhi

Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.
https://buddhistglobalrelief.me/2016/11/09/a-trump-presidency-need-not-be-the-end-times/

Van Jones

Van Jones is a CNN political contributor, regularly appearing across the network’s programming and special political coverage.  He has founded and led numerous social enterprises engaged in social and environmental justice.
Van reminds us that we have 70 days before the president-elect Trump takes office, and suggests that in these next two weeks we prioritize three things:
1. grieve and heal;
2. gather information;
3. build community.

“It’s ok to take time to grieve and heal” … then “We gotta play our cards right.  Our most important card is you.  We need you … You can turn the TV off, turn the radio off, stop going online .. you can binge-watch some stuff, you can go exercise, do whatever you need to do, get some cuddles in, get some snuggles in, and heal a little bit, and grieve a little bit … And then from an authentic place, not pushing … not ‘I gotta do this, I gotta do this, I gotta do this’ – that’s gonna give you a bunch of do-do, and we’re not trying to do do-do – we want you to BE … and be connected to who you are, and why you care so much, and why you love folks so much.  We want you to be deeply grounded, deeply connected, so we can make wise decisions going forward.”

Connect and strengthen our communities

The Work That Reconnects (WTR) is an open-source body of work that has its roots in the teachings and experiential methods of Joanna Macy. It is a process of group work that uses experience based activities to help participants connect with one another and with the intelligence, self-healing powers of life on Earth. The goal of the WTR is to “enliven” and motivate participants to play an active role in the creation of a life sustaining society.
While the primary focus of the WTR is deep ecology and environmental activism, the process of sequencing used within the WTR (called “The Spiral“) can be a valuable tool in building racial awareness, as well.
https://whiteawake.org/self-education/wtr-spiral/

Stand with Standing Rock

https://nodaplsolidarity.org/
This site is dedicated to supporting the frontline, indigenous led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. We hope that this site will make it easier for allies from around the world to take action against the institutions that are attempting to construct the pipeline.
Please join in taking sustained action in solidarity with the Red Warrior Camp and the Camp of the Sacred Stones.


New Zealand 2016 earthquakes

Damage done by an earthquake at Bluff Station between Blenheim and Kaikoura in New Zealand.
Damage done by an earthquake at Bluff Station between Blenheim and Kaikoura in New Zealand. Photograph: Alex Perrottet/RNZ

Earthquake support information

An extensive list of web links providing high quality information to assist you, and those you support, through tough times following Earthquakes and their Aftershocks. This includes for children and young people.
http://skylight.org.nz/earthquake+aftermath+support

WHAT TO DO NOW

Some suggestions from Dr Sarb Johal, psychology professor at Massey University
* Follow a normal routine as much as possible
* Eat healthy meals – be careful not to skip meals or to overeat
* Exercise and stay active
* Help other people in your community as a volunteer – stay busy
* Accept help from family, friends, co-workers, or other people you trust – talk about your feelings with them
* Limit your time around the sights and sounds of what happened – don’t dwell on TV, radio, or newspaper reports on the events.

HOW TO REMAIN OPTIMISTIC

* Support one another, especially family members and your community
* Provide emotional support – comfort each other
* Carry out practical tasks – tackling the jobs that need to be done a bit at a time and counting each success
* Share your experience and feelings with others – a bit at a time when it is right for you – and have sensitivity for what the listener or audience (like your Facebook or social media friends) might be prepared to hear at that time too
* Look after your own and your family’s general health – rest, exercise, food and company all help.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/inspire-me/86488820/earthquake-how-to-stay-positive-in-shaky-times

WAYS TO HELP

Wanting to lend a hand, or provide some type of assistance after NZ was shaken just after midnight on Monday?  Here are some ways you can help.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/nz-earthquake/86453967/ways-you-can-help-out-after-the-november-earthquakes

May all beings be safe … healthy … happy … free …

October 2016 full moon – Reinstating the Buddha’s Vision of Gender Equity

Friends of mine from IMS recently sent me information about this presentation on a little-known aspect of Buddhist history, the recent revival of full monastic ordination for women.

“This presentation was developed by Friends of Aloka Vihara co-founder Mindy Zlotnick. It outlines the history of bhikkhunis (fully ordained Buddhist nuns) from the time of the Buddha until present day and the nuns of Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery are highlighted prominently as an example of a group of pioneering women who are helping to revive the bhikkhuni lineage.

Mindy was moved to create the presentation when she originally saw a similar presentation by the Alliance for Bhikkhunis in 2011. She had been meditating in the Theravada tradition for over 25 years at that point, and was surprised that she had never heard this part of the history of the tradition.

The presentation runs one hour and provides an overview of the history of the Buddha’s vision of the four-fold sangha and how women were an integral part of this vision. Because of political and cultural decisions, a strong female monastic presence disappeared for almost 1000 years. The revival of the Bhikkhuni Sangha began about 30 years ago and has now spread throughout the world.”

September 2016 full moon – wisdom and (self) compassion

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Emaciated Buddha figure, Spirit Rock

The ascetic Buddha

Back at the end of July, I was an assistant teacher on a nine-day retreat at Spirit Rock, together with a friend and fellow teacher-trainee, DaRa Williams.  One day, as we walked from the teacher housing to the meditation hall, I happened to notice a solitary Buddha figure set among some bushes on the hillside behind our cottages.  Unlike the other Buddhas at Spirit Rock, this one was tucked almost out of view.  There was no path to it, no clearing around it, and no place to sit nearby, but perhaps because of that, I felt compelled to go and take a closer look.

So I scrambled up a slight hill through the dry grass and discovered that the figure was what’s known as an “ascetic Buddha.”   These images depict a phase in the life of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, before his Awakening, when he was practising extreme austerities such as sleeping on beds of nails, and eating very little food – hence the skeletal look in the image above.  Continue reading

August 2016 full moon – Seven Factors of Awakening and Equanimity (again)

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Seven Factors of Awakening

I’ve recently enjoyed leading a couple of longer residential retreats in New Zealand and Australia, exploring the teachings from the Satipatthana Sutta on the Seven Factors of Awakening: mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy or rapture, tranquillity, concentration or stability of mind, and equanimity.

When cultivated together and brought into balance with each other, these seven factors provide the optimum conditions for the deepest insights to arise, so they play a very important role in the development of wisdom.  In fact Bhikkhu Anaalayo, in a recent study retreat exploring the Satipatthana Sutta, said that all the various techniques and methods found in that sutta are designed to develop these Seven Factors of Awakening.  Continue reading

July 2016 full moon – Hatred STILL never ceases by hatred …

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Rainstorm near Te Moata Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand

Exactly two years ago in July 2014, I wrote a post based on some well-known lines from the Dhammapada:

Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law. 1

Lately, that same post has been getting some views again, perhaps because there seem to have been just so many painful events in the world recently.  And perhaps like many others, at times I feel overwhelmed by the intensity and volume of suffering.  I notice my mind flipping between two modes: wanting to shut it all out, or compulsively needing to know the latest details.

Denial isn’t healthy, of course, but neither is unconsciously feeding the misery.  Because of the mind’s inherent “negativity bias,”2 it’s easy to develop a distorted perception of the world.  This is then amplified by the collective negativity-bias of the media, and the relentless twenty-four-hour reporting of tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.

A few years ago, I remember reading a discussion between a psychologist and a well-known dharma teacher about how to stay present when sitting with distressed clients, hour after hour.  The dharma teacher suggested that for every hour of contact with a client, the therapist should take at least one hour of silent time to meditate and come back to balance, before seeing the next client.

It sounded like a great idea, but I couldn’t imagine any of the psychologists or psychotherapists – or even dharma teachers I knew – being able to put it into practice.  And yet now more than ever, perhaps we need to reconsider it: to find ways of taking a break or making some space or creating more silence so that the psyche can recuperate a little.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese dharma teacher, has written extensively about this need to protect our hearts and minds from “toxins” of various kinds.  In search of inspiration, I recently re-read his Five Mindfulness Trainings, which are a translation of the standard five ethical precepts.  Here’s a summary of all five:

The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in oneself, in the family and in society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity, not stealing and not exploiting other living beings. The third is the practice of responsible sexual behavior in order to protect individuals, couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconcile. The fifth is about mindful consumption, to help us not bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind.3

His re-writing of the last precept really stood out for me, with its emphasis on refreshing, healing, and nourishing.  I’m sharing it in full here, with the hope it might offer just a moment or two of relief, or perhaps even some inspiration to keep orienting towards “peace, joy and well-being.”

Nourishment and Healing: the fifth of five mindfulness trainings by Thich Nhat Hanh

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth. 3

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Labyrinth at Te Moata Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand

Remembering to orient to the good, as well as the challenging

The intention here is not to ignore or deny painful experiences, but to try to maintain balance.  At times, I need to consciously remember the many, many people who are working towards overcoming suffering; and to remember how many positive changes are taking place, even though they might not get much media coverage.

Martin Luther King jr

Thich Nhat Hanh is one example I turn to for inspiration, and Martin Luther King Junior another.  These two knew each other quite well in the 1960s, and I sometimes like to imagine the discussions they would have had with each other back then.  Perhaps there’s an echo of the Dhammapada verses in this famous quote by Dr King:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. 4

May we all keep finding balance in the midst of darkness, and keep re-orienting to love.

thich nhat hanh martin luther king jr

Photo of Dr King and Thich Nhat Hanh from http://www.thisishowiflow.com/thich-nhat-hanh/

PS For more on Thich Nhat Hanh, here’s quite an inspiring short conversation between Thich Nhat Hanh and Oprah Winfrey:

1 https://jill0shepherd-insightmeditation.com/2014/07/11/july-2014-full-moon-hatred-never-ceases-by-hatred/
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias/
3 http://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-5-mindfulness-trainings/
4 https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/52037-a-testament-of-hope-the-essential-writings-and-speeches-of-martin-luthe

 

June 2016 full moon – Inspiration and taking refuge in sangha/community

graduation group by Ben MarshallGraduates of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock four-year teacher training programme, 10 June 2016 – photo by Ben Marshall

In my last international newsletter back in April, I wrote about inspiration, an aspect of spiritual practice that surprisingly, doesn’t seem to be talked about very often.  As I discovered back then,

“… the root of the word “inspiration” comes from late Latin, and it’s related to the act of breathing, specifically breathing in, in the sense of giving life to, or animating – just as expiring is related to breathing out, and dying …
Inspiration, then, is literally life-giving.  When I feel most inspired, I feel most alive, in touch with some kind of life-energy that feels much vaster than just my own individual human vitality.”

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been appreciating the power of community to help kindle that sense of inspiration and connection to an energy bigger than just my own.  And I feel to have understood a little more clearly why the Buddha referred to sangha or community as the third of three jewels, three treasures that we can “take refuge” in.  Continue reading

On retreat at the Forest Refuge

If all goes to plan, from tomorrow I’ll be on retreat at IMS’s Forest Refuge in Barre, Massachusetts, for six weeks from 17 April to 31 May.  Today, as I work on extricating myself from daily life, I’ve been experiencing a huge amount of gratitude for all the causes and conditions that have come together to make this possible.

cushion shawl 1

So I just wanted to acknowledge again all the people who have offered their support in so many different ways:
https://wordpress.com/page/jill0shepherd.wordpress.com/499

Thank you all!  I trust that whatever benefit comes from my time on retreat might be shared with all of you, and all beings everywhere …

 

March 2016 full moon – Retreat and pre-retreat practice

door inside 2

Planning to go on retreat?

I’ve had a few conversations recently with people who are planning to go on retreat soon, and at some stage in the discussion, there’s often an embarrassed acknowledgement of feeling some anxiety about it.  Even for people who have been on retreat before and have some familiarity with the set-up, each retreat is unique, so we never really know what to expect.  In some ways, that’s the point of it: to open ourselves to the unknown, to explore new territory, and to experience aspects of ourselves that we may not have come into contact with before. Continue reading