Dan Goleman and Richie Davidson are both well-known names in the fields of psychology, science journalism and neuroscience, and they have recently co-authored a book laying out their most recent research on the benefits of meditation. Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, published September 2017 To begin with, the authors make an interesting … Continue reading New neuroscience research on the lasting benefits of meditation
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 “December 2016 full moon – Wise Action, Wise Non-Action”
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 “August 2016 full moon – Seven Factors of Awakening and Equanimity (again)”
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 … Continue reading July 2016 full moon – Hatred STILL never ceases by hatred …
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 “March 2016 full moon – Retreat and pre-retreat practice”
The rewards and challenges of technology
Earlier this evening, I gave my first dharma talk via video-link, from the YHA in Sydney to Auckland Insight in New Zealand. Nothing too remarkable about that these days; but still, it was a delight to be able to connect with the group in this way, and I felt a new sense of appreciation for the benefits of computer technology. We now have access to a wide range of dharma teachings from many different traditions, in many different forms. And with almost no effort, we can instantly download or stream talks and videos, or sign up for online study courses.
In my own experience though – as both a teacher and a student – there can also be a downside to this instant abundance. Without awareness, it can unconsciously reinforce a passive, materialistic, and at times even disrespectful relationship to the teachings.
So as technology helps meditation becomes more and more mainstream, it’s becoming increasingly normal to approach it with a consumerist mind-set. In some ways, this makes sense. When everything else around us is presented in that way, why wouldn’t we think about the practice in terms of what we can get from it? And why wouldn’t we assume that it should be available on my terms: in the way I want it, when I want it, for the price I want it? We can even mistake this kind of freedom (to consume) for the deeper freedom that the Buddha’s teachings point to. Continue reading “February 2016 full moon – Motivation, Respect, Resolve”
Sea anemone by Virginia Draper
Opening, closing, opening, closing …
Everything has its natural rhythm, including the human heart. I’m not sure why it took me so long to understand this, but a childhood memory – of exploring rock-pools with my father while on holiday in Scotland – helped. On family visits to chilly windswept beaches, he and I would wander at low tide among the exposed rock basins in search of marine life: crabs and starfish and sea anemones and jellyfish and small see-through shrimpy things. Continue reading “February 2016 new moon – sea anemone heart”
The five hindrances
I’ve been back in New Zealand for the month of September, and with the Auckland Insight group, we’ve been exploring the Five Hindrances, five particularly unhelpful states of mind that get in the way of clear seeing, of insight. They appear in the Satipatthana Sutta under the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, as qualities of mental energy that we need to learn how to relate to wisely, and eventually, to overcome completely.
These are the five:
sloth and torpor
restlessness and remorse
sceptical doubt 1 Continue reading “September 2015 full moon – Maintaining Motivation (or finding antidotes to “sloth and torpor”)”
This December full moon I happen to be assisting James Baraz with a seven-day retreat in the Yarra Valley, outside of Melbourne, Australia. Those of you who are familiar with James’ teaching know that he infuses the traditional mindfulness practices that lead to insight, with the “heart practices” known as the four brahma vihara: kindness/metta, compassion/karuna, joy/mudita and equanimity/upekkha. Practiced together, all of these techniques … Continue reading December 2014 full moon – wisdom and compassion
Last month, I wrote about the quality of viriya, sometimes translated as “heroic energy,” and how at times, just signing up for a retreat can seem to kick-start an inner process where qualities such as determination, dedication, commitment, effort, and trust begin to deepen – even before we actually arrive at the retreat itself. Also last month, I started offering an on-line course aimed at … Continue reading November 2014 full moon – Right Effort and the Middle Way