for the love of honesty – Martin Aylward wins the debate

radiatorPerhaps the deepest teaching in Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese is the line:

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile every thing we hold dear, think is important, see as a life-and-death issue, a catastrophe, a boring inconvenience, an opportunity for self-righteous blathering remains ineffectual in the face of the world going on.

In the beginning of January, I left for a series of retreats over a three-week period at the Insight Meditation Center and Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. The teachers at IMS were Christina Feldman and Chris Cullen with two rather amazing up-and-coming teachers. The next week Winnie Nazarko lead the bhavana retreat at at BCBS, which I followed up with a personal retreat, scouring the books in the BCBS library. The days were spent in meditation, reading texts I wouldn’t find anywhere else, and filling my notebook with codes of sutras that I hope I’ll be able to decode four months later.

Through all the talks and conversations, the thread of contemporary mindfulness’ impact on Buddhist practice was very evident. Feldman and Cullen slid past it but what was left unspoken or re-framed spoke loudly to the ambivalence towards the topic. Participants in their retreat (which was advertised as a prerequisite to training as a mindfulness-based instructor/teacher/facilitator) shared that they realized they didn’t have to be a Buddhist teacher to be a (secular?) mindfulness teacher. I can see how they came to that conclusion, encouraged by Feldman’s continuous insistence that she is neither Buddhist nor does she teach Buddhism – fact that caused me some consternation given the theme of her books and the content of her talks, not to mention the very venue in which she was teaching. But let’s leave that to someone else’s article on 10 Mysterious Things in the Buddhist Universe You Will Never Believe! Click here!

I get confused these days. I get confused a lot these in my mind moments. Sometimes it feels like just when I can tell the players with my scorecard, they change the game. So I gave up. In those three weeks of sitting-walking-eating-reading-talking-thinking, I gave up. I decided that the protectors of Buddhist mindfulness and those of secular (where we can now include the new field of “critical mindfulness” propagated by Ed Ng & Ron Purser) live in vastly different worlds with no bridge possible between them.

In a leave-taking conversation with Mu Soeng at the end of my retreats, I shared my grapplings with the sutta on generosity (SN 3.24). The Buddha responds to King Pasenadi Kosala’s question about giving, saying that one should give “where the mind feels confidence” and that is different from giving “where it bears great fruit.” Where what is given can bear great fruit, the Buddha goes on to say, is in the hands of one who has abandoned the five hindrances and is endowed with the five virtues. So I asked, “How can we determine such a person? How can we do that without getting into the judgemental mind state or the preferential mind state, given we are ourselves so clouded?” The answer was simple: We give; and we know the virtuous by the fruit of their actions.

When I bring this advice to bear on the current debates, arguments, sniping, and otherwise skillful and unskillful exchanges, I have to say I see little of good fruit. In some pockets of discussion, there is much to learn and it is supportive. But it’s not enough and the resistance and defensiveness on both sides (are there only two sides to this?) is overwhelming.

But then, this is why we have practiced. And it is for these moments of despair that we practiced deeply. Mary Oliver again in Wild Geese:

Tell me about despair, yours
And I will tell you mine.

There’s despair on both sides, I imagine. And yes, “meanwhile the world goes on.” Meanwhile, Buddhist teachers teach, mindfulness instructors/facilitators/therapists instruct/facilitate/therap. And meanwhile on both sides of the divide they do good, commit atrocities, create loving communities, and foster elite cults.

So the question from a Buddhist perspective might be what can we salvage from this? The answer is that salvaging is not what is called for because nothing has been destroyed. The Dharma is not so vulnerable and thus far has withstood 2600 years of assault. The question from a secular/clinical perspective might be what can derive from all this? The answer is that we need to find our own roots. Ruth Baer has written a wonderful article that points to what we’re missing in the debate.

But more than all that, the question is whether we can or should continue to have (to paraphrase David Whyte from Crossing the Unknown Sea) “a disciplined daily conversation” with each other and ourselves around the value of Buddhist psychology to Western psychology and vice versa. I know the answer for myself. However, I worry that the leading teachers in Buddhism have yet to be less than alarmists and the teachers in contemporary mindfulness shy away from the discussion all together.

So, I’m thrilled when I sit down (with trepidation) to listen to Martin Aylward and hear his very strong, direct, and honest appraisal of what we really should be giving to each other. The gift in this debate – as rancorous and belligerent and self-focused as it gets – is that it calls for us to investigate how we “hang that (doctrinal) purity on Buddhism” and to use these moments to see that when we lock into a “contemptuous” stance to the shift in mindfulness practice towards the secular, it is also our own contempt towards our own practice.

Watch Martin’s amazing talk “For the Love of Mindfulness” and please donate generously to Worldwide Insight that offers such terrific teachings.

no form, no stinginess

From the Bodhidharma Anthology by Jeffrey Broughton: Entering the path through practice – Dharma.

The fourth and final practice of entering the path is to see the Dharma in its subtle nature.

The Dharma substance has no stinginess; in terms of your life and property, practice giving, your mind free of parsimony.

We tend to live a life of constant negotiations.  Giving and taking.  Giving only if there is recompense.  I came across this quote and saw the fullness of generosity is in everything we are.

“I was not aware of the moment when I first crossed the threshold of this life. What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery like a bud in the forest at midnight? When in the morning I looked upon the light I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world, that the inscrutable without name and form had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother. Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me. And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well. The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away to find in the very next moment its consolation in the left one”.  Tagore

Thank you for all you give to your world.

choices

A friend of mine often says, “I understand that bad things happen to good people.  I just can’t understand how good things happen to bad people.  What happened to karma!?”    We’d go round that one for most of an evening until finally we’d have to admit that it’s our perception of “good” and “bad” that is the problem.  Once we’ve built the categories, everything else becomes a logic locomotive.  We start generating if-then sequences and ideas of justice and entitlements, forgetting that karma has nothing to do with a Last (or Lasting) Judgement.

To paraphrase Sylvia Boorstein, we get what we get.  My nemeses get what they get.  My friends get what they get.  The fact that I choose to label them as Adversaries or Dear Ones is what gives their successes such power over me.  More to the point, when I’m caught in concepts of deservingness, I miss the generosity of people around me.

A few years ago a colleague was diagnosed with cancer.  He worked two doors down from me and I had heard about it but hadn’t seen him.  Coming out of my office one day, I was greeted by this familiar person in my waiting room – a cartoonish sketch of someone I knew.  It was my friend, physically dramatically changed from the cancer treatments.  But I would have recognized those sparkling eyes anywhere!  We went into my office and his first words were, “How is Frank?  I heard about his surgery!”  I was amazed and confused.  Why was he concerned about Frank who was fine and recovering?   How could he be so thrilled about Frank’s positive prognosis when he was on his way to a last-ditch effort at a treatment?

He seemed content.  His life was a series of unending gifts – the medical students he had taught and mentored, the family who grew with grace and fortitude, friends who had walked with him in laughter and tears.  He joined us in celebrating Frank’s “all clear,” embraced us, and said his final treatment has failed; he died three weeks later.  It seemed he was so full of joy that he was giving it all away before he left us.  This was a profound lesson for me in Resonant Joy.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have attained my friend’s level of unconditioned love.  But it might start in a little way with kindness.  Self-kindness and gentleness.  With saying “thank you” and “wonderful!”  Saying “It’s OK” and “I understand.”  With refusing to turn away from the momentary hurt.  Refusing to allow that internal gossip mill to grind down the heart.

It’s a start.

It’s a choice to start.

great fullness & and the subtle nourishment of gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all of you south of the 49th parallel!

Some of my favourite food is shown below.

Anything written about mindful consumption on a day of celebration would be too preachy so I shall simply say, “Enjoy!”

And why not.  It’s always struck me as odd that we flagellate ourselves for having the good fortune of bountiful food, relationships, time, and finances.  In a session with a client, I was enjoying her story about a spouse who dotes on her but whose unconditional love makes her uncomfortable.  Having to work through the anxieties about payback in her story was a karmic payback for my own inability to freely accept the care of others.

It occurred to me that it takes courage to allow myself to be open to the generosity of others.  To gift to others the opportunity to give to me just as I want them to accept unconditionally what I give to them.  When I resist receiving my giving to others becomes a form of unmindful consumption of my own resources.  I’m thinking of printing up gift certificates:

To:   My Beloved

From:  Your Beloved

The sum of ___ minutes freely giving to me.

This certificate is valid from _______, 2011 to __________, 2012

No substitutions allowed and cannot be combined with any dysfuntional program running at the time of redemption.

There are many wonderful books and articles on generosity.  My favourite is Being Generous: The Art of Right Living by Lucinda Varley and John Dalla Costa who explain that generosity is not generous unless it regenerates.  In other words, it must circulate through a community to mindful givers so that it is always replenishing the system.

Sweeping Zen, quickly becoming one of my favourite sites of all things Zen, recently carried a beautiful article, Gratitude by Roger Shikan Hawkins from his book Great Doubt (which I hope I will receive from a certain Beloved who reads these posts at 0530 every morning).  Hawkins discusses the term “great fullness” from Dogen’s sayings from The Shobogenzo.  Brother David Steindl-Rast, he says, calls gratefulness “great fullness.”  It is knowing that we are greatly filled by the events and experiences we meet in each moment with nothing more needed.  The article deals mainly with feeling gratitude to those who gift us the opportunity to practice when our delusions, aversions, and clinging are activated by them.  Yet this statement lends a broader application:

Let our gratitude extend to the opportunities presented by others.

It is equally applicable to seeing a gift given through the arising of love as an opportunity to practice that replenishing generosity simply by accepting it.  To deny ourselves that is to miss the opportunity to truly give thanks.

Thank you for practising,

Genju

 

OK… I can’t resist.  One of my Practicuum Interns submitted a review paper of Jan Chozen Bays’ book Mindful Eating and Tricycle just posted this piece by Chozen Bays.