Watch this video from the Metta Center and consider how you might let go of the Old Story paradigm and open up a New Story. What actions can you adopt today to help put an end to the Old Story and bring about the New Story? Think of such things as learning more about ahimsa and living nonviolently, practicing Skillful Speech more mindfully, considering a Skillful Livelihood, learning to listen more objectively, practice transforming fear and anger into forces for good, etc.
Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for “non harm” (a = non + himsa = harm). It is often understood and translated as nonviolence, however, nonviolence is only one aspect of ahimsa. It is the central teaching of Jainism, but also holds an important role in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions. Ahimsa for the Jains holds a much wider spiritual meaning for it guides all actions, all speech and all thoughts from inflicting harm onto other living beings.
Ahimsa is not simply negation or elimination of violence. It serves to promote a positive and rational approach in regard to life in relation to oneself and others. Mahatma Gandhi expanded the dimension of ahimsa in the modern secular world by transforming its principles into an effective instrument for political and social change. These expanded practices guided Martin Luther King Jr. to adopt a Christian nonviolent social activism, where nonviolent active resistance is paired with the Greco-Christian form of love called agape. Agape is universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance, it is considered to be the love that comes from God or Christ.
However, even love comes second to ahimsa—for love without ahimsa can be harmful, aggressive, even violent. When expressing love toward another, what could be a more powerful statement than: “I will do you no harm.”
Gandhi’s legacy of ahimsa has left a deep impact on the world. He was able to demonstrate to the modern world the immense power of ahimsa by using it as an effective tool to achieve independence for India without war and virtually no blood shed. Gandhi who was Hindu, was heavily influenced by the Jain scholar Rajchandra. Gandhi wrote:
“For me there is no religion other than the religion of truth, no duty other than ahimsa. Ahimsa is the greatest religion for me. I can say with assurance, as a result of my experiments, that a perfect vision of truth can follow a complete realization of ahimsa.”
It is my assertion that to put an end to violence and cultivate true peace, it must come with a resurgence of dedicated practice of ahimsa. Ahimsa can easily be integrated into our Buddhist practice, and in light of the many tragic events in previous years and months, it is sorely needed.
I would like to provide the tools and skills to integrate the practice of ahimsa into our daily lives, and that will include leading some workshops for the sangha exploring the basic concepts of ahimsa and facilitating some study groups for those who would like to take what they learn of ahimsa and bring it into effective social change. If our foundation is established by the practice of ahimsa, then anything we do, whether it is personal cultivation or both personal cultivation and non-violent activism, will be tempered and strengthened by the transformative power of ahimsa.
I will be sending out a separate letter detailing the workshops, study groups and explore dates and times, etc. I urge you to seriously consider learning and integrating this important aspect of our practice into your life. There is no more time to wait. The dharma is precious, and to have come to it is like finding a rare, priceless jewel. But it is not enough to simply covet and polish this precious jewel, for its pricelessness comes in the urgency and necessity of putting our practice into action. Time is short, we must be engaged now, so that we can live our lives fully, help ourselves, and help each other.
The three jewels of Buddhism are Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. In order to become Buddhist one only needs to vow to uphold the three jewels. That is all. No special ceremony, no membership to any temple or group. Once becoming a Buddhist, one will find refuge in upholding the three jewels. In the Buddha, we find guidance both from the Teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, but also from our own awakened nature. The Dharma provides the path of practice from which we gain understanding about our lives and how to find balance and harmony. The Sangha is the community of practitioners who come together to support and help each other on the path. All three jewels, Sangha, Buddha, and Dharma are equally important to Buddhism. Their inter-related nature can sometimes make them hard to distinguish from one another. While each jewel is of equal value, there are times when one jewel is in more need of attention than others. Today, our society is suffering greatly from a lack of authentic, healthy and supportive communities. So at this time, Sangha is the jewel that is in need of polishing, so it can sparkle as brilliantly as the other two jewels.
Sangha, is a Sanskrit (and Pali) word which means "community" or "assembly". At the Buddha’s time, Sangha was composed of the community of monks and nuns. Today, the Sangha includes the monastic community but also includes the laypeople. When we seek refuge in the Sangha, we are turning to our fellow practitioners when we feel afraid, worried or lost. When we uphold Sangha, we are responding to the calls of help from our fellow practitioners. Together, the Sangha, the community of fellow path followers, brings feelings of security and protection on a journey that is often challenging. The Sangha can be a source of friendship and love, for the members within are, in actuality, our spiritual family.
In today’s DIY-"spiritual but not religious" world, people tend to come to Buddhism alone. Self-guided through books and videos, the path of practice is generally an isolated path, where the individual walks the path alone and meditates alone. While it is true that no one can walk the path of practice but themselves, focusing only on the Buddha and the Dharma, the teacher, and the teachings, is not a complete practice.
Our culture is shifting further and further away from community. Each day we grow more comfortable with the limits of virtual connection and less comfortable with being physically present with others. Sangha is, at minimum, equally important as the other two jewels, and is essential in the practice of Buddhism.
Sangha is a safe harbor in time of distress, and guides our attention in times of distraction. The guiding teacher and co-leaders serve to guide the Sangha, to help make the path of practice a little easier, so that the Sangha members can, in turn, spread kindness to everyone around them.
In the Upaddha Sutra, Venerable Ananda said to the Buddha, "Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is half of the path of practice.”
The Buddha replied, "Don't say that, Ananda. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the WHOLE of the path of practice. When a practitioner has admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, the practitioner can be expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path."
The Buddha stresses how crucial it is to have good company around us. A healthy, loving community and support system is necessary to lead us out of our own suffering to freedom. While walking the path, should we find ourselves at any time feeling lost, distracted or confused, the Sangha is there to help us by reminding us of what is most important in our lives, and inspires us to continue onward with head held high. Because our society devalues community, many of us don’t really know how to be part of a community.
The Sangha helps teach us how to build and be part of a group of individuals all working together toward awakening to our Buddha-nature. And, while it may be preferable for the Sangha to seek you out when you are suffering, it is important that when you are in need of support, you reach out to the Sangha. Sometimes we, as Sangha members, don't know when someone wants time alone or is in need of contact and support. Because of this, communication is invaluable. Let the Sangha know what you are needing! If you are not sure of what you need, when you feel lost or confused, show up to practice, no matter how much you want to hide away! Together we will help illuminate the path. We are all learning how to be a community together, and at times, the process can be messy! But always remember, Sangha, as a community, helps every one, no matter where they are on the path. Together we work at understanding our awake nature and learn what really matters in life.
To practice Buddhism, it is not enough to study the teachings and practice meditation alone. While it is necessary to learn how to find time to be with ourselves in order to better understand our own minds, Sangha cannot be dispensed with because it is not easy to find or because we are not comfortable practicing with others. Without Sangha, the practice is unbalanced, and the path of practice will be weak at best or corrupted at worst.
Sangha also teaches us how to set aside our own selfish egos and care for others. The very act of showing up can save a person. Sometimes we are feeling very reluctant to leave home, but despite the yell of our inner voice to stay and hermit ourselves away, we go to practice, every step dragging heavily! Our presence, just showing up, as reluctant as it may be, can lift another Sangha member out of a very serious personal suffering. Additionally, despite all our resistance, once we begin practicing with the Sangha, we find the resistance falls away and we end up feeling much better than we would have had we stayed away.
Our modern society discourages community and because of this, many of us are not very skilled in community building. We will make mistakes, we will hurt others' feelings and our own feelings will be hurt, but we will try our best to do what is right. We will apologize when we make a mistake and forgive others for their mistakes. It is important to point out that it's through these fumbles and finding of our way that strengthens our Sangha, like intense pressure produces the hard and brilliant diamond. This is why Sangha truly is a jewel to behold.
It is of utmost importance to practice with a Sangha on a regular basis. In doing so, our practice will flourish far beyond anything we could achieve alone. In the growth of our practice, our lives and the lives of those around us develop and transform beautifully, like glittering jewels beyond compare.
Ven. Myohye Do'an
As the holidays draw closer, so too for many, does stress, anxiety and depression. The challenge of these conditions at this time of year grow more difficult as pressure, from within and without, to "enjoy the holiday" increases. Trying to ignore what is happening or distract oneself from it are often the most common methods of managing. And, while these methods might provide a temporary respite, these same methods also increase the power and reach of these conditions.
As practitioners of the way, we have the benefit of learning from the the Buddha, who through his own struggle with the sufferings of life, found a way to understand and in some cases even transcend suffering. In the face of such difficult experiences such as stress, anxiety and depression, what might the Buddha do?
The first thing the practice urges us to do is to listen. Listen intently to the call of the heart. When we feel lost or when facing an unknown possibility, our tendency is to run or to hide. This is our instinctual biology in action, and in situations where our body is in immediate danger, this instinctual reaction is necessary. But in the face of difficult emotional and mental challenges, such instinctual reactions only increase our pain and loneliness. The pain and loneliness, when continued to be responded to with continued instinctive reactivity, will increase and soon we become locked in fear and panic. Instead of following this instinctive patterning, we might be better off stopping for a time--stop the distractions, stop the hiding, stop the running away. We stop and listen to what we are experiencing.
Stopping and listening is difficult, as we are resisting what the cells and neuro-pathways are conditioned to do. When we experience stress, anxiety and depression, we are receiving a call. It is a call from the wisest part of us. It is our wise self telling us that something is not right and it is time to stop and take stock of our situation. And while at this moment when we feel we have no recourse, the truth is that we are the moment of great possibilities. The Buddha when faced with hopelessness began the search for answers, and while he sought great teachers of the time, all the work he did was interior work. That is, he was learning how to listen to his wise self.
This practice in the face of difficult feelings is challenging and often frightening, but we can do it. We can stop and listen to the call of the heart. We can cease the running and distractions and really hear our pained self so we can learn what it has to say. The Buddha, as a result of his practice of listening, faced these difficulties, and learned all about them. The result of his stopping and listening was an understanding of what he needed followed by what actions were necessary. We can do the same with stress, anxiety and depression.
Depression in particular is an experience that circles thoughts and belief about hopelessness and worthlessness, which can make finding clarity very difficult. And yet, depression is really asking us to come in close and look deeply at our situation and our life as it is. When we do, while acknowledging the many contradictory thoughts and associated emotions, move in close and look deeply, we find ourselves at an important crossroads. It is at this crossroads where we have a profound choice. We can choose to let the instinctive reaction take over and run, hide or distract ourselves from our pain, which will assure that the pain returns redoubled, or we can, with compassion, look and listen to our experience just as it is. Through the eye of compassion we can come to understand what is taking place within our body-mind and examine, without running, hiding, or listening to the pre-recorded thought messages that we have given over to in times past.
Once we have stopped, listened and examined our experience, we can make decisions about what our wise self is asking of us. Is it asking for time to reassess the trajectory of our life? Is it asking for more self-care and patience working through our short-comings? Is a difficult, but necessary change of life situation being asked for? Or as a result of our intimacy with these difficult emotions, does it direct us to seeking the help of a mentor, therapist or even a medical doctor? And when we come to an understanding, because we are compassionate with ourselves, we can also reach our for help when we feel the challenge of our emotions and our situation too burdensome to handle alone. In a situation where we feel week, and defeated, we are able to take a courageous step in reaching out.
Toward the end of the Buddha's great search for answers, when he was at his weakest, he reached out to the young girl, Sujata, who offered him a nourishing rice porridge. That ability to reach out, despite having lost nearly all hope, was the action of someone who had heard from his wiser self that it was time for help. When we are beckoned by the call of stress, anxiety or depression, we all have our own Sujata's offering us what we need to nourish our wiser self and continue on a path toward wellness. If the holidays bring with them added emotional challenges, stop, listen, acknowledge and reach out to all the Sujata's that appear before you.
Ven. Myohye Do'an
Come to the Great Swamp Conservancy's Plastic Free Holiday event on Sunday, November 10th at 11am until 3pm.
Visit our sangha member, Wonum (Mandy), and guiding teacher, Ven. Myohye, as they display their handcrafted plastic-free products to provide sustainable and environmentally conscious alternatives for holiday gifts. Other vendors and crafters offering plastic-free alternatives will be there to help raise awareness for plastic free gift giving.
Welcome to fall and the colorful month of October my very favorite month. This is a busy time with lots to do. One of the events I wish to mention will take place on Monday October 21st at 6 p.m. at the Whitesboro Dunham Library. We will be reviewing a book by Kent Nerburn titled The Wisdom of the Native Americans. That Wisdom is here, contained in the words of the native people. Their words are simple and their voices soft, we have not taken the time to listen. Perhaps now is the time to open our hearts and ears and listen to the words they have to say. The book contains the great speeches of Chief Red Jacket, Chief Joseph and Chief Seattle. Their words live on to this day. I recommend reading this book.
I want to share with you the words of Chief Seattle:
Teach your children
what we have taught our children --
that the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
If men spit upon the ground,
they spit upon themselves.
This we know:
The earth does not belong to us,
we belong to the earth.
This we know.
All things are connected
like the blood which unites one family.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life.
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web,
we do to ourselves.
During the T'ang Dynasty in China, there was a great Zen poet, Pai Yueh T'ien who also officiated as governor. In a particular district under his jurisdiction, there was a Zen master known as "Bird's Nest" because of his habit of practicing meditation up in the branches of a tree.
The governor-poet once visited the Zen Master and said," What a dangerous seat you have up in the tree!"
"Yours is worse than mine," replied the master.
"I am the governor of this district, and I don't see what danger is in it."
"Then you don't know yourself! When your passions burn and your mind is unsteady, what is more dangerous than that?"
The governor heard the truth in the Zen Master's words and then asked him another question, looking for another great teaching, "tell me what is the essential teaching of the Dharma?"
The master said:
Not to commit evils,
To practice only good,
And to keep the mind pure:
That is the teaching of all the Buddhas.
Pai, somewhat disappointed by the simplicity of the master's teaching protested, "Any child of three years knows that."
"Any child of three years may know it, but even an old man of 80 years finds it difficult to practice."
What this story highlights is that Zen practice is not complete if it is not realized through actions.
Zen is not a theoretical philosophy that one simply sits and ponders or discusses, it is to be practiced and realized moment-to-moment, in our daily lives.
Sitting and other forms of contemplative meditation is a necessary component to Zen but it is not the whole of the practice. Through meditation, we come to understand our own minds and develop wisdom, but wisdom is not complete if it is not put into action.
The most obvious way to begin doing this is to perform daily activities as a form of meditation. When we get dressed, meditate, when we brush our teeth, meditate, when we at are at work--meditate, driving the car--meditate, going grocery shopping--meditate, doing the dishes--meditate, working in the garden--meditate, etc.
Zen teaches that we always begin with ourselves, practicing small skillful acts: performing meditation while we go about our daily tasks. Acting skillfully means performing good actions when we are alone and not just when we are around others. If we are out walking alone we pick up that piece of glass on the sidewalk, so someone else doesn't hurt themselves.
If we begin with small, personal acts of skillful action, we begin to create a path of wildflowers blooming where ever we walk.
We must always work toward letting go of unwholesome desires and attachment to cravings and cultivate skillful thoughts and actions. When we do, we have succeeded in conquering ourselves, in, as Zen Master Bird's Nest suggested, to Know yourself.
The practice Zen is to practice Skillful Action. To benefit yourself and all others.
It is to practice Skillful action every day, whether alone, or with others, at home or at work or at school. Big or small. If we begin practicing now, a little at a time, with consistence effort, we will soon find we are surrounded by a wide assortment of beautiful wildflowers.
Come join us for an open dialogue about the commonalities and differences in various faith traditions. Our aim is to understand one another and build a stronger more cohesive community in the Utica area!
Ven. Myohye Do'an will facilitate a discussion of Agape and Ahimsa: Twin Roots of Nonviolence by Ira Zepp & Charles Collyer.
Even if you haven't read the book, come listen to the conversation and learn!
When: Monday, September 16, 6:30-7:30
Where: New Hartford Public Library
(Sammon Room), 2 Library Ln, New Hartford, NY
By Ven. Do'an Prajna
Now that the Summer Bodhichitta Gyeolje is underway, I wanted to share with you some simple tips to help strengthen your practice, even in the midst of a busy, spontaneous summer season, where we struggle to maintain our minimum level of practice:
Tip 1: Check Your Attitude.
Ask yourself: what do you bring to your practice?
Our minds are so conditioned to expect that what we experience is wrong in someway. It is important to have a daily practice, but we often tell ourselves we don’t practice right, enough, or the quality of our practice is not good, etc.
We need to break down this conditioning.
We can’t progress if we’re vague about where we are. We must be able to honestly look at our current practice and determine where we are within it. This keeps us doing our practice rather than thinking we are doing our practice.
There are hundreds of ways to practice. What makes the difference in terms of spiritual freedom is our attitude we bring to it. If we think we should be doing it, that we are not doing it well enough, that we are not cut out for it, if we are not honoring the potential in us, it undercuts the process.
Often what makes our practice hard to keep up with is because we are learning to give to ourselves. If we are feeling unworthy, we interpret this self-compassion as selfish. We must remember that lovingkindness is a natural state. Regular practice will lead us to this natural state of compassion and lovingkindness will arise spontaneously from within us. It is already within us, we just need to drop our filters. Regular practice will help us do this.
Ask yourself: What is my attitude?
Check in with yourself. Ask what the quality of your practice is in relation to your attitude? How do you approach your practice? Are you compassionate? Are you hard on yourself? If you are too hard, too rigid or serious, light up. If you are too laissez faire about your practice, perhaps it will help to remind yourself of the benefits of a more disciplined practice.
Tip 2: Remember your Intention.
Bring to mind what matters most to you. Let your heart and mind be free and just see what is true.
In sitting practice, we tend to try to polish our skills or "have an experience". Sense, instead, this sitting is the last few minutes of your life—to just experience the moment. We are so used to always being on our way to somewhere else or doing something for the sake of something else. We forget where are right in the moment. Enjoy the walking the path, rather than race to the finish.
Our intention should encompass a relaxed attentiveness, that is receptive and compassionate.
Tip 3: Be Simple.
Often the reason we fail to be consistent is because we over complicate our lives. Our mind tells us that simple steps don’t matter and complex ones do. The reality is that all of our successes come from consistently taking one simple step after another.
Being simple also addresses our "need" to someday be an expert. Our goal is not to become an expert. Our goal is simply to practice.
Tip 4: Be Active Now.
Do it. Whatever ‘it’ is, do it the first thing before all other things. Go in the bathroom and lock the door. Roll out of bed to your knees. Hide in your closet if you must, but go to any lengths to practice your practice.
You can’t ride on the laurels of practice. Practice is simply dedication to the present—it is not about getting somewhere, striving for anything will only result in not being present.
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Sangha
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