Friday, December 29, 2006

Give Just Ten Percent

"The ten percent [of ourselves] who changes our day is the one who thinks every moment of life is special. The ninety percent is the irritated, speedy little 'me' who says, 'I’m busy. Leave me alone. There’s nothing new under the sun.' The ten percent is saying, 'We are the sun.'" (Ruling Your World, Sakyong Mipham)

The new year is fast approaching, and what better time than to take stock of your life, and dedicate just 10% of it to true daily practice. Allow the other 90% to continue living exactly as you do now. There’s no pressure to change everything at once, and besides, you can’t overcome 10, 20, 30+ years of programming overnight. Allow yourself just 10 minutes each day to quietly focus on your breath and contemplate such virtues as compassion, love, impermanence, and generosity. At the end of your contemplation, endeavor to bring just a little of that contemplation into the other 23 hours, 50 minutes of your daily life. Perhaps show just a little more generosity than you normally do. Even just smile and say hi to the store clerk who you look at every day but never truly see. Just 10 minutes a day to start your morning will reap amazing benefits over time, just as exercise gets easier and more enjoyable as you build your base fitness.

Happy New Year everyone! At the chiming of the new year, take just 1 completely mindful breath and breathe in your first breath of 2007.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Goal of Buddhist Practice: Link to Thoughts Chase Thoughts

There is a great post at Thoughts Chase Thoughts regarding The Goal of Buddhist Practice. In that post, Tom brings to our attention an article written by B. Alan Wallace and Shauna L. Shapiro entitled, "Mental Balance and Well Being" from the October 2006 issue of American Psychologist. The segment of the article he quotes is as follows:
The goal of Buddhist practice is the realization of a state of well-being that is not contingent on the presence of pleasurable stimuli, either external or internal. According to Buddhism, this movement toward well-being is a fundamental part of being human. As the Dalai Lama commented,
I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.
A fundamental insight of Buddhism is the recognition of the fluctuating, impermanent nature of all phenomena that arise in dependence on preceding causes and contributing conditions. Mistakenly grasping objective things and events as true sources of happiness produces a wide range of psychological problems, at the root of which is the reification of oneself as an immutable, unitary, independent ego. By first recognizing these ways of misapprehending oneself and the rest of the world, one can then begin to identify the actual sources of genuine well-being. The true causes of such well-being are rooted in a wholesome way of life, are nurtured through the cultivation of mental balance, and come to fruition in the experience of wisdom and compassion. In this way, the pursuits of genuine well-being, understanding, and virtue come to be thoroughly integrated.

This excerpt is a wonderful explanation of Buddhist practice, and I look forward to reading the rest of the article. Thanks to Tom for posting this.

A Practice for the New Year

In Being Dharma, Ajahn Chah gives us a wonderful practice that can truly set us on the right path as we begin the new year. He says,

When you put your head on the pillow [each night], contemplate the in and out breath. Think to yourself, How about that--tonight I am still breathing! Tell yourself this every day. You needn't do a lot of chanting and recitation. "Am I still breathing?" You wake up in the morning and think, Hey, I'm still alive! The day passes, the night comes again, and you ask yourself once more. Ask yourself, "If I lie down, will I get up again?" ... Day after day, you have to do this. If you keep at it, things will come together and you will see. You will see the truth of what is taken to be self and others. You will see what is convention and supposition. You will understand what all these things really are.

I read this practice on my way in to work on the train, and it immediately hit me--how often do I really show appreciation for life? The Buddha uses the simile of a sea turtle who lives in the ocean and comes up for air once every couple years. Floating in the ocean is a life preserver. It just floats on the water's surface, being pulled this way and that by the currents. It is said that the likelihood of a human birth is the same as the probability that our friend the sea turtle will come up for air and just happen to poke his head directly through the opening in the life preserver. It is a great blessing to have this human life. As we start the new year, each new morning, notice that you're still breathing and give thanks for the opportunity to continue practicing this day. Each evening, notice that your breath is still flowing in and out, and acknowledge your blessing. Allow sleep to come as you mindfully follow your breath. Such a simple practice, but it has such profound effects.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Buddhist Practitioner: A Full-Time "Reflecter"

I recently read the following line by Santoshni Perara: "A Buddhist practitioner is a full-time 'reflecter'." That is a very good way to consider your practice. Often, it is very easy to get caught up in the rapid flow of life, being carried this way and that, going through the motions without truly contemplating your actions, your thoughts, or your words. As Buddhists, we see the highest spiritual value in grabbing hold of a thick, solid branch so that we can remain stable within the rapid flow of life. As "full-time reflecters," we do not jump out of the river altogether--that is escapism, which is the antithesis of Buddhist practice. Rather, we steady ourselves and observe life as it flows through and around us. We practice noticing the most minute aspects of our bodies, our minds, our feelings, and objects of our mind. This practice confers the greatest of wisdom--the ability to see the true nature of all things, including our selves.

In this wonderful holiday season, take a moment for a short meditation.

1-Minute Meditation: Take a moment and consider your life as a river. Looking just at today, at the past few hours, where has your life dragged you without your conscious decision to pursue that particular route? Even if you truly had no choice (i.e. you had to go to work today), it is still highly valuable to be mindful of your decision to go to work and consciously choose that course of action, observing and noting the backdrop of bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and mind objects that arise as you contemplate, and decide upon, that course of action.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Heedlessness is Just Holding Things as Certain

From Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings, by Ajahn Chah:
In practice, some come to see easily, some with difficulty. But whatever the case, never mind. Difficult or easy, the Buddha said not to be heedless. Just that--don't be heedless. Why? Because life is not certain. Wherever we start to think that things are certain, uncertainty is lurking right there. Heedlessness is just holding things as certain. It is grasping at certainty where there is no certainty and looking for truth in things that are not true. Be careful! They are likely to bite you sometime in the future!

What is heedlessness? Not only is it not paying attention, but it's not caring to pay attention. When we're heedless, we do out of habit, not out of conscious deliberation and choice. But it goes deeper than just doing out of habit. It strikes right at the heart of your inner mind. When we're heedless, we don't CARE enough to pay attention. If we did, we'd be paying attention and choosing our actions consciously.

When a loved one asks, "Did you pick up the detergent from the market?" And you answer, "No, I forgot." Did you? Sometimes you really did, and in that case, there is no problem. But often you remembered, but really didn't feel like going. Maybe you made a conscious choice not to go; or maybe you "allowed" something to distract you so that you were sure to forget.

But then you get home and answer, "I forgot." That's an easier answer, isn't it? But it's heedless. Usually such an answer just flows from your lips. That's habitforce, and it's proof that you just don't care enough--that you truly don't comprehend the benefit of--paying full attention and seeing the negative effects of your lack of mindfulness in allowing yourself to lie. Maybe you did consciously choose to fib in your answer; maybe that took some careful deliberation to decide. But it's still heedless because you chose to ignore the negative effects of such a lie.

1-Minute Meditation: Where have you been heedless today? Where have you allowed yourself to act under force of habit, as though all things were certain and not requiring of consideration, including potentially un-thought-of effects? Now look deeper. Why don't you think it's important enough to be heedful? [Ego might answer, "I *do* care!" But be honest. If you really did care, you would have been heedful in that moment, wouldn't you?]

Friday, December 08, 2006

Seeing Magnificence

From Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by J. Goldstein and J. Kornfield:
When we let go of whatever we are clinging to, we can appreciate each thing as it is. There is no scarcity of things to appreciate but only a scarcity of moments when we are capable of truly seeing because of how often we are unaware, unmindful. ... When the mind is still, we can see a magnificence in even the most ordinary things--the vividness of a sunset, the warmth of a smile, the simplicity of serving a cup of tea."

How much beauty have you missed out on today because you were distracted by other, seemingly more important, things? Notice how the authors put a sunset--a classic--in the same terms as a cup of tea. This is a most wonderful "side-effect" of mindfulness. When you are truly mindful, each and every thing is magnificent, a true beauty. I am being misleading by calling it a "side-effect." In reality, such vividness of experience is our very nature. We only obscure it in the way we use (abuse?) our minds, craving this experience, mourning the loss of that experience.

Our practice is to unlearn the habits to which we are addicted and unleash the perfect mindfulness that is our very nature, our Buddha-nature.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Henry David Thoreau - 12.01.1856

From The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 12/01/1856:
I see the old pale-faced farmer out again on his sled now for the five-thousandth time--Cyrus Hubbard, a man of a certain New England probity and worth, immortal and natural, like a natural product, like the sweetness of a nut, like the toughness of hickory. He, too, is a redeemer for me. How superior actually to the faith he professes! He is not an office-seeker. What an institution, what a revelation is a man! We are wont foolishly to think that the creed which a man professes is more significant than the fact he is. It matters not how hard the conditions seemed, how mean the world, for a man is a prevalent force and a new law himself. He is a system whose law is to be observed. The old farmer condescends to countenance still this nature and order of things. It is a great encouragement that an honest man makes this world his abode. He rides on the sled drawn by oxen, world-wise, yet comparatively so young, as if they had seen scores of winters. The farmer spoke to me, I can swear, clean, cold, moderate as the snow. He does not melt the snow where he treads. Yet what a faint impression that encounter may make on me after all! Moderate, natural, true, as if he were made of earth, stone, wood, snow. I thus meet in this universe kindred of mine, composed of these elements. I see men like frogs; their peeping I partially understand.

** Thanks to The Blog of Henry David Thoreau for this entry.

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