Tag: Meditation

The Importance of Doing Yoga First

Most of my early meditation education happened in the shade of a tree. But in place of lotusly postures, I was sprawled, my legs some variety of akimbo. My body was emanating wavy lines in the summer heat, and I was covered in painful yellow cartoon lightning bolts.

I had just experienced my first yoga class. My car was a mile walk up a steep hill, and I was not going to make it.

I wouldn’t meditate in a serious way until a year later when I went to university, but the first day of laying in a destroyed heap was an underline beneath the lesson I would learn over the coming months: breathing mattered. Read more

Meditation Program for Prisoners

So I realize that many of my past posts have been about the negative portrayals of Buddhism or Buddhist images in mainstream culture, particularly in the media. I guess in a lot of ways, I find the negative much more interesting to message about.

But just this past Tuesday morning, I heard on the radio a report on Alabama’s most “violent and mentally unstable” prison inmates practicing Vipassana meditation. They’ve seen positive results in the inmates that participate in the program. Yet, the most interesting part of the story for me is the intercultural implications of having a program derived from Buddhist practice in a dominantly Christian state.

The Vipassana technique, though secular, is based on the teachings of Buddha. Soon after it started at Donaldson about a decade ago, the prison system’s chaplains expressed concern that it might not be in keeping with Christian values. The state put an end to the program.

But Hetzel, the warden, saw the dramatic results and brought it back.

It seems a bit ironic that of all places to see a positive, religiously relevant mention of Buddhism in the media, it appears under the context of a prison. Go figure.

You can listen to the whole report on KQED Public Radio’s website here.

Vince Horn on Secularizing Buddhism

I overposted over at Angry Asian Buddhist, so I’m continuing over here. Let me just say that I love Vince Horn’s recent post on the One City Blog.

The problem with not seeing how Buddhism has evolved, and in not seeing ourselves as a part of Buddhism’s evolution, is that we can believe we are somehow the holders of the “essence” of Buddhism.  But what is the essence stripped from the practices, realizations, models, and people who have contributed to this living tradition?  Is there really such a thing?  Could it be that the whole idea of there being an essence to Buddhism that is distinct from it’s extraneous forms–those forms that are so irrelevant that we can simply ignore them or dump them–is coming from a set of cultural assumptions that exist here in this place and time?  We need to recognize that possibility, and see that there is a kind of violence in trying to strip something from its historical roots, and also a kind of arrogance in thinking that we can even do that successfully.

Now I have to go read the comments!

Mosquito in the Night

mosquitoAll the windows closed and the fan turned on, I tried getting to sleep. Then I heard that high frequency humming of a mosquito in my ear, and now I’m up again. This usually isn’t a problem I have in California.

When I was younger in Paris, mosquitos would fly in whenever I left the window open. I’d hear that sharp insistent buzzing by my ear, swipe at the air and roll over. But it would always come back. Never mind the precepts, it was tempting to catch and kill the bug. But my uncle had placed a statue of Guan Yin over the bed, and that was double the reason to not send the sucker onto a better life.

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Zen Sesshin and Basic Training

I found this blog post on Celestial Lands today via Buddhist Military Sangha and was captivated. UU Army Candidate Chaplain David Pyle shares some “observations of similarities and surface differences between Sesshin and Military Basic Training, in the hopes that it might inspire thought.”

Just this morning I talked with my youngest brother, who will soon be off to basic training in North Carolina. Usually I can give plenty of advice to my brother ranging from finding memory leaks to playing the guitar, but today I had nothing to say. I have never been through basic training.

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Pathama Mitta: the Best Friend

After the Kathina holiday, I made a pact with my friend Rith that we would sit for an hour every morning and every evening. We had shared very personal stories about our meditation practice and discovered many exceptional similarities. The two of us also happened to be stuck in a meditation rut. We were determined to get back on track.

We failed miserably from the very first day. When we did sit, we failed to sit for an hour and never on a regular basis. Many weeks passed without any communication at all.

Recently inspired by a certain Buddhadharma forum, we decided to try again and start sending text messages to encourage each other every day.* At first I couldn’t sit for even an hour. I texted Rith and told him it was harrowing, but I’d try again anyway. It took a couple days before I could sit an hour both morning and night, and of course I’m still struggling. Naturally, he got this news by text too.

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Meditation enthusiasm

During my short retreat at Thich Ca Thien Vien, I learned something new about my meditation experience. I’ve only been on one other retreat, and it lasted just as long, however I did not run into quite the same roadblock. The meditation itself was as to be expected, periods of calm and quiet interspersed with thoughts, planning, fidgeting, and impatience.

The roadblock only emerged after some friends had left early in the morning. Prior to that, meditation had actually proceeded quite well, if we were to define “well” as silent, peaceful, and restful. The breathe would go in and out, and focus naturally built up without much effort. My chirpy little cricket friends sang their night song while I sat with my friends in the meditation hall. Thoughts would of course appear, but they subsided soon after, again drowned out by the silence and the chirping.

After my friends left to attend some business, I immediately felt a drop in encouragement. I had planned to stay the weekend with or without them, but after they left, my enthusiasm went as well. I tended to sitting and walking again, but without the same “success” as the previous sessions. Even after my fellow Dharmafolks came for visit later in the day, that same ease of meditation did not return. Instead, many thoughts had come, mostly about when the hour would pass.

While not a success in the previously mentioned sense, this period of sitting and walking did show me one thing. I know I’m lacking the energy and enthusiasm to continue finding stillness. My effort was not right because I did not want to stay in one position for such a long time. I would rather be there, not here! What was I thinking, going to meditation at the temple with that attitude? Of course I’m going to be impatient. My views and intentions were not in harmony with being still. It wanted to get up, move to ease the stiffness, think about what time it was, if the hour had passed….Sit? Fie!

Silly rabbit.

Ohh yea!

About a month ago I was invited by the Muslim Student Association at my school to attend a talk given by a professor of Islam. The professor proceeded to give a beautiful image of Islam, its practices and meanings, its encouraging of pluralism over evangelism, and its humanistic values.

I had asked why Muslims were to pray five times a day towards Mecca. The practice itself is awe-inspiring, that upwards of 1 billion people perform this act of faith each day. He said, and reminds me that he has always said, “The nature of humanity if forgetfulness. We need reminders.” Prayer was one way of reminding oneself throughout the day about one’s faith and service to God. That it is done by so many people around the world in common spirit must also be a reminder of the communal fellowship that they all share.

That was all I needed to hear.

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Delicious and filling

About a year ago, I went to visit a local temple for the first time. I was greeted by a friendly monk and he showed me the grounds. He had big ears and a warm smile of ease. Soft spoken as he was, the howling wind and chimes made it difficult to say much, so we decided to sit down. Settling in the main hall, I was struck by how simple it was. Nothing more than a small living room with a bare rug over a wooden floor. There was a moderately sized statue of Gotama against one wall, a bench and clock against another, and a short coffee table in the middle.

I sat and faced the venerable, who was no more than three feet away, as he gave a short dhamma talk. While his talk on the importance of kindness was good, he actually didn’t have to say anything. From the moment he let me in, showed me around, and sat down, his kindness and simplicity radiated. It seemed to me he lived and breathed with complete sincerity, just as he spoke. He was the very image of what he had taught. We could have just sat there and said nothing and it would have been just as nice.

The venerable then guided me through meditation. After tapping the bell, and throughout the meditation, he would occasionally utter the words, “May I be well, happy, and peaceful.” After some time, it would be extended to parents, teachers, relatives, friends, indifferent persons, enemies, and all living beings. For twenty minutes that’s all that mattered, sitting and hearing those words.

Wind blowing, chimes ringing, clocks ticking, my thinking, all subsided. All of it drowned out in the silence and in the soft words of love. I could not find anything like this in my books. Such lightness must have been what it was all about.

I had my first taste of freedom.