New Dharma Talk: How to Hold Your Dharma Seat

This talk offers guidance on how to train the heart and mind to become steady and balanced even in the face of the most challenging circumstances.

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Pali Language as a Gateway to Understanding Buddha’s Teachings

Taught by Jeffrey Samuels, Ph.D.
Thursdays, September 1 – November 17
7 – 8:30 p.m.

Ever wonder what the Buddha really taught? Ever want to read and understand the Buddha’s sermons in their original Pali language? In September we will begin a Pali course that is designed for students of Buddhism interested in reading Pali Buddhist texts. The course text that we will use for learning Pali grammar and vocabulary is focused on a wide range of Buddhist literature including sermons, verses from the Dhammapada, passages from the disciplinary texts, the Questions of King Milinda, and so on. This challenging 12 week course concludes with translating the Buddha’s first sermon (the Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma discourse).

Course fee is $150 – $200 sliding scale, plus $10 for the book, which Jeff will supply. Please pay at the highest level you can afford so we can accommodate those who need to pay less. A $50 deposit reserves your spot with the balance due by August 25. A scholarship spot is available in the case of financial need.

Jeffrey Samuels started practicing meditation in 1987 under the Thai forest monk Ajahn Buddhadasa. He has completed several long meditation retreats in Thailand under Mahasi Sayaadaw teachers as well as retreats in the US at the Zen Center in San Francisco and under the Thai teacher Sobin S. Namto. More recently, he has been practicing with One Dharma Nashville and Lisa Ernst.

Jeffrey Samuels is Professor of religious studies at Western Kentucky University. He received a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from the University of Virginia in 2002. He has been teaching courses on Buddhism and Pali at WKU since 2001.

To register, go to paypal here and enter the amount you will pay. To pay by check, instructions are here. For specific questions about the course, email jeffrey.samuels@wku.edu. For inquires about a scholarship rate, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Practice Tip: Creating a Story Room

So often during meditation our minds can wander into planning, stories and other thought patterns that lead us away from our present moment experience. When our minds are identified with thought, we miss our breath, sensations and feelings in our body, and the inner and outer sounds arising and passing away. But anyone who has meditated for a while knows quite well that we can’t simply turn off our thoughts.

Sometimes during meditation, when I’m particularly busy and have a lot on my plate, I slip into planning and stories about what I need to do, how I will do it and when. As my mental formations get stronger, I find it challenging to turn my attention back to my immediate experience. But as soon as I notice anxiety in my body related to planning, I begin to relax and dis-identify from the thoughts. Another simple tool I have found useful is a “story room.” Here is where I store planning, stories and other thoughts about upcoming activities. I close the door to this room, reminding myself I can re-enter after meditation. My mind releases and I return to the moment. Any lingering anxiety about “getting it all done” begins to dissipate and I relax into my present moment experience. Inside and outside dissolve into the simplicity of the breath, sensations, sounds, the suchness of this moment. After mediation, I can reenter my story room with a refreshed mind and open heart. My planning is much more effective.

Daylong Meditation Retreat: Resting in Openhearted Awareness

Saturday, August 27, 9:30 – 3:30
Nashville Friends Meeting
Led by Lisa Ernst

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“There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” – Rumi

In this silent retreat we will stabilize attention and deepen concentration through the breath and body, then gradually open our awareness to the boundless space of mind and heart. These practices will help us relax into freedom from our habitual thoughts and patterns and find equanimity in our present moment experience.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this retreat is suitable for newer as well as more experienced meditators. The retreat will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, instructions and dharma talk

Cost: $50, plus dana (generosity donation) to the teacher. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need. The retreat fee can be paid by Paypal here.  Directions and additional information will be emailed prior to the retreat.

Please contact onedharmaretreat@gmail.com with any questions.

Our New Meditation Space

Here are some photos of One Dharma’s new Nashville meditation space. Its spacious, serene and quiet. We also love the raised ceiling and skylight. If you live in or near Nashville and haven’t come by yet, please come see the space in person and join us for meditation. We meet Mondays, 7 – 8:30 p.m. Directions and additional info here.

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Low light for meditation.

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Making Friends With Your Mind: Getting to Know Self and No-Self

Saturday, July 23, Nashville Friends Meeting
9 a.m. – Noon
Led by Lisa Ernst

Taking Flightcrop

In this half day workshop we will explore in-depth Buddhist teachings of self and no-self. We will learn how meditation can help us identify and befriend our many “selves” while also touching the ineffable freedom of the unconditioned heart and mind. By seeing through the endless flux of identity, we come to rest in compassion, kindness and clarity.

The workshop will include instruction, experiential practice and discussion. Cost is $40 and can be paid by paypal here. Instructions for paying by check are at this link. Please
include your email address. Scholarships are available, inquire at onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Clear Mind and Open Awareness

“When your mind feels tight and constricted, you can make more space.” You’ve probably heard this before about meditation practice, but what specifically are we talking about here? The problem isn’t that there’s a lack of space, but the way our minds perceive space, which is related to our identity.

Most people think of the boundary of the body as a point of identity. That is, my thoughts, feelings, perceptions, heart, personality, all reside within my body. So the body is home and herein lies myself. This is who I am and where I exist. Everything I’m made of is inside is me, what’s outside is not me, or it may be related to me but still separate.

This boundary is useful and necessary living in the world. But it also has limitations when we only perceive ourselves through this narrow lens.

At times we may know that our hearts, our love, extend beyond the body. We may also feel compassion for the suffering of others and sense the boundary melting a bit. True lovingkindness and compassion function as a relative expression of emptiness or not-self. They are like a river that flows from a reservoir within our heart. But the reservoir doesn’t dry up – it has an infinite source because it isn’t limited to our body.

When we meditate we begin to see this perceived boundary of the body dissolve, we see that what we think of as “me” doesn’t have a distinct beginning and ending point. This is a liberating insight and is often an early aspect of understanding not-self. At times, we may feel less compelled to put so much energy into simply solving our own problems and “fixing myself.” This brings to mind Lenoard Cohen’s famous poem:

“Ring the bells that can still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

If we only view difficult thoughts and emotions and as existing inside “me” there is often a feeling of tightness, a lack of space and confusion about what we should do. When the focus is mainly on myself, other conditions seem to disappear. Yet, as we sit, as our concentration deepens, the mental focus on self loosens up. The sensations of anger, sadness and fear are seen as conditions that arise and pass away and are not “myself,” even though we experience them in our bodies. As this happens, gradually, or perhaps quickly, a feeling of space opens.

When we understand that our minds are not simply in our physical bodies, our mental boundaries open and our awareness feels less constricted. From this perspective, our challenges and pain may still exist, but now the great sky of mind has room to include them all. We have access to our wise heart that sees conditions for what they are, without the limits of “inside and outside,” and our path becomes clearer.

“If you attain your true self, then if you die in one hour, in one day, or in one month, it is no problem. If you only do “fixing-your-body” meditation, you will mostly be concerned with your body. But some day, when it’s time for your body to die, this meditation will not help, so you will not believe in it. This means it is not correct meditation. If you do correct meditation, being sick sometimes is OK; suffering sometimes is OK; dying someday is OK. The Buddha said, “If you keep a clear mind moment to moment, then you will get happiness everywhere.” ― Zen Master Seung Sahn

To open your awareness to this clear mind, try my guided “Mind Like Sky” meditation here.

Dharma Talk: The Flood and The Heart Tree

In this talk I share my experiences from the Nashville flood of 2010, how it devastated Radnor Lake and how the lake recovered. From a larger perspective, I explore the question of how we proceed when a tree falls into our path, or when the path is flooded beyond recognition. Can we discover a new way even as we mourn what is lost?

Hard Relativity and The Gateway to Freedom

A few days ago I saw a social media post by a Zen teacher, commenting on a video in which CEOs revealed that meditation was their secret to success. The dharma teacher jokingly observed, “I’ve been doing this shit for 30 years. How come I’m not successful?” He went on to write a blog post about the conflict inherent in materialistic, idealized definitions of success related to meditation. The video showcased how meditation helped CEOs focus and overcome fear. One CEO said she spent her meditation time thinking about the goals she wanted to achieve. The narrator never mentioned how living a life of compassion, generosity and non-harming were also cornerstones to success, something that is integral to the Buddhist path of meditation. Without these qualities most people are hopelessly caught in the craving self that is never satisfied with wealth, fame and achievement. Meditation only becomes a means to an end, a way to strengthen our competitive muscles and along with it, our entrenched, relative sense of self.

Much of the time we define and experience our lives in the relative, conditioned realm. In this world we are tempted to focus on “myself” and how I am fairing against a yardstick that defines whether I am successful, attractive, healthy, having a good day or week, and generally living up to my (and our culture’s) ideas of the perfect life. This focus on me and my ideals in relation to others creates a barrier to experiencing the open space of awareness that is free from self identification, which can be all but forgotten during a busy day of running from one activity to the next, or trying to alleviate anxiety and boredom through social media, television and other distractions.

Out of this near exclusive focus on the conditioned world, a sense of restriction arises, a lack of space, a feeling that there’s always something else we need to do, another place we need to reach, a better “I” that needs to be built. But of course wherever we go, whatever we do, the relative self always feels incomplete and continues seeking fulfillment through yet another scheme or activity. A simple moment of coming back to this moment, seeing this endless loop of striving, can help us remember that when we define ourselves only through this lens of self, we are stuck at the very root of dissatisfaction or dkkha.

I think of hard relativity as the time I spend lost in the whirlpool of activity and craving, when I’ve completely forgotten what available to me right now, the mind that is open, unconditioned and spacious. When the balance tips so far into conditioned awareness and activity that nothing else seems to exist, I feel hopelessly lost. Yet with a moment of remembering, of waking up from the illusion, it becomes clear that I’m not as stuck as I thought. In fact, I’m not stuck at all because who is stuck?

Why do we so often forget and get lost in this “hard relativity?” We can easily flip that question to, “why do we suffer?” Take a moment to reflect: how do you define yourself? Are you frequently trying to alter and make your sense of identity other than what it is in this moment? Who are you without your goals, your achievements, all the ways you define yourself? What if you began to reflect on this question more often in your daily life?

I’m not suggesting we let go of our heartfelt aspirations to excel or achieve. These have their place. Without some ambition, not much in this world will get done. Instead, I’m suggesting we create an intention to find ways to include spacious awareness of the unconditioned in our busy days and not only when we meditate. It sounds simple, but we tend to make it complicated: relative and unconditioned are not mutually exclusive even though they seem otherwise. They are two sides of one coin. Unconditioned, open awareness is always accessible, even when we feel caught in the vise grip of our activities, wants and self-driven cravings.

As a wake up call, you may want to pay more attention to those moments when you feel pressured to get to the next thing, be the next better version of yourself, squeezed and lacking in any space. See if you can create an intention, like a mindfulness bell, to take a moment to remember and reconnect with the open space of unconditioned awareness. Here’s a simple, yet profound Zen koan you can ask yourself to open this up: “What is my original face before I was born?” The answer is right here and nowhere else.

Mind Like Sky Guided Meditation

I’ve had a number of requests to offer a recorded version of the open awareness guided meditation I often do at retreats, “Mind Like Sky.” This guided meditation facilitates open awareness, a mind as wide and limitless as the sky.