February 2nd 2020 — Concrete Beds and Wooden Pillows... Waking Up the Hard Way (or Finding Insight but not Serenity)
Sixteen years ago, I sat my first 10-day silent ‘Anapansati’ retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh monastery in southern Thailand. Wat Suan Mokkh has a separate retreat centre famous for its basic accommodation which includes concrete beds and wooden pillows. There, from a seeming inability to meditate came a small but ultimately profound and eventually life-changing understanding. At the time I might have called this unexpected understanding an ‘Insight’ but right now I would say that it lacked ‘Mindfulness’ and at the time it didn’t lead to ‘Serenity’!
The Buddha says “...for the direct knowledge, for the full understanding, for the utter destruction, for the vanishing, for the fading away, for the cessation, for the giving up, for the relinquishment of hatred, delusion, anger, hostility, envy, miserliness, deceitfulness, arrogance, intoxication these two things are to be cultivated. Which two? Serenity and insight.”
Together, Serenity and Insight can bring an end to greed, an end to hatred and an end of ignorance, including all of the countless other intoxicating inclinations.
But both Serenity and Insight need to be supported by Right Mindfulness.
When we cultivate Serenity and Insight with Mindfulness, we open up new ways of seeing the self, new ways of seeing the world, and new ways of seeing ourselves in the world.
It is said that we are all living in a dream, that we are all asleep, we are all under a spell, an enchantment that blinds us to the inherent biases, distortions and dissonances that are deeply embedded in fundamentally and simply being human; in being ourselves.
The Buddha says that to find liberation, we must become disenchanted; we must break the spell in order to reveal what has been hidden from us. You do not have to sleep on concrete beds and wooden pillows to wake up to how things really are!
Please join me on Sunday, February 2, for some Mindfulness, some Serenity and maybe even some Insight at the Buddhist Recovery Academy.
March 3rd 2019 — The Pearl in Sorrow's Hand
I have recently been considering the nature of 'Dukkha' or 'suffering' or 'stress' in a Buddhist context, particularly how it plays itself out in my life.
One ancient talk goes along the lines... “Now what, friends, is the noble truth of stress? Birth is stressful, illness is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful...”
Birth, sickness, old-age and death are all unavoidable... and undeniably stressful.
I visited one of my favourite aunts in Cork last month. She has advanced dementia, so she doesn't know who anyone is, and she must have all of her personal care provided for her. She was being cared for by her 82-year old husband and surrounded and supported by a large loving family taking care of her every need.
It was inspiring to see her held in so much love. But it was equally sad to see a once vibrant wife, mother, grandmother, aunt and good friend as a mere shadow — almost unrecognisable — of her former ‘self’.
The truth of 'birth, sickness, old-age and death' is the usual description of universal suffering given by the Buddha, and I sometimes forget that the full definition of Dukkha is more than that, quite literally, the complete explanation goes...
"Now what, friends, is the noble truth of stress? Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what is wanted is stressful..."
So, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful... again these are not really avoidable. To be human is to experience physical and emotional discomforts. But can I experience these without becoming overwhelmed by them? I suppose that is the practice.
"Association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what is wanted is stressful..."
Daily life is inconstant, unpredictable, uncertain, it is woven together with impermanence. I cannot control what I get and what I don't get, but - whether I like it or not - this is my life. To argue with impermanence and uncertainty is to argue with the inarguable.
I have a recurring theme in my head lately. The closing verses from the long version of Rumi's poem 'The Guest House'...
"And if the pearl is not in sorrow's hand,
let it go and still be pleased.
Increase your sweet practice.
Your practice will benefit you at another time;
someday your need will be suddenly fulfilled."
So, maybe, that's what we all have to do... increase our sweet practice... and then, I hope friends, that someday all of our genuine needs will be suddenly fulfilled.