On Wednesday evening September 7th we held an "All Sangha Gathering" here at New York Insight. The administration shared some general information in a powerpoint presentation about the day-to-day business workings of our sangha. (See it here). This was followed by a robust brainstorming session.
My birthday is August 15th, and when I was young it always came with mixed emotions...the joy of a birthday came as a signpost that summer was coming to an end. The deep days of August hang heavy with humidity. My mind gets slow, the fan blades seem tired from turning all summer and the drone of it's motor clouds my thinking. The late August lifeguard watches over the pool with indifference. The watchman hasn't quite the energy for enforcement.
In Buddhism there is no shortage of lists of all the nasty states that one needs to see and overcome—the taints, the fetters, the cankers, the hindrances, the defilements. One can really feel quite burdened with the heaviness of it all. If we aren’t careful this kind of teaching can play right into the hands of what is already a highly developed capacity for self-loathing in Westerners. We hear about all these things that we need to overcome and this just precipitates new ways to beat up on ourselves. You get the feeling that you have to squash and pounce and beat things down.
Mature practitioners often report surprise at the tenacity of their quarrelsome tendencies. Even after years of practice the mind seems determined to find fault with self and others, to take exception to what is, and we can feel helpless in the face of it. One might say, “Well just stop thinking those thoughts,” but it’s not that easy, is it? The unawakened mind seems habituated to quarreling.
Many of you know that I am focused on a Buddhist response to climate crisis. I believe Dharma practice has a lot to offer because it brings us into alignment with a different kind of power than—well, basically money, and the privilege of being able to manipulate the natural world to secure our comfortable lives. This ‘other power’ emerges from directly knowing the indestructible, diamond-like mind-heart as awareness knowing consciousness, which is the same deep subjectivity within all sentient life.
One of the last things my father said to me before he died was, "Don't waste your energy rehashing what has been or imagining a brighter future. Be content with what you have and who you are." He was seventy-four at the time and, although he didn't know it, he was not long for this world. He had always been a practical man, apparently more interested in teaching my sisters and I how to get along in the world—how to lay tile or mow the lawn or conduct ourselves in the board room—than in encouraging us to contemplate the meaning of life.
Tanhā is the movement of the mind that keeps taking exception to what is—wanting things to be another way (bhava tanhā), not wanting them to be the way they are (vibhava tanhā), or just being preoccupied with sensory experience (kāma tanhā). Tanhā is a restless agitation—"relishing now here and now there," as the Buddha put it—that makes it impossible to be content with things as they are.
Shortly before the Buddha passed away, in his final moments, his cousin and life-long companion Ananda was overcome with grief. The Buddha addressed him with these poignant words...
Wise Intention is the fundamental basis of a beautiful mind/heart and consequently a beautiful life. Every mind moment involves an intention. Each decision and every action is born of intention. Each movement, word and thought is preceded by a volitional impulse, frequently unnoticed. Just as drops of water eventually fill a bucket, so the accumulation of our intentional choices shapes our life.
Wise Understanding is the first aspect of the Wisdom limb of the Noble Eightfold Path. Albert Einstein wisely said "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us 'universe,' yet we experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is really a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires, and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of understanding and compassion, to embrace all living creatures in the whole of nature and its beauty."