The Five Aggregates and Right View

The theme of today’s Sangha was the five aggregates – with emphasis on their relevance in the context of right view. To aid this discussion, Margaret used excerpts from two talks, listed below.

Joseph Goldstein:

And Ayya Santacitta:

Margaret also referenced an excerpt from John Burdett’s Bangkok Tattoo, which we’ve seen at Sangha before:

Bored with Pisit today, I switch to our public radio channel, where the renowned and deeply reverend Phra Titapika is lecturing on Dependent Origination. Not everyone’s cup of chocolate, I agree (this is not the most popular show in Thailand), but the doctrine is at the heart of Buddhism. You see, dear reader (speaking frankly, without any intention to offend), you are a ramshackle collection of coincidences held together by a desperate and irrational clinging, there is no center at all, everything depends on everything else, your body depends on the environment, your thoughts depend on whatever junk floats in from the media, your emotions are largely from the reptilian end of your DNA, your intellect is a chemical computer that can’t add up a zillionth as fast as a pocket calculator, and even your best side is a superficial piece of social programming that will fall apart just as soon as your spouse leaves with the kids and the money in the joint account, or the economy starts to fail and you get the sack, or you get conscripted into some idiot’s war, or they give you the news about your brain tumor. To name this amorphous morass of self-pity, vanity, and despair self is not only the height of hubris, it is also proof (if any were needed) that we are above all a delusional species. (We are in a trance from birth to death.) Prick the balloon, and what do you get? Emptiness. It’s not only us-this radical doctrine applies to the whole of the sentient world. In a bumper sticker: The fear of letting go prevents you from letting go of the fear of letting go. Here’s the good Phra in fine fettle today: “Take a snail, for example. Consider what brooding overweening self-centered passion got it into that state. Can you see the rage of a snail? The frustration of a cockroach? The ego of an ant? If you can, then you are close to enlightenment.”

Like I say, not everyone’s cup of miso. Come to think of it, I do believe I prefer Pisit, but the Phra does have a point: take two steps in the divine art of Buddhist meditation, and you will find yourself on a planet you no longer recognize. Those needs and fears you thought were the very bones of your being turn out to be no more than bugs in your software. (Even the certainty of death gets nuanced.) You’ll find no meaning there. So where?

Consequences of Right Speech

Patrick guided our reflections this Sunday on the topic of Right (or Wise) Speech and Wrong (or Unwise) Speech, and insights into the inner and outer effects of each. The discussion was anchored with excerpts from a talk by Shalia Catherine.

From Dharmaseed:

Speech is given particular importance in the Buddhist path because wrong speech can be the cause of tremendous harm, and right speech can be profoundly beneficial. The practice of right speech is given emphasis because it’s a very vivid way that we can bring our practice off the cushion and into our daily life. When our life is conditioned on delusion and greed, our intention usually is to benefit ourselves. While when our life is conditioned on delusion and hatred, our intention is usually to harm others. Even when we choose to lie because it will cause less harm than the truth, we still should be aware of the karmic consequence of our action.

The talk is here:

Emptiness – What is Real?

This Sunday, Sam guided our reflections, continuing with the theme of Emptiness from last week, which lies at the root of so much Buddhist practice.

Excerpts from talks by Sally and Guy Armstrong, as well as a guided meditation led by Guy anchored the presentation.

The talks were from the recent retreat “Emptiness” at IMS. We are currently unable to provide links to the talks which Sam played specifically, but here’s a list of the publicly available talks from that retreat:

Emptiness – Atammayata

Michael, Margaret, and Sam recently attended an IMS retreat on Emptiness led by Guy Armstrong, Sally Armstrong, Brian LeSage, and Suzie Harrington. This Sunday’s offering was anchored by excerpts from a talk by Suzie Harrington, a teacher new to many of us. The topic was “Atammayata”, or “Not made of that”, a little-discussed concept in Buddhist literature which is actually very core to the Buddha’s teachings.

Here is Suzie’s talk:

The energy of Viriya

This Sunday, Mike B led the discussion on the topic of the third Factor of Enlightenment, Viriya, usually translated as “Energy”, “Diligence”, or “Effort”.

Here is a talk he played by Joseph Goldstein:

The Pali word Viriya means “courageous energy”

Some translations: strength, courage, vigor, vitality, perseverance, effort… Joseph suggested we ”put all of these meanings together”.

Basic translation: energy, the capacity to be engaged, to do things, to accomplish things.

Buddha said: “When we practice, wisdom grows. When we don’t practice, wisdom wanes.”

Joseph says: “Wisdom is not something that we get, and then we have….if wisdom is not cultivated through practice, it becomes a memory, and it’s not particularly alive within us.”

When wisdom is not alive for us, it is easy for old habit patterns to reemerge.

“Beginless habit energies are extremely difficult to remove suddenly. Hindrances are formidable, and habits are deeply ingrained.” – Chinul, founder of Korean tradition of Zen

“It is not difficult to be aware of mindful, it is difficult to maintain it continuously. For this you need right effort, which is simply perseverance.” – Joseph

Tea as Meditation

“If asked / the nature of Chanoyu [tea ceremony] / say it’s the sound / of windblown pines / in a painting.”

– Sen Sotan, translated by Dennis Hirota, Wind in the Pines

This Sunday Payton replaced our usual Dharma talk with a mindful tea ceremony and spoke about tea as a meditation practice.

Language can be a barrier, because it represents ideas and concepts, so the listener/reader can either agree or disagree, believe in or not believe in the ideas expressed. … But when I make tea, I can express my heart free of doctrine or philosophy. And while you could say you don’t want the bowl of tea I offer you, it would absurd to say that you don’t agree with or don’t believe in it. You don’t agree or disagree with a bowl of tea; you drink it! And that somehow makes it more real.

– Wu De, Global Tea Hut, February 2017

Some suggestions for the practice include taking the time to focus on the experiences one is having when participating in a ceremony, not the questions.

One of the oldest methods of making tea into a meditation is listening to the kettle. … While your kettle is heating up, close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Try focusing on the area below your nostrils and above your upper lip. When your mind wanders, don’t feel frustrated or rebuke yourself; just return to the breath. Slowly, your mind will begin to quiet down. Then, just as you find yourself settling into a stillness, you’ll begin to hear the kettle like “the soughing of the wind through the pines.”

– Wu De, Global Tea Hut, February 2017

Why tea? Because it lends itself to ritual and is at the same time a mundane activity. It is also a single beverage that exists in the experience of millions of people on this planet. It is perhaps one of the few unifying factors that lies between all countries and cultures. What is making tea? Simple! Heat water, infuse leaves, drink. And yet, when one cares to do so, it is possible to perform those actions with mindfulness, being aware of each step, each motion, fully in the present.

The Japanese have a saying, “Ichigo ichie,” which means “one encounter, one chance.” It means that this meeting of people in the tearoom is unique. It will never happen in this way again. Even if we have tea with the same people every day of our lives, each encounter is a unique, bright and shining moment that will never occur again.

– Wu De, The Way of Tea, Chapter 3

In one sense, tea is no different from any other familiar activity, but it can be used to create something special. After all, sitting is done without mindfulness many times each day, but when we sit to meditate, we tend to do so with a bit of ritual; a bell may be rung, a cushion may be used, or our hands may be placed just so. None of these things are necessary, of course, but they are aids to mindfulness. Such variation helps us remember that we are not performing an everyday activity. When making tea, through the use of particular tools, motions, or setting, one can also cultivate such a variation. Indeed, others have developed these variations into rituals and schools for hundreds of years.

Treat every moment as your last; it is not preparation for something else.

– Shunryu Suzuki

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Finally, a legend about Rikyu, the father of Japanese Tea Ceremony,

A student of tea traveled many miles to meet Master Rikyu. … A few days later, after a particularly great tea session, the man asked the master, “Master, what is the inner essence of Cha Dao?” Rikyu smiled, “The highest truth of Cha Dao is this: gather water, lay the charcoal, heat the water and steep the tea.” The man was shocked… [and] decided to ask for clarification. “But, Master, that is too simple. It would seem anyone could do those things.” Rikyu scoffed; “The day you can do as I have said, I will travel all the way to your house, rest my head at your feet and become your disciple.”

… The idea is that you just gather water and just heat it, and then finally you just steep the tea. In other words, there are no other thoughts, no ideas and no ego…

– Wu De, Global Tea Hut, February 2017

Impermanence: really knowing change

This Sunday, Margaret led an excellent discussion on the first “mark of existence”, Impermanence. She played a talk by Joseph Goldstein which emphasized that while it’s easy to say the words and understand them intellectually, our practice is really to find a deep and visceral understanding of the saying, “everything changes”.

Here is the talk by Joeseph:

Natural History and Mindfulness

This Sunday, Mike B. led our discussion this past Sunday on the topic of Natural History and its intersection with Buddhist philosophy.

Mike played an excerpt from Gil Fronsdal’s talk here:

He also read a poignant selection from one of the essays in The Way of Natural History by Thomas Fleischner. Here are some quotes from that essay:

Natural history is the practice of intentional, focused attentiveness and receptivity to the more-than-human world, guided by honesty and accuracy. Simply put, it is paying attention to the bigger world outside our own heads. As Zen Roshi (and contributor to this volume) Robert Aitken noted, attention is prerequisite to intimacy. Natural history, then, is a means of becoming intimate with the big, wild world…

Minfulness, a crucial element of manu spiritual lineages, is particularly closely allied with Buddhist traditions, which include it as one of the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path. RIght Mindfulness involves cultivating a state of increasing clarity and intensity of consciousness, one that filters out illusions and projections…

Natural history and mindfulness are two surfaces of the same leaf, a seamless merging of attentiveness outward and inward, toward the interwoven realms of nature an psyche. For some people the window is clearer looking outward; for others, it’s easier to look within. But regardless what is being attended, the practice of mindful attention is very much the same, and the two practices are fully complementary.

Self and World

On Sunday, Sam led an exploration of the “optical illusion” awareness of consciousness in which “self” and “world” can each be perceived as being the foundation underlying experience.

He played excerpts from several talks, which are listed below:

Martin Aylward 2016-06-20 The Ambiguity of Self and World; 26:50-36:50

Eugene Cash 2012-12-14 Intimate Mystery; 0:00-9:40

Eugene Cash 2015-05-06 One Heart: Relative and Ultimate; 1:04-7:26

Eugene Cash 2015-01-02 The Paradox of Reality; 1:30-3:20

Eugene Cash 2015-01-02 The Paradox of Reality; 7:10-12:43

Here is a list of quotes which relate to these explorations:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
– Shakespeare, Tempest

Fayan was going on pilgrimage.
Dizang said, “Where are you going?”
Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.”
Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?”
Fayan said: “I don’t know.”
Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”
Fayan was suddenly awakened.

Even if you consume as many books
As the sands of the Ganges
It is not as good as really catching
One verse of Zen.
If you want the secret of Buddhism,
Here it is: Everything is in the Heart!
– Ryokan (ref: Eugene Cash 5-6-15) One robe, one bowl

This we have now
is not imagination.
This is not
grief or joy.
Not a judging state,
or an elation,
or sadness.
Those come
and go.
This is the presence
that doesn’t.
It’s dawn, Husam,
here in the splendor of coral,
inside the Friend, the simple truth
of what Hallaj said.
What else could human beings want?
When grapes turn to wine
they’re wanting
When the night sky pours by,
it’s really a crowd of beggars,
and they all want some of this!
that we are now
created the body, cell by cell,
like bees building a honeycomb.
The human body and the universe
grew from this, not this
from the universe and the human body.
― Jalaluddin Rumi, The Essential Rumi

To those who do not know and to those who do, the world is real. But to those who do not know, Reality is bounded by the world; while to those who know, Reality shines formless as the ground of the world. Such is the difference between them.
– Ramana Maharshi, Reality in 40 verses, no. 18:

Spontaneity bypasses the process of the conceptual (aspect) of mine.

Our ubiquitous error lies in mistaking concepts for reality, for instance our idea of a body — which is only an idea — for an actual body. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that the reality it may have bears any resemblance to our concept.

That which we perceive is a projection and not a thing-in-itself. That, surely, what the Buddha meant when he told us, in the Diamond Sutra, that we should not cherish the notion of things having intrinsic qualities or not having intrinsic qualities — for “qualities,” or their absence, are notions, concepts, projected onto “things”.

Spontaneity is no more undoer “our” control than our blood pressure, but by understanding the unreality of concepts in general and of the body -concept in particular the way for spontaneity should be laid open.

But spontaneity is clearly the aim of the Zen Masters and is the explanation of almost everything recorded of them in word or in act.
— Wei Wu Wei

So you should view this fleeting world—
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
– from the Diamond Sutra

The whole universe is the unresting pursuit of things as the self and the pursuit of the self as things.

Commentary: When one pursues things as the self, the self becomes the standard and things are not established. This is the place apart from forms. Also, pursuing the self as things is the situation in which things are the measure and the self is not established. This is great and vast, life and death.

All the scriptures are meant only to make a man retrace his steps to his original source. He need not acquire anything new. He only has to give up false ideas and useless accretions. Instead of doing this, however, he tries to grasp something strange and mysterious because he believes his happiness lies elsewhere. That is the mistake. —- Ramana Maharshi, Teachings in his own words p. 63.

When you look at anything, it is the ultimate you see, but you imagine that you see a cloud or a tree.

Learn to look without imagination, to listen without distortion: that is all. Stop attributing names and shapes to the essentially nameless and formless, realize that every mode of perception is subjective, that what is seen or heard, touched or smelt, felt or thought, expected or imagined, is in the mind and not in reality, and you will experience peace and freedom from fear.

Even the sense of ‘I am’ is composed of the pure light and the sense of being. The ‘I’ is there even without the ‘am’. So is the pure light there whether you say ‘I’ or not. Become aware of that pure light and you will never lose it. The beingness in being, the awareness in consciousness, the interest in every experience — that is not describable, yet perfectly accessible, for there is nothing else.
– Nisargatta Maharaj, I am That p. 201.