This Sunday, Zac guided the discussion on the deep topic of Samadhi, usually translated as concentration or “meditative absorption”. Here are some notes from the talk.

Donald Rothberg 2016-11-29 64:52
The Art of Samadhi Practice
Spirit Rock Meditation Center: From Mindfulness Breath to Radiant Mind
(played the first ~15 minutes)

Concentration – adapted from a talk by Gil Fronsdal, April 1st, 2000

Wisdom Wide and Deep by Shaila Catherine

Samadhi is Pure Enjoyment by Ajahn Sucitto

From the Introduction to Wisdom Wide and Deep:

[This is an] in-depth training that emphasizes the application of concentrated attention to profound and liberating insight. With calm, tranquility, and composure established through practical experience of jhana, or deep concentration, meditators are able to halt the seemingly endless battle against hindrances, eliminate distraction, and facilitate a penetrative insight into the subtle nature of matter in mind. It was for this reason the Buddha frequently exhorted his students, ‘develop concentration; one who is concentrated understands things as they really are.’”

“The reader will learn how to establish jhāna [deep concentration] using a host of objects: breath; body; colors; elements; immaterial perceptions of infinite space, consciousness, nothingness, and the stilling of perception; heartfelt social attitudes of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and
equanimity; as well as recollections of the Buddha, impermanence, and death.”

“Concentration ushers the mind into sublime states of blissful absorption and then serve as an effective foundation for the clear perception of reality.”

“Whether your progress is quick or slow, pleasant or painful, is of little importance—a wise practitioner will strive to develop every aspect of the path, both the factors that come easily and those that require arduous effort. You can know for yourself bliss beyond sensory pleasures, directly experience transformative insight, and learn how to sustain deep joy and clarity
within the complex dynamic of daily life.”

“We do not stop with the development of concentration. We apply this profound stability to the meticulous discernment, analysis, and contemplation of reality as it is actually occurring. You will learn how to sustain an in-depth examination of the nuances of mind and matter to unravel deeply conditioned patterns that perpetuate suffering.”

From Concentration – adapted from a talk by Gil Fronsdal, April 1st, 2000

Concentration brings calm, which can open the possibilities of new relationships toward our concerns. Most of us know that a calm mind allows us to see and think more clearly. But it can also help us to understand our concerns in a completely new way. It allows us to step outside of the maze-like context of the concerns themselves. Such problems as inter-personal relationships, work, health, and personal identity can be seen through our deepest integrity and values rather than through fears, desires, and popular, superficial values.

In a more profound sense, the over-arching perspective of calm awareness may show us that having problems may be completely acceptable. We realize that our ability to be whole and complete is not compromised by the problem. In fact, our wholeness actually includes the problem. This does not mean we become complacent, but that our attempts to fix our problems need not be colored by a sense of preoccupation, inadequacy, or neediness.

The most important function of concentration within mindfulness practice is to help keep our mindfulness steady and stable in the present so that we can see clearly what is actually occurring. Our present lived experience is the door to the deepest insights and awakening. Concentration keeps us in the present so mindfulness can do its work.

Difficult Times

This Sunday, Patrick led our meditation and reflection on the theme of practicing in difficult times.

Centered on a talk by Gil Fronsdal, we discussed ways in which experiencing difficult situations can be seen as a natural part of life and not a punishment. Seen through a different perspective, such situations can then be acted upon with wisdom and compassion.

Gil’s talk is available here:

Willingness to Feel; Courage to Awaken

This Sunday, Joey guided our reflections, drawing material from a recently attended retreat titled “Strengthening the Heart.” One of the retreat’s most inspiring and illuminating dharma talks, by Owen J Sofer, will be used to help frame our discussion.

The talk is available here:

During the talk, there is a reference to a video of a bird frozen to a pipe. That video is here:

Wise Action in Challenging Times

This Sunday, Joey led a timely discussion on how to deal with the challenges of acting with wisdom when the whole world (or even just one event) seems set against us. She played excerpts from talks given by Pema Chodron after the September 11th attacks which may be just as relevant today. The talks were from a retreat called “Fully Alive”.

We live in difficult times. Life sometimes seems like a roiling and turbulent river threatening to drown us. Why, in the face of that, shouldn’t we cling for safety to the certainty of the shore—to our comfortably familiar patterns and habits? Because, Pema Chödrön teaches, that kind of fear-based clinging leads only to even greater suffering.


This Sunday, Margaret led a discussion on the topic of Aversion. She used excerpts from a talk by Steve Armstrong:

Steve suggested a five step process for dealing with this challenging Hinderance:
– Recognize
– Restraint (from acting out the aversion)
– Reframe
– Reveal characteristics (explore the subtle differences between different forms of aversion)
– And when all else fails, focus on impermanence (wait it out – it will pass)


Mindfulness of Emotions

Today, Payton led the discussion on mindfulness of emotions, as defined by Gil Fronsdal in his talk of the same name. The talk is available from Audio Dharma here:

Gil spoke about using the acronym “RAFT” to pause and work with strong emotions as they appear in our minds and bodies. The acronym refers to:

  • Recognize: It’s often hard to notice when we have strong emotions going on. Sometimes even just noticing it is freeing.
  • Allow: Maybe not “accept” because we are not necessarily condoning the emotion. Instead we make space for it in the heart. Put the “motion” back in “emotion” and allow them to be experienced fully without acting on them. When emotions stop moving and get stuck, we suffer.
  • Feel: What is the physical experience of the emotion? More challenging emotions often have a story, and we can be very involved in that story. By stepping away from the story we can make more space for dealing with the emotion. Have compassion for yourself and don’t fight to resist or push down the experience. We don’t have to have an adversarial relationship with emotion.
  • Teasing Apart: Investigating the pieces of the emotion can be liberating. Time: sometimes it’s not related to something that’s actually happening now or even something that happened recently. Body: sometimes our body experiences can be separate from our emotions. Multiple emotions: sometimes several emotions can be tangled as one. Identity: the joy of conceit, based on complements, is fragile; the anger of being criticized is fragile and based on outside forces.


Reflections on Happiness

This Sunday, Zac led a discussion by exploring the concept of Happiness as it is understood in Buddhist philosophy and practice.

Some questions which were explored: What does happiness mean in the Buddhist context? What are various ways it is understood in the teachings? What is the “highest happiness”? Why is there so much emphasis on this concept in the teachings?

One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life?  I have considered this question and would like to share my thoughts in the hope that they may be of direct, practical benefit to those who read them.

I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy.  From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering.  Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this.  From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.  I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves.  Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

– Dalai Lama

In Sanskrit, the word for happiness is Sukha.

Sukha: etymology of sukha is “said to be su [‘good’] + kha [‘aperture’] and to mean originally ‘having a good axle-hole’….” Sukha is juxtaposed with duḥkha (Sanskrit; Pali: dukkha; often translated as “suffering”), This theme of the centrality of dukkha was developed in later years in both Vedic and the offshoot Buddhist traditions. The elimination of dukkha is the raison d’être of early Buddhism. (

So how does this happiness compare to the Western word?

“Happy” is derived from the Icelandic word happ, meaning luck or chance. Most of us, it seems, share this view of the mysterious nature of happiness.

A Buddhist term for such happiness is sukha, which may be defined in this context as a state of flourishing that arises from mental balance and insight into the nature of reality. Rather than a fleeting emotion or mood aroused by sensory and conceptual stimuli, sukha is an enduring trait that arises from a mind in a state of equilibrium and entails a conceptually unstructured and unfiltered awareness of the true nature of reality. (Ekman et al., 2005)

Pleasure and happiness

It is very common to confuse pleasure with happiness. Buddhism argues that there is no direct relationship between pleasure and happiness. The fleeting experience of pleasure is mostly dependent upon outer circumstances, on a specific location or moment in time. It is unstable by nature and the sensation it evokes soon becomes neutral or even unpleasant. It leads to ‘hedonic adaptation’ and when repeated it may grow insipid or even lead to disgust; savoring a delicious meal is a source of genuine pleasure, but we are indifferent to it once we’ve had our fill and would even sicken of it if we were to continue eating. (Ricard, 2011)

When he takes up meditation seriously and overcomes greed, he is happy like a man who has paid his debt; free from ill-will, he is happy like a man who is free from sickness. Free from sleepiness and drowsiness, he is happy like one free from imprisonment. Free from restlessness and worry he is happy like one free from slavery and free from doubts he is happy like one who safely crosses a desert. (Gunaratana, 2002)

WHAT LEADS TO HAPPINESS? How is sukha to be realized?

Virtue – ethics as a path of happiness

Guarding the sense doors – bringing mindfulness to the sense doors so that sense contact doesn’t trigger kleshas. Mindfulness allows us to be with what is, to know what’s happening now. Allows us to respond without habitual conditioned reactions… be with sensory experience with presence and wisdom

The bliss of samadhi – when the attention is so absorbed in the mediation object, we can experience a deep equanimity, bliss that can permeate the mind

Brahma viharas: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

Awakening – highest happiness – radical transformation of consciousness necessary to realize sukha can occur by sustained training in attention, emotional balance, and mindfulness, so that one can learn to distinguish between the way things are as they appear to the senses and the conceptual superimpositions one projects upon them.

So, with awakening is the highest happiness, Buddhism can be framed as a path of happiness

Sunyata – Emptiness

This Sunday, Sam led a discussion on the topic of Emptiness.

The first meaning of emptiness is called “emptiness of essence,” which means that phenomena [that we experience] have no inherent nature by themselves.” The second is called “emptiness in the context of Buddha Nature,” which sees emptiness as endowed with qualities of awakened mind like wisdom, bliss, compassion, clarity, and courage. Ultimate reality is the union of both emptinesses.

Finally, since emptiness seems so difficult to understand, why did the Buddha teach it at all? It is because of his profound insight into why we suffer. Ultimately we suffer because we grasp after things thinking they are fixed, substantial, real and capable of being possessed by ego. It is only when we can see through this illusion and open ourselves, in Ari Goldfield’s words, “to the reality of flux and fluidity that is ultimately ungraspable and inconceivable” that we can relax into clarity, compassion and courage. That lofty goal is what makes the effort to understand emptiness so worthwhile.

— Lewis Richmond

Sam played excerpts of talks by Jack Kornfield and Ajahn Sucitto which are linked below:

He also referenced verse 14 of the Tao Te Ching, translated here by D.C. Lau:

What cannot be seen is called evanescent;
What cannot be heard is called rarefied;
What cannot be touched is called minute.

These three cannot be fathomed
And so they are confused and looked upon as one.

Its upper part is not dazzling;
Its lower part is not obscure.
Dimly visible, it cannot be named
And returns to that which is without substance.
This is called the shape that has no shape,
The image that is without substance.
This is called indistinct and shadowy.
Go up to it and you will not see its head;
Follow behind it and you will not see its rear.

Hold fast to the way of antiquity
In order to keep in control the realm of today.
The ability to know the beginning of antiquity
Is called the thread running through the way.

Here are some more quotes which Sam used to good effect in the following discussion:

In all these cases, these teachings were aimed at getting people to focus on the quality of the perceptions and intentions in their minds in the present—in other words, to get them into the emptiness mode. Once there, they could use the teachings on emptiness for their intended purpose: to loosen all attachments to views, stories, and assumptions, leaving the mind empty of all the greed, anger; and delusion, and thus empty of suffering and stress. And when you come right down to it, that’s the emptiness that really counts.

— Thannissaro Bhikkhu

From “I am That”, teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj, compiled by Maurice Frydman:

p. 318: You will find [after discarding all that you are not] that what is left is nothing which the mind can hook on to. You are not even a human being. You just are — a point of awareness, co-extensive with time and space and beyond both, the ultimate cause, itself uncaused. If you ask me: ‘Who are you?’ My answer would be: ‘Nothing in particular. Yet, I am’.

p. 389: But ultimately you will come to see that you are neither the particular nor the universal, you are beyond both. As the tiny point of a pencil can draw innumerable pictures, so does the dimensionless point of awareness draw the contents of the vast universe. Find that point and be free.

p. 451-2: It is because you think yourself big enough to be affectedly the world. It is not so. You are so small that nothing can pin you down. It is your mind that gets caught, to you. Know yourself as you are — a mere point in consciousness, dimensionless and timeless. You are like the point of the pencil — by mere contact with you the mind draws its picture of the world. You are single and simple — the picture is complex and extensive. Don’t be misled by the picture — remain aware of the tiny point — which is everywhere in the picture.

p. 530: The world you think of is in your own mind. I can see it through your eyes and mind, but I am fully aware that it is a projection of memories; it is touched by the real only at the point of awareness, which can be only now.