Right Effort and Right Concentration

This Sunday Rebecca led the discussion reading from Joseph Goldstein’s book, Mindfulness, focusing on Right Effort and Right Concentration as steps of the Eightfold Path.

There was quite an exploration of the four classic pieces of Right Effort:

  1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states;
  2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen;
  3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen;
  4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.


Why do we Meditate?

Today Payton led a discussion on the rather complicated topic of “Why do we meditate?” after playing a talk given by Ren Bunce, which is available here:


Ren spoke about her personal experience coming to practice, starting with Alcoholics Anonymous. She heard the teaching to love everyone, but was confused about “How?”. It was only through a lot of meditation that she was able to directly experience what Jane Hirshfield once wrote:

“Everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.”

The discussion touched on many peoples’ personal experiences and challenges coming to formal meditation practice, particularly the paradoxical nature of doing something – and something that’s really hard – without a goal. Meditation seems to work like little drops of water hitting a stone; nothing appears to happen for a long time, but eventually there is a hole and through it we can see our experiences in a new way. As Ren said,

when we sit, we are training the mind, we are not indulging the mind


The Progress of Insight

This past Sunday, Zac guided our reflection using the Progress of Insight framework. This “map of the journey” comes to us from various traditional Theravada Buddhist commentary texts, most notably Buddhagosa’s Visuddhimagga (430 CE). This framework outlines insights, stages, and particular challenges that a practitioner of vipassanā (“insight”, “clear-seeing”) meditation is said to pass through on the way to liberation.

Here are some resources on the Progress of Insight.

  • Daniel Ingram a self proclaimed arahant and an interesting and somewhat controversial figure. He manages to be orthodox, irreverent, deep, reductionistic, linear, secular, and esoteric all at the same time. His self published book (Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha) is available for free online (here). It contains a colorful exposition on the Progress of Insight with many anecdotes and examples.

Non-self and a center of Narrative Gravity

Inspired by the notion of self as the  “center of narrative gravity” that arose in the talk by Matthew Brensilver presented by Payton the previous Sunday, this Sunday we revisited the notion of Anatta, or “no-self” in Buddhism.   

Margaret led the discussion using another talk by Matthew Brensilver in which, as part of a more wide-ranging reflection on Anatta, he talked more about self as the “center of narrative gravity”.

Here is the talk: http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/5730.html


This past Sunday, Margaret revisited the idea of Samadhi, and its role in Buddhist practice. Although Samadhi is often simply translated as concentration, this perhaps does not fully capture the notion. With no intention of exploring Samadhi in the context of Jhanas, we reflected on the role of pleasure in Samadhi. She used excerpts from talks by Ajahn Punnadhammon and Brian Lesage to explore these ideas.

Here are the talks used:

http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/484/talk/33029/ (Brian Lessage, The Art of Samadhi)

http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/8/talk/32947/ (Ajahn Punnadhammo, What is Samadhi?)

Freedom and Release

Payton led the discussion this past Sunday on the topic of Freedom: Relief vs. Release. The discussion was centered around a talk by Gil Fronsdal, available here:


Gil brought up the social/philosophical tensions that exist in all our lives and how perhaps the “middle way” isn’t just choosing a place on that spectrum. Just a few:

  • individualism vs. conformity
  • discipline vs. allowing
  • conservative vs. liberal

He also listed the “four prisons” that trap us in these tensions:

  • Religious observances
  • Opinions
  • Self
  • Sensual desire

Gil’s suggestion, near the end of the talk, was just to be “thus”, rather than identifying with any one side or the other.


Hiri and Ottappa

This past Sunday, Mike shared parts of a dharma talk by Sean Feit on the original Buddhist ideas of hiri and ottappa – sometimes translated as Conscience and Concern.

Called “The Guardians of the World”, often these terms are translated as Shame and Moral Dread, which perhaps accounts for how little they are discussed in the West: we have plenty of shame and dread to go around. However, they can also point to a subtle way of reviewing the past and planning the future without being hooked by craving and grasping.

Hiri implies the sense we get when reviewing past actions that were unskillful (hence Conscience). Once seen, we will naturally have Ottappa: we want to avoid the results of those actions (Concern). This leads us to be more able to avoid repeating those actions in the future.

The challenging part of this review and avoidance is not to judge ourselves for unskillful actions and not be terrified of repeating them again. That judgement and terror are themselves unskillful.

Sean Feit’s talk is here: http://imsb.dharmaseed.org/teacher/383/talk/33351/

Working with Anger: Lojong Trainings

This Sunday, Joey played a wonderful talk by Norman Fischer. Norman discussed the Tibetan Buddhist practice of using “Lojong” slogans to bring mindfulness to daily life. Mostly the focus in the talk was using the slogans in relation to anger, but also how they are applicable to many other situations.

The talk is here: http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/134/talk/21034/

Joey printed up a list of the four slogans that Norman used in his talk:


In the subsequent discussion we talked about how the first slogan doesn’t mean not to form opinions or develop a hypothesis about why someone exhibits a behavior, but to know such thoughts as a hypotheses and not to get hooked into believing that is who the person is, unchanging.