Don’t Know

This past Sunday, Sam led the Sangha on the topic of “Don’t know mind”.

The three talks we heard excerpts from are:

Jack Kornfield, “On Not Knowing”, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, 3/21/2000,

Eugene Cash, “Not Knowing”, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, 5/14/2013,

Yanai Postelnik, “Not Knowing”, 3/20/2015.

The quote he read was from the book “No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth” by Ken Wilber, Shambhala Press, 1979.

Yoga and Buddhism

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, became a yogi when he left his father’s palace to “go forth” in pursuit of liberation….He sought out and studied with the greatest yogis of his day–including approximately five years of study with the well-known yogis Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. Under their tutelage, the young aspirant studied the most sophisticated yogic meditation techniques then known…stages of Dharana and dhyana, and which Buddhist teaching describes as the jhanas (concentrations).” (Stephen Cope: The Wisdom of Yoga.) As a deep yoga practitioner, he became part of a movement known in India as the great “shamanic stream”, a culture of dedicated yogis actively engaged in experimentation with the goal of complete liberation. Following his enlightenment, the Buddha’s teachings were then adopted by some yogic adepts. For almost a thousand years following his death, yogic and Buddhist teachings developed side-by-side, practitioners exchanged philosophies and practices, debated their differences, and shared many common threads.

This past Sunday Lorilee presented an overview of the historic cross-pollination between yoga and Buddhism, and lead our sangha in experiences to taste the effects of yogic concentration and meditation techniques (as described by Patanjali) both similar to, and different from classic Buddhist practices.

Below is attached a PDF that she made for the meeting.

Yoga and Buddhism

Engaged Buddhism

Apropos to some discussion last week, this Sunday Mike B led the Sangha on the topic of Engaged Buddhism.

Many have criticized the Buddhist path over the centuries for its inward focus, but in fact the Buddha himself was a powerful advocate for peace and equality. Buddhist leaders like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh have had a profound social impact in our current era. The Bodhisattva vows are entirely devoted to changing not just ourselves, but the whole world.
The challenge for those engaged in such a practice is to enter the world of conflicting ideas and strong opinions with kindness, compassion, and without becoming overwhelmed.

Here are the talks which Mike played:

Tara Brach’s talk:

Ruth King’s talk:

An article that includes the Fourtheen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing:

Impermanence – further perspectives

Sam guided our reflections this past Sunday, as we focused on the ways in which impermanence and our responses to it shape our experience. Excerpts from a dharma talk by Marcia Rose, as well as some selected readings, further developed this investigation.

The talk, by Marcia Rose, was titled “The Liberating Embrace of Annicca- Impermanence” and is available here:

Some quotes:

“Having seen form’s flaw, its chronic trembling, the wise one takes no delight in form.” — in the Samyutta Nikaya 6:6


Guy Armstorng (Emptiness, p. 183) : “All form trembles with impermanence, with momentary change, with emptiness. We might think this is an unfortunate situation — no stability in the whole physical world. But the universe we are in, with its lack of solidity, has one immense benefit: it allows us to be liberated.”


A bhikkhu once asked the Buddha if there is material form anywhere that is permanent and stable. The Buddha scooped up a little bit of soil in his fingernail and replied:

“There is not even this much form what is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change. If there were, then this living of the holy life for the complete destruction of suffering could not be discerned.”


When emptiness is possible, everything is possible. Were emptiness impossible, nothing would be possible. — Nagarjuna


Tao is empty
yet if fills every vessel
Tao is hidden
yet shines everywhere

With it, the sharp becomes smooth
the twisted straight
the sun softened by a cloud
dust settles into place

So deep, so pure, so still
It has been this way forever
You may ask, “Whose child is it?”—
but I cannot say
This child was here before the great ancestor.
– Tao te Ching, Verse 4


Reality is neither subjective nor objective, neither mind nor matter, neither time nor space. These divisions need somebody to whom to happen, a conscious separate center. But reality is all and nothing, the totality and the exclusion, the fullness and the emptiness, fully consistent, absolutely paradoxical. You cannot speak about it, you can only lose yourself in it. When you deny reality to anything [everything], you come to a residue which cannot be denied.

All talk of jnana is a sign of ignorance. It is the mind that imagines that it does not know and then comes to know. Reality knows nothing of these contortions. Even the idea of God as the Creator is false. Do I owe my being to any other being? Because I AM, all IS.
— Nisargadatta Maharaj [I am That 163 of 396].

Wise View, the foundation of the Path

Wise View is the first element of the Eightfold Path to end suffering, and it is the lens through which all the other elements can best be understood.  Joey led the discussion this past week, drawing from dharma talks and an interview between Loch Kelly and Adyashanti to help define Wise or Right View, offering practical ways to apply it, and demonstrating the results of awakening to it.
This is the youtube conversation between Adyashanti and Loch Kelly that Joey thought was an interesting follow on to Guy Armstrong’s talk: Formation of Self.

Mentioned by Margaret during the Sangha discussion: Eye and brain, by Richard Gregory. 

Awareness, consciousness, mindfulness, Buddha Nature

Here are a number of the passages cited in the presentation on Awareness Michael gave during his presentation this past Sunday.  In general, there is a progression from easy entry into Awareness of Awareness up to its more powerful implications.

Nisargadatta, from I Am That :   

this is not a rarified realization.  I ask you now, are you aware? and without hesitation you say yes.

Sayadaw U Tejaniya: Relax

—from “Don’t Look Down on the Defilements”

When doing mind work, you should be relaxed and practise without tension, without forcing yourself. The more relaxed you are, the easier it is to develop mindfulness. We do not tell you to ‘focus’, ‘concentrate’, or ‘penetrate’ because [that] suggests the use of excessive energy. Instead we encourage you to ‘observe’, ‘watch’, ‘be aware’, or ‘pay attention’.

If you are tense or find yourself getting tense, relax. There is no need to make a forceful effort. Right now, are you aware of your posture? Are you aware of your hands touching this book? Can you feel your feet? Notice how little energy or effort you need to know any of this! That is all the energy you need to remain aware, but remember, you need to do this all day long. If you practise this way, your energy will increase over the day. If you use excessive energy, if the mind wastes energy, you will get tired. In order to be able to practise continuously, you just need to keep reminding yourself to be aware. This right effort will allow you to practise in a relaxed way, free of tension. If the mind is too tense or too tired, you cannot learn anything. If the mind and the body are getting tired, something is wrong with the way you are practising. Check your posture; check the way you are meditating. Are you comfortable and alert? Also check your attitude; don’t practise with a mind that wants something or wants something to happen. The result will only be that you tire yourself.

Joseph Goldstein — Remind yourself “always already aware

Sayadaw U Tejaniya: Mindfulness Gains Momentum

—from “Don’t Look Down on the Defilements”

When you are new to the practice you will have to remind yourself often to be aware.  At first you will be rather slow in noticing that you have lost awareness and probably think that it is fairly continuous.  But once your awareness becomes sharper, you will begin to notice that you actually lose it quite often. You might even get the impression that your awareness is getting worse when in fact you are just becoming more often aware of losing awareness. This is a step in the right direction. It shows that your awareness is getting better. So don’t give yourself a hard time; just accept where you are and keep reminding yourself: be aware.

Just reminding yourself to be aware or mindful, however, is not enough. In order for mindfulness to become stronger you also need to have the right attitude, to have an observing mind free from defilements. Observing becomes difficult if, for example, you are worried about your progress. First you need to become aware that this is a defilement and then make it your object of observation. Whenever you experience doubt, uneasiness, dissatisfaction, tension, frustration or elation, look at them. Examine them, ask yourself questions such as: “What kinds of thoughts are in my mind?” “What is my attitude?” This will help you to understand how the defilements affect you. You need patience, interest, and a sense of curiosity to do this. As you gradually become more skillful at observing with the right attitude, mindfulness will become stronger and more continuous. This will help you gain more confidence in your practice.

At this point you will start seeing benefits and the practice of mindfulness will become less work and more fun. You will find it easier to remind yourself to be mindful and to spot the defilements. As a result, mindfulness will become even more continuous and over time, as the practice matures, mindfulness will gain momentum.

Once your practice has momentum, you will remain aware natu- rally. This natural awareness has an almost tangible feel to it and gives you a sense of freedom you have never experienced before. You simply always know when it is there and you experience it most of the time. In other words, you are aware of the awareness, the mind becomes an object of awareness. When you have this kind of momentum, the mind becomes more equanimous.

Now awareness will be strong and you will need very little effort to sustain its momentum. You will always be aware of several different objects without conscious effort. For example, while washing your hands you will probably notice movement, the touch and smell of the soap, the sensation and the sound of the running water. While knowing all this you might become aware of the sensation of your feet touching the floor, hearing the loudspeakers blaring from the monastery across the field, or seeing stains on the wall and feeling an urge to wipe them off. While all this is happening you might also be aware of any liking or disliking. Every time you wash your hands you are of course likely to be aware of different objects. Natural awareness is constantly shifting, constantly sweeping around, letting go of [some objects and taking in others.]

When you have natural awareness it might feel as though things have slowed down since you can now take in so many different objects, whereas at the beginning of the practice you struggled to be aware of only one or two objects. . . .You can be aware of yourself continuously, whatever posture you are in, from the time you wake up until you fall asleep.

Toni Packer  – from The Light of Awareness

Attention has a focus. . . .  and it can be objectified.  We can pride ourselves on our attention, call attention to attention so that it can be admired by others. . .

But awareness is not self-conscious, does not think about itself, is not a product of thought or imagination, does not have a self-center, and shed light on consciousness, on self-centered activity. 

One is not caught by the thought “I must keep this practice going” or   “I must pay attention” . 

What happens in a moment of simple looking and listening?

Awareness without a center can illuminate self-centeredness, and reveal immediate undivided presence.  [This is the no-self]

– from The Wonder of Presence

Can I be aware of the restless stirring in me when I am idle? and do nothing about it, not bury it with practice, not label it suffering, but rather let it be fully revealed in the light of awareness.  Not to fix it, but to let it reveal itself.

Is it possible to purify perception (Awareness) by beholding clearly what distorts it?

Nisargadatta :  mind is interested in what happens, whereas awareness is interested in mind itself.  the child is interested in the toy, but the mother watches the child, not the toy.  

A guided meditation from (Anonymous)

“The Most Direct and Rapid Means to Eternal Bliss”

Shut your eyes.  Notice your awareness.  Observe your awareness.  turn your attention away from the world, body, and thought and towards awareness watching awareness.  Every time you notice you are thinking, turn you attention away from though and back towards awareness watching awareness. Watch your awareness, not your thoughts.

Adyashanti – True Meditation

True meditation has no direction, goals, or method. All methods aim at achieving a certain state of mind. All states are limited, impermanent and conditioned. Fascination with states leads only to bondage and dependency. True meditation is abidance as primordial consciousness.

True meditation appears in consciousness spontaneously when awareness is not fixated on objects of perception. When you first start to meditate you notice that awareness is always focused on some object: on thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, memories, sounds, etc. This is because the mind is conditioned to focus and contract upon objects. Then the mind compulsively interprets what it is aware of (the object) in a mechanical and distorted way. It begins to draw conclusions and make assumptions according to past conditioning.

In true meditation all objects are left to their natural functioning. This means that no effort should be made to manipulate or suppress any object of awareness. In true meditation the emphasis is on being awareness; not on being aware of objects, but on resting as primordial awareness itself. Primordial awareness (consciousness) is the source in which all objects arise and subside. As you gently relax into awareness, into listening, the mind’s compulsive contraction around objects will fade. Silence of being will come more clearly into consciousness as a welcoming to rest and abide. An attitude of open receptivity, free of any goal or anticipation, will facilitate the presence of silence and stillness to be revealed as your natural condition.

Silence and stillness are not states and therefore cannot be produced or created. Silence is the non-state in which all states arise and subside. Silence, stillness and awareness are not states and can never be perceived in their totality as objects. Silence is itself the eternal witness without form or attributes. As you rest more profoundly as the witness, all objects take on their natural functionality, and awareness becomes free of the mind’s compulsive contractions and identifications, and returns to its natural non-state of Presence.

The simple yet profound question, “Who Am I ?,” can then reveal one’s self not to be the endless tyranny of the ego-personality, but objectless Freedom of Being – Primordial Consciousness in which all states and all objects come and go as manifestations of the Eternal Unborn Self that YOU ARE.

Nisargadatta:  consciousness is full of gaps, and yet there is a sense of continuity in each.  this indicates the presence of something beyond consciousness.

Kabir – From the Bijak

Student, do the simple purification.

You know that the seed is inside the horse-chestnut tree;

and inside the seed there are the blossoms of the tree,

and the chestnut, and the shade.

So inside the human body there is the seed, and

inside the seed there is the human body again.

Fire, air, earth, water, and space – if you don’t want the secret one,

you can’t have these either.

Thinkers, listen, tell me what you know of that is not inside the soul?

Take a pitcher full of water and set it down on the water –

Now it has water inside and water outside.

We mustn’t give it a name,

lest silly people start talking again about the body and the soul.

If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth:

Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you.

The one no one talks of speaks the secret sound to himself,

and he is the one who has made it all.



Working with the Mind is skilled, while Easy & natural:  find your way through thoughts like you weave through a crowd.  You do not fight everyone you met.

— Definitely this realization is not a new experience. 

It is the discovery of the timeless factor in every experience. 

It is awareness, which makes every experience possible. Just as in all the colors light is the colorless factor, so in every experience awareness is present, yet it is not an experience.

Look, my thumb touches my forefinger.  Both touch and are touched.  When my attention is on the thumb, the thumb is the feeler and the forefinger — the self.  Shift the focus of attention and the relationship is reversed.   I find that somehow, by shifting the focus of attention, I become the very thing I look at, and experience the kind of consciousness it has;  I become the inner witness of the thing.  I call this capacity of entering other focal points of consciousness—love.; you may give it any name you like.  Love says “I am everything.” Wisdom says: “I am nothing”.  Between these two, my life flows.  Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and the object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both, and neither, and beyond both.. 

To say I am the witness is false.  Say instead “there is witnessing”

Krishnamurti:   the knower is the known

Buddha nature pervades the whole universe existing right here now. 

I dedicate the merit of this practice to all sentient beings.

Together we realize liberation.

What we pay attention to

This Sunday, Joey led the dharma discussion drawing from a talk by Sally Clough Armstrong, focusing on ways of remembering mindfulness and compassion when a tendency to blame or negative states of mind arise.

Sally brings interesting references to neuroscience and skillful means for addressing our sometimes negative responses to inevitable unpleasant moments.

The talk is available here:

Below are Joey’s notes:

Sally quoting the Buddha: Whatever we think and ponder upon with become the inclination of the mind.

Sally quoting Jill Taylor Bowles from My stroke of insight: Nothing external to me had the power to take away my peace of mind.

Sally: “…not disowning our negative states of mind but rather “oh, you poor dear, you’ve gotten caught in a stream of negativity.”

Sally: “It takes training”.

Joey’s comments:
Rick Hanlon, neuropsychologist, writes in Hardwiring happiness, that negative thoughts are like Velcro to the mind and positive ones like Teflon because of the inherent negative bias of the mind that developed for our survival.

We needed to be able to make life-saving decisions quickly and efficiently. So our brains evolved with the amygdala performing the quick and dirty assessment of each situation we encounter: does this represent threat or safety?

When we train the mind, this is what we’re needing to move beyond: the reaction and evaluation of threat or safety that is built into our minds because of past conditions rooted in highly charged emotional events.

Imagine a situation in which a little preschooler approaches a teacher who has been safe and kind but who suddenly yells aggressively: “All Preschoolers off the playground right now! It’s time for the older kids to have the playground.” And it feels to the little preschooler that that teacher is yelling directly at her, attacking her. This small moment with a highly emotional charge might combine with other charged moments and conditions that lead to the development of a habit of reacting with fear when needing to approach other people. There may be a belief or thought pattern that develops:” People are unpredictable and scary. I’ll avoid them when I can.” When faced with having to interact with others the mind can get caught in an aversive repetition: “Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? Safety? Danger? Will I join the dance?

We are all susceptible to developing schemas as responses to past experiences that may emerge as beliefs about our selves or others, reactions that may seem too strong for the situation at hand but may simply be the result of triggers of past conditions that felt unsafe, body memories of a seemingly threatening situation held in the right hemisphere of the brain and emerging as an impulsive reaction.

So it does take effort, repeated effort and compassion to train the mind. Recently, I’ve found a skillful means I wanted to share with you. Richard Schwartz has developed a model of working with reactions that arise or thoughts of an obsessive or repetitive nature. He has named the model Internal Family Systems.

When those repetitive categories of thoughts that Sally mentions continue to arise, it’s possible to view them as Parts of ourselves rather than our whole self-identity. So expanding on her suggestion of cultivating an attitude of compassion towards ourselves in the face of a negative stream of thoughts, it’s possible to recognize that the stream is a Part of you that is doing it’s very best to keep you safe.

If we actually turn toward the Part that, for example, tends to be critical of ourselves rather than ignore it, try to push it away, or believe it, we can feel where it is in or around our body and address it as if it is it’s own mini self. We can ask it to give us some space so we can be in relation to it in order for us to alleviate its distress. This has the possibility of providing the pause we often talk about but also provides a way of seeing that in spite of an emotionally gripping and believable critic, this is simply a Part of ourselves arising from past emotionally charged conditions.

Once we’ve established a bit of space from our critic or the emotional reactivity or repetitive thought, we can ask compassionately: “What set you off? What are you worried about?” or simply “What’s happening?”

This acknowledgement of the critical or distressed Part of us is often enough to allow that Part to relax. Instead of seeing the critic or emotional reaction with aversion, we offer a welcome. We cultivate compassion rather than alienation. It can become another skillful means of paying attention.

Feeling Vedana

This Sunday, Payton guided the Sangha discussion. We continued the theme of noticing the space between our experience and our reaction, by trying to become more aware of Vedana, or the Feeling Tone (pleasant, unpleasant, or neither) that happens just as our senses make contact with the world. More specifically, we discussed trying to feel the sensation of being pulled toward or pushed away from those experiences as they occur, and how reacting with that movement can define our whole life.

Payton played a talk by Christina Feldman from a recent retreat at IMS. The talk is not publicly available, but here is a link to the other talks from that retreat:

Here’s Payton’s notes from the discussion.

Vedana” – Feeling tone or Hedonic tone, not emotion, exquisitely simple.

Vedana is mostly not implicitly pleasant or unpleasant, but is generally neutral and is then colored by our context.

Often what we react to is not the experiences that we have, but the thoughts that follow those experiences.

What we feel, we move toward, away from, or we stand confused.

If we are mindful, automatic patterns of behavior become optional.

Vedana begins with contact; generally they arise together; just notice pleasant as pleasant, unpleasant as unpleasant; this is a practice for our daily life.

Neutral Vedana can be invisible; it causes us to go looking for something pleasant, or looking for something unpleasant to fix; “when we don’t pay attention to the neutral, it becomes unpleasant”.

Vedana in this context is the Second Foundation of Mindfulness. The first is the body, and it is essential to notice these experiences happening in the body. The third is our Mind State (“Citta“), which we could describe as our mood. Often the Mind State colors our experience of the Vedana, because pleasant Vedana can become neutral in the environment of unpleasant Citta. Similarly, unpleasant Vedana can be ignored or softened when perceived during pleasant Citta.

Mind states are also created by repeated exposure to Vedana, so lots of unpleasant Feeling tone experiences can lead to unpleasant Mind states, which in turn color our subsequent Feeling tones. This cycle can repeat endlessly.

We hear buzzing around our head and we’re swatting at the mosquito before we even know that we’ve moved our hand. Then when someone asks why we’re swatting the air, we say, “I was annoyed by the mosquito”, but in fact we’ve just made up that story to explain our actions.