Creating a Sense of Self

This week Sam led a discussion continuing on the topic of “the Deathless” from previous weeks by exploring how we create our sense of Self.

He played 3 excerpts from the talk “The sweet essence, part 2” by Patrick Kearney. The excerpts were at times 0:00-4:58, 10:52-11:58, and 24:49-33:57. He also played the first 14 minutes of the talk ”Self is an Addition to What is Already There” by Ajahn Sucitto.

Sam read parts of the following two items:

When a pot is broken, the space inside it is not, and similarly when the body dies the Self in it remains eternal. It is distinct from the causal Maya and its effects. It is pure Knowledge. It illumines Being and Non-being alike and is without attributes. It is the witness of the intellect in the waking, dream, and deep sleep states. It shines as “I-I”, as ever-present, direct experience.
It is aware of itself through its own effulgence and so is its own witness. It is single and immutable in the waking, dream, and deep sleep states. It makes itself known as Being-Consciousness-Bliss and is self-effulgent in the heart as “I-I”.
The fool takes the reflection of the sun in the water of a pot to be the sun; the wise man eliminates pot, water, and reflection and knows the sun in the sky as it really is, single and unaffected, but illuminating all three. In the same way the fool, through error and misperception, identifies himself with the ego and its reflected light experienced through the medium of the mind. The wise and discriminating man eliminates body,intellect, and reflected light of consciousness and probes deeply into his real Self which illuminates all three while remaining uniform in the ether of the heart.

— from the Vivekachudamani, by Shankara, as translated by Ramana Maharshi.

A monk asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?”
Joshu answered: “Mu.” [Mu is the negative symbol in Chinese, meaning “No thing” or “Nay.”]

Mumon’s comment: To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriarchs. Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriarchs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost. You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriarch? This one word, Mu, is it.

This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand in hand with the whole line of patriarchs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?

If you want to pass this barrier, you must work through every bone in your body, through every pore of your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out.
Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, your subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows about it but he cannot tell it.

When he enters this condition his ego-shell is crushed and he can shake the heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriarch offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in his way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground. I will tell you how to do this with this koan:

Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation. When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation, your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.

– Joshu’s Dog

The Deathless

Sam led our Sangha this week on the topic of a phrase mentioned many times in Buddhist cannon: “the deathless”.

Sam chose excerpts from the following talks (from

2016-03-27 Energy of Release – The Deathless Element – where Consciousness Finds no Footing 59:12
Ajahn Sucitto
Buddhist Retreat Centre : The Deeper You Go, the Lighter it Gets

2017-11-03 TBIF: on The Mula Sutta: Through the Portal of Self into the Non-Dual Heart 61:04
New York Insight Meditation Center : NYI Regular Talks

Here are the last lines of the Mula Sutta:

“‘All phenomena are rooted in desire.[1]

“‘All phenomena come into play through attention.

“‘All phenomena have contact as their origination.

“‘All phenomena have feeling as their meeting place.

“‘All phenomena have concentration as their presiding state.

“‘All phenomena have mindfulness as their governing principle.

“‘All phenomena have discernment as their surpassing state.

“‘All phenomena have release as their heartwood.

“‘All phenomena gain their footing in the deathless.

“‘All phenomena have Unbinding as their final end.’

From the Buddha:
In describing unsupported consciousness, the Buddha taught: Wherever there is something that is intended, something that is acted upon or something that lies dormant, then that becomes the basis for consciousness to land. And where consciousness lands, that then is the cause for confusion, attachment, becoming and rebirth, and so on. But if there is nothing intended, acted upon or lying latent, then consciousness has no basis to land upon. And having no basis to land, consciousness is released. One recognizes, ‘Consciousness, thus unestablished, is released.’ Owing to its staying firm, the heart is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, such a one realizes complete, perfect nibbana within themselves. (Samyutta Nikaya 12.38 and 22.53)

And a quote from the book “As It Is” by Tony Parsons: “When I don’t know what I am I sanctify these experiences, take ownership of them and give them great significance. I believe they mean something which, once understood, will provide me with answers and formulas. But these experiences are only consciousness concealing and revealing itself in order to be recognized. When I know ‘what’ I am I discover that I am not existence; I am the presence which allows existence to be. Existence either blossoms in that presence or reflects back my sense of separation.”

And a quote from the book “I am That” by Nisargadatta Maharaj: “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.”

Distraction and Dharma

On January 21, Michael offered a presentation on the Distraction and Dharma. His interest piqued by the effect of increasing, even compulsive use of digital devices on the part of the general population (himself included), he put together the observations of several respected teachers on the subject of the kinds of distractions that we actually seek out – rather than those which intrude despite our best efforts.

Here are links to his sources.

Gil Fronsdal’s talk “Distraction and Attention” examines the effects of a distracted versus a focused mind, as these are examined scientifically and approached dharmically. Find this talk on dated 2015/11/1. The excerpts used this Sunday were minutes 8:0814:07 and 25:06- 33.27.

Martin Aylward’s talk “Defenses Against Spaciousness” proposes that distraction, a form of delusion, holds a place equal to grasping and rejecting, in keeping us from the dharma, and particularly from the experience of open space. The talk can be found at The excerpt used was minutes 34:31-38:45.

Finally, here is the article which Michael read at the end of our gathering.

New Year’s Resolutions

Sangha New Years Eve Day 2017/8

In this season of sincere resolutions often not skillfully made, our focus was on wise intention, the second step of the eightfold path. Michael led our reflections, beginning with a look at the inscription on the wooden Han which is struck with a mallet to call monks to meditate at Soto Zen monasteries (Here, Tassajara).

Listen Everyone. Birth & Death is Given Once. This moment Now is Gone.

Awake each one Awake! Don’t Waste This Life

We explored the ways in which advice about how to make and keep resolutions seemed to support or ignore wise intention. Most of the advice given is of the ‘true grit’ variety, just bring yourself to follow your resolutions with will power. Research has shown this approach lasts on average until January 8 before the resolutions collapse.

A more discriminating approach can be found in the NYT article titled “How to Make and Keep a New Years Resolution” which focuses on the processes by which bad habits are cued, and (those cues seen) can be replaced by more wholesome habits.

The Buddha’s advice about modifying one’s own behavior can be discovered in his counsel to his son Rahula, which is the subject of dhamma talks by Ajahn Lee Dhammadaro and Ajahan Thanissaro. Here, a rational and an empirical analysis of one’s behavior and its effects on oneself and other can lead to action purified of delusion and harm.

A contemporary approach which is consonant with dharma wisdom while being offered in a secular forum, is offered in the New York Times Sunday Review for December 29,2017, under the title “The only Way to Keep Your Resolutions.” David DeSteno’s extensive research has led him to focus on the emotional ground or mindset in which resolutions are being undertaken. His research has demonstrated that self control and delayed gratification, characteristics of most people who reach their goals and achieve a real measure of happiness, are richly supported by taking time to reflect on gratitude, compassion, and justifiable pride or sense of accomplishment. As you know, at least two of these reflections are supported by classical Buddhist meditations. He makes the most complete connection between the overall mindset out of which action proceeds, and the effect of those actions on the person undertaking them. His article is worth reading in full

In sum, since the Buddha himself placed Wise Intentions early in the path of practice, we might do well to give it the kind of thoughtful attention that could really improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Christmas Eve Reflections

Christmas Eve Day Sangha

Michael guided our reflections this morning, with a focus on faith or trust, with an aim toward looking into what it is that we trust in ourselves, and what we have learned not to trust.

The holidays present us with the apparent demand that we trust in religious faith, or communal celebratory spirit, and it can be useful to have a balance against that pressure, to allow us to look into our selves, and find what, amid the changing surfaces of life, seems constantly reliable. Strategies for protecting that space are the subject of this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye:

The Art of Disappearing.

When they say Don’t I know you? say no.

When they invite you to the party

remember what parties are like

before answering.

Someone telling you in a loud voice

they once wrote a poem.

Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.

Then reply.

If they say we should get together.

say why? It’s not that you don’t love them any more.

You’re trying to remember something

too important to forget.


The monastery bell at twilight.

Tell them you have a new project.

It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store

nod briefly and become a cabbage.

When someone you haven’t seen in ten years

appears at the door,

don’t start singing him all your new songs.

You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.

Know you could tumble any second.

Then decide what to do with your time.

The process of establishing boundaries sketched in, we then turned to contemplate what it is we might trust all the way down. Prompting our conversation on this subject was an 11 minute video by spiritual teacher Gangaji. The particular talk that we watched is not available for circulation, but there are plenty of talks on trust by Gangaji available on YouTube. Here’s a link to a talk she gave introducing a retreat devoted to the topic.

Our conversation ranged broadly, anchored by a respect for right wisdom about how best to spend our time to cultivate a new birth in our own lives.

The One

This Sunday, Rebecca led our reflections, focusing on a text by Swami Ramachakara (William Walker Atkinson) on Gnani Yoga as a way to approach The One.

She read from “Gnani Yoga, the Yoga of Wisdom,” Lesson 1, “The One,”.