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.


Today Joey led a discussion on the deep topic of intention and karma, including the concepts of Cetana (moment to moment intention), Adhitthana (resolve or determination), and Samma Sankappa (right or wise intention).

Here’s a talk by Andrea Fella investigating intention through daily actions such as speech, movement, frustration with the computer, shopping at the drug store

And here’s a talk by Sally Clough Armstrong exploring the three kinds of intention:

Self and no-self

Michael’s presentation this Sunday drew on Joseph Goldstein’s talk “Busy Life, No Self” (not available on Dharmaseed, alas) in which Joseph offered three 3-minute meditations which one could use daily in the midst of a busy life to cultivate the realization of No-Self. Briefly,

  1. Listen to sounds, and ask “Can I find the knower of the sound?
  2. Realize that “I am not the body”; deeply take in the fact that all birth inevitably ends in death, and that even at the moment of your individual death, thousands of others are also dying. – OR – experience your sensations, free of the concept that they are happening in a body; just experience the sensations themselves.
  3. Become aware of thoughts as they arise, and realize that there is no “I” thinking; just thoughts.

Even in this synopsized form, these reflections can have great power if we give ourselves over to them earnestly.


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)