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:

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:

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.

The Inexpressible

This past Sunday, Sam guided a wonderful discussion on poetry and its attempt to express the inexpressible.

Sam based his talk around a recent retreat workshop that he attended where poetry was the main focus.

Here is a talk that Sam used by Mark Coleman:

Sam also read several poems from “House of Light” by Mary Oliver, which generated a lively discussion.

Unentangled Knowing

This Sunday, Wendy led the discussion on the topic of “Unentangled Knowing”, based around a talk by Guy Armstrong. The talk is here:

The discussion centered around the central four links of the Buddha’s conceptual chain of “Dependent Origination”: Sense contact, which leads to Feeling tone, which leads to Craving, which leads to Grasping. Wendy (and Guy) echoed the Buddha’s opinion that the easiest place to work with one’s own experience is in the gap between Feeling tone and Craving. That is, once we notice that an experience is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, we can develop some control over getting hooked by that experience and either craving more, pushing it away, or becoming bored or distracted.

Wendy’s wonderful chart showing these four links is here:


Our Bodies, Concentration, and Insight

This Sunday Michael guided a meditation on the first Foundation of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of the Body. The practice he shared was from the teachings of Bhikkhu Anālayo, a scholar and meditation teacher from Germany. Anālayo compared the Satipatthana Sutta in three of the original traditions of Buddhism and found which parts are common among them. Perhaps surprisingly, the breath meditation with which Western Theravada is so familiar is not present in all three. What is present, however, is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

Sloth and Torpor

Adam guided our reflections this past Sunday on the Hindrance of Sloth and Torpor. Laziness is only one facet of this complex Hindrance to our lives, meditative and otherwise.  A dharmic analysis of the causes and conditions of Sloth and Torpor can help us meet this hindrance with more skill and greater effectiveness.

From Adam:

I chose this Hindrance because I have had little practice observing this mindfully. Or so I had thought. Also — I tend toward action, and I thought it might be good for me to see how this Hindrance shows up.

Ajahn Brahmavamso states in the Five Hindrances:

“Sloth and torpor is overcome by rousing energy. Energy is always available but few know how to turn on the switch, as it were. Setting a goal, a reasonable goal, is a wise and effective way to generate energy, as is deliberately developing interest in the task at hand. A young child has a natural interest, and consequent energy, because its world is so new. Thus, if one can learn to look at one’s life, or one’s meditation, with a ‘beginner’s mind’ one can see ever new angles and fresh possibilities which keep one distant from sloth and torpor, alive and energetic. Similarly, one can develop delight in whatever one is doing by training one’s perception to see the beautiful in the ordinary, thereby generating the interest which avoids the half-death that is sloth and torpor. […] Sloth and torpor is a common problem which can creep up and smother one slowly. A skilful meditator keeps a sharp look-out for the first signs of sloth and torpor and is thus able to spot its approach and take evasive action before it’s too late. Like coming to a fork in a road, one can take that mental path leading away from sloth and torpor.”

Joseph Goldstein’s talk on the hinderance is about 29 min total (Link to the talk:
1:00 – 4:15 : set up sloth and torpor at the beginning of the podcast…
8:38 a more subtle sloth and torpor (coasting via inertia….when abiding recedes…holding on tight…)
16:34 The first step in addressing sloth and torpor: is it present?  is it not present?
17:28 The next step: to know the conditions for the arising of sloth and torpor
Common cause: giving unwise or careless attention to certain states.
20:54  Sloth & torpor in the guise of compassion (be aware of own needs)
26:05 Overeating
29:40 Imbalance of Concentration and Energy (too much concentration, too trance-like)
30:26 Heating up the “cold mind”
Be mindful of the retreating mode (the dull mind becomes to object of attention)
32:20 Attachment to clarity precludes ability to sit with what is. Managing sleep.


Other remedies for S & T in addition to mindfulness:

– clarity of cognition (add more objects of focus. This energizes one’s practice.)
– hearing, seeing, sitting–using new touchpoints of awareness
– develop a “radiant” mind —  a knowing mind.  Clarity with observing the mind knowing sloth & torpor
– allowing s&p to naturally pass…
– wise reflection that engages interest, arousing ardency (precious human birth, aspirations for dying)
– handling s & t as practice for having own death with awareness!
– “if none of these work, take rest…”   :)   (JG suggests laying down until moment of release that precedes sleep– then get up!)

Mindfulness of Dhammas

This morning Rebecca read to us from Joseph Goldstein’s book, Mindfulness, focusing on Mindfulness of Dhammas, particularly the concept of “Right” or “Wise” Speech.

The discussion brought up the importance of examining one’s intention when considering the wisdom of saying something critical of another. How tightly do we cling to the idea that we are right, or that the other person is wrong?

One suggestion given by the Buddha was to ask one’s self five questions before speaking:

  1. Is what I’m about to say helpful?

  2. Is it kind?

  3. Is it true?

  4. Is it conductive to harmony?

  5. Is it spoken at the right time?

 “Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

“It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.

“A statement endowed with these five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people.”