Saturday, September 13, 2008
Our unchanging true self knows of its unchanging powers that are within us all the time. The ego mimics this same attitude in self-perception, as a measure of self preservation. The ego pretends to possess the same unchanging powers as the true self has, by creation and attachment to the perception of self.
This perceived self is not our true self, it is merely the path of awareness of the ‘I – ME – MINE’ thinking.
Our unchanging true self does not have to try to cling and attach to anything. Its nature is unchangeable anyhow, so to speak. It’s awareness remains active and unchanged by thoughts. Therefore we can differentiate between active and passive awareness.
Can we plan anything but still stay in active awareness? Since planning is done to get a needed reaction and to bring forth a desired change into our lives, the influence of our ego in our actions determine whether we can experience, what is termed mindful awareness in action MAIA.
When planning is done with an unchanging mind (Zen mind) and the ego is not the driving force anymore, there is no more attachment to the perception of self as in ‘I – ME – MINE’.
What is making it so difficult for us to change our ego, is that our true self has to realize its powers in active awareness first.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
by Sangha Member Ron Schiff
What is it that makes anything memorable? Clearly there is the activity itself, but without the mindful connection of "being there", it would just become another brush-stroke in our everyday lives. I think too that when something stands out in relief, it is far more noticeable. And that is how I recall the Kido retreat last week.
Without wishing to make “same” or “different”, it was in many respects unlike our usual form of retreat – slightly later start, no morning bows and a noticeable shift from black cushions to straw bales in a much bigger Dharma Room out there beneath the open skies above Tamasine’s and Michael’s Natural Horsemanship Centre at Long Valley Farm behind Robertson.
But that was not the only difference. Perhaps the most significant transformation for all of us who commented on it later, was something in the practice itself that marked a tangible shift from the first to the second day of the retreat. For some reason, I personally found that first day a little strange and was unable to relax into the practice. Everything seemed somewhat theatrical and in hindsight I recognise my own checking mind. So on day two as we quietly took our places on the cushions in a darkened Dharma room surrounded by the soft glow of candles and joined in chanting the Om Nam mantra led by Heila PSN, everything was exactly the same as day one. Except that it wasn’t!
Something inexplicable happened that allowed us to connect at a deep level. Sitting there in the flickering candlelight, I remember fully immersing myself in the soft chanting and I had such a profound sense of sharing the moment with friends - Rebecca, Lauren, Dion, Darryl, Jane, Kevin, Ian, Tamasine and of course our wonderful teachers Heila PSN and Rodney. I am reluctant to explore the reasons for this change any further but I truly believe that it came about by attaining "no attainment with nothing to attain".
Later that day as we sat on straw bales in the garden, the sunlight just catching the tops of the mountains with the playful frolicking of the horses and bubbling of the nearby stream in the background, we struck an assortment of drums, moktaks, bells and even an upturned cooking pot, chanting for hours - sometimes with energy and sometimes just a quiet pulse. Heila PSN observed how passing the responsibility of leading the chants from one person to the other was just like handing over the baton in a relay race – that momentary shift in tempo before everyone settled down again to the new rhythm.
During this retreat, I was strongly reminded what my practice is all about – the awareness and the mindfulness are of course not ends in themselves but merely tools that help us to connect with something “bigger” than ourselves – to feel that profound sense of total engagement in what we instinctively know to be true and authentic - intangible and yet very palpable. Something that I recognised is already part of me. I had just forgotten it!
So finally, in deference to that old question about how many Zen monks it takes to change a light bulb, a recent psychology article agreed that it takes only one, but added that the light bulb really has to want to be changed. And there is no doubt in my mind that all of us who attended the retreat definitely wanted to be there.
In this regard, my love and warmth go out to our dearest friends Tamasine and Michael for so graciously opening their home to us - and to Heila PSN and Rodney, who make this all possible. My deepest respect also to all of you who were there, and likewise to those who were not able to physically join us. Michael who was on the sidelines mentioned how profoundly he was affected by simply witnessing our chanting, and I have no doubt that our practice in and of itself does indeed make a big difference to this world. I am reminded of something I once read by Thich Nhat Hanh who said "if you do not give yourself peace, how can you share it with others”?
Monday, July 28, 2008
by Sangha member Tamasine Smith,
Horsemanship practice and mindfulness practice, while it may be possible to separate them on paper and for the purpose of discussion, they become in-separable when put into actual practice.
When I was asked to write this I thought that it would be easy, however, when I sat down to write, it was much more challenging. When asked to describe one I find that the other is automatically there - I guess horsemanship is mindfulness in action as opposed to sitting practice. Suddenly “sitting is just sitting”, “reading is just reading” made more sense.
When I started studying horsemanship I heard a lot of phrases like “it is more about who we need to be (for the horse) than the method of training”, that we might need to be “many different people in one training session” in order to help a horse and that we would need to change from moment to moment. I also heard that we need to be “in the moment” because that is the only place that the horse resides - he does not live in the past or worry about the future, he is only intent on the here and now.
Teachers explained that “horses are our mirrors” and that the emotions they bring up in us when we work with them reflect us. At first this did not make a lot of sense, but over time, in particular once I started teaching, I noticed that when someone is ineffective and lacks leadership - the horse pushes them around and takes over because it does not know where it stands, if someone is too busy around a horse and can’t be still their horse tends also to be full of energy, maybe even a bit scared and erratic and if someone can’t pay attention theirs is the horse that is unfocused.
My teachers also spoke about compassion and how it is important when working with a horse to “ask and allow” not “demand and make” and that when compassion is not fuzzy and ill defined but firm and effective. Just be-ing “nice” does not get us anywhere, the leadership required must be reliable and consistent without buying into anger and frustration or getting emotive. I also learnt that we are human and that those kind of emotions do arise, often more frequently in our early practice, and that when they do, we should “let them go”. I was taught to become “aware of them” and attempt not to buy into them. It was made clear that such emotions are “OK” it is acting on them that can do harm to ourselves and our horses. I also heard how we should not beat up on ourselves if we have made a mistake - because “there are no mistakes - just opportunities to learn”.
Just as with Zen practice though, until I “did” rather than just “studied” horse-manship, I did not really “know” these things and once I had enough knowl-edge and experience to start teaching, things became even clearer. My hu-man teachers were (are) still wonderful and continue to guide me, but the greatest teachers have been the “horses” because they have given me direct experience. They showed me these things in practice and they showed me how mindfulness really is. They never miss anything.
I watch new students learning and it is very difficult. Often what they face in themselves is hard and it is easier to give up and return to old habits than create new ones. Often, when I am with a horse there is nothing else, we are at one and there is no beginning and no end. I have no idea how to explain it - there are no words that make sense of it - it just is. When I first attended the Centre in Robertson I was asked how do I know what “sweet” tastes like? We have to actually taste it and when we do, we just know. It often works like this with horsemanship - when we “taste it” we just know.
I was recently re-reading the stories about the students who wanted to attain Kensho in “The Three Pillars of Zen”... The writers all describe how they want it, that they must get it at all costs and that they will strive for it... The way they describe it and their journey to it is very similar to what happens to students of horsemanship.
“Feel” is the horseman’s “Kensho”. We wish to attain this “feel” and have it for ourselves. We understand that the only way to work with a horse is with feel but when we start out we don’t “know” exactly what it is. We have a theoretical idea of course, we can read about it and listen to lectures on it - but everyone’s individual experience, even when they “get it” will be different. No two people’s feel is exactly the same.
Students start to ask things like what is feel and how do we get it? How do we know when we have got it?! Students search for it, strive for it, work hard at it, get stressed about it, get frustrated for it, demand it, try for it... yet when they let that go and have a softness about them, when they let go of the reins and old habits, when they trust that it will happen and let go of their rigidity of trying - it appears. It’s the “ah ha moment”. When it happens there is the most amazing feeling of clarity and “knowing” - but often it is gone in a flash because the student tries to grasp onto it and the old rigidity comes back. However, once glimpsed, they know it is there. The trying harder, the getting rigid again is all just part of the journey. This is nothing to worry about though, because as one trainer puts it “It often gets darker before it gets dawn!”
With horsemanship it can be frustrating for the student receiving instruction because things change from moment to moment. In one instance they are being asked to do one thing and in the very next, something completely dif-ferent and maybe the opposite! Horsemanship is the essence of change! When this is accepted and the student goes with it rather than trying to hold on to the past (even if that was a microsecond ago) then everything starts to flow.
The more I attend the Dharma centre, the more these themes come up and I could as easily be in a horsemanship lesson as in the Dharma Hall - in fact they are the same thing. There is a thread that joins the practice to the horsemanship and the horsemanship to the practice and they can not be separated.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Chanting is a dynamic and energizing practice that is commonly used and form part of many religious and spiritual traditions. In chanting meditation we try to keep a not-moving mind – cutting off all thinking and just perceiving the sound of our own voice and that of others. With regular chanting, our sense of being centered gets stronger and stronger. When we are strongly centered, we can control our feelings and emotions, and thus the way we live our lives. Chanting meditation is a medicine to aid us in living a focused, centered and clear life – ultimately freeing us from the attachment to illusions and further suffering.
During this retreat we will practice at the Dharma Centre until after breakfast and work period when we will drive into the mountains to LongValley Farm - the home of Natural Horsemanship in South Africa. Here we will do two hours of continuous chanting - returning to the Dharma Center for lunch and a period of rest, followed by another two hours chanting in the mountains. Supper and evening practice will be at the Dharma Centre and will include more chanting. This routine will be repeated until lunchtime on Sunday.
In addition to bringing warm clothing, footwear, beanies, and neck scarves, participants are encouraged to bring percussion instruments to use during the chanting sessions. For those not used extended periods of chanting some throat lozenges might be advisable.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
On Monday the 30th of June, we presented the third one-day module of the MAIA Program - Mindful Awareness in Action at Helderstroom Maximum Prison. The workshop was attended by 39 participants, all incarcerated for serious/violent crime.
During the first module participants were left with the question - WHO AM I? as homework for the next session. It is exactly this question, their understanding and interpretation of it that once again reminded us of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s repeated admonishment: “Try, try, try for 10,000 years nonstop!”
Some participants felt threatened by this question and thought it pertained to details of their crime, or perhaps even involvement in the Numbers gangs – prevalent in most correctional facilities. Once this misperception was dealt with, and they were given some guidance as to how to approach the question they were left to explore it in whichever way they felt most comfortable.
In most cases, participants gave details of their name, place and date of birth and levels of education or lack thereof. They also mentioned likes and dislikes with regards to music, food and clothing. One participant simply said that he could not write anything about who he was, as that would be a lie - because he really did not know!
The question “Who am I?” is truly inexhaustible and it’s underlying meaning cannot easily be transmitted and attained after only two sessions of Mindful Awareness instruction and working with I, ME and MINE! Hence Ven. Seungh Sahn’s encouragement “Try, try, try for 10,000 years nonstop!”
During the second module participants were again left with a question as homework. This time: “if you could give anyone a gift, what would it be and who would be the recipient of this gift?”
95% of the participants approached this question from a purely materialistic perspective and mostly said they would give ‘this gift’ to their mother in acknowledgment of her gift of life, as well as her ongoing suffering as a result of their incarceration. A few participants approached this question from the perspective of their personal lack of education and said they would give themselves the gift of a higher level of education, as they truly believed that their crime/ incarceration is as a direct result of their lack of or low level of education.
The emphasis of the first three modules of the MAIA program is to introduce participants to the concept of moment to moment awareness or present time awareness and working with ‘I’, ‘ME’, ‘MINE’ versus ‘i’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ using various forms of meditation to facilitate this process: i.e. Sitting and walking meditation, listening and pausing meditation, breathing and eating meditation etc.
Bringing attention to eating meditation elicited lively discussion and detailed descriptions of the smell and color of food they eat on a daily basis. “We eat as quickly as possible to get it over as quickly as possible,” was the common thread of this interaction.
A teaching from - S. N. Goenka, The Art of Living called: JUDGEMENT, concluded this session and set them on their way (hopefully!) to approach their meal times with a different mindset:
“A sensation appears, then liking or disliking begins. This fleeting moment, if we are unaware of it, is repeated and intensified into craving and aversion, becoming a strong emotion that eventually overpowers the conscious mind. We become caught up in the emotion, and all our better judgment is swept aside. The result is that we find ourselves engaged in unwholesome speech and action, harming ourselves and others. We create misery for ourselves, suffering now and in the future, because of one moment of blind reaction.
But if we are aware at the point where the process of reaction begins--that is, if we are aware of the sensation--we can choose not to allow any reaction to occur or to intensify . . . in those moments the mind is free.
Perhaps at first these may be only a few moments in a meditation period, and the rest of the time the mind remains submerged in the old habit of reaction to sensations, the old round of craving, aversion, and misery. But with repeated practice those few brief moments will become seconds, will become minutes, until finally the old habit of reaction is broken, and the mind remains continuously at peace. This is how suffering can be stopped.”
In July, during a two-day module, we will begin to explore the levels of consciousness – intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual in an attempt to make available some tools and processes to further explore the question: “WHO AM I?”
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Our 1st winter retreat for 2008 was attended by 19 participants. The richness of Dharma, simplicity of together practice, tenacity and 'try mind' of the newcomers were an inspiration to all - serving as a reminder of the incredible importance of 'beginners mind'. As Head Dharma Teacher, Christine brought a strong and settled energy to the the dharma room, supported by Tamasine in the role of Moktak Master - who gently lead the chanting and called all to practice at the appropriate time - never to early or ever late! Join us for our chanting (Kido) retreat - August 22 - 24, 2008!
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Mindfulness is present-time awareness. It takes place in the here and now. It is the observance of what is happenning right now, in the present moment. It stays forever in the present, perpetually on the crest of the ongoing wave of passing time.
If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is mindfulness. If you then conceptualize that process and say to yourself, "Oh, I am remembering", that is thinking.
Maybe this will sound a little impossible, but I would like to be mindful in all aspects of my life.
To hold my child for just one day, to see him smile and to just be a little happier.
I came here to find myself. As an orphan I never found love, a home or stability. Through meditation I believe, by just being silent I will find comfort and peace of mind within myself, for the future. NOTHING will stop and deny me the opportunity to live again.
I regret that I am unable to support my ageing mother whilst in prison. That when I had a perfect partner I didn’t realize it until it was to late. That I ever started to use drugs. That I am such an attention seeker!
I would really love to change all my BAD habits into GOOD ones.
I regret not telling my father that I loved him, also the mount of time that I have wasted thinking about the past and worrying about the future.
I want to seek truth – to see things as they really are.
I sincerely wish to stay focused at all times, so that when anger and frustrations arise, I can deal with them in a way that I will not offend others.
I wish to attain the Truth. I know so little about myself.
I would like to stop making other people see things only my way, and stop getting carried away in excitement. I would like to be free from my habits. I would like to stop being controlled by my thoughts and to stop watching so much T.V. and sleeping late!
I regret not trusting my instincts at times, as this is one of the many reasons that I am in prison today. I also regret having too much pride – even when it is not necessary. This has led to the loss of so many things.
I would like to look at aspects of how to deal with temptations.
I would like to change my attitudes towards other people, to accept things as they are and to get rid of ‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘My’.
I commit myself to do a minimum of 1 hour of hard practice each day, developing mindfulness and to expand my practice by making use of a list of 20-activities which I have compiled, so that I am able to take this development of mindfulness into everyday life.
5-Days of pain and discomfort. An invaluable experience which I have no intention whatsoever of wasting by stopping now. The realization that practice is my life and that life can only be lived one moment at a time.
To stop moving from A to Z without enjoying what’s in-between. In short – living for the moment, and not letting my past determine my future. To let go of my baggage and bad memories.
I want to be less judgmental and be more meticulous.
I want to stop worrying so much about what other people feel and start worrying more about how and what I feel. In short, I want to be more sensitive to my emotional needs.
I regret not being there to walk my son to school. I have not seen him since he was born.
Sitting for four days, and only today I came to the realization how important it is to keep ‘Don’t know’ mind. So, in the future I want to commit myself to keep this ‘don’t know’ frame of mind and to be able to experience that fantastic one moment of before thinking!
Active attention = mindfulness and awareness, and this is the key. Attention in this sense, is not intellectual or physical. It is energy based - the same kind of energy that powers our emotions.
ACTIVE Attention is used to dismantle the wall that separates us from who/what we are. This wall consists of conditioned patterns of perception, emotional reactions, and behaviors. This wall has many components: conventional notions of success and failure, the belief that: “I am a separate and independent entity”, reactive emotional patterns, passivity, an inability to open to others, and misperceptions about the nature of being.
Dismantling these habituated, conditioned patterns, will not necessarily be a smooth or easy process – as a result of the fact that things don’t unfold in a neat, structured progression. Attention is the one principle on which we can always rely. Abiding in active attention, we meet every problem/experience we encounter in life and in practice in the same way and bring attention to that which arises in each moment with each breath.
Attention then, acts on the wall of habituated patterns in the same way that the energy of sunlight acts on a block of ice. Heat from the sun raises the level of energy in the water molecules, until they can no longer remain in the compact crystalline structure of ice. The crystal breaks up, and the ice melts into water. In the same way, ACTIVE attention penetrates habituated patterns and raises the level of energy so that these patterns have to break up. The energy locked up in these habituated patterns is released and is then used to power attention to higher levels. Step by step, moment by moment, breathing in, breathing out - ACTIVE attention increases in energy until even the sense of separation dissolves and we open to the mystery of being.
This process lies at the heart of all religions, but unfortunately through institutional settings, the vitality and immediacy of the lived experience is gradually covered over and lost.
A Catholic contemplative David Steindl-Rast, once pointed out: “dIrect experience of the mystery of being manifests in three ways: a practice that supports opening to the mystery, a celebration of the experience, and a way of life that arises out of understanding and insight.
When we are awake and present to the mystery of being, intention is determined by direct awareness that knows the situation, not by conditioned patterns and agendas. Thus, direct awareness code involves knowing and acting on the intention of the present.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Zen is very simple. It is about the true essence of all things, without attachments or opinions. It is not a belief system, nor is it a dogma. Zen is a system of doing. Doing what? It is a doing which imbues a rare sense of dignity- free from attachments, balanced, self-reliant and open. Zen enables us to wake up to the delusions and attachments of human existence.
Dogen Zenji, a great 13th Century Japanese Zen Master, wrote: "To learn the way of Zen is to learn about oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to perceive oneself as all things. To realize this is to cast off body and mind."
Zen means finding my True Self: Who am I? Why was I born? Why will I die? Zen points directly to our True Nature through mindfulness practice, using each moment as a tool, a teacher, enabling each and everyone to embark on this exciting journey of exploration into fully understanding the nature of self.
Zen practice requires a BIG question alongside great determination. The formal aspect of Zen training includes periods of seclusion called retreats, during which time we do prostrations, chanting, sitting Zen, walking and working Zen, as well as consulting and Kong-An interviews, meditation instruction and talks related to practice.
There is a tendency in our culture to view giving as a personal loss or sacrifice. We sometimes give from a superior position to help those 'below' us in various ways. It is another perspective to see giving as an opportunity to cultivate the generous heart, and as a way of connecting with that which is good. In the Buddhist teachings the practice of dana is the foundation for awakening. There is no "right" amount that can be calculated in this spirit of giving. It is a response of heart, a personal choice that is entirely voluntary according to one's wishes and means.
Taking precepts is a strong statement of our intention that right now we will cut through our ambivalence in order to live with clarity and generosity. As such, the precepts are not strict moral rules but signs pointing toward how to keep just-now mind.
In order to take the five precepts, you must have participated in at least four days of retreat with the guiding teacher. If you would you like more information on the precepts, please refer to our separate pamphlet which is available from the centres.
The five precepts are:
- I vow to abstain from taking life.
- I vow to abstain from taking things not given.
- I vow to abstain from misconduct done in lust.
- I vow to abstain from lying.
- I vow to abstain from intoxicants, taken to induce heedlessness.
Delusions are endless, we vow to cut through them all
The teachings are infinite, we vow to learn them all
The Buddha's way is inconceivable, we vow to attain it
Kong-an practise (Jap. Koan) is one unique teaching tool that the Rinzai tradition of Zen uses. Kong-an practice is an ancient form of question and answer. The actual word means public record. So these are the public records of past Zen Masters. The answers are based in the reality that is beyond time and space, likes and dislikes. Kong-an practice is also known as "looking into words," or using words to cut off all thinking. In a private interview your teacher will ask you a question that cannot be answered by rational thought. To use such a kong-an as a teaching tool you must perceive what it is pointing at. It is like a finger pointing at the moon. You don't examine the finger, the point is, do you see the moon or not? Because the teacher has already worked with the Kong-an, a special kind of relationship is able to develop in which the Kong-an is the bridge, whilst the result of the practitioner's practice is that which crosses over the bridge.
Form and ritual play a vital role in Zen practice. They help us to deepen our spirit and to extend its vigor to our daily lives. Applying our practice of mindfulness to ritual and form is an opening for the experience of forgetting the self as the words or the action become one with you, and there is nothing else. Wearing our robes in the Dharma room, eating a meal in traditional temple style during a retreat or bowing to the sangha at the end of a meditation session can all become powerful tools for awakening when viewed in this light.
Bows are a gesture of humility. We do not bow to another, but rather in the face of the 'other'. On the Buddhist altar is a figure of Buddha, this is the other. Bowing acknowledges the other, but not as something separate. The bow, and prostration come from the most profound depths of our aliveness.
Sitting meditation or zazen forms an important part of Zen practice. Zen means meditation and meditation means keeping a not-moving mind from moment to moment. It is very simple. When we meditate, we are using certain techniques to control our body, breathing and mind so that we can cut off all attachment to thinking and realize true nature. Many people think that in order to do this, we must be sitting rigidly on the floor with both legs tightly crossed in a half- or full-lotus position, completely unmoving. But true meditation is not just dependent on how you keep your body: from moment to moment how do you keep your mind? How do you keep a not-moving mind in every situation? Thus, true meditation means mind-sitting. Keeping a not-moving mind in any situation or condition is the true meaning of meditation.
Traditionally, in China, Japan and Korea, only monks did Zen practice. But Zen has come to the west and lay people practice Zen here. This has changed the character of Zen. Sitting Zen all the time is not possible for lay people. Our teaching is about Zen in everyday life. Everyday-life Zen means learning mind sitting. Mind-sitting means not-moving mind. How do you keep a not-moving mind? Put down your opinion, condition and situation moment-to-moment. When you are doing something, just do it. This is everyday Zen, There are various forms of meditation. Each technique has a certain effect on the mind. The suitable style of meditation for you is best discussed with a teacher.