Buddhism and Meditation

Day Retreat Exploring Sangha 8/3/2014


 

On Saturday we explored The Four Samgrahavastus: the 4 things that lead to unity in the Sangha.

A wonderful day was lead by Priyadaka where where we explored and questioned our understandings of:

Dana – generosity

Priyavadita – kindly speech

Arthacarya – beneficial activity

Samanarthata – exemplification.

As well as sharing our experiences and thoughts, we shared a great lunch and great company.



WOMENS DAY – GREEN TARA FEBRUARY 2014


 

It was a lovely morning with sunshine on Saturday of last week when five women members of our Milton Keynes Buddhist group gathered with order members Amarachandra and Tejasvini.

 

The aim of the gathering was to get the opportunity for women to come together, meditate, evoke Green Tara and find ways to take her in our lives.

 

The first thing comes first and a lovely shrine with gorgeous pink flowers and lush foliage was built for Buddha and Tara. Everything was set to start. A long and quiet meditation followed, leaving the attendees mindful and connected.

 

 

After a well deserved tea break (and lots of chatting) Tejasvini talked about Green Tara, her probable origins, and social and religious meaning. All the women learned about how caring, luscious and abundant as well as brave and daring Tara is. Everyone was surprised how diverse Tara is and after reading the 108 names of Tara, everyone felt identified with at least one of her names. At the end of the talk, everyone felt content and sure that in order to be more complete we need to involve Tara in our lives much more… and how not! Look and enjoy nature is so easy!

 

The Puja (Buddhist ritual) to Tara at the end of the morning was just beautiful. There was such a beautiful tone of acceptance, of letting go, of surrendering to greatness of life and nature in this Puja. The singing of the mantra was so special, the sweet and honest sound of just women signing (not that men don’t sound honest!!) was evident. Everyone felt so content by the end of the Puja.

 

 

Of course we wouldn’t leave with empty stomachs and we had lunch together thanks to the lovely effort of all attendees who brought delicious food to share.

 

Everyone agreed that this was an occasion that needed to be repeated.

 

Metta,

Macarena

 

 



Ritual Day July 2013


The Milton Keynes Triratna Sangha met in Downhead Park on July 20th to spend a day exploring ritual together. It was a fun day with lots of laughter and lots of questions!

We practiced bowing and prostrating, learnt about mantra and offerings and reflected upon the attitudes that we bring to Buddhist ritual from our Western conditioning.

In the afternoon we built some shrines to together.

Ian, Mark and Tom enjoyed building this one:

 

Although, Tom seemed to enjoy it the most!

 

Jo, Denise and Paola get creative

 

The central shrine was built by Emma, Rob and Kate.

 

The finale to the day was Emma Riley’s Mitra ceremony, conducted within the three outer shrines and around our central shrine. There was lots of incense, circumambulation and chanting. Sadhu Emma!

 



Ian’s Mitra Ceremony (29/1/13)


Last night we had a wonderful evening celebrating Ian becoming a Mitra.

Mitra is a sanskrit (Indian) word meaning friend. In this context Ian was becoming a friend of the Triratna Buddhist Order.

The room was full almost to capacity and had a great atmosphere.

We did a 3 Fold Puja (worship/ ritual) and witnessed Ian chanting the 3 Refuges and 5 training precepts marking his formally becoming a Buddhist and a Mitra. Ian also made the traditional offering of a candle (Buddha), flower (Dharma) and incense (Sangha).

A number of people rejoiced in Ian’s numerous merits and we enjoyed some snacks and drinks while Ian received cards and presents.

 

 

 

 



Buddhism – Tools for Living Your Life


Last night the Milton Keynes group met to practice some Metta Bhavana meditation and start exploring Vajragupta’s book: Buddhism – Tools for Living your Life.

We explored the importance of examining our life history and identifying the themes of our life. Are we becoming who we want to be?

We took some time to reflect and write short life stories in preparation of finding our “Sacred Question”.

Here are the notes from the evening:

Buddhism – Tools for Living Your Life – Chapter 1 – Everyone has a Story

 

Part 1 – Sacred Questions

 

To write down all I contain at this moment

I would pour the desert through an hourglass,

The sea through a water-clock,

Grain by grain and drop by drop

 

(exert: Kathleen Raine – The Moment)

 

Everyone has a story to tell – a unique combination of events – light & dark, hopes and fears, meeting and partings

 

Living a Buddhist life is about understanding our story

  • We need to know our heart’s deepest wishes
  • We need to be aware that we have the tools to change direction if we wish

 

 

In Triratna Buddhism we often tell our life stories – you may get to give yours many times and get to hear many lives in return. This is a privilege – there is no such thing as a boring life story.

 

  • You get see the physical and psychological make up that people start out with
  • You learn about social conditioning such as family, school and friendships
  • You hear of their working with complex interacting conditions, their victories and failures, their struggle for happiness and fulfilment
  • People tell you of the choices they have made that bring them to this point
  • You can see where they have come from

 

 

Through reflecting on our own story we can take stock:

 

Where is our life leading us?

Are we becoming the kind of person that we really want to be?

 

The Buddhist life involves asking these kinds of questions

 

  • Buddhist practices such as meditation help us to become more aware
  • We can become more conscious of the patterns in our life
  • Through leading a Buddhist life we endeavour to become the authors of our life story
  • We try to move beyond experiencing life as being something that happens to us

 

 

Modern life can be very busy and life can seem to just slide by without us noticing it. With so much activity we may find it difficult to be present or to fully experience things as they happen – we may watch TV but our mind is somewhere else.

 

We may experience a desire to live more fully, from the depths of ourselves. When we manage to do this life feels more real, more authentic, more satisfying.

 

 

Exercise 1 – Life Story

 

Spend some time reflecting on your own life story

 

- Maybe prepare a story-board – like making a movie

- You can use short sentences or draw simple pictures

- Perhaps choosing a dozen key phases or incidents that have influenced you or given your life direction

- You might choose events that symbolize a particular time in your life

 

Take time to reflect on your story

 

- Are there themes or patterns that you can see in your life?

- Themes or questions trying to work themselves out?

- Aspects wanting to express themselves?

 

 

As we become more conscious of the forces playing themselves out in our lives we can begin to formulate what Jack Kornfield call a Sacred Question – a question that summarizes what we are looking for.

 

Our Sacred Question may be about meaning – an existential question, or it might be psychological – about our relationships with others, or about a search for beauty or peace. Or it might be something else entirely!

 

Exercise 2 – Your Sacred Question  

 

Reflecting again on your life story, can you formulate something that is a Sacred Question for you?

 

- Start by sitting quietly and allowing your thoughts and feelings to emerge

- You could meditate or just sit with a cup of tea or in the garden

- You can take rough notes if this helps

- Allow themes and questions to evolve gradually

- You may have a very clear idea right from the beginning or it might start as a feint intuition or sense of matters most to you

 

 



Respect for Things


On the 29th May the MK Triratna Buddhism Group looked at a talk by Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki.

The talk explores our attitudes towards the material world, how this governs our interractions and ultimately, how we feel about ourselves.

Here are the notes from the class:

In meditation we are from thinking and free from emotional activity – this is not to say that there is no thinking or emotional activity, but that we are not limited by it. In this moment, free from limitations we trust ourselves completely. Because we respect ourselves, because we put faith in our life, we just sit. That is our practice.

When our life is based on complete respect and complete trust, it will be completely peaceful. Our relationship with nature and our surroundings should also be like this.


In the Zendo

This morning when bowing, we heard a big noise from the dining room above, people were pushing chairs across the tile floor without picking them up. This is not the way to treat chairs, not just because it may disturb people bowing in the Zendo, but because fundamentally this is not a very respectful way to treat things.

Pushing chairs is convenient, but it gives us a lazy feeling. This is part of our culture and eventually it leads to people fighting each other.

“Instead of respecting things we want to use them for ourselves, and if it is difficult to use them, we want to conquer them”

When we move chairs carefully, we will experience the feeling of practice in the dining room. To care for the chairs means our practice goes beyond the mediation hall. The feeling is quite different from scraping chairs. When we practice this way, we ourselves are Buddha and we respect ourselves.

 

The Bodhisattva Way

The treasure in the meditation hall is not the beautiful building or the statues, it is the practitioners. Each one of us should be a beautiful flower and each one of us should be a Buddha, leading people in our practice.

Since there are no special rules on how to treat things or be kind to people we keep studying what will help people practice together. If you do not forget this point you will found out how to treat people, how to treat things and how to treat yourself.

Our practice is to help people and to help people we find out how to practice in each moment.

To sit free from the limitations of thought and emotional activity is not just a matter of concentration. This is to rely completely on ourselves, to find refuge in our practice. We are just like a baby in the lap of its mother.

 

Everyday Life

To extend this spirit into everyday life means respecting things and respecting each other, because when we respect things we will find their true life. When we respect plants we will find their real life, the power and beauty of flowers.

Though love is important, if it is separated from respect and sincerity it will not work.

With big mind and with pure sincerity and respect, love can really be love.

So let’s try hard and find out how to make a blade of grass into a Buddha.

Thank you very much.

 

(Adapted from Shunryu Suzuki in “Not Always So”)



The Sacred Circle


On the 22nd May, the MK Triratna Buddhism Group looked at The Sacred Circle.

We used this image, common to Zen and Tibetan Buddhism to explore our attitude to our awarenss and the things that enter our “sacred circle” of awareness.

Here are the notes from the class:

In many traditions (including Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism) the circle is a powerful symbol for the sacredness of all things.

What do we mean by sacred? What do we mean by profane?

This circle may be drawn or painted.

Sometimes as a ritual this is done on the ground with you at the centre. This helps you to realise that you are always at the centre of the Universe. The circle that surrounds you reminds you that you are always in a sacred space.

Mindfulness has the aspects of breadth and focus.

When focused we have great precision – an intimate awareness of the object of meditation such as the breath.

When we cultivate a broad awareness we enter into an experience of spaciousness. There is always spaciousness available to us (even when focused).

This spaciousness is gentle. It allows us to see our world in all its’ colour, how large our world is, how fluid, how energetic – how ALIVE. This spaciousness is our Circle.

We should not think of mindfulness as something stern or harsh. It is not a discipline that we impose on ourselves, something that we do to fix our faults, to clean up our act. It is not a punishment, a project or a chore.

Mindfulness is simply learning to love all the little details of our lives. It is appreciating the bitter tang of our tea, the texture of the biscuit, the smile of a stranger.

Through mindfully attending here and now, something amazing starts to happen – life begins to open up and you realise that you are always standing at the centre of the world.

You are always in the sacred space. The sacred space is not any particular place – a temple, a meditation room or a woodland shrine. We take the sacred space with us wherever we go.

Many things enter our sacred space, including other people. We engage with others in the sacred circle.

Whatever comes into the space is there to teach us something. It might be pleasant or it might be unpleasant, but it has a teaching for us if only we can remain open to it.

How can we remain open in order to receive the teachings that life offers us?

 



Life With Full Attention – Week 8


image: from American PBS

 

Last week we met to practice some meditation and bring to a conclusion the course: Life with Full Attention. In this concluding session we looked at awareness of reality itself and ways in which we could engage and reflect upon our experience of life.

Here are our notes from the meeting:

Mindfulness of Reality (Insight)

What we really need is insight. Insight into reality is more than just a glimpse; it is a shattering confrontation. What is shattered is our fixed sense of self. If visionary experiences modify the self, insight transforms it: we are never the same again.

 

This is the point at which mindfulness and positive emotion (secular Buddhism?) dovetail with traditional Buddhism.

The Nature of Reality – “All things are preceded by mind, shaped by mind, led by mind” The Dhammapada.

 

Buddhism affirms a wholly new way of perceiving – completely different from everyday mind – it goes beyond “me” altogether.

 

Transcendent Momentsvisionary experiences. Small glimpses of reality – can be experienced by anyone at any time. Characterised by increased perspective, heightened significance and a wordless sense of meaning.

Resolve contradictions and unify opposites. Can be a source of inspiration and a catalyst for change. Can boost our confidence in the path or can be quickly forgotten. Can also become a fixation (try to repeat it) or a hindrance – another ego trip.

 

Insight – more than just a glimpse. A new dimension of consciousness. Breaking the habit of “me”.  A decisive move away from self-orientation towards reality-orientation. Goes beyond mere intellectual understanding. Bigger than us. Marked by lightness and joy.

 

The Path and the Goal – Buddhism is aimed at Insight. At some point this becomes an irreversible process, until then it is two steps forward, one step back! After Insight, progress is guaranteed, but effort is still required, although the nature of effort has changed it is playful and spontaneous. We become the Path.

Impermanence – the basic teaching of Buddhism

Pragmatically – things will end – a wake up call

Metaphysically – things are constantly arising and ceasing at the same time. A subtle and profound view, not fully comprehended before Insight.

 

With Insight we can see that both pleasant and unpleasant experience both arise and cease upon conditions. We reach a state of equanimity where we are no longer struggling against life.

 

Avoid Pessimism – when reflecting on impermanence it is easy to get side tracked into only seeing loss. Remember that Impermanence also means personal growth and positive change. Optimism is also a one sided view, but more useful in practice. Do not underestimate the power of positive emotion (Metta).

 

Factors for Cultivating Insight

 

Clarity – studying and understanding the teachings, reflecting searchingly and being prepared to look at our views honestly. Holding the mirror to our face.

Integration – becoming more rounded and self-aware. Bringing together opposing aspects of our psyche.

 

Sustained Concentration/Absorption – deeper experience through deeper concentration, un-distracted attention. The path of meditation.

 

Positive Emotion – broadens and expands perspective. Absorption is not possible without positive emotion. Reflections will tend towards one-sidedness if not in a positive state.

 

Faith/Confident Trust – faith in both living & historic practitioners/teachers, cultivate confidence in the practices by observing the effect in our own minds & lives, confidence in ourselves – we are no different from other practitioners. Intuition – there is more to life than meets the eye.

 

Single Minded Dedication – the culmination of all the above factors. A strong desire to put our aspirations into practice  – for own sake and the benefit of others.

 

This Weeks Practices

 

Reflection – pick a phrase that works for you  “this too will cease”, “all things change” etc.

 

in daily life, on bus or with a cup of tea, sitting in the garden – bring the phrase to mind again and again – like a music lyric. Turn it over, examine it, test it in your own experience – circle around it like a bird.

 

in meditation – get settled and concentrated, then drop it in like a stone in a well, let it sink deep, don’t consciously try to think about it, just let it sink in. Repeat.

 

The Mindful Walk – establish mindfulness then notice arising and ceasing – internal and external, thoughts, sensations, noises and so on. You could try labelling “arising”, “ceasing” or just being with the experience directly in the moment.

 

The Mindful Moment  – be in the body, establish the 4 spheres of mindfulness as previously. Look at them in terms of impermanence.

 

Meditation – try to find time for both Mindfulness and Metta practices (perhaps alternate), sit for slightly longer if you can (maybe increase by just 5 mins).

 

Remember to be grounded in the sensations of body

 

Notice mind & emotions – cultivate the positive

 

Embrace the nature of your experience – painful, pleasant or neutral

 

Notice and experience change – try to be conscious of change in the breath, in the body and in thoughts and emotions – all arising and passing. Relax into the experience of the ephemeral.

 

Maintain your journal and contact your meditation buddy

 



Life with Full Attention Week 7


This weeks class at the MK Meditation Association included some Mindfulness of Breathing meditation and after a tea break we continued with our Life with Full Attention Course. Here are the notes from the meeting:

Awareness of Other People

The Buddha lived in a strong social context – he probably could not imagine living in a society with as much isolation as ours.

A Change of Orientation – at the beginning of the spiritual life we are strongly motivated by a desire for personal happiness and freedom from pain. This is natural. As we progress on our path this approach may become limiting or self-defeating.

 

The Buddhist path is about self-transcendence – true happiness comes from liberating ourselves from a belief in a separate limited self. The road to selflessness is altruism – and the way to altruism is other people.

 

Focus on Gratitude – how we feel is determined by what we dwell upon (often the past). Develop positive emotion by focusing on gratitude and forgiveness.

 

- Bring to mind 5 things to feel grateful for. Each day before going to bed bring to mind 5 more – from the day or from the past – mentors, teachers, parents and so on.

-Express gratitude – write a letter, send a postcard or buy a small gift of thanks.

 

Focus on Forgiveness – our “past” is only the experience of memories. Negative thoughts about the past block happiness in the present.  Irrespective of right and wrongs, if we want to be happy we need to forgive. REACH:

R – Recall – remember the event in detail and objectively

E – Empathise – try to understand what happened from the other persons point of view

A – Altruism – remember when you have acted badly and been forgiven

C – Commitment – put it in the world – tell a friend, write a forgiveness letter (you do not need to post it), write it in your journal, create a forgiveness ritual

H – Hold – painful memories will recur – hold tight to your desire and intention to forgive

 

Studies show people who practice forgiveness and not taking offence experience less anger and stress and enjoy more optimism and better health. Forgiveness is a spiritual act.

 

The Buddha: “Patience (with other people) is the highest asceticism”.

This Weeks Practices

 

Spend time with a Friend – go out to someone – arrange to meet up

 

Mindfulness of Others – perhaps Parents or Partners. Notice our intentions towards them – do these cause problems? Can we see them for themselves? Try to notice any habitual reactions. Putting aside expectations emphasise simply liking each other.

 

Focus on Generosity – pre-occupation with the self is painful and a major symptom of depression. Generosity is a simple antidote.

 

  • take an interest in someone – give them some time, ask them about themselves and listen to them.

 

  • give affection or encouragement – tone of voice, a smile, a kindly look or a hug.

 

  • give on a busy day – it’s easy to become self-absorbed when busy. Offer to do little jobs such as making tea. They are probably busy too.

 

  • welcome someone -  a new workmate, a dinner guest or someone returning from holiday. Buy a card, flowers or chocolate.

 

  • volunteer – do something to benefit others. Think in terms of giving back.

 

  • just give – whatever you can – money, time, attention. Cook supper for your partner. Look for any excuse to give money, objects or friendliness. “Give until you swoon”.

 

The Mindful Walk – cultivating awareness of the 4 spheres as usual, at the same time see if you can include the people around you.

 

  • try to notice everyone – not just attractive people

 

  • appreciate diversity – age, ethnicity, dress voices, what people are doing

 

  • how are they – do people look happy or sad, relaxed or stressed? Notice their posture and how they move

 

  • cultivate loving kindness – you want to have a good day, so do they – simply wish them well. Staying in contact with your body generate a sense of kindliness

 

The Mindful Moment  – sitting quietly, tune in to the sensations of the body, look for a sense of feeling grounded. Follow the breathing for a minute or two, notice your thoughts and feelings. Bring a friend to mind. Remember some happy times together. Imagine them relaxed. Remember their smile, try to hear their laugh

 

Meditation – try some metta bhavana. These do not have to be long sessions. Do whatever you can manage. Download a led meditation from Free Buddhist Audio if this will help.

 

Maintain your journal and contact your meditation buddy

 

 



Life With Full Attention – Week 6


Yesterday the MK Meditation Association met up and practiced Mindfulness of Breathing meditation. After a tea break we continued with our Life with Full Attention Course. Here are the notes from the meeting:

Life with full attention -Week 6 – Nature & Art (Appreciation as a Way of Life)

Appreciation as an absolutely central attitude to life. Our aim should be to simply appreciate life, to stand back and enjoy it. Sure, there are things we have to do, responsibilites and so on, but we should not take these too seriously. We need to cultivate a playfulness, a lightness of touch.

- through Appreciation we become less preoccupied with worldly concerns

- we can lead less cluttered lives, enjoying spaciousness and freedom from complexity

- appreciation is non-acquisitive – it is an end in itself – it’s own reward

- it sensitizes us to the ugly – to the unproductive games of egoism

- absorbed in appreciation we begin to forget ourselves, transcend ourselves

Appreciating Nature

 

- Developing a capacity to take pleasure in things as they are – cultivating an interest in what is in front of us – starting with the natural world.

- Developing a capacity to take pleasure in things as they are – cultivating an interest in what is in front of us – starting with the natural world.

- Interaction with other species – good for us – reduces stress “pet therapy”

- Gardens and trees aid healing and have positive physical & psychological benefits

- Can learn to appreciate nature as something valuable in and of itself.

Kant: “The love of nature for it’s own sake is always a sign of goodness”

Developing a connection to nature requires us to examine how we may be harming it

Appreciating the Arts

 

- Art can help us connect with nature – through paintings & poetry – an imaginative connection helping us to see patterns, connections, subtleties and nuance.

- Develop our “painters eye” to see things afresh

- Also drama and music – a satisfaction that unites pleasure and meaning

In the Seen Only the Seen

 

- The Appreciative mode is the antidote to the prevailing Western mode:- acquisitiveness
- Seeing things as they are with nothing of me “added on”
- Appreciative Wisdom (Vidya), free from grasping allows the world to shine. Simple experiences are “alive” in a way we can’t pin down.
- The life “out there” is intimately connected with the life “in here”

Practice Week

We are building on Wise and Unwise attention – the 4 Right Efforts from week 5. What we pay attention to strongly conditions how we feel and what we do. The Art of Happiness – learning how to arouse wise attention and avoid unwise attention.

An Environment Week – Take some time to connect & enjoy the natural world & do something practical to help the environment: The 3 R’s Reduce/Re-use/Recycle

Improve Your Cultural Diet – increase the nutrition in your pleasure. Try visiting an art gallery or museum. You could see a play, read some poetry or good literature. Unite pleasure  & meaning

The Mindful Walk – try to see things as they are, just notice without reaction – without adding “me” or trying to change the experience

The Mindful Moment – investigate and intensify your experience of your surroundings. Appreciate and engage the imagination. You could sketch your surroundings or write a short story or poem. You might try just listening to some music – wholeheartedly without distraction. Let go and eneter into a state of reverie.

Create a Shrine – a sacred space to meditate – a place of peace. Indoors or outdoors. Use your imagination, it does not have to be Buddhist or “religious”. You could collect objects from nature, use candles, oils or incense. You could paint or draw objects. Look to create a sense of connection with what is important to you.

Meditate – try to find some time to meditate – sitting, walking or lying down. It could be 5 minutes or much longer. You could try the meditations from the class: mindfulness of breathing, metta bhavana, just sitting. You could try some quiet reflection – “impermenance in nature”, or “interconnection through eating” reflecting on those involved in bringing food to your plate.

There is too much here to try in one week. Tonight, pick one or two things that appeal to you, that you might enjoy trying. Plan some time to do them during the week ahead.

Don’t try to do too much and then feel like you have failed.

Everything you manage to try is a bonus.

This is not work – experiment & enjoy! Do it your way.

Remember to contact your mindfulness buddy and to keep up your journal – maybe use it to draw a sketch or jot down a poem.