AMERICAN BUDDHIST WOMEN

Quarterly Electronic MagaZine from Sakyadhita USA

Issue No. 10, Spring 2016

Sakyadhita USA

The marketing industry itself is employing mindfulness:

"The Mindful Marketer not only outlines the primary causes of anxiety in today's volatile marketing organizations, but it also provides a clear roadmap to mindfully navigating these uncertain times. Lisa's message is timely, holistic, and powerful!"

- From an Amazon review of Lisa Nirell's The Mindful Marketer by Chip Conley, Founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy of Airbnb, and bestselling author.

Jane McEwan at Sri Jemieson International Meditation Centre, Samadi Mawatha, Ampitiya, Kandy, Sri Lanka on 9/18/2014. The mural depicts Sanghamitta bringing the Bodhi Tree to Sri Lanka.

 

"After Sanghamittā’s contribution to the propagation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and her establishing the Bikhhunī Sangha or Meheini Sasna (Order of Nuns) there, her name became synonymous with 'Buddhist Female Monastic Order of Theravāda Buddhism' that was established not only in Sri Lanka but also in Burma, China and Thailand, in particular. The day the most revered tree, the Bodhi tree, a sapling of which was brought by her to Sri Lanka and planted in Anuradhapura, and which still survives." --Wikipedia

 

Jane McEwan lives in Ridgecrest, California, where she has a law practice. She specializes in estate planning and probate.

 

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Nourishing Mindfulness

by Jane McEwan

 Breathing in. Breathing out. Breathing is essential to living.   Focusing on one’s breath is also an essential part of mindfulness meditation.  As Gil Fronsdal describes in The Issue At Hand, “Because of the mind’s tendency to be scattered and easily distracted by daydreams and thoughts, we use the breath to help anchor us to the present. By repeatedly coming back to rest in the breath, we are countering the strong forces of distraction. This trains the mind, heart, and body to become settled and unified on one thing, at one place, at one time” (p. 45).  For some people though, this may feel impossible. In the midst of busy lives, sitting and focusing on the breath may actually not be settling, as disturbing thoughts arise, perhaps feelings of anger or guilt from past events or anxieties for the future.  Prolonged sitting meditation may not be a good place to begin.

 

 As essential as the breath is, it is not the only thing.  Nourishment is also essential to living and to one’s meditation practice. The nourishment provided from listening to Dharma talks, attending retreats, guidance from a Dharma teacher and reading the Suttas for oneself helps.  Acts of kindness or generosity, such as helping the sick or elderly, providing Dana for monastics, or offering flowers at temples, also provides nourishment. Ajahn Jayasaro, in his Lecture on Happiness at Georgetown University in Doha, Qatar on 3/24/2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IHpwKa0E2Q, describes how these acts of kindness and generosity have a healing and uplifting effect on the mind, not only at the time, but also in the future.  These actions become “Noble Treasures of the Heart” which should be consciously recollected to uplift the mind. The good feeling that arises can help to clear the mind of hindrances and make it possible to then sit quietly in meditation, focus on the breath and develop mindfulness.  Ajahn Jayasaro described mindfulness as the ability to be present for your life; to be here and now; to be aware of thought as thought, aware of memory as memory; to learn from past experiences and set priorities for the future. One of those priorities should be to apply effort to abandon or eliminate unskillful or unwholesome mindstates.  The importance of effort is described well by Ajahn Sona in his Winter Retreat Dhamma Talk #2: on "Four Foundations of Mindfulness" (Jan. 12, 2013) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1woWH3TJRs. As he emphasized, “mindfulness is not value neutral.” One should deliberately set out to eliminate unwholesome mindstates and nourish wholesome mindstates.

 

 Consciously “counting our blessings” is one way to nourish wholesome mindstates and dispel unhelpful ones. A lovely guided meditation on this was given by Ayya Santacittā at the Saranaloka New Year Retreat on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, with the Bhikkunis from Aloka Vihara http://av.dharmaseed.org/teacher/278/talk/32003/. Sister Dang Nghiem, from Plum Village, similarly, began the "Miracle of Mindfulness" retreat at Deer Park Monastery with  Reflections on the Four Gratitudes: to our parents, our teachers, our friends, and to all living beings.  http://deerpark.libsyn.com/fractals-and-interbeing-miracle-of-mindfulness-tour-2015 . Sister Dang Nghiem stressed that we not stereotype meditation as just being sitting meditation.  As she said:  “Insight can take place any time, and any where, as long as throughout the day, we give ourselves the chance to come back to our breath, to come back to our steps, to come back to what is in the body, in the mind, what is around us in the bodies of others, in the mind of others, then we can always be there for ourselves and for others when we have this now mind.”   She also introduced her teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s "Fourteen Verses on Meditation," in which he described meditation as being like the two wings of a bird, “Stopping” and “Looking” which belong together side by side, and rely on each other. To stop the mind from running back to the past or running to the future and to settle right in the present moment is essential for concentration. To look deeply in the present moment is essential for insight. These verses can be found at http://appliedbuddhism.org/en/mindfulness-practices/foundation-of-mindfulness/2-14-verses-on-meditation-by-thich-nhat-hanh

 

 At the same retreat, Brother Phap Khoi, described mindfulness exercises for cultivating joy and happiness, pointing out that joy has an element of excitement within in it and happiness, in contrast, has the quality of peace, which helps us to feel calm and balanced. Examples of supporting exercises would be refrains like these: “Breathing in I am aware of my eyes, breathing out I feel joyful” or “Breathing in my lungs are still in good condition, I am able to breath the fresh air in the mountain, breathing out I feel thankful.” Writing down sentences like these that help cultivate joy before sitting down to meditate helps water the seeds of joy within so these energies can manifest. Neutral feelings can be transformed to pleasant feelings, such as Thich Nhat Hahn’s reflection on the “joy of no toothache.” Reflecting on the absence of unwholesome mindstates can  bring happiness: “Breathing at this moment in my mind is calm, there is no desire, there is no greed.  Breathing out I feel content and happy and thankful.” These exercises can be done when sitting, standing, walking or lying down, throughout the day. Brother Phap Khoi pointed out that recollecting past joyful experiences is also a source of joy and that while on retreat you are “Building a beautiful past” which will bring joy on later reflection. Creating the conditions for joy and happiness leads to contentment and calm, which makes concentration possible, which then creates conditions for insight to arise.  http://deerpark.libsyn.com/fifth-and-sixth-exercises-of-full-awareness-of-breathing-miracle-of-mindfulness-tour-2015

 

 Cultivating joy and happiness is an excellent beginning point for meditation and may actually sound like the goal. But like all conditioned things, joy and happiness are inconstant; and dissatisfaction or suffering recurs. The Buddha taught much more on meditation to go further, perhaps to become equanimous, and ultimately to achieve liberation. The Satipatthana Sutta, in the Majhima Nikaya of the Pali Canon, is the most comprehensive teaching, laying out the Foundations of Mindfulness: Mindfulness of the Body, Mindfulness of Feeling Tone, Mindfulness of Mindstates, and Mindfulness of Dhammas. Meditation on one’s breathing is just one of sixteen focuses of meditation making up the four broader categories. The fourth category, Mindfulness of Dhammas, encompasses virtually all of the Buddha’s teachings, from recognition of the states that hinder us, such as anger, anxiety, and doubt, to states that awaken us or perhaps awaken within us, such as investigation, energy, joy, mindfulness and concentration; as well as the Four Noble Truths and within those, the Eightfold Path. A scholarly, yet readable, book thoroughly analyzing this discourse has been written by Venerable Analayo, entitled Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization. A lengthy series of Dharma talks by Joseph Goldstein on the Satipatthana Sutta, based on Venerable Analayo’s book, is available online:  http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/96/talk/6162/.

 

Another excellent book is Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hahn.  A simpler, yet excellent, book for people new to meditation is The Issue At Hand by Gil Fronsdal which is available in eight languages, and can be downloaded from the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City. http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/the-issue-at-hand/ This book rightly begins describing the centrality of virtue and generosity in Buddhist practice; and then introduces different mindfulness practices, referred to as:  “Mindfulness of Breathing, The Body at the Center, Mindfulness of Emotions, Mindfulness of Thoughts and Mindfulness of Intentions.”

 

 An excellent series of Dharma talks on the Foundations of Mindfulness were given by the Bhikkunis from Aloka Vihara at the 2015 New Years Retreat and are available at DharmaSeed.org. These included:  A contemplation of the body by Ayya Santacittā (http://av.dharmaseed.org/teacher/278/talk/32004/); and a discourse by Ayya Jayati on the Second of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: “Feeling Tone,” recognizing the initial feeling tone that arises of pleasant, neutral or unpleasant;  noticing how feelings are impermanent like all conditioned things, arising and passing; and also noticing that feelings are not self, feelings come and go and do not define us (http://av.dharmaseed.org/teacher/634/talk/32016/).  Ayya Anandabodhi spoke on “Mindfulness of Mindstates,” pointing out that mindstates are not thoughts but more aptly described as “ambiance” or the “lens through which one tends to perceive life?” She advised that even if an unhelpful mindstate is present, such as anger, restlessness, desire or doubt, notice whether another is not and gladden your heart. Ayya Anandabodhi urged meditators to: Appreciate what’s good. Celebrate.  Know mindstates that are present and cultivate wholesome ones (http://av.dharmaseed.org/teacher/379/talk/32019/). This was reinforced by Ayya Santacittā’s description of the fourth category, Mindfulness of Dhammas, as essentially about noticing the presence or absence in the mind of the hindrances and the Seven Factors of Enlightment. Look in the mind and see what is there; if a hindrance is there just recognize it but don’t give attention to it. Give attention to what we want to cultivate. She also gave a guided meditation as an overview of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (http://av.dharmaseed.org/teacher/278/talk/32024/).

 

 The teachings of the Buddha provide abundant nourishment through descriptions of meditation practices, narratives, and discourses, which provide a framework for living one’s life in a way that leads to less dissatisfaction and towards more contentment. A wealth of Dharma teachings is freely available online today, benefiting those who live far from Buddhist temples and meditation centers. Listening to dharma talks will help in beginning and sustaining one’s meditation practice. Excellent dharma talks can be found at AudioDharma.org, DharmaSeed.org and DeerPark.libsyn.com.  Awareness grows through listening, practice and noble friendships.  Sister Dang Nghiem pointed out “mindfulness and awareness are interchangeable.”  Ideally our awareness improves through our meditation practice, and we become more aware throughout our daily lives, stopping and looking deeply. As she said, “When you practice mindfulness, it becomes a 'mobile app' you can practice anytime, anywhere.”

 

SOURCES

 

Satipatthāna, The Direct Path to Realization, Anālayo Bhikkhu. Windhorse Publications, 2003.

 

The Issue at Hand, Essays on Buddhist Mindfulness Practice, Gil Fronsdal, 2001. Insight Meditation Center, Redwood City, CA.

Free  www.insightmeditationcenter.org

 

Transformation & Healing, Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hahn,  Parallax Press 2006.

 

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