This is the first day of this September 2023, two-day sesshin. And for the next few days we'll be reading from Mindfulness in Plain English. That's the title and it's by Bhante Gunaratana. And actually bond pay means it's a title. It basically means venerable one for monks and nuns in the Theravada tradition. So Bhante Gunaratana, I was mentioned give a little bio, so we've just given a feel who this person is. And I just found out he is 95 years old and still alive as I speak. So Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, was ordained at the age of 12 as a Buddhist monk in Milan de Nia, Sri Lanka. And then in 1947, at age 20, he was given higher ordination in Kandy, Kandy. Why that's interlocked as well, some administrative city. Subsequently, he traveled to India for five years of missionary work for the Mahabodhi society, serving the Haryjana, which means untouchables serving the untouchable people in Sanchi, Delhi and Bombay. And then later, he spent 10 years as a missionary in Malaysia. And then at the invitation of the Son, Santa subaqua society, he came to the United States in 1968, to serve as General Secretary of the Buddhist Vihara Society of Washington, DC. I was looking him up a little bit and one of the interesting work that he did was actually at the end of the Vietnam War. Some military official and US asked him to help, you know, the 1000s and 1000s of Vietnamese refugees that came to this country. And so for a short period of time he liked was teaching them English and he was also ensuring that families were not separated when and helping them find new homes and in the US. In 1980, he was appointed president of the Society and during his years at the VA Hara from 68 to 88. He taught courses in Buddhism, conducted meditation retreats, and widely throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Asia. He also pursued scholarly interests by earning a PhD in philosophy from American University. He has taught courses on Buddhism at American University, Georgetown University and you have Maryland. Alright, since 1982 Bhante Guna retana has been president of the Bhavana society, a monastery and retreat center located in the woods of West Virginia, near the Shenandoah Valley, which he co founded with Matthew flexing. Bhante Gunaratna resides at bahawa excuse me, ba Bhavana society, where he ordains and trains monks and nuns and offers retreats to the general public. He also travels frequently to lecture and lead retreats throughout the world. I don't know about that now at the age of 95. Okay, so let's just jump right into it. And we'll go into the first chapter
chapter one, meditation.
Why bother? More? How about why bother?
Meditation is not easy. It takes time and it takes energy. It also takes grit, determination and discipline, or some Zen ultimate for that is what we're doing right now. Doing this today's to shame. It requires a host of personal qualities that we normally regard as unpleasant and like to avoid whenever possible. We can sum up all these qualities in the American word gum chin. Meditation, it is certainly a great deal easier just to sit back and watch television. So why bother? Why waste all the time and energy when you could be out enjoying yourself?
simple because you're a human, just because of the simple fact that you're human, you find yourself heir to an inherent unsatisfactoriness in life, that simply will not go away. You can suppress it from your awareness for time, you can distract yourself for hours on end. But it always comes back. And usually when you least expected, all of a sudden seeming out of the blue, you sit back, take stock, and realize your actual situation in life. Just, you know, I was rereading this in. I don't know, I was I had mixed feelings about reading this first chapter just because it's some of it's just going to sound like I'm just preaching to the choir. But there's some good stuff in it anyway. And so I thought, even though it might sound a little redundant, yeah, I've been there, done that, I realized, this is why I meditate. And this is why I'm going to say sheen. Because, you know, not everybody does the sheen, who practices in at the center at our center. And that's fine.
But there's just so much
to get out of this sheen. I just had to start earlier, this analogy of, you know, sitting sitting every day, yeah, we're getting our feet wet. We're getting our trunk wet, we're starting to enter deeper into the waters of machine of, excuse me of practice itself. But really, even today's machine, we're starting to really Wade deep are starting to get really underneath what's really going on. And, and, and bit by bit starting to drop expectations, drop any is seeing what's there putting a light on ourselves and seeing what's really going on. And yes, so let's continue. There you are, and you suddenly realize that you are spending your whole life just barely getting by, you keep up a good front, you managed to make ends meet somehow and look okay, from the outside. But those periods of desperation, those times when you feel everything caving in on you, you keep those to yourself. You are a mess, and you know it, but you hide it beautifully. Meanwhile, way down under all of that, you just know that there has to be some other way to live. A better way to look at the world a way to touch life more fully. You click into it by chance now and then you get a good job, you fall in love, you'll win the game. For a while things are different. Life takes on a richness and clarity that makes all the bad times and 100 fade away. The whole texture of your experiences changes in you say to yourself, Okay, now I've made it. Now I will be happy. But then that fades to like smoke in the wind, you are left with just a memory, that and a vague awareness that something is wrong
you feel that there really is a whole other realm of depth and sensitivity available in life. Somehow, somehow, somehow you're just not seeing it. You wind up feeling cut off, you feel insulated from the sweetness of experience by some sort of sensory cotton. You're not really touching life. You're not quote making it again. Then even that vague awareness fades away, and you're back to the same old reality. The world looks a util fall place. It is an emotional roller coaster. And you spend a lot of your time down at the bottom of the ramp yearning for the heights
can't help but think of people who and this is probably coming from someone who's not exercising much these days. I want to get back on that treadmill. But it does remind me this yearning for the heights, you know, reminds me of people who just exercise so much you know, because they just want to get that high over and over again, when perhaps that's not the best thing for them. But we all have to find our own middle way when it comes to these things. So what is wrong with you? Are you a freak? No. You're just human. And you suffer from the same malady that infects every human being. It is a monster inside all of us. And it has many arms, chronic tension, lack of genuine compassion for others, including the people closest to you blocked up feelings and emotional deadness many, many arms. None of us is entirely free from it. We may deny it, we try to suppress it. We build a whole culture about hiding From an pretending it is not there in distracting ourselves with goals, projects and concerns about status, just getting busy. Always the busyness but it never goes away. It is a little it is a constant under current of every thought and every perception. Excuse me, it is a constant undercurrent in every thought and every perception, a little voice in the back of the mind that keeps saying not good enough yet, need to have more have to make it better, have to be better. It is a monster, a monster that mattes everywhere and subtle forms. I'm reminded of this New Yorker cartoon I just saw, you know, it's just this one panel window. Imagine one panel comic, just imagine Time Square, just full of tourists, and residents and people with their selfies and their phones and, and all those big huge billboards, except what's written in those billboards, all those numberless signs, and times where instead of the actual ad, it just has the word these words like you're too
you're hungry. Another one says you're ugly. Another one says you're horny, and you are dumb, spend more money, you're still ugly, it just goes on and on besides, but that's basically the bottom line when it comes to that our society and advertisement is just making us feel inadequate, like we need something else to satisfy ourselves. And all we really need to do is all we really need to do is to sheen, do the practice? Do the daily practice does Zen. Life seems to be a perpetual struggle and enormous effort against staggering odds. And what is our solution to all this discuss satisfaction, we get stuck in the quote, If only syndrome. If only I had more money than I would be happy. If only I could find somebody who really loved me. If only I could lose 20 pounds. If only I had a color TV, a hot tub, early hair, and so on and so forth. Where does all this junk come from? And more importantly, what can we do about it? It comes from the conditions of our own minds. It is a deep, subtle and pervasive, pervasive set of mental it's a Gordian knot that we have tied bit by bit that we can only unravel and just that same way, one piece of a time at a time. Yes, one piece of it at a time, takes time. We can tune up our awareness, dredge up each separate piece and bring it out into the light. We can make the unconscious conscious slowly, one piece of the time, this bringing it out into the light. Really, that's all we need to do. Come down to the light, whatever. Whatever defilements we experience No, excuse me, whatever defilements we see we experienced what whatever it is, whether it's jealousy or rage, or that name, your name, your defilement, things that come popping up in the mind in the middle of Zen. That's there's 1000s working, you're bringing it out into the light. And what do we do with that? Nothing. Don't do anything with that. See it and you just get back to the practice is by seeing it by noticing it. I'm still caught, I'm still surprised
the things that will pop up in the mind. But they just don't affect one as much as they used to through long years of practice. But initially when they do pop up, especially for newcomers when they start seeing these things, at least for me, it was a total freakout session. I just could not believe what was going on in the mind. I still remember I'll relay this story. It was I think it was my first two days to Shane. And it was with sunyata Roshi, now sunyata Roshi Zen teacher in Asheville, and I just went into private instruction or no I went into ducks on and I just said I'm just so full of myself. And she just looked at me and I realized now that that look was Yeah, I've heard that before. Like it's just your run of the mill. I'm so full of myself and but that you know as as we mature as practitioners as we seize these that farmers as we go through the process says, of just digging up all that muck. And by, yeah, by shining light on it. It really is actually quite an humbling experience when we start to really see what's going on and get through it. Just purely get through it just getting back on that mat the essence of our experience is change, change is incessant. Moment by moment life flows by, and it is never the same. Perpetual fluctuation is the essence of the perceptual universe. A thought springs up in your head, and half a second later it has gone in comes another one. And then that has gone to sound strikes your ears and then silence. Open your eyes and the world pours in Blink and it is gone. People come into your life and go, friends leave, relatives die, your fortunes go up and they go down. Sometimes you win. And just as often you lose it is incessant. Change, change, change. No two moments ever the same. There is not a thing wrong with this. It is the nature of the universe. But human culture has taught us some odd responses to this endless flowing prize experiences. We try to stick each perception every mental change in this endless flow into one of three mental pigeonholes. It's good, it's bad, or neutral, then according to which box we take it in, we proceed with a set of fixed vitual mental responses. If a particular perception has been labeled good, then we try to freeze time right now. Right there, we grab on to that particular thought find the lit hold it and we try to keep it from escaping. When that does not work. We go all out in an effort to repeat the experience that caused the thought. Let us call this mental habit grasping. Over on the other side of the mind lies a box labeled bad when we perceive something bad. We try to push it away. We try to deny it, reject it and get rid of it any way we can. We fight against our own experience. We run from pieces of ourselves, let us call this mental hotbed rejecting.
on one side, rejecting on the other.
Between these two reactions lies the neutral box. Here we place the experiences that are neither good nor bad. They are tepid, neutral, uninteresting, we pack experience away in the neutral box so that we can ignore it and thus return our attention to where the action is, namely, our endless round of desire and aversion. So this neutral category of experience gets robbed of its fair share of our attention. Let us call this mental habit ignoring. Can't help but think of just as just our nature to void people we don't like and cling on to people that we do, like spend as much time as we want them say if we're very social person. And then just I guess neutral would be just avoiding people you find boring. And that's that's just not the case. If you're just paying attention, if you're just really listening and paying attention to whoever you're speaking with. There's a richness there that just unfolds that that it's there doesn't unfold, it's right there but it's just by paying attention. Can I remember one of my early years of practice I was just having a conversation with with the kid and this was brunch after Sunday and things just dropped and I was just totally engaged and listening to what the absurd dialogue this kid was having with me well that's fun in itself just hearing that but there was just something to the fact that I just had a really I guess I had a really good sitting Sunday morning and there there I am. Speaking with the seven year old
oh okay, here we go actually has an answer for this neutral category. So this quote neutral category of experience gets robbed of its fair share of our attention. Let us call this mental habit. ignoring the direct result of all this lunacy is a perpetual treadmill race to nowhere, endlessly pounding after pleasure, endlessly fleeing from pain, and endlessly ignoring 90% of our experience, then we wonder why life tastes so flat. In the final analysis, the system does not work. No matter how hard you pursue pleasure and success, there are times when you fail. No matter how fast you flee, there are 10 Pain catches up with you. And in between those times, life is so boring, you could scream, our minds are full of opinions and criticisms. We have built walls all around ourselves and are trapped in the prison of our own likes and dislikes. We suffer suffering, suffering is a big word and Buddhist thought is the key term and should be thoroughly understood the Pali word in dukkha, and it does not mean the agony of the body. It means the deep, subtle sense of dissatisfaction that is a part of every mind moment, and that results directly from the mental mental treadmill. The essence of life is suffering. So the Buddha, at first glance, this statement seems exceedingly morbid and pessimistic. It even seems untrue. After all, there are plenty of times when we are happy, aren't there? No, there are not. It just seems that way. Take any moment when you feel really fulfilled and examine it closely. Down Under the joy, you will find that subtle, all pervasive undercurrent of tension that no matter how great this moment is, it is not going to end it is excuse me, backtrack there, down under the joy you will find that subtle, all pervasive undercurrent of tension that no matter how great this moment is, it is going to end no matter how much you just gained, you are inevitably either going to lose some of it or spend the rest of your days guarding what you have and scheming how to get more and in the end, you're going to die. In the end you lose everything, it's all transitory.
Skipping along now
you can't ever get everything you want, it is impossible. Luckily, there is another option, you can learn to control your mind to step outside of the endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can literally learn not to want, you can learn not to want what you want to recognize desires, but not be controlled by them. This does not mean that you lie down on the road and invite everybody to walk all over you. It means that you continue to live a very normal looking life, but live from a whole new viewpoint. You do the things that a person must do. But you are free from that obsessive compulsive driven pneus of your own desires. You want some you want something but you don't need to chase after it. Just seeing it putting a light onto it. You fear something but you don't need to stand there quaking in your boots. This sort of Mental Cultivation is very difficult. It takes years but trying to control everything is impossible. The difficult is preferable to the impossible.
Meditation is called the capital G great capital T teacher. It is the cleansing crucible fire that works slowly but surely through understanding the greater your understanding the more flexible and tall Aren't, the more compassionate you can be, you become like a perfect parent or an ideal teacher, you're ready to forgive and forget, you feel love toward others because you understand them and you understand others because you have understood yourself. So much of this practice, especially in longer retreats, like all day sittings, or machine, again, is just putting a light onto our own defilements. And by seeing all the muck that's inside, and by letting it go by shining a light on it. It just like I said, it just becomes this really humbling experience and slowly but surely, we change, we change for the better. And we think less subvert our selves, and we think of the needs of others. And we know how to respond.
You have looked deeply inside and seen seeing self illusion, and your own human failings, seeing your own humanity, and learn to forgive and to love. When you have learned compassion for yourself, compassion for others is automatic. I am a mess, you're a mess. An accomplished meditator has achieved a profound understanding of life. And he or she inevitably relates to the world with a deep and uncritical love.
Faith and morality, by the way, have a special meaning in this context. Buddhism does not advocate faith in the sense of believing something because it is written in a book at attributed to a prophet or taught to you by some authority figure, the mean of faith here is closer to confidence. It is knowing that something is true, because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself. That's the thing about Zen meditation, at least in our school, you know, when we start, some people start and then stop, start and stop, and some people never start up again. But really, it's just that perseverance of just doing it everyday trying it. I'm not very good at this practice, but I'm going to do it anything, I'm going to do it anyway. Again, I'm not very good at this practice, but I'm going to do it anyway. It's that perseverance that eventually the gap between the start and stop ends and then we just keep doing it every day because we need to do it.
Moving to another chapter.
attitude. Within the last century, Western science has made a startling discovery. We are part of the world we view. The very process of our option changes the things we observe. For example, an electron is an extremely tiny item, it cannot be viewed without instrumentation. And that apparatus dictates that the observer will see if you look at an electron in one particular way, it appears to be a particle, hard little ball that bounces around in a nice straight pass. When you view it another way, an electron appears to be a wave form, glowing and wiggling all over the place with nothing solid about it at all. An electron is an event more than a thing. And the observer participates in that event by the very act of his or her observation. There is no way to avoid this interaction.
Eastern science has recognized this basic principle for a very long time. The mind itself is a set of events and you participate in those events every time you look inward. Meditation is participatory observation, what you are looking at response to the process of looking. In this case what you are looking at is you and what you see depends on how you look. Thus the process of meditation is extremely delicate, and the result depends absolutely on the state of mind of the meditator. The following attitudes are essential to success in practice. Most of them have already been presented but we bring them together again here as a series of rules. For applications. One, don't expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Well, in our case, we don't just sit back and see what happens. Do the practice happens with no expectations in the mind. Treat the whole thing as an experiment. Take an active interest in the test itself. But don't get distracted by your expectations about the results. For that matter, don't be anxious for any result whatsoever. Let the meditation move along at its own speed and in its own direction. Let the meditation teach you. Meditation awareness seeks to see reality exactly as it is, seeing things as they are. Whether that corresponds to our expectations or not, it does require a temporary suspension of all of our preconceptions and ideas. We must store our images, opinions and interpretations out of the way for the duration of this the session. Otherwise, we will stumble over them or store our images, it's more like the images come up. Say if it is a mock, yo, they just come up. Don't pay any attention to them just return to the practice. And eventually they will, will disappear. I suppose that's what he means by storing our images, opinions and interpretations. to Don't strain. Don't force anything, or make grand exaggerate exaggerated efforts. Meditation is not aggressive, there is no place or need for violent striving. Just let your effort be relaxed and steady. relaxed and steady. This at this I feel is such an important point for for a special immerse sesshin to relax the body. I can't tell you machines, myself and others I've heard from others as well. How much we just strained and strained wanting to get something. And so wanting to get enlightenment, wanting to get into samadhi we're just straining. If you feel a tension in the body, just relax the body. Here's a trick that I have, I often tell people that I've learned recently is at the start of around, I'll roll one shoulder forward and back, right side and then roll the shoulder forward and back the left shoulder. It can help get the back straighter and then it kind of encourages that pelvic tilt the belly sticking out. And now my shoulders are nice and relaxed. But yeah, tension and body that's that comes from the striving, no doubt. Don't rush. This is the third point don't rush. There is no hurry. So take your time. settle yourself on a cushion and sit as though you have the whole day.
Well, which we do have we do have the whole
day. Anything really valuable takes time to develop? Patience, patience, patience.
don't cling to anything, and don't reject anything. Again, here we go. Again. It's really what it comes down to with our practice. We're not grasping, and we're not rejecting we're not suppressing. So a thought comes up, it comes up this return to the practice. don't grasp on to it some fantasy, and don't reject some. I don't know. Don't push away anything either. Again, point four, don't claim to anything and don't reject anything. Let come what comes and accommodate yourself to that whatever it is. If good mental images arise, that is fine. If bad mental images arise. That is fine to look on all of it as equal and make yourself comfortable with whatever happens. Don't fight with what you experienced. Just observe it all.
Five, let go. Learn to flow with all the changes that come up. Loosen up and relax. Six, accept everything that arises. Accept your feelings, even the ones you wish you did not have to accept your experiences, even the ones you hate. Don't condemn yourself for having human flaws and failings. Learn to see all the phenomenon in the mind as being perfectly natural and understandable. Try to exercise a dissenter. It's a disinterested acceptance of all times, at all times with respect to everything you experience. So again, I'll just say that again, try to exercise a disinterested acceptance at all times with respect to anything you with everything you experience. For so long, I just felt detachment, the word detachment was a negative word when it came to Zen practice. But really, that's what we're doing. We're detaching ourselves. We're just observing. Not coldly, but we're just observing. What's going on in our mind without reacting without a version and without grasping, just observing comes up, it goes away comes up, it goes away.
Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. You may not be perfect, but you're all you've got to work with. The process of becoming who you will be begins first with the total acceptance of who you are.
Eight, investigate yourself. Question everything. take nothing for granted. Don't believe anything because it sounds wise and pious and some holy man said it. See for yourself. This that does not mean that you should be cynical, impudent or irreverent. It means you should be empirical. Subject all statements to the actual test of your own experience, and let the results be your guide to truth. Zen evolves out of an inner longing to wake up to what is real and to gain liberating insight into the true structure of existence of existence. The entire practice hinges upon this desire to be awake to the truth without it the practices to professional.
Nine view all problems at Allen wrenches. Look upon negativities that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow. Don't run from them. condemn yourself or bury bury your burden and saintly silence. You have a problem? Great. More grist for the mill. Rejoice dive in and investigate.
There's a Chinese word for it's this character Wei Jie. And Wei means crisis. While G means opportunity. Don't ponder. You don't need to figure everything out. discursive thinking won't free you from the trap. In meditation the mind is purified naturally by Zen, by wordless bear attention. Habitual deliberation is not necessary to eliminate those things that are keeping you in bondage. All that is necessary is a clear non conceptual perception of what they are and how they work. That alone is sufficient to solve them. Concepts and reasons just get in the way. Don't think see
While it feels like this is a good place to stop so we'll stop now and recite the Four Vows