2021-10-10-Introduction to IMC's Meditation Instruction
5:55PM Oct 10, 2021
So for the talk today, I want to start with a story and fond of as an introduction to what I'll be talking about. There was a person who was a well learned in Buddhism, many years studying with the great teachers of the era, studied all the great books, sutras and commentaries. So, but then, at some point, I went to a Zen master, and with the piece of beautiful paper calligraphy paper, and asked the Zen master to do a calligraphy and to write down the most important teaching of Buddhism on this calligraphy. And there's a tradition, especially in Japan, of that Zen masters will do calligraphy. And, and sometimes they're on scrolls, and their scrolls are hung in a respectful place, in a home. And so in that custom, that person went to the Zen master and made that request. And so they then master thought about it for a while, and then wrote, a great focus and presence, wrote something on the scroll. And the person was very excited that this great Zen master was going to write the S essential kind of nugget of what Buddhism is about. And the Zen master wrote on the, the character in Japanese for attention, just that one word, attention, single character, and the Zen master, and then the person said, Oh, no, no, you seem to not quite understood. You know, I want the most important, the essential the key teaching. And so there's that master took another piece of paper, and with great focus and presence, wrote another two characters now. And the person was very excited to see it now, which certainly there'd be something profound. And the Zen master had written Attention, attention. So then the person explained, you know, they're a well studied, they've stopped read it, read all the great philosophies of Buddhism, they, they really have surveyed the whole terrain, lots of teachers they've studied with, and, and they're sophisticated, and they know a lot already. So you know, can you really kind of capture the, the, the, really the essence of the philosophy of the teachings of, you know, and the Zen masters Oh, now I understand, okay. And took another piece of paper and with great focus and presence, looked at the paper composed attention in the moment, grounded here and then wrote, attention, Attention, attention. So this idea of attention is so important for this tradition for Buddhism. And everything you need to know and determine occur and Buddhist practice happens through the vehicle of paying attention, being attentive to what's going on. A beginning class and meditation would tell you to start being mindful, start engaging your attention in the present moment. So in some ways, it can be seen as beginner's practice. But it's the same practice for someone who has been practicing for years, someone who has matured in the practice reached formula to purity for it, it's still attention, that core practice is the same. And so the practice of a beginner and the practice of someone's practice for a long time, is in some ways the same. And people who practice for a long time, it's always good to go back to the beginning, to really start over again, in a sense. But we start over again, if we've done practice for a long time, we don't quite start over the practice is the same attention. The basic instructions might be the same as for a beginner, but we bring something along, something accompanies us from the maturity of our practice. That creates a little different context for doing the basic practice. What I'd like this talk to be about is an introduction to meditation practice.
And so it's meant for people who are maybe pretty new to all this, maybe this is your first time coming to talk at IMC and also some of you I know a practice for a long time and I hope it's going to work for you, too. With that, you don't say you're ready to, you know, turn off the the YouTube channel because oh, it's just going to be an introduction to meditation. I know, all too well with meditations about the hope that you'll appreciate this, these minutes that I talk that it is, offer something a little different. So the reason for this topic is that I current plan, which is subject to change by tomorrow morning, but is to for the next few weeks on the 7am teaching that I do, too. Go through the basic instructions in meditation practice that I teach here at IMC and, and like I teach a five week intro to meditation class periodically. And that follows a pattern. And the pattern is the first day, first evening, we talked about breathing. The second evening, we talk about body mindfulness of the body. The third time day is mindfulness of emotions. The fourth one is mindfulness of thinking. And then the fifth time is everything else, kind of and and so I thought we would go through that one week at a time. So weak on breathing a week on body a week on emotions in a week on, on thinking and then maybe a week or two or similar things. And, and I feel it's really, really useful to come back to the beginning to basics for everyone. And as I said, I think that basics are not just basics for people who have a lot of experience. It's still the basic practice. But hopefully something accompanies that there's a understanding and insight a, an approach to starting over again, that is both just starting over again, sharing the practice for beginner, but somehow there's something else is happening there along with it. And so that's the plan. And so this talk today is a little bit like an introduction to the series that I'm planning to do. So wanted to take the opportunity to contextualize a little a step back a little bit more objectively contextualize. The instructions and meditation that I've been doing here during this pandemic time. And also at IMC and how it fits into the larger scene. Because all instructions are, I'd probably the not best choice of words, but are contrived are artificial. There's something that are constructed and made and presented. And as such, they have history. And they hate the way that I teach this five week into a class at IMC headed it I'll tell you the origins of it. So when I went to practice Vipassana insight meditation in Thailand and Burma, the instructions were very simple. In fact, in Burma, I showed up to kind of like the ground headquarters, that's ground zero for the whole, in some ways to be positive movement that spread into the West. And, and they gave me a cassette, and it gets up player with a 15 minute instructions in the meditation. And that was the extent of the instructions that I was supposed to, I used for them for eight months that I was on retreat there. So all the instructions were given in 15 minutes. And the simplest way of understanding repeating those 15 minutes is focus on the sensations of your breathing.
And if something becomes more predominant, more compelling than your breathing, let go of the breathing and bring your attention to really see what it is that's pulling you away, or what's more compelling. And when that's settled enough, somehow doesn't have to stop but settled enough and no longer so compelling. Go back to your breathing. And so it was lovely practice for me to discover because in doing Zen practice before that, the focus was so much on breathing and on posture, that there was no instructions for emotions for thinking for all the kind of wider range of our experience. And be passionate I learned that this simple instructions included this wider all of our humanity, everything was included. And I remember when I was after practicing in Burma for a while. I got so happy when I realized at some point that this is practice taught me to be mindful, be present for all everything in my experience. And, and, and the reason I became so happy was that I knew that if I was mindful, there was a way of being free liberated from experience. And this idea that, that no matter what the human experience is, because I knew now how to be mindful of it, I could find some kind of freedom, some kind of peace, some kind of independence, some kind of autonomy, this entanglement with it all. And I still couldn't do it so well, but I know I knew the theory, I could be free anywhere I go, if I keep practicing mindfulness. So so that was, what the extra instructions was very simple in that there's certainly more that happened in those 15 minutes of instructions. But it was all done like that. I came to practice a little bit here in the West. And, and then at some point, I was invited to become a teacher in this Vipassana tradition. And, and only then that I really kind of start attending Western insight meditation retreats, I hadn't done a lot of things here in the West. And, and here, I've discovered, they taught the instructions in a different way. On retreats, they would start on the first day teaching about breathing meditation, can they get grounded, get settled, the second day, they talk about mindfulness of the body, partly because by this, by the second day, people's bodies were aching and challenging. The third day, they will talk about the instructions in mindfulness of emotion. And, and by third day, that was often kind of challenging for people. So that was useful. And the fourth day, they talked about mindfulness of thinking. And then there'd be some other things the next days of the retreat. And that was a pattern. And so I was introduced to that pattern. And I thought this was a nice pattern. As part of my teacher training, starting in 1990, I was asked to take over a group small meditation group in Palo Alto. And I taught them for every week for about a year, year and a half or so, until it became clear to be useful to do in instructions in meditation for people. So then I offered the first time, but I had never received any kind of basic meditation class, its instructions, a meditation class, which was about to teach. And so I, you know, I didn't, I didn't have any reference points for how you do it. And I wasn't certainly wasn't going to do the 15 minutes instructions that I got in Burma. So I said, Well, these the way that they're taught on retreat, that's a very nice sequence. And, and it leads up to the way we're talking Burma, because after you get the full set of instructions, then you know, how to be present for everything. And that was the that was what were they're building to on the retreats by the fifth sixth day, then the instructions were similar to what they are in Burma. So I thought, why don't I teach a five week course, following the the instructions on the retreats. And one of the reasons I was motivated was that the the class was an hour and a half actually, initially that Nick, there were maybe 45 minutes. And, but longer than that 1015 minute instructions on a retreat. And so I then thought, you know, those instructions. So brief, there's so much more to say, but the instructions for each of these things. So I want more time. So initially had 45 minutes and then eventually became an hour and a half, in order to go into some real explanations, real care around how to teach mindfulness of each of these areas. And,
and so I kind of made up this course that way. And that's what I've been doing and other people at IMC have been doing now for almost 30 years. And I think it works very well. But it's only one way of practicing one way of giving the instructions. In the pandemic less of that earlier this year, I gave like 60 or so talks there were basically instructions on mindfulness of breathing according to the anapanasati technique. And that's a whole other way of practicing, which I find tremendously valuable, but it is different. I've been asked now repeatedly to do a similar series on the Sati putana suta, the four foundations of mindfulness, which if you take that as your primary instructions, is a little bit different. Again, it's a little different technique. So these are all kinds of realizes all these different ways of doing it. And so and so my hope in offering the classic now for 30 years way, it's done a here at IMC on this you know, sequentially is that even if you don't take that as the as the As the core technique in a sense, it's laying a very good foundation for how to include breathing body emotions, thinking. And whatever take that technique you do become wiser you're born more understanding of also hoped in teaching this at IMC this way, that is also relevant people who never meditate that people in their ordinary life will also find it useful to understand some of the principles ideas that I teach around breathing body emotions and thinking and the rest of it. And, and so I wanted to enter a class, I'm trying to kind of make it relevant in such a broad way. So that's kind of like the background. And so some of you want to hopefully prevent a little bit of confusion, if some of you come to the 7am teaching, and say, wait a minute, just earlier in the year, we had this all 60 steps, you know, the 6016 steps, the 60 talks about it on anapanasati, you know, how does this fit in. So I hope this helps a little bit. And the so in terms of the unemployed, Sati, putana, suta, I'm planning next year to do a series on it, then probably do a little gap before I do it, after doing this current series on the basic instructions here. And hopefully, the basic instructions here will be tremendously supportive, for understanding Sati putana. So, so there are these basic instructions. And, and, and as a beginner, the instructions are more prescriptive. Meaning these are the things that we do. For someone who as we mature, there starts to be a shift in the practice, where becomes less and less something we do, and more and more something we allow, so becomes more and more, the so called instructions are no longer prescriptive, they become descriptive. So it's more and more that we are discovering a capacity for being aware here. And then we're just receptive in a certain way. And then we're aware of breathing. And so it is as much we're following instructions to be with the breathing, breathing has found us and that's where the practice is. Some point sometimes the body speaks up. And so then we're aware of the body, it's the loudest thing happening. And so that's what feels this autonomy, this independent kind of capacity just to be aware, sometimes emotions, sometimes thoughts, sometimes other aspects of all this. And, and so awareness becomes more something we allow, develop certain independence, it's not being directed necessarily, but it might be very specific, if one thing is the loudest thing, but it's not like we're do we doing it is more like we're allowing it. And over time as practice matures. And there's some degree, some experience some some taste of what freedom is like, then the awareness, shares with some of the qualities of that freedom, that it's still the basic practice, but it's accompanied by a sense of what freedom is, or, or a feel for freedom. And,
and disenchantment and.
And the qualities of that are come from a sense of freedom and independence, that I call it for autonomy, that there's a sense that awareness becomes more autonomous. Not that you become autonomous, because that's dangerous in terms of conceit. Like I look at me, I'm autonomous, inescapable, independent, the idea that you are independent, that you are anything is not really needed, in the freedom and the ease and the piece of autonomous awareness. And so the autonomous awareness, the awareness that can just be is as lend itself to like in the West, to the language of, to have non judgmental awareness, to have an awareness accepting of everything. To have open awareness to have there was a time that was popular was something called choiceless awareness and so over time there are different trends about how to talk about this. And that the current trend as of today, here with me is to talk about in terms of being autonomous, autonomous awareness. And, and as practice deepens, as I said, rather than the mindfulness is something we do mindfulness, something we allow, we allow that autonomy of awareness that is not entangled or caught up or for and against any experience. And, and then it becomes more and more kind of a Marvel, kind of a wondrous thing, that there is this free feeling of awareness that's free and independent, and not pushed around not attached to anything, not for anything or against anything. And then everything else becomes nature. Even things which are unfortunate, say that you're angry at someone that they're hostile with someone in a very unfortunate way. The autonomy means that you're not going to give into it, you're not going to participate in it, the forces of instilling the anger exists within you. But this precious core of who we kind of sense are the awareness allows us just leave it alone. And maybe seeing it it's and then not identifying with it. And this is one of the characteristics of mature practitioner is that there's less than less identification with whatever the experience is. Identification here means that we define ourselves by it, we limit ourselves and this is who I am, we hold on to it, we grab on to it that now I know who I am, that immediately limits the range and the wholeness the fullness of the experience. And it's not a denial of certain appropriate identities that people have, it's the movement of identity, movements of the identification that we have. That is the issue. And, and so as practice matures, it's still the same practice. But what we're doing is we are no longer identifying with these things. And so we are and so the end, so everything we see then becomes nature, that it becomes just part of the process. And it that kind of independence being me having those to meet, to hope or to hold in awareness, whatever the experience is breath, body, emotions, thoughts, challenges, pain, suffering, whatever it might be, it's a remarkable process, because then the natural functioning of who we are, begins to operate better and better. And this idea of being able to step feel the freedom and allowance of a natural functioning, that comes when we don't restrict nature, we don't limited one, bottle it up, we don't become attached to it. And the kind of the understanding of Buddhism is that all the unhealthy ways that we live our lives, all the ways that we cause harm to ourselves and others, to comes from Not, not leaving things alone, not letting things equilibrate come to harmony, it comes from entanglement, wanting, contracting around something, resisting something, judging something identifying with something and a heavy burden some way. So.
So the instructions are very simple, basic. And more. Longer one is practices, the more one is practice them, then basic instructions become even more relevant than they were when you were a beginner because of what accompanies that. Because now there's a sense in a pot feeling of this possibility of having to be simpler and simpler, and simpler is not simplistic, simpler, is where, where freedom is found. So so that's the introduction, and hopefully, those of you who are not going to come to the 7am hopefully that was nice for you and, and, and, and for those of you who do, I certainly look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning or seeing your being with you. And we will hopefully go through it in a way that all of us, including me, find And valuable and meaningful. So thank you. And so now those of you who want to meet with the got to the meeting that Jan and Barry are hosting, you can join the YouTube. And that the zoom the Zoom Room and I'm going to post it here again. And then I think I can do it right now. Let's see. Yeah, there it is. So hopefully that gives you there's a password is the password is songo sa mga j with a capital S, but the link there actually has the password embedded in it. So you might have to copy and paste because there's so much more I mean, Oh, I didn't quite do it. Let me see if I can hit there it is. There it is. So it's underlined. So probably means you can click on it. So thank you all and wish you all a good week.