Invite for critique

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Invite for critique

Postby Reductor » Sat May 14, 2011 7:59 pm

Hey everyone. Tomorrow I hope to meet with some people who are interested in Buddhism. There should be about 6 of us all told. Two purport to be Zen practitioners, while two of us follow Theravada. The other two I am not sure about, as it is not me that will be bringing them.

Below is something I wrote, which I hope is informative and helpful to them. What do you fine people think?

====


Buddhist practitioners have many choices to make about what they practice and how. This is one of the marvels of Buddhism, but also a source of confusion for many at the beginning. Uncertainty over how to practice, and how to judge if we are making actual progress, can become a hurdle.

With that in mind consider this very brief outline.

Develop your virtue (sila), your mind (samadhi) and your wisdom (panna). Together these are called the “three higher trainings”.

First, begin with training in virtue, because it is provides the foundation for mind training. For lay practitioners there are only five rules, or “precepts”:
1. I abstain from taking life.
2. I abstain from taking what is not given.
3. I abstain from speaking falsely.
4. I abstain from sexual misconduct.
5. I abstain from the consumption of intoxicants.

Listed like that they don’t seem particularly difficult. And therein lies their beauty: they are simple in fact, but their observation leads to many benefits. First, they force you to be mindful of both your bodily actions and your intentions in speaking. This mindfulness of action and intention fulfills some factors of mind training, the so-called second training.
In addition to mindfulness, there is required a good deal of effort to sustain virtue (at least in the beginning). This effort also falls within the stage of mind training.

Building a strong practice should begin with strong emphasis on virtue. By doing so you lay down many factors necessary for the proper practice of mind training, or samadhi. But since training in virtue largely develops mindfulness and effort what does mind training consist of? “Samadhi” is the answer. Samadhi means concentration, or “steadiness of mind”, and is the last factor that falls within the training of the mind. It is the factor that gives this training its name, because it is very important. It is developed as part of meditation.

So after developing a core of virtue, one then can turn their mind toward the proper development of samadhi. Here there are many exercises. Within the Theravada tradition, and within the Pali canon, the most often prescribed themes for meditation are as follows:
1. Mindfulness of breathing, or “anapanasati”
2. Thoughts of loving-kindness, or called “metta”
3. Contemplation of foulness, the “asubha”.

Of course the first is the most popular, and the one most likely to be suggested to any practitioner new and old. This is because it allows the practitioner to be mindful of one’s body, feelings and mind without becoming distracted with a lot of mental verbalization or, in the case of the asubha, displeasure. It is a powerful meditation and very safe.
Now after you’ve developed virtue and pursued your theme for meditation, what is next? This is where your training in wisdom truly begins. Whatever knowledge of Buddhism you have gained by reading or listening, that will now be shown either correct or not correct. It is an exciting time.

It is in developing wisdom that we most properly employ those qualities developed in virtue training and in mind training. The fact that we are blameless in our actions lends us a guilt free conscience, and a great deal more mindfulness in our lives from day to day. If we reflect on this change for the better, it is very natural to be happy about it. The effort that we have exerted becomes a natural part of our character, and we are always ready to restrain our selves from unwholesome actions and thoughts. The factor of happiness, mindfulness and characteristic effort all come together in our minds to make them bright and relaxed.

We can then use this bright and relaxed mind in our practice to easily attain samadhi, or concentration. These good qualities learnt while training virtue are amplified in our practice of samadhi because, while bodily acts and verbal acts are slow, the mental activities that are present in samadhi are fast. It is this need for speed that acts to sharpen mindfulness and effort. It is the increased steadiness of mind in samadhi that makes happiness more intense here. And it is a mind that is greatly happy that becomes content enough to stay in the present moment without struggle. It is satisfied for a time.

But how does one use these things to develop wisdom? When these qualities become well developed in the mind they act as a place of calm for you to ask these three questions.
1. is this experience steady and reliable?
2. might it lead to stress now or in the future?
3. if it is unreliable and leads to various stresses, do I really want to say that this is what I am?

Simple questions, yes. They may not seem that profound, I know. All people before practicing will assume on one level or another that they know the answers already. It is this hidden assumption that you must first challenge: do you really know the answers, or are you being to short sighted to see that this experience now is actually unsteady and stressful?

It is by asking these questions honestly of yourself time and again that you will develop true wisdom. This true wisdom doesn’t make itself known by complex arguments, or an increased ability to win debates. It makes itself known to those that recognize that they crave and cling less to their own experiences of life. It makes itself known by a steady reduction in suffering, perceivable to the practitioner’s own mind.

Of course there are many more things that might be said about Buddhist practice, but I hope that the above is enough for the time being. For if you can exert yourself in training-in-virtue, training-in-mind and training in knowing things as they are, then you will be doing very well indeed.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Invite for critique

Postby Moggalana » Sat May 14, 2011 9:32 pm

Concise. I like it. Maybe you could also include a short instruction on how to practice anapanasati or metta.
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Re: Invite for critique

Postby Reductor » Sat May 14, 2011 10:17 pm

T
Moggalana wrote:Concise. I like it. Maybe you could also include a short instruction on how to practice anapanasati or metta.


I do plan to include ajahn lee's Method 2. Are you familiar? I like them but worry they to long for an intro. Any thoughts?
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Invite for critique

Postby alan » Sun May 15, 2011 1:20 am

Sounds like a good intro for those new to Vipassana.
It would be helpful to know more about your goals. Will you be the teacher? If so, what will you present as basic teaching aids? Given the fact that your audience is a mixed group who may be coming with their own ideas, how do you propose to overcome those built-in biases? Do you have a strategy to encourage helpful debate, but keep differences focused upon a primary subject?
And...what will be your primary subject?

Quite a task to take on, thereductor. I admire your effort. Let us know how it goes!
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Re: Invite for critique

Postby Reductor » Sun May 15, 2011 4:16 am

alan wrote:Sounds like a good intro for those new to Vipassana.
It would be helpful to know more about your goals. Will you be the teacher? If so, what will you present as basic teaching aids? Given the fact that your audience is a mixed group who may be coming with their own ideas, how do you propose to overcome those built-in biases? Do you have a strategy to encourage helpful debate, but keep differences focused upon a primary subject?
And...what will be your primary subject?

Quite a task to take on, thereductor. I admire your effort. Let us know how it goes!


Thanks for the feedback and the encouragement Alan.

But no I will not be teacher. At best I'll be the organizer; and a helpmate to all those that need one. By not having a dedicated teacher there will be no need for a dedicated approach to the dhamma, hence fewer conflicts at the beginning among people of differing persuasions. As time goes and more people of various traditions become involved I do suppose the group will become strained and need to split along doctrinal lines. But if it gets to that point I will be happy. Why worry about a whole lot of people all wanting to know their minds and alleviate suffering in its various guises.

Tomorrow will be the first official meeting, so I'll see if those that have expressed interest are actually interested. If they are, then we will discuss the format for meetings. But I fancy that each will break into 30-40 minutes of mediation (of what ever kind each participant prefers) followed by a moderated discussion on dhamma (to keep people to dhamma topics mostly). Perhaps people can offer to present a topic they are interested in from their tradition to the group, and then everyone can spit ball. Presumably the originator of the topic will be able to answer basic questions or point others to good books, talks, etc.

But that presumes that people are knowledgeable about what they profess, which isn't always the case.

All in all there are many questions and few answers. But its exciting, and a little frightening.

:juggling:
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Invite for critique

Postby Ben » Sun May 15, 2011 4:47 am

thereductor, you're a legend!
Congratulations with your efforts, I wish you every success with your endeavours.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: Invite for critique

Postby Moggalana » Sun May 15, 2011 1:19 pm

thereductor wrote:T
Moggalana wrote:Concise. I like it. Maybe you could also include a short instruction on how to practice anapanasati or metta.


I do plan to include ajahn lee's Method 2. Are you familiar? I like them but worry they to long for an intro. Any thoughts?

Yes, I'm familiar with Ajahn Lee's method although it is not my main approach to anapanasati. It is probably too lang for your general instruction but you could reference it or get everyone a copy on an extra sheet and only include the very basics of anapanasati in your original piece. Something like 1)get in a posture that is relaxed yet alert, 2)establish general mindfulness for a couple of minutes, 3) focus your attention on the sensation of breathing wherever you feel it predominantly, 4) if you get distracted, let go and return to your point of focus. While this doesn't include Ajahn Lee's specialty of spreading the breath in the whole body, it should give people a good idea of how to do anapanasati.

Just my two cents. I'm sure you'll find a good solution.
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Re: Invite for critique

Postby farmer » Sun May 15, 2011 10:59 pm

You might want to check out the way Ajahn Thanissaro introduces Ajahn Lee's meditation style. He has had a couple of decades to fine tune the material for North American audiences. For example:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... uided.html

If you want to play an audio guided meditation, there are a bunch here:

http://dhammatalks.org/Archive/BasicsCo ... ction.html


My only other advice would be listen a lot to see where people are coming from. In fact, my instinct (which may be worth nothing), is that you might do better to save the bit you have written for a second or third meeting. The key question for a first meeting might be "why practice" rather than "how to practice."

Good luck. I admire what you are doing.
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Re: Invite for critique

Postby rowyourboat » Sun May 15, 2011 11:35 pm

Excellent work thereductor!

Considering that there will be a mix of people, it might make sense to practice first ( with appropriate guidance for that thrown in) and discuss the meditation itself with questions like 'why is it difficult to quieten the mind', 'what use is a quietened mind', 'what are the supports of a quietened mind' etc. and flesh out everything that you have prepared. This will allow them to feel they are not being bombarded by text, especially those people drawn to zen!

If people are willing you might even want to discuss a basic sutta, in future sessions. As for the first session it is always good to keep in mind that it is all about coming to know, become familiar and learn to trust one another. This is the formation of a kalyanamitta core. Later sessions can be useful to ironing out doubts and questions about the dhamma. Also for everyone to become familiar with a general outline of practice (morality, concentration, insight is the most basic one). Do make it light and an enjoyable experience worth repeating. Tea and biscuits are a good idea :) good luck!

With metta

Matheesha
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha
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Re: Invite for critique

Postby alan » Mon May 16, 2011 3:33 am

Just thinking about my own meditation schedule, which easily breaks down in the face of any difficulties, I can't imagine how a group could be brought together and maintained without a leader.
Good luck. Maybe it's just me but I don't see how it can work without one overriding idea or powerful voice.
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Re: Invite for critique

Postby Reductor » Mon May 16, 2011 4:50 am

Hey everyone.

First, thank you Ben. I am a legend... In my own mind ;)

And thank you for the suggestion Moggalana. I did write a simple instruction instead. At the bottom of that is a URL to Lee's Method 2 for those interested.

Alan, I know that its important to have a leader. It's also important that those that know something share it with others. But I also don't wish to go adopting the mantle of teacher at this time because I'm worried I will like it too much for my own good. However, it is seems natural that we share thoughts about doctrine and practice. If my voice becomes the strongest, and others heed it, it will because others see the worth of what I say for themselves. Elevating myself to such a status self consciously seems wrought with danger to all involved.

Plus, self appointed teachers are annoying, so far that I've experienced. :jumping:

And thank you very much for your thoughts RYB. I will try to be a helpful and convincing voice for the Theravada. And it seems that none involved mind me talking doctrine in more detail, nor did they mind talk on practice from the Theravada POV. Nor did anyone seem put off by the wall of text.

But in all honesty not as many people have shown up as I had hoped. So maybe future participants will mind. :shrug:

One of the Zennist I spoke with did, but the other didn't. The other two people my friend was bringing were not there, although one is rumored to be attending next week. All told there were just the three of us. We spoke a little about why we were there and what we hoped to achieve by practice (which was a good suggestion Farmer, thx), and then we sat for a half hour of meditation. Afterward we were much relaxed and spoke for a while on dhamma topics (like what to focus on while meditating, and what Metta meditation is and its benefits).

Lots of good humor. I think the three of us will be reliable participants. Hopefully it'll grow a bit more next week.

Great fun.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Invite for critique

Postby rowyourboat » Mon May 16, 2011 8:39 am

Hi thereductor

Sounds like you had a good first session.

Often the 'facilitator' becomes a bit of a leader/teacher because of the causes which lead to becoming a facilitator in the first place. :smile: I am begining to think having, or should I say needing, a teacher is a more eastern thing. As you say it has it's unhealthy elements, like all things. Bur it can have strong positive influences as well for the participant as well as the individual concerned. Yes, there are pit falls which one must be mindful of (conceit, clinging to views, craving for students/audience/attention, clinging to to praise/gifts/special treatment) but they can be avoided as long as one has a solid practice under the belt and is mindful of these particular problems. Any group getting together will develop a group dynamic. Even during the Buddhas time teaching happened in small groups, if not individually (see the Anapanasati sutta) and is unavoidable. For the students, it is a concern that those who are more dependant, and in eastern circles, more faithful, will gravitate towards teachers. They must be dealt with a lot if metta and care.

With metta

Matheesha
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha
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