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Vipassana Fellowship Meditation -6 October - 12 October-Contemplation - Day 8-Day 9-Day 10-Day 11-Day 12-Day 13-Day 14
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Vipassana Fellowship Meditation -6 October - 12 October-Contemplation - Day 8-Day 9-Day 10-Day 11-Day 12-Day 13-Day 14

This week we continue our practice of Mindfulness of Breathing; look at
how to deal constructively with the hindrances that arise; and begin to
explore the ethical precepts.

https://course.org/campus/mod/book/view.php?id=83

Saturday - Tension and Tiredness

1. Tension and Tiredness

Day 8

Tensions
arise for many meditators and particularly when beginning a new
technique. We are so anxious to get it right that we strain to calm any
distractions that occur. In our daily lives we often seek to have
control over every aspect of our activities. When we come to something
as simple as observing the breath there is sometimes a resistance and we
seek also to control this activity - even when we are perfectly well
aware that it’s not about control!

The
best strategy for dealing with any tension is to note that it is there.
Accept it. Then gently return to the observation of the in- and
out-breath. Difficult as it may seem, don’t spend time trying to will
the tension away. Just accept it as something that has entered your
consciousness. If it were not this particular difficulty it is most
likely that there would be another. It is the nature of the mind that
distractions will occur and we must simply be accepting of this. As we
become more established in the practice then the nature of these
phenomena will change. We will also gradually be able to remain more
fully (and more consistently) with the object of meditation.

It
is likely that there will be a degree of control of the breath
happening initially no matter how hard we try to just observe. As the
experience becomes less novel the need to control will lessen. The
different sections allow us to refine our concentration by subtly
altering the manner in which we observe. This is particularly useful if
our energies are dissipated and we experience a mind full of
distractions and thoughts.

Sometimes
a tensing of the abdomen can indicate that you are trying to force the
concentration a little too hard. This is very common and often shows
itself in other ways, too, like in a furrowing of the brow. Try to just
observe the breath as it comes and goes. Don’t hold on for grim death
but acknowledge that it is the nature of the mind to wander. When these
distractions occur, be gentle with them. Acknowledge that they are part
of the picture and then choose to return to the observation of the
breath. There is no failure in losing the count or in a momentary loss
of concentration. We fail only if we choose to continue indulging the
thoughts or images that arise - by that stage we have effectively chosen
to cease meditating.

This
process of tolerance, acceptance, allowance, is necessary because it
takes account of what is. We are not trying to force anything to occur -
we merely observe. Distractions are a part of the landscape; our
relationship to them is determined only by the fact that we choose to
put our attention elsewhere for a while. Don’t allow them to be seen as
enemies - these ‘arisings’ will become our very good friends and
teachers as our meditation practice develops.

Occasionally
new meditators remark that they find it difficult to keep the eyes
closed - that there is some involuntary movement; this usually implies a
sort of resistance to allowing the meditation to take its course. It
seems rather like the twitch that many people experience in social
situations when they become very relaxed and are in danger of nodding
off. They are aware that it’s not what they planned and their mental
warning mechanism comes into play. Even if you feel fully focused at
that point, there is some resistance to simply concentrating on the
breath. Clearly the fluttering of the eyes and their opening are very
distracting. It is important not to get into the habit of anticipating
this phenomenon. Each time you sit down to meditate assume that the
session is a unique experience. In essence it is. We are simply
observing what is there and we should attempt not to colour this by
memory or anticipation. Suppression is not an option. In order to
eliminate possible physical causes try working with different postures
in subsequent sessions. Ensure particularly that you avoid rigidity in
the arms and chest area and that you are not rounding the back and
shoulders. Make sure that you are not tensing the face muscles and that
the brow is relaxed.

Even
physical restlessness is usually mind-made. Sometimes it occurs because
we feel we are not being productive - just sitting on a cushion. Often
there is almost a guilty feeling that arises when we choose to take time
out to do this personal work. Surely we could be of more use, more
help, if we were carrying out other tasks rather than just sitting here
watching the breath? It is important to realise that we will have plenty
of time for those other important things, and will probably perform
them better, if we stay determined in our meditation practice. Doubt may
sometimes arise about the efficacy of what we are doing. Everyone
experiences this. This is one reason why it can be so very useful to
read the texts of the Pāli Canon and be in contact with others working
in a similar way. There is an element of confidence or conviction
(saddhā) that can arise when we have the examples of others as evidence
of the value of this work. As our practice continues we will get
glimpses of insight, times when things appear to go wonderfully
smoothly, and the remembrance of these can give us the confidence we
need to pull us through those other sessions which are restless and
lacking in concentration.

Sometimes
male meditators, particularly, report that they feel sexual tension or
urges during their meditation sittings. As lay people we shouldn’t get
too worried about our sexual impulse; it is a part of life and there is
nothing sinful or wrong about it. We simply choose to use it in ways
which are skilful rather than detrimental to ourselves and those with
whom we share our lives. If we have a conflict between our impulse to
meditate and any other impulse then we make a choice. Meditation does
not have to happen at a set hour and nor does the expression of our
sexuality. In time priorities change and as we become secure in our
practice these decisions seem easier.

The
first thing to check, if this is a problem, is that you are using
normal everyday breathing. Some people have a tendency to exaggerate the
depth of the breathing and this can lead to relating to the practice as
a physical exercise rather than as an exercise in concentration and
one-pointedness. This may particularly be the case in the third section
of ānāpānasati: occasionally the breath becomes exaggerated in our
attempt to follow its length and depth.

In
general sexual urges are to be treated like any other phenomena that
arise in samatha meditation. They have no special power or significance;
they are not better or worse than any other phenomena, and we certainly
do not need to feel any sense of shame or guilt that they have arisen.
We accept that they are there but know that they are not what we have
chosen to spend our meditation time dwelling on. We try to gently take
our attention back to the breathing - normal rather than deep breathing.
As the distraction arises again, gently acknowledge and return to the
breathing.

If
these urges predominate in particular meditation sessions (e.g. those
early in the morning or late at night) then experiment with meditating
at different times if possible. If you are disturbed by the regularity
of similar urges arising then perhaps you could give some attention to
setting up your meditation session in a more formal way - perhaps by
engaging in some reading from Buddhist texts prior to meditating or by
using some of the simple rituals - such as short chants and pujas -
which can help to balance our mood to make the best of our practice
time. Try to adopt an attitude which says, “Fine, this urge has arisen,
it’s normal. Now back to my meditation.” You will find over time that
different distractions will supplant this one as your bête noir. It is
important not to attach too much significance to them if possible.

Tiredness

It
is a good idea to choose a time for you sessions when you are not
already tired. Many people like to sit one session in the early morning
before breakfast and another before the evening meal. Certainly it is
not advisable to meditate immediately after eating as the process of
digestion has a tendency to make one sleepy. An upright steady posture
is also useful in staving off sleep. Don’t strain but work on developing
a firm steady posture with a straight back. Unless you have back
problems it is better not to have the back supported by a chair or wall.
If you are very sleepy then it is possible to meditate with your
eyelids slightly open and this can sometimes be useful.

When
we are meditating we work with the conditions that are there. Often
people ask whether drinking coffee to promote alertness and overcome
tiredness is a good strategy. We should not try to change the conditions
chemically (or by forcing the breath in anyway). If you drift off just
acknowledge it. When you become aware that the mind has wandered then
gently bring it back. I have found the best aids to alertness to be good
ventilation, an upright posture and making sure I get enough sleep.
Meditation conducted when tired but whilst kept edgily alert by several
strong coffees or caffeine pills is unlikely to be of much use. It is
far better to observe the breath (or even the tiredness) to the best of
your unstimulated ability.

The
key thing is to treat each sitting as a unique experience and to try
not to anticipate what any particular meditation sitting will be like.
When we have been meditating for a while we see that there are peaks and
troughs throughout our meditation ‘career’ but that there is a gradual
development of the qualities of concentration and tranquillity if we
remain committed to the samatha practices.

A
certain amount of determination is necessary, as without it we will
easily get into habits of missing one session, leading to missing the
next couple of sessions, and so on until it becomes a rare thing for us
to meditate at all. Meditation is not worthwhile unless it is practised
with dedication over a sustained period. Only through regular, steady,
engagement will we acquire the skills in concentration and awareness
that we will need to begin to work at deeper levels. It does not seem
easy to fit meditation into our busy schedules at first, especially if
we are tired from our other duties, but if we persevere for a few weeks
we will come to realise how important it is and some of the more mundane
benefits of meditation will soon begin to impact for the better on the
rest of our day. Most people do find that there is some resistance to
making time for meditation initially, but it is necessary to do so.

We
always crave the perfect conditions for meditation and they are very
difficult to come by because they depend on us for their creation! It
may sometimes seem that the world conspires against us to fill-up all
the available time so that we no longer have a slot in which to sit on
our cushions - but it doesn’t really happen that way. I spend a lot of
time talking about being aware of our habitual patterns but some habits
are good. If we can get into the habit of meditating at least once per
day, and ensure that the time we have promised ourselves will not be
sacrificed for anything short of a calamity then we have the conditions
that are necessary to begin fruitful work.

https://course.org/campus/mod/page/view.php?id=84


Contemplation - Day 8

44. Who
will overcome this world

of
humans, gods and Death?

Who
shall master the well-taught path of Dhamma

as
a flower arranger perfects a garland?

45. A
striver on the path overcomes this world

of
humans, gods and Death.

A
striver masters the well-taught path of Dhamma

as
a flower arranger perfects a garland.

46. Seeing
this froth-like body,

-
no more than a mirage -

plucking
out Mara’s florid enticements,

one
goes beyond the sight of Death.

47. Plucking
flowers, distracted,

-
as a great flood sweeps

a
sleeping village -

Death
carries one away.

48. Plucking
flowers, distracted,

insatiable
in sense desires,

over
such a one’s mind

the
Destroyer holds sway.

49. Without
harming its colour or scent,

a
bee takes nectar from a flower

and
flies away.

So
should the sage visit the village.

Last modified: Wednesday, 11 January 2017, 10:50 PM
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Sunday - Hindrances to Meditation

1. Hindrances to Meditation

The Hindrances to Meditation

When
we begin to meditate a whole range of things can very easily deter us.
Sometimes everything can appear to conspire against us actually getting
down to practise. It is important, particularly in the early stages,
that we have a strong resolve to keep meditating and that our immediate
expectations of results do not get in the way of the actual experience
of meditation. The period we have set aside is a special time that we
can use to refine our attentiveness to the object of meditation. Very
often the mind will wander and each time we must remember to simply
bring it back to the breath. The nature of these disturbances will vary
depending on a number of conditions. If our lives are currently
relatively calm and stress-free we may easily be able to settle into a
session. If we are hassled and have difficulties in daily life then it
may be more difficult. Some of us will come to meditation in the spirit
of trust. Others will have many doubts about its validity. Wherever we
are coming from, all of us will find that our initial sessions are not
as we expected. Stick with the practice as outlined and simply return to
the breathing each time distractions arise.

There
are common difficulties in practising meditation of which we will all
become aware (even at an early stage). These are generally referred to
as the Five Hindrances and they are those characteristics that make it
difficult to sustain a regular practice. They are hindrances because
they are apt to divert us from pursuing what is most beneficial. They
sap our strength and ability to work in an optimal way. The Buddha
likened this to a powerful river whose flow is gradually weakened by too
many tributaries or streams draining off the water that gave it its
strength. If we were to stop the water escaping to these secondary
streams then the river would once more flow swiftly. Another analogy
used in the discourses is to impure gold. Until gold is purified to
remove base metal and other impurities it is too brittle and cannot be
fashioned effectively by the goldsmith. Once such impurities are removed
the goldsmith is left with pure gold that is pliant, luminous and
malleable. Our minds can have the strength and speed of a great river
and the radiance, purity and flexibility of the purest gold if we work
steadfastly to vanquish the hindrances.

As
always, the Buddha does not spend time identifying problems without
giving recommendations on how we may overcome them. If we can identify
these hindrances as they occur then we can apply effective remedies to
ensure that our meditation sessions remain valuable.

The Five Mental Hindrances (or nīvarana) are desire
for sense experience (kāmacchanda), Ill will (vyāpāda), sloth and torpor
(thina-middha), restlessness and worry (uddhacca-kukkucca), and
sceptical doubt (vicikicchā).
We will look at each of the hindrances in turn and at some of the
antidotes to them. Please incorporate any of the solutions that may seem
useful into your daily sessions. When we know how to work with the
hindrances they lose their power, and even at this stage it is very
useful to identify them as they occur. Later, we will be working with
other meditation practices that can also act as useful antidotes.

DESIRE FOR SENSE EXPERIENCE

The
desire for sensuous experience is said to be like trying to clearly see
your reflection in a bowl of water into which various rich-hued
pigments have been tipped. The colour and richness draw our attention
and obscure the very thing we are trying to see.

The
Buddha said that not even if it rained gold coins would we have our
fill of sensuous pleasure. When we begin to meditate we find it very
difficult to concentrate on such a simple object as the breath. Almost
anything else seems more interesting. We actively listen for sounds that
will entertain us during our sessions. We may drift off into fantasies
about pleasant experiences we have had or which we crave. We anticipate
the activities of the day and hold on to past experiences. If we allow
these thoughts to hijack our meditation session then we cease to
meditate and, instead, we escape into dreams and fantasy.

Rather
than indulging this desire as it arises, it is simpler to acknowledge
it and gently come back to the object of our meditation. These thoughts
will arise for all of us. How we choose to respond to them is the key to
whether our meditation periods will be of value. Sensuous desire is
seen as preventing the attainment of one-pointedness. The classical
antidote is consideration of the repulsive aspects of sense objects. We
will look at an aspect of how this may be incorporated into meditation
practice later.

For
now, the best strategy is one of acknowledgement, reflection and
suppression. The first tactic when sense desire arises is to acknowledge
it. It is a hindrance to the meditation process because it makes
concentration difficult. Although the thoughts are not wrong in
themselves they are not meditation. Gently resolve to return to your
object of meditation with determination to try to stay with it. If this
is not effective, and the thought or distraction continues, then
contemplate the nature of this desire that has arisen. Why do I desire
this? Is reality constructed only of those things we find attractive?
Would I find lasting satisfaction by giving in to this craving? Can it
wait until this short period of meditation has finished? If the other
antidotes have not facilitated a return to the object of your
meditation, then determine that this period has been set-aside for a
particular purpose and that the sense desire is preventing you from
observing your commitment to the practice. The thoughts that have arisen
are inappropriate at this time and cannot be indulged. Determine to
return to the object of meditation. Outside of this meditation period
you may like to consider simplifying your relationship to sense objects.
Traditionally this is called guarding the sense doors. A good place to
begin is to reduce our reliance on trivia and indulgence.

Do these things actually bring us lasting happiness? If we simplify can we appreciate things more and crave less?

https://course.org/campus/mod/page/view.php?id=86


Contemplation - Day 9

50. Consider
not the faults of others,

though
committed or undone.

Focus
on one’s own actions:

those
done and left undone.

51. Without
fragrance, a beautiful

and
colourful flower is fruitless:

like
fine words spoken

but
not applied.

52. With
fragrance, a beautiful

and
colourful flower is fruitful:

like
fine words spoken

and
applied.

53. A
heap of flowers produces

many
fine garlands.

So
may one born mortal produce

many
good deeds.

54. The
scent of flowers travels not against the wind

-
nor sandalwood, tagara or jasmine -

But
the fragrance of virtue travels against the wind:

the
scent of the virtuous pervades all directions.

55. Of
all the fragrances:

sandalwood,
tagara,

blue
lotus and jasmine,

the
fragrance of virtue

is
unsurpassed.

56. Weak
is the perfume of

tagara and sandalwood:

The
scent of the virtuous wafts

even
unto the highest gods.

Last modified: Wednesday, 11 January 2017, 10:49 PM
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Monday - Ill-will, Sloth & Torpor

1. ll-will, Sloth & Torpor

Day 10 - Continuing our look at the Hindrances

ILL WILL

Ill-will
is said to be like trying to clearly see your reflection in a bowl
filled with bubbling, boiling water. There is so much disturbance and
turmoil that we stand little chance of glimpsing the thing we are
straining to see.

Often
in meditation we can become conscious of anger and irritation. It can
be directed at people or things; it may even be directed at the practice
itself at times. On other occasions, it can be unfinished business from
outside our sessions. Maybe our relationships with others are at a
difficult point. We may also be angry with ourselves and even at our
inability to stay with our meditation object.

Ill-will
is seen as preventing the attainment of rapture or bliss. The classical
antidote is consideration of lovingkindness. We will shortly turn to
look at the practice of mettā bhāvanā, the cultivation of this quality.

Acknowledge
first that the ill-will, anger or irritation exists and that you are
engaged in a meditation practice and wish to continue with it. Try
gently to return to the object of meditation. If you are unable to
acknowledge the hindrance and return to the object of meditation,
consider: what does the ill-will feel like? Do you think it is
appropriate or justified? In any case, what will be the result of
indulging it? Look at the nature of the object of your ill-will. If it
is a person can you relate instead to his or her good qualities? Can you
empathise with the suffering and stress they may experience in their
lives? Aren’t you suffering now by engaging your energies in negativity?
Reflecting that ill-will is a part of life, and as such it is
impermanent, can you let it go now? Can you simply let it go, and return
to the breath? Outside of this meditation period you may like to look
at the relationships you have with yourself and others. How can they be
improved? Do you offer goodwill to those with whom you have contact? Do
you treat people (including yourself) kindly, fairly and
compassionately? Do you attach too much importance to the opinion of
others? Are you overly self-critical?

SLOTH AND TORPOR

Sloth
and torpor is said to be like trying to clearly see your reflection in a
bowl of water when the surface is covered with algae and slime. No
matter how long we try to peer into the thick sludgy mixture there will
be no opportunity of setting our eyes on the thing we are aiming to see.

Sloth
is usually defined as laziness and indolence; it can be anything from a
lack of vitality through to actually entering sleep. Torpor is
numbness, sluggishness, dullness, and apathy; it is a dull and sleepy
state of consciousness. Clearly neither is conducive to meditation but
we will all experience them at times. The mind becomes rigid and inert
and meditation becomes a real slog. Sloth and Torpor is seen as
preventing the attainment of applied thought. The classical antidote is
the consideration of effort, exertion and striving.

Acknowledge
that sloth and torpor is present and that it is unhelpful to my
meditation practice. Having set aside this time for meditation resolve
to return to the chosen object of meditation. By stimulating energy
through determined effort we can remain alert. Ensure that the physical
conditions for meditation are optimised: check the posture, make sure
the room is well ventilated. A brightly lit room can help. Take a break
if necessary and then come back to the meditation. Reflect on your
motivation. We meditate because we know it to be of value. By bringing
energy to our sessions they will be more productive. Outside of this
meditation period avoid passivity. Engage in energetic and positive
activities; try to emulate the actions of positive people. Study the
Dhamma for inspiration.

In
the Anguttara Nikāya we read of how the Buddha once noticed Māha
Moggallāna nodding off during his meditation practice. He proceeded to
give the venerable monk some advice on what one should do when such
drowsiness arises. His first recommendation was to try to turn the
attention away from whatever thought is perceived to be making one
drowsy. If that is unsuccessful, then one should bring to mind the
various Dhamma teachings that one knows of and consider their finer
points. If still sleepy, recite aloud some teachings in the form of
chants or passages that have been memorised. If these Dhamma approaches
do not shake you from your tiredness, then it is time to get more
physical: the Buddha’s first suggestion was to pull or pinch both your
earlobes and vigorously rub your limbs with your hands. Still drifting?
Then get up from where you are seated and wash your face and eyes; then
focus for a while on something bright (such as the stars). If drowsiness
persists then try to focus on the perception of light; visualising
brightness and light to lift the mind. If this is ineffective for you,
then try something less static: begin to employ walking meditation, back
and forth along a defined path, trying to keep the attention within the
body rather than allowing it to stray. If all of the previous steps
have proved less than effective then the Buddha suggested - sleep! -
provided there is the intention of waking refreshed rather than just
giving in to indulgence.

https://course.org/campus/mod/page/view.php?id=88


Contemplation - Day 10

57. Mara
cannot find the path

to
the virtuous and mindful ones,

liberated
by Insight.

58. Upon
a rubbish heap,

in
a roadside ditch,

blooms
a lotus.

59. Upon
the rubbish heap

of
blinded mortals,

the
disciple of the Enlightened One

shines
resplendent in wisdom.

60. Long
is the night for the sleepless.

Long
is a league to the weary.

Long
is samsara for the foolish:

knowing
not the true Dhamma.

61. When
not finding your equal

or
your better on this route,

resolutely
press on alone:

there
is no fellowship with fools.

62. “I
have sons, I have wealth”,

frets
the fool.

Not
owning even his own self -

what
of sons? what of wealth?

Last modified: Thursday, 12 January 2017, 12:30 PM
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Tuesday - Restlessness, Worry & Doubt

1. Restlessness, Worry & Doubt

Day 11

RESTLESSNESS AND WORRY

Restlessness
and worry is said to be like trying to clearly see your reflection in a
bowl of water when the surface is ruffled by high winds and heavily
rippled. Even though the water is clean the turbulence and disruption
prevents us from viewing the object we are trying to see.

Mental
restlessness and anguish can be a bar to practice. We will all
experience these at times. Worry here is the guilty feeling that arises
in the mind caused by past unskilful action. Restlessness is a sense of
excitement or agitation.

Restlessness
and Worry is seen as preventing the attainment of happiness. The
classical antidote is consideration of tranquillity of mind.
Determination in practising the samatha techniques will allow such
tranquillity to arise.

Acknowledge
that the restlessness or worry has arisen and that it is not conducive
to meditation. Having decided to make time for meditation resolve firmly
to return to the object of meditation. Restlessness and worry pull our
attention away from the object of attention so strengthening the effort
to concentrate on the object (in our case, the breath) may help. If you
are mentally restless is there something that you can do physically to
resolve this? Would a better posture help? Observe where the tensions
lie in the body in order that adjustments can be made. In the case of
worry or anxiety, consider is it justified? Can anything be resolved
during this session by staying with it? Is the worry simply a habitual
state of mind with no particular focus? Reflect that restlessness and
worry are impermanent and that they do not have any enduring essence.
They are changeable. We do not own them. They are not us. Reflect that a
problem that causes worry and anxiety is probably best dealt with at
another time. Outside of this meditation period determine to pay
particular attention to regular practice. Often restlessness is a result
of the lack of experience of regular sitting and your mind and body
need to get used to it. Ensure that you take life more slowly - perhaps
avoiding situations that are over stimulating, and which may make for a
restless nature when called upon to sit for meditation. If anxiety and
worry predominate, then you may like to consider looking at the nature
of the problems you face in your daily life. Spend some time attempting
to resolve them. Investigate the way that you behave with others. Are
your relationships as wholesome as they could be? Attention to ethics in
daily life may allow the mind to settle more easily into meditation.


SCEPTICAL DOUBT

Sceptical
doubt is said to be like trying to clearly see our reflection in a bowl
of water that is muddy, stirred-up and in the dark. Hard as we try, the
gloomy confused mess prevents us from catching the faintest glimpse of
the thing we are trying to see.

Sceptical
doubt refers specifically to uncertainty about the validity of the
teachings, the efficacy of the training and the merits of the Buddha,
Dhamma and Sangha. Sceptical doubt is seen as preventing the attainment
of sustained thought. The classical antidote is consideration of the
real qualities of things. We may begin by closely examining the Buddha’s
teachings and gradually introduce vipassanā practices that allow us to
move beyond our reliance on third party understanding.

Acknowledge that doubt or scepticism has arisen and that it is unhelpful in the practice.

Having
decided to commit to this period of meditation with gentle
determination return to the meditation object. Reflect that as you are
new to this practice doubts and concerns are bound to arise. We know
that others have benefited from this form of meditation and it is
probable that we will too. We have seen that the technique is
straightforward and non-harming and we are aware that it will take work
and determined effort for progress to be seen. Outside of this
meditation period gain inspiration from the texts of this tradition. If
possible, engage with like-minded people or others pursuing this Path.

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Contemplation - Day 11

63. A
fool who knows his foolishness

at
least is wise to that extent,

but
a fool who thinks himself wise,

is
a fool indeed.

64. Accompanying
the wise all his life,

a
fool no more knows the Dhamma,

than
a spoon knows the flavour of soup.

65. Accompanying
the wise for a mere moment,

the
discerning know the Dhamma,

as
a tongue knows the flavour of soup.

66. Fools,
weak in wisdom,

go
through life

as
their own enemies:

committing
evil deeds

that
bring bitter fruit.

67. Badly
done is the deed

that
causes regret;

whose
fruit one reaps

with
tears streaming.

68. Well
done is the deed

without
cause for regret;

whose
fruit one reaps

with
delight and joy.

Last modified: Thursday, 12 January 2017, 12:32 PM
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Wednesday - Precepts in Meditation Training

1. Precepts in Meditation Training

SILA AND THE PRECEPTS

“Of all the fragrances - sandal, tagara, blue lotus, and jasmine -

the fragrance of virtue is by far the sweetest.”

-The Dhammapada, 55

The
Buddhist path from which our meditation practices are derived places great
emphasis on living a life that is based on integrity of conduct. Without
paying attention to how our lives are conducted off the meditation
cushion, we are unlikely to be able to derive much benefit from our
practice. In terms of the practices we are currently undertaking, we
will be able to settle more quickly into a concentrated state if we have
behaved ethically during our daily interactions.

Traditionally
the Buddhist path has been divided into sila, virtue or morality;
samādhi, concentration or one-pointedness; and pañña, wisdom or
understanding. These factors are completely interdependent. Without
virtue, concentration will not be possible; and without this
one-pointedness, it will be difficult to progress to the stage at which
insight can arise. If we wish to be free from suffering, and to reduce
the suffering of others, then we cannot see our formal meditation
practice as being somehow separate from the way we conduct the rest of
our lives. With this in mind, we will begin to look at the layperson’s
ethical code known as the Five Precepts.

THE FIVE PRECEPTS

I undertake the precept to abstain from destroying sentient beings.

(pānātipātā veramani sikkhā padam samādiyāmi)

I undertake the precept to abstain from taking things not given.

(adinnādānā veramani sikkhā padam samādiyāmi)

I undertake the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct.

(kāmesu micchācārā veramani sikkhā padam samādiyāmi)

I undertake the precept to abstain from false speech.

(musāvādā veramani sikkhā padam samādiyāmi)

I undertake the precept to abstain from intoxicants.

(surā meraya majjapamādatthānā veramani sikkhā padam samādiyāmi)

The
precepts are usually phrased in this negative form but, as we shall
see, each has a positive aspect. Sincere adherence to the precepts can
be seen as a deep practice in itself; and as we gradually refine our
understanding of each precept our observation of it will become deeper
and more particular. We may not all feel ready at this stage to commit
ourselves to these rules of training. They are, however, of great
benefit and are worthy of examination. Take a look at them.
Superficially some of them seem easy; others more difficult. Begin to
integrate those to which you can assent into your daily life. Approach
the others with an open and enquiring mind. Consider why they might be
deemed necessary and examine the extent of their applicability to your
life and practice. A crucial point to be aware of is that the precepts
refer to actions that are intentionally carried out. The intention
behind the action is what is significant. In performing an action do we
consider if it is conducive to the good of others and ourselves? Does it
aim at bringing happiness, wisdom, harmony, generosity, kindness,
compassion, etc.?

ATTITUDE TO THE PRECEPTS

The
Five Precepts are the main ethical guidelines for dedicated lay
followers of Buddhism. They provide enormous support for our meditation
practice but are themselves challenging spiritual work. It is important
to see them not as commandments or something imposed upon us, but as a
series of rules of training to which we voluntarily assent (gradually,
if need be). The system is entirely self-policing; there is no one ‘out
there’ waiting to catch us out or see if we mess up. We subscribe to the
precepts because we feel they may be helpful and because we aspire to
gradually deepen our practice of each of them.

The
precepts will present us all with difficulties; we may even feel that
some are completely impractical at first. Gradually, though, we will see
that there is a common thrust behind each of them - the will to act
with utmost skill and care; inflicting the least harm and extending the
hand of kindness to all sentient beings. We must always remember in this
that we, too, are sentient. Too often we neglect our own well-being:
and this includes harming and debilitating ourselves through guilt and
excessive self-reproach. Part of respecting ourselves is to realize that
we are on a path of development rather than assuming that we can fully
take to everything immediately. Effective change is an organic process
and comes gradually through gently determined engagement and the fruits
of our meditation practice. If we exert too much force, or set our
standards unrealistically high, it is likely that we will become
despondent and give up the practice altogether.

The
precepts can be observed at a number of different levels and are very
deep practices in themselves. When we are starting out it is less
important that we commit to the entire set than that we bring integrity
to our observance of those to which we can already assent. If that is a
single precept only, then it is a start.

Remember
too that the relationship to guilt is quite different from what most of
us are used to. Guilt is pretty pointless when we have the choice to
begin again in this moment and behave ethically. It is valuable to
express regret or remorse for previous unskilful acts, of course, but it
is also important that we commit to behaving skilfully from this moment
on. In terms of Buddhist philosophy we cannot avoid the repercussions
of our past volitional actions so guilt is a bit of a waste of time.
Expressing remorse for past wrong action is a positive step and can
influence our future because it is itself a wholesome volitional action
of the mind (but it cannot neutralise the effects of earlier misdeeds).
One should not feel guilty at being unable to commit at this time to all
five precepts. You either commit to them or you don’t; it is your own
choice. The choice that you make should be conscious and be informed by
its likely outcome. Is your life more skilful because of this decision?
Does your behaviour conduce to the good of yourself and others?

However
we approach the precepts we must try to be aware of our motivation. Are
we causing more or less suffering by our observance of them? Are we
hindering or helping our fellow beings? Are we following the precepts
from a sense of love or a sense of duty? Is outward show more important
to us than purity of intent?

The
application of the precepts needs constant vigilance because the
parameters with which we work are always in flux. Technological
progress, for example, provides us with a feast of new moral dilemmas
with which to grapple. Advances in technology are rarely wholly positive
or wholly negative. There is often a trade-off between, for example,
the greater yield from food crops and the damage to the environment. In
each instance a sort of mini cost-benefit analysis must inform our
decisions and actions. On balance, is the activity harming or helping?
What other activities can we undertake to maximise the benefit to all
sentient beings and minimise the pain and suffering? On what basis are
we choosing to make the distinctions between beings of worth and beings
whose needs we ignore? Are these judgements informed by love, kindness,
and compassion or by self-interest? Is an absolute position - no
intentional killing - really impractical or the only way that is
consistent with our practice? The Five Precepts give us guidance on the
wisest course of action in all these dilemmas.

For
each of us there will be a deepening of practice. Our periods of
meditation will not leave us unchanged and this will produce a greater
observance of the precepts. As we work at the cultivation of kindness
and compassion in our meditation sessions we will notice the
contradictions between the qualities we ascribe to in our formal
practice and our behaviour in the wider world. Some of us will choose to
work to arrive at a consistent approach both on and off the cushion.

It
is important when starting out on this path to walk before running. Try
always to look at your motivation for doing something. Observe the
precepts that make sense to you now at a level consistent with your
current understanding. If something feels wrong don’t do it. As we learn
more about the Dhamma, and as our meditation practice develops, we will
reassess our position and find it necessary to regularly adjust and
deepen our relationship to individual precepts. This will come naturally
and need not be forced. Observance of the precepts should always be
because we want to - not because we have been told that we must. It is
the greater understanding of the relationship between happiness and
suffering - through our practice - which will fuel our adherence to the
precepts in the long term and this awakening will be a gradual process.

Moral
dilemmas are always very difficult and there are no easy answers that
can be supplied by anyone else. Every person treading this path will
find situations in his or her daily life that present ethical
difficulties; and part of the path is for us to work out our own
position on the right course of action and integrate that into our
practice. We have a set of guidelines in the Precepts and the teachings
on Right Livelihood but they are not exhaustive and as humans we have
free will, which allows us to choose to act skilfully in each given
situation.

When
they come new to them many people have one of two reactions: they can
get very uptight and think that they are impractical but well meaning,
or they feel that they are straightforward, absolute and easy to apply.
Both of these views are wrong. The precepts are very practical; they are
also very difficult. One approach leads to a sense of hopelessness - “I
can’t possibly do all of them, so I’ll just ignore them”, the other
approach leads to a self-satisfied superiority - “Oh, dear, you still
eat meat?”.

This
is one of those issues with which we will all struggle at one time or
another. We can take a hard line attitude and commit to the precepts
fully… and swiftly realise that we are not yet ready for that, or we
can decide that our practice of the precepts will deepen in its own good
time … which rather lets us off the hook (or so we may fool
ourselves).

The
important thing for us to consider is why the precepts are recommended
and what they mean to us and for our meditation practice. We are also
aware that any commitment to individual precepts can be at the level of
simple observance (a minimal approach, if you like) or as a deep
spiritual practice in its own right (where we explore the logical
extension of the precepts to each of our daily activities, working at
subtler and subtler levels).

Again
and again we come back to intention and commitment. If we choose to
accept certain precepts, but not others, then we should consider why
this might be. If we simply feel unready to subscribe to them at this
point we should face up to that. If we can’t see the relevance of a
particular precept in our lives then consider carefully why others may
have found it useful. If we still can’t see the point of it then maybe
we can accept it on trust - perhaps on the basis that it is deemed to
form a core part of the path we are treading. If such trust does not
come easily then perhaps one can put the precept to one side for a
period and re-examine it regularly to see if the view of it changes with
practice. The games that we play are fascinating. Often the precepts
that we find hardest to relate to are those that for other people would
prove easiest. Like all other areas of practice watching the pull of
preference and how we reject that we perceive to be difficult can be a
useful exercise in itself. The tradition does not see hedonism or laxity
as oppositional to the precepts, but rather as the opposite of
austerity and rigidity. The precepts are in effect working in the Middle
Way; not something to be further watered down or worked with in a
half-hearted fashion.

Be
aware of the decisions made and the motivation for making them. The
base for working with the precepts is always integrity: the precepts
that one subscribes to should be followed with commitment and energy;
those to which we cannot yet subscribe can still be seen as something to
which we aspire. It would be very unusual if deepening understandings
of the necessity for the precepts were not to arise in anyone who
consistently practised meditation but sometimes a little determination
can also prove useful. Making a special effort on uposatha days - one
each week or each month - can be worthwhile in this regard.

It
seems that there are two dangers with the precepts: one is that we
apply them rigidly and unthinkingly and treat them as if they are
commandments. This takes away personal responsibility and any idea that
it is the volition that is the important factor. The other is that we
observe them so loosely that they fail to provide any sustenance and
support for our spiritual and social development.

https://course.org/campus/mod/page/view.php?id=92


Contemplation - Day 12

69. Until
the evil deed ripens

the
fool thinks it sweet as honey.

When
it ripens,

then
he comes to grief.

70. Even
if eating from the tip

of
a blade of grass,

for
month after month,

the
fool would not be worth a sixteenth

of
those who comprehend the Dhamma.

71. An
evil deed does not bear immediate fruit;

as
milk takes time to sour.

Smouldering,
it follows the fool

like
fire hidden beneath ashes.

72. A
fool gains knowledge

to
his disadvantage:

it
cleaves his head,

destroying
any goodness.

73. The
fool seeks reputation,

precedence
among monks,

authority
over monasteries,

and
honour from householders.

74. “Let
both laity and monks

think
all this was done by me;

accepting
my authority

in
matters great and small.”

Such
is the ambition of the fool,

his
desire and pride increasing.

75. The
worldly path goes one way,

the
Path to Nibbana, another.

Comprehending
this,

a
bhikkhu who follows the Buddha,

takes
no pleasure in acclaim,

but
cultivates detachment.

Last modified: Thursday, 12 January 2017, 12:33 PM
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Contemplation - Day 13

76. Finding
a wise man who points

out
one’s faults and reproves,

associate
with him -

as
one who guides to treasure.

It
is always better, never worse,

to
cultivate such association.

77. Let
him admonish, let him teach,

let
him guard one from wrong.

He
is dear to the good,

and
disliked by the bad.

78. Do
not associate with wrongdoers;

associate
not with the base.

Associate
with virtuous friends;

seek
fellowship with the noble.

79. Drinking
deep the Dhamma,

one
lives happily, with tranquil mind.

The
wise ever delight in the Dhamma,

revealed
by the noble ones.

80. Irrigators
channel water,

fletchers
straighten arrows,

carpenters
shape wood.

The
wise control themselves.

81. A
solid rock is not

shaken
by wind.

The
wise are not

moved
by praise or blame.

Last modified: Thursday, 12 January 2017, 12:36 PM


Contemplation - Day 13

76. Finding
a wise man who points

out
one’s faults and reproves,

associate
with him -

as
one who guides to treasure.

It
is always better, never worse,

to
cultivate such association.

77. Let
him admonish, let him teach,

let
him guard one from wrong.

He
is dear to the good,

and
disliked by the bad.

78. Do
not associate with wrongdoers;

associate
not with the base.

Associate
with virtuous friends;

seek
fellowship with the noble.

79. Drinking
deep the Dhamma,

one
lives happily, with tranquil mind.

The
wise ever delight in the Dhamma,

revealed
by the noble ones.

80. Irrigators
channel water,

fletchers
straighten arrows,

carpenters
shape wood.

The
wise control themselves.

81. A
solid rock is not

shaken
by wind.

The
wise are not

moved
by praise or blame.

Last modified: Thursday, 12 January 2017, 12:36 PM
https://course.org/campus/mod/book/view.php?id=95


Friday - Second Precept

1. The Second Precept

THE SECOND PRECEPT

adinnādānā veramani sikkhā padam samādiyāmi

I take the precept to abstain from taking things not given

On
a fundamental level this precept is a voluntary acceptance of the
principle that stealing is unskilful behaviour that brings suffering. It
is wider than that, however, and involves a pledge to only take those
things that are explicitly given to us. There are no grey areas here.
Most of us would not consider ourselves thieves; but can we truly say
that we take only those things that we have been given? Do we ask
permission before we assume we can take or borrow someone else’s
property? Do we respect entirely the property of our employer… our
friends… the state… Do we take more than the giver intended? Are we
honest about our needs in order that those who extend generosity to us
can meet them appropriately? Do we dissemble to fool the giver into
offering more than they intend? What changes would be required in our
daily activities if we chose to observe this particular precept at its
deepest: Not taking anything unless it is explicitly given to us. We
would have to reorder our assumptions about our everyday transactions
with others. How common is common property? Have we assumed the right to
share in what rightfully belongs to another? Our deception (including
self-deception) may be very subtle at times. Watch it carefully. Don’t
wallow in feelings of guilt. Resolve instead to behave ethically from
this point. If we transgress, acknowledge it - and begin again.

Aware of the suffering caused for others by stealing - I choose to abstain.

Aware of the guilt caused to myself by stealing - I choose to abstain.

Aware that there is plenty for all without greed - I choose to take only my share.

Aware that we live supported by other people - I choose to practise generosity.

(We will continue exploring the other precepts in a few days.)
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Contemplation - Day 14

82. On
hearing the Dhamma,

the
wise become tranquil;

like
a lake -

deep,
clear, still.

83. The
good renounce everything.

The
virtuous prattle not of sense desires.

When
touched by pleasure or by pain,

neither
elated nor dejected are the wise.

84. Virtuous,
wise and righteous

is
one who, for himself or others,

craves
not sons, fortune, kingdom,

nor
any advantage by unjust means.

85. Few
are those who

reach
the far shore;

the
rest merely

run
about on this bank.

86. Those
who practice

the
well-taught Dhamma

transcend
the realm of Death,

so
difficult to cross.

87-88. Abandoning
the dark states,

the
wise cultivate the bright.

Going
forth, from home into homelessness,

seeking
delight in detachment,

so
difficult to enjoy.

Renouncing
sense pleasures,

freed
from attachment,

the
wise man cleanses

his
mind of impurity.

89. Developed
in the factors of Enlightenment,

without
attachment, delighting in non-clinging,

undefiled
and resplendent in wisdom,

they
attain Nibbana in this very life.

Last modified: Thursday, 12 January 2017, 12:38 PM
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Chant Workshop 2 (optional)

1. Chant Workshop 2

The
meditation practices we are using are drawn from the Theravāda
tradition which bases its teachings on the words of the Buddha and his
early followers as recorded in the Pāli Canon. Pāli is a written
liturgical language and is often also used for traditional chants that
many meditators find helpful as part of their spiritual practice.

During
the course we will introduce a small number of these chants in Pāli or
in translated English form. Over the weeks the individual chants build
to form the text for a puja, or dedication ceremony, that some
practitioners may wish to use as a way of periodically rededicating
their meditation practice. Please use the chants if you find them
helpful; please ignore them if you prefer.

CHANT 2: Panca Sila

Panca Sila

pānātipātā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

adinnādānā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

kāmesu micchācārā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

musāvādā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

sura meraya majja pamādatthānā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

Five Precepts

I take the precept to abstain from killing sentient beings

I take the precept to abstain from taking the not given

I take the precept to abstain from sensual misconduct

I take the precept to abstain from false speech

I take the precept to abstain from intoxicating liquor

1. Chant Workshop 2

The
meditation practices we are using are drawn from the Theravāda
tradition which bases its teachings on the words of the Buddha and his
early followers as recorded in the Pāli Canon. Pāli is a written
liturgical language and is often also used for traditional chants that
many meditators find helpful as part of their spiritual practice.

During
the course we will introduce a small number of these chants in Pāli or
in translated English form. Over the weeks the individual chants build
to form the text for a puja, or dedication ceremony, that some
practitioners may wish to use as a way of periodically rededicating
their meditation practice. Please use the chants if you find them
helpful; please ignore them if you prefer.

CHANT 2: Panca Sila

Panca Sila

pānātipātā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

adinnādānā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

kāmesu micchācārā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

musāvādā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

sura meraya majja pamādatthānā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

Five Precepts

I take the precept to abstain from killing sentient beings

I take the precept to abstain from taking the not given

I take the precept to abstain from sensual misconduct

I take the precept to abstain from false speech

I take the precept to abstain from intoxicating liquor

Play audio:

 

-0:44

Download link: https://course.org/mcaudio/c/2-Five_Precepts.mp3

Last modified: Thursday, 13 September 2018, 4:33 PM
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