July 2017  -  Meditation Newsletter from Vipassanā Fellowship

"The deeper the understanding, the greater the joy. Joy is freedom from ignorance, which is in turn freedom from desires and from all other negative factors."   - Hammalawa Saddhatissa

Meditation Newsletter
Potter's Hands

Join us for our September online course

Vipassanā Fellowship's meditation course has been offered online for 20 years. The course runs for 10 weeks and our next session begins on September 16th. Do join us.

The course is an opportunity to learn to meditate or to refresh and deepen an existing practice. We focus on developing a fruitful and sustainable meditation practice inspired by over 2,500 years of tradition but appropriate for today's lives in many cultural contexts. Many people have found it to be an inspiring and supportive way to begin a new year of practice.

The session serves as a practical introduction to samatha (tranquillity or serenity) and vipassanā (insight) techniques. Intended primarily for beginners - of any faith or none - the course is also suitable for experienced meditators who wish to explore different aspects of the tradition. The emphasis is on building a balanced meditation practice that is compatible with home life.

Meditation can be joyful! It is sometimes approached as a heartless, mechanical, activity - a daily chore to be endured at all costs through gritted teeth.This is simply the wrong approach. On this course we take the middle way and integrate what might be called both "heart" and "head" practices directly from the advice given in the Pāli Canon.

The course offers daily material for each of the 10 weeks, interaction between participants and support from the tutor. Participants also have access to audio guided meditations and chants to support the text. The course will be led by UK based meditation teacher Andrew Quernmore, a meditator with more than 35 years' experience.

The course begins on September 16th and ends on November 24th. Application details and further information is available here:

http://www.vipassana.com/course/

 

Parisā

Each month our Parisā members focus on a particular topic from the tradition. Over the year we cover practical meditation, cultural background and philosophical topics to help nourish our ongoing daily meditation practice. Parisā is a dispersed community of dedicated meditators around the world who have come together through engaging in one of Vipassanā Fellowship's 10 or 12 week meditation courses. If you recently finished one of our courses this is an excellent way to nurture your ongoing practice.

http://www.vipassana.com/parisa/

 

Getting Hold of Myself

By Eileen Siriwardhana

 

I told myself never to do certain things:

Never to fly into a rage when things have gone wrong,

But something is simmering inside me;

Then I try to get hold of myself

But I can’t!

Never moan and lament over loss and disaster,

But something is writhing inside me;

Then I try to get hold of myself

But I can’t!

Never be elated over triumphs and victories,

But something is dancing inside me;

Then, too, I try to get hold of myself

But I can’t!

Exasperated,

I try and I strive

But I can’t!

I just can’t get hold of myself,

Can you?

If you can, please let me know how.

Yes, I can.

And you can, too,

If you turn to the Buddha.

“Irrigators lead the waters.

Fletchers bend the shafts.

Carpenters bend the wood.

The wise control themselves.”

(Dhp 80)

Just as a watercourse is dammed and directed through channels towards a chosen direction, so too the mind must be bent and consciously directed towards good, towards virtue, towards righteousness.

To amass wealth, to dig up the treasures from the bowels of the earth, man makes laborious efforts and spends enormous sums of money, but to dig up the invaluable treasures of the mind, man makes little or no effort. But to make the effort man has first to realise, he has first to understand the mysterious and mighty potentialities hidden within his mind.

On the other hand, if, though well aware of the natural destructive forces within him, man makes little or no effort to curb them, he thereby causes untold misery to himself and to others.

Latent in man are both saintly characteristics and destructive tendencies. It is strange that too often the vices latent in man seem almost natural and spontaneous, whereas the dormant virtues have to be brought to the surface with great effort. It is worth noting that every vice possesses its opposite, a noble virtue which may not appear to be natural and automatic, yet which lies within the range of every person.

And so man lives enveloped in miseries of various types. Man is never happy, never satisfied, always frustrated, always wanting something more, something new. His mind is constantly in turmoil, and the misfortune is that he thinks that this has to be the natural condition common to all. This is delusion, or moha.

“Blind is the world.

Few are those who clearly see.

As birds escape from a net,

few go to the blissful state.”

(Udāna)

It is a pity that man does not realise that all these fears, sorrows, phobias and miseries are mindmade—and can be eliminated. A man can live in a constant state of bliss and joy devoid of unnecessary sufferings and live life to its fullest if only he would live the word of the Buddha, for the word of the Buddha embodies peace. This is why the arahats often uttered:

“Calm in mind,

Calm in speech,

Calm in deed,

who rightly knowing is wholly freed,

perfectly peaceful and equipoised.”

(Dhp 317)

A desert traveller with parched lips and burning soles will be gladdened on hearing that an oasis is not far off. But he will not experience real joy until he tastes its waters with his lips, and dips his soles in the cool waters. In like manner the word of the Buddha gladdens our hearts, but we should not stop until we have tasted the bliss of that noble state which is the panacea, the only panacea, for all the ills of the world.

“There is no medicine comparable to the Dhamma.

Taste of it.

Drink it, O monks.”

(Dhp 205)

The Dhamma is to be lived, not merely to be read about or listened to. Listen. Think. Practise.

In our daytoday lives, in the course of being engaged in our daily chores, we should think of the innumerable times when we have neglected the word of the Buddha. Yet the incense chamber of the Buddha should be created within our hearts, and that fragrance must pervade every thought, every word, every action of our waking life.

“Purify your mind,” said the Blessed One. Now think of the numberless unwholesome thoughts that daily pollute the mind. We speak and we act impulsively, rashly. Our words and our actions are often harsh; we cause pain of mind to others, which in turn brings on remorse. A whole train of unwholesome thoughts are unleashed as a result of our inability to control our mind. We get angry. That anger even results in chemical changes in the body which can be injurious to our health, and to the wellbeing of others. And then we repent for a lifetime a few words uttered impulsively.

So, realising the unhappiness we bring upon ourselves and the suffering we cause others, we must first understand and accept the fact that we are not on the right path. What is the remedy? Do not let the mind drift. Take hold if it. Cultivate it. What is cultivation? It is meditation. It is a process of mind cleansing. What are the steps leading to purification of the mind, which is the heart of the Buddha’s message?

  1. To know the mind—that is so near to us; and is yet so unknown.
  2. To shape the mind—that is unwieldy and obstinate, and yet may turn to pliant.
  3. To free the mind—that is in bondage all over, and yet may win freedom here and now.

To know the mind one has to watch it from moment to moment. Take a few minutes off your daily chores and sit down in a quiet place and be mindful of your thoughts. Watch carefully the thought processes coursing incessantly through your mind like the rising and falling away of the ocean waves, but continuous—in a neverending flow they arise and they fall away. Recognise each thought as pleasant or unpleasant, as the nature of the thought may be. We have to be honest with ourselves. We must recognise jealousy as jealousy, know it to be unwholesome, cast it aside and substitute its antidote or opposite—which is appreciative joy or muditā.

We can gradually increase the period of watching by a few minutes each day. After some time we will find that when watching and perceiving, all shades and nuances of thought pass through our mind. With practise, this process will become automatic, natural and effortless, even while we are engaged in our daily activities. This is as it should be—a very desirable condition for our wellbeing, for then we will be constantly mindful. An action performed with mindfulness will be a skilful action. The result, or vipāka, of such action will be pleasant and good. So constantly our mind will be suffused with satisfaction, joy and bliss.

Let us look at a few of the common unwholesome states which too often pollute our minds:

Anger is a destructive vice which can be subdued with loving kindness or mettā.

Aggression is another vice that is responsible for much human suffering, errors and atrocities. Its antidote is compassion or karuṇā.

Jealousy poisons one’s system. It has a corroding effect on a person like rust on metal. It will destroy a person. Appreciative joy or muditā is the remedy.

There are other universal characteristics that upset the equilibrium of man. They are attachments to the pleasurable and aversion to the nonpleasurable. The opposite force is equanimity, or upekkhā, which alone can combat these two subtle but most prevalent defilements ever present in the mind.

Impregnated in the vices mentioned are the germs of a dreaded disease which seems to be taking its toll of many human lives today. Selfdestruction, depression, a sense of hopelessness, despair, gloom, pessimism, meaninglessness of life, are some of the symptoms of this dreaded disease which leads to so much unhappiness. The disease is ignorance.

The cure for the disease is the substitution of the opposite virtues for each of the latent vices. This will lead to the recognition of the beauty of life, its worthwhileness, its purposefulness. The substitution of wholesome pleasant thoughts is a recognised form of mental therapy. These virtues tend to elevate man. If cultivated with diligence, man will realise that the earth is such a beautiful place, that human life is noble, and that it is still possible to gain peace for oneself and for others.

  

Source: BPS, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Excerpted from Bodhi Leaves No. 93. (1982). For free distribution only.

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Image: Potter's Hands by Quino Al (via Unsplash p.d.- edited)

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