March 2018  -  Meditation Newsletter from Vipassanā Fellowship

"Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself." - Abraham Joshua Herschel

Meditation Newsletter
Black cat


Towards a Joyful, Sustainable, Practice:

Our 10 week online meditation course

Vipassanā Fellowship's meditation course has been offered online for over 20 years.


The course runs for 10 weeks and our next session begins on April 7th 2018. It is a great way to spring into the joy of a steadily developing meditation practice. 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 April 7th and ends on June 15th. Application details and further information is available here:


2018 Courses Announced



by Bhikkhi Bodhi



Is it possible to live with dignity in today’s world, and if so, how can this be done? To raise such a question may sound strange in an age like our own, when our frantic struggle to make ends meet hardly allows us the leisure to ponder such abstract matters. But if we do pause long enough to give this question a little thought, we would realise soon enough that it is not merely the idle musing of someone with too much time on his hands. The question touches on the very meaning of our lives, and goes even beyond our personal quest for meaning to the very springs of contemporary culture. For if it isn’t possible to live with dignity then life has no transcendent purpose, and our only aim in the brief time allotted to us should be to snatch whatever thrills we can before the lights go off for good. But if we can find a basis for living with dignity, then we need to consider whether we are actually living as we should and whether our culture as a whole supports a dignified lifestyle.


Though the idea of dignity seems simple enough at first sight, it is actually more complex than one might suppose. My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1936!) defines it as “elevation of character, intrinsic worth, excellence, nobleness of manner, aspect, or style.” My Roget’s Thesaurus (1977) groups it with “prestige, esteem, repute, honour, glory, renown, fame”—evidence that over the last forty years the word’s epicentre of meaning has undergone a shift. When we inquire about living with dignity, our focus should be on the word’s older nuance. What I have in mind is living with the conviction that one’s life has intrinsic worth, that we possess a potential for moral excellence that resonates with the hymn of the galaxies.


The conscious pursuit of dignity does not enjoy much popularity these days, having been crowded out by such stiff competitors as wealth and power, success and fame. Behind this devaluation of dignity lies a series of developments in Western thought that emerged in reaction to the dogmatic certainties of Christian theology. The Darwinian theory of evolution, Freud’s thesis of the Id, economic determinism, the computer model of the mind: all these trends, arisen more or less independently, have worked together to undermine the notion that our lives have inherent worth. When so many self-assured voices speak to the contrary, no longer can we view ourselves as the crowning glory of creation. Instead we have become convinced we are nothing but packets of protoplasm governed by selfish genes, clever monkeys with college degrees and business cards plying across highways rather than trees.


Such ideas, in however distorted a form, have seeped down from the halls of academia into popular culture, eroding our sense of human dignity on many fronts. The free-market economy, the task master of the modern social order, leads the way. For this system the primary form of human interaction is the contract and the sale, with people themselves reckoned simply as producers and consumers, sometimes even as commodities. In vast impersonal democracies the individual becomes a mere face in the crowd, to be manipulated by slogans, images, and promises into voting for this candidate or that. Cities have expanded into sprawling urban jungles, dirty and dangerous, whose dazed occupants seek to escape the pangs of wounded pride with the help of drugs and loveless sex. Escalation in crime, political corruption, upheavals in family life, the despoliation of the environment: these all speak to us as much of a deterioration in how we regard ourselves as in how we relate to others.


Amidst this wreckage, can the Dhamma help us recover our lost sense of dignity and thereby give new meaning to our lives? The answer to this question is yes, and in two ways: first, by justifying our claim to innate dignity, and second, by showing us what we must do to actualise our potential dignity.


For Buddhism the innate dignity of human beings does not stem from our relationship to an all-mighty God or our endowment with an immortal soul. It stems, rather, from the exalted place of human life in the broad expanse of sentient existence. Far from reducing human beings to children of chance, the Buddha teaches that the human realm is a special realm standing squarely at the spiritual centre of the cosmos. What makes human life so special is that human beings have a capacity for moral choice that is not shared by other types of beings. Though this capacity is inevitably subject to limiting conditions, we always possess, in the immediate present, a margin of inner freedom that allows us to change ourselves and thereby to change the world.


But life in the human realm is far from cosy. It is, rather, inconceivably difficult and complex, rife with conflicts and moral ambiguities offering enormous potential for both good and evil. This moral complexity can make of human life a painful struggle indeed, but it also renders the human realm the most fertile ground for sowing the seeds of enlightenment. It is at this tauntingly ambiguous crossroads that we can either rise to the heights of spiritual greatness or fall to degrading depths. The two alternatives branch out from each present moment, and which one we take depends on ourselves.


While this unique capacity for moral choice and spiritual awakening confers intrinsic dignity on human life, the Buddha does not emphasise this so much as he does our ability to acquire active dignity. This ability is summed up by a word that lends its flavour to the entire teaching, ariya or noble. The Buddha’s teaching is the ariyadhamma, the noble doctrine, and its purpose is to change human beings from “ignorant worldlings” into noble disciples resplendent with noble wisdom. The change does not come about through mere faith and devotion but by treading the Buddhist path, which transmutes our frailties into invincible strengths and our ignorance into knowledge.


The notion of acquired dignity is closely connected with the idea of autonomy. Autonomy means self-control and self-mastery, freedom from the sway of passion and prejudice, the ability to actively determine oneself. To live with dignity means to be one’s own master: to conduct one’s affairs on the basis of one’s own free choices instead of being pushed around by forces beyond one’s control. The autonomous individual draws his or her strength from within, free from the dictates of craving and bias, guided by an inward perception of righteousness and truth.


The person who represents the climax of dignity for Buddhism is the arahat, the liberated one, who has reached the pinnacle of spiritual autonomy: release from the dictates of greed, hatred, and delusion. The very word arahat suggests this sense of dignity: the word means “worthy one,” one who deserves the offerings of gods and humans. Although in our present condition we might still be far from the stature of an arahant, this does not mean we are utterly lost, for the means of reaching the highest goal are already within our reach. The means are the Noble Eightfold Path with its twin pillars of right view and right conduct. Right view is the first factor of the path and the guide for all the others. To live with right view is to see that our decisions count, that our volitional actions have consequences that extend beyond themselves and conduce to our long-term happiness or suffering. The active counterpart of right view is right conduct, action guided by the ideal of moral and spiritual excellence. Right conduct in body, speech, and mind brings to fulfilment the other seven factors of the eightfold path, culminating in true knowledge and deliverance.


In today’s hectic world humankind is veering recklessly in two harmful directions. One is the path of violent struggle and confrontation, the other that of frivolous self-indulgence. Beneath their apparent contrasts, what unites these two vicious extremes is a shared disregard for human dignity: the former violates the dignity of other people, the latter undermines one’s own dignity. The Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path is a middle way that avoids all harmful extremes. To follow this path not only brings a quiet dignity into one’s own life but also sounds an eloquent rejoinder to the cynicism and hollow pretensions of our age.


Source: BPS, Kandy. NL38 (excerpt). For Free Distribution Only.



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.


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Image: Black cat photo by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash. Edited for newsletter

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