By Mark Donovan
A Dharma Talk given March 16, 2021
I’m sorry to report, but last week there was fake news that was shared and spread in our Sangha. It was reported that I would have the last word on “suffering.” Do you want to know the truth? The truth is that as long as we are alive in these particular body-minds, the worldly winds will blow. Like that wind yesterday on the Ides of March; a date that coincided with the first full moon of the Roman calendar and when tributes were paid to gods and goddesses. That wind wore me out. The dogs and I climbed into bed and under the covers at 8:00 last night. I had started the day paying tribute to a 7-year old girl whose grandmother requested that I bake cupcakes for her birthday. The first cupcakes I’d ever made, marbled cake with chocolate buttercream frosting and blue and white sprinkles.
A couple of weeks ago I held up the computer video for you to see the calligraphic sign I taped to the wall for the month with the word, “suffering.” I found that I didn’t really want to look at the sign. Although the calligraphy turned out pretty well, there was something I found aversive, dark and heavy about the word. To suffer, from the Latin sufferre meaning “to bear.” An image that comes to mind is of the god Atlas, on one knee, bearing the weight of the world. In our study of Ajahn Chah, he often used the phrase “patient endurance.” To bear, to endure.
Over the weekend I participated in a Zoom retreat with Brian and Sebene titled Cultural and Spiritual Bypassing. We explored what gets left out, such as the feminine, in Buddhism. The Thai Buddhist tradition, the birthplace of Insight Meditation, will not ordain women. We can bring to mind multiple examples of American cultural dominance and oppression, such as the historical disenfranchisement of African-Americans, Native Americans and people of color. Last week the pope declared that any person who is not cisgendered heterosexual is
a sinner. LGBTQ persons are left out. There is the present scapegoating and violence directed at Asian-Americans, a clear reaction to Trump’s blaming China for the pandemic, calling it the Chinese virus, and his dog whistling to white supremacists. And in all of this there is both personal and collective suffering. Besides the physical blows of violence, such as those we read about weekly now directed at elderly Asian-Americans in our cities, there is the hardening of hearts, the loss of rights and dignity, the pains of poverty. Last night on the PBS Newshour there was a report on Yemen and the millions of people there who are at risk of starvation, 600,000 children who are now dying of starvation. I felt consumed by pain watching the video documentary of their small bodies immobile, limbs shrunken to bones without muscle or flesh, stomachs bloated, huge eyes vacant, hauntingly filled with pain. And their parents and families bearing the pain of losing a young family member -- the impacts of war, climate change, famine.
by Carol Russell
A Dharma Talk given February 23, 2021
We are embarking on an exploration of the core of the Buddha’s teachings, the four noble truths. Our sangha’s founding leader, Carol Cook, had a tradition of beginning each year with an immersion into this subject, because it is utterly central and foundational to our practice. Carol has inspired us to take it up.
Our plan is to take the four truths, one noble truth at a time, and for four weeks each of us will offer an exploration of the truth of the month. This should be especially interesting because of the fact that there are endless ways of examining such a profound teaching: historic, contemporary, esoteric, practical, psychological, experiential, scholarly, and on and on. We are hoping for some interesting conversations amongst all of us in these explorations. Whether it is the first time you are studying these truths or you are circling back for the hundredth time, we know there is always more to understand. We hope you will take the Buddha’s profound teachings into your daily life and share your fresh discoveries and insights when we meet on Tuesday nights.
Simply put, the four noble truths are:
There is suffering.
There is a cause of suffering.
There is an end of suffering.
The remedy is the eight-fold path.
Did you ever wonder why these are called the ‘noble’ truths? Some say it is because these are the truths which cause nobleness. Of course, we are dealing with translations from the Pali language and a great deal of time passing, and the fact that the teachings were oral for some time, but I recently found this explanation: that it may be more accurate to say, the nobles’ truths, or the truths possessed by the noble ones. The dictionary definition of noble is: Having or showing qualities of high moral character, such as courage, generosity, and integrity. So, we are establishing a connection between acknowledging, understanding and freeing ourselves from suffering and these natural and noble qualities of courage, generosity, and integrity.
The First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering. In Pali, the word is dukkha. The truth of dukkha. Sometimes dukkha is translated as ‘dissatisfaction.’ I like that word because it includes more than the overt times of suffering in life, it includes that background feeling that we all have at times that things aren’t reliably satisfying. No matter how great a life you have, this human life is bound to include stress. It may be those underlying existential questions like, what are we doing here? What is it all about? Dukkha is not personal, and it’s ubiquitous in the world of form and incarnation. Everyone has the experience of dissatisfaction.
By Mark Donovan
A Dharma Talk given in August, 2020
Note: This piece is primarily a synthesis of two talks on Dharma Seed with text borrowed directly: Spiritual Hope by Tara Brach and Hope, Hopelessness and Equanimity by Jill Shepherd.
I suppose I wanted to investigate hope to cheer myself up. I felt like I got clobbered over the head last month with a long bout of insomnia that threw me off balance. My mood was unstable with high anxiety related to lack of sleep, personal issues, and the background clamor of the pandemic and politics. I suffered. I was also aware that I wasn’t in this alone, that humanity as a whole is suffering at this time as the pandemic disrupts lives and livelihoods. And I appreciated the expressions from my doctor, and the director of the clinic where I work, who reminded me that many, many people are going through exactly what I was going through. Our suffering is universal.
This time of massive transformation and uncertainty is both scary, with many of our old moorings loosened or lost, and also cause for new hope that a more fair and just world will emerge. Rebecca Solnit, in her essay “The Impossible Has Already Happened: What Coronavirus Can Teach Us About Hope,” writes “I have found over and over that the proximity of death in shared calamity makes many people more urgently alive, less attached to the small things in life and more committed to the big ones, often including civil society or the common good.”
I imagine that some of you watched the televised funeral for John Lewis. Listening to stories from his life I felt great hopefulness. What a remarkable man, known for his “moral clarity,” a conscience backed by tireless action that for 60 years worked for equality and justice. A man who lived by his motto of “making good trouble,” civil disobedience, putting his body on the line as he led 600 people across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 for civil rights. He suffered a fractured skull, but that did not lead him to hate his attackers, but to continue making good trouble through non-violent means. Lewis said, “We must be bold, brave, courageous, and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America and move closer to a community at peace with itself, where no one will be left out because of race, color, or nationality.” He recently expressed pride as he watched his legacy in action: a new generation of activists fighting for equality. Lewis’ example of living into the promise of greater equality gives me inspiration and hope. Tara Brach would call this “spiritual hope”, this growing into a greater potential, the hope of what’s possible.
By Carol Cook
A Dharma Talk delivered February 15, 2020
At Layne and Neera's
So, Mara! Who is this Mara? And why would we invite him/her to tea? I realize, you may already know the stories about Mara from Buddhist, Hindu and other traditions, and Mara may not sound like someone you would want to invite to tea.
I decided to google a bit to see how Mara shows up on the world-wide net, and Mara does appear in many traditions — both spiritual and otherwise.
-Mara is the highest-ranking goddess in Latvian mythology,
-A Hindu goddess of destruction, death, winter, and the moon.
-Of Hebrew origin, the word Mara means is "bitter" or “sorrow.”
-In the Bible, Naomi, mother-in-law of Ruth, claimed the name Mara as
an expression of grief after losing her husband and sons.
-In Gaelic - the sea, seen both as a destructive force and a source of life.
My most surprising discovery was Mara’s appearance in Dr. Who. I couldn’t even remember who Dr. Who was — maybe the name of a band? (And I realize that any sci-fi buff might think I’m illiterate.) But I also learned that the Mara in the Dr. Who episodes seemed to be lifted from Buddhist literature along with two phantoms named “Dukkha” and “Anatta.”
At least two of the writers of these episodes are reported to have had interests in Tibetan and Zen Buddhism.
Mara has also been featured as a demon in a video game series, Megami Tensei.
I decided to stop here — I was supposed to be writing a talk.
So, as for the Mara in Buddhism, among the many supernatural beings found in Buddhist literature, Mara is unique. He/she is one of the earliest non-human beings to appear in Buddhist scriptures.
In traditional Buddhism, Mara is seen in four metaphorical forms:
Mara as the embodiment of all unskillful mind states, such as greed, hate and delusion.
Mara as death.
Mara as metaphor for the entirety of conditioned existence.
Mara as the deva of the sensuous realm, who tried to prevent Siddhartha Gautama (later known as The Buddha) from awaking on the night of the his enlightenment.
Why “Early Buddhism” More Accurately Reflects
Insight Meditation Society’s Roots
From Insight Meditation Center, Barre Mass.
February 2019 Newsletter
Early Buddhism is a living spiritual tradition based on the original teachings of the historical figure known as the Buddha, or Awakened One, who lived in northern India in the fifth century BCE. The term can also refer to the doctrines and practices taught by the Buddha, including understandings such as the Four Noble Truths, guidance on conduct such as the Five Precepts, and meditation practices like insight (vipassana), mindfulness, and lovingkindness. Today in Asia the followers of Early Buddhism are found primarily in Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Many IMS teachers trained in these countries before bringing the teachings to the West.
Until recently the tradition of Early Buddhism was more commonly known as Theravada, or Way of the Elders. In fact, IMS originally considered itself to be a Theravadan center. However, modern scholarship has revealed that Theravada is just one of some eighteen schools of Early Buddhism, each with its own views and foundational texts. Early Buddhists today agree that the discourses of the Buddha (collectively, the Dhamma) and his monastic code (the Vinaya) are authoritative. The Theravadan school also considers the Pali Abhidhamma and commentaries such as the Visuddhimagga to be authoritative, while other Early Buddhists may not. Hence Early Buddhism and Theravada are not synonymous, although there is much overlap.
By Kenn Duncan
From a Dharma talk given in December, 2019
“To give is nonattachment, just not to attach to anything is to give.”
— Suzuki Roshi
The essence of generosity is letting go. Feeling greedy or stingy is always a sign that we are holding on to something, usually ourselves. When we feel unhappy, when we feel inadequate, we get "stingy” we hold on tighter. Generosity is an activity that loosens us up. By offering whatever we can, no matter what it is, we are training in letting go. Giving has the characteristic of relinquishing: its function is to dispel greed for things that can be given away; its manifestation is non-attachment.
By holding onto or being with greed, we can talk ourselves out of being generous. The thought of sending a card or flowers to someone, and then thinking, Oh they'll get lots of cards. A friend who admires a jacket we don’t wear, and we think to ourselves, Well someday I might want to wear that jacket. Sharon Salzberg suggests that we become mindful of this tendency and as soon as the thought to be generous arises, we resolve to follow through.
“You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nothing to hold onto can be liberating. We can relax with impermanence. What can we really possess, after all? Our realization that there is nothing we can hold onto can actually cultivate our generosity, which becomes a circle that constantly feeds itself. The Buddha tells us, “The greatest gift is the act of giving itself.”
There are so many ways to practice generosity. The practice isn’t so much what we give but that we unlock our habit of clinging. So this could be things, or money, food, a place in line, your time, a smile. It can start with being mindful of what you are holding onto and looking for a generous way to let it go.
By Kenn Duncan
Delivered as a Dharma talk, September 2019
“It is better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring” - Carl Sagan
Delusion is said to be the most dangerous of the 3 poisons, it’s described as confusion, ignorance, illusion, bewilderment, misperception of reality. Believing something which is not true and acting on this belief, one of the problems with delusion is it believes it’s true. Delusion can lead us to ignore the facts and cling to our views and opinions, it creates a loss of connection with reality. It can take us into the illusion of our thoughts and misperceptions and these inevitably motivate unskillful actions.
Further, we start to build stories around these delusions, you’re by yourself one day = I don’t have any friends, see someone on TV = I think that person is cool, or that person is not cool, I will never get old, never go bald, but the reality is we don’t know, is that person cool? Will I go bald? We don’t really have control. Delusion is trying to have control or fool us into thinking that our beliefs are real and true. We also form ideas about ourselves that limit us, by making stories of ourselves, I can do this, I can’t do this, I’m this way… I’m not that way.
Buddhism gives us a great view of delusion and that is that you shouldn’t take it personally or as a failure when it’s recognized or seen, by yourself or by others. It just comes with being a human being, our mind will work towards delusion, maybe as a protection. So rather than being judgmental about it or embarrassed about it, be willing to be transparent with it, talk about it, recognize it, know it.
By Carol Russell
Delivered as a Dharma talk July 9, 2019
There is a well-known saying: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.
We admire those who are experts, accomplished in their field, who have spent many years honing a skill or knowledge of their subject, who break new ground in creativity or research or scholarship or athletic ability or spiritual wisdom. And they deserve our admiration. We seek guidance and inspiration from such accomplished people.
Once, a long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and near would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom. Many would come and ask him to teach them, enlighten them in the way of Zen. He seldom turned any away. One day an important man, a man used to command and obedience came to visit the master. “I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” The tone of the important man’s voice was of one used to getting his own way. The Zen master smiled and said that they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the wealthy man. Finally the visitor shouted, “Enough. You are spilling the tea all over. Can’t you see the cup is full?” The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind.”
By Jack Kornfield
Originally published at jackkornfield.com, January 27, 2017.
The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.
— Mother Teresa
Many of us wrestle with our response to the sufferings of the country and the world. What can we do in the face of poverty, disease, war, injustice, and environmental devastation? With the torrent of news, it is easy to despair, to become cynical or numb. Our psychologies tend to treat this as a personal problem, but it is not. We are all affected by the suffering of the world and need to find a way to work with it. This is a pressing problem for psychology. The Buddhist approach to this collective suffering is to turn toward it. We understand that genuine happiness and meaning will come through tending to suffering. We overcome our own despair by helping others to overcome theirs.
We might hear this and become afraid of being overwhelmed. Or our response might be confused with guilt, unworthiness, and our need for personal healing. Still, even though our motivation is mixed, we have to respond. And we can. It is simple. Each of us can contribute to the sanity of the world. We can tend to ourself and we can tend to others. In doing so we discover the role of the bodhisattva.
— Jack Kornfield
Dedication and Long-Term Intention
By Jack Kornfield
Originally published at jackkornfield.com, December 28, 2016.
"It is the New Year. We all know about New Year’s resolutions and how short-lived they can be. Consider setting a long-term intention. A long-term intention is also called a vow or dedication. In the forest monastery we would gather before dawn in the candlelit darkness and begin the sonorous morning chanting to dedicate ourselves to loving-kindness and liberation for all. The chants reminded us that awakening is possible whenever we dedicate ourselves to a noble way of life. We would vow to use the support we received as monks for awakening and compassion, for ourselves and for all beings.
Setting a long-term intention is like setting the compass of our heart. No matter how rough the storms, how difficult the terrain, even if we have to backtrack around obstacles, our direction is clear. The fruits of dedication are visible in the best of human endeavors.
As you begin the New Year, take some time to sit and quietly reflect. If today you were to set or reaffirm a long-term intention, a vow, your heart’s direction, what would it be?"
– Jack Kornfield
By Jack Kornfield
Originally published at jackkornfield.com, November 29, 2016
When times are uncertain, difficult, fearful, full of change,
they become the perfect place to deepen the practice of awakening.
After viewing the elections….whatever your point of view,
Take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart.
Then go out and look at the sky.
Remember vastness, there are seasons to all things,
gain and loss, praise and blame, expansion and contraction.
Learn from the trees.
Practice equanimity and steadiness.
Remember the timeless Dharma amidst it all.
Think of the best of human goodness.
Let yourself become a beacon of integrity, with your thoughts, words and deeds.
Integrity in speech and action, virtue and non harming bring blessings.
Remember the Noble truths, no matter the politics or the season:
Greed, hatred and ignorance cause suffering. Let them go.
Love, generosity and wisdom bring the end of suffering. Foster them.
Remember the Buddha’s counsel,
“Hatred never ends by hatred but by love alone is healed.
This is the ancient and eternal law.”
The human heart has freedom in itself to choose love, dignity and respect.
In every circumstance, embody respect and cultivate compassion for all.
Let yourself become a beacon of Dharma.
Amidst the changes, shine with courage and trust.
Love people and...
This is your world. Plant seeds of goodness
and water them everywhere.
Then blessings will grow for yourself and for all.
I just wanted to make sure that links to these articles by Jack Kornfield are available to you all, and I encourage you to spend some time with them both. May we all have the courage to know and follow our hearts’ truth.
A Safety Pin Movement to Shrink "The Divide"
...to this resource for our community. Much gratitude goes out to our entire Sangha – and the numberless causes and conditions – for making this website possible, and for the joy I have experienced in creating it.
Detail of the Great Hall Mural
Courtesy Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Used with permission