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
Now Is the Time to Stand Up:
...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