Grounding meditation
Jul12

Grounding meditation

Meditation grounding awareness in the body....

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Basic grounding in experience
Jul12

Basic grounding in experience

This meditation provides the basic grounding in experience upon which all other meditation is based. It includes a calming relaxation. (28 minutes)...

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The Dhyanas: the path of skilfulness
Mar09

The Dhyanas: the path of skilfulness

The dhyanas are higher states of consciousness that can be experienced in meditation. Below is a video of a talk I gave on them at the Manchester Buddhist Centre on 9 March 2015. (57 mins)...

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Ethics and ‘non-self’
Mar09

Ethics and ‘non-self’

Article published in April 2015 issue of Shabda, the internal journal of the Triratna Buddhist Order.   I just gave a talk at the Manchester Centre entitled “The Dhyanas: the path of skilfulness” (the video should be available soon on the MBC website and on Video Sangha.) It was quite interesting giving that talk as it pushed my thinking along in relation to how insight (and therefore any realization of ‘non-self’) is inextricably woven together with ethics. I have come to realize that insight in Buddhism is always insight only in the context of an ethical view. The Buddha urged his monks to practise dhyana, and in his early lectures Bhante Sangharakshita talks a lot about dhyana. He focuses particularly on how to get into the dhyanas: he says one has to become integrated, both horizontally – by integrating ones emotion and reason on the conscious level – and vertically – by integrating ones conscious with ones unconscious. He says that when one does that ones’ energies flow together in the same direction and you feel quite naturally happy. He goes on to say that gradually as one ascends the dhyanas a higher element comes in. In the second dhyana ‘the purified, integrated conscious mind is itself integrated with the superconscious. And the energies of the superconscious – energies, that is to say, which are purely spiritual – begin to be tapped.’ And that this higher element gradually dominates ones experience the higher in the dhyanas one goes. We don’t really talk about dhyana very much these days. Perhaps this is because people think of them negatively, in terms of spiritual materialism, or maybe they are just confused as to what they are exactly. So in this thread I want to try to clarify what they are, and how they connect with insight. The Buddhist texts describe Gautama as firstly remembering the rose-apple experience and then as ascending through the dhyanas. There is no account of the practices he must have used to get there. There is nothing, to my knowledge, in the scriptures along the lines of: ‘I practiced loving kindness and so attained the first dhyana.’ So I want to piece together an account of the process Gautama must have gone through to get into the dhyanas. The first dhyana arises ‘in seclusion from sensuality and unskilful mental states.’ In other words it is a skilful mental state. And as the ‘superconscious element’ that Sangharakshita mentions become stronger the higher in the dhyanas one ascends, we can see each dhyana as an intensification of the skilfulness of the one before. There is however a certain danger in...

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Mindfulness and the four arrows
Jan05

Mindfulness and the four arrows

This article is adapted from a thread submitted to and published in Shabda, the in-house journal of the Triratna Buddhist Order, in October 2014. It addresses the issue of practising or promoting secular mindfulness within a Buddhist context, and in particular the Triratna context.   A series of meetings were held early in 2014 to talk about live issues for practice within the Triratna Buddhist Community (TBC) and one of the topics was ‘Mindfulness,’ specifically how secular mindfulness should be integrated into our Buddhist movement. I was not at this meeting but as I have been thinking independently about this topic for a number of years, I would like to share my views with you about it. First of all I would like to say that to the extent that secular mindfulness-based therapies help people overcome suffering I am completely behind them. The work that Breathworks do in this area is brilliant, and the fact that mindfulness and compassion are becoming valued in secular society is a good thing. Having said that, there are people who have voiced the concern that secular mindfulness lacks an ethical dimension, and the evidence they have given is that it is now being used in corporate business and by the military, whose ethics are often questionable.   I think the main reason why this is the case is because of something well known in religious education circles: the difference between a professional approach and a confessional one. A confessional teacher teaches their own faith to children of that faith, whereas whatever the beliefs of a professional teacher are, they have to teach as if all religions are equal options. So in this age – secular just means ‘of the age’ – in the West, in order to gain approval and funding, things have to be professionally presented, in the sense that they do not promote a particular value system, including a particular ethical system. So in this system you can teach mindfulness to soldiers to help them deal with their stress – ethics to do with personal health and well being are non-controversial – but you cannot teach them mindfulness in order that they don’t go round shooting people. That has to be left to their own consciences.   With our self designated project of bringing Buddhism to the West, what we are dealing with here is our main collective problem – in the sense Bhante means it: not a difficulty. This is our MAIN COLLECTIVE KOAN. How do you deal with the boundary between the actual values of the majority of society in the West and the values of Triratna Buddhism or...

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Mindfulness, metta and the dhyanas
Feb01

Mindfulness, metta and the dhyanas

This article was published in the February 2014 issue of Shabda, the journal of the Triratna Buddhist Order.   I thought I’d try to say something about how mindfulness fits in with the dhyanas as I have recently been exploring this topic in my book. The path obviously involves both metta and mindfulness, as these are a large part of Buddhist ethics, have their own meditation practices, and are present at the highest reaches of the path (there is the term mettacetovimutti, which I take to mean ‘liberation of the mind through loving kindness.’) But how do they both fit in with the dhyanas and with the path to Nirvana as described in say the Mahasaccaka Sutta?   The key starting point to Gautama stepping onto the path to Nirvana was when he remembered the rose apple tree experience. The way that that is usually rendered is in terms him simply having a memory of an experience. Thanissaro translates the passage in the Mahasaccaka Sutta for instance as: ‘Then, following on from that memory came the conscious realisation: “This is the path to awakening.”‘ The Pali here is satanusari vinnanam ahosi eseva maggo bodhaya’ti and so the word being translated as memory here is sati.   It is common for us to think of mindfulness as recollection. This is largely due to the word smrti, the Sanskrit word usually rendered as mindfulness, whose root smr is rendered in the Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary as:   ‘to remember , recollect , bear in mind , call to mind , think of , be mindful of’   But we need to bear in mind that Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, and of the Vedic sacrificial religion which pre-dated the Buddha and whose doctrines he rejected. So we cannot really be sure how much the sense of smrti as ‘recollection’ isn’t influenced by its meaning in the Vedic context. There are two kinds of Vedic texts: the sruti and the smrti. The sruti are sacred texts such as the Rg Veda – a set of hymns to various gods – which were composed 900 years before the Buddha and which nobody has the right to alter. Unchanged, they have been passed down from one age to the next. The reason why they are called sruti is that the disciple hears their words from their guru (sruti literally means hearing.) The smrtis on the other hand are texts compiled by self-realized sages, called rishis, based upon their own insights into the sruti. (an modern day example is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.) So the rishi maintains the Vedic tradition. When a part of the...

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