Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Noel -- Metta wishes for the season


Here I am sharing the words of our wonderful Venerable Ayya Tathaaloka and the wishes of all the bhikkhunis of Aranya Bodhi and Dhammadharini Vihara in California.

May we give rise to all that is wholesome, healthy, helpful, beneficial, peaceful, benign, sublime and liberating. 
May all else fall away and arise no more.
As we move into the season of increasing light, may we know the increase of good qualities in our lives, in our hearts.

May our applied and directed thoughts, internal and externally directed be beneficial, healthy, helpful, wholesome, peaceful and sublime.
May we care well for whatever lies before us,
and for where we are right now.
In each step.
In moments of immanence,
in present moment awareness,
clearly perceptive,
knowing the amazing gift 
and the amazing opportunity 
in what we are meeting here and now.

And may we be a support for one another in this Way,
to all as for ourselves.

May we rejoice, with joy and gladness in our hearts
knowing the good this is, 
for ourselves
and for one another.
Rejoicing,
on this peaceful and silent night,
all calm, hearts bright,
with much metta ~

Ayya Tathaaloka
with Ayya Sobhana, Ayya Suvijjana and Ayya Nimmala

at Dhammadharini Vihara

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Discipline

Since my return from California in September, my meditation has been all but non-existent, my ability to focus and concentrate and even my interest in attempting meditation has just not been there. As the cold weather has closed in I've gravitated more and more to my inner 'need' to bake and gobble up the final product in a way that can only be categorized as greed. There's no other way to look at it, whether one has Buddhist tendencies or not. Eating a whole small chocolate cake, for example, gobbling it all up in one sitting when one is not hungry and when one knows the body will react in a negative way afterwards, is greed. For me, it's definitely a craving that's always with me, one that I'm sometimes able to ignore, one that lately I've simply indulged. This is just one instance of late where craving around food has manifested itself in my life, and where I haven't had the discipline to say no.

This morning I logged on to the Bhavana web site and saw a link to an article by Bhante Gunaratana on the subject of Morality, in response to a question. Now, none of this is new to me. Morality is one of the basics of our practice and for the most part, I've developed what I think is pretty good morality, in the Buddhist sense.  The big exception for me is what he calls addictive behavior, when it comes to unnecessary food and I've long been aware of this. It's what we consider an unwholesome action.

In response to the question regarding Morality, Bhante G suggests substituting the word 'Discipline' for the word 'Morality', and somehow this helped me to put everything into a new and better perspective. Yes, I already knew I wasn't disciplined in this regard, and knew I wasn't even trying to be disciplined, but sometimes seeing or hearing the words at just the right time can make all the difference in how we react. Today must have been just the right time for me, because I got it.

I'm not going to reprint the entire article -- follow the link if you wish to read it -- but I will quote a few things that seemed to resonate with me.

"And, yes, it is correct to say that practicing sila—acting with discipline and restraint in daily life—lays an essential foundation for a good meditation practice.

"When we don’t have sufficient discipline, our practice will be difficult. Mindfulness may then be hard to attain or to sustain. We must have good discipline to be mindful."

He likens Sila (Morality) to sealing a house so the house has a good foundation that is firm and steady.  "Sila is like that when it comes to meditation. It’s the foundation. Through restraint, through wholesome actions and decisions made in our daily lives, we lay this foundation.

"If we don’t lay a good foundation for meditation, we can directly see the results in our practice. You may be meditating regularly, sitting a half-hour or an hour. All of a sudden one day, you can’t even sit for 10 minutes. Your mind is agitated, you’re constantly distracted, you simply can’t focus. Something you have done in your life—becoming enraged with someone, sexual misconduct, addictive behavior of all sorts or some other unwholesome action of body, speech or mind—has deeply registered in your subconscious mind. It keeps coming back up, making you feel remorseful, guilty, restless, full of worries. You just can’t sit!"  Boy, do I know this one well!

He says we can't wait until we are moral saints to begin meditation. "Whatever our moral situation, we must begin. We make the commitment to root out unwholesome behavior and to encourage wholesome habits in our lives." If we fail, he says, "If you do, then learn from those consequences. Feel the heaviness in your mind and in your life. Our goal is to make the mind light, to make our life light. After all, we are seeking to attain en-light-enment, aren’t we?"

He stresses that these are not commandments.  Sila is something we undertake on our own, by choice.  "If you don’t make the effort, if you commit some unwholesome behavior, you reap the consequences and it affects your meditation practice. If you do make the effort, you’ll also see the positive consequences—it’s very cause and effect. We practice sila for own self-confidence and to overcome our weaknesses. So, sila is a way of behaving, that we ourselves choose. We undertake it by ourselves for the sake of a steady state of mind, for the sake of progress in our practice. Good sila strengthens our courage and ability. It gives support to our meditation practice and provides psychological strength. It is this foundation that is absolutely necessary to gain concentration."

Discipline is the word of the day for me. I've already begun, with breakfast. Delicious, sufficient in quantity, but about half what I'd normally prepare and eat ravenously, from pure pleasure at the taste, beyond what is needed for sustenance. Yes, as I sit here writing I could use another serving -- but only from desire, not from hunger. I had great discipline in the forest, partly because little was available and partly because the monastic life simply calls for discipline in all things.

Aside from discipline about excessive and unneeded food, I also need discipline around exercise and more importantly, around meditation. The latter will be taken care of in a few days as I begin a retreat, but I need to exercise that same discipline on a daily basis, right here at  home. This is how wisdom develops -- actually, all three of the basics taught by the Buddha (Morality, Wisdom and Concentration) rely upon one another for support and growth, but Morality is the foundation. And I need to get back to it.