Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday evening, February 10th, after our meditation period, our program will focus on the five mindfulness trainings. We will explore their origin, formally recite them, and then share our reflections.
I began my exploration of the origins of the mindfulness trainings with the questions: What is the problem for which the five mindfulness trainings are the answer?
According to the legend of the Buddha, the impetus for his search for enlightenment was his observation that almost all the people around him, wealthy or poor, were struggling to find joy and contentment in this life, and tragically failing. The situation is not so different in the United States today--as a people we are still tragically failing in our efforts to find joy and contentment. One of the indicators of this failure is that perhaps a majority of the country suffers from obesity, depression, anxiety, or physiological addiction.
Why? The Buddha observed that most people lacked understanding and restraint. The basic issue is that while we are able to create magnificent conceptual structures, at the level of emotions and motivations, far too often we operate at the level of lizards. We go for what tastes good (or feels safe) right now, and forget about everything else. No long term planning. No consideration of other people or factors. Just getting what we feel we urgently need.
Our self-centeredness expresses itself not just in the overtly cruel and insensitive actions (many of which cause us to cringe as we remember them), but also in the accumulation of small and seemingly insignificant actions and moments. In my life this takes the form of taking the extra cookie, procrastinating writing the note of sympathy, giving in to my distractions when there is important work to be done, or not speaking up for what is right because of the fear of someone's disapproval.
How does change occur? The Buddha recommended we develop through meditation and mindfulness practice an exquisite awareness of the intentions in our minds, understanding that intentions are precursors to actions, and then to learn to connect that intentional awareness to the consequence of our actions. Over time we learn to withdraw energy from mind states that lead to suffering for ourselves and others and encourage mind states that lead to peace and joy, for ourselves and others. We also develop an appreciation for the quiet pleasures that arise from being in touch with our own vitality and the wonders of life.
We learn to take refuge in mindfulness -- the capacity to know what is going on in our minds and in our lives.
My projection is that it was in response to lay people who wanted to practice mindfulness, who wanted to overcome their suffering, that the Buddha offered the five mindfulness trainings. The Buddha focused on five areas of life where there is a strong tendency for us to do what feels good (or feels safe) for us, right now, and ignore everything else. At their core, the five mindfulness trainings are simply concrete reminders to rise above our lizard brains.
(A complementary reflection on the mindfulness trainings is provided below through excerpts from Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh.)
Please join us this Thursday for our meditation and program.
"Taking Refuge" from Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh
In Buddhism, we take refuge in Three Jewels -- Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. These refuges are a very deep practice. They are the Buddhist trinity:
I take refuge in the Buddha,
the one who shows me the way in this life.
I take refuge in the Dharma,
the way of understanding and love.
I take refuge in the Sangha,
the community that lives in harmony and awareness.
. . .
We all need something good, beautiful, and true to believe in. To take refuge in mindfulness, our capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment, is safe and not at all abstract. When we drink a glass of water and know we are drinking a glass of water, that is mindfulness. When we sit, walk, stand, or breathe and know that we are sitting, walking, standing, or breathing, we touch the seed of mindfulness in us, and, after a few days, our mindfulness will grow stronger. Mindfulness is the light that shows us the way. It is the living Buddha inside of us. Mindfulness gives rise to insight, awakening, and love. We all have the seed of mindfulness within us and, through the practice of conscious breathing, we can learn to touch it. When we take refuge in the Buddhist trinity -- Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha -- it means to take refuge in our mindfulness, our mindful breathing, and the five elements that comprise our self.
Breathing in, breathing out,
Buddha is my mindfulness, shining near, shining far.
Dharma is my conscious breathing, calming my body and mind.
I am free.
Breathing in, breathing out,
Sangha is my five skandhas, working in harmony.
Taking refuge in myself,
Going back to myself.
I am free.
When we practice this exercise, it takes us directly to a place of peace and stability, to the most calm and stable place we can go. The Buddha taught, "Be an island unto yourself. Take refuge in yourself and not in anything else." This island is right mindfulness, the awakened nature, the foundation of stability and calm that resides in each of us. This island shines light on our path and helps us see what to do and what not to do. When our five skandhas -- form, feelings, perceptions, mental states, and consciousness -- are in harmony, there will naturally be right action and peace. Conscious breathing brings about calmness and harmony. Aware that practicing this way is the best thing we can do, we will feel solid within and we will be a true vehicle for helping others.