We are going to try to keep an archive of our major meetings here. What we talked about. Homework. Links to readings or videos, etc. So that those who weren't able to come can catch up, and those who were, can review.
Finding Bliss in the Real World
This event took place at The Yoga Room in Nashville. Voices you will hear are David Thornton, David Simmons, and some of the Nashville Dharma Sangha.
AUDIO RECORDING OF THE EVENT:
or download here
DOWNLOADABLE COPY OF "THE BOOK"
There are certain forces in our lives that seem to continually keep us riding the roller coaster of highs and lows. You've probably noticed a pattern of things in your life being initially attractive and then over time their attractiveness wanes?
Why is that? And do we have any control over that?
If we could understand this problem of how we perpetually act, think, and speak in ways that force us to experience this same roller coaster ride, perhaps we could do something about it.
In this workshop we will address the very roots of this problem, but more specifically we will introduce an amazing and simple practice that will help you to create lasting peace and happiness for yourself and those around you.
Through this practice of "Keeping the Book" you will learn to work hands on with the direct correlations between an ethical life and total happiness.
Another great meeting. We are beginning to become a Sangha. You could feel that the fellowship was growing. Also people really began to open up and participate, sharing some deep questions and amazing insights.
As is tradition we recapped some of the previous meeting and it was nice to see that people remembered things, such as the "three problems of the pot" when it comes to listening to a teaching. Make sure it's open (to hearing something worthwhile), make sure it's clean (listen with a pure and uncynical motivation), and make sure it doesn't have a hole in it (the dharma is too important to go in one ear and out the other).
I introduced the awesome David Thornton, who is deeply rooted in this same lineage and also teaches a very spiritual form of Yoga. (more info here) Can't wait to have him share some if his experiences with us.
As we had a lot to cover we dove right into some Lama Marut with our first podcast.
One of the things to take from this teaching is the recognition that often our instincts about who someone is are just wrong. If we realize that we cannot truly KNOW who another person is, why not imagine them as a fully enlightened being, on our case to teach us. This begins to touch the subject of using wisdom to remake your world in such a way that it ceases being a hell full of "Shmucky Golems", and becomes an enchanted place full of teachers.
Once we get this we can turn the same logic on ourselves. Why should we think of ourselves as a "Shmucky Golem". Why not try to see ourselves as a spiritual practitioner with the potential to be an enlightened being? Wouldn't that be more useful?
Since Lama mentioned it, we also broached the subject of death meditation, and why it might be a good idea to get clear on the concept that all things are impermanent, including our loved ones and our selves.
We talked a little bit about how in the modern world, people are flocking to things like Yoga and "The Secret", which seems to be an indication that people are looking for spirituality but are not finding it in the traditional sources. The best gauge of an authentic spiritual practice is whether you are getting happier. It is this drive which is also fueling the expansion of Buddhism in the west.
I think I'm taking this out of sequence but we got a beautiful question by one young lady who had experienced loss of loved ones and was still fearful of death. A great question, and exactly the reason why it would be good to recognize the FACT of death. The FACT of impermanence. It is when these facts present themselves to us and we think it should be otherwise that we suffer.
This led us to discuss the Buddhist idea of attachment. Which is a way of describing how we hold onto illusory ideas and impermanent things, and when these things show their true nature, of NOT being permanent, or of NOT being the way we thought they should, we suffer.
Then we jumped into another Lama podcasts called Don't Waste Your Suffering.
Click here to open this podcast in iTunes. (it will be the hilighted one.)
My wife found a quote recently which I didn't mention at the meeting but which applies here.
"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey." ~Kenji Miyazawa
This is the idea Lama was expressing. The idea that in Buddhism there is NOTHING that cannot be taken as part of the path. Your most challenging situation can be the very source of your liberation. Understanding WISELY that things are not as they seem, that the things which aggravate can be looked at in a different way, gives us the power to turn our world around.
It is also in the recognition of the universality of our suffering. The recognition when we lose our health or have a disaster, that the way we feel is exactly the way people have ALWAYS felt in these situations, it is at these times that we can begin to really develop true compassion for others. As Lama says, "We're all in the same boat, and it's the Titanic".
A really neat thing happened after this. One of our group had a realization. (Tokpa). A flowering of a karmic seed planted in his youth. Technically we are always having flowerings but some are special. They are moments when we finally "get" something in a deep way, and it changes us. They often come in the strangest forms. This one came from a TV show.
He kindly shared a childhood memory of the TV show Bonanza, where one of the characters goes blind temporarrily. He wallows in self pity until a teacher comes and shows him how to take responsibility for himself. In the end his sight is regained and only then does he realize that his teacher is blind. He finally understands compassion BECAUSE of his suffering. This was a great realization and I'm thankful our friend shared it. So I went and found the episode, in case anyone want's a dose of TV land nostalgia, with some nice dharma in it.
We also talked about the Buddhist Mustard seed parable (Here's a nice full version) which is a great story to get us clear on the realities of this kind of life.
We had some further discussions and then jumped into a final Lama podcast.
Being In The World But Not Of It.
This podcast's title kind of speaks for itself. This is about what it means to be a spiritual practitioner in the modern world. We have to learn how to live and engage, but not be a slave to our attachments and our bad habits of mind, speech, and body.
Ultimately it is a recognition of true Wisdom, the understanding of ultimate reality (more on this later), which will liberate us from our suffering, and will give us a reason to act more compassionately day by day. Which will also as a nice byproduct, make us happier. Not a bad deal.
We finished with a nice short meditation on envisioning perfection. First in our highest image of a holy being, whatever that was for each person, and then in ourselves. It is a very high practice to imagine ourselves perfectly happy. In fact, if we don't have some idea of this, how would we know where we are trying to go?
I introduced my amazing wife who will be kindly heading up our volunteer and charitable activities. She has such a passion for this and does a great job. For the next meeting you can bring some common household items and we will get them to Safe Haven Family Shelter, which is one of the only organizations which takes care of whole families in Nashville. Unfortunately they often have to turn people away. We'll see what we can do to help. We're trying to live this stuff. Several people also indicated an interest in getting together on a weekend do do some kind of volunteer activity. Great idea. We'll try to do that.
The next meeting is March 2nd, but popular demand has arisen to try to get together before that. I'm working on it and will let you know. Thanks again for everyone's beautiful participation.
HOMEWORK: The next time you encounter someone who seems to you to be just another aggravating schmuck, see if you can shift your perceptions and see them as an enlightened being sent from HQ on your case on a mission to teach you patience. Remember that you can't confirm it either way, so which one is cooler and more helpful?
"Everyone is out to get you....enlightened." Lama Sumati Marut.
Our first meeting. We had a great turnout of very interested people from all sorts of backgrounds and faiths. From Atheist to Christian to Hindu. We talked about the universiality of the "Dharma". How all true religions are saying basically the same thing. The golden rule. Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you, and as they say in the East, DON'T do unto others what you wouldn't wan't done to you.
We talked about how the Dalai Lama often says that religion is not divided vertically into Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. It is divided Horizontally. Above are those who are practicing the golden rule. Below are those who are not. No matter what they call themselves, the are the same.
We introduced our lineage brought to us by our teacher Lama Sumati Marut, and we played a couple of his video podcasts which always go over great because he's so funny and accessible, but still so wise. Here are the podcasts we played.
Why Consumer Capitalism Won't Make You Happy (it will be the hilighted one in the list)
These videos spurred on some conversation about our suffering life which led into an introduction of the four noble truths which the Buddha spoke in his first teaching.
1. Life is suffering. You can say life is problematic or difficult if the "s" word bothers you but the point is to recognize that the nature of this kind of life is to be constantly at the risk of something irritating or awful happening.
2. Suffering is caused. It doesn't just happen for no reason.
3. There's a way to remove the causes of suffering which would be good news if you think about it because if you can figure out how to remove the causes of bad things, eventually you won't get the bad results.
4. There's a particular path to show you how to remove those causes. Which is also good news, because it gives us something to actually do. This is what the study of Buddhism (and other authentic religions) teaches us.
We started to talk about the three consistent world views which we tend to hold in a mix and match fashion when they are convenient for us.
1. Everything is random and there is no meaning. We call this one up when bad things happen to us or when good things happen to people we don't like. Problem with this one is we don't actually believe that there are no fruits of our actions.
2. God did it. We call this one up when we don't understand what is going on or when we are in a real pickle. Problem with this one is we have no free will.
3. Cause and Effect. This is the primary focus of Buddhism. The idea that things are caused and that we can have an effect on our experience of the world based on our choices.
We had some really nice well thought out conversations and questions. One wise young boy anticipated my apparently long lead up and asked "Is that like Karma". It's good to have Buddhas in the room to help us out.
We finished with a very simple meditation on dedicating the merit of our sincere efforts that night to someone in our life who was suffering, and also imagining the spiritual being we most admire and making an offering to them.
HOMEWORK: The parking spot trick. As you are driving through our automobile saturated environment, the most prized acquisition is that front row spot. If you find that you have the karma to get one of these jewels, pass it by. Do so happily and lovingly. Anonymously dedicate it to some other person for whom it would make a real difference. See them happy because of it and be quietly happy that you could do that for them. Not prideful or better than anyone else, just happy to help.