Tricycle - Awake in the World The Online Tricycle Magazine Blog http://www.tricycle.com/ en Tue, 31 Mar 2015 14:33:09 -0400 Tue, 31 Mar 2015 17:04:05 -0400 Don't Just Sit There http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-just-sit-there <p class="p1"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><br></a></p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Don%27tJustSitThereImage.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Sym-red-1_1.png" width="148" height="157" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></a></p><p class="p1">We all seek out meditation in order to relieve pain of one kind or another. If we weren’t at least vaguely dissatisfied, we wouldn’t try it.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Many of us sense that by working from the inside, meditation addresses the root of our problems. But that introspective effort remains handicapped if we give way to pain-producing actions and words off the cushion.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">To end suffering, the Buddha prescribed a compound of three essentials: morality, meditation, and wisdom. Meditation practice without morality and wisdom is like a stool with only one leg—it is bound to fall over.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">The Sanskrit term for morality—the first of the three trainings—is <i>sila, </i>which also translates as “discipline.” Both English equivalents creak under the weight of dualistic judgments about right and wrong, good and bad. But in actuality, when upheld in daily life,&nbsp;sila brings lightness and ease to meditation.</p><p class="p1">The last things we need in meditation are sticky burrs like regret and guilt, yet we invite them into the mind through misconduct. Those without a contemplative practice might be able to hasten through their days and nights without regard for consequences, skating over ethical lapses without a second thought. But once we start sitting on a regular basis, we open ourselves up to sobering reflections from the past.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Consider the fourth precept of sila: refraining from lying. Common as it might be, lying can take a toll on us. A coworker of mine expressed an understanding of this simple truth when he mused, “I like to tell the truth ‘cause I like travelin’ light.”</p><p class="p1">Worries also arise following instances of wrong speech like angry words, snarky comments, and arrogant boasts. Hardly crimes, these petty transgressions nevertheless return to awareness during meditation to disturb the mind and disrupt concentration.</p><p class="p1">Our haphazard bumper-car collisions with the precepts can impede practice not only by haunting our sits, but also by weakening our faith in what in Zen we call our intrinsically enlightened nature. Until we have awakened to the perfection of our fundamental nature, we harbor traces of doubt—about our teacher, our practice, and ultimately ourselves. Any such doubt is bound to show itself sooner or later, usually at pivotal points in our practice, as it did for the Buddha himself in the form of the demon Mara, who visited him as he neared enlightenment. The more effectively we live up to the precepts, the more likely we are to trust and realize our true self.</p><p class="p2">Wisdom (<i>prajna</i>), the third leg of the stool, is often understood as our original nature, unborn and undying. Until enlightenment, our practice is vulnerable, our meditation and conduct both prone to wobble.<b> </b>Nonetheless, until we do confirm our innate wisdom, we need to work at it as best we can. As the saying goes, we “fake it” with the faith that, realized or not, innate wisdom is still ours to use “until we make it.”&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">This we do through mindfulness and concentration, the twin functions of awareness. Put simply, concentration arises from a state of stabilized awareness. But to help us uncover our innate wisdom, concentration requires mindfulness—the noticing of what arises in one’s mind, body, and surroundings.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">Off the cushion, hours can pass as we sit rapt by movies, cat videos, Angry Birds, and the Kardashians. Every once in a while, these lazy afternoons happen to the best of us. But by bringing together concentration and mindfulness, we’re less likely to indulge in such passive activities and more likely to remain alert when taking part in active ones. This will make all the difference when we sit down to meditate.</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">By cultivating wisdom in this way, we free ourselves from delusive attachment.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">Finally, the three legs of our practice—morality, meditation, and wisdom—work together as a complete unity, and our practice becomes a stool that all the angry birds in the ten directions couldn’t topple.<br><br><b>Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede&nbsp;</b>is abbot of Rochester Zen Center.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><em>Image: Xavier Portela/Gallerystock</em></p> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 14:33:09 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Progress Question http://www.tricycle.com/blog/progress-question <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/McLeod_flute2.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Sym-red-1.png" width="148" height="157" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></a></p><p>“I’ve been meditating for some time, but my mind seems just as chaotic and confused as when I started. Am I doing something wrong?”</p><p>Almost everyone who practices meditation has similar concerns, no matter how long they’ve been doing it—whether three weeks, three years, or three decades. When students confront me with the progress question, I just try to redirect their attention. I’ve found that the best thing is for them to just keep practicing.</p><p>We call meditation “practice” for a reason. Any form of practice consists of doing something over and over again and failing at it over and over again. Through this process, we gradually build the capacities that make it possible to do what we are practicing. There is nothing special about meditation: like anything else, it’s a collection of skills.</p><p>Much of the confusion about meditation results from the fact that the different processes involved tend to get lumped together without clear differentiation. It's as if in learning how to play the flute, we didn’t distinguish between blowing a long, sustained tone and a full round one, or between the skills of tonguing and fingering.</p><p>When it comes to meditation, some people are able to sit still without tension in their bodies; others are able to track the coming and going of the breath; yet others are able to open to everything they experience; and still others excel in clear and sharp focus, in visualization, and so on. There are many ways to practice meditation, but all of them involve a number of separate skills.</p><p>As with athletic or artistic endeavors, if we are serious about meditation, we spend a lot of time training in these basic skills. We don't train in all the necessary skills at the same time; we train one, then another. It's repetitious and not particularly exciting. But as we acquire competency and proficiency in each, we become capable of combining them in increasingly complex ways. Then things start to get interesting.</p><p>But even then, we can’t expect success in every attempt. We are training, and because we know we are training, we need to be willing to learn from our failures. Every failure reveals what we lack in precision, strength, flexibility, resiliency, stamina, or dexterity.</p><p>We learn where our weaknesses are and how to compensate for or remedy them. And we also come to appreciate where our strengths are and how to build on them.</p><p>If we’re learning to play a piece of music, we practice and practice and gradually it comes together. We become capable of holding sustained notes with good tone so that we can play the slower passages. Our fingers develop the flexibility and dexterity to handle the faster, more complex sections.</p><p>I may play lyrical pieces beautifully, but I may never be good at the kind of pyrotechnics needed for solo performances. And you may be able to bring out the passion and power in Beethoven, but miss the nuance in Satie’s subtle duets with silence. And that’s just how it is.</p><p>The apps, neuro-feedback devices, and other instruments to track various bodily and neurological states that have entered the spiritual marketplace may be helpful in developing and refining certain abilities. But it makes about as much sense to reduce meditation progress to such measurements as it does to reduce music to how long we can hold a sustained note or how quickly we can play a certain scale.</p><p>When it comes to meditation, we have to look at the different skills involved and figure out how to train in each of them.</p><p>Take mindfulness, for instance. It has attracted a lot of attention recently, but in terms of meditation skills, it's just one of many. If we regard the mind as a musical instrument, then mindfulness involves simply learning how to play in tune. That’s very important—if we can't play in tune, nothing we play sounds good and other people probably won't want to play music with us—but even after mastering playing in tune, we still have to learn how to play actual melodies, to make real music. Mindfulness may be great for baroque, but when we discover the blues we find a whole new set of skills to learn. The same holds for meditation.</p><p>Then comes the question of commitment. Again, the similarities with music are striking. If we practice half an hour a day on a musical instrument, we will slowly learn how to play it. If we practice an hour or several hours a day, our skills will develop more quickly. On the other hand, if we practice too much, we may burn out and be unable to learn at all. Thus, as with many other aspects of life, balance is important.</p><p>But why practice at all?</p><p>While there are well-documented benefits to meditation, approaching meditation for its particular benefits is very much like exercising to stay fit. It becomes a task, another thing to do. This is not the best approach. Frequently, it results in a not-so-subtle form of resentment that undermines the equanimity and ease necessary for effective practice.</p><p>Although meditation is now most frequently presented as something “good for us,” it is closer to an art form. Difficult and challenging, it requires a complex set of skills. And it takes time and effort to learn, let alone master.</p><p>Again, the parallels with music are interesting: we may sometimes resent the many hours we’ve had to put into practice, but the enjoyment we experience in playing music brings pleasure to us and to others throughout our lives.</p><p>If we take up meditation as we would any other artistic pursuit, it is unlikely we will have any regrets. Quite the contrary, the practice’s significance<b> </b>will grow and unfold throughout our lives.<br><br><b>Ken McLeod</b> is the teacher and director of Unfettered Mind, which he established in Los Angeles in 1991. His last article for <i>Tricycle</i>, “<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/practice/forget-happiness" target="_blank">Forget Happiness</a>,” appeared in the Spring 2014 issue.</p><p><em>David Wright/Flickr</em></p> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 16:43:16 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Tibetan Buddhist Leader Blazes an Innovative Trail http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tibetan-buddhist-leader-blazes-innovative-trail <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/KarmapaHD.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (RNS) Wrapped in the maroon and gold robes of a Tibetan monk, Ogyen Trinley Dorje isn’t what most people picture when they think of innovation.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">To his followers, Dorje is the 17th Karmapa—the leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the latest in a line of reincarnated Tibetan teachers, or lamas, stretching back to the 12th century. He’s been training for that role since the age of 7, when other important lamas recognized him as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, who died in Illinois in 1981.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But Dorje is blazing new paths for his tradition, and for the broader Buddhist world. In a public lecture and a series of meetings at Harvard Divinity School Thursday and Friday (March 26 and 27), he spoke out on issues ranging from LGBT rights and improving the status of women within Buddhism to race relations and the importance of protecting the environment.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Like many religions, Tibetan Buddhism has often pushed to the side broader societal issues in favor of personal piety. Not only is the Karmapa talking about them publicly, but he is also taking action. He started an initiative to turn monasteries into centers for environmental sustainability, and he recently announced an effort to establish full monastic ordination of women for the first time within the Tibetan tradition.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">“His Holiness is an inspiring embodiment of a new generation of Buddhist teachers who care deeply about pressing contemporary issues and how religious voices can contribute to global conversations,” said Willa Miller, an instructor in Harvard’s Buddhist Ministry Initiative who is also a teacher within the Karmapa’s lineage.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The Dalai Lama has been a teacher and mentor to Dorje ever since the young Karmapa made a dramatic escape from Tibet at the age of 14 to settle in India. There is a rival claimant to his title, but Dorje has the support of the Dalai Lama and the majority of Tibetans, many of whom believe he will take over the Dalai Lama’s leadership role when the 79-year-old Nobel laureate dies.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The Karmapa’s main event in the Boston area was a public talk, titled “Caring for Life on Earth in the 21st Century,” that filled Harvard University’s Memorial Church to capacity. In it, the Karmapa exhorted his audience to care for all life and spoke about the importance of cultivating compassion and concern for the environment.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">“The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the air we breathe have all arisen interdependently,” he said, speaking through a translator. “We cannot survive alone. We cannot eat, wear clothes, or breathe alone. The more keenly we are aware of this, the more we will begin to take responsibility for the welfare of other beings.”</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The lecture drew together a broad swath of Boston residents, from Harvard faculty and administrators to college students to local Buddhist practitioners and members of the Boston area’s large Tibetan community.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">According to Tenzin Wangchuk, 41, who runs his own construction business in Boston, visits by Tibetan leaders like the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama raise the Tibetan community’s profile and build awareness for its cause.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">“With the Karmapa, obviously, it is awareness,” said Wangchuk. “People start reading about him, knowing about him, and then they want to know who he is and what’s the history. It’s all linked. It does kind of make a difference.”</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">That kind of community involvement is part of why the divinity school felt it was important to host the Karmapa in a venue like Memorial Church, where members of the public would have a chance to hear him speak.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In addition to his public talk, the Karmapa held a series of meetings with students in Harvard Divinity School’s Buddhist Studies and Buddhist Ministry programs. According to students who attended, those talks touched on issues like race, feminism, and sexuality that many Tibetan teachers have traditionally shied away from.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Rod Owens came to the divinity school to study ministry after completing a traditional three-year meditation retreat in the Karmapa’s lineage. As one of the few African-American teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, he has been working with other teachers to address issues of race and racism within Buddhist communities.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">“What he’s saying, essentially, is that we have to take our practice off of the (meditation) cushion into the world and become conscious of how we’re living together and impacting our environment—the physical environment and the environment of communities, relationships, and so forth,” said Owens. “I think it’s part of his effort to make Buddhism relevant.”<br><br><b>Joshua Eaton</b>&nbsp;is an independent journalist who covers religion and society, human rights, and national security.</p><p class="p1"><em>Image: Kris Snibbe/Harvard staff photographer</em></p><p class="p1"><i>© 2015 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.</i></p> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 10:37:45 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World China Asserts Control over Dalai Lama Lineage http://www.tricycle.com/blog/china-asserts-control-over-dalai-lama-lineage <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Eaton_HHDL.png" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>According to the Dalai Lama’s autobiography, Mao Zedong, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), once characterized religion as “poison.” The modern CCP maintains <a href="http://www.cfr.org/china/religion-china/p16272#p2" target="_blank">official atheism</a> to this day, but that hasn’t stopped officials from claiming control over the intricacies of Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation.</p><p>Angered by <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-30510018" target="_blank">recent comments</a> by the 14th Dalai Lama, 79, that he might not have a successor, Chinese officials have lashed out at the exiled spiritual leader and reasserted long-standing policies that grant them control over the recognition of reincarnate lamas.</p><p>“It's none of their business,” Tenzin Dolkar, executive director of the New York–based Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement to Tricycle. “The Chinese government needs first and foremost to prioritize addressing the grievances of the Tibetan people which have led to at least 137 self-immolations in Tibet, end its repressive policies, respect the rights of the Tibetan people, and end its illegal colonial occupation of Tibet.”</p><p>The overwhelming majority of last words or written statements by Tibetans who have self-immolated since 2009 have called for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet or included wishes for his long life. But the current Dalai Lama’s popularity inside Tibet has not kept CCP officials from taking a hardline position on the man they consider to be a dangerous separatist.</p><p>That hard line extends into the afterlife.</p><p>“Whether we're talking about the Dalai Lama's reincarnation or the continuation of his lineage, accepting or rejecting it is in the hands of the Chinese government—not other people, and certainly not the Dalai Lama himself,” Zhu Weiqun, who heads the Chinese government committee that handles ethnic and political affairs, <a href="http://live.people.com.cn/note.php?id=1077150302125559_ctdzb_034" target="_blank">told reporters</a> earlier this month.</p><p>Zhu went on to accuse the Dalai Lama of adjusting his public statements about his future reincarnation based on donations and of using his religious title as “a lever, a tool of separatist doctrine.” Padma Choling, the appointed governor of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, made <a href="http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/10/uk-china-tibet-india-idUKKBN0M61BC20150310" target="_blank">similar comments</a> a day earlier.</p><p>Those comments came on the heels of separate interviews by the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-30510018" target="_blank">BBC</a> and <a href="http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article132019000/In-meinen-Traeumen-werde-ich-113-Jahre-alt.html" target="_blank"><i>Die Welt</i></a> late last year in which <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/end-dalai-lama" target="_blank">the Dalai Lama commented that it might be best to end the institution</a>, which began with Gedun Drup in the 15th century, while it is still in good repute.</p><p>“This man-made institution will cease. There’s no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama [won’t] come along that disgraces himself or herself. That’s very sad. So [it’s] much better that the centuries-old tradition cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama,” he told the BBC, before breaking into laughter.</p><p>The aging leader also made some serious points, telling <i>Die Welt</i> that since he devolved his political authority to an elected government in 2011, the institution of the Dalai Lama may have “had its day.” In the end, he told the BBC, the institution’s future will be up to the Tibetan people.</p><p>Yet China has long claimed authority over the reincarnation process. In the 18th century, the Qing Emperor imposed a system for confirming Tibetan reincarnations by lottery, which was then only used a handful of times. In 1995, however, Chinese officials revived the system to install their own candidate as the <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/reviews/search-panchen-lama" target="_blank">11th Panchen Lama</a>, detaining a young boy whom the Dalai Lama had recognized. His whereabouts remain unknown.</p><p>Reincarnation has reemerged as a political issue with the approach of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday next July and his recent comments about his successor.</p><p>“Zhu Weiqun's comments represent the strong opinions of the majority of upper-level Party officials,” Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer and journalist who lives in Beijing, told <i>Tricycle</i> in an online message. “They have the brutality of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard, and the Kuomintang behind them—domineering, dumb attitudes. So, it's futile to consider the issue of Tibet or whether His Holiness the Dalai Lama will or will not return to Tibet under such power grabbers. . . . This proves once again that the CCP lacks sincerity and has no plans whatsoever to work with the Tibetan people to address what they're hoping for with regard to the Tibet issue.”</p><p>The matter of whether or not it is possible to negotiate with the Chinese government in good faith is controversial within the Tibetan community, with some arguing for the necessity of nonviolent protests to pressure the Chinese government into negotiations and others arguing for an exclusively diplomatic approach.</p><p>Recent comments by Zhu, Padma Choling, and other Chinese officials are likely to aggravate that disagreement, which is tied up in larger questions of whether Tibetans should seek full independence or simply greater autonomy within China. The Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration adopted a policy of seeking autonomy rather than independence around 1974.</p><p>“The Chinese leadership are pragmatic,” said Kaydor Aukatsang, the Dalai Lama’s representative to the Americas. “They know they will never find someone more moderate or easier to deal with than the current Dalai Lama. . . . So while His Holiness is still healthy and active, the Chinese government should seriously reevaluate their positions and seriously consider reaching out to His Holiness.”<br><br><b>Joshua Eaton</b> is an independent journalist who covers religion and society, human rights, and national security. <b>Shan Wang</b> contributed translations from Chinese.</p><p><em>Kris Krüg/Flickr</em></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/end-dalai-lama"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/moreattrikeeaton1.jpg" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: THE END OF THE DALAI LAMA?</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/end-dalai-lama" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/stephen-colbert-15th-dalai-lama"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/moreattrikeeaton2.jpg" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: STEPHEN COLBERT: THE 15TH DALAI LAMA?</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/stephen-colbert-15th-dalai-lama" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 12:08:22 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Breathe Easy http://www.tricycle.com/blog/breathe-easy <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/BreathPic.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Sym-red-1.png" width="148" height="157" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></a>When I first started practicing meditation, my teacher taught me that the breath—ever-present and unconditional—is the link between body and mind. When we place our full attention on the breath, we pull ourselves out of the past, away from the future, and directly into the present moment. Or at least that’s how the common instruction goes. But using the breath to enter the proverbial here-and-now is easier said than done.</p><p>The first few times I sat to meditate, I tried to focus on the steady rise and fall of the chest and the sensation of the air passing in and out through the nostrils. When my mind wandered away, I noted the distraction and returned my attention back to the breath. It didn’t take long for me to notice that my inhalations felt short and shallow, like I wasn’t taking in very much air. I also experienced tightness and congestion in my chest and throat. These sensations weren’t surprising—my breathing had been fraught since I was a kid. Growing up, I often experienced scary bouts of shortness of breath and wheezing. I managed these breathing issues by distracting myself and avoiding the activities that aggravated them. As I got older, I hoped they would go away on their own.</p><p>Alas, as I progressed with my meditation practice, the distressed breathing remained right there to greet me. Coming face-to-face with my breathing did not bring me into the coveted present moment; it dredged up memories of coughing during soccer practice and waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air. I began to lose faith in my ability to meditate. With my breath causing so much anxiety, how could I ever use it to deepen my practice?</p><p>Around this time I began to study <i>pranayama</i>, a yogic discipline that offers many different techniques for steadying and controlling the breath. I discovered two very useful practices to prepare for meditation. These techniques are especially helpful for those who feel anxious or feel tightness in their chests and air passages. Both practices can bring equanimity to the breath and a sensation of expansiveness to the chest, preparing one to sit in a steady and composed manner.<br><br><strong>Stabilize the Breath with Equal-Part Breathing</strong></p><p>Prolonged anxiety and stress can cause irregular breathing patterns like sighing, yawning, and huffing. As these disruptive habits find their way into our meditation practice, we may discover it very difficult to steady the mind. To reestablish balanced breathing prior to meditation, try the following modified practice of <i>sama vrtti</i>, or equal-part breathing.</p><p>In <i>sama vrtti,</i> we produce inhalations that last the same duration as exhalations. To begin, sit up very tall in order to lengthen your torso as much as possible. Take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale, also entirely through the nose. Then start to inhale through the nose as you count up to four, stretching your inhalation all the way to the end of the count at a pace that feels comfortable to you. As you exhale through the nose, count to four again at the same pace, stretching your exhalation all the way to the end. Repeat this cycle several times or for as long as you need until you begin to feel the breath evening out.<br><br><strong>Create Space with a Three-Part Breath</strong></p><p>I’ve found that the practice of <i>viloma</i>, sometimes described as a three-part breath, can alleviate sensations of restriction in the chest and torso. In <i>viloma</i>, a practitioner alternately deepens and pauses her inhalation for short periods of time, which encourages the chest and rib cage to gradually expand.</p><p>To begin, either sit very upright or recline on your back. Take a few deep, even, and steady breaths. Then slowly inhale over a count of three, drawing in your breath so much that the lower abdomen expands. After the third count, hold the breath for two counts. Then, inhale into the lungs and lower chest for another three counts, feeling the rib cage expand outward. Hold the breath for another two counts. Now, inhale for another three counts, filling the very upper region of the chest just below the collarbone. Hold the breath for five counts. Then, over a ten-count exhalation, slowly and evenly release the breath through the nose. Repeat this cycle several more times, continuing at a pace that feels comfortable to you.</p><p>After many cycles of this practice, the breath gets deeper and the chest feels more open. That sensation of spaciousness in the body produces a similar effect on the mind: thoughts will seem less congested and tangled than they did prior to the exercise.<br><br>When we’re trying to meditate, the breath—especially if it’s labored or irregular—can feel like yet another hurdle to clear. After much practice, I’ve learned that difficulty in breathing isn’t reason to move away from the practice or to give up. It is, rather, the best opportunity to become more intimate with the breath. It’s also a reminder for us to take the time we need to prepare the body for meditation. By doing so, we invite the breath to become our closest ally—one we can rely on to inform us about and eventually lead us back to the spaciousness right here and now.<br><br><strong>Lauren Krauze&nbsp;</strong>is a yoga teacher living in New York City.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Gallerystock</em></p><p></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/not-playing.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: NOT PLAYING NICE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:07:47 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Guided Meditation—Week 4 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-4 <p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><br>Ven. Pannavati has led weekly guided meditations each Monday in March for <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank">Meditation Month</a>. Check the <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog" target="_blank">blog</a> for the previous installments in this series.&nbsp;<br><br><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/PDFFinalPannavatiWeek4Tran.pdf" target="_blank">Download the transcript of this retreat</a>. It has been edited for clarity.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-style: italic; text-align: center;">Ven. Pannavati will respond to reader questions posted below.</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><br><br><br></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/122571518?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><p></p><p></p><p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Venerable Pannavati</strong>, a former Christian pastor, is cofounder and co-abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, North Carolina.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/GIVINGBACK-panawati%20portrait%202%20Alpha.jpg" width="1" height="1"></p></center><p></p><p></p><p></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/med-month.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MARCH IS MEDITATION MONTH! </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/leaf_0.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Hung Jury http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/ExecutionImage.png" width="570" height="858" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">The Dalai Lama had just finished speaking at an event on the Capitoline Hill in Rome when I sought him out and asked him to be one of the first signatories of the Community of Sant'Egidio's Appeal for a Moratorium on the Death Penalty. He accepted immediately and signed in earth-green ink, which came as no surprise. Who more than the Dalai Lama is identified around the world with the need to respect life?&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Indeed, all schools of Buddhism emphasize respect for life in all its forms. Though the Buddha did not specifically address capital punishment in his teachings, he encouraged his adherents not to do anything that could harm others, saying, "An action, even if it brings benefit to oneself, cannot be considered a good action if it causes physical and mental pain to another being."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The respect for life that permeates Buddhism is inextricably connected to the principle of samsara, the infinitely repeating cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth. Buddhists believe that samsara is the world's nervous system, and when the death penalty is applied, both the person whose life is taken and the person who takes that life are negatively affected. It follows that trying to gain recompense for evil and even for violent death by inflicting more death simply causes a greater imbalance; only rehabilitation can restore balance and harmony in this world and the world of the spirit.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But, of course, the devil is in the details: in many countries where Buddhism is influential, such as Thailand and Japan, the death penalty is still thriving in spirit and in practice.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">What accounts for this contradiction? One explanation may be that there is a wide disparity between the practices of Buddhist monastic orders and lay Buddhist followers, as in any religion. In their article "Mercy and Punishment: Buddhism and the Death Penalty," crimonlogy professors Leanne Fiftal Alarid and Hsiao-Ming Wang argue that while "the death penalty is inconsistent with Buddhist teachings," historical reality is more complicated:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">Buddhist doctrines hold nonviolence and compassion for all life in high regard. The first precept of Buddhism requires individuals to abstain from injuring or killing all living creatures and Buddha's teaching restricts Buddhist monks from any political involvement. Using historical documents and interviews with contemporary authorities on Buddhist doctrine, our research uncovered a long history of political involvement by Buddhist monks and Buddhist support of violence.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p2">The website <a href="http://www.procon.org/" target="_blank">ProCon.org</a> gathers opinions from different cultures and religions on capital punishment. In the case of Buddhism, one voice on the "pro" side is that of Tomoko Sasaki, a former member of the Japanese Diet. Writing in a <i>Washington Post </i>article titled "Why Japan Still Has the Death Penalty," he evokes "retribution" to justify his opinion: "A basic teaching [in Japanese Buddhism] is retribution. If someone evil does something bad, he has to atone with his own life."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Sasaki assumes that capital punishment restores balance in karmic terms. But in reality, the death penalty creates a double negative: one life is lost, and then another follows. Capital punishment, seen in this way, is a violent disruption to the possibility of balancing different karmas and improving the world by favoring mercy and life. The flow and intercommunication of the reproductive karma, the supportive karma, the obstructive karma, and the destructive karma are dealt great blows by every death sentence.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">When the Dalai Lama subscribed to the appeal I submitted on behalf of the community of Sant'Egidio, he also submitted this message, read at an event organized by the Peace Center on April 9, 1999:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">The death penalty fulfills a preventive function, but it is also very clearly a form of revenge. It is an especially severe form of punishment because it is so final. The human life is ended and the executed person is deprived of the opportunity to change, to restore the harm done or compensate for it. Before advocating execution we should consider whether criminals are intrinsically negative and harmful people . . . The answer, I believe, is definitely not. However horrible the act they have committed, I believe that everyone has the potential to improve and correct themselves. Therefore, I am optimistic that it remains possible to deter criminal activity, and prevent such harmful consequences of such acts in society, without having to resort to the death penalty.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p><br><strong>Mario Marazziti&nbsp;</strong>is the cofounder of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. He lives in Rome, Italy.&nbsp;</p><p></p><p class="p1">Excerpted from <em>13 Ways of Looking at the&nbsp;Death&nbsp;Penalty</em>&nbsp;(Seven Stories Press, 2015)</p><p class="p1"><em>Image: Gallerystock</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/mummified-monk-found-inside-ancient-statue"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/mummy.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MUMMIFIED MONK FOUND INSIDE ANCIENT STATUE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/mummified-monk-found-inside-ancient-statue" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/leaf_0.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Sat, 21 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World May All Beings Be Happy http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/rippleswater.png" width="570" height="570" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p2"><i><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_self"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></a>Metta</i> (lovingkindness) is that sense of openness when we feel connected to everyone and everything in the world. In some ways, it's a natural outgrowth of mindfulness practice and just the general cultivation of happiness in our lives. When the Buddha talks about lovingkindness, he's clearly pointing to something different from what we usually call "love." In fact, his teachings point to the problems with selective love, and how that leads to clinging and ultimately suffering as things change. The <i>Metta Sutta</i> tells us to spread love over the entire world to everyone, no matter what we think or feel about them. This is unconditional love, love that doesn't expect or need a return, love that sees past the petty differences and disputes in life to the universal longings for happiness that we all share. In practicing lovingkindness, we are faced with our clinging, our judgments, and our selective caring. We see that what we usually call love may have a lot of conditions tied up with it: "I'll love you as long as you love me" or " as long as you give me what I want." And, further, we see that the love we have for our dear ones makes us vulnerable to grief and loss.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Traditionally, metta practice focuses on three categories: those we love, those we are neutral or have no strong feelings about, and those we have difficulties with. Before we work with these categories, the practice suggests we first focus on a benefactor or beloved person (or even a pet). When we spend time sending lovingkindness to this beloved, we accomplish a couple of things: first, we soften ourselves up a bit, so that we are ready to send love to others; and second, we get a clear sense of what love feels like so that we establish that kind of baseline.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">After connecting with the beloved, we then try to send love to ourselves. Many people find this to be one of the most difficult aspects of the metta practice. At least in our culture, many of us have complicated, and often negative, feelings about ourselves. To see ourselves as just another person deserving love is a valuable exercise. Here we start to disidentify with ourselves, see ourselves in more objective terms. When we can see ourselves as just another imperfect human, equally deserving of love as anyone else, it becomes easier to offer love to ourselves.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Moving from focus on ourselves to focus on all the rest of the people we care about—family, friends, intimates, and partner—the heart tends to open more easily. Now we might feel ourselves getting into the flow of lovingkindness. Without obstruction, and using the phrases, feelings, and visualizations of the practice, the mind can become quite focused and concentrated, so that, not only do we enjoy the pleasant feeling of love, but also the powerful feeling of concentration, called <i>samadhi</i>, that comes with deeper meditation practices.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">We then try to carry these two qualities, the openheartedness and the focus, into giving metta to a neutral person or persons. For many people, this seems to be an awkward practice at first, but I think it has great potential in terms of growing a broad sense of lovingkindness for all beings.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">A neutral person is someone we don't have strong feelings about, either positive or negative. I've used people like the clerk in the video store and the security guard at the bank. These are people I can visualize pretty easily because I've seen them many times, but I certainly don't like or dislike them in any meaningful way.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">At first, and naturally enough, it might be hard to feel much about these people, but the practice gives us a form we can simply follow without worrying about the results. You see the person in your mind, you say the lovingkindness phrases to yourself, and you try to connect in your heart. What helps me in doing this practice is contemplating the universal desire for happiness and freedom from suffering. Even though I don't really know this neutral person, I know that, just like me, they want happiness. So, in a sense, I'm connecting with my own wish for happiness and just projecting it onto them.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">As we work with the neutral person, we have the opportunity to see what the Buddha was getting at. It might be easy to wish happiness for your loved ones, but as you wish that, it's still very personal for you. You have some investment in their happiness, so it's difficult to disidentify with their happiness. However, with the neutral person, you have no investment, so you have to connect with something else, this universal longing that is impersonal. That moves you away from your self-identification into a more authentic metta. As long as there is identification or longing or investment in someone else's happiness, we aren't experiencing unconditional love.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">I think that many people can get caught up in the idea that metta is about feeling good and praying for people you care about. This is something of a distortion of the teachings. Yes, being immersed in metta is a pleasant experience, but that experience isn't the goal of the practice.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Working with the difficult person makes this fact clear. If we were just trying to feel good, we certainly wouldn't spend time thinking about someone we don't like. The difficult person can be someone you've had conflict with or toward whom you have a resentment. Sometimes when no one in my life comes up, I just use a political figure that I disagree with. In any case, this is a place where we have to apply a strong mindfulness to our practice so that we don't lapse into aversion, anger, judgment, or resentment. As we follow through on the practice, visualizing the person and saying the phrases, it's very likely that we will not feel much that's positive, at least in our initial efforts. We need to be careful that the mind doesn't wander into negative thoughts and that we just keep with the simple task of the practice, staying with the words and the breath in the heart. Here, you may be able to get some insight into the limits of your own capacity for love. That's a valuable thing to see. It can give us some goals as well as show us where some of our own suffering comes from.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Clearly, the great spiritual masters believe that the capacity to love our enemies is one of the vital tasks of human evolution. Jesus spoke of this and exemplified it when he forgave those who crucified him; the Buddha explains this in the "Simile of the Saw," in which he says that even if someone were sawing off our limbs one by one, no thought of hatred should arise. If we want to be truly loving people, unconditionally and for all beings, we have to work with some form of this practice. It's certainly not something that I've come anywhere close to mastering, but I have found that with compassion practice, I can get some sense of this.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">After working with the difficult person, we can move to the expansive part of metta practice. This is actually a complete shift because no longer are we thinking about any individuals, but working instead with a sense of space. This space is what the Buddha is talking about in the <i>Metta Sutta</i> when he says that we are "radiating kindness over the entire world, spreading [it] upwards to the skies and downwards to the depths, outwards and unbounded, free from hatred and ill will."&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">This is a somewhat more difficult area of practice to describe because it doesn't have the same cognitive elements of the earlier pieces. Instead, we are working more with a feeling, a feeling of expansiveness and connection. Hopefully when we arrive at this part of the practice, we've developed something of an internal sense of lovingkindness. While focusing on that feeling, that authentic wish for all beings to be free from <i>dukkha</i>, or suffering, we being a process of imaginative expansion. We can use a visualization if that works, while we stay connected to the feeling in the heart and imagine that the love is growing.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">First we see/feel that love filling and enveloping the room we are in. Then we let that feeling expand out through the whole building, the neighborhood, outward in all directions until it touches everything on earth. This can be done slowly or quickly, depending upon how much time you have and how into it you are. You can think of specific groups of people you want to send love to: the sick and dying, the oppressed, or whatever comes up for you. You can also send love to animals, plants, and the earth itself.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">At this point, you may lose the sense of boundaries with your body, and experience a sort of floating or fluid sensation. I'm not trying to tell you how you should feel—just know that anything in this realm is normal and helps to support this part of the practice. When we've spread lovingkindness over the entire planet, we then expand into space, vast and limitless. We try to permeate the universe with lovingkindness.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Once we've sat in this place of boundless love for a little while, we can bring ourselves gradually back into the body and heart, and close the period of meditation.<br><br><b>Practice—Metta Phrases</b></p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">I've more or less outlined the practice above. Always start by connecting with the breath, so you have some attention in your body, preferably at the heart. As I've said, we first send metta to a beloved person or benefactor, then ourselves, our dear ones, a netural person, a difficult person, then radiating to all beings. A big part of this, then, is the felt sense of lovingkindness; however, this feeling may be stronger, weaker, or even absent at times. Nonetheless, we continue the practice by visualizing the people we are sending metta to, maybe naming them, and repeating phrases. You should use phrases that resonate for you and are simple and direct. Not more than four phrases. Here are some typical ones:</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">May you be happy</p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">May you be peaceful</p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">May you live with ease.</p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">Some people like to add something like, "May you be safe."&nbsp;</p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p2">Stay in touch with your breath; notice feelings of happiness or resistance that come up at various stages; let the phrases flow with the breath and stay connected to the heart.<br><br><strong>Kevin Griffin</strong> is the cofounder of the <a href="http://www.buddhistrecovery.org/">Buddhist Recovery Network</a>. He lives in Berkeley, California.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Adapted from <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Recovering-Joy-Mindful-After-Addiction/dp/1622034295/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426882503&sr=8-1&keywords=recovering+joy+kevin+griffin" target="_blank"><i>Recovering Joy: A Mindful Life After Addiction</i></a> by Kevin Griffin. Copyright © 2015 by Kevin Griffin. To be published by Sounds True in June, 2015.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><em>Image: Minette Layne/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode">Flickr</a></em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/not-playing.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: NOT PLAYING NICE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Fri, 20 Mar 2015 17:45:43 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Not Playing Nice http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/MyanmarParliament.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><i>Myanmar's parliament building</i></p><p class="p1">It’s election year in Myanmar, the big test for the country’s aspiring democratic transition. Among the spirited national debates there are four controversial pieces of legislation currently under consideration in Myanmar’s Assembly of the Union parliament (the <i>Pyidaungsu hluttaw</i>). These reportedly aim to protect race and religion. But in truth, the bills represent a setback for religious freedom and women’s rights and—if adopted—are likely to deepen existing religious divides, threaten the reform agenda, and stir violence prior to the elections.</p><p class="p1"><a href="http://www.eastwestcenter.org/sites/default/files/private/ps071.pdf" target="_blank">A rising Buddhist nationalist movement</a> has lobbied for the bills, in particular the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion (known in Myanmar under the Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha), a group related but not identical to the infamous 969 movement. The organization has collected more than a million signatures in support of the laws meant to protect Buddhism against a perceived threat from Islam.</p><p class="p1">Since 2012, Myanmar has been marred by <a href="http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-east-asia/burma-myanmar/251-the-dark-side-of-transition-violence-against-muslims-in-myanmar.pdf" target="_blank">ethno-religious violence</a>, particularly against the Muslim Rohingya population in Rakhine state but also against Muslim communities in other parts of Myanmar. More than a hundred thousand people have fled their homes, hundreds have been killed, and thousands of Muslim owned houses and businesses have been torched and destroyed. The proposed Ma Ba Tha laws must be viewed in light of this violence.</p><p class="p1">Anti-Muslim sentiments are not new to Myanmar. Since colonial times, when Myanmar saw massive immigration from India, there have been numerous attacks on Hindu and Muslim communities, and Buddhist nationalism has been able to equate itself with national identity.</p><p class="p1">The danger today is that Buddhist nationalist agitation appears at a time when political interests wish to exploit anti-Muslim sentiments for political gain. Emphasis on religious cleavages during the election year may take the focus away from the democratic deficit within Myanmar’s constitution and the armed forces (the <i>Tatmadaw</i>), and instead <a href="http://file.prio.no/Publication_files/Prio/NilsenandTonnesson(2014)High-Risk-of-Electoral-Violence-in-Myanmar-PRIO-Policy-Brief-6-2014.pdf" target="_blank">serve the interests of undemocratic forces</a>.</p><p class="p1">The proposed legislative package <a href="http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/Horsey-2015-02-New_Religious_Legislation_in_Myanmar-en.pdf" target="_blank">consists of four bills</a>: a Buddhist women’s marriage bill; a religious conversion bill; a population control bill; and a monogamy bill. These Ma Ba Tha laws have received much criticism from rights groups and women’s organizations in Myanmar and abroad. 180 Myanmar <a href="https://www.dvb.no/news/womens-groups-slam-race-protection-human-rights-burma-myanmar/47847" target="_blank">civil society groups have voiced their opposition</a> to the bills in a signed statement to the parliament.</p><p class="p1">The marriage bill is particularly criticized for its disempowerment of Buddhist women. While it purports to protect them, it stands out as a paternalistic attempt to control them. It states that a Buddhist woman must seek the permission of her parents or a legal guardian to marry a man of a different faith. The township authorities must also approve the marriage after it has been publically announced for two weeks, allowing for objections to the interfaith marriage.</p><p class="p1">Also problematic from a human rights point of view is the conversion bill, which forbids conversion to another religion for people under the age of 18. Even an adult convert must apply for permission from the authorities, who will then interview the convert several times over a few months to check if the person in question is familiar with and genuinely believes in the religion being converted to, before any conversion can take place.</p><p class="p1">The <a href="https://www.dvb.no/news/upper-house-approves-population-control-bill-burma-myanmar/48491" target="_blank">population control bill</a>, already passed by the parliament’s upper house, will allow the implementation of strict population control measures among certain groups if they have considerably higher population growth than others. It is likely to be enforced largely among the already vulnerable Muslim Rohingya population in Rakhine State.</p><p class="p1">The monogamy bill is less controversial because the ban of formal polygamy, a practice accepted by Islamic jurisprudence, occurs widely elsewhere. But if implemented and actually applied to the entire population, the bill would potentially have a significant impact on Myanmar’s society, as it criminalizes living with a person other than one’s spouse.</p><p class="p1">The current Union parliament session in Myanmar is a busy one, and it is not certain that all four bills will manage to make their way through both houses in time for the end of the session in mid-March. The bills are nonetheless causing a deepening of Myanmar’s damaging religious conflicts at a fragile time of democratic transition. At worst, they will result in more anti-Muslim violence prior to the elections.</p><p class="p1">With these bills, Buddhist nationalist movements have managed to inject religious cleavages into Union-level politics and shift the focus away from issues like employment, education, health care, land rights, democratization, power-sharing and constitutional amendments. This will benefit the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party as well as the Tatmadaw, both of which lack credibility on these issues, while the National League of Democracy (NLD), which enjoys high credibility on the same issues, will suffer. In light of the widespread anti-Muslim sentiments among Bamar Buddhists in Myanmar, the NLD risks losing votes if its opponents are able to project the party as being ‘soft on Muslims.'</p><p class="p1">In the run up to the elections there is therefore a risk that powerful political actors will exploit this undercurrent of Buddhist nationalism and the distrust between religious and ethnic groups. At worst, they may seek to stir up violence for the purpose of winning swing votes. With this dangerous confluence of interests, the 2015 elections may well see renewed religious violence in Myanmar.<br><br><b>Marte Nilsen</b> is a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).</p><p class="p1"><em>A version of this essay has appeared on </em><a href="http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/03/12/buddhist-nationalism-threatens-myanmars-democratic-transition/" target="_blank">East Asia Forum</a><em>.&nbsp;</em></p><p class="p1"><em>Image: United Nations/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode" target="_blank">Flickr</a></em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/leaf_0.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Mon, 16 Mar 2015 11:16:36 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Guided Meditation—Week 3 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-3 <p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><br>Ven. Pannavati is leading weekly guided meditations for <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank">Meditation Month</a>. Check back every Monday in March for a new video teaching on the blog.<br><br><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Week3PannavatiTranscriptPDF.pdf" target="_blank">Download the transcript of this retreat</a>. It has been edited for clarity.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-style: italic; text-align: center;">Ven. Pannavati will respond to reader questions posted below.</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><br><br><br></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/122023638?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><p></p><p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Venerable Pannavati</strong>, a former Christian pastor, is cofounder and co-abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, North Carolina.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/GIVINGBACK-panawati%20portrait%202%20Alpha.jpg" width="1" height="1"></p></center><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/med-month.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MARCH IS MEDITATION MONTH! </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/leaf_0.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Mon, 16 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Calming the Not Now Mind http://www.tricycle.com/blog/calming-not-now-mind <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/trafficlights.jpg" width="570" height="285" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><i>I'll just get a cup of tea first. Maybe sip it slowly, look out the window. Oh, better check my email too. . .</i></p><p></p><p>Some mornings, the part of my mind that would rather meditate <i>any time but now</i> seems to wake up five minutes before the rest of me does. By the time my alarm rings and my eyes crack open, it is as if Not Now Mind were already sitting on the edge of the bed, drumming its fingertips, tapping its foot, and batting its eyelashes at me. <i></i></p><p>Not Now Mind typically takes the approach of inciting anxiety—bringing to mind the to do list of items left unfinished, the stack of emails left unanswered, and the calendar that looks like a losing game of Tetris. It makes the argument that I simply don’t have time to meditate, that I must launch immediately into my day in order not to waste a potentially productive second just sitting there.</p><p>Every now and again, maybe for variety, Not Now Mind simply coos me back to sleep, pointing out how tired I am, how hard I work, and how much more valuable an extra half hour of sleep would be than a half hour of meditation.</p><p>Whatever its tactic, if I take Not Now Mind’s bait—whipping the covers off and heading to the computer without so much as a glance at my cushion, dozing off till the last minute, or meandering through my morning, dancing around the meditation seat but somehow never getting on it—I miss my practice.</p><p>When we’re having trouble cultivating or sustaining a meditation practice, we often cite busyness or laziness as the main obstacles to our goal of regular sessions. So we make new rules, give ourselves ultimatums, and promise to keep our nose to the grindstone and really make it happen this time. We bribe ourselves by buying a new meditation bench, a new timer, a new book to inspire us and make the practice more attractive. But too often, it’s only a few days or weeks before we’re back to meditating. . . <i>later</i>. Tonight. Tomorrow. (We swear.)</p><p>The problem is that for many of us, Not Now Mind is not primarily an issue of logistics or time management. It’s an issue of <i>attitude</i>. And while it can masquerade as sloth or restlessness, my experience working with my own mind as well as others’ reveals perfectionism, driven by fear and doubt, to play a much larger role in resistance to sitting.</p><p>The world of Western Buddhism is rife with perfectionists. Who else would be drawn to a practice with a stated aim of complete emancipation from suffering? At work or at school, our perfectionism may have received a lifetime of validation. But when we come home to our practice, we often find that the qualities of impatience, overexerting, and dissatisfaction, which seem to give us superpowers in daily life, become major hindrances in meditation. Not being able to meditate perfectly, or unable to discern any immediate tangible gain, we’d rather not do it at all. Or put it off for. . . <i>later.</i></p><p>Below are some reflections for calming the Not Now Mind, and the cycle of perfectionism and procrastination that feeds it. Rather than trying to whip our minds into shape, which only seems to make the stakes higher and the practice less approachable, cultivate attitudes that pacify. These are not exactly tips—more like reminders of what we already know deep down to be true.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>1) Show up.&nbsp;</strong></p><p>We all know about setting manageable goals to set ourselves up for success. But when it comes to spiritual practice, we may be setting standards that no human could possibly maintain, then pointing to our failure to maintain them as evidence of our own inadequacy. This is just mean. Please don’t do it to yourself.</p><p>Create a routine that supports your life and which your life has a little space for right now, just as it is. Perhaps you can get up a little earlier for a morning practice to set your day off right or suspend cocktail hour to make room for an after work session, a speed bump to shift gears for the evening. Or maybe it’s before bedtime that you are able to carve out a few moments to pause and sit before easing into sleep. Decide how much time you’re able to set aside and put it in your calendar. Treat it as an appointment with a cherished friend: your own heart and mind.</p><p>Not Now Mind will likely tell you that your plan isn’t good enough, and suggest that you wait until you can meditate for a full hour, in full lotus, in complete silence, after an hour long yoga practice. Just remind it that the best time to meditate, the best place, the best length of practice is the one that you actually do. Showing up for the practice today, however long or short, is enough.<span style="text-decoration: underline;"></span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>2) Relax.&nbsp;</strong></p><p>Meditation teachers often use the analogy of meditation as making friends with your mind, and for good reason. If our practice feels like hanging out with a hopeless case we are charged with fixing but fear we cannot, sitting is no fun at all. We will miss our appointment again and again.</p><p>From the perspective of Not Now Mind, meditation practice takes a huge amount of energy and skill, and it only “counts” if we do it perfectly. If we can’t do it right, why waste our time? Better to wait till we find a new teacher, learn a new meditation technique, or go on a ten-day silent retreat. Having perfected the practice or gained clandestine knowledge, we’ll finally be able to meditate the right way.</p><p>As it turns out, Not Now Mind has a bit of a point here. We can’t really do meditation totally “right”—there isn’t, after all, any outside authority that can go into our minds and assure us that we are on track. The good news, however, is that we can’t really do meditation <i>wrong</i> either. As long as we show up with the genuine intention to work compassionately with our minds and hearts, we can relax and know that in some sense we are already golden.</p><p>Sit in a way that is easy to maintain. Take the attitude that there is nothing in your experience that you need to control or fix, and you’ll be available to experience the perfection that is always there, the truth that everything you need to awaken is with you right now.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>3) It’s not about you.</strong></p><p>Very few of us start meditating because we want to become championship mindfulness professionals. We start meditating because we want to show up for our lives in a more meaningful way, with less stress and more ease. We understand that in doing so, we are generating a great deal of courage, vulnerability, patience, determination, and love, and we have confidence that we are of benefit to this world when we help bring more of these qualities into it.</p><p>When Not Now Mind shows up, it’s easy to forget that our meditation practice was never intended to be a tool for judging our individual worth or for comparing ourselves to the person we think we should be. Meditation practice seems to work best when we make it less about evaluating our personal progress and more about revealing our inherent human capacity to connect with others in a meaningful way.</p><p>When we find that we are resisting sitting in meditation, it can be motivating to set an intention for practice that includes our desire to show up with care for ourselves and also our friends, family, and loved ones—even people we don’t know. We may choose to dedicate the fruits of our practice to a person or group of people in need of comfort and peace. If we work well with accountability, arranging to text with a friend before sitting or signing up for an online meditation community can help remind us that when we support others we often feel supported right back.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Even for experienced practitioners, Not Now Mind still comes up from time to time. When it does, if we have been mindful of the sensations or thoughts that signal its presence, then we can see it clearly for what it really is: a set of strategies our minds have devised to protect us from suffering, but that actually cause us to suffer more. As we gain confidence in our practice by sitting the best we can, one day at a time, the arguments of Not Now Mind will be less and less compelling. They may come and go, but they won’t keep us from sitting.</p><p>If you’ve found difficulty beginning your meditation routine, or difficulty beginning again, don’t worry. Getting distant from the practice is in some ways a part of it. Don’t let perfectionism drive you to procrastination. The best time to get close again is right now.<br><br><b>Kate Johnson</b> is happiest when working at the intersections of spirituality, social justice, and creative practice.&nbsp;She lives in Brooklyn, NY.</p><p><i>Flickr/Frédéric Poirot</i></p> Thu, 12 Mar 2015 16:00:54 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Myth of Religious Violence http://www.tricycle.com/blog/myth-religious-violence <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Armstrong_goat.jpg" width="570" height="378" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Every year in ancient Israel the high priest brought two goats into the Jerusalem temple on the Day of Atonement. He sacrificed one to expiate the sins of the community and then laid his hands on the other, transferring all the people's misdeeds onto its head, and sent the sin-laden animal out of the city, literally placing the blame elsewhere. In this way, Moses explained, “the goat will bear all their faults away with it into a desert place.” In his classic study of religion and violence, René Girard argued that the scapegoat ritual defused rivalries among groups within the community. In a similar way, I believe, modern society has made a scapegoat of faith.</p><p>In the West the idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted and seems self-evident. As one who speaks on religion, I constantly hear how cruel and aggressive it has been, a view that, eerily, is expressed in the same way almost every time: “Religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history.” I have heard this sentence recited like a mantra by American commentators and psychiatrists, London taxi drivers and Oxford academics. It is an odd remark. Obviously the two world wars were not fought on account of religion. When they discuss the reasons people go to war, military historians acknowledge that many interrelated social, material, and ideological factors are involved, one of the chief being competition for scarce resources. Experts on political violence or terrorism also insist that people commit atrocities for a complex range of reasons. Yet so indelible is the aggressive image of religious faith in our secular consciousness that we routinely load the violent sins of the 20th century onto the back of religion and drive it out into the political wilderness.</p><p>Even those who admit that religion has not been responsible for all the violence and warfare of the human race still take its essential belligerence for granted. They cite the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Wars of Religion of the 16th and 17th centuries. They also point to the recent spate of terrorism committed in the name of religion to prove that Islam is particularly aggressive. If I mention Buddhist nonviolence, they retort that Buddhism is a secular philosophy, not a religion. Here we come to the heart of the problem. Buddhism is certainly not a <i>religion</i> as this word has been understood in the West since the 17th and 18th centuries. But our modern Western conception of religion is idiosyncratic and eccentric. No other cultural tradition has anything like it, and even premodern European Christians would have found it reductive and alien. In fact, it complicates any attempt to pronounce on religion's propensity to violence.</p><p>In the West we see religion as a coherent system of obligatory beliefs, institutions, and rituals, centering on a supernatural God, whose practice is essentially private and hermetically sealed off from all secular activities. But words in other languages that we translate as "religion" almost invariably refer to something larger, vaguer, and more encompassing. The Arabic <i>din</i> signifies an entire way of life. The Sanskrit <i>dharma</i> is also "a 'total' concept, untranslatable, which covers law, justice, morals, and social life." The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: "No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English 'religion' or 'religious.'” The idea of religion as an essentially personal and systematic pursuit was entirely absent from classical Greece, Japan, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, China, and India. Nor does the Hebrew Bible have any abstract concept of religion; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to express what they meant by faith in a single word or even in a formula, since the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred.</p><p>The only faith tradition that does fit the modern Western notion of religion as something codified and private is Protestant Christianity, which, like religion in this sense of the word, is also a product of the early modern period. At this time Europeans and Americans had begun to separate religion and politics, because they assumed, not altogether accurately, that the theological squabbles of the Reformation had been entirely responsible for the Thirty Years' War. The conviction that religion must be rigorously excluded from political life has been called the charter myth of the sovereign nation-state. The philosophers and statesmen who pioneered this dogma believed that they were returning to a more satisfactory state of affairs that had existed before ambitious Catholic clerics had confused two utterly distinct realms. But in fact their secular ideology was as radical an innovation as the modern market economy that the West was concurrently devising. To non-Westerners, who had not been through this particular modernizing process, both these innovations would seem unnatural and even incomprehensible. The habit of separating religion and politics is now so routine in the West that it is difficult for us to appreciate how thoroughly the two co-inhered in the past. It was never simply a question of the state "using" religion; the two were indivisible. Dissociating them would have seemed like trying to extract the gin from a cocktail.</p><p>In the premodern world, religion permeated all aspects of life. A host of activities now considered mundane were experienced as deeply sacred: forest cleaning, hunting, football matches, dice games, astronomy, farming, state building, tugs-of-war, town planning, commerce, imbibing strong drink, and, most particularly, warfare. Ancient peoples would have found it impossible to see where "religion" ended and "politics" began. This was not because they were too stupid to understand the distinction but because they wanted to invest everything they did with ultimate value. We are meaning-seeking creatures and, unlike other animals, fall very easily into despair if we fail to make sense of our lives. We find the prospect of our inevitable extinction hard to bear. We are troubled by natural disasters and human cruelty and are acutely aware of our physical and psychological frailty. We find it astonishing that we are here at all and want to know why. We also have a great capacity for wonder. Ancient philosophies were entranced by the order of the cosmos; they marveled at the mysterious power that kept the heavenly bodies in their orbits and the seas within bounds and that ensured that the earth regularly came to life again after the dearth of winter, and they longed to participate in this richer and more permanent existence.</p><p>They expressed this yearning in terms of what is known as the perennial philosophy, so called because it was present, in some form, in most premodern cultures. Premodern folk felt themselves to be caught up in larger dimensions of being. Feeling ourselves connected in this way satisfies an essential craving. It touches us within, lifts us momentarily beyond ourselves, so that we seem to inhabit our humanity more fully than usual and feel in touch with the deeper currents of life. If we no longer find this experience in a church or temple, we seek it in art, a musical concert, sex, drugs—or warfare.</p><p>Our relationship to warfare is complex, possibly because it is a relatively recent human development. Hunter-gatherers could not afford the organized violence that we call war, because warfare requires large armies, sustained leadership, and economic resources that were far beyond their reach. But human life changed forever in about 9000 BCE, when pioneering farmers in the Levant learned to grow and store wild grain. They produced harvests that were able to support larger populations than ever before and eventually they grew more food than they needed.</p><p>As a result, the human population increased so dramatically that in some regions a return to hunter-gatherer life became impossible. Between about 8500 BCE and the first century of the Common Era—a remarkably short period given the four million years of our history—all around the world, quite independently, the great majority of humans made the transition to agrarian life. And with agriculture came civilization; and with civilization, organized warfare.</p><p>In our industrialized societies, we often look back to the agrarian age with nostalgia, imagining that people lived more wholesomely then, close to the land and in harmony with nature. Initially, however, agriculture was experienced as traumatic. These early settlements were vulnerable to wild swings in productivity that could wipe out the entire population, and their mythology describes the first farmers fighting a desperate battle against sterility, drought, and famine. For the first time, backbreaking drudgery became a fact of human life. These violent myths reflected the political realities of agrarian life.</p><p>By the beginning of the 9th millennium BCE, the settlement in the oasis of Jericho in the Jordan valley had a population of three thousand people, which would have been impossible before the advent of agriculture. Jericho was a fortified stronghold protected by a massive wall that must have consumed tens of thousands of hours of manpower to construct. In</p><p>this arid region, Jericho's ample food stores would have been a magnet for hungry nomads. Intensified agriculture, therefore, created conditions that that could endanger everyone in this wealthy colony and transform its arable land into fields of blood. Jericho was unusual, however—a portent of the future. Warfare would not become endemic in the region for another five thousand years, but it was already a possibility, and from the first, it seems, large-scale organized violence was linked not with religion but with organized theft.</p><p>Agriculture also introduced another type of aggression: an institutional or structural violence in which a society compels people to live in such wretchedness and subjection that they are unable to better their lot. Paleolithic communities had probably been egalitarian because hunter-gatherers could not support a privileged class that did not share the hardship and danger of the hunt. Because these small communities lived at near-subsistence level and produced no economic surplus, inequity of wealth was impossible. The tribe could survive only if everybody shared what food they had. Government by coercion was not feasible because all able-bodied males had exactly the same weapons and fighting skills. Anthropologists have noted that modern hunter-gatherer societies are classless, that their economy is "a sort of communism," and that people are honored for skills and qualities, such as generosity, kindness, and even-temperedness, that benefit the community as a whole. But in societies that produce more than they need, it is possible for a small group to exploit this surplus for its own enrichment, gain a monopoly on violence, and dominate the rest of the population.</p><p>This systemic violence would prevail in all agrarian civilizations. In the empires of the Middle East, China, India, and Europe, which were economically dependent on agriculture, a small elite, comprising not more than two percent of the population, with the help of a small band of retainers, systematically robbed the masses of the produce they had grown in order to support their aristocratic lifestyle. Yet, social historians argue, without this iniquitous arrangement, human beings would probably never have advanced beyond subsistence level, because it created a nobility with the leisure to develop the civilized arts and sciences that made progress possible. All premodern civilizations adopted this oppressive system; there seemed to be no alternative. This inevitably had implications for religion, which permeated all human activities, including state building and government. Indeed, premodern politics was inseparable from religion. And if a ruling elite adopted an ethical tradition, such as Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, the aristocratic clergy usually adapted their ideology so that it could support the structural violence of the state.<b></b></p><p>Established by force and maintained by military aggression, warfare was essential to the agrarian state. When land and the peasants who farmed it were the chief sources of wealth, territorial conquest was the only way such a kingdom could increase its revenues. Warfare was, therefore, indispensable to any premodern economy. The ruling class had to maintain its control of the peasant villages, defend its arable land against aggressors, conquer more land, and ruthlessly suppress any hint of insubordination. And once states grew and warfare had become a fact of human life, an even greater force—the military might of empire—often seemed the only way to keep the peace.</p><p>Military force was essential to the rise of states and ultimately empires, so much so that&nbsp; &nbsp;historians regard militarism as a mark of civilization. Without disciplined, obedient, and law-abiding armies, human society, it is claimed, would probably have remained at a primitive level or have degenerated into ceaselessly warring hordes. Like our individual inner conflict between violent and compassionate impulses, the incoherence between socially peaceful ends and violent means would remain unresolved. This is the dilemma of civilization itself. And into this tug-of-war religion would enter too. Since all premodern state ideology was inseparable from religion, warfare inevitably acquired a sacral element. Indeed, every major faith tradition has tracked that political entity in which it arose; none has become a "world religion" without the patronage of a militarily powerful empire, and, therefore, each would have to develop an imperial ideology. But to what degree did religion contribute to the violence of the states with which it was inextricably linked? How much blame for the history of human violence can we ascribe to religion itself?</p><p>The answer is not as simple as much of our popular discourse would suggest.</p><p>Until the modern period, every state ideology was religious. The kings of Europe who struggled to liberate themselves from papal control were not "secularists" but were revered as semidivine. Every successful empire has claimed that it had a divine mission; that its enemies were evil, misguided, or tyrannical; and that it would benefit humanity. And because these states and empires were all created and maintained by force, religion has been implicated in their violence. It was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that religion was ejected from political life in the West. When, therefore, people claim that religion has been responsible for more war, oppression, and suffering than any other human institution, one has to ask, "More than what?" Until the American and French Revolutions, there were no secular societies. So ingrained is our impulse to sanctify our political activities that no sooner had the French revolutionaries successfully marginalized the Catholic Church than they created a new national religion. In the United States, the first secular republic, the state has always had a religious aura, a manifest destiny, and a divinely sanctioned mission.</p><p>John Locke believed that the separation of church and state was the key to peace, but the nation-state has been far from war-averse. The problem lies not in the multifaceted activity that we call "religion" but in the violence embedded in our human nature and the nature of the state. As even the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka discovered, even if a ruler shrank from state aggression, it was impossible to disband the army.</p><p>When we fight, we need to distance ourselves from the adversary, and because religion was so central to the state, its rites and myths depicted its enemies as monsters of evil that threatened cosmic and political order. Yet casting off the mantle of religion did not bring an end to prejudice. A “scientific racism” developed in the modern period that drew on the old religious patterns of hatred and inspired the Armenian genocide and Hitler’s death camps. Secular nationalism, imposed so unceremoniously by the colonialists, failed to apply the concept of human rights to the indigenous peoples of the Americas or to African slaves. Secular nationalism would as well regularly merge with local religious traditions, where people had not yet abstracted “religion” from politics; as a result, these religious traditions were often distorted and developed an aggressive strain of religious nationalism.</p><p>Our world is dangerously polarized at a time when humanity is more closely interconnected—politically, economically, and electronically—than ever before. If we are to meet the challenge of our time and create a global society where all people can live together in peace and mutual respect, we need to assess our situation accurately. We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in the world. What the American scholar William T. Cavanaugh calls “the myth of religious violence" served Western people well at an early stage of their modernization, but in our global village we need a more nuanced view in order to understand our predicament fully.</p><p>To paraphrase a British commercial: "The weather does lots of different things—and so does religion." In religious history, the struggle for peace has been just as important as the holy war. Religious people have found all kinds of ingenious methods of curbing violence, and building respectful, life-enhancing communities. Because of the inherent violence of the states in which we live, the best that prophets and sages have been able to do is provide an alternative. The Buddhist sangha had no political power, but it became a vibrant presence in ancient India and even influenced emperors. Ashoka published the ideals of <i>ahimsa </i>[nonharming], tolerance, kindness, and respect in the extraordinary inscriptions he published throughout the empire. Confucians kept the ideal of humanity (<i>ren</i>) alive in the government of imperial China until the revolution. For centuries, the egalitarian code of the Shariah was a countercultural challenge to the Abbasid aristocracy; the caliphs acknowledged that it was God's law, even though they could not rule by it.</p><p>Other sages and mystics developed spiritual practices to help people control their aggression and develop a reverence for all human beings. They sought an equanimity that would make it impossible for one to see oneself as superior to anybody else, taught that every single person has sacred potential, and asserted that people should even love their enemies. Prophets and psalmists insisted that a city could not be holy if the ruling class did not care for the poor and dispossessed. Priests urged their compatriots to draw on the memory of their own past suffering to assuage the pain of others, instead of using it to justify harassment and persecution. They all insisted in one way or another that if people did not treat all others as they would wish to be treated themselves and develop concern for all, society was doomed. But as with Ashoka, who came up against the systemic militancy of the state, they could not radically change their societies; the most they could do was propose a different path to demonstrate kinder and more empathetic ways for people to live together.</p><p>In the West secularism is now a part of our identity. It has been beneficial—not least because an intimate association with government can badly compromise a faith tradition. But it has had its own violence. This is because secularism did not so much displace religion as create new religious enthusiasms. So ingrained is our desire for ultimate meaning that our secular institutions, most especially the nation-state, almost immediately acquired a religious aura, though they have been less adept than the ancient mythologies at helping people face up to the grimmer realities of human existence for which there are no easy answers. Yet secularism has by no means been the end of the story. In some societies attempting to find their way to modernity, it has succeeded only in damaging religion and wounding psyches of people unprepared to be wrenched from ways of living and understanding that had always supported them. Licking its wounds in the desert, the scapegoat, with its festering resentment, has rebounded on the city that drove it out.<br><br><b>Karen Armstrong </b>is a British author and scholar of comparative religion.</p><p><em>Excerpted from </em><a href="http://www.randomhouse.com/book/214544/fields-of-blood-by-karen-armstrong" target="_blank">Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence</a><em>, by Karen Armstrong. Copyright © 2014 by Karen Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.</em></p><p><em>Image: Gozooma</em></p> Tue, 10 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Guided Meditation—Week 2 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-2 <p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><br>Ven. Pannavati is leading weekly guided meditations for <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank">Meditation Month</a>. Check back every Monday in March for a new video teaching on the blog.<br><br><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Week2PannavatiTranscriptPDF.pdf" target="_blank">Download the transcript of this retreat</a>. It has been edited for clarity.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-style: italic; text-align: center;">Ven. Pannavati will respond to reader questions posted below.</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><br><br><br></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/121480619?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><p></p><p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Venerable Pannavati</strong>, a former Christian pastor, is cofounder and co-abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, North Carolina.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/GIVINGBACK-panawati%20portrait%202%20Alpha.jpg" width="1" height="1"></p></center> Mon, 09 Mar 2015 01:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World A Head in Front of a Body http://www.tricycle.com/blog/head-front-body <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/JillSatterfieldFinalImage2.png" width="570" height="784" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p>Everyone experiences occasional anxiety and some of us might be fraught with it. <i>Tricycle</i> readers especially are most likely no strangers to hearing or reading about mindfulness-based meditation practices that can soothe the feelings of anxiety. But as anyone who has experienced an anxiety attack will know, what’s almost as unpleasant as having one is hearing someone say “just breathe, relax” in the midst of it.</p><p>Although awareness <i>can</i> lessen the experience of anxiety while it is happening, learning to identify and focusing your attention on physical sensations that are involved in the slide toward the end of our mental or emotional rope is critical to avoid suddenly ending up there.</p><p>The body always gives warnings as to what is about to happen mentally and emotionally, and as you get to know your body’s sensations, you’ll begin to recognize which are signals of upcoming distress. These sensations can be anywhere and range in severity—you might feel, for instance, your shoulder lift, your gut tightening, your jaw tensing, or the holding of your breath. By getting to know how your body exhibits signs of tension, you can be pre-emptive by moving your awareness into the area of sensation and relaxing it before it has to make much more noise, becoming a raging thought or emotion that’s impossible to ignore.</p><p>To that end, here is a mindfulness of body practice for noticing previously unfelt physical warnings that can lead to a state of anxiety. If you do it on a regular basis, it can also help to soothe your nervous system in general.<br><br><strong>The</strong><b> Direct Experience Practice:</b></p><p>Take your meditation cushion or a folded stiff blanket(s) and lie down with it directly under your hips. If this causes any discomfort in your lower back, don’t lift the hips so high; use one less blanket or a thinner cushion. Your shoulders and head will be on the floor. Bring your arms down by your sides, palms facing the sky.</p><p>Allow yourself to melt into the blanket or cushion, bending your knees and letting your legs relax and knees drop towards each other. Draw your attention kindly to sensations in your body. Watch them as if they were curiosities that you’d like to become more familiar with. If you&nbsp; notice an unwinding of tension, pay attention to any places that started out as tight; most likely these are the areas of your body that will tense before the onset of anxiety and give you warnings about what is to come. Stay with your mind awake and body relaxed for 10 minutes or more. When you’re ready to come off the support, lift your hips, push the cushion to the side and roll down to your back. As you lie flat for a moment, notice changes in how your body and your breath feels—discern as much as you can about how the posture altered your body, breath, and mood so that you know the benefits it might hold for <i>you </i>and why you might wish to repeat it.</p><p>When you stand up, continue noticing whatever you can that has changed from when you began the practice: do your feet feel like they have more weight or do you feel them on the ground more? Is your breath more relaxed? How is your mood now?</p><p>You can go through this mindfulness of body practice daily, for longer than 10 minutes if you’d like, and even before bed. Like any conditioning, eventually it will alter your system, changing what has become a normal state of high alert to one of being more at ease, as well as allow you to become much more familiar with the territory of your body. Knowing the body can be key to working with the mind, and with intention and kind attention, the body can become one of our greatest allies in alleviating our own suffering.<br><br><b>Jill Satterfield&nbsp;</b>is the founder of <a href="http://www.vajrayoga.com" target="_blank">Vajra Yoga + Meditation</a>, which integrates Buddhist meditation and philosophy into the practice of (hatha) yoga.</p><p><em>Image: Jahse</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p> Mon, 02 Mar 2015 15:57:49 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Guided Meditation—Week 1 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-1 <p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><br>Ven. Pannavati is leading weekly guided meditations for <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank">Meditation Month</a>. Check back every Monday in March for a new video teaching on the blog.<br><br><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/PannavatiWeek1PDF.pdf" target="_blank">Download the transcript of this retreat</a>. It has been edited for clarity.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-style: italic; text-align: center;">Ven. Pannavati will respond to reader questions posted below.</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><br><br><br></p><center><iframe src="http://www.tricycle.com//player.vimeo.com/video/120391712?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><center></center><p></p><p><strong>Venerable Pannavati</strong>, a former Christian pastor, is cofounder and co-abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, North Carolina.</p><p style="text-align: center;"></p> Mon, 02 Mar 2015 01:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World March is Meditation Month! http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month <p class="p1">If you think the impending all-at-once release of <i>House of Cards</i> Season Three might be a Netflix conspiracy to scuttle your daily meditation practice, or if the promise of expert feedback will allow you to try sitting for the first time, or if you could just use a little extra help from your spiritual friends, then Tricycle has the thing for you:</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/MM-image-banner.png" width="570" height="170" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p class="p2">That's right—all of March we'll be raising a ruckus about that quietest of human endeavors. Commit to sit with us for the entire month! We'll help you make the most of it with guided meditations, instructive articles, meditation-themed e-books, and much more. &nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">You won't regret it. Or, maybe you will. But you'll do so mindfully. In all seriousness, we consider our readership to be a community and this is the month when that community comes together, takes a few minutes out of each day, and meditates.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">All month we'll be sharing articles and videos, including:</p><p class="p2"></p><ul><li><strong>Guided</strong><b> Meditations </b>Every Monday we'll post a new meditation led by Buddhist teacher Venerable Pannavati on <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog" target="_blank">the blog</a>. These videos are perfect for beginners trying to ease themselves into meditation or experienced practitioners curious about a new approach. Also, Ven. Pannavati will be answering any questions you have about your practice. So ask away!</li><ul><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation—week-1" target="_blank">Guided Meditation—Week 1</a> [3/2/15]</li><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation—week-2" target="_blank">Guided Meditation—Week 2</a> [3/9/15]</li><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation—week-3" target="_blank">Guided Meditation—Week 3</a> [3/16/15]</li><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation—week-4" target="_blank">Guided Meditation—Week 4</a> [3/23/15]</li></ul></ul><p class="p2"></p><ul><li><strong>E-books</strong>&nbsp;Check out <i>Tricycle Teachings: Meditation</i>, Vols. <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/wisdom-collection/teachings/tricycle-teachings-meditation" target="_blank">1</a> and <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/wisdom-collection/teachings/tricycle-teachings-meditation-vol-2" target="_blank">2</a>.&nbsp;They include articles from some of your favorite Buddhist teachers, like Sharon Salzberg, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Jack Kornfield, and Judith Simmer-Brown. If you're looking for some more structure, download&nbsp;<em><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/wisdom-collection/teachings/commit-sit" target="_blank">Commit to Sit</a></em> for a month-long program.</li></ul><p class="p2"></p><ul><li><b>Blog Posts</b> Throughout the month, the <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog">Tricycle blog</a> will feature new and old Buddhist voices offering instruction and commentary on the ancient art of sitting still.</li><ul><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/head-front-body" target="_blank">A Head in Front of a Body</a>&nbsp;[3/2/15]&nbsp;</li><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/calming-not-now-mind" target="_blank">Calming the Not Now Mind</a> [3/12/15]</li><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" target="_blank">May All Beings Be Happy</a> [3/20/15]</li><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/breathe-easy" target="_blank">Breathe Easy</a> [3/23/15]</li><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/progress-question" target="_blank">The Progress Question</a> [3/30/15]</li><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-just-sit-there" target="_blank">Don't Just Sit There</a> [3/31/15]</li></ul><li><b>Daily Dharma</b> Tricycle will be picking out a different meditation-oriented nugget of wisdom every day. Your inbox might end up full. Yes, full of serenity.</li></ul><p class="p2"></p><ul><li><b>Online Retreats</b> We'll be highlighting the best meditation teachings from our online retreats.&nbsp;</li></ul><div></div><ul><li><strong>Tricycle Course&nbsp;</strong>Ready to commit to a full <em>two</em> months of meditation bliss? Vipassana teacher Sharon Salzberg's eight-week online course "<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/store/boundless-heart-eight-week-course-sharon-salzberg" target="_blank">The Boundless Heart</a>" begins Monday, March 2, with special rates for&nbsp;subscribers.</li></ul><p>We're excited and know you are too. But if you need one last boost of meditative wonder, check out this preview of the first installment of Ven. Pannavati's guided meditations. Her calming presence says what words cannot. Anyway, the only words left to say are these: See you in March.</p><p><iframe src="http://www.tricycle.com//player.vimeo.com/video/120846411?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> Fri, 27 Feb 2015 17:42:54 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Ruth Denison, Western Dharma Pioneer and Vipassana Innovator, Dies at 92 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/ruth-denison-western-dharma-pioneer-and-vipassana-innovator-dies-92 <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Denison_obit.jpg" width="300" height="332" style="float: right; margin: 7px;">Ruth Denison was one of the first female dharma teachers in the West, renowned for pioneering an unconventional, body-centered approach to Buddhist practice and for launching hundreds of students on the Buddhist path. Earlier this month, she suffered a massive stroke and, according to her wishes, received no life-prolonging intervention. Denison spent her last days surrounded by students and friends at home at Dhamma Dena, the rambling, desert retreat center she founded in the late 1970s near Joshua Tree, California. She died on the morning of February 26, at the age of 92.</p><p>In the early 1970s, when Denison was in her fifties, she received authorization to teach from the Burmese Vipassana master U Ba Khin. She was one of only four Westerners he chose, and the sole woman. Ba Khin had instructed Denison for just a few months before declaring her “a natural.” “I was so in space without any support,” Denison once said of her transmission. “I had no one to consult. . . . [T]he teaching when I began, it was just falling like the water out of the spring back into the pool.”&nbsp;</p><p>Over the next 40 years, Denison independently forged a style of dharma training that was at once eccentric and accessible. She conceived and led the first women-only meditation retreats, supported teachers of various traditions in founding their own centers, and became famous for her incredible life story, expansive generosity, and quirky creativity.</p><p>Before becoming the doyenne of Dhamma Dena, a sought-after meditation instructor, and revered elder at practice hubs like Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society, Denison had lived other lifetimes. She was witness to and player in some of the most harrowing political events and formative cultural movements of the mid-20th century.</p><p>Denison (nee Shaffer) was born into a German farming family in 1922, in a small town no longer on any map, near what is now the border with Poland. As a young girl, she was sure that angels and saints spoke to her—the early inklings, she later determined, of religious sensitivity. In her teens, she began work as a schoolteacher and, with the same spontaneous enthusiasm that would mark her actions for the rest of her life, joined the Nazi Youth. She often described what happened next as a kind of karmic comeuppance: she endured the evacuation of her village, the Allied bombing of Berlin, capture and imprisonment in a Stalinist work camp, serial rape by Polish and Soviet soldiers, and near starvation. “I had a tacit sense that I was one individual recipient of a collective karma brought on by my entire country,” she once told <i>Insight</i> magazine. “Although I did not personally contribute to its causation, I realized that as a member of that society I must share in experiencing the consequences.”</p><p>That perspective, and an extraordinary grit and resourcefulness, helped Denision survive the trauma and piece her life back together. After the war, she left Germany for California, where she met and married a wealthy intellectual and lapsed Vedanta monk named Henry Denison. He was charismatic, domineering, and, at times, abusive, but they shared a similar urge for awakening, and remained married until Henry’s death from Alzheimer’s in 2000. Through the late 1950s and ‘60s, their house in the Hollywood Hills was a regular salon devoted to the pursuit of mind-expansion. Denison wined, dined, and entertained a steady parade of celebrities of the spiritual counterculture—Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Lama Govinda, Fritz Perls—and received, in exchange, an education in philosophy, psychology, and psychedelia. Alan Watts, a close friend, was Denison’s partner in postprandial interpretive dances and in his autobiography, recalled her as “a very blonde <i>fraulein </i>. . .&nbsp; audaciously adventurous, sexy, practical, and religious.”&nbsp;</p><p>It was at one of these bohemian gatherings that Denison encountered her first teacher, the music educator Charlotte Selver, who had developed a practice in mindfulness of the body she called Sensory Awareness. This movement-based approach became the core of Denison’s own spirituality and teaching, a porous amalgam inflected with Zen (she and Henry lived in Japan for a time, studying with Yasutani Roshi, Soen Roshi, and Yamada Roshi) and the Vipassana techniques she absorbed from U Ba Khin and others.</p><p>According to students and friends, Denison could be a study in mind-boggling contradictions: she was a Buddhist beacon for female practitioners, but couldn’t stand being called a “feminist.” She was famous for helping guide her students into states of deep concentration, only to shatter the stillness with a barrage of instruction. According to Sandy Boucher, her longtime student and biographer, Denison could be “the high-handed Prussian general at one moment—ordering you around, snapping at you if you’re slow or inattentive—and at the next melt your heart with her tender empathy for pain.”</p><p>When she smiled, which was often, there was an <i>actual </i>twinkle in her eye. She called everyone “dahling” and insisted on feeding all and sundry visitors, especially the California roadrunners who skittered into her house in search of the little balls of ground beef she kept just for them.</p><p>Indeed, Denison had an abiding interest in people and animals at risk. From spiritual seekers with mental illness or addictions to wild animals injured by passing cars, all sorts of distressed beings found a home with her, and many flourished in her care. Her ministrations were emphatic, and playful. She once wore a convalescing possum around her neck, stole-like, on a trip to the post office and relished the memory of how it woke from its diurnal sleep as she stood in line, scaring the hell out of the other customers. &nbsp;</p><p>Denison’s retreats were legendary. Set among the funky collage of outbuildings, trailers, creosote and bunchgrass that make up the landscape of Dhamma Dena, she led practitioners through dance-like movements that could involve yoga, vocalizations, or “crawling like a worm” on the desert floor. People would come and go. Sporting one of her many, many little hats, she might load retreatants into her station wagon and sail through stop signs and red lights en route to a dilapidated hot springs resort where she’d lead the group through mindfulness exercises in a steaming hot tub. Work projects were always part of the experience and, as at a monastery, visitors were expected to help maintain the center, often in lieu of paying for room and board. Dennison was adamant about the principle of <i>dana</i> and never turned a student away for lack of funds.</p><p>However idiosyncratic, Denison’s methods could be uncannily effective. A friend and former retreat manager remembers how new meditators, many of them men, metamorphosed under her guidance. “They would arrive, like most of us, with no way of connecting to their bodies, completely in their heads,” she recalls. “Ruth would get them doing these little dances, or rolling on the ground, and by the time they left, they were visibly changed. You could see it in their faces, and in their bodies.”</p><p>Denison grasped, early on in her explorations, that mindfulness has to be rooted, and cultivated, in the body. “Using such variety of sensations for developing awareness students learn how to apply their practice in situations other than simply sitting on a pillow,” she said in the <i>Insight</i> interview. “Often [they] do not know how to carry practice home with them after a retreat. But awareness developed in such a wide scope of meditation pattern, as I teach it, becomes gradually a natural state.” For Ruth Denison, grounding the mind in the body was the way into the heart of dharma. It was the portal to a versatile clarity and lasting happiness that stand the test of everyday life—and the end of life. That teaching may prove to be her most enduring legacy.<br><br><b>Mary Talbot</b> is <i>Tricycle’s</i> editor-at-large. She lives in New York City.</p><p><em>Photographs courtesy <a href="http://www.dhammadena.com/" target="_blank">Dhamma Dena</a></em></p> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 10:02:29 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Mummified Monk Found Inside Ancient Statue http://www.tricycle.com/blog/mummified-monk-found-inside-ancient-statue <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/CTScanBuddha.png" width="570" height="374" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">After a <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/08/can-monks-really-go-into-200-year-trances.html" target="_blank">mini-controversy</a>&nbsp;only a few weeks ago regarding a 200-year-old corpse found in full lotus in Mongolia, the internet sensation over mummified Buddhists is back from the dead with new&nbsp;<a href="http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/mummified-monk-sits-inside-ancient-buddha-statue-150223.htm" target="_blank">reports</a> of a human skeleton discovered inside a Chinese Buddhist statue from the 12th century. Researchers at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands had long suspected the artwork to contain remains, but weren't certain until a <a href="http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/CT-scan-at-Meander-Medical-Center-Jan-van-Esch.jpg" target="_blank">CT scan</a> confirmed their presence within the gold-painted, papier-mâché encasing.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">According to head researcher Erik Bruijn, writings found with the skeleton reveal that it belonged to an ancient master named Liuquan. Instead of undergoing a natural death, Liquan likely participated in a predominantly Japanese Buddhist ritual of self-mummification, oulined in an article in <a href="http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-general/scientists-shocked-find-mummified-monk-inside-buddha-statue-002704" target="_blank"><i>Ancient Origins</i></a>:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">For the first 1,000 days, the monks ceased all food except nuts, seeds, fruits and berries and they engaged in extensive physical activity to strip themselves of all body fat. For the next one thousand days, their diet was restricted to just bark and roots. Near the end of this period, they would drink poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, which caused vomiting and a rapid loss of body fluids. It also acted as a preservative and killed off maggots and bacteria that would cause the body to decay after death.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In the final stage, after more than six years of torturous preparation, the monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would go into a state of meditation. He was seated in the lotus position, a position he would not move from until he died. A small air tube provided oxygen to the tomb. Each day, the monk rang a bell to let the outside world know he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed for the final thousand day period of the ritual.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">At the end of this period, the tomb would be opened to see if the monk was successful in mummifying himself. If the body was found in a preserved state, the monk was raised to the status of Buddha, his body was removed from the tomb and he was placed in a temple where he was worshiped and revered. If the body had decomposed, the monk was resealed in his tomb and respected for his endurance, but not worshiped.</p></blockquote><p class="p2">"The report was not all that surprising to me when I saw it," James Robson, Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, told Tricycle. "I suspect if more images were scanned, that we would find that those images have either relics, texts, or other objects inside of them, or that in other cases there are full body relics—mummies—inside."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">"A successful mummification was supposed to represent the exalted nature of the Buddhist master," Robson explained. "Therefore it was in the disciple’s interest to ensure their master’s mummification was a success; or it might call into question his status and by association their own legitimacy." Fellow monks would help increase the odds of success by "lacquering the corpse or encasing it in ash." The stakes were high—and not only for the guy trying to become a mummy.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">When asked why these stories get so much attention, Robson figured, "people have always been fascinated by death and the afterlife; and perhaps equally—or even more—fascinated by the possibility of prolonging life or circumventing death."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">There is maybe nothing more perennially human than the yearning to reckon with and even overcome our mortality. But it took two very contemporary technologies—the CT scanner and Twitter—to bring that yearning to light in the form of mummified monks gone viral. We only have, it seems, ourselves to thank.<br><br><strong>Max Zahn</strong> is&nbsp;<em>Tricycle</em>'s editorial assistant.</p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/not-playing.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: NOT PLAYING NICE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:28:40 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Trying Not to Itch http://www.tricycle.com/blog/trying-not-itch <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/BackScratcher.png" width="570" height="856" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p>Three days into a weeklong Vipassana retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, just north of San Francisco, California, I notice myself itching, unbearably. I’m not the only person distracted by the desire to scratch. Someone else leaves a handwritten note on the staff bulletin board confessing discomfort. The senior teacher responds by devoting an entire dharma session to “the itch,” the gist of which amounts to the following: observe the body’s suffering and let it go. The aching knee, the tickle in the back of the throat—just sensory experiences. Name, but refrain from scratching at all costs.</p><p>It’s my first extended retreat, and I’m determined to adhere to at least some guidelines. To establish distance from our didactic minds, the resident “yogis” have been instructed to avoid reading or writing. Neither activity is considered to be a direct or embodied experience. I stage a quiet resistance in my dorm room, meandering back to my sleeping quarters during walking meditations to scribble down questions, realizations, and disagreements in my bedside journal. Lax in following some directives, I decide that the imposition of a few rules may be of benefit.</p><p>When red, itchy patches bloom across my torso, I think it’s a food allergy. The retreat center’s daily menu of nuts, grains, and vegetarian fare is largely foreign to my meat-based diet. I grow vigilant of ticks, noticing the warnings posted around the compound that feature magnified photos of the bloodsuckers and enlarged images of bite sites. I visit the medical dispensary and try to communicate the nature of my physical distress to a staff member, without breaking silence. “It’s okay to talk,” she says. Resolved to start tucking my pant legs into my socks, I borrow a tube of skin cream and some tabs of Benadryl to help alleviate the itching.</p><p>These over-the-counter remedies fail to improve my condition, leaving scalding hot showers several times a day as my only source of relief. I am methodical each time I squeegee the stall’s wet walls, dislodge loose hair from the drain, and hang up the floor mat over the glass door to dry, thinking of the woman tasked with bathroom cleaning. I hear her crying late at night to her cellmate about her misery and aversion to cleaning toilets and mopping floors. The women on our floor lack mindfulness in their hygiene habits, ignoring posted protocols. I begin to appreciate having signed up for dish duty.</p><p>In a moment of extreme self-loathing and guilt inspired by snapping up one of the few single rooms in the dormitory, I had put my name on the dishwashing list. I envisioned a leisurely washing of dishes, realizing too late that I’d be cleaning up after an entire community of more than 50 people. Dishwashing proves to be a huge challenge. I lack the physical strength to carry plastic tubs weighed down with scalding hot water and dishes, or to shuttle racks loaded with heavy glassware between kitchen and dining room. I will be lucky to make it through the week without shattering a dish.</p><p>My mind struggles with restlessness on the cushion, and I begin to consider my relationship to language and how it impacts my experience. Is there a difference between saying “I itch,” or “I <i>am</i> itchy”? If itchiness is not a permanent state of being, what language best describes the transient nature of experience? And yet, I itch all the time.</p><p>By the fourth day, I finger a possible culprit—an old item of clothing that I picked up at a thrift store before the retreat. The cotton dress emits a strong soapy fragrance capable of causing an allergic reaction. I launder the dress in my sink and stop wearing the garment.</p><p>Sitting helps me manage the discomfort, until visceral memories of previous itching outbreaks flood my consciousness. I remember when my body erupted in hives every time one particularly toxic sexual partner approached me. I re-experience the allergic rash that I developed as a result of taking penicillin as a kid. Along with these impressions arise feelings of shame around itching: my mother’s reproaches that scratching causes permanent scarring, ugliness; and my father’s admonishments that my mother gave me the gift of a perfect body at birth. Don’t ruin it.</p><p>Reliving childhood trauma seems like a legitimate explanation for my acute symptoms, but my mind continues to attach to other explanations: infested bedding at the retreat center, or perhaps a brush with poison oak. As the itching spreads to my hands, arms, and groin area, I pinpoint a memory of a similar pattern.</p><p>During my freshman year in college, I traveled during spring break to rural Florida to plant trees with a nonprofit group called the Nature Conservancy. When I returned to school after a week in the outback, my body broke out in an overpowering rash. A coworker diagnosed the issue. As a former Peace Corps worker in Haiti, she had experienced comparable misery when she contracted parasitic mites. Their patterns—of burrowing beneath the skin to lay their eggs—mimicked my affliction. Her treatment advice involved hot baths and cauterizing each bite site with a lighter. I regarded the dark round scars covering her arms before promptly making an appointment to see a doctor at the school clinic. As the familiar itch of scabies came back to me, I grew sure of the source of my discomfort.</p><p>After seven days on silent retreat, I return to civilization and immediately see a specialist. The healthcare worker takes one look at the marks dotting large surfaces of my backside and confirms scabies. The diagnosis comes as great relief and validation that my mind had not run amok during the week of solitude. Too often, I’ve focused on the truth of suffering, instead of the possibility that the cessation of suffering is possible. The most worthwhile lesson from the retreat was not the directive to refrain from scratching, but rather the commitment to embody compassion toward my own self. Rereading my journal entries from the retreat, my mind catches on this footnote: “Don’t ever let the mind abandon the body.”<br><br><strong>Shin Yu Pai&nbsp;</strong>is a poet, editor, and photographer. She has written seven books of poetry, including&nbsp;<em>Aux Arcs</em>&nbsp;and <em>Adamantine</em>.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Zach Johnson/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode" target="_blank">Flickr</a></em></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/lama.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE DALAI LAMA ON WHAT PEOPLE GET WRONG ABOUT THE PRESENT MOMENT </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/extream.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE REAL ENEMY IS RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 17:15:05 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Thich Nhat Hanh Making Steady Recovery http://www.tricycle.com/blog/thich-nhat-hanh-making-steady-recovery <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/thich_nhat_hanh.jpg" width="200" height="265" style="margin: 7px; float: right;">More good news to report about the health of renowned Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who emerged from a coma last November and appears to be making a steady, albeit slow, recovery. The website affiliated with his international network of youth sanghas, "Wake Up," <a href="http://www.wkup.org/update-thich-nhat-hanh-health-3-february-2015/?fb_action_ids=10203499584189518&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=below-post" target="_blank">published</a> an update on his status, penned by longtime collaborator Sister Chan Khong. &nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It announces:</p><blockquote><p class="p1">Since coming out of the coma, Thay has been able to keep his eyes open, is increasingly alert and able to engage throughout the day with the medical staff and attendants. Having settled in at the rehab center, we are maintaining the 24/7 rotation of attendants to give Thay constant support. Over the past few months Thay has developed clear means of communicating with the attendants as well as physicians. Before aiding Thay in any tasks, the attendants always give thorough explanation and only proceed when Thay gives consent by nodding his head. At other times when Thay did not wish to do whatever has been requested of him, he would shake his head or he’d signaled with his left arm, of which he has regained much control. Overall, Thay has been quite cooperative even though sometimes the task to be done was uncomfortable for him.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The update also describes his physical therapy:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">The physical therapists have begun working with Thay to strengthen his muscles after weeks of immobility. One set of therapy includes exercises to strengthen his back so that Thay can sit upright on his own, keeping his neck and head aligned properly. With continued therapy, we are hopeful that Thay will be able to maintain a sitting position without any support.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Thay is also undergoing therapy to strengthen his legs so that he can stand on his own two feet. The 15-minutes sessions are physically challenging, but Thay is highly motivated to regain his capacities and has often continued with these exercises outside of schedule sessions. Thay is very determined to be able to stand again soon!</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The physicians in Bordeaux are hopeful that as Thay is able to eat more and gain more weight, he will have the strength needed for the physical therapy. We are happy to share that last week, in addition to the profound care of the hospital’s doctors, Thay was also treated by a dear student of 20 years, who is a physician specializing in oriental acupressure and acupuncture. The treatments, focused on re-establishing Thay’s yin-yang balance and increasing the energy of his liver, pancreas, and kidneys, had enabled Thay to sleep better and have more energy.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">And ends with an encouraging anecdote:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">One of the recent happiest moments for Thay was when he was with the speech therapist and enjoyed a quarter cup of tea! When Thay was finally able to hold his cup of tea upright, we declared, “Now we shall have a tea meditation!” Thay agreed and raised his hand as if about to speak and motioned for one of the attendants to give the therapist a short orientation on how to drink tea mindfully. Then Thay and his speech therapist had a sip of tea. While the therapist observed that Thay was swallowing properly, Thay also looked into his tea and smiled to her. Then he put his hand on his heart and the attendant explained that Thay was encouraging us to bring our mind back to our body and to look more deeply into and really enjoy the taste of tea and people around us.&nbsp;</p></blockquote> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 13:48:17 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World