The Ten Perfections Week 1: Discernment

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Odsal's picture

I never tire of Dharma teachings. Happiness is....dwelling in Dharma.

tinalear's picture

I only just became a sustaining member, and listened to this talk this morning, Jan 20, 2011. It is so full of teaching, that I notice this feeling of hurry (i.e., "this is going to expire soon, and I have to catch up!"). Does it "expire"? I mean, does the video stop being available for me to return to? Or the rich commentary attached to it? I need to spend at LEAST a week digesting before going on to the next one. How long will it be here? Such abject grasping here. I guess discernment would be a good idea right now. Discernment of the need for self-compassion. Waking up has no expiration date. I have come to it Now, so I can begin training my mind in this way Now. What time is it? Now. Put my arms around the hurried, desperate one, and gently turn her attention back to the present moment where the teaching is.

Brucio's picture

I'm even later than you, tinalear. I just discoverd Tricycle yesterday. And what a marvelous experience this is. I've virtually never been in dialogues like this. I meditate, go to a yearly silent retreat, and read books. Here, we teach each other so beautifully, such as "put my arms around the hurried, desperate one, and gently turn her attention back to the present moment where the teaching is." Nice.

Monty McKeever's picture

Hi tinalear,

I'm happy to say, all Tricycle Retreats stay up on the site permanently, so you have time (for example, you can find and watch all the previous retreat talks here: http://www.tricycle.com/retreats ). However, teacher involvement in discussions only takes place during the month each retreat is active.

best,
Monty McKeever
Tricycle

ps- for late starters, I think asking questions in the most recent week is probably best, generally speaking

alladrm's picture

I tried to listen to this talk but even with my hearing aid I can't understand what's being said. Disappointing. Many people are hearing challenged so it's important for your presenters to speak clearly. This beautiful soul is a bit of a mumbler.

LeeInOK's picture

You can read along with the mumbling!
Transcripts are here: http://appamadena.wordpress.com/

mitaky's picture

I really enjoyed the teachings on Ten Paramitas. My gratitude to you Ven. Thanissaro. I was wondering whether energy (viriya) is also included in the Ten Paramis? And also how discernment and determination are related to right view and right intention of the nobel eightfold path. I really had fear of snakes, so I loved hearing the story of sage and the snake. I can see now how good will transform my fear of snakes. Practicing more equanimity toward those who do not respond to good will is a good reminder. Also setting boundaries when opening hearts to others is something I need to contemplate.

Application of will is certainly needed for awakening and may be development of discernment and truth. Namaste.

earthmother49's picture

Driving to be with one of my spiritual communities this morning, a short NPR report brough me back to this retreat and the topics of good will/ill will. The report shared quotes from various politicos, regarding yesterday's shootings in Arizona. I've been doing a lot of "on-the-spot" tonglen for all involved, so the quote that almost knocked the wind out of me was (concerning the shooter) something like, "...of course, we all have contempt for him." In the past, anger toward this statement - and, perhaps the person making it - would have been my primary reaction. Today, I felt sadness that someone would feel this to be the appropriate reaction, perhaps something that would bring constituents' support. But gratefully, I was able to shift into compassion for this politician, realizing that ignorance and confusion are such sticky places - for each one of us.

There's something about practice, whether on the cushion, in a retreat, or during daily living, that helps to erase the solid lines between victim/perpetrator. No blame. The knowledge of so much suffering showcases the need for even more compassion. These words and thoughts are bringing up a lot of situations from the past, when friends would want to argue about the "rightness" of name-calling and harsh speech aimed at politicians whose decisions were not in agreement with many social justice (and related) areas. Perhaps this is a fruitful area of reflection for me. May we all be free from suffering and the roots of suffering, regardless of being one holding a gun or holding a flower.

Alex Kelly's picture

Hi earthmother
Thank you for sharing your experience. Contempt is something you see quite a lot of in the mass media. Often it seems it's just a way to get folks worked up about stuff. To have strong feelings like that is seen to be a good thing by politicians and the media etc. Of course stuff like that sells! I don't think contempt by itself is necessarily bad though, it's just how it is directed. For instance having contempt for some action that one has done which was unskilful and had bad results could be a good idea as it means one would be less likely to do it future. This is very different from feeling ill-will. It's changing the focus from the person to the action, and one is still free to have feelings of goodwill and compassion for the person whilst still condemning the action.

LeeInOK's picture

Ah - Sunday morning. I have not shaken off all the dust of my Christian upbringing and there is that special quiet that distinguishes "the day of rest" from the rest of the week (although the moon cycle now determines my 'special' days.)

Ven. Thanissaro's teachings involve goodwill - even to those people and vermin we have difficulty liking.

For those of us on this retreat that accept those parts of Buddhist teachings that tell of other types of beings, those that inhabit the non-human and non-animal realms, I would like to encourage us to remember them in our goodwill meditations as well. Buddhist teachings tell us that just like other humans, animals and creatures, they interact with us in both pleasant and unpleasant ways, but in our meditation we should include all - the good, the bad and the ugly - in our wishes for goodwill.

Metta to all

gilder's picture

My family (both nuclear and extended) has a history of alcoholism, so I also don't drink. Now that decision is underscored by my practice. And I too find that when I tell people I don't drink, they react as you say. I also don't want to be seen as judgmental, or prescriptive. So I just smile and try hard to put them at east. But ultimately? I no longer feel carrying the burden of easing them is as necessary as I did earlier on. If it doesn't matter that you drink, then it also doesn't matter that you don't.

Like you, I wonder why it's such a big deal to others that I don't drink. I don't disapprove of their drinking (any more than I would disapprove of the books they read!). This is a culture -- particularly in Oklahoma, where we both live, LeeInOK :) -- that is, in many ways, heavily alcohol-dependent and alcohol-involved. I wonder if it isn't a good thing for people to realise you can be funny, have a good time, be intelligent, etc., and not drink...? My two sons -- who have moved to the Pacific Northwest -- tell me it's much more acceptable to not drink there, despite the brew culture.

An interesting contemplation :) Thanks, LeeInOK, for bringing this up for conversation.

LeeInOK's picture

Thank you for the comments!

Regarding the aspects of Oklahoma culture - LOL!!!
A few years ago Ven. Thanissaro was ever so gracious to arrange one-on-one time for me at Wat Mettavanaram (I was late - ouch!) I was very concerned about the Buddha's admonition to Ananda concerning the whole of holy life - association with the wise. I was ever so guilty of aversion to the Oklahoma culture. He wisely had no response to my question that went something like "where can I move to [as a layperson] that has a community of people worthy of association?"
I now accept that home is where the heart is - I am now a turtle in that respect - to quote another sutta - "Therefore, Ananda, be ye an island unto yourself, a refuge unto yourself, seeking no external refuge; with the Teaching as your island, the Teaching your refuge, seeking no other refuge."

Regarding the original post :
The realization of the dangers of drinking came at a very young age. Throughout my life, not drinking really never seemed to cause uneasiness - even as a rock'n'roll musician!
I don't wonder about it - it IS a good thing, as you say, for people to realize that you do not need drink to have a good time etc.
- it just seems rather unique to those situations lately where I have been asked about the basics of Buddhism that uneasy feelings arise.
It is almost as if deep down inside they know but do not want to be reminded by the Buddha's teachings of the real harm of alcohol.
I do not preach, proselytize nor evangelize the 5 precepts among non-Buddhists - but I do respond to the questions asked of me.
When asked specifically why I do not drink - I respond by telling of the specific incident, my drunken behavior as a 14 year old, that led to being a teetotaler - and this seems to bring smiles - I guess they enjoy being reminded of the ridiculous effects of being drunk.
Regardless - no more of the dishonest "sipping strategy" for me! Thanks again for the encouragement in that direction!

You are in Oklahoma? Let's get together for a drink sometime! [grin]

Alex Kelly's picture

Did some work on a diagram of the various factors Ven. Thanissaro discusses to help clarify some the relationships between them. There seem to be lots of feedback loops, more than Ive shown. I guess thats good news though as it means there going to lots of opportunities to cultivate discernment and goodwill!

http://i67.photobucket.com/albums/h303/graphicgolem/Paramisdiag1.png

LeeInOK's picture

Excellent - visual aids can help!

It is of interest to me that you added a factor indirectly discussed but not specifically named by Ven. Thanissaro - kamma and its definition as "All beings are owners of their actions, heirs to their actions."

Kamma seems fundamental to the concept of long term happiness - without it there would be no guarantee that our actions could bring about the intended results.

Ven. Thanissaro alludes to it in his talk:
" ... happiness is something that really does depend on your actions. Your actions do make a difference."
"... you have a choice and your actions do make a difference."
" ... realize that all of us experience pleasure and pain based on our actions ... "

How insightful that you picked up on its implications in the talk and placed it at the beginning of your diagram.

Sadhu!

Alex Kelly's picture

As I lie here in bed in the with my body in the grip of a virus, I was thinking about how illness can limit ones capacity for practice. Specifically, being relatively physically incapacited I am somewhat secluded from interacting with people at work. So I thought how can I truly practice goodwill towards those I have difficulty with when I am not interacting with them? I guess one has judge how much and what one can actually do, how much effort is appropriate at anyone time. There are numerous situations in the canon where the Buddha or one his followers were overcome by illness and had to use different strategies to bring mind back into balance, so that the mind wasn't sunk when the body was sunk by the illness. The Buddha was badly injured in his foot by a rock that Devadatta hurled at him, intending to kill the Buddha. Mara, the deciever, appears and implies that the Buddha's mind is overcome by the pain. The Buddha replies that he is not stupified by the pain but practices sympathy for all beings. So I guess it is always possible to practice even when things seem not at all conducive, which is the function of discerment?

earthmother49's picture

a good point of discernment is being aware of what you say or do will cause you or the other person(s) suffering. If you are physically incapacitated, being with others might bring great suffering to them. I sometimes get caught up in wanting to jump in and do everything for everyone, especially during the past months when I've been doing hospice volunteering. I've found that it's helpful to learn when to jump in, when to step back...when to say yes, when to say no. Whether one is with another in the physical sense or not, we are all connected, and keeping others in your heart with pure and compassionate intentions is possible at all times.
I could leap up, alex, and find a way to deliver you mugs of chamomile tea, but, alas, I cannot. So I breathe in, and breathe out the wish that you be free from suffering. You are now in my heart - rest well there!

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Earthmother—I love that name—brings up an important point: that by being able to handle your own pain well, you’re making life easier on the people around you. When we’re helping others, as in hospice, we can’t demand that they handle their pain well, but we can make up our minds that we’ll do what we can to learn how to handle our own pain well: In that way, learning how to deal with suffering is not a selfish thing. It’s a gift both to ourselves and to those around us.

LeeInOK's picture

Yours words resonate within me.

Ven. Thanissaro has writtten a wonderful short article "Purity of Heart" about his teacher, Ajaan Fuang Jotiko, that touches on the topics posted by us "retreatees" - food, happiness that will never harm anyone, and our connectedness.

It can be found on Access To Insight:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/purityofheart.html

earthmother49's picture

thank you, Lee.

LeeInOK's picture

Here is a link to an article by Ven. Thanissaro:
"Using Meditation to Deal with Pain, Illness & Death"

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/painhelp.html

Alex Kelly's picture

Thanks for the link. Read it and did some anapanasati practice. Interestingly I found that on this occasion that going straight to a whole body breath was more effective in steadying the heart. Having that broader awareness seemed to allow painful feelings to be without them taking over. :)

LeeInOK's picture

Sadhu!

LeeInOK's picture

>>So I thought how can I truly practice goodwill towards
>>those I have difficulty with when I am not interacting with them?
Great point. The proof is in the pudding as they say.
Virtually anyone can captain a boat in still waters, it is the size of the waves that test and measure the qualities and abilities of the captain.
For myself, it is a circular feed-back - when things are not right - meditation fuels the discernment needed to better the interaction - the interaction fuels the need for more discernment. Once the "difficulties" are resolved at one level, there remains other levels or aspects which adds another dimension to the circular feedback.

It is best to learn from the experienced ones and do all possible practice *before* the tempest hits!

>>So I guess it is always possible to practice
>>even when things seem not at all conducive
Those I respect say that pain and illness are a great opportunity for the practice of "not-self". I can be very weak in those times and find the "impermanence" (of the illness) is all I care about.

May you benefit all your experiences regardless. I'm wishing "anicca" for your virus!

bonnie's picture

Just read a great book saying to be loving and sympathic towards our own shortcomings like the flue or bad cold hope you feel better soon and can be with love in each breath.

Alex Kelly's picture

Thank you!

LeeInOK's picture

Exercise 1 continues ...

Reading of the Forest tradition monks - their greatest lessons often came from the wild animals in their jungle.

Moving through the week with the exercise given by Ven. Thanissaro, I haven't really moved beyond my "self", the wild animal of my wild mind, but am now including those other creatures that inhabit the jungles of America and instill both fear and anger in me - corporate tycoons, politicians and the most immediate and insidious of all - dangerous drivers.

Fear and/or anger grips once mindfulness slips. Why? How to remove the fear of the harm done by those wild beasts of my jungle, abandon the anger towards them and induce genuine goodwill for them?

One strategy of the Forest monks would be to sit in the well traveled path of a tiger or in the mouth of a cave inhabited by one. I can't sit in meditation in the middle of a highway or downtown parking garage, but I can bring the calm and wisdom of meditation out into daily life situations.

It seems that de-personalization of the situation is a root cause - a specific strategy of re-personalizing the situation with bad drivers has worked. I and my loved ones have been, at times, bad drivers - my mother's slow and "cautious to a fault" driving and my own aggressive driving habits. Depending on the situation, I see the other drivers as either my mother slowly driving to the hospital to donate her time as a volunteer or myself speedily driving to the hospital because a loved one was in dire straits. As long as I remain mindful, this works.

At such a personal level I am much better - but neither I nor my loved ones have ever been a politician or a tycoon. Perhaps there is a way to re-personalize all those situations - perhaps another strategy is required. I look forward to our investigation of equanimity.

Metta to all

LeeInOK's picture

Interesting - further meditation revealed "indignation" as the root cause for my afflictions. Up off the cushion, I began to read. It has both healthy and unhealthy aspects. The healthy aspects of indignation are what drove Siddhattha Gotama , the unawakened, to become the Buddha, the awakened. The Middle Way, the proper tension, the proper balance is the key to the solution. I looked for and found one of Ven. Thanissaro's discussions of the middle way.
"The word middleness also applies to the appropriateness of what we're doing. Sometimes we have to be very protective of what we're doing when there are lots of external distractions, or when the mind itself seems to be rambunctious and hard to control. We have to make an extra effort during times like that. At other times, the effort doesn't have to be quite so strong: All you need to do is just watch, keep tabs on things, and they seem to behave on their own. If you mess with them too much, they're going to rebel, so you have to be very sensitive to what's needed, what's going on. This is part of the middleness of the middle way: the appropriateness of what you're doing. As you develop this sense of appropriateness, this sense of "just right," you're developing discernment in the midst of concentration practice. The Buddha said there's no discernment without jhana, no jhana without discernment. The two qualities help each other along."

Jhana! Does that require the attention of a qualified teacher?

Alex Kelly's picture

Although I have been quite I'll today I still sat for meditation. I thought what I am going to if I get a life threatening illness, and I havent learnt how to make my mind secure with just this mild illness, after all it's quite likely that I will get ill first before I die, rather than die suddenly. At any rate finding a place for the mind to be ease in the body is quite challenging when every part of the body seems to aching and under attack! That brought to mind the value of good will in a situation like that. When you can't find a good breath in the body, if the mind depends on that for it's stability then it's going to be in trouble. Its not going to be in a good position interact with others when it's feeling harrassed. So practicing goodwill seems like it might be an especially good strategy in a situation like that, as it doesn't depend good breath perceptions (body), but on the perception of non-harm. I guess this would be using mental fabrication as a starting point, rather than bodily fabrication? Not sure just have to keep practicing and see!

Alex Kelly's picture

Just thought of a little 'mental fabrication' which seems to give a better handle on the practice of good will.
"I am suffering, at this present moment other beings are suffering too"
Thinking just that much changes ones perception, seems to enlarge the mind, which I guess what's needed. Although I guess that is closer to compassion than goodwill. Isn't the enlarged mind what one develops when practising jhana, with the perception of breath filling the whole body?

LeeInOK's picture

>> Isn't the enlarged mind what one develops when practising
>> jhana, with the perception of breath filling the whole body?
I am not experienced or qualified enough to answer questions at that level. What is important is that the mental fabrication is a technique that works for you - hopefully others will benefit from your sharing. I know I have!

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

You guys are jumping the gun ;). The second week on the retreat is going to focus on patience and endurance, with one of the major themes being the ability to endure pain by reminding yourself that it’s universal, and thus getting the “you” who has been suffering out of the line of fire. “Why am I suffering?” Well, everybody suffers. Then the next step is to develop compassion for all. That mental fabrication puts the mind in a much better position. Then it’s easier to find a spot of inner well-being from which to view the situation.
By the way, if you have trouble feeling comfortable breath, you can focus on the sense of space surrounding the body and permeating it, in between all the atoms. Hold that larger perception in mind and see what happens.

bonnie's picture

Had dinner tonight with the family my brother was part of the group he snapped at something I said The last couple of days has helped it was much easier to move into goodwill and not get caught up in a negative mind loop about him Wow family can be the greatest lessons I'm not yet seeing him as a gift but hope to some time. Peace and good dreams to all

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

There’s no need to see other people’s negative behavior as a gift. Simply seeing it as an opportunity to learn—and to develop your perfections—is plenty enough. A real gift is something that benefits both sides.

LeeInOK's picture

NOTE: Ven. Thanissaro has given us some supplemental material - look to the upper right corner

LeeInOK's picture

Regarding discernment - strategy - balance - not causing the suffering of others

As others in my social circles have become aware of my Buddhist leanings,
a certain uneasiness often arises when I am asked to explain what the Buddha teaches.
They seem fine with most all of the basic teachings - the 4 Noble Truths seem easily dismissed by them with no lingering uncomfortable effects, but the 5th precept - no alcohol - is another story -
especially at those times when they may holding a beer, a glass of wine or even stronger drinks.

They see "being spiritual" through the lens of Christianity which has wine as a sacrament and has the story of Jesus turning the water into wine. This seems to make me into something worse than a fanatic fundamental Christian - the one type of person not found in most all of the social gatherings I attend.

I have found that by asking to "take a sip" of someone's beer or wine, this helps to diffuse the uneasiness and helps remove the "holier than thou" atmosphere that I am determined not to project but which often seems to be projected back onto me when this subject comes up. I do not actually take a full drink. I let the liquid touch my lips, smack my lips a few times, swallow and make a favorable comment of the quality of the drink.

I do not want others to feel bad about their modest drinking because of me.
I do not want to "not mention" the 5th precept when asked to describe the basics of Buddhism.
I do not want to encourage the consumption of alcohol.
I do not want to remove myself from social situations where the modest consumption of alcohol is prevalent.

Just using words to put others at ease does not seem to do the trick. Maybe the right words would. Sipping does.
But I would LOVE to find a strategy that works without me mimicking drinking.
Is equanimity my only solace?
Help Mr. Wizard!
(and nope - "Drizzle, drazzle, dradle, drone - Time for this one to come home" does not work!)

threefold.lotus's picture

This one has been an enormous struggle for me. I am an alcoholic. So for years the fifth precept was one that I hedged on. I frequently explain to people that whether they are alcoholics or not, if they look into their lives they will see the movement of both craving and aversion. That ultimately is what it is about. Discernment is difficult for me because when I take the hook of craving or attachment I begin to lose mindfulness, I lose discernment. That is why I want to train myself to be able to observe what is happening before the idea becomes intention, before the words are said, before the action takes place, before karma continues. I am grateful to the Buddha for including the 5th precept. It reminds me to keep polishing my mirror.

LeeInOK's picture

I am grateful to you for sharing - it has helped me to see some of the fog that clouds my own mirror. Please accept my apology for being flippant about those for whom alcohol is a problem. I find that one value in posting is that it helps to expose my faults - it helps me see things in a different light - just another strategy that helps, as you say, polish the mirror.

Alex Kelly's picture

I must admit this made smile. After years of nagging from my mother and father in law to have a drink and let go a little, I am practically immune to feelings of social awkwardness! I just say it straight, I don't drink, most people don't seem to mind.

LeeInOK's picture

Thanks Alex - or should I say Wizard!
In the cartoon quoted - The wizard always replied to the turtle:
"Be what you is and not what you is not.
Folks that is what they is, is the happiest lot."

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

It used to be that the people telling you not to drink were the naggers; now it’s the people telling you to drink. If you’re going to mention the fifth precept, remember to frame all the precepts not as commandments, but as advice on how to be happy in a long-term way. You’ll probably get some comments on how happy they are when they’re drinking, but then you can simply remind them that there are consequences down the line.

bjones6513's picture

Lee, Thanks for the transcript. And thanks for posting it Alex.

LeeInOK's picture

First let me add my thanks to Ven. Thanissaro.
- then add a hardy "You are welcome!" to all
- then add the Theravadin "Dedication of Merit"

May all beings — without limit, without end —
have a share in the merit just now made,
and in whatever other merit I have made.

- then add that there is no need to post more thanks

I am glad that Ven. Thanissaro included the reference to the "snake charm" taught by the Buddha. I was vaguely familiar with it but had missed that last emphasis: "Now - go away!" LOL!

Alex Kelly's picture

The transcript of Ajaan Geoff's first talk can be read here:

http://appamadena.wordpress.com/

Thank you to LeeInOK for doing the transcription.

putnamtc's picture

And my thanks for the transcript too. I am grateful.
Metta,
Tom

greentea420's picture

all of you have made very good points. I am grateful for this teaching too, and will need to meditate on it further.

LeeInOK's picture

I have a rough transcription of the talk if anyone wants it. Could use email or better, if someone has a website, it could be posted for all to access.
???

gchico's picture

Thanks for your efforts! I see that the transcript has been posted. - Chico

earthmother49's picture

I would appreciate a copy, too, Lee...to look through in future days and share with friends w/o internet. Many thanks. My e-mail is earthmother49@hotmail.com.

Alex Kelly's picture

Hi Lee, that's great as there is quite a lot to take in. I was thinking of taking notes but I could post your transcription to my blog if that's is any use? My email is: emailalexkelly@gmail.com. I will let you know when it has been posted with a link.

jkightlinger's picture

Alex and Lee, yes, I too would appreciate your transciption. Many thanks. My email is jkightlinger@gmail.com.
John Kightlinger