A New Way To Teach
Meditation Part 7

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Six weeks ago I began this series, “A New Way to Teach Meditation”. Please see at least one or two of the earlier posts for more background. (The archive of earlier posts can be found on the lower right hand corner of the home page).

For a brief summary of what has been offered so far:

This new approach to teaching meditation accommodates a much wider range of beliefs than most other approaches to meditation. This approach works just as well for those who believe in God, those who do not, and those who are just plain confused.

But the only way this open minded, interfaith, and pluralistic can work and be credible, is if you apply to your studies the best standards you reasonably can with rigorous honesty, personal integrity, intellectual clarity, human decency, warmth, and love.

Over the past few weeks I have highlighted three specific ways to apply these high standards of rigorous honesty and clarity.

This week I want to ask another question more specifically related to the technique of meditation.

“What do you want to focus on during your meditation?”

Do you focus on the passage of your breath as you inhale and exhale?

Do you favor a certain sacred word or phrase?

Do you prefer a guided meditation where the teacher speaks during the time of meditation?

Do you prefer some image such as a candle, or a religious picture or icon to gaze upon?

Do you prefer to repeat some passage of memorized scripture or poetry during meditation?

Do you prefer to forego one specific focus of meditation but rather allow your mind to shift to whatever body sensation or thought or emotion or external sound is the most prominent in your mind?

Do you prefer to do a careful scan of every aspect of your body as you sit in stillness and silence?

All of these are examples of what is called the “object of meditation.” In other words the object that you focus your mind on as you meditate.

In almost all traditional approaches to meditation the teacher highlights one specific object or general process. It might be the passage of the breath at the nostrils or the abdomen. It might be some word such as “God” or “Love” or “Om.” It might be a phrase such as “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me”, or, “Om Mani Padme Hum”, or the 99 names of God, or anyone of many other choices from the world’s traditions.

But this new approach to meditation is different. The teacher does not direct the student to go with whatever choice the teacher and their tradition calls for. Instead the teacher shares information about the wide range of choices available to the student, and helps the student pick one or to create their own that resonates with their personal journey.

In this process of determining what is to be the object of meditation, the importance becomes apparent of the question raised in the 4th post of this series, “What do you believe is the truth of this life?”

This is because if you believe in God, or are leaning in that direction, that will shape the choice you make in the object of meditation. On the other hand if you do not believe at all, or are leaning towards atheism, then this preference will shape the choice you make in the object of meditation.

If you follow a specific path such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Tibetan or Zen or Vipassana Buddhism, or Taoist, New Age, indigenous North American Indian, or some neo-pagan theme from ancient times, this will shape the choice you make in the object of your meditation.

If you have little to no interest in a specific religious path but think of yourself as “spiritual not religious”. this will shape the choice you make in the object of meditation.

From this explanation you can see how important it is to discern what your beliefs are because the general direction of your beliefs will shape the specific techniques you employ in your practice of meditation.

There is no question this approach is more difficult for most people. Many prefer to have a clear structure laid out for them and to be told to focus on their breath or some word or phrase. But for those people who are put off by the dysfunction and limiting blinders that are part and parcel of even the best organized traditions this new approach works better even if it is more work.

Take the time to think carefully about whether you believe in God or not, whether you follow one particular religious culture or not, or whether you are just plain confused and not sure what to believe. Take the time to discern what it is you really believe is true and what are your most important unanswered questions. Be true to your faith and your doubts.

The role of the teacher is to be a knowledgeable guide in this process to help the student be aware of the full range of the available choices and to provide credible and creative options to consider. Then the teacher works with the student to make decisions that help the student settle on a choice that feels to be deeply true for them.

This new approach to meditation calls for important changes in the way teachers are trained so they have the skill set to help a student with this discernment process.

Please let me know if you are interested in studying meditation or if you are sufficiently experienced that you may wish to learn to teach meditation.

All questions will be responded to. If you wish, your comment or question will be posted for further dialogue.

More Next week

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

A New Way To Teach
Meditation Part 6

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Five weeks ago I began this series, “A New Way to Teach Meditation”. Please see at least one or two of the earlier posts for more background. (The archive of earlier posts can be found on the lower right hand corner of the home page).

For a brief summary of what has been offered so far:

This new approach to teaching meditation accommodates a much wider range of beliefs than most other approaches to meditation. This approach works just as well for those who believe in God, those who do not, and those who are just plain confused.

But for this open minded, interfaith, and pluralistic path to be possible and credible, it is essential you apply the best standards you reasonably can with rigorous honesty, personal integrity, intellectual clarity, human decency, warmth, and love in your studies and discernment.

Over the past two weeks I have highlighted two ways to apply these high standards of rigorous honesty and clarity. Here is a third way:

For those who follow a religious path, whether it is one of the ancient paths or a “New Age” version. Ask the following question:

Are there some aspects of your beliefs that simply do not stand up to rational scrutiny?

I am not saying you should jettison those beliefs just because they do not hold up to the scrutiny of reason. Nor am I suggesting that somehow only reason or science are the only valid means of introspection or study. I am sure they are not.

What I am suggesting is that you be fully aware and completely honest of any glaring contradictions between the beliefs you have and the modern tests of critical rational review.

For example: Catholics believe the Eucharist becomes the body and blood of Jesus, and that Mary was a virgin, or that Jesus healed the blind by rubbing spit on their eyes.

Jews believe the God of their bible ordered Moses and Aaron to murder thousands of people for dancing around the golden calf (Exodus 32:27). Do they really believe God makes such demands?

Muslims and others believe that God created human life and depending how you live this span of 1-115 years, you are destined for eternal life either in hell of heaven.

The Dalai Lama and orthodox Tibetan Buddhists believe the senior Tibetan leaders can use astrology to find the general location of where Dalai Lama will be reincarnated as an infant after his death.

Mormons believe the Book of Mormon was given to Joseph Smith by an angel who gave him the Book of Mormon written on a set of golden plates which then mysteriously vanished back up to heaven.

Vipassana Buddhists believe the Buddha could levitate and float through the air and that the Buddha and Ananda and others could dematerialize and rematerialize somewhere else. A ten year old Buddhist child was told his blindness was caused by some sin he committed in his past life.

New Agers believe in many spacey, dreamy things which have no supporting evidence of any kind such as the lost city of Atlantis, or the Akashic records, or conversations with the dead.

Once again, I am not saying that one should only believe in things that pass the scrutiny of reason and science. Atheist scientists have their own intellectual challenges to work through such as their belief in dark matter and dark energy they say comprises 94% of the gravitational force in the universe.  Maybe someday scientists will know what these forces are. But at present there is no consistent theory which explains what these forces are. This does not prevent most scientists from claiming that their general view of the universe (that there is no God) is fundamentally the correct one. With such glaring gaps in the foundations of their system how can they be sure they are not completely missing something important.

What I am saying is to look carefully at what you do believe and see if some of your beliefs openly defy any sense of reason or contain glaring gaps where there is no explanation at all about those gaps.

Are you a student of meditation and a believer in God who believes in things that defy even basic standards of reason and science?

Are you a student of meditation who is an atheist scientist with major gaps in your understanding of theoretical physics like no way at all to explain what gravity actually is or how particles appear to have mass?

What are the glaring contradictions in your belief system? What are the unanswered questions of the path you are on?

Remember, a great answer to deep questions is “I really don’t know.”

Remember: Better an honest confusion, than a false certainty.

Please let me know what you think.

All constructive comments or critiques will be responded to, and if you wish, will be posted for further dialogue.

More Next week

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

A New Way To Teach
Meditation Part 5

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Four weeks ago I began this series, “A New Way to Teach Meditation”. Please see at least one or two of the earlier posts for more background. (The archive of earlier posts can be found on the lower right hand corner of the home page).

All existing methods of teaching meditation encourage students to think carefully about their beliefs and core moral values.

What is different about this new approach to teaching meditation is that there is a much wider range of personal beliefs that are viewed as being valid paths to follow. Still, whether you believe in God or are a committed atheist, whether you follow a traditional religious path or not, or whether you are just not sure what to believe, it is important to spend quality time reflecting on what you actually do believe and which teachings you are genuinely not sure are true.

But for this open minded, interfaith, and pluralistic path to be possible and credible, it is essential you apply the best standards you reasonably can with rigorous honesty, personal integrity, intellectual clarity, human decency, warmth, and love in your studies and discernment.

Certainly there are times when all such introspective and discursive reflections are set aside. But in general reflecting on your core beliefs and any gaps, haziness, hypocrisies, or glaring contradictions in your core beliefs is an important part of study.

Last week I outlined one way to apply these high standards of personal integrity and honesty. That first application is to think carefully about what changes you may need to make in your relationships with those you care about the most.

This week I want to talk about a second way. This second way is to look carefully at the religious or philosophical beliefs you say you have and to ask, “What do I really believe is true? Do I believe God, or universal spirit, is the foundation of the universe, or do I believe there no such thing as God or soul?”

“Which of my beliefs am I sure are true?”  Which of my beliefs have I really not thought through very clearly?

If you believe in God, or are an atheist, or just plain uncertain about what are your beliefs the discernment process is much the same.

“Why do I think my beliefs are true? How did I come to believe what I believe?”

“Do I really believe these things are true, or was I told over and over by people in my family and or my society that these things are true?”

“Which of my beliefs am I saying I believe just because everyone else in the group and the teachers in this tradition are saying they believe are true?”

“Have I really thought about what I believe is true or are my beliefs based on a shaky foundation of hazy and poorly thought out assumptions and guesses?”

“What are my core moral and ethical values? Do I even have any core moral and ethical values?”

“How consistent am I with my core beliefs and values or am I, to one degree or another, a hypocrite at least in some ways?”

“Do I have the courage to abandon any beliefs I no longer believe are true? Do I have the courage to embrace any beliefs I formerly rejected but which now I have come to believe are true, or at least may be worth serious consideration?”

In addition to whatever beliefs or ethical values you feel you are certain about you can ask yourself, “What are the most important unanswered questions or doubts I have?”

The difference between this approach to meditation and others is this new approach encourages people to really think for themselves. While there may not be many teachings you really are sure are true, through a process of examination and dialogue with a teacher you probably can find a short list of beliefs, or philosophical perspectives, or moral values you are fully committed to.

You can then think carefully about how you can be more consistent with, and practice with greater fidelity, those beliefs and moral values you are committed to.

You can also articulate more clearly the doubts and unanswered questions you have.

Whenever you get stuck with the doubts and unanswered questions you can always return to the short list of beliefs and moral values you are committed to. You can make great progress by making a far more energetic effort than most would ordinarily think of doing with those core beliefs and moral values you are fully committed to.

Let me know what you think?

Please let me know what you are finding?

All constructive comments or critiques will be responded to, and if you wish, will be posted for further dialogue.

More Next week

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

A New Way To Teach
Meditation Part 4

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Three weeks ago I began this post series, “A New Way to Teach Meditation”. Please see at least one or two of the earlier posts for more background. (The archive of earlier posts can be found on the lower right hand corner of the home page). Before too long, I will convert this series into an on-line course for those who aspire to become meditation teachers.

Please let me know by email or phone if you are interested in studying to become a meditation teacher.

Over the past 3 weeks I have emphasized that this approach to teaching meditation will work just as well for those who believe in God, as it will for those who do not, and those who are just plain confused about what they believe.

Before proceeding it is important to emphasize that while this approach can be adapted to a wide range of beliefs, that is not to say that it does not matter what you believe or that all beliefs are equally valuable. There are some limits to how inclusive even the most open minded approach to spirituality or ethics can be.

A path is neither valid or true to the extent it involves cruelty, manipulation, coercion, economic exploitation, or indifference to the suffering to others, or some wildly fantastic set of mythological beliefs which defy all common sense.

While there are many paths a person can take to liberation, it is important to know that some paths really are either just plain dead ends. Even worse, some paths lead a person to some pathetic and badly stunted, or in extreme cases to a highly destructive end.

As I mentioned last week, this approach to meditation will only work if a person embraces high standards of honesty, personal integrity, human decency, warmth, and love as they discern how to proceed. Regardless of what beliefs a person has when they start, or how confused or uncertain they may be with their beliefs, if a person embraces high standards with these core values and ethics, they will find their way forward.

Here is the first primary suggestions about how to apply those standards.

What is happening with your relationship with yourself and with the people in your life in your life that you are closest to among your circle of family, friends, co-workers, neighbors?

Are you at peace with yourself? Are you making a high quality effort to improve the quality of love you offer to those you love? Are you listening to and acting upon the reasonable requests of those you love? Are you making the best efforts you can in your interaction with the people you work with, and with your neighbors, to come up with practical and effective solutions to whatever problems exist in your work-place or community?

Look to your relationship with yourself and all the relationships you have in your life.

Everything with your life and your meditation practice will change as you as become more honest about the petty or sharp battles for control you wage, or hidden thoughts of malice and judgment that pop up in your head, or any stubborn and rigid refusal to change clearly hypocritical, selfish, and anti-social tendencies.

Anyone, whether they believe in God or not, whether they are involved in some traditional religious path, or some very modern set of beliefs, will benefit from an honest survey about what is happening in their relationships.

As one improves the moral and emotional honesty and integrity in their relationships, experiences and intuitions will arise. These experiences and intuitions will point the way to the next level of peace and understanding that is available to them. They will see new areas in their personal conduct and relationships where they can improve the quality of love, friendship and respect they offer to others. They will also see the ways to refine the degree of openness with which they receive the love, friendship and respect others are willing to offer to them.

If a person commits to this work, there probably will continue to be certain questions that remain unanswered, and certain aspects of their beliefs that are quirky or just plain irrational. But the peace and clarity of their meditations, the clarity of their beliefs, and the moral and emotional tone of all their relationships, will continue to be refined.

More next week.

Please send me your thoughts and comments. All constructive comments or critiques will be responded to, and if you wish, will be posted for further dialogue.

More Next week

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

A New Way To Teach
Meditation Part 3

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Two weeks ago I began this post series, “A New Way to Teach Meditation”. Please see the two earlier posts for more background. The archive of earlier posts can be found on the lower right hand corner of the home page. Before too long, I will convert this series into an on-line course for those who aspire to become meditation teachers.

Please let me know by email or phone if you are interested in studying to become a meditation teacher.

A primary theme of this new method of teaching meditation is that the meditation teacher no longer dictates what a person should believe, but rather asks a student the questions, “What do you believe is the truth of this life?”, and “What core values and ethics are you committed to?”, and “What serious doubts and unanswered questions do you have?”

A secondary theme of this new method is that this approach will work just as well for those who believe in God, those who don’t, and everyone in between. This approach will work just as well for those who follow a very traditional religious path as it will for those who have little to no interest in organized religion.

This approach to meditation is predicated upon the foundation that a student is employing the highest standards of personal integrity, honesty, hard work, and open-mindedness they are reasonably capable of in their efforts to clarify what are their beliefs.

Another criteria to use when interviewing a new student, or appraising the progress of an existing student, is to ascertain how serious is their commitment to improving their skills with giving and receiving love and diminishing excessive desire.

It  is unwise to spend too much time with a student who has only lukewarm commitments or is cavalier on these subjects.  Perhaps later on they will see how helpful are these clear standards of personal integrity and love and decide they are interested in studying this approach to meditation. In the meantime perhaps you can refer such people to a place that teaches a way to learn meditation that is in line with their level of interest.

None of the above comments are to suggest some rigid, perfectionist standards that only a few quirkily gifted students are capable of. Quite the contrary. Any person can make the conscious choice to be more sincere in their efforts with personal integrity, honesty, and love. In fact the good news is that better efforts with these core values are all that is needed regardless of what other issues or challenges they are working with in their life and beliefs.

Making the commitment to be more diligent with these work habits is not about all of a sudden becoming some kind of over-achiever meditator. More often for most people, certainly for my self, it just means that I am more and more honest about how much I have to learn. While it is better if I can make clear progress towards my goal, what is more likely that I need to be more accepting about how often I stumble. For me what is also important is to realize that reflecting on what I really believe and how to love with greater skill and integrity is often very simply a confusing and messy process.

A basic goal of this approach to meditation is to help people learn there is a voice, or more accurately an inner guide, in the deepest part of their being and to help them make contact with that inner sense of what is true and what is false.

The work of the teacher is not to tell them what they should believe, but to give them really good questions and practices to work with and to set an example of clear moral standards, human kindness and decency. A few laughs and not infrequent times of good quality fellowship and games and trips to the beach or mountains will also help.

Over time as the student progresses with love and personal integrity they will find their inner sense. They will learn to listen for when that guide is suggesting, “Yes you are on the right path”, or, “No what you are hearing or reading is not true, at least it is not true for you.”  And, “Are you being honest with yourself about the work you are doing in your relationships”, or, “No you are conning yourself into thinking you are open to change when in fact you are sticking with the same old stubborn, self-centered patterns, and covert battles for control.”

Helping a student find and then listen to their inner guide will help them find their way to their truth and profound experience. This is tempered by the counter suggestion that they need to find one or more mentors with whom they can review the promptings of their inner guidance to ensure they are not led astray by their own vain imaginings. While it may be difficult to find such mentors, keep looking.  It is important to find the right balance between charting our own course and listening to the sage advice of those further along the path than you. This is assuming such mentors are not locked into some rigid, dogmatic ideology and that the moral life of such mentors is of a high caliber.

Please send me your thoughts and comments. All constructive comments or critiques will be responded to, and if you wish, will be posted for further dialogue.

More Next week

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

A New Way To Teach
Meditation Part 2

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As noted in Part 1 of this series, I believe an important part of studying meditation is for people to reflect on what they believe is the truth of this life.

The basics of meditation, sitting still and being silent and following the breath or repeating some sacred word or short phrase, are simple enough to describe. What is more involved is to help people decide whether they wish to study meditation as someone who believes in God or spirit, or some one who is a committed atheist.

I buffer this question by being clear I am not trying to say what they should believe is the truth of this life. Indeed a central theme of this new method of teaching meditation is that it can be applied to those who believe in God, those who don’t, and everyone in between.

Incidentally, this new method of teaching meditation also works just as well for people who follow one particular religion, as it does for those who have a strong aversion to organized religion, who refer to themselves as “spiritual not religious”.

The first reason I encourage people to be mindful on their beliefs is this:

Teaching meditation to someone who believes in God, or who is leaning in that direction, is very different than it is for someone who is a committed atheist or who is leaning that way. It is important for the meditation teacher to know which of these two basic views of life a person holds as their view of the truth of this life.

The second reason I encourage people to be mindful of their beliefs is this:

Many people do not spend much time thinking about their beliefs one way or the other. Consequently, in my experience, often many people’s beliefs are quite hazy. When I ask people if they are atheists or if they believe in God, many say ” I think there is ‘something’, but I am not sure what this ‘something’ is.”  Others are clear they do not wish to use the “G” word (for God) but they refer to “energy” or “spirit” or the “universe” or some other fairly general term. Some say they are atheists, but have not spent much time thinking about what this really means to them.

Once again I am not saying someone should believe in God, or that they should be come an atheist. What I am saying is, “Take the time to reflect on whether you do have a clear conception of what you believe in and if so what are those core beliefs.”

Many other modern people when asked whether they believe in God or not, answer the question by explaining what they do not believe. For example, they say “I do not believe in the “Old Man in the Sky with a Beard.” Or, “I really don’t believe in organized religion.” Once they understand that I am fine with what they don’t believe in, at some point they will say they generally believe in God, or they don’t, or that they really are not sure.

For those who do believe in God, or who are leaning that way, the questions I tend to pose next are ones many quickly realize they do not spend much time thinking about:

I ask, “If you believe in God or spirit or energy, or the “higher self”, or “something”, what is the nature of this God or spirit or energy, or the “higher self”, or this “something”.

And, “What is the nature of your relationship with this God or spirit or energy, or the “higher self”, or this “something”.

Finally I ask,” Where is this God or spirit or energy, or the “higher self”, or “something”? At some point the light goes on that this God or life force is within them.  If this is the case with their beliefs, they can see their practice of meditation becomes about getting in touch with this other deeper life that is within them. In this context, you can see in what ways meditation will be different for a believer that it is for an atheist.

As a person reflects on these questions, many begin to realize that their beliefs are not that clear and the reality they are talking about is a reality that is quite distant to them.

For those who believe in God, or who are leaning that way, thinking more clearly about the nature of their “higher power” and what is the nature or their relationship with their higher power will be helpful.  Over time, they will begin to develop a clearer understanding, or sense, of who or what it is they believe in. Over time they will be able to establish a living relationship with this “other” they believe in. Who and what they believe in will become more clear and far less remote to them. This will be helpful.

For those who are atheists, or who are leaning in that direction, the approach to meditation will be quite different and I will talk about that more next week.

“What do you believe is the truth of this life?”

Please send me your thoughts and comments. All constructive comments or critiques will be responded to, and if you wish, will be posted for further dialogue.

More Next week

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

 

 

 

A New Way To Teach
Meditation Part 1

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Generally, meditation teachers of all the traditions I have studied with have a general way of teaching meditation that unfolds more or less along the following lines:

“This is how we practice. This is what we believe. These are the sacred books we think are of essential importance. Here are the great teachers of our tradition.”

“If you do as we do, believe as we believe, interpret the sacred books as we do, and study the great teachers of our tradition as we do, then you too will gain the great benefit we say is possible.”

Certainly, many people have found great benefit from fully studying any one of the ancient and modern traditions. If you find the approach in any one of the established or modern traditions to be truly meaningful to you, then please study the path you have found with as much diligence, integrity, and dedication as you can.

But there is a different way of studying meditation that is also worthy of consideration. I want to talk with anyone who is interested in this general topic. Please call or email.

In this new way of teaching meditation the teacher begins with a series of 7 questions each of which has a series of related follow up questions to be discussed when I publish the full text of this course.

The First Question

What do you believe is the truth of this life?

One way to sort this out is to see which of these five statements most closely reflects your current state of mind and life view.

1) Are you sure God exists?

2) Are you a committed atheist?

3) Are you uncertain that God really exists, but tend to think that probably there is something like God or soul or universal spirit or energy that is the foundation of all life? If so, are you interested in exploring ways to see if you can find a way to believe in God or soul or universal spirit or energy?

4) Are you uncertain as to whether the atheists are correct, but you tend to think they may be correct when they teach there is no such thing as God or soul or universal spirit or energy that is the primary life of all life? If so, are you interested in exploring ways to see if you can find a way to become convinced that all talk of God and soul is a fantasy left over from more primitive times?

5) Is the question of whether God exists or not simply not that important to you, but you are interested in exploring how meditation may help you find more peace in your life and how you can be more consistent with the ethical values you have?

6) Are you just plain confused and not sure what to believe? If so are you sufficiently interested to make the effort to see if you can find a path of belief and practice that makes sense to you and which will serve you well?

Depending on which of these basic choices a student says reflects their current life view, the meditation teacher can show them a way to approach meditation that will help them search for truth in ways that are true for them.

For each of these different life views calls for a different approach to learning meditation.

A primary aspect of this way of teaching meditation is to help a student gain clarity about their current state of beliefs. Another is to allow students to learn to articulate more clearly the beliefs they have faith in and/or the doubts or unanswered questions that are important to them.

A second important aspect of this way of teaching meditation is that people are encouraged to explore the faith and the doubts, the settled truths, and the unanswered questions they have without the teacher telling them what answers they are supposed to find.

It is true one needs to learn to put aside such discursive thinking and probing as needed. They can then embrace ways of searching for, or receiving knowledge and experience through deep interior silence and through other intuitive means.

But helping people explore what truths and values they do hold and what doubts and uncertainties they have is an excellent way to begin their search for greater peace, clarity, ethical maturity, love, and wisdom.

The conceptual underpinning for this process grows out of one of the great discoveries of the post-modern age.

This discovery is that any person can reach the highest stages of meditative experience in this life regardless of whether they are a committed believer in God or a committed atheist. They can do this even if they have no idea how to answer the “big questions.”

More next week.

Please let me know your thoughts about this new way of teaching meditation. All constructive posts will be acknowledged and if desired posted for comment.

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

 

God and Buddhism
Part 9

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Eight weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.”

To recap: the general theme of this series is to highlight the fact that even though the orthodox Buddhist view is that most traditions of Buddhism are atheist traditions, there are many passages in the Buddhist Sutras that refer to Gods and heavenly states and devas (angels) and the like.

I have presented the case that these passages suggest that the Theravada Buddhist tradition is not as much of an atheist tradition as their leading teachers claim. To be fair, they would strongly disagree with this assertion of mine.

As noted in earlier posts, my goal is not to imply that atheist Buddhists should become believers in the way Christian monks and nuns are. Rather the goal is to encourage people to carefully read and think about the sacred texts and leading commentaries that are the foundation of their tradition. Invariably from such careful reading one will find passages in the sacred texts and leading commentaries that are at variance to some of the orthodox teachings of the tradition. Such passages give rise to questions that suggest the inherent limitations of any and all dogmatic formulations.

A classic example from the Christian tradition can be found in Mark 10:17-18 when a young man asks Jesus, “Good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Needless to say conservative Christians quickly point out many other passages where Jesus allegedly refers to himself, or is clearly referred to by others, as being God.  Still Jesus’s response in this passage 10-18 is at sharp variance from orthodox teachings on the nature of who they insist Jesus is.

A passage that suggests, or implies, similar divergences from the orthodox dogmas in the Theravada Buddhist tradition can be found in sacred texts and commentaries that discuss the Jhana practices.

This passage refers to the development of the 2nd Jhana practice:

“Just as a lake fed by a spring, with no inflow from east, west, north, or south, where the rain-God sends moderate showers from time to time, the water welling up from below, mingling with cool water, would suffuse, fill and irradiate that cool water, so that no part of the pool was untouched by it- so, with this delight and joy born of concentration he (i.e. the practitioner) so suffuses his body so that no spot remains untouched. This….is a fruit more excellent and perfect than the former ones.

-The Long Discourses of the Buddha  A Translation of the Digha Nikaya                    Wisdom Publications Somerville, MA 2012 Sutta 2 section 78 Fruits of the Homeless Life Page 103-

Please compare the above citation with this comment about St. Teresa of Avila’s “Prayer of Quiet” which she describes as the highest stage of contemplative prayer.

“The fourth and final method for watering a garden is by means of falling rain. This stage of prayer is totally mystical, meaning that it is infused by God and is not attained by human effort. It is called the prayer of union, and it admits of varying degrees.”

-Posted on Catholicculure.org from “St. Theresa’s Teaching on the Grades of Prayer” by Jordan Aumann who is, I believe, a Catholic priest in the Dominican order-

Certainly orthodox Theravada Buddhists would object to the interpretation I am about to draw by comparing the passage above from Sutta #2 with comments from St. Theresa of Avila, the great 16th century Spanish mystical nun of the Carmelite order.

But there is no doubt of the close parallels between St. Theresa of Avila’s stages she describes as “Prayer of Recollection, Prayer of Quiet, and Prayer of Union, and the various stages of the Jhana practices of the Theravada Buddhists.

In fact it may well be that comments from St. Theresa and comments about the Theravada Buddhist Jhana practices provide one of the most important bridges between Catholic and Buddhist practice and belief.

For a first example of this bridge, in the passage from Sutta 2 listed above, a lake is fed by a spring whose source cannot be seen. In Carmelite descriptions the soul is filled by an infusion of God’s supernatural grace, also in a way that is not seen.

Could it be that God is the unseen source of the “water” surfacing into the lake from an unseen underground spring to create the substance of the experience of the 2nd Jhana?

In the passage from Sutta #2 a rain-God sends “moderate showers from time to time”

In another comment from the article on St. Theresa

“The fourth and final method for watering a garden is by means of falling rain (God’s grace). This stage of prayer is totally mystical, meaning that it is infused by God and is not attained by human effort. It is called the prayer of union, and it admits of varying degrees.”

IBID

More next week on these interesting parallels between the Carmelite Grades of Prayer and the Theravada  Buddhist Jhana passages.

Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

God and Buddhism
Part 8

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Seven weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.”

The general theme of this series is to highlight the fact that even though the orthodox Buddhist view is that most traditions of Buddhism are atheist traditions, there are many passages in the Buddhist Sutras that refer to Gods and heavenly states and devas (angels) and the like.

I have presented the case that these passages suggest that the Theravada Buddhist tradition is not really as much of an atheist tradition as their leading teachers claim.

As noted in earlier posts, my goal is not to imply that atheists should become believers. Rather the goal is to encourage people to carefully read and think about the key books that are the foundation of their tradition. Also to ask probing questions about any contradictions they may find in those books and the traditions that developed out of these canonical texts.

From this reflection and discernment one can realize there are no perfect books, though many books contain a perfect message in key passages. Another realization is that no tradition has “all the answers” even if they say they do (and most say they do).

From a careful study of the gap between what is written in the sacred books of a tradition, as compared with what the leading teachers of a tradition say, one can come to realize the importance of being able to think for one self.

It is also possible that as people ask the tough probing questions of their tradition they will be able to better reflect on the key unanswered questions of that tradition. As people live with these sustained reflections, and at the same time continue to practice to the best of their ability within their tradition, I hope there will be moments of unexpected creativity. I hope some members of each culture will break free from the attachments to ancient dogma, without losing contact with the essential truths of some of the ancient dogmas and practices. I also hope as people break free from blind attachment to dogma, and broaden the circle of their understanding by comparative study of other cultures, that each of the traditions will continue to evolve. My hope is this organic evolution will generate a body of beliefs and practices that will allow the ancient traditions to survive the tsunami of modern rationalism and global consumer culture which generally threaten to drown the world in a sea of violent and savage mediocrity.

Before I wrap up this series, I want to draw on one final teaching from the movements that sought to reform Theravada Buddhism. The reform movements within Buddhism I am referring to are Mahayana Buddhism in general and Zen Buddhism in particular.

That general image or concept is called “Buddha Nature.”

This term is not used in the culture of Theravada Buddhism that I have been focusing on the past few weeks. Rather it seems to have developed in the early centuries of the Common era in the Mahayana Buddhist reforms of India, China, and Japan in the period roughly extending from the 2nd to the 8th century of the common era.

Here is a citation from a Buddhist site Buddhism.about.com

“Theravada Buddhism did not develop a doctrine of Buddha Nature. However, other early schools of Buddhism began to describe the luminous mind is a subtle, basic consciousness present in all sentient beings, or as a potentiality for enlightenment that pervades everywhere.

(Please see (http://buddhism.about.com/od/mahayanabuddhism/a/Buddha-Nature.htm)

I want to draw particular attention to this phrase, ” …a subtle, basic consciousness present in all sentient beings…”

In this theme from Mahayana Buddhist and Zen culture one can see how closely this matches Christian beliefs, and the beliefs of other God centered traditions, that divine life is the foundation of all reality.

Once again I am not saying that Buddhists should become Christians. I am saying that it will prove to be helpful to Buddhists to reflect on those concepts in their culture such as “the deathless” (Theravada) or “Buddha Nature” (Mahayana) or “Original Mind” (Tibetan).

What are these terms referring to if not God?

Is not God ” …a subtle, basic consciousness present in all sentient beings…”?

Or as St. Paul says Acts 17:28

“He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being…”

To be even handed, I pose the same magnitude of questions to Christians or Jews or Muslims and others about the serious contradictions in their own sacred books and traditions. In particular, how could a loving God have created the human, animal, insect, plant, microbial and viral forms of being where there is so much struggle, violence, crippling, and devastation?

It is important to remember that Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Confucius, Lao-Tze, the authors of the Upanishads, and the Buddha significantly challenged the cultures they were born into, while still preserving much of the ideas, language, customs and practices of their cultures.

I am sure the teachers, stewards, reformers, and renegades of the near and distant futures will do much the same. But what form these re-forms will have, none can say. Also there will be many attempts at reform (such as Mormonism) that miss the mark by a wide degree.

The challenge will be to find the balance between really knowing the ancient cultures, and being living witnesses to an ancient culture, while still being open to the intuitions and inspirations to meaningful reform that arise from sincere practice within the culture.

What do you think?

Will there be a reform movement in Buddhism that openly talks about God as an alternative description of “Buddha Nature?”

Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884

God and Buddhism
Part 7

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Six weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.”

The general theme of this series is to highlight the fact that even though the orthodox Buddhist view is that most traditions of Buddhism are atheist traditions, there are many passages in the Buddhist Sutras that refer to Gods and heavenly states and devas (angels) and the like.

I have presented the case that these passages suggest that the Theravada Buddhist tradition is not really as much of an atheist tradition as their leading teachers claim.

However, the core of intellectual integrity is to approach any subject as dispassionately and objectively as one can. With this in mind it is important to be clear most Theravada Buddhists, and the teachers of most other Buddhist traditions, do not believe in God or the need for divine grace for a person to reach the highest goals of the spiritual life.

A good example of how the Buddha somewhat scornfully dismisses beliefs in an all- powerful creator, please see Sutta #1 “What the teaching is not” sections 2.1 to 2.7.

The Long Discourses of the Buddha  A Translation of the Digha Nikaya                    Wisdom Publications Somerville, MA 2012 Pages 75-76

In this passage the Buddha begins by saying that for one reason or another a being is reborn in an “Abhassara Brahma world.” This is a high plane of existence where beings live as beings of light, or devas, in great joy and ease for a very long time.

But through fatigue or loss of merits, one of these beings drops down a level of being into an “empty Brahma palace.” which is also a lofty plane of existence just not as high as the “Abhassara Brahma world.” Over time this being gets a little lonely and begins to wish other beings were present. When other beings also drop into this realm the first being begins to think, “I am Brahma, The Great Brahma….the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful Lord, the maker and creator, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.”

In short, the first fallen being starts to mistakenly describe their identity as being Brahma. The beings who appear later in this “empty-Bhrama palace” also start mistakenly thinking of the first one they meet there as being Brahma.

To appreciate the full significance of this, it helps to know that Buddhism developed in the midst of sixth or fifth century BCE in India, when Brahma was the name given to the supreme deity of the Indian culture of the time. With this in mind, this passage from Sutta #1 is saying the God the Indians have worshiped for centuries as the supreme deity is in actuality a deluded being who fell from a higher realm. Furthermore those who worship this being are also deluded into thinking something is true that is not. To say that this analysis is a bit disrespectful and specious is an understatement.

But, from a Buddhist perspective the most important feature in all such matters is this:

Even though in Buddhist texts there are many references to Brahma, heavenly states, devas, the 33 Gods, and the Ruler of the Gods, these realities are not seen as being that important. To Buddha and his followers all of these heavenly states and Gods are simply additional examples of impermanent states and beings.

To orthodox Theravada Buddhists the Buddha’s enlightenment is superior to all these states and beings for a very simple reason.  All states and beings however exalted are created. All that is created will pass away. Gods, devas, heavenly states, heavenly sights and sounds may be exalted and very pleasant, but like all created phenomena they will come to an end. In that end they will experience suffering and death and rebirth into the cycles of birth, suffering, and death.

But Nirvana is not a created state and therefore escapes the cycles of arising and passing away. What is surprising to me though is that Nirvana is often referred to as “The Deathless.” (I believe it is in Chapter 3 of the Dhammapada from the Pali Canon but I need to check that source).

What Buddhists are generally not willing to concede is that this “deathless” Nirvana state sounds a great deal like eternal life as described by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others. When you think about it “eternal life” and the “deathless” don’t really sound all that different do they?

But, perhaps the Buddhist teachers are right. Perhaps there is no real comparison between Buddhist Nirvana and Christian eternal life in Heaven.

Then again it is also possible Buddhist teachers refuse to consider the possibility that Nirvana and eternal life in God are very similar due to unwholesome attachments they have to the views of their teacher/savior Gotama (or the tradition that used his name to expound their views).

By the way even If this is the case, they are no less attached to their dogmas than Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others are to theirs.

Still it is a good question. What is this “Deathless” the Buddhists talk about?

Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.

More next week.

Peace,

Will

will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)

774-232-0884