Please note there is some overlap between the excerpts listed on the Intermediate section of excerpts and those listed here for people with a Proficient level of practice. In general I have either added additional selections or added a section drawn from a later section of a particular chapter. I am using the term Proficient excerpts to refer to those people who have been sitting daily, or almost daily, for a few years and have studied closely with a senior meditation teacher.
Please let me know of any questions you have by sending me an email.
Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness”.
Some people have a particularly strong need to know the highest truths of this life and the most effective means to diminish suffering in the world. Unfortunately, quite a few who are driven by these elemental needs encounter a general problem in their search when they turn to the religions of the world. They find they do not accept or cannot accept many of the traditional answers to their most important questions. Whether they are studying ancient or very modern faith traditions, many find what they read or hear about is unbelievably confusing or just plain mistaken. It is not that such people fail to see the value, irreplaceable beauty, and truth that are also very real aspects of various religious faiths. The problem is they find that many teachings of religion not only do not help them, but the errors and violent dysfunction they encounter only make things worse. An even more serious set of doubts arise when they come to realize that the atavistic rigidity and gross hypocrisy if many deeply religious people are primary causes if the suffering in the larger society in which they live.
For others their needs are more simply stated.
Despite their best efforts with religion, psychology, or meditation they have not found an effective way to resolve the painful hardships of their life or to find relief from difficult emotional states. They continue to hope a more clear understanding of truth will help them cultivate the exalted experiences of peace and deep healing they have heard are possible. Part of the general challenge for many in this predicament is they cannot find any way to sort out the important truths from the distorting errors they encounter in a particular culture they are drawn to.
For anyone who experiences these kinds of painful frustration, it is dearly hoped this independent commentary on silent meditation will be of real help.
Those people who have chosen a particular faith tradition and feel they do generally accept the teachings of their tradition can also find benefit from these practices.
This is because everyone who makes a serious study of spirituality or philosophy experiences times when they really are not certain how to understand the more perplexing teachings of their tradition. This is especially true when people experience sudden and devastating loss, or violent attack, betrayal or heartbreak in love, or raw injustice. Even the most committed life-long believers can find their faith is shaken to the core during such difficult times. It is to help people, regardless of their present levels of faith of confusion, with both the small trials of life and those that push people to the limits of their endurance, that the practices of the simple path are offered.
It is not the intent of this commentary to attempt to persuade people to accept or reject particular beliefs or points of view. Rather the primary purpose of this commentary is to offer general but very effective practices that people can adapt to their present beliefs and life experience as they search for a way forward that feels true to them…
2nd Excerpt From Chapter 5 Concentration and Insight Practice Pages 47-48 & 49
The phrase “mindful awareness” is better known in contemporary western meditation circles than is the phrase “concentration practice.”
This is due mostly to the fact that the traditions of Buddhist meditation which emphasize “mindful awareness” were established on a wider basis in the west that were those which emphasize “concentration practice.” Having noted that the phrases “mindful awareness” and
“concentration practice” are translations from terms drawn from Buddhist tradition, it is important to add that one does not need to become a Buddhist to engage these practices unless you wish to do so. Many find that some teachings of Buddhism are neither appealing or true. Still, these practices of mindful awareness and concentration are better developed in the Buddhist and Hindu cultures than is the case with most other meditation traditions. Furthermore, they are basic and neutral enough that they can be adapted to any other style of meditation or study of ethics which have a genuinely moral tone and high standards of personal integrity.
Before reflecting on ways concentration practices are a bit different from mindful awareness it is important to acknowledge that concentration is a form of mindful awareness. It just happens to be a further development of mindful awareness.
As for the differences of nuance between mindful awareness and concentration practice:
First, concentration is the extensions of mindful awareness without interruption over a sustained period of time.
Second, the focus of concentration practice tends to be more narrowly drawn than the more general practice of being aware of whatever is happening in any particular moment.
A good example of this: focusing on the place where the breath passes the top of the upper lip and the rim of the nostrils is a much more narrowly drawn focus than a shifting awareness of a wide variety of different sensations in the body….
….A full development of this skill is called “single point concentration.”
In other words the mind is focused on a single point without distraction. This practice is also commonly referred to as “absorption” or “Samadhi” in eastern religions. This particular type of meditation is a foundation practice of many monastic cultures, but is especially pronounced in Theravada (Vipassana) Buddhism and the Raja (or Astanga) tradition of Yoga in Hinduism.
The experiences of peace and clarity that arise from this highly concentrated state are exceptionally pure and refreshing and for this reason are highly attractive….
3rd Excerpt From Chapter 6 Affirmation Pages 70-71
At some point in a particular session of meditation on the breath and affirmation you can make the decision to extend this practice in any one of a number of ways.
For example: as you realize you have drifted off in yet another distraction, you can pause to consider who you were thinking of during the distraction whether it was yourself or some friend or nemesis. In this way you can use the content of the distraction to further cultivate affirmation, by offering a fresh stream of positive silent love towards yourself or whomever you were thinking about during the distraction.
For another example you can offer love and compassion to every name you read in the daily newspaper without conditions and without measuring whether they deserve such love or not.
For another example you can offer love and compassion to every name who is present as different memories come to mind, and by infusing memories with compassion, begin to transform the vast warehouses of memory.
If you are reading history you can offer compassion to yourself for the experiences of suffering you feel when reading of past tragedies and to every name in history you happen to read about.
If you are reading scripture you can offer compassion to every name and being profiled in the scriptures of your chosen path.
In these ways, and others you may think of, you can further expand the practice of offering silent affirmation to all who live, to all who ever have lived, and all who ever will live.
Or, if you do not wish to further expand this practice of affirmation as you proceed deeper into a meditation session, that is fine as well.
You can quietly let go of these intentions of affirmation and silent offering and simply shift your intention and awareness back to the sensations of the breath in the nostrils. You can migrate back to the more narrow effort of cultivating the pure and wordless focus of single point concentration or your insight practice.
Either choice is a good one.
In either case the work needs to continue to reflect upon any anger, resentment, harsh judgment, aggressive urges, or actions if any such feelings arise during silent meditation or in the active hours of life. It is important to know it will not be possible to quiet the mind or cultivate any real degree of concentration or love until you find healthy ways to diminish at depth any such feelings that may be active in your life.
4th Excerpt From Chapter 6 Affirmation Page 74
Regrettably, many commentaries on unconditional love seem to imply that a few meditation sessions are enough to tame truly violent and conflicted impulses. For many people this is not the case. Anger and even impotent rage can be such deeply habitualized responses for many that diffusing the underlying causes of such feelings will probably be long-term work.
There is also no need to imagine you will no longer experience surges of anger or resentment just because you have begun to make some high-grade commitments to love and affirmation. It will take most people quite a while to really learn how to diffuse at depth the underlying causes of anger, resentment, harsh judgement, or aggression.
If there are high levels of various forms of anger and resentment active in your life it is important to find and then to feel the feelings that are there. It is important to find someone you can really talk to about such deep feelings or aggressive thoughts and urges….
Any efforts to repress or deny such feelings will only create significant levels of stress and cause very real damage to your psyche and bodily health. In addition to the damage, there is another general problem that arises. The repression of anger doesn’t work. It just creates a pressure cooker in the mind causing the mind to erupt in even more vitriolic outbursts of rage and aggression if certain conditions come together as triggers to such a reaction.
This is especially true if you have been the victim of childhood abuse or neglect or some violent crime such as rape, a humiliating public beating, raw exploitation, or political repression.
If this is the case in your life, then even greater care and patience will be needed to find the right care-givers and teachers to work with.
5th Excerpt from Chapter 6 Affirmation Pages 76-77
There is more that needs to be said about those rare situations when one needs to defend themselves against true criminals, predators, and dictators. In truth there may be times when you personally or your society may not see any other way to defend yourself or your nation from organized gangsters or predatory sadists or genuinely ruthless dictators or their henchmen. If such deeply disturbing situations develop in your life or society, then people may understandably feel there is no legitimate option but to turn to militant means to protect and defend the vulnerable. Surely this is a clear violation of the tenets of unconditional love and forgiveness. Still, if after careful review according to the disciplined criteria you feel militant action is the only way to defend your life or the lives of others, then proceed with decisive action. But, proceed only with the clear intent to cause as little suffering as is needed to restrain or destroy the aggressors and to return to peaceful means as quickly as possible. Any sense of enjoyment of the suffering inflicted on others is a clear sign you have lost your way and been swept up on primitive emotions. Such atavistic emotions will have long-term consequence for you if you do not regret back to a sense of lamentation that no other way besides militant action seemed to be available.
The trouble is that most of us, and most nations, reach for the militant option too quickly even though other available and possibly effective remedies have not been exhausted. It is easy for even good and sensible people in mass cultures to be swept away by the fear and anger whipped up by cynical demagogues in ways that can lead to terrible wars and devastation that simply never needed to happen.
For now it is enough to make sure you are doing what you can to diminish the anger, fear, and excessive desire in your life which are the little drops of poison that fill the buckets that spill over into war.
If you are able to remain true to the highest standards of non-violence and are willing to die or be imprisoned for your beliefs then more power to you, for this is a very high practice.
But for most of us what is realistically possible is to commit to developing whatever is the next level of non-violent conflict resolution skills one is capable of and to reserve acts of violence when such are truly the last resort to defend the innocent.
Real commitments to steady incremental progress in one’s life and society along these lines will allow for real progress towards a non-violent world.
This is a good hope. This is a true hope. This is a simple hope.