1. The Eightfold Path: Right Understanding
This meditation practice, as many of you have done with this day of
sitting and walking, was actually quite a lot. Some people will start
with a 20-minute sitting and do that for a number of months, or go to
a class and have some instruction and sit for a little bit. There are
people who also will come to a ten-day retreat. We've even had a few
kind of unusual people sign up for a three-month retreat who had never
meditated before, and say, "Well, I guess I'll just do it." But as
you can discover, even in just one day of sitting, though some things
are interesting and you learn some from it, it's also not so easy.
There aren't a lot of distractions and diversions here. It's pretty
simple. All that's really left for you in this place is your own body
and mind, and there's not a lot to take one away from that.
What is the essence of meditation practice? Here is a story. After
the Buddha was enlightened he was walking down the road in a very
happy state. He was supposed to have been quite a handsome prince
before going off to be a monk. So here's this handsome prince now
recently enlightened, wearing golden robes and obviously quite happy,
and very special from all accounts. And he met some people and they
said, "You seem very special. What are you, are some kind of an angel
or a deva?" He seemed inhuman in some way. "No." "Well, are you
some kind of a god then?" "No." "Well, then are you some kind of a
wizard or magician?" "No," he replied. "Well, are you a man?" "No,"
he said. "Then what are you?" And he answered, "I am awake."
And in those three words --"I am awake"-- he gave the whole teaching
which Buddhism contains. To be a Buddha is to be one who has
awakened, awakened to the nature of life and death and the world in
which we live, awakened to the body and mind. So the purpose of
practicing meditation, the Buddhist and other traditions, is not to
become a meditator, or a spiritual person, or a Buddhist, or to join
something. Rather, it is to understand this capacity we have as
humans to awaken.
What is that which we can awaken to, what is the Dharma which we can
awaken to? //Dharma// is the Sanskrit word and //Dhamma// is the
Pali word which refers to that which is universal, to the laws of the
universe, teachings which describe it. The Dharma as a law is that the
way things work are always here to be discovered; they're quite
There's a story of a pious man who very much believed in God. One
day, at the place where he dwelled, it started to rain heavily and it
rained and rained, and a big flood came. He went from the first
floor to the second floor of his house and the water rose until he was
on the roof. Someone rowed by and said, "Get in, my friend, I'll save
you; the water is rising." He said, "No, I believe in God; I really
have faith; I believe." So he sent the rowboat away. It rained more
and the water got all the way up to his neck. Another rowboat came
by, picking up people. "Get in, my friend, I'll save you." "No, thank
you. I have trust. I have lived my whole life. I believe in God; no
need." The rowboat went away. It got up to his nose so he could just
barely breathe. And a helicopter came over and lowered down a rope.
"Come up, my friend, I'll save you." "No, thank you. I believe, I
have faith, I trust." So the helicopter went away.
It rained some more and he drowned. He goes to heaven after that.
Soon after that he gets an interview with God. So he goes in, and he
sits down and pays his respects, and then he says, "You know, I just
don't understand. Here I was your faithful servant. I was so
trusting, and prayed, and so believing, and I just don't understand
what happened to me." And he recounts all of his circumstances.
"Where were you when I needed you?" God looks up and kind of
scratches his head and says, "I don't understand it either. I sent
you two rowboats and a helicopter."
We wait for God to come in some big flash or our spiritual awakening
to be some wonderful other worldly experience. What the Dharma is,
and what we can awaken to, is the truth that is here when we leave our
fantasies and memories and things behind and come into the present.
What are these laws, what is it? First, there is the Dharma which
is described as the law of cause and effect, or Karma, which means by
one teacher's definition, "To keep it simple, 'karma' means you don't
get away with nothin'." But in a more explicit way, it means that we
become what we do, or we create how our future will be. For example,
if we practice being angry all the time, in a while, when a situation
arises, that will be our response to it, and it will create that in
other people; that will be the kind of society we end up in. If we
practice being loving, that becomes the way of what will happen to us
in the future.
When the Buddha spoke to people who were interested in happiness --
which some people are -- they said, "How can we be happy?" He said,
"Well, one way is to understand the law of karma. If you cultivate
generosity, kindness, awareness and giving. you will be happy because
you'll learn that it's pleasant, and also the way that karma works is
that your world will become more of a cycling rather than fear and
holding. You will discover happiness in this generosity."
He said, "If you're kind to people, if you maintain a basic level of
non-harming -- what's called Virtue -- if your words are honest and
helpful, if your actions are truthful and helpful and based on
kindness, your world will start to become kind. Inside you'll feel
kinder and happier; outside people will treat you that way. The law
of Karma is one of the first things you observe if you practice
mindfulness and awareness. This is one thing you can discover through
A second thing you can discover is that there are two places that we
can live. There are many places, but one is to live in our fantasy,
in our thoughts about things; and the other is to be more here in our
bodies, in our eyes, our nose, in our senses, and the direct
experience of things.
For me -- says Don Juan -- the world is incredible because it is
stupendous, mysterious, awesome, unfathomable. My interest has
been to convince you that you must learn to make every act
count. You must learn to assume responsibility for being here in
this marvelous world, in this marvelous time, for in fact you
will learn that you are only here for too short a time, a very
short while, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.
So one way is to be kind of lost in thoughts and fantasies, and the
other is that while we have this life, to come into it; to live in our
physical bodies, to be aware of the senses; to open, to see what they
have to teach us. When we do that and we pay attention, we start to
see some of the characteristics of the Dharma or the life in which we
One characteristic is impermanence.
Thus shall you think of this fleeting world -- it says in one
Buddhist sutra -- a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash
of lightning in a summer cloud, an echo, a rainbow, a phantom
and a dream.
That as you look, the more closely you observe, the more you realize
that everything you look at is in change. Seeing changes, hearing
changes, smelling, tasting and physical sensations are changing; all
the experiences in the body and mind, all the experiences of the
It seems solid -- That's the illusion of //santati//. -- It's like a
movie. And when you watch the screen and get caught in the story, it
seems like it's very real. But when you turn your attention to the
projector, or slow it down, or focus your awareness very carefully,
you start to see that it's one frame after another, one appearing and
dissolving and the next arising.
It's so for our life; it's really a process of change. That's so
because things don't last. If you have something that lasts in your
life, please raise your hand. Has anyone gotten any mental states of
any kind to last very long? Someone once raised a hand and said,
"Yes, ignorance. It's lasted my whole life." But basically it's
change. You sit here for one day -- you don't even have to be a very
adept meditator to get the point that it moves all the time, that it
changes. And because things don't last, if we're attached to them
being a certain way, what happens? This is one of the laws. What
happens? We suffer, or we get disappointed -- not because we should.
You can be attached as much as you like, but even though you're
attached, does it stop it from changing? You have a nice mental state
and you try and hold on to it, does it last anyway?
You start to see the laws of things, that things are impermanent,
that attachment doesn't work, and that there must be some other way.
There is actually what Alan Watts called, "the wisdom of insecurity,"
the ability to flow with things, to see them as a changing process.
You also see not only are they impermanent and ungraspable, but that
there's suffering if we're attached to them, and that there's pain as
well as pleasure in this world; it's part of what we were born into.
If you decide to get off on this planet and get one of these things
with ten little things on the end here and ten little things on the
end there, that grows for awhile, and that you put old dead plants and
animals in, and mush them up in order to get it to kind of move around
-- if you choose one of these things which you have, it's too late
already. What is the nature of it? It grows up, it grows old, it
dies. Sometimes it gets sick, sometimes it feels good, sometimes it
hurts; there's pleasure and pain in it. Anybody have one that doesn't
hurt sometimes? If you don't want that, you've got to go to another
planet because it's not the way things are here.
You sit, and you say, "I'm just going to be with my body and mind,"
and what do you find? Sometimes you find it's pleasant and sometimes
it's painful; sometimes it's quiet, sometimes it's restless, and you
begin to relate to what Zorba called, "It's the whole catastrophe,"
all of it, instead of fearing the painful things and running away all
the time, and grasping after pleasant things, hoping that somehow by
holding them they'll last and seeing that they don't.
My teacher, Achaan Chah used to wander around the monastery at times
and talk to people and just say, "Are you suffering much today?" And
if you said, "Yes," he said, "Oh, you must be quite attached," and
kind of giggle and go along. There wasn't much more to say. You come
to see that you don't own this body because it changes by itself, that
you rent this house; you get it for a little while, and you can honor
it and feed it and walk it, and jog it if you want, but it's not yours
to possess. You can begin to see, in fact, that none of these things
are possessible because the nature of life is nonpossession. You're
an accountant in the firm -- you get to count it for awhile and
We sit to awaken, and we awaken by coming into our bodies and our
senses, and we start to see the laws which govern life so we can come
into a wiser relationship with it. What does this mean for our lives?
Well, this really teaches a way of wholeness and awareness, of
bringing our body and mind together, our heart and actions, being
conscious with our speech, conscious with our eating, conscious with
walking, making them each a part of what allows us to grow and live.
To do this means accepting the fact of impermanence, and of some pain
and suffering, and the fact that we don't control it very much. I
mean, you control some of it, but not very much, and in a really
limited way. If you can't accept those things, then you will probably
want to stay in your fantasy, because they're what you encounter when
you come here.
Some people might ask, "Doesn't meditation fragment us away from the
world? You say that it makes us more present." It can if we become
attached to solitude, if we sit and try to get quiet and block
everything out, close our eyes and ears and nose or go into a cave.
There's another story of an elderly woman in New York who goes to a
travel agent and says, "Please get me a ticket to Tibet. I want to go
see the guru." The travel agent says, "You know, it's a long trip to
Tibet. You'd be much happier going to Miami." She says "I insist. I
want to go." So this old lady gets a ticket, brings her things with
her, gets on the plane and goes to India, gets the visa and the pass,
takes the train up to Sikkim, gets a border pass, takes the bus up to
the Tibetan plateau, and gets out. And they're all saying, "Where are
you going?" "I must go see the guru." They say, "It's such a long
way. You're an old lady. It's up in the mountains." She says, "I'm
going. I have to see the guru." They say,"You know, you only get
three words with him." "It doesn't matter, I am going." So she goes,
and she gets on the horse in Tibet, because there are no roads in this
part, gets to the foot of this large mountain, and all these pilgrims
are saying, "Where are you going?" She says, "I want to see the
guru." They say, "Remember, you get just three words." She says, "I
know, I know." She gets in line, gets up there, finally past the
guards at the door who say, 'Three words.only." She goes in and
there's the guru sitting in his robes with a kind of scraggly beard.
He looks up at her and she looks at him, and she says, "Sheldon, come
I tell it mostly for a laugh but the fact is that for us who live in
the Bay Area, the spirituality that's going to work for us is not a
spirituality of finding peace by leaving the world. It's not to say
you shouldn't go and take a vacation in Yosemite or have periodic
retreats. But fundamentally, for spiritual practice to be vital in
our lives, it has to be what we can use in the supermarket, while we
drive, when we're walking, when we're dealing with our families; to
make everything a part of it, and not to escape.
Someone might ask in the same vein, "Doesn't meditation fragment us
from the world?" It can if one tries to escape, but what we're
training here is an awareness that can be used throughout our day.
What about social responsibility? We're on the brink of nuclear
war. There is exploitation and injustice in every country. There are
40 wars going on right now, in Iraq, Iran, El Salvador, Nicaragua,
Guatemala, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Cambodia, Laos, Libya, Angola,
Afghanistan, all these places, and God knows where else. And it's not
just a story. It's painful for millions of people, as is starvation,
as are 50,000 nuclear warheads which could literally destroy most of
the human beings and many or most of the major animals that live on
the planet in a painful way, easily, quickly.
One must listen to one's heart in this. It's interesting. You can
make a compelling case for different sides. From that point of view
you see that what's necessary is not to sit but to act. There is
starvation. Nuclear war is imminent if we don't do something. There
is compelling need, even in this very rich and affluent society, of
people who are suffering in many ways. And what are we doing sitting
around? It's quite convincing.
There is another side which is equally convincing, and that is:
What is the cause of that starvation and all those wars, and that
suffering? What do you think is the source of it? There's enough
oil, there's enough food, there's enough resources on this planet. The
cause of it is greed, and the cause of it is prejudice and hatred. We
hate people of different religions, different skin color, different
customs; we like our country, our family, our religion, our type. So
there's hoarding, and there's grasping, and greed and hatred and
ignorance. We've tried revolutions for many centuries. It's helped in
some ways but in others it just keeps going around because we haven't
touched the root of the problem. The way out of the root of the
problem is for someone to discover what it means to not be caught up
by anger, what it means to be free from that fear or that prejudice
which arises in human hearts and minds, what it means to be unafraid
of that which is painful as well as that which is pleasant -- to have
the heart open to all of what the world presents.
We don't need more oil and food as much as we need somebody who
understands how to avoid getting caught in anger and fear and
prejudice. And that somebody is you. So instead of it being a luxury
to meditate, from another point of view, it's a responsibility for
anyone who can, to figure out in their own being, in their own life,
what it means not to be caught by these forces, to learn some new way
-- and then bring that to bear on the economic and social and
political kinds of suffering as well in the world.
There's a favorite letter of mine from a Nobel Prize winner named
George Wald, who is a biologist at Harvard. He wrote it in response
to an argument about the starting of a Nobel laureate sperm bank.
Some irate feminist wrote into the paper saying, "Sperm banks, they
should have an egg bank. Why just sperm?" He says:
You're right, Pauline. It takes an egg as well as a sperm to
start a Nobel laureate. Everyone of them has had a mother as
well as a father. Say all you want of fathers, their
contribution to conception Is really rather small.
Nobel laureates aside, there isn't much technically in the way
of starting an egg bank. There are some problems but nothing so
hard as involved in the other kinds of breeder reactors.
But think of a man so vain as to insist on getting a superior
egg from an egg bank. Then he has to fertilize it. And when it's
fertilized, where does he go with it, To his wife? "Here, dear,"
you can hear him saying, "I just got this superior egg from an
egg bank and just fertilized it myself. Will you take care of
it?" "I've got eggs of my own to worry about," she replies. "You
know what you can do with your superior egg. Go rent a womb,
and while you're at it, you better rent a room too."
You see, it just won't work. For the truth is that what one
really needs is not Nobel laureates but love. How do you think
one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that's how.
Wanting it so bad one works all the time and ends up a Nobel
laureate. It's a consolation prize.
What matters is love. Forget sperm banks and egg banks. Banks
and love are incompatible. If you don't know that, you don't
know bankers. So just practice loving. Love a Russian. You'd be
surprised how easy it is, and how it will brighten up your
morning. Love whales, Iranians, Vietnamese, not just here but
everywhere. When you've gotten really good you can even try
loving some of our politicians.
This is the other voice. He said this amazing thing, that even the
Nobel Prize is a consolation prize because what human beings most want
is to be honored, to be loved, to be recognized. And what the world
most compellingly needs is someone who understands how not to get
caught in these ancient human patterns of prejudice, fear and anger.
Doesn't meditation make people withdraw from the world anyway? One
has seen that for sure. There's a fine teaching in the Buddhist
tradition called, The Near Enemies. The near enemy of love is
attachment. It masquerades like love, it feels like it, but it's
separate. It says, "I love you but really I'm attached to you. I
need you out there to make me whole." Rather, the sense of love is
honoring and seeing our connection.
The near enemy to compassion is pity. "Oh, that poor person,
they're suffering. I don't suffer, not me certainly,." but they all
do, and it separates them again. The near enemy to equanimity or
balance of mind is indifference. It feels like, "Ah, everything is
fine basically because I don't give a shit. I don't care about
anybody," believing that in not caring we can find some peace. Real
equanimity is when the heart begins to open and we find a capacity to
experience all that the world presents -- with balance, with love,
Our training in meditation is not a running away from the world at
all. It's really a sitting down right in the middle of it, paying
attention to that which is pleasant and that which is painful, that
which makes a lot of noise, that which is silent, and begin to listen
to our relationship to it, to observe it, to learn from it, and learn
a wise way of relating.
Then what is the heart of this inner way of practice? The heart of
it is mindfulness, listening, paying attention to our bodies, to all
the various energies, to the voices, paying attention when we eat.
Which voice do you listen to when you stop a meal? Is it the belly
which maybe speaks first and says, "Oh, I had enough. Comfortable,
nice and full." And then the tongue chimes in, "Gee, but that fruit
was so good, let's have a little more." And the eyes say, 'Yeah,
there's more of that other stuff too that we haven't finished yet."
And you hear all these different voices. In our culture we don't
listen to our bodies so much. Like James Joyce somewhere in
//Ulysses// said something like, "Mr. Duffy lived a short distance
from his body." We do in some fashion, you know.
The first foundation of mindfulness -- to become wise -- is to live
in the physical reality of our body, to live in the feelings, to be
aware of emotions, to be aware of the pleasant and neutral and
unpleasant aspect of our experience, and to learn that we don't have
to resist that which is painful and grasp that which is pleasant all
the time. That's perhaps our conditioning, but in fact it doesn't lead
to peace, it doesn't lead to happiness, because things change anyway.
Even if you're attached to them they change.
It's an open-hearted and non-judging awareness which comes into the
body and into the feelings and then observes the mind as well as its
laws, the law of karma, the laws of impermanence, and begins to see
how to relate to it all out of compassion, kindness and wisdom, which
means seeing how it's really operating. Sometimes it gets very
painful when you sit. Sometimes it's pleasant; you have bliss and
light. Then you get attached. Sometimes it gets painful and then you
want to avoid it.
Thomas Merton said at one point:
True prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer becomes
impossible and the heart is turned to stone.
Sometimes it's in the very greatest difficulties in our sitting or
in our life that our heart opens the most, or we finally get the fact
that we can't get attached to things and hold on to them; that they
don't go the way we think but the way that they go. So wisdom begins
How then to work with the basic difficulties which arise in
meditation? What to do when there's physical pain? As best you can,
sit and quietly mentally note "pain, pain," paying attention. See if
you can notice how it changes. Sit comfortably. Don't make pain for
yourself. There's plenty in this life without it. But if you'll
notice, sometimes it comes anyway. Then see if you can learn some
balance with it. When you observe pain, one of three things will
happen. Do you know what will happen if you observe it? Sometimes
it will go away; sometimes it will stay the same; and sometimes it
will get worse. That's not your business.
Your job in meditation is to start to see things as they are; light
and dark, and up and down, pleasant things and painful things; to open
to them, to start to pay attention to all of what makes up our
reality. That develops what is called in spiritual discipline, a
heart of greatness. If you open the door to the outside, what do you
get when you open it? You get whatever is out there. You get the
weather for that day. And if you keep the door open, you get the
changes in the weather. If you open your mind and your body and your
heart, what do you get? You get everything. You get what's painful
and what's pleasant. And there is a way to come to a new relationship
In working with difficulties -- desire, anger, restlessness, doubt,
fear which are the traditional hindrances which arise in meditation --
how can one work with them, how can one make one's spiritual practice
so that these become workable?
There's a story in the community of George Gurdjieff of this
obnoxious and very difficult man who finally left, for he was having
such a hard time. Gurdjieff paid him to come back. Everyone was
upset because they all had to pay a lot to live there, and here is
Gurdjieff paying this old creepy guy who gets annoyed at everybody and
is dirty. They asked him why he did that, and he said, "This man is
like yeast for bread. Without him, you wouldn't really learn the
meaning of patience or compassion or loving kindness. You wouldn't
learn that about yourself."
So when these states of mind arise -- restlessness, desire, fear,
wanting, worry, agitation, or judgment, if only it were somehow
different than it is, "I don't like this" -- what to do with them? Sit
in the very middle of them and study them. Note how they feel in the
body. There's desire. Desire runs much of our world. If you watch
TV that's all they sell is desire. Pay attention to see what it's
like, how do you feel it in the body, what is it like in the mind.
Give clear and careful mindful attention to it, without getting caught
-- not suppressing it, or trying to get it go away, and not getting
involved. Just noting, "desire, desire, wanting," until you come to
see its nature and you come to some balance where you're not so caught
up in it or afraid of it.
The same for anger. Most of us are either afraid of it and stuff it
down or we act it out. See if when judgment or anger arises you can
just sit and note, "angry, furious, judging," whatever it is, and feel
it. Heat, movement, energy in the body, certain contractions,
different qualities of mind, see if it is possible to experience that
energy and learn from it. See how it changes, what it does to you,
what its flavor is, its effect on you, and then maybe you can learn
not to be quite so caught in it. It doesn't mean it won't still come,
heaven knows, but your relationship to it can be a wiser one. Do it
again and again -- with fear, with all the kinds of mental states that
come up, especially the difficult ones -- until you can sit and allow
them to come and go like cows or sheep in the meadow.
What if they're very strong, what if they're too difficult, they're
really, really hard, what should you do? You're so restless you just
can't stand it, what to do? Die! Be the first yogi to ever die of
restlessness. Just say, "Fine, take me." Surrender to it and let it
kill you. And what you discover if you do that is that in a way you
die; what dies is your resistance to it, and that you just carry on.
You discover this powerful capacity we have, if you work with it, to
open to all of our experience and find some balance in it.
If you're more advanced, if you've done practice for awhile, you may
also wish to work with the capacity one has to go into the very middle
of something. If there's desire, anger, or fear, or whatever it is,
not just to feel it, but see if you can find the very center of it and
discover what's there, and maybe go through the center in some way.
I'll just leave that as a //koan// for you right now.
Now, what about all the different kinds of meditation? Here one is
learning Vipassana. How about Tibetan meditation, Zen or TM, and so
forth? There are a lot of good ways to practice. There are these
two students of a master who were arguing. One says, "It's really
good to sit very still and not move and just work with whatever pain
comes," and the other one says, "No, no, that's macho. You want to
relax and be gentle, and just be aware, but you don't make a lot of
effort in it." And they're arguing and they can't seem to get any
answer. And they go to the master. One says, "You've really got to
make effort to bring your mind back and to stay very present and not
to move, and in that way you get through all this stuff. You learn
how to be still in the middle of anything." And the master says,
"You're right." And the other one says, "But wait a second. Don't
you want to learn to be loving and gentle, to move if you really need
to, and just to find a balance with it all, to be soft and not to
struggle against it, but simply to open." The master says, "You're
right." And a third student who was sitting there says, "But they
can't both be right." And the master says, "And you're right too."
There are many good ways of meditation. There are some that are
better than others, in the sense that some have a limited purpose, but
there are many major schools of meditation which are wonderful if they
develop awareness or mindfulness of the body, or the mind and the
heart are sense-experienced, where you observe how the world is
working. They can bring you to liberation, they can bring you to
freedom. So it doesn't really matter which kind you've chosen. If
you're doing Vipassana practice, wonderful! If what's accessible or
interesting to you is Zen, fine! What's important is that you pick
one and you stay with it and do it. Its takes discipline. If you
want to learn to play the piano, it takes more than just a day once in
awhile, a few minutes here and there. If you're lucky, after a year
you'll be able to play "Happy Birthday To You." If you really want to
learn something in a full way -- tennis, piano, not to speak of
training the mind and opening the heart -- it takes perseverance,
patience and a systematic training. Pick a practice, use it, work
with it every day, work with a teacher if you can, or in circumstances
where you sit with other people. And in doing it over and over again,
it starts to develop your capacity to open; it starts to train you to
be more in the present moment; it starts to develop this sense of
patience. When you sit and really feel what's in there, it brings a
kind of compassion.
Now, what's the particular value of intensive retreats? What's the
value of leaving the world to go off on a weekend or a ten-day
retreat, or even a day here?. Why not just do it at home? There are
two things to say. First again is a story of Mullah Nasrudin. He's
out in his garden one day sprinkling bread crumbs around, and a friend
comes by and says, "Mullah, why are you sprinkling those bread
crumbs?" He says, " Oh, I do it to keep the tigers away." And the
friend says, "But there aren't any tigers within thousands of miles of
here." And Nasrudin says, "Effective, isn't it?"
One tends to get rote or go on automatic pilot in whatever one does.
Have you noticed that? You learn how to do it, you master it a
little bit, and then you check out. Part of the process of meditation
is to wake up from being on automatic pilot or Zombieland. It's kind
of ironic because you come here and you walk around very slowly, you
don't look at anybody, and you look more like a zombie. But inside
it's a different story. What we're doing is breaking our habit. If
you walk at your normal pace, la, la, la, and whistle while you walk
down the street, what would happen most likely is that your mind would
immediately go off some place else.
We use the form of intensive retreats, of a day or a weekend, to use
the silence, to use a bit of stillness, to slow down, all as ways to
break the habit of automatic pilot, to begin to awaken in a new
situation. Then you can take that back to your daily life. We use it
also because there is a great strength that comes in meditating in
groups. Especially in the beginning it's hard to do, and you're
sitting here and squirming, and everybody looks like they've been
meditating for hundreds of years except you, and you'd be embarrassed
to get up, so you stay with it, which is not a bad thing.
There's another reason for taking more than twenty minutes or half
an hour or an hour a day for meditation, and that is, when you do it
in a number of hours of succession, there's a greater possibility that
you will really get concentrated, and that you'll get quiet and silent
inside. And in doing so, it becomes possible to see more deeply, to
kind of dissolve the thought and go to the nature of the experience
more directly and immediately, and see, in fact, how rapidly it
changes, and how we grasp things outside ourselves or our self-image,
or even that the basic sense of oneself is made out of thought and
attachment, and that fundamentally we don't exist as some separate
entity, that that's all created out of our rapid thought and
attachment. We come to some radical new way of seeing -- that we are
not, in fact, separate.
Einstein put it his way:
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "universe," a
part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our
thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a
kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is
really a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires,
and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must
be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of
understanding and compassion, to embrace all living creatures in
the whole of nature and its beauty.
As we get silent and our awareness gets refined and deeper, when we
pay careful attention to it, the sense of separation and solidity
breaks down. So this is one of the strengths of doing deep or silent
or retreat practice in meditation.
What to do if you actually attain something in meditation? People
ask that sometimes. "You should be so lucky," is the first answer.
But there is a second one, and the most important one. I remember
when I went to my teacher Achaan Chaa after many ventures in
meditating in other monasteries and different kinds of practice and
experiences and recounted them all to him, feeling kind of pleased
with what I learned and how I'd opened, and he just looked at me and
said, "Well, do you still have any greed?" I said, "Yeah." He said,
"Still got fear and anger?" I said, "Yeah." "Still got delusion?" I
said, "Ah, ha." He said, "Fine, continue." That was all he said,
So what you see is that meditation is not to attain some state of
mind -- they don't stay, you can't get them to stay -- but to come to
each moment with awareness, with a greater sense of openness of heart,
and with a clear seeing.
What can we learn of most value in all of this? When people die,
they commonly tend to ask of themselves only a few questions, maybe
just one or two. One might be, "Did I learn to live well -- freely,
honestly, authentically?" And maybe even more fundamentally than
that, "Did I love well?" All the other things that one does have a
certain measure of importance, but when it really comes down to it, it
is, "Have I loved well?" When somebody says, "Okay, death comes to
your left shoulder and taps you and says, 'This is your last dance and
it's all over," what is your reflection to be? What do you care
about? What meditation can open for us in our sitting, and even in
the difficulties, is this possibility of learning to be freer in the
ups and downs and changes of life and its pleasures and pains, and
learning somehow to open and love, to be unafraid to express that love
and to feel it in a full way.
One of the most beautiful images for meditation which I've seen was
a poster of Swami Satchidananda wearing a little orange loin cloth,
his long flowing beard, a very handsome kind of Indian guru figure,
who is also a fine teacher. He teaches yoga and meditation. It
showed him in the yoga posture standing on one leg, very graceful,
only he was balanced on a surfboard on a big wave. It was very
impressive. And underneath it said, "You can't stop the waves but you
can learn to surf. Meditate with Swami Satchidananda," or something
like that. It captures the spirit of meditation practice and the
teachings, and how to manifest it or bring it into a world that is
full of senses, of sights and sounds and change.
The reason we go through all this trouble and do this strange
looking thing, is to somehow live more fully, to see the people that
we live with, to see the trees, to be present when we go for a walk in
the park and not be thinking about the bills that need to be paid, and
what happened yesterday; to live more fully here, to be able to love
in a greater way by opening in ourselves all the corners of our minds
to that which is difficult and that which is easy. Perhaps because
it's our deepest desire to discover our true nature, to come to some
sense of our oneness with life or to understand who we are or what all
this strange thing that we got born into is about. Basically it's the
only game in town, if you look at it; everything else is kind of
transitory. It is simply to pay attention and discover what the whole
process of life and death are about.
In order to do it, one needs to cultivate or practice mindfulness or
awareness, to have it built on or foster some sense of inner stillness
so that we can see and listen to all these things. It requires
courage. It's not such an easy thing.
Only as a warrior -- says Don Juan -- a spiritual warrior, can
one withstand the path of knowledge. A spiritual warrior cannot
complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge
and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. The basic
difference between an ordinary person and a warrior is that a
warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary person
takes everything as a blessing or a curse.
It's a spirit of taking what comes to us and really working with it.
Sometimes you take it as a challenge, and sometimes you do take it as
a blessing or a curse, or you worry about it or complain. You can
complain mindfully then, if that's what you want to do. You can learn
from that as well as anything else. Let it be simple. The spirit of
it is really one of opening, of discovery, of seeing; to sit, to walk,
and to train yourself to bring the attention back, concentration,
mindful balance, to observe the breath, the body, the feelings, the
mind, and all of the movement of what we got ourselves into, and see
how one can relate to it at times in ways that cause pain, how one can
learn to relate to it with wisdom, with loving-kindness, with a
greater sense of understanding and compassion.
It's really not all that complicated. Sometimes it's difficult to
do, but it's not all that complicated. Someone once asked Aldous
Huxley as he was dying if he could say what he had learned in all of
his experience with many spiritual teachers and gurus and much of his
own spiritual life, and he said, "It's embarrassing to tell you this,
but it seems to come down mostly to just learning to be kinder." To
be kind, though, means that you have to be here, you have to be
present for what's actually in your experience.
* * * * * * * *
TITLE OF WORK: The Eightfold Path for the Householder: Ten Talks
(Transcribed from audio tape)
AUTHOR: Jack Kornfield
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: Spirit Rock Meditation Center
PO Box 909
Woodacre, CA 94973
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: N/A
COPYRIGHT HOLDER: Jack Kornfield (1995)
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1995
RIGHTS AND RESTRICTIONS: See paragraph below.
DATE OF DHARMANET DISTRIBUTION: February, 1995
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