For the first two Mondays in June we (ERBC Program Leaders Steve Seiberling and Callie Justice) invite you to explore the relationship between two key practice areas—developing sense restraint and cultivating mindfulness of the body.
This past Monday night Steve led a discussion on the Buddha’s teachings on restraint (saṃvara) of the sense faculties. The handout with the two sutta passages used for this reflection is available here. Steve invited us to consider the happiness that comes with the freedom from grasping after pleasing sensory experience and from repulsion toward what is displeasing. In contrast, indulging the sense faculties without restraint can cause one to swing between “states of longing and dejection”. He highlighted the tendency of grasping after sense pleasure to escalate in a way that leaves us wanting more and more, even as the satisfaction from getting what we crave grows less and less (think of eating ever increasing amounts of chocolate). The suttas describe how cultivating “mindfulness directed to the body” can reduce these pulls that arise with our sensory experience.
Next Monday, Callie will lead the group in exploring how cultivating mindfulness of the body helps us to become more attuned to the negative effects of constantly reaching for pleasant sights, sounds, tastes, etc. We will also investigate how over time this practice inclines the mind to let go of the need to grasp after happiness through pleasant sense-based experiences.
One of the key practices taught by the Buddha for establishing mindfulness of the body is a contemplation of the parts of the body. A description of how the Buddha taught this practice in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is available here. Next Monday we will reflect on this particular practice and look at related approaches to cultivating mindfulness of the body as well.
As always, newcomers and visitors are welcome.
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The Eno River Buddhist Community (ERBC) will host a women’s retreat, November 6-8, focused on establishing mindfulness of the body through contemplation of the four elements. Callie Justice, long-time leader in ERBC, will lead the retreat, drawing on her extensive study and practice with the early Buddhist teachings on establishing mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna). Here is the brief description:
The Buddha taught contemplation of the four elements as a practice for establishing mindfulness of the body, which is a key aspect of right mindfulness—the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path. Contemplation of the four elements (earth, water, fire, wind) appears as a core teaching on cultivating right mindfulness in all currently available versions of the early discourses. On this retreat, participants will be supported to develop mindfulness of each element both internally—within our individual bodies—and externally—as we encounter the elements in the world around us. The interweaving of mindfulness of the elements throughout the activities of the day as well as during meditation will be encouraged.
This women’s retreat will be limited to 11 participants. A framework will be provided as a container for the practice of the group as a whole. Within that framework, there will be space for each individual to discern what she needs to do at any given time in order to wisely develop her personal retreat experience. The retreat will be held in noble silence. The retreat environment will be structured to support the cultivation of continuous careful attention (yoniso manasikāra) both on and off the cushion. Dhamma talks, instruction in breath meditation, guided contemplations and interviews with Callie will be offered. The retreat is intended to benefit both those who are new to the Buddha’s path and those who are more experienced.
The retreat will be held in the Pelican House at the Trinity Center on Emerald Isle. For more information and to register, please see the retreat flyer, or contact Callie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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We’ve been studying and practicing the teachings on the four establishments of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna) on Monday evenings for the last several months. As we’ve done this, we’ve focused on the earliest form of this practice that can be gleaned by studying early Buddhist texts. Here are some resources if you would like to study this topic further or continue to develop your practice of it.
Callie and I have found Bhikkhu Anālayo’s work on satipaṭṭhāna to be especially helpful. He has compared the Pāli and Chinese versions of the “Discourse on Establishing Mindfulness” to clarify what is likely to have been the earliest form of this teaching. His article, Exploring the Four Satipaṭṭhānas in Study and Practice, is particularly helpful as a summary of how this approach can be applied as an integrated practice.
A guided meditation by Bhikkhu Analayo, leading one through all seven of the contemplations found in the earliest form of satipaṭṭhāna, is available on the Dharma Seed website.
For those wishing to explore this topic in depth, Ven. Anālayo’s book, Perspectives on Satipaṭṭhāna, is a detailed comparison of the Pāli and Chinese versions of this discourse. The book also discusses the implications of what emerges from this study and how to practice with it.
Callie and I have found these writings, as well as teachings on this topic given by Bhikkhu Analayo on his retreats, very valuable as we’ve looked into satipaṭṭhāna practice over the past year.
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On Monday evenings at the Eno River Buddhist Community in June and July, we are investigating mindfulness of feelings (vedanā) – the second of the four Satipaṭṭhānas taught by the Buddha for cultivating Right Mindfulness.
Through guided meditations, Dhamma talks and discussion, we have the opportunity to become more attuned to the nature of our lived experiences related to feelings. We learn to notice the pleasant, unpleasant (painful), or neither painful-nor-pleasant tone which the Buddha taught accompanies every experience.
Gradually, over time, we become more tuned-in to key understandings which support increasing tranquility and wisdom. We see the ever changing nature of feelings. We notice that pursuing happiness through grasping after ‘worldly’ pleasant feelings is always ultimately unsatisfactory. We become increasingly able to cultivate pleasant feelings that are not based in greed, hatred or delusion (e.g., the feelings that accompany acts of generosity or practices such as loving-kindness meditation or the development of Right Concentration). We loosen the tendency to identify with feelings as ‘self.’
Newcomers and visitors are always welcome at Monday evening practice sessions. We value the opportunity to revisit previously discussed topics, and encourage participation for people at all levels of experience with the Buddha’s teachings.
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A practice that I have come to value is the cultivation of mindfulness along with loving-kindness (mettā). Essentially, having developed some degree of mindfulness, while one is sitting or during other activities one brings the intention of loving-kindness or goodwill into awareness along with whatever is arising in the mind.
For example, if I’m experiencing fear around an interaction that I anticipate with someone, I allow the mind to be present with that mind state, and then attempt to connect with a sense of goodwill. That may mean I simply continue to be present with the fear and how it unfolds in the mind or in sensations in the body. It may also mean sensing my intentions around that experience, and recollecting my desire to not cause harm to myself or another. At another time, loving-kindness might guide the mind toward sensing the underlying needs that have been activated in me, or toward seeing the other person more clearly and with compassion.
I try to allow wisdom, and my sense of the Buddha’s path, to guide the process without trying to force it in a predetermined direction. I find that with practice this ability seems to get stronger.
Here is a handout that we gave out at our meeting last Monday evening describing how one might develop this practice in more detail.
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Many of us would like to develop mettā, loving-kindness or universal goodwill to a greater degree in our lives. We may value how it enriches our day-to-day experience, how it allows us to contribute to others, or both. At the same time, many of us experience obstacles to developing or maintaining this state of mind or heart for very long.
An approach that can be helpful in working with obstacles to mettā is to develop mindfulness accompanied by an intention of loving-kindness. Mindfulness allows for recognition of mind states as they arise, and supports the process of investigating and letting go of unskillful or unwholesome states and cultivation of skillful or wholesome states.
For the month of November, the Eno River Buddhist Community’s Monday evening programs will focus on developing mettā with the support of mindfulness. In addition to exploring this fruitful relationship, we will look at other topics related to mettā. Some topics to be addressed are: how the development of concentration and wisdom support the practice of mettā; working with resentment; and the practice of “effacement” for cultivating positive mind states.
The November series will take place during ERBC’s regular Monday evening sessions – 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. in the CARE Building at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham. Each session will include a meditation period preceding the program.
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