Saturday, September 28, 2013

Conditionality of Phenomena

     “The general principle of conditionality simply states that all things arise and pass away due to certain conditions. When necessary conditions are present to support a thing’s existence, it comes to be. As those conditions change and new conditions appear, the thing changes. When the conditions for the thing’s existence are finally removed, the thing ceases to be. This principle applies not only to the existence of phenomena but also to the quality of things. For example, the Buddha said that when certain conditions are present, duhkha arises. When those conditions change, duhkha is modified. And when the conditions for duhkha are removed, duhkha itself ceases.”

       Mitchell DW. Buddhism - Introducing the Buddhist Experience. ed2, Oxford University Press, 2008. 

Shad Bay area, Nova Scotia, early morning, September 28, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Floating in Dukkha

Floating like an air balloon that's lost its weights
Like an astronaut adrift in a space station
Hungry with no food in sight

This too shall pass

So this is what groundless feels like
Our shared human experience
We know the causes & conditions of dukkha
And we can end these causes & conditions
We shall overcome
I am overcoming
One foot in front of the other

Sunday, September 22, 2013


     “Seekers are peculiar people. We always think there’s some mind-blowing truth waiting right outside our field of vision. We’re driven by the earnest belief that right, precise questions will open the doors of truth to us. Liberating secrets will be revealed. Seekers are sometimes delusional, but we’re also sincerely interested, and like most sincerely compulsive people, our drivenness can lead to wondrous discoveries.”

       Matousek M. Ethical wisdom. What makes us good. Random House, Toronto, 2011

Ordinary Miracle on September 20, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

Grounded, Groundlessness, & Soil in a Jar of Water

     As mindfulness stabilizes, the frequency & clarity of feeling a bit unsure, uneasy, out of control, scared, hungry, homeless, insecure, adrift - what Ezra Bayda brilliantly calls "the anxious quiver of being" - increases. Mindfulness allows us to perceive clearly the nature of human life. Each time we resist the reflexive urge to quickly block out this (accurate but unpleasant insight into the human condition) with treats eg "comfort food", other compensations, distractions, or (false) certainty / (illusion of) control, and instead accept & physically be with & process the physical feel of groundless, as we progressively detach from the gravitational pull of the material world. No, we don't float away, just see ourselves, others, & the rest of reality more clearly - and more kindly!
     Are the soil particles drifting down in the water - or - is the water drifing up, leaving the soil particles below?
     What grounding remains is from empathic connection with our fellow suffering living beings.

     For the Jar of Soil & Water Metaphors see:

The Never Ending Yarn by Kath Kornelsen Rutherford

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Opening to Embrace Vastness

     “… the paradox that where opposites met, wisdom might, indeed, be born if a person learned to hold them in balance. This embracing of the contradictory truths, without one canceling out the other, was said by the wise to be the essence of wisdom itself.”

       Matousek M. "Ethical wisdom. What makes us good." Random House, Toronto, 2011.

Kentville, Nova Scotia

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Self-knowledge, Self-compassion, Humility, Tolerance

     “‘Nothing human is foreign to me,’ said Terence, the Roman philosopher, and he wasn’t kidding. We’re kaleidoscopes of contradictions, Satyricons of lust, greed, and hatred, rationalizers of fairness and justice, idolators, cheaters, and fakes – not to mention hypocrites – with hearts that long to be divine. We are moral platypuses with seemingly mismatched parts who manage to come up with healthy eggs. Pulled in opposite directions, we search each day for some sort of middle path, a balance point, to navigate our way through this obstacle course. We ask ourselves the Holy Question: How ought we to live?

       Matousek M. Ethical wisdom. What makes us good. Random House, Toronto, 2011. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hungers Arising and Passing Away

yet another glimpse of a promise of completion
magnetic pull towards
hungry pull
the promise mere vapour

craving just this small part, ignoring the rest
bedazzled by a bubble

achingly releasing another fantasy
myriads of mud particles settling settling
vast clarity stillness

Cow Path by John England

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Transcending the Ego

     “In what is called ego death it should be remembered that the word ‘ego’ simply means ‘I am,’ and that it is the sense of ‘I’ that is transformed, not the ‘am-ness’ that is eternal being.”

       Levine S. “Turning toward the mystery. A seeker’s journey.” HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.

Pintos by Bev Doolittle

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Striving, Equanimity & the Middle Way

     The will to accomplish something involves both direction ie the actual goal, what you wish to accomplish, as well as the amount of energy or charge behind it. Interestingly, the ascetics with whom the Buddha first started his spiritual journey were referred to as "strivers." Striving suggests a lot of energy behind the will to accomplish a goal.
     The Buddha found that this striving type of effort could only take one so far. To go beyond, one needed to let go of striving and embrace a middle position - like a well-tuned string musical instrument - not too tight, not too slack - balance, equanimity.
     Intelligent mental effort is not at all like trying to lift a very heavy object. It is effortless, instant, where doing & being meet. By gently, intelligently, reducing the noise of self-talk and reducing the internal friction of clinging to ghosts of the past & future, energy is liberated - there's more energy available to creatively embrace now.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Insight Dialogue Retreat - Relating Wisely to Daily Life

     This is a uniquely beneficial retreat, ideal for those who've already attended a few silent retreats and now feel the need to more consistently bring into their daily "householder" lives those wiser qualities experienced during retreat. I had the privilege of attending last year and WHOLEHEARTEDLY recommend it.

     “... breaks new ground in applying the Buddha’s teachings to our lives, relationships, and meditative understandings [...and is] of tremendous benefit to all those seeking freedom in their daily lives.”   Joseph Goldstein

4th Annual Cascadia Insight Dialogue Retreat 
with Gregory Kramer and Mary Burns
Samish Island Camp, Bow, WA (near Bellingham)

May 3 - May 11, 2014

Humans are relational beings.  We are pack animals, born of mother and father, raised with families and friends.  We work and live with others.  It is no surprise that much of our suffering is people-suffering.  We meditate to understand and be free from suffering.  Yet sometimes a gap arises when interpersonal suffering is being addressed in intrapersonal meditation.  We perpetuate the “island universe” of the individual self even as we seek freedom.

Insight Dialogue is a fully relational meditation practice based on Buddhist Vipassana Insight Meditation and a relational understanding of the Dhamma.  The mind is invited to stillness and keen mindfulness even as we remain in dialogue with others.  Here, we meet the shared human experience that transcends our very real differences in genetics, background, and worldly circumstances.

For each of us, the body is home. We have an unfathomably remarkable brain.   As humans, we are sensitive to light and sound and vibrate deeply with every interpersonal contact.  Recognizing our common foundations, the shared legacy of suffering is understood anew.  Through practice, loving-kindness becomes a lived experience that encompasses each and every specific person we encounter here and now -- whether he or she is a loved one or an enemy.

In this retreat, we will maintain noble silence as a support for traditional meditation and Insight Dialogue.  There will be time in nature to support ease and solitude.  Holding “retreat” as one element in the mosaic of awakening, we will live the following question throughout our time together: “How can this practice support insight right now and how can the Dhamma be carried forward into my entire life?”

Retreat cost:
U.S. or Canadian $500, After April 1:  $530
The registration fee includes accommodations for 8 nights and 24 meals.
Partial scholarships available on first come first-served basis. We invite participants to offer dana (freewill donation) at the end of the retreat to support the teacher and the teachings

For more information:
Register online:
More about Insight Dialogue:

Gregory Kramer
has been teaching Vipassana and Loving-kindness meditation since 1980.  He is the director of Metta Programs and a visiting faculty member at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.  Gregory is the co-creator and developer of Insight Dialogue.
Mary Burns, senior teacher of Insight Dialogue, leads retreats worldwide and offers teachings online through Metta Programs.  A long time student of meditation and yoga, Mary is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker; she teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and has studied and practiced for 3 decades at the intersection of western and eastern healing traditions.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

India immediately before the Buddha

     "... the Upanisads presented the more mystical belief in a universal and unitary spiritual Reality, called Brahman, which is the true essence, or Atman (Self), of all things. It was believed that the personal realization of this divine essence through insight, matured in the depths of meditation, would lead one to spiritual liberation, or moksa. Liberation was understood to be release from karma (Pali: kamma) and rebirth."

       Mitchell DW. Buddhism - Introducing the Buddhist Experience. ed2, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Our Ego Doesn't Matter

life is infinitely more complex
than we'd like to believe
we like to think that people & events
conspire to please or displease us
but each of us is actually
a very tiny part of a huge totality

Old Growth Forest near Kentville, Nova Scotia

Friday, September 6, 2013

Do We Really Need More "Nuclear Giants" who are "Ethical Infants"?

     “Higher education looses upon the world too many people who are masters of external, objective reality, with the knowledge and skill to manipulate it, but who understand little or nothing about inner drivers of their own behavior. Giving students knowledge as power over the world while failing to help them gain the kind of self-knowledge that gives them power over themselves is a recipe for danger – and we are living today with the proof of that claim in every realm of life from economics to religion. We need to stop releasing our students into the wild without systematically challenging them to take an inner as well as outer journey.”

        Palmer PJ, Zajonc A. The heart of higher education: A call to renewal. Transforming the academy through collegial conversation. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2010.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Acceptance, Rejection, Groundlessness

     How others perceive and treat us forms a large part of our self-concept. It all starts with how our parents treat us. "a leading theorist in inner child work ... estimates that 80-95% of people have not received the love, guidance, & other nurturing necessary to form consistently healthy relationships and to feel good about themselves and about what they do." Kneisl CR. Healing the wounded, neglected inner child of the past. Nurs Clin North Am 1991; 26(3): 745-55.
     That's a shaky start! But if you're intelligent, sociable, wealthy, good looking, talented, well-connected and lucky, things can work out pretty well. For most of us, only a few stars align - briefly. We simply can't count on externals - including people - for lasting satisfaction. However dukkha & anicca are pretty reliable.
     On one level that's a bummer, on another it's fine. Obviously we gradually let go of the first, and learn to stabilize in the second - if we don't we become progressive more bummed-out with life as it is. If we do, quality of life continuously improves, despite the fact that our stars' alignment keeps deteriorating.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Degree of Dependence on Conditions

     A drug addict is physically-dependent on - locked-into - one or more substance(s). How strongly do YOU - supposedly a non-addict - depend on stuff - not to feel 'good' - but simply not to be anxious nor panicky?
     One of the benefits (or drawbacks, depending on your ultimate goal) of meditation practice is that you perceive increasingly clearly (soberly?) exactly what & how strongly various things attract (clinging) or repulse you (aversion). 

     NOW you get to immediately CHOOSE to act according to the delusion that chasing what attracts, & running from what repulses WILL do it for you - OR that it WON'T

     The default lifestyle for most is far from clarity about such things, but a constant state of distraction ie compulsively reacting to external (& internal) stimuli to seek comfort and avoid discomfort - the "approach-avoidance dichotomy". These folks "externalize" - blame their state of being on others, the external environment etc - have an external locus of control. This is considered to be a state of slavery according to Buddhist psychology, AND most importantly, both Western & Buddhist psychology says it doesn't work.
     So, the only useful path is renunciation - giving up on the delusion that external gratifications will do it for me (anicca & dukkha) and to realize in a very direct, personal way that even the concept of "me", as we typically understand it, needs to be seriously re-examined (anatta).

     Old habits are ridiculously sticky - keep repeating AND trying your best to EMBODY the Bodhisattva vow:
     "Beings are numberless, I vow to free them;
     Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them;
     Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them;
     The Buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it."