Author: Tahn Pamutto

The Beauty of Sangha

When I first embarked on the spiritual journey I had all sorts of ideas about what it would be like. My first inspiration was to put on a backpack and try walking across the country from east to west. In my mind the land was full of good and wise people and teachings would be flowing from every direction. It didn’t take too long before I realized I was wholly underprepared for the journey and full of intense desires and emotions that were preventing me from being at peace, or really learning from what was happening to me.

So I went to Asia, and now my image shifted. I thought that, just like in the stories, I would arrive in the Delhi airport and my ‘guru’ would tap my shoulder and say ‘What took you so long?’. Everything I had heard suggested I needed a great teacher and if I found one, everything would work out.

I searched high and low, from one country to the next, and you know what I found? Not the teacher I was looking for, and most of my experiences were about disappointment and having missed the obvious. But I did find something I didn’t expect. There was no great teacher I would devote my life to but there was a glimmer of hope – I experienced firsthand the wonders of a Buddhist country. It was possible to meditate, to develop in my keeping of the precepts, and there were a number of teachers who, while they weren’t my lifetime guru’s, would be able to help me along the way. Most importantly, I saw the contentment and sense of order and purpose that came from having a teaching that encouraged personal responsibility and growth.

Last night during the tea time chat, the group of us were comparing experiences about being far from monasteries and strong sangha’s to support our practice. Thankfully the blossoming of video conferencing has made it possible to connect where before we were forced to practice alone and wait for vacation time to do a retreat. Everyone was grateful for the opportunity to meet, compare notes, and practice together. It struck me that this is the beauty of sangha. When community works right, every member is grateful and feels they are getting something from it.

We start out, necessarily because of our worldly upbringing and our natural ignorance, thinking in terms of people and roles. I thought I would travel the world and teachings would leap out from behind every tree. And then when I put myself in the role of the student it was all up to the teacher to masterfully guide me to enlightenment. Over the years, both of these thoughts have softened. There is much to learn as we move about the world, but the universe isn’t conspiring to reveal its nature. We have to consider and investigate and be aware. And though I have had many teachers and been profoundly supported and benefited, it wasn’t a one-way interaction. The teacher only gave me the inspiration, direction, and tools. I was the one who did the work so at the end of the day I could sit beside them and our knowledge would be the same.

In the beginning we might work hard to find a community, and at some point try to find our place in it. We might even think we are leading it or providing its core. But the real beauty of sangha is that sooner or later, we stop putting ourselves in the story. We’re just grateful for friends on the path: for those further along who show us the way and for those just starting who give us the opportunity to lend assistance. There are no more gurus, no more students. No self, and no world. Just the heart, and the practice to brighten it.

3 Fetters

Last night for the Uposatha, Tahn Pamutto offered a reflection on the first three of the Ten Fetters, the tendencies of mind that bind us to samsara. Detailing each fetter, he gave real world examples, and provided advice on how to contemplate and overcome these fetters in our practice.

The talk can be found here.

Camping Retreat

The Upavana group camping retreat wrapped up last weekend.  It was a success!  The weather was great and the community of friends that gathered to meditate, eat, hike, and discuss dhamma together represented some of the friends that have done the most to help make Upavana work this year.  Many blessings to everyone involved!

The retreat was held at Savoy Mountain State Forest.  Morning and evening meditations (and even an impromptu yoga session) were held on a meadow hill overlooking the campsites all around.  Everyone pitched in together to offer food and the meals were far better than one should expect while camping!

The evening campfire discussion, with a generous amount of marshmallows, focused on the subject of Emptiness and the teachings on Not-Self.

You can see a few photos of the event on Upavana’s Instagram.

Fridays Evenings Cancelled

After a seven month run, Upavana’s Friday evening meditation will be stopping for now.  With good weather having Tahn Pamutto and the other monastics roaming about western massachusetts with little internet access, as well as a dwindling interest in the session, it is hoped that freeing up the slot and energy will pave the way for whatever offering is going to come next.

Anyone with particular interest in future Upavana programs should contact us at info@upavana.org

Desire and Goal Setting

For this Uposatha evening talk Tahn Pamutto discusses the matter of desire. Being free of desire is the well known goal of the Buddhist path, but less well known is the way the word is used and that being free of ‘Taṇha’ does not mean being without goals or motivations. Tahn Pamutto explains how seeing the difference between a wholesome motivation and a desire born of a mind of lacking and want helps us find our way on the path.

 

The Thing About Energy

Last night I had what would objectively be called a rough night – I was out in the forest, sleeping on the ground with just a thin tarp beneath me and just my robes for warmth. I fell asleep late and tossed and turned until the break of dawn when I packed my gear and departed.

Yet the thing that is hard to anticipate when one is living in a warm, padded shelter, is how I felt when I awoke. The night was long but the sounds of the forest were enchanting. The air was cool but after months of oppressive heat and humidity it was invigorating. And though I tossed and turned my body felt loose and awake as I stretched and got to packing. Some people pay hundreds of dollars for a personal massage to work the kinks out of their muscles. The roots and pebbles gave me the same treatment for free.

Out beyond the Five Precepts, which are basic standards for human conduct, we have three more precepts often referred to as ‘renunciant precepts’. They limit our intake of food, our indulgence in entertainments, our attempts to beautify the body and hide its realities, and the pleasure to be gained from sleep. From the outside these precepts must seem like attempts to make us more stoic and less attached to the world. But curiously, once we get to living this life, we find quite the opposite. Nobody enjoys a shower more than the person who has been in the woods for five days straight. Nobody tastes their food like the person who gets one meal per day. And nobody sleeps as soundly as the person of consummate virtue who can lay down anywhere and sleep – because they are actually tired.

When we get down to the business of investigating Energy, we find that it works almost precisely opposite of how we think. The worldly idea is that Energy is like gas in a tank – you fill the tank with gas and then can run until the gas is depleted. But there is no gas for the mind. There is only an idea that says, “Actions have costs.” This and so many ideas slow us down when we are trying to apply ourselves. Reclaiming our Energy is not a process of obtaining some elusive power supply. It’s more a matter of removing the ideas and obstructions between us and doing what we intend to do. When the factor of Energy is fulfilled we never have the thought that we can’t do anything we apply ourselves to.

Deep down, there is some thought that we need some external condition to be happy. To grow in Energy is to understand that the more we apply ourselves, the easier applying ourselves become. Energy is not a gas tank – we need to use Energy to have Energy. It’s just like the muscles in our body. If we use them they become strong; if we don’t use them they become weak. And if we habitually do some activity long enough the activity becomes part of our definition of who we are. It takes no Energy at all.

If anyone finds themselves confused or listless as to what to do in their lives, I might say wait to eat their next meal until they are hungry. When we are hungry there is no question: we work to find food. When we are truly tired there is no question: we rest. It’s that simple.

Part of the spiritual path is playing with these basic motiviations and realities, the ones that can otherwise consume all of our energy and mental activity. What we do with that freed up Energy depends on our level of suffering and our amount of hunger for freedom. Do we want to be Happy, or do we want to be Comfortable? For those out there who aren’t sure what that question means, go out into the woods, put down a blanket, and lay down. You might be surprised the things that bring up Energy in the mind.

Wabisabi

Even in a town of 850 people: when one considers all the possible connections of family, relatives, friends, and coworkers, the reality of death is never far away. There are times when the pace of death and loss seem to increase, but for the most part it is only our sensitivity to its presence that is growing or shrinking. When it strikes close we inevitably feel it. Lately, people are communicating more and checking in on each other more, so it’s understandable that the normally quiet and isolated tragedies of life are out in the open.

As beings in samsāra, the wheel of rebirth, we are often caught in dualities. We see a beautiful sunset or have a lovely day on the beach. But when we return home we hear someone dear to us has passed away. Our day is ruined, our happiness destroyed. How could one find joy when things are crumbling around them?

Grief is a natural part of life. What isn’t natural is to see these processes and try to find some ultimate philosophy based on it. Some ask the question – “Which is it? Is life great and beauitful and joyful, or is life misery – an endless procession towards death?” To which one might respond, “Why does it have to be one or the other?”

Why should one reality cancel the other out?

It seems to me every landscape painting started with an artist catching sight of a beautiful natural setting. They were struck by it. “How beautiful!” they thought, and got out their brushes and paints. But at that very same moment, a deer was urinating or a hiker was tossing an empty bottle into the bushes. The scene they captured with their paints is indeed beautiful, but the beauty wasn’t in the scene itself. Beauty doesn’t reside in a stone or dirt or trees.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This old saying stands the test of time. The scene the painter saw was nothing special for the deer or the hiker, it just was. But the artist stopped, and breathed, and observed, and saw. “Behold! Beauty!” For it is the mind that is beautiful, not the landscape.

The fascinating thing about beauty is that when we put it in its proper place in the scheme of things, we see that beauty is not dependent on pleasure. Painful things can be beautiful. So can simple things, and complex things, big things and small things. Stable things, and transient things. The beauty of the mind is completely independent of whether or not something is pleasant.

There is an aesthetic in japanese called ‘wabisabi’. It is described as the beauty of something showing signs of age or imperfection. A rusting shovel, a creaking chair, a leaning old tree, a creosote-singed hearth. All have intense beauty – not despite their imperfections but because of them.

Perhaps the hardest thing in human life is not to dance between dualities and pit beauty against loss, joy against sorrow. Instead, perhaps we can learn to see the beauty in death, the purity in grief, and the joy in impermanence. It starts by not assuming a life is pointless because it ends in death. The more we truly see death, the more beautiful that life becomes.

Talk: Citta Saṇkhāra

This talk is given by Tahn Pamutto for meditators experiencing some success and the beginning of tranquility and bliss in meditation. The Citta Saṇkhāra is rarely spoken about in casual conversation but coming to understand it is coming to understand at a much deeper level why we do what we do and what we are really seeking.
What ideas and associations do we have around the experience of pleasure and pain? How do we react when we experience moments of relief and excitement? Coming to know this through investigation is to learn to drop these stories and associations altogether – and thereby release the full potential of the mind.

Retreat Postponed, Talk tonight

One of the core concepts of being a monastic is developing a continuity and rhythm in our lives.  This allows us to stay balanced and more easily discern the ‘worldly winds’, the natural ups and downs of life.  One of the worldly winds we’ve been observing the last week is the need for people around us to get in a few last vacations, trips or fairs before the school season starts!  Town has been a lot quieter lately!

Because of a lack of ability to participate, the planned online retreat “The Citta Saṇkhāra” will be postponed.  If you are still interested in this retreat and would like to participate in making arrangements, please reach out to info@upavana.org

Tonight the planned opening talk for the retreat will still be given at 9pm EST.  In addition, rather than a closed retreat, open Zoom meditations will be hosted through Saturday and Sunday in the Upavana ZOOM.  These will occur at these times:

6-7 am EST

9-10am EST

3-4pm EST

7-8 pm EST

New Instagram

Venerable Sumano has been kind enough to set up a new instagram for Upavana under the name upavanaorg.  It can be found with the link in the footer as well as here:  https://www.instagram.com/upavanaorg/

If you want to catch glimpses of what the monastics are up to this is a good place to look.  The summer has been fairly inhospitable to human life, with a repetitive cycle of intense heat and intense rain.  So there hasn’t been much in the way of wandering or taking advantage of the beautiful natural surroundings.

What’s harder to quantify in terms of words or images is the ongoing practice and discussion of dhamma.  The monastics have been gathering every morning for meditation and chanting, reviewing suttas, practicing for ordination, and studying the monastic rules intently.

Online programs and local meditations continue!