Working Vacation

Our Wednesday evening tea program is on hold for the near future as Tahn Pamutto is off traveling, connecting with friends and family.  Along the way he is mixing in events during his stops, including two weekend retreats with the Roots and Water intentional community in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

The Uposatha program on May 30th will still happen as scheduled.  It will be broadcast remotely from Austin, TX.  For those in the NYC area, there will be a daylong practice in Manhattan on Saturday, June 4th.  Email for details.

Last night Tahn Pamutto concluded guest-hosting for the Lancaster Mindfulness Online group.  Over nine weeks the group explored the Satipatthana Sutta and it’s many facets.

Tahn Pamutto is scheduled to return to MA on June 8, but it’s not clear yet how long it will take to get settled and get online programs back up.

Some Programs Cancelled

Some upcoming programs will be cancelled because no host was found – the Uposatha on May 16 and the Wednesday Tea on the 18th.

The Lay Sangha Chat will still happen as usual, and Tahn Pamutto will definitely be back for the following tea program on the 25th and the Uposatha on the 30th.

Family Group: Sacca/Honesty

This week for the family group, we had the fun task of looking at the paramī of Sacca, or Truthfulness.  This is a fun task because it’s pretty straightforward:  it takes almost no effort to see the chaos and distrust caused by lying, and appreciate the trust and harmony created by a commitment to the truth.  As we stated at the beginning of the set of paramī’s, it’s said the Buddha-to-be never told a lie after he made the determination to become a Buddha.  That’s the kind of commitment to truth that is at the heart of enlightenment.

Nevertheless it’s good to revisit our commitment to the truth from time to time.  We started with a guided meditation.  Imagine you come into the room, and after settling, you tell the person next to you your hair is blue (this only works if no one’s hair is actually blue).  Imagine they are resistant because they can see it’s not the case, but you make up a convincing story – what they see is the result of dye, or that you are wearing a wig.  You keep trying to convince them.  How does it feel to have to keep making things up?  Now imagine that you actually succeed and the person believes you.  They start telling everyone that your hair is blue and convincing others.  How does it feel to know that you deceived this person and they might be looking like a fool?

Now imagine you hold up your hand and come clean.  You announce that you are sorry but your hair isn’t really blue.  How does it feel to have the truth out finally?  Even if people are upset that you lied, doesn’t it feel like things are going to start to get better now that you told the truth?  The funny thing about lies is that they require more and more lies.  But the truth usually only has to be told once.

Then we had two short stories – one about lies and one about truth:

Story – The Boy Who Cried Wolf

There once was a shepherd boy who was bored as he sat on the hillside watching the village sheep. To amuse himself he took a great breath and sang out, “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!”

The villagers came running up the hill to help the boy drive the wolf away. But when they arrived at the top of the hill, they found no wolf. The boy laughed at the sight of their angry faces.

“Don’t cry ‘wolf’, shepherd boy,” said the villagers, “when there’s no wolf!” They went grumbling back down the hill.

Later, the boy sang out again, “Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!” To his naughty delight, he watched the villagers run up the hill to help him drive the wolf away.

When the villagers saw no wolf they sternly said, “Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don’t cry ‘wolf’ when there is NO wolf!”

But the boy just grinned and watched them go grumbling down the hill once more.

Later, he saw a REAL wolf prowling about his flock. Alarmed, he leaped to his feet and sang out as loudly as he could, “Wolf! Wolf!”

But the villagers thought he was trying to fool them again, and so they didn’t come.

At sunset, everyone wondered why the shepherd boy hadn’t returned to the village with their sheep. They went up the hill to find the boy. They found him weeping.

“There really was a wolf here! The flock has scattered! I cried out, “Wolf!” Why didn’t you come?”

An old man tried to comfort the boy as they walked back to the village.

“We’ll help you look for the lost sheep in the morning,” he said, putting his arm around the youth, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!”

The Story of the Quail

One time the Bodhisatta was born as a quail in a big family. These quails lived in a nest at the base of a big tree. Every day the mother and father quail would go out hunting and foraging and would come back with all kinds of food – seeds, grass, bugs, frogs, and worms.

All the other quails hungrily ate whatever they were given and grew up strong and healthy. But the bodhisatta quail felt compassion and couldn’t bear to eat living things, so it would only eat the seeds and grasses. It did not grow up strong, but instead was small and weak and couldn’t fly.

One day lightning struck in the forest and started a great forest fire. All of the animals started to flee as the fire got closer and closer. The family tried to help the bodhisatta quail but because it couldn’t fly they eventually had to leave to save themselves.

As the bodhisatta sat in the forest watching the fire come closer, he thought about his life. He wondered if he had any power at all which could save him.

“I am but a little quail,” he said to the fire. “I am young and too weak to run or fly. I have almost no power at all. But I do have one power that is said to be very great in this world – the power of truth. So I will tell you the truth – As long as I have lived I have never hurt another living being!”

With the telling of this truth and the pureness of the bodhisatta’s heart, it is said the fire was stopped instantly and then turned around. It left a big ring around the bodhisatta unburnt, and when its family returned they were shocked! And one day many many years later, the Buddha sat down at that spot and told the monks that since that time and the telling of that truth, fire has never burned that circle of land.

Two Truths and a Lie

As a fun way to wrap up the program, we played a common game that helps people new to groups introduce themselves and break the ice.  It’s called Two Truths and a Lie, and the idea is that you say three things about yourself, one of which you make up.  Interestingly, both of the youths immediately grappled with the paradox of the game – if someone is intending to lie, why would they tell the truth about how many truths they were telling?  Couldn’t they tell more than one lie?

That’s the reality of our society.  Once a person speaks untruth, all the rules that help us work together go out the window.  But for the purposes of the game, we also got to try to make it work.  Once people told their three facts, everyone else was able to ask one question about one of the facts.  A lie usually was hard to defend, but when someone was asked about a truth they could give very specific information.  Almost every lie was suspected by at least one person, but it was never a sure thing!  Even people who live together for years can be fooled!

Seven Factors of Enlightenment Talks

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment daylong retreat was a success with many friends taking the time to spend their Saturday together in dhamma practice.

There were two talks and a Q & A session, of which the two talks were recorded from morning and afternoon.  These recordings can be found on the Innovative Dhamma youtube channel:

Family Group: Mudita

This week for the family group, we stepped sideways from the list of the ten perfections to cover an important wholesome emotion that doesn’t always get so much press: Mudita. Mudita is described as the feeling of joy we get upon perceiving happiness in ourselves or others. This emotion is one of the four brahma-vihara’s, along with Mettā, Karunā, and Upekkhā, but isn’t included as one of the ten paramī. While the other three emotions are wonderful antidotes to ill-will and resentment, Mudita has a different function. It occurs when we let go of jealousy, envy, and competition.

We began with a guided meditation. Pick someone in the room, and imagine it is their birthday. You’ve been saving up and planning and have arranged to give them a very special gift. This gift can be whatever you want and it doesn’t matter if it is expensive or rare or even if it doesn’t really exist. Just imagine the person you chose receiving the gift and delighting in it. Imagine their face, and how they act, and picture them enjoying the gift. We can notice how easy it is to feel happy for them on their special day and just let go of any need to put ourselves in the scenario.

We can’t help it: we live in a very competitive society. There are rich people and poor people, popular people and unpopular, successful and unsuccessful. The games we play have winners and losers, and in every form of politics and business it feels like people are competing to get to the top of the pile. It’s understandable then that these feelings trickle down into our everyday life and interactions, and that from the youngest age we deal with questions of value and fairness. When we see something nice or delightful, we inevitably start wondering who is going to get to possess it, and for how long.

We played a short and very funny clip: https://youtu.be/meiU6TxysCg

This video shows how some capuchin monkeys were rewarded with food for doing a basic task. When both monkeys are rewarded equally with simple cucumber there are no problems. But when one monkey is rewarded instead with tasty grapes, the other monkey rejects its cucumber reward and begins to throw a fit!

There’s a lot to see in this simple display. Humans are not so different from monkeys, and we have the same reaction when something seems unfair. But the solution is not to try to be sure everyone gets the same thing – that’s just not feasible on a world scale. Instead, Mudita is the source of happiness that is unlimited and inexhaustible. As the Dalai Lama said, “When you focus just on your own happiness, this provides limited opportunities. But when you get your happiness from seeing other people happy – sooo many more opportunities for happiness!” With some mudita, the cucumber-eating monkey could have delighted in his companion’s good fortune. And with mudita, the monkey who got the grapes might have realized how nice it would be to share with its friend!

We read a simple story from the book “Buddha at Bedtime”, about a wealthy man who taxed the villagers around him heavily and hoarded all his wealth. This miser lived this way for many years until one day he was caught on the road by some bandits and robbed of everything. He and his dog wandered cold and afraid through the countryside until they came upon a hut. There another man lived with his own dog, and though there was very little rice to share, the poor man shared it easily and happily. They spent the night together in the warmth of the hut, and by morning the miser realized that while he had amassed great wealth, what he had really been missing was the happiness the poor man had found in contentment. The four of them, dogs included, returned to the rich miser’s house the next day, and from then on were generous and supportive of all the villagers and a great source of happiness for their community.

When we look in the world we see sometimes that the poorest people are some of the happiest, and the people who have great wealth and opportunity are tremendously unhappy. While it doesn’t have to be this way, we see it time and again. The reason is how we use our mind. The poor person appreciates the things they do have, and that appreciation made a habit leads to satisfaction and contentment, even with the smallest things.

We finished up with a thought exercise. One of the reasons our games often end in arguments is because they are designed around a winner and loser. Both of our families actually have taken a lot of time to find board games that are cooperative rather than adversarial. But we don’t even have to invent a new game – sometimes we just have to change how we approach an old game. So we thought of a few games and how we might make them less about winning and losing and more about enjoying the playing together. One example was Scrabble. Imagine everyone playing working together to get the highest combined score? Or another is Monopoly – how long can you keep everyone in the game, by giving loans and leasing nice properties and holding fundraisers when players fall behind?

The big question – which is more like actual life? Does life have winners and losers, or is it more like the cooperative game?

Talk: Mudita

On the Uposatha, Tahn Pamutto gives a reflection on the brahma-vihara of Mudita. This mind state translates as ‘Gladness’ or ‘Sympathetic Joy’, and is based on a deep joy and appreciation in good fortune, wholesomeness, and success.

Often overlooked because it seems too simplistic or doesn’t directly combat ill-will like the other brahma-vihara’s, it is in fact a very subtle and powerful state based on a deep sense of contentment and selflessness.

Talk: The Four Duties

On the Uposatha night, a sick Tahn Pamutto gives a reflection on how we can come to understand the ups and downs of life in a buddhist context. We do this by considering the four noble truths, and specifically cultivating the ‘duty’ to each of these truths.

Suffering is to be understood, Craving is to be Abandoned, Nibbāna is to be realized, and the Path is to be cultivated. Knowing this much, we can find the right relationship to anything that we might experience.

Family Group: Adhitthāna

This week for the family group we covered the paramī of adhitthāna. This is a quality which like Khanti straddles the definitions of a few english words with its meaning and scope. One aspect is the ability to determine or resolve upon doing something, but the willpower and persistence to stay with our goal despite challenges also comes into play.

It wasn’t hard to think of a dozen examples where this paramī is applied in our daily lives. Whenever we go on a diet, or start an exercise program, or give up a bad habit, or practice to develop a skill – we are making and developing adhitthāna. Perhaps it comes up so often because so many of the things that are really meaningful for our well-being take time and commitment to ripen?  This is something meditators know very well.

We’ve already covered one canonical example of this paramī in action with the story of the ascetic Sumedha, who determined to become a fully enlightened Buddha and eventually succeeded to become our own Buddha. One of the most remarkable things is that this determination was so strong and pure it persisted through lifetime after lifetime, for thousands and millions of lifetimes. Many of our aspirations are lucky to last a few weeks, or in the case of many diets, a few days. It’s not to say Sumedha instantly knew exactly how to get to be a Buddha from the beginning, but he at least had seen the goal in the Buddha Dipankara and was determined to work through all the difficulties along the way.

Learning to bear up through difficulties is part of succeeding in our adhitthāna’s. We have to be ready to adapt and appreciate how mistakes can be part of learning. We read a popular children’s book: Bubble Gum Brain – YouTube . The book describes two children, one with a flexible and malleable ‘bubble gum’ brain and another with a blockhead. Sometimes in life we find we are naturally good at some things and bad at others, and we feel like playing it safe and staying with what comes easily. But one of the best skills is the ability to see how we can improve in any task.  Even the blockheaded child learns to start to stretch in the end.

We tried this out with a task that few people have diligently cultivated: the ability to solve a maze. We printed out some challenging mazes and then worked through all the mindstates that came up as we got better. A helpful chart of ‘Growth Mindset’ thoughts was close at hand so we could point out defeatist thinking and turn it to constructive thinking.

Talk: Four Foundations of Mindfulness

In this Uposatha talk, Tahn Pamutto provides encouragement in developing mindfulness, an essential component of the eightfold path, and describes the Buddha’s framework of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness which helps guide that effort and make it fruitful.

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