Series: The Foundations of Mindfulness pt 3

The Foundations of Mindfulness: Satipatthana Sutta

Majjhima Nikaya 10

Transcript of an eight-week presentation 2022 by Tahn Pamutto

Part Three: Body

The reason we’re doing mindfulness and the reason that it’s so focused on what can be experienced objectively is because mindfulness counteracts ignorance”

 

(opening meditation guidance)

Sitting in meditation, a lot of our intention will come into play.

If there’s any part of the mind that’s trying to get something or trying to get away from something, we’ll see that tendency repeated over and over again in a variety of forms. And so, often I start by trying to just be aware. I try to “center” and actively let go of what I’ve been doing, whatever that is, whether it’s something simple or whether I’ve been very busy.

Take note; see what kind of lingering resonance there might be in the mind.

Set up a strong intention to practice, to not think about the future or plan for the future.

Because the future’s not here yet.

This is the present moment.

And the most important thing we could bring with us going into the future would be mindfulness. But we can’t cultivate that and plan at the same time.

The Buddha encourages beginning meditation with “letting go” as the focus, rather than trying to “get an experience” or looking for some sort of peace.

We’re trying to actively let go of the attachments in the mind, trying to come to a place of acceptance with the mental patterns that are active.

Just like if there’s a noise, like the hum of a computer or a refrigerator or car is out on the street, there’s nothing we can do to change the noise.

The place of peace will be in softening our relationship to the noise. Not trying to shut it out, but just letting it wash over us. Letting it stay in the world, not bringing it into our mind as an object.

As the mind begins to settle… it’s a lot like setting up a scene in a play. We start to notice the things around us. We also start to notice the character that we’re choosing to be, in this play. This too, is something we can’t quickly change.

Instead we work to “soften” to our thoughts and our feelings and our habits until they too are allowed to become part of the scene rather than a source of distress or attachment.

(end of guided meditation)

 

The next three parts of mindfulness of the body are all different flavors of the same thing in a way, a sort of investigation.  My hope is that we’ll have more time for discussion. I’ll kind of go over what they are and why they are important to this kind of investigation.

Then we can kind of open it up. Because for some of you, what’s being suggested in these investigations might be exceedingly alarming and gross. And for others it might be like, “Well, I mean, I work on a farm. This is like, this is daily life. This is nothing exciting. Uh, I can’t believe this is spiritual practice.” And so we’ll meet in the middle there, because both are right.

The next three chapters deal with Mindfulness of the Body.

There’s six sets of instructions, and the fourth deals with bodily composition. That means looking at bodies in terms of their anatomy, their component parts. The next set deals with looking at bodies in terms of material forces. So the forces of solidity, cohesion, vitality or warmth, and motion or energy. And then the final is looking at bodies in terms of their decomposition.

Each one of these is its own set of instructions. You don’t necessarily have to do all six. For instance, I’ve based a lot of my practice on the fourth set of instructions, that is, anatomy. And this can be used as a meditation subject that brings you into full concentration. You can take a single bodily component and focus on it, and the mind becomes so bright and energized and enthused that you get concentration, which lets you develop all kinds of insights.

Any one of these, if you give your time to it, will yield incredible results. The basic premise is dealing with delusions that we have about the body. This is actually very practical. Like if you’re spending a lot of money trying to moisturize your skin, and then you do some contemplation about skin and you realize, “Oh… why am I spending so much money moisturizing this patch of leather that I’ve got wrapping up my organs?”

Then you would be like, “Well, that’s not very practical.”

 

The reason we’re doing mindfulness, and the reason that it’s so focused on what can be experienced objectively, is because mindfulness counteracts ignorance.

 

What is ignorance? Well, ignorance is based on deluded ideas we have about things being permanent, things being pleasant or satisfying, and things being ours or ourself. These are the basic fundamental delusions.

How do we look at things objectively?

Take something like a fingernail. When it’s attached to us it’s very personal and we want it to look nice and we don’t want it to get smashed in a door.

But if it were on the floor, we would have none of those emotions towards it. We’d be like, “That’s gross. That’s somebody’s fingernail.”

We’d sweep it up and we’d throw it out. This is the reality. The fingernail is no different.

The problem is that when we misunderstand a fingernail, we leave the door open for the belief that this is my fingernail. That this fingernail’s gonna stay attached to the body and it’s gonna stay safe.

Sometimes the fingernail will be very pleasant, like once it’s painted and perfect, and the cuticles are all healthy and all that… but it’s still a fingernail. If we begin to look at what’s objectively there, there is no room for those delusions to arise. So we’re not caught off guard.

It’s not to say that we have to look at fingernails as this foreign thing attached to our hands, but coming to understand and investigate what a fingernail actually is, means that we’re not going to get caught unaware by distress and confusion and anger when something happens to our fingernail.

We’ll be able to just feel the pain. And we won’t elaborate on that with ideas of, “This is happening to me. I can’t believe this, this always happens to me.” And on and on and on.

 

My friend just came back from a meditation retreat with a teacher named Beth Upton, who was formerly an ordained bhikkhuni in Burma. After many years of practice, she disrobed and she became a lay teacher who recently taught at the forest refuge for a month, and she was teaching in Austin, Texas.

My friend went down there and they were all being guided through developing concentration meditation. They were being taught in the way that Buddhist practitioners actually pursue when it’s taken very seriously.

Beth brought a box of bones and she kind of laid them out, to investigate, to investigate the skeleton, to investigate your bone structure, to sit there and think about it.

She didn’t give a rigorous structure. Do this, do this, do this. She’s like, “There are incredible insights here. So take your bone and go off and study”

The reality is we’ve got hundreds of bones that we carry with us all the time, but sometimes we need to actually just stop and do this extra step of investigating to develop understanding about these things.

I can tell you from experience, part of the reason why anatomy is one of my main meditation subjects is because it’s incredibly beautiful and joyful when you remove all the layers of delusion and you’re able to just contemplate something like a skeleton as a skeleton, without all the pain and misery and tingling and numbness that we feel in all the other organs. The skeleton just sits there. This is very peaceful.

Very peaceful. Very solid. We can apprehend that mental sign in our mind and develop it into concentration.

 

Now, the physical elements, again, it’s the same idea. The body is made of matter and it is solid. You can pay attention to just it’s solidity, and realize that the solidity of a physical object is the same as the solidity of the body.

That wall over there and this body are not much different. You can just look at it objectively.

If you begin to see that this is matter, or mass, it follows the laws of physics — again, you’re not gonna get caught as quickly in, “Why am I always falling over?”

The answer’s gravity. There’s no universal force that’s afflicting you or punishing you; you fall over because you’ve just been clumsy. You’re off balance.

The moment you wake up to that, it is practice.

You and your balance improve because you’re more mindful of your weight.

But also you begin to understand that these are universal, impersonal, across-the-board principles of matter.

Cohesion is the water element. Cohesion makes things stick together. So you can’t see it. You can see water, but the force of cohesion is invisible.

But you can mentally begin to understand things are sticking together because of a level of moisture, a level of cohesion.

Now, heat. As a wandering monk, I’ve meditated on heat a lot. I’ve gone to the other monks and done a whiteboard presentation about the three kinds of thermal loss. Because when monks are out wandering and they’re staying in the woods, it gets cold. You need to know about conduction, convection and radiation. “And let me explain these to you, Venerables, because if you don’t master these, you will freeze to death.”

Right? And it’s like, I don’t know. I didn’t go to college to study thermodynamics, it just became a very practical, important thing to sit and think about when I was freezing in the middle of the night, thinking, “Why is it that if I’m wrapped in a thin layer of nylon that covers all my skin, I might be a bit warmer than if I wrapped one part of my body in thick cloth many times.”

If you’re in a building you don’t die of exposure typically, even if the building is not heated. But if you’re outside, you might. Because you’re radiating heat in all directions, just spilling it out. When there’s walls that contain you, you don’t radiate heat in the same way.

So it’s natural principles.

You might think,”Oh, I’m freezing.” But if you stopped and contemplated the fire element, you’d be like, “No, I’m nowhere near freezing.  I’m just … whining … That’s all I’m doing.”

Conversely, this is something that children are really bad at, right? You might realize that you are freezing even though you’re not thinking about it. You might see a young child with snot running down their face and their skin’s turning blue and they’re just out playing in the snow. They won’t put on a jacket because they’re so having so much fun in the snow, and they don’t stop to think, “This is going to have consequences.”

You actually become more mindful in both ways. You think, “Nope, now’s the time to put on another layer.  Or, now’s the time to be very careful because I’m soaking wet. This is gonna lead to hypothermia…”

Motion and energy are the wind element. Any time things are moving, there’s velocity, there’s energy involved. We can notice when things are moving and when they’re not, and begin to understand that as a “force”.  But it even goes a little deeper.

Solidity (earth) is different than Wind.  It has mass but doesn’t inherently have motion.  The water element is clumping the earth together, but does it just fly off when we touch it?  Our bone structure has earth element obviously but it also has this wind force, a resistant force, because it has these very strong bonds.  It’s very stable and each bone is supporting all the other bones.  It’s capable of supporting weight without crumbling.  So there is potential energy there.  It’s not neutral,  It takes energy to create motion and separate the things back out.  The wind element is locked up in the bones as stability.

A building stays up because of a certain measure of the ability to resist impacts. In this way we can understand Wind in an energy sense, even as a chemistry sense, and not just as motion. When you begin to see that, you start to get really curious about all sorts of things that are going on. That should be a byproduct of this kind of investigation.

It should open the mind, it should brighten the mind. It should make you feel curious, interested, energized. This is not just sitting down and being like, I gotta let it go of everything. Gotta let go of everything. That has its own function. But it’s not the most energetic way to pursue practice.

Because the mind has to be applied to something. You can’t just be breathing out all the time. Sometimes you have to breathe in.

Sometimes you have to point the mind at something. And that’s what this mindfulness is about.

 

Now, the last reflection might have creeped people out when they read it. The Buddha suggests looking at nine different kinds of corpses. Again, this can be a really important part of practice. Though that’s not to say that my friends went to the Burmese Monastery and they started laying out corpses, necessarily, but a pile of bones is one of the kinds of corpses.

Sometimes people equate looking at anatomy as trying to see things in terms of “repulsiveness”. They’ve maybe heard that this is an antidote to lust, which is true. And the Buddha does use it that way. But it’s not just that.

Looking at corpses is not just to understand death. That will happen naturally, but that’s not its only function. The Buddha says you can develop these to get a sense of dispassion or disgust towards things that were otherwise seen as attractive.

You can do it for the development of equanimity.

Simply understanding these things gives you a sense of calm as things are changing, as they’re shifting, as they’re showing signs of decay.

So even though death is its own form of meditation and its own topic of meditation that’s very, very important in Buddhist practice…. to some degree, looking at death specifically is in the fourth foundation of mindfulness.

It’s looking at dukkha or the First Noble Truth.

But what are the corpses about, then?

I really like the commentaries and analysis of this. Each of the nine kinds of corpses is dealing with a specific delusion we have towards bodies.

For instance, looking at a bloated corpse allows us to understand our attachment to the body being in a particular form. Some part of the body is swollen or it’s kind of bent out of proportion, or somebody’s fat, or they’re extremely rail thin.  What is our visceral response to that? Do we have a sort of nested delusion there that says, “no, that’s outside of the balance.” Like what is the normal balance for a body? And what is our response when a body is outside of the “normal balance”?

Looking at the bloated corpse is a way to analyze what kind of deep thoughts we have about things being misshapen.  It doesn’t even have to be a corpse – even a living body part with this characteristic will suffice.  But the corpse doesn’t feel pain or feel repulsed, and that’s important for equanimity.

One of them is a livid corpse, and that means a corpse that has changed color.  A corpse changes color quite quickly. But again, even living bodies change color quite quickly. Somebody eats some ghost peppers: they’re going to change color very rapidly. Now, what is our visceral response when we see somebody turn red? We’re like, something’s wrong. Right? We see a child and their fingers are starting to turn blue… what is our visceral response when the body changes color?

Scientists have been able to document this. They do these incredibly mean experiments, just to demonstrate that people have these visceral reactions. They’ll have a steak and they’ll dye it green, then they’ll invite somebody into a room with a green light on.  All they can see is a steak in the green room and everything seems normal.  The person will start to eat the steak and at some point the scientists will turn out the green light and they’ll turn on a white light, a normal white light, and the person will be able to see that the steak is green and they’ll immediately vomit. Because green means spoiled, it means poison. We don’t know until we look how much we compartmentalize this knowledge. We haven’t realized because we haven’t investigated it.

You could go to a morgue and you could gather up all these nine kinds of bodies, get your nine bodies in a row, and you could sit there and study it.  But you would probably develop some respiratory disease from the stink. You would probably become pretty depressed. I really don’t recommend it. Instead these are visualizations. Or you can get a picture online and study it, and then you can walk away and think, “How do I feel when something is bloated?”

Then the next time you smash your thumb and it starts to swell up, you can just look at it and be like, “Yeah! that hurts. But it’s not that big a deal. It’ll go back to some semblance of the shape it was before. But it’s not ‘not-my-thumb’ because it’s swollen; it just looks different.”  It is – just a thumb.  Thumbs are sometimes like this and sometimes like that.

We open up the ability for things to change, for them to not be pleasant, and for them to do things that we have no control over. Which means that we’re no longer susceptible to the delusion, the delusion that’s making us not mindful.

These are a basis for continuing mindfulness, continuing awareness of things.

These are the six instructions in the body section of Satipatthana. For each of these six body reflections, the Buddha continues with a set of instructions:

You can look at them internally, externally, or both. You can look at your body, you can look at other bodies, or you can just look at bodies in general, including yourself. You can also look at them in terms of their arising, their passing away, or both their arising and passing away. You can see things as they show up, like the sense of bloating. You can notice when something becomes swollen and you see it wasn’t like that before. Or you can notice something fading like after the swelling has returned to normal.

You can see that your knee was once swollen and it no longer is. And you’d be like, “Huh, that’s interesting.” You see how you once had a lot of mass and now you don’t anymore. And you’re like, “Oh, that’s right. I used to be much larger.” Or both. You can just look around and see things changing state and realize that they do that… they do that quite often.

Whether or not we are watching or paying attention or want them to, things change all the time.

And the Buddha says, at the bare minimum you can develop the mindfulness that simply says there is a body. If you can hold onto just that much, that will counteract a lot of ignorance about this being me, this being mine, this being myself.

Developing just that much mindfulness.

Series: The Foundations of Mindfulness pt 1

The Foundations of Mindfulness: Satipatthana Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 10

Transcript of an eight-week presentation 2022 by Tahn Pamutto

Part One: Mindfulness

It’s a big subject actually. It’s one of the first things that we are introduced to in the Buddhist teachings besides, you know, don’t be violent. Be nice and be mindful, right?

So during the last year of the Buddha’s life, he did a sort of grand tour of India and revisited all of the places he had been to and all the communities that he had helped found.  He reiterated his teachings over the last 45 years. And he codified them in a set of 37 things… a set of different lists that contain 37 things that he called the Wings of Awakening. The Bodhipakkhiyadhamma.

At the culmination of the Buddha’s teaching career, he’s basically saying, “These are what you should remember. Pass these on in future generations. If they hear these things, they’ll probably be able to figure out what it was we were doing.”

If you comb through this list, you’ll find that two things kind of float to the top with the most mentions. One of them is energy (Viriya) and the other is mindfulness (Sati) .

This is like quintessential Buddhism, right? Does anybody want to be brave and offer a definition of what Sati is?

In order to do any Buddhist practice, we need to have a working definition of mindfulness. Okay? So each of you has a working definition of what mindfulness is, and there’s no right or wrong answer because you’ve built it up over all of the practice that you’ve done. Rather than diving right in when we started the meditation, we said, “Hold on, what’s here in the room?,” right?

This is what it is to kind of stop and be like, “Well, what do I tell myself it is? What am I looking for? How do I know it’s there?” Because we could just dive right into the four foundations and mindfulness and say, “It is 1, 2, 3, 4,” and expound those. But would we actually be talking about mindfulness if we didn’t have that working definition from the get go? Or would we just be adding more concepts? As we’re adding stuff, are we paying attention to what’s there?

So… what is not mindfulness? Maybe that’ll help us too. So, just a show of hands, think back to that time before time, before we were introduced to the Buddhist teachings, before we were introduced to practice, to meditation, to any of that. We want to rate how much mindfulness we had at that time. So take all the time that we were awake… what percentage of that time were we mindful, based on what we know now?

Who feels that they were probably mindful about 80% of the time, before, just from the get go. Who feels that they were mindful at least 50% of the time? … don’t be shy. Who feels they were mindful maybe 25% of the time? Okay. So, so now we’re starting to see a few bodhisattvas in the room, very developed beings.

Now who feels they were mindful at least 10% of the time. So at least maybe like one or two hours of the day altogether? Before they encountered those practices? Yeah, I mean, I would go about 5% personally, and I was pretty interested in it.

Based on what we know now, like before we were introduced to mindfulness, were we trying to be mindful? Were we trying to sit? and if we were trying, were we succeeding?

Realistically. I mean, I almost can’t remember public school. I’m aware that it was painful. It was excruciatingly boring, but I don’t think I was mindful for any of it. Technically I was trying to be anywhere else but in the classroom. So I can’t even, I can’t even point to like, maybe 1% in that case.

Okay. But now, let’s say, right now let’s look at our lives and um, do we feel the number has gone up? Who feels that they’re more mindful now? Who feels that the percentage has maybe gone up five or ten percent at least. Yes. At least. Who feels it’s gone up more than that?

For me it depends on the day. And you know, if I have a day where I am sort of more present or I’m not distracted or thrown off or sick or, you know, then I can say I could have a pretty mindful day. But then there are days that, you know, I actually missed, you know, I didn’t, it didn’t register at all.

I’d like to think I’m getting better at it, but does it matter?

I think it’s circumstantial for me right now. Still.

Anybody else feel it’s, it’s still pretty circumstantial even after all this time? Like, some days are good, some days are bad.

I noticed something in my own practice when I first started, when I was first introduced to the idea, it was maybe like a moment of mindfulness during the day, whereas now it’s kind of moving into portions of the day are are mindful.

Has anybody else experienced something like that? Development of more extended moments?

So now we’re aware that there is something that’s not mindfulness and that it is our basic state, technically if we’re doing it more than 50% of the time before we’re introduced to practice. So not-sati is present more often. So we’ll find our way to sati.

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The word “sati” is kind of mysterious. It literally comes from a root that means memory. Just like remembering. But if we were to take that at face value, that doesn’t help us technically. Because we feel that our, our working definition of mindfulness deals with not conceptualizing, right? Being aware of something as it is, so that we’re not thinking back to something previously. It’s not that kind of memory.

And we actually kind of get helped by the word “mindfulness” in the English language. Because this isn’t even a Buddhist word. It’s a Christian word. Christian monastics were using the word mindfulness to refer to a recurring recollection of God. So the feeling is “God is always present,” but we forget He’s there. So developing mindfulness was training in this aspect of remembering that “God is present” as a form of practice.

It’s actually a pretty good word in a pretty good application of this idea of remembering. We’re not remembering in terms of accessing our memories.

We are remembering the fact that we can be ignorant of the present moment. We’re remembering to let go of things.

What we’re remembering to do is we are remembering to not be lost, which is an odd way of saying it.

So we’re not looking for the present moment, we’re remembering that we can get out of it.

And that’s something of a way back to the present moment.

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I think we can agree that if there’s any creature that is more skilled at being in the present moment, it’s the simplicity of a dog, right? And there’s this wonderful long Jack Kornfield joke where, if you can be happy with whatever lands in your bowl, if you can fall asleep in a moment without any struggle and it goes on and on and on for like 20 different things. If you know you have an absolute best friend and you would never betray them. And the punchline is you’re probably a dog.

But do we feel that the activities and the the mind state of a dog would qualify the definition of something? Do we feel like dogs have strong sati?

We’re talking about something that is a factor of awakening. That’s one of the lists it shows up in. So we’re not on the path to enlightenment unless we do something that gets us off the path of ignorance.

So there has to be some sort of doing, or else we would be in a state of mindfulness more often. Right?

I know, I’m making you work…but it’s good work, you know, that helps us kind of narrow this down.

The volition of a child and the volition of dog are on different planes than the volition of an adult who’s become acquainted with suffering. There’s a reason I think that the word “practice” is used, because we get so acculturated out of it. And we become so involved with our various attachments and the disappointments that come along with them that we do need to make a choice.

And the choice is to practice, right? So there’s some turning towards something, right?

I think we agree that we like to be in the present moment. That’s not the whole concept of something necessarily. Because if we’re in the present moment, happily deluded, we’re not stepping foot on the path of awakening, right? So there’s gotta be some aspect of clarity. And so maybe this is why the word that the Buddha chose to use, but a word that was already a common parlance, “sati” comes from memory.

And, and in some way there’s some act of part of the mind that is looking, you know, it’s actually, it’s not just being; it’s aware and it’s cognizing its surroundings. We’re remembering that it’s not just floating through life. We’re remembering in that moment. It’s like, “Oh, I gotta be here because ignorance is always around the corner.

A very, very interesting, like this experience of totally being in the moment, the Buddha himself, in the life where he became the Buddha, had this glorious moment as a young boy when he was seven years old. There was a harvest festival where all of the nobles go out into the fields and make the first plow lines in the fields and it’s this big ceremony. The young prince was just sitting up on a hill and watching everybody working in the fields. And it’s a really happy day.

And he’s just totally chilled out. Yeah. He’s just sitting under a tree and he starts to pay attention to his breath and he goes into the first jhana. So he attains samadhi and after that he, he kind of gets up, he’s like, “that was really nice.”

And he promptly forgets about it for the next 30 years. So remembering is kind of looking at the practices and recognizing that we’re coming back to it.

It’s not a won-and-done thing. It’s not like we will be mindful once we stop being filled with self doubt or self-loathing or anger at the present moment. There’s some aspect of intending to be mindful.

Like turning towards our situation and looking at it objectively or remembering what we were doing before, remembering that there’s this path, remembering that there’s the Four Noble Truths, remembering that there’s the Buddha Dhamma Sangha.

So now what were we’re getting to is that the Buddha’s definition of samadhi.

Samadhi is developed as a factor of the Eightfold Path.

The definition is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

And it’s interesting because most of us probably, if we were doing a show of hands, like how many people had been taught as a form of mindfulness, paying attention to bodily sensations?

Yeah. Except those are not in there because they’re not in the Four Foundations.

We’ve been taught to listen to the content of our thoughts. You know, what are our thoughts saying, how do we feel, what’s the mood of our mind? These are the shorthands that we use when we’re teaching mindfulness and meditation.

And yet when we get to the actual content, the Buddha lists as the basis of mindfulness, turning our minds towards very objective realities, not simply our subjective reality: “How do I feel in this moment? What’s happening to me?”

Instead turn our mind to, “What is happening?”

Yeah. So this is the distinction between “being okay and being happy and being okay with what’s arising here” and understanding what’s arising here in the context of reality.

So what is actually here? We could be totally okay and deluded. And to be honest, we can be totally miserable and mindful. But categorically I think we would start to find, if we give it time and we give it practice, we find that being mindful helps us in the other one. We’re more likely to have moments of being okay with what is.

Once we understand “what is”, once we see “what is” objectively and we stop being so worried about it, stop being worried about how our thoughts reflect on us.

Because we’ve seen them come and go. We know they’re ridiculous, so we don’t take ’em so seriously. You know, we might have a physical sensation; we don’t worry that we have cancer! Because we’re like, “Yeah, no, maybe I do, maybe I don’t. It doesn’t matter right now, I don’t have to get up. Like I just sit here and keep breathing. Like if I’ve got cancer, I’ll find out later,”

We know how bodies work, we know they’re like cars actually. They work better than cars.

And we can see that feelings are just three flavors.

I like it. I don’t like it, I don’t care.

Greed, hate, and delusion. That simplifies things as opposed to, you know, psychology. I don’t even know how many kinds of feeling they’re up to, right?

So I don’t really have any other like, objective for discussion. We can maybe divide up the foundations and mindfulness over the next few weeks. So we got four foundations. We can spend two weeks on each of them.

Reflecting on Spontaneity

This talk by Tahn Pamutto was given on the Uposatha in New York City, September 2022:

Namo tassa bhagavato, arahato samma sambuddhassa

Namo tassa bhagavato, arahato samma sambuddhassa

Namo tassa bhagavato, arahato samma sambuddhassa

So I’ve been thinking about the third noble truth, thinking what I could say about it. But then reflecting on the bus on the way in, it’s like, well, I didn’t really sleep much last night and I’ve been on a bus most of the day and nothing was coming up. And it’s this curious experience of, um…what is it like when nothing comes up?

You know, when there’s no inspiration… when it’s, you’re just, you’re just like, “ah,” and you got nothing.

And I think, in worldly terms, results are more important than intention. So you just fake it. You just do something, get something done, and it doesn’t matter. But in Dhamma terms, intention means more than the results.

So sometimes you just got nothing. Sometimes the intention is the most important thing. And so how can you, if you don’t feel inspiration, if you don’t know what you’re gonna talk about, what would you do? Well, it’s the same. You don’t feel inspiration. How are you gonna do something Buddhist? Right. Well, maybe I’ll just log in and maybe something Buddhist will happen. Maybe I’ll get lucky and I’ll find my inspiration along the way.

But actually there’s a pretty quick way.

How do you get to the wholesome intention if you’re not feeling inspired? One of the simplest ways is to be honest, one of the simplest ways is to be humble. One of simplest ways is to just take whatever you’re given. Even if it’s everybody looking at you and being like, “Really? You don’t got anything?”

Because in some ways, the Precepts that we just chanted are not just trying to guide us to “do this or get this bad result”.

Yeah. It’s not just “Thou shalt”. Or, I should be better. I should be nonviolent. I should be happy with whatever I’m given. Actually what the precepts are kind of pointing to is the lifestyle. Of being honest, of being humble, of being gracious, of being non-violent. And when you understand that, it becomes a lot simpler.

You know, it’s one of the easiest things in retrospect, but one of the hardest things for the average person to do is to just say, “I don’t know.”

“I… I dunno, I have no idea. I don’t know anything about that.”

But when it comes to even some very trivial things and somebody’s willing to say, “well, I wish I could give you an answer, but I just dunno,” it seems like an amazing thing, to just be honest.

“I have nothing,” or “I’m open to whatever you think is best.”

Right. So, I don’t know if this is ringing any bells. I don’t know if any of you have been in this situation where you’re tasked to give a dhamma talk and, well, here’s a little bit of a story time.

There was once an Anagarika, a guy in white robes named Carl. And he showed up at the Buddhist monastery and really didn’t know much about Buddhism at all, but he knew that he wanted to be some sort of renunciant. And he had been to a meditation retreat in Thailand and he had a really good experience as soon as he heard the chanting. And he did some meditation and during the meditation he had this image of himself in monk’s robes and it just made him so happy. And so Carl decided to go and live at a Buddhist monastery because he had gotten addicted to precepts.

You know, five precepts was really good. And then he tried eight and that was even better. And he’s like, wow, let’s just skip ten and go straight to two hundred and twenty seven! Yeah. But then Carl was at the monastery for a couple of months and they had this practice at the end of the Rains retreat, which was the senior monks who are normally the ones giving the talks would get to take the night off.

And they would fill the meditation bell with little scraps of paper with people’s names on it. Everybody who didn’t normally give a talk would give a talk that night, a brief ten minute Dhamma talk. And it just so happens that having been at the monastery just a few months, just long enough to be put into white robes, that Carl’s name was the first one to be pulled that Uposatha night. Yeah. And, um, uh, he got up on the dhamma seat, he’s the most junior person in the community and he’s just looking out at everybody and nothing came to him.

And he is just like, this doesn’t seem fair, but it took about a minute, and then he stumbled through a Dhamma talk about the suffering of being an Anagarika, which is what Anagarikas do. They talk about life working in the kitchen, and the suffering of having to drive and having to get used to not eating dinner and all these things. And then he got up off the seat and he went back.

But he reflected on that. He didn’t give another Dhamma talk until the next year and the next year he showed up at the dhamma seat, and again, his name was pulled first out of the bell, and he got up and he is like, it still doesn’t seem fair, this can’t be right.

But for a minute, he’s just searching around. He didn’t know what to say. And then finally he just started talking about something that he had been thinking about during the day and it worked out. And before you know it, 10 minutes were up.

And then the third year, again, his name was the first one called, and there was no fourth year. Like he left that monastery and spent a year away after that. But it’s something that’s developed. So all these years, and you see this with Dhamma teachers, eventually they learn it.

You can’t prepare for being in line with the Dhamma.

You can’t think your way into it. You can’t get ready for it.

What you can do is try to get the conditions to be right.

And this is what we do, so we meditate every day.

You know, it’s not that we’ll need that mindfulness and clarity and serenity necessarily. But the thing is, we don’t know when we will need the serenity. Yeah. We don’t know when the crisis will happen.

So we meditate every day so that we’re practiced and we’re ready.

We can set the conditions so that the conditions are as good as they can be, but whether or not Dhamma comes out or it’s just a complete blah, or defilements just run wild…

…It’s gonna be causes and conditions. So it’s something, it’s something to think about. And this is one of those non-linear, non-traditional kinds of Dhamma themes to kind of throw out there, imagining yourself as a sort of missionary, as you go about in the world.

We were talking about how when some people hear the first noble truth, they’re like, “Yes! There is suffering!” And then they go and they talk to the person next to them who says, “I’m not suffering.” You’re like, “what do you mean?”

When the dhamma really clicks with someone, the second they hear that, it’s a revelation. It’s like, “finally we get to talk about this thing that I’m experiencing.” But for 98% of the people on the planet, it’s more like, “I’m not suffering. That thing is wrong.

It’s a completely different perspective on the world, right? Sometimes we’re presented with situations and we don’t have an inspiration. There’s nothing in the back of our mind that says the Buddha would do this, and then we do that and we’re good. But imagining that we’re sort of roaming about and we’ve got the causes and conditions that we’ve been trying to cultivate, and then we’re seeing, we’re humbly kind of seeing what comes out.

Imagine seeing life not as you’re gonna try to get this Dhamma thing right, but rather you’re going along for the ride. And so you’re gonna try to do as well as you can, but what comes out, if you’re willing to be honest with it, you’re willing to look at it, if you’re willing to be humble around it, then intention trumps results.

It will be for your benefit. When you look at the precepts, this is maybe something you can start to see.

You might approach a situation saying, “Okay, I’m a good Buddhist, I’m not gonna kill, I’m not gonna kill the mouse, I’m not gonna kill the insect. I’m not gonna do anything violent.”

You can say instead, “How can I be just harmless? How can I be friendly in this situation?”

And let’s just see what happens. It’s funny that you would arrive at the same result, right? You’d arrive at the same result, you wouldn’t kill anything.

But are those two different states? One is coming from a like, “I’m going to restrain this unwholesome state of killing”, but over time we transition to a totally different one and it’s, “I’m gonna be nonviolent,” and the faith starts to get exponential that it will work out.

So likewise, young silly Carl sat down on the dhamma seat and just sort of blabbed and trusted that nobody was gonna get angry at him. And many other people said after his ten minute forced Dhamm talk that “no, it was great. It was great. Yeah. You just, you talked Dhamma.” Nobody held it against him. And why not? Well, because he didn’t tell anybody that he was enlightened. He didn’t tell anybody he was an authority, you know?

In fact, he said quite the opposite. He’s like, “I’m not, I should not be up here, I just moved in.” But that’s why everybody got something out of it.

It’s inspiring when somebody is honest. It’s inspiring when somebody is humble. It’s inspiring when somebody’s gracious. Right. So what if you were to lead with these qualities?

So this is a reflection that just kind of popped out and I was just thinking about on the bus.

“I don’t have anything to talk about and I don’t even know I’m gonna make it on time. But if I do make it on time, whoever is still in the room, I’m just gonna humbly present myself to them. And I’m gonna say, well, what do you wanna talk about ?”

And here we are. So instead of a formal dhamma talk, sometimes conditions conspire to say, let’s just have a time, a conversation.

We got together, we got some precepts, we got a little bit of time, and you can check out whenever you want.

NYC 9/2022