After two months together, Bhante Jayasāra departs from the Queens Vihara and his close assocation with Upavana. Bhante J is setting off for the rural community outside his first monastery Bhavana Society, where he will spend time in nature and prepare for a coming year of travelling and seeing other Buddhist monastic communities.
It’s good to have congenial companions in the holy life, and Bhante J is an easy-going and metta-filled friend. His departure saw quite an outpouring of goodwill from the Indonesian community who supported, and in turn were supported by, him over the last four months.
Bhante J and his online community, MaggaSekkha.org, brought a lot of fresh and enthusiastic voices to Upavana events, and likewise Bhante Pamutto was able to join in for MaggaSekkha’s Monday night teachings.
The Queens vihara is much quieter this evening, but such things do not last. For those who enjoy the dhamma are likely to cross paths again in the future. Until then!
Last evening’s Dhammapalooza recording is available now on the MaggaSekha YouTube channel. Lots of questions around practical matters – why do monks shave their heads? Why are there multiple Buddha statues? Why do some places have no statues at all?
Also a reading of the Sigalāvada Sutta, DN 31, which includes what some in the chat were calling ‘The Lay Vinaya’. Check it out!
This Friday is the Magha Full Moon, and in Thailand is the holiday “Magha Puja” celebrating the Sangha.
8pm EST: To honor the Uposatha the normal Friday evening ZOOM activities will be extended. There will be a 45 min meditation at 8pm, the opportunity to take the refuges and precepts, dhamma talk, and open informal meditation period until midnight.
The tea time conversation this last week turned into a lively discussion of our transient mindstates. Every day, we see our thoughts coming and going, and with them our moods rise and fall. As practitioners encouraged to develop wholesome thoughts and patterns, it’s easy to be confused as to which direction ‘wholesome’ lies in. We may find ourselves unimpressed with our surroundings and our level of comfort, and ask ourselves – Is this Dispassion? Is this seeing suffering? Is it supposed to feel like this?
And not just dispassion – what of the perception of impermanence, or goodwill, or knowing cessation? How can we tell if this passing thought of mine is a profound one seeing through to the nature of reality or just the same old chattering of the mind?
Without investigation, there’s no way to know. What might be the framework of a really profound thought in one person could be the sign of aversion in another. What’s more, trying to intentionally develop states like metta or compassion often bring into view their enemies – attachment and pity – and what should be an otherwise bright state remains murky.
The best test we’re offered is to see where the thoughts lead. When we think this way, do other wholesome thoughts increase and unwholesome ones decrease? Then the root is probably good, however the immediate impression. But if we find there’s more annoyance, aversion, frustration, possessiveness … then we might be taking the wrong approach. It might be a passing thought best left alone.
Another great tool is to look right past the thoughts themselves to the mood of the mind. We might be thinking, “This is impermanent.”, but the mood of the mind is contracted. Or, “They are great!” but we sense there is greed and envy and self-defeat. Since thoughts come from the mind, and the mood sets the direction of our thoughts (not the other way around!!), learning to assess the flavor of our mind is a great way to contextualize what’s popping up in it.
One of the most helpful states for learning to gauge the mind is Equanimity. Upekkhā in Pāli, this mental state is the emotion of balance, and being able to perceive both attractive and repulsive things without being shaken. When this is developed and cultivated, whatever the thought that arises we’ll have enough time to contemplate it without reacting. And maybe the mood of the mind is dour, and our ‘dharmic thoughts’ are really just hints of aversion. Equanimity can even allow us to accept the state of our mind now without criticism. “This too shall pass,” is the underpinning of Upekkhā.
Furthermore, developing Equanimity helps us weed out its enemy – Apathy. One is a bright state of acceptance, while the other is a determined lack of care for both good and bad things. When we’ve overcome our apathy, each mind state is met with the willingness to see and work with what’s arising.
These are just some thoughts – for more reflections on Equanimity, you can check out a dhamma talk professionally filmed and edited by the Indonesian vihara’s photography enthusiast Andy:
Having been in Taiwan on Chinese New Year, I wasn’t sure what to expect here in NYC. Was I going to hear explosions all night? See fireworks? Dancing dragon puppets?
Turns out it’s a little more tame here! I did get to learn some new things, though, in talking with the community and putting up some decorations.
There is a tradition here to clean everything on New Year’s Eve. Out with the old! Then, on New Years, you shouldn’t clean anything. In a lot of ways, our traditions and even our superstitions mirror our values. Even though the end of the year is arbitrary (hence we have more than one New Years!) it’s still common in many cultures and religions to see it as a time of letting go of or resolving the troubles of the past, and setting good intentions for the future.
Even if we have a mess today, it’s the mess of a New Year! Let’s start the year off with some contentment. It’s OUR mess, after all. Let’s just appreciate it for what it is. As goes the popular saying these days – “No Mud, No Lotus.”
You’ll be seeing gradual improvements in the format of the www.Upavana.org page over the next few days. While Facebook was the ideal platform for quickly getting news out and piecing together a community, and no monastic looks forward to having to sink into learning website design, given enough time it was bound to happen. Such is the way for those who are energetic, mindful, and undistracted in their goals. Even big, difficult projects become possible.
Have you ever wanted to undertake a project, but when you sat down and started figuring out all the necessary steps you felt your energy and enthusiasm bleed away? Or found yourself darting from task to task restlessly, all too aware of how much help you’d prefer to have?
Whenever we want to apply ourselves to something, it’s good to stop and assess – are the five hindrances present? The five hindrances are five patterns of thought the Buddha pointed to as being unhelpful, distracting, and – hence the name – a hindrance to our happiness and success. When it comes to using energy, the hindrances of Sloth and Restlessness are especially relevant. They try to convince us it’s too hard or too much work, or they keep whipping us to do more, do it faster, do it better. Neither is the working of a productive, clear mind.
What is it like beyond the five hindrances? This is something that only one who puts energy into developing a meditation practice can experience. It’s a little paradox of the mind. It takes energy to make energy. Because it’s not really a question of having more energy or toning it down. When we apply ourselves wholeheartedly and undistractedly to a task, the idea of energy itself vanishes. We just do what we mean to do, nothing more or less.
This is the real strength of dhamma practitioners. They make incredible things possible, but not because they are necessarily more intelligent, or more resourceful, or more skilled. Often, the main factor of success is that they just stick with it until they are finished, or, if it’s an ongoing process, they know exactly when to work and when to exercise patience.
How does one journey a hundred miles on foot? Or sew a robe that’ll take 50 hours of work? Or build a dhamma center? One step at a time! How else? 😊