Upavana’s December Newsletter has been mailed. If you aren’t subscribed (bottom of page), you can read it here:
The recordings of the mettā weeklong working retreat can be found on the ‘Innovative Dhamma’ YouTube channel. Each session is an hour long, including an opening homage, 45 minute meditation, and a reflection.
Please note – the first one or two recordings may have occasional glitches due to technical difficulties. It was resolved after that.
For those who have been interested in supporting Upavana and its growing mission to nurture buddhist community locally and abroad: this coming Tuesday, starting at 8am EST, is Giving Tuesday on Facebook. This fundraiser is a once-a-year event where Facebook will match all donations given to 501.c3 Non-profit’s like Upavana. All donations are tax-deductible.
Even if you don’t use Facebook, it’s possible to make donations and check our wish list on the Support Page.
This year, the cause is: Please support Upavana Foundation with it’s Shelter Fund, which will help pay for expanded living accommodations for monastics in Western Mass. These facilities are not simply hermitages but will allow the monastics to receive guests, host meditations, and broadcast online dhamma activities. Help us create safe spaces for dhamma practice to grow!
The Upavana working retreat, themed around Mettā practice, has wrapped up. It’s always wonderful to dedicate time to sincere Mettā! It was not a time without challenges or work to be done, but everything is so much easier to hold when the mind is full of goodwill. The recordings of the hour-long morning and evening sessions (including 45 minute meditations) can be found at:
The retreat coincided with the end of the formal ‘robe season’, the traditional time of making robes, in which Tahn Pamutto was able to sew not one but two warm new robes for the coming winter.
The time has come for Tahn Pamutto to mothball the mobile temple for a month. Deer season is a volatile time to be a wandering forest monk, especially one who wears deer-colored robes. Conversely, it’s a great time to head to the city to heal up, repair and acquire requisites, and spend time with family and friends. Tahn Pamutto will be in New York City at Vihara Parivara Dhamma Acala until just before Christmas. If you are in the city feel free to reach out to find out what dhamma activities he’ll be leading/joining. The usual online activities, including Wednesday tea times and Uposatha gatherings, will continue unaffected.
The new year will bring new opportunities to practice. For buddhists, every day is thanksgiving! Thank you for your support!
On the Uposatha, Tahn Pamutto discusses attachment to views, what that looks like and how we might try to chart a course through the world without relying on them. While Taṇha or Craving gets a lot of press in the Buddha’s teachings, it’s actually the outflow of Views, or Diṭṭhāsava, that was the major stumbling block in the lives of early Buddhists. Seeing our viewpoints and expectations as impermanent is the gateway that everyone must pass through to chart a course for true freedom.
How? First it’s important to recognize what suffering views are!
“Oh, the one who first taught you
the Buddha’s dhamma and his ways –
like brahmins keep a sacred fire lit
Ever give them thanks and praise!”
Winter is both here and not quite here yet. Evening temperatures dip below freezing and the first snow of the season threatens with every storm, but as yet the days are still warm. Managing heat inside the small space of the mobile temple during these shifts has become something of an art form. As anyone who has used a wood stove in such a space knows, getting the right heat is a constant balancing act: too much wood and the fire makes it a sauna; too little wood and the fire dies out.
Mastering constant heat is about coming to an understanding … it’s not about the fire. It’s about the embers, the glowing coals after a burn that keep the stove warm and ready. If the embers go out the stove has to be lit again from scratch, but if they are properly tended and nursed along restarting the fire is as easy as tossing on more fuel.
This is very much like our dhamma practice. There are times when we are on fire. We sit, we study, we go on retreats and burn with enthusiasm. But at other times, and sometimes as a consequence of overheating through our fervor, the fire goes out and we enter a period of drifting. We will struggle to sit and despite our best intentions we’ll neglect our practice. Days, weeks, months go by. When we finally do get back on track is almost like starting things from scratch.
As we go along, a wisdom arises: it’s not so much about the periods of intensity or periods of drifting as it is about nurturing the glowing coals of Faith and Wisdom through our day to day life. If we keep in contact with these – our reasons for practice, with the teaching, and with a community of dhamma friends – then whenever there is time and fuel our practice will light up again.
This is even more the case here in America, with many people practicing dhamma but living very separate and individual lives. The country is not one but a multitude of frontiers, with many practitioners dozens or even hundreds of miles from a temple or retreat center of their lineage. There might be a sitting or study group nearby, but these often meet too infrequently to keep us active by themselves.
We find here that we have to be diligent to stay the path. Continuity of practice is often more the case of nurturing daily expression – maintaining an altar, supporting a dhamma community, sitting, reading, chanting. Some little daily effort or reminder to keep the embers alive goes further than a few big exertions.
One of the best ways to stay the course, and know what we need to nurture, is to keep in touch with what inspired us to begin spiritual practice in the first place. Chances are we didn’t find that inspiration from reading a paperback or hearing about a temple somewhere or meeting someone who goes on meditation retreat every now and then. Even if that has become the content of our spiritual lives, it’s not where we started. If we look back to where we first developed our faith we will probably see a moment of intense personal growth, or a mind-altering teaching, or a meeting with a deeply devoted and inspiring practitioner.
We don’t keep the embers of Faith and Wisdom glowing through being content and coasting along. We have to look back to what originally lit a fire in our hearts and got us believing we could change for the better. This will be different from person to person, but what will be the same is that whenever a person keeps in touch with the things that inspired them, they will not lose their way. There will still be ups and downs, but the fire will no longer go out. Exertion won’t be a merciless sweat and tending to life’s other chores won’t leave one feeling cold.
So if you find yourself drifting, take a moment and ask yourself. Where did you start? What keeps you warm? When you figure it out, then keep it going in your life. Let it be its own art form.
The website and online front of Upavana have been pretty quiet and dusty the last two weeks. As when this has happened in the past, it’s usually a pretty safe bet it’s because Tahn Pamutto has been spending his time in the rustic mobile temple where local community is strong and loving, but cell and wifi signals are the not. This represents an important part of monastic life and the quietude most supportive for contemplation. The two Saturday ‘Days of Mindfulness’ have been incredibly quiet and productive! The small town of Wendell is also a great place to practice compassion and give and receive teachings on life.
The rest of the month though will be a period of dividing time, also spending time in Shelburne, MA, where most of the retreats and online teachings have taken place. Here the sangha can be accessible and have easy access to resources and communication, which increases reach.
The fact that practice and access is so different in these two locations, and that both are equally valid modes of building community, is precisely why Upavana exists as a non-profit rather than a single forest temple. What we learn from practicing Buddhism on the many frontiers of America is that the needs of each community, and sometimes each town, can be very different. People practice the dhamma everywhere, and everywhere Sangha is a support.
In the future there will be people and interest enough to manage both modes of practice and being simultaneously. Until then, learning how to properly manage time is the practice. Meditation teaches us the pain of multi-tasking we are sometimes eager to overlook – it’s never pleasant to do many things at once and the divided mind is far less effective. This doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish many things simultaneously. It just involves training ourselves to do one thing at a time with our complete attention, as in meditation, but be able to change what that thing is without sticking or getting distracted along the way.
The coming two weeks will see a renewed effort to build the online community. We’ll have our Tea Time Chat on Wednesday, and the online Uposatha Friday. Next week from Monday to Friday we’ll do our first ‘Working Retreat’, a chance to develop Mettā with meditation, chanting, and reflections at the beginning of the day before we head to work and the end to help us wind down and learn.
Following this period the mobile temple will go quiet. Deer Season begins December 1st– a great time for forest monks in fawn-colored robes to depart for the city. Tahn Pamutto will be joining friends in NYC and will be active there until Christmas.
In this Uposatha evening reflection, Tahn Pamutto draws from a Dhammapada reference to the path of practice as a ‘Path of Peace’. Though we begin by charting a course to particular goals and discriminating between different philosophies and types of practice, it is ultimately less about our destination than about the path we take to get there. Tahn Pamutto goes on to speak about the Five Faculties: five character traits the spiritual practitioner builds and employs which are the deciding factor in whether we make quick progress or slow. These faculties are not just the tools of the journey but are also a way of describing what we become through our efforts.