keeping sangha connected
Learning to Turn Lovingkindness Inwards Also in this issue:
A Life Lesson from Behind Prison Walls by Susan DiPietro
Notes from a NVC Retreat by Mike Mappes
Mary Schaefer & David Watt
David Watt and I had the good fortune to meet with Dh. Nagabodhi, Aryaloka’s president, during his recent visit and stay at Aryaloka. Nagabodhi was enthusiastic about what he said was the really important work we are doing with the Vajra Bell in helping to nurture and support our sangha. We considered that high praise coming from Nagabodhi who edited the movement’s major magazines - The FWBO Newsletter, Golden Drum and Mitrata - for 23 years, and ran Windhorse Publications for about 25 years. We are pleased to have contributions from Order members from across North America. This issue on self-compassion was particularly timely for me as my family lost my sister this summer to cancer. I found comfort in the guidance and sug-
gested practices offered by Vimalasara, Bodhipaksa and Varada during this difficult time. Our network of correspondents support us from San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, New York, Montana and Maine. Many thanks to them and all our contributors to this issue. Vajra Bell offers Dharma teachings and illustrates howAryaloka is part of a global movement and Order. I, personally, feel honored to be of service in that mission. You are invited to join us in this effort. We are looking at ways to expand our reach and visibility. Most importantly, we are looking for help in the designing of what has been truly a work of art. If you know of such talent or are interested, please let us know at email@example.com. And watch for changes in the issues ahead as we continue to spread the Dharma and look to connect with our brothers and sisters around the world. ~ Mary Schaefer
Aryaloka is a beautiful place to spend time at in any season, and this past summer was no exception. I spent the Saturday of the Aryaloka Work Weekend (euphemistically called “Bodhisattvas at Play”) outside moving dirt and wood chips and cutting back a hydrangea bush which was somewhat the worse for wear after being run over with a snowplow. Since I lived in an apartment, it was a pleasure rather than a chore to be working outside. The New Hampshire countryside can be an incongruous mixture of farms, strip malls, second-growth forests, trailer parks, McMansions, historic houses and dragstrips, but nothing should be quite so incongruous as a stupa honoring the 13th reincarnation of a Tibetan lama adjacent to a pair of geodesic domes. Yet as I stood there raking and shoveling, it felt perfectly natural. It was almost as if the stupa had always been there and that I was the latest in a long line of attendants. The places we practice are important and hold a kind of practical magic for us. Where we gather to practice and study, transformation happens. I really enjoy read-
ing the brief reports from the other sanghas about their centers and activities. San Francisco has, thanks to a prudent real estate investment and a religion-based tax exemption, managed to establish a durable foothold that allows their sangha to flourish in a city well into its fifth decade of gentrification. Though other urban sanghas often need to change locations, the act of communal fellowship and practice imbues the places themselves with a measure of affection and reverence. This issue includes reports on retreats at beautiful locations in Montana and California, and – my favorite – the story of a child’s naming ceremony at Nagaloka in Portland, Maine. Supporting the sangha inside the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, NH, has been important to Aryaloka for years. We are fortunate to have a wonderful article from Susan Dipietro, a sangha member who recently began going to the prison to provide support. She writes movingly about the men she has met inside, their kindness towards one another, and how the experience changes her. The feature articles in this issue address an introspective aspect of our practice, self-compassion. Many of us, including myself, are drawn to the Dharma in part from a desire to live a more ethically based, continued on page 6
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VAJRA BELL KULA CO-EDITOR: Mary Schaefer firstname.lastname@example.org CO-EDITOR: David Watt email@example.com ADMINISTRATION EDITOR: Dh. Vihanasari firstname.lastname@example.org ARTS EDITOR: Lois Sans email@example.com CONTRIBUTORS: Dh. Satyada firstname.lastname@example.org Carolyn Gregsak email@example.com Peter Ingraham firstname.lastname@example.org DESIGN: Dh. Rijupatha email@example.com
SPIRITUAL VITALITY COUNCIL Amala (Chair) Vidhuma (Vice Chair) Arjava Dayalocana Surakshita BOARD OF DIRECTORS Arjava (Chair) Barry Timmerman (Secretary) Elizabeth Hellard (Treasurer) Dayalocana Akashavanda Amala Jean Corson Tom Gaillard Rijupatha
Aryaloka Buddhist Center 14 Heartwood Circle Newmarket, NH 03857 603-659-5456 firstname.lastname@example.org · www.aryaloka.org Find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Araloka ...or on the Aryaloka Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/aryalokasangha/ Connect at The Buddhist Centre Online: http://thebuddhistcentre.com/aryaloka
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from the spiritual vitality council The Spiritual Vitality Council (SVC) continues to meet monthly. This spring we met with the Board of Directors for our annual retreat, an opportunity for both groups to share our perspectives of the Center. Together we took an aerial view of how we are doing, focusing on the present with an eye to the future. We took stock of our strengths and anticipated difficulties. The daylong retreat was an opportunity to review the results of the dramatic changes to the Center’s administration initiated just over a year ago. We shared our visions of the future and what efforts are
needed to ensure the well-being of Aryaloka as a spiritual community and as a beautiful, inspiring and safe place to teach and practice the dharma. We discussed how to encourage and nourish the development of the teachers and leaders who will shape Aryaloka’s future. We created several work groups with particular tasks to keep our efforts moving. Both the Board and the Council will support each other in guiding our community going forward. The SVC reviewed the remaining 2015 events schedule, and started looking to 2016’s program possibilities. We are also reviewing website revisions and overseeing recommendations for teaching curricula. We usually review the various activities and well-being of the component groups of our community such as our men and
from the board of directors The Aryaloka Board of Directors had a busy spring. Between the May Board of Directors meeting and the June Board/ Spirituality Vitality Council retreat, lots of issues have been discussed and action plans initiated to address the complexities of sustaining our vital center. Balancing the practical aspects of running the center with maintaining our spiritual integrity and core Dharma values is an ongoing endeavor. Key issues addressed at the May Board meeting included: Fundraising: We had a compelling, informative and inspiring presentation by Mary Ellen Burke, a sangha member who is a professional fundraiser. She shared invaluable information on successful fundraising strategies and gave us specific ideas for going forward. Finances: Always a challenging board topic. We are evaluating revenue sources – what’s doing well and what has declined. The past winter was tough on spending and revenue due to cancellations and extra costs
Dh. Vidhuma women mitras, “friends,” and newcomers. With respect to “friends,” we gave special attention to possible ways to more formally identify this important part of our community. A work group was formed to look at ways to differentiate “friends” from “newcomers” in order to better serve the particular needs of the former. The SVC can do its best work when it understands the heartbeat of our spiritual community. Your input is crucial to this understanding. We welcome and encourage your thoughts, ideas and reactions. You may contact any of us individually – Amala (Chair), Dayalocana, Arjava, Surakshita and Vidhuma, or reach out to the SVC through the Aryaloka office or website. v
for heat, snow plowing and other maintenance associated with the seemingly endless snowfall. (It was hard to buy into impermanence this past winter.) Our talented finance team will be re-forecasting the finances, keeping track of where we are and what we need to do to keep our heads above water. Programming: July to December programming has been developed and approved. We discussed ways we can get more information from folks who attend Aryaloka programs to help determine what’s working well and what needs improvement. Energy Audit and Energy Conservation Plan: sangha member Gary Lowe conducted an energy audit resulting in a comprehensive plan to improve energy conservation and lower costs. The Board reviewed the plan and is determining the costs versus the benefits of the recommendations. Some recommendations are low-cost and much less labor intensive to carry out. Other actions need further evaluation. With the Engaged Buddhism group looking at “going green” at various Buddhist centers, this is a good time to begin this process. Some parts of the plan will be carried out in the fall. The Board and the Spiritual Vitality
Council (SVC) had a day-long retreat to explore common goals, further integrate our shared vision for Aryaloka and deepen our connections with one another. Some of the topics addressed included: • Communication between the Board and SVC, communication between and among the kulas and making sure that everyone knows our executive director is the point of contact for all ideas and issues • Kulas and what they’re up to • Succession planning and the need to groom someone as a future Board chair • Finances (again!) • Outreach • Fundraising, SalesForce and social media • Open brainstorming session The Board and SVC are committed to maintaining and growing our ability to effectively offer the Dharma, expand our outreach to the community and look to our younger Sangha members to carry us into the future. Thanks to all who contribute to the process, and a special thanks to Shrijnana and Vanessa for all the hard work they are doing. v
The Aryaloka Council and Board minutes are posted on the bulletin board at the foot of the stairs. AUTUMN 2 0 1 5
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ALL TOGETHER IN THE BIG APPLE Sangha Night at New York City Triratna with (from left) Samayasri, Vajramati, Vidyamala, Singhasri, and Parami.
BOSTON SANGHA (BOSTON, MA)
After a short hiatus, the Boston Sangha is back. The sangha went dormant last summer, but Sunada experimented with ways to get things started again in September 2014. Sunada teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in Arlington, MA, and wondered if some of her graduates might be interested in learning about the Dharma. She offered a class on the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path for her graduates, and was pleased to have about a dozen people sign up. Most of them continue on to form the core of this newly revived sangha. A few others have joined as word spread. We have studied the Five Precepts and the Three Jewels and are reading Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg. This group of people is committed to meditation as a path of personal growth and they wish to build a sense of community among us. The Boston Sangha meets Tuesday evenings at the Theosophical Society in Arlington MA. We would love anyone to come and visit us. Please let us know if you’re in the area. ~ Dh. Sunada 4
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Shunyamala, Viradhamma and Ken Fineberg from the San Francisco Sangha enjoy the sun.
SAN FRANCISCO SANGHA (SAN FRANCISCO, CA)
The Mission area is the place to be in San Francisco. Everyone seems to want to own a piece of the place and is willing to pay dearly for it. The housing dynamics in the neighborhood are forcing longtime residents out. It’s really incredible that the Buddhist Center has a place here. We’re fortunate that the early San Francisco Sangha had the foresight to buy property just before the last boom. We have a beautiful building where we can gather
and practice when staying housed is difficult for so many. The opportunity is not wasted. Wednesday Sangha Nights are well attended as is mitra study on Mondays. We’ve been focusing on the transcendental principle at the latter. There are frequent urban retreats on Saturdays. Thursday evening drop-ins and First Friday Film Night continue. It’s best to check the calendar page on our web site if you’re curious about what’s being offered. Just think of us practicing here, like steady little candles burning through all the changes. ~ Mary Salome AUT UM N 2015
LEFT PHOTO - Retreat participants include (left to right standing) Karunakara, Zach Seligman, Tim Skufca, Tim Lawhorn, Chris Barnes, Kay Jones, Amy Engkjer, Helena Vlasto, Varada, and (left to right kneeling) Alison Laundrie, Danielle Lattuga, Marta Meengs and Carol Matthews. RIGHT PHOTO - Camp Child
ROCKY MOUNTAIN SANGHA (MISSOULA, MT)
The Rocky Mountain Sangha had a wonderful retreat this spring at Camp Child, led by Karunakara, in which we explored the Anapanasati practice. This was a first retreat for several attendees as well as Karunakara’s first experience leading a retreat. He did a good job in taking us
through the practice. We were nourished by the Dharma and fed luscious food by Varada. Introduction to Meditation and Buddhism classes will resume this fall. Sthiradasa is facilitating a book study of Maitreyabandhu’s Life With Full Attention for Wednesday sangha nights. That group continues to grow which is very exciting. A recent quarterly All Sangha Night featured a recap of a pilgrimage tour to In-
dia with DharmaJiva. DharmaJiva’s goals are to provide information about the Buddhist Renaissance and support Buddhist social activists and Dharma teachers in India. Those of us who went on the pilgrimage in 2012 shared photos and stories. Our Tuesday foundation year and Thursday mitra study groups meet weekly, and the women’s GFR group meets every other week. We are a truly blessed sangha to be able to support each other on this path. ~ Kay Jones
based on the Satipattanas. Danakamala and Suddhayu from the Portsmouth Buddhist Center accompanied him. Thanks to Lona Kovacs for driving them up and participating in the program.
Celebrating an Addition of a Smaller Kind
NAGALOKA SANGHA (PORTLAND, ME)
The men’s group meets monthly on a Sunday morning. Our Monday evening, Thursday noontime and Sunday morning meditations continue. Sarah Whiteridge, a Nagaloka sangha member, offers a Thursday evening Restorative Yoga series. Check our website www.naglokabuddhistcenter. org for upcoming events. Visits from Parami and Kamalashila Nagaloka had the good fortune this spring to have Parami visit to lead a special evening on the Six Emphases of Triratna. Parami is a long-standing, senior order member who is a wise, humorous, devoted and unique Dharmacharini from Scotland. She is the International Order Convener and lives at Adhisthana where she has a close connection with Sangharakshita. Kamalashila visited Nagaloka from the UK in June, and led the sangha through a mindfulness meditation followed by a talk AUTUMN 2 0 1 5
~ Gail Yahwak and Dharmasuri
Nagaloka held an intimate celebration for the Eikelboom family in June when Dharmasuri led the naming ceremony for 5-month-old Edith Fae. Dharmacontinued on page 6 VAJ R A BE L L
PORTSMOUTH SANGHA (PORTSMOUTH, NH)
The Portsmouth Buddhist Center sangha is growing slowly but surely, increasing in numbers as well as in depth of practice. The Wednesday night sangha class has studied the Noble Eightfold Path. In conjunction with the beginning of BAM (Buddhist Action Month) and the Young Buddhists’ world-wide campaign, Candradasa and Rijupatha led a weekend retreat for the regional young sangha members. Retreatants staged a Flash Mob meditation in Market Square in downtown Portsmouth. Many local people were drawn to the group, and some joined them in meditation. Plans are to try this again on future Saturday afternoons. We had two visits this spring from senior Order members from the UK. Parami, a Scotswoman and Public Preceptor for women as well as one of two international Order convenors, gave a talk on the “Six Emphases of Triratna” which included a lot of interesting history. Our second visitor, Kamalashila, one of the most experienced meditation teachers in Triratna, continued with the BAM theme and gave a talk on “Nature and Mindfulness in Action.” The sangha appreciated the opportunity to experience the Order’s international flavor. Thanks to those from Aryaloka who attended. Other classes are going well. Sunday meditation (10-11 a.m.) continues weekly, followed periodically by a themed workshop or a monthly sutra study. We continue to offer introductory classes on meditation. ~ Dh. Viryagita
nagaloka sangha Continued from Page 5
suri explained the meaning of the ceremony. Edith, she said, was being welcomed into the community which dedicated their guidance and protection to her. We began by chanting the Refuges and Precepts followed by readings from both the mother (myself) and Dharmasuri. The ceremony was completed with the entire sangha tying themselves to Edith with a white string to symbolize their commitment to her. Dharmasuri chose the name Lochana for her, which mean “the one with the eye” or “the clear-visioned one.” Lochana is associated with pure vision; she is the consort of Akshobhya. ~ Ashlee Eikelboom, mitra 6
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Thank you for your ongoing contributions to the food pantry By Vihanasari
Many thanks to those who continue to generously provide food and personal care items for the box in the Aryaloka entryway that go to the Newmarket Food Pantry. Our friends and neighbors in need in the wider community are most grateful for Aryaloka’s support. Do you ever wonder who benefits from what is collected? During the past year the food pantry helped to feed 55 to 80 people each week, including 30 to 35 families. The largest group of patrons are aged 19-59. The second largest group includes 1- to 18-year-olds. The smallest group are patrons over 60. If you contribute to the food pantry box – even occasionally – nutritious, non-perishable food is needed most, especially protein items, canned vegetables and fruit. Cooking ingredients such as flour and sugar are also appreciated.
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compassionate and mindful life. We cultivate meditation practices, study, go on retreat and begin doing the things that aspiring bodhisattvas do. At the same time, we bring our past with us. We bring along old emotional wounds. We bring along regret and even shame over past unskillful actions, missed opportunities and unrealized intentions. Unfortunately, our past conditioning often triggers us to react unskillfully in our lives today. Bodhipaksa, Varada, and Vimalasara all point out that self-compassion is needed to calm our reactivity and allow for our practice to flourish. As Varada says, “Selfcompassion is indispensable to a sound Buddhist practice. It is a bridge to both insight and the development of true compassion toward others.” Each author approaches the subject from a different direction. Varada leads us through an exploration of self-compassion in the context of no-self. For her, the first act of self-compassion is releasing the idea that we have a fixed self that requires constant nourishment and support. Examining our attachments to this fixed self allows us to see how suffering arises with-
Coffee and powdered milk are welcome, too, along with personal care items such as soap, shampoo, toilet tissue, shaving cream, feminine products, toothpaste and deodorant. The food pantry now has a refrigerator, so fresh and frozen food also can be donated and are always in high demand. Since these items can’t be left in the collection box at the center, you are welcome to drop them off between 10 a.m. and noon on Friday or Saturday at the food pantry, located in the lower level of the downtown Newmarket Community Church on Water Street. Look for the colorful “open” flag; parking is available on the street or in the small lot next to the water. The Newmarket Food Pantry depends on donations from the public. Often, shelves may be well-stocked Friday mornings but are nearly empty by noon Saturday. Thanks again to all who donate! in us and, by extension, within others. Vimalasara’s piece is partly a compelling personal narrative of developing selfmetta in the process of healing traumatic memories, and forgiving the difficult people in her life. She stresses the importance of consciously applying the stages of the metta bhavana to our past, our personalities and even our bodies. She also describes in detail how, for a period of time, she devoted her meditation entirely to self-compassion and urges us to do the same. Bodhipaksa’s essay is about process – how do we show compassion toward ourselves in our moments of pain and discomfort? It describes a process of learning to give our pain compassionate attention and to responding skillfully. Although the article presents as a kind of instruction manual (“Self-compassion is the Swiss Army knife of spiritual techniques!”), it is a subtle essay on how we perceive pain and react to it with compassion. I am grateful as always to Mary Schaefer, my co-editor; to our sangha reporters Gail Yahwak, Bettye Pruitt, Kay Jones, Viryagita, Mary Salome and Peter Ingraham; to Vihanasari for the copy editing; and to Rijupatha for designing and producing the issue. ~ David Watt AUT UM N 2015
A Life Lesson from Behind Prison Walls By Susan DiPietro Eight men entered the small, sparse room and sat in chairs placed in a circle around the perimeter. Khemavassika rang the bell and meditation began. This was a routine Saturday morning for the men, but for me it was far from routine. We were buzzed through a series of locked metal doors, each closing loudly behind us. We passed through a metal detector, turned over our driverâ€™s licenses and car keys, and received visitor badges before arriving at our destination. This was the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, and I had joined Khemavassika for a Saturday morning meditation session. A previous issue of the Vajra Bell had included an article by Khemavassika about the Concord sangha and an article by Dan, a mitra at the Concord prison. Both encouraged readers to visit the Concord sangha for one of their retreats, Dharma/ mitra study or meditation sessions. Danâ€™s letter encouraged readers to meet them, talk with them, sit with them in practice, and realize an opportunity to see prejudice fade away. Visiting prison certainly gives reason for pause, but my hesitation was more that I did not have much to offer in the way of Dharma knowledge or meditation experience. My own journey studying Buddhism and practicing meditation had just begun AUTUMN 2 0 1 5
a few months earlier. Several of the men already were mitras, and most had been meditating much longer than I had. But Satyada and Khemavassika were both encouraging. Having been volunteers at Concord and Berlin prisons for about 10 years, they knew that the men appreciate visitors and welcome others to join them without concern for experience level. The process to become a volunteer at any of the New Hampshire state prisons includes a simple application, background check and a three-hour orientation training session held in one of the state office buildings. There are more than 700 volunteers in the NH state prison system representing a variety of religious groups, Native American spiritual practices, addiction support groups and general activities such as art and yoga. The training is required once every three years, and covers an overview of the NH prison system and population statistics, rules and regulations and basic safety precautions. Iâ€™ve been to Concord many times since that first visit, and it is an incredible experience every time. The men are truly grateful for visitors, and the two hours with them on Saturday mornings is always time well spent. The mornings start with greetings and meditation, followed by tea and conversation. Some weeks they share their experiences and talk about what is happening in their lives. At other times they
discuss their meditation practice and how they overcome barriers such as noise and disruptions. Other weeks they discuss the Dharma, a book they are reading or questions they want to share with the group. They support and encourage each other and share books and magazines, suggestions for improving their meditation practice and information about courses they are taking. Occasionally someone will join the group for the first time, interested in learning about meditation without knowledge of Buddhism. The men are careful to direct the discussion to meditation. They are aware that it is an open meditation group, and are sensitive to the inexperience of the newcomers. They want everyone to feel welcome. For those who do not have an interest in or the ability to travel to one of the prisons, there are opportunities to volunteer in other ways. One such volunteer shared his story with me. James was released from Concord a few months ago, and needed a ride to the bus station to return to his home state in the West. Doug volunteered to take James to the bus station, and as his bus was not scheduled until late that evening, the two men spent the day together. They went to the beach and James put his feet in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Doug watched as James enjoyed the warmth of the sand beneath his feet, and continued on page 22 VAJ R A BE L L
Aryaloka Bookstore Features Several New Items - by Shantikirika
We have one-of-a-kind meditation benches made by sangha member Paul Dupre available! Paul is a skilled woodworker, so check his beautiful benches out the next time you are in the bookstore. Other items include two new singing bowls with a lovely tone, a Vajra and Bell set, mantra rings (both an adjustable ring and a “spinning” ring which is sized), wrist and neck malas, OM meditation shawls in several colors and numerous Buddha rupas. Our current book selection includes:
Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away, Teachings on Impermanence and the End of Suffering by Ajahn Chan Jack Kornfield in his review wrote, “Full of the simple, earthy, honest, wise heart of a true Buddhist master.” Food for the Heart, The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah by Ajahn Chan
The Moon Appears When the Water is Still and Children of Silence and Slow Time by Ian McCrorie These poetry books reflect on the Dharma and are published by the Pariyatti Press. Being Dharma, The Essence of the Buddhas’s Teaching by Ajahn Chan Sylvia Boorstein in her review wrote, “As I read this book I imagined myself in Thailand hearing and experiencing Ajahn Chah’s compassionate wisdom firsthand. How wonderful to have this translation available to contemporary seekers.”
Larry Rosenberg writes, “This rich collection is a real treasure. Profound, direct, earthy, and often funny. Food for the Heart will be especially precious for practitioners of Vipassana meditation in all Buddhist lineages.” The Buddhist Vision, a Path to Fulfilment by Subhuti Written by Subhuti and published by Windhorse Publications. An unknown reviewer writes, “Informed by more than 25 years of Buddhist practice, Subhuti’s clarity and understanding will be welcomed by both newcomers to Buddhism and those with more experience. His inspiring call challenges us to follow the Buddhist path with all our heart.”
Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron A review in “Publishers Weekly” says, “Chodron’s strength is her ability to communicate to a general audience that people are essentially good, that they can be free from fear, and that they can always try again when they fail.” Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way Published by Monkfish With translation by Gudo Wafu Nishjima with commentary by Gudo Nishjima and Brad Warner. An unknown reviewer writes, “The first truly readable and useful translation of the Venerable Buddhist classic by Master Nargarjuna with an extra ordinary commentary that brings the Trust of the Middle Way into the 21st century.” A Still Forest Pool, The InsightMeditation of Achaan Chah Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter Stephen Levine writes, “The simple powerful teachings which Achaan Chah expressed so well has profoundly affected our practice and our way of working with others.”
Buddhaworks The Aryaloka Bookstore
* Books by Sangharakshita * DVDs from Pema Chodron and Lama Surya Das * Meditation Journals * CDs from Thich Nhat Hanh
* Singing Bowls * Brass Door Chimes from Nepal and India * Malas and Jewelry * Lots and Lots of Great Books!
Your support brightens Aryaloka’s future. Buddhaworks is located at the Aryaloka Buddhist Center
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Compassionate Presence Retreat Practicing Nonviolent Communication (A Retreat Review) By Mike Mappes On a warm spring weekend, a group of us gathered at Aryaloka to attend a “compassionate presence” retreat led by Shantigarbha who had travelled from his home in Bristol, England to share his expertise. The title Compassionate Presence captures the spiritual essence of Nonviolent Communication (NVS) developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. NVC promotes the exchange of information in support of a peaceful resolution of differences. We gathered in the cozy space outside the kitchen to meet our fellow retreatants. A resounding “ahhhh” could be heard as we let go of the stressors of the outside world. Shantigarbha and his co-facilitator, Gesine, greeted us with welcoming smiles. We exchanged introductions, and joyful chatter ensued. We started by sharing our experience and expectations. Shantigarbha discussed compassionate presence, focusing on the word “presence” and asking, “What does it mean to be present?” He suggested we conjure the feeling of being present with the Buddha when we entered the shrine room. Whether that meant we felt the Buddha’s presence with us, or placed ourselves in the Buddha’s presence in some other time and space was up to our imagination. As my meditation began, the prospect of being in the Buddha’s presence uplifted me. I identified with his followers who were so attracted to all his positive characteristics. I sat with this for some time. This progressed into a feeling of reverence, centered on the cause of suffering, its pervasiveness within mankind, and the Buddha’s ambition to help people acquire the skills necessary for its elimination. I felt a personal responsibility for sharing the concepts with others in my daily circles – a pay it forward approach. When the ball AUTUMN 2 0 1 5
rang, it seemed as if time had collapsed. The next morning, we began with some light stretching to get the blood flowing and to focus our minds. Shantigarbha introduced the NVC material by having us act out patterns of communication with a partner. We reviewed the three patterns of Fight, Flight, and Freeze (FFF), the natu-
ral stress responses to conflict. We learned that we could disable these responses. First, we re-enacted the Fight response. We recalled a comment from someone that had agitated us and shared it with our partner. The partner walked toward us, hands raised to shoulder height, palms facing forward, reciting the sentence as they approached. Hearing the words triggered the same emotions as when the words were first spoken. In the fight communication, the aggressors would approach, reciting the sentence. The receivers would raise their arms, push back and counter with judgement and criticism of the agressor. After the demonstration, we talked about how this made each of us feel. Not a lot of room for listening seemed to be the common thread. We then paired off and switched places. We then cycled through the other two patterns, Flight and Freeze. Flight involved the receiver turning away from the aggressor and taking complete ownership of whatever judgements were issued. Freeze
involved complete paralysis and the inability to respond. Witnessing these demonstrations made the class uncomfortable. We broke for lunch pondering times when we were caught up in these type of responses and were eager for a better approach. After lunch, Shantigarbha introduced us to the NVC Tree of Compassionate Connection, an adaptation of the NVC Tree of Life. The tree trunk and roots represent self-empathy, a critical foundation for supporting compassionate communication. Self-empathy is a connection to what is alive in our hearts, providing room for recognizing how we feel during a difficult exchange. Having this inner stability enables us to support empathy and self-expression which are the two limbs of the tree. They illustrate the importance of understanding what is important to our communication partner as well as ourselves. The limbs work in concert with the trunk to form the basis for a truly compassionate connection. Shantigarbha and Gesine acted out alternative responses using the limbs of the tree to create a process of communicating in difficult situations. This process includes a lengthy time of simply listening to the aggressor during their initial approach followed by a side step to face the aggressor during final approach steps, and a pause for a check-in with self. At this point the receiver takes the arm of the aggressor and walks with them as they further voice their issue. After determining that the aggressor has been heard, the receiver restates the needs of the aggressor to acknowledge that they listened and to ensure proper interpretation. The receiver makes suggestions for resolution of the issue and expresses his or her own needs. This exchange felt incredibly rewarding when we acted it out in pairs. Faced first continued on page 22 VAJ R A BE L L
Upcoming Retreats: Gateways to Buddha Realms: A Mandala Retreat October 11-16 Led by Amala Beautiful and intricate, mandalas arenâ€™t just lovely picturesâ€“they are a kind of map we can use to enter the Buddha realms. On this retreat we will experience a mandala of practices and approaches to enter the Buddha realms. Practices will include meditation, exploration of teachings, devotion and ritual connected with the mandala. We will enjoy this largely in a container of silence and contemplation. Intensive Noble Silence Retreat November 4-10 Led by Bodhana, Karunsara & Lilasiddhi This intensive retreat creates an atmosphere conducive to extended meditation with the fewest external distractions. Retreat participants will have no responsibilities during their time here so they can focus completely on their meditation practice. An emphasis on the collective aspect of practice using the five precepts is woven into the fabric of this retreat. Wisdom of the Body Meditation Retreat November 13-15 Led by Sunada It is said that if we create auspicious conditions in our body and environment, 10 VAJ R A BE LL
meditation and realization will automatically arise. So on this retreat we will practice embodied awareness as a doorway to deepening our practice. We will learn principles of posture that set the stage for openness and receptivity. We will explore different approaches to cultivating mindfulness and metta through the gateway of sensory experience. International Urban Retreat November 21-28 The annual International Urban Retreat will be happening at Triratna Centers across the world, and online at thebuddhistcentre.com. It will include content suitable for anyone involved in Triratna and any Order members who want to take part. While the entire retreat can be worked on from home, we will be offering an introduction and several practice and discussion sessions at Aryaloka throughout the week. After the First Bite: Professional Mindful Eating Training November 29 - December 6 Led by Megrette Fletcher and Amala This seven-day, supervised training is for any healthcare or social service professional who would like to receive additional training in mindful eating. The training offers over 100 hours of supported education to guide
professionals to effectively teach mindful eating. Participants need to have previously attended a Mindful Eating weekend retreat. Mindful Eating Retreat: After the First Bite December 4-6 Led by Megrette Fletcher and Amala This weekend retreat will discuss three common obstacles to mindfulness and mindful eating and three helpful tools to overcome them. The retreat is open to anyone interested in cultivating mindfulness in daily life, or mindfulness around food and eating in particular. Some prior experience of mindfulness meditation is helpful but not necessary for participation. Winter Meditation Retreat December 26-31 Led by Sravaniya As we enter the depths of winter we will use the opportunity of this end-of-year retreat to do two things: we will simply enjoy days of shared stillness, deep silence and meditation, and we will quietly reap the benefits that these activities will inevitably bring.
To learn more about these retreats and to register, visit www.aryaloka.org AUT UM N 2015
Workshops & Series: Introduction to Meditation Workshop - Metta Bhavana October 10, 9am - 1pm Led by Lilasiddhi This workshop is an intensive introduction to the Metta Bhavana (Loving-kindness) meditation practice. Basic methods of setting up our meditation and the traditional Buddhist meditation form will taught. Introduction to Buddhism Workshop October 24, 9am - 1pm Led by Vihanasari In this half-day workshop we will explore several fundamental teachings of the Buddhist tradition. We’ll cover such topics as Who was the Buddha? What is the goal of Buddhism? How does one practice as a Buddhist? Teachings such as the Four Noble Truths will be explored in the framework of the Threefold Path: Ethics, Meditation, Wisdom. We will emphasize those teachings that can be put into practice and that relate to our daily lives. Meditation Tune-up Workshop: Developing a Meditation Toolkit October 25, 9am - 1pm Led by Bodhana Join senior meditation teacher Bodhana to learn specific techniques to deepen your meditation practice. TopAUTUMN 2 0 1 5
ics covered will be how to move beyond common obstacles in meditation - such as sluggishness and restlessness, and how to recognize and cultivate the qualities of a concentrated mind. Introduction to Meditation and Buddhism Six-Week Series Wednesdays, November 11 to December 16, 7pm - 9pm Led by Rijupatha On these six Wednesday evenings we will learn traditional Buddhist meditations and also explore basic Buddhist teachings. The three basic meditation forms taught will include the Mindfulness of Breathing, the Metta Bhavana or development of loving-kindness meditation, and walking meditation. Buddhist teachings we’ll explore will include the five ethical precepts, the principle of conditionality or interconnectedness, and the Four Noble Truths. Ancient Wisdom Study Day: Revering the Buddha December 12, 9am - 1pm Led by Surakshita On this study day we will investigate the Hemavata, Purabheda and the Parayana Thuti Gatha suttas of the Sutta Nipata through short talks, discussion, and question and answer sessions. By studying these suttas we will move to a greater understanding and appreciation of the Buddha and his teachings.
Meditation Tune-up Workshop: Moving Into the Dhyanas December 19, 9am - 1pm Led by Lilasiddhi The Dhyanas – concentrated states of mind characterized by calm, presence, and joy – are attainable by everyone. This workshop will explore these refined mental states and provide tools to help us experience them more readily during meditation. Exploring Presence: Yoga & Meditation Day-Long Workshop December 20, 8am - 4pm Led by Molly Schlangen & Satyada As a new season begins, explore ways to integrate your mind and body using yoga and meditation. This oneday event will help you prepare for the holidays by building calm both within and without. Gentle yoga and mindfulness meditation will be provided at a level appropriate for all participants.
To learn more about these workshops and series and to register, visit www.aryaloka.org VAJ R A BE L L 11
Three Perspectives on Self-Compassion Bodhipaksa, Vimalasara, and Varada share their thoughts on the practice of turning kindness and love inwards
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By Dh. Bodhipaksa
elf-compassion is the most radically transformative practice I’ve stumbled upon in more than 30 years of exploring Buddhism. It’s helped me cope with many difficulties, ranging from the mundane challenge of a child’s tantrum to dealing with financial problems and even serious illness. It’s helped me become kinder and more compassionate not just to myself but also to others. I know of no practice that’s changed me as much. I describe self-compassion as “loving-kindness squared.”
Self-compassion is treating yourself kindly, responding to your own pain with compassion in the same way you’d respond to the pain of someone you care about. “Self-compassion” is a bit of a misnomer; we give compassion not to ourselves as a whole, but to any part of us that’s suffering. I’ve outlined five steps to cultivate selfcompassion. 1. Drop the story The mind generates stories around our suffering. These stories may blame others, or say that the discomfort we’re experiencing is unbearable or shouldn’t be happening. They may be stories of revenge or stories that we are bad, worthless, or doomed to suffer. They may be stories about how to numb or escape the pain. These stories themselves cause further pain. As we notice them arising, it’s wise to disentangle ourselves from them and just let the words echo away into the mind. Our stories are what the Buddha called, in a famous analogy, “the second arrow.” He said we’re all subject to discomfort and pain, whether it’s having our feelings hurt, having a toothache or experiencing loss. This is the “first arrow” which arrives unexpectedly. This kind of suffering is ineviAUTUMN 2 0 1 5
table. The Buddha taught that our response to being hit by this arrow is often to indulge in the kinds of thoughts mentioned above. He described these as “sorrow, grief, and lamentation.” I call them our “stories.” It’s these responses—our second arrows— that cause most of our suffering. Each thought such as, “This is terrible!” or “Why is this happening to me?!” is a self-inflicted stab with the second arrow. It takes a lot of practice to become mindful enough to stop these stories from arising, or even to catch them in the early stages. For a long time we may only be able to catch ourselves once we’re in the middle of reacting, having already created a fullblown inner (or outer) drama. As soon as we spot what’s going on, we should recognize the unhelpfulness of our reactions, let go of the story, and come back to our present-moment experience. 2. Recognize that pain is present To practice self-compassion we have to notice that we’re in pain. This may not be easy. We can have unhelpful habits such as taking our own suffering for granted and denying our pain—seeing it as a sign of weakness or failing to notice it because pain is so common in our lives. We also
may be so quick to jump to emotional reactions and stories—attempts to protect ourselves against suffering—that we don’t even acknowledge the suffering. Whenever our feelings are hurt or we’re frustrated, angry, lonely, anxious, or longing, we’re suffering. Every suboptimal state we experience is suffering. We can’t practice self-compassion unless we learn to recognize our pain. For example, a friend says something that hurts our feelings. First, we hear the words and interpret them as an insult, whether or not they were intended that way. The brain then flags the comment as something potentially harmful by creating a sensation of pain in the body, probably in the solar plexus. This is the mind’s way of saying, “Here’s a threat! Pay attention to it!” Another common place for painful feelings to arise is around the heart. The heart and intestinal systems are areas of the body rich in nerve clusters. The brain generates sensations in those places to catch our attention and provoke us into action. Sometimes hurt feelings can be so strong it feels as if we’ve been punched in the gut. No wonder we react strongly. continued on page 14 VAJ R A BE L L 13
lovingkindness squared Continued from Page 13
One fascinating recent finding is that feelings such as the ache of isolation become less intense when we take painkillers such as Tylenol. What we view as “emotional” pain is just a special form of physical pain, induced in the body by the mind. These kinds of internal sensations are what Buddhism calls vedanas. Vedana is a technical term referring to the pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral sensations that accompany every perception we have. The mental processing that leads to the arising of these feelings takes place in parts of the brain that aren’t accessible to conscious awareness. We can’t, for example, choose not to be hurt. We do, however, have some ability to choose how to respond to the perception of hurt. 3. Turn Toward the Pain We can choose to respond to pain with acceptance. In practicing self-compassion, we can learn to accept our pain by allowing it just to be there, without having aversion toward it. To respond skillfully to suffering we have to learn to turn toward it. Taking a mindful approach to our pain means recognizing that it’s OK to experience suffering and even to take an interest in it. It’s especially helpful to notice, as precisely as we can, where our pain is located in the body, and to observe its size and texture and how it changes from moment to moment. Accepting our pain in this way means that we’re no longer stabbing ourselves with the second arrow—no longer creating stories that intensify and prolong our suffering. Instead, we’re simply mindful of the first arrow. If we find that reactive stories start to creep in again, we keep letting go of them, just as we do when we’re meditating. The Buddha taught that another way we turn away from pain is to pursue pleasure. We often do this by numbing ourselves with food, alcohol, busyness or television. We may not actually get much pleasure from these activities; it’s the pursuit of pleasure that’s the distraction. As long as we’re leaning into the future, seeking pleasure, we’re no longer being with the pain of the present moment. Just as we need to drop our stories, we need to drop our avoidance. The most effective way to deal with discomfort is to turn toward it. This can be difficult. In evolutionary 14 VAJ R A BE LL
terms, pain evolved as a protective mechanism. Pain alerts us to the fact that something is wrong, so that we can escape the painful situation. The way I think about turning toward our pain is this: imagine that a friend has turned up on your doorstep in distress. What do you do? Hopefully, you don’t respond with aversion, trying to get rid of the discomfort by slamming the door and retreating indoors. Ideally, you’d invite your friend in, sit them down, and take a kindly and compassionate interest in what’s going on with them. Sometimes it can be useful to say, “It’s okay to feel this. Let me feel this,” just to remind ourselves to stay with our discomfort. Being mindful of our feelings in this way creates what we call “the gap.” This is a pause—I think of it as a sacred pause—in which we can choose not to let our normal reactions kick in. Instead, we create an opportunity for compassion to arise. 4. Give Your Pain Compassionate Attention Having mindfully accepted a painful feeling, the next stage is to give it your compassionate attention, treating your pain with the same gentleness and kindness with which you would treat a friend who is suffering. Sometimes I think of my pain as a wounded part of me that is in need of love and comfort—like a small, wounded animal. Wish your pain well. Talk to it. Soothe it. You can use the same phrases you use in loving kindness or compassion meditation, saying things like, “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering.” Sometimes those words can seem hackneyed; I’m more likely to say something like, “I know you’re in pain, but I’m here for you,” or “I love you, and I want you to be happy.” With intense suffering, I’ll sometimes resort to the deep trust expressed by St. Julian of Norwich: “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.” 5. Respond Appropriately As you become more skilled at recognizing and accepting your pain, and with responding to it compassionately, you’ll find it easier to respond in an appropriate way to situations that give rise to pain in the first place. There are no rules for how to respond. It depends on the situation, your skills in
communication, etc. When you’re mindful of your pain and cultivate compassion toward it, you’ll discover more creativity at your disposal than you’d imagine possible. You’ll almost certainly find that having responded with empathy and compassion toward yourself, you’ll spontaneously behave the same way toward others. These five steps can be worked through very quickly. I’ve run through them while driving at 65 miles per hour on a highway: Someone cuts me off. I start up with an angry storyline: “Idiot! How dare you!” I realize that this is causing me to suffer. I drop the story, notice the pain (it’s usually fear, located in the solar plexus), accept it, and then send it some compassionate thoughts (“May you be well, may you be free from suffering.”). Once I’ve done that, the anger vanishes, and I find that I’m not only compassionate toward myself, but to the other driver as well. This may take just a few seconds. I’ve also found this process to be useful when I’m stressed. For example, while I’m cooking and being bombarded with demands from my children, I’ll notice a knot of tension building up in my gut. I give it a moment’s compassionate attention, and find that the desire to snap at the kids is gone. It works for sadness, depression, and anxiety. Self-compassion is the Swiss Army knife of spiritual techniques! I’d like to dispel the myth that if you’re reacting to a situation, it’s too late to find the gap. The pain of the first arrow doesn’t disappear just because you’ve started reacting to it! Every time you let go of your stories and drop your awareness down into the body so that you can notice your initial feelings such as hurt or fear, you are bringing the gap into being, and with it, the freedom to respond creatively. It’s only through treating my pain compassionately that I’ve realized the extent to which the way we treat ourselves is related to the way we treat others. Once we are able to respond to our own pain with compassion, we find that compassion for others flows freely. Self-compassion is lovingkindness squared. v Bodhipaksa has been practicing Buddhism since 1982, and joined the Triratna Buddhist Order in 1993. He is the author of more than a dozen books and audiobooks on meditation and Buddhism. He promotes meditation on his website, Wildmind (www. wildmind.org). AUT UM N 2015
Metta: A Gateway to Self-Compassion and Insight By Dh. Vimalasara
f we learn compassion, then we have mastered selfcompassion. But what is compassion? It has been said that when a heart filled with loving kindness meets suffering, compassion is in action. Compassion is the byproduct of cultivating metta, loving kindness. When we practice metta, we radiate loving kindness toward ourselves, a friend, a neutral person, an enemy of the mind, and then, to all sentient beings and our environment. AUTUMN 2 0 1 5
Self-compassion arises when we come face to face with our suffering and are motivated to relieve it. We know misguided self-compassion, when we often feel motivated to turn away from our suffering and unpleasant experiences. We distract ourselves with stimulants like alcohol, food, drugs, sex and other addictive behaviors; blame ourselves and others; or feel self pity. These can be the near and far enemies of self-compassion. Time out from our suffering is inevitable, but we must realize that self-compassion can only arise when we face our suf-
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â€œOne who aspires to be a Buddha should not be taught too many things. If he (she) is taught only compassion, learns only compassion, that is quite enough.â€? ~ from The Essential Sangharakshita VAJ R A BE L L 15
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fering and lean into it with our breath. Only then can we see clearly that suffering is an experience, a mental event, and nothing more. “This is not mine, this is not me, this is not my self.” ~ from Maha-Rahulovada Sutta: The Greater Exhortation to Rahula Only then do we become disenchanted with the mental proliferation (papancha) that causes our suffering, and the thoughts fade into emptiness, giving space for selfcompassion to arise. If we continually turn away from suffering with the near and far enemies, we will accumulate habits that only end up creating more suffering. We cannot avoid suffering, but we can face it without being overwhelmed. We must disappear into the breath with loving-kindness, rather than into thoughts which inevitably produce more suffering. To connect with self-compassion, we need to walk through the gateway of the first stage of metta. It is in the first stage when we radiate loving-kindness toward ourselves that we begin to nourish the lotus bud buried under the manure. When we have self-compassion, we have realized the three marks of conditioned existence – annica (impermanence), annatta (no self) and dukkha (suffering) – in the whole of our existence. We see the impermanence of our thoughts that has kept self-compassion out of our hearts. We see thoughts clearly as mental events and nothing more. We identify with our thoughts less, and see the illusions that keep us separate and “other.” We let go of the stories that tell us we don’t deserve self-compassion, that we are not worthy of self-compassion, and that selfcompassion is self indulgent and selfish. We accept many things from the past that we have held onto as impermanent and free up space for self-compassion to emerge. Pleasant experiences are impermanent. We are not a fixed being, entity or self, but are in constant flux and flow. Metta is the gateway that opens us up to self-compassion, underpinning the rest of the sublime abodes of compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. In the first four stages of metta, we are really working with aspects of ourselves. The people we put in the friendship, neutral and en16 VAJ R A BE LL
emy stages are reflecting our preferences, our likes and dislikes. When we realize this, forgiveness is possible. Without forgiveness, there can be no self-compassion. We remain separated from others and the rest of the world. Forgiveness is an aspect of both metta and self-compassion. When we are unable to forgive people, we remain in turmoil. Forgiveness takes place in the fifth stage where we radiate metta to all of us and the rest of the world equally. Forgiveness takes place when we see that the self is made up of the five skandhas – form, feeling/sensation, perception, mental formation and consciousness. The most compassionate act is to realize that each skandha is unsatisfactory, impermanent and devoid of self. Forgiveness takes
Often people tell me, “I can give metta to everyone, but it’s so hard to give it to myself,” or “I’m unable to give it to myself.” I smile, because I was once one of those people.
place when we connect to the roots of goodness in each individual. This can be difficult, because some of us have had painful life experiences. When I first came across the prostration practice of putting my mother on my left and my father on the right, I broke down. An order member suggested I substitute others for my mother and father, but I knew I had to make peace with them. Making peace with the enemies of the mind cultivated my self-compassion. When I was able to let go of the memories of abuse, the memory of the carving knife aimed at me, the memory of a shoed foot stamping on my head, I gave room for self-compassion to well up in my heart. I was able to see “this is not me, this is not mine.” I could see the story of memory and the emptiness of memory. Some 40 years later this is me, and it is not me, too.
Often people tell me, “I can give metta to everyone, but it’s so hard to give it to myself,” or “I’m unable to give it to myself.” I smile, because I was once one of those people. I loved the practice of loving kindness, and it was definitely having an impact on my life. But I wasn’t at peace. I still was haunted by papanca. I was still attached to a fixed self. It was excruciating to admit that I acted out with others the relationship I had with myself. I loved others in the same unhealthy way I loved myself. When I was communicating from the reactive mode, I treated people in the hurtful, harsh and uncompassionate way I treated myself. We cannot escape learning to love and like ourselves. We cannot avoid self-compassion if we weaken the fetters and understand the three marks of conditioned existence. How do we learn self-compassion? The five stages of metta are not always enough for people. Some Buddhist traditions introduce the Benefactor stage as another way to develop loving kindness toward ourselves. The Benefactor radiates loving kindness toward us, with the idea that we can begin to give it to ourselves. In my early days of cultivating metta toward myself I instinctively did the following. • I spent a year or more with just a twostage metta – me in the first stage and then radiating loving kindness out into my world. Over time it became a three-stage metta, including a good friend. • I put myself in the first four stages. Then, in the fifth, I visualized myself in all the stages before radiating metta to the rest of the world. • I reflected on how old I was when these traumatic experiences happened, and realized that these experiences created aspects of myself I didn’t like. I would put who I was in that moment in the first stage, an age where I liked myself in the friend stage, an age where I couldn’t remember much in the neutral stage, and an age where I experienced trauma in the enemy stage. • I put a different body part in each of the stages. For example I put the whole of me in the first stage, then a body part I was friendly toward in the friend continued on page 17 AUT UM N 2015
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stage, a body part I ignored in the neutral stage, and a body part I didn’t like in the enemy stage. My metta practice continues, because there is no time off from cultivating selfcompassion until we enter the stream and become a non-returner. Three years ago I was inspired by one of
Deepak Chopra’s 21 meditation challenges after hearing him speak about the Four Basic Needs of the Heart: attention, affection, appreciation and acceptance. He said it was important for humans to have these needs met by other people, but I felt myself saying, “No, Deepak, we have to learn to meet these needs ourselves. We have to learn to give attention, affection, appreciation and acceptance to ourselves so we no longer hunger for people to give them to us.” This realization inspired me to devel-
op a meditation around these four needs to help cultivate self-compassion. v Vimalasara is an award-winning author of eight books including Eight-Step Recovery: Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction, and Detox Your Heart: Working with Anger, Fear and Hatred. She is currently working on her new book, Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery.
Meditation on the Four Basic Needs of the Heart Can be as short as 4 minutes or as long as 20 minutes ATTENTION First bring attention to your breath. As you breathe, imagine your breath carrying kindness, like a beautiful, warm light, filling your body with kindness and wellbeing. With this sense of breathing kindness, give yourself some attention. Notice your body — the tension and relaxation in the body. Cultivate more lovingkindness in your life by just paying more attention to yourself. Notice if paying attention to yourself is pleasant, unpleasant, neutral or a mixture of all three. As best you can, sit with whatever arises without judgment or story. Lean into the feeling with breath and kindness. AFFECTION Visualize a photo you like of yourself and look closely without judgment. Look at yourself with warm kind eyes. Give yourself a metaphorical or literal hug. Hold yourself and lean into your arms. Now imagine yourself as a tiny baby, and imagine yourself today holding that tiny baby and looking at it warmly. Feel the weight of this tiny you in your arms. Notice yourself. Squeeze that tiny baby into your being and give yourself a metaphorical hug. Cultivate more self-compassion in your life by looking at yourself, with all your pain and difficulties, with loving eyes. Notice if giving yourself affection is pleasant, unpleasant, neutral or a mixture of all three. As best you can sit with whatever arises without judgment or story. Lean into the feeling with kindness.
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APPRECIATION Give yourself some appreciation. Visualize your heart. Experience your heart gladdening. Allow yourself to have mudita (joy for others) for yourself. Let sympathetic joy flow towards yourself. Appreciate yourself for being on the path, sitting here and meditating. Cultivate more sympathetic joy in your life by telling yourself, “well done.” Sit with appreciation flowing towards yourself. Notice if appreciating yourself was pleasant, unpleasant, neutral or a mixture of all three. As best you can, sit with whatever arises without judgment or story. Lean into the feeling with kindness. ACCEPTANCE Give yourself some acceptance. Accept yourself right now in this moment. Let go of the past. Let go of the future. Let go of the judgments, the critical voice. If they arise just say to yourself, “let it go.” Acceptance is in the present moment. Cultivate more equanimity in your life by saying, “I am at peace with who I am right now in this moment. I am at peace with the person who is sitting right here on this cushion (or chair) in this moment. I accept myself.” Notice if giving yourself self acceptance is pleasant, unpleasant, neutral or a mixture of all three. As best you can, sit with whatever arises without judgment or story. Lean into the feeling with kindness. Now sit with the strong wish to be free of misery, the strong wish to be free of mental proliferation, and the strong wish to be at peace. Having that strong wish for all sentient beings to free of misery, feel it on a visceral level. Physical. Mental. Emotional. Spiritual. Wish that all sentient beings to be free from the roots and causes of suffering, that all sentient beings be at peace. VAJ R A BE L L 17
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The Practice of Self-Compassion By Dh. Varada
o a Buddhist, self-compassion may sound like an oxymoron. Some writings teach that there is no self. Or that one just needs to “get rid of the self ” as if it can be thrown out in the trash. We are taught that self-cherishing causes us suffering. If the self doesn’t exist, or even if it does, and we need to focus on getting rid of it, then how and why would one want to develop compassion for it? The confusion arises from what we think “the self ” is. Once we investigate and see self for what it really is, self-compassion makes more sense. In my experience, self-compassion is indispensable to a sound Buddhist practice. It is a bridge to both insight and development of true compassion toward others. On a simple psychological level, self-compassion can be more valuable than the development of self-esteem. Some studies have shown self-compassion squares with the true nature of the self and creates a more healthy, resilient sense of self (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/try_selfcompassion). What is the true nature of the self? The self is a mental construct created out of our experience. It is a way of interpreting experience. Consider the five skandhas: this body, these feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousness. You might say, these feel like “me,” or they feel like “my” experiences. From the time we are children we are told, “this is me, and that is someone else,” and “this is mine, and that is yours.” Our bodies feel like “me” and “mine,” don’t they? We feel a sense of continuity from day to day. We call that “me.” We tend to react the same way to similar experiences. All of these things point to a self that is organizing and owning the whole thing. As we grow up, we are offended or hurt when people don’t like us, and we are excited when people do. In adolescence we cultivate this sense of who “I” am and who “I” am not. This process is a very important part of our psychological development. Our language supports the belief that we are our bodies, our experiences. We don’t even use language without the capital I to explain where our thoughts come from. In English, we say we “are” hungry, angry, happy, sick. We spend much of our energy on protecting, defending and nurturing this “self.” Buddhism teaches that the whole reason we suffer is because this self doesn’t exist in the way we think it does. Belief in self as a fixed, permanent thing is the crux of the problem. Yet most of us have an intimate, complicated relationship with this idea of self, and we find this teaching confusing. We may do well with the first stage of the metta bhavana to cultivate love for ourselves, or some of us skip that stage and develop metta for others who are less complicated. We try to be “selfless” and altruistic. All the time, though, we are still convinced these experiences are happening to a self, and that self is pretty important. It is “who I am.” We may easily understand how to have compassion for others but faced with selfcompassion, we wonder “how can I have compassion for something that you tell me doesn’t exist?” This reminds me of the time I realized God was a similar kind of construct. Because of what I had been taught, I saw everything as made by, governed by and continued on page 20 AUTUMN 2 0 1 5
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overseen by God. I believed I couldn’t do anything that God didn’t let me do. I could not see a world without a God ruling over it. One day that flipped. I asked myself, “What if there IS no God organizing this whole thing? What if God is just an idea, an assumption people have made to explain their experience?” As radical as this idea was to me at the time, it made sense, and still the world kept turning. I could see that everything was working based on the laws of karma. Something would arise out of conditions that preceded it and would stop existing when the conditions for its existence ceased. There was no God “behind” it all, and it all went on functioning perfectly. Instead of a “godless” world being empty and sterile, as I had feared it would be, I saw it as incredibly intricate and beautiful. There was no one to blame when things seemed to go wrong. Any dysfunction was caused by conditions that preceded it. There was no one to praise or thank when things went right. Any given thing was simply unfolding exactly as it should based on cause and effect. As a result of this shift, I could see the power of individual practice. If everything conditioned everything else, then my practice to become wiser, more compassionate and kind was actually putting something powerfully positive into the mix. So it is with the self. If we drop the idea of a self as being the organizing principle behind our experience, everything still
goes on. We still love, cry, feel pain, get upset and feel happiness just as before because we are conditioned to have those responses. The only difference is we don’t have to take things so personally. Seeing the self as a construct is incredibly liberating. Our reactions to our experience change when there is no belief in a fixed self to cling to. We see the same for all other beings on the planet. If there is no self as the gatekeeper between our flow and the flow of the rest of the world, we see things as they really are. This is where self-compassion becomes so wonderful. If we see self as a construct that causes suffering by separating us from everything else, then self-esteem and conceit are irrelevant as are their opposites. How can my self be esteemed? How can “my” illusory self be any better or worse than any other self? These selves are illusions. We are all just bundles of consciousness experiencing. Look how much suffering arises out of being attached to having a self? We all do it, and we all suffer from it. If our practice establishes the habit to respond to suffering with metta, then how can it not arise when we see how we make ourselves suffer? Having practiced the metta bhavana – both on and off the cushion – on a regular basis for years, it has become conditioned, a habit. It has become, bit by bit, part of my emotional vocabulary. I have seen it work this way with other long-time practitioners. Karuna (compassion) is defined as metta when it encounters suffering. If we are in the habit of metta, then karuna will arise when we encounter suffering - any-
one’s suffering. How can it not? If we truly see how others are just the same as we are - bundles of experiences conditioned by the past and feeling alone and isolated in these selves constructed like prisons - how can karuna not arise when we see how we all suffer? With practice, compassion becomes the natural response when we encounter suffering – ours or anyone else’s. But you can’t jump to self-compassion without creating the conditions for it to arise. You have to work at setting up the conditions and then recognize it when it is present. Make metta a habit of mind with regular practice. Practice the metta bhavana meditation. Even when it is difficult, it chips away at our habit of loving only what is in our self-interest and hating what is not. Look for metta’s presence every time you meditate, regardless of the practice. Look for metta off the cushion. Say, “may you be well” when someone cuts you off in traffic – and try to mean it. Look into the eyes of the post office worker, the grocery clerk, the waiter and imagine them as your friend. Every chance you get, look deeply into the nature of experience; reflect on the nature of self. Get to really KNOW it. As the Buddha might suggest, look at experience and, in experience, look for the self. Question. Finally, don’t run from suffering by numbing the mind with intoxicants or other distractions. Make it a practice to step into painful experience with metta and see what happens. v Dh. Varada lives in Montana with her husband Buddhapalita and works at Tipu’s Chai with another Triratna Order member.
How Can You Contribute to the Vajra Bell?
As a sangha, one of the most important things we do is to share our individual experiences of the spiritual life. By contributing our own stories to the richly-flavored stew of Dharma life that surrounds our center, we create strong connections between and among each other and strengthen each others’ practices, sometimes without even knowing it. Just by telling another person about something you know or an experience you’ve had, you may provide the missing part to a puzzle that has been unfinished in their mind. You may bring them peace, simply in the knowledge that they are not the only one struggling with an issue. You might say the right word at just the right 20 VAJ R A BE LL
moment that will alter their lives forever. With this in mind, if you’ve ever been interested in contributing to the Vajra Bell, this is the time to do it! Have you taken an amazing photo lately? We can use one! Trying your hand at poetry? We’re eager to share one of your poems. If you’ve attended a retreat or event at a Triratna center, we would love to have you write something about it for us. If you have a great website to share, a Dharma movie you’re eager to talk about, or a page-turner of a Buddhist book that you have to let everyone know about, let US know! There are so many ways that you can enrich the pages of the Vajra Bell let your imagination run wild! So, you say that you’re not a great writ-
er? Well, now is the chance to challenge that self-view. The Vajra Bell kula has among its volunteers an excellent set of editors to help you on your way. Have an idea, but you’re not sure if it’s prime-time material? Let us know what you’re thinking - it may grow from a seedling thought into a solid story. The important thing is to take the leap. You never know what will happen unless you give it a shot, and there may be someone out there just waiting for what you have to say. To contribute, or to suggest an idea for a future issue of the Vajra Bell, you can contact any of the kula volunteers - listed in the contact column on page two of this issue by email or in person. ◆◆ AUT UM N 2015
Men's Day at the MFA
arts at aryaloka
Aryaloka has a deep commitment to the contemplative arts - supporting the art process, creativity, and artistic expression as tools for communicating spiritual insights and, in the process of creation, dropping the self.
Art from a Year of Silence New Work from Dh. Kiranada Following a Year in New Zealand
Art From a Year of Silence, work created during Dh. Kiranada’s one year solitary retreat on a precipice in the Coromandel wilderness of New Zealand, will be on view at the Aryaloka Buddhist Center from October 24th to November 25th (viewing schedule below). For over 360 days, Kiranada meditated, reflected, wrote, walked and created eight pieces of resist-dyed fiber art on Ahimsa (non-harm) silk with natural dyes. These framed pieces explore inner reflections of silence in all its forms. Accompanying these fiber pieces will be eleven watercolor prints on canvas, explorations of outer silence, visions of this unique land. The opening reception of this special exhibition will be on Sunday, October 24th from 3:30pm – 5:30pm with a short gallery talk at 4:15pm. The exhibition is on view M-F 11am – 3pm, except November 4th10th. Open Tuesday evenings 5 -7pm. Call ahead to confirm times. v Dh. Kiranada coordinates the Contemplative Arts at Aryaloka and teaches Surface Design at Massachusetts College of Arts and Design (fall semester) in Boston. www. kiranadasterlingbenjamin.com
Dh. Kiranada, “The Wisdom of Silence”
More Upcoming Arts Events at Aryaloka AUTUMN 2 0 1 5
November 15, 6-9 p.m.
Aryaloka Drawing Group Nov. 22 & Dec. 6, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
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life lesson from prison Continued from Page 7
the sun and gentle breeze on his face. Later he watched James seal an envelope for the first time in several years, and they enjoyed a sweet frozen coffee drink together. Doug reflected afterwards how the mundane task of providing transportation was a gift as he found a renewed sense of joy in the simple pleasures and freedom we often take for granted. Prison is a noisy, highly stressful environment. The lights are always on. There is constant motion. The sounds of televisions, pool tables, arguments and confrontations are never-ending. The men share stories about how their meditation practice has helped them to handle stressful situations in more skillful ways. They have been able to avoid conflict so
they donâ€™t lose important privileges such as the ability to hold a job, and to have visits with family. I see firsthand that practicing meditation and studying the Dharma has made a difference in many lives behind the walls of the prison, and I believe the changes carry through and also make a difference for family members. Through the men in Concord, I have come to appreciate darkness and silence. I appreciate oranges and hiking in the mountains. But more importantly, I appreciate that no matter what has brought them to prison, they are people. Living in the present moment, I am in the company of compassionate and caring people, and as we practice our meditation together, that present moment is good. v
compassionate presence Continued from Page 9
with an ego-based thought-response, the re-enactment allowed me to visualize the choice to side-step this thought and let it pass by. It allowed enough time to regroup and pause to check in with myself prior to forming a response. It allowed me the freedom to get in touch with how I felt. Perhaps, I thought, I have needs that should be heard as well. The afternoon full of experiencing these emotions left me exhausted. We concluded the day with meditation. On Sunday Shantigarbha led us in a walking meditation around the Stupa, reciting the Shakyamuni mantra. After a light lunch and a recap of the weekendâ€™s events, we performed the usual cleaning duties. Leaving Aryaloka is always bittersweet. The sense of tranquility I experience while there is not easily reproduced. I enjoy the opportunity to hear from others about their path and to share mine. I attempt to take a piece of the serenity home with me, and to hold on to it for as long as I can. I do feel that my approach to conflict resolution has changed, and having the ability to see the steps in action helps slow things down even when in the midst of a heated situation. I am grateful to Shantigarbha and Gesine for illustrating a better approach and adding new tools to my toolbox. For more information, please visit Shantigarbhaâ€™s site at http://seedofpeace. org. v
Audio-visual resources exploring Buddhism
www.clear-vision.org 22 VAJ R A BE LL
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Continued from Page 24
21 Sangha Day 21-28 International Urban Retreat Kickoff: Living in the Greater Mandala 22 Drawing group, 9:30 a.m. 24 Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. 25 Introduction to Meditation & Buddhism Series, 7-9 p.m. - led by Rijupatha 30-12/6 After the First Bite: Professional Mindful Eating Training, led by Amala and Megrette Fletcher DECEMber
The world is full of falling leaves, Of wistful things that come and go – Flights of swallows through the skies, Footprints of starlings in the snow.
A melancholy autumn wind Blows through the world; The pampas grass waves, As we drift to the moor, Drift to the sea.
Only one day the Summer rose Across our path her scent can fling; Not long the Autumn lily blooms, Not long the crocus of the Spring.
What can be done With the mind of a man That should be clear But though he is dressed up in a monk’s robe, Just lets life pass him by?
By Taigu Ryokan
My legacy -What will it be? Flowers in spring, The cuckoo in summer, And the crimson maples Of autumn...
AUTUMN 2 0 1 5
Autumn Moonlight By Matsuo Basho
Autumn moonlight— a worm digs silently into the chestnut.
1 2 4 4-6 5 6 8 9 11 12 12-13 15 16 18 19 19 20 26-31
Friends Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Introduction to Meditation & Buddhism Series, 7-9 p.m. - led by Rijupatha Practice Night, 7 p.m. Mindful Eating Retreat: After the First Bite, led by Amala and Megrette Fletcher Order/Mitra Day Drawing group, 9:30 a.m. Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Introduction to Meditation & Buddhism Series, 7-9 p.m. - led by Rijupatha Practice Night, 7 p.m. Ancient Wisdom Study Day: Revering the Buddha, led by Surakshita - 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Path of Practice Overnight (this group is currently closed to new members) Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Introduction to Meditation & Buddhism Series, 7-9 p.m. - led by Rijupatha Practice Night, 7 p.m. Meditation Tune-up Workshop: Entering into the Dhyanas, led by Lilasiddhi - 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Movie Night: “Why Has Bodhidharma Left for the East? A Zen Fable,” 6 p.m. Exploring Presence: Yoga & Meditation Day Workshop, led by Molly Schlangen and Satyada, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Winter Meditation Retreat, led by Sravaniya
VAJ R A BE L L 23
(All events are subject to change. For the latest, up-to-date information, check our web site at http://www.aryaloka.org or call the office at 603-659-5456.) Events in italics held at Akasaloka. Mitra classes & Order days not included.
October 2-4 4 6 9 10 10 11 13 11-16 16 17-18 20 23 24 24
Sitting Down and Waking Up: Young Sangha Retreat, led by Rijupatha Drawing group, 9:30 a.m. Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Practice Night, 7 p.m. Introduction to Meditation: Metta Bhavana Movie Night: “The Jew in the Lotus,” 6 p.m. Path of Practice (this group is currently closed to new members) Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Gateway to Buddha Realms Mandala Retreat, led by Amala Practice Night, 7 p.m. Work Days Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Practice Night, 7 p.m. Introduction to Buddhism Workshop, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Art From A Year of Silence exhibit,
25 27 30
Opening Reception, 3:30 p.m. Meditation Tune-up Workshop: Developing a Meditation Toolkit, led by Bodhana - 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Practice Night & Full Moon Puja, 7 p.m.
NOVEMber 4-10 10 11 13-15 15 15 17 18 20
Intensive Noble Silence retreat, led by Bodhana, Karunasara and Lilasiddhi Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Introduction to Meditation & Buddhism Series, 7-9 p.m. - led by Rijupatha Wisdom of the Body Retreat, led by Sunada Children’s Sangha, 2-4 pm, led by Alisha Roberts Arts Evening at Aryaloka, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. Friends’ Night, 6:45-9:15 p.m. Introduction to Meditation & Buddhism Series, 7-9 p.m. - led by Rijupatha Movie Night: “Himalaya,” 6 p.m. continued on page 23
ongoing events Friends’ Night At Aryaloka Every Tuesday evening, 6:45-9:15 p.m. • Led by Arjava, Akashavanda, Amala, Satyada, Lilasiddhi, and other sangha members. • Open to all • Suggested donation $10 per class • No registration necessary Typically, our Tuesday night activities include: • 6:45 - Gathering, tea and announcements • 7:15 - Meditation and shrine room activity • 8:00 - Study, discussion or a talk on the evening’s topic • 9:15 - End With any of these activities, you are free to participate or to just sit and listen. Nothing is compulsory. If you have any questions, please ask!
Full Moon Puja Friday evenings as scheduled (unless noted). See the Aryaloka website or Vajra Bell events schedule for dates and locations. 7:00 p.m. meditation, followed by puja. The rich devotional practice of meditation and puja is shared on these special Friday nights by those who find devotion an important part of their practice. When we celebrate the Sevenfold Puja, which combines faith and devotion with poetry and sometimes an element of visual beauty, we find that our emotional energies are to some extent refined. When this happens, it becomes possible for the vision and insight of the higher thinking center to act through these refined, sublimated emotional centers directly on the moving center. In this way, the whole of life is completely transformed. Sangharakshita ~ Ritual and Devotion
Policy for Retreat Deposits RETREATS/CLASSES/SOLITARIES Those registering for retreats (including solitaries) and classes of any length will be asked to pay a minimum deposit of onehalf of the total cost to finalize registration. If a registrant cancels two weeks or more before the retreat, s/he will receive a
credit of the full amount toward another event. If the cancellation is received less than two weeks before the event, the registrant forfeits half of the retreat fee, and the remainder may be credited toward another event.
Note: In all situations, special circumstances will be taken into consideration. 24 VAJ R A BE LL
AUT UM N 2015
In this issue: Self-Compassion - Learning to Turn Loving-kindness Inwards