Why do we practice meditation? How do we practice meditation? Who practices meditation? During this dialogue, these questions were explored by the sangha members, to increase practice skills and facilitate integrating these skills into daily life. The final question is an ongoing inquiry–actively investigating how the “who” is fabricated, to discover the impermanence and selflessness of being.
It’s our custom to devote the meeting on Thanksgiving Eve to shared experiences on how Buddhist practices foster gratitude, and how gratitude fosters generosity, which the Buddha regarded as the foremost of the qualities we develop as the awakening process unfolds. We hope that listening to this dialogue will inspire your practice of awakening.
During this meeting, Peter provided a guided meditation regarding breath awareness that tracks the progression of focus on the sensations of breathing from the simple awareness “this is the in-breath…this is the out-breath” to cultivate continuity of breath awareness, then “looking closer” to note carefully the textural quality of each breath cycle to increase interest and investigation in awareness. Finally, the meditation students are invited to hone in on one specific touch sensation exclusively in order to cultivate the quality of awareness preparatory to practicing jhana, or alternatively, to maximize the practice of vipassana. A separate file is associated with this notation that reflects the question and answer period following the guided meditation, during which particular points of meditation practice were explored.
This talk focuses on the practice of Right Mindfulness in the Noble Eightfold Path discourse. Peter emphasizes how finding a neutral feeling like breath awareness provides a stabilizing point of reference that can interrupt the escalation from an initial stimulus moment to a rapidly escalating “enchantment” of mental conditioning that creates and sustains a false impression that a transient mental experience is a “self”. During the dialogue, Peter repeatedly emphasized the value of the intensive training that meditation retreats provides, allowing mindfulness to be more strongly established and therefore more capable of interrupting the onset of what he calls the “selfing story”. Next week’s dialogue will be a “coaching” review of the practice of mindfulness of breathing, to help participants have more conceptual clarity about accessing breath awareness in daily life routines.
The five precepts have been adopted for millennia by those who desire to cultivate wisdom, that is, clear awareness and benevolent intention. They are traditionally phrased as abstentions, that is, the focus is on noting the emergence of unwholesome self-states and turning attention away from them and alternatively orienting towards wholesome self-states. This is based on the assumption that we must cultivate an ethical foundation that fosters mental clarity, kindness, compassion and generosity in order to have the internal stability and discipline to cultivate spiritual transcendence.
During this dialogue, Peter reviewed previous dialogues on The Power Of Commitment and the Five Precepts, hoping to foster a different perspective on the precepts. In the history of Buddhism, the precepts are worded as “abstentions”, that is, behaviors that are to be avoided. In this rendering, we are asked to consider positive aspects of them as commitments to manifest clear awareness (Right Understanding) and benevolent intentions (Right intentions). In the course of the dialogue, participants were urged to realize that regular meditation practice is essential for the cultivation of the virtues that the precepts represent. A one page summary reviewing the usefulness of working with the precepts as commitments is posted on the site for review. Next week, the dialogue will begin to explore the practice of Right Mindfulness, which include the four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana).
It is our custom to provide some opportunity for most retreat participants to talk about their experience in the group, as this allows them the chance to “think out loud” with others who understand the retreat process. This helps to integrate the experience and makes the insights gained during the retreat to be more clearly understood and accessible for daily use. It also can serve as an inspiration for others who might consider a retreat experience. During the dialogue, Peter emphasized the value of the way the mind is trained on a retreat, comparing this to similar trainings in the practice of musicianship, sports, and writing, for example. (sorry for the typo in the title). Next week, Peter will talk about the use of commitment (discussed in an earlier talk) with the precepts, to empower spiritual progress.