During this dialogue about the practice of Right Action, Peter again emphasizes the importance of combining a deepening understanding of our internal processes through mindfulness practice with a revisiting of the classic concepts and jargon of the Buddha. Peter offered some information from modern neuroscientific research that suggests how karma is formed through memory consolidation, citing various areas of the brain and their functions. This was combined with how the cultivation of samadhi (concentration/tranquility) and sati (mindfulness/insight) produce a “buffer zone” of non-reactive awareness that allows the application of benevolent intention to emerging behaviors. This was followed by a lively discussion of the implications that are presented through this new understanding of ancient wisdom.
During this dialogue, Tommy reviewed the last two presentations Peter provided on craving and clinging. Tommy’s frequent use of facilitating questions opened up a lively dialogue among the folks attending. Wendy asked for comments from others about how they approach cultivating mindfulness at the start of the day, and received an abundance of reports from various Sangha members that were quite helpful.
During this extensive Dhamma talk, Peter described satibojjhanga, the seven awakening factors: mindfulness, investigation of phenomena, energy/effort, joy/enthusiastic engagement, tranquility, concentration and equanimity. Once the five hindrances have been set aside, the cultivation of vipassana is furthered through the perfection of these factors. Peter explained how the factors co-operate, that is the dynamic interaction between them. Mindfulness is the factor that monitors the process, assuring the activating factors, tranquilizing factors, faith/confidence and investigation are in balance. This balance is dynamic, constantly needing adjustment to accommodate fresh sensory input. Joy and equanimity are byproducts of this balancing. This was followed by another lively group discussion about how this works in experience.
During this first Dhamma talk of the one-week retreat, Robert reviewed the five Precepts: Avoiding hurting others, avoiding hurtful speech, avoiding dishonesty and theft, avoiding hurtful speech avoiding hurtful sexual behavior, and avoiding dulling the mind with intoxicants. He also talked of the three Refuges: Buddha (the potential for all of us to wake up from our delusions), Dhamma (the ways and means for waking up) and Sangha (the supportive community of like-minded people). Then Peter talked of the progressive course of training during the week, that is, increasing concentration and tranquility, then the practice of vipassana, often called insight. He also described two stages of development: first, that of the integration of self-states, then, when the personality is more integrated, the development of spiritual transcendence.
Tim introduces the Chan/Zen concept of “one step back.” One step back is the place between “merging into” an object and running away from it, the place between reactivity and surpression. It’s the place where we dynamically and mindfully encounter the world. Members of OIMG follow up with experiences within their own lives in which they’ve taken one step back.
Beginning with a long excerpt from the Kalama Sutta, Peter emphasized the Buddha’s teaching on personal validation of the concepts within Buddhism. The Kalamas were a tribe of critical thinkers who enjoyed challenging priests and philosophers regarding their presentations to the tribe. The Buddha exhorted them to not take anything on face value, but instead to validate or invalidate a particular self-state through mindfulness, organized around the ethics described in the Five Precepts: not to kill, steal, misbehave sexually, speak deceptively or hurtfully, and to not intoxicate the body/mind. The group was challenged to examine carefully how they can assess in their own experience how, for example, hostility toward an insect might be acceptable–but then, where does one draw the line? What is it about your direct, immediate experience that forms your response? The dialogue was so engaging and lively that it was agreed to continue the discussion at the next meeting.
During this dialogue, Tim explored the importance of paticca sammupada, typically translated as dependent origination. This core concept of the Buddha’s teachings describes how karma (past experience) shapes our perceptions and responses in current events, followed by our behavioral responses. After the karmic influence is enacted, the result (called vipakka) goes back into our memory banks until new circumstances occur that have enough potency to re-enact the karma. During the dialogue, Peter commented on how the process changed toward alleviating suffering when mindfulness monitors the emergence of the karmic influence, determines whether it’s wholesome or unwholesome, and responds accordingly to discard the unwholesome and enact wholesome actions.
In this dialogue, Peter shares various ways to incorporate the training cultivated with mindfulness of breathing meditation into daily life routines. After his comments, others in the group share what works for them. Peter’s notes listing the various strategies he mentioned are posted on the web site.