During this talk, the first night of the annual one week retreat, Peter revisited the meaning of “retreat”, “the three refuges” and the concept of the precepts from a contemporary perspective. The importance of silence was emphasized, both external and internal. He then explained the value of persistent, but relaxed investigation of the sensation of breathing, to support increasing tranquility and insight. The meditation students were encouraged to make persistent monitoring of the breath a priority during the course of the ensuing days.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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