Posted in videos

Foundations of Mindfulness (video)

In this talk I explore a fundamental Buddhist teaching called “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness”. Can being mindful of our bodies, feelings, thoughts, and the world around us help us to live in a better way? I think so.

 

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If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast The Kansas City Meditation Podcast

Posted in buddhism

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Teaching is based on a talk that was given by the Buddha in the early days. It’s the foundation of what people call Mindfulness/Insight Meditation. The Four Foundations are considered the underlying principles that form the basis of meditation practice.

So, that’s what we’re going to explore here. We’re going to talk about what the Buddha said about Mindfulness and also how we can apply these teachings in our lives.

The thought behind all of this is that we aren’t mindful most of the time. We do very little consciously and often travel through life as if in a daydream. My favorite example of this is when I’m driving to work in the morning and by the time I get there I don’t really remember the trip. I’ve been on autopilot…which sounds very dangerous.

But if we train in mindfulness then we can shift away from that. We can learn how to be more aware in our lives. If we do that then we can meet the world in a more authentic way.

What’s so good about being aware?

Well, if we are more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, then we can have more insight into why we do the things we do. With awareness we can see which of our actions come from a good place that benefits ourselves and others and which of our actions come from a bad place. If we know the motivations behind the things we do, then we can make better choices. When we’re acting out of generosity, kindness, and wisdom then our actions are helpful to ourselves and others. When we’re acting out of greed, hatred, and delusion then our actions are harmful to ourselves and others. Mindfulness is what helps us know the difference.

When we’re mindful we can strengthen those good motivations and weaken the bad ones.

This path is fundamentally about suffering less. Mindfulness helps us realize and internalize the idea that these beneficial actions with good motivations lead us to contentment in our day to day life. They also help us progress on the path to Enlightenment. But we’re talking about baby steps here. At the same time, mindfulness can show us that actions that are motivated by greed, hatred, and delusion usually aren’t all that helpful to us.

If we have some mindful awareness then we can have space before we do or say something to ask ourselves, “Is this going to create problems?”

Mindfulness can also help us to notice the changes that are going on in our bodies and minds. Indeed, these changes are happening all the time, especially in our thoughts. We can easily get carried away and not notice the flow of our thoughts and feelings.

We often forget to pay attention because so many things are happening to distract us..I’m not talking about our environment, although that certainly can be distracting. I’m talking about all the things happening in our minds.

When we learn how to pay attention, we can gain a kind of clarity about our lives. We can shift our minds so that we can simply pay attention to the world as it is. There’s a kind of contentment there. In Pali, the Buddha’s language, the word for Mindfulness is Sati, which means “to remember”. We’re being mindful so we can remember the world and our place in it. So we can remember our true nature. So that we can understand that the only place we can find some sense of peace and freedom from suffering is right here, in this moment. Not in some other time or place. It’s with you right now.

 

Mindfulness is rooted in the earliest Buddhist teachings, what I call “First Turning Buddhism”. The Buddha declared to his students that they should train in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
“What four?” he was asked.

And the Buddha replied, “Dwell contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, unified, with concentrated one pointed mind, in order to know the body as it really is. Dwell contemplating feeling in feelings….in order to know feelings as they really are. Dwell contemplating mind in mind….in order to know mind as it really is. Dwell contemplating dhamma in dhammas… in order to know dhammas as they really are.”

The practice of contemplating the four foundations: body, feelings, mind, and phenomena, is recommended for people at every stage of the spiritual path.

By telling us to practice mindfulness of the body, the Buddha is reminding us to see the body not a single solid thing, but as a collection of parts. We are a collection of organs and other body parts that come together to form a whole. We want to learn to see the body as the body, rather than as our self. Like all physical things the body comes into being, is around for a little while, and then is gone. Because of allt he struggles with injury, illness, aging, and death, the body is not a good source of lasting happiness. If mindfulness can help us see the body as temporary and unable to bring us contentment, then we can see the body as it really is.

By telling us to practice mindfulness of feelings, the Buddha is reminding us that, like the body, feelings can be divided. It’s usually said that there are three types of feelings; pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Each type is one feeling. At any given moment it’s said that we can only notice one type. We think of feelings in this way to help us cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of them. We want to see our feelings as “my feeling” rather than “me”. Language is powerful here. We say, “I am sad” instead of “I am experiencing sadness.” Why do we do that? Feelings are impermanent because they come and go, sometimes very quickly. Feelings don’t bring lasting happiness because there will always be unpleasant ones. In understanding this we can see feelings as they really are.

The same applies to mindfulness of mind. We talk about the mind as though it’s a single specific thing, but really it’s a collection too. Consciousness arises from our moment to moment awareness of the information that we are perceiving. The mind includes not only consciousness, but also memories and daydreams. It also includes our thought processes, the way one thought leads to another and another. Paying attention to the way thoughts arise and pass away can help us to be less attached to them. If we can be less attached to our thoughts, then we can see the mind as it really is.

By telling us to practice mindfulness of phenomena the Buddha is saying we should be mindful of the world outside of us too. This is where we come to understand that everything follows the same principles. Everything in reality arises, is around for a while, and then passes away. Simply understanding that the world is ephemeral helps us in our practice.

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Visit my YouTube Channel to hear  Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast The Kansas City Meditation Podcast

Posted in videos

Kindness as an Antidote to Fear (video)

Some monks were afraid of ghosts in the woods. They went to the Buddha and asked what they should do. The Buddha offered Kindness as an antidote to fear.

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Want to come meditate with me? I’m at Ubuntu Village Monday nights at 7pm. Meditation Practice, Support, and Encouragement. 4327 Troost, Kansas City, MO.

Visit my YouTube Channel to hear  Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast The Kansas City Meditation Podcast

Posted in stories

The Buddha Holds Up A Flower

This is the story that gets told as the beginning of the Zen tradition. The Buddha was a beloved and well known spiritual teacher. People just followed him around and listened to what he had to say. He would regularly just get up in front of a crowd and start dispensing wisdom.

On one occasion he stood up before a crowd. They were all very excited, thinking they were about to hear some great wisdom, something that would really awaken or encourage them.

The Buddha stood up and just stood there silently. Then, he held up a flower.

So, we can imagine, the crowd is thinking “What the fuck?” They were expecting some great, serious, profound teaching and they didn’t get one. It was just a flower.

They were holding onto their expectations, memories, and disappointment.

And one guy in the crowd smiled.

Why did he smile?

He smiled because he wasn’t holding on to anything. When he saw the flower, it was just a flower. He wasn’t carrying all the baggage and expectations that we often carry. Sometimes a flower is just a flower.

This story is meant to inspire and encourage us. If he can see the flower and just see a flower, so can we. We don’t have to bring all of our baggage into every situation all the time. We can also just smile at a flower.

here’s a video about this story:

here’s the audio version:

The Flower and the Smile

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Want to come meditate with me? I’m at Ubuntu Village Monday nights at 7pm. Meditation Practice, Support, and Encouragement. 4327 Troost, Kansas City, MO.

Visit my YouTube Channel to hear  Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast The Kansas City Meditation Podcast

Posted in buddhism

Wake Up

“The Buddha” simply means “the one who is awake.”

I try not to get to caught up thinking about him because when you get down to it this path we’re on isn’t about his journey. It’s about yours. Awake means fully present in the here and now, not lost and confused somewhere else. It also means being real, being completely genuine. What we’re trying to do is learn how to come into every situation without bringing all our baggage and bullshit and delusions. Being here and being real. That’s what it’s about.

The Buddha wasn’t a god or spirit. He was a regular person like you and me. He didn’t create anything, really. He just described a different way of seeing the human condition. He described life as like a daydream and I really like that. We go through life and we have trouble truly being present and intentional. We’re on autopilot and just reacting to things a lot of the time. It’s harder to make good decisions when we’re sleepwalking through life. And we miss what’s happening, even things that we really want to pay attention to.

Also, because we’re in this dream, we don’t see things as they really are. So much of the way we see the world is shaped by our expectations and baggage. So what we’re talking about doing is waking up. This is about empowerment and clarity. Many of our problems come from being in this daydream. We are pulled around by greed, aversion, and ignorance. These are the things that sap our sense of well being. Often our delusion effects our relationships too. Sometimes we don’t pay attention to the people we care about the most. If you’ve ever been talking to someone you love and realized you aren’t listening..that’s what I’m talking about.

So what we’re trying to do is learn how to see through all this. We want to see the world as it really is, to learn how to truly pay attention, and to live our lives in a better way. In this we hope to reduce our suffering and also reduce the suffering that spills out of us onto others. We suffer because we don’t see things as they are. We also suffer because we struggle to be content, we are always wanting more. We have trouble settling into uncertainty.

We’re trying to turn our minds so we can empower ourselves. Once we learn how to calm and stabilize our minds with meditation practice, it really gives us a chance to open ourselves up to wisdom. The path is sometimes called the gateless gate. That’s because there’s nothing special about it and there’s nothing stopping you. We’re just training to put down our shit and be in the world in a more authentic way.

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Want to come meditate with me? I’m at HDKC Monday nights at 7pm. Meditation Practice, Support, and Encouragement. 4327 Troost, Kansas City, MO.

Visit my YouTube Channel to hear Dharma Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast Scharpening the Mind

 

Posted in buddhism

Simplicity

We think of the Buddha as this grand spiritual teacher, but what if he wasn’t? I picture the Buddha as a practical person. He was a lot more interested in what we can do in our lives than in complicated doctrines. That seems obvious.

He came up with this unique idea, the truth of suffering and how to overcome it. He was an innovator. He was followed by a series of teachers who turned his ideas into a religion and also a philosophy. The way he taught it was really neither.

He was just a guy who was encouraging people to find the freedom to experience life more fully by engaging with the present moment, but cultivating awareness and compassion.

The teachings of the Buddha weren’t always complicated, but they sure have become that way over the years. He just encourages us to face reality as it is.

It can be hard for us to accept how simple things really are. That’s why people have gone out of their way to try to make Buddhism more complicated.

I’ve taught a lot of people how to meditate over the years and there have been many times when people say, “That’s it?”

Because they expect more than the simple practice of being right here.

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Visit my YouTube Channel to hear Dharma Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast Scharpening the Mind

Posted in buddhism, ch'an, zen

The Great Way

“The Great Way is Gateless,

Approached in a thousand ways.

Once past this checkpoint

You stride through the universe.”

 

This is the opening of the famous Zen text “The Gateless Gate”.

It sounds like weird hippie nonsense. A lot of old Zen sayings like this are a little hard to unpack because sometimes they seem so weird.

I think it’s worth a second look.

The Great Way is the path we’re on. The path inspired by the Buddha, the cultivating of awareness and compassion. Find your true nature and help others, that sums up the path.

When we say it’s gateless, we’re saying there’s nothing stopping you. It’s right there, like an open door. Your true nature is always with you. It’s never not present. The door is open. Spiritual teachers can point you to the door, but they don’t open it for you. It’s already open. The gate is gateless. We could say teachers are just selling water by the river.

“If you can’t find enlightenment here and now, where else do you expect to find it?” -Dogen

Your true nature is free and awake, you just have to notice that the gate is open.

It’s approached in a thousand ways because we all come to the path bringing different things with us. My difficulty on the path might be giving into temptation all the time or making excuses to not meditate. Yours might be a tendency to give into anger, or to compare yourself to others too much. We’re all a little different and we come to the path for different reasons, so it’s approached in a thousand ways.

But we’re all on the same path.

And once we enter the gate, freedom is on the other side. The freedom to put down our emotional baggage and our insecurities and our fixations. When we can put those down and truly see ourselves as we are, we can stride through the universe.

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” -Rumi

What do we need to do? We need to set our intention. We need to decide we want to go through the gateless gate. That’s the beginning.

Posted in mindfulness

Bringing the Mind Here

One of the things we’re trying to do in our meditation practice is to bring our minds here, into the present moment. To do this we have to get a handle on our wandering thoughts.

So often in life we aren’t present. We’re daydreaming or ruminating or fantasizing. These things aren’t bad, but we’re missing things in the here and now.

The Buddha said, “Stopping is awakening,” and he was talking about stopping the way our wandering thoughts drag us around. Bodhidharma said, “Put down the myriad entangling conditions; let not one thought arise.” This means put down your crap. Stop seeing the world through the lens of your selfishness. Stop getting carried away all the time by wandering thoughts. Assert control of your mind. If we can do that, then we can awaken to our true nature.

Posted in ch'an, zen

Zen and Zen Stories

What we call the Zen school is really a mix of a few different things.

It includes the original teaching of the Buddha, which I call First Turning Buddhism, and the spirit of Chinese culture at the time. What we call “Zen meditation” is a method for training the mind that is practiced in First Turning Buddhism and in what we call the Great Way, Mahayana Buddhism.

The original word is Dhyana, which means “concentration” or “quiet meditation”. So, when we talk about the Zen Tradition we’re really talking about “The Tradition That Practices Meditation”. But if we’re honest, a lot of traditions practice meditation, although that wasn’t the case when the Zen Tradition started. The Zen tradition is also sometimes called the Mind School, or the Prajna School, which I think might have been a cooler name. This is because the tradition is all about training the mind in order to engage our true selves.

But, while the tradition started out as a get-back-to-meditation, kind of bare bones approach…it’s slowly deviated from that, sometimes moving away from the it’s roots, as traditions often do. In plenty of Zen circles you won’t see anything resembling a bare bones approach.

 

Anyway,

The earliest Zen teachers really wanted to set Zen apart. There were a lot of Buddhist traditions in China at the time and some of them said the path to Enlightenment was very easy.

The truth is beyond words. It’s about practice and not study. That’s the important point that the Zen teachers were trying to emphasize. They thought too many people were into studying Buddhism and not very many were into actually practicing Buddhism.

Zen isn’t something you learn about, it isn’t something you study, and it isn’t something you are. It’s something you do.

That’s how Zen teachers started telling stories. Stories are words too, though. Obviously they are made up of words. The Zen stories are words that tell you how to go beyond words. Stories about people who were attached to words and had that attachment shattered. Kind of silly an circular, if we really think about it.

Stories are helpful because they can be used to illustrate a point. Sometimes the difference between a successful religion and one that struggles to find followers is based entirely on which religion has better stories. We love stories.

Here’s a story.

The Buddha stood at a place called Vulture Peak in front of a bunch of people. There were monks and nuns and also regular people like you and me. It’s said that there were a million people, but that seems far-fetched. It’s said that spirits and celestial beings were there too, but I don’t believe those are real.

People were expecting a teaching and the Buddha just stood there, not saying anything. Everyone was just sitting there waiting, looking around awkwardly. I’m imagining what it would be like to go to a concert and see the band just standing on stage not performing.

Then, the Buddha held up a pretty flower and twirled it, showing it to everyone.

So, still everyone was standing around awkwardly.

And one guy who they call Kasyapa the Elder just smiled.

 

That’s supposed to be the beginning of the tradition. They say Kasyapa was the first Zen teacher. They say the teachings were entrusted to him because he understood the truth that’s beyond words. There is as much truth in a pretty flower as there is in a teaching. Enlightenment is right here. It’s everywhere. That’s the message.

I once heard someone say, “Just because it’s made up doesn’t mean it’s less true.”

Kasyapa was a real person and was considered one of the best monks in the early sangha. The point of the story isn’t “this really happened” or maybe originally that was it’s purpose but we don’t have to pretend it really happened now. (no one wrote about this or, as far as we can tell, told this story until hundreds of years after the Buddha’s lifetime)

The point is it tells us something.

Talking about Buddhism is great. Learning about Buddhism is great too. But sometimes life is about paying attention and noticing little things. Sometimes it’s about looking at a pretty flower.

Stop and smell the roses. Don’t attach to words so much, even Buddhist words. The truth is right here.

That being said…now I wonder if people in the Zen Tradition are becoming too attached to stories, if they’re thinking of them as IMPORTANT rather than as useful teaching tools. I hope we don’t forget that the tradition came from teachers who wanted a simpler, back-to-basics approach to Buddhism.

Zen is full of stories like this, of some teacher pointing the way in a creative way. That’s really what sets Zen apart the most. The teachers are still pointing and we just have to look.

Posted in videos

Faith, Determination, Doubt | Video

Great Faith, Great Determination, Great Doubt. These are called the Three Essentials of Practice. So Sahn said that a practice that is missing any of these is like a table missing a leg.

 

The text I reference in the video is “Mirror of Zen”. You can get my commentary on this wonderful text by clicking here:

Mirror of Zen

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UPCOMING EVENTS

4/20/19: 11am-Noon

Fountain City Meditation: Meditate For Our Lives at Unity Southeast

Unity Southeast KC

3421 East Meyer Boulevard

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating outside of a church. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

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