Sally Clough Armstrong began practicing vipassana meditation in India in 1981. She moved to the Bay Area in 1988, and worked at Spirit Rock until 1994 in a number of roles, including executive director. She began teaching in 1996, and is one of the guiding teachers of Spirit Rock's Dedicated Practitioner Program.
Sally has always been inspired by the depth and the breadth of the Buddha’s teaching, as presented in the suttas of the Pali Canon, because the truth and power of the Buddha’s words still speak to us today. Her intention in teaching is to make these ancient texts and practices accessible and relevant to all levels of practitioner, from the very new to the dedicated meditator.
This powerful teaching form the Upanisa Sutta shows us how suffering when understood with wisdom leads to faith and is the beginning of a natural unfolding of beautiful qualities of the heart which provide the foundation for the mind to turn to awakening.
Any time we practice mindfulness and wise attention, we are weakening the impact of the hindrances, and strengthening what are known as the five jhanic factors: meditative qualities that support the continuity and deepening of our meditation. Each of the jhanic factors actually balances and acts as an antidote to one of the hindrances. This talk looks at how to strengthen the jhanic factors, and use them skillfully as antidotes to the hindrances.
Though we receive lots of instructions for our meditation practice on retreats, let’s face it – we spend a lot of time thinking. What do we think about? At the heart of these movements of the mind is answering the questions, “Am I OK?”, “Was I OK?”, and “Will I be OK?” Our obsession with these questions is the cause of a huge amount of restlessness. Restlessness is one of the major hindrances to calming the mind and deepening our meditation, and can be seen as both the cause and the effect of all the other hindrances. The Buddha also talked about this kind of thinking, and called it unwise attention that leads to all kinds of suffering. We need to look at the core issues that lead us to dwell on these questions if we are to create a more skilful relationship to our thoughts.
As we do the practice of samatha (tranquility) meditation, it is important not to strive towards any particular experience but rather to see the practice as a training of the mind that leads to well being and happiness here and now.
To deepen in concentration, we need to be willing to recognize whatever disturbances or hindrances might be present, however subtle, and to work with them skillfully, ultimately to release them. This allows the mind to settle to the next level of stillness. This talk is based on practice as described in Majjhima Nikaya (2), the Cula-Sunnata Sutta, The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness.