What has always engaged me is working with practitioners who are deepening their commitment to the Dharma and then seeing them take a quantum leap in their understanding. My contribution to this commitment is working towards conveying a Theravadan practice with a Mahayana spirit.
The Theravadan practice of vipassana provides simple, direct instructions that can be immediately understood and applied in daily life as well as retreat practice. The Mahayana spirit has the beautiful attitude that we practice not for ourselves alone, but for all sentient beings. Between the two, the unfolding of liberation for ourselves and others becomes a simple, down-to-earth practice that anyone can do.
It is fun for me to take the most difficult concepts and put them into accessible language, to unwrap the mystery. So I try to find ways to explore the breadth of concepts like "emptiness" -- to see how the entire path can be explained in terms of this synonym for nibbana. One of my aims is to bring the goal of freedom into the here and now. This way practitioners get a taste of freedom, so they know what they are heading toward on their journey to liberation.
The tools of mindfulness and lovingkindness can be picked up by anyone. They are easy to understand and they bring immediate benefit to our lives. The essence of vipassana is ideally suited to western society, especially to the resonance between our psychological turn of mind and our quest for spiritual understanding.
We develop appreciative joy (Mudita) by focusing on the happiness in others' lives and our life, leading also to a sense of gratitude. Joy and happiness then serve as links that lead onward to liberation.
Lovingkindness and the other brahma viharas show us the possibility of an appropriate response to the joys and sorrows of life. The practice of mudita for oneself leads to the beautiful state of gratitude.
What supports lovingkindness is the sincere caring we give in each moment as we say a metta phrase. What obstructs metta are its near and far enemies; affection with attachment and aversion such as sadness, fear, anger, or judgement.
It's very helpful to reflect on the way we experience change in the course of our human life, including our own aging and death. But even more freeing is discovering the direct insight into the momentary arising and passing of all phenomena through our practice of mindful observation.
This talk explores fear as a form of craving and also several particular fears, such as death, judgement, and emptiness. It concludes with practical instructions on working with fear in meditation, which can lead to a fearlessness with all difficult states.