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.
This talk was given on the opening night of the Emptiness Retreat.
It introduces the theme of emptiness as a lack of unchanging essence or substance. This retreat encourages us to explore the possibility that things are not as they appear to be.
Upasika Kee talks about finding in meditation an “inward-staying unentangled knowing.” This talk describes what this means in terms of dependent arising and offers three approaches to meditation that specifically aim at this kind of relationship to sense experience.
The Buddha talked often of seven factors that prepare the mind for awakening. Headed by mindfulness, the factors are balanced between energizing and calming states. This talk discusses each of the factors, how they are developed, and how to balance them.
There are four primal difficult emotions that come often in meditation and daily life: grief, anger, desire and fear. When we learn to relate skillfully to these emotions as they appear, there can be a great increase in the sense of freedom and ease in our life and practice.
In the Buddha’s teachings, there are five areas of practice that lead to happiness: sense pleasures (for lay people), wholesome actions (or merit), concentration, insight and awakening. Each of these offers a more complete and reliable happiness than the one before it. The talk outlines the ways each of these areas contributes to our happiness.
In beginning a long retreat, it’s helpful to reflect on the inspirations that underlie our spiritual life and how they shape our aspiration. Our inner life emerges through the simplicity of the retreat environment in contrast to an increasingly complex outside world. By trusting in silence and presence we develop the key skills we need to live wisely in both retreat and daily life.
A lot of understanding can come from reflecting on the way impermanence shows itself in our lives both outwardly and inwardly, including our vulnerability to aging and death. But even more penetrating insight comes to the mind that has become still through meditation. Through this way of seeing, the truth of impermanence sinks into our bones and the wisdom of non-clinging becomes very obvious.
The first two links of dependent origination say that ignorance gives rise to volitional formations or impulses. The talk describes succesive layers of obscurations that form from ignorance, to a belief in self, to afflictive emotions, to unskillful actions. The path undoes these layers by focusing, in order, on virtue, mediation, and wisdom, finally penetrating to nibbana.
Understanding how karma works gives us clear guidelines to find simple human happiness or the highest happiness of liberation, which is described as the end of karma. The talk also describes how the working of karma depends on the truth of not-self (anatta).