Common Mistakes Made by Meditation Practitioners

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The Top Ten Mistakes Made by Meditation Practitioners

Based upon an extensive review of the research and classical literature, and based upon observations from our own research and practise of meditation, the following are what we consider to be the top ten mistakes made by meditation practitioners:

Tenth place – Not starting to meditate: Although not taking up the practice of meditation can’t really be said to be a mistake made by people who meditate (because such people cannot be classed as meditators), we decided to include this as a meditation pitfall because there seems to be a significant number of people who are interested in practicing meditation but who never actually get round to doing so. For example, a recent nationally representative survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that more than half of British adults would like to practice meditation, but only 26% currently do so.1 Obviously, despite our best intentions and no matter how many meditation books we might read, if we never actually get around to practising meditation, then the fruits of meditation practice will never develop.

Ninth place – Giving-up once started: Although data exists that reports on the year-by-year changes in the number of people following one particular religion or another, we haven’t been able to identify any reliable data that provides estimates on the number of people who adopt a routine of meditation and then give-up at some later point. However, based on the many 1000s of meditation practitioners with whom we have personally crossed paths, it is unfortunately very common for people to begin practising meditation enthusiastically, but then give-up as soon as they encounter a minor difficulty. A reason why many people don’t stick at their meditation practice is because they have unrealistic expectations about what meditation entails. Meditation is not a quick-fix solution. Lasting spiritual growth requires a life-time’s worth of continuous practise. Thinking that meditation can immediately solve all of one’s problems or change one’s life overnight is a mistake. However, just as all effects follow a cause, the day-in day-out infusing of all aspects of our life with meditative and spiritual awareness will gradually begin to soften the conditioned mind and cause rays of insight to slowly break through. When correctly practiced, meditation is extremely hard work and requires us to be patient and compassionate with ourselves. However, meditation also requires us to thoroughly enjoy life no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Meditation should be the hardest work we ever do, but it should also be a lot of fun!

Eighth place – Not finding a teacher: As discussed in our previous post entitled Authentic Spiritual Lineage, a realised spiritual guide appears to be an essential requirement for effective meditative and spiritual development. Many people underestimate the importance of this point, and misunderstand the role of the spiritual guide more generally. The role of the spiritual guide is not so much about transmitting extensive volumes of teachings, but more about removing obstacles that cloud the mind and prevent its true nature from shining through. In other words, the teacher’s role is about removing confusion from the mind rather than cluttering it up with more concepts and theories. The spiritual guide might be likened to a skilful surgeon who carefully cuts away infected or damaged tissue. This can sometimes be a painful process, but it is necessary if we want to make a full recovery. In a qualitative piece of research we conducted which was published in the Journal of Religion and Health,2 findings demonstrated that meditation practitioners made better progress where they felt they were guided by an experienced meditation teacher. Given that most people’s minds have had many years to become highly accomplished in the practices of non-awareness, self-centredness, and thought rumination, a skilful guide is required to help undo this deep-rooted conditioning.

Seventh place – Finding a teacher who is unsuitable: Worse than not finding a spiritual guide, is following one who is inappropriately qualified. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that followers of such teachers are (presumably) unaware that their guide is unsuitable. Thus, people can spend many years practising ineffective meditation techniques and in achieving nothing other than bolstering the ego (and bank account) of their chosen guide. Meditation teachers who offer palm readings in exchange for money or who (try to) predict lottery numbers (as per some Buddhist monks we met during our most recent visit to Thailand) are quite easy to identify as frauds. But things get a little trickier when, for example, a teacher without authentic spiritual realization happens to be a holder of an established lineage, has extensive scholarly training, or is a “recognised” reincarnate lama (known in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as a ‘Tulku’). With such credentials, it becomes very difficult for people to discern whether or not they are being led astray. We wrote about the many problems caused by non-authentic spiritual teachers in a short spiritual poem that was published in a previous blog entitled: ‘Hearken to the Dharma’.

To perform the role effectively, the spiritual teacher must be highly skilled in understanding and guiding people’s minds. According to Tsong-kha-pa, a 15th century Tibetan Buddhist saint, a suitable spiritual guide is one who is “thoroughly pacified”, “serene” and “disciplined”.3 So as spiritual practitioners, we should ask lots of questions and take time to get to know our prospective meditation teacher. However, at the same time, we should avoid having too many preconceived ideas and should try not to listen to other people’s opinions. Realized spiritual guides can come in a variety of shapes and sizes and may not always fit what we deem to be the ‘perfect mould’. A good question to ask ourselves is: ‘Do I feel better physically, mentally, and spiritually when in this person’s presence’? Try to allow your intuitive mind to answer this question rather than taking an overly-analytical approach.

Sixth place – Trying too hard: Trying too hard to make progress spiritually and/or meditatively can often lead to extreme behaviours. Extreme behaviours cause things to become unbalanced and invariably give rise to unhealthy consequences. For example, there is evidence to suggest that over-intensive meditation practise can actually induce psychotic episodes – including in people who do not have a history of psychiatric illness.4,5 There are numerous volumes of Buddhist writings that advocate a ‘middle-way philosophy’ (i.e., the middle-way between extremes). We can apply a middle-way philosophy not only to our meditation practice, but to how we live our lives more generally. We’re not going to write much more about this here as we will be exploring the middle-way approach more thoroughly in a forthcoming blog.

Fifth place – Not trying hard enough: A bigger mistake than trying too hard to make progress spiritually, is not trying hard enough. This mistake relates closely to the earlier pitfall about giving-up our meditation practice as soon as we encounter difficulties. Just as conditions such as the sun, rain, and nutrients are required for a seed to grow into a blossoming flower, meditative development requires us to make ‘right effort’ at all times. An excuse people often make is that they don’t have time to practise meditation. They try to cram in and find time for their practice amongst all of the other activities of their lives. This creates a certain stressful attitude towards meditation and practise can easily start to become a chore. Therefore, the trick is to not create a separation between your meditation practise and the rest of your life. When you sit and write at the computer at work, tidy-up at home, play with your children, and even when you go to the toilet, do so in meditative awareness. Try to take what you experience now as the path. Real meditators are those who can practise ‘on the job’. Stop battling with yourself – let go and allow your mind to encompass the entire present moment. Cultivate a mind that is open and accepting – as vast as space. Wherever you find yourself, each time you make the effort to become aware for a brief moment, know that we’re doing the same and are practising with you. Meditate now, my dear.

Fourth place – Forgetting about death: A primary reason why many people’s spiritual practice goes astray is because they forget about death. Death is the spiritual practitioner’s best friend. From the moment you are born, every single second of your life brings you closer to death. You can’t hide from death and you can’t predict when you will die. At any time, you are only separated from death by a single breath in or out. Most people are complacent about death and continue immersing themselves in totally meaningless activities. But believe us – you won’t be complacent about death when it’s happening to you. At this time, if you haven’t made your human rebirth into a precious one (i.e., by infusing your life with spiritual development), then at the time of death you will be totally confused and tormented by regret and fear. Your family, friends, possessions, and reputation will count for absolutely nothing at this time. Your life will have been wasted and you will be leaving an island of jewels (i.e., the human rebirth) empty handed. So there really isn’t any time to delay your spiritual practice because all you can take with you when you die is that which you have accomplished spiritually – everyone and everything else must stay behind. A good practitioner is one who, in every single breath and every single heartbeat, is deeply aware of the uncertainty of the time of death as well as its inevitability. One of our favourite Buddhist quotes about this subject was written by Shantideva – an eighth-century Indian Buddhist Saint:

“By depending upon this boat-like human being, you can cross the great ocean of suffering. In the future such a vessel will be hard to find – this is no time to sleep, you fools!”

Third place – Doubt: Doubt is one of the main reasons why people do not make progress in their spiritual and/or meditative practice. If death can be said to be the meditation practitioner’s best friend, then doubt is probably their worst enemy. Having met a suitable spiritual guide, doubt is what causes people to begin to “find” faults in their teacher’s character and break the sacred bond that supports them. Unfortunately, just as a branch withers and dries up when it falls from the tree, the same happens when the connection with the spiritual teachings is severed.

It’s not that doubt should be feared or run away from, because it is a necessary part of spiritual growth. The real challenge is how we respond to and deal with doubt when it arises. In our recent blog entitled ‘Forgive them Father’, we discussed how doubt is not really about people becoming suspicious of the teachings or the teacher, but is more to do with people becoming suspicious of themselves and their own experiences. Rather than a blind conviction in the teachings, the antidote to doubt is logical reasoning and reflection from a centred and stable mind-state.

The thing to do when doubts arise is to make the practise that we advise for people who receive training as part of their participation in an intervention we developed called Meditation Awareness Training.6 In Meditation Awareness Training, at the point when difficult or destructive emotions arise, course participants are taught to send out an SOS: 1. Stop, 2. Observe the breath, 3. Step back and watch the mind. A technique such as this allows us to examine situations clearly and without the influence of emotion. Give yourself plenty of time to examine your doubts. There is no need to do it all at once. Take a few deep breaths and centre yourself in the present moment – make good use of your doubts and use them as a means of becoming a stronger practitioner. Reason things through but most importantly, rely on your own experiences. In short, if you are confused then enjoy being confused!

Second place – Meditative dependency: In certain circumstances, it seems that meditation might actually be addictive. Professor Mark Griffiths (one of the world’s leading experts in the study of addictive behaviours) recently wrote about this on his addictive/extreme behaviours blog. According to Dr. Griffiths, the concept of meditation being addictive “is theoretically feasible but we need to carry out the empirical research”. Thus, although there are some accounts in the scientific literature of people feeling that they have become addicted to meditation,7 considerably more research is required to explore this possibility further. In a paper we recently published in the Journal of Behavioural Addiction,8 we hypothesised that meditation could actually be used as a ‘substitution technique’ for people in recovery from maladaptive behavioural addictions such as problem gambling. In the example we gave, becoming dependant on meditation would probably constitute what is known as a ‘positive’ form of addiction.

In the Buddhist classical literature, there are cautionary notes regarding becoming overly attached to meditative bliss. In fact, people can confuse meditative bliss (Sanskrit: prīti) with being enlightened and it can become a major obstacle to further spiritual progress. We personally know of one or two individuals who, after many years of practice, have become proficient at cultivating profound blissful meditative states (by exclusively practising a technique known as shamatha meditation). However, these same individuals appear to dwell in such states with a total disregard for the countless number of people who are deeply in need of their support. The idea is not to use meditation as a means of escaping from the world and its problems, but as a tool for developing and engaging a compassionate heart.

First place – Ontological addiction: First place on our list of the top ten mistakes made by meditation practitioners goes to ontological addiction. Ontological addiction is defined as “the unwillingness to relinquish an erroneous and deep-rooted belief in an inherently existing ‘self’ or ‘I’ as well as the ‘impaired functionality’ that arises from such a belief”.8 According to ontological addiction theory (a theory that we have been working on for over 12 months as part of our work with Prof Mark Griffiths), the root cause that underlies all forms of suffering and psychological distress is the harbouring of an erroneous view regarding the true mode of existence of the ‘self’. In general, people see themselves as an inherently existent and separate entity. This view acts as a lens through which they live the whole of their lives. Every single thought, word, and action has the self as its referent and serves to reify the belief in an independently existing ‘I’.

However, under analysis (whether scientific or meditative), a self (or for that matter any other phenomenon) that intrinsically exists cannot be found. Thus, we have the concept of non-self. If we look deeply, we will see that we are empty of a self, but are full of all things. The dualistic outlook that separates self from other is a fabrication of the deluded mind. Being addicted to ourselves causes us to act in ways that not only harm others, but that also harm ourselves. This is much like a piece of fruit on a branch of the tree that begins to see itself as separate from the tree. The same piece of fruit might decide that the trunk of the tree is blocking its view of the countryside, and therefore ask for the trunk to be cut down. Obviously, this is not in the fruit’s long term interests. The truth is that even when in the fruit bowl on our kitchen table, the fruit and the tree are never separate. When you take a bite and taste the fruit, looking deeply, you will see that you are tasting the whole tree, and for that matter, the whole universe.

Ontological addiction is another way of saying that we are ego junkies. When, after many years of meditation practice, we eventually begin to experience some of the fruits of meditation that we have read or heard so much about, it is easy to start to think we are becoming proficient in meditation. In fact, many advanced meditators do a good job in uprooting large portions of their ego-clinging, only to become attached to the idea that they are somebody who has defeated the ego. However, this is unfortunately just another example of ontological addiction and represents the ego deceiving us once again. What we should be aiming to do is to completely let go of the notion of ‘being a meditator’ until there no longer remains any separation between meditation sessions and daily life. If a person is in any way caught up in regarding themselves as a ‘meditation practitioner’, then we’re sorry to say this, but they’ve totally missed the point.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

 

 

References

  1. Mental Health Foundation. (2010). Mindfulness Report. London: Author.
  2. Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-013-9679-0.
  3. Tsong-kha-pa. (2000). The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volume I. (J. Cutler, G. Newland, Eds., & T. L. Committee, Trans.) Canada: Snow Lion.
  4. Sethi, S, Subhash, C. (2003). Relationship of meditation and psychosis: case studies. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 37, 382.
  5. Yorston, G. (2001). Mania precipitated by meditation: A case report and literature review. Mental Health. Religion and Culture, 4, 209-213.
  6. Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-012-0191-5.
  7. Shapiro, D. H. (1992). Adverse effects of meditation: a preliminary investigation of long-term meditators. International Journal of Psychosomatics, 32, 62-67.
  8. Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., Slade, K., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Mindfulness and other Buddhist-derived interventions in correctional settings: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior. DOI: 10.1016/j.avb.2013.01.002.

Predicting Your Enlightenment

enlightenmentPredicting Your Enlightenment

It is not uncommon in Mahayana Buddhist sutras for the Buddha to prophesize the future enlightenment of his disciples. Probably the best example is the Lotus sutra where the Buddha makes such proclamations on several different occasions. Here is an example from chapter six of the Lotus Sutra where the Buddha predicts Maha-Maudgalyayana’s attainment of Buddhahood in a future era:

This my disciple Maha-Maudgalyayana, after casting aside this body, will see eight thousand two hundred myriads of kotis of world-honoured Buddhas, and, for the sake of the Buddha-way, will serve and revere them. Among these Buddhas, ever practicing the brahma-life, for innumerable Kalpas, he will keep Buddha-law. After these Buddhas are extinct, he will erect stupas of the precious seven, displaying afar their golden spires, and, with flowers, perfumes, and music, pay homage to the Stupas of the Buddhas. Having gradually accomplished the bodhisattva-way, in the domain Glad Mind, he will become a Buddha, named Tamalapattra Sandal Fragrance

Essentially, what the Buddha was communicating with these predictions is that the end result for anybody who perseveres in their Dharma practice over many many lifetimes is that of Buddhahood itself. Now then, let us share with you something that is not widely known. There is a shortcut to enlightenment that means that you don’t have to wait until eternity’s end before you recognise your self-existing Buddha nature. In fact, it’s a shortcut that can place in arm’s reach the prospect of enlightenment within this very lifetime. It’s a shortcut that is so utterly simple, so direct, and so primordially truthful, that most people lack the courage to take it.

If you wish to take this more expedient route to enlightenment then this is what you should do. From the very core of your being, unreservedly offer to the Dharma all of your body, all of your possessions, all of your mind, and all of your spirit. Offer all of your past lives, every moment of this present life, and all of your future lives. Offer all of your hopes and dreams. Offer all of your happiness and all of your pain. Offer every single breath, every single footstep, and every single word you utter. Offer every thought and every mind movement. Offer every ounce of your being and completely surrender your ego to the Buddha. Offer these things with such heartfelt sincerity, such unwavering conviction, that you, there and then, allow the Buddha’s blessings to enter and nourish your being. Offer these things at all times, day-in and day-out. No matter what obstacles or pleasures you encounter, never allow even a hair’s breadth of distance to come between you and the knowledge that you are a rightful heir to the Dharma throne.

When you resolve your mind in such a manner, and surrender yourself to the Dharma without ever looking back, then you don’t need any Buddha to predict your enlightenment. You can make that prediction yourself. You can know that you have been initiated into the inner Sangha of noble beings. What will happen next is that if you have already had the good fortune to meet with an authentic master, your pure faith will enable their blessings to flow forth. If you have not yet encountered or recognised the teacher, then your Vajra-devotion will cause you to swiftly do so.

Enlightenment is in the palm of your hands – you just have to decide whether or not you want to wake up!

Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Loving-kindness and Compassion

compassionLoving-kindness and Compassion

Within Buddhism, loving-kindness (Sanskrit: maitri) is defined as the wish for all beings to have happiness and its causes. Compassion (Sanskrit: karuna) is defined as the wish for all beings to be free from suffering and its causes. Loving-kindness and compassion are traditionally practiced as two of the ‘Four Immeasurable Attitudes’ (Sanskrit: brahmaviharahs) – the other two being joy and equanimity. ‘Joy’ (as one of the four immeasurable attitudes) highlights the fact that authentic loving-kindness and compassion can only manifest from a mind that is infused with meditative bliss, and that has transmuted all afflictive mental states. Equanimity emphasizes the need for unconditionality in the cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion that are extended in equal and unlimited measure to all sentient beings (i.e., irrespective of whether we consider them to be a “friend” or an “enemy”).

‘Bodhichitta’ is a Sanskrit word that means the ‘mind of awakening’. Bodhichitta refers to an attitude or motivation to undertake spiritual practice for the primary purpose of benefitting others. People who adopt and act upon such an attitude are known as bodhisattvas (or aspirants thereof). The bodhisattva essentially dedicates their live (and all future lives) towards alleviating the suffering of other beings. From the Buddhist perspective, this represents a win-win situation because it not only aids other beings both materially and spiritually, but also helps us as practitioners to adopt a humble demeanour. Being humble is a favourable quality because it aids us in dismantling our attachment to the ‘ego-self’. As we discussed in our recent blog about ‘Mindwithness’, ego-attachment is considered to be the root-cause of all suffering.

As aspiring bodhisattvas we should try to allow loving-kindness and compassion to suffuse all of our actions. Being a bodhisattva doesn’t mean that we single-handedly have to “save the world”, or end poverty in the third world. If that was the case then we would have to conclude that all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas had failed in fulfilling their role. Rather, what we should do is follow in the footsteps of all of the enlightened beings who have already walked the path to liberation. The first steps on this path involve us cultivating compassion and loving-kindness towards ourselves.

When we have unconditional love for our own being then all of our thoughts, words, and actions become an expression of that love. In fact, until we resolve the hatred and conflict within ourselves, we are not in a strong position to try to resolve the conflict and problems that exist in the world around us. If we try to convince others to live peacefully and responsibly when we have tension and conflict in our own hearts, then despite our best intentions, we are just going to create more suffering and confusion.

When we are gentle and kind towards ourselves, and when we have deep compassion for our own suffering and pain, then we begin to see the world in a very different way. We no longer experience life as a constant struggle or an unending flow of dissatisfaction. In fact, not only do we begin to see the world differently but the world begins to see us differently. We begin to tune into how to act skilfully in any given situation – phenomena begin to talk to us and the path becomes clearer and clearer. When unconditional kindness and compassion have flowered in the mind, the earth breathes out a huge sigh of relief. She relaxes a little because amidst all of the chaos and exploitation of her natural resources, the earth knows that she has a new friend and guardian – a child of the Buddhas who walks gently and gracefully upon her shoulders.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Mindwithness

practice 3Mindwithness!

The Pali word for mindfulness is sati (Sanskrit: smrti). Although the term ‘mindfulness’ is the most popular rendition of sati, the word sati actually means ‘to remember’ (i.e., ‘to remember’ to be aware of the present moment). In fact, the term mindfulness doesn’t really capture the full intended meaning of sati. The main reason for this is because to be ‘mindful’ indicates that one should be ‘full of mind’. Being full of mind implies that there is a lot of mental activity and cognitive exertion. However, when we practice mindfulness, we’re not aiming to fill ourselves up with too much mind. Having our minds full-up all of the time becomes very stressful and tiring. Too many people have their minds full-up. If our minds are too full then there is no room for wholesome thoughts to grow and flourish. In a full mind there is no space for simply being, and there is no emptiness to nurture and refresh our being.

Therefore, rather than endeavouring to remain mindful, perhaps the meditation practitioner should actually be trying to achieve a state of ‘mindlessness’. However, being ‘mindless’ equally doesn’t quite capture the essence of sati because rather than being without the mind, what we are attempting to achieve during sati practice is to be fully ‘with the mind’. Perhaps ‘mindwithness’ is therefore a better term to describe the practice of sati!

Nowadays, more and more people are becoming interested in the practice of mindfulness and people are beginning to make a living from teaching mindfulness. From one point of view, this could be a good thing. If people are truly living meditatively then it will certainly be beneficial for the individual as well as for society as a whole. However, from another point of view, trying too hard to ‘spread’ the teachings of mindfulness may actually contribute to the decline of the Buddhist teachings.

Let us give an example to explain what we mean by this. Recently, we were giving a series of talks about meditation and Buddhism in India. It just so happened that at one of the conference venues, a mindfulness and yoga retreat was also taking place. It was really easy to identify which people were involved in the retreat because, with the exception of just one or two participants, they all behaved in a similar way. The retreat participants would walk around the grounds with an air of superiority, with their hands cupped together and held in front of them, head half bent to the side, and with a ‘holier than thou’ smile permanently fixed across their faces. The only exception to this behaviour was when they thought they were out of public view and would slouch around or gossip about their fellow participants.

Mindfulness practice should enable us to become more familiar with the chaotic and unruly nature of the untamed mind. The idea is that we begin to appreciate just how much ego is involved in each and every one of our thoughts and perceptions. It’s when we begin to become aware of the extent to which ego has overwhelmed the mind that we can take steps to loosen ego’s hold. Effectively then, the practice that the abovementioned retreat participants were making was just for show. They were trying to be fashionable and keep-up with the latest spiritual trend. Indeed, for these people, rather than a means of spiritual development, their (so called) practice of ‘mindfulness’ was actually acting as an obstacle to spiritual growth. Their practice was reinforcing the ego rather than dismantling it.

So we should definitely try to be natural in our practice of mindfulness. We should try to be honest with ourselves and check to see whether we are the type of person who varies their practice depending on who might be looking. It is also useful for us to check whether we are straining too hard to be mindful. Indeed, rather than straining too hard, we should try to adopt a relaxed and spacious approach. Using your breath as an anchor if you like, try to expand your mindful awareness so that it encompasses the entire present moment. Try and make the ‘here and now’ your object of meditation. Whatever is happening right now – that becomes your practice. This includes external phenomena such as sounds and sights, as well as internal noumina such as thoughts and feelings. Effortlessly incorporate them all into your field of awareness – without any separation between you the observer and the object that you are observing. In other words, rather than trying to remain aware of the present moment, just try to simply be the present moment.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Life is a Precious Happening

Life is a very rare and precious happening. On this earth there are seven billion human beings and countless other sentient beings. The life that each being is living is happening uniquely and genuinely only to them. No life is the same.

The blackbird spent many lifetimes perfecting his song just so you could hear him – in that exact moment of time and space. She is singing just for you. Likewise, you spent many lifetimes perfecting yourself so that you could be present at that exact moment to hear what she has to say. The same is true for all of our encounters with all phenomena.

If we allow the mundane mind with its emotions, thoughts, feelings, and wrong views to invade that moment, then that moment will pass completely unacknowledged. The blackbird’s song will be missed and life will take a completely different course, captained by the unruly mind.

Understand that this life is yours to live. So train the mind to sit quietly and invite the mind to join you in this marvellous and wondrous adventure. Stop and sit in stillness. Listen to the colours of life, see the sounds of life, taste the joy of life, breathe, and allow life to breathe you.

A Breath of Fresh Air

A Breath of Fresh Air

impermanence practice 2 spring

Clicca qui per l’Italiano

Are you breathing? Are you alive? Are you being? These may seem like strange questions but read them again and look at what they are asking. Are you truly aware that you are breathing and are you truly aware that you are living? Are you fully aware of your in-breath and your out-breath? Whether that breath is long or short, deep or shallow, rough or smooth? Are you aware of the point where breath enters the body at the tips of the nostrils? Are you aware of the empty space that exists between the in-breath and out-breath? Does the breath roll-in gently of its own accord or are you forcing it? Does your out-breath cease when you breathe in, or does it continue indefinitely throughout space and time? Is your in-breath your in-breath or is it made up of other peoples’ out-breath? Can you see your breath in the eyes of the person you dislike, or in the tears of the elderly person who is completely alone and neglected by society?

Let’s leave the breath for a moment and take a look at our thoughts, words, and actions during the day. Are you fully aware of all that you experience during the day? Or does the day simply happen – it begins with getting up in the morning and before we know it the sun has set and we’re falling back to sleep. The day has gone by – never to return again – another day of our lives has expired. Perhaps on Sunday you wash the car but I ask you – are you actually washing the car or are you thinking about the football match you’ll be watching on the television when you go inside? Alternatively, are you thinking about tomorrow – Monday – back to work – the same old grind of unawareness. The days pass, the weeks pass, we can’t wait for our holidays and they pass too. The years pass, and we get old and die.

Life is an extraordinarily rare and fragile gift. If we are fortunate, it may last for 100 years. Each and every moment contained within those 100 years is profoundly unique. Nobody else will experience that moment and it will never arise again. It was born, it lived, and it died – gone forever. If we are not fully aware of all that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch in each and every moment then we have to conclude that we are not fully alive. The person who chooses not to be fully aware of their life is no better than a walking corpse – would you agree?

We are born with an in-breath, we leave this world with an out-breath. That which happens in between is the preciousness of life. Be aware of it. Breathe it moment by moment. Enjoy it. Live it. It is yours to live.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Una boccata d’aria fresca

impermanence practice 2 spring

Stai respirando? Sei vivo? Siete presenti nel qui e ora? Questi possono sembrare strane domande ma leggere di nuovo e guardare a ciò che stanno chiedendo. Siete veramente consapevoli che state respirando e seite veramente consapevole che siete in vita? Siete consapevoli del vostro inspirazione e la vostra espirazione sia che il respiro è lungo o corto, profondo o superficiale, ruvida o liscia? Siete a conoscenza del punto in cui il respiro entra nel corpo alle punte delle narici? Siete a conoscenza dello spazio vuoto che esiste tra l’inspirazione e l’espirazione? Permettete il respiro di muoversi delicatamente e spontaneamente oppure lo stai forzando? Il Vostro espirazione si ferma quando prendette un ispirazione o lo fatte continuare all’infinito nello spazio e nel tempo? La vostra ispirazione è veramente la vostra oppure è  fatta dall’ espirazione altrui? Riesci vedere il tuo respiro negli occhi della persona che non ti piacce o nelle lacrime della persona anziana che è completamente da solo e trascurato dalla società?

Lasciamo il respiro per un attimo e diamo un’occhiata ai nostri pensieri, parole e azioni durante il giorno. Sei totalmente consapevole di tutto ciò che si verificano e sperimenti durante il giorno? Oppure il giorno semplicemente accade senza che lo sapiamo – si comincia con alzarsi al mattino e prima di sapere che sa che il sole è tramontato e ci ritiriamo per dormire. La giornata è passato – non tornará mai più – un altro giorno della nostra vita è scaduto e finita. Forse la domenica si lava l’auto, ma vi chiedo – stai davvero lavando la macchina o stai pensando alla partita di calcio che potresti guardare alla televisione quando si va dentro casa piu tardi? In alternativa, state pensando di domani – lunedì – tornate al lavoro – la stessa macinatura vecchia di inconsapevolezza. I giorni passano, le settimane passano, non vediamo l’ora per le nostre vacanze e essi passano anche. Gli anni passano, e noi invecchiano e moriamo.

La vita è un dono straordinariamente raro e fragile. Se siamo fortunati, la vita può durare per 100 anni. Ogni momento contenuta all’interno di quei 100 anni è profondamente unico e originale. Nessun altro sperimenterà quel momento e non potrà mai risorgere. Nasce, si vive, e morì – andato per sempre. Se non siamo pienamente consapevoli di tutto ciò che vediamo, sentiamo, odoriamo, gustiamo e tocchiamo in ogni momento quindi dobbiamo concludere che non siamo affatto vivi. La persona che sceglie di non essere pienamente consapevoli della loro vita non è meglio di un cadavere ambulante – siete d’accordo?

Siamo nati con un in-respiro, lasciamo questo mondo con una espirazione. Ciò che accade in mezzo è la preziosità della vita. Essere a conoscenza di esso. Respirate momento per momento. Godetela. Viverla. É il vostro da vivere. 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Authentic Spiritual Lineage

Authentic Spiritual Lineage

If a person has genuine spiritual realization, they are authorized to transmit the spiritual teachings. All titles, held-lineages, endorsements, acclamations, life accomplishments, life mistakes, and years spent in training are irrelevant.

If a person is without genuine spiritual realization, they have no such authority. All titles, held-lineages, endorsements, acclamations, life accomplishments, life mistakes, and years spent in training are irrelevant.

Ultimately, true authorization to transmit the spiritual teachings comes from awaking to the timeless truth of emptiness. It seems that some form of spiritual guide is required to effectuate this awakening.

Ven Edo Shonin,  Psychological Well-being and Mental Health Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Ven William Van Gordon, Awake to Wisdom Centre for Meditation, Mindfulness & Psychological Well-being, Nottingham, UK