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#340 My journey in meditation by Rob. Sun. 22 20

I started meditating many years ago. I meditated primarily as a way to help me deal with stress and insomnia, both of which are related.

My meditation wasn’t a routine practice and I did it only when I felt I needed to. As a result, I didn’t progress beyond a basic level. That level typically involved focussing on my breath until a degree of relaxation set in. Nothing more.

I recall one evening several years ago. I focussed on my breath as usual, but something more happened. The typical stream of random thoughts slowed to a trickle and became almost non-existent. I then remember feeling a profound sense of peace and calmness like I had never felt before. That was the only time I would experience that for a long time.

Several years later, I joined Oakville Zen. With a more routine and disciplined practice I was sometimes able to reach that place I had been before. That profound sense of peace and calmness. Or serenity as it is called. But as I progressed down the path to that place more often, I noticed something else happening. I became more mindful of that stream of random thoughts and gained some insight about it.

From being mindful I discovered that a large number of the thoughts that aimlessly pop into my mind involve attachments. By attachments I mean thoughts about the past, the future, situations that don’t exist, thoughts about the way we think people or things should be, thoughts about material objects and other things we have or want to have, and so on. I’m not talking those parts of the day when we have thoughts for a purpose, such as making a decision, solving a problem or learning something. I’m talking about that stream of thoughts that clouds our minds most of the other parts of the day. That random chatter or “monkey mind” as it is called. That chatter that distracts us from the here and now, the reality of things as they are and that original serene state of being.

The more I became aware of my thoughts about attachments, the more I also began to understand the burdens that accompany them. By burdens I mean the forms of suffering that often come with such thoughts, such as stress, anxiety, fear, grief, anger, regret and so on. Even positive emotions and feelings about attachments have their associated burdens, albeit more indirectly, as they often ignore of the reality of impermanence.  That is, everything that gives us happiness today changes, irrespective of what we want or desire. Clinging on to, or trying to control, a present source of happiness often leads to disappointment tomorrow.

I started meditating years ago to deal with stress, but I ended up with something else. I ended up discovering something about the path to serenity. It involves being mindful of my thoughts, recognizing and accepting them for what they are without judgment, and letting them go. The attachments and burdens of the ego are let go in the process. In letting go, that profound sense of peace and calmness flows.

#339 Did you compliment latetly? Nov.15 20give

               Did you give compliments lately?

XIII century Japanese Zen Master Dogen, also a Samurai, used to teach the following. I am editing :

“As often as you can, think about someone close to you: family member, friend or even coworker and give them a simple genuine compliment….. w/o expecting something back. The closer the person to you, the better. Also, the more specific the compliment is, the better the impact. “

This is a strange advice and yet it is an integral part of Zen teaching.

Over the last 17 years I was asked, many time, if I was giving compliments once a while.

When I was asked for the first time, I even did not understand the purpose and meaning of the question considering the question…..to be , as usual, an enigmatic  Zen question.

Think about this:

” When was the last time you did you compliment someone, why? and how?

 How often you are expressing good words to someone”?

You will be surprised of your findings, even among your loved ones and best friends.

We do compliment our pets but almost never our human contacts.

We are not educated to give compliments and many of us are reluctant to do so because they fear their compliments would not be genuine.

Our Western society is not helping us to compliment someone especially if that person is not the same gender than you.  You may be sued for harassment.

In most companies now, giving non-work related compliments is prohibited by HR.

If I say to one of our Oakville Zen ladies: “ Wow, you are very well dressed”. she maybe offended and, subconsciously, questions my motivation behind the compliment. 

“What Arnaud has in mind; this is not appropriate for a Zen Master?”

In fact, we are groomed to behave the opposite side: that is judgmental, remarking problems and flaws of others.

In Zen teaching, giving compliment is not limited to others but also includes self.

This is very important in respect to achieve equanimity.

We talked already at length about self-compassion and self-forgiveness without falling into narcissism.

Finally, become mindful of any compliments other people are giving you and assess their positive effects on you.

Being mindful to the practice of giving compliments here and there will help you greatly in the control of your negative state of mind.

It will promote good feelings to others and to self, free of charge.

To finalize this short talk:

Dogen wrote the following:

 “Kind words bring kind and compassionate minds and kind minds bring kind words.”

This is a great catch 22 scenario.

We should become familiar to the practice of kind speech to others and to self.

It is not praising the merit nor kissing their bums, it is free recognition.

Also, it has the power to turn restless minds into more peaceful ones to the giver and to the receiver.

Thank you.

#338 Conquest of death: an Eastern perspective by Kris Nov7

CONQUEST OF DEATH: AN EASTERN PERSPECTIVE

Once when Buddha was passing through a village, a hysterically crying young woman accosted him. She stated that her young child had just died and she had heard that Buddha could save the child. Buddha tried to console the woman but she insisted that Buddha should come with her to revive the dead child.

Buddha stated that he would come to her house on one condition that if she could get one grain of mustard seed from a house that had not had a death. The woman thinking that this would be easy, went house to house looking for that mustard seed. Alas, she found that where ever she went, every house had indeed experienced death and hence proving that death was part of life.

Unfortunately most of us identify ourselves with our  body, mind and intellect as “me”. However, our  body, mind and intellect are forever in flux and hence we experience mental turbulence depending our experience.

We fear death because we love our body too much and by extension our physical life.  We cling to a fantasized life, seeing it with colors brighter than it has.  Life and death are the two sides of the same coin. What is born must die. However, we erroneously insist on seeing life in its incomplete form without death, its inalienable flip side.

We also fear death because we are too attached to our comforts of wealth, family, friends and other worldly pleasures. We see death as something that would separate us from the objects to which we cling and crave. In addition, we fear death because of our uncertainty about what follows it. A sense of being not in control, but at the mercy of circumstance, also contributes to this fear. It is important to note that fear of death is not the same as knowledge or awareness of death.

Buddha soon after his Awakening stated the following: Everything in this world is transient and changing; our Attachment to worldly things brings only suffering.

Why the suffering? Because we all get attached to things we love and when we lose them, that causes suffering. Hence over 2000 years ago, it was stated, “be in this world but not of this world.”

Several paths to overcome this fear of death  are suggested by great spiritual Masters. One of the key messages is to Practice our meditation regularly and from this regular practice, mental detachment would develop.

What does that mean? It means that one would indeed experience whatever was meant to be, but one would develop an inner peace and equanimity that would help over-ride the turbulence. One would develop wisdom to understand the big picture of the journey of the soul/consciousness and death is a natural part of that.

In conclusion, as we regularly practice our meditation, our spiritual knowledge matures, we evolve upwards and give up our transient worldly attachments. This is akin to walking up the stairs where we give up the lower worldly rungs.

What is born must die. This is why monks before they sleep every night, contemplate their own death to accept it as a natural part of life.

A well-known Sanskrit prayer reinforces this message:

Lead us from unreal to Real;

Lead us from darkness to Light;

Lead us from death to Immortality

#337 Practicing “Don’t know mind” Nov. 1 – 20

       Practice the “don’t know mind”

      also called an open mind and opposite of “mindset”

How often do we say: “ I know or I don’t believe in that, or I believe in this”

We are making these statements very often even if we have no clue or understanding.

I don’t believe that climate change is human-based”.

“ On what ground are you so sure?…Did you study climatology?….You don’t believe some 24,000experts?

“ I don’t believe all of their conclusions. They are fabricated”.

Also It takes only few seconds to have an opinion on someone w/o knowing at all this person.

There are zillions of examples in which belief, opinion including non-requested judgment are based on pure assumption, intuition or faith but not on strict evidence-based fact and yet……this mind-set, that we all have very soon, is impossible to off-set.

Mind set controls our mental activity and therefore our daily decisions and behaviors.

The question therefore is the following:

1)“ Why our supposedly rational and intelligence brain-mind” is acting that way ” w/o any objective knowledge”?

No one has the answer, but I think that our ego is behind those day-dreaming assumptions.

We need to have an opinion on everything so we can pretend, at least to ourselves, that we know.

Opinions, ideas, beliefs, judgments are parts of our self-identity and way of behaving.

However having an opinion, idea, belief and judgment are expecting when we are chatting during a social event because we cannot keep saying “ I don’t know” or remain silent.

The great Korean Zen Master named Seung Sahn wrote a wonderful book called “ Only don’t know” Being a good friend of my teacher and invited in Canada, Seung came to pay visit and give us agreat Dharma talk entitled: “How to attain nothing-mind”.

“Nothing mind” also called “Don’t know mind” was his main teaching during more than 45 years.

By saying so, he did not mean to be ignorant or being stupid.

Here are his words from his teaching. I am editing it for clarity.

“ Don’t know mind cuts thru thinking, judging, from opinion and belief.

 A don’t know mind is before thinking, before words.

Of course, we need thinking for action or when required but, apart from them, keep “don’t know mind. A don’t know mind does not mean stupidity or having an empty mind; it means no  I-me-mine, no hindrance to our opinions, beliefs, and judgments

It also means not being trap in the past and future.

Practicing “Don’t know mind” is having a mind like a mirror reflecting things, people    e and events as they are. The mind becomes free of ideas, opinions, judgments and fictional dream-states.

A don’t know mind is acting like a baby mind open to everything.

There are time when” don’t know mind” becomes  “knowing-mind” especially when your opinion is requested or when you have to make a decision. That’s OK.

Beside these moments, keep an open and clear mind by unloading what is not necessary or not based on facts. You will free yourself from your own mental trap

Thank you”

Seung Sahn message is clear but practicing the “Don’t know mind” is a very difficult challenge because, again, we identify ourselves with our thoughts, ideas and opinions which become

static as we are aging.

One step towards serenity is 1) To realize that mindset such as opinions, ideas and judgments, 2) To let go of most of this useless mental noise in order to achieve equanimity.

#336 The 7 wonders of the world Oct. 26 20

  The 7wonders of the world

We are in a classroom, somewhere, sometime.

The history & geography teacher has decided to test the general knowledge of the students and invited the parents to join the discussion.

The question is the following

What are the 7 human-made wonders of the world and not the Nature- based wonders which is a different list. This list is the most recent one from the United Nations.

Silence and surprise in the room.

Then, one student raised her arm and says” The Great Wall in China”

Yes ! replies the teacher.

Another student:” The Roman Colosseum in Roma, Italy”

That’s 2. Carry on…..all of you says the teacher.

A mother says: “ The rock temple of Petra in Jordanian and The giant statue of the Christ Redeemer above Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Wonderful says the teacher. 3 more to go.…..come on!

A kid stands up and says: “ I read about an ancient Inca temple called Machu Picchu in Peru ……. I think it is one of the wonders.

Fantastic, very good. 2 more to go.

A father stands up and completed the list:

“ Chichen Itza; a pyramid in Mexico and the Taj Mahal in India.

Very good to all of you said the very pleased teacher.

Then a student called Sophie stands up slowly and says:

Sorry to be blunt but all of you are wrong.

The teacher looks at her very surprised and asks:

Sophie, what do you mean?

The true wonders are in each of us: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting are all wonder that we overlook at.

The class is silent.

The teacher: Wow!…. Sophie, very deep and down to earth at the same time. But you are mentioning 5 wonders……2 are missing. Which are they?

After some thinking, Sophie replies: well……laughing and …..loving.

The audience was shocked by her answers.

Then Sophie carries on:

Things that we overlook, that we take for granted and for which we are not mindful to are the simplest true wonders of the world because we cannot survive without them.

Looking at the audience, Sophie asks:

How often are you aware, in a mindful way, to what you see, hear, touch, smell or taste?

Let me give you few examples:

   While commuting, how often are you listing to the Go train on the tracks rather than being robotized by your cell phone or computer?…… Never.

   When you eat, how often are you aware of your fork and knife from your touch?……. Never.

   How often do you smell the rain?……. Never

   How often you are laughing, I mean laughing, not just smiling? …….Almost never

   How often you pay attention to your love towards people and Nature?……… May be sometime.

The audience was frozen, looking down,  in deep thinking.

The teacher asks: Sophie where did you get this………. wisdom  if I may say so?

Sophie replies:

One of my cousin is a member of Oakville Zen Meditation and the 7 Wonders were a talk given by the teacher.

Thank you

#335 How does mindfulness helps us in a time of personal crisis Oct 18 20

How does mindfulness help us in a time of personal crisis?                       

By Caryl and Harish Verma. Thanks to them.

The dictionary defines crisis as a turning point. It can be for the better, such as winning the lottery, or for worse, as in, losing a loved one.

Mindfulness prepares us with coping skills that enable us to handle a personal crisis. It does this through the understanding of mind control and through the Zen perspective.

We become aware of how our thoughts are manifestations of our ego and desires and how the mind uses these thoughts to control our actions. We are subject to mind control.

 From the Zen perspective, there are helpful ways given to deal with a personal crisis. These include: examining our thoughts, expectations, change, and acceptance

When a personal crisis occurs, emotions overwhelm our mind’s thoughts. These emotions can take the form of excitement, anger, confusion, or panic. * In such a state, the mind can cause us to react in a way which can be detrimental to our well-being or to that of others.  However, if we are mindful of where these emotional thoughts issue from, for example, from our fear, or our ego’s desires, we can readjust our thoughts and attitude to control our mind and subsequent actions. It is like taking a step back to assess the situation or detaching our self from the situation. When this happens, a truer picture of the crisis emerges so that we react appropriately.

 In life, we tend to assume that our present job, health, and family will continue into the future, in the same manner, as it has in the past. These expectations are both rooted in the past and projected into the future.  When a crisis interrupts this continuity and comfortable pattern of our life, it agitates the mind. We become uncertain.  By keeping our mind on the “present “, we can control the mind’s tendency to dwell on the past and future.  By doing this, we can minimize the anxiety of the future and the regrets of the past. This helps to stabilize our emotions so that we are better able to handle the shock or surprise of a personal crisis. 

 There are two types of worse crises. For those that we cannot change, such as, a death, we have to recognize the fact that we cannot change the outcome. We have to accept the situation as it is. The second type of worse crisis is one that we can change. Job loss, debt are examples of this.

When it comes to a crisis is for the better, we need to be careful in how the mind will want to control our actions by full filling the desires of the ego.  A new job position, for example, can satisfy the desire to have power over others.  The lottery winner will have the money to increase his possessions.    It is important to remember, that all crisis situations do change because nothing is permanent.

*The mind of a normal human being comes with inherent defects such as anger, greed, jealousy, and pride. These “defects cause all agitations in our minds and disturb the inherent peace.

Thank you

#334 Ignoring ignorance creates suffering 3-10-20

                          Ignore ignorance will cause suffering

There is a big difference between ignorance in its common sense and its meaning in Zen Buddhist sense.

In the common sense of the word, ignorance is being unaware, lacking in general knowledge or understanding.

This common kind of ignorance lead to division, discrimination, derision, hate and conflict when it is applied to people who seem to be different from us regarding ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, social status, and intelligence.

Because of our ignorance we imagine that the problems and threats rest in those we perceive as different from us, rather than coming from our own faulty perception.

In the Zen Buddhist the sense of the word, rather than been a general lack of understanding, ignorance is more specific.

It is the inability to differentiate genuine realities of self and surroundings from fictional reality that I will call “unreal reality” or fake reality. This “ignorance” is one of the 3 poisons causing suffering beside ongoing desires and hatred.

Fake and deceptive news are the 24/7reality of our modern Internet world.

But fake reality or fictional reality is not new. It exists since humans are on this planet for the last 1000,000 years and fictional reality is mind-made.

Our mind is the most powerful “make it up” fake news media ever created.

We are continually living in a sort of dream worlds made of various space-times, events and people.

Here are only few examples of mind-made of “unreal reality”. or mental illusion and delusion.

We believe that:

  1. We are a permanent, independent, unique, separate, self-sustained self-entity with a self-intrinsic life.

    2) We are pretty well controlling our life.

    3) That almost everything is permanent.

    4)That past and future are real. Only the present moment is real.

    5) That accumulation of goods means the accumulation of happiness or “ the more the better”

    6) Our thoughts as truth. Some of them are, most of them are just ego-centered wishful thinking or acquired values, opinions, and judgments from experiences.

   7) Our judgments about events, things and people are right until proven otherwise. Unfortunately, our ideas, opinion, and judgments are mostly born from our emotional mind rather from evidence-based, pragmatic, and rational thinking.

    8) That permanent happiness is possible when coming from the outside world.

Final words:

We don’t have to surf the Internet to read about fake news and virtual reality.

Just watch your thoughts and emotions on a regular basis and ask yourself these 2 question:

    “ How this current thought is reflecting genuine reality or just a fictional one?

   “ Is this thought has positive impact or is detrimental to my serenity”?

Thank you

#333 The mind watcher Sept 27th 20

    The mind watcher

In this talk, brain and mind form a single entity. Using a computer as analogy the brain is the hardware and the mind the software until science will prove otherwise.

Brain-mind is a biocomputer in which the electrical current is made of ions.

In the following, I will use only the word mind.

From functional neuroimaging, it is estimated that our mind produces non-stop between 40,000 to 100,000 thoughts/ day while awake, maybe more. (Dept. of Neurophysiology Queens Univ. Dr. Jordan Popperk)

It is also estimated that a very small fraction of this huge output is useful that is producing cognitive analysis including judgment and decision-making.

Beside this cognitive function, our thoughts are an ongoing background audiotape that we are not actively aware of, simply because it is impossible to be aware of 5 to 6 thoughts every min. of the day It is like having the radio on without listening. 

When we do something, somewhere, our mind is wandering elsewhere, doing something else.

This is more obvious when we do routine stuff in an automatic behavior.

Zen calls that “day sleepwalker” during which our mind is 100% in control w/o you being conscious of it.

The main purpose of mindfulness practice is to be in control of our mind rather than the opposite.

How does it work?

More than 6,000 years ago, some very smart people realized that we cannot have 2 thoughts at the same time despite the fact that, now, we know to have around 100 billions neurons.

Besides controlling our material body our mental activity is 1 thought at a time like the computer 1-0 processing but we can have many on the row.

To be mindful is to focus w/o cognitive process, judgment nor decision-making.

In this type of attention we are simply observing a single object X as it is.

This is pure awareness. By focusing consciously on X such as breathing, we force our mind to do only one task that is focusing on one target X. Mindfulness becomes a circuit breaker or a pause button.

Our mind has no choice but to obey by slowing down its flow of thoughts allowing us to watch it.

Also, because mindfulness practice is devoted to any cognitive process, it allows us to watch when our mind decides to take over and wander again, away from its focusing point.

Being a mind watcher, you are in control of this back and forth mental activity made of a focusing point such as breathing and wandering.

It is a cat-and-mouse mental game: you against your mind and your mind against you.

Finally:

You can also watch your mind outside formal meditation.

For example by being mindful and experiencing one of your 5 senses: seeing, hearing, etc….

In fact, any routine activity such as walking, eating, showering can be a pretext to use mindfulness as a tool to watch your mind. The more you practice, the better the watcher becomes.

Learning to watch thoughts and emotions is the first step to control our mind, at least temporally.

Thanks you.

#332 Toward Awakening part 1 Sept 20th 20

Are you “awake” or close to “awakening”?

Please note:

This is a very rough, non-scientific and limited “awakening inventory” that may help you or not to assess your journey. . Each sentence may be seen as a marker as where you stand.

 This is art 1 of 2.

Score the following statements as:

Strongly disagree=1     Disagree=2     Neutral/? =3      Agree=4    Strongly agree=5  

The highest score the closest to “Awakening / Enlightenment ”.

Be very honest with yourself.     

                                                                                                                                                     

I have an ongoing sense of contentment, ease, equanimity & open mind ……………… ( 1 to 5 )

I have pleasure for doing routine stuff / nonexciting stuff………………

Life and things are what they are and not what I want them to be………………..

I am trying to stay more in the present moment than being in the past or the future……………..

I am not controlling my life, events, and most people & it is OK………………….

I feel intensely alive in my 5 sensorial experiences………………..

I am engaging in helping anyone besides, obviously, my loved ones……………….

I am pretty good at being aware and controlling my desires, aversions & delusions………………

From meditation, I am paying attention to my thoughts and feelings as often as possible……………

When I am eating, I am just eating, for example tasting the food & nothing else………………

I am trying to keep my mind where my body is……………..

I am judging only when I need to make a decision or when requested………………

How I look does not have any bearing on my self-worth or sense of identity…………………

I experience regular periods of mental and emotional serenity…………….

I am incapable of causing intentional harm to anyone/anything………………..

I am OK to belong to a group, community, or society but I can live without it. ……………………

I have little sense of needing to do/produce anything; I am content just to be as I am………………..

I feel equally connected towards all human beings regardless of who they are and where they are coming from……………………..

While making decisions I trust my intuition and feelings to take me in the right direction………………..

My sense of self-worth is not affected by how much I have/achieve nor by success/failure……………………..

I notice my emotions more rapidly before being immersed by them………………………

Using meditation, I know how to pay attention and to use my mind to control its behavior………………..

I practice awareness of my body, 5 senses, and mind as much as I can……………………

I am fully aware that nothing lasts…………………..

I try to keep an open mind even when I am not in my comfort zone…………………

I don’t want my attachments being too because they may create potential suffering………………….

My score is: ……………../ 130.  

The closer to 130, the closer you are to “Awakening/ Enlightenment”……………

……………..Maybe????

Have you been totally honest in your answers?

#331 Zen 3 “seals”

                                                         The Zen 3 seals

1) Impermanence:

         While dying the Buddha was asked by his head monk Ananda:

          “ What is the most important message from your 50 years of teaching?”

        He replied“ Everything is transient. Live your life accordingly”

        Indeed, nothing lasts, everything is changing non-stop.

        In fact, an oak will not exist if the acorn remains an acorn.

        We exist because the eggs of our mothers and sperms of our fathers were transient.

The bottom line:

      1 The good stuff never lasts and too much attachment to it is a potential source of suffering.

      2 There a positive aspect of change: bad times are also transient.

      3 Only impermanence never changes.

 2) No-Self:

          A very difficult tenet to apply.

          It does not mean at all the passing or dissolution of “I, me, and myself ”  

         We perceive, consciously or not, our  “I, me and myself” as an independent, indispensable, unique, self-sustained mental and physical entity and separate from all other living beings.

         This perception is pure delusion and a significant source of suffering.

         In fact, this restrictive view of  “ I, me and myself” described our

“ego-self”.

         Obviously, our ego-self should not be rejected because so critical to function in our lives. Finding the right balance also called the Middle Way is key as in any other Zen teaching.

         No-self instead referred to our True Self minus this ego-self reduced to its basic functions.

         Describing our True-Self with words is impossible because such a description with words will be too restrictive and misleading. It can only be experienced thru meditation practice.

         True-Self is immaterial, universal and w/o a soul in its religious meaning. Some equate True-Self to Universal consciousness shared by all living beings. Others call it God.

 3) The third seal is Nirvana:

         Literally: blowing the flame of the candle.

         It does not mean blissful state, ecstasy or ongoing happiness from a painless life.

         The candle flame is a metaphor for self-induced suffering including our negative emotions.

         Nirvana is the total liberation from this suffering, allowing to achieve equanimity.

         Rarely achievable.

         The sources of suffering will be discussed next week but, very briefly, here is a short list:

               Uncontrolled ego:“ I want this, I don’t want that, I know, I am in control ”

               Ignorance that is misconception/ illusion of genuine reality.

               Entertaining or being stuck with wrong ideas, beliefs and judgments such as:

                    1 Things will stay as they are.

                    2 Believing in all our thoughts.

                    3 Not having our wandering mind with where our body is and what it is doing.

                    4 The nostalgia of the past and worries about the future. They don’t exist.

The teachings of Zen is not absolute truth nor dogma. The Buddha said, “My teachings are a finger pointing to the moon. Do not get caught in thinking that the finger is the moon. It is only because of the finger that you can see the moon”. I will add:  “I am the instrument, up to you to use it properly”

Thank you