TAUGHT BY MATTHEW BRENSILVER, MAX ERDSTEIN AND NIKKI MIRGHAFORI
January – July 2016, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Fridays: Jan 29, Feb 26, March 25, April, 22, May 20, June 24
Saturday: July 9
The Seven Factors of Awakening are qualities cultivated on the path to liberation. These seven – mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity – refer to both psychological qualities we can develop as well as practices to be undertaken. When fully developed, they are know as the seven jewels of Buddhist practice.
This eight-month program is an opportunity to explore and practice with these aspects of Awakening as a support for meditation, daily life and the path of liberation. This will be done through a combination of teachings, practices, and discussions. Readings and reflections will be provided for practicing between the monthly meetings.
Pre-requisite: IMC’s Eightfold Path Program or the equivalent, 2-4 years practice, 2 residential retreats, or permission from the teachers. Contact email@example.com with any questions or concerns.
Registration is required. Please submit your application online.
Deadline to apply is Sunday, January 24, 2016.
The great value of mindfulness practice can be found in the ordinary activities of daily life. It is not necessary to engage in extraordinary pursuits to realize the full depth and breadth of Buddhist practice. Listening is one of the ordinary, daily activities that can serve as a powerful vehicle for cultivating mindfulness, insight, and freedom. Dharma practice is to develop the ability to “see clearly;” listening well is a way to do this. Through listening we can better appreciate what others are saying and gain greater self-understanding.
Imagine yourself standing in front of a great wall stretching far to the right and far to the left. In the middle is a closed door. You open the door, and step through. On the other side of the wall is a vast sky and a great panorama of mountains and valleys receding toward a far distant horizon. From this view you appreciate the great vastness and spaciousness of the world. Then you turn around and step back through the door to the other side of the wall. Standing on the other side you see that here is a vista of a vast ocean sprinkled with beautiful islands. In fact, on either side of the door there is an equally wide, large world to be explored and studied. Listening can be understood as the door between two vast worlds, the world outside of yourself and the world inside yourself. The first is what your ears can hear. The second is what is going on in your body, mind, and heart as you listen. To practice mindful listening is to reside in the doorway between these two worlds so you can be attentive and wise in both.
To listen well, it is helpful to distinguish listening from hearing. Listening is an active, deliberate activity while hearing doesn’t require any effort or intention. With a loud sound, no effort is needed to hear it. However, one might need to intentionally listen to identify the source of the sound. If we were to mime someone listening we might cup a hand behind one ear and lean in the direction of a sound. It is much more difficult to mime ‘hearing’ because hearing is not an activity we do, it is a mode of receptivity to whatever sounds that might occur. By having a clear distinction between listening and hearing we can then choose one over the other. Sometimes, it can be deeply relaxing to make no effort to listen except to rest in the hearing, especially with meditation, music, or sounds of nature. More often in daily life however, we either listen actively or not very well, for example, when we don’t fully listen to what others are saying.
One form of active listening is to listen mindfully, that is, with clear attention and interest. Listening mindfully is to intentionally bring greater awareness to the experience of listening rather than listening habitually or perhaps half-heartedly. To make it a mindfulness practice we also give priority to listening for the purpose of listening rather than letting another purpose dominate. We attend to listening in such a way that we both listen better and are aware of our attitude while listening.
The better your understanding of what goes on within you as you listen, the better you can understand the obstruction to listening well and what you can do to listen more mindfully. Mindful listening requires a willingness to put aside, at least temporarily, the agendas, preferences, opinions, and judgments that interfere with being able to listen well. At the same time, it can involve actively noticing the internal impact and response you have to what is heard. Then, you can choose to keep your focus on the different dimensions of what you listening to rather than easily wandering off in thought. Not only can you listen more carefully to the content of what someone is saying, you can notice their facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, and attitidude.
Without mindfulness, listening can sometimes be done with eagerness—even impatience—for someone who is talking to finish. An internal pressure to speak, or having anticipatory thoughts, can interfere with our full listening to what others are saying. In contrast, to listen mindfully is to be generous with our time; to live in the flow of time, each thing allowed its own time.
You know you are listening mindfully when you continue to listen after someone has stopped speaking. Listen to the silence. Or let the receptivity with which you listened become an additional occasion to notice what is happening within yourself or with the person to whom you are listening. Such a pause—even a two second pause—gives you time to digest what was said. It is also a time to discover what you want to say before you actually say it. Such self-awareness can protect you from saying things you later regret. The pause may also give others a chance to discover what is going on in their own minds and bodies.
Mindful listening is embodied listening. This means that you don’t just listen with your ears. You can feel the physical impact of what you hear. What sensations arise in the body in response to what is heard? What parts of your body get energized in the hearing? What gets tense, what relaxes?
Embodied listening includes assuming a posture that supports better listening. Perhaps sitting up straighter with the chest open. Perhaps turning toward the person who is speaking. It can be helpful to assume a posture or a gesture that indicates you are listening. Perhaps leaning forward slightly. Or nodding your head to the points the person is making. By being actively involved in listening we listen better. It also helps the speaker to know we are really listening.
A famous story from the Ramayana, an epic poem in the Hindu tradition, illustrates the power of careful listening. The story tells of Rama walking in the forest with some companions. When Rama starts hearing the faint whisper of a voice, he asks his companions if they can hear it. They say, “No.” Rama begins to walk toward the whisper. As he gets closer he recognizes it is his name that is being spoken, “Rama…Rama.” As the voice becomes louder, his friends still say they can’t hear it. Finally Rama comes to a large boulder from which the sound comes. He then places his two hands gently on the boulder. At this point the rock breaks open and inside is a person who has been stuck in the rock through a magic spell. By listening to the whisper he was able to discover what was locked up and then release it.
In this way, to listen mindfully is to give care in order to hear the faint whispers inside others and ourselves and to discover the significant thoughts, feelings, and desires that may be shy or overlooked. Once discovered, the quiet whispers then have the opportunity to be heard.
Listening—as all forms of active attention—is an intentional act, and as such is connected to our desires, emotions, attitudes, values, and preferences. Because of this connection it can be helpful to use the following questions to help explore your listening. You might take your time with each question, perhaps giving yourself a week to reflect on it before exploring the next one.
- What purpose motivates your listening?
- What concerns and desires influence your listening?
- Are there emotions coloring what you hear?
- How interested and attentive are you to what you’re listening to?
- When someone is speaking, how much are you listening to the person and how much are you engaged in your own thoughts?
- What expectations do you have when you listen?
- In different situations, you will have different answers to these questions. The answers may point to how to listen more attentively, with greater wisdom.
Mindful listening is a great way to cultivate greater mindfulness in daily life. Listening is always a present moment activity; when we listen we are present. When we listen actively and receptively we are developing the faculties needed for the practice of mindfulness. Practicing mindful listening is a foundation for the more difficult task of speaking mindfully. Until we have a strong capacity to stay mindful while we speak, it is good to remember the saying that “we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen more than we speak.”
The Summer-Fall 2015 IRC Newsletter is now available.
Renunciation is one of the most beneficial, empowering, and freeing practices of Buddhism. As its purpose is to heighten the best qualities of our hearts and minds, renunciation is not meant to diminish our lives but rather to enhance them. Abstaining from intoxicating drinks and drugs—the fifth ethical precept—is an important Buddhist practice that can reveal the power of renunciation.
On the surface, the fifth precept differs from the first four in being more personal than interpersonal. Killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and lying all directly involve other people. In contrast, consuming intoxicating drinks and drugs is a personal choice that does not inherently affect others.
The immense personal and interpersonal damage that comes from alcohol and drugs is often invisible in the personal, seemingly innocuous decisions to consume them. This harm can be masked when intoxication, even mild inebriation, temporarily alleviates pain and brings longed-for relief. Its negative effects can also be invisible when intoxication’s temporary pleasure, relaxation, and lack of fear can seem preferable to less pleasant feelings. And yet, we’re all aware of the tremendous personal and social costs of intoxication. Under the influence of these substances—and in their aftermath—people frequently make poor choices, often with long-term consequences. The cost of human lives lost or relationships destroyed due to intoxication are incalculable.
The issue of intoxication is not only a modern one. More than 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said that intoxication can lead to “the loss of wealth, increased quarreling, susceptibility to illness, disrepute, and weakening of wisdom.” What is modern is the incredibly wide range of addicting substances and unwholesome pleasures that are readily available.
With its emphasis on mindfulness and wise intention, Buddhism helps us see how intoxication clouds the mind and diminishes our ability to make wise choices. A traditional Buddhist reason for abstaining from alcohol and drugs is that intoxication increases the chances a person will violate the first four precepts. For example, we are more likely to speak what is not true or to flirt inappropriately, if we are even a little bit intoxicated. And, as wisdom is often lacking when intoxicated, these can easily lead to greater and more damaging problems. Children can grow up in fear when drunk parents are prone to anger, violence, and neglect. Our prisons are filled with people who committed crimes while intoxicated.
The literal English translation of the fifth precept is “I undertake the training precept to abstain from alcohol, liquor, or spirits that are a cause for heedlessness.” The mention of heedlessness points to the way in which intoxication involves a loss in care, caring, and carefulness. While Buddhism links intoxication with heedlessness and lack of mindfulness, modern psychology discusses this in terms of decreased cognitive abilities, increased attention deficits, and poor judgment.
Ideally, abstaining from intoxication is not only about avoiding harm and heedlessness. Abstinence can also be motivated by the personal and interpersonal benefits it brings, which can be deeply nourishing. Any time the desire for intoxicating substances is strong and we refrain from acting on that desire, we strengthen our capacity for renunciation and self-mastery. The stronger the desire, the greater we need to rely on commitment and wisdom to avoid giving in to it. Doing so strengthens us. It also can improve our relationships with family, friends, and others.
By refraining from drinking and drugs we maintain the mental clarity that is essential for mindfulness practice. Furthermore, mindfulness can be increased by staying alert to the ways in which desire for substances can get the upper hand. Restraining these desires strengthens our will power, a faculty that can free us from all kinds of compulsive desires, not just ones for alcohol or drugs.
Abstinence also develops and supports wisdom. Through it we can better understand how the mind works, how it can delude us and how it can heal us. We’re better able to recognize the desire to get intoxicated as an indicator that something in our life is out of balance. Are we using alcohol as a way to deal with stress? Do we drink or take drugs due to social pressure from friends or colleagues who do so?
For those walking the Buddhist path, abstaining from intoxication is a strategy for our long-term happiness. It is a training in personal maturation and growth. Rather than relying on short-term pleasures and highs, the Buddhist path relies on an increasing self-understanding that brings enduring wisdom, on developing compassion that provides ongoing forgiveness, and on cultivating personal strengths that keep us steady in the face of life’s challenges.
One of the biggest supports for abstaining from intoxication is the faith that it’s worthwhile to do so, and confidence that we can do it. Such faith and confidence grow best in community with people who inspire it in us. To be around others who restrain themselves from drinking or taking drugs can inspire us to do the same. To be accompanied in our efforts by friends and other practitioners means we don’t have to rely solely on our own efforts. If we are less likely to consume alcohol or drugs when we have the support of others, making sure we have this support may help us to relax effort that may be too forceful, and thus counterproductive. To have the loving acceptance of community can help us to be more self-compassionate and less moralistically harsh toward ourselves. All too often the regular use of alcohol and drugs ruptures relationships, and with them our own self-worth; practicing the precepts in a community of other practitioners can be a way to heal this wounded part of ourselves.
Practicing with the fifth precept has a lot to do with being truthful with ourselves, which is a very significant form of mindfulness. One way we can know we’re being truthful is by having a friend or a community with whom we can tell the truth. If you are using alcohol and drugs and aren’t willing to tell this to your friend or community, you’re probably not being truthful even to yourself. Done wisely with people who support you, truthfulness is one of the most powerful supports for the fifth precept.
While some people live by the fifth precept as a way to avoid the dangers that come with intoxication, it’s also helpful to be motivated by the benefits it can bring. Having increased clarity, wisdom, personal freedom and improved social relations can provide motivation to use every act of renunciation as an opportunity for much more than abstention. Renunciation has the power to bring out the best in us. It is an opportunity for making the world a better place for ourselves and others.
The July-September 2015 IMC Newsletter is now available.
Benefits Second Harvest Food Bank
THE POWER OF GENEROSITY: The struggle to end hunger in Silicon Valley -Toren Fronsdal
The Food Bank accepts all non-perishable food donations, but especially needs these nutritious items:
- Meals in a can (stew, chili, soup)
- Tuna and canned meat
- Peanut butter
- Canned foods with pop-top lids
- Low-sugar cereals
- 100% fruit juices in single serving boxes
- Canned fruit packed in juice
- Canned vegetables (low salt)
Collection canister is located in the community hall, left rear from main entrance.
Monetary donations can be submitted here.
Food drive is sponsored by IMC’s LGBTQ Sangha. firstname.lastname@example.org
The April-June 2015 IMC Newsletter is now available.
The Winter-Spring 2015 IRC Newsletter is now available.
Memorial Day Weekend Family Retreat: K- 8th Graders and Parents
Saturday May 23- Monday May 25.
Jikoji Retreat Center, Los Gatos.
Practice together as a family during a relaxed weekend that will offer structured retreat practice and small group sharing with other parents, teens, and children, along with hiking and appreciation of the forest, grasslands, and views from the top of the Santa Cruz mountains. The site features camping and a limited number of shared dorm rooms. . Registration by lottery will open on the IMC website at the beginning of February.
FLIER – INFO – APPLICATION
Note: Applications with a $200 deposit received by 3/15/15 will be entered into a lottery. Retreatants will be notified in late March if they have been admitted or are on the Waiting list. Subsequent applications will be added to the Waiting list.
Registrar: Questions? Email Liz Powell at email@example.com
Teachers: Richard Shankman, Liz Powell, and others
Fundamentally, Buddhist practice is a training in peace—and Buddhist ethics serve as a protection of this peace. As our sense of ease, harmony, and calm deepen with our practice, we begin to understand how our ethical choices impact our experience of peace, and we see that the five Buddhist precepts safeguard our well-being.
Because we so frequently talk and communicate with others, the fourth precept—avoiding false speech—is particularly relevant in our daily lives. Living by this precept protects us, and those we interact with, from the hurt, betrayal, and conflict that come from lying. Avoiding false speech promotes social concord and the interpersonal trust that social harmony depends on. It also supports the foundation of Buddhist practice, which bases our lives on what is true. For those who are motivated to walk a path of peace and freedom, lying is counterproductive because it moves us in the opposite direction.
Honesty is key to mindfulness practice. There can be no mindfulness practice without honestly acknowledging what we are experiencing. Telling lies interferes with the purpose and power of mindfulness. On the other hand, speaking truthfully—i.e., “mindfulness out loud”—keeps us in the flow of mindfulness, and our communications have the chance to be in harmony with the goodness that arises through careful attention.
States of calm, relaxation, and peace provide us with important reference points for living by the fourth precept. In the same way that a clean cloth will better reveal a new stain than a cloth that’s already saturated with dirt, a calm mind will better highlight mental agitation than a mind that is unsettled. Because lying agitates the person who lies, a peaceful mind can reveal the way dishonesty disturbs the quality of our inner life.
Lying involves a tension, tightness, and narrowing of the mind, and it often produces a fear of being caught. It can also lead to a stressful preoccupation with keeping the lie going. When we lie we create distance from others because dishonesty blocks our ability to build relationships based on genuine rapport and mutual understanding. Furthermore, lying leaves a legacy of shame and guilt to be experienced sooner or later.
The common motivations for lying—greed, hostility, and fear—bring their own unease to our minds and hearts. Sometimes these are called “afflictive emotions” because of the pain they cause. Lying doesn’t free us from these afflictive states; if anything, it strengthens them.
While avoiding these negative consequences can be reason enough for avoiding false speech, a commitment to the fourth precept can also be supportive in maintaining states of peace and ease that may exist within us. Experiences of settledness and peace can be deeply satisfying and nourishing. When we are experiencing such states, it’s good to take care not to lose them too easily, especially by doing or saying things we might later regret. When we know for ourselves that telling a lie disturbs our peace we have greater motivation to avoid lying. In this way, the fourth precept is more than preventive medicine for avoiding affliction; it is a tonic that supports our well-being.
Avoiding false speech does not mean we have to say something just because it is true. The truth can be hurtful, and it is important to take into account the impact our words have on others. Buddhist teachings emphasize that the truth should only be told if it’s timely, useful, and delivered with goodwill. This means that truthful speech should work together with wisdom— with our ability to discern the context, purpose, and the likely consequences of what we say.
Wisdom is nurtured by states of peace. When we are agitated, in a hurry, or impulsive, it’s hard to be wise. We don’t have the time or the mental bandwidth to take into account the range of information that wisdom needs to function. We’re less likely to recognize when speaking is useful or not, and less likely to know what is or isn’t true.
The fact that wisdom operates better when we’re peaceful is certainly a good reason to protect our peace. And while various factors contribute to remaining peaceful, the commitment to the fourth precept can be particularly useful when it comes to our social life. The care and ongoing attention needed to “avoid false speech” develops our ability to be mindful, discerning, and free of compulsive speech. It entails pausing just long enough—perhaps imperceptibly to others—to recognize what we are about to say before we say it. It allows us to investigate the reasons we want to say something.
Buddhist precepts are not obligatory moral rules. They are, however, required if we want to safeguard both our personal and interpersonal peace. The greater our peace, calm, contentment, and clarity, the more we have something that is worth protecting from the agitation that results from lying. Similarly, the greater our interpersonal harmony, friendships, and trust, the more these are worth safeguarding from the disruptive consequences of deceiving others.
This is one reason why people who engage in contemplative practices, such as meditation, tend to value ethical behavior. Knowing all too well what is lost through unethical behavior, they understand they are better off being ethical. When it comes to speech, they know they are better off not deceiving anyone, including themselves.
The October-December 2014 IMC Newsletter is now available.