Author Archives: Linda

  /  Guest Contributors

Hindrances in Meditation

Traditionally in Buddhism, hindrances were considered obstacles or things that get in the way of concentration in meditation. Here is one list of hindrances that I found.

1.  Sensual desire

2.  Ill-will

3.  Torpor and sloth

4.  Restlessness

5.  Doubt

Some of these—such as “torpor and sloth”—may sound a bit out of touch with our current meditation practice. “Doubt” here, I believe, refers to a lack of faith in the practice. These were considered conditions that got in the way of your meditation practice in the short term; they might appear in a particular meditation preventing strong concentration. They are not meant to be the same as the fetters: attachment or aversion to things, our views of self, or ignorance of how things are—deep conditions that tie us to samsara.

As I thought about this list, it came to me that I might come up with a few of my own that seemed to fit my current experience. So this new list is not meant to be exhaustive and not meant to fit everybody’s experience but I thought it might be useful to list them so that others might be able to identify them in their own meditation or perhaps create their own list.

Before I introduce my list, I wanted to mention that we tend to think of these conditions as negative—things to get rid of—but in our approach here, they are merely conditions or states for us to reflect on and examine. The problem, I think, is that these conditions, are ones that are easy to get stuck in and prevent me from moving around freely. They may also be conducive to losing interest or to devaluing what is happening in our meditation experience.

First, control. If I try to exercise too much control in my meditation, then not only does it take a lot of energy to manage what really does not want to be managed, but also limits the range of my experience. One of the goals in this approach is to broaden the possibilities of our experience so exercising too much control, trying to make your experience go in a certain way, prevents that.

Second, avoiding. I have found in my own experience that there are times when I avoid certain thoughts or states of mind—boredom, sleepiness, or thoughts about a particularly embarrassing episode in my memory. In this approach it would be more beneficial to allow these states, thoughts or feelings into my meditation so that I get to know what they are like.

Third, self-criticism. An obstacle I’ve noticed not only in myself but also in reporting groups is excessive self-criticism. Some self-criticism is healthy but if it becomes excessive and ongoing, I find I get discouraged, lose interest, and that it becomes a loop that’s pretty hard to get out of. Self-criticism is a rich area for investigation, looking at such things as the voice of the criticism and the conditions that cause it to come up.

Fourth, ill-will and self-justification. Ill-will appears on the original list and I find it a wide-ranging term that can include all kinds of angry reactions. The problem here is, again, that it’s easy to get into an obsessive loop of self-justifying thoughts when angry. This happens to me when I feel I’ve been unjustly criticized. The engine of self-justification gets started and it’s hard to stop.

In the discussion that followed the presentation of this list, several other possible hindrances were mentioned. The one that I most closely identified with was looking for an epiphany in our sitting. I can recall meditations where I kept looking for that sudden revelation that would make my life go easier and when it continued for a long period, I was unable to see or recall what else might be happening.

As I thought more about this list, it occurred to me that as certain qualities arise in our sitting, there is less likelihood of getting stuck. For example, as the quality of tolerance has increased in my meditation, I have been able to tolerate a bit more the difficult memories or thoughts that come up—stay with them longer, see what feelings they bring up. So there may be a relationship in our meditation—not necessarily in opposition to each other—between certain qualities and hindrances.

  /  General

Presumptions and Reactions

An oil-woman kept a parrot which used to amuse her with its agreeable talk and friendliness, and she had him to watch her shop when she went out and about. One day, when the parrot was alone in the shop, a cat chasing a mouse caused such commotion that it rattled the parrot’s cage and upset one of the oil-jars. When the oil-woman returned home she thought that the parrot had done this mischief, and in her anger she struck the parrot such a blow on the head that all its head feathers dropped off. The parrot was so stunned that it lost the power of speech for several days.  A few days later the parrot saw a bald-headed sage passing the shop, and recovering its speech, it cried out, “Whose oil-jar did you upset?”

Adapted from a story by Rumi

—Linda Modaro

  /  Dharma Prompts, General

Fading Away

I believe that every human being has valuable qualities and deserves some kindness and compassion, but I can’t always feel and act this way. The desire to reconcile this ‘so called’ discrepancy distorts my thoughts and feelings, and can keep me trying to correct my actions, rather than understanding how this view* is intricately woven into my daily life.  Sometimes, it just sucks that I can’t surgically remove this complex from my experience, fix it up, and then put it back into my life for a more congruent and better acting self.

So do these ‘distortions’ realistically begin to fade?  On their own, over time, within a meditation practice?

I will offer three illustrations below from my life and practice of reflective meditation, given with the intention to prompt your own investigation and our explorative dialogues in July and August.  I welcome a conversation with you soon, online or in person, as the retreats I am leading in the Fall will have me traveling for most of September and October.

1. There are not that many things in my daily practice I am able to do ‘no matter what’ and yet, the expectation to be consistent in my awareness, interactions and activities, including meditation, still arises.  It is important to me.
-My view of a ‘True and perfect self’ has opportunity to fade

2. One of the reasons I chose to create a non-profit organization to continue teaching is because it requires me to be accountable to myself and others, within an intentional community; I am finding my independence, but not solely on my own.
-My view of ‘you and I as separate, not-dependent selves’ is fading

3. Each segment of my life has had a sense of being ‘it’.  In college I chose to study Sociology rather than Psychology. A few years later, I went back to school to study traditional Chinese medicine and ‘the body’.  After that, I dove into Buddhism, meditation, and ‘the mind’. Now, I am getting an imaginary PhD in ‘the integration of all of the above’.
-My view of  karma as ‘fate or destiny’ has been fading away

*The Buddha of the early discourses often refers to the negative effect of attachment to speculative or fixed views, dogmatic opinions, or even correct views if not known to be true by personal verification. In describing the highly diverse intellectual landscape of his day, he is said to have referred to “the wrangling of views, the jungle of views”. In a set of poems in the early text Sutta Nipata, the Buddha states that he himself has no viewpoint. According to Steven Collins, these poems distill the style of teaching that was concerned less with the content of views and theories than with the psychological states of those who hold them.

  /  General, Guest Contributors

‘After Buddhism’ – The Buddha’s Ultimate Concerns

June 8, 2018
Hi Linda, Winton, Ramsey:
I was contemplating our first online study group and the discussion. The irritation came about the “Ultimate Concerns” in connection with the 4P’s. If you ask me Linda what are my concerns or what would I add to these 4P’s then it is Joy. But I sense there is a mistake in the question. Looking at Stephen’s Book and how he writes about the 4P’s I understand this 4 P’s differently. He writes about these as Gotama’s “original ideas”. Steven distinguishes these ideas because they are not found in the other religious texts of Jaina’s or Hindus. He does not mention the 4P’s as “Buddha’s ultimate concerns” as it is put in the study guide/workbook. He quotes Tillich in an attempt to describe the term “secular”. The idea of “ULTIMATE CONCERN” is of a Christian terminology. It assumes there is something ULTIMATE.
Best wishes,
Gerd Kuhlman

June 9, 2018
Gerd, Winton, and Ramesy: Gerd, thank you for this email.  I think you are catching something in my presentation and thinking, that is not filled out, and comes from my having read the entire book (and first two sections of the workbook) and how I have integrated ‘ultimate concerns’ as core values or underlying intentions or existential concerns in practice that arise from our personal conditions. That being said, I did not catch how it would come off to others as presenting an ultimate truth/ultimate concern.  Let me think about this a little more – your cause for irritation is ‘on to something’ and I value your input.
With metta,
Linda

June 14, 2018
A few more cents here, Gerd, Winton, and Ramsey:
Stephen talks about the four P’s as fundamentals he pulls out of Gotama’s teachings.  What I would like to be consider and become more aware of, in our online study group using the study guide, is our own ‘fundamentals’ entering into how we uniquely and collectively understand and practice secular Buddhism. My training and sankharas tend toward being flexible, overly so in some situations, so I looked up ultimate and existential and found that the way I am using the words are more in line with the definitions below.  From Stephen’s writing, he seems to use them similarly. Gerd, your comments have been useful and I will use the words with more knowledge of what they can mean, and what I mean when I am using them.
My best,
Linda

Ultimate:
1. The best achievable, or best of it’s kind
2. A fundamental or principle
not as
3. Final – being or happening at the end of a process

Existence/existential:
1. Continued survival
2. A way of living
3. Any of a person’s current, future, or past lives on this earth
not as
4. An essential being or entity, or all that exists

June 14, 2018
Hello Linda, Gerd and Ramsey:
First up, thanks to Gerd for raising the issue of ultimate concern. As a result of that intervention, I’ve slightly reworded the last two lines of p. 4 of the workbook to make clear that Stephen’s ultimate concern is coming to terms with his own birth and death, and the existential issues that this quest raises. The four P’s – which inform this quest – are the Buddha’s central and unique contributions thereto. Stephen also points out that serious religious people are on the same quest, albeit using different resources to pursue it. But the ultimate concern is the same in both instances.

Personally, I don’t think one should stare oneself blind at the four P’s. Their formulation provides a handy orientation through the much more detailed teachings that Stephen extrapolates in his book, but no more than that. So I resonate to Linda’s third paragraph in the last email. Flexibility, intuition, and the knack of following one’s nose enrich dharma practice and study, especially given that its original expression depended so much on diverse interlocutors and occasions.

Gerd, I think ‘ultimate concern’ refers to one’s own sense of what is of weightiest importance to oneself, not to some supposed ultimate truth. For instance, many religious folk would, I think, say that their ultimate concern is to obey God – something that implies no truth-claim at all. Charles Taylor, ‘Sources of the self’, is a good read on this subject.

Penultimately,

Winton

  /  General, Guest Contributors

Gratitude

A few weeks ago I suggested to some of the reflective meditation teachers to write something about Gratitude within the Buddhist teachings. I have become more and more inspired by the history of dharma teachings through conversations, and I wanted to see what a written conversation might look like. What emerged is a creative, secular endeavor – a written conversation from modern times; there was no written language in the time of the Buddha. We hope you find some interest in our attempts to put our thoughts into words, and to hold a prolonged conversation about different aspects of Gratitude. 

Participants are myself – Linda Modaro (LM), Bill Cooper (BC), Wendy Liepman (WL), Janet Keyes (JK), and Bill Wellhouse (BW).

BC: It’s going to be difficult to write about gratitude in a way that doesn’t sound obvious or trite. After all, the subject of gratitude is not exactly controversial: who could be against it? But perhaps it needs to be written about, because its importance is often overlooked.  Gratitude, as I understand it, begins as a feeling of thankfulness. We often experience gratitude when we receive someone else’s generosity. Someone has done something beyond what is obliged, and it moves us in a heartfelt way. But if gratitude only remains a feeling, something becomes lost, if not missed, in ourselves.

Gratitude is difficult for us to express until we realize that small kind gestures matter a great deal to others. We may not be aware that our expressions of gratitude, our acts of generosity, actually make a tremendous contribution to the person receiving them. Gratitude cannot be shown by people who think little of themselves, who don’t know how much they matter to others.

Some of what may hold us back is the risk in expressing gratitude. It is an intimate act, almost of love, certainly beyond the usual transactions we engage in. Gratitude is a risk that establishes a warm connection with another, and it moves us out of self-centeredness. But even with this benefit, gratitude can easily be postponed.

In our tradition, teachers usually don’t express their need for our gratitude. In fact, they don’t often express their needs at all. They give the Dharma to those who ask, and they hope, or believe, they will receive what is needed to continue their teaching. But as Buddhists we know this relationship will not last, and that our opportunity to express our gratitude to our teachers will only last a short while.

LM: It is intriguing how you got to, what I consider, a very human need for gratitude and connection, Bill.  It speaks to the nature of our meditation practice being done in a relationship with others, and that generosity (dana) and gratitude grows from our shared interactions.

Coming home from retreat this week, I have been filled with gratitude for the meditators that joined us, along with gratitude for my teachers, spiritual friends (kalayanamitta’s) and family. Although they were not all physically with me on retreat, they are quite present now while I am writing this, almost like they are living in my head alongside my other thoughts, feelings, and experience.  So many people live with me in my memory and imagination!

Besides in person, the conversations I have with others are during meditation sittings, on walks, or in snippets while I am going about my daily activities.  After reading Bill’s thoughts on gratitude, I am aware of how when I feel gratitude it often stays in my mind, and I am less aware of how it may be expressed or acted upon. I would regret not sharing gratitude with others, especially if they did not know how much our interactions meant to me.

One historical teaching of karma meant that there are consequences for all actions, although this was taken up in a few different ways according to the traditions of that time; for example, in the Jain tradition you had to carry a broom and sweep the ground before you walked on it, so as not to injure any insects that may be in your path, and even doing harm accidentally incurred unwholesome karma.

Within the Buddha’s new-found understandings, he added in other perspectives. Karma seems be much more mysterious, inter-mixed, and non-linear; it includes our intentions and actions, and does not operate as clearly as a score-card tallying this and that.  Everything that happens is not due to karma, and in many cases, karma can create more questions than answers in the way it unfolds in an individual’s life.

My experience inclines toward this understanding, and a ‘refined’ intention and action is born from this contemplation on gratitude. When I become aware of opportunities to share gratitude through acknowledgement with others – however small, I find myself looking for ways to act upon them.  Otherwise, it seems such a waste to not enjoy the friendship and intimacy that comes from this kind of connection on a meditative path.

WL: Bill, I keep coming back to your phrase, “Gratitude cannot be shown by people who think little of themselves, who don’t know how much they matter to others.”

Perhaps those who don’t recognize their own worth find it difficult to receive gratitude. They may believe that their contributions are too insignificant to count. They may dismiss their offerings as “no big deal” or, “nothing really”, or “not enough.”

Any time we make it a point to express our gratitude to another “moves us” as Bill says, “out of self-centeredness,” Gratitude is a shared experience, it is mutually reinforcing, it connects us. The recipient becomes the giver when they express appreciation.

To me, the recognition of impermanence informs gratitude. What is an appropriate response to the realization that (to quote the band The Flaming Lips) “Everyone you know someday will die”? In my understanding, it is appreciation, gratitude, and compassion. We get to experience things which are beautiful and fleeting: the sun breaking through towering clouds, the juicy sweetness of a summer peach; an empty beach at low tide.

The infants that I once kissed and cradled in my arms no longer exist. In their place are grown men, who have left home and are beginning lives on their own. I am grateful to have experienced all the many stages of their lives. When they thank me for a home cooked meal or give me a hug before leaving, I take it in. Young men want to be independent and while learning to make their way in the world they at times rely on parents for financial and emotional support. I feel compassion for their struggle, I have been there. I don’t always know how my offer of help will be received, and question if I am skating that fine line between generosity and enabling. My intention is always their well being and happiness. At some point they will be fully fledged.

What is impermanent can be poignant, whether in the moment, or in memory. In this practice, when we share our meditation sittings through reporting, listening, or interviewing, there is a fluid dance of giving and receiving. When one person reveals their inner world, others gain the confidence to do likewise. Together we create a safe container where trust, support and non-judgment can flourish. We give each other the gift of being witnessed in all of our human complexity.

JK: My experience of gratitude right now is a little different from what you all have written about. It had less to do with others, and more to do with appreciating and valuing my own experience. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful that my body works pretty well. I am grateful when I remember something I might have forgotten.

My sense of what gratitude is and how it works in a life was informed early by my mother. She had a gratitude “practice” her whole life, though she wouldn’t have called it that. It used to drive me nuts. She would be grateful for what I considered the strangest things. For example, a wealthy friend would regularly send my mother a box of her clothes, everything many sizes too large for my mother. Everything looked ridiculous on her. She would try on one after another, looking at herself in the mirror. Somethings that were too well-made or stylish to pass on, she would try to alter, but this was never successful. She usually ended up with a big pile of things she never could wear. Yet another pile of things; she was a bit of a pack-rat. I’d ask her why she kept them if they didn’t fit. “But they are so beautiful,” she would say. And I’d say to myself, but what good do they do you? She was grateful for things I didn’t value. It went on like that for many years.

Then in the final years of her life, when she had dementia, her lifelong practice of being grateful really shone; even I could see it. She was grateful for her plants, for the stairs that she had to climb to get to the bathroom, for the snow, for the clock. She was grateful for everything. Slowly, I saw that her gratitude was so deeply a part of her that there was nothing she wasn’t grateful for. About that time, I began to notice that my own practice wasn’t and temperamentally couldn’t be gratitude. That wasn’t where my mind went. But seeing her radiant and happy, made me wonder if it was too late to change, since it had stood her in such good stead her whole life.

Nowadays, without particularly looking for it, I find gratitude arising by itself. But as I said, it’s not directed towards outside, really. Rather it arises as a quality present in my experience: I am grateful for my family, friends, for my practice, and as I said, for my life. It all seems pretty impersonal, not having to do with me, nor to do with others. Just gratitude: there to notice and experience.

BW: Reading your thoughts on gratitude raises all sorts of questions for me. I am wondering whether gratitude arises as a quality, unbidden and without intention, like other qualities such as generosity or patience. Or is it–the feeling or expression of gratitude–something you bring intention to–this year I am going to be more grateful for…  Is gratitude something we own as practitioners and/or Buddhists? Or do some people feel it naturally, as Janet’s mother did. I know I sometimes think of these qualities–generosity or gratitude– as “Buddhist” qualities but in reality they arise outside of the context of practice. We don’t “own” them as practitioners but they are important aspects of our practice.

What is beneficial or wholesome about gratitude? Does it bring about less harm to ourselves and others? I think the answer to that is yes. I would think that it would be difficult to feel gratitude when you feel anxious or constricted. But if you are feeling gratitude for some part of your life or for the actions of someone else, it is more difficult to disregard or devalue those aspects of yourself or the actions of other people. The expression of gratitude toward others may lead them to soften or open up a bit.

Do we feel gratitude only for the things we value or is it possible to feel it for things that are not pleasant, interesting, or valuable to us?  Can I feel gratitude for a noisy freeway or an unexpected loss? Usually I don’t but it would be interesting to reflect on how closely gratitude follows on getting what I want and on how much gratitude I feel when others experience happiness or peace.

It seems as though the fleeting nature of life, as Wendy describes it, could just as easily lead to anxiety and bitterness as to gratitude. What determines that response? Which is the more honest response to impermanence? Our response may have to do with a deeper understanding of the nature of our existence and the continual loss we experience in our lives. It does seem that a more complete understanding of dependent arising–how we as beings are so dependent on others (people, plants, and things) for not only our existence but also our sankharas (and personalities)– leads to a sense of gratitude.

  /  Dharma Prompts, General

what is your ‘bottom line’ in meditation practice?

A nine minute audio recording from Linda and meditators in San Luis Obispo, CA
Because I don’t quite get to an adequate explanation of ‘bottom line’ in the talk, I will say here that the intention behind using the phrase is for meditators to explore their values and why they have a meditation practice.  Listening before you meditate, and then reflecting can contribute to a meditation practice that values your own unique understandings.

  /  General, Sangha Updates

‘After Buddhism’ Study Group

Meeting online for our first After Buddhism study group, meditators who practice recollective awareness and reflective meditation joined us from California, Washington, Maryland, and Michigan, as well as eastern and south Australia.

All of us have been practicing recollective awareness and reflective meditation, so we have had plenty of permission to broaden the definition of meditation and other Pali words from Buddhist teachings. However, in our discussion with Winton and Ramsey, the suggestion to broaden the definition of ‘secular’ now joins our contemporary Buddhist glossary. Considering a range that included being open, creative and diverse, to modern, coming from this time, and concerning existential/important questions, exposed the default thinking of some in the US of secular as solely non-religious or atheistic.

Studying together, we also sat together – each in the privacy of our own homes, muting our audio and turning off video – and had some time for personal reflection before coming back online after the introduction from Winton and Ramsey. With After Buddhism: a workbook as our guide – we all had copies of the PDF versions of the first session “What is After Buddhism all about?” – we read the last few paragraphs ending with Stephen’s four P’s that embody his secular Buddhism: The Principle of conditionality, the Practice of the fourfold task, the Perspective of mindful awareness, and the Power of self-reliance.  

In keeping with our practice of staying close to each person’s experience, my question for the group was, “What P would you add, or any other letter of the alphabet for that matter?” The list below cannot convey each person’s thoughts and feelings, nuanced description that went with their addition, and the summary is my encapsulation, not theirs, but I hope you will get the idea of how independent study done together can foster an evolution of the Buddhist teachings that impact your daily life and practice.  

P – purpose, the curiosity and seeking of finding a path

P – process of being kind to oneself and others

R – responsibility, of sharing the path with others

P – patience, letting things evolve and mature over time

J – joy that is appreciative and sympathetic, peaceful

P – people, concern for other people and relationships

P – paradox of bringing mundane concerns into existential and existential concerns into the mundane

We have room in a second group that will run on the third Thursday of each month from 5-6:30pm PDT.  Do please consider joining us from anywhere in the world, except Europe I am sad to say (unless you are a night owl). Please get in touch with Linda via the website or email: https://satisangha.org, linda@satisangha.org.

  /  Dharma Prompts

A Question about Reflective Meditation

A meditator’s question: In your orientation towards meditation, I want to question what seems like a bias that this practice is more “natural”.  Can you say a few things about this?

Linda’s response: These days in teaching, I don’t tend to use the word “natural” about our practice, and yet, many meditators speak about the ease and relaxation that comes from taking a more “natural” (relaxed, fitting with their body type) posture, or how having a sense of play and spontaneity return to their practice feels like a “natural” evolution.
My first encounter with the approach which encouraged me to be more honest with what I encounter when I meditate, was radical at the time, and a good fit for my temperament and abilities; but it came with an instinct that ‘this is right’, better than other practices. It is easier to see this in hindsight.
Currently, when listening to meditators I hear ways of knowing that arise intuitively – like doors into thoughts and feelings that open “naturally” without much effort, so thank you for the question as it looks like the word still fits when used in the appropriate context.

  /  Audio, Guest Contributors

Poetry, Meditation, Reflection, Dharma

a 15 minute conversation with Janet Keyes and Nina Asher, hosted by Linda Modaro

“poetry is evidence that the heart thinks. and the mind feels.”
— Nayyirha Waheed

Personal Conversations

Our sangha put out an eJournal in 2017 hoping to promote conversations about reflective meditation, creativity, and finding your own voice/path. The online conversation in March with Nelly Kaufer about her Unconventional Glossary of Buddhist Qualities was recorded but the poor sound quality leaves us needing to re-record. This month I spoke with Janet Keyes (Self-Improvement / My true self) and Nina Asher (Grieving Awareness / Choose Connection). You can listen to the conversation about dharma, reflective meditation, and poetry at the link below.

I will be in slow mode for the next few weeks while I am recovering from losing my voice on this last retreat in Spokane, WA. Not having a voice has shown me how much I depend upon conversations in my practice and teaching. Fortunately, I could rely upon my co-teachers, Anna Delacroix and Bill Cooper, to step into the teaching role at the retreat (their teachings were more than well-received); and while I had most of this email put together before I left, I could rely upon refinements from my written ‘conversational’ edits with Janet Keyes.

Speech is an acknowledged area for development as a practice on the Eight Fold Path. The teachings, before written language, were communicated from person to person through conversations. With modern conditions, my conversations with you are online via Zoom or in written form, and then we see each other monthly, or only a few times a year at a group, workshop, or retreat.  What seems to be similar is the personal aspect – ​learning the Dharma is so very personal when done together through meditation, speech, listening, and reflection.

Through this ironic of teaching with no voice and resting, I have re-learned this: Dharma conversations integrated into a person’s life and that have personal meaning are well-received and can be carried forward. They are a reliable way to convey the Dharma.

Thank you for your care, for your continued practice, and our experience of learning together.

—Linda Modaro