Buddhism

A Trip to Cloud Mountain

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

An address to the White Heron Sangha, November 29 2015

Four years ago, at a series of workshops conducted at Crow’s End in San Luis Obispo by White Heron Sangha members, June Kramer and Nancy Hilyard, I was introduced to the technique of concentration meditation, as adapted from the teachings of the Burmese monk, Pa Auk Sayadaw by Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder. Concentration, or Samatha meditation is claimed to have been favored by Buddha himself as an approach to elevated states of consciousness known as the Jhanas, which are precursors to true insight and eventually enlightenment. This form of meditation was long considered an esoteric discipline reserved for monks and initiates, but in recent years it has become accepted and popularized for lay practioners by a number of Buddhist teachers. (more…)

“The Time to Act is Now”

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

An address at “SLO Faith Communities Respond to the Pope’s Message,” sponsored by People of Faith for Justice, October 1 2015

About a month ago, I went to the annual potluck picnic of the White Heron Sangha—a Buddhist meditation fellowship I’ve been attending for several years. It took place at a beautiful home and retreat center in Squire Canyon, and during the meal I was asked by a couple of people if I would be willing to substitute for one of the Sangha’s leaders in representing the Buddhist community at tonight’s program. He couldn’t be here because he was heading off to a retreat in India.

Being only a marginal Buddhist myself and a burnt-out former climate activist, I was reluctant to agree, but I found myself saying “yes” as I recalled recently hearing about Pope Francis’ wholehearted willingness to take on the issue. (more…)

In the Swim: Musings on Meditation under Water

Monday, January 26th, 2015

1. Wendy’s “Water”

On May 24 last year, I went to the Steynberg gallery on Monterey St. to attend a concert by Shadowlands, a new local musical group consisting of Bob and Wendy Liepman and their collaborators Mark Davis and Karolyn Hausted. They were introducing songs they’d written in preparation for recording them on a CD to be released early in 2015. I’d made a contribution to their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter because I admired Wendy’s dedication to feeding the Homeless and because I enjoyed her earlier songs, many of which seemed to me more like religious hymns than folk tunes.

Their first piece was the album’s title track, “Shadowlands,” a dark evocation of the mental condition we usually call depression, but which in earlier times was known as melancholia—a state associated not only with illness but also with deep thought, fertile creativity and spiritual awakening. (more…)

Brian Gavin, in memoriam

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

brian gavin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are not many people in the world I feel close to, and Brian was one of them, even though my relationship with him was formalized and very brief.  Shortly before receiving the news about his death I was thinking about contacting him to talk about a noticeable falling off in my meditation practice during the last two weeks, partially due to a cold that kept me up at night and disrupted my early morning routine.

I thought of Brian as my personal teacher, since he conducted most of the sessions at the three-day retreat I attended last February and agreed to have regular phone consultations with me afterward. Those conversations were always serious but also punctuated by laughter and irony on both sides. During them I felt I had much to learn and nothing to hide. At one point he mentioned that he was looking forward to a long retreat in September with anticipation and some apprehension. That was typical of the frank way we communicated, despite the distance I felt from the variety of samatha experiences that qualified him as a teacher and that he described with such scientific precision.  A few months later we both agreed to forgo the conversations until something I needed to talk about came up. Now it’s too late.

But then again, maybe not, since he remains present to me often during my practice, repeating the assurance that if and when I find the time to attend a longer retreat, a door to the reality he knew would undoubtedly open for me.