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Week 6 – Online Winter Retreat

29 Dec

Week 6 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013

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Reflection Questions

1) As I become more grounded in body and mind, what “hindrances” am I aware of most strongly through my day? Are there some that are more predominant for me than others?

Brother Phap Hai (the monk who offers the talks associated with each week of the online winter retreat) spoke of the four hindrances: Running (after things), ill-will towards others, ourselves and our practice, sloth, restlessness & remorse (not feeling good enough), skeptical doubt (cynicism – stepping back instead of stepping forward).  I’m not sure if the question is asking in regards to these hindrances offered in the talk or a more broadened approach including any number of hindrances so I’ll speak to both.

From the hindrances offered above I would say that ill-will towards others stands out the most to me.  This is difficult to admit.  The ill-will comes in the form of judgements mostly directed at those closest to me, or those that treat me poorly.  I also see the want for a quick fix button to be a large hindrance in my life.  Reaching quickly sometimes for caffeine or sugar or netflix to satiate a need for energy or comfort or to disassociate with a certain state of mind or emotion.

2) What does socially engaged Buddhism mean to me? In the wake of a tragedy such as Newtown, what meaningful steps can I/ we take?

It means to be involved in the world around us, to be connected in equal parts to both the suffering and joy that is happening each day.  The tragedy in Newtown was heart breaking and terribly sad and it is also not an isolated incident – even that same day a man burst into a school classroom in China with a knife and a student was arrested for threatening acts of harm against a school in another U.S state.  I think it is important to see clearly that there is fear, anger, loneliness and deep suffering all around us.  Every day people are dying due to war, suicide and starvation.  Every day women are raped.  Every day there are terrible acts of violence committed against ourselves and others around the world.

Too often we are out of balance.  It is easy to get overly absorbed in the suffering that exists.  It is also easy to get overly absorbed in the denial of the suffering that exists.  The balance is found by blending both the joy and the suffering that exist in life.  They are both a natural part of life.  A meaningful step we can take is to practice balancing ourselves so that we do not turn away from the suffering nor turn away from the joy.  We can learn to face both equally.

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I once heard a dharma teacher speak about suffering saying that we all know how to suffer, we have that one down.  And it’s true.  We all know full well how to suffer.  What many of us don’t know how to do is bask in the joy that abounds in every moment.  There is joy all around us.  This is not wishful thinking, as Thay might say.  This is a deep practice.  Cultivating joy is a transformational act.   Smiling is a transformational act.  Thay says, “Smiling is very important.  If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.”  To me this statement is extremely powerful coming from a zen master.  Two meaningful steps we can take is not to underestimate our own capacity to experience joy and to not underestimate the simple acts we can do to bring joy into the world.  A famous quote by Mother Teresa says, “We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.”  We need to do more small things with great love.

I also firmly believe that one of the most important things we can do is cultivate our true presence to offer to ourselves, our loved ones and those around us.  Practicing deep breathing, cultivating mindfulness and learning to look with the eyes of love and understanding are not simply nice things to do, they are deeply crucial elements to our awakening and the well being of ourselves and our planet.

Suggested Practices

Let us continue to establish ourselves deeply in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. You may like to cycle through the Foundations a few times over the next two weeks: focusing on one establishment for a few days, and then moving on to another.

Have a wonderful two weeks of connection, of receiving and of giving.

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