Invoking the Bodhisattvas’ Names

From “Chanting from the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices” by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara.
We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and openheartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person. [bell]

We invoke your name, Manjushri.
We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and openheartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species. [bell]

We invoke your name, Samantabhadra.
We aspire to practice your vow to act with the eyes and heart of compassion, to bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is our own happiness, and we aspire to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species. [bell]

We invoke your name, Kshitigarbha.
We aspire to learn your way of being present where there is darkness, suffering,
oppression, and despair, so we can bring light, hope, relief, and liberation to those places. We are determined not to forget about or abandon those in desperate situations. We will do our best to establish contact with those who
cannot find a way out of their suffering, those whose cries for help, justice, equality, and human rights are not being heard. We know that hell can be found in many places on Earth. We will do our best not to contribute to creating more
hells on Earth, and to help transform the hells that already exist. We will practice in order to realize the qualities of perseverance and stability, so that, like the Earth, we can always be supportive and faithful to those in need. [bell]

We invoke your name, Sadaparibhuta.
We aspire to learn your way of never doubting or underestimating any living being. With great respect, you say to all you meet, “You are someone of great value, you have Buddha nature, I see this potential in you.” Like you, we will look with a wise, compassionate gaze, so we are able to hold up a mirror where others can see their ultimate nature reflected. We will remind people who feel worthless that they too are a precious wonder of life. We vow to water only the positive seeds in ourselves and in others, so that our thoughts, words, and actions can encourage confidence and self-acceptance in ourselves, our children, our loved ones,
and in everyone we meet. Inspired by the great faith and insight that everyone is Buddha, we will practice your way of patience and inclusiveness so we can liberate ourselves from ignorance and misunderstanding, and offer freedom, peace, and joy to ourselves, to others and to our society. [bell, bell]

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Cultivating Boundless Love

Excerpt from Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center post “Cultivating Boundless Love”  by Senior Teacher Mitchell Ratner

Dear Friends,

The words metta (Pali) and maitri (Sanskrit) point to an all-encompassing and liberating form of love celebrated by the Buddha. Nyanaponika Thera explains in The Four Sublime States that metta is:

Love, without desire to possess, knowing well that in the ultimate sense there is no possession and no possessor: this is the highest love.

Love, without speaking and thinking of “I,” knowing well that this so-called “I” is a mere delusion.

Love, without selecting and excluding, knowing well that to do so means to create love’s own contrasts: dislike, aversion and hatred.

Love, embracing all beings: small and great, far and near, be it on earth, in the water or in the air.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the Metta Sutta ends:

“Free from wrong views, greed and sensual desires, living in beauty and realizing Perfect Understanding, those who practice Boundless Love will certainly transcend Birth and Death.”

In our program this Thursday we will will talk about metta, practice a way of cultivating metta described below, and explore metta meditation’s relevance for our contentious times. This topic arose because I was so drained by watching the Senate Judicial Committee hearings last Thursday, and so restored last Friday by practicing Metta Mediation at Lafayette Square, across from the White House. Afterwards, I noted in my journal how it affected me:

The Metta meditation we use at the Still Water Lafayette Square sittings begins with four simple statements:

May I be filled with lovingkindness.

May I be well in body and mind.

May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.

May I be truly happy and free.

At 12:30 pm I invited the bell three times and said the first statement softly to myself. I listened to the words and paid attention to my underlying intention. Then I did the same with each of the other statements. Saying them slowly. Listening deeply. When I was done I repeated the set three or four more times, it took about five minutes.

Then I moved on to the people close to me, replacing the “I” in each statement with “my loved ones.” With each statement I brought to mind a particular person, or group of people: my immediate family, my children’s families, my sibling and cousins, my good friends, and so on. Again, I went through the four statements three or four more times.

The next set focuses replaced “I” with “people who are neutral for me.” As I went through the set of four statements, with each statement I focused on a particular person or small group who happened to be in my line of sight between me and the White House.

Young man on an electric scooter, may you be filled with loving kindness.

Elderly couple, may you be well in body and mind.

Family with two young children, may you be safe from inner and outer dangers.

Middle-aged woman texting as you walk, may you be truly happy and free.

As I said these silent prayers for people I did not know, I felt my spirit lifting. After the usual three or four rounds, I went through a couple of extra rounds, simply because it was enjoyable.

Then I moved the meditation to “people who are difficult for me.” At first I went through a set thinking generically about people who work in the White House, “may they be filled with lovingkindness.” Then I started adding the names of people who work in the White House: the president, the vice-president, the press secretary, cabinet secretaries, and so on. The assumption I make that allows me to send love to people who I believe may be causing suffering for others is that people act in mean or insensitive ways because they suffer. If they were “truly happy and free,” it would be easier for them to listen to others, and they would not knowingly hurt others.

After a minute or two going through my list of people associated with the White House, my metta meditation spontaneously switched to the senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, both Republicans and Democrats:

Ted Cruz, may you be well in body and mind.

Kamala Harris, may you be safe from inner and outer dangers.

After watching many hours of belligerent hearings, I was aware that I had absorbed some of the underlying energy. Offering metta meditation to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee soothed me, relaxing some of the tightness around my heart. I hoped that my metta meditation would soothe them, also, even if only an infinitesimal bit.

The final set of statements replaced the “I” with “all beings.” As I went through rounds of the four statements images appeared in my mind’s eye: including the grass in front of me, the small insects who live in the grass, places of great human suffering like Syria, and assaults on the ecosystems, such as the Pacific trash vortex.

After the sitting, walking to Metro Center, I was more aware than before of my feet touching the ground and of the wonders around me. I felt renewed, as if my spiritual body had received a restorative treatment.

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Sangha Bell Practice

Excerpt from Snowflower.org blog post “Sangha Bell Practice” by SnowFlower practioners

“The bell master holds and protects the space for everyone.”

How to Invite the Bell (by SnowFlower practioners)

What helps me is to very much center in my body as I recite the gatha and to be aware of the connection between myself and the bell. I feel the bell and myself are one.

Inviting the bell is like meditating. Some people recite a gatha but I do not not because I am not a word person. I first come into a focus place of concentration and then a wide place of opening the heart. Both of these are in the chest.  I am not really me at that point any more. From that openness, I invite the bell.

I get quiet inside myself and I allow myself to feel the texture of the bell. I feel my breath moving in and out and I say the gatha to myself slowly and calmly. When I don’t take my time, it gets kind of messy. Then, I invite the bell.

I hold the bell in my left hand, fingers spread apart. I approach it with compassion, with love, and try to imagine, to hear in my head, the sound that I hope to produce. Then I wake it very carefully. I start by holding the inviter against the rim where I intend to invite it and then carefully return to that place.

First, I breathe at least three times in and out and then I say the gatha and I think about –in the sense of I just know –how important the sound of the bell is. Then I bow and I pick up the bell in a mindful way. I hold the inviter vertically. I breathe again and then wake it up. I breathe. I invite it and then I let it ring out. I put it down very carefully

Bell Gathas (most frequently used)

Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
And transcend all anxiety and sorrow.

Listen, listen, this wonderful sound
Brings me back to my true self.

Terms

Lingering bell — The bell is allowed to complete its full sound. Used before and after each round of sitting meditation and before and after Sutra and Mindfulness Trainings recitations.

Stopped bell — All bells during reciting and chanting are stopped bells, to facilitate the flow of the recitation.   The bell should not continue to sound under our words. The bell is “stopped” by touching the inviter to the rim of the bell after an appropriate length of time, e.g. one, two, or three breaths, depending on the text.  “Stop” the bell during a Guided Meditation and during the recitation of Sutras, Mindfulness Trainings, and, generally, wherever (bell) is indicated in the text.

Waking the bell – Always wake up the bell before inviting it.  This is out of consideration for the bell if it has not been used for a time, and out of consideration for the hearers so that they are not startled by a loud sound if they have been sitting in meditation.  To wake up the bell means to touch it firmly with the inviter and not move the inviter away. This muffles the sound.

Inviting the bell – We say ‘invite’ the bell, meaning invite the bell to sound. The bells we use cannot be ‘rung’ and Thay explains that ‘striking’ the bell is too harsh a term. “We never say ‘strike’ the bell, because for us the bell is a friend who can wake us up to full understanding.”

Welcoming the Community

Wake up the bell, then one full sound of the bell.  Making this full sound is called inviting the bell.

Sitting Meditation

Before the first sit, wake up the bell, then three lingering bells with three breaths between each bell. At the end of the sit, first wake up the bell, then one lingering bell. Follow exactly the same procedure for the second sit.

Walking Meditation

Wake up the small bell. At the first invitation of the small bell, the community rises and puts aside their cushions.  At the second invitation of the small bell, the community bows to one another. At the third invitation, the slow, clockwise walking begins.

After an appropriate length of time, the fourth invitation of the bell announces the end of the meditation and indicates that we should continue walking until we arrive at our place, where we remain standing until everyone else has also arrived at their place. At the last invitation of the bell, we bow to one another and take our seats for the next round of sitting.

When the group is too large for one circle, two concentric circles are formed. In that case, with the 4th invitation of the bell the walking stops and we remain standing in place where we are. The bell is invited one last time and at this invitation we bow to one another and proceed mindfully to our places. It is not necessary to explain “the five bells” for walking meditation unless there are new people present. It may, however, be necessary to announce whether one or two circles will be formed.

Guided Meditation

The person leading should take a few minutes before beginning the guided meditation to explain what will take place.  Then s/he makes a waking-up sound on the rim of the bell   to draw the attention of the community.  After a few seconds, the first guiding sentences are read, followed by the key words. A full sound of the bell, which is stopped after a few breaths, signals the practice stage.

After 5, 7, 10 breaths, or a number appropriate for you, the bell is waked up only, and the next guiding sentences are read. A stopped bell signals the next practice time, and so on, until the guided meditation is completed.  Two bells indicate the end of the guided meditation.

Mindfulness Trainings Recitation (Consult Plum Village Chanting Book for full ceremony.)

For a simple recitation of the Trainings, the leader first invites the bell three times. After each Training has been recited, the leader should wait three, four, or five breaths to allow the words to fully enter our being. After this silent period, a bell is invited and stopped, to indicate that it is time for the next training to be recited. The bell is invited twice after the last Training.

Sutra Opening Verse and Sutra Closing Verse (Sharing the Merit)

During the full Sutra or Mindfulness Trainings Ceremonies the Sutra Opening Verse and Sutra Closing Verse are used. Wake up the bell and then three lingering bells before the Sutra Opening Verse. Wake up the bell and then three lingering bells after the Sutra Closing Verse.

Closing

After announcements, SnowFlower Sangha closes by holding hands in a circle. Generally, this is preceded by one (waked) lingering bell.

Closing as done at Plum Village and at regional retreats: using small bell, one bell to stand, one to bow to each other and then one bell to bow to the altar.

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Restoring Peace and Safety

Excerpt from Mindfulness Bell article “Restoring Peace and Safety: Paths to Community Justice” by Cheri Maples

A real danger about the popularity of mindfulness is misunderstanding what it is. It isn’t just a relaxation tool and it isn’t just a medical model. There’s an entire ethical framework that goes along with it. If you separate the two, there is a lot of danger. Most
of the values that are inherent in mindfulness have to do with non-harming in some way. You can be an advocate for peace and justice and still go to war with people on a daily basis with the words you use. We’ve all seen it.

When I teach mindfulness, I start by having a big flip chart with a white piece of paper, and I put a little red dot in the middle and I say, “What do you see here?” And everybody says, “I see a red dot.” And I say, “That’s the problem. That’s where we live. We live in the red dot rather than the white space.” In mindfulness, what I’ve found is a tool that helped me to live in that white space in a remarkable way.

One thing that helped me in terms of my work is that in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, there is a big emphasis on building Sangha and looking at Sangha as an organism rather than an organization. So I started looking at everything I was part of as community, whether it was my family, my workplace, organizations that I was on the board of, anything that I was doing became, “Okay, this is a Sangha, this is a community.” And how do we build this? It led to my starting to see myself as an effect of a lot of the things that went on around me rather than the empowerment of seeing myself as a cause. In other words, it drives me crazy these days when I go to meetings and people walk out and say, “That was really a shitty meeting,” and I say, “Well, were you there? [Laughter] You were part of helping create that meeting.”

How we witness violence, exploitation, in all of its manifestations—how we bear witness to it—is such an opportunity to transform things. The skills mindfulness leads to—one of the major ones—is pausing and refraining. The ability to put space between your thoughts and your words and your thoughts and your actions is huge in terms of transformation. But the biggest gift of mindfulness has been understanding that my mind is not an accurate reflection of the world, that it is a result, that my perceptions are so conditioned they don’t match reality, and that the truth has many sides.

When I try to get people to understand this, I do this exercise:
I’ll have three people leave the room and I’ll say to everybody else, “Build me a structure, but it’s got to be a structure that can be put back together in two minutes. Use what’s in the room.” Then I’ll have the three people come in one at a time and stand in exactly
the same spots and say, “What do you see?”

The most interesting time I’ve ever done this, these were the three responses:
“I see George Washington on the Potomac River.”
“I see chaos and homelessness.”
“I see art and sculpture.”
Then my question is: Who’s right? Who’s wrong? I don’t know.

You know the bumper sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think”? Until you have an experience of this, it’s hard to take in other viewpoints in a way that matters. It’s hard to be present to another human being until you truly understand from your heart that your mind is not an accurate reflection of the world and that it’s created over and over again in this moment. I’ve seen absolutely horrendous things individuals do to each other that systematically happen as a result of poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia. As a cop, something that started happening for me is that all of those things got covered up with anger and with a numbing of the heart, an armoring of the heart. You can’t respond to people from that place. So mindfulness was a tool to undo all of this for me and it
was an incremental process over time.

Much of this is about awareness, about being a good curator of the museum of our past, taking care not only of our individual seeds but also of those collective seeds that we are all socialized to, and then being a good gardener of our store consciousnesses. If we are aware, we can make conscious decisions about what behaviors we keep and don’t keep, and then life gets much more interesting and much more fun—and much sadder. You can’t have one without the other, and the pain to me is something I now know how to use to tenderize my heart, while it used to be something I just raged about.

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7 Treasures of the Heart

These, monks, are the seven treasures.
The treasure of conviction,
the treasure of virtue,
the treasure of conscience, and concern,
the treasure of listening, generosity,
and discernment as the seventh treasure.
Whoever, man or woman, has these treasures
is said not to be poor, has not lived in vain.
So conviction and virtue, confidence and Dhamma-vision
should be cultivated by the wise,
remembering the Buddha’s instruction.

Dhana Sutta: Treasure translated from Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu © 1997

Excerpt from “Seven Treasures of the Heart” by Going Outwords and Inwords

Recently, I finished watching a talk by Brother Phap Hai, which he gave at Deer Park Monastery on June 21st, 2018. I watch a fair amount of Dharma talks online and I found this one in particular to be very powerful. If you’d like to check it out, click here. Side note: if you’re like me and it’s helpful to watch talks in segments, there are good stopping/pausing points in this talk at 17.40 and 31.05 (the total run time is 54.55).

From Brother Phap Hai’s talk:

“The fundamental insight of Buddhism is that if we look deeply into our lives, into our situation, with appropriate attention, then the path reveals itself naturally.”

Seven Treasures of the Heart as offered by the Buddha in the Dhana Sutta

1. Confidence

2. Mindfulness trainings

3. Self-reflection

4. Concern

5. Listening

6.Generosity

7. Discernment

____________

He went on to talk about how he sees that lack of confidence is greatly impacting people’s ability to practice. This is what inspired me to resurface one of my favorite quotes, posted in the pic above:

Much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it. – Jack Kornfield

With self-acceptance comes confidence and ease; an unwavering ability to reside comfortably in our own skin. When we have developed a penetrating level of self-acceptance, we are able to let go of self-doubt, the complex of comparing ourselves to others, and the hellscape that is born from being absorbed in self-consciousness (by which I am referring to the tendency of altering how we show up based on how we think others are judging us).

Food for continued thought…

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Action in Non-Action

The Taoist Principle of Action in Non-Action” by Elizabeth Reninger and posted on ThoughtCo.com

One of Taoism’s most important concepts is wu wei, which is sometimes translated as “non-doing” or “non-action.” A better way to think of it, however, is as a paradoxical “Action of non-action.” Wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awareness, in which — without even trying — we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.

The Taoist principle of wu wei has similarities to the goal in Buddhism of non-clinging to the idea of an individual ego. A Buddhist who relinquishes ego in favor of acting through the influence of inherent Buddha-nature is behaving in a very Taoist manner.

The Choice to Relate To or Withdraw from Society
Historically, wu wei has been practiced both within and outside of existing social and political structures. In the Daode Jing, Laozi introduces us to his ideal of the “enlightened leader” who, by embodying the principles of wu wei, is able to rule in a way that creates happiness and prosperity for all of a country’s inhabitants. Wu wei has also found expression in the choice made by some Taoist adepts to withdraw from society in order to live the life of a hermit, wandering freely through mountain meadows, meditating for long stretches in caves, and so being nourished in a very direct way by the energy of the natural world.

The Highest Form of Virtue
The practice of wu wei is the expression of what in Taoism is considered to be the highest form of virtue — one that is in no way premeditated but instead arises spontaneously. In verse 38 of the Daode Jing (translated here by Jonathan Star), Laozi tells us:

The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self
The highest kindness is to give without a condition
The highest justice is to see without a preference

When Tao is lost one must learn the rules of virtue
When virtue is lost, the rules of kindness
When kindness is lost, the rules of justice
When justice is lost, the rules of conduct

As we find our alignment with the Tao — with the rhythms of the elements within and outside of our bodies — our actions are quite naturally of the highest benefit to all who we contact. At this point, we have gone beyond the need for formal religious or secular moral precepts of any sort. We have become the embodiment of wu wei, the “Action of non-action”; as well as of wu nien, the “Thought of non-thought,” and wu hsin, the “Mind of non-mind.” We have realized our place within the web of inter-being, within the cosmos, and, knowing our connection to all-that-is, can offer only thoughts, words, and actions that do no harm and that are spontaneously virtuous.

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In Praise of Mother Earth

Poem by Thich Nhat Hanh in honor of Earth Day

Homage to you Refreshing Earth Bodhisattva
Mother of this world with its many species.

We want to turn to you with respect,
Beautiful green planet in the midst of the sky,
You who have given birth to countless species,
Produced so many wonders of life,
Loved in the ultimate sense of non-discrimination,
Embraced all species not barring a single one,
Loyal and reliable, tolerant and stable,
The mother who bears all species.

Countless bodhisattvas spring up
From your fresh green lap.

Mother you embrace and transform
Sweeping away the hatred of humans,
Creating new life day and night,
Helping the earth to bloom with the flowers of heaven.
You are open to thousands of other galaxies,
Sharing your joy with the trichiliocosm,
By seeing that your true nature is interdependence.

Conserving and protecting so that nothing is lost,
Not being, not nothing, not eternal, not annihilated,
Not the same, not different, not coming, not going.

Your love knows no limits,
Your virtues no shortcomings.

Your nature is the Four Immeasurable Minds
Like the four great oceans they never dry up.

Whenever spring returns you wear a new robe
Of red roses, the green willow, beautiful and fresh.

When summer comes the vegetation displays its bright colours,
Wholesome seeds, sweet fruits are to be found everywhere.

How brilliant are the colours of the autumn forest
Until winter comes and snowflakes fill the sky.

The afternoon tide chants like the roll of thunder
The morning sunrise paints an incomparable picture,
Making visible all the splendours of the universe.

You are the most beautiful flower of the Solar System,
The wisdom that lights up the ten directions,
The mind that is open to all places.

Mother, you are the Paradise of the Present,
Makng possible the future for all species.

We come back and take refuge in you,
With nothing to run after, accepting the unfavourable as also favourable,
Seeing that you are always in us and
Seeing ourselves in you for all of time.

May we follow your good example,
And live every moment with true peace and joy.

Homage to the Refreshing Mother Earth Bodhisattva

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