I’ve added a new page to my website called “Just Sit“. It provides some basic information and recommended resources for those just starting – or thinking about starting – a sitting meditation practice. Take a look and leave a comment if you have any other resources to recommend.
My August retreat at Upaya inspired me to strengthen my regular Buddhist practice, something I’ve been thinking about a lot since reading Anyen Rinpoche’s Dying with Confidence, which I discussed in a prior blog. He doesn’t mince words in that book: we must take advantage of the optimal conditions we have now to make our practice stable. Regular practice now gives us the only chance we have of being able to maintain any mental stability in the face of illness and death.
After rereading the book and conducting an honest assessment of my current spiritual practice, I realized that despite decades of being a Buddhist, my practice is far from stable. Over the last few years, thanks to a supportive Sangha, my sitting meditation practice at least has become more regular, but “more regular” is not the standard I aspire to. I decided that I needed to focus on a few short daily practices until they became second-nature. The question became which practices I should commit to. Continue reading →
I have returned from a wonderful week-long trip to Seoul, South Korea. It was my first visit there and I came away impressed and eager to return. The people were friendly, the city clean, and the public transportation reliable, pervasive, and easy to use. And the sites! Beautiful historic palaces and wondrous Buddhist temples are sprinkled throughout the modern city, which is itself cradled between mountains and river. I felt like I barely scratched the surface of all there was to see and do.
The highlight of my trip was an overnight templestay at Myogaksa Temple. The Korea templestay program has been operated for more than ten years by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, allowing visitors to participate in the life of one of Korea’s many Buddhist temples for a short time, learning about Korean Buddhist practices and teachings. It’s a wonderful experience, especially as several of the participating temples have English-language programs designed to be foreigner-friendly. I was very fortunate that one of the Seoul-area temples with an English-language program was hosting a templestay program on the weekend that I was there. Continue reading →
I heard a discussion the other night about the difference between grieving and mourning. After acknowledgement that both terms get defined in many different ways, a basic consensus developed that grieving is the emotions felt due to a loss while mourning is the rituals undertaken to give form to that grieving. Based on that understanding, I’m about halfway through a period of mourning for a recently deceased relative, the period being defined as 49 days since the date of death, which, per Buddhist tradition, is the maximum duration of the journey from one life to the next.
This is not my first experience with mourning. When my beloved cat Fenris died a few years ago, I grieved intensely and found healing through mourning. In that instance, every evening for 49 days I read passages from the Thurman translation of the Bardo Thodol (The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between or Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State, commonly referred to as the Tibetan Book of the Dead) that are intended to guide the departed consciousness through the bardo (intermediate state) of death. Sitting there, exhorting Fenris to resist the allurements that lead to a lower rebirth and to instead focus on achieving enlightenment, rebirth in a pure land, or a precious human rebirth, I really felt like I was continuing to be helpful to him even though he was no longer nearby to feed or stroke or clean up after. I deeply felt the loss of this being who had loved me so utterly, completely, and selflessly. However, I didn’t want to hold him back with my grief. I was grateful to be able to lend my voice and my love to helping him complete his transitional journey.
As the most actively religious member of our household, I undertake the conduct of mourning rituals on behalf of our family. When a close relative recently was diagnosed with a rapidly progressing terminal illness, I contacted spiritual leaders in both traditions I currently practice in, to get advice about the appropriate mourning prayers to say after death. For the Plum Village tradition, I was referred to Chanting from the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village, which contains many prayers and practices, including ceremonies relating to death and dying. I decided that every seventh day after death I would recite the prayers contained in the ceremony for the the seventh and forty-ninth days after death. Continue reading →