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A somewhat belated 5th anniversary Dhamma musing, offered out of gratitude for my teachers and the Tuesday evening sangha:

It was a Saturday morning in February, and Sharon Salzberg had arrived at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center to offer a benefit workshop on the theme of her latest book, Real Happiness. I sat among the overflow audience in the basement, listening with my eyes closed while her jovial voice was broadcast from the main hall upstairs.

As Sharon spoke, my mind became enthralled by the words “real” and “happiness.” My attention digressed from the sound. A thought arose: “So, what is real happiness anyway?” A moment later, another thought: “Ah, unconditioned happiness; of course!” Next: “What does that mean?”

Buddhists refer to this sort of mental proliferation as papanca. Like a runaway train papanca can be a potent force, and this particular train of thought had considerable momentum. Although I soon returned from my sojourn, my curiosity was piqued.

Now revisiting the questions that came to mind that midwinter day, what does it mean to say that something is unconditioned or unconditional? We commonly speak of “unconditional love,” of course, but perhaps with only a vague notion of what we’re talking about. And if we may speak of unconditional love and unconditional happiness, what about unconditional freedom, the ultimate promise of the Buddha’s path?

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Cross-posted at MettaPanda’s Ramblings.

I am often asked or complimented on how I get through all that I’ve gone through – the progression of the CF, the transplant, the immediate recovery, and the still-ongoing long-term maintenance of these new lungs. My spirituality has been life-saving, particularly my Buddhist practice and learning. I’d like to share with you how that’s happened, how the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) have helped me to deal with dharma (the way life is). Continue Reading »

The following was originally posted on Gather.com in October 2006.

Last night in our vipassana meditation group one of my fellow students, Brenda, posed a question to our teacher regarding the Big E: Enlightenment. She asked: “What exactly does it mean to be enlightened?” For all we hear about “enlightenment” and “awakening” in Buddhist teachings, it doesn’t seem to be a common topic of discussion.

It turns out that Brenda’s questions had been stirred up by a question raised by one of her friends about why we practice meditation. Do we meditate for stress reduction? Well, not really…. Why, then, do we practice? Is the “goal” to be enlightened or awakened? Well, maybe…. If so, what does that mean?

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Meditate for Science

As some of you may know, a few months ago I signed up to be a “guinea pig” for a research study at Massachusetts General Hospital exploring the effects of metta/lovingkindness/compassion meditation on hormones in the blood. Aside from the initial needle stick for the blood draws (they use a peripheral IV line, so only one needle stick, thank goodness!), the procedure is relatively painless, taking place over one 2-hour session. Compensation is $100.

They’re still looking for study subjects, so if you’re interested and meet the following criteria, I strongly encourage your getting in touch with the research team.

Prospective participants must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Not currently take psychiatric medications or hormones (e.g., estrogen)
  • Be in good general health
  • Currently practice metta/lovingkindness meditation almost daily (does not need to be metta exclusively)
  • Have an established/long-term metta practice (minimum of 2 years)
  • Have been on at least one 3+ day Insight/mindfulness meditation retreat

If interested, please contact Dr. Elizabeth Hoge at MGH: ehoge@partners.org or 617-724-0851

** UPDATE **

“Now that we are in the last semester of the project, we are interested in people with 5 or more years, but especially those with 10+ years of experience with daily practice.”

Check this out — it’s wonderful…


Now I know where Bhante Gunaratana  disappeared to when I was visiting his monastery in West Virginia.
( http://bhavanasociety.org )

I recently had the opportunity to read Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s The Shape of Suffering: A Study of Dependent Co-Arising, which began as a brief study guide on paticca samuppada, dependent co-arising: the most detailed explanation in the early Buddhist teachings on the arising and cessation of dukkha, stress or suffering.

As Than Geoff writes, “This detailed summary of the causal factors leading up to stress shows why the experience of suffering and stress can be so bewildering, for the interaction among these factors can be very complex.”

Further, “The two most prominent analogies offered by the post-canonical Buddhist tradition — depicting dependent co-arising as a wheel or as a circle of mirrors — are inadequate to this task. The wheel is too deterministic in its implications; the circle of mirrors, too static. Thus I felt the need to search elsewhere for appropriate analogies, and I came across two.”

Of the two analogies preferred by Thanissaro, the second compares “the effects of dependent co-arising to a tangled skein.”

This image inspired me to look for parallels in modern scientific studies of tangled skeins: i.e., complex nonlinear systems, such as the weather, the behavior of financial markets, and the forces interacting within physical structures, such as bridges. Studies of these systems have helped to explain how complex systems can behave in unexpected ways: containing the seeds for a radical reconfiguring of their behavior — as when the factors of dependent co-arising can be converted to a path to the end of suffering — and for their total collapse — as when the path leads to a goal totally undefined in causal terms.

The Shape of Suffering requries some determination (and tolerance for numerous excerpts from the sutta) to read beyond the introduction, prompting me to wonder if there was a way in which this important teaching could be conveyed more succinctly and intuitively. Isn’t there a way to show the complex and dynamic relationships between the twelve factors of co-dependent arising?

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