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Laureen Osborne will be teaching a series of 4 evening classes at the University of Ottawa Center for Continuing Education entitled “An Introduction to Buddhist Meditation”  on April 21, 28, May 5, 12, 2015 and there are still some places available. It is possible to register from the web site:

http://www.continue.uottawa.ca/program_EN.cfm?courseID=213&groupID=35&catID=6

Laureen Osborne is a Buddhist teacher. She has been a practising Buddhist in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh for over ten years. She has taught a workshop on mindful eating. Her other passions include a love of dogs and vegetarianism. She has worked as an editor, writer, and seminar speaker and is the author of four books including a cookbook titled ‘Vegetarian for a Day’.

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Plum Village Monastics involved with the youth mindfulness movement Wake Up will be giving a public talk in Ottawa  on October 22nd, hosted by the Pagoda Sangha at the Church of the Ascension.

Ottawa PT-small

It is not often that a great Zen master offers generations to come a radical re-translation of a sacred text.

This new version of the Prajñāpāramitā is now on the Plum Village web site, along with Thay’s explanation for why he wrote this new translation.

To appreciate the greatness of this new translation, there’s nothing quite like reading it side by side with the previous one:

Heart of the Prajñāpāramitā
(Plum Village Chanting Book, 2000)
The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
(Plum Village Web Site, 2014)
The Bodhisattva Avolokita,
while moving in the deep course of
perfect understanding,
shed light on the five skandas
And found them equally empty.
After this penetration he overcame ill-being.
Avalokiteshvara
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realisation
he overcame all Ill-being.
Listen, Shariputra,
form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
Form is not other than emptiness,
emptiness is not other than form.
The same is true with feelings, perceptions,
mental formations and consciousness.
“Listen Sariputra,
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness.
Listen Shariputra,
all dharmas are marked with emptiness.
They are neither produced nor destroyed,
neither defiled nor immaculate,
neither increasing nor decreasing.
“Listen Sariputra,
all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness;
their true nature is the nature of
no Birth no Death,
no Being no Non-being,
no Defilement no Immaculacy,
no Increasing no Decreasing.
Therefore, in emptiness there is neither form,
nor feeling, nor perceptions, nor mental formations, nor consciousness.
“That is why in Emptiness,
Body, Feelings, Perceptions,
Mental Formations and Consciousness
are not separate self entities.
No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind.
No form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no objects of mind.
No realms of elements (from eyes to mind consciousness),
The Eighteen Realms of Phenomena
which are the six Sense Organs,
the six Sense Objects,
and the six Consciousnesses
are also not separate self entities.
no interdependent origins and no extinction of them.
(From ignorance to death and decay).
The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising
and their Extinction
are also not separate self entities.
No ill-being, no cause of ill-being, no end of ill-being, and no path.
No understanding, no attainment.
Ill-being, the Causes of Ill-being,
the End of Ill-being, the Path,
insight and attainment,
are also not separate self entities.
Because there is no attainment,
the Bodhisattvas, grounded in perfect understanding,
Find no obstacles for their minds.
Having no obstacles, they overcome fear,
liberating themselves forever from illusion
and realizing perfect nirvana.
Whoever can see this
no longer needs anything to attain.
Bodhisattvas who practice
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
see no more obstacles in their mind,
and because there
are no more obstacles in their mind,
they can overcome all fear,
destroy all wrong perceptions
and realize Perfect Nirvana.
All Buddhas in the past, present, and future,
thanks to this perfect understanding,
arrive at full, right, and universal enlightenment.
All Buddhas in the past, present and future
by practicing
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
are all capable of attaining
Authentic and Perfect Enlightenment.
Therefore one should know that perfect understanding
is the highest mantra,
the unequalled mantra,
the destroyer of ill-being,
the incorruptible truth.
A mantra of prajnaparamita should therefore be proclaimed:
“Therefore Sariputra,
it should be known that
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
is a Great Mantra,
the most illuminating mantra,
the highest mantra,
a mantra beyond compare,
the True Wisdom that has the power
to put an end to all kinds of suffering.
Therefore let us proclaim
a mantra to praise
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha.
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha.
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha.

Many westerners are drawn to Buddhism because it is not a theistic religion. Believing in God, prayer to God, worshiping God or even talk about God is just not present in Buddhism.  The basic FAQs about Buddhism are emphatic about Buddhism having nothing to do with God at all.

Yet there are also (several) allusions to God-like ideas in Buddhist texts, if only in negative terms.  Verse 21 of the Dhammapada says:

Mindfulness is the way to the Deathless (Nibbana)

and in the Samyuta Nikaya  (43.14) there is

I will teach you the far shore … the subtle … the very difficult to see … the unaging … …  the undisintegrating … the unmanifest … the unproliferated …  the deathless … the sublime … the unafflicted

But what is it that is ageless, unchanging and out of time if not God?

I have heard Thay Nhat Hanh say on more than one occasion:

“I know the address of God – it is here and now”

I don’t know why more people aren’t pierced to the core by that statement. The implication is – awareness of the present moment can bring you in touch with that which is out of time, unbound by conditions and transcendent. What greater incentive could there be to practice mindfulness?

Ajahn Sumedho has said as much too when he paraphrases the Buddha:

There is the Unconditioned, Unborn, Uncreated, Unoriginated: Amaravati – the Deathless Realm, which is timeless, apparent here and now.

It’s true that Buddhism has nothing to say about a creator God or a personal God, but it does make reference to a metaphysical God, contact with which is possible by humans and which is the door to liberation from suffering.

The conclusion must be that the practice mindfulness is not secular.  Minfulness is a method that leads to liberation from the conditioned realm by bringing us in touch with Nirvana, the Deathless Realm, God.

“…what are the greatest blessings
which bring about a peaceful and happy life.
Please, Tathagata, will you teach us?”

(This is the Buddha’s answer):
“Not to be associated with the foolish ones,
To live in the company of wise people,
Honouring those who are worth honouring”

Mahamangala Sutra

A friend and I have been debating what is of greater value: friends that do things with you and for you (drive you to the airport, help you in times of material need) or friends that show you the way to unconditional happiness and spiritual freedom. Naturally, these are not exclusive – being driven to the airport can be done with love and that love can be spiritually awakening. All practical aspects of life have a spiritual dimension, whether that is explicitly recognized or not.

The comparative “greater value” may not be appropriate either.  Why compare them even. A friend you help by driving them to the airport benefits even from just the drive – and the driver benefits from the giving. Giving and generosity are a practice of liberation too, so even just giving the ride is of great value.

Yet the gift of Dharma is of immeasurable value and the friends on the path who share it with you are invaluable friends. They are rowing with you to the other shore.  Friends who are not on the path will help you in worldly ways – lend you money, fix problems, resolve conflicts.  This is good.  But it is a greater good, I think, is to know how to be truly happy in ways that do not depend on whether your problems are fixed, how much money you have or whether all conflicts are resolved.

Spiritual friendship (Kalyāṇa-mitta) is embodied in your Sangha. And the Sangha is one of the “three jewels” for this reason: it is the vehicle to freedom from all suffering. Hence it is to be treasured above all else.

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 10.04.37 AMAt “The Art of Suffering” retreat led by Thay just this week at Blue Cliff Monastery, the first talk (given on August 26th 2013) went right to the heart of the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing (see p. 4 of this issue of the Mindfulness Bell as well as Thay’s commentary “Breathe You Are Alive” available from Parallax Press).

In this first talk Thay draws a Venn diagram to show that Concentration is inside Mindfulness and Insight is inside Concentration. Part of what was intended by Thay is to convey the importance of Mindfulness – without mindfulness there can be no concentration and without concentration there can be no insight (understanding).

I find it helpful to add a few elements to that picture.  First, there is the element of time. I picture this diagram deployed in 3 dimensions.  Concentration, for me, is Mindfulness sustained over time. Concentration is Mindfulness of this moment, sustained to the next and the next. It is the continuity of attention on the object of attention that is Concentration.

To sustain Mindfulness there needs to be another element – something like “effort”, although Thay prefers the word “diligence”.  Personally, I find it is “interest” in the object of mindfulness that leads to concentration, be it interest in the breath, interest in the walking, interest in the experience of eating.

Behind “interest” is a kind of receptive desire to understand – a kind of receptive curiosity perhaps – out of which understanding arises. I don’t think Insight simply arises from Concentration by itself.  The ground for understanding must also be fertile. I think there has to be the capacity to absorb the insight and understanding for it to come about.

For example, the Insight of “no self” or “impermanence” is never merely the cognitive assent to the fact that these propositions are true.  It is more like a non-cognitive, direct realization that arises from seeing clearly what a concentrated mind displays as evidence: the moment to moment changes in all phenomena. Understanding or Insight is then a certain kind of transformation of what is seen in the field of attention.

I like to illustrate this difference between cognitive assent to a belief and the kind of insightful understanding with a small experience I have had with seat-belts.  At country fairs, police safety officers used to educate visitors to the value of seat belts by putting them in a small car that rolls down an inclined plane and suddenly comes to a halt.  Do that once without a seatbelt (it hurts!) and do that again with a seatbelt and you really feel the difference.  Your understanding of what a seatbelt does is not cognitive and theoretical, it’s experiential and direct.

That’s what understanding and insight that arises from meditation is like: direct and unmediated by thought. It is born from a concentrated mind that sees the way things are, without imposing ones views or preconceptions.  But for that, you also have to be willing and open to receive the understanding that arises.  Just being concentrated is not enough.

The meditation (introductory and intermediate) classes that I teach for the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Ottawa are wonderful! For one thing, the students ask such great questions.  One question I had from an experienced student last term was: “why practice awareness of the present moment?”.

I can’t remember the answer I gave when the question was asked but the question is still with me.  One answer that comes to mind is “what else is there to attend to?”

In “Now is the Knowing” Ajahn Sumedho writes

Yesterday is a memory
Tomorrow is the unknown
Now is the knowing

Of course we can know our memories too.  And memories of the past have an impact on our conciousness in the present.  So being aware of the here and now doesn’t mean ignoring the past. Nor does the unknown of tomorrow mean that what goes on in the present isn’t thinking or planning – this is a legitimate function of the mind, perhaps even a characteristically human feature – that we can and do anticipate the future an act accordingly in the present.

Yet all of this (remembering, planning, thinking) takes place now – side by side with breathing, feeling hungry, worrying, tasting…. all these things that are happening in the present.

So what there is to attend to – life – is happening now. It’s actually not possible to attend to the past or the future.  There is nothing else to attend to.

So perhaps the question is: “why pay attention at all?” Why not just watch spend all your time distracting and watching good movies on Netflix?

An experiential answer was once given to me by a teacher to whom I asked that very question.  Her answer was to get me to close my eyes and breathe, whereupon she whacked me on the head with a slipper. It hurt just enough to give me the answer: if you don’t pay attention the result can be painful!

The other answer – the transcendant one – is that awareness is the refuge, the path to a happiness that does not depend on conditions.

future-possibleWithout a doubt, the 5 Mindfulness Trainings changes lives – it certainly did mine.  I first came across them in 1993 when Thich Nhat Hanh gave a retreat at Maple Village and spoke extensively about his (then recent) book “For a Future to be Possible“. In this book Thay offers commentaries on the trainings and there are also commentaries by other teachers as well. Looking back on it, this was a major landmark in my practice.

It has been several years now since Plum Village announced an update to Thay’s original formulation of the 5 mindfulness trainings.  Part of Thay’s genius as a teacher of Buddhism to the west is his uncanny ability to read the pulse of a culture and find words to which people in that culture respond. This is particularly true with his formulation of the 5 mindfulness trainings.

I have to admit that, initially, I somewhat resited the updated formulation of the 5 MTs, partly be cause I liked the old one so much.  My first response was “less is more” and I was not so sure I liked the greater number of words in the new formulation. But I decided to let this new version settle with me for a few years and I now feel quite differently about it.

I have listed the new and old Mindfulness Training side by side for comparison, with the highlighted passages indicating the most significant changes, interspersed with some comments.

1. Reverence For Life

New Old
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.  Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world. Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

In this training – and several others as well – some aspects of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings (specifically the second one, “non-attachment to views”) have been blended in.  Dharma osmosis has gone the other way in the past also. There was a time when the 14 MTs did not make specific reference to abstinence from intoxicants as it does in the 5 MTs, but the 14 MTs were later updated to include that (in or around 1998 I believe).

I am of two minds about whether or not explaining the causes of anger, fear, greed and intolerance as coming from “dualistic and discriminative thinking” is helpful. Doing so begs the question: “how can I be free from this kind of thinking”?  It also begs the question “what is dualistic?” These are good questions to ask, but they aren’t answered or directly addressed in these trainings. But perhaps that’s the point: to introduce some fundamental Buddhist teachings so that the reader will investigate them further.

Similarly, I wonder whether it is necessary to explain the causes of anger and intolerance in order to be committed to transform violence and dogmatism. People who commit to the trainings – initially anyway – may just wish to assert a determination to transform intentions and attitudes without being explicit about the method (the cultivation of openness and “non-attachment to views”).

On the other hand, the advantage of the new formulation is that it indicates the elements of a recipe that can be followed for realizing this goal. Following the textual trail of “non-attachement to views” in the Buddhist sutras opens many doors, not least of which is the Metta Sutra the last line of which reads:

“By not holding to fixed views, the pure hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed of all sense desires, is not born again into this world”.

2. True Happiness

New Old
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming. Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

The practice of generosity is central to Buddhist practice.  Practicing just this training alone is a lifetime’s work.

Here again the training of “Living happily in the present moment” – also present in the 14 Mindfulness trainings – has made its way into the 5.

One striking element of this new formulation, for me, is the injunction at the end to help “reverse the process of global warming”. Clearly, climate change is the topical issue, one very dear to my heart and critically important for our planet and all its species. We are, without a doubt, at a turning point, perhaps a calamitous one.

The very mention this particular issue by name makes it clear that the meaning of these trainings depend on the context. They must adapt to the times – they apply differently in different circumstances. They are not “absolute truth”.

Hence the formulation of the 5MTs will change again in the future.  These words and encouragements are there to help us with our problems here and now.  If nuclear fallout ever become our top concern – let’s hope it doesn’t! – I expect the trainings will be revised again.

3. True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future. Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

Once more the last of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings is brought in to inform the 3rd (of the 5). It explains why true love (and not craving) needs to be the foundation for a sexual relationship. This must be a helpful addition.

But for reasons I don’t fully understand, many lay people seem to have objected to the addition of “made known to my family and friends” — as though keeping secrets about personal involvements is somehow a necessary part of sexual experimentation in 21st century western culture.

It is true, of course, that in some situations of cultural oppression – regarding homosexuality, for example, or even sex out of wedlock – keeping secrets about your sexual orientation or sexual activity may be a matter of life and death. But in that case, this training should be viewed as an aspiration to a world where all loving, long-term partnerships and commitments can be made known publicly without danger. These trainings have to be used wisely and in context.

My guess is that the primary intent of “made known to my family and friends” was to prevent the situations of unfaithfulness and betrayal – one where illicit sexual relationships are taking place.

Not only do I think “made known to my family and friends” is helpful, I would suggest that this 3rd mindfulness training be extended one step further: to explicitly include the manifestation of inappropriate emotional desires as well as sexual desires. Emotional intimacy with another person who is not your committed partner, particularly an intimacy not “made know to my family and friends”, can be just as threatening as sexual intimacy to the integrity of couples and families – perhaps even more so, in some situations.

This is why I am sorry to see that the phrase “To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others” has been deleted from the new version of this training. I think that this wording, which expresses respect for the commitment to others – emotional and sexual – should be reinstated and enhanced to include emotional commitments and the protection of emotional intimacy.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness. Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

There are so many things going on in this new formulation of the 4th Mindfulness training, it’s hard to know what to say. The emphasis on reconciliation at both the personal and social level adds a certain consistency with the 5th mindfulness training that also considers communities and past and future generations.

The new formulation skillfully borrows from the 6th of the 14 Mindfulness trainings on how to deal with anger thus acknowledging that a significant amount of unmindful speech is born from anger.

The emphasis on cultivating the 4 brahmavihāras (sublime abidings) – expressed as “understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness” – as an antidote to anger appears for a second time (it appears the first time in the context of the 3rd training on sexual misconduct). As I indicated in a previous post, I find the word “inclusiveness” a rather felicitous choice for the idea most often translated as “equanimity”.

5. Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth. Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

I love that this new formulation includes awareness of the desire to gamble.  I have myself often fantasized about what it would be like to be wealthy from a lucky 6/49 windfall and I confess to having indulged in the occasional ticket, despite my knowledge of probability theory.  Even though my fantasies were relatively wholesome, like “Would I build a retreat center?”  0r “Would I give the money away to those who need it?”, this way of looking at gambling – as a certain kind of toxic consumption that can poison the mind with greed and selfisheness – is really helpful. In addition it is useful to remember that the windfall from whomever “wins” comes at a cost – the suffering of the (usually) poor people who bought all the losing tickets. Viewed in this way, winning the lottery is a form of exploitation.

On the other hand, I regret the loss of the reflection on our ancestors. What we do and refrain from consuming has an effect – both on the past and on the future. Thay often says that what you do in the present can heal the past. And it can certainly benefit future generations to, for example, practice restraint from ingesting intoxicants.

The phrase “practicing a diet for myself and for society” was a powerful reflection for me: our place as descendants and our place as ancestors to future generations as well as our place in society as a whole was the contemplation of interbeing suggested in the new formulation.

In the new version of the 5 Mindfulness trainings from Plum Village there is a reference (in the third training on True Love) to the 4 Immeasurable Minds (Brahma Viharas or Divine Abidings). In Thich Nhat Hanh’s formulation they are are translated from the Pali as:

loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness

“Inclusiveness” is a particularly interesting translation for the pali Upekkha, usually translated as “equanimity”.  Upekkha (along with Mudita) is also often ignored in favour of Metta (loving kindness) or Karuna (compassion).

The question of how to translate this word came up in my french meditation class a few months ago. Some students were suggesting that “equanimity” in English could be translated by the French term “impassibilite” which means “impassiveness”.  “Right but not True”, Ajahn Chah might have said.  Some things about “impassive” (“calm”; “serene”) are close and some things are clearly not at all true (“without emotion”; “apathetic”; “unmoved”).

The usual translation “Equanimity” is preferred, I am guessing, because connotes the “coolness” of an extinguished flame – which is sometimes the image used to convey Nirvana. Serenity is also fine as a descriptive attribute, but somehow, none of these words get to the heart of Upekkha (it is a given, of course, that that no word is much good at getting at the ineffable.)

I am beginning to appreciate “inclusiveness” more and more because it encourages one to think of this as an attitude rather than as a psychological state to attain.  Inclusiveness means non-discrimination, really. It’s a receptive state of awareness of and acceptance of all phenomena such as they are – free of wanting things to be any different.

With Upekkha, the pleasant, unpleasant, good, bad, beautiful, desirable and undesirable are all contained – welcomed even – under the same umbrella of non-discriminative awareness.

We are incredibly fortunate here in Ottawa to have so many opportunities to practice and so many Dharma teachers ready at hand.  May and June 2010 are a particularly auspicious pair of months. Here’s the lineup:

Ayya Medhanandi 5-day Spring Retreat May 7-12 (Stillwaters Retreat Center, Lanark County)

Loving Kindness Retreat with Monastics from Blue Cliff Monastery May 15-16 (Dieu Khong Temple, Ottawa)

Ajahn Sumedho and Tisarana monks at Vesak May29th (Tisarana Monastery, Perth)

Ajahn Sumedho public Talk at the University of Ottawa, June 11

Ajahn Sumedho Ottawa non-residential retreat June 12-13 (waiting list only)

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