Saturday, February 4, 2012

Meditation and stress

One of the most common reasons that people cite for wanting to learn meditation is to reduce stress.

Stress is of course unavoidable, and the point of stress reduction and stress management programs is not to eliminate stress from our lives entirely. Life is always going to be full of challenges, and a life without some turmoil is not only impossible but is also undesirable.

Many stress therapists, of course, recognize that regular meditation and relaxation can be of significant help in reducing stress to manageable and healthy levels, and relaxation and meditation exercises are now widely taught. Many therapists and psychiatrists are taking up meditation themselves, not only so that they can teach it more effectively to others but in order to deal with the very stressful demands of their own jobs, which can result in burnout.

A considerable amount of research has shown that meditation has benefits on mental health, including a reduction in proneness to depression, an increase in emotional positivity, and an increased ability to deal with life’s inevitable stresses.

People often think of meditation as being nothing more than relaxation, and there is a famous book on meditation and health entitled “The Relaxation Response.” Meditation, however, not only involves relaxation (the cessation of unnecessary effort) but promotes mindfulness, which helps the stress-sufferer to recognize unhelpful patterns of thought that give rise to the stress response, and also involves the active cultivation of positive mental states such as lovingkindness, compassion, patience, and energy.

There are a number of books available that explore how meditation can help you to deal with your stress, and give information on “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction”, or MBSR, a program developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, which uses the principles of mindfulness meditation to help long-term pain sufferers learn to deal with their afflictions.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today, poet, and peace and human rights activist, Thich Nhat Hanh (called Thây by his students) has led an extraordinary life. Born in central Vietnam in 1926 he joined the monkshood at the age of sixteen.

The Vietnam War confronted the monasteries with the question of whether to adhere to the contemplative life and remain meditating in the monasteries, or to help the villagers suffering under bombings and other devastation of the war. Nhat Hanh was one of those who chose to do both, helping to found the "engaged Buddhism" movement. His life has since been dedicated to the work of inner transformation for the benefit of individuals and society.

In Saigon in the early 60s, Thich Nhat Hanh founded the School of Youth Social Service, a grass-roots relief organization that rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. Rallying some 10,000 student volunteers, the SYSS based its work on the Buddhist principles of non-violence and compassionate action. Despite government denunciation of his activity, Nhat Hanh also founded a Buddhist University, a publishing house, and an influential peace activist magazine in Vietnam.

After visiting the U.S. and Europe in 1966 on a peace mission, he was banned from returning to Vietnam in 1966. On subsequent travels to the U.S., he made the case for peace to federal and Pentagon officials including Robert McNamara. He may have changed the course of U.S. history when he persuaded Martin Luther King, Jr. to oppose the Vietnam War publicly, and so helped to galvanize the peace movement. The following year, King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequently, Nhat Hanh led the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks.

In 1982 he founded Plum Village, a Buddhist community in exile in France, where he continues his work to alleviate suffering of refugees, boat people, political prisoners, and hungry families in Vietnam and throughout the Third World. He has also received recognition for his work with Vietnam veterans, meditation retreats, and his prolific writings on meditation, mindfulness, and peace.

He has published some 85 titles of accessible poems, prose, and prayers, with more than 40 in English, including the best selling Call Me by My True Names, Peace Is Every Step, Being Peace, Touching Peace, Living Buddha Living Christ, Teachings on Love, The Path of Emancipation, and Anger. In September 2001, just a few days after the suicide terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, he addressed the issues of non-violence and forgiveness in a memorable speech at Riverside Church in New York City. In September of 2003 he addressed members of the US Congress, leading them through a two-day retreat.

Thich Nhat Hanh continues to live in Plum Village in the meditation community he founded, where he teaches, writes, and gardens; and he leads retreats worldwide on "the art of mindful living."

Thich Nhat Hanh's key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live in the present moment instead of in the past and in the future. Dwelling in the present moment is, according to Nhat Hanh, the only way to truly develop peace, both in one's self and in the world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Dhammapada

The Dhammapada, an anthology of 423 verses, has long been recognised as one of the masterpieces of early Buddhist literature. From ancient times to the present, the Dhammapada has been regarded as the most succinct expression of the Buddha's teaching found in the Theravada Pali Canon of scriptures known as the Khuddaka Nikaya ("Minor Collection") of the Sutta Pitaka.

Buddhist tradition has it that shortly after the passing of the Buddha his disciples met in council for the purpose of recalling to mind the truths they had received from their beloved Teacher during the forty-five years of his ministry. Their hope was to implant the principles of his message so firmly in memory that they would become a lasting impetus to moral and spiritual conduct, for themselves, their disciples, and for all future disciples who would seek to follow in the footsteps of the Awakened One.

With the Teacher no longer among them, the monks found themselves with the responsibility of handing on the teaching as faithfully as possible. Having no written texts to rely on, they did as their ancestors had before them and prepared their discourses for recitation, that is, basic themes were repeated with variations in order to impress the ideas on their hearers. At that time, according to the Sinhalese, the Dhammapada was orally assembled from the sayings of Gautama Buddha given on some three hundred different occasions.

Subsequently, several renditions of the Dhammapada in the Sanskrit and Chinese languages came into circulation. Likewise, a number of stanzas are to be found almost verbatim in other texts of the canonical literature, testifying to the esteem in which its content was anciently held. Since first collated, the Dhammapada has become one of the best loved of Buddhist scriptures, recited daily by millions of devotees who chant its verses in Pali or in their native dialect.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Symbol of Zen

The classic symbol for Zen is the enso. It is known as the circle of enlightenment. In the sixth century a text named the Shinhinmei refers to the way of Zen as a circle of vast space, lacking nothing, and nothing in excess. At first glance the ancient enso zen symbol appears to be nothing more than a circle. But it's symbolism referrs to the beginning and end of all things, the circle of life, and the connectedness of existense.

It is said that in the hands of a Zen master the power of the enso symbol for Zen is released, helping those who meditate upon it to reach a higher level of consciousness. It is used as a symbol of enlightenment. Zen masters often brush paint an enso for their student to meditate upon. The quality of the brushwork is said to reveal the depth of the master's enlightenment.

There are two common symbol for zen enso's. One is a brushstroke of a closed circle. The closed circle represents the totality of experience and life. The other is a brushstroke of a circle with one small opening. The open circle represents the imperfection found in all things, and suggests to the student to stop striving for perfection and instead to allow the universe to be as it is.

The open circle is a concept that reflects closely with Japanese Zen Buddhism. The Japanese concept of wabi sabi is that all things are perfect as they are. An analogy is a peasant's jar, mishapen, chipped and worn through years of daily use. Although it may not be as pleasing visually as a pristine carefully crafted jar, it is said to stimulate the mind and emotions, stimulate the spirit of a person to contemplate the essence of reality. As with everything related to Zen, there is a beautiful simplicity to the traditional enso, both the open and closed versions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Taoist Canon

Taoism remains the only major religion whose canonical texts have not been systematically arranged and made available for study. This long-awaited work, a milestone in Chinese studies, catalogs and describes all existing texts within the Taoist canon. The result will not only make the entire range of existing Taoist texts accessible to scholars of religion, it will open up a crucial resource in the study of the history of China.

The vast literature of the Taoist canon, or Daozang, survives in a Ming Dynasty edition of some fifteen hundred different texts. Compiled under imperial auspices and completed in 1445—with a supplement added in 1607—many of the books in the Daozang concern the history, organization, and liturgy of China's indigenous religion. A large number of works deal with medicine, alchemy, and divination.

If scholars have long neglected this unique storehouse of China's religious traditions, it is largely because it was so difficult to find one's way within it. Not only was the rationale of its medieval classification system inoperable for the many new texts that later entered the Daozang, but the system itself was no longer understood by the Ming editors; hence the haphazard arrangement of the canon as it has come down to us.

This new work sets out the contents of the Daozang chronologically, allowing the reader to follow the long evolution of Taoist literature. Lavishly illustrated, the first volume ranges from antiquity through the Middle Ages, while the second spans the modern period. Within this frame, texts are grouped by theme and subject. Each one is the subject of a historical abstract that identifies the text's contents, date of origin, and author. Throughout the first two volumes, introductions outline the evolution of Taoism and its spiritual heritage. A third volume offering biographical sketches of frequently mentioned Taoists, multiple indexes, and an extensive bibliography provides critical tools for navigating this guide to one of the fundamental aspects of Chinese culture.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wei Wu Wei

Between the years 1958 and 1974 a series of eight books appeared attributed to the mysterious 'Wei Wu Wei'. In addition to these texts there were pieces contributed to various periodicals during the 1960's, including 'The Mountain Path', a periodical dedicated to the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, 'The Middle Way', the U.K. Buddhist Society's journal, and 'Etre Libre', a French-language periodical published in Brussels. These works draw on a variety of sources, including Taoism, specifically the texts attributed to Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, Buddhism, especially The Heart, Diamond and Lankavatara Sutras, and Chan Buddhism as taught by Hui Neng, Huang Po, Hui Hai, etc., as well as the teachings of Padma Sambhava and Sri Ramana Maharshi, among others.

The identity of 'Wei Wu Wei' was not revealed at the time of publication for reasons outlined in the Preface to the first book 'Fingers Pointing Towards the Moon' (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958). This well-considered anonymity will be respected here, though a few background details may help to put the writings into context. 'Wei Wu Wei' was born in 1895 into a well-established Irish family, was raised on an estate outside Cambridge, England, and received a thorough education, including studies at Oxford University. Early in life he pursued an interest in Egyptology which culminated in the publication of two books on ancient Egyptian history and culture in 1923. This was followed by a period of involvement in the arts in Britain in the 20's and 30's as a theorist, theatrical producer, creator of radical 'dance-dramas', publisher of several related magazines and author of two related books. He was a major influence on many noted dramatists, poets and dancers of the day, including his cousin Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet (which in fact had its origin's in his own dance troupe at the Cambridge Festival Theatre which he leased from 1926-33).

After he had apparently exhausted his interest in this field to a large extent, his thoughts turned towards philosophy and metaphysics. This led to a period of travel throughout Asia, including time spent at Sri Ramana Maharshi's ashram in Tiruvannamalai, India. In 1958, at the age of 63, he saw the first of the 'Wei Wu Wei' titles published. The next 16 years saw the appearance of seven subsequent books, including his final work under the further pseudonym 'O.O.O.' in 1974. During most of this later period he maintained a residence with his wife in Monaco. He is believed to have known, among others, Lama Anagarika Govinda, Dr. Hubert Benoit, John Blofeld, Douglas Harding, Robert Linssen, Arthur Osborne, Robert Powell and Dr. D. T. Suzuki. He died in 1986 at the age of 90.

'Wei Wu Wei's influence, while never widespread, has been profound upon many of those who knew him personally, upon those with whom he corresponded, among them British mathematician and author G. Spencer-Brown and Galen Sharp (see 'Links'), as well as upon many who have read his works, including Ramesh Balsekar.

It is apparent from his writings that 'Wei Wu Wei' had studied in some depth both Eastern and Western philosophy and metaphysics, as well as the more esoteric teachings of all the great religions. It can also be understood from the writings that he regarded himself as merely one of many seeking so-called 'liberation', the works themselves being seen in part as a record of this quest.

The attitude adopted towards the writings is perhaps best indicated by the following quote from an introductory note to 'Open Secret' (Hong Kong University Press, 1965):

'The writer of these lines has nothing whatsoever to teach anyone; his words are just his contribution to our common discussion of what must inevitably be for us the most important subject which could be discussed by sentient beings.'

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Tao (pronounced "dao") means literally "the path" or "the way." It is a universal principle that underlies everything from the creation of galaxies to the interaction of human beings. The workings of Tao are vast and often beyond human logic. In order to understand Tao, reasoning alone will not suffice. One must also apply intuition.

In the study of Tao, the most well known source material is Tao Te Ching (pronounced "Dao De Jing") by the ancient sage Laozi, a.k.a. Lao Tzu. Other influential writers were: Zhuangzi and Liezi.

Some of Lao Tzu's most significant teachings are as follows:
  • Non-contention. Lao Tzu noted that violence and conflict, no matter how tightly controlled, could not help but cause negative side effects. The Tao ideal is to solve problems through peaceful means.
  • Non-action. The foolish expend a great deal of energy and time trying to do everything and end up achieving nothing. On the other end of the spectrum, the truly wise don't seem to do much at all and yet achieve whatever they want. This magic is possible, indeed unavoidable, when one is in tune with the Tao and acts without attachments.
  • Non-intention. So often we perform virtuous deeds hoping to receive praise or recognition. That's no virtue at all. True virtue is a state where such actions flow forth naturally, requiring no conscious effort or thought.
  • Simplicity. The basis for our reality and our existence is elemental and uncomplicated. Human beings create a lot of trouble for themselves by making everything more complex than they need to be. If we learn to simplify our lives, we can experience a profound satisfaction that is infinitely more meaningful than the rewards of the material world.
  • Wisdom. Logic has its place in human affairs but isn't everything. There is a limit to what we can understand through rationality and reasoning. To transcend that limit, we need to engage our intuition fully. This is the key to insights as opposed to knowledge, and the difference between living the Tao and reading all about it.
  • Humility. The more you learn, the more you realize there's still so much more to learn. This tends to make you humble. Arrogance and egotism come from ignorance - knowing a little bit and assuming you know a lot.
  • Duality. Lao Tzu pointed out that all qualities in the world possess meaning only by the existence of their opposites. Something can only be big if there is something else that is small by comparison. "Good" exists in the world so long as "evil" exists as well. One cannot do without the other.

Is Taoism a Religion?
Taoism certainly has a religious aspect. However, in this web site we concentrate on the philosophical aspect, which can be compatible with other religions. Many Christians, for instance, freely explore the concepts of Taoism and add whatever they think is useful to their own beliefs. The idea is to explore and learn the correct way or the better way to live and to conduct our personal affairs by understanding some of the principles that govern our lives.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mindfulness for Beginners

Reclaiming the Present Moment--and Your Life

An Invitation to the Practice of Mindfulness

We may long for wholeness, suggests Jon Kabat-Zinn, but the truth is that it is already here and already ours. The practice of mindfulness holds the possibility of not just a fleeting sense of contentment, but a true embracing of a deeper unity that envelops and permeates our lives. With Mindfulness for Beginners you are invited to learn how to transform your relationship to the way you think, feel, love, work, and play—and thereby awaken to and embody more completely who you really are.

Here, the teacher, scientist, and clinician who first demonstrated the benefits of mindfulness within mainstream Western medicine offers a book that you can use in three unique ways: as a collection of reflections and practices to be opened and explored at random; as an illuminating and engaging start-to-finish read; or as an unfolding “lesson- a-day” primer on mindfulness practice.

Beginning and advanced meditators alike will discover in these pages a valuable distillation of the key attitudes and essential practices that Jon Kabat-Zinn has found most useful with his students, including:

  • Why heartfulness is synonymous with true mindfulness
  • The value of coming back toour bodies and to our senses over and over again
  • How our thoughts “self-liberate” whentouched by awareness
  • Moving beyond our “story” into direct experience
  • Stabilizing our attention and presence amidst daily activities
  • The three poisons that causesuffering—and their antidotes
  • How mindfulness heals, even after the fact
  • Reclaiming our wholeness, and more.

The prescription for living a more mindful life seems simple enough: return your awareness again and again to whatever is going on. But if you’ve tried it, you know that here is where all the questions and challenges really begin. Mindfulness for Beginners provides welcome answers, insights, and instruction to help us make that shift, moment by moment, into a more spacious, clear, reliable, and loving connection with ourselves and the world.

Includes a complete CD with five guided mindfulness meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn, selected from the audio program that inspired this book.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What is mindfulness?

We especially like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness:

'Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
On purpose,
in the present moment,
and nonjudgmentally.'

Kabat-Zinn, if you haven’t heard of him, is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

First of all, mindfulness involves paying attention “on purpose”. Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes (me included) talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.

Let’s take that example of eating and look at it a bit further. When we are purposefully aware of eating, we are consciously being aware of the process of eating. We’re deliberately noticing the sensations and our responses to those sensations. We’re noticing the mind wandering, and when it does wander we purposefully bring our attention back.

When we’re eating unmindfully we may in theory be aware of what we’re doing, but we’re probably thinking about a hundred and one other things at the same time, and we may also be watching TV, talking, or reading — or even all three! So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.

Because we’re only dimly aware of our thoughts, they wander in an unrestricted way. There’s no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to our eating. There’s no purposefulness.

This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that’s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind.

Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts — including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer.

By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards some “anchor” we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Seven Pillars of Mindfulness

consists in taking the position of an impartial witness to your own experience. It requires that you become aware of the stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experiences and step back from it. This habit of categorizing into good and bad or positive and negative locks us into mechanical reactions that we are not even aware of and that often have no objective basis at all. Tip: observe over 10 minutes how much you are preoccupied with liking and disliking what you are experiencing.

it demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things unfold in their own time. Practicing mindfulness give us the chance to give time and space to our own unfolding. Why rushing to the next “better” moment when after all each one is your life in that moment.

practicing mindfulness means to take the chance to see everything as if it was for the first time and not allow our illusion of knowing prevent us from being present to our experiences. Tip next time you meet someone you know well try and see something new in this person.

developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is an integral part of meditation practice. Do not get caught up in the reputation and authority of your teachers. It is impossible to become like somebody else. Your only hope is to become more fully yourself.

almost everything we do is for a purpose. Meditation not! Actually this attitude can be a real obstacle in meditation. Although meditation takes a lot of work and energy, ultimately it is about non-doing. It has no goal other than for you to be yourself. The irony is that you already are! Do not sit to get relaxed, enlighten or sleep better. Sit to learn to carefully see what is happening and accept it.

often acceptance comes after we have gone through intense period of emotion turmoil and anger. Doing that uses up our energy in the struggle instead of using it for healing and change. You are much more likely to know what to do and have the inner conviction to act when your vision is mot clouded by your mind’s self-serving judgments and desires or its fears and prejudices.

when we pay attention to our inner experience, we discover that there are certain thoughts, feelings and situations that the mind seems to want to hold on to. If pleasant, we try and prolong our experience, if unpleasant, we try and get rid of them. In meditation, we try to intentionally put aside the tendency to elevate some aspects of our experience and reject others.

As presented by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 'Full Catastrophe Living'

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Upanishads

Among the oldest of India's spiritual texts, the Upanishads are records of intensive question-and-answer sessions given by illumined sages to their students.

Widely featured in philosophy courses, the Upanishads have puzzled and inspired wisdom seekers from Yeats to Schopenhauer.

Eknath Easwaran makes this challenging text more accessible by selecting the passages most relevant to readers seeking timeless truths today.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Zen Buddhism

Zen in its own words:
A special transmission outside the scriptures
Without reliance on words or letters
Directly pointing to the heart of humanity
Seeing into one's own nature.

Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism is a mixture of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. It began in China, spread to Korea and Japan, and became very popular in the West from the mid 20th century.

The essence of Zen is attempting to understand the meaning of life directly, without being misled by logical thought or language.

Zen techniques are compatible with other faiths and are often used, for example, by Christians seeking a mystical understanding of their faith.

Zen often seems paradoxical - it requires an intense discipline which, when practised properly, results in total spontaneity and ultimate freedom. This natural spontaneity should not be confused with impulsiveness.

Zen - the word
'Zen' is the way the Chinese word Ch'an is pronounced in Japan. 'Ch'an' is the Chinese pronunciation of the Sanskrit word Dhyana, which means (more or less) meditation.

Zen - the essence and the difficulty
Christmas Humphreys, one of the leading pioneers in the history of Buddhism in Britain, wrote that "Zen is a subject extremely easy to misunderstand." He was right.

Zen is something a person does. It's not a concept that can be described in words. Despite that, words on this site will help you get some idea of what Zen is about. But remember, Zen does not depend on words - it has to be experienced in order to 'understand'.

Enlightenment is inside
The essence of Zen Buddhism is that all human beings are Buddha, and that all they have to do is to discover that truth for themselves.

All beings by nature are Buddhas,
as ice by nature is water.
Apart from water there is no ice;
apart from beings, no Buddhas.
Hakuin Ekaku

Zen sends us looking inside us for enlightenment. There's no need to search outside ourselves for the answers; we can find the answers in the same place that we found the questions.

Human beings can't learn this truth by philosophising or rational thought, nor by studying scriptures, taking part in worship rites and rituals or many of the other things that people think religious people do.

The first step is to control our minds through meditation and other techniques that involve mind and body; to give up logical thinking and avoid getting trapped in a spider's web of words.

Zen Buddhism was brought to China by the Indian monk Bodhidharma in the 6th century CE. It was called Ch'an in China.

Zen's golden age began with the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng (638-713), and ended with the persecution of Buddhism in China in the middle of the 9th century CE. Most of those we think of today as the great Zen masters came from this period. Zen Buddhism survived the persecution though it was never the same again in China.

Zen spread to Korea in the 7th century CE and to Japan in the 12th century CE. It was popularised in the West by the Japanese scholar Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (1870 - 1966); although it was found in the West before that.

Zen in practice
If you're a westerner you may find it hard to shake off the intellectual and dualist ways of thinking that dominate western culture: these can make it difficult for westerners to come to Zen.

Zen Buddhists pay less attention to scripture as a means of learning than they do to various methods of practising Zen. The most common way of teaching is for enlightenment to be communicated direct from master to pupil.

Zen practices are aimed at taking the rational and intellectual mind out of the mental loop, so that the student can become more aware and realise their own Buddha-nature. Sometimes even (mild) physical violence is used to stop the student intellectualising or getting stuck in some other way.

Students of Zen aim to achieve enlightenment by the way they live, and by mental actions that approach the truth without philosophical thought or intellectual endeavour.

Some schools of Zen work to achieve sudden moments of enlightenment, while others prefer a gradual process.

Clues to the meaning of Zen
Because Zen is so hard to explain here are some quotations that may help you get an idea of it:
  • The essence of Zen Buddhism is achieving enlightenment by seeing one's original mind (or original nature) directly; without the intervention of the intellect.
  • Zen is big on intuitive understanding, on just 'getting it', and not so hot on philosophising.
  • Zen is concerned with what actually is rather than what we think or feel about what is.
  • Zen is concerned with things as they are, without trying to interpret them.
  • Zen points to something before thinking, before all your ideas.
  • The key to Buddhahood in Zen is simply self-knowledge.
  • To be a human being is to be a Buddha. Buddha nature is just another name for human nature - true human nature.
  • Zen is simply to be completely alive.
  • Zen is short for Zen Buddhism. It is sometimes called a religion and sometimes called a philosophy. Choose whichever term you prefer; it simply doesn't matter.
  • Zen is not a philosophy or a religion.
  • Zen tries to free the mind from the slavery of words and the constriction of logic.
  • Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one's own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom.
  • Zen is meditation.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back to the Truth: 5000 years of Advaita

Advaita is a spiritual philosophy based on the Upanishads, older than most other religious systems we know about but also the most logical and scientific in its approach.

This book is a systematic treatment of Advaita which demystifies it, differentiating between approaches and teachers, enabling you to decide which approach is most suitable for you. It compares the scriptures of traditional Advaita with the words of contemporary sages and neo-Advaita.

Should we ignore the mind? Is the world real? Is there anything we can do to become enlightened? These questions and many more are addressed, with explanations given in their own words from those who discovered the truth.

A massively comprehensive, definitive work.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Insight Meditation (Vipassana)

We live in times of great change and uncertainty. Be it events on a personal, cultural or global level, the ability to navigate these challenging times is becoming an increasingly critical skill of contemporary life. The practice of meditation develops this capacity in us by allowing us to become more intimate with the nature of our experience. Through the development of a meditative attitude and balanced awareness we have the ability to use the challenges we face as opportunities for transformation rather than isolation.

Insight Meditation is a practice which can deepen our potential for kindness and understanding. Through the development of our innate capacity to be present in each moment with an open-hearted attention to our experience, our heart and mind can awaken to a depth of peace and clarity that liberates us from the power of greed, hatred and confusion.

The practice tends to begin with a steadying of attention on the sensations of breathing and the body. From there, one can open to include more and more of one’s experience within the field of mindfulness or present-moment awareness. This enables insight into the true nature of what causes suffering and the path to its ending. Such clear-seeing fosters both wisdom and compassion.

Also known as vipassana, Insight Meditation derives from a 2500 year-old Buddhist tradition with deep and immediate relevance to life today. It is accessible and appropriate for people of any religious affiliation or none.

The purpose of Insight Meditation is not to create a system of beliefs, but rather to give guidance on how to see clearly into the nature of the mind. In this way one gains first-hand understanding of the way things are, without reliance on opinions or theories -- a direct experience, which has its own vitality. It also gives rise to the sense of deep calm that comes from knowing something for oneself, beyond any doubt.

Insight Meditation is a key factor in the path that the Buddha offered for the welfare of human beings; the only criterion is that one has to put it into practice! These pages, therefore, describe a series of meditation exercises, and practical advice on how to use them. It works best if the reader follows the guide progressively, giving each sequence of instructions a good work-out before proceeding further.

The term "Insight Meditation" (samatha-vipassana) refers to practices for the mind that develop calm (samatha) through sustained attention, and insight (vipassana) through reflection. A fundamental technique for sustaining attention is focusing awareness on the body; traditionally, this is practised while sitting or walking. The guide begins with some advice on this.

Reflection occurs quite naturally afterwards, when one is "comfortable" within the context of the meditation exercise. There will be a sense of ease and interest, and one begins to look around and become acquainted with the mind that is meditating. This "looking around" is called contemplation, a personal and direct seeing that can only be suggested by any technique. A few ideas and guidance on this come in a later section.



Sunday, January 1, 2012


Non-duality is about the non-separation between you and your world. It is about the origin of suffering, and the discovery of freedom within that very suffering.

It is about the ways in which we try to run away from uncomfortable and painful experiences, and the possibility of discovering ease and relief right in the midst of those experiences. It is about seeking, and the end of seeking. It is about seeing life as it is, right now.

Think of the word ‘nonduality’ as a ‘finger pointing to the moon’ (as they say in Zen) directing your attention to the wholeness of all life, to the Oneness which exists here and now. It points to an intimacy, a love beyond words, a completeness right at the heart of present experience. It points to where you already are. It points back Home.

It is beyond comprehension, yet it is as obvious as breathing, as familiar as the feeling of your heart beating in your chest, as ordinary as the sights and sounds and smells appearing in this room.

Yes, ‘nonduality’ is simply a word used to point beyond your ideas, concepts and beliefs about life. It is a word  used to point to life and existence as it really is, beyond what you think it is – and to who you really are, beyond who you think you are.

And ultimately, who you really are, life and existence itself, are inseparable. They are not-two, they are non-dual, they are intimate. This is a timeless truth that goes right to the heart of all the world’s spiritual traditions, and ultimately right to the heart of modern science too…
Jeff Foster

Mindfulness Meditation For Beginners

By Axel Gjertsen

It’s refreshing to take a break every now and then, from the hustle and bustle of modern life. No matter whether you’re at the office or in the mountains, all it takes to become mindful is a conscious in and out breath…

In this post we’ll take a close look at how to get started with mindfulness meditation. There is no need to have any previous meditation experience and I can assure you that mindfulness is both fun and easy to learn.

What is mindfulness?
Everyone knows what it’s like to be under stress. It’s an unpleasant mental state that makes you restless. When you’re stressed out the mind speeds aimlessly from one thought to the next, in an endless cycle.

Mindfulness on the other hand, is a state of relaxed attention. Whenever the mind is centered, it’s naturally calm. The absence of aimless thought processes calms the mind.

When and where can I practice?
Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and at anytime. But in the very beginning, it’s best to practice where there are few distractions. For example, in the bedroom just after waking up in the morning or before going to bed at night.

It’s ideal to practice mindfulness meditation while commuting. You can also take a short break to center yourself when you’re having a busy day at work.

Practice mindfulness meditation alone or with friends. It’s really inspiring to practice in a group.

How do I know that I’m mindful?
As a beginner, it’s somewhat difficult to know for sure since everything is new. If you’re asking the question, it’s unlikely that you’re mindful. However, with practice you will familiarize yourself with mindfulness and recognize the mental state.

Whenever you catch yourself thinking during practice, you have regained mindfulness. Celebrate that moment as opposed to putting yourself down for getting caught up in thinking. Now that you’re mindful, gently go back to your meditation object. That’s a skillful approach to mindfulness meditation.

Which mindfulness technique is best for me?
Try the mindfulness techniques that interest you and stick to one that comes easily for you. The more natural the practice feels, the better. In this post, you’ll be introduced to a wide range of mindfulness techniques that are suitable for beginners.

Mindfulness Meditation
To be mindful is to give relaxed attention to your meditation object, as opposed to concentrating with all your might. Don’t try too hard which only makes for physical and mental tension. A relaxed body makes for a relaxed mind, and the other way around.

Always make yourself as comfortable as possible. Lying down is one of the best postures for mindfulness meditation, since it’s natural to relax the body while lying down. However, any body posture will do as long as it’s comfortable.

Some meditators find it helpful to put up mindfulness reminders in their homes and at work. You can either post small notes, nature photographs, incense sticks, images of Christ, Buddhas or anything else that reminds you of mindfulness. If you want to be discrete, bring a small pot plant to work and let that be your mindfulness reminder.

There are endless opportunities to practice mindfulness throughout the day, a moment here and a moment there. It’s not about putting in hours of practice. A conscious in and out breath is all it takes to reap the fruits of mindfulness meditation. Over time, your attention will grow more steadfast, you will get more deeply relaxed and feel more refreshed.

Mindfulness meditation is the perfect tool when you have some time at hand. Give relaxed attention to your meditation object while waiting for the train, bus or plane.

For some meditators it’s easier to concentrate with the eyes closed. By closing the eyes, you eliminate many distractions. Others find it easier to practice in a dark room or with the lights dimmed low, which is calming and also removes distractions. Try and see what works best for you.

Only give attention to one meditation object at the time.

Best of luck with your practice!



Meditation: 20 practical Tips for Beginners

Meditation is the art of focusing 100% of your attention in one area. The practice comes with a myriad of well-publicized health benefits including increased concentration, decreased anxiety, and a general feeling of happiness.

Although a great number of people try meditation at some point in their lives, a small percentage actually stick with it for the long-term. This is unfortunate, and a possible reason is that many beginners do not begin with a mindset needed to make the practice sustainable.

The purpose of this article is to provide 20 practical recommendations to help beginners get past the initial hurdles and integrate meditation over the long term:

  1. Make it a formal practice. You will only get to the next level in meditation by setting aside specific time (preferably two times a day) to be still.
  2. Start with the breath. Breathing deep slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind and is an ideal way to begin practice.
  3. Stretch first. Stretching loosens the muscles and tendons allowing you to sit (or lie) more comfortably; also tretching starts the process of “going inward” and brings added attention to the body.
  4. Meditate with Purpose. Beginners must understand that meditation is an ACTIVE process. The art of focusing your attention to a single point is hard work, and you have to be purposefully engaged!
  5. Notice frustration creep up on you. This is very common for beginners as we think “hey, what am I doing here” or “why can’t I just quiet my damn mind already”. When this happens, really focus in on your breath and let the frustrated feelings go.
  6. Experiment. Although many of us think of effective meditation as a Yogi sitting cross-legged beneath a Bonzi tree, beginners should be more experimental and try different types of meditation. Try sitting, lying, eyes open, eyes closed, etc.
  7. Feel your body parts. A great practice for beginning meditators is to take notice of the body when a meditative state starts to take hold. Once the mind quiets, put all your attention to the feet and then slowly move your way up the body (include your internal organs). This is very healthy and an indicator that you are on the right path.
  8. Pick a specific room in your home to meditate. Make sure it is not the same room where you do work, exercise, or sleep. Place candles and other spiritual paraphernalia in the room to help you feel at ease.
  9. Read a book (or two) on meditation. Preferably an instructional guide AND one that describes the benefits of deep meditative states. This will get you motivated. John Kabat-Zinn’s "Wherever you go, There you are" is terrific for beginners.
  10. Commit for the long haul. Meditation is a life-long practice, and you will benefit most by NOT examining the results of your daily practice. Just do the best you can every day, and then let it go!
  11. Listen to instructional tapes and CDs.
  12. Generate moments of awareness during the day. Finding your breath and “being present” while not in formal practice is a wonderful way to evolve your meditation habits.
  13. Make sure you will not be disturbed. One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is not insuring peaceful practice conditions. If you have it in the back of your mind that the phone might ring, your kids might wake, or your coffee pot might whistle than you will not be able to attain a state of deep relaxation.
  14. Notice small adjustments. For beginning meditators, the slightest physical movements can transform a meditative practice from one of frustration to one of renewal. These adjustments may be barely noticeable to an observer, but they can mean everything for your practice.
  15. Use a candle. Meditating with eyes closed can be challenging for a beginner. Lighting a candle and using it as your point of focus allows you to strengthen your attention with a visual cue. This can be very powerful.
  16. Do NOT Stress. This may be the most important tip for beginners, and the hardest to implement. No matter what happens during your meditation practice, do not stress about it. This includes being nervous before meditating and angry afterwards. Meditation is what it is, and just do the best you can at the time.
  17. Do it together. Meditating with a partner or loved one can have many wonderful benefits, and can improve your practice. However, it is necessary to make sure that you set agreed-upon ground rules before you begin!
  18. Meditate early in the morning. Without a doubt, early morning is an ideal time to practice: it is quieter, your mind is not filled with the usual clutter, and there is less chance you will be disturbed. Make it a habit to get up half an hour earlier to meditate.
  19. Be Grateful at the end. Once your practice is through, spend 2-3 minutes feeling appreciative of the opportunity to practice and your mind’s ability to focus.
  20. Notice when your interest in meditation begins to wane. Meditation is hard work, and you will inevitably come to a point where it seemingly does not fit into the picture anymore. THIS is when you need your practice the most and I recommend you go back to the book(s) or the CD’s you listened to and become re-invigorated with the practice. Chances are that losing the ability to focus on meditation is parallel with your inability to focus in other areas of your life!

Meditation is an absolutely wonderful practice, but can be very difficult in the beginning. Use the tips described in this article to get your practice to the next level!

By: Todd Goldfarb