Bonni Ross Teachings

  • Why Dharma Teachers Don’t Charge Fees November 2007 “The gift, to be true, must be the flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him.” by Ralph Waldo Emerson The act of giving strengthens the giver and supports the receiver. To provide practitioners with opportunities to practice generosity is part of the responsibility of Dharma teachers, and Dharma centres. Traditionally, liberation teachings are offered freely because they are so precious that no value can be assigned to them ... to receive them is a privilege. This is a view that doesn’t span cultures very easily. Here in the heart of materialist culture, many believe that if something is free, it must not be worth much. We must test these views with our own direct experience, through study and practice and dialogue with our teachers before we can begin to conceive how rare a gift the opportunity to transform our lives truly is. Generosity as a practice appears in all spiritual traditions, but in Buddhadharma it is a fundamental principle of the path and the first and ultimate of the trainings of an aspiring Bodhisattva. It is how we initiate change: by letting go, giving up, surrendering and practicing; by supporting those influences in our community that are doorways for others to encounter liberation teachings. We give time, commitment, service, money and other such symbolic things until we are able to relax completely into the vast space of transcendent awareness that is called enlightenment, or awakening. Without a generous, and hence open, heart, the teachings cannot be received where they will do the most good. Since spiritual healing affects every aspect of our lives, and since clinging of one sort or another is the greatest impediment to such healing, the dialogue between a student and a teacher’s alms bowl can be fraught with worry, resentment and neediness. While we willingly part with big dollars for some shiny thing or experience that feeds our desire, we can be stricken with stinginess when faced with the rare situation where we are not being told what something is supposed to be worth. How much is enough? How much can I get away with? What is everyone else giving, what’s the going rate? All of these questions have nothing to do with practicing generosity. Everyone who comes to the Dharma with some hope that it will make their life better, richer, happier has to work with this spiky question and come to some uneasy peace with it. This is part of the training. So we begin by wrestling with the question through the conditioning of our materialist society. Start where you are. How much is the teacher’s time worth? Given that this being has taken a vow to live for the benefit of all sentient beings, what are the implications of asking him or her to spend an hour focussing on your problems? Consider the years of study, practice and teaching experience this person has ... likely more than a psychiatrist or lawyer. Is a dharma class worth more, less or the same as a group yoga class or an evening out for dinner and a movie? How are meditation centres funded? Ideally, through generous endowments, supported by on-going fund-raising and bequest planning. Income from course fees and annual memberships likely play a role. Are members expected to tithe1 or make some other regular contribution? What are your circumstances? A $10 gift from one person can be a much greater act of generosity than a $50 gift from another, depending on their relative financial well-being. In one Zen community, fund-raising for a new meditation hall was successful and harmonious when someone came up with the idea of each member giving the equivalent of one hour of their own time each week. If you made $100 an hour, you gave $100, if you made $7.50 an hour you gave $7.50. When the same idea was suggested in another wealthier community, there was outrage and people voted with their feet. Giving isn’t only about money, although in this culture money provides a practical method, and not much happens if there isn’t enough of it. However, those with limited financial resources can use their ingenuity to find other ways to keep the scales balanced and express their thanks. Service is an important aspect of spiritual training, a very personal way to practice generosity. When gratitude is felt for the precious opportunity to study and practice, innumerable ways to give back can be found. Internal circumstances are part of the puzzle too. A multimillionaire can have a hard time giving $20, believe it or not, while the same person – by his own admission – would have no problem paying $100. An American woman wrote to ask about our “culture of generosity” here at Sunshine Coast Retreat House. She complained that living in the San Francisco area, there was no such thing as an affordable Zen centre. Another student reported that as soon as he began tithing, his income increased exponentially, thus encouraging him to give more.2 As the relationship between teacher and student changes over time, so too does the student’s understanding of generosity as a practice. In the beginning, a student wants information and guidance, and often understands the dana bowl as the way one “pays for” that. As our practice deepens and confidence grows, profound gratitude for the teaching arises. The bowl then becomes one of many ways to express that appreciation. As maturity through realization dawns and we recognize the power and compassion and universality of the transformation process, the privilege of supporting the teaching and teachers in any way we can becomes our first priority. “The Dharma should be free,” say some. The Dharma is free. That’s the point, after all; why “liberation” is another word for enlightenment. The Teachings are offered freely because there is no other way to present authentic liberation teaching. They have to be freely given, or they aren’t genuine. But practice centres cost money, teachers’ residences cost money; teachers have dental bills, car payments and need new shoes from time to time. Whose responsibility is all of that? In Asia, monastics are generously supported for two reasons: they offer visible, tangible benefits to the society in the form of education, social work and religious services, and there is a cultural understanding that it is beneficial to the giver to practice generosity. Wealthy patrons support monasteries because they feel it is a joyous blessing to be able to do so, part of the pleasure and privilege that comes from wealth. In the west at present, however, the majority of Dharma teachers are lay persons. Some started out as monastics, but were unable to maintain the profound commitment of their vows without the support of an informed lay community. Other teachers prefer a lifestyle that is less visible and more integrated into the mainstream of the communities they have chosen or been chosen to serve, because their values and choices may be easier to relate to without the barriers of robes and rules. It is part of the discipline of lay teachers in this and many other western traditions of Buddhadharma to “live by the bowl,” in the same spirit as monastics in Asia do. This is an expression of absolute trust that if one is engaged in worthwhile spiritual activity, one’s need for the requisites of life3 will be met. The measure of what is worthwhile, however, has nothing to do with the value-making of contemporary society. “The task of the Bodhisattva is not to perform good deeds;” said our founding teacher, Venerable Namgyal Rinpoché, “the task of the Bodhisattva is to practice non-clinging awareness.” We are all temporary formations of aliveness manifesting in human form in a vast universe that is an infinite expression of giving and receiving. Energy, so our physicists and mystics tell us, is neither created nor destroyed, but continuously recycled in an endless play of coming-into-being-and-passing-away. Forming is emptying is forming. Sun shines, rain falls, minerals in the soil and water interact with the coding of seeds to produce an abundant array of plant forms, which in turn support animal life, including our own. In a balanced ecology, everything supports and sustains everything else, effortlessly and naturally. Cultivating this vast view of how things really are, is what Dharma practitioners and teachers are for, if they can be said to have any purpose at all. Maintaining this view while shopping within budget for this week’s groceries for the Dharma Centre kitchen is a victorious act of liberation-in-action. Can you intuit the famous beat of a different drum, the “unstruck-drum of eternity” that is said to sound in the ears and hearts of the awakened ones? Confusion can be a very positive experience if it means that the old, tired, unquestioned concepts about what’s what are breaking up. Kindness for its own sake; compassion for its own sake; generosity for its own sake ... this is what our awakened nature is, in truth. We are kind, compassionate and generous because we joyously can be, not because “acting” in a particular way will label us “good” and get us points with whoever keeps track. As we begin, through practice, to notice where and how we are fixed and tight – in our bodies, our emotional states and our conceptual frameworks– we feel the suffering of our situation and the desire to be free of suffering automatically arises. We compare these contracted feelings with an increasing awareness of how light and spacious and fluid our experience is when we are easeful, relaxed in the gentle give and take of breath, of friendship, of aware moments where the blissful congruence of opportunity and willingness takes place. We are not stupid, we humans. Not really. It may take a while, but eventually we discover the process for ourselves, through the same repeatable experiment that has been going on quietly for millennia . . . if we behave like awakened ones, we will feel like awakened ones. Check out www.charityfocus.org, the amazing result of one Silicon Valley computer programmer’s insight into the relationship between giving and satisfaction. Giving freely in any way that we can, receiving the gifts of life graciously and responsibly, are the way of blessing. Practicing the teachings transforms our habitual self-centered rut of existence into abundance and freedom, into happiness. Thanks to this, we are able to engage as wisely and compassionately as our experience and energy permit, with whatever situation presents itself, with no concern whatsoever about what we might “get out of it.” Could this world, with all its uncertainty and beauty and suffering and nobility of heart, use a few more people like that? If you know that the answer is “yes,” then you begin to understand why Dharma teachers don’t charge fees. References 1 Tithing is practiced in many religions as a means of supporting church or temple. Members contribute 10 per cent of their annual income, usually in monthly or weekly instalments. 2 Sharing Merit; Spreading Cash - A Case for Tithing by John Munroe http://www.wangapeka.org/articles/case-tithing-john-munroe/ 3 Traditionally the requisites are food, clothing, shelter and medicine.
    Giving and Receiving by Bonni Ross
  • Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air: And like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep. -- William Shakespeare: THE TEMPEST, Act 4, Scene 1 It’s likely anyone educated in the English-speaking world has heard or read (or been forced to memorize) the words quoted above. Shakespeare (like many other Western poets, philosophers and psychotherapists) had intelligent things to say about the dreamlike quality of existence, yet those insights haven’t made much difference in how most of us experience reality. A dream: ‘It was a beautiful spring day. I approached a large wooden gate with open slats which allowed me a glimpse of a beautiful garden within. The latch-pull was an eroded cross-section of sea-shell. As I pushed the gate forward, it squeaked, heightening my awareness. I paused in front of a low water bowl where the path divided and gazed at the reflections on the water, the bits of floating storm debris, and the flame-coloured fish dashing about in the depth.’ ‘Ah,’ you think, ‘very interesting dream! Profound symbolism indicating entry into new, deepening levels of realization! Union of fire and water elements . . .’ or this: Bonni struggles through the gate, carrying four big bags of groceries from the car, wrestling with the latch-pull. ‘Gotta ask Matthew to oil that hinge,’ she reminds herself, ‘and ask Sara to clean up the water bowl. At least the raccoons haven’t eaten all the fish, yet.’ The significance of dream events is no different from waking life events; it all depends on the view. We can (and do) project meaning into everything we experience, based on past experience and our hopes and fears. What makes one reality ‘real’ and another ‘illusion’? Where does the meaning -- transcendent or mundane -- reside? Some individuals perceive sermons in stones, prophecy in cloud formations and the voice of Dharma speaking in everything. In some cultures they are respected as seers; in others, swept aside as delusional. In the light of this, what can we make of our own experience? How awake are we really when we believe ourselves to be awake? Are we free to respond with wisdom and compassion, or driven by unconscious impulses that reinforce narcissism? Some of us have rich inner lives that express in dream; many study and analyse these, perhaps seeking a deeper, more profound story than the one played out from day to day. Others lie down every night, close their eyes and go unconscious. Dreams arise, and in them karmic patterns interact and reinforce themselves, because there is no conscious awareness to provide an opportunity to choose transformation. Looked at with clarity, it is impossible to discern a difference between the quality of our so-called waking life and sleeping dreams. Our bodies respond to danger the same way, our emotions ignite, passions arouse, form images which give rise to story out of which assembles our sense of self . . . until we awaken and the illusory nature of the experience is revealed. We are so fortunate to be living at the crossroads where western mind science and eastern methodology for purification and development of consciousness are meeting. The combination of these two frameworks for direct experience and understanding make for increased confidence and the open-ended questioning that gives rise to speedy realisation. Continuum awareness in waking life gives us choice, and hence the power to shape our experience. Without it, wandering blindly, we are subject to transient moments of happiness which brighten the on-going flow of seeking pleasure, praise, wealth and ego-recognition and avoiding pain, blame, loss and critique. Seeds from past unwholesome actions explode like hidden land-mines. Awareness allows us the grace of wholesome response and transformation. Neuroscience affirms that neural processes (and the endocrine functions that interact with them) change as a result of meditative work; our brains develop in surprising ways that are only now being investigated scientifically. The apparent happiness of a temporarily-satisfied ego is replaced through meditation with a durable state of wellbeing. Such a person is naturally and fully engaged with the healing and transformation of all and is relatively unaffected by the rises and falls of life’s changing circumstances. For all but well-trained (or naturally talented) practitioners, most sleep-state dreams lack continuum awareness or lucidity. We are ‘put through’ experiences arising, in part, from latent karmic seeds that lack supportive circumstances in our present life to germinate and flower. This can be frightening and de-stabilizing; but it also provides an unequalled opportunity to change depth patterning . . . called in the Dream Yoga texts ‘cutting the tree at its root.’ Bringing the same quality of continuum awareness into the dream state gives us choice there too; we can reinforce the imprints of ethics, focus and clear-seeing and transform the darker impulses that emerge very directly and efficiently. Training for enlightenment 24/7 speeds up the process! Why put up with hours of completely unconscious activity every day? How logical and compassionate is that? Our minds have many latent abilities that are free to manifest when past seeds of karma have been cleared. We are then able to communicate directly and support the growth and unfoldment of other beings more effectively, on every level. BONNI ROSS has taught the path of liberation and peace since 1978 and has practiced both Western Mysteries and the Zen, Theravadin and Vajrayana traditions of Buddhadharma for more than 40 years. Her teachings explore both the philosophical and theoretic foundations of the teachings of awakening, as well as providing practical and pleasurable methods for increasing awareness, kindness and wisdom in daily life. Bonni teaches eclectically, with passion, humour and attention to the needs of each person: she guides individuals through all stages of meditative practice and leads retreats for depth unfoldment at centres around the world. For more about Bonni please visit: www.retreathouse.bc.ca.
    Awakening Dream by Bonni Ross
  • There is no awakening without compassionate action. Many practitioners find their growth and unfoldment has stalled, even though their skills as meditators are well-honed, and their lives well- founded in the practices of non-harming. How can this be? One contributing factor is misunderstanding the importance of service, in the context of dharma practice. Like all words, service carries a load of cultural conditioning. We think of it as “performing good deeds” or “helping out” or “doing our part.” Volunteering fits into the same mental category as writing a cheque to a community charity . . . something we do in order to be responsible citizens and which makes us feel good about ourselves. One ingredient for enlightenment is purification, which is accomplished through formal meditation and training in continuum awareness. The other ingredient is the accumulation of merit, which includes service. This prerequisite can be the source of conceptual confusion, resistance and ego-embellishment. But what if there is only a little dust in our eyes? Perhaps exploring the concept of service from a different viewpoint will help to bring greater clarity and ease. Joanna Macy's wonderful essay “World as Lover, World as Self” from the book of the same title1 would be a good place to begin. It helps us to examine what sorts of concepts we might still be holding about the relationship between spiritual work and the world. She identifies “world as trap,” which must somehow be gotten out of, and “world as battlefield,” where the forces of good and evil contend and the outcome is uncertain. Most of us grew up with these ideas, likely rejected them intellectually as part of the process of embracing the Teachings of Awakening. We may think that they are no longer operative, and in our conscious moments they may not be . . . but lying hidden in the recesses of the conditioned mindstream they reinforce a sense of separation and conflict inherent in our approach to the work of liberation. A wholesome development is to begin to view “world as lover.” This shift leads us to passionate interest in and engagement with our environment, warts and all. Our eyes and hearts are not blind to the imperfections of the lover; in the mysterious alchemy of love, those imperfections enhance our devotion. A lover, however blissful the moments of union and our longing for more of it, is still experienced as separate from and independent of our self. Oh, that pesky self! There is no liberation for the self; only liberation from it. So Macy brings us to “world as self.” In this state, beyond the tight skin of narcissism, we experience an expanded sense of identity which includes all of life. Is this painful? Yes. Is this joyful? Yes. Is this hard? You bet it is. But whether we look through the lens of physics or the lens of mysticism or the lens of ecology . . . or simply through the dusty lens of desire for survival, we come to the same view: we are not separate. No matter how separate we feel, that is not the truth. Giving service in the totality view of Buddhadharma is a process of experiencing this reality directly, not just as a concept. Service is training in going-beyond. “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi svaha.”2 Beginning with the practice of generosity3, we examine what we find easy to give and what we find hard. To serve those who deserve it is easy. For the idealist, ironing the hard-working, compassionate teacher‟s shirts or sweeping the floor of the meditation hall is blissful service. But what happens to that bliss when idealism is shattered by the teacher‟s direct and perhaps downright rude comment, by inconsiderate people not using the shoe rack provided? Sometimes the bliss is replaced by the fevers and chills of a passing cold, and we just want to be in bed. That‟s when service tests us, helps us go beyond. Weeding the garden is a metaphor for the purification of our negative states of mind. Peeling and chopping vegetables is an opportunity for the contemplation “all beings live by nutriment,” deepening our understanding of what feeds us, and how we feed others. Interconnected. All service can have this quality of metaphor, if we remember to see it that way. Clean the bathroom, and clean it again, and again, organize the files, edit dharma talks, do the dishes and laundry, put up posters, take care of the library, manage a fund-raising campaign, create and dissolve the shrine -- all these activities in the service of the Dharma have the expanded purpose of showing us that we are capable of going beyond what we perceive as the boundaries or preferences of self. They show us what we are good at and not good at; what we like and what we don‟t. Most especially they show us how we take pride in our accomplishments and gratify our ego-sense, how we play the martyr, the saint and the sulky child. Gradually, if we engage with the process of serving, with awareness and the intention that it fuel the process of liberation for all beings, we learn that all of life is simply taking care of business; it‟s inescapable. But if those routine tasks are providing support for awakening, they are transformed into noble, meritorious action that strengthens our aspiration and ensures that we will have the circumstances necessary to do whatever spiritual work we need to do. Merit is a power, or force, within us that is earned, not just by wholesome samsaric4 deeds, although there is nothing wrong with them, but by our strong intention to be free infused into actions which support the liberation of others. It is the accumulated charge that attracts the lightning bolt. “All things are done for the sake of self,” the Buddha taught. Through practice and service, our definition of self naturally expands into the experience of vast, interconnected manifestations of energy. Spiritual power grows as our conscious understanding of how we share energy grows. This seeming paradox is profound: share with one being, the energy doubles. Share with ten, it increases tenfold. Share with all sentient beings, the energy is revealed as infinite. For service to be effective as a practice it must be a put-through, ultimately. Whatever romantic notions we may have in the beginning, when we are asked to go beyond our preferences, our fatigue, our ideas of what we are capable of and willing to do, we stretch, and resist. Sometimes we snap. We joke that people who can‟t afford extensive psychotherapy should invest a few years in service on a Dharma Centre board of directors. Much quicker. To commit to direct service for a teacher is to put your everyday self on the line. In formal situations, don‟t you dress it up, seeking approval? As confidence builds between teacher and student, opportunities will present themselves for that relationship to move from formal to informal, and it is always the student‟s decision to engage, or not. Be prepared to be tried, judged and sentenced; not by the lama, but by your own awareness. You have a really good idea . . . and the teacher yawns. You clean and tidy the living room perfectly, and the teacher yells at you. You‟re feeling happy and enthusiastic, smiling broadly. “What‟s that fake little smile doing on your face?” the teacher demands. Your good state wavers. “Wow, I thought I was feeling good. What if I am faking it?” Now the smile is gone, for sure. Every game the ego wants to play will be revealed in its nakedness, the patterned reactions of hurt, pride, resentment, anger, guilt, fear, critique, childishness and defense will show up, and through awareness and commitment to the process, dissolve. Maybe more than once; the compassion of the lama is profound. The invitation to join the dance with all your neurotic buttons dangling out there in space, inviting the curious lama finger‟s interest, is hard for the teacher too. To give love that cuts and burns is the act of a true physician of the heart. Kindness is not kindness when it denies the obvious suffering. Service like this is to stand in front of the empty mirror of the lama‟s mind, and see yourself reflected. If a reflection appears, there is work to be done. When the ego bounces, we willfully ignore Buddhanature manifesting in ways that we don‟t approve of. The universe shrinks down to me, me, me. My opinions, my views, my self-righteousness. Ooops. In the cosmic game of snakes and ladders, welcome back to square one. One day, you‟ll feel that lama-finger reach for the old, familiar button. No reaction; nothing happens. Focussed on the carrots you are chopping, you chop carrots, you smile. Love is present. Later, reflecting on the experience, you get excited. “Wow, something‟s really shifted,” you say to yourself. “Maybe I‟ve transcended ego.” You decide to test the tester. “Here‟s that button again, push it if you can. Take your best shot!” But these tests can only happen when you are not inviting them; it‟s wise not to act as if you think the lama is an idiot. It is true that life itself will provide all these experiences when we are committed to serve. But there is a heightened drama and expectation in engaging with our dharma brothers and sisters, and especially our teachers, as personal allies. They are, after all, as committed, in theory, at least, to our process of awakening as we are. The immediate feedback they provide is more likely to be heard, more skilfully and personally crafted to find its way into the constricted corners of our hearts through love and shared commitment. When we give service with the clear understanding that donor, recipient and gift are in total union, we experience the transcendent nature of this practice. A few of us who were committed to shrine creation at our Dharma Centre often worked all night before an empowerment to create the ultimate environment and altar, as perfect in beauty as intention. We would come to the temple early in the morning, to see that everything was as it should be and to warm the space for the lama. Bone weary, sometimes crabby, sitting in the cold, reciting mantras together, the magic would begin. As the ritual of people entering, prostrating and taking their seats began all our satisfaction and complaint would dissolve into the profound space of mystery. Oneness. No lama, no shrine, no us, no them, only a delicate play of movement, light, smell, taste and sound creating a mindscape in which there was no way to say where one ends and another begins. Service in the kitchen, in my experience, can be just as evocative. “When all is reduced to the one, what is the one reduced to?” was the koan I had been assigned. Slicing a red pepper, the slices got thinner and thinner. Can space slice space? Traveling with my teacher and some fellow students through the heart of Burgundy in France, I was assigned the task of finding a particular brand of single malt whisky. Day after day, there was none to be found at all. Then, an amazing store that had everything. On a high shelf I found my prey, a lone bottle labeled Knockando. Not the variety requested, but, better, I hoped, than nothing. “Well,” said the Rinpoche, “I supposed you‟ve failed again?” I tried to look downcast. “No can do, Sir,” I said, and held out the bottle. The simple memory of his face, the laughter we all shared -- completely letting go -- brings with it, to this day, a state of total joy. When people who are not parents look at what parents go through, there is nothing about it that makes any sense. Why would people subject themselves to that? And smile about it. Service for the Dharma is like that. Our willingness comes back to us in unfathomable, inexpressible experience. We are strengthened, and tempered, honed like the finest steel blade, symbol of transcendent wisdom. We gain much more than we ever dreamed possible, discover a way of being that is not buy-able or earn-able or stealable. Going beyond pleasure and pain, gain and loss, shame and fame, praise and blame is what service provides. When those worldly motivators have dissolved, what is left is nothing but Truth. Bonni Ross November 2007 References: 1 World as Lover, World as Self by Joanna Macy, Parallax Press. If you can‟t find the book, there are excerpts at: http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC34/Macy.htm 2 A helpful, if unconventional, translation of this mantra of Great Perfection, from the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra is: “Coming, being, going beyond, going completely beyond. Celebrate the Awakening.” Many studies of this text exist; an accessible scholarly one is The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and Its Verse Summary by Edward Conze, South Asia Books, 1994. Mother of the Buddhas, by Lex Hixon, Quest Books, 1993, provides a contemporary western introduction to these teachings on transcendent wisdom. 3 Generosity is the first of the Six Perfections, the training ground of the Bodhisattva. The other five are: morality, patience, energy, concentration and wisdom. 4 Samsara is the world of apparent reality, wherein we are blindly propelled by our ego-conditioning and self-centered motivation.
    SERVICE, The Practice of Going-Beyond by Bonni Ross
  • We do this work to expand awareness, deepen wisdom and increase compassion for the benefit of all beings. First of all, I’d like to refresh your memory of the Jungian mandala of the four functions of the human being which we spoke about last week. Do you recall what they are? Sensing, evaluative, intellectual and intuitive. Now, the fact that you have a physical body is rather obvious to you! And most adults have some sort of understanding that this physical body has an anatomical structure similar to other adult human bodies, but with built-in strengths and weaknesses that are quite individual, conditioned by genetics, accident and opportunity (or lack of opportunity) for development. What is less obvious is that in addition to this material body, living beings also have a fine material body, sometimes called an energy field, or auric field. This energy body, which pervades the physical body, also extends outside the physical body about 18 to 24 inches. This measurement is for an ordinary person; the energy body of a fully awakened being would be vast in comparison, encompassing an entire city, for example. This energy body has been photographed, somewhat crudely, with Kirlian photography, and can be perceived by most people when they are in an exceptionally calm state, or have had some training in what to look for. Like the physical body, the fine material body of a human being has an anatomical structure that is basic, and individual distortions, or blocks, that are a product of the many lifetimes of experiences of that streaming of consciousness. The anatomy of the fine material body corresponds more or less to the four functions, beginning with the most dense, or slow moving energy, the sensing body, or physical form; and then decreasing in density through the layering of emotional; mental; and intuitive, or spiritual, bodies. Running throughout the energy body are pathways or channels through which energy moves. These pathways conjoin at nexus points, or energy centres, the principal ones of which are located at the crown of the head, throat, centre of the torso, navel, and at the base of the spine. Each energy centre is associated with one of the endocrine glands in the physical structure, and activation of the energy centres influences the body through the neuro-endocrine system, and vice versa. This entire anatomical structure, involving all four functions, is the “local” environment or territory of meditation practice. However, it is important to remember that one’s “individual” reality is always being influenced by the larger environment — the people around you, the political and economic and social conditions of the country you live in, the subtle effects of climate and weather, the movement of planets and the whole, vast, interconnected reality that is Universe itself. We are never separate from all these (and many, many more) influences — some of them carried from the distant past — the vast majority of which we are entirely unconscious of. Now come back to earth again! When one reads the various meditation texts of all ages, the first discussion in them invariably concerns itself with the cultivation of a virtuous, or ethical life. The reason for this is very simple: certain types of behaviour are proven to cause agitation in consciousness. In order for meditative concentration to stabilize and deepen successfully, the consciousness must become very calm. Agitation created by living in a fashion that causes harm to oneself and/or other beings works against the development of these calm states. A life based on the principle of non-harming would include refraining from killing, stealing, lying, sensual indulgences of various kinds and using any substances that cause the mind’s perception, analytic and reaction functions to be clouded or distorted. Most religions rely on an array of formal prohibitions to ensure correct behaviour. In Buddhadharma there are various levels of training precepts — a basic three for all who formally commit themselves to working within this framework, five for most lay people, eight for those with the type of ordination which I hold, ten for newly-ordained, celibate, nuns and monks and up to several hundred for those who become fully ordained. These precepts are presented as a study, rather than a list of “thou shalt nots” in order to encourage practitioners to keep trying without guilt, and to deepen their appreciation of the subtleties of action, speech and thought that the training principles address. To live a wholesome life presupposes an understanding that there is a law of cause and effect — that one’s present experience, pleasant or unpleasant, is a direct result of one’s past wholesome or unwholesome motivation and behaviour. Therefore, it is important that one’s present actions, words and thoughts are thought of as seeds which will (or will not) produce future experience supportive of spiritual development. For those who would like to explore these, and other fundamental ideas of Buddhadharma, I recommend reading a book entitled "WHAT THE BUDDHA TAUGHT" by Walpole Rahula. Then, if you have questions about the philosophical milieu in which these practices were taught, you can bring them to class. Last week I mentioned that two main divisions exist. Does anyone recall what they were? Tranquillity, or calming, meditations and insight, or direct experience. We’ll begin by considering the territory of tranquillity practices, with the understanding that the development of calm is essential in order for insight to arise. Tranquillity meditations involve the development and deepening of states of concentration. Now this word immediately causes many Westerners to show signs of tension — something about how we are conditioned in school, perhaps, that equates concentration with tight muscles, furrowed brows and the appearance of great effort! Meditative concentration has a different quality — more of a relaxing into, absorbing into, the object of concentration, rather like a pussycat settling into a patch of sun for a long, intense, nap. We all have experienced this type of concentration when we are interested in something — a film or book, perhaps, that is so involving we forget who and where we are, becoming completely engrossed in the story. This ability to absorb into objects is trained, through meditation practice, to be used at will (rather than only spontaneously) and with objects conducive to the purification and development of consciousness, rather than those which provide, at best, escapist fantasy. This quality of concentration begins with a certain application of effort, which strengthens and stabilizes the mind, and develops in steadiness and intensity to the point where the meditator is aware of other sensory inputs, but is not distracted from concentration by them. Finally the experience becomes unitive or holistic — no “meditator”, no “meditation object” — simply a flow of pure conscious experience in which subject and object have merged with Universe. Next week we’ll speak about the states of absorption further, and begin our exploration of the practices themselves. May the positive energy of this exploration be shared for the elimination of suffering throughout the universe and the speedy liberation of all beings! To Overview (3) This teaching is from http://www.retreathouse.bc.ca
    Overview of Buddhist Meditation Part 2 by Bonni Ross
  • I never saw a whooping crane But sometimes, in the summer night I would fall asleep under the covers Under the covers we put over our heads My cousins and me When grandpa came 'round with the bug spray "So you don't get eaten alive," he said And I would fall asleep safe from bugs And all eating alive things And get too hot And dream strange dreams And wake up hearing The giant whoop of a massive bird I could only imagine Sailing the sky Trailing long legs And sounding the ending of itself Which is a part of myself I think the crane got confused With the cough The whooping cough Which I couldn't get Or diphtheria or tetanus or polio either Because of the shots We lined up in the school gym for One sleeve rolled up, the left Which was bad for me, south paw, Because the shots made your arm hurt Which was ok for the right handed kids But not for me The cough which scared and hurt then killed you Sounded like screeching brakes of the train Trying to stop in time Trying not to hit the moose on the tracks At least that's what I thought back then What did whooping cranes sound like, Really, I want to know Does iTunes have a track of them I wonder? And the passenger pigeons Which were all gone before I was born Which darkened the sky as they flocked past With beating wings and calling out directions Are there grainy old films on YouTube With scratchy sounds of a million long-gone birds coo-cooing? I cannot hear them in my mind so Why do I miss them so, long for them so As I long for the voices of my sons Grown and gone and distant But still part of me? The May flies darkened the screen at the cottage Along the whole verandah they clung to the screen You couldn't see the view down the lake or the sunset But not for long their lives were short They came in June, not May which was strange And they made no sound at all but little bumps And rustles as they landed and found a place for themselves At night I thought the whippoorwill called them Called them to dinner and ate them up Because in the morning they'd be gone As the quiet dawn lit the water and the sky The last summer I was there Not welcome any more There were no May flies at all And a whippoorwill's call so rare We exclaimed over coffee on the beach How good it was to get some sleep at night So many changes in one short life Sixty six full years Trying to learn things that were naturally known Before we speeded up the world with our knowing better To share the truth of lost parts of ourselves So precious in their gone-ness as they never seemed to be When they were granted Taken for granted To us, by us This sadness doesn't matter To anyone but me All my mornings have been shaped By voices of birds Even in winter when I wake in the dark before they do My heart lifts with waiting And hope Image Credits: Banner Image: PAT SULLIVAN, AP Top Image: Roz Stendahl Bottom Image: TORI, ZEPHIART
    This Morning I Woke Early by Bonni Ross
  •   To all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Ten Directions and the Three Times: Please hear my prayer! Protect me from seduction by the subtle mind of preference And its supportive logic in story. Help me to see directly the shaping of my conditioning And acquire the skill to free myself from it. Alert me to the cunning manifestations of resistance And, through feeling their power in my own body, Transform them into allies! Show me that exclusive love is suffering. Allow my commitment to dear ones to expand and deepen to encompass all. Teach me that equanimity is not indifference, But the flowering of loving kindness, compassion and empathetic joy. Non-clinging awareness confers greater involvement, the wise ones declare. Lead me to skillful interactions that expand kindness and clarity. May wise discrimination guide me on the path of non-harming. May deep question remain constant when choices appear obvious. May I hold my worldly obligations as sacred vows of service. Our tangled worldly lives have pure and vast potential. We are crazed, all of us; may we soothe and forgive the madness of ourselves and others. The potential to evolve, awaken and develop fully is reality. Help us to seek, discover and encourage freedom in ourselves and others. May we learn the power of a wholesome present moment as the seed of future goodness. May our minds be fertile Buddhafields for the transformation of our worlds! Image Credit: World of Wearable Arts Runner-up Gothic Habit, by San Francisco designer Lynne Christiansen.
    A Householder's Prayer by Bonni Ross
  • We do this work to expand awareness, deepen wisdom and increase compassion for the benefit of all beings. What is meditation? It may interest you to know that in the ancient language of the culture where these practices were first developed, there wasn’t a word which exactly translates as “meditation”. This English word is our Western construct; the being who taught the system we are going to study over the next few months, Sakyamuni Buddha, used two words to describe the process: one which means “concentration” and another which means “mental development”. So here is a new idea for you. Meditation exercises involve training the “individual” mind to concentrate on particular objects in very specific ways, in order to strengthen and purify consciousness to the point where it is possible to awaken to, or perceive its union with, transcendent or “universal” consciousness. To begin at one possible beginning, let’s examine the standard equipment that every human being has. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychoanalyst of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spoke of the human being as possessing four primary functions: sensing (the body), feeling (evaluation), thinking (intellect) and intuitive (spiritual). These four operate together, in dynamic equilibrium, and provide the human organism with a wide range of data which is assessed and utilized for survival. The sensing function lets data in through the doorways of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The feeling function makes very simple judgments about this data: yes, it’s acceptable, no, it’s not. The intellect provides us with a way to classify and analyze the data and create concepts about it and the intuitive knits the whole together and also acts as doorway for more information, on a more subtle level, to be received. All of these functions are conditioned — their abilities enhanced or limited — by the experiences we encounter from the moment of conception in the womb, through our birth, and then by the quality of the environment we find ourselves in as children, adolescents and adults. This conditioning process continually creates our sense of “I” or ego, a unique, separate individual with particular talents and wholesome qualities, weaknesses, lacks and unwholesome qualities. Even though we know our bodies, feelings and thoughts were hugely different at earlier stages in our lives than they are now, we persist in thinking of ourselves as somehow possessing a fixed state of consciousness or being. Meditation arises from the context, in most cultures, that this limited and conditioned ego consciousness is not the whole story. Here language becomes very slippery, and people’s concepts vary enormously as they attempt to describe another type of consciousness which is much vaster than the ego. Words such as God, enlightened, transcendent, universal are used. Meditation systems (and every exoteric religious expression has had its corresponding esoteric, spiritual work) all have the purpose of providing a bridge or connection between the ego mind and the depth mind. Meditation addresses the questions that arise when neither intellectual understanding nor religious faith is sufficient to explain the nature of universe and the place of the individual in it. One of the observations that gives rise to such questions, a fact of life that every mature person will have taken in, consciously or unconsciously, is that everything changes. There is nothing that remains static indefinitely anywhere in the universe of observable phenomenon. In some cultures more than in others, great value is placed by the ego mind on establishing a sense of permanence and stability, which is equated with safety. Our culture has developed this priority to such a degree that many people live their whole lives without ever confronting the personal meaning of the fact that they are someday, some unknown day (perhaps tomorrow) going to die. It does not require a huge leap in understanding to see clearly that the tension between the universal quality of change and the cultural value of permanence creates an anxiety, a built-in tension or existential sense of anxiety in people. Beginning at this point, that all existence shares this fundamentally unsatisfactory state, the Buddha progressed through deep realizations of the causal factor of this state, the cessation factor, and then composed an eight-point process or path which would lead those inclined to the realization of their essential union with transcendent consciousness, with the result that the cause of struggle would be eliminated. All the meditations that he adapted and crafted were for the purpose of bringing people to their own direct experience of these truths. Now, meditation techniques, regardless of what culture or religious system creates them, can be divided into seven basic categories. There are practices based on breathing, on colour and/or form, on sound, on movement, on points within the body where energy pathways conjoin. There are practices that are devotional in nature, and finally, there is direct experience of the essence of mind, sometimes referred to as insight. The first six of these categories, and all the variety that their combining in different ways can produce, is for the purpose of the establishment and deepening of calm, or tranquillity, in consciousness. The seventh, insight, is a category which stands alone because it depends on the prior development of calm in order to arise. Formal, disciplined meditation practice is important for individual unfoldment because it helps to stabilize and purify the mind. It also opens doorways to inner sensory experience and helps to remove blocks in the energy of the organism that inhibit clear functioning. But formal practice is most effective for liberation if it takes places within an environment where continual awareness of all the functions of the human being is maintained to the best of one’s ability. Awareness is everything! Some teachers will declare that meditation exercises are merely clever ways of making it interesting for students to pay attention! The context, or way of life, in which meditation is practiced will determine its effectiveness. Sincere motivation for liberation from suffering, or union with the divine, is of paramount importance. The whole evolutionary push of universe is moving toward awakening, but there are many ways we can collude to slow this process down. The Buddha taught an eight-fold process which provides guidance for those wanting to experience for themselves the great liberation which he experienced. Three of these principles have to do with the quality of our actions, words and how we earn our living; two involve cultivating a complete, truthful knowledge of reality based on direct experience and the purity of intention or motivation to awaken. The final three relate to the training and development of the mind through meditation. In his lifetime, the Buddha taught 40 different methods of meditation, some suitable for all people in all circumstances, some as specific tools to strengthen a particular quality of consciousness or to antidote some habitual unwholesome tendency. In the 2,500 years since his lifetime, these practices have been used effectively and reliably by many millions of people. Developing with the experience of these practitioners and adapting to different cultural and temporal contexts as the Teaching spread, the number of practices that are called “Buddhist” today number in the thousands — but they all stem from the basic plant which we will begin to study in detail next week. May the benefit of this work be shared for the speedy liberation of all beings!   This teaching is excerpted from the Sunshine Coast Retreat House Website, click here to read many more teachings by Bonni Ross
    Overview of Buddhist Meditation Part 1 by Bonni Ross
  •   To write of love is to lack vocabulary: I could lie beside you on the night grass, Navigating the vastness of dark and light that is sky; Smelling the damp mother-body of the good ground; Ears quickening to silence, to rustle; to the hum and purr of stars; Tasting coffee to stay awake for the dancing universe All night long, soft warm breeze on my face . . . I could celebrate the birth of an idea, so clear, so complete-in-itself and so transient . . . I could relax in a stillness so vast that even the quick point of attention vanishes . . . On the way to knowing love, We discover much that is not love, and miss so much that is . . . To be curious about that is love too. And so we heal, we grow, we understand. “To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him. Just to see him smile makes my life worthwhile. To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him, and I do.”— popular song lyric from the ’50s    Years ago Venerable Namgyal Rinpoché suggested a wonderful practice: to work through an encyclopedia of animals, radiating the energy of loving-kindness, metta, to each one in turn. Arriving at “pseudoscorpion,” I read about a tiny creature related to spiders whose front legs appear to be pincers. It’s not really dangerous, it just pretends to be something it is not, in order not to have to actually defend itself. Happily pondering the ironies and similarities of human and insect life, I went for a walk in the woods, and then sat in meditation. When I opened my eyes fully, I saw a tiny black spot on the wall in front of me; a black spot that had not been there when I began my practice. Bending nearer, I could discern what seemed at first to be a fleck of ash from the fire, until it moved! I quickly grabbed a magnifying glass and peered at it. As the image of its body was received into the form-recognition part of my brain there was a sudden expansive rush that blew me to bits: it was a pseudoscorpion, and I had just fallen head over heels in love. I carefully moved it from the wall to a lovely little home quickly created in a small box. The encyclopedia had noted that it fed on dust mites, and scrounging under the bed yielded a huge potential food source for my new love. I attempted to convert my friends to this new fascination: “Can I show you something amazing?” I asked them, launching into the tale. They were polite at first, then increasingly distant. Finally someone became angry. “It’s a bug, Bonni! A bug! You’ve got it in a cage, with no companions of its own kind. You don’t really know whether it can feed off the dust balls from under your bed — you’ll probably kill it!” And so, like many before me who’ve made unwise choices in love, I let my little friend go. Fondly. Respectfully. Gratefully. To this day, I feel enriched for having known and loved that little creature. But it wasn’t always so simple...   “Jesus loves me, this I know, ‘cause the Bible tells me so. We are weak but He is strong . . . yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.” — United Church of Canada Hymn Book, circa 1955   Like many of my generation, I grew up with some pretty distorted ideas about love. None of the Sunday-school teachers, none of the books explained to me why I didn’t FEEL loved. By the end of high school, I had read the Bible and all the Freud I could get my hands on (which added some new ideas about sex to the confusion). Of course, I LOVED — passionately. My dog, Tinker. My best friend, Trudy. An archeologist named Sam who was a character in a movie seen at the drive-in with my parents. Anna Pavlova and Isadora Duncan, the (dead) dancers who were the contrasting ideals of my heart. But only my dog loved me back, really. And he was fickle: let someone else apply a can opener to a can of dog food, and I was forgotten.   “Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars any heart not tough nor strong enough to take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain; love is like a cloud, holds a lot of rain. Love hurts.” — The Everley Brothers, circa 1963   What I heard on the radio (hidden under my pillow to capture far-away American stations that broadcast all night long) didn’t add much to the themes in the country-and-western music that had been the background in childhood. Because so much of my “love life” took place in a fantasy world, there was continual disappointment, and the songs reinforced all the loneliness and desperation. I was different from everyone else, I thought. No one will ever love me. I felt like Joe Blspflthck (spelling guessed-at) in the comic strip “L’il Abner,” who trudged around in a black hat and overcoat under a perpetual cloud of rain which fell only on him. It was time to grow up.   “Love is just a four-letter word.” — Janis Joplin, circa 1969   I marched in place as an eccentrically-dressed ‘love’ child. Idealism, marijuana and recreational sex served to channel the passions of the heart. Erich Fromm helped. Hindu mythology too. Perhaps there was a place where religious experience and day-to-day human life weren’t different worlds. Then came R. D. Laing:   “It is our duty to bring up our children to love, honour and obey us. If they don’t, they must be punished, otherwise we would not be doing our duty. If they grow up to love, honour and obey us we have been blessed for bringing them up properly. If they grow up not to love, honour and obey us either we have brought them up properly or we have not: If we have there must be something the matter with them; If we have not there is something the matter with us.” — from Knots, 1970   Inscribed over the archway of the main aca- demic building where I went to university it said: The Truth Shall Make You Free. Reading Laing, feeling internal sensations, movements, that I had never felt before, an understanding deeper than the words-in-my head formed. I believed. I wanted to be free, and therefore, I must find out the truth. Many blind alleys later, I learned that the hu- man heart is a doorway to a completely new cognition of love. I discovered that love is a state of being that can be developed or unfolded deliberately, intentionally and that there are actual methods — mental technologies — that reliably accomplish this. Resting in the exalted presence that is universe (the one-turning) does not depend on conditions such as myself loving some- one, or someone loving me, but rather on leaving all such distinctions behind. This doesn’t mean that love isn’t personal any more, only that it is no longer exclusive. How could it be that nothing I had read or heard in my whole life thought to mention this miracle? Had I just not had eyes to see, or ears to hear? Is it this knowing that others refer to as God? Further discoveries followed as this realization was tested. One could use ‘other’ as a door- way too. At first the Teacher; then, thanks to Carlos Castenada, who declared that one’s great- est teachers were the “petty tyrants” in one’s life, any one at all, even apparent enemies. This is a wonder. For years I was extremely uncomfort- able in the presence of someone who, I had been told, “hated my guts.” That awkwardness re- sulted in behavior that further antagonized this person. Avoidance seemed the only strategy that didn’t trigger animosity and defense. Imagining her bathed in the heart’s radiance, it gradually became possible to relate to her in ‘reality,’ first in a neutral way, and then as if she was a friend. It was clear that she was working, in her own way, for resolution too. Our paths didn’t cross for many years. When we did meet again, I felt that she was a close and treasured companion with whom I had shared a lot of history. The healing power accessible through the heart also helps to reclaim and transform long- denied ‘selves’ from childhood — stages of development that have been cut off and repressed because the grip of negative pain is too frightening to hold. With amazement and thankful- ness, I now ‘remember’ my childhood as quite happy and full of opportunity to explore. Ten years ago, I would have labeled it scarred by deprivation and rage and grief. Immense conviction arises from this, which helps others develop the confidence they need to heal their own unacknowledged wounds. Further work demonstrates that universe evolves from a number of infinite, interpenetrating ‘emotional’ energy fields (or nested hierar- chies, in General Systems terms) which either come into awareness spontaneously as supportive response to a particular situation, or which can be reliably invoked or ‘tuned into’ for exploration or to provide meditative support to others. Imagine how different our reactions to personal and planetary problems would be if more of us relied on an understanding that love is not a ‘thing’ to be earned or bestowed, but simply, powerfully/potentially present in every moment! In the open, spacious field of the heart, one can meet with beings so wonderfully different, so unimaginable and exotic, that one’s conditioned set of reference points for what is possible dissolve. And the exploration continues . . . what was learned from the pseudoscorpion applies to every one, every question, that appears in the doorway. Through the great blessing of the Teachings of Liberation, may each and every living being come to realize this great personal and universal truth.     Written in Vancouver, June 1999. Bonni Ross brings together 40 years of study and practice in the Zen, Theravadin and Vajrayana traditions of Buddhism with motherhood, experience in holistic therapies and Western Mysteries, and a 16-year career as a communications and strategic planning consultant to business and government. She regularly teaches in Canada, California, Australia and New Zealand. Excerpted from "Loving–Kindness" compiled by Tarchin Hearn          
    Falling in love with the universe, one being at a time by Bonni Ross
  • We hear a lot today about the need for relief from physical illness or stress, and very often that is what causes an investigation of meditation to begin. Another cause is emotional turmoil of some kind, which eases into a temporary calm or peace during meditation. Both of these categories of motivation result in using meditation to change conditions which are seen to be negative to other conditions which are deemed ‘positive’ or ‘better’. Another type of meditator is an adventurer — she or he want to explore the nature of the mind itself, to experience the various phenomena which arise in consciousness. They seek to know, and sometimes to love, more deeply and fully. Whatever your analysis is of the factors which brought you to meditation, it is important to establish before you begin each formal practice session what drives or motivates you. We act, speak, think and feel in response to conditions — some of them external, some internal. Some are conscious and some — the tricky, blind-spot ones — are not. Very often when meditation is taught only as a technique — a remedy for unpleasant experiences, or a doorway to pleasant ones — the instruction overlooks how deeply our conscious and unconscious motivation influences the quality of the practice itself. As I teach in various parts of the world and observe what is going on with people, it seems that the ones who are making the sort of steady effort that produces an on-going sense of clarity and groudedness and centredness have a very clear sense of how they relate to these questions of motivation, or aspiration. They also seem to understand how unconscious motivation can sabotage what they are consciously on about and are actively, continuously probing to re-program consciousness to a continuum recollection of where we actually find refuge, and what motivations actually fuel spiritual progress. The first contemplation that should be done before meditation begins is “Why am I doing this? What do I want?” It is helpful to know — even if sometimes the answers may appear less than noble! At least then we have an opportunity to redefine our aspiration, to align it with universal principles which provide the maximum support to the effort we are making. What are these universal principles? First and foremost, there is the concept that consciousness is the very fabric of all manifestation, pervading all of the universe, including yourself. The characteristics of that universal consciousness (before conditioning obscures and distorts them) are spaciousness, luminosity and awareness. People call this consciousness God or Buddha-nature. I like to use the word Universe. The second principle is that this universal consciousness is reliable, that what arises from it obeys certain laws which are consistent whether one is observing the smallest particles or the vastness of space. These laws, or universal truths, can be experienced as direct insights by human beings who have prepared themselves by a disciplined and sustained approach to purification of the obscurations and distortions. Over the course of human history methodic systems have been taught by those who have had such direct experiences. Some of these teachings, and the realizations which arise from them, have been passed down, conceptually and experientially, from teacher to student without interruption from the person who had the original experience of transcendence. We have access today to these same lines of direct transmission. The third principle is that our struggle to learn and to grow is supported by Universe. However isolated we may feel, we are part of a vast, interconnected web of consciousness — some of which manifests in form, and is therefore perceivable to our physical senses; some of which exists as vibrations or force fields of energy which we are capable of experiencing directly if we train our latent capacities of consciousness. If we are fortunate, and our motivation over lifetimes has been wholesome and sincere, we may meet “real-time” teachers and teachings which will provide us with the tools we need to explore the various laws of universe and come to our own direct experience of the spacious, luminous, aware consciousness which sustains our existence. We may experience the synergy of communities of like-minded people who share these higher aspirations. These three principles — Universe, Law, and Interconnectedness — are sometimes referred to as refuge — a safe, reliable conceptual platform from which we can investigate with confidence. We can enhance our practice of meditation — no matter what our personal motivation is — by pondering these three principles again and again as concepts, by aspiring through our meditation practice to come to a direct realization or knowing of these truths for ourselves. Now, if we are honest, we have to admit that in our fear, uncertainty and confusion, as we attempt to find refuge from our physical, emotional and mental distress in all sorts of ways that offer temporary relief, but we find that in the long term, none of them work. We go for refuge to our families, our lovers, our friends. We take refuge in our money, our homes, our insurance policies. We take refuge in television, paperback novels, comfort food, alcoholic drinks and drugs of various kinds. We take refuge in our all-too fragile and impermanent bodies. We take refuge in sentimentality, and project our unresolved needs and frustrations on other people, not to mention our pets. We take refuge in our beliefs and concepts about ourselves and reality — often without examining whether or not they are reliable and true. Until we are willing to stop clinging to these refuges which offer only the most partial and transient protection, our meditation practice will not produce the healing or learning that we seek. It will be limited in power. We will remain as “entry-level” meditators, and our practice will have much the same quality as taking an aspirin when we have a headache — temporary relief from suffering, but ultimately not a “cure” or remedy for the suffering itself. Our lives are produced by universe in a miraculous process that has been unfolding and evolving for billions of years. Our bodies contain material that participated in the birth and death of stars, that formed minerals, plants and vastly different kinds of sentient life. We breathe one another in and out, moment by moment — plants producing oxygen, human producing carbon dioxide — feeding one another. We recycle Napoleon’s breath, Cleopatra’s cells. Dust from space rains down on earth; we breathe it in, we become stars. planets, other kinds of sentient beings. We have evolved a neuro-chemistry that is extremely sensitive to changing conditions and gives rise to a wide range of emotional or energetic responses which act as “carrier waves” of physical and verbal and mental communication. This allows for extremely complex and subtle exchanges and synthesis of data. It also gives right to the potential for great confusion or, as Teilhard de Chardin reflected, the possibility of liberation. We, alone among the inhabitants of our world, have the impulse to reflect on our experience and ask questions about it. What built this intelligence? What is it for? Are we using it to potential? Thank you all very much for what you have brought to this sharing. May we all have a week rich with a deeper understanding of where our refuge lies. May you be well and happy!   From a talk given in Vancouver by Bonni Ross February 18, 1997 This teaching is excerpted from the Sunshine Coast Retreat House Website, click here to read many more teachings by Bonni Ross
    Refuge by Bonni Ross