|Finding Your Spiritual Teacher|
Welcome to the April issue of Exploring the Path. Our theme this quarter is Finding and Relating to your Teacher. How do we find a teacher and why do we need one? What qualities should I look for in my teacher? When I am working with a teacher, how should I relate to him or her?
In late February/early March, Upasaka Culadasa led an eight-day silent meditation retreat in Andover, MA. Many of the pieces in this quarter's newsletter stem from that extraordinary opportunity to work with this great master. Our immense gratitude goes out to Master Culadasa and his wife Nancy.
Please scroll to the bottom to view our upcoming themes and dates. We look forward to your submissions for the July issue!
Stephanie Hobart has moved off of the newsletter staff. Thank you for your service, Stephanie!
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If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.
Mary Kay Dyer
WHY DO I NEED A TEACHER?
We all need teachers. We have all had many teachers already in this life, many who we may have yet to recognize as such. Someone helped us learn to feed ourselves, to read, and to cook but there are also those who taught us not to lie, to be kind to animals and to not think so highly of ourselves that we feel we are more deserving than others.
Spiritual teachers are the ones who helped us understand the latter. Our biggest spiritual questions often relate to:
~ Who are we really?
~ And why we are living the life we are?
If we have those things sorted out already, then perhaps we don't need any more spiritual teachers. If not, we could use guidance from those who seem to have some wisdom about how to find answers to these important perennial questions. So, the field of apparent candidates for our spiritual guides is those who both espouse and live by principles that offer a way of living that is meaningful to us. In other words, those we would like to emulate because we think they are on the right track. In Buddhism, this would be the path to permanent happiness because of the cessation of suffering.
In the Lojong teachings of ACI 14, we are told that this happiness comes from recognizing teachings in everything and teachers in everyone. If we haven't figured out how to implement this fully yet, then we need spiritual teachers to help us use such tools.
WHOM SHOULD I CHOOSE
|Lamas Marut and Cindy Lee|
According to Alexander Berzin,
"The first step for unraveling the problem is to acknowledge certain empirical facts about student-teacher relationships.
(1) Almost all spiritual seekers progress through stages along
the spiritual path.
(2) Most practitioners study with several teachers during their lifetimes and build up different relationships
(3) Not every spiritual teacher has reached the same level of accomplishment.
(4) The type of relationship appropriate between a specific seeker and a specific teacher depends upon the spiritual level of each.
(5) People usually relate to their teachers in a progressively deeper manner as they advance along the spiritual path.
(6) Because the same teacher may play different roles in the spiritual life of each seeker, the most appropriate relationship each seeker has with that teacher may be different." *
If we follow Berzin's recommendations, then it makes sense to first assess where we are on a spiritual path and what type of information we need. With that information established, and if we are seeking guidance on a Buddhist path, Berzin suggests we consider one or more of the following:
Dharma Instructor: someone who imparts the Buddha's teachings from the point of view of their practical application to life, based on personal experience. A spiritual mentor is someone who leads others along the graded path to enlightenment, including:
Refuge Vow Preceptor: someone who confers Refuge and/or Lay Person's Vows and gives guidance about how to keep them.
Mahayana Master: a mentor who teaches the methods for developing bodhicitta and who leads a seeker along the bodhisattva path.
Tantric Master: a Mahayana master who leads disciples to enlightenment through the methods of tantra.
Root Guru: the teacher who turns a seeker's heart and mind most strongly to the Dharma.
Sometimes one teacher can be all of the above for us but more commonly that will not be the case and it is possible to have a different person for each category.
QUALITIES TO LOOK FOR
The ACI courses present different lists of qualities to be sought in a worthy spiritual teacher. Thubten Chodron synthesizes many of these ideas in these terms:
"Qualified (Buddhist) teachers act ethically, have sound meditative experience, and correctly understand emptiness. They have also studied the Buddhist scriptures in depth, are able to teach a variety of Dharma subjects and have a good relationship with their own teachers. They are motivated to teach out of genuine concern for their students, not out of desire for offerings or fame. They are compassionate and patient and will try to help their students no matter how many mistakes the students may make. They teach in accord with general Buddhist principles and do not alter the meaning of the dharma in order to gain more students or offerings."
Also, Isaac Newton said,
"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants". Every ACI course and many teachings in Buddhism begin with an attribution to those who have provided the basis for the teacher's understanding of what they are teaching. When taking a teacher, or just accepting the words of one, we should be sure they are speaking from a trusted lineage of Buddhist teachers.
"As spiritual seekers, we need to look to spiritual teachers in terms of what we wish to learn and are ready to absorb. We may wish to gain intellectual knowledge of Buddhism, Dharma instruction about applying the teachings to life, or pragmatic training in meditation or rituals. We may also wish for spiritual growth leading to emotional well-being in this lifetime, favorable rebirths, liberation, or enlightenment, or for the total self-transformation of tantra as the most efficient means for becoming Buddhas. The appropriate relationships with our teachers depend on our aim and our level of development."**
- Mary Kay Dyer
* Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin, www.berzinarchives.com, originally published as Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship, Berzin, Alexander, Snow Lion Press, 2000.*** Berzin Archive, ibid
** Thubten Chodron. Buddhism for Beginners, Snow Lion Press, 2001, p. 125
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The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom
but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.
| |TAKING IT TO THE STREET
PHYSICAL PAIN IS INEVITABLE BUT SUFFERING IS OPTIONAL
[With grateful acknowledgement of Upasaka Culadasa (John Yates, Ph.D.) for his recent teachings on pain, suffering, and the end of suffering, which inspired this article.]
There is a kind of equality between all living beings. Every living creature wants to be happy, and every living creature wants to avoid pain and suffering.
The people you like want these two things, the people you don't like want these two things, the people you don't care about one way or the other want these two things, and you yourself want these two things.
Physical pain is a part of this kind of life. With the types of bodies that we have, pain is inevitable. Eventually we will all die, and that is generally known to be unpleasant. And on the way to death, we will experience, if we're lucky, old age, which is also known to be unpleasant. And during our life, we will also experience sickness and injury, which are unpleasant.
But here is a secret of life...
Physical pain may be inevitable, but suffering is optional.
Suffering comes from resistance to what is.
For this discussion, pain will refer to the initial, undeniably unpleasant physical, mental or emotional sensation of hurt. Suffering will refer to that mental anguish that your mind layers on to the actual pain, as it protests against the pain.
Here is a helpful metaphorical equation to describe the relationship between pain and suffering, spoken by Shinzen Young, an American meditation teacher who is trained in three Buddhist traditions as well as Western schools of thought:
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
Let's imagine that you have 10 units of pain: you have a nasty illness, or your loved one recently died, or you have a nasty situation at work.
Your natural reaction to pain is to respond with mental resistance. You mind cries out, "Why me! How could this happen to me! This shouldn't be happening to me! I don't deserve this!"
Resistance means that some part of the mind refuses to accept what is happening to you. Actually, you just try to refuse it. To refuse pain or unpleasantness which has already happened is impossible, because it has already happened! So you are trying to do something absolutely impossible when you feel this kind of resistance - you are trying to change what has already happened. No wonder resistance brings suffering.
Now let's say you have 10 units of resistance to whatever the pain or unpleasantness is, along with our 10 units of pain, and look back at our equation.
You end up with 100 units of suffering - 100 units of mental anguish. Sure, there was some pain occurring for you, but then on top of that, you try to deny accepting what it happening to you. This mental anguish that we add on, blowing our own pain out of proportion as if it were the end of the world ... is totally optional and avoidable suffering.
You all have either experienced this phenomenon directly or seen it in someone else. Let's say that your loved one dies, not accepting this fact doesn't bring them back, it just makes you more miserable for a longer period of time. The healing comes when you start to accept that you are not going to be seeing this person in the flesh ever again.
Let's say something bad happened to a friend of yours when they were a child, some kind of abuse maybe. Now your friend is in their forties and they still haven't let go of trying to resist the facts of what happened to them. Their mind is still crying out "How could this have happened to me!" In this case the original abuse is actually long gone, and the person is keeping their own suffering alive sometimes for years after the fact.
Let's take an example, say you just found out that you or a loved one has cancer. That is a real, unpleasant situation. However, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to, in addition to the cancer, be really upset about it? If you do, then you will be causing yourself or your loved one additional stress that is totally avoidable.
Or let's say someone at work does something in a manner you think is totally wrong. Then you get fixated on the problem and roll it around and around in your head, creating a whole story of suffering for yourself instead of just accepting that this is the current situation, and you can either choose to try and do something about it or not. And in either case, getting upset - resisting the situation - is not helpful or productive.
As the Buddhist Master Shantideva (Peace Angel) wrote circa 700 AD,
If there is something you can do about it, why get upset? [just fix it]
If there is nothing you can do about it, why get upset?
[since there's nothing you can do]
Acceptance also works with physical suffering. Let's say you cut yourself in the kitchen accidentally, or injured your back at work.
There is a physical pain, and that hurts. But then on top of that, again there is the whole feeling and story of resistance. "Ouch, ouch, ouch, this shouldn't be happening to me." If you can let go of that story and accept and notice whatever pain may be, you can notice that the actual painful physical sensation is almost always much smaller than we are making it out to be. Even the physical pains are being blown out of proportion by your mind's unwillingness to accept reality as it is and deal with it.
Back to our equation: What if you only had 1 unit of resistance to the 10 units of pain? Then you would have 10 units of suffering. Your mental anguish after the original pain wouldn't be blown way out of proportion, "making a mountain out of a molehill", it would be just about the same size as the original pain. But we remember something from math class.
In the equation,
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
what would happen if we could take our resistance down to zero?
There would be no suffering left. The original pain would have still occurred, of course, but the mental anguish after the fact that we ourselves create due to our futile attempts to resist and not accept the reality of the situation, that mental anguish would be zero! Your suffering would be zero!
So, I hope this is helpful. If you can, going forward, practice and train your mind to let go of the suffering stories that it overlays and tells to you again and again, and instead just deal realistically with the much smaller, unavoidable pains of life, however makes the most sense in each situation. The first step in this process is just noticing that although some pain is unavoidable, all your suffering is totally avoidable, and you are creating it. Relax the drama, and have a good, happy life.
- Jesse Fallon
REFLECTIONS ON THE LIGHT ON MEDITATION RETREAT
February 29-March 8, 2012
In this interview-turned-conversation between Grace Sullivan and Anne Meyer, certain themes and ideas emerged from our experiences at the Light on Meditation Retreat.
(Focusing on the sensations in the feet while walking, meanwhile maintaining peripheral awareness of the world around you.)
GS: The first time I practiced walking meditation was the September 11th weekend when Master Culadasa came to Rockport and I really liked it. It's so much easier to stay engaged with the object and to observe the mind. I've been doing walking meditation in the park after work. For some reason I'm a little kinder to myself when I do it, I'm not sure why. There's so much going on, and you see clearly that you have to maintain peripheral awareness or you might fall over or run into something. One thing I'm working with is trying to figure out if I'm really having simultaneous peripheral awareness or if I'm flitting from one object to another; in this case between the sensations in the feet and whatever else is going on around me.
AM: I found the walking meditation to be extremely engaging. The labyrinth was a great place for it because I didn't need to think about where I was going and I could concentrate on the sensations in my feet. The periphery can really fade almost into abstraction-the rocks marking the boundaries appeared as characters or objects-something else entirely, or nothing. After a while I could walk along with focus on sensations in my feet or legs, and looking out at the world as secondary, almost like walking around with a secret.
Impressions of the teacher
GS: It's powerful hearing someone speak who appears to have experienced the realizations he's describing. That sense of a person's presence is so much a part of how I take what they're saying to heart. Feeling that confidence gives me faith that there is really something here that can be reached. But I can't expect it or force it to happen.
AM: Watching him answer questions seemed to reveal a tremendous amount about him as a being. He was so focused on the person asking, so determined to understand the question and to really answer it, no matter what it was. I felt l learned almost as much from watching how he was as I did from his answers.
GS: In the meditation hall I was sitting in the front, quite close to Master Culadasa. Especially during meditation when he was there, I felt there was an energetic movement, like a very strong wind, or movement of prana. At times it was almost overwhelming, but I had the sense that it took me into things in my mind that wouldn't have happened on my own.
AM: I too felt that my meditations were very different when Master Culadasa was in the room - more focused. I noticed a distinct difference. Experiencing this kind of interconnection seems to be evidence of the illusory nature of the boundaries between us.
Levels of Consciousness
GS: This ties in with the ideas about levels of consciousness, the multiple unconscious minds within each of us, and the idea that each consciousness could be an unconscious for a higher level of consciousness. I sensed that something was going on across people when he was there, on a collective level, and it felt like it was happening on its own and was definitely there. And that everyone was contributing.
AM: The model of multiple unconscious minds, all with your best interest at heart but with different ideas of what you need, was helpful for me for meditation. When my mind wandered I was able to be forgiving toward the "distractor" part of me because I could recognize its value in other contexts and not be so impatient. And I love the idea that when each unconscious projects itself onto the "big screen" of consciousness, the others can perceive it. So tying positive affect with staying on the breath models the benefits of concentration for other parts of our minds. This is a very different approach from what I'm used to-trying harder, taking charge...
To read this entire article please click here.
- Grace Sullivan and Anne Meyer
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| I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well. |
Alexander the Great
Breathing in, I feel
all that is drawn near
into a dearly treasured
heart stone of diamond.
Clear, the inner sun glows with love
ripples that flow inwardly without moving.
A mirror for the moon rising,
the sun setting, trees wavering
the lake is calm.
A leaf gently falls to mossy earth.
Breathing out, light caresses all
in gentle embrace. I replace fear
with surrender as tears flow
freely. The sun pulses
At one with sun, moon
my edges run
-Rylan Peery For Master Culadasa and Dharma Family with the early Full Moon of March 21012
This photograph was taken from Alcatraz. I was visiting my son in San Francisco after the 2009 Tahoe Thanksgiving retreat with Lama Marut called "Blissful Path to Bliss". The teachings were amazing, and I feel the experience was particularly intensified by the ten day solitary retreat I'd taken nearby immediately prior to the retreat. While on a tour of the former prison island of Alcatraz, I saw the this luminous white sail through the thorny trees and took the shot. I'm sure I wouldn't have been inspired to take it if I hadn't recently been with Lama Marut-- so of
Of course I named this image "Freedom."
- Barbara Simundza
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The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called "truth".
IN THE LOOP On Sunday, March 25, ACI-Cape Ann held its first event with interfaith clergy, a talk and discussion about life and death from a Buddhist, Christian, and Hospice perspective. Reverend Melissa Kreider, Interfaith Chaplain at Hospice of the North Shore and Greater Boston, Pastor Anne Deneen of St Paul Lutheran Church, and our own Jesse Fallon, Spiritual Advisor to ACI Cape Ann spoke of
these three perspectives on life, preparing for death, and the death process. Their insights offered practical advice on how to prepare for your own death and communicate your wishes to others, how to attend those who are dying, and how death awareness can enrich our daily lives.
This advice was offered in the context of their own experiences and of teachings from each tradition. Rich interconnections across faiths and shared personal experiences from each of the teachers made this a deeply meaningful and helpful event.
If you missed it, please feel free to view the archived video at:
or download the mp3 audio at:
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| Only one person in a million becomes enlightened without a teacher's help. |
ROCKPORT, Vajramudra Center:
Bok Jinpa 1 - Lighting Your Meditation on Fire
with Julie Upton
Wednesdays, March 28-May 16, 7:30-9:30pm
The Bodhisattva Vows: Asian Classics Formal Course 7
with Phil Salzman
Mondays, April 23-June 25, 7-9pm
Discovering the Warrior Within: Meditation for Those Who Don't
with Karen Aase and Judith Ring
Fridays, April 6-June 8, 5:30-7pm
Essence of Eloquence, The Art of Interpretation: Asian Classics Formal Course 15
with Jesse Fallon
Saturdays, April 28-May 26, 1-5:45pm
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life Part 3: Dharma Essentials 12
with Mary Kay Dyer
Sundays, June 3, 10, 24; July 1, 7 - 9pm
*** SPECIAL EVENTS **************************************************************
ECLIPSE: Integrate with the Subtle Body, the Silent Speech and the Spacious Mind,
with Cindy Lee, Darin McFadyen and Claire Thompson
Wednesday, June 20, 12 - 2pm and 3 - 5pm, VMC
LAMA MARUT BOOK TOUR
June 19 afternoon book singing at VMC. Details to be announced.
LAMA MARUT TEACHING
THE BUDDHA WAS NOT A BUDDHIST: Losing the 'Isms' and Finding the Truth
Wednesday, June 20, 7:30 - 9:30pm - location TBA
Weekly Meditation, Yoga, Discussion, Debate and Family Offerings with a variety of wonderful teachers. VMC 154 Granite Street, Rockport, MA
"Getting to the Cushion and Staying There" - A Meditation Series
222 Arts and Wellness Center
222 Eastern Avenue, Gloucester, MA
Sundays, April 8, 15, 22, 29, 4-5:30 pm
Info: email@example.com or 978.879.9159
LAMA MARUT BOOK TOUR
A Spiritual Renegade's Guide to the Good Life
June 19 - afternoon book signing at "The Annie." Details to be announced.
with Larry Wolf
Wednesday, April 18, 6:30-8pm. Free.
Robbins Library Community Room. 700 Mass Ave., Arlington MA.
Enter elevator and press LLR button.
LAMA MARUT PUBLIC TALK
Monday evening, August 6th. Details to be announced.
Governor's Academy, Byfield, MA
The 2012 Summer Retreat
"Shoot the Moon! Diamonds, Hearts and Wild Cards"
Tuesday, August 7th - Sunday August 12th
Governor's Academy, Byfield, MA
Transportation available from NYC.
LAMA MARUT BOOK TOUR and PUBLIC TEACHING
"Radical Contentment: The Most Revolutionary Idea of All"
June 21, Thursday, 7:30pm
City Hall Auditorium, 60 Pleasant St., Newburyport
Info: 978.465.4413 (Parking is one block away, behind the Unitarian church)
LAMA MARUT BOOK TOUR and PUBLIC TEACHING
"Inciting Happiness: A Spiritual Renegade's Revolutionary Manifesto"
June 19, Tuesday, 7:30 - 9:30pm
Kitty's Restaurant function room, 123 Main St., N. Reading, MA
(On the intersection of Rt 28 and Rt 62)
Info: (978) 664-4541
| A true teacher defends his students against his own personal influences. |
LIGHT ON MEDITATION RETREAT
We were blessed and incredibly fortunate to attend the Light On Meditation Retreat with Upasaka Culadasa and his wife Nancy in late February/early March. We offer these images with joy, love and gratitude.
- Holly Aloha Jaynes and Anne Meyer
Shoot the Moon: Diamonds, Hearts, and Wild Cards
August 6 - PM Public Talk by Lama Marut
August 7-12 Retreat
Once again we will be at the beautiful Governor's Academy
visit summerretreat.org for more info
Listening to Duncan Nelson
This year the subject of the retreat is
wisdom and compassion,
the two wings without which the human spirit can't fly.
SHOOT THE MOON is the term for a key maneuver
in the classic card game Hearts.
DIAMONDS stand for ultimate truth or wisdom.
HEARTS refer to living with an open heart.
WILD CARD with which to play a masterful hand.
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| The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. |
The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
SEND IT IN!
This newsletter is by and for our community. We welcome submissions - art work, movie or book reviews, dharma quotes, experiences on the cushion and on the street, dharma in the media, insights and ideas. We encounter teachers and opportunities to practice in the most unlikely places! So share it!
Upcoming Exploring the Path Themes!To encourage all of you to create content for our upcoming newsletters, we are letting you in on the secret! Here are the themes for the rest of the year:
July: Lojong ~ Opening Your Heart
October: The Gift of Happiness
Please send your submissions for any issue to: firstname.lastname@example.org
by the 1st of the month of publication (July 1, October 1). Please try to limit your submissions to 300 words.
Please provide full citations if submitting any copyrighted material (including the URL for graphics licensed under Creative Commons) and obtain permissions if using anything requiring permissions.
By submitting your work and your ideas you are giving EXPLORING THE PATH permission to publish them in this newsletter.
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|THANK YOU FOR VIEWING OUR NEWSLETTER!|
Questions or comments on our newsletter? Send them to email@example.com
For more information about activities at the Vajramudra Center, please visit aci-capeann.orgIf you have questions of a spiritual nature or want to request a meeting with our Spiritual Advisor, Jesse Fallon, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
n o s t o p p i n g u n t i l e v e r y o n e i s h a p p y !