The Urban Dharma Newsletter - January 10, 2007


In This Issue: Buddhism and Meditaton

1. Sitting in Korea - Br. Nicholas Alan Worssam, SSF
2. Practical Buddhism - Objects of Meditation / Compiled by Jayaram V
3. Tranquility VS Insight
4. Vipassana Meditation
5. Celebrating the Life of John Main - Paul Turner Harris



Happy New Year... If you're reading these words, it's a good thing, we made it to the beginning of another year :-)

It was a full year for me in 2007... With public talks, service to community, newsletters, podcasts, web sites... December was so busy and I missed getting out the UD newsletter, so I'm hoping this one will be worth two.

Find below a few things you may find of interest.

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Lissa Coffey interviews Kusala Bhikshu, a Buddhist monk living in downtown Los Angeles, about meditation, and finding the calm in a chaotic world.

On YouTube:


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An Introduction to Buddhist Meditation with Kusala Bhikshu

Loyola Marymount University
Tuesdays / 7:30 – 9:30 pm
February 26 – March 25, 2008

The Buddha identified two mental qualities that arise from meditation practice: "comfort" or "tranquility" (samatha) which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind... And "insight" (vipassana) which enables one to see and explore reality with clarity and intuition.

In the early Buddhist canon, the Buddha never mentioned independent samatha and vipassana meditation practices; instead, tranquility and insight are two qualities of mind to be developed together through meditation.

Class time will be divided between theory and practice... Theory based on early Buddhist texts and Kusala's personal meditation experience, with time set aside for meditation practice and group discussion. Rev. Kusala will share his understanding in a simple, non-technical way through stories, humor and personal insights. Kusala will also address the everyday challenge of taking a meditation practice into the world.

This class is appropriate for beginners as well as experienced meditators who want to refresh the fundamentals of their practice.

For More Info / http://urbandharma.org/udharma12/LmuMeditation2008.html

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The Story of Stuff / Annie Leonard / Google Video / 21 min / Free Range Studios


From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

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Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician ...by Shinmon Aoki

This story looks at one man's very personal struggle to engage his Shin Buddhist faith to make sense of his experiences with the dead and dying. Shinmon Aoki is forced by extreme financial circumstances into a job in one of the most despised professions in Japanese society, that of the nokanfu, one who washes and prepares dead bodies for burial. Shunned by family and friends and burdened by his own initial revulsion for his work, Aoki throws himself into the job with a fervor that attracts the attention of the townsfolk and earns him the title of Coffinman. In this spiritual autobiography, Aoki chronicles his progression from repulsion to a gradual realization of the tranquility that accompanies death. He assists the uninitiated in gaining an understanding of the basic principles of Shin Buddhism and its concepts of death and dying. Also included are definitions of key terms and phrases and a bibliography. (*Available as a used book from Amazon.com)

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Dear Friends,

We are writing to ask your support for two beloved friends of ours, Stephen and Ondrea Levine. They are currently facing significant difficulty. After a life-time of giving, they are now at a time to receive from those of us whose lives have been touched by their presence and teaching.

Their greatest needs are financial. Ondrea has Leukemia and the costs of her insurance and treatment have used up their savings. Stephen's health is not good either, and he is too frail to travel or teach. When we heard about this, we felt moved to contribute to a fund set up for them, and to encourage others to do the same.

Stephen and Ondrea have been among our generation's most important teachers, demonstrating and encouraging others to embrace the power of love and generosity. For three years, they ran a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week free phone line for those dying or in need of support. When the phone bills got too high, they sold their house to keep the project going. For decades they regularly corresponded with thousands of people who were seeking spiritual guidance, giving freely to those in need, many of whom were sick or in the final years of their life.

The circle has now come around, allowing us the opportunity to give to these two life-long givers. We hope to raise several hundred thousand dollars in small and large donations to help them through this time.

Caring for friends and teachers is an essential part of any spiritual life. As we age, spiritual friends are more important than ever. Stephen and Ondrea have been dear spiritual friends to us and to thousands of others through their books, workshops, and correspondence.

If you are one of these people and are moved to give, below are three ways to donate to the Levine Fund at Bread for the Journey. Bread for the Journey informs us that donations are tax deductible.

With gratitude and love,

Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass, and Sharon Salzberg

You can help them by donating in the following ways:

Online: http://www.justgive.org/giving/donate.jsp?charityId=3583&isRecurring=&; ...and designate the donation to the "Levine Fund."

Phone: call 415-383-4600 with a credit card number.

Mail: Bread for the Journey, 267 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, California 94941

In the letter, please enclose a note indicating that your gift is for the Stephen and Ondrea Levine Fund and in the note section of your check write "Levine Fund." In honor of the immeasurable gifts Stephen and Ondrea have given to the family of the earth, Bread for the Journey has generously offered to manage the fund with 100% of your donation going to the Levine Fund.

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1. Sitting in Korea - Br. Nicholas Alan Worssam, SSF - from Bulletin 79, July 2007


Three Months in a Koren Zen Buddhist Monastery

An Anglican Franciscan recounts his experience of Buddhist monastic life in Korea. His report originally appeared in the on-line Monastic Encounter Bulletin of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue in Great Britain and Ireland (MID-GBI).

At three in the morning the sound of chanting and the steady beat of the wooden moktak broke the freezing pre-dawn stillness of the night. Each day the Haengjas (postulants) walked between the buildings of the monastery rousing the community for the 108 full prostrations in the meditation hall that would start the day at 3:20 in the morning. Then, after a quick cup of tea, all processed up to the main shrine hall for the morning chanting. Every day the same chants were used in the Sino-Korean translations of ancient Sanskrit scriptures, sung from memory. The interior of the hall itself was covered with ornate carvings and paintings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, dragons and protector spirits. Then off to the meditation hall for an hour and a half of sitting meditation before the blissful warmth of the breakfast rice-gruel at six o’clock in the refectory.

This was the start of each day for the three months of the winter retreat at the Zen Buddhist monastery and retreat centre at Musangsa in Korea, which I was able to attend this winter of 2006-07. The monastery has an international community of monks and nuns, from America and Europe, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Korea itself. All are members of the Kwanum School of Zen, founded by Zen Master Seung Sahn. Seung Sahn Sunim (Sunim is the honorific for a monk or nun) was a native Korean monk who, after a deep enlightenment experience as a young man, and work for the Korean Buddhist Chogye Order in Korea and Japan, ended up in the USA with the zeal of a missionary come to spread the teaching and practice of Zen. From his arrival in the West in the 1970s, without much knowledge of the English language, people began to gather around him, and eventually Zen centres were founded which now spread around the world. Musangsa is their Korean headquarters, and is run by close disciples of Zen Master Seung Sahn, who died just a couple of years ago.

Korea has held a fascination for me for fifteen years. After finishing an MA in Buddhist Studies at Bristol University I wanted to spend some time in the Far East, experiencing something of Buddhism as lived in a cultural environment steeped in Buddhist tradition. Many people from the West have been to Japan to study and practice Buddhism, and Chinese Buddhism has suffered greatly since the Chinese Communist revolution. But of Korea, a Buddhist country since the Fourth Century CE, hardly anything is known in the West. So in 1992 I travelled to Seoul, as a Mission-Partner with the Anglican Church Mission Society to teach at the Anglican university and theological college, and to explore the world of Korean Buddhism.

After three years I decided myself to follow the monastic path so central to traditional Buddhist practice, and came back to England to join the Anglican Society of Saint Francis. Since then I have been able to keep up contact with friends in Korea, and last winter was able to spend four months in Korea, staying at the Korean Franciscan Brotherhood in the far North East of the country, and taking part in the three-month winter retreat at Musangsa, on the slopes of Mount Kyeryong just West of Taejon.

Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the fourth century CE, and is now predominantly of the Zen tradition. Buddhism was the state religion for a thousand years, until a change of dynasty in 1392 brought Confucianism to the fore, and the Buddhists had to retreat to the mountains. Perhaps this was even a help to their practice. Before, the monasteries had become rich landowners, like the medieval monasteries in Europe, but now without state patronage they had to return to the roots of Zen—an ascetic life of manual labour and rigorous sitting meditation. Monks and nuns were of course celibate, living in community. During the colonisation of Korea by Japan from 1910 to 1945 the practice of monks marrying was introduced, but after independence, the celibate Chogye Order was re-established and took back control of all the major monasteries.

Each year there are two retreat seasons, summer and winter, for three months each. During this time those dedicated to a life of meditation practice will sit in meditation for at least eight or nine hours a day, with some monasteries sitting for fourteen hours each day. Rising is generally at three in the morning, retiring in the evening at nine or later. Other monks and nuns follow the route of scripture study or administration in the large temple complexes, or working more as parish priests in small temples in the or more increasingly in the cities. But it is the contemplative path that is most highly esteemed, and Zen (in Korean, Son) which most captures the imagination of the Korean Buddhist world.

The heart of the practice of Zen is simply sitting, with an emphasis on awareness of the breath and posture. But similar to the Rinzai school in Japan, Koreans often work with koans (Korean: Kong-an) in their meditation practice. These pithy stories of dialogues between master and disciple defy logical analysis but illustrate in a concrete way some aspect of the awakening to the omnipresent Buddha-Nature which is the experience of enlightenment.

At Musangsa there are weekly dharma talks, addresses by the resident Zen Master or other teachers, which explore aspects of the practice, often using stories of the ancient masters. In addition, twice a week, participants in the retreat have one-to-one interviews with a teacher during which the depth of their insight into the koans is tested. These interviews can be eagerly anticipated or dreaded wholeheartedly, but one nearly always walks away with a sense of having being confronted with the mystery of the True Nature beyond discrimination discovered anew in the here and now.

As a Christian, I have found such experiences immensely valuable. To be separated from the theological systems and religious practices I know so well can be disorientating, but over the years I have found enough fluency in the language of Buddhism to realise that there are things I can understand and express in this context which I struggle to hear or find voice for in Christianity. Buddhism and Christianity are not the same, and both are making claims to speak of ultimate reality in ways that seem to be irreconcilable, but I cannot deny that I recognise in my bones the truth of them both. No exact translation is possible from one to the other, but when a Zen Master speaks from experience of the clear bright numinous awareness of a silent heart and mind, an awareness that knows no separation and is full of peace, joy and compassion, then I cannot but feel I have caught more than a glimpse of the Mind of Christ, shining in a different cultural context in the robes of a Korean Zen Buddhist monk or nun. Here is surely a living experience of the stillness (hesychia) and passionlessness (apatheia) leading to love and knowledge (agape and gnosis) so esteemed by the desert fathers and mothers of early Christianity.

But Korean Buddhism is not simply about peace of mind. It is very heart-centred also. Devotion to Kuanseum, known as Kannon in Japan, the ‘Hearer of the Cries of the World’, is widespread in Korea. Kuanseum is a feminine representation of compassion, usually depicted as a graceful young lady in flowing robes being carried on a cloud, but sometimes even pictured as a mother cradling a child. Just reciting her name is a common form of meditation in Korea, often making use of a wooden rosary with 108 beads. Echoing the compassionate heart of Kuanseum, Zen Master Seung Sahn would always stress the importance of helping other people, and of the goal of any religious practice being not just personal salvation but the salvation of all beings.

This life of dedication is possible for people in all walks of life, but a particular expression of it is found in monastic life. I find particular encouragement in the way the monastic life is central to Buddhist practice in Asia. In the modern West, lay Buddhist groups and meditation centres are often the primary contact people have with Buddhist teaching. But in the East, it is always the monasteries to which people turn. In Korea there are thousands of monks and nuns, many being young people eager to practice meditation and study with immense energy and dedication. As a Franciscan I find great encouragement in fellowship with these other mendicants who have “left home for homelessness” in order to bear witness to the truth.

So returning to England I feel greatly enriched by my Korean journey, and by the chance to meditate alongside fellow practitioners of the spiritual path. I hope others may also have such a chance to see for themselves how God’s Spirit works in ways that we do not understand.

2. Practical Buddhism - Objects of Meditation / Compiled by Jayaram V


According to the Milindapatha, the Buddha considered the following subjects to be the objects of meditation.

1. The idea of impermanence.
2. The non existence of a permanent self.
3. The impurity and wretchedness of life.
4. The idea of ridding oneself of all evil tendencies.
5. The idea of passionless ness.
6. The idea of stopping the influx of evil tendencies.
7. The idea of dissatisfaction with all the things of the world.
8. The idea of the impermanence of all conditioned things.
9. The idea of the mindful control of breath.
10. The idea of corpse in a state of disintegration.
11. The idea of execution of criminals with all its unpleasantness.
12. The idea of friendliness.
13. The idea of compassion.
14. the idea of joy.
15. The idea of equanimity.
15. The thought of death.
16. Mindfulness of the body.

Whoever wishes to become free from age and death, should practice meditation on any of these subjects, so that he can become free from passion, dullness and hatred, from pride and false views. With such meditation, he overcomes death, desire, the various impurities of the mind, and destroys all the evil within him. He becomes stainless and undefiled, pure and white, unaging, deathless, secure, calm and happy. He attains Nirvana.

***by Bhikkhu Khantipalo

40 Meditation Exercises as listed in the Path of Purification

If one has no meditation teacher from whom one may request a meditation subject, then one has to rely upon one's knowledge of one's character in order to prescribe for oneself a suitable meditation. There are forty meditation exercises (kammatthana) noted by the great teacher Buddhaghosa as being suited to certain types of character. For the purposes of meditation, he considers six characters: faithful, intelligent, and speculative (in which the skillful roots of non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion are variously dominant); and greedy, hating, and deluded (in which greed, hatred and delusion, the unskillful roots, are dominant). The trouble here is twofold: firstly, very few "pure" types can be found, most people being mixtures of two or more of them — and moreover ever-changing mixtures; and secondly, it is rather difficult to judge which class one's character belongs to since one's own delusion and pride are apt to blur one's judgments. This is but one small matter in which the value of the meditation teacher may be discerned very easily. One may learn much about oneself, however, by being mindful at the time when some unexpected event takes place. At that time one can spot one's reaction and the stains which are present in the mind. Later judgments are not worth very much, since by that time the mind has got round to self-justifications, and other kinds of distortions of the original event.

Below is given the list of the forty meditation exercises with some notes upon their practice, the characters which are benefited, and the types of stains combated by them. The most widely used meditation exercises are starred (*).
Ten Kasinas (spheres, lit: totalities)

1. earth
2. water
3. fire
4. air
5. blue
6. yellow
7. red
8. white
9. light *
10. limited space

5-8 recommended for the practice of hate characters because of their pure, pleasing colors.

Apart from the possible exception of 5-8, no special moral stain is counteracted by these ten kasinas. As they are to be developed through the eye, they will not be very suitable for anyone with weak sight (according to Buddhaghosa).

The only one of the ten kasinas which seems to be practiced much these days is that of light, which some people find arises quite naturally when they begin to concentrate the mind. While Acariya Buddhaghosa's explanations in Path of Purification tend to stress the importance of using exterior supports for practice (the making of the earth kasina is very minutely described), whenever the writer has heard of them being employed (in Thailand), they are always in the nature of visions (nimitta) arising internally and being developed from this basis. It appears that contemplations of an exterior earth, etc. kasina is unknown in Thailand.
Ten Kinds of Foulness (asubha)

11. the bloated (corpse) counteracting delight in beauty of proportions
12. the livid... beauty of complexion
13. the festering... scents and perfumes
14. the cut-up... wholeness or compactness
15. the gnawed... well-fleshed body
16. the scattered... grace of limbs
17. the hacked and scattered... grace of body as a whole
18. the bleeding... ornaments and jewelry
19. the worm-infested... ownership of the body
20. the skeleton... having fine bones and teeth

11-20 recommended for greed characters.

These and similar lists in the Satipatthana Sutta reflect the time when disposal of corpses upon charnel-grounds was common. Now, however, even in Buddhist lands they are difficult to find, let alone in Western countries. Teachers in Thailand at the present time stress that one's own body is to be seen in these ways as a vision (nimitta) arising in the course of mind-development. As these can be fearful, one should have the instruction of a skilled teacher for dealing with such visions, when they can be of great advantage. It may be stressed here that there is nothing morbid in contemplating such sights, interior or exterior, as these. The body's decay is just something natural, but normally it is not seen because people do not like to admit this. Instead of facing bodily decay and bringing it out into the open, dead bodies are even made to look attractive by embalmers and cosmeticians; and where this cannot be done, they are stowed away in beautiful coffins with bright flowers, etc. Buddhist training makes one look squarely at those aspects of life which normally (that is, with craving) are not considered "nice," and makes one calmly face them in respect of one's own mind and body.

Ten Reflections (anussati)

21. upon the Buddha *
22. " the Dhamma
23. " the Sangha
24. " virtue (sila) .... {counteracts the stain (kilesa) of bad conduct (duccarita)}
25. " generosity .... {counteracts meanness (macchariya)}
26. " celestials .... {counteracts scepticism (vicikiccha)}
27. " death .... {counteracts laziness}
28. " body * .... {counteracts lust & sensuality (kama-raga)}
29. " breathing * .... {counteracts delusion, worry}
30. " peace .... {counteracts disturbance}

21-26 recommended for faith characters
27 " " intelligent characters
28 " " greedy characters
29 " " deluded/speculative characters
30 " " intelligent characters

This group of ten has a more miscellaneous character than the previous two groups. In practicing the first three recollections (21-23) one recited the lists of qualities of each one of these.6 Or if the mind does not become concentrated in this way, one chooses one particular quality and recites that silently and continuously (such as "Buddho" or "Araham"). Rosaries are used in some places in connection with practice of this sort. The recollections on virtue and generosity are specially good to cultivate in one's old age. One reviews all the meritorious deeds (puñña) made by one in the course of life, and recollecting them the mind becomes tranquil and happy, and having such a mental state at the time of death, one is sure to be reborn in very favorable surroundings. One cannot recollect the celestials (deva) except by hearsay unless one has seen them. This practice is suitable for those who have increased the range of their minds and so have made contact with other more subtle beings. Death may be recollected by intelligent characters since they will not be frightened at the prospects which this practice opens up. It is a great incentive to practice now when one does not know whether even one second from hence, one will be alive. The twenty-eighth recollection — on the body — is for greedy characters, who need to develop dispassion regarding the body. This is achieved by the analysis of the body into thirty-two unbeautiful parts, and then by selecting one or more of these and examining it. However, this practice comes to perfection when with insight the body is illuminated and its various components are clearly seen and their nature understood. The mindfulness of breathing is recommended for calming and clearing the mind, and a person of almost any temperament may practice it with benefit, though great care is needed in the subtler ranges of this exercise. The breathing is never forced but observed constantly with mindfulness, the point of concentration being usually the nose-tip or nostrils. However, teachers vary in their practice of it. The recollection of peace, says the great Acariya, is only of certain benefit to those who have already experienced Nibbana, such as stream-enterers; but others can gain some calm from contemplation of peacefulness. The peace spoken of here is really Nibbana, and as one cannot recollect what one has not known, if a worldling (puthujjana), this is a practice for the Noble Ones (ariya).
Four Divine Abidings (Brahma-vihara)

31. friendliness * .... {counteracts the stain of hatred, dislike}
32. compassion .... {counteracts callous indifference}
33. gladness (with others) .... {counteracts envy}
34. equanimity .... {counteracts worry}

31 recommended for hate characters

Four States of Formlessness (arupa-bhava)

35. sphere of infinite space
36. " " infinite consciousness
37. " " nothingness
38. " " neither-perception-nor-non-perception

These formless absorptions cannot be developed unless one has already perfected the four ordinary absorptions of form. It is said that this group of four may be explored on the basis of the fourth absorption (jhana). As few people are likely to have experienced this, we pass on to:
Perception of the Loathsomeness of Food

39. While it is essential for the bhikkhu who has to rely upon collected food (which is sometimes good and sometimes not), lay people can also benefit from this practice, which Acariya Buddhaghosa notes is for intelligent characters, and is designed to lessen, and lead to the destruction of, greed and gluttony.
One Defining of the Four Great Elements

40. These are earth (solidity), water (cohesion), fire (temperature), and air (movement), all of which characterize our physical bodies. These elements may be perceived by an analysis based upon the use of mindfulness.7 This practice is also said to be particularly fitted for the intelligent character.

Those practices not mentioned in connection with character are suited to anyone. As all of these practices are aimed at the lessening and eventual destruction of the stains (kilesa), one may appreciate how important they are thought in Buddhist training. Where the stains are present, there the darkness of unknowing holds sway; but where they are not found, there shines forth the wisdom and compassion of Enlightenment.

***Excerpted from "Practical Advice for Meditators by Bhikkhu Khantipalo" (Copyright © 1986 Buddhist Publication Society).

3. Tranquility VS Insight


Buddhist Meditations


What do we meditate on? How do we develop insight? These are very important questions.

The two kinds of meditation are Samatha (tranquility) and Vipassana (insight). Meditating on the ten devices (kasina) only gives rise to tranquility not insight. Meditation on the ten foul things (a swollen corpse, for example) only gives rise to tranquility not insight. The ten recollections, such as recollection of the Buddha or the Dhamma, also only give rise to tranquility not insight. Meditating on the thirty-two parts of the body such as hair, nails, teeth, and skin, also does not give rise to insight. It only develops concentration.

Mindfulness of the respiration is also used for the development of concentration, but one can also develop insight from it. The Visuddhimagga, however, includes it in the category of objects for tranquility meditation, so we will also include it as such.

Then there are the four divine abidings: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic-joy, and equanimity, the four formless meditations leading to the formless jhānas, and contemplation on the loathsomeness of food. All of these are objects for tranquility meditation.

When you meditate on the four elements inside your body, it is called the analysis of the four elements. Although this develops concentration, it helps to develop insight as well.

All these forty subjects of meditation are used to develop concentration. Only respiration and the analysis of the four elements are used for insight. The other objects will not give rise to insight — to gain insight, you will have to work further.

To return to our initial question, "How do we develop insight?" The answer is, "We develop insight by meditating on the five aggregates of attachment." The mental and physical phenomena inside living beings are aggregates of attachment. They may be grasped with delight by craving, which is 'sensual attachment,' or they may be grasped by wrong view, which is 'attachment to views.' You have to meditate and see them as they really are. If you don't, you will grasp them with craving and wrong view. Once you see them as they really are, you will no longer grasp them. This is how you develop insight.

4. Vipassana Meditation


Without Jhana

If a person, who has acquired the knowledge of the phenomenal nature of mind-and-body, impermanence, suffering, and non-self as stated in the Advanced Dhamma sections, desires to practise vipassana pure and simple, he should retire to a quiet place and seat himself cross-legged or in any convenient manner so as to enable him to sit for a ling time, with body erect, and then contemplate by fixing his attention on the physical and mental phenomena, i.e. upadanakkhandha, or the Five Aggregates.

These phenomena should be continuously contemplated and noted on every occasion of their arising in the body. 'Upadanakkhandhas' or the Five Aggregates means the phenomena of existence which are clearly perceived at every moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and arising of mind-consciousness. At the moment of seeing both the visual object and the eye where seeing takes place, are perceived. These two things are of the material group. They are neither pleasurable nor atta, the living soul, nor self. However, those who fail to contemplate the phenomena on every occasion of their occurrence, do not realize that "they pass away immediately and are not permanent." Nor they realize that these incessantly arise and disappear and are, therefore, mere sufferings; nor do they understand that "they are neither self nor living entity, and are non-self in the sense that they are subject to the law of cause and effect and are arising and passing away of their own accord.

For this lack of knowledge, the object which is seen and the eye, which sees are considered as things pleasurable, and hence, attachment follows. Blinded by illusion, they become attached to life existence as 'living substance or self,' living soul,' and 'self.' Because of this wrong mental attitude and attachment, the known visual object and the eye are called "aggregate of material body ." Furthermore, eye-consciousness (cakku-viññana), feeling (vedana), perception (sañña) of visual object, and exertion to see the visual object, mental volitional energy (sankhara) are also clearly perceived at the moment of seeing. They are merely of the mental group. They are neither pleasant, a living entity, nor self. i.e. existence as an individual personality.

Yet, those who do not notice each and every arising or occurrence of these phenomena do not understand that they are impermanent, sufferings and 'not-self' (anatta). They, therefore, consider these mental and physical phenomena and the elements in consciousness as being pleasant, and are accordingly attached to them. They also cling to them with ego and with erroneous view that "It is I who sees; it is I who feels; it is I who perceives; it is I who is looking fixedly." It is because of such pleasurable attachment arising out of false views that these mental groups are called aggregate of feeling, aggregate of perception, aggregate of volitional activities , aggregate of consciousness.

This is how the five aggregates and the physical and mental phenomena become obvious at the very moment of seeing the visual object through the eye. Similarly, the five aggregates are perceived distinctly at the very moment of hearing the sound through the ear, smelling the odour through the nose, knowing the taste through the tongue, feeling the sense of touch (tactile) through the body and knowing the mental objects (consciousness) through the mind-base. In particular, the tendencies, mental and physical, the elements in consciousness are concerned with both mind and matter (nama and rupa).

Though the material and mental phenomena are obviously taking place at every moment of seeing, hearing, etc., in the six spheres of senses, it is not possible for a beginner who is meditating, to contemplate or become mindful of all the occurrences in sequence as they arise. In Vipassana, it is essential that the most out-standing manifestation of the phenomenon in the body shall be contemplated first. It is just like in school where easy lesson to learn is taught at the beginning of the studies.

Therefore, of the two constituents of matter (body) and mind. the more outstanding material phenomena should first be contemplated. Among the physical or material phenomena, the tactile bhuta-rupa which is more manifest than the objects of sense-doors (upadana-rupas) should be chosen as the preliminary and prime object of contemplation at the beginning of the practice. Hence, with a view to noting the particularly outstanding bodily-contact, concentration should be made on the sitting posture of the entire body and contemplate continuously by making a mental note as sitting, sitting.

While thus contemplating, the distinct feeling of bodily contact of the haunch or leg or any part of the body will be noticed. This feeling of bodily contact should be jointly contemplated along with 'sitting,' continuously noting as 'contacting,' 'sitting,' 'contacting,' turn by turn fixing attention on the body that is sitting and on the point of bodily contact. If this manner of contemplation as 'sitting' 'contacting' is, however, found to be difficult at the start, then contemplation can be done by fixing attention on the point of contact of the inbreathing and out-breathing, and by noting as 'contacting' 'contacting.' Or, else, contemplation can be carried out by fixing attention on the rising and falling of the abdomen, which is motivated by respiration.

To illustrate the manner of contemplation: firstly, the mind should be attentively riveted on the abdomen. It will then be noticed that the abdomen is rising and falling and that these movements take place in continual succession. If, at the beginning of practice, the movement is not clearly felt by fixing attention on the abdomen, one or both hands be placed on it. Suspension of breath, and quick or deep breathing should not be done. The natural course of normal breathing should be maintained. As and when abdomen is rising, contemplate noting as 'rising.' The gradual rising of the abdomen from start to finish should be continuously noted without a lapse or without a break in the process of noting. The gradual 'falling' of the abdomen must also be contemplated in the same manner.

Every act of 'rising' and 'falling' should be noted continuously and contemplated as 'rising,' 'falling,' 'rising,' 'falling.' For particular attention, it may be mentioned that the words 'rising' and 'falling' should not be uttered by mouth, but repeated by saying mentally. In fact, words are not of real significance. To know the actual movements of the abdomen and the feeling of sensations that arise in the body is of fundamental importance. If the contemplation is carried on by the simple act of mental observation without the act of mentally repeating the words, the contemplation will be casual and ineffective with many drawbacks such as, failing attention to reach closely enough to the object to which it is directed, failing to clearly distinguish and perceive the phenomena part by part respectively, and the deterioration of the necessary force of energy to contemplate.

Therefore, it is directed to contemplate by repeating the words mentally as stated earlier. While contemplation is going on noting mentally as 'rising,' 'falling,' the mind may be found wandering to other sense-objects. These wandering mental states should be contemplated and noted as and when they arise. To cite an example: If it is found that the mind wanders to the objects other then those it is directed, it should be contemplated as 'wandering': if the mind intends to do something it should be contemplated as 'intending'; if it is reflecting, it should be contemplated as 'reflecting'; in the case of wanting something, it should be contemplated as 'wanting'; in the case of being pleased or angry or disappointed, it should be contemplated as 'wanting'; in the case of being pleased or angry or disappointed, it should be contemplated as 'pleased,' 'angry,' 'disappointed,' respectively; and in the case of feeling lazy or happy, it should be contemplated as 'lazy,' or 'happy,' as the case may be.

The contemplation should be carried out repeatedly until the wavering mind ceases to operate. Then, the contemplation should be reverted to the 'rising and falling' movement of the abdomen as before and carried on with the process of noting continually as 'rising,' 'falling,' 'rising,' 'falling.'

If any disagreeable sensations (dukkha-vedana) such as, tiredness in limbs or feeling of hotness or pain etc., arise in the body, attention should be fixed on the spot where sensation arises and contemplation carried on as 'tired, tired,' 'hot, hot,' or 'painful, painful,' as the case may be. When the disagreeable sensation ceases, "rising and falling" of the abdomen must again be contemplated continuously. Only when the painful sensations are so acute that they become unbearable, then the posture of the body, and the position of hands and legs have to be changed to get relief. When the act of changing is to be resorted to, attention should be fixed on the behaviour of the bodily movements and contemplation carried on as 'bending,' 'stretching,' 'swaying,' 'moving,' 'raising,' 'dropping down,' etc., in the successive order of the changing process.

When the change is completed, then the contemplation on the "rising and falling" of the abdomen should be reverted to. When sometimes anything is being looked at, it should be contemplated as 'looking,' 'seeing.' If anything is seen unintentionally without being looked at, it should be contemplated as 'seeing, seeing.' If it happens to be listening to something, it should be contemplated as 'listening.' 'hearing.' If anything is heard without making any effort to hear, it should be contemplated as 'hearing, hearing.' If a reflecting thought takes place, it should be contemplated as 'reflecting, reflecting.' Then again, contemplation should be reverted to the 'rising and falling' of the abdomen. In the case of changing from the sitting posture to that of standing or the lying posture, contemplation should be made minutely on all bodily behaviours that occur every time the change takes place.

When walking, every movement involved in the process of taking steps should be carefully noted from start to finish and contemplated as 'walking, walking,' or 'taking step, taking step,' or 'lifting,' 'stepping,' and 'dropping down' (putting down). Briefly put, contemplation should be made on all actions of body and limbs, such as bending, stretching, raising, moving, etc., so as to perceive them in their true perspective as they occur. Physical sensations and mental feelings (vedana) should also be contemplated to know their true nature as they arise. Every mental activity such as thoughts, ideas, reflections, etc., should be contemplated to realize their true nature as they occur. In the absence of any special phenomenon while remaining calmly in the sitting or lying posture, contemplation should be carried out by fixing the attention on any of the bodily contacts.

Instructions are, therefore, given here to dwell your mind upon the rising and falling movements of the abdomen, which are easy to explain and contemplate as primary or main objects in contemplation. But, if desirable, either the contemplation of the sitting posture of the body and of bodily contact or the contemplation of the feeling of contact in the flow of respiration (inward and outward breathing) can be carried out as fundamentals in meditation. When contemplative attention can be easily fixed on any phenomenon as it arises, there is no need to contemplate on the aforesaid fundamentals. In that case, contemplation should be made noting every phenomenon of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling of bodily contact consciousness of thoughts and reflections as and when they arise. If the meditator (disciple), who is carrying out continuous contemplation in the aforesaid manner and who has thereby developed samadhinana, will personally perceive the arising and dissolution or passing away of the mind for several times within a second.

But a meditator who is a beginner in the practice of contemplation cannot possibly perceive the extremely fast phenomena that are taking place. It may be comparable to the case of a person who is a novice in learning how to read and to that of a person who is well-advanced in studies, one of whom can read much faster than the other who is slow. Nevertheless, a person who has just begun the practice of meditation should endeavour to practise contemplation so that the can make note of the arising phenomenon with awareness not less than once in every second.

5. Celebrating the Life of John Main - Paul Turner Harris - from Bulletin 79, July 2007


John Main said he became a monk because he wanted to be free.

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the life and death of John Main (1926-1982. A seminar in Quebec highlighted the influence of this extraordinary spiritual teacher and prophet.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the life and death of the Benedictine monk John Main (1926-1982) was celebrated at the John Main Seminar in Orford, Quebec, from October 18-21. It brought together over two hundred speakers, teachers of spirituality, meditators and the general public from around the world to join in a three-day colloquium on the influence of this extraordinary spiritual teacher and prophet.

A number of speakers addressed a wide range of topics related to John Main’s teaching, including: Sara Bachelard, Anglican priest, holder of a doctorate in moral theology, and lecturer in theology at St. Marks National Theological College, Australia; Laurence Freeman, Spiritual guide and Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation, and a Benedictine monk of the Olivetan Congregation; Balfour Mount, Founding Director of the Royal Victoria Hospital Palliative Care Service in Montreal; Peter Ng, Chief executive of the Singapore Investment Corporation; and Yvon Theroux, Professor of Religion and former Chair of Méditation Chrétienne, Québec.

From his small Benedictine monastery in Montreal in the years 1977 to 1982, John Main gave birth to a spiritual renaissance that is today bearing fruit around the world. In 250 recorded talks, now digitally available, he revealed the depths and importance of a deeper understanding of the need for silence, stillness and simplicity in the daily practice of contemplative prayer. He also gave it a new name in contemporary language, calling it “Christian Meditation.” These talks have become a unique resource for introducing newcomers to meditation.

Today the seeds planted in Montreal, where he founded a Benedictine monastery, have grown to embrace meditators in over 100 countries, with 2000 Christian Meditation groups meeting on a weekly basis. In addition a flood of books on his life and teaching have been published this year, including works by John Main himself. These books are: Word into silence; A Manual for Christian Meditation; Monastery without Walls: The Spiritual Letters of John Main; Door to Silence: An Anthology for Christian Meditation by John Main, and a book with memories and tributes from meditators and friends around the world entitled John Main by Those Who Knew Him. In addition a new book was launched at the October John Main seminar entitled Coming Home: Teaching Christian Meditation to Children.

John Main believed the practice of Christian Meditation creates community and felt this was of great significance for peace in a divided world. The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), founded in 1991 and located in London, England, coordinates the world-wide growth of groups. Most recently the WCCM has been invited to teach meditation in countries such as Poland, Latvia, and next year in Russia.

The WCCM sponsors an international website and has recently started a website for young spiritual seekers entitled The Spiritual Solution . Laurence Freeman, Benedictine teacher and author, is the Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation.

From around the world tributes have poured in over the years on John Main’s contribution to contemporary spirituality. Before his death, the Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths the famous author of The Golden String, wrote from India: “In my experience John Main is the most important spiritual guide in the Church today. Fr. John has opened the way to the direct experience of God, of truth, of reality, from within the Christian tradition. He was a man of great wisdom, and above all of great love. I do not know of any other method of meditation leading to the experience of the love of God in Christ than that of John Main.”

Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, has stated: “John Main effectively put the desert tradition of prayer to work in our day. The roots of his distinctive spirituality lie deep in the fourth and fifth centuries, especially in the works of that great expositor of the desert world, John Cassian. The World Community for Christian Meditation, which continues his mission, is for me, as for many throughout the world, a taste of what a committed contemplative Church might look and feel like.”

Franciscan Richard Rohr, an American spiritual teacher and author, recently said: “John Main, by going to the roots of spirituality, laid a solid and radical foundation for social critique and social involvement. John Main teaches us to move beyond all images for the sake of powerlessness. I have personally been gifted by the wisdom of this man.”

John Main’s pilgrimage to meditation took place in 1954 when he joined the British Colonial Service and took up duties in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya. One day he was sent on an apparently routine assignment to deliver a good-will message from the Governor to Swami Satyananda, a Hindu monk, who as a child was educated in a Catholic mission and was founder of an orphanage, school, and meditation ashram in Kuala Lumpur.

John Main thought he would quickly dispatch this assignment and be free for the rest of the day. But this visit was to change his life forever and set in motion his true vocation to become a Benedictine monk and teach meditation in the Christian tradition. His good-will mission accomplished, John Main asked the Swami to discuss the spiritual base of the many good works carried out at the orphanage and school. The swami replied that the spiritual base of the work was the daily practice of meditation. Within minutes John Main realized he was in the presence of a holy man, a teacher, a man of the spirit, whose faith was alive in love and service to others. Many years later John Main wrote, “I was deeply impressed by his peacefulness and calm wisdom. For the Swami, the aim of meditation was the coming to awareness of the spirit who dwells in our hearts . . . who enfolds the whole universe in his hands, and in silence is loving to all.

For eighteen months John Main meditated with the Swami, and it was this inter-faith encounter that led John Main to the pilgrimage of meditation and eventually to the discovery of the tradition of the mantra in the early Christian desert monks and in the English spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing.

According to many current observers John Main had grasped the meaning of Bob Dylan’s great song “The Times They Are a-Changing” and saw silence in prayer as an antidote to the noise and excessive activity of our contemporary world. Today the increasing return to the daily discipline of John Main’s teaching on meditation has great importance in our cybernetic age of speed and frenetic activity. In response to this clamor John Main once said: “Silence gives our spirit room to breathe, room to be”. And he added, “You discover in the silence that you are loved and that you are loveable. It is this discovery that everyone must make in their lives if they are going to become fully themselves, fully human”. Nor is this meditative silence a value only in Christianity. It is found in the spiritual paths and traditions of all the world’s major religions.

What surprises most newcomers to Christian Meditation is its simplicity. John Main always emphasized how simple it is to enter into the experience of this way of prayer. Regarding the how-to of meditation he says: “Sit down, sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer-phrase, “maranatha.” Recite it as four syllables of equal length, ma-ra-na-tha. In Aramaic it means . . . Come, Lord Jesus. Listen to it as you say it, gently but continuously. Do not think or imagine anything—spiritual or otherwise. If thoughts and images come, these are distractions at the time of meditation, so keep returning to simply saying the word. Meditate each morning and evening for between twenty and thirty minutes.”

John Main’s teaching on prayer today is being handed down primarily in small groups of meditators meeting on a weekly basis in homes, churches, schools, hospitals, work places, and a variety of other locations. In the weekly meetings “newcomers” can learn how to meditate, and on-going meditators receive the support and encouragement to continue the daily practice of meditation in their own lives each morning and evening. Christian Meditation is not just a middle-class or first-world interest. In many countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and India, meditation bridges the gap between rich and poor. There are also groups meeting in maximum security prisons in many countries.

Since his death on December 30, 1982, John Main’s influence has coincided with a remarkable world-wide renewal and return to the practice of contemplative prayer. John Main tells us that to be with God does not require words, thoughts or images, but the silent consciousness of a Presence. He reminds us that the spiritual pilgrimage invites us to have the courage to become more and more silent. The journey starts, says John Main, when we accept the daily discipline of silence, stillness and simplicity.


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