It’s About You

Editors Note: A key aspect of a successful meditation practice is a view or orientation. To this end, some study of meditation is important. At Samadhi Cushions, we recommend books and media from fellow practitioners of meditation as an essential companion to the actual practice of sitting on your meditation cushion or kneeling bench.

Chapter 14 in Sakyong Mipham’s book Ruling Your World is called The Confidence of Delight in Helping Others. It is a thoughtful contemplation on the personal transition toward serving others. In any event, without consistently refreshing one’s understanding, meditation can go astray, as Michael seems to demonstrate in his post.

Is that you in the mirror?
Is that you in the mirror?

It’s Not About Me

As  you’ll see, this is not really about me.  It’s about you.  I have something to share with you.  But we have to start with me.  It will be clear why. Why me? Well, for one thing, I’ve been thinking about me  —  I mean a lot.  And I think this thinking has paid off.  Finally! It’s good to think about yourself.  I mean it takes courage.  It takes letting go.  I don’t know if you know, but it’s a tricky subject – oneself.

I mean, if you look in the mirror, is that you in the mirror? Well, obviously not.  It’s just a reflection. But what if you don’t like what you see? Now you’re on to something. That’s where my meditation comes in. I get to work on what I don’t like about myself.  Anyhow, to do this, what I’ve discovered is that I need encouragement – a lot of it really. I wanted to share that with you.  I thought it would be important for you to know about me.

The Art of Listening

Excuse me, I haven’t finished.  So, where was I? Oh yes, I have a lot to offer, a lot going for me, which is obvious, but I wanted to say it. It’s important to love oneself. This is something that meditation teaches you. I have so much I could give. I see people,  successful people, and they seem happy. Why? I say to myself. Because they are giving. They have found a way to give and it makes them happy.

And then I think, what is keeping me from giving, keeping me from realizing my potential?  What I realized is that I wasn’t thinking of myself. An example? Well, you, I mean I guess, us, for example. When I looked at it, I realized that I was always listening to you. Why? Well, I think it was because you were always talking, but I’m not sure. In any case, that’s the wrong place to start, don’t you think? I should start by listening to me. You, of all people, should be able to understand that.

The Irony

People talk because they want something. Have you noticed? They want to be heard. Are you listening? People take energy, and that was another thing I realized, I need to watch my energy. I can’t be giving, giving, giving all the time. It’s not good for me.

The irony is that people think it’s about them. Which of course it’s not. But how can you tell them? Because of that internal focus, there is so much that people don’t see. Like what? Like the work I’m doing on myself, for example. It’s hard work and no one notices.  As a result, they miss what I have to offer. Which is a lot. You know, you might be one of those people.

Meditation Space

What I’ve learned through my work is that to give and be happy you need to be in the right space – a helpful space. My meditation is a big part of that. I work hard at it, like I said. Mind you, I still have thoughts and some feelings that keep coming back. Which drives me crazy. Why? Because they hurt. They are painful. It’s not the “me” I want to be. But with effort you can control those feelings. Gradually, I think, I’m becoming calmer and much clearer. I see what I need for myself, for example. I could never see that before.

What does meditation do? My meditation gives me space. When I sit on my meditation cushion I feel good. But, to be honest, and that’s something meditation is helping me with – being honest – anyhow to be honest, I need support. How? Well, when I see you after my meditation, you don’t look happy. And this bothers me. Why can’t you be happy? Just once! When you’re not happy it ruins it for me. It really does.

The Secret of Happiness

But there, we got off the topic. But not really, that was the other thing I wanted to say.

What I mean to say is, I love you, and I care for you. I do. But I’m worried. I’m worried about you, about how you relate. For one thing, I don’t know how to say this any other way – and don’t take it personally – but you are a bit self-involved. Being like that is going to lead to unhappiness. That’s what meditation teaches you.

There, I said it. Like I said, my meditation practice has given me the courage to tell the truth, to actually say what I think and feel. I can’t tell you, this is so liberating for me. I don’t actually feel like the same person. I’m a new person, in a way. And I’ve realized that it’s not really about me. It’s about you.

Being Helpful

And I would like to help you. I really feel I can. I want to help you change. It will be hard, it will take work, but I think if we do it together, we can accomplish it.  Yes, I told you, I do love you. But I know you could be better, you could be more you. How? Well for one thing, you could be more helpful. Think of others. Like me.

Our Staff Reads II

Editor’s Note: To look at the breadth of what we might have read to support our meditation practice, we asked staff members to talk about books that inspired them at the beginning of their sitting meditation career, as well as books that freshly inspire them today. These selections reflect our Buddhist heritage, but can be enjoyed by anyone exploring the practice of meditation.  We asked Mrs. Greenleaf, who is in France at the moment visiting her family, to share something of her life in France when she was younger.


Then: The Way of the White Clouds

The time was the 1970’s.  I was in New York City working for the welfare department.  I ran across The Way of the White Clouds by Lama Govinda. I had begun to wonder about reincarnation.  Lama Govinda covered reincarnation in a direct, plain-spoken way that, for the first time, made the idea real to me.

Since a child, mountain people and things Asian had fascinated me. The lives of the Native Americans also captivated me. “Peau Rouge” — literally  “red skin” — could be seen on American movies about the Wild West, which played in the one theater of my little French Village.  My father, who worked as a stable hand since he was a boy, would be less interested in the plot of the movie than the beautiful horses and horsemanship he saw on the screen.

If I think about my village, I can’t help but remember my grandmother.  She lived alone (her husband died early) like a hermit in a little stone house in the woods.  When I was seven or eight years old, my favorite thing to do with her was mushroom hunting, which we would do very early in the morning in the town forest.  I had to have trusted my grandmother a lot, since the forest was home to wild boar which loomed in my consciousness as something that could put a quick end to little girl’s life.

“MéMé” (pronounced MAY-MAY) was renowned for her ability to find and identify mushrooms.  Individuals and chefs would come from many towns away to get her opinion on the edibility of a mushroom.  All in all, life as a child in a small, rural French village was very earthy.  Maybe for this reason, Lama Govinda’s descriptions of Tibetan nomadic life were not so foreign.  They awakened in me the inquisitiveness and curiosity for life that I had experienced as a child.

Anyhow, at the time of White Clouds, I was doing hatha yoga pretty consistently.  This included a little meditation and chanting (Om Shanti/Shanti Om, if you must know).  Since these sessions were short, I didn’t think about a meditation cushion.  Later, I learned mindfulness meditation from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.  To sit up straight a bit longer, I grabbed a cushion off of the couch.  At a group sitting, I saw a cushion called a Zafu.  A friend had one of these (they were hard to find back then).  I borrowed it, figured out how it was made and made my own.  Now I help make them for a lot of people.  In the beginning we didn’t sit on Zabuton mats, so our legs just rested on the floor.  As sitting periods got longer and we started to do retreats, this was uncomfortable, and I started to make Zabutons as well.

rywNow: Ruling Your World

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s amazing book is realistic about the challenge of practicing meditation in this age, and at the same time poetic and inspiring. The book is also empowering:  first pointing out how we let the circumstances of our world “rule” us, and then clearly laying out the path of meditation, which leads to reclaiming our inherent nobility.  The descriptions are vivid and seemingly simple. In “Shambhala Fashion”, no aspect of life is exempt from the requirement to wake up and transcend the “me plan”.  Even after many years of meditation practice, this book was a fresh reminder to me that every aspect of life requires intention and mindfulness.

The book includes “Six Ways of Ruling” which I understand as a teaching on how to “rule” your own mind first, before attempting to work with others.  Because it is so accessible and applicable, this is a great book for beginning students of meditation who would like to lead a full and joyful life.   I have been fortunate to be able to work with and serve Sakyong Mipham a lot over the years.  He is an earthy person like me, who really embodies the principles that he teaches about.

These days I don’t sit on a Zafu cushion.  I practice meditation on the Low Cloud Bench with a 2” Gomden.  All on a Zabuton mat.  A few years ago, I broke my left leg pretty badly. By giving me some extra height, the Low Cloud Bench allows me still to keep a cross-legged posture.  I also like that there’s room to bring one of my heels in under me, which supports an upright posture and makes it easier on my back.

Samadhi Cushions: Our Staff Reads!

Editor’s Note: To look at the breadth of what we might have read to support our meditation practice, we asked staff members to talk about books that inspired them at the beginning of their sitting meditation career, as well as books that freshly inspire them today. These selections reflect our Buddhist heritage, but can be enjoyed by anyone exploring the practice of meditation.

While the support provided to the path of meditation the books here is timeless, we have grouped the responses under the general headings of “Then” and “Now”. We asked Michael G. to launch this effort.

Then: Meditation in Action

“And here you can see quite clearly that meditation is not trying to escape from life, it is not trying to reach a utopian state of mind, nor is it a question of mental gymnastics. Meditation is just trying to see what is, and there is nothing mysterious about it.”
—Chögyam Trungpa, Meditation in Action

Meditation In Action by Chogyam TrungpaA gift from a family friend, my Dad got this book when I was a sophomore in High School. I don’t remember if he recommended it or I just borrowed it from his desk. I was getting high and reading Ram Dass’s “Be Here Now.” Highs turned into lows and I started to wonder how spirituality and I would get along, exactly. In the book, Chögyam Trungpa’s voice is somehow both authoritative and soft. The evocative descriptions of India at the time of the Buddha transported me. I didn’t yet have a meditation practice, but Trungpa’s descriptions of meditation, as a discipline that happened in spite of ambitions for “higher states,” spoke to my own struggles and disappointments at the time and forever marked my understanding of what it might mean to be “spiritual”.

Dad was a member of an Ashram that practiced Kundalini. Maybe because it was all about unblocking energy and I was a mass of energy, or because my Dad was into it and that made it suspect — whatever the reason, I wasn’t attracted. Then (because he owned a house) my Dad hosted Sherab Chödzen, then Michael Kohn, one of Chögyam Trungpa‘s senior students, on a teaching tour.

As he arrived for his visit, I saw Sherab get out of Dad’s car in our driveway. From 50 feet away I had to know who he was and what he was about. On the spot, I decided to take the weekend he offered and began a practice of sitting meditation for the first time.  During the weekend, we met in a meditation interview. He was warm and open and seemed to find things amusing. At the same time, he treated me like a real person. I never felt that he was talking down to me, a lowly teenager.

All in all I would say he was very kind to me. Really, it was a revelation — an introduction to the notion of  “teacher” as a real live person. Things didn’t have to remain a mystery. There were people out there who could help you deal. Who actually knew something. Meditation in Action was inspiring, but here was a living example of what meditation means – that made it real. Many years later, I remain grateful for his encouragement.

At the weekend there was emphasis on a daily meditation practice, which I began to try to keep up after that weekend (a happy struggle that continues today). At the time I had no clue about a zafu and zabuton or really much insight into the importance of posture in meditation. I just sat on the floor of my room, experimenting with throw cushions. It was pretty precarious.

Later, I discovered Chögyam Trungpa at Naropa University‘s summer session. (Again tagging along with my Dad). From reading Meditation in Action it was clear that Chögyam Trungpa had real insights into the path of meditation. Just what he had to offer would manifest in the years following the publication of this slight book. It is a complete portrait of the path, with chapters on the Buddha, Meditation, Transmission and the transcendent actions of the Bodhisattva.

Amazingly, in the chapter on Wisdom or Prajna, there is a thorough discussion of the need to become a “warrior” who “has great confidence” – themes that would become central in the teachings of Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, many years later.

Now: The Adornment of the Middle Way

“Therefore, this reasoning brings knowledge to those who do not understand and refreshes the memory of those who have done so. This argument has the power to dispel all misconceptions contrary to the fact that things have no inherent existence.” — Jamgön Mipham, in his commentary

The Adornment of The Middle WayMipham’s commentary on Shantarakshita’s (the 8th century Indian adept) synthesis of the two main Buddhist schools of Madyamaka and Yogacara is definitely not for everyone. I’m reading this for the Mipham Academy course taught by Khenpo Gawang at Karmê Chöling. When we study in this class, we sit on our meditation cushions with a puja or study table in front. In this way, there is a kind of mixing of study and meditation.

In no way a scholar (I’m a CPA, so do the math); the only reason I can read this book is because I have a community of people that I get to share it with. Many times, I don’t follow the reasonings. But the 19th century Tibetan Master Jamgön Mipham has a completely cheerful, engaging and distinctive voice that captivates, looking with incisive humor at the way we humans’ misconceive the act of perception.

For instance — how do we know the details of things? If a butterfly lands on a flower in front of us, do we perceive the wings, colors, body, movement and flower “all at once” or “successively?” Suffice to say that investigation into this question by the meditative mind yields remarkable insights. Mipham’s encouragement to look closely at the nature of experience keeps it real for me.

The language of the Padmakara translation often borders on easy to follow. Some prefer the translation by Thomas H. Doctor, which includes the original Tibetan text on facing pages.