A Day of Meditation with Introductions to Buddhist and Christian Meditative Practices
includes Communion and Tea Ceremony
Presented by members of the Buddhist Meditation Society of Northern British Columbia and Members of the Christian Community.
March 27 2004
At Saint Michael and All Angels Anglican Church, Prince George.
8:45 am to 4:00 pm
|8:45||Assistance with seating & posture
Opening remarks and Communion followed by Christian meditation practice
Vipassana Buddhist practice
Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice
Silent vegetarian lunch with readings
Informal assistance with seating and posture
Christian meditation practice
|4:00||Informal tea and cookies||-|
Assistance with seating and posture (8:45)
Judith Johnson, Mary Cosman, Edward Dobrowolski, Don Hagreen
For extended periods of meditation it is important to sit correctly. In most western chairs we sit with the knees above the hips. This is hard on the back. If you are going to sit in a chair use a cushion to get the hips above the knees. The feet should sit flat on the ground and the hips should tilt forward a little so the back falls in a natural comfortable curve. Tuck your chin in so your head is inclined forward a little and the gaze is easily directed downward.
All meditators can benefit from making the following correction about every 5-10 minutes. Pretend your head is being pulled upward and slightly forward so the chin is tucked in – not jutting forward.
For those that wish to sit Buddhist style on a zafu or bench there are a variety of positions that may work for you and we would be happy to work with you to find a stable and comfortable posture. This is something where the right choices can make your practice more comfortable and more meaningful.
In most Buddhist traditions it is important to be as still as possible while meditating. (Washroom breaks should be taken during walking meditation, or when a break is announced.)
This is for your benefit as part of practice and also avoids disturbing others. Buddhist renunciation includes and is learned by renouncing the urge to move during a sit. If you absolutely have to move it is considered polite to make a small bow with the hands pressed together (prayer position or gassho) then move, bow again and return to stillness. Small corrections like straightening your back or correcting a hand position may be made without bowing. Experiencedmeditators find that the best way to straighten the back is to rock forward from the hips – you may see people make this adjustment while meditating.
Sitting still for extended periods eventually becomes painful. As a teacher said during a dharma talk "One has to learn to accept pain rather than resist it. ... A challenging posture demands that we breath completely. One does not have a choice to pay attention or not; even daydreaming is a luxury that one cannot afford. Change happens when we are fully tested to our limits; our training helps us become free in all kinds of situations, not just when we are in the "clutch of agreeable circumstances." What individuals tend to do is simply become superficially comfortable, persist in shallow breathing, and get lost in thought. If a student moves any time he/she is in discomfort, there is no opportunity to get in touch with the pervasive restlessness that is the basis of the "I am" self. Staying stuck in choosing comfort or convenience in all situations leads to a type of comfort that is a mere shadow of the profound peace and clarity that Shakyamuni Buddha enjoyed."
Few western Buddhists can sit in the traditional full lotus position, but we benefit from finding a stable upright posture as close to it as we can manage. When discomfort is experienced simply allow it to register, don't deny it, but don't react to it. This applies to all forms of discomfort experienced during meditation: physical, intellectual, and emotional. When pain is accepted you feel it – but do not suffer. Of course everyone has limits – you must decide for yourself when you really need to move and when it is a desire to be renounced. Beginners usually need to move more than experienced meditators.
Led by Peter Zimmer
For many Christians, the Eucharist is the central act of worship. It is a commemoration – a calling to memory – of Christ's sacrifice for us, and a re-enactment of Christ's words and actions in the scriptural account of the Passover supper at which he gave his disciples this ritual, the enactment of which would be one way for them to affirm their beliefs. The Anglican Church's enactment of the Eucharist is deeply meditative, and this quality is enhanced in various ways. First, the words of the service are the same each time. Second, the actions are also the same each time, and are actions specific only to this service. Third, the actions of both priest and people take place in silence, except for the words of the ritual. In addition, in the more formal observances, all the senses are involved, creating a heightened awareness of the body and spirit, rather than of the mind. The use of incense, the ritual objects of chalice and patten, the seasonal colours of burse and veil, the familiar taste of wine and wafer, and the familiar words and actions that are reserved for this observance alone, along with the surrounding silence, create an atmosphere which gives space for the contemplation of the heart, unconnected to intellectual effort.
Vipassana Buddhist practice (10:00)
Led by John DeGrace
Vipassana (translated as "insight" or "wisdom") is perhaps the oldest meditation practice in the Buddhist traditions. Although there is a wealth of teaching surrounding the practice, it is taught in the spirit of inquiry rather than as a doctrine to be accepted or rejected. That is, the practitioner is invited to try the practice and "see for yourself" whether the description of experience generally is borne out in one's own experience.
Briefly, the practice is first to settle and concentrate the mind by resting the attention on a single object - in this case the sensation of the breath entering and leaving the body. The mind's tendency is to wander, drawn away from the object by the near-infinite variety of desires and aversions that fill our lives. Noticing that the mind has wandered, the meditative exercise is simply to note and let go the distraction and – with compassion for oneself rather than self-judgment – gently to return the attention to the object. The exercise it repeated many, many times.
Once the mind is stable in its attention, the breath is let go and the attention is allowed to rest on whatever presents itself most strongly – perhaps a sound, or a pain, or a train of thought. This phase of the meditation is without agenda. When the mind wanders the attention is gently brought back – first to the breath and then, when stable again, to whatever presents itself most strongly.
Over time, it becomes apparent that our everyday experience is inherently unsatisfactory. Even the pleasant experiences that we would like to stay around ultimately do not satisfy because they do not last. Whatever presents itself to awareness comes into being through its own causes, exists in experience for a time, and then changes and passes away. With time one gradually comes to see that there truly is no resting place in consciousness, that we have our existence more as processes than as things.
Vipassana is founded in a non-harming lifestyle and the formal meditation described above is supplemented by "conditioning" meditations that better prepare the mind for the work of investigation. In these meditations the attention is placed on specific phrases generated in the mind, relating to loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. When the mind wanders, attention is returned to the phrases.
On March 27th, participants will spend their "Vipassana hour" in personal silence, with a 15-minute guided meditation on the breath, ten minutes of walking meditation (instruction will be provided) followed by 20 minutes of broad-focus meditation, also guided. The remaining 15 minutes will be for question-and-answer, and discussion. The start and end of each meditation session will be signaled by the chime of a bell. The sitting posture is not rigidly defined; one can sit on a cushion, bench or chair, the only basic instruction being that the back should be upright and the attitude of the posture one of dignity.
Silent Christian Meditation Practice (11:00)
Led by John DeGrace
Christian meditation in one form or another goes back to the very earliest days of the Church, the earliest clear record being the practice of the Desert Fathers. Indeed, it is easy to interpret Jesus' own forty days in the wilderness as a retreat for the purpose of meditation. By the middle ages, Christian meditation practice was a highly-refined spiritual discipline. The 14th century English Author of the Cloud of Unknowing and the Book of Privy Counseling wrote:
When you go apart to be alone for prayer, put from your mind everything that you have been doing or plan to do. Reject all thoughts, be they good or evil. ... See that nothing remains in your conscious mind save a naked intent stretching out toward God. .. Let that quiet darkness be your whole mind and like a mirror to you. For I want your whole thought of self to be as naked and simple as your thought of God, so that you may be spiritually united to him without any fragmentation and scattering of mind.
This formal practice was largely abandoned in later centuries, lost in the turmoil of the reformation and counter-reformation. Jesuit monks working in Japan after World War II encountered Zen, and brought that practice back to North America. Meanwhile in the 1960's a Benedictine Monk, Fr. John Main, encountered a Hindu meditation practice in India and asked to learn it. When he returned to England he continued the practice until his Abbot discovered the activity and directed him to stop on the basis that it was "unchristian." Main could not accept that something which seemed so right was contrary to his faith, so he began researching early Christian literature. This work led him directly to the Desert Fathers and the writings of John Cassian, and brought him to the understanding that meditation had in fact been central to early Christian practice.
Main's teaching sparked a renewal of Christian meditation practice in the west; and today there are many thousands of practitioners, hundreds of qualified teachers, and many Christian meditation groups worldwide. Main recommends that the meditator sit upright quietly, eyes gently closed, and bring to mind a single word – maranatha. The word, or mantra, is to be repeated silently and carefully, with equal weight on each syllable: "ma – ra – na – tha." When the mind wanders and the practitioner notices that it has wandered, the attention simply is returned to the word. He wrote: "The only problem of meditating is the simplicity of it. If only we could learn the simplicity to say our word like a child, with childlike faith, . . . we would lose ourselves in God and in losing ourselves we would find our way into a relationship with all. We would find our way into love."
On March 27th, the "Christian meditation hour" will begin with selected readings from "The Book of Privy Counseling" and the writings of Fr. John Main. This will be followed by 20 minutes of silent meditation, leaving time for question-and-answer, and discussion. The start and end of the meditation period will be indicated by the chime of a bell.
Tibetan Buddhist Practice (12:00)
Led by Mary Cosman
The traditional Buddhist practices of the Tibetan people include a vast collection of liturgies. These practices are comprised of a meditative stream of text recitation, chanting mantra, visualization and clear meditation.
To sample this, we will go through the format of a typical practice, directing our meditative attention toward the Nyingma School's preceptor, Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche.
Tibetan Buddhism is considered an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism and known as Vajrayana, or Tantra. Vajrayana took on aspects of the traditional shamanistic Bon religion of the region when Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 11th century CE. The introduction of Buddhism is attributed to the great Indian teacher Padmasambhava, who spent his lifetime travelling and teaching throughout Tibet. Practitioners of Vajrayana continue to study his teachings to this day.
A principal aspect of Vajrayana which distinguishes it from other Buddhist traditions is the grounding in bodhicitta, or the dedication of one's energies toward relieving the suffering of all sentient beings. You will notice how this universal theme of helping others is repeated in the practices.
Another theme which we will explore is presenting offerings. In daily life, the mentality of offering can enrich the most ordinary actions and we can look at the ritual offerings performed as a way of cultivating feelings of generosity.
The mentality of limitless generosity antidotes envy and a sense of impoverishment, and instills contentment. Furthermore, the merit of such an attitude brings forth wealth, in terms of mental well-being and ultimately in terms of actual material abundance in this or future lives.
Visualizing the recipient is the vehicle used for developing this attitude of generosity, and is a foundation of Vajrayana meditational practice. As we move through this short practice, we use visualizations and offering in a variety of ways.
This short practice can become a meaningful part of one's daily ritual at home, and as in any offering, visualization of the recipient is the choice of the practitioner. The verse recited here is dedicated to "the transcendent accomplished conquerors", which is to say, simply, the great teachers of the past.
The beauty of the water offering ceremony is that one can visualize all the glorious riches of our earth, simply represented by water. We do not have to own riches to envision them as boundless offerings to sentient beings everywhere. In this way, the seven bowls of water represent:
- Pure drinking water, gathered from throughout the universe
- Washing water, as a symbol for cleansing and purification
- Flowers, including medicinal plants, fruits and grains
- Incense, including all natural or manufactured fragrances
- Scented water, including all perfumes and unguents
- Food, including all that is delicious to taste
- Music, including all naturally occurring or artificially produced sounds that are pleasant to hear
As a daily practice, the offering is made using fresh clean water at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day the bowls are emptied, wiped dry and placed upside down for the night.
Refuge and Bodhicitta
The Refuge and Bodhicitta prayer is found in one form or another in all Buddhist traditions. Interpreted esoterically on many levels, the outer manifestation of taking refuge is that the practitioner is affirming the foundational importance of the teacher, the teachings, and the community of practitioners. Bodhicitta arises from expressing compassion for and a wish to help all beings attain enlightenment.
Visualization of the Preceptor, Prayer and Mantra
Here we will be exploring some elements of the Guru Yoga practice. In the Nyingma school, all practices begin with the invocation of Padmasambhava in the Seven-Line Prayer. You are inviting Guru Rinpoche to be present through your visualization of his form. Imagine the meditational deity in the space in front of you as a form of transparent, living light and use this form as a focus for your meditation.
For a devoted practitioner, repeating the Vajra Guru mantra actually manifests his presence, as the resonance of the mantra represents Guru Rinpoche in the form of sound.
The beautiful prayer to Guru Rinpoche, adapted from a longer text by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, can be addressed with heartfelt meaning to whomever you recognize as the beloved, Blessed One.
We will have short periods of meditation in the midst of this prayer, and after chanting the Vajra Guru mantra.
Dissolution of Visualization
A few moments of silence, during which you end the visualization of your meditational deity. Imagine the deity dissolving into a clear light, which comes to rest in your heart-mind. Through visualization of a deity you are providing yourself with a personage to whom you can make offerings and from whom you can receive blessings. As you draw this visualization back into your heart you realize that the deity is clearly an emanation of your own mind and that, indeed, is simply the expression of your buddha-nature.
All practices end with dedication of the merit that is accumulated by practice to all sentient beings. The verse we'll be reciting is my favorite, and is taken from the English version of the devotional practice to Red Tara, a feminine buddha whose qualities include heartfelt compassion and protection.
Silent vegetarian lunch (1:00)
Food Offering and Grace led by Mary Cosman
In homes of Vajrayana practitioners, every meal provides the opportunity to make a tsog (feast) offering, so we will be offering a small portion of our luncheon with a "grace" recited in Sanskrit, as well as a short English text.
Readings by Ken Bilski and Peter Zimmer
Informal assistance with seating and posture (1:45)
Judith Johnson, Mary Cosman, Edward Dobrowolski, Don Hagreen
If you have been uncomfortable or unsure, or you would like to try something new, now is the time to get some help.
Led by Catholic Clergy
The Taize Community was founded by Brother Roger in 1940, as a protestant monastic community dedicated to world peace and reconciliation. Since then the community has grown and evolved into a worldwide movement. The form of worship that has evolved in the community at Taize takes account of the variety of faith experiences and religious traditions of those called to pray with them. Those gathered may sit in the posture most comfortable for each. Silence is central. During Saturday's worship there will be two periods of silent meditation, each approximately ten to fifteen minutes long. The music is composed of simple melodies and short passages based on Scripture. The words are sung in a variety of languages from around the world. Each chant is repeated many times to allow it to become settled into the heart.
Zen Buddhist Practice (3:00)
Led by the Zen chapter of the Buddhist Meditation Society
We will open the Zen practice session by sitting while the jikijitsu offers incense, chanting "Affirming Faith Mind" together, then bowing to the ground 3 times.
Affirming faith mind is essentially a series of koans – that is problems that are solved intuitively and nonverbally – they don't have a solution as such. You are not meant to understand it immediately – to do so would be very unusual. Allow the words to pass like rain sinking into the ground – over time (years) you may notice that these words describe and guide your maturing meditation practice. Meantime, this long chant demands that you are physically and mentally present – if attention lapses you will get lost. Don't worry – just join in again as soon as you can. The important thing is to make a sincere effort in each moment. Each individual fades in and out because we all have to breath – but with a large enough group there is no pause in the chant. The chant rhythm is provided by the shoji on the mokugyo - a wooden drum like instrument - there is one beat per syllable.
Bowing will be followed by a brief walking meditation, a 20-minute sitting meditation, a 5-10 minute walking meditation, tea ceremony, and a final homage consisting of sitting while the leader (jikijitsu) offers incense, chanting the 4 bodisattva vows, and bowing three times (prostrations).
During sitting, eyes should be softly focused on the ground ahead of you. That is - look down your nose at nothing in particular on the ground about 3 feet on front of you. Concentration should be focused lightly on the breath. When thoughts and feelings arise simply observe them, do not pursue a line of thought or wallow in a feeling. This is harder than it sounds. When you find yourself thinking, fantasizing or indulging feelings just return to the breath – again and again – don't give up. During walking meditation, concentration should be focused on body movements and the unity of the group walking in step – return to this every time you notice yourself thinking or looking around.
The simple tea ceremony used here is an exercise in fellowship and non verbal communication. A hand signal indicates when you have enough tea. Hold the cup in one hand with the other hand palm up – when you have enough tea raise your palm. On the first serving you wait until the leader (the jikijitsu) drinks - then all drink together. On the second serving you may drink when the person after you has been served. For the shoji serving the tea it is an exercise in serving others, for everyone else it is an exercise in gracious receiving.
Offering incense and bowing is done in the spirit of humility and willingness to learn, and also in acknowledgement of the Buddha nature in all present, including you. Christians may like to acknowledge the presence of Christ in all present. To many Buddhists, Christ was a Buddha.
Tea and Cookies (4:00)
Now you can talk and move all you want!
Clean up (4:30)
Help will be appreciated.