#1689 - Monday, January 26, 2004
- #1689 - Monday, January 26, 2004 - Editor: JerryThis issue is devoted to the works of Christina Feldman. We thank Highlights reader Earl McHugh for inspiring this issue with his review of one of Feldman's books.
Exclusive to The HighlightsSilence - A reviewby Earl McHugh
Recently one of the finest books in the realm of the search for our basic identity was published. It is "Silence - How to Find Inner Peace in A Busy World" by Christina Feldman. She has been teaching meditation throughout the world for over 25 years and has previously written 5 other books and co-authored one with Jack Kornfield.
I first encountered Ms. Feldman in the ''70s when she was teaching at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass. I was a rather new meditator. I knew then that she had a special talent for teaching and a depth of wisdom far beyond her youthful years. She has been a wife, mother and teacher ever since.
There is no doubt in my mind that " Silence " will be of great benefit to any interested reader, whether someone at the earliest stages of self-exploration, or just a general reader or even those experienced in the spiritual path. Her approach is unique because she focuses on an aspect of the human being seldom written about. Most writers in this area, including the earliest scholars and teachers, tend to focus on " looking " into the mind. Ms. Feldman, however, deals with our ability to learn by listening to the chatter of our busy minds. This is indeed more logical - since when you " look " at the mind you quickly realize that there is nothing to see. Some teachers become ecstatic at this discovery, as if they had found the key to understanding the universe.
In her clear, patient way Christina tells the reader how to access the silence at the heart of his being. It does not take years of study to do this. Even the slowest beginner will be able to follow her teaching. Of course what happens when you get to a more silent state depends on the state of your mind, your familiarity with inner exploration and other factors. But it is absolutely certain that anyone who sincerely follows the approach suggested here will become truly engaged with his actual state of mind - not some remote, idealized place but in an awareness of what is going on within right now.
Then, in the calm eye of silence we can come to awareness. As she tells us, " In the light of awareness, habit falls away, all of our conclusions and images are shattered, and we learn to see in a way we have never seen before."
This is just a sample of the particularly fine lessons offered here. Naturally there is much, much more to be learned from this book. This is not a dull textbook on meditation methodology. It teaches about life and living in a way that is accessible to all and opens the door to a more satisfying way to live for all who enter it.
The book is loaded with dozens of truly beautiful photographs, primarily of nature scenes . Since the paper is of unusually high quality these pictures are vivid indeed and play a part in helping the attentive reader to expand his horizon just be examining them.
Earl McHughThe book is available through Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/ys33y
Meditation is inherently experiential. It cannot be learned as a purely scholastic subject nor simply taught as an intellectual exercise. Meditation is not a new belief system to be adopted nor a collection of information to be absorbed. Whatever style or discipline we adopt its effectiveness is reliant upon our direct personal exploration, practice and experience with it. Meditation introduces us to the life of our mind, body and feelings - on a moment to moment level we increasingly see clearly the ways we affect our world and the ways we are affected by it. This is the starting point of a journey of transformation - the possibility of travelling new pathways in our lives and relationships emerges. There are thousands of meditation styles and practices in existence which each have unique differences and fundamental similarities. The primary theme that is shared within this variety of disciplines is the invitation to direct and personal experience. No one can substitute for us on this journey, no one can give to us the profound benefits of meditation, no one can effect change for us - every tradition of meditation invites us to participate directly and to see for ourselves.
Meditation - Christina Feldman
Shouting at a bud does not make a flower blossom more.
— Christina Feldman quoted in T'ai Chi as a Path of Wisdom by Linda Myoki
by Christina Feldman
This article has been excerpted from a program offered by Christina at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies on October 18, 1998. Please note that this represents only a small portion of the material offered in the full program.
In the Buddha’s teachings, the second noble truth is not a theory about what happens to somebody else, but is a process which is going on over and over again in our own lives—through all our days, and countless times every single day. This process in Pali is called pañicca-samuppàda, sometimes translated as "dependent origination" or "co-dependent origination" or "causal interdependence."
The process of dependent origination is sometimes said to be the heart or the essence of all Buddhist teaching. What is described in the process is the way in which suffering can arise in our lives, and the way in which it can end. That second part is actually quite important.
Pañicca-samuppàda is said to be the heart of right view or right understanding. It is an understanding that is also the beginning of the eight-fold path, or an understanding that gives rise to a life of wisdom and freedom. The Buddha went on to say that when a noble disciple fully sees the arising and cessation of the world, he or she is said to be endowed with perfect view, with perfect vision—to have attained the true dharma, to possess the knowledge and skill, to have entered the stream of the dharma, to be a noble disciple replete with purifying understanding—one who is at the very door of the deathless. So, this is a challenge for us.
What the pañicca-samuppàda actually describes is a vision of life or an understanding in which we see the way everything is interconnected—that there is nothing separate, nothing standing alone. Everything effects everything else. We are part of this system. We are part of this process of dependent origination—causal relationships effected by everything that happens around us and, in turn, effecting the kind of world that we all live in inwardly and outwardly.
It is also important to understand that freedom is not found separate from this process. It is not a question of transcending this process to find some other dimension; freedom is found in this very process of which we are a part. And part of that process of understanding what it means to be free depends on understanding inter-connectedness, and using this very process, this very grist of our life, for awakening.
Doctrinally, there are two ways in which this process of pañicca-samuppàda is approached. In one view it is held to be something taking place over three lifetimes, and this view goes into the issues of rebirth and karma. My own approach today is the second view, which I think is really very vital and alive, which looks at pañicca-samuppàda as a way of understanding what happens in our own world, inwardly and outwardly, on a moment-to-moment level. It’s about what happens in our heart, what happens in our consciousness, and how the kind of world we experience and live in is actually created every moment.
To me, the significance of this whole description is that if we understand the way our world is created, we also then become a conscious participant in that creation. It describes a process that is occurring over and over again very rapidly within our consciousness. By this time in the day, you have probably all gone throughout countless cycles of dependent origination already. Perhaps you had a moment of despair about what you had for breakfast or what happened on the drive out here, a mind-storm about something that happened yesterday, some sort of anticipation about what might happen today—countless moments that you have gone through where you have experienced an inner world arising: I like this; I don’t like this; the world is like this; this is how it happened; I feel this; I think that.
Already this early in the day, we could track down countless cycles of this process of pañicca-samuppàda—when we’ve been elated, when we’ve been sad, when we’ve been self-conscious, fearful—we’ve been spinning the wheel. And, it is important to understand this as a wheel, as a process. It is not something static or fixed, not something that stays the same. You need to visualize this as something alive and moving, and we’ll get into how that happens.
The basic principle of dependent origination is simplicity itself. The Buddha described it by saying:
When there is this, that is.
With the arising of this, that arises.
When this is not, neither is that.
With the cessation of this, that ceases.
When all of these cycles of feeling, thought, bodily sensation, all of these cycles of mind and body, action, and movement, are taking place upon a foundation of ignorance—that’s called samsara. That sense of wandering in confusion or blindly from one state of experience to another, one state of reaction to another, one state of contraction to another, without knowing what’s going on, is called samsara.
It’s also helpful, I think, to see that this process of dependent origination happens not only within our individual consciousness, but also on a much bigger scale and on more collective levels—social, political, cultural. Through shared opinions, shared views, shared perceptions or reactions, groups or communities of people can spin the same wheel over extended periods of time. Examples of collective wheel spinning are racism or sexism, or the hierarchy between humans and nature, political systems that conflict, wars—the whole thing where communities or groups of people share in the same delusions. So understanding dependent origination can be transforming not only at an individual level, but it’s an understanding about inter-connectedness that can be truly transforming on a global or universal level. It helps to undo delusion, and it helps to undo the sense of contractedness and the sense of separateness.
In classical presentations, this process of dependent origination is comprised of twelve links. It is important to understand that this is not a linear, progressive, or sequential presentation. It’s a process always in motion and not static at all. It’s also not deterministic. I also don’t think that one link determines the arising of the next link. But rather that the presence of certain factors or certain of these links together provide the conditions in which the other links can manifest, and this is going to become clearer as we use some analogies to describe how this interaction works.
It’s a little bit like a snowstorm—the coming together of a certain temperature, a certain amount of precipitation, a certain amount of wind co-creating a snow storm. Or it’s like the writing of a book: one needs an idea, one needs pen, one needs paper, one needs the ability to write. It’s not necessarily true that first I must have this and then I must have this in a certain sequential order, but rather that the coming together of certain causes and conditions allows this particular phenomena or this particular experience to be born.
It is also helpful to consider some of the effects of understanding pañicca-samuppàda. One of the effects is that it helps us to understand that neither our inner world, nor our outer world is a series of aimless accidents. Things don’t just happen. There is a combination of causes and conditions that is necessary for things to happen. This is really important in terms of our inner experience. It is not unusual to have the experience of ending up somewhere, and not knowing how we got there. And feeling quite powerless because of the confusion present in that situation. Understanding how things come together, how they interact, actually removes that sense of powerlessness or that sense of being a victim of life or helplessness. Because if we understand how things come together, we can also begin to understand the way out, how to find another way of being, and realize that life is not random chaos.
Another effect of understanding causes and conditions means accepting the possibility of change. And with acceptance comes another understanding—that with wisdom, we have the capacity to create beneficial and wholesome conditions for beneficial and wholesome results. And that’s the path—an understanding that we have the capacity to make choices in our lives that lead toward happiness, that lead toward freedom and well being, rather than feeling we’re just pushed by the power of confusion or by the power of our own misunderstanding. This understanding helps to ease a sense of separateness and isolation, and it reduces delusion.
A convenient place to start in order to gain some familiarity with the process of dependent origination is often with the first link of ignorance. This is not necessarily to say that ignorance is the first cause of everything but it’s a convenient starting place:
With ignorance as a causal condition, there are formations of volitional impulses. With the formations as a causal condition, there is the arising of consciousness. With consciousness as a condition, there is the arising of body and mind (nàma-rupa). With body and mind as a condition, there is the arising of the six sense doors. (In Buddhist teaching, the mind is also one of the sense doors as well as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.) With the six sense doors as a condition, there is the arising of contact. With contact as a condition, there is the arising of feeling. With feeling as a condition, there is the arising of craving. With craving as a condition, there’s the arising of clinging. With clinging as a condition, there’s the arising of birth. And, with birth as a condition, there’s the arising of aging and death. That describes the links.
This process, when reversed, is also described as a process of release or freedom. With the abandonment of ignorance, there is the cessation of karmic formations. With the cessation of karmic formations, there is the falling away of consciousness, and so on.
Read the rest of this paper here: http://www.dharma.org/ij/archives/1999a/christina.htm
Christina Feldman is a co-founder and Guiding Teacher of Gaia House, and has been leading Insight Meditation retreats since 1976. She is a Guiding Teacher of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Ma. As well as teaching retreats worldwide she is committed to the Personal Retreat Programme at Gaia House. She is the author of a number of books including Woman Awake, The Way of Meditation, and co-author of Soul Food. Recent books are Silence and the Buddhist Path to Simplicity.
Moments of peace and stillness give us a glimpse of how extraordinary
our lives can be. In her book The Buddhist Path to Simplicity,
Christina Feldman takes us on a journey to find meaning and wonder in
"We frequently long for a simpler life, to find those moments when we
can sit beneath a tree and listen for one wholehearted moment. We yearn
to find the space to attend to our own inner rhythms and messages, the
space to reflect upon the direction of our lives and to be touched by
the subtle changes of each passing moment. We long to find the space to
listen to another person and to our own hearts with total attention.
Intuitively, we know these spaces teach us about what is significant,
about how to find our path in this world, what nurtures us and how to
be touched by the world around us."
The Buddhist Path to Simplicity takes us to the essence of Buddhism and
focuses on important themes such as simplicity, integrity, compassion,
mindfulness and awakening. Take your first steps with this Meditation
Take a few moments in your day to be still. Relax your body, close your
eyes, and listen inwardly. Bring a calm, gentle awareness to whatever
appears in your mind. Be aware of what your thoughts revolve around and
dwell upon most frequently. It might be the memory of an event or
conversation that has been disturbing. It might be rehearsals or plans
for the future. You might be aware of your mind obsessing about or
judging yourself or another. You might be aware of a tension in your
mind or body; a restless energy that is wanting something more than the
simplicity of this moment.
The sticky, repetitive places our thoughts return to are messengers
asking for our attention. What is being asked of us to release us from
the complexity or confusion of this moment? Where does peace and
calmness lie? Is there someone we need to forgive? Is there something
we are being asked to let go of? Can we nurture a greater generosity of
heart or compassion for ourselves or another? Asks yourself, "Where
does simplicity lie in this moment?"
Hold this question with a patient receptivity but without demanding an
answer. Listen to the responses that arise within you. The release from
complexity, the peace and calmness we seek for, will be found within
"The call that inspires the spiritual warrior in her journey is the call to discover authenticity and freedom within herself and to embody that in her life. Answering this call does not demand that we divorce our partners, leave our children or renounce our jobs and aspirations. It does require us to question whether the forms and roles we have chosen communicate the values and wisdom we honour."
from The Quest of the Warrior Woman, by: Feldman, Christina. Publisher: Aquarian/HarperCollins,1994