Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Funny Thought: Late for Work, Stuck in Samadhi

The meditation room in the Google campus is about 1 mile away from my office (in Google's newer Crittenden campus).  I meditate there most mornings before heading to my office.

Yesterday, during my morning meditation, I accidently elevated my mind into a stable samadhi (calm abiding).  Since I don't get access to satisfactory samadhi very often, I decided to stay in that mind for a while.  By the time I was done, I was pretty late for work.  So I sent email to my bosses apologizing to them, and also letting them know that (to save time) I'd stay at the main Google campus until after my meet-and-greet with the President of Tanzania before I go back to my office.

My boss, Paul, was greatly amused.  "Only in Google", he said, "would you receive a late-for-work message involving samadhi and the President of Tanzania".

To me, the funniest part is that I didn't even notice there was anything unusual about my email until I found out how much it amused Paul.  Samadhi and meeting a world leader was just another day at work.  In retrospect, it was very funny.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Misc: Sleeping (Meditation) with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche


I attended a public talk by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in Millbrae, CA, today.

Many people have previously told me, "You have to meet Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, you're alike in many ways, you're going to enjoy meeting each other".  Yesterday, a thought suddenly arosed in my mind, that maybe I should find out when Rinpoche is in the Bay Area, so I can go see him sometime.   So I Googled him, and found out he's right here in the Bay Area right now, and is giving a public talk the next day!  AND, my angel has a playdate, so I'm free for the day.  Wow.  How can I not go?

Rinpoche spoke for about 4 hours in total (with a lunch break in between).  From what I can see, he is just as others have described him.  He is very charming, intelligent, wise, very knowledgeable about Dharma and practice, and he is very playful and has a great sense of humor.  And he's very young, barely in his 30s.  I think the appropriate one-word summary is "wow".  This man is certainly one of the greatest Dharma teachers of his generation, and seems destined to become one of the greatest in the world.  It's an honor to just be in his presence.

The biggest thing I've learned from Rinpoche's talk today is his teaching on Sleeping Meditation.  I had many "omigod" moments.  Here are my notes on what I remember:


When you become sleepy, then make sleepiness the object of meditation.  The idea is to bring focused awareness to the sleepiness process, and let go of all other thoughts.  If you drift into sleep, just feel free to wake up anytime and resume that focused awareness on sleepiness again until you drift into sleep.  (Visual: keep attention stable, and let sleepiness catch up and envelope that stable attention).  Do this repeatedly if you wish.

In this way, even if you fall asleep, you may be meditating in your sleep.  Imagine, meditating while you're sleeping!  Beginners may find it hard to recognize if they're actually meditating in their sleep, or if they are merely sleeping.  There are 2 signs that you're doing Sleeping Meditation:

1. There is no dream in that sleep.
2. When you awake, you awake in meditation, and you feel very refreshed.

As you master this practice, even when in sleeping meditation, you have visual sense of the room around you, and you are aware of happenings in the current room and the surrounding space outside.

Rinpoche said one of his main gurus (Saljay Rinpoche) uses Sleeping Meditation as his main practice.  He would use a mala in one hand, and a prayer wheel in the other hand, and then fall asleep.

Rinpoche said that when he and guru's other students were having long conversations with guru, guru would fall alseep halfway and the students would just continue talking to guru and asking their long list of questions.  And then guru would just wake up and answer that long list of questions in perfect clarity.

Fascinating stuff.  I should start trying it.

(Also see: Mingyur and Meng)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Misc: Bhikkhu Bodhi on the Nikayas


On April 17, I attended a very illuminating talk by the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in Cupertino, CA, about 9 minutes walk away from my house.  The Venerable is, in my knowledge, the foremost scholar of Buddhism in America today.

The audio of the Venerable's talk is available here.

(The first few minutes of the audio is really bad, but gets a lot better pretty soon).

The talk is about the Nikayas, the collection of the original teachings of the historical Buddha.  Here are my notes:

The collection of the original teachings by the Buddha are known as the Nikayas in the Pali tradition, and as the Agamas (阿含经) in the Chinese tradition.

Short history of early Buddhism: Many years after the passing away of the Buddha, Buddhism split into different sects.  For details, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-sectarian_Buddhism

Most of the records of the teachings of early Buddhism were lost with the demise of Buddhism in India.  Fortunately, 2 lines of transmission occurred and survived.

The 1st was the Pali Nikayas, which survived in Sri Lanka via the Theravada school of Buddhism, which thrived there.  The 2nd was the Agamas, which passed from northern India to China.

Each of these contains 4 collections, with names carrying largely identical meanings in Pali and Chinese:

1. Digha Nikaya (长阿含经), collection of long discourses.
2. Majjhima Nikaya (中阿含经), collection of middle-length discourses.
3. Samyutta Nikaya (杂阿含经), collection of themed discourses.
4. Anguttara Nikaya (增一阿含经), collection of "increase by one" discourses.

The main difference between the Nikayas and Agamas:  All the Nikayas are from the same school of Buddhism, which is the Theravada school.  In contrast, the Chinese translators chose the collection from a different school for each Agama.  For example, they chose the Dharmaguptaka version of the long discourses, the Sarvastivada version of the middle-length discourses, and so on.

There are some differences between the nikaya and agama collections.  The order of the discourses are not always identical.  Also, some discourses that are assigned to one collection in the nikayas are assigned to another in the agamas => assignments are not identical.

Implication: Very likely, the collections were not finalized at the First Council.  Venerable's conjecture: Likely that the system of 4 collections are devised at that time, some important discourses assigned, but later over time, more and more discourses got added and different schools assigned them to different collections.

Interesting question:  What is the purpose of this scheme (of 4 collections)?  Is there a governing purpose?

Answer:  There is probably a governing purpose deeper than just the superficially obvious assignment by length and numbers.  Likely purpose:

- Majjhima Nikaya (中阿含经), collection of middle-length discourses.

This collection deals with various aspects of monastic training.  Its general governing aim is to bring together a large number of discourses that introduce newer monks to Buddhist teachings and practices.  Eg, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which is the basic scheme of Buddhist meditation practice.  Eg, discourses on defilements of the mind, purification of mind, right view, karma, Four Noble Truths, dependent origination, etc.

- Samyutta Nikaya (杂阿含经), collection of themed discourses.

Organized around a number of important doctrinal categories.  Eg, Dependent Origination, Five Aggregates, Twelve Sense Bases, the Path Factors, the Noble Truths, etc.  Collection deals with main philosophical ideas of early Buddhism.  The likely purpose of this collection is to enable monks specializing in deep investigation of Dharma to have all the materials in 1 place.  Also includes the discourses dealing with topics needed for development of prajna (wisdom).  This collection is most useful for meditators already well-established in their own practice and want to cultivate further to develop insight and wisdom.

- Anguttara Nikaya (增一阿含经), collection of "increase by one" discourses.

Collection organized by numbers.  A whole "book of ones" where Buddha said, "Monks, there is one XXX" (eg, one thing that is intractable, and that is the untamed mind).  Followed by "book of twos", and so on.  Collection also contains a lot of advice and instruction for lay people.  Likely a convenient scheme to help senior monks find materials for giving lectures to junior monks and to lay people.

- Digha Nikaya (长阿含经), collection of long discourses.

Contains discourses countering positions held by rival teachings and teachers (during the time of the Buddha), and also discourses that glorify the Buddha.  Eg, a discourses that argues against 60+ non-Buddhist positions, the discourse on the death of the Buddha, a discourses where the king of gods asked the Buddha for his teachings (which he subsequently gave) etc.  Likely purpose of this collection is to help propagate Buddhism in an environment that would not be favourable to the Buddha's teachings.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Random Thought: The Wolverine Mind

Having an emotionally-robust mind cultivated over hundreds of hours of Mindfulness practice doesn't necessarily free you from afflictive emotions. Even with such a mind, you can still experience the arising of greed, anger, hatred, envy, sadness, etc, and you can still suffer their painful after-effects. What changes is the rate of recovery. The deeper your practice, the more quickly you tend to recover. Eventually, you may reach a point where you recover from most emotional afflictions so quickly they almost have no effect on you. This is the point where you experience emotional afflictions completely, but at the same time, you become invulnerable to them.

I've finally found an analogy for this mind. I call it the "Wolverine Mind", named after the popular superhero, Wolverine. Wolverine suffers pain and injury like mere mortals, but unlike mere mortals, Wolverine's body heals immediately. That's how he is invulnerable. Wolverine's skin and flesh doesn't stop bullets, but the damage inflicted by the bullets heals immediately.

That, my friends, is what Mindfulness does for you. It buys you the Wolverine Mind.

I may have just found the title of my upcoming book.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Random Thought: My Monsters

My monsters.  
Greed, hatred, envy, anger, agitation, egoistic pride, lust, etc.  
They come in different forms, shapes, colors and sizes.

Over the years, I have learned to deal with them.  
I do that by letting go.

First, I let go of my wish to control or suppress them.
When they arrive, I acknowledge them.
I let them be.

Next, I let go of my instinct to vilify them.
I seek to understand them.
I see them for who they are.  
They are merely creations of my body and mind.
I humor them a little.
I joke with them.
I joke about them.
I let them play.

And then, I let go of my desire to feed them.
They may play here all they want.
But they get no food from me.
They are free to stay here hungry, if they want.

And I continue to let them be.
And then they get really hungry.
And sometimes they leave.

Finally, I let go of my desire to hold on to them.
They are free to leave as they wish.
I let them go.
I am free.
For now.

I do not overcome them.  
They do not overcome me.
And we live together.
In harmony.