Appropriate Action – This month’s essay from Doreen

(If you are accessing this essay from the drop-down menu and see only a few lines, click on the title to read the complete essay.)

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted [reactive] mind
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.
Dhammapada v. 1-2  (Gil Fronsdal)

These two familiar first verses from the Dhammapada were the subject of meditation and contemplation at our sangha’s first gathering of 2017. On New Year’s Day, after some moments of gentle, mindful movement meant to collect and synchronize our attention and to bring a stronger awareness of the body to our gathering, we sat and were encouraged to remember a time when someone had been kind to us in 2016, to savor the feelings. We didn’t share this memory with the group, but simply introduced ourselves and paused as each person present silently wished us well. I gave a brief reflection on the verses above noting that mind refers not just to conscious cognition but also to the more subtle, often implicit emotional, volitional and intentional aspects of mind. We settled into a time of silent meditation, in the middle of which five different people in the group read five different translations of the above verses into our shared quiet. (You can find these verses at the end of this essay.)

“Understanding this interdependence between [hoof and wheel,] past and future, cause and effect, seed and fruit provides a powerful tool for transforming the nature of experience. It reveals both the futility of struggling against what has already arisen and the importance of skillfully influencing what is yet to come.” Andrew Olendzki

Right (or wise, or skillful, or appropriate) Action is the fourth Factor of the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is the fourth of the Four Noble Tasks (or Truths) in the Dharma teachings. This teaching, as all the Buddha’s teachings, investigates Dukkha, which is the direct experience of reactivity, suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and anguish, and their end. In this context, our consideration of whether or not an action is appropriate to the moment is based on whether it is likely to lead to more suffering or less suffering for ourselves and others. It is important to remember, states Andrew Olendzki, that “Dukkha does not only mean that we feel unhappy some of the time. It also means that many of the things we do cause other people to suffer.”

As a beautiful flower without fragrance
is disappointing,
so are wise words
without right action.
Dhammapada v. 51  (Ven. Munindo)

Five Important Faculties/Five Important Strengths: In this process of deepening our relationship to Right Action, we are fortunate to have Manny Mansbach, a teacher at Vermont Insight Meditation Community, offering us a half-day teaching on what are most often called “The Five Spiritual Powers.”

I think the word spiritual in this context can be problematic and confusing. I heard Eugene Peterson, a well-respected Christian theologian, interviewed by Krista Tippet recently. He said he felt the word spiritual was “cheap”; he said that it was misleading in that it tended to indicate that there was something other than, and more important than, our ordinary, mundane daily lives, and that it was the exclusive realm in which transformation happens. Buddhist teacher Rodney Smith states: “When we think of rituals and forms [and meditation] as the only way to access the sacred, the rest of our life is placed on spiritual hold…. The lay Buddhist begins to recover the sacred in the most remote areas of life, in the midst of [personal, collective, and political] difficulty and dissatisfaction, loneliness and despair….” Smith says that in our daily lives, “We find everything we need immediately before us within the circumstances and conditions we long begrudged.”

Manny Mansbach’s teaching on January 28th will help us become more familiar with five very ordinary capacities that all humans have in common: confidence, balanced effort, mindful awareness, concentration skills, and wisdom. When developed they become extraordinary, and we can claim them as strengths or powers. We can rely on them as we move about our every day lives. They inform and stabilize our personal and collective actions. Please join us.  Manny will be offering a half-day retreat from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 28, 2017.  To register please go to our Retreat page.

Engaged Buddhism: Valley Insight’s Micah Hero award this year honored the local chapter of SURJ and we are pleased to be supporting them with their first public forum exploring issues of racial justice. It follows on the heels of our consideration of The Five Spiritual Powers. It is on the same day, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Kilton Library in West Lebanon. Please join in this further exploration of Right Action by getting a better understanding of the issues:
Panel and Discussion on Race and Racism: January 28, 2017, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon, NH.
“Some believe that it is only great power that can hold evil in check,
but that is not what I have found.
I find it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk
that keep the darkness at bay…
small acts of kindness and of love.”
            ––JRR Tolkien
 The Arising of Wise Action from the Unwise: When he learned that arson was the cause of the fire and that a local  man had intentionally burned down the Lebanon Baptist Church, the chair of the church’s executive board, Keith Davio, said, “The first thing that came to mind was now we have someone to pray for….  It’s a very forgiving church. It doesn’t mean we’re not angry, but you have to go through the process and move on.”
“Keep calmly [and kindly] knowing cessation.”   Venerable Analayo

Dhammapada v. 1-2 translations:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
Thomas Byrom

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted [reactive] mind
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.
Gil Fronsdal

All states of being are determined by mind.
It is mind that leads the way.
Just as the wheel of the oxcart follows
The hoof print of the animal that draws it,
So suffering will surely follow
When we speak of act impulsively
From an impure state of mind.

All states of being are determined by mind.
It is mind that leads the way.
As surely as our shadow never leaves us,
So well-being will follow
When we speak or act
With a pure state of mind.
The Venerable Munindo

Fore-run by mind are mental states,
Ruled by mind, made of mind.
If you speak or act
With corrupt mind,
Suffering follows you,
As the wheel the foot of the ox.

Fore-run by mind are mental states,
Ruled by mind, made of mind.
If you speak or act
With clear mind,
Happiness follows
Like a shadow that does not depart.
Valerie Roebuck

Phenomena are preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
With a corrupted heart,
Then suffering follows you –
As the wheel of the cart,
the track of the ox
that pulls it.

Phenomena are preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
With a calm, bright heart,
Then happiness follows you,
Like a shadow
that never leaves.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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