Buddhadharma: Ask the Teachers—Rebecca Li (August 2017)

How can one “take on the suffering of the world” or practice “for the sake of all beings” without also inflating their own sense of self-importance?  As profound as these practices are, they also seem like fodder for the ego. 

As an antidote to the sense of arrogance that may arise when we think “I am doing something so selfless, aren’t I great?”, we can practice giving rise to gratitude for the opportunity to serve.  In particular, we are grateful for all the causes and conditions that make it possible for us to practice and to help other beings through our practice.  Some of these causes and conditions include the fact that our health, family and financial situations are not so desperate that we cannot think of anyone else, the opportunity to study with good teachers who inspire us to practice for the sake of all beings, and the direct and indirect supports we get from so many other people who make our own study and practice possible.  In this way, we realize that we can practice for the sake of all beings not because we are inherently better than others, but rather because numerous causes and conditions have come together to make it possible for us to practice this way.  Part of our practice is remembering to be grateful for this and to understand that practicing for all beings is merely a way to repay everyone who supports and loves us in their own ways.

We can also remind ourselves that while we attempt to help others to alleviate their suffering, whether or not we are successful, in that moment we alleviate our own suffering as we cease to obsess over our own difficulties.  Instead of thinking that we are such great people to be helping others or taking on their suffering, we should thank all beings for allowing us to attempt to play this role.  Just because we want to help does not mean that others have to allow us to help them. The fact that our friends, loved ones and strangers allow us to be there for them, retreatants show up for retreats and practice under our guidance, and practitioners attend our talks or seek our advice should be appreciated as their generosity to let us into their lives and their wisdom to recognize the value of the Dharma.  Without other beings who are willing to open their hearts to receive what we can offer, we would not have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the Dharma by offering ourselves.  With this attitude, we are less likely to give rise to a sense of ego-feeding self-importance.

It is gratifying to see people’s sufferings lessened in part because of our effort.  We may experience good feelings that can be encouraging and inspiring and these are useful for sustaining our practice on the Path.  If we maintain a clear awareness of what arises in our mind moment after moment, with patience and diligence, we are likely to catch the moments when these good feelings start to turn into a sense of self-importance.  In these moments, if we practice remembering to be grateful for the opportunity to serve and for all the causes and conditions that make it possible for us to practice in this capacity, the sense of self-importance will dissolve on its own.  But, we are only human, so patience/endurance is important, as it can be enticing to let those pleasant sensations associated with thoughts like “I am so selfless” to grow into a full-blown belief of self-importance.  We need forbearance to let go of this self-aggrandizing chain of thoughts.  Diligence is also important.  Just because thoughts of self-importance did not arise in the last moment, it does not mean that we no longer need to be vigilant this moment, or the next.

Retreat Report by I.U.

Silent Illumination Retreat report, 5-25-2019 to 6-2-2019 at DDRC

I was in a bit of a funk when I arrived for this retreat. I had been practicing too hard in my daily life and had a bit of an eruption. Had to take a few steps back. As a result, I was the least excited about this retreat that I had ever been. I was just there to practice and see what happened I told myself.

The instructions given were similar but different to other retreats, even other Silent Illumination retreats. Yes, it was still brightly illuminate the mind, be aware of the body, environment, all of mind, but unlike the other retreats I had attended there was a component to explore thought. In every other retreat I felt that if I started to have thoughts I was somehow failing. If I caught myself thinking, the thought had to be brushed away. Even the tiniest little bubble of thought was a failure. Here, though I was encouraged to allow the thoughts to wander through the mind. So long as I did not forget where I was, losing the present moment, the thoughts were to be allowed to remain.

After a couple of days, the mind started to settle down a bit, but it was still thinking all the time. In the lectures, Simon told us to completely illuminate the thoughts. I was having all these thoughts about planning for the future, rehashing old arguments from the past. The vast majority of my mental commentary fit into these two categories. When I started to completely illuminate them, I had to start investigating where they came from, and I discovered much to my dismay that they came from pride, from thinking that I was more special than anybody else.

This was a bitter pill for me to swallow, but that’s what I came to the retreat for, so I just kept on practicing. Whenever a thought arose, I began jumping straight to the root. “Another thought based in pride, let it go.” “Planning for the future again? Let it go.” Mind began to gel, so that everything was flowing together. Yes, there were thoughts, yes there was wandering mind, but it was like the great ocean heaving quite naturally, nothing to fear. I was at peace with what was going on, until I started trying to sit double sessions and ran into the pain barrier.

I had an interview with Rebecca where we talked about this. She had me describe the entire process of my experience leading up to my breaking posture. How the pain would grow, how I would just try my best to hold on, widen the focus, let the pain be just a little part of the overall experience. How it would grow and grow until I had a little conversation with myself, convinced myself that it would be better to just give up, that there would just be more sitting, more pain to sit through afterwards. She asked me if there was any real life situation that mirrored this experience, and I described my most recent bout of home training difficulty. I talked about how I had a habit of walking away from things that were difficult, from situations or people that didn’t bring me the fulfillment that I wanted.

I had been living for some ideal future, practicing for some idea of fulfillment that actually had no basis in reality. It was all just a dream. I could see quite clearly how the meditative experience of Chan is a microcosmic reflection of every day life. The same problems and patterns that are present in mind out in the world will arise on retreat. I was told that the real work was to be done in my normal life, that if my meditation as ever to progress, I would need to deal with this pattern of disengagement in my own life. I generated the intention to live an ordinary life, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I generated the vow to put down all dreams and just live in the present moment.

After that interview, I went back to the entry hall and just wept. I cried grieving all of the dreams I was giving up, all of those dreams I had held close to my chest for so many years. Behind all of this pain, I glimpsed something extraordinary. What happens when dreaming is over? There is an awakening. I spent the rest of the retreat trying not to run away from this resolution. There was such a tremendous sense of, “Oh wait! No! Not yet! I could be more!” I did my very best, but I’m not there, not yet anyways.

Coming home was not what I expected it to be. I’d had all these thoughts of the big changes I was going to make in my quest to live an “ordinary life,” but have realized that those thoughts were kind of absurd. They were just another attempt of the ego to be special, just special in being the “most ordinary!” What is ordinary? I think that it’s just what is natural. What is it to live awake? To be aware of what is coming and going in mind. Putting these two together, what is an ordinary but awake life? To be free and natural to be what you are and not be confused about what is going on. This will be my operating basis for this next leg of practice.

 

Retreat Report–T.F.

Hi Rebecca,

I attended your retreat this weekend at the suggestion of my doctor.  He is a wise and compassionate person who I have come to respect and rely upon to help me acknowledge, understand and live with PTSD. So when he suggested your retreat I signed up without question and I cannot say I that expected anything in particular but I will say that by Friday night and into Saturday, I thought he had lost his own mind for thinking I could do this retreat.  I was tempted more than once to get in the car and drive home.  I encountered many difficult personal challenges throughout the weekend and feel that the 2 days I spent on your retreat were more difficult than the 8 weeks of Basic Training I did in the Army.  Upon reflection, I am pleased that I completed the retreat as it was a positive and powerful experience of self awareness for me.

There has never been time when my mind was not troubled. My doctor introduced me to meditation and it helped me to focus on my breath which in turn slowed down my thoughts and reduced the noise but I did struggle with pushing away the thoughts and feelings that came up as fast as I could and didn’t understand how to apply meditation to everyday living.  Your guidance throughout the practice this weekend allowed me to finally understand what he has been telling me.  Your words this weekend echoed his and it just all clicked together at the right time,in the right place  and with all the right people. You asked us to let you know what we wanted to take home from this retreat and my answer is clarity of mind and the ability to be present in my own life.

Yesterday, my first day back from retreat, I got stuck in traffic on my way to an appointment. It is a fact that I do have road rage and I immediately became angry and frustrated and then I heard “this is a good opportunity to practice”.  It made me stop, it made me think of you and my doctor and I smiled as a great sense of accomplishment grew within me and I sat in traffic, still annoyed and anxious but when I got to my doctor’s office I was able to laugh about the traffic and I had a good day.

I am grateful to you for allowing me to practice under your guidance and for your patience throughout the retreat.

Rebecca spoke on Community Building as a Spiritual Practice at A Night of Philosophy and Ideas on February 2

 

 

On February 2, 2019, Rebecca spoke as part of the Tricycle team at A Night of Philosophy and Ideas held at the Brooklyn Public Library.  The event was a 12-hour long feast of intellectually-stimulating talks, music and films from 7 pm to 7 am on Feb 2-3.  Her talk entitled “Community Building as a Social, Political and Spiritual Practice” at 8 pm opened the series of talks following the keynote speech by Kwame Anthony Appiah of Princeton University.  Her talk can be viewed at the one-hour mark of this livestream recording here.  In this talk, she brings together sociological insights of how a sense of belonging is generated when we gather in groups and Buddhist insights using Chan practice to cultivate awareness of how we may be creating suffering for ourselves and others without intending to while doing so.  She also discusses how Chan practice can help us build communities that are connect and support us without generating hatred and anxiety.  One of the questions we can ask in our practice is: “Do we know how we are building a sense of belonging in our community?

RL#3
(Photo provided by Tricycle Magazine)

She wants to acknowledge Julia Hirsch at the Tricycle who encouraged her to explore this subject matter in deciding a topic for the event.  Her Tricycle team worked hard in this incredible event.

The Tricycle Team
The Tricycle team with Julia Hirsch holding the sign. (Photo provided by Tricycle Magazine)

It was a real pleasure to meet Mindy Newman who teaches at the Tibet House.

Mindy Newman
Mindy Newman spoke on keeping calm in a raging world as a Buddhist psychotherapist (Photo provided by Tricycle Magazine)

it was lovely meeting Bo-Mi Choi, director of Cambridge Zen Center, and learning about her dissertation work on Adorno and how she connected his work with Zen practice.

Bo-mi Choi
Bo-mi Choi spoke on The Enlightenment Project: Theodor W. Adorno & The Buddha. (Photo provided by Tricycle Magazine)

The rooms were packed with people and there were long lines going in and out of every time, even between the stacks!

 

 

Dharma Teaching and Activities Schedule (2016)

 

DATE

 

Event

 

Group and Location

Feb 24 (Wed) Rutgers meditation workshop Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)–Student Center on College Avenue, New Brunswick
Feb 28 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (Four Great Vows in daily life, Part I) Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
Mar 4-6 Foundation Retreat Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
Mar 20 (Sun) One-day Retreat (10 am to 4 pm) Newark Community Meditation Center (NCMC)–City Without Wall, Newark, NJ
April 6 (Wed) Rutgers University Meditation Workshop Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)—Graduate Student Lounge in Student Center on College Avenue, New Brunswick
Apr 29-May 1 Beginner’s Mind Retreat (with Nancy Bonardi) Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
May 4 (Wed) Rutgers University Meditation Workshop Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)—Graduate Student Lounge in Student Center on College Avenue, New Brunswick
May 22 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (Embracing Chaos: Chan Practice in Our Tumultuous Times.) Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
May 27-Jun 5 10-day Silent Illumination Retreat (with Simon Child) Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
August 5-7 Foundation Retreat Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
August 12-14 Beginner’s Mind Retreat Dharma Drum Vancounver Center
Sept 3-5 Beginner’s Mind Retreat (with David Slaymaker) Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
Sept 7 (Wed) Rutgers University Meditation Workshop Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)—Graduate Student Lounge in Student Center on College Avenue, New Brunswick
Sept 11 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (Four Great Vows in Daily Life–Part II) Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
Sept 18 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ (http://www.ddmbanj.org/en)
Sept 19 (Mon) Meditation Workshop & Dharma Talk Buddhist Sangha of Bucks County, Yardley, PA (http://buddhistsangha.com/)
Sept 29 (Tue) Yale University—Meditation Workshop Yale University (http://chaplain.yale.edu/)
Oct 14-19 Western Zen Retreat (with Simon Child and Hilary Richards) Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
Oct 26 (Wed) Rutgers University Meditation Workshop Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)—Graduate Student Lounge in Student Center on College Avenue, New Brunswick
Oct 30 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ (http://www.ddmbanj.org/en)
Nov 6 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (Transference of Merits in Chan Practice) Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
Nov 11-13 Foundation Retreat Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
Nov 16 (Wed) Rutgers University Meditation Workshop Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)—Graduate Student Lounge in Student Center on College Avenue, New Brunswick
Nov 20 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ (http://www.ddmbanj.org/en)
Nov 29 (Tue) Yale University—Meditation Workshop Yale University (http://chaplain.yale.edu/)
Dec 4 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (Chan Practice and Making Wise Choices) Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
Dec 7 (Wed) Rutgers University Meditation Workshop Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)—Graduate Student Lounge in Student Center on College Avenue, New Brunswick
Dec 11 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ (http://www.ddmbanj.org/en)
Dec 28-Jan 1, 2017 Inward Bound Mindfulness Education Teen Retreat (with Jessica Morey, Rod Owen, Chris Crotty) Rolling Ridge Retreat Center, Andover, MA

Dharma Teaching and Activities Schedule (2017)

 

DATE

 

Event

 

Group and Location

Feb 7 (Tue) Yale University—Meditation Workshop on Compassion and Kindness (4-6 pm) Yale University (http://chaplain.yale.edu/)
Feb 13 (Mon) Buddhist Sangha of Bucks County Dharma Talk (7-9 pm) 65 N Main Street, Yardley, PA

http://buddhistsangha.com/2017/01/29/interdependence-embracing-lifes-ups-and-downs-rebecca-li/

 

Feb 15 (Wed) Rutgers meditation workshop (7-9 pm) Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)– The Cove, Busch Campus Center, Rutgers University
Feb 19 (Sun) One-day Retreat (10 am to 4 pm) Newark Center for Meditative Culture (NCMC)– seed
210 Market Street, Newark, NJ 07102 (nfo@newarkmeditation.org)
Feb 26 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ (http://www.ddmbanj.org/en)
Mar 3-5 Conference on Buddhism and Race Harvard Divinity School
Mar 8 (Wed) Rutgers University Meditation Workshop (7-9 pm) Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)— The Cove, Busch Campus Center, Rutgers University
Mar 26 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (How is a Chan Practitioner to Handle Pride and Self-Righteousness?)  11 am to 12:30 pm Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
Mar 31-Apr 2 Foundation Retreat Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
Apr 12 (Wed) Rutgers University Meditation Workshop (7-9 pm) Dharma Meditation Community at Rutgers (DMCR)— The Cove, Busch Campus Center, Rutgers University
Apr 18 (Tue) Yale University—Meditation Workshop on Daily Life Practice (4-6 pm) Yale University (http://chaplain.yale.edu/)
Apr 30 (Sun) Beginner’s Meditation Class (9 am to 5 pm, vegetarian lunch provided) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ (http://www.ddmbanj.org/en)
May 7 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (Topic: Cultivating Equanimity as a Chan Practitioner) 11 am to 12:30 pm Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
May 27-Jun 4 9-day Silent Illumination Retreat (with Simon Child) Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566
Jun 5-10 Generation-X Dharma Teachers Conference Blazing Mountain Retreat Center, Crestone, CO
July 30 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (Topic: Cultivating Patience/Endurance as a Chan Practitioner) Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
Aug 4-6 (Fri-Sun) 3-day Chan Retreat Dharma Drum Vancouver Center
Aug 11-13 (Fri-Sun) Beginner’s Mind Retreat Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566  http://www.dharmadrumretreat.org/

 

Sept 10 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ

http://www.ddmbanj.org/en

 

Sept 12 (Tue) Yale University—Meditation Workshop (4-6 pm) Yale University

http://chaplain.yale.edu/

 

Sept 19 (Tue) 2017 Summer Meditation Series: Death and Dharma Greenwood Cemetery http://www.green-wood.com/event/death-and-dharma/2017-06-20/  in collaboration with Brooklyn Zen Center https://brooklynzen.org/calendar/

 

Sept 23 (Sat) Dharma Talk: Chan Practice and Bodhisattva Path Brooklyn Zen Center  https://brooklynzen.org/

 

Oct 9 (Mon) Buddhist Sangha of Bucks County Dharma Talk (7-9 pm) 65 N Main Street, Yardley, PA

http://buddhistsangha.com/2017/01/29/interdependence-embracing-lifes-ups-and-downs-rebecca-li/

 

Oct 15 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ

http://www.ddmbanj.org/en

 

Oct 13-18 (Fri-Wed) Western Zen Retreat (with Simon Child and Hilary Richards) Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566  http://www.dharmadrumretreat.org/
Nov 5 (Sun) Sunday Open House Talk (Topic: How is a Chan Practitioner to Handle Suspicion and Self-Doubt?) Chan Meditation Center, Queens, NY
Nov 14 (Tue) Yale University—Meditation Workshop (4-6 pm) Yale University

http://chaplain.yale.edu/

 

Nov 19 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ

http://www.ddmbanj.org/en

 

Nov 21-25 (Tue-Sat) Thanksgiving Chan Retreat Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC), 184 Quannacut Road, Pine Bush, NY 12566  http://www.dharmadrumretreat.org/
Dec 8-10 (Fri-Sun) 3-Day Chan Retreat Dharma Drum Mountain San Francisco Bay Area Center

http://www.ddmbasf.org/

 

Dec 10 (Sun) Meditation Workshop (with David Slaymaker, 9 am to noon) DDMBA-NJ Chapter, Edison, NJ

http://www.ddmbanj.org/en