Understanding Wisdom February 14 2018

by Peter Carlson on February 15, 2018

This talk explores the crucial Buddhist concept of Wisdom.  In the Noble Eightfold Path, Wisdom represents two qualities: Right Understanding and Right Intention.  Mastering these two qualities is the goal of the fundamental path towards Awakening.  Peter emphasized how Right Understanding manifests as awareness free from the five hindrances and Right Intention manifests as lovingkindness, compassion and joyful appreciation of others.  When Wisdom is fully realized, there is direct experiential knowledge of the three characteristics of reality: impermanence, the absence of an enduring and autonomous self, and the distress and confusion that results from the process of craving and clinging.  This awareness leads to the fulfillment of the Noble Eightfold Path, which is full realization of Samma Nanna (pronounced ny-nah), direct knowledge of reality, and Samma Sankappa, liberation/Nirvana.

Here are the notes prepared for this talk:  Understanding Wisdom

Understanding Dukkha

by Peter Carlson on February 8, 2018

Dukkha is one of the key concepts of Buddhist practice, considered as one of the three characteristics of existence, along with anicca (impermanence) and anatta (the absence of an autonomous and enduring self).  It is traditionally translated as suffering; however, Peter suggests the terms distress and confusion as more workable.  Dukkha is the First Noble Truth, and the Second Noble Truth is understanding the cause of dukkha, which is craving (tanha in Pali) and clinging (upadana in Pali).  Distress is a more direct rendering of craving, and clinging involves confusion about the true nature of reality.   The way dukkha was understood in the Buddha’s era can be related to the poor fit between the axle of a cart and the hub of the wheel.  Contemporary commentators suggest this uncomfortable and unreliable fit as a useful representation of dukkha.  During the talk, Peter emphasized the importance of not just understanding dukkha conceptually; experiential understanding through the practice of vipassana is essential for resolving dukkha as well as craving and clinging, and this is accomplished through the practice of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, the mental training components of the Noble Eightfold Path.

The presentation was followed by a discussion of how to recognize the experience of dukkha, craving or clinging, in order to use Right Effort to provide clarity and serenity in life.

Here are the notes prepared for this talk:  Understanding Dukkha

During the talk, Peter frequently referred to the cetasikas, conditioning functions of the mind.  Here is a chart listing them categorically:  CETASIKAS POSTER

Understanding Renunciation (or Let Go, Let Dharma)

by Peter Carlson on February 1, 2018

This talk explored the meaning and practice of nekkhamma, renunciation, an important capability to cultivate on the path of Awakening.  Renunciation is manifest in the various “12 Step” groups as “Let Go, Let God”; this was rephrased as “Let Go, Let Dharma”, and involves the intentional turning away of attention on whatever mental process that is conditioned by greed, hatred and ignorance.  Peter talked of two “layers” of renunciation: The first involves renouncing intrusive unwholesome thoughts and impulsive reactivity, particularly involving the five hindrances, and the second involves the practice of vipassana (insight) for seeing through the misconception of an autonomous, enduring self, that is, the process of “selfing” that is the result of craving and clinging.  He emphasized the critical importance of the fundamental practice of noticing whatever interrupts mindfulness of breathing and then letting go of that distraction and redirecting attention back to the breath sensations, as this routine trains the mind in the practice of renunciation. Peter also asked participants to contemplate two issues involving renunciation: First, renouncing whatever interferes with establishing a daily meditation practice, and second, renouncing whatever interferes with the cultivation of the process of Awakening, either during meditation practice or during one’s daily life routines.  This was followed by a longer than usual discussion of the value of renunciation and ways to cultivate it.

Here are the notes prepared for this talk:  Understanding Renunciation

Here is a worksheet that can support the contemplation the two issues involving renunciation:  RENUNCIATION WORKSHEET

The Value Of Virtue

by Peter Carlson on January 25, 2018

Virtue is a basic component of any spiritual tradition found in the world.  As regards Buddhism, virtue, that is Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood are key elements of the Noble Eightfold Path, and are derived from the Wisdom aggregate of the Path, particularly Right Intention.  During this talk, Peter reviewed the multiple ways Buddhism cultivates virtue as an essential component during the process of Awakening.  He also emphasized the contemporary psychological and social benefits derived from a virtuous lifestyle.  This was followed by discussion focused on how virtue has improved the lives of those present during the talk, and how regular meditation practice fosters the shift from a conceptual understanding of virtue towards the experiential realization of virtue.

Here are the notes prepared for this talk:  UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE OF VIRTUE

Understanding Intention

by Peter Carlson on January 18, 2018

During the discussion of January 10, 2018 “Understanding Karma”, the importance of cetana, intention, was mentioned.  This talk elaborates on cetana, which is one of the “universal mind conditioners” that function in every moment of consciousness.  Peter quoted excerpts from Van Gorkam’s book “Cetasikas” describing the coordinating and motivating function of intention in the formation of each moment of selfing.  The relationship between intention and the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination was also described.  These understandings were aligned with an excerpt from Siegel’s “The Mindful Brain” regarding the neuroscientific research on intention that supports the traditional Buddhist view.  Ways to cultivate mindful intention were discussed associated with the practice of mindfulness of breathing.

Here are the notes prepared for this talk:  UNDERSTANDING INTENTION

Next week’s topic will be understanding the practical benefits of cultivating virtue, a core aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path, from a psychological as well as spiritual perspective.


Understanding Karma

During this talk, Peter describes the Buddhist concept of karma, the intentional application of various mental conditioning factors that form the sense of self.  The traditional concepts about the various attributes of karma were described, then compared to current psychological and neuroscientific research that clarifies how karma actually operates in the human brain, and how […]

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Peter’s 2017 Year End Retreat Report

The theme for this retreat was Adaptation And Surrender, continuing to explore the concepts presented by Rodney Smith.  During the last posting of December, Peter referred to his book “Stepping Out Of Self-Deception”; the retreat addressed the concepts presented in his book “Awakening-A Paradigm Shift Of The Heart”.  Peter described the format of the retreat, […]

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