Right Tweets, Right Posts, Right Comments

Speak only the speechThe concept of Right Speech comes up a lot in the Dharma. One of the Eightfold Path steps or spokes is dedicated to it, it’s one of the Five Precepts, and it’s a part of various suttas, for example the Subhasita Sutta of the Sutta Nipata. That makes perfect sense. Today, as in the Buddha’s time one imagines, most of us do more day-to-day harm with our speech than with any weapon. We lie, we insult, we belittle, we speak without thinking, we say things that bring others to anger or indignation.

Truthful speech is a major part of Right Speech, but for most of us telling the truth is not terribly difficult. It might be uncomfortable at times, but we don’t (usually) outright lie out of habit, and we don’t (usually) have to make a special effort to tell the truth.

It’s all those other kinds of Unskillful Speech that are the real challenges! Thoughtless speech, provocative speech, insulting speech, belittling speech, gossip… And it seems that there’s no easier place to engage in all of that unskillfulness than on the internet.

Go to the comments of just about any article of an online newspaper, and you’re likely to find an insane amount of vitriol being flung back and forth between anonymous strangers. The article can be about anything; some people seem bent on turning even the most innocuous topic into a chance to vent their anger, their prejudices, their political tribalism, their sense of religious supremacy, their hatred for anyone who thinks differently than they do.

It’s entirely possible that some of these comments are nothing more than sport. People are engaging in a virtual conversation, not with other people, but with strange screen names that aren’t attached to real human beings. And maybe everyone knows the rules of the game, so no pain or mental suffering is actually caused.

I don’t really buy that. I’m sure it’s true for some, but for those of us who don’t spend a lot of time in comments sections, reading some of that is just depressing. And it’s hard to imagine that none of the anger that one sees is genuine, that the cycle of insult and counter-insult doesn’t heap on more and more anger, hatred, and ill will.

I used to be guilty of this on Facebook. If I found a gem of a gotcha article or meme that insulted people of a different political leaning than my own, I was all too happy to share it. This obviously wasn’t anonymous. I was sharing these things with people I knew, real human beings I’d gone to school with, or worked with, or friended for whatever reason. I suppose I told myself that I was in the right, and by sharing these things, I was making a case for that ‘enlightened’ position.

But that’s just wrong. How often do snarky Facebook exchanges turn anyone’s political opinions? And, in the un-virtual world, if we set out to explain our thinking on an issue, how often would we start with an insult? And hey, maybe, just maybe, my opinion isn’t the best!

So the first manifestation of Right Speech that I recognized I needed to work on was Right Online Speech. I’ve never been one for leaving anonymous comments, but I admit that I enjoyed a bit of snark in my Facebook updates. I’ve made an effort to put an end to that, and I’ve vowed not to read comments on online articles. Mostly I’ve been successful, but Practice will make (at least something closer to) Perfect.



Change Your Mind by Paramananda

Change Your MindOne of the first books I read after coming to Triratna-NYC was Change Your Mind: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Meditation, by Paramananda. It was a wonderful resource as I started to practice meditation, with a simple and friendly tone, and clear instructions and advice on everything from cushions and posture to tips on how to bring the benefits of a Buddhist practice into your daily life. I’ve since recommended Change Your Mind to family and friends as an excellent introduction, or as an approachable tool to get back in the habit of regular practice.

Change Your Mind starts with the basics, answering the question What is meditation? and then moves to the essentials in an inviting and personal way. The author gives a thorough explanation of the importance of posture and the different postures a meditator may use. This was particularly helpful to me, since invariably my back knotted up, or my foot fell asleep, or my leg began to ache about five minutes into any meditation I started.

The first meditation covered is a simple body meditation, which helps new meditators become acquainted with their own physical presence as they sit. It’s a very accessible approach that helps beginners learn to focus on the now. Then the author covers the two traditional meditations we do at Triratna, the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Metta Bhavana, or the cultivation of Loving-Kindness, with clear explanations as well as led practices. The author also discusses the role of intention and balanced effort in meditation, and the link between mental, emotional, and physical states and meditation, and how all of that is connected to how we (can) lead our lives.

While Change Your Mind does not focus on Buddhist philosophy, even basic points such as the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path, there is an introduction to the brahmavihāras, or the Four Immeasurables, the compassionate virtues that arise from practice of the Metta Bhavana. This is written in the same friendly, down-to-earth style as the rest of the book, inviting practitioners to experience for themselves the link between meditation and living in a healthier, more compassionate way.

Finally, anyone who’s meditated is doubtlessly familiar with the Five Hindrances, which are also covered, along with time-tested methods for dealing with them and always coming home to the object of concentration. These tools are key to sustaining a practice, especially when you’ve reached a plateau, which most people experience.

All in all, Change Your Mind is a wonderful book to read if you’re a beginner, or if you’ve been meditating for a while but want to go back to the basics for a fresh, friendly, creative, and inspirational point of view. It is neither dry and mechanical nor full of Pali and Sanskrit terms for unfamiliar Buddhist philosophical concepts. It goes right for the middle path, and makes it easy for the reader to follow along.




Head and Heart


I found Triratna-NYC by googling something like ‘meditation classes nyc’ or ‘Buddhist meditation Manhattan’. I had at best a superficial understanding of Buddhism. I’d taken a class on Eastern religions in college, more than two decades earlier, so I was foggily familiar with very basic concepts like the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I’d read a little on Buddhist philosophy, and that small taste appealed to me, although almost entirely on an academic level. I had the obligatory copy of the Dhammapada, not to mention a Buddha statue or two. I’d meditated, but honestly only understood meditation as a relaxation technique. The closest I ever came to a sangha – and to be clear I had no idea what a sangha was – was a Buddhist Explorer’s Group at a Unitarian Universalist church I belonged to.

So when I first found Triratna, I’d never practiced Buddhism in any real sense.

Practice wasn’t my goal at first. I didn’t even understand the concept well enough to have it as a goal. I just went because I wanted to meditate, and I didn’t think much beyond that. I enjoyed the Introductory Classes because classes appeal to me on that familiar head-level. I learned more about Buddhism, asked questions, took part in discussions, and quickly began to get a sense of how much more there was for me to learn.

At the same time, I was growing fonder and fonder of the people at Triratna, and of the experience of being together with them for a purpose that was increasingly about more than just the head. Slowly, as I made my way through the classes and moved into the regular sangha, Buddhist practice began to make space for itself in my life, and, at the risk of sounding sappy, in my heart. I began to meditate every day, and I caught glimpses of how it was changing me. I found myself looking for expressions of the Five Precepts in my behavior, I noticed that I was becoming more patient with myself and others, I started to think more carefully about what I was saying and how I was saying it. I was more present, more attentive, less distracted. I kept reading books on the dharma, but more and more, I was feeling Buddhism rather than just thinking about it.

At this point I know enough about Buddhism to know how much more there is to learn. And that’s nice; it means that there is a lot more food for thought ahead. But I’ve also had the pleasure at Triratna of being surprised by what happens when the head and heart are in it together. And that’s a comforting feeling.




Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 1.04.58 AM “Love where there is no reason to love”
― SangharakshitaMind: Reactive & Creative

“Through the eyes of a real friendship an individual is larger than their everyday actions, and through the eyes of another we receive a greater sense of a self we can aspire to, the one in whom they have most faith. Friendship is a moving frontier of understanding, not only of self and other, but of a possible future.
– David Whyte: Excerpt from Readers’ Circle Essay, “Friendship”

I’m always conscious of the need to keep my practice alive and connected to the endeavor to wake up, and it is the Sangha jewel that remains always the most relevant and potent in this journey.  That’s because the practice of Sangha, rather than the theory of Sangha, requires reaching beyond myself in so many ways.

Within the confines of my meditation practice and study, it can all become a bit self-centred, or to use a phrase of Bhante’s, it can become superficial.  I can study in order to be more knowledgeable; I can meditate to have strong experiences; I can even practice ethics to be looked upon as a good person.  But what this path is truly about is becoming more aware and more compassionate – and ultimately trying to undermine selfishness and harshness and gain more wisdom and equanimity.

When I’m engaged regularly in working on teams and supporting classes, I’m rubbing up against my limitations endlessly.  I love that.  It keeps it real and keeps my feet on the ground.  So whilst sometimes it seems that the biggest trials I meet on the spiritual path are the people around me; they are in fact my greatest teachers.  And if I’m honest I can feel sometimes I’d be better off without all the emotional messiness of my interaction with others.

Yet without communication with my friends in the Sangha, even ones that have been painful and challenging, there would be no path and no progress. The path is not distinct from the people in it, and it is the communication between us that keeps the teachings of Buddhism alive and fully embodied, both as the way of compassion and the way of Wisdom.

It is in the practice of creating and maintaining spiritual community that ego transcendence is most potently and directly approached. And of course we are going to be hindered and sometimes disappointed by the expectations we hold of ourselves and others.  Yet for Sangha to function and remain potent, it requires enough of us to take that leap into the unknown and risk what friendship can reveal.

To take that leap, we need to hold in our minds and hearts the twin realities of a spiritual community that is imperfect, inadequate, stumbling and struggling, alongside a spiritual community that is the embodiment of the Bodhisattva Ideal – a manifestation of the compassion of Avalokitesvara. These two realities are the same reality – one is trapped in time and the literal mindedness of self-centredness, and the other is free of the limitations of time and always creating itself anew in the free space of imagination.

As we move into a new year, let’s celebrate this precious jewel of Sangha.  Let us celebrate this, “moving frontier of understanding… of a possible future.”  To acknowledge the love that can be expressed through the generosity of giving and sharing with others; to work together to bring into existence the possibility of growth and of awakening.  Make a New Year’s resolution to, “love where there is no reason to love.”



Welcome to Our Blog

meditation-dayWe’ve been talking about a blog for a while now, and as Buddhists trying to live by the old saying “there’s no time like the present,” we figured we’d better get to it. So, welcome to our first blog post.

First a little bit about us. Triratna NYC is part of the worldwide Triratna Buddhist movement. We’re a growing sangha (a community of Buddhist practitioners) in New York City, with members from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, New Jersey, and all around the NY metropolitan area. We’re a pretty diverse bunch, something we like about ourselves. We’re women and men, old and young, straight and gay, black and white and brown and everything in between. Some of us are professionals, some are artists, some are students, some are retired. Some of us have been Buddhists for decades, and some have just found the dharma. We all support and learn from one another.

We meet for sangha nights on Tuesdays in Manhattan, but we also have practice days, retreats, sangha dinners, outings, study groups, and all sorts of other things. Look for events on our site, but if anything particularly interesting is coming up, we’ll let you know here.

With this blog we hope to share a bit about ourselves and our sangha – our personalities, our interests, our individual experiences with the dharma. We also want to share our experiences with a Buddhist lifestyle, so you’ll find tips on meditation and posture, book recommendations, Buddhist resources on and offline, vegetarian restaurant reviews and recipes, film recommendations, information on museum exhibits… anything that one of us finds interesting from our individual Buddhist perspective.

So, again, welcome, and we hope to see you online or in person if you’re in the area.