Saturday, June 22, 2019

No Thinking about Thinking


          https://www.facebook.com/MichaelHallPhD/videos/1363603673764104/

The above link is to my Facebook page, where you can find a video of this talk  No Thinking About Thinking given Sunday, June 23, 2019. 

No thinking about thinking

Two weeks ago, when we considered the work of John Butler, I mentioned John’s observation that the primary obstacle to awakening is the lack of suffering. John may well be right. However, I have another nomination for greatest obstacle. While suffering is often the prime motivator to commence a serious spiritual search, the primary obstacle to awakening is our passionate love affair with our thoughts. It is mostly not possible or necessary to stop thinking altogether, although if that happens, you will be truly blessed. For the past 15 years I have encouraged people to lose interest in their thoughts. By thoughts I include opinions, beliefs, assumptions, and convictions; in general, all that we hold to be true.
In today’s talk, we will discuss the experience of living in the ordinary world without noticing, caring about, or taking seriously your thoughts. What would this feel like? How would it affect the choices and decisions we make? Is it even possible to live in this way?
Why are thoughts such a big problem, anyway? Ed Muzica recently quoted his teacher Robert Adams: “Robert used to say to me, ‘I have no idea why it is taking you so long (to reach enlightenment), except that you are too smart. You are always thinking, thinking, thinking, and you can't escape, it has become your nature.’” https://www.facebook.com/edwardmuzika 
Can we look at our thoughts as being like clouds, just drifting by, going nowhere, doing nothing, certainly not mine? Just thoughts, or clouds, or nothing at all, really. How would this view, lived out fully, affect our direct experience of the world?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

John Butler talk June 2


Sunday, June 2 we will meet at my office in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion of the spiritual teachings of Christian mystic John Butler. 
John's story is interesting and unusual in some ways, yet also very familiar. ​We will look at his unique teaching style as demonstrated in these videos, and his current meditative practice of the Jesus Prayer, as taught in the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition. Here is a description of John from his book publisher: "Growing from a country childhood, John’s natural mysticism developed into organic farming and meditation. Much later, when life fell apart, it took him through depression and years of wandering in deserts of different sorts before gradually coming to realise that all appearing to be lost on earth is spiritually found." 

Here are links to several YouTube videos of John in action, being himself:


The Lanzarote Tapes-#4 The 'couldn't care less' attitude towards thoughtshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYnj70LWzxA 


Friday, May 17, 2019

Holy Spirit

Sunday, May 19 we will meet at my office in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion of the Holy Spirit. What is the source of the guidance that I describe that is so important for us to accurately discern? In this talk and discussion, we will include consideration of many references to the Spirit in the Bible and attempt to understand the meaning of this term. From my perspective, the Spirit mentioned repeatedly in the Bible is compatible with the meaning behind the Zen term nomind. Similar terms, which I use interchangeably, are Buddha mind, Mind, the mind of Christ, etc. It is this Spirit that Bankei referred to with his wonderful word Unborn. This Spirit is our True Self in action. It is who we are and can’t not be. It is us before our parents were born. We are never separate from It. The Spirit is continuously revealing itself and all of creation. How can we learn to see what is always right here, right now, not only directly in front of us, but in and through us? It is our very Self.This talk will be streamed live on my public person Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelHallPhD/Here is a link to the talk: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelHallPhD/videos/626309751114771/

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Discernment and Surrender April 28, 2019


Sunday April 28 I will give this talk in my office at 2 pm Eastern time on one my favorite topics. I gave a version of this talk several years ago to my local teaching and discussion group, and again two weeks ago as part of the Lenten series at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Endicott, NY. This talk will be streamed live on Facebook.
Here is a link to the talk: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelHallPhD/

What can we do to assist the process of discerning God’s will?

Ask for guidance. Do not assume that you know the right answer. It is essential to ask with absolute humility and openness to being shown the way. Willingness is essential. This willingness to be shown and to follow through with action is the meaning of surrender. It is possible to recognize the need for an action that is not appealing or even goes against our own best judgement. Even if we receive guidance but do not wish to follow, waiting is usually OK. When a particular action is ‘suggested’ repeatedly, it is probably wise to follow it. This process does not negate the thinking mind or undercut the role of reason, critical judgement or thinking in the usual sense. However, if we are not willing, we will not be able to see what is being revealed. Willingness benefits from a comfort and even eagerness to dwell in ‘not knowing’. Not knowing is your friend. The mind that knows is closed. Adopt the perspective of not knowing. Learn to be OK with uncertainty. It is a myth that we should know what we are doing all the time. Only those who are closed can always know or believe they know the truth. A closed mind knows programming and belief, not revealed truth. We are looking for revealed truth. Programming and belief are already known and very limited in its power and effectiveness in the world. Therefore, we must remain open and frequently dwell in a kind of uncertainty. Learning to tolerate this Cloud of Unknowing is a large part of the spiritual path. We are always searching for the revelation of the Will of God. This searching must be accomplished without fear, doubt or anxiety. It is more like a watchful waiting. There is no effort to force an outcome. This waiting is actively passive. It is neither active nor passive. It is open, curious, receptive.

When in doubt, it is often good judgement to wait. Wait in the not knowing. Expect to know but recognize and accept when you don’t know. Try to be content with not knowing. When the time is right and there is a need, what is next will be revealed.

How can we discern the difference between what my conditioned mind wants and what God wants? It is not always easy or clear. There are certainly no rules. To recognize it requires trust, intuition and surrender. Usually, however, God’s will is not very subtle or hard to recognize. It tends to be insistent. You will notice yourself repeatedly revisiting an idea or plan of action. If something repeatedly occurs to me without obvious external or internal prompting, it is a safe bet I am being guided. Once you recognize the guidance, try to relax and carry through with it to the best of your ability. Avoid doubt or any other kind of worry or rumination as much as possible. Worry is merely your thinking mind doing what it does best. It is not helpful and is just a bad habit. Observe the worry and then try to lose interest in it and ignore it.

The indicated action is revealed as a ‘next’. Try to stay present and attuned, always open to further guidance. Recognizing and carrying out guidance skillfully requires understanding and practice. These skills will develop over time, as with anything else. Remember experiences where you felt guided in the past and review the outcomes. Usually you will see that things went well, often much better than you could have ever imagined. While the indicated action might engender fear to the self-identity beforehand, there is often a feeling of relief and ‘rightness’ afterwards. Try to maintain awareness of this entire process. We all have this ability inherent in us as human beings, although some appear to be naturally more at ease with the required letting go of perceived control.

Eventually this other way of knowing becomes second nature and is mostly effortless. Interruptions in the flow of awareness come as conditioned beliefs and habits are triggered. This eruption of conditioning and fear is not a problem. Rather, it is an opportunity to become more aware of unconscious programming and release it. In other words, it is an opportunity to become more free and clear. Everything that appears to be a problem will yield to a calm and present awareness.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Infinite Benevolence of Life


Sunday July 29 we will meet at my office to discuss the idea of being perfectly protected and sheltered by life. Life is infinitely benevolent and kind. This idea may sound bizarre, yet clear seeing of what is reveals it to be true. Life can also seem cruel and painful, with many difficult experiences. Let’s question this notion of infinite benevolence together. Here is a quotation from the recently deceased Japanese Zen Master Tangen Roshi: "You too are perfectly protected. It just isn’t obvious to you. You are receiving all the care, protection and guidance and love of all the universe. You just haven’t been able to see it yet, but you will." https://buddhismnow.com/2018/03/23/the-depth-of-truth-is-bottomless-by-harada-tangen-roshi/.

Tangen Roshi's story is remarkable, to say the least. He is particularly interesting to me because he was a pivotal influence and support for my teacher, Roshi Philip Kapleau when Kapleau was a new Zen student, trying to survive at the incredibly demanding monastery Hosshin-ji of Zen Buddhist teacher Harada Sogaku Roshi: https://androniki.photoshelter.com/gallery/LIVING-ZEN-Hoshinji-Zen-monastery-in-Obama-city-of-wester-Japan-tight-selection/G00006m0MVbOGA1o.

They became lifelong friends. Tangen died in March of this year. The article below is a teisho, or talk from no mind, given by Tangen in 2000. 

We generally believe without question that we are in charge of our life. While it may be useful, even necessary to act as if we are in charge, so many events intrude to challenge this belief. Normally, we ignore as much as possible these events since they challenge the core of our identity, sense of safety and world view. All deep spiritual practice eventually requires the radical questioning of every notion of self-control we have developed. To progress on the spiritual path, it is necessary to look deeply into the question: Who is really in charge here? In the June 24th talk on Ramana Maharshi and the koan Who Am I?, we discussed the importance of deconstructing the notion of a permanent, enduring, fixed self-identity. To put it bluntly, if 'I' am not real in the way I once thought, then who or what could possibly be in control of my life? This is a real question. What is your answer?

In this talk, we will consider Tangen Roshi's experiences and his observations about the meaning and purpose of life. On three occasions, he faced certain death, and yet escaped largely unscathed. Were these 'escapes' simply random, blind luck? What can we learn from this celebrated Zen Master? 

Here is another article from the online journal Buddhism now: https://buddhismnow.com/2018/03/20/harada-tangen-roshi-1924-2018/

If you would like to attend, please RSVP as space is very limited.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mary Magdalene

Today's talk on Mary Magdalene is now available under videos on my public person Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelHallPhD/.
Sunday July 15 we will meet at my office to discuss the role of women in early Christianity, with special emphasis on the curious case of Mary Magdalene. Immediately after the shift in consciousness experienced in 2002, a deep interest in and resonance with the teachings of Jesus emerged spontaneously. I began to read the four Gospels, as I was primarily interested in the direct teachings straight from Jesus, not interpretations via Paul, Peter, or others. I was struck by several observations that jumped out at me. First, Jesus was continuously exasperated with how poorly his male disciples understood his teachings, even though they were with him full time. And second, it seemed obviously important that Mary Magdalene had a huge role to play in the Christ story of the crucifixion (she was there) and the resurrection (she was there). Without thought I intuited that she was in fact the only disciple of Jesus who was fearless and who truly understood his teachings.
Over the next few years I read some of the Gnostic gospels, especially the wonderful Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary of Magdala. This latter text was originally discovered in 1896, but not translated into English and published until 1955. Reading the surviving excerpts from The Gospel of Mary of Magdala (available here: http://gnosis.org/library/marygosp.htm) confirmed the intuitive knowing of the primacy of Mary in the Jesus story. In today's talk we will review this Gospel, as well as consider the role of women in early Christianity. How did Mary, the natural successor/primary interpreter of Jesus, get relegated to such a secondary role that by the 6th century Pope Gregory had declared her to be a prostitute, inaccurately conflating several other women in the Bible with Mary of Magdala? Why was the official position of the Catholic Church that Mary, the apostle to the apostles, was a prostitute and 'fallen woman' not rectified until 1969? And how did women, who appeared to play a pivotal role in the early church, become profoundly second class citizens in the Church, a travesty that continues until the present day?
The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene - Gnosis
gnosis.org
The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene. Complete ancient text and explanatory material. Part of a vast collection of materials dealing with Gnosis and Gnosticism, both ancient and modern.

GNOSIS.ORG

Monday, June 25, 2018

"Who am I?” by Ramana Maharshi



June 24 we will meet at my office to discuss the 6-page book "Who Am I?" It is recommended that you read it.
See a link to a free pdf. of the book here:  https://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/who_am_I.pdf

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction: 

 "'Who am I?' is the title given to a set of questions and answers bearing on Self-enquiry. The questions were put to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by one Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai about the year 1902. Sri Pillai, a graduate in Philosophy, was at the time employed in the Revenue Department of the South Arcot Collectorate. During his visit to Tiruvannamalai in 1902 on official work, he went to Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala Hill and met the Master there. He sought from him spiritual guidance and solicited answers to questions relating to Self-enquiry. As Bhagavan was not talking then, not because of any vow he had taken, but because he did not have the inclination to talk, he answered the questions put to him by gestures, and when these were not understood, by writing. As recollected and recorded by Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai, there were fourteen questions with answers to them given by Bhagavan. This record was first published by Sri Pillai in 1923, along with a couple of poems composed by himself relating how Bhagavan’s grace operated in his case by dispelling his doubts and by saving him from a crisis in life."

In a Zen monastery, the student who has a passionate drive to awaken is offered one of two initial, or breakthrough, koans. The first is Joshus' MU, which was my choice. The second is "Who Am I". These two are at root the same koan. Since I wrestled with this question for a long time, I might have something useful to say about it!