Monday, April 25, 2011

The Tree of Contemplative Practices

Tree of Contemplative (meditative and physical) Practices (Martin Beck Matustik,

Under the Bodhi Tree
Wisdom Quarterly
It is one of the most embellished and famous stories in the world -- the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. Before attaining buddhahood, Siddhartha struggled for six years. Most of that time may not have been spent sitting. Sitting was the culmination of the practice.

We tend to focus, or are directed to concentrate, on exactly the things the Buddha overcame: struggling, severe austerities, fighting, battling with inner demons (maras), rejecting the angelic care of devas, dieting (eating only certain foods then fasting altogether), and discursive thinking.

None of these led to illumination, although from time to time Siddhartha had epiphanies about what might work and what certainly would not. He had already learned the absorptions (jhanas) but seems to have only skipped through them without developing or indulging in them for fear of attachment to the bliss they produce.

Now, under the tree, he reasoned that he should not fear pleasure far removed from sensuality. There is an elevated, more reliable source of pleasure and happiness. The meditative absorptions purify the mind/heart. They become a platform for successfully practicing mindfulness.

And it is mindfulness of the body, sensations, mind, and mind objects (all detailed in the The Discourse on the Fourfold Setting Up of Mindfulness) that yields liberating insight. One begins with the breath (under the category of "body"), and the practice culminates in meditating on the causal links of Dependent Origination.

It seems like a lot to remember, except that we forget that the purified mind is easily able to remember what needs attending to under the care of a teacher who has practiced Buddhist meditation. Unfortunately, there are very few such teachers. But hidden deep in Asia and only rarely visiting the US, there are some. (We have met them, we have named them on Wisdom Quarterly, and increasingly there are Westerners trained by these lights. The future of American Buddhism is not likely to be monastic but oriented towards lay-meditative practices).

So we find a tree. And if is old enough and big enough, it is likely to be inhabited by dryads (woodland sprites) and rooted deep into Mother Earth (Gaia). Nagas may help or harm, maras and yakkhas tempt and distract and attempt to terrify one from one's Quest. But ultimately it is a matter of perseverance over effort, balance over striving, letting go over insisting.

Siddhartha entered the successive meditative absorptions, emerged from them with a purified mind (because these states suppress the defilements that are obstacles to serenity and insight), then practiced mindfulness of Dependent Origination until he broke through to liberation.

Judges, lawyers, mediators, law professors, law students, and other legal professionals gathered at the UC Berkeley School of Law for the first ever national conference exploring the integration of meditation and contemplative practices with legal education and practice. The Mindful Lawyer: Practices & Prospects for Law School, Bench, and Bar offered a blend of academic presentations, discussion, and contemplative practice. Video and audio recordings are available on the conference website, along with guided meditations, syllabi from related law courses, and relevant books and articles.