Letter from Berkeley

A member of the beginners’ meditation class in Berkeley, California recently applied for a place at a graduate business school. As part of the application process, he was asked to answer the question: “ What non-professional activity do you find most inspiring, and why?” This is what he wrote:

About 9 months ago, I began a class in Samatha meditation. From my previous perspective, this has been like learning how to do nothing. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever learned to do.

Building Practice

Door and bricksAll the work that has gone into creating the new Shrine hall at Greenstreete has produced many results, and the following must be among them. One day the stages of the practice started to resemble different kinds of building work . . .

A Talk on Posture

(overheard in a beginners' meditation class)

Choose your cushions: the optimum number
To give good support to your rear
And avoid falling into a slumber
When my detailed instructions you hear.

We don't use the lotus position
But vīrāsana, 'pose of the hero',
A name that impels recognition
When first you attempt it from zero,

But it keeps your back straight and unshaken
And allows your breath freedom to move,
Giving something the chance to awaken
As your mindfulness starts to improve.

Jātakas Tales (2)

Here are some more jātakas all of which are loosely attributed to the perfection of wisdom of the bodhisatta. In the first story a sailor who is blinded, but acquires great wealth, displays skills which might appear superficially to be more like a kind of practical canniness—and perhaps this is intentional as a kind of intimation of what wisdom is in daily life.

And sometimes a thousand twangling instruments played around my ears...

I wonder why it is you feel an odd affection for the distractions you have had at Samatha classes?

The kind I mean are not the internal ones, but those beginners’ classes when you don’t really know anyone there, are still thinking it is rather a strange practice you are doing, cannot get your legs comfortable, but are just beginning to get settled....could it be there is something about this meditation after all? Was that a moment of mindfulness, of real quiet? And then it starts.....Very loud Boogie, badly played in the university meeting room next door....

The Way of the Meditator

Maitrī Upaniṣad VI.24-29 (trans. Valerie J. Roebuck)

This allegorical account of the meditator's path comes from the Maitrī Upaniṣad, a Hindu text dating probably from the early centuries AD. This text, which here and there shows traces of Buddhist influence. is important within Hinduism as a source for teachings on meditation and yoga. Here liberation is viewed as the union of the self (atman) of the meditator with the supreme reality (brahman). The meditation practice envisaged is one based on the use of mantra, particularly the sacred syllable OṂ.


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