Sean Oakes

Practice; breathing

Let’s say that “practice” is the word we use for volitional disciplines intended to bring about well-being. To distinguish these from one-time physical or mental alterations like cataract surgery or lobotomy, practices will be activities that need to be repeated over time to be effective. They are a kind of behavioral re-patterning, and mostly intervene to change ingrained habits of …

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Fullness & Interdependence are Modernist Mashups—Is That Ok?

We’ll continue this week with our exploration of the interrelated concepts of fullness and interdependence, and add to the Mahāyāna framework we opened up last week. In addition to drawing on Huayen and later Zen nondual frameworks, these contemporary (the way we use them) concepts are also descendants of 19th century Romantic and Transcendentalist ideas about the purity and divinity …

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You have a soul, you don’t have a soul… It’s the wrong premise, with all the wrong words in it, starting with “you” and “have” and “a.” Whatever soul is, I don’t think it’s personal, owned, or singular. As a decent translation of the Pāli “anatta,” the absence of soul—or however we translate attā—is a characteristic of all conditioned things. …

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How Should We Live? (Urgently?)

Yesterday morning, filming Dana DePalma for a course we’re making at Spirit Rock, I read this passage from the epilogue of Phillip Moffitt’s book, Dancing With Life:  To be ‘anxious to learn’ [which the Buddha encouraged in his last teaching] means that you have the passion, the enthusiasm, to gain freedom. Phillip Moffitt, Dancing With Life (285) And in the …

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How Should We Live? (Renunciation?)

A question from a student (edited for length): How are non-monastics encouraged to live their lives? What first comes to mind might be some of the precepts related to lifestyle like intoxicants/nonconsensual sexual behaviour, taking that which is not given etc, but beyond those? For example, wanting to make enough money to be able to afford secure housing long term…, …

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Emptiness, Consumption, Renunciation

The primary argument against doctrines of emptiness in spiritual practice does not refute the basic premise—that every experience is a process, interconnected with everything else, and therefore insubstantial as an individual unit of meaning. Folks don’t even really object to how emptiness suggests that meaning and language are subjective, contextual, and unreliable. I think we know this intuitively at this …

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Riddles in the Dark

One of the simplest ways to define the Buddhist concept of “emptiness” (suññatā) is that a thing is “empty of what isn’t there.” We’re looking at what is absent in a thing that we have been assuming is present. What could that be?  My kid and I have been listening to The Hobbit together, and of course the riddles are …

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Emptiness & Ethics

What is a bodhisattva? In many convert Buddhist communities, the emphasis is on the “bodhisattva vow” to save all beings, and the ritual of having taken that vow defines one as a bodhisattva. In this sense, practicing the bodhisattva path is primarily around the underlying intention one brings to Dharma practice. The idea has roots in early discourses where the …

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