Sean Oakes

How to Think About Rebirth

One paradigmatic objection to the concept of selflessness (anatta) is to hold it as a foil to the idea of rebirth. “If there’s no self, then what is reborn?” I think the question is often unconsciously disingenuous. At least it’s a red herring, but you can see why. Rebirth is a challenging doctrine for many of us to wrap our […]

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It’s not not about not thinking

I’m back from a week of retreat with our beautiful teachers Kittisaro and Thanissara. I worked with the Ānāpānasati steps as my main practice, as I often do, along with the Kuan Yin devotional practices that were the emphasis of the retreat. We often hear the teaching that meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. This instruction is helpful, because

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Disenchanted with Victory

When we train the mind in meditation, we set down for a few minutes the many compelling stories that fill our lives with drama, violence, romance, and the dream of a victory that will make things better. This setting down is tremendously difficult. The dramas define us—individually and collectively—and it’s hard to even see that we’re carrying them with enough

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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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