Class 1 – Maps and Stages
1. Define the Greek word Euthymia –
Democritus in the 3rd century BC states that the primary motivator in life is Euthymia. Euthymia is a state where ones mood rates low on scales of both manic and depressive symptoms.
2. Give a definition of the generic term Awakening –
Anytime we move from a narrow perspective to a wider perspective. Usually the new wider perspective is able to hold and account for an increased level of nuance and complexity.
3. List the Five Paths of Buddhism in the Mahayana tradition.
- The path of accumulation
- A desire to overcome suffering, either ones own or others;
- Some natural renunciation for what causes us to suffer.
- Beginning to study spiritual traditions and wisdom
- The path of preparation
- Start practicing meditation
- Start a more serious spiritual life
- Have analytical knowledge of emptiness
- The path of seeing
- This is a synonym for the direct perception of emptiness. Or said another way, our first moment ever outside of subject and object duality.
- After this experience we lose three mentally afflicted states
- Belief in the “I”
- Doubt in the reality of awakening
- Belief in rituals, superstition and extreme practices.
- The path of habituation - Trying to get used to this new insight. This can take up to 7 lifetimes.
- The path of no more learning - Full Awakening
4. List the Four Paths of Buddhism in the Theravadin Tradition.
- Stream Entry – This occurs when we have our first direct perception of emptiness and for the first time in our life we are temporarily out of subject and object duality. Typically we permanently eliminate 3 mental afflictions at this point. (Only 63,997 to go J)
- Once Returner – When we are at a certain level of evolution that we will only return to the cycle of rebirth one more time. A once-returner has severly weakened the three main mental afflictions; avidya/misunderstanding, raga/ignorant attachment, dvesha/ignorant aversion.
- Non-Returner – When we are at a certain level of evolution that we our on our last life time and will no longer return to the cycle of rebirth. At this point we have severed the mental afflictions of avidya, raga, dvesha.
- Arhant – There is some disagreement on what an arhant actually is. But typically it is similar to a Non-Returner but also has stabilized themselves into complete nirvana and has eliminated more subtle types of afflicted states like subtle attachment to living/abhinivesha, and subtle egoic attachment/asmita.
(Check this link out for a discussion between two self-proclaimed Arhants disagreeing about attainments. Be forewarned they may seem slightly odd or off-putting or quirky. I was put off by them both for years but have come to soften and just appreciate the work they do in the world and their genuinely good hearts regardless of whether they are delusional in claiming arhatship or not.)
5. What subschool are both Prasangika and Svatantrika a part of and what is this subschool a part of?
Prasangika and Svatantrika are both sub schools of Madhyamika, which is itself a sub school of Mahayana.
Class 2 – Emptiness as the Womb of Compassion
1. Give any definition of what emptiness means in Buddhism. (You are welcome to discuss our example of Carlo Rovelli’s discussion of rocks and kisses or talk about it any other way you’d like.)
Nagarjuna defines emptiness this way:
Chapter 24, verse 18
Whatever is dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness.
Emptiness is the fact that all things are dependent on causes and conditions and thus nothing exists independent of causes and conditions.
We talked about Carol Rovellis idea that we used to divide the world between things (i.e. a rock) and happenings (i.e. a kiss) but now with advances in physics we realize that there are no things only happenings and those happenings always exist in dependence on other happenings.
2. Joan Hallifax has noted that compassion is the antidote to empathic distress (often wrongly called “compassion fatigue”). If compassion is the antidote to empathic distress what’s the difference between empathy and compassion?
Empathic distress arises when we are over-identified with another’s suffering. But disengagement or rationalization arises when we are avoidant or disengaged from another’s suffering. Compassion on the other hand is a middle path between these two extremes. It engages another’s suffering with; an open and vulnerable heart and is also imbued with the wisdom that recognizes that our lives all involve dealing with old age, sickness and death, that these realities are unavoidable. Compassion actually drives us to act to alleviate suffering while at the same time not being attached to a desired outcome of our actions.
What we see in the neurological research is that compassion activates neural networks associated with pleasure but empathic distress or over-arousal triggers neural networks associated with pain.
So compassion is empathy imbued with the wisdom of equanimity and empathic distress is empathy void of this wisdom.
3. Why is Emptiness the Womb of Compassion? (This is a very difficult question and is an open living question. Just consider what we’ve discussed and do your best.) Or to say it another way why does deepening our understanding of emptiness help us cultivate compassion? Or asked even yet another way why is it that, as teacher Barbara Du Bois puts it:“When the thick hide of appearances is pierced by the arrow of emptiness what pours forth is the milk of limitless love.”
This remains an open question with no real answer-key type answers. It is a riddle that invites us to deepen everytime we engage it. But we do see some clues in the exploration of dependent origination. The Buddha's unique insight was that suffering arises when we reify or thingify a collection of parts. In otherwords suffering arises when we feel craving or aversion for things which are falsely reified.
Take for example someone who has wronged us and whom we hate because of that. When we soften our stance and realize that they, like us, are simply acting within their limited capacity to try and achieve happiness and avoid suffering we loosen up the solid view that they are "bad" and instead can begin to see their humanity. This frees us from the trap of our own hatred and allows us to expand into greater compassion.
Suffering arises from craving for things which are falsely reified
4. Define what is meant by Soteriology in Buddhism.
Soteriology in Buddhism is the idea or belief that it is possible to eradicate mistaken perceptions about reality and as a result eliminate mentally afflicted states. The Buddha said, “I teach suffering and the end of suffering.”
Class 3 – The Secret Body
1. Define the following words:
Chakra – The places in the body where the two side channels wrap around the central channel causing restriction in the flow of prana in the central channel, at that point in the central channel.
Nadis – The subtle vein-like pathways that prana runs through in the subtle body.
Ida – The nadi that runs to the left of the central channel and which carries the mental habit pattern of desire.
Pingala – The nadi that runs to the right of the central channel and which carries the mental habit pattern of aversion.
Sushumna – The central channel that runs up the center of the body. It runs from the tip of the penis or clitoris up to the crown of the head. It is the nadi that is between the ida and pingala and which carries the “Four Immeasurables” also known as the “Four Infinite Thoughts” also known as the “Brahmaviharas” or dwelling places of the gods. These are; loving kindness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity. The sushumna is also known as the bliss channel because it carries the bliss that arises when avidya is diminished.
Class 4 – Ethics – The Pathway to Bliss
1. Define Avidya and explain why it is not just ‘ignorance’ –
Viday = to know and the short “A” in front of it makes it the active opposite of knowing. The inactive opposite of knowing is “ignorance”. The active opposite of knowing is delusion or universal misunderstanding. Avidya is believing our perceptions of reality but being wrong about that perception.
2. What are the three foundational types of Avidya we looked at? (Hint: in Buddhism these are also called the Three Marks of Existence)
Three “footprints” of avidya are
- Anicca - The belief that things are permanent when in fact they are temporary.
- Dukkha - The belief that things lead to satisfaction when in fact they only lead to more dissatisfaction.
- Anatta - The belief that things are self-existent or have an essence when in fact all things lack an essence and are dependent on causes and conditions.
3. Describe a situation in which possessing one of these types of avidyas in the mind would lead to an immoral act.
Anicca – Wanting to hold onto oneself as being young and attractive when aging occurs and as a result using beauty products that cause suffering and death to animals in their creation. In otherwords harming other living beings to try and slow the appearance of a changing body.
Dukkha – Excessive use of alcohol to satisfy oneself, when actually it increases our dissatisfaction and atrophies our capacity to bring prana into the central channel.
Anatta – Holding hatred for a person for something they did as opposed to hating their actions while still keeping that person in your heart.
Class 5 – Death and Being with Dying
1. Define the word Bardo – A liminal state between worlds.
2. When do each of the following Bardos begin and end:
The Bardo of Life – At the moment of conception until the moment of active dying.
The Bardo of Dying – It begins at the moment the dying process begins until the moment of physical death
The Bardo of Luminosity – (we didn’t discuss this much but just take a guess) – It begins at the moment of the end of the dissolution of the aggregates (See the last question on this midterm) and ends at the moment the bardo of becoming begins.
The Bardo of Becoming – It begins at the moment the end of the bardo of luminosity but for all intensive purposes we can also say simply it begins a the moment of pranic death and ends at the moment of conception.
When people casually talk about “The Bardo” they are typically referring to this last one.
3. What is the goal of Phowa practice?
The goal of phowa is to stabilize the mind at the moment of clear light awareness during the dying process and achieve enlightenment in that stabilization.
Class 6 - Being w/ Dying Part 2
1.I n helping us begin to consider our own death and the dying of loved ones we talked about practicing what I call Liminal Endurance or what John Keatss calls Negative Capability. Please define this in a way that makes sense to you and write a sentence or two about how that helps us be with our own or others dying process.
Negative Capability -
“When a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” – John Keats
Liminal Endurance – Refraining from latching onto dogma and/or reified views while in the midst of anxiety and groundless states.
Often in the unknown and especially the unknown of dying the anxiety leads us to grasp to certainties and dogmatic clarity. In learning to be comfortable with the discomfort of the unknown we expand our capacity to let go of control. And often when we let go of control and trust the mystery of life and death we find ourselves held and safe and receiving the gift which is “dying”.
2. What are some common signs that show up in the following stages of the dying process:
1- 3 months before death
Withdrawal – the person is less interested in the world they are leaving.
First less of a desire to communicate or have visitors with friends.
Second less interest in family and loved ones
Decrease in food – First meats and hard to digest foods, and then even soft foods. It’s ok to eat less. The body is making space for more spiritual work.
Increase in sleep – there is a lot of useful stuff happening in sleep, processing and preparation.
Less communication and more internal processing
Learn to be with others without the need to talk
1-2 weeks before to death
Sleeping most of the time although they can be woken up.
Picking at bedclothes or sheets and agitated arm movements.
Confused about who and what is being talked about.
Talking to people who aren’t there.
Aimlessness and agitation.
Blood pressure lowers
Temperature fluctuates dramatically from hot to cold
Perspiration and clamminess
Skin color changes because blood circulation is compromised
Breath gets either faster or slower
puffing or blowing of air or temporary cessation of breath
Fluctuation of all of these symptoms to being present and then not being present.
1-2 days to hours before death
Surge of energy – a sudden interest in food, or family, or getting up and moving around.
An increase in all of the signs mentioned above but more pronounced.
3. We looked at 8 signs or sensations that are articulated in the phowa teachings that happen as we are dying and losing connection with this world. What are those 8 signs that the Tibetan system says we all go through and that it is valuable to become familiar with?
- Earth – Shimmering mirage as the earth element withdrawals into the water element.
- Water – Smoke or haze as water element dissolves into fire element
- Fire – Shimmering sparks like fireflies as fire element dissolves into air element
- Air – A stable flame (also can hallucinate a wind blowing things away according to Kalu Rinpoche)
- White Element Descends - An experience of whiteness, like a bright full moon. The white element at the descends down the central channel towards the heart
- Red Element Rises - An experience of redness like a brilliant sunset. The red element rises from the svadhistana chakra 4 finger widths below the navel
- Red and White Element Meet at the Heart – Blackness occurs – like a sky void of any ligh
- Clear Light – the innermost subtle mind, Buddha nature, we are no longer in subject and object reality.