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The posts are arranged here with the most recent appearing at the top of the page. If you are new to the blog, you might find it useful to start with the first posts. Go to the blog archive on the lower right to access the posts in the order in which they were written.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Shameless self-promotion

My book, The Attentive Mind Workbook:  Self-healing through Meditation, provides a complete introduction to meditation in the vipassana or insight tradition with a focus on dealing with mental suffering.

The book can be obtained from my website (, 
from Caversham Booksellers in Toronto (
or from major online booksellers (, etc.).

This is the description of the book from the back cover:

A step-by-step guide to developing a meditation practice directed at self-healing, personal growth, and the creation of positive emotions

Meditation is a means of cultivating attention that has been rediscovered by modern psychological science as a tool for self-discovery and self-healing. Its techniques and insights are increasingly employed in therapy for individuals with many forms of mental suffering, from stress to serious mental disorders. This workbook is designed as a self-help guide based on one of the most thoroughly studied meditation traditions, variously known as insight meditation, mindfulness meditation, and Vipassana.

The householder's path

In many religions, there is a distinction between the those who turn away from the world, the renunciate (monks and nuns), and the householder or layperson who remains very much in the world.  The renunciate is usually celibate and has few if any possessions, sometimes living in a community of fellow renunciates or living a solitary life in a hermitage or even a cave.  Often the renunciate depends on his community or laypeople for the necessities of life.  The householder typically has a family and possessions and works for a living.  Whereas the renunciate is devoted to praying, meditating and doing good works, the householder has many responsibilities for maintaining the "household" whatever it consists of.  In spiritual terms, the advantage of the life of the renunciate is the freedom to concentrate on reflection, study, meditation and other devotional activities.  The advantage of the life of the householder is having the opportunity to experience the simple pleasures of life, including the joys of family life, conjugal satisfaction and the enjoyment of other sensory pleasures (in moderation, of course).  The opportunity to practice meditation was open to the householder on a daily basis and during meditation retreats lasting a few days to months to years when they could practice in the manner of a renunciate.  

The Buddha did not disparage the householder's path.  In fact, there are several examples in the scriptures of laypersons who achieved various stages of enlightenment including the full enlightenment of the arahant.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Opening to insight: Dukkha and suffering

The Pali term dukkha is frequently translated as "suffering."  However, many translators prefer the term "unsatisfactory."  But it appears that context may be very relevant to which translation is most appropriate.

The three marks of existence are impermanence (anicca), suffering or unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) and non-self (anatta).  Everything is impermanent, and this is unsatisfactory.  No matter what we do, no matter how enlightened we may become, this characteristic of the impermanence of conditioned existence does not disappear.  Suffering is another matter.  This is evident by an examination of the Four Noble Truths.

The first noble truth is as follows:
"This is the noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha."

"Suffering" as a translation for dukkha seems to work here.  The second noble truth indicates that craving is the origin of dukkha.  Again, "suffering" as a translation for dukkha works.  We suffer in so far as we have craving for essentially anything that has to do with conditioned existence.  The third noble truths tell us that there is the possibility of the cessation of dukkha.  The fourth noble truth tells us that the path to the cessation of dukkha is the Noble Eightfold Path.  "Suffering" as a translation works well in these contexts.  However, while the suffering of an arahant, an enlightened one, may cease, the unsatisfactory characteristic of conditioned existence does not.  The difference is that the arahant, who is no longer subject to craving, need not suffer because of it.

I am not a Pali scholar and so must rely on the expertise of others.  As many Pali scholar's have argued, there is no satisfactory English equivalent for the word dukkha.  Translating it as "suffering" works in some contexts but not in others as does translating it as "unsatisfactory."

This is not a semantic quibble but affects how we think of what we are doing when we are meditating and following a spiritual path.  It is pessimistic and not reflective of the Buddhist view to say that suffering is a mark of existence and, by implication, inescapable.  It is more accurate to say that conditioned existence is unsatisfactory but that we need not cling to what is impermanent and be subject to craving; by following the path, we can be liberated from suffering.