Buddhist Conceits

Mike Slott, editor of the Secular Buddhist Network website, critiques Bikkhu Analayo’s new book, Superiority Conceit in Buddhist Traditions. I appreciate Mike’s argument that Bikkhu Analayo missed one of the most important of Buddhist conceits, monastic claims of superiority over lay people based on the ‘two truths’ doctrine, a doctrine apparently not present in the early Buddhist cannon. This is the distinction between “conventional truths which correspond to our everyday experiences and our need to function in the world; and absolute truths which correspond with the ultimate nature of reality.” Monastic leaders claim direct access to the true nature of reality, something they say is inaccessible to lay people. Because they base their claims of power over laity on this, sectarian doctrinal differences became a major embarrassment that called into question the whole basis of their religious and political power. What’s the point of a religion if you cannot control other people? No wonder Mike’s point would be considered heretical by mainstream Buddhist authorities.

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Learning comes into being when appropriately expressed

Detail of the Rose Garden of Sa’di, from a manuscript of the Gulistan. Mughal Empire, c1645. Courtesy Wikipedia

At a time when Muslim culture is being so often treated in ugly, xenophobic, racist, ignorant ways, how refreshing to read Mana Kia’s article on “adab” in the Psyche newsletter and gain a brief glimpse of the values that informed Persianate culture and its lifeworlds:

From the 13th to the mid-19th century, Persian was the language of learning, culture and power for hundreds of millions of diverse peoples in various empires and regional polities across Central, South and West Asia. Persian was not the language of a place called Persia – this place name is used only in European languages (otherwise, the place is known as Iran), and using it as an adjective to describe its people obscures the fact that Persian-speakers lived in many other lands. Increasingly, scholars use ‘Persianate’ as the cultural descriptor of Persian as a transregional lingua franca. For six centuries, Persianate adab – the proper aesthetic and social forms – lived in this language through its widely circulated texts, stories, poetry: the corpus of a basic education. To learn adab, these particular forms of writing, expression, gesture and deed, to identify their appropriate moments, and to embody them convincingly, was to be an accomplished Persian.

Mana Kia, Persianate ‘adab’ involves far more than elegant manners, Psyche

I particularly love this about how the author describes adab:

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Places Where We Can Tell the Truth

I recently read a paper I will be reflecting on for a long time, “Imagine a workplace where you could tell the truth” by Lauren A Taylor and David Berg, in the newsletter, Psyche. They describe the very real reasons not telling the truth is so pervasive in workplaces, the importance of being realistic about this, its terrible costs, and what we can do about it.

I feel such sadness about this, it is a theme that reverberates throughout my life in so many different ways. The people and situations where I realized, no matter what their intentions, people were not being truthful in ways congruent with their authentic feelings and the situation itself. It reminds me of my childhood traumas, how traumas are not simply horrifying moments of emotional and physical pain that shatter one’s implicit assumptions about others, the world and how things work, but also situations where no adult reaches out to comfort the child and help them heal, helping them make sense of what happened, where the child has no one they can trust with the terrible burden they are carrying alone. Our world is haunted by this terrible aloneness, alienation and loneliness. It is something I know about in my bones.

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Allowing the Felt Sense to Find Its Voice

A beautiful, big, black horse. Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

I am grateful for the excellent company my article, “Allowing the felt sense to find its voice: Using Imagination to deepen daily experience” enjoys in the latest edition of Creative Dharma.

Ronn Smith interviews Stephen Batchelor, who discusses how two novels by the Icelandic writer, Jón Kalman Stefánsson, are wonderful examples of how literary fiction can help us embrace life in all its existential challenges, as well as develop a better sense of another culture. There’s a link to Suzanne Franzway’s response to Ronn Smith’s interview of Matty Weingast, author of The first free women: poems of the early Buddhist nuns, that is the most thoughtful, balanced critique of the book I have read so far, part of a highly contentious debate. There is also a wonderful reflection by Suzanne Trevains on the relationship between her dharma practice and writing poetry that shares key themes with my article, the way language can deepen our experiencing:

Dharma study and meditation practice have led gradually to a greater sense of stability and perhaps paradoxically, increased porousness to the flux of experience; writing poetry is for me an attempt to bring this grounded and receptive sensibility into relationship through language, by evoking something which is rooted in embodied experience but is not purely personal.

Suzanne Trevains, “On the Way to Getting Out of the Way,” CD#8

I love Trevain’s poem “‘Make of yourself a light’ said Siddhartha …” that follows these reflections, how she contrasts the challenge of facing the existential truth:

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Creativity and Mindfulness

The intrepid Ramsey Margolis, founder of the One Mindful Breath secular Buddhist group in Wellington, New Zealand, as well as a new secular Buddhist publishing house, the Tuwhiri Project, has an exciting new project, Creative Dharma, a monthly newsletter looking at how we might use creativity in meditation practice, and bring meditative sensibility into our artistic practice. The newsletter is on Substack — you can sign up for it here: https://creativedharma.substack.com/. This theme reflects an emerging focus in Stephen Batchelor’s work (see: https://www.stephenbatchelor.org/index.php/en/creative-awareness).

For myself, I find the heart of practice involves coming alive to the richly creative interdependent processes from which we arise. I often reflect on the deep connection between creativity and mindfulness practice in my role as the Mindfulness and Wellness Clinical Educator with the Health Arts and Humanities (HAH) Program (www.health-humanties.com) in the University of Toronto, led by my old friend, Dr Allan Peterkin. Allan has a gift for cooking up interesting, worthwhile projects. This academic year I am involved in facilitating two HAH projects. The first involves a course/group for a dozen U of T medical residents and fellows using Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Therapy (EFMT) as well as Touching the Earth (TtE) processes for cultivating self-care and therapeutic presence.

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The Wonder of Ordinary Becoming

View from my kitchen window in downtown Toronto


A new dawn, a new fresh day, the sun rising again in our hearts. Our ordinary being in the world is this rich fresh creative occurring into all that is being implied in us and our world (Gendlin, 2018, A Process Model). Good morning beautiful world, thank you for this our new becoming!

Did you know similar themes can be found in the roots of the Christian “Our Father,” the “Lord’s Prayer”? The American scholar and Sufi teacher living in Fife, Scotland, Neil Douglas-Klotz (1990), writes that the first line of this prayer in the King James Bible, “Our father which art in heaven,” is, in the Aramaic Jesus spoke, “Abwoon d’bashmaya.” In the esoteric understanding of the ancient native Middle East, Douglas-Klotz explains, “a” is totality, “bw” birthing, “oo” subtle energy, and “n” manifestation. “Abwoon” is also a play on the word “abba” or “Daddy,” but this daddy is this tender total interpenetrating sacred creativity birthing us and the world in each moment. “Shm” is “shem,” the signature presence by which we recognize a being or process. “Aya” refers to “in every point of time and space.”

Every line and word in such a passage has multiple meanings. This morning, it expresses for me the wonder of contemplating the sense of how interdependent arising creates us and the world afresh in every moment, radiating and smiling through our hearts and throughout the world. In our Touching the Earth session last Sunday morning, someone quoted Rumi, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”

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Free Intro to Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Therapy – for Therapists

https://www.cpeh.ca/training-and-workshops

Format: ONLINE live group webinar
Leader: Bill Gayner
Date: Monday, October 26, 2020
Time: 1pm – 2:30pm (EST)

Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Therapy Groups (EFMT)
Centre for Psychology and Emotional Health

Here is a video of the workshop:

This is an opportunity for therapists to experience and learn about EFMT through this free psychoeducational and experiential introductory workshop. EFMT is a style of mindfulness meditation that integrates loving-kindness, while cultivating gentle curiosity and self-compassion to help people process their issues and core concerns.

In EFMT, the group leader introduces and models for participants how we can create a safe space for inner work by cultivating self-compassionate awareness. Emotional processing is facilitated by orienting people to attend to their bodies to: become aware of, allow, experience, accept, and transform their emotional experience, both in meditation, and afterwards in further exploration with the therapist. Emotional processing is a combination of attending inwardly to and reflecting on one’s bodily-felt experience and emotions, to address and resolve inner conflicts and core issues, and better navigate life situations. After meditation, participants journal what they recall happened in meditation in order to better acknowledge and deepen their emotional experience. In addition, participants take turns describing their meditation experience, with the therapist listening to their whole meditation narrative and then responding to whatever seems most alive and poignant in the moment, and empathically exploring this with them.

EFMT Therapist Introduction Workshop
This therapist introduction will include a 30-minute introduction to EFMT, 15 minutes of silent meditation, 5-10 minutes of journaling the meditation experience, and optional participant sharing of experiences.

Update on Touching the Earth




I introduced our fledgling Touching the Earth (TtE) approach to readers on the Secular Buddhist Network (SBN) website about six months ago, after our first TtE daylong in November. SBN is a hub for all the various kinds of secular Buddhism worldwide. TtE has deep roots in secular Buddhism.

In this new article for SBN, Update on Touching the Earth, I describe how our TtE group has grown slowly and steadily from nine to twenty one members, successfully transitioned with COVID to an online format, and the enthusiasm with which participants are responding to it. Touching the Earth is a non-teacher-centric, self-help application of Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Therapy, a community for cultivating mindfulness mindfulness as an embodied social practice.

Social Work Me Podcast Interview



I am grateful to Matt Barnes for interviewing me on the Social Work Me Podcast in a wide-ranging discussion on the development of Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Therapy, including its Emotion-Focused Therapy orientation and aspects of its Mindfulness-Based and Buddhist roots. As we talked, the time flew by, and we realized we could have kept talking for hours.