Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

International Human Rights Day

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

human rights day.png10 December marks International Human Rights day that has been observed since 1948. It includes the 

On the one hand it is necessary and important to promote the cause of human rights. On the other hand, it is a sad commentary on humanity that we have to do so. Why is this so? Simply put, human rights get violated because some groups of humans, particularly those in positions of power over other human beings, are caught up in the three poisons: greed, hatred, and ignorance. 

Actions motivated by greed, hatred (or any sort of aversion), and ignorance of the nature of reality leads to much of human (and animal at the hand of human) suffering. 

Any “ism” will generate strife due to a differentiation between the in-group and the out-group. Buddhists are not without violence in their history. However, it is impossible to be a “follower of the Buddha” that is, someone who embraces the dharma and simultaneously violate human rights.

The dharma assumes that we are all interconnected and experience shows us this if we are paying close enough attention. I recognize that my actions will have effects on myself and others. It’s really not more complicated than that. If we know actions have consequences, then it behooves us to be mindful of our actions. 

If I do something that harms you, I’m not only harming you; I’m harming myself, as well. The Buddha emphasized the importance of the three poisons and their alternatives: generosity, friendliness, and wisdom.

If we all embraced mindfulness and the wisdom of the dharma, Human Rights Day would no longer be necessary. Every day would be Human Rights Day. So let’s start today by not adding any violence to the world and respecting all living things.


Bodhi Day :: December 8 A Day for Awakening

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Thumbnail image for buddha_studio_1.jpgToday is 8 December and Bodhi is being observed around the world. It marks the day of Siddhartha Guatama’s enlightenment sitting under the pipal tree in what is now Bodhgaya India. This event occurred somewhere between 527 BCE and 444 BCE.

In the Zen traditions, today marks the end of the Rohatsu Sesshin (retreat) that begins on 1 December. What better way to commemorate the Buddha’s attainment than reproducing it yourself!


What happened under that tree was the culmination of approximately seven years of concentrated effort and the resolution of thirty six years of unhappiness. When Siddhartha rose from his spot under the tree he became the Buddha — the enlightened one or the awakened one.
Of course, these are two different images — enlightenment and awakening, and as Stephen Batchelor points out carry very different metaphorical connotations. Enlightenment suggests turning the lights on — illuminating what was previously dark. You might imagine the heavens opening and a arc of sunlight emerging from the clouds accompanied by trumpets and harps heralding the emergence of a profound and irrevocable way of being. Awakening is more ordinary, we do it everyday. And as we do in our life, we go into and out of sleep. If we pursue the path the Buddha laid out, we, too, will go into and out of sleep. At times we will awaken, if only for a moment. Here is how Batchelor describes it:

Now you see, I think all of this is implied, in a way, in the idea of awakening itself. Awakening, waking up, is waking up to multiplicity, complexity, the world. And the Buddha’s teaching, I think, constantly tends in this direction. It tends away from some unitary experience, an experience of singularity, some privileged spiritual or religious truth or object, such as emptiness, Buddha-nature, you name it. And instead moves into complexity, moves into relationships, it moves into sets of ideas that are somehow connected.


In the traditional story of the Buddha, after defeating the armies of Mara under the pipal tree (Mara is the metaphor for all attachments and desires, including attachment to the idea of self), Siddhartha was radiant. He walked around redolent of transformation. When people saw him they asked, “Are you a man?” “No” he replied. “Are you a god.” “No” he replied. “What are you then?” “I am buddho” (awake).

So we salute this magnificent accomplishment and the revolutionary insights and practices that were born this day so many centuries ago. We need them as much today in the Digital Age as Siddhartha and his compatriots needed them in the Axial Age. The awakened one found a way to cut through the anguish of being alive; to see through the ceaseless vicissitudes of experience. 
By understanding that we construct our suffering through our relationship to experience he outlined a method that permits us to deconstruct this suffering. We do so by opening to the uniqueness of each moment and guard against imposing memory and fantasy onto this moment. When we can be here now without expectations and agendas we can experience the same liberation that Siddhartha experienced this day. 
Today could just as well be observed as Independence Day — independence from the conditions that give rise to unhappiness. It could also be seen as a birthday — the birth of his new life of freedom and happiness. So, Happy Birthday! Happy Independence Day! Happy Bodhi Day. And, thank you!


Metaphor Monday :: The Buzzing Fly

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Metaphor 66 in Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness is, “The Buzzing Fly.” The fly is a metaphor for all things bothersome, especially thoughts that keep buzzing around seeking attention; moving out of what appears to be kinetic randomness. How can we deal with the fly?

One option is to continue sitting and being annoyed, or tocontinue whooshing the fly away. Another is to expand the concept of your selfin that moment to include your experience of the fly. After all, the reason thefly is annoying is because you’ve got some embedded rule or belief that says,”This fly should not be present; it is disturbing my meditation. My meditationshould feel differently than it does now. It should be flyless.” If that beliefcan be revised to include the fly, there is no longer opposition and no longera problem. The revision eliminates the resistance.


“The Fly” is a wonderful animation by Hanjin Song that likewise turns to the fly as metaphor. It’s also a metaphor for resistance — what we resists, persists — and multiplies! It’s metaphor for reactivity and invites us to consider the question: “How do I want to spend my time and energy?”

The video also presents the dharma. There is no distinction between the cherry blossom and the fly and when our minds can appreciate this, we experience nirvana (OK, that part is a little schmaltzy, but, hey, how do you portray that which is beyond all concepts?).
Our goal in meditation is not to get rid of the flies. Our goal is to accept them as part of the landscape of now. When we can do this, we experience a little taste of nirvana. 


Art as Practice

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

9 Moments.jpg

I’ve recently resumed painting after about a 25 year hiatus. This is my latest piece, “9 Moments” that depicts nine moments of meditation, with each circle representing the arising of talking thoughts, images, and feelings in the mind. This piece is currently part of the Helen Day Arts Center Member Show and Sale in Stowe, Vermont. It is up through 2 January 2011. I was inspired to resume painting by Odin Cathcart. Odin (aka Erik), a longtime friend. 
I am fortunate to own many of his pieces spanning the last ten years of his art career. Pictured below, hanging in the Exquisite Mind Studio is “Insouciance,” It is a magnficient piece, part low relief sculpture, part painting. It is six feet by six feet and is made from bark recovered from dead trees in the Hudson Valley where Odin did his MFA studies at SUNY New Paltz. 


This work reflects the interface of humanity with the natural world and points to the degradation of nature that is pervasive in the world today. His recent work is an exploration of this theme and a conversation that holds the promise of awakening to a deeper truth in nature. 
This piece is featured on the big wall in the new Exquisite Mind Psychotherapy and Meditation Studio in downtown Burlington. It is one of the most original pieces of art that you will likely see in your lifetime and should be hanging in the MoMA instead of the Exquisite Mind, but for now, I have the great fortune of having it hang in my Studio! 
Odin’s styles have changed over the years from abstract expressionist action painting to


these nature conversations. One painting on loan to the Exquisite Mind, is Hiroshima, a four foot by six foot testament to humanity’s destructive and redemptive powers. This piece was featured in the New York Times. Hiroshima is comprised of Gingko leaves. 
Art invites us to see what is before us and shows us how we often cannot “see” because we are too preoccupied with generating opinions and being plain distracted from what is before us. 
We can use a work of art as the object for meditation, endeavoring to give it our full attention and to return attention to it whenever it moves into opinions, stories, and errata. Of course, creating art can be a meditation too. Look at some art in your home or go to a gallery or a museum and try to “see” with your entire being. The artist will appreciate the attention and the world will open in a colorful, beautiful, and profound way. 
To meditate on Odin’s work, visit his website Imagine Zero.
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