The millennium question I hear students asking is how they can integrate the path of self-liberation with the path of paying attention to the welfare of others. My focus is guiding practitioners to do both. The dharmic brilliance is that liberation, the core teaching, creates a deep, transformative experience of who we are, which, in turn, transforms our care for the state of all beings everywhere.
I love storytelling as a vehicle for the dharma. I find that creating a non-ordinary reality of time and place carries the Buddhist spirit beneath the intellect and straight into the heart. Since we are all on a mythic journey inside the story of our lives, creating a timeless dimension through storytelling fires up our natural wisdom and compassion.
One of my deepest passions is engaging with an earth dharma. Dharmic awareness gives us a way to create a profound relationship to the land. We can learn to show care, honor and respect, loving the environment as the true extension of our hearts and minds that it is, feeling one with it in our blood.
People all over are seeking and longing for a sense of connection, community and an inner life. When we fuse the traditions of the dharma as self-liberation and as compassionate action, we infuse our daily lives with the power of the ancient lineage of Buddhism. We learn about the true nature of who we are and what it means to lead a compassionate life with ourselves, with others and our environment.
Susan O'Brien has been practicing vipassana meditation since 1980 and has studied with a variety of Asian and Western teachers. She began teaching in 1996 and coordinates the Insight Meditation correspondence course.
Susie Harrington has been meditating since 1989, and been engaged in Insight meditation practice since 1995. She began teaching in 2005, with the guidance of Guy Armstrong, Jack Kornfield and more recently Joseph Goldstein. She often offers retreats in the natural world, believing nature to be the most profound dharma teacher, and a natural gateway to our true self. Her teaching is deeply grounded in the body and emphasizes embodiment of our practice in speech and daily life. For more information go to desertdharma.org.
My greatest joy is giving the gift of love and hope through the dharma, knowing it is possible for humans to transform their hearts. These dharma gifts include paying attention, practicing clarity and kindness and addressing the suffering of the world--which, of course, includes ourselves.
Right now I'm most enthusiastic about the first gift, paying attention, because it makes every part of our lives better. Paying attention allows us to become more clear, and each moment of clarity is a gift to ourselves and those around us. Clarity keeps us from contributing to more suffering. The gift of clarity and kindness also supports a peaceful heart, which allows us to address the suffering in the world with love. When we practice clarity, we offer the possibility for humans to live in a different way. But a peaceful heart is only the beginning. We also have to take action, go out and directly address the suffering with peace in our hearts.
As a parent, grandparent and a psychotherapist, I teach out of the stories of my life and the lives of those around me. I am especially touched by personal narrative, accounts of spiritual journeys, and how these become vehicles for connecting with the dharma. I believe in revealing my own story so that others are more at ease to reveal theirs. Truth talking is a way out of suffering. Discovering how our hearts and minds work and creating a dialogue supports right speech practice. This is an on-going primary practice that we can do all the time. My hope is that I encourage people how to pay attention and to tell the truth by example.
A pervasive but often invisible source of suffering in our culture is self-aversion. We are a busy culture, and we move through our life feeling anxious and dissatisfied, but not fully conscious of how we neglect or judge our inner experience. We suffer from a lack of belonging: to our own bodies, to each other and to the earth. When we practice Buddhist meditation, we learn how to listen deeply and hold our life tenderly.
The open space of compassion allows us to realize that our thoughts and emotions are not who we are; they are waves in our ocean. This gives us the freedom to live more wisely and love more fully.
For over thirty-five years, I've been exploring the awakening of awareness with yoga, meditation, a clinical psychology practice and relationships in spiritual community (sangha). Since the untying of emotional knots is an essential part of "waking up," it is natural for me to weave these elements into my Buddhist practice and teaching. With formal practice, and a genuine engagement in sangha, we can cultivate the qualities of heart and awareness that allow for deep emotional healing and spiritual freedom.
Buddhism guides us in slowing down, quieting and paying attention in an honest and caring way. Through our mindfulness and compassion practices, we establish a sense of intimacy and belonging to our life. We discover that there is no Buddha "out there." Rather, we realize that our true refuge is the wakefulness, openness and love of our own natural awareness.
Tempel Smith spent a year ordained as a monk in Burma and teaches Buddhist psychology and social activism in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is currently part of the IMS/Spirit Rock Teacher Training Program.