Musings of the InsightLA teachers
I will never forget the first time I experienced the presence of the Ven Ayya Tathaaloka. She walked into a Advanced Practitioner Program retreat at Spirit Rock that I attended, and she literally lit up the meditation hall. Before she uttered a word, her luminous presence said everything.
She proceeded to share the bima (teaching platform) with renowned Theravadan scholar, Bhikkhu Bodhi, to discuss and field questions on the topic of the Abhidhamma, a vast map of the Buddhist view of the mind and how it relates to the world. Not only was Ayya T’s pure presence remarkable, she easily held her own as a brilliant scholar. She was both inspiring and impressive.
As they opened up to other questions, I found my hand cautiously rising up. At that time ten years ago, there was great division in Buddhist circles about the teaching of secular mindfulness. As an InsightLA teacher teaching these classes, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) & Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), I could think of no higher authority to consult than the two esteemed monastics sitting before me.
Summoning the courage, I inquired, “Are these secular classes wholesome and do you support them as a legitimate part of the Buddhist path?” I will never forget Ayya T’s gentle and radically simple reply, “Is there the alleviation of suffering?” I nodded. Then, she added, “Is there understanding and fidelity to the original teachings of the Buddha?” I nodded again. Bhikku Bodhi concurred. In that moment, all debate ended.
As the founding Abbess of Dhammadharini Vihara, a monastic retreat for women in Northern California, Ayya T has bravely and skillfully gone about supporting the growth of the Bhikkhuni Sangha today. I support her work and the light of her embodied presence guides my path.
With Love, Lisa Kring
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I've been spending time with a close friend, a deep practitioner who recently had surgery. He's in a lot of physical pain as he recovers. Pain is hard to bear. On top of that, we tend to judge ourselves for the way we manage it. Even the Buddha had backaches as he grew older; there were times when he couldn't teach. He had to lie down because it hurt too much.
Pain asks to be held with compassion rather than judgment. We can get through it, but not by comparing ourselves to a dharma fantasy of Buddha-like transcendence and elegant equanimity. Sometimes it's just too hard. To acknowledge when it feels unworkable, to ask for help and offer a humble bow of surrender - these can be sane and healthy responses to strong pain.
In the same way, we're also carrying our country's collective pain. We're witnessing children being separated from parents and being placed in awful facilities, unprotected from fear and pain. No matter where you stand on immigration and asylum issues, basic human rights accorded by international law do matter. Protecting children matters. Love matters.
In the face of wild emotional heartache or physical misery, we often feel helpless, lonely, despairing. But this reaction leads to distress, or depression, even suicide, as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain make tragically clear. Our practice calls for compassion for the pain of all beings everywhere (which includes ourselves). What is a compassionate, enlightened response to pain? To take refuge in loving awareness, in friendship, in wisdom and self-compassion teachings - speaking our truth in community, raising our voices on behalf of what we care about. Turning towards each other, sharing what's true for us awakens the great heart of compassion and frees us to respond wisely to the struggles of our world.
This is special time of year for me. When I was 17 I found the Dharma, and I often joke that because of my inner and outer turmoil and suffering I was highly motivated to practice. The truth is that's not a joke at all. There's a Buddhist phrase "practice like your hair's on fire." This expresses a sense of spiritual urgency. I related to this very much, and for me it was like my heart was on fire.
The Dharma was truly my life, my path. I didn't feel I had a choice. 10 years ago I moved to LA on a whim and met Trudy Goodman and found InsightLA before we had a center. It was a very different time for meditation in Los Angeles and I marvel at how things have grown. I have been teaching mindfulness and the Dharma since 2011 when Trudy heard me give a 10 minute Dana talk (a talk requesting support for the center and teachings) at the end of one of her evening teachings. She pulled me aside afterwards and asked me to join her first teaching cohort at InsightLA. Later on, I was honored to begin subbing for her Sunday mornings when she was away.
That year a few of my senior colleagues were given teacher authorization in the Theravada tradition in a beautiful ceremony with Trudy, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, and then one year ago, myself and several of my colleagues at InsightLA were given our own powerful teacher authorization ceremony with Trudy and Jack. We also celebrated friends and colleagues who had graduated from the Spirit Rock Retreat Teacher training and three others dear to me who are in the current training cohort with Dharma friends and colleagues I've practiced with for many years.
This past Tuesday was the buddhist holiday called Vesak, honoring the Buddha's birth and enlightenment, and the one year anniversary of my authorization. I want to share my gratitude for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and for all my teachers. The transformation of my heart and mind is beyond words that can be expressed here. I feel so fortunate to live aligned with what matters so deeply to me and to share that with people. My only wish is to be able to pass on a fraction of what I've received.
P.S. In August, I'm leading a 6 night night silent meditation retreat in the Andalusian region of Southern Spain, located in the beautiful foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This region is gorgeous and known for its tranquil and peaceful energy. If this is something you might be interested in learning more about click HERE.