Rains Retreat 2020
In Triratna, our system of practice is a dynamic mandala of five principles. We progressively integrate mind and body, samatha and vipassana, and discover the power of skilful and positive mental states. Then, directly penetrating and dispelling our delusions, we open ever-more to the wonder of what is. Thus, at last, we can wake up to and be who and what we truly are.
On this retreat Tejananda will lead us into a somatic approach to the five principles, that is, one based in the living energy of our body and being. Through being open to the energy of the body, and by becoming attuned to it’s actual nature we’ll discover ways to “integrate” all five principles experientially into a single, embodied ’non-practice’ of Simply Being.
Although this material is open to all, please note it is intended for those with a regular meditation practice.
Day One: Integration
As this was our first day please skip forward by 10 minutes as we resolve technical issues. After a general introduction Tejananda led us through a short exercise to explore the distinction between mind and body, or the difference between mental projection onto experience, and actual experience. He then ran through the aspects of the Triratna System of Practice from the perspective of the ‘dynamic mandala’ – an approach which focuses on somatic (or bodily/energetic) experience. After a led meditation to help us ‘arrive’, he outlined an intuitive, ‘awareness and energy’ approach to working with the five hindrances. We conclude with a short meditation and further questions.
Day Two: Positive Emotion.
This morning there were 50-60 of the Bristol Sangha online again to hear the second part of Tejanada’s teaching on the ‘Dynamic Mandala’, a somatic exploration of the Triratna System of Practice. ‘Somatic’ is the term used to highlight the alive/vibrational aspect of awareness.
Today’s focus is on positive emotion. Tejananda encouraged us each to find where ‘a sense of ease’ may be located in our bodies, as a starting point for this practice. It may not be the heart- area. We need to discover what our actual experience is through our practice, and thus come to an embodied understanding of principles of the System of Practice.
Tejananda led a short first meditation which he described as ‘the becoming embodied procedure that we’re doing’. This is also sometimes described as helping us to arrive into ’embodied presence.’ We explored the awareness of our actual experience of bodily sensations using the metaphor of becoming aware of the various bodily sensations as a cloud..
We went on to explore the heart in the way that the hara had been explored on day one, moving from an awareness of the whole ‘soma’ into the heart-speace. This included an exploration of the experience of the space ‘behind the heart’. This was followed by sharing the experience of the practice and what we do to contact metta.
The morning concluded with an exploration of ‘uncontrived’ loving kindness and a short meditation in which we explored opening up to unconditional love. Again, we shared our experiences at the end of this practice.
the ‘Dynamic Mandala’ with Tejananda – Day 3: Spiritual Death.
Day three of our Virtual Rains Retreat in Bristol with Tejananda saw about 50 of us exploring the aspect of Spiritual Death, through the ‘Dynamic Mandala’. Tejananda re-emphasised the fact that we can’t meditate unless we are able to know this sense of being embodied. He talked more about the value of engaging with our actual bodily sensations through which we may discover that soma or the ‘cloud’ of sensations of the body are less fixed than we may have thought. Soma is vibrational – to put it simply, tingling. He suggested by bringing awareness to an area of the soma, it tends to open up and reveal more. The somatic approach to the system of practice means everything becomes experiential and exploratory and in some way simpler.
This approach also puts the mind back into it’s proper place. It remains as one of the six senses but without crowding out the other senses with mental proliferation.
We began with a 15 minute meditation to settle and touch into the areas of integration and positive emotion as explored in the last two days then Tejananda explained the term ‘spiritual death’ which is Sangharakshita’s chosen term for wisdom/insight practices that facilitate seeing through that which we are delusively holding onto. This process leads to the cessation of dukkha. He then talked about the emptiness teachings point to the fact that our actual experiences are empty of what we are delusively holding onto. Emptiness is often misunderstood in nihilistic way, but it actually points to the fact that really we are undivided from everyone and everything. We are not a separate entity, we are part of a whole. The practice today explores this somatically, so that hopefully we’ll fail to find boundaries between our own bodies and what’s outside.
The Dynamic Mandala with Tejananda – Day Four: Spiritual Rebirth.
We were exploring the aspect of Spiritual Rebirth in the ‘Dynamic Mandala’. Tejananda began with some reflections on the benefits of the ‘principial’ nature of the system of practice – especially the flexibility of application which it offers. After a brief recap on the preceding stages we had a 20-minute meditation to help us become present for the teachings to come.
In introducing today’s theme, Spiritual Rebirth, Tejananda mentioned the difficulties which some people encounter with the language used in the system of practice. He offered a one word equivalent of Spiritual Rebirth as an alternative: realisation. He described the way in which, when we realise something, it brings a sense of clarity, openness, relief. For most people insight develops by increments, by very brief experiences. He explored two dangers around this – doubting the experience and grasping on to the memory/idea/concept of the experience long after it had passed. Insight is only every here and how. Sangaharakshita uses the image of insight arising in flashes and the metaphor that our practice is like building a lightning conductor to increase the likelihood that this lightening can strike.
Tejananda went on to explore the ‘aftermath’ of insight experiences as an aspect of Spiritual Rebirth. The ‘laundry’ after the ‘ecstasy’. The ego-mind is still functioning, the samskaras (habit patterns) still operational, so we need to work with the kleshas (defliements) The kleshas need to be ‘loved to (spiritual) death’! We then did a practice called ‘bringing the kleshas onto the path’, in which we deliberately brought to mind an irritation or a craving and then allowed prapanca a free rein before switching strongly into awareness of our bodily sensations do as to experience and come into relationship with the klesha somatically.
The morning concluded with a short practice of sitting without moving at all – ‘Sitting with our own s**t’, as Reggie Ray called it.
Bristol Sangha Rains Retreat 2020 – The ‘Dynamic Mandala’ with Tejananda – Day Five: Spiritual Receptivity.
The fifth, and concluding, day of our Virtual Rains Retreat with Tejananda saw us exploring the Receptivity or ‘just sitting’ aspect of the System of Practice, seen as a ‘Dynamic Mandala’. Tejananda introduced this aspect of practice as a transition from a ‘fabricated’ to an ‘unfabricated’ approach.
In a period of meditation practice we had an ‘experiential resume’ of the material from the previous four days. Questions and observations followed, including how to work creatively with a ‘frozen heart’ and working with eyes open.
A second practice explored whether awareness could be in past or the future, and how even the sense of ‘flow’ is something that the mind creates.
Tejananda went on to explore the question of awareness more fully, in terms of the formed/unformed or contrived/uncontrived approaches to the elements of the System of Practice. He shared a reading from Longchenpa’s Precious Treasury on the Basic Space of Phenomena which offers a visionary, poetic description of what awareness is. He went on to explore how, in just sitting, one can open to all the qualities of the System of Practice simultaneously. Further questions and discussions included exploring the terror that can arise along with glimpses of insight.
We concluded the morning, and the retreat, with two more short periods of just sitting with questions and answers to conclude, including the non-difference of awareness and love.