Ajahn Chah never planned before he started speaking, as the job of the teacher was to get out of the way and let the Dhamma arise according to the needs of the moment.
—Ajahn Amaro, An Introduction to the Life and Teachings of Ajahn Chah
The North Coast Buddhist Sangha meets Monday evenings from 7:00 to 8:30 to meditate, listen to a talk, and share reflections. On the third Monday of every month from April through December, a teaching monk (ajahn) from Abhayagiri Monastery, which mentors Three Jewels, visits to lead the meeting in person. Learn more about these master teachers.
The following recordings of the monks' visits are each divided into three sections of about ½ an hour each so that you can easily navigate the entire session of approximately 1½ hours. In the meditation segments, ambient sounds and recording noises have been silenced during substantial pauses in the teacher's guidance. Thus, you should be able to use each meditation recording for a complete guided meditation experience lasting about ½ an hour and concluding with a final bell.
Contemplative practice aims to slow the mind process enough to recognize its patterns of craving and resistance. We can become less reactive and more spacious. We can even aspire to accept difficulties as opportunities to release and transform unwholesome patterns of habitual needs, responses, and fears. We come to take these traits less seriously, as our responsibility, but not as who we are.
Gratitude is not exactly appreciation, which is a feeling of thankfulness, as it is a feeling of wanting to give back. Cultivating this active practice is a very important step in progress on the path. Although meditators may expect that meditation in itself will lead to happiness, it's more the reverse. Meditation is successful when one is happy, for a gladdened mind can concentrate. Focusing instead on negative states impedes meditation. The practice offers many opportunities to cultivate gratitude and positive states of mind.
The Buddha taught that in each of us the mind/heart is intrinsically radiant and pure, though often overwhelmed by transient obstructions. We allow visitors, chiefly uninvited, to become guests in the mind. We can retrain such habits to reconnect with our innate clarity. The Buddha's description of mindfulness is not of a passive state, rather one which requires effort to overcome unwholesome patterns and support wholesome states. Awakening is the natural result of the quality of knowing which we develop in meditation. Key practices to this development include mindfulness, discernment, recollection, and relinquishment. The essence of Buddhist practice is to nurture trust and confidence in this process.
This wide-ranging yet deeply unified talk gathers many strands of Buddhist teachings and conveys their shared basis in the values of flexibility and gratitude. Ajahn Ñāniko recounts how a tudong (walking journey), enabled him to spend time with Native Americans, inspiring him to investigate connections between Native American and Buddhist teachings. Both traditions consider it very spiritually healthy for the mind to go into uncertainty. The Native American vision quest is not so far from the Buddhist tudong.
As well as flexibility, grateful homage is both a requisite for and result of escape from the rut of “me” in which we find ourselves. “Those who don’t hold something higher than themselves have no true happiness.”
Buddhism is “a complete path that trains our whole being” rather than a philosophy to study. Ajahn Pasanno focuses on the Buddha’s initial teaching of the Four Noble Truths to reflect on the nature and use of desire, the role of meditation, nuances of translation, and many other aspects of the practice. The Buddha remains an example that there is a possibility of real peace, happiness, and well-being “that isn’t shaken by anything and is possible for anybody.”
The way of the world is to suffer. The way of the Buddha’s practice is to go against the stream of the world and end suffering. The practice is to cultivate virtuous behavior, mental steadiness, and wisdom. It is a way of learning how to live, “not a matter of contemplating the right thing until a huge light hits us and our problems are solved.” Thus, any situation that arises represents an opportunity to practice.
Ajahn Ñāniko also discusses monastic practices, including functions with lay people. He describes the monastery as “a kind of public property” in which the monks are “like wildlife.”
Although not the entirety of Buddhist practice, meditation is the entry point for many westerners to Buddhism as well as an essential practice to develop a clear and settled state of mind. The Buddha described the Five Hindrances as chief obstructions to clarity and calm. Beyond the words necessary to describe them, the Hindrances refer to actual experiences of affective states of the mind and heart. This talk concludes with a meditation that enables the listener to experience the desired state of the absence of the Hindrances.
The Buddha pointed to an experiential perspective rather than to ideas and philosophies. The tools for learning to see our experience more clearly and then make wholesome choices based on this insight lie all about us in our ordinary lives: “We all experience happiness and suffering, wanting and not wanting, liking and disliking, and it’s right at that point that we can learn. That’s where we study, that’s where we practice.”
Ajahn Ñāniko shares an adventure he took with another young monk in the summer of 2013 walking on a tudong (pilgrimage) from Abhayagiri in Redwood Valley, California, to Pacific Hermitage in White Salmon, Washington. Pacific Hermitage has followed Abhayagiri as the second monastery in the United States founded on the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah. See photos of the pilgrimage.
Ajahn Jotipãlo describes monastic life and how its many rules can actually enhance freedom. He explains how The Buddha intended some of these rules to establish a symbiotic relationship between the lay and monastic communities to insure that monks would remain useful to laypeople. Ajahn Jotipãlo also explains how and why Abhayagiri was founded.
Although they have at times been ignored and misunderstood in the West, Ajahn Karuṇadhammo explains how the Buddha taught khamma and rebirth not chiefly as articles of belief but more as a useful set of strategies. They can strengthen our commitment to a process that doesn't always bring immediate results. We can be motivated to adopt a long-term perspective in achieving sustainable contentment and happiness.
Beginning with the complementary processes of knowing and letting go as fundamental to meditation the abbot of Abhayagiri explains and ties together many aspects of Buddhist practice. He presents meditation as a way to build a refuge of peace within ourselves. He also speaks of the need to apply our meditation skills in the arena of daily life, as well as when we are sitting on a cushion. His rich meditation guidance is well worth repeated listening, even through the recording flaws during its first 16 seconds.