The practice of Right Concentration is to cultivate a mind that is one-pointed. There are two kinds of concentration, active and selective. In active concentration, the mind dwells on whatever is happening in the present moment, even as it changes. The following poem by a Buddhist monk, Huong Hai illustrates active concentration.
The wind whistles in the bamboo
And the bamboo dances.
When the wind stops,
The bamboo grows still.
A silver bird
flies over the autumn lake.
When it has passed,
The lake’s surface does not try
To hold onto the image of the bird.
When we practice active concentration, we welcome whatever comes along. We don’t think about it or long for anything else. We just dwell in the present moment with our whole being. Whatever comes, comes. When the object of our concentration passed our mind remains clear.
When we practice selective concentration, we choose one object and hold onto it. During sitting or walking mediation our attention is focused on our object.
We concentrate to make ourselves deeply present
Right concentration leads to happiness, and it also leads to Right Action
Samadhi means concentration. To practice samadhi is to live deeply in each moment.
Mindfulness brings about concentration
Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration lift us above he realms of sensual pleasure and craving, and we find ourselves lighter and happier.
There are nine levels of meditative concentration. The first four are the Four Dhyanas. They are on the form realm. The next five levels belong to the formless realm.
After the fourth dhyana the meditator enters into a deeper experience of concentration.
The object of the fifth level of concentration is limitless space. According the Buddha’s teaching, nothing has a separate self.
The object of the sixth level of concentration is limitless consciousness.
The object of the seventh level of concentration is nothingness.
Level eight is neither perception nor non perception
Level nine is cessation. Cessation from ignorance in our feelings. From this level is born insight. When someone practices well, the ninth level of concentration shines a light on the reality of things and transforms ignorance.
The Buddha taught many concentration practices. To practice the Concentration on Impermanence, every time you see your beloved see her as impermanent and do your best to make her happy today. The insight into impermanence keeps you from getting caught up in the suffering and craving, attachment, and despair. See and listen to everything with this insight.
According to the Lotus Sutra, we have to live in the historical and ultimate dimensions of reality at the same time. We have to live deeply our life as a wave so we can touch the substance of water in us. We walk, look, breathe, and eat in a way that we touch the absolute dimension of reality. We transcend birth and death and the fears of being and nonbeing, one and many.
Live every moment of your life deeply, and while walking, eating, drinking, and looking at the morning star, you touch the ultimate dimension.
Sitting alone and his dorm room, Kenny Wayne was trying to figure it all out. He was a young college student and he wasn’t at all sure what he wanted to do with his life or how he might become successful in the future. He had a part time job in a local pub serving beer and cheeseburgers. But he knew he wanted much more than that. He reasoned to himself that if he always knew the right time to begin a new project and if he knew the right people to listen to and if he always knew the most important thing to do, he might have some reasonable chance of success.
So, he set about to find the answers to those three questions. He began by talking to his friends and people he worked with and some of his customers. He then talked to school guidance counselors and some of his teachers that he trusted and respected. He talked to family members. He asked them all the same three questions.
One business associate told him that to know the right time for every action one must draw up a detailed plan for everything that needed to be done and schedule it on a calendar. Then execute the plan. In other words, plan your work and work your plan he said.
A guidance counselor told him it was impossible to know beforehand the right time for every action. But if you were always mindful of what needed to be done you will know automatically what to do next.
Still others said it was impossible for one man to decide the right time for every action. He should therefore surround himself with the best possible advisors to help him decide.
But others said some things could not wait to be decided by a committee. They needed to be decided at once. But to make the best possible decision it would be necessary to know what was going to happen in the future. What he needed was a fortuneteller or a crystal ball.
There were similar concerns about the second question. Who were the right people to surround himself with and to listen to? Some said he most needed his friends, others said he needed counselors and psychologists and still others said family members.
The third question: What was the most important occupation? Some of his friends said that the most important occupation was science. His sister told him to go into plastics. Others said business, some said arts and still others said spiritual development was the way to go.
After listening to all this advice, Kenny still couldn’t make up his mind. He decided to consult an individual that he had heard about who lived on the outskirts of town. He lived all alone and had the reputation of being a wise man.
The old hermit lived in a forest. Kenny Wayne drove his battered old pickup truck out to see him. It took him about a half an hour driving along the interstate highway to get there. He went alone wearing simple clothes. He parked his truck at the base of a hill and hiked the rest of the way up a steep and narrow trail. The hermit lived deep in the woods.
When Kenny Wayne reached the cabin where the hermit lived, he saw him outside in a field just to the rear the cabin digging in the dirt. Kenny approached the hermit who noticed him but kept on digging. The hermit was skinny and smallish, and each time he stuck his shovel into the dirt and turned it over he grunted.
Kenny walked up to him and said: “Howdy! Mighty hot day today, ain’t it?” The hermit kept on digging. “I came out here to ask you for some advice. I’ve heard you are a wise man and I was hoping you could answer some questions for me.”
The hermit looked up and leaned against his shovel. He had a blank look on his face.
“How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need in my life and who should I listen to? What are the most important things that I need to do in life?”
The hermit listened but did not answer. He spat tobacco juice on the ground and kept on digging.
“You look like you could use a hand. Here, let me take that shovel from you and do a little work.”
“Thanks!” said the hermit. He handed the shovel to Kenny and sat down on the ground.
When he had dug two rows, Kenny stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the shovel.
But Kenny did not give him the shovel, he continued to dig. An hour passed, then another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and it grew darker. Kenny at last stuck the shovel into the earth.
“I came looking for some answers. If you cannot or will not answer me just tell me and I will be on my way.
Just then then they heard a gunshot.
Kenny Wayne turned around and saw a large bearded man come running out of the woods. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the patch of ground where Kenny was standing, he fell to the ground, moaning and writhing in pain. Kenny and the hermit undid the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. Kenny washed it as best he could with a jug of water from the cabin, and used a towel as a compress to stanch the bleeding. But the blood would not stop flowing, and Kenny had to remove the towel that was soaked with blood and apply another one. Finally, the blood stopped flowing.
“Hold on there, partner, stay with me!” Kenny cradled the man in his arms.
Meanwhile the sun went down and it had become completely dark. Kenny and the hermit carried the wounded man into the cabin and laid him on the bed.
Kenny looked at the hermit. “If he doesn’t get medical attention soon, he will die. Do you get cell phone service up here?”
“Young man, I don’t have a cell phone. As you can see, I don’t even have electricity.”
He then struck a match and lit a candle.
“Well, I’m going to try anyway.”
Kenny took out his cell phone and dialed 911. To his pleasant surprise the phone worked.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
Kenny Wayne gave the particulars and described where they were located. They were going to have to life flight the wounded man out on a helicopter. The helicopter couldn’t land so the EMT’s had to fasten the man to a basket and the helicopter crew pulled him up on a cable.
While they were waiting for the EMTs to arrive Kenny asked the man what had happened.
“We were stalking you,” he said. “We were going to rob and kill you when you came back down the trail but you were up here all day so we came up the hill to attack you up here. On my way up I tripped and fell and my gun went off and I shot myself in the abdomen. You saved my life. Can you ever forgive me?”
Soon they heard the sound of the helicopter over head as the rotor blades whirred about and the helicopter stayed in a fixed position over the cabin. Just then the EMTs arrived. Kenny got out of their way so they could do their work. By the time they got the man stabilized and secured on onto the basket Kenny was so exhausted, he sat down on the floor with his back against the wall and promptly fell asleep. He slept through the night.
When he awoke in the morning, he was a bit disoriented and it took him a while to realize where he was. He went outside to look for the hermit. Before leaving he wanted another crack at the hermit to see if he could answer his questions. The hermit was in his garden planting seeds in the earth that had been dug the day before.
“One last time, will you answer my questions, old man?”
“You already have your answers,” said the hermit.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you see? If you had not had compassion for me yesterday by digging those rows for me, that man would have attacked you on your way down the trail and possibly killed you. So, the most important time was when you were digging the rows. I was the most important person to be with, and to help me was the most thing for you to do. Later, when that man ran up to us, the most important time was when you were helping him. If you had not bandaged his wound and stopped the bleeding he would surely have died. So, in that case he was the most important person to be with, and what you did for him was the most important thing to do. So, the answers to your questions are simple: the most important time is now. The most important person is the person who you are with. And the most important thing to do is to be good to that person. That is your main purpose in life and the secret to success.”
Right diligence or right effort is the kind of energy that helps us realize the Noble Eightfold Path. Four practices usually associated with right diligence:
Preventing unwholesome seeds in our store consciousness from arising
Helping unwholesome seeds that have arisen return to our store consciousness
Finding ways to water wholesome seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet arisen
Nourishing the wholesome seeds that have already arisen.
Unwholesome means not conducive to the path. The wholesome seeds of happiness, love, loyalty, and reconciliation need watering every day.
According to Buddhist psychology, our consciousness is divided into eight parts, including mind consciousness and store consciousness. Store consciousness is described as a field in which every kind of seed can be planted. Seeds of suffering, sorrow, fear, and anger, and seeds of happiness and hope. When these seeds sprout, they manifest in our mind consciousness and when they do, they become stronger.
We need to know our physical and psychological limits. We shouldn’t force ourselves to do ascetic practices or lose ourselves in sensual pleasures. Right Diligence lies in the Middle Way between the extremes of austerity and sensual indulgence. Joy and ease are two factors that are at the heart of Right Diligence.
The following gatha can give us energy to live the day well:
Waking up this morning I smile
24 brand new hours are before me
I vow to live fully in each moment
and look to all beings with eyes of compassion.
The practice of mindful living should be joyful and pleasant. If you breathe in and out and feel joy and peace, that is right diligence.
La Notte (1961) (The Night) Directed by Michelangelo Antonio, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, and Monica Vitti. I don’t know how I missed this masterpiece of the Italian cinema but I am happy that I did finally get to see it recently on the Criterion Channel. This film is second in the Trilogy of Alienation bookended by L’Aventura (The Adventure) (1960) and L’Eclisse (The Eclipse) (1962). La Notte is about the dissolution of a marriage through indifference and boredom and the alienation of society in both the bourgeoisie and the upper classes. The film takes place in a 24-hour period culminating at a party at a rich industrialist’s house in Milan. Crisp black and white photography and excellent framing visually projects the loneliness and the alienation of the characters and the boredom of their respective lives.
Jeanne Moreau’s inner feeling of sadness are well on display as she comes to realize she no longer loves her husband and that he no longer loves her. Marcello Mastroianni is perfectly cast as the husband who walks through life in a daze of bored indifference.
This movie is cold as ice, but it speaks the truth. Highly recommended!
Right Action means Right Action of the body. It is the practice of touching love and preventing harm, the practice of non-violence toward ourselves and others. The Basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness.
Right Action is closely linked with four of the five mindfulness trainings:
The first mindfulness training is about the reference of life
The second mindfulness training is about generosity
The third mindfulness training is about sexual responsibility
The fifth mindfulness training encourages mindful eating, drinking, and consuming
Right action is based on Right View, Right Thinking, and Right Speech, and is very much linked to Right Livelihood. The basis of Right Action is Right Mindfulness.
The next thing you see when you get off the plane at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport after the “Welcome to Kenya” sign is the sign which says, “DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS.” There were other signs I saw along the way during my two weeks stay in Nairobi but I chose to ignore them. In Uhuru Park there was a sign that read, “Beware of Human Beasts, Don’t Be the Next Rape Victim, Every 30 Minutes a Woman is Raped in Kenya.”
At the Nairobi Serena Hotel, before we were allowed to drive onto the property, a uniformed armed guard probed the underside of our car with a long-handled mirror. Once inside and checked into our room I looked out the window and saw a uniformed guard standing watch. At a restaurant we went to called The Carnivore, we passed through a security fence which was manned by security guards carrying automatic assault rifles and flanked by large German Shepard dogs straining at their leashes. Yes, I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.
I had gone to Kenya on a business trip. Actually, I was traveling with a companion who was there on business attending a worldwide meeting of company officials who were stationed around the globe. While Mary was going to meetings, I was on my own.
On the first day I hung out at the Hotel. The Serena is a Five Star Hotel and very nice. I had breakfast with Mary in the dining room and later I had lunch out by the pool by myself. I had a cheeseburger with fries and a Tusker beer. Delicious! After lunch I had a dip in the pool and sat in the sun reading as the water slowly evaporated off my body.
After a couple of days of this I got bored and decided to venture out on my own. I am an adventurous sort and had walked the mean streets of some of the toughest cities of America, so I wasn’t too worried.
I struck out midmorning on a beautiful sun-drenched day. The skies were azure blue with cotton candy clouds. Nairobi is a mile high so the atmosphere was crystal clear and every object stood out in vivid colored relief.
I walked the half mile stretch along Uhuru Highway to downtown Nairobi. It was as crowded as any major city might be and traffic was going about in a chaotic fashion. I walked to the corner of a busy intersection crowded with people. I was approached on all sides by people who wanted to sell me things like trinkets or cheap jewelry. A rather large and burley individual who was head taller than me and wearing a tight red T-shirt walked up to me and pounded his chest. “Promote me! Promote me!” He said over and over again, striking his chest for emphasis.
I just walked away. Soon others were following me and asking me questions. They all wanted to know if I was from the States? Did I know Obama? One fellow dressed in raggedy clothes stopped me and asked for money to buy some rice. I wasn’t inclined to give him any, especially in front of the crowd and all, but I did say to him, “I’m not going to give you any money, but if you will meet me here in one hour I will buy you some rice and give it to you.” He looked a little disappointed but reluctantly agreed.
I continued to walk along the street deeper and deeper into the heart of the city. As I walked along, I noticed another fellow tracking me and falling into step beside me. He was wearing a dark brown suit, but it looked like it had seen its better days. A little shabby with frayed cuffs. He had on a soiled white dress shirt and a thin black tie loosened at the throat. He was wearing black dress shoes that were run over at the heels and in bad need of a shine. “Hello!” He said, flashing me a big smile. “Can we have a conversation?”
“Sure,” I answered. “What did you want to talk about?”
“I like to talk to Americans about politics and history.”
“Ok. What did you want to know?”
“Can we go somewhere and sit down at a table to talk?”
“Where did you want to go?”
“I know a Tea Room not far from here. We could go there.”
I’m starting to get a little suspicious now and I’m not in any big hurry to go anywhere with this stranger.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“Sudan,” he answered. “I am staying at a refugee camp near the border.”
“I’ll tell you what. I am going to walk around a little bit, you want to meet me here in an hour, we can talk then. How’s that?”
He hesitated a little bit but finally agreed. So, I had the same arrangement with two strangers I had met in Nairobi and I had only been in town 15 minutes! I thought chances are either one or the other or both wouldn’t show up, and I had bought myself a little time.
So, I spent the next hour exploring the city. I went to gift shops, hotels, and had lunch in an outdoor café. I checked my watch and saw it was time to head back to meet my new friends.
I got back to the corner at the appointed time and guy #1 wasn’t there yet. I looked around and noticed a market about a half a block away. I walked over to it and went in. After my eyes adjusted to the low-level light, I saw baskets of various products including rice. The pungent smell of spices hung in the air. I secured a bag of rice and walked out returning to the corner. My new friend showed up with a big smile on his face.
“Jambo!” he said
“Jambo!” I returned.
I handed him the rice. We had a moment then he left.
Now the second guy, the guy with the suit. I thought was going to be a no show. I waited about 15 minutes and was about to leave when he rounded the corner. He greeted me warmly and pointed his hand out in front of him and said, “The Tea Room is down this way.”
We walked about six blocks and I was beginning to wonder where he was taking me.
“Say, where are you taking me?”
“It’s just a little further.”
We walked on another two blocks and my friend became a little more excited as we stopped in front of rather impressive looking two-story structure in the middle of the block with a wide set of steps leading up to the front door.
“Ah, here we are,” my companion spoke to me as he swept his arm up the stairway in the direction of entrance. We had arrived at the Jade Tea House.
We mounted the steps and went inside. Once inside I had the distinct feeling, I had stepped into a time portal. The interior of the Tea Room was dark and the blades of the overhead fans were whirring about pushing the hot air around the room. I felt a little uneasy as I looked around the room. Others were seated around at various tables deep in what seemed like conspiratorial conversation as if they were plotting some crime against humanity or an act of terror. We went upstairs to another level where it was a little brighter and sat down at a table. Soon a waiter come over and we placed our order. We each ordered a cup of tea.
Asim and I started having our conversation about what was going on in America. We worked it around to politics in Africa. There was a presidential election going on in Kenya and we talked about that. Then he reminded me that he was Sudanese and was living in a refugee camp. Oh, boy I thought, here it comes. I had been waiting for this and wondered just how and when he would work it. I figured he’d put the bite on me before it was over with. Of course, I was reluctant to play along. I didn’t like getting played. As we were sitting there, I noticed a lone individual sidle up to the table next to ours and had a seat. It seemed like he was listening to our conversation. He didn’t order anything, he just sat there on the edge of his seat. I didn’t pay much attention to him as I was focused on Asim and how I was going to handle his request. I decided I would excuse myself to the bathroom to buy some time.
When I got back to the table, I decided I would pay our tab and leave. Whatever change I had coming I would let Asim have and that would be it. I called the waiter over and asked for the check. When he got back, I handed him a 50 Shilling note and he brought back my change which I pushed over in front of Asim.
Just as soon as I pushed the money over the guy at the other table jumped up and four other guys, all wearing suits, came out of the shadows and surrounded the table. Two of the men led Asim away, one on each side of him. Two others stood guard and the ring leader came over and sat directly in front of me. His eyes were shot with blood and his breath stank with alcohol. He flashed an ID at me and said he was a police officer with the Nairobi Police Department. I didn’t get a good look at the ID but it looked like an ordinary driver’s license.
“Why were you talking to that man?” He wanted to know.
“I don’t know. We just met on the street and he wanted to talk.”
“We have been looking for that man. Did you know he was a drug dealer?”
Uh oh! I thought to myself. Here it comes. First the hook then ….
“He’s also a counterfeiter. I see you gave him some money. Why did you give him money?”
“I was just leaving him the change because I thought he might need it.”
“How much Kenyan money do you have?”
“About 20,000 Shillings.”
“Let me see it.” He reached out his hand.
I slowly reached into my pocket and retrieved my Kenyan money. He reached out his hand further and I reluctantly handed it over. He grunted his approval and stared to count it.
“Do you have any American money?”
“Yeah. I guess you are going to take that too?”
He didn’t’ like that. He scowled.
“If you are not going to cooperate, we can take you down to the station with us and make you cooperate.”
I didn’t like that idea. So, l reached back into my pocket and got the rest of my money out and handed it over to him which he promptly proceeded to count. He took out a small notebook and wrote some figures down in it and tore it out. He handed it to me with the amount of money he had taken as a receipt.
“We have a machine at headquarters that can tell if this money is counterfeit. We will run your money through the machine and if it is real, we will return it to you. Where are you staying?”
I didn’t want to tell him. If I ever got out of this alive, I never wanted to see them again. But I felt like I had to play along so I told them I was staying at the Serena Hotel but I gave them a false room number. Like that would do a lot of good.
After that he stood up and motioned for me to get up. They escorted me out of the building down the front steps to the curb where a car was waiting. They got into the car and sped away leaving me standing on the side walk in a total state of bewilderment. It was only then that the full force of the experience hit me.
I looked up at the sky and the tops of the building were literally swirling around in the blue canopy overhead. Or was it just in my head? I didn’t know. I became momentarily quite dizzy and thought I would pass out. I had to find my way back to the hotel but I was disoriented and actually quite lost. Calm down, I told myself. At least you are still alive and free at last. Now just assess your situation and you will be fine.
I looked around again and saw in the distance the top of a building I recognized that was in the direction of the hotel. I started walking in the direction of the familiar landmark, navigating by dead reckoning. The closer I got to the building the more familiar were my surroundings. Soon I found myself back on Uhuru Highway and almost home.
When I made it back to the hotel I went right to the room and collapsed on the bed. Mary wasn’t back yet and I feared telling her what happened. I knew she would be furious with me for putting us both in danger. When she finally got back, I told her the story and she was sympathetic but I could tell she was not happy with me. Hell, I wasn’t happy with me either. We spent the rest of the trip looking over our shoulders as we never knew if the rough and rowdy crew would show back up again and cause more trouble.
We got out of the country with no further incidents but I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t talk to strangers.
Cancel Culture. Is it a thing or is it not a thing? Or is it market forces just working things out? Or is it just the next level of political correctness working itself in? I guess if you are the person who gets cancelled it is a thing. Especially those high-end individuals who get their show canceled or lose their cushy job. But what about the rest of us poor slobs working somewhat lower in the social hierarchy? To us, every day is Cancel Culture. We stand to get fired every day our existence. Say something wrong, do something wrong, boom! You are in line at the unemployment office. I used to have a boss who was fond of saying you are only as good as your last time at bat and one aw shit cancelled out ten atta boys! One morning at a production meeting after a pretty miserable night’s performance on the factory floor he went around the room and singled out everybody one by one and threatened them with their jobs. When got to me he paused a minute, I had just been transferred and hadn’t been there long enough to fuck anything up. But in the spirit of not leaving anybody out he said to me, “…and I ‘ll send your ass back to Houston!”
Well, I worked there another 12 years and got a couple of promotions, so I didn’t get canceled. But I saw plenty of others get cancelled. And for them it was real.
Now, I am of the opinion that if you are a high-profile entertainer or a TV personality and you said some shit 20 years ago that you regret saying, you probably should not get canceled. There has to be some room for personal growth, redemption, and forgiveness. If you are a high-ranking editor at New York Times and you publish an opinion piece by a US Senator that is unpopular that should not be grounds for dismissal. There is nothing more sacred than free speech. If we lose that then what are we? Mice or men?
When you lose your job that is like corporate capital punishment. You have to be able to make living. If you mess up bad on the job, or do some questionable shit, yes, you should be held accountable. But it should not be permanent exile. Unless that shit’s real bad, in that case, it’s off to Siberia with you! And if you are Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, then it’s the slammer!
Let’s use a little common sense and not go too far out into the field of political correctness lest we get bogged down in the Cancel Culture.