The Wisdom Podcast

Christina Feldman: Meditation as Cultivation

Christina Feldman

Christina Feldman is a guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society and co-founder of Gaia House in England. She has been teaching insight meditation retreats since 1976 and has recently been involved in the dialogue between cognitive therapies and Buddhist practice.

This interview took place at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Christina begins by telling us about the retreat she was teaching at the time, which was specifically for people teaching mindfulness in the workplace—such as in social work and the justice system. Christina then talks about the first use of the word “mindfulness” as a translation for the Pali term sati, and reflects on the more nuanced meanings of sati that are sometimes missed when using mindfulness. She then shares the English term that she thinks better reflects the meaning of sati.

Christina shares with us how we can take the present moment as an object for meditation. She also explores how being in the present moment is a means of “stripping away of the extras,” and what it really means to practice that. We learn how to approach the present moment with a more inclusive and investigative attitude, and why this can lead to a much more profound experience of what the present truly is.

We then hear Christina’s thoughts on bhavana, or cultivation. She addresses the many kinds of cultivation we do in our lives and minds, and how powerful it can be to take on a more engaged and aware exploration of what we’re cultivating.

Christina dives into the translation of dukkha, and the limitations of the well-known teaching that “life is suffering.” She then identifies perhaps the most important thing we need to do in relation to our suffering. She reflects on how a sense of disappointment or a promise broken is such an essential part of the human experience, and how Buddhist practice can engage with and transform those feelings.

She also shares what her own practice looks like when she is going through troubling or difficult times and speaks of the importance of guarding the mind when we’re struggling. Christina underscores how concentration practice can be used as an excuse for escapism, and shares how renunciation has a near enemy, disassociation.

Finally Christina tells the story of how she came to Buddhism, including how she began practicing Tibetan Buddhism as a student of the Dalai Lama, Geshe Rabten, and Ling Rinpoche before meeting S. N. Goenka and transitioning to the Theravada lineage. She also tells us about Bodhi College, her teaching project with Stephen Batchelor and others.

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Joseph Goldstein: Bringing the Dharma from the Masters to the West

Joseph Goldstein

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we hear stories and teachings from Joseph Goldstein, one of the most well-known Buddhist teachers in the United States. Joseph Goldstein has been teaching meditation for 40 years and founded the Insight Meditation Society in 1976 with Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, a center that has since introduced thousands of people to meditation. He also has recently begun teaching meditation to, and with, ABC News anchor Dan Harris.

Joseph first tells us how he came across Buddhism at age 21 while in the PeaceCorps in Thailand. He describes his first meditation experience and what about that made him want to keep meditating. He also tells us about the book that influenced his early practices and reflects on whether he could tell at that time whether he was pioneering into uncharted waters for a Westerner.

We hear what Joseph’s early practice looked like and what inspired him to spend more time practicing in Asia. He shares experiences and stories from traveling in India in his early 20s, including meeting his first teacher, Anagarika Shri Munindra, who had been studying with Mahasi Sayadaw. We hear how Joseph was so powerfully drawn to meditation, despite the fact that it was not at all easy for him at first.
We hear how in the fall of 1970, renowned teacher S. N. Goenka came to Bodhgaya and Joseph began to practice body-scanning meditation with him. Joseph highlights the difference between mindfulness practice and concentration practices, and then goes on to share his experience being a student of beloved teacher Dipa Ma.
In 1974, Joseph returned to the United States and was invited by Ram Dass to teach with him and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche at the first summer session of the Naropa Institute. This led Joseph to be invited to lead retreats all around the country, and shortly afterward, he joined Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield in founding the Insight Meditation Society. Joseph tells of IMS’s early days and what teaching alongside Trungpa Rinpoche was like.
He also tells of his experience practicing with Tibetan teachers Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche, underscoring the contrasts between the various practices he’s done. He shares with us a profound teaching he received from Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche on compassion and emptiness.
Finally, Joseph shares the realizations that set his mind at rest when he was struggling with some of the central philosophies and teachings of Buddhism, and offers his thoughts on how the Dharma has taken root in Western culture.

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Shaila Catherine: Mastering the Jhanas

Shaila Catherine

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we meet Theravada Buddhist teacher Shaila Catherine, author of Wisdom Wide and Deep and Focused and Fearless. Shaila was introduced to transcendental meditation in high school, and then later entered the path of Theravada Buddhism. She shares the difficulties she encountered on her first meditation retreat as well as what she encountered on that retreat that inspired her to continue practicing. She then shares how she spent a decade practicing in India, studying with meditation masters including H. W. L. Poonja (Poonjaji). She shares what it was like to study with Poonjaji and the phenomenal mind-to-mind connection he had with students. Shaila then reflects on how important the “ordinary” is as a part of spiritual practice. She also tells us about how she began going on longer retreats, during which time she began exploring the jhana states. We hear about the powerful and useful application of jhana practice, and how it enhances insight meditation and brings stability to the mind—as well as some common misunderstandings some people have about jhana practice. Host Daniel Aitken and Shaila then discuss how a practitioner can move from using the breath as the anchor to using mental states as an anchor through the “precise technology” of jhana practice. They also discuss how to use the breath as a focus for concentration. Shaila then describes in depth the first jhana and how it can be used for insight meditation, and how concentration practice illuminates the causes of suffering. Shaila also reflects on the difference between conceptually understanding impermanence, and really understanding it on a deeper level. She also shares her thoughts on the conditions needed to enter the jhanas, and whether we can access the jhanas in the midst of our busy lives, rather than simply on long retreats.

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Steve Armstrong: Insight Meditation in America

In this episode we meet Steve Armstrong, a teacher in the vipassana tradition who has studied the dhamma and practiced insight meditation since 1975. Steve is a co-founding teacher of the Vipassana Metta Foundation’s dharma sanctuary on Maui, and guided the creation of the new book Manual of Insight, the classic collection of teachings by the renowned Mahasi Sayadaw.

Steve Armstrong begins with the story of how his spiritual practice started in a commune in Maine for followers of Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. He then shares his first meditation retreat experience and how he began seeing the impact of meditation in his everyday life. We hear how he first encountered the experience of faith in Buddhist practice. Steve tells us how he was there for the very beginning of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in 1977 and shares the powerful experiences of the early years of IMS, including meeting many great teachers like Dipa Ma, Mahasi Sayadaw, and Ajahn Chah.

Steve tells us about the first time at U Pandita came to the United States and what a large impact his teaching had on the IMS community. He tells us about the experiences of meditation that he has found the most challenging. We then hear how he became inspired to go to Burma for the first time, where for years he practiced from 3AM to 11PM every day. He tells us the phenomenal effects this had on his practice, almost immediately. Among these effects was the experience of what Steve calls “spiritual goodies” such as bliss, serenity, and so on. He discusses these experiences in relation to recreational-drug-induced states and reflects on some of the most noticeable differences between intoxicated states and meditative states. He also tells us about the role of the teacher in the Burmese Theravada tradition.

We also hear from Steve how the new book Manual of Insight, edited by the Vipassana Metta Foundation, came into being. Steve also reflects on what the truly transformative potential of insight meditation practice is–how it takes the practitioner beyond a basic practice of mindfulness.

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Bhikkhu Bodhi: The Buddha on Social Harmony

Bhikkhu Bodhi

This episode of the Wisdom Podcast features our second interview with renowned Buddhist scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi. Ven. Bodhi tells us about the process of creating his forthcoming book, The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony, and how it arose from a real need in various Buddhist communities. Bhikkhu Bodhi shares what “right view” means in the context of social harmony, explaining the meaning of “mundane right view” and its usefulness in promoting social harmony.

Ven. Bodhi then tells us how Buddhist teachings hold the key to promoting communal peace, tolerance, and understanding. He also reflects on how changing our consciousness can produce changes in our society. Then he tells us about the types of government at the time of the Buddha, and how that affected the development of the Buddha’s thoughts, including his ideal of the “wheel-turning king”–the king who ultimately serves the Dharma. Bhikkhu Bodhi then shares his thoughts on which of Buddhism’s three poisons is causing the most suffering in our time.

Bhikkhu Bodhi then advises us how to understand and use the teaching of “right speech” in the present day, and shares what the Buddha taught about how to be a good friend. He also imagines what advice the Buddha might give world leaders today, especially when dealing with conflict and social strife in their own countries. Ven. Bodhi reflects on what the Buddha might have thought about how to approach ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

Bhikkhu Bodhi then tells us how he came to found Buddhist Global Relief, a nonprofit organization that focuses on addressing global hunger. He also shares what he’s working on now: a translation of the Sutta Nipata, which includes advice for both lay life and monastic life. Bhikkhu Bodhi imagines, based on his studies of the Pali canon, what the Buddha’s daily life might have been like. Bhikkhu Bodhi also shares with us the different words that the Buddha used for meditation, and what the subtleties are between different terms such as jhana, samadhi, vipassana, and bhavana. He then reflects on modern definitions and understandings of mindfulness. At the end we hear Bhikkhu Bodhi’s own definition of mindfulness.

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