Dharma practice is medicine for the mind -- something particularly needed in a culture like ours that actively creates mental illness in training us to be busy producers and avid consumers. As individuals, we become healthier through our Dharma practice, which in turn helps bring sanity to our society at large.
Giving dharma talks offers me the opportunity to express gratitude for my Thai teachers -- Ajahn Fuang Jotiko and Ajahn Suwat Suvaco -- in appreciation of the many years they spent training me, which came with the understanding that the teachings continue past me. Giving dharma talks also pushes me to articulate what I haven''t yet verbalized to myself in English. This in turn enriches my own practice. When you help a wide variety of people deal with their issues, it helps you practice with yours.
When giving a talk, I try to remain true to three things: my training, my study of the early Buddhist texts, and the needs of my listeners. The challenge is to find the point where all three meet -- not as a compromise, but in their genuine integrity.
For this, I play with analogy. Meditation is a skill, and our meeting point as people, whatever our culture, lies in our experience in mastering skills: how to sew clothes, cook a meal, or build a shelter. So I've found that one of the most effective ways of explaining subtle points in meditation is to find analogies with more mundane skills. Through the language of analogy we find common ground from which our practice can grow to meet our individual needs, and yet remain true to its universal roots.
According to the Buddha, appropriate attention is the most important mental factor for attaining Awakening. So what does he mean by attention, and what kind of attention is appropriate? How do the factors of appropriate attention apply to our meditation practice, how do they apply to our lives?
The problems and distractions in the present are not something you simply want to push your way through or get out of the way. You have to understand how they happen, for that understanding forms the essence of insight.
The act of 'doing' Right Concentration is what allows you to understand what it means to 'do' so well that you actually learn how to stop doing. That's the karma that puts an end to karma, the intention that allows you to understand intention until you finally get to the point where you can stop.
Mindfulness is where things start, but it can't do all the work. It's only one of the spices on your meditation shelf. This is why it's important to understand precisely what 'mindfulness' means, and how to supplement it with other skillful qualities in the mind.
Truths of the observer require you simply to observe things and try to figure them out. Truths of the will, which cover relationships are skills, are things you have to bring into being or they never become a reality. In this area faith, confidence, and conviction make all the difference.
Coming to terms with the inevitability of your own death and the death of those you love. If you wait until the time of death in order to think about these things, it's a huge shock. This is one of the reasons the Buddha has you contemplate if before death.
Using the analogy of the 'committee mind' to free yourself from the tendency to identify with every thought that comes into the mind; using the breath as a secure place to extract yourself from the committee discussions and gain a new perspective on them.
The path involves learning how to marshal various emotions--grief, joy, desire, disgust, gladness, dispassion--some of which are normally regarded as negative. But they have their uses, so learn how to cultivate them all along the way. Without these emotions, the practice doesn't go anywhere. With them it can take you to release.