About James Baraz:
James has been a meditation teacher since 1978.
He is creator and teacher of the Awakening Joy course (since 2003).
He leads retreats, workshops and classes in U.S and abroad.
Co-founding Teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.
Co-author of Awakening Joy, the book based on the course
(with Shoshana Alexander).
He is a Guiding Teacher for One Earth Sangha, a website devoted to expressing a Buddhist response to Climate Change.
James lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, Jane.
He has two sons and three grandchildren.
Hello. Now, I’m ready.
I wanted to start the talk with a passage that I love from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Shunryu, one of the great dharma books of all time. He says, “In our scriptures, it is said that there are four (4) kinds of horses- excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones.” The best force will run slow and fast, right and left at the driver’s wheel before it sees the shadow of the whip, the second best will run as well as the first one does just before the whip reaches its skin, the third one will run when it feels pain on its body, and the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to run.
When we hear this story, almost all of us want to be the best horse. If it’s impossible to be the best one, we want to be the second best. That is, I think the usual understanding of the story and of practice. You may think that when you sit and practice in meditation, you’ll find out whether you’re one of the best horses or one of the worst ones. Here, however, there is a misunderstanding about practice.
If you think the aim of meditation practice is to train you to become one of the best horses, you’ll have a big problem. This is not the right understanding. If you practice meditation in the right way, it doesn’t matter whether you are the best horse or the worst one. When you consider the passion of the Buddha, how do you think the Buddha would feel about the four kinds of forces? You probably have more compassion for the worst one, than for the best one. When you are determined to practice with the great mind of the Buddha, you’ll find that the worst horse is often the most valuable one. And your very imperfections, you’ll find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind. Those who can sit perfectly, physically, usually take more time to obtain the true way of practice. The actual feeling of practice. The marrow of practice, but those who find great difficulties in practicing will find more meaning in it.
So, I think, it’s sometimes the best horse maybe the worst horse, and the worst horse can be the best one. Isn’t that comforting? Unless you sit perfectly in full lotus, there’s hope for you yet.
This tendency to judge how we’re doing and compare ourselves to others or to some idealized, impossible standard is so prevalent and typical in practice. Anybody find that they get call on that sometimes, oh, okay, I’m not alone. Yah. And what the Buddha called this as far as the complication that comes from the comparing mind and the judging mind. He called the conceit of “I am.” The conceit of “I am.” And this, in Pali is called “mana” when you are comparing yourself to others. This is from the Buddha, one who thinks oneself equal to others, or superior or inferior for that very ___ reason is lost in dispute, but one who is unmoved under those three conditions for that person, the notion is equal, superior and inferior- do not exist. For one who is free from such fuse, there are no ties. For one who is delivered by understanding, there are no ___. But those who grasp after views and philosophical opinions, they wander about in the world, annoying people.
And you could probably guess who is most annoyed by our views and opinions. This is what we do to ourselves. So I wanted to talk tonight about this tendency to judge and compare, and perhaps offer some ways to work with it. One thing that’s comforting to know is that, or maybe comforting to know, is that in the unfolding of the process of awakening, there are four stages in the classical ___. Unfolding of the stream enter ___, the once returner, the none returning, and the fully enlightened being, the ___. At the third stage of enlightenment, which is pretty verified ___, there’s still the conceit of “I am.” There’s still the comparing and the judging mind. So if you find that you’re afraid to this, one way to think of it is it well, I’m no higher than third stage ___ anyway, but you’ve got a lot of company. A lot of company, and you might notice from that passage is that it’s not just, the word conceit, we usually associate it with being better than, but he says, being superior or inferior, or even equal to, you are lost in the conceit of “I am” because of there’s the separation of how am I doing relative to them.
So, in any way, that you find yourself somehow measuring up against some idealized standard, just to know, understand this mental fabrication that you’re creating that is so common in the mind and heart, so painful and is really the doorway, can be a doorway to freedom when you see through it.
When, for you, do you notice it? There’s lots of opportunities on retreat, even if you’re not saying a word to anybody else. Of course, let alone in being outside in daily life and as soon as you open up your mouth and you say, “Uh-oh, are they smarter than I am?,” or “Are they cooler than I am?,” or “Am I the coolest one in the crowd now?,” or whatever.
But here in silence, it still happens, have you noticed? Especially in social situations such as the dining room, you know. There you are, sitting across from a few people. Have you noticed how much people put on their plate? “Oh my God, look at what they’re putting on? Gosh, don’t they it? Are they a little ___?” You drop a fork and it clangs in the dining room and you’re sure that every eye is on you.
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