In These Turbulent Times

April 2017

A reminder about our community’s guiding principles and practices in light of these turbulent times

Dear Common Ground Community,

These are turbulent times, and many people in our Common Ground community and in our wider communities are experiencing real fear and uncertainty in response to actions being taken by the US government. We want to particularly acknowledge the hate, fear, and harm being directed at immigrants, Muslims, queer communities, people of color, women, impoverished communites, and the environment.

We feel this is a good time to remember and reemphasize our guiding principles and practices, in particular drawing attention to the sixth and newest one, “Responding directly to the suffering in our world with compassion”, which was approved by the Board of Directors in January 2016. Please also find attached like-minded statements from some of our fellow meditation centers in the Insight Meditation tradition, as well as a copy of Mark Nunberg’s most recent Guiding Teacher Letter from our newsletter: Engaging this Messy World with the Wisdom of Non-Attachment.

Our Guiding Principles and Practices

Common Ground Meditation Center exists to support the awakening of suffering beings through the development of an ethical life, the cultivation of a pure heart and quiet mind, and through a deepening of insight into the way things are. These trainings are all guided by mindfulness, and with dedicated practice they lead to freedom from fear, clinging and all ideas of separation. As a community, we take refuge in the freedom of the awakened heart. We take refuge in this path of training and a life of mindful awareness and finally, we take refuge in the great generosity of those who have undertaken this practice and who show us the way.

Practicing mindfulness: an open, clear, non-judging awareness

We practice turning toward and trusting things as they are — a kind and patient acceptance of our internal and external experience. Recognizing and opening to both the joy and sorrow in life is an essential practice in healing and freeing the heart.

Awakening wisdom

Seeing clearly the way things are reveals the impermanent, unsatisfying and impersonal nature of conditioned experience. These insights uproot the mind’s stressful habits of clinging to its self-centered constructions.

Walking the path as practiced by our spiritual ancestors

We support ongoing study, practice, and learning opportunities for all community members, including the guiding teacher.

Cultivating skillful intentions, words, and actions

We aspire to live in a way that promotes harmony and alleviates suffering. We commit to the practices of non-harming and non-greed, especially in the areas of sexuality, speech, and consumption. We also understand the need to integrate these practices into all areas of our community and our hearts.

Communicating skillfully at all levels of the community

We commit to the practice of honesty. We not only value skillful speech, but also listening wholeheartedly and mindfully. We value fearlessness and looking deeply as we practice opening to what is working and what is not working in our lives and in our community.

Responding directly to the suffering in our world with compassion

We are devoted to walking alongside each other with interest and compassion as we wake up to the unequal, and yet interrelated, experiences of privilege and oppression in our relationships, institutions, and communities. We understand that this wise and fearless opening to the real pain and confusion in our world is a difficult and necessary process in addressing the roots of suffering.

Statement from the IMS Board (Insight Meditation Society)

From IMS Board President Ed Hong: In response to recent events here in the US, the members of the IMS board wanted to reiterate our stand against intolerance, injustice and oppression, and to state our support for action informed by ethics, wisdom and compassion.

We offer this statement, with gratitude for the Buddha’s teachings that guide our lives.

“As the US and the world face significant challenges and upheaval, IMS affirms its commitment to providing a spiritual refuge, where everyone who comes to practice at our centers feels welcomed, honored and included.

We dedicate ourselves to the Buddha’s teachings that hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone, and remain steadfast in upholding non-harming and nonviolence as the pillars of compassionate action.

Never has our meditation practice provided a more important foundation for wise engagement. We counter the destructive forces of greed, hatred and delusion by cultivating friendliness, joy, generosity and peace. These are boundless qualities that inspire our vision and deepen our resilience. They include all, and prompt action that can offer safety and protection for anyone whose race, skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, religion or immigration status puts them at risk.

May oppression and division, and all their causes, be dispelled. May the force of kindness and the power of our collective commitment to justice, inclusiveness and awakening serve all.”

Spirit Rock Statement of Values: Spiritual Sanctuary and Refuge

“As long as a society holds regular and frequent assemblies, meeting in harmony and mutual respect, can they be expected to prosper and not decline. As long as a society follows the long held traditions of wisdom, and honors its elders, can they be expected to prosper and not decline. As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, can they be expected to prosper and not decline. As long as a society cares for the shrines and sacred places of the natural world, can they be expected to prosper and not decline.” —Mahaparinirvana Sutta (a text of Buddha’s last teachings)

Amidst the political and social challenges of our times and in light of our commitment to liberation, Spirit Rock declares itself to be a spiritual sanctuary and a refuge for all. We will honor and protect those who come here seeking the teachings of liberation.

We are stewards of the Dharma; we build bridges, not walls. A climate of divisiveness and fear cannot alter our innate human goodness, and it will never change our values as an organization.

Spirit Rock proclaims our continued commitment to the Buddha’s teachings of wisdom, compassion in action, interdependence and loving-kindness, excluding none.

We reaffirm these teachings: “Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and eternal law.”

We reaffirm these 2,600 year-old Buddhist values in the face of cultures of violence and harm that threaten life on this planet and that differentially impact oppressed, exploited and marginalized people, people of color, immigrants and refugees, poor people, women, disabled and differently abled people, Indigenous and LGBTQI peoples.
We denounce racism, misogyny, xenophobia, trans- and homophobia and all forms of oppression and the valuation of certain lives over others. We value and celebrate diversity, inclusivity and respect for all beings and the inherent dignity of all peoples.

The Buddhist Path teaches that meditation and inner freedom must develop together with a foundation of generosity, ethical behavior and loving-kindness.

We affirm that human happiness requires intentions that are free from greed, hatred and cruelty; speech that is true and helpful, not harsh, not vain, slanderous nor abusive; and actions that are free from causing harm, killing, stealing and sexual exploitation.

We affirm the interdependent nature of reality. When one being suffers, we all suffer. Thus, our own well-being and liberation is bound in the well-being and liberation of others. The only basis for Dharma life is virtue, respect and mutual care.

Knowing this truth, we will resist the destructive forces of hatred, discrimination and recklessness and offer the powerful alternatives of fierce love and compassion.

With the Earth as a witness, the Buddha proclaimed his right to liberation and taught that all beings have the right to liberation, to be free from the oppressive forces of greed, hate and ignorance.

With the Earth as our witness, we offer a sanctuary for all to awaken together.
Spirit Rock will continue to be a light in our society, to respond to constantly changing conditions, and to offer practices, teachings, and refuge that nurture the internal life in support of external service. We practice not for ourselves but for the welfare, happiness and safety of all life everywhere.
May all beings be free, and may our actions contribute wholeheartedly to that freedom.
December 2016

A Statement of Commitment (from Against the Stream)

For nine years Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society has used the Buddha’s teachings to uncover greed, hatred and delusion wherever it is found and to cultivate the wisdom and compassion necessary to alleviate suffering. We are dedicated to maintaining an ethical framework for all of our actions and to live in a way that does not cause harm to any beings.

Since the inauguration we have disagreed with the actions of the new administration and the threat it has posed to the civil liberties of the citizens and residents of the United States and to our neighbors around the world. ATS is not content to sit quietly as we see these abuses unfold but we are stating our commitment to help change what we think are deluded and harmful actions and to support others in their work.
We stand with the LGBTQ community and oppose any rollback to their rights.
We support immigrant’s rights and oppose the attack on sanctuary cities.
We support religious tolerance for all and vehemently oppose any Muslim ban.
We support women’s rights and oppose the attacks on their reproductive freedom.
We believe in transparency in government and the freedom of the press.
We are committed to calling out white supremacy in all its forms and to put an end to systemic and institutionalized racism.
We are opposed to the weakening of the EPA, the denial of climate change and the degradation of the environment.
We believe in the right to affordable health care and a social safety net to support the most vulnerable in our society.
We believe in the right to a free and equal education for all.

The Buddha’s teachings on wise speech exhort us to speak what is necessary and we are committed to speaking up and supporting those who work for justice and ending intolerance. Many of our community members are working hard towards this goal and we will serve as a clearinghouse for their work and to foster actions that seem appropriate. We encourage you to get involved.

We also believe deeply in the teaching that hatred never ceases through hatred, but only through love will it cease. Using the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path as our foundation and bulwark, we will say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done with wisdom and compassion for all beings.

In this time of national turmoil Against the Stream is committed to be a place of refuge and sacred resistance. We believe in the equality of all beings and to end suffering wherever we see it.

Engaging this Messy World with the Wisdom of Non-Attachment


History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. —Maya Angelou

Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be action. —Thich Nhat Hanh

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. —James Baldwin

Chan Master Yunmen, 9th century, when asked “What is the work of the Buddha’s whole life” replied, “An appropriate response.”

Do mindful awareness and the letting go of attachment make us incapable of being a happy human being with a personality, relationships, and responsibilities? Does non-attachment allow for a greater intimacy in life, or does it lead to a disconnection and distancing from life’s joys and sorrows? Do we need attachment in order to deeply care about and respond to the suffering we see and feel in and around us? Is our experience of non-attachment enlivening or deadening? The Buddha’s teachings point to a heart free from greed, anger and delusion—realizing a mind that is no longer governed and distorted by these deeply conditioned impersonal habits. How have we experienced non-attachment, or what Ajahn Chah called “the reality of non- grasping”? Do we see it as a true refuge for the heart?

We all know that it is not easy being a human being. With some practice we can begin to see more clearly that being attached to opinions and expectations results in the heart being uneasy and tight. The mind’s habit is to struggle with the conditions of life. It thinks that grasping and rejecting experience is functional and leads to happiness. Does it? Perhaps this pervasive habit of attachment is the source of all suffering. If this were seen to be true, wouldn’t we seek a way to be free from this pervasive habit? Seeing how attachment operates in our own mind breaks the heart open with compassion for all the suffering that this pattern sets in motion in the wider world.

Life demands both a whole- hearted engagement and an absence of attachment. What would be the alternative? Living our lives attached to half-hearted avoidance? Does anybody think that this is a winning strategy for a good life and a good world? Let’s remember, non- attachment is not the same as non- engagement. Non-attachment is only realized through engagement, being intimate. The relevant question is, will this way of relating and engaging cause suffering? When we are attached to keeping distant from messy parts and holding on to what we find pleasant, we lose our authentic connection with life as it is. Real freedom, wisdom and love are found in moments of fearless engagement with life through a mind free from attachment. We transform our hearts and the world by cultivating and living with this deep understanding.

-Mark Nunberg