November 7, 2014

Reading & Writing with The Buddha in Grad School.


As a professor of English, I am currently teaching a graduate class on the connections between mindfulness and teaching writing in college.

My students are reading about best practices in the field of composition studies and best practices in Buddhist approaches to reducing suffering and creating enlightened society.

Recently, we have been reading and talking about the substantial role fear habitually plays in writing courses: the fear of sharing writing, fear of others’ responses, fear of the teacher’s response, fear of red ink, and so forth.

From the field of Buddhist studies, we have been reading The Shambahla Principle by Sakyong Mipham and The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, so that we might discover how these contemporary writers might provide us with ways to help our students extinguish this fear of writing.

In the latter book, an address attributed to the Buddha titled Satipatthana Sutta: The Discourse on the Arousing of Mindfulness is included, and as I was reading this discourse (or “sutta” as it is known in Pali, “sutra” in Sanskrit), I became very attracted to the syntax or phraseology of the final of four paths for arousing mindfulness, namely “The Contemplation of Mental Objects.”

Mental objects are understood to be those emotions we can contemplate, but not sense otherwise. We cannot touch anger for example, or courage, but we can meditate upon them nonetheless. When the Buddha touches on how a student of mindfulness might arouse his thinking on the mental object of doubt, he states:

When doubt is present, he knows with understanding: ‘I have doubt,’ or when doubt is not present, he knows with understanding: ‘I have no doubt.’ He understands how the arising of non-arisen doubt comes to be; he understands how the abandoning of the arisen doubt comes to be; and he understands how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned doubt comes to be.

The Buddha in this sutta does not explicitly mention the mental object of fear, but the idea that one might contemplate the non-arising of a negative mental object suggests the arising of its opposite. The opposite of non-arising doubt, for example, would be arising belief or trust. And the opposite of non-arising fear would be arising courage or the arousing of one’s heart.

And as I said earlier, I was very attracted to the phrasing of this section in the sutta. Thus, I wanted to practice the Buddha’s word play myself in the form of translation I use most often, poetry.


Arousing Heart Sutra

When we are able
To abandon
From our hearts
The rising
By habit
Of uncalled

We will be able
To call
From our hearts
By habit
The non-rising
Of abandoned

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Author: Laurence Musgrove

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

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