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Vipassana and Relative Bodhicitta

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

By Fleet Maull, PMIs Founder Another crisp, clear, cool, cloudless, and sparkling Sunday morning at the prison.

Today was the Theravadin gathering, and there were 14 folks present. We did an abbreviated form of the Theravadin chants and meditated for 15 minutes. The topic of conversation today was vipassana and relative bodhicitta. I reviewed a class several weeks ago that emphasized absolute bodhicitta and shamatha practice.

Then we dug into the notions of relative bodhicitta and vipassana practice. I focused on the nature of relative bodhicitta and its quality of compassionate activity. How through opening one’s heart/mind with mindful awareness, the possibility exists that we can penetrate with deep insight into the nature of all the arisings that occur “within” and “without”. How our demons and obstacles can be investigated with mindful awareness. Our obstacles are not rejected or ignored but allowed to be bathed in the relaxed, mindful awareness that can recognize these obstacles' true nature. There was discussion about spiritual by-passing which seems to be a favorite topic among the guys. They understand how obstacles and trauma in their lives can become a catalyst for growth and open their hearts and minds further toward everyone around them. They (we) recognize this as a huge challenge yet know they can slowly progress along the path with diligence, focus, and commitment. They talked about their shadow, how to accept it and know it for what it is, and how they try not to leave footprints when walking on the hard prison floors…I liked that metaphor a lot!

We also discussed what metta and bodhicitta mean from a Theravadin point of view compared to a Mahayana one. We concluded that the development of love for oneself and others and compassion might not be so different in these traditions. Cultural and philosophical differences may exist, and certain practice methods can differ, but the experience of love and compassion is essentially the same. That we can now have an open discussion about this topic is quite a breakthrough. We are all beginning to see each other as human beings with the same innate goodness, which doesn’t recognize differences as solid and permanent.

There was a lot of openness and love in the air this morning at the meditation group. As usual, I left everyone with a tender joyful/sad heart full of gratitude.

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