2015 Thanksgiving Monastic Retreat – Mindfulness of Feeling
Ajahn Pasanno, Ajahn Karuṇadhammo, Ajahn Ñāṇiko and Debbie Stamp
Thanksgiving Retreat, Nov. 20, 2015 to Nov. 29, 2015
Angela Center in Santa Rosa, California
8 sessions, 127 excerpts, 8:36:12 total duration

A classic ten-day Thanksgiving Retreat held at the Angela Center before it closed due to fire damage.

External website
Sessions:    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8
Session 1 – Ajahn Pasanno – Nov. 21, 2015 Download audio (52:52)

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1. [1:09] “Equanimity. ...your thoughts?” [Equanimity]

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2. [6:16] “Please explain wise action. How can one see that it is not influenced by craving?” [Discernment] [Craving]

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3. [9:49] “This morning you talked about crossing the floods of obsessive thought by not holding on to or pushing them away. I get that, but it feels like there's something missing – a hole that needs to be filled up with something – a solution?” [Proliferation] [Becoming]

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4. [12:27] “What should we do during eating? How to eat with meditation?” [Food]

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5. [15:36] “Could you please repeat the name of the sutta you mentioned this morning that laid out the “whole spiritual path” in a conversation with the devas?”

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6. [16:29] “What is the difference between piti and sukha? Also equanimity and emptiness as a felt sense?” [Rapture] [Happiness] [Equanimity] [Emptiness]

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7. [22:02] “I volunteer in hospice and was in attendance for the passing of my parents. I notice vast differences in the way people experience their passage. What can we do, while still alive, to prepare for a peaceful and “wakeful” passing? Other than “being present,” is there anything that can be of benefit to others?” [Death] [Grief]

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8. [34:01] “Would you tell us again the name of the sutta you spoke of last night and in today's Dhamma talk?”

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9. [34:44] “What is the best approach to deal with guilt?” [Guilt/shame/inadequacy]

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10. [43:00] “For those of us who need to routinely rest more due to aging, illness, or disability, could you share some suggestions and advice for how to optimize ths time as mediation in a lying down posture?” [Posture/Lying down]

Session 2 – Ajahn Pasanno – Nov. 22, 2015 Download audio (40:38)

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1. [0:06] “What are the general similarities and differences between the practice of anapanasati and satipatthana? Are they the same practice?” [Right Mindfulness] [Mindfulness of breathing]

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2. [2:46] “Praise for the question and answer session. Every question is important; can you answer them all?”

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3. [6:16] “Can you say something about forgiveness practice?” [Forgiveness]

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4. [12:36] “What do you recommend for pet owners with aging, sick pets? Do they get to live out their lives or is a merciful end at the hands of a vet OK?” [Animal] [Euthanasia]

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5. [14:23] “Could you share some suggestions and advice for using the breath-body as an object of meditation? This seems like a skillful way of meditating when the gross physical body is experiencing a lot of pain. Is there any drawback to that?” [Mindfulness of breathing] [Pain]

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6. [20:32] “Can you address dependent origination and causation?” [Dependent origination] [Conditionality]

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7. [24:42] “Can you tell us your story of when you decided to become a monk?” [Ajahn Pasanno] [Monastic life/Motivation]

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8. [33:18] “Is it important in this practice to ask for forgiveness for intentional/non-intentional actions both in this life and in past lives?” [Forgiveness] [Rebirth]

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9. [36:00] “Do you have any suggestions for the position of the hands during standing meditation?” [Posture/Standing]

Session 3 – Ajahn Pasanno – Nov. 23, 2015 Download audio (1:05:48)

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1. [0:22] “As inspiration for the rest of us, would you please talk about some of your milestone insights over your years of practice and what kept you going over the years, especially when you hit roadblocks?” [Ajahn Pasanno] [Monastic life/Motivation] [Long-term practice]

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2. [6:27] “Inclining mind toward happiness, joy, lightness, exhilaration, the good, sometimes feels a bit Polyanna-ish. What about all the wars, refugees, my job, illness, pain, etc. Aren't these also the way things are – unpleasant, dark, and negative?” [Gladdening the mind] [Suffering]

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3. [11:03] “You spoke of using the body as reference, backdrop for the breath. Always coming back to the body. Doesn't this foster a sense of attachment to the body as mine? And what if the body is not in good shape, ill, and hurting?” [Mindfulness of body] [Mindfulness of breathing] [Clinging] [Sickness]

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4. [13:22] “I am doing well when sitting or walking – my container of mindfulness is filling. However, it seems to be leaking during every other activity. Walking to the meal, in my room, going to the bathroom, eating. Help! I seem to be defeating my own efforts.” [Continuity of mindfulness]

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5. [18:50] “How can we apply the law of cause and effect in daily life? How can we apply this law to such a simple thing to remove suffering?” [Kamma] [Cessation of Suffering]

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6. [21:02] “Would you remind us what “the four pairs, the eight kinds of noble beings” means and perhaps in a nutshell what is the English translation of the meal blessing?” [Stages of awakening]

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7. [25:53] “Could you offer a bit of advice on how to deal with the apparent dichotomy between seeing people (including myself) as real & solid (for example when sending them metta), and the doctrine of no-self whereby there is no such imagined solidity at all – just an ever-changing combination of the khandas?” [Not-self]

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8. [30:44] “What if a short breath never comes? Am I stuck on the long breath or can I create a short breath and move on? Are the steps to anapanasati sequential, and do I observe them, cultivate them, or both?” [Mindfulness of breathing]

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9. [35:54] “How does one avoid controlling the breath when observing it?” [Mindfulness of breathing]

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10. [38:39] “In addition to being aware of our body, is it acceptable to use visual imagery? For example, seeing oneself standing by the ocean breathing in air created by the waves.” [Visualization]

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11. [42:29] “Could you describe the meaning of abide, pervading, and imbued in the phrase “I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with lovingkindness?”” [Goodwill]

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12. [46:46] “Does the breath body exist as an object of mind? As the Buddha mentions it so specifically, I would be grateful for more clarification on the “breath body.”” [Mindfulness of breathing]

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13. [51:02] “I notice that the calmer my mind becomes, the more imperceptible my breath is – to the point of feeling a suspension of breathing and at times a complete cessation. This sometimes seems to lead to sleepiness and torpor. How can I bring my mind back to a state of focus without manipulating my breath?” [Mindfulness of breathing] [Sloth and torpor]

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14. [56:05] “When negative feelings arise, whether they be fear, anxiety, loneliness, etc., how do we investigate them? Does breathing into these feelings and being fully present (without trying to push them away) help to become aware of the true cause of these feelings? Is the cause of these feelings always craving of some kind?” [Emotion] [Mindfulness of breathing] [Cause of Suffering] [Craving]

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15. [60:30] “In a Dhamma talk at Abhayagiri, you quoted Luang Por Chah as saying “Nibbana lies on the shores of death.” Could you say more about this?” [Nibbāna] [Death] [Ajahn Chah]

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16. [63:45] “How are you satisfied and/or dissatisfied with students?” [Teaching Dhamma]

Session 4 – Ajahn Pasanno – Nov. 24, 2015 Download audio (1:14:52)

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1. [0:07] “What are the consequences of breaking a precept?” [Precepts]

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2. [8:51] “Some meditators associate “peak experiences” with spiritual progress. What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?” [Long-term practice]

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3. [10:33] “Of the four elements, please explain wind element.” [Elements]

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4. [13:28] ““Luminous is the mind.” Is the luminous mind conditioned or unconditioned? If unconditioned, then it's Nirvana. If conditioned/impermanent, then Nirvana is beyond the mind? Yet it can be known by the mind?” [Nature of mind] [Unconditioned] [Nibbāna]

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5. [15:02] “Did you say the defilements are advantageous? (The questioner misheard “adventitious.”)” [Unwholesome Roots]

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6. [15:45] “Do any of you who reside at the monastery vote in local or national elections? I also wonder if you get involved in public discussions on local policies as they pertain to or potentially affect the monastery?” [Monastic life] [Politics and society]

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7. [18:43] “Persistent physical pain. Not chronic, just from sitting. How do I work skillfully with it? Right now the meditations feel swamped with it?” [Pain] [Meditation/General advice]

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8. [21:52] “Could you talk about how to manage doubt when it arises?” [Doubt]

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9. [24:07] “Do monks on retreat feel as much pain as we do? Is pain sankharas?” [Pain] [Volitional formations]

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10. [26:17] “Can you repeat the aspect of sankharas other than mental volitional energy?” [Volitional formations]

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11. [27:56] “Is it better to stick to one mode of breath meditation (visualizations, a mantra, etc.) for a while during the course of a 30-45 minute sit rather than jumping around to various modes?” [Meditation/General advice] [Mindfulness of breathing]

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12. [31:28] “If the list of the five khandas is intended to be linear, why is sense-consciousness the final one?” [Aggregates] [Consciousness]

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13. [34:19] “What is the difference between a fetter and a hindrance?” [Fetters] [Hindrances]

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14. [39:49] “One of the books I have read suggests to practice the last moment of life every night. What would you suggest for practicing marananussati?” [Recollection/Death]

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15. [42:45] “There is a mean streak in my family, a tendency to be dishonest and manipulative. I can see how it has been passed down over generations. I have worked hard to overcome these habits in myself. At this stage of life my familiar relationships are mostly positive and harmonious, but I still sometimes run across their manipulation or dishonesty. I would like to discuss or address it within my family, but there is no apperent recouse or means of addressing the situation. Any questions?” [Family] [False speech]

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16. [48:38] “Sitting with the Sangha, I am learning how to feel joy.” [Gratitude] [Happiness]

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17. [48:47] “Please say more about what a monastic retreat offers compared to an “ordinary” retreat. What are the differences?” [Monastic life] [Meditation retreats]

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18. [53:53] “If mind and consciousness are impermanent, what/who is aware? Also, who/what is it that experiences the results of karma, especially after the body dies and perhaps is reborn?” [Kamma] [Rebirth] [Impermanence] [Nature of mind]

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19. [56:02] “Can you please explain mindfulness or awareness of consciousness? I can understand consciousness arising as a result of stimuli entering the sense doors, but how does one become aware of consciousness itself? Or is this the right question about consciousness?” [Mindfulness of mind] [Consciousness] [Nature of mind]

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20. [58:19] “Last night you spoke about balancing tranquility of mind with investigation or a theme for contemplation. Can you clarify how this can be accomplished without getting into the usual mind states of planning, associating, etc.?” [Tranquility] [Investigation of states] [Recollection]

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21. [65:09] “Can you say something about the difference between “the mind” and the brain?” [Nature of mind]

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22. [67:30] “Is there a distinction between observing the mind and observing what arises?” [Mindfulness of mind] [Impermanence]

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23. [69:51] “It seems that nimittas can appear before the mind is fully settled in concentration. Is it useful to understand what that is happening? Should one ignore the nimitta until concentration is firmly established? Or is there some other response or skillful way to work with the nimitta while establishing samadhi?” [Nimitta] [Concentration]

Session 5 – Ajahn Pasanno – Nov. 25, 2015 Download audio (1:09:43)

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1. [0:01] “Please explain more how did the Buddha cross the flood, by neither going forward nor standing still. What does this mean?” [Becoming] [Cessation of Suffering]

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2. [2:15] “How could you accomplish studying Buddhism in Thailand with Luang Por Chah? How did Luang Por Chah teach you as a you were a foreigner new monk? How did you cope with the language issue?” [Ajahn Pasanno] [Ajahn Chah] [Monastic life] [Language]

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3. [9:32] “You often talk about gladdening and lightening the mind. How do I do that?” [Gladdening the mind]

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4. [14:01] “Could you speak a little about the structure of the Pali Canon? How much was written down in the Buddha's time?” [History/Early Buddhism]

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5. [21:55] “Could you talk about woman’s ordination (nuns) during the Buddha's time and in modern times?” [Women's monastic forms] [History/Early Buddhism]

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6. [26:40] “Could you talk about the role memory plays in perception?” [Memory] [Perception]

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7. [29:16] “I'm concerned about Alzheimer's disease and getting stuck between life and death, loosing all I've learned about mindfulness practice and all my dignity. Where is the silver lining in this life's challenge?” [Death] [Sickness] [Ageing]

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8. [33:00] “Please explain the hierarchy of devas, gods, etc. in relation to the Buddha. How is it that a mortal being can be more evolved or enlightened than gods? Do gods and devas create karma? Are they born again as gods or devas or humans?” [Deva] [Buddha]

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9. [38:07] “If a lay person wants to follow the seventh precept in daily life, refraining from entertainment seems fairly straightforward. Would you please explain more specifically refraining from “beautification and adornment?” Does owning artwork fall anywhere into precept seven?” [Entertainment and adornment]

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10. [41:58] “Appreciation for becoming aware of consciousness as a nutriment.” [Consciousness] [Nutriment]

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11. [43:59] “Please demonstrate how to bow. Are there any cultural differences?” [Bowing]

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12. [51:42] “As I've been pondering about consciousness as nutriment, which pointed me to the self. I am wondering, is the self attachment? But attachment is not permanent either. So could we say the self can be either attachment and/or non-attachment, the owner or non-owner? Not trying to find self, rather understanding self? Perhaps pure self as opposed to impure self? Please comment.” [Consciousness] [Nutriment] [Not-self] [Clinging]

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13. [55:23] “I was a little confused this morning about the nutriments. I'm assuming the nutriments nourish our suffering. What are the nutriments? How would consciousness and mental volition differ in feeding dukkha?” [Nutriment] [Consciousness] [Volition] [Suffering]

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14. [60:14] “Would you share one of Pooh's many nuggets of wisdom to inspire?” [Winnie-the-Pooh]

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15. [62:06] “Can you clarify the difference between desire and intention? It seems that either could lead to suffering due to attachments to the results. Yet we are encouraged to have intentions for well-being, health, happiness, etc. Isn't our intention also a desire?” [Desire] [Volition] [Clinging]

Session 6 – Ajahn Pasanno – Nov. 26, 2015 Download audio (1:07:12)

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1. [0:00] “In working with the Four Noble Truths, to understand suffering, does the Buddha mean knowing for instance the pain in your heart, the stress around your eyes, or does he also mean to see with insight its karmic effect on yourself and others?” [Four Noble Truths] [Noble Truth of Suffering] [Kamma]

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2. [3:29] “To abandon the cause, does it mean in that moment or completely?” [Cause of Suffering]

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3. [4:46] “All the stories you told us this morning made me realize the fact that what we are seeking is just right here in our mind. What do you think?” [Nature of mind]

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4. [8:38] “Could you talk more about the two levels of understanding the true nature of karma: mundane and transcendent?” [Kamma]

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5. [12:49] “Competitiveness feels so pervasive here in America. What are your thoughts for working with it or healing it?” [Competitiveness] [Culture/West]

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6. [20:26] “Could you describe the progression of anagarika and samanera training?” [Sequence of training]

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7. [26:04] “The Middle Way – It is not 50% becoming and 50% annihilation, right? What is it the middle of?” [Middle Path]

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8. [26:34] “Toward the end of this morning sitting meditation, my body started shaking from left to right for about a minute or so. While this was happening, I was observing it without getting panicked or trying to stop it and then it stopped shaking. How do you explain this experience?” [Meditation/Unusual experiences]

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9. [28:29] “In this afternoon's talk, Ajahn Karunadhammo mentioned the benefits of the bhava that results from practice or the Eightfold Path. Could you elaborate on this?” [Eightfold Path] [Becoming]

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10. [35:50] “Did the Buddha perform any miracles?” [Psychic powers] [Buddha]

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11. [36:57] “Can the monastics speak about the skillful use of caffeine for their practice?” [Medicinal requisites]

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12. [40:05] “Can you please explain the asavas?” [Outflows]

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13. [43:57] “Please speak a little about kataññu.” [Gratitude]

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14. [50:41] “How can I continue to deepen my practice in the absence of a living teacher?” [Long-term practice] [Teachers]

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15. [55:40] “Is it useful to investigate how we can only experience one conscious moment at a time?” [Consciousness] [Investigation of states]

Session 7 – Ajahn Pasanno – Nov. 27, 2015 Download audio (58:37)

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1. [0:12] “I was just reading a talk of Ajahn Chah's. He mentions “vipassanu.” Could you explain this more?” [Ajahn Chah] [Insight meditation]

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2. [1:00] “An Ajahn visiting Abhayagiri spoke of you receiving an honor. Would you elaborate on what it was, who bestows it, and what it means for you and the community?” [Monastic titles] [Ajahn Pasanno] [Abhayagiri]

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3. [7:40] “Could you talk a bit about the kilesas? How to work with them skillfully without falling into discouragement and self-judgment?” [Unwholesome Roots]

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4. [13:29] “Can you repeat the Thai words for “Is it worth it?” that you mentioned this morning? I'd like to use it as a mantra.” [Thai]

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5. [14:08] “Are there any suttas in the Majjhima Nikaya that you recommend that lay people study?” [Sutta]

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6. [15:10] “Can you give me some ideas for antidotes to restlessness?” [Restlessness and worry]

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7. [22:23] “Why is the Buddha referred to in the present tense in the chants? Is it because we are referring to the present potential within us?” [Buddha] [Chanting]

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8. [24:27] “When bowing three times, do you say something in your mind like taking refuge or anything else?” [Bowing] [Three Refuges]

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9. [27:42] “Can you say more about trusting the seeds of meditation practice after Alzheimer's/dementia kick in? What do you mean by going beyond liberation or consciousness? What do you mean by “many deeper layers” are affected by the practice and the fruits of it will express naturally?” [Sickness] [Consciousness] [Long-term practice]

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10. [37:35] “After forty years of meditating, what do you still find that is interesting?” [Long-term practice]

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11. [39:40] “I am so grateful for the peace I am developing in my life. It feels like a refuge. Is it the fourth refuge?” [Three Refuges]

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12. [44:12] “Several months ago, I started to use the phrase: “I'd rather be loved than right.” This small shift has had a tremendous impact in my life as I relinquish my need to be right, to control and to assert my ego into things.” [Relinquishment] [Views]

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13. [48:39] “How important is chanting for one's practice? Do you have any tips for how to recite/remember the Pali chants?” [Chanting] [Memory]

Session 8 – Ajahn Pasanno – Nov. 28, 2015 Download audio (1:28:37)

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1. [0:10] “I'm having a hard time with alcohol (not here!). Not heavy or even daily use; a glass of wine with dinner a few nights a week or at social events. I would like to stop but have a hard time sustaining for more than a month or so. Any words of encouragement?” [Intoxicants]

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2. [3:02] “When you spent time with family, did you notice any old habits resurfacing?” [Ajahn Pasanno] [Family] [Habits]

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3. [5:15] “Can you please speak about faith? How to develop it? How to maintain it through the ups and downs of practice? How have you maintained your faith over forty years of practice?” [Faith] [Long-term practice] [Ajahn Pasanno]

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4. [9:42] “I was wondering if the merit we have done for meditation practice can be dedicated to the people (dead or alive) we pray for? How do we know it? Also, I have heard that the merit from practicing meditation will accumulate and stay with ones who have practiced that, which also carries over throughout the life or the subsequent incarnations. Can you clarify this?” [Merit] [Rebirth]

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5. [21:12] “I understand that there is a council of Theravada elders who are a “decision making panel” guiding the tradition. Who exactly is part of this council and who or what determines their eligibility? Will the honor being bestowed upon you and Ajahn Amaro next month make you eligible? Are there other monks in modern times who have received this honor?” [History/Thai Buddhism] [Saṅgha decision making] [Monastic titles] [Ajahn Pasanno] [Ajahn Amaro]

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6. [26:16] “If I remember correctly, you said with practice what can be realized is not so much the abandonment of the self but the misperception of a self given there has never been a self to be abandoned, correct?” [Not-self]

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7. [30:43] “Can you give a concrete description of how you recollect or contemplate? What's going on in your mind while you do it? What resources or mental formations do you use?” [Recollection]

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8. [34:16] “What chants would you recommend as suitable to use for patients who may be in hospice or close to death? Can Buddhist monks give last rites?” [Death] [Chanting]

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9. [45:30] “The Buddha said that vedana is either pleasant, unpleasant, or neither. Contemplating papañca, I noticed that it felt comfortable – familiar and unthreatening. Would a better way to “neither pleasant nor unpleasant” be “comfortable” rather than “neutral?”” [Feeling] [Proliferation] [Neutral feeling]

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10. [48:19] “Can you tell us what you find interesting about the breath? What insights have arisen for you from watching the breath?” [Mindfulness of breathing] [Insight meditation]

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11. [49:35] “Do you have any tips for embodying the Dhamma in business situations when negotiating with aggressive individuals? I tend to walk away at a certain point, but am wondering if there's another way to turn it around, make it better for everyone?” [Work] [Right Speech]

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12. [51:57] “Have you ever put a publication together on the retreat questions? Are the talks of this retreat being recorded?” [Teaching Dhamma] [Meditation retreats] [Questions]

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13. [54:55] “For decades, I believed the suffering was the food itself–that cake, that pastry, more food, another bowlful. But now I understand dukkha is not “the thing.” It is the overwhelming craving, the feeling itself. And now that the dukkha is understood, how do I tolerate that feeling?” [Food] [Suffering] [Craving] [Noble Truth of Suffering] [Patience]

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14. [55:53] “Is it possible to meditate on forgiveness for someone who died many years ago? Does forgiveness reach that person on some level, or is it more a matter of showing compssion towards myself?” [Forgiveness] [Compassion]

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15. [57:25] “Could you explain what your ordination names mean and how they were chosen?” [Monastic titles]

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16. [59:08] “How does the process work to get a title as you do? Is this title only for monks? Will you be the only one in the USA?” [Monastic titles] [Ajahn Pasanno]

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17. [60:53] “I understand that our genetic disposition can't be changed, but epigenetics say that their expression can be modified by changing lifestyle. In a similar way, our kamma is given but understanding but your teachings say the expression and effects can be changed by practice. Please comment.” [Science] [Health] [Kamma]

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18. [62:59] “Could you speak about Buddhist involvement in social change movements?” [Politics and society] [Activism]

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19. [70:01] “Who are the most senior monks in the Thai Forest Tradition? Can you speak about the lineage? Are there Thai teachers of your seniority who come to the West?” [Thai Forest Tradition]

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20. [76:28] “I have attended many deaths and that last breath appears to be really difficult to relinquish. Does this training really help?” [Death] [Relinquishment] [Long-term practice]

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21. [77:21] “In the Anapanasati Sutta, what is meant by “breathing in/out tranquilizing the mental formation?”” [Mindfulness of breathing] [Volitional formations]

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22. [78:23] “Can you recommend a reflection or phrase to use immediately upon awakening in the morning or the last thing before sleep?” [Recollection]

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23. [79:56] “I'm curious about the ceremony to bestow the honorific title. What does it entail? What is the new title? Does it change the appropriate way for us to address or refer to you?” [Monastic titles] [Ajahn Pasanno]

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24. [82:55] “If one were to choose a life partner who was not practicing the Dhamma as we know it but had some spiritual lightness about them, what are some qualities we should look for in them that would make them a good partner?” [Relationships]

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25. [86:25] “Do you think it's possible to experience Nibbana before becoming fully awakened - “moments of enlightenment?” But if Nibbana is beyond consciousness, would you remember that it happened?” [Nibbāna] [Stages of awakening] [Consciousness]

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26. [87:48] “Is there a way to measure concentration, mindfulness, and awareness?” [Right Mindfulness] [Right Concentration] [Present moment awareness]