Joseph Goldstein’s “On Dhamma”

When you begin studying Buddhism, it’s easy to get mired in terms and lists. And because your teacher has curriculum to think about, and wants to cover particular sutras on some kind of schedule, the way he’ll do it is plan the lesson, present to the class and take questions. This slows things down considerably. There are always suggestions for practice, but at our temple there’s only so much time–a couple of hours a week, less the time taken for meditation. Then, if you’re lucky, you come across insight meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein’s Abiding in Mindfulness, Vol. 3 ‘On Dhamma’. This is a series of discourses (very well-planned and written out, presented before a congregation) on the teachings of Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutra. Technically, the cd recordings are excellent and Mr. Goldstein’s voice is clear and soft without being soporific.

Things that you’ve encountered before-the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path-these Mr. Goldstein opens up in a very detailed way, and continually draws us back to how they operate in the mind and how they can be instituted in daily life practice. For example, he presents three lectures just on “right view”. There’s no Q.&A. These are forty-five or fifty minute lectures. He uses extensive examples from his own experience and doesn’t lose sight of the ultimate goal of Buddhism: nirvana. This is a college level course in vipassyana meditation. Listening repeatedly and putting the instructions into action can potentially get you going in the right direction and make you a more peaceful person in the process.

Joseph Goldstein is one of several Western teachers of refined understanding bringing the sutras to life for native English speakers.

Quotation: “What is sudden awakening? It is the recognition and direct experience of the mind’s empty, aware nature. This empty aware nature of mind is always and already present. It’s already here. Kensi Rinpoche, the great ZoChen master said ‘Mind has no form, no color and no substance. This is its empty aspect. Yet mind can know things and perceive in an infinite variety of phenomena. This its clear aspect. The inseparability of these two aspects, emptiness and clarity, is the primordial, continuous nature of mind.’ So this is sudden awakening. It’s awakening to the empty, aware nature. But just as in the Theravada tradition, here too there can be subtle attachments of mind that are difficult to see. So we may think we are open, have recognized this empty aware nature but really there is a subtle attachment going on. So it becomes an interesting place to investigate. We can see how states of bliss or clarity or non-thought; we’re sitting in this place (…) and can take that to be the unborn, unconstructed nature of mind (…)There can be subtle identification with awareness itself.We reify awareness in some way; it’s like we make a home of awareness, then have our sense of self settle right in [and say to ourselves] ‘This awareness is me.’Now, different teachers in the Zen and Tibetan traditions also point this out, because the truth is the same. One Tibetan teacher, Tchaichongo Rinpoche, he just had one little teaching that when I read it, it almost  jumped off the page…He said ‘The failure to recognize the true nature of mind occurs because the lucid or aware aspect of mind obscures its empty aspect.'”

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2 Responses to Joseph Goldstein’s “On Dhamma”

  1. Alex Bravo says:

    Are you talking about this 46-part series http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/96/talk/6162/
    It’s great, isn’t it?
    Btw, you probably meant Dzogchen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dzogchen, not ZoChen.

  2. heldenkline says:

    I’m not certain if the 46-part series on the Dharmaseed site is identical with the 4 volume series _On Dhamma_. I’ve only listened to one of the books: “Abiding in Mindfulness” (Vol.3). But you’re undoubtedly right about the name of the Tibetan teacher. I had to write it phonetically since I had no idea how it was spelled. Dzogchen was one of Mr. Goldstein’s most important teachers.

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