Sally Clough Armstrong began practicing vipassana meditation in India in 1981. She moved to the Bay Area in 1988, and worked at Spirit Rock until 1994 in a number of roles, including executive director. She began teaching in 1996, and is one of the guiding teachers of Spirit Rock's Dedicated Practitioner Program.
Sally has always been inspired by the depth and the breadth of the Buddha’s teaching, as presented in the suttas of the Pali Canon, because the truth and power of the Buddha’s words still speak to us today. Her intention in teaching is to make these ancient texts and practices accessible and relevant to all levels of practitioner, from the very new to the dedicated meditator.
The Buddha considered Dependent Origination to be his most profound insight. This teaching shows us how we get caught in the cycle of suffering, and how it is possible to free ourselves. When we’re not aware of this process, we are blinded by our ignorance and get caught in craving again and again. We create different identities that we cling to, and that limit our ability to be free in the moment. When we’re aware of this process, we can make wiser choices about how to respond, and perhaps even break the cycles of becoming altogether. This talk gives a brief overview of the 12 links of Dependent Origination, and then describes how it works on a practical, moment-to-moment basis in our lives.
The way we experience ourselves and the world is highly conditioned by our perceptions , known as sañña in the Buddhist teachings. Through the process of perception we judge and filter our experience, preventing us from seeing things as they really are. The practice of mindfulness offers the possibility of working directly with our perceptions, and even inclining the mind towards more skillful and pleasant ways of experiencing ourselves and the world.
Though the teachings on dukkha (suffering) are an important part of the Buddhist path, a skillful relationship to sukha (pleasure) actually played a significant part in the Buddha's awakening. This talk explores the wise use of pleasure and the cultivation of beautiful qualities of mind, especially in concentration practice.
The practice of Mudita or Appreciative Joy cultivates an open and joyful heart that naturally inclines towards connecting with what is uplifting and beautiful in others and in our own lives. It works to counteract the subtle or not-so-subtle tendency towards envy, which tells us that we are deficient in some way.
Many of the Buddha's teachings are counter intuitive - we sit still to find freedom, we let go to receive. Opening to suffering and working skillfully with the kilesas - greed, aversion and delusion - actually bring us greater freedom and happiness. This talk is on the beautiful qualities called the Paramis that directly counter the force of the kilesas.
The distortion of delusion operates in many ways, including when we are disconnected from our direct experience, or only allow in information that doesn't challenge our deluded state of mind. Learning how to recognize when delusion is distorting our experience allows us to wake up out of its spell and discover clarity and peacefulness.
Many of us have internalized the message that we are not ok. To begin to be free of this distorted view, we need to understand how it became formed and why it no longer serves us. It is important to bring humor and kindness to this practice.
Because we don't understand what brings us true happiness, we often find ourselves trying to control or resist our experience, in a futile attempt to find relief. Seeing more clearly and working skillfully with our difficulties brings us true peace and calm.
The world spins around the alternating pairs of gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, and happiness and unhappiness. When we bring them into our awareness, we see how much of our time and energy is spent trying to create and hold on to the positive ones, and avoid or get rid of the negative ones. If we see with wisdom, we realize that these conditions are always operating no matter what we do, and that the skillful way to respond to them is to come to a clearer understanding of what actually brings us true happiness and a sense of well-being, and to cultivate that, rather than chase after gain, praise, fame, and superficial happiness.
In the teaching on Transcendent Dependent Origination, the Buddha gives us a map for our spiritual journey, beginning with the common human condition of suffering, which, when opened to with wisdom, leads to faith and many other beautiful qualities. These qualities support the deepening that leads to liberation.