Sharon Salzberg on Faith, Meditation and Cultivating an Ethical Life (#24)

Photo by Fabio Filippi

Photo by Fabio Filippi

In this episode, I was honored to have the opportunity to interview Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, who offered incredible practical tools to begin living ethically and mindfully. We also discussed the role of faith in our practice, different forms of meditation, and the perceived difference between Theravada and Mahayana forms of Buddhism. We closed this insightful interview with Sharon offering a short meditation. 

ABOUT SHARON'S LIFE

Born in New York City in 1952, Sharon Salzberg experienced a childhood involving considerable loss and turmoil. An early realization of the power of meditation to overcome personal suffering determined her life direction. Her teaching and writing now communicates that power to a worldwide audience of practitioners. She offers non-sectarian retreat and study opportunities for participants from widely diverse backgrounds.

Sharon first encountered Buddhism in 1969, in an Asian philosophy course at the State University of New York, Buffalo. The course sparked an interest that, in 1970, took her to India, for an independent study program. Sharon traveled motivated by “an intuition that the methods of meditation would bring me some clarity and peace.” In 1971, in Bodh Gaya, India, Sharon attended her first intensive meditation course. She spent the next years engaged in intensive study with highly respected meditation teachers. She returned to America in 1974 and began teaching vipassana (insight) meditation. In 1976, she established, together with Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, which now ranks as one of the most prominent and active meditation centers in the Western world. Sharon and Joseph Goldstein expanded their vision in 1989 by co-founding the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS). In 1998, they initiated the Forest Refuge, a long-term retreat center secluded in a wooded area on IMS property. 

Today she leads teaches a variety of offerings around the globe. Sharon resides in Barre, Massachusetts, and New York City. Sharon has also emerged as a featured speaker and teacher at a wide variety of events. She served as a panelist with the Dalai Lama and leading scientists at the 2005 Mind and Life Investigating the Mind Conference in Washington, DC. She also coordinated the meditation faculty for the 2005 Mind and Life Summer Institute, an intensive five-day meeting to advance research on the intersection of meditation and the cognitive and behavioral sciences. At the 2005 Sacred Circles Conference at the Washington National Cathedral, Sharon served as a keynote speaker. She has addressed audiences at the State of the World Forum, the Peacemakers Conference (sharing a plenary panel with Nobel Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Jose Ramos Horta) and has delivered keynotes at Tricycle’s Buddhism in America Conference, as well as Yoga Journal, Kripalu and Omega conferences. She was selected to attend the Gethsemani encounter, a dialogue on spiritual life between Buddhist and Christian leaders that included His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The written word is central to Sharon Salzberg’s teaching and studies. She is the author of nine books including Lovingkindness, the NY Times best seller Real Happiness, and Real Happiness at Work.

In her early Buddhist studies at the University of Buffalo, she discovered Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s book, Meditation in Action. She later heard him speak at a nearby school:  he was the first practicing Buddhist she encountered. While studying in India, Shunryu Suzuki’s book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind profoundly influenced the direction of her meditation practice. She is a weekly columnist for On Being, a regular contributor the the Huffington Post, and was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine for several years. She has appeared in Time Magazine, Yoga Journal, msnbc.com, Tricycle, Real Simple, Body & Soul, Mirabella, Good Housekeeping, Self, Buddhadharma, More and Shambhala Sun, as well as on a variety of radio programs. Various anthologies on spirituality have featured Sharon Salzberg and her work, including Meetings with Remarkable Women, Gifts of the Spirit, A Complete Guide to Buddhist America, Handbook of the Heart, The Best Guide to Meditation, From the Ashes—A Spiritual Response to the Attack on America, and How to Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism.

(Bio borrowed from SharonSalzberg.com)

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IN THIS EPISODE, WE DISCUSSED...

  • How Sharon found Buddhism during an Eastern philosophy class in college in the 1960s.
  • "The Buddha didn't teach Buddhism. The Buddha taught a way of life." You can practice meditation without a belief system. 
  • The attitude towards ethics in the Buddhist tradition and how it differs from the Judeo-Christian approach to "morality". Sharon sees us as needing to reinterpret the concept of freedom as not something "reckless", but freedom as an adventure in loving kindness, for example. 
  • For those who don't desire to live ethically, how do we cultivate this desire? Sharon prescribes attention. Start paying attention and wisdom and insight will arise. The power of insight is very strong. 
  • The concept of faith in Buddhism is not like a "commodity". It's more like a journey of healthy doubting and questioning. 
  • Thoughts on her book "Real Happiness": happiness being an enduring present resource. 
  • The difference between vipassana (insight) and metta (loving kindness) meditations.
  • The breath is universal, therefore if you are breathing, you can be meditating. So often, the breath is offered first as a tool. The breath is generally neutral. But for those with trauma around the breath, the breath is not neutral. In this case, another object is offered as place to begin. 
  • The difference between Theravada and Mahayana traditions of Buddhism.
  • Sharon offers a meditation at the end of the interview.

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

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CHITHEADS Host, Jacob Kyle

CHITHEADS Host, Jacob Kyle

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