In Dharma Contemplation, we immerse ourselves in a short excerpt of text and allow it to transform us. First we hear the text, then read it repeatedly so that it comes to saturate our minds. Layer after layer, we deepen our experience of the teachings.
Silence. The practice begins with silence, calming the mind and helping us to be fully present to experience, to the words of the text, and to each other.
Words.After a period of silent practice, one participant reads the text aloud; after a pause, another reads the same text. Then we keep the printed text before us, gently reading and rereading, ruminating. Words and phrases find a home in memory. When the resonance of individual words and phrases is strong, we speak them into the silence. We speak just the words and phrases of the text, without commentary. The silence is lightly patterned, dotted with the words and phrases that touch us.
Felt Responses. From the beginning, the mind has been responding to the text with images and sensations. In the Felt Responses phase, we attend to these powerful currents. Where in the body does a word resonate? What is our felt response to a teaching that challenges our comfort or values? What inspires us, and what does inspiration feel like? We attune to resonances in the body that have been evoked by the text. We notice mental images that arise. We attend to shifts in mood and mind state, open and vulnerable to how this teaching vibrates the heart. When a feeling or image endures or has poignancy, we may speak it aloud to the group. We listen mindfully as others speak the felt responses they notice.
Meaning.Now we begin to explore the meaning of the text. We question things we do not understand, out loud or internally. Are we missing technical meanings? Could something in the excerpt’s structure unlock new understanding? What is the cultural basis of an image or concept? The mind is on the lookout for its limiting assumptions, open to multiple interpretations of the text, sensitive to nuance. Unabashed and energetic application of the intellect coexists with a commitment to calm concentration. Silence surrounds and supports our inquiry.
Essence. The inquiry into meaning shifts into a deeper mode in this phase. We listen beneath the words of the text for its principles or truths, its underlying message. Mindful and concentrated, our contemplation at the threshold between words and the wordless makes it possible to see directly what we have understood with the intellect.
Although this phase may be the quietest in Dharma Contemplation, it is still a relational practice. Insights are voiced and listened to. The shared commitment to this inquiry and the specific formulations of insight voiced together support each one’s practice.
Dialogue. The text has entered our minds through the doors of hearing and sight, intellect and emotion. Now we stop reading and contemplate how its teaching touches life as we actually live it. In this very moment of practice, what is revealed about the human experience, and about our specific experience? We turn from the text to experience in the moment. With mindfulness and tranquility, we open to thoughts and feelings as they arise.
We speak the truth of this moment; we give full attention to listening deeply to the words and silences of others. What light is shed on my life? Where am I, now that I have been touched by this text? Beyond all postures, beyond even inquiry, we attend to what is true in this moment, to wisdom.
Closing Silence. The heart-mind rests in silence. Whatever has been stirred is released. Diligent practice and the text’s message have conditioned this moment. Silence invites us into stillness. There are no questions now, no seeking. The fruits of our contemplation settle as they may, ready to rise up when evoked by life’s conditions.