Listening to the Heart – A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism

Husband and wife Kittisaro and Thanissara take turns coauthoring chapters in this deeply personal dharma book exploring the inner practice of meditation in support of awakening. Within the context of the life of the authors, both monastics in their youth, awakening unfolds as multifacted a process following the archetypal journey of the hero(ine). Traveling from innocence to disillusionment through the devastating fields of trials and despair that lead to depth and maturity and ultimately to inspiration and a blessed life, Listening to the Heart tells the story of two unconventional individuals who have together embraced spirituality as the keystone of their lives.

At the heart of the book, through teachings on the nondual nature of reality, we enter the “intimacy with all things” as revealed in core Buddhist texts. Without ending at the goal of personal freedom, Thanissara and Kittisaro encourage us to go beyond the experience of inner peace to embodying wisdom in acts of service within the world. With a realistic appraisal of our current global crisis in which sustainability is threatened by catastrophic climate change, the authors encourage a preparedness that enables a mindful balance of equanimity and passionate engagement whatever the outcome of our global evolutionary journey.

The guiding refuge for this journey is the Buddha, the historical teacher and—most profoundly-that immediate and direct pure awareness, which we all can access. The book also draws on teachings and stories of Buddhist masters who are fearless, funny, and challenging. Eventually we are led into the Mary-like presence of the goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin who, as a great archetype within Buddhist cosmology, reveals the deepest mystery of our own hearts and our capacity for merciful and compassionate response. As the inner process of awakening unfolds, it transforms seekers and their lives, as modeled by the authors. It both heals the personal self in its journey through its wounds and shadows, and yet at the same time dissolves identification with the self. The book then ends by returning to the simplicity of the authors’ primary teacher, Ajahn Chah, with his encouragement to “Be the Dharma.”

Time to Stand Up – An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto For Our Earth by Thanissara

Time to Stand Up retells the story of the historical Buddha, one of the greatest sacred activists of all time, as a practical human being whose teachings of freedom from suffering are more relevant than ever in this time of global peril. Evolving onward from the patriarchal template of spiritual warriors and their quests, former nun Thanissara explores awakening from within a feminine view where the archetypes of lover and nurturer are placed as central and essential for a sustainable world.

Vital is an investigation into the pinnacle of Buddhist practice, the realization of the “liberated heart.” Thanissara questions the narrative of “transcendence” and invites us into the lived reality of our deepest heart as it guides our journey of healing, reclamation, and redemption. As the book unfolds, the author examines traditional Buddhism–often fraught with gender discrimination–and asks the important question, “Can Buddhist schools, overly attached to hierarchal power structures, and often divorced from the radical and free inquiry exemplified by the Buddha, truly offer the ground for maturing awakening without undertaking a fundamental review of their own shadows?”

Chapter by chapter, the book relates Siddhartha Gautama’s awakening to the sea-change occurring on Earth in present time as we as a civilization become aware of the ethical bankruptcy of the nuclear and fossil fuel industry and the psychopathic corporate and military abuse of power currently terrorizing our planet. Thanissara relates the Buddha’s story to real-life individuals who are living through these transitional times, such as Iraq war veterans, First Nation People, and the Dalai Lama. Time to Stand Up gives examples of the Buddha’s activism, such as challenging a racist caste system and violence against animals, stopping war, transforming a serial killer, and laying down a nonhierarchical structure of community governance, actions that would seem radical even today.

Thanissara explores ways forward, deepening our understanding of meditation and mindfulness, probing its use to pacify ourselves as the cogs in the corporate world by helping people be more functional in a dysfunctional systems–and shows how these core Buddhist practices can inspire a wake-up call for action for our sick and suffering planet Earth.

The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra by Thanissara

This poem weaves together contrasting themes; that of our deepest heart, which feels the intimacy of all things, and the walls the mind constructs, which separates all things. This paradox is contextualized by the Heart Sutra with its revelation of a seamless world, and the Bitter Almond Hedge, planted around Cape Town by early European Settlers in their attempt to keep Africa out. As the hedge became internalized, eventually birthing Apartheid, it inflicted a devastating wound against human sensitivity, empathy and justice. This denial of our profound interconnectedness is now moving to its horrific conclusion in the Global Apartheid of a macro Petro-Empire which rages against the Earth and her magnificent and bounteous species.

Throughout the poem we hear the haunting voice of the 1st Nation San as their decimated spirits roam landscapes, left lonely, without the great herds of wildlife. As we glimpse the majestic beauty of these ancient lands, we are encouraged to reclaim our wounded souls and hearts. We are also implored to resist the march of ecocide, before it is too late. While this poem reaches back into the mists of time, it also offers vision and hope for our perilous age. Ultimately, it is a rallying call for a revolution that places Heart and Earth foremost, and central, so a more conscious world can be fully birthed.

Heart Caravan – by Thanissara, Mel Zeki, Ravi Cintakavi

This CD, available on CD Baby draws from the tradition of recitation of Pali texts which has continued for over 2,500 years. Pali is the language of early Buddhism. Heart Caravan includes the Metta Sutta, renowned teaching of the Buddha on love and compassion; the Avalokitesvara Dharani which is one of the most ancient Sanskrit mantras better known as the “Great Compassion Mantra” of China, Korea and Japan; the Eight Verses of a Transformed Mind which dates back to over 1,000 years to Tibet, and the Medicine Buddha mantra which is for alleviating suffering, stress, difficult energy and sickness, while the mantras dedicated to Tara evoke merciful response with the world.

Heart Caravan is a rare gem. The mantras transform mind and heart leading to realization of our true peaceful and timeless nature. It transports to a redemptive sphere and carries a healing energy from the ancient lineage of those dedicating their lives to Awakening and compassionate service. A must have for anyone who is serious about meditation.

Text for Heart Caravan is available here

Empty Hands – by Sister Abegail Ntleko Empty Hands is the inspiring memoir of Zulu nurse and healthcare activist Sister Abegail Ntleko. Growing up poor in a rural village with a father who didn’t believe in educating girls, against seemingly insurmountable odds Sister Abegail earned her nursing degree and began work as a community nurse and educator, dedicating her life to those in need. “Her story tells us,” says Desmond Tutu, who wrote the foreword to the book, “what a single person can accomplish when heart and mind work together in the service of others.”

Overcoming poverty and racism within the apartheid South African system, she adopted her first child at a time when it was unheard of to do so. And then she did it again and again. In forty years she has taken in and cared for hundreds of children who had nothing, saving babies—many of them orphans whose parents died of AIDS—from hospitals that were ready to give up on them and let them die.

Empty Hands describes the harshness of Ntleko’s circumstances with wit and wisdom in direct, beautifully understated prose and will appeal not only to activists and aid workers, but to anyone who believes in the power of the human spirit to rise above suffering and find peace, joy, and purpose.

“Ntleko’s story, which she tells in simple language, is inspiring and moving. She neither dwells in nor dramatizes the hardships she has faced, preferring instead to focus on ‘fill[ing] her hands with love and then spend[ing] all that love until [her] hands are empty again.’ A brief, genuine, heartfelt memoir of an awe-inspiring life.”