Will James

Insight Meditation



"Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is.
In the very here and now, the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom.
We must be diligent today.
To wait until tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly.
How can we bargain with it?
The sage calls a person who knows how to dwell in mindfulness night and day,
'one who knows the better way to live alone."
(Bhaddekaratta Sutta)

flower bowl



ball Not Self 20 Mar 2014
ball Taking refuge in the Triple Gem 30 Sep 2014
ball The Spiritual Life 13 Aug 2015
ball Form, the Formless and the Cessation 26 Jan 2016
ball The Emptiness of all things 15 Nov 2016


ball Imquiry into Truth Bali Retreat 30 May 2016 [40.21]
ball Inquiry into awareness Bali Retreat 1 Jun 2016 [32.29]
ball Dharma Practice North Farm Day of Mindfulness 26 Jun 2016 [33.04]
ball Talk on Meditation North Farm Day of Mindfulness 30 Oct 2016 [40.32]
ball Devotion - the Teaching of the Heart Sangsurya Retreat Jan 2017 [40.38]
ball Insight into Meditation Sangsurya Retreat Jan 2017 [42.08]
ball Dharma Inquiry Sangsurya Retreat Jan 2017 [46.45]
ballThe Truth of the Noble Ones North Farm Day of Mindfulness 26 Feb 2017 [28.49]
ball Anicca (Impermanence) North Farm Day of Mindfulness 25 Jun 2017 [34.40]
ball Dharma Life, Dharma Practice North Farm Day of Mindfulness 27 Aug 2017 [39.26]

Not Self

This teaching of not self or anatta is difficult to understand. It is not as some people think a teaching of no self but the teaching of the emptiness of self. In other words there is no innate separate substance or permanence to the self. This is seeing into the ever-flowing changing phenomenon of self.

This seeing allows for a great freedom to enter our lives, we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously. It allows for more spaciousness and lightness of being.

Life as the Buddha said is uncertain and all things are impermanent (Anicca).
He described life as "like a dew drop on the tip of a leaf on a summer’s morning", and "like a line drawn on water”.

The idea of a fixed self is unnatural due to its rigidity and sense of permanence.  When we understand the impermanent, constructed nature of self then we begin to get a sense of not self (anatta) or a self that is empty of the fascination with I and mine.

In meditation we get a sense of the emptiness and insubstantiality of the self. We can rest in the spaciousness of being, just allowing all phenomena to arise and pass away. 

Also in moments of creativity or in making love or in nature we experience a falling away of the identification with self. This brings us in touch with the immeasurable nature of not self, the natural joy, creative energy, love and compassion.
The self is a captive of time but by not clinging to the idea of self there arises a freedom from any limitation of time, free from any becoming. Awakening and freedom have absolutely nothing to do with becoming.

Letting go of the construction of self opens the doorways of the heart, and with the opening of the heart the duality of self and other begins to dissolve.  We feel a deep connection with life; realizing the interconnection and interdependence of all things.

We then embrace the paradox; on the one hand the miracle of this conventional, conditioned self, this unique being, a one off, never to be repeated in the history of the universe and on the other hand its boundless empty nature, intimately connected to all beings.

"Above, below and everywhere released.
One not observing, "I am this"
Has crossed the flood not crossed before."
Freed with no renewal of being or becoming.”  (Buddha).

So with a letting go of clinging to I and mine comes the possibility to live in a radically different way, to live   free of the past, free of self-obsession and free of living in reaction to life. Then we have the chance to touch that which is not constructed, the immeasurable, timeless nature of this unfolding life. That which the Buddha called the Deathless

"View the world, as empty — the Buddha said,
Always being mindful to drop any view or idea about self.
This way one is above & beyond death."

By not clinging to the construction of self and other, and by seeing into the empty nature of not self the doorway to freedom and true liberation opens.
So may your self be always empty and your heart filled with wonder and mystery.

Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem

The triple gems are the three precious jewels of life: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

Just about every Buddhist tradition includes "taking refuge in the triple gem". This can provide a focus and a momentum to our practice.

"One who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha sees with right understanding the four noble truths" - Buddha

"Buddham saranam gacchami" (I takwe refuge in the Buddha).

We can use the refuge in the Buddha as a reminder of our expansive, immeasurable nature, our onfolding connection with all life.

It is a sense of awakening attention, this taking refuge in the Buddha. The Buddha can remain in our minds as an historical figure or we can see the Buddha as an awakened outlook. We can speculate about the meaning, but in insight mediation practice we see the futility of speculation: we do not need to figure out whether there ever actually was a Buddha. This speculation does not lead to liberation and this is the understanding that can unveil the true Buddha mind.

When we "take refuge in the Buddha" we can undertake it as a ceremony with deep meaning and aspiration. An aspiration to live in a free and open way, or we can just repeat, parrot sashion, each phrase without realising the deep significance of the refuge. We are not taking refuge in any idea, view or belief: we are transcending any personal habit we may have. The point is that taking refuge in the Buddha is a mirror to see the limitations of our own personality.

Taking refuge in the Buddha is a tool to remind us every time we hear the inner critic, the conditioned personality arises. This conditioned personality always results in a contraction of self - a limitation and isolation from the world, as well as brining about a loss of love and joy. With the arising of the identification with the personal, we fall into the subject/object duality and the world of measurement - whereas the Buddha mind exists in the understanding of the world of the immeasurable.

With this clinging to the personal we lose touch with the soft voice, the voice of love and compassion...the soft voice is the Buddha's voice and it is this voice that frees us from reaction to life.

We need to ask the question: "What can I take refuge in - what can I trust to remain steady and unaffected in this uncertain and ever changing world?" Can I trust my personality: the "I" that continually reacts, that takes the dualities of life, praise and blame, gain and loss, success and failure anmd pleasure and pain so personally? This "I" this is constructed out of past experiences, from views and iopinions that we cling to - how can we trust this impermanance and fragile construction?

Ny putting out trust in this "I" we are setting ourselves up for disappointmend and suffering.

We can use the refuge in the Buddha as a practice in our daily life. We can remember to trust in our deepest understanding and let go or loosen our identification with the personal, softening our reaction to life...Whenever reaction arises we can remember the saying "This is not me, this is not who I am, this is not mine".

Dharmmam saranam gacchami” (I take refuge in the Dharma)

In the second gem, the ‘Dharma’ has several meanings. It is the teachings directed towards awakening and liberation. It is the truth of the way life unfolds, the natural truth, the undistorted perception. And it is the way of living in accordance with this natural truth.

The Dharma teachings are a tool for liberation. They are not the ultimate truth but point to that which cannot be conceptualized - therefore these teachings should not be clung to.

We can however verify the teachings for ourselves through the observation of our own experience. Studying the teachings and contemplating the dharma is a very supportive practice, but it is meaningless unless it manifests itself directly in our lives: bringing greater freedom, awareness and understanding.

So the Dharma is both the way of living an authentic life, and also the teachings that guide us in our day-to-day practice.

As a practice, we can study and contemplate the Dharma teachings, listen to Dharma talks and bring more mindfulness to our daily lives. In paying close attention to our interactions we can learn from our own experience and benefit from the wisdom that comes from Dharma study and from the innate natural wisdom.

Sangham saranam gacchami” (I take refuge in the Sangha)

Looking at the third gem: the ‘Sangha’ can refer to the community of all beings, or the community of those concerned with awakening - those concerned with the deeper questions of life.

The Sangha has no boundaries, it is not exclusive, it is not a cult, it sees into the interconnectedness of all things, sees into the emptiness of self - the self that is empty of “I” and “mine”.

The Sangha supports each of us in our practice, it promotes love and compassion. We all belong to this great family of beings… each of us can only exist at this moment because everything else in the universe is as it is. We are deeply connected but also totally unique. This is the paradox of the Sangha.

The Sangha is the expression of the Buddha. It is the coal-face of Dharma practice or Dharma life: Sangha is relationship. To use the Sangha as a practice is to become sensitive to the needs of others. It is the role of the Boddhisattva - the one who works for the welfare of the Sangha.

The Buddha said that one of the worst crimes was to instigate splits or conflicts in the Sangha.

The Triple Gem: that of awakening. The way of awakening and the community of those concerned with awakening is not restricted to any religion. It is has no boundaries and excludes nothing.

An understanding of the Triple Gem opens the door to the deathless.

‘Taking refuge’ is a practice that reminds us of what is important in our lives: that life is short and every moment is precious. It is an act of devotion and gratitude - for this very life experience, and for this opportunity we have to explore and experience these Dharma teachings. Incorporating the taking of refuge into our daily life brings deep joy, meaning and appreciation. It enhances our relationships and enables us to live in a free and liberated way, sensitive to the needs of others and aware of our deep connection with all life.

May all beings find refuge in the Triple Gem.

The Spiritual Life

"The spiritual life does not have gain, honour, and renown for its benefit,
or the attainment of virtues for its benefit,
or the attainment of concentration for its benefit,
or knowledge and vision for its benefit.
But it is this unshakeable deliverance of mind
That is the goal of the spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end."

This is a quote from the Heartwood sutta where the Buddha explains just what is at the very core of Dharma practice.

Dharma practice is not concerned with any form of personal gain, it is not a practice of self help or self indulgence. Dharma practice is only concerned with freedom of being, freedom from all past habitual patterns of mind, from all reactions, from clinging to personal views and opinions and to any imagined fears of the future.

At the heart of Dharma practice is this unshakeable deliverance of mind.
When looking at our minds we may not be able to recognize this unshakeable quality just a scattered and confused quality. A quality of mind that is easily disturbed and affected by the world around us, a mind so easily attached to and affected by what the Buddha called the eight worldly conditions, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame and pleasure and pain.

 These conditions all revolve around the concept or construction of self, or who I think I am. This self with all its ownership, its problems, its worries, its failures, its accomplishments and its sorrows is continuously and subtly guiding our daily decision making.

It brings great freedom to see through the obsessive culture of success, to drop out of that mind stream that defines itself by how much money it has, what possessions it acquires, what job it holds, how much it knows or even how aware it is.

As the Buddha says the spiritual life does not have gain or attainment as its benefit so the question arises how is this unshakeable deliverance of mind to be achieved.

Dharma practice is the path that cultivates the environment that enables the natural letting go of all constrictions, all tension, all stress and all suffering. However clinging to or giving too much importance to these techniques or practices undermines any possibility of freedom arising. Meditation cannot be attained; it doesn’t exist in the world of achievement, comparison or division.

Sitting, standing, walking, working or playing, every moment, every experience and every action can be an opportunity for meditation.

As Krishnamurti said;
"Meditation is that light in the mind which lights the way for action; and without that light there is no love."

 When the self that is constantly judging, comparing and commentating on the world, falls away and recedes into the background then the mind is open, like a room on a hot summer’s day, the sense doors and windows are wide open allowing a cool breeze to flow through and life is free to unfold naturally.

Meditation has a taste of stillness and silence and in this sense of spaciousness freedom and love blossom.
All addictions, be they habitual patterns of thought or emotional reactions or modes of behaviour, consumerism or addiction to substances enslave and bind us. We need freedom from our dilemmas and freedom from relying on any conditions for our happiness.

This unshakeable deliverance of mind is not dependent on any conditions or constructions. It is what remains when all forms of clinging are abandoned. 

The goal of the spiritual life, this unshakeable deliverance of mind is to be realized and the Buddha described the expression of this mind as having the qualities of the divine abodes.
 Loving Kindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy and Equanimity

So let us recognize these qualities in ourselves and in each other and in so doing express this unshakeable deliverance of mind. 

May we all taste this unshakeable deliverance of mind.

Form, the Formless and the Cessation

This was said by the Blessed One...

Monks, there are these three elements – what three? The form element, the formless element and the element of cessation, these are the three.

“By fully understanding form, and not getting stuck in formless states, they are released into cessation, with Death left in their wake.

“Having touched with his own person the Deathless realm that can’t be owned, all grasping relinquished, the taints all gone, the Awakened One displays the sorrow-less state that’s free from stain.” ~ Iti 51

The first element is ‘the Form’. This, the Buddha says, we have to understand. In Pali the term rupa, is usually expressed as nama/rupa, which includes the name or the recognition and the form. We are conscious beings, conscious of name and form. Looking out, I am aware of numerous forms and through familiarity, I recognise each object and to these I give a name. The form of the room, the people, myself, etc. and this informs my life. Some may say this is my reality, in other words -reality is restricted to the forms that consciousness is conscious of. This also includes the inner world of name and form, my feelings, emotions, thoughts etc. We can easily fall into the trap of limiting our reality to just this consciousness of name and form.

In each moment there are a vast number of forms being presented to our consciousness and from this vast number, we only pick out a very small number. These are the ones that grab our attention. Some forms matter more than others, some land and affect us. Some bring joy and happiness and others pain and sorrow. We tend to invest and exaggerate the importance of some forms over others.

A clear example of this is the wanting mind. We can have an idea of what we want: we have the name in our head for the form that we desire and we want to get the world to match up with the image. This is the world of consumerism and advertising. If I get what I want then I will be happy, but this is just temporary relief and will only be replaced by another desire. Lasting happiness is not found in matching up the world of name and form with what I want.

We can have a preference for what we want. We enjoy getting and when we can’t find what we want or we don’t get what we want, we are disappointed. But if we understand the form of the wanting mind, then there is no disappointment when things don’t play out as we would like them.

When we cling to the form, this is a contraction that brings about a pressure and results in stress and anxiety.

All forms are continually arising, maintaining and dissolving due to specific causes and conditions. There is no such thing as a separate independent form. This world of name and form is just held together by our combined agreement. The world of form is just a convention, just an agreement.

This name and form of “I” or in Dharma language the self, arises due to conditions just like any other form. It arises and lands on this body, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and consciousness.

We can see that this sense of self is not a fixed entity; it seeks identity in the form of role, name, feelings and thoughts etc.

We are constantly seeking security in an insecure world. There is no security in this life, we are all going to die. We need to acknowledge that fact and let go of continually trying to find some form to hold on to.

The sense of self appears to arise when there is a conflict in the relationship between consciousness, and name and form. The more problematic the relationship, the more contracted, and hence the more pronounced is the sense of self. This is when I become self-obsessed; my problem is what is important. This is when I become isolated and disconnected from the world and the other.

This isolation and separation can create intense suffering, as well as suffocating all love, joy and compassion.

So it is in the relationship between consciousness and form that suffering arises.

Life has its difficulties from birth to death. Although we would like to maximise the pleasant and minimise the unpleasant, the world does not care what we want.

Human beings are never content with being limited to the world of name and form. At the end of the day we just want to go to sleep, we have had enough of relating to the form.

No matter what the form, sooner or later we will get tired of it. This includes the form of dharma practice. We don’t want to be a prisoner to the form.

We may ask - is the world of name and form all there is? Where is the element of ‘the formless’ in our life.

It is in the silence that we can discover the formless, where there is an absence of involvement in the form. The silence reveals that spaciousness that comes when there is no contraction around the form called ‘self’.

Another aspect of the formless can be described as the stillness. This is present in our meditation, and sometimes in the forest late at night when we look up at the vast sky, where there is no concern for any form: no concern for the personal story.

Looking out at the vast ocean we also get a feeling for the infinite space that dwells within and without. We seem to put all our attention on the form and neglect the formless. We notice the forms in the room, forgetting the space that contains the form. All form is contained and made possible by the formless. This is our limitless nature. It is such a pity that man is so caught up in the form of his own little problems that he loses sight and touch with his or her limitless nature.

Although human beings continually get caught in the form, they also love the formless. They love the sense of space where life is not limited or restricted to any form. That is why people take drugs, sail across oceans, climb mountains and jump out of aeroplanes.

This love of the formless can become problematic, can become an addiction when we cling and want these experiences repeated over and over. Then the natural freedom of life is restricted. Then we tend to neglect the form, shutting down emotionally and disconnecting from the world.

Meditation practice for some can become a form of addiction to the formless.

But when experienced freely, the formless expresses itself in our life through love, compassion, joy, appreciation, wonder and gratitude. These expressions cannot be confined or measured: they are true expression of the infinite.

In our meditation when the world of name and form goes very quiet, then these expressions bubble up naturally. Sensations of bliss, joy and profound peace are possible.

Whether we experience the complete falling away of the form, or whether our awareness expands to the point where we get just a taste of the vast nature. Either way, this experience can contribute to a freer relationship to life.

Because of this vast formless nature we could form the view, as many have, that this is the Ultimate reality - awareness or consciousness with capital letters and inverted commas. However the Dharma teachings are not concerned with attributing ultimate status on any experience, the ultimate can never be limited by any description.

Dharma teachings are more concerned with the third element: the cessation of all suffering. This cessation can be realized through our relationship to both the form and the formless. It is the freedom and understanding that emerges when we no longer cling to either.

It is in this freedom that we get a taste or hint of what the Buddha calls the deathless realm: the realm not touched by birth or death.

This cessation, Nirodha in Pali, is the ending of the division between subject and object: the ending of the duality of self and other. We are no longer disturbed by the dualities of the mind - success and failure, praise and blame, gain and loss or even life and death.

Then in each experience there is just the experience. No investment and no embellishment.

It is the miracle of “just this! “ this undivided life.

If we are not bound to form or the formless then something precious shines through, something unconstructed - where the fire of becoming is extinguished.

And if we have just a taste of this, it is as the Buddha said: one taste of a drop of water is the same taste as the whole lake.

This is seeing deeply into the true nature of how life unfolds. Where life can freely express itself through each of us.

Having touched with his own person the Deathless realm that can’t be owned, all grasping relinquished, the taints all gone, the Awakened One displays the sorrow less state that’s free from stain.” May all beings awaken to the Deathless realm.

‘Iti’ from Wikipedia: The Itivuttaka (Pali for "as it was said") is a Buddhist scripture, part of the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism and is attributed to Khujjuttara's recollection of Buddha's discourses. It is included there in the Sutta Pitaka's Khuddaka Nikaya. It comprises 112 short teachings ascribed in the text to the Buddha, each consisting of a prose portion followed by a verse portion. The latter may be a paraphrase of the former, or complementary. Some scholars consider it one of the earliest of all Buddhist scriptures, while others consider it somewhat later.

The Emptiness of all Things


"Clinging is to insist on being someone; not to cling is to be free to be no one."      

Also we can see that everything depends on everything else for its existence. Nothing can be created or maintained in isolation therefore it is empty of any innate separate existence.

If we apply this to our own sense of self, we begin to undermine our very foundation and identity.

Where is the "I" or sense of separate self to be found and how is it constructed?

Thought claims ownership over all experience consolidating and confirming the self.

Where is the self?

Who controls thoughts and emotions? Who controls our body, who decides how we feel and who can stop the aging process?

The truth is we are an ever changing flow of experience. The self is not static or separate but part of the impermanent nature of existence.

When we try to control or stop the impermanent flow of life we only succeed in creating friction and suffering. There are no inherent separate things only the continuous interaction, the endless process of events. These events or movements of phenomena are all contingent and continually dependent upon all other phenomena. Normally we donít see the world or our self in this way. Our universe is usually divided into two distinctly separate entities of me and the world. However with understanding we see that we are just phenomena that arises and ceases dependent on conditions, and that apart from these conditions we have no separate or independent reality.

In Emptiness there is an incredible freedom from any fixed identity; no one to pin down, to define or to enlighten. It is an absence of clinging to the sense of a separate self and of what belongs to this self. It is a free flowing existence with no hindrance or obstruction to the natural flow of life. No interference, interpretation or distortion of our life experience. Emptiness is free of the conceit of I and mine.

Emptiness is free of limitations; it is the world of experience flowing freely through the sense doors, free of interpretation and judgment. It is a clear response to life; free of self justification or aggrandizement.

Emptiness is our natural state; we are always empty. Although the mind tries to fill the emptiness with constructs and a belief in someone, who has ownership over our experience, it still remains empty.

An understanding of emptiness frees one from the need to attain or acquire any state or knowledge in order to feel fulfilled. 

Emptiness is an understanding not a place or state. It is the inherent nature of things as they are, not bounded by time or space.

Emptiness is full of freedom.

As Nagarjuna said, "All things are empty, even emptiness is empty".

Emptiness is not an excuse for abdicating responsibility or for failing to respond appropriately to suffering as it arises. Emptiness expresses itself through love and compassion; these naturally arise when the "I" subsides. When I am not obsessed with my own wants then I am naturally concerned with the welfare of others.

Out of the awareness of the emptiness of all things flows a life of freedom, wisdom, creativity, compassion and a deep appreciation for all life.

May all beings realize the inherent emptiness of all things.