Arinna Weisman has studied insight meditation since 1979 and has been teaching since 1989. Her root teacher is Ruth Denison who was empowered by the great teacher U Bha Khin. She is the founding teacher of Insight Meditation Center of the Pioneer Valley. She is co-author of the book, A Beginner’s Guide to Insight Meditation and a contributor to Women Practicing Buddhism; American Experiences, edited by Peter Gregory and Susanne Mrozik.
Her dharma practice and teaching have been infused with her political and environmental activism. She was the first out queer teacher with Eric Kolvig to lead insight meditation retreats for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender Queer community. She also leads ‘Uncovering the Heart Retreats’ integrating the practice of awareness of the social dynamics of inequity with the dharma practice of liberation.
Below are letters Arinna has written to friends and sangha over the years. Reading them will give you a taste of her teachings.
Greetings Dear Friends,
Last night I watched a political thriller series made by the BBC called “The State Within”. Reflecting on it afterwards I was struck that it was not the violence, and there was plenty of it, that was most impactful but the integrity of the main character the British Ambassador to the United States.
A friend in Massachusetts recently sent me an e-mail commemorating July fourth with a speech by Martin Luther King. A similar thought went through my mind; how powerful integrity and truth telling are, and how long they survive beyond even the life of the speaker. The words of the Buddha are resounding through these thousands of years.
In the BBC series it was friends who challenged the ambassador in some of the decisions he was making. They kept pointing to his caring of others as a ground from which to make decisions. By the end of the series he was willing to jeopardize his job and political standing to tell the truth.
Truthfulness lives in our capacity to both care and to see clearly what is happening. It is the movement in speech and action to bring healing, opening, awareness and other beneficial conditions. I used to think truthfulness was blurting out everything, including all my feelings especially the negative ones, onto an unsuspecting partner, friend or even boss. When I lived in a community in Southern Oregon we had meetings, which went on for hours, and they were tortuous, acting out of this misunderstanding. It has taken me years to learn to check in and see if it is the right time to share, or even appropriate. We each make these decisions all the time over small things and big. For example I told my roommate I had a different design idea in mind for something she was building and didn’t ask her if she was interested in another option before giving an opinion.
The great thing about not blurting things out is that it gives us the opportunity to check in and notice how we are framing our sentences. If I start a sentence with “You” for sure I am in blaming or judging mode. I know from past experience even if I don’t feel it in the moment blaming doesn’t create the conditions for healing and opening. It probably means I am disconnected from my own emotions and it is these that first need my attentiveness and caring.
The beauty of the precept of right speech and it’s invitation to refrain from harming with our words is that it is like a life-boat carrying us in turbulent waters back to the safety of inquiry; â€œis there caring in this expression? Speech is one of the most direct ways we communicate our intentions. It is the form through which many of our relationships are expressed. It is where each of us always has power.
The Ambassador recovered his caring and so can we. In conclusion I call on the great spirit of love and wisdom to speak through each of us. May we communicate our understanding, experiences and needs with grace, clarity and kindness May our efforts contribute to a world of political, cultural and inter-personal transparency.
In memoriam to all those who have died because they told the truth.
Greetings Dear Friends,
I sat at breakfast today dedicating my breakfast to all those in Japan who do not have any food to eat. Some words from Derek Wyatt came to mind Imagine that moment staring out at the still waters with only a brief tremor of your body to say you are leaving everything behind.
I also contemplate a lecture I heard from Bhikku Bodhi last night who spoke of the importance of taking the refuges. I imagined a cloud formation streaked through the sky as though from a traveling jet carrying us from one moment to the next, one life-time to the next if you resonate with re-incarnation, connected and linked to the perfection of the Buddha’s mind. Supported also because the teachings of the dhamma means “to support and uphold” and so we are carried and held now. Now.
I called Doctors without Borders, they are in Tokyo assessing the situation and donated what I could and continued in contemplation. Mind is the forerunner of all things. What we see in the world, we see in our minds and so I took refuge in seeing truly, in skillful intention and action dedicated to a world that is free of global warming and nuclear power plants.
With life as short as a half-taken breath Rumi ask us, don’t plant anything but love. Imagine that moment… leaving everything behind carried by love and wisdom, by the blessings of the Buddha.
“The tree and I are not one, but the energy of the tree and myself are the same.” Ruth Denison, Arinna’s teacher