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Theme: Fear

With a touch of his hand to the earth, the Buddha instantly dispelled all fear and illusion, achieving enlightenment. Inspired by a thangka of this pivotal moment, Rebecca Li teaches how to anchor ourselves against fearful self-deception.

About the Mindfulness Meditation Podcast

The Rubin Museum of Art presents a weekly meditation session led by a prominent meditation teacher from the New York area, with each session focusing on a specific work of art. This podcast is recorded in front of a live audience, and includes an opening talk, a 20-minute sitting session, and a closing discussion. The guided meditation begins at 24:08.

If you would like to attend Mindfulness Meditation sessions in person or learn more, please visit our website at

This program is presented in partnership with Sharon Salzberg, the Interdependence Project and Parabola Magazine.

Related Artwork

Buddha Shakyamuni; Tibet or Bhutan; 18th century; silk embroidery, appliqué; Rubin Museum of Art; C2003.19.2 (HAR 65223)
Buddha Shakyamuni; Tibet or Bhutan; 18th century; silk embroidery, appliqué; Rubin Museum of Art; C2003.19.2 (HAR 65223)

This thangka painting depicts the Buddha Shakyamuni with monk-disciples. In the center of the piece, the Buddha sits in lotus pose with his left hand resting in the “meditation” mudra and his right hand extended in the “touching the earth” mudra.

There is a story about the Buddha facing the temptation or influence of fear while meditating, before he achieved enlightenment. A demon named Mara (meaning “destruction”) confronted the Buddha, then known as Siddhartha Guatama, taunting him at first with beautiful women in the hope of seducing him. When that didn’t work, Mara sent armies of monsters to attack Siddhartha. Finally, Mara himself confronted Siddhartha, claiming that he would never reach enlightenment and that there was no one in the world to bear witness to what he would call enlightenment. In each of these actions, Mara worked to instill fear in Siddhartha, hoping to scare him into submission or failure and planting the seed of self-doubt in his mind, deterring his progress toward enlightenment.

In response, Siddhartha called on the earth to bear witness to his enlightenment, thereby defeating Mara, attaining enlightenment, and becoming the Buddha Shakyamuni. This story reminds us that there will always be challenges in our lives that may distract us, scare us, or tempt us to abandon our practice. Working through that fear or overcoming it can instill a sense of fearlessness that can be cultivated through meditation and reflection.

About the Speaker

Dr. Rebecca Li, a Dharma heir in the lineage of Chan Master Sheng Yen, started practicing meditation in 1995. She began her teacher’s training with Master Sheng Yen in 1999 to become a Dharma and meditation instructor. Later on, she trained with Simon Child to lead intensive retreats and received full Dharma transmission in 2016. Currently, she teaches meditation and Dharma classes, gives public lectures, and leads retreats in North America and the UK. Her talks and writings can be found at She is the founder and guiding teacher of Chan Dharma Community and a sociology professor at The College of New Jersey, where she also serves as faculty director of the Alan Dawley Center for the Study of Social Justice.