Thoughts 2008

DIM YOUR LIGHT

Never put your Buddhism on display; conceal it well in all your actions.

TIME ELEMENT

I once asked HH Trinley Norbu; "How long should I sit in meditation." He replied, "Until you find
yourself meditating." Often we set a time for meditation and loose sight of its purpose; which is what
Rinpoche was pointing out to me. Meditation must not be put in a box and become something that
we "do." It is a dynamic experience to be engaged and absorbed into.

CHANGE

If there is one particular aspect of your being that you would like to change, begin by changing
everything else. A Chan saying goes: If you want to see the North Star, look in the South. When we
eliminate faults, we don't want to dwell in particulars.

WHEN TO MEDITATE

It is easy to have a fixed time for practice when living in a monastery, but for those of us living in the
world, it is unrealistic. Yet a certain amount of time is always a good goal. While responsibilities can
demand time allotted for meditation, if we a flexible, we can usually find time later in the day, or give
up that movie we were planning to see. The yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, when asked when he
meditated answered that he meditated during free moments throughout the day (as his schedule
was so demanding.)

HIDDEN WITHIN THE ORDINARY

If you are lost in the desert long enough, not only will you mistake a mirage for water, but you will
also mistake water for a mirage. Similarly, if we are not paying attention and rightly mindful, we will
fail to recognize the seed of enlightenment disguised in an everyday thought (or interaction with our
Teacher.)  Ordinary life and interactions with others are full of potential, but we must be awake to
recognize them.

   
 FEWNESS OF WISHES

Fewness of wishes is a virtue born of true meditation.


DIM YOUR LIGHT

Never put your Buddhism on display; conceal it well in all your actions.

TIME ELEMENT

I once asked HH Trinley Norbu; "How long should I sit in meditation." He replied, "Until you find
yourself meditating." Often we set a time for meditation and loose sight of its purpose; which is what
Rinpoche was pointing out to me. Meditation must not be put in a box and become something that
we "do." Engage and absorb yourself into this dynamic experience.
CHANGE

If there is one particular aspect of your being that you would like to change, begin by changing
everything else. A Chan saying goes: If you want to see the North Star, look in the South. When we
eliminate faults, we don't wish to dwell on particulars.

WHEN TO MEDITATE

It is easy to have a fixed time for practice when living in a monastery, but for those of us living in the
world, it is unrealistic. A certain amount of time is always a good goal. While responsibilities can
demand time allotted for meditation, if we a flexible, we can usually find time later in the day, or give
up that movie we were planning to see. The yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, when asked when he
meditated answered that he did so during free moments throughout the day (as his schedule was so
demanding.)

HIDDEN WITHIN THE ORDINARY

If you are lost in the desert long enough, not only will you mistake a mirage for water, but you will
also take water for a mirage. Similarly, if we are not paying attention and rightly mindful, we will fail to
recognize the seed of enlightenment disguised in everyday thought (or interaction with our
Teacher.)  Ordinary life and interactions with others are full of potential, but we must be awake to
recognize them.

FEWNESS OF WISHES

Fewness of wishes is a virtue born of right meditation.

DISCIPLINED EATING

As a monk, we ate one meal per day at noon. These noon-day meals were often the focus of our
day.  As the one of the few indulgences allowed a monk, it often showed on our plate in the form of
an overabundance of food. On one, such an occasion my teacher passed me and looked at the
mountain on my plate, but didn't say a word. I knew his thoughts, however, and replied to him: "My
father always said that I have a stomach without a memory." I should have known better, because,
being a Chan Master he would certainly throw this back on me, and he did.  He replied with a laugh,
"Well, why do you remember to eat?"


 SELF DOUBT

Have deep faith in your practice and yourself; it is essential to being fearless and willing to stand
alone, especially important qualities for a dharma practitioner. Even truer for those who are
practicing outside a monastic environment. Never doubt yourself. A sincere application of effort and
persistence will reveal the correct path and keep you on it.

Doubt is often a short term phenomenon that has long term results. People often practice for a brief
period and because of limited results blame the practice rather than their karma. Feeling they are
getting nowhere, they abandon the practice and don't pick it up again. Be humble, realize that many
lifetimes of thinking is the momentum causing your present state of mind. Changing one's way of
looking at the world takes time, even for those blessed with correct guidance and practice. The
change will come as a tree growth, almost too subtle to notice; as said in the Dhammapada, "little by
little, bit by bit, and from time to time."


Sutras teach us that we live in the "Desire Realm." As long as we have the desire we will be reborn
in this realm. Blinded by passion, we are unaware of other realms, but seek to fulfill our desires,
thus assuring that we remain turning on the wheel of birth and death within the "Desire Realm."  
There is nothing "wrong" with this, it is the nature of this realm, and we are just obeying its laws.

However, there are other realms, at least, this is what the Buddha taught. He also taught that the
"Desire Realm" is suffering. Now, many may disagree with this, particularly those of us blessed with
the "Good Life." Lulled by naive contentment and prefer to remain that way. Even those not blessed
with the "Good life,"  are only cursing their lot relative to it, and not with an insight of something
better. Both those well off and in the gutter are blinded in the same way. Thus, both those who
curse life and say their world is misery and those who praise it and say "Life is Good" are both
reporting from an equally ignorant perspective.

When the Buddha taught, he taught "all is suffering," meaning that ignorance of one's true nature is
suffering, regardless of how "happy" one's world may be. And, for those miserable ones who
agreed, he taught that their agreement was all for the wrong reasons and, therefore, could not lead
to insight.

He didn't leave them stranded, however, but threw them a lifeline. The lifeline was a teaching that
planted a seed of doubt regarding our familiar world, a seed that if cultivated through study and
meditation, would conquer their ignorance.

The Buddha taught change and transformation and never taught blocking energy or blind discipline.
In other words, he did not teach blocking desire, but rather the transformation of desire by utilizing
them to one's advantage. As long as one has desire, it is far better to work with them than pretend
they don't exist. This is like a martial artist who uses the strength of his opponent to his advantage
by turning his opponent's energy back on himself. Conceptually understanding this, and being able
to do it, however, are worlds apart. Conceptual understanding is the nucleus. However, that will
grow into realization with time and practice.

THE ANT AND THE WATERMELON

The long-term consequences of action are less frequently thought about than the short term ones.
We tend to look for gratification as soon as possible, running from one fulfillment to the next, and
never finding the end, like an ant frantically crawling around the outside of a watermelon, never
tasting the fruit inside. As long as we have a short term view, lasting results are sure to allude us.

KNOW YOUR INTENTION

The Buddha taught us always to question our motives, and to ask continually where our thoughts
are leading us. Doing just this much is sure to slow us down and help us to see a better way of
living. While attaining complete enlightenment may seem beyond our reach, becoming less muddled
need not be.

MEDITATION WITHOUT A DOER

I have often heard people say, "I can't meditate." And, equally, I have heard people say, "I can
meditate." Often both are making the same mistake, and that is thinking that meditation is something
that you "do." But, it isn't. Meditation is not a contrived state of mind, and because it isn't, it is not a
"do" proposition. Think about it a moment and ask yourself how one can "do" an uncontrived state,
it is possible. So how does one meditate?

Mediation is more about "allowing" than "doing;" it is about getting out of the way. A very subtle shift
in attitude towards meditation can change the way one approaches it and significantly affect the
results. The assumption that one can "do" meditation enforces the wrong notion that we are
creating a new state of mind (or entering one.)

However, the correct view would be more like assuming that we are looking right at it and not seeing
it. Some of us may remember the graphic artwork that was very popular a few years ago, composed
of many colored dots, from which would emerge a picture.  If one could refrain from trying to imagine
what it might be it would emerge, but if not, it would remain just a bunch of colored dots.  When we
meditate, it is essential to understand that we are already meditating, but failing to realize it. Only a
change in attitude is required; it has nothing to do with mechanics, whether it be a mantra, tantra,
koans, hua tou, or whatever, matters little; what does matter is one's approach---just like the artwork.

HARMONIZE DESIRE

Understanding that the root of life's problems is conflicting desires, and working to harmonize and
lessen them, is the holistic approach of the Buddha, that tackles the root of conflict without dwelling
on particulars.

BREATH AS MEDITATION

The breath is a steady and reliable meditation topic. When breathing subsides, so does thought,
when thought subsides, so does breath. By resting thought on the breath, the mind becomes
tranquil. This tranquility is samatha.

When the mind is calm and quiet (samatha,) introduce the an inquiring thought, "whose mind is calm
and quiet?" Stirring the waters of the calm mind by presenting this idea and keeping the inquiry
there is insight meditation (vipassana.)

Experiencing a blissful state of mind rooted that correct meditation is wholesome unless grasped. As
soon as a wholesome state is grasped, it becomes unwholesome and an object of clinging. Never
attempt to repeat a blissful state; but rather let it fade as dew drops on grass as the day dawns.

DON'T RUN FROM PROBLEMS

"If you can't let it go, carry it along," Taoist saying. Often life's problems grow worse when we try to
get rid of them, like a barking dog, who grows bolder the more you kick at him. Life has it's problems
no doubt, but pushing them away is not a solution.

PERSISTANCE

If you plant a Palm tree in shallow soil with rock below, over the years it will split the obstructing rock
as it seek out nutrients so that it can grow and flourish. It removes what is obstructing it at an
imperceptible pace, but as years move on it can crack and break even the most tenacious rocks.

In a similar manner, obstructions to self-realization are broken up very slowly, but with persistence,
they will gradually be broken up by the power of our inquiry.

MIND AND THOUGHT

Thoughts cannot be separated from the mind any more than waves from the sea. And, yet we are
often tempted to eliminate thoughts in our meditation, a common mistake. Imagine yourself in a pool
of water trying to calm the surface by pressing down on its waves. You will surely create even more
waves by your very effort. The mind is the same way. First we must realize that thoughts are the
same as mind and stop trying to push them back in every time they arise, or,  throw them away.
Doing so will only stir them up. But, if you rest on the understanding that thought and mind are one
and the same, this attitude alone will bring peace and gradually you will understand the mind's
nature.

       STAGNATION

Realize the difference between contentment and stagnation. While contentment is a virtue, it is not
static. It is dynamic, active, and ever changing. To find a comfortable little slot for oneself and
remain there is not the way to grow and thrive. As human beings, we are meant to change and
transform.  It is possible to find comfort and contentment even though one cannot find a firm place
to alight one's foot; it just requires that we realize that is the nature of the trail.

DULLNESS AND FLIGHTINESS

Two primary faults of meditation are flightiness and dullness, both of which have coarse and fine
levels. Combat flightiness with alertness and dullness with exertion. Flightiness occurs when the
mind is distracted by a wandering thought, and this takes energy away from the meditation topic and
focuses it on the distracting thought. If one is sufficiently alert one will catch the intruder
immediately, become aware of the problem, and focus once again on the topic of meditation. If,
however, alertness is weak, the wandering thought will distract the mind's attention completely away
from the meditation topic and place it on the wandering thought. Thus completely disengaged from
the meditation subject, the meditator has to start anew.

Dullness occurs when engagement with the topic of meditation is weak and is cured by exertion. If
one is not exerting oneself properly, the mind can sink into a torpor and become completely
disengaged with the topic of meditation. If one finds that one continually becomes dull while
meditating, and exertion is not helping, then standing meditation is an option.

MIND'S CLEAR NATURE

The Shurangama Sutra tells the story of King Prasanjit, who during his advanced years and
approaching death, walked beside his palace with the Buddha. The king was inquiring of the
Buddha about the nature of his mind and asked the Buddha to point it out to him. They were walking
across a bridge at the time, and the Buddha pointed to the water below and asked the King, "Do
you see that water below?" The King replied that of course he did. The Buddha further asked,
"Does that water look any different now than when you were a child?" The King replied: "No the
water looks the same now as when I was a child, a teen, a young man, a middle-aged man, and now
an old man past 80years." The Buddha replied, "That unchanging "seeing nature" is your mind.
While the eyes can reveal forms, the seeing nature comes from the mind, not the eyes."

Behind the five senses is the mind illumining them and making perception possible. If the mind is not
flowing outward through the sense doors and mental fabrication, it naturally turn upon itself and
comes to rest. In the Shurangama, it is described as a self-illuminating wonderful bright essence.

PROPER TIME TO SPEAK DHARMA

A Buddhist rule of conduct for monks and nuns prohibits them from speaking the dharma during an
inappropriate time or place, and, this good rule and I, as a layman, follow it. However, we are also
taught to teach what we know. Recognizing the appropriate time to speak the dharma is almost as
difficult as having something to say. First we must have a listener that is not expressing mere idle
curiosity or trying to make conversation. First have a listener that requests to hear the dharma, for
unless requested monks and nuns are taught to refrain from speaking it. But, one may seek it
without sincerity, as happened to me today when an appraiser (who saw all my statues while
appraising my home) asked me if the Buddha taught all is suffering. (I said no.) He then asked me to
give a quick synopsises of the Buddhist religion, and I reminded him that he is an appraiser, and he
should do that.
INQUIRY

When practicing inquiry be relentless, always keeping the mind engaged. Do not be so concerned
about being right or wrong, but do be concerned that the mind is engaged. A sharp and engaged
mind cuts through the mental clutter and is a source of energy, both physical and mental.

FOOL'S DHARMA

Today a friend sent me an article about a Dharma gathering in New York whose teacher invites his
followers to the bar below after meditation and "dharma" discourse. The teacher's idea is to make
Buddhism accessible to Westerners by bringing it down to earth with stylized conversations that, for
example, substitute "stress" for "Suffering" in the Four Noble Truths. But, the suffering the Buddha
taught in the "Truths" had little to do with "stress" as we think of it today, nor was the Buddha
concerned with making Buddhism attractive to the people of his day. The Buddha was not a
teaching of how to get on in the world and be happy, but how to end cyclic existence on the ever
turning wheel of birth and death.  

KING JANAK

While I at the Khumba Mela in India a sadhu told me a story of the life of King Janak that is both
humorous and illustrative of the King's well-deserved reputation for non-attachment. The story goes
like this: One day the King's palace had caught fire while he was at the river frolicking with his wife.
His attendants ran frantically to the riverside to inform him of the disastrous fire. However, the King
was as if deaf to their words and splashed and played in total joy. His servants kept up their yelling,
however, until the King finally dismissed them and their concerns saying: "I'm in the water."

EMBRACE THOUGHT

Thoughts should never be pushed out of one's mind to meditate. To think that one has to do this is
a mistake.Thoughts should mingle with the topic of mediation in an almost playful way. While never
losing sight of the meditation topic, thoughts should be examined.
If we do this, gradually we will understand that the nature of wandering thoughts is no different from
the meditation topic itself. We live in a world full of people, some we like some we don't and many we
don't even know. Our mind' thoughts are the same.

Our mind is full of thoughts, some are familiar, some are not, some we like some we don't, and many
just occupy it in an unobtrusive manner. At the core of any thought is the mind, and because this is
so, Sutras teach us that the nature of enlightenment is hidden in a single thought---any thought.
The same goes for the people that inhabit our world.

Within each living being is the Buddha Nature, the field of enlightenment. Just as the nature of our
being is enlightenment, the same applies to the people in our lives. Knowing this, a wise person
makes an effort to see the actual nature in all individuals. Doing so enables him to understand
himself better. He does this while not losing himself. In a similar manner, those who understand
meditation, do not find it necessary to ignore their thoughts to meditate. They acknowledge the
thoughts in their mind and give attention to them, just as a wise man acknowledges people in his life
and does not ignore them. It is a fact of life that we cannot live without others, nor can we live
without thought. Since this is the case, it is foolish to try to do otherwise---though it is a common
mistake,

HIDE YOUR LIGHT

A danger comes from within, and it manifests as the desire to show off every little insight we
achieve---like an eleven-year-old told a secret. Much of the insight we gain through our practice is
more personal than we may realize and deserves our protection.  Besides, the insights we gain may
not be relevant to another's karma. One of the qualities of a great teacher is recognizing the needs
of his disciples, and this comes with developing real compassion. So if we want to help, others we
should first cultivate genuine compassion so that we may become truly sensitive to the needs of
others and refrain from waging our tongue whenever the occasion arises


LENGTH OF MEDITATION PERIOD

I once asked HH Trinley how long I should meditate, and his reply was, "Until you are meditating." He
was encouraging me to think regarding experiencing meditation rather than "doing" meditation.
Sitting down and crossing our legs and reciting a mantra,
practicing visualization, or focusing on any other topic of meditation, does not mean we are
meditating. We have to become engaged with it.  If the meditation engages us, the meditation will
linger long after we rise from our seat and continue our day. How well our meditation is going is
often better revealed by the post-meditative experience than the meditation itself.

THE METHOD

Practice consistently a tried and proven practice and don't jump from one practice to the next just
because it doesn't feel right. It is tempting to judge a method of meditation based on whether or not
one is progressing, and blame the technique if one is not. Doubting the technique rather than their
consistency and patience why people hop from one way of practicing to the next in an endless
search for the method that suits them. They will die without finding it. If one's relationship with one's
practice is not going well, consider your approach and try to understand how to employ correctly it
rather than switch to a new practice. (The above assumes that one is practicing in a traditional
manner and not a New Age interpretation.)

"New Age" is without lineage and should be avoided. These are usually dharmas of convenience,  
interpretations of older systems adapted to modern times. By ignoring of the substance of these
traditions, they remain confused.

NEUTRAL ACTIVITY

A key to finding stillness in activity is choosing activities that are neutral and don't excite the mind or
body; and yet offer the movement our bodies need to be healthy and energetic. Exercise that allows
us to maintain an inner focus offers an opportunity to extend our meditation beyond the cushion
provided we leave the Ipod and cell phone at home, of course.

 WHAT IS BUDDHISM

What is Buddhism? Well, it is what you make of it. There is no salvation by faith in Buddhism. The
Buddha taught his disciples to examine his teachings and cautioned those tempted to follow them
blindly. While one can accept the Buddha as their teacher, either formally or informally, the benefit
or lack thereof is entirely the responsibility of the student.

The very notion of salvation by faith rests on the assumptions that are not demonstrable  Buddhism
goes to extraordinary lengths to teach us to break the habit of assuming something is the case
without actually proving it to oneself. Buddhism's highly developed system of Philosophy and logic
gives us the tools we need to analyze correctly the path we are on and travel it knowingly. These
tools coupled with correct meditation and livelihood will enable us to experience directly within our
consciousness the truth of Buddhism. If we do this, we will see these truths at work in the most
mundane affairs of life.

WHAT REMAINS

A wandering monk during a very contentious period in Chinese history when Buddhism was banned
observed, "Of the deep thoughts some had when leaving fame and fatherland behind, all that
remains in mind is an ancient temple and a tall Cyprus."  When we die, what thoughts will we have,
for our last thought at the moment of death will determine our rebirth. And since the time of death is
uncertain, there is a sense of urgency here.

           SALVATION

Salvation comes in many colors. There is salvation by threat; "accept this doctrine or this person or
we will kill you." Salvation by laying guilt trip, "You are a mess and the only way to strengthen
yourself out is to accept this person or doctrine." Salvation by promise, " Paradise is yours  if you
accept this person or principle." Salvation by common sense, "Salvation lies within me and is
realized by my effort."

All of us must learn to untie our knots. We bind ourselves up and must set ourselves free. A little
reverse engineering goes a long way. Anger, lust, greed are powerful energies that we are all
familiar. On the coarse level, these energies display themselves in distinct ways. But, through
meditation, we can become familiar with these energies before they arise in their coarse and
obstructing ways. These same forces that lead to attachment and craving can be quieted and
turned around leading to insight and liberation.

DISCIPLINE YOUR EMOTIONAL RESPONSES

Shantideva said, "You cannot cover the earth with leather, but you can cover your own feet."  We
live in a world with many obstacles that cause unhappiness, fear, anger, and many other disturbing
emotions. That is the nature of things. While we cannot change the world, we can move through life
without being harmed or fearful of its obstacles. We do this by developing an understanding that
things and events are not inherently obstructing, but are so only by the way we interact with them.
For example, many become angry in a traffic jam and curse the traffic, as if it had some inherently
negative quality. But, apart from the way we interact with it, there is nothing in a traffic jam that
makes people angry. If there were such a negative quality in a traffic jam, traffic jams would make
everyone angry. But, many people don't get angry in traffic jams. They interact with them differently
than the driver full of road rage. All things are like this. It is not the things and events that disturb,
but the way we interact with them.

SHAMATHA VIPASSANA

When in meditation you have quieted your busy mind and have become established in peaceful
stillness, ask yourself who it is that is aware of this stillness. When you stir the mind with this
thought, excluding all others, this is vipassana, or insight meditation. The former quiet and peaceful
state is Samatha, quiescence meditation. Generally speaking, one first practice Samatha until one
can easily sit undistracted in stillness. Later, when distracting thoughts have lost their power to lead
the mind away from its center, one introduces vipassana. As one's, skill develops the two become
inseparable.

      FOX DOUBTS

"Fox doubts" is a Buddhist term referring to the kind of self-doubt that often blocks a decision to
practice the dharma or a particular dharma before one even begins. It comes in the guise of
self-doubt, doubting one's worthiness or ability, and if it is not recognized and cast aside, it can lead
to slowed progress or no progress. If the effort is sincere and the intention is right, never fear to
step off a hundred foot cliff.

  JUDGING OTHERS

If you cannot refrain from judging people, judge them as a junk collector judging trash, always
looking for what may be of value.

CONCENTRATION AND WISDOM

Concentration is gathering all thoughts to a single point. Wisdom knows where to direct them.

THOUGHT'S ILLUSORY POWER

If the thoughts that give rise to disturbing emotions had the power within themselves, they would
have that power all the time. A particular thought may cause you to become angry, for example, and
it seems like the thought has the authority to make you angry. However, if you deliberately give rise
to that thought another day, it will not move you. The same goes for lust, hatred, jealousy,
self-doubt, and many other emotions that disturb the balance in our lives.

An excellent technique for becoming less vulnerable to unwanted thoughts is to give consciously
rise to them when all is well, and the mind is bright, happy, and stable. If we look at particular
thoughts that disturb us, bringing them up again and again in our clear bright mind, we will become
less and less vulnerable to them and eventually entirely free of them. If there is no foothold for
them, they will not visit us.

THREE FOOD PROPERTIES

Whether one is a vegetarian or not, eating the right kind of food is a significant support for
meditation and healthy attitude. Certain foods agitate (Rajasic) the mind, which makes it more
susceptible to anger, impatience, uneasiness, etc.; other foods dull the mind (Tamasic), which
causes it to have a propensity towards sleep, sluggishness, and clouded awareness. Some foods
are pure (Satvic) and tend to support good qualities like mental and physical dexterity and lightness,
the malleability of mind and body, patience, compassion, and love. The Hindus were the first to
break foods up into these categories over five-thousand years ago, and the Buddhist later adopted
it, as well. As practitioners, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian,  it behooves us to be aware of
these Satvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic foods.

MEDITATION WITHOUT A DOER

I have often heard people say, "I can't meditate." And, equally, I have heard people say, "I can
meditate." Often both are making the same mistake, and that is thinking that meditation is something
that you "do." But, it isn't. Meditation is not a contrived state of mind, and because it isn't, it is not a
"do" proposition. Think about it a moment and ask yourself how one can "do" an uncontrived state,
it is possible. So how does one meditate?

In stillness, the mind becomes like a mirror that will allow you to see those conditions without
grasping or labeling them. This kind of seeing is not an imputed state; wherein you imagine a path
based on what you have read and heard. It is seeing stripped of all mental constructs. This seeing
can only happen when the mind
surrenders and allows the magic to work.


GIVING

"Giving" is one of the  "Six Paramitas;" the others are morality, patience, vigor, samadhi, and
wisdom. Giving is rightly viewed throughout most of Asia as a very powerful Dharma Door, much as
meditation is in the West.  I have known many Asian people who have sought realization primarily
through the cultivation of giving, practicing very little meditation. The Western attitude is very
different, often placed on a pedestal and giving ignored.

In a Buddhist sutra, the story is told of a poor village girl who had no
possessions except her "favorite leaf." One day, upon seeing the Buddha, she ran up to him and
prostrated, placing her favorite leaf at his feet.  The Buddha picked the leaf up and said to the girl
that this leaf was now histreasure, and he will accept it in gratitude for the sincerity of her offering.

Both rich and poor have something to give. There are not any dharmas thatare meant only for a
particular class of people, and giving is no exception. It is through making offerings that we free
ourselves from attachment and accumulate merit. It is a very powerful dharma that can save a lot of
toiling on the meditation cushion.

BE HUMBLE

A simple discipline rightly practiced is far better than advanced techniques exercised wrongly. In our
quest to realize the mind's nature, teachings are often sought out that are not appropriate for our
level of realization. Motivated by spiritual arrogance and greed for success, we seek the highest
path, even though we have yet to do foundational work. . The first step on the path is always
becoming a good human being and developing wholesome qualities. Bad habits must be rooted out.
A humble attitude in the beginning is one of the most important assets and one that teachers
appreciate most in their disciples. It reflects an inner sense of the magnitude and seriousness of the
path, and those who have it, stick it out for the long haul.

MORALITY

"Morality" is one of the  "Six Paramitas;" the others are giving, patience,
vigor, samadhi, and wisdom. Morality is difficult because desire is strong. It is said that even great
saints who are adept in the samadhis have given into lust and fallen. Although we may be pure in
precepts, the mind must be continuously alert for unexpected conditions that may turn us upside
down.

The Intellect

Intellectual reasoning may help win arguments about the dharma; but it
won't help you live it.

WORD ECONOMY

If you wish to be smart with words, use fewer of them.

POVERTY

If you believe that you are unhappy because you have few possessions,
having many possessions would multiply that unhappiness.

CRITICISM

Root criticism in compassion; if it is not, it will harm the bearer and his target. Examine the criticizing
mind and see clearly its root. Genuine understanding wherein we see the undesirable
consequences of another's thoughts or actions and a wish to prevent them from landing in difficulty,
is the right motivation.

DISTRACTION

Our minds deal in trivialities to divert our attention from real issues, that, however, unpleasant they
may be, we will eventually have to face. It is our unpleasant issues that once dissolved, will allow us
to rise naturally above frivolous thinking in general.

VULNERABILITY

There is a difference between looking and seeing; especially in the context of meditation. When we
meditate we are not looking for something; but rather preparing the canvas of our mind for
understanding. We are actively making ourselves vulnerable to the meditative experience of seeing
the nature of the mind. The idea of vulnerability is crucial to correct meditation. Since it is not an
imputed state of mind; if we are to see it, we must be open to it, and we cannot be open to seeing
something (new) that we are looking anticipating.
Meditation is like preparing a canvas for a painting that we don't paint.

WHAT BINDS?

A monk asked his Teacher; "How can I be free?" The Master replied:
"What binds you up?"
This simple exchange between a student and his teacher is beautiful in its simplicity and yet points
out the inquiry the student must pursue if he wishes to attain his goal.

HABITS

Bad habits, in thought and deed, have a good deal of energy behind them, or they would not be
habits. That is why breaking them is so difficult. Because of the powerful 'habit energy" that
empowers unprofitable actions and thought patterns, it is essential when breaking them to redirect
the energy pushing them with something positive. In Buddhism, this is called substitution of
opposites. If we don't take this precaution, we are likely to find ourselves exchanging one bad habit
for another.

LEAVING THINGS ALONE

The Taoist philosopher Chuang Tse said, "I don't know about doing
things, I just know about leaving things alone." Interpreting this attitude as passive is common, but in
reality, it is every bit as active as it is passive, in fact, it is a perfect balance between the two.

There is a propensity to act that is innate in all of us. This tendency is easily seen by our desire to
do something even when there is nothing to do. It 's a force hard to resist. Ignoring it does not work;
most of us who try are run over by the flood of thoughts and impulses that arise and we become
miserable. But, the Taoist found that if the mind is properly trained the unconscious momentum to
act can be stilled.
It is engaging with life and nature on such an intimate level that no divide appears that need is
bridged.  And this is the art of the Taoist and leaving things alone. It is an active state of mind, not a
passive one.

     ANGER

Anger, like other afflictive emotions, resides in the angry person. It does not matter whether he or
she is manifesting it at any given moment. Because the anger lies in the person, it is only a matter
of time when causes and conditions mold themselves in such a way as to bring it out. To think that a
particular person or an individual chain of events "makes"  one angry is to shift the blame away from
oneself and place it outside. If one habitually does this, then, of course, the propensity to become
angry will remain.

THINK PATH, NOT RESULTS

Result driven practice of the path is one of the earliest obstacles that arise for any aspirant. It is a
futile exercise of mind because the results cannot be understood until we walk the path. I will give
you an analogy. Take for example a trekker hiking the three-week trek from Lamasangu to
Tengboche in the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal.

An experienced mountaineer will not busy himself with thoughts of getting there because he knows
there is no way of correctly conceptualizing the experience without reaching his destination.
Without a mind busy with erroneous conceptualization, his days move more quickly and efficiently,
and he is less likely to become physically and mentally fatigued. In the same way, a dharma
practitioner who keeps his attention on actual practice rather than the goal will be free of a very
unnecessary and useless burden. More importantly, his practice is more likely to be correct,
because the obstacle of wrong motivation is less liable to occur.

NEGATIVITY TRANSFORMED

The first step in transforming negativity is to understand that the energy itself that is providing the
fuel for the negativity is not in itself bad. Change the mold to a positive one, and we have
transformed negativity into a source of happiness.  It requires a bit of practice, but essentially we
quiet the mind in meditation and separate the energy from the negative thought pattern it is
supporting and place it into a new and positive context. Once we begin learning to do this, we can
practice it throughout the day. Put an atom in a bomb and it destroys a city but placed in a fuel
reactor, and you have electricity. Meditation is like this.
FOX DOUBTS

It is easy to give rise to what the Chinese cause "Fox doubts" that can derail one's dharma practice.
A fox walks timidly, as if he were on thin ice, doubting and fearing what might lie before him.
Dharma practitioners often question their practice and ability, worried about doing it correctly or
whether or not the practice itself is the right one for them. Such doubts can consume a lot of energy
or cause one abandon practice altogether. Rather than trouble one's mind with concerns such as
these, attention should be placed on the sincerity and effort one is putting into one's practice. A
dedicated effort  (sincerity of heart) is more important than the form of one's practice. A sincere
heart is the Path; while the mold it is poured into is secondary. The type of training is a formality;
while its substance is sincerity and devotion.

PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS

Potent psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, Psilocybin, Mescaline, and many others, are useful travel
guides, but poor substitutes for the real journey. Psychedelics have inspired many to begin their
spiritual quest, to leave the drugs behind, and start the path towards self-realization. They are the
fortunate ones who have recognized when the friend has become an enemy.

THE TEACHER

One of the definitions of a "Teacher" or "Guru" is "One Worthy of
Offerings." Thus being a Teacher in the sense of a spiritual guide is an enormous responsibility. If a
teacher accepts offerings from his students and is not worthy of them, it is the same as if he stole
them. Thus, in accepting offerings, he would accumulate very negative karma and the student would
not benefit from his offering.  Many distinctions differentiate "Teacher" in the spiritual sense, and
teacher in the ordinary sense. A common teacher can tell you anger is an afflictive emotion, for
example, but still may give rise to it himself; whereas a "Worthy One" does not give rise to anger or
other disturbing emotions. He can point out the obstacles you, and yet not have their burden. And
thus, his mind is free to truly helping you and others.

MONK AND MASTER

A Chan Master was once asked by a monk what is the path to
Enlightenment and the master's simple reply was pointing his finger up. The monk then asked what
binds him, and the teacher pointed down.

The master was telling the monk to discriminate between higher aspirations and lower desires since
one leads to further attachment and one leads to less attachment. .

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

1) Consider the amount of work that goes into making this food available: farmers work,
2)Consider whether or not my practice and virtue are worthy of this offering. A lay person would
rephrase this slightly as the food would unlikely be an "offering."
3) Guard the mind against transgressions, particularly greed.
4) This food is taken as medicine. (It is not entertainment.)
5)This food is taken to accomplish the path to enlightenment and fulfill the bodhisattva way.
The above are the "Five Contemplations." a monk performs while eating.