VOW POWER

Every day we condition ourselves to think the way we do. The accumulation of the tendencies to
think in a given way are called vasanas in Sanskrit.  Vasanas are the freight train of our karmic
propensities, a train that is loaded with our entire past and not easily diverted. The ego often
underestimates the vasana's powerful momentum and makes grand vows or resolutions; especially
during the New Year. This year is no doubt different, and many whose last years resolutions has
become dust are again making new ones.

Buddhism teaches that it is better not to make a vow than to make one and break it. When we
carelessly make vows, underestimating our ability to follow through, we act unwisely. Vows broken
undermine our will power. Whereas, those kept, strengthens it.

I remember a women who wished to take the five basic Buddhist precepts of a layperson: No lying,
no killing, no stealing, no taking intoxicants, and no sexual misconduct. She was a new disciple of
my teacher and was very sincere. She wasn't sure she could keep the precept against sexual
misconduct, however, and requested my teacher allow her to take only four of the five precepts. My
teacher assented, and she made only four vows. Her decision proved sagacious, as she had more
energy to concentrate and perfect the four she took, without the burden of the one she thought she
couldn't keep. Some years later she made the vow against sexual misconduct. It was thirty-five
years before I had seen her again. She married, raised a family, and spent her free time serving my
teacher.

If she hadn't recognized her limitations, all this could have easily gone the other way. She could
have taken the vow that she had doubts about, failed to keep it, and given up entirely. Failure
creates the conditions for failure, success the conditions for success.

CHRISTIANITY AND BUDDHISM

Since Buddhism arrived in the West, a pressing question for many Christians attracted to Buddhism
has been how to reconcile it with their Christian faith. From a Buddhist perspective, there is no
reason to give up one's Christian faith to practice Buddhism. However, most Christians feel their
scripture confines them to a  "my way or the highway" attitude. I say "most" because there are many
Christians, even monks, who have made a thorough study of Buddhism and practice Buddhist
meditation techniques.

As for religion, it matters less how you package it that how you practice it. It is important to put aside
such stumbling blocks that we create for ourselves by clinging to labels and putting blindfolds on
substance. The Buddhist view for a Christian is: "If you can find something in our scripture that will
make you a better Christian, be my guest, but don't think you have to convert to do so."

A savior is not a concept a Buddhist relies on; so naturally a Christian, who studies Buddhist
doctrine and meditation techniques will eventually have to either step entirely into the Buddhist boat
or interpret Christ's meaning in a new way. But, this juncture is very far away for most of us. When
we become so advanced in our understanding and personal development to arrive at the stage
where such a decision is critical, it is likely we will have wisdom commensurate with the task. Until
that time, why fret about such things?

          
THE SCHOLAR

A prominent Buddhist scholar, Paul Williams, some years ago made a rather sudden switch to
Christianity (link.) His reason was that he found more satisfactory answers to his questions in
Christianity, particularly Catholicism.  It may well be that Catholicism is a better path for Mr. William's
stage of development; for although he is a globally recognized Buddhist scholar, he may never
have been a true Buddhist partitioner.

Gaining knowledge of Buddhism has little more to do with Buddhism than gaining knowledge of
chemistry, physics, language arts, or anything else. Knowing what it is and knowing how to use it
are two different things. Practice is the most important aspect of Buddhism for a Buddhist. Unlike
other studies, it is the study of being and how to be, and this must be made very subjective.

Scholars often gain great knowledge of all the philosophical subtleties of Buddhism but fail to
recognize or are unwilling to apply them. Thus, they are lopsided; unable to benefit themselves from
the very teachings they expound to others. Both Catholicism and Buddhism offer more than most of
us need for spiritual growth; feeling a need to switch one's faith is more likely a fault of our own than
a fault of our faith.

           
TOO BUSY

If we set out to do one thing and ten other things pop up we become a slave. Even chores can be
enjoyable when we have the luxury of time to complete them. Plan on things taking longer than
expected; and if a gap comes in your day, treasure it.

           OPPORTUNITY

Having met the dharma, we are its trust fund babies. If we fail to practice it, we are impoverished
indeed.

            
  MANTRA

Thoughts by themselves are feeble, but if we gather them together, they can be adamant.  Mantras
help us to do that. We may not know how to recite mantras, so we should begin with one whose
pronunciation is easy, OM, for example.

Although mantras are very useful tools, they have little effect if the mind is allowed to scatter while
reciting them. Our conduct must also support the mantra. If our behavior is poor and we practice
mantra recitation, we are only deceiving ourselves. Our conduct must support our aspirations.
When the mantra comes to life, it becomes a mirror of our real mind; and such concerns about
whether or not we are reciting it properly, or understand its meaning correctly, or if its OK to recite it
in English, etc. will fall away.

Some people expect some magic to happen when they recite mantras as if some magic wand is
going to erase all negativity, and a miraculous transformation will take place. Mantras are not
psychedelic drugs. They take time to work, but unlike psychedelic drugs, their results last.  

While reciting mantras, our conceptualizing mind may have many background thoughts. Expect the
coming and going of thoughts. But if we find ourselves dwelling on them, we have to contemplate
why. Aim to be single-minded and unscattered when reciting mantras. It is foolish to expect the
mantra to do the work for you.

NO DHARMA LANGUAGE

One needn't study a guide book to France in French.

Neither the obstructions of greed, hate and ignorance, nor the qualities of love, compassion, joy,
and equanimity, are peculiar to any language. The path leading to the abandonment of fetters, or
the development of wholesome qualities is beyond language. While words point out the path, they
shouldn't be confused with it. We should be thankful to those translators who have made the
scriptures available to us in our native language. More has been offered than most of us will ever
be able to read or practice.

FAULTS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

When we begin meditation, it is often like picking up the edge of a carpet and discovering a bunch
of dirt. We may wish we had left the carpet as it was because now we have a chore to do. Those
who start meditation practice often feel it has caused problems rather than cured them. Suddenly
we are aware of unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and attitudes, and may even blame the meditation
for causing them. Though this is a common view, it is as foolish as if we were to blame our discovery
of dirt beneath a carpet on our lifting it.

Meditation increases awareness, and this increased awareness brings the hidden to the surface. If
it didn't, we could not improve ourselves.

How precious water is to a fish precariously tossed out of it. How precious life to a person leaving it.

        SELF INQUIRY

Paradoxical as it may seem, the most advanced practice for either a Buddhist or Hindu, is the
simplest instruction: just inquire, "Who am I?" Much has been written about these three words
because the inquiry itself is so difficult. Many meditation texts, as well as, moral and ethical
disciplines, are aimed at helping us engage in this most fundamental question.


When we practice self-inquiry of the form, "Who am I?," "Who is being mindful of the Buddha,?"  
"Who is dragging a corpse around here,?" And other inquiries of this sort, it is important to
understand that this is not a passive form of meditation. It is a very active state of inquiry. We are
not posing a question and waiting for an answer but actively seeking through reasoning and
analyzes. In the beginning this is tough because the question itself seems too broad; all the
immediate answers are too obvious, and we only have a question mark in our mind.

There are better forms of meditation for beginners, but as one's practice matures, it integrates well
with any meditation. The key to the successful inquiry is burrowing so deep into the question, that
the question itself becomes like quicksand that won't let you free.  Stay with it.

     FORGIVENESS

The unforgiving are hurt more by not forgiving than the unforgiven. The Buddha taught to be
forgiving of others, particularly if they request forgiveness.

    CONTENTMENT

Contentment is a virtue that if not guarded, slips into complacency.
Those of us who do not study with a teacher or are not in day to day contact with one must make it
their responsibility to prevent complacency from creeping in. We do this by always examining our
attitude and view towards our practice through vigilant introspection. No matter how long we have
practiced; we must never be lax and keep our practice fresh.

         
 DESIRE

The Buddha taught that desires should be transformed rather than cut off. Suppressed desires lead
to frustration and the Buddha taught many ways to decrease binding desires without frustration.
There is the substitution of opposites, for example, and the more advanced, Tantra. The
substitution of opposites would encourage the deepening of good desires such as the aspiration to
benefit all sentient
beings, desire to practice the dharma, serve one's teacher, and free oneself and others from
suffering, and so forth, and by this means gradually diminish unwholesome ones such as lust,
greed, anger, in other words, desires that bind rather than liberate.

Tantra is for skilled meditators. It is the process of deliberately giving rise to desire while in
meditation, desires that would be considered binding,  and harnessing the energy of these desires
without releasing them.

          PROJECT

There is a saying, "every man needs a project." But, it often seems that while this is true, it often
turns out the other way round, "every project needs a man." Once this happens, we no longer enjoy
what we are doing, so put forth the extra effort to keep on top of things.


        INITIATIONS

"Initiations" are known as "wangs" in Tibetan. They are empowerments or authorizations to do a
particular practice, but they are often misunderstood to be more than this. The initiation is the first
step of a long discipline that can stretch over many years. Many Buddhist receive initiations as if
blessed by a magic wand and henceforth merged with the mind of Tara, Manjushri, or enshrined in
the Kalachakra Mandala---whatever the initiation may be; completely losing sight of the fact that an
initiation is just an auspicious beginning.

Another valid way of looking at empowerments is as an opportunity to be near one's guru or any
teacher worthy of respect. Often Tibetans receive empowerments with this attitude. There are so
many empowerments that one certainly cannot practice them all; so we attend an empowerment as
a way of being a part of the dharma assembly and enjoy being in the company of the sangha and
the teacher.

          
 MIRAGE

Buddhism teaches us to end the search "out there." It urges us to contemplate the fact that all that
the world has to offer is by its very nature as an illusion. It teaches us to contemplate the nature of
the things of our everyday world without attachment or aversion and to try to see its illusory nature
without seeking anything from it (because nothing is obtainable, anyway.) If we see the world this
way, it is a big advantage for us. If stranded in the desert and saw a mirage and thinking it was
water struggled towards it. If we had the good fortune to come across a fellow traveller who had
already been there and told us there was no water there, this would save us from pursuing a futile
search. Essentially the Buddha is like that fellow traveller, who having discovered the mirage-like
nature of all appearances, is cautioning us, his fellow travellers to avoid a pursuit that cannot be
anything but futile.

       BE PROACTIVE

Leaning against a door to keep thieves out takes a lot of energy. But, if nothing were in the house,
we would worry little about thieves. Purify the mind of its attachments and you can leave your door
open as there is nothing to steal.


   
SIMPLIFY WORKLOAD

What is in front of us today, will be behind us tomorrow; or should be. Avoid having things to do pile
up by organizing your workload allowing extra space for things to do, rather than trying to get more
into less space.



                   
 ANGER

The uncontrolled release of anger cannot be justified, even when someone treats us wrongly. When
anger takes control; reason goes on holiday, and our angry actions bring more harm to us than
those whom we target. However, when anger arises and its energy well controlled, one can harness
this power to produce positive results.

DISTURBING EMOTIONS

A very effective practice that will aid one to understand the nature of disturbing emotions, a practice
that is highly recommended by HH Dali Lama entails the shifting of the focus of the meditative mind
from the topic of meditation to a disturbing emotion. Doing this requires that one first set one's mind
in a meditative state free of afflictive emotions and settle it firmly on the topic of meditation. We
achieve this by bringing to mind a moment when we became angry, or jealous, or gave rise to
hatred, greed, lust, or any other undesirable thought pattern that periodically disturbs our mind
throughout the day. It is important to remain rooted on the topic of meditation while peering as if
from a corner of our mind at the afflictive emotion or thought patterns. There is a sense of
independent observation because one is consciously observing, rather than unconsciously getting
sucked into, a quicksand of disturbances rooted in false views and attachment. This feeling of
detachment is refreshingly liberating.


           
  SUPPORT

When injured we may need a support device to help us walk, such as a cane or walker. These
supports do not walk for us; we still must apply effort. Merely holding on to crutches will not move us
forward unless we exert energy and intention so that their function is realized. Meditation is the
same way. Meditation topics, whether it be a mantra, visualization, or conceptual reasoning on
emptiness or no-self, and many other forms of practice; are "support" devices that work when we
apply energy, effort, and intention..

       
     RITUAL

No matter what form of dharma practice we choose, there comes a time when the practice becomes
so familiar that it becomes second nature and effortless. It is here where the danger arises of going
through the motions of the practice, whether it be seated meditation, rituals, chanting or
visualization, or any other practice, and not realizing its aim or function. We may even become
enamored with ourselves as being "spiritual" for doing our practice, or drift about with our mind
elsewhere while we put our practice on autopilot. If we allow this kind of laxity, our practice can itself
become an attachment and hindrance.

Language often lacks precision and this is why it is important to continually look
beyond the words to their meaning. We foster better understanding when we
contemplate the intention of the words we read and try and form for ourselves a
general framework of the Buddha's intent. By constantly studying the scriptures and combining this
with meditation a correct understanding is achieved.

        
  LANGUAGE

Language often lacks precision, and this is why it is important to look continually beyond the words
to their meaning. We foster better understanding when we contemplate the intention of the words
we read and try and form for ourselves a general framework of the Buddha's intent. By constantly
studying the scriptures and combining this with meditation, a correct understanding is achieved.

         GURU YOGA

"Guru Yoga" is a highly emphasized practice within the Vajrayana school of Buddhism; and other
schools, as well. This important devotional practice stresses the contemplation of the qualities of
one's teacher and dissolving them into oneself. If one does not have a teacher, then one would
contemplate the qualities of the Buddha and visualize those qualities descending upon oneself and
dissolving therein.

Guru Yoga is a practice of affirmation. As our practice of Guru Yoga becomes single pointed and
genuine, we will begin to notice these qualities spilling over into our active daily life. It is a process of
transformation that will gradually overwhelm negative emotions and afflictions.

As we go deeper into this practice, we will realize that our guru is the manifestation of all good
qualities and these qualities will become the primary focus of our attention; the guru being the
vehicle that introduces us to them.

             
POSTURE

It is a common mistaken view that confines meditation to the sitting posture. Unfortunately, this leads
those who have trouble sitting still, and there are many, to believe that they can't practice
meditation. These views are entirely unfounded as meditation is not about any posture at all. The
aim of meditation is to quiet the mind, and positions other than sitting are amenable to meditation.  
In monastic environments, walking meditation is a common practice, as are everyday chores.

If we are among those who "can't sit still," we should not dismiss our ability to meditate on those
grounds. Instead, we should practice our meditation while walking or some other activity during a
time that is set aside every day for meditation. If we do this, we will achieve the same benefits of
meditation as we would if we were practicing in a seated posture.

WORD AND ACTION ECONOMY

The practice of economy of words and actions are disciplines that keep the mind on topic and
actions purposefully done. Being conservative in word and deed will allow us to be fresh and
energetic throughout our day.

         
IGNORANCE

"Ignorance" in our everyday usage, has a negative connotation, and sometimes this colors our
thought when we read Buddhist texts. When Buddhism speaks of ignorance, it does not mean that
we don't know something that we should; but rather that we simply don't know. In this sense
ignorance is describing the plight we all share as unenlightened living beings. It has no negative
connotation. It is as if you saw a friend who was unaware of his stained shirt. He is ignorant of the
stain. He is not aware of the state of affairs; unless someone points it out to him. It is quite natural
for him not to know unless he discovers it or someone points it out to him. Until that time, he is
ignorant of it.

In a similar sense, as ordinary unenlightened living beings, we are ignorant of our true nature. We
fail to see it because of false thinking and attachments, which distracts us and keeps it veiled. But
this is "normal" and the nature of our world. That is why this kind of ignorance is called
"fundamental" ignorance. We study the Buddha dharma to recognize the problem, and we practice
Buddhism to dissolve it.

   
 THE NAME GAME

If you lived alone in the country, you might get to know the birds, rodents, and various other
creatures very well. If you pay attention, you would learn their habits, their diets, and the meaning of
their various calls and posturings. Nevertheless, despite this familiarity, there would persist a desire
to know their names (assuming you already didn't,  of course.) This desire to label things has
perplexed yogis and mystics for centuries, prompting them to write volumes of philosophical
literature. All of us have this predisposition. It is very peculiar because the name tells us nothing
about the thing, or being, at all, and yet we assume it does. If I were to stroll through a park with a
friend, for example, and I noticed a bird I hadn't seen before, I would likely be inclined to inquire its
name. Upon being told, I would rest content thinking I had gathered some information about the
bird. However, I have only learned how to indicate it in my language. In
Japanese, or Chinese, or Persian, or Greek its indication would sound different. The illusion of
language is that we think that we have learned something about the thing labeled when we learn
that label, but we have not. The same is true for everything that can be named.

great masters that followed. If we do this, and meditate on their meaning, our effort will provide us
with a good foundation for discriminating what is in accord with what the Buddha taught from what
isn't.

        
BREATH

Meditation practice is made stronger by incorporating breath awareness. It is the important gauge
that reveals tightness and laxity and other faults of meditation. If the breath is uneven or stuttered
one is likely blocking thoughts. The breath should be even, soft, and subtle, and there should be a
sense of riding on it; as if the breath itself was supporting our meditation.

        
      ADVICE

Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself; it may be the best advice you ever get.

        
FAST AND EASY

I heard HH Dali Lama express his frustration at the Western attitude of wanting to know which path
his the quickest and easiest. There are many things wrong with this attitude, and I will discuss a few
that come to mind.

Attitude is important because it defines our approach to the dharma. The mere fact that we are
thinking  "fast and easy" reveals that we are not of "humble and contrite heart" which are to my mind
the two most important qualities a dharma practitioner should have. If we consider the fact that
wrong actions and ways of thinking have accumulated over many lifetimes and are responsible for
our current state of ignorance and affliction, it is easy to see that the wish to reverse this condition
with the wave of a wand is absurd. But, thinking like this is what many expect.

Another problem with "fast and easy" attitude is that it is extremely selfish. In Mahayana Buddhism,
the key focus is the development of the Bodhisattva ideal, the altruistic intention that places the
awakening of others before one's own. Sutras teach us that Bodhisattva's forsake their
enlightenment for countless kalpas so that they may serve their fellow human beings. Since the
bodhisattva is constantly thinking of the welfare of others, he has no thought of his enlightenment,
not to mention attaining it quickly and easily.

A Chan Master I know was driving with his students when they pulled into a gas station to get gas.
The Master noticed a sign: "Turn Off Your Motor" and asked his perplexed students to purchase it.
They managed to do so and wondered why the Master wanted it. The following day they noticed he
had put it up at the entrance to the meditation hall.

      
BACK BURNER

If you find yourself not knowing what you want to do,  start thinking of things that you don't want to
do. The result might be a sparkling clean house, a weeded garden, painted fascia board, a garage
sale, a faucet that no longer drips, communication, restored with an estranged friend or relative,  or
any one of the infinite variety of things on the back burner too long.

Buddhism dissolves problems by undermining the basis on which they rest. Unlike other methods
that try to solve problems, Buddhism does not rely on any anti-depressants or other medications or
is there a conflict of interest created by fees for services. A Buddhist teacher is a real friend whose
only reward is our happiness.

A Buddhist teacher will not waste time on a particular problem a student may have, but rather try to
demonstrate to his student that whatever his troubles may be, he only sees a speck on a rotting
canvas. How silly to worry about a bit when the entire canvas is about to fall apart. If we succeed in
patching up one area, soon another will replace it. This approach can go on forever, and does, and
keeps therapists and drug companies flourishing.

     TOO AMBITIOUS

A friend of mine recently upon my suggestion joined a monastery as a lay practitioner. He had been
thinking about it for several years, and I suggested that he give it a try.  He has only been there a
few days and is having a good deal of difficulty giving up his red meat and coffee and wondering if
he can make it. He is going too fast, and I advised him to slow down and break his habits gradually.

The intention is crucial in breaking habits. A person who wishes to become a vegetarian has to form
a firm intention to do so and then take action on his resolve. Eating meat can be part of this overall
plan, and in many cases, it is probably better. Certainly one who eats meat once a week for a year
and then quits altogether is better off than one who quits all at once only to start up again a few
months later. The resolve is the important thing and a cup of coffee now and then can be part of the
plan to quit coffee.

Buddhism teaches us to grow naturally without the use of force. Grass does not grow faster by
pulling it. Finding our limitations and working within them is far better than exceeding and breaking
them.


  
          EMPTINESS

The concept of "emptiness" plays a significant role in Buddhism and is a concept often
misunderstood. We misunderstand emptiness when we think we have to negate everything else to
establish it. For example, we say a room full of furniture is full, and one without furniture is empty.
This absence is"relative emptiness", not true emptiness. For, true emptiness would say things
themselves are empty and would encourage us to avoid trying to understanding emptiness by
elimination, but rather by understanding the empty nature of the things themselves.

All this is important to realize if we wish to avoid the pitfalls of attaching to emptiness as an
"absence." The great Mipham in his often witty and humorous style says, "Clinging to emptiness is
as silly as telling a beggar you have nothing to give, and the beggar replying, 'give me your
nothing.'"  Although everything may be empty, the negation of things does not establish it.  The
things themselves, in fact, partake of this empty nature.

Things are empty because they depend on other things and cannot stand alone. This dependent
nature is also their emptiness. Understanding this will help our meditation. When unwanted thoughts
are seen as dependent on other thoughts, they will no longer seem so concrete and real, and they
will naturally be less disturbing.

             NEGATION

For example, if I say the "pot does not exist" I am not saying that its non-existence does. My
statement is a "non-implicative negation" in the sense I am negating something without setting
something else up. An implicative negation would be something like;  John does not sleep at night,
which implies he sleeps in the day.

             
 GREED

Do not worry about what you don't have; since you don't have it, it is not your worry.

THINK OF DEATH

Putting off thoughts of death until it is at our doorstep is foolish. There is not a single moment of our
lives when the call of death may not sound.  Many seers from various traditions have recognized
death as intertwined with life and have tried to understand it in this context, giving both equal
attention. They have realized that understanding death is as important as understanding life and
that this is a fact of "life." When death is understood, life is understood, and they were never
content to allow it to remain an unknown. There is no dark corner in their mind where they have
feared to go or thought unknowable. For them, death is for the living to understand while their
faculties are sharp and their bodies healthy, and not when we have no choice as the thread of life is
about to be cut.


       
UNIVERSAL GAIN

Ambitions that are out of sync with who we are as individuals cause many of our problems. The
"everyman for himself" mentality is so deeply ingrained in our shared cultural psyche that it 's hard
to step out of the quicksand. To strive for personal gain is such a "given."
It obscures the simple fact that our happiness is dependent on the happiness of others in our
lives--- even if it entails personal sacrifice.
If everyone busied themselves thinking of the welfare of others, therapists would go broke.

WILLINGNESS TO CHANGE

Those who begin a dharma practice soon realize that it demands change. Willingness to change is
one of the most important attitudes that a student can have and my teacher, Master Hsuan Hua,
often reminded his students of its importance.


Established means of doing things and patterns of thought cannot help
but be put under the magnifying glass as our awareness increases through the practice of
meditation and right action and thought. This increased awareness often demands change.
Established viewpoints and habits do not fall easily, and we often become quite clever (rather than
wise) in our effort to justify "hindrances." If we try hard enough, the "hindrances" will win, and we will
abandon our practice;  and, unfortunately, this is a common outcome.

At the outset of dharma practice, it is important to understand that our established ideas will no
longer provide a place of rest. Everything will be called into question. Those who are willing to do
this quickly learn how to expand and grow all good qualities and cut off what is unprofitable. If we
simply remember not to be attached to our ways of thinking and doing things we open up all
possibilities.

        
 "I" THOUGHT

The "I" thought is very mysterious. Sometimes we associate it with the body, as when we say "I am
injured." And sometimes we are the possessor of the very thing we are ascribing the "I" thought to,
as when we say "my body aches." If we take either position, either being or not being the body, we
quickly find that it unfixed, but rather always fluctuating. The same is true of mental states. We are
happy one moment and sad the next and associate these mental states with the "I" accordingly.
Although we sense a firm sense of "I," when we search we cannot find any firm basis for it.  In fact,
the cat is out of the bag before it even gets in, because scripture teaches us that it is unfindable.
But, we can't simply take the scriptures word for it; we cannot get off so easily. Because scriptures
teach that we must continually search for the basis of the "I" thought; we must relentlessly inquire,
"who am I." It is only through this inquiry that we can find out for ourselves that it is unfindable. And
that is where the work lies.

 FOUR INSTRUCTIONS

Abandon evil doing;
Practice virtue well;
Subdue your mind;
This is the Buddha's teaching.

Buddhism is known for its simplicity, as the verse above, from the earliest of the Buddha's
teachings, exemplifies. Those who wish to practice Buddhism can enter the path by just following
these simple instructions. Of course, there will be many obstacles, and our resolve must be strong,
but the way is easy to understand.

      
SELFISHNESS

Selfishness is a willingness to achieve one's aim without regard for the harm we may bring upon
others. Virtue is practiced with a subdued and humble attitude, quietly without advertising it.
hidden.  The mind is subdued if we stop following its monkey-like way, leaping from thought to
thought, like a forest monkey jumps from branch to branch.  If we always watch the mind's activity as
an impartial observer, we will gradually look behind the individual thoughts and become intrigued by
the source from which all thoughts arise. Observing the mind's nature in this way settles it.

         
 INSULT

If you don't take insult to heart, it remains the possession of the one insulting. If you do take it to
heart, it becomes your burden.

          
DISCIPLINE

As a young kid entering my last year of high school, I was a 6' 4" bean poll. I decided to join the
Muscle Beach Weight Lifting Club and do something about it. Their gym, known as the "Dungeon,"
a musky, large, dimly lit basement was on Fourth and Broadway in Santa Monica. I decided to train
mornings before the sun rose and this choice made me the only other person in the gym besides
David Draper, a world class body builder who won both Mr. America and Mr. Universe. We soon
became training partners, and I gained eighty pounds of muscle in less than nine months. I also
learned something about dedication and discipline.

We can apply many of the principles that we learn in life can in ways other than the way we initially
acquire them. I lost interest in body building but realized that the principles of dedication and
discipline were valuable lessons not confined to the gym or body building. Now looking back
forty-five years later, I can see how much dedication and disciple has supported my effort along the
many twists and turns of the path in my quest to understand the nature of my mind.

All of us to some degree practice the dharma, but many do not realize it. People who say, "I don't
understand what Buddhist practice is all about."  But, if they just took the time to reflect on the
principles that they use to attain what they desire in life, it would reveal that similar disciplines are
applied. They would discover that they are already using "Buddhist" principles; all that remains is for
them to begin applying them to goals that reach beyond the limitations of their current use.

There is nothing exclusively "Buddhist"  about dedication, discipline, honesty, generosity, patience,
compassion and a myriad of other qualities people all have to a greater or lesser degree, whether
they have heard of the dharma or not. The "dharma" is not far off, nor is it difficult to understand
and practice. We must recognize this. We owe it to ourselves.

        NOTHING TO DO

If, the next time we find ourselves with nothing to do, we take a moment to sit
down and watch our mind, we will see a swarm of wildly varied and sometimes
conflicting thoughts compete for our attention. Like sharks that cannot live without moving through
the water, we are conditioned to think that we must be doing something. And so it is that one of the
competing thoughts will win our attention and lead us to action. And, thus our life goes on.

However, this does not have to be the case. We do not always have to seize upon
one thought or the other and give ourselves to following it. We can simply watch
the thoughts compete and resist the impulse to follow them. We will feel antsy until we grow
accustom to it; but this will level out into a calm after awhile. Anyway, it is better to be antsy than
scatter-brained.


SPACIOUSNESS

While in meditation, we should try to let go of all thoughts as soon as they arise and feel a sense of
spaciousness. We accomplish this by making an effort to stretch the duration between thoughts as
they appear to our awareness. Gradually, we will feel a greater sense of independence (from them.)
The mind that learns to rest in this way will gradually free itself of entanglements.

The process described above requires patience. We have conditioned ourselves to pay attention to
chasing after thoughts, and they will compete for our attention until  we cease to do so.
Thought for the Day:  July 20, 2009

          CONTEXT

When studying sutras it is important to bring them down to earth as we read.
Sutras teach in parables and stories aimed at introducing us to a whole new way of thinking about
ourselves and our world. Often the illustrations used are from a world whose customs, traditions,
and ways of life were very different from our own. Despite this fact, the people whom the Buddha
taught were individuals whose problems were fundamentally the same as ours, and we need only
put the teaching within the context of our modern world to see this.

In Buddhist cosmology we live in the Desire Realm, and, for Buddhists, being
governed by desire is a limitation. It leads to endless rebirths in this realm and possibly lower
realms, too, if we accumulate negative karma. For the Buddhist, being born in the Desire Realm is a
great blessing, however, not because we can fulfill our desires, but rather because this realm offers
the opportunity to transcend them.

               RELAX

If the next time we find ourselves with nothing to do, we take a moment to sit down and watch our
mind, we will see a swarm of widely varied and sometimes conflicting thoughts competes for our
attention. Like sharks who cannot live without moving through the water, we are conditioned to think
that we must be doing something. And so it is that one of the competing thoughts will win our
attention and lead us to action. And, thus, our life goes on.

We can, however, do things differently. We do not always have to seize onto one thought or the
other and give ourselves to following it. We can simply watch the thoughts compete and resist the
impulse to follow any of them. If we can gain a sense of independence from the attention-grabbing
thoughts, and pigeonhole them all under the broad category of "distraction," we can level them out.

Once we can let go of the thoughts as soon as they arise, we should make an effort to stretch the
duration between thoughts. Gradually, we should increase the time between the arrisal and passing
of thoughts until we feel a greater sense of independence (from them.) The mind that learns to rest
in this way will gradually free itself of entanglements.

The process described above requires some skill because our thoughts don't simply roll over a play
dead. We have conditioned ourselves to pay attention to them and to chase after them, and they
will compete for our attention when we cease to do so.

           
SANGHA

The word "sangha" is well understood in the Buddhist world as the last member of the "Three
Jewels:" Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, "sangha" referring to the community of monks and nuns, as
well as lay followers of the Buddha. Working together to achieve the common goal of enlightenment
is central to Mahayana Buddhism. It is why the Buddha instructed his disciples to form the sangha
and study and meditate together. It also means that we are not only responsible for our
development but the development of the entire sangha. Being a member of the sangha means that
we all move together as one body. We think regarding benefiting all members of the sangha and
discard thoughts of self-benefit. We avoid all transgressions because we know that it will have a
negative impact on other sangha members.

Learning to think of being "together" with others and moving as a whole, rather than individually,
helps us to develop human qualities so central to Buddhist practice. It also provides a sense of
support, for we feel that we are moving through the twists and turns and many obstructions of the
Path as a part of a whole rather than alone.

The value of sangha was described well by Christ when he said, "Wherever two or three  gather in
my name, there I am also." We see it emphasized in all faiths, not just Buddhism. Many people,
however, feel isolated in their practice because they have either not found a community to practice
with, or have not realized that
being a part of a sangha means being responsible for everyone in it---and not just oneself.




       NOTHING TO DO

If the next time we find ourselves with nothing to do, we take a moment to sit down and watch our
mind, we will see a swarm of wildly varied and sometimes conflicting thoughts competes for our
attention. Like sharks that cannot live without moving through the water, we are conditioned to think
that we must be doing something. And so it is that one of the competing thoughts will win our
attention and lead us to action. And, thus, our life goes on.


    
 SPACIOUSNESS

While in meditation, we should try to let go of all thoughts as soon as they arise and feel a sense of
spaciousness. We accomplish this by making an effort to stretch the duration between thoughts as
they appear to our awareness. Gradually, we will feel a greater sense of independence (from them.)
The mind that learns to rest in this way will gradually free itself of entanglements.

The process described above requires patience. We have conditioned ourselves to pay attention to
chasing after thoughts, and they will compete for our attention until we cease to do so.


           
CONTEXT

When studying sutras, it is important to bring them down to earth as we read. Sutras teach in
parables and stories aimed at introducing us to a whole new way of thinking about ourselves and
our world. Often the illustrations used are from a world whose customs, traditions, and ways of life
were very different from our own. Despite this fact, the people whom the Buddha taught were
individuals whose problems were fundamentally the same as ours, and we need only put the
teaching within the context of our modern world to see this.

In Buddhist cosmology we live in the Desire Realm, and, for Buddhists, being governed by desire is
a limitation. It leads to endless rebirths in this realm and possibly lower realms, too, if we accumulate
negative karma. For the Buddhist, being born in the Desire Realm is a great blessing, however, not
because we can fulfill our desires, but rather because this realm offers the opportunity to transcend
them.

            SANGHA

The word "sangha" is well understood in the Buddhist world as the last member of the "Three
Jewels:" Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, "sangha" referring to the community of monks and nuns, as
well as lay followers of the Buddha. The colloquial use of the word means "together" and this
applies well to what it means to be a sangha member.

Working together to achieve the common goal of enlightenment is central to Mahayana Buddhism. It
is why the Buddha instructed his disciples to form the sangha and study and meditate together. It
also means that we are not only responsible for our development but the development of the entire
sangha. Being a member of the sangha means that we all move together as one body. We think
regarding benefiting all members of the sangha and discard thoughts of self-benefit. We avoid all
transgressions because we know that it will have a negative impact on other sangha members.

Learning to think of being "together" with others and moving as a whole, rather than individually,
helps us to develop human qualities so central to Buddhist practice. It also provides a sense of
support, for we feel that we are moving through the twists and turns and many obstructions of the
Path as a part of a whole, and that is very supportive.

The value of sangha was described well by Christ when he said, "Wherever two or three are
gathered in my name, there I am also." We see it emphasized in all faiths, not just Buddhism. Many
people, however, feel isolated in their practice because they have either not found a community to
practice with, or have not realized that being a part of a sangha means being responsible for
everyone in it---and not just oneself.

If in our practice of the dharma, we can turn our attention away from thoughts of personal gain and
broaden it to include our brothers and sisters on the Path, with ourselves merely a member of this
larger body, we will feel a sense of security and responsibility at the same time.


DISCIPLINE AS SUPPORT

Buddhist practice entails following many rules governing conduct. No matter how hard we may
practice meditation and time spent in study, the support of a foundation rooted in proper conduct is
indispensible. It is the practice of discipline that keeps the merit we gain from our meditation and
study from leaking out.


      CAREFULNESS

While digging up my yard a few days ago to find a leaking pipe I wanted to repair, I inadvertently
cracked it and caused a new leak. I spent the afternoon fixing that and have yet to get to the
original leak. Do we not sometimes make a similar mistake in our dharma practice, being
overzealous for results, and in the process creating more problems for ourselves rather than less?
Moving slowly and carefully will ensure we don't make mistakes we have to correct later.


             
NAMASTE

When we place our palms together in salutation to the Buddha or in greeting someone, our gesture
is a symbol that we are bringing our scattered thoughts, the ten fingers, and two palms, dualistic
thinking, together in single-minded respect and veneration. This gesture is a beautiful mudra
(gesture, attitude) that should be mindfully used.

DANGER OF ATTACHMENT TO BLISS

I am reading the last section of the Shurangama Sutra, which devotes some chapters to warn
students of the dangers of grasping and craving. When we think of grasping and craving we usually
think regarding objects of desire, whether they be material objects or people. Seeking wealth so
that one can buy lots of things that the mind hankers after, and seeking pleasure with the opposite
sex are forms of grasping and craving easy to identify. But, less obvious is the grasping and craving
that is associated with good states. It is these states of mind that define the last chapters of the
Shurangama Sutra, the sections dealing with "demonic" states that began as wholesome states.

Even wholesome states once grasped become hindrances. The Sutra warns that when a dharma
practitioner has developed skill in samadhi (meditative stabilization) leading to very blissful states,
he must carefully guard aginst attaching to the bliss of that meditation. If he does not there, is the
danger that the wholesome state becomes unwholesome or demonic simply because of his
attachment to it.

The Sutras explains that when encountering wholesome states that give rise to bliss, we should let
them go even as we might a thought of anger or hate, which we would certainly not try to duplicate
(in subsequent meditations.) If we take care to do this, we will not develop an attachment to
wholesome states that later will become a hindrance.

Our practice should always be new and never should blissful states be sought after or preserved. If
one has the advantage of studying under a good teacher, the teacher will notice when his disciple is
clinging to states of mind and use skillful means to guide him away from doing so. However, those of
us who are not under the guidance of a good teacher must take responsibility for ourselves to
recognize our attachment to blissful states and cease doing so. This grasping ecstatic states of
mind, and so forth, is a big responsibility and a tough one because it is so easy to see high states
of awareness as worthy of attachment. Wholesome states of mind are only healthy as long as we do
not attach to them. If we avoid attaching to them we open the door to progress further; if however
we become attached, we create a barrier (by our attachment) and will remain satisfied in that
awareness for a time, but eventually, even that joy will disappear, and we will regress in our
meditation.

The Sutras explains that when encountering good states that give rise to bliss, we should let them
go even as we might a thought of anger or hate, which we would certainly not try to duplicate (in
subsequent meditations.) If we take care to do this, we will not develop an attachment to wholesome
states that later will become a hindrance.

If one has the advantage of studying under a good teacher, the teacher will notice when his disciple
is clinging to states of mind and use skillful means to guide him away from doing so. However, those
of us who are not under the guidance of a good teacher must take responsibility for ourselves to
recognize our attachment to blissful states and cease doing so. Accomplishing this is a big
responsibility and a tough one because it is so easy to view joyful states of awareness as worthy of
attachment. If we avoid attaching to them, we open the door to progress further.


   
 SANGHA

The word "sangha" is well understood in the Buddhist world as the last member of
the "Three Jewels:" Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, "sangha" referring to the
community of monks and nuns, as well as lay followers of the Buddha. The
colloquial use of the word  means "together" and this really applies well to what it
means to be a sangha member.

Working together to achieve the common goal of enlightenment is central to
Mahayana Buddhism. It is why the Buddha instructed his disciples to form the
sangha and study and meditate together. It also means that we are not only
responsible for our own development, but the development of the entire sangha.
Being a member of the sangha means that we all move together as one body. We
think in terms of benefiting all members of the sangha and discard thoughts of
self-benefit. We avoid all transgressions because we know that it will have a
negative impact on other sangha  members.

Learning to think of being "together" with others and moving as a whole, rather
than individually, helps us to develop altruistic qualities so central to Buddhist
practice. It also provides a sense of support, for we feel that we are moving
through the twists and turns and many obstructions of the Path as a part of a
whole and that is very supportive.

The value of sangha was described well by Christ when he said, "Wherever two or
three are gathered in my name, there I am also." We see it emphasized in all faiths,
not just Buddhism. Many people, however, feel isolated in their practice because
they have either not found a community to practice with, or have not realized that
being a part of a sangha means being responsible for everyone in it---and not just
oneself.

If in our practice of the dharma, we can turn our attention away from thoughts of
personal gain and broaden it to include our brothers and sisters on the Path, with
ourselves merely a member of this larger body, we will feel a sense of security
and responsibility at the same time.



Spontaneity is a feature of  natural enlightened awareness. Spontaneously is
impossible for most of us because we are creatures of conditioning. Vain attempts
at being free spirited and spontaneous is seen in many social groups, especially
New Age, Hippies, Beatniks and a host of others who simply believe that by
rebelling against the "conditioned" they are being spontaneous and free. This is
just another form of conditioned behaviour, however, conditioned by their
conceptual understanding of that which is not free, often family, social norms,
social structure, work 9-5, etc.

What such groups fail to appreciate, however, is that the conditioned itself is not
understood by rebelling against it; but rather knowingly and consciously engaging
in it. In other words, rather than blindly following the so called norms of the
world or rebelling against them, one simply makes them their topic of meditation
and fully engages with them as if the everyday world were the field of
enlightenment where all is possible. If one can consciously and with complete
mindfulness approach life in this way opportunity will exist everywhere and there
will be no need to be anything but "ordinary and nothing special" as Chan
advocates we should be.


DISCIPLINE AS SUPPORT

Buddhist practice entails following many rules governing conduct. No matter how hard we may
practice meditation and time spent in study, the support of a foundation rooted in proper conduct is
indispensible. It is the practice of discipline that keeps the merit we gain from our meditation and
study from leaking out.


  
CAREFULLNESS

While digging up my yard a few days ago to find a leaking pipe I wanted to repair, I inadvertently
cracked it and caused a new leak. I spent the afternoon fixing that
and have yet to get to the original leak. Do we not sometimes make a similar mistake in our dharma
practice, being overzealous for results, and in the process creating more problems for ourselves
rather than less? Proceeding slowly and carefully will assure we don't make mistakes we have to
correct later.


       NAMASTE

When we place our palms together in salutation to the Buddha or in greeting
someone, our gesture is a symbol that we are bringing our scattered thoughts, the
ten fingers, and two palms, dualistic thinking, together in single minded respect
and veneration. This is a wonderful mudra (gesture, attitude) that should be
mindfully used.

DANGER OF ATTACHMENT TO BLISS

I am reading the last section of the Shurangama Sutra, which devotes a number of
chapters to warn students of the dangers of grasping and craving. When we think
of grasping and craving we usually think in terms of objects of desire, whether
they be material objects or people. Seeking wealth so that one can buy lots of
things that the mind hankers after, and seeking pleasure with the opposite sex are
forms of grasping and craving easy to identify. But, less obvious is the grasping
and craving that is associated with wholesome states. It is these states of mind
that are identified in the last chapters of the Shurangama Sutra, the chapters
dealing with "demonic" states that began as wholesome states.

Even wholesome states once grasped become hindrances. The Sutra warns that when a dharma
practitioner has developed skill in samadhi (meditative stabilization) leading to very blissful states he
must carefully guard aginst attaching to the bliss of that meditation. If he does not there, is the
danger that the wholesome state becomes unwholesome or demonic simply because of his
attachment to it.

The Sutras explains that when encountering wholesome states that give rise to
bliss, we should let them go even as we might a thought of anger or hate, which
we would certainly not try to duplicate (in subsequent meditations.) If we take
care to do this, we will not develop an attachment to wholesome states that later
will become a hindrance.

Our practice should always be new and never should blissful states be sought
after or preserved. If one has the advantage of studying under a good teacher, the
teacher will notice when his disciple  is clinging to states of mind and use skillful
means to guide him away from doing so. However, those of us who are not under
the guidance of a good teacher, must take responsibility for ourselves to
recognize our attachment to blissful states and cease doing so. This is a big
responsibility and a very difficult one because it is so easy to view joyful states of
awareness as worthy of attachment. Wholesome states of mind are only
wholesome as long as we do not attach to them. If we avoid attaching to them we
open the door to further progress; if however we become attached, we create a
barrier (by our attachment) and will remain satisfied in that awareness for a time,
but eventually even that joy will disappear and we will regress in our meditation.

The Sutras explains that when encountering wholesome states that give rise to
bliss, we should let them go even as we might a thought of anger or hate, which
we would certainly not try to duplicate (in subsequent meditations.) If we take
care to do this, we will not develop an attachment to wholesome states that later
will become a hindrance.

If one has the advantage of studying under a good teacher, the
teacher will notice when his disciple  is clinging to states of mind and use skillful
means to guide him away from doing so. However, those of us who are not under
the guidance of a good teacher, must take responsibility for ourselves to
recognize our attachment to blissful states and cease doing so. This is a big
responsibility and a very difficult one because it is so easy to view joyful states of
awareness as worthy of attachment. If we avoid attaching to them we
open the door to further progress.

     WHY THE RUSH?

This morning I listened to HH Dali lLama's explanation of Atisha's Lamp and in it, he remarked that
he, as a youth, was very intimidated by the idea of the countless Eons necessary to practice and
perfect the path of a bodhisattva. He asked his teacher if it might not be better for him to practice
the Vajrayana tradition that promises enlightenment in a much shorter period, even a single lifetime.
To this, his teacher replied with a question, "What makes you think that it is possible to perfect the
Vajrayana tradition without first perfecting the Bodhisattva Path?"

This view points out a common misconception about the practice of Buddhism today: that some
ways are quicker or better than others. While it is true that we may all respond to practice certain
techniques better than others, regarding development of basic qualities such as compassion,
altruistic intention, generosity, absence of desire and anger, patience, we all have a good deal of
foundation work necessary. While some Buddhist schools may seem to ignore these prerequisites,
it is not because they are deemed unimportant, but rather that these schools speak to those
students who have already developed them. Today many students lose sight of this all-important
point, and practice Vajrayana, for example, without having first acquired a basis for this practice
mentioned above. Thus His Holiness's warning to us.

   
  DATED ILLUSTRATION

HH Dali Lama, in his explanation of Atisha's Lamp, points out that evidence contradicts science of
the ancient scriptures.  For example, the distances between heavenly bodies and Mount Meru as
the center of the Universe has all been disproved. He says that while we should accept the views of
science and not argue with empirical evidence, we should also realize that the Buddha was not
giving a discourse on science, and we should therefore try to understand the concepts that the
illustrations seek to bring to mind.

Buddhist sutra texts and most religious texts, for that matter, quite naturally use very dated
explanations, and are often ignored for that reason. This very superficial way of looking at scripture
fails to appreciate the underlying principles that they wish us to consider. Our effort should always
be to comprehend the meaning of the illustration. Since the problems of people today are identical
with those who lived at the time of sages past, with a small amount of effort we easily take
advantage of their insights.

  LONG TERM VIEW

When practicing the dharma, we should always have a long-term view. Concerning our practice, it is
important that likes and dislikes do not sway us regarding what kind of dharma practice we adopt.
We should instead rely on true principle and the advice of authentic texts and teachers. Great
happiness often results from staying with tedious practices.

           
 FOCUS

A primary function of meditation is to help us recognize distraction. Where distraction is absent,
focus is present. Where there is focus, there is attention; and it is our full attention that gets things
done to the best of our ability. Whether we are meditating or going about our chores and work, we
will do better when absorbed in what we are doing. Distraction is like a thief that robs us of the
pleasure of this engagement.

  RIGHT MOTIVATION

But, training the mind to be undistracted is not enough, for this just develops concentration. In
Buddhist sutra texts, concentration is always prefaced  by "right," or "proper." If not, there is a
danger of developing concentration, even concentration leading to samadhi, that does not tend
towards liberation and in fact, can lead to increased bondage and wrong views. Concentration,
therefore, must be accompanied by "right motivation."

"Right motivation" is cultivated by continually asking ourselves what we expect from our practice and
getting rid of all "personal" desires and ambitions.Better said:  gradually transform objectives into
goals that align with the aim of the teachings. Doing this leads us to the often little explored and
crucial aspect of meditation practice: study. If we don't study, our concentration may become very
strong and free of distraction; but improperly placed. That is why the time set aside for meditation,
reasoned analyses, and study should be equally balanced.

A mantra is only as good as the vessel that holds it. If we discipline our lives, they will support us
and smooth out all difficulties, if not we are just wasting our breath. Mantras are tools that help us
break up false thinking and attachments. They, therefore,  bring us into direct conflict with deeply
ingrained and well-established habits that are unbeneficial and don't die quickly. If we are reluctant
to bury them, it is of no use reciting mantras.

BUDDHISM FOR OTHER FAITHS

The phrase,  the Buddha Dharma , is misleading if we take it to imply exclusivity. It is important to
bear this in mind if asked by friends of other faiths about the dharma. We certainly do not want to
create any barriers where there are none. Show those of other belief systems how the application of
the Buddha dharma applies within their belief system, and it should not be our intention to convert a
curious questioner. Those of us who have studied other faiths know that much of what the Buddha
taught is the foundation of other religions, as well.  Stress this.


STILLNESS AND ACTIVITY

When we meditate, we do not want to be always fighting off thoughts, alternating between stillness
and activity. Meditating in this way is impossible. If we are to meditate properly, we must cultivate the
no-arisal of distracting thoughts and emotions. We do not want to be letting go of the same stuff
again and again; this is not what letting go means. If we find ourselves doing this, rather than letting
go, we should let the train stop, get off, and examine the scenery. Doing this makes the journey far
more enjoyable.

   
  "TIME" ISSUE

Many people who say that they "Don't have time to practice the dharma," only lack conviction,
rather than time. We all find time to do many things in life that are not essential to our well-being
and maintenance, and yet when it comes to dharma practice, which when properly understood, is
essential, time is suddenly lacking. It is very natural to think this way. We just are failing to recognize
the benefits of practice, and without seeing this, there is simply no motivation for it. Unlike other
things, which offer immediate gratification or monetary compensation, the value of dharma practice
is difficult to see. Therefore, it is not surprising that very few set out upon the path.

Those who aspire to begin a practice should first gain the conviction of its worthiness. Listening to
the right teachers and studying authentic sutra texts will help us to see that in many ways our
everyday world, no matter how fortunate we may be, is unsatisfactory. It is through fully appreciating
the sense in which our seemingly joyful lives are suffering, that we build a foundation for lasting
dharma practice and find the time for it.



  
SUPPORT YOUR MANTRA

If we recite mantras, we must do our best to make sure our mind and body are purified of
defilements and not assume that it is the job of the mantra to do it for us. The mantra will meet us
half way and support any effort we make to purify ourselves, but it will not be effective if we are lazy
and assume that reciting sacred syllables alone is transformative. Mantra recitation is just one limb
of a very broad practice the requires the cultivation of merit, virtue, wisdom and maintaining pure
conduct. The path works as a totality of mutually supporting aspects, and only when we practice this
way can we realize it.

            
 "Healers"

"Healers" who sell their so called "spiritual" gifts bring on ten diseases for every one they cure.
Better to stay clear of them.

          HARSH SPEECH

Harsh speech seldom accomplishes its objective and more often leaves the speaker carrying the
weight of his words. Once entangled by anger, we are carried away by it, and our actions reflect
this.  If we find ourselves engaging in harsh speech often, we should know that we must work on our
anger. Sometimes harsh words may seem warranted, and in some circumstances may be, but when
we get emotionally involved in the cause of our words we are just adding one mistake upon another.
We hurt ourselves and the other person, as well. Patient words are far more capable. If we cultivate
patience all the time, it will serve us well when a situation demands it. A patient person is also kind
to others and considerate of their perspective.

            
BREATH

Why did it take a fully enlightened Buddha to come along and explain to us that if we watch our
breath, we can discover many subtle secrets of our mind and body? What ordinary people take for
granted, Buddhas and Rishis saw as a precious door leading to the nature of reality. Mindfulness of
breathing is one of the cornerstone practices of Buddhist meditation; and yet this precious breath
goes mostly ignored by ordinary people ---- even though we can't live
without it.

In life we often think everything is "out there" and we are always striving to obtain material things we
don't have, a status we don't have, people we don't have. If we paid more attention to the people we
do have, the wealth we do have, and the place in life's drama that we do occupy, we could expand
that to the limits of the universe. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Buddha's teaching is its
sheer simplicity. Buddhism does not lead us to seek salvation in another world, but rather to see the
true significance of our familiar one HIBERNATION

As a novice practitioner of meditation, I developed some skill in sitting for long periods of time in
meditation. While living in a monastery in the Himalayas, I spent a year meditating all day every day.
The abbot of the Monastery, Sangye Tenzin Lama, one day said to me that I was practicing "Bear
Meditation." He went on to talk about bears in hibernation, and it was one of the best teachings on
meditation I would ever receive. He made it very clear that my mistaken way of practicing meditation
would "bear" no fruit (no pun intended.)

The reason this teaching had such a profound influence on me was not so much what was said, but
his motivation for speaking them. The Abbot pitied me. He knew the difference between correct and
incorrect meditation and his words came from his wisdom and compassion. He was not criticizing
me, but teaching me.

The importance of having good teachers is significant. Had similar words come from one without
real understanding it would not have influenced me as it did. I would have heard it as a criticism
rather than compassionate instruction.

 "Bear Meditation"

A reader asked me to describe "Bear Meditation" described in a "Thought" a few days ago. Here
goes:

The Buddha cautioned his disciples to avoid falling into "dull emptiness," which is becoming like a
stone with no awareness. When through meditation we close the doors to the six sense organs, so
that
the eyes do not engage in forms, the ears hear no sounds, the tongue tastes no flavors, the
thinking mind no longer engages in conceptualization, it seems logical that we should arrive at a
blank state of mind, or "dull emptiness". Unfortunately, many people do.

Proper practice will not leave one in this state, but rather introduce one to a state of clear, bright,
knowing, awareness of the mind's essential nature, no longer veiled by conceptualization, physical
forms, sights, tastes, and so forth. Meditation is not just closing doors to perception, like stepping
into a closet and forgetting the world, but it sees forms without the eyes, hearing sounds without the
ears, using the mind without conceptualizing, in short, using our faculties in a new way. Meditation is
a positive experience not derived from negation. We do not meditate to negate the world, but rather
honestly see it. The world and our thoughts are like a mirror to help us do that, but unfortunately,
many are so tangled up in the world and thoughts that we fail to see this. It is a correct meditation
that can free us from this entanglement and enable us to recognize the mirror like quality of a single
passing thought, or perception.


        THE TEACHER

We should all experience the power of receiving instructions from a realized master. When one free
of lust and anger, for example, tells us to free ourselves of it, the task seems doable, rather than
out of reach. Their words have a life of their own, like seeds that enter within us and grow. This
quality is true even of the books they write, which will guide us as no others can, if we pay attention
and try to apply their teachings. The aspirations of a Master empowers their words and because of
the vows they have made to teach and transform living beings.

In our effort to recognize a good teacher, in addition to his (or her) conduct, we should examine the
teachings offered. A good Buddhist teacher does not simply invent his teachings but roots them in
authentic scripture. It should always be evident that the root is in what the Buddha taught and not
simply a New Age creation packaged as Buddhism. A good teacher would never compromise the
original teachings (in an effort) to have greater appeal to his modern audience; which is not the
same as saying he does not have the ability to make authentic teachings appealing. In fact, the
strength of a good teacher is his ability to make what otherwise might seem meant for a former time,
relevant in our modern world.


     NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

Today, while listening to a recording of HH Dali Lama, he spoke of a talk he had with a psychologist
who told him that eighty percent of the anger experienced by an individual towards another is
coming from his side. The twenty percent coming from the object's side is blown up by the
imagination, and a small flame becomes a roaring blaze.

Meditation can help us to create self-awareness that will act as an early warning system that will
enable us to detect potentially harmful patterns of thought before they hopelessly entangle us in
negativity. We will be able to recognize a small blaze and extinguish it before becoming engulfed in
it.

Yesterday's thought talked about disturbing emotions such as anger, greed, lust, etc., and the
importance of eliminating them through proper mindfulness. Today, we will speak of laxity, which
though not a disturbing emotion is nevertheless a mental state to avoid.

Mental laxity is not considered negative emotion and is therefore often under-scrutinized. For
example, we may be thinking about sewing, what we ate for dinner yesterday, a movie we watched a
few days earlier, etc., in general, thoughts that don't stir up either negativity or positive engagement
or inspiration. Musing about this and that is laxity.

As dharma practitioners, we must learn to engage our mind in a clear stream of inquiry all the time.
While this may be the goal, in practice it takes years of study and meditation to accomplish. Before
we arrive at this state, it is natural to fall into laxity; it is a way for the mind to relax and replenish
itself. But, too much laxity, and we are failing to utilize our mind to its fullest potential. Finding the
balance essential to growth is accomplished through mindfulness that recognizes when laxity is in
excess, withdraws from needless wandering,  and sets the mind once again on inquiry.

SIMPLICITY DEVELOPS UNDERSTANDING

Kabir was one of India's greatest philosophers, mystic, and poets. He lived the simple life of a
basket weaver on the streets of Calcutta and remained there even as his fame spread throughout
the world. It was, in fact, basket weaving that inspired many of his poems and analogies he used in
his philosophical treatises. Kabir is not unique in maintaining a humble lifestyle even after
developing sharp insight; there are many such examples.

One of the most helpful realizations we may have as dharma practitioners are the realization that
wherever we may happen to be is probably the best place to accomplish the task. Jobs, family, a
busy city, etc., are either hindrances or doors. For Kabir, the bustling streets of Calcutta was a
window for him to study human nature and his basket weaving taught him mindfulness. A peaceful
cave to retreat to may have tempted others to flee work and the city, but not Kabir, who was not
lured by fanciful thoughts of retreat into quietude. For him, what is true is true anywhere at any time,
and it was this truth that he set his sights upon.

It is human nature to think that somewhere else is better than where we are. Mountain people flee to
the cities, city people long for the mountains. It is just the restless mind seeking distraction.
Unfortunately, many mountain people never leave the mountains, yet continually dream of the city;  
while many city people, a dream of mountains, yet never leave the city. They spend a lifetime
dreaming of being somewhere else, and it is this dream that obscures the real worth of where they
are.

 
TREAT YOURSELF

Everyone likes to invest in a sure thing, but there is one sure thing that very few people have the
wisdom to invest in:  death. Unless we have the good fortune of meeting a good knowing advisor, it
is unlikely we will think much about death until it is knocking at our door. Then it is too late because
death bed conversions are powerless to change a lifetime of misguided actions. These belated
conversions are the plight of living beings and why we turn endlessly on the wheel of birth and
death.

If we have had the good fortune to meet a teacher or friend, who has inspired us to practice the
dharma, we have a great advantage and should honor it. It is tough to come to the path and once it
is pointed out to us if we don't walk it is a real pity. If we put forth a little effort, however, we will find
that what seemed so out of reach is really within the realm of possibilities, as we plug into a source
of energy we never thought existed. If you walk ten feet towards the Buddha, he will walk twenty feet
towards you.

    THE TEACHER

We should all experience the power of receiving instructions from a realized master. When one free
of lust and anger, for example, tells us to free ourselves of it, the task seems doable, rather than
out of reach. Their words have a life of their own, like seeds that enter within us and grow. This
quality is true even of the books they write, which will guide us as no others can, if we pay attention
and try to apply their teachings. The aspirations of a Master empowers their words and because of
the vows they have made to teach and transform living beings.

In our effort to recognize a good teacher, in addition to his (or her) conduct, we should examine the
teachings offered. A good Buddhist teacher does not simply invent his teachings but roots them in
authentic scripture. It should always be evident that the root is in what the Buddha taught and not
simply a New Age creation packaged as Buddhism. A good teacher would never compromise the
original teachings (in an effort) to have greater appeal to his modern audience; which is not the
same as saying he does not have the ability to make authentic teachings appealing. In fact, the
strength of a good teacher is his ability to make what otherwise might seem meant for a former time,
relevant in our modern world.

         Nihilism

Buddhism is often accused of nihilism. With so much talk of,  no-self, no creator, and emptiness, to
boot, it is almost impossible for a layman to think otherwise. A deeper look at the Buddhist view,
however,  would reveal Buddhism's main concern with the phenomenal world is not whether or not it
exists, but rather the mode of its existence. When a Buddhist says that all things are empty, he does
not deny their existence; but rather denying that they exist the way we perceive them.

We see objects as real and possessing various qualities. Attachment and aversion arise because of
this.  We think this is beautiful, this is desirable, without understanding that we are imputing these
qualities upon objects that do not possess these qualities. We may believe that the tree has
beautiful flowers, branches, leaves, bark, etc. and that this it is a good place to slumber beneath on
a cool balmy afternoon. The tree seems very real indeed; until we take a moment to consider what
the tree would be like without its branches, leaves, trunk, etc.

If the tree has branches leaves, trunk, etc., it is the same as saying that it possesses these things.
But, if we search for the tree beyond its various components, we just cannot find it. In other words,
when we search for the possessor of the possessions, it cannot be found. Its existence is merely an
assumption that forces itself upon us because of habit. There is no underlying reality to the tree
beyond its parts, and yet we think there is something over and above these parts, and this is where
the great mystery lies.

We are all very attached and confused by mere appearances, by things that are hollow and without
any real substance. Intellectually understanding that commonly appearing objects don't exist in the
manner they are perceived is not so difficult, but truly changing the way we see the world is a real
challenge, and will require a serious approach to dharma practice that will reach into every aspect
of our lives.

We experience a great amount of joy when we finally tackle the mystery behind the way we
mistakenly perceive the world. Even if the misconceptions don't vanish all at once; we will gradually
see glimpses of the nature of things as if a thick fog was slowly burning off from the morning sun.
Ever increasing awareness makes the path enticing, and once set out upon; we will forever find
support in this emerging consciousness which is free of the doubt.

    CONSISTENCY

All dharma practice is just that, "practice." In the beginning, we follow various rules that discipline
our conduct, body, speech, and mind. The aim is to reflect these qualities naturally. If we are
persistent, our practice will become increasingly more genuine, and we will no longer be doing
things because the rules say so, but rather because it makes the most sense.


For the Buddhist, it is no secret that the way the "I" appears to us is full of contradictions. We are
told that the "I" ultimately does not exist, and yet exhorted to investigate it. If by some stretch of the
imagination, you were to win a spiritual lottery that entitled you to ask the Buddha any question you
wanted, what would you ask? Even if you were to ask an intelligent question:"who am I," could the
Buddha's answer possibly have any meaning for you? Or, is this proposition more like asking
Einstein about the meaning of energy, and being answered with the famous equation, e=mc
squared. What would this reply mean to us?

A questioning mind is a good thing as long as it is asking the right questions. When we practice
self-inquiry, we must inquire within the boundaries of our understanding. Our questions will
penetrate deeper as our understanding grows. When we practice analyses of the nature of the "I"
or self, person, etc., our, inquiry should be accompanied by a feeling of satisfaction as we are
understanding something and moving forward---as if we are moving closer towards truth. The
inquiry should always be alive and engaging even on its most elementary levels, and we should be
humble enough to stay at our level until we are ready to move deeper.


             
MOTIVATION

As ordinary people when we think "I want to become enlightened"  it is little more than a wish that all
our problems vanish. If we have not studied or practiced meditation, it could not mean more than
this because the veil of fundamental ignorance prevents us from even having a conceptual idea of
what it means to become enlightened. Therefore that during the early stages of our dharma
practice, our motivation is more a personal quest to end our problems; than the cultivation of
enlightened qualities. This step is necessary for all of us. It is sometimes referred to as purifying the
grounds for enlightenment.

Whenever a great Master gives an initiation or special teaching in a hall or monastery, a ceremony
is performed called "purifying the boundaries." Often this is done by senior monks who enter the
hall and perform various rituals to ward off evil spirits and ghosts and perform prayers that the host
of dharma protectors, Gods, and Goddesses, look over the assembly and lift their obstacles and
bestow their blessings on the attendees. The premises are also cleaned and set in order. Only
when the boundaries are purified, can the main teachings or initiation begin. Our practice begins to
sort of like this. We do the preliminary work and have a frank look at ourselves with nothing swept
under the carpet.

     
 POST MEDITATION

When we arise from meditation, our first thought should always be one of preserving and protecting
the meditative experience. While going through our activities, we should guard our mind against
outflows that are unnecessary. We don't want to get off our meditation cushion and leak into the
world; instead, we want our outflows well contained, conscious, and disciplined. We don't want to be
drawn into this and that like a puppet on strings. Instead, we must be the host of our actions; doing
what we need to with mindfulness. If we do this, the post-meditation experience will support our
meditation practice.

         
STUDY

Buddhist study requires a commitment to practice if we wish to become a Buddhist; knowledge of
the scriptures is not enough. Buddhist scripture is first and foremost a guide to living and is,
therefore, a very personal study. In a sense, each of us who study the dharma become living
laboratories where the dharma is examined and tested. Embarking on Buddhist study is an
experiment in Truth.

When we study Buddhism, the implementation should always be first and foremost in our mind. We
should constantly be trying to bring the teachings into our particular frame of reference and seek
positive change in our lives here and now. If we simply become knowledgeable, we are missing the
point entirely. We may be able to impress others with our knowledge, but will feel unfulfilled inside.

The fact that Buddhist study almost immediately brings under fire cherished views of ourselves and
attachments, it is little wonder that many are content with a more scholarly approach. It is far easier
to know a lot about Buddhism than practice a little. However, we owe it to ourselves to recognize the
difference and honor the Buddha's teaching through practice.

Removing wrong views and cultivating correct ones are the two key elements of the dharma path. If
we wish to plant a flower garden, we must first clean the soil of stones and weeds. It is impossible to
practice the dharma while maintaining worldly views; which is not the same as saying that we must
renounce our way of life. Dharma practice requires focus and whatever we do should contribute to
this focus. Very few of us have the ability to meditate continuously or study all the time. Nor, are we
enlightened enough to do completely without the various forms of meditation, ritual, and study. We
are travelers on a long road and like any other traveler cannot be on the road all the time. What we
do in between is imperative.

The Himalayan trail between Jiri and Namche Bazaar in the Nepal Himalayas is very demanding
because it is seldom level. It is comprised mostly of steep inclines and declines that go on for hours
traversing a terrain of seemingly endless valleys and ridges. Consider how important it is to rest
properly at night and the occasional stop for the day. Doing so keeps us fit and focused and able to
complete the journey. Thank heaven there is little opportunity to do much else while trekking the
Himalayas. Those of us who are practising the dharma in modern society are not so lucky as we
have many distractions.  When we are going about our activities, it can seem that everything is
competing for our attention and it is in the midst of this that we should seek to react in such a way
that will support our dharma practice.  The ability to recognize what can be left undone will assure
that we do whatever we need to well.


IMPUTING LIKES AND DISLIKES

When we see objects, the eyes reveal a form and the mind conceptualizes the object as attractive,
desirable, beautiful, etc. The same object will be understood in as many ways as there are people
to look at it. However, to each viewer imputes his conceptualized view of the object, and he sees the
object as actually possessing these qualities that are in fact only imputed. In this way, attraction and
repulsion arises and desire and aversion is born.

It is easy to prove to ourselves that objects do not possess the qualities we think they do. If objects
possessed the qualities that we find so desirable, then the same objects would be desirable to
everyone; But, clearly this is not the case. For example, if we were walking down a street with a
friend and saw someone we didn't like, we might say to our friend: "That person makes me so
angry." But, to our surprise our friend hugs and says hello to the same person as we pass. If we
wish to rise above attraction and aversion, we must first free our mind from its habitual tendency to
overlay objects with likes and dislikes.

The endless cycle of rebirth does not end when we finally give up the chase, but rather when we
realize that to begin with there was nothing to chase after.

There is a certain amount of merit in doing simple things in their own time and place. If we prepare a
good meal and take the time to clean the kitchen mindfully after we finish, it is considered
meritorious activity. If, however, we eat and leave the kitchen a mess, we will have a mess to clean
up before we can eat the next time. There is nothing positive about this.

In life, we engage in many activities that leave our mind a mess; a mess that we have to clean up
when we meditate. Meditating like this is like having to plow through a sink full of dirty dishes before
we can prepare a meal. If we form the habit to avoid actions that stain our mind, then when we sit to
meditate we will not have a ton of garbage to wade through before we get to our meditation topic.


STRAIGHTEN THE MIND

Straighten the mind, and the body will follow. While good posture is an aid to meditation, it should
not be an obsessive concern; in which case it becomes a distraction. The body will naturally and
effortlessly assume a posture which allows the energy to flow most efficiently once we focus our
mind, like a coiled hose that straightens out when the water is turned on. Therefore, the meditator
should focus primarily on the mind.

       SITTING POSTURE

The three main meditation postures are the "full lotus," with both feet resting on the thighs, the "half
lotus," with one foot on the thigh and one under, and the "easy posture", with both feet under the
thighs or in front of the shins. Aside from these cross-legged postures, there are others, such as
sitting in a chair or lying down. Of all postures, the full lotus is the most symmetrical and, therefore,
the most suited for meditation; but it is not necessary for meditation. If our body is not built for it, we
should assume a comfortable posture and proceed with meditation.

It is always best to begin a sit in the most challenging posture; even if it is painful to do so. But,
never use force and relax the posture when you feel it is interfering with your meditation. Gradually,
with a steady daily effort, you will be able to sit effortlessly for an hour or more in a posture that was
previously painful for even a few minutes.


CLINGING TO THE FORM OF PRACTICE

It may seem impossible in the beginning, but as dharma practice matures it is almost inevitable that
attachment to the practice itself will arise and the discipline it entails, as well. In Buddhist literature,
this is called clinging to dharmas, and we are warned to keep our guard continually up and prevent
it from contaminating our practice.

If we understand that all practices are expedient means and that there is no inherent holiness in any
practice; that we, the practitioner, makes the practice holy or defiled, then we should be able to see
the importance of not attaching to the form of a practice. If our practice is attached to, and we are
simply allowing our old habitual ways of thinking to masquerade as dharma practice, we are merely
cheating ourselves.

    PRASANKIKA

The primary purpose of Prasankika philosophical discourse is to teach us how to think about what is
real and what is not; rather than to tell us what is. It is a process of taking apart our notions of reality
without setting something else up in its place. The common notion that when we inquire into
something, something is found, is undermined.

We have the habit of thinking that there is an essence of our being, a soul, atman, Godhead, or
whatever you want to call it. Even though we have not verified such an existence either through
experience or reason, we believe in it, and this belief motivates our inquiry and searches to find it,
unite with it, and experience it. It is not the soul, God, Atman, that is the target of Prasankika
criticism, however, but rather that this underlying belief colors our thinking and subsequent inquiry.
In other words, we are strongly biased. It is this bias that for the Prasankika is so objectionable and
dooms us to failure. As long as we have this bias we cannot properly inquire into the nature of
reality; and thus, the effort of Prasankika is real to cure our way of thinking, rather than to disprove
the existence of the soul, God,
Atman, or prove anything.

Never be discouraged alone; always work with others. If we bump into a wall, explain your position to
a sympathetic and trusting friend. Often dialogue will unravel avenues of thought and action
creating a much needed new perspective. But, bottled up, it will remain bottled up, and we will
continue to be discouraged.

Thoughts left unspoken will continue to be beautiful forever, but once we open our mouth and
express them to another, they are no longer ours. Some precious thoughts are whispered to you,
for you, while others are to share.

FAITH AND BELIEF

Faith and belief should have the eyes of reason, or they will lead to paralyzed understanding. To
trust a teaching or person does not mean critical thinking goes on holiday. On the contrary, we
should continually examine beliefs to give them greater clarity and meaning. If I say I believe in the
Buddha, I mean something entirely different from my teacher saying it. His belief is deeper than
mine because he has examined more deeply the object of his faith and inspires me. We too, if we
wish to benefit others, will do so best by developing an understanding to support our belief in the
Buddha.

     
TEACHING

As novices, whenever the aspiration to teach overshadows the desire to learn we need to shut up.

NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

Negative emotions arise due to causes and conditions and once swept away it 's hard to reverse
course mid-stream. We need a vaccine to prevent giving rise to these disturbances when conditions
are causing them arise. One such proactive measure is to introduce a thought such as anger,
hatred, or greed into our meditation when the mind is calm and tranquil and free from all
disturbances. This method allows us consciously see the defects of these emotions without getting
swept away by them. In practicing this method we are careful always to maintain our center, even
though we may come very close to giving rise to the emotion, we never really do so. By familiarizing
ourselves with disturbing emotions in this way, we will become more aware of how they distort our
judgment and cause us to act unwisely, and this will, in turn, reduce the tendency to fall victim to
them when circumstances test us.

  
PROSTRATIONS

Performing prostrations every morning is a valuable aid to the practice of mindfulness. Prostrations
offer the opportunity to be mindful while active like we are during ordinary activities. When we sit, it
is another matter, for the mind is naturally more still than when the body is unmoving.

When we do prostrations, we should apply the same mental vigilance that we do during meditation.
Keep the mind focused and free of thinking about this and that. One hundred and eight prostrations
every morning is a great way to begin the day as it not only establishes mindfulness; but, as my
teacher often pointed out,  prostrations are very good for the health.      

FUNDAMENTAL IGNORANCE

Uprooting Fundamental Ignorance is the principle aim of Buddhist teaching and practice. Since this
ignorance is our natural way of misperceiving the nature of ourselves and our material world, in a
sense, we have a good the excuse for it--- we were born that way.

However, for those of us who have met the Buddha dharma, we no longer have an excuse, but
rather an obligation. We have a duty to remove the strong innate tendency to misperceive
ourselves and our world and see with new eyes. This battle is made more difficult by the fact that
the enemy is not outside, but within. The target is our innate grasping at self and dependence on
the material world, and gauging fulfillment and loss solely on material success or failure. It is this
innate grasping that motivates all of our actions and fosters selfishness, and fear, as well.  Although
all this is natural, it is not necessary; we can change. Habitual ways of thinking and acting may seem
laid in stone, but they are not. We can free ourselves from unenlightened behavior that binds us to
our limited ability to see things as they are, and wade against the current of our habitual
tendencies. A rut, even if it is a pleasant one, is no place to be.

       
RENUNCIATION

Renunciation certainly does not obstruct human productivity and engagement. Practicing
non-attachment within the context of our everyday lives, and does not require renouncing the world.
Within the context of our familiar world, we should gradually shift the focus away from ourselves and
our attachments and see and appreciate the importance of making the lives of others better and
happier and more meaningful. It is a simple shift of attention.                 


DO NOT PICK AND CHOOSE

Today while listening to tapes of HH Dali Lama he pointed out how easy it is for beginners,
especially those without a teacher, to read texts with a kind of arrogance. Today's thought will
elaborate on that.

When reading Buddhist texts and listening to lectures, we have a tendency to make note of what we
will practice and discard what we don't want to practice, sort of like a child who ignores his
vegetables. And like a child, we are not very good judges of what is good for us, and what can be
left aside. When there is talk about meditation, our ears perk up; but when the cultivation of ethics,
morality, and virtue, we fall asleep. This selectiveness is arrogance. Our high opinion of ourselves
causes us to fail to recognize the importance of preliminary work.

Even the term preliminary work is misguided because the foundation work we call initial, developing
virtue, morality, ethics, etc., is the foundation of the entire Buddhist Path, up to the attainment of full
realization. Just as meditation has different levels, so does pure conduct. In the beginning, we
refrain from outwardly displaying improper conduct, but we still have a lot of work to do before even
the thought of improper conduct does not arise. Likewise with the cultivation of good qualities such
as virtue, generosity, and others. In the beginning, our goodness and generosity are coarse
because there is the mark of self and it only becomes pure when it is free of this mark. Indeed,
so-called preliminary work is developed and refined not just by beginners, but by highly
accomplished Masters, as well. So, eat those vegetables; they're there for a reason.

            
STUDY

When we study texts and listen to discourse, we should always be bringing it down to earth and be
asking ourselves, what does this mean to me, here, right now, in my present circumstance, and how
can I express the teachings in my thought, word, and deed. The study should never be abstract, out
there someplace, a corpse that we handle.

COMPROMISING THE DHARMA

When we engage in practices and study texts that emphasize meditation  (such a Mahamudra,
Tantra, or Chan), we should bear in mind that these teachings assume a considerable amount of
foundation work has been completed. If we do not do this, the same obstacles that control our lives
will arise in meditation and control that, as well. The fact is that a lot is glossed over in the
presentation of Buddhism to Western students, and it is our responsibility to fill in the blanks if we
want our practice to succeed.

Many teachers believe that if they tell it like it is they will not have any listeners and that it is better
to present to Western audiences what they want to hear. And, they want anything that doesn't
intrude upon their lives or involves any personal sacrifice. Other teachers would rather have only a
few students than compromise the dharma this way. It does not matter which camp is right; this is
just the way it is, and we should be aware of it---or, seek out a no-holds-barred teacher, and not
worry about it.

CATCHING THE THOUGHT

Negative energy expressed through negative actions plant the seeds for more negative energy.
The reason that we practice mindfulness is so that we can recognize negative energy when it arises
and turn it around and use it in a positive way. Every thought has an arisal, abiding, and dissolution.
If we can be aware of negativity when it first arises, we can catch that energy, and rather than
express it in a
negative way, harness the energy for positive results and plant positive seeds. We may choose not
to give way to negative action, which is better than following through with them; but this is not as
good as engaging in affirmative action fueled by negative emotion, which requires some skill, a skill
we can all acquire.

    
  NO PREFERENCES

What does it mean to "do nothing and yet leave nothing undone," as the Taoist teach? Another
related Taoist saying goes;  "The Tao is not for those who pick and choose." The point is that
opportunity unfolds in seemingly unlikely places, and if we don't favor one thing over the other we
are more likely to see that. Because we do pick and choose, we are very goal oriented, and get
caught up in endless goals. A worthy goal is one that doesn't lead to another goal.

      
  MAHAMUDRA

Mahamudra is translated in many ways; "Great Symbol, "Great Seal,"Great Gesture," and my
personal favorite, "Great Attitude." In the West, we are most familiar with the term as referring to the
various hand gestures of  Gods and Goddesses. All these hand positions denote special "signals,"
such as that the deity is bestowing blessings, or that the deity is teaching, or that the deity is
meditating, and many others. But, the mudra of Mahamudra meditation is not confined to any
particular form and is, therefore, all-embracing. It is an expression of the vast expanse of mind that
is without boundaries or limitations. It is an attitude of mind that embraces a single thought as an
expression of the entire universe and also sees that the entire universe reflected in a single
thought. As such, nothing is too small to be insignificant, nor too large to be embraced. Everything
is equal because all is an expression of the mind. Learning to abide in this realization is the practice
of Mahamudra.

 FRIVOLOUS ACTIVITY

Every day when we arise from our meditation seat, we should make a firm resolve maintain a thread
of our meditation until our next meditation session. If we do this, when we sit down to meditate, we
will focus immediately on our topic of meditation and be able to banish unwanted thoughts without
effort. If we find that we have difficulty focusing when we first sit down to meditate it is because our
post-meditation practice is weak. We must strengthen it. Two significant outflows of energy are
frivolous activity and idle talk. While perhaps harmless, they are needless leaks of our energy and
dissipate our mindfulness. Disciplining idle talk and frivolous activity are the primary focus of post
meditation practice.

         
 SHOES

If you are a shoemaker, your concern should be to make good shoes. Where people walk with them
is their business.                                                         

        DEDICATE

Samsara, our everyday world, is either a great teacher or a big distraction; it simply depends upon
how we view it. It is samsara that offers us the opportunity to practice all good qualities such as
generosity, loving kindness, truthfulness. But, as we know, it is samsara that fosters selfish desires
and a disregard for others. As Buddhist practitioners, it is our goal to take samsara as an
expression of the teachings of the Buddha and see beneath the glitter and extract a measure of
truth from it. It is only within samsara that we can put the Teachings into practice and cultivate merit
and virtue.

When I saw HH Karmapa speak in Seattle, he said that his goal in this life is to create a perfect
world that he can offer to the
Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Perhaps this is too ambitious for most of us, but its principle is clear and
one that we can all embrace. We should constantly be looking to see what we can offer to the world
and our brothers and sisters, rather than what we can extract from it. If we can do this samsara will
be our teacher and support our dharma practice.

      
FOOD CRAVINGS

If we keep in mind that food is for nourishment and not entertainment, it will be easy to find the right
diet for meditation and good health. Here, the intellect is a better guide than the tongue. Cravings
are mostly deceptive, and if we are willing to let them go, we are more likely to become sensitive to
our body's true needs.                                      

IN THE AFFAIRS OF OTHERS

A saying goes, "In the affairs of others even the fool is wise, but in one's own affairs even