Being true to oneself entails living in accord with one's own beliefs, but circumstances often test our
beliefs, thank heaven, for otherwise we might never examine them. Beliefs must be reconciled to
assure they are in accord with true principle. The teachings we have received from our teachers and
the scripture we have studied must be poured over again and again, to help us to see clearly what to
nurtured and what to abandon. No amount of justification will make what is false true, nor will truth fail
the test of sound reason.
NO SANTA CLAUSE
One thing that the practice of Buddhism has taught me is that there is no Santa Claus.
MIND NOT GOOD OR EVIL
"The ordinary mind is the Bodhi Mandala," the field of enlightenment; and yet in our spiritual practice
we often attempt to contrive a special mind for the task. There isn't one. Our everyday mind only need
be used correctly, and we have an enlightened viewpoint; otherwise we have our confused dualistic
relative world. The same mind that creates confusion introduces us to enlightenment; there are not
two minds. Heaven is up; the earth is down; the same mind understands both.
UPLIFTING OUR VIEWPOINT
Hindus say: "Everything is God." Buddhists say: "Everything is the deity." From an enlightened
perspective, it appears one way, to our shared viewpoint, it seems like the ordinary world. But, there is
a teaching here for us common people, and it is this: Make it a practice to look at everything as the
deity, and you will gradually see it as such. And this is no self-deception or hallucination; on the
contrary, our common viewpoint is the hallucination, if there ever was one! Through beginningless
habit we have conditioned ourselves to a wrong viewpoint that does not reflect the way things are; we
can reverse this by habituating ourselves to look at things the opposite way.
If you find yourself consistently looking forward to meditation practice, or when you are meditating, you
find yourself looking forward to the session's end; then you haven't learned to blend meditation and
post-meditation. The more we meditate, the more the right "view" should be developed; and the finer
the demarcation between post-meditation experience and the actual session, the better off we are. In
the beginning, there will always be a sharp distinction, but as years go by, this distinction should
DO NOT GRASP THE MOMENT
That unexpected moment of disappointment will be just that, a moment, unless you hold on to it.
While we should never make a show of our dharma practice; we should not be discouraged by the
lack of support we receive from family and friends. There are times when we should keep our practice
hidden and carefully guarded. Casual inquiries about our practice should be politely answered, with a
sensitivity to the questioners real motives. We need not encourage those who just wish to make
conversation with detailed explanations of our practice. Needless talk will only weaken our practice. On
the other hand, if someone shows a clear and genuine interest to know their questions in a manner
suitable to their understanding. Always patiently and thoughtfully answer sincere inquiries.
We may live in a situation where we receive little support from family and friends and may, in fact, be
ridiculed. Jealousy often motivates criticism and should be ignored. If we find ourselves upset by the
lack of support we receive, we should blame ourselves for having inadequate roots to stand on our
own two feet. Why haven't we through study, reason, and meditation, developed an adequate
foundation to have unwavering belief? Non-supportive life situations can be a catalyst to dive deeper,
rather than a hindrance. If it isn't, our practice can easily be undermined.
If you expect more of yourself than you can give, you will always be disappointed in yourself. Avoid
TRUE MAN OF NO FIXED POSITION
The "True Man (or Woman) of No Fixed Position" is what we all seek to know, but due to our
habituation to find a "reference point" for ourselves, we pin ourselves down to trying to be who we are
not and cannot be. We are constantly being conditioned by our environment and the people that
inhabit it, all of which is unpredictable. So, understanding this, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable,
and molded by the circumstances we create for ourselves, we are more likely to succeed in being who
LEAVE SLEEPING BEAR ALONE
If you find yourself with nothing to say or do, leave yourself alone, rest your body and hold your
tongue, and do not stir. Our natural quite will visit us more frequently if we do not disrupt it.
Start your day with something to say --- nice. That is the best way to get a heart start on it.
YOU AFFECT EVERYONE
Act locally; but think globally --- everything you do with the three karmas of body, speech, and mind
effects every living being.
TO NOT ATTACH TO ACTIONS
A friend of mine who is a master of ceramics studied in Japan for many years. He once made a
"perfect vase" and showed it to the master full of expectation that he would receive great praise from
the master. Apparently, the master saw that his student had become too pleased with himself and
rather than praise what an extraordinary vase it was, just remarked: "When everything you do looks
like that vase, then you will be enlightened."
Everything we do we should try to do in the spirit of an offering; giving up completely the fruits of our
actions. If we can refrain from being attached to the good we do, then we can benefit; but if we attach
to the good, then we bind ourselves up. Thus, it is taught that while giving, the three marks of the
giver, gift, and receiver should be abandoned. Once given; we should not think of the gift, whether it
will be appreciated, or if we gave too much, and so forth. We should also not think of how great it is
that we gave it and so forth, or the receiver, whether they will like it, and so forth. When we give, we
need only give from our heart and forget it after that. This principle can be applied gradually to all our
DO NOT LIVE IN A CAGE
The more you isolate yourself from others, the further you drift from yourself. Know when socializing is
necessary and cordial, and when to treasure withdrawing from the crowd.
IMPROVE THE PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCE
It is tempting to seek mental engagement in change because what we do doesn't satisfy us. But what
we do is never the problem as long as it doesn't harm others and so forth, but rather it is our
relationship with what we do. Being present in the present is like a marriage that challenges us to work
with it and find solutions within its context. More often than not, whatever our life may be, it is the bed
we made for ourselves, and will offer us comfort if we try. Satisfaction in life is about discovery,
appreciating things in new ways, revealing the hidden (often because our mind veiled it by thinking it
elsewhere,) and seeing our mistakes. No greater happiness than seeing one's mistakes, and it is far
more likely that that will happen in familiar contexts than newly created ones.
When we are born the slate is blank. We are naked, have no language, knowledge, capacity to
reason, go where we want to go, or take care of ourselves. As we acquired language, knowledge,
strength to move and so forth, the slate was no longer blank; we began putting our mark on it. Are we
pleased with what we have written, or do we wish we had a big eraser to clean it up and start over? If
we had it all to do over again, how would we proceed?
The way we think has made our world what it is, and if we wish to change it, it is our thinking that will
change it. There is no need for us to do any more than develop a positive intention and let the rest
follow in its own time and way, and as it does so accord with that. A slight change in the way we think
can have a dramatic effect on the circumstances of our lives.
EXAMINE WEE WHAT YOU "UNDERSTAND"
As our practice grows, we are always redefining it. Yesterday a monk whom I am teaching English to
asked me what mindfulness is. On the surface, it seems like an easy question to answer, and it is, but
the question was from a monk who has completed a twenty-year course in advanced Buddhist studies.
On another occasion, a high rinpoche who knew I had been a monk for ten years and a lifelong
Buddhist practitioner, asked me; "are you a Buddhist?"
It is simple questions like these that cause one to pause, not the complicated ones. Both questions
illustrate the simple point that there are many levels of understanding, and we should never take our
knowledge for granted. Often we do. Those of us who practice the dharma must continually reexamine
those understandings we are tempted to take for granted, mindfulness, Buddhism, meditation, love,
compassion, patience, and so forth, and make sure those understandings are ever evolving, because
if we don't we will stagnate.
A strong relationship with one close friend is far more satisfying than many superficial friendships. In
the same way, if we dive deeply into one form of meditation practice, we will be far more fulfilled than if
we practice many without penetration. Moreover, it is a fact that those who tend to practice many
forms of practice are unable to find fulfillment in one single practice, and thus, they move from one to
the next like one might change clothes from day to day. A monk, however, only wears a single kind of
dress and this is reflective of a simple lifestyle and fulfillment. reflective of a lifestyle of simplicity and
Rigidity is a terrible fault. Being rigid means that we are not adaptable to change, especially
unexpected change. We fix in our mind the way things should be and expect them to go that way. But,
that isolation quickly becomes crowded with other influences. We must be quick to recognize how
these influences are weighing on our plan. Are they trying to push it in a new direction? Are they
supportive or detrimental? Should we stay the course or change course? These questions don't occur
to one who is rigid. Only an adaptable person will ask such questions and be prepared for change if it
is for the better.
Every good ocean swimmer knows that the key to surviving treacherous conditions is to be completely
relaxed. Even when learning to swim, we are taught that relaxation is the key to learning. Those who
tense up cannot learn to swim; nor can those able to swim survive a rough sea if they become
frightened and rigid. The same is true surviving life's challenges. We cannot fight the current.
Paradoxically, it is those people who fight the current of life that get pushed around by it; whereas,
those who are open to change, find ways of maintaining their position; or abandoning it for one that
makes more sense.
Often to get things right, we must get them wrong first. We must not be shy of making mistakes. Life,
after all, is just a lab. Most of us don't know what we are doing. We are seeking happiness; that's all
we know. If we are a bit clumsy, it doesn't matter. Our mind should always be malleable, readily
adapting to circumstances. Goals, of course, should be worthwhile ones, and never far from the
forefront of our mind. But, we must be careful not to be goal driven, for this leads to being anxious,
and being anxious leads to rigidity. A balance between goal and means; and a willingness and ability
to adapt the means to achieve our aim cannot be over emphasized. The metaphor of water is often
used to elaborate life: "life flows," "the current of life," and so forth. This flow or current is for us to use.
It is energy that is ours to harness and direct to achieve our aims. Our plans are like a damn that
doesn't block the water entirely, but allows it to flow through at a measured pace; to generate
electricity to suit our needs. "Being rigid would be like blocking the water entirely and accomplishing
nothing, and perhaps do damage; while, just letting the water flow aimlessly, we would be haplessly
pushed about by life's currents. Each of us must find the right balance.
KEEP LIFE IN CONTEXT
Taking a line or two out of a book, or even a whole paragraph can give us a very distorted picture of
what the book is about. We need to put into context those lines or paragraphs and for that we need to
read the book. Similarly, in our active lives, we can be guilty of punishing ourselves to the point of
depression, or delighting in overweening pride, both of which are unwholesome states of mind that
arise by not seeing our lives in context.
It is especially important to be mindful of any negative views of oneself developing, for beating oneself
up does more damage than arrogance and mountain high pride and ego.Those who have a tendency
to magnify their faults and failures must put an end to this self-destructive habit for nothing is gained
by it. Instead, we must put our faults into the context of our life in its entirety, good qualities, bad, and
neutral. When we feel depressed, we should recall our good or neutral qualities and think how we can
expand them and increase them. On the other hand, if we become full of ourselves, prideful and
arrogant, we should recall our failures, negative qualities, and faults, as this will neutralize the
negative consequences of having a larger than life view of ourselves, and perhaps bring much-
needed humility and a humble, contrite, attitude. Being even and level, always somewhere near the
middle, free of exaltation or depression, is to abide in a state that is conducive to personal growth.
GIFT OF GIVING
The ability to give, is itself a gift.
LEVELLING OUT PREFERENCES
A big heart equalizes good people and bad people, hateful people and loving people, but common
understanding makes distinctions and, in fact, cannot help it. It takes much work at contemplating the
fundamental equality of all living beings to recognize that deep within, however it may be colored, the
core of all beings is pure and indistinguishable.
It is worth the effort to cultivate a big heart. The benefit we bring to those who are hateful or evil,
deceitful, and so forth, generates change. And, we, who generates this loving heart, will find
unbounded happiness simply by our uncontrived sincere love towards those commonly regarded as
unworthy of any kind consideration.
Many people have passed away in Nepal's earthquake. Some who have lost their lives have not had
their bodies claimed, and the Nepalese authorities have been forced to cremate them, perhaps
without all the necessary rituals and prayers connected with a cremation. We can offer our prayers for
the well-being of all those who lost their lives and think deeply about those who died and were
cremated without loved ones present. If we can generate a genuine feeling of sympathy for them, a
feeling of love for them may emerge that is genuine and uncontrived and capable of benefiting them
immensely. If we are successful in generating a heartfelt emotion for them, then we too benefit, as
well, for this kind of thinking and reflecting is no different than the "Mind Training" technique brought
to Tibet by Atista, "Lojong."
If we can picture ourselves as those we are aspiring to generate sympathy and love for, to the point
that we begin to feel that we are that person, we will be able to feel their suffering as if it were our own.
This feeling benefits both ourselves and the object of our prayers. It is an opportunity we all have. We
need to put a face on the many who lost their lives in Nepal's earthquake, and we can only do this by
internalizing their suffering and making it our suffering.
Leveling out all the people in our lives and having universal goodwill unburdens the mind of
judgmental dispositions, which are burdensome and weary our mind. Universal goodwill has a powerful
impact on the unlikely recipients who disparately need it most, and increases the happiness of those
who seemingly don't. Bringing benefit to all in this manner is like a universal rain that showers its life-
sustaining waters equally. Like such rain, we should give ourselves to others in deed and thought.
Often those of us who practice the dharma struggle with our attachments, but being non-attached is
essential for dharma practice. Where there is attachment the seed of dharma will not grow. And,
because attachments are often difficult to give up, people struggle for years getting nowhere in their
spiritual quest. I watched an excellent documentary the other night that spoke directly to this problem:
"The Monk With a Camera." It is the story of a privileged New York young man who became a monk in
the Tibetan lineage, and decades later became the first Western abbot of a Tibetan Monastery.
The 'monk's love was his photography which he struggled to give up, unsuccessfully, and through
heartfelt reasoning, realized that perhaps he didn't have to. He decided that what is important is his
motivation to take pictures, as the photography by itself could not be good, or bad. He realized the
primary faults of photography were like many things, seeking fame or monetary gain for oneself.
The monk decided to keep his cameras and work instead on his motivation, which he did, successfully.
He enjoyed taking pictures but cultivated doing it without a thought of gaining wealth or notoriety.
Many of his shots were beautiful shots of trees or simple studies of his fellow monks.Things changed,
however, when a much needed new monastery that he was having constructed because of
overcrowding in his current one lost its backers, in large part because of the financial crisis in the
United States. Distraught, he contacted his well-connected friends of old in New York, who arranged a
nationwide art exhibit and sale of his photography over the years. It went on for several months, and
generated several hundred thousand dollars, and the monastery was completed.
The above example demonstrates that many of our attachments; arise not so much because of the
things themselves, but rather our orientation towards them. The proof of this can be realized by a
simple thought experiment. Examine one of your attachments, and see how it affects you, and then
see how the same item, circumstance, or person effects someone you know. Invariably, you will find
that what is an attachment for you, is not for someone else.
Because many of our attachments are created by our own thinking, we can also take that attachment
apart by our thinking. If we can break our attachment to the thing, or reinvent our view towards it as
the monk did, perhaps we should give it up.
KNOWN FOR HIS FEW WORDS
Louis Armstrong said of the great jazz pianist Charles Mingus that his thoughts would be subdued.
During lively parties where everyone was engaged in conversation, Armstrong said, Mingus would
seem to come out of the clouds and bring everyone down to earth with a word or two. And, not only
that, Mingus, who seemingly was not present, often would turn whatever everyone was talking about
upside down and present an entirely original view of things. He was a man of few words, but
meaningful ones. We can all learn something from him.
DO THE RIGHT THING
If you are doing the right thing, you won't have to look for happiness; it will find you.
If we make the effort to maintain a regular connection with those we have received teachings with, we
are in effect creating a sangha, and thereby forming an essential foundation for our practice. The
special bond of a teacher-disciple relationship is unique in our world, and nothing quite replaces it. As
often as possible we should get together with fellow students of the dharma. Especially those we have
studied under the same teacher with. There is no better way to support our practice.
Clearly it is an illusion to think that we can dream up a source of happiness, procure it, and be happy
from that. In fact it is this very persistent illusion that is the source of all unhappiness.
LEARN YOUR LESSONS
The lessons we are trying to teach others, are often the ones we haven't learned ourselves.
KNOW YOUR LEVEL
Always study and practice at your own level; don't pay attention what other people are doing.
BEWARE OF THE WALL
Nothing wrong with talking to a wall unless it is a person.
MEDITATION AND INTIMIDATION
Many people try meditation but are intimidated by its seemingly slippery nature; there is nothing
familiar to hold onto. This problem arises because of a failure to recognize that meditation is not
something new, but something we have always been doing. When we start meditation, we may be
trying too hard to step beyond familiar mental dispositions to discover new ones. But, there aren't any.
Meditation will allude us until we begin to examine what is familiar. Meditation is discovered while
working within ordinary mental activity. It is simply paying attention to our mind's activity. It is the skill to
sit in a corner of the mind, so to speak, and watch what is going on with complete impartiality.
JOY OF THE PATH
The right path will be enjoyed no matter how difficult it is; but the wrong path will be tedious no matter
how easy it is. So find the path that is difficult, yet a pleasure to walk.
Diet is an important part of dharma practice; if it is right it can substantially support meditation. A few
simple rules can go a long way towards maintaining the lightness and dexterity of mind and body so
helpful towards meditation.
1:) Snacking breeds distraction, so avoid it except when being polite. If a friend offers a snack, accept
the hospitality graciously, but keep it minimal. Being hungry and having an appetite fosters an alert
and light body and mind; snacking covers their benefits.
2:)Avoid cravings because they seldom have your best interests in mind. If you don't already know
what is right for you, get a diet handbook and follow it. Eat to be healthy, not entertained.
3:) Quit when still a little hungry. Your food will digest better, you will feel light and pliant in body and
mind, and you will avoid torpor.
4:)Spices are herbs and herbs have many medicinal properties. In the West, we use very few herbs
and can therefore learn from our Asian brothers and sisters. It can be a wearisome task getting fifteen
or twenty herbs together, but fortunately (this is what I do) there are several blended curry packs and
various stew packs that contain many great herbs all in one place. These often have the Indian tag
"Masala" attached to them. Scrambled eggs are good with Masala stirred in, as are many kinds of
5:)Avoid eating when distracted, especially walking or driving. Sit down to eat and enjoy your food.The
above guidelines can help anyone be healthier and happier and more fit for meditation practice. When
it comes to food, generally less is better, and less frequent is better.
Much has been said about the 'right" posture to have while meditating. The short answer is a
"comfortable" one. But, it is not as straightforward as it may seem because what is comfortable for five
minutes may be very uncomfortable for an hour, or longer. When we don't have the luxury of changing
positions and moving about, as when sitting in meditation, it is of particular importance to find a
position that doesn't cause discomfort or aches and pains afterward. In this regard, the full lotus
position is best. Place the right leg over the left thigh and the left leg over the right thigh, or visa-
versa, and pull both feet towards the abdomen and you got it. Although, often painful during the first
few minutes, in the long haul it is far less so.
I have learned over the years that many people are not suitable for full lotus posture. Sherpas of
Nepal, for example, often have short legs, heavily muscled, with thick knees, that make the full lotus
posture often challenging or impossible. For various reasons, we may not be structurally right for this
posture. The good news is that it is not necessary for meditation. There is half lotus, and easy
posture, both variations of full lotus. And if these don't work either, there is a chair, or even lying
down. What must be born in mind is that the better postures may take time to become comfortable in,
and that time should be given. I remember when I was beginning to sit in full lotus I worked on it for
several months before being comfortable in it. Many others are also like this. It is worth the effort.
When learning to sit in full lotus, start either in easy posture, with both legs drawn in but feet placed
under the thighs rather than on them. If that is easy no pun intended), try half lotus, with one foot
resting on a thigh and the other under the opposite one. Then advance to full lotus when these
become comfortable. Entered these postures by placing both legs outstretched in front of oneself as
one sits on the floor, and then one at a time drawn them in. As you are learning, grit your teeth and
endure as much pain as possible, and then revert to an easier posture for the balance of the
It is a mistake to think that a posture is too difficult for you unless you have tried without success for
several weeks. It often takes this long for muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adapt to the posture.
The full lotus position is the most symmetrical position for the body to be in for extended periods of
time without fatigue or injury. Many yogis can sit a day or more in it, without injury or fatigue. But, the
inability to sit in full lotus or one of its variations should not discourage one from meditating. The
posture is a support for meditation, but the mental disposition is the most important aspect.
The reason that many efforts to meditate fail is the failure to develop supportive practices to help
carry the load that meditation will certainly churn up. Because of the negative karma we have created
in the past, we have many obstacles that obstruct our mediation. Only if we are very skilled can we
dissolve these barriers through meditation alone. Most of us need secondary supports for meditation,
which simply put means meritorious activity and virtuous behavior.
Whenever we can be of service to others we should do so, and we should do it in as hidden away as
possible --- this is virtue, and it increases the quality of the good karma we generate many fold. We
should absolutely seek no recognition for our good deeds as this undermines our very effort.
Discard as much as possible unnecessary activity, especially chasing after material attachments,
which undermines our effort to achieve our goal. Meditation is a very lean mental state where all the
minds outflows are brought to heal. If when we are not meditating we allow ourselves to indulge in all
manner of unnecessary activity, talk, shopping, entertainment, and so forth, we are going in the
opposite direction as when we were meditating. To be effective, mediation must be mirrored in our
daily activities by living simple, being focused on what is necessary and leaving aside what is not.
Most of the path is common sense. We know better, but desire confuses us. The desire for material
things, entertainment, company, and so forth, is fine in moderation, but moderation seldom rules, and
it should. If we adopt a meditation practice, we must understand that it entails a meditative lifestyle.
Without this, our path will be tough.
PLUG IN YOUR MIND
People often wonder how they can integrate an active and busy daily life into a meditative one. The
peace of meditation stands in sharp contrast to a workaday world and reconciling the two seems to
have insurmountable obstacles. Often when the day is over, the incentive to meditate has gone on
holiday, and we do something else instead. And, to meditate before the day begins, which is best,
sleep is a lure tough to resist.
Proper meditation is like plugging into a power source when your battery is running low. This is how
meditation should be. The question, therefore, on how to meditate after a busy day, or before it,
should not arise. The fact is that an exhausting day should be a cause to look forward to energizing
ourselves even more. It is an opportunity to refresh ourselves and wash off the day.
Meditation is, first and foremost, allowing harmony in. It is getting together with ourselves. Nothing is
added or discarded to achieve this. Within every feeling or emotion, good or bad, is energy. Even the
feeling of being tired or thinking to be tired is energy. If we look beneath the various good or bad
feelings we have, we will find this energy, and this is what we plug into. Seeking out this energy and
resting in it is meditation.When we say to ourselves: "I don't feel like meditating," what do we mean?
Does it just seem like more work after a long day, or, to add work to a day just beginning? If it does,
then our attitude is not in line with plugging in, being harmonized. We are viewing meditation as
something we do, that by dint of our own effort, we accomplish. As long as we have this attitude,
meditation will be work.
Meditation on every level is about attitude, how we view it. If you stare at a shy bride, she will turn
away; meditation is like this. If you look for it, you will only tire yourself. But, if you go to the same place
everyday at the same time, it will find you, and that is plugging in.
There are many different kinds of "effort." When the Buddha taught the "Eight Noble Truths," of which
"Right Effort" is one, each truth is proceeded by "Right."; Thus we have: Right Livelihood, Right
Concentration, Right Effort, and so forth.
If we apply effort and feel we are up against a wall, we will quickly weary ourselves. But, when things
go smoothly we can apply effort for a long amount of time, and not grow tired. All of us experience this
everyday in our daily lives. The interesting thing here is that it is not always the doing of unfamiliar
things that weary us trying to "get it right," but sometimes we can become even more worn out trying to
get the familiar right! When we make mistakes where we normally wouldn't it is far more tiring than
making mistakes where we might expect them, in the unfamiliar.
When it comes to meditation practice, if we feel like we are up against a wall, we can become very
discouraged, and this leads to tiredness and fatigue. The more common reasons for being against a
wall is that we are fighting with our thoughts. And, like kicking at a barking dog, the more we kick, the
more aggressive it becomes. If we were to become still, it would eventually grow tired of barking and
go away, or maybe come over to get a little pat. Meditation is like this. If thoughts are treated like
intruders, they will multiply and become entrenched. On the other hand, if they are treated as guests,
they will quiet down and wait to be served. We serve them by paying attention.
Our thoughts, good and bad, arise from the mind, and it is the mind that we wish to know through
meditation. If you pay attention to your thoughts, giving equal attention to pleasant and unpleasant
ones, you will find that they introduce you to your mind. Our thoughts are the doorway to our mind and
Another reason that mediation can become tiring is that our motivation is not pure. The motivation
during the early years of my own mediation practice was to become a yogi, with a fantasized
conception of what that meant. I thought it would be a great status to strive for, and was more
concerned with that than achieving the insights a yogi who is doing his work correctly achieves. I had a
top knot and lived in a cave for a time, but my meditation bore no real fruit because my motivation was
selfish. I cannot say that I actually got tired of it, but I didn't develop any meditation skill, except the
skill of fooling myself. Eventually, I met a master who gave me proper instructions and everything
changed from that point. Although I worked even harder, everything became easy because my
motivation was pure.
In short, the two most important things to check if your meditation is an unwelcome ordeal is: One, are
you embracing all your thoughts equally, or trying to keep some and get rid of others; if the latter you
will only be wearied by the exercise. Two: check your motivation, and uproot all selfish striving, a good
indication of which is a desire for quick results. Instead, develop an inclination to take the lowest
position as a means to get to the top. Instead of wishing thing were other than they are, look carefully
at how they are, and try to see things impartially as a mirror might reflect an ugly face and a beautiful
face without a care which one is before it.
If you aggressively try to move forward in your meditation, it will always remain out of reach, but if you
learn to wait patiently unmoving, it will come to you.
EQUALIZING SELF AND OTHERS
Equalizing oneself with others is a form of meditation brought to the forefront by Atisa, the Bengali
master from India, who himself got the transmission from Serlingpa, from Indonesia. We naturally view
ourselves as distinct from others, and this causes all of our problems. If we could learn to see others
as extensions of ourselves or ourself and we them, dissolving the boundaries so to speak, we will be
warm hearted and open towards others and not feel alien to them.
A sense of unity or oneness with others is far more pleasant than experiencing distinctness from
others. And, yet we strive so hard to distinguish ourselves in the world, which puts us out of alignment
with the way things really are. And when one struggles to maintain a distinction that is purely an
illusionary facade one closes the door to all hopes of real happiness.
One does not have to study the dharma to discover that we are far more similar than different, and yet
we think just the opposite because we have habituated ourselves to do so. We all wake up once a day
and sleep once a day. We all feel pleasure and pain. We all are subject to disease. We all cherish
ourselves. We all must eat food, digest it, and eliminate it. And, so forth. Most importantly, we all have
the seed of enlightenment, Buddha nature, already within, waiting to be discovered. Why don't we
We don't find our Buddha nature because we are exhausting ourselves maintaining an individuality
that only butts up against the way things really are. We are wearing a mask and struggling to keep it
on. When we practice "equalizing self and others" we sit as we would for any other meditation, and ask
ourselves if there is any reason why our present sense of "I" need be restricted to our own "self.";.
What substance is there that separates me from any random person? Why is it not possible for my
sense of "I" to identify with another, and the other to identify his or her sense of "I" with me, we inquire.
Why can't the other be me and me the other, we ask.
The more we engage in this kind of mediation the deeper the conviction will grow that aside from
appearances, we are substantially the same. It may take some mental dexterity and allot of time to
begin to break apart "an island onto oneself" mentality, but with consistent effort we will gradually
break down the barriers between ourselves and others, and experience a new found oneness that will
bring peace into our lives.
Because the above form of meditation requires a considerable amount of imagination, focus, dexterity,
and right motivation, it will be a powerful support for any form of meditation we practice. But, the
biggest benefit is certainly the fact that a genuine concern for others welfare will emerge, a humanistic
sensitivity to others needs. This warm-heartedness is in stark contrast to hard-heartedness that
maintaining individuality breeds. Just as you only need wear shoes to walk comfortably on the earth,
rather than cover the earth with leather(to borrow from Shantideva); you don't have to change the
world to view it differently, just your mind.
A goal of almost every dharma partitioner is to reduce life to the most basic terms possible. The life of
most yogis and dharma masters exemplifies simplicity. The opposite of a simple lifestyle is a distracted
one. We know when our lives are too busy when we set out to do one thing and several other things
suddenly appear vying for our attention. Even if we succeed in cramming everything in, we are robbed
of the pleasure of doing what we initially set out to do. We may get it done but won't enjoy it. Life
needs space to work its magic. And the magic of life is hard to see even when we keep our lives
simple and uncomplicated. In everything we do there is a subtle and coarse level. Simple activities can
reveal subtle truths that our hearts desire, but we must give ourselves completely to these activities.
Monks and nuns in monasteries treasure simple tasks and treat them with almost the respect of deity
worship. Tasks like sweeping the temple compound, raking the stone garden, pouring tea for guests,
welcoming a visitor, washing one's robes, cleaning the altar, such everyday tasks as these, are looked
upon by clergy as potent with enlightening potential. When they engage in these activities, they try to
offer the complete attention of body, speech, and mind.
The "Three Karmas of Body, Speech, and Mind," determine whether we go up or down or stagnate. It
is up to each individual. But, in order to be even conscious of what our "Three Karmas" we must be
able to pay attention to what we are doing, and we can't do this if we are doing unanticipated things,
continuously adding a head on top of the one we already have. Of course, we cannot go from a
distracted life to an undistracted one overnight, but we can begin as soon as we are willing. When we
set out to do what need be done and other things start crowding our space, we should take mental
note of what these things are, and begin to either eliminate them or arrange them differently. The goal
is to be able to give space to what we are doing, so we feel in control and not dragged about
helplessly. Find joy in doing simple tasks like shopping for groceries, cleaning the house, mowing,
picking kids up from school, eating, and working, and so forth .If we find ourselves constantly
reminded of things to do other than what we are doing, we are the guests of our own thoughts and
activities, not the host, as it should be. The tail is wagging the dog. This leads to stress, depression,
and all the ills of a modern world.
The world is designed to keep us under its thumb, but fortunately, there have been religious pioneers
who have gone against this flow and made great sacrifices for a little bit of truth. What they discovered
has been passed down to us through various religious traditions, providing a way to remove ourselves
from the grip of the world and become genuinely happy without the trappings we think are so
I once sat in a cave with a yogi in Nepal. He had been in that cave for about fifteen years. I had gone
in the cave to get out of the rain, just as he was preparing his evening meal. He invited me to take
shelter and went about preparing his meal. I discovered his meal was but three potatoes. When the
water had come to a boil, he dropped in the first potato and the second, but when it came to the third,
he hesitated for a time before indecisively dropping it in with the words meekly spoken: "not too much."
How mindful he was while preparing his potatoes and how much joy he had eating them!
Pioneers follow rules, but only the ones they make, for better or worse, as the case may be, ready to
die in the last ditch, or like an eagle soar high into space. Ditches are made to be climbed out of, often
repeatedly, before spreading ones wings.
FREEDOM IN DISCIPLINE
Those who are truly free, follow rules without even noticing or feeling a sense of constraint, whereas
those who do as they please, proclaim their would challenge. Rules are designed to change our
habits, our sources of happiness, and to place a higher value on ourselves. Rules are our dharma
protectors, our supports on the path.
A tell-tale sign of greed at work is the desire for quick results. Result driven action enslaves us to what
we are doing, preventing us from enjoying what we are doing. "Is it any wonder that it is one of the
"Three Poisons?" Greed also undermines contentment because as soon as we obtain whatever we
are seeking, we have our eyes on something else.
Regarding diet, for example, as soon as one pound disappears, we are anxious for the next to
disappear. Greed robs us of the pleasure of our achievements or material procurements, by sending
us another step forward before we have gained a footing where we are.
Greed creeps into meditation practice often and is a hindrance to advanced yogis as well as
beginners. Sutra texts urge us to be particularly cautious of its influences which can be very subtle
and difficult to see. We may be anxious to attain the bliss of meditative stabilization before we have rid
ourselves of faults and afflictions. So, because of faulty motivation, we fail to recognize that realizing
the former is dependent on eliminating the latter, and as a result achieve neither. Discouraged we
may abandon the effort completely.
When we practice meditation, we want to practice comfortably within our ability. "The strength of a
race horse is not shown by how fast it can run, but how long it can run," as a Chinese saying goes.
We want to be on the path for the long haul. It took many lifetimes to create the karma we our now
enduring, and while meditation can give us the tools to skillfully undue afflictive emotions and
passions, and so forth, we cannot be in a hurry. Being in a hurry is never pleasant even in an ordinary
sense, let alone in a spiritual context which stretches many lifetimes past, and likely many to come.
People do not like to think of desire as an enemy, because we are subject to it, and cannot separate
from it even if we want to. As long as we are submissive to desire, we are lulled into non-reflective
acceptance of our habits that are controlled by desire, even when we know they are harmful. It is
desire that drives our animal instincts, whereas it is reason that challenges these instincts. While
desire enslaves us, reason is our servant, and we can use it to confront our desires and undermine
the control they exercises over us.
Desire is often regarded as "bad" because afflictive states arise from it. We are taught to abandon or
control our desires by religious teachers of many faiths. But, it is a mistake to come to the conclusion
that desires are evil. We can control our desires, and in so doing lessen the effects of afflictive states
of mind, jealousy, greed, anger, fool heartiness, and so forth. When reason checks desire, we can
avoid negative consequences that inevitably will arise from mismanaged desires.
Most modern teachers of spirituality try to steer clear of discussions that urge confronting desires and
subjugating them. But, traditional masters, including of course the Buddha himself, made disciplining
desire a foundational part of their teachings. Today many books on sutras and tantras edit out
important foundational work. Students don't find discussions on desires perks up their ears like
discussions on "emptiness" or "Clear Light," and so forth, even though neither would arise in a
mindstream of a student confused by desire. The authors, unfortunately, are bound by a desire to
please their audience, not drive them away.
Never doubt yourself; if you doubt yourself, who will you be able to trust?
LIKE A LOG OF WOOD
A piece of wood may not seem very smart, but it can be an example for us to follow when we are set in
a destructive or careless mind set. Shantideva, the author of the "Bodhisattva Way of life" advices us
to make ourselves like a log of wood when the impulse to act inappropriately arises. Often when we
are overwhelmed, we tend to think that action is necessary, that we are almost obligated to respond to
a situation. This can happen in a variety of situations which may seem to demand a response of
anger, jealousy, contemptuousness, defensiveness, and so forth. However, just because powerful
feelings are stirred up inside us is no reason to act impulsively in a manner that does not reflect the
self-respect that we should have for ourselves and the respect we should have for others.
Impulsive action is rooted in strong habituation to respond to varying conditions in a manner we have
accustomed ourselves to ---- for better or worse. But, habits that are unbeneficial can and should be
broken, and though we may not know how we can at the very least avoid supporting habitual ways of
acting that we know is going to produce negativity. Being "like a log" is a good start towards unraveling
bad habits. No one will fault us for being like a log.
It is hard enough to engage in meritorious action, without burdening ourselves with trying to patch
over avoidable harmful actions. If we are constantly having to correct ourselves, we will spend allot of
energy just to stagnate safely; moving forward will be out of the question. So, follow Shantideva's
advice and when you feel you are about to speak or act out of place, "like a log of wood remain."
It is never tiring to be challenged in a "good" and "meaningful" way, but whenever we are struggling
with an endeavor of which its very worth is in question, we will be worn down. Before we undertake any
action, we should carefully consider whether to act or not. Often we are drawn into entanglements or
chase after pursuits out of a distaste for idleness, yet in the end doing nothing turns out to be what
would have been the best option.
OWN YOUR MISTAKES
Never distance yourself from your mistakes; for if you do not own up to them, they will own you. If you
leave your trash in the park, you will step in dog poo on the way out. Karma is not off by even a hair.
Anger comes from fear and insecurity. When we see someone who is angry or are the victim of that
person, be sympathetic. Understanding anger, whether we are the owner, the target, or observer, will
go a long way towards detaching from its negative consequences.
Angry people are not happy, and they don't make others happy. They suffer, and anger is an
expression of that suffering. Attachment breeds anger. Not getting what one wants, whether it be a
material thing, or otherwise, is often a cause of anger. It does not matter if the thing is worthwhile or
not, when attachments are there, so is the potential for anger. Practicing a non-seeking attitude is a
remedy for the kind of attachment that breeds anger. A person who is not seeking status, things, or
control of others, has no cause for anger.
BE AN EXPLORER
Explorers are those who are not content following the writing on the wall. Spiritual seekers are
explorers. They know that the obvious is not going to be very satisfying and certainly not going to lead
to the hidden. So, they subdue their mind's hankerings and take a deep breath, and carefully move
into the unexplored territory of their being and everyday world. Knowing nothing comes without
sacrifice, they make great sacrifice in hopes of stepping upon a small amount of new territory.
We all make mistakes, but some try to conceal them. Then they have made two mistakes. Caught,
they may try to conceal them. Then they have made three mistakes.
We cannot deny our interdependence; though we try very hard. We depend on many people just to
pass a single day, people that we know, and people that we don't know. When we acknowledge our
dependency on others, we are softer and more pliable and able to adapt to the challenges of life. We
are not alone, and we realize it.
The Western model of self-reliance is a ridiculous one because it sets us in opposition to the way
things are; is it any wonder why we have so many depressed and unhappy people? Our culture
breeds loneliness by it emphasis on self-reliance. All we do is pretend to be self-reliant, all the while
depending on others. If we took more time to think about what we take for granted, we would begin to
feel more connected with others and our environment.
Simple thought experiments can go a long way to achieving this aim.Think about what you generally
don't think about. When you buy gas, for example, imagine how many people are involved in making
available the gas you pump into your car. When you buy a loaf of bread, think about the bakers, the
farmers, the shopkeepers, the transporters, the printers (yes, labels are printed in printing presses,)
and so forth. A single day offers many opportunities to think about the people that make it possible,
their lives, families, friends, the work they do, and wonder how their lives and your's might compare.
It may seem tedious to analyze in the above manner, but the feeling of greater connectedness to
others that will emerge will make it worthwhile.
INCREASE THE GOOD
All of us have probably experienced trying to fix something and breaking it instead. God forbid, had we
read the instructions! People, like things, often don't need to be "fixed.". They may be broken, and
yet still quite functional the way they are, like many things. If a thing we have functions "OK," but
tempts us to "improve" what is an already satisfactorily functioning item, we will feel pretty silly if we
break it completely with our meddling, yet this does happen. And, so it is with people, also.
Sometimes we are not tolerant enough with the people around us; this includes parents and their
children, too. We busy ourselves with fault finding to the extent that we are blind to good qualities.
Sometimes it is better to tolerate faults rather than eradicate them. In so doing we give ourselves the
space to focus and appreciate qualities. Not only is this true with others, but ourselves, as well. We
sometimes become overly obsessed with our faults, so much so that we become discouraged. When
this happens, our good qualities are hidden and overshadowed by perceived weaknesses. Many times
by focusing on our good qualities, we automatically become more tolerant of our faults.
Any "bad" qualities we may have, is simply the absence of a greater amount of a related "good"
quality. For example, if we are an angry person, it is not the case that we are all anger, it is just the
case that we are predominantly angry, maybe seventy-five percent, while twenty-five percent is loving.
Rather than try to decrease the anger, it might be better to increase the love. If one is a lustful person
and is dominated by lust, one may find a solution in seeking out that part of our being that is "content
in its own skin" and try and increase that aspect. Increase what is real, wholesome, and healthy. It is
often the best way to decrease what isn't. Always look for and work with the good in yourself and
others. You will be happier.
Fault finding is so easy and yet so wearisome. If we are predisposed to fault finding, it is as if faults
are shouting at us. If this is the case, challenge yourself to find qualities where they are seemingly
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
"Food for thought" is food that is not heavy, overly stimulating, and taken in moderation. The right diet
is important for meditation practice, and we should give it the attention it is due.
A sense of engagement is a quality of meditation that will emerge through consistent and rigorous
meditation practice. In a sense, meditation is like a developing friendship that grows deeper and more
personal as time passes.
Many of the qualities that go into a good friendship go into a successful meditation practice, as well.
We must be steadfast, reliable, faithful, true, giving, and patient. If we put effort into our meditation
practice, we will look forward to meditation as we might a get-together with a good friend. This
relationship with ourselves is what makes it possible to give to others unselfishly. Being well grounded
within, we can indeed help those about us.
The best last word is silence. So if you find yourself trying to get the last word in use it.
As much as possible put seeking aside and pay attention to what is offered. Often contentment eludes
us because we do the former and neglect the latter.
Being attached to the "form" of practice is a very common mistake. Attachment to the form of practice
can happen at any stage of the path. As novices, the proclivity to draw boundaries between actual
dharma practice in the formal sense, meditation, making offerings, prayers, and so forth, and common
activities, running errands, looking after the family, chores around the house or apartment, are
particularly strong. Mistakes and lapses outside of formal sessions don't count as much as within
practice when we tend to be more forgiving of ourselves.
In truth, it is our active lives that best reflects the understanding we are developing through
meditation, not the meditation session itself. Meditation is like shadow boxing," while active life is like
being in the ring with a real opponent.
Whatever is going on in meditation is going on in active life, as well, and visa versa. Seeing this is
difficult because we are prejudice in favor of meditation. Through developing the right "view," we
gradually learn to blend meditation with an active life and dissolve all boundaries. A sign that we are
accomplishing this is when we notice that as soon as we sit down to meditate, our mind easily
becomes focused. If we have to spend a considerable amount of time to focus our mind, we still have
coarse lines dividing meditation and active life.
Advanced meditation practitioners also fall into error. They tend to attach to the bliss derived from
meditation, and this can result in neglecting the welfare of others. This attachment to the bliss of
meditation is a cause for the downfall of many who attain blissful states. Guard against this by serving
FROM A LOW POINT
A large proportion of dharma practitioners are those who have entered the dharma during low points
in their lives. Like lotuses rising out of the mud, the excellence of the Buddhas teachings helps them to
rise above their obstacles. The beauty of dharma is the way it undermines afflictions without focusing
directly on them. I have never during my ten years living closely with a Chan master been offered
solutions to end any particular affliction; not because I had none, I had many, but because such
solutions are by nature impossible. If you doubt this just look at those who go to psychiatrists, and go,
and go, and keep going, year after year, after year. The only solution that works for afflictive emotions
is overwhelming them with good qualities, and developing these good qualities is the aim of dharma
ABILITY TO SERVE
The ability to give freely and in a timely way cannot happen if we are preoccupied with selfish striving.
TRAPPED BY LANGUAGE
Often in our endless discursive thinking, we become trapped by language, something that a little
mantra recitation can free us from. As a means to rest a busy mind, mantra recitation is excellent, as it
pacifies the mind without recourse to sleep. A busy mind is reconfigured by mantra recitation, not
abandoned, as in sleep or drugs, only to arise again.
Rather than repeat what others have said or what you have read, as if your mind were dead, exercise
your mind by extracting the meaning in your own words and offer that to others unless requested
When we practice the dharma we live in a world of distraction and confusion, but we need not be
vulnerable to it. That is what dharma practice is all about. Distraction and confusion can be a driving
force to sink deep within ourselves and find a stable base to rest. Many think that a secluded
environment is best for meditation; but very few yogis achieve the degree of inner seclusion wherein
they can benefit from outer seclusion, in a cave, mountain retreat, forest, and so forth. The fact is, a
busy environment can stimulate inner peace better than any place else. So we need not entertain
ideas that we could be engaging in spiritual practice in a place other than our ordinary surroundings,
whatever they may be because to do so is nothing but a distraction and discouragement.
Treat others as thoughts in your mind. Watch them, listen to them, let them be, don't interfere. If you
can do that other will treat you the same, and you will gather many friends.
In the beginning, we are experts; in the end, we are beginners. But, we should not be discouraged
beginners, but rather enthusiastic beginners. A simple spiritual practice is easy to maintain. If we work
smart, we can work hard without effort. But, if we try too hard, like pulling grass to make it grow faster,
we will only kill our spiritual practice.
The fact that we are all conditioned in very diverse ways makes it possible for all to be our teachers. If
we pay attention to others, we can learn from them. No matter how superior our understanding may be
to another's, in some respect that "other" is superior to us. Finding that superior "view" hidden in
another is like finding a precious gem in a mountain of rock. It is an art to be cultivated, for the people
in our lives, whether it be in a casual encounter, or otherwise, are not there by accident.
PSYCHIC STATES AND TRUE EXPERIENCES
Genuine experiences and psychic states are very different. The former, insights, etc., can generally
be consciously repeated, whereas the latter are random. A random insight into a past life, for example,
is a psychic state and of little value, and should be paid no attention. But, an insight that engenders
an understanding into the causes of birth and death that can be built upon is of great value, and
should be cultivated. Always be keen to discriminate random experiences devoid of understanding
from those rooted in understanding; cultivating the former, and letting go of the latter.
Gathering all our thoughts on a single intention is like packing a bunch of excited kids together in a
car for an outing. They are not thinking a whole lot about where they are going but just excited that
they are going and in the company of their friends. The car door opens, and they all scramble for their
seats and off they go. Meditation is like this, the thoughts are the kids, and the car is the meditation
topic, and the driver is our intention. As diverse as all the thoughts may be, like the kids, they are all
gathered into the meditation topic, like kids in the car, and will arrive where our intention leads them,
as kids might all arrive together at the beach.
We must always pay attention to our intention, for it is where all our diverse thoughts will end up.
When gathered together for a journey, it is the gathering itself; that brings thoughts together under
the influence of a pure intention as if mesmerized. Their distinctness gradually fades, and they merge
and rest content in the journey that is by no coincidence, the destination we intended.
RECOGNIZE WHEN NOT TO SHARE
Sometimes it is good to be a little selfish, as, for example when we learn the truth, something that has
been puzzling us for some time. Guard and treasure your wisdom and give it the space it needs to sink
in and grow deeper. Those truths that we discover are very delicate and fragile, like a newborn we
carefully embrace. Some things that come to us are for us, and as soon as we open our mouth, it is
WATCH YOUR DEPORTMENT
If we find ourselves moving furniture noisily about, opening and closing drawers hastily, putting dishes
away carelessly, and have a general rushed feeling as if a mad puppeteer were directing our
movements, reflect on the fact that our actions are like a mirror, and what that mirror is reflecting.
Our deportment says allot. From time to time throughout the day we should examine our movements
and facial expressions. We shouldn't have to wait till another asks: "why the frown on your face," "why
so glum," "why all the racket," and so forth. We should check ourselves carefully and when necessary
give ourselves the space we need to examine the causes of unpleasant deportment.
DOING NOTHING WELL
Doing nothing is far more difficult than doing something; but if you succeed, you'll have more fun.
If you make promises to others and don't keep them, you will lose their respect. If you make promises
to yourself and don't keep them, you'll lose self-respect.
WARM A HEART
A pat on the back warms the heart --- encourage others.
KEEP THE MIND FREE OF PARTICULARS
If an afflictive mental state, jealousy, anger, lust, and so forth is disturbing us, gazing at the
expansiveness of the night sky may relieve tension. An elevator ride to the top of a tall building
overlooking the city below has a similar effect. A vast vision before us can make undesirable mental
states seem less significant and thereby help us cease identifying with them. Meditation can do the
same thing and is one of its principle aims. Once we have learned to meditate, when afflictions arise,
we can dissolve them into the spaciousness of our mind, or its emptiness. In either case, rather than
react to afflictions by trying to get rid of them, try diminishing their size by setting them against the
canvas of the bigger picture.
A Sri Lankan story tells of a young monastic boy who was walking through the monastery's corridors
when he peaked in a cell and saw a pool of water into which he casually tossed a stone. The boy was
not aware that what appeared to him as a pool of water was, in fact, a yogi in deep samadhi
(breathless trance.) When the yogi emerged from samadhi, he felt a pain in his side and realized that
the stone the boy had tossed lay within him. He called the boy to his room and asked him to pass by in
a few minutes and if he sees a pool of water with a stone remove it. The boy did as told and sure
enough found the pool of water with the stone removed it. The yogi had once again used his samadhi
power to appear as a pool water and upon emerging again was, of course, free of the stone the boy
Moral of this true story is not casually to do things, pull grass, idly draw pictures in the sand, doodle,
toss stones here and there, and so forth. It reflects an idle mind and such casual activity should call
our attention to this fact.
I have often been leery of people that were just too happy but never found my feelings confirmed by
sutra text or a great master till the other day.
"Excitement occurs when there is too much energy, too much tension. In this case, one needs to lower
it, to subdue it, make it more workable. For example, one would meditate on such topics as
impermanence, the sufferings of the lower realms of existence and so forth. It is a fault, in general, to
have too much energy, to be, in a sense, too glad all the time. If one is "blissed out" all the time, has a
lot of energy, and is always excitedly happy, then this acts as an obstacle to the meditation."
Dhargyey, Geshe Ngawang, Kalachakra Tantra, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
If you find yourself in such a state as mentioned above turn the excitement inward, find a quiet place
to sit, be alone in a park, or a silent seashore. Be alone and the energy will naturally turn inward.
PITFALLS AN SIMPLE SOLUTIONS
Often people feel physically taxed by sitting in meditation, especially for extended periods of time. It is
helpful to perform long deep stretches for a half hour to avoid this. By being light and pliable, we
sidestep torpor. Focusing on the breath and imagining oneself as transparent is also helpful Gaze
towards the space between the brow, eyes partially open. Eat light before meditation. Be proactive.
ROOT OF MISERY
Conditions may make us miserable, but if we stay miserable, it is our fault.
Nothing is more important for a Buddhist than taking refuge. When we decide to become a Buddhist,
we should study the foundational material entailed, and then, when one feels comfortable, attend a
refuge ceremony under a qualified master. If one doesn't know the master well, one should take the
time necessary to study his background and observe his conduct. A refuge master should be a pure
living monk, knowledgeable of the doctrine, and so forth.
The advantages of taking refuge is that by doing so, one becomes part of a sangha, a family of
people with similar goals and commitments. Sangha members not only look after one another in
practical everyday ways but even in thought, being a sangha member entails not entertaining for even
a moment a negative though towards another sangha member. Sangha members support each other
in thought, word, and deed, and this is crucial because walking the path is never easy, and we need
all the support we can get.
Nowadays many teachings are given by qualified Tibetan lamas. As the refuge ceremony is often
included before or after the teachings, there are many opportunities to take refuge. If we do not feel
ready, we can attend as an observer. There are certain commitments to taking refuge, so be sure
before making a commitment.
Arrogance is a sign of lack of self-confidence; it is a cover up for a feeling of inferiority. If we find
ourselves having this fault, we should inquire what it is we are covering up.
Giving ourselves fully to the task at hand requires the energy. Tasks performed with enthusiasm,
attention, and vigor are done better and more pleasurably. Unfortunately, we often don't take pleasure
in our activities because of other demands pressing upon us. Not only are so-called "chores"
performed as burdensome obligations, but even those activities that we had looked forward to turn out
to be chores when the time comes for doing them.
Time management is an important skill to develop in a world largely ruled by time. If we cannot get
along with time, it will be difficult to get along at all. Connected with time management is, of course,
prioritization for we often have more on our agenda than we can fit into a day. If we can prioritize well,
we will feel in control of what we are doing, rather than enslaved. So the skill of making priorities and
sticking to them is important.
Nothing ever goes as planned. No matter how hard we try to manage our lives, circumstances often
change and so must plans. We must be adaptable to change and amicable to it too, for it is the way
the world works, constantly changing. As flax moves about blown by the wind, so must we move about
with circumstances, and like flax which remains firmly rooted as it is blown about, so must we also
maintain a grounded disposition.
Once a task is started upon, we should remain fixed on that alone, not allow our mind to drift to other
things. As mentioned above, circumstances do change, and sometimes we may have to alter course
to accommodate changing conditions. However, adapting to necessary change is very different from
getting sidetracked by unnecessary distraction. We must remain undistracted and focused as much as
While engaging in the world if we develop a sense of spaciousness we will find much more going on
beneath the surface of things, many lessons offered, and many opportunities to practice mindfulness.
Work is work for sure, but it is also meditation. All our actions have a two-fold nature, one the obvious,
and the other challenging us to discover the extraordinary going on beneath the ordinary. We cannot
see this if we are busy racing ahead of what we are doing, or burdening ourselves with past thoughts.
We must be present, with our attention right where we are.
Discipline should be applied evenly and within one's comfort zone, and well maintained.
BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU DO NOT KNOW
Knowing what we don't know, is as important as knowing what we do. We tend to think more about the
familiar than the unfamiliar. But, we should give those dark spots in our awareness, those potholes,
If you cannot forgive, you can't forget either. You will be the loser, the one carrying around the
burden. This burden is greater if forgiveness is requested and denied. If we justify a negative attitude
towards someone because they wronged us, we will spend far more energy than if we forgave.
Sometimes we even harbor ill feelings towards people we don't even know, like those we hear or read
about in the news. These ill feelings are also misplaced. Those who commit crimes are conditioned by
the environment that surrounds them. To some extent, we influence people on the other side of the
world, not to mention our own city or neighborhood. Society molds each of us, and we individually
contribute to society. So, we are in no position to point our finger at the crimes of another, for they are
products of the same society to which we also belong and developed.
Being socially responsible means recognizing that no one acts alone and that we are all
interconnected. We should never blame an individual, but rather look for ways to improve our
Be a spy for peoples' good qualities. Whether we are with family or acquaintances, or individuals we
see in passing as we move through our day, always look for the good in people. The actor Will Rogers
once said: "I never met a person I didn't like."
Fault finding is a habit hard to break, and it never uplifts us when we engage in it, nor do negative
thoughts coming from our end benefit others. In truth, those with an abundance of faults offer us the
greater opportunity to seek out the good, than those who please us.
We should look upon everyone with "frank and loving hearts" as Shantideva points out in his
Bodhisattvacharyavatra, the Bodhisattva Way of Life. We should strive to treat everyone equally, and
give our attention evenly to those who call upon us. Whenever we see a fault in another, we should
view it as a challenge to find a quality. If we do this, others will feel our warmth, and it will have a
positive effect on them.
Replacing fault finding with quality finding makes more sense for our well being and that of others. In
this sense, we can learn something from Will Rogers.
I once stayed with a billionaire sponsor of Buddhism. He provided me, and several other bhikshus a
mansion to stay in with a servant. On the same estate, however, he lived in a small cottage with his
wife and did their cooking, cleaning, and so forth. He seemed to take much more pleasure in offering
others comfort than seeking his own. He was always peaceful, happy, and content; and a very wise
and a capable lecturer on Buddha dharma.
It doesn't matter how much money we have; we may be being offered very little by the universe. If we
accept this very little, then we will be happy, but if we "take" just because we can afford it and can,
then we will be unhappy. Greed is why so many rich people are unhappy. In fact, statistics show that
percentage-wise far more wealthy people are depressed and seeing psychiatrists, than poor people;
and their suicide rate is far higher, too. They cannot get it through their thick heads that just because
they can buy something, it is OK. They may have the money to buy the world, but have they the virtue
and merit of good deeds to earn it?
A good rule of thumb to stay content is to accept what chance brings, don't seek, and avoid all things
that are hankerings. What we want and what we need are two different things. Our greedy mind can
never be satisfied, whereas, recognizing one's needs and staying within them, leads to comfort.
MONKEYS AND ACORNS
There is a Buddhist story about a man who had monkeys whom he fed acorns. He once said to them
that he would give them four in the morning and three at night, but the monkeys became furious. So,
the man said that he would give them three in the morning and four at night, and the monkeys were
delighted. The substance didn't really change; the monkeys got the same amount of acorns, but their
reaction was very different.
In adapting to a spiritual lifestyle, we often feel conflict with our active lives. If this is the case, always
seek ways of adjusting spiritual practice to accommodate our busy lives, without changing its
TALK TO YOURSELF
If you have no friend to talk with, talk to yourself. Prayer is not confined to Christians. If we always
think "ultimate dharma," we will lose sight of all the dharmas that support ultimate dharma.
I read a quote today in the business magazine, “Forbes” which said: “You don't need to crush others
to get ahead,” which I would take one step further in saying you can uplift your own financial position
while helping others do the same. The great master Hsuan Hua often said: “put others first and the
money will follow.”