|This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point. And, you also
see the sun below the moon.
|Basic Principles of Meditation
|Meditation: Host and Guest Positions
Meditation is simply resting the mind on a topic of meditation. When the mind
wanders from the topic of meditation, it is brought back again and made to
rest there. When skill in meditation is developed the mind no longer wanders
from its meditation topic and rests naturally and
effortlessly on the meditation subject.
A topic of meditation can be anything one wishes it to be. However,
meditation topics are neutral, for example, a mantra, candle light, deity,
images such as Christ or a Buddha image, mandala (various ritualistic
geometric designs,) or even a stone, colored disc, etc. Concepts,
such as infinite space, boundless compassion, etc. are also used as meditation
topics. Once a meditation topic is selected, it is important to stick with it and
not switch around unnecessarily, faulting the meditation topic for one's own
lack of progress. The meditation topic is, after all, merely an expedient device
to aid our inward journey. Success or failure depends little on the device itself,
but more upon how it is used.
Once the topic of meditation is selected, it is important to recognize quickly
when the mind wanders from its meditation topic. Amongst Chinese Chan
Masters, the illustration of the "host" and "guest" positions was often used. A
summary of these two positions is briefly illustrated below. Although this
explanation is simple; a deep understanding and awareness of these positions
can take a meditator far.
High in the mountains there is an inn, beside a trail, frequented by villagers.
As they move through the mountains, these villagers sometimes come for a
meal or perhaps stay for a night or two before continuing their journey. These
travelers are the "guests" as they come and go; the innkeeper, who cares for the
inn and tends to the guests, is the "host."
The innkeeper watches his guests come and go; he serves them, and talks and
laughs with them. But, he never gets so caught up with his guests that he
forgets that it is his inn, and he is the host, the owner of the inn. If seduced by
some extraordinarily interesting exchange the innkeeper was to foolishly
wander off with one of the guests, perhaps lost in conversation, forgetting all
about his inn, he would have fallen into the "guest" position. After catching
himself in his foolishness, he would have to excuse himself to the "guest" and
return to his inn and once again assume the "host."
When we practice meditation, sometimes we lose focus of the topic of
meditation and get caught up in thought. Being distracted like this is like the
innkeeper who forgot about his inn and wandered off with a guest. In our case,
we forgot our meditation topic and followed a wandering thought. Then
something inside taps us on the shoulder and reminds us we are wandering. We
have fallen into the guest position, and we must once again become focused on
our meditation topic and reclaim the host position.
In the beginning, it is common to fluctuate between the host and guest
positions. In fact, many beginning meditators do not recognize the difference.
But as meditation progresses the two positions become very distinct.
Increasingly we will solidify our position as "host."
|Happiness and Meditation
|All living beings desire to be happy. But, the happiness is elusive, and even if found, temporary. We
sense within us a lasting happiness that does not die, and yet we seek to find it in the material world
and sense pleasures that do not endure. We impute upon objects, people, circumstances, etc. the
ability to make us happy. For example, we may think "this car makes me so happy," "this person
makes me so happy," this job makes me so happy," as if these things had some "happiness" quality
built into them. But, if that were the case, the things that make one person happy, would make all
people happy. But clearly this is not the case, which proves that we mistakenly attribute the quality of
happiness to the object when in truth it is a projection laid upon the object by our own thinking.
There are as many sources of happiness as there are people and ideas; and what makes one
person happy may not make the next. Moreover, what makes one person happy does not make him
happy always. Happiness is quick to fade. The thief’s happiness disappears soon after his cash
hoard runs out, or he just grows tired of the lifestyle. In like manner, the occupation we strove so hard
for as a youth may soon lose its appeal as the years move on, along with the happiness it
Another reason happiness fades because conditions change. The job with the attractive salary was a
source of happiness only as long as it supplied enough cash to meet our lifestyle. But, unfortunately,
often our desires grow faster than our income, and we are no loner satisfied with our job. Even the
crook is seeking out bigger and bolder targets.
The world operates on the thesis that we are all inherently unhappy and must act to become happy.
Not only do commercial advertisers sell on the basis of "this will make you happy," but so-called New
Age spiritualist market their scams to sell you happiness. The root cause of most unhappiness and all
the ills of the world is the thought that happiness is obtained, that it comes from outside. The real
happiness that we seek is not supported by what comes into contact with the skin, impinges upon the
eye, is heard by the ear, is tasted by the tongue, or smelled by the nose; it is not dependent upon
contact with the five senses. Moreover, it is not a mental construct of any kind.
Seeking happiness in external objects, people or conditions, is seeking what is dependant or
supported by something other than ourselves. While this is necessary to get on in the world and
something that we all must do to function; we can go deeper As human beings we have the capacity
to know a kind of happiness that is not supported by sense stimuli or thought constructs.
In the beginning, most people are not willing to discipline their desires even though this may be the
easiest way attain happiness. Meditation is a solution for many who cannot make a broad-ranging
personal sacrifice; but nevertheless have an interest in deepening their level of happiness.
Meditation is really a kind of segmented renunciation of the world of sense so that we may take a look
at the nature of mind. A fixed period of time is set aside where wealth and sex is not chased after, fine
food is not indulged in, and other enjoyments are not sought. Not only are such activities renounced
momentarily; but even thinking about them is abandoned.
In the beginning a pretty dull world emerges; and if you stick with it long enough it gets even worse.
Most quit and think the meditation failed them, or they failed meditation. But; if you keep at it long
enough, you will notice that you are starting to become very happy in meditation, that something
absorbing is happening, that you are in fact interested in something, but cannot isolate it. You are
discovering a happiness that is not supported by anything you can identify; and yet you are happy.
There are exceptions to this rule. Some find happiness in meditation too quickly. Some people find
that they get pretty good at sitting quietly and watching their thoughts. If their thoughts interest them,
fantasizing about this and that, they become quiet happy meditators. Know that quietly watching the
rise and fall of thoughts in your mind is not meditation; at best it is a kind of contemplation.
A closer description of what a meditator might experience were meditation successful is having the
exact same image or thought arise again and again with nothing but emptiness in between. In other
words; let us say you begin your meditation with a deity picture in mind. Normally you would have
your mind wander from the deity picture, again and again, continuously having to apply effort to
return the mind to the topic of meditation. But, after some years of practice, a kind of empty space
replaces the wandering thoughts. Whereas before you would wander from the meditation topic to
various thoughts and back to the mediation topic; now there is only a emptiness that you move in and
out of as you once again become conscious of the meditation topic.
|Are You a Buddhist?
A few years ago I was asked a very interesting question. The question was interesting because its
answer was so seemingly obvious that it seemed unnecessary to ask. And yet the one asking was
very serious and one of the great Tibetan masters of our time, H.H. Kusum Lingpa. I was asked, “Are
you a Buddhist?” I felt like someone held an orange in front of me and asked: “What is this?” The
Master knew I had been practicing Buddhism all my life and had been a monk for ten years. Of
course, I answered, “Yes,” not because I am a good Buddhist, for a good Buddhist would have been
wise enough to turn the question around somehow and throw it back at the Master, but rather
because my ordinary understanding could not come up with anything better.
There are many reasons one may think oneself a Buddhist. One may attend Buddhist meditation
classes and practice daily Buddhist meditation, for example. I do not remember clearly when I first
regarded myself as a Buddhist; perhaps it was during the year I lived in the Himalayas of Nepal in a
Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Although I had no books to study, I was meditating most of the day
(although using a Christian Psalm for a mantra) and was surrounded by Buddhist monks. Every
evening I would spend two or three hours “discussing” Buddhist philosophy with the abbot of the
monastery, Sengye Tenzin Lama. Although neither one of us understood the other’s language, I
think we had more laughs and extracted more meaning from our nightly visits than had we been
wholly conversant. Sangye Tenzin enjoyed pointing out to me that my meditation lacked wisdom, and
I was more like a bear in hibernation than a Buddhist meditating. This period was almost thirty-five
years before HH Kusum Lingpa's question.
Shortly after this period I met my teacher, Master Hsuan Hua, The lineage holder of the Chan or Zen
tradition. I worked very hard under his guidance and was assigned head of the Chan Hall
(meditation hall.) Most of my ten years as a monk were spent in silent meditation and teaching
occasionally, and leading the daily group meditations. The question of whether or not I was a
Buddhist never arose---any more than the thought of what my morning orange was.
Sometimes we take things for granted. We assume we are such and such for so long that we don’t
even know what it means anymore. Our actions lose meaning, and we are trapped in mere habit.
Mindlessly (mind elsewhere) some who call themselves Buddhists go about daily rituals and
meditations. Can they still be regarded as “Buddhists?” or has rituals and meditation lost all
meaning? In the beginning, the right aspiration made the practice Buddhist; but now, though the
outward form is the same, complacency has made the practice a fraud, and not at all a harmless
one, for such deception is a shameful waste of time.
Sometimes we assume someone is not a Buddhist, who may very well be. In 1992, shortly after my
father died, I met H H Trulshick Rinpoche one evening after he gave a lecture in Los Angeles. I had
not seen him since I was living in Nepal and he sent one of his attendants to fetch me from the crowd
and bring me to his room that evening after the lecture. After prostrating myself before him and
making an offering, he asked me how I was and about my family. While telling of my fathers passing, I
said apologetically that my father was not a Buddhist, but was a good man. To this Rinpoche replied
that ‘being a good man” is being a Buddhist..
Certainly many who do not think of themselves as Buddhists and who others do not regard as such
are in fact closer to the Buddha’s heart than many of us who assume our Buddhist lifestyle Buddhist.
This is why Kusum Lingpa asked me the question he did. He was telling me to work harder.
What is Buddhism?
The Buddha was once walking through a field in the dusty plains of Bihar, India. There he was asked
by a farmer, “what is the difference between you and I?” The Buddha relied: “I have realized I am the
Buddha; but you have yet to realize it.” Indeed, elsewhere Buddhist texts proclaim; “All living beings
have the Buddha Nature, but because of false thinking and attachments they fail to realize it.”
Buddhism is the study of one's own true nature or Buddha Nature. Buddhism is the map leading to
this discovery. You can also think of it as your Christ Nature, Self-Nature, or Mother Nature; whatever
you feel comfortable with. The point is not how you chose to categorize it, but what it is. The
underlying core of being does not belong to Buddhism or any other religion. The Buddha’s teaching
aims to show us how to see beyond appearances and unite with the core. So do other religious
One need not be a Buddhist to practice Buddhism. Indeed, H H the Dali Lama has stressed that
individuals should not feel a need to change their religion to practice Buddhism. The principles of
Buddhism can be incorporated into whatever faith one may belong.
Buddhism gives us a methodology for dealing with our unprofitable and binding actions that have
accumulated over many lifetimes and are the foundation for misconceptions we have today about the
world, who we are, and our relationship to everything that we see, feel, hear, touch, taste, and think
about. Buddhism asks us to contemplate birth and death; this is the most important Buddhist
teaching. Buddhism teaches that if we are sincere, the right conclusion will force itself upon us. We
will notice the impermanent nature of the phenomenal world and the constant change of all
appearances. This will help us to understand the futility of wanting to possess someone, something,
or some state of mind---or indeed our own life. Accomplishing this is freedom.
Now, you might be thinking: “of course, everyone knows that!” But the aim here is to see this in a
new and transforming way. One that is not merely a conceptualized understanding, but rather an
understanding that we are part of and embody. Buddhism often asks us to take a better look at what
is already before us and always has been. The breath, for example, goes in and out, we all know
that; but why do we take that for granted? Why did a Buddha have to come along and say that if you
watch it carefully, you may realize a subtle breath is moving within you (not air, but prana)? We all
take our hearing and the sounds about us as facts of life with little thought about them. How many of
us have ever thought to merge the faculty of hearing with the sound, or even thought it possible, or
what would emerge if one succeeded. Buddhism deals with many simple practices like these. The
result is nothing distinctly Buddhist. The Buddha has no patent on such discoveries, and certainly
before the Buddha, there were insightful rishis and yogis who quite independently decided to look
beneath the surface of things.
The reason, of course, it took a Buddha to come along and tell us to take a better look at ourselves
and the world is simple: We are being constantly distracted by the world. There is a difference
between seeing the world and being distracted by it. The Buddha came along and said; look
everyone; you are being dragged about here and there and not recognizing what is right beneath
your nose! Things are not as they appear to be! Take a good look!
The Buddha pointed out that not only is the outer world of appearances not as we habitually take it
to be; but also our inner world is also confused by many false views. Foremost of these wrong views
is the notion of self as the body. If the body is injured “I” am injured, if the body feels pleasure, “I” feel
pleasure, if the body dies, “I” die. More subtle, but equally false is the identification of self with mental
states such as anger, jealousy, hatred, love (as the antonym of hate), and numerous mental
conditions, in short the sense “I” that identifies with the body and mental fabrication.
The Buddha pointed out that we can disentangle ourselves from many false views by means of
simple analyses. For example, if we desire a boat and work hard to get one, upon receiving it we are
happy. We conceive the thought that I am happy because I got a boat---the boat made me happy.
But, if the boat brought me happiness, why can't a boat bring everyone happiness? Clearly there is
no happiness in the boat; and yet we frame our thought as if it did, thinking: “Oh, the boat brought
me so much happiness.” This kind of happiness can be extended in an infinite number of ways,
personal relationships make me happy, fame makes me happy, a good dinner makes me happy, and
so on. Somehow we think of these externals as the giver of happiness; at least for a time, until the
storm wrecks the boat, the relationship falls apart, and the dinner makes you sick.
The example of the boat is not brought up to discourage boating, nor the good dinner to discourage
eating, nor sex to discourage relationships, but rather to show how we get ensnared in the world of
things to the extent that we cannot get free. Let us continue with the boat analyses, for now; you can
later extend it as you please. The boat brought happiness because we constructed thought
formations that it would. If those thought formations were not created, the boat would not have had
this capacity. So basically we created a thought of dependency upon the boat, and now our
happiness is dependent upon getting it. This kind of dependency leads us to believe that external
things bring happiness and the more we extend our thought like this the more attached we become
to the outside world. And worse yet, the greater our sense of separation becomes.
The obvious way to free oneself of this mess is to stop constructing our thoughts around acquiring
things, people, positions, status, recognition and all forms of ambitions, and take a good look at our
life. It may sound easy, but it is not. The reason it is not is because we have been conditioning
ourselves to look outside, lifetime after lifetime, and to stop suddenly is impossible. Even to try to
stop suddenly is ill advised, for thwarting desires is never as good as channeling them. So, we must
begin disengaging from the world gradually. It is important to understand that by disengaging we do
not mean necessarily outwardly disengaging, but rather changing our inner perception of outward
facts. The outward appearance of our world is of little importance, but how we regard our world is
everything. The Buddha is an equal opportunity employer; Buddhism never discouraged people from
pursuing their goals in the world, as long as that pursuit does not bring harm to others. But rather
the Buddha’s teachings show us how to free our minds from attachment to results. For it is not the
results of actions that bring harm, not the boat, the beautiful lover, or wealth, but attachment to these
By pointing out the nature of all forms of dependent happiness, the Buddha wants us to ask the
question if there is a form of happiness that is not supported by things, or conditions, such as
success or failure. "Dependent" is an important word here, for it arises again and again in different
contexts in Buddhist thought. In the present context dependent simply means that we are under the
assumption that something external is going to produce a desired state of mind or is producing one.
Of course, attaining whatever it only fosters the false notion of ourselves as separate from the world
that we live in. Happiness or sadness is not inherent in the object gained or lost. But it 's hard to see
There is a saying, “In the affairs of others, even the fool is wise; but, in ones’ own affairs even saints
make mistakes.” The reason we make mistakes in or own affairs is that we are blinded by them. We
become so ensnared by our ambitions, and they take over. How can we avoid this?
Why Build a Buddhist Practice?
All living beings desire happiness, but few find it. Lasting is in italics here for emphasis because I
want to distinguish two kinds of happiness, one that endures and one that doesn't. Relative
happiness does not endure because, as mentioned above, it is supported by things, events, and
people that don’t endure. If the source does not endure, how can the result? Often people rebel
against Buddhism because they threatened by Buddhist discipline. Buddhism does not suggest that
we abandon our world, but rather understand its relative nature. Indeed, it does little good to
renounce the world, as it is the very world that bogs us down that when rightly examined can lift us
up. We undertake a Buddhist practice to develop the skills necessary to examine our world. Without
these skills, the world would continue to ensnare, and we will always be subject to it and controlled by
it. However, if we examine our world, we can learn to dance with it and learn a good deal thereby.
If we do not have a Buddhist practice (or similar practice), it is likely that we assume that we know
better how to become happy and don’t need any assistance. This self-assuredness is the way of the
world and why most people die as ignorant as when they were born. This ignorance is pervasive in
samsara, the world of illusion. Some of us are born with a thirst to escape this world of samsara, but
it so ensnares most of us that we know nothing else; we thirst after thing, events,
people, discarding one and finding another, with no end in sight. Few take the time or know how to
stop and contemplate what is going on in their lives. Often, even the thought of doing so is
frightening, let alone making it a daily ritual. We may feel the very foundations of our being is
threatened by such scrutiny. We feel as if we cannot live without the world we created. But, even this
is wrongly put. It is not that you cannot live without the world you created (that threatens the ego);
but rather that you cannot live without regarding the world you created as the foundation of your
being. We begin practicing Buddhism to discover whether of not the basis of being is really what we
think it to be.
There are ultimate and mundane reasons to practice Buddhism. When I began serious Buddhist
practice, I wanted to become a great yogi; not even understanding what this meant. I pictured myself
as a respected teacher, full of self-realization. It took me many years to realize that my goal was no
different from someone grasping wealth in business or fame in the movies. In fact, I discovered my
goal was even more dishonest because I was cloaking purely selfish aims in spiritual garb. It wasn’t
until I met my teacher that I realized what an ego trip I was on and slowly took it apart.
In the beginning, it is best to have modest aims. Rather than aiming at perfect enlightenment, aim at
being a better friend, more honest business person, more loving spouse, happy person, moral and
ethical person, happy. If the ultimate goal of Buddhism is absolute perfect enlightenment, the
beginning lies here.
Skill is necessary to disentangle from the tangle of samsara. Buddhism has many forms of practice
suitable for individuals of varying natures. Perhaps this is one of Buddhism’s greatest assets. No
other type of religious practice has developed so many techniques to suit the diverse inclinations of
people as Buddhism. Let us look a moment at some of these practices.
Basic Buddhist Practices
Most people associate Buddhist practice with meditation, quietude, withdrawal from the world, etc.
Meditation, in particular, is considered a Buddhist practice. The many meditation centers reinforce
this false view, where, often for a fee, one can join in scheduled meditation practice. But, the fact is,
there can be no meditation without first building a foundation for it. To simply sit cross-legged staring
blankly with eyes open or shut, making one's mind a blank, is not meditation, nor is watching the rise
and fall of thoughts (this is contemplation.) It is unlikely that one can learn to meditate by sitting on a
cushion in this manner. The Chinese say this kind of meditation is like "boiling sand grains expecting
to get cooked rice.
"Buddhism begins laying a foundation for practice by urging its followers do some house cleaning.
Anything dishonest, unethical, immoral, mean, harmful, and so forth is gradually eliminated. But, do
not judge others by the way they appear. Once on my first trip to India, as a naive, trusting person, I
got a lesson on honesty and ethics from a source many would think unlikely. "I had gone to a
marketplace shortly after arriving in Calcutta to change some money. The amount was five hundred
dollars, a big amount of money in 1960s India. I found a black market money changer named Chico,
who was running a sandal shop in New Market, a tiny stall amongst hundreds of others. I gave Chico
the money, but he said he could not change such a significant amount and that I should return
tomorrow. I decided to leave the money with him and went on my way. Upon arriving at the home of
the Bengali family, I was staying with I was asked about my day. Hearing of the money changer and
my five-hundred dollars the consensus was that we would never see it again. Clifford, their son,
insisted he come with me the following day to make all threats necessary to get it back, as a last,
likely ineffective resort. The next day, we arrived at New Market and found Chico attending his stall.
He greeted me with a smile and handed me my rupees. Clifford counted the money in astonishment. I
asked Chico why he didn't cheat me, and he pointed to a picture of a bearded Baba (Guru) on the
wall and said: "My guru teaches me not to steal." (As a side note, I looked up Chico fifteen years
later and he had become very wealthy, owning several department stores throughout Calcutta----
When beginning a Buddhist practice we should not think that radical outward change is necessary;
but rather look at our everyday lives as an opportunity to guide our actions with higher principles. "If
our occupation, association of friends, in short, our daily routine is to change let it be a holistic
change that comes about as a part of our growth. In the meantime, we should use our ordinary lives
as the testing grounds of Buddhist principles.
Buddhism teaches mindfulness as an essential tool of inquiry. The mind continually wanders from
thought to thought, fantasizing about this and that. Mindfulness brings pure awareness to the task at
hand as a means to still these fluctuations. We need not confine mindfulness to a seated meditation
practice but integrate it into all. Seated practice can be used as an aid to familiarize oneself with the
fluctuating nature of the mind, but is not essential. If one can learn to be mindful while active, seated
meditation will be performed with far more skill. This being said anyone can safely allot a small
amount of time, say one hour, to seated meditation.
The question arises how one practices mindfulness during activity.There are many ways of doing
this, not all of them suitable for all activities. Labeling movements, for example, is one activity
whereby physical movements are labeled: I am lifting my arm, I am pulling this wire, I am sitting down,
I am rising, a monotonous ritual of labeling accompanies our activities. Such labeling brings our
wandering mind to a halt and grounds it in what we are doing.
Staying focused on the task at hand and not engaging in unnecessary conversation is another way
to discipline the mind. One need not be a Zen master to see this. In fact, much of preliminary practice
is as much common sense as it is Buddhist; in fact, the common sense nature of Buddhism is one of
its main appeals.
To be continued
Most Buddhist, who are vegetarian, got over the fact shortly after becoming vegetarian. But, there is
a strange group of Buddhist individuals who try to make vegetarian eating "A Buddhist way of Life."
Nothing could be further from the truth. If the practice of eating a certain way were as beneficial as
these vegetarian elitists would have us believe, myself and the hippie companions of my childhood
would have been enlightened long ago. The fact is that compassion is the important thing, and to
confine compassion to vegetarians is demonstrably untrue.
Most Buddhist who are vegetarian do so for two reasons: because a vegetarian diet is more "satvic,"
(pure.) Meat is "rajistic" (agitating) and inclines one towards negative emotions like anger, hatred,
excessive desire, etc.. "Satvic" and "rajistic" are Hindu terms that are used extensively in the
philosophy of ayuervedic medicine, the philosophy of medicine and diet that is considered the
world's oldest. "Tamasic," is the third quality of medicine and food, the one that brings torpor or
sluggishness. Of course, often foods and medicines are a combination of the three, usually with one
predominant. It goes without saying that one should try to eat as pure (satvic) as possible, and this
would base food on a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians often provide not-killing as a benefit to a
vegetarian diet. But, this argument is unworthy of consideration as countless animals are killed
during harvesting and planting of foods.
Pure eating is not necessarily confined to food. For example, the Buddha allowed his disciple to
practice various vows dealing with food. Most of these were designed to control one's greed for fine
flavors, etc. One of these practices was " the any house beggars practice." Naturally, in a culture
where monks begged for food, over time monks got to know where the good handouts were, and
there they went. So, a monk who undertook the "any house beggars practice" forsook the luxury of
choosing where the good grub was to be had and tossed his lot to chance. No doubt because most
of the homes were Hindu, the food was mostly vegetarian. But, because many of the Buddha's
followers begged in fishing communities, fish was also on the menu.
Now, as far as diet goes, which is closer to the Buddha's heart, the monk carefully choosing his
homes for the delicious vegetarian morsel or the monk who begs by chance? A big problem we all
must deal with is greed. If you mix a vegetarian meal with greed, the pure "satvic" meal becomes
impure or "rajistic" So what is the benefit of pure food? The old saying, "better a dried morsel where
love is; than abundance with hate and greed," comes to mind here.
In fact, vegetarians face all the problems non-vegetarians face while eating. They can eat with
anger, hatred, stupidity just like anyone else. Those who claim that vegetarianism is a "Buddhist Way
of Life" are reading more into this beneficial practice than there is. It is good to be vegetarian, no
doubt. It is an aid to the path and does not require a lot of effort. But the real issues that being
Buddhist forces us to face requires a tremendous effort. It is unlikely that we will even recognize what
these issues are, let alone address them if we are spending our time on a platform trying to promote
vegetarianism for wrong reasons. Rather than talk so much on diet why not talk about compassion
and put the topic of vegetarianism in the broader context to which it belongs?
What is proper mindfulness? One of the primary focuses of Buddhist practice is the practice of
mindfulness; but what exactly does this mean? Being mindful means being conscious of what one is
doing and on a more subtle level, it means being mindful of what one is thinking and feeling. But, I
want to talk first about the relationship between mindfulness and intention.
If I set out to do something and forget whether I have done it or not, I could not have engaged in that
action with mindfulness. This happens surprisingly often; even those of us who profess to practice
mindfulness are often guilty. How often have we “locked” the house door and afterwards drove off
wondering whether we have locked it or not? We may have even reminded ourselves that it is
something we often forget to do, and make a conscious intention to do it, and no sooner we drive off
a little bird is tapping us on the shoulder asking us if we had locked the door. A doubt creeps in and
we realize that we don’t know whether we did or didn’t lock the door. So, while it would make our
home more secure if we did, as far as being mindful is concerned it makes little difference. If it was
locked we did it with as little mindfulness as if it were left unlocked. But, why don’t we know whether
we locked it or not and why are we doubting whether we did or not?
Knowing what our intention is is one thing and completing that intention is another. As Buddhists we
are assuming right intention, intention that does not bring harm to others and is beneficial. Intention
gives us the opportunity to serve the Buddha by fulfilling our intention with mindfulness, no matter
how insignificant the action may seem. No action is really insignificant. It may seem so on the
surface, but if we dig deeper we will see that seemingly trivial lapses of mindfulness can reveal larger
problems. Let’s see how this works.
Distractions seem to arise in the most inopportune moments, like when your leaving your home, for
example, and a thousand thoughts cramp your mind all demanding your attention at once, just when
you are locking up! Suddenly the attention we are supposed to be giving to making sure the sliding
glass door is locked and the rear door, and the front door, is scattered in a million directions and we
engage in the lock-up like a ghost going through motions with no sense of clarity whatever. We drive
away still filtering through our thoughts when we come out of the clouds with a doubt whether or not
we locked up properly. We probably did, but that is not the point. The point is we doubt whether we
did, and we doubt whether we did because we were not mindful when we locked up, we were
Now the problem with being distracted is that a distracted mind does not tend toward liberation or
self-realization. The reason the Buddha taught right intention and mindfulness is that they are
qualities that help us to become free. Being mindful in daily life is like being focused in meditation; it
reflects the true nature of the mind. Ordinary actions done with mindfulness are very powerful and
Everything said above about mindfulness in daily life is of course true for our devotional exercises.
When we arrange flowers on the alter or light incense we should do so consciously without a mind
busy thinking about the affairs of the day and scattered. We should generate reverence and
devotion and perform appropriate contemplations when making such offerings and doing
prostrations. It is our mindfulness that empowers these devotional actions and it is our mindfulness
that makes them worthy offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisatvas. Without mindfulness we are
performing mere rituals.