Saturday, December 29, 2012

Siddhearta's Essence of 2012

This year has been a great year for me, my first full year of writing a blog.  My writing this year has taken a rather whimsical trajectory without much rhyme or reason, but looking back there are a couple themes that prevail throughout the year.  So rather than create a 'Best of 2012', here are the essentials that you may have missed:

Be an Artist- which to me means being generous with whatever you have to share with the world and those around you, influencing them and bringing benefit along the way. 
1. The Renaissance
2. A Simple Discipline

Mind Training- the simple yet effective technique of training in bodhicitta, the awakened mind.  A step-by-step method to continuously contemplate and integrate with our daily life that yields untold benefits for ourselves and others.
3. Karma
4. Tonglen- The Rising Tide of Bodhicitta

Non-sensical poetry
5. For Sale: Supreme Vehicle (SUV)

Thank you for all of your support this year, here is to a very happy 2013!



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thank You.


I wanted to thank everyone who supported me over the past year in my effort to write this blog. 

This has been my first experience writing in a public circle and it has taught me a lot.  The main thing I have learned is that if you want to share your art- whether it be in words, creations or deeds- you need to just open your heart and let it go.  Don’t be an artist expecting acknowledgement, approval or applause.  Do it as an act of generosity with the intention of benefitting others, giving them strength  or brightening their day.  In generosity there is no failure, no inadequacy, no mistake.  It is when we hold back, when we turn away or avert our eyes that ourselves and others experience states of loss.  So in 2013 I can only encourage you to be fully present, find your ground, keep your eyes wide open, open your heart and share your gifts with the world. 

Thank you for your encouragement, inspiration and support. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Need a Vacation?

 
How does a spa weekend sound?
Soaking in the hot pools of samsara
Will improve the circulation of thoughts and emotions. 
Afterwards relax into the natural state,
Lay out naked and unadorned on the groundless massage table,
Expose all of your tension and knots.
Let the essence of the teachings work out the kinks,
The pith instructions apply deep pressure to those stubborn knots.
You may need the discipline of a manicure and pedicure to refine away rough edges.
Finally, conclude with a exfoliating facial to remove the extremes of
Permanence and impermanence regarding the single true face of reality. 
This is how to seek release from samsara. 

How does a trip to wine country sound?
It is important to understand the different varietals of spiritual teachings,
To fully appreciate their lineage, view, path and result.
Taste is paramount in determining the quality,
Fame, wealth and reputation mean nothing if it leaves a bad taste.
Spend some time appreciating how the different varietals come together,
Their distinctive features and qualities.
Blending can at times enhance the experience, at other times create distortion.
Certain vineyards have distinct qualities that cannot be replicated,
No amount of blending or aging can draw out a similar taste,
If you find this extraordinary lot you should seek its full measure.
This is how to understand the vehicle to awakening.

How about traveling to a foreign land?
You have heard of these places and always wanted to go,
Read the history and are fascinated by the culture,
How these people live their lives, the food they eat,
Oh, to sit in their plazas and behold their art.
We must ourselves cross to the other side,
It is not enough to read or study,
We must gain our own experience firsthand.
No longer will I be a parrot of other's experience,
No longer will I share their insights, 
From this day forth I seek the authentic experience of direct knowing.
This is how to gain your own experience in setting forth to the other side.  

How about going to a cabin?
Enter into a serene, peaceful environment.
Slow down.  Touch the earth.  Feel the breeze.
Wrap yourself up in the warm blanket of the teachings,
Feel the warmth of the fire of your own experience.
Cuddle up with a good dharma book to open new worlds of experience.
Enjoying this comfort and peace you might sleep in,
Perhaps your meditation is drowsy because of this clinging.
In the evenings you may reach for a bottle of wine,
Feel free to enjoy it but don't grasp at the experience.
This is how to enter into experience.

Do you want to go home?
Go back to the natural state,
Rest in that original condition,
It is always timeless, unchanging.
All the experiences you have in life,
The high and lows, good and bad,
You can always come back to this.
This place of full acceptance, contentment and peace.  
This is discovering your own ground.

Maybe you want a respite from work?
Get away from the never ending goals and deadlines,
The need to accomplish and assert oneself.
What need is their for competition, coercion.  
You have already discovered your fulfillment,
What more are you trying to do?
Just rest as you are, there is nothing more to become.
Recognize as it is, there is fulfillment in that.
Go from not having enough time to the present being unceasing. 
This is how to gain conviction.

How about a beautiful beach vacation?
Relax into the vast ocean of meditative equipoise,
Waves of thoughts rising and falling,
Appearing clearly within the ocean but never parting.
The morning fog naturally evaporates,
Revealing the sun of true seeing in the spacious sky free of reference.
A gentle cool breeze of compassion stirs,
Whisking away the sweat of others turmoil.
How joyful, yourself and others are completely refreshed!
This is how to develop experience.

How about a holy pilgrimage?
Pay reverence to the site of awakening, your own meditation seat,
Make prostrations to Vajra Seat (Bodh Gaya),
Where the Lord Buddha himself gained awakening.
Make offerings of your body, speech and mind to the Three Jewels through all your deeds.
Circumambulate the great stupa of bodhicitta
By having all your activities revolve around this intent.
Step through the heart into an immaculate, vast temple,
All sights and sounds the infinite play of deity and mantra.
Hang prayer flags throughout the world by dedicating your merit,
Your smile is like a thousand offering lamps that illuminate the darkness.
This is how you bring all experiences onto the path.  

How about a big city shopping spree?
A completely dazzling endless variety of sights, sounds and appearances,
Everything you could want is here.
The subtlety and refinement of experience is beyond comparison.
It is fascinating how something so simple could be
Presented and appreciated in this way.
To use ordinary and simple things in this new design,
This excellence in simplicity, this mastery of the trade, is amazing.
We used to think complex and ostentatious were the trend,  
But to use the familiar in such a unique way is mind blowing. 
This is how mahasiddhas refine away experience. 

How about sailing?
Effortlessly ride the winds of karma,
Skillfully manipulate gusts of emotions,
Complete your journey regardless of high or low tides.
When the winds scream, you move along faster.
When the winds die, you abide in the pristine expanse, the ocean of awakened mind.
Your vessel moves unhindered through this spacious expanse,
Sending out a ripple in the vast ocean,
Yet vanishing without a trace.   
This is how everything accelerates the path. 

How about a mountain trek?
Start off your journey through dense forests,
You will enjoy many vistas along the way,
Pass by alpine lakes so clear you can see the bottom,
All phenomena will play like animals in mountain meadows.
Scampering through the world of appearances and possibility,
You suddenly breakthrough to the summit,
An astounding, vast panorama.
Down below you can see all the places
Yourself and others have gotten caught up,
The simple solutions to their current situation.  
Resting in unmoving meditative equipoise,
The mind completely stark and barren of all distortion,
You have nothing more to gain.

Maybe you should help that guy trying to cross the river, 
Or that girl fighting herself in that thicket of stinging nettles.

Maybe you should get back to work.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Give a Dog a Bone


I want to share a story of a dog named Pema.

Pema is a wonderful dog.  She is incredibly loving.  Gentle.  She loves to run and go for walks.  She loves people, young or old.  If given the choice to go play or to stay close to you, she would choose you every time.

But give Pema a bone and she can't control herself.  She protects that bone 24/7.  She thinks people are scheming in order to get to her bone.  Even when asleep if she notices movement she is instantly on the defensive.

Despite all of this pomp and circumstance, when you take the bone away from her she instantly returns to her good-natured self.  I think she is honestly relieved to let her guard down and get back to cuddling.

How many dog bones do you have buried?  Why do you hold on to them so dearly?

What if you just let them go?

Next time you find yourself caught up on the defensive, speculating about how others are scheming against you, give a name to that bone you are defending.  Write it down.  What is it exactly and why is it so important to you?

You might just be relieved if you let it go. 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Love Song


Resting in the space of the Single Mother,
Without wavering from the presence of basic space,
One directly beholds the face of rigpa,
Completely naked and unadorned. 
With the meeting of these two, basic space and rigpa,
There is naturally arising great bliss,
A bliss so pristine you might just burst out laughing.
This indestructible awareness penetrates 
The world of appearances and possibilities in all her variety.
Soaring unhindered through the expanse of space,
Effortlessly benefitting beings in the all-pervasive sky
Through the compassion of the dynamic fierce mother. 
This is the sublime union of the dharmakaya
 Free from coming or going,
Without coming together or parting,
Abiding forever and always,
In the unchanging body of light. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hope that Coffee Wakes You Up



It was a regular Wednesday morning.  I awoke from my slumber, showered and got ready for work.   Heading out the door I stopped by my local coffee shop for my morning ritual cup of coffee.  The barista in her usual morning charm asked how my day was going to which I replied, "Good, little tired this morning."  Handing me the cup of coffee she said, "Hope this coffee wakes you up." 

Doubtful.

One of the core teachings of the Buddha is that we all have this basic wakefulness.  Nobody really knows about this basic wakefulness or appreciates its potential.  We have all seen it with our own eyes.  It is very simple. 

The problem is it is too simple. 

It is dawn, the birds are chirping.  A ray of light swings across the room.  There is a garbage truck beeping across the street.  When we sit with our basic wakefulness we realize how awkward we are.  Our bodies are really uncomfortable, stiff and heavy.  We notice our feelings and emotions whether good or bad.  Our story lines become absurd. 

Basic wakefulness is raw. 

So for a moment sit with that rawness.  Create a gap in all the distraction and habit patterns, the compulsion to keep moving, to reach for that cup of coffee. For a moment, this is enough.  Just recognizing and resting in this basic wakefulness has the potential to change your whole day. 

It will definitely wake you up. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Buddha's Unchained Melody


Uni-verse:
Ah

If that is not recognized as non-arising the natural display arises as:
OM A AH I II U UU RI RII LI LII AY AYY O AU AM AH
KA KHA GA GHA NGA CA CHA JA JHA NYA TA THA DA DHA NA
ṬA ṬHA ḌA ḌHA ṆA PA PHA BA BHA MA YA RA LA WA SHA SHA SA HAKSA HUNG HUNG PHAT

If that is not recognized you have the endless proliferation of letters and words that compose the song of samsara.  The only refuge from this song keeping you up at night is:
OM YE DHARMA HETU PRABHAVA HETUN TESHAN TATHAGATO HYAVADAT TESHAN CHA YO NIRODHA EVAM VADI MAHA SHRAMANA SOHA

And so we sing:
Buddham saranam gacchami
Dharmam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami

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Two Headlights of the Two Truths illuminate reality without confusion
Five Colored Illusory Body eliminates the need for damage repair
Energy Efficient Exhaust System eliminates all defilements
Sun roof for phowa practitioners
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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Artist


Namo Buddhaya!
I prostrate and praise the sublime artist,
Who chisels away the afflictions and obscurations of beings,
Refining their body, speech and mind,
Into the indestructible three kayas.

He who reveals this timeless work of art,
Innate buddhanature,
Is simultaneously the art and artist,
Benefitting beings through their creative display.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Dakini


The world of appearance and possibility is the dakini.
Try to control her and she will torment you,
O the scorn she will bring to your heart.
The wise let her fly unhindered through the expanse of space.
So be wise, O child,
And she will bring you endless great bliss.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tonglen- The Rising Tide of Bodhicitta


The next stage of Mind Training focuses on the development of relative bodhicitta. 

7. Sending and taking should be practiced alternatively, riding on the breath.

The practice of relative bodhicitta is centered on the practice of Tonglen, or exchanging self and other.  Tonglen is an extremely important and useful meditation technique.  There are many different instructions on how to practice tonglen, but the following is based on the heart advice of my gracious guru, Younge Khachab Rinpoche.  This is an uncommon instruction for the practice of tonglen because it is based on the unique Dzogchen method of resting in the natural state.  If you have not received the instructions for Resting in the Natural State, you should seek them out from a qualified teacher. 

Sitting in a comfortable meditative posture,
Our body is left open, relaxed.
The shoulders, neck and face are relaxed,
The eyes are left open, gently gazing into the space before oneself.
The breath is natural- gentle and uncontrived.
The senses are open, free from fixation,
Let whatever appears be as it is.
Don’t fixate- on feelings, thoughts, sights or sounds.
Just relax and settle, like waves on water.
Slowly, like mud settling out,
The mind will become calm and clear.
Rest in the natural state.

In a state of natural rest, one will discover a vast ocean of equanimity, 
unchanging openness without center or limit, 
perfectly pristine, clearly reflecting all that appears and exists.
Having resolved all grasping and fixation, acceptance and rejection fall away,
there are no waves to disturb oneself from this uncontrived and effortless state of rest.
The mind is calm, clear and expansive. 

Within the spacious sky rises a full moon, the wisdom of bodhicitta, 
simultaneously accomplishing the benefit of oneself and others.  
An infinite display of stars reflects in the ocean, 
all of samsara, the beings of the six realms, are perfectly reflected as ornaments,
self and other are equal, there is no higher or lower, better or worse. 

Due to the presence of these two factors,
there is the rising tide of bodhicitta, the vast ocean of the noble heart swells.
Due to this self-arising grace (Tib. rang byung thugs rje),
there is a natural outpouring of love, compassion and joy,
effortlessly accomplishing the wishes of beings and carrying them to the far shore.  

As you breathe out, sharing all your love, happiness, peace and contentment with other beings, spontaneously fulfilling all that is wished for.  

As you breathe in, through great compassion take in all their suffering, pain, anxiety, doubts and insecurity.

With each breath, establishing beings in happiness, freeing them from suffering.

Breathe.  Like a cool ocean breeze, with each breath you sooth the minds of beings, bringing them a moment of comfort and joy.  

Rejoice in their happiness.  

With a mind that never wavers from the state of single pointed rest,
all the waves again dissolve back into the great ocean of equanimity.
Again and again, day and night, this cycle continues.
Without ever wavering from the single intent of bodhicitta, 
you simultaneously accomplish your own and others welfare.  

Dedicate the merit of this practice for the benefit of all beings. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dance Standing Still


The ultimate bodhicitta slogans are instructions that are meant to allow one to recognize and cultivate ultimate bodhicitta in meditation.  

2. Regard all dharmas as dreams.

Normally, our reality and day to day affairs seem very concrete.  Our experience feels very real as we are going through it- the whirlwind of our thoughts, surging emotions, feelings of joy and our aches and pains.  We usually don't examine our experience and we just take it for granted.  Life in a nutshell.  

As we move away from our experiences, in the following hours, days and weeks we find it increasingly hard to remember what it was exactly that we were holding onto.  What did that wine and steak taste like again?  What were we arguing about?  What was it that we were so desperate to uphold, reaffirm or prove?  Was it worth all the effort?  

Regarding all dharmas- all experiences, sense objects and activities- as a dream means that we relate to them with less fixation, more openness.  Dream here doesn't mean hazy or unclear.  We can have very lucid dreams, dreams that evoke very real emotions and feelings while we are caught up in them.  The key is that when we awake from a dream we know it was just a dream and that the experience was temporary and fleeting, that it was just something that we were fixating on in our own mind. 

We can experience this sort of insight in our own meditation.  When we take our seat in meditation we become aware of an endless dance of thoughts, sights, sounds and feelings.  Our habitual tendency is to fixate on these phenomena in all their variety, but in meditation we just let them be as they are without following after them.  As we begin to relax into that illusory dance we begin to discover an underlying stillness.

Within the space of meditation, without grasping at the dynamic display that is arising in all its variety, we begin to notice and appreciate this unchanging quality.  Despite movement there is stillness.  It is here that we can look at the next slogan.

3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.  

When we look at this awareness, we are aware of this unceasing dance of phenomena that is occurring, but since we are not getting caught up in that display we are also aware of this calm stillness.  Look at that.  Where does this come from, where does it go?

When you look at the dance you find there is nothing to hold onto, it is an endless play that can take any form at all and yet never exists as a single thing whatsoever.  When you look at the mind, there are all these things we are aware of, yet there is an underlying stillness that is lucid and alert.  When you look at that mind, you cannot find anything.  There is nothing there to hold onto, mind is unborn, yet there is this awareness that perceives very clearly.  From here we can address the next slogan.

4.  Self-liberate even the antidote.

When we look at the dynamic dance of phenomena, we find that despite the unceasing play there is this unchanging stillness which could be interpreted as nothing ever really happening.  When we look at the mind we find that while it is aware, we cannot find any particular 'thing' that is actually mind. 

The danger here is that we could come to the conclusion of 'Well, what's the point? Nothing matters, nothing ever happens.  Who cares, it doesn't matter what you do'.  This is very tricky, for we risk becoming nihilists- heartless narcissistic bastards.  Don't do that. 

Self-liberate the antidote means not to get caught up in that experience, don't solidify that experience of emptiness.  Don't fixate on that experience of not finding anything that is truly lasting.

5. Rest in the nature of the alaya, the essence.  

In meditation, we seek to move beyond our coarse level of mind and learn to rest in a more subtle level.  There are eight types of consciousnesses- five sense (sight, hearing, olfactory, taste, touch), conceptual consciousness, emotional consciousness and the alaya, or foundational consciousness.

The idea of resting in the alaya is that we are not supposed to get caught up in the dance of the other seven consciousnesses.  We don't want to follow after all the sights, sounds, smells, feelings and thoughts we are experiencing as we sit in meditation.  Learn to rest in a calm, clear, non-discursive awareness.  As we familiarize with this place of natural rest, free from coming and going, we also familiarize ourselves with ultimate bodhicitta.

It is important to understand that the alaya is not ultimate bodhicitta, but it is a much more subtle level of mind where we can begin to appreciate the qualities and characteristics of the nature of the mind.

Resting in the alaya we can see the dreamlike nature of all phenomena.   Not getting caught up in the dynamic dance of phenomena, we are able to examine the nature of unborn awareness.  Without clinging to that experience we self-liberate even the antidote, which is the empty nature of awareness.  We rest in lucid clarity, the mind open and expansive.  All of this is something that we are not creating in meditation, it becomes self-evident as we continue to sit with the proper instruction.

6.  In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.

At the end of the meditation session, don't just get up and go about your day.  Carry whatever insight or experience you have from meditation into your daily life.  Let it infuse your relationships, your work, your good times and your bad. 

Regard all situations and activities as dreams.  Don't get caught up in the dance.  We need to participate in the dance, we don't really have a choice here.  We cannot be a wallflower in the dance of life.  But as we dance we can adapt, respond; we can lead or follow; show strength or vulnerability.  We can affect the shape and the form the dance takes, a miraculous display that can appear in any way whatsoever

Go dancing, be a child of illusion. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Training in Bodhicitta


The second point in Mind Training concerns the main practice, which is training in bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment.  There are two aspects to bodhicitta, ultimate and relative.  

Ultimate bodhicitta is connected with the perfection of generosity.  It has the quality of openness, not holding anything back.  This is the vision of the Mahayana, that we can be open, that we have a boundless store of love and compassion that can be shared with the world around us.  The opposite of ultimate bodhicitta is the mind that fixates on our own self-interest.  It is a mind that closes in on itself, focusing on 'I' and 'mine' with its attendants of anger, attachment, jealousy and arrogance.  

Also connected with ultimate bodhicitta is the principle of emptiness.  Emptiness refers to the true nature of phenomena and the true nature of our own mind.  When we examine the world around us and even our own minds we find that everything is interconnected, that there is no independent self to be found.  Since all phenomena arise dependently, we can say that they are empty of a truly existing, autonomous self.  Saying that phenomena are empty in their nature does not mean that they do not exist at all, but rather determines the way they exist, which is interdependently.  Once we realize the empty nature of the self, then generosity and compassion arise very naturally because we have nothing to hold onto, nothing to lose.  

We can speak of ultimate bodhicitta in terms of openness and emptiness, but on another level we can relate it to our own buddhanature, or tathatagarbha.  

The tathatagarbha, often translated as the seed of awakening, can be identified with the soft spot in our hearts.  No matter how much armor we put on to try and protect ourselves from all the hurt in the world, there is always this tenderness or vulnerability that is exposed.  Everyone, no matter how callous, jaded or cruel, wants happiness and to be free from suffering.  

In the Uttaratantra-shastra:
If buddhanature were not present, there would be no remorse over suffering;
There would be no longing for peace, nor striving and devotion towards its aim.   
 
The tathatagarbha is innate in all beings.  In our meditation, as we sift through the layers of agitation, dullness, irritation, neurosis and projections, we begin to discover our own basic goodness, this naturally present fullness of being.  It is this process of coming home, an abode of natural peace and rest within.  As we recognize this in our own heart and mind, we can see with our own eyes that awakening is possible.  
 
We can also approach the tathatagarbha on a more subtle level.  Tathata in Sanskrit means suchness, meaning the true nature of reality just as it is, the union of appearance and emptiness.  Garbha can be translated as womb.  In this sense tathatagarbha can be interpreted as the womb of suchness, the true nature of reality and the nature of our own mind that gives birth to the world of samsara and nirvana, bondage and liberation.  We never part from this true nature.  However it manifests, whether as happiness or suffering, we can recognize and abide in this innate buddhanature, the nature of mind.  It is the single sphere, which having never existed as anything whatsoever, can manifest in any way at all.  
 
The Tathagatas, those thus gone to suchness, abide always and forever in the womb of suchness, the nature of mind free from coming and going in which they endlessly carry out the benefit of beings.  
 
Of course, all these words may sound nice, but this is something that must be identified in one's own meditation and not merely left as words.  

Relative bodhicitta is how we carry that experience and insight we gain during meditation into our daily life.  It is the practical application of wisdom and compassion.  Having recognized the capacity for awakening in ourselves, how do we bring that onto the path?  How do we let it infuse our life and work?  

Relative bodhicitta is connected with discipline, how to actually carry out the practice.  Discipline refers to how to actually walk, for without discipline it is like trying to walk the path with no legs.  The way the Buddha taught us to tread the path to enlightenment is through the bodhisattva path, exemplified by the six perfections.  

The slogans on relative bodhicitta are quite simply but also very direct.  They reflect the practicality of the Mahayana path, we should make a lot of effort to recall them in our day especially when we are faced with difficult situations. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Suffering


The fourth preliminary is the contemplation on suffering.  The key point is that there is no place within the realm of samsara, or conditioned existence, that is free from suffering. 

There are several implications to consider when contemplating suffering.  First is the truth of suffering.  The first teaching that the Buddha gave upon attaining enlightenment was on the Four Noble Truths- the truth of suffering, truth of the origin, truth of cessation and truth of the path.  Within the truth of suffering there are three types of suffering that the Buddha mentioned- the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change and all-prevasive suffering.  

We are all very familiar with the suffering of suffering.  This is the gross level of suffering that we experience throughout our lives- physical pain and loss, the diversity of negative mental states, and the never ending cycle of aging, sickness and death. 

The suffering of change is a little more subtle.  It is the suffering that is associated with periods of happiness or pleasure.  This type of suffering refers to the tendency of the good times in our life to revert to suffering.  The common metaphor to portray this type of suffering is that of licking a razor blade with honey on it, it tastes so sweet but we do not realize that we are cutting our tongue because the blade is so sharp.  We all have examples of this type of suffering in our own life- the new job that turns out to be a bad work environment, a spoiled relationship, a hangover after a fun night with friends.  What distinguishes whether or not these positive experiences we have in life revert to suffering?  Is it the object or event itself?  Or is it our own mind, hopes and expectations? 

All-pervasive suffering is the most subtle level of suffering.  It refers to the latent potential for suffering to manifest in our life because of our own ignorance, ignorance of the true nature of reality and our true nature.  It is because we misconstrue phenomena with identity, fixating on characteristics and investing them with meaning that is not inherent to them that we experience an endless round of suffering.  It is by getting caught up in the twelve links of dependent origination that we continually experience the all-pervasive nature of suffering.

The second implication is that no matter where we are born in samsara we cannot escape suffering.  It doesn't matter if we are born rich, famous or beautiful.  We cannot get promoted to a job that has no suffering, we cannot move into a bigger house to be free from suffering and we cannot find another partner that is going to be perfect and never cause us pain or sorrow.  If you are not convinced of this then you should waste a day or two of your life to watch reality TV (This will be the last time I ever suggest people watch reality TV). 

The third implication is that it is we who continue to invest in the suffering of samsara.  It is our thoughts, choices and actions that continue to turn that wheel. 

When we understand the truth of suffering and that we cannot escape it as long as we continue to invest in conditioned existence, then we come to embrace the larger scope.  As long as we place our refuge outside of us there is no lasting happiness to be found.  If we place our refuge in people, places or things outside of us we will have no protection, no shelter, we will constantly be reaching out with empty hands hoping that something comes our way. 

We must rely on an authentic refuge, one that is able to free us from this wheel of samsara.  As an outer refuge we rely on the Buddha as the supreme teacher, the Dharma as the supreme teaching, and the Sangha as the supreme support.  As an inner refuge we rely on our own Buddha mind or the capacity to attain liberation, our own experience of the Dharma as the path, and the Sangha as our companions on the journey. 

Having embraced the larger scope we then come to a decisive experience of suffering, which is best summarized by a verse composed by my own root guru, Younge Khachab Rinpoche:

We are endowed with this precious human life,
and have met with the Dharma.
The world and inhabitants
are impermanent, like a water bubble.
At death, only my dharma practice
will be of any benefit.
At death, there is no freedom,
and the winds of karma take their course.
Therefore I shall devote myself
to abandoning negative acts
and cultivating positive ones.
All the illusions of samsara
entrap my mind with the three poisons.
Realizing the faults of conditioned existence,
may I practice renunciation and strive for enlightenment.
 
This concludes the contemplation of the preliminary practices.  It is of tremendous value to return to these again and again, for they are the source of much wisdom on the path.  


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Karma

The third preliminary is the contemplation on karma.  Karma means action, or cause and effect.  For the purpose of this contemplation it is necessary to give up any preconceptions based on pop culture's notion of good and bad karma for it does not encompass the Buddha's intent when he gave these teachings.  The key point of karma is summarized very well in the Essence of Dependent Origination dharani:

om ye dharma hetu prabhava hetun tesam tathagato hayavadat tesam ca yo nirodha evam vadi maha shramana soha
All phenomena arise from causes and those causes have been taught by the Tathagata,
Their cessation too has been proclaimed by the great practitioner of virtue.

There are several implications to consider when contemplating karma.  The first is that the world is shaped by our intentions.  We find in Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa:

The variety of the world arises from action.
[Action] is intention and that which is produced through intention.
Intention is mental action-
It gives rise to two types of action, physical and verbal action.

 And also in the Dhammapada: 

Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.
Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.
Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.

Right now we are the culmination of all of our past thoughts, actions, choices and habitual tendencies.  The thoughts, actions and choices that we make today will determine who and where we are in the future.  

Often we hear the following, "What are you gonna do, that's life."  I think we have all said that at one time or another, but if you think about that statement within the context of karma it is filled with ignorance.  A lot of the time we have this notion that life happens to us, rather than we who are responsible for creating our reality.  It is a matter of determining whether we are an active participant or a passive observer.  

Think of this in terms of worldly pursuits- our education, health, career and family.  How does this implication- that the world is shaped by our intentions- play out in these settings?  Are we active participants or passive observers?  

Think of this in terms of our spiritual growth.  Our religion is not simply some organization that we belong to,  it is an expression of our spirituality whether we acknowledge it or not.  I think this is the intent when the Buddha said the following:

I can show you the door, but you must walk through it. 

The second implication is that actions never fail to produce an effect.  In the span of a day we have numerous thoughts, choices and actions.  It is easy (easy for me at least) to write off the little things as 'This doesn't matter', or 'just this one time'.  But just as a birds shadow may not be readily apparent as it soars through the sky only to return again when it lands, every act we engage in influences the course of our life.  A great saying by Lao Tzu:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
 

And also the Buddha:

You will not be punished for your anger,
You will be punished by your anger.

The third implication is that the eight worldly concerns lead us astray.  The eight worldly concerns are getting caught up in happiness and suffering, praise or blame, fame or shame, and gain or loss.    Like a fish on a hook, we latch onto these concerns and through the process of cause and effect we are caught in an unending cycle of negative mental states.  

The fourth implication is that of generating merit.  Merit is a concept that isn't understood or appreciated in the West.  Merit really refers to a positive potential of mind.  It is a mind that, when adequately prepared and cultivated, is able to withstand significant hardship, loss, pain and suffering.  We often do not think of our mind in this manner, but it is equivalent to always carrying a trump card so that no matter what cards you are dealt in life you can still play the game. 

When we understand karma and its intimacy with our present and future state, then we can embrace the larger scope.  It is we who are responsible for our own happiness and suffering and our effect on the world around us.  Our intentions, choices and actions create the world around us each and every day.  Karma is not something you believe in, it doesn't matter if you believe or not.  Cause and effect do not operate on moral imperatives, it is we who punish ourselves. 

Having embraced the larger scope we come to a decisive experience of karma.  As long as we rely on conditioned phenomena we are subject to karma.  As long as we rely on mind and mental factors we will never move beyond suffering, because we will continue to plant seeds that will indefinitely ripen.  We need to come to a direct experience of the unconditioned nature of mind, only then is it possible to break free from the cage of karma, habitual patterns and afflictive emotions.  

It is vital that we come to a decisive experience of karma by studying, contemplating and meditating on the teachings. 
 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Impermanence


The second preliminary is the contemplation on impermanence.  The key point is that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent.

There are several implications to consider when contemplating impermanence.  First is the impermanence of the outer world.  No matter where we look we cannot find anything permanent or lasting.  Our environment composed of mountains, lakes and trees is constantly changing.  The beings that live in the world are constantly undergoing birth, aging, sickness and death.  No matter where we look, high or low, nothing permanent or lasting can be found.

Second, we can examine the inner world- our own life, body, thoughts and feelings.  When we look closely, we cannot find anything that withstands the test of time.  Our body undergoes many changes throughout life, our thoughts come and go like a never ending movie, our feelings constantly rise and fall like the tide.  Whether our experiences are pleasant or not, they come and go leaving only a faint memory similar to last nights dream. 

People often say, 'I cannot believe how fast this month/ year has gone.'  It is quite strange that even though we notice how quickly life passes us by, they do not apply it to their future.  We stand with our mouths agape at how fast the past ten years have went, what about the next ten?  Do you think they are going to slow down?   This life is like a water bubble, clearly apparent for a moment but vanishing in an instant. 

The third implication to consider is the faults of permanence.  We often consider phenomena, whether that of the outer world or the inner world, to possess an identify of their own.  We think that they really truly exist from their own side.  We tend to fixate on notions of self and other, mine and yours, right and wrong.  It is this fixation that then leads to fear, stress, anxiety, anger and attachment.  

When we understand the impermanence of the outer and inner world as well as the faults of permanence, we can come to embrace a larger scope, which is that if everything is impermanent then change is possible.  We often feel stuck- in situations, work, feelings and thoughts.  When we contemplate on impermanence we gain certainty that nothing is fixed, that while things may seem very solid at the time it is really just our mistaken perception.  By loosening our fixation on identity, we come to eliminate the extreme and faults of permanence.  We come to appreciate the larger scope, that reality is dynamic, flexible, a vast web of dependent origination. 

We then come to the decisive experience of impermanence.  By not getting caught up in the dynamic display of the environment or beings, we come to discover the fundamental ground of being, the true nature of reality which is unchanging.  Having never existed as anything whatsoever, it manifests in any way at all.  All that appears and exists within samsara and nirvana is nothing but an ornament of awareness, the unceasing play of dependent origination that is utterly beyond speech, thought or expression.  Life opens itself to an endless dance of creative display.  Our minds, free from fixation, come to appreciate and rejoice in experience rather than being bound by it. 

While there is uncertainty as to the time of death, death is certain so we must realize our true nature now.  For too long we have thought we had so much time, but now the sun is setting and life has run its course.  We have no time left to practice, our body is growing old and weak, our mind frail. 

Life is a passing glance of possibility.  Do we act or not?  Seize the moment!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Precious Human Life



This week a few of my vajra brothers and sisters have begun a year long contemplation on Mind Training, or Lojong in Tibetan.  The benefit of the mind training teachings is that they are very simple and precise. You can read the whole text or a portion of the text and then actually practice it. There is a directness to the teachings that each time you read it, there is something that cuts through misconceptions or internal struggles we are having. These teachings represent the simplicity of the Mahayana tradition.

First, train in the preliminaries.

The first preliminary is the contemplation on this precious human life.  The key point is that we need to take advantage of this precious human life endowed with freedom and opportunity.  

There are several implications to consider regarding this precious human life.  The first is the rarity of obtaining a precious human life.  By some strange chance we have stumbled upon this situation, much like a blind person stumbling upon a treasure.  If we do not use this great opportunity now, when will we have the chance again in the future?  

Take a look at the people around you.  People are extremely busy, many of them over stressed with work, chasing after momentary illusions for entertainment and satisfaction.  Many people in this world have opportunity- the presence of favorable conditions.  More and more people are coming to have freedom- the absence of negative conditions.  But it is extremely rare that a person has both opportunity and freedom.

We can look at our own life to see the rarity of having both opportunity and freedom.  How many times have we had extra time on our hands but we have lacked either the resources or the physical health to actually use that time effectively?  How many times have we had an abundance of resources and energy, but no time to actually meditate or enjoy the simple things in life?  How often have we wasted away days, nights and weekends caught up in worry, anger or scheming; no freedom from negative mental states to actually cultivate positive qualities. 

The second implication is that this life has great purpose.  We have somehow stumbled upon this great treasure, so we must put it to good use or like a fool we will squander it and return empty handed.  

When we understand both the rarity of this precious human life and its great purpose, then we can embrace a larger scope.   The Buddha taught that all beings have buddhanature, the inherent potential to attain awakening.  In the Sutra of the Great Parinirvana:

For example, just as butter permeates milk, likewise buddhanature pervades all beings.

In the Uttaratantra-shastra:

If buddhanature were not present, there would be no remorse over suffering;
There would be no longing for peace, nor striving and devotion towards its aim.  

When we are able to acknowledge our own capacity to achieve awakening, complete and utter enlightenment, it is like a seed taking root in our heart.  As that seed blossoms and grows stronger through the conduct of compassion and loving kindness, it spreads its branches out to shelter beings suffering from the heat of the afflictions.  As it reaches maturation it yields a cool ambrosia fruit that quenches the thirst of beings, establishing them in bliss and contentment. 

Recognizing this innate quality in ourselves, we see the great purpose that this life can accomplish.  It is with this recognition that we generate aspirational bodhicitta, or the aspiration to attain awakening for the sake of all sentient beings.  Just as Shantideva says in the Way of the Bodhisattva:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless, 
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to cross the water, 
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for land, 
A lamp for those who long for light;
For all who need a resting place, a bed;
For those who need a servant, may I be their slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of wealth,
A word of power and supreme healing,
May I be the tree of miracles,
For every being the abundant cow.

Just like the eart and space itself,
And all the mighty elements,
For boundless multitudes of beings
May I always be the ground of life, the source of varied sustenance.

Thus for everything that lives,
As far as the limits of the sky,
May I be constantly their source of livelihood
Until they pass beyond all sorrow.

It is with such an aspiration that we embrace the larger scope of this precious human life.  We cannot afford to waste more time, we must use such a rare opportunity at this very moment.

We then come to the decisive experience of having obtained a precious human life, bodhicitta in action, or traveling the path to awakening.  Again, in the Way of the Bodhisattva:

Today my life has given fruit.
This human state has now been well assumed.
Today I take my birth in Buddha's line,
And have become the Buddha's child and heir.

In every way, then, I will undertake 
Activities befitting such a rank.
And I will do no act to mar
Or compromise this high and faultless lineage.

For I am like a blind man who has found
A precious gem inside a heap of dust.
For so it is, by some strange chance,
That bodhicitta has been born in me.

This is the supreme draft of immortality
That slays the Lord of Death, the slaughterer of beings, 
The rich unfailing treasure mine
To heal the poverty of wanderers.

It is the sovereign remedy
That perfectly allays all maladies.
It is the tree that gives relief
To those who wander wearily the pathways of existence.

It is the universal bridge that saves
All wandering beings from the states of loss,
The rising moon of the enlightened mind
That soothes the sorrows born of the afflictions.

It is the mighty sun that utterly dispels
The misty ignorance of wandering beings,
The creamy butter, rich and full,
That's churned from milk of holy teachings.

Living beings!  Wayfarer's upon life's paths,
Who wish to taste the riches of contentment,
Here before you is the supreme bliss.
Here, O ceaseless travelers, is your fulfillment!

Again and again contemplate the meaning of this precious human life.  We are extremely fortunate, but we cannot remain idle, the days, weeks and months move too fast.  Now is the time to act!

 



Sunday, June 24, 2012

Naked

'Our life is shaped by our mind, we become what we think.'
Siddhartha Gautama

Stand naked.  For a moment today stand naked before the mirror, the mirror of our own mind.  

It is incredibly difficult to stand in the present moment.  It is too simple, too raw, too naked.  We are quick to reach for a towel, flex our muscles, correct our posture, pluck our eyebrows or cover up our blemishes.  It is very difficult to stand tall in our inherent goodness, the basic dignity of being who you are, right now. 

It is not just the embarrassment, shame, guilt or fear of our own bodies; it is also our feelings, our actions and our past.  We don't know how to work with all of that when we stand before it, it is often easier to get dressed and keep moving.  

But this is the battlefield.  This is the meditation.  The present moment is the ground upon which all the work is done and it is simultaneously the result of fulfillment. 

This ever-present moment, if we can learn to face our fears and the darkness that we hide in our hearts, opens up into the eternally youthful present- peaceful, content and free of elaboration. 

It is only by abiding in this timeless state of complete nakedness that we can come to appreciate the wellsprings of the Great Perfection. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Illuminating Darkness

'May I be a lamp for those who long for light.'
Shantideva

Our world often appears to be shrouded in darkness-
the outer world of crime, social and political intolerance, warnings of apocalypse, and other malevolent forces at work; the inner world of our own fear, doubt, resentment and the proximity of our own death.   

We often run from darkness for fear of being engulfed, lost without a way.  When we see the ruins of darkness before us we avert our eyes, afraid that somehow we too might be its next victim.

A very strange thing happens though if we no longer need to hide from darkness.  If we open ourselves up to darkness it is very hard to find, even if we seek out that space of total darkness- a darkness so black we cannot tell if our eyes are open or closed, so dark you can't even see your own hands in front of you.  It is very hard to find total darkness because light always seems to find a way in.  There is always a tiny crack or pinhole which your eyes pick up on, casting rays of light into the space that you can't avoid even if you try to turn away from it. 

As a matter of fact, the darker it is the more sensitive we are to light.  

Light is all-pervading and surprisingly persistent.  It doesn't need to manipulate or prove itself to exert its influence on the world.  It just needs a tiny pinhole, a tiny crack of opportunity to spread its influence, illuminating the darkness.

Be a light for the world.  You don't need power, wealth or even approval.  You just need to be there, wherever you are.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Siddhearta's Intent


'The present is a freely given canvas'
Annie Dillard

Stumbled upon this on an afternoon walk today, 
Reminded me that every moment is an opportunity to practice art.
Go, be an artist.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Searching for Happiness

People searching, looking about,
Most of them assuredly, without a doubt,
That what they find, be worth its lot,
But time and again, they find its not.

Yet they persist, for reasons unknown,
In pursuit of a happiness that they can own.
Yet all the while, they did not see,
That happiness has eluded thee.

True happiness lies in things unheld,
A moments taste of things beheld,
A world of appearance and possibility,
This life's as full as you let it be.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Restless?

When we sit down to meditate, the first thing we often notice is movement.

Thoughts stirring, our uneven breath, the awkwardness of our body and its sensations.  Comfort and ease seem a long way off. 

Our days are filled with motion, perpetually bombarded with information and stimuli.  Where amongst this infinite display of appearances and possibilities are we to find a moment of rest?

The Buddha taught that the mind rides the breath like a rider on a horse.  The horse is blind and requires the rider to control it, leading it in the right direction.  The rider has no legs of its own, it relies upon the horse for its movement. 

The breath here is synonymous with energy or wind as it is described in the yogic traditions.  If the breath is erratic or uneven, so too is our mind.  If the breath is calm and subtle, so too is our mind. 

We can verify this in our own experience.  Examine your mind when you are feeling anxious.  You will probably find that your heart is racing, your breath has become more shallow and constricted, you feel shaky and uneasy.  Your energy or wind match your mind.  Your mind rides the wind, helplessly carried off into barren lands it would prefer not go. 

The good news is it doesn't have to follow the wind.  If you can control the winds, you control the mind.  When the winds are calm, the mind is calm. 

So how do you control the winds? 

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition has developed a system of breath exercises called Tsa Lung.  Tsa means channels, and lung means wind.  The channels are the highways upon which these winds travel, so they are the meridians upon which chi flow or the nerves upon which our body communicates with itself and its environment.

A preliminary practice for Tsa Lung is the Nine Round Breath that we practice at the beginning of meditation.  The nine round breath balances our winds, stabilizing our energy and facilitating a calm, clear mind.

Even Western medicine with its heretical view of Eastern medicine has verified some of these findings.  Research has shown alternate nostril breathing to effect the central nervous system, with right nostril breathing stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and left nostril breathing stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).

But the best research is to watch your own mind.  What is the quality of your mind when you have lots of energy?  When you are anxious?  When you are relaxed?     

Watch your mind. 

Here is a question for you, does mind lead the wind or does wind lead the mind?  Sit for awhile, try to verify your answer from your own experience.  The prize is invaluable.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

It's All in Your Head!

You've probably heard this before.  Usually you hear it exactly when you don't need to hear it.

Of course it is all in my head, where else would it be and indeed what place could be more dangerous?  

I wish it wasn't in my head.  I wish it was in a little box that I could hide away in a storage closet or smash with a giant freakin' sledgehammer.  Man, would I like to smash that box.

So its all in my head- what am I supposed to do about it?  Even better, how do I get this damn thing out of my head?

What we are dealing with is the conceptual consciousness that we discussed in the practice of calm abiding

Our culture really values the individual expressions of the self.  Facebook, YouTube and Twitter provide a perfect platform so that we can broadcast ourselves to the world, sharing every amazing thought and story with all of our friends, family and strangers.  As much as we fixate on our own thoughts, opinions and ideals; we are not our thoughts, opinions and ideals.  These are simply projections of our self into the world around us and they constitute bondage whether we are riding a euphoric high or stuck in that damn box. 

Our thoughts do have value, we can use rational analysis and investigation to come to a correct understanding of reality.  We need to use thoughts and words to share and relate our experience to other people and share knowledge.  But thoughts have a limit, what we are trying to discover in the practice of calm abiding is beyond speech, thought or expression.

So we need to loosen our fixation to this aspect of our minds.  Thoughts will continue to arise, but they become like the tracks of a bird flying through the sky, clearly apparent but vanishing without a trace. 

The only way we are going to arrive at this state is to learn to rest in the natural state- the vast, open expanse of limpid clarity that is beyond speech, thought or expression- your fundamental ground. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Discovering Your Fundamental Ground

Do not prolong the past.
Do not beckon the future.
Rest in cognitive lucidity free from concepts.

The first step to the practice of calm abiding, or shamatha, is to tame or pacify the mind.

In our current state we have this mind that never sits still.  We are constantly replaying past events and interactions, needlessly caught up in future plans and speculation.  Whenever we do find a moment of freedom in our busy and stressful life, usually the first thing we do is turn on the TV or hop on the internet and mindlessly get caught up in a moments entertainment.  

It is a strange thing, but we are often so caught up in action and doing, that when we choose to rest or meditate we find a lot of anxiousness.  We spend so much of our time caught up in our heads that when we sit down to meditate we have a steady stream of thoughts and plans pulling us off into some far off dreamscape.  

When we sit in meditation we need to drop the baggage and armor that we have been carrying through the day.  We need to embrace an open presence that doesn't turn away from the rawness of the present moment.  

So the first step is to calm this monkey mind, this mind that is compelled to jump from one object to the next in its unceasing restlessness.  In this regard it is important to understand how the mind works.  The Buddha's teachings break down the mind, or what we normally consider mind, into eight different aspects.

Five sense consciousnesses- eye, ear, nose, mouth and touch
Conceptual consciousness- responsible for the infinite variety of thoughts, opinions and value judgements
Afflicted consciousness- our habitual tendencies, neuroses, predominant mental states like anger, jealousy and lust
Basis-of-all consciousness- the foundational stream consciousness, the subtle consciousness that carries through our whole life, and connects life to life.

The five sense consciousnesses simply experience their subject matter, they do not interpret, judge, express delight or contempt for whatever is appearing.  That is what the sixth, conceptual consciousness excels in.  It is this consciousness, this reactionary and fixated aspect of our minds that we are trying to calm and pacify.  

We have several methods that we can use to accomplish this task of calming the mind.  The two that we taught in the meditation class were:

1) Resting with a conceptual focus (the white thigle in the palm of the hands)
2) Resting in the natural state without a conceptual focus

The purpose of both techniques is to develop a state of natural rest.  This is not a state that is a lifeless and dull nothingness.  Rather it is an open, calm lucidity like that of a perfectly pristine ocean during the daytime.  To rest in that state of cognitive lucidity free from concepts, that is how we approach the practice of meditation and calm abiding.  

That is how we grasp the mind that previously has not been grasped.  That is the start of the journey, and the destination has never been too far away.  

Weekly challenge:  Start meditating, today.  Set aside five minutes of your day to establishing your ground.  Simply rest in the present moment for a few minutes each day, and you will find that the practice naturally develops on its own.  You will find that in the wake of your previous thoughts and emotions, there is an open clarity that is beyond description.