Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How does transformation occur?

What is the basis for transformation?  How does it happen?

Is it a miracle?  An act of god?  Is it luck or simply a chance occurrence?

When we talk about transformation we need to look closely at what is being transformed.  Our habitual mode of relating with reality is to ascribe identity and characteristics to things.

This is a car.  It is a blue Ford.  Leather seats, fancy gadgets.  That is what it is.

We don't really question this version of reality.  This is the world and that is just the way it is.
Or is it?

When we break a car apart, we end up with a bunch of parts and pieces.  Are they collectively still 'car'?  I don't think anyone looking at a pile of parts and pieces would call them a car.  So when does 'car' come into being, and when does it cease to exist?  At which point in the dis-assembly do we go from having a car to not having a car?  It is kind of a weird question to think about.

In our life, when we encounter a problem, where is the problem exactly?  If we take apart the problem into pieces, is it still there? When we come down with illness or disease, we get stuck on the permanence of that disease.  Is it really permanent?  Will it ever change?  Is there something we can do to change it or are we simply a choice-less victim?  

Who we are, the quality of our mind, our well being and identity; all these are in a constant state of flux.  It may not be readily apparent, but time and the impermanent nature of all things has already shown this to be true.  We already have this knowledge.  

Reality is not fixed.  It is not permanent.  Our minds are not fixed, they are not permanent.  If we understand that the basis of all things is impermanent, changeable and dynamic, transformation becomes possible.  Actually change and transformation are happening all the time, day and night.  If we are able to use discernment, insight and clarity we can actually impact that change.  Through intention we can transform negative situations into strengths, we can transmute the pain and suffering of our present circumstance into an opportunity to show others how to walk this path. 

Do you think this is impossible?  I'll show you that it's not. That is what we are doing here.  Our life is the example.  We are the example.  How do you transform the ordinary into the extra-ordinary?  How do you transform the mundane aspects of your life into something meaningful?

Don't confuse transformation with being magical.  The real magic lies in its simplicity.  The extraordinary starts out as ordinary.  Transformation isn't about turning iron into gold, it is about turning your life as it is right now, into a life of great purpose.  It is about transforming your mind and your intention.

And it is possible.   

Monday, April 28, 2014



Amitabha is one of the Five Family Buddhas.  

His pure land is Sukhavati, the Land of Great Bliss, representing the great joy experienced when all conditions are met as opportunities for practice and realization in the quest for complete awakening.  His color is red, representing the activity of magnetizing or attracting.  His hands are in the mudra of meditative equipoise symbolizing stability, the right 'skillful method' hand supported by the left 'wisdom' hand.  In his hands he holds a lotus flower, a symbol of purity and renunciation.  The lotus is a powerful symbol associated with all Buddhas, symbolizing their appearance in the world and yet that they are unstained by defilements, hindrances and cognitive obscurations.  A blossoming lotus represents the natural unfolding of activity free from the faults of the eight worldly concerns

Amitabha is the Buddha that represents completely purified attachment or passion.  All of us have strong desires and passions and our fixation on these leads to a very narrow view and limited understanding.  We become fixated on our version of the truth, what we think is the right way, what we want.  Attachment is not flexible, it is rigid and stiff and produces poor decision making and cloud upon cloud of negative thoughts and emotions.  Amitabha represents the transformation of that attachment into the wisdom of discernment.  Discernment is free from bias and distortion.  You see and understand.  You get the big picture.  A discerning mind is open, flexible and precise.  It is able to perceive its own condition and the condition of the surrounding world. 

Amitabha rides a peacock possessed with all the major and minor marks.  The peacock is able to transmute poison into healing nectar.  Its call announces dawn or awakening.  The eyes of its feathers represent wisdom, the quill feathers represent the myriad skillful methods that are employed to bring about fruition.  Like the lotus, the peacock is able to transform the mundane and poisonous aspects of our daily life and world in order to bring forth great benefit.

In regard to our own mind and self, Amitabha represents the aggregate of perception.  Perception is like a lens through which we see the world.  That lens is obscured by negative emotions, bias, ignorance and fear.  As it becomes distorted, our thoughts and actions become distorted.  Attachment and aversion are constantly effecting the opaqueness of our lens, closing off access to insight and wisdom.

When we deeply contemplate and integrate the wisdom and symbolism of Amitabha, we can learn to transmute attachment and distorted vision into the wisdom of discernment.  We become skilled at transforming problems and the negative aspects of our life and world into the path.  Our practice becomes one of transformation.  We don't need to escape, turn away or reject.  We can work with what is coming up.  Because we are not fixated on our own position, we can see the opportunity available to us.  We can see the opportunity available to others. 

Everything becomes the practice.  Your life is your spiritual practice, the result is the path.  Sukhavati is not some destination in which we arrive, it is the path on which we walk. 

Start walking. And bring a peacock.

Friday, April 25, 2014

You could probably figure this out on your own.

Given the time, the discipline and the effort, you can learn and master anything.  You can start with curiosity, learn, study, read and reflect.  You could make mistakes, false starts and follow dead end paths.  You could make outlines, throw them out, rewrite them, correct them and then go back to what you read and try to see if it all matches up.

You could do all of those things, and in the end you might succeed.  You definitely would make progress and learn something.

Or you could consult an expert.

The expert could direct your efforts and attention to what is most worthwhile.  She could give you a foundation of knowledge and understanding so that you can easily build a fortress of knowledge and experience.  She would let you make mistakes, and then point out through your own experience how to improve.

Do this.  Don't do that.  

She will teach you how to connect the dots, draw out the implications.  When you are focused on the what and how, she slips in the why.  When your focus is narrow, she gives you the big picture.  When doubt and uncertainty creep in, she makes the unreasonable seem reasonable.  

You still need to put in the time, discipline and effort.  You still need to make mistakes, go back and learn, reflect and contemplate.  But you don't need to do it all by yourself.

Find yourself a good mentor.  Ask questions.  Listen.  And do the work. 

The best experts start out as amateurs. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Right tool for the job.

I come from a family of craftsmen, men and women who took pride in the skills of their trade and the quality of their work.

Tools are important to the craftsman.  They allow him to do the job right, the first time.  I was always somewhat resistant to the 'right tool for the job' motto.  I would use what was available, what was within reach and figure out how to make it work.  Don't have a hammer, use a Crescent wrench.  Don't have a saw, give me a screwdriver (yes, a screwdriver).  It might take you longer, but you can make it work.

If my father would catch me in these inane acts he would say, "What are you doing?  Get the right tool for the job."

"But, I didn't have a hammer."

"Go get one!"

When I moved to Seattle, my father's going away gift was his old red toolbox, complete with JERRY lettered in blue paint across the top.  The intention was simple- you should be able to fix your own problems.  Use the right tool for the job, and do it right the first time.

I see a lot of people meditating these days, but if you ask them what kind of meditation they are doing they often don't really know.

Meditation is a tool.  What are you using it for?

Do you want to achieve a stable, focused mind?  Are you looking to develop insight and clarity?  Are you simply looking for a respite, a short escape from the turmoil of your daily rigors?  Do you simply want a blissful experience with lots of cool feelings and visions?  

Do you want to develop generosity, love and kindness?  Does your practice embrace a larger scope?  Do you want to actualize your own aims?  The aims of others?  Do you want to achieve the complete and utter awakening of buddhahood?   

There are many different types of meditation.  Each is a tool in your toolbox.  Use the right tool for the job, and do it right the first time.

Maybe my father's message is finally starting to break through. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Proximity conveys a sense of warmth.  It is the fire that keeps you warm on those cold, dreary nights.  It sustains and nourishes you, allows you to continue down the path.

Get too close, and you might get burned.
Too far away, and you might see its form but feel none of its warmth. 

The challenge is in finding just the right spot.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Undermining fear.

Fight the temptation to fill boredom with busyness. 

Resist the urge to reach for your cell phone.  Relinquish the need to look something up.  Wait to check your email, your social media, your news outlet. 

For a moment, just sit with the irritation of having an open moment.  Witness all the momentum and inertia pushing you to keep moving, keep doing.  Feel all the subtle agitation and static energy that insist on you shifting your attention somewhere else.

In order to avoid the uncomfortableness of the present we consume- food, ideas, news, pictures, entertainment- anything we can fit in that space at that time.
In order to avoid the hollowness of the present we do- all kinds of things.

At the root of all of these lie fear, uncertainty and doubt.  We consume and do all sorts of things just to avoid these unpleasant feelings and perceptions.  Our assumption is that by consuming and doing we might be able to avoid them all together.  We haven't succeeded to date.     
Cultivate space in your life.  Carve out intentional moments.  Create boundaries.  This is your battle field. 

As you learn to rest with openness, all the irritation, boredom and anxiousness are undermined.  As you dig deeper, fear and uncertainty have no ground on which to stand.  No longer holding onto any ground, openness gives rise to a natural outpouring of inner wealth and fullness.  A wellspring of generosity, kindness and compassion springs forth with nothing left to hold it back.

Of course, when you share generosity, kindness and compassion you are making yourself vulnerable.  With openness comes vulnerability, with vulnerability comes fear. 

This is the dance.  Dance with openness.  Dance with fear.  And I'm sorry in advance if a couple toes get stepped on. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Earth Day Meditation April 22, 2014

SIT for a moment of mindfulness and appreciation.
CELEBRATING environmental protection and activism.
HONORING nature and it's inherent peacefulness.
RECOGNIZING our connection to and impact on the earth.
And a REMINDER- of how precious and fleeting the opportunity available to us.

Sit with us 
Tuesday April 22, 2014
Golden Gardens in Seattle, WA
or wherever you are, near and far.
Hosted by Sit in the City and Siddhearta.

What happens when we rise from meditation is up to you.

Invite your family, friends, neighbors.  Spread the invitation.
For more details email Greg Patenaude at siddhearta@gmail.com

Friday, April 18, 2014

A prism.

When a single ray of white light enters a prism it is refracted and dispersed creating a rainbow-like effect.

Is the source light different than the dispersed light? No.
Is the source light the same as the dispersed light? No.

They differ in frequency, function, appearance and activity.  The degree to which the light is refracted depends upon the prism.  The prism doesn't create colors, it is a lens through which the qualities of the original light can be fully understood.

If your practice is the prism, what is the source light?  What is the refractive index?  What colors and qualities are refracted upon the world?

Are they the same as the source?  Are they different? 

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Doubt is a mischievous little thing.  It sneaks up on you unknowingly.  It lurks in the shadows of your mind, waiting for an opportunity to spring up and occupy your mind.

In a way, doubt protects us.  It prevents us from being taken advantage of, from being fooled, again.  It is an intellectual and emotional survival mechanism.  I won't let myself be hurt.  I won't over commit. 

I still hold the reins.

But doubt also holds us back.  What are we holding onto?  We are holding onto our hearts and minds.  We cannot tolerate being that vulnerable, open.  If we really put ourselves out there, we are so susceptible to being hurt, being let down.

So we hold on.

We hold on and we don't let go.  We look for the slightest misstep.  We pounce on every incorrect utterance.  "Aha!  I was right all along."

You should not blindly trust people and be susceptible to their every whim and preoccupation.  But with your own experience as your guide, with reason and logic as your weight, and with confidence as the full measure, it may be time to be willing to be open and vulnerable.  It may be time to trust.  It may also be time to doubt whatever you used to be holding onto. 

Doubt the need to always protect yourself.  Open your heart and mind to others, and you might be surprised what comes back to you in return.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Life gets busy.

You've committed to a daily practice. You read and reflect, expand your knowledge and improve your skills.  You hope and plan, make exceptions and pardon laziness.  You work and dig and plot and scheme.  And you make a little progress.  You can see a difference, all of this is paying off.  Still, you seem to be fighting all this inertia, you know where you want to go and maybe even how to get there, but there is this unseen weight holding you down.   

A retreat is a powerful move. 

Retreat from all the busyness and distraction.  Retreat from the endless turmoil of information and entertainment.  Isolate your mind.  Clarify your intention.  Remove all the excess. 

Immerse yourself. 

To retreat isn't to withdraw or escape.  It is a direct encounter.  Face to face.  Mono y mono. 

Speaking of retreat, Younge Khachab Rinpoche is hosting the annual summer Dzogchen retreat in Madison, WI June 13-20.  For more details, visit: http://youngedrodulling.org/retreat2014.shtml

Friday, April 11, 2014



Vairocana is one of the Five Family Buddhas.

His pure land is Akanishta, meaning Unsurpassed, representing the true nature of reality in which emptiness and dependent origination are inseparable.  His color is white, representing the activity of pacifying conflict, disease, problems and obstacles.  His hands are in the mudra of teaching the Dharma holding a Dharma Wheel, or Dharmacakra- representing the continual motion and change that forever turns and brings about transformation and development.

Vairocana is the Buddha that represents completely purified ignorance.  Ignorance is like a blank dullness, that state of unknowing where we don't know what to do to make our life meaningful.  Vairocana represents the transformation of that ignorance into the wisdom of the true nature of reality, thoroughly understanding the nature of our own mind and the world around us and how we are to unite compassion and wisdom in order to fulfill our own aims and the aims of others.     

He rides a lion possessed with all the major and minor marks.  The lion is the sovereign of all animals.  His sovereignty is not appointed by divine right or out of self-righteousness or self-promotion, it is the rightful authority to act.  To not act would be to fall from wisdom into the ignorance of selfishness and fear.  In this way, the lion is an unerring source of refuge and protection, carrying the bewildered and confused into the peaceful grove of clarity and insight. 

In regard to our own mind and self, Vairocana represents the aggregate of form.  We are all very attached to our physical bodies; how we feel, how we look.  Our fixation on our own condition and state lead us down the rabbit hole of self-grasping and ignorance, further intensifying our fear and discontentment.  As we purify this self-grasping and transmute it into wisdom and insight, we are able to break free from the confines of our own limited view and understanding.  We can embrace a larger scope.

When we deeply contemplate and integrate the wisdom and symbolism of Vairocana, we can learn how to transmute ignorance and selfishness into an opportunity for wisdom and purpose.  We are able to step outside of fear, doubt and uncertainty.  We attain the awakened form of the Buddhas that transcends the confines of place and time.  The form or shape of our life is one in which we guide, teach and lead others out of confusion and habitual patterns into wisdom and clarity.  Our body becomes like a rainbow- apparent yet empty of existing in any fixed manner- dancing like an illusion that carries out the benefit of others, teaching them how to overcome conflict and problems, setting out the path and providing the support and resources to embody their own awakened form.

To attain such a state would be unsurpassed- for not only would you have fulfilled your own aims, but you would have fulfilled the aims of others. 

Go ride that lion. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What do teachers teach?

Does a good teacher teach you the method, the skills?
Is it all about the information? 
Once you have gathered all the knowledge and can do the practice by rote, are you learned?

The best teachers teach you the path, the journey.  They push you to your limits and then give you the resources and support needed to figure out how to break through them.  They inspire you to look deeper.

They encourage the evidence based doubt of the scientist and the reason based doubt of the debater.  They understand the value of a good question and teach you to be brave enough to ask it.

The truly great ones teach you how to carry the ball yourself.  They show you how to bring your practice and knowledge into a new environment and still be able to connect the dots.  They teach you how to stand up, shoulder the weight, and to do it with patience, kindness and generosity.

You should read Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin, it redefines what school is for and lays out a new approach to teaching and learning. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

This might not work.

I thought it was going to, I really did. 
I thought this was finally the answer I have been looking for.
I thought it was going to be the next big thing.
I wanted it to work out.
I wanted it to be important, to make a difference.
This was going to change everything.
All the facts lined up, the data was there.  It was rationale, coherent.
It just made sense.

Was it the idea that was flawed? Our expectations? Our effort?
When we failed, was the game really over or was it just getting started?

Fear usually has a pretty good story to tell.  So does doubt.

Stick to the practice.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Pottery.

A potter-in-training enters a pottery seeking to develop skill and dexterity when working with the clay.  He wants to learn the techniques used to shape it, how to alter the texture and strives to produce a similar replica to the original.  He perseveres in his craft until mastery is gained and he can consistently make great works of art.

He is attached to the form.

The master potter, the one you want to learn from, enters the pottery and pays homage to the space itself.

She sees the myriad display of forms, colors, attributes and functions that arise from the endless play of thoughts, emotions, perceptions and creativity.
She witnesses the natural radiance of that space- the illusory dance of projects and hurdles, learning and testing, succeeding and failing, coming and going.
She appreciates its abundant fullness yet quiet, spacious emptiness simultaneously.
Standing amidst masterpieces, balls of clay and broken shards- she recognizes them all as ornaments of that space.
That space- not needing to arise as anything at all, can manifest as anything whatsoever; which is why she pays it homage.  

To recognize and abide in that space, is the meditation. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Let's be honest, none of us like being told what to do.  We have a mind of our own and we can differentiate right from wrong.  I'm pretty sure that we can figure this out on our own. 

We have this perception that discipline restrains us, that it imposes boundaries on our life and our choices.  It can be those things, especially if it is coming from a higher authority, but it doesn't need to be.

Discipline can simplify our life.  It can enrich our life and our activity.

Three simple disciplines:
1. Refrain from harm.  Harming your neighbor, the stranger on the street or the spider on the wall.
2. Cultivate a wealth of good qualities.   Cultivate empathy and compassion.  Be generous, patient and kind.  Go for it, be an Artist.
3. Train your mind.  Develop focus, clarity and insight.  Recognize the natural stability of your mind and use it in your pursuit of happiness.