Saturday, January 24, 2015


I saw something remarkable the other day.

I was walking in downtown Seattle this past week and saw a homeless man up ahead begging for change.  He was holding a sign, “Out of work.  Anything helps.”  In the winter Seattle’s homeless population spikes as people migrate to the coasts for warmer weather.  We are used to seeing men and women standing at off ramps, at street corners and camping out in archways to stay out of the rain. 

The man walking ahead of me approached the homeless man and gave him some change from his pocket.  Then he shook his hand.

He didn’t have to shake his hand.  He could have gave him money and walked away untouched.  He could have avoided getting dirty or having to worry about what germs the homeless man carried.   He could have made the exchange a simple, clean transaction. 

But he didn’t.

He made it human.  He extended his money, which I am sure the homeless man appreciated.  Then he extended his respect, kindness and dignity, something that is invaluable to someone who doesn’t feel like they are worth anything. 

We have a tendency to think big.  We think in systems and projects and data and financials.  All of that is important if we want to fulfill our aims and the aims of others, we need to go through that process, but if you are wondering where to start, start here.  Start with extending kindness, respect and dignity to those in your family and your community.  Start with our real world problems, with where we are right now.

It might be dirty and you are going to have to work hard, but if you are able to impact a human life, you are doing something remarkable.     

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Let's fix diffusion.

Diffusion is the natural and spontaneous movement of a substance from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration.

Perfume diffuses in a room to leave a pleasant fragrance.
A teabag diffuses in water to make an enjoyable tea.
Oxygen in your lungs diffuses into your red blood cells to reinvigorate you and your work.
A popular local coffee shop diffuses into a global chain.

Diffusion is a natural process but we don’t often use it to our advantage.  We tend to be the area of low concentration.  So we consume.  We are entertained.  We listen and watch.  Mainly we wait and passively enjoy the fruits of a world that blooms around us.

What if that changed?

What if we became a source of wealth and bounty?  What if we were a wellspring of kindness and generosity?  What if our practice yielded dividends in the form of love? 

If we became a source of patience, kindness and generosity, what would happen in our homes and in our workplace?
If our practice gave rise to insight, drew out implications and made connections, do you think we would make an impact in those around us?

It might seem like a long shot, but the ball is in your court. 

Maybe this won’t even work, but even if you fail, what happiness and joy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Art of Practice.

What does your day revolve around?

Our days are busy with projects at work and responsibilities at home.  We run into all sorts of problems and roadblocks.  We want to do work that matters, but often we simply don’t have the time.

What intention do your bring to your day?

Is it to be more generous, to give gifts that matter and to make an impact in people’s lives and in your community. 

How do you actually do that?  It’s not easy.  You need to stick to your practice.

Some of us think of our practice as safe, a place we can prepare and get ready.  We think it is a place where mistakes don’t count and going live can always happen another day.  That is not what we are talking about here.

We need a practice that opens us up, one that enables our intention.  We need a practice that gives us the tools and resources to look into the darkness, face our fears and push through the resistance.

That is your practice.  The art of your practice is to share it.

Use your insight and understanding to benefit others, to be kind and compassionate to others.  Use your practice as a platform for doing work that matters, making connections and making an impact.  Use your practice to stand up, roll with resistance and carry problems onto the path.

Set your intention and let your day revolve around your practice.  I can’t wait to see the magic that you create. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stupas and the farmer.

In 2008 I was on pilgrimage in Nepal and India with my teacher Younge Khachab Rinpoche.  During that trip we visited many Buddhist holy sites and practiced meditation at many of the sites.  When you are in Nepal and India, one of the first things you notice is that spirituality and its symbols pervades the culture and people's daily lives.  In the early morning, people make offerings and prayers at shrines and do circumambulations around stupas such as Boudhanath and Swayambhunath.  Prayer wheels and miniature stupas are found throughout the city, elderly can often be found sitting together reciting mantras and meditation is regularly seen and engaged in by monks and lay persons alike.

One of the sites that we visited was Pharping, a small town just south of Kathmandu, Nepal.  Pharping is famous as being the location where Padmasambhava gained enlightenment before traveling to Tibet to spread the Buddha's teachings across the Tibetan plateau.  We spent the day meditating in the Tara temple at the base of the mountain and then in the Asura cave which is where Padmasambhava carried out his practice.

As we were walking down, there was a smaller sized stupa on the right towards the bottom of the hill, and off in the distance was a much larger stupa on the top of the hill.  It was a really beautiful.  The open countryside with a mountainous backdrop, stupas dotting the landscape signifying places of practice and the awakened mind.

I asked Rinpoche, "Rinpoche, do you think it is important to build more stupas in the U.S. so people can be inspired by places of practice like they are here?"  At that time, there was a farmer plowing his field just across the road.  Rinpoche responded, "I think we need more people like that farmer who are trying to make good, healthy food". 

I still often contemplate this.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Just breathe.

You hear this a lot.  Don't freak out.  Don't panic.  Don't blow this up any bigger than it is. 

Just breathe.

Part of what this advice is suggesting is: Don't get caught up in your emotions and the situation.  If staying with your breathe can help you hang in there longer, stay focused and precise, then yes!  Just breathe.

But don't confuse just breathe with
just back away slowly,
just go find a safe place to hide,
just protect yourself,
because that is bad advice and that is not what we are doing here.

Just breathe.
Just let go of what you are stuck on.
Let go of having to control the situation.
Let go of 'this or that',
Let go of value judgements.
It's hot in here.  It is going to get hotter.
You have to dance to the music that is playing.
Just breathe.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Tibetan: Gedun
English: Sangha or community

The Tibetan dge means virtue, good, wholesome, merit.
'dun means aspiration, longing, intention.

The Sangha is a community that aspires to virtue.  The sangha is a community of men and women that purposefully connect out of a shared interest in supporting each other's practice.  They connect out of support, not power.  Connect with respect, not control.  Connect with kindness, not deceit.

The Sangha supports the transmission of teachings and keeps the practice lineage alive.  It is a culture of learning and teaching.  It brings together a range of experience and insight, fosters examination and critical thinking, opens perspectives and eliminates bias.  The Sangha gives you feedback exactly when you need it.

The Sangha is a culture of compassion and and kindness.  They show us what to care about.  They show us what is possible, even when it doesn't seem to be.  They show us what people like us do. 

Monday, January 12, 2015


Tibetan: Chab-su Chi
English: Go for refuge.

The Tibetan skyabs (Chab) means refuge, protection, help.
Su means in or to.
mChi means to go.

All of us go for refuge in something.  Often it is a power outside of us- a god, an idea, an authority.  In the West, refuge often takes the form of money, power, success and status.  We put our hopes in them and put in a lot of effort thinking that when we get there they will provide for us.  If you look closely at the decisions you make, short term and long term, you will gain some insight into where you are putting your refuge.

A Buddhist is someone who puts there refuge in the Three Jewels- the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.  The Buddha is the teacher, the Dharma the teaching, and the Sangha is the supporting community.  Khachab Rinpoche emphasizes that of the Three Jewels, the most important is the Dharma, the teaching.

Dharma is our entryway.  When we practice the Dharma, we gain our own experience.  As we deepen our experience we gain confidence in the teaching and in our practice.  Confidence and understanding in our practice give way to realization and actual benefit.  As we witness this benefit and realization in ourselves, we begin to trust and respect the teacher and the community that supports the teaching.

Our practice of the Dharma leads to us taking refuge.  Refuge is based on experience, not blind faith.  You can believe that the Dharma will benefit you, but until you have truly practiced your place of refuge can easily shift and change.  One day you are a eager practitioner of the Buddha's teachings, the next you are following a fad diet and a new business scheme. Where is your refuge?

Refuge is actually extremely profound to contemplate on a day to day basis.
If you have a bad day at work, where is your refuge?  Is it your practice?  Or is it a glass of wine, a movie or the weekend?
If you get in an argument with your partner, where is your refuge?  Is it your practice?  Or is it a food binge, a cigarette or a pedal to the metal car ride?
If you encounter sickness, fear and doubt, where is your refuge?  Is it your practice? Or is someone going to come save you, bail you out, take away your problems?

Most of our bad habits are due to a mistaken refuge based on neurosis and negative emotions.  

Taking refuge in the Three Jewels and in your practice seems extremely heavy.  It is a lot of responsibility, but would you want anything else?

Do you want something else?

Friday, January 9, 2015


Tibetan: Jangchub Sempa
English: Bodhisattva

The Tibetan byang chub (pronounced Jangchub) means enlightened or awakened.
byang means to clear away, purify or awaken (notice the action to as opposed to the Tibetan sangs).
chub means totally or perfectly.

The Tibetan sems means mind, dpa' means heroic, courageous, or warrior.

Sempa is a courageous mind.  Courageous because it seeks enlightenment.  It seeks to purify, clear away and awaken.  Heroic because she is willing to bear the hardship of pushing through resistance, breaking through fear and doubt, and persevering amidst uncertainty.


Because they have something to share and they are sick of holding back, sick of consuming.  They are tired of hiding.  Disillusioned with indulging themselves with the mundane affairs of this world.

So they commit.  They decide.  They act.  They do it for themselves, and they do it for others.  They do it for themselves so that they can actually do it for others.

When their practice is perfected, they become Buddhas, fulfilling their own aims and benefiting others simultaneously.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Tib. Sangyey
English: Buddha

The Tibetan sangs means purified, cleared away, awakened.
Purified misconduct, divisive speech, and negative mental states.
Cleared away bad habits, erroneous perception and mistaken ideas.
Awakened from the darkness of ignorance, from the dullness of sleep, to the truth.

The Tibetan rgyas means to flourish, to spread, to share.

A Buddha is someone who has done the hard work of purifying negativity, clearing away obscurations and waking themselves up.  That is the root of their practice. 

But doing that is not enough to be a Buddha.  You have to share it.  You have to give.  You need to share love, give gifts that matter, and do the hard work of connecting with and benefiting others.  That is the essence of their practice.

Buddha is just a name.  It is a title.  It is the meaning behind the name and the title that is profound.  It is not something given, it is something earned.  Something you are.

You can do it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Heir to the Buddhas.

Should bodhicitta come to birth
In those who suffer, chained in the prison of samsara,
In an instant they are called the children of the Sugatas,
Revered by all the world, by gods and humankind.

I know your situation is tough.  
I know the burden is heavy and the chances seem slim.  
The moment you say, "Enough is enough, I am very fortunate and I must act on it."  
The moment you take your stand
not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of all beings, 
at that moment you become an heir to the Buddhas.  
You become their child and their master, 
for even the Buddhas are awed by those who give rise to bodhicitta.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The ideal location.

On mountaintops, in forests, on islands and the like, 
Places that are agreeable to the mind and suitable to the season,
Cultivate single-pointed and unwavering meditative absorption,
On the clear light nature of mind, free from conceptual elaboration.
~Longchen Rabjam

Our environment has a significant influence on our mind.  The outer conditions can either aid us or hinder us in our practice.  As your practice develops more stability and you gain confidence dealing with problems and resistance the outer conditions become less important, but it is important to consider your practice setting at the beginning.

Mountaintops are awesome and inspiring, our minds become expansive and clear and we encounter few obstacles.
In forests, our minds are still and develop stability with ease.  Perfect for developing meditative absorption.
Riverbanks and streams remind us of impermanence and engender a focused mind.
Charnel grounds bring many obstacles for beginners, but can be powerful places for swift accomplishment.

It is important to assess your practice setting, to be aware of the qualities it will lend to your practice.  Examination is important, but don't spend all your time looking for the perfect setting.  

The ideal location for your practice is right where you are.  

Get to work!