Friday, July 31, 2015

A natural radiance.

Tibetan: rang dang
English: natural radiance

In the Dzogchen tradition we emphasize the luminous quality of the nature of mind.  Meditation is not simply resting in some peaceful, non-conceptual absorption.  It is luminous, inherently clear and naturally radiant.

Something is always coming up.

The significance of this subtle point has profound implications.  The great meditation masters of the past have said that the nature of the mind is the basis of samsara and nirvana, bondage or liberation, a life of dissatisfaction or awakening.

What determines our experience?  How we relate to what is coming up, what is arising.

In meditation this occurs on a very subtle level.  We deal with grasping and fixation, attachment and aversion, hope and fear on a very intimate level.  It is not very easy to see what is going on in someone's practice, but in our daily life it becomes very easy to see how we relate to this luminous quality of our nature.

Do we get caught up in our experience?  Are we entangled in a web of thoughts, emotions and neurotic behavior, or do we cut through the resistance?

If the resistance is winning on the outside, it must be winning on the inside.

And yet, our nature is always naturally radiant.  It always has been, since the very beginning.  We just don't recognize it.    

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The struggling artist.

An artist is someone who is generous, open and vulnerable.  Their medium is connection.  The result of their work is that they have impacted another life, brought about a benefit or change.

We all have to work with what is coming up.  Something is always coming up.

The artist is able to cut through the resistance and willing to care enough to make an impact.

The rest of us get caught up in the resistance, entangled in struggle and strife, dissatisfied in our search for meaning

We're struggling artists.

The difference?  How you relate to what is coming up in your life. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Changing the story.

I am continually inspired by my brothers and sisters on the path who are dedicated to their practice and generous with their time and energy.

One of the people who has inspired me is Seth Godin who introduced me to a new definition of an artist.  An artist is someone who makes an impact, benefits someone and effects change.  In this sense we all have the opportunity to be artists, regardless of our profession.  We all have the opportunity to take a moment, lend a hand, to truly listen and share generously.

We all have an opportunity to care. 

The thing about being an artist is that you don't create art all the time.  Not everything you do in your day is about making an impact.  Most of your day will be spent doing your job, working on the tactics, getting things done.

The artist can be busy and still make great art.

For me, this relieved a great burden, something I actually struggled with for a long time.  I was carrying a lot of frustration and aversion to being busy and working hard because I wasn't able to devote myself fully to making an impact.  I felt that too much of my days, weeks and months were wasted because I could be doing something better.  I could be doing better work but my work itself was preventing me from actually doing that.  That resistance to the nuts and bolts, ground level experience of my job (and life) prevented me from seeing and seizing those moments when I could act, when I could be generous.    

The function of our work is to make an impact, but not all the time.  We struggle to find meaning in our work and in our life, but we need to create meaning.  If we could even spend 10% of our time seizing those opportunities to make an impact and to care, we would find great meaning in our life.  It would even allow us to be really good at the busy, mundane, daily responsibilities that we need to fulfill because they would further create opportunities to create art. 

I can tell you that even 10% is hard.  It is too easy to hide in the busy tactical aspect of your life, too easy to keep your head down and keep plugging away at what you are doing.  We hide in the busy and then complain when our work has no meaning.  We fight internally against the resistance, but the resistance often wins and prevents us from stepping away and actually caring.

That is the fight, the struggle.

If we can recognize and identify that resistance, then we can actually find ways to reduce it.  Once we know what it looks like and what it is trying to do, we can push through the resistance and strive to make an impact, strive to care.  Start to create art.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Even though the path is formless, groundless and beyond what we can know or imagine;
your practice gives you a sense of control.

Even though the path is continually arising and ceasing, manifesting in infinite forms and possibilities;
your practice gives you confidence.

There is great satisfaction to be found in having a practice that teaches you how to maintain a way of abiding amidst uncertainty and fear.  

Monday, July 20, 2015


Tibetan: rangdrol
English: self-liberation, naturally liberated

In the Dzogchen tradition we talk about self-liberation, or natural liberation; liberated just as it is, in it's own place.  There are three types of self-liberation- like a snake uncoiling itself, like meeting an old friend, and like a thief entering an empty house.

Rangdrol like an uncoiling snake.
When a snake is resting coiled up it doesn't tie itself into knots when it moves.  It simply and effortlessly uncoils.  It doesn't need to think about it or create a plan of attack for uncoiling itself, it naturally goes on its way.

We struggle at this.

When we are tied up in knots we plot our best to escape.  We fight back, try to break out or just give up in exhaustion.  We struggle.  We see all of the struggle in our life and we know we are tied up in knots.  We also know that we don't know how to get untied.

The way that we experience self-liberation is to experience the nature of mind and the nature of phenomena directly.  It is not a conceptual process, we don't talk ourselves through it into a state of cessation or acceptance.  It is a direct experience.  This is what Garab Dorje talked about in the first of his Three Statements.  When we experience the originally pure and uncontrived nature of mind directly, we encounter the naturally liberated state.  Recognizing that we come to experience the timeless freedom of the nature of mind and the way in which all experiences, whether good or bad, are naturally liberated.  In this way, the knots of whatever is manifesting in our experience are naturally uncoiled and liberated in their own place.

The distinctive feature of this first stage of self-liberation is that prior to this experience you have been trying to use the craftiness of your mind to bring about freedom, freedom that has never manifested or never lasted.  Here in this tradition, you are using the direct experience of the nature of mind.

Rangdrol like meeting an old friend.  
It doesn't matter how busy you are, how crowded the place or even how long it has been, when you see an old friend you immediately recognize them.  "Oh, hello.  There you are, I recognize you dear friend".  It is a moments recognition, nothing more to do.

You are already intimate and familiar with the natural state of being and the experience of timeless freedom, yet there are moments when you get caught up, moments when you get tied up in knots.  So at this stage you are becoming more proficient at recognizing the naturally liberated state and dealing with problems and obstacles as they arise.  For you, problems and obstacles start to arise as friends.  As negative thoughts and emotions arise you instantly recognize them as a dynamic dance, free in their own place with nothing more to do.  You see them, but they don't necessarily bother you.

The key feature here is the familiarity you have gained familiarity of the naturally liberated state.  Familiarity allows us to recognize the natural liberation of thoughts, emotions and habitual tendencies as they arise, even though we may have a moment of distraction.  This is really a process of working with doubt and uncertainty in your practice, really sitting so that you start to gain that experience of liberation upon arising.      

Rangdrol like a thief entering an empty house.
This one is a bit more obscure conceptually.  The metaphor here is that the thief has nothing to gain and the house has nothing to lose.  This experience of self-liberation is connected to the essence of liberation in the Dzogchen tradition, which is liberation upon arising.  Normally what is manifesting in our experience can be viewed as an enemy or a problem, a thief.  Our house is secure, a safe zone where we experience freedom and peace of mind.  So our normal experience is that something manifests in our life and we lose something, our peace of mind or freedom get stolen from us and ultimately we get tied up in knots.  In this situation, the thief that arises- whether it be negative situation, thoughts, bad habits, karma or ignorance- doesn't threaten the house because the house has nothing to lose.  The nature of mind, your house, cannot be ruined by negative thoughts or emotions, it cannot be bound up in any way at all.   

Sometimes we are also the thief looking for valuable experiences and qualities.  We might start to have some 'real signs' that we are accomplishing something or be looking for confirmation or validation, but truly there is also nothing to add or improve upon in the nature of mind.   

The key feature here is that whatever arises in your experience is free just as it is, liberation is simultaneous with arising, with nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

You can always tell when you have fallen from this realization when you start to see thieves all over the place and long for the experience of a peaceful house.  Your work is a thief, those people, this problem, this thought, this emotion, all of it starts to tie you up pretty good again, doesn't it?

In the beginning, you discover the naturally liberated state,
In the middle, you recognize it again and again amidst confusion,
In the end, you realize that there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

Friday, July 17, 2015


Tibetan: drolwa
English: liberation, release, let go, freedom, untied

Most days we have a pretty visceral experience that we are not liberated.  We are often tied up in knots, awkward, caught up in highs and lows.  We don't really know how to relate to ourselves, others and the world around us.  We are caught up in a subject-object, self-other duality in which everything has its own compartment and attachment and aversion are our constant companions.

We don't need to look to far into our life to realize that we are not liberated.  What is the biggest source of problems in your day?  Work, your relationships, money, internal politics, chronic disease or illness?

Liberation is an experience of release or freedom.  When we talk about liberation it is the mind that is liberated.  What is the mind liberated from?  Negative emotions, concepts, habitual tendencies, karma and ignorance

We all have an experience of mundane liberation.  You quit your job and walk out the door, everything is suddenly lifted off your shoulders.  You finish a hard day at work and step out into the wide open sky.  You pay off the last of your debts, nothing more to worry about.  You orgasm, an ecstatic release of blissful sexual energy.  Your illness subsides.  Your doctor tells you the scan is clear.  You are healed.

It is funny, at least to someone aspiring to awakening, because you can see directly that which binds you by identifying these moments of struggle and mundane release, these moments of struggle where we really wish we were liberated.   

Those areas should be the focus of your practice.

Can you include them?  Is it even possible?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Entirely different.

There are people in our life who have changed us.  Changed us in ways that we couldn't imagine what our life would be like had we not been touched by their grace.  We would be entirely different people. 

They are people whose words have impacted our mind, whose presence has opened us up and whose kindness has permeated our heart.  They could be people we have known for many years, or even those who we knew for a brief moment in space and time.  Those people are our greatest teachers.  They've changed us, stuck with us even when they are no longer around.  They have given us a gift that is timeless and inexhaustible.

We can never repay our teacher's kindness.  It is not possible because they have created a world that we could have never imagined even for ourselves.  Their gift to us has created something that didn't exist before and the only way that we can begin to repay their kindness is to share it.  Increase it and spread it throughout the ten directions.

You can never be sure when a gift will create a new world, so give generously and dedicate all of your actions to the benefit of beings.    


Monday, July 13, 2015

Four demons.

The great female saint and realized pracitioner Machig Labdron taught about four demons in her practice of cutting-through.  A demon is not a black, scary monster.  It is anything that torments you and obstructs your freedom.  

Outer Demons
Outer demons are anything that we relate to with attachment or aversion.  Any material objects, forms, sounds, tastes or physical sensations that we experience getting ourselves caught up in.  We get hooked by our fixation which creates the conditions for bondage and suffering, which is why they are called 'demons'.  They are called 'outer' because they are objects of the five sense faculties.  

We should strive to cut-through these demons, strive to eliminate their influence and our habit of falling under their power.  We cannot stop them from appearing, but we can cut through our fixation on them as being real and permanent.  We can look through their outer appearance and see their true nature.   

Eliminate grasping and they are powerless.  You are liberated.  

Inner Demons
Inner demons are concepts that bring your fear and terror.  They haunt you at night and torment you ceaselessly.  Grasping at these good and bad thoughts causes the mind to become afflicted with negative emotions, bringing you great harm and causing you to act out like a fool, thus they are 'demons'.  They are 'inner' because they are the experience of your mind and mental states, a world of experience that you get wrapped up in and struggle to escape.  

We should strive to cut-through these demons.  We don't need to block thoughts or memories, but also don't hold onto them and dwell on them.  Recognize their true nature to be like waves on the water, rising and falling but leaving without a trace.  Relax into your own true nature and the disturbances naturally subside, liberated in their own place.   

Demon of Elation
The demon of elation is the result of mental attachment to delight and joy.  This could be the result of some worldly gain, fame, accomplishment, some great experience you had or some sign of success.  They are called 'demons' because they cause great arrogance and pride in oneself which becomes an obstacles to freedom.  

We should strive to cut-through this demon.  Whenever good things happen, don't fixate on the qualities of that experience.  Recognize them as being like a dream or illusion.  It is possible to enjoy experience free from fixation and grasping, as you integrate your experience with the path and achieve success in cutting-through the demon of elation, you will truly be able to extend yourself and benefit others.    

Demon of Self-Importance
The demon of self-importance is the root of all demons.  This demon arises from the self-grasping that is the root of all suffering and dissatisfaction.  It is the chronic disease that blocks the attainment of freedom and awakening.  

We should strive to cut-through this fixation on 'I' and 'mine'.  Cut-through to our true nature, our buddhanature, our originally pure and spontaneously present nature of mind.  

Where there is ego, there is also a demon.  Where there is no ego, no demon can be found. 

Ephemeral- without mental designations.
Mind free and easy- fixation on 'I' annihilated.
Pristine- incapable of disturbance by emotional conditions.
Clear- consciousness free of outer and inner duality.
Transparent- awareness free of attachment to anything whatsoever.  
~Machig Labdron

Friday, July 10, 2015

Grasping at straws.

Where do you turn when you're scared?  When you're tired and you had a bad day?  When you are feeling overwhelmed? 

Do you find yourself scrambling, desperate to find another safe haven?  Do you fall back into old thought patterns and neurosis?  Pour another glass, go to bed?

When things get tough, where do you turn for refuge?

You have to go to refuge.  It's an action, not a belief.  You need to actually go, actually do the practice. 

Most of the time when we feel hopeless or encounter our demons, rather than having certainty in our refuge we turn and run, often looking for another safe haven or someone else to work their magic.  We start grasping at straws, hoping anything will work. 

And the wheel turns. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

A day off.

Taking a day off doesn't make much sense to the practitioner who carries everything onto the path.  It's not that you don't have days that are more of a struggle than others, you do.  You have good days and rough days, days that are long and days that are pure joy. 

But you never have a day off, what would you choose to exclude?

Watch your negative emotions.  Be cautious with your judgement and perception.  Don't hold onto anything too tight.  Be grateful that you have this opportunity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Where do you stand?

If you maintain a position, by default you have created insiders and outsiders.  You have people for you and people against you.  You defend your allies and disparage your enemies. 

In order to maintain that position you need to exert a lot of effort.  You need to continually engage in a battle between hope and fear.  Maintaining your position becomes a part of your identity, who you are, you become your position and your position becomes you. 

And yet none of this is real. 

It is only real as long as we continue to invest in the stance and the ground we hold onto.  As we loosen our fixation to our own position, the duality between allies and enemies starts to dissolve.  You see your allies position and can understand it, but you also see you enemies position and can understand it.  You may see that neither stance is right, and for you it doesn't need to be.

Seeing all positions and not fixating on your own, there is a chance that you might do real work.  There is a chance that you might be of some benefit to others and find your own work meaningful.