Friday, October 28, 2016

Essay: Actualizing the Profound View of the Middle Way

            In the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, the Buddha gave teachings on the Four Noble Truths, laying a foundation and framework by which all of his teachings could be understood.  In the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha identified ignorance as the root of all suffering.  Ignorance is a state of confusion about how the self exists.  We perceive of an independent, autonomous self, one that is the basis for all experience and continues from moment to moment.  Through the teachings on the skandhas, ayatanas and dhatus, the Buddha broke down the self, revealing the wisdom of selflessness as well as the path to the cessation of suffering. 
            The teachings of the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma don’t depart from the teachings of the First Turning.  The understanding of the truth of origin and the abiding reality of the truth of cessation become more subtle and profound in the Second Turning. 
            The basis for the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma are the Prajnaparamita Sutras.  The 8000 verse Prajnaparamita Sutra is the earliest known sutra from around 100 BCE.  This was later expanded into the 10,000, 18,000, 25,000 and 100,000 verse sutras, which bear close resemblance to the 8,000 verse sutra but expand on abbreviated sections and enumerate lists.  The shorter Prajnaparamita Sutras include the Heart Sutra, also called the 25 verse sutra, as well as the Diamond Sutra, also called the 300 verse sutra. 
            We can see in the Heart Sutra how the understanding of the truth of origin becomes more subtle and profound in the Second Turning.  Remember, in the First Turning we use the skandhas, ayatanas and dhatus to deconstruct self-grasping and realize the wisdom of selflessness.  In the Second Turning we find Avalokiteshvara exploring this even futher in the Heart Sutra:
At that time, the Blessed One entered the meditative absorption on the varieties of phenomena called the appearance of the profound.  At that time as well, the noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, the great being, clearly beheld the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom itself and saw that even the five aggregates are empty of intrinsic existence.
            The Heart Sutra starts by stating that the Buddha entered into meditative absorption called the appearance of the profound.  Profound here is emptiness, the appearance of emptiness.  It is profound because it is not easily realized, that it is beyond concepts and ideas about how things exist.  In the First Turning, we used the five skandhas to uproot self-grasping, but here Avalokiteshvara is saying that even the five skandhas or aggregates are empty of intrinsic existence.  The teachings of the Second Turning examine not only the selflessness of the person, but also of all phenomena. In order for bodhisattvas who aspire to realize this perfection of wisdom Shariputra and Avalokiteshvara engage in discussion on how to practice the perfection of wisdom.  Avalokiteshvara expands on the practice saying bodhisattvas should see clearly in this way:

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form;
Emptiness is not other than form, form too is not other than emptiness.

            This famous verse describes the Middle Way free from extremes.  We should analyze that form is empty of inherent existence, eliminating the extreme of eternalism or existence.  We should also analyze that emptiness is form, eliminating the extreme of nihilism or non-existence.  The last two verses reiterate this union of appearance and emptiness. 
            In order to clarify the view of emptiness as presented in the Prajnaparamita Sutras, Nagarjuna wrote his famous Mula-Madhyamakakarika, or the Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way.  In it, he presents the teachings on the two truths, conventional and ultimate truth, so that we can eliminate doubt and uncertainty about the view of emptiness.  In Nagarjuna’s Mula-madhyamakakarika:

The Buddha’s teaching of the Dharma
Is based on two truths:
A truth of worldly convention,
And an ultimate truth.  XXIV.8

Those who do not understand
The distinction between these two truths
Do not understand
The Buddha’s profound teaching.  XXIV.9

Without depending on the conventional truth,
The meaning of the ultimate cannot be taught.
Without understanding the meaning of the ultimate,
Nirvana is not achieved.  XXIV.10

            Nagarjuna’s presentation of the two truths reveal our confusion about the way that things appear versus the way that they actually exist.  Things appear very solid, concrete and independent.  We appear as independent autonomous selves.  But if you examine the nature of the self or of phenomena, you find that self is actually dynamic, connected and interdependent. 
            Traditionally there are Four Great Arguments of the Madhayamaka or Middle Way that logically establish all phenomena as being empty of inherent existence.

1.     Vajra Splinters, investigating the cause.
2.     Investigation of the result.
3.     Chariot argument, being neither one nor many.
4.     Great Interdependence.

            Nagarjuna’s famous tetralemma forms the basis for the Vajra Splinter argument and refutes production or arising from any of the four alternatives:

Neither from itself, nor from another,
Nor from both,
Nor without a cause,
Does anything anywhere, ever arise. I.1

            For our purposes, the easiest and perhaps best method of establishing emptiness is the Argument of Great Interdependence.  This king of reasonings includes all of the other logical arguments because it examines the seemingly real appearances of dependent origination.  According to the Middle Way as presented by Nagarjuna, all the illusory appearances of dependent origination and emptiness arise as the union of the conventional and ultimate truths.  In the Mula-Madhyamakakarika:

That which is dependent origination
Is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.  XXIV.18

There does not exist anything
That is not dependently arisen.
Therefore there does not exist anything
That is not empty.  XXIV.19

            Nagarjuna makes it clear that whatever is dependently originated is empty of inherent existence, form is emptiness.  To be dependently originated and to have some kind of independent existence are logical contradictions that cannot be maintained once they are revealed.  The wisdom of the two truths illuminates our confusion about how phenomena exist versus how they appear to us.  This simple insight that all phenomena arise dependently based on causes and conditions reveals the nature of suffering, how that suffering arises and whether we are able to eliminate it, as well as the actual path to be free from suffering.  As Nagarjuna states in his Mula-Madhyamakakarika:

Whoever sees dependent arising
Also sees suffering,
And its origin,
And its cessation, as well as the path.  XXIV.40

For whom emptiness makes sense,
Everything makes sense.
For whom emptiness does not make sense,
Nothing makes sense.  XXIV.14

            The correct view of emptiness is not that complicated.  Logically we can see that it is relatively easy to establish that all phenomena are empty of inherent existence.  But to fully appreciate this profound wisdom we have to move beyond a simple intellectual understanding, beyond mere logic and conceptual analysis.  We need to apply this view of emptiness to our own mind and our own experience.  Like the Buddha in the Heart Sutra, we need to meditate on the appearance of the profound.
            In the Heart Advice, Younge Khachab Rinpoche encourages us to apply the two truths to our own mind and experience, for this is truly the doorway to the Middle Way.  It is not necessary to undergo extensive philosophical and logical analysis, we simply need to carry a direct understanding of the union of dependent origination and emptiness, or appearance and emptiness, into our own meditation. 
            Focusing on our own mind, Rinpoche teaches the view of emptiness with five features- profound, peaceful, free of elaboration, luminous clarity, and uncompounded.  By recognizing this view of emptiness with five features in our own meditation and relying on the union of shamatha and vipassana, we can enter into absorption on the appearance of the profound and realize the perfection of wisdom, the essence of the Middle Way.

Monday, October 24, 2016

What do you need to do?

What do you need to do to be of benefit to others?

Learn more?
Master a craft?
A better position?

Those are all things you can do.  Get started.

What about being less busy, less distracted?
Dealing with your own hesitation or fear?
Being more available or attentive?
Being present?
More understanding?

All things you can work on.  Get started.

What if you are feeling inadequate?
What if you are not good enough?

Then you need to learn to sit with yourself.  Be patient and listen.

Once you can do that for yourself, you can do it for others.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Our culture promotes a certain complex.  It is very simple:

If you are doing something well, you will be rich and famous.

Is that true?

Well, if you are doing great work, people should be following you.  People should be buying your thing, or promoting your service.  People should be talking about you.

You should be remarkable.

With a following and unique tribe comes the ability to capitalize on your work.  You should scale, increase your presence in the market and distinguish yourself from the competition.

Wealth and fame.  It's going to be glorious!

A modern day king living a lonely life of excess and neurosis, just like the good ole days.

Is there an alternative?

If you do something well, you will have a rich and thriving community.
If you do something well, you will impact people's lives.
If you do something well, you will be content and satisfied.

We can actually act on those.  We should start to value them more than likes, followers or money.   

Monday, October 17, 2016

Willing to go.

There are dark places out there. 
Places you don't want to see,
you don't even want to hear about them. 
You don't want to experience that pain,
that suffering and defeat. 
There are stories you don't want to relive,
memories that you don't want to remember.

There are a lot of places that we wouldn't choose to go. 

Compassion makes us willing to go.

She is willing to go there with you. 
Willing to listen, to hear your story. 
She will let you cry,
let you scream in pain,
let you suffer guilt and regret. 
She will be present and hold that space.

"I'll be here with you." 
Those are powerful words,
when you are surrounded by the fires of hell
with no hope on the horizon. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

So much more work to do.

We have made great strides. 

We have overcome a lot of strong negative emotions, disrupted bad habits and eliminated mistaken bias and perception.  We have started to act with patience and generosity, applied ourselves joyfully to virtuous actions and our practice of meditation.  Our wisdom and insight has begun to blossom and we can appreciate and see the connections we have with our communities and environment. 

Our life has been impacted by our practice.  This is important work, and we have so much more work to do. 

As we continue to develop our intention to benefit all beings, the aim of our meditation is to cut through layer after layer of fixation and grasping. 

Layer after layer we eliminate our self-cherishing behavior. 
Layer after layer we shed neurosis and confusion. 
Layer after layer we become more open and vulnerable, opening our hearts and minds. 

Bodhisattvas on the path to pure and total presence progress through ten bhumis or stages in their training. 

First is Great Joy.  Having eliminated the coarse layers of self-grasping, they generously dedicate their life and energy to benefit others without suffering from regret or dissatisfaction. 

Second is Stainless, where the bodhisattva never falls back or gives up.  Their intention is stainless.   

Third is Luminous, where bodhisattvas perfect the practice of patience, willing to work for countless eons to bring benefit to others. 

Fourth is Radiant.  Having cut through layer after layer of self-grasping and fixation on negative emotions and outer circumstances, the bodhisattva works joyfully even in the worst hell realms for the benefit of others.  

All progress is made by cutting through self-grasping and fixation on whatever is coming up in our experience.

Fifth is Difficult to Conquer, which is our own mind.  Our own bias and distorted perception.  Our own wandering and confused mind is difficult to conquer. 

Sixth is Manifest.  Wisdom and insight arise naturally.  We see truly, connections are seen and insight is shared for the benefit of others.

Seventh is Gone Afar.  The bodhisattva has gone far in developing their qualities and realization, and they tirelessly work to benefit others through skillful means.  They are adaptive and teach according to the needs of beings.

Eighth is Immovable.  All negative emotions and afflictions have been purified and one is able to effortlessly and spontaneously act for the welfare of beings. 

Ninth is Perfect Intellect.  Clear, concise, direct knowing and the ability to connect and teach others in whatever way is necessary for their benefit.

Tenth is Dharma Cloud.  Taking on any form in any direction, they continually act for the welfare of all beings. 

All of this stems from the intention to benefit others.  All of this grows and progresses from cutting through our own fixation and grasping. 

Strengthen your intent.
Clarify your practice. 
Accomplish your own aims and the aims of others simultaneously. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Upcoming meditation workshop!

Join us for a practice intensive.  Receive meditation instruction,
ask questions, engage in discussion with other practitioners. 
Clarify your practice.  Let your practice clarify you.
Sunday October 23, 2016
10am - 12pm
1716 NW Market St 
Seattle, WA 98107
Suggested donation $10


For more information contact Greg at

Friday, October 7, 2016


There is a disconnect between spiritual practice and modern forms of earning a living. 

Our culture is driven by ego.  Spiritual practice cuts through ego.
Our culture is driven by profit and gain.  Spiritual practice is rooted in generosity and letting go.
Our culture chases after name and position, fame and renown.  None of those hold weight in our spiritual practice. 

So how do we earn a living as a professional and carry out our spiritual practice?

Do we divide them?  Day trader and night giver?
Do we forsake the workplace and retreat to remote abodes, saying "this is not possible."

It is a problem that you must resolve on your own. 

What does your practice look like in the context of your whole day?  Can you resolve the tension and conflict of carrying your practice into your work?  Does your work cause you to suffer and generate self-contempt?  Can you be patient with your work as you progress on your path?  Do you need to switch, change or find something better before you can integrate your work and practice?

All of these have to be answered by the serious practitioner of virtue.  They are not easy questions, and you are the one that needs to bring forth the answers.  You are the solution, and it must be lived. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Progress through wisdom.

The common method of achievement and accomplishing your goals is by force.  Push harder, put in more time and effort, show up early, stay late. 

A lot can be accomplished through effort and exertion.

Another method is to progress through the wisdom of selflessness.  As you cut through ego and self-cherishing, you eliminate possessiveness and suffer less.  Not fixating on your own agenda and perspective, you become more open and generous. 

As wisdom deepens, you don't feel so overwhelmed by situations or problems.  You don't feel the need to turn back or give up.

As wisdom deepens further you can work with adverse conditions and circumstances with great patience.  The impulse to shut down gradually fades further and further from view.

Deeper still, your wisdom overwhelms whatever arises in your experience, allowing you to continue forward with your intention.  Even amidst great hardship and adversity, you continue unafflicted.

Deeper and deeper into the wisdom of selflessness, further and further along the path you progress.  Wisdom unearths accomplishment, yet what have you to gain?